Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – “Homefront” & “Paradise Lost” (season 4, episodes 11 & 12)
“Homefront” written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe; directed by David Livingston. “Paradise Lost” teleplay by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe; story by Ronald D. Moore; directed by Reza Badiyi. First aired in 1996.
While the station’s residents wonder why the wormhole seems to be opening and closing at random, Captain Sisko receives disturbing news of an unprecedented attack on utopian Earth soil – the bombing of a diplomatic conference, carried out by a Changeling. Sisko and Constable Odo are called to Earth by Sisko’s former commanding officer, Admiral Leyton, to advise Starfleet Command in San Francisco on new anti-Changeling security measures, and Sisko brings Jake along for a visit with Grandpa Joe at the family restaurant in New Orleans. Leyton names Sisko Starfleet’s acting Chief of Security for Earth, and together with Odo, Leyton, and Leyton’s adjutant, Commander Benteen, Sisko sets about trying to convince the Federation President, Jaresh-Inyo, to implement Changeling-detecting security measures across Earth. Jaresh-Inyo reluctantly agrees, and when Earth’s power grid is temporarily knocked out, seemingly in another Changeling attack, he even allows a Starfleet Security presence on Earth’s civilian streets. Realizing that the timing of this “attack” was more than a little convenient, Sisko uses his contact at Starfleet Academy – our old friend Cadet Nog – to uncover evidence that Starfleet officers loyal to Leyton ordered a team of cadets to carry out the attack on the power grid themselves. Having decided that the best way to keep Earth safe is by staging a military coup, Leyton frames Sisko as a Changeling infiltrator, and has him imprisoned … but not before Sisko can contact Deep Space Nine, and call the Defiant to Earth with evidence that the wormhole’s weird behavior was rigged by one of Leyton’s followers, to stoke fears of a cloaked Dominion invasion fleet. Leyton sends Benteen after the Defiant in a suped-up starship of her own, and a tense Starfleet-on-Starfleet space battle ensues. But when Leyton orders Benteen to destroy the Defiant, she doesn’t buy his claims that its crew have been replaced by Changelings, and refuses to destroy a Starfleet ship. Sisko convinces Leyton that the rest of his supporters will inevitably abandon the cause, as Benteen has, rather than fight their fellow Starfleet officers, and Leyton reluctantly surrenders. With the attempted coup over, the increased security is rolled back, and while Odo worries that there are still Changelings on Earth, Sisko insists that, “If the Changelings want to destroy what we’ve built here, they’re going to have to do it themselves – we will not do it for them.”
Star Trek: Enterprise – “Demons” & “Terra Prime” (season 4, episodes 20 & 21)
“Demons” written by Manny Coto; directed by LeVar Burton. “Terra Prime” teleplay by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Manny Coto; story by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Andre Bormanis; directed by Marvin V. Rush. First aired in 2005.
The Enterprise crew returns to Earth to attend a conference of human and alien leaders, as they work towards the creation of a Coalition of Planets – an event viewers of any other Star Trek series will recognize as an historic first step toward the founding of the Federation. But 22nd-century humanity is still a ways off from utopia, it turns out, as the conference is interrupted by a woman with a fatal phaser wound, desperate to give T’Pol a lock of hair. Dr. Phlox analyzes the hair, and finds that it’s from a half-human, half-Vulcan child – something not known to be possible – and that T’Pol and Trip Tucker are the biological parents, despite the fact that T’Pol has never been pregnant. Lieutenant Reed uses his Section 31 connection to gather information about the whereabouts of this mysterious child, leading the Enterprise to the Moon, where wealthy industrialist John Frederick Paxton oversees a mining operation … and leads the anti-alien hate group Terra Prime. T’Pol and Trip go undercover as miners, but are soon identified and captured by Paxton’s followers among the actual miners. Paxton introduces them to the “cross-breed freak” he cloned from their DNA – a seemingly healthy baby with obviously Vulcan ears – and weaponizes his mining facility into a warp-capable ship, which he lands on Mars. After taking control of the planet’s comet defense array, Paxton broadcasts his demands that all aliens leave Earth’s solar system immediately, threatens to destroy Starfleet Headquarters – and probably a good chunk of San Francisco – if they don’t, and releases footage of the cute little baby that he thinks represents a dark future for humanity. As protests break out in front of alien embassies on Earth, threatening to derail human-alien relations, Archer leads a team to infiltrate the facility. They manage to stop Paxton, and to rescue T’Pol and Trip, but their newfound daughter – whom T’Pol names Elizabeth, after Trip’s late sister – is dying, due to a flaw in the cloning process. As Trip and T’Pol mourn Elizabeth – and learn, from Phlox, that human and Vulcan DNA may not be as incompatible as Terra Prime’s failed cloning would suggest – Archer reassures the alien delegates that, while they have just “seen what humans can be at their worst,” a Coalition of Planets is where “the final frontier begins,” and implores them to “explore it together,” to a hearty round of alien applause.
So much of Star Trek’s appeal – for me, and, I believe, for many others – is about hope. Hope that humans can work together, despite our differences, to make societal and technological progress. Hope that we will one day be able to use that new technology to explore beyond our own solar system. And hope that, if such exploration brings us into contact with alien civilizations, we might overcome our fear of the unknown, and learn to live in peace with our interstellar neighbors, however alien they may seem. These hopes can help to make Star Trek seem timeless. Elements of Trek’s technological take on the future inevitably feel less futuristic over time; think of all those PADDs piled high on characters’ desks, probably containing less data than I can currently fit on the USB drive I carry in my pocket. But its societal vision for our future never stops feeling timely. In fact, I wonder if it’s ever felt more timely than it does right now, as I’m writing this. The dominant politics of today encourages us, loudly and constantly, to ignore experts, and to celebrate scam artists and conspiracy theorists; it would have us believe that kindness and sensitivity are weaknesses, that callousness and cruelty are strengths, and that the world and people around us are nothing more than resources, to be used and discarded at our convenience. Star Trek shows us a future where we’ve rejected all these ugly impulses, have embraced their opposites, and are vastly better for it. The Federation has long been a hopeful alternative to those grimmer visions of the future seen in so many other TV shows and films, and that hope feels increasingly radical in the real world, where so many of us seem so intent on building our society into something closer to the Terran Empire.
But hope is something of a double-edged sword. Hope can lead to change; believing that a better world is possible is, undeniably, the first step toward making a better world possible. But it’s only the first step … the first of many, many, many steps. Unless we take those subsequent steps – steps requiring sustained action and concrete policy – simply hoping for change is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound: it’s not nearly enough, and thinking it’s enough can do real harm if it makes us complacent. Which is why I have some mixed feelings about Star Trek’s utopian optimism. As the real world looks more and more like the Mirror Universe, it is, of course, a relief to be told that the future can be better than the present. And more than that, it can be genuinely useful to have Star Trek to point to, as a dramatization of what we mean, exactly, by “better”: the scientific curiosity of Mr. Spock; the humane empathy of Counselor Troi; Captain Picard’s principled, thoughtful leadership; and Major Kira’s courage and moral clarity in the face of authoritarianism. One thing Trek rarely dramatizes, though, is how we might get to that future, from a present where actively and explicitly campaigning against those admirable qualities can get you elected to the highest halls of power. Not that it’s fair to ask an entertainment franchise to solve our problems for us, of course; we obviously can’t expect Trek to provide us with a ready-to-follow road map to utopia. What I would like, though – and what I hope we might get more of, eventually, from the Star Trek projects to come in the future – is a sense of how its fictional utopia works, or even just what that utopia actually looks like, day to day, outside the confines of a starship sailing through deep space. This is where the social commentary of Star Trek bumps up against the limits of mass entertainment, which typically tells the stories of extraordinary people in extraordinary situations … like, say, the best and brightest of humanity exploring the final frontier, rather than regular people on utopian Earth living their regular utopian lives.
Which isn’t to say that we’ve never seen Trek’s take on future Earth. The first episode of Trek ever produced, “The Cage,” gave us a brief glimpse of Captain Pike’s idyllic stomping grounds of Mojave, with a classic sci-fi cityscape in the background. And The Next Generation’s fourth-season episode “Family” spent the majority of its running time on the equally idyllic Picard family vineyard; alluded to a project to raise a section of the Earth’s ocean floor; and showed us that not all of Earth’s residents were equally enthusiastic about those 24th-century conveniences, like the food replicator, that we Trek fans so often wish we had. But it was the Deep Space Nine episodes “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost,” a two-part story coming around the mid-point of DS9’s own fourth season, which gave us the most in-depth look at everyday Earth we’d gotten to that point, and maybe right up to today, from TV Trek. These episodes take us beyond the walls and grounds of Starfleet Headquarters to show us the streets of New Orleans and the Sisko family restaurant, which doesn’t seem so different from a restaurant you might eat at today (right down to, again, the non-replicated food).
And it’s there that we meet Joe Sisko, Captain Sisko’s dad and Jake’s granddad, who has benefited from advanced 24th-century medicine (“At the rate things are going, in another year or two I won’t have an original organ left in my body!”), but puts his workaholic devotion to running his restaurant ahead of his health in a way which, again, seems no different from the way many of us approach our work and our lives today. We also see Captain Sisko use transporter technology to travel between New Orleans and San Francisco as easily as an away team beaming down to a planet, and Chief O’Brien even asks Odo to “stop by and visit” his parents in Dublin, implying that overseas travel, maybe to anywhere on Earth, is just as easy and instantaneous. The implications of this are pretty mind-blowing, as are the implications, from all those times we’ve been told that Earth is a money-less, post-scarcity society, that businesses like Sisko’s Restaurant don’t actually charge their customers, and that people like Joe Sisko work for their own satisfaction and for the good of society, and not to pay the bills, since they presumably have no bills to pay. But, again, we get no real exploration of how these changes have affected everyday life.
Don’t get me wrong: meeting Joe Sisko, and seeing the family dynamic at play between Joe, Ben, and Jake – complete with family friend Nog stopping by – makes for some charming character moments, and expands nicely on the impressive handling of Ben and Jake’s father-son relationship which has earned DS9 critical praise over the years. And while “Homefront,” in particular, suffers the same issue I’ve observed in some other 2-part episodes of Trek – padding that extra-long running time with scenes that seem irrelevant to, or tonally inconsistent with, the main story being told – a lot of those extra-padding scenes do some charming character work as well: Bashir and O’Brien cosplaying in the holosuites; Kira and Worf discussing the religious implications of the wormhole’s odd behavior; and Nog revealing that he frequents Sisko’s for the tube grubs. (Dax’s “prank” on Odo, in which she breaks into his quarters and gaslights him by moving all his furniture very, very slightly, is the only one of these diversions I really don’t care for. I get what they were going for – reminding us that Odo has a need for control which can cause him, at times, to lean slightly authoritarian – but it feels out of character for Dax, and less like a funny prank than a minor crime). But while I enjoy most of those character moments, I do wish these episodes had taken fuller advantage of this rare opportunity to show us, through everyday-living examples, what makes Earth the “paradise” it’s explicitly and repeatedly called throughout the episodes. “It took centuries for Earth to evolve into the peaceful haven it is today,” President Jaresh-Inyo warns Sisko and Admiral Leyton; “I would hate to be remembered as the Federation President who destroyed paradise.” But while we’re told that 24th-century Earth is a place so peaceful that the entire planet is rocked by the murder of a couple dozen people (something which might get a week or two of widespread public attention if it happened today, depending on who was murdered, and where), what we actually see of 24th-century Earth, and 24th-century humans, seems so similar to today that it’s hard to understand why the place is so peaceful.
I can forgive that, though, given that these episodes are focused on reminding us that our society, no matter how fair and peaceful it might seem, will always be vulnerable … and not just to external threats, like the Borg or the Dominion. While the first-time viewer might come away from “Homefront” thinking, as Admiral Leyton does, that the Changelings are Earth’s greatest threat, you don’t have to get very far into “Paradise Lost” before it becomes clear that humanity, even in the 24th century, is still its own worst enemy. One of the Changelings themselves, visiting Captain Sisko in the form of Chief O’Brien, hangs a lantern on this, telling Sisko that “in the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.” Watching these episodes today, I have to repeatedly remind myself that they first aired in 1996, half a decade before the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, because it is utterly uncanny how well they work as an allegory for our post-9/11 world. I noted before that Deep Space Nine – in some ways the least allegorical, most specifically world-built series of Star Trek so far – demonstrated an almost creepy ability to capture the implications of our present political moment in “Past Tense,” another two-part episode coming exactly one season before “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost.” That ability is on full display again in these later episodes. In the following exchange, for instance, Leyton’s rhetoric, with its thinly-veiled racism against the non-human Federation President, sounds eerily like something we’d hear from the populist politicians and pundits of today (if anything, Leyton sounds considerably toned-down in comparison):
Sisko: We’re doing everything the President will let us do.
Benteen: Maybe that’s not enough.
Odo: We could talk to the President again.
Leyton: I’m afraid that would be a waste of time. Jaresh-Inyo would be a fine President in peacetime, but we have a war on our hands. He doesn’t seem to understand that. All he cares about is not upsetting people. But humans are tougher than he thinks. We’ve created a paradise here, and we’re willing to fight to protect it.
Sisko: And you think the President isn’t willing to fight?
Leyton: I think the President is a long way from home. This isn’t his world. We can’t expect him to care about it the way we do.
When I watch that scene now, I half-expect Leyton to follow those lines by putting on a red “Make Earth Great Again” cap. Which is as good a segue as any to the Enterprise episodes “Demons” and “Terra Prime,” in which John Frederick Paxton, the charismatic fear-monger who inherited a fortune from his father, feels, again, eerily relevant today. Looking at Leyton and Paxton is, I think, an interesting way to start off comparing these two-parters. While “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost” are certainly a darker take on 24th-century humanity than we’re used to from Star Trek, they clearly do want us to see Leyton as being at least somewhat sympathetic; even at the very end, it’s the prospect of pitting Starfleet officers against each other (more than he already has, at least) that ultimately convinces him to surrender, and when he tells Sisko, “I hope you’re not the one making the mistake,” he seems to genuinely mean it. Still, we’re told that Leyton has strategically placed officers loyal to him in key positions on Earth – a process which must have taken some time to pull off without raising suspicion, meaning that he presumably started planning his military coup before the Changelings actually attacked Earth. If so, his plan was a deliberate, thought-out response to learning of the Changeling threat in the first place, and not a panicked, knee-jerk reaction to a traumatic event, which seems like an important distinction.
When I say that humanity is its own worst enemy, I’m not talking about human nature. I’m talking about human choices, made by humans in the position to make choices for other humans. However noble his motivations – which are, I think, debatable – Leyton chooses to do something indefensible, even by his own logic; he lectures Sisko on the importance of the chain of command, while working in secret to subvert the President’s rightful place above him in that chain. And in “Demons” and “Terra Prime,” Paxton, too, is shown to be a hypocrite, professing to follow an ideology of genetic purity while pursuing an alien treatment for his own health problems. But his hypocrisy hardly matters, since his stated goals and motivations are already awful, and are antithetical to the core philosophy of Star Trek. After all, his professed ideology – however seriously he takes it – comes from the World War III-era war criminal Colonel Green, established by The Original Series episode “The Savage Curtain” as, quite literally, an example of the worst humanity has to offer. (And if you haven’t seen that episode – otherwise known as “The Abe Lincoln in Space Episode” – I do mean literally literally: aliens recreate Green as part of a literal battle between good and evil, in which he serves as, essentially, the antithesis to Abraham freaking Lincoln.) Still, Paxton is skilled at cloaking Green’s canonically evil ideology in reasonable-sounding rhetoric, in a way that is uncomfortably close to what we hear from some pundits and populists today. Paxton’s story of “studying to be a historian” until “a very verbal confrontation with a certain professor who claimed that Green was nothing more than a genocidal madman” is eerily reminiscent of the carefully crafted origin stories of any number of alt-right scam artists today, who so often use post-secondary freedom of speech as their common-sense wedge issue, a way of coaxing otherwise reasonable people down a rabbit-hole of bad-faith arguments and extremist rhetoric. And if you can’t see Admiral Leyton owning a red “Make Earth Great Again” hat, I challenge you not to imagine Paxton wearing one during the oh-so-familiar-sounding rhetoric of this exchange, in which Trip Tucker demands to see his cloned daughter:
Tucker: I want to see her!
Paxton: No. And “no” is a word that Starfleet better get used to hearing from now on. Because up until today, it’s always been “yes,” hasn’t it? “Yes, yes, go right ahead, roam the stars. Yes, inform potentially hostile species of the whereabouts of Earth. Yes, entrust the entire future of our world to non-human creatures who don’t even feel like we do. Yes, promote the total degradation of mankind by encouraging alien-human relations.” Well, “yes” is a word that ends here and now. I’m returning Earth to its rightful owners. I am giving Earth back to humanity, back to human beings. It is my life’s work. It is what I was born to do, and there is no one, not an alien, not a human, that will stop me from achieving it.
In “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost,” the attempted coup doesn’t arise from public sentiment on Earth so much as from Leyton’s own fears and/or ambitions, and his ability to manipulate the misguided loyalties of his followers. But “Demons” and “Terra Prime” don’t grant us the luxury of believing that Paxton is just one bad, if charismatic, apple. When Captain Archer says, of the Terra Prime hate group and its sympathizers, “I can’t believe we’re talking about more than a small minority,” high-ranking Earth leader Nathan Samuels – himself a former, reformed member of Terra Prime – responds cryptically, “You’ve been away for a while.” Enterprise is, of course, set well before Deep Space Nine’s 24th-century “paradise,” meaning that its portrayal of humanity doesn’t yet have to be utopian. Still, this is a humanity who aren’t just taking, but leading, the first step toward establishing the famously peaceful and progressive United Federation of Planets, and it’s disturbing to think that, even after making it that far as a civilization, we could still be so ready to turn on those who are different, simply because they’re different. But in a way, I almost find the end of “Terra Prime” more hopeful than the end of “Paradise Lost,” precisely because “Demons” and “Terra Prime” portray a humanity I can actually recognize as humanity; a people who haven’t eradicated all their worst impulses – as we’re supposed to believe they have by the 24th-century – but who fight against those impulses, and who refuse to be held back by those who would exploit them.
Which is why I would tend to agree with those who argue that “Demons” and “Terra Prime” should have served as the series finale of Enterprise, in place of the actual finale that followed them, “These Are the Voyages …” And I don’t say that simply because “Voyages” – which presented the Enterprise characters’ final appearance on TV as a holodeck program run by characters from The Next Generation – was an infamously weird way to end not only Enterprise itself, but 18 uninterrupted years of new Trek on TV. “Demons” and “Terra Prime” certainly are better than “Voyages,” though of course they’re not perfect; a side-plot involving Mayweather’s ex-girlfriend, the conspicuously ineffective Starfleet Intelligence agent Gannet Brooks, feels particularly tacked-on, and serves as an unfortunate reminder of how poorly this series sometimes serves its female characters. But overall, these episodes make a pretty fitting conclusion to a series that began by revisiting the thesis, from the TNG film First Contact, that encountering alien life would inspire humanity to become the better version of itself that we had always seen in Star Trek to that point. While I have my problems with the way human-Vulcan relations are handled on Enterprise, especially early on – replacing the good-natured bickering of Spock and Bones with outright suspicion and hostility – I appreciate its acknowledgement that first contact with aliens wouldn’t magically change who we are; that any such change would take a lot of time, work, and push-back against those who would undo that work.
And while I have, again, some serious issues with how Trip and T’Pol’s relationship is sometimes handled (which are really just symptoms of a larger problem: the show’s treatment of T’Pol, and, again, of women in general), I think it’s clever and fitting to ground the larger story of “Demons” and “Terra Prime” in Trip and T’Pol’s own, more personal story. It keeps the progress made towards the founding of the Federation from being purely symbolic, and grounds its importance in what it will mean for people just trying to live their lives. The bittersweet revelation, at the end of “Terra Prime,” that Vulcans and humans really can have children together is, of course, another important turning point for Trek’s fictional future humanity (and connects prequel series Enterprise to The Original Series by officially making possible the eventual birth of a certain, much-beloved half-human, half-Vulcan character). But more than that, it illustrates that maybe, just maybe, there is always hope … or, to borrow a phrase from another franchise, “life finds a way,” in spite of the Leytons and Paxtons of the world.