Original air date: 14 March 1993
The X-Files had 7, 8 and 9; Sons of Anarchy went to Ireland. Every show has a stinker season or two. In the case of serialized Trek TV, these tend to be the years when someone forgets to keep Brannon Braga away from the writer’s room. Fortunately, by the time DS9 went into production at Paramount, he was busy ruining the TNG movie franchise and his influence on the adventures of Captain Sisko and the crew of the Federation’s wormhole-guarding outpost was limited. You can tell because the show is mostly awesome throughout its seven-season run.
Look, even the best television series often struggle to find their footing at the outset, as the writers and actors seek to connect with and explore a deeper understanding of the characters and stories they will live with every day during the show’s production run. Remember the first three years of TNG? Yeah, I wish I didn’t either. And by “Move Along Home”, the tenth episode of the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (originally aired March 14, 1993), it’s clear the show has yet to find an identity.
Everyone in this episode looks uncomfortable in their roles, while the clunky plot and dumb dialog only serve to inflate the sense of awkwardness. Captain Sisko still has a long road before him on his journey to become the decisive, seasoned commander of the former Terok Nor station, who will eventually prove his mettle in the face of impossible odds at the front lines of the Dominion War. Terry Farrell gives a flat, vaguely dead-behind-the-eyes interpretation of Jadzia and the intimate trust shared between her Dax symbiont and Sisko – which in later seasons will become the familiar and wonderful relationship we all loved so much – feels weird and a little icky here. It’s easy to see that neither Avery Brooks nor Farrell really understand how the symbiont-Trill host bond is supposed to work or what the writers are hoping to convey through the shared history of the characters. Alexander Siddig spends most of the episode looking confused about what he should be doing and contents himself by striking silly poses in hatchways whenever the camera swings in his direction.
And Quark? Well… This is a “Quark episode,” so the flaws here are particularly evident. As viewers, we share the journey of the hard-working station crew over the seasons and in particular we will come to know Armin Shimerman’s greedy Ferengi who runs the station bar named after himself, as a lovable rascal who always seems to find a way to do the right thing by his friends and family even as he schemes and maneuvers to enrich his stash of pressed latinum. We admire his personal journey to discover his moral compass, and that lets us identify with him. His actions mean something because he learns from his mistakes and strengthens his bonds to those around him through love, loss and conscious personal sacrifice. Here, he instead comes across as a shallow, unlikable caricature of the Quark we witness emerging in later seasons and in “Move Along Home”, our heroes are forced to succeed despite his avaricious manipulations rather than benefit from them. Like the other players on the cast, Shimerman – an otherwise brilliant character actor – isn’t helped by dumb, awkward dialog or the silly situation. Only Nana Visitor’s Major Kira and Rene Auberjonois’s Odo feel even remotely like fleshed out, relatable people.
So let’s get to the story, such as it is. A delegation from the Wadi – Trek’s tattooed forehead alien archetypes from the Gamma Quadrant at their very finest – arrive at the station to make a formal “first contact”. Senior station staff in their Sunday best are confused when they learn that all the Wadi want to do is play games. Quark though – never one to miss an opportunity to gamble – is right on their wavelength and it takes almost no time at all for him to engage the Gamma Quadrant guests in a rousing game of dabo. The Wadi prove to be more than a match for our frustrated Ferengi and, tired of losing nearly every round, Quark resorts to cheating. Of course, he is quickly caught and his dishonest actions threaten to destabilize the delicate First Contact proceedings.
(Side note: for someone who games and gambles as much as Quark supposedly does, and for such high stakes, he’s a laughably bad cheater. I guess that’s supposed to let us know that deep down inside he’s just such a good guy that he really can’t rip people off all that well. Which makes him a really poor Ferengi, right? (no pun intended.)). Anyway…
Hoping to avoid punishment and possible reprisal for sparking a diplomatic incident with a newly contacted race, Quark is forced to accept the head Wadi Blue Forehead Tattoo’s offer to play a game of their own: Chula. I guess they think the bar needs more bread sticks, because I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re offering to play for here. What Quark doesn’t realize is that the 3D representation of the Chula board – Chula is Wadi for 3D Chutes and Ladders, I think – is more than it seems. After a few convoluted plot twists, we learn that members of the senior station crew – in this case, Sisko, Bashir, Kira, Dax – are being inserted into the maze as virtual game pieces in some parallel reality where Quark’s decisions and actions in the game affect – and inevitably worsen – the trapped crew members’ situation. There’s a particularly painful scene where they encounter a little girl doing a hopscotch routine and singing a song. To get through the force field keeping them in the room, the four must exactly emulate her actions, not only touching the same tiles on the floor, but singing her song as they do so. I believe this was included to provide some levity, but words alone cannot describe the excruciating discomfort this segment evokes in the viewer. Stop reading this right now, fast forward to this scene and watch it. Then make yourself watch it again. It’s embarrassing. And through all of this the Wadi leader keeps randomly appearing throughout the Maze of Death, spewing riddles and kicking his rhymes for the ages to confuse, confound and entertain the trapped crew members.
And can we talk about the game for a minute? The play mechanics of Chula don’t matter, nor does it make a bit of difference that the rules are utter nonsense – they don’t need to be logical since they’re just a device to put our heroes in peril for 43 minutes. Also, it’s interesting to note that the Trek writers’ fascination with taking standard board games and making them 3D is fully on display in this episode and in more ways than one. I’ve often wondered why Paramount didn’t hire a game designer or two from Parker Brothers to help them come up with something more interesting than 3D Chess, 3D Parchessi, 3D Candy Land or whatever this is supposed to be…
Cliched plot devices abound throughout: falling painted Styrofoam rocks trap someone’s leg and there is at least one challenge which the team must work together to survive. Because if there’s one thing military officers in the future don’t know how to do, it’s work as a cohesive unit in order to overcome difficulty and achieve their goals in dangerous situations. Some other things happen, I think – at one point Odo finds himself in the maze – but in the end it doesn’t really matter because just when things seem their most dire, we learn that the danger was never real because the delegates were playing a game of their own, all along. Oh those mischievous Wadi pranksters!
Should you watch this? No. In the end, none of it matters because no one was in peril. There are no stakes, no risks and thus, our heroes aren’t afforded any chance to grow or take something meaningful from the experience. As an audience we don’t have a way to deepen our connection to them. There’s some dumb subplot Sisko shares with Jake about the birds and the bees or girl-watching or something, but it’s clunky and even an acting talent like Brooks can’t save it, so it’s only there to eat minutes between commercials and generally annoy viewers. Lastly, the effects are terrible. This normally wouldn’t bother me too much, first seasons being what they are and all, but when “Move Along Home” first aired, Star Trek: The Next Generation – a smashing success for Paramount, as far Trek TV goes – was winding down its sixth season, airing concurrently with DS9, and filling production company coffers with syndication and advertising dollars. Surely they could have invested some cash in making this look a little less like “Skin of Evil”. I’m probably nitpicking but with everything else going so badly, this was just one more thing to help me hate it.
Don’t watch this episode. I’m not kidding. In fact, if you haven’t seen DS9 end to end yet, throw away your season one discs (or delete your iTunes downloads), go read show summaries on Memory Alpha to catch up on the various back stories, and start with season two. “Move Along Home” is a particularly craptacular episode in a season of crappy shows.
Two stars out of ten.