The too-neat ending

I enjoyed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when it came out, but I never actually watched it that regularly until the last season. So recently I decided to watch the whole thing.

The show's series finale is this behemoth of nine or ten linked episodes, and what I remember feeling about all that when it finally came to its conclusion was a vague sense of disappointment, a sense that it was really all too pat. Watching it again, this time with the full weight of seven seasons of the show behind it, I felt exactly the same way.

If you've never watched the show, it takes place on a space station, and the main characters are a mix of humans and aliens. In that great Star Trek/social science-fiction tradition of using aliens as metaphors for human problems, there's a lot in there about issues of identity in a multi-cultural society. (Gee, no, it didn't influence the Trang series at all--why do you ask?)

Well, at the end those issues are largely dropped in favor of basically assigning each alien back to their home planet, whether or not they have actually lived there as adults or can relate to the people there in any kind of meaningful way. There's a big dollop of wish-fulfillment thrown in there, so that no fewer than four of the major characters end up ruling and/or saving "their" people, and another gets hoovered up to live with some mystical aliens (leaving behind both a son and a pregnant wife) because he's kind of related to them in some vague, mystical fashion. The concept that someone might leave a place, move someplace new, and be happier in the new place is totally discounted--the major alien character who stays on the station does so only because his planet is no longer traditional enough for him.

While metaphor can deepen a story, I feel like the finale of Deep Space Nine shows how the sloppy use of metaphor can really weird people out. Part of the problem with the finale for me is that if you have that metaphor (alien identity = ethnic identity) in the back of your mind, you can't help but notice how neatly the conclusion of the series parallels the "solution" certain white supremacists have for the United States--just ship everybody back to where they came from, and we'll all be happier!

The other issue is that, while it's really an ensemble piece, there is a main character, the captain of the station, named Benjamin Sisko. He is pitted against a character named Dukat, who is always kind of an antagonist, but who, as the show progresses, becomes an outright villain.

The problem with Dukat is that, as he becomes a villain, he explicitly and repeatedly identifies himself as the enemy of Sisko. He makes it very clear that there is going to be--in fact, there must be--some big confrontation between him and Sisko, and that only one of the two will survive.

And then, in the series finale, there's a big confrontation between Dukat and Sisko, and only one of the two survives. Take a wild guess which one.

Ugh. You know, that kind of set-up is extremely common: The big hero meets the big villain and defeats him. It's why Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is kind of a waste of paper--870 pages to learn that Harry Potter must defeat Voldemort? I'd figured that out already, thanks.

When you're presenting something that's been done so many times before, to pull it off you either have to do it in a really interesting way (which I think the Potter books do, eventually), or mix things up a bit. One of the joys of the Buffyverse was that, more often than not, the big hero (Buffy or Angel) did not defeat the big villain. Sometimes they did, but more often than not things didn't work that way: A friend might do the dirty work, or maybe the big villain actually wasn't such a big villain and got offed by a bigger villain. If the villain was a serious threat, getting rid of him had to be a group effort, and sometimes the hero wouldn't quite manage it properly and the villain would come back later. In the case of Angel (who becomes a villain at one point), he was only a villain temporarily, so taking him down was an agonizing experience.

The point was: It was unpredictable. Things in the Buffyverse always had the potential to go sideways. As a result, even when there was a straight-up hero-defeats-villain scenario, it was fresh, because there was a very real chance it might not come off. You didn't come out of it feeling like you could have saved a lot of time by checking out on the storyline the moment Big Villain said, "Ha-ha! It's going to be a battle to the death between Big Hero and me!"