The Storyteller isn’t nearly as compelling of an episode as it could be. Of the two main plots, I found that of Jake and Nog to be amusing, while that of Bashir and O’Brien fell a bit short. I can understand and appreciate the message the writers were working on, but it was really poorly executed, and just didn’t work for me.
O’Brien the Uninspiring
The main plot brings Doctor Bashir and Chief O’Brien down to Bajor for a medical emergency which threatens a village. It turns out that every year, for five days, the village is attacked by a Dal’roc, a supernatural cloud of energy. The Sirah, a spiritual leader, rallies the town against this common foe. The problem is that the Sirah is dying, and his chosen successor has lost the goodwill of the people.
So he picks Everyman O’Brien as his successor. Just as it was rather ludicrous to see O’Brien try to instruct children in a schoolroom setting, it’s difficult to see him attempt to orate. This is of course why the Sirah chose him, rather than the much more charismatic Bashir, an officer. O’Brien is meant to fail, so the Sirah’s apprentice can regain the confidence of the village.
Nog can’t talk to girls
Ok, maybe Nog can talk to girls, but he’s not very good at it. When a teenaged Bajoran girl is aboard the station to negotiate a land dispute with a competing Bajoran clan, Nog and Jake clearly need to spend time with her.
While Nog is tongue tied, Jake seems confident. While he also wants to impress her, he also wants to help her solve her problems, one of which is how to live up to her parents’ legacies. Jake ties this back to his own admiration of his father. It’s an effective way of developing not only Jake’s character, but that of Benjamin as well, even when his father isn’t on screen.
Without the interactions between Jake and Nog, this episode would be completely unbearable.
Themes: Discord and Unity
Both plots speak to a common theme, the dangers that division brings to a community. In a way, this is what we saw in Battle Lines, but unlike their never-ending battle, we see the Bajorans working to find a common ground, a reason to rally together. This sense of division, particularly from the Bajorans, is going to be increasingly clear in upcoming episodes, especially since Kai Opaka was lost on the other side of the wormhole in the last episode.
There are some other good things about this episode. O’Brien’s appointment as a spiritual leader mirrors Sisko becoming the Bajoran’s Emissary. It really seems strange for two Federation officers to be honored as spiritual figures by the Bajorans. Is it because they’re convenient outsiders? In this case, the honor is only temporary, and is intended as a transitional figurehead.
The theme of internal discord among the Bajorans is something that is further developed in later episodes, but we don’t really get more than a feeling of it here.
The problem with rejected plots
When I watched this episode, the main plot really failed to hold my interest. While I can see the kind of narrative the writers were aiming for, I didn’t see the urgency. The episode plays too heavily on the humour of O’Brien as a unwilling, skeptical spiritual leader, without qualifications, and less about how things got to that point.
The village is ready to accept an outsider–not only of the village, but to the planet itself–as their spiritual leader, because he was publicly chosen by their former leader. This does mirror Sisko’s position as Emissary to the Prophets, which is what they were likely going for, but instead of a leader, we get O’Brien. Let me be clear: O’Brien is one of my favourite characters, but he’s not a charismatic leader. While it’s fun to see him play different roles in the series, this is really one he just doesn’t fit. And that’s the point. If he was charismatic, he would have rallied the villagers against the Dal’roc, and the rightful Sirah would have been unable to regain support.
It’s just all kinds of awkward to have your plot rely on your main characters failing in order to succeed. The other major problem with the episode is that the whole Dal’roc business seems completely unnecessary given the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. Why would they have needed to create a monster, when the Cardassians were present? It’s an interesting premise, but feels very rushed in execution.
Furthermore, why is O’Brien even on this mission? If it’s a medical emergency, you send a doctor, not an engineer. He certainly isn’t needed as a physical escort. Oh, the script calls for it? Alright then. Why does it call for O’Brien? Oh right, because this was a rejected TNG script. That’s right. This episode wasn’t good enough for the first season of TNG. So let’s shoehorn it into DS9. In fact, the episode makes far more sense as a TNG episode. Picard was always the diplomat, it would have made sense for him to negotiate a treaty between two warring tribes. It doesn’t fit as well with Sisko. Especially when an episode like Q-Less did so much to show how Sisko was inherently different from Picard, the writers have to go use a script written for Picard.
Overall, this episode was a real letdown, one of the weakest in the season.
The Storyteller first aired 2 May, 1993. Teleplay by Kurt Michael Bensmiller & Ira Steven Behr. Story by Kurt Michael Bensmiller. Directed by David Livingston.