Some of the best and worst episodes in the Star Trek universe come from the original premise of the shows: seeking out new life and new civilizations. Sometimes the plotline of meeting a new intelligent species is used to explore how civilizations may vary and what that says about our own. At other times, the trope is used to push a heavy-handed message of whatever political theme was on the writers’ minds that season.
In “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s” “Move Along Home” (season 1, episode 9), we get one of the better plots of these first contact episodes, where the crew of the station meet some folks from the other side of the wormhole who are a little…different. The execution, however, was flawed, leading the show to be voted by fans as the worst DS9 episode ever made.
That judgment is a little harsh. While not as deep or interesting as later seasons’ episodes, “Move Along Home” was enjoyable to watch and, despite its flaws, not obnoxious or ridiculous like some of the other shows on that list. It’s also worth noting that it is the only DS9 episode on the bottom ten for all Star Trek shows, a testament to the superiority of the series compared with others in the Star Trek universe.
Let’s Break It Down
The action begins with the arrival of the Wadi, a Gamma Quadrant species. Their delegation was led by Falow (played by character actor James Brooks), who eschews Sisko’s carefully arranged introduction ceremony. Instead, he asks where the games are, mentioning Quark’s bar by name. He goes there immediately with his crew to hit the tables, Sisko and DS9 senior staff in tow.
They play Quark’s games long into the night. The Wadi are, unsurprisingly, pretty good at gambling and when they win too much for Quark’s liking, he orders an employee to rig the game. The Wadi catch on immediately and confront Quark, who begs pitifully and offers them concessions, including a free turn in the holosuites.
The Wadi instead demand that Quark play one of their games, known as Chula. (This is, incidentally, the first time it is suggested that holosuites are used for sex with holograms, not just interactive detective novels, as was the case on “Star Trek: the Next Generation,” driving home the grittiness of this segment of the Star Trek universe.)
Chula is a role-playing game of sorts played on an enormous pyramidal board and, unbeknownst to Quark, the figures on the board are connected to real people. In this case, it means that Sisko, Kira, Dax, and Bashir are transported to a game world without their consent and made to face various challenges.
The game action is where the episode shows its biggest flaws. For all the value that the game-loving Wadi place on it, Chula is a pretty boring activity. Falow appears in the game and instructs the players to “move along home,” but other than that they are not told that what they are doing there.
Reluctantly, they go along with the challenges, which combine some aspects of brain teasers and physical challenges, but are really pretty basic and would have benefited from more time and special effects budget. Meanwhile, Odo notices the senior staff’s absence and investigates, joined by Starfleet security officer George Plimmen, appearing in his final episode. Bashir’s character falls as the doctor disappears from the action.
Quark and his “players” advance through the first level, but after Odo’s questioning he realizes the connection between the game and the missing officers and begins to act with far more caution than a typical gambler, to the Wadis’ disappointment.
Only A Game
An unlucky roll costs him a player, and Quark begs piteously not to have to choose which one will die. Falow relents, but only to the extent that he makes the game choose. A much more serious mood descends on the room, but Quark demands to be allowed to play the game his way, rejecting Odo’s calls for caution in favor of a shortcut that will let the players advance twice as fast—but at double the difficulty.
Play continues and the remaining three crew members are forced to cross a chasm. There is a rockslide, and the cliché of one person being injured and demanding to be left behind develops. The injured party, Dax, does the self-sacrificing thing seen in a thousand movies while Sisko and Kira demand that they be allowed to carry her onward, despite the difficulty.
It looks as though the result will be a dusted-off “Kobayashi Maru” scenario, with Sisko or Quark figuring a way to win something that was designed not to be won. Instead, fighting against the game’s sacrificial choice of Dax causes all three to tumble into the chasm, ending the game. Quark and Odo believed this would mean the death of their friends, but all four players then appear in Quark’s, alive and unharmed. “It’s only a game!” Falow says, with a laugh.
It is understandable why fans have called this episode one of DS9’s worst. The game was hokey and boring, the challenges faced by the players seemingly copies from some of Hollywood’s hoariest clichés. But there are good points to it, too. It shows the DS9 crew interacting with an alien species that is truly different from them, and not in a way that is designed to teach the usual heavy-handed lessons of bad sci-fi. It is simply a meeting of two peoples, their attempt to come together, and a resolution that is peaceful, if not particularly meaningful.
“Move Along Home” is not essential viewing for anyone rewatching DS9, unlike next week’s episode, “The Nagus.” Indeed, it seems like one that even the writers hoped to forget, as neither Falow nor the Wadi people are so much as mentioned again for the remaining six-and-a-half years the series would run. But if this is the worst “Deep Space Nine” has to offer, we can at least say that it speaks well of the series as a whole.