HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
I’ve watched “Move Along Home,” so you don’t have to. You’re welcome. That said, watching the episode reminded me that while it’s no “In the Pale Moonlight,” it’s no “Sub Rosa” or “Code of Honor” either. While the episode has some serious, glaring flaws, the story did try and accomplish something interesting by subverting our expectations of games in science fiction and alien cultures. I wish it had managed to do a better job, but all in all, I think I liked “Move Along Home” better than I did “The Passenger.”
The episode opens with Sisko trying on his dress uniform for the first time in three years and discussing girls with his 14 year old son, Jake. Sisko expresses displeasure that Jake has discussed girls with Nog, and he promises to have a talk with his son to do “damage control” on the issue. Major Kira comms him to inform him that the Wadi will disembark from docking bay four. Dr. Bashir, Kira, and Lt. Dax are already there when he arrives, though Dr. Bashir has misplaced his dress uniform.
The Wadi arrive, and Sisko prepares to offer them the traditional First Contact greetings, but the Wadi themselves are interested only in what games the Federation and Bajor offer. They request to be taken to Quark’s, so Kira leads them to the dabo tables, where they apparently play all night. During the course of the games, they begin to lose, and the Wadi deduce, accurately, that Quark has been cheating. Falow, the Master Surchid of the Wadi, challenges Quark to a game of Chula, and Quark accepts.
Sisko, having retired after watching the Wadi play Dabo for some time, meets Jake and promises him that chat in the morning. However, Sisko does not awake to find his quarters and Jake but rather in some strange labyrinth. After some searching, he encounters an image of Falow, who tells him to “Move along home,” before closing the door. Sisko suddenly hears some screaming and heads off to investigate. He finds Dr. Bashir up against a wall, screaming. Lt. Dax and Major Kira quickly find them, and they agree to split up to find a way out.
Back on the station, Jake goes to Odo to inform him that Sisko is missing and not on the station. Odo agrees to investigate and heads up to Ops to find a remarkably calm Mr. Primmin manning Major Kira’s station. Odo wants to know if Primmin has ever lost a commander before, and Primmin surmises that the senior officers are basically sleeping in after an all-night party with the Wadi.
Down in Quark’s Falow has Quark roll dice, explaining that he has to learn the rules as he plays. Quark rolls. Back in the game, despite having agreed to split up, the four players find their way into a single room in which a girl is reciting a rhyme and playing hopscotch. They also discover that there is an ionic field blocking their way forward, so Bashir decides to emulate the girl’s footsteps. He gets decently far but hits the field. Dax suggests that they all say the rhyme and play hopscotch as the girl does. They do and move into the second shap. In Quark’s, the Wadi all cheer, and Falow moves the pieces on the board.
Just as Quark begins discussing possible franchising agreements for Chula, Odo charges into the bar to demand to know if Quark has seen the four missing officers. Quark looks from Odo to the game board and immediately deduces that the missing officers are in the game. Falow then forces Quark to choose a path, and Quark opts for the easier route. He rolls the dice, and back in the game, the players encounter a room filled with merry-making Wadi. A toxic gas begins seeping into the room, and Bashir deduces that the substance the Wadi have been drinking is the antidote. They all drink and pass through to the third shap.
Odo storms out and returns to Ops where he has Primmin scan the Wadi ship. Primmin finds a strange energy signature, and Odo beams over to investigate. He walks through a bright light and finds himself once again in Quark’s. He concludes that they must finish the game to save the four missing officers. However, this time, when Quark rolls, Falow informs him that it was an unfortunate roll. Back in the game, a series of lights envelops Bashir, and he disappears. The three remaining players press forward. Falow once again has Quark choose a path, and Quark chooses the riskier path because doing so will allow the players to skip an entire level, reaching “home” in a single move. Quark rolls again, but this time, his roll requires him to sacrifice a player so that the other two may live. Quark refuses, begging the Wadi to forgive his cheating. The Wadi relent, and Falow programs the computer to select a player at random.
In the game, Sisko, Kira, and Dax leave the previous labyrinth and find a rocky cavern. However, the cavern isn’t stable, and Dax becomes injured in a rock fall. She tells Sisko and Kira to jump across to the exit, but both refuse to leave her. They try to find a way around, but all three fall from a ledge. They reappear in Quark’s, where Quark cheers for their success. Falow, however, tells him that Quark lost all of his players and confiscates all of Quark’s winnings. Sisko is furious because they all really believed they were in peril. Falow, confused, tells him that chula is just a game. He offers Quark a rematch before the Wadi leave, and Quark follows them, offering to franchise Chula.
Before anyone feels compelled to point it out, yes, I do recognize the rather overt Alice in Wonderland references here. While we don’t get a white rabbit, we do get a little girl singing about “Allamaraine.” We don’t get a Red Queen so much as a blue-painted Falow. Sisko, Dax, Bashir, and Kira get transported into a world based on a game, and they must play the game to escape. In and of itself, that’s all fine and dandy, but “Move Along Home” presents us with a pretty pale imitation of Lewis Carroll’s work.
More to the point, however, is that the episode works entirely too hard to hide the ball. At any point, a simple explanation from Falow would have nipped the entire situation in the bud, and honestly, I really don’t understand why he doesn’t say something. Quark and Odo clearly display real distress. While I can see that Falow might believe Quark worried about financial gains and losses given Quark’s everything, Odo has no dog in Quark’s particular hunt. One assumes that the Wadi have some understanding of diplomacy as a spacefaring race, so surely, Falow can understand that their Chula causes the Alpha Quadrant contingent real concern. Why he chooses not to alleviate same remains a mystery.
There’s also the question of consent. Why does Chula require the participation of unrelated parties? Falow effectively kidnaps Sisko, Dax, Bashir, and Kira for his game without concern for their well-being. The Wadi may be so accustomed to Chula that they fully expect to disappear into the game at any point during their day-to-day lives, which would be awfully inconvenient. Even if so, having the same expectation of another culture makes absolutely no sense. I still get wanting to punish Quark by serving up some of his own medicine, but Falow seems to be going overboard.
I understand that the entire point of the story is to keep the characters and therefore the audience guessing; the reveal that they were never in any real danger is supposed to be a twist. Very little of their experiences in Chula presented any real threat. The ionic field serves as an impediment but is not lethal. The toxic gas apparently did no lasting harm once the players, and though falling rocks did injure Dax, nothing about the injury appeared to be fatal. Yes, Falow talks about the gamepieces in terms of living and dying, but don’t most of us when we’re playing a board game? However, as viewers, we’re programmed to accept both bad faith and peril when we see our characters thrown into this kind of bizarre situation. From TOS on, that’s the narrative. “Move Along Home” tries to subvert that trope, but it fails to do so. The episode’s reveal undermines the nobility the characters display and therefore just falls flat.
The episode isn’t entirely awful. Joel Brooks gives Falow just the right balance of silliness and menace. His Falow saves the episode from being a total loss. The interaction between Sisko and Jake hints at the complexity not only of Jake’s adolescence but of Sisko’s character. Sisko’s distrust of Nog smacks not only of parental disapproval but also of vague racism. While not an entirely good look for a Starfleet officer, it does add depth to Sisko’s character that the series will use as a building block later.
Still, if you’re doing a rewatch, give this one a pass.
Let’s call it a double.
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- I really believe Chula was designed by Fantasy Flight. The rules are complicated, opaque, and impossible to follow. I say this with love; you would not believe the number of Fantasy Flight games I have in my stash.
- Dr. Bashir’s elimination allowed Siddig El Fadil to appear in Birthright I.
- Speaking of Bashir, I’m glad we were given a reprieve from his overall creepiness, but the bit where he starts screaming is just painful. Again, Bashir will improve. I promise. It just won’t be in this season.
- Quark says what we all know about the holosuites. TNG may not have admitted it, but DS9 sure does.