Original air date: March 14, 1993
Notable guest stars: Joel Brooks as Falow, Clara Bryant as Chandra, James Lashly as Lt. George Primmin (recurring)
In a nutshell: Quark cheats some new aliens at a game of chance and the producers are forced to go all-in on a crazy, TOS-style script.
Say hello to: Nobody
Say goodbye to: The most forgettable recurring character of all time, security officer Lt. George Primmin (he just kind of disappears after this episode)
Missing in action: Miles O’Brien
Words of wisdom: “It’s only a game.” – Falow
Would you like to play a game?
Jake walks in on his father trying on his old dress uniform. While Jake tries to avoid hearing about the birds and the bees from his father, Sisko tells him that he’s getting dressed up for the arrival of the first official delegation of Gamma Quadrant folks on DS9 – the Wadi.
As the Wadi dock, Doctor Bashir is fretting to Kira and Dax about having misplaced his uniform. Sisko arrives and scolds him for forgetting it before opening the docking bay door.
The Wadi delegation steps onto the station and its leader introduces himself as Master Surchild Falow . As Sisko introduces his senior staff members, Falow cuts him off and asks to know where the games are. When the DS9 crew looks dumbfounded, he tells them he’s heard that there are games at Quark’s and he wants to play them. Kira bemusedly escorts the delegation to the Promenade while Sisko tells Dax that first contact “isn’t what it used to be.”
At the bar, Quark is worried that the Wadi won’t have anything of value to gamble (and lose). After giving them a free dabo spin to whet their gaming whistles, he asks what they might have to wager. When they produce some sticks and a drink, Quark isn’t impressed, but a bag of jewels gets them access to the dabo table.
Six hours later, Sisko is tired of sitting around watching the Wadi play dabo and Quark is tired of watching them win. Sisko decides to call it a night and leaves the delegation at Quark’s, where they show no signs of slowing down. As he returns home, he discovers that Jake is still awake working on a school project and hassles him again about hanging out with that troublemaker Nog.
Meanwhile, Quark tries to get the Wadi to step away from the dabo table by claiming that the dabo girl is tired. When Falow tells him to get another spinner, Quark replaces her with Broik and tells him to make sure the Wadi winning streak stops.
The Wadi soon discover that Broik is fixing the game and demand to play a new game that’s fair. Falow opens a box which magically transforms the dabo table into a large structure with multiple platforms. As he places playing pieces on the platforms, he explains to Quark that the game is called Chula.
Suddenly, Sisko is whisked away from his bed and finds himself on the floor of an unknown room.
After unsuccessfully attempting to contact Ops and verifying that he’s not in a holodeck, Sisko makes his way through one of the room’s doors. As he continues to search, he opens another door and finds Falow behind it, laughing maniacally and urging him to “move along home” over and over. The door closes before Sisko can get him to say anything else.
Hearing faint, girlish screams in the distance, Sisko discovers Bashir in another corridor. The doctor sheepishly explains he thought that he was in a nightmare and was trying to wake himself up as Kira and Dax appear, also drawn in by his cowardly cry. The group quickly theorizes that they must be in some sort of mental aptitude test devised by the Wadi, something that displeases Kira greatly. With nothing else to go on, they must try to find a way out of what appears to be a maze.
The next morning, Jake Sisko walks into Odo’s office and asks for help in locating his father. Odo confirms with the computer that Sisko isn’t on the station, but there’s no record of him having left. He goes up (down? sideways?) to Ops and finds Lt. Primmin manning ops solo and acting like a general goober. Primmin reports that none of the senior officers reported for duty and he assumes it was because their first contact meeting ran late into the night. Odo warns him that the officers are probably missing and that he’s a rockabilly wanker.
In the game, the group discovers a room containing a girl playing hopscotch while reciting a seemingly nonsensical rhyme. The girl doesn’t respond to the crew’s questions and Kira is stopped by a force field when she attempts to walk to the door behind her. Bashir guesses that the girl’s hopscotching is the key to deactivating the force field, but he too is shocked even though he follows her pattern exactly. Dax is able to figure out that the girl’s song – in connection with the hopscotching – will unlock the path. All four crew members make their way past the force field by following her motions and singing the song.
After they make their way through the door, the little girl breaks her cycle and tells them they’ve reached the “third schap.” Back at Quark’s, every one celebrates and Falow gives Quark a handful of jewels as his winnings. Quark decides that he’s going to like this game.
Falow tells Quark to choose the players’ path – the easy path is longer, but the short path is more difficult. He also warns Quark that if none of the players reach home, he’ll lose all of his wager.
Odo storms into the bar and asks Quark if he’s seen any of the officers that are missing. Quickly, Quark and Odo realize that the officers have somehow been trapped inside the game and Quark is now playing for their survival. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Quarks opts for the safer route.
In the game, Sisko and company suddenly find themselves in the middle of what appears to be a Wadi cocktail party. Kira gets in people’s faces and throws food on the floor while yelling, but none of party guests do anything but laugh. Just as Sisko warns Bashir about drinking or eating anything, the room begins to fill with a poisonous cloud. As they’re choking on the toxic fumes, Bashir notices that none of the guests appears to be suffering and quickly guesses that the drinks are keeping them alive. He takes a swig and discovers that it is indeed antidote for whatever poison the smoke contains. After all of the crew members take a drink, the apparitoin of Falow informs them they have moved on to “schap four.”
The crowd and smoke disappear, and the group makes their way into the next corridor. In the real world, Falow hands Quark another round of winnings and moves the game pieces to the next level as Odo walks out of the bar.
Odo and Primmin scan the Wadi vessel and discover a large energy source, approximately the same as a transporter beam but sustained instead of just lasting a few seconds. Over a scuffle over whether Odo can just beam over to the Wadi ship and investigate with telling them, he does so and finds a room containing a blinding light. When he jumps into the room, he emerges back in Quark’s bar.
Falow is again asking Quark to choose a path for the players. Odo demands the Falow end the game immediately, but he warns that doing so would forfeit all of the game pieces. Unable to stop the game, Odo and Quark take the safer path once again. After Quark rolls the dice, Falow tells him that his roll was an unfortunate one.
As Kira and Bashir squabble over whether he’s taking the game and its stakes seriously enough or not, the group detects something coming their way fast. They try to take cover, but rotating triangles of light dots enter the room and seem to look them over one-by-one. At the same, Fallow is moving his fingers past the pieces in the real world. He chooses the tall blue piece and removes it from the board. In the game, the lights converge on Bashir and he immediately vanishes.
Odo asks Falow what the removal of the game piece means, but he gets no answer. Fallow tells him he will not put the piece back on the board, but Odo can play the game if he likes once Quark is finished. Falow then commands Quark to once again pick a path. Thinking that he’s deduced the odds of the game, Quark opts to take the shorter path and give the crew members a chance to make it “home” in just one move.
Quark rolls again. Fallow tells him that he must now choose now to be sacrificed so that the other two may live.
Quark cannot decide which one to sacrifice and begs Falow to not make him decide. After groveling on the floor and claiming to have learned his lesson about cheating, Falow decides to release him from making the decision. Instead, he programs the game to randomly select a piece to be sacrificed.
In the game, the three remaining crew members hear the voice of Bashir calling to them, claiming to have found the way out. Dax comes upon a room filled with boulders. As she follows Bashir’s voice, she stumbles and gets her leg pinned underneath a large rock. The vague of form of Bashir in the distance suddenly transforms into Falow, who announces that they’ve jumped to “schap six.”
The room begins rumbling ominously and Kira confirms with the tricorder that they’re on top of a massive geological fault and about to die. Dax’s leg isn’t broken, but her injury does slow the party down as they try to escape. They soon reach a giant gap, which Dax cannot possibly jump across. Unwilling to leave Dax behind, Sisko and Kira grab Dax and find a way around. A rock slide knocks them into the darkness…and reappear inside Quark’s bar, along with Bashir. Their lives were apparently never really in danger.
Quark rejoices that they have survived and that he won the game, but Falow informs him that he lost the game since all the game pieces were lost. As the Wadi prepare to leave the bar, Sisko angrily confronts Falow to let him know he didn’t appreciate their little game. Odo then reveals that the whole thing was caused by Quark’s cheating. The Wadi leave without really taking the blame for anything as Quark follows them down the hall, trying to buy the rights to their game.
Thoughts and ruminations
- I’m glad to see they didn’t ruin the dress uniforms like they did the daily duty duds.
- I can’t imagine Kirk or Picard giving anyone “the talk.” Well, maybe Picard giving it to Wesley. But it’d be uncomfortable and he’d have to go to Riker afterwards to get the real low-down.
- Why can’t Bashir just replicate himself a new dress uniform?
- I love Sisko’s reaction when the Wadi ask to be taken immediately to Quark’s.
- With the number of first contact scenarios that could conceivably unfold on DS9, wouldn’t it make sense to have some one more senior than Sisko in command? Or at least have a flag rank officer on the station purely for such duties?
- Also, shouldn’t Sisko leave someone other than Quark with the Wadi at the end of the night? Some sort of Starfleet officer just to make sure nothing goes wrong?
- It was convenient that the Wadi’s game changed Sisko out of his pajamas and into an uniform (which they haven’t seen him wear). And gave him a tricorder.
- There’s something genuinely creepy about Falow’s laughter as he urges Sisko to “move along home!”
- Once again, Kira seems to fly off the handle for no good reason.
- It’s unclear as to whether time passes at the same rate inside the game as it does in the real world. I suspect it doesn’t, since otherwise it would make gameplay for those in the real world incredibly boring.
- LIL’ JAKEY IS GIRL-CRAZY!!!!!
- It’s fun to watch Quark be thrown completely out of his comfort zone while playing what amounts to intergalactic Calvinball.
- Likewise, it’s also fun to watch Sisko, Kira, Dax, and Bashir have to act like complete idiots while matching the little girl’s hopscotch routine.
- Do the Wadi not eat or drink? They’re hardcore gamers.
- None of the Wadi’s puzzles really seem all that difficult to figure out.
- Why is there a precise translation for everything the Wadi say except for words that would let us understand how to play the game? Or are we to believe that they’ve mastered English after their encounter with the Vulcans?
- Odo and Primmin are quite the bad cop/good cop duo.
- Of the four game pieces, I like the one representing Bashir the best. But blue is my favorite color.
- For the second time already in the series, the crew has their lives placed in Quark’s hands. Literally, this time.
- The cave scene goes on too long. Just make the damn jump already.
- This episode marks an unfortunate step backwards for Kira’s character. She’s once again portrayed as an angry hothead that lashes out at the drop of a hat. While she never completely loses this edge, I’m glad they toned it down in later seasons.
- Again, Quark suffers no repercussions for his actions.
This episode is frequently cited as one of DS9‘s worst by the assembled hordes of the internet, but I don’t know – it kind of works for what it is. The plot is certainly paper-thin and there’s no attempt at character development whatsoever, but it doesn’t have the kind of cheesiness that you would have found in a TOS or early-season TNG episode featuring the same story. It’s 42 minutes of treading water, but it’s okay enough to watch once and then move along with your life. Since it would become such a dark, serious series, DS9 really needed to have the ability to step back and embrace silliness every once in a while just to keep things enjoyable for viewers. TOS delved into this realm too often, while TNG never really got the hang of it. I think it’s a bit early in the series to roll out an episode like this, but it’s not the terrible abomination other online reviewers have made it out to be. Two out of four Odo buckets.