Those of you who’ve read my previous articles on the women of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, may have guessed that I’m kind’ve a sucker for romance. It’s true. I love romantic subplots, I get really excited about specrom books, I’m happiest as a writer when I’m working on UST-laden dialogue, and I’ve even been known to read the occasional mainstream Harlequin publication.
I do love a good romance – but, correspondingly, I loathe bad romance plots with the sullen resentment of a thousand gothic teenagers. One bad romance staple that is particularly likely to make me scowl is the Stupid Misunderstanding. Any of you who’ve ever read a mainstream romance, or watched a romantic comedy movie probably know exactly what I’m talking about – X meets Y, X and Y get along real well, X and Y do some kissing, X says/does/fails to say/fails to do something dumb which Y misinterprets/overanalyzes, X and Y have a temporary but dramatic breakup until they come to their senses at the end and realize that”¦ It was all just a Stupid Misunderstanding! They actually are Meant to Be! Yaye!
Plots that rely on at least one of the main, sympathetic – possibly even viewpoint – characters being idiotic enough to not recognize the Stupid Misunderstanding for what it is (y’know, stupid) from the beginning just never sit well with me. They feel too much like they’re expecting that the audience is about as dumb.
I can hear the cries of indolent, mediocre writers even now – “but a romantic subplot, like any other plot, requires conflict! If you take away our Stupid Misunderstandings, where will we get our conflict? Surely, you don’t want us to make one of the romantic leads a villain!”
Well, actually, that could be kind’ve interesting”¦ But no! No. What I want, O Lazy Writers, is for more of you write the sort of interpersonal conflict in a romantic subplot that developed between DS9‘s Kasidy Yates (played by Penny Johnson) and Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) in the fourth-season episode “For the Cause.”
In this episode, the audience – and Captain Sisko – learns that Kasidy has been secretly working with the Maquis, former Federation colonists who have refused to go along with Federation territory trades that would force them to relocate. Kasidy’s involvement with the group was necessarily secret, because the Maquis are very much personae non gratae with the Federation, as they’re a major source of friction between the Federation and the Cardassians.
When Captain Sisko’s staff first tells him that they suspect that Kasidy Yates is working with the Maquis, he’s understandably pretty shaken by the notion. And when he learns for sure that it’s true, he tries desperately to find a way to avoid doing what he knows he must, attempting to convince Kasidy to go on a sudden, unplanned vacation with him which will prevent her from making a delivery to the Maquis at which, Benjamin knows, she will be arrested.
But Kasidy is determined to do her job, even the illegal parts, right on time. She goes to the rendezvous with the Maquis, makes her delivery, and is exposed as a smuggler. Benjamin has no choice but to turn her in.
Well! That’s certainly not a Stupid Misunderstanding. That’s a great big massive problem, isn’t it? The sort of conflict that would really test a relationship.
Actually, it’s better than that. Because the writers are able to use this idea – that Kasidy Yates is a Maquis sympathizer – not only as a way of introducing conflict into the Kasidy/Ben relationship, but also to make Kasidy a stronger, more interesting character.
Because, despite his fears when he realizes what she’s been doing, Kasidy hasn’t been using Ben to further her activities with the Maquis. She really does love him. So much so that she voluntarily (and it is voluntary – there’s a section of the plot that I’m leaving out for space reasons that, among other things, requires that everyone who was waiting to arrest the Maquis at the rendezvous return to the space station before doing so, leaving all of the smugglers free to escape) returns to face her punishment, hoping that after she’s served her time, she and Benjamin can salvage their relationship.
Kasidy isn’t an opportunistic, amoral smuggler. She’s a woman of deep convictions, aiding the Maquis because she really believes that it’s right, and then facing the consequences bravely in the hopes of salvaging a relationship that’s clearly very important to her.
The relationship kind’ve has to be important to her, of course, if the character is to recur, because there’s no real reason for her to be on the show otherwise. Kasidy is not a main character, and was clearly marked from her first appearance on DS9 as a Love Interest. Benjamin didn’t even meet her by chance – he was actually set up on a blind date of sorts with Kasidy by his son (in the third-season episode “Family Business”).
But even though Kasidy as a character seems to have been created solely to fuel Benjamin Sisko’s romantic subplot, she was developed over the course of the series into a truly interesting supporting character in her own right. “For the Cause” was the first episode, for me, which really demonstrated Kasidy’s depth and strength, firmly establishing her as a principled, resolute woman – but it was not the last. And that depth of character made all of her later interactions with Benjamin far more interesting and engaging than they might otherwise have been (for example, her frustration with his protectiveness in “The Changing Face of Evil” in season seven).
Way better than an endless string of Stupid Misunderstandings.