I am tempted to say that I enjoyed this last chapter of "Restoration" more than any other. It's not that it is so distinctly better than previous installments, though certainly of no less a calibre. Rather, my acute appreciation is due in large part, I think, to the fact that you recently irretrievably anchored me to the story by cementing my perception of Ba'el Sarine through your wish-casting of Sam Jackson in role. (Beg pardon for the mixed metaphors.) Now that I'm seeing Ba'el as Jackson---brown, bald, and badass---I feel like I'm watching him in a movie, which is a terrific sensation to have while reading.
"Pulp Fiction" is one of my top ten favorite movies and Jules-the-Hitman one of my favorite characters. I felt a shudder the fist time we saw Jackson on screen as Mace Windu, and I barely managed to stop myself from squealing like an 8-year-old girl when Jackson/Windu shows up with an small army of Jedi to rescue Anakin and Padmae from the Separatists and delivers that oh-so-Jackson line to Duku: "This party is over!" (I recall squinting at the screen as if I could see the inscription on the handle of Windu's purple lightsaber that says "BMF." According to Jackson, a purple lightsaber, the only one of that color in all of Star Wars, was his condition for accepting the role of Windu. And Lucas sweetened the deal by having "BMF"---Bad-Mother-Fcuker---inscribed on the handle in homage to Jules/Jackson/Pulp-fiction.)
... And still, I hadn't imagined Jackson as Ba'el. Jackson's brand had, for me, cheapened more than a bit in recent years with roles in such marginally amusing celluloid dreck as "Deep Blue Sea" (in which he, nigh literally, jumped the shark as a performer) and "Snakes On A Plane." I think Jackson partly redeemed (Redemption!) himself, though, with 2008's "Lakeview Terrace." I'd forgotten how genuinely menacing Jackson can be, especially when he's not playing the goodguy. (When it comes to emoting rancorous, violent, explosive, intractable, menacing, rage, I think Jackson is up there with Hackman, Dinero, and Nicholson.)
[["Ba’el grasped Robau’s hand in a firm shake. 'Good to see you too, Captain Robau.'
'I don’t think we need to stand on ceremony. You can call me Ted.'
'Ted. You can call me Captain.'
Robau frowned for a moment, then relaxed as Sarine chuckled softly. 'You had me going there for a moment, Captain.'
'Bay,' Ba’el replied, holding up his hands. 'Please call me Bay.'"]]
That was brilliant. Were you actually imagining Jackson when you wrote that? I think Ba'el's dialogue here is totally Sam Jackson---even as he is ostensibly allowing a degree of informality, he still manages, almost aggressively-passive-aggressively, to keep a solid sensor lock on interpersonal dominance; it's as if Ba'el is constitutionally incapable of being anything less than the Alpha in the room (reminds me of Sisko, which is why I think he was respected by several Jem'Hadar Firsts).
As much as the bas-assness, what I imagine Jackson pulling off is Ba'el's self-loathing. Reminiscent in its way of Picard's patrician reserve early in his command of the Enterprise-D, Sarine's self-loathing is a quality that keeps everyone---the other characters in your narrative, perhaps the readers as well, and maybe even the part of Be'el that could still find some modicum of genuine happiness---at a remove, at "bay," if you will. Sorry, I'm a recovering Pun addict. ... Indeed, I think that "addiction" is an apropos notion.
Joel, have you seen Spike Lee's film "Jungle Fever"? It's underrated, I think, partly because many Americans seem(ed) to recoil at the emotional freight of the intersection of race/racism and (interracial-)sexuality, very much on display in the movie. The attendant cultural hubbub obscured my favorite part of "Jungle Fever," Jackson's portrayal of a strung out crack addict. The scene in his mother's kitchen in which Jackson's character loses it because his mother (played by Ruby Dee) wont give him any more money for his dope is frightening. The verisimilitude of Jackson's performance---the exposition of his turmoil, of his drug-shackled existence, his consuming shame and disgust at his own condition, his self-loathing---was like a bludgeon. But Jackson knew exactly where the character was coming from, because in reality, he is a recovering crack addict. I heard him discuss it in more than one interview.
I think that there is a sense in which Captain Ba'el Sarine is, practically, as compelled by his guilt, sadness, and self-hate as any addict is by a narcotic compulsion. Again, we saw shades of this condition in Benjamin Sisko, until the intervention, if you will, of the Prophets who showed Sisko that even though linear time had moved on, he was mired in the past. Ba'el is an even more poignant figure than Sisko in that the impetus for his self recriminations is very much more horrible than Sisko's self-perceived failures. Moreover, I suspect that Ba'el is more self aware than Sisko was, quite cognizant of the corrosive nature of his emotional existence, and seemingly thoroughly helpless to escape it. He helped to liberate billions, but he is feckless when it comes to freeing himself.
I hope that Prin calms Ba'el (I dont have the balls to refer to him as "Bay" yet) down a bit. Perhaps she'll remind him that despite Dax's transgression(s), they might all be dead if Dax hadn't followed Sarine's orders during the battle with the Klingons over Romulus, when a great deal of the Trill's being screamed for him to instead obey Kalara's attempted countermand. I feel such sympathy for Dax. (And how could I not, feeling as I do that I'm seeing not merely Jasto, but also Ezri and Jadzia suffer as well. Nice stacking the deck there, Joel. The same can be said for Ianto.)
Okay, now, why is it that I like Benjamini? She's a bit of a devil, huh? I suppose every badass like Sarine needs a foil. More than ever, I'm picturing Lena Olin, my earlier suggestion, in the role of the Ambassador. If you haven't already, and you get the opportunity, watch the episodes of J.J. Abrams's "Alias" in which Olin appears as Sydney Bristow's (probably at least octuple-crossing) super spy mom. Even if you dont delve too deeply into Benjamini's history, I have no trouble imagining more than a few bodies left in her wake.
Well, Joel, thanks again for the great, thought provoking entertainment. You never disappoint.
PS: Still wracking my brain for an actor for Colin Groves. No one I can think of quite captures his simultaneous competence and callowness.