Among fans, the Deep Space Nine episode “Move Along Home” is divisive. You either make fun of it, love it, or love to make fun of it. While I’m one of those fans that genuinely loves the episode, I still admit it is goofy. There’s the slightly silly premise itself, which has the crew getting stuck inside a game as part of a first contact diplomatic mission gone wrong. And then there’s the odd game of hopscotch, Allamaraine, and Dr. Julian Bashir attempting to “wake himself” from what he initially thinks is a nightmare by screaming his head off, among other things. But all that goofiness aside, “Move Along Home” features an exploration of Major Kira’s fear and survival instincts acquired as a former resistance fighter and Bajoran militia member, proving that they are just as instrumental in moving the DS9 crew through the game as Sisko, Bashir, and Dax’s characteristically Starfleet impulses toward curiosity and scientific reasoning.
When the group is inserted into the game they are alarmed and confused at first, not understanding what’s happened to them or how to escape. After Sisko reveals they are evidently “the guests” of the Wadi (known, because he has already encountered Falow in the game) Dax and Bashir relax slightly and transition from reacting in fear and confusion to feeling curiosity and employing a kind of scientific logic. Sisko, Bashir, and Dax begin to turn their energy toward figuring out why they've been inserted into this game and what they must do in order to escape or win.
Kira, however, isn’t calmed in the least, and holds onto her fear and resistance fighter instincts. She paces in circles, snapping at Dax at one point, who believes she’s overreacting to an immediate threat. Bashir’s suggestion that they may be the subjects of an experiment like rats in a lab further agitates her. “What do they want?” Kira asks. “I’m sure all you Starfleet explorers find this absolutely fascinating, but I’m a Bajoran administrator. This is not what I signed up for!” Kira hasn’t been brought up like the others with that trademark Starfleet curiosity and optimism. For Kira, it’s more likely the Wadi mean them harm than that they’re simply playing a game. In Kira’s mind, they’ve been abducted, not invited to participate. Every moment in the game isn’t an opportunity to make a hypothesis or attempt to solve a puzzle, it's an opportunity to find an exit. While Sisko, Dax, and Bashir’s curiosity enables the group to move forward, Kira’s fear is a reminder to the others that keeps them aware of the stakes.
When the group reaches a hopscotch playing girl, Kira tries passing through the room first. She ignores the rules of the game, attempting to find the quickest way out. When her attempt has her running into a forcefield, Kira stands back, silent, as Dax, Bashir, and Sisko step in to figure out what they have to do in order to cross the room safely through trial and error. Kira says, “Rhymes and riddles and mazes. What’s the logic behind all this? What do they want from us?” Kira repeats this last question throughout the episode, always with frustration. It’s not that she disagrees with the others that this isn’t a game, but she’s unwilling to accept that fact. How could being abducted and forced to contend with a set of unknown tests and dangers have no larger purpose other than as entertainment for the Wadi? As a resistance fighter and now a Major in the Bajoran militia, Kira has always worked for a greater purpose, and her enemies were never simply looking to be entertained. By asking this, she’s asking the others to question what the Wadi’s motivations are even when the Starfleet officers think they’ve got it all figured out.
In the room filled with Wadi at a party, Sisko, Dax, and Bashir quietly enter and observe, attempting to determine what this new challenge consists of while Kira loses her cool completely. She’s frightened and feeling threatened, but disguising it as she often does with anger. Kira tries getting the attention of a few of the Wadi, and when they simply ignore her she decides things have gone far enough. She picks up one of the trays laden with party foods and throws it to the floor with a clatter before exploding. “Will someone please tell me what’s going on around here. Why are you doing this to us? What is wrong with you people?” The Wadi only laugh in the face of Kira’s rage. Losing her cool though draws the others back into seeing the cruelty in the game. Kira’s rage can’t mask her genuine fear forever, either. When the choking gas begins flooding the room Sisko grows angry with Falow for failing to help, and Kira tells him, “You’re hurting us, can’t you see that?” Making people afraid and causing them to suffer isn’t a game to Kira, and it's not to the others either. But her reactions bring this point home unlike anyone else’s, and it's because of Kira’s past experiences that the ability to be curious about the unknown and seemingly flippant with other peoples’ lives is never taken for granted. She possibly more than anyone else understands what these attitudes can lead to. To Kira, then, curiosity has become a luxury. Survival is not.
Once past the room, Bashir and Kira have a conversation in the maze of hallways. Bashir says, “Isn’t it simply a matter of figuring out how to win this game?” Kira replies, “Simply? I don’t think we have any other choice.” Kira says a moment later, ”We’re playing for our lives here, Doctor. I don’t think you’re taking this very seriously.” Bashir responds, saying, “On the contrary, Major. I find the stakes to be highly motivating.”
What Bashir finds “motivating” about the game is precisely the thing which keeps him and the others going — but critically, both perspectives allow them to keep moving forward in the game: Starfleet’s curiosity and Kira’s survival instincts and fear. This conversation contains shades of Kira and Bashir’s first interaction in “Emissary” where Kira thoroughly disabuses Bashir of the glamour of being a hero, of thinking he can “save” the Bajorans using Starfleet’s superior resources. And what “Move Along Home” shows us again is that the Starfleet outlook isn’t the only valid perspective. Sisko, Dax, and Bashir’s scientific reasoning and their curiosity, their ability to set aside initial assumptions and remain open to other possibilities even when thrust into a threatening situation, is as valuable as Kira’s instinct to protect herself, to evaluate threats, and to be critical of those that treat life and death lightly, as though it were a game.
So yes, “Move Along Home” remains one of Deep Space Nine’s goofiest episodes, but I continue to think of it affectionately for what it shows us about Kira and the Starfleet crew and for what it teaches about the value of curiosity and fear, eventually concluding that both are useful.
Maria Bur (she/her) is a freelance writer based in the Midwest writing about Women’s history, literature, and media. When she’s not perfecting her pie crust she’s exploring her affinity for alliteration.