Tuesday, November 2, 2010

DS9 Season 4

Season 4 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the year of my favorite Star Trek spinoff that aired from October 1995 to June 1996, roughly my undergraduate senior year. It is also the year that DS9 added a dynamic "new" character to its cast--amazingly, without losing an old one! For it was in the fourth year, following the cinematic release of Star Trek: Generations and the destruction of the Enterprise-D, that Michael Dorn's character of Worf came over to DS9. Not only does this make Worf (at 11 solid seasons of Trek) the franchise's longest-running regular character, but in fact it made what had been on TNG a relatively minor character far more important and better developed than he had been. In the ensuing four seasons, Worf would lose his family honor only to gain a new family; he would find par'mach (something like love, but with sharper teeth), get married, and become a widower; he would call out the chancellor of the Klingon Empire in mortal combat; and he would continually challenge the expectations of those of us brought up on "human" values.

The Way of the Warrior begins the season with a two-hour telefilm confronting the Federation with a new threat: a Klingon Empire no longer content to coexist peacefully under the Khitomer Accords, and now stirred up especially by the rumor that the Dominion were behind a recent shakedown in the Cardassian government. Now the Klingons are gunning for the Cardassians, and woe betide anyone who stands in their way... Anyone such as, for example, Bajor and DS9. Worf comes aboard at a crucial moment to help the station prepare tactically for the crossfire it is about to get caught in, and to serve as a local expert on the care and feeding of Klingons. This episode is notable for a scene in which Garak approaches Dukat with phase-pistol drawn, only to turn around and fall in beside him as a fellow defender against the invading Klingons; this was intended to be a clever fake, but in actuality it is one of DS9's most unintentionally hilarious moments, looking for a moment as though Marc Alaimo and Andrew Robinson are about to break into a song-and-dance number. Guest stars include J. G. Hertzler in his first of 24 appearances as Klingon General Martok (or rather, as we later find out, a changeling impersonating him); two-time Trek guest Obi Ndefo of "Dawson's Creek" and "Stargate SG-1" in his only apearance as Martok's belligerent son Drex; Christopher Darga (who also appeared on Voyager and played a Klingon on Enterprise) as the Klingon captain who gets his guts handed to him for failing to fire on the Defiant; and "Babylon 5" regular Patricia Tallman (then a Star Trek stuntperson) as the Defiant bridge officer who gets a faceful of exploding weapons console.

The Visitor shows us a very tragic possible future for Jake Sisko, beginning when he sees his father disintegrated by a surge of technobabble from the Defiant's warp core. As the young writer struggles to accept his father's death, he is tormented by visions of his still-living Dad, visions which turn out to be visitations. Sisko has, in fact, become trapped in subspace, where he exists outside of time in between increasingly infrequent dips into normal space. Since he always comes back close to wherever Jake is, it soon becomes evident that the phenomenon has linked father to son one some level that threatens to generate record levels of technobabble. Instead, thank God, it generates a moving, tear-jerking, father-son story in which the aging Jake is played by the same Tony Todd who also played Worf's brother Kurn. Two-time Trek guest Galyn Görg plays grown-up Jake's Bajoran wife; and Andrew Robinson's daughter Rachel Robinson plays the young woman who comes to Jake's house on a dark and stormy night to hear his story. How much Jake's actual future follows the course laid down in this episode (apart from his quest to save his Dad) is hard to tell, but eagle-eyed viewers may notice that the novel he writes later in this season bears the same title ("Anslem") as future-Jake's magnum opus....

Hippocratic Oath is the one where Bashir and O'Brien crash-land on the same planet with a crew of renegade Jem'Hadar who are trying to break free of the Dominion. Their "first," a Jem'Hadar named Goran'Agar who on a previous mission to the same world found himself cured of his enslavement to the drug Ketracel White, challenges Dr. Bashir to help him find a cure for the rest of his men before they run out of the drug and the subsequent rampage kills them all. While Bashir is perfectly content to do this, however, O'Brien considers it his duty to attempt an escape, leading to a strain in their friendship, a crisis of medical ethics, and tragic consequences at last. Goran'Agar is one of five characters played by Scott MacDonald in all four Trek spinoffs, including a previous DS9 appearance as Tosk in Season 1's "Captive Pursuit." Playing other Jem'Hadar characters are Stephen Davies (in one of his 3 roles in DS9 and Voyager), Marshall Teague (who also appeared on Voyager), and Jeremy Roberts, who played a member of Capt. Sulu's crew in Star Trek VI and reprised the role in Voyager's episode "Flashback."

Indiscretion throws Kira and Dukat together on a mission to rescue survivors of a Cardassian transport that disappeared years ago. Both of them have a personal stake in the adventure: Kira, because a personal friend was among several Bajoran prisoners on board; Dukat, because his Bajoran mistress and their half-breed daughter were also there, en route to a new life far from judgmental Cardassians and Bajorans. When they learn that Dukat's daughter Ziyal actually has survived, Kira has to work extra-hard to prevent him from killing the girl to save his career and his marriage. Ultimately, perversely, it is Ziyal saying that she wants her father to kill her that saves her. An episode marred by a banal B-story about a "big step" in the relationship between Sisko and Kasidy Yates, it features Cyia Batten as the first of three actresses to play Tora Ziyal. Roy Brocksmith, who also guested on TNG and B5, appears as the Bajoran scrap dealer who puts Kira and Dukat on the trail of the lost ship.

Rejoined is the one where Jadzia sucks face with another Trill chick, played by Susanna Thompson whose other Trek credits include a Romulan and an alien mental patient on TNG and the Borg Queen in three episodes of Voyager. Dr. Lenara Kahn's previous host was married to the hotshot pilot Torias Dax, whose death in a shuttle accident opened the way for Joran, then Curzon, and now Jadzia to host the Dax symbiont. And now, in defiance of a strict Trill taboo against "reassociation" with your previous host's significant other, the two momentarily surrender to their lingering feelings for each other. It is Dr. Khan, the apparent "bottom" in this gender-irrelevant relationship, who finally breaks off the liaison because she isn't willing to make the ultimate Trill sacrifice (i.e. dooming the symbiont to never being joined to another host) on the basis of her personal feelings. Buried under (mercifully) not too many layers of preachy social allegory is a movingly sad love story in which director Avery Brooks made every effort to make the gender issues appear totally irrelevant. What gets me about this story, however, is that in the last analysis, the short-sighted Trill taboo has it right, and an ardent couple in Dax and Kahn's situation would have to be very selfish and misguided to risk what I understand that they risk in the context of integrating one Trill symbiont with a succession of humanoid hosts. Simply from the standpoint of the sci-fi concept of the Trill, don't you think it would be harmful to let a past host's personality overwhelm the synthesis between the symbiont and its present host?

Starship Down is an exciting episode in which the Defiant plays a game of blind man's buff with two Jem'Hadar ships in the atmosphere of a gas giant. The suspenseful chase is reminiscent of an old submarine-warfare movie, complete with warnings about how much pressure the hull can take and the use of decoys to fool the enemy's sensors in an environment where nobody can see over much of a distance. Lending his distinctive talents to the show is Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell, who had played two roles on TNG before starring as warp-drive inventor Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact, a feature-film role he reprised on Enterprise. Here Cromwell plays the Trade Minister of the Karemma, a minor Dominion race who have been doing business with the Ferengi. Due to Quark's sharp practices, the Karemma have rather soured on doing business with the Alpha Quadrant. The ordeal of disarming a live torpedo that has lodged itself in the ship's hull brings Quark and the Minister together in a particularly clever way. Among the other guest actors is F. J. Rio, making his first of three appearances as Crewman Muñiz; Rio also had roles on Voyager and Enterprise.

Little Green Men is the episode that brings the family of Quark, Rom, and Nog together on a time-travel adventure to mid-20th-century Earth. Who knew that the Roswell aliens were actually Ferengi? Along with Odo, the three little orange men make a hilarious object of study for a cigar-chomping General and a cigarette-puffing staff of scientists and MPs. The Ferengi have trouble at first with their Universal Translators, a never-seen and seldom-discussed device that (when functioning properly) allows everyone to appear to speak the same language; so, for the first time, we hear a bit of Ferengi lingo and some of what English sounds like to them. The General (pictured here) is played by Charles Napier, who had also guest starred as the ill-fated Adam in the TOS episode "The Way to Eden." The good-hearted scientists who help the aliens escape are played by Conor O'Farrell of "CSI" and Megan Gallagher of "Millennium," each a three-time Trek guest; the trigger-happy Capt. Wainwright is played by James G. MacDonald, who had played an Area 51 officer in the 1994 telefilm Roswell.

The Sword of Kahless brings back John Colicos for his second of three DS9 appearances as Klingon Dahar Master Kor (who also happened to be the first Klingon commander ever depicted, in TOS's "Errand of Mercy"). This time he recruits not only Jadzia but Worf as well for a quest to find the legendary bat'leth of Kahless, the Klingon leader who a thousand years ago established his race's warrior way. Their steps are dogged by an old Klingon enemy of Worf's and by one of those nasty-looking Letheans who cause so much psychic trouble (e.g. in Season 3's "Distant Voices"), but finally it turns out that the true enemy is within. Realizing that their own greed for power makes the sword too dangerous for them to hold, Worf and Kor beam it into outer space... Lame, perhaps, but inevitable, given the nature of the Klingon heart and the weakness, at that point, of their fatally flawed culture. But still, there is something chillingly lonely about the episode's closing image of that ancient, beautiful bat'leth spinning end-over-end through the empty cosmos.

Our Man Bashir brings a spoof of James Bond to DS9. While Julian and Garak are in the holosuite, trying out a program in which Bashir plays the role of a champagne-swilling, baccarat-hustling, seductress-seducing man of mystery, several of their friends have been beamed off an exploding runabout just on time. Unfortunately, something went wrong with the transporter, and until something can be done to fix it, the molecular patterns of Sisko, Dax, Kira, O'Brien, and Worf must be shunted to wherever the station's computer system has room for them. Which, for the time being, seems to be Julian's holoprogram. Now he's got to deal with a cast of bad guys who look exactly like, but act quite unlike, his closest friends and colleagues... and he has to keep their characters alive until something can be done about the transporter. Watching this episode made me laugh until it hurt. I don't know what's funnier: Nana Visitor (Kira) playing a vamp with an over-the-top Russian accent, Avery Brooks's turn as the diabolical Dr. Noah, or Garak's wry observations on the difference between his brand of spycraft and that depicted in Bashir's fantasy world.

Homefront begins a two-episode arc in which the bombing of a diplomatic conference, apparently carried out by a Dominion changeling, raises concerns about Earth's security. Sisko arrives on earth, together with Odo and Jake, to check in on his father (Brock Peters of To Kill a Mockingbird, etc., in his first of six appearances as New Orleans restauranteur Joseph Sisko) and to take command of Starfleet Security. While the changelings seem to delight in rubbing the Federation's nose in their ability to elude any and all security measures, paranoia and distrust build up to the point where armed security officers are patrolling the streets of Earth. Could this be exactly what the Dominion wants? Or is somebody else's agenda in play here? To find out the answer, stay tuned for...

Paradise Lost--the conclusion of the two-parter in which a Starfleet admiral's concern about security, in the perilous early days of the Federation's buildup to war with the Dominion, leads him to plot treason against the lawfully elected President of the Federation. And in spite of being directly under this very admiral's command, Sisko finds out about it and tries to stop it, risking his career as well as the lives of the Defiant's crew to bring evidence of the Admiral's duplicity before the Federation. Both of these episodes feature Robert Foxworth (late of "Falcon Crest") as Admiral Leyton; Foxworth also played a Vulcan leader in three episodes of Enterprise. Playing Capt. Benteen in both episodes is Susan Gibney, who appeared twice as starship designer Leah Brahms on TNG. Hugely tall character actor Herschel Sparber plays President Jaresh-Inyo in a sort of riff on JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rudolph Willrich makes one of his three Trek appearances in this episode as the Bolian commandant of Starfleet Academy. David Drew Gallagher makes his first of two appearances as Cadet Shepard, who eventually snuffs it in Season 6's "Valiant."

Crossfire is a mostly character-driven show that will be a huge disappointment to fans expecting action-packed battle scenes. Though there is one somewhat thrilling attempt on the lives of Kira, Odo, and Bajoran First Minister Shakaar (previously seen in Season 3's "Shakaar"), the main conflict in this episode takes place in whatever region of Odo's gelatinous mass passes for a heart. Which gives me as good an excuse as any to ask: What were the creators of this series thinking? Don't life-forms have to eat, excrete, reproduce, etc? How seriously are we supposed to take this being who neither eats nor drinks nor breathes? Where does he get the energy to keep going? Surely resting in a bucket can't do that much for him? End of digression. Regardless of the improbability of the creature he portrays, Rene Auberjonois knocks one out of the park in this episode, delivering a lyrical performance that reveals the complex nuances in the character of DS9's most reserved and private officer. It all comes out for us to see, if for no one else, when Odo finds himself in charge of Shakaar's security detail during the First Minister's visit to DS9, and thus in a position to observe as his charge woos and wins the same Kira whom Odo secretly loves. His agony is exquisite!

Return to Grace finds Gul Dukat in command of a Cardassian freighter, his career and family life in shambles after the revelation (cf. "Indiscretion") that he sired a half-Bajoran daughter. Kira joins Dukat and Ziyal (played for the second and last time by Cyia Batten) en route to a joint Cardassian-Bajoran conference, but they arrive just in time to witness the outpost's destruction by a Klingon bird-of-prey. Working together, Dukat and Kira manage to turn the tables on the Klingons--to turn them so completely that the Cardassians end up on board the bird-of-prey, and the Klingons on the freighter, which Dukat then promptly destroys. Kira persuades Dukat to let her take Ziyal back to DS9 to watch over her while he carries on his anti-Klingon privateering. It is in this episode that Dukat utters the Sitting-Bullesque line: "What Cardassians? I am the only Cardassian left!" This episode also boasts the first of Casey Biggs's 23 appearances as Dukat's protege Damar (pictured here).

Sons of Mogh features Tony Todd, for the last time, as Worf's brother Kurn (previously seen in 3 TNG episodes). Humiliated by the dishonor Worf has brought on their house by defying Chancellor Gowron, Kurn comes to Worf with a stunning request: that his brother kill him in the Klingon ritual of mauk-to'vor, thus allowing Kurn to enter the afterlife with his honor intact. Even more amazing, perhaps, is the fact that Worf agrees to the request, and actually attempts to carry it out (as evidenced by the "mevak" blade pictured). Luckily for Kurn(?), Worf's Federation friends intervene with lifesaving medical care and an attempt to give Kurn a new purpose in life, as a member of the station's mostly Bajoran security force. But when Kurn slides deeper into depression, it becomes obvious that only a visit to Dr. Bashir's Chamber of Horrors can solve his problem. The ethically questionable solution this time is to wipe Kurn's memories and let a kindly old Klingon talk the amnesia victim into accepting a new identity as his son. Kurn's new father is played by Robert DoQui, late of the RoboCop films.

Bar Association is the one where the employees in Quark's bar rise up, form a union, and go on strike. This is newsworthy because it absolutely never happens in Ferengi society, where the 211th Rule of Aquisition applies: "Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success. Don't hesitate to step on them." You know, somebody actually put out a book of the Rules of Acquisition, featuring commentary by the character of Quark. He's not much of an example of conformity to Ferengi rules, however, given that he risks losing his business license to come to a mutual understanding with his workers. This ends up being the episode where Rom leaves Quark's service and becomes a member of DS9's engineering crew, a turning point that would lead him in interesting new directions.

Accession guest stars comedian and character actor Richard Libertini (Fletch, Awakeneings, Nell, etc.) as Akorem Laan, a Bajoran poet who emerges from the wormhole 300 years after his disappearance on a light-ship (cf. Season 3's "Explorers"). Having technically encountered the Wormhole Aliens-cum-Prophets before Sisko, Akorem claims to be the true Emissary and, at first, Sisko is not sorry to see the mantle pass to someone else. But then, Akorem starts to change things. Having missed out on the whole Cardassian occupation and its effect on Bajoran culture, he issues notice that Bajor must return to old ways--including a caste system under which Kira is supposed to be an artist, not a soldier, and in which others who work outside the callings proper to their "d'jarra" are violently persecuted. Sensing an impending disaster, Sisko decides to reassert his claim to be the Emissary, and appeals to the Prophets to decide. And what do you suppose they said? This wasn't the last episode they ever made, you know... This episode's guest cast includes Robert Symonds (late of The Exorcist) as a fanatically devout Vedek, and Camille Saviola in her last of four appearances as Kai Opaka.

Rules of Engagement features three-time Trek guest Ron Canada (late of "The West Wing") as Ch'Pok, a Klingon warrior of a decidedly different kind. His battlefield: the courtroom. His target: Worf. In a case that could seriously embarrass the Federation (cf. "Tribunal"), Worf is charged with destroying an unarmed Klingon transport that just happened to de-cloak in front of the Defiant in the middle of a battle. Of course it turns out that the Klingons falsified the records, but in the meantime Ch'Pok expertly takes apart every witness who attempts to testify in Worf's defense, and then--in a cross-examination that puts Worf in the unwinnable position of having to prove he is a true Klingon even though that is what could hang him--goads the defendant to committing assault and battery. The episode has an intriguing visual style, blending courtroom testimony with first-person reenactments of the crucial battle, but it ultimately suffers from too much talking about Worf and not enough of seeing him in action.

Hard Time is the season's obligatory "make O'Brian suffer" episode. This time he suffers so good that he comes within a hair-trigger of blowing his brains out with a phaser pistol. It begins when the Argrathi government finds O'Brien guilty of espionage and punishes him with 20 years in prison... which they administer instantaneously, by injecting the time-compressed experience of his detention into his memory. As O'Brien tries to fit back into his old life, he is increasingly plagued by disturbing memories of things that happened only in his head. It makes for an intriguing irony: sometimes the most humane punishment can be the most cruel. Guest-starring as the alien who administers O'Brien's punishment is Margot Rose, who played Picard's wife in the beloved TNG episode "The Inner Light."

Shattered Mirror is the final episode to feature Felicia Bell as Jennifer Sisko, or rather her mirror-universe counterpart. This time she lures Jake Sisko over to the parallel version of DS9 (Terok Nor), as bait to bring Benjamin after them. Once there, he finds out that the rebellion has taken Terok Nor, but the Alliance is coming to take it back. Their only chance to defend the station is to get their copy of the Defiant up and running, which they can only do with Sisko's ship-design know-how. Making his first appearance is bizarro-Worf, a.k.a. the Regent, an unreconstructed-Klingon psycho who, in one unforgettably delicious scene, stabs Garak on suspicion that the latter has stolen the key to his shackles, only to learn a moment later that his stupid henchman (played by 4-time Trek guest Carlos Carrasco) had dropped the key down his own boot. "If he dies, you die..."

The Muse is two episodes for the price of one. In one storyline, Odo agrees to protect a pregnant(!) Lwaxana Troi from her Tavnian husband, whose cultural mores dictate that a male child must be raised by men and not allowed to meet a female until he comes of age. In order to resolve the conflict, Odo must marry Lwaxana by making a speech that convinces Jeyal that he truly loves her. Meanwhile, Jake is having the life sucked out of him by an alien woman who, in return, stimulates his creativity so that his first novel positively pours out of him. The sexy-spooky alien chick is played by Meg Foster, she of the amazing eyes; Lwaxana's unhappily-wedded husband is played by Michael Ansara, who the year before had reprised his TOS role as Klingon Dahar Master Kang on both DS9 and Voyager. Incidentally, this was Majel Barrett's (Lwaxana) last on-screen appearance in Star Trek.

For the Cause is the one where Ziyal, played just this once by Tracy Middendorf, becomes romantically involved with Garak, though he is not only much older but also a mortal enemy of her father. It is also the one where Sisko faces the prospect of his girlfriend being a smuggler for the Maquis, leading to a touchingly Maltese Falcon-esque "You're going to prison, I'll wait for you" scene. And then, of course, there's the wee matter of Starfleet security officer Eddington turning out to be a Maquis traitor who, while everyone else is chasing red herrings, escapes with a shipment of industrial-grade replicators earmarked for Cardassia.

To the Death is the episode where the Defiant crew teams up with a party of Jem'Hadar to hunt down and destroy a common enemy: a bunch of renegade Jem'Hadar who have turned on their Dominion masters and attacked DS9. If they aren't stopped, these rebels will soon be able to use an Iconian gateway (cf. TNG's "Contagion") to attack and conquer any world they choose, if not the whole galaxy. Working alongside Jem'Hadar isn't easy, especially knowing that as soon as this mission is over, they will revert to being your mortal enemies. Clarence Williams III (late of "The Mod Squad," The General's Daughter, etc.) plays First Omet'iklan. His Second, Toman'torax, is one of five Trek characters played by Brian Thompson (cf. Season 2's "Rules of Acquisition"). Four-time Trek actor Scott Haven plays another Jem'Hadar named Virak'kara. But historically, this episode is most notable as the first of Jeffrey Combs's 24 appearances as the Vorta clone Weyoun, among his numerous other Trek roles (recurring and otherwise).

The Quickening is the name of a genetically engineered plague on a Gamma Quadrant world where Bashir, Dax, and Kira answer a distress beacon. Every man, woman, and child on this planet is condemned to die a horrible death, as punishment for resisting the Dominion. They carry marks of the disease on their bodies from birth, but when the disease "quickens," they become covered in agonizing sores. The only local doctor in the city where Julian sets up shop is one Trevean, who specializes in euthanasia--something Julian finds repugnant. Arrogantly sure of his ability to find a cure, Bashir at first makes things worse, then all but gives up, and is finally able to give these people a slender hope, if not an actual cure. Basically a story about good man who, in the pride of his power, is forced to face a situation out of his control, this is one of the series' most emotionally powerful, relentlessly thought-provoking episodes. It guest-stars Michael Sarrazin (late of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) and soap-opera maven Ellen Wheeler, and was directed by Rene Auberjonois.

Body Parts is the one where Quark learns that he has a terminal disease, so for a final act of avarice he auctions off vacuum-desiccated parts of his body as collectible items. Then he finds out that he isn't dying after all, and the winning bidder--who happens to be Quark's nemesis, Liquidator Brunt of the F.C.A.--refuses to back out of the deal. This forces Quark to choose between hiring Garak to kill him and reneging on a business deal. The first choice is no good because Quark is afraid to die. But choice #2 means losing his Ferengi business license and becoming, in the eyes of his own people, no longer a Ferengi. It's a tough choice, but if you think about the fact that Quark is still living at the end of Season 7, it's not hard to guess which way it goes. Pictured: The first Grand Nagus appearing to Quark in the Celestial Treasury--or rather, a dream about it, which explains why the Nagus looks like Rom...

Broken Link concludes the season with Odo, afflicted by a changeling disease that nothing but the Great Link can cure, crawling back to his own people to be judged for the unprecedented crime of killing one of their own (cf. Season 3's "The Adversary"). Their verdict is to turn him into a "solid," i.e. a human, albeit one with Odo's distinctive features. Nevertheless, while listening to a broadcast of Klingon Chancellor Gowron declaring war with the Federation at the cliffhanger conclusion of the episode, Odo remembers feeling that the Great Link was withholding certain names and faces from him--and one of those names or faces was Gowron. Odo's conclusion, contradicted the following season, is that Gowron himself is a changeling. Ta-dum! "TO BE CONTINUED!"

That was one sexy season of Star Trek, was it not? A few of the episodes were on the weak side, to be sure. "Rules of Engagement" didn't develop Worf's character as much as it should have, and "The Muse" is only watchable because of the charisma of Michael Ansara and Meg Foster. But as a whole, it is a powerhouse season, vastly furthering the development of the show's sci-fi conceits, alien cultures, and core issues. We glimpse the future, the past, and Ferengi afterlife; we discover interesting facets of Bajoran, Cardassian, and Klingon culture; we see the impact of the Dominion menace on Earth; and we meet several important recurring characters for the first time. The writers, albeit with a certain leftward slant, wrestled with such issues as sexual morality ("Rejoined"), AIDS ("The Quickening"), depression ("Sons of Mogh"), criminal justice ("Hard Time"), medical ethics ("Hippocratic Oath"), and the balance between liberty and security ("Home Front"/"Paradise Lost," episodes that seem prescient in the post-9/11 era). And with the addition of Worf, we saw a richer and more complex tapestry of character and story coming together.

Want to brush up on your Star Trek? See my reviews of TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, two, three, six, and seven; of Voyager season one; and of Enterprise season one. As a control group, see also my review of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, and four.

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