Friday, February 24, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x23 "Blaze of Glory"

 rating: ***

the story: Eddington's last stand.

what it's all about: Aside from Voyager's "Extreme Risk" (which came about a year later), this is about the last episode in the Maquis narrative begun in Next Generation mostly as a way to set up Voyager.  Eddington last appeared in "For the Uniform," which to my mind remains one of the signal episodes of the series, but this was immediately preceding "In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light," where the Dominion War becomes inevitable upon Cardassia joining the evil Gamma Quadrant faction.  Seems the Maquis were targeted for elimination after that. 

So there had to be a follow-up, right?  Between Ro Laren (Next Generation's seminal "Preemptive Strike") and Tom Riker (Deep Space Nine's own "Defiant"), usually once someone has made the fateful decision to join the Maquis and either gone off into the sunset or be captured, it had become customary to never hear from them.  Voyager's contingent, of course, is an exception, for obvious reasons.  "Cause" ended with Sisko putting a stop to Eddington's adventures.  "Blaze of Glory" sees Eddington use some trickery to get his way out.

The Eddington of "Uniform" is more charismatic and thrilling than the Eddington who appeared in any other episode, including "Blaze.  This is my main stumbling block with it.  On the one hand, it confirms the cunning that was needed to engineer the long con necessary for the big reveal in the earlier "For the Cause," as well as the cat-and-mouse game of "Uniform," but it seems a little too clockwork in "Blaze," almost inevitable.  The attempt to make him sympathetic, which is what the episode is ultimately about, kind of foreshadows Damar's fate late in the series, which is far more successful.

It's almost like the season's last bit of bad timing.  Had Eddington returned in the sixth season instead, during the actual war, and actually made a selfless decision to help out the Federation in the war, that would've been a redemptive moment.  Instead...I don't know.  Just one of those moments that doesn't resonate the way it seems it should, even for an admitted fan of the Eddington character from well before there was any reason to care for him...What he ends up with is a valiant death, a sacrifice for family, but it could've been so much more.  Still there's something to be said for living up to one's own principles to the bitter end.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The Maquis story reaches a sad climax.
  • series - A necessary beat in the run-up to the Dominion War.
  • character - Whether or not it feels satisfactory, this is the final appearance of Eddington, who became one of the unsung essential components of the series.
  • essential - Lingering doubt about the creative decisions around it dull the impact.
notable guest-stars:
Ken Marshall (Eddington)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x22 "Children of Time"

rating: ***

the story: Via sci-fi plotting, the crew meets its own descendants, in the present.

what it's all about: This is one of the Deep Space Nine standalone episodes ("The Visitor" was another) that left a definite impact on the later franchise, later echoed in Voyager's "Endgame" (its final episode) and Enterprise's "E2."  So as a matter of historic significance, "Children of Time" already has a lot going for it.

While the idea of technobabble that sends the ship back in time and creating, in essence, an alternate timeline for the characters and whole generations of successors who meet them in the present, just before the technobabble that made it possible in the first place is itself pretty fascinating, none of it would matter at all if there weren't an emotional hook to it, and there is.  That's my biggest problem, at least with Star Trek, and maybe storytelling in general, in that I'll certainly accept a nifty idea, but if it doesn't have any depth, I see very little reason to care too much about it.  There's at least one episode I've docked as one of the franchise's worst (Voyager's "Twisted") because of that kind of lazy storytelling.

So anyway, the emotional hook is especially good because it basically push forward, at long last, after a series of fits and starts, one of its biggest narrative arcs: the relationship between Odo and Kira.  There were times during this season where I thought the writers had somehow forgotten it ("A Simple Investigation" is the most egregious example), even though it was hugely important so many times in the past.  Perhaps somewhere along the line someone decided Odo had abandoned the idea as impractical, and needed a reason to revisit it, which is what 'Children of Time" is in a nutshell. 

Being a changeling, Odo is one of those fictional characters who either ages very slowly (as Vulcans and Klingons demonstrably do) or not at all (Odo).  As such, he's the only original crew member who's still around in his original form from the technobabble problem.  That essentially makes this an Odo episode, even though most of it really spends times exploring other aspects of the plot.  Like Janeway in "Endgame," he's become obsessed with the one person he most regrets losing, which is of course Kira, and eventually makes a huge decision that not only conveniently provides a giant reset button (the noble crew had opted to go ahead and duplicate the original technobabble problem and in effect sacrificing their own futures so that the people who ended up existing because of it can continue to do so), but makes it clear, beyond any doubt, that this was an Odo/Kira episode all along.

It's refreshing, really, because these are the two characters who were least allowed to explore the true magic of the series otherwise, usually confined to the most miserable, mundane elements. Sure, they weren't Starfleet officers (neither were Jake or Quark), but surely they could experience some fun, too?  So this is their big moment.  I mean, their big moment.

And from this point onward, they were truly on the inevitable path to romance, because they no longer had doubts about what they meant to each other. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Later series borrowed the basic template.
  • series - For a one-off episode, it ends up reflecting the course of Deep Space Nine well.
  • character - It's a Kira/Odo episode by any other name.
  • essential - Unlike any other experience they had together, and that's an extremely good thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x21 "Soldiers of the Empire"

rating: **

the story: Worf helps bring Martok back up to speed.

what it's all about: "Soldiers" is essentially a formality of an episode, confirming the stuff previously suggested by "In Purgatory's Shadow" and "By Inferno's Light" concerning the budding importance of Worf's relationship with Martok, the Klingon he discovers in a Jem'Hadar prison camp, who'd been replaced by a Founder in their previous encounters.  Otherwise, it's Next Generation's "A Matter of Honor" reheated, and a precursor to Deep Space Nine's much better "Once More Unto the Breach" in the final season.

So it's another episode set aboard a Klingon ship.  Worf, who has his soon-to-be blushing bride Dax along to encourage him, is serving aboard it at Martok's request.  But Martok is a broken man, and he has pretty much forgotten how to be a Klingon.  Long and slightly unnecessary story short, Martok is rehabilitated.

The problem with the episode, as with "Ferengi Love Songs" before it, is that it seems like something that should be essential viewing, but lacking the proper context.  With the Dominion War about to break out, all this would've worked much better had Martok found redemption in the war.  It's another instance of the season screwing up context like that.  Imagine if Odo had been featured prominently in "Love Songs," a callback to his and Quark's experiences in "The Ascent" earlier in the season, one of the moments that was absolutely nailed, everything in the right place.  Here it's not so much the growth that's missing, but a reason for why it's happening now as opposed to when it could feel less...random, less a space filler.

The fifth season, at its best (eight strong episodes in a row that all challenged basic Star Trek preconceptions) was among the best material the franchise ever saw.  But there was also other material that betrayed the fact that the producers were still gravely uncertain about what to do with a series the studio had tried to meddle with and as such had been knocked off its track.  Well, in all these fits and starts, something very big was on the horizon, and it was pretty easy to see at this point.  But it hadn't happened yet, and that was equally clear...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The rare Klingon episode that doesn't feel like compulsory viewing.
  • series - Still, as part of an overall arc it makes sense in its Deep Space Nine context, at least to a certain degree.
  • character - It completes, after all, the foundation of a powerful friendship between Worf and Martok.
  • essential - But you don't necessarily need to see how it happens to understand why.
notable guest-stars:
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Rick Worthy

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x20 "Ferengi Love Songs"

rating: **

the story: Quark discovers that the Grand Nagus and his mother are shacking up!

what it's all about: When fans think of "Ferengi episodes," it's actually probably this one they're thinking of.  Taking every "Ferengi episode" that came before it and playing fast and loose with the logic, and generally making as many convenient, logic-defying leaps as possible, "Ferengi Love Songs" has the dubious distinction of actually becoming the crux for every major "Ferengi episode" that followed it, including the much-loathed "Profit and Lace" a season later...

Grand Nagus Zek was kind of the Q of Deep Space Nine, a wonderfully zany character who'd show up about once a season to cause chaos, mostly for poor Quark.  Quark's mother Ishka debuted in the third season, "Family Business."  As you'll note above, the two end up in a relationship together.  It'd the definition of a farce.

This is extremely unfortunate timing, as with certain other parts of the season, as Quark had just experienced his darkest story, "Business as Usual," and this is basically its antithesis.  I'm not going to dock it as much as I suddenly feel like because it is pretty important to the rest of the series, and the notion that even hilariously backward Ferengi could be redeemed to something resembling respectable with enough radical shoves from the irrepressible Ishka.  I think all this would've worked a lot better if Quark hadn't been in the picture, for a change.  But then again, even Rom, about as opposite a Ferengi as you'll find, acts a lot like a typical Ferengi in the episode, which is equally baffling.  It would've been better, I think, to have some other character discover what Zek and Ishka have been up to.

Well, like I said, "Ferengi episode."  This is one you're either going to like or it'll just drive you nuts, not because of something obvious like Quark parading around in drag ("Profit and Lace"), but because it doesn't seem to respect what came before it.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One way or another, this one's strictly for fans of Deep Space Nine.
  • series - It's a "Ferengi episode," for better or worse.
  • character - I think the episode best reflects on Zek, all told, shows how far he's come since the first season.
  • essential - Because it kind of savages everyone else.
notable guest-stars:
Wallace Shawn (Zek)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Tiny Ron (Maihar'du)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt)
Cecily Adams (Ishka)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x19 "Ties of Blood and Water"

rating: ***

the story: Kira reunites with her would-be Cardassian father.

what it's all about: A sequel to "Second Skin, "Ties of Blood and Water" is another example of the producers finally coming back to the momentum of the third season as they used the fifth to reclaim ground lost in creative policies instilled by the studio in the fourth...I think maybe this will be the last time I talk about that...

Like "The Darkness and the Light" earlier in the season, Kira finds herself once again confronted with her complicated past, but this time, and actually the first time in the series, events fans have witnessed for themselves.  "Second Skin" was a classic in vein of "Duet," the first episode Star Trek fans in general really took notice of Deep Space Nine, in which Kira was forced to confront the complexities of Bajoran relations with Cardassians, who had for decades oppressed them.  It introduced a man tricked into believing Kira was his daughter, in much the way Next Generation's classic "The Defector" was about how the state sometimes lies to force individuals to expose themselves. 

This Cardassian's return wasn't strictly necessary, but it's welcome all the same.  This time he and Kira are on much more equal footing, although once again they become pawns in Cardassian politics.  (Strange; in the first two seasons it was always Bajoran politics, but this was another shift seen in the all-important third; it was just as well, because as with any politician Cardassians just love to hear themselves talk.)  The timing, for once, is absolutely perfect in the fifth season, because Dukat has just revealed that he's aligned the Cardassians with the Dominion, and thus made them bad guys again.  This has the effect of making Kira's paternal figure, Tekeny Ghemor, all the more sympathetic, as he now seems, aside from Garak, to be the last of the good guy Cardassians.

Really, "Ties" is a throwback to the storytelling of the early seasons all the way around.  Once more Kira is forced to grapple with her conclusions, as Dukat throws conflicting information at her, and like so many times before (notably, "The Collaborator") she's forced to sift through it.  It's good work, and it's the last time this sort of story happens in the series (successfully, anyway; Kira has another such adventure next season in "Wrongs Darker than Death or Night," which clearly tries way too hard to follow the tradition), another nod to the massive shift about to take place with the advent of war...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This is one that will make most sense to Deep Space Nine fans.
  • series - See the above.
  • character - Kira says goodbye to a dear friend.
  • essential - We also see the return of Weyoun and thus another major bridge to the future...
notable guest-stars:
Lawrence Pressman (Ghemor)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Thomas Kopache
William Lucking

Friday, February 17, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x18 "Business as Usual"

rating: ****

the story: Quark finds that arms dealing is a heck of thing on the conscience.

what it's all about: This is what the season really comes to, when even the Ferengi aren't immune to the heaviness of the mood that has begun to descend on Deep Space Nine...Quark had certainly found himself in plenty of bad situations in the past, but he was always able to find a clever way out, prevent himself from, y'know, growing, or anything unprofitable like that.  But he finally meets his match.  He finds out that he does have limits, that he's not the shameless Ferengi he always thought he was.

That's the real trick, and perhaps a good way of characterizing the season: being confronted with a situation that challenges every previous assumption.  The situation that provokes this is actually Quark being forced to accept that the weapons he's been selling will eventually end up in the hands of genocidal maniacs, which is to say, people in the business of war.  This is the true irony of the situation, because it's a war-is-bad story on the verge of the biggest war story ever told in Star Trek.

Now, no one has to be told that war is bad.  There's plenty of human history behind us at this point to know exactly what war is like.  But in the past century, we've made a whole cottage industry of trying to explain this.  Actually it's kind of baffling, and it's mostly because there's less of it engulfing whole populations like it used to.  We tell ourselves this in case it ever comes home again (more's the pity for anyone still experiencing it, of course).  And yet, we also tell ourselves war stories because they fascinate us.  A century ago no one was crowing about the American Civil War.  It nearly destroyed the country.  Yet today we fall all over ourselves praising the likes of Robert E. Lee, or the relative merits of a Ulysses S. Grant.  The reality of it, as anyone who has ever actually experienced war, is that it takes a real toll. 

Star Trek has a rich history of participating in this narrative, but until Deep Space Nine it was mostly a problem Starfleet officers came to solve on someone else's world, a backwards culture they could feel free to judge.  Very enlightened.  Not to mention convenient.  Yet with the Dominion War looming, this would no longer be possible.  At this point the producers absolutely knew it was coming.  Viewers probably had an inkling, but there was no guarantee until the end of this season.  Even the Klingon conflict that immediately preceded it was more discussed than experienced.  So "Business as Usual" was a way of testing the waters.  Obviously using someone other than a Starfleet officer (it was Jake, who never joined Starfleet, who experienced Klingon warfare in "Nor the Battle to the Strong" earlier in the season) was the logical way to go, and who better than Quark?  Who better to think there was nothing wrong with what he was doing, until he started to think about it?

So the series that examined war as never before, and its characters as never before, had a moment where this happened.  Of course it did.  If there's anything fun about the proceedings, it's that we finally meet Quark's cousin Gaila (whom he memorably referenced as "the one with the moon" back in the third season), and thus arguably the most successful Ferengi entrepreneur outside of the government in franchise history.  Anyone who ever paid attention to all the Rules of Acquisition dropped every now and again knew that one of them states, "War is good for business."  Well, maybe, but it's not good for the conscience, as Quark finds out.  So after losing his brother (Rom) and his nephew (Nog) to the Federation way of thinking in the past few seasons, and being utterly disgusted with the both of them, Quark finds out how much he's been affected, too, doing business on a space station run by Starfleet.

Which turns out to be good for the conscience. 

Contrasting all this is a B-story in which O'Brien contends with his newborn son, who's demanding the kind of attention O'Brien doesn't think is in him to give.  He nearly drives himself crazy trying to deal with it, but then discovers that it's just a phase.  For those keeping score at home, this is exactly what happens to Quark.  No, not the phase of being a weapons dealer, but believing that he was so different from his family.  He'll certainly question that conclusion the rest of the series (actually, this is the only time we really see him consider such a revolting prospect out loud; he's the only character at the end of the series doing exactly what he was doing at the start of the series, but fans will know that he did change), but it's absolutely true, and "Business" is the episode that proves it.  Deep down, he'll know all his protesting the contrary is just a phase.  I think the first episode of an eighth season will probably find Quark closing his bar to become, I don't know, the Ferengi ambassador to the Federation, brokering the biggest deals of his life.  For no money at all...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Examines the famous Star Trek line about war.
  • series - Prelude to a war.
  • character - The facts about Quark laid bare.
  • essential - Never before or again will Quark allow himself to be so vulnerable.
notable guest-stars:
Josh Pais (Gaila)
Lawrence Tierney

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x17 "A Simple Investigation"

rating: *

the story: Odo becomes intrigued with a woman he's investigating.

what it's all about: What an absolute waste of an episode.  I give it one star because it introduces the Orion Syndicate later featured again in "Honor Among Thieves" and "Prodigal Daughter," and so it has some lingering significance, but otherwise "A Simple Investigation" is about as nondescript an episode as you can get. 

What's most shocking about it is the context.  The preceding eight episodes were all exceptional adventures that put a spotlight on everything right with Deep Space Nine at this point in its run.  What's most egregious, however, is that it squanders Odo at a time when he could easily have had incredibly interesting character work done.  Heck, if this had been an episode from earlier in the season, it could have meant something much more without really changing anything at all, from before he regained his shapeshifting abilities.  But here he is, a full-fledged changeling again, and "Investigation"...diddles.  It has nothing to say.

So here's what's a good spin on all that: "Investigation" is a breather.  It removes all the heaviness of what's been going on.  It's a throwback to a simpler time, when you didn't have to worry about what would happen next, when there was no Dominion threat looming.  This could've been a fun experience from the first few seasons, never mind earlier in this season.

But when you watch Deep Space Nine for everything it does really, really right, it's kind of disappointing when an episode delivers something that just feels...safe.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - It could conceivably give fans who are otherwise hesitant to give Deep Space Nine a chance a reason to watch, but would this really be a good way to sample?
  • series - A link to later episodes does exist.
  • character - Odo is in the spotlight, but nothing much of importance is said about him.
  • essential - An all but completely skippable affair.
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