Saturday, July 31, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Seven

Next Generation had established a new mark for Star Trek TV shows with seven seasons, a full four more than the original series, which became the model for two of its three successors. So the fall of 1998 promised but one thing for fans who’d become so enamored of Deep Space Nine the previous season, that this would be the final year of the show. Unburdened but still energized, the creators knew the best way to impress was to take out all the stops, which included limiting the writing staff to just the core names (at least in the final teleplay credits) that had developed over the past few seasons, who seemed to have the whole thing mapped out just nicely.

7x1 “Image in the Sand”
Talk about a big move, the season premiere rewrites the character of Sisko by looking into untapped areas of his past and strengthening his ties to the Prophets in one bold move: by revealing that his mother, Sarah (Deborah Lacey), was in fact one of the wormhole aliens. Kira receives a much-deserved promotion, but as Sisko looks for spiritual renewal back at home on Earth, she gets to confront the latest crisis back at the station on her own. And just as the episode ends, Sisko meets Ezri Dax (Nicole deBoer, perfectly the opposite of Terry Farrell).

7x2 “Shadows and Symbols”
Remember how Sisko was renewed by his experiences in “Far Beyond the Stars”? Well, this is the opposite episode, because the Pah-wraiths do their darndest to end his latest rally. It’s been a favorite of mine from the season since first airing.

7x3 “Afterimage”
The first real Ezri episode also serves as the last real Garak episode, which is pretty interesting when you think about it, because Garak was the first unofficial regular to appear after the pilot, and Ezri was the last official regular to join the series.

7x4 “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”
This one practically screams, “we finally get to do this story because it’s the final season and nobody can tell us otherwise.” I mean, it’s a baseball episode! Finally!

7x5 “Chrysalis”
Sarina from “Statistical Probabilities” returns, and gets to be a completely different character thanks to a little medical work from Bashir, which leads to romantic possibilities, until it all falls apart. Still, it was pretty rare that Bashir got even this far, which is a nice bit of foreshadowing, because he was always pursuing Jadzia (before Worf), and would finally win over Ezri by the end of the series, thus completing his arc from brilliant but clueless to confident and accomplished. But this is not exactly his best episode of the season.

7x6 “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River”
This is another episode where I get to reference both the A- and B-stories, because Nog presents the Ferengi notion of the Great Material Continuum, which I thought was pretty brilliant. But the episode is really Weyoun’s chance to finally shine, or at least, one of his least effective clones, betraying the Dominion and joining Odo for a desperate ride to freedom. Their interaction is a highlight of the season, and as I alluded in the third season recap, an improvement in the idea that Odo is unwittingly held in great esteem by the Dominion merely for “being” a Founder.

7x7 “Once More Unto the Breech”
Kor makes one final appearance in a bid to reclaim his own personal sense of honor, clashing with Martok, who considers him an impotent relic, especially in time of war. Standing between them? Who else - Worf. This one counts as about as much of a Worf episode as he was going to get in the season, which is kind of sad, when you think about it, but it was a busy season, and most of the character episodes necessarily had to go to Ezri. What could you do? By the end of the series, Worf would be ready to rejoin his perceived real family, in Star Trek Nemesis three years later, just as if he’d never left. Though he actually fit much better into the Deep Space Nine family thematically, the fact that he joined midway through always made it a little to actually fit him in, which is still one of the few things that might legitimately be said to be a weak point of the series. But without him, there wouldn’t have been so many Klingon episodes, and arguably, Deep Space Nine had the best of those.

7x8 “The Siege of AR-558”
One of the fan favorites, this is also a patented “war is bad” Star Trek episode. Personally, I thought the show had done it better before, if not in “Nor the Battle to the Strong,” then in “Rocks and Shoals.” But that’s just me.

7x9 “Covenant”
The opposite of a Bajoran episode, this one features Dukat’s large stride forward in his direction along the path of the Pah-wraiths, with Kira getting to get a peak, even though the rest of his arc wouldn’t affect her in the slightest (which is kind of weird when you think about it).

7x10 “It’s Only a Paper Moon”
The big pay-off from “The Siege of AR-558,” what really makes that one worthwhile, is this episode, which sees Nog struggling to recover from the loss of his leg. Strangely, it isn’t Jake who gets him out of his funk (which is actually really appropriate for the arc their relationship had taken since the first season), but the holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine. This is easily a favorite, if not my favorite, episode of the season.

7x11 “Prodigal Daughter”
Ezri returns home and finds her family in disarray, and tangled in the “Honor Among Thieves” drama O’Brien had previously dabbled in. Frankly, that more Star Trek episodes didn’t as directly deal with family matters like this is more surprising than the fact that precious final Deep Space Nine season material was being spent on it, with a new character, which was the bulk of why some fans disagreed with it originally. Ezri wasn’t new by choice, but by necessity. And frankly, having her deal with this kind of crisis, rather than something rooted in the Dax symbiont, was another way to distance her from her predecessor.

7x12 “The Emperor’s New Cloak”
The only Ferengi/Quark episode of the season (Quark was definitely the big loser of the season, a fact that was not lost on actor Armin Shimerman, but in a way, it was probably pretty appropriate that finally, he managed to avoid big drama, which is exactly the kind of circumstance that had allowed him to be a part of the series in the first place), and the final Mirror Universe episode of the franchise, until Enterprise. Also, the final Zek episode! So anyway, I thought it was good fun. (Dead Ferengi: Brunt.)

7x13 “Field of Fire”
Remember when I suggested Ezri was pretty much the opposite of Jadzia? Well, not all the time. Aside from the fact that a lot of her character arc had to do with her problems adjusting to her new joined existence (which was itself the opposite of her predecessor), this is the one episode that is directly about the complications of Trill life, with the third actor to portray Joran Belar supplying the crux of her problems (which actually centered around a Vulcan assassin, but who wants to get into the debate about how Deep Space Nine seemed to feature such different Vulcans from the rest of the franchise here?), as well as part of the solution.

7x14 “Chimera”
For the first time since assuming the role of Martok, J.G. Hertzler takes on another Star Trek character (it wouldn’t be the last time), helping to bring back the concept of the infant changelings the Founders sent out into the stars, of which Odo was a part, and bringing about a new level in the constable’s relationship with Kira.

7x15 “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges
The second and better Section 31 episode, Bashir is once more drawn into Sloan’s web, this time on Romulus, where he and Admiral Ross have been tasked with the ongoing efforts to smooth relations with the Star Empire, which is appropriate, because this episode doesn’t play like a sequel to “Inquisition” so much as “In the Pale Moonlight,” the episode that followed Section 31’s introduction, and also featured questionable decisions concerning Romulans. Alexander Siddig truly gets to portray Bashir here as he would in his most prominent movie success in films such as Syriana and Doomsday, performances that suggest what Deep Space Nine originally saw in the actor, when he was considered for the role of Sisko.

7x16 “Badda-bing, Badda-bang”
Succeeding where “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” seemed to stumble with fans, and failing in doing what “It’s Only a Paper Moon” really did, which was to present a proper diversion and give Vic Fontaine his own episode, respectively, this was a great way to prepare fans for the intense ten-hour arc that would conclude the series, by letting just have a little fun.

7x17 “Penumbra”
Sisko finally proposes to Kasidy Yates, while Worf and Ezri finally confront their complicated relationship, as the drumbeat begins. Oh, and the Female Founder reveals to Damar and Weyoun that her people have been poisoned, and the condition is terminal.

7x18 “’Til Death Do Us Part”
Sisko marries Kasidy, despite dire warnings from Sarah, while Ezri and Worf are held prisoner by the Dominion, which reveals a new alliance with the Breen, and the unholy union between Kai Winn and Dukat begins.

7x19 “Strange Bedfellows”
Damar makes the big switch to martyr-hero when he springs Ezri and Worf from their holding cell, while Kai Winn learns that she’s now going to be serving the Pah-wraiths.

7x20 “The Changing Face of Evil”
Dukat’s ruse is exposed, straining his relationship with Kai Winn, at least temporarily, just as the war heats up, as evidenced by the destruction of the Defiant, just as Damar officially announces his resistance against the Dominion.

7x21 “When It Rains…”
Kira is dispatched to join Damar’s resistance movement, with Odo along to aid her, but not before Bashir confirms awful suspicions that Section 31 is behind the Founder disease, and that the constable is also infected. Garak is the third member of this little assistance team. Meanwhile, Gowron starts make war hell for Martok.

7x22 “Tacking into the Wind”
While the ad hoc resistance movement struggles to figure itself out (including a poignant moment where Garak gets to observe Odo in much the same circumstances he was forced to put the constable in during “The Die is Cast”), Worf realizes the only way to strengthen the Klingon Empire is to end the squabbling between its two greatest warriors, and to do that, he’s got to replace the misguided Gowron with Martok, by any means necessary.

7x23 “Extreme Measures”
The last Bashir-O’Brien episode is also the final Section 31 episode, as the duo struggles against increasingly impossible odds to break Sloan and find the cure for the Founder illness. This one gets a little out of hand, unfortunately, but it still manages to accomplish the tall orders it imposes on itself. Notably, the first and only episode of the arc to center so squarely on a single story.

7x24 “The Dogs of War”
Much of this one is pretty much a run-up to the final episode, but the highlight has to be Zek finally passing on the title of Grand Nagus, which is something he’d been trying to do since his first appearance, and yes, as I suggested previously, the honor falls to Rom. Not really a Ferengi episode, which is kind of perfect, because at the last possibly moment, the series finally seems to have figured out how to integrate the Ferengi elements in with everything else. Having just completed a generalized account of the eight individual hours of the season-ending arc, this is probably the first time since I actually watched them in 1999 that I’ve been able to differentiate the events, and how they developed, during it. This is probably why it was better that Deep Space Nine was never fully a serialized drama, because it probably would have been extremely difficult to care as much about it when it would have been harder to know exactly what was happening (which is something that could be and probably was a problem for shows like Lost, Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica, all cult favorite shows that struggled to retain their fans over heavily-serialized runs, as Babylon 5 did before them, especially as it grew more and more interested in that form of storytelling). Deep Space Nine was easily at its best when it was able to tell serialized stories in episodic ways. Though this was pretty great and probably absolutely necessary at this point, ten episodes was definitely pushing the limits of the idea for Star Trek.

7x25/7x26 “What You Leave Behind”
The series finale, split between the first hour depicting the end of the Dominion War and the second hour depicting the end of the crew as a collective unit at the station, punctuated with Sisko’s final stand on behalf of the Prophets, against Dukat, who has finally completed the transition to the exact opposite number, representing the Pah-wraiths. No Star Trek could ever hope to end on such an effective and necessary and complete loop (except that Voyager would have to bring its crew hope, after stranding it originally).

It’s as much the way it ended that made fans, those fans who had come to love it, that helped Deep Space Nine develop its mystique as the cult within the cult, because it became increasingly clear that these characters would never be seen again, which was exactly the opposite of the promise Star Trek seemed to develop once The Motion Picture was released in theaters, that in some form, it was preordained destiny to be accepted and embraced by the franchise, if not always the fans. Even Janeway appeared on the big screen. If Enterprise hadn’t killed the last incarnation of the franchise, doubtless Archer would have had that much better a chance of some return engagement than Sisko, too.

So to leave this captain separated from his family, just as he had begun the series, was more appropriate than surprising. It didn’t matter. And it still doesn’t. No Star Trek before or since has managed to provide such an inclusive and involving experience in and of itself, and to its fans, that’s all that really matters…

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Six

Here’s the start of the Deep Space Nine its most fervent fans to this day will still remember vividly, entering into serialized territory for the first six episodes of the season, exploring the opening months of the Dominion War. What its curious competitor, Babylon 5, had been doing for most of its run, and what would become popular with Battlestar Galactica and Lost, a total immersion in storytelling, the show was now ready to exploit its own way.

6x1 “A Time to Stand”
Sisko and his station crew, exiled thanks to Dukat, Weyoun, and the rest of Dominion command at the end of last season, trade the Defiant for the Jem’Hadar vessel he captured last season in “The Ship” to kick off the six-part season opening arc. Kira and Odo, meanwhile, struggle to life on the station with its new overlords. The debut of Admiral Ross (Barry Jenner), plus an appearance by Joseph Sisko.

6x2 “Sons and Daughters”
Alexander makes his Deep Space Nine debut, now portrayed by Marc Worden, updating his familiar storyline from Next Generation as an unlikely Klingon warrior. It takes considerable convincing from Martok to get Worf to see his son as worthy of the ideals he has so long championed.

6x3 “Rocks and Shoals”
This one’s a favorite of mine from the arc, a subtle entry that sees a marooned Sisko crew square off once more with a squad of Jem’Hadar, with an even more dubious Vorta representative (Keevan, portrayed by Christopher Shea), who turns up again, though with far less dignity. Phil Morris, a frequent member of the Star Trek acting troupe (dating back all the way to the original crew films), appears as one of the Jem’Hadar.

6x4 “Behind the Lines”
Just as Kira, Odo, Jake (who’s stayed behind to act as a reporter), Rom, and probably Quark are forming a resistance (bringing the series back to its roots, which of course we never really saw) at the station, the Female Founder shows up and basically starts to seduce the constable. At this point, I would argue that in order to really understand the impact of this, you really need to be familiar with the rest of the series, from Odo’s longing in the first season for a connection to home to “The Search” to “The Die is Cast,” where he admits to Garak how badly he wants to return home, despite never truly showing it otherwise, to “Broken Link,” where he accepts wicked judgment from his own people. Only to reach this point. But hey, it’s not as if the story’s done, right?

6x5 “Favor the Bold”
Basically the start of a capping two-parter for the arc, a huge action drama that sees Sisko begin the reclaiming of the station.

6x6 “Sacrifice of Angels”
The arc concludes with the moral victory of Sisko winning back the station so that, technically, the series can get back to status quo. It’s funny, because the more Lost tried to reclaim status quo, the more its fans rebelled, but Deep Space Nine fans seemed perfectly fine with it, possibly because for the fans tuning in for this arc, the status quo really wasn’t all that familiar. Anyway, Dukat receives a further and far more significant blow when his daughter Tora Ziyal is accidentally killed during his escape, driving him into madness, a key development for the character, whose calm and calculated demeanor was always his calling card, which therefore set up the first domino leading to the end of the series.

6x7 “You Are Cordially Invited”
This is Worf and Jadzia’s wedding, but it’s really a sort of sequel to “Playing God” and other early Jadzia episodes, where her free spirit got her into plenty of trouble, and certainly with the wife of Martok here. Alexander makes a return appearance, probably better than “Sons and Daughters,” while Sisko and a few other lucky friends of Worf enjoy a Klingon bachelor party. It’s wild, all right, just not exactly in an…enjoyable way. Still arguably the most memorable wedding in Star Trek history, even though the wedding itself isn’t really all that memorable.

6x8 “Resurrection”
Of all the Mirror Universe episodes, I think this may be my favorite, because it bends all the rules. Instead of our characters traveling there, a few of theirs travel here. Intendendant Kira, naturally, is one of them (besides Smiley, clearly the most constant character, and its most defining one), but unexpectedly, Bareil is the other. Again, while it was forging the defining season for many fans who couldn’t care less for what seemed like a completely opposite and different series from the early seasons, here’s a concrete example of the show mixing the two together, so that to really appreciate it, you’ve got to look backward a little. Bareil was always a favorite of mine, so even to see an alternate version was still pretty awesome, and it gave viewers the last real Bajoran episode of the series. (No dead Ferengi.)

6x9 “Statistical Probabilities”
Returning to the business of war, but in a most unlikely way (because once the season started with that strong focus, it was pretty brilliant to then ignore all the expectations, which then made it possible for the series to do what it did best, explore its story its own way), with a pack of damaged genetically-enhanced individuals to help Bashir calculate the course of the conflict. We also see Damar begin to emerge as a stronger presence, now that he has inherited from Dukat leadership of the Cardassians. Sarina (Faith C. Salie), would return later, with a stark contrast of her own.

6x10 “The Magnificent Ferengi”
This is why I always enjoyed the Ferengi episodes, because they were so much more diverse than people gave them credit for, even while they were all pretty distinctively Ferengi in nature. Here an unlikely dream team of them (Quark, Rom, Nog, Brunt, and Gaila) travel to Empok Nor to exchange Keevan for Ishka. Iggy Pop appears as a distinctive Vorta, appropriately bemused by the proceedings.

6x11 “Waltz”
My favorite war episode had nothing to do with the war, but rather the ravaged mind of Dukat, finally squaring off with Sisko, a true powerhouse of an episode for two Star Trek acting giants. In many ways, there was no way “What You Leave Behind” could ever compete with it, and in a way, it didn’t even try.

6x12 “Who Mourns for Morn?”
The character who never said anything, but was there from the beginning, finally got his episode. No, he’s not really the star here, either, but hey, you can’t have everything! You might notice character actor Gregory Itzin (most famous as President Logan in 24) in a guest appearance.

6x13 “One Little Ship”
An episode of complete nonsense. Have a little fun, move along.

6x14 “Far Beyond the Stars”
After “Waltz,” it probably would have been difficult to imagine a better Sisko episode from the season, but here it is, a phenomenal little allegorical trip to the past, wrapped up in the continuing drama and weight of the Dominion War. A completely different look at the series, a standout, important episode, one of the best, “The Inner Light” as done by Deep Space Nine.

6x15 “Honor Among Thieves”
O’Brien is sort of the guest character in his own episode, thrown into an undercover assignment with the Orion Syndicate, in another of many episodes that would be revisited in the final season. Nick Tate as Bilby basically steals this one, not because he’s flashy, but because he’s perfectly understated. I’d probably call this one O’Brien’s “The Wounded” of Deep Space Nine, especially as it allows him to be a little more reflective than normal.

6x16 “Change of Heart”
I didn’t really agree with this one, didn’t really see why it was necessary, but all the same, Worf and Jadzia’s relationship gets pushed to the breaking point in a most unexpected way, forcing Worf one last time to choose between his heart and his career, which is the explanation for why the dude never got the captaincy. Sulu, you think you got it tough? Try being Worf. As far as the defining story of the character, though, this was probably preferable to once again pitting him against his own people. Some day, Star Trek will feel comfortable with a main character representing an alien species, who actually feels comfortable representing that species, who won’t for some reason be deemed, by some misplaced idea of necessity, an outsider. (Phlox probably counts, but we’ll keep that between you and me for now.)

6x17 “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night”
Kira travels back to Terok Nor days, and discovers some nasty family secrets. All considered, I would have preferred that something a little more original would have come from this story.

6x18 “Inquisition”
Six seasons in, the series was still ready to break new ground, not even considering the opening arc. This is the debut of Section 31, as represented by Sloan (William Sadler), who does his best to recruit Bashir, which would become a staple of franchise lore, at least among the fans, and would even resurface in Enterprise.

6x19 “In the Pale Moonlight”
The trifecta of season six Sisko episodes, the captain wrestles with his conscious when he schemes with Garak to bring the Romulans into the war, hoping to even increasingly desperate odds. Three for three in classics, Mr. Brooks.

6x20 “His Way”
If Section 31 was the big addition for fans, then Vic Fontaine (James Darren) was the big one for the show’s creators. But although you might be mistaken into assuming this is Vic’s episode, it’s really all about Odo and Kira, finally reading to embrace the romance that has been simmering between them since the second season.

6x21 “The Reckoning”
The unthinkable happens in this one: you may actually feel some sympathy for Kai Winn! But the episode really plays like a preview of the series finale, what that final confrontation with Sisko and Dukat might have looked like…if they hadn’t already gone better rounds in “Waltz.”

6x22 “Valiant”
The team of Jake and Nog returns! This time paired aboard a Defiant look-alike that’s crewed by a pack of cadets, which absolutely does not end well. This can be considered an improved version of “The First Duty,” if you’d like.

6x23 “Profit and Lace”
The most controversial episode of the series, the most hated, however you’d like to say it. Basically, Quark ends up having to pose as a female, or appear in drag, in order to help finally convince Ferengi society that some social changes are finally due. Aside from the awkwardness of the scenario, it’s still a perfectly fine and necessary episode, fully in keeping with the rest of the series. But eventually, the writers would realize this could be done better simply by making Rom the new Grand Nagus.

6x24 “Time’s Orphan”
Molly finally gets an episode! But like Morn’s, there’s a lot of shenanigans to get it done, involving some time travel that doesn’t really end up having that much of an impact. But the effort was certainly there.

6x25 “The Sound of Her Voice”
Another season highlight and another innovative story, featuring our characters attempting to rescue a stranded Starfleet captain, who offers a lot of sage wisdom and conversation, a necessary breathing point for war-weary souls, with a wonderful little twist at the end.

6x26 “Tears of the Prophets”
It’s sad that this had to happen because Terry Farrell simply wanted to exit the series, but the war finally claims a significant casualty when a crazed Dukat begins his worship of the Pah-wraiths by murdering Jadzia, bringing to a close an era of the series, a fitting end to a season that had effectively begun one.

With so much ambition, there was little doubt that all the excitement the season generated in viewers, basically creating a whole new set of fans (but sadly, not really more viewers) helped form a memorable season, with a lot of defining work and development. Yet there was also the sense that sometimes, the cost was that the series was tapping itself in reaching its full potential, with a few episodes missing the mark with considerable contrast to the material around them. Unlike Next Generation, which to its fans could have continued far beyond seven seasons (even though it had been running on empty well before the final episode), Deep Space Nine was making a significant push toward a definite end, all the bold maneuvering a clear indication that the best cards were being played, that there would literally be nothing left in the end. In many ways, again, clear parallels can be seen between Deep Space Nine and Lost, which deliberately shrank its episode count for the final three seasons, mostly because the sprint had begun, and there would be little time for leisure, only big ideas.

The sixth season telegraphed much of what would happen in the final season, indicated all the necessary final moments, even as it made it that much harder to say goodbye, by making the station feel more and more like home, especially with the introduction of lounge singer Vic Fontaine, who instantly felt like the missing element from the rest of the series. And just like that, it would be that much easier to leave that home behind…

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Five

If the third season opened the series up and the fourth season made it go widescreen, then the birth of the Deep Space Nine that most fans would truly recognize was the fifth, which premiered in the fall of 1996, the thirtieth anniversary of Star Trek. By the end of the season, the Dominion War had begun. What else do you need to know?

5x1 “Apocalypse Rising”
Sisko, O’Brien, Odo, and Worf go undercover into Klingon territory, with the intention to expose Gowron as a changeling infiltrator, but to everyone’s surprise, it’s actually Martok, thereby setting the stage for the real thing to be discovered…later in the season.

5x2 “The Ship”
As the show’s one-hundredth episode, this one’s noteworthy one way or another. Sisko is tasked with retrieving a crashed Jem’Hadar ship, and spends the episode trying to guard it from a Dominion very much interested in reclaiming it. Muniz finally reaches the culmination of his minor recurring status, with the intention being his death wouldn’t be just another Star Trek red shirt death (I thought it worked, anyway, even without his prior appearances). The big surprise is just what the objective for the Dominion actually was, which brings about one of the show’s trademark shades of grey moments, with a frustrated and exasperated Sisko musing if any of the preceding misery was worth it. Not to spoil, but a season later, he’s probably looking back at this moment a tad differently.

5x3 “Looking for par-Mach in all the Wrong Places”
Finally, Jadzia and Worf hook up, after a little instigation from Quark and the returning Grilka, an episode that nods back to the show’s past, and its future.

5x4 “Nor the Battle to the Strong”
The kind of episode Star Trek tried many times, representing the horrors of war from the point of view of an innocent, but it works well here, with Jake Sisko, on a slightly expanded writing career path as journalist, another element that would grow in significance later.

5x5 “The Assignment”
The debut of the Pah-wraiths, the evil Prophets, in an episode that finally allows Keiko get some revenge on O’Brien for all those times he was forced to turn on her by some alien menace. Certainly became more important later, but might have seemed almost flippantly throwaway for the show at this point.

5x6 “Trials and Tribble-ations”
The most famous episode of the series, splicing Deep Space Nine with the original series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” seamlessly and cleverly integrating our crew in the action, possibly the only time a classic was or could be made so directly from another. This was the show’s celebration of Star Trek’s anniversary, obviously, but watching it, you never get a sense that it’s a gimmick or that it’s terribly out of place, even with all the old footage around. Truth is, it’s entirely a part of what Deep Space Nine was like at its very best.

5x7 “Let He Who Is Without Sin…”
A somewhat preachy episode, based at the vacation Mecca known as Risa, of all places, allowing for some exploration of Worf and Jadzia’s relationship, and helping to spark one between Leeta and Rom. Vanessa Williams guest-stars. It’s not hard to imagine how she’s revealed as the reason Curzon Dax died of pleasure.

5x8 “Things Past”
A return trip to the “Necessary Evil” past, with Odo forced to examine just how good, or not, he actually was at his job. Kurtwood Smith makes one of many Star Trek guest appearances as the Cardassian who previously held the security post at Terok Nor. While feeling a tad derivative of the previous story, it’s still nice to finally acknowledge that the constable isn’t infallible.

5x9 “The Ascent”
From one Odo episode that perhaps wasn’t inevitable, to one that absolutely was. You’ve got to remember that at this point in the series, he’s been made a Solid, unable to change shape thanks to the Founders, so when I say he’s stuck finally thrashing out with Quark, their complicated relationship finally coming to a head, you’ve got to realize they’re very much on equal ground. The episode also reunites the team of Jake and Nog, which doesn’t turn out as favorably as either could have imagined. Always their own kind of odd couple, the years haven’t made it any easier to relate. This time their friendship really is in question! For a series that didn’t seem to have a problem creating contrasting associations, theirs endured and kept changing, a true testament to the strength of the idea, the characters, and the actors.

5x10 “Rapture”
The debut of the Next Generation movie uniforms in Deep Space Nine, this one’s also the most dramatic example of Sisko’s dual role as Starfleet officer and Emissary, as he becomes driven by visions that starkly conflict with his duties, and cause strain all around. Easily one of my favorite episodes for the character.

5x11 “The Darkness and the Light”
I guess it’s a little surprising that an episode like this hadn’t been done earlier, but Kira becomes the target of a vengeful Cardassian (played by Randy Oglesby in an early Star Trek role), which may be why it seems a little on the nose, though it’s still a worthwhile piece of continuity.

5x12 “The Begotten”
Kira finally gives birth to the O’Briens’ baby, and Odo unexpectedly comes into custody of another Dominion orphan, this time a changeling, and begrudgingly calls in the services of Dr. Mora to handle the infant, which has no idea who or what it is, just as Odo was when he was first discovered. The unexpected gift the baby Founder gives him at the end of the episode might come across as a reset button to cynical viewers, but that would take away from the power of this utterly perfect hour.

5x13 “For the Uniform”
A warm-up episode for the war ahead, Sisko confronts Maquis rebel and traitor, Michael Eddington, who made it personal the moment he betrayed the Federation on Sisko’s watch. Basically an improved version of “The Maquis,” and featuring a terrific sequence where the Defiant must be run manually, and featuring the debut of the short-lived holographic projectors in lieu of the ordinary viewscreen (which I thought was a pretty good idea, but its subsequent absence made Shinzon seem all the more menacing in Star Trek Nemesis). Eric Pierpont, one of the lower key members of the Star Trek acting troupe, appears as Captain Saunders, who I always hoped could become a recurring character. But we got Admiral Ross instead. It was a pretty good switch all considered. Anyway, one of my favorite episodes, making it clear that Eddington, not Dukat, was Sisko’s white whale, Khan, the Borg.

5x14 “In Purgatory’s Shadow”
The first part of the season’s answer to “Improbable Cause”/“The Die is Cast,” we learn that Bashir has actually been a changeling infiltrator throughout much of the season, partly because the real one turns up in a Dominion prison camp, where Worf and Garak also encounter…Enabran Tain. Oh, and the real Martok. Tain dies, but not before we learn that he is actually Garak’s father.

5x15 “By Inferno’s Light”
Like a mini-arc, these two episodes are among the most satisfying mid-season two-parters the franchise ever did, mostly because they weren’t some outright big story so much as a momentous event. Dukat reveals that the Cardassian Empire has formed an alliance with the Dominion, thereby setting up another key bit of storytelling for later seasons. I hadn’t mention an actor behind Tora Ziyal until this point because there had been a number of women behind her, but finally, Melanie Smith assumes the role. James Horan, makes another of his many Star Trek appearances, as a Jem’Hadar.

5x16 “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?”
Robert Picardo, from Voyager, guest-stars as Lewis Zimmerman, creator of the holographic Doctor he normally plays, but the huge news of this episode is that Bashir is actually genetically modified. His parents, including Brian George, appear. Alexander Siddig apparently wasn’t a big fan of the revelation, saying it weakened the character, but I never thought that personally. I think it rather helps explain and expand on other things we’ve learned about Bashir, including things suggested in “Distant Voices,” that he would sometimes deliberately downplay his abilities. If there has to be an explanation as to why, this is as good as any, with a strong franchise foundation that was too infrequently drawn from. But for those still wondering if this was the right way to do it, Enterprise would try again later, with an even more bold attempt. I would like to circle back, though, to Picardo. Even for those who didn’t like Voyager, it had to be nice to see him here, an excellent loophole of crossover storytelling. Plus he’s the guy who finally, inadvertently, gets Rom and Leeta together.

5x17 “A Simple Investigation”
An unexpected follow-up to Odo’s last spotlight, allowing him to experience human emotions now that he’s no longer a Solid, and a rare look at his security duties firsthand.

5x18 “Business as Usual”
One of my favorite Quark episodes (you can begin to see how this was a favorite season of mine, and how it helped confirm my affection for the series, well before everyone else swooned over the war season that followed it), the one that truly does justice to his dramatic potential while remaining firmly rooted in everything we know about him. Lawrence Tierney appears as a potential recipient of his questionable dealings. Also the first appearance of the oft-mentioned cousin Galla (Josh Pais), “the one with the moon.”

5x19 “Ties of Blood and Water”
The return of Legate Ghemor, from “Second Skin,” giving Kira new reasons to hate him, and new reasons to love him. Where a typical show would start to generalize after five seasons, you could literally see the series growing deeper in its own mythology.

5x20 “Ferengi Love Songs”
Brunt, Zek, and Ishka (now portrayed by Cecily Adams) return, with a romance evident and evidently complicated between two of them. I’ll let you guess which two.

5x21 “Soldiers of the Empire”
Martok and Worf truly get to bond, now that they’re free from the Dominion prison camp, and it’s pretty complicated at first, but eventually both realize it’s better to be friends. Like the whole season, the episode makes it seem so easy to spotlight individual characters by exploring relevant things in their own worlds, but always as they’re relevant to the series, which I think was the key to the success of Deep Space Nine, what truly helps make it unique, even more than a decade later, and how later seasons helped make the show seem that much better by doing this better.

5x22 “Children of Time”
A time paradox episode that Star Trek would become increasingly familiar with (but its origins traced back to “Yesterday’s Enterprise”), families and people that are hard to say goodbye to but must disappear in order for everything to go back to normal. But the real impact of the episode is Kira finally realizing that Odo loves her.

5x23 “Blaze of Glory”
Eddington’s farewell, the final showdown with Sisko. Appropriately awesome, but not quite as impactful as “For the Uniform.”

5x24 “Empok Nor”
Awesome if only for the fact that there’s another station exactly like Terok Nor out there, which has gotten to keep its name. Garak and O’Brien are featured in a different kind of Let’s-Torture-O’Brien episode, a little of a return to the kind he used to endure in Next Generation’ When you think about it, it’s weird that Colm Meaney was tied down to one series, let alone two, for so long, but he’s only now really starting to get real wide exposure in film, with notable co-starring roles in Law Abiding Citizen and Get Him to the Greek, after a string of breakout performances in Irish dramas like The Commitments and InterMission. So it’s not so surprising that his presence in the show diminished over time, which is why he seems virtually absent this season, aside from considerable appearances in “The Ship,” “Trials and Tribble-ations,” this one, and a few others.

5x25 “In the Cards”
Another personal favorite, which seems to break all the rules of the season, allowing Jake and Nog to have the kind of adventure they had in the first season all the time, and even allowing Weyoun to be a benevolent presence. But aired in any other season, it would have shown just as brightly.

5x26 “Call to Arms”
The start of the Dominion War. What else needs to be said? Robert Hewitt Wolfe leaves the series, after having helped guide it since the first year, notably with the defining “In the Hands of the Prophets,” while fictionally, the crew is forced to abandon the station, with Dukat reclaiming his office, where he finds Sisko’s baseball waiting for him. The guest cast is a who’s who: Garak, Weyoun, Dukat, Rom, Nog, Martok, Leeta, Tora Ziyal, and Damar. The only really missing is Kasidy Yates. But she’d definitely be back.

Not just a powerful statement in itself of the continuing vitality of the series, the fifth season is also an implicit promise that Deep Space Nine was just getting started. The only other show I’ve watched that’s had comparable, sustained, and relevant narrative thrust would be Lost, which is why both shows are my undisputable favorite TV experiences. I realize that’s not what everyone wants, which would certainly explain why viewership didn’t increase accordingly during the season, even though you could hardly ask for better television, but it still baffles me.

Not that it really ended up mattering. The show would most certainly go on…

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Four

The term “widescreen” has been used for certain large scale comic book storytelling in the past, and is meant to suggest a summer blockbuster scope. I’d suggest that starting in the fall of 1995, Deep Space Nine got into widescreen mode, now that anyone who had been paying attention previously knew everything there was to know about the particular circumstances of the station at the edge of the final frontier. Now it was time to have a little fun.

4x1/4x2 “The Way of the Warrior”
Part of the change was studio mandated, to punch up the series and hopefully broaden its appeal. Worf (Michael Dorn, the only regular cast member from one Star Trek to become a regular cast member of another) was brought in to help that along. But even if the producers hadn’t intended to start out the year with Klingons, they still managed to figure out just exactly how they could work within the story that had emerged, the Dominion threat, at the end of the second year. Martok (J.G. Hertzler) makes something of a premature debut here, while a bunch of other regular guest characters (Garak, Dukat, Gowron, Kasidy Yates) also make appearances, guaranteeing that this apparent new direction is rooted firmly in what has come before. Oh, and to help mark the transition, Avery Brooks refines Sisko’s appearance still further, sporting a shaved head for the first time, which along with the goatee he’d acquired at the end of the third season, gives the captain a confident new look.

4x3 “The Visitor”
The episode that’s arguably the finest hour of the series, putting the spotlight squarely on Sisko and his son Jake, and the bond that unites them against impossible odds, including an anomaly that untethers Sisko from time, but not from Jake. Tony Todd, usually portraying Worf’s brother Kurn in the franchise, puts in an emotionally satisfying performance as an older Jake.

4x4 “Hippocratic Oath”
Somewhere along the way, Alexander Siddig must have realized that the best way to mark the transition Bashir had been making from brash and near-unlikable was to portray him with more confidence and maturity, and this is easily the best episode to see the distinction. Scott MacDonald makes another appearance, this time as arguably the most distinctive Jem’Hadar soldier, Goran’Agar, who seeks to break his people from the chemical control of the Founders. Also one of the finest Bashir/O’Brien episodes, which again demonstrates how far the doctor has come from his early days. Just watch this one after “Armageddon Game” and you can’t help but appreciate the difference.

4x5 “Indiscretion”
Dukat’s first real spotlight episode (the guy traveled such a gradual role to true prominence in the series, you’d have to listen to him to believe he was always what he seemed to be, a major presence), pairing him with Kira in the unlikely search for his half-Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal. Debut of the Breen (on screen, anyway), whose body armor, and certainly helmet, are reminiscent of the bounty hunter disguise Princess Leia adopts in Return of the Jedi, a point that started to drive parts of my family away from the series. Some people, evidently, didn’t much care for this new direction.

4x6 “Rejoined”
I don’t know that I’ve seen this one in its entirely, even to this day, because along with the Breen, this was the other big episode to drive a wedge in my family’s appreciation of Deep Space Nine. The only episode of Star Trek that I was outright forbidden to watch. If you know anything about the episode, you know why pretty easily. Star Trek troupe member Susanna Thompson appears as a Trill scientist with complicated ties to Jadzia, with certain elements providing a breakthrough for television and viewers, and a considerable step up from “The Host,” the Next Generation episode that saw the debut of Trills, where Dr. Crusher comes away with the kind of impression my family did with this one.

4x7 “Starship Down”
A patented ensemble disaster hour, featuring James Cromwell once more making a Star Trek appearance, and the debut of low key recurring character Muniz (F.J. Rio), who’d make his biggest impression a season later, with a somewhat more significant starship crisis.

4x8 “Little Green Men”
The comic gem of the series, a time travel episode that deposits Quark, Rom, and Academy-bound Nog in Roswell, NM, circa 1947. If you’ve never seen the episode, you can imagine what happens from there, when the Ferengi fall into the hands of the military, but you’ll definitely want to watch it if you haven’t. Another member of the regular cast turns up eventually, and makes a great episode even better, but I won’t spoil that here.

4x9 “Sword of Kahless”
Dahar Master Kor makes his first appearance since “Blood Oath” two seasons earlier, competing with Worf on a quest to recover the eponymous piece of Klingon lore. It was all fine and dandy to bring Worf in as a regular, but there was the little problem of finding a way to truly make him relevant to the series. Here, you can see the seeds of the answer, because when you’ve got Kor, you’ve got Jadzia, too.

4x10 “Our Man Bashir”
Here’s another of those infamous “holodeck-run-amok” episodes, but you’ll probably hear very few complaints about this one, since, as the title implies, it’s really just an excuse for a romp, with Bashir running around as a James Bond figure and the rest of the cast out of character in amusing ways, including Sisko as the villain.

4x11 “Homefront”
The story that was supposed to open the season, changelings on Earth, at the very heart of Starfleet! Sisko and Odo travel home to consult with Admiral Leyton (Robert Foxworth) about the considerable security issues that will need to be addressed, but of course things still go wrong. Along the way, we see how Nog is doing at the Academy, and finally meet Sisko’s dad, Joseph (Brock Peters)…Hold on, didn’t the early seasons go out of their way to suggest at least very strongly that he was dead? Well, sure, pretty unmistakably. But with Peters portraying him, are you really going to argue the point? The transition started in the third season, naturally, when a different story started to emerge. If you want a concrete example of what really separates early Deep Space Nine from the more mature later seasons, you can start with that, an increased scope of all the things it’d been doing before, but now being done even better.

4x12 “Paradise Lost”
Just for the record, it was worth the wait, for this story, which concludes here, which might as well be seen as an update of the one aborted during Next Generation, quite infamously, with “Conspiracy.” This was the point where I realized the new direction was really working, that there were no more rules restraining the show.

4x13 “Crossfire”
Shakaar makes a return visit, but this episode is all about the increased torture Odo feels from not being able to consummate his feelings for Kira, making for some pretty considerable emotion from a man who tries to pretend he doesn’t have any. In this sense, you can almost interpret him as an improved version of Spock (heresy, I know!).

4x14 “Return to Glory”
Damar (Casey Biggs) debuts here, as part of Dukat’s desperate gamble to win back the respect of his people, lost after he reclaimed the forbidden family member Tora Ziyal, in an episode that brings back the urgency of the Klingon conflict that’s technically been ongoing since the season premiere, but adding a Cardassian element that would really pay off in later seasons.

4x15 “Sons of Mogh”
This has always been the definite Worf/Kurn episode for me, even though at some level it’s a rehash of what they’ve done before on Deep Space Nine (especially with the dishonor Worf has brought on himself from “Way of the Warrior,” siding with the Federation rather than the Klingon Empire). As long as I’ve been mentioning episodes that the show has done better than Next Generation, I’d call this one better than “Ethics,” doing a better job of exploring the limits of Klingon honor.

4x16 “Bar Association”
Jeffrey Combs makes his second appearance as Brunt, just as Rom begins carving his own destiny, with a little help from Leeta. Basically an extension of “Family Business,” with a little more satisfaction in it.

4x17 “Accession”
A Bajoran episode of the later period, as much if not more about Sisko and his role as Emissary as the changes Akorem Laan brings about when he temporary replaces Sisko in that role. It’s probably far more palatable for most viewers than the comparatively dreary politics of earlier seasons.

4x18 “Rules of Engagement”
Star Trek troupe member Ron Canada plays a Klingon who tries to trick Worf into sparking a still great conflict for the Federation. If Worf ever had a chance to become a Starfleet captain, this would probably have become a more significant episode, but for various reasons, that fate was denied him. I still don’t know why, personally, a far greater injustice than Sulu having to wait a few extra years for his own seat.

4x19 “Hard Time”
The ultimate Let’s-Torture-O’Brien episode, where he’s forced to live out an entire prison sentence in his mind, to considerable mental distress when he finally gets to go back home. One of my favorites. Muniz makes another appearance.

4x20 “Shattered Mirror”
Now that the show had done two Mirror Universe episodes and integrated Jennifer Sisko, in a way, back into the series, it was necessary for at least one more visit, this time so that Jake could meet her, with tragic results. It was at this point, more than the previous visit, that it began to feel like a necessary element of the series, this recurring visit to an original series concept, how it said as much about Deep Space Nine as its place in franchise lore. Regent Worf makes his debut. (Dead Ferengi: Nog.)

4x21 “The Muse”
Viewers get a nice little tease about the legacy Jake will one day leave behind as a writer (as seen in “The Visitor”), but I prefer to think of this episode as the culmination of Lwaxana Troi’s appearances in the series, as she essentially repeats her “Manhunt” trick in getting a supposed series regular suitor (in this case Odo) to get her out of a nasty relationship. Michael Ansara, another original series alum (along with Majel Barrett, naturally), makes a second Deep Space Nine appearance, after famously reprising Kang in “Blood Oath.”

4x22 “For the Cause”
This one was pretty big for me, personally. Kasidy Yates is accused of being a member of the Maquis, putting a definite wrinkle in her relationship with Sisko, but as it turns out, the traitor is really Eddington, fulfilling the promise of the tease in “The Adversary,” finally positioning the character into a position of real significance, and reclaiming the Maquis for the series, proving the producers could use even a gimmick forced on them to help launch Voyager to their advantage, eventually. Meanwhile, Garak engages in an unlikely relationship, with Tora Ziyal (ah, Dukat’s daughter).

4x23 “The Quickening”
Bashir returns to “Hippocratic Oath” territory, with another impossible medical dilemma dropped in his lap.

4x24 “To the Death”
Jeffrey Combs debuts his other iconic Deep Space Nine role, Weyoun, while the Jem’Hadar are embroiled in another rebellious act that leads to the unlikely call for assistance from the station for a little help. Brian Thompson makes another appearance as one of the warriors, while Clarence Williams III portrays First Omet’iklan, the other truly memorable Jem’Hadar, after Goran’Agar.

4x25 “Body Parts”
The title of this episode cleverly covers both stories being told, whether it’s Brunt holding Quark to the desiccated remains he’s placed on the Ferengi market after a fatal diagnosis that turns out to be a little premature (not that Brunt cares), or the O’Brien baby now being carried by Kira after some, er, other complications.

4x26 “Broken Link”
Ever diligent when it comes to Odo, the Founders finally see fit for a little revenge after the events of “The Adversary,” the finale of the previous season, stripping him of his shape-shifting ability, but not before leaving him with just as starting a gift, knowledge of a changeling infiltrator deep in the heart of the Klingon Empire, apparently Chancellor Gowron himself. Meanwhile, Garak gets some startling news of his own, that all the Romulan-Cardassian forces from the attempted invasion last season (including Enabran Tain) are dead. Or so Female Founder says.

This is the second season where I ended up listing every episode, even though I hadn’t intended to. But really, I might as well have anyway, given that I’ve listed so many episodes across so many of the previous Fan Companions. I realized pretty quickly while I was planning them out that as a tangible distinction, the number of episodes I was able to distinguish as either personal favorites or notable entries helps to explain how and why I became such a devoted fan of the franchise. With Deep Space Nine itself, I knew by the third season I was pretty committed, but it became a little hard to deny that my affection for Star Trek itself went pretty deep. That’s what I hope comes across during this unveiling of the Fan Companion, that I found many reasons to like what I was watching.

On Deep Space Nine, especially during the fourth season, it was a continued blossoming of potential that I couldn’t overlook, despite whatever considerable obstacles that began to present themselves, including a schism from within my own family. It was at this point that I started to distance myself from those whose interest in the franchise was tested beyond their limits, which seems strange to some of the Star Trek fan community that I’ve gotten to know, where it wasn’t Deep Space Nine but later incarnations, but low ratings became a fixture here, no matter what the show did, even with the apparent answers to nagging viewer concerns as to whether or not it would actually be fun to watch.

Star Trek always had a funny relationship with its audience. Originally, there didn’t seem to be enough of it, and while popular demand did a lot to sustain and create a franchise, that demand was always a double-edged sword. You ask too much of it (because, in the end, even with the serialized nature of many of the early films), and the support starts to lag. Star Trek was always an episodic affair. Paramount wanted something that could develop deep and passionate appeal. Well, it had that once, and it made it happen again. But a third, fourth, fifth time? In the end, no matter what Deep Space Nine, or its successors, did, it was going to be a losing battle.

But that hardly means those still watching couldn’t have a little fun…

Friday, July 16, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Three

I still consider this one to be my favorite season of Star Trek, and it’s not strictly because it was the first one I watched completely as first run material. It was the year Deep Space Nine seemed to finally click on all cylinders, make bold strides toward the future, mold some definite franchise ground of its own. More importantly, the actors themselves really seemed that much more invested in the material, and maybe that’s what makes all the difference with these things. I know I talked a lot about confidence when Next Generation hit its own third season, which on that show meant simply earning the right as the second incarnation of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, but here, there was half a season where the series was going to be the only Star Trek on TV, and then all the attention would go from the end of the predecessor to the beginning of a successor. It was if Deep Space Nine was saying, yeah, we’re definitely here, too.

3x1 “The Search, Part I”
Sisko brings the Defiant, the show’s version of a starship, with a completely unique design for Star Trek, loaded beyond strict capacity with defensive capabilities, including a cloaking device on loan from the Romulans (embodied by Martha Hackett, who might as well be auditioning for what would soon become a recurring presence on Voyager). The Dominion, of course, was the big story, but as a season premiere, this could not have had more teeth, even more than the previous season finale, which set everything up. Salome Jens debuts as the Founder figurehead, as does Kenneth Marshall (think a balding Cary Elwes) as Eddington, a more permanent Starfleet security officer than had previously worked out in the series, one of my favorite recurring characters. Also, John Fleck makes a Star Trek appearance prior to earning his own franchise legacy on Enterprise.

3x2 “The Search, Part II”
As Sisko leads a furious argument against an apparent Federation deal with the Dominion, Odo learns about his people, the Founders, leaders of the new enemy, and makes the difficult decision to return home, to the station, turning his back on everything he’s wanted since the start of the series. Garak makes the first of many appearances during this breakthrough season.

3x3 “The House of Quark”
Basically a far more successful version of “Profit and Loss” from the previous season, Quark struggles with an unlikely relationship. Gowron makes his first appearance in the series.

3x4 “Equilibrium”
Well, like I’ve said, a lot of Jadzia stories tended to come from her Trill symbiont biography. This one uncovers a previously unknown host, a creep named Joran Belar who briefly had possession of Dax (you might think of this as an improved version of “Invasive Procedures,” if you like). Joran becomes something of a recurring character, but he gets portrayed by someone different every time.

3x5 “Second Skin”
Some might say this one’s a little too similar to “Face of the Enemy” from Next Generation, but as good as Troi was as a Romulan, this one’s far better, a classic addition to Kira’s ongoing evolution concerning her relationship with Cardassians, which quite memorably inducts Legate Ghemor during this episode, a father just hoping to reclaim his daughter, while others are looking to manipulate him into revealing his dissident leanings. There’s some deliberate foreshadowing concerning Garak’s big moment this season, too.

3x6 “The Abandoned”
Because of the nature of the Dominion, Odo would often find himself in unexpectedly influential positions, including here, when a Jem’Hadar ends up maturing on the station. “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River,” in the final season, would be the ultimate version of this story. Includes a fine little subplot for Jake with Dabo girlfriend Mardah, meeting the old man (not Dax!).

3x7 “Civil Defense”
A patented ensemble episode, which Star Trek seems to do only sparingly, with a crisis pitting groups in unfortunate circumstances, notably Kira, Dax, and Bashir in Ops, where they’re eventually joined by Garak and then Dukat, making his first truly defining appearance (I know I said something similar about “The Maquis, Part II,” but here you can feel Marc Alaimo truly slipping into his comfort zone with the character), with some terrific use of station history working against just about everyone, except Sisko and O’Brien. Where are Quark and Odo during all of this? Trapped in the constable’s office. Together…

3x8 “Meridian”
While this one may be easy to dismiss on the weakness of the romance Jadzia seems to fall into far too easily, you can think back on it now for the fact that this love interest is played by Brett Cullen, another connection to Lost, where he would turn up as the ill-fated Goodwin. The b-story also features the Star Trek debut of Jeffrey Combs, who would quickly set about establishing a series of memorable recurring roles and appearances.

3x9 “Defiant”
This one’s long been a favorite of mine, the return of Tom Riker, the transporter duplicate of the Next Generation first officer introduced in “Second Chances,” now a member of the Maquis, when he isn’t posing as Will, of course! It’s weird to think that when Jonathan Frakes, the best friend modern Star Trek turned out to have among the casts, made this appearance, his own show was only off the air for half a year and Generations was in theaters, but it was still great to see him again. I don’t know if he ever poured on more charm. Well, maybe in First Contact, but that’s because he got to see Marina Sirtis play drunk…

3x10 “Fascination”
Speaking of happy returns, Lwaxana Troi stops by for another visit. It’s probably her least effective appearance in the series, but there was that subplot with Miles and Keiko trying to enjoy her short visit home and failing kind of miserably. All in all, this one could easily have played during the first season, and hardly anyone would have noticed that it was out of place.

3x11 “Past Tense, Part I”
This is the next and biggest reason why I developed such a soft spot for the season, because of this bold time-traveling adventure filled with all the social commentary Star Trek is known for but rarely does quite this directly. Actually, like the terrorist plots and the governments struggling to define themselves in a post-war era, “Past Tense” helps make Deep Space Nine still incredibly relevant, in light of the still-lingering Recession that might help remind viewers that the homeless still have it pretty tough.

3x12 “Past Tense, Part II”
I knew at the time that I was truly invested in the series because I missed this half of the story on original broadcast, and I can still remember today exactly what I was doing, and how much I regretted not being able to watch the conclusion.

3x13 “Life Support”
I think a lot of viewers would watch this one and give thanks again that dreary Vedek Bareil was finally written out of the series, but I liked the character, and loved this episode, which plays like a more sophisticated and improved version of “Ethics” from Next Generation. Also helps demonstrate how wicked and self-centered Kai Winn could truly be.

3x14 “Heart of Stone”
The nature and potential of Kira and Odo’s relationship is probed here, with a little “help” from the Female Founder, but perhaps just as significantly, Nog officially declares his intention to attend Starfleet Academy, to considerable skepticism from just about everyone.

3x15 “Destiny”
Part of the series that had been thoroughly neglected to this point was Sisko’s role as the Emissary, but this episode helped define that a little better, with the help of sci-fi regular Erick Avari. Tracy Scoggins also makes an appearance, if you can recognize her as one of the Cardassian scientists setting up permanent communications between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants. Also one of many episodes to feature the running subplot of the season, the Obsidian Order, which would culminate pretty spectacularly soon enough.

3x16 “Prophet Motive”
Grand Nagus Zek makes his season appearance (Wallace Shawn was the John de Lancie of Deep Space Nine), with some hilariously fishy business going on, which Quark and Rom scramble to figure out. One of my favorite Ferengi episodes.

3x17 “Visionary”
Because it’s not every Let’s-Torture-O’Brien episode that actually kills off the good chief.

3x18 “Distant Voices”
Bashir hits 30, and has a really bad experience of it. This season did everything it could to finally complete the rehabilitation of the character, and this would be the episode that’s actually dedicated to it, so I’ve got to mention it at least for that. Also served as the pretext for the apparent need for every Star Trek to feature at least one character in aged form.

3x19 “Through the Looking Glass”
Another of the things the season seemed determined to do was make sure Sisko was the lead character, so this return trip to the Mirror Universe (after “Crossover”) finally puts him in the front seat, and in a very spectacular way. Given that his wife was killed off in the opening moments of the series, it’s a clever use of the alternate reality to bring Jennifer back, to finally spend some real time with her. Felicia M. Bell represents herself well, just as Avery Brooks seems to relish the chance to sink his teeth back into his more carefree version of Sisko…whom Sisko has to impersonate because he’s actually dead. Anyway, don’t let that very brief synopsis confuse you. Just watch and enjoy. Tim Russ makes a cameo as Mirror Tuvok, a subtle crossover of a different kind, with the newly-launched Voyager. (Dead Ferengi: Rom.)

3x20 “Improbable Cause”
An apparent attempt on Garak’s life leads the episode to follow Odo along one of his investigations, something the series rarely did. But it truly becomes interesting in…

3x21 “The Die is Cast”
…Where we learn the Obsidian order and the Tal’Shiar have a preemptive strike against the Dominion, which of course goes horribly wrong. Memorable for the interrogation scene between Garak and Odo, as well as Garak’s brief return to Cardassian society, represented by Enabran Tain. Leland Orser, another member of the Star Trek acting troupe, marks one of his earliest appearances as a Founder posing as a Romulan.

3x22 “Explorers”
The other half of getting Sisko into a more convincing position as series lead was allowing him to let loose a little. A constantly grim presence throughout the first two seasons, he was noted from the start of the third to finally start thinking of the station as home. This is the culmination of that effort, as he and Jake take a trip in a replication of an ancient Bajoran solar sailing ship, a pivotal bonding moment between father and son that reveals new directions for both of them, including the first mention of a certain freighter captain and a writing career. Easily one of my favorite episodes of the series, and a key reason why the season was so memorable. And where would I be if I overlooked the debut of Leeta (Chase Masterson), and the legendary drunken duet between O’Brien and Bashir? And just in case you didn’t have enough reasons to watch this one again? The debut of Sisko’s goatee!

3x23 “Family Business”
Ishka (here played by Andrea Martin) debuts, Quark and Rom’s “Moogie,” forcing a family reunion for irresponsibly earning profit, with an assist from liquidator Brunt (Jeffrey Combs, in his first officially memorable role). Also, the first actual appearance of Kasidy Yates (Penny Johnson, who would go on to popular heights as a treacherous matron of an entirely different kind on 24), who reveals to Sisko that baseball is still being played!

With Bareil and Li Nalas both impossibly out of the picture, another male Bajoran heroic figure must be created, this time from Kira’s own backstory, the leader of her old Resistance group, Shakaar (Duncan Regehr, who had previously romanced Beverly Crusher in “Sub Rosa”). If nothing else, viewers should be happy with this one, because he ends up clearly and decisively handing Kai Winn a defeat.

3x25 “Facets”
Quick it’s a Jadzia episode. Can you guess what might provoke the story? Something, something, Trill symbiont? Right-o! This time the cast gets to portray each of her previous hosts, with a lot of interesting contrasts going on (Sisko as Joran Belar being certainly an extreme case). But Odo as Odo/Curzon is the real treat, not the least because we finally “meet” Curzon, who has been referenced about as often as anyone actually still living, but because it resolves some things about both Curzon and Jadzia that have been lingering for a while. Also, Nog completes his journey to the Academy, at least the entrance exams. Quicker than Wesley Crusher did it, anyway…

3x26 “The Adversary”
Sisko is finally promoted to captain, and a Founder antagonizes Odo enough so that he ends up breaking the one rule the Founders live by, namely that they claim to not harm one another. You’ll also notice Eddington positioning himself for later character developments.

Unlike how Next Generation did it, when Deep Space Nine took the giant leap in confidence, it was from a team that had been around from the start, and was refining and fine-tuning its own creation, its own baby, so it’s not so surprising that a show that was suddenly comfortable in its own skin wasn’t just becoming the best it could be, but positioning itself for greater things still. That was the main difference, for me, between the two shows. I’d always loved, and still do, Next Generation, but there’s such a wealth of fondness and warmness for and in Deep Space Nine, it’s a little hard to have been a fan and not become extremely attached to it. It wasn’t just Star Trek at this point, not anymore. It was its own show, which was a realization perhaps out of necessity. Plenty of time would be available for fans to grow tired of Star Trek, but for those who watched ‘Deep Space Nine,’ they never grew tired of that one, because in a sense, it wasn’t really just or merely Star Trek they were watching. This one was exempt, in exactly the way the original series fans wouldn’t let a show die just because it was cancelled. And the show was just getting started…

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Two

Up to this point in my Star Trek experience, I had been following the franchise in second run syndication, but finally, in 1994 (quite handily, with the still-memorable occasion of the broadcast of “All Good Things…” looming), I started catching it the first pass around, notably as Deep Space Nine was wrapping up its second season, which I can say with all honesty to this day probably made me the fan I still am, forever invested in this crazy future.

2x1 “The Homecoming”
At this point in the series, there was no other story tell but Bajoran politics, and this is the start of the magnum opus of Deep Space Nine Bajoran politics stories. Like the John Wayne classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a hero of the Resistance is tracked down and revealed to be less than he seemed to be, but the myth is far more powerful and important, so that’s what Bajor is going to get, in a big way. Frank Langella makes the first of three consecutive unbilled appearances as Minister Jaro.

2x2 “The Circle”
The story continues, Major Kira apparently exiled to Bajor while Li Nalas (Richard Beymer) reluctantly holds her position on the station, while the deeper implications of these events sink in, with Vedek Winn putting in her second appearance, and Bareil romancing Kira.

2x3 “The Siege”
The story concludes, and at three parts, marks the longest Star Trek storyline to this point, and a sign that Deep Space Nine probably might have bigger arc aspirations (which the start of the sixth and end of the seventh seasons would certainly play out). You’ll note Sisko has a bit of foreshadowing up his sleeve, too, leaving his baseball as a calling card on his desk for invading Bajoran forces to find, just as he would later do for the Dominion.

2x4 “Invasive Procedures”
John Glover is a character actor who always seems to take on villainous roles (playing the father of both Lex Luthor and Sylar, for instance). Here he steals Dax right from out of Jadzia!

2x5 “Cardassians”
Gosh, would you believe that this is only Garak’s second appearance? Like all of the show’s guest characters, he began to seem like a member of the regular cast, but it took some time to fully integrate him. I didn’t think much of this episode until its context really sunk in for me (a product of how I experienced much of Star Trek to roughly this point, playing catch-up), as pretty much what the title might suggest, the first opportunity for the Cardassians to truly become a regular presence in the series, which itself might explain Garak makes his return in it.

2x6 “Melora”
While technically a Bashir episode, you might as well consider this one thoroughly belonging to the guest character, like “Ensign Ro,” which is pretty appropriate, because much as Ro Laren subsequently became a regular presence in Next Generation, Melora had originally been conceived as a series regular, but it became impractical to present her low-gravity problems, which put the whole idea on the backburner until this episode.

2x7 “Rules of Acquisition”
I wouldn’t necessarily blame Deep Space Nine (or Ira Steven Behr, the obvious champion of the whole campaign) for the routine failure of the series to properly depict the plight of Ferengi females, because as a concept, they were very hard to portray on family television (here’s a hint: they’re as a rule naked and subservient), so any time an episode directly addressed it, the results were going to be a little muddled. Still, this episode marks the first real mention of the Dominion, so whatever else, you’ve got that to look forward to, plus perennially awesome Brian Thompson (still wish the guy would have found a sufficiently significant role, whether in Star Trek or otherwise, at some point, but I’m not sure that ever happened, though he was a pretty memorable Hercules in the TV version of Jason and the Argonauts that co-starred Jolene Blalock).

2x8 “Necessary Evil”
I realize a lot of the time in the Fan Companion I expound on personal favorites, but I try to emphasize the episodes that are absolutely essential, whether or not you’re a fan already or have affinities of your own. This is certainly one of them, the first from this season so far, ranking alongside “Duet” as an early Deep Space Nine classic, featuring to no great surprise Kira. But it’s Odo in the spotlight, in this flashback to his days working under the Cardassians during the Occupation (when the station was still known as Terok Nor, which is an awesome name I need to mention at least once), when he runs across Kira in a somewhat compromising position. One of the episodes from the season that would result in revisits later in the series, but was rarely matched in its impact.

2x11 “Rivals”
Chris Sarandon sets up shop on the Promenade and runs Quark ragged trying to compete. It’s rare that this kind of story actually happened, so it’s worth noting at least for that. But it’s also good fun.

2x12 “The Alternate”
Dr. Mora Pol (James Sloyan) makes the first of two appearances, this one a little more doggedly episodic than his later fifth season visit, “The Begotten,” but it’s still remarkable to watch his impact on Odo unfold. Dr. Mora is the Bajoran scientist who first discovered the shape-shifter, making this the kind of episode even Data never got (how is it that Next Generation never thought mining his actual discovery, and his formative years in Starfleet interesting?), even though it degenerates into a fairly generic monster story.

2x13 “Armageddon Game”
I just recently read an interview with Alexander Siddig that helps explain why Bashir seemed so underformed early on, because the writers literally had to throw out all their ideas for the character once Siddig had been cast (he had originally auditioned for the role of Sisko; which brings up an interesting contrast with ‘Lost,’ the show that eventually became for me the “new Deep Space Nine;” Jorge Garcia auditioned for Sawyer, and Hurley was created for him instead). Anyway, this is probably the episode that really begins to humanize the brash young doctor who at first seemed like an irredeemable cad, by of course kicking off his friendship with O’Brien, something that had been toyed with in “The Storyteller,” but here, the two really have no other choice. And weren’t we all glad for that? Also a good episode for O’Brien’s wife, Keiko, who’s the only person who seems to realize what’s really going on, but with a funny little twist at the end of the episode involving certain habits her husband might have regarding coffee.

2x14 “Whispers”
Still my favorite Let’s-Torture-O’Brien episode, in which the viewer is led to believe there’s been some massive conspiracy leveled against the chief, but another good twist ending reveals something much different has been happening. Also, this episode is as fine as any to remark at how adorable Hana Hatae was as Molly O’Brien, as she expresses her rejection of her dad in the succinct terms only a truly gifted child actor can pull off.

2x15 “Paradise”
It’s funny to keep referencing “Progress,” an episode that apparently means nothing to pretty much every other fan, but “Paradise” would be exactly what the writer of “Progress” feared his episode had become, something that meant one thing in written form, but ended up completely different when shot, losing its effectiveness. I never agreed about “Progress” (where it was deemed too much sympathy for the actor playing the old Bajoran Kira had to try and convince to leave his home ruined things), but here, I’ve always felt “Paradise” kind of falls apart, because you absolutely can’t sympathize with the crazy woman who rejects technology (except when it’s useful to her), and makes everyone in her makeshift colony agree with her, including the shipwrecked Sisko and O’Brien. It does put Sisko in a position of moral strength, but I just can never feel comfortable watching the episode, memorable as a result though it remains.

2x16 “Shadowplay”
I don’t want to come off as creepy, but another child actor who was truly effective in her precociousness was Noley Thornton (did she end up joining Haley Joel Osment for prodigies who inexplicably went bust, at least in Hollywood?), who parlayed her charm into two Star Trek appearances (the other was “Imaginary Friend” in Next Generation). Here, she joins an elite club of actors who just seem to work well with Rene Auberjonois.

2x17 “Playing God”
It wasn’t that the only material for Jadzia had to do with symbionts, but there was an apparent rich supply of that (almost to the exclusion of anything else, pretty much until Worf), and here she gets to be herself while mentoring an applicant in the joining program. In case you don’t know what “Jadzia being Jadzia” means, this is a good episode to watch.

2x18 “Profit and Loss”
For some characters, backstories seemed easy to exploit (Kira, Odo), but inexplicably, Deep Space Nine really did have a hard time with this sort of thing. Here, Quark has a former Cardassian flame help him reenact Casablanca. Though it marks the second appearance of Garak in the season, it still kind of misses the mark, or at least, seems pretty well forgotten in later episodes.

2x19 “Blood Oath”
This is another Jadzia episode, but it’s stolen by the unexpected Star Trek legacy appearances of original series Klingons Kang (Michael Ansara), Kor (John Colicos), and Koloth (William Campbell), marking the first time the show would demonstrate that, along with thoroughly being itself, it really did live up to the bill, eventually, of being a good place to sort of absorb franchise continuity.

2x20 “The Maquis, Part I”
Moreso than “Preemptive Strike” from Next Generation, this was Star Trek’s attempt to set up Voyager (which is kind of funny, because the series itself would eventually downplay or downright ignore the Maquis politics on display here). It also features Sisko’s old friend Cal Hudson, who might as well be called Finnegan or Gary Mitchell (with about as much episodic significance as Kirk’s Academy associates). More important as Sisko’s most decisive defense of Odo to Starfleet brass.

2x21 “The Maquis, Part II”
I would consider this to be Dukat’s most important episode to this point in the series, where he stops being just the resident Cardassian (which he might as well shared with Richard Poe’s Gul Evek until then) and a truly personable figure in the lives of Sisko, Kira, and the rest. Also features a definitive line of dialogue for the series, when Sisko remarks, “It’s easy to be a saint in paradise.”

2x22 “The Wire”
Garak makes a third appearance in the season, and I’m sure to most fans, easily the most significant one, not the least because the episode is quite literally built around him, as Bashir tries to figure out what’s going on when his friend experiences a series of increasingly debilitating attacks, eventually tracing them to Enabran Tain (Paul Dooley), a recurring character who would be used sparingly, but whose importance would grow each time.

2x23 “Crossover”
No other Star Trek ever directly produced sequels to an original series episode (not counting “Naked Now” or “Flashback”), but here’s the first one from Deep Space Nine, a return to the alternate reality first seen in “Mirror, Mirror” (the episode featuring Spock with a goatee!), dropping Bashir and Kira into a nightmare version of everything they know, including Kira’s double, the Intendant, perhaps the most memorable dual role in franchise history. Also shocking to see a completely different side of Avery Brooks as a far more self-centered version of Sisko. (Also worth starting the tally - dead Ferengi: Quark.)

2x24 “The Collaborator”
Kai Opaka returns from the grave in a way “Battle Lines” did not foresee, and Winn officially maneuvers herself into succeeding her, leaving Bareil to the first of two times he’d sacrifice himself for the greater good of Bajoran politics. An overlooked gem, something fans who tend to overlook the first two seasons would probably do well to revisit.

2x25 “Tribunal”
Something Deep Space Nine tended to do a lot was foreshadowing, not in a way that suggested the creators always knew what they were doing, but quite the opposite, in the best way possible. They knew how to improvise, and exploit kernels of ideas as they came up. Here it’s the seed of an idea planted in an earlier episode about the Cardassian legal system, and to no one’s surprise, O’Brien’s the unlucky victim fed into it.

2x26 “The Jem’Hadar”
And just like that, the Deep Space Nine that would be familiar to even the casual viewers of later seasons is born, with an unlikely Vorta representative and the title species, the first warriors since the Klingons to shake the franchise to its bones, the first faces of the Dominion to menace our crew. Also worth viewing to witness an even more unlikely pairing of Sisko and Quark.

Now, obviously (at least to me), this is the longest Fan Companion entry to date, which may seem to indicate the further I go, the more I have to write about, the more warm memories. This isn’t to say anything against the original series or Next Generation, but to me, Deep Space Nine really marks the point where Star Trek stopped being a fun little escape, and started becoming a cherished experience, something that really felt lived-in, which was the point of the series, of course. To a lot of fans, and viewers in general, this was a fine time to stop watching, but to me, the appeal of the franchise was really just beginning to blossom. Hopefully, I can continue to convey that…

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season One

In January of 1993, Star Trek expanded once again, notably for the first time in its history to have two series run simultaneously on television (though it might be noted that competing crews had been a problem for fans since 1987, not just as a matter for debate but as a practical concern, between movie and TV adventures). Deep Space Nine was the first franchise incarnation to launch without the hand of Gene Roddenberry, guided instead by the emerging new creative generation led by Rick Berman and Michael Piller.

1x1/1x2 “Emissary”
The show immediately focused squarely on internal matters, from the “Best of Both Worlds” flashback that introduced Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) to the space station Starfleet inherits from the aftermath of the Cardassian-Bajoran conflict. Visually, the debut of the wormhole, and the Prophets who help guide Sisko to an unlikely destiny, are a catchy way to distinguish Deep Space Nine from Next Generation, which is called to mind both in the guest appearance of Picard and the promotion to series regular of Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney). Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo), Nog (Aron Eisenberg), Jennifer Sisko (Felecia M. Bell), Rom (Max Grodenchik), and Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola) all mark their first appearances, establishing the regular appearances of guest characters in the series. In addition, J.G. Hertzler marks an early debut as well, a cameo as a Vulcan captain, before finally returning in what would become a regular role, three seasons later.

1x3 “Past Prologue”
Major Kira, the Bajoran liaison officer created to replace Ro Laren once Michelle Forbes passed on the series, receives her first proper introduction, and Nana Visitor quickly establishes herself as not just a worthy successor, but a dynamic force and icon in her own right. Also notable for the debut of Garak (Andrew Robinson), and an appearance by the Duras Sisters.

1x4 “A Man Alone”
Odo (Rene Auberjonois), station security chief and shape-shifter, is properly established here (just read the episode title again), as well as his relationship with shady Ferengi bartender Quark (Armin Shimerman), probably the earliest episode with the most direct relevance for later episodes, after the pilot.

1x5 “Babel”
While the story itself is pretty throwaway, this is the first episode since the pilot to handle the ensemble in its entirety.

1x6 “Captive Pursuit”
Hard to believe that early on, the inhabitants from the Gamma Quadrant were left as one enormous riddle, a way to bring the typical Star Trek episodic alien worlds to the station, which isn’t to say you’d be wasting your time, waiting for the Dominion, with the early seasons. This is as much an O’Brien episode (any Next Generation fan must have loved Deep Space Nine from the start just for a more regular dose of that) as anything, plus an interesting episode in itself, which in hindsight probably still manages to conjure the Dominion (would it really be much of a stretch to assume The Hunters engineered Tosk - played by Star Trek troupe regular Scott MacDonald - after the pattern of the Founders, who after all similarly engineered the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar?).

1x7 “Q-Less”
Vash and some other dude (“You hit me! Picard never hit me!”) take up residence for an episode, just in case viewers are still wondering if this new show really is Star Trek.

1x8 “Dax”
Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) probably with this episode has the honor of initiating the Deep Space Nine trend to feature the context of a character through unfortunate aspects of their past (“Necessary Evil” is probably the most famous example). Jadzia, however, has a whole lot of past, which this episode is specifically designed to spotlight, since she’s a Trill, the latest host for the Dax symbiont, one of the more ambitious elements of an already ambitious show, since the prior host, Curzon, has been established already to have a past with Sisko (which is why he’ll sometimes call Jadzia “Old Man”). Probably an overlooked episode.

1x10 “Move Along Home”
Easily dismissed as one of those classic, silly Star Trek first season episodes, another look will reveal it does its best to do what later seasons would do more easily. Notably, the second of two appearances of Lieutenant George Primmin (James Lashly), a sort of prototype Eddington meant to serve as a Starfleet counterpoint to Odo. Also worth viewing to see Quark paint himself into a corner.

1x11 “The Nagus”
Ah! The first appearance of Maihar’du (Tiny Ron)! Oh, and Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn), who employs Quark in a plot to trick his own son (never, ever seen again) into revealing that he doesn’t have the lobes to become the new Nagus.

1x12 “Vortex”
Later, of course, we’d learn concrete details about Odo’s people (yay!), but this is another example of what a comparatively innocent Deep Space Nine might have to say about the subject, offerings as it turns out some accurate teasers.

1x13 “Battle Lines”
Kai Opaka makes a premature exit (if Bajorans and viewers don’t appreciate it, two words: Kai Winn), wrapping a continuity episode around an episodic one.

1x14 “The Storyteller”
Notable as the earliest O’Brien-Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) episode. Nog and Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton) also share one of their earliest b-stories in the episode, even establishing dangling their legs above the Promenade.

1x15 “Progress”
If “Past Prologue” is easy to overlook and “Duet” is considered the sole classic of the first season, then “Progress” is the Kira episode I’ve tried to champion as another strong piece of nuanced storytelling, something the series would come to be defined by.

1x16 “If Wishes Were Horses”
A bit of fluff that nonetheless is still a strong bit of early defining material, whether over the relationship between Dax and Bashir or Sisko’s love for baseball (which in later years would become iconic, in the form of the ball he keeps permanently on his desk), exemplified here by legendary fictional player Buck Bokai.

1x17 “The Forsaken”
Unlike “Q-Less,” this episodes manages to make a trademark element of Next Generation, namely irrepressible Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett), entirely its own, establishing a counterpoint relationship with Odo that would help soften his rough edges.

1x18 “Dramatis Personae”
Like Voyager, Deep Space Nine was envisioned to push the boundaries of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a perfect future where everyone gets along, and this episode demonstrates how, with a little push, everything that had been working so well during the first season could unravel in a heartbeat.

1x19 “Duet”
Here’s the one everyone seems to remember from the season, with good reason, because it elevates the premise of the series to where it would eventually rest, diving deeply and without apologies into the complexities both of the show’s fictional world and what the viewer might notice all around them. This wasn’t just escapist entertainment anymore, the episode might as well have been saying, but a bold move to broaden the franchise’s horizons. Notable also for a Gul Dukat appearance, because in the early seasons, they were more rare than memory might suggest, and for the debut of another short-lived recurring character, Neela (Robin Christopher), who was herself a replacement for a failed attempt earlier (circa “The Forsaken”).

1x20 “In the Hands of the Prophets”
Basically the unofficial second season premiere, with the debuts of Vedeks Winn (Louise Fletcher) and Bareil (Philip Anglim), lots of resulting Bajoran politics, and generally, a return to the sense of what the pilot was trying to set up, the uncomfortable dynamics of a Starfleet crew trying to live totally immersed in an alien environment.

It’s amazing to think how the series has become perhaps even more relevant today than when it first came on the air (notably, around the time of the first World Trade Center terrorist attack), how in a post-Iraq War world, Deep Space Nine can still have things to say, especially given its apolitical, shades of gray storytelling style (notably, in the first season, exemplified by “Progress,” “Duet”). A lot of viewers who readily identify themselves as fans still don’t much care for the early seasons, and not just for seemingly throwaway episodes like “If Wishes Were Horses” and “Babel,” but because they don’t care for the very things that helped make the show what it was, right from the start. I would argue, you can’t be a fan of Deep Space Nine without a healthy appreciation of how it began.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Seven

In 1994, Next Generation concluded its run, a fact that seemed completely incomprehensible to fans, a premature end to a series that had eclipsed the length of the original series by four seasons already, and seemed capable of continuing for so much longer. It was more than a quarter century into the franchise, though. Things were changing.

7x1 “Descent, Part II”
Data and Lore hash it out for a final time, with the ultimate prize, the emotion chip, in the middle. This was also theoretically the last time the Borg would ever be seen, a far cry from the Collective that had been seen in “Best of Both Worlds,” but you’ll still hear fans who wish it would have stayed that way. Even more incredibly, when the franchise tried to end a threat like this again, with Species 8472, fan efforts (in this case, the Pocket Books spin-off franchise) actually attempted to duplicate the same apparently unfavorable design. But that’s what happens with success.

7x2 “Liaisons”
One final episode of diplomatic lunacy, Picard, Worf, and Troi each become involved in peculiar relationships with representatives of an alien race trying to figure out Federation life.

7x3 “Interface”
After six seasons and many stories of his childhood, La Forge finally gets some tangible connections to family seen in this one, in the form of both father and mother, one of them slightly less complicated than the other.

7x4 “Gambit, Part I”
Perhaps Patrick Stewart’s own ultimate gambit, looking for that story that would really put a fresh twist on his performance, here he gets to slug Riker, as part of his infiltration into a ship of pirates. Is that Saavik (No. 2), Robin Curtis, as the Romulan? Why yes, it is.

7x5 “Gambit, Part II”
With the power of positive thinking, the Vulcan artifact the pirates have been reassembling that turns out to be the ultimate weapon is defeated. But the real highlight is when Picard and Riker take their show on the road, visiting the Enterprise while maintaining their cover story with said pirates.

7x6 “Phantasms”
More surreal than his experiences in “Birthright” (though no doubt inspired by them), Data serves Troi cake (with mint frosting!) and has a phone in his chest, consults with Freud, and generally has the run of the episode without really getting anywhere. Basically a really roundabout way of telling a familiar Star Trek story.

7x7 “Dark Page”
The final Next Generation appearance of Lwaxana Troi reveals hidden family secrets and guest stars a young Kirsten Dunst!

7x8 “Attached”
Finally, seven seasons in, the series deals with all that sexual tension and history between Picard and Dr. Crusher in a completely direct way!

7x9 “Forces of Nature”
This one could easily be interpreted as the kind of episode the franchise thought would be necessary when it seemed as if TV Star Trek might actually end with Deep Space Nine, so getting a little conclusively expansive, this hour acts as if warp travel is ultimately bad and will probably be coming to an end. Ah, right…

7x10 “Inheritance”
Before she became an icon in Lost as Eloise Hawking, Fionnula Flanagan was a member of the Star Trek acting troupe, and this was probably her most notable appearance, because, well hey howdy, she turned out to be Data’s “mom”! The widow of Dr. Soong stops by for a visit, during which Data figures out she’s an android herself, having replaced the real one some years earlier (slapping Data himself in the face, because she’s also obviously far more advanced than he is, but we’ll overlook that).

7x11 “Parallels”
Worf travels through dozens and dozens of alternate realities, at least one of which includes a Wesley Crusher still serving aboard the Enterprise. It’s a highlight of the season, and probably series, an episode just having a little fun with established facts (and teasing new ones, at least concerning a relationship between the Klingon and Troi).

7x12 “The Pegasus”
Finally, no gimmicks or excuses or apologies needed, Riker gets a backstory episode that rises to the level of an instant classic, just because Terry O’Quinn in along for the ride (seriously, why did it take John Locke to make this guy a cultural icon?), as a former captain looking to bring our first officer back into the fold, but secretly, because Starfleet ain’t supposed to have no cloaking technology. So good, the franchise would later directly revisit the episode, albeit a tad controversially.

7x13 “Homeward”
Just in case you were thinking they’d run out of family members for Worf to revisit (wouldn’t it be awesome if he were to have one last opportunity, a time travel story, and finally meet dear old Mogh?), here comes the human foster brother, played by Paul Sorvino. Penny Johnson, who would later appear as a certain freighter captain on another series, also appears.

7x15 “Lower Decks”
With hardly a Ro appearance since the fifth season, another troubled Bajoran, Sito from “The First Duty,” is revisited, and thought the episode does a lot to tell more story around it, the ending makes it pretty clear who the focus was all along. Still, the most significant appearance in the series for frequent background player Nurse Alyssa Ogawa (Patti Yasutake).

7x16 “Thine Own Self”
Data, now equipped with radioactive accessories, loses his memory on an away mission and is adopted by a local village. A fine standalone spotlight for the character.

7x17 “Masks”
How to do you get an actor like Brent Spiner really excited? Tell him he gets to portray dozens upon dozens of characters! The Enterprise bears the brunt of Data’s ability to represent an entire civilization, and Picard gets to put on a mask.

7x18 “Eye of the Beholder”
The Enterprise itself gets a little backstory, while Troi gets to solve a murder mystery. Throwaway, but still entertaining.

7x19 “Genesis”
I guess this one has been the victim of a certain amount of ridicule, but I’ve always enjoyed watching the crew de-evolve into a whole variety of species (given the disdain directed toward “Threshold” later, I think the audience simply hates seeing our characters changed into any animal-based variant species). Incredibly, the only Barclay appearance of the season.

7x20 “Journey’s End”
Wesley Crusher officially returns for his last big episode, the inevitable conclusion of his series arc with The Traveler. Also known as another episode that people might be thinking of when they call Insurrection an extended TV hour.

7x21 “Firstborn”
The final Worf and Alexander episode is probably the best of them, mostly because it doesn’t necessarily hinge on Brian Bonsall so much as the idea of the character. Franchise troupe player James Sloyan portrays an older Alexander that attempts to alter history and redeem himself, mucking with the Duras Sisters in the process.

7x22 “Bloodlines”
The final effort to make a proper Ferengi presence in the series, a sequel to the first season episode “The Battle,” probably still fails to provide Picard with a single foe, but does tease the captain’s latent desire for a family, which would resurface in ‘Generations.’

7x23 “Emergence”
The best of the show’s ridiculously frequent attempts to find another means to spotlight artificial life besides Data, mostly because the episode masquerades as the final “holodeck run amok” story.

7x24 “Preemptive Strike”
Though conceived as one of several attempts to establish the Maquis in the franchise prior to Voyager, this one’s really best viewed as Ro’s final appearance, a fitting bit of closure that returns the character to her roots. Incredibly, Michelle Forbes had already passed on continuing the character in Deep Space Nine, but would later get her best post-Star Trek material based on the very work she wanted to get past, in 24 and Battlestar Galactica.

7x25/7x26 “All Good Things…”
The season’s big highlight was appropriately the series finale, an ambitious story that brings back Q, the trial he started in “Encounter at Farpoint,” and three separate time periods for Picard to navigate in order to solve one final space science mystery. Tasha Yar, Miles O’Brien, and Tomalak make appearances, all leading up to a perfect conclusion, the first time a Star Trek TV show would get to do one, setting an unenviable bar for the franchise in years to come.

Those wondering why the series had to end only really have to look back in hindsight and consider what kind of stories the show was doing at this point, the sudden lack of ambition. I would venture to argue that what really happened with Next Generation was that the crop of franchise creators that appeared to rescue the show in the third season realized at some point that this show hadn’t been its baby. The cast had already been around, and had developed its own ideas about what Star Trek now meant, that history had been made well before the audience truly embraced it, and that the increased quality only enhanced this legacy. The problem was that, with renewed success, and an audience apparently now ready to embrace it, the franchise mutated into something that in the end couldn’t support itself. Longevity on TV meant the Next Generation crew never really needed movies to extend the memories, but the movies came anyway, and more TV shows followed. Fans became a little confused, both the old ones from the original series, the ones cultivated by the new generation, and the ones who were supposed to develop around the extended era.

Anyway, the seventh season was an entertaining one, helping to finish out a lot of storytelling begun at the start of the series, but there was also a distinct impression that a lot of it was being done simply to fill out a season, that it wasn’t all that necessary. Even the hours meant to represent typical episodic material felt overly theatrical, which in itself wasn’t a bad thing (because, as you can see, I basically liked the whole season, with the notable exception of “Sub Rosa,” which is what happens when the writers try to give Crusher an episode when they haven’t tried to mask that it’s a Crusher episode), but a clear indication that the series was running on fumes. If the show had gone on, it’s conceivable that Star Trek might actually have been unwatchable, a charge directed at several of the later shows, unfairly. It might have ended up looking like the original series’ third season…
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