Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Top Ten Star Trek Episodes (1966-2005)

Crafting a new list of Star Trek classics, the cream of the crop, the best of the best, has been something of a personal mission.  My ongoing progress in identifying those classics can be found here, while my ongoing progress on an outline of significance for every episode can be found here.  In a blatant effort to drum up interest for these efforts, I'm skipping ahead a little and presenting my list for the new top ten episodes of the entire franchise, including the original series (TOS), the animated series (TAS), The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9), Voyager (VOY), and Enterprise (ENT).

Without further adieu:

1. "The Visitor" (DS9 4x3)
One of the most notable aspects of Deep Space Nine (aside from the fact that it's the only series not to be set aboard a starship) is its deep sense of family, highlighted by lead character Benjamin Sisko's relationship with his son Jake, and no episode better illustrates their bond than "The Visitor."  Essentially a flashback episode set several decades into the future, an older Jake (played by franchise veteran Tony Todd) receives an unexpected guest (or in other words a visitor) who's fallen in love with what little writing he's had published.  She's come to try and understand why he quit.  It all has to do with the day he lost his father.  In the present, we find out the exact circumstances that took Ben away from his son (somewhat ironically, aboard the show's ship, introduced a season earlier).  We subsequently learn that father ends up periodically popping in on son (in other words a visitor), because he's become unstuck in time.  Jake is increasingly devastated, and becomes obsessed with trying to end it by rescuing Ben from this endless loop.  Needless to say, he does, but that doesn't diminish the impact; far from it, in fact.  Like all the episodes in the top ten, you don't need to be a fan of Star Trek to love it.  The loveliest thing about "The Visitor" is that it is later echoed in the series finale, "What You Leave Behind," in incredibly subtle ways, leaving fans with the same kind of resonance that exists in the episode and between the two Sisko men who receive powerful reminders of what they mean to each other.

2. "The City on the Edge of Forever" (TOS 1x28)
This one is the classic of all Star Trek classics.  It's basically taken on a life of its own, made a lasting impact on screenwriter Harlan Ellison's career (something he's actually struggled a great deal with over the years), and is arguably the most heartbreaking romance of perennial ladies man James Kirk's life.  So what is it, exactly?  Like a lot of the episodes in the top ten, it involves time travel, specifically through the benefit of the Guardian of Forever, a sentient gateway that inadvertently allows a chemically-affected Dr. McCoy to jump into Earth's past and drastically alter the timeline.  Kirk and Spock quickly make the decision to follow, but arrive earlier, so that they're forced to wait and figure out what exactly he did.  In the meantime, Kirk runs into social worker Edith Keeler, an idealist Spock quickly identifies as having two possible destinies.  She will either die fairly soon or prevent American involvement in WWII.  Well, guess which one it is.  Kirk falls for her, naturally, and realizes at the precise moment what McCoy does, so he gets to make the decision to prevent "Bones" from saving her life.

3. "Far Beyond the Stars" (DS9 6x13)
The best of Star Trek tends to focus on social matters, and there's no more relevant social matter to Deep Space Nine than black Americans, with Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko the first black man to lead a Star Trek cast (you only have to listen to one Brooks interview to know how important this is to him).  In this episode, Sisko finds himself in the 1950s as a writer for a science fiction journal.  You don't particularly need to know that the Dominion War is going on in the background, which puts Sisko in the mood for which the Celestial Prophets send him this vision, but that's happening, too.  The majority of "Stars" is about the writer's plight to be treated with the same amount of respect as his white colleagues (there's a nod to the fact that female writers would have had much the same difficulties), which is a struggle that comes to a head when he comes up with the character of Benjamin Sisko, who runs a space station in the future (yes, it's all a little meta, and features all the cast members outside of their usual rubbery masks, for those where such masks apply).  Needless to say, the struggle has an unhappy conclusion, because that's what would have happened at the time, and Sisko is left simply trying to justify his existence.  In a weird sort of way, that's exactly what he needed.

4. "Past Tense, Parts 1 & 2" (DS9 3x11/3x12)
Set a mere twelve years from now, this is another time travel episode, in which members of the DS9 crew end up quartered in "sanctuary districts," basically dumping grounds for the homeless and underprivileged.  At the time these episodes were aired, it was alarmingly reported that some politicians had actually considered something like that.  In our own times, thanks to the Great Recession and Occupy Wall Street, we've been reminded that economic inequality is an ongoing concern.  Here's Star Trek's best statement on the topic.

5. "The Inner Light" (TNG 5x25)
Frequently called The Next Generation's finest hour, it's an unusually quiet meditation even by this show's standards.  Basically our crew encounters a probe that zaps Picard and enables him to experience the final years of a long-dead planet via the life of the very man who created the probe.  At first, Picard is understandably discombobulated, but the more he warms to the world around him, the more he comes to love it and fall naturally into the role bequeathed him.  It doesn't hurt that much of it's what Picard probably would have done if his own circumstances had been the same, which makes "Inner Life" a kind of what-if episode in addition to pure poetry.  The flute he learns to play forms the basis of another episode and relationship later in the series, another touch of continuity that helps put it among the franchise elite.  And yes, Patrick Stewart's son Daniel appears as the son of the man Picard inhabits.

6. "The Measure of a Man" (TNG 2x9)
The finest example of interseries continuity ever attempted in the franchise, Data's rights as an individual are challenged when Starfleet wishes to duplicate him, which would mean disassembling the android, a prospect he and his friends among the crew don't particularly relish.  Not just an early revelation when Next Generation was still trying to find its footing, but long considered a highlight, period, "Measure" is a moment when the problem is internal rather than external, with the characters solely concerned with themselves.  As opposed to "Amok Time," this is a matter of someone's existence being threatened.  Is Data merely a machine?  Much to his dismay, Riker is forced into the role of prosecutor, and in a memorable scene shuts his friend down.  Another episode referenced in later stories, which also doesn't hurt.

7. "Twilight" (ENT 3x8)
Like "The Visitor" in a lot of ways, and also with a fair bit of "Far Beyond the Stars" running through its veins, "Twilight" is a mark that Enterprise needed to hit, especially during the tricky third season, when a thorny arc occupied the entire year, at once trying to revitalize the series and emphasize everything that it had tried to represent from the start.  Archer loses his long-term memory, which proves incredibly tricky for his crew as they're trying to save humanity from the Xindi.  This is the first time during the season where they've taken a moment to let the crisis really soak in, and "Twilight" makes the most of the potential drama.  As events unfold, things don't go so well without Archer in command.  He eventually finds himself, many years in the future, living with T'Pol, who has dedicated her life to caring for him, and painstakingly explaining everything to him, every few hours.  This is equivalent to the dedication between the Siskos, and it resonates deeper than the Xindi arc, and deeper than the series.  It's got another patented reset button waiting at the end, but again, that hardly matters.

8. "Yesterday's Enterprise" (TNG 3x15)
Almost from the start, Star Trek was a generational affair.  Between the original and second pilots, Spock served two different captains.  In this episode, Next Generation truly reaches maturity, the culmination of a season where everything finally came together for the series headed directly toward the epic "Best of Both Worlds" encounter with the Borg, and the theme of generations that was always present in the title (and the cast's first movie) is emphasized by a return appearance from Tasha Yar, the security chief killed off in the first season when Denise Crosby decided the experience wasn't for her.  In an alternate reality, she's still alive, and this is a problem because Guinan (the sage bartender played by Whoopi Goldberg) is keenly aware even in this life that something's just not right.  Another Enterprise crew has traveled from the past (featuring what should be noted as a female captain), and in order to fix things must travel back and basically sacrifice itself.  Faced with her existential crisis, Yar makes the hard choice to die again, and fill in for the crew's lightened staff, thanks in no small part to a handsome officer she doesn't mind dying with.  (There's a somewhat odd twist to these decisions in later episodes as we learn exactly what happened to her, but I won't spoil that here.)

9. "Balance of Terror" (TOS 1x14)
The Romulans, cousins of the Vulcans, would probably not still fascinate fans quite so much if their debut had not been so compelling.  This is essentially a submarine battle sequence, with Kirk squaring off against an unnamed Romulan counterpart played by the late Mark Lenard (who also memorably portrayed Spock's dad Sarek), both struggling with the ethics of their dilemma, trying desperately to avoid an unnecessary war.  It's not hard to see all this as an allegory of the Cold War, which is a little odd, since the Klingons were also routinely used at the time as surrogate Russians (guess it was just a popular gimmick among the writers), but all the same, a timeless example of what Star Trek could be, right from the beginning.

10. "Distant Origin" (VOY 3x23)
The finest hour of Voyager is also the finest example of the essential Star Trek tradition to seek out new worlds and civilizations, as our lost crew stumbles across an alien species, from whose perspective the majority of the episode is told, that is descended from Earth's own dinosaurs.  It quickly becomes another prototypical allegorical experience, tracking with Galileo's epic struggle against the Catholic Church in the interest of science over religion, since no one wants tradition to be contradicted, and certainly not to be told that they come from some other sentient species' world, many lightyears away from their home.  Some fans grumbled that Voyager ended up doing so many episodes that were similar to what Star Trek had done before, but that was part of the premise, a chance to explore the familiar from an unfamiliar perspective.  "Distant Origin" is the epitome of affirmation to that approach.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Top Ten of Every Star Trek

Star Trek (1966-1969)
The Animated Series (1973-1974)
  1. "The City on the Edge of Forever" (1x28)
  2. "Balance of Terror" (1x14)
  3. "Mirror, Mirror" (2x4)
  4. "The Trouble with Tribbles" (2x15)
  5. "Amok Time" (2x1)
  6. "Yesteryear" (TAS 1x2)
  7. "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1x3)
  8. "Plato's Stepchildren" (3x10)
  9. "The Menagerie" (1x11/1x12)
  10. "Errand of Mercy" (1x26)
The Next Generation (1987-1994)
  1. "The Inner Light" (5x25)
  2. "The Measure of a Man" (2x9)
  3. "Yesterday's Enterprise" (3x15)
  4. "Sarek" (3x23)
  5. "The Best of Both Worlds" (3x26/4x1)
  6. "Tapestry" (6x15)
  7. "All Good Things..." (7x25/7x26)
  8. "The Defector" (3x10)
  9. "Relics" (6x4)
  10. "The Drumhead" (4x21)
Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
  1. "The Visitor" (4x3)
  2. "Far Beyond the Stars" (6x13)
  3. "Past Tense" (3x12/3x13)
  4. "Duet" (1x19)
  5. "Necessary Evil" (2x8)
  6. "What You Leave Behind" (7x25/7x26)
  7. "The Search" (3x1/3x2)
  8. "Little Green Men" (4x8)
  9. "It's Only a Paper Moon" (7x10)
  10. "Trials and Tribble-ations" (5x6)
Voyager (1995-2001)
  1. "Distant Origin" (3x23)
  2. "Latent Image" (5x11)
  3. "Death Wish" (2x18)
  4. "Living Witness" (4x23)
  5. "Endgame" (7x25/7x26)
  6. "Timeless" (5x6)
  7. "Caretaker" (1x1/1x2)
  8. "Tuvix" (2x24)
  9. "Worst Case Scenario" (3x25)
  10. "Author, Author" (7x20)
Enterprise (2001-2005)
  1. "Twilight" (3x8)
  2. "These Are the Voyages..." (4x22)
  3. "Similitude" (3x10)
  4. "In a Mirror, Darkly" (4x18/4x19)
  5. "Broken Bow" (1x1/1x2)
  6. "Stratagem" (3x14)
  7. "Judgment" (2x19)
  8. "The Andorian Incident" (1x7)
  9. "Demons"/"Terra Prime" (4x20/4x21)
  10. "Cold Front" (1x11)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A note on the Star Trek Fan Companion

My continuing efforts to provide a comprehensive overview of the Star Trek franchise for initiates and existing fans are centralized here.  When this project began in 2010, it was much simpler to list what I'd done for the movies and TV series that make up Star Trek.

However, since I've gone back and begun providing more individual thoughts to each episode in the franchise, things have grown complicated.  The hub for all this information is expanding, and so is its look and functionality.

I've previously chosen to rate episodes by a set of criteria that assume the viewer's interests, whether they're coming to an episode from the vantage point of Star Trek itself or that particular series, and further refined by whether it has relevance to a particular character, and if it's it's essential to any of these elements, or if there's a combination of some or all of them.

The ones that hit all four marks are my definition of the new Star Trek classics.

On the main page for the Star Trek Fan Companion, each episode has a corresponding star ranking, and a simplified explanation for what it means (whether must-see, which is classic status; or noteworthy, enjoyable, watchable, and skippable, in descending order of relevance).

(There's also links to some recent Star Trek fiction I've done, including the historical survey "Star Trek '12.")

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Enterprise 4x1/4x2 "Storm Front"


The fourth season of Enterprise is generally regarded to be its finest, the year that finally started to tackle all the continuity points fans expected from the series.

Of course, before all that, the show's own continuity had to be acknowledged one last time.  Since the first episode, something called the Temporal Cold War had been a recurring element of the plot, a way to visit the far future while sticking to the past.  At this point in franchise lore, you must remember, each new series had always moved forward.  Enterprise was the first look back, as it attempted to illustrate how Starfleet and the Federation helped create a landscape that seemed fully formed from the moment the original series debuted in 1966 (this, of course, is hogwash: "Starfleet" as a term didn't spring up for years).

The creators of Enterprise thought they were having their cake and eating it, too, but fans were already discontent, had been discontent probably since 1994, when Kirk was killed off falling from a bridge.  They felt betrayed by Star Trek, and so started betraying Star Trek in droves, fragmenting the fanbase until it finally collapsed on itself.  In 2009, the reboot finally came, and by starting fresh, the franchise found its greatest success to date.

That goes to show that the fans who were convinced they knew how everything should be done maybe weren't as right as they thought they were.  They thought the Temporal Cold War was an unnecessary complication to Enterprise, and so "Storm Front" concludes the arc, sending Archer and crew to WWII, because for some reason Star Trek has always loved bringing back the Nazis.

On a purely intellectual basis, "Storm Front" is a worthy culmination of the arc.  Since it was long implied that the whole basis of the Temporal Cold War was the absurd logistics of carrying out a conflict across time, it makes sense that it ends with a questionable amount of satisfaction.  Both Silik and Daniels, key players from the start, appear, but their participation is a far cry from appearances like "Cold Front," the best episode of the arc.  Future Guy, the shadowy instigator of the whole affair, does not make an appearance, unless you subscribe to my theory that he's the alien Nazi Archer defeats.

And that's it.  Archer even states for the record that he never wants to see Daniels again, and wants no further part of the Temporal Cold War.  Message received.  In some alternate version of the series, which would have lasted the traditional seven seasons, you know the arc would have been heavily featured in the finale.

It's a fine adventure, but it's a clear blow-off, skirting the thing it's featuring, and while it's possible to interpret "Storm Front" as more significant than it appears to be, you have to massage the material.  In one way, it's essential to the series, but given its placement and treatment, you can also pretend, as the show itself wants to at this point, that it never happened.  In that sense, how you feel about "Storm Front" remains entirely your decision.

franchise series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
John Fleck
J. Paul Boehmer
Tom Wright
Matt Winston

Memory Alpha summary, Part 2.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Deep Space Nine 1x20 "In the Hands of the Prophets"


As a season finale, "In the Hands of the Prophets" is a little unconventional.  In a lot of ways, it's a regular episode that's another sign that Deep Space Nine was finally finding its legs, and that in itself is something to cheer, but every other finale in the series had something more dramatic to say, at least more obvious.  Then again, perhaps the episode does exactly what it's supposed to.  Well, let's have a closer look.

Keiko O'Brien, stalwart wife of Chief O'Brien, is finally starting to feel like she's not completely out of place on the station, having opened a school on the Promenade and accepted any student who wishes to attend.  Earlier in the season it was a struggle just to get Nog, Jake Sisko's Ferengi friend, to take regular classes.  Now she's got Bajoran kids in the classroom.  This is a problem, because Keiko has to navigate certain beliefs, such as what exactly the wormhole aliens are.  To Bajorans, they're the Prophets, the central tenet of their religion.  To Starfleet, they're simply noncorporeal beings.

Okay, so this becomes a sticking issue for ambitious Bajoran politicians, especially Vedek (later Kai) Winn, who makes her first appearance in the episode, as does Vedek Bareil, the more moderate voice who becomes a recurring love interest for Kira.  Winn escalates the situation into a whole fiasco, forcing everyone to the mat, including Sisko, whose posting at the station is supposed to help smooth Bajor's transition into stability and readiness to enter the Federation.  It is quickly proving to be exactly the opposite.

Considering that the first three episodes of the second season are an extended Bajoran crisis, "In the Hands of the Prophets" has a great deal more significance than it can sometimes seem.  This may be due to the fact that most fans found Bajoran problems to be exceedingly tedious.  In later seasons, Bajoran affairs practically become invisible, and not just because Dominion concerns lead to an extended war arc.  The first season finale is perhaps the statement of a series that would undergo a somewhat radical transition, and so any ongoing perception of its impact may become malleable, when the truth is at the time of its original airing, "Prophets" could not have been more important, both to that moment in the series and for the series in general.

Deep Space Nine was meant to accomplish a lot of things, and one of them was to explore the original intentions of Star Trek in a dynamic and new way.  This is one of those episodes that provides that potential any number of unexpected benefits.  The theme of faith and science did not ultimately receive a lot of traction, so this is in that sense an experience that still stands out as unique, even though there are many other elements floating about so that you don't have to think of "Prophets" strictly as a morality play.

Coming off the heels of "Duet," "Prophets" will always seem like something of a letdown, but in its own way, it's just as noteworthy, and just as enduring an episode for anyone looking to examine the long-term development of the series.

So yes, one of the things you begin to realize about Deep Space Nine is that you can learn something important about the series in every episode, if it's done right.  Finally we're at the point where the show itself seems to have learned that.  If nothing else, that's a fine note to end a season on.

franchise series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)

Memory Alpha summary.

Deep Space Nine 1x19 "Duet"


One of the most justifiably, universally praised episodes in the entire franchise, "Duet" is a fascinating exploration of the limits of moral responsibility.

Kira becomes involved in the case of a Cardassian accused of being one of the worst war criminals of the Occupation.  Being a lifetime member of the Resistance, she can easily be identified as someone with a vested interest in seeing Cardassians get what's coming to them.  She was a terrorist, freedom fighter, and patriot all rolled into one.

Except life on the station and in the aftermath of Bajorans regaining control of their own lives has complicated her worldview.  The old Kira probably would have assumed the Cardassian was guilty and never given it a second thought, condemned him on the spot.  Yet a man who is doing everything to accept his fate forces Kira to reexamine everything she's assumed, not just in his case but throughout her entire life.  Something just isn't right.

I don't want to spoil "Duet" for you if you've never seen it, but suffice to say it's one of the most complex episodes of any Star Trek.  There have been numerous other, very similar efforts, from Next Generation's "The Defector" to Voyager's "Jetrel," and perhaps even Enterprise's "Stratagem," but "Duet" still holds the high-water mark for piercing ambiguity.  Kira's journey during it is not only a defining one for her, but for the entire series.  In short, this is the one episode that finally cracks the formula of what Deep Space Nine was supposed to be like from the start.

Maybe you want to think of "Duet" in that big sense, and maybe that's a little much, and may actually explain why so few Star Trek fans have rallied around the series.  Despite the fact that those who love it really love it, Deep Space Nine still has the same amount of overall approval as the two later series that most fans will only admit to hating.  With the original series, and certainly for its time (even as sci-fi television was perhaps best defined by The Twilight Zone, a series Deep Space Nine might be said to be patterned after), good was good and evil was evil, and it was unusual to blur the lines of these distinctions.  Next Generation kept that model for the most part (hence the signature, faceless foe known as the Borg), but right from the start, Deep Space Nine took a different tack, and "Duet" is the moment where everything came together.

For a young series, it's an incredibly mature episode.  It's arguably the moment Kira stopped being a surrogate for the character she was created to replace (Ro) and instead came into her own.  Yes, it's another moment in the first season where she's forced to question her assumptions, but it's the first time she's doing it with a Cardassian, looking at an issue and suddenly finding a whole new perspective.  That's what most of the characters in the series struggled to find, and "Duet" is the first time one of them is successful.

Whatever reason you yourself will find, "Duet" will leave an impression on you.  It's Deep Space Nine in a nutshell.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo

Memory Alpha summary.

Deep Space Nine 1x18 "Dramatis Personae"


This is probably the best of the random plots from the first season.  Still, the same idea was done better by Voyager in "Worst Case Scenario."

Basically, "Dramatis Personae" artificially creates a situation where all the main characters are pushed into their most extreme behaviors, forcing the underlying tensions the series has built at least a part of its premise around to rise to the surface.  In Voyager, that meant finally seeing a dramatic confrontation between the Starfleet and Maquis members of the crew via a holodeck program booby-trapped by the one Maquis who actually did exploit what some fans always assumed was inevitable (Seska).  Here, it's pretty much the same, with tensions between Starfleet and Bajoran personnel bubbling to crisis.

Now, some of this might seem a little strange to fans who aren't too familiar with the early development of Deep Space Nine.  They might be surprised to learn how hostile Kira was to Starfleet's presence.  Outside of this episode, it was really only apparent in the pilot; otherwise, other than the difference in uniform she became such a loyal collaborator with Starfleet that she might as well have been a member.  This is not a criticism of the series, but rather a way to explain what exactly this episode is supposed to accomplish.

In short, "Dramatis Personae" was almost an anachronism from its original airdate.  In a way, this is exactly the kind of episode that would have driven fans crazy in a different Star Trek, or pointed out things they wished had been happening all along.  Heck, this one may actually be the reason Deep Space Nine was the first of the franchise black sheep.

Anyway, a couple things worth pointing out.  Odo is at the center of this story, being the typical individual unaffected by the weird things going on (which could also make this a fine episode to watch if you like that kind of Star Trek adventure), though I have no particularly strong memories of this being significant to the character one way or another.  Also, one of the quirks Sisko develops leads him to building an intricate clock, which can still be seen in his office well past this episode, and it foreshadows his ability and interest, even while not under the influence, to build a Bajoran solar ship in "Explorers" two seasons later.  So there are a couple of ways to view this episode as more significant than it really is, but I don't want to exaggerate its worth.

Have a look at it and judge for yourself.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Deep Space Nine 1x17 "The Forsaken"


One of the key episodes of the first season was also another one to revisit a familiar Next Generation face.  Unlike what might have seemed somewhat gratuitous in other instances, however, "The Forsaken" marks another of Deep Space Nine's maturing points in its formative development.

Now, stop me if you've heard this one: Lwaxana Troi stops by and makes things uncomfortable.  The thing is, it's almost as if she's a completely different character.  The difference, as Q demonstrated previously, is that she really is in a different series.  Where Picard (and others, including her own daughter) only ever got around to tolerating her, Lwaxana finds an unexpected match in Odo, the shapeshifter noted for keeping his own company, a self-imposed alienation.  As it turns out, that's something Lwaxana knows a thing or two about, and their budding relationship in this episode alone is a revelation, and a delightful wonder.

The episode's ability to take a commodity as familiar as Lwaxana and fully envelope her in the show's emerging mentality is its most intriguing element, but the rest of it also allows everyone else to relax into what would become a more regular and steady interpretation of what life on a space station could be like.  Sure, computer malfunctions caused by rogue sentience and unruly ambassadors had been in Star Trek before, but "The Forsaken" helps make them feel natural in a new and entirely befitting setting.  In short, this is an early episode that finally helped things coalesce.

Of course, what truly makes it memorable is Lwaxana and Odo, and if you only watch it for these scenes, you're in for quite a treat.  Mrs. Troi makes two additional appearances in the series, and as enjoyable as they are, they still have a hard time living up to "The Forsaken."  For a season that struggled a great deal to find a steady tone, that's quite a mark of distinction.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Majel Barrett

Memory Alpha summary

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Deep Space Nine 1x16 "If Wishes Were Horses"


I suppose in some alternate version of Deep Space Nine, perhaps one that only lasted three seasons, like the original series, "If Wishes Were Horses" might be more significant.  It's perhaps more like an original series episode than just about any other Star Trek.

The problem in the long run is that it's not like a Deep Space Nine episode, at least not in comparison to the vast majority of the show's seven seasons.

You could call it "Shore Leave" and some of the more casual fans won't be able to tell the difference.  The one element that more committed fans will still care about is the appearance of Buck Bokai, who was an early manifestation of Sisko's love for baseball, supposedly the last great player the game ever saw.  Bokai's significance ends with his appearance here (Sisko's girlfriend and eventual wife, Kassidy Yates, has a brother who still plays baseball, the whole crew played it in the seventh season, and of course there's the ball that's always on Sisko's desk, all things that ultimately mean more than Buck Bokai), but his presence was a rare instance of Star Trek trying to build something of a history for its own future without worrying about world wars and warp drives.  Making an appearance in one of the more naive episodes in the most naive season of the series is not a way to be remembered by anyone but the most dedicated viewers.  Still, you might consider Bokai to be the forerunner to Vic Fontaine, the holosuite lounge singer who became such a significant feature of the final two seasons.

All considered, though, you can skip this episode except as another odd tribute to a version of Star Trek that Deep Space Nine was never supposed to be.  There's a lot of sweet character moments, including the always charming Molly O'Brien, and a truly embarrassing moment or two for Bashir that only serves to further emphasize how much he needs to grow, but you wish that the series didn't have to find them in a premise like this.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Deep Space Nine 1x15 "Progress"


"Progress" is the first time the first season of Deep Space Nine made it known that ordinary brilliance was possible.  In terms of importance, it was eclipsed a few episodes later by "Duet."  But it's an experience that in its own way is just as essential.

Kira was a hothead who loathed her assignment working with Starfleet to normalize things for her fellow Bajorans.  She believed her own people could figure it out on their own, crawling from the wreckage of the resistance fought for decades against the Cardassians.  She naively believed that the Bajorans would be able to settle their own affairs.

"Progress" was her best indication to this point that this was simply not going to be the case.  She's assigned to help an old man relocate after it's deemed his land will be more valuable used for things other than what he's been doing with it.  Surprising to Kira is the fact that the old man doesn't want to leave his home, no matter what others think.  She spends the whole episode trying to figure out how to deal with the old man's stubbornness.

It's all about the moral complexities inherent in sticking around the same place and dealing with the same problems.  That's what the series was supposed to accomplish from the start.  As Bajoran episodes go, this one plays it safe by keeping Kira firmly at the center of the story, no religious matters required, no soft-spoken figures threatening to put the audience to sleep.  This is an episode that could only happen and work on Deep Space Nine.  Other series have ambiguities to handle, but they get to leave at the end of the episode.  Everything begins to change for Kira as a result of "Progress."

Strangely enough, though the title might be considered cynical, the episode isn't, and that's a tone the series miraculously managed to maintain throughout its run.

franchise series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Deep Space Nine 1x14 "The Storyteller"


"The Storyteller" is closer to what the first season of Deep Space Nine should have been doing than some other episodes I can think of.  It's basically a filler that doesn't push the series narrative too far, other than being the first time Bashir and O'Brien share an adventure, and features the Bajorans as pretty much the aliens of the week.

Okay, so the first pairing of Bashir and O'Brien is pretty huge.  It's not the best of the early adventures for the two (that would be "Armageddon Game" from the second season), but it's better even on that front than too many other episodes from the season, where you really don't have to watch them to be a fan of the rest of the series.  It's the first link of one of the major pieces of continuity that Deep Space Nine became so famous for, at least within its own fanbase.  

The Bajorans, when featured in an episode, were more often than not subject to fairly dry political maneuvering (other than Vulcans, Bajorans are the Star Trek species least likely to express themselves in something other than hushed tones, unless your name is Kira or Ro).  "The Storyteller" is an exception to that rule, and I think an overlooked one.  It really has no significance to anything else ever done with the Bajorans, featuring a village with a fairly typical Star Trek problem of being tormented by some weird phenomenon.  While spirituality, a common Bajoran theme, is prevalent, it's not the same as the usual Prophets thing that comes up almost every other time.  

Instead we have our series regulars having to handle the situation for the hapless villagers, and figuring out that the problem isn't what it seems.  Again, pretty standard franchise material.

The truly redeeming factor, again, is that it has so much greater relevance the longer you watch the series.  It's the first time since Bashir met Garak that the good doctor has truly come across a relationship that means something, and as such is a good indication that he's going to learn that it isn't the strange wonders he gets to encounter at a posting as exotic as the station (as he originally believed) but the people he meets while he's there that will truly define him.  Since it's more a viewer's implication than something that is made explicit in the episode, I won't mark "The Storyteller" as overtly relevant to the series as a whole, even though that's exactly what eventually makes Deep Space Nine so compelling, and something that writers begin to embrace in the next season.

Still, if you want to see the true potential of the show, this is an episode worth considering.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

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