Friday, December 30, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x9 "The Sword of Kahless"

rating: ***

the story: Worf joins Dax and Kor on an epic quest.

what it's all about: "Sword of Kahless" was always an easy episode to underestimate.  On the surface it might seem gimmicky and unnecessary, Deep Space Nine struggling to find relevant stories for a character (Worf) who had already experienced an incredible and in some ways franchise-defining arc in Next Generation (storytelling that helped form the basis of Deep Space Nine itself).

But it lays down two very important foundations for Worf in his new series: first, it introduces the idea of his relationship with Dax, and it finally gives him another Klingon to work off of who's happy to be a Klingon and isn't actively seeking a way to sabotage Worf's standing in the Empire.  Kor, an original series Klingon who returned in the landmark "Blood Oath" earlier in the series, was more a lead-in to Martok, who would emerge as one of the most important recurring characters of the series and one of Worf's defining relationships, but that hardly matters.  When he returns in the final season ("Once More Unto the Breach"), his appearance in this episode takes on greater resonance.  Watching as Kor, Worf, and Dax struggle to figure out each other is the real pleasure of the episode.

"Sword" also helps demonstrate all over again how important Kahless is to Klingon culture, as well as put a definitive spotlight on the Klingon weapon, the bat'leth, that was already an iconic element of Star Trek lore at this point, but had never really been the focus of an episode before.  We'd seen Worf and other Klingons use these fancy curved blades, and heard of how Kahless created the first one, but it somehow seems so much more important when it becomes the object of an active obsession.

A treasure hunt was the subject of popular fiction dating at least back to Treasure Island, but more contemporary storytelling had Indiana Jones become an icon in this kind of adventure.  "Sword" came before a glut of more recent stories, most famously Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, began to flood the market, even before Lara Croft made it cool again in video games.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A fine addition to the Klingon tradition.
  • series - A fine next step in Deep Space Nine's Klingons.
  • character - Works quite well for Worf, Dax, and Kor.
  • essential - It's not groundbreaking, but it'll do.
notable guest-stars:
John Colicos (Kor)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x8 "Little Green Men"

rating: ****

the story: Quark, Rom, and Nog end up in Roswell, NM, and become the source of the persistent rumors of...

what it's all about: In the spirit of classic franchise romps like "The Trouble with Tribbles" (fans tend to overlook that it's the "grim" Deep Space Nine that brought back this tradition, other than Next Generation's aberrant "Fistful of Datas"), "Little Green Men" is the best of the "Ferengi episodes," pulling the series' trio of that species into the past and generally lampooning the mid-20th century, making the aliens the most relatable characters in the story. 

Is there really much more that needs to be said?  By now you've seen what I thought about the fourth season's attempt to reboot the appeal of Deep Space Nine, and the various ways already attempted to appeal to a broader selection of viewers.  "Green Men" brings outright comedy into the equation, and like "The Visitor" before it as a standout experience it ranks among the best selling points the series was ever going to achieve.  You don't particularly need to worry about knowing anything else to enjoy it, and this is a good thing where other times it was a drag on an overall experience that generally benefited from commitment to the mythos.  Fans will appreciate the significance of Nog's journey to Earth for formal admittance to Starfleet Academy, as well as the various levels of support he receives from Quark (his uncle) and Rom (his father).  Casual viewers will probably get a kick out of a late-episode addition to the familiar faces running around a story that otherwise avoids the station and most of the regulars, one of the better uses of an element of Deep Space Nine from the very start.  (I'd really like to spoil it here, but it's such a great surprise!)

Bottom line, a goofy and hugely endearing experience.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A welcome return to the idea of the Star Trek farce.
  • series - It somehow remains grounded in Deep Space Nine lore at the same time.
  • character - A remarkable spotlight for the Ferengi trio of Quark, Rom, and Nog.
  • essential - It's a classic, easily.
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Charles Napier
Megan Gallagher

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x7 "Starship Down"

rating: ***

the story: Aboard the Defiant, the crew suddenly finds itself in a crisis with the Jem'Hadar.

what it's all about: The thing about the Dominion, before the Dominion War officially broke out, is that it just kind of randomly appeared for about four seasons from time to time, and you never really knew what kind of episode it was going to be.  The war itself was hardly inevitable.  For four seasons, then, the Dominion for all intents and purposes was Deep Space Nine's answer to classic foes like the Romulans or Klingons.  They didn't rise to the level of the Borg, as a threat of total annihilation, until the war.  So these four seasons, rather than merely watch things develop, it's actually a chance to see what the Dominion was like when it was providing the occasional problems, like any other hostile force in the franchise.

That is to say, "Starship Down" is almost a kind of "Balance of Terror," or "Sleeping Dogs" (that one's from Enterprise), as much as it is a classic crisis episode, like Next Generation's "Disaster."  That is to say, there are a lot of ways to watch this one, but it really boils down to watching the characters, for the first time this season, as they exist, which is a hallmark of the series, regardless of the matter at hand.  We learn what they think of each other, how they fit in, what they're learning...Basically this is a character piece.  Of course Quark is in the thick of it (antagonizing poor James Cromwell, buried unrecognizable in prosthetics, in his last franchise role before he finally becomes iconic in Star Trek: First Contact about a year later).

But if you really want to consider "Starship Down" in context, it's kind of the third season premiere, "The Search," stripped down to its essential component: the crew facing a real Dominion crisis for the first time, without having to worry about greater ramifications of any kind.  I realize I've been complaining that this season has radically shifted away from the kind of serialized storytelling that was the best thing about the series, but at its best it also manages to tell an episodic story that's  not only relevant to the serialization temporarily shunted to the background, but that still works as episodic material.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The classic trope of the crew dealing with a sudden crisis that pins them down in isolated pockets.
  • series - It worked with "Civil Defense" previously, and works again this time.
  • character - A nice slice of how all these characters work in conjunction with each other.
  • essential - But totally necessary to understand anything else about the series.
notable guest-stars:
James Cromwell
F.J. Rio

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x6 "Rejoined"

rating: ****

the story: Jadzia is reunited with a symbiont who was a former host's wife.

what it's all about: The benefit of the fourth season fresh start is that it gave Dax a chance to start over, with the exact episode the character had needed ever since her creation: a direct response to the debut of the Trill in Next Generation's "The Host."  In that episode, a lot of things were exposed about Star Trek.  Fans and critics at large always assumed that Gene Roddenberry had essentially created a counterculture allegory set in the future.  But if you look back at the original series, you see a lot of refutations of essential counterculture lore, such as the episodes directed against both hippies and the drugs they helped make mainstream.  And yes, his was an inclusive, idealistic vision, but it was more a melding of the mainstream and countercultures than anything, which the extreme reluctance to embrace the LGBTQ community proved somewhat repeatedly through the years, and the outright allegorical repulsion exhibited at the end of "Host," in which Dr. Crusher ends up in a relationship with a Trill symbiont (she makes it past the original host and embraces the idea with Riker when he serves as a temporary substitute) but backs out of it when the replacement host turns out to be a woman. 

"Rejoined" is an allegory (an outright gay character wouldn't actually exist in this franchise until Star Trek Beyond and the forthcoming Star Trek: Discovery), but on the surface it finally breaks the mold in definitive fashion.  I know, because it caused great controversy in my own household when it originally aired a little over two decades ago.  Up to that point the family had been staunch Star Trek fans, and had happily continued watching it when Next Generation ended and Deep Space Nine became the handiest replacement (in our market, both shows aired on Saturdays, whereas Voyager, which instantly split fans more than ever before and as such was never a common viewing with us, aired on the UPN network during the week, which was less conducive to bringing everyone together).  Between the Breen armor that debuted the previous week in "Indiscretion" that bore an uncanny resemblance to the bounty hunter armor Leia dons briefly in Return of the Jedi and this controversial decision, I was to become the lone ongoing, regular viewer of Deep Space Nine in the house.

Anyway, ostensibly the big taboo is within Trill society, in which former lovers from previous hosts aren't supposed to interact in later lifetimes, so that Jadzia is strongly discouraged from spending time with the scientist who comes to the station as part of her work.  Yet Jadzia is too compelled by the thought.  By the time "Facets" aired at the end of the third season, the series had finally gotten a good handle on how to handle the idea that Dax wasn't just a young Starfleet officer but also the latest in a long line of hosts.  "Rejoined" is the next and ultimate step forward in that line of progression, a compelling drama that forces very personal feelings to come forth from a normally confident woman, who was as sure of herself as anyone in the history of Star Trek.  Suddenly, where a lot of other characters had risked their careers for various reasons, Dax wasn't just doing that, but flirting with expulsion from her own people (also a thing that'd happened in the franchise previously).  Yet it never really strays from being an incredibly personal and intimate matter, so that all you really need to care about is how she feels about the scientist, and whether or not the scientist is willing to reciprocate.

The big moment, the second most important kiss in Star Trek history (after Kirk and Uhura's in "Plato's Stepchildren"), is when Jadzia and the scientist kiss.  Honestly I don't know why it isn't talked about more.  Arguably it's the most important one now, because in 2016 (which is when I'm writing this) it's still more rare to see this sort of thing, in the mainstream, where it's not when looking at the state of white and black actors interacting in television or the movies (despite what so-called controversies at the Oscars will have you believe).  I mean, Will Smith, during the first decade of the new millennium, became the most bankable actor in history.  Can you say the same about an openly gay man, or any other differently-sexed actor?  Not by a longshot. 

But none of that matters if the episode itself doesn't ring true, and it does.  It's Jadzia's big chance to finally blow past all the barriers initially expected of a character who might otherwise have been pegged as the pretty girl, and she nails it.  And yes, it's somewhat ironic that by the end of the series, a different Dax host is kind of fighting the same battle, without any Trill butting their heads into her affairs (well, for that reason, anyway).  That's how you make interesting drama out of an alien species.  Usually this only happens for Klingons.  So it figures that only a few episodes later Jadzia begins the initial steps toward a relationship with one...

This was a season that forced the series to redefine its vision, and for a while that proved to be more trouble than anyone might have realized, but "Rejoined" is the moment everything crystalized.  It was an episode that seized the unexpected opportunity, and created something special because of it.  That's how "Plato's Stepchildren" happened, too, in the midst of a third and final season of the original series, when there were no more guarantees about its future.  So it went for broke, literally breaking new ground with the first interracial kiss in dramatic programming history.  Thankfully, Deep Space Nine lasted the rest of its fourth season, and for three more. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Truly went where no Star Trek had gone before.
  • series - A definitive statement on the continued viability of the original Deep Space Nine model.
  • character - The definitive Dax episode.
  • essential - You saw "definitive" used twice already, right?
notable guest-stars:
Susanna Thompson
Ken Marshall (Eddington)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x5 "Indiscretion"

rating: *

the story: Dukat joins Kira on an unlikely rescue mission while Kasidy decides to take a job that will leave her a permanent resident of the station.

what it's all about: It never really occurred to me how radical a change the fourth season was for the season until I started writing in-depth about it.  This is the second episode, after "Hippocratic Oath," that proves how much someone wanted to change Deep Space Nine to correct perceived shortcomings and make it more approachable to fans.  But the result was a kind of neutering, in some respects, which is no big surprise, because by the time the Dominion War kicked off in the sixth season, the pendulum swung radically in the other direction, letting the series enjoy what made it special in a sometimes smothering fashion.

Case in point?  The one-two-three punch of "Duet," "Necessary Evil," and "Second Skin" from the firsts three seasons find their fourth season answer in "Indiscretion," which on paper seems like the perfect way to finally ground that tradition in the emerging continuity-heavy nature of the series.  And yet as a standalone experience, divorced from what later came of it (and several actresses portraying Dukat's heretofore hidden Cardassian/Bajoran daughter Tora Ziyal later), it seems like a wimpy start to the arc that changed the character's arc forever.  And no one really seems to have known just how big the consequences of this episode would be.  Surprisingly, this won't be the only time the producers get something like this wrong.

Long story short: Dukat's daughter alienates him from the Cardassian establishment, and his scrambling to redeem himself leads the Cardassians into the arms of the Dominion, and thus the Dominion War...and then Dukat officially becoming Sisko's opposite number, the emissary of the Pah-wraiths (their introduction is equally bloodless in "The Assignment" next season and exactly what I was alluding to earlier).

...But the biggest problem with Dukat's characterization this episode is that it ignores all the character work accomplished last season, and leaves Kira in a predicament that plays poorly against every other such example of her trying to make peace with the complicated past between Bajorans and Cardassians.  It's a Dukat story, basically, that really wants to be a Kira story, too, but can't figure out how, and doesn't really try.  So it's just setup, with little indication of how severe any of this will affect the duration of the series.  It's the opposite, too, of how well Dukat featured into last season's "Defiant," which for all intents and purposes is much the same story.

Anyway, if that weren't bad enough, Sisko and Kasidy's relationship hits a predictable hiccup when she decides that taking up permanent residence isn't such a bad thing, but he does.  In fact, all of this uncharacteristic behavior merely for the sake up trumped up drama just had me downgrade the episode to one star, when I'd originally pegged it for three and decided to settle for two given my dawning reservations...

The good news is that this early season shakiness settles down very soon.  The producers obviously had a rough time adjusting to new expectations, but they did figure it out.  Hey, there are always rough episodes, right?  At least with these last two, it's easy to see why they happened.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This is a Deep Space Nine story.
  • series - It's just kind of fails at being one.
  • character - Still, some relevant groundwork is done for Dukat.
  • essential - But in the grand scheme you don't have to watch it to understand what comes later.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x4 "Hippocratic Oath"

rating: **

the story: Bashir and O'Brien become prisoners of the Jem'Hadar, but a rogue faction that wishes to be released from their Founder-engineered drug addiction.

what it's all about: "Hippocratic Oath" is the point where viewers realize that Paramount probably mandated a more episodic feel to the series than the serialization that had crept into Deep Space Nine in the third season.  This mandate would obviously be negated later on, but "Oath" betrays how much pushback had affected the producers, because while dealing with a crucial part of the show's mythology, it's never revisited despite the rest of this season and three more remaining.  Dropped elements rarely happened in Deep Space Nine without good reason or some satisfactory conclusion.  That simply isn't the case with "Oath."

In the third season the Jem'Hadar's drug addiction was introduced in "The Abandoned," part of the early part of that season in which the producers were trying to square with the more episodic tradition of the franchise despite playing with major new serialized elements of Deep Space Nine itself.  "Oath" is a kind of follow-up to "Abandoned," but it takes the form of a new conflict between Bashir and O'Brien, who had finally become bosom buddies despite a rough start to their working relationship.  It creates great drama, but in hindsight it also seems random and a little forced, dark for the sake of being dark.

There's a Jem'Hadar soldier introduced, the leader of the rogue faction, who could've easily become a recurring character, played by the ever-dependable Scott MacDonald, in arguably his best Star Trek performance among a whole host of roles spent buried under layers of prosthetics, from Next Generation to Enterprise.  He's arguably the most sympathetic Dominion figure the series ever featured (other than the stray rogue Weyoun clone or Cardassian defector like Damar).  Maybe for that reason he couldn't return, since the Dominion arc was still in its infancy at this point, so it was good enough to demonstrate, among the least likely component of this new enemy, that there was a chance for hope within it.  (Incidentally, the whole Xindi arc from Enterprise's third season is like the Dominion arc condensed, and so "The Shipment" is a better version of "Oath," if you want to see this series in improved form.)

All of which is to say, I just don't think this one worked, both in the short- and long-term, nearly as well as it should have, and it's all down to a temporary retraction of what was to define this series: its dedication to serialized storytelling.  "Oath" is an example of how not to do it.

A subplot involves Worf's attempts to find his place aboard the station, as he clashes with Odo over one of the series' oldest narratives: namely just about anything Quark tries to do.  It's an obvious story to do, and so it makes sense not to have constructed a whole episode around it.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Medical dilemmas are a fact of life in Star Trek.
  • series - Doesn't reflect well on the overall legacy of Deep Space Nine.
  • character - At least pairs Bashir and O'Brien for their first story together since the second season.
  • essential - It's too dark, even for a dark Trek.
notable guest-stars:
Scott MacDonald

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x3 "The Visitor"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko becomes trapped in time, leaving his son on an obsessive quest to rescue him, which takes a whole lifetime...

what it's all about: This right here is what it's all about, the best moment of the whole series and prime contender for best episode of the franchise.  What do you get when you combine the original series' "City on the Edge of Forever" with Next Generation's "The Inner Light"?  Something that eclipses them both, which the franchise would spend the next decade trying to recapture (Voyager with "Timeless," Enterprise with "Twilight," both superb examples in and of themselves).

This is a truly transcendent experience, and extremely clever storytelling, and it once and for all justifies Jake Sisko's legacy in Deep Space Nine, even if for most of the episode he's portrayed by Tony Todd (otherwise known to franchise fans as Worf's brother Kurn) rather than the youthful Cirroc Lofton.  Todd, who is actually best known as the star of the horror film Candyman, delivers one of the most emotionally resonant performances in all of Star Trek, the anchor that holds everything together (Avery Brooks holds his own, too, but has less screen-time; this is almost entirely Todd's show).

"The Visitor" is one of the rare Star Trek episodes to begin in the middle of the story, in the future, with Old Man Jake receiving, well, a visitor.  And he decides to tell his guest a story.  In the third season Jake had expressed his desire to become a writer, and in a lot of ways, "Visitor" is the big payoff for his ambition (later, "The Muse," shows how difficult such a goal can be), as we not only learn a version of how it plays out, but that he managed to become not just a writer but a great one.  But the problem is, he lost his dad, and has spent his life trying to get him back. 

It's really that simple.  By the end of the episode, there's even a preview of how the series ends (or perhaps "What You Leave Behind" merely echoes this momentous experience). 

Old Man Jake's story skips along as he grows older and finds out what happened to his father, and that, incredibly, it's not too late to save him.  But every time he sees his father and can't, it's a gut punch all over again.  Finally we see Sisko wake Old Man Jake up, after his guest has left, and the plan to finally succeed is explained.  It's heart-wrenching. 

Even if you doubt every other time I heap praise on this series, please understand that this is one you will need little coercion to appreciate. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Transcendent.
  • series - Transcendent.
  • character - The story of Sisko and his son Jake, in a nutshell.
  • essential - Transcendent.
notable guest-stars:
Tony Todd (Old Man Jake)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x1/4x2 "The Way of the Warrior"

rating: ****

the story: The Klingon Empire readies for war against the Dominion, which causes Sisko to request Worf's assistance.

what it's all about: People tend to have a bad habit of assuming that when story elements are mandated, this inevitably results in a story that can't possibly work.  Look, this is all a part of the creative process.  If you can't figure out to make someone else's idea work, then quit frankly you're not very creative.  It's as simple as that. 

This is relevant to "Way of the Warrior" because Paramount, in the interests of shoring up flagging ratings for Deep Space Nine, requested the show's producers insert the Klingons, and Worf, into the series.  This wasn't what the producers had been planning for the fourth season, something they'd already been denied to do at the end of the third season (relax, though; it'd finally materialize in the two-part "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" near the middle of the season).  And in a lot of ways, "Warrior" is a rephrasing of not only the third season finale, "The Adversary," but the two-part "Improbable Cause"/"The Die is Cast" from earlier that season, plus the ambitious three-part "The Homecoming"/"The Circle"/"The Siege" that started out the second season.  But does all this mean "Warrior" is worthless rehash and creatively bankrupt?  Far from it!

The fourth season begins with a bang.  Introducing the Klingons turned out to be one of the best things the series ever did.  Klingons were involved in the first-ever sustained serialized storytelling Star Trek, during the middle of Next Generation, which is probably why Deep Space Nine happened to begin with, a whole series that would eventually embrace serialized storytelling as its mandate, so in that sense, formally introducing Klingons into the mix (they'd appeared sporadically before this) was at the very least a nod to Deep Space Nine's origins.  It was also the first time the Klingons really got to return to the epic nature of their Next Generation heyday, complete with Gowron pleading with Worf to once again consider what was in the best interests of the Empire, an echo of exactly how it all began, resonance that's the key to all great storytelling.

That General Martok makes his debut in "Warrior" is also one of the best things that happened in the story, especially the way he does.  He doesn't appear again until "Apocalypse Rising," the fifth season premiere, which eventually leads into one of the most pivotal recurring roles of the series.  So all that begins here.  As does Michael Dorn's addition to the regular cast, making him the only Star Trek actor to be a regular in two series.  Worf's solitary nature became prominent in his appearances throughout the rest of Deep Space Nine, putting him in an entirely new light, as a character who belonged in this series.  "Warrior" not only picks up the Klingon thread from Next Generation, but Worf's role in it, and out of it.  This was a series full of outcasts, and that's exactly what Worf always was.  That he had a family among Picard's crew, where fans will always remember him best, is also a fact of the franchise, but it cannot be discounted how well Worf fits in with his second family.

The siege of the station, once fighting breaks out, is one of the most thrilling sequences of the whole series, more than making up for its predecessor in "The Siege," which ended a three-part affair with more of a whimper than a bang.  This is what the series needed to give credibility to its Dominion ambitions, a preview of the war that was to come.  It neatly outlines the stakes of the conflict, and how things would work from then on. 

But for anyone coming merely for Klingon drama, it fills its quota of that, too, amply contributing to a fine Star Trek tradition.  Plus, you get to hear Quark compare the Federation to root beer.  If you never love a Ferengi in any other scene, I think you'll agree how well this one works.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The grand Klingon opera continues!
  • series - Although it's just beginning in Deep Space Nine!
  • character - Enter: Worf!
  • essential - Puts everything in new perspective.
notable guest-stars:
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Robert O'Reilly (Gowron)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy Yates)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Patricia Tallman

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x26 "The Adversary"

rating: ****

the story: The crew takes the Defiant into enemy space, only to find the enemy aboard the ship in the form of a Founder who, as a shape-shifter, could be anyone...

what it's all about: Fans tend to forget how awesome "The Adversary" is, because in a lot of ways it was rephrased and blown to even more epic proportions in the fourth season premiere, "The Way of the Warrior," which has the distinctions of not only bringing in the Klingons, but introducing Worf into the series.  By contrast, "Adversary" actually features a one-off alien threat that's not even seen.

But it creates its own history, quite decisively, too.  The first and most obvious way is in Sisko promotion to captain.  It's the culmination of everything the season accomplishes for Sisko, rebuilding him into the strong center of Deep Space Nine in every way possible.  As the only lead character (until Star Trek: Discovery some twenty years later) of a Star Trek series to not be a captain in the pilot episode, Sisko always seemed to be at a disadvantage.  Well, by the end of the third season, not only does he run a station, but his own warship, and so of course he finally gets the big promotion.

But that's really only in the running for most interesting thing about the episode, because this is the one that really ramps up the threat of the Dominion.  Curiously, after the second season ended with "The Jem'Hadar" and this one began with "The Search," the Dominion had all but fallen by the wayside, lost to a number of other intrigues that only sometimes intersected with it.  This was a season of making sure fans understood what the stakes were.  So by the end of it, the threat of the Dominion can be revisited, and vastly intensified, as the nature of the Founders becomes chillingly apparent for the first time.  These are villains who will stop at nothing.  The fourth season's "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" would pick up on the paranoia aspect, but most importantly, Odo is forced to do something that would later have a cataclysmic impact on his life, and all because of this Founder oath: "No changeling has ever harmed another."

Which of course means Odo is forced to kill one.  We've already seen how conflicted he is over the revelation that his long-sought-over people run the Dominion.  To then be forced into a situation where his outsider status is made about as stark as it can be...It's high drama.  It's matched by the first real sustained action-oriented drama of the series, which would of course later feature two final seasons entrenched in the Dominion War, making "The Adversary" the first true preview of what was to come.

That makes it hugely significant, and another chance for more hesitant fans to catch a glimpse of what all the fuss was about.  That makes it a classic.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - To that point , really on "The Best of Both Worlds" had given fans a glimpse of this kind of storytelling in Star Trek.
  • series - But it's just a glimpse of what would become Deep Space Nine's hallmark.
  • character - Sisko's promotion, Odo's fateful moment...
  • essential - It's a classic, okay?
notable guest-stars:
Ken Marshall (Eddington)
Lawrence Pressman

Monday, December 19, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x25 "Facets"

rating: ***

the story: Jadzia undergoes a ritual to "meet" every previous host of the Dax symbiont.

what it's all about: What might have come off as a silly gimmick (while consistently amusing, many of the hosts come off merely as too comedic) proves infinitely compelling when two specific ones grab "Facets" and push it to greater heights.

The first and comparatively throwaway is Sisko embodying the rogue host uncovered in the earlier third season episode "Equilibrium," instantly selling the whole concept as far more chilling than its predecessor had managed.  It gives Sisko, and by extension Avery Brooks, yet another compelling, previously-unthinkable moment in a season full of them.

But by far, Odo's portrayal of Curzon Dax is what the episode, and the series, really needed.  Curzon is easy to overlook in his importance to series lore.  He's the "Old Man" Sisko is constantly referencing when he addresses Jadzia, the host of the Dax symbiont who came immediately before her.  Other episodes had attempted to tell compelling stories around him ("Dax" in the first season, "Blood Oath" in the second), but without having Curzon himself represented, they always circled back to Jadzia herself.  Not only does "Facets" solve that, it also demonstrates the pitfalls of host selection far more effectively than previous attempts ("Equilibrium" and "Invasive Procedures"), namely by making it immediate, personal, and downright heartbreaking.

Simply put: during the course of the episode, it's revealed that Curzon flunked Jadzia out of the initiate program, and eventually that he did so because of a conflict of interest, namely that he'd fallen in love with her.  That's the beating heart of a story that breaks new ground for Jadzia as more than the quirky hotty she'd kind of become somewhere along the way (actually, that would be "Playing God," thank you very much), and it paves the way for the ultimate host episode, "Rejoined," early next season, perhaps the boldest episode the series ever attempted, a direct rebuttal of "The Host," the Next Generation episode that introduced the Trill in the first place.

Incorporated into this is Odo's own self-loathing, one of the running themes of the season, and even his as-yet unrequited crush on Kira (by way of suggestion).  The B-story complements this by having Rom finally show some backbone and acknowledge the huge achievement his son Nog has made by gaining admittance (the first for a Ferengi) into Starfleet Academy. 

This is one of those breezy efforts from the season, where the newfound confidence the series had found could really blossom.  It's not overly crucial to the course of things, but it's also indicative of why any of it mattered, because Deep Space Nine really had invested time and effort into its characters, so that it could.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This one's for fans of Deep Space Nine, thank you.
  • series - Well, like I just said...
  • character - Technically focuses on Jadzia.
  • essential - But has plenty of room for others to shine, too.  Good character work overall!
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x24 "Shakaar"

rating: ***

the story: Kira is reunited with a friend from the Resistance, who will become a significant part of Bajor's future thanks to a power play from Kai Winn (just not in the way she thinks).

what it's all about: Bajoran stories at their heart were always a mix of church and state, and so in that regard they may actually be the most fundamentally American stories of the whole franchise.  The trick was always to find a balance between these impulses, which had already created compelling figures and arcs earlier in the series, but had failed to find a truly likable figure, outside of Kira, with which to rally stories around.  Well, "Shakaar" finally finds that figure.

Dipping into Kira's past (and present), which some might consider a cheat since until this episode the title character somehow didn't exist at all, despite a lot of heavy drama surrounding Bajor in the early seasons (the Bajorans will always be the Kazon of Deep Space Nine; Voyager fans will know what I'm talking about).  Putting that aside, he comes at an opportune moment.  Kai Winn had just vanquished the other likeliest contender to her personal little Game of Thrones in "Life Support," where the perennially bloodless Vedek Bareil finally ran out of luck with the writers.  She used a lot of political reasoning then, too, just as she attempts to use here, but Kira won't let her get away with it this time, which is actually kind of ironic, since Winn actually enlists her into the cause, given Kira's past association with the man hogging all the valuable farm equipment Winn wants to use to bolster her public image, I mean support Bajor's future (of course!).

Duncan Regehr is instantly a more charming actor than just about everyone else (besides Michelle Forbes and Nana Visitor) who's ever played a Bajoran in Star Trek.  It's good, too, because he was last seen in the franchise playing a thankless role in one of the worst episodes ever, Next Generation's "Sub Rosa.  But a lot of the story falls, as usual, on Kira, who is once again asked to mediate a difficult situation (it turned out horribly in the first season, but apparently Winn never heard about that).  Eventually it becomes a full-blown Bajoran Western.

It's good stuff.  It works on every level that usually falls apart in Bajoran episodes, and even manages to give the poor world a break, a happy ending for a change, when Shakaar is elected to the role of first minister, which Winn had attempted to usurp and thereby control everything for her people.  It's the easiest Bajoran episode to recommend, so of course it comes from the third season.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This belongs more to the fantasy TV genre of perfect political figures than to Star Trek.
  • series - It works wonders for the Bajorans.
  • character - Once again Kira proves to know what's best for her people.
  • essential - It's the episode any fan should watch who would otherwise groan at the prospect of a Bajoran adventure.
notable guest-stars:
Duncan Regehr (Shakaar)
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Sherman Howard
William Lucking

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x23 "Family Business"

rating: ***

the story: Quark and Rom have an uneasy reunion with their mother while Jake sets his father up with freighter captain Kasidy Yates.

what it's all about: The lead story of "Family Business" is kind of a sequel to "House of Quark early in the season, hilariously reversed, in which Quark realizes all that revolution he brought to a Klingon's house has no place in his own...!

But this is one of the most important episodes of the season, introducing three important new characters to the series: Ishka (Quark's mother), Brunt (the Ferengi toad who becomes Jeffrey Combs' first recurring character of the series), and Kasidy Yates (who would eventually marry Sisko and thus give the widower the permanent grounding he'd been headed toward since the season premiere).

Ishka is a hoot, every bit the force of nature you'd expect behind such an ambitious troublemaker like Quark, who could conceivably also have given birth to Rom, who seems to contradict everything about his brother.  The big knock on the Ferengi is that they seemed to be such obvious parodies of capitalism, once Deep Space Nine had sold (heh) its revision of the Next Generation failures originally intended to be straight-up villains.  The term "Ferengi episode" became an epitaph in Deep Space Nine for instant duds, which to my mind was ridiculous, because they were always some of the best material, epitomized by "Family Business." 

At this early juncture, Ishka already presented herself as an iconoclast destined to revolutionize Ferengi society, a feminist who wouldn't sit still for her culture's sexist attitudes.  If you think that comes off as too in-your-face (as an allegory, it's actually almost too in-continuity to be embraced by general viewers; which the later "Profit in Lace" seeks to remedy in the most obvious terms possible, which alienated Star Trek fans so much it became lambasted as one of the worst episodes ever; clearly this was a very tricky subject even for theoretical progressive folk like these twenty years ago), just wait to see some of the best interactions between Quark and Rom of the series, a callback to their second-season-stealing glory days.

Brunt may not be Weyoun (the Vorta toad as opposed to the Ferengi toad Combs portrayed multiple times), but e helps ground the insanity of Quark's family without making it too serious; you never really expect his petty functionary to be anything other than a roadblock (though later appearances would surely challenge that).  But it's clear Combs had instantly become a beloved presence in the series after having found a character that truly suited him (his previous appearance as a one-off character this season was more off-putting than anything, through no fault of his own), only to quickly find another.  And eventually, he would find a third recurring character in Enterprise's Shran to solidify his place as one of the all-time most compelling recurring actors of the franchise.

Penny Johnson's Kasidy Yates, though, brings the greatest impact.  Following "Explorers," the father-son team of Benjamin and Jake Sisko were on a roll, and given how strongly the season had focused on Sisko, it was high time to find him a replacement for the dead wife who'd haunted him at the beginning of the series, and the lively Yates was exactly the unlikely candidate, who immediately connected with the baseball-obsessed Sisko when it's learned her brother actively plays the ancient Earth game (in Star Trek lore, baseball actually ended sometime in the early 21st century, presumably in the run-up to WWIII). 

It's hard to imagine all this working let alone fitting into a single episode, but it all does!

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - For series fans only.
  • series - But they'll love it!
  • character - Three important new characters!
  • essential - Did I mention "important"?
notable guest-stars:
Penny Johnson (Yates)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Andrea Martin (Ishka)
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x22 "Explorers"

rating: ****

the story: While the Siskos experience some one-on-one bonding time, Bashir reluctantly reunites with an old classmate.

what it's all about: When it comes to episodes featuring the unique bond between Benjamin and Jake Sisko, most fans will be able to tell you all about the classic episode from early the next season, "The Visitor," but few will remember "Explorers," which really only comes a few episodes earlier, and in some ways, in its breezy simplicity, is better.

Next Generation could sometimes drive itself nuts trying to create a slice-of-life episode that hit all the right marks, but never came close to something like this.  Not only are the Siskos in the spotlight, but Bashir in what is by far his most appealing story of the season, and perhaps the all-time great B-story of the whole franchise featuring the all-time greatest drunken duet of the whole franchise....It's really, really hard for me to undersell this episode, which has always been one of the key reasons for why I love this season so much, and how it helped me fall in love with the series itself.

Jake Sisko will always be the youthful character of the franchise that somehow managed to avoid the curse of becoming a grating, obnoxious recurring presence, who was listed as a regular throughout the series but somehow ended up being featured and feeling like a recurring character, and by far the most subtle one.  In some respects he existed to ground his father in a reality most Star Trek characters never really get to experience, as the kind of Wesley Crusher we always wish we had, merely the reminder of a tragedy that must inevitably happen in Starfleet families, the loss of a parent and the need to soldier on.  And yet by this point Jake had made the decision to forego Starfleet and committed himself to the life of a writer (in fact, a lot of this episode is dedicated to his formative development in that regard, and as such always had natural appeal to someone who was just beginning to realize that's what he wanted, too, for his future).  He'd seen his best friend, who seemed to have far worse prospects, make exactly the opposite decision and convince everyone it wasn't just a mad pipedream.  And with a father who had become more involved in his own life than he had been in years, Jake now wonders if it's time he move on, accept a scholarship that will take him away from the station (in some ways, the course of Jake's whole arc in the series mirrored the one that brought everyone to the station to begin with, because in fact he never leaves).

The Ben Sisko who appears in "Explorers" is by far the most appealing he ever was, a warmed-in version of the one who showed up in the season premiere, "The Search," with the same kind of fervor for a new project early seasons only hinted at.  He decides to throw himself into recreating an ancient Bajoran solar ship, and once that's completed actually taking it into space with his son.  By that time the episode really settles in, and becomes ten times more appealing, a lark that never really feels the urge to become more complicated than it needs to be, allowing father and son plenty of time to bond.  When an emergency does break out, it feels organic, and when Dukat shows up to congratulate them on showing how ancient Bajorans really could have been as impressive as the ship itself suggests, it's the best moment of the season for showing how politically hypocritical the Cardassians can be (same as politicians ever are), but in a good way.

And anyway, Bashir's angst about where his career has landed has been a subplot all season, whether the award he thinks he's too young to win or the sudden awareness that he's actually getting older...But being confronted with an actual specter of his past, the embodiment of the one decision he regrets, having charged with the fullness of youthful abandon at the prospect of the "frontier" instead of taking the most prestigious posting available upon graduation from medical school...This is the guy's lowest moment.  He gets drunk, sings with O'Brien (what's with O'Brien getting all the best singing moments in Star Trek, anyway?), and then...discovers how wrong he's been.  Well, of course.

This right here is the depth of the series, the simple moments somehow writ large, because for Deep Space Nine it really wasn't about the big moments (even though the Dominion War was about as big as you can get in Star Trek), but the small ones, the ones that are all about, and only about, its characters, and why they matter, for the fact that they exist and nothing else.  And yet it would be a huge mistake to say this is soap opera material, because soap opera wishes it could be this endearing.  Soap opera lives for shock value.  There's nothing shocking about a father telling his son his writing has a long way to go.  But there's plenty of profundity in it.

Surely the most unlikely classic in a franchise better known for its sci-fi twists...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Unlike anything else you'll see in Star Trek.
  • series - Or this series, really.
  • character - But it's all about what's always important about this series.
  • essential - The characters.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x21 "The Die Is Cast"

rating: ****

the story: A joint Romulan/Cardassian war party enters the Gamma Quadrant as Garak's betrayal continues to sink in.

what it's all about: Where "Sins of the Father" sowed the seeds of a continuing Klingon arc in Next Generation, famously, the exact moment Deep Space Nine transitioned from episodic to serialized storytelling, which eventually became its trademark, is far harder to determine.  One might argue the general introduction of Winn in the first season finale, "In the Hands of the Prophets," or the Dominion in the second season finale, "The Jem'Hadar," but the later Dominion War that became the hallmark of the series really owes its greatest debt to the two-part "Improbable Cause"/"The Die Is Cast," in which the Alpha Quadrant actually declares war on the Gamma Quadrant first.  This was an arc that had quite a few claims to a beginning (the most obvious ones would be "Defiant," where we first learn about a secret Cardassian fleet, or "The Wire," in which we learn a little of Garak's mysterious past in a Cardassian espionage ring called the Obsidian Order), but if you really want to pin the origin of the series as it became known, you'd probably want to settle on "The Die Is Cast."

Yes, it continues the story from "Improbable Cause," which concludes with Garak betraying his friends aboard the station and reuniting with his old mentor (and father) Enabran Tain.  Before this (and after) Garak was best known for his incredibly ambiguous presence in the series, in some ways the very heart of a series that came to be defined by its ambiguousness, never comfortable with the much more definite conclusions found in most other corners of Star Trek as a whole.  If Garak was never a main character, he stood at the forefront of a rich cast of supporting characters, who when he did appear always had something worthwhile to do, and never moreso than in "Die Is Cast," the one moment in the series he flirts with being unambiguous, a suitably villainous Cardassian at last.

This is ironic, because this was the season the Cardassians took a turn for the friendly, something that would sit just as uncomfortably as it seems even now, until the fifth season when they joined the Dominion and thereby officially ushered in the war that would encompass the rest of the series.  Only the unabashed heroic reversal of Damar would ever truly and permanently redeem them.

No, Garak was never a hero, but when the sequence that defines this episode finally begins, you begin to see just how unique he really is in Star Trek.  He tortures Odo.  It's horrible.  I mean, torture is always horrible, but until The Passion of the Christ I would never again see anything approaching what Garak does to Odo in this episode.  In some ways, though, it's directly responsible for crystalizing the third season's efforts to bring out the best of the series, and the incredible depths it would explore later.  When we discover the torturer has no taste for his art, that he desperately wants Odo to give him something, anything, so he can stop, because he genuinely does want to stop, we learn that the lie wasn't to his friends, the lie was to himself, and the cost was too great to further pursue.  In the end, like Next Generation's answer to why Picard means so much to Guinan ("Time's Arrow"), it's such an obvious conclusion it still seems impossible: Garak is a good person who was asked once too often to be something else, and it nearly broke him. 

We would see echoes of this conclusion later, but in no greater form than in this episode.  And why is the war the defining element of the series?  For the same reason.  Garak's torture forces Odo to admit, for the first time, that he yearns to return to his people, the Founders, who run the Dominion.  This is itself an act of betrayal, and that's why Odo fights so hard to suppress this desire, and yet it's a pure one despite how others might interpret it, and that's why Garak finds in him a kindred soul, something pure that exists in the midst of something awful, such an inexplicable existence and yet this is a series jam-packed with such individuals, broken lives struggling for redemption (the parallels with Lost are why I found that series so hugely rewarding, too).  People remember the war.  Well, this is where it begins, and everyone's implicated, even Starfleet: it was Starfleet's decision to partner with the Romulans in the acquisition of a cloaking device for the Defiant that emboldened the Romulans in the first place.  This is why the war happens, not because of anything else prior to "Die Is Cast," certainly not the what-if scenario of the season premiere, "The Search," which for everything it helped set up still exhibited safe storytelling, compared to the pipe bomb of this episode, but for the direct provocation everyone all but willed to happen.  For the first and only time in franchise history, war is declared inevitable, a crucible in which truth finally stands revealed. 

This is exactly where you look to see what the whole series was about.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - War! What is it good for?
  • series - Well before the Dominion War itself begins, this is where it began.
  • character - Where we finally find out the truth about Garak.
  • essential - For the torture sequence alone, this is a classic.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Paul Dooley (Tain)
Leland Orser
Ken Marshall (Eddington)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x20 "Improbable Cause"

rating: ****

the story: Garak's shop is destroyed in an explosion, and Odo attempts to learn how it happened.

what it's all about: "Improbable Cause," and its sequel "The Die is Cast," is essentially a continuation of the second season episode "The Wire," the one where the Cardassian tailor Garak finally stands exposed as anything but "plain and simple," as he'd tried to argue in his earlier appearances.  It's also the culmination of a whole series of hints and suggestions about whether or not the audience should really trust him, however jovial and innocuous he may appear, and as such represents the first time Deep Space Nine's serialized storytelling reaches a climax.

We'll confine our thoughts to "Cause" rather than discuss it in conjunction with "Cast," and so that means not just talking about Garak but Odo, who until this episode had begun to hurtle every more deliberately to a fairly narrowly-confined arc concerning his people, the Founders, and Kira, with whom he would eventually form a romantic relationship.  Yet he remains constable aboard the station, too, and as such is responsible for law (toward which he is ambivalent, unless it's his law) and order (which he holds as a kind of religion).  Usually that means butting heads with Quark, but "Cause" (and especially "Cast") finds Odo matching wits with perhaps his ultimate opponent Garak.  For all his love of order, Odo is actually once of the biggest proponents of ambiguity in a whole series of ambiguous characters and situations, none of which really match the mercurial Garak, who by the end of the series remains as decidedly invested in his own particular interests, whatever they may be, as he ever was.

So to see these two forces of nature finally collide is to witness one of the great events of the series take place, another decided feather in the cap of the ambitious third season overhaul that saw a dramatic leap into Deep Space Nine's full potential.

And it seems so simple, and because it seems so simple, of course it involves Garak, who along with all his other attributes is also his biggest enemy, a man of infinite self-loathing and -sabotage.  Fans typically associate "The Wire" as his greatest appearance, but really it's the one-two punch of "Cause" and "Cast."  Bashir was always far too trusting (if not to say gullible, as we'd learn definitively in his most ambiguous tales, featuring Section 31, later in the series, none of which, strangely, involving Garak) to provide the effect the one great Cardassian in the whole franchise worth rooting for needed so much to blossom.  So again, enter: Odo.

Odo's investigations tended to produce great material, besides, with the previous season's "Necessary Evil" providing the best standalone example.  The security chiefs in other Star Treks never really got to have this level of fun.  As such, that's another level of how well and how completely this particular series in the franchise worked.  Because there were so many such elements, it's far too easy to gloss over them.  And yet when another series hits one note relentlessly, however brilliantly, you can see the extent to which one-note storytelling resonates.  In that regard, you can probably see one of the many reasons Arthur Conan Doyle wanted so desperately to end the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  I'm not saying Odo is Sherlock Holmes, or that "Cause" can be mistaken for a truly great mystery, but for its relentless focus on known characters, known characteristics, its resonance works on a different level entirely.

All of which makes the end of the episode more of a punch to the gut...But more on that later.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One of the great mysteries of all Star Trek reaches a climax.
  • series - A sequel to an earlier episode without really having to make it obvious.
  • character - A portrait in full of Garak, and Odo.
  • essential - A hugely underrated moment in the series.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Paul Dooley (Tain)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x19 "Through the Looking Glass"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko is brought to the Mirror Universe to confront the most unlikely foe: his dead wife's doppelganger.

what it's all about: What's even more unlikely than Deep Space Nine producing one classic sequel to the original series classic "Mirror, Mirror" (last season's "Crossover")?  Producing a second.  (And, also, a third: next season's "Shattered Mirror," completing arguably the best trilogy of the whole franchise.)

You really only need to look at the story summary, a truly genius move that few other shows would even consider as a possibility.  What's most brilliant about it is that the actress whose minor appearance as the late Jennifer Sisko in "Emissary," the first episode of the series, returns, for a far more substantial role.  It's a gamble that absolutely pays off.  Even if you don't think the actress nails it, Avery Brooks does.  It's one of the key performances in a season full of them, a season that redefined Sisko as the true lynchpin of the series, after a few seasons in which that was never a certainty.  It happened with Picard, too, but Sisko's accomplishment is the greater for having so much demanded of him in one season and every time proving to be up to the challenge, as if all of Picard's best moments were in the third season.  (I mean, there's still "Pale Moonlight" and "Far Beyond the Stars" in the sixth season, but it's still incredibly hard to stack anything up against Sisko's appearances this season.)

"Looking Glass" at last tackles the elephant in the room, which two previous seasons had danced so badly around, Sisko's devastating loss, the central element of the very first episode, for him.  Seeing it finally revisited, and brilliantly, was a moment that really had to happen, but the way it happened is the genius of the episode, in another trip to the Mirror Universe, the signature alternate reality of the franchise (revisited several other times in the series besides, plus the two-part Enterprise entry "In a Mirror, Darkly").

The third season scored so well with Sisko because it constantly put him in discombobulating situations, and each time he proved worthy to the task.  The Mirror Sisko we met in "Crossover" was about as far from the Sisko we knew then, and later, as you could get, so to see that character reverse-engineered, not even to talk about the Jennifer element, is to see exactly how Sisko goes about making decisions.  That's probably the best way to view the episode if you don't particularly care for the greater implications, which is what you should be able to say about classics, whether they can work on multiple levels, and how much they challenge the viewer.  Anyone who thinks this might just be a Mirror Universe rehash will have to admit that it adds significant new wrinkles to the formula.

But the Jennifer element is definitely good enough to warrant classic status all on its own.  Everyone in the episode clearly enjoys the possibilities given them.  This one is really hard not to love.  If none of what I've already said sells it for you, just think of this: "Looking Glass" also sneaks in the craftiest interseries character appearance ever, with Voyager's Tim Russ appearing as Mirror Tuvok, with no one really drawing attention to it.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Another fruitful trip to the Mirror Universe.
  • series - Another in a fruitful series of Deep Space Nine trips there.
  • character - Sisko comes face-to-face with the specter of his dead wife.
  • essential - Too darn good to ignore.
notable guest-stars:
Felecia M. Bell (Mirror Jennifer Sisko)
Tim Russ (Mirror Tuvok)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Dennis Madalone

Monday, December 5, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x18 "Distant Voices"

rating: *

the story: Bashir is attacked, and then finds himself aging rapidly.

what it's all about: One of the most famous Star Trek tropes is a character aging (or de-aging) rapidly, which began all the way in the original series episode "The Deadly Years," and can be found in every TV incarnation, sometimes with the variant of simply seeing a main character in an aged state.  Most of the time this involves atypically horrible prosthetics that are not the least convincing.  "Distant Voices," unfortunately, continues that trend, too.

What's worse is that it nearly undermines a character who had really started to come into his own, Bashir suddenly seeming a lot more mature than when we first met him.  This is a whole episode that deals with the same issues as a number of vital B-stories elsewhere in the season, but in a metaphorical sense, having a birthday and feeling the years creeping upward.  The worst thing about it is that it exposes the limits of an otherwise impeccable actor, Alexander Siddig, especially by the time Bashir is an enfeebled old man; Siddig doesn't seem to have figured out what to do other than stammer a lot more.  No one wants to tell an actor that it's not enough to convincingly portray the physical aspects of such a state but also to come up with a voice to match it.  In the classic episode "The Visitor," Tony Todd plays an equally aged character with considerably more grace.  That's just the next season, Sid.

But if that sort of thing doesn't bother you, the story does sort of preview a far better episode later in the season, "Facets," in which Dax's previous hosts are embodied by the main characters so Jadzia can meet them.  I don't mean to spoil "Distant Voices" for you, but everything ends up being inside of Bashir's head.  That's actually the best part of the episode.

This is one of those episodes that could just as easily have occurred in the first season, when random sci-fi plots happened all the time, rather than in the third, when the series had really come into its own.  You'll be happy to know it's also the last time this season such an episode occurs.  The rest of it matches or exceeds the average quality that would come to define Deep Space Nine as a whole.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - General Trek fans will probably get a kick out of it.
  • series - But more specified ones probably won't.
  • character - I'm convinced it's not a good Bashir episode.
  • essential - I don't think anyone would argue that this is a great one by any means.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson

Friday, December 2, 2016

Star Trek Discovery: Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp

After the announcement of Michelle Yeoh joining the cast of the forthcoming Star Trek: Discovery TV series, I was wondering how famous the rest of the cast might turn out to be, whether they'd be recognizable (like Yeoh) or obscure.  Given how most Star Trek casts have been assembled, I expected additional names to be lean toward the obscure, but the next two have been named, and they're recognizable.  You can read a more complete write-up, including details about the characters they'll be playing, here.  But here's some quick info on where you might've seen Doug Jones and Anthony Rapp before:

Doug Jones
  • Hellboy (2004) His breakout role was as the aquatic Abe Sapien, who was otherwise voiced by David Hyde Pierce.
  • Pan's Labyrinth (2006) He worked with Guillermo del Toro as the standout Pale Man.
  • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) He performed the role of the Silver Surfer, which was otherwise voiced by Laurence Fishburne.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) Reprised his performance as Abe, plus appeared as a few other characters.
  • John Dies at the End (2012) Oh, um, spoiler alert...
  • The Neighbors (2012-2013) Sitcom about aliens.
  • Falling Skies (2013-2015) TV show about an alien invasion.
  • The Strain (2014-2016) TV show based on a concept by del Toro.
Anthony Rapp
  • Rent (2005) With Rapp I'm going to summarize his career with his lead role in this breakthrough musical about the emerging new mainstream, which he originated in the Broadway debut and reprised in the later movie adaptation (starring opposite Rosario Dawson in that version; how awesome would it be to see her stop by Star Trek?).  He'll be making franchise history as the first openly gay character conceived as gay (remember the retrofitting of Sulu in this past summer's Star Trek Beyond), and he's got the history to prove he'll be taken seriously for it.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Star Trek Discovery: Michelle Yeoh

If you're anything like me, once an actor is cast in Star Trek the rest of their career becomes more interesting, so it becomes a fun little game catching up with what they've done previously.  Arguably Michelle Yeoh, recently the first-announced cast member of the forthcoming Star Trek Discovery TV series, is the most famous ongoing actor to appear in the franchise.  There have been plenty who had a certain profile prior to their casting, such as LeVar Burton's turn in the rating juggernaut Roots, but Yeoh has been appearing in blockbuster movies for years.  Here's a primer full of her highlights:

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) Her breakout Hollywood role was in Pierce Brosnan's second James Bond flick.  Yeoh was cast as Bond's counterpart, not as a Bond Girl, making her unique in that franchise's history.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Yeoh's next big role was in this callback to classic martial arts cinema.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) You can see at this point that she'd become a staple in Hollywood's efforts at bringing the Asian experience to a global audience.

Sunshine (2007) Yeoh's first taste of sci-fi was Danny Boyle's mindtrip, which finally took her out of the hole Hollywood had pegged for her.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) Her next foray into franchises saw Yeoh both return to Hollywood's image of her as well as expand the Mummy's scope past Egypt for the first time.

Babylon A.D. (2008) This second sci-fi experience saw Yeoh in a more conventional experience than the last one and will probably be one of the more fun experiences her new Star Trek fans will have with her career.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) Yeoh back in her typecast, but this time animated!  Also, technically her third franchise experience, making Star Trek Yeoh's fourth, if not for...

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny  (2016) Yeah, there was a sequel!

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016) And so yeah, Yeoh has done plenty of franchises. 

So far we know Yeoh will be a captain in Discovery, so she won't be the lead character, unless something has changed, because Number One is not a captain.  Even if she's not the lead, though, Yeoh will obviously be leading the cast.  It would be surprising if the series filled up on name actors, which would be even more atypical for the franchise.  But, can we hope for guest performances from her past famous co-stars?  Just imagine Vin Diesel in Star Trek!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x17 "Visionary"

rating: **

the story: O'Brien keeps jumping into the future, where things are spiraling wildly out of control for the whole station.

what it's all about: "Visionary" is an episode that is so fun it almost doesn't matter that it could have happened in any series, which is usually a knock against Deep Space Nine trying stuff like that, but here is anything but.

The crux of it is the classic template of let's-torture-O'Brien!, a reliable source of material if there ever was one.  Let's just get that out of the way.  If anyone can sell material like this, it's O'Brien, who gets to enjoy yet another scenario that's so entirely bonkers only science fiction can get away with it.  By the time he starts putting two and two together, seeing his own future self, replacing himself, the fun just explains itself.

The rest of it is vaguely centered on series elements, like the Romulans complaining about Starfleet not living up to its end of the bargain (I may not have previously mentioned that the station's new warship, the Defiant, comes equipped with a cloaking device on loan from them), but it's really just an excuse to let loose all manner of mayhem, including more Klingons than you can shake a stick at (although the Romulans certainly try).  This was before the Klingons were really an intrinsic part of the series, so it does come off as fairly random to involve them here.

But don't worry about such things!  Just run with it!  Because it's a pretty fun episode, and that's all you really need to know.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Stands proudly in the tradition of fun sci-fi storytelling in Star Trek.
  • series - Inessential to Deep Space Nine, however.
  • character - Although it's prime O'Brien material.
  • essential - Keep calm and just watch it already.
notable guest-stars:
Jack Shearer
Dennis Madalone

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x16 "Prophet Motive"

rating: ***

the story: Quark is horrified when Grand Nagus Zek totally overhauls the all-important Rules of Acquisition against every known Ferengi principal.

what it's all about: This is one of the finest examples of a "Ferengi episode" you'll find, as well as one of the best appearances by Wallace Shawn as the mercurial Zek.  Shawn's legacy will always be found in Princess Bride, but his Zek was more or less the Deep Space Nine equivalent of Q, an oddball recurring character who more or less made one appearance a season throughout the whole series.  What works so well this time is that his part is minimal, completely dominated by Quark's outrage at his every decision.  An outraged Quark is a very fun Quark to watch.

"Ferengi episodes" eventually became derided by fans as counter to the dark tone of the series and thus irrelevant, but they were also essential to the series, a constant reminder that things are as complicated as they seem, but in ways that could have a far greater variance in tone than fans tended to admit.  In a lot of ways, "Prophet Motive" is the "Trouble with Tribbles" of Deep Space Nine, though I wonder how much general appeal it has, because it speaks so directly to a peculiarly Deep Space Nine element: the rules by which Ferengi govern themselves, a trademark of the series, something that was always being quoted (and eventually compiled for an actual book).

"Prophet Motive" is also the first time the series hints that Ferengi society is bound for a drastic overhaul, and yes, it will center around Zek.  As Grand Nagus he's supposed to represent the perfect Ferengi, but the more we see him, the less true this becomes, especially when he at last meets Quark's mom (whom we'll meet late in the season, in the only possible purely "Ferengi episode" that could top this one in the third season).

What's interesting about the episode is that it ties the Ferengi in with the Prophets (as the title suggests), the wormhole aliens who serve as the often-unseen center of the series, noncorporeal entities who periodically visit Sisko to let him know how things are going (basically).  It's a little odd seeing someone else visit with them, let alone Quark, but the Ferengi actually took the most active early interest in the Gamma Quadrant, thanks to Zek, traveling through that other signature element of the series, the wormhole that's technically the reason anything important happens at the station.

The B-story revolves around Bashir, once again showing how far he's come, now suddenly pessimistic about his career, having been nominated for what amounts to a career achievement award and not convinced in the slightest that he has a chance to win.  But no one else believes that, which becomes quite amusing, a signature look at how life aboard the station operates differently from a starship.

It's a pretty fun episode all around.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Another episode general fans don't necessarily need to worry about.
  • series - Although it spotlights Deep Space Nine at its most dynamic.
  • character - Works for Quark, Zek, and Bashir!
  • essential - It's one of those episodes ideal to sample if you want to see how interesting the series really is.
notable guest-stars:
Wallace Shawn (Zek)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Tiny Ron (Maihar'du)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x15 "Destiny"

rating: ***

the story: A Bajoran religious leader tries to convince Sisko that an ancient prophecy is about to be fulfilled.

what it's all about: Unlike "Life Support" a few episodes earlier, "Destiny" strikes a fine balance in its exploration of continued Bajoran/Cardassian relations, mostly because there the Bajoran element centers around Sisko while the Cardassian element features O'Brien or further inter-Cardassian intrigue. 

The intrigue is the lighted material, actually, so let's treat that first: Like a lot of spy-based storytelling in the franchise, and with the considerable ramp-up of Cardassian spy storytelling this season, there's plenty of suspicion cast about, but where "Destiny" earns points is by refusing the harsher tones typical for these scenarios.

So let's move on to juicier stuff.  There are a number of Cardassian scientists running amok in the episode, which in and of itself is a nice change of pace (like Next Generation's "Suspicions," which featured a Ferengi scientist; you just don't tend to think of these aliens in such roles).  The whole third season had a thread woven through it trying to soften the image of the Cardassians, and other than the increased profile of Dukat, "Destiny" best represents that thread.  O'Brien develops an unlikely rapport with one of the scientists, leading to an amusing clash of cultures when he becomes convinced she has the hots for him.  For a character like O'Brien, who in Next Generation's "The Wounded" was given a background of animosity against Cardassians from war-time experience, this is a welcome light treatment of the kind of depth the series was known for.

But the meat and crux of the episode belongs to Sisko, who's given one of his rare opportunities to stare that vexing declaration from the first episode - he's the "Emissary of the Prophets" - in the face.  An overzealous Bajoran badgers him throughout the episode concerning what he should be doing, which is tough enough for a Starfleet officer, I'm sure, but moreso when you're a Starfleet officer who's been deemed a religious figure and you still haven't figured out what that even means.  This was an element of the character that had never really gelled before, but "Destiny" goes a long way in explaining it, and how it continues to affect Sisko, without asking anything more from him, this time, than grappling with its religious overtones.  But the big payoff, which is rare for material like this, is at the very end of the episode, when the Bajoran, having realized he was wrong, proceeds to rattle off more prophecies...Deep Space Nine was surprisingly good for tossed-off punchlines like that, very much in the spirit of how the original series would conclude on some jab between Bones and Spock.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This one's really for series fans.
  • series - An amusing look at ongoing concerns.
  • character - Sisko's enigmatic religious significance returns to the spotlight.
  • essential - This is an early look at the more lighthearted side of the series.
notable guest-stars:
Erick Avari
Tracy Scoggins

Friday, November 25, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x14 "Heart of Stone"

rating: ***

the story: Odo and Kira are forced into a peculiar dilemma, while Nog decides he wants to join Starfleet.

what it's all about: Part of me wants to downplay "Heart of Stone," because so much of it is kind of frustrating to watch, but another part of me wants to trumpet how significant it all is, and that it's worth whatever hassle it might otherwise represent.

The trouble spots all occur in the Odo/Kira scenes, which after a while become tedious: Kira becomes trapped in one of the Planet Hell cave sets, literally stuck in stone, and Odo must desperately find a way to free her.  It becomes more all the more bizarre, because the stone grows around her

This is another instance where the B-story really should have been the lead story, something that was no doubt increasingly difficult to decide in a series where multiple stories increasingly became the norm, a truly serialized nature that to that point was unprecedented in franchise lore.  The B-story is recurring character Nog's equally desperate attempts to convince anyone that he's serious about joining Starfleet, that it isn't just another of the kinds of jokes he used to bring to B-stories all the time.  No doubt this decision to relegate him to the B-story, despite the fact that his plight had far more interesting material to explore, was motivated by the fact that he was a recurring character.  When Garak received a whole episode to himself in "The Wire," the producers probably let it slide because a series regular, Bashir, was every bit as essential (to a certain extent) as he was to its plot.  Nog kind of ping-pongs through most of the rest of the cast.  He wouldn't be trusted to truly carry an episode until the final season ("It's Only a Paper Moon"), at which point those producers were probably kicking themselves.

When the Odo/Kira lead story reaches its climax, it ends up being nicely justified, although in an odd way.  It was nice to force them into an isolated experience, but the ending reveals that they were never free to truly express themselves to each other, because one of them wasn't really them at all, but the Female Shapeshifter merely pretending to be Kira.  But it's at least a story that acknowledges what had really only been teased and hinted at previously, that Odo is desperately in love with Kira.

Would this have been better to simply cut to the chase and have Odo talking with the Female Shapeshifter directly all along?  Again, I think it was the producers not yet willing to trust themselves, because after all this was what they'd already done at the beginning of the season in "The Search," and so they were probably afraid of duplicating their own efforts.  Wasn't the Female Shapeshifter merely checking up on Odo?  Well, no.  This was her finding out, along with the rest of us, the source of Odo's internal conflict, why he would reject the long-wished-for prospect of returning to his people in exchange for a continued life of inexplicable exile among people who generally fear him and what makes him different.

It's an odd episode, then, but another crucial one.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This one's for fans of the series, folks.
  • series - It helps demonstrate what sets Deep Space Nine apart.
  • character - By going deeper with these characters than had been done previously.
  • essential - It's a crucial one, really.
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Salome Jens (Female Shapeshifter)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x13 "Life Support"

rating: ***

the story: Bashir agonizes over the need to preserve Bareil's life at the expense of his soul.

what it's all about: This is one of the best episodes of the series and yet it's also not particularly necessary to the series, almost a deepened version of the first season random death of Kai Opaka in "Battle Lines."  But it's also a powerful answer to one of Next Generation's most troubling episodes, "Ethics."  Is that intriguing enough for you?  So let me explain.

They key to any character can sometimes be summed up by their occupation, and doctors in Star Trek are thusly strongly geared toward medical dilemmas (Phlox features perhaps the best, and yes most controversial, one in Enterprise's "Similitude").  "Ethics" was a rare episode where a guest character was doing all the heroics, but Dr. Crusher wondered if it wasn't at the expense of morality.  Usually in this franchise, it's the main characters who're inexplicably capable of solving any crisis, sometimes debating internally the implications of their actions (this would be a more or less accurate summary of the entire original series), so half of what made "Ethics" so impactful was that this standard was completely subverted.  I mean, it's another Star Trek standard for its main characters to question the implications of other people's actions, so that in itself wasn't really the crux of "Ethics," so much the fact that this was a case of those actions clearly leading to a beneficial outcome, but still being capable of being wrong.  It was one of the first steps to broadening the scope of Star Trek storytelling, which Deep Space Nine was by definition committed to exploring in full.

So "Life Support" was an episode that needed to happen (alas, poor Bareil!), whether or not it had anything to do with the course of the series itself.  I mean, the death of Bareil was one step in making the budding romance between Odo and Kira possible, and the portrayal of Kai Winn's cold logic was key in her development, but at this point, with Bajoran/Cardassian relations taking a backseat to the emerging threat of the Dominion, it was almost beside the point.  That the negotiations Winn needs Bareil so badly to keep going are not themselves the lead story is telling.  If this had been a second season episode, say, they would have been

But the whole point is to present Bashir with a medical dilemma so awful, even he backs away from it eventually.  This was in effect the death of Bashir's innocence, an arc in and of itself throughout the season.  He began the series a hopeful and painfully na├»ve young doctor, the most eager new resident of the station by far, who helped mire the first season in a tone that was later difficult to reconcile with what would follow.  When asked to replace one and then another and then another organ of the unfortunate Bareil, he begins to wonder how much he can take away before Bareil is no longer Bareil.  He reaches the point when asked to replace the poor man's brain.  Too late?  Probably.  But that's not the point. 

There are Star Trek fans who think Deep Space Nine is just too dark to like, and perhaps more than any other episode "Life Support" reflects that view, because maybe it is too dark.  Winn's callous disregard of Bareil's life is hard to watch after a while.  Here she truly becomes a villain, a role she'd been flirting with since she debuted at the end of the first season, but one she embraces with seeming relish during the course of the episode, without ever looking back.  She never really regains a sense of the ambiguity that otherwise defines the series around her.  That would probably, more than anything, explain why it's hard to give an episode like this my full support.  Like Bashir, I stand in horror of it.

If there's anything standing in the way of all that, it's the B-story, which features Jake Sisko standing in equal horror of his friend Nog, as if he's just discovered that Nog is a Ferengi.  It's a turning point for them, too.  They'd never be the mischievous friends who were such a defining aspect of the early seasons again.  This is the point where Nog begins to turn his life around, the start of another season arc.  It seems only fitting.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Stands in the great tradition of Star Trek medical dilemmas.
  • series - Seems a little out of step with the rest of the series.
  • character - Still, features strong material for Bashir and Nog.
  • essential - It's a turning point for them, a true defining moment.
notable guest-stars:
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x12 "Past Tense, Part 2"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko and Bashir must figure out how Gabriel Bell originally resolved the historic hostage crisis that helped end the oppressive Sanctuary Districts.

what it's all about: The second part of the story is obviously the resolution, but it also serves to emphasize the significance and impact of "Past Tense" as a whole.  Technically, Gabriel Bell is a character we barely glimpsed last time.  We spend this episode with Sisko posing as Gabriel Bell, and yet for any fan of the series, this becomes an iconic name.  So does B.C., the guy who antagonizes him every step of the way, the guy who makes it so easy to believe all the assumptions that made the Sanctuary Districts possible.  Which is to say, why it's so easy to believe stereotypes, believe whatever you want to believe, the worst of everything, without even needing someone like B.C. to confirm it for you.  He becomes a convenient excuse.  But there's Sisko/Gabriel Bell, fighting that idea tooth and nail, summoning all his great abilities, but mostly his humanity, to end the cycle of oppression we find it so easy to impose on ourselves.  (I write this particular review days after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.  The irony of this is not lost on me.)

If the first part of the story spelled everything out, the second part is about realizing that the first part wasn't kidding around.  The desperation of the hostage crisis, which in and of itself is a fairly common trope in storytelling, is amplified by its context, not merely the desperation of an isolated individual or even criminals, but the fight for positive change.  If this seems like wishful thinking, so be it.  That's Star Trek in a nutshell, which always put forth the theory that the path to radical change involved radical events, such a third world war.  Actually, in a lot of ways "Past Tense" might be viewed as a dramatic retelling of the classic episode "Mirror, Mirror," in which change comes about because someone finally took a moral stance on an immoral situation.  That both happen to feature characters literally ripped away from their own realities and forced into nightmarish scenarios is merely a quirk of fate, like the rest of it.

But "Past Tense" may best be understood as the clearest statement of the third season on the nature of Sisko's leadership, of Sisko himself, who stakes a personal claim on the battles he wishes to win.  In the later Dominion War it became personal because the enemy literally beat at his doorstep.  Here he willingly internalizes someone else's struggle, regardless of the possible consequences to himself.  That goes beyond the impulsive heroics of Kirk, the intellect Picard usually employed, the sheer willpower of Janeway, or fearlessness of Archer.  This is not so say he was better than any of them, but this speaks to why Deep Space Nine came to mean something more to its fans, why it remains a cult within a cult.  It has uncommon courage, both in storytelling and characterization.  It wasn't afraid to make a stand.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The social element, again.
  • series - The characterization.
  • character - Of Sisko, chiefly.
  • essential - It's a classic.
notable guest-stars:
Frank Military (B.C.)
Clint Howard

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x11 "Past Tense, Part 1"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko, Bashir, and Dax end up in early 21st century San Francisco, where they are confronted with the horrors of the Sanctuary Districts.

what it's all about: If it sometimes seems I express the merits of Deep Space Nine with excessive hyperbole, I want you to understand that nothing could be further from the truth with the breakthrough two-part "Past Tense."  This is the "City on the Edge of Forever" of thfranchisee Next Generation era.  It's brilliant, timeless social commentary that's still very much relevant today, when we're still grappling with issues of economic equality, brought home in the most deliberate manner when Sisko must assume the identity of the man who's not only destined to play a huge role in the historic moment everyone realizes change is necessary, but is also destined to die in the effort...

Talk about desperate straits!  Star Trek at its best almost should be preachy.  It's one of the few creative outlets that actively embraces, not merely on an occasional basis, but as a general rule, the need to advocate for a better tomorrow, even the newer movies that tend to be dismissed as generic action vehicles despite being anything but.  But being preachy and actually earning it are two different things.  At its worst, the franchise's efforts could be considered a little on the nose, but "Past Tense" is a deliberate, considerate contemplation on poverty and how easy it can be to dismiss it as a necessary evil of a functioning society. 

This was one of the rare instances where Star Trek visited the present, well almost the present, so that there could be no mistaking because of the way people were dressed that it was addressing the here and now.  The first part of the story is all set-up, of course, and finds its best material as Sisko and Bashir struggle to understand what's happened, and just how significant everything is.  There may be a level of convenience built into the story, but that shouldn't distract you from its impact.

Besides, the fun really begins next episode...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The best tradition of Star Trek's social conscience.
  • series - It's hard to imagine another series doing something quite this deep.
  • character - Fun fact!  Alexander Siddig was originally considered for the role of Sisko.
  • essential - One of the best episodes of the whole franchise.
notable guest-stars:
Frank Military (B.C.)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x10 "Fascination"

rating: ***

the story: Lwaxana Troi's visit unleashes a lot of awkward romantic confessions...

what it's all about: "Fascination" is one of those episodes that could have been a disaster.  If it had been done in the first season, it would have been a disaster.  In fact, it looks almost exactly like a first season episode, except the third season saw such an advanced understanding of the series, this would have been very hard to accomplish.  So while it's something of a farce, "Fascination" also happens to have the distinction of being grounded thoroughly in the lore of Deep Space Nine, with a lot of interesting and fruitful observations to make.

The presence of Lwaxana is itself a notable aspect of the episode, even though it serves in that regard as somewhat trivial compared to the two other episodes of this series she appears in ("The Forsaken" and "The Muse"), she at least helps Odo realize that he has feelings for Kira, which is crucial to the whole series arc for both of them.  For the rest of the episode, Lwaxana is a glorified McGuffin, the magical reason why everyone's acting strangely.

So let's put her aside.  There's also Bareil, the normally stuffy, repressed Bajoran love interest of Kira, who joins everyone else in the complicated tangle mentioned in the story summary above.  But it gets better!  There's Jake Sisko admitting he loves Kira, which is one of the most hilarious things the series ever did, and because this is how complicated things get, Kira's too busy kissing Bashir to really notice (Alexander Siddig and Nana Visitor were married for a time after this; must have been terrible days on set!).  And so on.

But the real meat of the episode, it turns out, is O'Brien and Keiko continuing to hash out the status of their relationship, which was a recurring element of the season.  While everyone else is worried about whether or not they're being honest, these two are agonizing over very real concerns, and it grounds the whole thing nicely.  That and a look at Bajorans celebrating one of their favorite holidays, one of the few times a holiday is celebrated at all in Star Trek lore.

"Fascination" is indeed fascinating.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This one looks like a typical anything goes farce you'll find elsewhere.
  • series - But it's another one perfectly grounded in Deep Space Nine logic.
  • character - Good character work all around, especially for the O'Briens.
  • essential - I'll stop short of calling it a classic, because it points more than it leads.
notable guest-stars:
Majel Roddenberry (Lwaxana Troi)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Hana Hatae (Molly)
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