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 naïve 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)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x9 "Defiant"

rating: ****

the story: Thomas Riker returns and defects to the Maquis.

what it's all about: One of the most unique crossover episodes in all of franchise lore, the transporter duplicate Thomas Riker from Next Generation's "Second Chances" returns, having once and for all decided the course of his own destiny, and it's one of the great Maquis episodes.

The Maquis were created for Voyager, and set up in Next Generation's "Preemptive Strike" and Deep Space Nine's own two-part "The Maquis," from the previous season.  In a lot of ways, "Defiant" is exactly the same story, but improved a thousand-fold, addressing the problem of trying to tell a story like this with an entirely new character, and even restating Dukat's role in it.  This time, as with the rest of the third season, he's so well understood, "Defiant" is as much his episode as Riker's, and even Sisko's.  That it works for them plus Kira, it's an episode that fires on so many cylinders, of course it's a classic.  There's just no question about that.

Much like Next Generation's "Chain of Command Part 2," it's also a peak into Cardassian culture, as the crisis of Riker's hijacking the eponymous ship causes Dukat to miss a crucial birthday celebration.  Dukat musing on how his son will react is a classic moment in and of itself, and it's another moment you see an alien culture becomes fully three-dimensional, a depth that was fast becoming a trademark of the series thanks to material like this.  While Dukat expresses his incredulity over this and other alarming developments (some of which is set-up for later episodes, "Improbable Cause" and "The Die is Cast," which earlier Garak material had also worked toward; this was the true beginning of serialized storytelling in the series), Sisko is witness to all of this, demonstrating his grace under pressure, his command ability, and his willingness to cooperate with anyone.  If you ever wondered how he stacks up with the leads from other Star Treks, this is a good episode to watch.

But this is really Riker's episode, and Kira's.  In his previous appearance, Thomas is merely a reflection of what Will Riker used to be.  "Defiant" finds himself as his own person, with all the complications therein.  While he's once again grappling with the notions of legacy, this time he's taking an active role, making his own decisions, forging his own convictions.  But Kira questions him at every turn.  This is her reflecting on past lives, too.  She knows what this sort of thing looks like, and wonders if Riker is making these decisions out of conviction or desperation.  Which she knows about, too.  She helps guide him into harder decisions, brave ones.

It's a bold episode, completely indicative of the best of Deep Space Nine.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - If this were the Avengers movies, this is a moment you'd really love.
  • series - But as much as it's relevant to the greater franchise, it's also important to the series.
  • character - Focuses on four different characters.
  • essential - Brilliantly.
notable guest-stars:
Jonathan Frakes (Thomas Riker)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Tricia O'Neil

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x8 "Meridian"

rating: *

the story: Dax falls in love with someone on a planet that usually exists in a different plane of existence.

what it's all about: For a season I've always found to be among (if not the) best ones in the history of the franchise, there had to be an episode that just wasn't anywhere near par.  That's not to say "Meridian" is bad, it just seems pointless compared to nearly everything else in the third season.

But on the other hand, more casual fans of Deep Space Nine, which is to say Star Trek fans in general, will probably enjoy it well enough.  It's not a bad romance episode, which happens way too often in the franchise, although Dax's decision to quit Starfleet abruptly to pursue a relationship with someone she just met...stretches credulity no matter how you view it.

But the idea is pretty cool, like the classic musical Brigadoon, which was of course its original inspiration. 

Other than that, the B-story is actually a rare misfire for Quark, involving a seedy patron who calls on him to create a holographic Kira so he can...Yeah, so the tone just seems wrong.  But it at least means Jeffrey Combs makes his Deep Space Nine debut, before appearing later in the recurring roles of Brunt and Weyoun, both of whom are much better characters.

That's about it for this one.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A rare chance for casual Star Trek fans to tune in and not have to worry about anything else.
  • series - Which also means Deep Space Nine fans can probably tune out.
  • character - Not a particularly good spotlight for anyone.
  • essential - Even poor Jeffrey Combs!
notable guest-stars:
Jeffrey Combs
Brett Cullen

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x7 "Civil Defense"

rating: ****

the story: A old Cardassian security program is accidentally triggered, endangering everyone in the station.

what it's all about: I consider this one of my favorite episodes, perhaps a little unreasonably so, much like "Conundrum" from Next Generation, a story that's so ridiculously clever and exceptionally executed, you can overlook the fact that it's a pretty throwaway experience in the grand scheme.  Although in that regard, its singular nature is right in line with classic episodic Star Trek storytelling, just not in the ways fans tend to think about it. 

It's also a kind of reintroduction of Gul Dukat, a character who had made a few appearances in the early seasons, but who hadn't really distinguished himself from other Cardassians who had appeared in Deep Space Nine or Next Generation yet.  "Civil Defense" defines his charismatic arrogance to a "t."  He's such a unique character in franchise lore, almost as if Q were mortal instead of insufferably all-powerful, but not really interested in what other people think about him despite how he can sometimes pretend otherwise.  Q's insatiable need for approval was the secret underlying fact about him, something I bet few fans realize even now, but not just his relationship with Picard, but even the later one with Janeway, betrays this over and over again.  There's no reason at all for Q to care about either of them, except he needs their acceptance, something he never gets from the Q Continuum, for example.  Humanity's ability to look at his meddling with irony intrigues him.

But why am I going on and on about Q in an episode that doesn't even feature him, in a series that featured him once, and failed to establish any such connection as I was just talking about?  Because of Dukat, of course, and the irony of the situation he finds himself in, which takes a "Disaster" (Next Generation) scenario and grounds it thoroughly in series lore, something that by the third season had become a trademark of Deep Space Nine, and in Dukat finds its best material.

Watching the station turn on everyone is fun enough (no, really!), but when Dukat shows up and then realizes he'd actually programmed the defense subroutines to ignore his attempts to disable it, thereby putting him in the same jeopardy as everyone else...It's classic.  It turns a good episode into a great one.  You don't even need to know where the character goes later in the series, his overall significance, to enjoy his role in "Civil Defense."  In a way, it's an allegory for failing to realize the traps we set for ourselves in our limited thinking, which we do all the time.  But even Q frequently got himself into trouble.

But I'll mention "Conundrum" one more time.  Like "Civil Defense" it's all about taking what we normally take for granted, the regular operations of the crew, and throws it into delicious chaos.  Reason enough to love both of them, really.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Harkens back to fond memories of other episodes.
  • series - But embedded directly in its own surrounding material.
  • character - Turns into a terrific character study of Dukat.
  • essential - Manages to introduce him all over again, like the whole season a new starting point.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x6 "The Abandoned"

rating: **

the story: The station inadvertently becomes home to a Jem'Hadar youth.

what it's all about: A bit like the Next Generation classic "I, Borg," "The Abandoned" unexpectedly introduces sympathy for the devil via an innocent.  But the comparisons end there.  Where "I, Borg" was a stark contrast to every other Borg appearance (until Voyager's Seven of Nine, of course), "Abandoned" actually introduces a lot of interesting wrinkles, many of which would be improved upon later, to the concept of the Dominion.

This was still early in the existence of the Dominion in the series, mind you, and so "Abandoned" is also kind of a cheat and/or placeholder until someone decided just how far the story would really go.  Where "I, Borg" felt momentous (even if followed up poorly in the "Descent" two-parter), "Abandoned" in retrospect feels like it doesn't really belong in the greater arc except as a matter of convenience to establish a few basic elements of Dominion lore. 

As the first manifestation of the Dominion, the Jem'Hadar were immediately presented as formidable warriors, the first true rivals to the Klingons for this class in Star Trek lore (this wouldn't go unnoticed later, trust me), but they were also instantly presented as virtually interchangeable, guided in all things either by the Vorta or Founders.  In fact, "Abandoned" begins to establish just how guided, whether by genetic engineering or drug addiction (an interesting social commentary I'm not sure the series ever really did enough with).

But the real benefit of the whole experience is what all this has to do with Odo.  As established in the two-part "Search" season opener, Odo's people are the Founders, and as such anyone from the Dominion has to defer to Odo or risk offending their "gods."  (Deep Space Nine's commentaries on religion, begun with the Bajorans, are thus ratcheted up an impressive degree.)  The rebellious Jem'Hadar youth can only be contained in his violent impulses by Odo, which actually makes this more of an Odo episode than an exploration of the Dominion.

Where it fails is, again, because it exists in a vacuum, because the Jem'Hadar youth really has no useful direction to go at the end of the episode except to disappear and never be seen again (which is actually a shame, and one of the great missed opportunities of a series that had few of them).  Why this happened in the third season rather than the first or second is only because the creators only thought of it then.  Otherwise it's an almost embarrassingly random event that's otherwise not indicative of how Deep Space Nine tended to work.

The perhaps better element of the episode is the B-story, in which Jake begins to exert himself by introducing Sisko to his risqué Bajoran girlfriend, who works at Quark's bar.  It's a hilariously awkward subplot that shows how much better the series had gotten at exploring this unique father-and-son duo, and actually does everything the main story did but, well, better.  A good setup for the later-in-the-season classic "Explorers."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Superficial similarities to "I, Borg" not worth totally acknowledging.
  • series - It does establish some useful things about the Dominion.
  • character - It's a good way to further establish Odo's odd relationship with the Dominion, too.
  • essential - But all of this would be done better later ("Treachery, Faith, and the Great River").
notable guest-stars:
Bumper Robinson

Monday, November 14, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x5 "Second Skin"

rating: ****

the story: Cardassian agents try to convince Bajoran that she's been one of their own all along.

what it's all about: At first blush "Second Skin" probably looks all too similar to Next Generation's "Face of the Enemy," which was itself a classic episode.  But it's got far more in common with that series' "The Defector," and with Deep Space Nine's own "Duet" and "Necessary Evil."  In short, it's another textbook example of things being far more complicated than they seem.

And let's be honest, no one watching this episode will ever think Kira, a Bajoran if there ever was one, is really Cardassian.  So if that's not the point, what is?  To find out why they want her to think so, and the thing is, it's not even about Kira, but about the father of the woman they want her think she is.  Therein lies material for some truly heartbreaking drama.  One of the episodes of Voyager that fans never had a problem getting behind was "Resistance," in which Janeway is befriended by a man who confuses her for his daughter, which becomes achingly poignant by its conclusion.  That's exactly what "Second Skin" is all about.

It's also about how Cardassian culture works.  Cardassians should have been obvious clear-cut villains in this series; their horrid Occupation was the reason the Bajorans were in such a bad place at the start of it, and even in Next Generation had been fairly consistently portrayed as such ("The Wounded" is an exception, as is the ending of "Lower Decks"), and yet throughout this and the fourth season great pains are made in various ways to try and prove otherwise.  This is arguably the most successful such effort.

(It should also be acknowledged that a second season episode, "Second Sight," has an incredibly similar title, as you can see.  But the two stories couldn't be more different.)

Kira was always such an interesting character, and although she was portrayed as the consummate Bajoran (with all due apologies to Ro Laren) she had a remarkable ability to rethink her conclusions, and when I link "Second Skin" with the earlier "Duet" and "Necessary Evil," this is exactly what I mean.  It's sometimes so easy to focus on the things that create gulfs between us, but it takes real courage to admit it's just never quite that simple. 

"Second Skin" also tries to set up doubt about the character of Garak, because later in the season we seem to see that fulfilled.  You should have doubt about that.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A true Star Trek classic study about prejudice.
  • series - A crucial addition to Deep Space Nine's own legacy in that regard.
  • character - So of course it features Kira.  They always seem to, don't they?
  • essential - Don't let any confusion you might have over a similarly-named episode fool you, this one's as memorable as they come.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Lawrence Pressman

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Star Trek vs. Star Wars (2016)

One of the biggest geek debates of the last forty years has been which one is better, Star Trek or Star Wars.  Star Trek came into existence a full decade before Star Wars, but they remain inextricably linked, thanks to the fact that they corner the same market: large-scale sci-fi storytelling.  Now, a few years ago J.J. Abrams seemed to blur the lines between the two when he not only directed the first two reboot Star Trek movies, but the seventh Star Wars entry, too.  Fans cried foul that he made Star Trek too much like Star Wars in his efforts, too action-oriented.

But I never bought it, because there is an essential difference between them that can't be ignored no matter how the story is told: Star Trek inherently believes in the establishment, and Star Wars doubts it.  There you have it, plain and simple.

So let me explain.  Star Trek is embodied by the hopeful vision of a United Federation of Planets, Star Wars by a rebellion against tyranny, which usually takes the shape of a galactic organization much like the Federation.  The Federation is usually represented by Starfleet, another mass-cooperation entity, while the rebellion is usually a loose collection of loners, sometimes represented by either the Jedi as a whole or a single practitioner.  Starfleet's ships are typically headed by strong leaders, but they always come with the full support of their crews.  The Jedi and their allies often clash on basic ideologies. 

Now, these are generalizations, but you get the point.  This year will have seen two movies released that drive home these points.  Star Trek Beyond is all about Kirk's fight against a founding officer of Starfleet who ends up being driven mad by the ideals he's forced to live with.  If this were Star Wars, Krall would be the good guy.  That's just a fact.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story presents the origin of the crack team that helped bring about the destruction of the original Death Star, and everything you need to know about the team is in that title and in fact the first word, rogue. 

The struggle between Star Trek and Star Wars has also been exemplified by the 2016 presidential election, and what it once again helps illustrate: the persistent existence of two distinct segments of the population, one that believes in the system, and the other that constantly opposes it.  Actually, which is which tends to fluctuate, so don't bother trying to identify them, because it really doesn't matter.  Maybe it's a testament to what I've always said about myself as a voter, that I'm an independent, because I like Star Trek and Star Wars.  I sometimes wonder why this great divide exists, but I know that it does, and that's really enough. 

I think that's what makes them both popular, too, that they both exemplify the basic characters of the United States so well.  I mean, everyone knows Star Trek's origins were deeply immersed in the social turmoil of the '60s, but few stop to consider how ingrained Star Wars is in the culture, too, not just the concept but the idea of it, of the need to rebel, that has always existed in American life.  I tried for years to pin down what the analogy behind it was, what George Lucas was reflecting on, but maybe there really isn't any one historic struggle he was thinking of, but all of them.

It's certainly something to keep in mind.  Because there are always at least two ways to view things, and geek culture has been embracing them all along...


Friday, November 11, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x4 "Equilibrium"

rating: **

the story: Jadzia discovers the existence of a hidden, unstable host of the Dax symbiont.

what it's all about: The idea of the joined Trill species originated in Next Generation's "The Host," which surprisingly in retrospect looks more like a bizarre case study in Star Trek intolerance than a preview of a major element of Deep Space Nine, so it's good that Jadzia and later Ezri Dax had so much time to explore the nuances of the concept in greater detail.  "Equilibrium" introduces a major wrinkle in the concept and also gives us a rare glimpse into Trill culture, which aside from Enterprise's Denobulans still stands as the most relatively unexplored aliens of the whole franchise despite plenty of exposure.  It would be like if Star Trek had stuck to Klingons as the enemy.  It sounds kind of inconceivable when put into words.

Granted, as "Equilibrium" makes pretty clear, being chosen to join is a big deal among Trill.  So much so (and this is better explored later in the season with "Facets," by the way) that we meet a renegade recipient who wasn't at all qualified for the honor who nonetheless hosted Dax for a short time, and was subsequently suppressed with the collective Dax memories, until he begins to resurface, unconveniently, for Jadzia.

That's actually how the episode falters.  This is weighty material, but much of it is buried under symbolism (the recurring image of masks) and admittedly catchy music, both of which make the intended bad guy seem a lot more sympathetic than either of his subsequent appearances (in the seventh season, "Field of Fire," plus a ridiculously creepy cameo in "Facets").  I get that this was a complicated subject, and that Deep Space Nine was known for nuance, but it just wasn't very successful this time.

As a soft exploration of Trill life, it's a welcome experience.  But it kind of degenerates into something that could just as easily not featured Trill life at all, even with the fun visit to the symbiont caves at the end of the episode.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This one's weird, it's kind of series specific while at the same time...
  • series - Not particularly adamant about it, either.
  • character - But it's a good one for Dax.
  • essential - And kind of important to the overall Trill portrait presented in the series.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x3 "The House of Quark"

rating: ****

the story: After Quark accidentally kills a Klingon patron at his bar, he is forced to settle matters for the dead warrior's family.

what it's all about: As the MVP, the most consistent presence, the glue of the second season, Quark could hardly have expected to follow that up with something so awesome the next season, but here it is, arguably the best Quark episode to this point in the series.  It's all about those pesky unexpected contrasts that the character was built to represent, not just against Starfleet norms, which of course he had in spades, but against Klingons norms, which are so obvious it almost seems unnecessary to dedicate a whole episode to exploring them.  Yet the results are brilliant.

After "Blood Oath" last season, it hardly seemed likely there'd be much cause for another Klingon episode in this series (the call to introduce Worf into the fourth season hadn't been made yet), and since Next Generation had already done the iconic aliens so well it probably seemed downright unnecessary.  And yet, "House of Quark" stands right up there with the best of Next Generation's efforts as one of the best Klingon episodes ever, one that revisits the matter of honor and rival clans previously mined in "Sins of the Father" in such a unique way that it hardly seems possible to work so well, especially since even fans of Deep Space Nine still tended to groan about "Ferengi episodes."  Which not only does a disservice both to one of the best continuing threads of the series, but the incredibly rich and diverse storytelling it represented, a direct reflection of the series itself.

All of which means, "House of Quark" is a lot of fun.  Seeing Quark get into trouble is always fun, because he's one of the cockiest characters in Star Trek and so it's always interesting to see him thrown for a loop.  Yet he recovers brilliantly, and never sacrifices his scruples, and still comes out looking better than he has any right to, coming up with one clever solution after another to the mounting series of complications from the premise roughly outlined above, not the least of which is another unlikely romance, which works better here than in the previous "Profit and Loss," which may in the end have tried too hard to subvert character expectations.  There are no such problems here, and the season is just getting started with Quark!

The B-story involves Keiko's continuing troubles in fitting in at the station.  She was never comfortable with O'Brien's assignment there, feeling every bit as isolated as Sisko did.  It was only fitting, then, that she take Sisko's place, now that the new season had finally helped him feel at home.  This was always a difficult and courageous thing for the series to explore, Keiko's discontent, because there was always the risk of her being dismissed as a nagging shrew, and yet instead just the opposite happens: she ends up joining the proud Deep Space Nine tradition of strong women.  As a character who first appeared in Next Generation, which tended to keep women in supporting, nurturing roles, Keiko's development in Deep Space Nine was a crucial sign that it really was a bold new era for the franchise, and this is yet another thing the third season took great strides at correcting.

(Those looking for parallels with later developments would note the synergy of the two stories, as Quark helps a woman claim head of household, which is something he'll struggle with later when it comes to his mother...)

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Fans of Klingon episodes in general shouldn't miss this one.
  • series - Fans of Ferengi episodes shouldn't, either.
  • character - Nor fans of Quark, nor of Keiko.
  • essential - Just go ahead and watch it already!
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Robert O'Reilly (Gowron)
Mary Kay Adams

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x2 "The Search, Part 2"

rating: ****

the story: Odo learns who and what his people the Founders really are, while Sisko experiences what a Federation/Dominion alliance would look like.

what it's all about: "The Search, Part 2" is part deconstruction (the station crew and mission are dissected piece by piece) and character study (Odo discovers for the first time the true joy of being a shapeshifter), and it works brilliantly. 

As a continuation of its predecessor, the episode is a lot like "The Best of Both Worlds," the iconic Next Generation two-part thriller involving the showdown with the Borg: the second half of the story explores an unexpected way to conclude something sensational.  Part of it might be easy to dismiss in hindsight as a "reset button," because the Federation/Dominion alliance doesn't really happen in anything other than the minds of Sisko and his command crew, but evokes real emotion, the most emotion Sisko has exhibited all series.  It's downright spine-tingling when he unloads on Admiral Nechayev on his feelings about what's been happening, a stark contrast to the vaguely unsettling tension he showed toward Picard in the first episode of the series, "Emissary." 

It's worth noting that for as many appearances as she made across Deep Space Nine and Next Generation, Nechayev never has a better showing than in "The Search, Part 2."  She was always a proud member of the Bad Admirals club, which Deep Space Nine would finally break with Admiral Ross later in the series, but this whole scenario is a perfect representation of the compromised, almost political nature of the rank, and why it so often produced this type of character.  It doesn't hurt that Natalija Nogulich always seemed so deliciously pleased with herself playing Nechayev, which itself kind of informs the later recurring character of Weyoun, and not to mention Dukat.

But the biggest news of the episode is that not only has Odo finally found home, but his people are the bad guys!  He and Kira (and as of this episode they're officially on their way to becoming a romantic couple) have a hard time reconciling his elation with the realities of the situation, but in the end, it is what it is, and the Founders are in fact the leaders of the Dominion, which will put Odo in a lot of compromising situations as the series progresses.

It's almost easy to overlook how important this development is, because it's by far the less sensational, and in fact almost numbingly mundane, half of the episode, but for those keeping score, it's ultimately hard to ignore. 

The whole thing is what the remainder of the series looks like in a nutshell.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This is what it looks like when a story comes together in Star Trek.
  • series - This is what the Dominion in its totality looks like.
  • character - Whether Odo, Kira, Sisko, or even Nechayev, this episode's got them all covered.
  • essential - Do you really need to ask?
notable guest-stars:
Salome Jens (Female Shapeshifter)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Ken Marshall (Eddington)
Natalija Nogulich (Nechayev)
Martha Hackett

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x1 "The Search, Part 1"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko introduces everyone to the Defiant, a powerful new Starfleet warship he's taking into the Gamma Quadrant to confront the Dominion.

what it's all about: What always set Deep Space Nine apart was that it was, well, set aboard a space station.  Did that really change in the third season with the introduction of the Defiant?  Well, no.  Occasionally it would be used to tell more traditional Star Trek stories, but for the most part it remained an extension of the station dynamic.  But it was by its very nature a clear signal that this was a series that wouldn't outright condemn war so much as explore its many facets. 

It was also a kind of redefining of Sisko himself, who proudly announces his role in its development, and that he'll be its commanding officer (he wouldn't gain the rank of captain until the end of the season).  This whole episode begins the third season's strong characterization of Sisko, which was the series' best characterization of him to that point, and arguably from its whole run.  Sisko first appeared as a broken, lost man, and while accepting the space station assignment gave him new purpose, it didn't really fix him.  He and son Jake acknowledge that they've now found themselves a home, in the episode.  Sisko had purpose before, but now he has a reason to live.

But others are less happy about what's been happening.  Odo, for instance.  "The Search, Part 1" is also the first appearance of Michael Eddington, a seemingly minor and yet increasingly significant character in the middle portion of the series.  At first he's important because to Odo it's Starfleet's ultimate rebuke of his role as the lawman of the station.  This was something that bubbled up in the previous two seasons, but comes to a dramatic head with Eddington.  Odo doesn't particularly care about Eddington himself (he ends up working alongside him just fine) so much as the fact that once again he's being forced to confront his status as the unwanted "other."  Which leads him, unexpectedly, not only to resign but show up to take part in the expedition, because he once and for all is convinced that his origins, another long-teased development, really do lie in the Gamma Quadrant.

By the end of the episode, the mission has turned into a disaster, but Odo has discovered exactly what he sought: the Founders, and the forever-unnamed Female Shapeshifter who is destined to change the course of his life forever...

Unlike how the previous season began, with that historic three-part episode that ran out of steam and authentic developments well before its conclusion, "The Search" packs a strong one-two punch, with a strong beginning (here) and conclusion (next episode).  Both halves are distinct in and of themselves, although of course inextricably linked.  They both focus on Sisko and Odo, besides, setting them up one moment and knocking them down the next, to remarkable effect.  What was previously reserved for strong episodes was now beginning to settle on strong characterization.

Given how big the Dominion story ultimately became, it might be tempting to dismiss how it began and increasingly irrelevant.  But that would be a mistake.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Seldom has storytelling been this forceful and assured in Star Trek.
  • series - Iconic elements are falling into place at last.
  • character - Sisko and Odo are front and center.
  • essential - And having some of their best-ever material.
notable guest-stars:
Salome Jens (Female Shapeshifter)
Ken Marshall (Eddington)
John Fleck
Martha Hackett

Monday, November 7, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x26 "The Jem'Hadar"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko takes his son, Quark, and Nog on a trip to the Gamma Quadrant, and they end up regretting it considerably, thanks to the formal introduction of the Dominion.

what it's all about: It's amazing how quickly the series ended up finding out what it was finally going to be like moving forward, after a lot of false starts and formative material that never quite seemed to lived up to potential.  It's highly appropriate that this happens in a Quark episode, MVP of the second season, that also involves Sisko, who as of "The Jem'Hadar" had definitively found his place not only in series lore but for the franchise as well.

Simply put, and this is incredibly easy to say in hindsight, but the Dominion arc ended up defining Deep Space Nine.  Over the course of the next five seasons, tensions rose to all-out war that enveloped the final two seasons of the series.  All that begins with the introductions of not only the eponymous shock troops of the Dominion, but the continually enigmatic (a trademark characteristic of the series) Vorta as well.

Naturally, the Jem'Hadar make the more dramatic debut, ostensibly as the Deep Space Nine answer to the most sensational new threat of its Next Generation predecessor, the Borg.  A Jem'Hadar ship, pointedly, takes out a Starfleet vessel the same class as the Enterprise-D with almost ridiculous (if suicidal) ease.  You'd have to wait until the terrorism of Enterprise's "The Expanse" to see something like that again.

But what exactly the level of threat the Dominion poses would have to wait until later.  Instead, the episode revels in the contrast between Sisko and Quark, who couldn't possibly be greater polar opposites (another series trademark, which Quark also shares with Odo).  Both have an unerring sense of duty, but the ways they exhibit themselves, again, couldn't be more different, so naturally it falls to another generation to help them find common ground.  It's the rare reminder, post-first season, that Jake and Nog still matter in this series, in ways that would push both of them in surprising new directions, which like the other events of this episode begin to come to a head in the following season.

All this might seem insignificant compared to what it leads to, but "Jem'Hadar" is a great reminder that big things start small.  The Gamma Quadrant had existed in series lore since the start, but it wasn't until this episode where it truly begins to matter, after all.

Which, again, is a polar opposite in and of itself, too.  The season began with an ambitious attempt to turn around the Bajoran side of the series premise into something that could truly be reckoned with.  And yet, the season ends with something new that lands with a definite, immediate impact, all in the course of a single episode, which actually teases far more than it reveals.  For fans who think Deep Space Nine worked best in its serialized storytelling, it's a refreshing reminder that one story really can make all the difference.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The Dominion instantly becomes one of the defining villains in all of Star Trek.
  • series - It also instantly becomes a cornerstone of Deep Space Nine.
  • character - All while keeping a tight focus on Sisko and Quark as everyday people.
  • essential - Any of that means this is a classic, folks.
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x25 "Tribunal"

rating: ***

the story: O'Brien is put on trial in a Cardassian courtroom.

what it's all about: There's a rich tradition of trial drama in Star Trek lore, from the two-part "Menagerie" from the original series to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and many other examples from every series (not the least of which being Enterprise's "Judgment," which closely echoes Undiscovered Country).  "Tribunal" is one of the best examples, if for no other reason than the starkness of its presentation, the utter helplessness of O'Brien's predicament and the ruthlessness of its presentation of Cardassian culture, which after more than a few episodes in the second season might have begun to seem a little too soft for a species with such a nasty history.

"Tribunal" boils down to Cardassian duplicity, it's true, but it also forces every character who appears, including Odo, who steps in to defend O'Brien, and Keiko, O'Brien's wife, who is justifiably horrified by the whole experience, to step up their game.  It features perhaps the second most successful example of a spy finally exposed at the end of an episode, after Arne Darvin in the classic "Trouble with Tribbles," featuring the rare mustache in Star Trek (hey, it's a pretty notable mustache!).

But in the grand tradition of lets-torture-O'Brien episodes, this one's probably the most literal, and so there's that going for it, too.  At one point he literally has a tooth extracted as part of the processing procedures leading up to his trial.  Overall, a very different kind of episode, both for the series and franchise, a real sense of urgency, which is usually hard to pull off, but then also kind of necessary when Cardassian trials usually declare their verdicts first, and of course O'Brien is announced as guilty!

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Part of a grand Star Trek tradition.
  • series: Readjusts Cardassians into a less friendly light, which at this point was necessary.
  • character - Maybe doesn't say much about O'Brien himself, but when he suffers we all kind of suffer along with him.
  • essential - Still, it doesn't say much of anything new, even if it's all very impactful.
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Richard Poe (Evek)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x24 "The Collaborator"

rating: ***

the story: Kira finds herself caught in the middle of Bajoran politics.

what it's all about: "The Collaborator" is basically the Bajoran edition of the Cardassian-centric "Duet" from the first season, Deep Space Nine's first acknowledged classic.  "Collaborator" is a huge step forward from the awkwardness of the Bajoran trilogy that opened the season, a sign of the increased maturity the series experienced during the course of the second season.  It definitively closes out the original Bajoran narrative that had been embodied by Kai Opaka in the series premiere, "Emissary," who was eventually supplanted by Vedek Bareil and the eventual Kai Winn, who are engaged in bitter politics throughout "Collaborator."  Actually, the episode may best be summed up as a commentary on the nastiness of election cycles.

It's a very Deep Space Nine story.  Next Generation had a Klingon saga including similar battles, and on a smaller scale, the battles over Worf's personal honor.  But "Collaborator" ratchets up the stakes by pitting two familiar recurring characters against each other, one who had been portrayed as a good guy all long (Bariel) and the other a bad guy (Winn).  Since it's Bajorans, who tend to be about as lively as your average Vulcan, don't expect to be jazzed by the results.  It's cerebral material, and as with the best of Deep Space Nine, explores moral gray areas, so that you're no longer sure whether good guys are so easy to identify.  It's an episode the series desperately needed, not just another Bajoran problem but one that deepened the species and its status as victims of Cardassian oppression for decades.  Suddenly matters aren't quite so simple.

After this one, Winn's role in the series had been solidified, and she finally becomes one of its great characters, villain or otherwise.  That's reason enough to care, right?

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - You don't need to care about the rest of the franchise to like this one.
  • series - A big one for the perennial Bajoran problem.
  • character - It's Winn who wins.
  • essential - By revealing just how delightfully nasty she can really be.
notable guest-stars:
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)
Camille Saviola (Opaka)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x23 "Crossover"

rating: ****

the story: A follow-up to the classic episode "Mirror, Mirror."

what it's all about: This is the level of confidence, and audacity, the second season of Deep Space Nine had introduced to the series.  Well before the prequel nature of Enterprise made it easier to provide follow-ups to previous episodes of the franchise, let alone sequels to episodes of the original series, "Crossover" began a whole tradition in Deep Space Nine, a whole series of episodes set in the so-called Mirror Universe.

What started with "Blood Oath" a few episodes earlier, in which three actors who portrayed Klingons in the original series returned," culminates with "Crossover."  The curious thing about the series, which is a problem that persists today, is that fans question its faithfulness to the Star Trek tradition, because it departs to dramatically in tone.  And yet episodes like this easily evoke not only its fondness for that tradition, but its faithfulness.  In "Mirror, Mirror," Kirk is forced to confront a reality in which the moral decisions he has long taken for granted from those around him are not a given.  Yet, it's him who sets a new standard.  In essence, he's in the same predicament as he's always in.  Yet in "Crossover," it's the Mirror Sisko who makes the difference, despite the presence of Bashir and Kira from the standard reality.  He'd been as corrupt as anyone before they showed up, but he suddenly discovers his moral compass pointed in the right direction because of their influence.  Where we only suspect Mirror Spock has indeed taken Kirk's parting message to heart, "Crossover" is an active demonstration of all that classic Star Trek hope for the future, even if it seems anything but.

It's not so much that "Crossover" provides a follow-up to "Mirror, Mirror," but that it proves things aren't so easy to fix as Kirk could sometimes suggest.  More than a century later, his actions in the Mirror Universe have drastically changed things, but not as he imagined they would.  Humans have become an embattled species.  Sure, the whole thing allows the series to present familiar characters in unfamiliar roles (Kira becomes doubly iconic thanks to this initial appearance of her Intendant counterpart, the most sensational and successful variant, although Odo's one-off take is pretty darn shocking, too), but it's a whole exercise in demonstrating what Deep Space Nine would be like moving forward, what the season had hoped to accomplish all along but hadn't quite managed to nail until the last few episodes.  Basically "Crossover" is a massive tease for the rest of the series, its confidence now unshakeable. 

You can watch "Crossover" on its own, ignore all its follow-ups, and still feel its impact.  If you somehow thought Enterprise's two-part "In a Mirror, Darkly" was the only "Mirror, Mirror" spin-off worth remembering, think again.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Again, it's a sequel to "Mirror, Mirror."
  • series - And yet it's completely relevant to Deep Space Nine itself.
  • character - The debut of Intendant Kira.
  • essential - A classic sequel to a classic.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Dennis Madalone

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x22 "The Wire"

rating: ****

the story: Bashir learns about as much about Garak as anyone will ever truly know.

what it's all about: This episode right here, "The Wire," is Deep Space Nine in a nutshell: it's the first time the series does what only it could in this franchise, which is devote a whole episode exclusively to a recurring character.  It's one thing, like Next Generation's "Ensign Ro," to heavily feature a new character to help set them up, but until the penultimate episode of that series, "Preemptive Strike," Ro never received that kind of treatment again.  Now, by the time "The Wire" first aired, Garak had already made a few appearances, all of them teasing the big mystery of just who and what he really is, a mere "plain and simple" tailor as he suggests, or perhaps a former Cardassian spy, which is what intrigues Bashir so much about him.

The fact that Garak is able to occupy a spot as neither a good nor bad guy in the series for the duration of the series (comes in handy for "In the Pale Moonlight"), is what the series is ultimately all about, the ability to interpret Star Trek past the simplicities it had once and would generally be again (the third season of Enterprise was a big challenge of that, too).  "The Wire," in fact, is what happens when the series realizes what it is, something the second season had been struggling with from the start, trying to do something new but not quite realizing what that something should be.  Well, that something new looks a lot like "The Wire."

Bashir benefits a great deal from his relationship with Garak, of course.  At first a cocksure recent graduate of Starfleet's medical program, he had a lot to learn, and by this point he'd already learned a lot through his emerging friendship with O'Brien, who he at least had serving in Starfleet as a shared experience.  But Garak is that big enigma, the lone Cardassian occupant of the station, a reminder of the past who tries to keep to himself as much as possible, keeping himself busy, having friendly conversations with Bashir, sure, but...What's the truth about him???  This is the episode where we come closest to finding out, in the whole of the series.  It's not just a matter of whether or not he was a spy (he was) but why he stopped being one, and whether it's worth having sympathy for him.

The episode concludes, rightly, that it is worth it.  "Duet" from the first season showed what a "good" Cardassian looked like, one so riddled with guilt about the Bajoran Occupation he was willing to impersonate, like a warped version of "The Conscience of the King" from the original series, a bad guy just so someone would be punished for the atrocities his people had carried out.  But "The Wire" is more subtle.  By the time Garak's secret, not what he used to do but why he's been in so much pain, the sympathy he evokes is earned, is as real as anything this franchise has ever accomplished.

If the series can produce something like this for a recurring character, when it's finally figured itself out, "The Wire" is really saying, just imagine what's in store later in the series.  This one's what it's all about, folks.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - As good as storytelling gets in Star Trek.
  • series - The sheer confidence of the storytelling endlessly enriches Deep Space Nine as a whole.
  • character - This is why everyone loves Garak, and Deep Space Nine recurring characters in general. 
  • essential - Proves this series does characters better than any other Star Trek.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Paul Dooley (Tain)
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