Friday, April 21, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x25 "The Sound of Her Voice"

rating: ****

the story: The crew must keep communications open with a Starfleet captain stranded and in desperate need of help.

what it's all about: If the preceding episode ("Time's Orphan") was a nice if safe sci-fi episode in a series that usually geared itself more toward human stories, "The Sound of Her Voice" manages to be both, and by the time you've seen its ending, I think you'll agree that it's a classic, too.

It's an example of a sci-fi twist that deepens rather than cheapens the impact of the storytelling, what M. Night Shyamalan later made a whole film career around.  No, I won't spoil it here, but speaking of spoilers, it's also the rare chance for Star Trek to allude to future events, in this case the very next episode, "Tears of the Prophets," the season finale in which the circumstances of "Voice" are echoed in bittersweet fashion. 

It's a kind of slice-of-life episode, since part of what the plot enables is the crew talking about their problems, so that on one level it's just an episode about people talking, which would seem boring, but again, once you make it to the end, you'll find it poignant beyond belief. 

I don't mean to dance around what happens in "Voice," but seeing it for yourself is kind of vital to the experience.

So in the meantime, Deep Space Nine gets to do what it does best, which is just spend time with its characters, a luxury Next Generation attempted at various points, to mixed results, and what Voyager and Enterprise subsequently wove into their storytelling as well, so that the characters really mattered and weren't just there to serve the plot.  That is Deep Space Nine's greatest legacy, and in a lot of ways, "Voice" is where you might best see it in action.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A great twist casual fans will love.
  • series - Reflective of what Deep Space Nine was all about, and what it passed on to later series.
  • character - Every member of the cast gets a chance to shine.
  • essential - Just too clever to deny.
notable guest-stars:
Debra Wilson (Captain Cusak)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x24 "Time's Orphan"

rating: **

the story: Molly O'Brien is lost on a planet, but when she's found again it's from ten years in the future, and time hasn't been kind to her...

what it's all about: This is one of those episodes that will probably please casual fans, a time travel plot that's as faithful to the general sci-fi origins of the franchise as you're liable to find in Deep Space Nine.  It's also the only episode of two different series (this one and Next Generation, where she was born) that centers around O'Brien's daughter Molly.

There's not much sense talking about the plot of the episode.  There's Starfleet failing to learn from its past again (shades of Next Generation's "The Offspring," in which Data builds himself a daughter and Starfleet wants to take her from him, where Starfleet apparently has failed to learn from the earlier "The Measure of a Man," which Starfleet still hasn't learned from by the time of Voyager's "Author, Author"), trying to step in where it shouldn't be meddling.

So anyway, it's the Molly O'Brien episode.  Molly was literally born during the course of Next Generation ("Disaster"), and actress Hana Hatae ended up playing the role, aging with the character, straight through the final episode of Deep Space Nine.  Even Naomi Wildman in Voyager was played by a couple young actresses, and artificially aged somewhere along the way, just like Alexander in Next Generation.  Hatae wasn't cast to be an actor, but rather to be adorable, and she kept on being adorable in all her appearances.  But she was too young even by the end to be expected to do much acting, so she was always incidental to any given story (she threw up once, off-camera, on Lwaxana Troi, "Fascination").  Until a gobbledygook plot sci-fi plot, of course.

While the older Molly in "Time's Orphan" isn't asked to do much more acting than Hatae ever did (she's feral, alas), the story is still about her, which is about good enough.  It's kind of the same trick the series played with Morn earlier in the season ("Who Mourns for Morn?"), making the sixth season not just the dawn of the Dominion War, but the season the writers pulled off the impossible.  Twice!

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The standalone nature and sci-fi friendly storytelling here will be ideal for casual fans.
  • series - Has nothing at all to do with the Dominion War.
  • character - The one episode to focus on Molly!
  • essential - It does what it has to, which is about as perfunctory as Deep Space Nine can get.
notable guest-stars:
Hana Hatae (Molly)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x23 "Profit and Lace"

rating: ***

the story: Quark is forced to defend everything he stands against as Ferengi society prepares to undergo a massive revolution.

what it's all about: Well, here we are, the "Ferengi episode" of all "Ferengi episodes."  Frequently cited as the worst episode of the series.  What I can never quite decide is how badly it betrays Star Trek fans to fall horribly below their own standards.  No, not on what makes a good, or bad, episode, but the social standards the franchise always represented.  With twenty years hindsight, the extreme hate for this episode actually kind of represents the most extreme bigotry the fans ever expressed.

For one episode, Quark becomes transgender.  That's perhaps the one-sentence summary I should've used above, and every fan would know instantly what I was talking about, and come up with their own summary of its worth: "Profit and Lace" is a farce.  That's exactly what they've been saying since it originally aired.  I've tried to come up with the reasons why the pejorative term "Ferengi episode" came into being, but it's probably because of "Profit and Lace."

The huge, huge irony is that this is not even the first time in Deep Space Nine featured a Ferengi posing as a member of the opposite sex.  Way back in the second season, "Rules of Acquisition" featured a female struggling to be taken seriously.  It was actually the foundation of the arc Ferengi society would take across the series as a whole, ratcheted up considerably when a different female, Quark and Rom's mother Ishka, took up the struggle in "Family Business" in the third season, the more obvious predecessor to "Lace," which follows the effects of Ishka ending up in a relationship with Grand Nagus Zek, the leader of the Ferengi.  In "Rules," the female poses as a male, and much like the ending of "Lace," it's unwanted sexual advances that end the experiment in discomfort.

"Lace" is about a lot of things, but it's kind of the episode where Quark must really decide how much he wants to struggle against the tide of history.  Tellingly, it begins and ends with him interacting with one of his hired girls at the bar, and how he decides to treat her, which in itself has nothing to do with the few scenes where he's a woman (except from his firsthand experience fighting off unwanted advances).  True, by the end of the series Quark is the one character who seems to be in the same place he was at the beginning of the series, but he's also the one character who had settled into his new life well before the end, when massive change had already rocked the foundations of his world.  As in, this episode.  As in everything that preceded and followed it, but mostly this episode.  Quark stops being such a desperate man after this.  That's really the best characterization of the bartender, previously; he was always so desperate to validate his existence, trying to be the ideal Ferengi when everyone around him kept telling him it was a horribly backward mistake.  If he didn't make the outward advances his brother Rom and his nephew Nog did, Quark still managed to make peace with the universe.

What, you were expecting it to look different?

But getting back to the transgender thing, I still find that shocking.  Of course the scenes of Quark as a female will be hard to take seriously, if you're already predisposed to the idea of the "Ferengi episode."  Quark's basic character, again, remains entirely consistent.  Complaints about this concept stem either from problems with Ferengi in general, or a failure to take the concept of changing one's gender seriously.  It could be one or the other, or both, but I'm inclined to believe the hate is really directed at the gender issue.  I'm fully aware of how complicated this concept is, how it's not any closer to being mainstream now than it was in 1998, when "Lace" originally aired.  Today we see transgender people as visible for the first time ever, but they haven't even begun to approach the level of acceptance of the homosexual community, which still faces its own hurdles.  Star Trek did analogies for years, but didn't begin incorporating gay characters themselves until 2016's Star Trek Beyond

But fans consider "Lace" an abysmal episode, for the scenes of Quark as a female, and for those scenes alone.  They don't seem capable of incorporating those scenes into the rest of the episode, or the rest of the series, for that matter.  And maybe that's a good thing.  Maybe that makes them more powerful.  I don't know.  I just know that it makes the episode more important, for being impossible to ignore, one way or another.  And probably not even what the producers remotely had in mind when they conceived it.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A groundbreaking episode still ahead of its time.
  • series - I'm inclined to knock it here, as it does seem to reiterate previous material.
  • character - Unlocks the course of Quark's development.
  • essential - Became the definition of must-see when fans insisted that it was must-miss, for all the wrong reasons.
notable guest-stars:
Cecily Adams (Ishka)
Wallace Shawn (Zek)
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Tiny Ron (Maihar'du)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x22 "Valiant"

rating: ***

the story: Jake and Nog end up on a ship run entirely by Starfleet cadets...who are on a suicidal mission against the Dominion.

what it's all about: Technically, "Valiant" acts as a kind of sequel to "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" from back in the fourth season, which featured a subplot involving Nog's dealings with the kind of cadets Wesley Crusher experienced in Next Generation's "The First Duty."  And actually, "Valiant" (and its preceding story points) can be seen as a rephrasing of "First Duty" (which Voyager's Tom Paris kind of does as well, but in ways we won't get into here), an episode that spent more time grappling with Wes's complicity in a horrible accident, whereas Nog's acquaintances are more embroiled in misplaced Starfleet zeal, the kind the Dominion helped expose.

But "Valiant" also draws from "Defiant," a third season Deep Space Nine episode in which another rogue Starfleet officer goes on a misguided suicide mission.  The fact that they're both named after a Starfleet ship can't be a coincidence. 

But..."Valiant" might best be considered Deep Space Nine's attempt to justify Voyager to skeptical fans.  Voyager began with a crew devastated by heavy losses in the command structure once the ship was stranded in the Delta Quadrant.  While Janeway was and remained captain during the restructuring, the rest of her crew had to adapt around her, and like the cadets in "Valiant" had to decide if they were to go rogue and follow their own sense of duty or attempt to adhere to Starfleet ideals.  This was about a year before Voyager did its own take on the "alternate Voyager," the two-part "Equinox" (which ironically ended up becoming known for controversy more than its attempt to justify how the series played out).  And of course, this was years before Battlestar Galactica presented a completely different interpretation of the Voyager scenario.

The results in "Valiant" may be difficult to see in this light, because they hinge on an entirely inexperienced and ill-prepared crew, young adults who were not at all ready to assume such responsibility.  It's a Dominion War story, arguably one of the most tragic Deep Space Nine ever attempted, but more than that it's an attempt to prove just what it takes to succeed in Starfleet, and how not everyone has it, and why the lead characters in these series always end up being outliers when we meet other captains who invariably fail to live up to their standards.

It's a story type that goes all the way back to the original series.  Literally every time Kirk encountered another Starfleet captain, they ended up being terrible examples of the rank.  If Kirk occasionally bent the rules, he did it in the best interests of upholding them, rather than outright betraying them.  It seems, in the Star Trek model, good examples are few and far between.

Anyway, this is a Jake and Nog episode, the last Jake and Nog episode of the series.  It forces them to confront all over again where their lives have led them, and how they're not as far apart as they sometimes think they've become (a struggle they've had since the third season).

And in some ways, it also reflects back on the very beginning of the series.  In "Emissary," we see how Sisko was among the few survivors of his ship during the Battle of Wolf 359, the big confrontation with the Borg in Next Generation's two-part "Best of Both Worlds."  Deep Space Nine and Voyager both positioned their lead characters as survivors.  And that continues to be the fate of characters in Deep Space Nine, thanks to experiences like "Valiant."  (This also counts as foreshadowing, I think.)

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Comments on a strong tradition of Star Trek storytelling.
  • series - Reflects past and even future events.
  • character - Last chance to see Jake and Nog do their thing together.
  • essential - I'm not sure either character was ready for a story this big, which is why it's easy to overlook what the episode actually accomplishes (Nog's last spotlight, "It's Only a Paper Moon," however, nails it).
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x21 "The Reckoning"

rating: ****

the story: The first experience of the Prophets squaring off with the Pah-wraiths via their chosen surrogates (but you'll be surprised about who represents them).

what it's all about: So yeah, this is a pretty huge episode.  It's in some ways, exactly what you might expect the final episode of the series to look like, a dramatic showdown between the god-like powers of beings long in the background but only seldom seen, and always (except "The Assignment") at crucial moments. 

I'll compare it to the movie version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which ends in, yes, a dramatic showdown between the forces of good (Dumbledore) and evil (Voldemort).  It's the only time in eight films in which wizards are shown to really cut loose.  This doesn't even happen, properly, in the several duels between Voldemort and Harry himself.  It can't, really, because Harry was never as experienced a wizard as his mentor Dumbledore.

Sisko never will be, during the length of Deep Space Nine, because he never develops his abilities.  Most of the time he's barely interested in his role as Emissary of the Prophets (the wormhole aliens Bajorans worship as gods).  Dukat quickly develops his abilities as Emissary of the Pah-wraiths (the "cast-out" Prophets), which is why their showdown in "What You Leave Behind" (the series finale) seems so lopsided.

So what makes the showdown in "The Reckoning" different?  It's literally a Prophet and a Pah-wraith inhabiting a couple of lowly mortals, so it's really a showdown between them.  The Prophet chooses Kira while the Pah-wraith makes a far more interesting choice: Jake Sisko.  It's like Jake's decision at the start of the season, to remain behind at a Dominion-occupied station, writ large, especially where his father is concerned, who must once more look on helplessly.

Actually, surprisingly, it's Kai Winn, who is usually the least sympathetic character in any episode in which she appears, who gains the most points in all this.  And her role is actually far more foreshadowing than the rest of the events in the episode, as later she'll be held in thrall by Dukat, and once again be forced to make hard decisions, decisions she otherwise finds so easy to avoid.  Here she begs Sisko to stop meddling in affairs he doesn't understand (she doesn't understand them any better, mind you), and then forcibly ends the showdown, unwittingly making things ten times worse (and she herself will learn), because that will mean the showdown between the Emissaries will still have to happen, and no one will be prepared for that one...

What makes this episode so compelling is that it openly explores issues the franchise previously only skirted around, the scope of god-like powers, and what it means to confront them.  Throughout the original series, Kirk kept outsmarting "gods," one after the other, whether mere mortals who had suddenly gained extraordinary powers, or god-like beings themselves.  And obviously there was Q in nearly every other incarnation of Star Trek (including Deep Space Nine), but Q is very much Q, and so is hard to fit in this context.  So "The Reckoning" is a unique adventure, in that we see two god-like beings, locked in immortal combat with each other...This is a series that dares to argue that humans really don't have any adequate answer to such events, and this is the episode where that is most abundantly clear.

It's a big, big moment, the likes of which will probably never be seen again, as they weren't even later in the series itself.  It qualifies as a classic almost on that basis alone.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A bold new look at the "god problem."
  • series - A glimpse of the kind of power that was always in the background.
  • character - This is Kai Winn's biggest moment.
  • essential - Everything that was never done before and will ever be done again, and for good reason, and I do mean good.
notable guest-stars:
Louise Fletcher (Winn)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x20 "His Way"

rating: ****

the story: Holosuite lounge singer Vic Fontaine helps Odo and Kira finally admit that they love each other.

what it's all about: You mean besides the most romantic moment ever in Star Trek?  You mean besides the debut of Vic Fontaine?

Do you need anything else?

Okay.  Fine.  So let's do this.  Nearly six full seasons into its run, Deep Space Nine finally bites the bullet on the worst kept secret of the franchise, that Odo and Kira were destined to be more than just friends.  Took long enough, right?  But it's perfect timing.  The sixth season began the Dominion War, but also the sometimes seemingly impossible task of telling stories within that context that somehow have nothing to do with it.  Perfect time to fall in love, right?  Of course it is.

Bashir creates the unique holographic character Vic Fontaine as a way to help everyone escape the realities of war.  (This ends up being hugely ironic in the seventh season's "It's Only a Paper Moon," believe me.)  But Vic, who was created with full self-awareness, immediately catches on to the obvious, the monkey in the room, when he performs for the gang and watches Kira and Odo, sensing there's something more than what either has thus far been willing to admit.  Vic is such a unique character.  He's a councilor who also helps Star Trek indulge its interest in popular music (which came into being long before the Beastie Boys, thank you very much), no matter the era.  Vic specializes in standards (he was originally meant to be played by Frank Sinatra, Jr., but now it's impossible to think of anyone but James Darren and his effortless cool inhabiting the role), but he's anything but.  He's like the next iteration of Guinan, the guest character who feels like they exist in their own world, but you're more than glad they visit ours, too.

Much of the episode is helping thaw the perennially icy exterior of Odo, which Vic correctly identifies as the thing standing in the way of love.  Kira will never know how he feels, much less be able to share it, until Odo can let loose a little. 

So much so good.  Then Vic pulls the old trick of getting them in the same room at the same time without either knowing it's going to happen and...Disaster!

Then love.  Epic love!  Odo and Kira exchange one of the great verbal jousts in franchise lore, and conclude that the only they really need to do is kiss.  And then they do.  And then they kiss again.  End of episode!  A true romantic catharsis, and an episode for the ages.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Pop music and love.  Knows no boundaries.
  • series - A moment long in coming.
  • character - Odo, Kira, Vic Fontaine!
  • essential - Really, really hard not to love, I think.
notable guest-stars:
James Darren (Vic Fontaine)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x19 "In the Pale Moonlight"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko uses lies and deceit to get the Romulans into the Dominion War.

what it's all about: There's a moment in the third season two-part premiere, "The Search," where Sisko and Garak are talking and they suddenly realize how strange it is, because until then they hadn't really spent any time together.  This was the period where the producers were catching on to the fact that scenes like this could lead to entire episodes.  It's not inconceivable that "In the Pale Moonlight" began to gestate that very moment.

"Moonlight" may in fact be the signature episode of the whole series.  Its story is framed by Sisko recording a personal log in which he struggles with everything he's done.  By the end he decides that he's okay with his decisions, and he deletes the log.  It's an incredibly bold creative statement that's downright unthinkable in any other Star Trek context.  Because his decisions seem to go against every Starfleet principle, and therefore every franchise ideal.  And yet the ends do seem to justify the means.  Without the Romulans, the Federation would likely have lost the war.  Even by the final episode of the series, it's not until the Cardassians defect from the Dominion that the good guys can be assured victory.

Which makes "Moonlight" as integral to the Star Trek meditation on war as anything else the franchise ever did.  The original series was famously conceived during the cultural tumult of the '60s, generally coming up on the same side as the counterculture that thought the Vietnam War was abhorrent.  At the time "Moonlight" originally aired, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were several years in the future, but the same arguments people made against Vietnam were just as relevant then, too.  There had finally come a point where civilization generally seemed to think war was no longer justifiable. 

And yet, "Moonlight" is an episode that justifies war.  Make no mistake about it: this is a story set deep into a war well underway.  It's the Romulans who are asked to fight, not the Federation.  But imagine it's the other way around.  What if it were Sisko needing to convince Starfleet to entire a Romulan war?  The results would be the same, wouldn't they? 

"Moonlight" has long been considered one of the major creative statements of Deep Space Nine, an episode with a lot of cool moments (a Romulan senator creating meme-worthy material when he hisses, "It's a faaake"), and of course Sisko grappling with his conscience, and his getting in bed with Garak, who for the first time since the third season willingly involves himself in morally questionable behavior.  It should be most shocking to watch Garak in this kind of material, as he has otherwise meticulously given himself an ambiguous presence, a past he never really talks about but deeply rooted in the messy affairs of a foreign spy service with a terrible reputation...And he's spent all this time looking like a good guy regardless, even quickly backing off of his decisions in that third season adventure ("Improbable Cause"/"The Die Is Cast"). 

So why should it be so easy to love an episode like this?  And what does that say about fans?  In the end, "Moonlight" isn't anymore an approval of war than the whole of the Dominion War arc itself, but tacit acknowledgment of its infinite complexities, and it's the embodiment of those complexities in its most viral state.  This one's hard to ignore.  It has all the elements necessary to explain in a nutshell what the war was really all about, the study of the human condition that Gene Roddenberry first set out to explore, whether in "The Cage," with Pike's experiences amidst fantastic illusions, or "Where No Man Has Gone Before," where Kirk's best friend turns into a mad god.  Sisko's demons are more terrestrial, more personal.  There are no tricks involved here, just oneself. 

It's Star Trek at its essence.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Tackles the big question at the heart of the whole idea.
  • series - The Dominion War arc boiled down to its core concepts.
  • character - Sisko's finest hour.
  • essential - Arguably the best episode of the series.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Casey Biggs (Damar)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x18 "Inquisition"

rating: ****

the story: Bashir is courted by the rogue Starfleet intelligence agency Section 31.

what it's all about: Dating back to Next Generation's first season, conspiracies have as much cache in Star Trek lore as they do society in general.  That season saw "Coming of Age," where the command staff is interrogated for reasons that become clear in the later "Conspiracy" (pretty obviously titled, right?).  Then there was "The Drumhead," which saw Picard grilled before a tribunal concerning his experience being assimilated into the Borg Collective.  The later "Voyager Conspiracy" (which was a Voyager episode, naturally) was a lighter episode in the tradition.  Deep Space Nine gave us "Whispers," in which we're led to believe there's a conspiracy being woven around O'Brien.

"Inquisition" trumps all of these.  And quite easily, too.  It's an iconic episode almost because of the introduction of Section 31 alone.  I was part of a Star Trek web community for years that was named after the off-the-books organization, and when the original owner of the site walked away, another community eagerly snapped up the URL.  Section 31 showed up in Enterprise and then Star Trek Into Darkness.  It had become a touchstone element of franchise lore.

What makes its introduction so brilliant is that it ties together a lot of previously random and even quite inexplicable series lore relating to the character of Bashir, such as his experiences in "Hippocratic Oath," and the time we learned he'd been replaced by a changeling doppelganger.  This is probably as thorough a character study as any series in this franchise has ever attempted.

But yeah, it boils down to the fascinating Section 31, and Luther Sloan, its signature enigmatic agent, a character who only needed to make a handful of appearances to solidify a huge reputation in Deep Space Nine.  This was one of two hugely successful attempts late in the sixth season, back-to-back, that plumbed the new darker tone established by the onset of the Dominion War.  At this point, it almost wasn't even the war itself that helped redefine the reputation of the series, but the new depth of storytelling it allowed.  The other episode is "In the Pale Moonlight."

"Inquisition" goes out of its way to soften its impact, reminding fans that Bashir was always obsessed with spies (citing his James Bond holosuite programs: "Our Man Bashir").  Left conspicuously absent is Garak (he'll factor brilliantly into "Moonlight"), but it does feel right for the good doctor to finally get a taste of the real stuff he previously only daydreamed about.  It might be called irony.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The introduction of Section 31, thereafter a pivotal piece of the Star Trek landscape.
  • series - Redeems a lot of previously questionable creative choices.
  • character - A deep look at Julian Bashir.
  • essential - Brings everything to a whole new level.
notable guest-stars:
William Sadler (Sloan)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x17 "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night"

rating: *

the story: Kira travels back in time to investigate Dukat's claims about her mother.

what it's all about: It's almost inexplicable, that three of the four episodes in this stretch of the sixth season (this, as well as "Change of Heart" and "One Little Ship") could be so badly miscalculated in what is otherwise one of the most calculated periods in franchise history (only the next season, plus the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise can possibly compare, as well as portions of Voyager's second). 

"Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night" is the last time Deep Space Nine attempts to chase the legacy of one of its own classic episodes, "Necessary Evil" from the second season.  "Evil" was a trip back to the Terok Nor era of the station, when the Cardassians still ruled it, during their Occupation of the Bajoran home world.  "Things Past" from the previous season also made the attempt, but its success was equally muddled.  It's not so much the idea of revisiting the earlier time that's the problem, but the tortured excuses used in both episodes, both of them doubling up, unnecessarily, on the compromised nature of life under Cardassian rule.

It's a good thing, at least, to meet Kira's family, regardless of how it happens.  In that sense "Wrongs" is almost like an update of the classic Animated Series episode "Yesteryear," in which Spock, too, visits his own past (it served as the basis for how the character was depicted in the 2009 movie reboot).  And it's good to see Dukat in his prime, before everything fell apart for him.  A confident Dukat was always the best Dukat.  Even if he was such a villain in his prime (really, the third season, especially "Civil Defense" and "Defiant," features the best Dukat).  It's a problem in that regard, too, especially as we meet up with Dukat again later in the season and he's on a mad quest that will forever seal his destiny, not to mention how we'd last seen him ("Waltz") when he was clearly on his way there.  "Wrongs" really has nothing to do with any of that.  It's almost as if the producers simply thought it was a good idea to remind fans what Dukat was like before he went completely mad, since the six-episode arc that began the season really didn't have definitive Dukat material until his daughter was murdered in front of him.  Seems like a creative oversight clumsily corrected in "Wrongs."  Plus trying to remind people what makes Kira relevant outside of her relationship with Odo, which was about to finally hit its stride with "His Way" three episodes later.

In the end, "Wrongs" and its fellow misfires from this stretch in the middle of the season feel like misguided filler.  At least the season got really good again right after this, and continued bold storytelling for the rest of it, which led to renewed creative juices for the final season that followed.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Really, there's nothing here skeptics can't find done better elsewhere. 
  • series - Needlessly duplicates past storytelling without adding anything new.
  • character - We meet Kira's family, we see Dukat in his "prime."
  • essential - Such a wasted opportunity.  Almost would've been better to scrap the Kira material and focus on the character traits that would ultimately prove Dukat's downfall.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Thomas Kopache

Friday, April 7, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x16 "Change of Heart"

rating: *

the story: Worf must choose between the mission and saving Jadzia's life.

what it's all about: This has always been a difficult episode for me.  I get that it puts a strong focus on a relationship that had become integral to the middle part of the series, but at a steep cost.  It never felt authentic to me, like one of those impossible fiction scenarios superheroes normally get, who normally get to have it both ways.  Well, this being the increasingly grim Deep Space Nine, Worf most certainly does not get it both ways.  He seems to sacrifice his future professional potential because he can't bear to think of losing his wife.

Look, and I had the same thoughts when it originally aired, but the whole thing becomes that much harder to defend in hindsight, because...ten episodes later it becomes a moot point anyway.  I can accept that Terry Farrell forced the producers' hand by the end of the season, deciding she wanted to leave, and they killed off the character to solve her absence, and that none of that had necessarily played out in the writers room at the time "Change of Heart" was first conceived, but...It just seems egregious, thinking about that now.  It doesn't even count as foreshadowing, because the situations that play out here and when she actually dies are nothing alike.  In one, Worf has the chance to save her, in the other ("Tears of the Prophets," the season finale) it's completely random.

So it makes Worf look good and it makes him look bad, forsaking what had previously been a fairly defining characteristic, his overriding sense of duty, which actually got him into trouble far more often.  So to have him finally forsake his duty, you'd really need a story that is itself defensible, not something that relies on backstory.  Yes, we know, from the episode, that they've recently gotten married ("You Are Cordially Invited," nine episodes earlier), and that at least for part of the episode, Worf and Jadzia are still enjoying newlywed bliss.  But it rapidly becomes something else.  It would actually be better if the whole episode, we know she has the potential to die.  Like "In the Pale Moonlight" a few episodes later, it would be better if the whole thing were told from Worf's perspective.  It would've been a completely different Michael Dorn experience.  Too often he seems remote, unapproachable.  His relationships, with Troi (Next Generation) and Jadzia were always calculated as ways of thawing him out a little.  And yet...the Worf in this episode is just as frozen as he ever was.  It gets in the way of the story.

To my mind, it's just not executed very well, and yes, I've had that thought from the very beginning, and I've never changed my mind.  Maybe I just can't stand that Worf has to stand there, at the end, and listen to Sisko warning him about how bad a career move it was, regardless of whether or not it was the right thing to do.  It only further alienates a character who still has only the one link to his second series, the character who was very nearly removed from the board during the episode.  And who will be.  And then we'll actually see where Worf stands.  Because we don't see that in "Heart."  It somewhat ironically lacks heart because of that.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Aside from Voyager's "Thirty Days," has any main character been so thoroughly compromised in the midst of doing the right thing?
  • series - Technically a Dominion War story, but that part is a complete afterthought.
  • character - Here's where you find your reason to consider this episode, whether or not it says something useful about Worf.
  • essential - No, it's not.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x15 "Honor Among Themes"

rating: ***

the story: O'Brien infiltrates the Orion Syndicate.

what it's all about: "Honor Among Thieves" is the episode that allows the season to dive into the new dark shadings of the series introduced by the Dominion War.  The opening six-episode arc itself kept away from such storytelling, and every episode following it made sure to isolate such shadings, or avoid them entirely.  Here they're shown to be systemic, and therefore the first true sign that the war made permanent the general impression that Deep Space Nine takes a more pragmatic approach to the optimistic depiction of the future as originally envisioned by Gene Roddenberry. 

The Orion Syndicate itself has its origins in the original series, an apparent offshoot of the green Orions (typified by the needs-no-introduction Orion Slave Girls) and their seedy interests.  "Thieves" might be considered a precursor to Star Trek: Insurrection, ostensibly a Dominion War story about strange bedfellows, what happens around the edges of such conflicts.  There's a Vorta trying to do what the Dominion had been trying to do before the war, which was sow distrust among its enemies, and on that score "Thieves" also manages neatly to redeem prior storytelling in the series by operating with infinitely more finesse than its predecessors (the entire Klingon arc begun in the fourth season and ended in the fifth in the run-up to the war is illustration enough).

It's also a kind of reclamation of the Maquis, the kind of storytelling both Deep Space Nine and Next Generation had attempted to do, about compromised loyalties, while helping set up Voyager.  At the center of "Thieves" is O'Brien being called on by Starfleet Intelligence (who previously horribly botched a similar gambit with Picard in Next Generation's "Chain of Command"), which means making friends with an unsuspecting mark, whom the good chief ends up befriending, because the guy turns out to be hugely sympathetic, to the point O'Brien ends up feeling rotten for betraying the guy, confessing the truth to him and eventually leading to a personal mission of redemption we see play out in the seventh season's "Prodigal Daughter."

Not only that, but it's basically a prelude to Section 31, as introduced later in the season in "Inquisition," which becomes such a signature creation of Deep Space Nine that it's actually kind of its major legacy, being later featured in the reboot movies (Star Trek Into Darkness) as well in the prequel series Enterprise.  O'Brien's good friend Bashir stars in that one, which only figures.  But it's O'Brien who needs to star in "Thieves," to sell the humanity of it, one of the gentlest Let's-Torture-O'Brien episodes, or perhaps most cruel. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A dark mirror to Star Trek's basic optimism.
  • series - An intriguing look at the Dominion War.
  • character - One of O'Brien's most subtle spotlights.
  • essential - It's such a quiet affair, it almost seems timid, which is kind of why Section 31 seems to loud in comparison.
notable guest-stars:
Nick Tate

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x14 "One Little Ship"

rating: *

the story: Dax, O'Brien, and Bashir find themselves shrunk in the midst of a Jem'Hadar attack.

what it's all about: Now, this is something of a baffling episode.  It's almost as if someone decided it would be a good idea to give casual fans a Dominion War episode.  More committed fans will...only be baffled.

On the one hand, there's some useful continuity stuff in the way the Jem'Hadar are experiencing the Alpha Quadrant and how it affects day-to-day operations for the Dominion.  But it's not a particularly memorable Jem'Hadar episode.  On the other, the obvious gimmick of shrinking a runabout, and by extension a few of the main characters, is a visual trick that's kind of interesting and well within franchise tradition.  It's just...not Deep Space Nine tradition.

It's painfully not Deep Space Nine tradition.  So this is an episode that will always stick out like a sore thumb, and how you feel about it will probably depend on how much you can stomach the central gimmick.  You can sort of get into the spirit of things after a while, but it's like a bad one night stand.  It'll make you feel dirty in the morning.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - If you're really hesitant about the whole Dominion War thing, this one's for you.
  • series - Yeah, it takes the piss out of the heavy drama.  Maybe too much.
  • character - Honestly, no one really benefits from this one, not even the jokers at the end of the episode trying to ape the original series.
  • essential - All but completely skippable.  It's not superfluous or downright bad, but...
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x13 "Far Beyond the Stars"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko experiences the life of a struggling black science fiction writer.

what it's all about: The above description makes "Far Beyond the Stars" sound like Next Generation's "The Inner Light," and to a certain extent it is, but it's perhaps more akin to the classic "The City on the Edge of Forever."  At any rate all three are about on par as far as transcendent Star Trek experiences go.  For me, because of its direct commentary on a real scenario from the past, "Beyond the Stars" resonates further, an evolution of the two-part "Past Tense" from the third season, which postulated a near-future San Francisco with "sanctuary districts" for the poor.  This is the only episode that addresses contemporary racial issues, which obviously haven't gotten much better than when it originally aired some twenty years ago.  It was basically Sisko in a "black lives matter" scenario.

And yes, it gives us a chance to see the cast, and a selection of the familiar guest cast, without makeup or prosthetics, but that's almost beside the point.  "Beyond the Stars" helps the sixth season compete with the third in terms of dynamic spotlights for Sisko.  Along with "Waltz" it's one of his best dramatic turns of the whole series, regardless of whether or not race is considered.  The moment where he breaks down is sometimes cited variously as Avery Brooks' best and worst acting of the series, but either way it epitomizes the scope of the episode and its ambition.  Sisko was even more controlled emotionally than Picard (but far warmer than any Vulcan), so to see him lose control is fascinating, and it's completely justified.

The greater point of the episode, that the experiences he has as a 1950s pulp fiction writer, is actually tied into the Dominion War, and as such doesn't have to be viewed on one level alone, is also part of its brilliance, that it works beautifully on multiple levels, and as such reflects the complexity of the series itself.  Now that the war has been going on for a while, Sisko begins to reflect on all the death mounting up around him, and this is before...

No, sorry, if you don't know what's coming up at the end of the season, I'm not going to spoil it.

Even if you want to view it as a neat trip to an earlier era, the pulp fiction era, before the problems really mount, that's fascinating, too, because that's the root of Star Trek, too, which is its own layer.  As much trouble as Sisko gets into, you're reminded that women had it rough then, too, and you're all the more grateful that Deep Space Nine ushered in a new era for the franchise where strong women were in crucial command positions.  Fans tend to forget that.  If they give Voyager any credit at all, they acknowledge the obvious fact of a woman in the captain's chair.  Kira got there first.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise  - Joins an elite and storied group of Star Trek episodes.
  • series - Reflective of the Dominion War from a unique angle.
  • character - One of Sisko's best episodes.
  • essential - One of Avery Brooks' finest hours.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo
J.G. Hertzler
Jeffrey Combs
Aron Eisenberg
Brock Peters
Penny Johnson

Monday, April 3, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x12 "Who Mourns for Morn?"

rating: **

the story: This is an episode about Morn, but it doesn't actually involve Morn...

what it's all about: Morn is a character only true Deep Space Nine fans will care about, one of those gimmick characters like Wilson (never saw his face in Home Improvement) or Maris (Niles Crane's never-seen but often-referenced ex-wife in Frasier) who are basically an ongoing gag.  Morn was Quark's most famous patron at the bar, a familiar slug-like presence who never spoke but was always drinking.  (His name was an anagram for Norm from Cheers.)  This is the only time he's in the spotlight, so it's the only time I'll list Mark Allen Shepherd, the man behind the impressive husk, in the guest-star credits, even though Morn appears in virtually every episode.

So if Morn isn't in his own episode, what is the story?  Basically, it's Quark's last great escapade, the kind he originally made his name with, making deals with shady characters for quasi-justifiable reasons that are borderline criminal (Odo would remove all the quibbles from the preceding statement). 

It's basically a throwaway episode, a breather after all the Dominion War heaviness, an experience where you don't have to worry about anything, even the apparent death of a supposedly beloved character in Morn (see the title, which riffs on the classical episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?").  Even when Worf and Jadzia were getting married ("You Are Cordially Invited") or Quark was up to trouble with a bunch of other Ferengi ("The Magnificent Ferengi"), or the Mirror Universe randomly resurfaced ("Resurrection"), there was still a sense that these were meaningful stories to the overall course of the series.  This one absolutely isn't, and that's not a bad thing at all.  It's a lark, plain and simple.

The timing of its original broadcast is actually pretty fascinating.  "Mourns for Morn" came after "Waltz," a heavy Sisko episode, which came after "Magnificent Ferengi."  Rather than consider that two silly Ferengi episodes bookend a heavy Sisko episode, I'll next draw your attention to the episode after "Mourns for Morn," which is "Far Beyond the Stars," another heavy Sisko episode.  If anyone could lay claim to being truly the complete opposite of Sisko, it would be Quark.  After "Beyond the Stars" is another relatively lightweight episode, "One Little Ship," which doesn't feature Quark.  No, the irascible bartender's next spotlight is the much-derided "Profit and Lace" near the end of the season.  It should be noted that "Profit and Lace," despite whatever else can be said about it, was not conceived as a throwaway episode. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - If you're not a fan of this series, you can skip this one.
  • series - Even if you are, you can skip if you like.
  • character - It is about Morn, but it's a Quark spotlight.
  • essential - It's fun to watch as a fan of either.
notable guest-stars:
Mark Allen Shepherd (Morn)
Gregory Itzen

Friday, March 31, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery - Rainn Wilson joins the cast as Harry Mudd

You've probably heard that Rainn Wilson, as the title of this post indicates, was recently cast as Harry Mudd in Star Trek: Discovery.  I think this is great news.  Wilson's Dwight Schrute in The Office was an instant classic, arguably as important to the sitcom as Steve Carell's Michael Scott.  The only reason he didn't go on to an equally successful movie career (The Rocker doesn't really count) is because Wilson is much more of a character actor than Carell, and a pretty singular one at that.  Dwight was a once in a lifetime gig. 

Still, Wilson has genre credentials.  He showed up in Charmed as a demon where he got to ham it up.  He was one of the aliens in Galaxy Quest (making this the first official link between Star Trek and its best sendup).  And now he'll be Harry Mudd.

Harry is a Star Trek icon already.  In the days of the original series he was such a standout character he appeared twice and then a third time in the animated series.  At the time he was about as big as anyone outside the main cast could get.  Then the movies happened and Harry Mudd no longer belonged in a world suddenly dominated by the legacy of "Space Seed."  His next reference came extremely obliquely in Star Trek Into Darkness (the otherwise unexplained "Mudd incident"), poorly fleshed out in an IDW prequel comic that was atypical of the quality the company had previously exhibited with the 2009 movie and generally in the rest of its output. 

So to see Harry return in Discovery is a great, great thing, basically resurrecting the character in a modern context.  Wilson's Dwight already demonstrated his ability to be likable and despicable at the same time, which is exactly what Harry Mudd is all about.  Obviously Wilson's Harry can't really be Wilson's Dwight, but that won't really matter. Actually, this bit of casting is the first real "television" feel of Discovery, which otherwise seems to be focused on the cinematic aspect a lot of TV shows have been going for since Enterprise ended in 2005.  This doesn't mean Wilson's Harry will be campy, but if he is, it's not the end of the world.  He guaranteed, if nothing else, to be a fascinating presence, which fits right in with the casting of every other major role.  Like James Frain's Sarek, Harry will be an automatic hook for fans in the later episodes of the first season, in case they hadn't found anything else interesting, another chance for a first impression.  I love that the producers are letting fans in on these things well in advance.  With the patience all the delays have already necessitated, at least we're getting a lot of good news while we wait.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x11 "Waltz"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko and Dukat struggle to survive each other when they are marooned.

what it's all about: It sounds so simple, when you describe the episode like that, like so many other episodes from throughout the franchise, but it's so, so much more than that, too.  Simply put, it's one of the most crucial episodes of the series.

When the epic-length arc ended earlier in the season, Dukat's decent into madness began after seeing his daughter gunned down ("Sacrifice of Angels").  Actually, that arc may be said to have gained all its significance from that moment, because it was the definitive turning point for Dukat.  Previously he had attempted to rehabilitate his image as the Cardassian who represented the oppressive Occupation of Bajor, who had somehow succeeded in that regard, to a point, and then lost everything again, until he turned to the Dominion to help him regain it.  That much might almost have been forgivable, too, but then he lost his daughter, went mad, and then became Emissary of the Pah-wraiths, Sisko's (Emissary of the Prophets) opposite number.  The end wasn't yet in sight, but seeing Dukat embrace his fate is the whole point of "Waltz."

Which is to say, "Waltz" is the point where Dukat becomes the unquestionable archvillain of the series.

To do so, he has to be placed opposite Sisko right from the start.  In a lot of ways, the episode also repositions Sisko, whose previous archfoe was a Starfleet turncoat named Michael Eddington.  Few fans remember Eddington, but everyone knows Dukat, and not just because he was always so prominent.  Until "Waltz," no one had gotten under Sisko's skin quite like Eddington ("For the Uniform").  But there were a lot of mitigating circumstances in that affair.  There's nothing to mistake about this one.

What works so well about "Waltz" is that it's a psychological battle.  It's what happens when a series that was so often about trying to soften problems, find shades of gray, instead and finally took a stand somewhere.  The Dominion War itself can be considered a metaphor about the dance between Sisko and Dukat (hence the reason why they both end in the series finale, "What You Leave Behind," with Dukat's defeat actually rounding out the last hour).  Clearly something snapped inside Dukat's head.  He stopped questioning his impulses and instead embraced them, you could say.  "Waltz" is claustrophobic, mirroring Sisko's experience as he's hobbled by the crash that strands him with Dukat, and leaves him at his mercy.  Theoretically, they're on the same team throughout the episode, both looking for a means of rescue.  But Dukat spends all that time consulting ghosts, while Sisko struggles to decide if he really is as crazy as he appears.

This is Khan all over again, the Borg, the big reveal of the big, big bad, and it's not only a necessary development, but a thrilling one to witness, one of Star Trek's finest hours.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Witness the birth of an icon.
  • series - A culmination point and the start of the final countdown.
  • character - Sisko and Dukat at the verge of destiny, before either of them realize it.
  • essential - The definition of can't-miss.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x10 "The Magnificent Ferengi"

rating: ***

the story: Quark assembles the least likely commando squad ever.

what it's all about: "Magnificent Ferengi" is an interesting riddle.  On the one hand, it's an episode that might actually help convince reluctant fans to give the Ferengi another shot.  On the other, it may actually be the episode responsible for the dreaded "Ferengi episode" reputation.  What fun!

It's actually a nice culmination of the work Deep Space Nine had put into the Ferengi, tying together pretty much every significant representative of the species the series had introduced over the years, from the Grand Nagus (absent but crucial to the plot) to Ishka (Quark's mum) to Brunt (the evil would-be uber Ferengi) and even Gaila ("the one with the moon"), and even suggesting that the path to the future for even a perennially hopeless culture (in terms of the Federation ideal) wasn't as dim as it sometimes seemed. 

...On the other, the Ferengi were always going to be a hard sell.  These were the guys Next Generation botched so badly in its first season, so badly that even in a whole season filled with creative botches, the introduction of the would-be successors to the Klingons felt like the worst one.  Successors to the Klingons?!?  Surely not!  But at the time, they really did seem like they'd be more menace than punchline (see how one of their number was even set up to be Picard's archnemesis!), until fans actually saw them in action.  Their subsequent appearances in that series were concessions to the obvious conclusion that they hadn't worked out as planned, and so they became intergalactic weasels instead, comically obsessed with prophet and just as comically inept. 

Enter: Quark.  The station's resident bartender was a giant reclamation project, meant to showcase the heretofore unknown nuances of the Ferengi.  Actually, he succeeded so well it was almost impossible for any other Ferengi to measure up to him.  His brother Rom actually devolved into such a buffoon that the only direction left to go with him was actually to turn him away from Ferengi norms.  So it became with Rom's son Nog, too, and each subsequent new Ferengi had to either follow the norms or risk being swallowed by them.  Yeah, I don't know how that was supposed to work, either.

The results can be seen in "Magnificent Ferengi."  The ones trying to be true practitioners of the culture (Brunt, Gaila) have tellingly fallen flat on their faces since last we saw them.  This may be due to the effects of an aging leader (Zek) looking to consider reforms with the encouragement of his relationship to Quark and his family, or because of, you know, the Dominion War.

Speaking of that...Following the epic arc at the start of the season, no real fighting had been seen for three episodes, and then along comes this one, in which the fighters are...the Ferengi.  Who are laughably terrible fighters.  The whole episode is about how terrible they are.  I mean, it's a farce!  In any other context, they're so hilariously inept it would undoubtedly make a classic Star Trek farce (see: "The Trouble with Tribbles," although maybe don't because even the Klingons somehow emerge unscathed from that one).  But the joke almost seems like it's on them.  The whole episode focuses entirely on them, with no other species, much less Starfleet, around, except for a Vorta they accidentally kill and then motorize in order to try and complete negotiations with the Dominion.

It must seem like an epic lost opportunity for fans who have little patience for the Ferengi.  I'm hardly saying this is the only interpretation.  I like the Ferengi.  I think they gave necessary color to the series, and this is a great example of how they did so.  I mean, there were several attempts to lighten up the war ("One Little Ship" a handful of episodes later, "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" in the final season), and I think this was the most successful one.  And it does advance the overall narrative of the Ferengi. 

But it may also be the prototypical "Ferengi episode."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Whether you consider it a good or bad thing, this is arguably one of the definitive appearances of the Ferengi in Star Trek.
  • series - Their development as a species, as depicted in Deep Space Nine, reaches a crucial moment.
  • character - Quark, and just about every other Ferengi in the series.
  • essential - I think it's a terrific farce, but others may simply consider it a farce.
notable guest-stars:
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt)
Josh Pais (Gaila)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Cecily Adams (Ishka)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Christopher Shea (Keevan)
Iggy Pop

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x9 "Statistical Probabilities"

rating: ****

the story: Bashir becomes guardian to a team of eccentric fellow "augments."

what it's all about: Chances are if you had a problem with revelation of Bashir's childhood genetic enhancements as revealed in last season's "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?," "Statistical Probabilities" is the episode that completely justifies it.  It's also a completely unique franchise take on the genius think tank concept usually depicted by a given series' main cast, characters capable of and interested in solving problems.  If this had been an original series episode (and actually, just about every other incarnation), the guest characters in "Probabilities" would've turned out to not only be horribly misguided but the source for a giant problem that ends up imperiling everyone (think Richard Daystrom in "The Ultimate Computer").

But the misfit geniuses in "Probabilities" are a direct commentary on Bashir himself, and the viewer's newfound awareness that he possesses an typically brilliant mind, too.  He and his new friends are applying their smarts to calculating the expected outcome of the Dominion War, and they don't come up with good results.  The episode is mostly about how even smart people can outsmart themselves, overthink something so that they end up with a distorted viewpoint, and that's pretty clever for a franchise that so often glorifies smart people (think Spock or Data or Seven).  Besides the fact that no one ends up looking like a villain, which is refreshing in and of itself, "Probabilities" also probes the nature of outcasts, another thing frequently at the heart of the franchise, and just as typically exhibited by those same geniuses.  It's actually more common for Star Trek to feature isolated individuals who really only fit in with the specific colleagues that comprise each cast, than anything.  But rarely is this actually explored.  Later, in the Abrams movies, it would become much more common, but originally it was more or less taken for granted.  This is the rare exception.

When I use the term "misfits," it's no exaggeration.  These are neurotic individuals, exemplified by the manic Jack, who actually becomes endearing throughout the course of the episode.  The whole "Jack Pack" actually returns in the seventh season's "Chrysalis," in which we see another side of Sarina, the quiet girl and the only one of them, as a result, not sabotaging herself by an abrasive personality (such as the overly sexual Lauren or sad sack Patrick).  In The X-Files, this group had a parallel in the Lone Gunmen, who were fortunate enough to gain a short-lived spin-off.  That was never going to happen with the Jack Pack, of course, but it would certainly have been unique!

The other thing that's refreshing about the episode is how it handles the Dominion War, as more of a concept than reality, which works extremely well as a standalone episode set during the arc but without needing to fight any of the battles that otherwise typified it.  This was a purely intellectual affair.  Pity poor Bashir...But at least there's newfound respect for how he tempered his own exaggerated sense of self over the course of the series, so that he could at last embrace his own potential.  Some people aren't as lucky, alas.

One last tidbit: We get a glimpse at Damar's elevation to the forefront of Dominion affairs, which is a crucial development for the character as he marches ever forward to his destiny...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A clever look at a defining Star Trek characteristic: the smart guys.
  • series - An equally clever look at the Dominion War arc.
  • character - A Bashir spotlight that helps put him in context.
  • essential - Much too fun to even consider dismissing.
notable guest-stars:
Tim Ransom (Jack)
Faith Salie (Sarina)
Hilary Shepard (Lauren)
Michael Keenan (Patrick)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x8 "Resurrection"

rating: ***

the story: The Mirror Universe comes here, in the form of...Bareil?

what it's all about: Three Mirror Universe episodes in Deep Space Nine ("Crossover," "Through the Looking Glass," "Shattered Mirror") presented an epic look at the future of the classic episode "Mirror, Mirror," and since the last of these was in the fourth season and "Resurrection" doesn't really seem to advance anything, fans have often considered it pointless.  That's never been my view.  I think it's a highly inventive return to the familiar alternate reality, one that sets aside the significance of it to instead focus on the possibilities of it.

The Mirror Universe was always good for showing alternate versions of familiar characters.  I mean, that was the whole point, right?  In "Mirror, Mirror," the idea was set up that everyone there was basically the opposite of how they are here, hence the name and its implication: mirror images.  The first three Deep Space Nine episodes centered around Sisko, how the rogue version of him in the Mirror Universe turned out to be far more important than he seemed (kind of like the underdog nature of the series itself, struggling for recognition under giants like Kirk and Picard).  The cleverest thing the episodes did was present Mirror Jennifer, because the Jennifer here famously died before the first episode of the series, and was a major reason why Sisko was who he was when we first met him.

"Resurrection" is, essentially, a riff on that, because it presents Mirror Bareil.  Bareil was a significant recurring character in the early seasons, killed off dramatically in the third season's "Life Support."  This was a character who famously represented the bloodless Bajorans, who seemed to suck all the energy out of the series whenever they appeared, despite the fact that they were most often represented by desperate terrorists and not the religious folk like Bareil who could drink the dry Vulcans out of a teetotaler convention (if you can image that).  He was quickly replaced by the more dashing Shakaar, who nonetheless was gone in a relative heartbeat.

So to see Bareil return again, in any form, is quite a bold creative statement on the part of the producers, one that certainly seems to have backfired, but not for lack of merit.  In fact, as a standalone experience it's the best of the Mirror Universe episodes.  The Mirror Universe tended to draw out a lot of hammy acting, in any series.  Bringing in someone as subdued as Bareil actually makes "Resurrection" a chance to sell the concept to any lingering skeptics about the idea.  It also gives the series a chance to revisit the mostly abandoned concept of Bajoran spirituality, at this point sacrificed to Sisko's impending grand destiny as champion of the Prophets, the noncorporeal wormhole aliens the Bajorans worship. 

It's a throwback and a thought exercise, and yes, ultimately a Kira spotlight, and Kira spotlights were almost always highlights of the series.  Soon she'd be tied inextricably to a romantic future with Odo; this was Kira's last stand, in a lot of ways.  Freed from the many burdens the Bajorans tended to bring with them, Kira's emotional baggage with Bareil actually turns the experience into something fresh from a very old playbook: of course the guy is a conman, in league with the Intendant, Kira's Mirror Universe doppelganger, a would-be master manipulator and maneater (and womaneater) used to getting her way, the real star of the Mirror Universe, in what amounts to her last hurrah ("Crossover" was technically an Intendant affair).

The seventh season's "The Emperor's New Cloak" is the last Mirror Universe episode until Enterprise's two-part "In a Mirror, Darkly" origin story.  The Sisko suite was really the big statement; everything else is gravy.  "Resurrection" makes a fine meal, thank you.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Because it sidesteps the major Mirror Universe issues, this one is mostly for Deep Space Nine fans.
  • series - But it neatly follows the tradition of sequels to "Mirror, Mirror."
  • character - This is great for Kira and Bareil (from any universe).
  • essential - It's the goodbye they were previously robbed of.
notable guest-stars:
Philip Anglim (Mirror Bareil)
Nana Visitor (Intendant)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x7 "You Are Cordially Invited..."

rating: ****

the story: Worf and Dax marry, with a few hurdles.

what it's all about: Amazingly, through six TV shows and thirteen movies, "You Are Cordially Invited..." is the only story in the whole Star Trek franchise where two main characters get married, where that is the sole focus (Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres get a quickie in Voyager's "Drive").  The next closest example is the marriage of Miles and Keiko O'Brien in Next Generation's "Data's Day," but that was years before O'Brien was a regular in Deep Space Nine and besides, as the title implies, it was more about Data than anything.

So this one's a milestone.  It's also the first episode of the series since the penultimate one from the fifth season to take a break from the Dominion War, including the first six of the sixth season.  And it's a good excuse for a change of pace, as good an excuse as there ever was, obviously, as indicated above, another example of how importance the lives of the characters in the series were.

It's also a Klingon episode, sort of like "Amok Time" if everything (eventually) works out.  In terms of further fleshing out Klingon society, what it would be like to live it every day and not just as a warrior, "Invited" is a great episode on that score alone.

But it also gives Worf and Dax, especially Dax, a wonderful spotlight, after a few seasons of courtship that was fortuitous for both of them, Worf in terms of integration into the series and Dax in finally doing something with the Klingon connection that'd been there from the very beginning but until Worf had been relegated to one standout episode ("Blood Oath") but otherwise mostly ignored.

It's really a Dax episode.  Jadzia Dax would be dead by the end of the season (spoiler alert?), so this was kind of the last opportunity to revisit and explore in depth what made her tick.  Surprisingly or not, she finds that being familiar with Klingons and actively trying to join one of their families are two different things.  The whole experience is a reminder of what helped make her stand out to begin with (especially in appearances like "Playing God"), as something other than a pretty face, a strong personal drive that was just as apt to get Dax in trouble as lead to another of her epic memories (it would probably be safe to argue that it would be very tough to find a Trill who enjoyed being joined more than Jadzia Dax).

It's also a fun chance to see Martok relax a little, the first real chance he's had since returning from a Dominion labor camp last season and struggling to reintegrate himself back to his old life.  Which is to say, this is a rare chance to just hang out with the guy, as if he were just another member of the large station family, and not a Klingon who only appears when there's a fight brewing somewhere (admittedly frequent enough during a war).

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Klingons!  You can't be a Star Trek fan and not love them.
  • series - A big moment for two series regulars.
  • character - That would be Worf and Dax, in case you forgot.
  • essential - A truly unique moment in Star Trek lore.
notable guest-stars:
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Marc Worden (Alexander)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x6 "Sacrifice of Angels"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko retakes the station in spectacular fashion.

what it's all about: If "Favor the Bold" feels weightless, war-for-the-sake-of-war (and in turn, action-for-the-sake-of-action), what fans who never really watched Deep Space Nine assumed the Dominion War arc to be, then "Sacrifice of Angels" fulfills the promise of the concept, tying everything together neatly.

An unexpected callback to the wormhole aliens, or Prophets, who come to the rescue as a kind of deus ex machine but in a fashion that has considerable impact later in the series (one almost wonders if Sisko actually released the Pah-wraiths when he asks the Prophets to make the Dominion fleet disappear), bridges nicely with the physical act of winning back the station, a thrilling sequence of events that might have made a dramatic series opener.  Star Trek, to this point, was always afraid of action, aside from fight scenes that more often than not were poorly choreographed.  The Borg invasion from Next Generation's "Best of Both Worlds" happens mostly off-camera.  Deep Space Nine's pilot, "Emissary" actually features more of the battle at the heart of that invasion than was previously seen, but only as Sisko loses his ship, his wife, and his life (for a time).  The Cardassians were more or less wrapping up the Occupation at the same time, thus opening up the station to Starfleet in a bloodless coup.  Twice, during the course of the series, the station needed defending on an epic scale, but this time it had actually been lost.  In terms of significance this is huge.  Even Odo's temporary loss of his shape-shifting ability didn't seem this important when it happened a season previous. 

The action becomes deeply embedded in the history of the series, and its future as well.  Besides Sisko's future hassles with the Pah-wraiths, and Prophets, there's Dukat on a collision course with destiny, too.  Damar completes his journey to becoming a truly significant character when he betrays Dukat, murdering his daughter Ziyal, who collaborated with Kira and the other good guys who'd remained at the station (I talked previously about the importance of collaborators in the series, but this is easily the most dramatic example of them).

It's a big, big moment, and it justifies everything that preceded it, even the parts that seemed to be dragging their feet in an effort to make a big continuous arc, the longest in franchise history to that point, where one episode led directly into the next.  Some of the episodes in the arc didn't seem to contribute much to it, the producers still uncertain about the studio's willingness to let them pull it off, perhaps.  Or maybe they just weren't ready yet.  The minefield dilemma, however, does manage to justify all of it, sort of like the need for Obi-Wan Kenobi to deactivate the tractor beam in Star Wars in order for Luke, Han, and Leia's escape from the Death Star to be possible.  What was needed was a big ending, and that's what's accomplished here.

Arguably, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan works as well as it does because of Spock's death at the end of it.  I'd argue that Ziyal's death functions in much the same way.  Obviously Tora Ziyal is nowhere near as important a character as Spock, but her death greatly affects her father's future.  Dukat begins a descent into madness at the end of "Angels" that carries over into "Waltz," which permanently bonds him to Sisko, which finally crystalizes one of the most important arcs of the series, where Sisko's destiny as the Bajoran's Emissary (that term from the pilot) ends.  Again, that sequence with the Prophets makes that all the more important, too.

The Pah-wraiths are the enemies of the Prophets.  Dukat eventually becomes their Emissary, Sisko's opposite number.  They'd previously appeared in "The Assignment," but were relatively impotent, directionless other than their vague feud with the Prophets.  My argument is that whatever was keeping them in check previously ends when the Prophets directly intervene on behalf of Sisko.  This is big storytelling, somewhat beyond the scope of anything else Star Trek ever attempted, except maybe the abandoned Temporal Cold War arc in Enterprise.  To find anything like it, you'd need to watch Lost and wait to find out about Jacob and the Man in Black, and still end up with a fairly ambiguous explanation of a similar mythology...

The point, however, is that "Angels" ushers in a bold new era for Deep Space Nine, and the franchise in general.  It's the moment the whole serialization concept truly clicks, and as such is directly responsible for the image of the series as it persists today.  Actually, there was far less serialization than fans tend to assume; recurring characters tended to have a lot more of an impact than their ongoing stories, many of which don't really exist.  The one ongoing thread of the series is actually Sisko's role as Emissary, which of course is something that is touched on in "Angels," somewhat tellingly.

So anyone looking to see what the series is all about really could do far worse than catch "Angels," which could very well open up the whole concept for them.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - In some respects, it's the must-see moment that could just as easily define the series for fans and skeptics.
  • series - It's the lynchpin of the serialization concept.
  • character - A defining moment for Sisko and Dukat.
  • essential - Kind of the definition of can't-miss.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x5 "Favor the Bold"

rating: ***

the story: Sisko decides to retake the station.

what it's all about: The strength and weakness of serialized storytelling is that it's a commitment that becomes inevitable, something that must be stuck with regardless of whether or not you've really figured it out.  To my mind, that was always the problem with Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine's cult doppelganger, some grand vision J. Michael Straczynski came up with but really never had the tools to execute properly (and I'm not just talking about the budget).  Whereas today you have people watching something like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones and it's the spectacle of the thing that's really the driving point of interest, the uninitiated viewer will be left wondering about its quality if individual episodes plod along without any real heft to them.  Especially in the binge age, weaknesses can be hidden by a yearning just to experience something. 

But even a novel needs to be consistently compelling to be an overall pleasurable experience, and TV serialized storytelling is basically the filmed version of a novel.  The fifth episode in the initial six-episode Dominion War arc betrays some of the weaknesses in its storytelling.  Whereas the previous entry, "Behind the Lines," contributed something meaningful to the overall plot by acknowledging not just the arc itself but all the material that had come before it, "Favor the Bold" feels like something the producers decided to do just to help wrap up the arc, having done nothing appreciable in the preceding four episodes to introduce what is otherwise an obvious development: the retaking of the station.  Considering two big stories in the series had already featured a similar moment ("The Siege" at the end of the three-episode arc at the start of the second season; "Way of the Warrior" at the start of the fourth), it almost feels too inevitable to register as the climax it needs to be.

Yes, there's still the rest of the season, plus another season besides that, before the war itself ends, but that's kind of beside the point.

In these five episodes, nothing substantial is done to bridge the twin plots of the arc: Sisko leading a crew fighting the war, Kira leading a crew leading the resistance aboard the station.  Now, having the impetus of Sisko's decision being the imminent destruction of the crucial minefield blocking the wormhole and thus Dominion reinforcements, that's a pretty big deal.  But it comes off as random, and while Kira's crew has been struggling with the issue of the mines all along, Sisko's crew has been doing anything but.

It just comes off as weak.  The version of serialized storytelling "Bold" represents is akin to soap opera, not space opera.  Things in some respects just kind of continue in this episode that've been introduced earlier.  The big development is merely that the station will finally be retaken; everything else just kind of exists.  Odo's weird relationship with the Female Founder, so crucial to "Lines," continues.  Even Tora Ziyal, who is one episode away from her crucial murder, doesn't seem to be anything but a character experiencing things merely to experience them.

All of this is quibbling, to a certain extent; it's clearly setup, so that the payoff next episode can focus on the good stuff.  So to a certain extent, it's an episode that needs to be seen in conjunction with the next one.  That actually makes it more of a two-part story than the fifth of six, which is how "Bold" and "Sacrifice of Angels" were originally presented.  It's just as clear, though, in hindsight, that this six-episode arc started something significant.  And that the producers didn't quite, yet, have the creative power to pull it off.  The ten-episode arc at the end of the series is a much better example of the kind of storytelling these installments are attempting.

Does all that make sense?

criteria analysis:
  • franchise -  For this one you really need to be invested in the Dominion War arc to care, I think.
  • series - A crucial moment in said arc.
  • character - I don't think any one character truly stands out in the episode; you'll see a ridiculously extensive set of guest-stars below.
  • essential - Unlike past versions of seeing Sisko fight to reclaim the station, this one is entirely earned, and so seeing where and how it begins is important to what follows, and to the series experience as a whole.
notable guest-stars:
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Aron Eisnberg (Nog)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x4 "Behind the Lines"

rating: ***

the story: The new resistance movement gathers steam aboard the station, until Odo is reunited with the Female Founder...

what it's all about: This is the essential turning point of the six-episode Dominion War opening arc.  "Behind the Lines" redeems the somewhat patchy material that precedes it and begins the truly serialized storytelling that was to become Deep Space Nine's calling card, the ten episode block that ended the series, inspired larger arcs in the later Enterprise, and proved to be a harbinger of TV programming as it would become known and most popular in the new millennium. 

The notable guest-stars have notably begun piling up; the famously rich recurring cast members have begun to assert themselves.  Damar, who at one time seemed a fairly trivial presence, becomes infinitely more important when he finds himself at the crossroads of the war, suddenly more important than his boss Dukat, accidentally so in this particular episode, but soon by design, until he becomes one of the most poignant characters of the series.

But the good stuff lies with Odo.  Since "The Search" at the start of the third season revealed his people to be the Founders, the folks who run the Dominion, he'd been in constant conflict with himself.  A relationship with Kira continually proved to be a nonstarter, since Odo couldn't help but wonder about his place among the Founders, whether the home he'd always known really was better than the one home that would always accept him (except that awkward period in which his shape-shifting ability was stripped from him, essentially making Odo a temporary exile).  "Lines" is finally the episode where he has a chance to consider the appeal of his people, against the best interests of his friends.

It's ironic, because so much of the early material in the series was about the evils of collaboration, Bajorans who betrayed their own people for not standing up to the Cardassians during the Occupation.  Odo risks, in this episode, becoming the ultimate collaborator.  He finds the prospect of his people too alluring to even think of it in those terms, at least as he considers it initially. 

This in turn puts in stark terms the worth of the Dominion War arc, as an elaboration on everything the series had always been about.  The prior three episodes vacillated on this, trying to justify the arc narratively rather than integrating it, and I wonder how much it really worked, because to this day Deep Space Nine remains a cult-within-a-cult.  This is arguably the essential episode, within the context of the series itself, to understand what the war was all about.  Those who were never big fans probably wouldn't get why "Lines" is so important, without someone explaining it to them.  So that's what I'm here for...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This may be the perfect selling point of the whole war arc to skeptical viewers, but I wonder if it seems too impenetrable.
  • series - Still, it's the episode that justifies the whole war.
  • character - Odo faces his biggest test.
  • essential - So yes, it's kind of required viewing.
notable guest-stars:
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery - Jason Isaacs joins the cast

A ton of casting news has occurred since I last wrote about Star Trek: Discovery  The lead character will be played by Sonequa Martin-Green, whose major previous credit is The Walking Dead.  The other notable name since added is James Frain, who will appear as Sarek in one episode.  Among his other credits, I'm familiar with Frain from his work in the short-lived superhero drama The Cape.

Jason Isaacs needs little introduction, but here are some highlights all the same:
  • The Patriot (2000) His breakthrough role saw Isaacs chew scenery as a villain in Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War drama.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) Isaacs debuted as Lucius Malfoy in the second movie and appeared in each succeeding entry except Prisoner of Azkaban (the third one).
  • Peter Pan (2003) He played both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in this version of the classic story.
I'd list further credits, but those are his major ones.  Isaacs won't be the lead, but he'll add significantly to the credibility of the cast.  He's equally capable of supporting roles as leading ones.  No part is too small; this is a guy who can make anything seem bigger.

Needless to say, but his casting ratchets up my interest further than it already was.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x3 "Sons and Daughters"

rating: **

the story: Worf reunites with his son Alexander, who's struggling to integrate into Klingon society.

what it's all about: This is an episode I've struggled with for twenty years.  The return/introduction into Deep Space Nine of Alexander is something not to be considered lightly.  Alexander was a significant recurring character in Next Generation, who almost existed outside the sphere of his father (Worf).  Theirs was a difficult relationship at the best of times, and when we last saw them together ("Firstborn") Worf came to a tentative peace about that.  So, in his third season as a regular in a different series, Worf finally meets up with his son again...and things aren't any better than they ever were.

There's a difference, though, and it's a big one.  Child actor Brian Bonsall, who portrayed Alexander in nearly every other appearance, has been replaced with a noticeably older Marc Worden.  It'd be one thing if Bonsall had played the part long enough to have reached puberty, but he was still just a kid when he last appeared (and "Firstborn" actually features a different actor playing a time-traveling adult Alexander for most of the episode, eclipsing Bonsall's final turn in the process).  Worden's Alexander is older but wimpy, painfully inept, and reconciling what the character has become with how we last saw him is a large part of how to interpret "Sons and Daughters."

I used to hate the idea of the new Alexander.  I thought it was a terrible mistake, one that came off as clumsy and dismissive of everything that had come before it, or merely needlessly duplicative.  The fact that Alexander makes only one more appearance in Deep Space Nine (a few episodes later, "You Are Cordially Invited") is an odd legacy for a series that usually went out of its way to develop characters like this.

But it's still kind of interesting.  This Alexander isn't really so different from the host of Ferengi who appeared and evolved throughout the run of the series, notably a different father-and-son combo, Rom and Nog.  So in essence, "Sons" is kind of a war story that couldn't otherwise be told in a series that had already gotten past that point with the two characters (two others, Sisko and Jake, too, come to think of it) who would've otherwise best exemplified it.

"Firstborn" featured an Alexander who'd just begun considering the possibility of embracing his Klingon heritage.  This was a kid who'd previously been raised by a mother who wanted to keep him as far from it as possible, an extension of an arc that had otherwise been cut short by her death.  Part of it was always about Worf, and his own feelings of alienation from a childhood that found him raised by humans, which forced him in the opposite direction his son later took.  He became obsessed with all things Klingon, and so he became an exemplar Klingon.  Alexander, not so much.

So to illustrate that, when Alexander finally embraces his father's life, it's bound to be awkward.  He comes at a disadvantage.  It's kind of good that he looks so different in this appearance, because a huge leap is necessary to see him struggling where he'd always resisted.  Although only a few years have passed, a lot has changed.  Worf lost a family when the Enterprise-D was destroyed (Star Trek Generations), and his life spiraled out of control.  In a lot of ways, since he ended up so important to two different Star Trek series, Worf's life was always going to be hard to keep track of (he still appears in both First Contact and Insurrection despite appearing in Deep Space Nine at the same time, with minimal effort to explain how).  So imagine how chaotic Alexander's life was during the same period.

Despite that, Alexander made the most important decision of his life, and make the commitment he'd long avoided.  Of course it makes a good war story, a family reunion under the worst circumstances.  This is not the best franchise episode set aboard a Klingon ship.  It doesn't have to be.  The more I think about "Sons," the more it makes sense.  Of course Alexander would stumble, badly.  If the story seems haphazardly executed and sort of dropped in out of nowhere, maybe that's how it should feel, the only way Alexander's story would continue.  By the end, he's at last proven himself, and been accepted into the House of Martok (there's a number of things worth discussing about that, but this is already a pretty lengthy write-up), the same as his father before him.  It only seems appropriate that Alexander effectively vanishes from this point, because he's finally found peace with himself, his father, and his future.

That's the kind of closure worth celebrating, even if in a muted way.  Also muted is the return of Tora Ziyal, Dukat's daughter.  A few episodes in the future she becomes hugely important, but here she's just kind of thrown into the mix to help round out Alexander's story, as Kira struggles with Dukat's overtures.  It would almost have made a better lead story, and Alexander's the supporting material, given what happens later.  But I guess it's also kind of appropriate, because unlike Alexander, Ziyal's story was never her own...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Too specific to appeal to fans of Klingon stories in general.
  • series - Somewhat tangential to the war arc.
  • character - A big moment for Worf and Alexander.
  • essential - It's the closure Alexander needed, just not the way anyone ever imagined it.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Worden (Alexander)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Gabrielle Union

Friday, March 3, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x2 "Rocks and Shoals"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko faces a difficult predicament when he and his crew are marooned on the same planet as a contingent of the Dominion, and they're forced to confront the intricacies of the enemy.

what it's all about: First - a litany of episodes, from this series alone, where things are relatively comparable:

"...Nor the Battle to the Strong," "The Ship," "The Siege of AR-558," all dealing with the realities of war.  This is the one that takes place during the initial six-episode arc of the Dominion War.  "Ship" is the most comparable in that it also deals with the Dominion specifically (and even features the origin of the ship Sisko and crew crash on the planet here).  But the episode that most comes to mind is actually "Hippocratic Oath," in which Bashir is forced to try and come up with a cure for the chemical addiction the Founders engineered into the Jem'Hadar.  That's an episode I felt worked somewhat horribly.  The good doctor is called upon to work on the same problem in "Rocks and Shoals," and once again ("To the Death" is another good example) the viewer is asked to take the Jem'Hadar as something other than the enemy, more akin to the nuanced Klingons as they came to be known over the years.

And that's really the story of the episode, a last redemptive look at the foot soldiers of the Dominion, and the complicated nature of "the enemy."  (A b-story has Kira revisiting the thought process she had during the Occupation, and how it compares to life under Dominion rule aboard the station, and so complements the material well.)  There was never a recurring Jem'Hadar character in the series; every episode featured a new one, and so they have the somewhat unique distinction in Deep Space Nine as addressing a species rather than individuals, of whom there were representatives clamoring for respect of just about every iteration, and so illustrate the need to look beyond familiarity even when that seems the only way to make progress.  "Rocks" in fact makes that case most clearly.

For that reason it's possibly the easiest Dominion War episode to recommend to viewers leery of the bulk of the material to see what the series was saying about war, the nature of the enemy, when it might have seemed the war arc glorified or even glamorized something the franchise otherwise tended to condemn.  There are plenty of "stuck with the enemy" episodes across Star Trek where the context is entirely contained in the one story.  This is a great example of seeing that same message put into context.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A good example of Deep Space Nine making a classic Star Trek template its own.
  • series - A good example of the best Dominion War storytelling.
  • character - Kira gets the nod here for her personal breakthrough.
  • essential - All of it combines nicely for a transcendent experience.
notable guest-stars:
Phil Morris
Christopher Shea
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
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