Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x5 "The Assignment"

rating: *

the story: Keiko is possessed, forcing O'Brien to comply with an insane request.

what it's all about: It's wildly curious that the debut of the Pah-wraiths should come off like a bad remake of the Next Generation episode "Power Play," which also features alien possession and the O'Brien family caught in the crosshairs...

A far more menacing version of this story appears late in the sixth season, "The Reckoning," which basically corrects all the horrendous missteps of "The Assignment," featuring a far more menacing possession and a much smarter plan on the part of the Pah-wraiths, just before Dukat appears in the sixth season finale ("Tears of the Prophets") and effectively sets up their integral part in the eventual conclusion of the series.

But really, it's hugely baffling that something like this could happen.  Clearly the producers had no idea at this point how important the Pah-wraiths (cast-out wormhole aliens the Bajorans worship as the Prophets, and as such the devil to their god) would turn out to be, and is one of the more egregious examples of how the series developed as it went along rather than was figured out from the start (Babylon 5 fans get a point in that regard).  Not that this is a bad thing, because in most other respects such organic growth actually helped make it feel more natural.

The worse part is that Odo's life as a "solid" is featured, as he attempts to figure out what O'Brien's up to.  If this had somehow involved Odo being more important to the plot rather than an add-on, this would've been better.  If, say, he were investigating someone close to Kira, but that's not the case, and another lost opportunity is found in one of the most pointless arcs of the series.

If you don't want to worry too much about the significance of...anything and just want to sample characters and concepts from Deep Space Nine, this is a curious way to do it, but I suppose it is available for such viewing.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - That this could've happened in any series is hardly a positive note.
  • series - Inauspicious as it is, this is still the debut of the Pah-wraiths.
  • character - Useless spotlights on the O'Briens and Odo.
  • essential - One of the most truly poorly-developed episodes of the whole series.
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Hana Hatae (Molly)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x4 "...Nor the Battle to the Strong"

rating: ***

the story: Jake's eagerness to report first-hand on a warzone ends up backfiring on him.

what it's all about: Two episode prior, "The Ship" served as a preview of the coming Dominion War.  "...Nor the Battle to the Strong" is a much less heralded version of the same, with Jake taking on new writing duties (less creative, more journalistic) as he continues to learn what it means to be his own man.  He discovers that war is pretty horrific, which seems obvious, but I don't think it's ever as obvious unless you've experienced it yourself, and that's kind of the point of the episode.  Again, a prelude experience for something that to this point of the franchise was virtually unprecedented.  It's one thing to preach about such things, which happened frequently in the original series, but the main characters never had anything at stake.  They'd show up, figure out why a situation was horrible, and somehow have an instant solution, and leave again.

"Battle" ostensibly puts the spotlight back on the abortive Klingon war begun a season earlier.  If you're inclined to do so, you can watch it in that way, or as a throwback to Klingons as the enemy (another original series callback with a new twist).   But it's almost best seen in hindsight.  Ironically, the pertinent Dominion War episode, "The Siege of AR-558," features Jake's good buddy Nog learning much the same lesson, but far more painfully, with an even better follow-up ("It's Only a Paper Moon") that further decompresses the story and heightens the impact, perhaps once and for all demonstrating the benefits of Deep Space Nine's serialized approach.

If there's a downside to the story, it's that Jake's arc, and general shift in direction, is a rather abrupt one, and he has no real chemistry with Bashir, the other trapped in the warzone.  One season we were given the hard sell of Jake's literary future, and abruptly he's got another calling.  This idea would be salvaged considerably next season when he makes the difficult decision to remain behind enemy lines and actually chase interviews with Dominion personnel (during the Dominion War, you understand), the best sustained material he'd get the whole series.  So in that sense, "Battle" is yet another calling card for future episodes.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Take your pick: Klingons or ruminations on war.
  • series - Another preview of the Dominion War (in hindsight, it's foreshadowing).
  • character - Jake gets renewed focus.
  • essential - Later episodes cover the same territory better.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x3 "Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places"

rating: ***

the story: Quark is reunited with his blushing ex-bride, who happens to be a Klingon, which leads to Worf and Jadzia realizing they love each other.

what it's all about: "House of Quark" was brilliant.  "Looking for par'Mach" is a somewhat unnecessary follow-up, but it's a terrific excuse to get Worf and Jadzia to realize they're a match made in...the celestial temple.  Besides Quark, there's also an awkward subplot involving Kira carrying O'Brien's baby, which is one of several creatively suspect decisions made around this period.  Consider this the period of Deep Space Nine, in some respects, that corresponds with the third season of Lost, which frustrated fans so much the creators ended up doubling down on the mythology in the final three seasons, advancing the story at lightning speed, which is also what happens after all these curious decisions in this series, which began after the studio forced the producers to insert the Klingons, and the producers really had no idea how to do it.

Well, the answer is, figure out a way to integrate them into the fabric of the series.  Helpfully, Jadzia Dax already existed.  Jadzia was host to a symbiont, and the previous host had been Federation ambassador to the Klingons, which led to the awesome "Blood Oath" in the second season, in which three original series Klingons return for one last glorious adventure.  It was one of the best Klingon episodes of the franchise, from a series that to that point otherwise had literally nothing meaningful to do with Klingons.  Then the studio mandated Klingons, and brought Worf along to seal the deal, and the producers had no idea what to do with him, and then...someone realized, perhaps during "Sword of Kahless," that there really was an obvious solution, which was to link Worf with Jadzia.

And obviously, this is the episode where it finally happens.  This was another in the inordinate number of lasting romantic liaisons made during the course of the series, the first being Sisko and Kasidy in the third season and the last was the long-simmering Odo/Kira, which poignantly (actually they both did) helped close out the series.  Worf and Jadzia meanwhile...

The important thing is, not only was this good for Worf, but good for Jadzia as well.  Jadzia had already been transformed from just another pretty face to one of the strongest women in Star Trek history (second only, perhaps, to Kira, and then Voyager's trio of Janeway, Seven, and B'Elanna Torres), a multidimensional character capable of adapting to any situation, and brave enough to do what Troi in Next Generation never could, which was to deliberately pursue Worf.

So this episode is where all that happens, how they realize what they mean to each other, in the midst of unusually crazy business.  I think if there's any justification for the craziness, it's that the pursuit of love often seems crazy, but these were two of the most grounded characters, utterly sure of themselves in most respects, and so it would've been more awkward having them embody the crazy.  So it was shifted to other characters.  If anything, Quark ends up looking like the buffoon fans typically thought of Ferengi, a stereotype dating back to their botched debut in Next Generation, which Quark otherwise totally obliterated.  That's called irony, I think.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - At last another Klingon story unique to Deep Space Nine, so in some ways it's not strictly relevant to general consumption.
  • series - See the above statement, okay?
  • character - Worf and Jadzia.
  • essential - One of the key developments of the series happens here.
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Mary Kay Adams
Phil Morris

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x2 "The Ship"

rating: ****

the story: The crew hunkers down as they try to protect their claim on a crash-landed Jem'Hadar ship...against the Dominion itself.

what it's all about: It's funny, because an episode later in the series, during the Dominion War ("Rocks and Shoals"), is very much like this one.  So it's very significant that "The Ship" is the first episode that feels like part of the Dominion War arc, in hindsight.  It's also an episode that absolutely needed to happen.

Three episodes from the third and fourth seasons ("The Abandoned," "Hippocratic Oath," and "To the Death") tried to do the same thing as this one, which is to finally present the Dominion as something other than outright villains, but "Ship" is where it finally happens, the trademark of the series, finding gray areas in all the wrong places.  This was something the original series often did, but mostly in conversations between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, who would debate the ethics of what they were doing or how their missions conflicted with Starfleet's seemingly clear-cut Prime Directive.  It wouldn't be until Enterprise that such storytelling showed up in Star Trek again.  But it was woven so deeply into the fabric of Deep Space Nine it made fans uncomfortable. 

And yet, it was largely absent from the portrayal of the Dominion, except in this brilliant episode, which goes out of its way to downplay its significance right up until the end, when Sisko loses it over the meaninglessness of his having just had to treat his Vorta and Jem'Hadar counterparts as the enemy when they could just as easily have worked things out peacefully.

The one-sentence summary leaves out what might be considered a spoiler, but this was aired twenty years ago, and anyone could find out what the Dominion really wanted: not the ship, but the Founder hiding in it.  The conflict that persists throughout the episode goes on so long the Founder dies, which to the Vorta, to the Jem'Hadar, regardless of whether or not it's literally genetic engineering that breeds the devotion, is heartbreaking, because to them the Founders are gods.  This is another level of the series subverting franchise expectations where it comes to religion.  Normally Star Trek is cynical in this regard.  In Deep Space Nine no belief is mocked. 

So we spend the episode with the crew in a war-time situation, and an officer played by F.J. Rio in enough episodes where he's earned audience awareness, dies.  To the Starfleet characters, it's just as devastating, especially since O'Brien is there to guide our reaction.

It's ironic that this preview of the war comes at a time when the war seems to have taken forever to develop, even though at this point it's really just around the corner.  It's more ironic that it's an episode that asks fans to care about the enemy.  It's damn clever storytelling, and it sets a new standard for the series, one the season in its best moments justifies.  Things get darker from here...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The finest Star Trek tradition of refusing to believe rhetoric at face value.
  • series - A preview of the Dominion War.
  • character - This is Sisko embracing his command responsibilities as never before.
  • essential - Every bit as compelling as "Balance of Terror."
notable guest-stars:
F.J. Rio
Hilary Shepard

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x1 "Apocalypse Rising"

rating: ***

the story: Sisko and a select crew set out to expose Gowron as a Founder.

what it's all about: This at last is a truly Deep Space Nine entry in the Klingon saga that became so integral an element to Next Generation.  Following the start of new conflict between Klingons and the Federation, thanks to the Dominion, in the fourth season premiere, "Way of the Warrior," the series seemed at a loss as to what to do with them.  Klingons had appeared in it before, but the studio wanted them in the spotlight, and so they were thrust into it, with vague echoes of previous stories.  But the truth was, having Gowron and Worf butt heads again only went so far in justifying the concept, so it was high time introducing a new wrinkle.

Which is what the fourth season finale ("Broken Link") did, in an entirely offhand way: it's suggested that Gowron has been replaced by a Founder, the shapeshifting leaders of the Dominion.  This at least explained why Gowron was willing to throw away all the progress the Empire had made toward finally concluding a lasting peace with the Federation.  "Apocalypse Rising" curves the curveball, however, explaining that it isn't Gowron who was compromised at all, but Martok, who first appeared in "Way" and apparently makes his final one here, exposed as a Founder after all.

That would have been the end of that, right?  Except it wasn't.  Halfway through the season we meet the real Martok ("In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light"), who's been kept in a Dominion prison camp this whole time, and from that point he's well on his way to becoming one of the defining recurring characters of the series, a major new Klingon who would finally bring balance to Worf's life.

Just not yet.  "Apocalypse" proceeds in fits and starts, one of those Star Trek stories with an intricate sequence of events that needs to unfold just right, so of course it doesn't.  What this episode needed more than anything was for the right mix of characters in it, and that mix just isn't there.  In Odo's first spotlight as a "solid," having been stripped of his shapeshifting abilities in "Broken Link," he spends most of the time...shifted into a new look.  O'Brien is also pretty much useless.  The character who most needed to be there was Dax.  Bashir, second most, or perhaps first.  Dax first of all because out of anyone, she probably knows more about Klingons than even Worf.  Bashir because at this point, although because of clumsy serialized storytelling (the reverse of how Martok is handled) we don't get any indication of this until the big reveal later, has already been replaced by a Founder.  There is literally no foreshadowing of this until the reveal (the same two-part episode where we meet the real Martok), which is incredibly unusual for a series that was usually smarter than that.

So it's a curious mix of storytelling that feels better than previous work in this particular arc, but also inferior to later work.  If there's a real problem, it's that this is the first season premiere of the series, the only one, that's one episode long.  Pretty darn odd when you think about it, and the lack of developed plot is very evident once you analyze it.  If you want just the quick shot, which rarely happens in this series, maybe it's a good thing.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A good old-fashioned Klingon plot! Mostly!
  • series - With a good bit of Dominion finagling thrown in for good measure.
  • character - Here I will either put the emphasis on Gowron or Martok.
  • essential - Which is because the episode misses two big opportunities for regular characters, and bungles the one they did use, Odo.
notable guest-stars:
Robert O'Reilly (Gowron)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x26 "Broken Link"

rating: ***

the story: Odo finally faces the repercussions from "The Adversary."

what it's all about: This episode marks one of the most questionable creative decisions of the series: stripping Odo's shapeshifting abilities away from him (for about half a season).  It's such an odd thing to do: on the one hand, does this character really need to feel more isolated? on the other, it's sort of a vital component of how the series eventually ends.  But it's still a tough decision to embrace.

"Broken Link" is kind of like Next Generation's "Sins of the Father," the pivotal episode where Worf finally rejoins Klingon society, only to be completely rejected by it.  What makes "Link" all the more odd is that it's literally a sequel to the third season finale, "The Adversary," so that a whole season happened without anyone really realizing that this probably should have been something that happened far, far sooner.  And thus we find the real loser of the creative shakeup at the start of the fourth season, where the studio wanted the Klingons, despite the producers already knowing what they wanted to do, which is why "The Adversay" happened at all, delaying "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" and introducing, well, the Klingons...

Actually, the best timing found in the episode is Garak's role, where he gets a chance to find out what happened to the Cardassian/Romulan invasion fleet from "Improbable Cause"/"The Die is Cast" in the third season, although the response turns out to be a lie (as revealed during "In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light" mid-fifth season)...You can see the serialization represented in all of that, the continuity, how the series artfully rolls it out.  Unlike Odo's plight.

That plight began in "The Search" at the start of the third season, and was somewhat reluctantly followed-up in a few scattered later episodes.  "The Adversary" finds Odo breaking a sacred rule of the people he still barely knows: "No Founder has ever hurt another."  And yet he's forced to, after once again choosing the "solids" over his people, killing one of them, and bringing on the judgment of "Link."  Eventually.

When looked at in the context of the whole series, it just comes off as clumsy.  Later, when Section 31 has introduced a virus into the Great Link (the Founders as a collective), it's clearly something inspired by this experience, a vulnerability the leaders of the Dominion never anticipated (arrogance, alas).  But that's another strange layer of the episode, too: the fact that the Dominion, in a season finale no less, is no closer to instigating a war, and in fact even allows Odo to revisit.  To teach him a lesson???  It just seems incomprehensible in hindsight, like the producers really had no idea what they were doing at this point. 

I'd dock it to less than three stars, but I don't want to force my impressions, but rather make them known.  Generally if it can reasonably be interpreted another way, I'll let it slide.  After all, there's redemption to the ideas of the episode, and one great payoff ("The Begotten") looming. 

Also included, even though strangely the Klingon war introduced in that status-shifting season premiere "Way of the Warrior" isn't otherwise relevant (goes to show how little the producers cared about it), is an appearance by Gowron, and an apparent revelation that also ties a lot of plots together (all the doubt the Founders sought to spread), but plays out differently than you might expect in the fifth season premiere, "Apocalypse Rising."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Sort of like "Sins of the Father."
  • series - Links (heh) a lot of moments together.
  • character - A crucial moment for Odo.
  • essential - Creatively, I just don't happen to agree with it.
notable guest-stars:
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Robert O'Reilly (Gowron)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x25 "Body Parts"

rating: ***

the story: Quark auctions off his body when he thinks he's dying.

what it's all about: This is probably the episode to watch if you want to see the extremes of Ferengi society, to see just how far their greed really goes, and how far Quark is willing to go...and how he's ultimately not as stolid a member of that society as he might sometimes think...

When it comes to aliens in Star Trek, it's kind of expected that if the character's in the main cast they're going to represent a fairly traditional member of the species, even if there are extenuating circumstances that otherwise present them as outsiders.  Spock, for instance, was half-human as well as half-Vulcan, but he seemed to only take his Vulcan half seriously, except his bond with Kirk (and McCoy) that betrayed a certain illogic that crept into his life over the years.  Worf was certainly Klingon, but he was raised by humans and thus actually associated better with humans than Klingons, even though he took Klingon culture very seriously. 

This was different in Deep Space Nine (as with pretty much everything else).  Kira was definitely Bajoran through and through, but it didn't take long for her to be able to accept Starfleet ideas that didn't always align with Bajoran orthodoxy, or to question decisions her people made that she didn't always think were in their best interests.  But Quark, he seemed as Ferengi as they could possibly come, certainly compared to his brother Rom and nephew Nog, both of whom eventually made a complete break from Ferengi norms.  Quark seemed to cling to tradition almost out of protest.  And yet, loathe as he would be to admit it, he was greatly influenced by Federation ideas.  He became less and less apt to sacrifice all for the sake of Ferengi tradition.

That's basically what this episode's about, regardless of what else may be going on.  In some ways it's the logical conclusion of all his experiences from the past two seasons, what his brother and nephew had decided, and his mother, and whether he in the end was what he thought he was.  And "Body Parts" seems to agree that he is as Ferengi as possible, but then Quark kind of has a Frank Capra moment.  He realizes his friends aboard the station are probably better than whatever he might get from the likes of the very Ferengi Brunt, for whom this is a culmination, too, for two seasons of demonstrating how much Quark does stray when it's so clear he doesn't.  So this is their epic showdown, once and for all, and so if you really want to know all about Quark, all about Ferengi, this may be the perfect episode to catch.

Also factored in is the funny subplot where Kira ends up carrying O'Brien's baby.  No, not because they have an affair, but because this is sci-fi and they literally transplant it from O'Brien's wife Keiko to Kira.  Nana Visitor was pregnant, but Kira was hardly likely to become pregnant (her lover, even if she doesn't know it yet, is a shapeshifter who couldn't help with that even if he wanted), so they came up with a solution that's pretty unique and actually helps soften the character further from the hardcase she'd been at the start of the series but really hadn't been for a long time.

So it's pretty appropriate to have these stories converging, if only for one episode.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - General audiences need not necessarily apply.
  • series - Important moment in the arcs of two characters.
  • character - Who would be Quark and Kira.
  • essential - You caught "important," right?
notable guest-stars:
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Hana Hatae (Molly)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x24 "The Quickening"

rating: ***

the story: Bashir becomes obsessing looking for a cure to a plague the Dominion unleashed on a dissenting world long ago.

what it's all about: You know someone figured "Hippocratic Oath" didn't quite achieve what it set out to at the start of the season when there's not one but two rebuttals at the end of the season, and they hit back-to-back.  Last episode, "To the Death," the Jem'Hadar are revisited, while in "The Quickening," Bashir gets a second chance to tackle an impossible medical dilemma.

"Oath" was to my mind a bitter disappointment, such an outlier for the season that it came to symbolize an effort to rebrand the series as something dramatically different from what it'd previously been.  But the wheel didn't need to be reinvented, and the rest of the season proved that quite handily, and so it needed to be addressed if not outright vindicated.  In "Oath" Bashir finds himself at odds with good buddy O'Brien as he attempts to cure the Jem'Hadar of a Founder-inflicted addiction to keep they loyal.  The great advantage of "Quickening" is that it refocuses the medical dilemma in such a way that represents why we're supposed to hate the Dominion, which is kind of crucial at a point in which the series was creeping closer to war against it.

Actually, this is the one episode of the series that does make the Dominion to look evil, demanding conformity at any cost and exacting a terrible price if questioned.  In essence, as the Jem'Hadar had done long ago, "Quickening" makes the Dominion look like an updated Klingon Empire, Klingons having been taken off the enemies list except for the Dominion-instigated war Deep Space Nine gamely attempted to introduce, until it realized the Klingons were too popular to be enemies again, and somewhat rapidly ended the arc a season later without having really done anything with it.

So the spotlight on this episode is Bashir, and the new kind of storytelling Deep Space Nine represented, where endings weren't necessarily happy with tidy resolutions.  This was actually one of the rare episodes where this was most true, and it's much easier to swallow here than in "Oath" because the story keeps the focus on Bashir's efforts rather than trying to shift it to an ill-fitting disagreement with a friend.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Classic medical dilemma.
  • series - Illustrates the reason why the Dominion is the enemy.
  • character - Gives Bashir an excellent medical spotlight.
  • essential - Keeps everything fairly contained so you could skip the episode and not miss anything about the whole Dominion arc.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x23 "To the Death"

rating: ***

the story: Renegade Jem'Hadar soldiers force Sisko and crew to team up with the Dominion to stop them before they do any real damage.

what it's all about: This is like "Hippocratic Oath" from the beginning of the season, but a thousand times improved, the idea of renegade Jem'Hadar integrated into a classic franchise story (think "Balance of Terror") about having to think of the enemy as someone other than the enemy, and thusly redeeming the idea at a time when the Dominion War still seemed avoidable.

This was a strange time for the series, the whole season, a period where the buildup of the previous season seemed to have stalled, and the subsequent serialized war far from a certainty.  Rather than war, the enemy seemed to be the good guys themselves, having been made so paranoid that they were willing to fight amongst themselves ("The Way of the Warrior," "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost") with the Dominion itself largely absent except in this curious pair of renegade Jem'Hadar episodes.  That the Founders waited, really, until the season finale ("Broken Link") to return left the Jem'Hadar, who had debuted as the face of the Dominion in an eponymous episode at the end of the second season, to carry the load, which initially looked like it was more of a challenge than it had any right to be.  So the first couple of Jem'Hadar episodes ("The Abandoned," "Oath") tried to spotlight them in isolation, which narratively only went so far.  The Vorta, who functioned as the Jem'Hadar's handlers and stand-ins for the Founders, didn't acquire a consistent face until this episode, at which point various clones of Weyoun became such a signature element of the series it's easy to once again to point to an episode of the fourth season, which seemed to vacillate so much in terms of how far it wanted to advance the series, as a pivotal developmental moment. 

Naturally, it's Jeffrey Combs, who had already appeared several times as Brunt, a Ferengi, behind the makeup, with the second of three definitive recurring franchise characters (later, Shran in Enterprise).  Weyoun, maybe more than even Dukat, made it very easy to like bad guys in this series!

What "To the Death" achieves, besides, is the chance to bring back the action element that seemed to be lacking in so many episodes of Deep Space Nine to this point, even though for all intents and purposes it was the Western of the franchise, which by definition always promised action.  The debut of the Dominion threat seemed to indicate that action would be more routinely integrated into the series, but it isn't until "Death" that someone remembered the Jem'Hadar's potential in that regard, after which they would become the integral embodiment of it they'd always seemed to be, and the most routine manifestation of the war in the later seasons.

Besides all that, there's also the plot device of the Iconian Gateway, last seen in Next Generation's "Contagion" and yet so similar to a similar element from the classic "City on the Edge of Forever," or even the Stargate franchise.  It's such an interesting element to throw into the story, a nod to the original idea for the season, which was to try and broaden the appeal of the series back to a point where more casual fans could get into it again. 

Aside from all that, it's just a fun episode to watch most the main characters participating in the same scenes, which in this series was never as much a given as it was in every other Star Trek, where a bridge scene could routinely do the same. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Casual fans should really have a kick out of this one.
  • series - Although it does a fair bit of Dominion groundwork, too.
  • character - Other than the debut of Weyoun, it's more of a cast episode than a spotlight for anyone in particular.
  • essential - Brings something that had been lacking back into the mix in a big way!
notable guest-stars:
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Brian Thompson
Clarence Williams III

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x22 "For the Cause"

rating: ***

the story: Kasidy is suspected of being a member of the Maquis.

what it's all about: For whatever reason, Star Trek became hugely interested in double-crosses around this time.  The Maquis, members of Starfleet and the Federation who decided to declare war on the Cardassians, were ripe for this kind of character, whether the most famous example of Ro Laren (Next Generation's "Preemptive Strike") or the triple-agent Seska in Voyager.  Yet the most surprising betrayal came from the character no one saw coming: Michael Eddington.

Eddington had been a minor recurring character since the start of the third season.  I always liked him; he'd managed to be a security officer assigned to the station who was perfectly comfortable working alongside Odo, the Bajoran-affiliated constable who had previously chafed at any such Starfleet maneuvering.  The series had even had another double-cross in the first season, with a character who made a few appearances before revealing her true alliances, but her name and impact are minimal, and represent the nascent relative failures of what would later characterize the series. 

The thing that makes Eddington's turn so genius is that it exploits one of the weaker elements of the fourth season, attempting to introduce drama in the relationship between Sisko and Kasidy Yates, another character who debuted in the third season.  Kasidy was unique from the start, an independent freighter captain, a human at that, who not only managed to stick around, but establish the first Star Trek romance with a lead character that actually went not only more than one episode, but all the way to the end of the series.  But their chemistry was so instantly winning that it was a terrible idea to try and introduce friction into it.  This episode redeemed the idea, however, in not only exploiting Kasidy's unique status, but revealing that any mistrust cast her way was in fact a deliberate and calculated play on Eddington's part, who by this point knew the station as well as anyone.

But this isn't really Eddington's spotlight.  This is a necessary link in a greater story (like "The Muse" before it), with a dynamo payoff next season in "For the Uniform" (and to a lesser extent, "Blaze of Glory," which is kind of a rehash of the unrelated "Defiant," which was a Deep Space Nine Maquis story the series didn't technically have to do after having previously used the rebels to help set up Voyager, thereby proving that they really did have storytelling legs).  There's a b-story about Garak's pursuit of Dukat's daughter Ziyal (a permanent actor still had yet to be found to portray her, and so once again she won't be listed in the "notable guest-stars" section), which likewise diminishes the immediate impact of the episode, dulling it to look more routine than it really is.

"For the Cause" is no "Preemptive Strike" (much less "State of the Flux," the Voyager episode where Seska reveals her true loyalties), but that's in part because Eddington's story is really only just beginning.  Until this point he hadn't seemed like he had much of a point at all, just a pleasant familiar face who showed up every now and again, more akin to how recurring characters appeared in the original series than how Deep Space Nine radically changed the concept.  In a lot of ways, that made him the perfect character to revisit an aborted concept from the franchise's past: the Vulcan conspirator Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country had originally intended to be Saavik, a character Gene Roddenberry had decided couldn't be handled in such a way, as to his mind she'd reached "beloved" status in her several movies appearances.  Valeria made a huge impact in her single appearance; retaining the lack of expectation, Eddington allows fans to see the whole process, which makes the betrayal ten times worse...

The idea would be revisited again in the series with Martok, but handled totally differently, with far wider-reaching results.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The Maquis (although by no means the sole proprietors of this) claim another double-cross.
  • series - A brilliant repackaging of a recurring character.
  • character - It seems to be about one character, but turns out to be the defining moment, to that point, for Eddington instead.
  • essential - The weakness of the episode, actually, is that it seemed to think it was necessary to double-up on the swerve. 
notable guest-stars:
Ken Marshall (Eddington)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x21 "The Muse"

rating: ***

the story: Odo's last fling with Lwaxana Troi, as well as Jake's flirtation with literary greatness.

what it's all about: Even though the title of the episode leans toward Jake's story, it's hard to tell which one should be considered the real lead.  This is the last of Lwaxana's nine appearances across Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.  In a lot of ways, this third appearance in Deep Space Nine is the completion of her redemption from the role of irritant in Next Generation, where she was second only to Q in that regard, with the occasional sympathetic outing whereas in this series only one in three ("Fascination") is she served up for comedic potential. 

Rather, since she first showed up in "The Forsaken," Lwaxana formed an unexpected bond with Odo.  Both were able to interpret the other better than anyone else had in their lives, and be comfortable around and accepting of each other, too.  In a lot of ways, Lwaxana is the reason Odo went on to a happy relationship with Kira, something that went beyond easy familiarity, and one step beyond what Lwaxan and Odo were able to do together.

The episode finds her in another bad relationship.  Unlike what would've happened in Next Generation ("Cost of Living" comes to mind), Lwaxana finds someone (Odo) willing to help her out of it, who isn't distracted by her brash impulses but instead recognizes what's at the heart of a complicated individual, because again, that's what Odo always wanted and needed, too.

The other side of the episode is Jake being inspired to work his best stuff, but at the cost of another of those parasitic aliens who're always cropping up in Star Trek.  Like "Shattered Mirror" immediately preceding this episode, it's like another callback to "The Visitor" earlier in the season, but one that somewhat unfortunately is tied up in gimmick storytelling, something that the series in general tried to avoid, and so it's always odd when it happens.  But the end result is the same, and it's that we get to see Jake truly advance along the road to his destiny, something the series never really revisited, except in the more war-pertinent role of journalist, which came with its own complications. 

Like the rest of the season, "The Muse" represents a definitive moment of transition, but it also shows the limitations of hesitation.  Lwaxana's story is very much her own.  Jake is very much caught up in a situation rather than his life.  Situations are what make up life, but more often than not, Deep Space Nine demonstrated more directly, less obliquely, how those situations add up.  If the work of resolution is left so completely to other episodes, and not merely in terms of serialization, something is lacking in the story.  This is an example of the series struggling to combine franchise expectations with its own best impulses, and falling short.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Formulaic elements abound.
  • series - Which hamper the best instincts of Deep Space Nine.
  • character - Still, this is good material for Jake, Odo, and Lwaxana.
  • essential - It's necessary connective material.
notable guest-stars:
Majel Roddenberry (Lwaxana)
Michael Ansara

Monday, January 16, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x20 "Shattered Mirror"

rating: ****

the story: Mirror Jennifer kidnaps Jake so Sisko will help complete Mirror Defiant.

what it's all about: At this point, a brief synopsis of this episode probably looks like gobbledygook, so let's break it down for the potentially uninitiated: "Mirror, Mirror" in the original series introduces an alternate reality where, basically, everything that's good is bad.  Deep Space Nine revisits this alternate reality for the first time in "Crossover," then again with "Through the Looking Glass," in which Sisko is confronted with the doppelganger of the wife he lost a long time ago.  So, Mirror Jennifer is that doppelganger.

Okay?  "Shattered Mirror" is in some respects the culmination of Deep Space Nine's Mirror Universe stories.  Oh, there're a couple more, but they're not hugely essential, at least not to the extent of the first three visits, especially as they relate to Sisko.  They also comprise the first big completed arc of the series.  In a lot of ways, not only does "Shattered Mirror" bring closure to "Looking Glass," but it's an answer to "The Visitor" at the start of the season as well, the fourth season's twin answers to the strong character work both Siskos received in the third season, when Sisko finally found peace with his life and mission at the station, and his son Jake started carving a path for himself.  Meeting Mirror Jennifer was a cool moment, but it would've sort of remained that if "Shattered Mirror" hadn't occurred after it.

Simply put, this is a crucial episode of the series.  If anything, Jake's interactions with Mirror Jennifer have more meaning, since he's reconnecting with a version of his mother, who died when he was very young.  Jake had grown a lot at this point in the series, and as I've mentioned, begun to come into his own.  "The Visitor" was his definitive spotlight, which meant he was ready to carry this kind of episode.  To have seen how far he could go was to be just as moved to see him reduced, all over again, to someone's child.  This is why Jake will always serve as a stark contrast to the wunderkind that was Wesley Crusher, who although he grew up, too, was always presented as his own man and even existed quite comfortably for a whole season without his mother, in Next Generation.

The ending of the episode, then, is just as poignant as the conclusion of "The Visitor."  At this point it shouldn't be a spoiler to find out that Mirror Jennifer dies.  The method of her death is part of the genius of the episode.  Mirror Kira, more commonly known as the Intendant, truly becomes a villain, and in some ways presages Dukat's arc across the series proper (it's very telling that Dukat doesn't seem to exist in the Mirror Universe, although of course Garak does, and his appearances are always fun to watch in these episodes).  She had been the most distinctive presence in Deep Space Nine's Mirror Universe from the start, but her significance fell when Mirror Jennifer unexpectedly changed the dimensions of the arc.  So to see their paths fatefully converge was, as I said, a true stroke of genius. 

Really, there was no good way to continue the arc past this point.  "Resurrection" in the sixth season is a wonderful bonus (with a great twist), while "The Emperor's New Cloak" in the seventh delivers a de facto resolution (good guys get their definitive victory, which these episodes served to forestall all along, ever since Kirk begged Mirror Spock to be the change he wanted to see in the world) that predicted the final episode of the series, too.  But neither could hope to compete with "Shattered Mirror."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Another return to the Mirror Universe of the classic "Mirror, Mirror."
  • series - Which at this point had become a defining element of Deep Space Nine.
  • character - Jake joins the fun.  Which doesn't turn out to be so fun for him.
  • essential - It's basically the conclusion of a Mirror Trilogy, and resonates with material throughout the series.
notable guest-stars:
Felecia M. Bell (Mirror Jennifer)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Aron Eisenberg (Mirror Nog)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x19 "Hard Time"

rating: ****

the story: O'Brien is sentenced by an alien culture to have a virtual memory implant of a quarter century prison sentence, which leaves him suicidal in the real world.

what it's all about: Let's-Torture-O'Brien was a favorite theme of not only Deep Space Nine but Next Generation, too.  This is the ultimate Let's-Torture-O'Brien episode.  As Colm Meaney gave the most relatable performances of any actor in the franchise, the sadistic rules of storytelling meant he'd be sympathetic enough to sell this concept over and over again.  Starfleet personnel suffering unjustly under alien penal concepts is hardly a unique concept, but "Hard Time" brings the trope, and Let's-Torture-O'Brien, to truly epic proportions, thanks to Meaney's ability to sell the emotional damage and O'Brien's increasing isolation.  In a lot of ways, it's a PTSD episode before "It's Only a Paper Moon" in the final season.

Because the fix was truly in, O'Brien's family, which had been absent for about a season's worth of material, was right there to experience the torture along with him, as is Bashir.  The trauma they share this time, unlike "Hippocratic Oath" earlier in the season, occurs organically rather than as a random instance of their diverging thought processes.  There's every justification for every creative decision in the episode, in other words, and it's as devastating to watch as it is for the character to endure.  I can think of only one other episode in the franchise, Voyager's "Mortal Coil" (which centers on Neelix, of all characters, the Jar Jar Binks of Star Trek), that plumbs this existential depth, despite numerous other attempts, which I won't mention, at the same basic concept.  This is the emotional maturity of Deep Space Nine at one of its highest points, a kind of mirror image of "The Visitor" earlier in the season.

"Hard Time" is also a kind of answer to the earlier "Whispers," in which O'Brien (or a replicant who thinks he's O'Brien) finds himself equally isolated, but so convinced he can gain control of the situation he never freaks out.  Well, "Hard Time" is one long, fascinating freak-out.  Think of Spock's bloodlust in "Amok Time," but without a cathartic fight ready to take it out of him, or a handy fake-out aided by a sneaky doctor friend.  That's the big difference between the storytelling of Deep Space Nine and the rest of the franchise (other than another Voyager episode, "Latent Image"), that the characters never get easy solutions to their problems.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Part of a long tradition of Starfleet officers suffering because of the decisions of an alien culture.
  • series - As well as the running theme of throwing the worst at O'Brien in Deep Space Nine as well as Next Generation.
  • character - Needless to say, is an important O'Brien experience.
  • essential - It's kind of O'Brien's greatest traumas, and those of the other characters in this series, condensed into a nutshell.
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Hana Hatae (Molly)
F.J. Rio

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x18 "Rules of Engagement"

rating: *

the story: Worf stands trial for being in command during a mission in which innocent civilians died.

what it's all about: Court drama is such a familiar Star Trek trope that if attempted, it had better have something interesting to say.  Unfortunately, "Rules of Engagement" really doesn't.

It's one of the few episodes of the season to have something, even tangentially, to say about the Klingon war, but it's also an episode that could've been told regardless of it, in an earlier era of the franchise.  It's almost like Enterprise's revisiting of the period where the Federation and the Klingon Empire were definitely rivals, which was a running theme of the original series as well as their six films.  Even with the war going on, it seems it would've been more a Deep Space Nine story, or even a franchise story in general (think "Balance of Terror") if there had been an episode this season that tried to demonstrate that war couldn't really shake the bonds of friendship that had been forged in the more recent past.

And it's one of those curious episodes (like the later "Change of Heart") that the series inexplicably did, whose only real effect was to call into serious question Worf's command ability.  Why was this such an easy thing for the series to do with the character?  I don't know if anything else Worf ever did really justifies such storytelling.

And yet, "Rules" still has some things to say, the general alienation Worf will continue to experience among his people until he finally bonds with Martok later, and the uses of propaganda and show trials in wartime (and election seasons).  It becomes clear that the whole point of the trial is to discredit the Federation.  But the effectiveness of Founder manipulation is better represented, among Klingons, in the fifth season premiere, "Apocalypse Rising," in which this particular war reaches its conclusion.

So this is definitely one of the season's misfires.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The best reason to watch this episode is a general look at continued Klingon/Federation differences.
  • series - It doesn't really have that much to say about the Klingon war happening around it.
  • character - Or anything particularly useful to say about Worf.
  • essential - Pretty much the opposite of what a Deep Space Nine episode should be.
notable guest-stars:
Ron Canada

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x17 "Accession"

rating: ***

the story: Sisko unexpectedly finds a challenger to the role of the Emissary.

what it's all about: The most revolutionary thing Deep Space Nine ever did was include as one of its central elements the idea of religion as something to be embraced rather than dismissed, as it is in virtually every other corner of Star Trek.  In the first episode ("Emissary"), Sisko finds himself identified as the savior of the Bajoran people, the embodiment of their gods, the Prophets (whom Starfleet refers to as "wormhole aliens," since they reside in the wormhole that sits just to the side of the eponymous station).  He immediately chafes at the idea, and it takes him seven seasons, really, to figure out what it really means.

"Accession" is one of the few episodes to tackle the idea headfirst.  In the third season, he's tasked with determining whether or not a prophecy is true in "Destiny," which is the first time he takes Bajor's faith seriously.  In the fifth season, he gets a sense of the mystical nature of the role during "Rapture."  Yet in "Accession," he's forced to decide whether he personally takes the idea seriously. 

The wormhole spits out a Bajoran poet two hundred years after he disappeared.  Anyone who steps out of the past will affect the present, but this is an extreme case, and it's one of the episodes where we really get a sense of what it means to live in Bajoran culture when the poet-cum-Emissary tries to set back the culture two hundred years, basically to what he used to know.  Seeing Kira humbled is an unusual experience, and probably this is the only time we see it played out, but somehow she is, and it's the mark of her evolution as a character that she no longer fights everything, as she did at the start of the series (Voyager's characters actually had a similar arc, but fans always had a hard time with that). 

Meanwhile, O'Brien is reunited with his wife Keiko, who announces that she's pregnant, but as much as he hated the idea of her leaving last season, he's grown comfortable with the freedom he's had to live the bachelor life again, which is what helped solidify his bond with Bashir (the absence of which was what made "Hippocratic Oath" early in the season so jarring).  "Accession" actually marks the beginning of the rest of the series for O'Brien and Bashir, and even Keiko's new willingness to live peacefully at the station, so it's ironic, and clever storytelling juxtaposition, to watch this unfold as Sisko struggles with whether or not it's okay to walk away from his role as the Emissary.  Whereas "Destiny" had him realize the prophecies aren't always what they seem, here he learns that sometimes the truth is exactly what it always seemed.

It's definitely an episode for the thinkers among the fans, which is to say, the truly dedicated Deep Space Nine fans.  Best easter egg for those fans?  An appearance by the warmest Bajoran presence the series ever had, Kai Opaka, who was written out all the way back in the first season.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Kind of directly smacks the face of Star Trek tradition.
  • series - A necessary story in the overall arc of Deep Space Nine.
  • character - If the whole season were a crisis of faith, this is the episode where it's dramatized by Sisko.
  • essential - Crucial to a deep understanding of a deep series.
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Hana Hatae (Molly)
Camille Saviola (Kai Opaka)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x16 "Bar Association"

rating: ***

the story: Rom finally has enough of Quark's constant lack of respect, and finally strikes out in his own direction.

what it's all about: This is one of those crucial turning points of the series that could very easily be lost in the shuffle of the huge Dominion War arc that, as I've said before, tends to encapsulate the whole perception of Deep Space Nine at its best.  But that couldn't be true if the characters in the story didn't matter, and because of that, episodes like "Bar Association" really are important, too.

The revolution of Ferengi society is ultimately an arc that revolves around Rom, who never managed to be as successful as his brother Quark.  By the end of the series, after Rom and Quark's mother Ishka had convinced Grand Nagus (read; Ferengi leader) Zek to enact radical reform, it's Rom who's named Zek's successor.

The odd thing about "Bar Association," and Rom's ultimate fate, is that he's a great supporting character, and easy to root for, especially the more he became his own man (it's crazy to think in hindsight that Max Grodenchik changed how he voiced the character along the way), the more he made Quark look bad in comparison.  No, not because Quark stubbornly clung to the traditional ways of his people, but because it robbed him of an opportunity to grow, too, the one character who was denied a conclusive arc in the series.  But it also gives Quark a unique role in the series, as the unlikeliest champion of the status quo in a Star Trek series that dared defy it, in a way even the original series never did, much as it mirrored the struggles of the countercultural revolution of the '60s.

But it's odd within this episode, too, because up to this point, Quark and Rom had always been inextricably linked, with Quark being the one who would subtly learn a thing or two about why things working as they typically do maybe isn't such a good thing.  And while this would continue ("Business as Usual" is easily the most effective of his later spotlights), having him effectively exist in a vacuum also deprived Quark of that essential suggestion that he wasn't as bad as he seemed, if Rom was willing to stick by him.

Still, Rom's defining spotlight is a triumph, right up to the point he joins his son Nog in finally casting off any notion of following Ferengi norms, quitting the bar and joining O'Brien's engineering team. 

We also have Worf reflecting on the chaos of the series, for the first time really seeming like what's going on around him actually matters to him.  "Bar Association" is as much a reflection of what the series once was and what it was to become.  Quark having to defend his business practices was one of the original defining elements of the series, one that survived every creative revision, and this episode proves its enduring appeal.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - While there's a certain universal appeal to the story, it may resonate best with fans of this particular series.
  • series - It really shouldn't be too hard to see how relevant it is to Deep Space Nine.
  • character - Rom's definitive spotlight.
  • essential - Reflects on the past and present of the series.
notable guest-stars:
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x15 "Sons of Mogh"

rating: ***

the story: Once more Kurn must bear the brunt of his brother Worf's decisions...

what it's all about: In a lot of ways, "Sons of Mogh" is more a sequel to Next Generation's "Sins of the Father" than it is an episode of Deep Space Nine I mean, don't get me wrong, the episode happens because of a Deep Space Nine storyline begun in the season premiere ("Way of the Warrior"), but it's kind of the episode the series had to do in order to satisfy all its obligations for introducing Worf into the mix.

So yeah, "Sons" is a sequel as well as restating of "Sins."  It's also a kind of restating of Next Generation's "Ethics," in which Worf wonders if suicide really is the honorable thing to do in a culture dominated by honor.  Except in "Sons," not only is Kurn being faced with ostracism from the rest of Klingon society because of his brother Worf (as in "Sins") but struggling to decide if this time it's too much, and he too must decide to end it...

Some people really have a problem with overlapping storytelling like this.  Me, I tend to think of it in terms of resonance, and to me, resonance is always a good thing, as it speaks to the depth of the storytelling, not only the different kinds of stories that are possible within a given framework, but how much difference the same story can exhibit if told again at a later date with the added benefit of fresh insight.

All that being said, there's another reason to consider "Sons" as something other than a duplicative experience, and that's that it exists at a time and in a series that has a radical new aesthetic.  Much of Next Generation tends to look very sanitized.  I'm not sure anyone ever claimed Deep Space Nine looked anything but grungy, "dark" (the designation that usually turned off fans raised on the cheerful primary color palette of the original series).  Certainly, viewers raised later with the truly grim Battestar Galactica reboot would agree with this assessment.

So "Sons" is in one sense a chance to revisit "Sins" (and "Ethics") from a period in which the full benefits of the storytelling and presentation evolutions "Sins" itself helped initiate can be seen.  Isn't that a pretty good argument to take it seriously?

Yet it's also a story that pointedly leads nowhere for Worf in Deep Space Nine itself.  This is Kurn's last-ever appearance, and later on in the series Worf develops an intense bond with Martok, a similarly eccentric idealist whose chemistry with him was something Kurn could never match.  Kurn thus becomes an oddity, one of the best pure Klingons ever depicted in Star Trek, and yet continually hobbled rather than enhanced by his relationship with Worf.

Between this and "Rules of Engagement" a few episodes later, Worf keep finding himself alienated rather than united to his new context, and these are certainly interesting creative choices, but ones that clearly indicate his presence had not yet been assimilated with those around him.  Although in that sense, I think I'm reiterating from an earlier review that this actually makes Worf an excellent allegory for the rest of the characters in the series, as outsiders perennially looking in, forever struggling to redefine themselves...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A fine addition to Klingon storytelling.
  • series - Somewhat detached from Deep Space Nine itself, however.
  • character - One last dance between Worf and Kurn.
  • essential - It's an excellent revision of previous material.
notable guest-stars:
Tony Todd (Kurn)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x14 "Return to Grace"

rating: ***

the story: Dukat has an epic plan in mind for his redemption.

what it's all about: When "Indiscretion" aired earlier in the season, it seemed like a lackluster attempt at continuing the kind of storytelling that had typified the first few seasons of Deep Space Nine at its best, exploring the gray areas that Kira was all of a sudden discovering in the Cardassian/Bajoran conflicts of the past, somewhat randomly featuring Gul Dukat until the end of the episode revealed the existence of his daughter.  Now, Tora Ziyal in hindsight is a major development for Dukat, but "Indiscretion" was a small tip of the iceberg.  Most if not all the enjoyment of such an episode would really have rested on Dukat's considerable ability to talk and talk and talk.  The mark of a great Cardassian character is their verbosity, and that's how Dukat became the best Cardassian in all of Star Trek.  Above all else, he loved to hear himself talk.  But as a precursor to his pilgrimage in the final episode, "What You Leave Behind," "Indiscretion" seemed remarkably lightweight, unworthy of what was to come.

Well, "Return to Grace" changes all that.  The fears Dukat hinted at all the way back in "Defiant" during the third season, about the crucial importance of family to Cardassians, have come to pass.  He's lost his place in the order of things, and really, all he has left is Ziyal (the revolving door of actresses portraying her that persisted through her early appearances continues here, and so she won't be listed in the "notable guest-stars" section).  And a fellow named Damar.  In his first appearance Damar can't possibly suggest just how important he was to become, but still, this episodes marks his debut.

But "Return" isn't really about Ziyal and it isn't about Damar, and it really isn't about Kira, although her appearance here is another welcome echo to "Defiant," where she's playing much the same role, as someone ironically cautioning against hotheaded behavior, when that used to be her bread and butter.  It's all about Dukat.  This is, essentially, the debut of the Dukat most fans will remember, the one who initiated the Dominion War about a season and a half later, for the reasons that had their roots in "Indiscretion," but really begin in "Return." 

The episode also involves the Klingon war that otherwise vanished as soon as it began in "Way of the Warrior" at the start of the season.  (Clearly the serialized nature of the series had yet to materialize; even the episodes in the final two seasons that didn't directly feature the Dominion War were generally still relevant to it.)  The theme of a wounded warrior (mostly in that sensitive area known as "pride") that had begun with Sisko in the very first episode ("Emissary") finds new resonance here, and would continue to reverberate throughout the rest of the series.  In essence, Deep Space Nine spent a lot of time reclaiming character traits that usually befell hapless Stafleet captains not named Jim Kirk in the original series. 

In its way, "Return to Grace" is a preview of things to come.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Contradicts the Star Trek norm of relegating wounded pride to hapless guest-stars.
  • series - It's a preview of the Dominion War to come!
  • character - A big focus on Dukat.
  • essential - This is where everything really falls apart for the guy, and so it's crucial viewing.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x13 "Crossfire"

rating: ***

the story: Odo's secret love for Kira becomes less easy to hide when her latest lover, Shakaar, shows up at the station.

what it's all about: The subplot of the Odo/Kira relationship was a slow boil during the series until it finally exploded in the sixth season and became a crucial element of the final episode, "What You Leave Behind."  "Crossfire" is the episode where it starts to bubble to the surface in dramatic fashion.

"Heart of Stone," from the third season, was really when what had been subtext to that point became something more obvious when the Female Founder tricks Odo into revealing why he really prefers to stay among the "Solids" (what the Founders call humanoids who can't change shape) rather than reunite with his people.  "Crossfire" has nothing to do with the emerging Dominion threat but instead harkens back to a comparatively more innocent age of the series, when "mere" Bajoran matters still mattered for reasons other than Kai Winn's meddling.  Shakaar, who debuted last season in an eponymous episode, was created to replace the relatively lifeless Bareil, who had probably come to symbolize the apparently bloodless Bajorans for a lot of viewers in the early seasons.  But this is Shakaar's second and last notable appearance, and his appearance isn't really about him at all, but an excuse for Odo to finally realize just how much he really cares for Kira.

Comparable to the torture sequence in "The Die is Cast," "Crossfire" eventually finds Odo in the most disheveled state we've ever seen him (again, except for that torture sequence), his hair out of place and everything, and having destroyed the quarters he's recently begun inhabiting despite needing only a bucket to regenerate in (this progress was, of course, prompted by Kira)...

Basically, this is a really excellent episode for fans of the series.  Deep Space Nine increasingly centered its focus on its own fans rather than Star Trek fans in general, which was to eventually make it a "cult within a cult," and it's thanks to episodes like this one where that was possible.  The fourth season began as an experiment to see how far back into general Star Trek fun the series could be pushed after the strong serialization  efforts of the third season, but by this point the producers had realized what really worked, and "Crossfire" represents the shift back to the slow march to the way everyone remembers the series, the heavy serialization of the final seasons intermixed with "standalone" episodes that still were mostly relevant to series matters first and foremost.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - If you're a casual fan this episode probably won't apply to you.
  • series - Long-term fans will eat it up.
  • character - Most important as an Odo episode.
  • essential - But of course it deeply informs his later relationship with Kira.
notable guest-stars:
Duncan Regehr (Shakaar)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x12 "Paradise Lost"

rating: ****

the story: Martial law has been declared, and everyone's a potential shape-shifter...

what it's all about: "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" was supposed to a cliffhanger/season premiere straddling the third and fourth seasons, originally.  This would explain why the basic premise of "The Adversary," which ended up being the third season finale (as a standalone story) is similar to what was postponed in favor of the Klingon reboot "Way of the Warrior" that opened the fourth season instead.  And yet, "Adversary" doesn't really prepare you for what "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" accomplish once they finally happen.

The recap at the start of "Paradise Lost" includes the crucial scene from "Homefront" where Joseph Sisko angrily rejects the notion that he needs to prove he's human.  I already discussed in my "Homefront" review how crucial Joseph, as Sisko's father, is as a general addition to both the series and franchise (as a main character's parent, he's really second only to Sarek in importance), but he's also absolutely critical to understanding how well this particular story works, because he's a running commentary on his son's doubts and the ultimate resolution of the crisis. 

Sisko's conversation with a Founder (a shape-shifter; a changeling; Odo's people, although strangely this is a story that involves him but not in the way they usually do, as more observer than participant), in the guise of O'Brien, is one of the more chilling scenes of the whole franchise (sort of like Voyager's "In the Flesh," in which Starfleet Headquarters is recreated by Species 8472, complete with the perennially disarming groundskeeper Boothby).  This sequence alone justifies the two-part story.

There's a subplot in both episodes involving Nog's early days at Starfleet Academy, which in "Paradise Lost" becomes a little like the Deep Space Nine version of Next Generation's "The First Duty."  But this is among the material that really only pads out the relevant stuff, which again mostly focuses on Sisko, his dad, and that scene with the bogus O'Brien.

Because this is ultimately an allegory for the Red Scare, the period of the early Cold War when Americans were being summoned to the House Un-American hearings to prove whether or not they'd ever had communist sympathies.  In more recent times, the Department of Homeland Security that was created post-9/11 and the fears that Trump intends to in effect reintroduce the Red Scare concept to combat terrorism (also of note: Japanese internment camps during WWII, of which Sulu actor George Takei has eloquently given testimony to).  All of this symptomatic of a state of paranoia, and the excessive responses that can arise from it; that's what "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" are all about, what Sisko and his dad spend so much time talking about. 

Surprisingly, this is a concept that was dropped from the further Dominion arc (with a few exceptions, such as finding out about the Martok and Bashir doppelgangers; in a lot of ways Ron Moore essentially took this as his main premise on the Battlestar Galactica reboot), with the shape-shifters over time being reduced to conversations between Odo and the Female Founder.  So this is a more crucial moment than it might have originally seemed, both as more relevant than ever after 9/11, and for everything that didn't happen later in the series.  Clearly it was something that needed to be done, and it's actually probably a good thing that it happened before the war actually began, which also lends it further significance, as a commentary on how wars happen to begin with, not so much the obvious provocations, but the fears that build up on both sides.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A Cold War allegory for a concept originally conceived at the height of the Cold War.
  • series - Crucial to the Dominion arc.
  • character - This remains a Sisko spotlight.
  • essential - It's far more significant in hindsight that it might have seemed when originally broadcast.
notable guest-stars:
Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Robert Foxworth
Susan Gibney

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x11 "Homefront"

rating: ****

the story: Shape-shifters on Earth mean a huge crisis...

what it's all about: If somehow Deep Space Nine had ended after four seasons (as Enterprise did later), I think the legacy of the series would be "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost," especially post-9/11, when this story became hugely relevant.  The rampant paranoia and the questionable decisions members of Starfleet make are unlike anything else found in the series or the franchise, save perhaps "Conspiracy" from Next Generation, an episode that notoriously dropped off any further significance when its storyline was never revisited.  (In that instance, somewhat the episodic nature of Star Trek at that point both at its worst and arguably best.)  Yet "Homefront" directly impacts the budding Dominion arc, which had been developing in fits and starts since the end of the second season with the introduction of the Jem'Hadar and Vorta, as well as "The Search" at the beginning of the third, in which the Founders are revealed, and a few stabs at the reaction they engendered, such as "Way of the Warrior" at the start of this season.

And yet, never before is the whole idea so potent than when the story is largely focused on the good guys acting like bad guys because they're scared.  Isn't that exactly what people have been saying, the past fifteen years, about what happened after 9/11?  Maybe this needs to be emphasized about "Homefront," and that's why I'm choosing it as the leading point of the episode, and its sequel.

From a president who waffles over how to respond (actually the opposite of what happened in the real world) to Starfleet hotheads dictating the course of action (in its basic framework, the story kind of borrows the typical Hollywood framework, which could also be seen in 24, which was actually conceived before 9/11 but eerily debuted at around the same time; Kiefer Sutherland also stars in Designated Survivor, which certainly follows the template, although just as engagingly).

Oddly, it's the rare Deep Space Nine story that does not actually involve the eponymous station, making it one of the rare Star Trek stories to have taken main characters into an arena totally unrelated to their duty stations (away missions don't count).  It's a huge crisis, and it means Sisko is actually given a new assignment, albeit temporarily. 

So the premise is excellent, and what grounds it is actually fairly personal, the introduction of Sisko's father, Joseph.  This is actually one of the things about the season that most blatantly demonstrates the fresh start the season hoped to be, because early in the series it was heavily implied that Sisko's father was dead, so to suddenly see him alive and kicking (most definitely kicking!) is a shock, but a welcome one, because he adds considerable spice to the Sisko family, and a welcome addition to the series repertory of recurring characters, older than the norm by far, a member of a previous generation much like the elder Klingons who had previously filled that function on a less personal basis.  It's actually the one instance in the whole franchise, aside from Sarek, where the aged parent of a main character becomes a significant character, too.

But this is all setup, in an odd quirk of the series (Enterprise would later echo it in its fourth season), a mutipart episode that has different names for each installment, which had already occurred in the second and third seasons, and would again once storytelling became more serialized, especially at the beginning of the sixth season and end of the seventh.  The second half of this story is as important as this one, even if both episodes effectively tell one long one.  In Voyager midseason two-part episodes would eventually be aired in two-hour blocks (that was the benefit of airing on a network instead of in syndication).  But Voyager never had a story quite like this one...

I'll leave further discussion to "Paradise Lost," which comes next.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Adds to the crisis trope frequently found in Star Trek.
  • series - Tells a major story of the Dominion arc.
  • character - A considerable focus on the expanding Sisko family.
  • essential - Becomes more and more significant as the years pass.
notable guest-stars:
Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko)
Robert Foxworth
Susan Gibney
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x10 "Our Man Bashir"

rating: ****

the story: A systems malfunction significantly raises the stakes for Bashir's secret agent program.

what it's all about: If you somehow can't watch the earlier "Little Green Men" and embrace it for the classic romp it is, then "Our Man Bashir" is waiting in the wings for you.  It joins a suite of such episodes from the franchise ("A Piece of the Action" from the original series; "A Fistful of Datas, Next Generation; "Bride of Chaotica!," Voyager) to toss Star Trek into unexpected storytelling with wonderfully entertaining results.

"Bashir's secret agent program" means that the good doctor is playing James Bond in all but name, and so at heart "Our Man" is a spoof of Bond movies, with every main character factoring into the plot in surprising ways, including Sisko (as he was in the original Deep Space Nine Mirror Universe episode, "Crossover," playing the part of a villain, which he also does memorably in "Facets;" no other lead character in franchise lore ever convincingly played the part of ultimate hero and ultimate villain, let alone three times!).

The great thing about the episode is that it ends up later as foreshadowing of Bashir's reluctant involvement with the nefarious Section 31, the covert operations division of Starfleet that was later prominently featured in Star Trek Into Darkness.  It's also the one time we get to enjoy Bashir, with or without O'Brien, enjoy one of his much-discussed holosuite programs, and that alone makes "Our Man" pretty noteworthy.

It also serves as a pretty handy dividing line between the apparent mandate for a greater focus on episodic storytelling in the fourth season to the more serialized form that would pick up with the two-part "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" after it and in fact the rest of the season, nearly all of which had something useful to say about matters of a slightly more weighty significance to the rest of the series.

It's a resounding triumph for Bashir, meanwhile, arguably his most enjoyable lead appearance to that point in the series, making up for the grimness of "Hippocratic Oath" earlier in the season and making way for "The Quickening," which also feels like an apology for "Oath," after it. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A classic Star Trek romp.
  • series - An unexpected link to storytelling elsewhere in Deep Space Nine.
  • character - An excellent Bashir spotlight.
  • essential - Entertaining in a very easy-to-approach manner!
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Ken Marshall (Eddington)
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