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)

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