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
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