Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x17 "Penumbra"

rating: ***

the story: Sisko proposes to Kasidy; Ezri goes in search of the missing Worf.

what it's all about: Here's where the series begins its endgame, the start of ten heavily serialized hours (including the two-hour final episode, "What You Leave Behind").  "Penumbra" is one of the few episodes in this stretch that have a definitive story within it, which is Sisko plotting a future that he won't get to enjoy, settling down with Kasidy and plotting their home on Bajor.  Parallel to that certainty is the doubt between Ezri and Worf, who've had problems all season reconciling their relationship, since Ezri is the next host of the Dax symbiont who was once married to Worf as Jadzia.

Of the two, Ezri and Worf have a more compelling story, considering that they finally confront the messiness of their relationship, something Worf has long avoided.  If anything complicates it, the fact that they get caught by the Breen, who are soon revealed as new allies of the Dominion, which ultimately has nothing to do with Ezri or Worf, and that Ezri undertook Worf's rescue without the rest of the crew, diminishes "Penumbra" as a definitive moment, if that makes sense.  While the element has more weight to it, you almost wish Sisko and Kasidy had been allowed to have their moment.  Sisko is forced to wonder if he's made the right call, but only because his Prophet mom gives him a vision of doubt, but that doesn't end up meaning anything until the final hour of the series, which is still a long way off.

There's also Dukat surgically altering himself to appear as a Bajoran, which has more significance once we learn why he does it.  He meets with Damar, who has become an alcoholic, which has more significance once we learn what that leads him to.  And the Female Founder is suffering from a plague, which get the point.

The problem with these serialized episodes is that they're so serialized that they don't stop to tell any single story in a single episode.  Even if the six-episode arc at the start of the sixth season had some strong and some weak material, there were still standout episodes that stood alone within it.  I don't think that's the case in the coming episodes.

But I'll continue giving my thoughts about what each of them adds to the arc, and whether or not they provide something that might sell them individually.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Even though there's at least one big moment general fans might appreciate, it's buried in a lot of other material that you need to keep watching to appreciate, and thus meant squarely for fans.
  • series - Which by definition means there's a lot of significant things happening.
  • character - To a lot of characters, but most obviously Sisko & Kasidy, Ezri & Worf.
  • essential - Sisko finding new and lasting happiness is something that was unthinkable when the series began, and this is the culmination of that journey.
notable guest-stars:
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)
Deborah Lacey (Sarah)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x16 "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"

rating: ****

the story: Bashir is tricked into working for Section 31.

what it's all about: "In times of war, the law falls silent."  This is kind of a cult-within-a-cult-within-a-cult sort of deal.  If Star Trek became a cult sensation, and Deep Space Nine became a cult sensation within a cult sensation, then "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" became the episode that was the cult within the...well, you get the picture.

In the preceding season, "Inquisition" introduced Luther Sloan and the concept of Section 31, Starfleet's answer to the long-established Tal Shiar of the Romulans and Obsidian Order of the Cardassians, a secret spy organization subject to no one and capable of anything.  It was itself a classic piece of work, and yet it's an achievement that pales in comparison to "Silent Leges," the episode that perhaps crystalizes the Deep Space Nine approach to the franchise.

This was always a series that took a different look at the lore, a more nuanced one, that dared to suggest there was more to Gene Roddenberry vision of a utopian future than met the eye.  While attending a conference on Romulus, Bashir is confronted with the idea of Section 31 all over again, and he becomes determined to expose it.  Except he doesn't take into account just how clever it really is, and that's what's so special about the episode, really, how it takes what was always one of the hallmarks of Star Trek and turned it on its head, the idea that geniuses could work miracles.  The miracle of "Silent Leges" is that it explains how and why Section 31 exists, as a support structure for Starfleet's highest ideals.

In these days of constant revelations about what real world organizations like Section 31 have been up to, it's hard to appreciate that they were founded to do that kind of work, that there really is justification for what looks so awful in the news.  "Silent Leges" serves as an argument in their favor even as Bashir can only consider Section 31 with disgust, as a necessary evil.  And yet (there's even a classic episode with that name in the second season), that was a concept at the very heart of the series, so "Silent Leges" is kind of the final statement of the series about that, in such a sensational, new way that it becomes, well, a cult within a...well, you know.

It's all the more ironic that it's Bashir who stars in the episode, as he was at the start of the series the most na├»ve Star Trek character ever, so gung-ho to take a posting "at the edge of the final frontier" (so the premise was originally posed) that he was actually fascinated by the idea of Garak, a Cardassian spy who never got to come in from the cold, that he never even considered the danger posed by such an individual.  (It's to be reminded that these dangers were eventually explored in the third season.)  So to become entangled in the very real depths of spy business, the messiness of the frontier, of Starfleet's mission in general, is a way for Bashir to take the series out of the war context it had become immersed in and would end its run exploring. 

It's an ideal episode to view Deep Space Nine at its very best.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - When Star Trek Into Darkness later brings Section 31 to the masses, it's this episode that made the organization truly relevant.
  • series - This is what Deep Space Nine was all about.
  • character - Shows how far Bashir has come in the course of the series.
  • essential - An episode you could sell the whole series on to a reluctant fan.
notable guest-stars:
William Sadler (Sloan)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
John Fleck
Adrienne Barbeau

Monday, May 29, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x15 "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang"

rating: ****

the story: The crew has to come to Vic Fontaine's rescue.

what it's all about: Pretty much the ultimate holodeck episode.  Holodeck episodes became notorious in the franchise because they so often involved some convoluted malfunction that changed the rules holodecks were supposed to follow. Deep Space Nine technically didn't feature a holodeck but rather a holosuite (just as Voyager tried to change the term to holonovel), but all the same, its characters were always going into the holodeck and even had classic holodeck malfunction episodes ("Our Man Bashir").  "Badda-Bing" shares heritage with the classic "A Piece of the Action" and Voyager's "Worst Case Scenario," where insane things had to been seen through to the end (actually, that goes for "Our Man Bashir," too, and even Next Generation's "A Fistful of Datas").

What sets "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang" apart is that it's such a celebratory moment, the last opportunity for Deep Space Nine to have a little fun before things get really dark as the series wound down to its final episodes.  Unlike "Take Me out to the Holosuite" before it, "Badda-Bing" plays itself straight, but it's just such a fun concept, a heist story (years before the rebooted Ocean's Eleven, I might add), and such an unexpected one, that it becomes easy to enjoy on just about every level. 

Let's start with Vic.  This was the lounge singer introduced last season in "His Way," but who took on much greater significance earlier in the seventh season, thanks to "It's Only a Paper Moon."  I wouldn't be surprised if "Badda-Bing" was envisioned while the producers were working on "Paper Moon," as a thank-you.  Vic was a character who should never have worked as well as he did, much less deserve so many spotlights, as the series was coming to an end.  I mean, Deep Space Nine was never exactly hurting for supporting characters, and of all of them, Vic doesn't seem like he warrants so much special attention.  I mean, he's a hologram who admits he's happy living in his holoworld!  And "Badda-Bing" is all about the crew saving that world for him!  I mean, what's the point? 

It's about family.  Vic quickly became symbolic of the family Deep Space Nine cobbled together, a voice who could bring everything into perspective.  And so helping him out is really about putting the emphasis on that family, seeing everyone come together, because in the episodes ahead, they all get flung in opposite directions.  When he and Sisko duet at the end of the episode, it sends chills down your spine.  Next time they're all together, it's the final hour of the series...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Classic change of pace, light material.
  • series - Everyone comes together for this one.
  • character - It's Vic's spotlight!
  • essential - Classic romp.
notable guest-stars:
James Darren (Vic Fontaine)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy Yates)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Robert O'Reilly

Friday, May 26, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x14 "Chimera"

rating: ***

the story: Odo meets another changeling who never joined the Great Link and thus didn't become a Founder of the Dominion.

what it's all about: Regardless of when it finally happened, "Chimera" is one of those episodes that always needed to happen, ever since Odo found out the truth of his origins in the third season premier, "The Search."  Turns out he was one of a hundred children sent off to explore the galaxy.  In some alternate version of the series, he would've spent the rest of it trying to find the rest of them.  In this one, "Chimera" is where he finally encounters one.

What's fascinating about it is that the episode allows Odo to retread familiar material but from a fresh perspective.  Between his own experiences and obviously what the rest of the Founders chose to do, fitting in among "solids" always seems to be a problem.  Until "Chimera," though, we really only had the Female Founder's word for that.  It might have been mere propaganda on her part, playing on Odo's vulnerabilities, but as it turns out it's probably pretty accurate.  (Although it certainly would've been interesting to do a variation of "Heart of Stone" where Odo thinks he's found one of his lost siblings, but it's really such a Founder trick.)

So instead we get to revisit what exactly makes Odo so inherently interesting, his sense of alienation but also how he's managed to work around it.  At this point he's very much centered that around Kira, and the episode ends sweetly with them sharing an intimate moment that means something for both of them.

Nitpickers insist there's a huge continuity goof, however, based on developments later in the season, where we learn Section 31 used Odo as a carrier for a fatal virus against the Founders.  At the point he meets the stray changeling in "Chimera," Odo has always been infected and passed it on, starting with the Female Founder (which backdates the infection to at least the sixth season, the last time they spent time together), which means he passes it along to the innocent changeling, too, who will have no idea Odo's friends find a cure that he soon enough passes along to the Great Link...So, bye-bye Laas?  It certainly seems that way.  That implies the point we last see him he stops developing.  If there'd been a follow-up with the character, there's always the possibility that his experiences with Odo inspire him to get past his prejudices, and he finds someone or a community that could help him.  Or perhaps some Starfleet cleanup team tracks him down.  I mean, if Section 31 could engineer the problem, Starfleet could just as easily undo it, once it proves possible.  A thought, anyway.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Like a lot of excellent Deep Space Nine material, it's pretty specific to series.
  • series - It's an alternate look at familiar elements from past seasons.
  • character - Odo's last chance to reconsider his bond with Kira.
  • essential - An episode that needed to happen.
notable guest-stars:
J.G. Hertzler (Laas)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x13 "Field of Fire"

rating: **

the story: With the help of the volatile Joran, Ezri hunts a killer.

what it's all about: This is actually another of those valuable war stories.  Fans at the time thought it was a pretty random and poor excuse to put Ezri in the spotlight again, but really, it's best seen as a war story, once you reach the end of it, and understand it for what it is.

"Field of Fire," like "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" before it, was part of a trend that season to depict Vulcans in unusual ways.  Both times it's how they're processing their experiences in the Dominion War.  If there's a weakness, it's that both episodes feature characters who mean nothing except in the context of their stories.  The Vulcans, I mean.  It's odd to think Deep Space Nine, which had about a billion recurring characters, didn't have a Vulcan one.  In hindsight that would've been really helpful in these particular episodes.  But I still think they handle their insights well.

"Field" really owes its greatest debt to the third season, in which the hidden host Joran is first explored in "Equilibrium" and "Facets."  Here it's Ezri dealing with him instead of Jadzia, who was the one who had to go to the trouble of reintegrating his memories into the Dax symbiont and thus the current host as well.  It's actually pretty neat to see Joran again.  It's a shame that more prior hosts didn't become relevant.  Even Curzon, the "old man" Sisko was always referencing to Jadzia and/or Ezri, really didn't have that much of a legacy (except "Blood Oath," and "Facets").  That's another creative oversight of the series.  Curzon was basically Deep Space Nine's Sarek, and in seven seasons it seems he could've been fit in more than he was.  But that's nitpicking.

Ezri ends up a curious means to solve a mystery, regardless of how she does it, because her function aboard the station really has nothing to do with such things.  It's always odd when characters do that in TV shows.  But then, the history of TV shows is all about unusual people solving crimes, in some respects. 

Not the most consequential episode, but enjoyable.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Casual fans will probably be baffled.
  • series  Connects nicely with existing lore.
  • character - Especially concerning all things Dax.
  • essential - Not especially.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x12 "The Emperor's New Cloak"

rating: ***

the story: The chronologically finale Mirror Universe episode.

what it's all about: In hindsight it kind of seems inevitable.  And hugely, hugely appropriate.  Deep Space Nine's fifth and final Mirror Universe episode (sequels to the classic episode "Mirror, Mirror") is also a "Ferengi episode."

Let me briefly explain: in the first three series Mirror Universe episodes, a Ferengi dies.  First Quark then Rom then Nog.  (That's the big three Ferengi in the series, by the way.  But it was all the Mirror Universe counterparts.  Brunt's counterpart dies this time to continue the tradition, by the way.)  So it was only a matter of time, really, until things finally worked out for the Ferengi (mostly) in the Mirror Universe.

But it's also a "Ferengi episode."  At this point in the series, it was considered Deep Space Nine's greatest creative liability, especially after the perceived fiasco of last season's "Profit and Lace."  In fact, it's the only "Ferengi episode" of the final season.  When Ferengi congregate, things tend to go a little silly.  Basically, the Ferengi were the Jar Jar Binks of Deep Space Nine (and maybe the franchise as a whole).  I never had that problem.  I loved the guys, and their episodes were always highlights for me.

If "The Emperor's New Cloak" seems weaker than previous Mirror Universe episodes, it's because the tone is so different.  But it's also the big bombastic finale of the whole thing, and it pokes fun at the whole thing, and is the kind of statement the final season needed, because in five more episodes, everything was going to become a lot more grim, and there was never a guarantee of a happy ending.  So the Mirror Universe saga finally concluding ("Crossover" in the second season proved how "Mirror, Mirror" ended up with different results than Kirk anticipated) with a decisive win for the good guys is worth celebrating, regardless of its creative departures.

I like how everyone gets to let loose.  Michael Dorn, especially, seems to have enjoyed the opportunity, giving Worf his most energetic scenes in the whole series.  And for the record, the Vic Fontaine who's not a hologram but rather a flesh-and-blood (and very quickly dead) guy, I have a theory for that, and it's simple enough: Bashir based the lounge singer on a real person.  Maybe not a singer, but, y'know.  Simple.  Obvious.  Sends everyone home happy!

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Again, the final sequel to "Mirror, Mirror."
  • series - Which ends a Deep Space Nine tradition, too.
  • character - I think this one was just meant to be fun.
  • essential - And to my mind, wildly succeeds.
notable guest-stars:
James Darren (Mirror Vic Fontaine)
Jeffrey Combs (Mirror Brunt)
Andrew Robinson (Mirror Garak)
Chase Masterson (Mirror Leeta)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Wallace Shawn (Zek)
Tiny Ron (Maihar'du)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x11 "Prodigal Daughter"

rating: ***

the story: Ezri has an incredibly awkward family reunion.

what it's all about: Technically, "Prodigal Daughter" is a sequel to last season's "Honor Among Thieves."  O'Brien has a supporting role in the episode where he attempts to find some resolution in his undercover work among the Orion Syndicate.  But this is really an Ezri episode.  I think there was some resistance to "Daughter," originally, among fans resentful of the fact that a new character was hogging attention in the final season of the series.  This is one of three episodes (including the earlier "Afterimage" and the later "Field of Fire") that showcase Ezri's attempts to rediscover her footing.  This was a character who never had the same confidence as her predecessor, Jadzia Dax, and I think for some fans that was hard to reconcile, all the more so because Ezri kept stealing time from the familiar characters whose time was drawing to a close.

It's their loss.  Ezri was a unique character in a series where it was far more common to have an abundance of confidence, overconfidence.  But more tellingly, to be filled with doubt.  That was often the unspoken undercurrent of these characters, who often struggled to admit it, and that was the irony of "Afterimage," because Ezri was paired with the one who struggled with this the most, Garak.  But in "Daughter," Ezri has to struggle with a different set of characters, her family, including a brother crippled by his inability to live up to expectations.  And seeing where she came from, it's all the more clear how Ezri became who she is, and actually proof that she's actually much tougher and more resilient than was apparent before "Daughter."

For one episode, the series really does seem to become the Ezri show.  It's incredibly rare in Star Trek to meet the whole family of a character.  Granted, it's far more common in Deep Space Nine, but aside from the Ferengi, it's rare to be thrust into the workings of that family.  Like all of them, there always seems to be someone missing, and in this case it's the father.  His absence is a telling detail of the family's story, the void they're all trying to fill, and failing.  It makes Ezri more relatable, watching her endure it.

For anyone who really struggles to empathize with Ezri, there's the return of the Orion Syndicate, which breathes further life into the baseline reality of the franchise, away from Starfleet, away from the Federation.  Yeah, they're gangsters, but there's always someone like them, forcing lives to be altered by arbitrary power plays, forcing impossible decisions, forcing terrible choices.  And of course there's O'Brien to drive the point home.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - You really need to be invested in Ezri to care about the episode.
  • series - It works as a sequel to "Honor Among Thieves."
  • character - It's in some ways the most important Ezri episode.
  • essential - It has a universal message that humanizes the character, and her hapless brother.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x10 "It's Only a Paper Moon"

rating: ****

the story: Nog struggles with PTSD.

what it's all about: Well, this is one of the big ones, what I'd argue to be one of the best episodes not only of Deep Space Nine but the franchise as a whole, for the very reasons any episode of this series ever reached such heights: because it got to the very hearts of its characters.

"It's Only a Paper Moon" is ostensibly a sequel to "The Siege of AR-558," an episode most fans normally point to as a classic.  But to my mind, "Paper Moon" is such a richer, deeper, more fulfilling experience, relying less on mood than its actual storytelling.  Nog has his leg blown off in "AR-558," but has to deal with what that actually means in "Paper Moon," which turns out to be a different matter entirely.  Yes, it's a war story, too, in a series and several seasons immersed in war stories, but it's one that gives as much depth to war as it does Nog.

For a long time, Nog was just the Ferengi who contradicted Ferengi tradition and became the first of them to join Starfleet.  He was the kid who grew up and made good.  In a lot of ways, he stole the arc of his best friend Jake Sisko, whose defining moment came halfway through the series (the equally highly recommended "The Visitor").  Nog has the benefit of hitting his high note toward the end of the series.  He's one of the few characters in the franchise to experience something terrible and actually have to deal with it.  And the whole episode, brilliantly, features his process toward recovery.

What makes it even better is that "Paper Moon" also features holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine, and the episode manages to work as well for him as it does Nog.  Vic could easily have been a bad gimmick, maybe a character who worked really well once (his debut in the sixth season episode "His Way"), but whose recurrence only serves to expose him.  He serves as a de facto counselor, much the way Guinan did in Next Generation.  And hey, Guinan already filled that role!  But Guinan never had an episode like this one.

At a time when Voyager was also proving what further depths there were to explore with artificial intelligence (The Doctor following in the footsteps of Next Generation's Data), Vic proved that another hologram, in an entirely different context, could do it, too.  And really, all he has to be is smart enough to let Nog talk through his problems, give him a little space.  No one else is willing to let Nog have any of that.  They all expect something from him.  All Vic does is sing, right?  And, thanks to Nog, have a simulation of a life, once his program runs continuously.  But he's okay living that kind of existence, too, because for him it's real enough.  And he lets Nog realize that's what life is for anyone.  It's only as real as you make it.  It's only a paper...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One of the best episodes Star Trek ever did.
  • series - Another essential war story.
  • character - It's the ultimate Nog episode, and the ultimate Vic Fontaine episode.
  • essential - It's a must-see, a classic through and through.
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
James Darren (Vic Fontaine)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x9 "Covenant"

rating: ***

the story: Kira discovers Dukat's new gig as a cult leader.

what it's all about: I've always struggled with this episode. Nominally, it sets up the Dukat who appears in the final episodes of the series, as a true Pah-wraith fanatic capable of swaying Kai Winn to his side, and so it has value in that regard.  Dukat began this path in the sixth season finale, "Tears of the Prophets," in which he unveils his new role as Emissary of the Pah-wraiths, finally and at least revealing himself to be Sisko's opposite number.  And yet, and yet...

Before I go on, "Covenant" has plenty of value as a study of cults, and as such lines up with franchise feelings on religion in general, how most of the time it seems to be a trick on gullible people (you don't have to take my word for it, watch the original series episode "The Apple" or Next Generation's "Devil's Due" and you'll see for yourself).  Deep Space Nine actually had deep religious roots, and "Covenant" plays nicely with those, too, but it's also an episode that comes down on the negative side, rather than the doubt that was far more prevalent, or the faith, which was the base contradiction the series always presented.  So if you want things simplified, "Covenant" is the way to go.

But there's so much that Deep Space Nine fans will be able to criticize.  Dukat, as I mentioned, is more or less finally and truly set up for his final role in the series, as Sisko's opposite number.  And yet they really won't have been relevant to each other since "Waltz" last season, and not again until the very last episode ("What You Leave Behind").  In some sense this makes sense, since they've been on individual paths from the very beginning (although his significance grew considerably during the course of the series, Dukat was the last Cardassian commander of the station before Sisko took over, and so his presence was always there), finding their way as they struggled against various obstacles, and most ironically their relationship with Bajorans and their beliefs.

So "Covenant" doesn't feature Sisko, but rather Kira, who is once again thrust into what's ostensibly a complicated situation, something she'd mastered all the way back in the first season's "Duet," a standard that was in some ways completely impossible to live up to, and proven by the results across the rest of the series.  "Covenant" is really the last attempt, but the story is so lopsided this time, and Dukat so clearly evil, that Kira's role s by definition completely changed, too.  She's no longer the angry, troubled Bajoran we met at the start of the series, either.  She knows where she fits now, and she's found peace, perhaps more than any other Bajoran.  So to have a whole episode where she's thrust into a madhouse of Bajorans who've actually convinced themselves of Dukat's outrageous lies...I just don't know how it's supposed to work, even twenty years later.

What to make of it?  To even begin to count the number of times Kira was kidnapped and forced to deal with some insane plot is to realize what a tired trope it'd become by "Covenant."  Some of the episodes worked really well ("Second Skin"), while others...I'll give them this: they always made you think about why they were happening.  It's just a shame that she was never given the benefit of the doubt, a position of power.  For one of the most powerful women in the whole franchise, she had it taken away from her a disturbing number of times. 

So on this last occasion, she's forced and we're forced to decide, once and for all, what it all meant.  One of the guest characters is meant to suggest that "Covenant" is, once again, all about doubt, about what faith really means, whether it means even if you're proven absolutely wrong, that faith might still be justified. Or if Dukat, even if he's clearly evil at this point and hindsight proves he's headed toward his most awful actions, is somehow vindicated by the inevitability of it, if because he believes in himself it somehow means something, because like everyone else in the series this was a character who started out having to massively readjust, and in some ways was actually the character who spent the most time trying to rediscover himself.  If this is how he does it, does "Covenant" conclude that Kira should pity Dukat, because she knows better than anyone what exactly happened to him?

I don't know.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Classic Star Trek meditation on faith.
  • series - Sets up some of the last major developments.
  • character - Specifically related to Dukat's ultimate journey.
  • essential - I don't know how well it succeeds in making sense of that journey.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x8 "The Siege of AR-558"

rating: ****

the story: The crew attempts to alleviate the stress a unit of deployed Starfleet officers have been experiencing.

what it's all about: To be perfectly frank, I never found "The Siege of AR-558" to be as fantastic as other fans tend to consider it.  But I will defer to the common perception, because it at least acknowledges something positive.  I'm much more loathe to do so with episodes that are considered bad, when they really aren't.

"War is hell."  That's the basic plot of the episode.  Deep Space Nine had already done this with such episodes as "The Ship," "Nor the Battle to the Strong," and "Rocks and Shoals," all of which I would probably prefer over "AR-558," which I think fans like because it's so unrelentingly grim, and for whatever reason that's what fans preferred at that time, which ended up resulting in Battlestar Galactica, a show so unrelentingly grim the most compromised character in it (Baltar) was actually its most interesting. 

Anyway, so it's also worth noting that one of my least favorite episodes of the franchise is Voyager's "Memorial," which repeats the "war is hell" theme with no discernible distinguishing features.  What "AR-558" ultimately has going for it is Nog.  Nog had just had a memorable b-story in "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River," so clearly the producers had been planning to do something notable with him, really for the first time since having him decide to join Starfleet in the third season.  Since that time, much like Jake he had just sort of been there for the ride.  He was a recurring character, not even one fans will automatically think of in the whole host of recurring characters in the series, more like just another of those Ferengi who were always trying to change the tone.  When he turned his back on traditional Ferengi values, his father Rom did the same soon after, somewhat dulling the impact of the arc.  So it was high time to finally separate Nog from the pack, once and for all.

And so he gets his leg blown off.  More on this in "It's Only a Paper Moon," by the way.  "AR-588" is really the origin story of a much better episode, a backstory, if you will.  It even explains how and why he becomes obsessed with Vic Fontaine (again, more on that in "It's Only a Paper Moon").

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Reiterates the classic Star Trek refrain of "war is hell."
  • series - Also follows in a Deep Space Nine tradition of same.
  • character - Explains what happened to Nog, in the interests of a later episode.
  • essential - Pulls back the curtain on what the series had sort of skirted around for much of the war.
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
James Darren (Vic Fontaine)
Bill Mumy

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x7 "Once More Unto the Breach"

rating: ****

the story: Kor discovers that it's a good day to die.

what it's all about: This is the episode Deep Space Nine kind of tried making for four seasons, and finally got it right.  This is its answer to "A Matter of Honor," the Next Generation episode where Riker serves aboard a Klingon ship, and as such is as close to a Klingons-only episode as Star Trek is ever likely to get. 

It's also a follow-up to the earlier "Blood Oath," in which original series Klingon warrior Kor (plus a few others) returns to the franchise for one last glorious adventure.  In "Blood Oath," Kor is among friends and as such has trust that he'll be taken at face value.  When he next resurfaces, in "Sword of Kahless," he first comes across Worf, who represents the current generation he probably has been shielded from for years, and they quickly develop a rivalry.  In "Once More Unto the Breach," it isn't Worf that's the problem, but Martok.

Like the last few episodes, this is another guest-star spotlight, and it falls both on Kor and Martok, for whom this serves as his most personal episode, in which we learn about his background and how it's connected to Kor (not in a positive way, alas).  It's the first time two guest-stars of any species dominate an episode, so it's nice that it happens for the Klingons, long a franchise favorite.  It's a little weird that Worf plays second third fiddle in such a Klingon-heavy episode, but that also speaks to how he's finally found Klingons (well, Martok anyway) he's completely comfortable around.

Anyway, this is also an episode about aging, which is something Star Trek has done before (we can start the conversation with Kirk, really), but never before quite this intimately, with the subject of the study in such a vulnerable position.  When we saw Sarek (in the eponymous Next Generation episode) in a similar predicament, the main thrust is placed on a debilitating illness, not his age.  The whole matter becomes especially poignant for a Klingon, of course, because Klingons have some pretty rigid expectations about dignity, as we've seen elsewhere.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One of the great Klingons episodes.
  • series - A war story that necessary.
  • character - Operates as a Kor and a Martok episode.
  • essential - And as a study of aging, in a way that had been done before.
notable guest-stars:
John Colicos (Kor)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)

Star Trek: Discovery - our first look!

Wow.  So immediately, I can tell that this show is going to do what we're probably never going to get in the Abrams movies, which is the big Klingon confrontation, teased in Star Trek Into Darkness.  I wonder if in some ways that's the whole reason Discovery is even happening, because someone realized JJ Abrams wasn't interested in doing what seemed so obvious.  He cut the Klingons from 2009's Star Trek, and Justin Lin didn't have them at all in Star Trek Beyond.  (I wonder if that's part of the reason Beyond made so relatively little at the box office.)

But I like it.  Very excited.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x6 "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River"

rating: ****

the story: Weyoun's latest clone goes rogue.

what it's all about: So, Deep Space Nine never got the memo that Star Trek is supposed to be unfriendly in matters of faith.  This usually took the form of the Bajorans, but there were many branches, and one of them involved the Dominion, which although it's known as the element of the series that took it in a completely different direction from the show's origins, actually complements it quite nicely.  Because the Dominion, among other things, consisted of the Founders and the Vorta.  The Founders, who turned out to be Odo's people, engineered the Vorta, and others, to view them as gods.  This proved to be a somewhat nebulous concept, except, finally, in "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River."

This is also, by the way, the Weyoun episode.  I call it that, even though Weyoun as a character goes back to the fourth season ("To the Death"), because this is the one real spotlight the character had in the series despite numerous appearances.  It only figures, because Weyoun was, generally speaking, an unapologetic bad guy in a series that found shades of gray in nearly everyone.  Weyoun certainly had less than completely adversarial appearances ("In the Cards" is actually pretty relevant to the b-story in the episode, but more on that in a bit), but those were the exception that proved the rule.

What was most fascinating about Weyoun was that he was a clone.  The first time we see him he's already gone through nearly half a dozen iterations.  The one present during the sixth season war arc occupying the station apparently died off-screen prior to "Treachery."  The one that is featured in "Treachery" is "defective," deficient in the programming the Founders use to ensure loyalty.  The results are a little like the Next Generation classic "The Defector," in which a Romulan comes to Picard requesting asylum and with a lot of useful information (or so he thinks).  This Weyoun wants to tell Odo what he knows, too, and that makes him a huge target, so the episode spends its time with him and Odo hunted by the next Weyoun, all the while Odo having the most peculiar conversation he'll ever have.

Because Odo has long struggled with the legacy of his people, above and beyond their relationship to the Dominion.  That it means he's invariably treated as a god, too, when confronted by representatives of the Dominion has been as uncomfortable to him as Sisko's relationship to his role as the Emissary.  But like "Chrysalis" before it, "Treachery" is less about the main character featured in the episode, and more about the guest-star (again breaking the rules).

It's fascinating, compelling stuff, and suspenseful!  And heartbreaking.

And there's a b-story, too, and it's equally good, even if it has a completely different tone.  It features Nog getting to get his Ferengi on, which is something that had been denied him ever since he decided to join Starfleet.  There were flashes of it in "In the Cards," but it's alarmingly and awesomely on full display in "Treachery," which proves all over again how unique Nog has become.  He may not subscribe to Ferengi notions of greed anymore, but he still believes that business is a unique phenomenon and if respected can pull off miracles.  He proceeds to make a series of incomprehensible deals to pull off yet another war story that Deep Space Nine was wise enough to pursue, other than the business of war itself (which will also come home to roost for Nog, soon enough), how to come up with needed supplies when the supply line has been stretched thin.  It's also a fun way to watch more day-to-day concerns come to the surface, which was another thing Deep Space Nine so reliably did well.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A completely unique Star Trek experience.
  • series - Yet another unique war story.  Or two.
  • character - It's the Weyoun story you never expected.
  • essential - A classic is defined by the ability to do the previously unthinkable, and that's exactly what this one does.
notable guest-stars:
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x5 "Chrysalis"

rating: ***

the story: Bashir gets a chance to show the genetically-enhanced but painfully withdrawn Sarina her true potential.

what it's all about: Until the J.J. Abrams reboot movies, I'm not sure how clear it really was that Star Trek was always about characters who were extreme exceptions to society.  It was clear, to a certain extent, in Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, but seeing these characters so often, no matter the stories that made it obvious, tended to dull the impact, because at the end of the day they always had a family to turn to, the crew at the heart of that particular series.  Abrams put the alienation inherent to the lives of Kirk and Spock front and center.  But "Chrysalis" got there first.

"Chrysalis" is a follow-up to "Statistical Probabilities," one of the more innovative war stories from the sixth season, where we first meet the Jack Pack, genetically-enhanced misfits crippled by their genius, riddled with personality quirks that only compounded their problems.  This was very much a Bashir episode, in which the revelations of the still-earlier "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?" were finally made clear.  While "Chrysalis" clearly features Bashir, too, it's almost more Sarina's story.  Sarina had been the least obnoxious member of the Jack Pack (so-called because Jack was the most obnoxious member), because she was more or less in a catatonic state.  She'd had no chance to assert herself.

Bashir pulls an Awakenings (it's a great Robin Williams movie, and it's a great Robert De Niro movie; do yourself a favor and see it if you can't imagine how that can possibly be true) and allows Sarina to flourish, but in doing so she discovers something worse than her previous existence: she no longer fits in with the rest of the Jack Pack. 

The Jack Pack, basically, is Star Trek in all its ideals taken to a ridiculous extreme.  These guys are brilliant, but they overthink everything.  Imagine if all the heroics in the franchise existed only in the minds of the characters (say, Data processing possible outcomes in the span of nanoseconds, expanded into whole episodes).  Now, what happens when you find one of these guys is able to put the nonsense of the acumen aside, and just do it?  Sarina is basically Kirk.  Yeah.  She's basically Kirk, and every other roguish hero in the franchise, every other character capable of cutting through what's merely possible and making the leap of faith into the impossible. 
Maybe I'm not explaining it well.  Suffice to say, but "Chrysalis" is a profile of an outsider realizing they're an outsider.  That better?  Anyway, I think it's one of those episodes that just really had to happen.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Speaks to the heart of what Star Trek is really all about, finding your full potential.
  • series - Rounds out several previous episodes.
  • character - Bashir ends up taking a backseat to Sarina.
  • essential - Does for a guest character what proved to be so hard to do for main characters throughout the franchise.
notable guest-stars:
Faith Salie (Sarina)
Tim Ransom (Jack)
Michael Keenan (Patrick)
Hilary Shepard (Lauren)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
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