Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Voyager 1x10 "Prime Factors"

rating: ****

the story: The crew discovers a culture seemingly capable of giving them a good boost home, but which refuses to help.

what it's all about: Let's just get out of the way that any complaints about "Prime Factors" usually involve the alien culture.  For supposedly enlightened people, I often have cause to remark that Star Trek fans can be surprisingly bigoted and petty.  Enough of that.

This is the first of an incredibly strong end run for the first season, where the supposedly neglected premise of the series was handled with remarkable finesse.  While "Factors" shares with the earlier "Eye of the Needle" a kind of fake-out ending and tease, it also demonstrates that the crew will have to work extremely hard to find a solution to the problem of getting home in a reasonable length of time (read: soon).

And it gives a lot of good material to a lot of characters.  Harry has an excellent spotlight, in stark contrast to the previous episode ("Emanations"), where you get to see his remarkable, eager young mind at work, how in any other circumstances his career would've advanced rapidly (that he never gets promoted during the course of seven seasons is likely a symptom of a lack of upward mobility, considering no officers above him have anywhere else to go, either; only Tuvok and Tom Paris advance in rank). 

Besides Harry, B'Elanna Torres remarkably collaborates with Lt. Carey, with whom she'd fought over the role of chief engineer in "Parallax," as well as Seska, for whom this foreshadows developments in the next episode ("State of Flux").  Everyone else who rebels against Janeway's and Starfleet expectations does it for the good of the crew; it's Seska who proves the bad apple.

Tuvok has perhaps his most notable moment of the whole series when he elects to join the conspiracy.  His relationship with Janeway would end up being one of the most neglected aspects of the series, but they have a powerful moment as Janeway expresses disappointment in the Vulcan who somehow managed to out-stoic even the famously stoic Spock, rarely breaking discipline except when confronting Neelix.  This makes "Factors" kind of the final episode necessary to understand how the crew functions the rest of the series, why Tuvok never questions Janeway again.  The weakness, if there truly is one in the episode, is the absence of Chakotay offering any significant contributions to the proceedings.  But like Seska he'll be in "Flux" to a greater degree.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Casual fans will want to take note on how the episode reflects the premise of the series.
  • series - See the above.
  • character - Harry, Torres, Tuvok, Janeway...a lot of characters make a positive impact on the proceedings.
  • essential - In a lot of ways this could've functioned as a season finale, so strong is its statement on both the series and the characters who populate it.
notable guest-stars:
Martha Hackett (Seska)
Josh Clark (Carey)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Voyager 1x9 "Emanations"

rating: *

the story: Harry gets mixed up in an alien culture's rituals concerning the afterlife.

what it's all about: "Emanations" is a perfectly serviceable episode for fans just looking for a cool sci-fi concept and/or examination of existential matters.  Where it fails is exploring its nominal lead, Harry Kim.

So this is probably why fans began to think Harry was basically worthless.  His first spotlight barely has anything to do with him, or say anything about him.  Already we've seen B'Elanna Torres ("Parallax"), Neelix ("Phage"), and Tom Paris ("Ex Post Facto") command spotlight episodes, so it's not as if the series has proven deficient in that regard at this early stage of the game.  It's certainly true that fans didn't end up caring all that much for just about any character in Voyager, but it wasn't for lack of effort.  Somehow, however, Harry ended up being pigeon-holed as the most meaningless of the bunch, and I have little doubt that it stems from "Emanations."  It's a shame, too, as he turns out much, much better in the second season episode "Non Sequitur."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A casual fan's kind of episode.
  • series - Nothing much to do with Voyager, alas.
  • character - A poor spotlight for Harry Kim.
  • essential - Not hardly.
notable guest-stars:
Martha Hackett (Seska)
Jerry Hardin

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Voyager 1x8 "Ex Post Facto"

rating: ***

the story: Paris is convicted of murder, and sentenced to relive the crime repeatedly.

what it's all about: Somewhat predictably at this point, "Ex Post Facto" is one of those early episodes that negatively affected general perception of the series, on two counts.  One is that it's similar to Next Generation's "A Matter of Perspective."  (It's also similar to Deep Space Nine's "Hard Time," in some respects, but I doubt this is brought up much.)  The other is that it fails to clarify the character of Tom Paris.

The first can be dismissed out of hand.  Both episodes are ultimately defined by how the truth is revealed; in "Perspective" it's with the clever use of the holodeck, while in "Facto" it's with Tuvok's investigation, which actually serves to make it as much a Tuvok episode as a Paris episode.  This one's not really worth talking about.

The second is patently ridiculous.  Paris was introduced in "Caretaker" as a "bad boy" who'd gotten booted out of Starfleet and subsequently locked up, which is kind of a mash-up between the character Robert Duncan McNeill previously played in Next Generation's "The First Duty" and the backstory of Ensign Ro in the same series from the eponymous episode.  But fans found it difficult to accept McNeill as a "bad boy," as he didn't seem the type.  I'd argue that anyone who really needs convincing only needs see "Non Sequitur" in the second season to see where Paris might have ended up if he'd never been recruited by Janeway.  Anyway, "Facto" also features him in the ladies man role Kirk and Riker previously filled, and that seems to make him not only redundant but a complete failure to convincingly pull off any aspect of his character.

But it actually fills both nicely.  Riker might have ended up in a similar situation in "Perspective," but he didn't have anyone questioning his integrity, either before or after the episode, much less during.  Kirk had numerous affairs, but it was considered part of his charm.  Paris does it and pays a horrific price, right at the start of the series, and it's an important and necessary experience that helps define him.  The problem with Paris wasn't so much that he was a "bad boy," but that when he got in trouble, he got in trouble.  There was a running "joke" in Deep Space Nine (and Next Generation previously) that O'Brien always ended up in situations meant to torture him (such as "Hard Time"), but he was able to walk away from all of them (doubtless today he'd be portrayed with a permanent case of PTSD after just one of them) with little consequence.  Paris debuted with plenty of consequence, and "Facto" affirms how these things tend to happen to him, and it's much the same reason why he seems like a Kirk or Riker style ladies man, because he doesn't think about the consequences of his actions (also explains why he ends up in a relationship with B'Elanna Torres).  "Thirty Days" later in the series is another great illustration of this.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Helps find a contrast in the archetype Paris shares with Kirk and Riker.
  • series - If events involved the crew in a more deliberate fashion it might seem more relevant.
  • character - Explains Tom Paris.
  • essential - See above statement.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Voyager 1x7 "Eye of the Needle"

rating: ***

the story: The crew finds a wormhole that allows them to contact the Alpha Quadrant, but it's a Romulan on the other side...

what it's all about: "Eye of the Needle" is an incredibly clever way to introduce the difficulties of finding shortcuts home (three episodes later, "Prime Factors" hits the mark more squarely), but it's almost more about the Romulan played by Vaughn Armstrong than the crew he has the unexpected opportunity to encounter.

The story is almost too clever by half.  On the one hand it explains why the seventh hour of the series doesn't present the opportunity it seems to, revealing how the Romulan is actually decades in the past (Deep Space Nine's "The Sound of Her Voice" uses a similar plot device more artfully), but the reasoning behind why this isn't as helpful as it seems is shoddy at best, one I don't believe for a minute anyone in that crew would've taken seriously (again, "Prime Factors" proves how even a slim chance will cause considerable divisions among them).

So it's necessary to take the proceedings at face value, and on that level "Eye" is just about clever enough, and as a Romulan episode is one of the best in the franchise, following in the fine tradition of the classic "Balance of Terror."  The big reveal at the end hits like a gut punch regardless of how well it holds up to scrutiny, and the whole experience is an exercise in proving just how committed the series was at the beginning in exploring the full potential of its premise.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Casual fans will want to take note, thanks to the clever appearance of a Romulan.
  • series - The first look at possible shortcuts to the long journey home.
  • character - This would've been a great place to preview the later schisms of "Prime Factors."
  • essential - It's a clever experience all around that suggests the true dramatic potential of the series.
notable guest-stars:
Vaughn Armstrong

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Voyager 1x6 "The Cloud"

rating: **

the story: The crew bond while exploring the Delta Quadrant version of weird space phenomena.

what it's all about: At first blush "The Cloud" seems like a pointless franchise template episode that has no business being done in a Voyager context ripe for bold new storytelling.  But the premise of the series was always about what it would be like to be Star Trek with no safety net sort of like the nebulous state of the backdrop during the original series, when the concepts of Starfleet and the Federation were in a constant state of flux and development, and anytime anyone else from them showed up it only served to prove how much Kirk and company stood out from the pack, and were in a sense isolated.  Janeway really only codified that concept, in a lot of ways.

So when she decides to explore weird space phenomena, it's not really just a matter of deciding to explore it, but an occasion for the crew to decide how much of typical Starfleet business they're going to do.  Fans thought this was a waste of time, but in the grand scheme of things no matter how often the ship stopped to look at something there was still a long journey if carried out in the original estimate no one but maybe Tuvok and the Doctor would be around to see completed satisfactorily...The idea was always to find shortcuts, which was why episodes like "Prime Factors" (later in the season) happen, which couldn't be done if all they did was follow a single course toward Earth. 

Ipso facto: they would have to behave like a Starfleet crew, and so episodes like this would be necessary to further develop the concept of the series, which along with "Parallax" serve to flesh out the premise laid out in "Caretaker."

And besides, "Cloud" gives the crew a chance to bond, see how they function practically together, now that they've begun to settle in. This is the episode where Janeway famously declares, "There's coffee in that nebula," which is about as Voyager as it can get.  It also features the debut of Chez Sandrine, a holodeck program that was kind of Deep Space Nine's Vic Fontaine before there was a Vic Fontaine, a standard period setting where the crew could hang out on a regular basis.  Of course, there's no Vic equivalent in Chez Sandrine, but it's still one of the signature elements of the early series.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Another episode casual fans will probably find difficult to appreciate.
  • series - Helps flesh out the premise and how it functions on an ongoing basis.
  • character - This is an ensemble episode, which helps demonstrate how effortlessly Voyager did these.
  • essential - The McGuffin at the heart of the episode kind of drags down the proceedings, and there's no single character to rally around. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Voyager 1x5 "Phage"

rating: ***

the story: The crew meet the Vidiians, and Neelix faces his first existential crisis.

what it's all about: In hindsight, "Phage" becomes infinitely more important than it might have seemed when it first aired.  Later in the first season the Vidiians appear again in "Faces," which is a better episode and in fact a classic, and the aliens make a few more appearances after that, too, and become one of the signature aliens of the whole series.  That they happen to embody the scavenger, desperate nature of the whole Delta Quadrant is probably icing on the cake.

(In case you don't remember, the Vidiians are the ones who harvest without remorse organs from unwitting donors.)

But perhaps more importantly, "Phage" also suggests the hidden depth of Neelix.  Neelix kind of became the poster child for everything that irritated fans about Voyager, the Jar Jar Binks of the series.  He was found to be too lively.  Or something.  I never really understood it, so don't ask me to explain.  Go find some irrational observer.  You'll find plenty.  Anyway, this was a character who was perhaps one of the most interesting characters of the series, right from the start, the Delta Quadrant native who volunteered to join Janeway's crew and help them navigate (and there would be plenty of material about how Neelix's feelings on this decision evolved, mirroring Janeway's to try and reach home, or blowing up the original solution).  And yeah, he always seemed a little too chipper, but as it turns out this was always a case of the clown crying on the inside.  This was a guy who was capable of going as dark as anyone ever did in Star Trek.  "Phage" was the first time we see this side of him.

In the original series Uhura could lose her memory and "have it reprogrammed" and no one ever really bothered to think twice about it ("The Changeling").  Neelix agonizes over the loss of his lungs and the Doctor's terrible solutions (no offense to the Doctor) to keep him alive, and it makes for tough viewing, far more difficult than Worf wishing he were dead (Next Generation's "Ethics"), the first sign that this was going to be a first season totally unafraid of pushing traditional franchise storytelling limits ("Faces," again, proves that all over again).  Somehow fans totally overlook that.  Again, don't ask me to explain.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - I don't want to say casual fans can't appreciate it, but it becomes much more significant later.
  • series - Introduces a key alien species in the Vidiians.
  • character - The first hint at the true depth of Neelix.
  • essential - For Voyager fans it's a can't-miss.
notable guest-stars:
Martha Hackett (Seska)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Voyager 1x4 "Time and Again"

rating: *

the story: Janeway and Paris are confronted with a paradox concerning their involvement in the annihilation of a planet's population.

what it's all about: Likely a lot of fans settled their opinion of Voyager not to much on the pilot or the premise and whether or not subsequent episodes lived up to it, but on the second regular episode of the series, which jumped right into a fairly generic Star Trek, high concept story.  Now, this would not have been a problem thirty years earlier.  NBC wanted cool sci-fi concepts to define Star Trek, not the kind of cerebral material Gene Roddenberry kept delivering.  This is not to say that Voyager was incapable of being cerebral, but as the first Star Trek series to air on a broadcast network since the original, it's perhaps not unexpected that somewhere along the way network executives finally got their way.  Sometimes.

This just happened to be one of those times.  Again, there's nothing particularly wrong with "Time and Again" itself.  The closest it has to any significance is the emergence of Kes as a kind of series regular version of Next Generation's Guinan, someone who could sense when something wasn't right.  I'm not sure Kes ever quite became another Guinan (not mysterious enough), and there's other material later to sells this version of the character better.

So that leaves us with how well the concept actually works.  It's another problem of who they chose to focus the episode around, I think, something that later in the series often fell to Chakotay, who never gets the credit he deserves for selling just about any concept (high point: "Distant Origin").  It was more Janeway's determination than her science background that made her stand out, so having her lead a story like this was one of its weak points, I think.

But on the whole, I think it's a pretty fun experience.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The idea of Star Trek featuring cool sci-fi concepts shows up here.
  • series - Not hugely impactful in this regard.
  • character - Soft start to the evolution of Kes.
  • essential - Not especially.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Voyager 1x3 "Parallax"

rating: ***

the story: Torres proves herself qualified to fill the role of chief engineer.

what it's all about: Now, here's where the pilot continues, and in some respects it's the episode every fan who argues Voyager never figured out its premise really needs to see.  As sketched above, it's the one where B'Elanna Torres earns her way into the command crew position of chief engineer.  Torres was one of the Maquis stranded along with Chakotay in the Delta Quadrant, and arguably the one who most exemplified the group's inability to conform to Starfleet standards of conduct.  In fact she'd struggle with her temper and general discontent (mostly with herself) for the duration of the series.  But in "Parallax," Janeway is able to see past the surface and accept her valuable contribution to the combined crew, a brilliant mind not afraid to challenge even the captain herself.

Honestly, I have no idea why Torres isn't more embraced by fans.  In a lot of respects she, along with Deep Space Nine's Kira, was patterned after Next Generation's Ro Laren, a popular character who addressed frequent concerns about everyone being too chummy chummy in Star Trek.  But like Kira, Torres branched off in unique directions; it wasn't so much her background as an internal conflict with her mixed race identity that set Torres apart from nearly everyone around her, and yet the result was one of the most endearing characters in franchise history, capable of great depth and therefore the "humanity" Star Trek was always about.  And wasn't that the point of Voyager's premise, to discover that quest for identity all over again?

She embodies everything that set the Maquis apart, and why they were set apart, a continuation in some respects of Ro's story, where it might have picked up again if we'd ever seen her past "Preemptive Strike."  The first time we saw her ("Ensign Ro"), she'd already been struggling with much the same issues as the ones that drove her to the Maquis.  Torres would struggle, too, as I've already said, but it was finding not just one or two helpful individuals (Guinan, Picard) but a whole crew, united in unique circumstances, less able to ignore the problems that would usually have divided them, that saw her find a positive way forward.

Of course, "Parallax" is also the first appearance of Seska, the very embodiment, eventually, of fan expectations for the Maquis, and she was never really embraced for what she represented, either.  So go figure.

"Parallax" also makes it clear that the producers were always going to be interested in embracing a part of the franchise legacy Deep Space Nine neglected, for the most part, which was to be a vehicle for cool sci-fi storytelling, where just about anything is possible.  Though thinly sketched, the subplot of the episode involves the crew having to figure out how to handle an echo of the ship, and eventually Janeway and Torres being forced to decide which is the real one.  It's fascinating that Janeway decides Torres is fit to assume the post of chief engineer even after they violently disagree over it.  Clearly Janeway values someone whose passion, though not always contained, is capable of the bold thinking required of leaders. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - For skeptical fans who still don't understand what Voyager was all about, this is pretty much the poster episode.
  • series - Features the mechanics of how the Starfleet and Maquis crews learn to integrate.
  • character - The first spotlight episode for B'Elanna Torres, arguably the series MVP.
  • essential - As "merely" a character episode, it proves that everything fans like to claim Voyager wasn't...probably was, all along.
notable guest-stars:
Martha Hackett (Seska)
Josh Clark (Carey)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Voyager 1x1/1x2 "Caretaker"

rating: ****

the story: Janeway goes hunting for the Maquis and her ship ends up stranded in the Delta Quadrant.

what it's all about: What an incredibly strong beginning.  I think that's really the problem fans had with Voyager, that it had such a strong push out of the gate, subsequent episodes that seemed to take forever to be relevant to the first episode (it's really not until "Eye of the Needle" five episodes later that episodic material gives way to series-specific matters again).  Context is really the key, here.  Fans had gotten used to Deep Space Nine's interest in continuing arcs, which at the point Voyager premiered was a series at the midpoint of its third season, when the Dominion had already appeared numerous times.  It had also, along with Next Generation, spent some time laying the groundwork for the concept of the Maquis, whom fans thought would make a significant impact on the dynamic of Star Trek storytelling, introducing more conflict between characters.  And in "Caretaker," that plays out nicely, but after "Parallax" (the first regular episode of the series) it seemed to fade into oblivion (always something of a myth, really).  That, and the franchise had lost the genre mandate among the fans, who had begun embracing Babylon 5 as the first of many viable cult alternatives, and of course that was a series built on serialization. 

Every character has a good reason to be where they are in the premiere, and some of them have surprises that couldn't be seen coming (Tuvok as a Starfleet spy among Chakotay's Maquis crew).  Torres and Kim play wonderfully against each other.  (Of course, that's a dynamic that largely vanishes from the rest of the series, as too does any resentment about Tuvok's double-turn.)  It's expected that the common problem of the need to return home against incredible odds thoroughly unites them, setting aside most differences...After all, this is still Gene Roddenberry's hopeful vision of the future, right?

And that's really what's at the heart of all the complaints about Voyager, a growing disconnect between concept and audience.  The long-existing fans had begun to grow restive at the prospect of embracing new material, and the newer ones had begun to move on.  And both blamed their lack of interest in Voyager on the show itself.  See any problems with that kind of logic?

The concept was always supposed to be key, here, a way to rejuvenate the simple exploration imperative of the franchise while also embracing some of the ethos that had cropped up during Next Generation, having plot threads that propelled interest forward, a compelling drama like the Klingon political intrigue or problems between Cardassians and Bajorans.  Voyager couldn't possibly have been conceived more cleverly to fulfill those objectives; its crime was not committing to the extent that fans were coming to expect, which would have only further alienated older fans...Basically a no-win scenario, which ironically was a classic Star Trek concept, too. 

Every character gets a clear introduction in the episode, which was following in the tradition set by Deep Space Nine's "Emissary," but where someone like Bashir was only suggested to be fresh out of the Academy, Harry Kim was depicted as so completely inexperienced he was almost taken in by, of all people, Quark, who even Bashir was never snookered by.  Tom Paris, meanwhile, is a kind of replacement for a similar character found in Next Generation played by the same actor (Robert Duncan McNeill), the bridge between Starfleet and the Maquis, really, the explanation as to how any of the Maquis could end up in a Starfleet uniform.  Where fans ended up assuming all Maquis were hopeless degenerates (a startling conclusion, considering the most famous and successful groundwork Maquis episode was Next Generation's "Preemptive Strike," which saw the beloved Ro Laren join the cause), Paris and Chakotay embodied redemptive arcs, which Torres (in "Parallax") would best illustrate, so that it wasn't so much where we first meet them that defines them but the reasons they ended up there, and how "Caretaker" gives them a second chance to make things right.

And there's the Doctor, and Neelix, and Kes, and the Kazon.  Fans hated the Kazon, too, considering them Klingons who'd fallen on hard times.  And would that really be such a bad thing?  The Delta Quadrant was supposed to be fresh territory.  In the breadth of the series, in hindsight, it's clear that the only unifying presence there is the Borg Collective, and that everyone else basically avoids each other or lives desperate lives, or both, or merely keep to themselves.  The Kazon are an excellent introduction to that concept, and if they are Klingon analogs, so much the better.  We think the Klingons are awesome because they were always presented as the Federation's opposite number.  But what if there was no Federation?  That's what Janeway's crew had to contend with, too, wasn't it?  Well, it's true of the Kazon as well.  They suddenly gain a lot of momentum with Voyager around, something to rally around, an enemy

Well, I always liked the series.  But the pilot even if considered in isolation is a heck of a concept.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The clearest pilot of a Star Trek show to date.
  • series - Sets up the concept nicely.
  • character - Everyone gets a turn to shine here.
  • essential - Everything you need to know, or will need to reference, or figure out about this show, can be found in the premiere.
notable guest-stars:
Richard Poe (Gul Evek)
Josh Clark (Carey)
Scott MacDonald
Armin Shimerman (Quark)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x25/7x26 "What You Leave Behind"

rating: ****

the story: The war ends, and Sisko finally confronts Dukat to settle up between the Prophets and the Pah Wraiths.

what it's all about: This is it, the final episode of Deep Space Nine.  I've always found it by far the most satisfying finale of the franchise.  Of the ones specifically designed to provide end statements, none of them are particularly disappointing, to me.  But they don't really give proper send-offs, aside from "What You Leave Behind."  The second hour is devoted to the crew going their separate ways.  That's all but absent in Next Generation's "All Good Things..." (which is a celebration of the crew itself), Voyager's "Endgame" (which completes the journey home just in time to end the episode), and Enterprise's "These Are the Voyages..." (which really only marks a goodbye to the show's best character, Trip Tucker).  Fans have always kind of bagged Voyager's for leaving the farewells unsaid, and Enterprise's for spending so much time with Next Generation's Riker and Troi (I have literally never had a problem with their inclusion), and thought Picard joining the rest of his crew in a poker game was sweet, but everyone knew there were movies in their future, so there was no perceived need to round out their adventures, except conclude Q's trial from the very first episode ("Encounter at Farpoint").

Deep Space Nine, however, kind of knew this was the end, so there was no reason to send everyone home happy.  Where some have been disappointed that Sisko never did get Bajor into the Federation (ostensibly the whole point of his posting in "Emissary"), it's hugely appropriate to end things in a moment of transition, because that's where things began, too, with everyone adjusting to radical new circumstances.  By the end of "Leave Behind," Sisko has joined the Prophets, Odo the Founders, O'Brien headed off to Starfleet Academy (as an instructor), Worf accepting a post as ambassador to the Klingons, and Bashir finally in that relationship with (a) Dax that he'd always yearned for.  The ending, with Quark remarking the old adage "the more things change..." and Kira and Jake Sisko looking off to the wormhole, wondering what the future holds...It's perfect. 

The conclusion of the war itself is classic.  Things finally come to a head with the Cardassians, as Damar becomes a martyr and the Dominion subsequently level heavy reprisals on the rest of the Cardassians as they rebel in his name, which puts them exactly in the situation Bajor was in at the start of the series.  That, if anything, is the element that rounds out the experience, with one of those planets finding themselves at some logical conclusion based on everything they'd been up to during the course of the series.  If everyone assumes it had to be Bajor, that doesn't mean they're right.  And even Bajor is posed for a more hopeful future, with Winn finally out of the picture, her epic downfall at last complete.

Speaking of Winn, her scenes with Dukat are somehow the best they are in the whole concluding ten-hour arc, Winn increasingly uncomfortable dealing with Dukat but dealing with him all the same, deluded to her last moments that she's still got the upper hand, even as she enacts a final redemption in doing the right thing, unequivocally, turning against Dukat as Sisko appears.  The encounter between Sisko and Dukat is itself a signature element of the episode, going totally against expectations.  We'd seen a version of this play out already in "The Reckoning," a full-on duel between Prophet and Pah Wraith powers.  But that was never Sisko, who was never Kirk, who was always game for a physical fight.  Sisko was game for that sort of thing, but his was always a more cerebral way, much more like Picard, the Picard in the movies, maybe, but more mature, measured, than Kirk ever managed.  When Dukat proves that he's willing to use powers he's all too eager to assume, a role he's all too eager to embrace, it proves all over again that for all of Sisko's doubt across seven seasons, he was still capable of doing the right thing, even if it meant sacrifice he became increasingly willing to make.  It's to be remembered that in the beginning, Sisko was a broken man precisely for a sacrifice he never accepted, the death of his wife.  Leaving his second wife, Kasidy, and their unborn baby, is the very symbol of his growth.

Vic Fontaine justifies his existence one last time in serenading the crew just before everyone splits, in the best scene of the best farewell in Star Trek history.  Sisko all but acknowledges Deep Space Nine fan conviction that this was the best series of the franchise, regardless of how fans in general would ever consider it.

Just a lot of great scenes piled up on each other, one after the other, everyone having a chance to shine, and nearly every recognizable face present and accounted for, too many for me to make labels for everyone, alas.  But a complete listing is below.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - It's the only final episode to date that allows fans to linger in the goodbye.
  • series - The story comes full circle from the very first episode beautifully and imaginatively.
  • character - Everyone gets a chance to shine.
  • essential - To my mind the best final episode of the franchise to date.
 
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Deborah Lacey (Sarah)
Hana Hatae (Molly)
James Darren (Vic Fontaine)
Louise Fletcher (Winn)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x24 "The Dogs of War"

rating: ***

the story: Zek finally names his successor.

what it's all about: Parts of "Dogs of War" act as the first act of the final episode, "What You Leave Behind," which like the final episodes of Next Generation and Voyager is already two hours long.  You get Damar preparing to be the leader of a full-scale Cardassian resistance movement in the basement of Garak's childhood home, Kasidy announcing her pregnancy, and the build-up to the massive final battle.

All that is well and good.  It's also the final "Ferengi episode."  Ha!  "The Emperor's New Cloak" seemed like the final "Ferengi episode," but buried at the end of he final ten hours of the series is another!  Unlike "Cloak," "Dogs of War" gives the Ferengi some closure.  In the first-ever "Ferengi episode," in the first season ("The Nagus"), Zek visits the station intending to announce an heir, convincing Quark he's got the job when it was really just a ploy.  This time he finishes the job and it's...Rom!

Yeah!  "Ferengi episode" became something of an epitaph, a signal that the good qualities of the series were going to vanish and a bunch of weirdo business freaks would spend the hour wasting time with nonsense.  That's how some fans found it, anyway.  But these were some of the best character work of the series, doing everything no other aliens had ever really gotten, a full series arc and a dramatic revision, a chance at redemption.  "Ferengi episode" became a thing well before Deep Space Nine even began, after the Ferengi made a dismal debut in Next Generation as the would-be successors to the Klingons.  Obviously that never happened, so they became something else, such a broad sketch of a society that their stories could literally be about anything, as long as it ridiculed...our worst failings. 

The funny thing is, it was always Quark who showed the most depth, but his brother Rom who got all the credit for it, willingly bucking every Ferengi tradition while Quark seemed to uphold it.  Quark has no real moment in the final episode, so his career statement is in "Dogs," where he seems to claim he'll continue being a true Ferengi even as Zek and Rom and his own mother Ishka have smashed tradition all asunder.  Sounds like he becomes the character who least develops during the course of the series, right?  Well...

He's actually the one who had the shortest distance to cross.  He'd already been willing to work with fate in whatever shape it took.  He was the most adaptable resident of the station, even if the one with the seeming least amount of scruples.  But by Ferengi standards (all this is spelled out in "Body Parts," by the way), he was a very bad Ferengi indeed, no matter how things looked.  He was the ultimate opportunist, and because of him, his brother was allowed to develop into the new-style Ferengi he became. 

Anyway, I think Quark ends on a good note, the usual chaos around him as always driven by his actions, regardless of the outcome, which here means the very idealistic vision Gene Roddenberry always expounded, that the future will always be better than the past.  And that leaves the series with nowhere else to go but the end. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Casual fans will never forgive the Ferengi for being such an epic disappointment, but it will forever be their loss.
  • series - The conclusion to an arc that began all the way in the first season.
  • character - Quark's closing argument.
  • essential - Things turn out well for his family.

notable guest-stars:
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt/Weyoun)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Tiny Ron (Maihar'du)
Wallace Shawn (Zek)
Cecily Adams (Ishka)
Vaughn Armstrong

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x23 "Extreme Measures"

rating: **

the story: Bashir's last confrontation with Sloan.

what it's all about: I've always had a difficult relationship with "Extreme Measures."  For one, it's an abruptly episodic episode in the midst of the final ten-hour arc of the series, which is ironic, because I think the arc could've used more distinctive individual material in the arc.  But not like this.  Especially after such a brilliant Sloan episode just before the arc, "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges," "Measures" could almost do nothing short but fail.

Of course, it's also the final Bashir/O'Brien episode, and that's as tall an order as any.  Of all the bonds in the series, the one between Bashir and O'Brien was the best, one that took time to develop, but had been essential to both of them, hitting its peak in a drunken sing-along during the third season's "Explorers."  They end "Measures" having shared a more embarrassing moment, having to acknowledge how important they are to each other, and it's more awkward than heartwarming, which is an odd note to end things on.

Sloan's quick suicide means they have to use technobabble to get inside his head, but there's not much interesting going on there except a few feeble mind games.  It would've been nice, in hindsight, if he'd done something about the Alamo, which was used as a portent in the final episodes in the form of a model Bashir and O'Brien had.  At least then one of them could've played Jim Bowie, the dying defender who still put up a fight.

Anyway, it just feels like anticlimax, and that's not really want you want to see in one of the final episodes.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - General fans had a far, far better Sloan episode a few episodes earlier to savor.
  • series - Technically this experience provides the cure to the illness plaguing Odo and the Founders, which becomes important in the final episode.
  • character - Technically the final Bashir/O'Brien episode, and Sloan's final fate.
  • essential - ...Not essential.
notable guest-stars:
William Sadler (Sloan)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x22 "Tacking Into the Wind"

rating: ****

the story: Worf must confront Gowron over his approach to the war, which seems aimed at bringing the Klingon Empire to ruin...

what it's all about: This is arguably the most accessible episode of the ten-hour final arc of the series, not only because it features a well-known franchise character (Gowron, who first appeared in Next Generation) but his final fate as well, finally elevating a well-established Deep Space Nine character (Martok) to succeed him. 

It's also the most focused and self-contained, in a truly rewarding sense, episode of the arc. "Extreme Measures," which follows "Tacking Into the Wind," handles a similarly episodic moment, but in a less satisfying way.  I mean, it's really hard to compete with Klingon politics, which arguably provided some of the best material of the franchise across several series and movies. 

And it finally gives Worf that truly definitive moment in Deep Space Nine.  Until this point he'd been completely out of place, even managing to retain that status when he found true love with Jadzia Dax, which is somewhat hugely impressive.  This began to change when he bonded with Martok, but until one was in the position to truly affect the fortunes of the other, they remained in a holding pattern. 

That changes in "Wind."  Martok is the source of Gowron's rage, a politician jealous of a warrior, and willing to destroy everything in order to exact revenge against his honor.  The Klingons never really had that full-blown war, either, just like the Federation, just like Star Trek, and so to see how things turn out even for a character like Gowron who had always been a fan-favorite, is to see just how significant the Dominion War really is.  You can ignore, if you like, everything else the war accomplishes, but when even Gowron isn't safe, it changes everything.

Anyway, the episode also has Kira and Damar very pointedly grappling with the irony of their present circumstances, Kira helping the Cardassians mount a resistance movement, and Damar grappling with breaking faith with his people, realizing that he isn't merely defecting from the Dominion but rejecting all the old ways that had once defined him.  With all due apologies to Garak, this completes Damar's transformation into the most sympathetic Cardassian ever.  It's the culmination of everything the series had tried to do with Bajorans and Cardassians from the very start.

Since the start of the war in the sixth season, the series had struggled to find moments like these, always playing it safe, knowing the box had to be replaced more or less exactly as it had always been.  But, with only a few episodes left, finally it was time to break some eggs.  And "Wind" does it in spectacular fashion.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Classic high Klingon drama!
  • series - The defining moment of the final arc, in some ways.
  • character - Martok and Damar both make permanent marks.
  • essential - The final fate of a franchise icon (Gowron).
notable guest-stars:
Robert O'Reilly (Gowron)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
J. Paul Boehmer

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x21 "When It Rains..."

rating: ***

the story: Kira is assigned to help the Cardassians mount a resistance movement.

what it's all about: The final arc continues to heat up as the most ironic development of the series finally happens.  Kira is Bajoran.  Before the series began she was a member of the Bajoran resistance to Cardassian occupation.  Do you begin to grasp the irony?  Between Garak, who was always presented as sympathetic, and Dukat, who when he wasn't being a scoundrel or worse flirted with being a good guy, and not to mention experiences like "Duet" and "Second Skin," Kira spent a lot of time around Cardassians who contradicted the ugly history between their peoples.  So in a lot of ways, this development was almost inevitable.  All it needed was for the Cardassians as a whole to find themselves in a situation where they matched the unique circumstances Kira kept finding.  And this being the Cardassians, it was definitely inevitable.

Which still makes this a powerful moment, and one of the defining stories of the final arc.  The way the arc developed is something I haven't always appreciated.  You may remember me complaining about the somewhat arbitrary opening acts.  At this point everything seems justified.  It becomes clear how the arc presents every member of the sprawling cast with situations that push them to their limits, things they never thought would happen in a million years.

Also in this episode: Winn catches Dukat spying on the Pah Wraith book she's been guarding jealously, and laughs at the irony of his being struck blind for it.  Bashir realizes that Odo (and the other Founders) were infected by Section 31, which will lead to him finally getting his revenge against an organization that has crossed paths with him one too many times.

And, Gowron comes back into the picture.  This is the big one, at least at accessibility goes.  Gowron was one of the reasons why Next Generation's Klingons redefined the signature Star Trek aliens.  He'd made a few Deep Space Nine appearances, but he never really seemed like a fabric of the series.  That changes starting with "When It Rains..." (and if you don't know how it ends...).

All these arcs continue and get bigger in the episodes that follow, and that's how you know the arc has really begun to click.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Gowron begins his most significant appearances in this series.
  • series - The final arc continues to sizzle.
  • character - Kira comes full circle in the way she least expected.
  • essential - Everything that happens here really pays off in other episodes, one of the drawbacks of heavy serialization.
notable guest-stars:
Robert O'Reilly (Gowron)
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Vaughn Armstrong

Monday, June 5, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x20 "The Changing Face of Evil"

rating: ***

the story: The Defiant is destroyed by the Dominion's new allies, the Breen.

what it's all about: Well, this certainly never happened in Star Trek before.  Yeah, Voyager would later do it with the Delta Flyer, too, but Deep Space Nine got there first.  It destroyed one the franchise's signature ships, during the course of a series.

So that makes "The Changing Face of Evil" one of those essential moments in the closing arc of the Dominion War.  I guess, at this point everything seems like an essential moment in the arc, the serialization taking shape at last to feature big moments each episode and not mere running material for the sake of it.  Each one has its own specific purpose.  This one makes it clear that the war is definitely still being fought. 

Other big things are the news that Earth has been attacked, and that Winn has made the big decision to commit herself to reading a Pah Wraith book, thereby committing herself to Dukat's plan.  And that title?  Yeah, she's found out that the Bajoran farmer who's been helping her was Dukat all along.  Oh, and news has finally gotten out that Damar has defected from the Dominion.

This is an installment that deepens existing plot threads more than anything, raising the stakes just a little more. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - I'm not sure the loss of the Defiant, or the replacement that shows up in the final episode, is something that's communicated properly for general fans to really care.
  • series - The war heats up!
  • character - Winn's role in these final episodes is perhaps the best she is all series.
  • essential - The loss of the Defiant is a powerful symbolic gesture.
notable guest-stars:
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x19 "Strange Bedfellows"

rating: ***

the story: Damar decides enough is enough and defects from the Dominion.

what it's all about: With all the heavy serialization, each episode in the final ten-hour arc needs to have a definitive character moment to stand out, and, well, as my summary above suggests, "Strange Bedfellows" is Damar finally coming into his own. 

Damar was a character who first showed up in the fourth season, a seemingly unimportant ally of Dukat's in "Return to Grace" who kept appearing, a little like Martok, until he became indispensable.  When he took over for Dukat as the lead Cardassian in the Dominion, he was a familiar presence, but gradually this strangely reticent Cardassian turned out to be the rare Cardassian who cared more for the fate of his people than his grandiose ego (even beloved Garak was always more concerned about his own fortunes).

It was a subtle arc.  He was shown drinking.  We'd seen Garak use elaborate coping mechanisms, so that wasn't out of character for a Cardassian.  But the drinking got a little out of control, and finally in "Bedfellows" he realizes that the Dominion doesn't care about the Cardassians at all.  He becomes the ultimate incarnation of the sympathetic Cardassian the series had been searching for all along, since "Duet" in the first season, someone who finally takes a definitive stand for the sake of justice, regardless of whether or not it's for his own people. 

There's a bunch of other stuff going on, too, but this is the plot thread with the most weight to it, and the most significance.  Competing with it, on any level, is the continuing crisis of faith from Kai Winn, who's dealing with the mysterious Bajoran (who's really Dukat) and whether or not it's the Pah Wraiths rather than Prophets who've come whispering in her ear.  It's the clearest parallel to Damar's story: Damar chooses to do the selfless thing, and Winn one last time decides to be selfish...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Yes, it's a version of the classic defector scenario (see Next Generation's..."The Defector"), but without a conclusion in the episode itself I wonder how much casual fans will care.
  • series - Regardless, Deep Space Nine fans will eat it up.
  • character - Damar finally commands the spotlight.
  • essential - Which proves important through the end of the series.
notable guest-stars:
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)
Deborah Lacey (Sarah)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x18 "'Til Death Do Us Part"

rating: ***

the story: Dukat enacts a deception against Kai Winn, posing as a simple Bajoran farmer to gain her trust.

what it's all about: Putting aside Kasidy and Sisko dealing with last episode's engagement and this episode's wedding, and all the angst therein between, given how the Prophets don't think it's in Sisko's best interests...The real meat of this episode is the beginning of the Dukat/Winn arc in the final arc of the series, which is possibly the most fascinating thing either character ever got to do.

Winn was a character who never gave much room for sympathy, from her first appearance in the first season finale "In the Hands of the Prophets" to her most callous and selfish moment in the third season's "Life Support," really it was only in the previous season's "The Reckoning," the first time she crossed paths with the Pah Wraiths, where Winn might have found some.  In that episode she was finally and at last presented with something that she couldn't muscle beneath her.  So it's ironic that it's the Pah Wraiths, or perhaps appropriate, that put her in such a position again.

With Dukat, this was a character who'd struggled to find his footing from the very start, and with him it's not really worth referencing a first appearance or any particular subsequent one, because he was always being thrown off-kilter.  It was only when he embraced his role as the Emissary of the Pah Wraiths that Dukat regained the confidence he'd once had as commander of Terok Nor (the name of the station when it was still under Cardassian control).

What made Winn so ironic was that she was the main representative of the Bajorans, a hugely religious people, and yet she was never particular religious.  No, she was the consummate politician, so caught up in her ambition that it never occurred to take her faith seriously except as a stepping stone ("kai" is akin to the Catholic pope, by the way!); at one point she was also First Minister, but she lost that position in the third season.

So she never realized how important the Prophets were to her until she finally had her first vision. Or so she thought.  Really, it was a deception cooked up by Dukat and the Pah Wraiths, one of the most brilliant maneuvers, really, ever featured in the series, something that seems downright inevitable in hindsight, so at least it happened in the final episodes, which also seems appropriate.

Seeing Dukat and Winn together, at last, is one of those perfect moments.  Winn had had previous climactic associations (way back in the three-episode arc at the beginning of the second season, when she worked alongside Frank Langella, one of the biggest acting coups Star Trek ever landed), but this was the climax of all climactic moments in a career of evil.  Of course, she had no idea she was getting in bed with the devil...

So I love this particular episode in the arc.  The ending also reveals the Breen as having joined the Dominion, after a few more moments of Ezri and Worf struggling to reconcile their relationship, which sets up Damar's defection later. But because this is serialized material, more on all that later...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Still pretty convinced that this arc is impenetrable to casual fans.
  • series - Though to Deep Space Nine devotees, it begins to work better and better.
  • character - Dukat and Winn own this one.
  • essential - They've been waiting for this moment since they first debuted.
notable guest-stars:
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Penny Johnson (Kasidy)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Deborah Lacey (Sarah)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...