Saturday, March 18, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x11 "Waltz"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko and Dukat struggle to survive each other when they are marooned.

what it's all about: It sounds so simple, when you describe the episode like that, like so many other episodes from throughout the franchise, but it's so, so much more than that, too.  Simply put, it's one of the most crucial episodes of the series.

When the epic-length arc ended earlier in the season, Dukat's decent into madness began when he saw his daughter gunned down ("Sacrifice of Angels").  Actually, that arc may be said to have gained all its significance from that moment, because it was the definitive turning point for Dukat.  Previously he had attempted to rehabilitate his image as the Cardassian who represented the oppressive Occupation of Bajor, who had somehow success in that regard, to a point, and actually lost everything, until he turned to the Dominion to help him regain it.  That much might almost have been forgivable, too, but then he lost his daughter, went mad, and then became Emissary of the Pah-wraiths, Sisko's (Emissary of the Prophets) opposite number.  The end wasn't yet in sight, but seeing Dukat embrace his fate is the whole point of "Waltz."

Which is to say, "Waltz" is the point where Dukat becomes the unquestionable archvillain of the series.

To do so, he has to be placed opposite Sisko right from the start.  In a lot of ways, the episode also repositions Sisko, whose previous archfoe for a Starfleet turncoat named Michael Eddington.  Few fans remember Eddington, but everyone knows Dukat, and not just because he was always most prominent.  Until "Waltz," no one had gotten under Sisko's skin quite like Eddington ("For the Uniform").  But there were a lot of mitigating circumstances in that affair.  There's nothing to mistake about this one.

What works so well about "Waltz" is that it's a psychological battle.  It's what happens when a series that was so often about trying to soften problems, find shades of gray, instead and finally took a stand somewhere.  The Dominion War itself can be considered a metaphor about the dance between Sisko and Dukat (hence the reason why they both end in the series finale, "What You Leave Behind," with Dukat's defeat actually rounding out the last hour).  Clearly something snapped inside Dukat's head.  He stopped questioning his impulses and instead embraced them, you could say.  "Waltz" is claustrophobic, mirroring Sisko's experience as he's hobbled by the crash that strands him with Dukat, and leaves him at his mercy.  Theoretically, they're on the same team throughout the episode, both looking for a means of rescue.  But Dukat spends all that time consulting ghosts, while Sisko struggles to decide if he really is as crazy as he appears.

This is Khan all over again, the Borg, the big reveal of the big, big bad, and it's not only a necessary development, but a thrilling one to witness, one of Star Trek's finest hours.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Witness the birth of an icon.
  • series - A culmination point and the start of the final countdown.
  • character - Sisko and Dukat at the verge of destiny, before either of them realize it.
  • essential - The definition of can't-miss.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x10 "The Magnificent Ferengi"

rating: ***

the story: Quark assembles the least likely commando squad ever.

what it's all about: "Magnificent Ferengi" is an interesting riddle.  On the one hand, it's an episode that might actually help convince reluctant fans to give the Ferengi another shot.  On the other, it may actually be the episode responsible for the dreaded "Ferengi episode" reputation.  What fun!

It's actually a nice culmination of the work Deep Space Nine had put into the Ferengi, tying together pretty much every significant representative of the species the series had introduced over the years, from the Grand Nagus (absent but crucial to the plot) to Ishka (Quark's mum) to Brunt (the evil would-be uber Ferengi) and even Gaila ("the one with the moon"), and even suggesting that the path to the future for even a perennially hopeless culture (in terms of the Federation ideal) wasn't as dim as it sometimes seemed. 

...On the other, the Ferengi were always going to be a hard sell.  These were the guys Next Generation botched so badly in its first season, so badly that even in a whole season filled with creative botches, the introduction of the would-be successors to the Klingons felt like the worst one.  Successors to the Klingons?!?  Surely not!  But at the time, they really did seem like they'd be more menace than punchline (see how one of their number was even set up to be Picard's archnemesis!), until fans actually saw them in action.  Their subsequent appearances in that series were concessions to the obvious conclusion that they hadn't worked out as planned, and so they became intergalactic weasels instead, comically obsessed with prophet and just as comically inept. 

Enter: Quark.  The station's resident bartender was a giant reclamation project, meant to showcase the heretofore unknown nuances of the Ferengi.  Actually, he succeeded so well it was almost impossible for any other Ferengi to measure up to him.  His brother Rom actually devolved into such a buffoon that the only direction left to go with him was actually to turn him away from Ferengi norms.  So it became with Rom's son Nog, too, and each subsequent new Ferengi had to either follow the norms or risk being swallowed by them.  Yeah, I don't know how that was supposed to work, either.

The results can be seen in "Magnificent Ferengi."  The ones trying to be true practitioners of the culture (Brunt, Gaila) have tellingly fallen flat on their faces since last we saw them.  This may be due to the effects of an aging leader (Zek) looking to consider reforms with the encouragement of his relationship to Quark and his family, or because of, you know, the Dominion War.

Speaking of that...Following the epic arc at the start of the season, no real fighting had been seen for three episodes, and then along comes this one, in which the fighters are...the Ferengi.  Who are laughably terrible fighters.  The whole episode is about how terrible they are.  I mean, it's a farce!  In any other context, they're so hilariously inept it would undoubtedly make a classic Star Trek farce (see: "The Trouble with Tribbles," although maybe don't because even the Klingons somehow emerge unscathed from that one).  But the joke almost seems like it's on them.  The whole episode focuses entirely on them, with no other species, much less Starfleet, around, except for a Vorta they accidentally kill and then motorize in order to try and complete negotiations with the Dominion.

It must seem like an epic lost opportunity for fans who have little patience for the Ferengi.  I'm hardly saying this is the only interpretation.  I like the Ferengi.  I think they gave necessary color to the series, and this is a great example of how they did so.  I mean, there were several attempts to lighten up the war ("One Little Ship" a handful of episodes later, "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" in the final season), and I think this was the most successful one.  And it does advance the overall narrative of the Ferengi. 

But it may also be the prototypical "Ferengi episode."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Whether you consider it a good or bad thing, this is arguably one of the definitive appearances of the Ferengi in Star Trek.
  • series - Their development as a species, as depicted in Deep Space Nine, reaches a crucial moment.
  • character - Quark, and just about every other Ferengi in the series.
  • essential - I think it's a terrific farce, but others may simply consider it a farce.
notable guest-stars:
Jeffrey Combs (Brunt)
Josh Pais (Gaila)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Cecily Adams (Ishka)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Christopher Shea (Keevan)
Iggy Pop

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x9 "Statistical Probabilities"

rating: ****

the story: Bashir becomes guardian to a team of eccentric fellow "augments."

what it's all about: Chances are if you had a problem with revelation of Bashir's childhood genetic enhancements as revealed in last season's "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?," "Statistical Probabilities" is the episode that completely justifies it.  It's also a completely unique franchise take on the genius think tank concept usually depicted by a given series' main cast, characters capable of and interested in solving problems.  If this had been an original series episode (and actually, just about every other incarnation), the guest characters in "Probabilities" would've turned out to not only be horribly misguided but the source for a giant problem that ends up imperiling everyone (think Richard Daystrom in "The Ultimate Computer").

But the misfit geniuses in "Probabilities" are a direct commentary on Bashir himself, and the viewer's newfound awareness that he possesses an typically brilliant mind, too.  He and his new friends are applying their smarts to calculating the expected outcome of the Dominion War, and they don't come up with good results.  The episode is mostly about how even smart people can outsmart themselves, overthink something so that they end up with a distorted viewpoint, and that's pretty clever for a franchise that so often glorifies smart people (think Spock or Data or Seven).  Besides the fact that no one ends up looking like a villain, which is refreshing in and of itself, "Probabilities" also probes the nature of outcasts, another thing frequently at the heart of the franchise, and just as typically exhibited by those same geniuses.  It's actually more common for Star Trek to feature isolated individuals who really only fit in with the specific colleagues that comprise each cast, than anything.  But rarely is this actually explored.  Later, in the Abrams movies, it would become much more common, but originally it was more or less taken for granted.  This is the rare exception.

When I use the term "misfits," it's no exaggeration.  These are neurotic individuals, exemplified by the manic Jack, who actually becomes endearing throughout the course of the episode.  The whole "Jack Pack" actually returns in the seventh season's "Chrysalis," in which we see another side of Sarina, the quiet girl and the only one of them, as a result, not sabotaging herself by an abrasive personality (such as the overly sexual Lauren or sad sack Patrick).  In The X-Files, this group had a parallel in the Lone Gunmen, who were fortunate enough to gain a short-lived spin-off.  That was never going to happen with the Jack Pack, of course, but it would certainly have been unique!

The other thing that's refreshing about the episode is how it handles the Dominion War, as more of a concept than reality, which works extremely well as a standalone episode set during the arc but without needing to fight any of the battles that otherwise typified it.  This was a purely intellectual affair.  Pity poor Bashir...But at least there's newfound respect for how he tempered his own exaggerated sense of self over the course of the series, so that he could at last embrace his own potential.  Some people aren't as lucky, alas.

One last tidbit: We get a glimpse at Damar's elevation to the forefront of Dominion affairs, which is a crucial development for the character as he marches ever forward to his destiny...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A clever look at a defining Star Trek characteristic: the smart guys.
  • series - An equally clever look at the Dominion War arc.
  • character - A Bashir spotlight that helps put him in context.
  • essential - Much too fun to even consider dismissing.
notable guest-stars:
Tim Ransom (Jack)
Faith Salie (Sarina)
Hilary Shepard (Lauren)
Michael Keenan (Patrick)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x8 "Resurrection"

rating: ***

the story: The Mirror Universe comes here, in the form of...Bareil?

what it's all about: Three Mirror Universe episodes in Deep Space Nine ("Crossover," "Through the Looking Glass," "Shattered Mirror") presented an epic look at the future of the classic episode "Mirror, Mirror," and since the last of these was in the fourth season and "Resurrection" doesn't really seem to advance anything, fans have often considered it pointless.  That's never been my view.  I think it's a highly inventive return to the familiar alternate reality, one that sets aside the significance of it to instead focus on the possibilities of it.

The Mirror Universe was always good for showing alternate versions of familiar characters.  I mean, that was the whole point, right?  In "Mirror, Mirror," the idea was set up that everyone there was basically the opposite of how they are here, hence the name and its implication: mirror images.  The first three Deep Space Nine episodes centered around Sisko, how the rogue version of him in the Mirror Universe turned out to be far more important than he seemed (kind of like the underdog nature of the series itself, struggling for recognition under giants like Kirk and Picard).  The cleverest thing the episodes did was present Mirror Jennifer, because the Jennifer here famously died before the first episode of the series, and was a major reason why Sisko was who he was when we first met him.

"Resurrection" is, essentially, a riff on that, because it presents Mirror Bareil.  Bareil was a significant recurring character in the early seasons, killed off dramatically in the third season's "Life Support."  This was a character who famously represented the bloodless Bajorans, who seemed to suck all the energy out of the series whenever they appeared, despite the fact that they were most often represented by desperate terrorists and not the religious folk like Bareil who could drink the dry Vulcans out of a teetotaler convention (if you can image that).  He was quickly replaced by the more dashing Shakaar, who nonetheless was gone in a relative heartbeat.

So to see Bareil return again, in any form, is quite a bold creative statement on the part of the producers, one that certainly seems to have backfired, but not for lack of merit.  In fact, as a standalone experience it's the best of the Mirror Universe episodes.  The Mirror Universe tended to draw out a lot of hammy acting, in any series.  Bringing in someone as subdued as Bareil actually makes "Resurrection" a chance to sell the concept to any lingering skeptics about the idea.  It also gives the series a chance to revisit the mostly abandoned concept of Bajoran spirituality, at this point sacrificed to Sisko's impending grand destiny as champion of the Prophets, the noncorporeal wormhole aliens the Bajorans worship. 

It's a throwback and a thought exercise, and yes, ultimately a Kira spotlight, and Kira spotlights were almost always highlights of the series.  Soon she'd be tied inextricably to a romantic future with Odo; this was Kira's last stand, in a lot of ways.  Freed from the many burdens the Bajorans tended to bring with them, Kira's emotional baggage with Bareil actually turns the experience into something fresh from a very old playbook: of course the guy is a conman, in league with the Intendant, Kira's Mirror Universe doppelganger, a would-be master manipulator and maneater (and womaneater) used to getting her way, the real star of the Mirror Universe, in what amounts to her last hurrah ("Crossover" was technically an Intendant affair).

The seventh season's "The Emperor's New Cloak" is the last Mirror Universe episode until Enterprise's two-part "In a Mirror, Darkly" origin story.  The Sisko suite was really the big statement; everything else is gravy.  "Resurrection" makes a fine meal, thank you.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Because it sidesteps the major Mirror Universe issues, this one is mostly for Deep Space Nine fans.
  • series - But it neatly follows the tradition of sequels to "Mirror, Mirror."
  • character - This is great for Kira and Bareil (from any universe).
  • essential - It's the goodbye they were previously robbed of.
notable guest-stars:
Philip Anglim (Mirror Bareil)
Nana Visitor (Intendant)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x7 "You Are Cordially Invited..."

rating: ****

the story: Worf and Dax marry, with a few hurdles.

what it's all about: Amazingly, through six TV shows and thirteen movies, "You Are Cordially Invited..." is the only story in the whole Star Trek franchise where two main characters get married, where that is the sole focus (Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres get a quickie in Voyager's "Drive").  The next closest example is the marriage of Miles and Keiko O'Brien in Next Generation's "Data's Day," but that was years before O'Brien was a regular in Deep Space Nine and besides, as the title implies, it was more about Data than anything.

So this one's a milestone.  It's also the first episode of the series since the penultimate one from the fifth season to take a break from the Dominion War, including the first six of the sixth season.  And it's a good excuse for a change of pace, as good an excuse as there ever was, obviously, as indicated above, another example of how importance the lives of the characters in the series were.

It's also a Klingon episode, sort of like "Amok Time" if everything (eventually) works out.  In terms of further fleshing out Klingon society, what it would be like to live it every day and not just as a warrior, "Invited" is a great episode on that score alone.

But it also gives Worf and Dax, especially Dax, a wonderful spotlight, after a few seasons of courtship that was fortuitous for both of them, Worf in terms of integration into the series and Dax in finally doing something with the Klingon connection that'd been there from the very beginning but until Worf had been relegated to one standout episode ("Blood Oath") but otherwise mostly ignored.

It's really a Dax episode.  Jadzia Dax would be dead by the end of the season (spoiler alert?), so this was kind of the last opportunity to revisit and explore in depth what made her tick.  Surprisingly or not, she finds that being familiar with Klingons and actively trying to join one of their families are two different things.  The whole experience is a reminder of what helped make her stand out to begin with (especially in appearances like "Playing God"), as something other than a pretty face, a strong personal drive that was just as apt to get Dax in trouble as lead to another of her epic memories (it would probably be safe to argue that it would be very tough to find a Trill who enjoyed being joined more than Jadzia Dax).

It's also a fun chance to see Martok relax a little, the first real chance he's had since returning from a Dominion labor camp last season and struggling to reintegrate himself back to his old life.  Which is to say, this is a rare chance to just hang out with the guy, as if he were just another member of the large station family, and not a Klingon who only appears when there's a fight brewing somewhere (admittedly frequent enough during a war).

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Klingons!  You can't be a Star Trek fan and not love them.
  • series - A big moment for two series regulars.
  • character - That would be Worf and Dax, in case you forgot.
  • essential - A truly unique moment in Star Trek lore.
notable guest-stars:
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Marc Worden (Alexander)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x6 "Sacrifice of Angels"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko retakes the station in spectacular fashion.

what it's all about: If "Favor the Bold" feels weightless, war-for-the-sake-of-war (and in turn, action-for-the-sake-of-action), what fans who never really watched Deep Space Nine assumed the Dominion War arc to be, then "Sacrifice of Angels" fulfills the promise of the concept, tying everything together neatly.

An unexpected callback to the wormhole aliens, or Prophets, who come to the rescue as a kind of deus ex machine but in a fashion that has considerable impact later in the series (one almost wonders if Sisko actually released the Pah-wraiths when he asks the Prophets to make the Dominion fleet disappear), bridges nicely with the physical act of winning back the station, a thrilling sequence of events that might have made a dramatic series opener.  Star Trek, to this point, was always afraid of action, aside from fight scenes that more often than not were poorly choreographed.  The Borg invasion from Next Generation's "Best of Both Worlds" happens mostly off-camera.  Deep Space Nine's pilot, "Emissary" actually features more of the battle at the heart of that invasion than was previously seen, but only as Sisko loses his ship, his wife, and his life (for a time).  The Cardassians were more or less wrapping up the Occupation at the same time, thus opening up the station to Starfleet in a bloodless coup.  Twice, during the course of the series, the station needed defending on an epic scale, but this time it had actually been lost.  In terms of significance this is huge.  Even Odo's temporary loss of his shape-shifting ability didn't seem this important when it happened a season previous. 

The action becomes deeply embedded in the history of the series, and its future as well.  Besides Sisko's future hassles with the Pah-wraiths, and Prophets, there's Dukat on a collision course with destiny, too.  Damar completes his journey to becoming a truly significant character when he betrays Dukat, murdering his daughter Ziyal, who collaborated with Kira and the other good guys who'd remained at the station (I talked previously about the importance of collaborators in the series, but this is easily the most dramatic example of them).

It's a big, big moment, and it justifies everything that preceded it, even the parts that seemed to be dragging their feet in an effort to make a big continuous arc, the longest in franchise history to that point, where one episode led directly into the next.  Some of the episodes in the arc didn't seem to contribute much to it, the producers still uncertain about the studio's willingness to let them pull it off, perhaps.  Or maybe they just weren't ready yet.  The minefield dilemma, however, does manage to justify all of it, sort of like the need for Obi-Wan Kenobi to deactivate the tractor beam in Star Wars in order for Luke, Han, and Leia's escape from the Death Star to be possible.  What was needed was a big ending, and that's what's accomplished here.

Arguably, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan works as well as it does because of Spock's death at the end of it.  I'd argue that Ziyal's death functions in much the same way.  Obviously Tora Ziyal is nowhere near as important a character as Spock, but her death greatly affects her father's future.  Dukat begins a descent into madness at the end of "Angels" that carries over into "Waltz," which permanently bonds him to Sisko, which finally crystalizes one of the most important arcs of the series, where Sisko's destiny as the Bajoran's Emissary (that term from the pilot) ends.  Again, that sequence with the Prophets makes that all the more important, too.

The Pah-wraiths are the enemies of the Prophets.  Dukat eventually becomes their Emissary, Sisko's opposite number.  They'd previously appeared in "The Assignment," but were relatively impotent, directionless other than their vague feud with the Prophets.  My argument is that whatever was keeping them in check previously ends when the Prophets directly intervene on behalf of Sisko.  This is big storytelling, somewhat beyond the scope of anything else Star Trek ever attempted, except maybe the abandoned Temporal Cold War arc in Enterprise.  To find anything like it, you'd need to watch Lost and wait to find out about Jacob and the Man in Black, and still end up with a fairly ambiguous explanation of a similar mythology...

The point, however, is that "Angels" ushers in a bold new era for Deep Space Nine, and the franchise in general.  It's the moment the whole serialization concept truly clicks, and as such is directly responsible for the image of the series as it persists today.  Actually, there was far less serialization than fans tend to assume; recurring characters tended to have a lot more of an impact than their ongoing stories, many of which don't really exist.  The one ongoing thread of the series is actually Sisko's role as Emissary, which of course is something that is touched on in "Angels," somewhat tellingly.

So anyone looking to see what the series is all about really could do far worse than catch "Angels," which could very well open up the whole concept for them.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - In some respects, it's the must-see moment that could just as easily define the series for fans and skeptics.
  • series - It's the lynchpin of the serialization concept.
  • character - A defining moment for Sisko and Dukat.
  • essential - Kind of the definition of can't-miss.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x5 "Favor the Bold"

rating: ***

the story: Sisko decides to retake the station.

what it's all about: The strength and weakness of serialized storytelling is that it's a commitment that becomes inevitable, something that must be stuck with regardless of whether or not you've really figured it out.  To my mind, that was always the problem with Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine's cult doppelganger, some grand vision J. Michael Straczynski came up with but really never had the tools to execute properly (and I'm not just talking about the budget).  Whereas today you have people watching something like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones and it's the spectacle of the thing that's really the driving point of interest, the uninitiated viewer will be left wondering about its quality if individual episodes plod along without any real heft to them.  Especially in the binge age, weaknesses can be hidden by a yearning just to experience something. 

But even a novel needs to be consistently compelling to be an overall pleasurable experience, and TV serialized storytelling is basically the filmed version of a novel.  The fifth episode in the initial six-episode Dominion War arc betrays some of the weaknesses in its storytelling.  Whereas the previous entry, "Behind the Lines," contributed something meaningful to the overall plot by acknowledging not just the arc itself but all the material that had come before it, "Favor the Bold" feels like something the producers decided to do just to help wrap up the arc, having done nothing appreciable in the preceding four episodes to introduce what is otherwise an obvious development: the retaking of the station.  Considering two big stories in the series had already featured a similar moment ("The Siege" at the end of the three-episode arc at the start of the second season; "Way of the Warrior" at the start of the fourth), it almost feels too inevitable to register as the climax it needs to be.

Yes, there's still the rest of the season, plus another season besides that, before the war itself ends, but that's kind of beside the point.

In these five episodes, nothing substantial is done to bridge the twin plots of the arc: Sisko leading a crew fighting the war, Kira leading a crew leading the resistance aboard the station.  Now, having the impetus of Sisko's decision being the imminent destruction of the crucial minefield blocking the wormhole and thus Dominion reinforcements, that's a pretty big deal.  But it comes off as random, and while Kira's crew has been struggling with the issue of the mines all along, Sisko's crew has been doing anything but.

It just comes off as weak.  The version of serialized storytelling "Bold" represents is akin to soap opera, not space opera.  Things in some respects just kind of continue in this episode that've been introduced earlier.  The big development is merely that the station will finally be retaken; everything else just kind of exists.  Odo's weird relationship with the Female Founder, so crucial to "Lines," continues.  Even Tora Ziyal, who is one episode away from her crucial murder, doesn't seem to be anything but a character experiencing things merely to experience them.

All of this is quibbling, to a certain extent; it's clearly setup, so that the payoff next episode can focus on the good stuff.  So to a certain extent, it's an episode that needs to be seen in conjunction with the next one.  That actually makes it more of a two-part story than the fifth of six, which is how "Bold" and "Sacrifice of Angels" were originally presented.  It's just as clear, though, in hindsight, that this six-episode arc started something significant.  And that the producers didn't quite, yet, have the creative power to pull it off.  The ten-episode arc at the end of the series is a much better example of the kind of storytelling these installments are attempting.

Does all that make sense?

criteria analysis:
  • franchise -  For this one you really need to be invested in the Dominion War arc to care, I think.
  • series - A crucial moment in said arc.
  • character - I don't think any one character truly stands out in the episode; you'll see a ridiculously extensive set of guest-stars below.
  • essential - Unlike past versions of seeing Sisko fight to reclaim the station, this one is entirely earned, and so seeing where and how it begins is important to what follows, and to the series experience as a whole.
notable guest-stars:
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Aron Eisnberg (Nog)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x4 "Behind the Lines"

rating: ***

the story: The new resistance movement gathers steam aboard the station, until Odo is reunited with the Female Founder...

what it's all about: This is the essential turning point of the six-episode Dominion War opening arc.  "Behind the Lines" redeems the somewhat patchy material that precedes it and begins the truly serialized storytelling that was to become Deep Space Nine's calling card, the ten episode block that ended the series, inspired larger arcs in the later Enterprise, and proved to be a harbinger of TV programming as it would become known and most popular in the new millennium. 

The notable guest-stars have notably begun piling up; the famously rich recurring cast members have begun to assert themselves.  Damar, who at one time seemed a fairly trivial presence, becomes infinitely more important when he finds himself at the crossroads of the war, suddenly more important than his boss Dukat, accidentally so in this particular episode, but soon by design, until he becomes one of the most poignant characters of the series.

But the good stuff lies with Odo.  Since "The Search" at the start of the third season revealed his people to be the Founders, the folks who run the Dominion, he'd been in constant conflict with himself.  A relationship with Kira continually proved to be a nonstarter, since Odo couldn't help but wonder about his place among the Founders, whether the home he'd always known really was better than the one home that would always accept him (except that awkward period in which his shape-shifting ability was stripped from him, essentially making Odo a temporary exile).  "Lines" is finally the episode where he has a chance to consider the appeal of his people, against the best interests of his friends.

It's ironic, because so much of the early material in the series was about the evils of collaboration, Bajorans who betrayed their own people for not standing up to the Cardassians during the Occupation.  Odo risks, in this episode, becoming the ultimate collaborator.  He finds the prospect of his people too alluring to even think of it in those terms, at least as he considers it initially. 

This in turn puts in stark terms the worth of the Dominion War arc, as an elaboration on everything the series had always been about.  The prior three episodes vacillated on this, trying to justify the arc narratively rather than integrating it, and I wonder how much it really worked, because to this day Deep Space Nine remains a cult-within-a-cult.  This is arguably the essential episode, within the context of the series itself, to understand what the war was all about.  Those who were never big fans probably wouldn't get why "Lines" is so important, without someone explaining it to them.  So that's what I'm here for...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This may be the perfect selling point of the whole war arc to skeptical viewers, but I wonder if it seems too impenetrable.
  • series - Still, it's the episode that justifies the whole war.
  • character - Odo faces his biggest test.
  • essential - So yes, it's kind of required viewing.
notable guest-stars:
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery - Jason Isaacs joins the cast

A ton of casting news has occurred since I last wrote about Star Trek: Discovery  The lead character will be played by Sonequa Martin-Green, whose major previous credit is The Walking Dead.  The other notable name since added is James Frain, who will appear as Sarek in one episode.  Among his other credits, I'm familiar with Frain from his work in the short-lived superhero drama The Cape.

Jason Isaacs needs little introduction, but here are some highlights all the same:
  • The Patriot (2000) His breakthrough role saw Isaacs chew scenery as a villain in Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War drama.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) Isaacs debuted as Lucius Malfoy in the second movie and appeared in each succeeding entry except Prisoner of Azkaban (the third one).
  • Peter Pan (2003) He played both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in this version of the classic story.
I'd list further credits, but those are his major ones.  Isaacs won't be the lead, but he'll add significantly to the credibility of the cast.  He's equally capable of supporting roles as leading ones.  No part is too small; this is a guy who can make anything seem bigger.

Needless to say, but his casting ratchets up my interest further than it already was.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x3 "Sons and Daughters"

rating: **

the story: Worf reunites with his son Alexander, who's struggling to integrate into Klingon society.

what it's all about: This is an episode I've struggled with for twenty years.  The return/introduction into Deep Space Nine of Alexander is something not to be considered lightly.  Alexander was a significant recurring character in Next Generation, who almost existed outside the sphere of his father (Worf).  Theirs was a difficult relationship at the best of times, and when we last saw them together ("Firstborn") Worf came to a tentative peace about that.  So, in his third season as a regular in a different series, Worf finally meets up with his son again...and things aren't any better than they ever were.

There's a difference, though, and it's a big one.  Child actor Brian Bonsall, who portrayed Alexander in nearly every other appearance, has been replaced with a noticeably older Marc Worden.  It'd be one thing if Bonsall had played the part long enough to have reached puberty, but he was still just a kid when he last appeared (and "Firstborn" actually features a different actor playing a time-traveling adult Alexander for most of the episode, eclipsing Bonsall's final turn in the process).  Worden's Alexander is older but wimpy, painfully inept, and reconciling what the character has become with how we last saw him is a large part of how to interpret "Sons and Daughters."

I used to hate the idea of the new Alexander.  I thought it was a terrible mistake, one that came off as clumsy and dismissive of everything that had come before it, or merely needlessly duplicative.  The fact that Alexander makes only one more appearance in Deep Space Nine (a few episodes later, "You Are Cordially Invited") is an odd legacy for a series that usually went out of its way to develop characters like this.

But it's still kind of interesting.  This Alexander isn't really so different from the host of Ferengi who appeared and evolved throughout the run of the series, notably a different father-and-son combo, Rom and Nog.  So in essence, "Sons" is kind of a war story that couldn't otherwise be told in a series that had already gotten past that point with the two characters (two others, Sisko and Jake, too, come to think of it) who would've otherwise best exemplified it.

"Firstborn" featured an Alexander who'd just begun considering the possibility of embracing his Klingon heritage.  This was a kid who'd previously been raised by a mother who wanted to keep him as far from it as possible, an extension of an arc that had otherwise been cut short by her death.  Part of it was always about Worf, and his own feelings of alienation from a childhood that found him raised by humans, which forced him in the opposite direction his son later took.  He became obsessed with all things Klingon, and so he became an exemplar Klingon.  Alexander, not so much.

So to illustrate that, when Alexander finally embraces his father's life, it's bound to be awkward.  He comes at a disadvantage.  It's kind of good that he looks so different in this appearance, because a huge leap is necessary to see him struggling where he'd always resisted.  Although only a few years have passed, a lot has changed.  Worf lost a family when the Enterprise-D was destroyed (Star Trek Generations), and his life spiraled out of control.  In a lot of ways, since he ended up so important to two different Star Trek series, Worf's life was always going to be hard to keep track of (he still appears in both First Contact and Insurrection despite appearing in Deep Space Nine at the same time, with minimal effort to explain how).  So imagine how chaotic Alexander's life was during the same period.

Despite that, Alexander made the most important decision of his life, and make the commitment he'd long avoided.  Of course it makes a good war story, a family reunion under the worst circumstances.  This is not the best franchise episode set aboard a Klingon ship.  It doesn't have to be.  The more I think about "Sons," the more it makes sense.  Of course Alexander would stumble, badly.  If the story seems haphazardly executed and sort of dropped in out of nowhere, maybe that's how it should feel, the only way Alexander's story would continue.  By the end, he's at last proven himself, and been accepted into the House of Martok (there's a number of things worth discussing about that, but this is already a pretty lengthy write-up), the same as his father before him.  It only seems appropriate that Alexander effectively vanishes from this point, because he's finally found peace with himself, his father, and his future.

That's the kind of closure worth celebrating, even if in a muted way.  Also muted is the return of Tora Ziyal, Dukat's daughter.  A few episodes in the future she becomes hugely important, but here she's just kind of thrown into the mix to help round out Alexander's story, as Kira struggles with Dukat's overtures.  It would almost have made a better lead story, and Alexander's the supporting material, given what happens later.  But I guess it's also kind of appropriate, because unlike Alexander, Ziyal's story was never her own...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Too specific to appeal to fans of Klingon stories in general.
  • series - Somewhat tangential to the war arc.
  • character - A big moment for Worf and Alexander.
  • essential - It's the closure Alexander needed, just not the way anyone ever imagined it.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Worden (Alexander)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Gabrielle Union

Friday, March 3, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x2 "Rocks and Shoals"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko faces a difficult predicament when he and his crew are marooned on the same planet as a contingent of the Dominion, and they're forced to confront the intricacies of the enemy.

what it's all about: First - a litany of episodes, from this series alone, where things are relatively comparable:

"...Nor the Battle to the Strong," "The Ship," "The Siege of AR-558," all dealing with the realities of war.  This is the one that takes place during the initial six-episode arc of the Dominion War.  "Ship" is the most comparable in that it also deals with the Dominion specifically (and even features the origin of the ship Sisko and crew crash on the planet here).  But the episode that most comes to mind is actually "Hippocratic Oath," in which Bashir is forced to try and come up with a cure for the chemical addiction the Founders engineered into the Jem'Hadar.  That's an episode I felt worked somewhat horribly.  The good doctor is called upon to work on the same problem in "Rocks and Shoals," and once again ("To the Death" is another good example) the viewer is asked to take the Jem'Hadar as something other than the enemy, more akin to the nuanced Klingons as they came to be known over the years.

And that's really the story of the episode, a last redemptive look at the foot soldiers of the Dominion, and the complicated nature of "the enemy."  (A b-story has Kira revisiting the thought process she had during the Occupation, and how it compares to life under Dominion rule aboard the station, and so complements the material well.)  There was never a recurring Jem'Hadar character in the series; every episode featured a new one, and so they have the somewhat unique distinction in Deep Space Nine as addressing a species rather than individuals, of whom there were representatives clamoring for respect of just about every iteration, and so illustrate the need to look beyond familiarity even when that seems the only way to make progress.  "Rocks" in fact makes that case most clearly.

For that reason it's possibly the easiest Dominion War episode to recommend to viewers leery of the bulk of the material to see what the series was saying about war, the nature of the enemy, when it might have seemed the war arc glorified or even glamorized something the franchise otherwise tended to condemn.  There are plenty of "stuck with the enemy" episodes across Star Trek where the context is entirely contained in the one story.  This is a great example of seeing that same message put into context.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A good example of Deep Space Nine making a classic Star Trek template its own.
  • series - A good example of the best Dominion War storytelling.
  • character - Kira gets the nod here for her personal breakthrough.
  • essential - All of it combines nicely for a transcendent experience.
notable guest-stars:
Phil Morris
Christopher Shea
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x1 "A Time to Stand"

rating: ***

the story: Sisko leads a risky mission while Odo and the others still at the station adjust to life under the Dominion.

what it's all about: The thing that made Deep Space Nine great is also what made it hard to penetrate among more casual Star Trek fans.  Case in point: "A Time to Stand," the first episode of the Dominion War (after a setup in "A Call to Arms" at the end of the previous season), immerses itself directly in the minutiae of series continuity.

Like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek Into Darkness, it features a ship you kind of need to know how it ended up in the hands of Starfleet (Voyage Home had The Search for Spock; Into Darkness makes a vague and somewhat unsatisfying reference to Harry Mudd).  This is a Return of the Jedi scenario; where the Rebels somehow acquired an Imperial shuttle, Sisko has a Jem'Hadar ship on his hands.  Of course, series fans know the ship was confiscated memorably in "The Ship" (appropriately enough) last season, but it'll just seem convenient to anyone just popping in, whether or not they have any knowledge about the prior episode. 

It's admittedly cool to see Sisko and crew (including Garak, playing a new role in the series as someone who gets to actively participate in the adventures of the good guys) operate inside a Jem'Hadar ship, as they figure out how, but it also seems like if it's a season premiere, these guys ought to be in the Defiant, something iconic to the series.  Enterprise later had the same problem with its third season premiere, setting up the regular threat of the Xindi in an episode called "The Xindi," in which Archer and company spend time...in a garbage dump.  Sometimes the glamour and romance of a situation is essential to selling it properly.

The episode drops viewers in the middle of a seemingly hopeless war with a mission that's supposed to turn things around; it's not exactly the message that will sell the concept.  By the end of the initial six-episode arc opening the season, the real objective to begin the war becomes reclaiming the station, as was hinted at in "Arms," and seems pretty obvious for a series named after the station at its heart.  It's a slight creative misstep to ignore that in a season premiere.

But the station does appear in  the episode, of course, with all the characters who are still there, including Odo, who thanks to a little prodding from Kira manipulates himself into a major player among their new Dominion hosts.  Somewhat more interesting and relevant to viewers from 2017 is Jake's problem of getting all his articles for the Federation news service blocked by Weyoun "because they betray a bias against the Dominion."  Well, of course they do.  Weyoun's actions amount to censorship, which is something Donald Trump flirts with now, or so his detractors fear. 

Funny how something produced two decades ago gains new relevance...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - An episode that curiously lacks awareness that general viewers might exist.
  • series - Nonetheless hugely important as it sets up the new status quo of the initial Dominion War six-episode opening arc.
  • character - You'll notice some names in the guest star credits who are making their debuts (or debuting on a more permanent basis than previous), but will appear often in future episodes.
  • essential - Key to an understanding of what Deep Space Nine set out to accomplish.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Aron Eisnberg (Nog)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x26 "Call to Arms"

rating: ****

the story: The fifth season draws to a close with the start of the Dominion War...

what it's all about: And thus begins, officially, the signature story of Deep Space Nine.  On the surface, "Call to Arms" might almost be seen as similar to "The Best of Both Worlds," the Next Generation episode that is half the definitive Borg story of that series, a big wartime scenario that was resolved one episode later.  But the Dominion War does not end in two episodes.  Or three.  It engulfs the two final seasons of the series.

Is this glorifying war?  Is this an affront to the very tradition of the franchise?  Is this, as many fans have complained about the Abrams-era films, featuring action at the expense of the cerebral heart of Star Trek?  To all three, I say, absolutely not.  The Dominion War, as "Arms" makes clear, continues the franchise tradition of putting the human experience first.  Actually, it helps explain how Deep Space Nine did that better than any Star Trek before or after it (arguably). 

At the episode's heart is actually Rom, the one-time bumbling Ferengi, lackey brother of irascible bartender Quark, whose evolution was a key part of the development of the series itself, beginning as so many elements of the fifth season did, in the third season.  He comes up with the idea Starfleet needs to secure the all-important wormhole that was always the reason the station became so strategically significant: a minefield (a technobabble minefield, naturally).  He also gets married to Leeta, a Bajoran who like him used the station to start a new life for herself.  How does Rom end up being the reason the Dominion War happens?  Because these are stories where character matters

Also involved is Jake Sisko, who makes a fateful decision about his own future, too, once it's becomes clear that the war has begun and Starfleet is forced to evacuate the station: he's going to stay.  It's the biggest decision he ever makes, beyond opting out of joining Starfleet.  Obviously it puts him in an extreme amount of danger, but it also means Jake has once and for all dedicated himself to the writer's life, as a journalist.  Maybe it's not the novelist everyone wanted him to be ("The Visitor") but it makes the character relevant as perhaps never before, and that's good enough, finally.

Of course: the war.  With every other major power forming pacts with the Dominion, Starfleet feels backed into a corner.  Rom's mines cut off access to the Gamma Quadrant, where the Dominion is based, making it totally reliant on resources, for the moment, from the Alpha Quadrant, including the resources already transferred there, including the increasingly signature Vorta representative Weyoun, as well as his main Cardassian ally Dukat, who has at last found his defining role in the series, too.  The Federation finds its ally in the Klingon Empire, finally putting to rest all the hassles of the past few seasons (and thus completely redeeming them, in the figure of General Martok, who becomes one of the most iconic Klingons of the franchise in the process).

When you put aside the morality of war itself, the complications of war can thus be explored.  The first of these in the series is Sisko having to make peace with his son's decision, which in some ways mirrors where both characters were at the start of the series, victims of the aforementioned Borg threat in "Best of Both Worlds."  Seems appropriate, right?

It's a must-see moment, even if you don't want to invest in the rest of the arc.  It also provides one of the most poetic images of the series, as Dukat discovers that Sisko has left his signature baseball on the desk he's been forced to vacate.  Clearly not just a war but a pitched battle for the station itself will be coming...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The start of a wild new look at the nature of war.
  • series - The start of the signature arc of Deep Space Nine.
  • character - From Rom to Jake, surprising characters define this moment.
  • essential - The definition of can't-miss.
notable guest-stars:
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
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