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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – A Time to Stand (Review)

And so Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has changed once again.

A Time to Stand represents a new beginning for Deep Space Nine, kicking off an ambitious six-episode arc that effectively sets up both the status quo and the tone for the final two years of the series. To be fair, this version of the show is very clearly the model to which the fourth and fifth seasons had been building. It is not quite a second (or third, or fourth) pilot in the style of The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II or The Way of the Warrior, but it is very clear that Deep Space Nine is entering a new stage of its evolution at the start of its penultimate sequence.

Touching reunion.

Touching reunion.

More than that, this opening six-episode arc very clearly serves to set up and establish themes and ideas that will play out across the series’ remaining episodes; Kira suggests she will support Odo’s decision to return home in Behind the Lines, Damar’s alcoholism and the shame it hides is introduced in Behind the Lines, Sisko talks about the house that he plans to build on Bajor in Favour the Bold, the Prophets promise that a price will be exacted from Sisko in Sacrifice of Angels.

Although the formal declaration of war came at the end of Call to Arms, the sixth season premiere truly ushers in the era of the Dominion War.

New frontier.

New frontier.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5 (Review)

The fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is one of the best twenty-odd-episode seasons of television in the history of the medium.

Naturally, some episodes are stronger than others. There are a couple of duds to be found in the twenty-six episodes that make up the broadcast season. This is true of any season that runs for over twenty episodes; the reality of television production means that not every episode can be perfect and that some will inevitably be terrible. This is one of the nicer things about shifts to shorter television seasons; while it means fewer episodes in a given year, it also allows the production team more consistency.

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So the fifth season has episodes that do not work, to nobody’s surprise. The fourth season had Shattered Mirror and The Muse. The third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation had The Price and Ménage à Troi. The third season of The X-Files had The Blessing Way and Teso Dos Bichos. The second season of Millennium had Sense and Antisense and Siren. These are all great seasons of television, diminished in no way by their failures. The fifth season gets its failures out of the way early, with The Assignment and Let He Who Is Without Sin…

However, the fifth season of Deep Space Nine works so well because it has a very strong sense of internal consistency. As with the fourth season before it, there is a clear sense of where this production team wants to take the series. More than that, there is a very strong sense of harmony to the season. While each of the individual members of the writing staff have their own strengths and interests, they are all working together in pursuit of a common goal. Everybody writing for Deep Space Nine is on the same page as to what the show is about.

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The result is a season that marches very effectively and very coherently towards a logical and organic end point. A Call to Arms is perhaps the most radical cliffhanger in the history of the Star Trek franchise, sending Gene Roddenberry’s utopia into a two-season-long war while evicting the primary cast from the title location for more than just a single episode. It is to the credit of everybody working on the season that this finale is at once a gripping and subversive addition to the franchise mythology and a perfectly reasonable conclusion to the season.

The fifth season of Deep Space Nine ranks as a spectacular accomplishment.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Call to Arms (Review)

The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one. One could say that it has affected us quantitatively, not qualitatively. As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable. This does not mean that one can know when war will come but only that one is sure that it will come. This was true even before the atomic bomb was made. What has changed is the destructiveness of war.

– Albert Einstein, “Einstein on the Atomic Bomb”, The Atlantic, November 1945

Feels like coming home...

Feels like coming home…

Can war ever be justified? Can war ever be inevitable? Can war ever be necessary?

These are very tough ethical questions, particularly when posed in the abstract. In fact, the vast majority of policy decisions about warfare are rooted in living memory rather than philosophical certainty. It has been repeatedly suggested that Bill Clinton’s reluctance to intervene in Rwanda was a consequence of the spectacular failure in Somalia, and that his eventual intervention in Kosovo was an act of atonement for the moral lapse in Rwanda. This is to say nothing of how Obama’s policy on Syria is shaped by Bush’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Station keeping.

Station keeping.

The Star Trek universe is a utopia. It is a world where technology has eliminated poverty and hunger. The replicator, the holodeck, the transporter and warp drive are the building blocks of an idealistic future in which mankind seems to have found peace with itself. Dating back to Star Trek: The Motion Picture at the latest, Gene Roddenberry proposed that the franchise represented an idealised future for mankind. It was a world in which nobody ever wanted for anything, in which mankind were free to explore the universe.

This idealism is a cornerstone of the franchise. It is one of the most recognisable and universal aspects of Star Trek. This is a franchise that genuinely believes that mankind can be better than we are today. That is a large part of what makes the show so powerful, particularly in its original context. As the Doomsday Clock ticks closer and closer to midnight, Star Trek is a franchise that seems to argue that mankind has a future worth aspiring toward; a future beyond the end of the world or some corporate dystopia.

A farewell at arms.

A farewell at arms.

The franchise was never particularly interested in exploring how mankind reached that level of enlightenment. Star Trek: Enterprise was nominally a prequel series for the franchise, picking up in the wake of Star Trek: First Contact, but it opened after mankind had eliminated warfare and famine and nationalism. In some ways, the franchise could seem like a rather surreal experiment. If you imagined a world without warfare or without greed or without hunger, maybe people would get along? There is undoubtedly value on this, but it feels simplistic.

In contrast, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine dared to ask tough and uncomfortable question by challenging these assumptions. If these characters did not live in a perfect world, would they still aspire to betterment? If hunger and greed were still a part of everyday life, could mankind still work to improve themselves? If warfare is the inevitable outcome of statesmanship, then how do these twenty-fourth century people retain their values and ideals? These are legitimately tough questions for the franchise to ponder, but Deep Space Nine embraces them.

Terror on Terok Nor.

Terror on Terok Nor.

It is hard to overstate just how shocking Call to Arms was on broadcast. The actual plot mechanics are fairly standard Star Trek season finale stuff. The ominous and mounting sense of dread coursing through the episode evokes The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, the first season-ending cliffhanger from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The decision to have the recurring antagonists hijack the eponymous space station recalls Basics, Part I, the cliffhanger that Star Trek: Voyager broadcast at the end of the previous television season.

However, Call to Arms is more shocking for the one element of the episode that has been building since the first encounter with the Dominion in The Jem’Hadar. It is the beginning of the franchise’s first extended war story. This is bold new territory for the franchise, something that remains controversial to this day.

"The ball is in your court."

“The ball is in your court.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Empok Nor (Review)

Empok Nor is effectively a slasher movie.

It is Bryan Fuller’s second story credit for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and it shares a number of tonal and thematic similarities with his story for The Darkness and the Light. Both episodes are essentially pitched as serial killer horror movies, in which monsters from the past stalk our lead characters. These are fascinating tonal departures for the Rick Berman era of the Star Trek franchise, even if they feel like the logical extension of early horror-tinged episodes like The Man Trap or Charlie X or The Enemy Within.

The great game.

The great game.

Empok Nor is not as well developed or as effective as The Darkness and the Light. It lacks the thematic and character-driven punch of that earlier episode, even suffering as a little derivative. While Kira’s efforts to reconcile her past as a terrorist with her current status quo was the driving force of The Darkness and the Light, the contrast between O’Brien as a soldier and O’Brien as an engineer feels a little underdeveloped in Empok Nor. More than that, Empok Nor suffers from casually transforming Garak into a gloating nineties serial killer.

At the same time, there is a cheeky thrill to watching the Deep Space Nine production team try their hand at a particularly trashy and visceral genre, offering jump scares and atmosphere on familiar sets with the lighting turned way down low. Empok Nor is not a standout of this most spectacular of television seasons, but it had its charms.

Sleeping beauties.

Sleeping beauties.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Blaze of Glory (Review)

Blaze of Glory is a spectacular piece of television.

It is an episode that serves a very clear plot function in the larger context of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is clearly designed to tidy away some of the dangling loose ends before the show transitions into the Dominion War. Much like Children of Time was really the last “strange Gamma Quadrant phenomenon” episode, Blaze of Glory is the last Maquis episode. It also marks the last appearance of Michael Eddington, a character who has come a long way since his first appearance as the station’s new security officer in The Search, Part I.

Michael Eddington, Noted Brigand.

Michael Eddington, Noted Brigand.

However, even ignoring the fact that Blaze of Glory fulfils these larger obligations in terms of the show’s long-running plot threads, the episode is an engaging and exciting buddy action film that finds Benjamin Sisko paired with one of his most hated adversaries on a dangerous mission into the heart of enemy territory. Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe prepare a script laced with wry banter for unlikely action heroes Avery Brooks and Ken Marshall, while Kim Friedman directs the episode as if it were a lost Reagan era Shane Black script.

However, Blaze of Glory also feels very much like Deep Space Nine at its best. It is an episode that celebrates how much these characters can grow and change, while also revelling in the diversity of perspectives that make Deep Space Nine such a compelling show. It is an episode that understands Sisko and Eddington are perhaps more alike than either would concede, but which explores those parallels in a way that never obscures their key differences or their mutual mistrust.

Disarming conversation.

Disarming conversation.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Children of Time (Review)

Time is the fire in which we burn.

Children of Time comes towards the end of the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary season. By all accounts, the thirtieth anniversary season had been a resounding success. Star Trek: First Contact managed to please audiences and critics with a journey back to the beginning of the Star Trek universe. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine offered a crowd-pleasing homage to The Trouble With Tribbles in Trials and Tribble-ations. Even Star Trek: Voyager got in on the act with Flashback, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

More than that, the franchise was thriving by just about any measure. Three casts were active simultaneously; two casts on television and one in cinemas. The thirtieth anniversary had garnered incredible media attention and had helped to remind audiences that the franchise was still chugging along a decade after its resurrection. To many observers, it appeared that the Star Trek had been resurrected. Against all odds, the television show that had been cancelled by NBC after only three seasons seemed to have been granted a form of immortality.

Walking into the sunset.

Walking into the sunset.

However, things were not as rosy behind the scenes. In fact, the franchise had been underperforming since the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The ratings would not become a real problem until the launch of Star Trek: Enterprise, but there were early signs that the franchise was in decline. Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager underwent cast revisions in their fourth seasons to try to solidify the ratings. Deep Space Nine got to keep its existing cast and add one new face, while Voyager had to fire one cast member to make room for the newest player.

Children of Time feels very much like a meditation and contemplation upon the theme of legacy, asking the characters on Deep Space Nine to wonder what they might leave behind.

Shocking.

Shocking.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Soldiers of the Empire (Review)

Soldiers of the Empire is a very effective illustration of just how far Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was willing to push the Star Trek franchise.

It is an episode that unfolds primarily on a Klingon Bird of Prey. This is nothing new. After all, Star Trek: The Next Generation produced A Matter of Honour in its second season, assigning Riker to serve on a Klingon ship as part of an exchange programme. However, that episode was told primary from a human perspective, the story centring on Riker adjusting and adapting to an alien culture before saving the day. When Worf joined the Klingon fleet in Redemption, Part II, the story kept cutting back to life on the Enterprise in his absence.

"Mahk-cha!"

“Mahk-cha!”

In contrast, Soldiers of the Empire is primarily focused upon the Klingon cast and the Klingon crew. Worf and Dax join the IKS Rotarran to support General Martok in his first command since escaping the Dominion prison camp at the end of By Inferno’s Light, but they are very much bystanders. Although Worf and Dax provide vital narrative functions in introducing the audience to Klingon customs and cultures, the narrative arc of the show belongs to Martok and the crew of the Rotarran. This is not a story about Worf and Dax, this is a story about Martok.

The result is an episode that really pushes the limits of the storytelling possibilities on Deep Space Nine, a reminder that the production team remain as ambitious as ever in the show’s fifth season. Soldiers of the Empire suffers from a few minor plotting issues, but it is exciting and compelling in a way that captures the very best of Deep Space Nine.

A sharp stabbing pain.

A sharp stabbing pain.

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