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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Chimera (Review)

Chimera is a welcome return to form for the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, following an underwhelming run of episodes from Prodigal Daughter through The Emperor’s New Cloak and into Field of Fire.

It is another example of how storytelling real estate in the seventh season is at a premium, the production team understanding that their remaining time is finite and that there are a number of key plot and character beats that the show needs to hit before it can begin the massive final arc that will run from Penumbra through to What You Leave Behind. As such, Chimera has a very clear purpose in the overall arc of the seventh season. As with Treachery, Faith and the Great River, this is an episode designed to clarify that Odo cannot remain on Deep Space Nine forever.

Their Laas.

However, Chimera is more than just the writing staff moving pieces across a chessboard. It is in many ways an exploration of one of the fundamental (and often unspoken) tensions within the larger Star Trek universe. As with a lot of Deep Space Nine, there is a sense that Chimera is consciously exploring and interrogating some of the underlying assumptions of Gene Roddenberry’s massive universe. In particular, Chimera is an episode that wonders whether mankind can ever be truly comfortable with the alien, and whether there is a difference between assimilation and multiculturalism.

The result is a powerful and provocative piece of science-fiction, a story that has aged as well as the show around it. Chimera is a story about what it means to be different, and what it means to part of a society. It is a cautionary tale about the unspoken conditions that are often attached to membership of a community, and of the conflict between blending in and standing out.

Changelings. Together. Strong.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Field of Fire (Review)

Field of Fire is an oddly nineties piece of television.

All television shows are inevitably a product of their time. This was particularly true of the twenty-odd-episode-a-season shows produced during the twentieth century, subject to the brutal churn of a weekly production schedule. The production team needed scripts, which meant that the writers needed ideas. Inevitably, those ideas were drawn from the wider culture around them. As a result, television is often an interesting lens through which culture might be examined, a projection of how a given society sees (or perhaps wishes to see) itself.

The noblest aim.

Star Trek: Enterprise was inescapably a product of the War on Terror, caught in the gravity of the attacks upon the World Trade Centre. Star Trek: Voyager was undeniably a child of the nineties, driven largely be a sense of listless anxiety in the shadow the millennium. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine could never be entirely removed from its cultural context, it still stood apart. The writers tended to draw their themes from history, rather than from current affairs, creating a Star Trek show that seemed to exist beyond its cultural moment.

Of course, there are exceptions. Field of Fire is that most nineties of television episodes, the serial killer psychological thriller.

Highly illogical.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Emperor’s New Cloak (Review)

The Emperor’s New Cloak is a disaster.

To be fair, it is not a messy disaster. There is nothing particularly novel in how terrible The Emperor’s New Cloak actually is. Most of the awfulness is carried over from Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. The sharp decline in quality and merit of the mirror universe episodes since the concept’s reintroduction in Crossover has become a gentle slope. The Emperor’s New Cloak is unfunny and broadly homophobic nonsense, clumsily plotted and horribly paced. If it sets a lower bar for these mirror universe episodes, that bar is not appreciably lower.

Not quite having a blast…

The Emperor’s New Cloak is terrible in the same way that Prodigal Daughter and Field of Fire are terrible. It is as though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has reached a point where its bad episodes are no longer surprising, simply uninspired. No audience member watching The Emperor’s New Cloak will wonder how any of these ideas made it to screen. There is none of the novelty that defined the horrors in episodes like Meridian, Let He Who Is Without Sin… or even Profit and Lace. There is just a creeping sense of fatigue.

In some ways, it makes sense that the most disappointing episodes of the seventh season should be affected by this feeling of exhaustion. The end is nigh, the production team have been working on the series for seven years. Even their bad jokes are no longer shocking, simply tired.

A dark moment for all involved.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Prodigal Daughter (Review)

Prodigal Daughter is an incredibly limp piece of television.

Prodigal Daughter plays more like a first season episode than a final season episode, the result of a creative process where the writing staff are still trying to figure out how best to approach major characters and even how best to structure individual episodes of the series. There is something distractingly amateurish about Prodigal Daughter, which seems to largely consist of one-shot guest characters standing around drab sets talking about things that happened off-screen. It is not so much bad as it is boring.

Painting a pretty picture.

To be fair, there are reasons for these problems. Ezri Dax was still a new character, and the production team were still getting to grips with her. Although Ezri had been integrated into the ensemble with relative ease, the writers had only given her a single character-focused episode in Afterimage. This was understandable, with everything else going on, but it meant that the character still had to find a unique voice. Beyond that, the structural problems with Prodigal Daughter were largely down to nightmarish disorganisation behind the scenes.

Of course, knowing this does not make it any easier to watch Prodigal Daughter.

Oh, brother!

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – It’s Only a Paper Moon (Review)

It’s Only a Paper Moon is a fantastic illustration of a lot of things that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does consistently well.

It is an episode that builds off events depicted in an earlier story, picking up with the character of Nog following the loss of his leg in The Siege of AR-558. In many ways, It’s Only a Paper Moon feels like a necessary part of that earlier adventure, dealing with the consequences of something truly horrific. It would have been cheap and crass to gloss over the enormity of what had happened to Nog. In The Siege of AR-558, the loss of Nog’s leg was a minor detail; one of many reminders of how war is hell. It’s Only a Paper Moon allows that story to play out in more depth.

“I’ll be seeing you…”

It’s Only a Paper Moon is also an episode that feels quite removed from what audiences expect from a Star Trek episode. The central story focuses on two supporting characters who exist outside the regular cast, trusting Nog and Vic Fontaine to carry a story on their own terms. It is a testament to how well-developed the world of Deep Space Nine has become, recalling the focus on Martok in Soldiers of the Empire or Once More Unto the Breach, Dukat in Indiscretion or Return to Grace and Garak in The Wire or Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast.

Unfolding primarily in a holographic recreation of sixties Las Vegas, It’s Only a Paper Moon is a very surreal and unusual episode of Deep Space Nine. However, it works perfectly in the context of Deep Space Nine.

A hard day’s Nog.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Covenant (Review)

Covenant is a flawed and fascinating episode.

In its own way, although obviously a much less extreme manner than The Siege of AR-558, this is an episode that could only have been produced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is not simply down to matters of continuity, and how the episode ties into the mythology of the series. More specifically, it is an exploration of religious themes and ideas that is only really possible within the framework of this particular Star Trek spin-off. It is difficult to imagine Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager tackling the idea of religious cults so effectively.

Altaring his plans.

Part of this is down to a lingering suspicion that the other Star Trek shows subtly (or not so subtly) consider all religions to be cults. After all, shows like The Return of the Archons, The Apple, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the SkyJustice, Who Watches the Watchers? and Devil’s Due left little room for ambiguity. The other Star Trek series seem downright hostile to the idea of religious belief, even if episodes like The Cloud and Sacred Ground might suggest a more open-minded approach to spirituality.

Deep Space Nine has generally been more willing to engage with the idea of religious belief as something that is worthy of exploration and consideration, something that is for an individual to determine on their own terms. Some characters on Deep Space Nine are explicitly atheist, like Jadzia Dax or Odo. Some characters hold strong religious beliefs, like Kira or Nog. Some characters believe in spiritual traditions without ever seeming particularly devote, like Worf. Some characters even evolve over the course of the series, like Sisko.

Preach out and touch faith.

This willingness to accept multiple facets and forms of religious belief allows Deep Space Nine to construct a story like Covenant. In any other Star Trek series, Covenant would seem like a knee-jerk dismissal of religious faith and organised belief, the tale of how a group of Bajorans were swindled by a charismatic leader with tragic consequences. It would be read as a generic condemnation of religious belief, an endorsement of an atheistic worldview that has developed beyond the need for such superstition.

Instead, Covenant is something more interesting and nuanced than that. It is an episode about a particular kind of belief, about a particular sort of religion. It is an episode about the dangers of a very particular form of worship. It is an episode about the perils of religious cults, but one which understands the distinction between that and other forms of spirituality.

He hasn’t a prayer.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Siege of AR-558 (Review)

The thing that Ira and I both wanted to do, was to make war as gritty as possible. You can make what somebody called the Gameboy wars, the Nintendo War, too clean and too cute. Nobody pays a price. You see ships blowing up, and that is kind of cool. But you don’t get the feeling of what a war is. Everybody said it was our Saving Private Ryan, but we’d come up with it before we were even aware of what they were doing on Saving Private Ryan. It really wasn’t that for us. It was really much more about Starfleet, and what those guys go through, and what it must be like in that time, and how to make that work on a gritty level. Rick Kolbe did a remarkable job directing it. Avery again did a marvelous performance in terms of being the captain in a very difficult situation, and making all of those difficult choices that you have to make under those circumstances.

– Hans Beimler, Cinefantastique

Siege the day.

The Siege of AR-558 is a masterful piece of Star Trek, and one of the finest episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In some ways, The Siege of AR-558 is an episode that has been necessary since the outbreak of the Dominion War at the end of Call to Arms. It is a story that had to be told at some point in the two-year stretch from A Time to Stand to What You Leave Behind. Had the writers and producers on Deep Space Nine opted not to tell a story like this within the framework of the Dominion War, they would have undermined the series as a whole and undercut a lot of the justifications for constructing an epic two-year war arc.

Mumy dearest.

It could reasonably be argued that The Siege of AR-558 is not unprecedented. In many ways, the episode is an extension of a narrative style that had been attempted at various points in the show’s recent history, the familiar “war is hell” story that drove episodes like The Ship, ... Nor the Battle to the Strong and Rocks and Shoals. It is very hard to look at the final three seasons of Deep Space Nine as a narrative glorifying warfare, the series often cynical about such violence.

At the same time, The Siege of AR-558 pushes that idea further than any earlier episode. The Siege of AR-558 is a story that unequivocally confirms that the Dominion War is a nightmarish and existential threat to the Federation with a profound moral and physical cost. While this idea has been reiterated repeatedly in stories like Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight, The Siege of AR-558 frames its argument in more visceral terms. It is an episode not about the abstract concept of war, but of its horrifying realities.

An explosive combination.

The Siege of AR-558 is not a morality play that operates at a remove from the violence. The Siege of AR-558 is not an episode in which war is reduced to a mathematical model. The Siege of AR-558 is not an episode in which important people sit around a table and engage in vigourous debate about plans of attack. Instead, The Siege of AR-558 is a story about the horrifying realities of combat, of the fear and dread felt by those on ground, of the seemingly pointless bloodshed that results from all of this politicking and scheming.

The Siege of AR-558 is a war story.

A shot in the dark.

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