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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tacking Into the Wind (Review)

Tacking Into the Wind might just be the last truly great episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Of course, there are some very good episodes lying ahead. However, none of them hum as perfectly as Tacking Into the Wind does. The Dogs of War is fantastically constructed and does pretty much everything that a penultimate episode of a long running series needs to do, but it largely feels like a prelude episode to the grand finale. What You Leave Behind is a powerful and emotive piece of television, and an effective conclusion to seven years of storytelling, but it suffers from some pacing issues and some poor storytelling choices in its second half.

The end of an era.

However, Tacking Into the Wind is just brilliant. Deep Space Nine has produced more than its fair share of (relatively) standalone classic episodes: Duet, The WireThe Way of the Warrior, The Visitor, Trials and Tribble-ations, Far Beyond the Stars, In the Pale Moonlight. Even in the seventh season, there have been any number of episodes that work beautifully on their own terms: Treachery, Faith and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558, Chimera. Even those tied into larger arcs like the Dominion War still worked as relatively standalone units of story.

However, Tacking Into the Wind is brilliant in a way that is very particular to this moment of Deep Space Nine. Perhaps the closest companion pieces are episodes like Call to Arms or Sacrifice of Angels, episodes that work well enough on their own terms, but become transcendental when approached as the culmination of long-running story threads that pay off months of storytelling decisions. Taking Into the Wind takes this approach and escalates it further. Taking Into the Wind is the culmination of a narrative that has been brewing for the better part of a decade.

Surviving by the skin of his teeth.

Tacking Into the Wind is an episode that could never have worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. It is too dependent on lingering narrative threads, on long-running arcs, on a grand and sweeping (and ironic) view of history. Tacking Into the Wind ties up the fate of the Klingon Empire, an institution that has been in decline since Heart of Glory and rotting from the inside out since Sins of the Father. It parallels that with a fundamental underlying shift in the Cardassian society introduced in The Wounded.

Tacking Into the Wind is an episode that could only possibly work as the pay off to serialised storytelling, and which demonstrates the power of a good dramatic pay-off almost a decade in the making. In many ways, Tacking Into the Wind is the perfect episode for this so-called “Final Chapter”, the perfect distillation of everything that the creative team have been trying to do with this ten-part sprawling epic.

Cloak of office.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – When It Rains… (Review)

One of the interesting aspects of the final arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is watching the series grapple with challenges that face a lot of later serialised television shows.

The massive ten-episode conclusion to Deep Space Nine is effectively equivalent to a full season of a highly serialised prestige television show like Game of Thrones, Westworld or The Leftovers. Of course, there are any number of obvious differences, from the need to structure episodes around commercial breaks or the dependency on clunky exposition or the fact that these ten episodes were following a production run of sixteen early episodes in the same production season.

Dukat does not react well to criticism of his role in this epic ten-episode arc.

Nevertheless, these ten episodes grapple with a lot of the difficulties in mapping out a single extended story across a large number of episodes. Deep Space Nine had launched its six season with an impressive six-episode arc that hung together almost perfectly, give or take Sons and Daughters. However, there were unique challenges in attempting that same narrative trick with ten episodes at the end of a production season.

A lot of these problems are pacing related. As with a lot of serialised shows, these ten episodes occasionally struggle to give each episode a unique identity. Strange Bedfellows is an episode that seems stuck between the sets of dramatic reveals either side of it, the weddings and alliances of ‘Til Death Do Us Part or the terror and revelation of The Changing Face of Evil. There is certainly an element of that to When It Rains…, which seems to spend most of its runtime lining up two major plot threads for resolution in the superlative Tacking Into the Wind.

A tailor-made solution.

However, there is also a sense that certain plot and character threads in this sprawling ten episode arc have not been properly mapped out and paced, that the writers have failed to shrewdly allocate their narrative real estate. The writers had enough of an idea where they were going with this arc that they were able to seed most of the important threads leading up to What You Leave Behind with Penumbra. However, the individual story threads were not all equally paced. Some could be sustained for nine more episodes. Others fizzled after four or five.

Not all of the narrative threads running through this extended arc of Deep Space Nine are equally impressive. Some of these story threads are clumsy and mistaken, running out of what little steam they had less than half-way through the extended run. So it is with the bizarre alliance between Dukat and Winn in service of the Pah-Wraiths.

The darkness in men’s hearts.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Changing Face of Evil (Review)

The arrival of the Breen in the final stretch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pays off one of the longest recurring gags of the Michael Piller era.

The Breen are one of the most intriguing races in the larger Star Trek canon, first established as part of the mythos during the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Breen very assembled from a variety of little snippets of conversation over the next few years. The Loss established that the Breen were impervious to telepathy. Elogium implied that the Breen reproduced at a young age, and confirmed that they were known as a warlike species. They were suspects in the attack on the Vico in Hero Worship and on the Amargosa Observatory in Star Trek: Generations.

Things come apart.

The Breen would pop up time and again in dialogue, sketching out a bizarre culture. Their athletes were discussed in Interface. Their privateers were a threat dealt with off-screen in To the Death. Their nursery rhymes were a source of interest in For the Uniform. Their organic technology was mentioned in Scorpion, Part I. By the time that the Breen appeared on screen in Indiscretion, during the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, their status as an in-joke was confirmed. They were covered head-to-toe, dressed like Leia in Star Wars – Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi.

As such, the Breen are a rather strange choice to play such a crucial role in this late stage of the game, stepping into the Dominion War with only ten episodes left in Deep Space Nine. When they capture Ezri and Worf in Penumbra, their connection to the larger arc is unclear. Their plans to ally with the Dominion are only confirmed at the end of ‘Til Death Do Us Part. After a lot of teasing in Strange Bedfellows, it is The Changing Face of Evil that reveals the Breen to be something of a game-changer in the larger context of the Dominion War, easily retaking Chin’toka.

Battlefield Earth.

On paper, a lot of this is a transparent attempt on the part of the writers to move the story along. The Breen serve a number of clear narrative purposes, from escalating the stakes in the conflict between the Dominion and the Federation through to providing some more motivation for Damar’s betrayal of the Dominion. Tellingly, both of these threads pay off in The Changing Face of Evil, an episode that arrives at almost the half-way point in this sprawling galactic epic.

The incorporation of the Breen into the Dominion War is not particularly elegant. The introduction of a new alien species into the mix this late in the plot, with the clear intention of increasing the severity of the threat and to motivating the supporting cast to action, is a very clumsy piece of writing. However, Deep Space Nine just about manages to get away with it because the Breen don’t feel like a new alien species. Although they were never intended to serve this particularly purpose, they have been around long enough that they are part of the texture of the Star Trek universe.

For Cardassia.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Strange Bedfellows (Review)

Three seems to be the magic number when it comes to long-form plotting in Berman era Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation arguably pulled off a three-consecutive-episodes arc with The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II and Family. Even the continuity-adverse Star Trek: Voyager managed something similar with Scorpion, Part I, Scorpion, Part II and The Gift. Star Trek: Enterprise tried a number of three-episode arcs in its final season, even if only The Forge, Awakening and Kir’Shara really worked; Borderland was a preamble to Cold Station 12 and The Augments, while The Aenar was a postscript to Babel One and United.

Super villain team-up.

Three episodes seems to work quite well for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The series’ second season premiere was the franchise’s first bona fides three-parter, The Homecoming, The Circle and The Siege. Even when it came to longer arcs, three consecutive episodes seemed be the limit; after Call to Arms, A Time to Stand and Rocks and Shoals, the arc opening the sixth season stumbled with Sons and Daughters before regaining its footing for Behind the Lines, Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels.

As an aside, it also took three episodes for the alliance between the Dominion and Cardassia to properly integrate into the show’s mythology after the events of In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light; the fifth season took a pause with Doctor Bashir, I Presume, A Simple Investigation and Business as Usual before beginning to unpack the consequences of that statusquo-shattering twist in Ties of Blood and Water.

Hang loose.

There are any number of reasons why three works so well. Maybe three episodes allow for that classic three-act structure, the iconic storytelling template. Perhaps the production team on Deep Space Nine tended to work in chunks of three scripts at a time, with two or three subsequent scripts in development by the time that any given script was finished; if this was the case, it would mean that the production team was ready to start fresh with the fourth script. Whatever the reason, it is a familiar pattern.

Although “the Final Chapter” is nominally a ten-episode arc, counting What You Leave Behind as two distinct episodes, the plot beats tend to flow in discernible three-episode chunks. Ezri’s mission to rescue Worf plays out over Penumbra, ‘Til Death Do Us Part and Strange Bedfellows. Gul Rusot is introduced in The Changing Face of Evil, is built up in When It Rains…, and meets his end in Tacking Into the Wind. Bashir discovers that Odo is sick in When It Rains…, figures out Section 31 is responsible in Tacking Into the Wind, and recovers the cure in Extreme Measures.

The window of opportunity is closing.

The opening salvo of this ten-episode arc was clearly intended as a three-part story. The original titles of the episodes were Penumbra, Umbra and Eclipse, suggesting an encroaching darkness that would cast a long shadow by the end of the third episode. Coincidentally or not, that would mark the end of the first third of the larger story arc. It suggests a very formal and careful structure, suggesting a three-act structure within the first act of a three-act structure. On paper, it is a very bold and ambitious piece of structuring from the Deep Space Nine writers.

However, the production struggle to maintain that structure. These ten episodes stumble when it comes to pacing and plotting. The weakest threads in this final run are those that feel either rushed or over-extended, which struggle to hit the right beats. Strange Bedfellows is an episode that struggles because it feels like its storythreads have either been stretched or compressed, the important events either pulled back into ‘Til Death to Us Part or pushed forward into The Changing Face of Evil. The result is an episode that feels stranded between bigger story beats.

No time for reflection.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – ‘Til Death Does Us Part (Review)

Perhaps more than any other Star Trek show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is an epic.

Sure, Star Trek: Voyager has more than a few characteristics of epic storytelling; it is a mythic journey, much like The Odyssey and The Iliad before it. In fact, several episodes of Voyager borrow quite heavily from those earliest of stories, with Favourite Son feature a planet for of sirens and Bliss finding the crew confronted with the deep space equivalent of lotus eaters. However, the storytelling on Voyager was always too small and too episodic to embrace the potential for a sprawling galactic epic.

Wedded bliss.

In contrast Deep Space Nine is a story with a lot of breadth. Of course, there are any number of isolated and standalone episodes within the seven-year run of Deep Space Nine, but there is also a strong sense that these one-hundred-and-seventy-plus episodes of television can be taken together and fashioned into a single cohesive narrative that runs from Emissary through to What You Leave Behind. There are undoubtedly bumps and inconsistencies along the way, strange shifts in direction and sharp left turns, but the series hangs together relatively well as a single narrative.

This is particularly true when it comes to the final ten episode of the series, which are very much intended to draw down the curtain on seven years of storytelling, while reinforcing the sense that this has truly been an epic narrative.

Feels like coming home…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Penumbra (Review)

Penumbra represents the beginning of the end, kicking off the epic ten-episode conclusion to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

To be fair, Deep Space Nine had already embraced serialised storytelling, whether in the seeding of gradually-building plotlines or its long-term character development. The show was most serialised in the audacious six-episode arc that opened the sixth season; A Time to Stand, Rocks and Shoals, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines, Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels. In some ways, the ten-episode closing arc is ultimately an extension of that basic idea. However, it is also something more complex.

When the moon is in the seventh house in the Kendra Province…

In some ways, this last narrative experiment would be the boldest creative decision of the entire seven year run. The production team had strained a little bit in structuring and pacing those six linked episodes; Sons and Daughters was notably the runt of the litter, telling a relatively standalone story about Worf while essentially repeating Kira’s character arc from Rocks and Shoals in a much less effective manner. As such, trying to tie ten hours of television together into a single cohesive narrative was a bold move. Then again, Deep Space Nine had never been short of ambition.

It is tempting to treat this ten-episode run as a single story, and it kinda is; Netflix labels the forty-five minute episodes as “Part 1”, “Part 2”, “Part 3”, “Part 4”, “Part 5”, “Part 6”, “Part 7” and “Part 8.” However, the run can also be broken down into smaller chunks. ‘Til Death Do Us Part and Strange Bedfellows were originally titled Umbra and Eclipse, suggesting a three-parter. In contrast, TV Guide listed the first four episodes in the run as a four-parter. When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind are definitely a two-parter. Extreme Measures is practically standalone.

Build a final arc.

Admittedly, the storytelling falters in places, as the production team’s reach occasionally exceeds their grasp. Some of these issues are outside the control of the production team, such as the budgetary concerns that hinder Extreme Measures. Some of these issues are entirely within the control of the production team, such as the pacing of the subplot with Winn and Dukat that leads to the most transparent stalling tactic in When It Rains…. Individual story choices are occasionally misguided, such as the emphasis on the Breen or the Pah-Wraiths.

Nevertheless, these ten episodes hang together surprisingly well. There is a sense of purpose and momentum running through these episodes that strengthens even the weaker hours. More than that, this ten-part saga includes some of the strongest episodes in the entire franchise, with episodes like When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind feeling like the culmination of more than nine years of storytelling across two different series. Though individual elements of this sprawling epic might miss the mark, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Dukat is of Bajor…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (Review)

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is a perfectly fitting penultimate episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Sure, the production team had originally planned for Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang to take the audience into the sweeping ten-hour epic that would wrap up the series. That certainly would have been a satisfying deep breath before the plunge, one last story celebrating this ensemble in a low-stakes adventure that treats them like an extended family before everything hits the fan. Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang would have been immensely fulfilling in that context.

Tribunal.

However, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges feels like a necessary episode before Deep Space Nine commits to its sprawling ten-episode-long finale. In particular, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is the only episode of the seventh season to devote any time or any energy to the question of what happens after the Dominion War. Deep Space Nine has been so tied up in this epic existential struggle that the production team have never really acknowledged what happens when the dust settles, beyond the rolling of the closing credits and the conclusion of the series.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges represents the first time that Deep Space Nine has dared to look beyond the immediate status quo, to acknowledge that life will undoubtedly continue in the Alpha Quadrant after the end of What You Leave Behind. In many ways, Deep Space Nine is notable for extending a sense of political realism and pragmatism to the mechanics of the larger Star Trek universe, and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges feels like an organic extension of that, acknowledging that events ripple beyond that arbitrary boundaries that are conveniently labelled as “endings.”

I met a man who wasn’t there.

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