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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 7 (Review)

The seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a remarkable accomplishment.

The seventh season is not perfect by any measure. Taken as a whole, it lacks the consistency that made the fifth season one of the best twenty-odd-episode seasons of television ever produced, particularly in a dire mid-season run of episodes that includes Prodigal Daughter, Field of Fire and The Emperor’s New Cloak. The fifth season (and even the sixth) never hit a run of three consecutive episodes that drag that hard. Similarly, there are moments when the production trips over itself during its epic run of ten closing episodes.

Similarly, it lacks the sheer quantity of all-time great episodes that made the sixth season so exciting and compelling, like that opening six-episode arc or Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight. However, the seventh season does quite well for itself; episodes like Treachery, Faith and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Chimera, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges and Tacking Into the Wind are massively underrated and count among the best episode that the franchise ever produced.

However, the seventh season has a very clear sense of direction and purpose. After all seven years is a long time on television. By the time that the other Star Trek series hit that mark, there was a sense of exhaustion creeping in around the edges. The final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation often felt aimless and meandering, the production team waiting to transition to feature films. The final season of Star Trek: Voyager felt similarly worn out, a faded photocopy of an approach that had worked on the previous three seasons.

In sharp contrast, the seventh season of Deep Space Nine knows roughly where it is going. From the opening scenes of Image in the Sand, the production team are cognisant of the fact that the curtain will be coming down at the end of the season. As a result, the seventh season is written with an ending in mind. The writers might not have known that ending from the outset, and were still working on it even during the sprawling final arc at the end of the year, but they knew that it existed and was waiting twenty-six episodes in the future.

As a result, the seventh season of Deep Space Nine has a very strong sense of identity and compelling sense of urgency. These attributes distinguish the season the final years of The Next Generation and Voyager, but also mark it out as one of Deep Space Nine‘s (and the franchise’s) strongest years.

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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 – Accession (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

In its third and fourth seasons, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is undergoing something of a transformation; a metamorphosis.

This is only natural. Shows evolve and grow as they go on. The production team discovers what works and what doesn’t, allowing them to play the strengths of the premise and the ensemble. It happens to most shows, if they live long enough. It happened to Star Trek: The Next Generation when Michael Piller came on board in its third season. It will happen to Star Trek: Voyager when Michael Piller departs in its third season. Change and transformation is inevitable, for television shows as much as for people.

That healthy orb-experience glow...

That healthy orb-experience glow…

The third and fourth seasons of Deep Space Nine saw a change taking place. Ira Steven Behr had taken more and more control of the show since the late second season, starting with The Maquis, Part II. Michael Piller had stepped back from the show in its third season, completely ceding control with Life Support. The show was changing in a material sense. The Dominion came to the fore, Bajor faded to the background; Worf joined the cast, Odo found his people, the Klingons were an on-going concern again.

By this point in the fourth season, the transformation is almost complete. Deep Space Nine is very close to its final form, standing on the edge of its biggest departures from the established Star Trek canon. Part of those changes involves a reconfiguring of what Bajor means to the series. Accession begins the process of drawing down the curtain on the Bajor arc as it began with Emissary all those years ago, allowing Sisko to find some peace in his position and a sense of closure in his appointment before the show’s emphasis on Bajor changes dramatically.

Gotta have faith...

Gotta have faith…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Crossfire (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

In many ways, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has aged remarkably well.

Episodes like Homefront and Paradise Lost arguably have greater resonance now than they did on initial broadcast, their commentary on state authority and the erosion of civil liberties packing more punch during the War on Terror than it did during the long nineties. The Way of the Warrior even invites comparison to the invasion of Iraq, despite the fact that the episode aired eight years before the invasion took place. In many respects, Deep Space Nine has aged considerably better than its siblings.

Odo's attempts at redecorating were not going well...

Odo’s attempts at redecorating were not going well…

On the other hand, there are some aspects that have not aged particularly well. There are certain elements of Deep Space Nine that feel ill-judged or ill-advised in hindsight; for example, the thinly-veiled (and awkward) racial politics inherent in the exploration of the Jem’Hadar in The Abandoned. The relationship between Odo and Kira is another such example, the show’s central “will they?”/“won’t they?” dynamic seeded in Necessary Evil and brought to fruition in Heart of Stone.

Taken on its own merits, Crossfire is a spectacular piece of television. It is skilfully written and directed, with a superb central performance from Rene Auberjonois as Odo. The plot of the episode seems to focus on Odo working through his long-simmering crush on Kira, suffering a near breakdown and eventually deciding to work through it. It is, in many ways, the best possible story that could be told using the relationship. However, the problem is that Crossfire is not the end of this particular thread. It is just a hurdle for Odo to pass.

Quark serves some unpalatable truths...

Quark serves some unpalatable truths…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Indiscretion (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Much like Hippocratic Oath before it, Indiscretion serves to set the baseline of quality for the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While The Way of the Warrior and The Visitor were ambitious deviations from form, Hippocratic Oath and Indiscretion offer a much clearer vision of what the show will look like from this point forward. As with Hippocratic Oath, a heavy two-hander a-plot is paired with a lighter b-plot that explores the day-to-day life on the eponymous space station, a structure that allows for world-building with sacrificing momentum.

Indiscretion works very well on its own terms. It throws together two of the show’s more fascinating a well-defined characters, putting Major Kira and Gul Dukat on a road trip from hell that inevitably throws them headfirst into conflict with one another. Watching Nana Visitor and Marc Alaimo interact is worth the price of admission alone, and Indiscretion throws a fairly heated personal conflict into the mix to create some tense and compelling drama. Indiscretion works very well as forty-five minutes of television.

Road trip!

Road trip!

However, it also works quite well as an exercise in setting up a longer game. As with most of the episodes that end up rippling through the continuity of Deep Space Nine, it is hard to be sure if the writers knew exactly where they wanted to go with the plot threads stemming from this instalment. Some of the difficulties dealing with the episode’s biggest legacy suggest that more thought might have gone into it. Nevertheless, Indiscretion is an episode that is clearly written with one eye on the future of the show.

As much as it stands on its own two feet, the episode is clearly written with a view to drama that it might enable further down the line. It is a story that seems to be written so that its consequences might fuel further storytelling opportunity. Deep Space Nine had toyed with the idea of serialised storytelling before, but this marks the point where the show just rolls up its sleeves and jumps right on in.

"You know, I think she likes me."

“You know, I think she likes me.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Shakaar (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

There are really two versions of Shakaar.

There is the episode that Shakaar very clearly wants to be. It’s intended to offer Kira a bit of closure, following on from the events of Life Support. It’s very clearly meant to explore Kira’s grieving process and to allow her to come to terms with the loss she suffered. After all, the episode opens establishing that Kira still mourns Bareil, while the episode closes with Kira extinguishing the memorial candle she lit for him. (Which does invite the audience to wonder if it was burning the whole time she was on Bajor.)

Carrying a torch...

Carrying a torch…

As such, it makes sense to offer Kira an opportunity to get back to her roots – to suggest that Kira might secretly want to return to the relative simplicity of a rebel fighter resisting an oppressive government; fighting a war is a lot less complex than navigating the peace. Kira’s reunion with the Shakaar Resistance Cell is meant to offer her a way to escape into something comfortable, to avoid moving forward; because moving forward is tough and painful. Shakaar should be about Kira learning that she has to push forward. It should be a companion piece to Progress.

The episode can’t quite manage this. Instead, we end up with an episode about how Kira gets swept off her feet by a dashing hunk of a man – an episode that leaves the viewer with the unfortunate implication that Kira only needed to find another weirdly paternal man to help her get past the death of the man she loved. Shakaar is an episode with a host of interesting ideas, but isn’t quite sure how to best bring those ideas to the screen.

You Winn some, you lose some...

You Winn some, you lose some…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Explorers (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Explorers is a wonderful piece of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an episode produced by a show entirely comfortable with itself. Indeed, the entire point of Explorers seems to be stressing just how comfortable Deep Space Nine has become in its own skin. It’s a leisurely and relaxed celebration of what makes the show unique in the Star Trek franchise, wallowing in the things that make Deep Space Nine the show that it is.

With a smart script by René Echevarria adapted from a solid premise by Hilary J. Bader, Explorers is an episode that never feels like it has anything to prove. And that’s the charm of it all.

Open to new cultures...

Open to new cultures…

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