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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 5, Episode 23 (“Blaze of Glory”)

I was thrilled to be asked back to join The Pensky Podcast to discuss Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I joined Wes as their coverage of the fifth season winds down, discussing the Maquis- and Michael-Eddington-centric Blaze of Glory.

I’ve talked before about how the fifth season of Deep Space Nine might be the best season of Star Trek ever produced. As a result, a lot of the really great episodes in the season tend to get a bit of a short shrift when we talk about them, overshadowed by the bigger and even better episodes around them. Blaze of Glory is one of those episodes that is often overlooked, wrapping up several recurring plot threads so the show can focus on its priorities going forward.

This was a fun discussion. Wes and I talk about the episode, about the Maquis, about Sisko’s arc, about tomatoes, about what Eddington really used the cloaking devices for, and about proper seasoning. All very important, totally relevant stuff.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tears of the Prophets (Review)

Tears of the Prophets has a number of very good ideas.

The character arc driving the episode is very good, particularly in the context of a finale leading into the final season of the show. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has always been a show more interested in character arcs and long-form storytelling than the other Star Trek shows, so “Benjamin Sisko experiences a loss so great that he resigns his commission” is an organic story beat. It feels like a story that the writers on this show can tell, and a story that fits very comfortably within the grand mythic framework that the writers are trying to construct.

All fired up.

Deep Space Nine has earned a lot of goodwill in this regard, demonstrating a willingness to let stories play out over extended periods and to follow stories through to their natural conclusion. Sisko leaving the station at the end of Tears of the Prophets is not the same as Picard being assimilated at the end of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I or Worf leaving the Enterprise at the end of Redemption, Part I. Any savvy audience member knows that Sisko will return to his post, probably sooner rather than later, but they also trust the show to treat it as more than just a striking cliffhanger.

Unfortunately, Tears of the Prophets is compromised by a number of very poor ideas. Some of those ideas did not originate with the writing staff, their hands forced by outside factors. Ira Steven Behr’s original plans for Tears of the Prophets did not include the death of Jadzia Dax, but the writers had to incorporate that plot element rather late in the cycle. Of course, this does not excuse some of the poor decisions made in how the writers chose to handle that unforeseen plot element, although that was also a result of a number of outside factors.

So Jad to zia you.

However, Tears of the Prophets also leans into some of the more frustrating creative decisions of the sixth season as a whole. The script doubles down on some of the least satisfying elements of Deep Space Nine‘s long-form storytelling, even combining several of these frustrating beats into a central narrative strand of the season finale. Tears of the Prophets combines the generic cartoon villainy of Gul Dukat as suggested at the climax of Waltz and the teaser to Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night with the stock mysticism of the Pah-Wraiths from The Reckoning for a heady ill-judged cocktail.

The result is a somewhat uneven episode, a story with a very strong central character arc that plays to the strengths of the show, but with several supporting elements that indulge the series’ worst impulses.

Funeral for a friend.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – In the Pale Moonlight (Review)

I can live with it.

I can live with it.

– Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, Stardate 51721.3

In the Pale Moonlight is a masterpiece.

There is simple no way around it. It works beautifully as a morality play, as a thriller, as a character study. It has a powerful script, a set of brilliant performances, a memorable set-up and pay-off. In the Pale Moonlight is a fantastic piece of television production, something that immediately distinguishes itself from the episodes around it. Like The City on the Edge of Forever or The Inner Light, there is just something fundamentally different about In the Pale Moonlight from the establishing shots.

In many ways, In the Pale Moonlight is the flip side of the coin to Far Beyond the Stars. Both are spectacular episodes of television, and stand as some of the best entries in the franchise canon. However, there are clear differences. While Far Beyond the Stars would not work with any other lead character or actor, it is an episode that is arguably quintessentially Star Trek; it is a powerful allegory about racism and the power of an optimistic future. In contrast, In the Pale Moonlight is specifically Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In the Pale Moonlight is an episode of Deep Space Nine that simply could not exist in any other Star Trek show. This could never have been an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. The episodes that edge closest to this – like The Pegasus or The Omega Directive – lack the same commitment to the premise. Star Trek: Enterprise arguably came closest with the script for Damage, but even that lacked the powerhouse focus of In the Pale Moonlight.

As the title implies, In the Pale Moonlight is a story about what it takes to dance with devil. It is told against the epic backdrop of the Dominion War, against the scale and spectacle of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine, but the real drama of In the Pale Moonlight unfolds in one man’s confession. This is the story in which the Romulans join the war effort, but it is not a story about the Romulans joining the war effort. It is a story about how Captain Benjamin Sisko sets a price for his own self-respect and his own self-regard.

In the Pale Moonlight is that most personal of dramas, the story of a man who bargains away his soul for a far cheaper price than he expects.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Lives of Dax: The Music Between the Notes (Curzon) by Steven Barnes

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.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine struggled with the character of Dax on-and-off for the first three years. Terry Farrell found herself at the centre of interesting character-driven stories with Playing God and Facets, but the show tended to treat the Dax symbiont as a macguffin that just happened to be inside Jadzia. Episodes like Dax, Invasive Procedures and Equilibrium tended to marginalise Jadzia so that the symbiont itself could be pushed to the centre of a story driven by other members of the ensemble.

However, Dax is a character with absolutely phenomenal potential. There is something absolutely fascinating idea of a creature that has lived for centuries, and seen generations of history unfold within its lifetime.The symbiont has witnessed countless changes and pivotal moments. Dax has seen civilisations fall and alliances form; Dax has seen old enemies become true friends, and watched civilisations reach out into the cosmos.

The realities of a seven-season television show mean that Deep Space Nine never really got to explore the fact that Dax was living history. Perhaps Blood Oath and Trials and Tribble-ations come closest, using Dax as a rather logical bridge spanning almost a century of continuity. One of the joys of the Star Trek universe is how expansive and how limitless it is. Infinite diversity and all that. While even Dax cannot have seen everything, Deep Space Nine never felt like it captured the sense of Dax as living history.

At its best, Pocket Books’ The Lives of Dax anthology captures this sense of change and movement. The books spans the width and breadth of the Star Trek franchise, as lived through the life of one single organism. It is beautiful.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Unnatural Selection (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s really strange that this is our first Pulaski-centred episode. It’s even stranger that it’s the shows only Pulaski-centred episode, given she’s a new character being inserted into an established ensemble. It’s even stranger-er that the episode doesn’t really seem to have much to say about Pulaski apart from the fact that she is the show’s new doctor – and she’s a bit of an idiot. Which is not necessarily what you want when you’re trying to endear a new character to the audience.

Then again, Unnatural Selection is a pretty good indicator of where Star Trek: The Next Generation is right now. The show hasn’t quite figured out that it’s a good idea to anchor character-centric stories in the character upon which that intended to centre. It’s one of the most successful aspects of Michael Piller’s approach, and part of what really revitalised the writing in the show’s third season. As it stands, Unnatural Selection seems to be a story about medical stuff, so it gets to focus on Pulaski. Who is really just sort of there.

I can see this getting old fast...

I can see this getting old fast…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Marvel Comics) #3-4 – The Cancer Within (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Poor Doctor Pulaski. She seems to have just disappeared from the canon. First season casualty Tasha Yar seemed to haunt to the show, returning for Yesterday’s Enterprise while her daughter become a recurring foe from The Mind’s Eye onwards. Even Wesley popped back every once in a while following his departure from the series. Pulaski, on the other hand, remains something of a phantom.

Barring an audible reference to her made in the background during the Star Trek: Voyager finalé Endgame, she disappears from the franchise without so much as a peep at the end of Shades of Grey.  She isn’t even referenced by name in the first episode of the third season to air (Evolution) or the first produced (The Ensigns of Command). While Beverly Crusher’s return is used as a plot point for Wesley, we only get the most fleeting of references to Pulaski in Who Watches the Watchers?

While this can easily be explained by the complex relationship that Diana Muldaur seems to have with Star Trek: The Next Generation. She has suggested the atmosphere on set was decidedly unfriendly, so the fact that Pulaski doesn’t return should not be that much of a surprise. What is interesting is the general apathy that the expanded universe seems to have for Pulaski. While even guest characters seem to get their own back stories and development in novels and comics, Pulaski is treated as a decidedly minor character in the Star Trek canon, reduced to guest spots and small appearances.

I like my family reunions generic and bland...

I like my family reunions generic and bland…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Jem’Hadar (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

In terms of sheer quality of execution, The Jem’Hadar is probably the weakest of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s season finalés. It lacks the gut punch of A Call to Arms, the shock twist of Broken Link, the atmosphere of The Adversary or even the timeliness of In the Hands of the Prophets. It is, at its most basic level, a story about a disastrous first contact that occurs during a father-son bonding trip that goes horribly wrong, ending with precious little actually advanced.

However, in terms of conceptual ideas, The Jem’Hadar is a game-changer. It is the cornerstone upon which Deep Space Nine would construct its most iconic narrative arc. It caps off two years of trying to develop the Ferengi as more than one-note jokes. It’s a bold statement about the freedom that Deep Space Nine would enjoy with Star Trek: The Next Generation retiring from the airwaves. It cemented the notion that Deep Space Nine never really dealt in two-part episodes to bridge seasons.

For Deep Space Nine, season finalés did not exist simply as pieces of Lego designed to snugly fit those other pieces at the start of the following season, crafting some illusion of continuity flow between two different seasons of television. Instead, cliffhangers on Deep Space Nine changed the rules, shook up the status quo, and teased the changing face of things to come.

A Jem?

A Jem?

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tribunal (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

Tribunal is probably the weakest episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in quite some time, hampered by the fact that it never seems too ambitious and the fact that the episode ends because we’re three minutes away from the closing credits rather than because it feels like the story has been told. Tribunal is hardly the deepest or most sophisticated episode of the show’s second season, spending most of its time riffing on Kafka and Orwell, but it’s still solidly entertaining – a rare example of black comedy on Star Trek that works surprisingly well.

I suspect the biggest problem with Tribunal is where it’s placed. The second season of Deep Space Nine has been hitting it out of the park since around Blood Oath, giving us the strongest run of episodes we’d see until the start of the fourth season. Indeed, had the show found its groove a little bit earlier, the second season of Deep Space Nine could have been on par with the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation as “that season the show found its groove.”

However, it remains an impressive run of episodes, a rallying of the show in the last third of the season, showing just what Deep Space Nine was capable of. Most of the episodes in that run felt very different from anything done on The Next Generation and most offered some major insight into how the world of Deep Space Nine works as distinct from the rest of the franchise.

A broad cast of characters...

A broad cast of characters…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Collaborator (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

It’s surprising how long we’ve had since a solid Bajoran episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Barring the dark reflection of Bajor as a power-broker (and brief allusion to a colony in the Gamma Quadrant) in Crossover, the last episode to really explore the planet’s political and religious structure was probably Sanctuary, which aired more than half a season earlier. After a reasonably high concentration of Bajoran political adventures in the first season and the first half of the second, it seems that further explorations will be more broadly spaced.

Indeed, the first season ended (and the second season began) with a five-episode run that was heavily anchored in the show’s Bajoran surroundings. However, as of late, it feels we’ve been strangely disengaged from the show’s stated objective of welcoming Bajor to the Federation. With episodes like The Maquis, it seems like the show is making a conscious effort to disentangle Cardassian politics from those of Bajor.

In a way, this probably represents Deep Space Nine growing into the form that it will take for the rest of its run. The second season has really been about Deep Space Nine figuring out what it wants to be, and what it doesn’t want to be. With The Collaborator‘s focus on Bajoran politics feeling conspicuous by the lack of other Bajor-centric episodes in this half of the season, it seems like Deep Space Nine doesn’t want to be a show about Bajor.

Enough rope to hang himself...

Enough rope to hang himself…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Maquis, Part II (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

Oddly enough, for an episode designed to serve as a launching pad for Star Trek: Voyager, The Maquis, Part II really feels like the point where Star Trek: Deep Space Nine becomes Ira Steven Behr’s show. Deep Space Nine had been created by Michael Piller and Rick Berman. While Berman oversaw the franchise as a whole, Piller had been a guiding influence during the first two seasons of Deep Space Nine. However, his attention would wander to both Voyager and the pending films based on the Star Trek: The Next Generation film franchise.

As a result, producer Ira Steven Behr would be left in the driving seat of Deep Space Nine. Behr had some experience with the franchise. he was part of the wonderful writers’ room responsible for the massive upswing in the quality of The Next Generation, but left after a year on that show – describing it as “the Connecticut of Star Trek.” Years later, he was aggressively pursued by Piller to work on Deep Space Nine, where Piller felt his philosophy might be more at home.

The Maquis, Part II is far from Behr’s first writing credit on the show, and it’s certainly not the first time his influence has been felt. It is, however, the point at which it feels like Behr’s creative vision is firmly cemented the show’s outlook. Piller would move further away over the course of the next year, and Behr’s influence would grow even stronger, but this is the point where Behr’s vision of Deep Space Nine really takes hold.

Burning bridges...

Burning bridges…

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