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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – In Purgatory’s Shadow (Review)

In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light represent a fantastic accomplishment for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In keeping with the television of the time, the first Star Trek show had been firmly episodic, to the point that there are arguments about the order in which episodes happened. Even in the context of the early nineties, Star Trek: The Next Generation tended to shy away from making dramatic decisions with huge consequences. The Klingon Civil War is resolved in Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. The failed Romulan invasion of Vulcan in Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II is never mentioned again.

"Mister Worf, we really shouldn't have mounted this mission during Sweeps."

“Mister Worf, we really shouldn’t have mounted this mission during Sweeps.”

Deep Space Nine grew increasingly adventurous over the course of its run. The series had flirted with up-ending the status quo before, from the introduction of the Defiant and the Founders in The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II through to the dismantling of the Khitomer Accords in The Way of the Warrior. While those decisions had very long-term consequences for the show, their impact was not as dramatic and immediate as that seen here. Even the defeat of the Cardassians and Romulans in Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast took time to ripple down.

In contrast, In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light change a lot of what the audience think they know about Deep Space Nine. The fifth season pivots on this two-parter, which serves to enable just about every major dramatic development between this point and the end of the series. This only serves to make it all the more impressive that the two-parter is so firmly rooted in its characters and characterisation.

Gripping drama.

Gripping drama.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Dreadnought (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.

Dreadnought is arguably a much better version of Prototype.

Both are essentially horror stories about B’Elanna Torres essentially creating a new mechanical life form, making a decision that has unforeseeable consequences. There is an element of reproductive horror to all this, reinforced by the clever decision to have B’Elanna literally give the eponymous warhead her own voice and watch it engage in a course that is quite literally self-destructive. It is perhaps the quintessential reproductive horror story, the fear that we might create something that will supplant us; that our children become the worst reflections of ourselves.

Engine of mass destruction...

Engine of mass destruction…

It is interesting that Dreadnought followed Meld so closely; both are essentially stories about how Star Trek: Voyager (and its characters) cannot cleanly escape their past, as much as the show might push it (and them) towards a generic Star Trek template. The middle of the second season sees an emphasis on the idea that Voyager is composed of two radically different crews – that Starfleet and the Maquis are not as integrated as shows like Parallax or Learning Curve might suggest.

Alliances, Meld and Dreadnought all build on the idea of underlying tensions that were mostly glossed over during the first season. Of course, this creates a weird dissonance, as Voyager seems to actually be moving backwards rather than forwards – attempting a half-hearted do-over of some of its earliest miscalculations.

Engineering a solution...

Engineering a solution…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Return to Grace (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.

More than any other character in the ensemble, Gul Dukat is an embodiment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

There are plenty of other great characters on Deep Space Nine. More than the characters on any other Star Trek show, the lead and supporting characters on Deep Space Nine are afforded the chance to change and grow over the course of the run. In fact, Return to Grace even introduces the character of Damar in a fairly thankless supporting role; over the remaining three-and-a-half seasons of the show, Damar will grow into a well-developed and multi-faceted character in his own right.

He looks like Dukat that got the cream...

He looks like Dukat that got the cream…

Nevertheless, it is Dukat who exemplifies the approach to character and storytelling that make Deep Space Nine such an interesting show. Large swathes of the character’s arc feel improvised and unpredictable. It would be next to impossible to chart Dukat’s character arc from Emissary to What You Leave Behind in a way that makes sense. As with a lot of Deep Space Nine, it seems like the production team just threw the character into the air, allowing the story to take him where it may.

With Return to Grace, it seems that the story takes Dukat into the role of “space pirate.”

The freight stuff...

The freight stuff…

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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 – The Die is Cast (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.

The Die is Cast is, like Improbable Cause before it, a wonderful piece of television.

As with most Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-parters, The Die is Cast maintains continuity and consistency with its predecessor, but it feels like a very different episode than Improbable Cause. After all, the curtain has been pulled back. The assassination attempt is no longer the driving force of the narrative (in fact, it’s barely referenced), with the plot focusing on Enabrain Tain’s pre-emptive strike against the Dominion.

A bruised ego...

A bruised ego…

It’s interesting that it falls to the Cardassians and the Romulans to drive the Dominion plot onwards. There’s been no real development of this long-form plot since Sisko and his crew escaped at the end of The Search, Part II. Episodes like The Abandoned and Heart of Stone have seen the crew encountering individual members of the Dominion, and shows like Visionary have had characters sitting around talking about them, but nothing has actually happened. It is mostly business as usual.

As such, the episode’s title feels beautifully appropriate – it’s the crossing of a threshold, a point from which there can be no return. Not just for Tain or the Cardassians, but the show itself.

Odo's sympathy for Garak runs dry...

Odo’s sympathy for Garak runs dry…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Improbable Cause (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.

Improbable Cause is an episode that should be a mess. It was originally conceived as a sort-of-sequel to Second Skin, building off Garak’s murder of Entek in that episode. The idea was that Garak would face the consequences of that action, with the Obsidian Order planning an assassination attempt. However, the script was incredibly difficult to break. The resolution felt contrived and forced, closing the story out with Garak blackmailing is adversaries into compliance using a never-before-referenced isolinear rod felt overly convenient.

With the script not working, desperate action was taken. It was decided to extend Improbable Cause into a two-parter at the last minute, tying it into the proposed sequel to Defiant. The decision was made so late in the production schedule that it was impossible to pull the script back out of production. Even though Improbable Cause aired after Through the Looking Glass, it was produced beforehand. Writer René Echevarria re-wrote the last two acts of Improbable Cause with The Die is Cast screenwriter Ronald D. Moore in a frenzy, to tie both parts together.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

This is the very definition of “production nightmare.” It recalls one of those stories that you hear about blockbuster movies that start shooting without a finished script, or directors being locked out of the editing suite. By all accounts, Improbable Cause should have been a trainwreck held together by duct tape and good thoughts. Instead, there’s a credible argument that Improbable Cause is the strongest episode of the third season. It’s certainly the strongest episode broadcast since Star Trek: Voyager came on the air.

And that’s down to one simple fact: every single aspect of Improbable Cause works extraordinarily well.

Odo has the scent...

Odo has the scent…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Destiny (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.

The biggest problem with Destiny is that it doesn’t feel fully-formed. The show plays more like a series of vignettes than a single story. There are some nice character beats, and a sense that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is an ensemble show, but Destiny meanders far too much. It seems like it wanders around without any singular purpose, any strong central point to tether it.

Is it about Sisko’s relation to the title of “Emissary”? Is about peace between Bajor and Cardassia? Is it about O’Brien and flirty Cardassians? Is it about Kira’s faith and her position on Deep Space Nine? Is it about end time prophecies?

It seems to be about all these things, but with no real commitment to any of them above the others. The end result is that it’s not about any of them particularly well.

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

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