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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 – 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 – 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: Terok Nor – Night of the Wolves by S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison (Review)

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

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

Prequels are a tricky business. Not just because we already know the ending – after all, we love adapting old familiar stories in new ways, and knowing the outcome can easily lend a project an air of grand tragedy or irony. However, the temptation with prequels is to make it all make sense, to tie absolutely everything up in a neat little bow, resolving all the plot threads and removing any hint of ambiguity or mystery from the original work – less of a story in its own right and more of a “fill in the blanks” approach.

James Swallow’s Day of the Vipers occasionally fell into this trap as it offered an account of the Cardassian plot to take control of Bajor, but it managed to offer its own insights and character development – giving us a suitably complex and self-justifying version of Gul Dukat. Night of the Wolves is somewhat less successful at avoiding the same problems, with a plot that appears to have been fashioned by linking off-hand references and back story from various early episodes together.

We get Odo and Kira meeting for the first time; an account of the liberation of Gallitep; a back story for a young Damar; the roots of Natima Lang’s dissatisfaction with the Central Command. None of these threads seem to build to anything insightful or clever, instead playing out predictably – pretty much exactly as we might have imagined them.

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