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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Field of Fire (Review)

Field of Fire is an oddly nineties piece of television.

All television shows are inevitably a product of their time. This was particularly true of the twenty-odd-episode-a-season shows produced during the twentieth century, subject to the brutal churn of a weekly production schedule. The production team needed scripts, which meant that the writers needed ideas. Inevitably, those ideas were drawn from the wider culture around them. As a result, television is often an interesting lens through which culture might be examined, a projection of how a given society sees (or perhaps wishes to see) itself.

The noblest aim.

Star Trek: Enterprise was inescapably a product of the War on Terror, caught in the gravity of the attacks upon the World Trade Centre. Star Trek: Voyager was undeniably a child of the nineties, driven largely be a sense of listless anxiety in the shadow the millennium. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine could never be entirely removed from its cultural context, it still stood apart. The writers tended to draw their themes from history, rather than from current affairs, creating a Star Trek show that seemed to exist beyond its cultural moment.

Of course, there are exceptions. Field of Fire is that most nineties of television episodes, the serial killer psychological thriller.

Highly illogical.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Afterimage (Review)

Afterimage is a necessary episode, in part because Ezri Dax is a necessary character.

Adding a new character to a show in the middle of its run is always a challenge. The addition of Seven of Nine to Star Trek: Voyager had generated considerable tension, both around what the show wanted to be and in terms of the cast working on the series. It can be difficult to strike a balance, to figure out how much attention to devote to this new arrival, to give them some focus without stealing focus from the surrounding cast. It is a tightrope for the writers to walk, one compounded by the relative novelty of this late addition, the new toy in the writers’ toy box.

Make it sew.

This problem is compounded when the new addition arrives at the start of the final season. In any final season, space is at a premium. The production team are racing towards the finish line, trying to service all the dangling plot threads and complete all the important plot arcs. Every beat is important, every story vital. Final seasons are about providing closure, about wrapping things up. Introducing a new character in the midst of all that is a daunting responsibility, a challenge with very high stakes.

The writers at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were working at something of a disadvantage and to a deadline. However, they did have some handicaps. Most notably, the production team had already successfully integrated a new character into the ensemble, when Worf joined the cast in The Way of the Warrior. More than that, there was some luxury in the fact that Ezri Dax would not be an entirely new character. She would be a logical extension of the premise that was built in Jadzia Dax. She was at least partially familiar, and her concept had been properly seeded.

On airlock down.

Still, introducing Ezri Dax into the final season of Deep Space Nine would prove difficult. The production team would often struggle to strike a balance between writing stories that extended (and concluded) the arcs of other major characters while also writing episodes that introduced and established the character of Ezri. It could often seem like Ezri’s journey was just beginning, right as everybody else’s was coming to a close. The final season of a seven-year show is seldom the perfect place for a new beginning.

As such, Afterimage is more an episode driven by necessity than by desire, a story that has to be told because of factors that were outside the control of the production team. The result is solid, if not exceptional. It is an episode that works best at establishing a new character and new dynamics, suffering just a little bit from clumsy storytelling in the process.

Holo pleasures.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – You Are Cordially Invited… (Review)

You Are Cordially Invited… is very much a breather episode.

After all, that introductory six-episode arc was exhausting. It was breathtaking in its scope and ambition, a sketch of life during wartime that spanned light-years and divided the cast for half a dozen episodes. It makes sense that You Are Cordially Invited…, the first episode to feature the crew reunited on Deep Space Nine, would attempt to strike a lighter tone. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might be crafting a long-form war story, but that does not mean that the show is abandoning its warmth and humanity.

Their first argument.

Their first argument.

Indeed, You Are Cordially Invited… makes a great of sense from a structural perspective. There is an obvious impulse to contrast the show’s darker moments with lighter touches. In the Cards was an endearing comedy about the interconnected lives on the station, airing right before the show scattered those lives in Call to Arms. More than that, Call to Arms featured the wedding of Rom and Leeta as a prelude to the Dominion invasion. Following up the occupation arc with a comedy about the wedding of Worf and Dax adds a sense of symmetry to it all.

You Are Cordially Invited… might not be the strongest comedy episode in the run of Deep Space Nine, suffering a little bit from being overly conventional and entirely predictable, but it does have an infectious sense of enthusiasm that works well in contrast to the high intergalactic stakes of the previous seven episodes.

Relight my fire...

Relight my fire…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Sword of Kahless (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.

The Sword of Kahless is the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to focus primarily on Worf.

The character arrived on the show (and the station) in The Way of the Warrior, but his development since then had largely been confined to secondary plots. In Hippocratic Oath and Starship Down, Worf learned that life on Deep Space Nine would not be the same as life on the Enterprise. However, he had not really been the centre of any given episode before this point. (Even in The Way of the Warrior, Worf’s arrival and crisis of conscience was just one facet of a larger political situation.)

Sword of destiny...

Sword of destiny…

This is quite remarkable, and a result of a number of unique factors. Most obviously, Worf was not just any new cast member. Worf was a character who had arrived over from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so was something of a known quantity to fans. There was less of a need to establish who Worf was, because most fans already knew. More than that, a lot of the early fourth season episodes had been in development before Michael Dorn had been confirmed to be joining the ensemble. As such, they tended to focus on other characters.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the fourth season is almost one-third of the way through its run before the production team devoted an episode to the newest member of the cast. It is a testament to the production team that the show had the confidence and restraint to adopt such an approach to such an obviously popular character. More than that, The Sword of Kahless is undoubtedly a Worf-centric episode, but it is a Worf-centric episode that makes it quite clear that Worf is a Deep Space Nine character now.

"Thank you, sir. May I have another?"

“Thank you, sir. May I have another?”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Starship Down (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.

It is surprising that the Star Trek franchise has not done more “disaster” episodes, given the science-fiction setting and the occasional budget overruns that make a simple and effective bottle show all the more effective.

Starship Down is not the first time that the franchise has attempted to emulate the classic disaster film formula. Star Trek: The Next Generation had produced an episode (called Disaster, appropriately enough), which used many of the classic disaster movie tropes to explore various cast dynamics. Starship Down is arguably structured more like a submarine thriller than a disaster film, but the point of comparison still stands. There are conflicts over command styles, characters caught in lifts, high stakes and higher tension.

"Hanok, would you care to assist me in performing surgery on a photon torpedo?"

“Hanok, would you care to assist me in performing surgery on a photon torpedo?”

It is interesting to compare Starship Down to Disaster, if only as a point of comparison between the two shows in question. In many ways, the contrast serves to highlight the difference between the respective shows and their ensembles. In Disaster, the show was careful to give every combination of the cast something to accomplish. Picard and kids escape the turbolift; Geordi and Beverly vent the containers; Riker and Data’s head have excellent adventures; Worf delivers Molly.

In contrast, the character combinations in Starship Down are less goal-orientated. Worf and O’Brien defeat the Jem’Hadar while Quark and Hanok disarm a torpedo. However, Kira simply tries to keep Sisko awake while reflecting on their relationship and Bashir and Dax huddle together in a turbolift waiting for their oxygen to run out. There is a sense that Starship Down is much more interested in its character dynamics than it is a sense of narrative momentum or objective-orientated storytelling.

"Thank goodness only the LED's were affected."

“Thank goodness only the LED’s were affected.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rejoined (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.

For a show that is supposedly about an enlightened and utopian future, Star Trek really doesn’t have the best record when it comes to gay rights.

Many fans laud the work that the franchise did in popularising the Civil Rights anxieties of the sixties, offering memorable and distinctive parables and the futility of racism while offering one of the first interracial kisses to air on national television. Fans of the franchise are quick to celebrate these triumphs as an example of Star Trek holding up a mirror to contemporary society and championing the causes of equality and social justice. It is part of the mythmaking that Gene Roddenberry baked into the foundation of the Star Trek legend.

A Trill alone...

A Trill alone…

Of course, the reality is more complicated. As important as it was to have a racially diverse crew on the bridge of the classic Enterprise, that idea came from the studio rather than Roddenberry. The show defended and vindicated the Vietnam War just as often as it criticised and opposed it. The interracial kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren might had more meaning if it weren’t an example of telepathic mindrape by sadistic aliens, or if it had aired before I, Spy had broadcast its own interracial kiss.

As much as fans like to believe Star Trek is progressive and enlightened, the franchise does not have as strong a track record as its advocates would contest. This is particularly true of the depiction of homosexuality in Star Trek. In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, David Gerrold’s script for Blood and Fire was scrapped. Richard Arnold claimed that it was because the script was terrible; but this was the same season that produced The Last Outpost, Angel One and The Neutral Zone. It seems “terrible” is a relative term.

Kiss me.

Kiss me.

There were other examples. During production of The Offspring, there are accounts of David Livingston sprinting down to the sets to stop a shot of a same-sex couple holding hands making it into the episode. When the show finally decided to do an allegory for homosexuality, it was careful to cast a female performer in the role of Riker’s love interest to be sure that the audience did not get the wrong idea. The mirror universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are populated with gay stereotypes and clichés.

No matter how alien the creatures in Star Trek might get, sexuality tends towards heterosexual. In Metamorphosis, Kirk and Spock only realise that the Companion is attracted to Cochrane once they deduce the creature’s gender. Odo’s pseudo-sexual relationship with other Founders is typically expressed in relation to the character known as the Female Changeling. (Chimera does try to fix this.) Although there have been allusions to Andorian marriages featuring four partners, Star Trek: Enterprise presents the relationships as decidedly normative.

Take a bow!

Take a bow!

What little queer content exists seems to have slipped in under the radar. There is a decidedly homoerotic undertone to Amok Time. In The Offspring, Data allows Lal to assign her own gender and Whoopi Goldberg defined kissing as something that happens when “two people” (rather than “a man and a woman”) fall in love. In Rules of Acquisition, Jadzia Dax suspected that Quark’s newest employee had a crush on the rogue trader; Dax was just surprised to discover that the waiter in question was a woman in disguise who was trying to subvert the Ferengi patriarchy.

All of this serves to make Rejoined the most successful Star Trek episode to deal with the topic of homosexuality. This is not to argue that Rejoined is perfect or flawless. It is a science fiction show that aired in 1995, and there are some uncomfortable subtexts to the whole story. At the same time, its heart is in the right place. Rejoined is a beautiful piece of work, because it represents a rare example of the franchise trying to live up to its own publicity. In doing so, it serves to emphasise how frequently (and easily) the property has allowed itself to fall short.

Just Trilled to be there...

Just Trilled to be there…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Facets (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.

Facets in more than a little muddled. It’s an episode that is all over the place. It’s a script that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, leaning in one direction and then another. The episode’s big plot point isn’t dropped until half-way through, and there are any number of points where the script offers a feint towards a plot that never quite develops. As befitting a story called Facets, this is an episode with quite a few different (and often conflicting) sides.

It’s a disjointed little story, and perhaps an effective demonstration of just how much trouble the producers were having with Dax as a character. And yet, despite all this, Facets works surprisingly well. This is likely down to the fact that – like Playing God and arguably Blood Oath before it – it feels like a Dax story that is as interested in the character as it is in the concept.

A little piece of herself...

A little piece of herself…

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