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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Penumbra (Review)

Penumbra represents the beginning of the end, kicking off the epic ten-episode conclusion to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

To be fair, Deep Space Nine had already embraced serialised storytelling, whether in the seeding of gradually-building plotlines or its long-term character development. The show was most serialised in the audacious six-episode arc that opened the sixth season; A Time to Stand, Rocks and Shoals, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines, Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels. In some ways, the ten-episode closing arc is ultimately an extension of that basic idea. However, it is also something more complex.

When the moon is in the seventh house in the Kendra Province…

In some ways, this last narrative experiment would be the boldest creative decision of the entire seven year run. The production team had strained a little bit in structuring and pacing those six linked episodes; Sons and Daughters was notably the runt of the litter, telling a relatively standalone story about Worf while essentially repeating Kira’s character arc from Rocks and Shoals in a much less effective manner. As such, trying to tie ten hours of television together into a single cohesive narrative was a bold move. Then again, Deep Space Nine had never been short of ambition.

It is tempting to treat this ten-episode run as a single story, and it kinda is; Netflix labels the forty-five minute episodes as “Part 1”, “Part 2”, “Part 3”, “Part 4”, “Part 5”, “Part 6”, “Part 7” and “Part 8.” However, the run can also be broken down into smaller chunks. ‘Til Death Do Us Part and Strange Bedfellows were originally titled Umbra and Eclipse, suggesting a three-parter. In contrast, TV Guide listed the first four episodes in the run as a four-parter. When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind are definitely a two-parter. Extreme Measures is practically standalone.

Build a final arc.

Admittedly, the storytelling falters in places, as the production team’s reach occasionally exceeds their grasp. Some of these issues are outside the control of the production team, such as the budgetary concerns that hinder Extreme Measures. Some of these issues are entirely within the control of the production team, such as the pacing of the subplot with Winn and Dukat that leads to the most transparent stalling tactic in When It Rains…. Individual story choices are occasionally misguided, such as the emphasis on the Breen or the Pah-Wraiths.

Nevertheless, these ten episodes hang together surprisingly well. There is a sense of purpose and momentum running through these episodes that strengthens even the weaker hours. More than that, this ten-part saga includes some of the strongest episodes in the entire franchise, with episodes like When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind feeling like the culmination of more than nine years of storytelling across two different series. Though individual elements of this sprawling epic might miss the mark, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Dukat is of Bajor…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang (Review)

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is nonsense, but it is fun nonsense.

It goes without saying that the plotting of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is ridiculous, even by the standards of the obligatory “holodeck goes crazy” episodes like The Big Goodbye or Our Man Bashir or Bride of Chaotica! The episode’s internal logic is strikingly weak, to the point that even the most sympathetic and understanding audience member has to acknowledge the sizable plot holes in the narrative. It is not that the plotting of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is lazy or clumsy, it is that the plotting is almost non-existent.

Sisko’s seven.

More than that, the seventh season has already had a much stronger “the crew hang out together and have fun in the holosuite” episode in Take Me Out to the Holosuite. More than that, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is within a dozen episodes of the end of its seven-season run. There is a very valid argument to be made that Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is a completely unnecessary indulgence at this late stage of the game and that the time invested in this episode could be more wisely invested in some other story thread or dangling plot.

But, yet. There is an incredible charm to Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang that comes from seeing this cast together and having fun for the last time.

“Well, I think we have a promo shot.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Emperor’s New Cloak (Review)

The Emperor’s New Cloak is a disaster.

To be fair, it is not a messy disaster. There is nothing particularly novel in how terrible The Emperor’s New Cloak actually is. Most of the awfulness is carried over from Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. The sharp decline in quality and merit of the mirror universe episodes since the concept’s reintroduction in Crossover has become a gentle slope. The Emperor’s New Cloak is unfunny and broadly homophobic nonsense, clumsily plotted and horribly paced. If it sets a lower bar for these mirror universe episodes, that bar is not appreciably lower.

Not quite having a blast…

The Emperor’s New Cloak is terrible in the same way that Prodigal Daughter and Field of Fire are terrible. It is as though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has reached a point where its bad episodes are no longer surprising, simply uninspired. No audience member watching The Emperor’s New Cloak will wonder how any of these ideas made it to screen. There is none of the novelty that defined the horrors in episodes like Meridian, Let He Who Is Without Sin… or even Profit and Lace. There is just a creeping sense of fatigue.

In some ways, it makes sense that the most disappointing episodes of the seventh season should be affected by this feeling of exhaustion. The end is nigh, the production team have been working on the series for seven years. Even their bad jokes are no longer shocking, simply tired.

A dark moment for all involved.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Covenant (Review)

Covenant is a flawed and fascinating episode.

In its own way, although obviously a much less extreme manner than The Siege of AR-558, this is an episode that could only have been produced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is not simply down to matters of continuity, and how the episode ties into the mythology of the series. More specifically, it is an exploration of religious themes and ideas that is only really possible within the framework of this particular Star Trek spin-off. It is difficult to imagine Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager tackling the idea of religious cults so effectively.

Altaring his plans.

Part of this is down to a lingering suspicion that the other Star Trek shows subtly (or not so subtly) consider all religions to be cults. After all, shows like The Return of the Archons, The Apple, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the SkyJustice, Who Watches the Watchers? and Devil’s Due left little room for ambiguity. The other Star Trek series seem downright hostile to the idea of religious belief, even if episodes like The Cloud and Sacred Ground might suggest a more open-minded approach to spirituality.

Deep Space Nine has generally been more willing to engage with the idea of religious belief as something that is worthy of exploration and consideration, something that is for an individual to determine on their own terms. Some characters on Deep Space Nine are explicitly atheist, like Jadzia Dax or Odo. Some characters hold strong religious beliefs, like Kira or Nog. Some characters believe in spiritual traditions without ever seeming particularly devote, like Worf. Some characters even evolve over the course of the series, like Sisko.

Preach out and touch faith.

This willingness to accept multiple facets and forms of religious belief allows Deep Space Nine to construct a story like Covenant. In any other Star Trek series, Covenant would seem like a knee-jerk dismissal of religious faith and organised belief, the tale of how a group of Bajorans were swindled by a charismatic leader with tragic consequences. It would be read as a generic condemnation of religious belief, an endorsement of an atheistic worldview that has developed beyond the need for such superstition.

Instead, Covenant is something more interesting and nuanced than that. It is an episode about a particular kind of belief, about a particular sort of religion. It is an episode about the dangers of a very particular form of worship. It is an episode about the perils of religious cults, but one which understands the distinction between that and other forms of spirituality.

He hasn’t a prayer.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Treachery, Faith and the Great River (Review)

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a beautiful piece of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It is a meditation on everything suggested by the title, recurring themes across the seven-season run of Deep Space Nine. Indeed, it is a reflection on how each of those three concepts all tie back to the same notion of belief. Treachery is what happens when belief is betrayed, faith is what happens when belief is held without validation, and the great river reflects a more generic belief in the balance and distribution of the wider universe. Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a story about belief and the various forms that it takes, and the rewards that it offers.

“And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”

In many ways, Treachery, Faith and the Great River marks a return to the sort of softer religious belief that defined the early seasons of Deep Space Nine. It is an episode that engages with the challenges of faith, rather than taking it at face value. It is no small irony that an episode as nuanced as Treachery, Faith and the Great River should be credited to the writers responsible for The Reckoning. In many ways, Treachery, Faith and the Great River asks what it means to truly believe in something, even knowing that this belief might never be rewarded.

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a story about looking for the divine, and the answers that are offered in return.

Weyoun Six, Weyoun Seven…
All good clones go to heaven…

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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 – Image in the Sand (Review)

There is an endearing sense of symmetry to the seventh season premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The writers who worked on the show have been quite candid about their creative process. In particular, most of the production team would acknowledge that the show was heavily improvised rather than planned in advance. While the creators had a sense of the direction in which they wanted to move, they did not have a clear destination in mind until quite late in the journey. This was quite obvious looking at a number of the strange narrative detours that the arc took, most notably Gul Dukat’s time as a space pirate between Return to Grace and By Inferno’s Light.

A Time to Sands.

At the same time, as the seventh season began, it seemed like the writers working on Deep Space Nine had a much stronger idea of how they wanted the series to come to a close. Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols feel like a very clever structural choice for the seventh season premiere. They exist at once as echoes of the arc that opened the sixth season and as preludes to the story that would conclude the seventh. They exist as bookends to these two chapters of the larger series, feeling almost like the exact midpoint of a larger story.

Positioned approximately half-way between the epic six-episode arc that opened the sixth season and the sprawling ten-episode narrative that would draw down the curtain at the end of the seventh season, Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols feel like a much smaller affair. However, they are still well-observed and well-written, covering a lot of thematic and narrative ground in a way that contextualises what come before and sets up what will follow.

“Play it again, Sisko.”

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