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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Valiant (Review)

Valiant is a very bitter and mean-spirited little episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and all the more effective for that fact.

Some of that bitterness is baked into the basic premise. Valiant is an episode about a bunch of plucky young cadets who get brutally murdered for daring to believe in themselves. The final act of Valiant is a brutal piece of television, the camera lingering over the death and destruction on familiar sets, panning across the dead bodies of these promising young recruits. No matter how arrogant or inexperienced Red Squad might be, no matter how eager their participation in an attempted fascist coup in Homefront and Paradise Lost, it is still an unsettling image.

A legend in his own mind.

However, there is something even nastier lurking beneath the surface of this episode. On a superficial level, Valiant suggests that the guest characters fail in their daring mission because they lack the self-awareness to recognise the folly of their plan, but this is disingenuous. Countless Star Trek episodes have been built around far more reckless and audacious schemes, generally paying off the heroes. Valiant does not punish these young cadets for doing something that the main characters would never have attempted, it punishes them for not being the main characters.

Valiant is in some ways a brutal deconstruction of the typical Star Trek storytelling framework, an episode built around a selection of guest characters whose biggest mistake is assuming that they are the stars of the show rather than simply bit players. Valiant comes down hard on these would-be heroes, a reminder that life does not always operate according to familiar storytelling structures.

Hard to pin it on just one person.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night (Review)

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night once again brushes up against the limits of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is essentially two episodes wrapped up in one. Most basically, it is a character-driven melodrama that focuses on Kira and her relationship to her mother. Dark secrets are unearthed, and betrayals are revealed. Kira finds that she is much closer to Dukat than she once believed, and finds her own moral certainty tested as she confronts the reality of who her mother was and the compromises that she had to navigate in the context of the Cardassian Occupation. It is a bold and provocative episode, daring and unsettling.

Everybody has scars.

However, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is also trying to be an exploration of the kind of moral compromises necessary against the backdrop of the Cardassian Occupation, about the toll that such a horrific event inflicts upon a population. It is a tale of sexual slavery and brutality, about manipulation and abuse. It is a tale about power and violence, and how those aspects of an enemy occupation do not always manifest in brute force. This is story about the scars that such horrors leave. This is a clumsy episode, revealing the firm limits that exist within Deep Space Nine.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night does not work as well as it should, suggesting that there are some stories that Deep Space Nine simply cannot tell.

Screening her calls.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Honour Among Thieves (Review)

Honour Among Thieves is effectively Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pitching itself as a nineties crime film.

One of the luxuries of Star Trek is the sheer flexibility of the format week-in and week-out, the capacity to tell different sorts of stories depending on the tastes of the writers. The franchise can do comedy episodes like The Trouble with Tribbles or House of Quark, political thrillers like Sins of the Father or Homefront and Paradise Lost, weird science-fiction like Whispers or Threshold. The possibilities are endless, the variety incredible. It is a remarkable flexibility, to the point that the audience is never entirely sure what genre they will end up with in a given week.

To Bilby or not to Bilby…

The writers on Deep Space Nine have long been fascinated with the darker side of the Star Trek universe, the pulpy aspect of the franchise that was largely downplayed in the Rick Berman era. Episodes like Necessary Evil played with the conventions of noir storytelling, while Whispers hinted at some postmodern paranoia. The Orion Syndicate were brought back into twenty-fourth century continuity in The Ascent. Occasionally, the strands would come together, most notably in A Simple Investigation, a cyberpunk noir that blended “net girls” with bantering assassins.

Honour Among Thieves very much continues along that evolutionary line. It picks up the Orion Syndicate thread from earlier episodes like The Ascent or A Simple Investigation. However, it also positions itself very much in the context of nineties gangster cinema. This is Deep Space Nine channelling Donnie Brasco, casting O’Brien as a mob informant finding himself sympathetic to his target.

Miles ahead of the enemy.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Far Beyond the Stars (Review)

I am black, I have spent time in a mental hospital, and much of my adult life, for both sexual and social reasons, has been passed on society’s margins. My attraction to them as subject matter for fiction, however, is not so much the desire to write autobiography, but the far more parochial desire to set matters straight where, if only one takes the evidence of the written word, all would seem confusion.

– Samuel Delany, The Straits of Messina

Keep dreaming.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Who Mourns for Morn? (Review)

Who Mourns for Morn? suffers a great deal from its place in the sixth season.

Who Mourns for Morn? is the second broad comedy in the last three episodes. It is the third light-hearted episode of the last six. That would be a lot of comedy for any season of Star Trek, but it is particularly apparent in the context of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After all, there is supposed to be a war raging in the background. The cathartic release of You Are Cordially Invited made a great deal of sense after the opening six-episode arc, and The Magnificent Ferengi was a brilliant comedy episode. However, this is just too much.

Painting a picture of a life...

Painting a picture of a life…

To be fair, the structure of the season contributes to this sense of humour fatigue. The decision to open the sixth season with a six-episode arc focusing on the retaking of Deep Space Nine was bold and ambitious, but it left little room for comedy or humour. As a result, the comedy episodes were concentrated in the aftermath of that sprawling war story, making for a particularly jarring contrast. The first half of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine only has three comedy episode, which is not too much by any measure. However, they arrive in rapid succession.

Taken on its own terms, Who Mourns for Morn? is a solid and enjoyable episode. It is not as funny as House of Quark or Little Green Men, but it moves quickly and works from a clever premise. It is populated with quirky supporting characters, none of whom outstay their welcome. Who Mourns for Morn? is a fun little runaround. Unfortunately, it arrives at a point in the season where the audience is exhausted from all those runarounds.

A very messy, very dirty business.

A very messy, very dirty business.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Waltz (Review)

One of the more common observations about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it is the most “morally ambiguous” Star Trek series, with characters engaging in actions that Picard never would have considered on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In some ways, this observation makes sense. After all, Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek show to feature an extended interstellar conflict. Its primary cast is comprised of unapologetic terrorists and untrustworthy wheeler-dealers. The Federation were no longer the unambiguous good guys of the larger Star Trek universe, monolithic humanity giving way to factions like the Maquis or Section 31. Deep Space Nine never took Gene Roddenberry’s utopia for granted, daring to ask what it might look like when paradise found itself under threat.

Eat, pray, hate.

Eat, pray, hate.

However, Deep Space Nine also a very strong moral compass. While there are episodes that flirt with the idea of the end justifying the means, like In the Pale Moonlight or Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Section 31 are unequivocally monsters, and never proven to be a necessary evil. The Federation wins the Dominion War without the help of their attempted genocide in Extreme Measures. Even the Maquis are treated as ineffective in Defiant, and only romanticised through eulogy in Blaze of Glory.

More than that, Deep Space Nine clearly has a very strong social conscience. This is particularly true in episodes written by executive producer and showrunner Ira Steven Behr. Past Tense, Part I and Past Tense, Part II rage against the treatment of the homeless in contemporary society, sending three regular characters back in time to protest a nineties Los Angeles ordinance. Bar Association insists upon the right to collective bargaining. Far Beyond the Stars is a poignant ode to the power of science-fiction as a window to a better future.

Psycho Sisko!

Psycho Sisko!

Even in the context of the show’s more controversial elements, that moral compass shines through. While the Dominion War might lead to murky compromises, the show goes out of its way to cast the Founders as monstrous; the enslavement of the Jem’Hadar as explored in The Abandoned or of the Vorta as touched upon in Treachery, Faith and the Great River, the use of biological weapons in The Quickening, the disregard for soldiers’ lives in Rocks and Shoals. The Dominion is monstrous, as unequivocally evil as Nazi Germany.

As such, Waltz really serves to confirm something that has always been true of the series. Despite the familiar refrain that Deep Space Nine embraces “moral ambiguity”, the truth is that Deep Space Nine has always believed “that there is really such a thing as truly evil.”

Rocky road to recovery.

Rocky road to recovery.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Statistical Probabilities (Review)

Statistical Probabilities is an interesting episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, on a number of levels.

Most notably, it is the first episode to truly engage deal with the fallout from Doctor Bashir, I Presume. After all, the mid-fifth-season episode dropped a fairly substantial bombshell into the back story of Julian Bashir. In that episode, Bashir became the first Star Trek regular to be a genetically-engineered human, something that made him unique in the franchise. Bashir effectively became a character who could trace his lineage back to Khan Noonien Singh, from Space Seed and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Gambling with people's lives.

Gambling with people’s lives.

However, Deep Space Nine had done very little with that interesting little nugget of a character idea. There had been token attempts to emphasise Bashir’s transformation through dialogue, by having the character speak like a computer and having Garak draw attention to it in A Time to Stand. However, Alexander Siddig was quite uncomfortable with this direction for the character, and made his distaste known. However, even those dialogue flourishes and exposition dumps were a superficial way of addressing a substantial change to the character.

Then again, Deep Space Nine is still getting used to serialisation. It takes a little while for the consequences of individual episodes to trickle down to later scripts. The alliance between Cardassia and the Dominion in By Inferno’s Light was left on the backburner for episodes like A Simple Investigation or Business as Usual before being explored in Ties of Blood and Water. Despite the impressive and sprawling six-episode opening arc, the delay between Doctor Bashir, I Presume and Statistical Probabilities suggests that delay is still in effect.

Drinking it in.

Drinking it in.

However, Statistical Probabilities is notable for the fact that it represents what might be the most direct point of intersection between the Star Trek franchise and the work of Isaac Asimov. Asimov is one of the most influential and iconic writers to work in science-fiction, formulating ideas and concepts that are taken for granted as genre shorthand by modern audiences. Asimov casts a long shadow over popular culture, including Star Trek. However, it is striking that Statistical Probabilities represents the most overt acknowledgement of his work.

Statistical Probabilities is essentially a Star Trek exploration of the concept of “psychohistory”, the fictional science at the heart of Asimov’s towering Foundation series.

Don't worry. Bashir would NEVER be that unprofessional.

Don’t worry. Bashir would NEVER be that unprofessional. Well, not this season.

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