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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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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 – Rocks and Shoals (Review)

The opening arc of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is one of the most ambitious storytelling experiments in the history of Star Trek.

To be fair, it is not entirely unique. In some ways, it mirrors the storytelling arc that unfolded across Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Both Kirk and Sisko are separated from their home and from their first officer and from their iconic command, before eventually finding their way to reunite with both. Obviously, a three-film trilogy is distinct from a six-episode arc, even before talking about the tonal, thematic and plotting differences between those three iconic films.

The Jem'Hadar warship that fell to Earth...

The Jem’Hadar warship that fell to Earth…

More than that, the success of the this arc would embolden the production team. They would attempt an even more audacious experiment to close out the seventh season of the series. The sixth season opened with six interconnected stories following the Cardassian reoccupation Terok Nor, building to Sisko’s retaking of the station. The seventh season pushes that even further, with a much more tightly integrated ten-episode arc that attempts to tell a single cohesive story. It is an even bolder creative decision than this arc, committing more strongly to the premise.

Ronald D. Moore’s departure from Star Trek: Voyager early in its sixth season would turn these experiments in serialisation into an evolutionary dead end for the franchise. It would be four years before Rick Berman and Brannon Braga would attempt to a tell a story on that scale. Indeed, faced with declining ratings and the spectre of cancellation, Star Trek: Enterprise attempted what was (on the surface at least) the even more ambitious attempt at a season-long arc across the entirety of the third season.

Winner takes it war...

Between a rock and a hard place.

Still, the six-episode arc that opens the sixth season of Deep Space Nine remains an impressive moment in the history of the franchise. Indeed, contrasted with the sprawling ten-episode arc that closes the series or the season-long arc on Enterprise, it could reasonably be argued that this six-episode stretch does a stronger job of balancing the integrity of individual episodes with the demands of the larger arc. These six episodes are all very strongly connected to one another, with a clear sense of story and character progression, but they also retain their own identities within that.

Rocks and Shoals might be the best example of this, an episode that delicately balances its own storytelling with the needs of the arc as a whole. Rocks and Shoals is at once a great episode in its own right and an essential part of a much larger story.

Express elevator to hell.

Express elevator to hell.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Call to Arms (Review)

The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one. One could say that it has affected us quantitatively, not qualitatively. As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable. This does not mean that one can know when war will come but only that one is sure that it will come. This was true even before the atomic bomb was made. What has changed is the destructiveness of war.

– Albert Einstein, “Einstein on the Atomic Bomb”, The Atlantic, November 1945

Feels like coming home...

Feels like coming home…

Can war ever be justified? Can war ever be inevitable? Can war ever be necessary?

These are very tough ethical questions, particularly when posed in the abstract. In fact, the vast majority of policy decisions about warfare are rooted in living memory rather than philosophical certainty. It has been repeatedly suggested that Bill Clinton’s reluctance to intervene in Rwanda was a consequence of the spectacular failure in Somalia, and that his eventual intervention in Kosovo was an act of atonement for the moral lapse in Rwanda. This is to say nothing of how Obama’s policy on Syria is shaped by Bush’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Station keeping.

Station keeping.

The Star Trek universe is a utopia. It is a world where technology has eliminated poverty and hunger. The replicator, the holodeck, the transporter and warp drive are the building blocks of an idealistic future in which mankind seems to have found peace with itself. Dating back to Star Trek: The Motion Picture at the latest, Gene Roddenberry proposed that the franchise represented an idealised future for mankind. It was a world in which nobody ever wanted for anything, in which mankind were free to explore the universe.

This idealism is a cornerstone of the franchise. It is one of the most recognisable and universal aspects of Star Trek. This is a franchise that genuinely believes that mankind can be better than we are today. That is a large part of what makes the show so powerful, particularly in its original context. As the Doomsday Clock ticks closer and closer to midnight, Star Trek is a franchise that seems to argue that mankind has a future worth aspiring toward; a future beyond the end of the world or some corporate dystopia.

A farewell at arms.

A farewell at arms.

The franchise was never particularly interested in exploring how mankind reached that level of enlightenment. Star Trek: Enterprise was nominally a prequel series for the franchise, picking up in the wake of Star Trek: First Contact, but it opened after mankind had eliminated warfare and famine and nationalism. In some ways, the franchise could seem like a rather surreal experiment. If you imagined a world without warfare or without greed or without hunger, maybe people would get along? There is undoubtedly value on this, but it feels simplistic.

In contrast, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine dared to ask tough and uncomfortable question by challenging these assumptions. If these characters did not live in a perfect world, would they still aspire to betterment? If hunger and greed were still a part of everyday life, could mankind still work to improve themselves? If warfare is the inevitable outcome of statesmanship, then how do these twenty-fourth century people retain their values and ideals? These are legitimately tough questions for the franchise to ponder, but Deep Space Nine embraces them.

Terror on Terok Nor.

Terror on Terok Nor.

It is hard to overstate just how shocking Call to Arms was on broadcast. The actual plot mechanics are fairly standard Star Trek season finale stuff. The ominous and mounting sense of dread coursing through the episode evokes The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, the first season-ending cliffhanger from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The decision to have the recurring antagonists hijack the eponymous space station recalls Basics, Part I, the cliffhanger that Star Trek: Voyager broadcast at the end of the previous television season.

However, Call to Arms is more shocking for the one element of the episode that has been building since the first encounter with the Dominion in The Jem’Hadar. It is the beginning of the franchise’s first extended war story. This is bold new territory for the franchise, something that remains controversial to this day.

"The ball is in your court."

“The ball is in your court.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Blaze of Glory (Review)

Blaze of Glory is a spectacular piece of television.

It is an episode that serves a very clear plot function in the larger context of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is clearly designed to tidy away some of the dangling loose ends before the show transitions into the Dominion War. Much like Children of Time was really the last “strange Gamma Quadrant phenomenon” episode, Blaze of Glory is the last Maquis episode. It also marks the last appearance of Michael Eddington, a character who has come a long way since his first appearance as the station’s new security officer in The Search, Part I.

Michael Eddington, Noted Brigand.

Michael Eddington, Noted Brigand.

However, even ignoring the fact that Blaze of Glory fulfils these larger obligations in terms of the show’s long-running plot threads, the episode is an engaging and exciting buddy action film that finds Benjamin Sisko paired with one of his most hated adversaries on a dangerous mission into the heart of enemy territory. Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe prepare a script laced with wry banter for unlikely action heroes Avery Brooks and Ken Marshall, while Kim Friedman directs the episode as if it were a lost Reagan era Shane Black script.

However, Blaze of Glory also feels very much like Deep Space Nine at its best. It is an episode that celebrates how much these characters can grow and change, while also revelling in the diversity of perspectives that make Deep Space Nine such a compelling show. It is an episode that understands Sisko and Eddington are perhaps more alike than either would concede, but which explores those parallels in a way that never obscures their key differences or their mutual mistrust.

Disarming conversation.

Disarming conversation.

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