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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 9 (“Defiant”)

This weekend, I had the pleasure of dropping by The Pensky Files to discuss one of the more interesting episodes of the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Defiant is a gleefully insane episode of Star Trek, in which William Riker’s evil transporter duplicate hijacks the Defiant to lead a mission into the heart of Cardassian territory to expose a government conspiracy that might threaten the security of the entire Alpha Quadrant. Along the way, there’s discussions of terrorism and heroism, of missed family birthdays, and of just how absurd Picard’s log entries must sound when they are read aloud.

It was a pleasure to record with Wes and Clay, diving deep on everything from Riker’s “woman in need of relaxation”-dar to the franchise’s complicated attitude towards the Maquis. You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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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 – 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 – The Adversary (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.

The Adversary is a strange little episode. In many respects, barring the last line, it really doesn’t feel like a season finalé. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine typically eschewed the season-ending cliff-hangers that came to define Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, the last episode of a given year typically ended with a major shake-up to the status quo. They may not have ended with the promise “to be continued…”, but they usually carried a great deal of weight.

In contrast, The Adversary feels like a fairly standard episode of Deep Space Nine. It doesn’t radically alter anything. Although Odo’s last line hints at the shape of things to come, it’s not much more than what Lovok assured us in The Die is Cast. The episode is well-executed, well-constructed and it’s distinct enough from a standard Star Trek episode that it works, but The Adversary feels like it’s not really positioned to close out the year.

There's blood on the Defiant's floor...

There’s blood on the Defiant’s floor…

This is, of course, because it wasn’t intended to close out the year. The third season of Deep Space Nine was quite troubled. While not anywhere near as troubled as the third season of The Next Generation, it was a year where plans were constantly changing and scripts were frequently written on the fly. It seemed like the writers were constantly struggling against deadlines while trying to keep track of all the moving pieces.

Second Skin was filmed from little more than a first draft; Improbable Cause was extended into a two-parter at short notice. Scripts like The Abandoned looked like they needed a bit more work before being put in front of the camera. Shows like Meridian, Facets and Life Support seemed stitched together out of desperation. Indeed, The Adversary was produced at only a week’s notice. It’s to the credit of the episode – like Second Skin before it – that it holds up remarkably well.

There won't be blood...

There won’t be blood…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Defiant (Review)

The 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.

Defiant is a cheeky piece of work.

On the surface, it appears to be a rather lame bit of cross-promotion for the release of Star Trek: Generations. The first movie featuring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation had opened three-days before Defiant aired, and so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a nice cameo from a well-loved cast member and remind audiences that the film was currently in cinemas. Jonathan Frakes is a likeable actor, and Riker has been used as an ambassador for the series before. He appeared in Cybill, after all.

However, then Defiant takes one sharp left-turn, massively upsetting expectations and becoming something a lot more interesting than a cross-media tie-in.

Guess who's coming to Quark's...

Guess who’s coming to Quark’s…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Malibu Comics) #29-30 – Sole Asylum (Review)

The 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.

Whatever happened to Thomas Riker?

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine receives a lot of credit for its move towards serialisation as a prime-time genre show. It wasn’t a pioneer in the same way that Babylon 5 was or even Murder One had been, but it was was definitely ahead of the curve. Deep Space Nine arguably holds up better today than any of the other Star Trek shows, and part of that is down to the way that the show leaned into serialisation. Actions had consequences, effects lingered after the credits.

Hostage of fortune...

Hostage of fortune…

The show was very much leaning that way in the second and third season, building up plot threads that would pay off down the line. The Dominion had been seeded in the show since Rules of Acquisition. The Romulan and Cardassian pre-emptive strike was foreshadowed by episodes like Defiant and Visionary. In the third season, it became clear that Deep Space Nine was ready to commit to some long-form storytelling, in a way that was unusual for a high-profile syndicated genre show in the nineties.

However, it is tempting to give Deep Space Nine a little bit too much credit. There were points where the show seemed to struggle with pay-off and arc-building. In Emissary, Sisko was tasked with bringing Bajor into the Federation; that never happened. After Battle Lines, Kai Opaka never appeared again. Characters who seemed important dropped into and out of the show at random; characters like Martok’s son Drex, Bajoran First Minister Shakaar Edon, Subcommander T’Rul… and Thomas Riker.

The welcome wagon...

The welcome wagon…

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