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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 21 (“The Die is Cast”)

Following on from my look at Improbable Cause with Wes and Clay, I return to The Pensky Podcast to take a look at the unlikely second part of the two-part story.

We talk about “epic” storytelling on Star Trek, and the shifting of focus away from the Federation, as well as the internal politics of the Cardassians and the Romulans. We also talk about the unique strand of liberal humanism that runs through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the tragedy of so many of its alien characters who unable to ever go home again.

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 Dogs of War (Review)

The Dogs of War is the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

As such, it has lots of important things to be doing. The episode’s primary function is to streamline the ongoing narratives so that they might all neatly feed into What You Leave Behind. The goal of any penultimate episode is to set up the shot so that the finale might punt the ball into the goal, in a manner that leads to a satisfying conclusion. Given that The Dogs of War is arriving towards the end of a seven-season series, a two-year war story, and a ten-episode closing arc, that is a lot of setting up to be done.

The best is Yates to come.

There is a lot of work to be done on paper. The plot thread focusing on the Pah-Wraiths has been dangling since When It Rains…, the Federation has not reengaged with the Breen since the disastrous encounter at the end of The Changeling Face of Evil, and Bajor hasn’t even mentioned the possibility of joining the Federation since Rapture or In the Cards. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense of The Dogs of War to focus on getting Bashir and Dax together while Quark thinks he is about to be Nagus as Damar is forced to hide in a cellar.

However, there is something inherently charming about how The Dogs of War chooses to prioritise threads over story beats that might seem more relevant or important, to dedicate a sizable chunk of the penultimate episode of Deep Space Nine to tying up a clumsy “will they?”/“won’t they?” romance and telling one last Ferengi story. The Dogs of War is an episode that speaks to what Deep Space Nine was, both in terms is esoteric plotting and its skewed-but-optimistic outlook. There might be better ways to wind down a series, but this is very Deep Space Nine.

Love in a turbolift.

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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 – Apocalypse Rising (Review)

Apocalypse Rising stands quite apart from the other Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season premieres.

Most obviously, it the only single-part season premiere across the entire seven seasons of Deep Space Nine. Emissary and Way of the Warrior were two-hour television movies. The Homecoming fed into the franchise’s first official three-part story. The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II were obviously a two-part episode, while Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols provided a two-part introduction to the seventh season. A Time to Stand segued directly into Rocks and Shoals while also setting up a six-episode arc.

The times, they are a-changeling...

The times, they are a-changeling…

This is not to suggest that Apocalypse Rising is a more typical Star Trek season premiere. It is not a continuation of Broken Link in the same way that The Best of Both Worlds, Part II is a direct continuation of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I or that Basics, Part II is a direct follow-on from Basics, Part I. While Apocalypse Rising does resolve a cliffhanger left dangling by Broken Link, that cliffhanger was only really set up in the final two minutes of the episode. Indeed, the cliffhanger dangling from Broken Link recalls the endings of The Jem’Hadar or The Adversary.

Apocalypse Rising is also notable for being the first season premiere that is not positioned as a jumping on point, that is not intended to either expand the scope of the show or recruit new viewers. One of the luxuries of avoiding the traditional cliffhanger structures to bridge seasons was the freedom to begin each season with a relatively clean slate and introduce new elements. The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II introduced the Defiant and retooled the show to focus on the Dominion. The Way of the Warrior brought Worf over and shifted emphasis to the Klingons.

Klingon to the status quo...

Klingon to the status quo

While Apocalypse Rising does represent a slight shift in the tone of the show, it is not a radical new departure. More than that, it leans rather heavily on the show’s established mythology and in some ways indicates a desire to get the show back on track following an extended detour into war with the Klingons during the fourth season. Apocalypse Rising confirms what was made clear during the fourth season of the show, that Deep Space Nine has eventually evolved into its final form. Apocalypse Rising is a show so comfortable with itself that there’s no need to reinvent.

Although a little cramped and rushed in places, Apocalypse Rising represents a strong start to a stellar season. It is an efficient and effective piece of television, one that demonstrates the clarity of focus driving the season that will follow.

Drinking games...

Drinking games…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Broken Link (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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 for the latest review.

What is perhaps most surprising about Broken Link is how quiet and subdued it all it.

The fourth season began with a bang, with the dissolution of the alliance between the Klingons and the Federation that had been established in Heart of Glory and dramatised in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In fact, The Way of the Warrior featured the largest and most impressive combat sequence in the history of the Star Trek franchise to that point. Even allowing for The Sacrifice of Angels and What You Leave Behind, the fourth season premiere still ranks as one of the most elaborate set pieces in the franchise’s history.

Pray... for... Odo...

Pray… for… Odo…

Broken Link consciously circles back to that. It features the first reappearance of Robert O’Reilly as Gowron since The Way of the Warrior. The episode makes it clear that the problems depicted in The Way of the Warrior are only worsening. There is no small suggestion that Gowron is hoping to turn the cold war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire into a shooting war. Broken Link is very much a show about taking the status quo that was established in The Way of the Warrior and ramping it up.

However, what is most striking about Broken Link is the manner in which it escalates the situation. Not a single weapon is discharged in Broken Link, which is the last season finalé of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine not to feature a combat sequence of some description. The actual plot of the episode is remarkably straightforward and linear, keenly focused on a single member of the ensemble rather while relegating politics into the background. Even in terms of the scripting of the episode, care is taken to slow the pace down and allow character-driven dialogue scenes.

Oh no, Odo!

Oh no, Odo!

The result is a strangely intimate season finalé, one free of the bombast that comes with the season-bridging two-parters favoured by Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. It is interesting to compare Broken Link to something like Basics, Part I, if only because the latter would never make room for Jadzia joking about being surrounded by “naked men” or Garak playing “Star Trek Cluedo” with Odo in sickbay. In fact, Broken Link is even relatively quiet by the standards of Deep Space Nine, lacking the galactic status quo shift of The Jem’Hadar or A Call to Arms.

As with a lot of the fourth season, there is a sense that the production team have made a point to learn from the third season: to improve upon what works and to fix what doesn’t. The Adversary was something of a happy accident at the end of the third season, a script thrown together at short notice when Paramount vetoed a season-ending cliffhanger that would be loosely adapted for Homefront and Paradise Lost. The slow character-centric tension of The Adversary was never intended to close the third season, but Broken Link realises that such an approach worked well.

"Melting! Melting! Oh, what a world!"

“Melting! Melting! Oh, what a world!”

The result is an episode that feels incredibly comfortable in its own skin. Deep Space Nine is well aware of what it is, regardless of the direction and input that the studio offered the production team at the start of the fourth season. In fact, despite its somewhat relaxed pace and the space that it affords its character interactions, Broken Link is remarkably focused on what it wants to do. The closing line of the episode (and the season) is clever, consciously tying back the bold new direction of The Way of the Warrior back into the series’ own larger endgame.

In hindsight, Broken Link is something of a misleading title. Instead, it ties everything together.

Only a stone's throw away...

Only a stone’s throw away…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – To the Death (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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 for the latest review.

To the Death continues the late fourth season shift in focus back towards elements unique to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

At the end of the third season, the production team found themselves receiving notes and input from the network, who wanted Deep Space Nine to go in a different direction. The writing staff on Deep Space Nine were willing to compromise, and took some of the network input on board. As a result, The Way of the Warrior added Worf to the cast and brought the Klingons back to the fore. However, it was clear that Deep Space Nine was not particularly interested in telling a long-term story about new hostilities between the Federation and the Klingons.

The Weyoun of the Warrior...

The Weyoun of the Warrior…

Over the course of the fourth season, the writing staff’s original plans and interests began to reassert themselves in an organic and logical manner. A story similar to Homefront and Paradise Lost had originally been planned to bridge the third and fourth seasons; instead, it was pushed back to almost half-way through the fourth seasons. The Bajoran religion was still the focus of Accession. Gul Dukat received a character arc in Indiscretion and Return to Grace. The Jem’Hadar got a focus episode in Hippocratic Oath. Ferengi politics popped up in Bar Association.

However, these aspects of the show really galvanise towards the end of the fourth season, with the production team really focusing on the elements that had been important during the third season and which would become even more important during the fifth season. For the Cause marked the return of the Maquis as a political player. Body Parts focused on Ferengi culture. However, three of the season’s final four episodes focus on the Dominion, working to reestablish the Dominion as the most credible of threats and the show’s primary antagonists.

Boy, does Sisko ever break out the welcome wagon...

Boy, does Sisko ever break out the welcome wagon…

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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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