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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 – Sacrifice of Angels (Review)

Sacrifice of Angels goes like the clappers.

If Favour the Bold worked so well because it took its time and invested in character dynamics in the shadows this epic confrontation, then Sacrifice of Angels works so well because it just powers through to the end of the story. Sacrifice of Angels is an immaculately paced piece of science-fiction television, an episode that kicks into gear that the spectacular effects shot of the Starfleet fighters swooping down over those Galor-class destroyers in a haze of phaser fire and chaos. The episode doesn’t let up, powering through the plot to get back to the familiar status quo.

Fields of fire.

Fields of fire.

Sacrifice of Angels is also a meticulously constructed piece of television, with all of the dominoes aligned over the previous five episodes dropping at just the right point in a way that seems organic and natural, allowing for moments that are both surprising and inevitable. It is a very clean and sleek episode of television, one built to a singular purpose with a minimum of superfluous material. It really is a triumphant conclusion to an ambitious six-episode opening arc, one of the most daring narrative experiments in the entire history of the Star Trek franchise.

More striking is the sense that Sacrifice of Angels is very pointedly not the end of the larger arc. The Dominion War that began with Call to Arms does not end in Sacrifice of Angels, even though Sisko retakes the station and the characters return home. The Female Changeling even acknowledges as much in her dialogue, “Contact our forces in the Alpha Quadrant. Tell them to fall back to Cardassian territory. It appears this war is going to take longer than expected.” This is not over, despite the assurances that the writing staff gave Rick Berman on launching the arc.

The whole damn ballgame.

The whole damn ballgame.

Then again, this makes perfect sense. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was constantly and continuously reinventing itself over the course of its run, with several of the show’s season premieres serving as de facto pilots for a new and improved version of the show and several season-enders serving as de facto series finales bookending a particularly iteration of the series. The Way of the Warrior and Call to Arms are a great example, the fourth and fifth seasons bookended by the First and Second Battles of Deep Space Nine.

As such, it is probably more satisfying to look at Sacrifice of Angels as the end of another new beginning for the series, the end of an extended opening arc that is setting up themes and ideas that might hope to pay off over the following two seasons. In some ways, Sacrifice of Angels brings the show back to the end of Emissary. Once again, the Cardassian Occupation has come to an end. Sisko finds himself affirmed as the Emissary of the Prophets and the Commander of Deep Space Nine. This is the order of things.

Going for gold.

Going for gold.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Favour the Bold (Review)

With Favour the Bold, the writers begin winding down the ambitious six-episode arc that opens the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Indeed, Favour the Bold plays almost like the first part of a two-parter nestled at the end of the sprawling six-episode arc that opens the sixth season. At the end of the teaser, Sisko unveils his ambitious plan to Dax, boasting, “We’re going to retake Deep Space Nine.” It is the story that very clearly moves the arc that began with Call to Arms towards its conclusion, manoeuvring the series back towards the familiar status quo in which Captain Benjamin Sisko commands a lone Federation outpost near the distant planet of Bajor.

Point man.

Point man.

Favour the Bold is very much about lining up everything for the climax of the arc, moving the pieces into place so that that the dominoes can begin falling as early as possible in Sacrifice of Angels. However, the episode benefits from the fact that a lot of the heavy-lifting has already been done by this point in the arc. Behind the Lines already had Odo betray Kira, Rom get arrested and Damar figure out how best to dismantle those pesky self-replicating mines. That is already a lot of the table-setting for the arc’s epic conclusion, before Favour the Bold even begins.

As such, Favour the Bold has the luxury of beginning with a lot of its work already done and ending at the point where the action truly commences. The result is a surprisingly relaxed penultimate episode for this ambitious arc, one with the freedom to indulge in smaller character-driven scenes and the space in which to breathe.

They just need some space.

They just need some space.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Ties of Blood and Water (Review)

Ties of Blood and Water is a phenomenal piece of television, and a great example of the strengths of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It is an episode that is tied to the personal and the political, a thriller about great powers squaring off against one another set against the more intimate story of a woman nursing her surrogate father in the final hours of his life. Ties of Blood and Water is both intimate and epic, never sacrificing one for the other. Its larger political story beats feel entirely in keeping with the demands of the larger shared universe, but it never loses sight of the story’s emotional centre. There is a very personal aspect to this tale, one firmly grounded in the characters and their relationships.

The ties that bind.

The ties that bind.

Ties of Blood and Water focuses on Tekeny Ghemor, the Cardassian Legate featured in Second Skin. There, he was convinced that Kira was his daughter who had been sent to infiltrate the Shakaar Resistance. In Ties of Blood and Water, Ghemor returns to the station as the relationship turns a full circle. In Second Skin, Kira Nerys had been a surrogate daughter to Ghemor, standing in for the lost Iliana. In Ties of Blood and Water, Ghemor finds himself cast as a surrogate father to Kira, providing her with a means to work through the loss of her biological father.

Ties of Blood and Water has a certain poetry to it, extending beyond the memorable title.

Greener pastures.

Greener pastures.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – By Inferno’s Light (Review)

In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light represent a fantastic accomplishment for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The two-parter demonstrates the care and skill that went into characterisation on the show. The later Star Trek series often struggled to define their core ensembles as effectively as this series defined its secondary players. Star Trek: Voyager often reduced its characters to cogs within a plot-driven machine, capable of whatever a given plot required from them at a given moment. The same was true of Star Trek: Enterprise, which spent most of its first two years slotting cookie-cutter characters into very conventional narratives.

"I, for one, welcome our new Dominion overlords."

“I, for one, welcome our new Dominion overlords.”

In contrast to Voyager and Enterprise, the bulk of plotting on Deep Space Nine seemed to flow from the characters themselves rather than forcing the characters to conform to the demands of the plot. All the big storytelling decisions on Deep Space Nine are rooted in the agency of the characters in question, to the point that the fate of the entire Alpha Quadrant seems to hinge upon the fragility of Gul Dukat’s ego. It is a very clever (and very ahead of its time) approach to plotting a science-fiction series, just one reason that Deep Space Nine has aged so well.

As a result, In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light are both rooted in what the audience already knows about the characters populating Deep Space Nine. All the decisions that are taken feel very much in character, and in keeping with what the audience knows about these individuals. This only serves to make it all the more impressive that the two-parter so radically revises the show’s status quo.

Leave a light on.

Leave a light on.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Return to Grace (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.

More than any other character in the ensemble, Gul Dukat is an embodiment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

There are plenty of other great characters on Deep Space Nine. More than the characters on any other Star Trek show, the lead and supporting characters on Deep Space Nine are afforded the chance to change and grow over the course of the run. In fact, Return to Grace even introduces the character of Damar in a fairly thankless supporting role; over the remaining three-and-a-half seasons of the show, Damar will grow into a well-developed and multi-faceted character in his own right.

He looks like Dukat that got the cream...

He looks like Dukat that got the cream…

Nevertheless, it is Dukat who exemplifies the approach to character and storytelling that make Deep Space Nine such an interesting show. Large swathes of the character’s arc feel improvised and unpredictable. It would be next to impossible to chart Dukat’s character arc from Emissary to What You Leave Behind in a way that makes sense. As with a lot of Deep Space Nine, it seems like the production team just threw the character into the air, allowing the story to take him where it may.

With Return to Grace, it seems that the story takes Dukat into the role of “space pirate.”

The freight stuff...

The freight stuff…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Indiscretion (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.

Much like Hippocratic Oath before it, Indiscretion serves to set the baseline of quality for the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While The Way of the Warrior and The Visitor were ambitious deviations from form, Hippocratic Oath and Indiscretion offer a much clearer vision of what the show will look like from this point forward. As with Hippocratic Oath, a heavy two-hander a-plot is paired with a lighter b-plot that explores the day-to-day life on the eponymous space station, a structure that allows for world-building with sacrificing momentum.

Indiscretion works very well on its own terms. It throws together two of the show’s more fascinating a well-defined characters, putting Major Kira and Gul Dukat on a road trip from hell that inevitably throws them headfirst into conflict with one another. Watching Nana Visitor and Marc Alaimo interact is worth the price of admission alone, and Indiscretion throws a fairly heated personal conflict into the mix to create some tense and compelling drama. Indiscretion works very well as forty-five minutes of television.

Road trip!

Road trip!

However, it also works quite well as an exercise in setting up a longer game. As with most of the episodes that end up rippling through the continuity of Deep Space Nine, it is hard to be sure if the writers knew exactly where they wanted to go with the plot threads stemming from this instalment. Some of the difficulties dealing with the episode’s biggest legacy suggest that more thought might have gone into it. Nevertheless, Indiscretion is an episode that is clearly written with one eye on the future of the show.

As much as it stands on its own two feet, the episode is clearly written with a view to drama that it might enable further down the line. It is a story that seems to be written so that its consequences might fuel further storytelling opportunity. Deep Space Nine had toyed with the idea of serialised storytelling before, but this marks the point where the show just rolls up its sleeves and jumps right on in.

"You know, I think she likes me."

“You know, I think she likes me.”

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