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Star Trek: Voyager – Inside Man (Review)

Inside Man is a curious episode.

It is a seventh season episode that feels very much like a first season episode. To be fair, this is perhaps par for the course with any long-running series approaching a definite ending. Both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine got a little nostalgic in their final seasons. The Next Generation neatly bookended Encounter at Farpoint by picking up on the dangling thread of Q’s trial of humanity in All Good Things…, while Deep Space Nine revisited first season ideas like the “one hundred” in Chimera or Quark mistakenly thinking that he was replacing Zek in The Dogs of War.

“I’d counsel against that.”

Star Trek: Voyager was always going to be a little bit more nostalgic than most, given that the nature of the show involved a long journey back towards the familiar and the recognisable. The closer that Voyager got to home, the stronger the urge to look backwards. The seventh season of Voyager evokes the early seasons in a number of ways, such as the manner in which Repression tries to resurrect the Maquis conflict and even brings in a guest star last seen in Learning Curve or the surprise return of Joseph Carey as a guest star in Friendship One.

However, Inside Man has its own very strange nostalgia at its core. The episode builds on sixth season episodes like Pathfinder or Life Line, even including a number of recurring guest stars from those earlier episodes. However, its tone and its plot elements feel like they belong a much earlier script. Inside Man is an episode that treats the Ferengi as semi-serious antagonists who would murder more than a hundred people for a profit, which ignores a lot of their development on Deep Space Nine and jumps right back to their characterisation in early Next Generation episodes like The Last Outpost or Peak Performance.

“I mean, to be fair, they also couldn’t outwit the Kazon.”

However, at the core of the episode is a plot device that the series largely moved past in its second season, and one which feels strangely out of place on what amounts to the home stretch of Voyager. The plot of Inside Man revolves around a promise to get the ship and crew home ahead of schedule, the kind of promise that was frequently dangled in front of the crew in earlier episodes like Eye of the Needle, Cold Fire and False Profits. While it would be teased in later episodes like Hope and Fear or Bliss, it was never with the same intensity.

The irony with these earlier stories was that the audience understood, on some level,how unlikely it was that the ship and crew would be getting home. After all, the entire premise of Voyager was that it was a starship stranded on the far side of the galaxy, isolated from familiar support systems. To bring the ship home would represent a complete betrayal of the premise, even more than downplaying the tension with the Maquis or completely ignoring questions about which set of rules the crew would follow. If Voyager brought the ship home in a random episode in those first seasons, it would be a catastrophic admission of defeat.

Just a Reg-ular Barclay.

In Inside Man, a slight variation on the same central tension exists. Any audience member with any level of televisual literacy would understand that the ship and crew would be returning home at the end of the seventh season; this was the end of Voyager, and that ending had to involve the fulfillment of the show’s basic premise. However, given the show’s conservatism, it was highly unlikely that the crew would be getting home in such an early episode and certainly not as part of a plot involving the Ferengi. Inside Man is the most obvious sort of shell game, where there’s nothing hidden under any of the cups.

However, what’s most striking about Inside Man is that the script seems almost self-aware. The episode is glib and wry, repeatedly seeming like an extended joke being played by the savvy audience and the smirking writers on the series itself. Inside Man is based around the promise that the crew might be returning home, but is immediately established to the audience as nothing more than an empty hustle. The cruel irony (and the most wry punchline) is that the characters themselves remain in the dark even after the con is long over.

Getting into her head.

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Deep Space Nine at 25 – The Most Multicultural of (Star) Treks

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the first (and perhaps only) multicultural Star Trek.

Ironically, Deep Space Nine is often derided by traditionalist fans for eschewing core Star Trek principles. Deep Space Nine was the first (and only) Star Trek series to unfold on a space station rather than a space ship, boldly sitting rather than boldly going. More than that, Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek series to embroil the Federation in an active war, notwithstanding the Klingon or Romulan Cold Wars nor the Cardassian Wars that retroactively took place during the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, in a very real and substantial way, Deep Space Nine was also the Star Trek series that hewed most closely to the humanist principles of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. It could reasonably be argued that Deep Space Nine simply made an effort to interrogate and to explore premises that Roddenberry never properly considered. At its core, Star Trek had always been about embracing the unknown with open arms and about learning that what was different was not always scary or monstrous. Deep Space Nine embraced that.

Deep Space Nine was not a series about a bunch of explorers looking “to boldly go” in any literal sense, but about a bunch of characters struggling to fundamentally understand “new life forms and new civilisations.” More than the other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine was about embracing other cultures and values, about recognising that differences could enrich as much as divide, and that there was no single “right” way build a better world. Deep Space Nine is an ode to humanism and compassion, embodying many of the virtues other Star Trek shows nod towards.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Emperor’s New Cloak (Review)

The Emperor’s New Cloak is a disaster.

To be fair, it is not a messy disaster. There is nothing particularly novel in how terrible The Emperor’s New Cloak actually is. Most of the awfulness is carried over from Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. The sharp decline in quality and merit of the mirror universe episodes since the concept’s reintroduction in Crossover has become a gentle slope. The Emperor’s New Cloak is unfunny and broadly homophobic nonsense, clumsily plotted and horribly paced. If it sets a lower bar for these mirror universe episodes, that bar is not appreciably lower.

Not quite having a blast…

The Emperor’s New Cloak is terrible in the same way that Prodigal Daughter and Field of Fire are terrible. It is as though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has reached a point where its bad episodes are no longer surprising, simply uninspired. No audience member watching The Emperor’s New Cloak will wonder how any of these ideas made it to screen. There is none of the novelty that defined the horrors in episodes like Meridian, Let He Who Is Without Sin… or even Profit and Lace. There is just a creeping sense of fatigue.

In some ways, it makes sense that the most disappointing episodes of the seventh season should be affected by this feeling of exhaustion. The end is nigh, the production team have been working on the series for seven years. Even their bad jokes are no longer shocking, simply tired.

A dark moment for all involved.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Profit and Lace (Review)

Profit and Lace is a disastrous misfire, a late-season catastrophe that many would consider to be the absolute nadir of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. At best, it is an episode that belongs in conversation with Meridian, Prophet Motive, Let He Who Is Without Sin… and The Emperor’s New Cloak. It is a very bad piece of television. It could reasonably be argued that the toxicity of Profit and Lace is not even quarantined. The episode is so bad that it becomes a retroactive taint upon Deep Space Nine‘s attempts to develop and flesh out the Ferengi.

Some of the show’s best episodes focus on the Ferengi characters, like House of Quark or Family Business or Little Green Men or The Magnificent Ferengi, not to mention all manner of very solid stories like The Nagus or Bar Association or Body Parts. The writers on Deep Space Nine did a tremendous job developing and humanising the Ferengi, but the late one-two punch of Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak erases all of that good will. Suddenly, the Ferengi are appearing in episodes as tone-deaf and ill-advised as The Last Outpost.

How Ishka got her groove back.

There are any number of reasons why Profit and Lace is so horrible. On a very basic level, it is a comedy episode that is simply not funny. The script is built around jokes that were already tired by the standards of fifties Hollywood, but refuses to do anything interesting or compelling with them. It is uncomfortably backwards-looking and regressive, its sexual politics feeling horribly outdated. The direction veers wildly between something approaching earnest world-building and broad slapstick, resulting a tonal mismatch that is toxic to the touch.

Profit and Lace is a stinker, by just about any measure.

A Quarky installment.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Magnificent Ferengi (Review)

In some ways, The Magnificent Ferengi serves as a logical end point for the Ferengi.

It is, after all, the last good Ferengi episode of the Berman era as a whole. The Dogs of War is not terrible, but it has serious problems. It looks much better following on from the double-header of Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak, which rank among the worst episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ever produced. Then again, it is not like the other Star Trek series had much better luck, with Inside Man on Star Trek: Voyager and Acquisition on Star Trek: Enterprise also falling flat. However, there is more to it than that.

The comedy really Pops here.

The comedy really Pops here.

The Magnificent Ferengi is an episode that revels in one of the franchise’s most reviled recurring alien species, serving as a grand celebration of the work that Ira Steven Behr has done with the Ferengi since The Nagus during the first season of Deep Space Nine. This is reflected within and without the text. The Magnificent Ferengi is  about a band of Ferengi who finally get to be the heroes of their own weird little war story. However, it’s also a celebration of how well-developed the species is that the episode has seven distinct major Ferengi characters.

Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the best thing about The Magnificent Ferengi is that it puts a cap on the Ferengi as a concept, rendering any further Ferengi episodes completely superfluous to requirement.

Sharp wit.

Sharp wit.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Ferengi Love Songs (Review)

Ferengi Love Songs has one really good joke. In the episode’s defence, it might just be a great joke.

The most striking moment in Ferengi Love Songs comes eight minutes into the episode. In fact, the teaser rushes along so fast that it feels like the production team were pushing for that moment to serve as the sting that would segue into the opening credits. Instead, it arrives during an otherwise short and indistinct first act, providing an effective ad break on syndication. Still, the image is strong enough that it lingers. The image is the sequence in Quark discovers that the Grand Nagus, the most powerful of Ferengi, is hiding in his closet.

Imagine me and you, I do, I think about you day and night, it's only right...

Imagine me and you, I do,
I think about you day and night, it’s only right…

It is a great comedy moment, in both concept and execution. The idea of the leader of a vast interstellar empire hiding in somebody’s bedroom is ridiculous in a way that Star Trek is very rarely ridiculous, at least during the Rick Berman era. It is very much a stock sit-com trope, except it has been dressed up in the trappings of a franchise that has a long record of taking itself incredibly seriously. There is an endearing absurdity to the gag that feels almost like the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine writers are affectionately poking fun at the franchise’s self-seriousness.

Even the execution of the joke works very well. Quark absent-mindedly opens his closet and puts his travel bag inside. The Grand Negus is waiting inside and accepts the bag that is offered. Quark closes the closet, and then does a double-take. He reopens the closet, at which point the Grand Nagus points out that Quark shouldn’t even be here. In a panic, Quark immediately grabs his bag and prepares to leave his house (and the planet) before he properly processes what has happened. “What’s the Nagus doing in my closet?”

He comes with a lot of baggage.

He comes with a lot of baggage.

It is a scene that might have been lifted from some forgotten thirties screwball comedy, which makes sense considering the interests of the Deep Space Nine production team. Rene Auberjonois directs the sequence in which to play into that absurdity, and Armin Shimerman proves quite game at delivering double-takes and exaggerated moments of realisation. It is a great gag, skilfully executed, that is brilliantly silly in the way that Deep Space Nine is not afraid to be.

The biggest problem with Ferengi Love Songs is the challenge of where it needs to go from that brilliant little gag. There is an interesting kernel of a story idea here, the writers’ obvious affection for these Ferengi characters shining through. Unfortunately, none of that fits with the tone of the episode’s central gag, which leads a plot that feels strangely dissonant as it tries to wring drama and conflict from the image of the Grand Nagus crouched over in Quark’s closet.

Strange bedfellows...

Strange bedfellows…

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Star Trek: Voyager – False Profits (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.

If ever there was an argument against the importance of continuity, False Profits would appear to be it.

The Price was not a good episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, it was quite a bad episode of television. There is a credible argument to be made that The Price was the worst episode of the third season of The Next Generation. Another contender is Ménage à Troi, another third season episode of The Next Generation that coincidentally (or not) happens to feature the Ferengi. By all accounts, The Price is an episode of television that should be forgotten about, consigned to reference books and ill-considered classic television marathons.

"Now, I know fans don't like the Ferengi episodes, but this is too much!"

“Now, I know fans don’t like the Ferengi episodes, but this is too much!”

Unfortunately, continuity intervenes. The climax of The Price ends with two Ferengi stranded in the Delta Quadrant after the Barzan wormhole collapses. In most stories, that would be the last time that those two characters appeared; they had served their dramatic purpose, demonstrating that the Barzan wormhole was effectively useless. However, once it became clear that Star Trek: Voyager was heading to the Delta Quadrant, that ending became a plot thread. It became a piece of continuity that could be employed by the production team, a storytelling opportunity.

That explains how False Profits came to be, a terrible sequel to a terrible episode that seems to exist purely to satisfy some dangling continuity.

Proxy war...

Proxy war…

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