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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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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 20 (“Improbable Cause”)

I had great fun talking about Defiant with Wes and Clay at The Pensky Podcast.

So I was thrilled by invited back to talk over one of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the guys, the late third season two-parter Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast. It’s a brilliant story, in large part because (unlike a lot of Star Trek two-parters) it is very clearly two different stories that happen to neatly dove-tail into one another.

Improbable Cause is a fascinating character study of Elim Garak, following a botched attempt on his life that suggests more powerful forces at work. As Odo investigates the bombing of Garak’s shop, he gradually uncovers evidence of a much larger scheme. It was a pleasure to record, and I’ll be back next week covering the conclusion, The Die is Cast.

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 – Afterimage (Review)

Afterimage is a necessary episode, in part because Ezri Dax is a necessary character.

Adding a new character to a show in the middle of its run is always a challenge. The addition of Seven of Nine to Star Trek: Voyager had generated considerable tension, both around what the show wanted to be and in terms of the cast working on the series. It can be difficult to strike a balance, to figure out how much attention to devote to this new arrival, to give them some focus without stealing focus from the surrounding cast. It is a tightrope for the writers to walk, one compounded by the relative novelty of this late addition, the new toy in the writers’ toy box.

Make it sew.

This problem is compounded when the new addition arrives at the start of the final season. In any final season, space is at a premium. The production team are racing towards the finish line, trying to service all the dangling plot threads and complete all the important plot arcs. Every beat is important, every story vital. Final seasons are about providing closure, about wrapping things up. Introducing a new character in the midst of all that is a daunting responsibility, a challenge with very high stakes.

The writers at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were working at something of a disadvantage and to a deadline. However, they did have some handicaps. Most notably, the production team had already successfully integrated a new character into the ensemble, when Worf joined the cast in The Way of the Warrior. More than that, there was some luxury in the fact that Ezri Dax would not be an entirely new character. She would be a logical extension of the premise that was built in Jadzia Dax. She was at least partially familiar, and her concept had been properly seeded.

On airlock down.

Still, introducing Ezri Dax into the final season of Deep Space Nine would prove difficult. The production team would often struggle to strike a balance between writing stories that extended (and concluded) the arcs of other major characters while also writing episodes that introduced and established the character of Ezri. It could often seem like Ezri’s journey was just beginning, right as everybody else’s was coming to a close. The final season of a seven-year show is seldom the perfect place for a new beginning.

As such, Afterimage is more an episode driven by necessity than by desire, a story that has to be told because of factors that were outside the control of the production team. The result is solid, if not exceptional. It is an episode that works best at establishing a new character and new dynamics, suffering just a little bit from clumsy storytelling in the process.

Holo pleasures.

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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 – The Die is Cast (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 Die is Cast is, like Improbable Cause before it, a wonderful piece of television.

As with most Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-parters, The Die is Cast maintains continuity and consistency with its predecessor, but it feels like a very different episode than Improbable Cause. After all, the curtain has been pulled back. The assassination attempt is no longer the driving force of the narrative (in fact, it’s barely referenced), with the plot focusing on Enabrain Tain’s pre-emptive strike against the Dominion.

A bruised ego...

A bruised ego…

It’s interesting that it falls to the Cardassians and the Romulans to drive the Dominion plot onwards. There’s been no real development of this long-form plot since Sisko and his crew escaped at the end of The Search, Part II. Episodes like The Abandoned and Heart of Stone have seen the crew encountering individual members of the Dominion, and shows like Visionary have had characters sitting around talking about them, but nothing has actually happened. It is mostly business as usual.

As such, the episode’s title feels beautifully appropriate – it’s the crossing of a threshold, a point from which there can be no return. Not just for Tain or the Cardassians, but the show itself.

Odo's sympathy for Garak runs dry...

Odo’s sympathy for Garak runs dry…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Improbable Cause (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.

Improbable Cause is an episode that should be a mess. It was originally conceived as a sort-of-sequel to Second Skin, building off Garak’s murder of Entek in that episode. The idea was that Garak would face the consequences of that action, with the Obsidian Order planning an assassination attempt. However, the script was incredibly difficult to break. The resolution felt contrived and forced, closing the story out with Garak blackmailing is adversaries into compliance using a never-before-referenced isolinear rod felt overly convenient.

With the script not working, desperate action was taken. It was decided to extend Improbable Cause into a two-parter at the last minute, tying it into the proposed sequel to Defiant. The decision was made so late in the production schedule that it was impossible to pull the script back out of production. Even though Improbable Cause aired after Through the Looking Glass, it was produced beforehand. Writer René Echevarria re-wrote the last two acts of Improbable Cause with The Die is Cast screenwriter Ronald D. Moore in a frenzy, to tie both parts together.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

This is the very definition of “production nightmare.” It recalls one of those stories that you hear about blockbuster movies that start shooting without a finished script, or directors being locked out of the editing suite. By all accounts, Improbable Cause should have been a trainwreck held together by duct tape and good thoughts. Instead, there’s a credible argument that Improbable Cause is the strongest episode of the third season. It’s certainly the strongest episode broadcast since Star Trek: Voyager came on the air.

And that’s down to one simple fact: every single aspect of Improbable Cause works extraordinarily well.

Odo has the scent...

Odo has the scent…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Civil Defense (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.

Civil Defense is an episode that really worked a lot better than it should have. The third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine hit a bit of a stumbling block in the early part of the third season. Indeed, Second Skin had been shot from what was pretty much Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s first draft of a teleplay. The Abandoned felt like a good premise pushed in front of the camera too early. Civil Defense was similarly rushed into production, with very little turn around from the production staff.

However, despite these production concerns, Civil Defense turns out to be an enjoyable pulpy adventure. The production team wouldn’t royally screw up until the next episode. The biggest problem with the script is that it feels like we’re seeing it far too late in the show’s run. Civil Defense is a fun third season episode, but it would have been a spectacular first season adventure.

"Free dissident suppression system with every purchase over twelve bars!"

“Free dissident suppression system with every purchase over twelve bars!”

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