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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Siege of AR-558 (Review)

The thing that Ira and I both wanted to do, was to make war as gritty as possible. You can make what somebody called the Gameboy wars, the Nintendo War, too clean and too cute. Nobody pays a price. You see ships blowing up, and that is kind of cool. But you don’t get the feeling of what a war is. Everybody said it was our Saving Private Ryan, but we’d come up with it before we were even aware of what they were doing on Saving Private Ryan. It really wasn’t that for us. It was really much more about Starfleet, and what those guys go through, and what it must be like in that time, and how to make that work on a gritty level. Rick Kolbe did a remarkable job directing it. Avery again did a marvelous performance in terms of being the captain in a very difficult situation, and making all of those difficult choices that you have to make under those circumstances.

– Hans Beimler, Cinefantastique

Siege the day.

The Siege of AR-558 is a masterful piece of Star Trek, and one of the finest episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In some ways, The Siege of AR-558 is an episode that has been necessary since the outbreak of the Dominion War at the end of Call to Arms. It is a story that had to be told at some point in the two-year stretch from A Time to Stand to What You Leave Behind. Had the writers and producers on Deep Space Nine opted not to tell a story like this within the framework of the Dominion War, they would have undermined the series as a whole and undercut a lot of the justifications for constructing an epic two-year war arc.

Mumy dearest.

It could reasonably be argued that The Siege of AR-558 is not unprecedented. In many ways, the episode is an extension of a narrative style that had been attempted at various points in the show’s recent history, the familiar “war is hell” story that drove episodes like The Ship, ... Nor the Battle to the Strong and Rocks and Shoals. It is very hard to look at the final three seasons of Deep Space Nine as a narrative glorifying warfare, the series often cynical about such violence.

At the same time, The Siege of AR-558 pushes that idea further than any earlier episode. The Siege of AR-558 is a story that unequivocally confirms that the Dominion War is a nightmarish and existential threat to the Federation with a profound moral and physical cost. While this idea has been reiterated repeatedly in stories like Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight, The Siege of AR-558 frames its argument in more visceral terms. It is an episode not about the abstract concept of war, but of its horrifying realities.

An explosive combination.

The Siege of AR-558 is not a morality play that operates at a remove from the violence. The Siege of AR-558 is not an episode in which war is reduced to a mathematical model. The Siege of AR-558 is not an episode in which important people sit around a table and engage in vigourous debate about plans of attack. Instead, The Siege of AR-558 is a story about the horrifying realities of combat, of the fear and dread felt by those on ground, of the seemingly pointless bloodshed that results from all of this politicking and scheming.

The Siege of AR-558 is a war story.

A shot in the dark.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – A Time to Stand (Review)

And so Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has changed once again.

A Time to Stand represents a new beginning for Deep Space Nine, kicking off an ambitious six-episode arc that effectively sets up both the status quo and the tone for the final two years of the series. To be fair, this version of the show is very clearly the model to which the fourth and fifth seasons had been building. It is not quite a second (or third, or fourth) pilot in the style of The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II or The Way of the Warrior, but it is very clear that Deep Space Nine is entering a new stage of its evolution at the start of its penultimate sequence.

Touching reunion.

Touching reunion.

More than that, this opening six-episode arc very clearly serves to set up and establish themes and ideas that will play out across the series’ remaining episodes; Kira suggests she will support Odo’s decision to return home in Behind the Lines, Damar’s alcoholism and the shame it hides is introduced in Behind the Lines, Sisko talks about the house that he plans to build on Bajor in Favour the Bold, the Prophets promise that a price will be exacted from Sisko in Sacrifice of Angels.

Although the formal declaration of war came at the end of Call to Arms, the sixth season premiere truly ushers in the era of the Dominion War.

New frontier.

New frontier.

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Star Trek – Turnabout Intruder (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

This is the end.

And what an ignominious ending it is. Turnabout Intruder is the last episode of the original Star Trek run, bringing down the curtain on three years of boldly going and bidding farewell to this cast… at least for the moment. It is also an infamously terrible episode of television, in which Captain Kirk finds himself swapping bodies with the psychotic scientist Janice Lester. Lester is repeatedly categorised as insane, but her primary motivation seems to be rebellion against Starfleet’s institutional sexism.

It's full of stars.

It’s full of stars.

Seen as this is a Gene Roddenberry story, Turnabout Intruder sides entirely with Starfleet on the matter. This was the same writer and producer who would later balk at The Measure of a Man because he thought that Data should willingly surrender himself to Starfleet experimentation. So, instead of becoming an exploration of sexism and discrimination, Turnabout Intruder instead becomes a vigorous defense of institutionalised misogyny. Of course Starfleet doesn’t allow women captains, the episode suggests, they could never handle the strain!

It is an episode that really puts paid to the show’s claims of liberal progressivism, credited to a writer who would in later years cultivate a mythology of himself as the architect of that liberal progressivism. Turnabout Intruder is just about the most damning argument against the franchise’s utopian idealism imaginable, which makes it particularly insulting as a series finale.

William Shatner did not react well to news of cancelation.

William Shatner did not react well to news of cancellation.

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Star Trek – The Savage Curtain (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Gene Roddenberry returns to Star Trek, to put the show to rest.

Two of the final three episodes of this third season originated with Roddenberry, putting paid to the idea that the veteran executive producer was entirely absent from the year. Roddenberry had departed the show at the start of the season, after issuing NBC with an ultimatum regarding the scheduling of his series. He had moved out of the Star Trek production offices and across the lot to develop his own projects. The standard narrative of the third season suggests that Roddenberry was no longer around to keep the show on the rails.

Holy space!Lincoln...!

Holy space!Lincoln…!

This is untrue, in a number of respects. Roddenberry was involved in the production of the third season, just not as actively as he had been. He was responsible for commissioning and championing a number of early third season episodes inherited by Fred Freiberger, including Elaan of Troyius and The Paradise Syndrome. He had even used his remaining leverage to shamelessly try to shoehorn merchandise into Spock’s Brain and Is There in Truth No Beauty? He was also drawing an executive producer salary and nabbed two late-season production slots.

Of course, this argument also relies on the assumption that Roddenberry understood Star Trek better than anybody else. Roddenberry had created Star Trek, but he was not the singular vision behind it. Writers like Dorothy Fontana and producers like Gene L. Coon were as responsible for shaping the show as Roddenberry in many respects. Roddenberry might have talked a good game, but he was also a producer who believed that The Omega Glory would have made a good pilot for the show.

Legion of Doom!

Legion of Doom!

If anything, there is something faintly damning about Gene Roddenberry’s triumphant return to the series at the end of its third year. Neither The Savage Curtain nor Turnabout Intruder are good episodes. In fact, the best thing that can be said about Roddenberry’s two final contributions is that The Savage Curtain probably isn’t quite as bad as And the Children Shall Lead or The Way to Eden. Still, both episodes feel regressive and awkward. Roddenberry’s writing is a reminder of just how far the show had come in the care of other producers.

However, at least The Savage Curtain is memorable.

Topping it all off.

Topping it all off.

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Star Trek – The Paradise Syndrome (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

As with Elaan of Troyius, it feels like The Paradise Syndrome casts an awfully long shadow for such a simply awful episode.

Much like Elaan of Troyius before it, The Paradise Syndrome marks out what will become a particular subgenre of Star Trek episode. To be fair, Elaan of Troyius had a much greater influence; it demonstrated that the basic “Enterprise ferries diplomats” plot from Journey to Babel was something that could be repeated, throwing a healthy helping of “our hero falls for an alien princess” into the mix. In contrast, the basic template defined by The Paradise Syndrome is a lot more specific.

Going Native American.

Going Native American.

The Paradise Syndrome effectively posits a “what if…?”, wondering what might happen if Kirk gave up adventuring to settle down into a more mundane existence. It is an idea that Star Trek: The Next Generation would revisit to much greater effect in The Inner Light. It is also the basic template employed by Workforce, Part I and Workforce, Part II during the final season of Star Trek: Voyager. It is very rare to point to Voyager and argue that it executed an idea much better than the original Star Trek, but this is perhaps the exception that proves the rule.

The Paradise Syndrome is also (and unavoidably) a clumsy racist misfire of an episode.

"That'll teach me to hope that the next episode will be better."

“That’ll teach me to hope that the next episode will be better.”

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Star Trek – Elaan of Troyius (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

The strangest thing about Elaan of Troyius is just how influential the episode is.

In many respects, Elaan of Troyius codified Journey to Babel as a genre of Star Trek episode unto itself, the kind of story where the crew find themselves assigned the task of ferrying foreign dignitaries around while intrigue and pseudo-science happens around them. This would become something of a template in the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation, even carrying over to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Lonely Among Us, Loud as a Whisper, The Price, The Forsaken, Remember.

The Dohlman wants YOU!

The Dohlman wants YOU!

However, in that respect, Elaan of Troyius was simply extrapolating from Journey to Babel by demonstrating that the franchise could employ this basic storytelling model with some frequency. The innovations in Elaan of Troyius are in grafting a “sexy alien babe” narrative into that existing “ferry around” template, which would lead to future stories like The Perfect Mate, Precious Cargo or Bound. In some respects, it was prefigured by Mudd’s Women, an earlier episode about women who exert an unnatural influence over our male lead(s).

The influence of Elaan of Troyius over the rest of the franchise is quite simply astounding. Particularly given how terrible it is.

Elas, my love, it is time to go...

Elas, my love, it is time to go…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Hatchery (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Hatchery is a very odd episode.

On the one hand, it feels like another irrelevant detour on the path to Azati Prime. It is a standalone episode about a wacky adventure that the crew have upon discovering a crashed ship on the surface of a dead world, playing with the standard Star Trek tropes about mind control and possession. This is not the first time that a Star Trek character has had their behaviour dramatically altered by an alien compound, and it does seem a bit distracting to tell this story at this point in this season, even in the aliens in this case are insect!Xindi.

Slice o' life...

Slice o’ life…

At the same time, it does feel like an important episode thematically. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is packed with all manner of existential explorations of what it means to be Star Trek. What are the essential ingredients of the franchise? How far can you wander off the template without breaking it? What does Star Trek even mean in a post-9/11 world? There are aspects of Hatchery that deal with these questions rather directly, as the episode explores the consequences of putting a bunch of marines on a Star Trek ship.

It just feels rather surreal that “Archer goes crazy from bug spray” should be the jumping-off point for that particular story.

"Hey there, little fella..."

“Hey there, little fella…”

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