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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang (Review)

Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is nonsense, but it is fun nonsense.

It goes without saying that the plotting of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is ridiculous, even by the standards of the obligatory “holodeck goes crazy” episodes like The Big Goodbye or Our Man Bashir or Bride of Chaotica! The episode’s internal logic is strikingly weak, to the point that even the most sympathetic and understanding audience member has to acknowledge the sizable plot holes in the narrative. It is not that the plotting of Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is lazy or clumsy, it is that the plotting is almost non-existent.

Sisko’s seven.

More than that, the seventh season has already had a much stronger “the crew hang out together and have fun in the holosuite” episode in Take Me Out to the Holosuite. More than that, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is within a dozen episodes of the end of its seven-season run. There is a very valid argument to be made that Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang is a completely unnecessary indulgence at this late stage of the game and that the time invested in this episode could be more wisely invested in some other story thread or dangling plot.

But, yet. There is an incredible charm to Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang that comes from seeing this cast together and having fun for the last time.

“Well, I think we have a promo shot.”

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Killing Game, Part I (Review)

In some ways, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feel like a perfect companion piece to Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

As with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II during the third season, these two two-part episodes are very much larger-than-life archetypal Star Trek storytelling. While Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II riffed on Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home, and Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II borrowed liberally from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II draw from a broader pool of franchise iconography for a Star Trek: Voyager spectacular.

A cut above.

As with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II or Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are very much concerned with themes of memory and history. Much like Henry Starling or Annorax, the Hirogen are presented as villains waging a war upon history. They have no history or culture, usurping that of the crew and distorting it to serve their own whims and desires. Of course, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II features no literal time travel, merely holographic.

However, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II is more than just archetypal Voyager. These preoccupations with memory and history are wrapped up in a whole host of broad and iconic Star Trek idea. Although the two-parter features a number of different plot threads, including the recreation of a classic Klingon conflict, the bulk of the action unfolds in a holographic simulation of the Second World War. Once again, the Star Trek franchise returns to that conflict as a formative and defining moment.

For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky.

Indeed, the two-parter even makes a point to weave the franchise’s core humanism into its sprawling epic pseudo-historical conflict. As much as The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are driven by spectacle, writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky are careful to integrate classic Star Trek themes into the episode. While the story begins with the Voyager crew defeated and subjugated by the Hirogen, it ends with a peaceful settlement. Janeway grants the Hirogen a chance to save their people. Coexistence seems possible.

As such, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feels like an intentionally broad smorgasbord of Star Trek themes and iconography. It feels very much like the culmination of the journey that Voyager has been on since the start of the third season, with the production team aspiring to produce a show that might not have its own distinct texture or identity but which retains an archetypal “Star-Trek-ian” quality.

Evil alien space Nazis!

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Star Trek: Voyager – Alter Ego (Review)

Following on from the aborted promise of a new beginning in Fair Trade, things get back to normal.

Alter Ego is another episode of Star Trek: Voyager that feels like it might have been wholly repurposed from an earlier Star Trek show. On the surface, it is a fairly standard “holodeck run amok” story in the style of earlier episodes like Heroes and Demons or Projections. However the contours of the plot recall a very specific (and very good) episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As Alter Ego seems to suggest that a holographic character has achieved sentience and threatens to destroy the ship, it recalls the far superior Ship in a Bottle.

Forced attraction.

Forced attraction.

There are differences, of course. Ship in a Bottle is a far stronger episode, one of the best holodeck stories ever produced. More than that, the climax of Alter Ego reveals that the holodeck programme has not become sentient but is instead being used as the avatar of an outside force. Still, this twist is confined to the last act of the episode, and so it feels more like an embellishment than a revision. For the bulk of its runtime, Alter Ego plays as a pale imitation of a much stronger piece of television.

It does not help matter that Alter Ego‘s novel twist on that central premise is to paint its central guest star as a psychotic stalker with a crush.

A whole ball of crazy.

A whole ball of crazy.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – These Are The Voyages… (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

1994 was peak Star Trek.

Of course, the particulars are open to debate. There are credible arguments that could be made for the following year, when Paramount considered broadcasting Caretaker to be just about the only statement that UPN needed to make on it opening night. There are even plausible arguments that could be made about the year after that, when the franchise officially celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a beloved movie, two anniversary episodes and a whole host of affection press coverage.

"So, I've been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good."

“So, I’ve been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good.”

Nevertheless, it all seems to come down to 1994. That was the year that Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end. It was the only season of Star Trek overseen by Rick Berman to by nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Prime-Time Emmy Awards. It was the point at which the original Star Trek cast were retired, with William Shatner officially passing the torch to Patrick Stewart before a bridge fell on him in Star Trek: Generations. At the same time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in its second season. Star Trek: Voyager was ready to launch.

More importantly, that season of television represented the turning point for the franchise’s ratings. While The Next Generation actually experienced its highest viewing figures during its fourth and fifth seasons, the end of The Next Generation with its seventh season signaled a gradual erosion of the franchise’s viewing base. There are lots of reasons for this that have nothing to do with quality and more to do with the realities of network television, but this simple fact helps to solidify the feeling that the final season of The Next Generation was something of a golden age.

An Enterprising couple.

An Enterprising couple.

It could legitimately be argued that the Berman era was haunted by the spectre of 1994 for the longest of times. Ironically enough for a show set on a space station, Deep Space Nine managed to chart its own course only to end up isolated from the franchise around it. While Deep Space Nine would end up an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, the seven seasons of Voyager and the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise would find the franchise trapped within a phantom version of 1994 that seemed to last forever.

Enterprise finally escaped the long cold shadow of The Next Generation with the broadcast of The Expanse at the end of its second season. The final two seasons of Enterprise would find the show experimenting and innovating with new narrative forms and new approaches to the franchise. The third season of Enterprise finally allowed Brannon Braga to follow through on his original pitch for Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. The fourth season largely eschewed episodic plotting for multi-episode arcs excavating the canon.

"C'mon, you didn't think they'd let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?"

“C’mon, you didn’t think they’d let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?”

Perhaps that is why These Are the Voyages… is so shocking, beyond the myriad of minor complaints. These Are the Voyages… takes the franchise right back to 1994 as if the evolutionary leaps of the prior two seasons never took place. The episode invites the audience to wonder whether it might all be a dream, a fantasy playing out on the holodeck to help Riker pass the time. After all, the episode does not close in the twenty-second century with the decommissioning of Enterprise; the episode closes with Riker and Troi right back in 1994.

That is the true heartbreaking tragedy of These Are the Voyages… No matter how far the Berman era might come, it can never escape 1994.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Projections (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.

Projections is really the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager that feels like it is the right script coming from the right staff writer. At the start of the show’s first season, it seemed like writing assignments were handed out almost at random, with no real acknowledgement of the relative strength of any of the writers involved.

Brannon Braga is one of the best science-fiction high-concept writers in the history of franchise, but he was assigned the character-driven second episode Parallax and the issue-driven Emanations; Michael Piller’s personal strengths were always more firmly aligned with character development, so it felt strange to see him writing the time travel adventure Time and Again and the anomaly of the week in The Cloud.

All by myself...

All by myself…

Pushing the boundaries of a writing staff is something worth doing – forcing various members of the team to ease themselves out of their comfort zone – but it felt counter-productive to do this during the first season of a new Star Trek show. After all, the first season is about putting the best foot forward, and many of the early scripts for the show feel like they were handed to the wrong writers during the development process.

With Projections, it feels like Brannon Braga finally has a Voyager script that plays entirely to his strengths as a writer. It is arguably his most character-driven script on the franchise to date, but it also anchored in a pretty fascinating existential dilemma. In many respects, it is a spiritual companion to Frame of Mind, a sixth season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generationpreoccupied with questions about what reality actually might be.

Everything falls apart...

Everything falls apart…

Following on from Heroes and Demons, Projections is only the second episode of Voyager to focus on the character of the Doctor. However, much like Heroes and Demons, it demonstrates the versatility of the character and the range of the actor. Projections is a very clever script that relies on its central character to really carry it across the line. At this point in Voyager‘s run, Robert Picardo seems to be one of the few members of the ensemble who could really pull it off.

The result is one of the (if not the) strongest episode of the show’s first two seasons – somewhat appropriate, given the way the show straddles the gap between the first and second seasons.

He's not all there...

He’s not all there…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Cathexis (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.

Cathexis has a vaguely interesting premise, but it gets a little bit too caught up in science-fiction high concepts and New Age mysticism.

Once again, there’s a sense that the wrong writer has been assigned the wrong brief. The New Age spirituality elements of Chakotay’s character were largely championed by Michael Piller; the “romantic period mystery” story for Janeway clearly comes from Jeri Taylor. The only part of Cathexis that clearly comes from credited writer Brannon Braga is the somewhat generic Invasion of the Body Snatchers plot line – and, as such, it seems to be the only thread in which Braga is particularly interested.

So we get a bunch of half-hearted New Age stuff unfolding, with Chakotay’s wandering spirit represented by a camera with a blurry filter swooping through familiar sets. Once again, Chakotay’s Native American heritage becomes a launching pad for some ill-advised mysticism and exoticism, which Cathexis never even bothers trying to explain.

Frankly, I'm surprised Tuvok put up with this for so long...

Frankly, I’m surprised Tuvok put up with this for so long…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Heroes and Demons (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.

In many ways, Heroes and Demons is a watershed moment for Star Trek: Voyager. The two previous episodes, Prime Factors and State of Flux, may have been far from perfect, but they did at least hint at a direction for the show. They suggested that maybe Voyager might be interested in engaging in some of the big philosophical questions raised by the crew’s unique situation. Stranded seventy thousand light-years from home, the ship was cut off from the Federation. It was isolated and alone. That meant that tough choices at least had to be debated.

While neither Prime Factors nor State of Flux made for particularly exciting television, they were episodes that felt specific to Voyager in a way that a lot of the first season really doesn’t. Unfortunately, Heroes and Demons represents a step backwards. Far from telling a story specific to Star Trek: Voyager, this feels like a script that could easily have been recycled from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Can the Doctor hack it?

Can the Doctor hack it?

It’s written by veteran Next Generation writer Naren Shankar, who had also served on the staff of Deep Space Nine. He wrote Heroes and Demons as a freelancer, pitching the idea very early in the development cycle. Perhaps what is most remarkable is how little of Shankar’s script was adapted or edited from that first draft. In fact he described it to The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine as “the best experience I’ve ever had as a writer, in terms of writing something as a first draft and then seeing those exact words on screen.”

There’s a sense that Heroes and Demons is a fun story that could have really worked in any context, and doesn’t fit particularly well into the mould of Voyager‘s first season. This should be the year where Voyager is trying to find its own voice, rather than simply imitating that of its older siblings.

Only mostly armless...

Only mostly armless…

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