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

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise. but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people.

– Benjamin Sisko, The Maquis, Part II

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is contentious.

Writer Ronald D. Moore has talked about the franchise as the bastard stepchild of the Star Trek franchise. Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Marina Sirtis has described it as little more than a hotel in space and not worthy of the franchise name. While the show was still on the air, Majel Barrett Roddenberry took the time to write a public letter denounced the show and its perceived connection to her husband’s legacy. This argument rages on-line even today, as fans argue about the series’ legacy and its place in the broader canon.

The charges against Deep Space Nine are clear. It is generally regarded as the most cynical of Star Trek spin-off shows, the series most likely to question and interrogate the underlying assumptions of the Star Trek universe. Deep Space Nine was the series that introduced and developed the Maquis, terrorists who splintered off from Starfleet. Deep Space Nine introduced the concept of Section 31, and the idea that Starfleet might be dangerous if left to its own devices. Deep Space Nine devoted its final two seasons to a war arc, a rejection of Roddenberry’s utopia.

However, these arguments are all based upon awkward presuppositions that reveal a lot about the assumptions of Star Trek fandom, and which tend to miss the forest for the trees. Deep Space Nine is a deeply humanist and optimistic piece of television, one has a great deal of faith in its cast and in people. As wary as Deep Space Nine might be about institutions and authority, Deep Space Nine fundamentally believes that people are good and that it is possible to peacefully coexist. The show simply acknowledges that this takes work, but believes it can happen.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Prey (Review)

Prey is a fantastic piece of television, and stands as one of the best standalone episodes of the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

It is an episode built around a very simple premise, pitting two of Voyager‘s more memorable alien creations against one another and throwing a nice character arc into the midst of this epic conflict. Prey is an exciting thriller built around the established characteristics of both the Hirogen and Species 8472, using two very distinctive cultures to tell a compelling and engaging story with the regular cast thrown into the fray. “Lone Hirogen hunter pursues lost member of Species 8472” is a great hook for an episode.

Here come the big guns.

However, Prey goes even further than that. The basic plot is intriguing on its own terms, but Prey cleverly grounds the story in what we know about these characters and their dynamic. As much as Voyager is caught in the crossfire of this horrific situation, the crew are also forced to make tough decisions. How will Janeway react to a wounded member of a hostile (and nigh-invulnerable) species? How will Seven of Nine respond when asked to save the life of a creature that participated in a brutal war with the Borg Collective?

This is intriguing stuff, largely anchored in what the audience already knows of the characters and delivered with top-notch production values and a great sense of pacing. Prey is an episode that plays to all the strengths of the fourth season, from the appeal of the Hirogen and Species 8472 through to the chemistry between Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan.

There’ll be hull to pay.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Q and the Grey (Review)

The Q and the Grey is an extraordinary cynical piece of work.

What better way to mark the release of Star Trek: First Contact into cinemas than to ensure that the very next episode of Star Trek: Voyager to broadcast features a guest appearance from one of the most beloved recurring characters to have appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation? After all, the series had just led into the release of the movie with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II providing a mid-nineties reimagining of the beloved Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Pitching Q.

Pitching Q.

More than that, with Michael Piller gone from the writers’ room, the production staff had laid out a vision for the future of Voyager. The series effectively jettisoned any number of ideas that Piller had fostered over the first two seasons, from tension between Starfleet and the Maquis to the Kazon to Lon Suder to the idea of long-form storytelling to the relationship between Neelix and Kes. Instead, Voyager had decided to pitch itself as the most generic Star Trek ever, with little reference to the central premise of the series from here on out.

Indeed, The Q and the Grey is the second story in a very short space of time to make light of the crew’s journey home by refusing to press a more powerful guest star for assistance. In Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, the ship’s temporally displaced return to Earth was shrugged with only a few lines of dialogue used to explain why this trip halfway across the galaxy could not be exploited to shorten their journey home. In The Q and the Grey, Janeway declines Q’s offer of assistance to get the crew home.

Bold-faced liar.

Bold-faced liar.

“My crew and I will get home,” Janeway informs Q. “We’re committed to that. But we’re going to do it through hard work and determination. We are not looking for a quick fix.” It is effectively the “building character” excuse for why Janeway doesn’t simply ask Q to return the ship home at the end of the story when the dust settles; nobody actually knows why that is, but it is probably best to offer some moral argument. The fact the Q could easily return the ship home, saving the lives of those who will die in the years ahead, is glossed over.

However, that does not matter, because Voyager has largely rejected its central premise. This no longer a series about a crew desperately longing to get home, except when it provides a convenient motivation. This is a Star Trek spin-off that is content to offer reheated leftovers inherited from The Next Generation. In this case, The Q and the Grey feels like a retread of Q Pid, a particularly uninspiring Next Generation episode. Next, Macrocosm will offer its own take on Genesis, another less than iconic Next Generation story.

And your little dog, too.

And your little dog, too.

All of this is building, to Voyager‘s most blatant and obvious inheritance from The Next Generation. The Borg are coming to Voyager, in greater numbers and higher concentration than they ever appeared on The Next Generation, as the show continues awkwardly trying on its older sibling’s clothes. It is disappointing and uninspiring by equal measure, watching Voyager abandon any pretence of its own identity in favour of something safer and more familiar. Then again, this was always a Star Trek show about longing for the comforts of home.

However, The Q and the Grey is not merely unoriginal and uninspired, it is also unfortunate. Kenneth Biller’s script is cringe-inducing and embarrassing, illogical and misogynistic. The biggest issue with The Q and the Grey is not that Voyager has settled for offering a pale imitation of The Next Generation. The problem is that that the imitation is downright terrible in its own right.

It fingers.

It fingers.

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Star Trek – The Empath (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.

Like Is There in Truth No Beauty? before it, The Empath is very much “weird big ideas” version of Star Trek.

It is a simple story, as Kirk and his away team visit a planet in a star system about to go nova. It deals with fairly universal themes, like compassion and humanity. There are stakes, there are aliens, there is a test of worthiness. In many ways, The Empath is a quintessential Star Trek episode, one of those classic “humanity proves their worth to a powerful alien species” narratives in the style of Arena or Spectre of the Gun. The biggest deviation from that template is the fact that it is not humanity on trial; it is an unknown species represented by an anonymous mute.

The triumvirate triumphant.

The triumvirate triumphant.

However, The Empath works in large part due to this simplicity. There is an elegance to the story, one that distils a lot of core Star Trek ideals down to their very essence. The Empath is very much a “humans are special” story, in the vein of episodes like Lonely Among Us or The Last Outpost. However, it works better than most of these stories because it hits on a very strong core idea. The Empath suggests that what makes humanity special is not necessarily unique or intrinsic or intangible. According to The Empath, what makes humanity special is pretty basic.

As the title implies, humanity’s greatest virtue might be its empathy or its compassion.

Shirtless Shat.

Although humanity also offers “Shirtless Shat.”

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