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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 – Tears of the Prophets (Review)

Tears of the Prophets has a number of very good ideas.

The character arc driving the episode is very good, particularly in the context of a finale leading into the final season of the show. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has always been a show more interested in character arcs and long-form storytelling than the other Star Trek shows, so “Benjamin Sisko experiences a loss so great that he resigns his commission” is an organic story beat. It feels like a story that the writers on this show can tell, and a story that fits very comfortably within the grand mythic framework that the writers are trying to construct.

All fired up.

Deep Space Nine has earned a lot of goodwill in this regard, demonstrating a willingness to let stories play out over extended periods and to follow stories through to their natural conclusion. Sisko leaving the station at the end of Tears of the Prophets is not the same as Picard being assimilated at the end of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I or Worf leaving the Enterprise at the end of Redemption, Part I. Any savvy audience member knows that Sisko will return to his post, probably sooner rather than later, but they also trust the show to treat it as more than just a striking cliffhanger.

Unfortunately, Tears of the Prophets is compromised by a number of very poor ideas. Some of those ideas did not originate with the writing staff, their hands forced by outside factors. Ira Steven Behr’s original plans for Tears of the Prophets did not include the death of Jadzia Dax, but the writers had to incorporate that plot element rather late in the cycle. Of course, this does not excuse some of the poor decisions made in how the writers chose to handle that unforeseen plot element, although that was also a result of a number of outside factors.

So Jad to zia you.

However, Tears of the Prophets also leans into some of the more frustrating creative decisions of the sixth season as a whole. The script doubles down on some of the least satisfying elements of Deep Space Nine‘s long-form storytelling, even combining several of these frustrating beats into a central narrative strand of the season finale. Tears of the Prophets combines the generic cartoon villainy of Gul Dukat as suggested at the climax of Waltz and the teaser to Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night with the stock mysticism of the Pah-Wraiths from The Reckoning for a heady ill-judged cocktail.

The result is a somewhat uneven episode, a story with a very strong central character arc that plays to the strengths of the show, but with several supporting elements that indulge the series’ worst impulses.

Funeral for a friend.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rejoined (Review)

This February and March, 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 Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

For a show that is supposedly about an enlightened and utopian future, Star Trek really doesn’t have the best record when it comes to gay rights.

Many fans laud the work that the franchise did in popularising the Civil Rights anxieties of the sixties, offering memorable and distinctive parables and the futility of racism while offering one of the first interracial kisses to air on national television. Fans of the franchise are quick to celebrate these triumphs as an example of Star Trek holding up a mirror to contemporary society and championing the causes of equality and social justice. It is part of the mythmaking that Gene Roddenberry baked into the foundation of the Star Trek legend.

A Trill alone...

A Trill alone…

Of course, the reality is more complicated. As important as it was to have a racially diverse crew on the bridge of the classic Enterprise, that idea came from the studio rather than Roddenberry. The show defended and vindicated the Vietnam War just as often as it criticised and opposed it. The interracial kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren might had more meaning if it weren’t an example of telepathic mindrape by sadistic aliens, or if it had aired before I, Spy had broadcast its own interracial kiss.

As much as fans like to believe Star Trek is progressive and enlightened, the franchise does not have as strong a track record as its advocates would contest. This is particularly true of the depiction of homosexuality in Star Trek. In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, David Gerrold’s script for Blood and Fire was scrapped. Richard Arnold claimed that it was because the script was terrible; but this was the same season that produced The Last Outpost, Angel One and The Neutral Zone. It seems “terrible” is a relative term.

Kiss me.

Kiss me.

There were other examples. During production of The Offspring, there are accounts of David Livingston sprinting down to the sets to stop a shot of a same-sex couple holding hands making it into the episode. When the show finally decided to do an allegory for homosexuality, it was careful to cast a female performer in the role of Riker’s love interest to be sure that the audience did not get the wrong idea. The mirror universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are populated with gay stereotypes and clichés.

No matter how alien the creatures in Star Trek might get, sexuality tends towards heterosexual. In Metamorphosis, Kirk and Spock only realise that the Companion is attracted to Cochrane once they deduce the creature’s gender. Odo’s pseudo-sexual relationship with other Founders is typically expressed in relation to the character known as the Female Changeling. (Chimera does try to fix this.) Although there have been allusions to Andorian marriages featuring four partners, Star Trek: Enterprise presents the relationships as decidedly normative.

Take a bow!

Take a bow!

What little queer content exists seems to have slipped in under the radar. There is a decidedly homoerotic undertone to Amok Time. In The Offspring, Data allows Lal to assign her own gender and Whoopi Goldberg defined kissing as something that happens when “two people” (rather than “a man and a woman”) fall in love. In Rules of Acquisition, Jadzia Dax suspected that Quark’s newest employee had a crush on the rogue trader; Dax was just surprised to discover that the waiter in question was a woman in disguise who was trying to subvert the Ferengi patriarchy.

All of this serves to make Rejoined the most successful Star Trek episode to deal with the topic of homosexuality. This is not to argue that Rejoined is perfect or flawless. It is a science fiction show that aired in 1995, and there are some uncomfortable subtexts to the whole story. At the same time, its heart is in the right place. Rejoined is a beautiful piece of work, because it represents a rare example of the franchise trying to live up to its own publicity. In doing so, it serves to emphasise how frequently (and easily) the property has allowed itself to fall short.

Just Trilled to be there...

Just Trilled to be there…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Facets (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.

Facets in more than a little muddled. It’s an episode that is all over the place. It’s a script that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, leaning in one direction and then another. The episode’s big plot point isn’t dropped until half-way through, and there are any number of points where the script offers a feint towards a plot that never quite develops. As befitting a story called Facets, this is an episode with quite a few different (and often conflicting) sides.

It’s a disjointed little story, and perhaps an effective demonstration of just how much trouble the producers were having with Dax as a character. And yet, despite all this, Facets works surprisingly well. This is likely down to the fact that – like Playing God and arguably Blood Oath before it – it feels like a Dax story that is as interested in the character as it is in the concept.

A little piece of herself...

A little piece of herself…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Lives of Dax: The Music Between the Notes (Curzon) by Steven Barnes

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.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine struggled with the character of Dax on-and-off for the first three years. Terry Farrell found herself at the centre of interesting character-driven stories with Playing God and Facets, but the show tended to treat the Dax symbiont as a macguffin that just happened to be inside Jadzia. Episodes like Dax, Invasive Procedures and Equilibrium tended to marginalise Jadzia so that the symbiont itself could be pushed to the centre of a story driven by other members of the ensemble.

However, Dax is a character with absolutely phenomenal potential. There is something absolutely fascinating idea of a creature that has lived for centuries, and seen generations of history unfold within its lifetime.The symbiont has witnessed countless changes and pivotal moments. Dax has seen civilisations fall and alliances form; Dax has seen old enemies become true friends, and watched civilisations reach out into the cosmos.

The realities of a seven-season television show mean that Deep Space Nine never really got to explore the fact that Dax was living history. Perhaps Blood Oath and Trials and Tribble-ations come closest, using Dax as a rather logical bridge spanning almost a century of continuity. One of the joys of the Star Trek universe is how expansive and how limitless it is. Infinite diversity and all that. While even Dax cannot have seen everything, Deep Space Nine never felt like it captured the sense of Dax as living history.

At its best, Pocket Books’ The Lives of Dax anthology captures this sense of change and movement. The books spans the width and breadth of the Star Trek franchise, as lived through the life of one single organism. It is beautiful.

ds9-thelivesofdax1 Continue reading

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Playing God (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

Playing God is – structurally – quite similar to Shadowplay. The episode follows the same basic format. We have three plots running concurrently. One of these plots is a science-fiction plot while the other two are centred around character development. What’s interesting about Playing God is that the script essentially changes the priority of these plot threads. In Shadowplay, the central plot concerned the science-fiction mystery in the Gamma Quadrant, while here the ethical quandary is pushed firmly to the background. (Much to the chagrin of writer Jim Trombetta.)

Instead, Playing God brings the character plotline to the front, giving us the first Dax-centric episode firmly based around Jadzia rather than the symbiote inside of her.

Quark smells a rat... er... I mean vole...

Quark smells a rat… er… I mean vole…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rules of Acquisition (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

The Nagus was a surprising high-point of the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It represented a conscious effort to rehabilitate and reappraise the Ferengi, the aliens introduced as potentially major adversaries in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, only to wind up as mostly unfunny comic relief. The Nagus dared to suggest that the Ferengi might not be the monsters the Federation considers them to be, suggesting that their culture – while different – was no less worthy of respect or consideration than that of the Klingons.

Rules of Acquisition is a clear follow-up, right down to the way that it includes Grand Nagus Zek. However, it’s nowhere near as charming and successful as The Nagus, because it feels like it’s just treading water. It teases potential developments down the line, but the story seems locked in a familiar holding pattern – right down to the rather convenient ending that inevitably sees Quark snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

It’s not quite a bad episode, certainly not on the scale of the colossal misfire that was Melora, but it’s also not a particularly good one.

Nothing to see here...

Nothing to see here…

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