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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – His Way (Review)

His Way doesn’t so much straddle the line between sweet and creepy as play hopscotch across it.

There is a lot to like about His Way. There is a palpable enthusiasm to the episode, a charm and energy that excuses the indulgence. After all, His Way uses the holosuite to create facsimile of sixties Las Vegas populated by a self-aware crooner who spends a solid chunk of the episode hitting swing band classics. It is a ridiculous set-up, yet one entirely in keeping with the interests of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Suited to the task…

Deep Space Nine never felt like it belonged in the nineties. It felt a much stronger connection to Star Trek than to Star Trek: The Next Generation, as evidenced by episodes like Crossover and Blood Oath. It built entire episodes around a classic Hollywood aesthetic, from the broad noir pastiche of Necessary Evil to the more specific plot references of Profit and Loss or Meridian. This is a television show that made repeated and extended references to Julian Bashir’s affection for James Bond in episodes like Our Man Bashir or A Simple Investigation.

There is a genuine warmth and affection that shines through His Way, something at radiates through the episode from Jay Chattaway’s lounge-tinged ambient soundtrack through to James Darren’s giddy performance. There is a sense that everybody involved in the episode is having such a good time that it would be churlish to begrudge them this small diversion. After all, Deep Space Nine is much closer to the end than to the beginning, and the production team have accomplished so much that they deserve an indulgence.

The hands-on approach.

At the same time, His Way has not aged particularly well. It is the episode that eventually gets Odo and Kira together, but it suffers from the problem affecting many of the episodes leading into the relationship. His Way is told almost exclusively from Odo’s perspective, reducing Kira to an object of fascination or desire. His Way invests a lot of energy in the idea that Odo can “win” Kira, but it never affords Kira any agency. This was okay in Crossfire, an episode explicitly about how unhealthy Odo’s unrequited and unexpressed obsession was. It works less well in His Way.

His Way plays almost like an episode about a pick-up artist, about that creepy subculture in which insecure and nerdy men effectively try to trick women into sleeping with them through a complicated series of performance pieces and psychological warfare. Rene Auberjonois and James Darren make a charming enough duo that the episode doesn’t tank outright, but His Way still feels decidedly creepy in its approach to the question of courtship.

Vic’s story is life.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night (Review)

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night once again brushes up against the limits of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is essentially two episodes wrapped up in one. Most basically, it is a character-driven melodrama that focuses on Kira and her relationship to her mother. Dark secrets are unearthed, and betrayals are revealed. Kira finds that she is much closer to Dukat than she once believed, and finds her own moral certainty tested as she confronts the reality of who her mother was and the compromises that she had to navigate in the context of the Cardassian Occupation. It is a bold and provocative episode, daring and unsettling.

Everybody has scars.

However, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is also trying to be an exploration of the kind of moral compromises necessary against the backdrop of the Cardassian Occupation, about the toll that such a horrific event inflicts upon a population. It is a tale of sexual slavery and brutality, about manipulation and abuse. It is a tale about power and violence, and how those aspects of an enemy occupation do not always manifest in brute force. This is story about the scars that such horrors leave. This is a clumsy episode, revealing the firm limits that exist within Deep Space Nine.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night does not work as well as it should, suggesting that there are some stories that Deep Space Nine simply cannot tell.

Screening her calls.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Darkness and the Light (Review)

The Darkness and the Light is the first television credit for writer Bryan Fuller.

There is no way around that. It puts a lot of emphasis on this fifth season episode, drawing a lot attention to the story. Fuller didn’t even write the script, instead pitching a story that would be developed by Ronald D. Moore. However, later in the fifth season, Fuller would pitch the story for Empok Nor. After that, he would be recruited on to the writing staff on Star Trek: Voyager. Then Fuller would begin developing his own shows. Dead Like Me. Wonderfalls. Pushing Daisies. Hannibal. American Gods. Star Trek: Discovery.

Face-off.

Face-off.

That naturally casts a shadow over his first television pitch, the premise sold to the writing staff of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even watching Fuller’s idea filtered through the lens of Ronald D. Moore, there is a strong urge to read too much into this forty-five-minute piece of television. How much of it represents Bryan Fuller’s vision of Star Trek? How have its themes and ideas resonated across the rest of the writer’s work? What insight might it offer into the producer’s vision for the future of the franchise?

A lesser episode would crumple under that weight. It helps that The Darkness and the Light is an ambitious and exciting piece of television, a triumph of concept and execution that stands as one of the most distinctive and memorable episodes in the fifty-year history of the franchise.

A time to heal.

A time to heal.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Shakaar (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.

There are really two versions of Shakaar.

There is the episode that Shakaar very clearly wants to be. It’s intended to offer Kira a bit of closure, following on from the events of Life Support. It’s very clearly meant to explore Kira’s grieving process and to allow her to come to terms with the loss she suffered. After all, the episode opens establishing that Kira still mourns Bareil, while the episode closes with Kira extinguishing the memorial candle she lit for him. (Which does invite the audience to wonder if it was burning the whole time she was on Bajor.)

Carrying a torch...

Carrying a torch…

As such, it makes sense to offer Kira an opportunity to get back to her roots – to suggest that Kira might secretly want to return to the relative simplicity of a rebel fighter resisting an oppressive government; fighting a war is a lot less complex than navigating the peace. Kira’s reunion with the Shakaar Resistance Cell is meant to offer her a way to escape into something comfortable, to avoid moving forward; because moving forward is tough and painful. Shakaar should be about Kira learning that she has to push forward. It should be a companion piece to Progress.

The episode can’t quite manage this. Instead, we end up with an episode about how Kira gets swept off her feet by a dashing hunk of a man – an episode that leaves the viewer with the unfortunate implication that Kira only needed to find another weirdly paternal man to help her get past the death of the man she loved. Shakaar is an episode with a host of interesting ideas, but isn’t quite sure how to best bring those ideas to the screen.

You Winn some, you lose some...

You Winn some, you lose some…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Second Skin (Review)

The 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.

Second Skin continues the identity and reality themes running through the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Search revealed that the Dominion is led by shape-changing aliens who can impersonate anybody, after our heroes spend an episode in a virtual reality. House of Quark stemmed from lies Quark told about himself, only to discover that Klingon culture is not what it claims to be. Equilibrium revealed that Dax held secrets even from herself, having a whole other life. Second Skin confronts Kira with the idea that she may be everything she hates.

The theme will continue in the episodes ahead. The Abandoned is a rather cynical meditation on the nature-against-nurture debate. Civil Defense involves the Deep Space Nine crew discovering that the station itself is not as safe as they like to think. Meridian involves a subplot about Kira’s right to control her own body. Defiant is built around a crisis of identity for a doppelganger. Past Tense features Sisko stepping into the identity of a historical figure. And so it continues. Things are not what they appear to be; the truths we take for granted are not true.

Rewatching this first block of Deep Space Nine‘s third season, it’s amazing how cynical the show could be.

Face of the enemy...

Face of the enemy…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Fearful Symmetry by Olivia Woods (Review)

The 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.

Fearful Symmetry had a long and painful history. The novel was originally scheduled for release April 2007. This would have seen the novel published about a year after the release of the previous Star Trek: Deep Space Nine relaunch novel, Warpath. The plan had been for new author Leanna Morrow to write the novel. When that proved impossible, Olivia Wood stepped in to rescue the assignment. Fearful Symmetry was eventually published in June 2008, over a year behind the initial schedule.

It’s interesting to speculate how that delay affected the Deep Space Nine relaunch. The next novel in the series, The Soul Key, would be the last published before the print Star Trek universe realigned as part of the Typhon Pact and The Fall, very much “event” books that served to relaunch the fictional universe. It is interesting to speculate whether the year between Warpath and Fearful Symmetry contributed to the decision to discontinue that particular iteration of the Deep Space Nine relaunch.

Still, whatever the reason, Fearful Symmetry is more interesting than successful. It is a book written with a number of great ideas, but some very flawed execution. It adopts a very “comic book” approach towards the Star Trek universe – featuring high concepts and crossovers and character who have been exaggerated slightly and distorted so as to fit the general perception of them rather than any consistent internal characterisation.

Fearful Symmetry is a bold and ambitious piece of work, particularly from a first time novelist. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite as well as it needs to.

ds9-fearfulsymmetry

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tribunal (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.

Tribunal is probably the weakest episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in quite some time, hampered by the fact that it never seems too ambitious and the fact that the episode ends because we’re three minutes away from the closing credits rather than because it feels like the story has been told. Tribunal is hardly the deepest or most sophisticated episode of the show’s second season, spending most of its time riffing on Kafka and Orwell, but it’s still solidly entertaining – a rare example of black comedy on Star Trek that works surprisingly well.

I suspect the biggest problem with Tribunal is where it’s placed. The second season of Deep Space Nine has been hitting it out of the park since around Blood Oath, giving us the strongest run of episodes we’d see until the start of the fourth season. Indeed, had the show found its groove a little bit earlier, the second season of Deep Space Nine could have been on par with the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation as “that season the show found its groove.”

However, it remains an impressive run of episodes, a rallying of the show in the last third of the season, showing just what Deep Space Nine was capable of. Most of the episodes in that run felt very different from anything done on The Next Generation and most offered some major insight into how the world of Deep Space Nine works as distinct from the rest of the franchise.

A broad cast of characters...

A broad cast of characters…

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