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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – You Are Cordially Invited… (Review)

You Are Cordially Invited… is very much a breather episode.

After all, that introductory six-episode arc was exhausting. It was breathtaking in its scope and ambition, a sketch of life during wartime that spanned light-years and divided the cast for half a dozen episodes. It makes sense that You Are Cordially Invited…, the first episode to feature the crew reunited on Deep Space Nine, would attempt to strike a lighter tone. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might be crafting a long-form war story, but that does not mean that the show is abandoning its warmth and humanity.

Their first argument.

Their first argument.

Indeed, You Are Cordially Invited… makes a great of sense from a structural perspective. There is an obvious impulse to contrast the show’s darker moments with lighter touches. In the Cards was an endearing comedy about the interconnected lives on the station, airing right before the show scattered those lives in Call to Arms. More than that, Call to Arms featured the wedding of Rom and Leeta as a prelude to the Dominion invasion. Following up the occupation arc with a comedy about the wedding of Worf and Dax adds a sense of symmetry to it all.

You Are Cordially Invited… might not be the strongest comedy episode in the run of Deep Space Nine, suffering a little bit from being overly conventional and entirely predictable, but it does have an infectious sense of enthusiasm that works well in contrast to the high intergalactic stakes of the previous seven episodes.

Relight my fire...

Relight my fire…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Behind the Lines (Review)

Behind the Lines is an exemplary demonstration of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s embrace of serialisation.

More than any other episode in the opening arc of the sixth season, Behind the Lines is an episode that exists in relation to the other episodes around it more than a self-contained unit of narrative. A Time to Stand set the tone for the final two seasons of the show, but its also featured a daring raid on a Dominion facility. Rocks and Shoals was about a ground conflict between Sisko and a Jem’Hadar platoon. Sons and Daughters was about Worf’s long-neglected relationship to Alexander. Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels are an ambitious two-part finale.

Meldmerising...

Meldmerising…

In contrast, Behind the Lines is very much about taking what has already been established and streamlining it in preparation for the bombastic conclusion to this story. Behind the Lines is the episode in which Kira uses her “new resistance” formed in Rocks and Shoals to actually do something, in which Damar finally figures out how to dismantle the minefield that went up in Call to Arms, and in which Odo betrays his friends and colleagues in pursuit of his own gratification. More than any of the episodes around it, Behind the Lines cannot really stand in isolation.

However, it is also a stunningly brilliant piece of storytelling and a reminder of just how skilfully the writing staff on Deep Space Nine had adapted to the demands of serialisation.

Terror cell.

Terror cell.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Children of Time (Review)

Time is the fire in which we burn.

Children of Time comes towards the end of the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary season. By all accounts, the thirtieth anniversary season had been a resounding success. Star Trek: First Contact managed to please audiences and critics with a journey back to the beginning of the Star Trek universe. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine offered a crowd-pleasing homage to The Trouble With Tribbles in Trials and Tribble-ations. Even Star Trek: Voyager got in on the act with Flashback, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II.

More than that, the franchise was thriving by just about any measure. Three casts were active simultaneously; two casts on television and one in cinemas. The thirtieth anniversary had garnered incredible media attention and had helped to remind audiences that the franchise was still chugging along a decade after its resurrection. To many observers, it appeared that the Star Trek had been resurrected. Against all odds, the television show that had been cancelled by NBC after only three seasons seemed to have been granted a form of immortality.

Walking into the sunset.

Walking into the sunset.

However, things were not as rosy behind the scenes. In fact, the franchise had been underperforming since the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The ratings would not become a real problem until the launch of Star Trek: Enterprise, but there were early signs that the franchise was in decline. Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager underwent cast revisions in their fourth seasons to try to solidify the ratings. Deep Space Nine got to keep its existing cast and add one new face, while Voyager had to fire one cast member to make room for the newest player.

Children of Time feels very much like a meditation and contemplation upon the theme of legacy, asking the characters on Deep Space Nine to wonder what they might leave behind.

Shocking.

Shocking.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Ties of Blood and Water (Review)

Ties of Blood and Water is a phenomenal piece of television, and a great example of the strengths of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It is an episode that is tied to the personal and the political, a thriller about great powers squaring off against one another set against the more intimate story of a woman nursing her surrogate father in the final hours of his life. Ties of Blood and Water is both intimate and epic, never sacrificing one for the other. Its larger political story beats feel entirely in keeping with the demands of the larger shared universe, but it never loses sight of the story’s emotional centre. There is a very personal aspect to this tale, one firmly grounded in the characters and their relationships.

The ties that bind.

The ties that bind.

Ties of Blood and Water focuses on Tekeny Ghemor, the Cardassian Legate featured in Second Skin. There, he was convinced that Kira was his daughter who had been sent to infiltrate the Shakaar Resistance. In Ties of Blood and Water, Ghemor returns to the station as the relationship turns a full circle. In Second Skin, Kira Nerys had been a surrogate daughter to Ghemor, standing in for the lost Iliana. In Ties of Blood and Water, Ghemor finds himself cast as a surrogate father to Kira, providing her with a means to work through the loss of her biological father.

Ties of Blood and Water has a certain poetry to it, extending beyond the memorable title.

Greener pastures.

Greener pastures.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Begotten (Review)

From a mechanical perspective, The Begotten is very much about clearing up the leftover pieces from the first half of the season before the second half can really begin.

Watching the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the benefit of hindsight demonstrates just how carefully the production team have paced the season. The fifth season clearly turns on a number of different points, pivoting over In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light in the middle of the year. However, a lot of the first half of the season can be seen as a build to that two-parter. The production team are very consciously lining up the remaining dominoes for that big plot development.

A life in his hands.

A life in his hands.

The most obvious example is the prophecy of Rapture, which foreshadows the events of both By Inferno’s Light and A Call to Arms while keeping Bajor neutral for what is to come. But there are others. Apocalypse Rising folds the Klingon War into the looming battle with the Dominion. The Ship and … Nor the Battle to the Strong are proofs of concept for a Star Trek series about war. Things Past and The Darkness and the Light keep the Cardassian Occupation fresh in the viewers’ mind. The Ascent is a story that could only work while Odo is humanoid.

There is a clear purpose to most of the storytelling decisions made during this stretch of the season, designed to streamline what is to come. The Begotten takes care of two rather major plot points that need to be addressed; Odo’s status as a humanoid following Broken Link and Kira’s surrogate pregnancy from Body Parts. Sure, For the Uniform sits between this episode and the big mid-season twist, providing the opportunity to do one last Maquis story before the political board is reset. But that feels almost like an afterthought.

Soaking it in.

Soaking it in.

The Begotten dedicates itself to wrapping up the two biggest plot elements hanging over from the end of the fourth season, closing that chapter of the show before a new one is opened. There is a certain functional quality to The Begotten, a utilitarian approach to plotting. It would be very easy for The Begotten to feel stale or trite, contrived or obligatory. It is to the credit of writer René Echevarria that The Begotten never feels forced. The subplot focusing on Kira’s birth has a number of very serious issues, but the primary plot driven by Odo is genuinely affecting.

It is a testament to the writers working on Deep Space Nine that even the act of decluttering the long-form narrative can lead to affecting television.

Free as a bird.

Free as a bird.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Crossfire (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.

In many ways, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has aged remarkably well.

Episodes like Homefront and Paradise Lost arguably have greater resonance now than they did on initial broadcast, their commentary on state authority and the erosion of civil liberties packing more punch during the War on Terror than it did during the long nineties. The Way of the Warrior even invites comparison to the invasion of Iraq, despite the fact that the episode aired eight years before the invasion took place. In many respects, Deep Space Nine has aged considerably better than its siblings.

Odo's attempts at redecorating were not going well...

Odo’s attempts at redecorating were not going well…

On the other hand, there are some aspects that have not aged particularly well. There are certain elements of Deep Space Nine that feel ill-judged or ill-advised in hindsight; for example, the thinly-veiled (and awkward) racial politics inherent in the exploration of the Jem’Hadar in The Abandoned. The relationship between Odo and Kira is another such example, the show’s central “will they?”/“won’t they?” dynamic seeded in Necessary Evil and brought to fruition in Heart of Stone.

Taken on its own merits, Crossfire is a spectacular piece of television. It is skilfully written and directed, with a superb central performance from Rene Auberjonois as Odo. The plot of the episode seems to focus on Odo working through his long-simmering crush on Kira, suffering a near breakdown and eventually deciding to work through it. It is, in many ways, the best possible story that could be told using the relationship. However, the problem is that Crossfire is not the end of this particular thread. It is just a hurdle for Odo to pass.

Quark serves some unpalatable truths...

Quark serves some unpalatable truths…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Starship Down (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.

It is surprising that the Star Trek franchise has not done more “disaster” episodes, given the science-fiction setting and the occasional budget overruns that make a simple and effective bottle show all the more effective.

Starship Down is not the first time that the franchise has attempted to emulate the classic disaster film formula. Star Trek: The Next Generation had produced an episode (called Disaster, appropriately enough), which used many of the classic disaster movie tropes to explore various cast dynamics. Starship Down is arguably structured more like a submarine thriller than a disaster film, but the point of comparison still stands. There are conflicts over command styles, characters caught in lifts, high stakes and higher tension.

"Hanok, would you care to assist me in performing surgery on a photon torpedo?"

“Hanok, would you care to assist me in performing surgery on a photon torpedo?”

It is interesting to compare Starship Down to Disaster, if only as a point of comparison between the two shows in question. In many ways, the contrast serves to highlight the difference between the respective shows and their ensembles. In Disaster, the show was careful to give every combination of the cast something to accomplish. Picard and kids escape the turbolift; Geordi and Beverly vent the containers; Riker and Data’s head have excellent adventures; Worf delivers Molly.

In contrast, the character combinations in Starship Down are less goal-orientated. Worf and O’Brien defeat the Jem’Hadar while Quark and Hanok disarm a torpedo. However, Kira simply tries to keep Sisko awake while reflecting on their relationship and Bashir and Dax huddle together in a turbolift waiting for their oxygen to run out. There is a sense that Starship Down is much more interested in its character dynamics than it is a sense of narrative momentum or objective-orientated storytelling.

"Thank goodness only the LED's were affected."

“Thank goodness only the LED’s were affected.”

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