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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tacking Into the Wind (Review)

Tacking Into the Wind might just be the last truly great episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Of course, there are some very good episodes lying ahead. However, none of them hum as perfectly as Tacking Into the Wind does. The Dogs of War is fantastically constructed and does pretty much everything that a penultimate episode of a long running series needs to do, but it largely feels like a prelude episode to the grand finale. What You Leave Behind is a powerful and emotive piece of television, and an effective conclusion to seven years of storytelling, but it suffers from some pacing issues and some poor storytelling choices in its second half.

The end of an era.

However, Tacking Into the Wind is just brilliant. Deep Space Nine has produced more than its fair share of (relatively) standalone classic episodes: Duet, The WireThe Way of the Warrior, The Visitor, Trials and Tribble-ations, Far Beyond the Stars, In the Pale Moonlight. Even in the seventh season, there have been any number of episodes that work beautifully on their own terms: Treachery, Faith and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558, Chimera. Even those tied into larger arcs like the Dominion War still worked as relatively standalone units of story.

However, Tacking Into the Wind is brilliant in a way that is very particular to this moment of Deep Space Nine. Perhaps the closest companion pieces are episodes like Call to Arms or Sacrifice of Angels, episodes that work well enough on their own terms, but become transcendental when approached as the culmination of long-running story threads that pay off months of storytelling decisions. Taking Into the Wind takes this approach and escalates it further. Taking Into the Wind is the culmination of a narrative that has been brewing for the better part of a decade.

Surviving by the skin of his teeth.

Tacking Into the Wind is an episode that could never have worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. It is too dependent on lingering narrative threads, on long-running arcs, on a grand and sweeping (and ironic) view of history. Tacking Into the Wind ties up the fate of the Klingon Empire, an institution that has been in decline since Heart of Glory and rotting from the inside out since Sins of the Father. It parallels that with a fundamental underlying shift in the Cardassian society introduced in The Wounded.

Tacking Into the Wind is an episode that could only possibly work as the pay off to serialised storytelling, and which demonstrates the power of a good dramatic pay-off almost a decade in the making. In many ways, Tacking Into the Wind is the perfect episode for this so-called “Final Chapter”, the perfect distillation of everything that the creative team have been trying to do with this ten-part sprawling epic.

Cloak of office.

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Star Trek: Discovery – Battle at the Binary Stars (Review)

In some ways, Star Trek: Discovery will always be overshadowed by what might have been.

It is not the first Star Trek series to face this particular hurdle. Both Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise spent the majority of their runs in competition with phantom versions of themselves. Voyager was supposed to be a show about two rival crews, one a bunch of explorers and the other a group of terrorists, forced to work together when stranded alone on the other side of the galaxy. Enterprise was supposed to be a show about the building of the familiar Star Trek universe, a tale about how mankind got “from there to here”, to quote the theme music.

The great Star Trek Beyond.

Both series struggled to live up to that premise. Voyager abandoned any question of compromise and culture clash in Parallax, the very second episode of the series. For the rest of the show’s seven seasons, Captain Kathryn Janeway oversaw a fairly typical Starfleet crew on a fairly typical Star Trek mission, with rare nods to the original premise in episodes like Learning Curve, Alliances, Worst Case Scenario, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. Similarly, most of the first two seasons of Enterprise were stock Star Trek, even if the third and fourth seasons were a bit more ambitious.

In contrast, Discovery is competing against a slightly different shadow self. That shadow self appears in the opening credits of the show week after week, in the “created by” credit assigned to Bryan Fuller. Fuller departed early in the creative process of Discovery following disagreements with CBS, to the point that he identifies his most meaningful contributions to Discovery as Captain Philippa Georgiou and Commander Michael Burnham, one of whom is dead by the end of Battle at the Binary Stars.

No Khan do.

Indeed, Bryan Fuller’s contributions to Discovery really end with these two episodes. Fuller is credited on the script for The Vulcan Hello, along with producer Akiva Goldsman. Fuller is also credited with the story to Battle at the Binary Stars, even though the teleplay was written by replacement showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts. In some ways, then, it feels strangely appropriate that The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars serve as something of a self-contained prologue setting up the thirteen episodes that will follow.

The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars mark the end of Bryan Fuller’s short-lived Star Trek.

Empirical research.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Once More Unto the Breach (Review)

Once More Unto the Breach bids a fond farewell to Kor, the Star Trek franchise’s original Klingon.

To be fair, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had never been particularly shy about killing off recurring characters, with Enabran Tain dying in In Purgatory’s Shadow, Michael Eddington expiring in Blaze of Glory, and Tora Ziyal being murdered in Sacrifice of Angels. Contractual negotiations had guaranteed the death of Jadzia Dax in Tears of the Prophets. Certainly, Kor was not a major player in the larger fabric of the show when compared to these figures, having only previously appeared in Blood Oath and The Sword of Kahless.

The return of a Kor character.

However, there is a certain gravity to the character owing to the fact that he could trace his appearance all the way back to Errand of Mercy in the very first season of the franchise. Kor was very much the first Klingon, even if he was neither the first Klingon to appear on screen nor the first Klingon to truly resemble the modern template. Kor was a part of the franchise’s history, part of its context. John Colicos had a fairly significant impact on popular culture, but has particularly important to Star Trek.

There would be bigger deaths over the course of the seventh season. Actors who had been with the franchise for years would go out in a blaze of glory. Recurring guest stars would see their stories come to an end. Some of those endings would be happy, whereas others would be more ignoble. Nevertheless, there is a something powerful about the passing of Kor in Once More Unto the Breach. It feels very much like an ending.

No Country for Old Klingons.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Apocalypse Rising (Review)

Apocalypse Rising stands quite apart from the other Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season premieres.

Most obviously, it the only single-part season premiere across the entire seven seasons of Deep Space Nine. Emissary and Way of the Warrior were two-hour television movies. The Homecoming fed into the franchise’s first official three-part story. The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II were obviously a two-part episode, while Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols provided a two-part introduction to the seventh season. A Time to Stand segued directly into Rocks and Shoals while also setting up a six-episode arc.

The times, they are a-changeling...

The times, they are a-changeling…

This is not to suggest that Apocalypse Rising is a more typical Star Trek season premiere. It is not a continuation of Broken Link in the same way that The Best of Both Worlds, Part II is a direct continuation of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I or that Basics, Part II is a direct follow-on from Basics, Part I. While Apocalypse Rising does resolve a cliffhanger left dangling by Broken Link, that cliffhanger was only really set up in the final two minutes of the episode. Indeed, the cliffhanger dangling from Broken Link recalls the endings of The Jem’Hadar or The Adversary.

Apocalypse Rising is also notable for being the first season premiere that is not positioned as a jumping on point, that is not intended to either expand the scope of the show or recruit new viewers. One of the luxuries of avoiding the traditional cliffhanger structures to bridge seasons was the freedom to begin each season with a relatively clean slate and introduce new elements. The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II introduced the Defiant and retooled the show to focus on the Dominion. The Way of the Warrior brought Worf over and shifted emphasis to the Klingons.

Klingon to the status quo...

Klingon to the status quo

While Apocalypse Rising does represent a slight shift in the tone of the show, it is not a radical new departure. More than that, it leans rather heavily on the show’s established mythology and in some ways indicates a desire to get the show back on track following an extended detour into war with the Klingons during the fourth season. Apocalypse Rising confirms what was made clear during the fourth season of the show, that Deep Space Nine has eventually evolved into its final form. Apocalypse Rising is a show so comfortable with itself that there’s no need to reinvent.

Although a little cramped and rushed in places, Apocalypse Rising represents a strong start to a stellar season. It is an efficient and effective piece of television, one that demonstrates the clarity of focus driving the season that will follow.

Drinking games...

Drinking games…

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Star Trek (Gold Key) #61 – Operation Con Game (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Gold Key comics came a long way, in the end.

The early issues were full of errors and contradictions – feeling like Star Trek as described across a crowded bar, the broad strokes present but the details never synching up. Those early comics – much like James Blish’s novelisations – suggest a missing link between Star Trek and fifties science-fiction. The earliest issues offered a glimpse of Star Trek through a prism. However, the comics grew more professional (and more familiar with their source material) as they went along.

Beam me down, Scotty...

Beam me down, Scotty…

Indeed, the series attracted a number of notable writers and artists, including Len Wein. Wein would go on to write for the franchise when DC procured the license in the mid-eighties. More than that, it was clear that the writers and artists had begun to watch the show. There were none of the early mistakes that come from working with publicity materials and without context. Although the earliest issue of the comics achieved infamy among Star Trek fans, the book ran for over a decade – stumbling a bit close to traditional Star Trek values as it went along, even if it never quite abandoned its more absurd tendencies.

Operation Con Game is the last issue of Star Trek published by Gold Key, and serves as an example of how far the comics have come.

Disrupting that thought...

Disrupting that thought…

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Star Trek – Friday’s Child (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Errand of Mercy was a highlight of the first season. A wry script from producer Gene L. Coon introduced the Klingons as an antagonist for the Federation. Made up to look like space!Mongols, the Klingon Empire was presented as an imperial force hell-bent on expanding its sphere of influence. In case the parallels were a little too subtle, they were locked in a Cold War with the Federation. As such, they were the perfect stand-ins for Communist aggressors trying to undermine American foreign policy.

Of course, Errand of Mercy was brutally cynical in its depiction of the Federation. The episode suggested quite heavily that the Federation was just as imperialist and adversarial as the Klingons. They might couch their foreign policy in friendly language and polite overtures, but their end goals are quite similar. Smaller political entities are nothing but pieces shuffled around a board in a deadly game of chess. Errand of Mercy was not flattering in its portrayal of Kirk, presenting him as little more than a warmonger.

"Damn dirty Klingon!"

“Damn dirty Klingon!”

Errand of Mercy was a massive success. It remains a fan favourite to this day. In some respects, that is due to the introduction of the Klingons, but it is also an exceptional hour of scripted science fiction. So it makes sense that the show would return to the Klingons when it was renewed for a second season. Friday’s Child was the third episode produced during the second season, and returns to quite a few themes hit on by Errand of Mercy. Those themes would recur.

Friday’s Child demonstrates the obvious risks of an episode like Errand of Mercy. It’s an episode that essentially takes the “Klingons as space!Communists” seriously.

We come in peace...

We come in peace…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Sins of the Father (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Sins of the Father is another watershed moment for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek as a whole. It’s really the first time that the franchise has invested in proper long-form world-building, rather than treating continuity as something that occasionally built up by sheer narrative momentum. It’s an episode that ends on an ambiguous note, suggesting more to come. It’s also an episode that nails down a lot of Klingon culture and tradition.

In a way, it’s the logical conclusion of a narrative style that has been building since The Enemy and The Defector earlier in the season; creating a sense that The Next Generation isn’t just the story of the crazy adventures that or crew have week in and week out, but a window into a much larger fictional universe. There’s a sense that the adventures of the Enterprise are set against a much larger and vaster universe, and Sins of the Father really gives us a glimpse at that.

It broadens the scope of The Next Generation, in terms of subject matter and also in terms of narrative possibilities.

Picard gets his Palpatine on...

Picard gets his Palpatine on…

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