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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 – Bar Association (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.

The politics of Star Trek can occasionally be difficult to pin down.

There are obvious reasons for this, of course. Television is a collaborative medium, the result of lots of different creative voices. It is hard to argue that Star Trek has an consistent set of politics, because those creative voices have very different politics. Even on the original show, episodes like Errand of Mercy and The Omega Glory suggested that Gene L. Coon and Gene Roddenberry had very different perspectives on the Vietnam War. Certainly, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have very different viewpoints.

Don't beat yourself up, Quark...

Don’t beat yourself up, Quark. We have some Nausicaans to do it for you.

However, it is also the case that the franchise has always been quite careful when engaging with political discourse, particularly in the context of its nineties incarnation. The myth of Star Trek paints the show as progressive and liberal, but the truth is that the series rarely broke new ground in the nineties and into the new millennium. Episodes like Rejoined and Judgment were very much the exception rather than the rule, engaging with big political and social issues in a very clear manner. A lot of the time, the franchise played it fairly safe.

That is part of what makes Bar Association such an interesting episode of television. As with Rejoined, there is a sense that the Star Trek franchise should take the liberal politics of Bar Association for granted. After all, while there is some ambiguity as to exactly what form of economic theory is employed by the Federation, it certainly isn’t capitalism. However, it is interesting to hear the franchise (perhaps literally in this case) put its money where its mouth is, allowing a major character to quote Marx and Engels.

Strike while the bar is hot...

Strike while the bar is hot…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forgotten (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Forgotten opens with a funeral service.

It is nominally a service for the eighteen people who died in the Xindi attack. (The total was given as seventeen in Damage, but it is possible that Archer is counting the death of Fuller from Anomaly or that another crew member died in the interim from their wounds.) It is a nice illustration of just how strongly the final stretch of the third season embraces serialisation, with the episode’s teaser serving as a coda to the events of the previous two episodes. It is a nice, small touch that sets the mood for the episode ahead.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

However, it also seems like a very self-aware sequence. Archer is nominally talking about the death of eighteen characters, but he might as well be talking about the looming death of this iteration of the Star Trek franchise, or of the death of innocence that featured in Damage. “We’re in bad shape, I can’t deny that,” Archer tells his crew. He could just as easily be talking about the show, which seemed practically under siege at this point. “But we’re still in one piece. Enterprise is a tough ship. She took more than anyone could ask her to and then some.”

In many ways, the beating that the Enterprise took in Azati Prime reflects the beating that Star Trek: Enterprise had taken over its three year run: from a fandom hostile to the idea of a prequel and unsatisfied with an overly familiar storytelling structure; from a network that had changed hands during the first season of the show; from an eager Hollywood press that could smell blood in the water that had been ripely aged eighteen years; even from former allies like Majel Barrett, William Shatner and Ronald D. Moore.

Tripping over his emotional state...

Tripping over his emotional state…

The Forgotten is a story that is very consciously symbolic and metaphorical. It is also something of an oddity. In a way, it feels like a more successful version of what the show attempted with Harbinger, offering a light character-driven story falling between two bigger beats in the larger plot arc. With its fixation on sex and violence, Harbinger was goofy and pulpy in equal measure. In contrast, The Forgotten is an episode that is morose and sombre. It is an episode that very clearly articulates where the third season is going – and where it always has been going.

If Damage was a show about how Star Trek could easily get lost in a grim and gritty War on Terror metaphor, The Forgotten reveals that the third season was never about rationalisation or justification. The Forgotten is a show about how the Star Trek franchise needed to find a way back to its more traditional values.

A massive breach...

A massive breach…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Similitude (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It is hard to talk about Similitude without talking about Manny Coto.

It is quite easy to get distracted from the episode itself, which is a sublimely moving piece of working with skilled direction from LeVar Burton and a beautiful central performance from Connor Trinneer. More than that, Similitude is very much pure Star Trek. It is a metaphor about the human condition, wrapped up in a morality play fashioned from some admittedly questionable science-fiction. This good old-fashioned allegorical science-fiction in a style that really works, capitalising on the status quo of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise to tell a moving story.

Send in the clones...

Send in the clones…

And, yet, despite all that, this is the point at which Manny Coto arrives. Much like it is impossible to talk about The Bonding without talking about Ronald D. Moore, it is impossible to talk about Similitude without talking about Manny Coto. Coto arrived on the show fresh from Odyssey 5, and quickly made himself invaluable and essential. While his scripts were quite hit-and-miss on an episode-by-episode basis, Coto demonstrated an aptitude for producing television in general and Star Trek in particular.

Indeed, Coto managed to climb the franchise rungs faster than any producer and writer since Michael Piller in the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Piller had found himself running the show after Michael Wagner suddenly decided to step down only a few episodes into the season. Coto had a bit longer to get the lay of the land; he would have half of the third season to establish himself before being placed in charge of the writers’ room for the start of the show’s fourth year when Brannon Braga stepped back into a more supervisory role.

Genetically engineered engineer...

Genetically engineered engineer…

A number of factors helped to establish Coto as an almost mythical figure in Star Trek lore. The dramatic change in tone and style into the fourth year, which catered to a core group of Star Trek fans – including Coto himself – surely helped. The fact that Coto was succeeding Brannon Braga probably helped establish his credibility as well – a vocal section of fandom has complete disdain for Braga’s style. Despite the fact that Coto was only in charge for twenty-four episode, he made a surprisingly enduring contribution to the franchise as a whole.

Hindsight seems to suggest that Similitude was almost prophetic; it is the story of incredible growth and development over an incredibly short amount of time, making a deep and lasting impression.

Designer baby...

Designer baby…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – First Flight (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

First Flight is a prequel to a prequel.

First Flight unfolds before the events of Broken Bow, providing something of a belated origin story for Captain Jonathan Archer. The tail end of the second season feels like an odd place for such a story. The decision to air First Flight and Bounty as a double feature meant that First Flight premiered only a week before The Expanse, an episode that changed everything that fans thought they knew about Star Trek: Enterprise. Then again, perhaps this is the perfect place for an episode like this.

Ground Control to Commander Robinson... Ground Control to Commander Robinson...

Ground Control to Commander Robinson… Ground Control to Commander Robinson…

Much of the final stretch of the second season of Enterprise is introspective and reflective. The show seems aware that a big change is coming, and takes the opportunity of these last few episodes to look back on a classic model of Star Trek. Judgment puts Archer on trial; Cogenitor wonders whether old-fashioned Star Trek morality plays can still work in the twenty-first century; Regeneration finds the Borg lying among the (literal) wreckage of Star Trek: The Next Generation. First Flight opens with the death of Captain A.G. Robinson, a character we never met before.

More to the point, First Flight opens with the death of the man who was almost the captain of the Enterprise. On the cusp of a creative change in direction that effectively kills the show as it existed in the first two seasons, First Flight is pretty heavy on the symbolism.

... Take your protein pill and put your helmet on...

… Take your protein pill and put your helmet on…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – 11001001 (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

Maybe it’s just because I’m delirious coming out of Angel One, an episode that managed to make Datalore look almost reasonable by comparison, but I quite like 11001001. Part of that comes down to the fact that it’s one of the few episodes in this troubled first season that manages to take the restrictions imposed on the show by Roddenberry and make them work. It helps that the aliens of the week – the Bynars – are among the more interesting creatures to appear on the show so far. And it finally makes for a nice Riker episode, finding a way to team up Riker and Picard, a duo that haven’t spent enough time together at this point in the series.

Base, the final frontier...

Base, the final frontier…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Naked Now (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

I stand by my original observation that it was a smart idea to set Star Trek: The Next Generation a century after Star Trek. After all, Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek was over two decades old by the time that Encounter at Farpoint aired. Twenty years is a long time in entertainment – it can feel like a century. The world had changed since Star Trek appeared, and setting the story in a brand new world with strong (yet not strangling) ties to the beloved original series allowed the best of both worlds.

However, the problem with the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is that it doesn’t quite realise this yet. It’s busy trying to do “Star Trek”, even though times have changed. The Naked Now, the second episode of the series, is the perfect embodiment of this problem. Star Trek: The Next Generation should have been establishing its own identity, rather than trying to simply emulate its predecessor.

Flying off into the sunset…

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