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René Auberjonois

René Auberjonois passed away at the weekend.

Auberjonois was a tremendously prolific and talented performer. Indeed, one of the most striking things about his passing has been the sheer diversity among his fans. It seems like everybody has a different memory of Auberjonois, a different role with which they associate him. Some people remember him from M*A*S*H, some people remember him from Benson, others associate him with cult roles like King Kong. However, it seems like everybody remembered Auberjonois in one form or another.

I have a long and deep attachment to Auberjonois. He was an accomplished voice actor, and I knew him well from various cartoons that I would have watched as a child and even beyond that; Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid, Flanagan in Cats Don’t Dance, his vocal turns in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the part that I most associate with Auberjonois is his work as Constable Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is a performance with which I grew up and to which I have frequently returned.

It is a performance which has seemed richer every time that I have watched, a fantastic demonstration of the actor’s talent.

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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 5, Episode 9 (“The Ascent”)

I was thrilled to be asked back to join The Pensky Podcast to discuss Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, particularly as they hit the fifth season, which may well be the best season of Star Trek ever produced. So, no pressure talking about The Ascent, then.

Wes had a family emergency to take care of, so I joined Clay to discuss this mid-season double-buddy comedy episode in which Odo and Quark find themselves stranded on a hostile alien world while Nog and Jake discover that life as roommates is less than ideal. It’s a fun, broad discussion. We cover everything from the writers’ tendency to use subplots lifted directly from sitcoms to flesh out supporting characters through to debates about stakes in modern mass media, as well as the shift away from the twenty-odd episode season that has squeezed out episodes like The Ascent. It was great fun, and I hope you enjoy listening. I’ll let you decide which one of us is Quark and which one of us is Odo.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 21 (“The Die is Cast”)

Following on from my look at Improbable Cause with Wes and Clay, I return to The Pensky Podcast to take a look at the unlikely second part of the two-part story.

We talk about “epic” storytelling on Star Trek, and the shifting of focus away from the Federation, as well as the internal politics of the Cardassians and the Romulans. We also talk about the unique strand of liberal humanism that runs through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the tragedy of so many of its alien characters who unable to ever go home again.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 20 (“Improbable Cause”)

I had great fun talking about Defiant with Wes and Clay at The Pensky Podcast.

So I was thrilled by invited back to talk over one of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the guys, the late third season two-parter Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast. It’s a brilliant story, in large part because (unlike a lot of Star Trek two-parters) it is very clearly two different stories that happen to neatly dove-tail into one another.

Improbable Cause is a fascinating character study of Elim Garak, following a botched attempt on his life that suggests more powerful forces at work. As Odo investigates the bombing of Garak’s shop, he gradually uncovers evidence of a much larger scheme. It was a pleasure to record, and I’ll be back next week covering the conclusion, The Die is Cast.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Chimera (Review)

Chimera is a welcome return to form for the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, following an underwhelming run of episodes from Prodigal Daughter through The Emperor’s New Cloak and into Field of Fire.

It is another example of how storytelling real estate in the seventh season is at a premium, the production team understanding that their remaining time is finite and that there are a number of key plot and character beats that the show needs to hit before it can begin the massive final arc that will run from Penumbra through to What You Leave Behind. As such, Chimera has a very clear purpose in the overall arc of the seventh season. As with Treachery, Faith and the Great River, this is an episode designed to clarify that Odo cannot remain on Deep Space Nine forever.

Their Laas.

However, Chimera is more than just the writing staff moving pieces across a chessboard. It is in many ways an exploration of one of the fundamental (and often unspoken) tensions within the larger Star Trek universe. As with a lot of Deep Space Nine, there is a sense that Chimera is consciously exploring and interrogating some of the underlying assumptions of Gene Roddenberry’s massive universe. In particular, Chimera is an episode that wonders whether mankind can ever be truly comfortable with the alien, and whether there is a difference between assimilation and multiculturalism.

The result is a powerful and provocative piece of science-fiction, a story that has aged as well as the show around it. Chimera is a story about what it means to be different, and what it means to part of a society. It is a cautionary tale about the unspoken conditions that are often attached to membership of a community, and of the conflict between blending in and standing out.

Changelings. Together. Strong.

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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 – A Simple Investigation (Review)

A Simple Investigation is a quiet little episode.

This is particularly true in the context of the crowded second half to the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light radically upended the status quo and set the fifth season on a march towards A Call to Arms. The threat of war looms large over the second half of the season, following the admission of Cardassia into the Dominion. There is a creeping sense of inevitability to episodes like Blaze of Glory and Soldiers of the Empire.

Strange bedfellows...

Strange bedfellows…

At the same time, Deep Space Nine takes a little while to adjust to that dramatic shift. The Dominion and Cardassia only come back into focus with Ties of Blood and Water, the episode that reintroduces Weyoun to the series. Still, episodes like Doctor Bashir, I Presume and Business as Usual have a sense of weight to them as they offer up high-stakes family drama and arms-dealing morality plays. In contrast, A Simple Investigation feels relatively low key. It is not an episode with profound consequences or shocking revelations.

Instead, A Simple Investigation plays as a small-scale cyberpunk noir romance in which Odo falls head-over-heels in love with a guest star whom he will never see again. With all the chaos unfolding across the length and breadth of the fifth season, A Simple Investigation feels surprisingly… simple. The problems of these little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but A Simple Investigation still takes the time to fixate upon them.

Star struck.

Star struck.

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

Discussions of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine tend to focus on the big sweeping events and the epic scope.

It is easy to see why this is the case. Over the course of the show, alliances break and empires fall. Characters are elevated from the lowest rungs of the social ladder to command over entire planets. Whereas Star Trek: The Next Generation worked hard to flesh out alien cultures like the Romulans and the Klingons, it never committed to the kinds of sweeping long-form narratives that unfolded across the run of its younger sibling. The fall (and rise and fall again) of Cardassia, the broken and mended peace with the Klingons, the Dominion War.

"And to round out the thirtieth anniversary, we're going to climb the Paramount logo."

“And to round out the thirtieth anniversary, we’re going to climb the Paramount logo.”

Deep Space Nine deserves (and receives) a great deal of credit for telling these stories. Indeed, the franchise would not make another attempt at storytelling on this scale until the final two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise. However, focusing on the bigger picture tends to gloss over the other strengths of Deep Space Nine. As much as the show crafts epic long-running stories of betrayal and redemption that span seasons of broadcast television, it interspaces these epic beats with lots of smaller character moments.

The Ascent is a wonderful example of this. The fifth season of Deep Space Nine is one of the most sweeping and epic seasons in the history of the franchise, but it still finds time for the smaller beats. The Ascent is essentially a set of low key character studies, playing to the strengths of both the cast and the characters.

An uphill struggle.

An uphill struggle.

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