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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Strange Bedfellows (Review)

Three seems to be the magic number when it comes to long-form plotting in Berman era Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation arguably pulled off a three-consecutive-episodes arc with The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II and Family. Even the continuity-adverse Star Trek: Voyager managed something similar with Scorpion, Part I, Scorpion, Part II and The Gift. Star Trek: Enterprise tried a number of three-episode arcs in its final season, even if only The Forge, Awakening and Kir’Shara really worked; Borderland was a preamble to Cold Station 12 and The Augments, while The Aenar was a postscript to Babel One and United.

Super villain team-up.

Three episodes seems to work quite well for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The series’ second season premiere was the franchise’s first bona fides three-parter, The Homecoming, The Circle and The Siege. Even when it came to longer arcs, three consecutive episodes seemed be the limit; after Call to Arms, A Time to Stand and Rocks and Shoals, the arc opening the sixth season stumbled with Sons and Daughters before regaining its footing for Behind the Lines, Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels.

As an aside, it also took three episodes for the alliance between the Dominion and Cardassia to properly integrate into the show’s mythology after the events of In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light; the fifth season took a pause with Doctor Bashir, I Presume, A Simple Investigation and Business as Usual before beginning to unpack the consequences of that statusquo-shattering twist in Ties of Blood and Water.

Hang loose.

There are any number of reasons why three works so well. Maybe three episodes allow for that classic three-act structure, the iconic storytelling template. Perhaps the production team on Deep Space Nine tended to work in chunks of three scripts at a time, with two or three subsequent scripts in development by the time that any given script was finished; if this was the case, it would mean that the production team was ready to start fresh with the fourth script. Whatever the reason, it is a familiar pattern.

Although “the Final Chapter” is nominally a ten-episode arc, counting What You Leave Behind as two distinct episodes, the plot beats tend to flow in discernible three-episode chunks. Ezri’s mission to rescue Worf plays out over Penumbra, ‘Til Death Do Us Part and Strange Bedfellows. Gul Rusot is introduced in The Changing Face of Evil, is built up in When It Rains…, and meets his end in Tacking Into the Wind. Bashir discovers that Odo is sick in When It Rains…, figures out Section 31 is responsible in Tacking Into the Wind, and recovers the cure in Extreme Measures.

The window of opportunity is closing.

The opening salvo of this ten-episode arc was clearly intended as a three-part story. The original titles of the episodes were Penumbra, Umbra and Eclipse, suggesting an encroaching darkness that would cast a long shadow by the end of the third episode. Coincidentally or not, that would mark the end of the first third of the larger story arc. It suggests a very formal and careful structure, suggesting a three-act structure within the first act of a three-act structure. On paper, it is a very bold and ambitious piece of structuring from the Deep Space Nine writers.

However, the production struggle to maintain that structure. These ten episodes stumble when it comes to pacing and plotting. The weakest threads in this final run are those that feel either rushed or over-extended, which struggle to hit the right beats. Strange Bedfellows is an episode that struggles because it feels like its storythreads have either been stretched or compressed, the important events either pulled back into ‘Til Death to Us Part or pushed forward into The Changing Face of Evil. The result is an episode that feels stranded between bigger story beats.

No time for reflection.

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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 – The Sound of Her Voice (Review)

The Sound of Her Voice is a very sweet and thoughtful little episode.

In many ways, it is the perfect penultimate episode of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is a reminder of just how much the series has changed over the past few seasons, but also a demonstration of the things that make the show different from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. It is an episode that is anchored in the sort of careful character development and rich atmosphere that sets the series apart from the other Star Trek series. It is difficult to imagine this episode working as well with any other cast.

Absent friends.

However, The Sound of Her Voice is more than just a clever character-driven ensemble piece. It is a very reflective piece of television. Like Ronald D. Moore’s previous script for the sixth season, Valiant, his work on The Sound of Her Voice feels very introspective. Over the course of the episode, the characters find themselves in contact with a voice from the past. In a very direct way, The Sound of Her Voice puts the characters from Deep Space Nine in conversation with the franchise’s history.

There is a lot of maturity and consideration in The Sound of Her Voice, which feels appropriate as the sixth season draws to a close.

The window of opportunity is closing.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Valiant (Review)

Valiant is a very bitter and mean-spirited little episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and all the more effective for that fact.

Some of that bitterness is baked into the basic premise. Valiant is an episode about a bunch of plucky young cadets who get brutally murdered for daring to believe in themselves. The final act of Valiant is a brutal piece of television, the camera lingering over the death and destruction on familiar sets, panning across the dead bodies of these promising young recruits. No matter how arrogant or inexperienced Red Squad might be, no matter how eager their participation in an attempted fascist coup in Homefront and Paradise Lost, it is still an unsettling image.

A legend in his own mind.

However, there is something even nastier lurking beneath the surface of this episode. On a superficial level, Valiant suggests that the guest characters fail in their daring mission because they lack the self-awareness to recognise the folly of their plan, but this is disingenuous. Countless Star Trek episodes have been built around far more reckless and audacious schemes, generally paying off the heroes. Valiant does not punish these young cadets for doing something that the main characters would never have attempted, it punishes them for not being the main characters.

Valiant is in some ways a brutal deconstruction of the typical Star Trek storytelling framework, an episode built around a selection of guest characters whose biggest mistake is assuming that they are the stars of the show rather than simply bit players. Valiant comes down hard on these would-be heroes, a reminder that life does not always operate according to familiar storytelling structures.

Hard to pin it on just one person.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – In the Pale Moonlight (Review)

I can live with it.

I can live with it.

– Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, Stardate 51721.3

In the Pale Moonlight is a masterpiece.

There is simple no way around it. It works beautifully as a morality play, as a thriller, as a character study. It has a powerful script, a set of brilliant performances, a memorable set-up and pay-off. In the Pale Moonlight is a fantastic piece of television production, something that immediately distinguishes itself from the episodes around it. Like The City on the Edge of Forever or The Inner Light, there is just something fundamentally different about In the Pale Moonlight from the establishing shots.

In many ways, In the Pale Moonlight is the flip side of the coin to Far Beyond the Stars. Both are spectacular episodes of television, and stand as some of the best entries in the franchise canon. However, there are clear differences. While Far Beyond the Stars would not work with any other lead character or actor, it is an episode that is arguably quintessentially Star Trek; it is a powerful allegory about racism and the power of an optimistic future. In contrast, In the Pale Moonlight is specifically Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In the Pale Moonlight is an episode of Deep Space Nine that simply could not exist in any other Star Trek show. This could never have been an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. The episodes that edge closest to this – like The Pegasus or The Omega Directive – lack the same commitment to the premise. Star Trek: Enterprise arguably came closest with the script for Damage, but even that lacked the powerhouse focus of In the Pale Moonlight.

As the title implies, In the Pale Moonlight is a story about what it takes to dance with devil. It is told against the epic backdrop of the Dominion War, against the scale and spectacle of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine, but the real drama of In the Pale Moonlight unfolds in one man’s confession. This is the story in which the Romulans join the war effort, but it is not a story about the Romulans joining the war effort. It is a story about how Captain Benjamin Sisko sets a price for his own self-respect and his own self-regard.

In the Pale Moonlight is that most personal of dramas, the story of a man who bargains away his soul for a far cheaper price than he expects.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – One Little Ship (Review)

“It was the sixth season, so why not do it?” observes Ira Behr, providing all the rationale the writing staff needed. “How many series can do a salute to Land of the Giants, to The Incredible Shrinking Man?” he demands. “We had to do this show! We owed it to all the schlock science fiction that had come before us. If we hadn’t done it, it would have been a crime – a creative crime, and, dare I say, a crime against humanity itself. And it just became clear to me, you know? Maybe the tumour moved a silly centimeter in my brain. But we just had to do it. And that was that.”

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion

Isolinear jungle.

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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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