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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 – Rocks and Shoals (Review)

The opening arc of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is one of the most ambitious storytelling experiments in the history of Star Trek.

To be fair, it is not entirely unique. In some ways, it mirrors the storytelling arc that unfolded across Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Both Kirk and Sisko are separated from their home and from their first officer and from their iconic command, before eventually finding their way to reunite with both. Obviously, a three-film trilogy is distinct from a six-episode arc, even before talking about the tonal, thematic and plotting differences between those three iconic films.

The Jem'Hadar warship that fell to Earth...

The Jem’Hadar warship that fell to Earth…

More than that, the success of the this arc would embolden the production team. They would attempt an even more audacious experiment to close out the seventh season of the series. The sixth season opened with six interconnected stories following the Cardassian reoccupation Terok Nor, building to Sisko’s retaking of the station. The seventh season pushes that even further, with a much more tightly integrated ten-episode arc that attempts to tell a single cohesive story. It is an even bolder creative decision than this arc, committing more strongly to the premise.

Ronald D. Moore’s departure from Star Trek: Voyager early in its sixth season would turn these experiments in serialisation into an evolutionary dead end for the franchise. It would be four years before Rick Berman and Brannon Braga would attempt to a tell a story on that scale. Indeed, faced with declining ratings and the spectre of cancellation, Star Trek: Enterprise attempted what was (on the surface at least) the even more ambitious attempt at a season-long arc across the entirety of the third season.

Winner takes it war...

Between a rock and a hard place.

Still, the six-episode arc that opens the sixth season of Deep Space Nine remains an impressive moment in the history of the franchise. Indeed, contrasted with the sprawling ten-episode arc that closes the series or the season-long arc on Enterprise, it could reasonably be argued that this six-episode stretch does a stronger job of balancing the integrity of individual episodes with the demands of the larger arc. These six episodes are all very strongly connected to one another, with a clear sense of story and character progression, but they also retain their own identities within that.

Rocks and Shoals might be the best example of this, an episode that delicately balances its own storytelling with the needs of the arc as a whole. Rocks and Shoals is at once a great episode in its own right and an essential part of a much larger story.

Express elevator to hell.

Express elevator to hell.

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

In the Cards is the perfect penultimate episode to a sensational season of television.

One of the more common observations about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it is the most dour and serious of the Star Trek series. It is the grim and cynical series of the bunch, with many commentators insisting that the series rejects the franchise’s humanist utopia in favour of brutality and nihilism. This criticism is entirely understandable. The series is literally and thematically darker than Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. Even at this point, it is about to embark upon a two-year-long war arc, the longest in the franchise.

Jake and the Ferengi Man.

Jake and the Ferengi Man.

However, this is also a very reductive reading of Deep Space Nine. The series is more willing to criticise and interrogate the foundations of the Star Trek universe than any of its siblings, but it remains generally positive about the human condition. Governments and power structures should be treated with suspicion, but individuals are generally decent. Positioned right before the beginning of an epic franchise-shattering war, In the Cards is the perfect example of this philosophy. In the Cards elegantly captures the warmth and optimism of Deep Space Nine.

Deep Space Nine is fundamentally the story of a diverse and multicultural community formed of countless disparate people drawn together by fate or chance. In the Cards is a story about how happiness functions in that community, how the bonds between people can make all the difference even as the universe falls into chaos around them. It is also very funny.

Pod person.

Pod person.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Soldiers of the Empire (Review)

Soldiers of the Empire is a very effective illustration of just how far Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was willing to push the Star Trek franchise.

It is an episode that unfolds primarily on a Klingon Bird of Prey. This is nothing new. After all, Star Trek: The Next Generation produced A Matter of Honour in its second season, assigning Riker to serve on a Klingon ship as part of an exchange programme. However, that episode was told primary from a human perspective, the story centring on Riker adjusting and adapting to an alien culture before saving the day. When Worf joined the Klingon fleet in Redemption, Part II, the story kept cutting back to life on the Enterprise in his absence.

"Mahk-cha!"

“Mahk-cha!”

In contrast, Soldiers of the Empire is primarily focused upon the Klingon cast and the Klingon crew. Worf and Dax join the IKS Rotarran to support General Martok in his first command since escaping the Dominion prison camp at the end of By Inferno’s Light, but they are very much bystanders. Although Worf and Dax provide vital narrative functions in introducing the audience to Klingon customs and cultures, the narrative arc of the show belongs to Martok and the crew of the Rotarran. This is not a story about Worf and Dax, this is a story about Martok.

The result is an episode that really pushes the limits of the storytelling possibilities on Deep Space Nine, a reminder that the production team remain as ambitious as ever in the show’s fifth season. Soldiers of the Empire suffers from a few minor plotting issues, but it is exciting and compelling in a way that captures the very best of Deep Space Nine.

A sharp stabbing pain.

A sharp stabbing pain.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Darkness and the Light (Review)

The Darkness and the Light is the first television credit for writer Bryan Fuller.

There is no way around that. It puts a lot of emphasis on this fifth season episode, drawing a lot attention to the story. Fuller didn’t even write the script, instead pitching a story that would be developed by Ronald D. Moore. However, later in the fifth season, Fuller would pitch the story for Empok Nor. After that, he would be recruited on to the writing staff on Star Trek: Voyager. Then Fuller would begin developing his own shows. Dead Like Me. Wonderfalls. Pushing Daisies. Hannibal. American Gods. Star Trek: Discovery.

Face-off.

Face-off.

That naturally casts a shadow over his first television pitch, the premise sold to the writing staff of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even watching Fuller’s idea filtered through the lens of Ronald D. Moore, there is a strong urge to read too much into this forty-five-minute piece of television. How much of it represents Bryan Fuller’s vision of Star Trek? How have its themes and ideas resonated across the rest of the writer’s work? What insight might it offer into the producer’s vision for the future of the franchise?

A lesser episode would crumple under that weight. It helps that The Darkness and the Light is an ambitious and exciting piece of television, a triumph of concept and execution that stands as one of the most distinctive and memorable episodes in the fifty-year history of the franchise.

A time to heal.

A time to heal.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Trials and Tribble-ations (Review)

Trials and Tribble-ations is a love letter to the franchise.

The thirtieth anniversary of Star Trek was a big deal. In many ways, the thirtieth anniversary celebration marks the end of the franchise’s cultural peak. Star Trek: The Next Generation is still fresh enough in the cultural consciousness that the anniversary is a big deal, even if the ratings on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager are not necessarily what everybody would want them to be. The decline that would last through to the end of Star Trek: Enterprise only really comes into play in the wake of the big anniversary.

You know when you've been Gumped.

You know when you’ve been Gumped.

The thirtieth anniversary of the franchise was an embarrassment of riches, particularly from the perspective of a rather limp fiftieth celebration. Even the disappointment of Flashback was dwarfed by the abundance of affectionate homages and triumphant celebrations of a television series that had gone from a cult failure repeating endlessly in syndication to a pop cultural juggernaut with two television series and a successful film franchise running simultaneously. Trials and Tribble-ations was very much the cornerstone of all this.

Sure, there were other celebrations to mark the franchise’s big three-oh. While Flashback might of been a bit of a disappointment as a big anniversary special, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II were a loving ode to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Indeed, Star Trek: First Contact went even further and threw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan into the mix, blending the franchise’s most acclaimed and most financially successful films together for the occasion. Captain Janeway even crossed paths with the cast of Frasier to mark the occasion.

Quite the lineup.

Quite the lineup.

In spite of all of that, Trials and Tribble-ations stands quite apart from all the noise around it. There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether it is unequivocally the best of these productions, although it stands a very strong chance of winning that particular argument. However, there is no denying that it is the best celebration of the thirtieth anniversary. It is an adoring and affectionate love letter to the Star Trek franchise, one that seems to have been produced with giddy grin on its face and a skip in its step.

However, Trials and Tribble-ations works even beyond that. It is not simply a loving tribute to a monument of American popular culture, although that would be entirely justified. It is an acknowledgement to the decades of fandom that kept Star Trek alive during its occasional adventures in the wilderness.  Trials and Tribble-ations does not just praise Star Trek for surviving thirty years despite being cancelled after three seasons, but which captures the enthusiasm that sustained the series across those thirty years.

Doesn't scan.

Doesn’t scan.

It would be easy for a thirtieth anniversary special to treat the occasion as an act of cultural archeology, the careful and ritual unearthing of a popular artifact with all due reverence paid. Indeed, this was arguably the central problem with Flashback, an episode more interested in Star Trek as a memory and as a subject of nostalgia than a living breathing organism. Trials and Tribble-ations instead opts to treat Star Trek as a living and breathing organism, something tangible and material rather than abstract and ethereal.

Indeed, the episode ends with the revelation that the past is not another country. Sometimes you can bring something back. Even if that thing is a tribble.

You can go home again...

You can go home again…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Die is Cast (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Die is Cast is, like Improbable Cause before it, a wonderful piece of television.

As with most Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-parters, The Die is Cast maintains continuity and consistency with its predecessor, but it feels like a very different episode than Improbable Cause. After all, the curtain has been pulled back. The assassination attempt is no longer the driving force of the narrative (in fact, it’s barely referenced), with the plot focusing on Enabrain Tain’s pre-emptive strike against the Dominion.

A bruised ego...

A bruised ego…

It’s interesting that it falls to the Cardassians and the Romulans to drive the Dominion plot onwards. There’s been no real development of this long-form plot since Sisko and his crew escaped at the end of The Search, Part II. Episodes like The Abandoned and Heart of Stone have seen the crew encountering individual members of the Dominion, and shows like Visionary have had characters sitting around talking about them, but nothing has actually happened. It is mostly business as usual.

As such, the episode’s title feels beautifully appropriate – it’s the crossing of a threshold, a point from which there can be no return. Not just for Tain or the Cardassians, but the show itself.

Odo's sympathy for Garak runs dry...

Odo’s sympathy for Garak runs dry…

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