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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Covenant (Review)

Covenant is a flawed and fascinating episode.

In its own way, although obviously a much less extreme manner than The Siege of AR-558, this is an episode that could only have been produced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is not simply down to matters of continuity, and how the episode ties into the mythology of the series. More specifically, it is an exploration of religious themes and ideas that is only really possible within the framework of this particular Star Trek spin-off. It is difficult to imagine Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager tackling the idea of religious cults so effectively.

Altaring his plans.

Part of this is down to a lingering suspicion that the other Star Trek shows subtly (or not so subtly) consider all religions to be cults. After all, shows like The Return of the Archons, The Apple, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the SkyJustice, Who Watches the Watchers? and Devil’s Due left little room for ambiguity. The other Star Trek series seem downright hostile to the idea of religious belief, even if episodes like The Cloud and Sacred Ground might suggest a more open-minded approach to spirituality.

Deep Space Nine has generally been more willing to engage with the idea of religious belief as something that is worthy of exploration and consideration, something that is for an individual to determine on their own terms. Some characters on Deep Space Nine are explicitly atheist, like Jadzia Dax or Odo. Some characters hold strong religious beliefs, like Kira or Nog. Some characters believe in spiritual traditions without ever seeming particularly devote, like Worf. Some characters even evolve over the course of the series, like Sisko.

Preach out and touch faith.

This willingness to accept multiple facets and forms of religious belief allows Deep Space Nine to construct a story like Covenant. In any other Star Trek series, Covenant would seem like a knee-jerk dismissal of religious faith and organised belief, the tale of how a group of Bajorans were swindled by a charismatic leader with tragic consequences. It would be read as a generic condemnation of religious belief, an endorsement of an atheistic worldview that has developed beyond the need for such superstition.

Instead, Covenant is something more interesting and nuanced than that. It is an episode about a particular kind of belief, about a particular sort of religion. It is an episode about the dangers of a very particular form of worship. It is an episode about the perils of religious cults, but one which understands the distinction between that and other forms of spirituality.

He hasn’t a prayer.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Siege of AR-558 (Review)

The thing that Ira and I both wanted to do, was to make war as gritty as possible. You can make what somebody called the Gameboy wars, the Nintendo War, too clean and too cute. Nobody pays a price. You see ships blowing up, and that is kind of cool. But you don’t get the feeling of what a war is. Everybody said it was our Saving Private Ryan, but we’d come up with it before we were even aware of what they were doing on Saving Private Ryan. It really wasn’t that for us. It was really much more about Starfleet, and what those guys go through, and what it must be like in that time, and how to make that work on a gritty level. Rick Kolbe did a remarkable job directing it. Avery again did a marvelous performance in terms of being the captain in a very difficult situation, and making all of those difficult choices that you have to make under those circumstances.

– Hans Beimler, Cinefantastique

Siege the day.

The Siege of AR-558 is a masterful piece of Star Trek, and one of the finest episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In some ways, The Siege of AR-558 is an episode that has been necessary since the outbreak of the Dominion War at the end of Call to Arms. It is a story that had to be told at some point in the two-year stretch from A Time to Stand to What You Leave Behind. Had the writers and producers on Deep Space Nine opted not to tell a story like this within the framework of the Dominion War, they would have undermined the series as a whole and undercut a lot of the justifications for constructing an epic two-year war arc.

Mumy dearest.

It could reasonably be argued that The Siege of AR-558 is not unprecedented. In many ways, the episode is an extension of a narrative style that had been attempted at various points in the show’s recent history, the familiar “war is hell” story that drove episodes like The Ship, ... Nor the Battle to the Strong and Rocks and Shoals. It is very hard to look at the final three seasons of Deep Space Nine as a narrative glorifying warfare, the series often cynical about such violence.

At the same time, The Siege of AR-558 pushes that idea further than any earlier episode. The Siege of AR-558 is a story that unequivocally confirms that the Dominion War is a nightmarish and existential threat to the Federation with a profound moral and physical cost. While this idea has been reiterated repeatedly in stories like Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight, The Siege of AR-558 frames its argument in more visceral terms. It is an episode not about the abstract concept of war, but of its horrifying realities.

An explosive combination.

The Siege of AR-558 is not a morality play that operates at a remove from the violence. The Siege of AR-558 is not an episode in which war is reduced to a mathematical model. The Siege of AR-558 is not an episode in which important people sit around a table and engage in vigourous debate about plans of attack. Instead, The Siege of AR-558 is a story about the horrifying realities of combat, of the fear and dread felt by those on ground, of the seemingly pointless bloodshed that results from all of this politicking and scheming.

The Siege of AR-558 is a war story.

A shot in the dark.

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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 – Treachery, Faith and the Great River (Review)

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a beautiful piece of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It is a meditation on everything suggested by the title, recurring themes across the seven-season run of Deep Space Nine. Indeed, it is a reflection on how each of those three concepts all tie back to the same notion of belief. Treachery is what happens when belief is betrayed, faith is what happens when belief is held without validation, and the great river reflects a more generic belief in the balance and distribution of the wider universe. Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a story about belief and the various forms that it takes, and the rewards that it offers.

“And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”

In many ways, Treachery, Faith and the Great River marks a return to the sort of softer religious belief that defined the early seasons of Deep Space Nine. It is an episode that engages with the challenges of faith, rather than taking it at face value. It is no small irony that an episode as nuanced as Treachery, Faith and the Great River should be credited to the writers responsible for The Reckoning. In many ways, Treachery, Faith and the Great River asks what it means to truly believe in something, even knowing that this belief might never be rewarded.

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a story about looking for the divine, and the answers that are offered in return.

Weyoun Six, Weyoun Seven…
All good clones go to heaven…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Take Me Out to the Holosuite (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is populated by losers.

There are exceptions to this blanket statement, of course. By some measures, the crew of this fringe outpost are quite distinguished. Benjamin Sisko is the Emissary of the Prophets and is a decorated combat veteran. Worf served as Chief of Security on the Federation flagship. Julian Bashir has been genetically engineered to make him stronger and faster than the average human. The Dax symbiont was heavily involved in the negotiation of the peace agreement between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.

A whole different ball game.

However, even these examples of success and prestige are somewhat tempered. Sisko arrived on this backwater outpost as a man considering resigning. Worf is a terrible father and a widower. Bashir spent most of his life hiding his abilities, to the point that he has been forced to pretend to be less than he was; although he is now “out”, his genetic engineering has arguably served to further marginalise him within Starfleet. The Dax symbiont is now joined to Ezri Tegan, a young woman who had never planned to be a host.

In the larger context of the Star Trek universe, Deep Space Nine feels like the island of misfit toys. Odo was found drifting alone through the void; when he finally found his people, he discovered that they were monstrous fascists; when he killed one of his own people, he was forced into exile. Quark is stuck managing a bar that can barely turn a profit, watching others get ahead. Garak was forced into exile by his own father, and is now a traitor to his own people. Martok lost his eye in a Dominion prison camp.

Playing games.

This is in marked contrast to the characters who usually populate the franchise. JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek essentially makes a point to feature at least one sequence demonstrating how each crew member is the top of their given field. Star Trek: The Next Generation was set in one of the most professional working environments in television history. Star Trek: Voyager might have been populated by rebels and scientists, but they still trounced the Borg on a regular basis. Star Trek: Enterprise was a crew of the best and the brightest.

There are a lot of things to love about Take Me Out to the Holosuite, and one of them is the fact that it understands that Deep Space Nine is populated by losers. Take Me Out to the Holosuite also understands that this is part of what makes Deep Space Nine so winning.

Game on.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Afterimage (Review)

Afterimage is a necessary episode, in part because Ezri Dax is a necessary character.

Adding a new character to a show in the middle of its run is always a challenge. The addition of Seven of Nine to Star Trek: Voyager had generated considerable tension, both around what the show wanted to be and in terms of the cast working on the series. It can be difficult to strike a balance, to figure out how much attention to devote to this new arrival, to give them some focus without stealing focus from the surrounding cast. It is a tightrope for the writers to walk, one compounded by the relative novelty of this late addition, the new toy in the writers’ toy box.

Make it sew.

This problem is compounded when the new addition arrives at the start of the final season. In any final season, space is at a premium. The production team are racing towards the finish line, trying to service all the dangling plot threads and complete all the important plot arcs. Every beat is important, every story vital. Final seasons are about providing closure, about wrapping things up. Introducing a new character in the midst of all that is a daunting responsibility, a challenge with very high stakes.

The writers at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were working at something of a disadvantage and to a deadline. However, they did have some handicaps. Most notably, the production team had already successfully integrated a new character into the ensemble, when Worf joined the cast in The Way of the Warrior. More than that, there was some luxury in the fact that Ezri Dax would not be an entirely new character. She would be a logical extension of the premise that was built in Jadzia Dax. She was at least partially familiar, and her concept had been properly seeded.

On airlock down.

Still, introducing Ezri Dax into the final season of Deep Space Nine would prove difficult. The production team would often struggle to strike a balance between writing stories that extended (and concluded) the arcs of other major characters while also writing episodes that introduced and established the character of Ezri. It could often seem like Ezri’s journey was just beginning, right as everybody else’s was coming to a close. The final season of a seven-year show is seldom the perfect place for a new beginning.

As such, Afterimage is more an episode driven by necessity than by desire, a story that has to be told because of factors that were outside the control of the production team. The result is solid, if not exceptional. It is an episode that works best at establishing a new character and new dynamics, suffering just a little bit from clumsy storytelling in the process.

Holo pleasures.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Shadows and Symbols (Review)

Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols continue to reframe the theology of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in terms of Christian iconography.

To be fair, it makes sense that Christian imagery and metaphor should so heavily influence film and television. The United States is the world’s largest exporter of entertainment, and so it makes sense that its preoccupations should filter through into the art that it creates. After all, certain plot and story threads on Star Trek: Voyager (including the Kazon, and the treatment of immigrants and refugees in Displaced and Day of Honour) are very clearly anchored in a number of racial anxieties unique to California during the nineties.

The writing’s on the wall.

However, there was something very interesting in the way that Deep Space Nine had introduced and developed its theology. The early seasons of Deep Space Nine were heavily influenced by more eastern religions, like Buddhism. They were also more ambiguous in their portrayal of the wormhole aliens, suggesting that the enigmatic creatures could be both aliens and gods, depending on one’s perspective. Even then, there was a recurring suggestion in episodes like Emissary and Prophet Motive that the wormhole aliens did not conform to human morality.

As Deep Space Nine approaches the end of its run, it simplifies its approach to religion. The Prophets become a lot less ambiguous, and the spiritual framework becomes a lot more conventional. This process really began in earnest with The Assignment and was solidified in The Reckoning, but it becomes a lot more concrete in Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols.

Let there be light.
And it was good.

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