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Star Trek: Discovery – Context is for Kings (Review)

Perhaps what is most surprising about Context is for Kings is just how conventional it is.

The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars were very much atypical episodes of Star Trek, an opening two-parter designed to demonstrate a lot of how Star Trek: Discovery would be different from the earlier series in the franchise. The two-parter introduced a new captain and a new ship, only to kill the captain and destroy the ship at the climax of the story. The primary character ended these opening two episodes as a disgraced mutineer, sentenced to life in prison.

In darkness dwells.

Although the two-parter was traditional in some respects, its structure was consciously designed to subvert a lot of the expectations of previous pilot episodes. Typically, Star Trek pilots find a new crew coming together in a way that sets the tone for the following series. In contrast, The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars joined the Shenzhou at the end of its seven-year mission, and reduced it to floating wreckage. It was a subversive (if not entirely unpredictable) narrative decision, a clear attempt to contextualise Discovery as a modern television series.

All of this means, of course, that Context is for Kings finds itself cast in the role of a conventional Star Trek pilot. In many ways, Context is for Kings is clearly intended as reassurance that Discovery is still fundamentally Star Trek, in spite of the tweaks and alterations that have been made to the framework of the series.

Seeding the future.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (Review)

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is a perfectly fitting penultimate episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Sure, the production team had originally planned for Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang to take the audience into the sweeping ten-hour epic that would wrap up the series. That certainly would have been a satisfying deep breath before the plunge, one last story celebrating this ensemble in a low-stakes adventure that treats them like an extended family before everything hits the fan. Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang would have been immensely fulfilling in that context.

Tribunal.

However, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges feels like a necessary episode before Deep Space Nine commits to its sprawling ten-episode-long finale. In particular, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is the only episode of the seventh season to devote any time or any energy to the question of what happens after the Dominion War. Deep Space Nine has been so tied up in this epic existential struggle that the production team have never really acknowledged what happens when the dust settles, beyond the rolling of the closing credits and the conclusion of the series.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges represents the first time that Deep Space Nine has dared to look beyond the immediate status quo, to acknowledge that life will undoubtedly continue in the Alpha Quadrant after the end of What You Leave Behind. In many ways, Deep Space Nine is notable for extending a sense of political realism and pragmatism to the mechanics of the larger Star Trek universe, and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges feels like an organic extension of that, acknowledging that events ripple beyond that arbitrary boundaries that are conveniently labelled as “endings.”

I met a man who wasn’t there.

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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 – 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 – A Time to Stand (Review)

And so Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has changed once again.

A Time to Stand represents a new beginning for Deep Space Nine, kicking off an ambitious six-episode arc that effectively sets up both the status quo and the tone for the final two years of the series. To be fair, this version of the show is very clearly the model to which the fourth and fifth seasons had been building. It is not quite a second (or third, or fourth) pilot in the style of The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II or The Way of the Warrior, but it is very clear that Deep Space Nine is entering a new stage of its evolution at the start of its penultimate sequence.

Touching reunion.

Touching reunion.

More than that, this opening six-episode arc very clearly serves to set up and establish themes and ideas that will play out across the series’ remaining episodes; Kira suggests she will support Odo’s decision to return home in Behind the Lines, Damar’s alcoholism and the shame it hides is introduced in Behind the Lines, Sisko talks about the house that he plans to build on Bajor in Favour the Bold, the Prophets promise that a price will be exacted from Sisko in Sacrifice of Angels.

Although the formal declaration of war came at the end of Call to Arms, the sixth season premiere truly ushers in the era of the Dominion War.

New frontier.

New frontier.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – … Nor the Battle to the Strong (Review)

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”

– Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929)

Far a field.

Far afield.

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

It seems we’re approaching an impasse.

We’ve already arrived.

– Kilana and Sisko sum up the fifth season

Under siege.

Under siege.

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