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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Time’s Orphan (Review)

In some ways, Time’s Orphan provides a companion piece to Profit and Lace.

A recurring theme of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been the suggestion that the series has reached the limits of what is possible within the context of a nineties Star Trek series, that it has really done just about everything that it is possible for a mid-nineties genre television show to do within the confines of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. After the fourth and fifth seasons crashed through boundaries, the sixth discovers new limits on the horizon.

This will not end well.

In some ways, Profit and Lace marks the end of the line for Deep Space Nine‘s Ferengi-centric episodes. It suggests that the production team have done just about everything that they can do within that framework, and that the ideas remaining are somewhat underwhelming. Time’s Orphan does something similar with the annual (or even biannual) “O’Brien must suffer!” stories. The production team have inflicted almost every horror imaginable on Chief Miles Edward O’Brien, and Time’s Orphan represents just about the last idea left.

Time’s Orphan is nowhere near as bad as Profit and Lace, although it taps into the same core problem. The writers on Deep Space Nine have taken a given story thread about as far as they can take it, which means that there is very little left to do within an established framework. Time’s Orphan manages a few moments of genuine emotion, but it also feels strained and tired. Time has caught up with the production team.

Scarred to death.

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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 – Sons and Daughters (Review)

If A Time to Stand and Rocks and Shoals demonstrate the raw potential and ambition of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, then Sons and Daughters demonstrate its shortcomings.

The fourth and fifth seasons of Deep Space Nine rank among the very best seasons of Star Trek every produced. These two seasons demonstrated a striking level of consistency. There were undoubtedly terrible episodes, like Shattered Mirror and The Muse in the fourth season or The Assignment and Let He Who Is Without Sin… However, these episodes tended to be quite concentrated. Even other episodes that didn’t quite work, like The Sword of Kahless, Sons of Mogh, A Simple Investigation or Ferengi Love Songs, were more bland than outright bad.

Let me be your father figure...

Let me be your father figure…

The sixth and seventh seasons of Deep Space Nine lack that consistency. They are even more ambitious than the two seasons directly prior, pushing harder in bolder new directions and resulting in brilliant television like Waltz, Far Beyond the Stars, In the Pale Moonlight, Treachery, Faith, and the Great River, The Siege of AR-558, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Chimera, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges and Tacking Into the Wind. The sixth and seventh seasons of Deep Space Nine were breathtaking and highly enjoyable on their own terms.

In fact, there is a very credible argument for ranking the sixth and seventh seasons of Deep Space Nine among the best seasons of the franchise. They represent the last great narrative leap forward until the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise. These two seasons are driven by a desire to take risks and try new things, to make ambitious gambles knowing that they might not pay off. These are certainly virtues to be encouraged, even without that laundry list of spectacular television.

The lost art of parenting.

The lost art of parenting.

However, with that level of ambition, the sixth and seventh seasons were also much more variable in terms of quality. They contained a lot more misfires than the previous two seasons. This is not just the obvious high-profile failures like Profit and Lace or The Emperor’s New Cloak, but also a lot more episodes that disappoint without hitting quite that level of awfulness; One Little Ship, The Reckoning, Time’s Orphan, Prodigal Daughter, Field of Fire, Extreme Measures. There is a sense that the number of bad episodes increases noticeably.

Sons and Daughters is perhaps the first example of this trend. It is an episode that is not soul-destroying terrible, but it simply does not work in the way that it is intended to work. Sons and Daughters is not only the weakest episode of the six-episode opening arc, it is also the first episode to be written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson as members of the series’ writing staff. The two facts might not be unrelated.

All (Mar)tok tok tok.

All (Mar)tok tok tok.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Let He Who Is Without Sin…

It would be tempting to treat Let He Who Is Without Sin… as an anomaly.

After all, it is very much the worst episode of the fifth season. There is a very strong argument to be made that it is the worst episode between Meridian and Profit and Lace, which makes it easier to forgive. After all, it is not as though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been regularly churning out episodes like Twisted, Tattoo, Alliances, Threshold and Investigations. The second worst episode of the fifth season is The Assignment, and the biggest problem with that episode is that it is both painfully generic and ground zero for a set of major future problems.

This episode is pants.

This episode is pants.

Still, it is important not to gloss over just how terrible Let He Who Is Without Sin… actually is and the very specific ways in which it is terrible. While these sorts of misfires are quite rare in the context of the series’ fourth and fifth seasons, Let He Who Is Without Sin… is not a fluke. The episode did not materialise from nowhere. It is very much the result of a number of creative impulses within Deep Space Nine firing in the worst possible ways. Unlike The Assignment, this episode does not fail because the concept and execution is an awkward fit for Deep Space Nine.

Let Who Is Without Sin… fails in ways that are very specifically tied to Deep Space Nine.

"It's okay, Worf. The writers promised that was only the first draft they sent through."

“It’s okay, Worf. The writers promised that was only the first draft they sent through.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rules of Engagement (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Rules of Engagement is that old Star Trek standard: the trial episode.

The franchise has never really had a lot of luck with the format over the years. The Menagerie, Part I and The Menagerie, Part II were primarily of interest for the way that they repurposed The Cage and offered viewers a glimpse of an alternate kind of Star Trek. Later in that same first season, Court Martial was a disjointed and uneven (and even illogical) story. Later series did not fare much better; neither A Matter of Perspective nor Dax nor Ex Post Facto could be considered highlights of their seasons or their shows or the wider franchise.

Worf really doesn't understand the proper way to lodge an objection...

Worf really doesn’t understand the proper way to lodge an objection…

However, The Measure of a Man remains the exception that proves the rule. Not only a strong episode of itself, it stands as one of the best episodes in the history of the franchise. More than that, it represented a turning point in the history of Star Trek: The Next Generation; it is perfectly reasonable to point to The Measure of a Man as the moment that The Next Generation finally delivered on its potential after almost two seasons of struggling to find a unique voice. It seems entirely possible that the franchise has been chasing that high ever since.

Unfortunately, Rules of Engagement is an example of the rule rather than the exception. It is a misguided and clumsy episode that has a number of interesting ideas that fail to coalesce into a satisfying whole.

Klingon lawyered up... Kl'awyered up, if you will.

Klingon lawyered up…
Kl’awyered up, if you will.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Sword of Kahless (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

The Sword of Kahless is the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to focus primarily on Worf.

The character arrived on the show (and the station) in The Way of the Warrior, but his development since then had largely been confined to secondary plots. In Hippocratic Oath and Starship Down, Worf learned that life on Deep Space Nine would not be the same as life on the Enterprise. However, he had not really been the centre of any given episode before this point. (Even in The Way of the Warrior, Worf’s arrival and crisis of conscience was just one facet of a larger political situation.)

Sword of destiny...

Sword of destiny…

This is quite remarkable, and a result of a number of unique factors. Most obviously, Worf was not just any new cast member. Worf was a character who had arrived over from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so was something of a known quantity to fans. There was less of a need to establish who Worf was, because most fans already knew. More than that, a lot of the early fourth season episodes had been in development before Michael Dorn had been confirmed to be joining the ensemble. As such, they tended to focus on other characters.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the fourth season is almost one-third of the way through its run before the production team devoted an episode to the newest member of the cast. It is a testament to the production team that the show had the confidence and restraint to adopt such an approach to such an obviously popular character. More than that, The Sword of Kahless is undoubtedly a Worf-centric episode, but it is a Worf-centric episode that makes it quite clear that Worf is a Deep Space Nine character now.

"Thank you, sir. May I have another?"

“Thank you, sir. May I have another?”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Hippocratic Oath (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Hippocratic Oath represents a return to normality for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Way of the Warrior was a feature-length war epic tasked with introducing a new regular character and a new status quo, while The Visitor was an intimate character study that stood quite apart from the show around it. With Hippocratic Oath, the show gets back to business as usual. It even has a classic a-story/b-story split with Bashir and O’Brien’s Gamma Quadrant hijinx juxtaposed with Worf learning his place on the station (and the show).

This is not to suggest that Hippocratic Oath is a bland hour of Star Trek. Indeed, it is a tightly-constructed story that hits on some of the show’s core themes and most interesting dynamics. One of the problems with the third season of Deep Space Nine was the fact that it had a strong start but no idea on how to build from that. Hippocratic Oath seems to serve very much as a “business as usual” episode of the fourth season, helping to set a baseline of quality of the show going forward.

Awkward bromantic moment...

Awkward bromantic moment…

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