Deep Space Nine: s07 e14- Chimera


Love-making, Changeling style

We’re now into the back half of the last season and, knowing about the long end-game, I’m growing impatient of these last few, more-or-less self-contained episodes prior to the beginning of the end. Which is a shame because ‘Chimera’ turned out to be a very strong episode throughout, as well as being a fundamental set-up for one of the very few things I (unfortunately) know about the end. This is why I try to be spoiler-free.

The objective of this episode was to undermine Odo’s commitment to his existence as Odo, Constable of DS9, senior staff and lover of Colonel Kira Nerys. This is done by the simple ploy of introducing another unaligned Changeling, in the form of Laas (played by J.G. Hertzler under a variation of his full name, as Garman Hertzler).

Laas is one of the Hundred, like Odo sent into the Alpha Quadrant as an infant to live among humanoids (or monoforms, as he prefers to call them), to return to the Great Link bringing back information. Like Odo, he has grown up isolated, having met no other Changelings: Odo tells him for the first time about the Great Link, the Founders, the whole set-up. The pair Link.

But Laas has been conscious as a shapeshifter for about two hundred years to Odo’s thirty. His abilities and attitudes have evolved considerably further, and he sees Odo as going to follow the exact same path, and he tries to save the Constable the other one hundred and seventy years of it. For Laas has developed a powerful dislike of humanoids, whose limitation of only ever adopting one form has led them to hate metamorphs.

Laas is insulting to Odo’s friends, wants Odo to join him in searching for others of the Hundred, to create a new Link and live as Changelings are meant to live, expressing every facet of their abilities instead of the single form Odo wears.

The ‘problem’, if you like to call it that, is that every word of what Laas says is true and irrefutable. Even the directly insulting ones towards human beings, from an environmentalist stance, are practically impossible to argue with. From the Link, Laas identifies that Odo only stays because of Kira. The problem, on a personal level, is that Kira, knowing the pair have linked, identifies that herself.

So the episode sets itself up for a conclusion by having Laas shift into a low-lying fog on the Promenade, two Klingon hotheads attack aggressively and Laas kill one in self-defence. The Klingons, in the form of an off-screen Martok, who can’t come to the visiscreen just yet because he’s playing Laas, step madly out of character by demanding extradition and deploying legal technicalities (a shameful lapse in the plotting) but Laas is allowed to escape and follow his quest, not by Odo but by Kira.

It’s a demonstration of love, albeit one with a cliched aspect: the lover loves so much that she will enable the loved one to leave if what they leave for outweighs the importance of that love. Nana Visitor plays this all in the face, and very effectively too. And she’s rewarded in a lyrical ending as Odo balances within himself the conflicting desires to find his own and really be a Changeling, and his love for Kira, and comes to the unenforced decision that that is more important to him. And in order to come closer to the effect of the Link that she can never enter, turns himself into the Aurora Borealis and surrounds her, a moment of great beauty.

But on every objective level, what Laas has said breaks the bond between Odo and the Solids. Only an irrational decision, brought on by emotion, acts to restrain his following the inevitable, and what will be becomes the only possible outcome. Very powerful stuff indeed.

Two more thoughts: at the height of the extradition crisis, Quark, of all people, comes to Odo to give him a very effective speech defining the genetic predisposition of humanoid lifeforms to trust only that which is like them. It could read like a defence of racism, although it’s not presented as a justification but rather as an evolutionary given, as impossible to fight as is the Changeling nature to try all forms. It’s cold, its practical, and it gains from coming from Quark (little though I want to acknowledge that), both in the Ferenghi’s status as unsentimental, and in it being Odo’s longest-lasting enemy who attempts to let him down easy.

And there’s a whacking great plothole in the midst of things when Kira, gaving switched off the containment field to let Laas out of his holding cell, and given him specific instructions on how to get off-station without being detected, tells Sisko that he turned into some kind of plasma form that forced its way out, without so much as the slightest suggestion of her tongue being in her cheek, and Sisko doesn’t call up the surveillance tapes to prove her a liar, because there are none, in a cell block, and yeah, right, sure.

Just because an episode is a great success doesn’t mean we can shut our eyes to blatant plot-fudges like this.

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Deep Space Nine: s07 e13 – Field of Fire


Let him have it!

Whilst we’re waiting for the long end-game to kick in, these last few one-off stories feel a bit lacking in purpose, save to keep the game ticking over. ‘Field of Fire’ was a relatively simple story, isolated from pretty much everything else around it except for one aspect that was intended to keep us in the Dominion War and not leave the story freewheeling by itself.

There were three big elements to the story. One was that it was a Twentieth Century Locked-Room Murder Mystery transplanted. A second was that it was the third successive Ezri-centric episode. And thirdly, it was a bottle episode. Let’s take these things in reverse order.

For those who have not come across this term in earlier Deep Space Nine reviews, a bottle episode (short for ‘ship-in-a-bottle’) is a low-budget episode, designed to make use primarily of pre-existing sets and few if any, guest stars. They allow a greater proportion of the season budget to go to more effects and/or guest intensive episodes. ‘Field of Fire’ took place entirely on DS9 and required two guests only, one of whom was disposed of in the open.

Whilst a murder mystery might be thought of as Odo territory (as was originally the intention), that’s been done before and another lead was proposed. Ezri Dax, Counsellor, is the ideal candidate: she’s completely unexpected, and untried, as an investigator, yet analysing the mind that would turn into a serial killer is entirely within her wheelhouse.

That it comes directly after two other episodes giving us prime exposure to our sweet, slightly scatterbrained new girl, and adding rings to a character that has the potential to get a bit irritating on too much exposure, was down to the speed with with the episode was composed, and the restricted amount of space left in the face of the looming end game.

But it’s still a bit imbalanced, and smacked a bit of rushing to get the new girl uploaded, and has the unfortunate effect of suggesting the writers have gotten a bit jaded on providing personal stories for the old stagers.

And so to our mystery. This is basically the MacGuffin (some of you may think that I overuse that term, but I would argue that DS9 overuses that ploy). The newly-arrived Lt. Ilario celebrates his commendation for outstanding service on the Defiant until he has to be escorted to his quarters by Ezri, who then has to rebuff a micro-pass (he calls her beautiful, prompting a deliberate misquoting of Churchill). In the morning, he’s found dead, shot a close range, but without powder burns, by that most obsolete of weapons, a bullet.

This mystery leads to some endearingly clunky self-exposition among the cast about what actually happens when you use bullets, authoritatively explained by Odo thanks to his love of Twentieth Century Crime Fiction, Raymond Chandler, Mike Hammer (a sloppy line that jerked me momentarily out of the future since it couples author and character: Raymond Chandler/Mickey Spillane, Philip Marlowe/Mike Hammer, yes, but don’t mix ’em).

The killer has to be a Starfleet Officer, since no-one else could have gotten hold of that kind of weapon (logic blur alert), but the locked room puzzle is explained away disappointingly by resorting to futurist technology: the rile has a micro-transporter attached, allowing the bullets to be ‘beamed aboard’, so to speak.

But that’s not the point. Three victims with no connections adds up to a serial killer, making this a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit. Sweet, naive Ezri, feeling responsible as the last person to see Ilario alive, has to think herself into the mind of the killer if she is to solve the case. And to do so, she has to summon up Joral Dax, the forgotten host, the suppressed host, the host who was himself a murderer.

That’s the real point of this episode. Joral wants out. He wants to relive the thrill of murder, the power it held. He wants to take his real part in the collective memory of the symbiont Dax. Most of all, he wants to makeover young, inexperienced, impressionable Ezri into the mirror image of himself.

Ezri resists right from the start, but in the classic manner has to submit to Joral’s direction to understand, psych-profile and identify the killer by deducing his ‘rationale’. The choice of a Vulcan as the villain – responding to emotional trauma, reacting with emotion – was intended to shock veteran Trek fans: a Vulcan? It was also our token nod to the Dominion War. Lt. Chu’lak was one of only six survivors of a ship destroyed in battle on which he’d served ten years: if a Vulcan ca crack, things must really be bad.

The denouement involves a long-distance shoot-out: Chu’lak misses by inches, Ezri wounds. Joral urges her to finish him off, but Ezri wins the trial of strength and outs her weapon up, as indeed we always knew she would do. It would have made for a far more shocking, and psychologically more interesting story if she’d plugged the bastard between the eyes but come on, final series, big end-game looming large, the Star Trek franchise? That was never going to happen.

But Ezri would have been a killer character to do that to. Maybe season 8, on Earth-2?

So, a self-contained chapter, to bring us exactly halfway through the last season, a character piece never to be followed up on, again: good enough in itself but nothing we haven’t seen many times before, here and elsewhere. Maybe we need to back off Ezri just a little bit next week?

Treme: s03 e02 – Saints


Annie T and The Apostles

To my surprise and pleasure, this episode took it’s title directly from Shawn Colvin’s track, ‘The Neon Light of the Saints’ from her 2011 album, All Fall Down, which played over the credits. This was doubly apt in that Shawn’s manager from the episode in which she guested last season reappeared, to take Annie T and The Apostles on as a client, and that much of the music in this episode was trad jazz, which I and most of those ignorant of jazz will always instinctively link with that hoary old classic (here being a word meaning, song you wish you could never hear again), ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In’.

Besides, it was the only music in the episode that I could properly appreciate!

I’m not knocking the music, which I’m enjoying immensely as both an integral part of the series and for the undoubted life and energy it brings to everything, but I neither know nor understand it, it represents a culture of which I am ignorant and which would take a lifetime to absorb, and underneath it all I am wedded to the sound of the guitar, not horns.

What of the drama? I was taken aback when the scene in which Delmond Lambreaux, in the bar, raised an Indian chant for Albert, who has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cut into the credits as I had no idea 55 minutes had already gone by. Once again we faced the Treme kaleidoscope and, as in episode 1, there was little sense of the season’s themes beginning to develop.

Little things: Albert’s condition. Antoine finding out his sons don’t want to learn music but a couple of his girl pupils are getting into the trad. LaDonna walking out on living with her in-laws after Virina ‘forgets’ to put Antoine’s name on the list of permitted visitors at the gatehouse. Davis putting together his ambitious but we-can-all-see-this-coming, futile Opera.

And more medium-sized things, from which the early signs of stories can be seen. Annie beginning her ascent to the success that awaits her. Terry Colson opening up the first signs of a r’approchement with Toni, bringing her the news personally that a friend she knows has been brutally beaten to death instead of her learning it from the news.

Nelson gets himself back into the game by trailing our successful Florida developer, Loretta Mortensen, finding what a piss-poor job she’s doing and getting the spin-offs that he and his contractor partner Robinette will do properly.

Sonny badly wants to screw Linh’s brains out and the feeling’s mutual but they can never get far enough away, or for long enough, from Mr Tranh to so much as get her knickers down. Now he’s got a gig again.

Janette is in demand, with the chance to run her own place again, back in New Orleans, with a partner to keep the bullshit (i.e., the administration) off her shoulders. David Chang reckons she’ll go.

L.P. Everett is pursuing a case of Police brutality, murder or negligent homicide, criminal damage and destruction of evidence, or so the possibilities seem to stack up from what we see. At the moment, he’s acting independently of Toni Bernette and/or Terry Colson, but let’s see.

No Sofia Bernette this week.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a David Simon project, with all due respect to Eric Overmyer, and these are invariably structured as novels: you don’t get climaxes in chapter 2, you’re dealing with strands, lines, things slowly being set in motion and, in the case of an ongoing TV series, and a slice-of-life, not even necessarily in episodes 9 or 10.

Let’s continue to roll.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e12 – The Emperor’s New Cloak


Ezri Tigan. more! more!

Even though my initial reaction to this episode was the usual, “not another bloody Ferengi episode”, I decided I’d try to be as objective (read: fair) as possible about it. Then it turned out to be another Mirror universe story which was one too many trips to the well for me on top: the Mirror Universe is a neat idea but when it’s only being exploited to allow the actors to play against character and for no deeper reason, it’s a shallow concept.

Throw in my new bete noire, Vic Fontaine (albeit for one brief scene and in which he gets killed, not that that lifted my spirits too much), and the recipe was for a wasted forty-five minutes, the only benefit of which being that, with the end sequence getting ever nearer, this would have to be the last of them, yay!

But I’m going to be as fair as I can be, as there were a couple of things of interest to keep me going.

By now, the only cast/recurring characters left who haven’t been through the looking glass are new girl Ezri, and Brunt, FCA. Both were a simple opposite, Ezri a leather clad, spike-haired mercenary (rrrrrrrr!!!) and Brunt a genial nice guy. Brunt got killed off but Ezri bestrode the episode in a manner that had my shallow side gladly singing. Nicole deBoer apparently had a whale of a time and wanted to play this Ezri every week.

On the other hand, my usual appreciation of Nana Visitor in her shiny skintight costume as Intendant Kira was lacking, I think because I was enjoying Ezri so much. Or perhaps that was another case of too many trips to the same well. With one notable exception, when Intendant Kira kissed Ezri Tigan, there was nothing new to bring to the party, and the Intendent felt almost like a parody of herself.

The heavily implied lesbian subtext between this pair (reinforced in the close by a brief appearance from Chase Masterson, cleavage well to the for, spiriting Ezri off into half the audience’s fantasies) was a surprise, but immediately felt completely natural for the Intendent. Nana Visitor didn’t agree and disliked the idea.

The MacGuffin was Grand Negus Zek, seeking to open up new financial frontiers for the Ferengi and being held hostage by Regent Worf in return for a cloaking device, to be stolen by Quark and Rom. This was duly delivered but Rom, whilst installing it in the Regent’s ship, sabotages the whole kit’n’kaboodle so that as soon as it’s used it drains all power from the ship, forcing the Regent to surrender to the Rebels under Smiley O’Brien, implying a tying off of that story.

One quickly irritating aspect of the episode was Rom’s constant attempts to work out some kind of logic and rules behind the Alternate Universe being Alternate. That was apparently intentional, a sort of half-nod, half-raspberry to the fans who wanted the Mirror Universe to make Science Fictional sense as opposed to the big joke it was only ever meant to be.

But it was over and done. No more trips to either of those wells, even if the Intendent was allowed to get away to camp another day. I guess no-one had the heart to shoot her down.

Depending on whether the end sequence has nine or ten episodes (I have seen both quoted), that means there can only be four or five left that tell individual stories unrelated to the all-out Dominion War. I’m expecting at least one more Vic Fontaine because I’m ultimately a pessimist, but at least there’s no more Quark-centrics. I have outlasted them. Thank Heaven for small mercies.

Treme: s03 e01 – Knock With Me – Rock With Me


New Boy

Rollin’ back on into town.

We’re six months on from the end of last season, twenty-five from Katrina, and as the new credits demonstrate, there’s a lick of paint brightening things up in New Orleans. This made for a relatively light tone to a lot of the episodes, as things seem to be going well for many of our cast, with only a few cloudy horizons being delved into initially.

Those for whom gloom is developing are Antoine, LaDonna and Terry Colson. And Nelson hidalgo’s still on the outside and looking for a way back in that isn’t opening as quickly as he would like. Our main trombonist is feeling hemmed in by his job, by being a houseowner, by having a wife who expects him to start acting like a damned grown-up. Particularly galling is how he gets arrested at the start for throwing the Police a finger when they bust up a night session honouring a dead musician, yet two guys whose charges are dismissed at the station become the ‘Treme Two’ and get all the publicity, and the gigs.

But all it takes is the length of one opening episode and the next night the Police turn up to escort the parade. Go figure.

LaDonna and Larry are staying with in-laws whilst they find a place in New Orleans to double as home and his Practice and that is not going to last. LaDonna’s sister-in-law looks down on her from a great height and you know LaDonna will always piss up. The tension is rife.

And Terry’s feeling the blues. He’s on his own out there in Homicide, the corrupt Captain’s gone, the detectives all hate him, the Deputy Chief won’t transfer him back, he hasn’t got Toni’s friendship any more, and his ex-wife ain’t letting the boys come visit whilst he still lives in a trailer. Colson is in isolation.

And Nelson still isn’t being let back in the game of FEMA money, not whilst the erstwhile Councilman Thomas is in Federal Prison and can yet drop a dime on him. So he tries to find another way in but his fresh-faced, boyish charm cuts no ice with the steely Mrs Mortensen, who cuts him off at the balls.

So these are our current losers. Everyone else looks like they’re on the up. Annie T. has her own band, is going down a storm, and she’s so gleeful she’s jumping Davis at 6.00am in a seriously shortie nightie which makes me seriously jealous (and I mean jealous, not envious) of Steve Zahn, who’s composing a Poverty Opera and getting Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry involved.

Janette’s going down big in New York and jumping Jacques’ bones in New Orleans, whilst breaking with the grand television tradition of women having sex by not keeping her bra on.

Toni and Sofia are on a much more even keel. Mom is still working the Arbrea case, and is finding a new ally in investigative journalist L.P. Everett (Chris Coy, new to this year’s cast). Sofia’s got a boyfriend, the musician guy outside the coffee shop whereshe works, and Toni’s cool about not having met him yet.

Delmond’s CD has been released to good reviews and decent advance sales. Albert’s proud of it, he’s even smiling, but he’s coughing a bit too.

Sonny’s going out with Linh, though her father still isn’t give in them enough leeway for much more than, say, half an hour’s kissing. He’s cut his hair, looks clean too.

Have I left anyone out? No, the show’s back on the road, the lives have resumed, but we are now nearer to the end than the beginning. There is now a time limit on what I am watching and I was oddly conscious of that from the beginning. Rock with me.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e11 – Prodigal Daughter


Mother

It’s finally become obvious to even me that I know nothing about Deep Space Nine. I have been out of step so many times, disliking, being bored by or simply not appreciating episodes that are held in high regard, and here I am again, only this time I’m appreciating, even enjoying an episode that nobody involved with making it felt was worth it, and which is regarded as the official weakest of season 7 (with all those effing Vic Fontaine episodes and another bloody Ferenghi story next week? I should coco).

Apparently, this was down to the many changes of plot, theme and even central character to arrive at the basic story, by which point the script had to be hammered out without any time for revision or reconsideration.

Personally, I found it interesting, and assumed it was an episode intended to illuminate Ezri Dax and her background, since it involved her going home to her family, and especially her overbearing mother, who runs a successful mining business to which she devotes all of her energy and focus. Ezri hasn’t been home in three years, nor spoken to her mother in six months.

The peg for this, the MacGuffin, was set up in the open, most of which I was unable to see thanks to the same scratch on the DVD that carried away the ending of last week’s episode. After a comic start about the different kinds of gagh, Bashir discloses that he’s worried about O’Brien, off-station ostensibly visiting his father but in reality checking up on Marika Bilby, the widow of Liam Bilby from ‘Honor Among Thieves’ in season 6. O’Brien is overdue. Given that he’s on the planet where the Tigan family is based, a furious Sisko orders Ezri to get her mother to use her connections to help.

Part of the reason I was able to take this episode so seriously was that I recognised it. Yanas Tigan, a bright, energetic and completely convincing guest appearance by Leigh Taylor-Young, was a mother who has stifled her children, directing their every course and still finding whatever they did to be inadequate. Boy, do I know how that feels! Whilst older brother Janel manages the mine, younger brother Norvo, the most clearly gifted, artistic, imaginative and creative of the three, has been broken by Yanas’ relentless criticism of everything, Ezri included.

O’Brien is quickly produced, having been saved by the New Sydney Police from an Orion Syndicate beating as he investigates Marika Bilby’s murder. The Police insist she wasn’t killed by the Syndicate as they notably take care of their widows etc. The Tigan company is being pressed by the Syndicate to do business with them and whilst Yanas is adamant that they never will, it turns out that Janel has already used them once, to save the company, in return for which he was ‘asked’ to carry an ’employee’ who would be paid for not working, obviously, Marika Bilby.

Yanas is horrified, the more so because she cannot see past Janel as the murderer. Norvo insists Janel is innocent, which gives Ezri the moment of unwanted insight that rounds things off: yes, it was not Janel but Norvo: Norvo, the ‘weak’ one, the ineffectual, the one who was never strong enough to take the tough decisions. Well, he’d made a tough decision now.

All that remained was the family fall-out. Norvo got thirty years. Ezri advised Janel to get out, go anywhere, do something different. Yanas confronted the possibility she may have been wrong, and asked Ezri if any of this was her fault? Ezri, who did not answer that question, nevertheless feels that what was happened was her fault, despite accepting O’Brien’s plain statement that Norvo got what was deserved, or better. But she knew Norvo when he was younger, saw his brilliance, his potential, before…

The writers and producers saw the episode as purposeless soap opera, cranked out to fill a slot because the slot had to be filled, and indeed apologised to Nicole de Boer afterwards. The fact that the story structure meant that nothing could be shown of O’Brien’s travails was also regarded as weak and robbing these of any meaning, which is true in its way, but beside the point on which this episode stood for me, which was Yanas. I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like, and it wasn’t weak to me.

The Prisoner: Titan Comics Mini-Series


The only decent art in the series

Delayed from its original July date, the fourth and final part of Titan Comics’ The Prisoner mini-series is now available and it confirms what I’d long since surmised: it’s a piece of shit and anyone who thinks this remotely worthy of the original series hasn’t got a clue about the original series.

I am, admittedly, a very harsh taskmaster about such things, but I am old enough to recall the series going out and this has been a ridiculous piece of work on all levels, starting from the rough and inconsistent art by Colin Lorimar and going up to the nonsensical story by Peter Milligan, who is talented enough to do better. Beyond the superficial trappings borrowed for the look of it, there is nothing that Patrick MacGoohan would recognise as being related to his vision, and the final issue introduction of a Number One of sorts is an insult to the original. Even Deam Motter’s ‘Shattered Visage’ of thirty years ago did better with its empty philosophic of “Does the presence of a Number Two necessarily require a Number One?”

What we did get was a penny-plain spy story that mistook convolution for complexity. Breen, an Agent of the Unit, under section, loses fellow and temporary lover Agent Carey in the Middle East, believed taken by The Village, defined as a completely independent organisation beholden to no-one. Breen is ordered to steal a vital but undefined secret (named Pandora, fairly banally but you could have just said The MacGuffin for all the real importance it has) in order to attract extraction to The Village.

He undergoes interrogation, finds Carey has first defected to The Village, then she’s assisting his escape, then she’s the new Number Two by murdering her predecessor, then she’s electrocuted then she’s a Unit Agent with no hostility to him who’s never even seen The Village. Which one do you believe? Unfortunately, to believe you have to care and I didn’t.

The great revelation, which I’d leave out if I could, is that Number One is a punch-card driven old supercomputer acting totally at random. You can tell that Milligan is just punching the clock because he pretends to offer randomness as a Political system of serious merit.

The climax features Breen accepting employment as the new Number Two and having section kidnapped and installed as Number Six. Very witty.

The problem is that Breen’s a cypher, Carey’s a cypher, and Section’s a silly ass cypher. Lorimar finds it difficult to make people look the same two panels running – his Carey is a different woman every single time you see her – and the minimal plot is weighed down with so much faux reality that it chokes any effort to equate it to a series that was the complete antithesis of reality: surreal, glittery, absurd, constructed out of iconic imagery and above all clean. A twenty-first century grim’n’gritty Prisoner is a contradiction in terms, and if there’s a sequel series, I shalln’t be acknowledging it without a complete change of every creative person associated. The editor and original plot provider is David Leach: I’m sentimental enough to hope he isn’t the one I used to know in UK fandom in the Eighties because I liked him.

You may bid for the set on eBay as from Sunday, though I can’t in all conscience recommend you do, unless you feel sorry enough for me to want to help me recoup the money I spent on this, or maybe even turn a small profit. A large profit would be even better.