Deep Space Nine: s07 e25/26 – What You Leave Behind


What you leave behind is loss

So. For the cast, the crew, the writers, the directors, the producers and the original audience, it took seven years to get here. For me, watching weekly, it took three and a little bit. And it all ended with a moment of personal poignance as the final shot was of a boy who became a man staring into space, having lost his father.

I’ve known from before I began watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that the series ended with Benjamin Sisko’s death, and that was how it was. I know that in reality he’s been translated into becoming one of the Prophets, that it is hinted that there is more for him to do and that, in the post-series novels Sisko does return, but Deep Space Nine always was the darkest, more realistic of the franchise, and to me Sisko is dead: he is gone beyond anywhere that his old friends, his comrades, his newly-pregnant wife or, most personally affecting for me, his son can ever see, hear, talk to or touch again. The end is finality.

And this is all about endings, endings and changes. The Dominion War ends, as it always must, in victory for the Alpha Quadrant. There’s the big attack, the great fleet, including the new Defiant, in which the military tide is turned when the Cardassian fleet rebels against the Dominion and switches sides in mid-battle. This comes about when Damar’s rebellion begins to become seriously disruptive: the Female Changeling demands reprisals against the whole population, which Weyoun 8 carries out, causing a great revulsion and reversion.

And Damar’s rebellion is nearly derailed when he, Kira and Garak are caught, and housekeeper Mila killed. They are to be summarily executed, but the Cardassians accompanying the Jem’Hadar soldiers revolt and kill the captors.

All is put into a raid on Dominion Headquarters. The compound is impenetrable, until a door is opened to eject and execute Legate Broca on the Female Changeling’s orders: this gives the raiders access, but for Damar the charge is fatal: in lead the raid to free his people, he becomes the first to be killed. Only three survivors reach the control room, Kira, Ekoor and Garak, who executes Weyoun with great relish: the last Weyoun, the second to be killed.

But though the War is won, it is not yet over. The Female Changeling is dying, and aware of the irony of dying as a solid, but she still fears a Federation invasion of the Gamma Quadrant and an attempt to wipe out her people, and so victory will be bought with such a cost of men and ships that the Alliance will not have the strength to fight again.

It is here that Odo intervenes. By linking with the Female Changeling, he is able to both pass on the cure to her, over Garak’s deep and wholly justified reservations, but also persuade her to share his trust of the Federation. Restored to health, she orders a stand down, signs the official surrender and submits herself to trial for war crimes.

It’s over.

And with the end of the War comes the changes that separate friends, allies and lovers. A phase is over, and with it the ties that bind are loosened and people once again discover that they have individual futures and not merely the collective one to which fate and destiny have bound them for so long.

Chief Miles O’Brien will no longer be dumped on as he has been so relentlessly. He and his family, a final appearance from Keiko, Molly and Kyrioshi, are to return to Earth, where he will become a Professor of Engineering at Starfleet Academy. It means the breaking of his great friendship with Doctor Julian Bashir, to the regret of both. But Julian and Lieutenant Ezri Dax have become lovers as well as being in love. Their’s is a future to be explored together: Julian will never return to the Alamo without Miles, but he has created a new, and identical scenario for he and Ezri at Thermopylae, as the beleagured Spartans.

Lieutenant Commander Worf also leaves Deep Space Nine, to become the Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire, under Chancellor Martok: a new age is dawning, an age that will see a restoration of honour.

Odo and Colonel Kira Nerys are to be separated, permanently. Though I never agreed with the making of this pair into lovers, though I never accepted how Kira forgave him his betrayal of Bajor, this too was full of emotion I couldn’t ignore. Odo must go to his people. He must bring them the cure, he must enter the Great Link, this time to stay, to convince the Founders that they have nothing to fear now from the solids. Kira will deliver him, and stay until the last moment, before returning alone, where she will become the new commander of Deep Space Nine.

Quark remains Quark. He’s the only one who understands Odo enough to intercept the Changeling’s attempt to depart without goodbyes, and is immensely satisfied when Odo walks off without conceding a goodbye. Things will not change all that much for the Ferenghi: Colonel Kira will remain his implacable opponent.

Which leaves the Sisko, the Emissary. As the Dominion War crashes to its conclusion, there is a second front, a secret front, taking slow steps to undo everything. Gul Dukat’s sight has been restored and he returns to the Kai’s palace. She has completed deciphering the Khosst Amojen (having exiled myself from Memory Alpha during The Final Chapter, to avoid spoilers, I’ve had to guess at spellings, incorrectly) and is now ready to release the Pah-Wraiths from the Fire-Caves. She needs his assistance.

What she needs Dukat for takes a long time to materialise, as the aspect of the story is dragged out until after the War has been won and well into the Peace. Dukat is the sacrifice, to honour the Pah-Wraiths, poisoned by wine and dying. But not for long.

On Deep Space Nine, Captain Benjamin Sisko heeds the call no-one else can hear, and leaves the party in Vic’s (as a finale to which, the abhorrent hologram lounge singer Vic Fontaine serenades a crew together for the last time with ‘The Way You Look Tonight’: it isn’t a patch on the Peter Skellern version but it’s heartfelt, and appropriate, and moving, and reconciles me to him). The Sisko knows what he must do, and he leaves his wife and unborn child to do it, not knowing the full extent of his destiny.

He arrives at the Fire-Caves seconds after the resurrection of Gul Dukat, restored to his Cardassian appearance. It is he, not Kai Winn Adami, who is to be the Pah-Wrauth’s Emissary, he who wields powers not granted to the Prophet’s Emissary, as it ever was: Evil vests power in its servants but Good’s servants triumph because of themselves.

Dukat glories in himself, in the destruction that is to follow, the burning of Bajor, of the Celestial Temple, of the entire Alpha Quadrant, but most of all he glories in his personal victory over Sisko, the private war they’ve conducted since the Emissary first arrived to take command of Dukat’s surrendered fiefdom, Terak Nor/Deep Space Nine. It is his weakness and his undoing. At the last, Winn redeems herself, screaming to Sisko that it is the book. She tries to hurl it into the flames, but Dukat draws it to him and burns Winn to death. In doing so, in relishing it so, he takes his attention from the helpless Sisko. Free to move, knowing that the book must burn, Sisko charges Dukat, hurling both of them, and the book, into the flames. Sisko locks a door to which there will never again be a key. The payment is his life.

And so it ended, with departures and sunderings. As well as those I’ve mentioned already, Garak goes home, his exile over, returning to Cardassia, although he has lost the Cardassia he longed to return to. His friendship with Bashir is over, despite the promises. Ensign Nog becomes Lieutenant Nog: like Kira, Bashir, Ezri and Quark, he remains, on course for the glorious Starfleet career he has grown into.

And Jake Sisko remains, looking into space where the Wormhole at last opens again. Looking where he believes that something exists that equates to his father. But not in my eyes. Sometimes, in war, people have to sacrifice. To know that, and to honour that, is not to forget the effect on those that love you, and have a long lifetime ahead without you. What you leave behind is loss.

And I leave behind Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I shalln’t be returning.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e24 – The Dogs of War


Why couldn’t they have swapped costumes?

After the tight focus of last week, the penultimate episode of Deep Space Nine was instead a ragbag of set-up across multiple plot strands, involving practically every single recurring character you could name, but not Cirroc Lofton. Only Kai Wynn and Gul Dukat failed to show their faces.

This meant a strong Ferenghi presence, and I’m hoping that the substantial amount of time dedicated to wrapping up their story will mean only a token participation in the series finale, a week from now. It was down to the usual standards. Leeta and a barely clad dabo girl demand a reduction in how much of their tips they have to give to Quark, and he’s thinking abut it when Grand Negus Zek comes on the blower to announce, through appalling static, that he’s going to retire and is appointing Quark as his successor.

Immediately, Brunt turns up to fawn all over the new Negus, and to tell him of the massive changes Zek, under Ishka’s influence, has been pushing through to turn Ferenganar from the unrestricted pursuit of capitalism. Ferenganar’s been so humonised, Quark’s disgusted enough to turn down the post, except that he’s got it all wrong: Zek’s appointing Rom instead. Quark however intends to run his bar in the old fashion unrepentantly.

There, wasn’t that worthless watching? Except for what’s probably a final appearance from Chase Masterson.

What was nearly as awful was the clowning around between Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax, one minute solemnly assuring themselves that it’s better to retain their friendship than lose it over trying to pursue a silly romantic fantasy, the next snogging each other’s faces off in a turbolift. This strand kept Worf and O’Brien in it for a couple of cameos as a Greek Chorus, looking on.

Odo is fully recovered and Bashir drops a brick in telling him how Section 31 infected him. There is a piece of what I take to be foreshadowing, as Odo reacts in disgust to the Federation’s decision not to give the cure to the Dominion in the middle of all-out War against an enemy bent on ruthless conquest (sorry, Odo, you’re being bloody naive). Given that I was not able to escape learning in advance about Odo’s final part in this series, I take it that this is a major factor in his decision.

By far and away the most important strands related directly to the War. Demar’s rebellion is betrayed and destroyed, it’s only survivors being the Big Three of Demar, Kira and Garak. They go underground on Cardassia Prime, in a cellar, to avoid capture and execution whilst Weyoun announces Demar’s death. But the populace don’t believe it, and our trio play on this to turn Demar into Legend, to raise the people.

And a new, pliant Legate takes Service under the Dominion, for whom the Female Changeling is dictating retrenchment: fall back upon a shortened, stronger defensive line, based upon the Cardassian Empire, rebuild, emerge stronger.  The Federation, being naturally timid, will settle for containment.

But Sisko argues otherwise. He has a new Defiant class ship that he’s authorised to rename Defiant, and he foresees what the Dominion expect, and urges attack: break through the Dominion lines before they can settle. Cry Havoc! and let slip the Dogs of War.

Ad a final coda, in which a hostage to fortune, and to the Prophets’ warning: Kasidy Yates Sisko is pregnant. The Emissary is going to have a baby…

Deep Space Nine: s07 e10 – It’s Only A Paper Moon


This is the 24th Century?

Yet again I’m going to cut across the grain and diss a very highly-respected DS9 episode that the rest of the world worships, and for no better reason than that I cannot stand Vic Fontaine.

Also, I find it demeaning to Nicole de Boer that, having been introduced as a new character, and as a Counsellor, not only is her role usurped by a hologram but she’s depicted as so incompetent at her job that a hologram of a 1962 lounge singer is not just better than her but vastly better.

And whilst this may just be twenty more years of watching television drama, I found the beats of Nog’s story of trauma and rehabilitation predictable.

So, no, I didn’t enjoy this, and when the DVD glitched with another of Vic’s songs unable to be sung, I did not feel any sense of loss whatsoever. In all of Deep Space Nine, that’s two minutes and twenty-six seconds (including the credits) I still won’t have seen.

As a concept, the episode – which mutated almost out of existence a ‘bottle’ episode idea arrived at several seasons before – was intelligent and important. Two episodes ago, Nog lost a leg in battle. This is the future: such things can be replaced perfectly. Physically, he is as good as new. Mentally, it’s different. Nog has PTS and the episode is about his recovery, which is first achieved by hiding himself away from real-life inside Vic Fontaine’s holosuite programme, and then by forcing him to be open about his fear of a real world that has reared up and bitten him and about which he is now very much ‘once bitten, twice shy’.

Everybody but me, it seems, agrees that this worked, and worked brilliantly.

Kudos to the show, in its last season, and not far off halfway through it, for setting aside an episode to be a two-hander between two recurring characters, with minimal involvement from the cast: Ezri had the largest role here, much good it did her.

But my aversion to the milieu of Vic Fontaine and its/his elevation to near godhead status in this distant future series – he’s even got self-will as a hologram – made it impossible to take seriously as intended. My loss, no doubt.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e08 – The Siege of AR-558


At War

It didn’t augur well. The open kicked off with Rom in the holosuite lounge, auditioning for Vic Fontaine by badly singing ‘The Lady is a Tramp’. Grisly. Vic has very rapidly become second only to Quark for me as a character I cannot stand. It’s like a throwback to the Original Series’ rigid insistence upon mid-Fifties middle-America mores as being the Twenty-Fourth Century’s guiding principles. This fetishisation of that same decade’s lounge music, in the late Nineties, is inexplicable and completely improbable conservatism. Every moment Vic is there jerks us out of the future into the past.

But it’s an isolated moment, an attempt at lightness in an episode in which there will be no lightness whatsoever, only grime, blood, horror and death. I can see the intent, but I regard the execution as stupid and completely ineffectual.

Because ‘The Siege of AR-558′ was about war as it really is: not the fantasy of spaceships zooming unscientifically in space, SF phasers a-glowing and spectacular but impersonal explosions, but what it’s like on the ground, face-to-face, hand-to-hand, where the prospect and the fear of death are immediate and exponentially more scary.

After a brief reminder that the War brings in casualty lists, lists that Sisko, immured in the regularity of loss, no longer reads name by name, he leads a team via the Defiant to brings supplies to AR-558, a remote planer bearing a captured Dominion communications array, captured by the Federation five months ago. A unit of 150 men and women have held it unrelieved for five months, way beyond the regulation that no-one should be in combat for more than 90 days. There are now only 43 of them, and they’re in a bad way.

The ones we meet are Lt. Larkin (Annette Helde), now the officer in command, Engineer Kellin (Bill Mumy, once Will Robinson of The Original; Series’ contemporary, Lost in Space), Vargas (Raymond Cruz), who is closest to cracking and Reese (Patrick Kilpatrick), the hard-as-nails veteran who collects tetracell white capsules as souvenirs of the Jem’Hadar he’s killed personally.

Into this beams an Away Team led by Sisko and comprising only those cast members with the least combat experience (a contrivance from the writers that was,, in the circumstances, allowable), being Bashir, Ezri Dax, Nog and Quark. This latter was a massively artificial contrivance that stretched things more than somewhat.

Though the supplies are welcome, the visitors are not, really. They’re only visitors, they get to beam out. There’s an entirely natural undercurrent of resentment from the permanent defenders, or at least from the two combat guests, Vargas and Reese: Larkin is a determined and loyal officer, Kellin too much the naturally nice guy, who impresses himself upon Ezri without even trying.

But when the Defiant is attacked by two Jem’Hadar ships, Sisko refuses transportation and escape, ordering Worf to take evasive action, and committing his Away Team to the Siege.

It’s not a popular decision with Quark, who doesn’t want to be within a Solar System of there in the first place and, running a close second, doesn’t want his nephew within a Solar System of being there either. It’s embarrassing to Nog, who is still the complete Starfleet Ensign: loyal, brave, committed and still taken up with the romance of the role.

I should have seen it coming but I didn’t. With the tricorders blocked by jamming, Sisko sends out Nog, with Larkin and Reese, to use the Ferenghi ears to track down the whereabouts of the latest Jem’Hadar attack. They are fired on. Larkin is killed. Nog loses a leg.

Quark is especially bitter about this, as if Sisko has deliberately caused this, simply because Nog is not human. Although Quark is not as utterly annoying as he usually is, because he’s playing a totally serious role, I still found him unrealistic even at this point. It’s cultural: the Ferenghi are self-conditioned to deal, to bargain, to seek accommodations, not War, and it’s natural for Quark to see the Dominion War as completely avoidable, but once we’re at this point, with the attack imminent, it carries with it a large dose of burying ones head in the sand. watching it, I found this irritating. Thinking about it, it’s less unrealistic because Quark is taking refuge in familiar attitudes, deliberately avoiding recognition of the true situation, as an attempt at escape. Score me minus one for a misapprehension due to prejudice.

So the battle comes. At first it’s phaser fire. Then it’s hand-to-hand. Vargas dies, knifed in the back, nice guy Kellin dies, defending Ezri. Sisko goes down, loses consciousness, about to be shot at close range with a disruptor. Hard man Reese shakes him awake, and alive.

The siege has withstood the attack, though the command has been decimated. Ezri has helped Kellin crack the communications array. Relief troops arrive. The survivors are relieved, among which few only Reese appears to be unhurt, another example of the indiscriminancy of war, in which the biggest bastards survive, probably because they’re the biggest bastards. Even though he leaves behind the knife that he’s used to kill so many Jem’Hadar, you’re left wondering just how they’re going to switch him off when he gets back to ‘civilisation’.

This was an incredibly powerful episode, its use of Vic Fontaine notwithstanding. It’s basic set-up was patterned after the Battle of Guadalcanal, in the Second World War, and despite taking place in some of the most unnaturally stagey ‘caves’ the show has ever designed as a set, it took its reality from people’s experience of the Vietnam War, and in a way that managed not to insult either. There was yet another War reference in the arrival of the relief troops, all young and new, in pristine uniforms, harking at the relief of First World War trench veterans.

For me, this was head and shoulders the best episode of season 7 so far, precisely because it cut across the SF milieu of the show, in favour of a relentless, indeed for some people unnerving reality. Would that there be more like this in the eighteen episodes that are all that is left of this long, long run.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e06 – Treachery, Faith and the Great River


Someone’s not looking well

After being alert and receptive to the past few episodes, I was once again in a slump today, and couldn’t really get into what was a fairly crucial episode that marks a staging post on the road to the end.

This was a fairly deeply-divided A/B story, with Odo and Weyoun up front in a serious tale and O’Brien and Nog providing back-up on the comic side of the story. Basically, the latter was a repeat of those ‘chain-of-transactions’ stories we’ve seen Nog in before, usually with Jake. Sisko sets the Chief an impossible deadline to acquire a piece of equipment to do repairs, it’s impossible to get through normal channels, so Nog goes all Ferengi on it, bartering here, there and everywhere, until the Chief is convinced it’ll all end in disaster (for him) only for everything to work out at the last minute.

Fun but essentially predictable and lacking in the kind of detail that would demand we admire its ingenuity.

The A story is set up by Odo being drawn to meet a very reliable Cardassian informant who may not have been executed after all. In fact, he has and it is a decoy to enable Weyoun to meet Odo: Weyoun wishes to defect.

That comes as a surprise, and Odo is rightly suspicious, but this is a genuine attempt by Weyoun, except that he’s not the Weyoun we’ve gotten used to. That was Weyoun-5, disintegrated in a suspicious transporter accident a couple of months ago, in respect of which the finger of suspicion is being pointed at Gul Demar, who’s still quaffing k’narr like water (hint, hint).

Odo’s dealing with Weyoun-6, the new clone, only this one thinks the Dominion is dropping one serious bollock in going to War with the Federation. Not only is he defecting with strategic knowledge that could ensure Federation victory, but he also brings the news – confirmed in a brief, shrivel-faced appearance by the Female Changeling – that the Founders are ill, that in fact they are denying.

Weyoun-6 wants Odo to effectively take over and reform the Dominion.

Unfortunately, for everyone except Jeffrey Combs, who’s having fun doubling up, Weyoun-7 has also been activated and this one’s in the true loyalist mould, enough so that he’s prepared to send Jem’Hadar ships to attack and destroy Odo’s runabout, even if that means destroying Odo – a God, remember? – with it.

It’s all very low down and dirty and has to be kept secret, especially from the Female Changeling and the Jem’Hadar, and the only way out is for Weyoun-6 to sacrifice himself by voluntary termination, releasing Odo to go free.

So now the end game starts moving. I know a few more things that are yet to come, the tracks of which are implanted here, and these will become increasingly apparent over the final twenty episode. This was an episode which deserved a better response, but as I say, I’m flat today and unable to give it.

 

Deep Space Nine: s07 e04 – Take Me Out to the Holosuite


Who da man?

After the heavily intense episodes of the past few weeks, it was obvious that we’d get a lightweight story for a change of pace. There’s usually one quite early in every season of DS9. And ‘Take me out to the Holosuite’, which was all about having a game of baseball, was as lightweight as they come, despite the attempt to back it up with a psychological angle. In fact, it was so lightweight, you practically had to tie an iron onto it to keep it from floating away. I was prepared to be rather bored, but in fact I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The set-up is that the Vulcan-manned Federation ship T’Kundra has docked at DS9 for two weeks of overhaul and upgrade. It’s commanded by Captain Solok who is a hate figure for Benjamin Sisko, and indeed he’s a right snotty superior pain-in-the-arse from the get-go, niggling all the time about not so much Vulcaan superiority as human inadequacy.

Solok’s done this since the pair were cadets and a drunk Sisko challenged him to a wrestling match and got whupped. For a supposedly emotionless Vulcan, Solok is a seriously vindictive shit, endlessly rubbing it in on Sisko, and now he’s brought a baseball holosuite game to challenge the Captain at his own personal sport. Sisko immediately orders the senior staff – which now appears to include Nog (?!) – to form a team and win.

That’s basically it, really. The team is swelled out by Rom, Leeta, Quark and Kasidy Yates. Rom is completely inept, which is a laugh because Max Grodenchik was a semi-professional baseball player and had to play left-handed to look authentically crap. Sisko throws him off the team, which causes the others to threaten a strike unless he’s reinstated. But there’s one of those little scenes that remind us, fourteen carat klutz that he may be, Rom is a truly good bloke: he only wants to be in the team on merit and he recognises he clearly hasn’t got any, so he won’t accept a false position.

Now, you’re all expecting that, on the day, the ‘Niners’ will pull off a victory all the more stunning for being so completely unexpected, and so did I. But this episode is more subtle than that. Basically, the DS9 team get thoroughly and deservedly whupped, 10-1, and Sisko gets thrown out for touching the umpire (Odo). But the episode shapes itself around that one, consolation run, which comes about through Sisko chucking Rom in as a pinch-hitter, his accidentally ‘hitting’ the perfect bunt and Nog stealing home, producing an ecstatic response from his team that carries over into Quark’s.

Solok doesn’t get it. He blames human emotionality (Ezri pipes up with ‘Did I forget to wear my spots today? He doesn’t even know what humans look like!’), suspects an artificial attempt to turn abject defeat into moral victory, but has to exit as everyone taunts him over his emotional investment in getting one over Sisko, but really they’re just celebrating having had fun, lots of fun, and that’s what makes this episode delightful, the copious amount of fun everyone’s clearly and genuinely having.

It still doesn’t turn me into a baseball enthusiast, cricket will always be a far more subtle, complex and involving game for me (and you couldn’t fake that onscreen as easily as DS9 does), but this was fun with its boots off, and I loved it.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e23 – Profit and Lace


This was a Ferengi story, and you know how I feel about Ferengi stories. In this one, Grand Negus Zek and Ishka, aka Moogie, turn up at DS9 because Zek has been deposed for pushing to allow Ferengi females to wear clothes and make profit. The new, Acting Grand Negus, to be confirmed in three days time, is Brunt. Zek plans to fight back. This involves producing Ishka to a leading and influential FCA member to show that letting females become human beings will be profitable. Unfortunately, Quark causes Ishka to have a heart attack, so another financially brilliant female has to be found at short notice. Since there isn’t one available, Quark undergoes a sex-change operation and drags up.

If you thought this was bad up to that point, and it was, from that moment on it was a hideous embarrassment, offensive and cliched at every point, all the way into the ridiculous close. From abut halfway through, I just wanted to switch this episode off and not have to see the rest of it. I wish I had. The absolute nadir. Everyone involved in it should have been put against a wall and shot.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e22 – Valiant


A new crew

Well, that was a weird little experience. With the main cast squeezed into inessential cameos at the beginning and the end, this episode played like a backdoor pilot for another spin-off series: Star Trek – Babies.

The set-up is simple: Nog’s on a diplomatic mission to deliver a McGuffin (a secret message for the Grand Negus), with Jake along for the ride but not-so-secretly out for an interview. They bump into a fleet of six Jem’Hadar ships, one of which breaks formation to blast them into atoms, but are saved by the fortuitous appearance of the Valiant, a Defiant-class ship, which teleports then (but not the McGuffin) aboard before destroying the Jem’Hadar ship.

The sting is that the ship’s crew consists solely of cadets, albeit Red Squad cadets, i.e., the best of the best. There were sent on a training mission, to circumnavigate the Federation – this is what you get for trying to betray it, in season 4 – only to get into a fight that kills all the Commissioned staff. Just before he died, Captain Ramirez promoted Cadet Watters to Captain, and Watters has promoted other cadets in that wake.

Like I said, Star Trek: Babies. The cadets appear to be a fully functional crew, loyal, strong, adept. ‘Captain’ Watters certainly seems to be the epitome of a Starfleet Captain, confident, decisive, fully-prepared. He takes advantage of the new arrivals to promote Nog to Lt. Commander, make him Chief Engineer, and appoint him Red Squad.

Nog wavers, but only for a moment. His common sense tells him he isn’t ready, but his ambition, and his Ferengi-ness overrule him. Nog buys wholly into the fantasy of Watters, and his principal lieutenants, “Commander” Farris and “Chief” Collins, and Watters’ determination to fulfil the Valiant‘s last chosen mission, to track and scan a new Jem’Hadar battleship.

Not so Jake. Jake’s there to see things from the outside. He sees how crazy it is. These are cadets, not fully-trained Starfleet officers, by definition unfinished. True, they’re performing to a high level, but these are cadets who’ve been operating behind enemy lines for eight months, without proper command, and without the experience that brings inner resources. Watters may be in full command and looking like a future Kirk or Picard, but he’s not sleeping at night and he’s popping pills like a parka-clad Mod to stay awake. Farris is turning into a paranoid fanatic. Collins breaks down after only a minute’s talking about her home on the Moon. This is not a healthy ship, and Nog’s rapidly turning into one of them.

With Nog’s assistance, the mission is completed. They can all go home. But instead, Watters, who has bought too deeply into being a Starfleet Captain, and into the self-taught myth that Red Squad can do everything, commits the crew to destroying the Jem’Hadar ship. It will be their glory day, it will go down in history.

Only Jake, who is seeing things from a different perspective, demurs. It’s crazy. His Dad wouldn’t attempt this in the Defiant with a full crew and if Captain Benjamin Sisko couldn’t get away with it, nobody could. So he gets slung in the brig, to prevent his defeatism affecting the crew. Oh yes, we’re starting to see the shape of it,aren’t we?

The plan is a rip-off of Star Wars and Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing firing a bomb down a garbage chute or whatever it was. The Valiant takes heavy punishment. Crew are being killed. But the Delta radiation torpedoes hit their mark, the plan succeeds, the mission is fulfilled, all hail Red Squad, see, told you I could do it, ner ner, ner ner, ner.

Only the Jem’Hadar ship doesn’t blow up. They hit Watters’ target but it didn’t do the damage he expected. Watters orders everyone back in, even though it’s now obvious to anyone not sucked up into their own myth of invincibility that there’s not a hope in Hell of achieving anything but everyone getting killed. And the next hit does for him. Farris wants to obey orders but she’s killed too. Suddenly, Nog in senior officer, but he’s snapped out of it and orders Abandon Ship. Only one escape pod escapes, to be picked up by the Defiant. The only survivors are Jake, Nog and Collins.

The episode ends on a sombre debate over how Jake will write this up. Collins maintains that Watters was a great man, and that he didn’t fail, the crew let him down. Nog wants the ship honoured, the crew seen as they were: good, very good, loyal and of the highest quality, a true loss. But he’s seen through the miasma of arrogance and overweening ambition. The truth was, as he tells Collins, that Watters may have been a hero and a great man. But he was a bad Captain.

And Nog hands back to her his Red Squad insignia.

It’s a powerful ending. And I’m indebted to Memory Alpha for telling me that this is more or less the identical plot to the first J.J. Abrams film, except that DS9 is considerably more realistic in having the cadet’s plan fail. Fitting, of course, because DS9 was and is conspicuously better for its darkness, even if that darkness sometimes is only a shade of grey.

It’s nevertheless a bubble story, as opposed to a bottle story. Then again, looking at the outline of the next episode, I might be better off watching this one again. At least it was very well made, and very pertinent.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e14 – One Little Ship


Tiny spaceship time

We’re already into the back half of season 6 and, whilst there were a few things about this episode that aren’t going to escape critical comment, I enjoyed this rather more than I’ve done for some weeks. ‘One Little Ship’ was something of a comedic episode, helpfully signalled to the audience in the open by having Major Kira burst into hysterical laughter over the premise, but the humour was more in the playing by Colm Meaney, Alexander Siddig and Terry Farrell, as the three who shrunk, because the story was otherwise completely serious.

There was a certain amount of disguised playing to the open as well. Everybody’s off on the ‘Defiant’ doing a scientific mission as a break from the ongoing War that’s ongoing exceedingly slowly and mostly everywhere else except near Deep Space Nine. Point of criticism #1: I’m very disappointed in DS9‘s failure of nerve over the War, which they’ve started but don’t really have any commitment in pursuing, taking every opportunity they can to run away from it into a one-off story. ‘One Little Ship’ set up shop to appear to be doing that again. But it didn’t.

And there was a point when I thought that, for the first time in quite some time, we were going to have the old A-story/B-story set-up, with Dax, O’Brien and Bashir having one adventure in the Accretion Anomaly that was going to shrink them to about half a centimetre in height, and Sisko, Kira, Worf and Nog having another when the ‘Defiant’ was attacked and captured by Jem’Hadar. I was proven wrong on both points.

What happened was that, because it exited the anomaly on a different course from its entry (the anomaly being the MacGuffin, the scientific gobbledegook required to create the situation), the runabout Rubicon was stuck at 4cm long. So the tiny ship had to fly into the ‘Defiant’ and use all manner of sneakiness to zip here and there, lending a next-to-invisible hand to the Sisko-led response to the invasion.

In this, the shrunken warriors were aided by an intriguing new plot development that was never mentioned again, because nobody bothered to follow up on it. After the Jem’Hadar fleet was destroyed in the Wormhole, the Founders decided not t try to bring in any more Jem’Hadar but instead breed a new Jem’Hadar race on the spot (shades of the Mekon’s ‘New Treens’ in my favourite Dan Dare story, ‘All Treens Must Die!’).

These ‘Alpha’s are specially bred, genetically redesigned to thrive on war in the Alpha Quadrant, which has created a friction between the new, upstarts Alphas and the long-established but now overshadowed Gammas. The First is an Alpha, the Second a Gamma, and a well-respected Elder who was himself First until just two days ago. The Second has a great deal of experience, the First has practically none, and not only does he ignore the Second’s advice, he openly resents it and is even more determined to go his own way, with the arrogance of (assumed) natural superiority.

Needless to say, the Second is right at every turn, though his reward is a death that overcomes him before he is able to complete the Jem’Hadar mantra, ‘Obedience is Victory: Victory is Life’.

Point of Criticism #2: everyone agrees this Jem’Hadar division should have been taken further, but it never was. That relegation to a one-off weakens what was, ultimately, a fundamental plot-point, makes it look as if it’s a gimmick that was invented as a ‘Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free’ card, and you know how often I’ve complained of cheap, shoddy writing in the last thirty months. That it was intended as a permanent development redeems it a little, but it should still have been woven into the overall storyline.

Then again, in way way could this have been used that wasn’t basically a repetition of this episode? The answer is, I Don’t Know, but I’m sure a bank of screenwriters could have come up with something.

‘One Little Ship’ was filmed before last week’s ‘Far Beyond the Stars’ but airedafter because of the increased post-production time, adding the shrunken ‘Rubicon’ in Special Effects, which brought the episode an Emmy nomination. It may not have been of great significance overall, but I personally had a better time than I’ve had for many Deep Space Nine Tuesdays.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e13 – Far Beyond The Stars


Who’s Who?

Well, I guess I must be suffering some sort of burn out on Deep Space Nine because I just couldn’t get into this episode at all, and it’s one of those episodes that’s not just a fan-favourite but a favourite of so many members of the team that made it, including many of the actors themselves. Clearly, it’s me, then.

‘Far Beyond the Stars’ is another of those get-the-cast-out-of-character episodes, as Sisko undergoes a practically episode-long hallucination in which he’s a staff writer on a 1953 SF magazine, facing racial prejudice. It involves every member of the cast and a bunch of recurring characters out of costume and, in several cases, out of make-up.

Basically,the peg is that Sisko is approaching burn out. The Dominion War is still ticking over in the background, with wins and losses, but the latest loss – the Cortez and it’s 400 strong crew, especially its Captain, Quentin Swofford, an old friend of Sisko – has him talking of stepping down.

Immediately he suggests that, he starts seeing people in 1953 clothes walking around where they aren’t. Bashir diagnoses strange synaptic potentials akin to those in the season 5 episode, ‘Rapture’ when he was having visions sent by the Prophets (not so much a hint as a crowbar to the back of the neck) and, presto changeo, he’s in 1953 New York where he’s Benny Russell, employed by Incredible Tales magazine.

Everyone’s there, so it’s spot-the-unmake-upped- actor time (I didn’t get Aron Eisenberg, Jeffrey Combs or J. G. Hertzler and I was incredibly slow about Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn) whilst the story hammers on its theme of racial prejudice. The hammering is relentless, but then again so was the racism. I don’t doubt there’s a social faction that would kick-off against snowflakes and SJWs, but just because the present day isn’t as relentlessly open and universal as the world depicted here doesn’t mean it no longer needs saying.

To be honest, I found the unrelieved nature of the depiction to be dramatically unbalanced: over and over and over again. In another context, where you could focus on this story without having Deep Space Nine looking over your shoulder constantly, it would have worked far better. Instead, it was never possible to escape the awareness that this set-up was doubly unreal, a fiction within a fiction.

Anyway, Benny Russell is inspired by a drawing of a space station very much like DS9 to write a powerful, engrossing story. About DS9, and it’s captain, Benjamin Sisko. Everybody loves and admires it, but it won’t get published. Because the Captain is a negro.

To jump briskly forward, after a tour of Benny’s world and constant reminders of the restrictions inherent on black people (Marc Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs as two violently prejudiced cops,who beat the living shit out of Benny at one point), he gets his editor to accept the story (and possibly the six sequels he’s already written), in return for his altering it slightly, to make the whole thing a dream. Whatever gets it into print. But the owner orders the whole print run pulped, the magazine’s going to skip a month and Benny’s fired. We all know why.

Throughout the hallucination, Sisko Senior keeps popping up as a Minister, preaching about the way ahead and insisting Sisko keep on his path, that he writes the words. He keeps mentioning the prophets (there’s that crowbar again). Benny has become fixated on his Captain Sisko, his DS9, this future he’s imagined. This latest setback unhinges him.He cracks up, onscreen, as if this block on publication of the story is an attempt to stop this entire future, the world of DS9, in which black and white and every other shade are equals, from ever happening.

Sad to say, I found it unconvincing, even when supported by Sisko’s musings in the close, which attempts to tip the show into metafiction, by wondering if Deep Space Nine is actually nothing more than the fiction it is, created by Benny Russell?

It’s Jorge Luis Borges’ paradox writ large: who is dreaming who? Is Sisko dreaming Benny, or vice versa? For me, it completely flops. Firstly, because when Benny goes into his meltdown, talking about ‘creating’ DS9, in the sense of a Creator creating Reality, he’s doing so as a character we know to be at a lower level of existence, the centre of a story-within-a-story. The same goes for Sisko’s musings: in an isolated story, you can play this angle for all it’s worth, and leave the reader genuinely uncertain, but after 136 previous episodes of Deep Space Nine, you’re pushing credibility to suggest that might be a fiction. A Tommy Westphall ending doesn’t work unless it is the end.

When Sisko recovers from the hallucination, his synaptic potentials have cleared up, even without a take-two-of-these-and-see-me-in-the-morning (crowbar time…) and he’s decided to soldier on. Phew, I was worried there…

The whole thing was a vision from the Prophets, to show Sisko that some fights have to be fought even in the face of frustration, defeat and loss. But really the episode was about the cast dressing down and playing outside their characters, with the framing story a loose-fitting McGuffin. That the story chosen was an important issue is impressive, but paradoxically it was weakened by being played in the context of Deep Space Nine, where it could have n serious impact by virtue of our knowledge that by the end it would all be reset, nothing gained, nothing lost, all that anger, frustration and heartache meaningless.

Or is it all just me?