Deep Space Nine: s07 e17 – Penumbra


You shall not…

In a week or so’s time it will be exactly three years since I decided to watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from beginning to end, blogging every episode. It’s taken me three years of what one may, by permitted exaggeration, call set-up to arrive at what I’ve been calling the endgame, but which the team that produced DS9 called The Final Chapter. We begin a serial, designed to wrap up all the accumulated loose ends.

So ‘Penumbra’ is made up in large part of trails being laid, that will lead to the ultimate fates for our characters, not all of them the star cast. The greater concentration of the Federation side is upon Captain Benjamin Sisko, part-Prophet, and Emissary, proposing marriage to Kasidy Yates, and upon Lt. Ezri Dax, obeying impulses coming in large part from her predecessor, Jardzia Dax, disobeying orders and leaving her post to go in search of Lt. Commander Worf, missing believed dead after the destruction of the Klingon vessel Kogara.

But not only the Federation. On Cardassia Prime, Gul Demar, whose drinking is starting earlier and earlier, is growing increasingly uncomfortable under the thumb of the grinning Weyoun, who has completely negated Demar’s position of authority. Both hold secrets: Weyoun is in service to the Female Changeling, who is becoming increasingly in thrall to the morphogentic disease threatening the Great Link, for which the antidote is proving exceedingly elusive. And Demar is keeping secret that he is shielding the increasingly baffling Dukat who has used a plastic surgeon of Demar’s recommendation to transform him into a Bajoran, for purposes as yet unrevealed…

Post-episode, I’ve long been consulting the episode resumes and analyses on Memory Alpha, but after ‘Penumbra’ I’m going to have to avoid that until the end. I’ve already learned several salient points about The Final Chapter that make a mockery of my determination to avoid spoilers, and which I’m going to have to ignore.

So for now I’m going to confine myself to what actually happens in the two strands I’ve already picked out.

The whole season so far, Worf and Ezri have been avoiding each other scrupulously. Worf goes missing, the ‘Defiant’ has to call off the search prematurely due to Jem’Hadar activity but Ezri, filled with Jardzia’s emotions and impulses after a visitto Worf’s empty quarters, takes off in a runabout to continue the search alone, with Sisko’s ex post facto tacit consent.

And of course one inexperienced Lieutenant works out what everyone else ha missed and finds her way to Worf’s escape pod and saves him. It’s a dip into the combined areas of the Cliche Drawer and lazy writing, basically demanding the audience accept that only Ezri, based solely on a more personal commitment, spots the incredibly simple clue that no-one else does.

So Ezri finds Worf and the pair set off back, in a very awkward atmosphere, with Jardzia lying between them. Only they’re shot down by Jem’Hadar and are forced to teleport down to a Goralis system planet, stranded without coms to signal for rescue. The pair promptly get on each others nerves something chronic, which leads to what bickering between male and female always leads to: having sex. I really must start to argue with women more often if that’s the outcome.

Lying in the jungle in post-coital bliss, our odd couple are surprised, stunned and taken prisoner by the Breen, for purposes as yet unknown.

As far Sisko, the intended quiet wedding, friends and family only, Admiral Ross officiating, immediately looks complicated, because it’s not Captain Ben Sisko who’s marrying, it’s the Emissary, and the whole of Bajor is expecting to be invited. But that’s the minor problem. The major one is that the Prophets, in the form of Sisko’s ‘mother’ Sarah, send him a vision. The Sisko’s path is for the Sisko only: she cannot walk it with him. He cannot marry.

Sisko’s response, after seven years of growing so attached to Bajor that he has bought and plans to build a home on the planet, an attachment nourished and nurtured by his role as Emissary, is almost petulant: he demands to control his own destiny, wants to be left alone, practically stamps his little foot about wanting to marry Kasidy. The emotion’s understandable but its expression is, we know, fruitless. I know where Sisko’s journey takes him, I know more than I wish about what comes and what he leaves behind him. His outburst is expected, but the form of it makes Sisko look childish: I wanna. And in the face of that open, whose simple explication of Sisko’s wishes as to his future was so soaked in irony that even someone completely ignorant of what is to follow would know instinctively that this was Never To Be, the close of his defiance of what is preordained was up against a scepticism it could never defeat.

But this is where we now stand. All things move towards a fixed point, at which all destinies will be decided. These flaws excepted, this episode set things in motion with due seriousness and without sag. There will be no diversions left.

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?

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 e03 – Afterimage


Note the obvious symbolism

After the last couple of weeks, with their irritating predictability (not to mention my own, stress-related issues), it was nice to settle back with a much better, and more enjoyable, character-led episode, with the full-scale introduction of Ezri Dax to DS9.

Until last week, I’d never seen anything of Ezri, or Nicole de Boer. I’d heard of her, of course, and most of what little I’d heard wasn’t complimentary. She was described as a weak character, unimpressive, dull. More recently, I’ve also heard that Ezri – who is here as a Counsellor – has a lot of her supposed role usurped by the constant reappearances of Vic Fontaine in exactly that role, which doesn’t need any of my antipathy to Mr Fontaine to call that completely stupid.

So my pre-impressions were all negative and it’s therefore a pleasure to admit that I liked both this episode and the character, not to mention that, like Jake Sisko, I find her cute. de Boer is fresh-faced and perky in appearance, looking significantly younger than the rest of the cast, and she brings that into her performance. Despite having eight lifetimes behind her, as Sisko keeps reminding her, Ezri is still a kid, and that means nervousness – especially at being in a place and among people she knows so well without having met them, and feeling burdened by their expectations of ‘her’ – and eagerness.

The episode was designed to play around Ezri, present her up front as what she is, to be swallowed in one gulp. As this was the last season, time was at a premium and a gradual introduction would have wasted the character. So we see everyone react: Sisko’s almost casual assumption that nothing has changed, Quark’s mercenary belief that this is his second chance, Bashir’s reflexive flirting. And Worf’s pain.

This is the most complex relationship of all, and it’s because Ezri knows him so well that she’s insistent on returning to the USS Destiny: she won’t inflict on him the pain of a reminder of Jardzia.

This is well-handled. Worf initially is offensive, refusing to acknowledge her. Then he attacks Bashir and Quark, warning them to stay away from Ezri. Finally, O’Brien reminds him to think how Jardzia would have wanted him to treat Ezri, which leads to an awkward quasi-acceptance.

There is a sort-of-B story, about Garak suffering from increasingly debilitating claustrophobia-induced panic attacks, but this is integrated into the main story, because Sisko asks Ezri to counsel him. An early breakdown doesn’t, however, get to the root of things and merely results in a tirade from Garak, tearing the novice Ezri down. Now, instead of leaving DS9, she’s going to leave Starfleet, completely abdicate the responsibility of being host to the Dax symbiont.

A predictable beat – the episode is not without its predictability – but when Ezri manages, more by luck than good judgement but still, to get at the real root of Garak’s issue (that in aiding the Federation he is being a traitor to Cardassia, causing untold deaths), it validates her self-consfidence. She retracts her resignation, agrees to stay on DS9, gets promoted to Lieutenant, and even gets a stiff smile from Worf. Job done.

I like Ezri Dax. Now to see what role she can play in the march to the finale.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e01/02 – Image in the Sand/Shadows and Symbols


Enter Ezri

The cynic in me says that this was always going to be about getting Sisko back and, given that I’m feeling overtired and unwell at the moment, I’m not in the mood for being manipulated in the fashion laid down by the end of season 6. Nor am I in sympathy with the big reveal that was made over the course of this two-parter, which I knew to be coming but which seemed ultimately to be too cheap an explanation for why Sisko is the Emissary.

Fortunately for all concerned, there were three stories over the course of the introduction to the last season, an A and two B’s, both of substantial proportion, and giving a substantial part to everyone in the cast. This included newcomer Nicole de Boer, replacing Terry Farrell as Dax, Ezri Dax to be specific, in a pretty blatant move to be about as different a Dax as can be.

Three months have gone by and Sisko has gone nowhere. Kira, newly promoted to Colonel and celebrating by adopting a new and hideous hair-style, is still acting Commander of DS9, her latest headache being the Federation’s decision to grant the Romulans a military HQ on DS9, even though they’ve got no right to. Though Senator Cretak at first presents as pretty amenable for a Romulan, enlisting the Colonel to put in for a Romulan med-base on a deserted Bajoran moon, it’s just your pretty standard Romulan treachery since they immediately set-up 7,000 missile launchers about it, provoking a Cuban Missile Crisis knock-off when Kira decides to blockade the place.

Meanwhile, Worf is mourning Jardzia for rather longer than Klingons do, forcing Vic Fontaine to continually sing ‘All the Way’ (oh dear God) and smashing up the holosuite. Chief O’Brien nobly goes three bottles of bloodwine with him to learn that it’s because Jardzia didn’t die fighting, she won’t go to Sto’Vo’Kor. The only way to secure this is to win a glorious victory against overwhelming odds in her name. Bashir, O’Brien and Quark (oh dear God) go with him.

As for Sisko, he’s playing the piano and peeling potatoes (for three months?). Finally, the baseball rolls off the piano and when he stoops to pick it up he has a vision from the Prophets, of uncovering a face in the sand on Tyree, a desert planet. Mission on. By indirect means, Sisko discovers that the face is that of his mother, his real mother, Sarah, not the one he’s always thought of as his mother until now. Sarah was his Dad’s first wife, his real, true love, who ran off inexplicably as soon as Ben was born. She’s dead now.

Having fanatically hidden her existence from her son all this long, Joseph Sisko cracks and gives Ben a locket she left behind. A locket with an inscription in Old Bajoran (my, we’re just piling on the cliches here, aren’t we?). The inscription translates as Orb of the Emissary, a lost Orb, so hey ho and the three generations of Siskos head off to Tyree where it’s obviously buried, though not before a Pah-Wraith worshiping Bajoran cuts Sisko’s stomach open to no lasting effect.

And just as they’re closing the restaurant to head for the spaceport, there’s a knock on the door, and it’s a cute little, fresh-faced Starfleet Ensign, whose cute black hair-style conceals most of her Trill spots: enter Ezri Dax.

Thee new Dax is obviously going to be comic relief to begin with, though there’s a serious explanation for her goofy gabble. Ezri never wanted to be joined, but when the Dax symbiont took a turn for the worse, post-Jardzia, she was the only Trill in town so, fifteen minutes of pep-talk later and everything changes. Ezri’s confused as hell, and looking to her two-lifetimes friend Benjamin to help her get her completely new feet on the ground. Off to Tyree? Bring it on!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Worf’s mission is not going well, though ultimately it’s a winner, and whilst I’m tired and being sarcastic because of it, Worf’s dedication to his lost wife is genuinely moving, despite all of Quark’s efforts to fuck up the tone. And Colonel Kira’s trying to bluff Senator Cretak into backing down, only, Romulans being smart buggers, she knows that and doesn’t intend to.

So Sisko’s party tramps unmercifully across the desert in pursuit of the buried Orb, Sisko’s only idea of where it may be being that he’ll know when he finds it. Or when Ezri throws his baseball away (another twist we couldn’t see coming). Did did dig dig dig, and there it is.

And another twist that I was very much not in sympathy with, as Sisko suddenly turns back into the half-mad Fifties SF writer, Benny Russell, the creator of ‘Deep Space Nine’. Benny’s in what the times would call the looney bin, his doctor trying to cure him by getting him to stop writing these stories. He’s writing in pencil on the walls (that actually was every single synopsis of very episode so far, written out on the walls of his cell, with Dr Wykoff – Casey (Demar) Biggs – trying to get Benny to whitewash over them.

That this had a perfectly logical explanation, that the Pah-Wraith was trying to get Sisko to rebury and smash the Orb, didn’t occur to me, which shows what a state I’m currently in: it just seemed like an unnecessarily clever-clever throwback to a story I’d been very dubious about to begin with. But Sisko holds out and opens the Orb.

A presence streaks from it, crosses space, roars past DS9 and re-opens the Wormhole, expelling the Pah-Wraith from it. We’re back in business. For Sisko, there’s a vision, a vision of the Prophet that was his mother Sarah, or rather which occupied her to ensure Sisko was born, at what cost to Sarah, Joseph, Benjamin himself. He’s the Emissary because he’s half-Prophet. Oh, really. How cheap.

And the re-opening of the Wormhole inspires Kira to carry out her bluff and win, because the Federation makes the Romulans back down.

So everyone returns to DS9, happily,including the new Dax in Town, whose day will of course come next week, when I hope to feel much more receptive to the next episode, or maybe have that be a bit less – ok, a lot less – clumsy and blatant in some of its ideas. Sorry about this. At long last, we’re on the home straight. I am starting to want the finish line to arrive.