Deep Space Nine: s06 e25 – The Sound of her Voice


Foreshadowing

The penultimate episode of season 6 worked out in the end as not working for me. It was an A/B story episode, with the B story centred upon Quark, which was enough to mar any hope the episode had of impressing me. You’re all aware by now of my antipathy towards Ferenghi, but that twenty-one carat disaster of a story two episodes back has finished things: this was too soon and too Quark. I couldn’t care about it, I could barely keep my eyes on the screen when it was on.

Unfortunately, a lot of that seeped back into the A story, to the extent that I’m not sure how much of my ultimately cold response to it is the poisoning by the B story, and how much was down to that element’s failure in its own terms.

Half the station staff – Sisko, Worf, Bashir and O’Brien, plus Kasidy Yates – have completed a mission escort a freight convoy when the Defiant picks up a distress call from Captain Lisa Cusack, a Federation officer stranded on a hostile planet after a crash that destroyed her ship and all her crew. The Defiant sets off on a rescue mission that will take them six days to arrive. Unfortunately, Captain Cusack is on a planet with a high CO2 atmosphere and it will be touch and go whether they can arrive before she dies.

This late in the season, it seems an odd, irrelevant concept for an episode, but Captain Cusack turns out to be just a McGuffin. She’s a voice on a radio (guest star Debra Wilson was a voice actor and chosen on that basis), in need of someone to talk to whilst she waits. Sisko, Bashir and O’Brien take it in turns to engage her in conversation, which rapidly reveals that Captain Cusack is a device to get various cast members to talk about what’s bothering them, what effect the Dominion War is having on them.

It was all a bit too mechanical, too blatant for me to actually feel that much involvement in the cast’s issues, especially as most of them seemed to have been invented for the episode, without grounding over previous weeks that would make them look an organic development.

And ultimately the Defiant arrived in the nick of time only to find that Captain Cusack had been dead for three years and the radio conversations had been bouncing forward and backwards in time in a very convenient manner that sounded completely artificial and a cheap ending, even though the concept of conversations across time was the initial concept that grew into this script.

As for the B story, it starts when Quark realises that Odo can be distracted from his duties by his love for Kira so he edges the Constable towards an Anniversary date to celebrate their first month. This enables him to set up a profitable smuggling deal, free from interference. Jake Sisko breaks character to go along with observing every detail of the deal on condition he doesn’t tell anyone else anything. The scam is set to take place Saturday evening but Odo plans to celebrate Sunday evening instead. Odo despairs of yet another, this time ruinous failure and after all he did for Odo in finally pushing him into Kira’s arms. Odo overhears this and abruptly switches his date back to Saturday night. Quark celebrates beating Odo at last but Odo’s only done it because he did owe Quark one, but only one. There. I’m sure that to the right fan, that was delightful but I’ve had it way past here with Quark and that’s not going to change.

I’m afraid I found the finale a bit too mechanical as well. The Defiant crew hold an Irish Wake for Captain Cusack, speaking about how she has changed them. Jardzia Dax is present with Worf. O’Brien talks of staying close with friends “because someday we’re going to wake up and we’re going to find that someone is missing from this circle.” And the camera pans to Dax.

It’s not exactly subtle and it’s far from impressive. Had this episode been half a dozen weeks ago, that would have worked far better, as a reminder that this is a War and sometimes even important people get killed in wars, but it’s like putting up a neon sign here.

So, one that might have been much better, but in the end wasn’t. And, next week…

Deep Space Nine:s06 e20 – His Way


Changeling in a Tuxedo – wasn’t that a Morrissey song?

My parents loved Frank Sinatra and Nat ‘King’ Cole. I grew up, as a little boy, on sounds like these, on the BBC’s Light Programme. It was a little terraced house, with the radio on and the music was inescapable unless I went and hid in my bedroom, or was playing outside. They hated pop music, so both there, and at the semi-detached we later moved into, I heard virtually nothing of the music of the Sixties whilst it was rolling out. Pretty much all my love for that music is retrospective.

As a result, I am virtually completely inoculated against music of that ilk. It belongs to my parents. It isn’t, and can’t be, anything of mine. It’s ineradicably severed from the music that influences me. And it has always seemed that the only music you ever hear on American TV programmes is this relic of a past now long since gone: light, snappy, a bit jazzy, light. Lacking in energy, passion and raw enthusiasm. As if the audience can’t take anything later in style than maybe 1961-62: the Rat Pack era. Frank and Dean. And Vic. Vic Fontaine, that is.

Which is why an episode of Deep Space Nine built upon that music, that style, that retrograde ethos, showcasing the kind of songs that take me back to Brigham Street and playing with plastic soldiers on the floor, with drying clothes hung on the folding maiden in front of the fire, was never going to fly with me. Four hundred years in the future and we are still aping Frank and Dean.

My great criticism of The Original Series is that I find it impossible to believe in a galaxy run according to the mores of mid-Fifties midwest America. It’s ironic to see it’s darkest and deepest sequel sinking into the music of that time.

Basically, guest star James Darren (guest? It was practically his show) plays Vic Fontaine, nightclub/lounge singer and self-aware hologram in Bashir’s latest programme. Vic sings and tells cheesy jokes but he’s also a master of love. Odo, still mooning over Kira, who’s off to Bajor to see ex-boyfriends, Shakaar, asks Vic for advice.

Put like that, you can see what a bad idea it is. Played out over 45 minutes, Odo is every bit as inept and awkward as you’d expect him to be. I was a bit surprised though, not to get any frissons of recognition from my own ineptitude and awkwardness, though it was probably the unreality of the situation that kept me from feeling too much of myself in things.

Vic teaches Odo to unwind, relax, cool it, have fun, not that Odo changes too much. He introduces him to torch singer Lola Christoff (Nana Visitor in a red sheath dress, breathily singing ‘Fever’), and having a definite thing for Our Changeling Friend, but Odo can’t take that step because though she looks like Nerys, she doesn’t act like her.

So the ever-resourceful Vic (he manages to get his hologram self everywhere) gets Kira to come for dinner in the holosuite, cons Odo into thinking this is a perfect hologram duplicate, and serves them up the perfect cliche Fifties dinner, dance and shag date.

Of course we only get the first two, because when Odo realises that this is the Kira, the real Kira, everything blows up in a perfect storm of embarrassment. Leading to the cliche ending: Odo avoids Kira, Kira decides to settle it by asking him to dinner, a real dinner, they start shouting at each other, on the Promenade, over the sequence of events: dinner, dancing, kissing, why bother with the preliminaries, lets have the massive passionate snog right here, in public, with the crowd practically holding up scorecards: 9.1, 9.6, 9.3…

Both Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois thought this development wrong for their characters, and so do I, but the season 7 finale was already in mind, including Odo’s resolution, if not quite yet its title, and there had to be something to lose. The story had been played out since season 2, and the showrunners wanted it to progress towards that end (the rationale is somewhat male-centric: give the guy a girl so he’s got something precious to sacrifice, but what about her?) even if the actors felt it wrong.

For once, I seem to be in with the majority, who didn’t like the episode, though they’re not as alienated by the music as I am. The showrunners still defend it, but this was one for them and not the audience. Mam and Dad would have liked it, though.

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?

Deep Space Nine: s06 e05/6 – Favors the Bold/Sacrifice of Angels


Battle

So the six-part (seven, if you count the final episode of season 5) Dominion War arc concluded with a two-parter of its own, and with the expected victory for the Federation in the re-taking of Deep Space Nine. This was originally intended to take a single episode, but the sheer profusion of events requiring to be covered forced its expansion, and the sheer volume of guest stars to accommodate.

Both parts were excellent, but I’m not sure if the first part, ‘Favors the Bold’, wasn’t the better of the two. Though the double-episode structure meant that it was all build-up and no resolution, after the relatively innocuous open (the Defiant acting as a decoy to attract Jem’Hadar ships to be destroyed by it and the Rotaran), the episode started on the edge, and remained on the edge throughout.

The Federation are losing the War, and morale is falling at the constantly defensive stance. The Federation needs to go on the attack and Sisko has drawn up a plan: the retaking of DS9, and regaining control of the Wormhole.

Meanwhile, on DS9, Rom is still in the cells. He’s been declared a terrorist against the Dominion and there is only one sentence: execution. Kira can’t get Weyoun to change his mind, Ziya can’t get her father, Gul Dukat, to change his mind either. Leeta and Quark are trying to encourage Rom: Quark promises he will get him out, and that’s before Leeta agrees to run the dabo wheel for two years for free.

But Rom is adamant that he is unimportant. He should not be rescued. The anti-graviton beam must be sabotaged before it can neutralise the minefield on the Wormhole. Billions of lives depend on the War. Quark must take over from him. Though Quark refuses, it’s only because he’s afraid. He’s not being Quark, not being Ferengi, he’s taking everything seriously and it’s strange but I like him better here than I ever have before.

Meanwhile, Odo has been closeted with the Female Changeling for three days, not that he’s been aware of time. They’ve been communing, both via the Great Link – which is slowly beginning to addict Odo – and the way solids do (wipes mind of image thus produced). In every way except actively, he’s gone over to the other side. Kira can’t even get in to see him.

Next, Demar, still knocking back the booze like it’s going out of fashion, lets on to Quark that the mines will be swept within the week, Quark gets this out to Sisko via Morn, and the Federation attack has to go ahead without delay: without half the planned fleets, and without the Klingons. Oh, and with Ensign Nog, who gets a promotion from Cadet!

I hadn’t immediately realised this was going to be a two-parter, though as we got into the last five minutes or so, this became obvious. The Fleet is on its way. Sisko’s back in the Captain’s chair on the Defiant. O’Brien and Bashir are trading lines from The Charge of the Light Brigade, much to Nog’s consternation, and the Dominion fleet comes up ahead: 1254 ships, outnumbering the Federation more than two to one. Let battle commence.

The title of the second episode filled me with foreboding from the outset, a foreboding that was realised, though strictly speaking it related to a different kind of sacrifice.

With the Fleet now engaged in battle, the Cardassian/Dominion War counsel, Dukat, Demar, Weyoun and the Female Changeling, takes the entirely sensible decision to arrest the Resistance: Kira, Jake and Leeta are hauled in for questioning, but once Dukat has achieved the victory he’s so delightedly anticipating, everyone’s going to be for the chop.

Sisko’s battle plan is to concentrate fire on the Cardassian ships, hoping to provoke them into the kid of direct response that will break the formation, leaving a hole the Defiant et al can punch through. Dukat recognises this and orders the necessary ships to break, intending to create a trap: Bashir recognises the tactic. But it’s all they’ve got, they’ve got to go for it.

With the aid of a timely arrival of a Klingon fleet under Martok and Worf, the Defiant breaks through, alone, and barrels towards DS9. But the time until when the mines will be eradicated is getting tight. Quark and Zyal break the Resistance out of the cells. Odo puts the agonising appeal of the Link aside to ensure Kira is not killed. She and Rom feverishly work at dsabling the station’s weapons array and succeed. There’s only a second in it. But it’s not the cliche second that saves the day. It’s a second late. The mines are cleared, a Dominion fleet of 2800 ships starts through the Wormhole and Sisko, knowing it’s suicide for everyone but having no other alternatives, takes the Defiant into the Wormhole to face them. Alone.

And here is the ending that, for many people, was a letdown, and in a way it was, because all deus ex machina endings are, by definition, a cheat upon drama, but this ending was integral to the entire Deep Space Nine arc. Because Sisko is the Emissary. And the Emissary was taken to the place of the Prophets, against his will, and there told that he is not allowed to die, not allowed to end the game. He rants and raves, demands to be returned, challenges the Prophets that, if they are Gods, they owe a duty to their children. We’re a long way from the Emissary’s complete scepticism and discomfort at his role.

And the Prophets return him, and they use their powers to sweep away, without trace, the entire Dominion Fleet. Deus ex machina, and with real deus’s who exist within the overarching storyline. You can see why people thought it weak, thought it a cheat. Is it a cheat to build just the very thing into your five-years-long-so-far story? I don’t have an answer to that. But I didn’t feel cheated on an emotional level.

But there will be a price for intervention. Sisko, who has declared his intention of building a home on Bajor, will not know peace. And before then, there will be another sacrifice.

When the Defiant emerges from the Wormhole alone there is a general consternation on DS9 and an immediate decision to head for the lifeboats, Female Changelings first. Dukat can’t believe it. They’d won. They’d won. How could this have happened?

It’s everybody out, but Dukat won’t leave without Ziyal. He’s already half-crazed, which is worsened when she refuses to leave with him. Here is her home. she is not a true Cardassian. Though she loved him, she has acted against him, freeing Kira and the rest. And Demar, who has heard all this, draws his gun and cuts her down. Dukat goes over the edge.

So Sisko and co return to DS9, to a hero’s welcome. Everyone’s there to meet them, except Kira, who’s in the infirmary with Ziya. When he hears this, Garak heads straight there. Kira informs him that Ziya loved him. Garak’s response is deeply sad: he says that he knew, but he could never understand why. Now, he never will.

Dukat is still in DS9, collapsed into madness. He is sobbing his forgiveness of Ziya, of others. He returns Sisko’s baseball, tells him he forgives him too. It is a sober moment in the middle of victory.

To be honest, I am already wondering about what happens next. I know the subject of the next episode, but it is what the series does from episode eight onwards that concerns me. The Dominion have not been defeated. They have not given up their war or their plan. The Wormhole is still there: are the Prophets going to wipe out every Dominion ship that tries to go through it?

I really hope we don’t go back to the kind of individual stories that have dominated earlier series. Things have changed irreversibly and that would be a total letdown.

However, it’s a case of waiting for future episodes to come round on schedule. I will wait and see.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e04 – Behind the Lines


Traitor

Whether it be me or Deep Space Nine, things were back on track this week, and I personally felt this to be the best episode so far of season 6.

As has bee the pattern thus far, it’s divided between the war and the station, but for a change of pace, it was the latter that formed the A story, and quite rightly so. The nature of the B story changed substantially in the writing, with several deep and complex ideas being rejected because they would have made this strand too complex to exist as the B story.

Whilst I agree with this approach, it did have the unfortunate effect of neutering that side of the episode, pushing the actual story so far out of sight, literally, as to be unimportant.

Basically, Admiral Ross orders Sisko and the Defiant on a mission to destroy a well-protected Sensor array that’s plotting the movement of all Federation ships and handing the Dominion a massive technological advantage. Then Ross promotes Sisko to become his Adjutant, putting direct command of the mission and the ship in the hands of Dax. The mission is a spectacular success, entirely offscreen: what we see is Sisko’s concerns at his crew going into danger without him.

I’m informed that Dax’s success in command is going to lead to changes in her character, but Sisko’s elevation to a position of increased authority and responsibility, and his introduction to that aspect of command that involves sending men to war whilst you remain in a position of physical safety is going to be a hard one to row back upon when the War is over: especially in so increasingly military an organisation as Starfleet.

But let’s pass on that. It’s not intended to go too deep, though it might have made a strong episode in itself if the show had been willing to go deeper into the Dominion War than they’re doing. Of far greater importance is the A story, showing the Resistance in action on DS9/Terak Nor.

I’ve got to be honest and say that this story was introduced with some astonishingly clunky writing in the open. Kira and Rom have stolen and strategically passed on Dumar’s ‘iPad’ containing his secret plan to poison the last ration of ketracel White and kill the Jem’Hadar, if the blockade of the Wormholeisn’t relieved before supplies run out. The Jem’Hadar don’t like it. A bar brawl breaks out in Quark’s, with much damage to property and person, and glee for Kira and Rom. The odea’s good, but what kills it is that we see all the action from a silent distance with Kira talking us through everything, as a virtual voiceover. It’s horribly amateurish, it’s wooden, it’s an unattractive Tell imposed on a reduced to insignificant Show.

All the more creditable that the strand should go on to develop so strong a story. The plan was very effective in the eyes of Kira, Rom and Jake, who form three-quarters of the now-established Resistance Committee, but not Odo, the fourth. Odo thought it a bad idea, for disrupting the order on the station, and had walked out without staying to learn that Kira had persuaded everyone otherwise. It makes things uncomfortable for the pair – and Odo remains passionately in love with Kira – with the Major not questioning Odo’s loyalty but coming very close to where she will start to be concerned.

This theme unfortunately gets developed much more after the arrival on the station of the Female Changeling to see Odo. She’s been trapped in the Alpha Quadrant and desires the company of a fellow shapeshifter, or so she says. She persuades Odo into entering the Link with her.

This terrifies Kira as much as it angers her. She extracts a promise from Odo not to Link again until after the war is over. He is a crucial part of the Resistance and discipline is necessary, discipline and a subsuming of personal interest to the primary task.

Dumar, Dukat’s number two, is on the lookout for favour. He’s promoted to Gul, he’s come up with a plan to clear the mines off, he’s drinking way too much at Quark’s. This latter leads him to spill the beans to Quark, who’s beginning to realise that there are more things to life that mere profits and he’d really rather like to have the Federation back, please. So Quark passes this on to the Resistance, om works out how it can be done and how that can be protected, a plan is devised whereby Odo will disable security at a specified time to enable Rom’s act of sabotage…

And Odo, desperate for more understanding of himself and the Changelings, goes into Link with the Female at exactly the wrong moment. The sabotage fails, Rom is arrested, the War is now almost certainly lost. Kira loses her rag with Odo, but the horrifying thing is that Odo hasn’t merely been derelict in his duty, he has become completely indifferent. Only the Link matters. Not even Kira.

It’s a chilling development. Odo has defected. There’s no other way of describing it. He’s done the unforgivable. It’s going to be one hell of a journey back to the side of the goodies, and in the eyes of at least one member of the audience, it’s a case of You Can’t Get There From Here.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e01 – ‘A Time to Stand’


A look of disgust

At the end of season 5, my researches turned up some interesting details about the crosssover to season 6, when the Dominion War would start to play out in earnest.  Firstly, there was the show’s resistance to having cliffhanger endings to seasons, born of their desire to have a free hand at the start of next season to take whatever direction they thought best suited, as opposed to being tied down to respond to a specific set-up.

And the second was a particular example of that, being the closing shot of season 5. The Defiant, retreating from Terek Nor, as it has once again become, joins a Federation/Klingon fleet and swings round to lead it. This little present from the Special Effects team was not what was wanted: it implies an immediate retaliatory attack, which was not what had been intended and thus further dictated how season 6 was going to have to play out.

So here we are. Technically, ‘A Time to Stand’ is the first part of a multi-episode story, originally intended to cover four episodes but eventually running out at six. I normally treat two-parters and even three-parters as a single story for this blog’s  purposes, but I’m not going to watch and write about six in one go. In any event, the impression I have, on which I stand to be corrected, is that this is not a cohesive single story, but rather the onset of a serialised format, at least temporarily.

This change caused no little consternation on Deep Space Nine about whether or not this was a step too far, even though serialisation was always implicit in a format built around a stationary setting. I shall have to pay careful attention to this extended storyline as it unfolds, and even more to what follows it.

Three months have passed and the Federation is losing the Dominion War, even without the availability of reinforcements via the still-mined Wormhole. Tensions are rising between Dukat and Weyoun over who, exactly is in charge. The gang’s still split up: Kira, Odo, Quark and Jake, the latter of whom’s press reports are being suppressed due to anti-Dominion bias, are still on the station, Worf with General Martok and an increasingly exhausted Sisko, Dax, O’Brien and Bashir on the Defiant, supplemented by Garak and Nog.

Worf turns up briefly, to argue with Jardzia about their forthcoming wedding ceremony and take her off for a shag, but the rest of the episode beats back and forth between the two main groups. Quark’s in profit, and rather more reconciled to the occupation, in part because it’s considerably more humane than under the Cardassians, although that won’t last if Dukat gets the upper hand on Weyoun. Kira and Odo are working in concert. Dukat makes plain his ongoing interest in her lilywhite body, and she her ongoing preference to make it with leprous swine in preference (not that she uses such words…)

At Kira’s prompting, Odo exploits his god-like status with Weyoun to get his Bajoran security team reinstated and re-armed, at the cost of agreeing to join the station ruling Council alongside the Vorta and the Cardassian. It’s a move that worries Kira, making it feel like a defeat.

Meanwhile, Sisko and crew are ordered to Starbase 375 where Admiral Ross (a first appearance by new recurring guest Barry Jenner) relieves him of command of the Defiant. Fear not: Sisko and Co are heading deep into Cardassian/Dominion territory, in the refurbished Jem’Hadar ship captured in season 5, to destroy the asteroid where all the supplies of Ketracell White are kept, crippling the Jem’Hadar threat.

And the mission is a success, but not without a cost: the asteroid suspects something, refuses to lower its security shield. The ship escapes at the last second, thanks to precise in-his-head calculations from Doctor Bashir, whose revealed  status as a genetically-enhanced being is being played up all of a sudden. But it is badly damaged. It’s Warp Drive is fried. And under normal power, the journey back to a Federation base is going to take seventeen years, two months and three days (give or take an hour: thank you, Julian).

All of this is very Voyager, albeit over a projected timescale less than a quarter of the length of the franchise’s other extant series, but as we already know, this arc covers six episodes not seven seasons, so the wait will not be indefinite.

Judged in isolation, this is very much a set-up episode, with only the relatively minor resolution of the accomplished mission to point to, and even the implications of that will have weeks to play out. So let’s not judge it yet: there are still five parts to go. The last year starts here.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e26 – Call to Arms


Don’t make yourself too comfortable…

This is the point that’s taken me over two years to reach, the outermost point of those evenings twenty years ago, of sprawling in front of the BBC2 showings of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The end of season 5, the start of the Dominion War. By the time DS9 came back, I had a house full of people, and coming in, throwing off my jacket and tie and sprawling on the couch was no longer an viable option.

I started watching DS9 from the beginning to fill in the beginning and end of a middle that, falsely, I remembered as stretching maybe as much as three seasons. When I finally caught up with my recollections, it turned out to be not even one full season. But the end of season 5 concludes that phase of the rewatch. Ahead of me lies terra incognita, just as much as if things had never gone the way they did and I had remained free to watch TV whenever I felt like it.

‘Call to Arms’ might have begun with the comic note of Rom and Leeta trying to agree a wedding dress for a ceremony in which, under Ferengi culture, she should have been naked (insert your own shallow comment here), but swiftly modulated to the tension that underlies the approach of war. The Dominion are bringing in warfleets every week, via the Wormhole, en route to Cardassia, regular as clockwork. Sisko has to take a decision: do nothing, and allow an irresistible fleet to be assembled, capable of ultimate victory when it chooses to act, or halt the incoming reinforcements, and preciptate war now.

The only choice, if victory is to be possible, is the latter: Sisko orders  the entrance to the Wormhole to be mined.

Weyoun appears, to protest, to suggest a deal by which the mines are removed and the Dominion limits itself to civilian ships, medical and economic assistance for the poor, stricken Cardassian Empire. Sisko will consult the Federation, which isn’t sending its own reinforcements, for reasons we won’t learn until the end (a Federation/Klingon attack that destroys the Dominion shipyards in Cardassian territory). No-one believes anything for a moment.

War is coming. Everyone’s preparing for it. Keiko O’Brien and the children have been evacuated back to Earth, Jake Sisko won’t go because a reporter’s duty is to be where the action is. The Romulan Empire has signed a non-aggression pact with the Dominion, Sisko advises Bajor to do the same, over Major Kira’s protests: five years ago, he was assigned to DS9 to protect Bajor after it gained its independence and that duty still remains, so he will use his position as Emissary to take them out of the firing line.

All Bajorans evacuate. Rom and Leeta get Sisko to marry them, before she is ordered to go: Rom has a duty to stay as a Starfleet member, and a duty to protect his brother, who seems for once to appreciate this. Gul Dukat’s half-Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal parts reluctantly from Garak. Quark starts smuggling in yamok sauce. Odo and Kira are still acting awkwardly around each other until Odo officially tells her that he’s locking away his feelings for the duration (some of these scenes are more effective emotionally than others: you can actually hear the writing staff’s cheers of relief underlying this one).

Seeding the wormhole with self-replicating mines (Rom’s suggestion) takes time, and the Defiant   will be a sitting duck until it has finished. And it is not finished when the War steps across the line between coming and arriving. A Dominion/Cardassian fleet under Gul Dukat comes to attack DS9. General Martok’s Klingon Warbird protects the Defiant. The station defends itself steadfastly, destroying 50 ships. But once the seeding is done, it is time to take the inevitable decision. Deep Space Nine is lost: the Federation will evacuate.

Not permanently. Sisko, his staff and Garak depart to join a major fleet approaching DS9. McArthur-like, he promises he will return. Quark’s bar stays open. Rom rejoins him as Assistant Manager and (self-proclaimed?) Federation spy. Jake remains as a journalist, trusting in his ‘status’ as the emissary’s son to protect him.

Major Kira, Odo and Quark officially greet Dukat’s return to Terak Nor. The Major has already initiated a Sisko-developed programme that thoroughly wipes the control room computers of any ability to function.

But although it’s not the final shot, that being the cliched one of Sisko looking defiant, the episode and the series ends with a very effective moment. Gul Dukat commandeers the station commander’s office: his again, after five long years of waiting for revenge. It has been stripped of everything, but one item, Sisko’s baseball. Dukat recognises it as a message. Sisko is coming back.

We move onwards, I move onwards towards the only real step into the future since I began this series back in October 2015. Everything until now has been backing and filling, getting up to speed with the background to that brief period of which I was already aware. Forward I go.

Next week being Christmas week, I haven’t decided yet whether or not to take a week’s break. It is a perfect point to do so, but on the other hand, habit is habit. If you don’t get a DS9 post off me next Tuesday, that’ll be why, and we’ll pick things up again in the New Year.

Deep Space Nine s05 e22: Children of Time


A valley, in Time

Except for one minor flaw, at the end, created by TV’s insistence on spelling everything out, this was one of the best DS9 episodes I have seen, a bubble-story taking place in a bubble-environment, presenting a simple, yet beautifully complex moral question.

Returning from the Gamma Quadrant (I understand, for the last time until the ultimate finale), the Defiant, carrying all the senior staff, is eager to get home but is distracted into a detour by Jardzia Dax’s insatiable curiosity about a nearby planet screened by quantum fields. Sisko agrees a look, but on the way through the barrier, half the ship’s functions are knocked out and Kira takes an electrical discharge through the chest.

But this is nothing compared to the ship being hailed, immediately, by representatives of the 8,000 strong community below, representatives who know the Defiant‘s crew only too well. Their names are Yedrin Dax and Miranda O’Brien. They, like everyone else on this planet, are the descendents of the crew of the Defiant which, less than two days from now, will be thrown back in time 200 years, and be marooned on this planet.

It’s a simple, beautiful set-up, with a deadly edge. For once, it is a purely science fiction idea, of the kind rarely seen in DS9 which, for all its sophistication, is still basically space-opera.  And it carries with it a terrible choice. We know the Defiant will leave, that everyone will survive, as surely as we know that there are still four more episodes this season.

But in this fractal time-line, this isolated bubble in the Universe, it crashes back to the planet and the crew must make a life, using only the relatively limited technology that survives with them. And the electrical discharge that hit Kira kills her within weeks, for lack of the sophisticated infirmary on DS9.

In the two hundred years that have passed, the unwilling colonists have built an idyllic world, in beautiful country, and make no mistake, the valley in which this is set in beautiful and I immediately wanted to go there and go walking there. They have become a community, at one with each other. All the senior staff have extended families of descendents. Worf and Dax got married. There are Klingons here, not all of them biologically so, but all honouring Worf, Son of Mogh. There are Siskos and Bashirs, and even O’Briens, though the Chief, with a wife and children he longs to get back to, holds himself the furthest off these heirs, just as his original iteration did.

Even Yedrin Dax is the Dax symbiont, merged with another Trill: he is still Sisko’s friend and mentor, still the Old Man.

And it has Odo. The same Odo, now better able to control his shapeshifting so that he looks a lot more like Rene Auberjonois than he normally does. An Odo who has waited two hundred years to see Kira Nerys again, and to tell her, after all this time, that he loves her. Which disturbs her greatly. Even more so than the knowledge that she can visit her own grave and pray over it.

It’s an idyll. But it’s an idyll dependent upon a tragedy, the crash of the Defiant, the tearing away of these people from the lives they knew, the responsibilities they faced, the people they loved, like Jake Sisko. And it depends on Kira Nerys dying.

But Yedrin has a plan, a cunning plan, to get all around this. If carefully plotted, the Defiant‘s passage of the Barrier can create a Quantum duplicate, in effect two Defiants, one to stay and one to go home. It’s a beautiful construction that satisfies two impossible alternates. And we know it can’t work for where would there be a story, where would there be a shadow? And it can’t work: Dax figures it out, confronts Dax, who admits he’s only trying to ensure history repeats itself, out of overwhelming guilt at being responsible for the whole thing in the first place. Yedrin is trying to ensure that all his people, his community, his life, will still come into existence, instead of winking out forever, a closed loop, if the Defiant gets away.

Everyone is affected. The episode, without bogging anything down, makes time to show everypne’s reactions to this enclosed community, to get to know and understand these people, to see themselves in them, to really understand that these are our children and our children’s children. And to absorb that escape, returning to their own lives, means killing them. All of them.

In the end, even O’Brien comes over, once he’s unbent himself to plant with another Molly O’Brien. They will do it. They will let themselves crash. They will ensure that history is repeated exactly. Even though it can’t be, since this time the crew go into this with their eyes open and in full knowledge, that originally they didn’t possess, ensuring that their actions cannot replicate what once occurred, but that’s a subtlety too far for a TV show.

Except that, at the last moment, the decision is taken away from them. The auto-pilot, so precisely calculated, veers past the anomaly and through the barrier unscathed. Do Not pass Go, Do Not pass into the past, Do Not detect 8,000 life-forms on the planet below.

How? The course has been tampered with, history has been altered, irreversibly, but by who? The obvious candidate in Yedrin Dax, a last-minute change of heart, and the makers admit that in an older version of Star Trek that would have been the solution. But you and I who have been watching this episode with our eyes and ears and, most importantly, our hearts open, know where to look, and it is here and not the fact that, temporally speaking, the whole idea couldn’t work due to latterday foreknowledge, where the story’s one true flaw comes. We have to be told. It has to be made explicit. It has to be thrust in your face, where it cannot but have consequences that we will never experience because it will never be alluded to again.

Because it was Odo, of course. The older Odo, the more open Odo, the Odo that can tell a Kira who has literally stepped out of his memories that he loves her, and who is prepared to sacrifice himself and 7,999 other lives for hers when she has taken a decision in accordance with her religious beliefs that her death to facilitate their lives is her Path.

What consequences this has, if consequences there be, which I suspect there will not, for Kira and Odo in the present will have to be seen. Given how everyone has reacted, prepared to sacrifice themselves in their natural instinct to protect their young, the only human response would be indescribable guilt.  And given that Odo has been able to spill the beans because Odo linked with him, I would be expecting character swings as the two hundred years of now non-existent experience remains accessible to him. Which we’re not going to see, though I now have some nascent ideas for my own fiction arising out of this.

But if I were giving out ratings to these episodes, I would be awarding ‘Children of Time’ something like A-very-slightly-minus, or 9++ out of 10, because it was so very good, in a way that is only possible with a longstanding series in which we are sure of the characters already but which cannot be fully realised if they are to be the characters of which we are sure next week.

Which has a hard act to follow.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e17: A Simple Investigation


See, I told you so

I was unconvinced about this week’s episode on watching the open, which came over as bitty, and threatening too many elements for an ordered episode, but I was wrong about that side. We went from a hooded Idanian being thumped and eventually disintegrated by two Finneans, all blue skin, holes in their faces and raggedly clothing, looking for It and a woman, to Bashir, Dax, O’Brien and Odo discussing their holosuite programme that’s a sequel to ‘Our Man Bashir’, only for Odo to get all nervous over how he’s supposed to steal the girl and walking out, and ending at the bar with Quark hitting on a very attractive blonde woman of a certain age, who doesn’t need Odo’s help to handle importunate Ferengis, even if the Constable has ‘bedroom eyes’ (now, there’s a term that has gotten seriously out-dated). It didn’t need the camera shifting angle to expose the two Finneans watching the lovely Arissa for us to link the first and final parts of this sequence together.

After that, however, the episode settled into being a well put together two-hander between Odo and Arissa, played with neatness and economy by guest actress Dey Young, a less-than-blatant beauty that nevertheless convinced at least one member of the audience that she was someone that men could get obsessed about at first sight.

Odo is clearly smitten, but his next encounter with Arissa is on a professional basis, when she’s arrested for trying to bypass station security and access data on an Idanian named Torvid Rem, i.e., our disintegrated guy. Arissa tells Odo a bunch of porkies, claiming he was assisting her in tracking down the daughter she’d given up fifteen years ago, but Odo doesn’t believe her, which he’s right to do. And he keeps harping on about strip-searches and the like, to Arissa’s flirtatious amusement.

No, flirtatious is not the right word. Odo is beyond inexperience, and is aware of that, which ensures that he is keeping everything tremendously reserved whilst at the same time betraying his fascination in every movement (boy, did that come over as being incredibly familiar). And Arissa’s ‘flirtatiousness’ is too cool, too grave, to strictly merit the word. Since we’re seeing things from Odo’s perspective, we simultaneously find it obvious that she wants him to unwrap her from that clingy grey dress she’s wearing and do naughty Changeling things to her, and that Odo can’t be sure that it isn’t just an act by which a much more experienced woman strings him along (boy, did that come over as being incredibly familiar).

The true story (at this point anyway) is that Arissa worked for Draim, a big wheel in the Orion Syndicate but, having realised that the far-removed things she did nevertheless resulted in great harm, she wanted out. The crystal Torvid Rem had contained the super-seriously encrypted information that would enable her to walk away without Draim having her knocked off.

Not that Arissa really believed that. Even with Odo appointing himself her personal protector, willing to take leave of absence to go with her, Arissa knew too much to ever really believe Draim wouldn’t get her. And finally, Odo, after interrupting the holoprogramme to seek advice, works up the nerve to kiss her, after which it’s a night of red-hot sex, so good that Arissa doesn’t even realise Odo’s been a virgin up to that moment (boy, was that not in the least familiar. Or plausible).

But the denouement is rushing towards us. Arissa gives way to her fears, does a deal to trade the crystal for her life, not that Draim intends to keep his side of the bargain. And an Idanian Intelligence agent turns up in Odo’s office to drop the bombshell I hadn’t foreseen, namely that Arissa is actually a surgically-altered Idanian Undercover agent, given a fake set of memories and personality, who’s spent the last two years getting information on Draim that’ll crack his organisation wide open.

What’s on the crystal is the real memories and personalities of not-Arissa. Which, we learn in the close, include the fact that she’s married. Not to mention that, once her sub-Cardassian knobbly forehead is restored, and she’s covered up by the hood all Idanians wear,  Dey Young doesn’t look a bit attractive. Nevertheless, before she leaves Odo alone and heartbroken, she does rather rub a bit if salt in it by telling him that she remembers Arissa very well, and she did love him and that that love is still there, a bit, fat consolation that is.

So this episode is basically a love story, and one of the better-handled ones, given that Dey Young not only looked seriously attractive, but also looked, and played, very intelligent. You could imagine talking to this woman for a very long time, which isn’t always the case.

For all that, and in the grand scheme of things, ‘A Simple Investigation’ was not at all well-planned. In the first place, it should have come whilst Odo was still humanoid, and exploring being human, not reverted to Shapeshifterdom. And it was intended to show that Odo had gotten over Kira, and was no longer in love, an intention that, I am reliably informed, will be reversed less than six weeks from now.

As for Our Man Bashir II, this was restricted to one entirely nebulous scene apparently because MGM had threatened to sue over the original episode, stupid idiots.

Overall, an enjoyable episode, enlivened for me by the presence of the attractive Dey Young (have I mentioned she was attractive?), though I note this is the second one-off episode since the great ground-shifting of ‘In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light’ to not even reference the changed situation. One step up and two steps back, as it ever was.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e12: The Begotten


Three ‘generations’

In the immediate wake of Twin Peaks‘s conclusion, and especially my Bingewatch, I was concerned about what effect this might have upon watching ‘conventional’ television programmes. It recalled something I’d long forgotten, from the late Eighties, when for a time I drifted away from my usual love of mainstream superhero comics.

That was the time of my post-Watchmen trauma. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal series had so re-wired my expectations that, literally for years, I found the mainstream comic book series thin, and unengaging. What I did own of that era – Flash, Justice League International – was almost exclusively collected as back-issues of things that hadn’t come anywhere near satisfying me when I’d first tried them, and only started to affect me when, the best part of half a decade later, I’d moved on far enough that simple enjoyment could once again interest me.

So it’s fortunate that this was a strong, if somewhat obvious in some of its beats, episode of DS9, though I had my fears in the essentially comic open, what with Odo’s bad back and hypochondria and Quark trying to sell Odo something he rejects on principle (yes, ‘The Ascent’, a few episodes back, taught the Constable nothing). Until Quark’s find tuned out to be not a sick Changeling but instead a baby Changeling.

(Actually, it was both, which was the point of things in broader terms, but we’ll get to that.)

The whole episode was about babies, since the B story was about Major Kira finally going into labour with the O’Brien baby. Though I hadn’t noticed it, since I don’t take breaks between seasons, this was five months after this story was first seeded to accommodate Nana Visitor’s pregnancy, exactly corresponding with Bajoran pregnancy. This story was mainly played for laughs, with Chief O’Brien clearly uncomfortable with traditional Bajoran labour rituals, and something of a rivalry going on between him and Kira’s boyfriend, First Minister Shakaar. I was on the Chief’s side since the whole thing was clearly a bad case of threatened masculinity on Shakaar’s side, but of course the Chief got dumped on.

This was very much the junior branch, since the main story was about Odo, about Odo the parent. Remember that, at the end of season 4, Odo was changed into a humanoid, a solid. Though it’s been referred to, here and there, in passing, mainly to remind the audience that it happened, this move has been an almost complete bust. Nothing’s been done with it, it’s made no change to Odo’s grumpy character, nobody seems to have had any idea what to do with Odo the Solid. Thisepisode becomes the vehicle for the inevitable changing back of things.

First though, Odo becomes consumed by his amorphous blob of a charge. He’s going to teach the Little Changeling how to be a Changeling, and he’s going to do it without Dr Mora and especially without Doctor Mora’s invasive procedures. Inevitably, Mora turns up, offering help that is rudely rejected, that, when Odo’s methods seem to be getting nowhere and Starfleet is turning the screw about getting what can be got from the Little Changeling, have to be used.

All this is the foreground for the clashes between Odo and Mora about their relationship. At one point, I was struck by the generational aspect. The notion of Odo as father was openly put forward, and, with great cleverness, the parallel to Mora as father to Odo, and thus grandfather to the Little Changeling, was left entirely for the audience to make.

When not fending off Odo’s resentment, Mora was slowly able to make Odo see how alike their respective situations are. He openly admits that Odo’s patient and comforting methods have made the Little Changeling more receptive when he finally starts to change shape, and he is able to show Odo that the latter’s feelings towards his charge are no different for Mora’s to his ‘son’, a recognition Odo’s hatred has denied him.

It’s a moving experience, though not to Quark’s liking. A happy Odo is, to him, a thing against nature, and has him quoting Yeats. But this is the peak from which drama demands a fall: the Little Changeling is sick, indeed dying. Kira’s baby is coming into the world, Odo’s is leaving it, but it’s final act is to merge with the Constable, and restore his Changeling structure.

Very well, a reset it is. No-one but the Special Effects Budget ever expected it to be any different, but it’s as Odo says, it’s a pity it had to come this way.

So we come to a poignant ending. Odo sees Mora off, finally accepting the ties between them, and that these are ties of love. And Kira sees Shakaar off, back to Bajor, but despite having believed all along that she never wanted babies, the Major has found herself tied to her ‘own’ child, and deeply regretting that she cannot simply hold him. This latter was at Nana Visitor’s suggestion: as written, Kira was only too glad to get rid of ‘her’ child, but after having had a baby of her own, the actress knew far more of the complex emotions ingrained in motherhood.

Ironically, both farewells were final ones. Neither Duncan Regher nor James Sloyan would return to their roles. And for Rosalind Chao there was very little left: the dramatic impracticality of a woman with two children, one a baby, and the cost implications of having to work round two child actors, effectively ended her ongoing involvement. According to Memory Alpha (which I consult after watching each episode), Keiko O’Brien will be seen in only two further episodes, one of these fleetingly.

And since we’re mentioning such things, this was the first episode in which Terry Farrell does not appear, not even for a throwaway line.