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Elliott
Thu, Apr 2, 2020, 7:11am (UTC -5)
Re: PIC S1: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2

@Andy's Friend

I seem to recall having this debate some years ago with you. But it is necessary to accept that a "brain" does not necessarily denote a singular physical organ or artificial device. A brain could theoretically be housed a purely virtual space, which I suspect is the conceit with the EMH and other sentient holograms. That doesn't necessarily mean these two technologies are interchangeable, as androids and holograms have distinct advantages, but I don't understand this insistence that holograms cannot posses consciousness.

At any rate, "Picard" doesn't retcon anything regarding the positronic brain. The virtual remains of Data are housed within a physical remnant of B4's brain.
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Elliott
Tue, Mar 31, 2020, 12:37pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: The Swarm

Teaser : ***, 5%

Torres and Paris are out on a shuttle mission together investigating “intermittent sensor readings.” Uh huh. They banter about Klingon muscle cramps and Paris talks about his PTSD from “The Chute” (no of course not). Actually, Paris wheedles Torres about a potential date with a young ensign, hearkening back to flirtatious material we haven't seen since “The Cloud.” I'm sorry to have to make the comparison, because at this point I like both Jadzia and Bashir (most of the time), but compare this interaction to similar conversations in early DS9 and it's night and day.

TORRES: Look, he has a crush on me. I can handle it. Why are you so interested?
PARIS: I'm just curious how someone with Klingon blood seems to live the life of a tabern monk.
TORRES: Lieutenant, that is none of your business.
PARIS: Well, if you ever have a free evening, I have a holodeck programme you might enjoy. Sailing on Lake Como?
TORRES: I'd rather take my chances with Freddie Bristow.

The writing is less cartoonish and the acting is far more natural. It's still banal bullshit but I'm not nearly so annoyed by it.

Well enough of that. The sensors finally pick up something—too late, it should be noted—and next thing you know, two aliens have beamed aboard the shuttle making garbled noises at them. Without any further introduction, the aliens shoot Torres and Paris, causing them obvious pain and knocking them out, before beaming away.

Act 1 : ***.5, 17%

We pick up with the Doctor and a holosoprano singing from one of my least favourite operas, “La Bohème.” While the duet lacks in substance, this is kind of the point. The serious, cantankerous, analytical and wry EMH is playing Rodolfo, the most drippingly naïve and sentimental character in the story. Picardo's tenor is admirable for a actor (it's also in the wrong key), his Italian horrendous, and his acting, expectedly perfect. The conceit that there will still be overbearing divas in the 22nd century is as optimistic as it is tragic considering the current trajectory of opera, but I digress.

DIVA: You are an amateur, you have no sense of rubato [emotional bending of the tempo], no rallentando [dramatic slowing of the tempo]. It's like singing with a computer!

They begin the duet again, but the EMH finds himself unable to remember his lines. Herm... Well anyway, Janeway summons him back to the sickbay to deal with Torres and Paris, whom they've recovered from the shuttle. Torres explains to the captain what happened in the teaser while the Doctor treats her. Paris seems to be more severely injured and hasn't regained consciousness. After Janeway leaves, the Doctor continues to have memory lapses, forgetting where he set a tool, why he had kept Torres on the biobed. He attributes all these lapses to the emotional fallout from his upsetting encounter with the “mad woman on the holodeck.” This may seem strange for a piece of technology, but remember what I wrote back in “Lifesigns”: “Remember that the Doctor noted to Kes that his programme was more complex and sophisticated than the average humanoid brain pattern, which is why Denara's mind is able to be housed in a holographic body. The Doctor expresses pride, frustration, envy, ennui, curiosity...all products of the complexity which allow him to behave 'as if he were' a real person.” This memory issue is, at first appearance, no different. The software development which allows the EMH to simulate (emulate? demonstrate?) emotions brings with it all of the trappings of those feelings.

Meanwhile, the rest of the senior staff are trying to decipher a message from the hostile aliens. Their language is too complex for the UT to interpret and Neelix has some horror stories about these people. They're violent, secretive xenophobes. Rumours mostly. Kim determines the aliens' space to be too vast to circumvent in less than 15 months. Janeway refuses to accept this idea and determines to find another way through this mess. This is consistent with what we saw in “The Chute.”

TUVOK: Would it affect your decision if I pointed out that encroaching on the territory of an alien species is prohibited by Starfleet regulations?
JANEWAY: No, it wouldn't.
TUVOK: Captain, you have managed to surprise me.
JANEWAY: We're a long way from Starfleet, Lieutenant. I'm not about to waste 15 months because we've run into a bunch of bullies.

Again, this post-”Basics” attitude of hers is *logical*, but feels like too much too soon. It's forced. The writers will need to find a way to walk this back a bit or contextualise this change if they don't want to destroy her character.

While she puts the crew to work on Operation Drug Cartel, the Doctor is preparing to perform brain surgery on Tom, singing Puccini to himself while he works. Kes is intrigued and congratulates him for broadening his personal prospects.

EMH: I've recently begun a thorough study of opera. I find it quite satisfying, but I am having difficulty finding a holographic partner for the role of Mimi. All the soprani seem to have the most irritating personalities. These women are arrogant, superior, condescending. I can't imagine anyone behaving that way.

Hysterical. The humour soon gives way to a troubling realisation, which Kes perceptively comes to, that something is seriously wrong with the EMH's memory. He is unable to recall how to perform the operation on Tom. Uh oh.

Act 2 : ***.5, 17%

With the help of a cheat sheet, Kes is able to guide the Doctor through the surgery herself, saving Tom's brain, and his life. The EMH's brain looks more precarious, however. Torres later reports that his memory pathways are degrading, despite the backups she (apparently) already installed years ago. There is a solution to the memory loss; a hard reboot (got to love the 90s). This would of course completely erase all of that character development we've had for the EMH. Driven by his oath, The Doctor believes he should be restored immediately, despite not wanting to lose his memories. Kes points out that they don't actually know the cause of the memory loss, and, true to form, insists that the “human” question be considered. She was already convinced that the EMH was “alive” back in “Eye of the Needle.” At that point, Janeway was considering reprogramming the Doc just for having a lousy bedside manner. Speaking of Janeway, her attitude has evolved on the subject.

JANEWAY: If a crewmember came down with a debilitating illness you'd do everything in your power to make them well again. I think we owe you nothing less.

Despite my objections to the extreme shift in her character, this does track with Janeway's new priorities which are about safeguarding and shepherding her crew over being a model Starfleet captain. In the wake of the Doctor's experiences, she at least sees him as a crewman instead of just a tool on her ship. The Doctor's development as a person is thus evinced by the changes in the people around him, just as much as it is by the litany of experiences and new *hobbies* he keeps adding to himself.

Chakotay (oh yeah he's on this show) and Kim report to Janeway that they can technobabble their way across the aliens' border. Because space in Star Trek is two-dimensional, they can manage to pass through a “narrow” segment of their territory in about four days. While these three are all mischievous smiles, Tuvok looks dour.

The EMH is subjected to Torres' dissecting of his programme, complete with the amusing if expected element of ironic bedside manner. Having hit a dead end, she decides to startup a diagnostic programme in the holodeck. In the vein of Leah Brahms (RIP) in “Booby Trap,” the programme set on Jupiter Station includes a diagnostic hologram of Louis Zimmerman who is able to interact with Torres and the Doctor. As we knew from “Projections,” Zimmerman looks exactly like the EMH, meaning of course that he's played by Picardo who makes his entrance with charming irascibility.

Act 3 : ***, 17%

Zimmerman is appalled that the programme has been running for so long and excoriates Torres for thinking she could compensate for this with her compression buffers. We're seeing the groundwork for later Zimmerman stories that we don't need to dwell on, but suffice it to say for now that he is clearly protective of the EMH programme, despite his lack of patience for it. He's proud of his creation. He's also not particularly helpful at the moment, pointing out that they should just go with the reboot option. Torres is called away to help with the Voyager's insipid border-crossing, and so leaves Zimmerman with the task of devising an alternative if he can.

On the bridge, the crew detect what appears to be a large vessel, but is actually a SWARM (drink) of small ships. Janeway basically ignores the swarm and instructs her crew to do their technobabble. Back-on-duty Paris pilots the Voyager across the border and Kim reports apparent success. Tuvok continues to scowl for the camera. Right after the Voyager goes to warp however, a *particle wave* begins to drag on the engines. We'll have more at 11.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman is performing Rorschach tests or something on the EMH. He is able to determine that the problem is...

ZIMMERMAN: The personality sub-routine has grown to more than 15,000 gigaquads!

The Doc's personality is too large, you say? Hmm. Kes walks in to check in and gets berated by Zimmerman for being a party to the EMH's problems.

KES: The Doctor has taken it upon himself to become a person who grows and learns and feels. It's made him a better physician.
EMH: An EMH programme can't feel anything. It's emotional reactions are simply a series of algorithms designed to make it easier to interact with.
KES: Oh he's much more than that, and I've known him for most of my life. He's one of my closest friends.
...
ZIMMERMAN: Tell me, Doctor, is this one of your closest friends?
KES: Doctor.
EMH (pauses): I'm sorry, I don't know who you are.

Achieving this balance of humour and pathos is very difficult and both the writer and actors must be commended for maintaining it. I'm reminded a bit of the excellent planetside scenes from “Brothers.”

Meanwhile, Janeway is revelling in their sneaking across the border on the bridge. I don't care for this at all. I mean, the interplay is perfectly serviceable, but the idea that Janeway would be *enjoying* this disregard for Starfleet policy, as opposed to engaging with it out of a sense of regretful necessity furthers the damage this change does to her character. Harrumph. They encounter a damaged vessel with one feint lifesign which is beamed to the sickbay.

Act 4 : **.5, 17%

Kes reports to Janeway that the survivor's condition resembles a prolonged effect of the weapon that was used against Tom and B'Elanna. The scene occupies both A and B plots which is a very smart scripting move. As Jammer laments, the info dump from the alien is nothing special, either in content or delivery. However, while this interview is happening, the Doctor is demonstrating that his memory loss has devolved into something akin to dementia (“He's a sick man.”). It reminds me, again, of “The Cloud,” where the Doctor amused us with his antics on the viewscreen while Janeway and co. got through the technobabble. Here, he's still amusing us, but it's also tragic to behold the man whose entire name is “Doctor” unable to even use a tricorder properly. The alien for his part reports that the the swarm attacks by draining energy from the target ship and then using the weapons against the crew.

KES: Captain, the Doctor's getting worse. He doesn't even know who I am any more. He has to be re-initialised.
JANEWAY: I agree, but I can't spare B'Elanna now. We have to get through this space before we're attacked like his ship was.

Oh yeah? Was this a tad reckless, Kathryn? Jesus. Well anyway, it turns out one of the swarm vessels was latched onto the dead alien's vessel. It breaks free and responds to Janeway's hail with “too late, should have listened” (Harry has managed to improve the UT enough to decipher that much). Sigh. So, the little bug ship hits the Voyager with a beam that makes her very bright on sensors or something. The swarm responds by heading towards them and so there's lots of hurried shuffling about in Engineering and the Bridge as they figure out how to do magic warp core stuff or whatever.

There's another good scene in the sickbay where the Doctor continues to struggle with this dementia, recalling events from “Caretaker” and “Elogium” (yikes) sporadically. Again, the allegory being played up is a beloved relative suffering from alzheimer's, lashing out in frustration over their own decline. Kes does her best to stay chipper and try to keep his brain from melting completely. But before long, the Doc's matrix starts fritzing.

Act 5 : **, 17%

Kes reports her concern that the EMH is going to disappear completely to Janeway on the bridge, but the Voyager is now gearing up for a battle with the swarm so she's out of luck. God forbid you spare a technician to save your only doctor, Kathryn. So Kes restarts the Zimmerman programme and demands he do something to help her mentor.

ZIMMERMAN: Young woman, you don't seem to understand there are limitations to my programming. I can't just decide to exceed them.
KES: The Doctor did so, why can't you?

It dawns on her that Zimmerman's matrix could be “grafted” onto the EMH's. I know almost nothing about computers or medicine, but am basically certain that this wouldn't work at all, but on Voyager, analogies are stronger than science.

Sigh.....meanwhile, it's time for the endgame with the swarm. The “interferometric” (yeah yeah) pulses coming from the little ships makes the Voyager's shields and weapons ineffective. Harry is tasked with analysing them. Then the little ships start sticking to the hull like boogers, draining their systems. Janeway uses her bullshit superscience to devise a method of hitting one ship with the phasers and … yawn ... anyway, they win and leave.

Finally, Kes and Torres re-activate the EMH, who appears fully fixed, but without any memories. Ah, but then he starts singing that old Puccini aria again and we're left wondering how much of his memory will return and how long it will take.

Episode as Functionary : ***, 10%

The A story here is four stars, no doubt. The plotting is well-crafted, the dialogue is sharp, the poignancy and character relevancy are top-notch, and we get double Picardo for our trouble. The B plot hangs just below the level of watchable for me as it doesn't add up to much and is further soured by the clumsiness of Janeway's characterisation. The writers must rectify this soon. As with the best Data stories, the Doctor's malady is simultaneously a commentary on the potential crises we will face with AI and a metaphor for human questions, distilled in that very Star Trek way. Does the performance or simulation of human emotions and endeavours amount to less than the real thing? Any opera lover would tell you that actually, a great performance of romance, heroism, or sorrow amounts to MORE than the real thing. So we shall continue to see.

I thought Torres and Kes were well used in their supporting roles, here. Kes is starting to come into her own. Compare her tearful pleading with Janeway over the fate of Tuvix with her calm, rational, but still passionate advocacy for the Doctor here. She has matured and incorporated her experiences into her character. Picardo is the star here, but Dawson is really delightful as well, playing a role akin to Jadzia's in stories like “The Sword of Kahless” and “The Quickening.” One thread I wish wasn't dropped was Tuvok's. His scowling should have amounted to something in the end. Maybe it still will.

Joe Biden has dementia, folks! And he still doesn't believe in universal healthcare. There's still time to do better!

Final Score : ***
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Elliott
Tue, Mar 24, 2020, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: The Chute

Teaser : ****, 5%

Harry Kim is tossed down a chute into a grimy, moody, and genuinely terrifying pit. He finds himself immediately surrounded by alien prisoners surveying him like a piece of meat. He's tossed around like a party bottom (sorry) until he finds himself before his friend, Tom Paris. Despite his delirium, Harry manages a brief smile at this sight, only for Tom to punch him in the gut, knocking him to the floor. Voyager knows how to do teasers.

Act 1 : ***, 17%

One of the aliens start dragging off into his corner...as a gay man, I feel entitled to the Oz jokes, but they're all probably too easy. We shall say how low the fruit hangs. Tom steps in and 'claims' Harry, although the claim is based on having allegedly killed 47 (duh) patrollers together during a bombing, then confessed to the crime. A knife seals the deal and Tom is allowed to haul Harry off to his own corner of this hell hole.

PARIS: Around here, you don't want anybody thinking you're soft.
KIM: Thanks for the tip.

I'm not going to make it through this, am I? We learn through conversation the backstory around the pair's imprisonment. Shore leave, a false accusation, a show trial and a quick sentencing. There's no food and Tom has been holed up here for a couple days already. Harry's naïvety is on full display, as there are no guards to wardens to “explain” themselves too, nor is there extra water for the exhausted ensign. Tom snaps at him, but quickly reins in his anger. Apparently, all the prisoners are fitted with a “clamp” which induces heightened feelings of anxiety on their skulls. They can't yank them out without dying. Before they make can make up and make out, an alarm sounds, signalling the arrival of food from out the chute. The frenzied squabble over the barely-enough rations leaves at least one prisoner dead. Way to add some protein to your meal! Overall, this is fairly effective and the Tom/Harry dynamic is interesting, but the prison brutality is on the hammy side.

Act 2 : **.5, 17%

On the Voyager, Janeway reveals in her log that she's reached her wits' end with the Aquamen or whatever they're called (the aliens who have imprisoned Tom and Harry). One of their ambassadors makes contact and informs them what allegedly happened, and that a dubious analysis of the chemistry involved in the explosion is what implicated her people in this attack. Apparently, Voyager's dilithium *could* have been converted into the trilithium used in the bomb; you just need to add one more lithium! Duh. The ambassador informs Janeway that the Voyager will be impounded and searched for collaborating with the “Open Sky” terrorist organisation. Janeway rattles her sabre in response, but chooses not to return fire, seeing that they should retreat and focus on recovering their people instead.

Back in Shawshank, Tom and Harry try to distract each other from the Clamp and their hunger by imagining a series of elaborate meals they might share. The NOT-GAY police make sure to include a reference to the Delaney sisters, lest this thing go full slash-fic. This is probably for the best because, although Tom wasn't able to find any food or helpful neighbours, he did find a big pipe for Harry. Ahem. Tom thinks technical-minded Harry might be able to use the pipe, which has some circuitry running through it, to rig the chute's forcefield and allow them to escape to the surface.

On the Voyager, Janeway decides their best bet is to try and prove their people's innocence before they engage with the Aquamen again. Torres notes that *paralithium*, which I assume is like lithium for celebrity chefs, can also be converted to trilithium. So they're going to search for that stuff, now. Good meeting.

Meanwhile, Harry's having a rough time rigging up the pipe, and their experiments attract some unwanted attention from the rabble. Tom ends up in a knife fight, and is eventually stabbed. Harry breaks free from those restraining him and starts trying to fight off the crowd by swinging the pipe wildly into the air. It's not the kind of thing one would expect to see very often on Trek, with the hero looking, well, pathetic. The murderer steps in and lets Harry know that Tom is certainly going to die.

ZIO: Hey! What do you want for the dead man's boots?

Act 3 : ***.5, 17%

While Harry drags the injured Tom back to their shelter, Tom makes Harry promise not to waste his life trying to save Tom's, but Harry refuses. They find that their shelter has been taken over by a couple of crazies, so Harry decides to try and trade his boots to Zio(n) in exchange for...a lot.

KIM: What about the rest of it?
ZIO (eyeing Harry up and down): I don't like the colour.

Okay, so I'm honestly shocked that there aren't more comments on this page about the implicit homoeroticism in this episode. It makes the Garak/Bashir dynamic look “Showgirls.” I always remembered MacNeal's and Wang's performance of the roles in this episode leaning into the hurt-comfort dynamic (not objectionably), but the script itself is positively transgressive for the Berman era. A friend of mine noted that S3 was advertised as the point at which Voyager was going to become an action show in its attempt to redefine post-Kazon—and that little firefight in Act 1 certainly fits the mould—but I doubt the network execs would have bought this prison lovestory pitch wholesale when they were trying to tilt their demographics towards the straight teenage boys watching UPN. Something to keep an eye on. Desperate, Kim offers to take Zio(n) with them “when” they escape with a little help from the pipe. He thinks Harry's probably nuts, but what does he have to lose?

We cut back to the Voyager where the crew have tracked down a paralithium-powered ship. Janeway asks to take a look around but communication is quickly halted.

CHAKOTAY: I guess you're not the only captain who doesn't want her ship boarded.
TORRES: Captain, I'm picking up residual traces of trilithium. They're faint but they're there. I think we may have found our bomb-makers.
JANEWAY: Mister Tuvok, send a security detail to Transporter room two. Lieutenant Torres, beam the two of them aboard and tractor their ship into the shuttle bay.

It may seem kind of shocking that Janeway would decide to just detain this alien vessel based on Torres' speculation and circumstantial evidence, but remember what has just happened. I remarked in “Basics” that she had to be feeling some regrets over her strict adherence to Starfleet protocol (cf. “Alliances”) given how her refusal to bend the rules and team up with the Trabe led to a couple of deaths and almost seeing her crew lost for ever on a hostile planet. On the heels of that story, it seems like Janeway has become more aggressive in her efforts to safeguard her people specifically.

Janeway interrogates the terrorists in the Conference Room, a young man and his even younger sister. They're intransigent, and so Janeway decides (or at least bluffs) to hand them over to the Aquamen in exchange for her men. The sister, unable to be shut up by her brother, lets Janeway know that their group has discovered the location of the maximum security facility, the likely place Tom and Harry are being held. When Janeway refuses to just attack the prison directly, the girl calls her a coward. Having exhausted her bluff, Janeway orders that they be fed and bathed.

Tom meanwhile is trying to protect Harry from his own innocence, pleading with him to seize the first opportunity for escape and not to trust Zio(n). Speaking of, the murderer stands guard, I suppose, as Harry attempts to short-circuit the forcefield with his magic pipe. Zio(n) opts for this sorta-Yoda shtick, closing his eyes in mediation and advising Harry to harness the wave or whatever to best the effect of the Clamp. He speculates on the function of the Clamp (he even wrote a manifesto on the subject to PROVE he's not crazy). He has concluded that the prison itself and the Clamp are part of an elaborate social experiment. He believes that the purpose of the Clamp is to get the prisoners to murder each other. That's very reminiscent of some stray thoughts I had during “Hard Time”:

“I believe the whole point of the prison was specifically to get Miles to commit murder, to abandon his humanity, as he saw it. That *was* the punishment.”

The Agrathi thought themselves very efficient and enlightened for their implanted memory punishments. With very little, this thread said a great deal about their society. One could draw similar conclusions here—and I'd very much like to—but the structure of this episode makes that impossible. Because we've met the Aquaman ambassador and because we've met the young terrorists, we have a generic sense of what sort of people they are. I'm reminded mostly of the Rutians from “The High Ground.” While Zio(n)'s suppositions about his people's punitive system is plausible, given the limited information we have, the interactions we have with don't reenforce Zio(n)'s theory. It's not that it's contradictory, it's that there's no philosophical synergy. Having *less* information about the Aquamen would actually make this scene, which is, erm, let's say very deliberately staged, more powerful. The whole episode would be improved by this change, actually, but I'll come back to that. The problem here is that, because of these structural choices, Zio(n)'s speech comes across *only* as mad ramblings, instead of something with layers.

During all this, Harry was able to shut down the forcefield, and so makes a mad climb up the chute towards a hopeful escape. What is eventually revealed via what Jammer called a “tracking shot” is that the prison isn't underground at all, but part of a space station. Again, if it hadn't been ruined by surrounding material, this stunning visual would have been the perfect capstone to Zio(n)'s speech, punctuating the horrifying hypothesis that they're all guinea pigs in a laboratory.

Act 4 : ****, 17%

We are visited again by the NOT GAY police as Harry awakens Tom, allegedly from having a wet dream about one of the Delaney sisters. Tom is delirious from blood loss, hunger and the Clamp and thus irrationally blames Harry for his knife wound. After a little anger, a little pity, and a little understanding, the two grasp hands. And somewhere, Rick Berman is trying to shoo them off the set.

After an interesting night's sleep, Zio(n) and Harry continue their maddening conversation. Harry is trying against hope and reason to conjure a way out of the prison, but Zio(n) insists Harry give up on any such delusions and focus on reading his manifesto. You know, like a sane person. Kidding aside, there is something to consider here in the macro. We know that Tom and Harry are going to get rescued because this is 1990s Star Trek, but “realistically,” they're never getting out of this place and Tom is likely to extra food for the rabble before long. So what would be the point of Harry struggling against the inevitable, of playing the Universe's least-promoted Sisyphus? It is actually logical to construct the parameters of a meaningful existence within the context of your world as it actually is, not what you wish it to be. This of course begs the question of to what extent our world is artificially limited by prison walls, etc. And this further invites speculation about the function of art like Star Trek that relies upon an optimistic projection of the future, where we escape Plato's Cave. This is tantalising stuff.

For now, Zio(n) effectively makes the point that any of the other prisoners would kill Harry in an instant for his angry outburst (Harry knocks the manifesto to the floor), but Zio(n) has learnt to keep his cool. He's transcended the Clamp and this environment through creative output. Though as someone else noted, he's also the only one we've seen kill somebody else. There is yet another theme to explore, however. Harry can't escape on his own and he chooses not to confine his Universe as Zio(n) has, so he channels Federation values—socialist collectivism to rally the other prisoners behind them. Mutual cooperation for mutual benefit. The problem of course is that these men's spirits and minds have been utterly destroyed by this environment. Or maybe, as Plato cynically insisted, the inhabitants of the Cave would reject the idea that the forms they see are but puppets casting shadows. And indeed, the inhabitants of the Chute reject Harry's pathetic speech, silencing him with a metal something being lobbed at his head.

Defeated, Harry returns to his ally, Tom, whose growing delirium has caused him to destroy the magic pipe. This last darkening of Harry's light finally breaks him, and Wang delivers a blood-curdling scream before mercilessly beating his best friend and holding the pipe aloft, ready to commit murder.

Act 5 : ***, 17%

Harry drops the pipe and runs out, followed by Zio(n) who insists Harry follow through and become one of his disciples. For a moment, Kim seems genuinely tempted.

ZIO: Think of what a relief it will be not to have that responsibility, and be free of his ranting.
KIM: I'm not a killer.
ZIO: Do you want to survive in here? You'd better learn to be.
KIM: If that's what it takes to stay alive, then I'd rather die.

The Voyager, meanwhile, has returned to Aquaman space and established contact with Pike, I mean the ambassador. It turns out Janeway wasn't bluffing—or hopefully is bluffing again—in that she offers to trade her young captives for Tom and Harry. I uh...yeah, this is too far. Too far. I like the idea of Janeway becoming more determined in her conviction to protect her crew, but throwing a teenaged girl over to an oppressive government without any discussion or even some hand-wringing is a pendulum swing I don't abide. At any rate, the point is moot because the ambassador notifies her that convictions can't be overturned, no matter what new evidence is presented. Furious, Janeway has the young man, Val Kilmer, brought to her. Now she wants that information about the prison, diplomacy having failed her.

VEL: What's wrong? the Akritirians didn't agree to your terms?
JANEWAY: No, as a matter of fact. But I suspect you will.
VEL: And what makes you so sure?
JANEWAY: Because if you don't, you and your sister are going to spend the rest of your lives in prison.

Val Kilmer wants the Voyager to help them rescue more members of Open Sky while they're there, but Janeway isn't having it. I wish they'd just skipped to this part, because the idea that Janeway would be willing to bend the Prime Directive in order to rescue her people (something she wouldn't do in “Ex Post Facto,” for example) but not go so far as to interfere in the Aquamen's internal politics would be about the right degree of change I'd like to say post- “Basics.” But being willing to send these two to prison, and only THEN turn to this alternate plan WITH the caveat that she won't help them in their cause makes her look opportunistic rather than pragmatic. Speaking pragmatism, Janeway informs Tuvok that she's decided they're going to break into the prison using Neelix' ship, which is still stored in their magic hat, I mean shuttlebay.

In the prison, the vultures are circling, and Harry has been reduced to defending Tom (who's almost a corpse at this point) with his life...and his pipe. But before this tragic ending, Janeway PERSONALLY slides down the shoot, sporting the biggest fucking gun you've seen and starts stunning prisoners left and right. Tuvok, the chief of security, follows soonafter with a couple of crewmen. Neelix holds down the fort doing his best Han Solo impression while Janeway and co. get her people aboard. Neelix proved unconvincing to the Aquamen's patrol vessels however, as they start opening fire on the little ship. Even more unconvincing is the fact that Neelix manages to outmanoeuvre them and return to the Voyager unscathed. This leads to a cringey bit in the sickbay where Neelix starts bragging about his piloting, then asking to be put on shift rotation for piloting the Voyager herself...the EMH swoops in to the rescue, and starts explaining to Janeway and Paris the effect of the Clamps he removed from their skulls. But the camera lingers on Harry.

The two of them leave the sickbay, Harry wracked with guilt.

KIM: I was ready to hit you with the pipe. Don't you remember?
PARIS: You want to know what I remember? Someone saying, this man is my friend. Nobody touches him. I'll remember that for a long time.

And so the two of them proceed to their totally not gay steak dinner.

Episode as Functionary : ***, 10%

There is a LOT to talk about in this episode, and that's its main flaw. There are easily three different stories that could have arisen from this premise. In a different era of television (or just a more ambitious set of producers), I could actually see this plot spread across three episodes. One dealing with Tom and Harry in the prison, one dealing with the Aquamen and their relationship to Zio(n), and the alleged (likely) social experimentation, and one dealing with Janeway and her pursuit of the young terrorists. Given the material that is already here, I can see all three episodes being quite excellent. Jammed together like this, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Let's start with Janeway. As I said, the general idea of having her character change in response to the fallout from the Kazon arc is a very good idea, and will be developed as the series continues. But this episode goes way too far, too fast. Having an entire episode dedicated to the topic of her wrestling with her conflicting instincts, having some discussions with Tuvok and Chakotay as she did in “Alliances,” having the chance to make a different choice on behalf of her crew that prioritises their wellbeing over the strictures of Starfleet, while contending with the political situation Open Sky is responding to—well that would have made for a fantastic character study/political drama. We could have easily incorporated a connection to her Maquis crewmen. But in the rushed scenes we got, this characterisation feels jarring and borderline nuts.

Then there's the intriguing potential of the society of the week. You've got social experimentation that recalls episodes like “The Hunted” and “The Abandoned.” You've got terrorists conscripting teenagers to their cause against what must be a brutally oppressive state, not unlike the Bajoran resistance that conscripted Kira. Maybe Zio(n)'s manifesto is a distillation of an underground philosophy that is being passed around Open Sky members, undergirding their actions. We could learn about the development of the Clamp and get some context for its intended function.

And finally, of course, you'd have the bulk of “The Chute” as it is, a Harry Kim story that tests his humanity, but without distracting cuts away to the Voyager plot, more time see Harry's degeneration as well as give him and Tom a bit more time to exist in this place before the stabby-stab. With the more technical and substantive discussions about the manifesto, the Clamp and the prison itself reserved for a different episode, the interactions with Zio(n) wouldn't beg so many questions of the audience, leaving space for character-driven drama.

So this was a premise that demanded a larger storytelling format and the final episode feels overstuffed and a little confusing. However, there are still some incredible scenes here, and the effect on Kim's character can't be overstated. This guy needed an episode like this. The acting from our leads is compelling (the guest actors are fine). The choice to do the prison seemingly entirely in handheld was a bold choice for the time, and the homoeroticism is remarkably subversive for Star Trek. A good story that could have been several great ones. Onward.

Final Score : ***
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Tue, Mar 24, 2020, 2:12pm (UTC -5)
Re: PIC S1: Broken Pieces

@Paisley pirate

In the words of John Oliver, "Americans know [Scotland] as the birthplace of Shrek, and that accent you think you can do but actually can't."
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Elliott
Mon, Mar 23, 2020, 11:06am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Trials and Tribble-ations

@Peter G

Just to clarify, I think "Arena" is a pretty good episode overall, for many of the same reasons you cite, it's just that the fight *itself* is silly. It's a part of the Trek lore, just as much as the Tribbles and Spock walking around with his brain removed. I understand the irrational affection completely, but I stand by the idea that the fight is silly.

To me, it would be like a 25th Century captain wanting to ask Picard what it was like to phaser Dexter Remmick's head off in "Conspiracy." Even if you have a fetish for exploding monsters...why?
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Sun, Mar 22, 2020, 11:28pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Trials and Tribble-ations

@William B

Interesting note! I admit I did not recall that Kassidy trivia at all. I realise it's largely a matter of taste, but of all the things Trek is famous for, the Kirk fights are amongst my least favourite. That Sisko would choose that display of testosterone-addled silliness as the topic of conversation he would choose with Kirk is...on brand, but just makes my eyes roll. It's not something I take particularly serious, of course.

@Chrome

I'm not sure I understand your point. If TTWT is one of those iconic episodes (I agree it is) that transcends Trek fandom to normal popular culture, it still qualifies as a nudge towards nostalgia, although most of the jokes in *this* episode don't have anything to do with the Tribbles directly. The Klingon makeup, the time paradox, the gratuitous fight, Kirk's stunt double, Bones' many exes...those are all things for the fans.
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Elliott
Sun, Mar 22, 2020, 3:28pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Trials and Tribble-ations

As I said in my preamble to “Flashback,” “given the way the two teams of writers handled their 30th Anniversary assignments, I actually think DS9 and Voyager should have swapped source material. TUC is the kind of political story that I think would sync up very well in the developing plotline on DS9 (think of the potential references to be made between Worf and Ezri later on), and 'The Trouble with Tribbles' presents precisely the low-stakes fun that Voyager needs to refresh itself of all its Kazon baggage (we could have seen Neelix thrown across the room during the bar fight!).”

Unlike ST6, there isn't a whole lot for me to say about TTWT. I like it. The Spock/Bones scene is one of my favourites in the entire franchise. There are problematic elements endemic to the era—queer coding and sexism that do make me frown slightly—but it's a fun ride that has enough confidence in its characters to make jokes at their expense (especially Kirk) without seeming cruel or expoloititive. Let's see how the Forrest Gump version holds up.

Teaser : ***, 5%

Two unhappy dudes, the X-File Anograms, arrive in Ops and are greeted by an unusually sweet Major Kira and a bad joke from Dax. They're from Temporal Investigations and are here to question Sisko. They don't beat around the bush.

DULMUR: Captain, why did you take the Defiant back in time?
SISKO: It was an accident.

He explains that the Cardassians decided, for whatever reason, to return the Orb of Time to the Bajoran people. Why on earth would the Cardassians want a magical Time-Turner? I can't think of any use they might have for that. His report transitions to a voice-over narration as we see the Defiant and her mission.

For reasons, the entire command crew went along to Cardassia for this little trip. They picked up the Orb and a human passanger called Barry Waddle. Despite his name, appearance and cadence, he is in fact NOT a rejected Hanna-Barbera character. He explains that he's a merchant who was trapped there when the war began. Worf's odour is made the subject of another lame joke, demonstrating that we're off to a rough start in the comedy department.

While cloaked, the Defiant begins encountering chrototons and the Oh Fuck alarm goes off on the bridge. There's a flash, then Dax reports that they're 200 light years from where they should be. The cloak is briefly dropped and the transporter activated, then they spot a ship nearby. And what could it be but the Enterprise, no bloody A, B...you get the idea.

Act 1 : ***, 15% (short)

So, they figure out that Waddle is really Darvin, the Empire's squirreliest Klingon. Odo and Worf explain the premise of TTWT to the remainder of the command crew on the Defiant, as well as speculate on what Darvin is up to with these time travel shannigans. Sisko determines that they'll have to split up and search the Enterprise and K-7, which leads to the donning of period uniforms, equipment and, um, haircuts? Dax makes a quip about women “wearing less” and Bashir's like, “I'm a horny moron.” This is meant to be a good-natured jab at TOS' synchronistic sexsim, but er...why isn't the very pregnant Major Kira wearing a mini skirt, folks? Come to think of it, are there *any* women on DS9 (or TNG or Voyager or Enterprise or...) who couldn't pull off the mini skirt? Sure is lucky the guys aren't wearing chest-huggers, isn't it?

Act 2 : ***, 17.5%

We pick up with O'Brien and Bashir beaming aboard the Enterprise and contending with the old technology...and more miniskirts. Meanwhile, Dax turns out to be a fangirl of 23rd century design, having been alive for it. I suppose there is something of an allegory going on here, with Dax representing the kind of Trek fan who was actually alive during TOS' original broadcast, and Sisko having caught the reruns in syndication. And Odo, in appropriately garish civvies, report to K-7's infamous bar, where we see the remastered Tribble sale to Uhura. A waitress gives Odo a clue about Darvin's whereabouts and we're off.

I dunno, the things that I find most amusing are notions like Bashir's “stress study” of O'Brien. This is such a 1990s concept—half of the charm at least in this story comes not so much from the 24th century meeting the 23rd, but from the 90s meeting the 60s. I kind of want the Enterprise engineer they encounter to call Miles a pansy and offer Dr Bashir a cigarette to calm his nerves. The deliberate joke, of O'Brien not knowing how to work the old tech, is kind of a flop for me. Hey, but while we're ogling miniskirts, allow me to note that the engineer is a cutey. Put him in a skirt.

Worf joins Odo at the bar where the sound of Odo's new Tribble sets the Klingon to rages, accompanied by Very Serious Music. M'kay.

Act 3 : ***.5, 17.5%

Worf's take on the Klingon-Tribble blood feud, which if memory serves, was hinted at, but never explained in TTWT, is probably the comedic highlight of the episode.

WORF: Hundreds of warriors were sent to track them down throughout the galaxy. An armada obliterated the Tribbles' homeworld. By the end of the twenty third century they had been eradicated.
ODO: Another glorious chapter of Klingon history. Tell me, do they still sing songs of the great tribble hunt?

The Red Alert is sounded, as anyone who watched the original episode would be expecting right about now. But this means that Koloth is about to enter the picture, which Dax knows ahead of time. Sisko pours some cold water over her fangirling by beaming O'Brien and Bashir over to the station to check it out. Flirty blue miniskirt (Watley) makes another appearance to set up the temporal causality joke.

BASHIR: Ridiculous? If I don't meet with her tomorrow, I may never be born.
KIRA [OC]: Chief, are you ready for transport?
O'BRIEN: Are we ever.
KIRA [OC]: Stand by.
BASHIR: You saw the way she looked at me. You can't just dismiss this.
O'BRIEN: I can try.
BASHIR: All right, fine. But I can't wait to get back to Deep Space Nine and see your face when you find out that I never existed.

Hysterical. Dax and Sisko happen to run across Kirk and Spock during one of the (very funny) comm calls to Baris.

DAX: Oh, come on, Benjamin. Are you telling me you're not the tiniest bit interested in meeting one of the most famous men in Starfleet history?
SISKO: We have a job to do.
DAX: But it's, it's James Kirk!
SISKO: Look, of course I want to meet him. I'd like to shake his hand, ask him about fighting the Gorn on Cestus Three.

I...what, seriously? You want to ask Kirk about “Arena”? About punching a lizard man? Says a lot about Sisko, none of it good. Anyway, O'Brien and Bashir join Worf and Odo at the K-7 bar, berating them for sitting around getting drunk for the last three hours. This leads to another infamous bit about the makeup change on the Klingons, whom our characters don't recognise. Worf's enigmatic delivery is amusing, and Dorn is especially on his game in these scenes, but I think it would have been funnier just to put him in 1960s makeup without explanation and that back in the ridges when they return to the 24th century. And we would have been spared that silly Enterprise arc about the Augments. The bar fight continues, but good god do I miss the soundtrack from the 60s. This standard issue dissonance is fucking lame, especially since the DS9 editors made sure to include all the campiest bits of Cyrano Jones from the original footage. Anyway, Bashir and O'Brien are nabbed by Starfleet security while Odo and Worf spot the appearance of Darvin.

Act 4 : ****, 17.5%

We watch Kirk dressing down his MEN, which happens to be my least favourite scene from the original episode. O'Brien and Bashir have taken the place of two nameless crewmen, which is a commendable feat of digital engineering for the time. They escape and discover that the Tribbles have started appearing all over the ship.

Meanwhile, Odo and Worf have apprehended the older Darvin and beamed him back to the Defiant. Once again it's the subtle jokes that are the best in this episode. The conceit that this mincing, vaguely Mel Brooks-sounding little man is a disguised Klingon just fantastic.

WORF: You are no hero to the Empire.
DARVIN: I will be. I've been thinking about my statue in the Hall of Warriors. I want it to capture my essence. Our statues can be so generic sometimes, don't you think?

It turns out Darvin has planted a bomb inside one of the Tribbles. He's managed to determine exactly which Tribble out of the hundreds of thousands now pooping and breeding all over the Enterprise will be in proximity to murder Kirk...somehow. So, Dax suggests she and Sisko risk scanning the ship from the bridge, using the internal sensors to detect the explosive, while O'Brien and co. are tasked with somehow scanning all the Tribbles on K-7. We learn two important things; that none of the Enterprise Tribbles is carrying the bomb, and that Emony Dax was one of Bones' 8,000 ex-girlfriends. The camera pans to the quadrotritikale store on K-7re we see a single, unmoving Tribble as ominous music plays. You could almost call it Pythonesque.

Act 5 : ***.5, 17.5%

The crew on K-7 are frantically scanning the breeding Tribbles (and amusingly tossing them aside after each scan). Dax uses her brain, which is a nice change of pace, in guessing they should tail Kirk to narrow down their search. So, she and Sisko determine to search the storage locker that's holding the booby-Tribble, discovering the poisoned grain. Another subtle bit I liked was the added conceit that as the pair search and toss aside the gorged Tribbles, they land on Kirk's head. Sisko finds the bomb and has Kira beam it into space just in time.

SISKO [OC]: By the time we returned to the Defiant, Major Kira had discovered how to use the Orb to bring us back to our own time.

Are you fucking kidding me? Well anyway, Sisko decided he had to meet Kirk real quick before returning to the present. The Time Cops suggest there won't be any negative fallout from their little adventure. Quark makes an appearance as we see that DS9 has been overrun with stowaway Tribbles. And so, every habitable world in the AQ and GQ is destroyed by Tribble infestation, ending all known civilisation for ever. The end.

Episode as Functionary : ****, 10%

In the most recent episode of the Picard series [SPOILER], Seven of Nine emerges from behind a bulkhead on the crashed Borg cube and Jerry Goldsmith's Voyager theme swells in the strings. It's a moment that feels like a gift especially for me. The TOS fanfare and the TMP/TNG theme is everywhere in homages and spinoffs that keep getting churned out, but the fact that the composer went to that extra effort just for Voyager fans who happen to have musical ears is a personal touch that I can't help but find endearing, regardless of how well the character or the episode are actually doing (for the record, I give the show 2/4 stars so far). That's the best explanation on my difficulty with this episode. I know that for a majority of the fanbase, this is like 40 straight minutes of that nostalgic feeling presented like a personal gift under their Star Trek Christmas tree. I like TOS, but I didn't grow up with it, so the nostalgia factor is pretty abstract. Being a musician, I also regard the Trek franchise much like the collective output of a composer or a trend in music. There are early periods, middle periods and late periods. There is always something to appreciate about all the phases in a composer's output, but the *best* representation of their work is pretty much never the early stuff. TOS is, to me, the adolescent phase of Star Trek. It's often great—turbulent, probing, fascinating, exciting, beautiful, weird, disturbing—but it's not fully itself. Trek's maturity began with the films and found its full flower in TNG, when the impulses of philosophy and production were balanced in a way that felt completely cohesive. With DS9 and Voyager, we are still in that period, though perhaps approaching a mid-life crisis point.

So there are times when watching this episode that I feel as though I'm looking through a photo album or being shown home movies. I appreciate the nostalgia, the love that clearly went into this production, just like I admire those people who hand-sew excellent costumes for conventions or build scale models of starships. I applaud your passion. But you can't honestly expect me to be able to judge it fairly or objectively beyond saying, “good job. You did the thing. Yes, that is a beehive, yes that's a 1960s turbolift, yes that's Bill Shatner, all right.”

That's why I award the episode a functionary score of 4 stars. This is not a four-star episode by my standards, as the act-by-act hopefully elucidates. But as far as the goal the episode set for itself, of being a frequently-amusing unapologetic homage to the original series and its aesthetics, it is perfect. And I won't deny that.

Final Score : ***.5
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Sat, Mar 21, 2020, 10:22pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Flashback

And so we come to the 30th Anniversary episodes. This presents a weird confluence point for me in my review plan, as I won't be getting to Star Trek VI until after “Unification” (I'll circle back to TNG after DS9 and do TOS & ENT after VOY). “The Undiscovered Country” is a rather large culmination point, and I don't want to do a cursory review the way I did for Q stories preluding my “Death Wish” review, or Worf stories preluding “The Way of the Warrior.” Luckily for me (although disappointingly overall), the thematic relevance of the film on this episode is almost non-existent. Given the way the two teams of writers handled their 30th Anniversary assignments, I actually think DS9 and Voyager should have swapped source material. TUC is the kind of political story that I think would sync up very well in the developing plotline on DS9 (think of the potential references to be made between Worf and Ezri later on), and “The Trouble with Tribbles” presents precisely the low-stakes fun that Voyager needs to refresh itself of all its Kazon baggage (we could have seen Neelix thrown across the room during the bar fight!).

All of that said, there are a couple of points about ST6 I want to draw attention to before diving into “Flashback.” The first is that I don't think it's incidental that Vulcan philosophy is placed in the crucible in the film. There's no such thing as purely logical approach to duty; you either get one informed by the *best* of human values, like loyalty, compassion and diplomacy (Spock), or one informed by the worst of human (Romulan?) values, like suspicion, conservatism and fear (Valeris). Logic is the beginning of wisdom.

Secondly, ST6 is very self-conscious of its historical significance, not only regarding the subject it allegorises, but also its place in the Star Trek franchise. It is TOS' true swan-song of course, but it also marks a change in the trajectory of the Federation. With Gene Roddenberry having recently died and TNG moving away from the kind of Star Trek he had finally envisioned, there's poetry in crafting a film that centres on men overcoming their own prejudices to light the way to a better future. It's odd, but the film from 1991 provides the link between the Starfleet we saw in theatres in 1982 and the one we saw on TV in 1987.

But that the dread of something
… puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of[.]
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all[.]

Teaser : **.5, 5%

By unhappy coincidence, this episode *also* begins with breakfast. This time, it's Neelix serving a new juice blend to Tuvok. It seems Neelix has improved his culinary skills a bit, as instead of giving Tuvok heartburn, he's able to impress him by mixing together two different fruits. Amazing. Op, spoke too soon. In addition to cooking scrambled eggs on a flame hot enough to sear a steak, the power fluctuates and incinerates Tuvok's breakfast.

The pair are summoned to the bridge, as this fluctuation is actually related to the main plot. The Voyager has detected a nebula full of a combustible compound which should help the crew sustain their new coal-fired warp core. When they put the nebula on the viewscreen, most of the bridgecrew spout off silly technobabble and unnecessary metaphors (the Bussard Collectors are like ice cream scoops...). But Tuvok starts trembling and becomes disoriented. He excuses himself, but starts hearing voices in the turbolift. We start seeing, ahem, A FLASHBACK of a little girl on a cliff being let go to her death by a young Tuvok. He manages to stumble his way into the sickbay before collapsing.

Act 1 : ***.5, 17%

Tuvok relates the content of the flashback to Janeway and the Doctor as he's examined. He proclaims that while the memory created a distinct emotional response in him, he's certain that it never actually happened.

EMH: I don't know what happened to you, but there can be any number of explanations. Hallucination, telepathic communication from another race, repressed memory, momentary contact with a parallel reality. Take your pick. The universe is such a strange place.

I take it Starfleet saw it fit to upload the EMH with Deanna Troi's litany of mission contributions. Hilarious. Tuvok is released back to duty (with a monitoring device stuck to his neck, of course), and the crew continue their nebula-gazing.

Tuvok himself attempts to reconstruct his psyche using Vulcan picture blocks in his quarters (cf. “Meld”), but he fails. We aren't quite at homicidal rage levels yet, which is good because Kes enters to make adjustments to his device. She questions him about his blocks but he's dismissive. She leaves remarking she understands why he's being so short with her. This scene is underwritten and hasty, but, as is one of the hallmarks of Voyager, manages to survive because of effective performances and directing. It feels like a nice character touch even though the script doesn't actually provide the substance for one.

The next morning, Tuvok, Chakotay, Torres and Kim meet in Engineering to discuss the nebula itself, revealing nothing relevant. But Tuvok does suggest scanning for cloaked Klingon ships, naturally. This triggers another episode, another flashback, and another trip to the sickbay.

The Doctor explains to Janeway this repressed memory is causing physical damage to Tuvok's brain, a reasonable-sounding extension of our understanding of Vulcan psychology and physiology (c.f. “Sarek”).

EMH: There is no medical treatment for this condition. Vulcan psychocognitive research suggests that the patient initiate a mind-meld with a family member, and the two of them attempt to bring the repressed memory into the conscious mind.
JANEWAY: I'm the closest thing Tuvok has to a family member on this ship.

Indeed, Tuvok confides in Janeway his implicit trust for her, which qualifies her for this task, despite not being Vulcan. This jells for me pretty well, considering what's been implied of their relationship in “Tuvix,” “Meld,” “Prime Factors,” etc. We need to see their dynamic fleshed out beyond a couple of strong scenes, so this is promising.

Beyond the character facets, this is such an important line:

TUVOK: As I am reliving [the memory], you will help me to objectify the experience. By processing the experience, rather than repressing it, I can begin to overcome my fear, anger and the other emotional responses.

Mental health is about the objectification of experience. Objectification in general is a component of the Federation psyche that the Vulcan culture is tasked with modelling in the Star Trek fiction. In TOS, Kirk's central struggle was always to be less like Bones (god love him) and more like Spock. That is the distillation of the evolution of humanity Gene envisioned, and it is very rewarding, to me at least, to get these little examinations of that philosophy.

Tuvok readies himself and then initiates the mind-meld with Janeway under the Doctor's observation. He attempts to bring them into his clifftop memory, but instead, Janeway finds herself on the bridge of the Excelsior, under fire, with Captain Sulu heroically emerging from a cloud of smoke. Starships, in any century, are built for maximum drama.

Act 2 : ***, 17%

We are treated to more bridge antics. Yeoman Rand is now a Commander, apparently Sulu's Number One; Tuvok is a young ensign, and catches Janeway up on what's going on in this memory, although he doesn't know why they're experiencing this memory instead of the precipice. He returns them to a few days prior, where we get some cuteness around Tuvok's brown-nosing.

TUVOK: I've observed that Captain Sulu drinks a cup of tea each morning. I thought he might enjoy a Vulcan blend.
RAND: Oh, I see. Trying to make Lieutenant in your first month? I wish I'd have thought of that when I was your age. Took me three years just to make Ensign.

She leaves out the part about Kirk making her do hand stuff in the turbolift and we move on to the bridge. After a little interaction between Tuvok and Sulu, Janeway notes that this period in her friend's service record omits this auspicious assignment. More on the later. At the moment, we get some nifty special effects around Praxis' explosion throwing a shockwave over the Excelsior. Tuvok continues to narrate for Janeway's benefit about Sulu's decision to go after Kirk and McCoy. The timeline is fudged quite a bit, but this is hardly the point. More significant is Tuvok's own reaction to this decision, which is played out for us. Ensign Tuvok issues a formal protest against Captain Sulu. Rand tries to relieve him over this insolence, but Sulu takes the opportunity to issue a little wisdom instead.

SULU: Ensign, you're absolutely right. But you're also absolutely wrong. You'll find that more happens on the bridge of a starship than just carrying out orders and observing regulations. There is a sense of loyalty to the men and women you serve with. A sense of family.

This is a nice moment, especially considering how often Sulu was on the receiving end of similar lectures in TOS, and Takei's delivery is magnificent.

Sulu takes them to the Azure Nebula as a back door into Klingon space for their rescue mission and Janeway notes the visual similarity to the nebula the Voyager encountered in the DQ. The sight of it triggers another episode on the cliff, and the mind meld is abruptly broken.

Act 3 : ***, 17%

The EMH delivers a dire medical report to Janeway, who is frustrated as they had just begun to make some progress. While she waits for Tuvok to recover from his episode, she and Kim do a little historical digging in her ready room. She's amused that Sulu and co. seem to have completely omitted their rescue mission from their logs. This scene is...okay. Mulgrew does her best with the material and there are a couple of good lines (“They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive, and a little quicker to pull their phasers.”), but overall this comes across like checking a box on the 30th Anniversary must-do list, and less like a natural conversation or a true appreciation for the breadth of the franchise. The culprit here is another instance where the writers have chosen to give material to Janeway over a more logical character. I'm reminded of “Emanations,” when what should have been a Chakotay-Kim scene was transmuted to Janeway. You'd have to move this conversation about the 23rd Century Starfleet to a different spot in the episode, but this should be a Tuvok-Kim scene. Think of the poetry of seeing an aged Captain Sulu, once a green ensign, offering his wisdom to green Ensign Tuvok, who in turn does the same for green Ensign Kim. It's a lovely thought, but not what we got, unfortunately.

We resume in the sickbay, where the mind-meld is begun afresh. Once again, Tuvok's attempt to access the clifftop memory shunts them to the Excelsior bridge, which is now in shambles amidst the Klingon battle. Tuvok shifts them to earlier in his bunk where Valtane wanted to chat about their mission instead of resting up as Sulu had ordered. Young Tuvok's comments to his comrade are revealing.

TUVOK: Ever since I entered the Academy, I've had to endure the egocentric nature of humanity. You believe that everyone in the galaxy should be like you, that we should all share your sense of humour and your human values.

This is great stuff for a number for reasons. First, it ties into the ST6 material, as it echoes Azetbur's line at dinner that “the Federation is no more than a 'homo sapiens' only club.” This perception amongst non-humans, which young Tuvok shared, is commonly held. We've heard similar remarks from Kira on DS9, and even the infamous Eddington speech about the Federation being like the Borg in its “insidiousness.” This is also another metatextual issue, as there are a number of Star Trek consumers (and even some creators) who hold similar views about Trek's idealism. For both groups in and out of the show, this view is borne of ignorance. Humans (and Trek) can be preachy, this is true. They can be a little myopic sometimes. However...

TUVOK: And I came to realise that the decisions I made as a young man were not always in my best interest. I understood their decision to send me to the Academy, and that there were many things I could learn from humans and other species, so I decided to expand my knowledge of the galaxy. Starfleet provided that opportunity.

Ignorance can arise from stubbornness, cynicism, or in Tuvok's case, lack of experience. Trek's mission and the idealism of the Federation are not perfect, but they are fundamentally good, and with enough patience, persistence, and wisdom, they are worth suffering whatever other trappings this philosophy might create. Woven into this commentary, we get a little more backstory on Tuvok himself, which is nice. We learn of his choice to echo Spock in pursuing the Great Vulcan Kolonoscopy, of taking a mate, of how the vergence of these distinct events, one purely logical, and one driven by instinct, led him back to Starfleet many years later.

Act 4 : **.5, 17%

We are treated to a little cameo from Kang (RIP) on the Excelsior bridge. He and Sulu bullshit for a moment while Janeway hams it up on the bridge. Tuvok devises a technobabble means of “igniting” (sigh) the serilium in the nebula (didn't Kim say the two nebulae only looked similar, but had completely different chemical compositions? Whatever). This tactic allows the Excelsior to evade their Klingon escort long enough to enable her to continue her trip to Qo'onos. But then, they find themselves surrounded by 3 more Birds of Prey. And then the consolose start expoloding. Valtane is fatally wounded he calls out to Tuvok as he breaths his last...er, until the rest of ST6 that is...and then we return to the precipice.

In the Voyager sickbay, Kes and the EMH note that the mind-meld has been frozen and Tuvok's brain is melting. Within the meld amidst the chaos on the Excelsior bridge, Sulu and the rest are able to see Janeway. A very plot-specific medical side effect.

Act 5 : **.5, 17%

Tuvok offers to break the meld, but Janeway feels they're getting close and agrees to risk having her brain melt alongside his in order to get to the truth. Ah friendship. So Tuvok shifts them back to Cmdr. Rand's briefing so they can...steal her uniform for Janeway. Nothing says act 5 drama quite like Scooby Doo silliness. Continuous the Austin Powers gag, the Doctor discovers a third memory pattern squirming around the fray between Janeway and Tuvok. But he diagnoses it as a virus and prescribes some radiation to kill it. Sure.

In the Flashback, Janeway has taken Rand's station and miraculously tailored her uniform down 8 sizes. The consoles explode once more and she and Tuvok rush to Valtane's side to watch him die. Ahem. The little girl returns...the precipice...then Janeway is the one letting her die...then Tuvok again...the “virus” is jumping around, then doing its own flashbacks, I guess, to Valtane, then a Dodgers fan, then an African boy, then a...Mongolian girl?, then a … Tungusic girl?, then a...Paleolithic Siberian boy?? Then the girl (and the virus) finally die. Well, that was fun.

Kes and the Doctor give their science-lite report on the virus. Then Tuvok fills Janeway in the rest of the relevant events from TUC.

TUVOK: On the contrary. I do not experience feelings of nostalgia. But there are times when I think back to those days of meeting Kirk, Spock and the others, and I am pleased that I was part of it.
JANEWAY: In a funny way, I feel like I was a part of it too.
TUVOK: Then perhaps you can be nostalgic for both of us.

Eh...

Episode as Functionary : ***, 10%

I'm with the herd on this one. This was an adequate story that could have been much more. As far as the nostalgia factor, it's surprisingly restrained, which I actually kind of like. When one thinks today about the exausting litany of remakes, prequels, and other projectile Disney vomit being spewed out, cyncially banking on nostalgia for other people's stories, it's remarkable that this story is able to celebrate Trek's past without feeling exploititive or gratuitous. And this from the writer of “Bounty.” The Excelsior scenes are all well-done, and Takei/Sulu make the most of their screentime. There's even a thematic element woven in, with Neelix' juice blend surprising the skeptical Tuvok and young Tuvok's Vulcan tea blend surprising Captain Sulu. An unexpected mixture of the familiar and the new can yield positive results. A safe, but reassuring sentiment for the occasion.

The best part of the story is in the development of Tuvok, who is fleshed out more than perhaps any other episode so far. His personal story is also tied to the relevant thematic material from TUC, which I think gets overlooked. The change in Tuvok's character between his Flashback self and Voyager self is the same philosophical bridge that the film provides between the 23rd and 24th centuries. This is subtle stuff for such a flashy episode.

There are a number of flaws, however. Too much focus is reserved for Janeway—there was a place for her not only as a supporting character for Tuvok's journey, but also to offer a singular comment on the metatextual elements to the story, as Voyager's lead—but this tale should have been about Tuvok and Sulu, with a touch of Harry Kim to provide the narrative foil as I mentioned earlier. The parts of the story that were about Janeway's and Tuvok's friendship are strong and necessary. The Scooby Doo stuff, ALL the medical drama, and the flaccid scene with Harry just kind of waste our time. To me, this feels like Voyager's version of “Relics:” polished, nostalgic yet restrained, character-driven, but not quite meeting its full potential.

Final Score : ***
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Elliott
Thu, Mar 19, 2020, 12:36pm (UTC -5)
Re: PIC S1: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1

Wow, that took a nose-dive. For about 20 minutes, I was very much on board.
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Elliott
Wed, Mar 18, 2020, 2:34pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: The Assignment

@Peter G and Chrome:

Thanks for the feedback, guys. With this social-distancing, I might actually have time to catch up on this stuff again!

Let me clarify about Rom: I mentioned that he's obviously been conscripted into the Bajoran militia's engineering corps, but since Starfleet has taken command of the station, the Bajoran officers enjoy Federation work benefits--I have to assume this is the case, otherwise...are Bashir's Bajoran nurses paying an HMO or something? I wish they had cleared this stuff up in S1. At any rate, the idiot savant thing was clearly established at least a couple of seasons ago. I'm thinking of "Little Green Men" as a good example. It doesn't bother me here like it does Jammer and some others, but it's not new information.

Similarly with O'Brien. I'm not griping about a reset button with the character. There are two kinds of character development; outright change and fleshing out. I'd be perfectly happy with a Keiko-Miles story that fleshed him or them out, but this isn't it. I didn't gain any insights into Miles' character, nor did he change as a result of his experience.

Peter G, I actually agree with you that I wish they had delved into the Prophet stuff in a way that wasn't so lazy. That's exactly what I have been complaining about. A sincere examination of the cultural/philosophical implications of this dynamic between the Prophets, the Wraiths, the Bajorans and their allies would have yielded some interesting stories to be sure. But they went with the most obvious tropes instead. And then, as I've pointed out, because they mix incongruous religious tropes together, the whole thing falls apart under any scrutiny anyway.
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Elliott
Wed, Mar 18, 2020, 10:52am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: The Assignment

Teaser : ***, 5%

We begin with breakfast at Quark's, with Rom ordering a decidedly Irish meal from his brother, seemingly daring him to question his Ferengi sanity. Quark admonishes him for giving up his work at the bar.

QUARK: You like standing all night long, knee-deep in waste, fixing some broken flow regulator, when you could be here staring at half-naked Dabbo girls?
ROM: I have a good job. I'm proud of the work I do. And I know that one day Chief O'Brien will recognise my efforts and reward me with a position of respect and responsibility. And why? Because that's just the way things are in Engineering.

This isn't a gripe against the episode, but I do want to point out what's being implied about the economic situation here as compared with “Bar Association.” Rom used to earn money (not enough) in compensation for a degrading job that offered little to no health benefits, fair work rules, dignity or prospects. Now, being a space plumber may be no more prestigious in the 24th century than it is now, but as an *employee* of the Federation, he is entitled to free healthcare and tolerable working conditions...time off, education... I assume the Bajoran government pays him a wage, which is how he buys his breakfast. The point is that Rom is at the bottom of the economic rung in the Federation, and that position has improved his quality of life tremendously. He still has things to strive after—prestige, promotion, the day shift—but in that pursuit, he isn't burdened by the unnecessary social yokes created by a capitalist system. Just something worth noting in this day and age.

Meanwhile, it turns out Bashir has killed the Bonsais O'Brien was instructed to look after for Keiko. I think if DS9 were made today, the O'Briens, Bashir and Kira would be a quad and Miles and Julian could express a little of that homoeroticism without admonishment. To protect himself from his wife's wrath, Miles enlists Molly to accompany him to the airlock to welcome her back to the station, but she smartly refuses the role of buffer and runs off. It turns out to be Miles' birthday, per the clunky expository dialogue that ensues.

We transition to Keiko enjoying some chocolates the birthday boy gifted her as he apologises. The directing and blocking are very awkward, but this is intentional. Miles asks Keiko about “the fire caves.” Uh-oh.

KEIKO: Listen carefully, Miles. I have taken possession of your wife's body. I will hold it hostage until you do everything I tell you do accurately, and without question.

For a moment, Miles thinks she's just being kinky (see that quad situation...), but she—it—is being completely forthright, as demonstrated by temporarily stopping Keiko's heart. Creepy.

Act 1 : **.5, 17%

The alien being rather efficiently conveys what she wants from Miles and coldly reminds him about the consequences of not heeding them, mocking the fragility of humanoid bodies and minds.

O'BRIEN: You'll have to be patient. The communications and sensor relays are distributed throughout the entire station.
KEIKO: You know your wife well, Miles, but she knows you even better. I know you're just playing for time until you can get to your friends. Julian, Dax, Captain Sisko, I know they'll all want to help you. The Captain may even allow you to do what I'm asking. At least until someone figures out a way to catch me in some sort of stasis field or some other clever device you're already dreaming up. And you know what? It might work. You might be able to stop me. But I promise you one thing. If you do, Keiko will die.

Julian stops by to hand off a gift and the being demonstrates their ability to effectively play the Keiko role. After all, this wouldn't be much of a DS9 story if it weren't as cruel to Miles' psyche as possible.

Meanwhile, Rom has been temporarily assigned to the swing shift whose briefing he enters. This serves two purposes: to tie the a and b plots together vis-à-vis O'Brien's *assignment*, and to remind us just how insufferably annoying Rom can be. Regarding the former, O'Brien is very clear that he is to be working alone and not to be disturbed. While he works, he converses with the computer trying to devise a way to incapacitate Keiko before the being could kill her, but every method—including shooting her—would be too slow.

Act 2 : ***, 17%

We pick up at Miles' birthday where his friends inadvertently make him feel worse by singing Keiko's praises. And indeed, she hands him HALF A PINT OF NEAT WHISKEY to drink with his cake. That's the mark of a loving spouse.

JAKE: Did you see any Pah-wraiths?
KEIKO: Pah-wraiths?
JAKE: In the Fire Caves. Odo was telling me the caves were haunted by some sort of weird supernatural beings.

Oh god, oh god. No I'm NOT ready. And neither is Miles as the sight of Keiko with his daughter sends him into an Irish rage, causing a scene. In private, the being informs him that the secret work he spent his day doing for them was merely a test to see if he could be “trusted.”

Sigh...so after the party, before heading to bed with this thing in his wife's body, Miles asks the computer about the Pagh Wraiths, because this isn't just a torture-O'Brien episode, it's a torture-the-audience episode. Speaking of, the Wraith (let's not pretend anymore) keeps up the torment, mocking Miles' semi-conscious desire for morning sex with his wife and his intense fear about his daughter's safety. She then hands him a padd with his new instructions and bids him good day.

Resolved but frightened, O'Brien chooses to find Sisko and tell him what's going on but, in a chilling scene, the Wraith throws Keiko over one of the balconies on the promenade, injuring her severely.

Act 3 : ***, 17%

Odo and Sisko question O'Brien about the incident. He fudges his way through it until Bashir lets him know that “Keiko” miraculously distributed her fall just well enough to avoid permanent injury or death, that she's conscious, and that she's able to see him for a few minutes. The Wraith makes their point, insisting that his resourcefulness will allow him to complete his task in record time. They also ask for a kiss when Bashir pops his head in because, well, evil gonna evil.

So O'Brien gets to work, with a timer running on the computer. Rom pops in like a cartoon to inform him that he's completed his own assignment and is hungry for more.

O'BRIEN: How did you finish so quickly?
ROM: I just did the work. I didn't allow myself to get caught up in any of the distracting discussions the other workers engage in. Ferengi can be very focused, especially when no one bothers to talk to them.

O'Brien decides to recruit Rom and his savant syndromicity, pledging him to secrecy. Given his zeal to impress, it seems O'Brien has gained himself an accomplice. What follows is a little montage, accompanied by a remarkably effective score for this period. In the midst of this, Dax interrupts to complain about a technical problem that appears to be sabotage...O'Brien's and Rom's sabotage.

Act 4 : ***, 17%

So, Miles is forced to take a break from his assignment to brief Sisko and Odo on the odd fluctuations and glitches he's responsible for. He naturally downplays the malicious intent behind these alterations. But this is to little avail as the crew are uncharacteristically paranoid this week. He receives a call from the Wraith and Molly—a dark reminder of his running clock. With few options left, O'Brien gives Rom up as the saboteur and Odo apprehends him.

Rom proves to be surprisingly unshakable in his resolve to the chief, which ironically leads to another interruption to his assignment, as Odo needs him to help with his interrogation. O'Brien disables the security in Rom's cell using his clearance and meets with him alone and unobserved. Rom, however, has discerned the Wraith's true plan, though to what end he has no idea. It seems their modifications will result in killing the Wormhole Aliens. I'm not seeing a downside to any of this so far.

Act 5 : **, 17%

Rom is actually a fountain of useful information as he also knows of Bajoran mythology which explains who and what the Pagh Wraiths are. And what they are is...demons. The Prophets are angels and the Pagh Wraiths are demons. Neat and tidy, black and whitey. Sigh...let's get this out of the way.

ROM: According to Leeta, the Pah-wraiths used to live in the wormhole. They were part of the Celestial Temple.
O'BRIEN: They were Prophets?
ROM: False Prophets. They were cast out of the Temple, exiled to the caves where they were imprisoned in crystal fire cages and forbidden to ever return lest they face the wrath of the true Prophets.
O'BRIEN: So if these false Prophets were to return to the Celestial Temple?
ROM: I don't think they'd be welcomed.
O'BRIEN: Unless she kills all the wormhole aliens first.

I have talked about this subject many times, but this is probably the point in the series at which the untenability of the Bajoran religion within the show becomes irreversible. From my review of “Accession”:

“There are two types of deities, the natural gods (think Greek pantheon) who are in some respect separated from man and have power over him, but are subject to the same capricious 'human nature' as man himself.

Then there are the supernatural gods (like the god of Abraham) who have absolute moral authority (or anti-moral authority in the case of figures like the devil). The kinds of religions these different types of god images generate are quite distinct.

The gods of Bajor are clearly the former type, but the religion of Bajor is conceived as of the latter. That's the root problem of all the DS9 religion stories. The reason for this is that the writers wanted to play in the mythical space afforded by the pantheonic gods (one could count Q as this type), but for Western audiences, the religions of Abraham are familiar, and so those are the kinds they use to make their Bajoran pastiche religion. It doesn't work.”

The dichotomy being established between the Pagh Wraiths and the Prophets is very obviously a Miltonian allegory that supports the argument that the Bajoran faith is of the supernatural type (eg. Abrahamic). You've even got Lucifer being cast out of heaven. But again, here are these absolute beings of moral and anti-moral certitude being vulnerable to physical laws, like natural gods. Thus a human being and a Ferengi can direct technology against “the gods” in this celestial warfare. I'm going to try and not retread this ground in every episode that deals with the subject to avoid tedium, but it must be stated that this irreconcilable flaw in a key premise to the series limits the dramatic potential of every episode touched by the topic (which is going to increase as the series continues). That's the double-edged sword of continuity-heavy series. The contradictions are baked in.

So Rom agrees to “play” the idiot and stall Odo while O'Brien races against the clock. Ah but, Changeling or not, the constable is definitely not an idiot and has some follow-up questions for the chief as he confronts him in a maintenance corridor.

ODO: Enough, Chief. You didn't cover your tracks very well. Why?
O'BRIEN: I didn't have time. I still don't.

So, Miles just decks him and runs off. He contacts the Wraith and conveys his intention to help them, corroborating by claiming he DGAF about the celestial temple and all that. Here's where I do have to agree with Jammer that, given how perceptive the Wraith has been channeling Keiko's intimate knowledge of her husband, it should know better that O'Brien would never allow a large group of sentient beings to be murdered, regardless of how he feels about the religiosity of the situation.

He successfully steals a runabout for himself and the Wraith and pilots it towards the wormhole. O'Brien remote-activates the station's modified technowhatevers, but instead of targeting the Prophets, he targets the runabout which gives Keiko the Palpatine-force-lightning treatment in what amounts to an unfortunately hilarious visual sequence. She awakens, un-Wraithed I guess and they return to DS9.

There's a brief epilogue where the O'Briens reset and Rom tells Quark that his heroics have earned him a promotion. There's something akin to a joke flimsily attempted about breakfast food that I don't have the stomach for, so we'll just end.

Episode as Functionary : **, 10%

My functionary score might seem misleading. For the most part, I enjoyed watching this episode. Meaney's performance was on-point. Rom was doled out in small enough doses that I found his presence worthwhile, the music was quite good, and the character pressure on Miles justifies the hour. The plot itself is a little clunky; the Wraith's insistence that “we don't want to raise suspicions” is very transparently an excuse for the writers to keep torturing O'Brien, but I can overlook that.

The problem is that this story fails on two levels for me. First, while the machinations against Miles were enjoyable to watch, unlike previous instalments, we are afforded pretty much nothing in the way of character development. He loves his wife, you say? He's a technical magician, you say? Groundbreaking. When I think back to “Hard Time” and the psychological effect Ee-char had on O'Brien, the efforts of this dynamic with Keiko feel incredibly flaccid. There are a couple of effective moments, like Miles breaking his whiskey glass in his bare hand, what keeps getting in the way is the titular assignment, which is the biggest misstep of this story.

I already pointed out the conceptual problems with the Prophets and the Pagh Wraiths on a macro level, but what compounds the problem is the laziness with which this thread is woven into the series. Oh there are fire caves, now? Oh the Bajorans, who not only take their religion seriously, but have seen the powers of their gods physically manifest many times so far, regard the most dangerous anti-gods in their mythos as so trivial that they'll allow a botanist to casually observe some moss in the fire caves? Oh the Pagh Wraiths can just inhabit people at their will but have NEVER bothered to attempt this kind of thing for CENTURIES? Doing this Dungeons and Dragons bullshit in a Star Trek series is tricky enough, but attempting it in so haphazard a fashion really just draws attention to the untenability of the project. This is an assignment I wish they'd abandoned.

Final Score : **.5
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Elliott
Thu, Mar 5, 2020, 1:02pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Nor the Battle to the Strong

Teaser : **.5, 5%

Aboard a runabout, Bashir is in peak smarm-mode as he prattles on about his own genius. For his part, Jake is sporting what might be the most unattractive outfit I've seen on a regular cast member in the franchise's history. It looks like he slew a Wookie, dyed its pelt mauve, and stuffed it with spare shoulder pads from “Working Girl.” Jake is apparently on this trip to interview Bashir for some medical whatever at a recent conference from which they're returning. I didn't realise the Federation news service was hard-up for teenaged reporters, but there it is. Lucky him. We are treated to Jake's inner monologue, in which we learn that he is completely at a loss with Bashir's jargon. What this really boils down to is an unsubtle swipe at one of Trek's stereotyped aspects:

JAKE [OC]: Who cares about anomalies? People want stories about things they can relate to. Life and death, good and evil. An outbreak of Cartalian fever would be just the thing. The brave doctor battles the deadly virus. Listen to me, I'm actually rooting for a plague.

There are two levels on which I take umbrage with this. First, it continues the weird notion last seen in “The Visitor” that artists can only write about things they personally experience. I suppose I should credit the consistency here, but I don't like it. It represents a very false portrait of artistry. Second, the metatextual idea that science fiction audiences are bored by science is...annoying. Trek has rarely been hard science fiction anyway, but the technobabbly plots, especially on TNG, were always about something metaphorical or allegorical. It would be nice if the DS9 writers at least acknowledged this.

Anyway, because it's the law that shuttlecraft on their way to or from a conference must be diverted or crash or have their crew kidnapped and replaced with spies or whatever, Bashir picks up a distress call from the front lines of the still-hot Klingon-Federation War. Jake is excited by the possibility of witnessing something more exciting, but Bashir is cautious about putting the Emissary's son in mortal danger. Between Jake's insistence and the very real need for Bashir's assistance at the distressed hospital, the chatty doctor decides to set course for excitement.

Act 1 : **.5, 17%

The entire rest of the cast is gathered in Ops to engage in DBI. Quark apparently can't decaffeinate Klingon coffee without making it taste like targ manure. This leads to a *battle of the sexes* and a completely tired scene about how men and women handle pregnancy. Blegh. Sisko emerges to inform them about the actual plot and fail to conceal his concern over Jake's well-being. He and Bashir will have to hold out for a couple of days until the Farragut can relieve them.

Bashir and Jake determine that they are going to have to land the runabout and Bashir takes a few moments to try and prepare the teen for what he's likely to encounter. “They've got a lot of wounded,” he warns. Jump cut and Jake finds himself in a darkworlds episode of M.A.S.H. One officer enters, having had his foot shot by a disruptor. While Bashir examines him, he says the Klingons are coming soon and that they need to get out ASAP. But Bashir quickly discovers that the man shot himself with his own phaser. He's a deserter. He confesses to Jake that he hoped to be taken out of combat after seeing another officer (I assume) taken away by medics when he was shot.

***

Here I must take a quick departure as DS9 is frustratingly committing its gravest sin once again. Who exactly are these people being treated? Does Starfleet have an *infantry*? Or are these security officers (I see some gold piping)? See, we haven't seen any evidence that Starfleet is desperately throwing anyone who can hold a phaser into combat à la “Yesterday's Enterprise.” The war, such as it is, isn't at such a desperate pitch that we're at that point. Whoever is fighting the Klingons would have to specialise in combat. The milieu of this story is very World War I—and as we well know in 2020, that's a rich source of military drama—but in that war, much of what made the stories of the individual soldiers harrowing is the fact that they were drafted. These were ordinary men thrown into a desperate combat zone and expected to win a war. That's why it would be entirely expected, in that context, for a young man to shoot himself in the foot rather than continue on the front lines. That's a symptom of the tragedy of war at that scale.

But there is no discernible context for any of that sort of thing to happen here. The most generous explanation is that Starfleet has redeployed a number of officers and non-coms to the line, but these would have to be people with combat experience or at the very least, extensive training (I'm thinking Ro Laren).

So the sin here is transposing incompatible contemporary human beings and tropes into the Star Trek future timeline. This is such a disservice to the franchise because it whitewashes the most essential social commentary that gives Trek its special status in science fiction. Without getting too far ahead of myself, it's this sort of thing which paved the way for the current story in “Picard,” which is similarly purged of those Trekkian contours. I can and will judge this story on its own merits. But this needs to be said.

***

Jake attempts to write his article, the inner monologue returning for a moment, but he's interrupted as one of the triage doctors asks for his help. Jake is told to watch over a badly-injured patient while the doctor retrieves some plasma. The patient is a wounded blue-shirt. Again...was he a botanist or or seismologist, or what? He grabs jake by the scruff of his unflattering outfit and leaves a bloody stain.

Act 2 : ***, 19% (long)

Jake is enlisted in nurse duties via montage while we take a moment for a scene on DS9. Odo limps into Sisko's office, lamenting the fact that he momentarily forgot he's a solid and leaping off a balcony in pursuit of a criminal. The following dialogue is an example of clumsy writing. It's on the verge of being brilliant but fails the edit test.

SISKO: It's an understandable mistake. You've been a changeling longer than you've been a solid.
ODO: “Solid.” I wonder why my people use that term. Humanoid bodies are so fragile.
SISKO: Yes, they are. And there are a lot of ways you can get hurt.
ODO: You're worried about Jake. I'm sure that Doctor Bashir is looking after him.
SISKO: It seems just yesterday he was five years old, clinging to me because he'd just scraped his knee and I was the only one in the world who could make it better...

A stronger scene would have cut out the obvious part:

SISKO: It's an understandable mistake. You've been a changeling longer than you've been a solid.
ODO: “Solid.” I wonder why my people use that term. Humanoid bodies are so fragile.
[pause]
SISKO: It seems just yesterday Jake was five years old, clinging to me because he'd just scraped his knee and I was the only one in the world who could make it better...

The writers don't allow us to catch the character beats and let the actors fill in the blanks, they spell out the obvious connection between Odo's predicament and the thematic elements of Jake's story. It doesn't ruin the episode or erase the functionality of the scene, but it is artistically weaker than it easily could have been.

On the other hand,

SISKO: I'd think to myself that no matter what, I wasn't going to let anything bad happen to this child.

begs the question of whether Sisko is making efforts to correct the unhealthy aspects of his relationship to his son that drove the drama in “The Visitor.” Something to keep an eye on. Dax enters his office and reports that the Farragut has been destroyed by Klingons, and Sisko needs all of .4 seconds to launch the Defiant.

Jake and the medical team are about to sit down to a meal when Bashir's predictably socially-inept commentary about performing dissective surgery on his chicken sends Jake retching towards the nearest toilet. Are 24th century toilets powered by soundwaves, or is there indoor plumbing in this alien cave set?

As the two of them discuss the deserting ensign who shot himself, another example of clunky writing follows:

JAKE: But they're Starfleet. They've passed psych-tests. They've spent hundreds of hours in battle simulations.
BASHIR: Simulations can't prepare you for the real thing. Nothing can.
JAKE: Some people say that you don't know what you're really made of until you've been in battle.

What people say that, Jake? See, this is an example of a sentence that the writer(s) would put into their outline for the script, a guiding thesis. It is NOT an example of natural dialogue. Adding, “Some people say that” to the head of the statement is an obvious tell. Anyway, I still think they shouldn't be putting botanists on the battlefield at this juncture.

One of the young doctors—let's call him Charles in Charge—lets an appetite-recovering Jake know about the loss of the Farragut and the impending Klingon assault on the settlement. The fear in Jake's heart is pretty palpable.

JAKE: At least we don't have to worry about them in here.
KIRBY: Don't be so sure. Medical personnel are fair game as far as Klingons are concerned. They'll even kill wounded right in their beds. They think they're giving them an honourable death.

As usual with the Klingons, honour means whatever the hell is the most convenient route to satisfy bloodlust.

We get another brief voice-over conveying the obvious to us about Jake's mounting fears that transitions to the bunk, when an off-screen explosion heralds the impending of the Klingon forces. The immediate problem is that the Klingons have destroyed their power supply, and many of the critical patients will die without functioning equipment. The solution, Bashir realises, is to collect a generator from their runabout which is conveniently parked a kilometre away. With transportation ruled out, he and Jake will have to retrieve the thing on foot.

They step outside and are almost immediately brought to the ground by disruptor fire. Bashir tries to keep Jake close, low and safe as they attempt to complete their mission. Bashir is hit and Jake runs away in a panic.

Act 3 : ***.5, 16% (short)

Eventually, Jake trips over a dead Klingon in what turns out to be a small graveyard. He stumbles over a severely-wounded human in a foxhole. This human we shall call Clichéd Anachronism for his completely un-Starfleet Hollywood soldier machismo. He stayed behind to lay down cover so his...platoon could escape the Klingons. While the mans guts are spilling out onto his shoes (his words, not mine), Jake is preoccupied with his own guilt.

JAKE: But I have to. That way this'll all make sense. Maybe I ran for a reason, so I could find you and save your life…It was a mistake.
BURKE: That's what you call it.
JAKE: I didn't mean for it to happen.
BURKE: And now you think bringing me back is going to make everything all right. Sorry, kid. Life doesn't work like that.

Burke dies and Jake takes off running again.

Act 4 : ***.5, 17%

On the Defiant, Sisko is performing unnecessary repairs to distract himself from his worry. Dax is her best self in this scene, recalling a memory from one of her past host's interactions with a sick child.

DAX: It was hundreds of years ago. I still remember how helpless I felt. I read her all seventeen volumes of Caster's Down the River Light, even though I knew she couldn't hear me. It made me feel like I was doing something, that we were still connected. It wasn't until much after that that I realised that I was doing it as much for me as I was doing it for her.

At the settlement, Jake manages to make his way back unscathed...physically. He's incredibly relieved to learn that Bashir made it back alive as well. He even dragged the generator back by himself. Hmmm.... Charles in Charge sends Jake in to see Bashir, who's in ICU. Bashir is overjoyed to see his boss' son alive. The irony of course is it's Bashir who feels guilty about having brought Jake to this place at all. In his voice-over, Jake confesses to being a coward.

Later on, he's tasked with delivering food to Ensign Deserter.

ENSIGN: Yeah. That's pretty much it. You know something? You're first person I've talked to since I got here who hasn't made me feel like I'm taking up valuable bed space. The way everyone looks at me. I can't stand it. After the court martial, I'm definitely signing up for the next mining expedition to the Gamma Quadrant.
JAKE: Maybe there won't be a court martial.
ENSIGN: You're right. None of us may get out of here alive.
JAKE: No, I mean Starfleet could decide to send you to counselling instead.
ENSIGN: I won't go. I don't deserve to be in Starfleet. Therapy won't change what I did. Nothing will. I just wish I'd aimed that phaser a little higher.

Again...maybe we should stop sending botanists into battle. Just spit-balling here.

While Jake listens in, Charles in Charge and the other doctors banter about their imminent deaths. This drives Jake to some histrionics and Bashir escorts him out of the room for a talk. But Jake doesn't want to talk. He collapses into a heap and weeps openly.

Act 5 : ***, 16% (short)

The Klingons have finally crossed the...single kilometre to start attacking the settlement directly. The medics have been tasked with evacuating the patients and equipment as quickly as possible. Jake fins himself in some crossfire, grabs hold of a phaser rifle and starts shooting randomly into the air. He manages to cause a cave-in.

When he awakens, Sisko and Bashir are there, informing him that the cease-fire is reinstated and that his accidental heroics saved the day.

BASHIR: We never would have got these patients out alive if you hadn't done it. You're a hero.
JAKE [OC]: More than anything, I wanted to believe what he was saying.

Jake publishes his story, warts and all and Sisko congratulates him for his courage in admitting to uncomfortable, humbling, but compromising feelings that he says anyone in battle has shared. The two share a hug.

Episode as Functionary : ***, 10%

The ending to this tale isn't *bad*, but it is a bit of a let-down. As William B notes, there's no assessment made of Jake's mortality or his artistic integrity or his relationships. True, it's good that he didn't discover the soldier hidden inside himself or some other hackneyed thing, finding courage in honesty rather than military valour, but it's still very pat.

The weakest aspect of this story for me is the laziness that went into the production. Other than the fact that the guns shoot special effects instead of bullets, this is a twentieth century tale through and through. Now I say “lazy” not because I find it unconvincing per sae, but because there's little effort involved in making this story an episode of *Star Trek* instead of something else. Think about an episode like “The Most Toys”--a tale about a sociopathic collector and his intractable acquisition. That story was dark and pretty cynical, but it was about the human question *as understood in a 24th century context.* This story comforts itself with its (unfortunately all-too-typical) smug dismissal of normal Trek stories, but to me it reads as an unwillingness or inability to write within the genre. Add to that the often clunky dialogue and a couple of pointless scenes with with the guest characters and it never fully takes off for me.

All of that said, the message is deftly woven into the structure of the story without being hackneyed and the focus upon Jake as a character works as well as any Jake story has in this series. Lofton is *better* than normal and pulls off this more complex role, despite some tepid delivery in the voice-over bits. Supporting moments from Sisko, Dax and especially Bashir are quite good and the directing is on point.

There is a way to tell this story that doesn't flounder about with the Trek genre that would have worked much better for me. Instead of the filler scenes with the doctor talking about her husband or that god-awful bit in Ops, have the guest characters talk a bit about their back-stories. How did we get from botanists and barbers to this M.A.S.H. setting? Why is Starfleet deploying blue shirts and ensigns with no combat experience into this war zone?

Final Score : ***
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Thu, Feb 27, 2020, 7:52pm (UTC -5)
Re: PIC S1: Stardust City Rag

This series is exhausting. I was very excited by Seven’s (and Icheb’s) return. What a fucking waste.
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Elliott
Thu, Jan 30, 2020, 2:16pm (UTC -5)
Re: PIC S1: Maps and Legends

I agree with Drea. This episode was a step back from the pilot. There seems to be little interest in making each episode carry dramatic weight on its own, which is disappointing for a series that is airing a week at a time instead of like a Netflix series one can binge. The pilot was much more thematically cohesive while most of this was just plot. Still had its moments.
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Elliott
Wed, Jan 29, 2020, 12:44pm (UTC -5)
Re: PIC S1: Remembrance

@Yanks

Yes, I forgot the Captain's Yacht from "Insurrection" is seen in model at the Starfleet archive.

In "Pegasus" (is it "the Pegasus"? I can't remember), Pressman was working with Starfleet Intelligence to resurrect the phased cloak, violating a treaty with Romulans. He told Picard that he'd be risking his command and his career by opposing him or snooping around. The teaser to that episode was Captain Picard Day.
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Wed, Jan 29, 2020, 12:26pm (UTC -5)
Re: PIC S1: Remembrance

I enjoyed this overall, which I wasn't sure I would.

One thing I appreciated is that all of the overt references that many seem to read as fan service (and to a degree, they are) allude to episodes of TNG that are thematically linked to this story.

--Measure of a Man
--Pegasus
--The Offspring

all deal with Picard standing up to some aspect of Starfleet/the Federation on moral grounds. While I have no idea who saved the banner for Captain Picard Day after the D crashed, that artefact represents what makes Picard Picard. It reminded us (and Riker) what a moral compass looks like before being challenged by an unethical edict from Starfleet.

The other major thread from TNG that I thought was interesting to have picked up on was from "Birthright"/"Phantasms." It's been established that Data's subconscious transmutes anodyne information into seemingly fantastical imagery.

I enjoyed this much more than I have Discovery so far. It's possible "Picard" is able to deliver on the cynical Federation angle in a more convincing/less frustrating way than DS9 did. Curious to see where things lead.
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Mon, Jan 20, 2020, 11:10am (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S3: Basics, Part II

Well, at this rate I might get to TNG by the time my teeth fall out. Is everyone excited about Picard?

Onward.

Teaser : *.5, 5%

We pick up on Planet Palpatine or whatever with Ensign Wildman stumbling about with baby Naomi. Chakotay, the ethnic one, offers his sage advice about not wasting water. Oh yeah, WATER! That's supposed to be super rare in the DQ, right? One touch I love is how a couple of the extras are carrying around big sticks even though there are no trees in sight. Basics, people. Sticks.

Janeway's team discovers a cave which she deems worthy of “making camp.” Meanwhile, Hogan and Neelix discover some humanoid bones at the mouth of another cave. I normally think SFDebris is way too harsh on Voyager, but he is completely right about Neelix here. He notes that the bones are likely a warning of danger, tells Hogan to collect the entire ominous skeleton for “tools,” DROPS the one femur he was holding onto the pile and runs off so that Hogan can collect all of the bones by himself in the shadow of the ominous cave of ominous warnings. Fucking hell, Neelix. So naturally, this means Hogan is eaten by a steady cam, no doubt the land-eel we saw teased at the end of part 1.

Act 1 : *.5, 17%

The episode proper begins with the reveal that Chewy, I mean Tom isn't remotely dead. He's still in his shuttle, fixing things while Caligula's patrol vessel is still trying to take him out. While making his customary quips to NO ONE, he easily blows up the Kazon ship and carries on. Wow, what drama.

The crew examine Hogan's remains on the now twilit planet. Kes placates Neelix' stupidity, per their idiom. What works here, as usual, is Kate Mulgrew. She says, “there's no time to worry about blame,” but let's be honest here; Janeway is feeling guilty. She's been undulating between her desire to foster community and shepherd her crew home in the wake of her controversial decision since “Caretaker.” And now, with her entire crew stranded on a planet that seems to be quickly eating them, she must feel like a complete failure. She barks out orders, clearly desperate to stave off the inevitable. Stay out of the tunnels. Make weapons. Eat these worms. Just. Don't. Die.

On the Voyager, Seska brings her baby to the sickbay and the Doctor gets to flex his character development.

SESKA: Tell me, is it within your program's capabilities to lie or be deceptive?
EMH: I've learned that a bedside manner occasionally requires me to, how should I put it, soft-pedal the truth. But bald-faced lying, calculated deceit? I don't have much experience with that sort of thing. But my programme is adaptive. If you really need me to be deceptive, I'm sure I could learn.

On an R-rated version of this show, I think Doc would have started bragging about the penis he added to his programme in “Lifesigns.” Anyway, while Seska is assuaged (I suppose Michael Jonas couldn't have been bothered to keep her updated on him), there is a rather surprising retcon trotted out: the baby isn't Chakotay's at all, it's actually Caligula's. Apparently, Kazon technology is so shitty that they can't even do DNA tests. Besides the Doc's antics, one character touch I like is Seska's obvious disappointment at learning she failed to conceive with Chakotay. Whatever her tactical reasoning, this whole baby drama was clearly personal for her.

After she leaves, the EMH monologues in his “medical log” (Medical Monologue? That might become a thing). He gets some fun lines.

EMH: What am I supposed to do? Lead a revolt with a gang from Sandrine's? Conjure up holograms of Nathan Hale and Che Guevara? I'm a doctor, not a counterinsurgent. Get hold of yourself. You're not just a hologram. You're a Starfleet hologram.

He asks the computer about the crew complement, and it chooses to respond in the form of (inaccurate) racial profiling. There are 89 Kazon and 1 Betazoid aboard. I guess Seska and her baby don't count as crew, but the boarders and the murderer do? And I guess Caligula is so god damned stupid that he hasn't thought to scan for Voyager crewmembers before cruising off into the sunset? Yeesh. Well luckily the medical hologram with no rank has the authority to delete Suder's record of existing entirely. Ironic.

On Planet Whatever, the crew is collecting eggs, worrying over Naomi...Chakotay is engaging in jilted ethnic stereotypes that I feel *have* to be deliberate parody.

CHAKOTAY: Trapped on a barren planet and you're stuck with the only Indian in the universe who can't start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

Now, if I had some poker chips, that would be something...Yikes. Anyway, Captain Sampson gives up a lock of her hair to the cause and Chakotay is able to get a fire going so the crew won't die quite as quickly. Neelix decides to look for some rocks—alone, because he's a moron. Kes goes looking for him but gets snatched by one of the locals. What the hell am I watching?

Act 2 : *.5, 17%

Meanwhile, Paris has made contact with those Talaxians who should have been around before this mess started. He pleads with them and somehow convinces them that he can devise a clever plan to retake the Voyager somehow. Anyone care to guess how this story ends?

Suder makes his way to the Sickbay and the EMH starts babbling about their counterinsurgency strategy. Suder himself is...distracted.

SUDER: I'm going to have to kill some of them.
EMH: It is possible. Violence might be required to retake the ship.
SUDER: I've worked so, so hard over the last few months to control the violent feelings. I'm almost at peace with myself. I mean, I see the day coming when I could be.

EMH: We must do this together, Mister Suder. If you don't trust yourself yet, then trust me. I will help you anyway I can. One hologram and one sociopath may not be much of a match for the Kazon, but we'll have to do.

Actually, from what we've seen the Kazon are probably over-matched in this fight.

Well, with Neelix and Kes captured, the stranded crew have something to do, I guess.

CHAKOTAY: This is thoughtful of you Tuvok, but my tribe never used bows and arrows, and I've never even shot one.

This HAS to be parody.

So it seems the natives have surrounded Neelix and Kes where they proceed to sniff and prod them. I would have awarded four stars to this scene if one of them threw a bone into the air and we smash cutted to the Voyager. Anyway, Commander Spirit Walker just strolls up them and speaks in a calm, condescending Hollywood fantasy tone that is supposed to remind us that he's the ethnic one, and we have a DEEP respect for the ethnic ones (please pay no attention to the natives hopping around like baboons). They...negotiate for an exchange of prisoners or something. Neelix starts screaming at the native leader when it seems they might just keep Kes, because his job is to be a useless as possible.

They walk, then run away as the Voyager back up crew arrive and start shooting the natives with their improvised weapons. What the FUCK am I watching? The Indiana Jones crap continues as the crew hide in one of the forbidden tunnels, hoping the natives won't follow.

Act 3 : **, 17%

On the Voyager, the warp drive has stalled and Seska, the only Nistrim with half a brain, realises they're being sabotaged. Suder is given a thoron dildo or something to help him stave off tricorder scans and is tasked with getting some weapons. Tough break.

Meanwhile, baby Naomi is now sick for some reason, because there aren't enough artificial conflicts in this story. Did I say artificial conflict? Well Chakotay's party is now being smoked out of their tunnel by the natives, deeper into the ominous tunnel...I'm getting bored typing this stuff. Everything on the planet is just plot beat after plot beat. I'll say this though, the music is quite a bit more interesting that has been typical of Star Trek for many years.

Act 4 : **.5, 17%

Suder continues to elude the Kazon search parties and sabotage the Voyager. Paris manages to make contact with the EMH with instructions on how he will be able to tech-tech the ship's phasers to make Tom's inevitable success more...inevitable.

Suder then brings a Kazon he was forced to kill back to the Sickbay so he could be hidden. The effect on the quasi-reformed psychotic is quite visceral. He performs a Vulcan meditation to quiet the voices.

In the readyroom, Caligula...lol...delivers a report to Seska and the baby. She sees right through the subterfuge for all the good it will do.

On the planet, Tuvok is suggesting they make more weapons to deal with the locals, but Janeway doesn't like the idea of perpetually foregoing diplomacy, which is good, and Chakotay has some new age bullshit informing his opinion, which is stupid. Oh, and because there aren't yet enough artificial threats, there's now and EXPLODING VOLCANO!!!! about to flood their camp with magma. Wow.

Seska confronts the EMH, convinced that he is behind the sabotage. They spar a bit, which is pretty fun. Finally, she locks out Federation voice commands and shoots a panel, disabling the Doctor's programme.

Act 5 : *.5, 17%

Tom and the Talxians have begun their attack while Suder is left with a recording from the EMH, triggered by his attempt to activate his companion. Having been informed that his wish from part 1, to make amends for his transgressions, has been fulfilled, Suder's arc is complete.

On the planet, one of the natives has been stranded on a rock above a river of lava, but thankfully, Chakotay's magical Indian powers allow him to rescue her and provide the lynch-pin to the new alliance between the crew and the natives. Weren't they going to give him this woman as a prostitute wife a couple scenes ago?

In what I assume is meant to be an ironic twist, Tom hen-pecks the Voyager much the same way Seska had in part 1 with his shuttle, forcing Caligula to engage the back-up phasers, which of course, means Suder's up to complete the Very Important Task. This begins with him killing every single Kazon in the Engine Room, which is admittedly impressive. The skill needed for this comes like second nature to him, but the toll it takes on his soul is very clear. But right before he can push the magic button, one of the Kazon who wasn't *quite* dead yet, mortally wounds him.

The phaser overload causes the inside of the ship to get fried real good, which...yeesh. Many of the Kazon are dead, but the baby has just been woken up from his nap I guess. Seska dies trying to reach him, and Caligula takes the baby with him as they escape into some novels I'm sure no one wanted to write.

On the planet, the natives put a leaf on the baby's throat which helps her out, I guess. And just in time for the Voyager to make its return to the planet. All things aside, it's a pretty epic shot of the ship with a sweeping inclusion of the Voyager theme. In a better episode, this would have been an impressive climax.

We close out with Tuvok wishing Suder's corpse farewell and Chakotay putting Seska in a bodybag. Wow, what a resolution!

Episode as Functionary : **, 10%

How's this for a timely comparison? This reminded me a bit of “The Rise of Skywalker”—not that Basics I was anything close to as good as “The Last Jedi,” but Basics II is completely uninterested in exploring themes, developing relationships or engaging on any level with its audience beyond spectacle. The plot is *resolved*, there are a couple of interesting moments, and that's it.

As others have noted, the best parts are probably Suder and the Doctor. Suder's tragic little story gets about as fitting an end as we could expect. Remember this line from “Meld,”

SUDER: I can promise you this will not silent your demons. If you can't control the violence, the violence controls you. Be prepared to yield your entire being to it, to sacrifice your place in civilised life for you will no longer be a part of it, and there's no return.

A stronger ending for him would have been for him to survive the encounter, but commit suicide before the Talaxians boarded, but between Dourif's excellent performance and the directing taking momentary breaks from its frenetic pace to dwell on his reactions, this worked for me.

The Planet Plot was a complete waste. Instead of, as I hoped, having these characters deal with the weight of their choices—Janeway and her struggle between community leader and pragmatic captain, Chakotay struggling with consequences of his relationship with Seska (oh, and convenient that the kid isn't his anymore, so all that talk with his father didn't matter at all, I guess)--instead of any of that, we get land-eels, offensive natives, volcano silliness and Neelix getting people killed. This is Star Trek; I don't expect to actually be worried that the crew isn't going to be rescued, but I want to see them make use of their isolation from the ship. “Basics” could have referred to the basics of human psychology as well as the basics of survival. But this was not to be.

The most disappointing aspect of this story for me is how it unceremoniously casted off Seska. I already lamented how they flattened her character into almost nothing in Season 2, but I was hoping for at least a token resolution between her and Chakotay. A braver ending would have seen Suder accidentally kill the baby and mortally-wound Seska. After all, they should know each other. Killing an innocent baby would be the impetus for Suder's suicide and this would have given a foundation to a final conversation between Seska and Chakotay before she perished. Overall, a big disappointment, despite some good production values.

Final Score : ** (barely)
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Wed, Nov 20, 2019, 2:24pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Looking for Par'mach in All the Wrong Places

Teaser : ***.5, 5%

Bashir and Quark are (independently) eavesdropping on the O'Briens having an argument in their quarters. Well sort of. Keiko strolls up the corridor and snidely greets them as she enters her home. It turns out that Miles and *Kira* are the ones getting into a spat. All in all this is pretty creepy. Moving on.

Worf and Jadzia are talking Klingon opera. I'll concede that any time the writers try getting technical with musical terms, it's completely nonsensical, so I extend to the scientists who watch Trek some sympathy with the usual technobabble. The idea that a singer would vary his performance “by a half-tone,” is ludicrous. Varying one's performance by a half-tone is called failing to sing properly. The point of this little tiff is of course:

DAX: You know, for a Klingon who was raised by humans, wears a Starfleet uniform and drinks prune juice, you're pretty attached to tradition. But that's okay. I like a man riddled with contradictions.

Juicy. *Prune* juicy in fact. Speaking of, Grilka and her entourage step onto the Promenade, causing Worf's heart to skip a beat. He gawks at her for a moment before following her to Quark's. Upon seeing her embrace her ex-husband, Dax recalls her identity and relays the goofy conceit of “The House of Quark” to a scowling Worf.

Act 1 : **.5, 17%

Quark and Grilka catch up over drinks and she lays out the premise for this week; the war has cost her house money, er, somehow. Quark agrees to take a look at her financial records.

Meanwhile, Dax finishes recapping “The House of Quark” for Worf in Ops, before diagnosing him with “a bad case of Par'mach,” which is Klingon for “aggressive boner.”

Back to the B, or C plot...Julian prescribes Miles a face-mask to tame Kira's pregnancy sneezes and a trip with himself to the holosuite for some fun...of the decidedly platonic type, unfortunately.

O'BRIEN: I can't go to the holosuite tonight. Kira and I have some things to work out.
BASHIR: Still fighting, huh?
O'BRIEN: Who said we were fighting?
BASHIR: Word gets around. It's a small station.
O'BRIEN: It's a huge station.

Why, why...it can hold almost 300 people, it can! As they converse, it becomes clear that his relationship with Kira is becoming complicated by their surrogacy situation. This is one of those times where Trek ages poorly. What in 1996 was pitched as such a far-fetched premise that it yields (allegedly funny) sci-fi circumstances with which to deal, is not remotely weird or particularly funny through the lens of 2019.

In Quark's, Worf throws Morn out of his seat and demands a drink from the bartender before engaging in further stupid Klingon courtship rituals by screaming at Grilka's aid. Tumek, the old counsellor calls off the charade before explaining to Worf, calmly and clearly, that he's a bastard pariah of the Empire and that Grilka would sooner re-marry Rom than mate with him.

Act 2 : ***, 17%

Dax consoles Worf on the Defiant mess but is interrupted by Worf's favourite Ferengi. Quark admits to her that he's been invited to Grilka's for dinner and is hoping to spin the evening into a rekindled romance. Worf is incensed, but Dax plays it cool—she's explaining to Quark that his hopes of a one-night-stand are folly with most Klingons (c.f. “The Emissary”), but also subtly telegraphing to Worf that she very much understands the Klingon heart. Worf suggests bringing a carcass to the affair because, you know, Klingon.

Meanwhile, Miles is living his best Three's Company life. I'll say now that I agree with William B that this whole story idea is ill-conceived from the get-go. I just get bored when the Trek writers can't seem to treat sexuality with maturity, which is to say, most of the time. This isn't a DS9 problem—in fact DS9 probably handles sex better than the other series overall—but one of the redeeming features of early TNG was the openness with which the crew seemed to treat sexual activity. Hooking up is fine. Polyamory and open relationships are fine. Why get bent out of shape about it? If Miles and Kira are developing an attraction to each other, then they and Keiko should talk about what that means for their relationship. Keiko at least isn't acting like a fool during all this.

We cut to Worf singing along to his Klingon operas on the Defiant bridge. Quark interrupts again to report that his evening with Grilka went swimmingly.

QUARK: She spent about an hour talking about her family history. A rather long and bloody tale, but what else is new? Then we ate the lingta, which tasted really bad, listened to some noise which she called Klingon music, and I left.
WORF: A perfect evening.
QUARK: Almost. Her bodyguard was giving me threatening looks all night.
WORF: That is to be expected. The idea of a Ferengi courting a great lady is offensive.
QUARK: You know, it's attitudes like that that keep you people from getting invited to all the really good parties.

The prospect of winning Grilka's heart—even for Quark and not himself—is too tempting for Worf to refuse. Really, this is a lighter-toned version of the perspective on Worf we saw in “Apocalypse Rising”: his academic expertise in Klingon tradition and culture allows him to subvert the political structures of his own people. For Worf, it's both a thrill and a shameful burden to engage with them this way.

Act 3 : ***, 17%

So we find ourselves in what is probably one of Alexander's holodeck training programmes that Worf clutched to his chest and cried over when the boy told him he wanted to be a botanist or whatever. Worf is observing while Dax and Quark vanquish holographic Klingons. Jadzia is getting into it (performatively, it should be noted), but Quark is having a hard time enjoying himself. Given the Cyrano plot, it's actually rather hilarious that what this scene reminds me of is “The Nth Degree,” with Quark in the role of Barclay and Worf playing the overzealous director Dr Crusher. And indeed, this isn't a training programme, it's an historical reenactment of an epic Klingon Romance. Like their human counterparts, there's a lot of bloodshed preceding the boning in Klingon epic Romances.

We get an appearance from Odo as he berates Kira in his office over Miles slacking off in his maintenance duties. Kira defends him, and Odo echoes Bashir's taunting tone over their apparent intimacy.

ODO: Which part?
KIRA: What?
ODO: Which part of his family are you? Sister? Daughter? Cousin?

See, this is what I mean about ageing poorly—a *man* who a few months ago was being judged by his “family” in an ocean made of organic goo is being paternalistic towards Kira for her “unconventional” family situation. It just feels so childish. I admit that I haven't read or seen Cyrano since I was like 9 years old, and I have not bothered to revisit it, so maybe these side conversations are a symptom of replicating the source material, but that's still not an excuse.

Grilka and Quark emerge from the holosuite laughing and thirsty for some libations. She puts the question to him as to why he go to all this effort.

GRILKA: Acquire? Now you sound like a Ferengi again.
QUARK: I am a Ferengi. That means I have a talent for appreciating objects of great value.

It's interesting how much mileage this series gets out of juxtaposing Klingon and Ferengi values and their corresponding rhetorical devices. What, after all, is a courtship (in the medieval Romantic sense that Klingon customs clearly borrow from) but a ploy to acquire? Human marriage is very much about the inheritance and control of property. The feel-good love-language aspects we associate with it are very modern additions to what is, at its heart, a contract. And what's more capitalist than contracts?

Grilka seems to be falling for Quark's overtures, but, er, Toe Pack (is that his name?) screams and breaks up their little moment. He demands that Quark kill him tomorrow or be killed himself lest the honour-less Ferengi bespoil her noble house. Toe Pack is of course not so much a character as a personification of the sociopolitical and cultural barriers that would keep this romantic pair apart, like Melot in the tale of “Tristan and Isolda.”

Act 4 : **.5, 17%

Miles and Keiko are having a romantic evening at home and Kira arrives looking exhausted. She has decided to take a few days vacation on Bajor—mostly to get away from her growing attraction to Miles. But Keiko in classic sit-com fashion insists that she not go alone but take her husband with her. Cue whacky trombone music and canned laughter. Ugh.

Having found himself in a similar spot to “The House of Quark,” the eponymous Ferengi considers replicating his unlikely victory in that episode by daring Toe Pack to kill him. Worf notes that this won't work this time. Ah, but Dax has a truly ridiculous solution up her sleeve: smash cut to Quark besting Jadzia in the holosuite. She has attached some gizmos to Quark's neck that allow Worf to control his movements. Boy, that would have been handy when Worf's spine was shattered, or in about a thousand other scenarios. But of course, we'll never see this tech again. See, DS9 is just as bad as the other series on this front. Quark goes to bed and Dax confronts Worf over his intense attraction to Grilka, and lets him know, with little ambiguity, that she's hot for him.

The next day, Quark appears to meet Toe Pack's challenge, with Worf's magical puppet strings attached. So they fight, fight, fight...but of course, something goes wrong and the link to Worf is severed by some sort of technical glitch. Ronald D Moore, everyone, master of original story-telling.

Act 5 : ***, 17%

While Dax works furiously to repair the unit, Quark stalls, using his own talents, inventing a Ferengi “rite of proclamation.” We get a mad-lib style Shakespearian sonnet that successfully allows Shimmerman to showcase his talents for a bit before the connection is restore, Toe Pack defeated (though not killed) and the fight concluded. The funniest moment has got to be when Quark and Grilka begin strangling each other (this is Klingon kink, not a lovers' quarrel); Jadzia severs the connect, denying Worf his avatar sex with Grilka and robbing Quark of the ability to match her strength.

WORF: What does she see in that parasite?
DAX: Who knows? But they're on the same wavelength, and at least Quark can see an opportunity when it's standing in front of him.
WORF: He would have to be blind not to see it.

So, Dax and Worf start fighting, then strangling, then...

We tie up Kira and O'Brien embarking on their romantic weekend—another pretty funny scene that almost manages to redeem this plot.

The coda sees the two romantic pairs being treated for Klingon sex injuries in the infirmary. They fuck so hard their bones break! Comedy!

Episode as Functionary : **, 10%

I can't say I endorse either of the non-Quark plots in this episode. Dax' and Worf's attraction to each other seems to be about nothing more than the fact that they both get hard for Klingon silliness. Similarly, Kira's and Miles' attraction is based on...um...massages? The problem is not that either of these couples would want to fuck and/or explore their unconventional pairing, it's that the episode insists that these attractions must be about something deeper. If that's going to be the premise, then the story completely fails to establish that depth. Then to reference the fact that Worf has always taken sex VERY seriously, only to dismiss it at the end feels rather cheap. All of that said, none of this was unpleasant to watch. The actors did a fine job conveying budding chemistry to my taste, and the humour and dialogue were smart and effective. The premise was bad, but the execution almost made up for it.

The Quark/Grilka romance still works for me, despite the contrived conflict and very silly deus ex Avatar resolution. What's weird is that we don't actually get any resolution to this pairing. Wasn't she having financial troubles? Are they getting married again? What gives? Did he tell her about the tech-tech?

So overall, this is an episode that almost works despite itself, thanks to some gentle character work with Worf and Quark and some very good performances, music, direction and design. Best not to think too hard about the implications of any of it, though.

Final Score : ***
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Tue, Oct 22, 2019, 10:28am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: The Ship

Teaser : **, 5%

In the reviews of “Deadlock,” I recall a lot of complaints that the fact that the Voyager was severely damaged at that episode's end but would be fully-repaired by the next week ruined the story, was evidence of lazy writing, made the show feel shallow, etc. Many are/were unwilling to extend an ounce of creativity or speculation to make it work because Voyager sucks, ergo everything Voyager does sucks unless someone's YouTube review says it doesn't...or something. I mean, to each his own, but the first thing Sisko's log reveals in this episode, after just having blown open a very serious Dominion plot at the end of last week's episode, is that most of the DS9 senior staff has decided to complete a routine survey mission of a planet in the Gamma Quadrant. In a RUNABOUT no less. Can we contrive reasons for this? Sure. But I don't appreciate the double standard. This is the fifth season of the show and the set-up for this story, however it turns out, is silly even without the context of continuity. Considering, as William B noted, the general state of affairs of the series at this point, and the context of the very last episode in particular, it's completely absurd. But we shall suspend our disbelief and move on.

As I said, Sisko and...a lot of people for some reason are on this survey. Like a dozen of them--yeah. We catch up with O'Brien and Muñiz (who in any other episode would be on this survey by themselves) pausing to banter about how old O'Brien is, and to establish their rapport. O'Brien doesn't like being called “sir,” because he's not an officer. It's all very heartwarming, so saith the script.

They catch up with Sisko, Worf and Dax. Dax is there to talk about the ore they're totally going to start mining. Yes, why not set up a mining operation in the heart of enemy territory sixty thousand lightyears away from Federation space? And Worf is on hand to assess the strategic viability of such an operation. For a planet. On which he is standing. Let me ask you, what's the strategic viability of supplying Mars with wheat grass and iPhones? I'm asking you because, as someone on Earth, you have a strategic vantage point in making this assessment. And Sisko is on hand to command these people. How would they possibly do this job if he, the captain of a vessel and commander of a space station, weren't standing right there ordering them to do their jobs?

Anyway, the other half of the crew that was apparently sardined into the runabout makes contact with the away team to warn them that a ship has dropped out of warp nearby. It crash-lands just out of sight of Sisko's away team because of course it does. They're beamed over and discover that it's a Jem'Hadar warship. What in the GQ? Get out of town...

Act 1 : **.5, 17%

They manage to break into the ship, which isn't nearly as damaged as you'd think it would be, but IS upside-down. That's a bummer. The production design is definitely commendable as the flickering lights, smoke and horror movie score create a real sense of dread, especially after the sunny scenes we just left on the planet surface. They eventually run into some Jem'Hadar corpses, which is a little obvious, but okay. According to Dax, they died well before the crash, from inertial dampener failure. O'Brien and she begin to learn about Dominion ship design—surprised at a lack of viewscreens and other ubiquitous Star Trek staples. Sisko wants to haul the ship back to the AQ, naturally, but the runabout isn't going to cut it. See, that's a contrivance that plugs two plot holes on its own!

So, we cut to DS9 where we finally get an appearance by Quark. He and Bashir are being dragged by Odo into Sisko's office over some conflict. He ordered some spiders for Kira (don't ask), and Quark neglected to mention he needed a permit to import them. Kira tells them to work it out while she takes the Defiant to the GQ to perform salvage. Yawwwwn...

At the site of the crash, O'Brien is mumbling something about fixing the ship's engines to make towing easier and Worf reports that they finished burying the dead Jem'Hadar. But then, the runabout is shot out of the sky by another Dominion vessel and Sisko watches his crew vaporise in the atmosphere.

Act 2 : **.5, 17%

The Jem'Hadar appear, kill a blue shirt and wound Muñiz before the crew take cover inside the crashed ship. Dax mentions that the Jem'Hadar's magic transporting abilities make it likely they'll materialise in the ship...but they don't. Sisko and co. head back to the command centre and O'Brien chides Muñiz for putting on a brave face while he bleeds out from his wound. With the med kit lost and the Defiant 2.5 days away...yeah Muñiz is carne muerta.

O'Brien manages to get the ship powered up and they continue making small discoveries about Dominion tech, including these little eye-pieces that allow visual contact for the Vorta and the First. While Muñiz continues his 2 days from retirement thing, a Vorta called Kilana hails them over the comm.

DAX: They know your name.
SISKO: They always seem to be one step ahead of us.

She requests a face-to-face meeting and Sisko agrees. The pair and their escorts meet outside and she “cuts to the chase,” telling Sisko that they want their ship back. This is a minor complaint, but Kilana is adorned with jewellery, [[being a girl]], which strikes me as silly. Even without the retro-continuity about the Vorta lacking a sense of aesthetics, she's a military leader, right? In a society of clones run by shape-shifters? Was Weyoun wearing cologne on that trip to Iconia? Anyway, Sisko claims “salvage rights” over the warship, which, erm, fine. We see that while they chat, a single Jem'Hadar beams aboard the ship.

Act 3 : **, 17%

Kilana and Sisko continue with her offering him a snack and him retorting that he only likes white chicks if they're the re-incarnated souls of his former mentors in parallel realities. At least that's what would have gone down if I had written the script. She tries playing good cop and bad cop at the same time, in a way. She gets personal with Ben, playfully chiding him about teaching Jake to be trusting of others and she makes a “generous” offer to bring Sisko and crew back to DS9, “including your wounded.” But, her remarks about Jake have a sinister overtone, implying that the Dominion can reach him whenever they like, and Sisko sees right through her offer as a gussied-up call for surrender.

In The Ship™, Dax and O'Brien chase phantom noises to a sensor device and get ambushed by the Jem'Hadar. Notably, the soldier takes them down in hand-to-hand. For...reasons, the pair of allegedly seasoned combat veterans are easily thwarted, but Muñiz shows up just in time, straight out of an action movie, to shoot the Jem'Hadar with his phaser.

Kilana and co. vanish and the DS9 crew ponder the purpose of the sensor device while Muñiz writhes in agony. They put the pieces together and realise that the ship is valuable in some way that makes the Dominion guarded in how they might try and retake it. They won't send in more than one soldier or risk using energy weapons. They determine to make blue prints and try and track down the “special.”

O'BRIEN: It's not that bad.
MUÑIZ: You're lying.
O'BRIEN: What makes you say that?
MUÑIZ: I called you sir and you didn't even flinch. I must be dying.
O'BRIEN: Now you listen to me, Quique. You're not dying unless I say you're dying. And I say you're going to make it.

I'll get into this more at the end. Suffice it to say for now that Meaney and Rio do a fine job with this material, but it really tries my patience. And that's because this is what one might call the evolved form of the DS9 Banality Syndrome making its unwelcome return to the series. In early seasons, it was about houseplants and baseball and other bullshit—DS9 characters talking about “character” issues that are so obvious, clichéd and grafted onto the franchise from other genres that, beside the far more original and interesting Trek material, felt exceedingly tedious and, well, banal. Now it's a war story, with the brave but tragic young soldier and his mentor going through denial. This stuff is fine, I guess, it's just fucking boring and obvious. Star Trek isn't MASH. Like I said, I'll elaborate further at the end.

So, then we get a scene where O'Brien, Worf and Dax argue about said banal plot thread. The three of them are certainly *in character*--I don't want to mis-represent my complaint here. It's just that the way the conflict arises is extremely forced and without nuance or effort.

DAX: Muñiz is strong. He'll make it.
WORF (screaming): No, he will not. He will not see tomorrow.
O'BRIEN: You keep that to yourself. I don't want him to hear that kind of talk.
WORF: It does no good to shield him from the truth.

Dax is written inconsistently over the series. Sometimes she's borderline socially-retarded, saying things that seem to show zero sensitivity to the people she's addressing (like her off-handed remarks to Kira); other times she's seems to have this wisdom that better fits her character (like her insight into Bashir's struggle in “The Quickening”); but this is just...flat. It's a functional line that sets the conflict in motion, but doesn't seem to have anything to do with Dax or her relationship to O'Brien. Worf is then set off by her remark into his usual Klingon-ness. But why is he so pissed off about it? Think back to “The Enemy” and Worf's cold “then he will die” when informing Dr Crusher that he was refusing to help save the dying Romulan. Worf had a lot of cause to be emotional—the reminder of his tragic backstory, the immediate pressure from his job, his commanding officers and his Federation ethics to do something he felt he couldn't, the conflict in trying to live up to a cultural ideal that he only understood in the abstract—but he was calm, clear and direct, not incendiary. If we are generous, we can perhaps say that Worf is under a lot of pressure here, too (although the episode has not actually shown this to be true at this point). But why is this relatively simple and impersonal pressure (being surrounded by the enemy) getting under his skin now? It's conflict and that's “dramatic.” I get it. But it's not natural. It feels like DS9 trying to take its uniquely Star Trek-shaped puzzle piece and jam it into a generic space war story puzzle it doesn't fit.

While Sisko attends Muñiz who is now going into shock from his blood-loss, Kilana calls and offers to meet him again, sounding more desperate. She offers to come unescorted and unarmed. Her new proposal is to let the Jem'Hadar retrieve the Special and leave them alone *with* the ship. Sisko says that he'll get it for her if she tells him what it is, which of course, she won't do. This moment is actually, in my opinion, the crux of the episode. But again, I'll circle back. For now, this impasse triggers an aerial bombardment from the Jem'Hadar.

Act 4 : **.5, 17%

The crew realise that the bombs aren't meant to actually hit them, but merely “rattle” them as they won't risk harming the Special.

O'BRIEN: Any idea what?
SISKO: Could be anything. Encoding device, guidance system.
DAX: Maybe she lost an earring.

Huh. I didn't expect the episode to point out its own weird conceit. Bonus point. Sisko orders all hands to search the ship for...whatever while O'Brien repairs its weapons.

Finally, Muñiz starts hallucinating and drifting into Spanish. With the Siskos' colour-coded love interest stuff, I try to tread lightly as I am not black and can only make observations, but my father is Spanish, I'm bilingual, and this shit is offensive. I'm not going to dock the episode for this, because there is precedent in TNG for Picard sending occasional messages in French—even though he should always be speaking French and just have his words translated—but this has the same tokenism-scented inauthenticity that makes Chakotay's character so cringey sometimes. Torres is latina on her human side, but we never see her going Spanglish to try and assuage the audience's white guilt. Rio is trying his best here, but the moment is sterilised for me by the writers trying way too hard.

Meanwhile, Dax is starting to get flustered as she raids the Ship for whatever the fuck they're looking for. Worf, likewise, is champing at the bit for an opportunity to murder somebody, per his idiom. He mutters to O'Brien:

WORF: That is no way for anyone to die.
O'BRIEN: I told you, he is not going to die.
WORF: It is only a matter of time.
O'BRIEN: So we should just kill him, right?
WORF: If you truly are his friend, you would consider that option. It would be a more honourable death than the one he's enduring.

All of that is fine, but then we get:

WORF: You're just another weak human afraid to face death.

What the actual fuck, Worf? When did he turn into this racist piece of shit, exactly? The only time Worf has ever talked about human weakness is when he was teasing Wesley about the physical fragility of human females back in “The Dauphin.” Remember “The Bonding,” when he adopted a human child into his family so they could face death together? Or how about “Chain of Command,” when he scoffed at Jellico's writing-off Picard being lost in the line of duty? Or how about “Ethics,” when he asked Riker to kill him so that his Klingon son wouldn't have to? But no, in this story, Worf thinks humans are weaklings because the script says we need this artificial conflict. Bravo.

Sisko breaks up their fight and chides Dax for her unhelpful snarkiness (thank you) before giving his version of a pep talk, which of course means screaming at the top of his lungs like a lunatic for his people to “act like professionals.” Hilarious. He sends the trio off on tasks and orders Muñiz not to die. Obviously, this is for Sisko's own psychological benefit as Quique is watching fireworks with his father.

Later Sisko makes a captain's log that updates us on the crew's progress. They think they might be able to fly the ship off the surface and make the attempt. There's some shaking and sparking and...they fail completely. Oh, and Muñiz is dead. Oops.

Sisko privately tells Dax that he is more determined than ever to recover the Ship, as he needs to have a tangible reason to justify the deaths of the five casualties on this mission. Again, I'll come back to that. As luck would have it, their conversation is interrupted by the revelation that a bulkhead is actually a Changeling that starts to ooze off the ceiling.

Act 5 : *.5, 17%

It lashes out at them, but it seems to be dying. They realise that the Founder here is the Special and reason that when it dies, the Jem'Hadar will no longer hold back on their assault. Apparently, one of the Changelings' abilities is a Vulcan Scream or something as its cries of agony reach the ears of Kilana and her horde outside. It dies and Kilana beams in to offer her surrender.

SISKO: Where are your soldiers?
KILANA: They're dead. They killed themselves.
DAX: Why?
SISKO: Because they allowed a Founder to die.
KILANA: You should've trusted me.

SISKO: Muñiz, the runabout crew, your soldiers, they'd all still be alive if we had trusted each other.

Lol what? So much of this makes no sense.

First of all, why was the Founder dying? Because of the crash? Does goo suffer bone fractures? I don't think so. The Founder must have already been dying for some reason before the crash. So how were Kilana and these Jem'Hadar, far from Dominion space, supposed to save the Changeling even if Sisko and co. hadn't been around?

Second of all, why was Kilana afraid Sisko would take the Founder as a hostage? In exchange for something? Like herself or the Ship? WHICH SHE WAS ALWAYS WILLING TO GIVE HIM? It's true that Sisko has been indirectly responsible for the deaths of at least two Changelings, but Kilana has shown that she's deeply informed about him and Federation procedures. She doesn't have to trust Sisko at all to know that he would only kill the Founder if he had to, and that it would make much more sense for him to exchange it for this Ship and getting his own remaining crew home alive.

Third, Sisko already pointed out that he had absolutely no reason to trust Kilana. There was never any sign that he was making a difficult choice between trusting his instinct over his mind or something. Kilana never gave him a reason to trust her. This is SO contrived and stupid.

Oh, and just to put a little capstone on this buffoonery, we get a little exchange about belief that comes out of nowhere. Fuck this.

Wait a minute, wait a minute...so Kilana beams away with some of the Founder's remains to...somewhere. I mean, all of her men are dead, so she's gone to some ship or outpost right? Why, at this point, would the Dominion allow Sisko and co. to hold on the Ship and all its intelligence? Blow them up, idiots!

There's a coda where Sisko informs Dax that they're all getting medals for their “prize.” [eye roll]

DAX: They chose a life in Starfleet. They knew the risks and they died fighting for something that they believed in.

They did? I thought they died because of a really random set of coincidences exacerbated by incredibly poor planning. But yeah, war movie clichés ahead full...Worf and Miles keep watch over Muñiz' body because of some Klingon bullshit that allows these two to reconcile without actually talking about what they said or how they feel because they're tough guys or some other fucking tired bullshit. The end.

Episode as Functionary : *.5, 10%

The intended sentiment of this story prefigures “The Siege of Ar-588,” but fails because the writers don't know what their setting is. Is this a war? Well kind of. But the premise of this story is that Sisko and a dozen other people could risk going to the GQ to survey a planet for some ore in a Runabout. Sisko laments to Dax that his officers' deaths have to mean something, that he needs to justify their sacrifice to their families and to himself. Sure. But, when Q flung the Enterprise into Borg space and 18 of Picard's officers died and/or were assimilated, he didn't wring his hands over the pointlessness of their mission, because their mission was to seek out new life. And in that process, they got killed. Sisko's mission wasn't to recover a Dominion ship, it was to survey a planet. Like in so many Bajoran religious stories or anti-humanist Starfleet stories on this show, there's a bait and switch that really, really aggravates me. At the start of the episode, the crew find themselves unexpectedly ambushed and besieged by the enemy, forced into a combat situation that none had asked for. By the end, Dax is telling Sisko that these people died in the line of duty, doing what they signed on for. Bait and switch. Either of these premises (unfair, surprise combat situation OR unfortunate cost-of-war analysis) could work out fine, but the philosophical and ethical implications of these are not the same at all. And substituting one for the other is, well, exactly the kind of douchbaggery I always hate to see on this show.

If this were Season 1 or 2, the situation would be different—5 officers lost their lives in the line of duty due to unforeseeable complications with a mysterious enemy, like in “Q Who?”, but now, off the heels of an anti-Dominion mission in “Apocalypse Rising,” this feels kind of ridiculous. How would it look if Picard had sent people on a survey mission to the Delta Quadrant? But if the writers made the state of war between the Dominion and the Federation explicit at this point (precluding the possibility of silly survey missions to the GQ), then Sisko would have no cause to wring his hands. Yes, there would still be tragedy, but it wouldn't have this air of pointlessness; his people would be volunteering to risk their lives to fight the Dominion. Of course, this episode's followup in S6 will do just that and to much better effect.

The point is that this episode's stakes are too contrived to overlook. Every time something bad happens, no matter how well acted or scripted, there's a nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “Why the fuck are you even here, morons?”

Filling out most of the rest of the episode is a series of clichés and tropes that have no place in a Star Trek story to begin with, but are also just as contrived as the premise itself. Worf in particular is all over the place with his characterisation, and all the main cast find themselves saying and doing things that ratchet up the conflict seemingly for its own sake. This didn't have nearly the same weight as a relatively silly episode like “Night Terrors” had in believably wearing the characters down to the point where they make mistakes and say things they shouldn't to each other. The claustrophobia elements are pretty much confined to acts 3 and 4, which is simply not enough time.

The one potentially interesting element I found here was in the comparison between Sisko and Kilana. Both are gambling with a life; Kilana's is her god, Sisko's is his officer. For Kilana, giving up vital Dominion secrets and sacrificing herself and all her soldiers is a completely justified price to pay for one life, because her programmed religion conviction deems it so. The episode toyed with the idea that Sisko would on the other hand be willing to sacrifice one life, Muñiz', in order to acquire those secrets. But the way the episode is structured, Sisko didn't actually have a choice. We were never made to believe that he could have reasonably given Kilana the Ship and she would have cured Muñiz and delivered them all home. That's absurd. So the comparison doesn't work. Without that philosophical element, this story is incredible tired and trite.

Final Score : **
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Elliott
Mon, Oct 7, 2019, 12:15am (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S2: Second Season Recap

@Peter G.

"But I think your observation that the best episodes (Meld, The Thaw, Death Wish) aren't part of the main arc is more than just coincidence; they were uttlery uninspired in terms of the show's direction and had to pray for random good ideas to come along."

As I alluded to, I disagree with the framing of this idea. The show's "direction" didn't have to be substantially different from TOS' or TNG's, except with this ongoing plot to get back home. The writers chose to attempt a semi-serialised arc, but their subject could hardly have been worse. That's a creative failure, yes, but it's not for a lack of ambition or ideas--the Trek ideas are there, evident in those good episodes. It was all just...unfortunate.
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Elliott
Mon, Oct 7, 2019, 12:10am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S3: The Search, Part I

@Gaius Maximus

Thanks for the question. My answer is that there is every indication within the text and execution of this episode that Sisko relished the opportunity to build the Defiant, and that shapes my reaction to him irrespective of whether it was his choice of assignment. I think my assessment (as I re-read it) isn't so much that this new backstory makes SIsko immoral but that it makes him unhealthy. The immorality comes in when he chooses to take actions that are unethical, but the unhealthy psyche we are seeing does factor into Sisko's decision-making.
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Elliott
Mon, Oct 7, 2019, 12:02am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S4: Fourth Season Recap

@William B

Good to be back! Thanks. I just want to clarify that my character rankings are cumulative. So I think Sisko had ups and downs this season that cause him to have more or less the same "score" that he had at the end of S3. Other characters actually deteriorated (like Garak), but were starting from a much higher position. I suppose it's arbitrary, but when you watch the show, you go into a new season with preconceptions of the characters from the previous seasons, so this seems to make sense to me. When 7of9 gets introduced, I will start her from 0 since she's a blank slate. With Worf, like I said, I guessed at where he ended up after TNG and decided that he got a little worse over the course of this season. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with Ezri.
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Elliott
Sun, Oct 6, 2019, 11:55pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S5: Apocalypse Rising

Teaser : ***, 5%

After the recap, we get a recycled season-opening move from “The Search.” Sisko has been off the station and the crew are awaiting his return (he's running late). The subversion comes when, instead of revealing his impossibly-overpowered new warship, Sisko slinks back to DS9 in a runabout, nearly destroyed. The intervening dialogue between O'Brien, Kira and Worf makes it clear that the war with the Klingons has escalated—it also makes it clear that Kira is in charge god damn it.

Sisko reports that the Klingons are “throwing everything they have” at the Federation now which...uh, I guess means the Cardassians are pretty jazzed.

KIRA: It's hard to believe one changeling could cause so much chaos.
DAX: He can if he's impersonating the leader of the Klingon Empire.

Monarchies are bad, kids. Anyway, Starfleet has decided that Sisko will lead an infiltration team to expose Gowron as a Changeling. I'm curious how this conversation went...

HQ: Captain Sisko, I see here you took the Defiant to the Gamma Quadrant on an un-scheduled mission without authorisation.
SISKO: Yes, ma'am. My chief of security, The One Changeling in the Galaxy We Can Trust, became sick and we needed to find him a cure.
HQ: You know, we have doctors who...
SISKO: So, we surrendered the Federation's only warship to the Dominion, let them fuck with our logs, and were led to their homeworld so they could cure him—er, judge him for being The One Changeling in the Galaxy We Can Trust.
HQ: Did Bajor sign an extradition for...
SISKO: We had a little problem as the Cardassian terrorist I brought along almost got us and all of the Founders killed, but luckily Mr Worf punched him in the face. Did I say “terrorist”? I meant tailor.
HQ: Ben, this is highly irregular...
SISKO: Anyway, the Founders found The One Changeling in the Galaxy We Can Trust guilty of treason and punished him. See, they can link with each other, body and mind, exchange thoughts, etc.
HQ: So the Dominion knows...
SISKO: While he was linked with them, The One Changeling in the Galaxy We Can Trust learned that Chancellor Gowron has been replaced with a Changeling—one we probably can't trust, I reckon.
HQ: They gave that information away?
SISKO: No, ma'am. He realised like a day later when he saw Gowron's face that he had...um...seen Gowron's face.
HQ: This seems really dubious, Captain, but I suppose if The One Changeling in the Galaxy We Can Trust says that...
SISKO: Oh, he's not a Changeling anymore. They made him a human, but he REMEMBERS being a Changeling, see.
HQ:...
SISKO: BTW, sorry it took me 2 months to bring you this information, I've been really busy visiting my Maquis girlfriend in prison. How's this fucking war going?
HQ: Ben, I have a new mission for you...

Act 1 : ***, 16.5%

Speaking of the constable, Sisko tracks Odo to Quark's. Turns out that as a solid, he's turned to alcoholism to numb his pain. May as well jump in with both feet to the human experience. This leads to a tight little scene between Odo and Sisko where the former monologues a bit on the tempting banalities of flesh (expertly of course). Sisko thinks he can tempt Odo away from the drink by recruiting him for his absurd mission.

ODO: What you need is someone who can turn into Gowron's pet targ. I can't do that anymore.

So Sisko just orders him to report to the mission briefing. Said briefing begins by learning that Gowron is deep within a fortified Klingon base and defended by dozens of warships, and is always being personally watched by private security guards.

BASHIR: The changeling impersonating Gowron must have already found a way around [blood tests].
WORF: There is another option. We could kill him.
O'BRIEN: Dead changelings do revert to their gelatinous state.
SISKO: Our orders are to expose Gowron, not assassinate him.

Couple things. The only dead Changeling you've met, Miles, disintegrated into a pile of cigarette ashes, not jelly. Also, I know it's a war or whatever, but it would be nice if the fucking Starfleet captain didn't chuckle at the suggestion of murder. Who wrote this? Oh of course it's Wolfe and Behr. Where's my beer, Odo...?

Anyway, Starfleet has developed some tech tech golden snitches that will force a Changeling to revert to its natural form. So, I'm quite certain that every starship, station and facility is going to be equipped with these things immediately, right?

To get into Klingon space quickly, Sisko has decided to recruit Dukat and his rebel ship. He of notices Kira's baby bump which leads to the expected...

KIRA: Shakaar's not the father.
DUKAT: Then who is?
KIRA: Chief O'Brien.

Cute. We then get the steady-cam reveal of O'Brien and Sisko, surgically altered to look Klingon. O'Brien looks like a terrified gerbil, but Sisko is in his cos-playing element it seems. I guess it also seems that, even though the Klingons have become “meticulous about blood screenings,” they don't bother actually analysing the blood to see whether it's Klingon. They probably just stab each other in the hand as a form of greeting. “Qapla' my brother! Do you too have sepsis?” Seems about right.

Act 2 : **.5, 16.5%

Dukat and his number 1 lackey, Dumbass—I'm sorry, he gets a personality upgrade this season, so I'll call him Damar—spend a moment teasing Sisko and co. over their make-up. They eliminate the possibility of just bombing the facility housing Gowron, Tiber Con or something, which is good. Always nice to tie up those loose plot threads so long as you don't dwell on it. It really is amazing how much more realistic Sisko comes across as a Klingon, rivalling and perhaps besting Dorn's sullen but practised portrayal of Worf. He should just keep the ridges. Auberjonois is very much himself under heavier prosthetics, but poor Meaney/O'Brien seems incredibly uncomfortable. Did they really need a fourth musketeer for this plot? The plan is crystallised; there's an induction ceremony happening on Tiger Corps or whatever for “The Order of the Bat'leth” [eyeroll], and so Dukat is instructed to falsify the quartet's credentials for candidacy. This will enable them to get close to Gowron and deploy the snitches.

Meanwhile, we get an update on the budding male lieutenant, DS9's offscreen olive branch to gender non-conformity, which is nice. Oh, and Kira and Bashir have a wink wink nudge nudge thing about her pregnancy that we all know about. That part of the conversation is, er, fine. But the following “do you think they'll make it?” is exceedingly trite. It all feels very fan-service-y and forced and I don't like it.

We pick up with Worf putting the rest of the quartet through their Klingon paces. Only Sisko seems to get that in order to pass as a Klingon, you should hit people and act like a psychopath. Like I said, he should just keep the ridges, they really make his characterisation feel more natural. O'Brien continues to play the comic relief role, but honestly it's uncomfortable how pathetic he seems. Fairing better (as a character) is Odo, whose self-doubts and depression are causing him grief. Sisko does his best to comfort him, but he doesn't have much to offer beyond, “you'd better suck it up, solid.”

This okay scene is interrupted by a hail from another bird of prey. Sisko and co. join Dukat on the bridge to address the issue. For drama's sake (or whatever term you prefer), Dukat's holo-filter isn't working, meaning that the hailing Klingons will see Cardies on the viewscreen. Worf offers to try and intervene, but Dukat says fuck it and just blows up the other ship. Cold, dude. It's an effective little scene for Dukat, but it does beg the question of why the Empire hasn't issued a warning regarding this lone bird of prey going around shooting their own ships. You'd think in a state of war, it might be standard procedure to keep the shields up. I'm sure it has something to do with honour.

So, they arrive at Tiberius Crone or whatever and Dukat informs Sisko that he's getting the fuck away as soon as they beam down. His logic—much like in the preceding scene—is tough to dispute; if Sisko is successful, Gowron will surely arrange for their return to the Federation, and if he's not, they'll all die well before Dukat could do anything about it. Because of course he would. Dukat's such a mensch.

Act 3 : **.5, 16.5%

Despite being on a space station, Tigger Crayon or whatever has these arched windows with sunlight streaming through. Meh. The way the scene is revealed to us in kind of interesting. The music is deadly serious, conveying the thrill and danger of the quartet's mission, but we are seeing Klingons belching and drinking and butting heads—generally being fratboy idiots per their idiom. The effect is palpably dissonant which is a very good and efficient means of ratcheting up the tension.

On DS9, ostensible main character Jake Sisko is at his usual perch making very “it was a dark and stormy night” level observations about the station's occupants. You know Jake, just because you're a writer now, you aren't entitled to monologue like some Eliot Ness knockoff. This is apparently here to justify some more pro-military, pro-Sisko masturbating on the part of the writers:

JAKE: I suppose. But sometimes I wish that he wasn't so good at his job. That way, maybe every once in a while they'd give someone else the tough assignments.
BASHIR: He goes where he's sent. It's all part of wearing the uniform, and I doubt that's ever going to change.

Oh for fuck's sake, Ira. Why not just change the Starfleet jumpsuits to say “Army Strong” or something if you want to be this unsubtle?

In the interim, the Klingons and the would-be Klingons are “celebrating” by telling the stories and getting incredibly drunk. Well, the away team has been given a drug to prevent getting too drunk from the blood wine. This is all a big endurance test to see who can binge drink for an entire night and still receive his induction from the Chancellor. Because nothing says “honourable warrior” more than ancient and revered customs of “Porky's.” One of the Klingons brags about murdering a friend of Sisko's, so Sisko punches him in the face, because he's a psychopath. But because he's got those ridges, it's very easy to make the excuse that he just wanted to clear a path to the booze. See? Just leave him a Klingon, it will all be so much better. Toxic masculinity is a pillar of Klingon society after all.

After some more Klingon-bro bullshit, something vaguely interesting happens; General Martok appears, whom we remember as Gowron's right hand man and father of disappointing sons in “The Way of the Warrior.” The quartet fear being recognised by him. I'd think Worf in particular might be a fucking liability since his entire disguise is a hair-do, but Martok doesn't seem to notice anything amiss. Knowing Gowron must be nigh, they split up and gently rest their balls all over the room—the snitches I mean, are set up, except that O'Brien is momentarily interrupted by a sceptical Martok. Oh, and Odo drops his snitch before it's picked up by a drunken Klingon.

Act 4 : **, 16.5%

With Worf's help, he's able to recover the thing and get it set just in time for Gowron's arrival. Sisko's alter ego is summoned to receive his medal before he can activate the balls. This is rather stupid as, if the things work, turning them on before he ascends the proscenium would expose Gowron and end this tedium, but the plot demands that he pocket the activation circuit instead. Like I said, Sisko may be an immoral opportunist, but he's not an idiot, so this is...really sucky characterisation for him, ridges aside. Anyway, Gowron pins the medal on, complete with that patented insane stare of his, but it is Martok who recognises Sisko and strikes him down before he can slink away, calling for the room to be sealed and secured.

I don't know...I'm kind of unimpressed with this whole subterfuge conceit. Yes, we know that the aliens on Star Trek are just people with rubber glued to their faces. That's part of the fun. And in fun and/or whimsical stories that more or less acknowledge the theatre of this trick work just fine. But when you have a serious plot hinging on the ability of an away team being able to infiltrate the enemy, we are expected to believe that Dr Bashir can make two humans and a human with the face of Resusci Anne look like a different *species*, but not different enough from their human selves not to be recognisable as themselves? When Worf had his face done up in “Homeward” or Chakotay got the Vidiian beef-jerky skin in “Faces,” we may have been able to identify Michael Dorn and Robert Beltran, but the aliens they needed to actually fool wouldn't have any means to recognise them within the story, whether the alien designs were as bare-bones as they were on TOS, or as elaborate as the most expensive modern-day CGI would allow. So this plot point kind of sort of completely ruins the magic. Shame.

Act 5 : **.5, 19% (long)

Martok dismisses the guards in the brig so he can level with Sisko and co. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Martok already suspects Gowron of being a Changeling.

MARTOK: He is a politician, too eager to compromise, too eager to talk. Last year, he stopped the attack on Deep Space Nine instead of going to war with the Federation. And then he changed. Suddenly he was the one calling for war...but after the war began, he started ignoring the counsel of his generals, throwing aside all wisdom in his pursuit of victory. Our losses continue to mount and still he listens to no one.

With the snitches destroyed, Martok concludes that the only way to prove Gowron a spy is to kill him, just as Worf had originally proposed. See, this is a major structural weakness of this story. Our main characters have already dismissed the ethical implications of such an act. Remember that they still don't actually *know* whether Gowron is a Changeling. To up the stakes (however contrived) and leave the heroes with a difficult choice is good, but by having Sisko casually laugh off the prospect in Act 1, I'm not inclined to suspect that he's actually going to have to wrestle with the whether in this situation, only the how. And that's just a far less interesting story, while simultaneously continuing to paint Sisko in a negative light.

Speaking of how, Martok isn't going to bother with honourable combat (red flag!), nor is he going to just murder Gowron himself (red FLAG!). Instead he's going to let the quartet out of their cell so they can murder Gowron. So Martok is obviously not behaving honourably, which is somewhat suspicious, but hey, maybe he's one of those Klingons who values pragmatism over custom. So, tell me how relying on the only people who would have a hard time getting close to Gowron again to kill him makes any practical sense? But Sisko and co. are too stupid to realise this and just nod in agreement. Great. Oh, and Martok murders four other Klingon guards to aid in the quartet's escape (RED FLAG!!).

Meanwhile, Gowron and the other inductees are still drinking, which...did it not occur to Gowron that Sisko had to get here somehow? That maybe they should scout for a ship or something? No? We're just going to drink more? Okay. Odo is held back by Martok from the Great Hall of Warriors.

MARTOK: Not you. There's no telling where your loyalties lie.

Worf and Gowron go at it and finally Odo wises up.

MARTOK: What are they doing? Why doesn't Sisko just shoot him?
ODO: I have a better question. Why isn't Gowron letting his bodyguards kill Worf? I'll tell you why. Klingon honour. A concept you should be very familiar with. My people, on the other hand, don't care about honour. How did you put it? There will be no honourable combat, no formal challenges. Hardly the words of a Klingon.

And so Odo exposes Martok as the true Changeling just in time to prevent Worf from killing the Chancellor and watches as his actions cause the horrific death of yet another one of his people.

In the first of two epilogues, Gowron is convinced to go as far as a cease-fire with the Federation in light of these new revelations. The portrayal of the Klingon people continues to be most unflattering as the only reasoning given for why the war itself can't end is because Klingons are both to proud and too insane to be called off mid-battle. So then how is a cease-fire possible? Is it because the Klingons require a tangible victory to sate their blood-lust? Perhaps. But remember what I mentioned in TWotW; Worf noting that the Klingons are going back “to the old ways” is a sign of their decadent decline. The Empire must maintain its bread and circuses in order to stave off a genuine political revolution that would (hopefully) dismantle the monarchy entirely. Oh yeah, and Gowron promises Worf that he won't get another chance to kill him. …

The second epilogue kind of sort of not really ties up Odo's character thread by having him choose to have Bashir restore his old shape-shifter face. I guess that, because Odo proved himself useful on this mission, given his insight into Changeling psychology (although again, Worf at least should have seen through Martok immediately), he wants to keep that part of himself that links him (haha) to his people. Or maybe he feels like he deserves to be seen as a Changeling because he's internalising the guilt imposed by his people for “betraying them.” Who knows? The scene is like 20 seconds long.

Episode as Functionary : **, 10%

I find myself more or less in complete agreement with William B here. Dukat is a lot of fun. Some of the Klingon stuff is entertaining (especially Gowron). And the general function of the plot to move the series back on track to deal with the Dominion is appreciated. But the character touches for Odo and Sisko are half-baked, there are numerous plot holes and head-scratchy moments, most of the Klingon stuff is repetitive, Miles is pointless, and the scenes on DS9 are terrible. What this story needed was more compelling characterisation, mostly for Odo, but also for Worf and Sisko. It starts out with an intriguing tease: Odo's gone from a low-key fascist to a depressive substance-abuser and Sisko finds himself with a new challenge with one of his people; Worf is forced to *again* betray the letter of the law with his own people in order to uphold its spirit; and Odo must *once again* get one of his people killed. There's a lot of thematic overlap with these men and their relationships to their respective “people” here, but it's not really developed or explored in meaningful ways, leaving the script full of filler scenes and Klingon belching. Not a terrible opening, but less than unremarkable.

Final Score : **.5
Set Bookmark
Elliott
Wed, Oct 2, 2019, 1:41pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S4: Fourth Season Recap

Hello everyone!

Well I didn't mean to take a summer hiatus from posts, but life happens that way sometimes. Anyway, I'm back with my write-ups for VOY S2 and DS9 S4 and will be diving into the following seasons directly. Looking forward to more lively debates!

DEEP SPACE NINE SEASON 4

No. | Title | (x/10) | [Jammer +/-]

**** | Exceptional (must watch)
1. The Quickening (9.5) [+.5]

***.5 | Excellent (truly enjoyable)
2. Hard Time (9) [-.5]
3. Rejoined (8.5) [=]
4. Paradise Lost (8.5) [+.5]
5. The Visitor (8.5) [-.5]
6. Return to Grace (8) [+.5]

*** | Good (solid instalment)
7. The Way of the Warrior (8) [-.5]
8. Homefront (8) [-1]
9. Indiscretion (8) [+.5]
10. Body Parts (7.5) [=]
11.(tie) Little Green Men (7.5) [+.5]
11.(tie) Crossfire (7.5) [=]
13. Broken Link (7.5) [=]
14. Hippocratic Oath (7.5) [=]
15. Our Man Bashir (7) [=]

**.5 | Okay (problems, worthwhile)
16. Accession (6.5) [-1]
17. To the Death (6) [=]

** | Watchable (not good, not awful)
18.(tie) Bar Association (5.5) [=]
18.(tie) The Muse (5.5) [+1]
20.(tie) Starship Down (5.5) [-1]
20.(tie) Sons of Mogh (5.5) [-1]
22. Shattered Mirror (5) [-1.5]
23. Rules of Engagement (5) [-.5]
24. The Sword of Kahless (4.5) [-1.5]

*.5 | Poor (annoying)
25. For the Cause (4) [-1]

Average : 2.7721 stars (7/10) [-6.5]

Season Shape (10pt scale):

1 ********
2 ********.5
3 *******.5
4 ********
5 *******.5
6 *****.5
7 *******.5
8 ****.5
9 *******
10 ********
11 ********.5
12 *******.5
13 ********
14 *****.5
15 *****.5
16 ******.5
17 *****
18 *********
19 *****
20 *****.5
21 ****
22 ******
23 *********.5
24 *******.5
25 *******.5


Summary

I embrace the notion that “The Way of the Warrior” is actually a second pilot to a new series for which DS9 S1-3 serves as a prequel. Now, Trek has a bit of a tradition with that model. You could easily call “The Child” and “Evolution” second pilots to TNG as it struggled to define itself. And “The Expanse” is a very deliberate attempt to reboot a terrible programme. Some have said that “Brother” is a more recent example of this. The difference with DS9 is that the writers were quite happy with the direction their series was going and insisted that their plans not fall to the wayside amidst the new elements. So DS9 S4 is simultaneously a premiere season for certain facets of the series, and the creamy centre of the show as a whole. I think it's worth looking at these threads separately, because of all the episodes to focus on Worf and/or the Klingons (“TWotW,” “Sons of Mogh,” “Rules of Engagement” and “The Sword of Kahless”), only the pilot was enjoyable. There are a couple of episodes which make peripheral use of the Klingon/Cardassian conflict (“Return to Grace” and “Broken Link”) which are pretty good. And the remainder of the season (19/25 episodes) could exist, with very little tinkering, without any of the rebooted elements. Amongst these 19, only “For the Cause” was truly unpleasant to watch, getting about the same score as “Shadowplay” and “Profit and Loss.” But nothing fell to the level of “Sanctuary,” “Move Along Home” or “Fascination.” And otherwise, you've got 14 episodes, excluding the pilot, getting 3 or more stars from me. Taken together, that's a remarkably strong season of Star Trek. And it's understandable that the brand new elements would struggle, as all “first” seasons of Trek do.

So what made this season so good overall? Y'all may scoff, but I think it's exactly what made the good parts of Voyager's concurrent 2nd season good: classic Trek messaging with a fresh twist, deftly woven together with character development. “The Quickening” (best episode IMO) was a crucial and probing Bashir story with a brave message and gorgeous production; “Hard Time,” similarly, is a tour de force for O'Brien (and Colm Meany); “The Visitor,” despite not being as perfect as many Niners insist, is a stunning and moving tale, and quite effective for being so simple; “Rejoined” is a beautiful story that gets queer representation right for once; and “Paradise Lost” is DS9 doing a political story with polish and style, despite budget limitations. With Worf in the mix, the show didn't, perhaps, have the bandwidth to tackle issues related to the Prophets, Bajor and Major Kira. Now, that's a bit of an oversight in terms of what the series has thus far prioritised, but those elements have always been extremely problematic. So their relative absence is not something I'm prepared to complain about. But credit where it's due, “Accession,” while not good, was not nearly the cluster fuck of failure that its S3 prequel, “Destiny,” was. Finally, the smattering of comedies this season was unusually consistent; “Body Parts,” “Little Green Men,” and “Our Man Bashir” all managed to be sincerely funny.

Trends :

The Klingons

One of the most interesting threads from TNG's middle dealt with the decline of the Klingon Empire. It was sadly dropped after “Redemption” in favour of this new-agey pro-”diversity” spin on their culture which celebrated their nonsense (to be clear, I celebrate diversity, just not the shallow, virtue-signalling, limousine-liberal variety). It is most commendable that DS9 took an element which was forced upon them, the Klingons, and spent a great deal of time on this largely-abandoned theme. The writers were thrown a curve-ball in their carefully-laid plans, and I say that the series is all the better for it. As I said in “The Way of the Warrior:” “The foundations of Klingon society are falling away. Honour doesn't mean anything anymore, it's just a word, it's just political currency. As a culture, this is bound to lead to existential nihilism on a broad level. What the Klingon people need is massive reforms, the introduction of democracy, of social programmes, an end to the nobility, and an end to the Empire. All such reforms are a huge threat to Gowron and the rest of the Klingon leadership of course, so in lieu of genuine meaning, the people are given a chance to go back to the days of raping and pillaging, the Klingon bread and circuses.”

I think that what we see in “The Sword of Kahless” drives home the point that the Klingon culture is on the decline. Without the codependence on Federation antagonism we saw in the 23rd century, the Klingons' pernicious cultural perspective is a liability to their continuance, again explaining how easily they (and SPOILER Gowron himself) were manipulated into engaging the Cardassians. And don't get me started on the skull-fuckery going on in “Sons of Mogh” vis-a-vis “honour.” “Rules of Engagement” revealed some of the extent of Klingon rot, as the underhanded tactics employed by the Duras Sisters (“worthy of a Romulan” is how I believe Picard put it) now exemplify imperial policy.

The Dominion

The Klingon skirmish war allowed the writers to “tease” us with Dominion issues. Following the trend established in “The Adversary,” the Founders have taken to subterfuge and (dear God I can't believe I'm saying this) spreading Fake News amongst the Alpha Quadrant powers to destabilise them. Between “TWotW,” where Gowron is shown to be acceding to Klingon decadence in the most destructive of ways, and “Broken Link,” where Odo reveals that Gowron [[[is]]] actually a Changeling, lies the “Homefront”/”Paradise Lost” story, which effectively showcases Dominion political tactics. It all syncs up very well.

Dominion “culture,” such as it is, is expanded in small ways. In “Hippocratic Oath,” we see how the Jem'Hadar regard compassion and empathy as programmable traits, alien bugs their enemies suffer. Conversely, the Jem'Hadar are highly-propagandised victims of the Founders' war against the autonomy of solids. Despite some gummified bits, this is confirmed in “To the Death.” Then of course, there's “The Quickening” where we get a glimpse of the Dominion's sadistic wrath (far more effectively than in “Shadowplay”) against those who would oppose them. The religiosity of the Dominion and the Founders' status as its gods is made more or less explicit by Odo's punishment in “Broken Link.” The will of the gods is inviolate, and Odo is cast off from Olympus for his hubris.

Federation Values

When it comes to economics of the future, DS9 is still firmly in the regressive camp. Emblematic of this is the infamous “root beer scene,” where Quark and Garak brush over neoliberal destruction of labour value and focus upon an entirely superficial discussion of multiculturalism. But the example that is likely more insidious comes from “Homefront” in which societal ills (in this case paranoia and bigotry) stem not from malleable political systems, but from immutable human flaws. Or take O'Brien's off-handed remarks about his old job in the transporter room in “Bar Association” (an episode rife with philosophical inconsistencies); Miles was great at his job AND he had the ability to pursue any project his heart desired, 'cello, marriage, science projects, rafting, whatever. That's the point of the Federation economy. But now he's happier on DS9 because he's so busy fixing this hodgepodge space station that his work days are full? Whose fantasy of personal fulfilment is that? Or take “To the Death” where the Starfleet officers behave like Hollywood clichéd hyper-thyroid foot-soldiers when forced to work with the enemy. Starfleet is full of jarheads now. Fantastic. I've said it many times, but it remains true: these attitudes contradict the overarching thesis of Star Trek at its core. It is perfectly valid, as a matter of personal beliefs, to ascribe to this antithesis, but it disrupts the verisimilitude, at least for anyone grappling with the work as a coherent and philosophical piece of art, of the Universe. And far more so than unimportant disruptions to the continuity of certain plot points or world-building.

It should be noted that in most of the season's political outings, the anti-Trek messaging was only at a simmer (part of why this season is so good), but “For the Cause” unleashed the full onslaught of right wing bullshit upon us. And you know I'm no Sisko fan, but his total dumb-fuckery was way out of character in that story. I have issues with Sisko's ethics, with his hypocrisy and with his toxic masculinity, but he's not *dumb.* Yet in order to make Eddington look like he has a point, because this is DS9 and the assholes who hate the Federation must always be valiant anti-heroes, Sisko is made to look like a completely gullible fool. Good job, Ira.

Bajor & Cardassia

First of all, TWotW immediately resolves all the frustrating non-answers we had about the status of Cardassia from S2/3, which is very much to the series' betterment. Dukat's odd journey from deposed military leader to disgraced outcast to anti-establishment rebel over the coarse of the season vividly paints the picture of a dangerously unstable Cardassia.

The little peeks at Bajoran culture were typically not great. The hypothetical timeline from “The Visitor” was very unflattering to these people. The grab-bag of poorly thought-out Bajoran rituals continues to illicit facepalms (c.f. “Starship Down,” “Bar Association”). And the most Bajor-centric story, “Accession” continued the DS9 tradition of making the Bajoran religion and its (universal???) adherents look totally bonkers. However, that story also raises the possibility of reform for Bajor on its ostensible path to Federation membership. I describe Cardamom's challenge to Sisko's Emissary role as an impasse for the Bajoran people. It's all the more frustrating then that the Prophets self-consciously opt to make the choice for them. They deliberately affect THE Sisko in order to cause changes in the Bajoran people over linear time, despite claiming to have virtually no understanding of linear time. And before someone mentions that maybe Sisko's arrival in the wormhole—or hell Cardamom's arrival--*taught* the Prophets about linear time, remember that the reason the Prophets are considered gods at all is because they exist outside linear time. If the series really wants us to think that the Prophets exist outside linear time, but understand linear time AND utilise this advantage to affect changes to their favour, then they are not benevolent gods, they are devils, and the Bajorans are a planet-spanning group of cultists.

Characters (in order from best to worst):

Odo [+]

Odo remains DS9's most compelling character by a mile. Season 3 saw him trying to adapt to life amongst the solids, despite knowing he had a people to return to, in an attempt to embrace his humanoid ethics. And now, with the Dominion threat on the rise, all these people—the Federation, the Klingons, and even the Bajorans—regard him with growing suspicion and even contempt. So engrossing is his characterisation that he (with help from the excellent Auberjonois) is able transcend even banal plot points like the Kira-Shakaar love triangle and leave us with something compelling. Beyond the triteness of his attraction, Odo's otherness is at the heart of his uncharacteristic cowardice in expressing himself to Kira, leading to further heartbreak amidst an already broken existence. And yet, for now at least, he holds it together and finds solace and friendship where he can (c.f. “The Muse”).

Did I say “holds it together”? Well of course, the season finale cuts fundamentally into Odo's sense of self, bringing him home and making him a solid in retribution for violating the covenant of Changeling superiority.

“I'm trapped in this body. I can never rejoin the Great Link. My job is the only thing I have left.”

Bashir [+]

The first step in fixing this character was to drop the skirt-chasing entirely. Bashir's character this season centres around his job as a physician, and that works remarkably well. While his framing within certain stories (c.f. “Hippocratic Oath”) isn't always great (often way too cynical, per Behr's DS9 idiom), as a character, his professionalism has really done wonders for making his presence welcome. Thus, a lightweight tale like “Our Man Bashir,” which could have been a genre larping disaster, winds up being a fairly fun ride. And then there's “The Quickening,” which takes him to task for his arrogance in the most moving of ways. Bashir has been flighty, horny, brilliant, smarmy, insightful, brave, morose. But he has up to this point lacked a soul. We see now that his convictions as a doctor, and the choices he's made (c.f. “Emissary” and “Distant Voices”) stem from a deep need to help people. We've had some great MDs over the franchise so far, but this is the first one whose career feels truly personal...eh, without being weird and creepy (sorry, Bev).

Dukat [+]

I was worried about this guy after his anaemic appearances in S3, but he's back, baby! Politically, Dukat has evolved to become DS9's analogue character for the “West is best” philosophy within our own world, which is fitting. The man is an aggressive (if nuanced) fascist who happily represented the interests of a fascist state. When his state lost its direct power (losing Bajor in “Emissary” to losing the Obsidian Order in “The Die is Cast” to getting into a lopsided war with the Klingons in “The Way of the Warrior”), Dukat creeped into the “dark web” world of fascist apologism, re-writing history, gas-lighting Kira, etc. And this political orientation suits his personality perfectly, as Dukat's ego requires him to re-write and re-contextualise personal interactions all the time. Despite his intelligence, he is naïve enough to imagine that a relationship between himself and Kira is possible—any relationship, let alone a romantic/sexual one. But as luck would have it, “Indiscretion” provided him a new tool in this mad quest that actually forces Kira to conform; Ziyal, whom Kira all but adopts in “Return to Grace.” Through some very deft and thoughtful characterisation, Dukat is set up for a possible redemption arc that would turn him into one of the “good guys,” which is especially impressive for a space Nazi.

Garak [-]

Garak is still a superstar. Look no further than “Body Parts” for evidence of this. Very little could be done at this point to destroy his character (although, we still have 3 seasons to go), but I did find his appearances this season lack-lustre. Compared with the harrowing adventure in “The Die is Cast,” nothing came close this time. Take his blunt approach with Julian in “Our Man Bashir.” There was no subtlety or misdirection. Now, after the fall (and assumed death) of Tain, one would think Garak's reaction would be to do “The Wire” but in overdrive. Instead, he's become sort of normalised. Gone are the hints at pansexuality. Gone are the labyrinthine psychological games. This character-flattening is most evident in the season's worst offering, “For the Cause,” where his weird flirtations with Ziyal are boring and banal. For a character like Garak, such characterisation is a crime against fiction.

O'Brien [-]

“Hard Time” was a great story, and Colm Meany is a brilliant actor. However, I found O'Brien very problematic this season. In “Hippocratic Oath,” we see that his otherising of the enemy is so insidious that it will lead to outright insubordination. The ludicrous backstory (250 battle engagements in 22 years, 11 “battlefield” letters to Keiko) from “Rules of Engagement” and “To the Death” further emphasise the writers' seeming desire to alienate us from the tinkering family man with a heart of gold persona. But he's got a new kid on the way—maybe bringing Keiko back into the mix will help set him straight.

Kira [-]

Kira is probably most interesting in “Return to Grace” this season, where it is shown how her attraction to anti-authority figures, temper, vengefulness and distaste for bureaucracy can, under the right conditions, make her an unwitting ally to her greatest enemy, Dukat.

She has a boyfriend again because...um, feminism? Don't get me wrong, I'll take Shakaar over Driftwood any day, but the writers have spent approximately 0 moments considering what motivates Kira in this relationship, or almost anything else this season. Take her consideration of the new Emissary in “Accession”; she mentions that accepting this situation is difficult, but is never asked to contend with the ethical/philosophical implications of adhering to her faith. This isn't some minor character attribute, this is a defining feature of her life, and it's left dangling, flaccid and meaningless.

Oh yeah, and she's pregnant now. Do we have any idea how she feels about this? Of course not.

Dax [+]

Dax is finally, mercifully on the rise this season. While the Trill remain mostly unsalvageable (c.f. “Facets”), “Rejoined,” as I said, is kind of genius in its storytelling, not only for the very Trekkian analogy, but in how it makes sensible use of the contradictions in Trill backstory, much how some Torres episodes make use of the contradictions in the Maquis. “Rejoined” is also the first *Jadzia* episode since “Dax” in S1. All other Dax stories thus far have been about the symbiont, or more pointedly, about Curzon and his lingering dominance of Jadzia's personality. We finally see what she brings to the table besides her science background, which is to say, valuing personal freedom and agency. Quite the irony for a Trill.

One positive aspect of “The Sword of Kahless” is that it seems Dax has learnt to objectify Klingon culture more easily. She still has fun with it and feels affection for her old buddy (and a developing admiration for Worf, Prophets help us), but she finds the actual trappings of their society increasingly problematic, as Curzon never quite did. Despite hiccoughs like “For the Cause,” Jadzia's general characterisation is generally much better. Her supporting role in “The Quickening” was wonderfully realised. Ferrel's acting has improved quite a bit with these better stories, so overall I'm optimistic for Dax.

Quark [+]

Quark can certainly still be relied upon for a laugh, thanks to Shimmerman's consistently brilliant performances, but his character also saw a small amount of improvement this season, which was needed. I'd call his characterisation in “Bar Association” decidedly neutral (which is an improvement), but his standout episode was “Body Parts.” Similarly to Bashir, Quark's motivations are wonderfully humanised here. Beyond the avarice and one-liners, Quark craves human connections, a community, a family that values him for who he is. This makes sense given how political and emotionally distant his mother is, and how countercultural his brother and nephew have become.

Worf [(-)]

Since I haven't done an analytical TNG re-watch yet, my placement for Worf here is a bit of an estimate. As I said in TWotW, I loved him in early TNG and grew to kind of hate him by the end. While he showed promise in TWotW, the way his character had already been ruined by “Birthright” and “Rightful Heir” in particular persisted in his DS9 debut. He was good for a laugh or two in some of the subplots early on that added him as an afterthought to pre-planned stories, but his characterisation in “The Sword of Kahless” and “Sons of Mogh” was irredeemable (Kor's, too. And Sisko's. And Bashir's. Yeesh). “Rules of Engagement,” despite centring on Worf, didn't actually reveal anything interesting or important about his character. I'll say that he does feel fully-integrated into the cast, and that this is largely a result of the stories that did not fixate upon him. Little cameos/subplots that capitalised on his grumpiness worked, for the most part.

Sisko [=]

Sisko had ups and downs this season. He remains near the bottom of the list for me because the overall effect on his character was to stagnate, despite some significant changes to his life. And he has a lot of ground to make up from previous seasons. He's probably at his worst in his mentorship of Worf, because in these scenarios, Sisko is an avatar for the writers (hi Ira) lecturing the TNG transplant about how much better it is to be a nihilistic fuckwad. He forces a difficult issue out of sheer laziness (and implicit racism) in “Sons of Mogh,” and then doubles down by making Worf complicit in his cowardly plan to ferret out the Klingons' laying of illegal mines. Then he dresses Worf down for his un-Starfleet behaviour in “Rules of Engagement,” only to once again double down on un-Starfleet behaviour himself (c.f. “Shattered Mirror,” “For the Cause”). Like I said, these are old Sisko tapes, but it still sucks.

“Starship Down” was unkind to everyone' character in some way, but I think it was the worst for Sisko as it's a plot about military tactics, and Sisko is the (sigh...) military leader, so the poor choices in that story do him no favours.

As a captain, Sisko is at his best in “Paradise Lost,” which marries his militaristic loyalty to “the uniform” with a loyalty to Federation principles, which is the most Trekkian characterisation he's received since “Shakaar.”

However, what buoys Sisko up this season are Brooks' performances—lightyears above earlier seasons. This is achieved largely through the close relationships he has with others, Jake in “The Visitor,” Pa Sisko in “Homefront,” and Kasidy in “For the Cause.” That last example is a double-edged sword, though, because, barring some serious therapy or something, these two have no hope of continuing a healthy relationship after the Eddington incident. They lied to each other, over and over. She put Jake in serious danger over a dubious cause. He's responsible for her arrest and for allowing her crew to become renegades (SPOILER: they're all going to die).

Jake [+]

The big take-away from “The Visitor” is that Jake has some major psychological issues brewing between his art and his relationships. This thread actually showed some promise for the character as turning Jake into a tortured artist—while far-fetched—would at least be something interesting for him to do. And we saw them fumble with the theme in “The Muse” (although I maintain it's not a bad episode, just an unremarkable and unfocused one).

He had important character moments in “Shattered Mirror” that were completely left out of Lofton's written lines, assigned instead to be exposited in tedious conversations between Ben and M-Jennifer, so that was all kind of a waste of time.

Rom, Nog and Bitchwhore (/)

None of these appeared enough (or at all) for me to cast a rating, but I wanted to mention them as they will of course recur in later seasons. The Ferengi duo were pretty funny in “Little Green Men,” and I liked Nog's contributions in the Earth 2-parter. RIP Aron.

***

So yes, it S4 is very strong because DS9's toxic elements are far more subdued, it improved its more problematic characters, those characters who fell short were already strong to begin with, and the season had an understated but sensible arc, successfully marrying the shaky new elements with the confident old ones.
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Elliott
Wed, Oct 2, 2019, 1:40pm (UTC -5)
Re: VOY S2: Second Season Recap

Hello everyone!

Well I didn't mean to take a summer hiatus from posts, but life happens that way sometimes. Anyway, I'm back with my write-ups for VOY S2 and DS9 S4 and will be diving into the following seasons directly. Looking forward to more lively debates!

VOYAGER SEASON 2

No. | Title | (x/10) | [Jammer +/-]

**** | Exceptional (must watch)
1. The Thaw (9.5) [+1]

***.5 | Excellent (truly enjoyable)
2. Meld (8.5) [+.5]
3. Death Wish (8.5) [=]

*** | Good (solid instalment)
4. Tuvix (8) [=]
5. Resistance (8) [-.5]
6. Lifesigns (7.5) [-.5]
7. Alliances (7.5) [=]
8. Dreadnought (7) [+.5]
9. Deadlock (7) [=]

**.5 | Okay (problems, worthwhile)
10. Innocence (6) [+.5]
11. Prototype (6) [=]
12. Resolutions (6) [+.5]
13. Manœuvres (6) [-.5]

** | Watchable (not good, not awful)
14. Cold Fire (5.5) [=]
15. Basics I (5.5) [-.5]
16. Investigations (5) [=]
17. Parturition (4.5) [=]
18. Non Sequitur (4.5) [=]
19. Persistence of Vision (4.5) [-.5]

*.5 | Poor (annoying)
20. Initiations (4) [-1.5]

* | Terrible (do not watch)
21. Tattoo (3) [-2]
22. Threshold (3) [+1]

Average : 2.4885 stars (6/10) [-2.5]

Season Shape (10pt scale):

1 ****
2 ****.5
3 ****.5
4 ****.5
5 ***
6 *****.5
7 ******
8 ********
9 ******
10 ******.5
11 ***
12 ********.5
13 *******
14 ********.5
15 *******.5
16 *****
17 *******
18 ******
19 *********.5
20 ********
21 ******
22 *****.5

Summary

Voyager's second season is notorious. Many reviewers (especially those that don't care for the show in general) view it as by far the worst of the seven. I'm reserving judgement till the end here, but I'm more interested in parsing out why that perception persists. In raw numbers, S2 is about the same as S1—of course, in my viewing, I reintegrated the holdover episodes “Elogium,” “Twisted,” “Projections” and “The 37s” into season 1. “Projections” was a great EMH story, but I think the Doctor does fine in S2 without it. “The 37s” was *meh*, but I think it's more functional as a season finale than an opener. The other two holdovers were fucking terrible—worse, in fact, than any of the remaining S2 episodes in my opinion including “Threshold.” So in realtime, we had a mediocre opening, one good Doctor episode, and two horrible episodes front-loaded onto the season. That's bound to make a viewer exasperated. To compound matters, the remaining episodes that make up the beginning third of the season are no better than *meh* themselves and frequently quite bad.

The real problem with this season is that it has the inverse issue that DS9's third had. That season had SIX really shitty episodes, but none of them were connected to the central arc, namely Odo's inevitable slide towards the Founders and the apposite political fallout. The “arc” stories which book-ended the season and peaked with the memorable “Improbable Cause” were no worse than fine and in many cases sublime. Voyager S2 has its sublime moments—more, I'd argue than DS9's 3rd—however, these are not stories connected to the main Kazon arc. “The Thaw,” “Meld,” and “Death Wish” are superb stories that have basically nothing to do with the Kazon, save the involvement of Suder in the finale. Of the remaining good (3-star) stories, only “Alliances” is connected to the arc, and for me denotes its high point. But that story had its problems, too. All of the remaining Kazon stories are okay at best and frequently tedious. Throw in a couple of shitty stories like “Tattoo” and “Threshold” and it's very difficult to remember the season's high points. There was one other arc (Michael Jonas) woven into the season, connected to the Kazon, which was built-up effectively, but ended on the low end of “watchable.” The irony of all this is that Voyager's second season is *actually* more serialised than any previously-aired season of Trek, including DS9 thus far. But the execution of the serialised material was so poor that that this approach was largely abandoned hereafter and DS9 became the vehicle series for arc-storytelling.

And this is sad to me, because Voyager's early strengths were improved upon—all of the main cast, Chakotay's racist backstory and Neelix' continued...personality notwithstanding—were enhanced. The most redeeming aspect of “Threshold” was the effect it had on Paris' character! The great stories this season had the philosophical chops to go toe-to-toe with TNG; if the show had been that—strong characters engaging in interesting Trek dilemmas while they made their way home—I think it would have been remembered differently. But the producers were intent on having the show be gritty...er, some of the time, and the conceptualisation of the recurring bad guys was too bland to sustain this approach.

Of course this brings up the elephant in the room. Jammer gets right to it in his recap:

“A Federation starship all alone, comprised of an initially divided crew with two distinctively different philosophies of life, separated from their origins and element by some 70,000 light-years of vast and unknown space.

A premise indeed.

Why in the world have the creators chosen to take this premise—perhaps the most important and potentially most intriguing asset the show has—and do so little with it?”

I have two thoughts about that: The first is that reading TV guide interviews in the 90s and absorbing the hype adds all kinds of unnecessary layers to the task of confronting and critiquing the art before us. That's why I do not intend to review Discovery any time soon. There's just too much crap swirling around the internet to address the series on its own terms. Voyager was “supposed” to be all of these things and failed to measure up, I guess. But I was 8 years old in 1996. I watched TNG with my grandfather and when Voyager aired, I found it to be a worthy sequel that gave me most of what I liked about TNG with some differences. While I think I've proved that I'm going to be just as critical of this series as I have thus far been of DS9, I don't harbour the animosity that so many reviewers I respect, including Jammer, the Agony Booth, and SFDebris, seem to, having absorbed the show concurrently with the marketing abomination that was Rick Berman and UPN. My second thought is that, as I've made clear in numerous reviews now, the notion that there are “two distinct crews with two distinctively different philosophies of life” is a premise that comes entirely outside of the show itself. No episode of TNG, DS9 or Voyager has ever demonstrated that the Maquis have a coherent philosophy of any kind. Attempts by the writers to make the Maquis crewmembers live up to this forced premise nearly always fail because no philosophy was ever developed for them that made any sort of sense. That said, I think the writers made some interesting decisions with the Maquis this season. I'll get to it (and you thought the Season 1 recap was long).

Trends :

Technobabble (“Sci”-fi)

At some point around TNG's fourth or fifth season (which just so happened to be Gene Roddenberry's final trip around the Sun), the series lost much of its mise-en-scène, by which I mean the music became bland, and the pacing of stories required much more dialogue to fill out the runtime. Think of a story like “Time Squared,” and the most memorable aspects of that weird sci-fi tale are shots of the Enterprise in swirling rainbow clouds or Picard scrutinising his doppelgänger. There's a sense in these early episodes (to say nothing of TOS) that these impossible sci-fi premises which defy explanation are wondrous and mesmerising. Without those elements, it comes to the writers to “explain” what the fuck is going on. And thus is born the infamous crutch known as technobabble. Voyager is littered with the stuff and so far, it has added nothing to the series. That said, I think the kvetching about it is a little much. DS9's early seasons had what I called the “DS9 Banality Syndrome (DBI),” which is endless blathering about personal bullshit that feels plagiarised from a Writing 101 class. That dialogue is equally useless as the technobabble on Voyager, but gets a pass because it's (ostensibly) about character instead of the plot. The irony is that Voyager's tech-heavy scripts are salvaged by its character elements. “Threshold” is bad, but it's not as bad as “Cathexis” (which was equally as brain-dead) because there's a redeeming character journey for Tom for us to latch onto amid the skull-fuckery lizard baby divide-by-zero story. I would much rather re-watch “Threshold” or “Deadlock” than “Initiations,” which had no technobabble to speak of.

Trek Ethos

There is a running theme of pitting traditional TNG ethics against the pragmatic considerations demanded by the Voyager's circumstances. The theme isn't developed yet, but it is nascent; Torres questioning the PD in “Prototype;” Chakotay getting on Janeway's case in “Alliances;” Tuvok considering capital punishment in “Meld;” Quinn begging for state-assisted suicide in “Death Wish;” Doc's possible sentience in “Lifesigns,” and of course, there's “Tuvix.” In general, Voyager has a very firm hand on Trek morality. “Death Wish” fits nicely into higher-being stories like “The Survivors,” and “Tuvix” does more with the transporter accident trope than any of the series has since the first season of TOS. There is a pernicious criticism of Voyager that it rehashes tired elements from TNG, but I challenge you to show me how the aforementioned stories repeat any lessons or takes from TNG or TOS. The lessons are, for the most part, fresh or reconsidered.

If you look at the episode list from this season, there are essentially 3 types: the nuts-and-bolts stories, the Kazon arc stories, and the philosophical Trek stories. The best of these by far have been the philosophical stories—and in many cases, the philosophical elements from the nuts-and-bolts stories. We know that the relative failure of the Kazon will lead to Voyager largely dropping its arc stories from now on, so the question becomes, what will take up the slack in future seasons?

The Maquis

I'll repeat briefly that the entire concept of the Maquis was a huge mistake on the part of the Trek writers, poorly thought-out, contrived, inconsistent, contradictory, and frustrating as hell. Whether by design or (more likely), in relinquishing to the unsolvable puzzle this presented to the show, the Voyager writers have reduced the Maquis label to something akin to a fraternity. The Voyager Maquis are, as a group, a bit more violent and prone to fits of emotion (c.f. “Meld”), and they share kinship simply for having lived as an outcast group for a time (c.f. “Alliances” and “Resolutions”). I know some will read this as rationalisation, but I sincerely believe that going any further with the Maquis would have required leaning in to the conceptual problems I have outlined at length, and that would have been to the detriment of the show and to the franchise. Comparing Voyager to nuBSG, splinter groups like the Sons of Ares or the Gemenese zealots have their own in-Universe raisons d'être which (mostly) make sense within the established history of that series, whereas the Maquis do not. Thus, when those cultural conflicts surface amidst the existential scenario on nuBSG, we can see how human nature would prolong and reproduce these conflicts despite seeming so petty in context. On Voyager, this would be too absurd to accept.

The “Bad” Guys

As I said, the Kazon arc is rather meticulously structured—it's just not good. Continuity and serialisation do not necessarily make good stories. The idea of starting out with “Initiations” (the first Kazon story of the season with or without the S1 holdovers) is rather smart. Here we meet a sect of Kazon who are at odds with the Nistrim and Seska. So, we delay the payoff from “State of Flux,” we create further tension, and we have the opportunity to explore the species' backstory in isolation from the season's plot. The structure is great; but the content is abysmal. It's a lazy collection of clichés, grunting and Klingon-lite. This improves slightly in the next chapter, “Manœuvres,” in which Seska's influence over the Nistrim leads to machinations of an alliance between the sects, all in an attempt to seize and control the Voyager. The arc reaches its zenith with “Alliances,” in which the backstory with the Trabe, Neelix' ostensible function in the show, Janeway's character flaws, and the complicated Chakotay/Seska story all meet and set the show on its inevitable course. “Basics” has so far fallen back on action/plot elements with the more interesting character and social issues largely pushed to the side. “Basics I” needed to be much more than it was, not only a spectacle, but a culmination of all the material that led to its creation. What is going on with Seska anyway? What's her plan to get back the AQ with this Kazon in tow? What does it mean for Caligula and his orange men to have finally overcome the Voyager and positioned themselves to exact revenge on the Trabe and the other sects? Well, “Basics” seems to invested in cliché action story bullshit to answer these questions, but final judgement will have to wait for S3.

The Vidiians

Nothing this season does as well with them as “Faces,” but we get a reasonable and oblique look at their culture through Denara Pel in “Lifesigns.” While her reaction to her sudden holographic de-phage-ing was telling, that episode did not find a way to make her sympathetic AND quintessentially Vidiian the way, say, Jarok was portrayed in “The Defector,” fully Romulan AND sympathetic. It would have been better to show her interact with other Vidiians, not least of which in “Resolutions.” The advantage the Vidiians have over the Kazon is that they are genuinely threatening and viscerally creepy. The way they casually harvest alt. Samantha Wildman in “Deadlock” is very disturbing. And it does feel reasonable that Janeway and Chakotay would rather be exiled on planet sexy monkey time than allow the Voyager to contact them. But aside from a couple of future cameos, this is the end of them. Shame.

Others

With the exception of the Clown and the Trabe, none of the one-off villains (Augris, the Roe-bits) are particularly memorable. The Clown was a tour-de-force and great success both in conception and execution. The Trabe helped flesh out the Kazon arc somewhat, but much more could and should have been done with them to make the ongoing story more interesting. The rest served their plot functions at best.

Characters (in order from best to worst):

Janeway [+]

Janeway's characterisation is the strongest this season, building on the successful introduction of the character in season 1. I thought the little glimpses into Janeway's vulnerabilities were especially effective, such as in “Persistence of Vision,” “Deadlock” and “Resolutions.” There are also signs of her increasing pragmatism. She maintains a strong Federation ethic (“Death Wish,” “Prototype,” “Meld”), but when it comes to her crew and its unique mission, we see that she has begun to bend the rules. She deals with outlaws in “Resistance;” she attempts a military alliance in, erm, “Alliances”; she murders a sentient lifeform in “The Thaw” and arguably in “Tuvix.”

Though not the best episode of the season, I think the centrepiece is definitely “Alliances.” The Kazon arc is at its most deftly-crafted, there's a crucial shift in Janeway's character for the rest of the series, and the Trekkian questions are woven into the fabric of the ongoing story. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself here, but there is going to be a lot to say in comparing Sisko to Janeway, and the sacrifices each make of their own souls. Sisko...sort of...sacrifices his “self respect,” eventually, in order to save lives. Janeway sacrifices her principles (eventually) in order to save *her people's idealism*. As I said, she fears the slippery slope. The cliffhanger has got to be a major blow to her confidence and her self-righteousness. We will see where this leads.

EMH [+]

Pretty much every episode has at least one hilarious EMH scene. In many cases, especially early on in the season, these are the most redeeming features of the stories. With “Projections” moved to S1, the most substantial Doc story is “Lifesigns,” which I think did a decent job of continuing and developing the themes from “Heroes and Demons.” Instead of a fully holographic character engaging in some light romance, unbeknownst to anyone else, we have moved on to an organic being, housed within a hologram, and the EMH's mentee/friend Kes offering her counsel throughout the process. It's also significant to see how the Doctor has grown as an individual by the time of “The Thaw,” when he's capable of witty subterfuge against the Clown.

Tuvok [+]

Tuvok is probably the MVP of the season. He held things together in the incredibly shaky “Cold Fire” and “Innocence,” both of which would have been total failures without his presence. We are introduced to Tuvok's dark side in “Cold Fire,” and begin to explore it in the excellent “Meld.” It's also hinted at in “Innocence” that Tuvok has a rather extensive academic knowledge of emotions—more-so than Spock, who was part human, did. This hint won't be fully fleshed out until Season 5. “Resistance” also establishes a the beginnings of a relationship between Tuvok and Torres that will also get development further along.

Torres[+]

Torres was generally well-handled this season, “Persistence of Vision” notwithstanding. The threads connected to her backstory and internal conflict are woven into otherwise nuts-and-bolts tales in “Prototype” and “Dreadnought.” We discover that Torres' skills as an engineer stem from her trauma, which was explored in “Faces” last season. She channels her self-loathing into her work. Unlike Geordi, who probably flocked to engineering in an attempt to remain anonymous (he lacks confidence, so this way his work speaks for itself—it isn't flashy), or Miles, who simply seems to have “working class labour” built in to his DNA, Torres needs her energy to go somewhere. She needs to hit something, or someone. So it may as well be a hammer. But of course, the Roe-bit she created had to be destroyed, Basic Instinct-style, and the Dreadnought missile also had to be destroyed. It doesn't matter whether she creates to save a race or destroy an enemy, her creations always seem to end in tragedy. Methinks the trauma will continue.

Chakotay [=]

If you want a complete summary of my problems with Chakotay's backstory, the reviews of “Initiations” and “Tattoo” will provide. I assume most of you are familiar with the botched sourcing the producers used for him. And the credulity and/or laziness that went into adopting that research accounts for much of the racism in the development here. But I tend to blame Michael Piller for the character's true failings. The vague Native American stuff was just a convenient, very 90s vessel for him to explore this fetish for earthy back-to-nature subcultures. There are natural conflicts between societies which choose to reject technological advancement and the Federation, whose economics and social philosophy depend upon technologies which eliminate material scarcity. But that's not what Chakotay or his “people” represent; Chakotay is a self-help book, a new-age cultural appropriation, whitewashed and filtered down to the most superficial elements for the benefit of the overworked and stressed-out Me-Generation folks at home. This will reach its zenith with “Insurrection,” Piller's final creative project for Star Trek. I'll talk more about it there.

On the other hand, the continuation of the Seska material is pretty good. Her pattern of betrayal continues well beyond her defection from the Voyager, manipulating Chakotay's macho back-to-nature ego via sci-fi rape, and leading his crew into a trap. There's also something darkly weird in the fact that Janeway also manipulates him throughout the Michael Jonas subplot, preying on his resentment of Paris to oust the mole. I don't question Janeway's pragmatism per sae, but the fact that the followup to all this is their budding romance in “Resolutions” is interesting and, well, kind of weird.

Paris [=]

As I said, the character work from “Threshold” is what keeps the episode from falling all the way to the bottom for me (well, that and I'm not offended by DEGREES of messed up fake science). Tom's daddy issues are hardly original, but they fit his personality and serve to carry the character forward. He has a purpose on the Voyager. And hey, now he's the crew's only hope of ending their exile. The real problem for Paris this season is that a lot of his character material outside of “Non Sequitur” and “Threshold”--which were not good stories—revolved around his subterfuge in the Michael Jonas plot. Those bits were kind of interesting, but they ended up not meaning much to his character other than the acknowledgement that Janeway had learnt to trust him with a delicate mission. His confession in “Investigations,” while interesting on its own, is especially frustrating for its lack of follow-up.

Seska [-]

Seska was almost always entertaining when on screen. Martha Hacket managed to turn otherwise cringey material between her and Caligula into semi-entertaining villainy, and she always felt substantially more dangerous to the Voyager than the Kazon themselves in her chaturbate cam calls to Jonas. But given the excellent set-up we had for her back in “State of Flux,” the writing definitely let her down this season. We can (pretend to) hope that things go better for her in the continuation of “Basics.”

Kes [+]

Like Troi, Kes is often present but unused. However, I think she makes small but important strides this season, questioning her loyalty to Neelix and realising the potential breadth of her mental abilities. What we eventually see emerge is a character who still yearns for growth and adventure, but is paradoxically terrified of change. She rejects Thanos' offer to join the exulted Ocampa in “Cold Fire;” she violates her own conscience to plead for the restoration of Tuvok and Neelix in “Tuvix;” and she is the catalyst for the rescue of Janeway and Chakotay in “Resolutions.” “Cold Fire” showed us why this might be, as lurking within the kind and gentle soul we know is a dark and powerful creature who would destroy the very people she loves.

Kim [+]

As a supporting character, Harry is fine. The one episode that was about him, “Non Sequitur,” succeeded only insofar as it accidentally revealed that he is attracted to suffering. I don't mean in the joke way that Harry is the show's punching bag (although considering he's already died three times, that's a valid issue), but rather that the character seems to be most meaningful in improving the lives of the people he's around, most notably Paris. Kim's best episode is probably “The Thaw,” which managed to weave some character insights into the madcap masterpiece; Harry is embarrassed by how much he misses home, by how this infantilises him in the eyes of the crew. So, his lack of lines in other episodes (a technical flaw, make no mistake) can be interpreted as intentional reservedness for fear of being judged. The kid needs a major shake-up, though.

Neelix [=]

Sigh...the “Parturition”/”Investigations” resolution to the Paris/Neelix feud, though mostly unpleasant to watch, was a positive step in shedding the character of his shittiest quality, that pubescent and grating jealousy. His egoism is clearly alive and well throughout, however, making him the most unpleasant character on the screen most of the time. No attempt is made all season to return to the potent spring of character possibilities set up in “Jetrel.”

***

So, S2 is not a good season, but it isn't awful either. There are some genuinely great stories and the characters are progressing nicely, but the series' attempts at telling long-form stories are a major nuisance. If it is to improve, it needs to focus on its strengths and develop a new way of creating momentum from episode to episode.
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