DS9 S02E05 Cardassians (4.5 out of 5 stars). Garak is back!! And bitten on the hand by a Cardassian boy brought on board the station by his Bajoran adoptive father. Gul Dukat wants to use the incident to repatriate the abandoned kids – and we can only hope that Sisko figures out how adoption works a little faster than Picard. Other sources though say that the boy is mistreated by other Bajorans who see in him the face of the enemy.

It’s a good showing for Bashir, verbally fencing with Dukat, and even if we aren’t learning much about the character, Siddig, given something to play, seizes the opportunity and begins to shade in some of the Doctor’s idealistic impulsiveness. He’s never going to be the most complex character on the show, but if we get him up to, say Geordi’s level, I’ll be quite satisfied. Showing more layers, at first O’Brien is openly racist against Cardassians (recalling his attitude in The Wounded), but he and the tug-of-love boy Rugal bond over their dislike of Cardassian food. He’s also seen at one point, truculently playing on his phone, like a Zoomer.

Complicating everything is the arrival of Rugal’s biological father Kotan Pa’Dar, played by Robert Mandan with enough exaggeration to get through the latex, but enough subtlety to make the dilemma I dismissed so easily suddenly seem much more complicated. At the end of the episode, following some shockingly speedy detective work by Garak, Rugal is sent home to start a new life on Cardassia, against his stated wishes. Not what I would have done, but the episode does such a good job of showing the situation from all sides, that I can no longer condemn it outright. Maybe he will be happier among his own people, eventually.

Not much from Dax, Odo, Kira or Quark this week, but great to see a proper vehicle for Bashir and there’s good stuff for O’Brien, Keiko and Sisko and for the first time I’m watching TNG impatiently waiting for the episode to be over so I can get back to this show.

TNG S07E06 Phantasms (2 out of 5 stars). According to legend, chemist August Kekulé who had been working for months on determining the shape of the benzene molecule fell asleep in front of the fire place and in his dreams he saw a vision of a snake swallowing its own tail. When he awoke, he had solved the puzzle: unlike any other substance known to nineteenth century chemistry, benzene was ring-shaped. This may well have been what inspired Brannon Braga to return to the subject of Data’s dream program (from Birthright), because it doesn’t tell us anything new about Data, dreams or anything else.

Dream imagery is a rich seam for writers and directors but this is all pretty mundane stuff (and it’s easy to spot on Blu-ray that those burly miners are not allowing their heavy sledgehammers to even touch the flimsy Enterprise corridors) with maybe only the Gateau à la Troi sticking in the mind. Meanwhile, in a mild switcheroo, lovesick Geordi is himself being pursued by a spunky young ensign, on whom many minutes are expended, but absolutely nothing comes of this relationship.

Overall, this feels meandering and dull, locked into the comfortable domesticity of the Enterprise, all cat feeding rituals, jazz recitals and inconvenient banquets, and Picard’s rubbernecking around Data and Geordi’s repair works is slightly embarrassing – doubly surprising since Patrick Stewart directed this one.

DS9 S02E06 Melora (2.5 out of 5 stars). The space station plays host to a wheelchair-bound alien. Again, I have very little confidence that the series is going to have the slightest idea how to handle this. As soon as she’s mentioned, Bashir is fangirling like crazy (because this is the story we tell with this character). She’s played by Doctor Who’s Daphne Ashbrook (no of course they didn’t cast a disabled actor, don’t be ridiculous). Again, we have a low-key character-focused teaser, which doesn’t promise a lot of high-stakes jeopardy, and that’s pretty much what the episode delivers.

Attempting to raise the stakes mildly, we have Quark’s strand in which an old “friend” comes to call and gives the Ferengi plenty of notice that his life is in danger. But why doesn’t he just kill Quark if that’s what he wants? The Quark/Odo stuff is fine, but nothing we haven’t seen before.

Very little of this works. Bashir is sharking after Melora, because of course he is. It’s a tiny bit more subtle than it was in Season 1, but it’s still clumsy. Effects-wise, the flying stuff is pretty good for TV, but it doesn’t really make sense on a plot level: “This is astonishing!” cries Bashir who has spent his whole career in space. Melora’s condition is scientifically dubious as well and Bashir’s magic make-you-walk-again gizmo is months of patient research achieved in twenty minutes.

TNG S07E07 Dark Page (2 out of 5 stars). Lwaxana Troi has reinvented herself as a tutor for a group of telepathic aliens who have no concept of spoken language. Telepaths make Worf feel uneasy. Keep this mind as we briefly embark on a late bit of character development with this character in a few episodes’ time. Deanna Troi meanwhile is cos-playing as Mel and/or Kim and has attracted the attention of the alien delegate with the shit-eating grin whom her mother sees as ideal son-in-law material. Because – this is the story we tell with this character. But we do ring the changes by the second ad-break, as Mrs Troi starts becoming erratic even by her standards – snapping at Riker and refusing Crusher’s orders to rest. I find the aliens asking “What is this thing called love poetry?” furiously uninteresting and so the long, event-free scenes leading up to Lwaxana’s collapse are a bit of a slog. But then, when she does collapse, we’re denied Majel Barrett.

Eventually, it all turns out that Lwaxana has kept a family secret so hard that she’s broken her brain. None of this is especially compelling, and it’s hard to feel the impact of stories from the distant past of a tertiary character, especially when we know next week this will all have been forgotten. So, this is soapy at best, faintly ridiculous at worst, and the faces Norman Large pulls when he’s communicating telepathically are particularly silly. But we’ve had worse and sillier stories and Marina Sirtis gets another chance to show just how good she can be when’s she’s given even half-way decent material to work with. Coming straight after Phantasms, though, it seems even less interesting. Also, it’s the fucking dog again.

In a very early role, it’s possible to glimpse Kirsten Dunst under some of Michael Westmore’s foam latex. Last appearance of Majel Barrett as Lwaxana on TNG but she’ll crop up again on Deep Space Nine.

DS9 S02E07 Rules of Acquisition (3 out of 5 stars). A youth disguised as a boy is a venerable old plot device but that’s no doubt because it works. Here the Ferengi make-up aids the deception considerably, meaning that it’s just possible to watch this episode and not be ahead of the revelation, despite the fairly heavy-handed foreshadowing as Quark and Rom (but mainly Quark) drool over Dax. In more good news, Wallace Shawn is back as the Grand Nagus so the stage is set for one of the funny episodes of the “dark” incarnation of Star Trek. I don’t think I mentioned it last time, but Michael Westmore’s make-up here is tremendous, and the combination of Shawn’s weaselly performance and Westmore’s crenelated latex is very, very effective. On the other hand, the wine merchants from the Gamma Quadrant look more like kids at a face-painting party than a hitherto unknown alien race.

After a strong opening, Pel’s relationship with Quark is not really developed much more than if it had been a Brian Rix farce, all unconvincing lies, homosexual anxiety and close calls. Waiting for the other shoe to drop is frustrating and the script seems not to know whether Pel’s predicament or Quark’s business deal is more interesting – it’s Pel’s predicament, which makes it all the more disappointing that it’s handled so poorly. The showdown between Quark, Zek and Pel’s is more satisfying, but it’s a long time coming. We’re still in adventure-of-the-week territory so the episode ends with Quark, Pel, Zek and Rom all reset to their starting positions. Once again, Armin Shimerman demonstrates why he’s such an asset to this show, making even the silliest moments breathe and feel real.

Instead of Dabo, the game of choice this week is Tongo, which the writers do a good job of making sound like a real game – not a trivial task. First mention of the Dominion.

TNG S07E08 Attached (3.5 out of 5 stars). Picard and Crusher are discussing their upcoming mission to Kesprytt where the inhabitants are split into remainers and leavers. In response to this, the leavers (Prytts) kidnap the captain and the doctor and stick volume knobs on their necks which link their minds and won’t let them move too far away from each other. While Riker and the others try and track down the missing crew members with the (shifty) help of the Kes, Picard and Crusher attempt escape. So, we have one strand which is a fairly dull whodunnit with quite an obvious solution and another strand which is a telepathic version of The 39 Steps with psychic doohickies instead of handcuffs.

Gates McFadden is never better than when paired with Patrick Stewart and she’s terrific here. The concept of these two close friends, who might once have been something more, able to hear each other’s thoughts, is quite a beguiling one – although what their captors hoped to achieve by doing this is less clear. This is somewhat of a reprise of earlier episodes like The Arsenal of Freedom but we get some deeper insights into these two characters this time round. Especially where Beverly is concerned, it would have been nice to have this sooner – it could have been built on in fascinating ways. The depiction of the Kes and Prytt groups is better than many renderings of one-off alien races, although it’s clear from the off that it’s not as simple as “Kes nice, Prytt nasty”. And we get to go on location, which is always nice. But a seemingly important moment where the escaping captain and doctor are separated by a force field turns out to be completely irrelevant.

So, this is a slightly clumsy set-up, with a fairly rote and predictable b-plot, but some very impressive character stuff in the a-plot. The Prytt costumes are spectacularly silly, alas.

DS9 S02E08 Necessary Evil (4 out of 5 stars). The opening of this episode is so melodramatic and over-the-top that I initially assumed that we were in a Holosuite. The odd tonal shifts continue with Odo’s misanthropic personal log creating a further film noir feel. To be honest, most of the Quark/Rom/Odo stuff seemed pretty dull – until suddenly we were back on the station when the Cardassians were in charge and Odo was chatting to Gul Dukat. René Auberjonois is amazing here – headed bowed in humiliation and defeat, and Marc Alaimo modulates his smooth villainy as well, adopting a much more front-foot energy than when he’s playing at diplomat. Odo’s flashback murder investigation leads him to Kira, and this starts to get a bit too convoluted for its own good but Odo remains the MVP of this show and his scene at the end with Kira is tremendous. He even gets to do the Columbo “One more thing” trick. Someone should let Sisko know that his son is no longer on the station. We haven’t seen him except in the opening credits for most of the season so far.

TNG S07E09 Force of Nature (1.5 out of 5 stars). We begin with particularly soggy teaser, operating at a sitcom level without the discipline of having to make a studio audience laugh every 20 seconds. Geordi and Data fuck around with Spot the cat until thankfully Riker comes over the comm system and tells them to start doing their actual jobs. Although the rest of the episode moves away from feline shenanigans, what follows is no more interesting. Naren Shankar’s plea for ecological responsibility isn’t quite as horrifying as the “Black people are equally to blame for slavery” message of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield but it’s never especially interesting and it amounts to an instruction to future writers to make subsequent stories of space adventure less exciting. Luckily, everybody else basically ignores it.

Trekaday 050: The Homecoming, Liaisons, The Circle, Interface, The Siege, Gambit, Invasive Procedures
So… what did I think of The Power of the Doctor?