Archive for April, 2023

Trekaday 083: The Gift, Day of Honor, Nemesis, A Time to Stand, Revulsion, Rocks and Shoals

Posted on April 26th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S04E02 The Gift (4.5 out of 5 stars). Seven of Nine, now split off from the Borg, is stashed in one of Voyager’s cargo bays and Janeway wakes her from her nap. It doesn’t go well. Jeri Ryan is quite brilliant here, finding reserves of pain and panic not quite completely masked by her imperious Borg sneering. Among a rather bland collection of characters, not all of which are being filled out by the actors, she makes an instant impression.

It’s easy to assume that Kes’s lack of development is due to Jennifer Lien’s inexperience or lack of talent, but we know from Warlord that Jennifer Lien could have done much more. It just seems that nobody on the writing staff was interested in giving her anything to do except pass the Doctor his operating instruments. Thus, as Annika Hansen is revealed underneath all of that Borg gubbins, so Kes’s magic powers go all kablooey and she is forced to leave before she vanishes into the Quantum Realm. This isn’t quite the Doctor Who trope of marrying the companion off to someone she’d met two episodes earlier, but it’s clear that the only purpose of this plotline is to remove Kes and there’s little more to it than that. Equally clearly, the purpose of giving Voyager’s crew an individual Borg to talk to last time was to get Seven onboard, but she resists the dictates of the plot so furiously that it makes compelling viewing. If it weren’t for the Kes stuff, this would be my first Voyager five.

Much has been written about Rick Berman holding fast to Roddenberry’s view that there should be no interpersonal conflict between Starfleet officers (possibly more rigidly than the Great Bird himself would have been, but it’s hard to know). After seven years of TNG good natured harmony and co-operation, DS9 was designed with a regular cast that was only half Starfleet and quickly fleshed out its supporting characters with an array of Ferengi, Vorta, Klingons, Bajorans, Cardassians and so on, ranging from the trustworthy to the conflicted to the outright villainous – and in some cases all three in one person.

Voyager’s first episodes betray a conflict in the writers room about how much conflict there should be on the bridge. Having created a situation which seemed designed to provoke conflict, with a half-Starfleet, half-Maquis crew stranded decades from home due to some questionable command decisions, they then stamped out that intra-crew conflict wherever it seemed to crop up, with even non-Starfleet characters like Kes and Neelix only ever swearing total and utter loyalty to Janeway and the ship. That’s partly why Seska was so exciting, but alas she was rapidly neutered and reduced to repeating what a boring Kazon warlord had just said before being killed off.

With no desire (or no ability) to tell the longer-form stories which were allowing at first thin characters like Quark, Bashir and Dax to grow and develop over on Deep Space Nine, Voyager had to trust that the cast would flesh out the corners of their characters, but really only Roxann Dawson and Tim Russ could manage that. And by Season 3, the Doctor – the most interesting character when the show started – seemed to have come to the end of his evolution.

That’s why the introduction of Seven of Nine is so critical. As well as getting rid of at least one character who wasn’t working out, she provides three things which the shows has been badly lacking from the start. The first is an outsider perspective. If we aren’t going to be able to explore political intrigue with the Federation, and build up an array of supporting characters who come-and-go, what can we do with the fact that Voyager is in uncharted territory? Well, it gives us a chance to see Starfleet from a different angle. We were promised that with the Maquis, but we never really got it.

Secondly, she isn’t automatically trusted, and nor does she automatically trust. Nobody knows what to make of her, and that means every interaction she has brings with it a little extra crackle of possibility. And thirdly, she has the same built-in potential to grow and develop that the Doctor had (and Data before her). Yes, by modern standards her painted-on costume looks slightly ludicrous, if not desperate, but with a couple of younger actors (McNeill and Wang) who can’t find anything which isn’t on the page and one who seems to have given up (Beltran), we have here a real find: a sensational performer in a fascinating role. Welcome aboard, Seven of Nine.

VOY S04E03 Day of Honor (4.5 out of 5 stars). So, here’s our new line-up. Voyager has a pet Borg who creeps around in a cargo bay and she wants a duty assignment from Chakotay who sends her to engineering and thus her journey from enemy drone to independent crew member is complete. “Seven” as Janeway decides to call her is not the sole focus of this episode which is named after the Klingon annual ritual giving Torres a minor identity crisis. She and Seven are an interesting pair. Both are part-human, part-outsider and both are struggling to find their position in the Voyager family. But the Klingon is all fire and rage, and the ex-Borg is icy indifference, even in the face of those the collective has wronged, such as this week’s hard-luck story being peddled by Lumas.

Experiments in adding Borg trans-Warp technology to Voyager lead only to an emergency Warp Core ejection, which Torres takes personally. Trying to retrieve leads her and Paris to having to beam out of a doomed shuttle and they end up floating in open space in pressure suits which is a fine “Holy shit” moment. Facing death, they confess their true feelings, and while this is no Kira/Odo stuff (or ven Worf/Dax) it’s effective and makes sense of these characters as we know them. Even Seven learns something about sacrifice. Lovely shot of Voyager reflected in Torres’s helmet too.

Is that six shuttles they’ve lost now? How many’d they start with?

VOY S04E04 Nemesis (2.5 out of 5 stars). This one starts pretty poorly. Chakotay beams down into a Lord of the Flies style situation in which entirely human-looking dudes talk in a half-made-up language, tie him up, and then let him go again on the basis that “We abhor none but the nemesis.” It’s all a bit irritating to be honest. The human-looking dudes are fighting a war against some Predator-looking dudes whose scary faces make them cheerfully killable. I have no real idea what’s going on here, or why I should care.

The it-was-all-a-dream twist is that everything Chakotay experienced was a brainwashing tactic designed to recruit him to the human-looking side and that the Predator-face dudes are actually nice and were willing to help Voyager find their missing crewmember. Robert Beltran seems to have decided to show up to work for once and he sells the big moment, but the whole thing seems both off-puttingly pleased with itself to have successfully misled the audience and at the same time rather pointless because none of it ever happened. Presumably the message is: war, what is it good for? Deep. And all of this would mean more if I could trust that Chakotay’s trauma would ever be followed up on, but I know this show, and I know it won’t be.

Somewhat of a backslide after the last few episodes and Seven of Nine doesn’t appear at all. Plus, that’s another shuttle gone. Is Voyager made of shuttle?

DS9 S06E01 A Time to Stand (4 out of 5 stars). The war has started, and Dominion forces have the station. Bashir gives us barely a 30% chance of prevailing, which is no comfort to Garak. Even the Captain’s Log is completed by Dukat. Worf and Dax, who bid a tearful farewell in the season finale, are reunited before the opening credits this time round and begin bickering about the details of their wedding. On the station, an eerie peace has descended. As Quark notes, things could be a lot worse.

Just as it once played Kira being stripped of her role on the station as a tragedy, now Sisko losing not just the station but also his role as captain of the Defiant is accompanied by gloomy chords and is deemed a strong enough plot twist to take us into the commercials. He should be worried about Jake – who has reinvented himself as Sisko Jr, Federation News Hound – and who is only just now learning the value of keeping important contacts onside.

Finally, we get something with a bit of forward momentum. Sisko has been given a salvaged Jem’hadar ship and the regular cast is sent on a covert mission to destroy the main supply of Ketracel White in the Alpha Quadrant. Another two weeks go by as they learn to pilot it. While I admire the patience of this series, and revel in the character beats, like the terrific Kira/Dukat scene in the third act, I can’t help thinking that this is a very relaxed and almost genteel war.

Kira’s the heart and soul of this episode. With shorter hair than usual, and a pinched, grim expression, she looks defeated and yet still determined to fight back. Weyoun’s bland propaganda doesn’t give this ex-freedom fighter a target she can aim at, and she feels helpless. The Ketracel White mission is a bit more by-the-numbers but it’s exciting enough with the unfamiliar ship adding a few extra wrinkles, and it gives us a great cliffhanger to go out on. It’s also a good episode for Bashir, now embracing his custom-built heritage which makes much more sense of his character generally and gives Siddig something new to play.

VOY S04E05 Revulsion (4 out of 5 stars). An “HD25 isomorphic projection” dude calls for help after rather suspiciously disposing of a bloody corpse. Following a sort of Starfleet roast, Tuvok accepts a field promotion to Lt Commander. He even manages a joke of his own, of sorts. We finally get a bit of Paris/Torres time and he gallantly lets her off the hook. But this is unnecessary as she’s all-in, however the Doctor wants him to take over from the departed Kes. It’s all-change for Neelix who now accepts the official title of ambassador. But where is the newest member of the crew?

Kim has to beard her in her den and her icy recollection of their earlier meeting is the source of some solid laughs. When she cuts her hand during a “radical dislocation” of a piece of equipment, her vulnerability is quite touching. Obviously Kim has the hots for her (and her skin-tight costume has no justification whatsoever, other than to get “the dads” watching) and even Paris points out that this is doomed – and part of a pattern, after he previously fell in love with a hologram and a batch of alien preying mantis women. He fumbles it, but Seven doesn’t seem to mind overmuch.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Torres are going to shuttle over to the iso-boi and see what help they can offer. It turns out that, ten years after Red Dwarf first aired, they’re face-to-face with American Arnold Rimmer, a holographic junior maintenance officer on board a ship where all the humans have already been killed. The Doctor recollects that he has had to fight for his rights onboard Voyager and his new friend is both impressed and a little overawed. His attitude towards Torres strays towards the creepy however and he starts ranting about his hatred of organics, so while it’s no surprise he’s the badguy, the suspense sequences are well handled.

A strong combination of an engaging story-of-the-week, with actual character development for our newest cast member and it’s actually about something – contrasting two different outsiders who struggle to find their place despite their differences. This bodes very well for Season 4, even though it isn’t anything terribly special, because a long-running series needs to be able to regularly turn out entertaining episodes which don’t represent massive turning points, and this is one such.

Kenneth Biller directs, making him a rare case of a Berman-era writer-director.

DS9 S06E02 Rocks and Shoals (4.5 out of 5 stars). Continuing where the previous episode left off, our crew is limping along in their crippled Jem’Hadar ship. This is starting to feel like a modern fully-serialised show – there’s no “Part II” on -screen, but clearly you need to know in detail what happened last week (and for the previous five years) to make any sense of this. It’s also very dramatic, with Dax on the receiving end of a pretty shocking injury before the titles.

They end up stranded on a barren world where an injured Vorta and a gang of Jem’Hadar are also working hard to survive. Garak and Nog are captured and Garak is forced to admit that there is a doctor in their party. Jem’Hadar troops have orders to reconnoiter but not engage – they’re too trigger-happy though, due to lack of white. The details of the Dominion – Founders, Vorta, Jem’Hadar – are all fascinating, Sisko’s ability to spin the footsoldiers is compelling and Avery Brooks has never been better, slightly underplaying but with soft intensity. There’s great location work here too.

On the station, a particularly nasty protest takes place in front of Odo, Kira and – horribly – Jake, whose boy reporter act continues to irritate. For Kira clocking on for her shift the next day, surrounded by Cardassians and Jem’Hadar is like a nightmare. An impossibly brutal act of self-harm changed nothing. The sense of helplessness is overpowering. Truly we are approaching the moment of darkest before the dawn.

Trekaday 082: Blaze of Glory, Worst Case Scenario, Empok Nor, Scorpion, In the Cards, Call to Arms

Posted on April 20th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S03E25 Worst Case Scenario (4 out of 5 stars). Maquis tensions come to the surface with absolutely no prompting and Chakotay suddenly starts telling Torres “We all hate that bell-end Vulcan, and by the way, that hysterical Captain should watch her step too.” As luck would have it, Janeway is off in a shuttle and nobody falls for his ploy to pack the Vulcan off with her – after all, he is still “adapting to his role of first officer” – a hint that this might not be the exact same show we’ve been watching for almost three years. And lo! Seska is back, and back in her Bajoran makeup. Alas, after only ten minutes it turns out that none of this is real, which is a pretty nasty kick in the nuts. What we’re left with is a frustrating glimpse at a more exciting version of the show which we might have had, spangled with smug writerly in-jokes and seasoned with Ship in a Bottle. And yet – it is a more exciting episode than usual, the explanations when they arrive do make some kind of sense, and it’s another big swing, that does generally come off. It’s also a delight to welcome Martha Hackett back, here used far better than in most of her Season 2 appearances.

DS9 S05E24 Empok Nor (4.5 out of 5 stars). A gizmo on the station has failed and it “can’t be replicated”, for reasons it’s probably best not to enquire about. Thus, O’Brien, Garak, Nog and a bunch of fungible engineers are despatched to a derelict station of the same design which is bound to be booby trapped. Naturally, because this is Deep Space Nine, we can’t be expected to cut to the station – we have to hang out with the team during the journey while Garak plays meaningful board games with Nog and O’Brien, one of redshirts gives away his desire for trinkets, and everyone gets suitably tense.

When they arrive, two Cardassians operative are defrosted, one of whom blows up the runabout, stranding our heroes, which is a very nice way to raise the stakes. There follows a very tense game of cat-and-mouse which recalls movies like Alien or The Thing. Trouble is, in those movies audiences are constantly trying to guess who will live and who will die. Here, we know the four guys we’ve never seen before are killable and nobody else is. That could easily undermine a lot of the suspense, but there’s another wrinkle, as Garak himself becomes affected by the drug designed to inflame the murderous instincts of the Cardassians left behind and goes on the rampage himself. Everything else is very well handled, with Robinson and Meaney on wonderful form. In particular, Garak’s needling of O’Brien regarding his war record is some of the episode’s best material, and it’s these deeper themes that elevate a four-star adventure story to near five-star status. I also greatly appreciate that we don’t keep cutting back to DS9 for some tedious B-plot. Early Star Trek work for Bryan Fuller who would go on to co-create Star Trek: Discovery.

VOY S03E26 Scorpion (4 out of 5 stars). Well this one doesn’t mess about. The trailer consists only of two Borg cubes announcing their ravenous intentions, but then they themselves are blasted into fragments. Voyager’s crew always knew that Borg space was between them and home and they’ve identified a “Northwest Passage” which should get them through safely. There will be sedately observing stellar anomalies, no friendly trading missions, no girl-scouting. Absent any detailed characterisations, the best Voyager episodes have tended to be pure action-adventure or based on a premise that’s completely nuts. This sounds like it might be both. Cool.

Anyway, this Northwest Passage horseshit is a complete washout because in seconds there are 15, count ’em 15, Borg cubes surrounding our little garden trowel of a ship. It’s a terrific act-out, but the armada takes one look at them and flees for no readily apparent reason. Janeway mugs up by watching and acting-out past Borg episodes of Star Trek in the hope of gaining some kind of tactical advantage. But having fled, the cubes conk out and when Chakotay takes an away team over to one of them, they discover a neat pile of dismembered Borg bits-and-pieces.

What’s whammied the cube is an HR Giger-ish “organic” ship (adorned with cheap-looking fairy lights, alas). Now Kes’s premonitions start to become more urgent and – who’d have thought it? – the transporter lock that was supposed to be permanently maintained has gone for a burton. Torres thinks she can beam them out bones first which sounds like it might be ugly if it doesn’t work. The bioship pilot is clearly a riff on Alien and Aliens but the 1990s CG isn’t terribly convincing. Weirdly, Harry is shown in awful pain as he transports but it takes ages (including an ad-break) to cut back to him and find out whether he’s okay or not. He’s not.

Now it becomes clear to see why the Northwest Passage is free of Borg. It’s teaming with Gigers, also known to the Borg as Species 8472. Janeway turns to Holonado da Vinci (in the avuncular person of John Rhys Davies) for inspiration and he suggests a little light monkery. Janeway’s hugely risky scheme is to try and broker a deal with the Borg, using the work the Doctor has done to save Harry Kim as a bargaining chip. Chakotay has become Janeway’s principal confidante, leaving Tuvok out in the cold. Poor Tuvok. She also does a horrid little-girl voice when she observes that Chakotay was awfully quiet as she laid out her deal-with-the-devil plan. And the debate between these two lacks a lot of the texture and detail which I’d expect after 70-odd episodes. So, this is a great, apocalyptic premise, an insanely risky solution, a crackerjack cliffhanger, and overall a well-paced instalment directed with energy and vigour. But it’s only Janeway who registers as a character, and the rest are nothing but cardboard cut-outs.

DS9 S05E25 In the Cards (2.5 out of 5 stars). The threat from the Dominion is increasing. Federation ships are going missing. Thefts on the station are spiking. And now Kai Winn wants a chat. No wonder Sisko has the glums. Luckily, Quark is preparing to auction off a Wille Mays baseball card (among other more exotic items) and Jake proposes to buy it to raise his dad’s spirits, with all that post-scarcity money he doesn’t have. Unluckily for them, they are outbid by a trader who believes he has found a cure for death the details of which are ridiculous even by Star Trek standards. They embark on a (disappointingly stem-bolt free) game of secret favours and swapsies across the station in order to secure their prize, which is rarely funny enough to distract me from how irrelevant and over-familiar it all is.

Meanwhile, Winn and Weyoun are meeting on the station which is certainly a more eye-catching prospect, but it too fails to catch fire, even when the two plotlines combined. Having two teens seemingly make a fool of your chief villain is a weird way to ramp up the stakes before things take a turn for the apocalyptic, and if you’re going to attempt something so seemingly counter-productive, I think you need to do more than dust off an old plotline and give it another spin. The ending is rather sweet though.

Nobody told Cirroc Lofton how to say “neodymium” which is unfortunate. Dr Giger’s name is the source of a truly dreadful Wizard of Oz pun.

DS9 S05E26 Call to Arms (4 out of 5 stars). “I wish they’d just attack and get it over with,” grumbles O’Brien. Meanwhile the Dominion is signing up more and more worlds to the kind of non-aggression pact that Bajor might have signed if not for Sisko’s intervention. There are so many Dominion ships coming through that Sisko plans to mine the wormhole to put a stop to them. They’re losing the peace so the risk of starting a war sounds like one worth taking. Weyoun, who is now seemingly the only Vorta on hand, tells Sisko he can remove the mines or surrender the station. Sisko estimates they have barely a day until a real attack begins, and Starfleet seems to have other things to worry about (destroying Cardassian shipyards it later transpires).

Elsewhere things are coming to a head with Kira and Odo. After the weird narrative cul-de-sac of Odo becoming a solid, and Kira’s relationship with Shakaar fizzling out off-screen, we pick up where we left off to a certain degree. But, with a degree of maturity, Odo suggests that they mentally shelve their complicated feelings until the current crisis is past. It’s a bleakly funny scene, resting on the depth of characterisation built up over five years.

Sisko protects Bajor by now insisting that they sign the non-aggression pact. He evacuates civilians from the station (including Dukat’s daughter) and performs Rom and Leeta’s wedding ceremony. It all feels like some pretty bad shit is going to go down. And before long a combined Weyoun/Dukat armada comes calling. Battle stations. As usual with DS9 it’s about the journey as much as it is the destination. We have no long runabout journey to go on, but while we wait for the fighting to start, there are plenty of scores to settle, alliances to shore up and running jokes to revisit.

Luckily there’s some budget left at the end of the season because the space battles look pretty snazzy. The station shields prove surprisingly durable and Worf is able to pick off various Jem’Hadar and Cardassian ships while the Defiant struggles to complete the minefield (which oddly can’t be activated without every single mine in place).

Although the battle appears to be within his grasp, Sisko orders the Federation evacuation of the station. This separates Worf and Dax who depart having agreed to get married. Even Garak leaves on the Defiant, which means that Kira, Quark and Odo are the only members of the regular cast left behind and they fry the station’s systems. Oh, but oops, war reporter Jake has stayed behind too.

The sight of Cardassian and Jem’Hadar troops swarming through the station is an apocalyptic one to be sure. Pretty soon the Starfleet armada returns, but the rematch is going to have to wait till next season. As 45 minutes of TV this feels like it simmers but never boils. It’s a long drum roll which never resolves. However, by the time the titles roll, almost every piece has been swept off the chessboard, meaning that – initially at least – Season 6 is going to feel like an entirely different show.

VOY S04E01 Scorpion, Part II (4.5 out of 5 stars). Janeway’s deal seems to be working, but there is a wrinkle. She has to stay onboard the Borg cube, and Tuvok joins her. It’s not much of an escalation from the cliffhanger but it’s enough to get us into the opening credits. The Borg want Janeway and Tuvok to be temporarily assimilated to avoid all this talk-talk-talk, but the Captain quite rightly refuses and insists on being given a representative to speak with one-on-one. This is of course Seven of Nine, a human assimilated some eighteen years ago. In true fashion, the Borg wants a weapon of mass destruction, but Team Voyager (who are small and think in small terms) manage to argue that there is only time to build something more tactical and focused.

Kes is screaming and cowering in front of imaginary digi-Gigers, but the Doctor can’t provide a diagnosis. Possibly Species 8472 is using Kes’s telepathic abilities to learn what is being planned. Sure enough, before long both the Cube and Voyager are under attack – and since Voyager contains the only known nano-probes (which have proven themselves by curing Harry Kim), that’s everybody’s problem. The Cube is destroyed, but various Borg transport over to Voyager, bringing Janeway and Tuvok with them – and Kes goes immediately back to being Chief Nurse, but Janeway needs to be placed in a medical coma after the injuries she sustained.

Chakotay vs Seven is markedly less interesting than Janeway vs Seven, but on the other hand, Chakotay vs Seven is markedly more interesting than Chakotay vs almost anything else we’ve seen in three years’ worth of episodes. I can only assume that moving the Captain off the chessboard hasn’t been done without some good reason. Hopefully it isn’t just to nebulously raise the stakes. I could have smacked Chakotay when he said “Bring that female drone to the ready room,” as if Borg are 99% male and this one is a bizarre aberration. Following this, Seven delivers an epic takedown of humans in general and the first officer in particular, and I’m here for it.

Being a useless first officer, Chakotay blows up the deal rather than return the Borg to their nearest ship, whereupon Seven steers the ship into fluidic space, home of the Gigertrons, forcing the humans’ hands. And the situation having been comprehensively FUBARed in her absence, Janeway is now brought back from the dead to tear a strip off Commander Dumdum. As they bicker back-and-forth, Chakotay brings up Seven’s words. Heavy-handed though it is, this episode is actually about something, possibly the first instalment to have any kind of thematic resonance since Meld, a season and a half ago.

“Our big mistake was we stopped being friends,” purrs Janeway before sticking Chakotay in the brig where he belongs. With seventeen confirmed kills and back out of fluidic space, Voyager has proven its superiority. The alliance now concluded, Seven begins to take control of the ship. But – in the episode’s strongest moment – Chakotay is able to split Annika away from Seven and Seven away from the Collective. Jeri Ryan’s name is in the opening credits, whereas Jennifer Lien is “also starring” after the episode title.

Deep Space Nine Season 5 wrap-up

  • It’s clear to see why this show is such a fan favourite. It’s by far the most complex, nuanced, powerfully-acted and moving series of the Berman “big three” – but it’s also the most demanding, requiring careful viewing and a good memory.
  • That’s partly why the goofy episodes are so important. If every episode was misery porn and O’Brien-must-suffer, then we’d stop tuning back in because it wouldn’t be a good time. So outings like Looking for par’Mach, Ferengi Love Songs and Trials and Tribble-ations are a real tonic – even if not all of them worked for me.
  • However, in the context of the arc of the series, this run of stories betrays a certain lack of confidence. Like Winter in Game of Thrones, or Christmas in the Narnia books, the Dominion War is always coming and never arrives, so seemingly apocalyptic episodes like By Inferno’s Light fizzle out. Worse, some of the big swings taken at the end of Season 4 are rolled back without comment. Odo spends a few episodes as a solid and then just isn’t anymore – but wouldn’t A Simple Investigation have made much more sense if he wasn’t a Changeling?
  • Kira and Odo’s relationship finds a weird way to come full circle too. Kira’s relationship with Shakaar is quietly ditched off-screen, and the two outsiders do confess their true feelings for each other (with a bit of timey-wimey help) but then they conclude they don’t have time to get into this now, because there’s a war on. Is there? Isn’t there?
  • The final episode in which they give up the station feels huge, but even though this is a series about consequences, standing in stark contrast to the adventures of the good ship Reset Button over on UPN, I know just as well as Dukat (even without that totemic baseball) that Sisko will be back before long. I just hope “before long” doesn’t mean Season 6 episode 3.
  • The numbers betray my ill-ease, but the average season score is still a very impressive 3.67, down a little from the excellent 3.72 of Season 4 (itself beaten only by TOS Season 1 and the magnificent TNG Season 6) and there were any number of great episodes this time, including the incredible In Purgatory’s Shadow two-parter, the terrific The Ship, the excellent For the Uniform and of course Trials and Tribble-ations.
  • Nothing got less than a 2, but I didn’t enjoy Let Who is Without Sin, Ferengi Love Songs or In the Cards and I really thought I’d get more out of the season finale.

Voyager Season 3 wrap-up

  • TNG and DS9 had conditioned me to have to wait a couple of seasons for a new show to find its feet. TNG didn’t break the average 3/5 barrier until its third year, but DS9 Season 2 ended up with a mighty fine 3.62, leading me to conclude that the team was getting better at this stuff with each outing. But DS9 had a much stronger cast, and while Roxann Dawson has been showing her class and bringing much to even the thinnest scripts, there’s been no progress at all for Chakotay and Kim, only a last-minute nudge for Paris, and Neelix has stalled completely.
  • Even the Doctor has been getting worse and worse material even though Robert Picardo is clearly one of the most able actors on the show, but the lightning that struck when we assembled the two previous regular casts just seems to have missed this time, and that’s created a deep seam of uncertainty running through the whole enterprise.
  • So, the good stories have tended to be either balls-to-the-wall action-adventure stories where the physical jeopardy is so great and the pace so frantic that we would probably object if things slowed down so people could talk about their feelings. Or they’ve been bonkers high concept time travel science fiction meta narrative nonsense which aims to dazzle with invention – and it’s hard to do those week after week.
  • Finally, it seems as if the creative team admitted defeat and called for the Borg, and those two episodes, Unity and Scorpion, were highlights of another very bumpy year, although in both cases they promised rather more than they delivered. With a new cast member, and the chance to ditch at least one who wasn’t working out (there was talk of writing out Harry Kim as well or instead), maybe Season 4 will start to finally bring the series alive, as I still haven’t been able to award any episode five stars.
  • Kathryn Mulgrew continues to do wonderful work every week, and Tim Russ is at least dependable, even if Tuvok is still little more than Spock-Lite, especially now that Chakotay has been retrofitted as Janeway’s confidante. I’m not sorry to see Kes go. Jennifer Lien had apparently been suffering from a considerable number of personal problems and she quit acting not long after shooting her final episodes. But Kes was neither a concept for a character which inspired the writers, nor did it create an opportunity for an actor to create a personality beyond what was on the page. She simpered after Neelix, she passed instruments to the Doctor and that was about all she ever got.
  • Among an awful lot of middling episodes, there were some total disasters. Alter Ego was embarrassing, Favourite Son was ghastly, and Real Life was completely ridiculous. The big two-parter just about succeeded, thanks to some fine work by the guest stars, but the series is still, after nearly 70 episodes, trying to figure out how to exploit its premise, put its regulars through their paces and regularly produce entertaining television. No wonder UPN didn’t succeed.

Trekaday 081: Ferengi Love Songs, Real Life, Soldiers of the Empire, Distant Origin, Children of Time, Displaced, Blaze of Glory

Posted on April 14th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S05E20 Ferengi Love Songs (2 out of 5 stars). Quark’s bar is infested with voles leading him to somewhat hysterically claim that he hates his life. Rom only makes matters worse when he reveals that he’s getting married to Leeta. Returning to Ferenginar to see mom brings even worse news – Moogie is shacked up with Liquidator Brunt. Cecily Adams is fine as Moogie, but I miss Andrea Martin who was a force of nature. I’m also weirdly perturbed by the low arched doors with thick yellow frames, which I don’t remember noticing before. They look like something out of Dr Seuss.

The versatile Jeffrey Coombs shows up for his second episode running but playing a different recurring character, and Wallace Shawn is back as Grand Negus Zek, hiding in Moogie’s wardrobe in the hope of concealing their romantic secret from Quark. Back on the station, Rom and Leeta enact a variation on the same theme. It’s all pretty trivial and unamusing. The only reason this is watchable at all is that Armin Shimerman is so accomplished. Moogie is right – leave your action figures in their original packaging.

VOY S03E22 Real Life (1 out of 5 stars). Like a gender-flipped, mystery-free WandaVision, the Doctor has decided that –rather than adding famous psychopaths from history to his programming – his bedside manner will be most improved if he puts himself in a holographic 1960s American sitcom before work each day. Torres decides it would be more interesting if his family were awful instead, and I think we’re supposed to be moved when his pretend daughter suffers a fatal injury, but, c’mon. Meanwhile, in – let’s hope it’s the A-plot – the friendly Zagbars whom Janeway was hoping to rendezvous with are little more than smoking rubble in space when Voyager gets there. That leads to examinations of a wibbly thing in space, and when both plots run out of steam, Paris and Torres discuss literature instead. Torres has a new wig. I don’t like it.

DS9 S05E21 Soldiers of the Empire (4 out of 5 stars). Martok is being patched up by Bashir who is (winkingly) more worried about the state of his carpet than the risks to the Klingon’s life. JG Hertzler is a real asset to the show, providing a fascinating link between Federation officer Worf and the wider Klingon Empire. Now, he and Worf are despatched to retrieve a missing Klingon vessel, meaning that Worf is no longer subject to Starfleet regulations – and the other members of the regular cast have to pick up the slack, except for Dax who is coming along for the ride. It’s the sagacious yet playful Trill onboard the Bird of Prey which kicks this one up a notch. Like A Matter of Honor with Riker participating in the officer exchange programme, we learn more about them and through this juxtaposition.

In a signature Deep Space Nine move, the episode is concerned far more with the journey as the destination, with the demoralised crew confused by Martok’s unwillingness to pick fights and Dax more than holding her own. Cunningly, Worf challenges Martok in order to lose, and thus re-energised, Martok gets his mojo back and leads his rackety old ship to a famous victory. Confusingly, Klingons speak mainly English, with smatterings of Klingon dialogue, implying that they are not talking Klingon to each other. Why not?

VOY S03E23 Distant Origin (2.5 out of 5 stars). In some very familiar-looking cave sets, a pair of Silurian scientists have found a skull which they are both mysteriously thrilled by. This enables them to reconstruct a human-looking skeleton whose non-saurian biology threatens a long-held theory. When a battered piece of uniform is added to the puzzle, it seems inevitable that this is the remains of one of Voyager’s crew. We’re getting closer here to a bonkers-big-swing-of-the-week show, wherein our heroes are seen through the lens of alien palaeontologists. But these high concept episodes built on grand ideas never seem quite as nourishing as the best episodes from elsewhere in the franchise which hit me in the gut rather than stimulating only my intellect. And the drawback of aiming to stimulate mainly my intellect is that I know more about evolution and taxonomy than Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky demonstrate here, and the errors and omissions are irritating. When we switch from chin-stroking philosophising to action-and-adventure, things improve a little, and the shot of tiny Voyager inside the vast alien craft is very striking, but we quickly abandon this in favour of a routine courtroom drama. Also disappointing: the religious-doctrine-vs-scientific-evidence drama of the dinopeople feels over-familiar, and the clumsy parallels with immigration don’t work. A year is a very short time to reduce a human body to nothing more than bones – assuming that a Zagbar year is similar to a human year. Speaking of which, these guys have an amazing transwarp drive which can cover huge distances in very short times, but Chakotay doesn’t even ask to see some schematics. Yet again, a straight line from the Caretaker to the Federation leads to a connection with Earth. Space feels very small on Voyager.

DS9 S05E22 Children of Time (4.5 out of 5 stars). The pitch sounds more like a Voyager episode than anything else. Unwisely stopping off to check out a mysterious planet, the Defiant is cheerily greeted by a bunch of humans who claim to be our crew’s descendants, a situation which arises when the hardy little ship is flung back in time 200 years, er, in two days’ time. In TNG this would definitely be a trick, but here it appears to be genuine, and the gameplan involves preserving this timeline as well as getting our people home. Shockingly, this turns out to be the deception. Sisko has to choose between returning and erasing this timeline with its 8000 people, or letting time repeat itself and condemning everyone on board to painful years of isolation and rebuilding (except Kira whose injuries prove fatal).

Speaking of Kira, Shakaar, who hasn’t appeared in many episodes, is written-out off-screen. This is another symptom of a season of this show displaying an unease and uncertainty about decisions made in past episodes which was rarely if ever seen in Seasons 3 and 4. Odo here completes his journey back to his previous incarnation: isolated, shapeshifting, mooning over Kira. But while that’s a concern, it’s not something which hurts this particular episode because while “our” Odo is poured into a jar, a 200-years-older Odo confesses his love for Kira, and that’s what makes this a DS9 episode. It’s an incredible scene, building expertly on almost five years of shared history and Nana Visitor and René Auberjonois play it beautifully.

The difference between the two shows is stark. On Voyager, we get a science-fiction treatise on what it is to be human (in Distant Origin). Here we get a richly human look at what a science-fiction plot might feel like. It’s a shame that a crew of nearly fifty people is rendered just as six members of the regular cast. Surely they should have at least been consulted. That’s a bit of fridge-logic but it just barely knocks half-a-star of what’s a superb hour of television on the whole.

VOY S03E24 Displaced (3.5 out of 5 stars). Remarkably, someone on Voyager remembers something that happened on a previous episode of Voyager. Sadly, this brief scene errs on the side of substituting bickering for character development, but there are hints here of something more vulnerable underneath Torres’s tough exterior. Then a dude in a funny hat appears and we’re watching Voyager again. It’s too cold and bright for him onboard. Not a bad critique. Episodes of this show tend to be too focused on plot and not enough on character – too keen to be clever, not keen enough to make the audience feel anything.

Funny hat guy has seemingly swapped places with Kes who vanished at the same time as he appeared. Pretty soon Harry vanishes too. Harry and Kes both gone? Y’know, I’m not mad about it. But for each underwritten cast member that disappears in a shower of pixels, another glum individual with eccentric headgear shows up. We don’t switch focus to the Zagbar colony until Torres is snatched – and by then she’s figured out that they’re doing this deliberately. This is quite a nifty insoluble problem (if a bit familiar from the end of Basics Part I) and it’s fun to see some of the lower decks characters with a degree of agency (just until we get to the prison planet, natch) but why are the Zagbars so grey and uninteresting and why does none of this seem to affect our main characters in any meaningful way? Like the Enterprise crew in TNG Season 1, they mainly just work the problem professionally until 45 minutes is up.

The exception to this rule is Torres and Paris, but – as noted – they tend to do little more than bicker. However, there is promise here, and even Robert Duncan McNeill (who has tended to coast along with the thin material he’s generally given) begins to show some of the fire which he displayed in some earlier episodes like Non Sequitur. That, and the difficulty of the problem, earns this slender episode an extra half-star. It almost loses it for introducing a hugely powerful long-distance transporter which is never even considered as a route home.

“I’ve never been completely cut off from the ship before,” protests the Doctor, staring at the mobile emitter he was given 400 years in the past while completely cut off from the ship.

DS9 S05E23 Blaze of Glory (3.5 out of 5 stars). According to Cadet Security Officer Nog, the Klingon security forces are obnoxious, disobedient and frequently intoxicated. Sisko’s advice to pick a fight with one of them doesn’t strike me as particularly sound, and Nog and Jake’s B-plot is hardly ever interesting. In the rather more compelling A-plot, Martok’s forces have picked up a Maquis message intended for Michael Eddington which asserts that missiles are heading for Cardassia – missiles which might be cloaked. Maquis missiles killing millions of Cardassians means Cardassia demanding that the Dominion exact equally bloody revenge on their behalf, which means that the missiles – if they exist – have to be stopped.

Michael Eddington and Benjamin Sisko make a fine pair, and Deep Space Nine loves nothing more than sticking two characters in a shuttle/runabout/the Defiant and having them put the galaxy to rights. As invincible forces meeting impenetrable objects go, these two manage an enviable level of tension and wit and detail. It’s very good stuff and Kenneth Marshall makes the most of his final appearance. Sisko tries to force Eddington’s hand by leading the ship towards a Jem’Hadar fleet and Eddington’s solution seems to involve putting Sisko in as much jeopardy as possible. It’s pretty much standard-issue shaky camera, technobabble dialogue and lots of pixels but both actors play it with commitment. However, this intimate mano-a-mano stuff feels almost trivial compared to the apocalyptic threat we were promised in the teaser. And indeed, it turns out that the missiles never existed, which is clever but still feels like a let-down. In keeping with the theme of this season – tying off loose ends – that seems to be it for the Maquis, introduced way back in TNG’s seventh season.

Trekaday #080: Doctor Bashir I Presume?, Rise, Favorite Son, A Simple Investigation, Business as Usual, Before and After, Ties of Blood and Water

Posted on April 7th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S05E16 Doctor Bashir, I Presume? (3.5 out of 5 stars) So, we have our new status quo for the back half of Season 5. Bashir has been returned to the station. Dukat is heading up the Cardassia government and has formed an alliance with the Dominion. General Martok is in charge of a bunch of friendly Klingons who are helping out with station security. Kira is done being brood mare for the O’Briens. Dax and Worf are a couple. Nog is strutting about the station in Starfleet togs. You could forgive the show for giving us a breather while we wait for the actual Dominion war fleet to turn up.

We open with Nog trying and failing to chat up Leeta. We smash into the titles with the appearance of Robert Picardo as Lewis Zimmerman in more of that inter-franchise corporate synergy, uniting the two active strands of the Star Trek Televisual Universe. Like a 1990s riff on ChatGPT, everyone is worried that holograms might replace real flesh-and-blood doctors, and Zimmerman is offering to use Bashir as the model for a new long-term EMH. There is no EMH on the station because the Cardassian infrastructure is not compatible with Starfleet technology. Thus, Zimmerman has come to the station to develop his new Starfleet technology. Why he has not asked Bashir to join him at a Starfleet facility is never made clear. Picardo is as good as ever, but Zimmerman and Rom’s adolescent leering over Leeta dates this episode rather uncomfortably.

This all builds to the revelation that Bashir is the product of Khan-style genetic engineering. It’s interesting as far as it goes, but it’s a line in his biog, not a character note which an actor can play (especially as it’s information that Bashir already knew). (I’m going to give the show the benefit of the doubt and assume that this plot line isn’t motivated by the stereotype of pushy Indian parents who want their kids to be top of the class.) But while this doesn’t deepen his character in any meaningful way, Alexander Siddig is so much more comfortable now than he was back in Season 1, he is now well able to make the young medic a believable character, if not a terribly rich and complex one. He’s best when paired with bigger performances like those of Picardo and best of all Brian George and Fadwa El Guindi as his mum and dad, and he pulls off the big scenes with aplomb. But this is pretty much all sitcom stuff (complete with comedy mistaken identity), with no ambitions to be anything more, except a demonstration of 1990s visual effects, all of which are pretty seamless.

VOY S03E19 Rise (3.5 out of 5 stars). Voyager is trying to repair its reputation as bringer of death and destruction, as put about by the Kazon, by acting as a sort of Gamma Quadrant Task Rabbit and doing whatever odd jobs it can find on its way home. But blowing up troublesome asteroids seems to be peculiarly problematic as they just split into big, equally dangerous, chunks instead of obediently vapourising.

The upshot of this do-goodery is a crashed shuttle with Tuvok in command and Neelix fussing about, making his life a misery. To get out of the “interference” which makes a beam-out impossible, they need to climb a kilometres-high space elevator. (Interference preventing a beam-out is the Star Trek equivalent of trapped people in contemporary thrillers who can’t get a mobile phone signal and just as frequent an occurrence). Rather sweetly, it’s Neelix who figures this out, recruits the team, and puts the plan into action.

However, the vertiginous ascend-to-freedom thriller plot which this sets up turns out to mainly be people on a spaceship set throwing themselves around as the operator waggles the camera in the time-honoured fashion (and when the action does move outside it’s generally less convincing, not more). The Neelix/Tuvok stuff is really rather good though, allowing these two under-served actors to bring new layers to both these rather thin characters. That helps a lot of the standard-issue technobabble of doom and Zagbars vs Zoobles plot to play more strongly. (Best not to think about Tuvix, while watching this. Obviously none of the production team did while making it.)

“In for a penny, in for a pound,” is a human expression according to Janeway, for whom human = English, apparently.

VOY S03E20 Favorite Son (1 out of 5 stars). Ensign Kim is worried that they’re going round in circles. I know how he feels. presumably to stave off the boredom, he begins firing phasers at the seemingly friendly ship, whose Captain just greeted them so warmly. The exchange of fire causes near-fatal injuries for B’Elanna (but don’t worry, she’s fine) and hallucinating Harry starts experiencing all kinds of generic guilt trips. Garrett Wang doesn’t do anything wrong but there’s no there there. He’s not playing a character. He’s reciting plot points. And the plan to give him an alien backstory seems to have been abandoned as the episode was being produced, because, well, it would be crazy to risk making him too interesting. Luckily by the end he’s fought off the inhabitants of Castle Anthrax and is restored to being “just an average kid” (as he puts it while complaining about his bland upbringing). One of the ridiculous killer Amazons is Babylon 5’s Patricia Tallman who transitioned from stunts to acting. Harry reeling off a list of all the Star Trek tropes which could be responsible is pretty funny – almost like something out of Lower Decks, but the rest of this Homeric nonsense is far too familiar to revel in is ridiculousness.

DS9 S05E17 A Simple Investigation (2.5 out of 5 stars). We’re back in the mode of someone-turns-up-on-the-station-and-they’ve-brought-a-plot-with-them. Odo is embroiled in the pulpy story of bionic femme fatale Arissa whose contact is vaporized before he can pass on the MacGuffin he brought her. Odo’s just grateful not to be playing Holosuite games with Dr Bashir, but he’s embroiled in a pastiche narrative with just as many cliches and tropes, it’s just Raymond Chandler instead of Ian Fleming, and the banter here is pretty dreadful. Rather than elevating the world of the series, as in Our Man Bashir, here the over-familiar elements end up as a chain around the characters’ necks, condemning them to spend the whole episode mouthing second-hand phrases and obeying the rules of the genre instead of being true to themselves. The sight of Odo, reduced to a blushing schoolboy in Arissa’s presence is quite ridiculous. And then he seeks out Dr Bashir for advice. Dr Bashir! The relationship ends badly of course, thanks to a Total Recall-style twist which serves only as a reset button. Having this story take place while Odo was a humanoid might have made more sense, but honestly, this one was doomed almost from the start. The Changeling’s very human-looking chest is rather distracting. Had Michael Westmore run out of latex?

DS9 S05E18 Business as Usual (2.5 out of 5 stars). Quark is broke and so has no choice but to go into business with his death-dealing cousin who wants him to charm customers as well as turn around his financial fortunes. The third partner in their tripod of evil is the always-entertaining Steven Berkoff whose theatrical style fits very well into this world of rubber faces and apocalyptic storylines. They team up to demo holographic weapons which means that technically they aren’t bringing any forbidden items onto the station and thus Odo can’t touch them.

Lo, he and his associates do start making money, but it belatedly dawns on Quark that being a weapons dealer means that he will be providing people with weapons and some of those people won’t be very nice. Gaila does the “cuckoo clock” speech from The Third Man but Josh Pais is no Orson Welles and David Bell smothers the scene with pounding music, which robs it off the lightness of touch which makes the original so chillingly effective. Thus what starts as a passably amusing Quark-as-Arthur-Daley story loses its way amid a mire of melodramatic cliches, including a dream sequence populated by corpses who ask “Why did you kill me?” following which Quark awakes and asks nobody “What have I done?”

In a B-plot, O’Brien must suffer… his whining baby, which he ends up palming off on to Worf, ho ho ho. Alexander Siddig directs because everybody gets a turn now, reverting to Siddig El-Fadil for this credit. Unlike many other Star Trek actors, he didn’t go onto much of a directing career. People still can’t decide with its “Quark” or “Quork”, and it seems very late in the day to be unsure of how to say a regular character’s name. Imagine if half the cast had been referring to “Captain Quirk” for three years.

VOY S03E21 Before and After (3.5 out of 5 stars). “Grandma Kes?” Premise and execution are two very different things. Voyager’s premise is all to do with two warring crews (kinda) lost on the other side of the galaxy, trying to get home. But the execution is all about high-concept big swings and sadly too often, the show’s reach exceeds its grasp (at least so far). And since all the emphasis has been on the high-concept narrative devices, the characters have withered on the vine with the result that there’s no such thing as a “good solid Voyager episode” at this stage. There are the big swings that come off (“Meld”), the big swings that don’t (“Threshold”) and then an awful lot of a-bunch-of-generic-people-troop-around-solving-a-problem stories.

I could appreciate the show far more if there was a feeling of “You thought that was bonkers, hold my blood wine” – you know how much I enjoyed TNG episodes like Future Imperfect or Remember Me – but the really eye-catching story ideas are fairly infrequent and the dedication to the reset button creates a perpetual feeling of “this probably doesn’t matter much”.

That having been said, as eye-catching story ideas going, a decrepit looking Kes who’s a grandma, married to Tom Paris, being treated by a hirsute “Doctor Van Gogh” who refers to Chakotay as “Captain” – well, that’s not bad at all. And Warlord demonstrated that the biggest problem with Kes as a character is the way that Jennifer Lien has been hamstrung by the writing – give her something to play and she’s brilliant. Here too, under layers of (not always ideal) prosthetic makeup, she’s faultlessly convincing as the geriatric Okampan, slowly moving backwards in time.

Of course – like Future Imperfect – this is a cover-of-a-comic-book story and so part of the fun is trying to figure out what’s really going on – time eddies, alien information extraction, space flu, Holodeck shenanigans, place your bets! It still all takes place in a world of ideas and jargon rather than characters and feelings, but at least the ideas and jargon have some fizz and crackle this week. And what’s this about a “year of hell”…?

Neelix looks good in uniform. Maybe Janeway’s been taking notes from Captain Jellico. Speaking of which, goodness I miss Janeway when she’s not around.

DS9 S05E19 Ties of Blood and Water (4.5 out of 5 stars). “Cardassian politics are very complex,” muses Worf, having had the bonkers events of Second Skin recapped for him. That was a very strong episode, however, and I’m excited to see what this series, above all, can do in revisiting it. It would be unusual indeed for it to bring back an old character just in order to tell the same story again. And Worf’s right – seeing Kira so pally with a Cardassian does seem wrong. And that’s fascinating.

Pretty soon, Gul Dukat (yes, still Gul) wants him back and I enjoyed Sisko telling the Cardassian government where they and their Dominion paymasters could shove it, almost as much as Sisko himself. But Ghemor is dying (inevitably) and there’s nothing Dr Bashir can do. Now he wants to download years of Cardassian secrets to Kira but she doesn’t know if she wants to participate in this act of planetary betrayal, not least because it feels like she’s denying her own (late) father by accepting this paternal surrogate in this way. It’s a fascinating dilemma and it’s great to see Kira in the spotlight for the first time in ages. And when Dukat swaggers onto the station to collect his bounty, he’s accompanied by none other than Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun – whom we saw die, but I remembered that his part in the story was far from over. This establishes him as part of the DS9 secondary cast and he’s a wonderful addition.

Shakaar is namechecked but does not appear.