Archive for May, 2023

Trekaday #088: Change of Heart, The Killing Game, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night, Vis à Vis, Inquisition, In the Pale Moonlight

Posted on May 27th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S06E16 Change of Heart (3.5 out of 5 stars). Dax and Worf are busy getting busy when Kira despatches them to the Badlands to collect this week’s MacGuffin. They are a very cute couple, and as we spend the usual requisite travel time hanging out with them, their amiable bickering and Michael Dorn’s deadpanning is fairly amusing, even if this all feels a bit like padding. When they get to the jungle planet where the rendezvous is due to take place (full of unusually exotic fauna), they work together very well, which is refreshing, if not super-interesting.

The story begins, very late in the day, when they cross paths with a squadron of Jem’Hadar, and Dax receives a wound in her side, the bleeding from which can’t be stopped for reasons. Dax’s gallows humour quips are devoid of wit and there’s little in this situation which we haven’t seen before, although I do appreciate the specificity which comes from it being this couple in particular, and Farrell and Dorn continue to completely inhabit these roles, with Farrell really selling Dax’s weakened state as the blood loss continues. I can’t help wondering whether this would not have been more interesting if the big strong Klingon was the one having to be left behind with pain meds and the young woman (or so she appears) had to decide between completing the mission and coming back to rescue him. Maybe it’s better the way it is, and maybe that’s a testament to the strength of these characters.

When they return Sisko has the brilliant insight that he should probably stop sending married couples off on missions together. Ya think?

In a rather silly B-plot, Quark is winning at Tongo and O’Brien of all people wants to take him on, so he recruits Bashir to assist, in a sequence which helps itself to all of the usual clichés of the rookie-beats-experts-at-their-own-game trope, and then just stops. Irishman O’Brien hopes to win Scotch whisky from Worf for some reason. Bashir reads and understands every rule of Tongo with one glance at O’Brien’s PADD which is ridiculous even for a meta-human, but still pretty funny.

VOY S04E18-19 The Killing Game (4.5 out of 5 stars). Is this one episode or two? It was planned, written, shot and produced as two episodes – the two parts even have two different directors – and that’s how it appears in the DVD box set. So this isn’t a double-length episode later carved into two for syndication like the two-hour pilots and the TNG finale. But both parts were shown for the first time on UPN as part of a two hour “event”, so we’ll treat it as a single instalment for the purposes of this exercise.

We start, as we so often do on the Holodeck, where Janeway with Klingon ridges is involved in a Bat’leth battle, only for a Hirogen to insist on striking the killing blow before summoning medical assistance. I’ll say this for Voyager – it knows how to get my attention. It seems as if the hunter-folk are in command of Voyager and are able to stick any of the crew they wish into any Holodeck situation they wish. So, let’s have Seven of Nine sing a torch song in a nightclub while we’re at it. (Wait till we get to Bride of Chaotica!) It’s always fun for me to see the regular cast of a favourite show reinventing themselves, so even though this feels like nonsense, it’s pretty enjoyable stuff watching Kate Mulgrew effectively blending Bogart and Bacall, while Tim Russ tends bar and Jeri Ryan croons (with Borg implants but without a microphone).

Even though I haven’t the slightest idea why this race of all-about-the-hunt dudes wants to play Everyone Come’s to Kathy’s (and while I tire of yet another mono-culture alien species) these more cultured, sophisticated Hirogen, who play civilised war games are vastly more interesting than the oafish pulpy versions we saw in Hunters. Herr Kommandant Hirogen even has a duelling scar. Nice. Presumably he is also after The Fallen Madonna With The Big Boobies.

We also get some very nice location filming as we meet fellow bicycling baker Neelix, joined quickly by communications specialist Torres. All of the details of their smuggling, code-breaking and subterfuge are nicely worked out. I’m just not quite sure what we’re doing here. That’s by design of course, but it’s still perplexing. Herr Kommandant Hirogen gets a big speech about wanting the hunt to be fair, but presumably this Holofantasy is them studying Voyager’s crew in order to be better prepared for the next hunt. But wouldn’t a true challenge (and a fair fight) be a hunt where the hunters knew nothing at all about the prey? And does it really help the Hirogen to understand 24th century Federation space vessels by re-enacting 20th century Earthbound conflicts? Just like last week, we start way after the true inciting incident has taken place, which helps cut down on shoe leather but has its own costs. How did the Hirogen get the drop on Voyager in the first place? Will we ever find out? Does it matter?

I grumbled early on that the Holodeck wasn’t immediately mothballed when conserving energy became a big deal and everyone was put on replicator rations. This was handwaved away as “oh the Holodeck has its own power supply which is completely incompatible with every other system,” and yet here is poor old Harry Kim (who of course doesn’t get to have fun and play dress up with everyone else) diverting power from other systems to the completely incompatible Holodeck. Sometimes you just have to look away.

Chakotay and Paris show up eventually (I can’t say I missed them) as the liberating Americans while Kim and the Doctor conspire to insert Seven back into the simulation under her own mental control, whereupon she is able to free the Captain. Then the Americans show up and everything goes to hell, including a simulated explosion exposing three decks of Voyager, which is a pretty nifty bit of surrealism for nineties prime time television. With holo-emitters throughout the ship, pretty soon the whole place is awash with ferocious Holodeck characters and mind-controlled senior staff. What has happened to the other members of Voyager’s crew is not clear. Kim has a plan to blow up the Holodeck, but the Kommandant wants the technology preserved (and those who know how to repair it – as luck would have it). In fact, this character is something of a benefit and a drawback. Once more, introducing a cuddly instance of an implacable foe adds depth to the species, but dulls their overall impact.

In Part II, things slow down a little. Are we supposed to a) take it seriously and b) be interested when Paris and Torres reminisce about events in their romantic past which never happened? But when Janeway leads the assault (Chakotay stumbling along uselessly in her wake), it becomes a bizarre mismatched Boys Own war story, with the resistance fighters charging through Voyager’s gleaming corridors firing pistols.

Janeway doing a peace deal is a bit soggy, but the Holographic Nazi talking the Hirogen number two out of the ceasefire is a great twist and a nice use of available resources.

As usual, everybody on every side speaks English throughout, except for a few token “bonjours”, until Torres starts briefly talking German to a passing Lieutenant. B’Elanna Torres’s resistance alter ego is pregnant, which is handy so because so was Roxann Dawson when this was filmed. Don’t think too hard about how a Holodeck manages to manifest a foetus which can kick you from inside your belly.

DS9 S06E17 Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night (3 out of 5 stars). Exotic alien duo Worf and Dax who once were part of a fascinating alien culture have now been reduced to a sitcom couple, who squabble about social engagements. Similarly Gul Dukat was once a superbly nuanced political operative, who is now being rendered as a one-dimensional ranting villainous lunatic, torturing Kira just for kicks. I think we’re past the DS9 peak, sad to say.

Kira reacts to Dukat’s taunting by generally being a dick to everyone she works with, and even Odo can’t get through to her. Only the Bajoran flashback boxes can give her peace of mind – and lo! she gets to wander through her own infant past during the occupation, venturing wisdom such as “Why are we fighting each other? We should band together and fight the common enemy.” (To which the answer is presumably “Yes – the Bajoran People’s Front!”) Kira and her mum are both selected to be “comfort women” to Gul Dukat which does seem to match the tale he told adult Kira.

As ludicrous as this all is, once Dukat assembles his harem onboard “Terak Nor”, the story does generate a certain amount of grim power. There is something weirdly, horribly invasive about the Cardassian healing Kira Meru’s scar without her permission and Leslie Hope (Mrs Jack Bauer from 24) plays the moment with real feeling.

We don’t cut away from this time line until the end, so this is all about Kira, her mum and Dukat. It’s great to see Nana Visitor with some decent material again, but the whole structure of this story makes this feel like a doodle in the margins, rather than a major piece of the story. Ultimately, it doesn’t really tell us anything new about the Major or the occupation.

VOY S04E20 Vis à Vis (2 out of 5 stars). What would you do if the precarious life-raft you were in had a magic room onboard which could create the perfect illusion of any scenario imaginable? Tom Paris pretends to be 1960s car mechanic, like we all would. He’s supposed to be studying with the Doctor, who is as confounded as I am. I’ve moaned often enough about Paris’s stubborn lack of character development. His relationship with the far-more-interesting Torres is the best thing that could have happened to him – so why do we see them together so infrequently?

Instead, we get a reprise of the Chakotay-reading-him-the-riot act interactions which turned out to be a feint back in Season 2. When Paris and Torres do share the screen together, it’s routine bickering and he refuses to tell her about his holographic hot-rod. She wants answers and he calls her hysterical, which is kind of a dick move. He’s sleeping on the couch tonight and rightly so.

Pretty soon, Voyager’s station wagon is being buzzed by a muscle car fitted with a snazzy new coaxial warp drive (shortly to be replaced with the even snazzier SCART warp drive). In theory, drives of this kind can fold space and cover huge distances instantaneously. So, we’re back to telling this-could-get-us-home-in-no-time-wait-oh-no-never-mind stories it seems. But for now, the HDMI drive is bust so it’s greasemonkey Paris to the rescue (because repairing a novel form of propulsion requires a top pilot rather than an experienced engineer like Torres). And – you’ll never guess what – the mysterious pilot isn’t telling the truth about everything. His computer tells him that he has only three hours before his DNA reverts to its previous form – and then we cut to him and Paris the next morning and he still looks the same. But, the plan it seems is to fix the drive and send the pilot on his way without even attempting to use it to get the Voyager crew home.

As well as barely making sense, this is all pretty dull stuff, failing to resonate on a character level or engage on a plot/adventure/jeopardy level and it isn’t seasoned with any of Voyager’s trademark structural games or loopy high concepts, unless you count the age-old body-swap routine. It’s resolutely ordinary nineties Trek, designed to get the show one episode closer to the end of the season and that’s it. If it has a message, it seems to be that a passing alien con-artist can Tom Paris better than Tom Paris can, which is a pretty sad indictment on this thinnest of regular characters. Also, weirdly Janeway is hardly in this one, which is not ideal. And the rape of Torres is treated with little more than snide chuckling.

Dan Butler (Bulldog on Frasier) plays the mysterious pilot. Holodeck oil and grease stays on Paris’s face when he walks onto the bridge.

DS9 S06E18 Inquisition (4 out of 5 stars). Bashir is off to a sunny resort to deliver a paper at a medical conference, much to O’Brien and Odo’s sneering dismay. But he doesn’t get to go, because Death from AC-12 (I mean, William Sadler as Sloan from Internal Affairs) turns up and accuses the entire senior staff of being Dominion spies. This sort of paranoid, anti-corruption, who can you trust storyline is not new to Star Trek – it’s not even new to Deep Space Nine – but the mood of this series being generally bleak and its habit of painting in shades of grey means that it works best here, compared to sunny TNG or goofy TOS.

Sloan’s MO of going back over old episodes and picking holes even recalls Remmick’s behaviour in Coming of Age, back in TNG Season 1. And true to form, the DS9 version is grimmer than any of the earlier goes at this storyline. Bashir’s genetic enhancement makes him a target of an investigator consumed by hatred due to a personal tragedy. The presumption of guilt not just from him but from his security guards is chilling, and Alexander Siddig rises ably to the challenges the script sets him. Back on TNG, Remmick was all “Not only are you not guilty, I want to be just like you when I grow up.” Here, Bashir is beamed out by Weyoun because – it seems – everything that Sloan said was true. He was turned while in captivity and then brainwashed back into being a loyal Starfleet officer until he was needed.

The trouble is, once you start playing these games, the story trains the audience to disbelieve everything. So it’s fortunate that the script doesn’t try to sustain the fake rescue team for very long, as I suspected the truth almost immediately. The revelation that virtually the whole episode had been a fantasy was harder to spot. Michael Dorn as director brings a nicely tense and claustrophobic atmosphere to proceedings, so even if this isn’t revolutionary, it’s a nice introduction to Section 31 and a fine examination of the eternal moral quandary – who watches the watchers?

There’s barely anything here for Dax, which is a shame, given that I know what’s coming at the season’s end. She and Worf are excluded from the final conference.

DS9 S06E19 In the Pale Moonlight (5 out of 5 stars). Here it is. This is the big one. When the conversation turns to best-ever Star Trek episodes, the same few episodes keep coming up. From TOS, it’s The City on the Edge of Forever, Amok Time, Arena, Balance of Terror, The Devil in the Dark. From TNG, it’s The Best of Both Worlds, Yesterday’s Enterprise, Darmok, Chain of Command, The Inner Light. And from DS9 it’s The Visitor, Duet, Trials and Tribble-ations, Far Beyond the Stars – and this one. And for some people, this is the best episode the franchise has ever produced.

It begins with a seemingly shell-shocked Sisko having to confess what sound like appalling crimes to his log. One of his wartime duties has become posting weekly casualty lists every Friday. There’s always a familiar name for somebody. Bringing the neutral Romulans into the war seems like the only way out – but as Dax points out, why would they get involved when they can just sit back and watch their rivals annihilate each other? The two officers role-play the negotiations and it kind of backs Sisko into a corner. Where can he find the evidence that it would take to get the Romulans to alter their position? Answer – he probably can’t, but maybe Garak can. Or one of Garak’s old friends? While he makes some calls, the Dominion takes Betazed. Everyone Garak contacts is murdered within hours of the call. So, the human and the Cardassian decide that if they can’t find the evidence they need then they should Deepfake some.

The master forger that Garak introduces to the station turns out to be violent and a drunk, which means Sisko has to pony up a substantial bribe to prevent Quark pressing charges and creating a record of this guy’s presence on the station. (Quark thinks much more highly of Sisko after this, which is very neat.) Any doubts about the wisdom of his course are swept aside next time he posts the weekly casualty list. And to complete the deception, Sisko has to provide quantities of bio-memetic gel, a substance which the Federation closely controls.

It’s the centring of Sisko which really makes this work. Unlike Picard or Janeway, the lead of this series has tended to be fixed point around whom other characters orbit, and upon whom responsibilities are heaped, as opposed to a complex character with his own foibles and arc. Here we dig deep into his convictions, moral compass and willingness or not to compromise. It’s a compelling portrait and a wonderful performance by Avery Brooks. The Romulan commander thought he’d be taller. He also uncovers Sisko’s deception, proclaiming the evidence to be a fake. Days later, the same Romulan’s ship is destroyed and the Dominion are seen to be to blame. This was Garak’s true plan, and it might just work. Grimly, horrifyingly, Sisko thinks he can live with it. Can’t he? Computer. Erase recording. Wow.

Trekaday #087: Far Beyond the Stars, Hunters, One Little Ship, Prey, Honor Among Thieves, Retrospect

Posted on May 21st, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

DS9 S06E13 Far Beyond the Stars (5 out of 5 stars). Ben’s pa has come to stay, since the war still seems to be enjoying an intermission. It’s not only his first time on the station, it’s his first time off-world. Despite the cessation of on-screen hostilities, Sisko feels as if it’s someone else’s turn to make the tough decisions, and this leads him to try and talk Kasidy out of continuing her delivery runs. Suddenly, and impossibly, he’s in the middle of a mid-20th century New York street. Is this timewimey shenanigans or some kind of hallucination?

Well, in fact, it’s little more than an excuse to see all our regular cast out of makeup, and/or acting out of character (it’s almost more disconcerting to hear Michael Dorn talking in a normal cadence than it is to see him without rubber forehead ridges). It’s also a love letter to the pulp science fiction writers of the 1950s who gave birth to the concepts which Gene Roddenberry built upon. It’s also a passionate exploration of the civil rights movement – old ground to be sure, but given an extra sting when put into this context. Suddenly, what was subtext becomes furiously angry text and it’s shocking to see these issues dealt with so frankly and straightforwardly. Star Trek is so completely post-racial, it’s easy to forget that America’s racist past still casts a long and dark shadow, to the extent that in the mid-1990s Deep Space Nine was pretty much unique among American television shows for having a Black lead. (Alexander Siddig seems to count as white, maybe because he’s British.)

So, this is wonderful fun in the same way that Trials and Tribble-ations was; it’s about Star Trek itself, in the way that First Contact was; and it has something to say about humanity which even if it isn’t all that new, is said with tremendous clarity and feeling. The flimsy plot fig leaf of the real Sisko lying in sickbay with a broken brain needn’t detain us unduly. I almost wish they hadn’t bothered. This is why you take time out from your arc plot. I loved it and my only complaint is that Andrew Robinson wasn’t included. Avery Brooks directs, which is pretty impressive given how much is going on here, and how much of it involves Sisko/Benny.

VOY S04E15 Hunters (3 out of 5 stars). Hey look! Continuity from episode-to-episode on Voyager. The network of alien relay stations is still there and now Starfleet is able to use it too. Let’s hope those cantankerous aliens don’t mind having their system hijacked in this… you know what? I think I jinxed it. But meanwhile, it’s letters from home time, and while there’s nothing wildly original about any of this, after four years I think we’ve earned a little straightforward sentimentality, and it’s handled with a certain amount of restraint and decorum. We even get under Tom Paris’s skin a little, and that’s proven to be incredibly elusive. With so much time given over to the crew dynamics (no bad thing!) the actions of the bug-eyed telecoms engineers are little more than a distraction (and they stomp around saying silly things like “I could snap your puny neck with one twist”) but the pairing of Seven and Tuvok works well. They’re also strictly hetero (one boasts that acquiring Seven’s intestine will make him envied by men and pursued by women – ugh). Their clichéd ranting drags down a promising episode.

DS9 S06E14 One Little Ship (3 out of 5 stars). Again, the war can be trusted to fight itself, while the Defiant goes off on a research expedition, and it’s that doughty science fiction standby the-crew-is-shrunk-and-sees-things-from-a-new-perspective. The guinea pigs are Dax, O’Brien and Bashir and they are willing to go through the uncontrollable process based on the fact that a single unmanned probe didn’t come to any harm. But it’s those left behind on the Defiant who hit trouble first when a Jem’Hadar raiding party holds them at gunpoint. There’s a nifty wrinkle here – a new breed of Alpha Quadrant Jem’Hadar who regard the Gamma Quadrant versions as old timers. And I don’t think I’ve said enough about Michael Westmore’s design for the Jem’Hadar which is one of his very best. They make compelling foes and their tactical fencing with Sisko is very entertaining.

On board the teeny tiny runabout, things are more familiar, and not in a good way. It takes ages to get to the “money shot” of teeny human figures running around the Defiant, O’Brien and Bashir cracking gags fails to convince me that their reduction in size is a genuine problem, and phenomenon is treated with the usual lack of plausibility seen in every prior example of this trope going back at least as far as the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man as well as at least one prior Star Trek episodes. The visual effects are pretty nifty though, and this is fairly good fun if you can get past the silliness. Kira certainly seems to think the premise is risible, judging by her near-hysterics in the teaser.

VOY S04E16 Prey (4.5 out of 5 stars). The Hirogen are here to stay it seems as this series becomes even more Lost in Space. For once though we get out on location – and after dark! – instead of yet another visit to those over familiar cave sets. This time they’re hunting the Gigertrons and as usual with this trope they’re super-concerned to make it a fair fight and a “flawless kill” while packing guns as big as a mini-van and going two against one.

Having used their tech without permission and then blown the damn thing up, Janeway still seems to think that she can negotiate her way out of trouble with the Hirogens. I can’t quite make up my mind whether I am pleasantly surprised that the alien adversaries du jour are multifaceted or whether this is just sloppy. Why do the Hirogens who are obsessed with ritualised hunting also need a galaxy-spanning telecoms array?

Anyway, what do you do when you’ve introduced a savagely antagonistic race and want to add a bit of extra depth and nuance? Answer, supply your heroes with one feeble example of the species and have them treated sympathetically. See also Hugh Borg, the Gorn and for that matter Worf, Quark, Garak and so on. But as George Lucas put it, they are clichés because they work and even though I can see the scaffolding, this is compelling stuff and much as I hate to admit it, the Hirogen are starting to come into focus.

Meanwhile we’re going on a bug hunt and, of all enemies it’s the Gigertrons we’re trying to track down. This isn’t particularly original and it isn’t at all subtle but it does have a confident swagger to it which is very beguiling. And the big Seven vs Janeway scene is absolutely gangbusters as the Borg calls the Captain on her hypocrisy.

The Doctor is working on Seven’s social skills. Lesson 17 is bridge banter for beginners. Yikes.

DS9 S06E15 Honor Among Thieves (1.5 out of 5 stars). O’Brien is lurking in a dive bar eavesdropping on a bunch of ne’er-do-wells who are exchanging listless banter. They are part of the Orion Syndicate and O’Brien’s job is to find out who is giving them information about Starfleet Intelligence. It seems to me that going undercover in Starfleet Intelligence would be better a more appropriate plan if the aim is to find the mole in Starfleet Intelligence, but I am not a wooden plank who lurks in the shadows and exchanges flat exposition with affable Irish fix-it men so what do I know?

This parade of gangster movie clichés (the bad guy even has a white cat) never feels like this show, and not in the transcendent way that Far Beyond the Stars didn’t. It just feels like a less good, less interesting show. Colm Meaney is dependable, but this never lets him show any new sides to O’Brien and the supporting cast are interchangeably bland. It does make the Chief’s life easier that these gangster are the kind who give make-overs, appreciate constructive criticism, talk wistfully about doing something else with their lives, and offer up the very information he’s after without even being prompted.

Meanwhile, in the absence of the chief, the station almost falls to bits. His idea of succession planning seems to be giving tips to Nog.

VOY S04E17 Retrospect (1 out of 5 stars). Voyager seems to have found itself in the path of an aggressive arms dealer who mysteriously asserts that in this quadrant Voyager is likely to find itself heavily outgunned – something which flies in the face of pretty much every battle we’ve seen so far, and yet this argument completely convinces Janeway who wants the Big Honking Space Cannon strapped to the ship’s luggage rack as soon as possible. Send for Seven of Nine, who is so annoyed at the arms dealer’s pushy manner that she belts him and breaks his Michael Westmore-designed nose. The fencing between Janeway and Seven continues to fascinate as she remains determined to bring her new recruit to heel without crushing her spirit. But we are getting dangerously close to this-is-the-story-we-tell-with-this-character when she keeps disobeying orders and expressing her irritation with well-timed right hooks.

Her short temper isn’t just due to the fact that the arms dealer is kind of a dick, it’s because his presence causes a suppressed memory to surface of him operating on Seven before the episode started. That’s not a structure which plays fair with the audience. By the time we see flashbacks of Seven and Kovin together on the planet, we know what must have transpired. Director Jesús Salvador Treviño shoots these scenes oddly, with eccentric high angles, as if we’re looking at security footage – very strange for what are supposed to be subjective memories.

That Kovin and his allies removed some of Seven’s implants is also strange. After all, the Doctor is supposed to have removed all that he could, suggesting that any further tampering will kill her. Yet, these dudes seem to be helping themselves to bits and pieces without any ill-effects. I’m also not sure what this episode is saying about suppressed memories. The bridge crew are all “she’s probably making it up” and only the Doctor is saying “Guys, I think one of our team was roofied. That’s not cool.” Nobody was sceptical of her repressed memories a few weeks ago in The Raven, but now suddenly nobody believes a word she says.

Shockingly, and upsettingly, the investigation clears sleazy Kovin of all charges (leaving whatever was causing Seven to wig out unexplained) whereupon he runs from the authorities like the innocent man he’s now supposed to be and he fires on Voyager. Well, it turns out that Voyager’s weapons aren’t as feeble as all that, because pretty soon he’s blown to bits, which is played like an unavoidable tragedy. And, despite her trauma and inexplicable reactions to Kovin’s presence, Seven is left to conclude that she’s a silly hysterical girl whose lady brain makes up stories when she has an ouchy – and that if she trusts her friends with her feelings then she’ll probably end up with blood on her hands. What on earth was the production team thinking with this one? Even the Doctor would rather stop learning and growing after this, and who can blame him.

I did appreciate Robert Picardo acidly musing “It’s a miracle you survived,” as Kovin babbles about the dangers of having a Borg around, but honestly this one is a complete mess and leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth.

Trekaday #086: Concerning Flight, Mortal Coil, The Magnificent Ferengi, Waltz, Waking Moments, Message in a Bottle, Who Mourns for Morn?

Posted on May 15th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S04E11 Concerning Flight (3.5 out of 5 stars). Janeway’s idea of R&R is spending time with a fictional version of a famous inventor, watching him fail, and having to jump into a river to avoid some unspecified disaster. In her position, I think I’d be more likely to take up backgammon. Meanwhile, Voyager is being strafed by piratical aliens who are beaming away bits of their tech. Once again, we’re told that various vital bits of ship have gone AWOL but nothing onboard looks or feels like anything other than the usual gleaming Federation opulence and efficiency.

Janeway, more Kirk than Picard, beams down at the head of the away team and finds holographic Leonardo, which is a neat act-out, but the close-up of the Doctor’s mobile emitter does largely solve the mystery. Once again, this uncertain series pulls off a story which does lean into the premise and whose high concept energy makes a successful contrast to the dour misery over on Deep Space Grime, which is all good news. But there’s almost nothing in the execution which elevates this above ordinary (the hang-gliding climax is a bit special). And the Doctor’s petulant irritation at being stuck in sickbay, unable to participate in shipwide gossip, is poorer than this series is capable of, a thin rendition of what was once a fascinating character. Doubly frustrating when Leonardo’s slow realisation regarding the truth of his identity is so well handled.

Vulcans do not make small talk. Seven needs to learn how to phrase things a bit more diplomatically. Or not.

VOY S04E12 Mortal Coil (4.5 out of 5 stars). Ethan Philips is very effective when underplaying, which does a little to help me swallow this domestic tour of the ship in which he persuades Seven to experiment with flavour, helps Harry Kim cram for a test and puts Voyager’s first born to bed. He all but pulls out a picture of his sweetheart at home and tells his buddy as soon as he flies this one last mission, he’ll be on his way back there. Yup, while trying to wrangle some unobtanium into his favourite coffee jar, he’s whammied by a nebula and the Doctor diagnoses him with a nasty case of having died.

Death on Star Trek, in all its forms, has never been particularly permanent, from Kirk on Vulcan in Amok Time, to Spock himself in the third movie, to Weyoun on Deep Space Nine, to McCoy’s effective cure for death in the JJ-verse. Naturally, as Lower Decks tells us, this only applies to bridge officers. Everything Seven says about what is and is not medically feasible is complete nonsense. Brains (even Talaxian ones) need a regular supply of oxygenated blood or the patterns that make you you can’t be maintained. You can no more bring a brain-dead person back than you can unburn a document if you make sure you keep all the ashes.

But while I’m musing on whether there will be some space reason why this can’t work next time (or being a Voyager redshirt has suddenly got a whole lot safer), Neelix is musing on the Great Forest which he expected would greet him when he passed and he can’t understand why he didn’t see it. Bryan Fuller’s script, although based on the usual handwavy technobobbins, is actually about attitudes to mortality, and if you can overlook the scientific illiteracy on display (and the franchise has given me plenty of practice) it’s actually rather deep and rather moving, putting the emphasis on the characters in the way I’ve been begging for for countless episodes. I’m tempted to give this one a five, but the gibberish science holds me back. It’s absolutely gripping though, and the use of Ensign Wildman is welcome touch of continuity.

Seven of Nine’s smalltalk is worse than Data’s and even worse than Tuvok’s. Why do I suspect that the writers had trouble making friends at parties?

DS9 S06E10 The Magnificent Ferengi (2 out of 5 stars). Quark is holding court and telling tall tales about fake floods and supplies of syrup when Bashir and O’Brien turn up having performed some actual (off-screen) derring-do. Apparently earning profit is not considered heroic outside of Ferenginar, and thus Quark and Rom are off on a Nagus-sponsored rescue mission, with Moogie as the damsel in distress. But first, they need to assemble a team, and it needs to be all-Ferengi, which means return appearances for Josh Pais and Jeffrey Combs (as Brunt rather than Weyoun) as well as Cecily Adams as Moogie. But it’s all fairly silly stuff, which fails to comment in any interesting ways on the works of either John Sturges or Akira Kurosawa – in fact it ends up more Weekend at Bernie’s than Seven Samurai – and it doesn’t add much to the Ferengi corpus either. The one big laugh this elicited from me was the look on Sisko’s face as Quark and Rom pop up through a hatch in the wall of his office, but the rest is all pretty grim. Bizarrely, Iggy Pop turns up as the Vorta negotiating the prisoner exchange.

DS9 S06E11 Waltz (4.5 out of 5 stars). Sisko comes to see Gul Dukat in prison. Everything on this show has consequences which reverberate through the characters long after the events. It looked like Dukat’s arc was concluded as he experienced what he describes as his “momentary instability” while cradling his dead daughter, but here we are following up, and the teaser devotes almost five full minutes to a simple dialogue scene between Marc Alaimo and Avery Brooks, both of whom are tremendous. But this is still a science fiction adventure series, so the prison ship they’re on is duly attacked and destroyed and Kira sends out a search party.

This isn’t the first time that this series has paired two traditional enemies and forced them to work together to survive (it isn’t even the first time that this series has done it with Dukat) but it’s a good ploy and this is a particular fascinating pairing, richly marinated in over 100 prior episodes’ worth of history, and so it works very well, even after an apparition of Weyoun satirises the very idea of this story concept. Pretend Weyoun is joined by Phantom Damar and Hallucinatory Kira as the time-constrained search continues.

These imaginary friends distract Dukat long enough for Sisko to get the distress beacon working (which Dukat had secretly disabled). On Voyager, we might have been left to believe in the reality of Dukat’s companions a little longer. That might have made for a neat plot twist, but playing it honestly means we can clearly dissect the psychological state of this dictator-brought-low. And in any case, we have another bait-and-switch later when O’Brien and Dax pull off a Silence of the Lambs style piece of misdirection, making us think it’s Dukat and Sisko they’ve locked on to, when it’s just two other random survivors.

And if anything, what happens on board the Defiant is almost more interesting than what happens on the barren planet. Worf insists on calling off the search, and has to order Bashir off the bridge when the Doctor suggests that Kira’s message was too garbled to understand. It’s a delicious moment of tension and uncertainty (and Worf still disobeys the order).

VOY S04E13 Waking Moments (3.5 out of 5 stars). On board Voyager, nobody is sleeping. Alas, the dreams are a fairly clichéd and shop-worn collection from Paris‘s shuttle disaster, to Tuvok’s nude appearance on the bridge, to – worst of all – Harry Kim’s elicit in counter with Seven in the Jeffries tube. I’m amazed they didn’t have anyone turning up for an exam who hadn’t studed for it. only Janeway’s spooky vision of emaciated crew has any power to it. Weirdly all four of them shriek in horror when they see one of Michael Westmore‘s creations leering at them, like they’ve never seen an alien before.

To give them credit, the senior staff does figure out what’s going on pretty quickly. And Chakotay leads them on a round of lucid dreaming while Kim and some red shirts lie comatose in sickbay. It seems at first, as if his negotiations in dreamland have done the trick, but I have seen stories involving dreams before, and it was fairly obvious to me almost immediately that his “waking up“ was nothing of the kind. And the dream scenarios are relentlessly mundane (Chakotay’s are the usual admix of First Nations tropes) which seems like a missed opportunity.

Talaxians seemingly have similar superstitions regarding full moons as we do.

VOY S04E14 Message in a Bottle (4 out of 5 stars). Torres is spitting feathers about Seven’s decorum. For some reason that fact that she fulminates about doors being locked made me think of Seven as an unruly teenager. Maquis terrorist leader Chakotay is calm and sensible as always, which isn’t great drama. But Seven’s not entirely useless after all – her snazzy new astrometrics lab has detected a Starfleet vessel, which they may be able to make contact with.

This immediately recalls Eye of the Needle from Season 1 where the crew thought they’d made contact with a Romulan ship but it turned out to be years in the past. I find I’m well-disposed to stories which make use of the premise – it’s nice to see a story on Voyager which could only have been told on Voyager – but when it looks like they’re going to get home, or even get a message home, the question tends to be not: what will happen; but instead: what will go wrong? Because doing either of those things successfully kills the format. That means that unless they’re very well handled, these episodes often feel self-limiting. You can see the wires.

Nonsensically in this case, a simple voice message can’t get through, but a vastly complicated AI hologram can be transmitted successfully. And again, the Doctor’s program can’t be, or isn’t being, backed-up, which is nuts. But, given this rather desperate hand-waving, what can be done with the Doctor in the Alpha Quadrant? Well, quite a bit. Warlike Romulans have killed the entire crew and taken the ship. Worse, it’s under attack from a Starfleet ship, but its nifty new “multi-phasic attack system” (it can split in two and both halves can shoot phasers) mean that it easily prevails.

The only Starfleet crew member left is the mark II EMH (in the new togs) and the interplay between the two holograms is absolutely fascinating. While his character development stalled sometime during Season 2, Robert Picardo has always been watchable (maybe except in Darkling) and here he shows he’s more than capable of carrying a whole show. And while Andy Dick doesn’t quite have Picardo’s class, he manages to hold his own (if you enjoy this episode and haven’t heard of Andy Dick, maybe don’t Google him). A subplot with Tom Paris treating victims of Neelix’s cooking and Harry Kim trying to make a new EMH is irritating and goes nowhere. But the final moments do manage to push the series plot on, if only a little, and Janeway’s last line is perfect.

Apparently the Doctor made himself a penis, continuing nineties Trek’s adolescent attitude to all things sexual.

DS9 S06E12 Who Mourns for Morn? (2 out of 5 stars). As I understand it, Morn was a spare costume that was knocking around which helped fill out Quark’s bar and help it feel a bit busier. Because the costume wasn’t articulated and because the performer inside was paid as a supporting artist, not as an actor, the thing couldn’t talk, which gave rise to a very funny running gag about how he never shuts up. Now his death is the source of (some) genuine pathos. So far, so Deep Space Nine.

But, by and large this is a comedy Quark episode and those are a bit hit-and-miss as far as I’m concerned. For every hilarious Little Green Men, there’s a tiresome Ferengi Love Songs waiting. Here, despite having a perfectly serviceable wife, Morn’s will bequeaths everything to Quark instead. This is more towards the tiresome end, with Quark trying to track down Morn’s riches, and various knobbly gangsters shaking him down. Nothing we haven’t seen before, although while René Auberjonois is largely wasted, Armin Shimerman never lets his energy flag.

For those who care, we finally nail down what “gold pressed latinum” is in this episode. Quark’s bargain basement hologram is insubstantial, compared to most holograms in this franchise which can be touched as well as seen. That’s Morn actor Mark Allen Shepherd whom Quark invites to sit in Morn’s chair.

Trekaday 085: Year of Hell, You are Cordially Invited, Resurrection, Random Thoughts, Statistical Probabilities

Posted on May 8th, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S04E08 Year of Hell (4.5 out of 5 stars). As I’ve noted, Voyager does like to play with narrative conventions, although as I’ve also noted, for my money it needs to do this an awful lot more and start giving us the kind of bonkers storytelling delivered by Farscape over on the Sci-Fi Channel, or knock it off and start digging into the characters a bit more. However, this episode certainly isn’t business as usual, opening with a shot of what looks like 24th century Earth and the cryptic caption “Day 1”.

Clarence Boddicker manages to erase Earth from history but their scans show he didn’t quite succeed in resetting the timeline to his liking. I guess it’s like trying a get a fitted sheet onto a mattress – as soon as you get one corner in place, the opposite corner pings off. Voyager meanwhile is showing off two amazing new innovations: Harry Kim and Seven of Nine’s new GPS navigation system, and Janeway’s new haircut – which is an enormous improvement.

Janeway faces down the teeny ship firing at them with insouciant smugness which pretty soon returns to bite them where it hurts. The friendly Zahl ship which was accompanying Voyager winks away in a blast of timeywimey pixels, and now the Krenim weapons which were previously ricocheting harmlessly off the shields are ripping through them like tissue paper. Fighting off these attacks continues for the next 32 days. Decks are being evacuated. Photon torpedos are running out.

There’s no particular reason why a story like this needed the timeywimey Krenim to make it happen. Indeed, if Voyager were being made for Paramount+ today, it would no doubt involve the ship being gradually smashed up and patched, in the way that the survivors lose and gain over the course of multiple episodes in shows like Lost or Yellowjackets. The reason for the Krenim backstory is fundamentally to create a reset button so that we can go back to adventure of the week stories next time.

But as an examination of this crew with their backs genuinely against the wall, this episode works better than anything we’ve had so far. Oddly, for an episode explicitly designed for the presence of a reset button, things really feel like they matter this week, not because the plot is particularly apocalyptic, I’ve learned not to take that seriously, but because the regulars are genuinely put through the mill. Tuvok is blinded (which is humiliating). Janeway has a birthday (which is irrelevant). Seven has a roommate (who is messy). The Doctor has to seal a bulkhead (which is fatal).

About the only thing I don’t like about this episode is that Kurtwood Smith’s character is called “Annorax”. They put it right there on the screen, they’re so pleased with it. Presumably it doesn’t have the same connotations in American English, but for pity’s sake, did no-one notice? I still can’t give this one a five though, because I can see the wires far too clearly. What is done by messing with the timeline can be undone by messing with the timeline just as easily. We might as well be blowing up a duplicate Voyager in the Mirror Universe. Janeway asserts that she’s made it her mission to avoid ever travelling in time. By my count this is the seventh Voyager time travel story and it won’t be the last.

The Krenim spent “months” working on these calculations. How long is a Krenimish month? Also, recall that this whole story exists only because of a throwaway line in Before and After last year.

DS9 S06E07 You are Cordially Invited (2.5 out of 5 stars). I don’t recall a Star Trek wedding since Kirk married a doomed crewmember back in Season 1 of TOS. Sisko’s opening narration awkwardly tries to square the circle of everything’s-okay-again-now and but-let’s-not-forget-that-we’re-still-at-war. Marc Worden returns as Alexander, present for his dad’s hasty wedding to Jadzia. “It’s sort of like a best man,” says the Trill, translating Klingon customs into human concepts for the benefit of a Klingon. She gets her comeuppance soon enough when Martok’s wife Sirella spots her using replicated candles and threatens to block Dax’s entry to the House of Martok. Ron Moore as usual can’t think of anything more enthralling than making up absurd Klingon rituals, and I can’t think of anything more tedious. Dax vs Sirella is a little more interesting, but not much. So, while it’s nice to have the gang back together, this is inessential to say the least. Odo and Kira’s thread is the most interesting and their “big talk” happens off-screen. Hungover Dax is funny though and Terry Farrell is always watchable. Quark gets a few good laugh-lines too.

VOY S04E09 Year of Hell, Part II (4 out of 5 stars). We last saw the Voyager extended family abandoning ship, leaving behind only a skeleton crew of names-in-the-titles. You’ll be hard-pressed to spot the difference. Janeway hides her ship in a nebula, but the “ventilation system” allows gas to leak in. Seems like more of a design flaw than a malfunction to me. Fixing it burns Janeway’s lungs, and together with the moody lighting and general atmosphere of chaos and decay means this instalment lives up to its title before we get to the theme tune.

We even get some conflict in the crew. Seven and Tuvok privately agree that Janeway’s impatience with their hidey-hole is a weakness and that getting back out into open space is premature, which Tuvok doesn’t think she should have pointed out in public. The Doctor tries to relieve the Captain of her command and she essentially responds “You and whose phaser?”

Red Forman has Chakotay and Paris on his station (he’s been looking for Voyager “for the last two months”) and tempting them with a temporal do-over. Chakotay thinks he can erase a single comet and fix everything, but he’s apparently not familiar with the Butterfly Effect. The scenes of genial problem solving between them on the Babylon 5-looking ship make a poor contrast with the desperate need for survival elsewhere. The Time Meddler’s personal tragedy is so removed from anything relatable to a contemporary audience that it’s impossible for me to engage and Chakotay’s sympathies for him feel entirely synthetic.

There’s a glimpse here of a much better, darker, grimmer more interesting show. But the series about people coming-and-going on a shopping mall in space has cornered the market in dark and grim, and that means that the story about the isolated ship stranded on the other side of the galaxy with no hope of rescue has to be the standard-bearer for Star Trek’s traditional good humour and sunny optimism. The third spin-off has been falling between those two stools for countless episodes now. Here at least it manages to strike one of them a glancing blow as it tumbles inevitably to the floor.

DS9 S06E08 Resurrection (2 out of 5 stars). Kira and Odo having resolved their five years of deeply complicated emotional entanglements off-screen last episode (seriously, what the fuck?), Kira is considering (and rejecting) various different options for a date to bring over to Worf and Dax’s. This cheerful domesticity is interrupted when some guy beams onto the station and everyone freaks out. Despite watching these episodes at the rate of one a day, I had to pause and Google him. It’s the Mirror Universe version of Kira’s earlier squeeze Vedek Bareil, who fell victim to Julian Bashir’s tender ministrations in Life Support, back in Season 3.

It’s only after he’s been disarmed and locked up that anyone speaks his name. He’s stunned to discover that his counter-part is a) dead and b) used to be a religious leader. Cue a lot of mumbling in robes and processing through dimly-lit caves. His presence does solve Kira’s social dilemma however, and everyone seems super-impressed when he’s a dick to Worf, especially Kira who jumps into bed with him, a development that urgently requires Odo’s presence if we’re going to make sense of it, but he’s nowhere to be seen. Later the Intendent turns up, and so this nonsensical development turns out not to be real in any case, merely a ruse to cover the theft of a Bajoran Flashback Box. Even Nana Visitor can’t seem to bring much to Goatee Kira this time round. Maybe that’s why Mirror Bareil switches sides at the end, obediently phasering his actual girlfriend and resolving the plot.

VOY S04E10 Random Thoughts (3.5 out of 5 stars). Once more, Voyager is in no great hurry to get home, and so the crew is spending three days shopping and sharking on a friendly planet. You can tell it’s friendly, because Michael Westmore has barely stuck anything on anyone’s forehead. This is a telepathic planet, and Tuvok suddenly seems able to chat silently with the Chief Examiner in the way that Troi and Lwaxana sometimes did, and that Vulcans have never been seen to do before – Vulcan mind melds look very different and have very different results. Somebody bumps Torres and her momentary anger contaminates their perfect society, causes another inhabitant to fly into a violent rage. The smug Chief Examiner explains that they don’t barbarically lock people up who transgress their laws, instead they provide friendly lobotomies.

There’s some diverting stuff going on here, but we’re back to ignoring the premise of the show and just stopping off at interesting-looking planets long enough to get into trouble. And like other episodes before it, the concept which is put under the magnifying glass here doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. Quite apart from the fact that a justice system based on thoughts and not deeds is morally bankrupt, the Mari don’t behave as if violent thoughts never ever enter their heads. Indeed, the Grand Inquisitor is so tetchy with Tuvok when he smoothly observes the flaws in her reasoning, that I assumed her wanting to belt him was going to be a major plot point. And if the mere presence of visitors with passing annoyances had the power to corrupt and enrage an entire society, then this society surely should have learned never ever to let outsiders trade with them? And don’t their infants ever have violent thoughts before they’ve learned the necessary self-control? Purging Torres and then returning her to Voyager seems redundant too. Who cares what violent thoughts she has once she’s light years away?

But if we take this allegory rather than as science fiction, it becomes a bit more interesting, as the black market trade in dark imagery is a commentary on pornography, censorship and the damage that can be done when governments attempt to impose their own ideals on the people – see also prohibition, the war on drugs and so forth. It’s a good episode for Tuvok and Tim Russ is excellent, and Seven’s take down of Voyager’s MO is pretty epic too. But, ultimately, what begins as our-crew-turns-paradise-into-a-nightmare, which might have been fascinating, ends up as the much more familiar patrician-Federation-fixes-a-broken-society-in-a-few-hours-bye-now. Casually fridging Neelix’s would-be girlfriend is pretty disgusting, and we never see Neelix again after her slaughter. That’s one half of the Duras sisters, Gwynyth Walsh, as the Witchsmeller Pursuivant.

DS9 S06E09 Statistical Probabilities (3.5 out of 5 stars). Bashir’s backstory regarding his genetic superiority, which seemed to energise the actor, without transforming the way he was written or played, is now made into a story in its own right, as we get the chance to examine how the Federation manages citizens with behavioural problems. Riffing on stories like Rain Man, The Dream Team or 12 Monkeys which had proven popular in the previous decade or so, this pits Dr Julian against and eventually alongside Tim Ransom as Jack, who seemingly draws on Hoffman, Keaton and Brad Pitt to create this manic character.

Alexander Siddig began his DS9 journey working a shade too hard with scripts that did little more than portray him as a sex pest. While other characters like Odo, Kira and Dax flourished, Bashir languished and although Siddig relaxed, his character never really got the depth that even secondary characters like Nog and Dukat were getting. But watching him discuss the collection of unhappy people he’d just met, and stepping through the minefield of his similarity to them and yet utter difference from them, I was struck by the delicacy and clarity of his performance. He really is a very fine actor, and the franchise was lucky to have him.

Meanwhile, the Cardassians have remembered that they declared war on the Federation and Damar starts making speeches live on YouTube about seeking peace talks. The patients see through the deception – this is the old story of the idiot savant – and Bashir sees giving them access to holotapes of the conference as a therapeutic tool. And maybe it will give the Federation an edge in the negotiations.

Taking a page from Asimov’s Foundation series, Bashir reckons that his team of mad geniuses can tell the future – confoundingly, their predictions getting more accurate the further into the future their analysis goes. And while we’re paying tribute to the science fiction giants of the 20th century, Bashir puts on a celebratory rendition of “The Blue Danube” when their report is accepted by Sisko. But their celebrations turn sour when their predictions show that the only sensible course of action for the Federation is to surrender to the Dominion now and save countless lives.

This is all good, serviceable Trolley Problem stuff, with a dash of Racism is Bad thrown in, but undermined slightly by the overplaying of the Four Who See All, who too often come off as Batman villains rather than troubled souls seeking peace. And it’s not the most enlightened depiction of mental health issues you’re likely to see either.

Trekaday 084: The Raven, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines, Favor the Bold, Scientific Method, Sacrifice of Angels

Posted on May 2nd, 2023 in Culture | No Comments »

VOY S04E06 The Raven (4 out of 5 stars). It seems we’re stuck with Leonardo’s workshop, which is I suppose more interesting than the awful pool hall or the tiresome luau. Janeway is using it to teach Seven about relaxation, art and modelling in clay. Seven finds the process unproductive. All it’s doing is giving her flashbacks to what looks like a deleted scene from Blade Runner. The Doctor prescribes lunch and so she makes it to Neelix’s mess hall, but his offering only makes her revert to Borg type and go on the rampage. She’s also impervious to phaser stun blasts (at least I assume they were stun blasts).

Six episodes in and Seven solidifies her status as the show’s new MVP. Simultaneously friend and foe, she challenges Janeway’s compassionate decision-making at every turn and like Spock, Data (who also discovered facts about himself through visions) and Odo before her, she presents a unique outsider perspective from which we can see ourselves in sharp relief. While we get to see plenty of Seven’s ass-kicking, including neck-pinching Tuvok which is good for some lols, this is really about her backstory, and it’s a tragic one (if a bit convoluted, as it needs to be to establish how a human was assimilated years before Federation contact with the Borg, and then ended up on the other side of the galaxy). Jeri Ryan continues to do wonderful work and this is a good episode for Tuvok too.

While this strand feels almost like a brand-new show, the B-plot feels like the worst of Season 2, rehashed and reheated. Janeway is negotiating with about the silliest humanoid aliens I’ve ever seen. They want Voyager to go through their space the long way round and at a snail’s pace with frequent checkpoints to make sure they aren’t doing anything nefarious, and they aren’t happy to hear that there’s a Borg onboard, and even less happy when she steals a shuttle and goes AWOL. Luckily they aren’t onscreen too much. That shot of Voyager cruising into position over the puny Zagbar ships is pretty epic.

The sudden introduction of Jeri Ryan into the cast upset some of the other regulars, and this was compounded when she began a relationship with de facto showrunner Brannon Braga. Even taking professional jealousy out of the equation, the only problem with Seven is that she duplicates the traits of so many of the existing line-up and threatens to do it better than they do. She’s a more bodacious babe in charge than Janeway, her quest to recover her humanity is more interesting than the Doctor’s attempts to discover his, her cold logic is fresher than Tuvok’s, her outsider perspective is more keenly felt than Torres’s, she’s a more knowledgeable guide than Neelix, and she’s a more able second in command than Chakotay. Only the bland brothers, Paris and Kim, don’t need to worry, but then she’ll show them up just by, you know, having a personality rather than being just some dudes that things happen to sometimes.

DS9 S06E03 Sons and Daughters (3 out of 5 stars). Our characters have made it to a Starbase with some help from General Martok and are being debriefed by Starfleet top brass. Worf joins Martok’s ship and he discovers that his own son is among the troops. Brian Bonsall having retired from acting, the part is now taken by Marc Worden, the fourth actor after Jon Paul Stuer who played him in his original TNG appearance (Reunion) and James Sloyan who was the adult Alexander in the very odd Firstborn. Heavy makeup does make it easier to hide this kind of recasting (see also Ziyal, Moogie, that Ferengi who fell through a wormhole and so on) but it saps the hoped-for sense of history between these two. Speaking of Ziyal, she’s struggling to find her place too, given that she’s living among Bajorans when her father his waging a war against their most exulted living religious leader. She paints some pictures and then gets to wear the dress that her dad bought for Kira, who’s somewhat gone off the sadistic Cardassian dictator and butcher, much to his surprise.

Viewed as part of a daily binge-watch, it’s nice to catch up with familiar characters and look at how the unfolding war is affecting each of them. But watched week-to-week, I can’t help but think that it might have been a bit frustrating to have so little movement in the main season plot with seven days to wait for this episode and another seven to wait before the next one. Plus much of this is that bafflegab about Klingons, their honour codes, and their houses, which is apparently terribly meaningful and moving to some people, but which leaves me completely cold. Still, Seven of Nine has just joined Voyager, so that show has suddenly become much more watchable.

War is much more fun when you’re winning, according to Martok

DS9 S06E04 Behind the Lines (4 out of 5 stars). Our people are stationed on a Starbase, running sorties with the Defiant, and making some inroads, but always finding the enemy one step ahead. Now Sisko’s team is charged with taking out their intelligence-gathering array. And that’s not the only thing worrying the Dominion. Without a supply of White, they can’t keep the Jem’Hadar in line. And on the station, Kira has made sure that they get wind of the Cardassian play to bump off them before they go berserk and turn on their masters. The fun here is less in Kira’s slightly clunky narration of events in the teaser, it’s in Act One, with Weyoun encouraging Dukat to keep smiling as they figure out what to do next. Dukat isn’t a talented smiler.

Sisko figures out how to nobble the array but Admiral Ross mysteriously kicks him upstairs, as obviously the best use of his most able tactician during a brutal war is behind a desk and not on the bridge. Of more interest is the fencing between the Founders, the Cardassians and Odo – strung between worlds, neither collaborator nor rebel, neither Changeling nor solid, neither leader nor lackey. Salome Jens’s quiet authority continues to play very strongly. In fact, that’s the tone of this whole episode. Talky, low-key and quietly effective – even Dax’s mission against the array takes place off-screen – I can’t imagine this episode being anybody’s favourite, as it’s largely concerned with setting the table for future storylines and tying off a few loose ends, but it’s discreetly compulsive viewing nevertheless because the character work is so good and the acting is so strong (Nana Visitor and René Auberjonois are amazing here).

We get our first Admiral’s uniform with grey quilted shoulders on Barry Jenner. It actually looks as if he’s part of the same fleet as Sisko, which might be a first for this franchise, even if his silly gold belt buckle looks like a leftover from The Motion Picture.

DS9 S06E05 Favor the Bold (4 out of 5 stars). The Defiant is seemingly dead in space, but it’s a ruse to lure Dominion ships to them (and the Rotarran). Dax and Worf’s love language is tactics and battle plans. But it’s clear that the Federation is on the back foot and that morale is slipping. Sisko’s new plan is to retake Deep Space Nine. I can’t decide whether I’m impressed we made it this long before bringing this up or whether four episodes out of a seven-year run is pretty footling. But this is still Deep Space Nine, where it’s always about the journey at least as much as the destination. So, this is an episode about plans being put in place, tensions simmering, and positions being entrenched. The biggest development isn’t the two colossal attack fleets facing each other, it’s the blow-up between Odo and Kira, which once again is an incredible display of writing and acting.

Thankfully, we’re spared The Female Changeling (hereafter TFC) asking Odo “What is this thing that the solids call love?” and join them when he’s got through showing her. Garak prefers asking the questions and asks Bashir if he has a tinfoil hat handy. Weyoun has weak eyes but good ears.

VOY S04E07 Scientific Method (2.5 out of 5 stars). Torres discovers Seven screwing around with the power conduits without permission and the Klingon ends up giving the Borg the same lecture Janeway gave her when she joined the crew. It’s a nifty scene. When Paris (laboriously) sneaks off to meet her for a quick snog, we briefly see them through someone else’s eyes. Together with Janeway’s muscular-skeletal complaints, this all feels very low-key and soapy. I don’t really understand why these two are sneaking around during working hours like horny teens. Why can’t they either see each other after work and/or come clean and tell the senior officers what’s going on with them? These hang-ups don’t feel very 24th century to me. Even the captain sees them as adolescent screw-ups.

If the gag of having aliens sneaking around and doing covert experiments on the crew sounds familiar, it’s because we saw it last season in Distant Origin (and before then in Schisms over on TNG). It was more fun in Distant Origin because that played the early portions entirely from the Silurian’s point of view. Here, we experience the effects of the experiments along with the crew, which makes for better empathy with our regular cast, but the hints about what is really going on are so blatant that there’s essentially no mystery, so we spend the first half of the episode waiting for Starfleet’s finest to catch-up.

If the sight of a prematurely aged Chakotay seems familiar, it’s because this trope goes all the way back to The Original Series and the episode The Deadly Years, and that’s only within Star Trek. And Michael Westmore’s makeup is particularly eccentric today, with Voyager’s ailing first officer made to look like a cross between emaciated Dave Bowman in 2001 and a Jem’Hadar. Robert Beltran doesn’t bother doing any old-age acting, because, well, he generally doesn’t bother doing any acting on this show. He recovers completely off-screen, natch.

Like Data before her, Seven finds that she’s the only lifeform on board not affected by the experiments. It’s odd then that after that cute scene at the beginning, she doesn’t appear until after the Doctor is nobbled. Unlike entirely artificial Data, the difference between human-raised-by-the-Borg-with-a-few-implants-still-left and regular humans, Vulcans, Talaxians and so on seems pretty trivial. And it reduces Voyager’s most interesting crewmember to a single line biography which is disappointing.

This is Voyager at its most Voyager-y. There’s an attempt to tell this story in a more interesting way, a catastrophic plague starts sweeping through the ship, but nobody suffers any long term ill-effects, the character beats are simplistic and teenaged, and the climax comes down to: who can say their technobabble loudest. This is a more confident show than it used to be, and the cast are more at home, but have we come a long way from, say, Phage? Not really. Only Janeway’s barnstorming showdown with Unnamed Creepy Alien #1 elevates this in any way.

This is slackly plotted too. We spend twenty minutes with Seven and the Doctor sneaking around, desperate to avoid revealing that they know the aliens are there. Then Seven miraculously knows just how to reveal them, and no bad things happen when she does. Kind of seems like she should have done that earlier. Plus, you can either have alien devices which are not corporeal and can’t be touched, felt or otherwise interacted with – or you can have alien devices which interact with biological systems and rewrite DNA but I’m struggling to understand how the same device can be both at once.

Tuvok asking cranky Janeway if he should flog the senior staff is a solid laugh. The ridiculous sight of Kate Mulgrew with knitting needles in her head is the sort of thing that non-fans imagine Star Trek is always like. Cranky Janeway is kind of amazing though. With Seven under-utilised, it’s nice to see Mulgrew can still hold the centre of the frame and show us something new.

DS9 S06E06 Sacrifice of Angels (5 out of 5 stars). This isn’t identified on-screen as “Part II” but it does begin with “Last time on Deep Space Nine”. Is it part two? Or part six of the arc which began with A Time to Stand? Or part 130 of the story begun in The Emissary? Bashir and O’Brien trade off gloomy stanzas as they approach the enemy fleet, and then we get all the CGI that Dan Curry can muster as we go into the opening titles.

Let’s talk about Rom and Nog. Armin Shimerman has been doing wonderful work week after week, but since the show started, his brother and nephew have been little more than comedy sidekicks for him or Jake to bounce off. With Rom’s devotion to the Federation/Bajoran cause and Nog’s earnest enthusiasm for Starfleet, each has grown considerably over the course of recent episodes. Wisely, the actors haven’t drastically altered their approach to reflect this very different characterisation on the page – rather, they’ve subtly modulated, giving the careful impression that all of this potential was there all along. It’s a wonderful lesson in how to handle secondary characters in a long-running series (see also Kai Winn, Gul Dukat, Garak and so on, but everyone goes on about them).

Sisko’s strategy seems sound, but on the station it looks like Dukat is one step ahead. And while Kira and friends are laying new plans to prevent the Cardassians from removing the minefield and allowing reinforcements to come pouring through – they are all held for questioning. It’s always exciting when the badguys are smart. It’s too easy to resolve plot problems by just having the badguys do something dumb (just as it’s too easy to create plot problems by just having the goodguys do something dumb). This feels like a real clash of intellectual titans. And the continuing shifting status patterns between Cardassians, Vorta, Founders and Jem’Hadar continue to fascinate.

With a bit of help from Worf, the Defiant punches through the enemy lines and meanwhile it’s Quark and Ziyal of all people who team up to break Kira, Rom, Jake and Leeta out of jail. When the Ferengi bartender has to slay two Jem’Hadar, he stares at the corpses, unable to process what he’s just been forced to do. It’s a tiny moment, which doesn’t slow down the action, but it’s a wonderful detail, giving us a glimpse of a powerful internal conflict brewing in – again – another character conceived simply as comic relief. But amazingly, all of their efforts are in vain as the minefield is successfully detonated, leaving only the Defiant between the Dominion fleet and Deep Space Nine. But the Defiant has Bajoran gods on its side. Gods out of a machine? Not really, this was set up 160 episodes ago.

The final scenes between Dukat, Damar and Ziyal approach grand opera for their tragic power. Not bad for a syndicated adventure series about people with rubber faces and silly clothes.

Dukat can’t understand why there are no statues of him on Bajor, after everything he did for them.