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