DS9 S06E23 Profit and Lace (1 out of 5 stars). The title is a giveaway. This is going to be a comedy Quark episode, probably involving Brunt, Moogie and – if his schedule permits – Wallace Shawn. There are worse ways to spend an hour, but this is also an ocean which I think might have been overfished. We start with a libidinous Quark sleazing over his waitstaff, in another scene which feels like it’s dated very badly. And you ain’t seen nothing yet in that regard…

Luckily Vizzini’s diary could accommodate this filming, so we do get the Grand Nagus in this episode, as a surprising women’s libber allowing women on Ferenginar to wear clothes. This has led to a financial meltdown and now it’s up to Quark and chums to retake the planet. I can’t tell you how little invested I am in this storyline, and when Quark is forced to dress up as a female to take his mother’s place, it’s all I can do to keep watching. Even Henry Gibson can’t save this one. Poor Alexander Siddig had to direct in what I can only assume was the result of a very foolish wager on his behalf.

VOY S04E25 One (5 out of 5 stars). The Doctor tries to teach Seven how to make small talk – a perennial obsession among this crop of twenty-something mainly men who presumably are still trying to figure out how to talk to girls at parties. Having her bark questions at holograms of Kim and Torres and then not wait for the answer makes her seem far dumber than is necessary. Of more interest is the Giant Spooky Nebula which makes the bridge crew start keeling over and groaning in pain as soon as the ship ventures inside. Not just pain – horrible burns. “He’s dead,” announces Seven turning one poor sap over. “I could bring him back to life, as you know, but screw that guy.”

This is a knotty science fiction problem to be sure, but the Doctor’s solution creates far more problems than it solves: he wants to put everyone into stasis until they get through, with himself and Seven steering the ship. But, half a mo, if the ship can be steered by one hologram and one ex-Borg, then what do they need with all these other people? And if they had 150 stasis booths sitting idle, then why wasn’t this an option from day one? Sixty years of intergalactic travel will be far easier to stand if you’re in suspended animation. But again, why does a ship like Voyager have all of these stasis booths? And why have they never been used before now?

This calls to mind any number of other science fiction stories, including Ripley’s missing years in Aliens, or the misbegotten but not uninteresting Passengers. I’m fascinated to see whether the story will be: Janeway is brought round and uh-oh, look at what went down while you were snoozing; or the Doctor and Seven fly the ship on their own for a month and learn a thing or two. I’m hoping for the former, and I know this show like the big swings, but I’m kind of expecting the latter.

And lo, we get Seven’s daily routine, where she seems perfectly comfortable in her isolation, but discovers Paris keeled over in the turbolift – having suffered no ill effects. Wait, what? Isn’t the whole point of this procedure that nobody can be conscious without suffering from horrible burns? Rather than investigating this mystery, the Doctor suggests that Seven joins him on the Holodeck to continue her work on social skills – and when she declines, he makes it an order. But it doesn’t help her mental state in any way at all…

This is a mite frustrating. When it’s good, it’s very good – the middle third is brilliantly tense and exciting, the last third is a wonderful interrogation of Seven’s character, and we get the ship beaten up, which I always appreciate. But it’s hard to ignore the absurd contortions which the script goes through to get us to this point, which is why it’s hard for me to give it the full five stars. But the final moral dilemma is such a fantastic showcase of drama, plotting, acting, directing (writer Kenneth Biller at the helm) and character development, I’m going to overlook all of the bumpy plotting at the beginning, and am pleased to finally award five stars to Star Trek: Voyager.

Jeri Ryan is an amazing asset to this show. Much of this is thin and unconvincing on the page, but she’s such a talented performer, wrapping this part as tightly around her persona as her silly costume is wrapped around her frame, and Robert Picardo is always watchable, even if the Doctor isn’t as interesting as he was when he was still learning how to be a person. Again, his program can’t be, or isn’t being, backed up.

DS9 S06E24 Time’s Orphan (3 out of 5 stars). Hey, everyone. Keiko exists – and so does Molly who’s looking forward to going on a space picnic. The title of this one, plus the opening shots, kind of gives the premise away: some subset of Miles, Keiko, Molly and Kirayoshi will fall into a time hole and a moral dilemma will ensue. This kind of thing can work: see Children of Time for a wonderful example, but especially against the background of the Dominion War, it feels off-the-peg. And the script wastes no time in dropping Molly (natch) into a puddle of nineties computer graphics goo even before the opening titles.

Sending a strong signal that this is going to be the-gang-works-to-solve-a-science-problem story rather than O’Brien-must-suffer, the parents of the missing child are all business, with only the Chief’s frustrated cry of “bollocks” betraying any emotion at all. Even Keiko takes hours to show any worry or concern. When the, now teenage and feral, Molly is plucked back out of the temporal ooze, it is a strong moment, but despite what everyone says as they tend to her medical needs, I can’t help feeling that a reset button is in Girl Tarzan’s future.

It’s greatly to the credit of this show that we take our time rehabilitating her (when we aren’t cutting away to Worf playing Mr Mom with Yoshi) but the price we pay for that is that, again, Molly’s parents seem perfectly content with losing their child as long as they can imagine that she might be happy where she is. No wonder that the episode quickly finds a way to have its tragic sacrifice and eat its status quo too.

VOY S04E26 Hope and Fear (4.5 out of 5 stars). Intriguing but implausible – Seven’s assessment of her defeat at the hands of Janeway at some poorly-defined Holodeck sport. I continue to find these two characters, and Seven in particular, absolutely fascinating. Just imagine what this show might have been like with Seven on board from the beginning – maybe with the Borg as the reason for their being stranded in the Delta Quadrant instead of the boring Caretaker and his tedious array.

When the episode proper starts, Janeway is still burning the midnight gel packs to try and decode the communication from Starfleet which they received in Message in a Bottle. And in a third strand, unusual for a show which usually favours strong high concept episode premises, Neelix has made a linguistically-blessed friend and brought him on board the ship, and – aha! – maybe he can crack the code (when he isn’t slavering over Seven of Nine). Underneath all that latex is Ray Wise from off of Twin Peaks and RoboCop.

The message guides them to a Starfleet vessel, suggesting a way home. I love the design of the bridge on the USS Dauntless. It’s rare to see such care and attention to detail for a one-episode set (even though it’s the end of the season, this isn’t the first part of a two-parter). Nice model too (digital I expect). It comes equipped with a quantum slipstream drive – and a rather frisky autopilot which threatens to send home only the three-person away team.

This is all good stuff, but if you aren’t feeling like Charlie Brown kicking the football by now, then I don’t know which show you’ve been watching. Thankfully, Janeway’s suspicions are up too which helps me feel a bit less of a sucker. The prospect of returning the ship to Earth strikes different characters in different ways. But the one who we get the strongest reaction from is also the strongest character – Seven, who tells Janeway flat out that she doesn’t want to be like her and won’t be coming on the last leg of the journey. It’s a compelling scene, given time to breathe, and brought to life by two performers at the absolute peak of their powers.

And there’s a savagely ironic twist coming, because once they uncover their Brainbox friend’s deception, he attempts to kidnap Janeway and Seven and drop them off in the middle of Borg space – the very Borg space which Janeway safeguarded in Scorpion and the very Borg space to which Seven was contemplating returning to. The rest of the crew blandly attempt a rescue in ways which don’t force any of them to confront any awkward truths about themselves, but Seven and Janeway’s material is worth the price of admission alone.

DS9 S06E25 The Sound of Her Voice (3.5 out of 5 stars). With all the time spent recently on Pah-wraith possession, Ferengi cross-dressing, school plays, and toppling through time holes, you might have been forgiven for forgetting that the Alpha Quadrant is riven by war and that Deep Space Nine is a station of major strategic importance. The Defiant picks up a distress call from a stranded Starfleet officer, but they’re six days away. This is the DS9 MO of conversations-on-the-journey taken to its logical conclusion, as the whole episode is just Sisko and crew trying to reach poor doomed Lisa Cusack in time (when Quark and Odo aren’t indulging in would-be amusing “hijinks” of course).

Weirdly, I have clear memories of a chilling episode of Steven Moffat’s Press Gang, based on a similar premise. Spike is buried in a building collapse, and is able to talk to a girl similarly buried. She sounds close, so he’s optimistic then when he’s saved, she will be okay too. But horribly, it turns out that her voice was making its way to him through a long pipe and she is quite out of reach of the rescue team. “It’s a pity you’re late guys. You missed one hell of a nice girl,” he tells the paramedics, having heard her expire. (S02E02 “The Rest of My Life”, 22 March 1990.)

Lisa’s chipper demeanour again signals that she’s not long for this world, but her other purpose is to bounce off our regulars and give each of them a chance to explore their own attitudes to life, love, the war and duty. It’s not pulse-pounding excitement but it’s absorbing character stuff of the kind that only this show can do. When they arrive at the planet, the latest in a long line of exotic radiations makes beaming impossible, so a shuttlepod is called-for. The crash-site is impressively rendered but at first there’s no sign of cheerful Lisa. Until there is – a long-dead skeleton. They’re three-years late and the exotic radiation messed with time – a detail which oddly didn’t come to light during any of their lengthy chats. They bury her on the station, apparently without contacting any of their family. An odd episode, tonally very uncertain, but with strong material especially for Bashir, so often under-served on this show.

We’re heading to the end of the season, so Jake and Kasidy show up, although there’s no sign of the other key supporting cast members: Garak, Martok, Weyoun, Dukat, Winn, Nog or Rom.

DS9 S06E26 Tears of the Prophets (3.5 out of 5 stars). A Bajorn festival of thanks has taken place despite the war and Odo is getting a tongue-lashing from Kira because he arrested a Vedek, like a ninny. Sisko is getting a commendation (the “Christopher Pike Medal of Honor”). It all feels positively valedictory, but the war is far from over, and Sisko has been chosen to lead an offensive (finally), and mount an attack on the Dominion shipyards and munitions factories.

Definitely making this feel like a party is the list of names in the opening credits. Even Vic Fontaine is in this one. And Dax keeps talking happily about the future, but I’ve known what’s coming for some time (although I didn’t know the details). But at the top of the episode it’s Sisko that Dukat has in his sights and the Wormhole Aliens aka the Prophets. And those same Prophets sound like they are warning the Captain not to leave Deep Space Nine, on the eve of the planned attack.

That might have been good advice as Dukat manages to summon a pah-wraith from an old Bajoran geegaw and when Dax prays to the Prophets on the station, Dukat appears and cuts her down with a blast of orange pixels. It’s virtually a Tasha Yar end to a great character. It adds to the apocalyptic nature of the episode, but it doesn’t have any meaning or poetry to it. I’ll talk more about Terry Farrell’s exit in my season round-up. More notable for this episode is the fact that Dukat’s actions have sealed the wormhole.

Some nifty space battles ensue with the Klingon attack wing crippled by Jem’Hadar suicide runs, while the Cardassians race to get their fancy new defense grid up-and-running. It doesn’t survive for long either. The Federation/Klingon/Romulan victory is thus short-lived and sour. The Dominion is crippled, cut off from home and on the run. But Bajor is cut off from the Prophets (as is Sisko) and Jadzia Dax is dead.

There’s something vaguely synthetic about this episode. It feels bolted together, rather than emerging organically from the story threads that were already present. The attack on Cardassia, the easily-destroyed weapons platform, the sudden return of Dukat, the seeming end of the wormhole and the death of Dax all feel jarring and ill-fitting. Maybe that reflects the fact that deaths (especially in war) do come unexpectedly, but that fact alone doesn’t make this a television masterpiece. There’s lots of good stuff here, but it’s a shame that more care wasn’t taken over the fit and finish.

Peldor joi to you too.

Deep Space Nine Season 6 wrap-up

  • We end another season with a loss. Last year ended with losing the station. This year we lose the wormhole and Jadzia. She does at least get a goodbye with Worf, which is suitably heartbreaking. And Sisko leaves, taking his baseball.
  • Mid-run cast changes we’ve come to expect. Season 3 of TNG saw the return of Dr Crusher, and Wesley was phased out during Season 5. Deep Space Nine added Worf to its regular cast in Season 4, and Voyager also swapped Kes for Seven in its fourth year. But a cast change in the final season is unhelpful, removing a cast member with years of history and introducing a new one who will barely have time to establish themselves. And it does seem as if letting Terry Farrell leave was a goof. Not as big a goof as the similar situation which J Michael Straczynski found himself in with the final year of Babylon 5, as here there was actually time to write her out, whereas Claudia Christian just wasn’t there at the start of the final season, despite the enormity of what she’d gone through in the previous episode.
  • Why did she leave? Farrell was keen to accept the offer to star opposite Ted Danson on Becker and was convinced that a deal could be struck which would allow her to appear on both shows – probably by not appearing on every episode of Deep Space Nine’s final season. Deep Space Nine’s producers seemingly were incensed that anyone on their show would ever want to appear on anyone else’s show ever and insisted that Farrell was either in or she was out – her standard six-year contract having come to an end.
  • This was surprisingly bumpy. After a stellar run of episodes at the end of last year and the start of this one, during which I thought this was a show that could do no wrong, suddenly it turned into a very inconsistent viewing experience. Almost as soon as the gang was back on the station, it seemed as if a duff episode was every bit as likely as a classic for the ages. The Magnificent Ferengi aired next to Waltz. In the Pale Moonlight was followed by His Way. And the least said about Profit and Lace the better. Maybe Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who left at the end of Season 5, was the secret sauce that really made the show sing.
  • However, this was still the year that gave us Rocks and Shoals, Inquisition and the amazing Far Beyond the Stars, and any show which can give us that and In the Pale Moonlight in the same year must be doing something right.

Voyager Season 4 wrap-up

  • This is still not a show with the warm family feel of TNG, nor the commitment to gritty detail and long form storytelling of DS9. It’s frequently very silly, has at least three regular characters that are barely more than placeholders, and squanders promising story ideas with depressing regularity. And yet, there is something a bit more ineffably Star Trek-y about this show, which I don’t see in DS9, whether it’s in All Pain All The Time mode or operating in its Goofy To The Max style.
  • That TOS optimism and spirit of adventure has been preserved in this show, but it was so faltering in its early years that it wasn’t always possible to see it. Now, with a crew reshuffle and an all-time great addition to the cast, it’s gained a new confidence and even when it’s a swing and a miss, it’s still entertaining, which is more than I can say for those Ferengi-falling-over episodes which blight DS9.
  • Because, not only did we – finally! – get our first five star episodes in the atmospheric and claustrophobic One, this season also saw a year of Voyager shows get a higher average score than the simultaneous year of Deep Space Nine shows. That makes sense – Voyager is finding its feet as the older show is running out of gas – but it stilld surprised me. The numbers are very close, mind you. This year of Voyager shows averages 3.54 stars, compared to 3.31 for Deep Space Nine Season 6.
  • But this year belongs to Jeri Ryan and Seven of Nine. She’s an absolute super-star and the character she’s been given to play is endlessly fascinating. The franchise would be a far poorer place without her.
  • Meanwhile, Torres has had next to nothing all year, with even her romance with Paris providing very little. Tim Russ is always watchable as Tuvok but has not progressed at all as a character. Neelix has had a couple of good shows, and is otherwise generally kept in the background. Chakotay and Kim continue to be barely even personalities and even the Doctor has hit the ceiling of his development. For better or worse, this is the Janeway and Seven show now. Everyone else is along for the ride.
Trekaday #089: The Omega Directive, His Way, Unforgettable, The Reckoning, Living Witness, Valiant, Demon
Trekaday #091: Image in the Sand, Shadows and Symbols, Afterimage, Night, Take Me Out to the Holosuite, Drone