Star Trek Voyager: Emanations

Monday, May 25, 2015 21:15

Another Voyager review…

Emanations: B

While investigating mineral deposits on an asteroid, Harry Kim is somehow transported to an alien planet with people who believe he’s come from the afterlife.

Air date: 3/13/1995
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston

“I have to admit, there is a little voice inside me that’s terrified of dying. And since I’ve been talking to you, that little voice has started to get louder.” – Garan

Religious beliefs are, pardon the pun, considered sacred ground by most people, and yet it’s an area full of possibilities to explore in fiction. Ironically, it’s more common for the popular culture to use it for comic fodder than drama, perhaps because (as Data might say) “humans often use humor as a shield when they discuss deeply personal topics.” Yet there many interesting facets of religious beliefs that can be explored in a dramatic setting, and science fiction offers an opportunity to do so in a way that, while still uncomfortable for some, offers a forum that’s more acceptable to the masses.

“Emanations” meets the challenge head on, presenting a kind, loving society and forcing some of them to question their religious beliefs, as well as euthanasia, for the first time.

Harry Kim gets the A story. Stepping into the Riker/O’Brien everyman role and finding himself accidentally sent from a culture’s “Heaven” (an asteroid in the Delta Quadrant full of dead bodies) to their homeworld in another dimension. This makes for a rather uncomfortable conversation when a guy, Hatil Garan, who is scheduled to die, starts asking Kim what he can look forward to in the afterlife. (Garan’s culture believes that when they die, their corporeal bodies are sent to another place so they can live again and associate with lost loved ones.) Kim tries to avoid the question, but coming from “the other side”, there are lots of people who are curious about what he knows, not to mention some who feel threatened by what he might say.

Meanwhile, dead people from the planet keep getting sent to Voyager instead of the asteroid, which helps Janeway and her crew to start putting the pieces together and figure out what’s going on. It’s the obligatory “trying to recover a lost crewmember” B story, but it’s certainly one of the more creative (and interesting) variations.

The late Jefrey Alan Chandler plays Garan with a sweetness that serves the part well, but Jerry Hardin and his trademark gravitas steal the show, bringing us Neria, the planet’s chief thanatologist.

When “Emanations” first aired, it generated a bit of controversy, with some deeply religious people mistaking it as an allegory for atheism. In fact, what the episode is really about is exploring how people handle the challenge of considering that their most important and cherished beliefs might be wrong. The problem for some people, however, is that doubt is such a foreign concept to their way of thinking, they can’t help but view the writers and the episode (and life) in black and white terms: the story is either validating their beliefs or attacking them. It’s a frame of mind that’s not exclusive to religion, often showing up in politics, nationalism, and even sports.

Sadly, the episode is only able to scratch the surface of the issue in the time allotted. There’s much more that could be mined, including Kim’s effect on the society as a whole and the danger to him as a result. “Emanations” would make for an interesting two parter; but then that’s something the show would be more likely to do later in its run. (Actually, it would have been better to do this one later anyway. It’s a heavy concept, and it would be nice if Harry could get a few episodes under his belt before being thrust into such a life changing experience.)

Interestingly, the television show Lost explores some of the same issues as this episode within its own framework. One of its characters, John Locke, becomes convinced that he has to push a button every 108 minutes to save the world. He later discovers evidence that this might be a psychological experiment, with another site having television monitors to view the button and instructions for personnel who are watching. Even later, however, Locke learns that the journals these personnel have been filling out and placing in pneumonic tubes are being sent to the middle of nowhere, where they’ve been piling up unread. It’s a striking visual not too unlike the beginning of “Emanations”, where Kim finds the dead bodies haphazardly and meaninglessly laying around on the asteroid.

Star Trek Voyager: Ex Post Facto

Sunday, May 17, 2015 22:26
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Another Voyager review…

Ex Post Facto: C-

Tom Paris is forced to endure a creative punishment when convicted of murder on an alien planet.

Air date: 2/27/1995
Teleplay by Evan Carlos Somers and Michael Piller
Story by Carlos Somers
Directed by LeVar Burton

“Let the record show that the sentence of the court has been carried out. For the rest of his natural life, once every fourteen hours, Thomas Eugene Paris will relive the last moments of his victim’s life.” – Alien doctor

This is basically a redo of TNG’s third season murder-mystery, “A Matter of Perspective”, but whereas that one is “Rashomon”, using the different characters to give different accounts of the same acts, this one is “Citizen Kane”, using the different characters to fill in the different parts of the story.

Paris serves as the focal point, but “Facto” really becomes a Tuvok episode once it gets going, with the Vulcan at the center of the film noir-like narrative, using his logic to get to the bottom of things. Unfortunately, a story with a smoking housewife and her dog does little to take advantage of VOY’s far-out premise, and with all the “film noir” elements, the unusual punishment for Paris (an interesting sci fi idea and the catalyst for the episode) gets lost in the shuffle.

There is a funny bit where the Doctor considers taking the name of a famous doctor as an homage and mentions several possibilities, such as Galen, Salk, and Spock! (Benjamin Spock was a pediatrician who wrote the bestselling book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, in 1946.) And it’s interesting to see Star Trek, within the sci fi device, use black and white footage for the first time. But while director LeVar Burton does an admirable job, somehow turning the limited story into a watchable episode, there’s no getting around the lack of originality and spark in the premise and teleplay.

Star Trek Voyager: Eye of the Needle

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 8:41
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Time to review another Voyager episode…

Eye of the Needle: B+

Voyager uses a wormhole to make contact with a rogue ship in the Alpha Quadrant.

Air date: 2/20/1995
Teleplay by Bill Dial and Jeri Taylor
Story by Hilary J. Bader
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

“I am Captain of the cargo vessel Talvath, location Alpha Quadrant, sector one three eight five. What is your location?” – Telek

With a beautifully laid out plot, “Needle” is a fascinating bottle show with a tease of home that has enough interesting story dynamics to overcome the “Gilligan’s Island” foregone conclusion. In short, it plays with the show’s “impossible dream” without exploiting it.

The A story begins with the simple discovery of a wormhole and lays out its cards one at a time, giving the viewer quite a journey as the acts progress. Teleplay writer Jeri Taylor doesn’t rush a single step, letting each moment breathe and allowing the characters to interact to provide depth and build the anticipation.

There’s also a B story with Kes serving as a counselor for the Doctor as well as his advocate. Lien and deserves some credit for helping develop the Doctor’s character, using Kes to push Picardo into adding layers to the hologram, and the two clearly have some chemistry together when there’s give and take. And what’s great about this substory is how easily it folds into the A story towards the end. Just as Kes is helping the Doctor become a more respected being and a true member of the crew, he’s faced with the possibility of having it all come to an end as the crew discovers a way they might use to get home.

It’s a heck of an episode and all the better for being something only VOY could do, though DS9 does a variation of sorts in its sixth season episode, “The Sound of Her Voice”. (VOY itself takes the idea and runs with it further in fourth season’s “Message in a Bottle”.)

Star Trek Voyager: The Cloud

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 19:21
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Time to review another Voyager episode…

The Cloud: D

With energy reserves nearly depleted, Voyager investigates possible resources inside a nebula, which – as it turns out – is not really a nebula.

Air date: 2/13/1995
Teleplay by Tom Szollosi and Michael Piller
Story by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston

“Find yourself a seat with a good view because just like Jonah and the whale, you’re going in.” – Captain Janeway

This episode dances all over the place, with an A story that takes forever to get going and B and C stories that wander aimlessly.

The main story features the titular cloud, a Nebula-like thing, which Voyager investigates. After beginning as a mystery, it turns into a medical drama of sorts, but it’s a weak story all around filled with more technobabble than substance. To fill out the episode, Paris creates a pool hall and Chakotay teaches Janeway how to find her spirit animal. It’s all about as memorable as one of the redshirts from the Original Series, though it is rather funny to see the Doctor give a description of Dr. Zimmerman and jokingly throw out the idea of programming a family, both the subject of future episodes. Truth be told, however, the episode’s story lacks much of a story. It does not, however, lack extras, probably because the episode’s director, David Livingston, is also Voyager’s supervising producer, the guy in charge of how many are allowed for each episode!

Star Trek Voyager: Phage

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 5:57

Phage: B

Neelix’s lungs are removed by a race that suffers from a deadly phage that is slowly destroying their population prompting them to harvest replacement organs and tissues from other species.

Air date: 2/6/1995
Teleplay by Skye Dent and Brannon Braga
Story by Timothy DeHaas
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

“The Doctor says whoever did this used some kind of transporter to beam the lungs directly out of his body.” – Chakotay

Boy, when you’re creating a Star Trek episode, it takes guts to remakes “Spock’s Brain”, but that’s basically what this one is, with Neelix’s lungs serving as the MacGuffin. This time, the writers get it largely right, turning it into a medical drama that gives Robert Picardo an opportunity to show off his stuff. Stepping into his first “Doctor” episode, Picardo has plenty of sardonic wit, but he hasn’t developed too much more for the character, leaving plenty of improvement for future episodes. Fortunately, starting simple before growing throughout the series works for a hologram who was just “born”, giving him an interesting arc. In the meantime, Picardo needs help carrying “Phage”, and he gets it. Ethan Phillips (Neelix) and Jennifer Lien (Kes) step into the roles of a paraplegic and his loved one respectively and turn this into arguably their best episode together. Lien has already established Kes as assertive but polite by this point, and it works especially well within the context of this plot. Phillips meanwhile, gets plenty of opportunities to develop the Talaxian, with Neelix experiencing a broad range of activities, from setting up makeshift kitchen to exploring a planet to waking up on a medical table unable to move. He uses the spectrum to add depth to his character, allowing us to draw closer to him.

In the B story, Janeway hunts down Neelix’s lungs, thankfully not running into any miniskirted girls in the process. It’s pretty standard fare for the most part, but it does lead to an unexpected conclusion and gives us the first real display of how protective the captain is of her crew.

The organ harvesting Vidiians return for several more episodes, beginning with “Faces” later in the first season, but “Phage” provides a strong and memorable foundation.

Star Trek Voyager: Time and Again

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 15:52
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This continues my reviews for every Star Trek episode ever. I’m assigning a letter grade to each Voyager episode.

Time and Again: B

While investigating a massive explosion that destroyed all life on a planet, Janeway and Paris are swept back a day in time to just before it happens.

Air date: 1/30/1995
Teleplay by David Kemper and Michael Piller
Story by David Kemper
Directed by Les Landau

“You wanted the truth? Alright, here’s the truth. We’re from the future. Exactly one day in the future.” – Janeway

This one has quite the concept! Like the previous episode, “Parallax”, “Time and Again” has some fun playing around with cause and effect; but whereas “Parallax” uses a time distortion (or reflection), “Time” uses time travel. With Janeway and Paris one day behind the rest of the crew, each on opposite sides of an apocalyptic disaster, the episode cleverly weaves its A and B story together by intercutting between the past and the present at the same locations. (It’s sort of like the second Lord of the Rings film where the story intercuts between Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli on the borders of Fangorn Forest and Merry and Pippin at the same location the night before.) It’s an interesting way to integrate the two parts and make every scene matter.

Unfortunately, the premise, which requires Janeway and Paris to fit in with the aliens, dictates that the planet’s culture be just like Earth. It’s something other Trek incarnations do once in a while, but for with Voyager being on the other side of the galaxy, it seems out of place and certainly fails to highlight how far they are from home. Perhaps worse, the script attempts to turn Kes is into Guinan, a character with an intuitive sense that goes beyond the limits of space and time. Whoopie Goldberg knows how to pull it off, but Jennifer Lien isn’t a good enough actress to make it work. (To make matters worse for Lien, her character’s visit to the doctor gives Robert Picardo a chance to upstage her, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity.)

Still, the premise itself is strong, and “Time and Again” has enough interesting to bits to make it one of VOY’s better first season episodes.

Star Trek Voyager: Parallax

Sunday, March 29, 2015 20:12

This continues my reviews for every Star Trek episode ever.

Parallax: C+

Investigating an apparent distress call, Voyager becomes trapped inside the event horizon of a quantum singularity.

Air date: 1/23/1995
Teleplay by Brannon Braga
Story by Jim Trombetta
Directed by Kim Friedman

“Wait a minute, let me get this straight. We were cruising along at warp seven, then we pick up a distress call and moved in to investigate. But now you’re saying that the other ship is actually just a reflection of us and that the distress call is actually just the captain’s opening hail.” – Paris

Taking the baton from TNG, VOY uses a sci fi conundrum to bring B’Elanna and Janeway closer together in the first bottle show of the series. Beneath the technobabble, it’s purely a paint by numbers plot as old as the hills: people have doubts about B’Elanna, but the plot provides her a test and gives her a chance to prove herself to everyone.

Fortunately, the story includes quite a bit of Janeway, who proves herself no dummy. A trap for plots of this kind is to suddenly have the leader appear more incompetent than usual to set the stage for the lesser character to save everyone. But here, Janeway hangs with B’Elanna each step of the way as they work through the crisis, keeping Janeway a strong character and turning a story about “earning respect” into a two way street. (Janeway also has some great moments with Chakotay, with the early part of the plot drawing him into the mix and weaving some drama out of their new working relationship.)

B’Elanna, of course, goes through all the motions of the typical TV redemption plot. It’s somewhat uninspired, and the crisis itself is similar to dozens of TNG episodes, but that’s not really the point of it all. It’s really about establishing her character, and it does a so just fine.

Star Trek Voyager: Caretaker

Monday, March 23, 2015 17:42
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I’m continuing my reviews for every episode of Star Trek, but I’m going to handle Voyager a little differently. I’ll be doing one episode a week, beginning today with the pilot, and I’ll grade the episodes based on an A through F school-style scale. So here we go!

Caretaker (Series Premiere): A

The newly commissioned starship Voyager and a Maquis raider are flung into the remote Delta Quadrant by a powerful entity known as the Caretaker.

Air date: 1/16/1995
Teleplay by Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor
Story by Rick Berman & Michael Piller & Jeri Taylor
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

“Captain, if these sensors are working, we’re over seventy thousand light years from where we were. We’re on the other side of the galaxy.” – Ensign Kim

Written primarily by the same man who stabilized TNG’s writing staff and wrote DS9’s pilot, Caretaker skillfully launches Voyager with a two hour romp that simultaneously works well as a beginning and as a standalone story. Like TNG’s pilot, the story is basically a mystery mixed with a powerful alien, though here the elements are better interwoven and no expense is spared. At $23 million, this is Star Trek’s most expensive episode of all time, giving the story ample location shooting, visual effects, and whatever it needs to jumpstart the series and launch a network.

Benefitting from exposition planted in TNG and DS9 episodes (“Journey’s End”, “The Maquis Part I and II”, and “Preemptive Strike”) Voyager’s pilot opens with a Star Wars-like crawl and then kicks into gear immediately, cutting a quick pace as it moves along and introduces the characters.

Dodging the obvious choice of the captain as its central player, the episode uses Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) as the way into the story and makes him more or less the primary character. It’s an interesting choice, with Paris being an outcast, getting a character arc that helps sum up what the show’s all about: a new life. (Interestingly, the idea that Paris is unpopular because of a piloting accident that killed some popular crewman is remarkably similar to something that happened to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. One day in the South Pacific back in 1943, where Roddenberry was serving as a pilot in World War II, his B-17 didn’t pick up enough speed to become airborne and the brakes wouldn’t respond. The plane ended up crashing into a sea of palm stumps, and two crewmembers died. Many in Roddenberry’s squadron questioned why he didn’t perform a ground loop maneuver that could have saved everyone’s lives, unaware or not wanting to understand that there wasn’t enough time. On a side note, the crash prevented Roddenberry from participating in a search for survivors of a Navy PT boat that was destroyed that same morning, forcing someone else to rescue John F. Kennedy.) TNG fans, of course, will remember McNeill as Nicholas Lacarno from the fifth season episode “The First Duty”, a character with nearly the same backstory as Paris. Naturally it’s easy to wonder why the show invents Paris and doesn’t just use Lacarno (which the producers did consider), but really, it’s better for Voyager to start from scratch. The truth is that McNeill’s character in “The First Duty” is (appropriately) selfish and arrogant, which is what really gets him into trouble. Paris, on the other hand, though similar in demeanor, is more selfless and full of self doubt. While VOY could (and almost did) reuse Lacarno and try to recharacterize him, there’s no reason to go to so much trouble because of one TNG episode some years back. With Paris a blank slate, the show is able to introduce him to us the way they wish and develop him throughout the episode and series without being tethered down.

In the meantime, the pilot offers Kate Mulgrew plenty of opportunity to put her stamp on Captain Janeway, creating a character that’s vulnerable in private but unquestionably in charge in public. Mulgrew, who was brought in to replace Geneviève Bujold, gives a performance that’s not just extraordinary but extraordinarily important for Star Trek and television. It might seem sexist today, but after a poor performance by Bujold (who quit the second day), there was some doubt from the executives as to whether a woman could actually front a show they were relying on to launch UPN. Mulgrew, however, owns the part, giving it a Kathryn Hepburn quality and proving she’s just as good as any leading man, Shatner and Stewart included.

Meanwhile, with nine regulars to introduce, some characters get shortchanged. The Doctor, who would go on to be one of the show’s breakout characters, gets in a couple funny lines but doesn’t have much more to do than his cameo later on in the eighth Star Trek film. Seska (who is not a regular but does prominently factor into the first two seasons) doesn’t appear at all. But while some have more to do and some less, most of the major characters get a chance to at least outline the basics of their personalities and relationships. (Meanwhile, a visit to Deep Space Nine gives us a Quark cameo.)

Always remaining a favorite for the cast, crew, and fans alike, the events in “Caretaker” come back into play in several episodes of the series, starting with second season’s “Projections”. Unfortunately, “Caretaker” is the last Star Trek pilot by Piller, who died of head and neck cancer in 2005. With his ability to successfully create Star Trek out of thin air, it’s a shame he didn’t get to do more, even if was through standalone TV movies featuring new characters. (George Lucas tried this very thing with The Ewok movies, but he couldn’t replicate the spark he carefully developed in the Star Wars movies. Piller didn’t seem to have this problem within the Star Trek universe.)

For the debut of Voyager and UPN, “Caretaker” is a heck of a beginning. In fact it’s so good, the show never has to employ an idea planted in the pilot specifically to set up a quick finale if the show were to be cancelled early on: the idea of a second caretaker. (They bring back the idea, nonetheless, for the sake of completion in second season’s “Cold Fire”.)

DS9 Reviews Part 46

Sunday, March 8, 2015 21:16
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Welcome to another installment of my reviews for all 715 episodes of Star Trek. Today I continue with Deep Space Nine, finishing season seven. I’m rating these episodes on a scale of 1 to 10 with the following meaning:

1. Abysmal, 2. Terrible, 3. Bad, 4. Poor, 5. Mediocre,
6. Fair, 7. Good, 8. Great, 9. Superb, 10. Perfect

In addition, I’ll be rating (on a scale of 1 to 10) the historical importance (HI) of the episodes – looking at how much they tie into other Star Trek episodes or lay down important precedents.

When it Rains..: 7.5

As DS9 prepares for war and sends emissaries to Damar, Bashir discovers that Odo has the Founders’ disease.

Air date: 5/3/1999
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria
Story by Rene Echevarria & Spike Steingasser
Directed by Michael Dorn

“You’re going to have to put your personal feelings aside. Now, whether you like Damar or not is irrelevant. We need him. The Dominion knows they have to stop his rebellion before it spreads, and it’s up to you to see that they don’t.” – Sisko to Kira

Starting up the second half of “The Final Chapter” (DS9’s final 9 episodes), “When it Rains…” introduces several new plot lines, moving from story to story until it ends so abruptly, the credits can come as a surprise.

Balancing the predictable and unpredictable, Echevarria and Dorn cut a quick pace from the get-go and throw everything but the kitchen sink at the viewers. Gowron returns to replace Martok. Bashir must deal with a bureaucratic run around, like someone in our time trying to get help from customer service. Kira and Garak, former friends of Ziyal, are forced to help Damar. And Dukat finally goes too far and gets a lecture from Kai Winn about humility, which is sort of like Kanye West giving a sermon on manners. They’re all such diverse ideas, and they’re all thrown out so quickly, there’s no time for the viewer to stop and process it all until the credits suddenly appear out of nowhere.

What to make of it all? Well, it’s like a DS9 sampler, with a taste of the next two DS9 episodes thrown together before the subsequent episodes share the proper servings. Yet as an episode itself, it works splendidly, perhaps even better than the episodes it sets up. Perhaps Michael Dorn and rain aren’t such a bad combination after all!

HI: 7

Tacking Into the Wind: 7

While Kira and the Cardassians plot to steal a Breen weapon, Gowron begins reckless attacks against the Dominion.

Air date: 5/10/1999
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Mike Vejar

“Who was the last leader of the High Council that you respected? Has there even been one? And how many times have you had to cover up the crimes of Klingon leaders because you were told it was for the good of the Empire? I know this sounds harsh, but the truth is, you have been willing to accept a government that you know is corrupt. Gowron’s just the latest example. Worf, you are the most honorable and decent man I’ve ever met, and if you’re willing to tolerate men like Gowron, then what hope is there for the Empire?” – Ezri

With the DS9/Cardassian alliance as the one story and some Klingon political intrigue as the other, “Tacking” is a fast moving, somewhat satisfying episode with some resolutions to “When it Rains…” while its C story teases what’s coming next.

The Kira/Damar story is really a character-based caper plot, with the two leading a risky undercover heist. It’s a fun story that tucks in some touching moments between Odo and Kira, but it winds its way to an end that’s as predictable as the conclusion to an episode of Gilligan’s Island. (Personally, I wish I could see Weyoun, with the Founder prodding him on, chasing Damar around the galaxy.) Damar himself proves one of the show’s surprise successes, thanks in large part to Casey Biggs; but after what the Cardassian does to Ziyal early in season six, it’s difficult to accept the character’s redemption, and looking back, the writers probably wish they hadn’t taken his character so far down that road.

Meanwhile, we have an episode where Ron Moore is once again writing Klingon stuff for Worf and Gowron five years after we figured the conclusion of TNG put an end to it. “Tacking” marks Robert O’Reilly’s last Star Trek appearance, allowing him to bring a conclusion to the Klingon Chancellor he introduced to us in TNG’s “Reunion” nine years prior. Gowron’s new ambition is sudden and feels contrived, and there’s really not much more to the story other than Worf’s internal struggle, but there’s something to be said for a Klingon plot that’s quick and to the point – especially at this stage. The Klingons would return in Enterprise, but from a chronological standpoint, this is their goodbye.

HI: 7

Extreme Measures: 5

Bashir and O’Brien lure Sloan to the station in a desperate search for the cure to a disease.

Air date: 5/17/1999
Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Steve Posey

“If you’re determined to go on this lunatic mission inside Sloan’s head, then somebody with an ounce of sanity has to be with you.” – O’Brien

William Sadler, last seen a few episodes before in “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges”, returns to reprise Sloan, with Bashir and O’Brien taking a journey inside the mysterious agent’s head (which conveniently takes on the appearance of the station, giving the series a cost saving bottle show). The concept has an early season feel to it and is particularly reminiscent of third season’s “Distant Voices” but feels out of place in “The Final Chapter”, the serialized nine episode finale for the show.

The premise itself, built on the idea that Section 31 is behind Odo’s disease and knows of a cure, is based on assumptions from Dr. Bashir. Yet unlike real life, instead of making an ass out of himself and mption, he turns out to be right. Unfortunately, the “Inside Sloan’s Head” gimmick never develops enough substance to make it a serious drama, with too much time spent on Brannon Braga-like mind games and not enough time developing a story. What the script really needs is more money, allowing Bashir and O’Brien (and/or Odo) to visit the headquarters of Section 31 and seek out information about the disease that could lead Bashir to develop a cure. (In fact, this was the original plan until the producers needed to find a way to save money for the final episode of the series.) Instead, the cure becomes a MacGuffin with a simplified “behind door number three” climax. It’s a disappointing waste of Sloan who deserves better in his final appearance.

HI: 3

The Dogs of War: 7

While Kira, Damar, and Garak are ambushed on Cardassia, Quark receives a message from Grand Nagus Zek asking him to be the next leader of the Ferengi Alliance.

Air date: 5/24/1999
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore & Rene Echevarria
Story by Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Avery Brooks

“If you don’t mind hiding in a basement, I guess I don’t mind having you down here.” – Mila

Getting very near the end, Avery Brooks get a chance to direct the penultimate episode of his Star Trek series just like Patrick Stewart before him. This one is another smorgasbord of storylines that throws a lot at the viewer, though its various flavors don’t always go well together.

The meat of the episode takes place on Cardassia, with Kira, Damar, and Garak trapped on the world now occupied by the Orwellian-like Dominion. It’s an interesting juxtaposition for Kira, who formerly was in the same situation on Bajor when it was occupied by Cardassia; but the real story here is about Damar becoming a Cardassian folk hero. It’s the same story the show tries with Li Nalas to open the second season, but it works better in “Dogs” because it’s developed more organically and Casey Biggs is a better actor than Richard Beymer.

Meanwhile, the Ferengi have their story tied up with a Quark comedy runner that features the final appearances of Grand Nagus Zek, Quark’s mom, Brunt, Rom, and Leeta. (Happily, Brunt and Weyoun, played by the same actor, finally appear in the same episode, with the writers/editor even having fun cutting from one character to the other. Sadly, we never get a “Brunt meets Weyoun” gag, which would have been even better.) Not surprising for the Ferengi, we get a typical sitcom plot, weaving comedy out of confusion, but that’s probably a fitting conclusion to these characters. Quark, in particular, deserves an episode to bring his story to a close, and Shimerman has some great moments. (The best part is writer Ron Moore parodying his own work, having Quark summon his inner Picard by declaring, “The line has to be drawn here! This far, and no further!”)

There are also C, D, and E stories, with virtually every other character getting their own moment, but some are more effective than others. Sisko has a couple of standout scenes, with Brooks again proving that he knows how to direct himself; meanwhile, Ezri isn’t so good repeating her “awkward relationship” storyline from a few episodes ago, this time with Bashir in Worf’s place. The diverse stories all lead to a bit of a disjointed episode; but for one that’s set just before the finale, the whole thing is remarkably self contained… until the last scene. Serving as a cliffhanger, it feels like the first scene of the series finale.

“Dogs of War” received an Emmy nomination for “outstanding makeup”.

HI: 7

What You Leave Behind: 9 (Series Finale)

The Federation Alliance attempts to defeat the Dominion.

Air date: 5/31/1999
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
Directed by Allan Kroeker

“The Emissary’s task is nearing completion.” – Sarah Sisko

Taking a more leisurely pace than “All Good Things”, DS9’s two hour series finale brings the Dominion war to a close and sends the characters off into the sunset in a way that TOS doesn’t and TNG, with its move to feature films, can’t. It’s a character-based emotional roller-coaster filled with action, suspense, comeuppance, laughter, tears, and goodbyes.

Closing the book on the series, the episode has to hit a number of plot points (and a record setting number of guest stars), but in the sure hands of director Allan Kroeker (who would on to direct the finales of Voyager, and Enterprise), each beat hits at the right time, giving the war’s endgame a satisfying layout and turning the aftermath into an engaging coda. With previous episodes carefully positioning the characters into different facets of the war, the finale is able to bring us its conclusion from a wide variety of viewpoints, giving us a less of a comic book close and more of a realistic representation of victory and defeat than television is known for. (How ironic for this to happen in a sci fi series!) There aren’t one or two actions that will ultimately decide the lives of billions; there are many events happening simultaneously that form the conclusion, cutting off options and hemming in the losing side before the leader is finally cornered and forced to accept the checkmate.

And yet it all leaves room for the aftermath to breath. with the characters embarking on separate paths in a way that leaves no question that this is the end.

Is the episode perfect? Not quite. The pilot indicates that Sisko’s mission is to prepare Bajor to join the Federation, but the finale fails to address the issue. Instead, Sisko feels a disturbance in the force and journeys to the cave set to give us a good versus evil fight that seems more Star Wars than Star Trek. (Although, come to think of it, it does have the same climax as “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, the second pilot for the Original Series.) The events bring closure to the characters of Dukat and Winn, a must for the series, but the sequence is cartoonish compared to the rest of the episode and gives the series an anticlimactic finish.

To be fair, however, that’s a small piece of the puzzle, and what the finale does well, it does very well. There are some thrilling space battles with impressive visual effects (garnering an Emmy Nomination, even though the sequences are filled out with stock footage). We get death scenes that are all the more dramatic for not being overly so. And there are emotional montages dedicated to the main characters, comprised of footage spanning the seven seasons of the show. There’s even the first fully CGI shot of the station, used for a breathtaking final shot.

In the end, the series remains true to what it’s always been: the Star Trek that isn’t afraid to get some dirt under its finger nails but finds a way to remain classy.

HI: 10

Seventh Season Thoughts:

With few standout episodes and eroding ratings due to increased competition and franchise fatigue, Deep Space Nine’s seventh season is largely forgettable except for one homerun shot: “The Final Chapter”, a nine part finale tying up most of the loose ends of the series. Ratings-wise, the serialized format did nothing for the show. (In fact, the final episode only did a 5.4 Nielsen rating, a number the series routinely beat its first four seasons.) But today, with fans easily able to watch them all in order without missing an episode, it’s become one of the show’s most popular bits.

The final episode itself was nominated for an Emmy (for visual effects), joining “The Dogs of War” (makeup), “Badda-bing, Badda-bang” (hairstyling), and “Prodigal Daughter” (art direction) for the honor, bringing the series’ total to thirty nominations in all with four wins.

Behind the scenes, Hans Beimler moved from supervising producer to co-executive producer and Bradley Thompson and David Weddle moved from story editors to executive story editors, with all three helping to supervise the staff. Meanwhile, with cinematographer Jonathan West frequently absent (including for most of the final arc) to help buddy LeVar Burton with a Disney Channel movie, camera operator Kris Krosskove was given an opportunity to serve as director of photography.

Avery Brooks, Michael Dorn, Rene Auberjonois were able to direct their final episodes, though it’s Steve Posey who proved the most prolific , crossing over from Xena and Hercules to direct his first four (and last four) Star Trek episodes.

Of course, it was Executive Producer Ira Steven Behr who had the most to do. In addition to overseeing the show, he worked with Beimler to pen seven of the twenty five episodes for the season. Interestingly, Behr was given only one directive from the studio : don’t make the finale about the war! Running two hours, it is, but it’s also about much more.

And so what does the series, giving us 176 hours of television, leave behind? A high quality product that challenges and rewards its audience while remaining true to itself.

 

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

Friday, February 27, 2015 14:41
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Leonard Nimoy Dies At 83

Leonard Nimoy died this morning in his home. He was 83 years old and is survived by his wife, two children, and six grandchildren.

A few days before his passing, Nimoy shared his final public statement on twitter: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP [live long and prosper]”.

In honor of Nimoy, here’s my review of a classic Star Trek episode.

The Galileo Seven:

Spock commands a stranded away team after their shuttlecraft crashes on a planet with hostile giants.

Air date: 1/5/1967
Teleplay by Oliver Crawford and S. Bar-David
Story by Oliver Crawford
Directed by Robert Gist

Inspired by the 1939 disaster film Five Came Back and taking advantage of a new licensing deal with AMT, Star Trek gives us our first Mr. Spock character study, placing the Vulcan in command of an A story about him and his crew of six others trapped on a planet. Meanwhile, Kirk attempts to find the shuttle and its crew in the B story but is constantly reminded the Enterprise is needed elsewhere by High Commissioner Ferris, the authority figure of the week. It’s a classic Star Trek plot and a breakthrough episode for Leonard Nimoy, who was already finding his character before but finally gets to establish him here.

It all begins with the launch of a shuttlecraft, a setting introduced to the show courtesy of AMT (originally called Aluminum Model Toys) which agreed to build a miniature shuttle model, a lifesize exterior set, and even the interior set in exchange for merchandising rights. With this triple play, the writers are able to have the characters interact with the setting any way they want, and it provides Spock, McCoy and company with a great setting for rich character interplay as the story moves from inside to outside (the planet set) and back again. The basic idea behind the drama is that Spock assumes his step by step logical approach is the best way to command, but the others don’t trust his judgement. In the end, he’s not only fighting an external battle with the others to reaffirm his command but an internal battle with himself as he begins to question his own actions. (In fact, the real issue isn’t even about logic versus emotion but what it takes to make decisions and be a leader.) The beauty of the script is that it doesn’t provide easy answers or predictable outcomes to prove who’s right but continues to throw out curveballs throughout the episode, making us wonder throughout the episode just who does have the best idea. (There are times it’s easy to agree with Spock, but there are other times it’s just as easy to agree with someone else.)

But it’s Leonard Nimoy, for once getting an episode without “you know who” by his side, who makes the whole thing work. With a script that allows his character to make mistakes and learn from them, Nimoy plays up Spock’s stubbornness and self assured nature on the surface, layering it with a subtext of soul searching and self doubt. It’s this ability to create a facade while simultaneously letting us in that Nimoy does so well, and what makes Spock work. By the end of the episode, Spock’s character arc has played out under the surface, as if his Vulcan half is trying to disguise it from us, saying “Nothing to see here” while we see through it and admire him all the more for his humanity.

Meanwhile, Kirk orders searches for the shuttle from the bridge of the Enterprise, a B story that’s there partly to give William Shatner something to do and partly to serve as a ticking clock counting down to zero, personified by Ferris. When the mission does end, Kirk’s relief can come across as bizarre if you think about it. (Why doesn’t he wonder who has made it and who’s been left behind? And why doesn’t he ask if the missing crewman are still alive on the planet? And, come to think of it, if the Enterprise is so desperately needed elsewhere, why is he leaving at the leisurely speed of warp 1?)

But really, this isn’t a Kirk episode, and these are just issues for nitpickers. This is about Mr. Spock’s journey; the same Mr. Spock who always loses to Kirk in chess, because Spock’s logic ultimately loses to Kirk’s intuition. Here, it’s Spock who finds both to win his own game of chess by himself against the great unknown.

(All this said, I do wish the episode had a little more in it in defense of Spock’s logical approach. Mr. Boma’s assertion that they should hold funeral services seems rather boneheaded when time is of the essence and there are killer giants on the surface of the planet. In the end, the writers leave it to the audience to say, “Man, that Boma’s a jerk.” But it would be nice if McCoy or Scotty were to defend Spock a little more here.)

Remastered Version (2007): For this episode, CBS Digital lets their hair down and creates some new effects unlike anything seen before. The truth is that while the original effects were passable in 1966 (indeed, they are reused in subsequent episodes), they barely give enough visual information to make out what’s happening. The quasar is a blob. The planet within is a poorly colored version of the planet from “The Man Trap”, and the shuttles look like toys. (In fact, the trail the shuttle leaves near the end, a key story point, is barely visible.) For the new version, the quasar is distinct, the planet is properly shrouded, and the shuttles get the star treatment, complete with a new shuttle bay (and a much more visible trail). They even update the ship’s chronometer to match “The Naked Time” and “The Corbomite Maneuver”. In the end, with the new effects better telling the story, CBS turns an already great episode into a better one.

Grey HR Line

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