Thursday, January 18, 2018

Episode Review - Unexpected (Enterprise, Season 1)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – The Enterprise is suddenly affected by a series of unexplained malfunctions, including loss of gravity. As they search for the cause of the problems, they discover a cloaked ship trailing the Enterprise. When they contact the ship, they meet the Xyrillians, an advanced alien species. They are using the plasma exhaust to help them power their ship so they can return home. Tucker agrees to go over to their ship to help them make repairs. While he is there, he befriends Ah’len, a female Xyrillian engineer, who shows him some of their technologies. During his encounter, Ah’len showed Tucker a game which connected them telepathically. After the Xyrillian ship was repaired, Tucker returns to Enterprise, having enjoyed his visit. Shortly after the Xyrillians leave, Tucker notices a strange growth on his arm. Phlox examines Tucker and announces that Tucker is pregnant. The Enterprise then tries to find their new friends to figure out what happened. When they find the Xyrillians following a Klingon ship, they must convince the Klingons to assist them without destroying their new friends.

Score: 7/10 – This episode is a nice way of giving the viewers an in-depth look at Tucker, plus give us some entertaining moments. As I re-read the overview I just wrote, I have to admit that I really do not do the episode justice. On paper, it looks like a bad comedy plotline, but it actually works very well. The story flows fairly well and while it may not be terribly ground-breaking it is a fun story. From the introduction we are given some moments that we often thought about in Star Trek. In this case, we not only see how they shower, but what happens when the gravity cuts out. It’s interesting to see a holodeck, and we cannot help but wonder if this is the inspiration for the holodecks we see in TNG or Discovery. There are some funny moments, although some of the jokes written in seem a bit stale and cliché (thinking specifically of the “When in Fellebia” line from Phlox and the Klingon captain, when on the Xyrillian holodeck looking at his homeworld, exclaims “I can see my house from here”). The concept of having Tucker be the one who gets pregnant (OK, technically he is a host to the developing embryo) is an interesting twist, especially since nothing sexual happens between him and Ah’len, or at least that is what it seems at the beginning. Connor Trineer does a great job at making the most out of pregnant Trip, showing typical mood swings common in pregnant women from a man’s perspective. The story doesn’t have a whole lot of real risk or threat to it, and when it is resolved it doesn’t seem to have a big send off, but the viewer is left with a sense of satisfaction of having been entertained.

Relevance – 3 points. One point scored for the reference to Archer’s experience on the Klingon home world during the pilot episode. They use his experience to convince the Klingons to cooperate with them. Of course, the pregnancy will be brought up again by T’Pol later in the season, adding fuel to the fire between these two characters. There is also the part in the mind reading sequence that has Trip retelling how Archer saved his life in the Omega training mission. This story was established in the previous episode, “Strange New World”.

Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity works here. Trip is his usual laid-back self, but when the situation starts to develop, his reaction is spot on. I also liked how T’Pol, as is typical for her early Season 1 self, is highly skeptical that Trip didn’t intentionally get romantically involved with Ah’len. Of course, there is also Phlox who is curious but unshaken by this medical anomaly. Storyline works out as well. Universe continuity is also kept intact here.

Character Development – 2 points. Naturally, this is a good Tucker episode, and it is the first one that really focuses on him in the series. Having said that, it really doesn’t do much to advance his character, but it is important to give him a solid introduction to the fans. Nobody else is heavily featured in the episode, and that’s OK. I did feel that Trip’s character became much more rounded out with this story, and it showcased Connor Trineer’s abilities as an actor.

Social Commentary – 1 point. Don’t put your hands in an alien bead game without wearing gloves. OK, seriously, there is not much to say in this episode, other than the importance of getting to know a different culture through experience and keeping an open-mind. Even though the story is fun, there is not much that it offers us as a glimpse into our own world.

Cool Stuff – 2 points. A point for finally (on television, at least) showing us what happens when the gravity goes out on the ship. I am also giving a point for the Xyrillians here. They have a sleek look and the episode shows us a great look into their culture. We learn a lot about them quickly, and it’s fascinating.

Rank – Captain (18 points). A fun story that takes a potentially hokey topic and turns it into a fun romp. A cool new alien species with some neat technology and some humorous moments. 

If you would like to check out my other episode reviews for Enterprise, simply click here.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Episode Review - Duet (Deep Space Nine, Season 1)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – A Cardassian arrives on the station seeking medical attention. When it is revealed that he has Kalla-Nohra Syndrome, Kira has him arrested on suspicion of being a war criminal. As Kira interrogates the man, identified as Aamin Marritza, suspicions arise on the true nature of his identity. He is identified as Gul Darhe’el, commander of an infamous labor camp that Kira had helped liberate. In spite of this revelation, the evidence does not fully add up, and as Kira discovers the truth of the man they have in custody, she is forced to examine the truth of her feelings towards Cardassians.

Score: 9/10 – This is arguably the strongest episode of the entire first season. We are given a remarkable character story that provides us an in-depth study of the effects of war and genocide from both the perspective of the oppressed and the oppressor. The aftermath of the occupation of Bajor is a common theme in the early seasons of DS9, and “Duet” shows us how we got great television out of it. Kudos to Nana Visitor and guest star Harris Yulin for a tour de force in their roles. The writing was just as strong as the acting, and when superior acting is given an amazing script, the result is a brilliant story. There is little in the way of physical action, but it is the intrigue and dialogue that gives us the dramatic power that fuels this superior episode.

Relevance - 2 points. One point is scored for the first mention of the Shakaar resistance cell. We would eventually meet Shakaar and other members of the cell in future Kira-centered episodes. Another point is scored for introducing the character of Neela, the Bajoran engineer that would play an important part in the season finale.

Continuity – 3 points. Story and universe continuity are both maintained here. For universe continuity, there is definitely a pattern that is respected with the verbose nature of Cardassians. Marritza makes monologue after compelling monologue, much like Dukat and Garak were famous for. Where we have a possible issue is in character continuity. In the previous episode, “Dramatis Personae”, Kira and Sisko seemed to have come to an understanding and respect for each other. In this, the very next episode, Kira goes behind Sisko’s back to get her way in dealing with Marritza. In spite of the new-found respect for Sisko, I do not see this action as going against Kira’s character. Some habits are hard to break, and the effects of the Cardassian occupation on Kira are difficult to overcome overnight. Besides, the power of the story would have been diminished if she hadn’t acted the way she did.

Character Development – 2 points. This is one of the strongest episodes for Kira’s character. She had a deep hatred towards Cardassians at the start of the series, and though she mellowed somewhat during the season, the reality of how the occupation affected her hits her with full force. The most important part of her journey in this episode is when she sees that some of the Cardassians showed true remorse and guilt over the actions of their people. To see Kira’s demeanour change from suspicion to realisation to sympathy for Marritza. Then, in the final scene, a Bajoran fatally stabs Marritza. As Kira asks the Bajoran why when Marritza was innocent, the killer states that him being Cardassian was enough of a reason to kill him. Kira, in a brilliantly acted and written line, admits that it is not enough anymore. This is a huge leap for Kira and continues to grow throughout the series.

Social Commentary – 3 points. This episode is an example of not only how relevant DS9 was in its time, but it was ahead of its time. When this episode was first aired, it served as a reminder of tragic and horrible events such as the Holocaust. There were some obvious parallels for us to follow. We were also witnessing the then current ethnic war in the former Yugoslavia. Since that time, we have seen similar conflicts in Rwanda and several places in the Middle East. We still, to this day, see racial unrest in America. With all of this, it is very likely for all of us to see one group of people as the enemy where everyone is guilty for the sins of some in the group. The trick is realising that not all who look like those who wronged you are guilty of their sins. Even if we may be the victims of oppression, we should not make the mistake in hating everyone who look like those who harmed us. There is also a great message in the character of Marritza. We see a man that truly feels responsible for the sins of his people, even though he himself was innocent. His desire to sacrifice himself was not only motivated by a desire to right the wrongs that his people committed against Bajor, but he recognizes that while Cardassia refuses to accept responsibility for their actions, they cannot truly move forward as a people.

Cool Stuff – 2 points. Definitely a point scored for the performances of Nana Visitor and Harris Yulin. Kira goes on an emotional roller coaster ride as Yulin pulls off an almost perfect deception for the most noble of reasons. I also score a point for the final scene. I was in high school then, and twenty-five years later I still remember the power of seeing Kira crying over a dying Cardassian that was willing to sacrifice his life to help both the Bajorans and the Cardassians emerge as better people.

Rank – Admiral (21 points). This episode shows the strength of DS9 and Star Trek in general when it comes to exploring the human condition in a science fiction setting. We have a powerful journey of one of the main characters learn to care and even forgive a member of a species that oppressed her people for decades while at the same time give us something to think about with respect to our own situation. More than ever we need this type of television.

 If you would like to read other reviews from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, please click the following link.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Episode Review - Twisted (Voyager, Season 2)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.

Overview – The crew throw Kes a surprise birthday party (she is turning two years old) on the holodeck. On the bridge, Tuvok and Ensign Kim discover an energy field that ultimately envelops Voyager. The field not only starts to disrupt ship systems such as communications, but it seems to be reorganizing the layout of the ship. Captain Janeway and her crew try to figure out the puzzle that has become Voyager, hoping to figure out what is happening and protect the ship from the unknown energy field.

Score: 6/10 – This is a twisted little episode that gives us a bit of a sampler of each character. This is good in that everybody has a little something to do, but bad in that nobody is really a focus. The pacing is a bit slow at times, as it seems that a significant portion shows various crew members wandering the hallways. Neelix disappears part way through, which at the time seemed odd that he would just nonchalantly wander away from Chakotay when there was something strange happening to the ship. Some of the humor works, and some of it doesn't. Some of the scenes are a bit clunky, but there are some fairly good momentsas well. To contrast this, there is one part where Janeway, after emerging from a sort of catatonic state, exclaims “It’s talking to me!”. It was done in a way that seemed off to me. In contrast, there is a touching scene where the senior officers are in the holodeck, awaiting the arrival of the mysterious and ominous field. Each crewmember (minus Neelix, who was missing) pairs up with someone. Tom and Harry, Torres and Chakotay, and the Doctor and Kes. The captain is unconscious during this, and Tuvok, in a very touching way, places his hand close to Janeway’s shoulder. While it is a simple gesture, it was a powerful one to me. The ending seems a little anti-climatic at first, but when we learn that the anomaly actually both added and copied information from the ship’s database, it added a little mystery to the story. Sadly, the mystery of where the anomaly came from and the information it gave them was never solved.

Relevance – 1 point. Neelix is still showing signs of jealously towards Tom’s interest in Kes. This started in the episode “Phage” and will finally be resolved in the next episode “Parturition”.

Continuity – 2 points. Character continuity is going to take a hit here. I found it odd that Torres, who was the only person Chakotay had met that had tried to kill their spirit guide, would seek this moment to try to contact her guide again. Story wise, everything adds up. Universe continuity is also good here.

Character Development – 1 point. As I mentioned previously, everybody gets some attention, but there is very little in the way of actual development. Neelix is becoming a bit of an annoyance with his jealousy. Kes has a birthday. The Doctor has some “fun” with the holographic Sandrine. Tuvok seems to lighten up a bit when he finds a way to allow Ensign Kim to go to the holodeck. We get a glimpse as to how each of the main characters faces the unknown. Yet with all of this happening, there is really nothing significant that happens to anyone, so we can’t really score higher than a “1” in this category.

Social Commentary – 0 points. I really tried to find something in this episode that was relevant to the being some sort of social commentary. Sadly, I got nothing.

Cool Stuff – 1 point. I did find the banter between the Doctor and Sandrine to be quite entertaining and fun. Robert Picardo has a great talent at making the Doctor funny without making him look like a total goof. Some of the dialogue between these two holograms, while brief, is just pure gold.

Rank – Lieutenant (11 points). Not a horrible episode, but not a very memorable one either. I just really think they could have done a better job with the pacing. Having said that, it can be fairly enjoyable to watch, so you should give it at least one viewing. After that, if it isn’t your preference, you can skip over it next time you binge-watch the series.

If you would like to read other reviews from Star Trek: Voyager, click on the link here.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Episode Review: The Way of the Warrior (Deep Space Nine, Season 4)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – The Klingons arrive at the station amidst rumors of the Cardassian military government being overthrown by a civilian group. The Klingons suspect that the Dominion has somehow orchestrated the coup on Cardassia and have come in the guise of supporting their Federation allies. Sisko suspects that there is more to the Klingon visit than is being revealed, and as tensions rise he requests a specialist for handling the Klingons. Lieutenant Commander Worf arrives on the station and immediately gets to work on learning the true intent of his people. When he discovers the goal of the Klingons is to invade Cardassia, both Worf and Sisko are caught between conflicts of conscience that will ultimately have repercussions on the entire Alpha Quadrant.

Score: 9/10 – “The Way of the Warrior” is a special two hour episode that marks a big moment in the series. First, and foremost, Michael Dorn reprises his iconic role of Worf and joins the main cast. Storyline wise, we have the Klingons go nuts and throw the quadrant into chaos. While this is later revealed to be the work of the Dominion, it is absolutely a game changer for the world of Star Trek. We see some promotions in the cast, most notably Dax to Lieutenant Commander, and Bashir to full Lieutenant. Sisko adds to his new look by shaving his head, and it is perfect for his character. I think this is where Avery Brooks could really deliver the tough-as-nails persona of Captain Sisko. It was nice to have Kassidy Yates comment on how much she liked the new look. It was almost as if she was saying it for the rest of us. We see the Klingons like many feel they should have been for a while, all action and conquest. It was an interesting Trek universe development, having the allies go back to adversaries. The battle for the station is still one of the most impressive battles, giving us some great action. I particularly enjoyed the battle for ops. When the first wave was finally repulsed, we were left with only Sisko, Dax, and Worf- standing. While some of the other officers were only injured (Kira and O’Brien being most prominent), the loss of life by Sisko’s crew was sobering in that it further signaled to the audience that a corner had been turned and things were never going to be the same again.

Relevance – 3 points. In addition to introducing Worf as a full cast member, there is also the introduction of General Martok. This sets up one of the more interesting and popular recurring characters in Deep Space Nine. What happens in this episode will have major impacts on several episodes throughout the rest of the season. The mentioning of the Enterprise’s fate in “Star Trek: Generations” gives us a point here. There is also a point scored for reference to the Khitomer Accords, which were the backdrop of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I also score a point for the opening segment, showing the crew respond to the results of the previous season’s finale. There are many other connections to other episodes, such as referring to the defeat of the Obsidian Order in the previous season, O’Brien and Worf discussing the events of “The Best of Both Worlds”, and Worf continuing to drink his beloved prune juice. Overall, if you are going to understand the story of DS9, this is an episode that you cannot miss.

Continuity - 2 points. Character continuity is maintained. Everyone is acting the way we would expect. Sisko’s method of using Garak as a means to warn the Cardassians of the incoming attack is a good example of this. Worf is obviously uneasy with the deception, and Sisko is particularly adept at manipulating the situation with a clever loophole. Story continuity is going to lose a point here. Worf, on board the Defiant, mentions that he has never been on a Federation ship with a cloaking device. In truth, the seventh season of TNG the Enterprise is fitted with an experimental cloaking device, so Worf has been on a Federation ship with a cloak before. Universe continuity is also intact, so we can score a point in that category.

Character Development – 3 points. While this is a largely Worf-centered episode, it is important to note that it is solely a Worf focus. This is one of the strengths of introducing a well-established character into a cast in that there was little need for a lot of back story. Work again is forced to choose between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and again he is cut off from his people. He contemplates resigning from Starfleet, which is something Sisko understands all too well. This allows a much different relationship to develop between Worf and his captain from what he had with Picard. The respect Worf develops for Sisko has more to do with sharing a common experience of loss rather than the inherent “respect the rank” that Worf had for Picard. This is not to discount the Picard-Worf relationship on TNG, just to highlight a major difference. Worf sees Sisko on more equal footing than Picard, whom he continued to elevate. Sisko gets some credit for his solution to the Klingon problem, and his new look really has him being able to stand up to the Klingons in a more convincing way. We see some good moments with Sisko in this episode. Dax also shines, albeit to a lesser degree. She further adds depth to her Klingon connection, and she seems to lay some of the groundwork that will eventually lead to her romance with Worf.

Social Commentary – 2 points. With so much going on in this episode that it is easy to overlook what social commentary the episode is making. As is common with Worf, the pull between two groups or societies that one is connected to can be examined. Is it Worf’s birth culture or his adopted culture that he owes allegiance to? We see a similar struggle with Sisko as he tries to navigate a fine line between appeasing the Federation’s alliance with the Klingon Empire and doing what his gut tells him is the right thing by saving the Cardassian empire from total annihilation. We too can find ourselves pulled between two conflicting forces. It’s a real sense to try to figure out where our true loyalties lie.

Cool Stuff – 3 points. The battle between DS9 and the Klingons is fantastic, and is only a precursor of the epic battles that became famous in this series. Point scored there. I also scored a point for the root beer scene between Garak and Quark. While originally played for comedic purposes, it is cleverly twisted into an insightful commentary of the Federation. A final point is being scored for the plot device used by Sisko to inform the Cardassians of the impending Klingon invasion. By discussing the matter in front of Garak, who had been called in to measure Sisko for a new suit, it allowed the resourceful tailor to sound the alarm. There are many other cool parts of this episode, from Worf’s arrival on the station to Sisko’s shaved head to the breakfast between Garak and Odo, but three points is the limit here.

Rank – Admiral (22 points). This is such an important episode for the series that it had to be done well. On that front, it was mission accomplished. We have action, intrigue, comedy, and some great acting. What a way to welcome Worf into the DS9 family.

If you would like to read other reviews from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, please click the following link.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Celebrating 25 Years of Deep Space Nine

It was twenty five years ago that we boldly went somewhere that we had, as Trekkies, never gone before. It was January of 1993 and Star Trek was basking in a glow of popularity that was unparalleled for the franchise. The Next Generation was riding high in the ratings and the producers were eager to bring another installment into the franchise. However, unlike before, the idea was to not jump ahead in the future and have a new crew on the Enterprise, but instead look at a new crew in a completely different situation. Instead of a starship, the new show would be set in a space station. Instead of a captain, there would be (at first, at least) a commander. Instead of a Starfleet crew, there would be mixed crew. The characters would not be in perfect harmony, as before, but face inherent conflict that had not been seen in Star Trek to this level. The groundwork had been set on TNG for the past few years. Aliens such as the Cardassians, the Ferengi, the Trill and the Bajorans were all going to be a part of the new landscape. A stable wormhole would be discovered and through that the crew would encounter new species and new civilizations. There would be some familiar faces, particularly with transporter chief Miles O'Brien and his family would be transferred from the Enterprise to the space station.

As with every new series, there was a mix of excitement and apprehension among the fan base. Would the new series live up to the high expectations that TNG had established? Would the characters be as lovable and enjoyable as the likes of Spock, McCoy, Data, and Picard? What new stories and aliens would we see? When the show aired, we boarded the ride and began a six-and-a-half year journey. We had new heroes in new uniforms using new gadgets that expanded our costume options for conventions. We had new stories, and for the first time ever there was two hours of new Star Trek every week. It was the beginning of a new era, and it brought about some great memories and moments.

Over seven seasons we followed the adventures of Benjamin Sisko, a Starfleet officer and single father who was hurting from a grievous personal loss. With him was a mixed group of characters that soon became as familiar as the other crews. There was Kira Nerys, a tough former Bajoran freedom fighter. Chief O'Brien would take on the role of chief of operations. A new science officer in Jadzia Dax further developed the Trill species, providing us a more in-depth look at this symbiotic species. There was a new alien in the shape shifting security officer, Odo. He had a particularly entertaining rivalry with the local bartender and con man, Quark, who gave us a greater understanding of the Ferengi. Rounding out the cast was the brilliant yet naive doctor, Julian Bashir, and Sisko's son, Jake. As the series progressed, Worf was brought into the cast as a regular, and gave us even more development for our favourite Klingon. In the final season, Jadzia Dax was replaced with a new host Ezri. It was a multi-faceted crew that brought us excitement into our homes on a regular basis.

One of the greatest strengths of DS9 was not only a talented cast of core performers portraying memorable characters, but an equally talented cadre actors playing a rich and intriguing group of recurring characters. It soon became an ensemble show and we were thrilled as we learned more of these brilliantly written characters. It would be impossible to imagine the show without names like Garak, Dukat, Weyoun, Rom, Leeta, Nog, and Kai Winn. More than any other Trek series to date, no show had such a rich and diverse group of characters. They were not set in stone according to their motives as well. They would switch between hero and villain, crook and cadet, while adding to the interest of the story.

The stories, as well, became a calling card for the show. In the previous series, there were the occasional two-part episodes, but DS9 took that to a new level. Multi-episode story-arcs were tried and were largely successful. More than any other series in Star Trek (with, perhaps, the exception of Discovery) did the effects of one episode have such a lasting impact over the course of the show. Themes such as love, war, betrayal, and honor were woven into commentary of our world. Racism, genocide, terrorism, and socio-economic divisions were addressed in typical Star Trek fashion. They caused us to think about the world around us while we watched these characters explore the galaxy. New ground was broken and some classic episodes were made. From "Duet" to "the Visitor", from "Far Beyond the Stars" to "The Way of the Warrior" and "In the Pale Moonlight", storytelling was at an all time high.

Deep Space Nine kept true to the roots of established Trek while making some noticeable changes. The Trill may have looked different from when Beverly Crusher fell for Odan, but so many other cultures were further deepened. The Klingons were added into the mix heavily in Season 4, and the Ferengi were finally able to find a niche that they could comfortably fit into. The Bajorans and Cardassians that were created in TNG were given much context and depth. We even had a chance to
see some familiar faces from the past. There was a visit from Q, the Duras sisters, Vash, and Riker. We had Gowron do far more than he did in TNG, and a blast from the past with three original series Klingons reprised by the original actors with Kang, Kor, and Koloth. With all the nods and respect to the past, DS9 still went boldly forward with new races. Most notably were the many races related to the Dominion, which became one of the most intriguing and deadly enemies of the Federation.

It is sad that DS9 did not garner as much attention as TNG did. It would have been great to see at least one DS9 movie, but that does not diminish the greatness of this series. While it was not a perfect series, I must say that it is one of the most underrated television series that has aged very well. It's almost as applicable today as it was a quarter century ago. To celebrate this wonderful show, I will do as I did last year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of TNG by giving you ten episode reviews of some of DS9's best and brightest episodes. Hopefully they will include your favourites. So, grab some raktagino, fire up some Vic Fontaine music, and dust off the DS9 dvd set and relive some great television and science fiction.

To look at some previously reviewed episodes, click here.

For my favorite DS9 episodes, click here.

For my top 5 reasons why I love DS9, click here.