tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 4)

The fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is the one I remember being my favourite. The characters had settled into their interesting roles. They had their ship. Sisko was captain. Worf joined the crew. Nog goes to Starfleet Academy. The communicators changed shape. After this (in my memory) we start getting bogged down in endless war. While as a teenager I hated the first couple of seasons for being too political and boring, I disliked the latter seasons for being too much about military/mystical battles. Season 4 is the one at the tipping point of awesomeness.

The season’s highlight comes early with The Visitor. The Visitor is my favourite episode of any Star Trek ever, though most of it could be a Twilight Zone episode. Captain Sisko and his son Jake are in the Defiant’s engine room for a freak accident which kills the captain. The story is about how Jake deals with the loss, told from Jake’s perspective as an old man decades later. The key is that Jake’s father isn’t actually dead – he’s trapped in mumbojumboland where time doesn’t pass, and he keeps on reappearing inexplicably for Jake to feel the pain of the loss all over again.

The Star Trekkiness of this episode is basically pure technobabble. There’s an accident that does this weird thing. Jake spends a lifetime trying to figure out how to rescue his father and in the end he does, at the cost of his own life. There are Klingons and Bajorans and starships but the only reason we really need all of those is because they’re the accoutrements of Jake and Ben Sisko’s relationship. We’ve watched three seasons of them being father and son so we know what kind of relationship they have. In the episode itself, Jake says he and his father were close and it doesn’t have to spend scenes depicting that closeness outside the realm of this specific story.

And goddamnit it does a number on the writery part of me. Jake abandons his art and his life to save his father, when the Captain just wanted to see him grow up. It’s sad and hopeful and uses its Star Trekness in exactly the right way.

So yes, The Visitor was great. But this season also has Dax abandoned by another lover she would throw away her traditional life and career for. Worf is on trial for killing a shipload of civilians. Bashir gets to try solving impossible medical puzzles (in both breaking the Jem’Hadar addiction to ketracel white, and saving the people of a planet from a bioweapon plague). That Bashir fails in both of these (though he does get a vaccine up and going for the next generation) shows how the writers are taking things a bit more seriously. Not everything can be wrapped up in a nice little bow in one weekly episode.

But there are the light episodes too. The Ferengi going to Roswell in Little Green Men is fun. The holodeck adventure with Bashir as a Bondian spy is fun (though the reason for it working is ludicrous). Rom forming a union, and Quark standing up to the Ferengi Commerce Association and having everything he owns reposessed are also good episodes.

But the shadows of war episodes are the ones (after The Visitor) I remember most. Homefront and Paradise Lost take us back to Earth and we see the wrongness of security theatre (five years before the TSA turned airports into Orwellian zones). This is the season where Eddington defects to the Maquis and it hurts more than the second season episode where Sisko’s friend defects, because we’d had time to get to know Eddington. Oh, and Dukat becomes a pirate with a Klingon bird of prey. I love that episode.

Watching it all again, I remain convinced that DS9 got better and better to this point. Now we’ll see if my memories of a decline are also accurate.

book review: redshirts

So the joke in John Scalzi’s Redshirts is that in a Star Trek-like future a bunch of expendable crewmembers on a starship figure out that something is hinky about their incredible death rate. Anyone who goes on a mission with one of the bridge crew has a terribly low survival rate. The book is about some of these lower decks members figuring out what is going on and how to change the universe to improve their odds. Be warned: it gets kind of meta. (Normally I like that, but this didn’t set my brain/heart on fire.)

It was a decent enough book, but that may be because I’m enough of a Star Trek nerd to enjoy looking at the bizarre universe they live in and figuring out ways to rationalize it. It had some decent things to say about lazy storytelling and figuring out a better way to write. And it didn’t take very long to read. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped but I didn’t hate myself for taking a few hours out of my life with it.

book review: master and commander

I have friends who really enjoy Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books. After reading the first one, Master and Commander, I’m sorry to say I don’t understand the devotion. Maybe it’s like how Star Trek is for me, where what happens on screen/page is understood as only a shorthand for the coolness we don’t actually see but understand somehow.

Jack Aubrey is the Master and Commander of a little ship. He gets a doctor, Stephen Maturin, onboard and they go off having adventures attacking French and Spanish ships. I think part of what I dislike stems from the first impressions of them both being petty assholes, one stamping along badly to music and the other elbowing him for making the concert less enjoyable for everyone around him, and then suddenly they’re best friends. It’s like introducing your hero as being the jerk who’s talking on his cell phone through the movie. Sure he might be enjoying it, but he’s also a jerk.

I also have issues with the naviness of everything. All of that military hierarchy and Aubrey’s desire to climb within it don’t make him an appealing character to me. I feel similarly when I read some of the Miles Vorkosigan books, but those, to me, are far more fun.

And there’s all the sailing terminology which never gets explained. I’m all over that in science fiction because no one knows exactly what you’re talking about, since the writer is making a lot of it up. O’Brian isn’t making up tacking and rigging, just talking about it like of course we understand how sailing works because only idiot landsmen wouldn’t.

So yeah, I guess this series just isn’t for me. I’ll stick with spaceships and characters I don’t want to punch in the face.

tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 3)

This is the season Deep Space 9 really came into its own. At the beginning of the season Odo finds his people and discovers they’re the force behind the Dominion which was brought up as a threat at the end of season 2. There’s some Klingon political action and we get a few Ferengi culture episodes. We learn about the intelligence operations that the Cardassians have and the Romulans and then they both get lured into a trap by the Dominion. Kasidy Yates shows up and the romantic interest with Sisko develops through baseball. Bashir and O’Brien are now firmly bros (and Keiko is off on Bajor botanizing). And Sisko goes back in time and becomes a fighter for better conditions in the 21st century. There’s a peace treaty between Bajor and Cardassia which Vedek Bareil dies while helping create.

The episode where that treaty is created showcases one of the things that made DS9 better than other Star Treks. Because they’re in one place they have to deal with their villains over and over again. And man, Kai Winn is way more of an infuriating villain than Gul Dukat ever could be. They’re both smug condescending assholes, but the graspy nature of Winn bothers me way more than Dukat’s opportunism. If I remember correctly, by the final seasons when the war is in full swing, their villainy gets kind of ridiculous, but Season 3 DS9 has them operating beautifully.

Of course, the other big thing that happens in this season is that they get the Defiant, which is a different kind of Federation starship than we’d really seen in Trek before. No niceties, just an overpowered shooting machine. When it first aired this is why I got back into DS9 (and these are episodes I do remember watching as a teenager, whereas I didn’t remember most of the first two seasons). Now they weren’t weak when they wandered away from Bajor. The stakes seemed higher. (Now I just love the tiny bunkrooms compared to Enterprise-D quarters.) Again, this is something that gets overplayed in later seasons, but at this point in the show it works. There are definitely missions they take the Defiant on that could use a more scientific ship, and it’s probably not entirely realistic, but this is the season the galaxy DS9 was in felt much less claustrophobic.

Finally, Sisko gets promoted to Captain at the end of the season, and one of the things that used to bother me so much about this show as a kid happens in the final episode. O’Brien refers to Sisko as being the best captain he’d served with. O’Brien who used to be on the Enterprise with Picard! That used to really bother me, because obviously Picard was the best ever and the writers were making O’Brien lie. Now though, I get where the character is coming from. Picard was so distant and above the rest of his crew, but Sisko is much more a hands-dirty kind of guy in the mud with a character like O’Brien.

Knowing a bit more about how the world of work goes, I no longer get mad at O’Brien for forgetting his past. He wasn’t in those Observation Lounge meetings seeing the high-level stuff Picard did. But Sisko includes O’Brien in decision making and trusts him to be more than just a competent expert in a narrow field. The two talk about parenting, which I don’t get the sense that Picard ever would do with an enlisted member of his crew. Anyway. Sisko growing as a leader is something I see very differently now than I did as a kid. Which is why I’m rewatching this stuff.

I’m amazed at how many episodes there are in each of these seasons. I guess I’m getting used to HBO-type 13 episode strings, but there’s a lot that happens in each one of these. I feel a bit bad for not doing brief episode by episode highlights, but also lazy. Now that I’ve said that, the second episode of Season 4 will be getting its own review, as it’s my favourite episode of any Trek ever.

tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 2)

I didn’t watch season 2 of DS9 in as concentrated a shot as I did the first season, but this was the season the Dominion slowly became a threat, as well as the beginning of dealing with the Maquis. We’ve learned who our characters are and could get into them better. There are little bits of groundwork being laid for the development of the Kira/Odo relationship even as she’s having her relationship with Vedek Bareil (which I remembered as being much less obvious a dalliance).

One of the episodes that I barely remember seeing at all was Crossover, where Kira and Bashir go to the Mirror Universe. I still regret we never got to see the Enterprise D crew do that crossover (but the novel Dark Mirror handled it, and I loved that book as a kid). It was interesting they could play it as something they just accepted as possible, but it is Star Trek.

But still the thing I’m liking the most about this Trek is the fact that these people have relationships. Jake tells his dad he doesn’t want to go into Starfleet and it’s okay. O’Brien and Keiko (who we don’t see enough of) are married and it’s tough, but they make it work. Friendship is addressed as something that grows and changes. I wish there were more consequences when Dax left to go murder the Albino with her Klingon pals, but the debate in that episode about what she owed to her former self’s oaths was interesting and Star Trekky at its best (and part of why the Trek movies are usually unsatisfying as the ethical debates have to make way for bigger action sequences).

These first two seasons are the ones that turned me off the show for being boring back when it first aired, which is a shame. DS9 definitely hit its stride earlier than TNG did. Once we get into Season 3 we start getting into what I remember as the sweet spot seasons, before the War made it stop feeling like Trek later. We’ll see how it goes in the rewatch.

tv review: star trek deep space 9 (season 1)

Photo Credit: The ‘Pacman Nebula’ (NASA, Chandra, Spitzer, 09/28/11) by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

When I was eight years old my cousin lived in our house for a year while she did her first year of university. One of the many things that happened was she got me hooked on Star Trek (and eating dinner for breakfast). She was supercool and liked Star Trek: The Next Generation, so TNG was always “my” Star Trek too. I know those episodes backwards and forwards. When I think of examples of leadership Picard is my go-to character. I love TNG the way you love the things you grew up with.

I have a much more complicated relationship with Deep Space 9.

DS9 came out when I was in high school and I just didn’t like it. The plots were boring. Too much political stuff. They couldn’t go anywhere without a ship. I wasn’t a fan. Then they got a ship and Worf joined the crew and I rethought my disapproval. And then the Dominion War began and it was just one ongoing war-story which wasn’t at all what I wanted out of Trek either (I was also watching less television in those days). So I always think about this sweet spot in the middle of the show’s run being where anything good would have happened.

I decided I needed to rewatch DS9 to see if my opinions about it, most of which were made when I was a teenager, still meant anything. I just finished watching the first season and there is so much more I really like about it now.

The biggest thing I like about it (that I used to hate) is its sense of place. DS9 is an Old West frontier town. They’re actually building relationships between the Federation and people who don’t really want them there but need them to keep the peace in a hostile galaxy. There’s colonialism going on, but the ethical issues don’t get quite resolved in a single episode. They’re much more complicated than something the Enterprise could zip in, solve and zip out again. I was used to that kind of story in Star Trek and this was different.

Also, I love the father-son dynamic between Ben and Jake Sisko. The way those two interact makes you feel like people in the Federation are more than just props for ethical stances. The relationships in this show just feel more accurate than the assembly of the best and brightest that you’d see on the Enterprise. I love that Jake doesn’t want to be in Starfleet and that he and Nog make weird business deals. UFP economics didn’t make much sense in TNG (though, to be fair, DS9 hasn’t really tried to deal with them too clearly this season).

Now, there are some crappy episodes in this first season. I have no kind words for “Move Along Home” the episode where Gamma Quadrant aliens pull people into a game that Quark is playing. “The Forsaken” (where Odo gets vulnerable in a turbolift with Lwaxana Troi) was less good than I remember it. I didn’t like “The Storyteller” very much, but it was neat to see that O’Brien and Bashir weren’t best buds right from the beginning of the show.

My favourite episodes of the season have Sisko refusing to be pushed around by forces bigger than him. Though the resolution of “If Wishes Were Horses” was a little pat, it was a good science fictional premise and an interesting episode (I can also see how the lack of sinister motives would have bugged young Justin). “Duet” was about a possible Cardassian war criminal being arrested on the station and was just fucking great.

While DS9 isn’t as dark or bleak as (new) Battlestar Galactica it’s different from the Treks that came before it and yeah, this first season is much better than I remember it. If you put it up against first-season TNG there is absolutely no comparison. I wonder if I’ll like the Dominion War better when I get to it this time around, or if this vastly better opinion is mainly a function of only being 13 when Season 1 aired for the first time. I probably had better taste when I was 17, right?

book review: 1602

Man is there anything better than an Elseworlds book? Something taking familiar characters and putting them in a different setting from usual? Well, Neil Gaiman’s 1602 isn’t an Elseworlds book as its from Marvel not DC, but it is exactly the right kind of cool. It takes a pile of the Marvel superheroes and has them be (mostly) Europeans in 1602. Magneto is the Grand Inquisitor in Spain, Daredevil is a blind balladeer, Carlos Javier runs a school for witchbreeds, the Fantastick Four were adventurer explorers captured by the handsome Otto Von Doom. Yeah. It’s all pretty cool. I’m not a huge Marvel person so I didn’t get some of the references the first time I read it years ago but this time I picked up more.

I like these alternate comics because they don’t require knowledge of tonnes of continuity. Sort of like the new Star Trek movie really. We just want to see these archetypes do their thing, be recognizable but different. To act like they should. I suppose that’s a notion that character is deep inside, an argument against becoming who you are based on the specific things that happen to you, but on your soul or whatever. I don’t know if I believe in that in life but in fiction it’s all good.

This is why I own books, so on a Saturday evening I can pick one up and get lost.