Sunday, April 30, 2017

7-25 - 7-26. What You Leave Behind.

The Dominion War ends the way wars do -
With leaders gathered around a conference table.
















THE PLOT

The stage has been set for the final battle of the Dominion War. The Dominion has pulled back to defensive positions around Cardassia Prime, and Sisko and Martok lead their alliance in an invasion. There is a weak point in the Dominion defenses, and that is where they will strike with full force - And with the aid of Damar's growing Cardassian rebellion.

Even as the Federation and the Dominion put their full strength into the battle, another dark plot advances back on Bajor. Kai Winn has finished studying the Book of the Kosst Amojan. She and Dukat proceed to the Fire Caves to perform the ritual that will unleash the pah-Wraiths on the galaxy.

"Soon, the pah-Wraiths will burn across Bajor, the Celestial Temple, the Alpha Quadrant! Can you picture it? An entire universe in flames, to burn for all eternity!"


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Makes a deal with Martok and Admiral Ross to share a bottle of blood wine once they have won the battle. When the three men meet on Cardassia, however, Sisko looks at the devastation surrounding them and finds he has no stomach for celebrating this carnage. He ends the episode by fulfilling the Prophets' role for him as Emissary, moving on from the station and the relationships he has forged - Though he does promise Kasidy that he'll return. This last was apparently a late addition, insisted on by Avery Brooks - Who was 100% right to do so; Sisko would never willingly abandon his family, particularly with a baby on the way.

Col. Kira: There's a particularly good scene early in the episode. She, Damar, and Garak have just sabotaged the power in the capital, and Weyoun makes a televised announcement in response. Garak and Damar are giddy, waiting to see what Weyoun will say. Kira is far more subdued, her expression growing ever graver as Weyoun speaks. Unlike her two compatriots, she knows all too well what's coming next. During the Occupation, she saw and heard 100 such speeches from Gul Dukat, and knows that reprisals against the innocent are sure to follow. Great nonverbal acting by Nana Visitor, adding an extra layer onto an already good scene.

Odo: Unsuprisingly, Odo is key to the resolution of the Dominion War - Though I'm a bit surprised (and disappointed) that there's no follow-up to his frustration last episode at Starfleet's tolerance of the Dominion plague. Odo does admit his desire to return to his people, and volunteers to effectively act as an ambassador to them, sharing his experiences with "Solids" through the Great Link to change his people's point of view.

Damar: Remains constantly focused on stopping the Dominion. When it appears he is about to be executed, he uses what he believes will be his last moments to speak out in defiance. A terrific scene has Damar, Kira, and Garak sharing a moment of uncontrollable, semi-hysterical laughter when it appears their efforts have been thwarted by something as simple as an impenetrable locked door.

Weyoun/female changeling: Both severely misjudge Cardassia. After Damar's attack disrupts communications, they decide to take reprisals against the civilian population. Instead of quelling rebellion, their harsh actions intensify it, turning the Cardassian military against the Dominion. This is especially ill-timed for the Dominion, as the Cardassian shift turns the tide of a battle Starfleet had been losing.

Garak: Had always dreamed of returning home one day. Now that he finds himself on Cardassia, it's a shell barely recognizable as the powerful world he left behind. His one friend on the planet is brutally murdered by the Dominion, and Weyoun sneers at him about "what's left of" Cardassia. Yet another misjudgment on Weyoun's part, as Garak is far from being an honorable Federation officer bound to behave with mercy toward a prisoner. With the war won, Garak has the toughest job of all - Being left to pick up the pieces of a world that he's been outcast from, but whose culture and society he's always taken pride in. His final scene, opposite Dr. Bashir, is wonderfully written and performed, a suitable place to leave one of the franchise's richest supporting characters.

Kai Winn: Has waited for Gul Dukat to recover from his blindness before completing the ritual, something Dukat takes as sentimentality. Of course, this is Winn we're dealing with, so the real purpose is a bit darker. She continues to harbor resentment at his seduction of her under false pretenses, and tells him that he has no right to refer to her by her first name. "From now on, you will address me as 'Your Eminence.' Is that clear?" She becomes giddy at the anticipation of power when they finally reach the Fire Caves - But once the pah-Wraiths take possession of Dukat as their true intended Emissary, she finally realizes what she has done and assists Sisko in defeating the evil she has unleashed.

Gul Dukat: The most disappointing aspect of this finale is the characterization of Dukat, who is reduced from a wonderfully complex villain to just an evil caricature. I can rationalize away his final scenes as being not really Dukat - Once the pah-wraith takes possession, it makes sense that only his worst aspects would be on display. Even so, his evil cackling and final Villain Speech to Sisko feel unworthy of the character created over the course of the series. It's rare for Dukat to be the weakest element of an episode... But in this instance, he strikes the only sour note of the entire 90 minutes.


"NOT THE CARDASSIA I KNEW": CHANGES AND FAREWELLS

"Some may say that we've gotten exactly what we deserve... Our entire history is one of arrogant aggression. We collaborated with the Dominion, betrayed the Alpha Quadrant - There's no doubt about it, we're guilty as charged... (but) our literature, music, art were second to none. And now, so much of it is lost. So many of our best people, our most gifted minds..."
-Garak, reflecting on the cost of war.

What You Leave Behind is a fine finale to the Dominion War arc and to Deep Space 9 in general. It does the basics of what it needs to do, tying up the major plot and character arcs in ways that make sense for the characters. But it also is a celebration of one of Deep Space 9's greatest strengths: It's ability to be a true ensemble piece.

The episode is appropriately titled, in that every character is leaving something behind. Garak and Damar must leave behind the ideal of the strong Cardassia they remember. As Damar has previously observed, that Cardassia is dead; as Garak laments here, so much of the literature, art, and culture that he has celebrated for the entire run of the series has been destroyed in the fighting. Cardassia will survive, but as a shell of its former self.

Virtually all of the regulars make major life changes, with several leaving the station behind and their former lives in pursuit of new roles. Chief O'Brien leaves Deep Space 9 for a plumb job on Earth, leaving him more time for family but also leaving his friendship with Bashir behind. Quark and Odo leave their rivalry behind in a wonderfully unsentimental, utterly unfriendly farewell scene that leaves Quark beaming with pleasure... almost as much as the reassurance that Kira will keep the same kind of eye on him now that Odo did in the past. Kira and Odo leave their relationship behind, and Sisko leaves for a new role with no certainty as to when he might return. Quark protests at one point that he hates change - But from top to bottom, the lives of the characters are poised to change in big ways as they move on to their next chapters.

Much of this plays out in an extended epilogue, as the characters prepare to move on and pause to relive flashbacks of their time on the station. This plays out as clips of past episodes, representing their memories. Jadzia's absence from the clips representing Worf's farewell sticks out like a sore thumb - It's obvious that Terry Farrell must have declined permission for her footage to be used, but it diminishes Worf's bit as this leaves out the most formative events of his time on the station. But overall, while the clips are unquestionably self-indulgent, the indulgence works. We've become invested in these characters, and looking back on their journeys is effective on many levels.


"YOU LOOK DISAPPOINTED...": WINN, DUKAT, AND THE PAH-WRAITHS

About halfway through the episode, Winn finishes leading Dukat to the Fire Caves. Dukat is visibly underwhelmed, prompting Winn to needle him at his disappointment. Unfortunately, Dukat's reaction to the Fire Caves pretty much sums up my reaction to this entire subplot. "I know this sounds naive, but I was expecting to see fire!"

After several episodes of build-up, the Dukat/Winn strand vanished entirely in recent entries. This was fine - After being prominently featured in four episodes running, it was time to take a break from them, and I felt sure that when we rejoined them the wait would have proved worth it. Instead, their material feels tacked-on and vaguely rushed. Dukat's blindness is cured offscreen, with no struggle at all. They then spend the entire first half on a light hike to a cave and more or less sit around and wait for Sisko to have his end-of-series confrontation with Dukat.

In contrast to the close out of the Dominion arc, none of this material is compelling or even particularly interesting. Louise Fletcher and Marc Alaimo do what they can (which is actually quite a lot), but their strand doesn't really connect to anything else or build to anything in particular. Compared to the incisive character study of the episode-long Sisko/Dukat interaction in Waltz, their confrontation here is just a generic sceen pitting an action hero against a sneering villain. Both characters deserve a lot better.


CONCLUSION

Emotionally, I would love to give What You Leave Behind a "10." It's the finale to my favorite Star Trek series, the Dominion wrap-up is superb, and the character endings are emotionally satisfying. But after all the buildup the Dukat/Winn arc was given, it ends up feeling like an afterthought, and one that diminishes Dukat's character in particular. It's not enough of a fault to keep this from being a first-rate episode... But it is enough to cost it full marks.

Overall Rating: 9/10.


Previous Episode: The Dogs of War


Season Seven Overview (not yet posted)



Review Index

Sunday, April 9, 2017

7-24. The Dogs of War.

Kira, Damar, and Garak watch
helplessly as their rebellion dies.
















THE PLOT

Kira has rejoined Damar and Garak in time for a rendezvous with resistance fighters on Cardassia Prime. But the meeting is a trap, and the three find themselves beaming down just in time to witness Cardassians being massacred by Jem'Hadar forces. They manage to escape notice, and hide with Mila (Julianna McCarthy), the one-time housekeeper of Garak's Obsidian Order mentor. But trapped on a hostile world, they are helpless to act as they witness broadcasts of the destruction of Damar's entire rebellion.

Back on Deep Space 9, Quark receives a transmission from Zek. The old man has finally decided to step down as Grand Nagus. The communication is filled with static, but one message comes through loud and clear. Zek has settled on his successor - Quark!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Near the end of the episode, Kasidy informs him that she's pregnant. Avery Brooks is wonderful here, shifting through a series of emotions ranging from worry to joy to embarrassment at having forgotten his "injection." As he reassures Kasidy, we can almost see him mentally picturing his future family, much as he painstakingly planned out his future house in Penumbra. Though joy seems to win out with Ben in the scene, I suspect the Prophets' warning is about to hit him hard.

Col. Kira: Another strong performance by Nana Visitor, who conveys Kira's terror of being captured by Cardassians during the opening ambush. There's a note of panic in her voice as she insists they have to get away, which fits perfectly with her background - Kira has seen firsthand what it is to be a prisoner of the Cardassians. Even when they are in hiding, her main thought is to escape from Cardassia, with Garak having to talk reason to her.

Quark: "I won't preside over the demise of Ferengi civilisation, not me! The line has to be drawn here. This far and no further!" Quark stands up for traditional Ferengi values - greed and exploitation - using the same words Picard used to rail against the Borg in First Contact. An inside joke for Trek fans, but it works because it fits perfectly with Quark's character. He has defended Ferengi society throughout the series, from his insistence to Sisko that Ferengi are nothing like humans - "We're better!" - to his disgust at his mother's wearing clothes and running businesses. He's on the wrong side... But there's a certain cockeyed dignity to his final, anti-heroic stand against progress.

Damar: This dour man was always an unlikely choice as a folk hero, and even he seems disconcerted at the divide between who he actually is and the legend building up around his name. Ultimately, the thirst he sees in his own people is what drives him to take up the ill-fitting mantle of rebel leader... And speaking of stirring speeches, Damar's heroic end speech is all the better for the sense that he'd rather not be the one giving it. He would rather be helping the resistance instead of leading it (Being Dukat's second-in-command was almost certainly his happiest time)... But there's no one else, and so he has to act to save his society from its demise.

Odo: In only one scene - But it's a good one, as he expresses his outrage at the Federation's tolerance of Section 31's actions in creating the Changeling disease. He acidly observes that Starfleet publicly deplores such tactics, but is happy enough to reap the benefits. He does promise Sisko that he won't reveal the cure to the Founders of his own accord. Still, the scene - which doesn't connect to any of this episode's story strands - is fairly obviously setting up his role in the finale.

Brunt: The final appearance of Liquidator Brunt (I'm going out on a limb and guessing he won't be featured in the finale). He spends most of the episode shamelessly brown-nosing presumed future Nagus Quark. He doesn't even pretend to deny it: "It's never too early to suck up to the boss." He's also the one who clues Quark into the reforms that have taken place on Ferenginar, including "wage benefits for the poor, retirement benefits for the aged, health care," and - most shocking of all - "the T word... taxes!" Jeffrey Combs is a delight as always, and it's a rare pleasure to get to see him play both of his recurring roles in the same episode (though, regretfully, the series appears set to end without ever putting Weyoun and Brunt in the same scene at the same time).


THOUGHTS

The Dogs of War is Avery Brooks' final episode as director, and it's a consequential one. The "A" plot, following Kira and Garak as they nudge Damar into a new kind of resistance, is terrific. The script, by Rene Echevarria and Ronald D. Moore, carries all the strengths of both writers, with sharp characterizations fusing with good dialogue and meaningful plot turns. We see the trio move from shock, to despair, to finally fighting back, and everything the characters do arises naturally from who they are. Brooks' greatest strength as a director has always been his ability to work with actors, and he gets great work from all of the cast.

That last is true of the "B" plot as well - Heck, even Ishka and Zek aren't annoying (in part thanks to being used sparingly). As someone who has often criticized the Ferengi episodes, I will admit to finding some enjoyment. The script offers some genuinely funny moments and even allows Quark a perverse dignity in his defiant stand for unbridled greed. There's just one problem: It belongs in a different episode!

There is a decent attempt to draw a parallel between Damar and Quark, two men standing defiant against changes that they see destroying their respective societies. But even so, the Cardassia plot and the Ferengi plot don't truly fit in the same show. And with the Ferengi plot occupying most of the screen time in the middle, it throws off the sense of jeopardy that should pervade Kira and Damar's story. I've said this about other episodes in the final ten, but I strongly feel that these two stories should have been seprated out into their own episodes.

The addition of a "C" plot, apparently to clear the decks of the Bashir/Ezri romance subplot, further interferes with momentum. Also, by cutting between two main plots and one subplot, the episode can't help but feel a bit choppy.

Still, most of the individual parts are good, with the Cardassia plot particularly strong, and the episode ends leaving the pieces in place for the final conflict. This leaves it as an overall good episode - Even if it is a bit too "busy" to be as good as it should be.


Overall Rating: 7/10.


Previous Episode: Extreme Measures
Next Episode: What You Leave Behind


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Sunday, February 12, 2017

7-23. Extreme Measures.

Sloan lays one last trap for Dr. Bashir
- inside his own mind!















THE PLOT

Odo is dying.

The Changeling virus created by Section 31 has advanced to a terminal stage, and he now has just 1 - 2 weeks to live. Dr. Bashir can make him comfortable, but cannot save him. He does have one idea, however - To lure a Section 31 operative to the station by sending a fake message to Starfleet Medical indicating that he's discovered a cure.

The bait is taken, and the trap sprung on - who else? - Sloan (William Sadler). Bashir traps the agent in a force field... But before he can interrogate Sloan, the man activates a suicide capsule. The doctor is able to temporarily stabilize him, but Sloan is already too far gone to reawaken.

Which leaves just one option to find the information he needs. He and O'Brien use Techno (Medo?)-babble devices to travel into Sloan's subconscious mind, entering the dying man's dreamscape to learn how to cure their friend before it's too late!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: When Bashir and O'Brien inform him of their plan, he indicates it's a "pretty long shot," but does not shut it down. Even when he discovers Bashir and O'Brien invading Sloan's mind, he does not stop them; and when they finally come to, just as Sloan dies, he doesn't spare a second for the late, unlamented agent. He just asks if they located the cure... Another example of how much more ruthless and goal-oriented the Sisko of recent episodes has become.

Bashir/O'Brien: The interactions between Bashir and O'Brien help to keep us invested in their disappointingly pedestrian trip down the rabbit hole. The first thing they encounter upon entering Sloan's subconscious is... the DS9 turbolift. They cling to the rails as if for dear life, each goading the other to let go first before finally agreeing to do so together. A later scene has them talking about their friendship vs. their respective romantic relationships. Bashir confesses that he is passionately in love with Ezri, but that he likes O'Brien "a bit more." O'Brien amusingly (unconvincingly) denies the same with regard to Keiko vs. Bashir. It's a funny, genuine moment.

Odo: Gets a standout scene at the start, when he pushes Kira to go back to Damar. He insists that she has to go, and tells her flatly that he wants her to leave. "You watched Bareil die in this very room, and I know how that's haunted you. I don't want your last memory of me to be witnessing my death." Rene Auberjonois and Nana Visitor are terrific, providing an emotional resonance lacking in the rest of the piece.

Sloan: There is one scene that indicates Sloan might have been used to provide that resonance. When Bashir and O'Brien enter his mind, they are almost immediately greeted by the dying man - But a much more open and affable version of him, who desperately wants them to witness his apology to his friends and loved ones. The scene underscores that people like Sloan usually go into their line of work with patriotism and good intentions. That this more human version ends up being assassinated by Section 31 Sloan is a rather obvious bit of symbolism, but it's not ineffective. If only the episode had devoted a little more time to the idea of a good man corrupted by his own work, rather than dodging into a weak Third Act fakeout that wouldn't fool a small child.


THOUGHTS

Just to get this out of the way up front: Extreme Measures is fine, as far as it goes. It does its job in advancing the overall story, while at the same time working as an episode in its own right. And, of course, any Bashir/O'Brien episode benefits from the wonderful screen cameraderie between Alexander Siddig and Colm Meaney.

So it should be understood that I'm not really bashing this episode. I'd probably be fairly positive about it had it popped up in the midst of the mid-season filler. But amongst the strong run of shows wrapping up the series, it feels decidedly lacking by comparison.

A fair comparison can be made to Season Three's Distant Voices, another episode that trapped Bashir inside a station-bound dreamscape. Though that was far from my favorite episode, lacking narrative momentum, it did a much better job of creating a dreamlike atmosphere on the standing sets than this one, not to mention offering some memorable set pieces. This episode achieves neither of those. Steve Posey's direction is competent but bland, and writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle spend half the running time setting up the journey into Sloan's mind, thus leaving only about twenty minutes for Bashir and O'Brien to explore that setting.

There's a Third Act fakeout in which we're meant to think O'Brien and Bashir are back in the real world, only for them to discover they are still in Sloan's mind. The problem is, it's so clearly telegraphed that I can't imagine anyone being fooled. It just provides a complication, something to delay our heroes from the final confrontation with Sloan.

Overall, the episode is serviceable and does what it needs to do, and I wasn't bored by it. But I also wasn't particularly hooked. Given the quality of most of this final run, I can't help but label this a disappointment.


Overall Rating: 5/10.


Previous Episode: Tacking into the Wind
Next Episode: The Dogs of War


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Friday, January 13, 2017

7-22. Tacking into the Wind.

Kira's worries about Odo
complicate a dangerous mission.
















THE PLOT

Kira continues to assist Damar's Cardassian rebellion, but her efforts are complicated by the animosity and blatant disrespect of Gul Rusot (John Vickery). After Rusot provokes a fight that Kira wins, he swears he will take revenge - and he might get a chance sooner that later, thanks to a plan to infiltrate a Dominion repair facility to steal a ship equipped with the Breen energy weapon.

Tensions are also rising among the Klingons on Deep Space 9. It is very clear that Gowron is focusing not on winning the war, but on disgracing General Martok by sending him on missions doomed to defeat. Worf urges the general to challenge Gowron and take his place, but Martok insists that such a challenge during wartime would be dishonorable. When Gowron hatches a new suicide mission - one that could cripple what remains of the Klingons' strength - Worf feels compelled to take matters into his own hands!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Sisko's brief appearance carries shades of In the Pale Moonlight, as he urges Worf to resolve the situation with Gowron, and to "do whatever it takes." He obviously isn't telling Worf to kill the man - But he knows too much about Klingon culture to think that a bloodless solution is likely.

Col. Kira: For the most part, she manages to restrain herself in the face of Rusot's disdain. Season One Kira would have come to blows with him before the end of the last episode, and would have had to have been pulled off him to keep from killing him. Here, she's pushed ot the breaking point by worries about Odo and the frustration of trying to help the Cardassians, and still only snaps when Rusot physically accosts her... And she stops the fight as soon as she's won a clear victory, and even then knows that what just happened was not in anyone's best interest.

Worf: "Worf, you are the most honorable and decent man I've ever met... If you're willing to tolerate men like Gowron, then what hope is there for the Empire?" Ezri confronts Worf directly with the corruption in Klingon society - a thread that's been woven into the fabric of Star Trek since TNG's Sins of the Father. It was then that Worf was first made into an outcast - in the very episode in which he first realized that the society of honorable warriors he had idealized was, in truth, hopelessly corrupt. This episode brings his encounters with that corruption to a logical endpoint, and cements him as a significant figure in the Klingon Empire whether he wants to be or not.

Damar: Rusot is his friend, and was among his first allies in this resistance; Kira is a former enemy, one he personally dislikes. It's no surprise that his instinct is to support Rusot. But he's no idiot, and he recognizes that Kira's strategies are the ones his rebellion will need to embrace to have any chance of victory. As Garak notes, his greatest weakness is his romanticism of Cardassia's past. He mourns a Cardassia that's "dead, and it won't be coming back," when the truth is that his idealized Cardassia was as much a fiction as Worf's idealized Klingon Empire.

Garak: As much a Cardassian patriot as Damar, in his own way. Remember that this was a man willing to annihilate the Founders along with several people he calls friends, all in response to the female changeling's statement that the Dominion would destroy Cardassia. When Kira berates herself for a loose comment to Damar, Garak tells her that if Damar is "the man we hope him to be, then (he was) more receptive to what you said, not less."

Gowron/Martok: Two stubborn men, each clinging to their nature even when it leads to their destruction. Gowron refuses to follow the sound strategy set forth by Sisko and Martok. Instead of focusing on the war, he focuses on his own personal battlefield: Politics, with Martok as a potential rival who must be shamed. Martok, in turn, won't challenge Gowron because Klingon tradition frowns on such challenges in times of war. Without Worf's intervention, Gowron's plan would have played out exactly as he intended... And likely doomed the entire Alpha Quadrant in the process. A perfect illustration of Ezri's words about the Empire's decay.


THOUGHTS

Ronald D. Moore, arguably Deep Space 9's best writer, is paired with Michael Vejar, one of the show's most reliable directors, for a dark installment involving challenges and betrayals. And Klingons, of course - Moore being the franchise specialist in Klingon episodes. Add in that this is pretty much all payoff for the plot complications that built up in the previous installment, and it's no surprise that Tacking into the Wind is an excellent episode.

The two main plot strands parallel each other in multiple ways. Both involve a regular trying to convince a patriotic leader to take a stand against a destructive influence from within. Both strands also involve characters (Worf and Damar) who have romanticized and idealized their cultures, turning a blind eye to the corruption that has always been there. The result is that, even though the two plots don't brush up against each other even once, it all feels of a piece. Both strands also come to a strong climax, with the overall arc moved forward as a result.

The Bashir/O'Brien story, involving finding a cure for Odo's illness, also gets some screen time, but it proves to the weakest thread. Nothing really happens in this subplot, which ends this episode exactly at the same place it begins: Odo is dying, Section 31 did it, and Bashir needs to get Section 31 to cure it. Sure, they have the beginnings of a plan... But it feels like that could have been dropped in with a line or two of dialogue at the start of the next episode.

Something I really wish had been done, as the episode's only real weakness is that it feels a touch overstuffed. It doesn't feel rushed, thanks to most of the setup having been taken care of in When It Rains... - But it does feel packed, and I think the two "A" plots would have benefited from the removal of the Bashir/O'Brien scenes in order to give the characters and events a bit of breathing room.

Still, if my primary complaint is that too much happened and that I wanted more of the two primary strands, that's not a bad complaint to have. There's no question but that Tacking into the Wind is not only a significant episode, but an extremely good one as well.


Overall Rating: 9/10.


Previous Episode: When It Rains...
Next Episode: Extreme Measures


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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

7-21. When It Rains...

Chancellor Gowron (Robert O'Reilly)
returns to Deep Space 9.
















THE PLOT

Damar and several Cardassian leaders have begun an open rebellion against the Dominion, which opens up a potential advantage for Starfleet. But Damar and his men lack the skill set to be resistance fighters. They need someone who can teach them how to wage war with limited resources against a superior enemy. Sisko "volunteers" Kira to act as an advisor to Damar - but a Bajoran advising Cardassians on guerilla tactics is destined to go over badly, and Kira finds herself constantly challenged by Damar's second in command, Gul Rusot (John Vickery).

Kira's situation isn't the only turbulent one. On Bajor, Kai Winn grows closer to comprehending the ritual to release the pah-wraiths, even as Dukat pushes his luck just a little too far. Meanwhile, Dr. Bashir discovers that Odo has contracted the disease afflicting the changelings. When he contacts Starfleet for Odo's old medical scans, hoping to use them to devise a cure, he finds himself stonewalled in a manner highly reminiscent of a certain Section with which he's had previous dealings.

At least things are looking up a bit for Sisko, who finds one advantage salvaged from the disastrous battle for the Chin'toka system. It turns out that with a simple adaptation, Klingon ships can be made immune to the Breen energy weapon. Martok immediately begins planning a hit-and-run campaign to slow the Dominion offensive.

...Which is when Chancellor Gowron arrives to honor Martok's service, and to take personal command of the Klingon forces. His first order? An all-out assault that can only lead to disaster!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Realizes immediately that Kira is the exact right person to teach Damar's forces, and sticks firmly to his decision even when Kira expresses hesitance. "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."

Col. Kira: Has not forgotten that Damar killed Ziyal, whom she regarded as family, but she agrees with Sisko that she will work with her former enemy for the sake of the war. Odo and Garak accompany her on the mission - which proves to be a good thing, as the two of them work to keep Kira and Gul Rusot from each other's throats. Kira voice some hard truths to Damar about running a Resistance, including the impossibility of avoiding Cardassian casualties. "Anyone who's not fighting with you is fighting against you."

Dr. Bashir: When he discovers Odo has been infected with the virus, he feels confident that he can find a cure by simply comparing Odo's current scan with an old one and isolating the differences. What he isn't counting on is stonewalling by Starfleet Medical. He is able to get around that with some (offscreen) assistance from Sisko... only to find a new layer of deception on top of the previous one. That's when he realizes the truth, and prepares to take action that will doubtless form the focus of an upcoming episode.

Damar: Acknowledges his dislike of Kira, but tells Rusot that this hatred is "a luxury (he) can no longer afford." His personal distaste shows in the stiffness of his interactions, but he genuinely listens to her advice and extends every courtesy he can. The enemy (Kira) of his enemy (the Dominion) may not be his friend - but he'll grudgingly accept her as an ally.

Martok/Gowron: Gowron is happy to sing Martok's praises while awarding him The Star of Kahless. But his real purpose is to retake command, to make himself the "savior of the Empire." As Worf observes, Martok's leadership has made him increasingly popular with the Klingon military. Gowron, a schemer who maneuvered his way into power, can only see him as a threat. Unfortunately, the political scheming that led to him becoming Chancellor did not prepare him for large scale combat tactics, leaving the Klingons - and with them, the entire Federation - on the verge of calamity.

Dukat/Winn: The balance of power has firmly shifted from Dukat to Winn. Now that she knows his true identity, she treats him with open scorn, appalled that she shared a bed with a man responsible for so many Bajoran deaths. Not that she can lay claim to any particular moral high ground - When he points out that summoning the pah-wraiths will result in more deaths, she haughtily responds: "The pah-wraiths will spare those whom they find worthy; the rest are of no consequence."


THOUGHTS

When It Rains... adds one more fine episode added to the largely superb final run of this series. Writer Rene Echevarria handles the multiple plot threads well, focusing each thread on the characters: Kira and Damar's mutual unease at having to work together; Bashir's determination to help a friend and patient, and his gradual realization of a conspiracy; Gowron's thirst for glory; Kai Winn's own appetite for power, which is balanced against her disgust at working with Dukat. Four plot threads in one episode, but it never feels choppy because each thread is so strongly rooted in the characters and in the sense that everything is building toward Something Big.

This is the third episode Michael Dorn has directed. Taken alongside the excellent In the Cards and the very good Inquisition, it's clear he has a strong handle on the series and its atmosphere. I find myself actively sorry that he didn't direct more episodes. He may not have the visual eye of Jonathan Frakes or David Livingston, but he definitely knows how to work with the cast, focus on the best elements of the script, and keep the pace moving throughout.

The story itself is mainly another building block in the larger arc, setting up elements for the next installments. Even so, it maintains a strong grip throughout, with each strand promising interesting new developments - and raising anticipation, and expectations, for those remaining installments


Overall Rating: 8/10.


Previous Episode: The Changing Face of Evil
Next Episode: Tacking into the Wind


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Sunday, December 4, 2016

7-20. The Changing Face of Evil.

Kai Winn studies a forbidden text. 
This won't end well.















THE PLOT

Worf and Ezri have returned to Deep Space 9, but nothing is back to normal. The Breen have launched a surprise attack on Earth. Most of the attack force was destroyed - but not before doing severe damage and inflicting enormous casualties. General Martok, even as he admires the boldness of the attack, reassures Sisko that "every species has its weakness - They're no exception." But as Sisko notes, they had better uncover that weakness soon.

As Weyoun exults in this success, Damar moves forward with his plans to rebel against Dominion rule. He plants a seed of doubt in the mind of Gor, the Breen general, observing that all the praise the Dominion now showers on the Breen had been directed at Cardassia just a year earlier. He meets with Cardassian military allies to plot, and waits for the right moment to strike. Meanwhile, the Breen and the Dominion prepare their own strike - to retake the Chin'toka system from the Federation - a battle in which Sisko and the Federation forces very quickly find themselves outmatched.

Back on Bajor, Dukat and Winn begin studying the Book of the Kosst Amojan, the forbidden text that holds the secrets to releasing the Pah-wraiths from their ancient captivity, plotting to literally unleash hell on Bajor!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Learns the hard way that he should not interfere in his wife's career, not even "for her own good." When he tries to keep Kasidy on the station until the current crisis has passed, she reacts as if betrayed. Doubtless, in addition to his normal protective nature, he is also thinking of the Prophets' warning. To his credit, he quickly apologizes and turns his focus to the battle with the Breen - though his calm leadership is not enough to avert disaster.

Bashir/O'Brien: Basically pull comic relief duty, lightening up this otherwise dark entry. They have become obsessed with their holosuite program about the Alamo, with O'Brien creating a scale model, complete with figures for all the people, to try to figure out a way to win an unwinnable fight. The parallel with the Dominion War is obvious, but doesn't get in the way of some choice humor - particularly when O'Brien becomes upset at Bashir losing the Col. Travis figure. Worf watches their interactions with bemusement, noting to Ezri that they "play with toys" (though that doesn't stop him from showing active interest in the tactics of the Alamo).

Damar/Weyoun: Damar's choice of the previous episode has led to a new confidence. He's stopped drinking, and is planning and preparing with a decisiveness we've rarely seen before. Weyoun misreads this vigor as a response to the alliance with the Breen - As ever, he simply cannot understand that his Alpha Quadrant allies do not, and never will, view the Founders in the religious terms that he does. Weyoun has been given all the clues to Damar's turn - But his inability to grasp that his worldview isn't the only one leads him to miss what is in front of his face.

Dukat/Winn: The previous two episodes saw Dukat firmly driving this relationship, manipulating Winn with effortless glee. This episode temporarily shifts that balance. When the book appears to contain nothing but blank pages, he is nonplussed, immediately certain that this is the wrong book.  Winn knows better, and with absolute confidence insists, "The words are here. They're just hidden, that's all. It's up to us to find them." She dismisses Dukat, telling him basically to get out of her way and let her focus on the kind of studies that are her area of expertise and not his. Fittingly, Winn is the one who finds the answer - Though not remotely in the way she expected...


THOUGHTS

He who opens this book should first be armed with a chainsaw hand...

(Sorry, a recent re-watch of the Evil Dead trilogy left me unable to resist...)

Putting Winn in control of the Dukat/Winn strand is a great choice, one that creates a different dynamic than the previous two episodes and allows Louise Fletcher to show her considerable screen presence. Winn stops agonizing and starts focusing, making her Dukat's equal (for the moment at least)... And the way in which those hidden words are finally revealed has a cataclysmic quality that perfectly complements the events of the episode's other major threads.

I complained in my review of 'Til Death Do Us Part that we were told how formidable the Breen without truly seeing it - Indeed, their most significant previous appearance had a large group of Breen defeated fairly easily by Dukat and Kira, which seemed to limit them as a threat. Well, this episode's climax finally shows them as a threat, rather than simply insisting that they are one.

The climactic battle is a stunning set piece, not because of its scale and complexity, but because it's over so quickly. The point of this scene is to make the audience feel the "Oh crap" the introduction of the Breen so utterly failed to deliver, by making the formidable Defiant and the Federation fleet all but helpless. We see several Breen ships destroyed in the initial moments of the battle, underlining that they are not invincible... But before the fight is even truly underway, the Breen are disabling their enemies with a weapon unlike anything they've previously seen.

The episode ends with every status quo upended. Damar is leading an open revolt against the Dominion on Cardassia; Winn and Dukat are about to unleash the Pah- wraiths on Bajor, with no one even aware of their plans and so no real hope of stopping them; and the Federation is on the brink of losing the war if they can't find a countermeasure for the Breen weapon.

All of which make this the most momentous episode since Sacrifice of Angels. Indispensible viewing.


Overall Rating: 10/10.


Previous Episode: Strange Bedfellows
Next Episode: When It Rains...


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

7-19. Strange Bedfellows.

Dukat seduces Winn to the Dark Side...
which, for her, isn't exactly a long journey.
















"I'll do anything you ask. You need only give the word. Have you nothing to say to me? Am I so offensive to your eyes that I don't exist for you anymore? There must be something I can do to prove to you that I'm still worthy of your love."
-Kai Winn, begging the Prophets to speak to her.


THE PLOT

Worf and Ezri are now prisoners of the Dominion. They are being held on Cardassia, where Weyoun and Damar promise them full due process of Cardassian law: A state trial, followed by execution.

Damar has problems all his own, however. The Breen have been warmly greeted by Weyoun, and the Vorta is taking special pleasure in diminishing his hated Cardassian ally. He makes Damar answer to Breen supervision, and at the same time refuses to send reinforcements to save Cardassians from a Klingon onslaught - leaving a large contingent of loyal Cardassians to their deaths.

Back on Deep Space 9, Sisko settles into married life with Kasidy, while Kai Winn continues her relationship with the disguised Dukat. Winn is eager to fulfill her role as the Prophets' chosen one... Until she receives another vision, one that reveals that she has been chosen not by the Prophets but by their mortal enemies, the pah-wraiths!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Responds a little too well to Martok's description of marriage as a war. Right after talking with Martok, he pressures Kasidy to assist in some functions of the Emissary. When Kasidy refuses, Sisko observes, "And so the battle begins!"

Col. Kira: After Winn discovers that her visions are from the pah-wraiths, she responds by appealing to the most authentically religious person she knows: Kira. Despite her dislike of Winn, Kira doesn't hesitate when called to the Kai's quarters. When the older woman admits that she has "strayed from the path," Kira is delighted, showing genuine warmth toward her rival's admission that she wants to change. But when she suggests Winn step down as Kai, the results are entirely predictable, Winn insisting that she must cling to her position of power. The light vanishes from Kira's eyes and her face falls into a polite but hard mask as she excuses herself.

Worf/Ezri: There's a genuinely funny moment as Ezri, hung upside down from the ceiling, tells Worf that this is doing wonders for her back... Right before adding that she's about to be space-sick. Worf and Ezri hash out their personal conflicts from thoughout the season, with Worf admitting that his behavior toward her has been "dishonorable," and gets a nice moment of self-awareness when he acknowledges that he "uses that word far too often." They end the episode as friends, which should help to clear the decks for the final 7 episodes.

Damar/Weyoun: Damar's loyalty is toward Cardassia, not the Dominion - Which is something Weyoun either won't or can't understand. Gul Dukat had convinced Damar that the Dominion was a necessary evil for Cardassia to regain its status, and that Dukat would be able to control them once the war was over. Without Dukat, Damar's dislike for his "allies" has just been left to simmer - and every time Weyoun reprimands him for not being blindly loyal to the Founders, he pushes Damar ever closer to the boiling point.

Martok: Martok enjoys talking to Sisko about "the war at home," remembering his relationship with his wife in purely Klingon terms: "War has broken out, whether you know it or not. A long, grueling, intoxicating war... Over the course of our marriage I've won more than my fair share of the battles between us. But in the end, I know she will win the war." J. G. Hertzler remains a delight, and his one scene is a highlight of an episode that features many strong scenes.

Gul Dukat: Knows exactly which buttons to push with Winn - probably because she's so much like him. Like him, she thirsts for power and adoration, for the masses to recognize her greatness. At points, he pushes hard - And then lays back, meekly withdrawing at just the right moments for his words to fester in her brain. At one such point, we follow him out of her chamber and into the station corridors - and as soon as no one is around to see, he begins grinning broadly.

Kai Winn: The first time she saw the wormhole open, all the Bajorans around her spoke of how they could feel the love of the Prophets... But she felt nothing at all. She manipulated those around her so that she could become Kai, and she cherishes the power of being the Bajoran spiritual leader far more than she actually cherishes or feels anything truly spiritual. When Kira suggests that she give up that position, she balks, then retreats to the man who keeps telling her exactly what she wants to hear - Dukat.


THOUGHTS

Strange Bedfellows carries forward all the plot threads from the previous episode, this time with more dramatic results. By the episode's end, Winn is firmly with Dukat and the Cult of the Pah-wraiths, Ezri and Worf have escaped and are on their way back to the station, and Damar has entered a new phase in his hate/hate relationship with Weyoun and the Dominion.

The Dukat/Winn scenes remain the strongest. Winn's desperate monologue to the Orb, quoted at the top of the review, is particularly good. What might have come across as theatrical is genuinely emotional, Fletcher making us feel her desperation and sense of entitlement. Dukat's manipulations take on a harder edge, with him denouncing Winn's hesitation and telling her with scorn that if she stays loyal to the Prophets she will always live in Sisko's shadow. Characterization and dialogue are as sharp as the performances; and even though Winn's choice isn't in much doubt, it's a darkly fascinating joy to watch her fall to hubris, despair, and a few honeyed words.

Writer Ronald D. Moore delivers superb moments in all three strands. Damar, who has sometimes seemed frozen in place as the alcoholic who hates himself and his allies but never does anything about it, finally moves forward in a big way. The impetus? Not so much Weyoun's personal slights against him. He's no Winn; he never wanted his position of power and does not enjoy it. No, the deciding moment is Weyoun's strategic "sacrifice" of Cardassian troops. It's a misjudgment that Weyoun will never even recognize, because for him no sacrifice is of consequence when serving the Founders.

The Worf/Ezri strand is the least interesting, but still has good moments. It's reassuring that Worf and Ezri seem to finally put their past behind them and agree they can be friends, and their attempted escape is well-done, with Ezri recaptured because of her refusal to leave Worf. But the best moment comes when Damar and Weyoun are interrogating them. Weyoun makes a personal jibe against Ezri, and Worf responds in a manner that's absolutely in-character and yet utterly unexpected. Damar's reaction, by the way, is priceless.

Overall, Strange Bedfellows is a terrific hour of television, building on events that have come before and moving them forward in ways that are often compelling to watch. That it ends with most of the major players in a different place than at the beginning leaves us waiting to see what will happen next.


Overall Rating: 9/10.


Previous Episode: 'Til Death Do Us Part
Next Episode: The Changing Face of Evil


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