Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Past Prologue”

Continuing my binge-watching of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (having watched the pilot about five months ago), “Past Prologue” introduces plain, simple Garak in the opening scene

and he recruits a singularly befuddled Dr. Bashir to be his liaison. This comes in handy as the Klingon ne’er-do-wells, Lursa and Betor, are on the station and up to no good, not coincidentally when a Bajoran terrorist has escaped the Cardassians and is planning his own evil deeds. This puts Major Kira in a major bind.

She’s sporting a nice new haircut after the pilot. Her conversation with the terrorist, Los, paints her backstory as a resistance fighter in fascinatingly gray tones of complex shapes. The ideas of dependence and independence, picking your battles, loyalty (to whom and why?) are raised in thought-provoking, if heavy-handed ways. An even better conversation starts to build the Kira-Odo relationship as well as furthering the elements raised by the first talk. All the character elements and moral conflicts are intriguing and one of the reasons I prefer DS9 to all other Star Treks. That said, this episode resonates better after you’ve become more familiar with the characters and their arcs (especially Garak’s – though why he’s a “clothier” in a world of replicators is never made convincing) and the action-adventure plotting is not the strongest. To be such a tough fighter, Kira sure can’t fight and as little as she does isn’t well-choreographed to be dignified and the episode ends not with the promised bang but a whimper.

DS9 hadn’t fully hit its stride here, but this was an interesting and not-bad follow-up to a pilot in the similar ballpark.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Emissary”

Back on February 21st, I posted about getting the complete series of Deep Space Nine and said, “In the coming days, I may occasionally write up my impressions in some posts as I rewatch the series….” So, hundreds of days have come and gone but they’re still coming, so here’s a write-up of impressions. (Apologies for any Trek stuff I’ll misspell in these posts and apologies if I miss the happy medium between belaboring the obvious for watchers or being insufficiently explanatory for the non-watchers.)

“Emissary” is a double-episode premiere that is primarily about finding your place in life. One of the ways in which this is illustrated is by having Commander Benjamin Sisko constantly revisit the scene of his wife’s death and seeing alien-induced imaginary landscapes as stormy and unwelcoming while, for instance, happy Dax, the science officer, revisits her joining with her symbiont and seeing the same landscape as an idyllic summer day. It also takes a larger view of humanity as explorers through a fundamentally clumsy but sometimes effective device of having our temporally linear Sisko explain to some strangely non-omniscient yet non-linear aliens what our existence is like and how that makes us automatically explorers through time and space in everything we do. Meanwhile, it introduces or makes more detailed a new Star Trek setting, a couple of alien races, a fairly large cast of characters, and more. At this early stage, the plotting is sketchy (particularly in the dramatic crescendos) and the acting quality rises and falls intermittently (sometimes it’s a long fall – I can’t watch a bit of the beach scene between Benjamin and Jennifer) and it’s simultaneously slow, yet overly busy, but it’s a promising start.

So, to back up: the episode opens smartly with an FX-laden battle scene of Commander Sisko leading a ship into battle against the Captain formerly known as Picard, who has been turned into Locutus of Borg and is leading them against the Federation. While the Enterprises could always pretend to be on missions of exploration and thus not unreasonably have civilians on board, this was obviously a battle situation so why civilians like Sisko’s wife and small child are on board, I don’t know, but such is Star Trek. The wife is killed in the battle and Sisko’s ship is destroyed though he, Jake, and some others escape. This provides the foundation of Sisko’s character as explored in the episode and establishes the motives of some extremely prickly interactions between Sisko and Picard. After that bit of action comes the slow-pening credits, which have always bothered me as the all-time dullest. Next, the characters and milieu are all gradually introduced. The Cardassians have been exploiting Bajor and its subject population before abandoning it. The Bajoran provisional government has invited the Federation in, so they are taking over the Cardassian space station formerly known as Terok Nor and now known as Deep Space Nine. Major Kira is a Bajoran native and first officer/liason officer serving under Sisko. Odo is the shapeshifting foundling security chief who worked with the Cardassians when they were in charge and will work with the Federation now that they are. Quark is the Ferengi owner/barkeep of a gambling house. Dax is the joined Trill science officer who was friends with Sisko when she was an old man in her prior life but is now a beautiful young woman. Bashir is the egotistical doctor out to practice “frontier medicine.” And, of course, O’Brien is the engineer transferring over from the Enterprise.

Things pick up when Sisko meets with Kai Opaka who is sort of the Pope of the Bajorans who are a deeply religious people with a theology built around the Tears of the Prophets which have appeared around Bajor every thousand years or so over about ten thousand years. The Cardassians have rounded up all but one and are investigating them to see if they can find the so-called Celestial Temple so it’s imperative that the Federation beat them to it. (No explanation as to why time is so much of the essence when the Cardassians have presumably been at it for awhile.) With the advantage of the Bajoran historical records and Star Trek‘s magic computers, Dax is able to find the X on the space map and a wormhole opens up. Once inside what turns out to be a kind of celestial temple of aliens and their tech (which includes the wormhole), we have another FX-laden scene of travel inside and then meeting with aliens which has a lot of the same dynamics in relation to the general action that the Yoda scenes have in The Empire Strikes Back – kinda cool the first time, but kinda boring, and very boring later, but not without some germs of enduring insight and perspective. However, the Cardassians are on the hunt, too (with Gul Dukat commanding, who will become very prominent later), and Dax and O’Brien whip up some ST-technobabble and turn the space station into a sort of big slow spaceship, chasing a Cardassian ship to the wormhole. When that ship disappears into the wormhole and more Cardassians arrive and are annoyed with the defenseless space station, things get very tense. Ultimately, the situation is resolved and, rather than being a minor backwater, DS9 and Bajor are now in position to be a major hub of interstellar commerce and exploration.

Random notes:

  • DS9 gets great credit for taking the worst Trek species ever in the Ferengi, and making them somewhat interesting and sometimes tolerable, especially with Quark, played by Principal Snyder, aka Armin Shimmerman. (Though they do over-use them over time.)
  • I love that Picard gets to do the “straighten my shirt” thing twice in the first meeting with Sisko.
  • The Sisko/Quark/Odo dynamics are set up wonderfully with a simple line to cap it when Sisko uses the imprisonment of Quark’s nephew as leverage on Quark to make Quark help the station. Odo ends the scene by saying of Sisko, “At first, I didn’t think I was going to like him.”
  • Kai Opaka is brilliantly cast/played (though, alas, ultimately underused).
  • There’s a nice Windows vs. Linux moment after O’Brien has fought with the computer which resisted doing what he intended to do to save the station because it was dangerous and “not recommended.” O’Brien says, “Computer, you and I are going to have to have a little talk.” Computers should do as they’re told!
  • While there may have been some self-aware mockery (after the six billionth “What is this?” from the wormhole aliens, Sisko says, “I was afraid you were going to ask that.”) the wormhole aliens’ “What is this?” starts to put me in mind “What is this brain? Brain and more brain!” or whatever the line is in the worst TOS episode ever.
  • It bugs me that Sisko originally expressed the idea that he might need to be replaced as he didn’t want the DS9 job and that, when he later changes his mind, he does it because he’s a changed man but it ought to look to Picard like he just didn’t want a crappy backwater job but, now that it’s an important one, he wants it.

Again, while the series didn’t catch fire for me until the Tosk episode, it’s a decent start.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Complete Series (DVD Box Set)

I’ve never gotten a complete box set of any show before but, because I loved Deep Space Nine and the individual seasons were ridiculously expensive (even used) and previous complete sets were insane, when I saw this new edition of the complete series for less*, I ordered it from an internet dealer you may have heard of. The set arrived with one disc off the hub, which was scratched very badly. After I complained, they sent me a new set (they couldn’t send a single replacement disc) and a mailing label (so I could send the other set back without paying postage) and the replacement set isn’t exactly perfect but seems okay. Hopefully it’ll play properly.

*Edit: Wow. I just checked the current listing of that dealer. Pre-ordering can be a good idea. Sometimes the product you pre-order never materializes (which is why I don’t usually do it) but sometimes you save over fifty bucks.

As long as they do work, I’m really happy to have them and look forward to watching them but, as a warning to anybody considering buying the set, the packaging is truly horrific. There’s a single cardboard box which holds three clear plastic cases. Two large cases hold seasons 1-3 and 4-6. The third mid-thickness case holds season 7. The labels on each of the cases looks like someone screwed up the graphics on their home computer, washing them out and making them look somewhat cartoonish, and then printed them on their home printer or something. Point is, they look pretty bad. There is no booklet or anything like that. Just an episode list printed on the inside of the paper that is obscured by the DVDs on the backs of two of the three cases (see below). Worse still, each of the large cases holds a giant thing of hard plastic (liable to break) with pages like a book with two overlapping DVDs on each “page” or each side of the “sheet.” I hate overlapping DVDs (if you want disc B you have to take out disc A to get to it) and I didn’t think they even made them anymore. And these things aren’t even attached to the cases. The cases’ inner spines are just smooth and blank and the “pages” just come right out of the case. But worse still the DVDs do not come right out of their hubs. Again, the hubs and teeth are very hard plastic and sharp and grip so hard that it’s very difficult to get the DVDs out, causing them to bend in most cases before they’ll finally snap free, despite applying cutting pressure with the thumb on the teeth. (Is there a trick to this?) And there are only two teeth, meaning if one breaks, you’re completely screwed. The second and third cases both contain an odd number of discs, meaning there’s one disc stuck on the back of the plastic cases (which are at least somewhat softer and less prone to break). The third case is unlike either of the first two in that the pages are attached to the spine and the discs are not overlapping – there’s one on each side of the three plastic “sheets,” though the seventh is on the back of the case like the last disc of the second case.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Complete Series DVD set

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Complete Series DVD set

So the physics of the thing just flat sucks. It’s an inconsistent, inconvenient mess that is several kinds of accidents waiting to happen. I assume the version released several years ago that cost an insane amount came in better packaging. Seems like it’d be cheaper and easier and better to just re-manufacture all the individual seasons (assuming they were any good) and stick ’em in one big box rather than specially designing and manufacturing this crappy packaging. But enough of that.

As far as the video itself, based on “Emissary,” it looks okay. I’ve seen better, but I’ve definitely seen worse. There are four episodes to the disc unless there aren’t four left for the last disc, in which case there are also some special features – I don’t usually care about those too much, but many do).

I guess that about covers it: an expensive but reasonable price for this 2017 edition (I guess… at least compared to what they cost before) but horrific packaging. But decent DVDs, which is the most important thing.

In the coming days, I may occasionally write up my impressions in some posts as I rewatch the series, somewhat (very somewhat) as tor.com did.