06 January 2014

Operation: Trek Overindulgence (or, Walk With the Prophets)

I've been posting a good deal about Star Trek in these parts over the last few months because it's the only television I am watching. It all began last year when my interest was piqued in reviewing my childhood favorite, ST: The Next Generation. My wife was instantly hooked and I believe her to have now seen more episodes than I since she watched most of the first season, which I passed on, and a number of other episodes when I was at work. In any case, it was great to experience the show with her, most especially the "All Good Things..." finale, which is some of the best television you will watch. Next came Deep Space 9.

I'd watched all of 40% of an episode of DS9 when it was airing. I was getting older then and out of Trek and, after all, TNG had been my show. But whispers of the Dominion War kept popping up over the years. If there was one thing TNG had lacked it was lots of pew-pew. And the more I brought it up with fans the more I heard about amazing DS9 was; the under-appreciated younger sibling of TNG, with darker themes, a heavier plot, and richer character development. It's all true. It's not that the characters on DS9 are better; they're not. In fact I find that the cast of TNG is still more endearing, perhaps only because I grew up with them. But each of the regular characters get a lot of treatment on the show and their stories, while definitely a little darker, are rich and relatable. And they're acted very well. Throw in O'Brien and Worf as old pals from the TNG days, amazing and well-developed minor characters, and badass ship called the Defiant, and you have a winner.

Our DS9 journey has come to a close and we are now going through the original films. We've spliced in some episodes of the original series here and there when we wanted a break or wanted to see how things developed earlier. I think the films, of which I've seen all except the first, are a little more in-line with the later series, after the writers seemed to get the idea of canon down. I'm most excited to revisit the connections between the original films and TNG and for my wife to experience them for the first time.


As much as I love (and I have come to love and appreciate it all the more in this last year or so) Trek, I am typically drawn to the bigger-picture stories. This is why I feel I have connected to DS9 moreso than TNG (nevermind its Deadwood parallels); as iconic and wonderful as Next Gen is, DS9 deals with fewer subjects on a much grander scale. With Ronald D. Moore (and Rob Halford--I mean, Ira Steven Behr) at the helm it's no wonder. Which is why I would recommend those of you who enjoyed Battlestar Galactica but never tried Star Trek to maybe begin with DS9. You'll miss some of the depth provided by TNG or TOS, but you'll get that broad, sweeping, epic story feel with a lot of traditional Trek mixed in.

So I go in for the big stories. I tend to groan when I discover I'm watching a time-warp episode, or one of the campy mid-season episodes, but perhaps my favorite DS9 episode has been Far Beyond the Stars. It's not quite a time-warp episode, but it is. It's a little more like LOST in that it's unclear what's going on until the end (turns out it was all in Sisko's mind, a vision given by the Prophets or something). But the reasons for my connexion to this episode are multifold.

First is the spectacle: getting to see these great actors in, basically, a different show and out of makeup is a real treat. I think Armin Shimmerman might actually be weirder looking than Quark. The period costumes and sets in 1950s Manhattan are nice as well.

The second is the work. As the lead, Avery Brooks is the stoic Captain who only has a few flashes of drama in which to flex his acting abilities. Picard was in a similar boat, but Sir Patrick is at least a little more skilled as an actor so he found ways to show his worth a little more frequently. Portraying a character who isn't really Ben Sisko allowed Brooks to show what he can do, most especially in his breakdown scene at the beginning of the third act. Simply spectacular. Kudos as well to Shimmerman and Auberjonois, who are totally out of usually confining characters and get to show a little more depth as well.

Third is the philosophy. This episode went deep. In space. It dove right into theories on Story, what Tolkien described as the soup of Story; what makes them work, what they are about, how we create entire worlds in our imaginations. When Brooks exclaims, "It's real! I made it in my mind!" you believe him. And when he says, "You have to wonder if Benny Russel is out there" it's a legitimate question. Do stories take on lives of their own? Can they be acts of prophecy? Yes.

So even though the finale was tight and satisfying (moreso than LOST's) and got me lots of space battles and hope for a new Cardassia, Far Beyond The Stars takes the cake for me because it was just so damned good.

As an aside, of what is sure to be fodder for future posts, DS9 did a really good job of redeeming those races that got a bad rap in TNG. The Ferengi were ugly, subhuman mongrels that, even when they showed more signs of quality and civilization, were just gross. DS9, through Quark and his family, did a good job of making the Ferengi likeable without taking away the 'eww' factor and the camp. The same goes for Cardassians. They were always intriguing, but horrifying. Through the Dukat of mid-seasons and Garak and the resistance fighters and Legate Ghemor and Damar we see a redeemed Cardassia. They're no longer the monsters whose torturous treatment of Picard haunted my youth, but an honest and resourceful people who have come through the fire and are ready to begin anew. It makes me very excited to start Andrew J. Robinson's Stitch in Time novel.

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