Review of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993)

Parts only

This page describes the individual parts of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The work as a whole is reviewed elsewhere.

Emissary (1993Moving picture, 90 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Benjamin Sisko loses his wife in a battle at Wolf 359; a battle featured in “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990). Three years later, having taken time off to care for his child, he assumes command of Deep Space Nine. He does so with reluctance until he and an old friend—a Trill symbiont like the ambassador in “The Host” (1991) but retconned to be more cooperative—discover the first predictable wormhole not far from the station’s normal position in orbit around Bajor.

A fantastic start, unlike Encounter at Farpoint (1987). Highlights include Miles O’Brien taking a skin-of-his-teeth approach to the primitive machinery and Sisko’s very long detour into the wormhole. In the former, technobabble and boldness win the day as usual and I would have preferred failure, but the grubbiness of the setting and the less formal camaraderie among O’Brien’s peers in Ops produce a better impression than a cheaper “reverse the polarity” trick would have. In the latter highlight, Sisko explores the mentality of nonlinear energy beings who are dubiously understood, by Bajoran clerics, to be numinous.

Before this, only “Darmok” (1991) devoted comparable screentime to exploring any truly alien species as such, in any Star Trek series. The usual humanoid, prosthetic-and-makeup kind of aliens are still prominent, but the scenes of Sisko “talking” to people inside his own memories to interrogate his transcendent captors are very good. Like “The Inner Light” (1992) those scenes offer a meditation on life that is personally transformative, but this time, the transformation sticks, drastically reshaping Sisko’s career. At the same time, the experience provides worldbuilding and characterization and the function Q had in Farpoint, which is to pose yet again the question of human nature and value. Doing it without Q is obviously the smarter move.

No relation to “The Emissary” (1989). Wormholes were a recurring but rare motif in TNG.

References here: “Captive Pursuit” (1993), “Birthright: Part 1” (1993), “Battle Lines” (1993), “Prophet Motive” (1995), “The Ship” (1996), “’Til Death Do Us Part” (1999), The Orbital Children (2022).

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“Past Prologue” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The launching of the great Bashir/Garak ship which, but for the conservatism of executive producer Rick Berman, could have been the first openly gay pairing in the franchise. It’s a lot of fun, more so than the visit from Lursa and B’Etor who appear in three episodes of TNG, or the focus of the A plot. I like the fact that Tanha Los’s strategy to aid Bajor is to “drain the pool” in the Heather McGhee sense, damaging everyone involved to make Bajor uninteresting to outside interests; it’s nasty, heely stuff, but it’s smarter than pure evil. The problem is how his outright lying affects Kira’s relationship to Sisko.

In this genre of trust-based personal drama, rapid reverses for the sake of tension are bought at the cost of withholding information from the audience while making the characters, in this case Kira and Los, implausibly dumb or unsympathetic. This, I suppose, is why Roddenberry forbade this trick. I’m OK with it in this instance, given how Tanha is characterized.

References here: “Rules of Acquisition” (1993), “Firstborn” (1994).

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“A Man Alone” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Odo is accused of murdering a man he once apprehended, who was since been released from prison by the provisional government. Keiko O’Brien, dissatisfied with her husband’s posting, starts a school.

The murder is resolved in improbable sci-fi style, with one of those already-adult clones from “Up the Long Ladder” (1989), but here, the writers gently retreat from the scaremongering of TNG, getting in under the wire of Dolly the sheep. A surviving clone embarks on its life without horror, like Spock in “The Infinite Vulcan” (1973), and it is stated that only some methods degrade the DNA. Keiko’s B plot, though it is simple and sadly modelled on the Western, reintroduces the motif of those few every(wo)man scenes of domestic life she had with her husband Miles in “Night Terrors” (1991). Her future students play a prank on strangers that has them masking through a series of colour changes as whimsical as “Albatross” (1974).

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“Babel” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

An overworked O’Brien repairs a replicator in his sleep and gets viral aphasia.

Smarter than all the contagion stories of all the previous Star Trek shows. It’s just a shame that the results of the virus, which physically remaps the brain, are so easily reversed.

References here: “Birthright: Part 1” (1993).

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“Captive Pursuit” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Tosk.

As a concept for an alien culture, it’s less successful than “Darmok” (1991), but it’s in the same vein and less outlandish. The costumes are great whimsical fun. The biggest problem with it is that this is supposed to be first contact with a species actually living on the far side of the wormhole, yet it’s much more human than the Emissary (1993) species, and the script provides no explanation for why the numerous explorers travelling via the station have not found anything first.

Good incidental Quark. I’m not sure how to interpret “Oh Brien”’s romantic little mutiny; it’s a cheap trick, but then again, the previous episode and this one have clearly established his dissatisfaction with the job.

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“Q-Less” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Q.

There’s some decent incidental character writing in this one, but there’s also poor acting and Q, one of the most boring things that ever came out of TNG. O’Brien alludes to “Qpid” (1991), so that’s still canon, and the consequences aren’t good: Vash and Quark selling unknown stuff for money in a post-scarcity economy, and Q playing the role of an abusive romantic partner with magic, to no consequence. Watching this, my girlfriend aptly likened Q to Karlsson-on-the-Roof, the Astrid Lindgren character.

References here: “Prophet Motive” (1995).

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“Dax” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Trill.

The DS9 equivalent of “The Measure of a Man” (1989). It’s smarter, but not very smart; like most real court cases it’s based on crude philosophies rather than Bashir’s brief glimpse of the biology.

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“The Passenger” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

There is an Alexandre Dumas quality to the writing that I quite like, and as paranoid ghost stories go, it’s nicely SF’d up in the manner of “Space Seed” (1967) and other past Trek supervillain fantasies. Like those stories, it’s pretty kitschy. Seems awfully tolerant of Sisko to just ignore Quark hiring those murderous mercenaries. Maybe it’s just the badly lit grey 1990s sets that are getting to me.

References here: “Hippocratic Oath” (1995).

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“Move Along Home” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

First contact with the Wadi, a human species of gamblers.

Pageantry, arbitrary limits to knowledge, and arbitrarily powerful “aliens” are all recognizable from past Trek series. This one adds a dungeon crawl.

References here: “Hard Time” (1996), “Extreme Measures” (1999).

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“The Nagus” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Quark gets a leg up.

The first emic description of Ferengi culture at length. That’s appropriate, and it’s well executed, and the basic premises are consistent with late TNG, but that means they’re poor.

There is a lazy effort in this episode to continue to enable the interpretation of Ferengi behaviour as culture, i.e. nurture as distinct from nature. Jake teaches Nog how to read, which doesn’t make sense; it is ludicrous for O’Brien to expect Nog to produce an essay for school without knowing how to read. The subject of the essay, ethics, is not discussed. The design of the Ferengi shows that the writers themselves did not have a working understanding of ethics as part of a society, no more than they understood the concept of “reversing the polarity” outside of ethics.

References here: “Progress” (1993), “If Wishes Were Horses” (1993), “Prophet Motive” (1995), “Who Mourns for Morn?” (1998), “Treachery, Faith and the Great River” (1998).

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“Vortex” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The possibility of shapeshifters (“changelings”) in the Gamma Quadrant.

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“Battle Lines” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The priestess from Emissary (1993) dies on a sightseeing tour.

The setup is promising, merging a bit of “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988) with the mythological motif of warriors continually dying and rising. Unfortunately, the hatred these warriors have for one another is caricatured and poorly played, still patterned after the allegorical “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969). Its relationship to the priestess is undetermined, and would remain so throughout DS9. The whole thing peters out.

References here: “In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993), “The Collaborator” (1994).

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“The Storyteller” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Bashir and O’Brien fail to save the life of a motivational speaker while Nog hits on a cute Bajoran queen.

The storyteller A plot is high on magic, disconnected from the series even in the detail that Bashir explicitly retracts his request for O’Brien to call him “Julian”, made at the start of the episode. The B plot is more strongly connected to the serialized plot, and better as a juvenile romance than “The Dauphin” (1989), but not by much.

References here: “Life Support” (1995).

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“Progress” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Kira dislodges a farmer on a moon while Nog and Jake barter.

It is clarified here that “Kira” is a family name, or at least “Nerys” is a given name. She is well characterized in this outing, which offers some of the strongest scenes of domestic bliss in the franchise up to this point. “Family” (1990) had Picard’s brother’s farm, but the brother was a bitter man, resenting Picard’s authorially celebrated glamour. This episode is smarter. The farmers are tough but not resentful or otherwise morally inferior.

The farmers do not produce luxury drugs like wine but the essentials of their own lives, including foods that are slow to cook. This falls in line with two prior lines of development in Star Trek. The first is unease with high technology as fake, seen in various weak and evil AIs throughout TOS and TAS, more relevantly in Troi’s dissatisfaction with synthetic food in “The Price” (1989). The second line of development is otium cum dignitate, the subject of “The Inner Light” (1992).

By this point, well into the first season of DS9, the food synthesizers seem to be in good working order throughout the station. However, the B plot concerns an old order of a Cardassian condiment, apparently placed before the Cardassians left the station. The condiment is authentic, not synthetic. Whether there is any chemical difference is never determined. The implication, going back to Troi’s 1989 lament, is that synthetics are chemically different and generally inferior, though subtly so. On the other hand, when the Ferengi plot their invasion of the Gamma Quadrant in “The Nagus” (1993), one of their avenues is the distribution of synthehol, the healthy synthetic substitute for ethanol from “Up the Long Ladder” (1989). Given that ethanol is chemically trivial and they’re already happy to break laws, the Ferengi would not choose the synthetic if it were less attractive.

Mullibook, the reticent farmer whom Kira is sent to evacuate for an infrastructure project, represents both authenticity and hard work as a moral justification for peace, in this case the rest of a yeoman in the home he built. His kitchen has the careful mise en scene and lighting of 17th-century Dutch painters. This detail actually glamourizes the farmers themselves, more so than the rubes of “Up the Long Ladder”, even though Mullibook’s food does not appear to be very tasty. The point is ultimately moral, not sensual. The man’s otium is one of the franchise’s few morally sanctioned responses to a post-scarcity economy where the lotus threatens at every turn. This episode brings attention to the paradox that although trade and commerce are generally accepted in this part of the setting, there is still no currency, presumably because in Roddenberry’s original vision, money itself was just more lotus.

It is a dramaturgically correct choice for Kira and Sisko to uproot Mullibook and his mute friends against their will. That decision is not motivated by the violence done with farm implements—as impractical for their main purpose as the spear of “Birthright”—but by more abstract matters off screen. There is a utilitarian economic calculation behind it all, which makes more sense than Nog and Jake’s bartering in lieu of money.

References here: “Paradise” (1994), “Journey’s End” (1994), “Shakaar” (1995).

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“If Wishes Were Horses” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Figments of the imagination materialize.

This is fundamentally a remake of “Imaginary Friend” (1992) on a larger scale. There is no Zizekian id machine and an expansion of the holosuites is a red herring but the basic template is pretty close to Sphere (1987) etc.

The attendant sexual lotus-eating recalls “Hollow Pursuits” (1990), with Dax meeting a persistent version of herself who was produced from Bashir’s narcissistic lust and is killed under surprisingly non-fridge-stuffing circumstances that go somewhat beyond fabulism. Compare Quark who is similarly attended by products of his pornographic holosuite programs, both of whom are human yet neither of whom are humanized.

In the red-herring scene, Quark talks about building holosuites that are not devoted to pornography, confirming that sex as in “The Nagus” (1993) is the main use for tangible-hologram technology on the station. That may be true even in Starfleet, despite the unlocked door in “Hollow Pursuits” and the stronger moralism of earlier entries in the franchise.

References here: “Whispers” (1994), “Defiant” (1994).

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“The Forsaken” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Lwaxana Troi takes Odo into her dress.

Trapped in an elevator, Troi recounts the plot of “Ménage à Troi” (1990) and refers to Tog—a man who kidnapped her for purposes of sexual abuse—as “kind of sweet”. Clearly, the writers viewed both Tog and Lwaxana herself as funny jerks and featured them because they are irritating. In this particular appearance, Lwaxana becomes relatively sympathetic, but only after speaking interminably for four hours.

The plot is contrived to continue to highlight Barrett, who is still doing the voice of the computer, so that computer is infected by an inappropriately humanized virus in this episode. There’s some decent Odo backstory and characterization thrown in too.

References here: “Dark Page” (1993).

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“Dramatis Personae” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A Klingon ship exits the wormhole well ahead of schedule. As it explodes, its first officer teleports off the ship, proclaims victory, and dies on DS9.

A more intelligent remake of “Conspiracy” (1988) where the plague is Machiavellian factionalism, not squick.

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“Duet” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Kira interrogates a possible war criminal.

While it’s smarter than “Chain of Command” (1992), the plot and dialogue fail to explain why this episode is held in unusually high esteem. There is a sort of universality to it, in that science fiction is pushed to the periphery, and it is an effective way to characterize Kira, but I suppose the reception is mostly due to the immersively moody dramatic acting, like “Obsession” (1967).

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“In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

One of the candidates for the position vacated in “Battle Lines” (1993) visits the station to agitate against Keiko O’Brien’s secular curriculum.

On the strictly ideological level of the worldbuilding, this is the strongest episode of any Star Trek series up to this point. Keiko, a minor figure even in DS9 and married to the humble “everyman” of the show, grows in stature as she defends science and free thinking in simple and effective terms. Her villain counterpart, Vedek Winn, is well written as a hypocrite with the Sydney Opera House on her head. The fact that Winn as a Bajoran represents Abrahamic obscurantism interferes productively with the tendency to paint the Bajorans as the allegorical native Americans of the setting; it weakens the allegory, thus weakening the racism that underpins the Western genre.

This all connects beautifully to the political situation, Sisko’s religious status, a subplot that weaves into the main plot, and all the established characters. Mobile crane shots, extra extras, public speaking, slow motion and reasonable forensics all decorate a grand season finale based on the franchise’s best ideas.

References here: Highlights of Star Trek TV, “Paradise” (1994), “The Jem'Hadar” (1994), “Sons of Mogh” (1996), “Time’s Orphan” (1998), “Covenant” (1998), “’Til Death Do Us Part” (1999).

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“The Homecoming” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A Cardassian prison camp is found to be still in operation and the symbol of a sinister new season 2 organization, the Circle, is not a circle; it’s more of a δ inside an upright oval.

References here: “Necessary Evil” (1993).

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“The Circle” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Open hostilities on Bajor.

Though the titles vary, this is heavily seralized, both continuing directly from the previous episode and “to be continued” in the next, making it the first overt three-parter in Trek history. It’s a bit of a left turn where Kira and Dax mention their skin-care regimen because, you see, they are the women, like Troi and Dr. Crusher hanging out in the beauty parlour in “The Host” (1991): Just two regular naval officers reliant on their appearance. Kira gets a blast of prophecy with the most TV-PG sex scene 1993 could muster. There’s a fun long take, also a franchise first.

References here: “The Maquis: Part 1” (1994).

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“The Siege” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Not entirely satisfying, but the highlights are fun: O’Brien relishing the “siege” of the station from within, and Kira and Dax dogfighting badly in an old hunk of junk. The latter scene is designed to show some delta-v, practically for the first time in Trek up to this point, but it doesn’t do a very good job.

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“Invasive Procedures” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Very soon following the events of the previous episode, a Trill takes advantage of the situation to kidnap Dax.

The execution isn’t all it could be, but the writers do keep their ideas straight. Dealing with separable composite personalities, they successfully avoid personal/gestalt essentialism throughout the episode, which shows an impressive development from the writing of Spock and Data in previous series.

References here: “Equilibrium” (1994), “Facets” (1995).

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“Cardassians” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Cardassian children raised by Bajorans.

Pleasant Bashir/Garak stuff, but it’s disappointing to see the writers failing to engage with nature vs. nurture. Determined that all biological differences should be superficial, as an allegory with real-world anti-racism, they nonetheless have all the non-human species be unable to distinguish between nature and nurture.

References here: “The Abandoned” (1994), “Return to Grace” (1996).

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“Melora” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Bashir tries to adapt a low-gravity native to Earth-like gravity.

The A plot is an allegory about a disabled person milking their victimhood to harass the non-disabled. Surprisingly, the B plot is even more poorly conceived.

References here: Worldbuilding for television production, “Past Tense: Part 1” (1995).

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“Rules of Acquisition” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A woman named Pel helps Quark and the Nagus learn about the Dominion, an empire in the Gamma Quadrant.

Klingon women were once conceived as monstrous parodies of undesirable human women, e.g. “A Matter of Honor” (1989). Their image later softened so that, in “Past Prologue” (1993), Klingon women are tough, but not monstrous. Similarly, the Ferengi as a species were once conceived as monstrous, and portrayed that way in “The Last Outpost” (1987), but their image also softened. That happened mostly through comedy on DS9 but also in “Suspicions” (1993) etc. This episode continues that tradition of humanizing monsters, specifically Ferengi women.

As a counterexample to the hitherto prevailing representation of Ferengi women in their absence as “females”, biologically more different from humans, Pel is instead more human than the male Ferengi, having more human ears etc. This is a feminist allegory, based on the analogy of dehumanized human women in real life. The makeup department does not go full “sexy dimorphism” on Pel, but the apparent feminism of the script is ultimately more of the same backhanded progressivism as in the previous episode. Pel’s competence and success are limited not by realistic consequences of sexist oppression, nor by gender-neutral challenges, nor by chance, but by falling in love as women are wont to do under screwball-comedy circumstances.

Beyond clarifying that Pel’s behaviour is criminal, which suggests that it isn’t new, the episode says surprisingly little about Ferengi society. It does not show whether Ferengi women in general consent to their treatment or live in a hellish state of permanent sexual slavery; they are not permitted to wear clothes. Pel reads as an isolated case, an individual defensive token for producers rightfully accused of sexism. Even so, the counterexample happens at the expense of having aliens on Star Trek who are different from humans. The facepainting Ferengi-like species of traders in this episode are just as humanly familiar.

References here: “The Search: Part 1” (1994), “Family Business” (1995).

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“Necessary Evil” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Quark and Rom break into the site of a cold-case murder that was Odo’s first investigation.

TNG had a lot of episodes nominally devoted to the backgrounds of individual characters. It was never done better than “Brothers” (1990), but even “Brothers” was plagued by poor continuity. “Necessary Evil” does it right, leveraging the superior serialization of DS9. It characterizes primarily Odo through his past, secondarily Kira through her role in that past, tertiarily DS9 itself (excellent changes in set design, and lighting and/or colour grading; excellent incidental dialogue to illustrate the past age of tyranny), and quaternarily Rom in the present. As usual, Rom is the butt of a few jokes (good ones) but is also humanized as a competent burglar.

There are minor storyboarding hiccups in the unusually complex screenplay, but doing this much work with the characters, in a way that feels planned and does not break the flow of the ongoing season, is impressively novelistic. I like the idea of Odo getting his job because his biology has naturally led him to be a good observer.

The only problem is the sexism. The vamp in the opening scene has a plausible motive (paying her utility bills), but the recurring assumption that Kira is—or is perceived to be—a sex worker is just sad. She pretended to be one in “The Homecoming” (1993), which didn’t make sense there either. Just as Dr. Crusher in TNG objectified herself sexually to achieve a mission objective in “Chain of Command: Part 1” (1992), Kira occasionally does the same, and even when she doesn’t, she is objectified by others, with even Quark making up a sexual fantasy about her, unprompted. The writers didn’t do that to make a feminist point about the harsher climate on the station under the Cardassians, but rather for the same reasons that made Denise Crosby and Gates McFadden leave TNG, which is also the reason why Jeri Ryan passed out wearing a corset on Voyager. The producers, and many of the writers, thought of all those women as sexual objects first and as people second. The young Kira in this episode is in fact well characterized by her actions and dialogue, while at the same time, as if in a parallel reality, she also falls under the male gaze as no more than an illogically pretty “redhead” in a world where there are hundreds of intelligent non-human species, and she belongs to one of them.

References here: “Things Past” (1996).

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“Second Sight” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The alien wife of a narcissistic human terraformer projects an alternate version of herself that hits on Sisko near the anniversary of his own wife’s death.

More sexism. This is nearly a remake of “The Perfect Mate” (1992), with magic and extra bad fantasy physics. Instead of technobabble, the characters talk openly about converting higher elements into hydrogen to turn what is apparently a solid planet into a sun, which makes even less sense than lighting Phobos on fire in The Sands of Mars (1951).

References here: “The Alternate” (1994).

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“Sanctuary” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The Skrreans, a people fleeing the growing Dominion.

The universal translator initially fails on the Skrreans, teasing a possible “Darmok” (1991). However, they do not have an alien mindset, just another matriarchy like “Angel One” (1988), and that’s not a major subject either. The episode gradually settles into a union of “Up the Long Ladder” (1989) and “Ensign Ro” (1991), but wastes even that. The last bits of the Skrrean Haneek’s dialogue are awful, clearly written to abandon the plight of the Skrreans as a topic, discard Haneek’s friendship with Kira, and jerk back to status quo ante to demonstrate that it all meant nothing.

There are some fun ideas on the way to the pointless finish. The textured, “flaking” Skrreans are less objectified than the matriarchs of “Angel One”, and their sexism is not caricatured, which is ultimately a win for feminism. It is too bad that the ultimate message endorses ethnostates under varied styles of hair and makeup.

References here: “Prophet Motive” (1995).

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“Rivals” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Jailed by Odo, a con man picks up an alien trinket and starts a casino with it.

There is too much caricature in this episode, and the concept of machines that implement luck is never driven past the point of fabulism. Other than that, it’s fun. The futuristic version of racquetball, which looks influenced by the real-world sport of “real tennis”, makes a lot more sense than the “anbo-jyutsu” of “The Icarus Factor” (1989).

References here: “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” (1997).

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“The Alternate” (1994Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Odo and the Bajoran scientist who raised him go looking for more shapeshifters.

More good backstory for Odo. I even like what the writers tried to do with the monster from the repressed id within; it’s very Freudian, in the same lazy Hollywood way that “Second Sight” (1993) is Freudian, and the visual implementation is hampered by the technology of 1994, but the callback to “Imagination of Disaster”-era SF in this one is really cute.

References here: “The Search: Part 2” (1994).

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“Armageddon Game” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Rival factions seek to dismantle their genocidal bioweapons, using fake video and sensor readings to make it appear that all those who carried out the final phase of disarmament were then killed in an accident, when in fact they were murdered to end all living knowledge of the weapons.

Cheesy hairstyles, and the treatment of disinformational media is ultimately too little, too late for Star Trek, but the premise and the deeper Bashir–O’Brien interaction are good.

References here: Internal contradiction by omission, “Whispers” (1994), “Tribunal” (1994), “In the Pale Moonlight” (1998).

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“Whispers” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

O’Brien fears another “Conspiracy” (1988).

Compared to “Armageddon Game” (1994), this one is more ambitious and Philip K. Dick-like in its game of paranoia, representation and authenticity.

Importantly, the new O’Brien, whom we follow through the episode, is not fake. He is not, for instance, like the horror-movie clones of “Up the Long Ladder” (1989). He is believed to have been dangerously (re)programmed, like La Forge in “The Mind’s Eye” (1991), and it is parsimonious to conclude that he really is dangerous, but this is not confirmed. He is obviously not a deceiver. His death, however convenient and distasteful in its traceless return to status quo ante, is not completely glossed over.

The people on DS9 should have responded to the new O’Brien in a manner more similar to “The Infinite Vulcan” (1973) or “Second Chances” (1993), two similar cases where a duplicate of a person is allowed to live on in peace. Instead, responses to O’Brien’s paranoia only feed that paranoia, continuing to tease the “Conspiracy” angle for the sake of tricking the audience. This goes beyond what is plausible, even if the vague promises not to hurt the copy are sincere. Like the similarly new Dax in “If Wishes Were Horses” (1993), the new O’Brien dies with a shred of dignity that confirms his basic humanity. That ending is correct, in terms of internal consistency. It pairs well with Keiko’s realization that her own understanding was wrong, and it’s dismissive enough to fit within an already broken setting where every routine teleportation includes the annihilation of the original.

References here: Internal contradiction by omission, “Paradise” (1994), “Shadowplay” (1994), “Tribunal” (1994), “Defiant” (1994), “Visionary” (1995).

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“Paradise” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Sisko and O’Brien are stranded on a planet with an unknown human colony and no advanced technology.

Kitsch of the telling sort. At first, “Paradise” appears to be another “Masterpiece Society” (1992) where the writers and producers guiltily express their utopian fantasies. In this case, the initial fantasy is that of emotional and physical authenticity at the cost of comfort, a utopia dimly felt in “The Price” (1989) and teased every time that Star Trek characters decline to eat the lotus, which is all the time. Its most prominent realization up to this point is on a larger scale in “Devil’s Due” (1991), and its most recent, on a smaller scale, is “Progress” (1993).

In the space of a couple of days of intradiegesis, the writers flip too quickly and too fully from a naïve utopia to a cynical dystopia, as if to punish themselves for playing with fire. The first step in that process is good. Local leader Alixus rejects modern medicine, as people do in Always Coming Home (1985). Alixus’s stance on this is more extreme than that of skeptical Dr. Pulaski in TNG, who in “Contagion” (1989) relished the opportunity to do medicine without modern tools, but it’s comparable to Pulaski. Even Dr. Crusher on TNG, for whom Pulaski was a stand-in, had a working knowledge of herbal medicine according to “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988).

Starting from herbal medicine, the writers give Alixus more and more cultish qualities until she is a full-blown Rudolf Steiner, verging on a Jim Jones like “The Way to Eden” (1969). These qualities include denial of her own political power, ouvertures toward religion, and the use of force in the form of punitive justice: A hot box where criminals and dissenters are left to languish. There is also a brief glimpse of Lord of the Flies (1954) in Vinod hunting O’Brien, but the really surprising twist is Sisko’s non-violent resistance to Alixus, which takes the form of voluntarily laying in the hot box.

In TNG, LeVar Burton played La Forge, a character who visited DS9 in “Birthright”. Burton is otherwise best known for Roots (1977). Sisko’s ordeal in this episode resembles a common punishment for US slaves like Burton’s Kunta Kinte on Roots. This resemblance must be somewhat deliberate, because I can’t think of any other reason why Sisko, the heroic person of colour in this situation, would attempt to resist Alixus’ tyranny by submitting to her use of violence. Kunta Kinte had no choice, but Sisko and O’Brien have many choices. The appropriate one would have been that of Keiko O’Brien in “In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993) and, failing that, walking away.

“Paradise” is a waste of the opportunity to do something fun with the core tensions in the franchise’s view of utopia. In essence, it deprecates the occasionally fearful views of technology and artificiality exhibited by past writers, but it does so only by association with cults, which is so tangential that it undermines the point. “Devil’s Due” did something similar, derailing a story about voluntary economic degrowth by bringing in nefarious religion. It would have been better to stop at having to work hard to get enough authentic food to eat as in “Progress”, without medicine, while treating the concept of authenticity as in “Whispers” (1994).

References here: “Journey’s End” (1994).

moving picture episode fiction

“Shadowplay” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Dax and Odo check out a village full of pale tie-dye apparel while Kira and Vedek Bareil look mutually hunky and Jake Sisko announces he doesn’t want to go to Starfleet Academy.

The A plot is just “The Big Goodbye” (1988) writ large, but notice the fundamental change in philosophical attitude! The writers are a lot better informed this time around, perhaps as a result of learning more about computers, death, or both. With this and “Whispers” (1994), it almost looks as though the writers were inching up on admitting that teleportation is lethal.

Unfortunately, in one part of the A plot, TNG’s “Data befriends a child” motif rears its ugly head again, in the form of Odo befriending a girl played by the same kid who played Clara Sutter in “Imaginary Friend” (1992). Is that supposed to mean the founder of the hologram village has been filching DNA from Starfleet medical records? That guy’s a real wiz.

It’s a shame that Kira and Vedek’s romance doesn’t get another over-the-top TV-PG sex scene. Benjamin Sisko’s reaction to his son’s non-choice of careers is also underwhelming, but intelligent and appropriate: A good example of how human civilization on Trek is supposed to have transcended drama in the sense of interpersonal bullshit and “Firstborn” (1994).

References here: Internal contradiction by omission, “Heart of Stone” (1995), “Our Man Bashir” (1995).

moving picture episode fiction

“Playing God” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Dax has an understudy and a new universe begins.

Ideally, in an episode like this which cuts between two different plots, the A plot and the B plot are supposed to come together in the end, either by interaction, or thematically, or both. “Booby Trap” (1989) is an example of this setup working out. In that episode, La Forge learns about wu wei, which is the Daoist doctrine of chillaxation. He applies it both to romance and to an otherwise unrelated technical problem. This episode tries to do the same.

The Trill understudy, Arjin, learns through contact with Dax that he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing as he is growing up. Meanwhile, new life is discovered in an expanding pocket universe that Arjin and Dax bring home. There’s a thematic parallel there, but it’s faint. In the end, Arjin uses his advanced piloting skills to get rid of the pocket universe, resolving his own doubts in the process and securing Dax’s recommendation. It’s formally correct TV writing but it’s empty, and Dax seems out of character as she tries to make it gel. She disabuses Arjin of his straight-laced notions of maturity, partly by her own example as a paradoxically rebellious overachiever. I understand the temptation to paint Dax as a diligent science officer, a sybarite (gambling, risky drinking, casual sex with aliens whom humans find ugly) and an action girl, all at once and all motivated to some extent by Trill canon, but the show does not sell it. By this point the character is drifting into the same generic superhero territory as Spock and Data before her. Fortunately, this trend was later discontinued.

“Home Soil” (1988) is a better treatment of unexpected, microscopic life. Alas, in both cases, there are no later callbacks to and very little interest in the nature of the alien. The script provides a metaphor, “stepping on ants”, for a recurring motif in the franchise, where the Prime Directive of non-interference (or benign neglect) intersects prejudices about what is worth protecting in the first place. In this case, the ants of the metaphor are not just the life forms of the new universe, but also the Cardassian voles suddenly plaguing the station, and more importantly, the poor unacknowledged bastards already living on the far side of the wormhole when Dax and Arjin drop off a new Big Bang.

On a side note, the model of DS9 that features too heavily in the opening credits sequence was a practical miniature, not CGI, until the last episode of the show. “Playing God” represents the first serious attempt to work around that fact by having something destructive happen on the exterior of the station. It doesn’t last and it doesn’t look good.

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“Profit and Loss” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A regime-critical Cardassian professor visits the station.

It’s better than “Unification: Part 2” (1991), but similar in its fundamental weaknesses. Professor Lang is an expert on Cardassian society and potentially instrumental in reforming its leadership, something that would be of great importance to the most central plot thread of DS9, a serialized show. However, Lang provides virtually no exposition and would never make another appearance. The writers did not bring her on to develop the setting or the plot. They brought her on as a hitherto unknown yet nominally passionate love interest for Quark and for a surprisingly flat espionage subplot with Garak. It’s not quite a stand-alone episode, and not a bad one, but a wasted opportunity.

References here: What You Leave Behind (1999).

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“Blood Oath” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Jadzia Dax goes to resolve a previously unmentioned oath that Curzon Dax swore with post-retcon versions of three pre-retcon Klingons who appeared in TOS: Kor from “Errand of Mercy” (1967), Koloth from “The Trouble with Tribbles” (1967) and Kang from “Day of the Dove” (1968). She doesn’t ask where their new brow ridges came from, or how all the gung-ho Iron Age warriors who want to die fighting could possibly have survived a century on a suicidal quest, but she gladly risks her lives.

Benjamin Sisko gets the thankless job of voicing the writers’ bad conscience in this, the most matinée bullshit hitherto attempted on DS9. It is unwatchably poor in planning and execution, including the very end: Dax doesn’t kill the villainous “Albino”, returning to her post without his blood on her hands and without so much as a single death ritual from “Heart of Glory” (1988) or Riker’s good haunted look from “The Outcast” (1992). It is not Sunset Blvd. (1950); it is fan service.

References here: “Crossover” (1994), “The House of Quark” (1994), “The Sword of Kahless” (1995), “Sons of Mogh” (1996), “Trials and Tribble-ations” (1996), Trekkies (1997).

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“The Maquis: Part 1” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Cloak-and-dagger hostilities on the station and in the Demilitarized Zone threaten to trigger a new war with the Cardassians. Sisko and Gul Dukat, the former head of the occupation of Bajor, briefly team up trying to find out what’s what.

Bernie Casey is a weaker actor here than his counterpart, Frank Langella in “The Circle” (1993). It is a bigger problem that the action is compressed. Sisko alludes to Circle-era Kressari smugglers, but mistakenly calls them “Yridians”. More recent events in the ongoing conflict don’t come up. As a result, events don’t quite take on their proper importance, but it’s still nice to see continuity.

References here: “Preemptive Strike” (1994), “The Jem'Hadar” (1994), “Waltz” (1998).

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“The Maquis: Part 2” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Gul Dukat continues to make a fine ambiguous villain. His realization that he has been betrayed is weak and will ultimately have no impact on his career, but other than that, it’s a fun ride from start to finish. Sisko’s speech about “paradise” on Earth is a good statement of intent for the whole series and the final battle is adorably petty.

References here: “Defiant” (1994), “Return to Grace” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Wire” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Garak falls ill and denies it.

Good slash-bait and good background on Cardassian society. The sudden density of references to the Obsidian Order, including one in relation to the Romulans, is excessive foreshadowing, as is the immediate appearance of Tain, but I quite like the idea of a repetitive literature being viewed as elegant; it’s only somewhat alien but that caricature of human loyalty to the state is compatible with the characterization of Cardassian culture from a larger perspective in “Chain of Command” (1992). Whereas the Romulans started as a caricature of imperial Rome, not far enough removed from “Bread and Circuses” (1968), Cardassians as described in “The Wounded” (1991) and here, while still symbolic of human cultures, are less allegorical.

References here: The Dark Knight (2008).

moving picture episode fiction

“Crossover” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The first of many new visits to the goatee universe of “Mirror, Mirror” (1967).

It’s campy as hell, but it’s a different kind of camp than “Blood Oath” (1994). As Bashir says, this is through the looking-glass, a children’s game of pretend. It’s the kind of thing that actors seem to do because they get bored. I can’t complain about them having their fun, and I’m glad they kept it in the sand box.

In this outing, the moral inversion doesn’t quite hold and there aren’t any goatees. Kira and Odo are evil but the rest are hardly mirror images; we just get a nimble pirate version of Sisko like the pirate version of Picard in “Gambit: Part 1” (1993), along with open references to Kirk and Spock as legends familiar to all. The sketched continuity from Kirk’s transporter malfunction is camp, but Odo being evil is a sincerely excellent choice at this point in the season because the last few episodes have played up his authoritarian tendencies. It’s also a good choice to kill him, just to establish that it can be done by conventional means.

References here: “The Search: Part 2” (1994).

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“The Collaborator” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The Kai selection process begun after “Battle Lines” (1993) is completed.

A mixed bag. I hoped that Kira’s relationship with Bareil was going to stay wholesome for a while, but this episode injects it with improbable drama for mystical reasons: After allegorical visions in the style of the Old Testament (ca. 164 BCE), Bareil leaves the position of Kai for Vedek Winn to win, with a hint that this has been prophesied. He publicly confesses to having betrayed the confidence of some Bajorans in a trolley dilemma under the Cardassians, when in fact it was Kai Opaka who “collaborated” in that tenuous sense. It’s not nearly as strong a plot as Winn’s previous appearance, but that appearance has left appropriately deep traces; Winn’s conversation with Sisko is very funny in its diplomatically muted contempt.

moving picture episode fiction

“Tribunal” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

O’Brien is pronounced guilty of a crime and not informed.

This is where the Cardassian worldbuilding takes a bad turn and, unrelatedly, the writers start picking on O’Brien, despite his emulation of Picard’s workaholism from “Captain’s Holiday” (1990).

The system of jurisprudence outlined in this episode is so corrupt that it makes no sense. It is essentially a childish caricature of authoritarian justice systems, including the Japanese system with its 99% conviction rate and anti-foreigner bias. The judge knows from the beginning that O’Brien is innocent. O’Brien’s lawyer doesn’t care; instead he’s concerned entirely with putting on a cathartic show for the children who are presumed to be watching on giant Nineteen Eighty-Four-style exterior screens, in a ploy to legitimize the regime. This is ironic because DS9 itself was made for children watching television: It’s a cathartic show where good triumphs over evil—except when Vedek Winn is elected Kai—and faith in humanity is restored.

If there is any Cardassian at all who wants less hypocrisy or more functionality in their legal system, there is no sign of it. Instead they all seem to agree that murdering an innocent citizen of another polity on TV, as a war crime, is a good idea. This plot hole covers the entire episode after the funny opening scene. Alternative plots include convicting an undefended stooge like Boone, or manufacturing a puppet like the cloned O’Brien from “Whispers” (1994) or the deepfake O’Brien from “Armageddon Game” (1994). Despite knowing about those technologies, Starfleet is mildly surprised that anybody could fake a voice print. The forensics are as bad as “A Matter of Perspective” (1990), which also has a corrupt legal system, but this episode is more fun kitsch. Still, prefer Brazil (1985).

References here: “Second Skin” (1994), “Hard Time” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Jem'Hadar” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Nog, Quark and the Siskos survey a Devonian-like planet for a school science project when they are trapped by soldiers of the Dominion.

Again, the season finale is the highlight of the season, but this isn’t as strong as “In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993).

The Jem'Hadar are sold to the audience a bit like the Sardaukar of Dune (1965). They’re well equipped, smart, highly motivated and they have good intel, which is better than a categorically overpowering enemy-of-the-week like “Allegiance” (1990). However, despite being a new alien species, the Jem'Hadar are not otherwise novel or thematically relevant, not even to the extent of the Borg. They are just more humanoids with a bunch of silicone on the head, in a slightly different configuration than their predecessors in the role of the recurring enemy, and some perfunctory technobabble to make their weapons seem powerful enough.

By this point in its development, Star Trek was on the treadmill of a certain strain of juvenile fiction, perhaps best symbolized by long-running shōnen manga because that is where it tends to work best. Dramaturgy requires an easily identifiable threat; an enemy (on Trek: a hostile alien species) is made up and introduced to fill that need; the new enemy’s abilities are played up for tension but commercial fundamentals forbid large consequences (main characters survive etc.); the reader/viewer gradually learns more about the enemy through the struggle; as a result the enemy is increasingly humanized and seems less scary. “The Enemy” (1989) is a typical example of the treadmill spinning to humanize the Romulans. At the end of the cycle, the enemy is defeated in some way (often morally) and reformed, marginalized, or reduced to comedy. At this point tension is low, so the writers are back where they started and they introduce another enemy.

The treadmill spins quickly on Trek because the writers carelessly introduce fascist sapient species as if they grew on trees, instead of having to come up with rival political factions with meaningful differences of opinion. Also, Trek’s underlying progressivism makes pure evil somewhat rare. The classic shōnen conclusion is to have the reformed enemy join the heroes, and indeed that happens a lot on Trek: Worf the Klingon in TNG; the Romulan T’Rul saying—in the episode after this one—that “Romulan interests will be served through co-operation”; “I Borg” (1992); Quark of the Ferengi; and Sisko teaming up with the Cardassian Gul Dukat in “The Maquis” (1994). The details are funny: Dukat is played by Marc Alaimo, who played both a Romulan and a different Cardassian on TNG, personally treading on that mill with Armin Shimerman, who played two Ferengi before Quark. The Romulans were supposed to be the main threat back on TOS, but that show didn’t even have money for pointy ears, which is why—according to The Art of Star Trek—the treadmill turned and the Klingons took over.

At this point in the franchise, it is tiresome to see the treadmill turning yet again. This is partly because the new threat is of a military nature, while as always, both ships in formation and ships in combat are shown practically touching, without use of scale or delta-v. The second-to-last plot twist is relevant: The Jem'Hadar execute the suicide attack that Riker ordered in “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990), minus the warp speed. This shows them as desperate, aside from being a silly maneuver, like crashing one fighter jet into another. In the most militarily themed episode since “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990), the military content doesn’t make physical sense under the premises of the narrative. It is done for drama, by formula. It is done for the treadmill.

In their first appearances, such as “The Last Outpost” (1987), the Ferengi were primarily a military threat, but by 1994 that had long since been retconned and treadmilled away. On the subject of humanization, this episode has Quark saying that “Humans used to be a lot worse than the Ferengi. Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar wars. We have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism.” This is a whataboutism, not said for comedy or to manipulate Benjamin Sisko. Instead, Quark’s moral comparison was probaby phrased that way to reactivate Q’s accusations from Encounter at Farpoint (1987).

The typical US viewer would of course want to agree with Quark that slavery, including Quark’s brother’s initial treatment of Nog, is immoral. In doing so the viewer would either have to condemn or ignore the fact that the US prison system, where slavery is legal under the country’s 13th Amendment, grew faster in 1994 than in any year before or since; a humanitarian disaster. The same viewer would also want to agree that concentration camps are immoral, and there weren’t a lot of concentration camps in the USA between those for the Japanese (1942–1946) and when worsening conditions on the country’s southern border merited the term again (ca. 2017–2020). The immorality of interstellar wars is even easier to agree with, because the USA hadn’t done any of those, just a lot of Earth-based wars.

The viewer wasn’t meant to feel guilty about their own personal behaviour, such as acquiescence in the face of mass incarceration. Rather, the viewer was meant to acknowledge some past or abstract darkness in other people, as a stepping stone to later, narcissistic improvements that would make human viewers feel morally superior to Ferengi. The show continually shows them to be inferior, both before and after they are retconned as cowards. Both Quark and Nog are squealing cowards in this episode, except when the treadmill briefly requires their courage. Quark espousing human morality underscores his failings.

References here: “Prophet Motive” (1995).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Search: Part 1” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Sisko tries to contact Dominion authorities. A demoted Odo bitterly resigns and then goes on a personal quest like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

An amusing sequence of events, with good callbacks to the war against the Borg, Sisko’s background in that conflict, and the Karemma from “Rules of Acquisition” (1993). As always, interior combat scenes consist primarily of sparking instrument panels, TOS-style fist fights and shaky cameras; here the cameras shake so much, and the bridge of the Defiant is so dark, that the show looks like later, crappier Trek.

References here: “Equilibrium” (1994).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Search: Part 2” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The main body of the A plot is a remake of “Future Imperfect” (1990), specifically the middle layer of that onion where the Romulans are nominally using an illusion to probe Riker’s mind. Again, the illusion seems at first optimistic, then turns sinister. Reusing that concept is smart because it connects back to the simulations that Starfleet was running in part 1, the difference being that the Vorta run their simulations on the hardware of their enemies’ brains. Maybe the humans win because the Vorta failed to account for narcissism. It makes sense that the producers chose to limit the scope of tithe simulation to one episode, to make the “all a dream” rug-pull feel like less of cheat, but as a result, the pace and content of the narrative remind me of “Beyond the Farthest Star” (1973). Good pathos; pity it won’t last.

The B plot is also good, except for the detail that Odo’s species is confirmed to be humanoid. I am not sure, but this looks like a retcon. “The Alternate” (1994) implied that Odo got his appearance by imitating or imprinting upon a specific Bajoran. He has repeated that he doesn’t do faces well, and he would continue to do so in later episodes, whereas the Founders would be confirmed capable of imitating people more accurately than they do in what appears to be their baseline humanoid form. It has been speculated in an earlier episode that Odo’s sense of justice is innate, which is adressed here; another changeling says they have an innate preference for order, not justice. This idea, which reminds me of Poe’s “The Business Man” (1840), is compatible with “Crossover” (1994). However, it doesn’t make sense for a species that blends in a liquid state to be biased toward order, or to be natively humanoid, or to wear clothes.

“The Alternate”’s monster from the id is forgotten. Instead it turns out that the changelings are Weltanschauung collectors running the Dominion out of spite. That’s not bad at all. It allows Auberjonois to let loose for a minute, though unfortunately, there is little lasting change in the character, and by the end of the series, it won’t really matter. The brown rogue planet is very cool except that it’s warm enough to be human-habitable. The resolution, however, is contrived; it doesn’t make sense that the simulation chamber is on the super-secret core world or that the Founders give Odo his way after having sent him off as a zygote in what appears to be a K-selected form of reproduction.

References here: Internal contradiction by omission, “Hard Time” (1996), “The Quickening” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“The House of Quark” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A rowdy Klingon accidentally falls on his knife in a scuffle at Quark’s. The consequences gradually unfold.

Part of the reason why this works is the wealth of callbacks in it. The Kronos setting, the Klingon court, Gowron, Klingon misogyny, Klingon hypocrisy with regard to their culture of honour etc. were all well established in TNG and are all suitable mainly for comedy, as is all the Ferengi material. As a Klingon comedy that builds upon the intradiegesis, the episode is a mirror image of “Blood Oath” (1994), a Klingon comedy that builds upon the extradiegesis of the franchise. The B plot with the O’Briens is a good complement; just too bad Molly is not in it.

References here: “Looking for Par'Mach in All the Wrong Places” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“Equilibrium” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

At a dinner party, Jadzia plays a tune on Jake Sisko’s electronic keyboard and has an abrupt change of personality.

The dinner party shows the Siskos embracing their New Orleans cultural heritage, and later in the episode, Benjamin plays 2D chess, not the usual bullshit 3D version. “The Search: Part 1” (1994) had them hanging a Yoruba mask on the wall of their quarters, which is even more ethnic, and their retro love of baseball has been well established. This all reminds me of the way the captain was characterized in the inferior first seasons of TNG: Picard would occasionally express chauvinism over French culture, something that was quietly dropped when the show found its footing. It’s strange to see the producers doing it again, this time with the producers’ own US culture. Apparently it’s the French they decided against, not national pride in a society free from nations.

In the main plot, literal cloak-and-dagger intrigue resolves to a grand conspiracy by the Trill Symbiosis Commission. This is done in the style of TNG’s occasional out-of-place UFO conspiracy and general paranoia episodes, like “Schisms” (1992), but is better motivated, and using music as the trigger makes sense in the end. The worldbuilding is not necessarily bad, but it does contradict “Invasive Procedures” (1993), where one humanoid Trill in 10 is joined, and it seems to risk a justified general revolt against the symbionts and the joined by the general humanoid population; the culture seems to have a poisonous flaw in its meritocracy that warrants further investigation. It also reinforces the wider set of retcons from “The Host” (1991), including the “reverse Klingon”; none of the episode’s Trill have the original prosthetic design.

References here: Internal contradiction by omission.

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“Second Skin” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Kira is kidnapped.

The gaslighting and nostalgia themes of “Remember Me” (1990) in the plot of “Face of the Enemy” (1993) and the environment of “Tribunal” (1994). As such it’s a fairly typical episode, and “Second Skin” can indeed be studied to understand the ultimate failure of the Star Trek franchise as art.

References here: Internal contradiction by omission, “Sons of Mogh” (1996), “A Simple Investigation” (1997), “Ties of Blood and Water” (1997), “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” (1998), “Inquisition” (1998), “Penumbra” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Abandoned” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A Jem'Hadar baby is found in a stasis chamber and Benjamin Sisko interrogates Jake’s girlfriend.

Another attempt to do worldbuilding with nature vs. nurture. Like “Cardassians” (1993), it doesn’t go well, spending too much time retreading “The Child” (1988) instead of expanding upon “The Hunted” (1990), but nor does it spin the treadmill more quickly than I expected.

moving picture episode fiction

“Civil Defense” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Renovations trigger a Cardassian security system left behind from the old slave-labour mining operation on the station.

Mainly a comical set piece, with one poor sod annihilated by a replicated autonomous phaser. It’s silly, but more fun than most of the ghost stories of past episodes.

References here: “The Siege of AR-558” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“Meridian” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Dax falls in love with a widower who spends 60 years at a time as “pure energy” along with his entire planet and species. Quark attempts to create a hologram of Kira to sell as porn.

The A plot is unusually weak fabulism. The B plot is a curiously childish treatment of the subject of digital reproduction, specifically the idea of secretly recording enough information about an individual to use for pornography, as done in “Hollow Pursuits” (1990) and suspected in “Galaxy’s Child” (1991). In both plots, the target audience is unclear.

References here: “Defiant” (1994), “Fascination” (1994), “Through the Looking Glass” (1995), “Rejoined” (1995), “Our Man Bashir” (1995), “Crossfire” (1996), “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Defiant” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Riker arrives to steal Kira’s heart and the Defiant.

Camp, especially that last kiss. Frakes, who plays Riker, directed the awful “Meridian” (1994); I guess he had a thing for love stories beyond merely channeling Shatner. I don’t think it’s an especially good idea to use Thomas Riker from “Second Chances” (1993) for the job, or to leave his motives in the dark, but I do think it’s a good idea to leave these inconvenient non-evil copies around, instead of just throwing them away like “If Wishes Were Horses” (1993) and “Whispers” (1994).

There is a heavy military focus once again, though not much actual fighting. I played a little Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator (2010) before I started watching TOS through DS9, and this is the first episode that really reminded me of the game. Artemis, by the way, got remade for the Star Trek franchise as Bridge Crew in 2017. The improvised low-exposition technological premises of the franchise lend themselves well to low-prep cooperative games.

It’s fun to see the strategic level show up on TV, even if it doesn’t make sense for Dukat to still be in charge at the theatrewide command centre after being ostracized in “The Maquis: Part 2” (1994). Here he is improbably instrumental in discovering that the Obsidian Order has its own tiny fleet of military vessels, not much smaller than the Cardassian Union’s regular fleet, which is heely.

References here: “Improbable Cause” (1995), “Crossfire” (1996), “Return to Grace” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“Fascination” (1994Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

People fall suddenly in love at the Bajoran version of Thanksgiving.

Fabulism. Despite featuring Lwaxana Troi’s strongest entrance, this episode is her weakest. Once again, Majel Barrett is the butt of a mean sexist joke offered to explain the fantasy. The Odo-Kira ship launched in “Meridian” (1994) is still afloat without that fantasy.

References here: “Facets” (1995).

moving picture episode fiction

“Past Tense: Part 1” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Due to a “transporter malfunction”, Dax, Bashir and Benjamin Sisko are stranded in San Francisco in the year 2024. At this period in history, the mentally ill, the poor and various criminal elements are all crowded together where an uprising is brewing.

By 1995, the makers of Trek had enough money and sense that they did not have to make a “Miri” (1966), and this is not a “Miri”. The script sends the characters back almost to the time and place where the series was filmed, but the producers seem to have budgeted almost as much for this as they would have a normal episode, and the crew doesn’t do any wide shots off-backlot. I surmise that the purpose of the episode is not to save money like TOS but to fill in some lore for the setting, on a familiar pattern.

In the original chronology, improvised in the 1960s, the 1990s was the time of the “Eugenics Wars” as per “Space Seed” (1967), and of extensive biological warfare between the USA and the Communist Bloc, as per “The Omega Glory” (1968). Early TNG, written in the 1980s, instead posited that its near future, somewhat further ahead, would be the time of WW3, fought by soldiers addicted to drugs according to Encounter at Farpoint (1987). These predictions, of course, were totally wrong. Other works in the franchise, made in the 1990s, elaborated that WW3 began in 2026, or about the same amount of time into the future as the “Eugenics Wars” had been from the 1960s. Star Trek was marketed with optimism as a family-friendly selling point, but consistently belied its optimism with some looming humanitarian disaster in the near future, which a far-future humanity would heroically overcome.

The Past Tense two-parter is different in the detail that its disaster is low-tech social injustice, not high-tech wars. This disaster was overcome by a collective, associated with an ordinary person whose role was unclear. He was almost anonymous and easily killed by accident, not a larger-than-life genius like Zefram Cochrane of “Metamorphosis” (1967). This is a good change, a tiny sign of growing insight probably resulting from social justice movements infuriated by such events as the beating of Rodney King and the killing of Latasha Harlins in 1991. Both happened on tape in LA, whereas earlier crimes against the poor had been easier to dismiss for filmmakers living in LA. Both happened at the end of the Cold War, a time when the USA’s only serious external threat evaporated and the US population began to examine its own plight more closely.

As of my watching this episode in 2021, homelessness was a visible problem in LA, with several people sleeping even on the Walk of Fame. This was because of relatively pleasant weather and lack of meaningful intervention. Social pathos against it is apparent in this episode, and not backhanded like “Melora” (1993). However, the episode is not a good extrapolation to the near future. Sanctuary cities were in fact a hot-button political issue in the USA in the early 2020s, but real-world sanctuary cities were so named for not actively enforcing immigration laws, which means they have no relationship to Past Tense’s improbably urban mix of debtors’ prisons and Hoovervilles. This failure is charming.

References here: “Heart of Stone” (1995), “Things Past” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction cyberpunk

“Past Tense: Part 2” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The writing of the framing device is extraordinarily lazy. Given the premises of time travel, discerned here by O’Brien, the Romulans would have started using it as a weapon long ago. Even the 1960s, the time when Star Trek was invented, is caricatured for a joke. When O’Brien finds the right era from which to retrieve the three lost officers, he and Kira enter it at the point to which its narrative thread has developed on screen, not at the point where the malfunctioning teleporter put the officers. This is despite O’Brien knowing that in the intervening time, history had taken a new course that had doomed humankind to misery and obscurity. It’s the conservatism of “Assignment: Earth” (1968), with history realigning perfectly despite fatal intervention; this leaves no dramatic tension.

References here: “Little Green Men” (1995), “Bar Association” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction cyberpunk

“Life Support” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Bajorans and Cardassians formalize a peace treaty despite an “accident” that threatens the life of Vedek Bareil. Jake Sisko and his date are disgusted by Nog’s open sexism.

The A plot is undermined in part by the omission of various fantastic medical solutions seen earlier in the setting, in part by sheer mysticism. Bashir repeatedly insists that the ultimate reason why he chooses not to save Bareil is that medical technology does not preserve the “spark of life”, which is the soul. This is part of a general pattern where everybody seems to be out of character. Winn is no longer self-assured, Bareil is now a hard-nosed lawyer, monks are handling all negotiations for the Bajoran government, Bashir takes over the monks’ usual mysticism, and Nog is no longer able to interact with women as he could in e.g. “The Storyteller” (1993) and as the adult Ferengi do.

References here: “Heart of Stone” (1995), “Shakaar” (1995), “Our Man Bashir” (1995), “Resurrection” (1997).

moving picture episode fiction

“Heart of Stone” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

On the way back from inspecting a remote Bajoran colony near the Cardassian border, Kira and Odo are sidetracked further and further. Meanwhile, Nog abuses the term “emergency”—like Quark in “Past Tense: Part 1” (1995)—to get Benjamin Sisko involved in his future career.

A surprisingly competent drama on both fronts. It’s funny how the Founders’ shapeshifting abilities are turning out to be yet another way into Plato’s cave of illusions or the land of Dickinson’s imagination (“Her Sweet Weight on My Heart a Night”) as if the franchise didn’t have enough reasons to question everything. Nog’s plan is both a good contrast against Jake’s choice in “Shadowplay” (1994) and one of those details that gradually made “Future Imperfect” (1990) seem prescient. The lack of any reference to Nog’s recent behaviour on “Life Support” (1995) is a shame.

References here: “Prophet Motive” (1995).

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“Destiny” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A rogue Vedek proposes to stop a Cardassian scientific expedition on the basis of a 3000-year-old prophecy.

A cozier remake of “Suspicions” (1993). The whole ambiguous-prophecy trope is trite, but its use here is exemplary, with the writers apparently sharing the understanding that Sisko and Kira agree on in the bunkroom. Cardassian sexual politics are played mostly for laughs, but with more worldbuilding than the Neuwirth quickie in “First Contact” (1991): Equality, romance, peace and science as unifying forces against religion and fascism.

References here: Don’t Look Up (2021).

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“Prophet Motive” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The Grand Nagus turns nice and rewrites the “Rules of Acquisition”.

8 years after “The Last Outpost” (1987), the writers on Trek were still fuzzy on the basic concepts of the Ferengi as a fictional species or culture. They—the Ferengi that is—started out as evil trolls, a military threat patterned after Norse fairy tales and The Lord of the Rings. The military niche was too crowded, so they got moved over to the role of comic relief, perhaps because Armin Shimerman (Letek, Bractor, then Quark) is a good comedic actor, perhaps because the big ears looked funny. That development began before the death of Gene Roddenberry. Roddenberry himself was so greedy that he wrote bad lyrics for the original Star Trek (1966) theme music just so he would be paid a little extra when the theme played, even though it always played without the lyrics. Anyway, Roddenberry thought that humankind would eventually transcend greed, so there’s no doubt that the greed of the Ferengi—their most consistent characteristic—was originally meant to be evil.

Flash forward to 1993. Gene Roddenberry was dead and his successors were gradually undermining even the good parts of his legacy. On DS9 they established “latinum” as a regional currency, albeit a currency that Bashir declines in “Prophet Motive”; his services are free. Nominally, latinum is a rare element, though its use value was never characterized on DS9. Whatever the pretense of the currency’s nature, the Ferengi are clearly interested in money as such, not in the use of money. They also like jewels and even gold in an age when such things are nominally abundant, even more so than in “Cicada Queen” (1983). The writers sometimes toss in novel rarities to mitigate the problem, as in “Q-Less” (1993), but the greed of the Ferengi is ultimately unfit for the setting. By Roddenberry’s decree, the civilized world of Trek is a post-scarcity economy where there is no need, use or desire for money.

There is a wealthy and respected human in “The Survivor” (1973), but there is no faction in the franchise, including the Ferengi, that is famous or admired for its wealth. In “Sanctuary” (1993), the Ferengi are shown to be prejudiced against the poor, but even that attitude seems to be rare. “Suspicions” (1993) showed a Ferengi scientist, also as a rarity. When necessary, the writers show other individual Ferengi to be intelligent and industrious. Despite this intelligence and their economic interest, the Ferengi don’t seem to be prominent inventors, nor are they into resource extraction, manufacturing, logistics, education or medicine: The activities of the real economy, which are still taking place without scarcity. When money does not confer power or status, it makes sense that some factions would want to manipulate or dominate the sectors of the real economy to gain power and status by more direct means, but the Ferengi don’t do that. They stick with money. The writers could have just left the paradox there. They could have decided that the Ferengi are wasting their time collecting brass tacks, as a character flaw and foible for comedic purposes, but that’s not what the writers did.

Instead of the real economy, the Ferengi take an interest in businesses commonly viewed as dishonest: Trade, “finance”, general rent-seeking, crime, and at Quark’s, decadent popular entertainment (sex, drugs, gambling). Though Shimerman himself is Jewish, it is relevant here that the Ferengi’s ugliness, cowardice and supposedly racial interests align with antisemitic stereotypes, in addition to the more innocent allegorical fantasy of the fairy-tale motif. However, the writers did not stop at fantasy antisemitism. They built further on greed.

“The Nagus” (1993) included a scene that spoofs predatory corporate board meetings like Wall Street (1987). In that episode, the Ferengi seem to live by Gordon Gekko’s motto, “greed is good”. In “Prophet Motive”, Quark even asserts that greed is the will to achieve, a will that was central to Roddenberry’s vision of personal development in the post-scarcity future. The idea of “greed is good”, however, is implied to be peripheral to a larger “moral inversion” as shown in “A Piece of the Action” (1968) and the mirror-universe episodes.

At the end of “The Nagus”, Quark not only rewards his brother Rom for having tried to assassinate Quark, but also continues to work closely with him. The net result is to enable and encourage another murder attempt in the future. This behaviour goes beyond “greed is good”, into “evil is good and vice versa”. “Prophet Motive” repeats that version of Ferengi ethics. In this episode, the Nagus encounters the timeless aliens of Emissary (1993). They perceive him to be primitive and choose to “evolve” him further, which makes him kind, altruistic, constructive and happy. The other Ferengi hate this, so Quark persuades the aliens to regress the Nagus to his prior state of evolution, making him again vicious, selfish, self-destructive and irritable. The moral inversion, again extending beyond greed, is both restored and tied to a purportedly objective evolutionary scale.

The reused motif of the moral inversion builds upon and is distinct from the more basic motif of a moral dichotomy. In a dichotomy, good and evil are separate and symbolically opposed. Fairy-tale trolls, for example, are evil outsiders but nothing more, like the first Ferengi. In an inversion, as per “A Piece of the Action”, good and evil are mirror images: Two societies of opposite moral valence are, while not identical, superficially similar despite holding opposite opinions on every social behaviour. Thus going beyond mere competition, evil characters in an inversion actively condemn good characters as evil, and vice versa. This is an ancient fantasy about one’s enemies, psychologically useful for dehumanization. See for example Romans 1:32 on purportedly evil non-Christians:

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Exactly this happens in antisemitic propaganda, where Jews are imagined to be proud of those evil actions that antisemites attribute to them, as Quark is proud of his own brother’s betrayal. This is the only thing I can think of to explain the characterization of the Ferengi in 1995. The other models are mostly compatible, but weak. Both dichotomy and inversion are separate from the comic motif of fools hoarding useless things. The moral code of Gordon Gekko is neither a dichotomy nor an inversion, just a contrast in one detail, like the real-world ethics of Milton Friedman, despite the fact that Quark chooses to disguise his own moral inversion as Gekko’s code for diplomatic purposes. Quark’s behaviour is also notably distinct from the behaviour of real-world people in the psychological “dark triad” of narcissism, Machiavellian personality traits, and psychopathy. In this mode, Ferengi ethics are unlike even those of real-world leaders of organized crime, including Richard Sackler, Martin Shkreli, and Griselda Blanco.

The inversion does use a few realistic features from the dark triad, but it is mainly a thought experiment, as silly and poorly executed as when TOS first did it in the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, Quark has been surprised when, since “The Nagus”, his brother has continued to betray him. This shows that the writers weren’t serious about any of it.

The writers also undermined even the concept of the inversion by occasionally showing Ferengi subscribed to mainstream human ethics instead of their inversion. See for instance Quark’s whataboutist speech in “The Jem'Hadar” (1994), part of that episode’s turning of the treadmill. The speech shows Quark honestly espousing mainstream public US morality to further separate the Ferengi (old enemy) from the Dominion (new enemy), an extradiegetic motive absent in Rom’s wholesome reaction to Nog’s success in “Heart of Stone” (1995). Both episodes contradict the morally inverted characterization of the Ferengi which is reasserted here, in “Prophet Motive”. This contradiction is especially severe because this time around, Quark actively opposes public US morality when he sees it in the Nagus.

In conclusion, the writers let the species decay to a bumpy sitcom. On that note, Ferengi women are again absent and there is no discussion of nature vs. nurture, because the producers didn’t care about any of that either. Anyway, puns suck.

References here: “Family Business” (1995), “Ferengi Love Songs” (1997), Megamind (2010).

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“Visionary” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Miles O’Brien is hit with radiation and starts jumping some hours into the future.

One of the densest remakes in the franchise. The identity problem is “Whispers” (1994) taken one step further, which is nice. The involuntary time travel resembles “Time Squared” (1989), while the voluntary time travel has precedent in “Assignment: Earth” (1968), “Yesteryear” (1973) etc.; it doesn’t stay invented this time either. Finally, the reverted destruction of DS9 is “Cause and Effect” (1992) with a better explanation. It’s a shame about all that coincidence and loose technobabble tossed in to make it work, but it does work. That conversion of a replicator to a transporter that puts a weapon inside a wall is more grist for a paranoia that never comes, but it’s very neatly done on the local scale.

On a side note, in the conference with the Romulans, Kira tries to explain that Odo is not an informed member of the Founders as a political faction, in the same way that some humans aren’t Danish. The Romulan representative replies, like an idiot, “I fail to see the distinction”. It is amazing that nature vs. nurture still goes this poorly treated, but then again the Bajorans and Romulans are basically single-culture species.

References here: “Field of Fire” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Distant Voices” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

After being assaulted by a burglar, Bashir wakes up on an almost empty DS9.

An unusually open allegory.

References here: “Facets” (1995), “Things Past” (1996), “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” (1997), “Inquisition” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“Through the Looking Glass” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Smiley brings Benjamin Sisko to the goatee universe, where his pirate-captain counterpart is dead but his wife was never killed by the Borg.

The chance of Sisko meeting his wife again, and perhaps saving her in some way, is just a pretext. The real reason why this was done is that, along the way, Sisko gets to punch Bashir in the face and have sex with racier versions of Jadzia and Kira, as probably happens in fan fiction. It’s a carnival where the production crew temporarily lifts the show’s normal restrictions on grubby pleasures of the id, including rape by fraud, surpassing “Bread and Circuses” (1968). There is only that here. The plot setup is thinner than “The Naked Now” (1987) and there is no coda back in the regular universe at all. There is also no thought experiment. Sisko does not, for example, ponder whether Jennifer might be alive in infinite universes, nor does he arrange one of the franchise’s occasional holographic meetings with dead family members, as in “Inheritance” (1993).

This episode thus realizes the subtext of Star Trek: The Unseen Pilot (1965/1986). Sisko, corresponding to the pilot’s Pike, establishes a non-haram harem. The sudden honesty of the episode about this long-standing impulse is admirable, but of course, one of the reasons why it did not happen sooner is that it was never viable. The episode would have been better if, for example, the closing scene had Sisko, alone, exiting the holosuite with the inscrutable look of Ivan Mosjoukine. That would have connected back to the B plot of “Meridian” (1994) without the moral hypocrisy of that episode. Instead of slipping back in any such way, the show would run the goatee universe right into the ground.

References here: “Shattered Mirror” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“Improbable Cause” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Infiltrated by the Founders, the respective secret-police and intelligence organizations of the Romulan and Cardassian empires join forces, sending a new fleet of military vessels—partly discovered in “Defiant”—to destroy the Founders. Relatedly, Garak’s shop explodes.

So far, every incidental conversation about Cardassian vs. human literature has been pleasant.

Behind the scenes, this episode marks the departure of Michael Piller. His production and writing skills saved TNG in its third season and made DS9 good from the beginning. He would continue to act as a consultant on DS9 but left the show here to make Star Trek: Voyager (1995), which turned to crap so completely when he left it that I didn’t finish it.

moving picture episode fiction

“The Die Is Cast” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A direct continuation from the previous episode. I don’t like the escalation in Sisko’s renegade tendencies, or Starfleet’s propensity to pardon them, or the tiny sub-E. E. Smith scale of the assault and counterassault in a galaxy of trillions, but I do like the writers’ retreat from the trope that the Romulans and Cardassians are both arbitrarily humanistic and fascistic as factions, depending on how directly they are controlled by their secret-police organizations in any given plot.

References here: “The Adversary” (1995).

moving picture episode fiction

“Explorers” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Benjamin Sisko personally builds a sailboat after an ancient Bajoran design and brings Jake on its maiden voyage through space. Bashir dreads meeting a rival from medical school.

The phrase “growing the beard” has been proposed as the opposite of “jumping the shark”. It describes that moment in the development of any TV series when it got good. The phrase refers to Riker’s beard in “The Child” (1988) onwards. Well, in “Explorers”, Benjamin Sisko literally grows a beard, but DS9 figuratively does not.

Using only hand-cranked solar sails the size of a sailboat’s for power, the sailing allegory goes to an extreme length. It isn’t stated in the episode, but apparently, the canonical distance between Bajor and the Cardassian system is about 5 light years. It is crucial to the Siskos’ experiment that the boat does not use any hypertechnology for power or navigation, nor any assistance by laser, and yet Benjamin thinks that such a boat could travel to Cardassia and return within the lifetime of an effectively human crew.

By a generous visual estimate, the Siskos’ cloth sails seem to be about 1000 m2. Assuming the same radiation pressure as at the Earth’s distance from the Sun, the initial force on those sails would be about 0.01 N. Further assuming the boat weighs 5 tonnes (the Space Shuttle weighed 100), that force would impart an acceleration of 0.00002 ms-2. The boat would then be up to highway speed after a little more than two weeks, on a highway long enough to go all the way around the Earth 100 million times. Realistically, with radiation pressure dropping, a crewed journey of 5 ly in such a boat is impossible. Even the shorter trip to the “Denorios Belt” that the Siskos actually plan is implausible with the estimate they give it: A few days. Once they hit the belt they stumble upon a hand-waved hypertechnological solution, but that is irrelevant: The way they get there should make no sense to them. From the Earth to the Moon (1865) is more credible.

“The Lady Who Sailed The Soul (1960) is a romantic take on the concept of human travel by solar sail. “Explorers” isn’t romantic. It’s so kitsch that it prompts the question why Star Trek was ever set in space to begin with. For hundreds of episodes across four TV series and a handful of films, with real space exploration happening all the while, the franchise’s writers kept leaning on the crutch of magic and hypertechnology. When they finally felt strong enough to lay aside that crutch just for one episode, they had easy access to a wealth of physics and experience. Doing something fun with vacuum, microgravity, three-dimensional freedom of movement, huge solar sails and great distances would not have been hard. Just showing a basic understanding of such topics would have improved all of the soft SF in the franchise by demonstrating what is always at stake if the usual hypertechnology were to fail.

The writers took another route entirely. They demonstrated their interest in pre-scientific naval explorers, Thor Heyerdahl, cozy family sailing trips, Jake Sisko’s character development, and continued humanization of the Cardassians, who greet the explorers with fireworks. In so doing, the same writers demonstrated their contempt for realism, science, and science fiction. I think Star Trek was set in space for the same reason that Helena Blavatsky set her fantasies in Tibet: It was distant enough that the writers felt free to picture anything there, and free not to show what is really there. Blavatsky didn’t care about the real Tibet, hack TV screenwriters of 1950s Westerns didn’t care about the real history of the West, and the writers of Star Trek didn’t care about space exploration.

Keep in mind, this is immediately after the Dominion effectively announces its intention to go to war with the Federation after having wiped out its main threats. Sisko himself evidently cares so little about this that he not only goes to a fair on Bajor, he welds together a yacht on his own. It’s hard to imagine him being less prepared to meet the nominally serialized challenge of the show than to go drifting outside teleporter range, without even regular radio contact or any realistic hope of ever returning under his own power.

The Siskos’ A plot is so poor that I could hardly believe it. Bashir’s B plot is very good, but does not save the episode. As a tiny side note here, the Siskos’ dialogue mentions a system of “transporter credits” in use on Earth; one of the few clear signs of rationing in “paradise”. Also, Sisko’s sudden interest in archaeology in this episode was copied from Picard, who’d developed the same interest with equal abruptness in “Contagion” (1989).

References here: Worldbuilding for television production, “The Adversary” (1995), The Way of the Warrior (1995), “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” (1997), Planetes (1999), Life (2017).

moving picture episode fiction

“Family Business” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Quark and Rom go see their mom.

The production crew ties itself into additional knots depicting the Ferengi homeworld. They solve none of the problems evident in “Prophet Motive” (1995), contradict the motif of laissez-faire capitalism by introducing a regulatory agency, contradict the troll/rodent theme (Ferengi homes here are clean, spacious, and have flat studio floors; they are not like dank burrows), contradict the sexual dimorphism established in “Rules of Acquisition” (1993), and provide a second token example indicating that the sexual dimorphism of the species is superficial, but again stop short of confirming that normal Ferengi women as a group are oppressed and living in a dystopia.

Given that “Moogie” and other women are evidently able to communicate on the Internet, she could have at least mentioned whether she has found any other women doing what she’s doing. The producers must not have wanted to. What started as a sexist gag had gone too far for them and they neither wanted to retcon it nor oblige the show’s heroes to interfere.

References here: “Ferengi Love Songs” (1997).

moving picture episode fiction

“Shakaar” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Kira participates in an uprising against the Provisional Government when it falls under the dual spiritual and political leadership of Kai Winn.

The resolution is too quick, but I like the escalation from both “Progress” (1993) and “Life Support” (1995). The finale makes Shakaar a Diocletian, which is better than Picard got in All Good Things (1994).

moving picture episode fiction

“Facets” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

This is another one of those episodes arranged to let the actors try different characters, like “Mirror, Mirror” (and its sequels), “Sarek” (1990), “Power Play” (1992), “Masks” (1994), “Fascination” (1994), etc. etc., combined with a less allegorical form of the facets in “Distant Voices” (1995). As studies in acting, by people not known for their acting outside of Star Trek, these episodes are usually not very good. This is no exception. Supposedly, dissatisfaction with the range afforded her on TNG is one of the reasons why Denise Crosby left that show through “Skin of Evil” (1988), which is a better solution.

Rom and Nog, the latter returning here for a qualifying exam, conform increasingly to mainstream US public morality while Quark continues to resist. He’s coming to resemble Ebenezer Scrooge. The premise of the episode, a magic ritual, contradicts the more substance-monist basis of Trill symbiosis in “Invasive Procedures” (1993), which is a shame.

References here: “Our Man Bashir” (1995), “Far Beyond the Stars” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Adversary” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Benjamin Sisko is promoted to the rank of captain and sent off to intimidate a nearby regime in upheaval.

After the combination of “The Die Is Cast” (1995) and “Explorers” (1995), the promotion doesn’t make sense. I think it was done to put Sisko on a more equal footing with Kirk and Picard in the eyes of the fans, which is sad. Michael Eddington even makes the claim that everybody in Starfleet wants to be a captain, neither a commander nor an admiral; the old Kirk-Roddenberry ship-in-a-bottle authoritarianism still haunts the franchise.

The plot turns into a cuter version of The Thing (1982), complete with blood samples. It’s better than “Conspiracy” (1988), but it doesn’t really make sense. The form of sabotage is too elaborate (the Founder agent would have succeeded if it had simply killed Bashir), but it does show off the new sets.

moving picture episode fiction

The Way of the Warrior (1995Moving picture, 93 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Worf returns to DS9 because Klingons show up in force to meet the threat of the Dominion.

Between Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) and an impopular 1999 prequel, the Star Wars franchise had no major canonical productions. In that window of time, the rival Star Trek franchise experienced its golden age. It seems to me that if the makers of Trek had done a better job at the time, the older and more prolific franchise would have eclipsed the younger and less prolific. That didn’t happen. Since at least 2004, where Google Trends data becomes available, Star Wars has almost always been several times more popular. As of 2022, the gap between them has not been affected by the younger franchise’s Disney-owned forays into sequels, spin-offs and lots of dubious television, like Trek had in its heyday.

The two franchises have lots in common: Family-friendly comedic space opera where the action sequences have colourful lights and spaceships move at the speed and distance of WW1 fighter planes so that everything is easy to follow. There is a lot of that in this episode. It is the most militaristic to date, with heavy casualties in both naval and hand-to-hand combat, like Star Wars. The Way of the Warrior does it on a TV budget, which looks bad. The fiery explosions, in particular, imply that Klingon ships are full of diesel, space is full of oxygen, and inertia is a myth. 1995 was not a banner year for CGI VFX either.

The military focus obscures the apparently peaceful revolution of the Cardassian civil government against their fascist Central Command and Obsidian Order, which presumably happened in “Explorers” (1995) but got absolutely no attention at the time. This gives the lie to the idea that Trek is more interested in diplomacy. There are very good scenes scattered throughout this feature-length season starter, but the producers seem to have thought that making Worf a principal character, and trying to outdo cinema, was most important. Naturally, there is no reference to the fact that Worf was on the station in “Birthright: Part 1” (1993), because at the time, all he did was illegal assault, in public. It is more curious that more untranslated Klingon is spoken here than ever before, which is one of the reasons why Trek stayed smaller: It spoke increasingly to those devotees who were willing to overlook its mounting internal contradictions, whereas Star Wars speaks primarily to children.

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“The Visitor” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Jake Sisko as an old man on a quest.

A peculiar production. First of all, Cirroc Lofton (young Jake, actor born 1978) started about the same height as Aron Eisenberg (Nog, actor born 1969), but Lofton quickly outgrew Eisenberg and many of the adult actors. In this episode, the adult Jake is therefore played by the huge Tony Todd (the Candyman and Worf’s brother Kurn on TNG), while Eisenberg continues playing the adult Nog, still looking like a child in his captain’s chair. Hilarity ensues.

The script is principally a remake of “Tapestry” (1993), including the white void, but instead of messing up in a past critical event like the dying Picard, Jake fixes a past critical event by dying. Benjamin just wants him to live a “good” life like “The Inner Light” (1992), but Jake instead works to pull Benjamin out of a hole like “Remember Me” (1990) through the self-annihilation of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990). Jake succeeds, which leaves Benjamin in the position of remembering the invalidated past life and sacrifice of his son, while Jake remembers nothing. The mechanism is just a hair short of anthropocentric magic.

The ontological status of the alternative future is suitably unclear. The conservatism of “Assignment: Earth” (1968) had not been retconned and later series in the franchise would name a specific “prime universe”, reasserting that only one sequence of events is correct, but this particular episode does not. It is unusual in that Jake’s intervention is not detected as interference, anomaly, or as somehow leaving the prime universe. This, too, is magic; Jake’s sacrifice is sympathetic enough that he gets an ontological pass. It is also distasteful that the future pivots on Benjamin, but this is not overdone; the future Federation is not a conquered dystopia without him. I appreciate that the script addresses Nog’s sexism, and its conclusion is touching, but the whole thing is mostly repetition.

References here: “Trials and Tribble-ations” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“Hippocratic Oath” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Bashir and O’Brien are shanghaied by Göran Agar. Worf is frustrated that Odo hasn’t simply put Quark in prison, before he learns that Quark now cooperates as a police informant against smugglers. Compare “The Passenger” (1993).

The treadmill keeps turning to humanize both the Jem'Hadar and Quark, with the complication that Bashir and O’Brien don’t agree on the alignment of that treadmill.

References here: “Sons of Mogh” (1996), “To the Death” (1996), “The Ascent” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“Indiscretion” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Kira and Dukat go looking for a lost prisoner transport. Benjamin Sisko’s girlfriend gets a job opportunity closer to him.

The A plot runs on unlikely coincidences: Kira and Dukat both having close connections on the same ship; neither of them having found it or mentioned it before; the Breen starting a superficial mine with slave labour within walking distance of the crash site; the Breen choosing to manually police slaves in a climate dangerous to them instead of using labour-saving high-energy tools or robots; Bajorans and Cardassians being able to interbreed without any apparent problems; etc. It is about the treadmill spinning still further, and this time it’s Kira—not O’Brien—who’s reaching for the brake. The B plot is worse: It runs on exactly the kind of romantic misapprehension, commitment indecision and verbal gaffe plot that pads the runtime of the most pedestrian daytime TV dramas.

Michael Piller is still listed as a creative consultant on this episode, and LeVar Burton directed it, but given that the preceding episode also hinged on an interpersonal conflict among humans, I consider the dull B plot a sign of decay from Roddenberry’s vision of a society where people have learned to get along more smoothly. Speaking of the production, the episode’s harsh sunlight shows off Kira’s new costume for season 4; it is improved without the shoulder pads. The opposite is true for Dukat’s Cardassian costume. The episode has him contorting to demonstrate more clearly than ever that his triangular-looking cuirass is made of a semi-rigid plastic. It looks worse than the early, probably rigid plates on “The Wounded” (1991). No doubt the one-piece cuirass was easier to manage for the sort of physical comedy Alaimo does in this episode.

References here: “Return to Grace” (1996), “Waltz” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“Rejoined” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Dax’s ex’s sex.

The central romantic drama is flat, despite inverting the taboo of marital infidelity. It’s a remarkable attempt to force the social pressure of the romance genre into a free society where it doesn’t belong. It doesn’t work, especially not after “Meridian” (1994): Jadzia Dax leaves her star-struck loves behind her without consequences, like the heroes do in the less serialized Trek series that came before this one. One difference is that she shows more emotion, but without lasting consequences, that doesn’t matter.

Another difference is that Dax’s romantic interest is of her own sex. The fact that Dax’s host was male in their original relationship notwithstanding, this iteration of the drama is about homosexuality. It ran four years behind the first prominent lesbian kiss on US TV, which happened in a 1991 episode of L.A. Law (1986). Star Trek as a franchise could and should have had that first, but lost its opportunity to stay ahead of the curve like it had in “Plato’s Stepchildren” (1968). Even here, the writers are overly careful to show that the attraction is between souls and/or genderless “symbionts”. They would not have done this with two regular people.

Just like Dax’s great loves are meaningless when confined to half an hour of television, nominal social progressivism is meaningless when conservative producers like Rick Berman shoot down almost every attempt to demonstrate what progress looks like. Homosexuality became morally neutral in mainstream US society a few years later, with the franchise only just barely “on the right side of history”. This has been poisonous to its popularity, like the other internal contradictions by omission. On that note, the scientific experiment in the episode occasions a little more technobabble than usual, including an admission that “A Piece of the Action”’s transtators fail “all the time”.

References here: “Penumbra” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Starship Down” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A remake of “Disaster” (1991) without the advantage of dysteleology. None of the subplots among the disconnected crewmembers are very good: Quark gets to disarm a torpedo—its two vacuum-formed halves apparently taped together—at random while he teaches his socially responsible Karemma counterpart to love both exploitation and roulette; Worf is surprised to learn that normal engineers are capable of doing their jobs; Kira gets invited to a baseball game and will no doubt understand why the sport is extinct; all while Bashir and Dax just huddle and talk about how horny for her he used to be.

Worf is cautioned by O’Brien that the engineers—though otherwise competent—still exaggerate their time estimates, meaning they are lazy, dishonest, or pessimistic. This is an upper-class perspective on (intellectual) labour, unchanged from “Pen Pals” (1989).

moving picture episode fiction

“Little Green Men” (1995Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A crash near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

There’s a callback to the Bell Riots of “Past Tense: Part 2” (1995), which worsens the incestuous quality of the premise. I like the constant smoking—there’s a ZAZ comedy feel to its exaggeration—but as usual, time travel happens in order to place familiar characters in novel, cheaply filmed circumstances, only to pull them back to familiar circumstances in the end. There’s no thought experiment or tension here, just a sitcom.

Including Odo in the solution is clever, but it requires him to misapply his law-enforcement technique of packing himself alongside smuggled goods, apparently for days at a time. Going without translation for a while is also a good idea, but the implementation is broken, proving that the translation equipment hides—from people without any knowledge or equipment of their own—even the fact that its user is speaking a foreign language.

References here: “Who Mourns for Morn?” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Sword of Kahless” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

More “Blood Oath” (1994). This time it’s mixed into the bad ongoing Worf metaplot, including “Rightful Heir” (1993), and an obtuse One-Ring-like metaphor for wanting power, all taking place in a series of caves. Especially kitschy details include a reference to Kahless himself, the legendary warrior, using his bat'leth to harvest crops like the youth in “Birthright: Part 2” (1993). The bat'leth is obviously impractical as a weapon; it cannot possibly be better for picking apples.

References here: “In Vaulted Halls Entombed” (2022).

moving picture episode fiction

“Our Man Bashir” (1995Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Benjamin Sisko, O’Brien, Dax, Kira and Worf are murdered by Cardassian separatists.

Trapped on the holodeck again, this time in a lifeless pastiche of Broccoli/Saltzman James Bond adaptations, ca. Goldfinger (1964). The genre is adjacent to Picard’s hard-boiled gumshoe, Dixon Hill, from “The Big Goodbye” (1988) onwards, but this iteration is more camp and works like “Facets” (1995) etc., putting familiar actors in supposedly different roles. Apparently, the owners of the Bond IP complained so much to Paramount that plans for a sequel were reduced to smaller scenes, but IP infringement is not the worst of it.

Bashir asserts that “breaking into a holosuite during someone’s program” is illegal, which makes sense on its own, but is clearly not true in “Hollow Pursuits” (1990). I guess it’s true here because socially unacceptable fantasy has become the main use for the technology, not because “Hollow Pursuits” took place on a navy ship. Kira thus ends up as a pornographic NPC again, something she averted in “Meridian” (1994).

Kira and the four others get stuck in a life-threatening situation in a holosuite through a transporter malfunction, so that this episode combines two of the franchise’s most infamous writing hacks. More specifically, Eddington, the recurring-guest security officer, orders the computer to put the transporter “patterns” of the five unlucky people in non-volatile storage—at any cost—when the transporter itself fails. This is an exciting franchise first. Data on the bodies of the five is stored pretty easily, as holosuite NPCs would be stored, but data characterizing their “neural signatures” is stored separately, with the rationale that their “neural energy” is tracked “at the quantum level”.

This technobabble outlines one of those premises that, like the demography of Exodus (ca. 500–400 BCE), makes just enough sense on its surface. Fermion resolution may indeed be needed to track valuable information about an individual, working brain. Given that casual storage media on DS9 are bigger than their real-world equivalents, such as USB flash drives, it’s plausibly internally consistent that the central computer would need several atoms per bit of information stored. This explains why Eddington’s maneuver knocks out some of the station’s functions, overwriting whatever the central computer chose to sacrifice in the initial emergency.

The maneuver succeeds, as it should. It’s equivalent to “Relics” (1992), which used only volatile storage (the transporter’s “pattern buffer”). It doesn’t make sense that volatile storage would have more capacity, but it does make sense that if you can store the data temporarily, you can store it indefinitely, like a computer copying the contents of its RAM to an SSD to hibernate. Taking the extra step through non-volatile storage is the only change from “Relics”, but that change is important. It shows that the material bodies of the five victims are destroyed. New bodies are constructed from the saved data and different fermions later, in another transporter, resurrecting the five. That’s all fine. In fact, it’s unusually impressive science fiction for Star Trek, at first. However, like the demography of Exodus, it has fascinating plot holes.

Watching the episode, I thought, if the existing non-volatile storage space is so tight, why not just transmit the data back into empty space where it came from, at the speed of light? You could catch it all later with an FTL ship. Why not extrude 5D memory crystals out of all the replicators? For that matter, why is there a difference between using those replicators to make food and to make the five people? The fidelity problem shown in “Data’s Day” (1991) ought to have been fixed by now to prevent poisoning. These questions kept coming. Why is the neural data tracked at higher resolution? Is it luck, good AI or good cybersecurity that prevents the emergency overwrite procedure from knocking out artificial gravity, life support, the main reactor, or the specs on some other dead bastard? Why would the producers prefer a pastiche over the loss of vital functions?

Gradually, the questions that bubble up in the back of my mind trend toward more deliberate errors in the production. Why would the computer assimilate the five bodies into a running program? Why would the safety features be turned off, but not the program itself? Why would stopping the program, or killing the characters in the program, erase their data? If the holosuite has no data on the nervous systems of the victims, why do the actors not act like different people? The Frenchman Duchamps, played by Worf’s Michael Dorn, can’t even pronounce the word “franc”. The premise of the play-within-the-play, of a Bond villain shrinking the Earth with lasers, is no better or worse than typical writing on Trek itself, so what is the joke? Why does nobody acknowledge that the five officers are dead?

The most important answers to these questions are bad: The episode is not about ideas. The “neural energy” cannot be stored without moving bodies because it is what Bashir calls the “spark of life” in “Life Support” (1995). The writers used that fantasy trope and dressed it up as science fiction to excuse pageantry. They preferred pageantry over any tension that could result from more logical consequences. People are trapped on the holodeck again because the writers and producers realized that their own decision was bad: Pageantry would not be entertaining on its own because it has no tension. The pastiche almost brought Paramount a lawsuit, and had to be rescued with the cop-out of Gilbert Ryle’s ghost in the machine haunting the holosuite to threaten the characters. The writers and producers did all this against their better judgment because they were scared. They thought that more elegant or more logical consequences would be too difficult for a mass-market television audience to follow.

Like Exodus, the whole thing unravels. It’s not enjoyable as kitsch, but it’s nearly historically significant: Across the history of Trek, you can see the writers and production crews becoming generally better informed about data, and perhaps a little less willing to dumb things down. The writer who brought the transporter into the franchise probably didn’t care whether it erased people and recreated them from data, or whether it moved living persons, body and soul. It can hardly be both, but that simple question did not absolutely have to be answered to make something that was only going to air once or twice, and the industry had its taboo against unnecessary exposition. “The Savage Curtain” (1969) implies movement, but instead of settling on that answer, later writers allowed mutually contradictory indications to build up to the point that any good answer would require a retcon. That retcon almost arrived in this episode, but the question that had been simple in 1966 was now intimidatingly complex and was not answered here. Such indecision is poor stewardship. Internal contradiction slowly drained the entertainment value of the product, which now airs forever in its permanent state of neglect. A dust bunny trapped in amber.

“Our Man Bashir” is quintessential Star Trek because it uses tropes characteristic of the franchise to waste and undermine the potential of the franchise. I am glad the writers of the episode decided to do a little extra exposition. I am glad they continued to follow the trend of “Shadowplay” (1994) toward the dysteleological substance monism of classically elegant SF worldbuilding, even if it was just one step. I am glad they did not chicken out of discussing the technology of the setting, broken as it was before it reached their hands. It looks nonetheless painful that they landed on both sides of the fence giving contradictory answers to that once-simple question of how the teleporters work. They showed, yet again, their willingness to burn the worldbuilding for dress-up.

References here: Highlights of Star Trek TV, “Crossfire” (1996), “The Darkness and the Light” (1997), “For the Uniform” (1997), “A Simple Investigation” (1997), “Far Beyond the Stars” (1998), “His Way” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“Homefront” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Benjamin Sisko goes to see his father when CCTV footage of a terrorist bombing on Earth implies the presence of Dominion spies.

The most extensive look at the political process of the Federation up to this point in the franchise. It’s good, credibly juggling hawks, doves, denialists and foolish PR concerns. The elder Sisko gets to represent a hedonistic public that is paradoxically hard-working and wilfully ignorant of the nightmare that is the Star Trek setting. It’s just funny that the three generations of Siskos look nothing like one another.

moving picture episode fiction

“Paradise Lost” (1996Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

With Starfleet security forces patrolling the streets of Earth looking for shape-shifters, Odo and Benjamin Sisko find a misplaced document.

“Red Squad”, the secret yet paradoxically famous group of cadets that carried out the previous episode’s blackout of Earth, corresponds to the arrogant “Nova Squadron” of “The First Duty” (1992). It is a missed opportunity to refer directly to the established motif for a richer callback to rot at the academy. On a related note, Leyton drinks grandpa Sisko’s coffee and laments that replicated food still doesn’t taste right. This detail shows that, just like Boothby’s manual methods in “The First Duty”, the fundamental worldbuilding still has that regressive anti-technological streak, and not for reasons of resilience or Bookchin-style libertarianism, but simply because of a kneejerk intuition that coffee—even in a pot left standing in a closed restaurant—would taste better if it required more of other people’s labour.

The basic idea is good: Without retracting or denying the threat of the Dominion, the writers remake “The Wounded” (1991) on a higher political level. Admiral Leyton, Sisko’s former commander who appears only in this two-parter, makes a serious attempt at a coup d’état, ostensibly for the purpose of resisting the Dominion more effectively. It is not resolved whether he ordered the terrorist bombing or whether he faked the first video evidence of a Founder presence. Either way, this fits well into the fourth season of DS9, which opened with the Klingons becoming more imperialistic even as the Cardassians were shaken by a coup against their own military junta. It makes a lot of sense that the paranoia brought on by the Dominion would have these secondary effects, and it is gratifying that the writers made such substantial changes to the setting without going the right-wing or edgelord route by implying that Leyton’s insurrectionist hawks would be better suited to securing Earth. However, there is another parallel to “The First Duty”, besides Red Squad and kneejerk artisanal essentialism: Despite the pro-democratic metapolitics, it is not civil society that saves the day, but heroic naval officers. The President of the Federation is deceived but Benjamin Sisko is not; he puts pressure on Red Squad by playing his own military role to the hilt while both Odo and the crew of the Defiant resort to violence. It’s a series of false notes that simplify what should have been a huge long-term problem.

Despite its more extreme subject matter, the episode is not as dark as “The Drumhead” (1991). That’s partly because a lot of the details just look cheap. Sisko’s office set is Leyton’s office set and it doesn’t make sense that either of them should be so alone on it. Kira cuts short a video call by answering a question before Sisko can ask it, among many contortions for brevity. There’s a train in a tube that keeps whizzing by, but life on Earth does not look convincing. None of it has anything to do with Paradise Lost (1667/1674).

References here: “Behind the Lines” (1997), “Valiant” (1998), “When It Rains” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Crossfire” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Odo thinks “Longing Is Like the Seed” (1872/1873).

A moody, dramatic episode, firmly centred on the most extensive story of unrequited love up to this point in the franchise. It is serialization, as well as happening inside the core-cast bubble, that gives the story weight. If it had been isolated like one of the show’s usual core-to-guest love stories, such as “Defiant” (1994) or “Meridian” (1994), it would have been meaningless. Also, Worf’s comic relief is better than usual, but there is one tiny plot hole: The Cardassian separatist group is reused from “Our Man Bashir” (1995), but the group’s body count is incorrect. They are said to have killed two. The incident where they killed practically the entire senior staff of the station is not even mentioned, and they are forgotten after this episode.

References here: What You Leave Behind (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Return to Grace” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Kira and Dukat fight Klingons.

A sequel to “Indiscretion” (1995) with Kira again teaming up with Dukat. He does nothing but hit on her all of a sudden, probably because the producers continued to think of Kira as a sexual object. She’s all over the place in her attitudes toward him.

Dukat was a big-shot prefect during the occupation. He lost that job in the Cardassian withdrawal from Bajor, then he was betrayed and sidelined in “The Maquis: Part 2” (1994), yet he was acting like the supreme commander of a regional fleet in “Defiant” (1994). Since he was already at odds with the Obsidian Order in that incident, you’d think that the Order’s demise would improve his somehow-salvaged career further, but in this episode he’s almost on the level of “The Outrageous Okona” (1988), hauling freight. The offered explanation for this is his “indiscretion”, which parallels that of Pa'Dar in “Cardassians” (1993). Pa'Dar’s career was saved by Bashir’s intervention, but Dukat’s has been sunk despite his own lament that traditional Cardassian values are on the wane since the state’s defeat by the Klingons. In “Return to Grace”, Dukat’s career is salvaged again, and in 1997, he’d be supreme leader of the whole Cardassian Union. At this point, I don’t see why the audience would take an interest in such random developments.

The Klingon adventure is dull, the possibility of a Kira–Dukat romance is dull, Dukat’s proposal that they continue to work together against the Klingons as soldiers is a non sequitur and the opportunity to characterize Dukat’s daughter Ziyal is wasted. It is a nice detail that Bashir remarks on the poor state of Cardassian health care since the war. In the same scene, Worf lectures Kira on state secrets, which I thought was Chekhovian foreshadowing, but it isn’t; Dukat doesn’t try to extract sensitive information about Starfleet weapons even in a situation where they’d be useful. I sense no purpose behind it all, which is itself faintly interesting: It is neither an episodic thought experiment, nor a meaningful addition to the overarching plot.

References here: “Waltz” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“Sons of Mogh” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The Klingons mine space and Worf’s brother is sick of disgrace.

The opening sets a low bar: Dax flirting with Worf, baiting another awkward romantic relationship like Worf–Troi on TNG, in another damned cave, with another damned bat'leth, when a call comes in saying there’s another Klingon causing trouble like Kor on “Blood Oath” (1994), but this is not “Blood Oath”. This is one of the better straight-faced episodes about Klingons as a society and about Worf. It gains much from Tony Todd’s competent acting and from the direction of David Livingston who did “In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993) as well as a few stinkers.

That ending though. I understand that Bashir is miffed patching up the suicidal Kurn after two near-death experiences, but going “Face of the Enemy” (1993) on him with only traumatic autobiographical amnesia for protection is wildly inconsistent with the Hippocratic oath, of which Bashir was such a big fan in “Hippocratic Oath” (1995). Kurn doesn’t even get to return to Lorgh, his adoptive father on “Sins of the Father” (1990). Kurn would never make another canonical appearance either. His treatment prompts the question how many citizens of the Federation are just surgically and genetically altered deep-cover versions of themselves with induced amnesia, not spies as in “Second Skin” (1994) but simply mental patients who no longer know they’re patients. Such a cure for depression would be even more radical and doomed than Donald Ewen Cameron’s experiments wiping people’s minds with drugs and electro-convulsive therapy.

References here: “A Simple Investigation” (1997), “Call to Arms” (1997), “Statistical Probabilities” (1997), “Penumbra” (1999), “Tacking Into the Wind” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Bar Association” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Rom forms a union.

A sitcom, again at the expense of the worldbuilding, but this one is funny.

Rom quotes “The Communist Manifesto” (1848) after he forms a union. This is appropriate because much of the original communist vision has been achieved in the Federation. It was done partly through old-school uprisings of the proletariat, like the Bell Riots of “Past Tense: Part 2” (1995), but mainly through more utopian action across class lines. According to Star Trek: First Contact (1996), it was mainly a question of Earthrise and Blue Marble mentality.

Utopian economic development is a conspicuous feature of Star Trek, though its role in the transformation of society had not been spelled out in 1996. The 1848 manifesto mentions how old skills were rendered worthless by new methods of production, and this has to have happened on Earth—on a grander scale—when universal translators, matter synthesizers and free energy made huge sections of real-world industry obsolete. In the episode, Sisko explains that the Federation “holds the lease” on Quark’s bar, but does not charge Quark for anything: Not for power, not for maintenance, and not for rent. For negotiation purposes, Sisko claims that those charges are normally deferred, which implies that they are in fact zero.

As in TOS, the Federation is a post-scarcity society. All of Quark’s employees live at the edge of that society. If they pay rent for their living quarters aboard DS9, that’s never stated. If they pay for food or clothes at the “Replimat”, that’s never stated. If information or travel are expensive, that’s never stated. Bashir doesn’t take money for his services, so excellent health care is free. Under these circumstances, it does not make sense for Quark’s employees to accept exploitation in the first place, certainly not when the work is to carry food and drink—synthesized for free—over short distances. Some of Quark’s drinks are supposedly artisanal and have to be carried further, but there appears to be no prestige in that. Given his greed and the fact that synthetic drinks taste better than artisanal ones according to “The Neutral Zone” (1988), Quark would happily use synthetics, and lie about their provenance, serving them using improved versions of this episode’s holograms and firing his staff.

The only explanation offered to excuse the plot reminds me of Mary Wollstonecraft’s egalitarian philosophy: Quark’s Ferengi employees accept worker exploitation because they want to become exploiters. That is, they actively and knowingly preserve a social order that hurts them because they want to be able to hurt others in the same way in the future, even though there is no economic basis for it, and even though it’s a pyramid scheme with more than one worker per boss in increasingly entrenched positions, as in Marx’s day. This is a picture of class struggle as it existed in 1996 USA. In the episode, two Nausicaans play a game where they throw darts at one another: A probably unintentional metaphor for the concept of choosing to remain a bullied wage slave when a wage is useless, just for a chance to enslave others.

Quark’s Ferengi workers, Quark himself, and the FCA’s Liquidator Brunt who sics the Nausicaans on Quark to intimidate Rom, all share a malicious irrationality that is used here for comedy in such a pointed way as if to deny its relevance to the viewer’s own life. O’Brien and Bashir take sides in the fight but never explain how their faction’s technology makes it all moot. Compare again “The Neutral Zone”, where once-wealthy archist humans are treated with contempt and the crew of the Enterprise explains why. I guess that having Starfleet preach Marxism on DS9 would have been a step too far for US TV. Rom does preach, but the conflict is angled as his coming of age, not as a meaningful political struggle. A reference to masturbation completes Rom as DS9’s equivalent to TNG’s Reginald Barclay.

Speaking of worldbuilding and TNG, when Worf criticizes station security again, Odo gives him two examples of security breaches straight out of Worf’s tenure on TNG: “A Matter of Time” (1991) and “Rascals” (1992). That list could have been a lot longer, but even if it had been, that is no defence of DS9’s own bad writing. Odo himself has a namesake—an anarchist philosopher—in The Dispossessed (1974), but Star Trek is never as smart about economics or status as Wollstonecraft or Ursula K. Le Guin.

References here: “Body Parts” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“Accession” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A long-lost Bajoran poet and Keiko O’Brien both return.

The B plot is lovely. The A plot is strained. Ultimately, it doesn’t make sense that Akorem first forms his opinion, then conceals it until he has “acceeded”, then lets Vedek Porta murder a colleague over it in cold blood, then sees his misunderstanding, all while the atemporal “Prophets” see the whole thing layed out from start to finish and could have done it right from the start. The conclusion is ugly, self-sealing like “We’ll Always Have Paris” (1988): History is altered, the greatest poet of Bajor returns two hundred years earlier and keeps working—perhaps knowing the future—but instead of this having no effect or a butterfly effect, all living people retain now-false memories of their own past.

Given the Marxist theme of the preceding episode, it is especially odd to think that Bajorans in general—Kira included—would agree to reinstate a caste system that has never been mentioned up to now. Not even the Ferengi excuse—a will to eventually become the oppressor—can be offered in defence of such a system. It does the Federation credit that it’s a showstopper, but it’s also a silly idea, like a new Pope demanding that all Catholics live according to their zodiac signs because of the uncounted astrologers who visit Bethlehem in Matthew (ca. 80–90 CE).

I think the point of the episode is to pipe gasoline onto the fire of Sisko’s importance. At the start of the series, he’s barely willing to take a job, being a single parent and otherwise idle protégé of the autocratic Leyton. At the start of this episode, Sisko and Starfleet are both still uncomfortable with his religious function. At the end of the episode, not so much. Another reasonable doubt has been eliminated on his way to becoming a boring, unconditionally great man of history like Kirk.

References here: “Ferengi Love Songs” (1997).

moving picture episode fiction

“Rules of Engagement” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Worf on trial for killing civilians. Turns out he just didn’t.

Ron Canada is good as Ch'Pok, but this is not nearly as smart as “The Drumhead” (1991), just another implausible subterfuge at too great a cost to the enemy, going through the motions of a court drama about feelings. This is not at all what I hoped for when the writers decided to reverse the political progress made between the Federation and the Klingons and go back to TOS’s hostility, running the treadmill in reverse for a while. The narrative device of showing events described by witnesses while the same witnesses break the fourth wall is as bad as the experiments of “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969); I fell asleep.

moving picture episode fiction

“Hard Time” (1996Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Miles O’Brien spends 20 cycles in an alien prison. Conveniently, each “cycle” is the same length as one year on Earth.

Not quite, but almost, a logical reapplication of an established premise, recognizable for instance from “Move Along Home” (1993) and “The Search: Part 2” (1994) with more time dilation.

Not quite, but almost, a good thought experiment. The aliens say they save the expense of building physical prisons, but a good thought experiment would require them to wonder what use their system is.

Not quite, but almost, a solid drama about psychological trauma, in the form of 1990s psychology instead of “Phantasms” (1993). The story is told out of order for no good reason. It’s in the vein of the writers picking on O’Brien, the everyman, probably because his relatively muted superhero tendencies made him easy to relate to. The problem with picking (on) O’Brien here is that he’s already been condemned by aliens at random, in “Tribunal” (1994). It’s even less likely to happen twice.

Without constriction, weakening or even ageing, a convict is not physically prevented from continuing a life of crime, so the objective of the episode’s virtual imprisonment cannot be such prevention of harm. Similarly, the objective cannot be therapy or other ways of “curing” the convict of their criminal tendencies. It certainly isn’t conditioning them for instrumental purposes like “The Mind’s Eye” (1991). The objective cannot be punitive justice either, because the system is too elaborate in relation to the pain it causes, and leaves too little of a mark even for sadistic jailers to see. There is no justice in it, and since O’Brien was not aware of committing any crime in the first place, the system is not an effective deterrent. It does nothing that real prisons do or are intended to do, other than traumatize. As such, it makes less sense than No Escape (1994) and other contemporary SF about the ballooning US prison system.

Meany does a good job acting out aggression as a result of an irrational sense of inadequacy and guilt, which is smart. There is a possibility that O’Brien was set up to kill Ee’char and was simply left in the illusion until he did so, to produce precisely that sense of personal guilt, as a means of making him take personal responsibility for his crime of espionage by an irrelevant proxy. This, not the illusion of prison itself, would then be the true punishment, but there is nothing to indicate that intention, and such a vicarious sense of guilt would only tenuously serve the apparent purposes of the Agrathi, who exist only in this episode. It doesn’t work well as a one-off, but like “Identity Crisis” (1991), the basic idea is suggestive enough that it could have been very good if it had been worked out and serialized, not instantly forgotten.

References here: “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (1998), White Christmas (2014).

moving picture episode fiction

“Shattered Mirror” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

More goatee universe.

There is nothing more to be mined from the premise, so the writers take desperate measures. They even backpedal from the last iteration, “Through the Looking Glass” (1995), by having Bashir punch and Jadzia slap Sisko, as if mere physical retaliation could restore narrative continuity to a universe where everyone is stupid. “I’m not sure it was real to begin with” says Sisko, symbolically condemning the whole exercise as equivalent to a holodeck program.

The closest thing to a point of interest is the use of computer-generated effects for a fight between the mostly-human “Rebel” faction of the goatee universe and a Klingon Empire led by Worf. It looks bad, not by the standards of 1996 CGI but because it’s still patterned after WW1 fighter planes, weaving in and out of the station’s ring and under Worf’s phallic ersatz Star Destroyer at negligible speeds. Such extended, self-contradictory battle scenes would become commonplace in later Trek series as CGI got easier to make.

References here: “Apocalypse Rising” (1996), “Change of Heart” (1998), “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” (1999), “Tacking Into the Wind” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Muse” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The last of Majel Barrett’s nine appearances as Lwaxana Troi. It’s a shame they wasted her on this.

moving picture episode fiction

“For the Cause” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

moving picture episode fiction

“To the Death” (1996Moving picture, 44 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A group of Jem'Hadar destroys one of the docking spires on DS9. The survivors team up with another group of Jem'Hadar, supposedly more loyal to the Dominion, to stop the “renegades” before they make use of an Iconian base.

The Iconians of “Contagion” (1989) make good material for a callback seven years later. This episode, like the first one, does not go into the concept and just blows up another priceless relic.

There are many influences on the Jem'Hadar, just barely in balance: Idealized tribal warriors (declaring themselves dead before battle, willing to die to complete an assignment and to show courage etc.), 1950s commies in US propaganda (joyless, merciless, inhuman, uniform, collective) and the human soldiers of Encounter at Farpoint (exploited, unnatural, addicted, barely controlled). If there had not already been a synthesizer company called Korg, that would have made a good name. The species-culture combo shown here is effectively Klingon Borg, mashing together the strengths and weaknesses of the two most popular past enemies on the treadmill.

Spinning that treadmill, the writers continue to push the possibility of the Jem'Hadar rebelling against the commanding species of the Dominion even more openly than they do here and in “Hippocratic Oath” (1995), but that possibility is carefully shown to be double-edged, with a freer faction of the species not necessarily a smaller problem than a loyal one.

References here: “The Quickening” (1996), “Inquisition” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Quickening” (1996Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Bashir tries to cure a hereditary disease engineered by the Dominion to crush a proud race.

A breath of fresh air in the otherwise disappointing fourth season. This episode does more than any other to show the character of the Dominion, and it does so in the absence of silicone-headed humanoid representatives. It is, simultaneously, a good character study and a good AIDS metaphor. Michael Sarrazin even gives it good intertext; he does a good job playing a healer who mainly administers euthanasia, something the same actor’s character also does once in They Shoot Horses Don’t They? (1969).

The environments on Teplan have that tendency toward brown that afflicts a lot of the generic one-off alien societies of the franchise, including “Loud as a Whisper” (1989) and “The Inner Light” (1992), but other than that, it looks great: Easier digital matts combine well with lots of extras and shooting on location on big sets built at a rocket-engine test site. The worldbuilding is somewhat dubious though. The Teplans’ deep sense of resignation seems to mirror “Symbiosis” (1988) and Christian reactions to the Black Death, with Ekoria as Mary producing an “immaculate” Jesusy baby without the more obvious posturing of “Transfigurations” (1990), but if the Teplans are religious, there is no substance to it. On a less gritty, more typical episode of Trek, they might as well have been invigorated as a culture by the brevity of their lives.

The downfall of Teplan is rich with parallels in Christian mythology: It recalls the—likely symbolic—practice of plowing salt into the fields of conquered enemy cities in the ancient Near East, referenced in Judges 9, but instead of salt it’s disease, something Yahweh regularly promises to the disloyal. It’s delivered even to the innocent across generations, as Yahweh likes it (Deuteronomy 5:9). This religious dimension, where the Founders correspond to Yahweh or the Gnostic Demiurge, is more interesting than any of the layered intertext of the Jem'Hadar in “To the Death” (1996), because Trek is vaguely atheist in outlook. It recasts the stated motive of the Founders in “The Search: Part 2” (1994), which is to take revenge on their static tormentors, as akin to Yahweh’s spite against humankind in Genesis 6. In other words, the main enemy faction on DS9 is the one that most resembles Christianity and its gods.

References here: Worldbuilding for television production, “The Ship” (1996).

moving picture episode fiction

“Body Parts” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The pregnant Keiko O’Brien has an accident and Quark is misdiagnosed.

Quark gets the A plot, which puts unusual emphasis on Ferengi religion. In a dream about his afterlife, Quark aptly remarks that it looks tacky. Indeed it’s Bag End at Trump Tower, which tells you how little anyone in the production cared about the sincere feelings of transcendence that come with religion. The ending is instead a moral about friendship and egotism that seems to come right out of the stories we tell small children. The lesson is that real wealth is the friends we make along the way. Compare “Bar Association” (1996), where Quark ruthlessly oppresses his staff and tries to replace them all with holograms. The Ferengi are still fundamentally broken and the showrunner didn’t care. The B plot is similarly nonsensical but better than “The Child” (1988) because it’s serialized.

moving picture episode fiction

Seen in 2022.

References here: “The Begotten” (1997), “Behind the Lines” (1997), “When It Rains” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Apocalypse Rising” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Another implausible masquerade through plastic surgery and holograms. In this one, Worf defeats Gowron, the genuine article, in single combat, in front of a mead hall full of the Klingon Empire’s most honoured warriors. “Shattered Mirror” (1996) has gone to the writers’ heads and now Worf is apparently the rightful but reluctant king like Aragorn.

References here: Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond (1996), “Penumbra” (1999), “Tacking Into the Wind” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Ship” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The scenario is unusual and has potential. At first it teases an Alien (1979), but turns out to be a diplomatic malfunction that needlessly costs the lives of five crewmen. In the last two scenes, the five are all named and the writers focus briefly on the loss of these relatively ordinary people, but this is not even a “Lower Decks” (1994). The rest of the episode is very much about the usual main characters. The only dying crewman who is really characterized, Enrique Muniz, is characterized through his relationship with O’Brien as O’Brien’s subordinate, not as a professional or a person. This is a fundamental problem. Muniz has been mentioned twice before, but in a serialized narrative, there should be room to develop such a character in such a way that the audience forms an attachment to him, and this hasn’t been done. He is a sacrificial lamb presented for the purpose of being killed in such a way that O’Brien is sad about it, not in such a way that the audience is sad about it.

Compare the camaraderie that existed between O’Brien and the unnamed characters closest to him in Ops in Emissary (1993). That hasn’t continued, and in fact was never seen again throughout DS9. The problem with Muniz is partly one of bad directing and acting, in that the actors do not sell Muniz even as personally important to O’Brien, but that is hard to do when the character has barely existed up to this episode, so that the actors have no history. It is more centrally a problem of the production model, where the spotlight remains—contractually—on certain principals so that other characters, like Muniz, are deliberately excluded. This is done on the assumption that, in episodic television, the audience only cares about top-billed actors and it isn’t worth the casting effort or added cost to maintain an active relationship with more than a few “recurring guests”. As a result, Muniz is a footnote in the life of the principals. He doesn’t function as a character for dramatic purposes and that is ultimately by design.

This means that the last scenes of grief do not express compassion. Instead they make the episode about the defeat of other characters played by the core cast. In this, the episode resembles “The Quickening” (1996), but lacks the subtext, production values, and character development. “The Ship” is therefore symptomatic of a general problem specifically with DS9: The transition to a serialized narrative was always too hesistant.

References here: “A Time to Stand” (1997).

moving picture episode fiction

“Looking for Par'Mach in All the Wrong Places” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

All of the three narrative threads are continuations of previous plot lines, but only the development of the Dax–Worf relationship makes sense with respect to the past. Kira with Miles O’Brien is soap-opera trash. Quark revisiting “The House of Quark” (1994) is superfluous and predicated upon shadowing Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) with the most plastic-looking bat'leths so far. The ridiculousness of the weapon is almost a plot point when Worf accidentally snags and tears off his remote control system. The ridiculousness of Klingon culture as a whole is almost a plot point when Dax “translates” the word par'mach as “love, but with more aggressive overtones”.

moving picture episode fiction

“Nor the Battle to the Strong” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Cheaply made 1990s greyscale moralism.

References here: “The Ascent” (1996), “The Siege of AR-558” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Assignment” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

There’s a cave on Bajor with demons in it. These demons can possess people indefinitely, totally controlling their actions and internal organs. They have full access to the host’s memories as well as an excellent understanding of advanced technology and physics, and they want to commit genocide, but nobody’s noticed.

Sadly, the demons would become important later on in the series. The marital tension metaphor uses a premise like those of “Return to Tomorrow” (1968) and “The Lights of Zetar” (1969) and is similarly heavy-handed. Rom is a lot of fun, but he can’t save the plot.

References here: “The Reckoning” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“Trials and Tribble-ations” (1996Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The main attraction here is the fan-film aspect, which is done with real joy and skill for the 30th anniversary, unlike “Blood Oath” (1994).

Secondarily, there is a surprising amount of worldbuilding. The best of it introduces a much-needed Federation police department for time travel, and one of the good parts of that is that it appears to be based on the minority-view Trek premise of interference-by-time-travel as being difficult or impossible to detect (e.g. “The Visitor”), as opposed to the competing majority-view Trek premise of interference being easy to detect. In either case there is no butterfly effect and little security.

Unfortunately, even the Bureau of Temporal Investigations is a joke. Its officers are clueless about the consequences of time travel in this instance, and in the end, even they sanction Sisko’s most deliberate interference. The other worldbuilding is worse, continuing to undermine everything about the Klingons through comedy at their expense. There is the Great Tribble Hunt and the suggestion of an embarrassing reason for how Klingons gained their brow ridges, a change ignored in “Blood Oath” because it was purely extradiegetic. This episode also further canonizes widespread adulation of Kirk as a Carlylean great man of history, including his bad-boy methods and his “ladies-man” status. Dax’s enthusiasm makes her the main fan stand-in, repeating that role from “Blood Oath” with the excuse of great age.

moving picture episode fiction

“Let He Who Is Without Sin” (1996Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

“Essentialists” sabotage the weather control system on Risa, ruining some people’s vacations, supposedly to restore the Federation to strength.

The philosophical conflict here is between those who regard Risa as a just reward for hard work and those who regard it as lotus-eating, but this conflict is never intelligently expressed. It’s implied that replicators have something to do with life being too easy, but there is no thesis on the subject. Curiously, the subject of romantic fidelity is also excluded from discussion, despite the famously free-loving early history of Trek. Here, everybody seems on board with the more Christian idea that you can only have one romantic relationship at a time, though nobody says it.

References here: “You Are Cordially Invited” (1997).

moving picture episode fiction

“Things Past” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A flawed attempt at a second “Necessary Evil” (1993) turns into “Distant Voices” (1995) with a wafer-thin excuse for a mimetic premise. The mood is still nice, with Odo suitably off balance throughout, and this time, Dax is only shunted off because she’s pretty as in “Past Tense: Part 1” (1995), which is better than Kira’s treatment in “Necessary Evil”.

moving picture episode fiction

“The Ascent” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Odo and Quark climb. Nog and Jake share quarters.

The A plot is better greyscale moralism than “Nor the Battle to the Strong” (1996) and has a shade of We Who Are About To... (1976) with its Earthlike world where everything is realistically biologically incompatible with people, but it’s cheaply made and it doesn’t make sense this late in the game—specifically after “Hippocratic Oath”—that Odo would still want to see Quark put away in a penal colony for high crimes.

It is Nog’s character development that carries the episode. Aron Eisenberg is hilarious in his portrayal of a highly motivated, proud and fastidious Starfleet cadet, completely transformed, more irritating than Wesley Crusher. It is particularly funny that the episode confirms Starfleet personnel do a lot of manual cleaning, because this falls precisely in line with SF-fandom caricatures of the franchise relative to dirtier, more believable works like Alien (1979). Such a joke at Trek’s own expense is rare.

moving picture episode fiction

“Rapture” (1996Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Following an accident, Benjamin Sisko is gripped by apparently prophetic visions on the eve of Bajor officially joining the Federation and Kasidy Yates returning from her prison sentence.

This feels like the good old days with Michael Piller. Not serializing it is a cop-out, but the nuanced portrayal of (disorganized) religion fits in well with the show, superpositioned as it is with brain damage and aliens.

References here: “Far Beyond the Stars” (1998), “The Reckoning” (1998), “’Til Death Do Us Part” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“The Darkness and the Light” (1997Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A disfigured Cardassian laundryman kills five of the members of Kira’s old resistance cell.

Like “Our Man Bashir” (1995), this episode makes interesting use of novel technical details for bad purposes. The details pertain to miniature drones like the ones in Dune (1965), including one that induces a gruesome transporter malfunction and another that breaches the hull of the station from the outside. It makes perfect sense that such devices would be used for assassination. It even makes sense that a laundryman could, like a lesser Count of Monte Cristo (1844), learn to make and use them, given the extreme technological sophistication and user-friendliness of the Trek setting.

It does not make sense that somebody would go Seven (1995) over the Shakaar cell’s actions, nor that Shakaar’s safety is ignored in this episode, nor that the evil Prin’s justification would prompt Kira to say “sometimes innocence is just an excuse for the guilty”. That last bit is more 1990s edgy greyscale morality in bad faith. It throws no light on the recurring theme of reckoning with the Bajoran holocaust under Cardassian occupation. More superficially, it does not make sense that Kira knocks three friendly men unconscious on the way to checking on her friends in O’Brien’s quarters, into which they teleported so nonsensically. Also, the acting is bad. Most profoundly, the good technical premises of this episode should have shaped the entire setting from the beginning, but do not, even in later episodes; an internal contradiction by omission.

moving picture episode fiction

“The Begotten” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Babies. As a result, Odo regains the superpower he lost in “Broken Link” (1996), a mere half a season earlier.

The dramatic parent-child-relationship metaphor dominates the Odo–Mora plot so completely that it excludes almost all worldbuilding. In other words, the writers use the radically different biology of the “changelings”, a grand premise, as an excuse to talk about human psychology, which could have been done equally well without the premise, in almost any show on television. The conclusion is sweet, but what a wasted opportunity. The Kira plot is less striking but has the same basic problem: It doesn’t need to be science fiction to do what it does. It could have been about real-world surrogate parents and is still too focused on tension between Miles O’Brien and Shakaar, which is where veteran writers and producers would naturally go for drama when there are no ideas. Also, observe the detail that Kira has her baby “the traditional Bajoran way”, as if a planet with an indigenous, predominantly superstitious near-human civilization had, in many thousands of years, produced exactly one traditional way to give birth; that’s not even good human psychology.

References here: “Behind the Lines” (1997).

moving picture episode fiction

“For the Uniform” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Sisko is disappointed in himself for not catching a traitor he’s been after for eight months.

I like that Eddington’s calling card as a villain is to wipe non-volatile data storage. That has to be a callback to “Our Man Bashir” (1995) and represents a common real-world cyberattack. The funny thing is that it does not make sense for the specific character to use it as a weapon. That happens simply by association with the fact that he once allowed something similar to happen as a short-term fix. It’s an example of the writers drawing conclusions in the case of one character, chickening out of impersonal worldbuilding.

Captain Sanders is a good supporting role: Full Starfleet professionalism (Trek as workplace-like parasociality) with a clear human touch. The more central discussion of Les Misérables (1862) as it pertains to villain psychology is a silly excuse for more 1990s greyscale morality. Surprisingly, this episode escalates from lazy moral equivalence to full edgelord: Benjamin Sisko uses persistent (50-year) chemical weapons against the Maquis, presumably including civilians, on an entire planet. With all-fantasy physics, you can’t be sure whether he commits some ecocide in the process, but at the very least he causes a major panic to evacuate the innocent and people like Ro Laren who believe, with the facts in hand, that they’re fighting for a good cause by justified means.

Captains in previous Trek shows have sometimes had to fake being ruthless so that their good-guy faction is not taken advantage of. “Albatross” (1974) had McCoy charged with genocide and “Descent: Part 2” (1993) saw Picard regretting not carrying out genocide. This episode, however, is the first to show the captain losing his cool and actually doing it. He is ruthless mainly for a personal victory, without explaining himself to his crew, except to Dax. The only moral fig leaf is that his opponent did it first. The threat of scaling up the chemical attack further may be a bluff, but that doesn’t matter. To make things worse, the war crime is rewarded by the writers’ fiat. The Maquis are defeated here and would not be relevant as a faction again.

This episode temporarily adds holocommunicator technology, which is a curious hybrid of holodeck and transporter technology with the telepresence of “Interface” (1993) and all those apparently-3D viewscreen conversations the franchise has always had, in which changing the camera angle on the screen as such also changes the camera angle on the person on the other end. I get the impression that holocommunicators were added to make the conversations cheaper to shoot and more dramatic. Given the many trapped-on-the-holodeck scenarios of the past, they seem like a bad idea but were dropped before any problems with them could be invented.

References here: “Blaze of Glory” (1997), “Waltz” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“In Purgatory’s Shadow” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Garak decrypts a distress call.

The beginning of the overall dramatic apex in DS9’s serialized plot.

References here: “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” (1997), “Inquisition” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“By Inferno’s Light” (1997Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Our heroes behave optimally.

moving picture episode fiction

“Doctor Bashir, I Presume” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The maker of an emergency medical hologram contacts Bashir for a sister project.

The setup with Robert Picardo is a brilliantly smooth way to toss out a loose connection to VOY; much better than the allusion to Star Trek: First Contact (1996) in “In Purgatory’s Shadow” (1997). Everything else about this episode’s writing has a subtly desperate feel to it. Rom is temporarily idiot-balled, there are references to Nog’s mother but they add nothing of interest and don’t pay off later, and the retcon that Bashir has been genetically enhanced this whole time is an ass-pull that angered the actor. I rather like how petty the circumstances are, and it’s nice to have confirmed that GMO humans are typically banned from Starfleet and other positions of importance, with explicit reference to “Space Seed” (1967) despite the Eugenics Wars having been retconned out of the 1990s. That conservatism is dull in such an extreme high-tech setting, but it’s at least self-consistent. I don’t like the closing scene though; it implies that even “Rivals” (1994) was an implausibly elaborate deception all along. If the writers had planned well, “Explorers” (1995), “Distant Voices” (1995) and many other episodes would also have played out differently, even if the planners had been wise enough to stick to intelligence alone.

References here: “Statistical Probabilities” (1997).

moving picture episode fiction

“A Simple Investigation” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A little more Bond parody like “Our Man Bashir” (1995), and centrally, a lazy love story where the episodic hard reset is predicated upon yet another case of cross-species-surgery-plus-brainwashing like “Second Skin” (1994) and “Sons of Mogh” (1996).

References here: “Penumbra” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Business as Usual” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Quark sells weapons with his cousin.

The curious thing about the A plot is that it barely touches on Ferengi nature or culture. It is as if the writers had learned to stop banging their heads against that particular wall. On a lesser note, while demonstrating a simulated weapon in a holosuite, Quark mentions that it penetrates shields of 4.6 GJ. The weapon and shield are both hypertechnological, but if one shot is indeed equivalent to one ton of TNT, then ten shots enter the range of a small nuclear weapon like the W54. It’s a silly idea that the buyer would accept the seller’s own simulation of such a thing, where it’s only used in a confined space with no armour.

There is a tiny B plot with Kirayoshi, the O’Briens’ baby. The curious thing about that is its relationship with the franchise’s sound design. At one point, the baby falls asleep to the soothing brown noise and soft beeps of a pit in Ops, which makes sense. At the time of my viewing, there was a Youtube channel, ender4life, publishing eight-hour soundscapes of such ambient noise based on Star Trek locales. Unfortunately, the plot’s conclusion is instead another comic jab at Worf.

References here: “Ferengi Love Songs” (1997).

moving picture episode fiction

“Ties of Blood and Water” (1997Moving picture, 47 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Kira’s father figures die, including her biological father in flashback.

An unusually sincere treatment of the theme of losing one’s parents. Secondarily, it’s a follow-up to “Second Skin” (1994) shoehorned into the serialized plot. All of these aspects feel thin. Notice how Gemor, forgotten up to now and dying only by sudden fiat, is cut off every time he talks about any of the stuff he wants to talk about. As usual, the writers feel that only the non-SF drama is interesting, not the SF that disguises it.

moving picture episode fiction

“Ferengi Love Songs” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The Nagus shacks up with Quark’s mom. Rom and Leeta are engaged to be married.

Quark says he’s never seen the Nagus so happy. He did in “Prophet Motive” (1995). Unlike that episode, and like “Business as Usual” (1997), “Ferengi Love Songs” avoids the topic of Ferengi nature. It turns instead to a blank-slate model of psychological and social development. There’s a women’s section of a Ferengi quasi-poker tournament on the homeworld, “Moogie” is now the financial genius upholding the status of Ferengi civilization, she’s an outspoken feminist, and Quark acknowledges that he’s been affected by human ethics. All four details are blundering steps in the direction that the evil traits initially associated with the Ferengi are and always were cultural traits, not natural traits. This indicates once again, and more clearly than “Family Business” (1995), that Ferengi women are oppressed not in individual cases but across the board. Since the Federation objected to a caste society in “Accession” (1996), it seems that it should object to this enslavement of women, but it doesn’t come up because the writers neither knew nor cared what they were doing.

References here: “Profit and Lace” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“Soldiers of the Empire” (1997Moving picture, 47 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Low morale on a Klingon mission against the Jem'Hadar.

Expectedly humanistic.

moving picture episode fiction

“Children of Time” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A little potpourri! It’s mostly “Second Chances” (1993) in “The Inner Light” (1992) on larger scales, narcissistically focused on the legend of each central character. It’s plainly stupid that nobody distinguishes between killing and preventing, but it’s all cozy, especially the forward movement for zaddie Odo.

References here: “Resurrection” (1997), “When It Rains” (1999).

moving picture episode fiction

“Blaze of Glory” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Sisko/Eddington.

This episode has the most extensive dialogue up to this point on the fidelity of replicators. Eddington, described as a “romantic”, rejects replicators. Benjamin Sisko, who loves to produce and prepare artisanal food, does not defend them, except to say that they make a good version of the Klingon cappuccino (“raktajino”) introduced and then overused on DS9. There is nobody else in the room and certainly no blind test, so the scene does not settle the issue of “The Price” (1989). It just continues to drift toward the boring conclusion that replicators are bad. However, there is an earlier scene where Jake Sisko praises an artisanal dish until he learns what it’s made of, and then he rejects it, which can be read to suggest that both Eddington and Benjamin are deluded in their preference. The writers always leave an out.

The unresolved “romantic” argument doesn’t make Eddington interesting and the episode doesn’t refer back to the edgelording of “For the Uniform” (1997), beyond confirming that the Maquis are defeated. Instead, Benjamin and Eddington kill many super-soldiers while trading quips.

moving picture episode fiction

“Empok Nor” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Technicians go looking for spare parts on a sister station.

The plot twist is bad, but the setup is much better than “Lower Decks” (1994).

moving picture episode fiction

“In the Cards” (1997Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Nog and Jake Sisko try to cheer up Benjamin Sisko despite signs that war is coming soon.

The implausible collectible-baseball-card motif is repeated from “The Most Toys” (1990). Giger’s mood-based technology reminds me of “Gambit: Part 2” (1993). I thought at first that Benjamin’s final speech implied Giger’s device is part of the reason why the staff was depressed, which would suggest a zero-sum emotional balance across the station, but that isn’t right; the device is shown still in operation. Instead, the final speech closes an interesting commentary on the internal economy of the Federation.

The teleplay was written by “Ron” Moore, one of the writers of Star Trek: First Contact (1996) as well as thirty other episodes of DS9. “In the Cards” suggests that Moore rejected the explanation he himself canonized, in First Contact, for why the Federation doesn’t use money. Essentially, in this episode the Federation is just a barter economy, where services are traded on an individual and oral basis, which is realistically shown to be inefficient. Crucially, the people of the Federation are not shown to work for their own or society’s improvement, but for private gain: O’Brien wants leisure, Worf wants his music free of audio glitches, etc. Benjamin’s final speech and the accompanying montage are presented to justify the inefficiency of the system by implying that the individual attention inherent to a barter economy lifts everybody’s spirits in a way that money would not. That conclusion affirms the premise of the argument, namely that people participate in the future economy for private gain, with no fundamental change since the viewer’s time.

That justification is weak because it ignores the world around it. Giger wants, among other things, “anaerobic metabolites suspended in a hydrosaline solution”. Jake goes to pester the station’s doctor about making some, but real-world anaerobic metabolites are simple organic chemicals like lactic acid, and salt water is “a hydrosaline solution”. It is a premise of the setting that the manufacture of such things is free and fully automated, even to a crackpot like Giger. Bartering for a bucket of salt water on DS9 is like bartering for it on a beach strewn with empty buckets. Giger would just get the stuff himself, out of a replicator. Other items on his list may require skilled CAD work that he would have to train for or convince others to do for him without accidentally being cured of his delusions by a telepathic psychologist; a somewhat different plot.

I don’t think Moore went against his own better judgement to support a comedy. Instead I think Moore didn’t make sense of Roddenberry’s worldbuilding, neither on the technological level nor on the psychological level. That’s in spite of the fact that Moore himself, in First Contact, wrote the most succinct description of how the setting’s humans got their altruistic mentality, which is supposed to be fundamental. This episode was directed by Michael Dorn, another regular, albeit as an actor. The Federation was thought up as a post-scarcity economy where private needs and wants are so easy to meet that even bartering is pointless. That was the setting all along, but even the most important writers commonly failed to imagine how such a thing would be different from their own everyday lives.

moving picture episode fiction

“Call to Arms” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The Federation repeats the Klingons’ decision to mine space from “Sons of Mogh” (1996), provoking a confrontation.

The mines are “self-replicating”, but not in the useful Von Neumann sense. Instead, the battle is the usual dense and slow WW1 stuff with yellow flame. Shaky cameras on the bridge make little sense on a ship, and still less on a space station that isn’t accelerating.

References here: “The Siege of AR-558” (1998).

moving picture episode fiction

“A Time to Stand” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A big part of the losing portion of the war between the Federation and the Dominion was omitted between the fifth and sixth seasons of DS9. In this callback to “The Ship” (1996), which opens the sixth season, Starfleet is already turning things around, by improbable means.

The interesting part of the war is how it tests the utopian and human-chauvinistic assumptions of the franchise, instead of letting them grow stale. This episode reminds the viewer, in a disgustingly innumerate dialogue, that Bashir is genetically enhanced and, throughout, that the soldiers of the Dominion have neither pleasures nor comforts, that its leadership is fascist, and that baseline-human Starfleet crews are temporarily deprived of their own pleasures by the war. This confirms a basically sound SF setup for an epic contest.

References here: “Statistical Probabilities” (1997).

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“Rocks and Shoals” (1997Moving picture, 47 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

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“Sons and Daughters” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Alexander reappears on Martok’s ship, causing trouble for Worf, and Dukat’s daughter Ziyal reappears on DS9, causing trouble for Kira.

“Ron” Moore, who created most of the culture of the post-retcon Klingons with a series of Worf-centric narratives starting in “The Bonding” (1989) and breaking through with “Sins of the Father” (1990), did not write this episode, nor did he write “Firstborn” (1994), which up to this point was the last word on Alexander. Instead, long-time showrunners Berman and Piller, who had presided over Moore’s work on Worf, wrote “Sons and Daughters”. In it they attempted to knit together a long series of improvisations while also providing a passable new TV drama. It was a dud typical of how DS9 mishandled its own plot serialization.

As Worf himself says, Alexander is “a difficult subject to discuss”, but the reasons lie in the checkered production history of the franchise, not in Worf. The new actor, Marc Worden, was the fifth to portray Alexander. Born in 1976, he was five years older than his predecessor Brian Bonsall, who was three years older than his predecessor, Jon Steuer; presumably Klingons have accelerated growth. Worden tries to portray a man raised by humans and trying to be Klingon, but the situation is not put in its proper relationship with chūnibyō Worf from “Family” (1990), nor with “Firstborn”. It is continuity, but of a low order, again featuring Worf as merely strict by human standards, not as alien. It can clearly go nowhere.

The B plot is a harmlessly corny failed wartime romance. I wish the whole thing had been a wholesome wartime romance like the opening scene with Dax.

References here: “You Are Cordially Invited” (1997).

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“Behind the Lines” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The Sisko/Dax subplot is the “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 1” (1990) phase of the Dominion War where characters get reasonable promotions. After “Paradise Lost” (1996), this makes even more sense than it did in TNG, but it’s still presented as a threat.

The Odo subplot is more deeply flawed. He meets the same changeling woman as always, and this time, because his relationship with Kira has changed, the writers play up Odo’s relationship with that changeling as metaphorical romantic infidelity. This is the misuse of heavy-artillery SFF premises for soap opera, as in “The Begotten” (1997). It’s especially bad because the Aroya plot of “Broken Link” (1996) never went anywhere. The return of the anonymous woman here implies, by way of colour matching in the original, that she was Aroya and created Odo’s health problem in “Broken Link”. Such a narrow set of characters is appropriate for a stage play, not for an interstellar war in a TV series of 100+ hours, where the woman’s species is barely individuated.

Odo asks the woman a bunch of basic worldbuilding questions which are not answered. He is then brainwashed, one of the perennial threats of the franchise. None of it makes a lot of sense, but there is good Kira, Quark and Rom.

References here: “Chimera” (1999).

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“Favor the Bold” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The changeling sex scene is dumb and awkward, adding little to the Link-as-infidelity metaphor and damaging the worldbuilding.

References here: “Chimera” (1999).

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“Sacrifice of Angels” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The naval action scenes are relatively impressive and satisfying within the harsh triple constraints of budget, CGI technology and soft science fiction designed for 1960s television instead of believability. The deus-ex-machina resolution to the epic conflict is disappointing, and so is the drama.

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“You Are Cordially Invited” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Dax marries.

The episode is dominated by a patchwork Ren Faire aestethic: Star Trek at its most tacky. It doesn’t make sense, for example, that in the stylized Iron Age patriarchy of the Klingons, where even love is driven by aggression and likened to trial by combat, Martok’s wife would have the bureaucratic right of bloodless veto against any marriage into the clan, would pursue that course out of allegorical racism, and then quickly surrender and bless the marriage. That’s kitsch.

Charitably, the script is meant as a retreat from Dax’s greater weakness against Worf’s possessiveness in “Let He Who Is Without Sin” (1996), but the very idea of marriage in the Abrahamic tradition, as a popoular institution, is itself regressive by the standards of the original series. It was only canonized in “Data’s Day” (1991) and makes a poor centrepiece, especially applied to non-human biologies and cultures. I prefer the love the couple displayed in “Sons and Daughters” (1997), and the SF romance of “Attached” (1993), over this pageantry.

References here: “Resurrection” (1997).

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“Resurrection” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Goatee universe Bareil.

Having married off Dax, the writers seem to have thought of Kira’s romantic status as a problem. Killing the original Bareil in “Life Support” (1995) was messy, but it kind of worked. Dropping Shakaar off screen in “Children of Time” (1997) was more awkward, and having no further development with Odo after he and Kira had a long heart-to-heart (again off screen!) in “You Are Cordially Invited” (1997) was even more awkward. Predictably, bringing in a bad-boy Bareil from “the alternate universe” for a one-night stand didn’t work out any better, but at least there’s a rare scene inside the Bajoran temple.

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“Statistical Probabilities” (1997Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Bashir meets four human products of illegal genetic resequencing.

There’s been no reference to Bashir’s origins since “A Time to Stand” (1997), and little since the retcon was done in “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” (1997). I’m pretty sure it was done so that something would happen on the show that week that might create an X-Files- or Buffy-like buzz. This episode does not use the change well. Instead, there are two new retcons! First, Bashir is now resentful of GMO humans not being trusted. Second, some large proportion of GMO humans are so seriously flawed that they cannot live free and are institutionalized by the Federation, a political entity that ran planet-scale insane asylums in “Dagger of the Mind” (1966) and “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969). The writers were not comfortable with probabilities so it is not clear how large a proportion goes insane or how many others are caught, but Bashir is the only example the patients have heard of who could pass for natural, so probably more than 80% are too crazy to hide their modifications.

These two new retcons are mutually contradictory. If insanity—even criminal and violent insanity—is more common than sanity, GMO humans should indeed be mistrusted. Bashir’s grievance would then be paradoxically foolish, or it would be an example of insanity he hasn’t shown before and will not show again. The much earlier case of Khan and his buddies in “Space Seed” (1967) points in that direction. On the other hand, given the counterexamples of Bashir, Data, numerous simulated geniuses as in “Phantasms” (1993), the superintelligence of the human-like Zakdorns from “Peak Performance” (1989), “The Masterpiece Society” (1992), the extreme level of technological development and the fact that Bashir openly performs genetic modifications without consent in “Sons of Mogh” (1996) without backlash, it would make more sense for genetic engineering and higher intelligence, both separately and together, to have smaller side effects. If that had been the case, Bashir’s grievance would then have made sense. The script says too little about the larger situation, but it says enough for that contradiction to be apparent.

Both in the stated premises and in the plot of the episode, the writers try to have it both ways. The insane “mutants” (they are not mutants) are so brilliant that they invent a more powerful version of psychohistory, a predictive sociological theory which they somehow prove mathematically to be more reliable the longer you extrapolate from it. Similar sociological predictions seem to be accepted science in “Who Watches the Watchers” (1989). The “mutants” are also selflessly utilitarian in their ethics. They are thus smarter and more altruistic than the characters of “Understand” (1991). On the other hand, the “mutants” are apparently so flawed that they plan to provoke the bloody defeat of the Federation without having tested their theory, and without taking into account elementary chaos theory, which has been well known since the 1960s. They are brilliant but stupid.

It could have been worse. The “mutants” could have been murderous villains like Khan, instead of utilitarian mad scientists like the inventor in “The Ultimate Computer” (1968). Even so, this depiction of superintelligence is deliberately broken. Its brokenness is not excused by external control as it was in “The Nth Degree” (1991), only by the producers’ deeper conservative goal that transhumanism must fail.

Star Trek would have been better with consilient premises on intelligence, e.g. serial production of androids, realistically decision-making computers, and the risky but thrilling transhumanism of Schismatrix (1985). DS9 did not do such things because it is primarily a mass-audience drama, sharing the “mutants”’ love of Shakespeare but not their wits. The emblems of science fiction here are only spices. There is no real thought experiment happening. “Statistical Probabilities” is instead about gatekeeping the setting like “The Chase” (1993), trying to come up with post-hoc in-universe explanations for why there is too little change.

References here: “Change of Heart” (1998), “Inquisition” (1998), “Chrysalis” (1998).

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“The Magnificent Ferengi” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The title alludes to The Magnificent Seven (1960), but this ain’t that.

References here: “Who Mourns for Morn?” (1998).

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“Waltz” (1998Moving picture, 47 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Sisko wakes up with a bad burn on a dark planet with nobody around but Dukat.

It starts out like an inverted “Chain of Command: Part 2” (1992), then swings back around to a straight “Chain of Command: Part 2” via “The Enemy” (1989).

I appreciate that the script includes more data on Dukat’s actions in the occupation. According this episode, he helped to run—though he did not start—a deliberately genocidal campaign. Sisko asserts “over five million” Bajoran dead. The total figure for the occupation, not mentioned in the episode, is about 15 million. That’s over a period ten times longer than WW2, in a population pool much larger than 1940 Europe, with more powerful weapons at the occupiers’ disposal. Sisko’s figure alone is half as many as the number of noncombatants killed by the Nazis in WW2. The data thus make Dukat out to be morally comparable to Göring, or at most Eichmann or Himmler. Dukat defends himself by claiming he slowed the death rate to 80%.

Previous episodes have not directly denied that Dukat is guilty of genocide, but there has been equivocation. Episodes like “The Maquis: Part 1” (1994), “Indiscretion” (1995) and “Return to Grace” (1996) have shown the man to be funny, helpful and about as sympathetic as Quark. His ego is still funny here, but more darkly funny. It is awkward to establish the facts about his most important actions only this late, but it’s literally better late than never.

Judging by Sisko’s closing scene, the point is to move away from equivocation and establish that Dukat is what Sisko calls “evil”. Making that judgement explicit is crude, especially after Sisko’s own brush with genocide in “For the Uniform” (1997). Underneath the melodrama, the equivocation and the Holocaust allusion, I sense a lack of direction typical of the morally grey 1990s.

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“Who Mourns for Morn?” (1998Moving picture, 47 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Quark is informed that his best-known patron is dead.

Morn was a recurring background figure on DS9 from the beginning. His name and his sad barfly lifestyle served as an allusion to Norm on the comedy Cheers (1982), a parallel Paramount production; TNG had guest appearances by both Bebe Neuwirth and Kelsey Grammer from Cheers. Morn started moving to the foreground in “The Nagus” (1993), before he was named. It’s nice to see odd-looking “colour” characters like that being promoted from the scenery to the plot, but that’s not exactly what happened in this episode.

Morn laughed in “The Nagus”, but he would never speak on camera. I thought at first that speaking would have looked too awkward given the shape of his wide “Lurian” mouth in silicone over the human actor’s face. Morn was not visually designed for a speaking role; he was designed for the background of bar scenes like those of “Unification: Part 2” (1991). According to Memory Alpha, however, there were recurring plans for Morn to speak, but all his dialogue kept getting cut. This became a running joke, and the joke itself made it into shooting scripts, with other characters complaining about Morn talking too much. Morn thus fossilized to a mere gag.

Turning the limelight on that mute and ugly “nobody” must have seemed perversely funny to the producers because they were locked into Paramount’s insular TV production system and AFTRA rules separating the regular cast from the extras. Morn would ultimately appear in 93 episodes, always played by the same actor. That’s more than Jake Sisko, who was a regular. In this episode, metafictional riffs about that incongruity include Worf’s consternation at Dax saying she flirted with Morn in the past. Intradiegetically, Worf resents the implication that he and Morn are similar because he thinks that Morn is gross and indolent. Extradiegetically, Worf resents the implication because he is a charismatic regular who’s been carried through numerous life-and-death situations on the wings of fiat, while Morn is a mook created to make Quark’s bar look more typical of soft science fiction since the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars (1977).

The episode is really about Quark. Coming just two weeks after “The Magnificent Ferengi” (1998), it’s strange to see another Quark-based spoof of old heist/adventure movies again so soon while the Dominion War is supposedly still raging. This one is slightly worse because it is dishonest. Morn is not dead, and although Quark claims here that gold is a worthless container for the valuable substance of “latinum”, that is a retcon for the purpose of peripety. In “Little Green Men” (1995), gold is valuable to Quark. Latinum is apparently stable—albeit liquid—both inside Morn and in a glass in Quark’s bar, so “pressing” it into large volumes of gold seems like a bad idea if the gold is indeed worthless. It would have been silly even if the physical currency existed as an underlying security (a reserve) for the electronic currency O’Brien uses to pay for a drink. It’s sillier still when everybody but Starfleet is carrying it around. The truth is the showrunners wanted a setting with familiar cash money instead of the setting Roddenberry envisioned.

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“Far Beyond the Stars” (1998Moving picture, 47 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Benjamin Sisko sees himself and people he knows as human pulp-SF writers in 1953, enjoying The Puppet Masters (1951) and getting bummed out by overt racism and sexism.

It’s fun seeing the actors with less makeup, and it’s important to point out how pulp SF, which is where Trek came from, did serve the interests of white men at the expense of other people. Those two aims could and should have been achieved without the hedging. Almost all the way through the fourth wall, the writers still try to excuse the vision as a sequel to “Rapture” (1996). Their trail of breadcrumbs places the episode in the tradition of “Facets” (1995) and “Our Man Bashir” (1995): Episodes that sacrifice the integrity of the setting to make up an excuse for the actors to try new things. In this one, Avery Brooks directs himself in a particularly high-strung close-up, which doesn’t work. It’s star culture about SF, but it’s not SF.

I believe the concept would have worked better starting more boldly in medias res, with more naturalism and only the brief “reverse” visions of Kira and Worf, as scenes of the imagination rather than ontological bleed. That bleed is ultimately a dead end. There is no attempt to suggest here—intradiegetically or extradiegetically—that Star Trek was in fact invented with DS9 in 1953, or that it started for wholly progressive reasons, or that anti-racist artistic freedom in pulp SF really would have overturned US racial prejudices. Avery tries to tie it all together with pure sentiment.

References here: “In the Pale Moonlight” (1998), “Shadows and Symbols” (1998).

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“One Little Ship” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A Jem'Hadar attack interrupts a scientific experiment that shrinks a Runabout.

Cute and corny. Notice the Jem'Hadar allowing Sisko to use only “the three other Bridge officers” to make repairs, not any of the less dangerous specialists in the crew; that detail is based on the same toxic combination of extradiegetic convenience and intradiegetic stratification as the Kelvans’ choice in “By Any Other Name” (1968).

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“Honor Among Thieves” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Because he’s good with technology, Miles O’Brien is picked to work undercover alone cracking a crime syndicate that has been killing all the undercover agents.

A fun, straight-faced pastiche of film noir tropes. The hacking sequences, taking place on a sort of 1970s-style arcade machine in a pub with the aid of a Gibsonian hacker, put the pastiche in cyberpunk territory. It’s still impossible to ignore the plot hole that Starfleet Intelligence (not police) would send O’Brien, thereby leaving DS9—supposedly the fulcrum of the ongoing war—full of malfunctions that only O’Brien could have fixed. It’s almost as dumb as “Chain of Command: Part 1” (1992).

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“Change of Heart” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Dax and Worf go on their honeymoon while O’Brien and Bashir learn to play Tongo.

The Dax–Worf plot is very good until it reaches its coda. Worf is more harshly reprimanded here than in “Reunion” (1990). As a coda to the coda, Sisko admits that he would have acted the same way, and indeed he would; DS9 is full of irresponsible violations of utilitarian optima, such as “Shattered Mirror” (1996) and “Statistical Probabilities” (1997); in the later, all of Starfleet Intelligence sided against a utilitarian calculation like the one at the root of Sisko’s reprimand. It’s a strange choice to go against precedent and against the show’s real ethics for dramatic whiplash. It’s also a shame because the episode provides DS9’s most advanced character development for both Dax and Worf.

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“Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” (1998Moving picture, 47 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Kira consults a holy orb for a vision of her mother, whom Dukat now claims as a former lover.

Bringing in new members of the regulars’ families like this is the fiction writer’s equivalent to nepotism, as in “Sub Rosa” (1994). It’s bad in this case because it intersects with the writers pushing more rapey relationships. There’s not much else in this episode, but I still have to point out how it repeats both “Yesteryear” (again) and the setup to “Second Skin” (1994). Having barely told Sisko that she’s leaving, Kira again heads off on her own, risking another nightmarish gaslighting job. This time she’s lucky, despite Dukat’s turn to cartoonish villainy.

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“Inquisition” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A zealous Starfleet Intelligence officer interrogates the staff of DS9, looking for a Dominion collaborator.

A case of post-hoc continuity. The interrogator alludes to the events of “In Purgatory’s Shadow” (1997), correctly pointing out that the party’s means of escape from that situation was incredible. He then refers to “engramatic dissociation”, a form of brainwashing akin to “Second Skin” (1994), proposing that Bashir is a spy without knowing it. There are also meaningful allusions to “To the Death” (1996), “Statistical Probabilities” (1997) etc. The interrogator specifically refers to “the sheer number” of suspicious incidents, as of course he should. Bashir has been replaced by a changeling at least three times already.

This is an escalation from “The Drumhead” (1991), necessitated by even stronger fantasy HUMINT powers having been added to the canon over the intervening seven years. As a Bashir-focused episode, it’s a lot more compelling than “Distant Voices” (1995), but the escalation doesn’t stop at allusions. The episode introduces Section 31, billed as the Federation’s equivalent to the various ruthless rings of alien super-spies the canon has accumulated. In effect, Section 31 is Star Trek’s Delta Green. Introduced here as being suspicious of past plot holes, it has since been used by fans to explain away numerous other plot holes. In that capacity, it’s more popular than “The Chase” (1993) and represents an important step in the worldbuilding. However, more than “The Drumhead”, the addition of Section 31 eases the Federation further into morally grey territory. By this point, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

Side note: It’s funny that O’Brien repeating a scene from “Transfigurations” (1990), from eight years earlier, becomes the clue that Bashir uses to tell a simulation from reality. It’s almost poetic how this long-distance callback has the function of Riker’s memory of Minuet in “Future Imperfect” (1990), another long-distance callback.

References here: “In the Pale Moonlight” (1998), “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” (1999).

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“In the Pale Moonlight” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

When the Romulans join the war, Sisko records a personal log that nobody’s going to hear.

DS9 brought more moral equivocation to the franchise. This and “Inquisition” (1998) are the better examples of the tendency. It’s done well; I especially appreciate that Avery underacts rather than overacts as he did in “Far Beyond the Stars” (1998). Sisko’s black op to pull the Romulans into the war resembles “Armageddon Game” (1994) and makes as little sense.

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“His Way” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A hologram of Vic Fontaine teaches Odo to play the piano.

Odo–Kira was always awkward, but this is a good treatment of it, except the ending. It’s also a clear sign of the maturation of the show’s futurism. “The Outrageous Okona” (1988) had a sub-human teacher of comedy; Vic is more plausible for the tech level. He is still a celebrity-based expert system like “Phantasms” (1993), but at least he’s a fictional celebrity.

James Darren is great as Vic. Introduced here, he was a recurring guest in the last season of DS9 and added a lot, I think. His powers recall “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988), but make for a smarter AI scenario: Dangerous, albeit on the emotional level only. It is a nice detail that Vic fetches the model of Kira’s body from another program; this is implied to be the Bond program in “Our Man Bashir” (1995) but who’s to say at this point.

References here: “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (1998).

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“The Reckoning” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Archaeological excavations in the ancient city of B'hala have revealed a worrying text.

The weaknesses are obvious: Holography was primary in “Rapture” (1996) because it made more sense than the first-hand study employed here; Kai Winn is out of character for most of the episode; it turns out that the Prophets of the (sole) Bajoran religion have a boringly ritualistic struggle against the demons from “The Assignment” (1996); Odo–Kira remains awkward. There is still a good sense of forward movement, and I like the Ghostbusters (1984) vibe, including Kira as Dana Barrett.

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“Valiant” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Jake and Nog are rescued by a sister ship of the Defiant.

Red Squad is from “Paradise Lost” (1996), and this one too is about the arrogance and overreach of youth, again tied up with the abuse of authority, which is oddly repetitious. In a conservative paradox, every member of Red Squad—the best and brightest of a multi-species military—looks human, and not just any human. Only one anonymous member has a traditionally Southern European appearance and everyone is white. Meanwhile, Nog’s makeup looks worse than usual, which gives the episode a peculiar high-school soap-opera feel. Compare the teens of Gasaraki (1998); by this time Japanese SF TV was way ahead.

Given that the Defiant was designed for easy mass production in a desperate war against the Borg and has proven effective against the Dominion, it’s a plot hole that there aren’t many more copies of it by this time. It is also a plot hole that the Valiant would maintain radio silence after its presence has been revealed in open battle.

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“Profit and Lace” (1998Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The expected follow-up to “Ferengi Love Songs” (1997) is even worse, still unable to decide for or against sexism or nature. Rom is a highlight, as usual.

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“Time’s Orphan” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Molly falls into a well that is also a broken time machine.

The writers went for another “Yesteryear” (1973), but they could never manage a “By His Bootstraps” (1941). Instead, there is more picking on Miles O’Brien. Although he’s married to Keiko, a botanist studying alien flora, he apparently doesn’t know what an exobiologist is, which is a plot hole.

Keiko makes one of the franchise’s many religious statements when, having retrieved a traumatized 18-year-old Molly from the broken time machine, Keiko refuses to extract the girl at an earlier point. Effectively, Keiko argues that her child’s ten years of abject suffering are sacred, even if they were purely harmful and remain preventable. This is a steep fall from Keiko as the heroic champion of reason in “In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993). Bizarrely, after a couple of weeks, the couple abandon the attempt to restore their daughter’s sanity and send her off to die alone. It is only by accident that they get a version of the sane eight-year-old back in the process.

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“The Sound of Her Voice” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The episode’s two plots have something in common. The ghost talks only to the main characters and Quark correctly assumes that Odo, one of the main characters, is the only one working security who could prevent the illegal trade. Apparently, other crewmen are disinteresting and incompetent, best left entirely off screen. That’s a pity; it would have been a great time for somebody else to shine.

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“Tears of the Prophets” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Instead of more of the interesting political ecology of the Dominion, the mad villain just unites with the demons for double the melodrama.

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“Image in the Sand” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Benjamin Sisko keeps peeling spuds.

Terry Farrell, who played Jadzia Dax, chose not to renew her contract for the final season of the show. Jadzia’s death in the preceding episode is handled pretty well, and handled even better here, with Worf raging alone in the Vic Fontaine holosuite program and Sisko remaining in guilty self-imposed exile. The decision to bring back Dax without Jadzia is also good: A Doctor Who compromise with the realities of TV production. Farrell wanted to be a recurring guest, which would have been even better, but the solution as a whole is markedly better than “Skin of Evil” (1988) and the replacement of Ro Laren from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) with Kira Nerys because actor Michelle Forbes decided not to do DS9.

References here: “’Til Death Do Us Part” (1999).

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“Shadows and Symbols” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

It’s a gutsy move to position a callback to “Far Beyond the Stars” (1998) as a purportedly false vision implanted by demons. Knowing the franchise, that was probably improvised after the earlier episode had been well received. It doesn’t really mean anything, but still, guts is good. The subplots are posturing bullshit.

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“Afterimage” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Dax considers becoming the station’s therapist.

Whereas TNG insisted on the Newspeak term “counselor” for Troi’s job as a therapist, by this point the writers use normal English too. I suppose this is part of the development toward prosaic drama with money, marriage and interpersonal conflict, but this particular detail is honest.

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“Take Me Out to the Holosuite” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Baseball.

“Homer at the Bat” (1992) is one of the finest episodes of The Simpsons (1989), making fun of the “national pastime” of the USA. Here, DS9 tries to do the same thing and stumbles. The funny thing is that, despite the assumption that the intended audience already knows and cares about the sport, it is still explained. In fact, it is explained in more detail than any previous game seen in the franchise, both real and fictional, as a joke about the complexity of the sport. Also, I wonder how the small holosuite cheats the physics to contain a fully populated baseball field plus room on the stands.

References here: Dorohedoro (2020).

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“Chrysalis” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A sequel to “Statistical Probabilities” (1997), but it’s not about intelligence or genetic engineering. Instead, it’s a Cinderella story where Sarina, the apparently autistic chemist made up to look gloomy, instead becomes pretty and sociable. It is similarly bad that the other woman, Lauren, is still defined entirely by her sexuality. Also, there’s an awkward musical sequence, which again feels like Buffy, though it long predates the famous musical episode of Buffy.

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“Treachery, Faith and the Great River” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The Great River is an afterthought, but a pleasant afterthought; it would have been a fun cornerstone of Ferengi culture instead of what the writers picked in “The Nagus” (1993).

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“Once More Unto the Breach” (1998Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

More Kor.

This is the least kitsch and most “Sarek” of the old Klingon callback episodes, but those Klingons are still all over the place. They’re an Iron Age culture of honour, both idealized and not; they’re a 20th-century totalitarian one-party state; they’re a bureaucracy; they hate bureaucracy; they hate old men who don’t fight; they love famous old men who can’t fight; they love Worf when he’s willing to sacrifice himself; they still love Worf when he conveniently claims he was suckered unconscious as no “true warrior” would be. At least there are no bat'leths.

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“The Siege of AR-558” (1998Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

This is the most solid episode about the Dominion War as a war, because it uses the tropes of Vietnam War movies escalated through SF, much like Aliens (1986). Instead of the WW1 aerial combat of “Call to Arms” (1997), there’s infantry combat. This makes more sense here than in “Nor the Battle to the Strong” (1996) because both sides are fighting over a valuable installation, inexplicably mounted on a planet. Still, it’s conservative.

As in “Call to Arms”, stationary hypertech mines play a large role. This is odd in a setting that exhibits autonomous weapons in “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988) and “Civil Defense” (1994). The lingering anti-personnel mines raise questions about the laws of war, but does not answer them. Combat is just manually sighted and ineffective ray guns, rocks and some unlikely close combat, not ABC weapons, demoralizing cruelty, or robots.

References here: “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (1998).

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“Covenant” (1998Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A Bajoran cult of the demons called “Pah-wraiths”.

The saga of Dukat is made worse by bolting Jim Jones to the Holocaust and sustaining the rape threat by abducting Kira again. It’s another move in the wrong direction from “In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993), but I appreciate that the writers did stick to their model of how the Bajoran religions relate both to the SF aspect of the setting (the aliens perceived as gods don’t really care) and to a sadly realistic human(oid) psychology.

References here: “Penumbra” (1999).

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“It’s Only a Paper Moon” (1998Moving picture, 47 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Recovering from a wound he received in “The Siege of AR-558” (1998), Nog takes refuge in a holographic rendition of 1962 Las Vegas.

By this point in late 1998, Star Trek: Voyager (1995) was on its third showrunner and into its fifth season. It had betrayed its stated premises, for instance by silently renewing the purportedly finite supply of torpedoes on its focal ship. Meanwhile, DS9 was on its last legs.

This episode is the last tall peak of the franchise.

It is not original. Instead it gathers its good ideas from earlier scripts, which seems appropriate under the circumstances. “The Royale” (1989) was set in an unreal casino created to soothe an astronaut in traumatic circumstances. “The Wounded” (1991) showed the deep psychological scars of war in this setting, and it makes sense that war would be traumatizing when it is fought by unarmoured troops in WW1 conditions, bat'leths for bayonets, with guns approaching the smallest nuclear bombs in power and enemies like the Jem'Hadar. “Hollow Pursuits” (1990) developed the franchise’s perennial theme of Homer’s lotus eaters, addicted to an eerily effortless happiness on the holodeck. Nog’s physical injury, though it is less serious than Worf’s injury in “Ethics” (1992) and would not persist, is still better than Worf’s injury simply because it happened weeks earlier and has not been forgotten yet.

“His Way” (1998) introduced Vic Fontaine. This later episode, aside from mocking Bashir’s Barclay-like obsession with holograms, represents the apex of the writers’ understanding of virtual reality and artificial intelligence in Vic. The two technologies reach a level more suited to the setting at large and worthy of good literary SF like Asimov. The irrational fear of non-existence exhibited in “The Big Goodbye” (1988) is greatly softened and the bad epistemology of episodes like “Frame of Mind” (1993) is gone. Instead, the virtual world is genuinely cozy. Nog watches The Searchers (1956) and other productions of the era on a greyscale CRT television set, which is an adorable way to nest a primitive escapism inside a hypertechnological one, and both inside Star Trek. It’s an escapism sandwich! It’s also touching because Nog’s trauma and his recovery both make more sense than the episodic trauma of “Hard Time” (1996).

References here: Highlights of Star Trek TV.

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“Prodigal Daughter” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

More Orion Syndicate intrigue intersects Ezri’s personal background.

A plot that would have worked as well in a contemporary US setting, which is to say poorly.

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“The Emperor’s New Cloak” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Goatee-universe Ezri has different makeup and wardrobe.

There are two good things about this, DS9’s final visit to “the alternate universe”. The first is 1960s crooner Vic Fontaine living there in the flesh; an absurd joke. The second is Rom’s comedic emulation of the television viewer justifiably wondering how this alternative thing is supposed to work.

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“Field of Fire” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Ezri uses Dax’s evil host to catch an evil murderer.

It makes sense, as is stated here, that the high-tech setting would allow easily replicable lethal weapons to be combined with an easily portable “exographic” way to see through walls and a similarly portable bullet teleporter to shoot through walls. More serious than all the plot holes of this individual episode, the non-use of such weapons elsewhere is an internal contradiction by omission. It reminds me of the repurposed replicator in “Visionary” (1995), which was also forgotten to prevent worldbuilding.

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“Chimera” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

A lone changeling is found in open space.

The worldbuilding and moralism are better here than in “Behind the Lines” (1997) and “Favor the Bold” (1997).

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“Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Vic is threatened by the mafia.

This is as close as DS9 got to “Qpid” (1991); it’s not too bad and it doesn’t have Q. However, Vic is underused in this tribute to heist-themed 1960s thrillers.

Notice the detail that Kira is yet again compared to a prostitute; the producers never stopped seeing her that way after “Meridian” (1994). Sisko’s initial reluctance to participate is funny but the resolution to it resembles “Shattered Mirror” (1996) too closely.

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“Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Bashir side-quests for Section 31 at a conference on Romulus.

The finest of DS9’s many forays into morally grey equivocation. It’s a good continuation of “Inquisition” (1998), but it’s overcomplicated.

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“Penumbra” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Sisko proposes to marry Kassidy Yates. Ezri defies him to go looking for Worf, who’s MIA.

Under the rule established in “Rejoined” (1995), the Ezri–Worf relationship that starts here is lotus-eating. However, by this late stage in the maturation of the franchise, lotus-eating is no longer the threat it used to be on TOS and TNG. Ezri openly ignores her culture’s taboo and her criminal liability for it is not mentioned, which feels like a cheap way to get some angrily transgressive sex into a TV drama.

This episode is the beginning of the end for DS9. As part of the long build-up to a grand finale, it has Dukat surgically altered to appear Bajoran. “The Trouble with Tribbles” (1967), “The Enterprise Incident” (1968) and “Face of the Enemy” (1993) all abused a similar concept of cosmetic surgery, but it was DS9 that ran the concept into the ground as it did the goatee universe, returning to it in “Second Skin” (1994), “Sons of Mogh” (1996), “Apocalypse Rising” (1996) and “A Simple Investigation” (1997) among other episodes before making it foundational to the finale. Whereas in “First Contact” (1991) cross-species surgery was flawed and easy to detect, on DS9 it’s apparently easy to complete and hard to detect, even over the long term and for people like Dukat who are not trained actors, as shown in the next episode.

This trope of surgery was attractive to the producers of all three shows because they thought of the setting’s various species in terms of silicone prosthetics and makeup, not in terms of biological differences between species such as humans and Orangutans. Similarly, the producers thought of character interactions in terms of actors on set working under a professional suspension of disbelief. They did not imagine how two intelligent species might interact. Perhaps they had even forgotten that the ubiquity of humanoid species in the setting is only a cost-cutting measure at the expense of believability, made even more expensive by the notion that these species could now disguise themselves as one another in a few hours. Doing it to Dukat for the endgame is another bad move from “Covenant” (1998).

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“’Til Death Do Us Part” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Kai Winn has been underused for a while but has mostly remained a strong character. Suborning her to evil by flattering her work for the resistance movement is a clever move on Dukat’s part but a bad move for the show because it removes her as an unpredictable, self-interested neutral party to the larger conflicts.

Since Emissary (1993), the writers have been careful to show Bajoran religion in a nuanced light: Emotionally fulfilling and unrealistically founded on a grain of truth with reproducible miracles, but wrong like real religions. Winn in “In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993) was at her best as a character, simultaneously a true believer and a realistic abuser of her religion for political gain. “Rapture” (1996) gave Sisko a taste of religious bliss with the seductive power of the Prophets behind it, which is fine; it does not deviate from the underlying worldbuilding. “Image in the Sand” (1998) added the Dune-like complication that Sisko is the product of a breeding programme. That too was consistent with the underlying worldbuilding, but rather more extreme. In “Penumbra” and “’Til Death Do Us Part”, the writers continue to push the envelope, adding prophetic visions from both of the godlike factions of Bajor: One that heavy-handedly tricks Winn to enable the bad Dukat plot, and two visions that try to avert Sisko’s marriage to Yates. Since the Prophets are able to see the future, it is a plot hole that they did not intervene against Yates in prison, or even earlier. It’s also a plot hole that they care specifically about the institution of marriage.

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“Strange Bedfellows” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Damar throws his drink in his own face, but crucially not in his mouth.

After a decorative pause wherein Kai Winn has an appropriate crisis of faith, the writers bring the steam back up, still going down the wrong track. It is similarly bad that Weyoun demonstrates his open contempt for Cardassia right in front of the Breen, and that Damar’s first act of rebellion is to save two hostages that the Federation doesn’t even know to be alive.

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“The Changing Face of Evil” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The Breen attack Earth and destroy the Defiant, while the Cardassian military turns against the Dominion.

It is good that Solbor, Winn’s aide, finally does something about the evident Satanist development at the heart of his religion. His investigation is suddenly great, but I knew from the moment he spoke that he would be killed and that he had told nobody about his findings, because he’d come alone. Solbor not telling others is a huge plot hole, knowingly ignored by the writers. When I saw this episode I thought they’d justified it as working toward a dumb confrontation between higher-status good and evil, but the next episode speaks against that. For the same presumed purpose, the Founder orders the troops not to destroy Federation escape pods. This bad writing makes the build-up to the finale a grind, but the banter about Miles O’Brien’s miniature of the Alamo at Quark’s is fun.

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“When It Rains” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Kira, Odo and Garak go to teach guerilla fighting to Cardassian rebels. En route, Odo learns he is sick with the same disease that is affecting the Founders. Bashir and O’Brien come to theorize that this disease is a bioweapon engineered by Section 31. On Bajor, Dukat goes blind reading the Necronomicon Kosst Amojan.

I was relieved to see Winn kicking Dukat out on his ass, but that is not an editorial rescue. It doesn’t make sense that Winn stays on track afterwards, and Dukat would return in the final episode, unchanged.

Bashir’s revelation is good fun, but it is a retcon with one big hole in it. Bashir’s analysis is built on the assumption that the disease has been developing at a certain rate. That analysis concludes Odo was infected around “Paradise Lost” (1996), which makes sense on its own. Odo was then on Earth and in a desperate situation that could have prompted 31 to commit to the genocide plan. However, Odo lived for 200 years in “Children of Time” (1997), shapeshifting frequently without becoming sick enough to then warn his younger self about the danger. If the virus was somehow absent or dormant in that episode, then Bashir’s analysis must be wrong, Bashir would likely be aware of the error, and there is no equally good candidate for a chance to infect Odo. When I was watching the episode, I thought that the chronology (i.e. “stardate” 49419) could implicate Aroya in “Broken Link” (1996), but that episode took place to late for Bashir’s result, yet too soon to avoid the problem with “Children of Time”. It is a secondary plot hole that Bashir does not obviously account for Odo losing his powers in “Broken Link”. Overall, it’s a near miss in tying together the overarching narrative with one of its best loose branches.

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“Tacking Into the Wind” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Two weeks after Gowron assumed command of Klingon forces in the war, Martok and Worf kill and replace him. Kira’s guerillas steal a Breen superweapon, but shapeshifting in guerilla operations is accelerating the progress of Odo’s disease. Bashir makes no progress toward a cure.

Worf was a fan favourite. This episode is the payoff to “Ron” Moore’s Worf arc that started in “Sins of the Father” (1990). The implementation isn’t very good; it features a council full of weirdly silent extras and Worf simply defeating Gowron in crappy single combat again, as he had already done in “Apocalypse Rising” (1996), but it does finally feature open acknowledgement of widespread and constant Klingon hypocrisy. Worf thankfully avoids becoming what he was in “Shattered Mirror” (1996). It’s good to see some closure after ten years of his Aragorn act, though the resolution makes “Sons of Mogh” (1996) even worse.

References here: “The Dogs of War” (1999).

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“Extreme Measures” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

Bashir and Miles O’Brien use illegal Romulan interrogation technology on Sloan to extract his knowledge of a cure for Odo.

This is honestly a sidetrack on a poor premise reminiscent of “Move Along Home” (1993). The kitsch value is high, especially when all three men are found unconscious and the rest of the crew has no idea what’s going on because they didn’t leave a message. There is also a conversation about how the two men’s friendship means more than the O’Briens’ marriage; amusing but for the casual misogyny.

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“The Dogs of War” (1999Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The wholesale social transformation of Ferengi society forms a counterpoint to an impending assault on Cardassia.

The Ferengi characters do a little comedy of errors while discarding the main features of their culture. Elsewhere in the episode, Ezri and Bashir hook up. Both plot points provide the appearance of closure, but no payoff like “Tacking Into the Wind” (1999). As usual, the Ferengi do their stuff without investigating the relationship between their culture and their species, right to the end. It’s not good Rom, and I don’t get the romance plot either. Neither party needed to end the series in a steady relationship, especially not with one another.

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What You Leave Behind (1999Moving picture, 92 minutes)

Seen in 2022.

The end of the Dominion War.

The changeling woman is extra evil. Dukat returns and is still evil. The good guys save the day anyway. That’s it. The writers try to find something for Quark, Vic, Bashir and Ezri to do, but it doesn’t work. Bashir’s conversation with O’Brien in the middle of a pitched battle, about O’Brien suddenly going to teach at the Academy, is especially bad.

It is ugly that the final confrontation on Cardassia Prime comes down to a numerical advantage of two people in a war between hundreds of billions. It is ugly that both the Cardassians and the Dominion, as evildoers, are punished as they would be in a Grimm fairy tale, while the heroes are symmetrically rewarded and there is no mention of established Cardassian dissidents like the ones in “Profit and Loss” (1994) or “Crossfire” (1996). The secondary climax with the demons is dumb and ugly all the way through. Even so, this is the best ending of any Star Trek series among the four to date. Despite running on crappy premises, the non-cave-based CGI battles are impressive for 1999 TV, there are minor exceptations to the pattern of poetic justice (the war is expensive even for its victors; Sisko is stuck in an afterlife; Odo chooses to leave Kira indefinitely) and the most weighty overarching narrative is completed.

References here: Worldbuilding for television production, The last shot of DS9.

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