Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bad (Bad Geek Confessions) Geek Confessions- More Star Trek

With a new season of Ash vs. Evil Dead on disc and the combining of all the Netflix Marvel Heroes in The Defenders being released, I should be writing about one or both of them by now…

But I’m not because I haven’t started watching either yet.

I’ve become addicted to Deep Space Nine and there’s no way I could stop during the final two seasons to watch something else.

I’m really embarrassed how my bias gained through bitter experience against The Next Generation turned me off to this entire Trek time period.  It inspired me to refer to this show as Deep Space 90210 when it came out and making fun of how boring it would be having the whole show take place on one space station, without trying it for myself.

Little did I know- that’s one of many things that makes the show work.

It allowed it to avoid being a Next Generation like poorly done rehash of the Original Series.

Similar to how Star Trek was pitched as “Wagon Train in Space” DS9 is basically “A (Final) Frontier Outpost in Space.”  

However, the key point, and really all that needs to be said (in case readers are in a rush and need to stop early), is while the setting and general operation of the show is different, Deep Space Nine shared THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of the Original Series that The Next Generation missed.

The crew of the Enterprise D, forced poker games non-withstanding,  were co-workers with some occasional flirting thrown in.

The crew of station Deep Space Nine, like the crew of the original “No bloody A, B,C or D,” Enterprise, were friends.

Some reviewers recommend skipping the early seasons to get right to the Dominion War arc.  

This is silly, 

because those seasons establish the characters and the friendships that make everything occurring in those later stories resonate more.

I owe Vito, a co-worker and good friend, a great deal of thanks for pointing me to this show.  Now the circle is complete, as I pointed him to Enterprise and since he doesn’t share my inability to watch Next Gen, he continued onwards through the other series.

I liked Enterprise because of the connections to the Original Series, and the way it showed how that universe could have developed. 

And any time you get Jeffrey  “Herbert West/The Question”  Combs on screen is a bonus.

Sure there were some clunker episodes, mostly early on, but my favorite Trek series has “Spock’s Brain” and a few other beauties as well.  Sometimes Enterprise did push too hard for its connections.  I think Scott Bakula should have gotten an Emmy for not laughing out loud over defending a really stupid non-interference decision by predicting that one day, one of his people would draft a “directive.”

But overall it was fun, the crew had great friendships and chemistry, and there was a lot that “smelled” like real Star Trek or at least the path to it.

That is if you ignore the final episode as The Next Generation incorrectly mapping their own beliefs and ideals onto the holo-tape, which I do.

Deep Space Nine quality goes well beyond that, partially because it is in a single location.  There are trips to other worlds and new environments, but it spends more time showing how life works in the Trek universe, setting up more character and world building to generate some truly epic storytelling.

A little research showed me a major ingredient into my enjoyment of DS9.  It was the first of the follow up series not completely constrained by “The Roddenberry Box.”  This is a term the writers used to refer to certain restrictions the creator of Star Trek imposed based on his beliefs of things to come.

He believed the enlightened Earth of the future would have done away with greed (including money), racism, interpersonal squabbles and other negative qualities.

Gene enforced this much more strongly in Next Generation (and the “riveting” The Motion Picture) but he had little to no involvement in Deep Space Nine.  It seems they were used again in Voyager, or perhaps it was the writers arguing about what kind of person the Captain was by changing Janeway’s personality drastically in different storylines. Either way, Vito and I both tried a couple episodes after becoming “Niners” (I believe is the term) and gave up, not caring how long the USS Voyager was stranded.

These “box” rules:
       1)     Can cause problems with using many standard story telling techniques.
       2)     Were largely ignored by many of Gene’s collaborators on the Original Series.

No money? 
Harry Mudd, Cyrano Jones and the “Backward Talking Friend” McCoy tried to hire in The Search for Spock beg to differ.

No bigotry?
So much for one of the core themes in “The Galileo Seven” and “Balance of Terror.”

No interpersonal squabbles?
We’d have lost just about every golden moment of screen time between Spock and McCoy.

I’m more inclined to believe humanity will still have these issues, but won’t be ruled by them as we advance into the future. We’ll be far better but we’ll still be humans.  

Or in the words of James T. Kirk, “All right. It's instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we won't kill today.”  (Or won't bicker today, when there are other priorities.)

Deep Space Nine broke the box, and feels like individuals with the mentality and attitude of the Original Series crew being forced to live in, and deal with, the Next Generation galaxy. Partial proof of this is the everyone's preferences for non-replicated food and alcohol.
Jadzia Dax is used to do this directly several times, having lived through both eras, particularly in the phenomenal anniversary episode “Trials and Tribbilations.”  She’s a powerful, intelligent, fun and competent character in her own right, and a pretty good example of how to show a “regeneration” that changed sex. Doctor Who take note.

They poke fun at differences from the rules and requirements of the previous series a few times. The "Ship's Counselor" role is nowhere near worthy of being part of the "Bridge Power Trio" now.  One doesn't show up until the final season, and the role is given to Ezri, who they expected the fans to dislike. Fortunately, the writers were good enough to get the audience to warm up to her vicariously through the rest of the cast, after having Sisko, Worf and Garak verbalize the negative thoughts the viewers were likely thinking.

In another jab, Captain Sisko’s son Jake is unable to explain to Nog, his Ferengi friend, how he functions without money.

Jake and Nog, being the youngest of the main cast, have their characters advance, develop and change the most visibly over the course of the seven seasons. They grow from kids to adults on screen and both follow unexpected and interesting career paths.  However, the entire main cast has arcs that include promotions, personal growth, and connections with others.

Worf is one of the biggest examples of the change in philosophy from the Next Generation.  On the physical side, in order to show how tough the enemies were, Next Gen had Worf getting the snot beaten out of him on a regular basis. 

When he shows up in the fourth season of DS9, he has a more powerful physical presence in one episode than an entire season of his previous program.  He continues this trend in other tales, gets more back story to explain why he’s got such a giant stick up his butt compared to the lust for life seen in most Klingons, and develops to remove some of that stick as part of his new crew. In fact, his early appearances are used to show his Enterprise-D style, overly by the book approach causing issues with day to day relations on the station. Later on, he's often involved when there are singing Klingons, which is always awesome.

Other Klingons make many and varied appearances, including some newly ridged Original Series cast members, and impart a great deal of fun, action and honor to the tales.   
General Martok goes from being a guest to a semi-regular giving us a more complex and layered look into a Klingon commander, earning him a place of honor in the franchise along with Kor, Koloth and Kang as a truly great Klingon.

O’Brien and his family were another glimmer of hope from the Enterprise D expanding to shine in both dramatic and comedic moments by switching shows.  As both a family man, and the first Star Trek non-comm main character, he brought a lot of fresh perspectives and story possibilities. 
It was the Chief who calmed my fears that this show would fall into the Next Generation trap of Non-Interference meaning they’d moralize for the whole episode about being culturally sensitive before a pointless wrap up in the final moments.  Only five episodes in during "Captive Pursuit," Miles has a, “Screw the Prime Directive, I’m doing what’s morally right,” moment, that gets unofficial support from his Commander.

It’s all about storytelling over hitting the audience over the head with messages.  The one dimensional Ferengi had some of my least favorite episodes in Next Generation, and that’s saying quite a bit.  I count Quark, Rom and their kin and compatriots among my favorite characters on the station. 
Their stories are usually the funniest, but also have a heart and sense of importance to them because, like everyone else on the show, they bring substance to the fun by being developed and multidimensional. (Ferengi with hidden altruistic streaks, how offensive!)  By showing how they affect Ferengi society, it provides an explanation why the Federation would deal with cultures with such backward the hopes of influencing them to be better.

I'll admit that "Profit and Lace" was stupid.  But y'know what?  After watching what happened to those kids on "The Valiant," I needed me some stupid.  As an old Laugh In fan, Henry Gibson was a nice bonus as well.

And any time you get JeffreyHerbert West/The Question” Combs on screen is a bonus.

Even the main villains on this show, have complexity and bits of “humanity” to them. The Dominion forces generate equal amounts of hatred and pity.  It’s all part of the long term world building that having a stationary location allows.

Cardassian wild card Gul Dukat spends the entire series walking the line between a psychotic and manipulative, unrepentant concentration camp commander and a caring father who tries to be as merciful as possible in a bad situation.  It’s hard to not say that both are true...

And that he either reaches clarity, or goes completely loopy at some point.

Vedek Winn comes off as a purely deplorable insincere false holy leader willing to exploit her religious power for her own advancement and the belittling of others. Yet even she shows moments of doing it all for the Bajoran people…if only in her mind.  (Reverend Trask scarred me heavily against this type at an early age…thank you Dark Shadows.)
Hey! Speaking of vampires: a quick shout out to Frank Langella for showing up uncredited to make his kids happy.  More on the ever growing pile of evidence of his awesomness.

The “outsider” is always a character in Star Trek and in most cases is a poor man’s copy of Spock.  (Hi Data!) 
Odo has emotions, but as a shapeshifter, almost nothing else in common with the “solid” crew providing a different way of looking at that standard role. His coming from a race strongly connected to the enemy Dominion, which the Federation goes to war with for much of the series, adds to this. 

Yes, Trek writers remembered that even though Starfleet’s primary charge is exploration, it is a military organization  The other series talked about wars, this time we get to see one.

A war that includes space battles and armadas that made this old Star Fleet Battles playing geek get a little teary eyed.  The Klingon Vor'cha class is basically the old B-10 Battleship.  WOO! 
And with the crew based on the station, they don’t need the cushy personal space and beige, boring living room d├ęcor that turned the Enterprise-D in to the recreational vehicle of exploration craft.  We get to see what the Federation can do when they put their minds to designing a warship- the NX-74205 U.S.S. Defiant.  WOO! Again.

The war isn’t an excuse for pointless battles and violence. (Though some bits of that are awesome-Woo!) Instead, it’s all about increasing the size of the story sandbox and generating fascinating tales, intriguing plot twists and compelling dramatic moments for the characters.

While at first the Dominion seems as unstoppable as the Borg, they’re not, and that’s a better story telling device.

The Borg are completely uniform, unstoppable and adaptable  This is dangerous, but dull.

The Dominion have three main races that work through subterfuge, negotiation and naked force respectively. While immensely powerful, they do have weaknesses that can be exploited through work, thought, and most importantly, logically developed and entertaining stories.  Plus, I’m pretty sure the Founders are the final form in our Galaxy of the extra galactic invasion beings I tracked throughout the Original Series with my insane theory.  (Or maybe it's the Pah-wraiths and Prophets as the possible two warring groups.  That last season opens the weirdness throttle pretty wide.)

And any time you get Jeffrey “Herbert West/The Question” Combs on screen is a bonus.

The war brings a level of darkness and tragedy to the series not normally thought to be associated  with Star Trek, again making it something new and not a rehash.   Though the Original Series did have mountains of tragedy: Some were on a massive scale, such as whole starship crews wiped out by giant amoebasdesiccating disease and giant cannoli.  Other losses were more personal, like the Wedding Chapel groom killed by Romulan attack, Kirk's brother and family slain by parasites, and a parade of redshirted crewmen lost in the line of duty.  However, due to the nature of episodic television back then, these events were ignored by the next week and had no change to the status quo.  Deep Space Nine uses the tragic events, sometimes reaching "M*A*S*H in space" levels of poignancy, and reminding us about the casualties, as Sisko says after "The Siege of  AR-558" one of the darkest episodes of the franchise and one of many examples of completely "woo!" free warfare, "They're not just names. It's important we remember that. We have to remember."

But, on the flip side, the show isn’t afraid to throw in some comedy episodes to lighten the tone fairly regularly in between.  Like the Original Series, there is always an element of drama to these that creates a sense of urgency and involvement.  (e.g. - The grain on Station K-7 is important, Mudd’s androids are trying to take over the galaxy, Oxmyx and Krako will kill the crew members.)  The lighter episodes, alternate universes, time travel tales and other diversions serve an important purpose beyond mood shifts and giving the cast and audience some fun diversity.  They allow a week away from the overarching plot threads, preventing the need for episodes where the main cast needs to do something stupid to extend the story to fill the season.

I found the Next Generation holodeck episodes excessively annoying and contrived.  Not so on Deep Space Nine.  The baseball episode "Take Me Out to the Holo-Suite"  reached "Piece of the Action" levels of brilliance for both character analysis and comedy, and I don't like baseball.  It works because of the friendships they've established throughout the seasons.  Worf's chatter alone made me fall off the exercise bike twice.  From a continuity side, it was nice to see, just like they established in "Amok Time," that - controlled emotions or not- some Vulcans can be incredible jackasses.

Another great one was Julian’s James Bond adventure "Our Man Bashir," which was both a hysterical satire of the genre, and tied to actual drama concerning the lives of his crew mates. His personality is the perfect focal point of that, plus it also has some more serious connotations when his encounters with Sector 31 start. 

The doctor begins as what appears to be Chekov with a medical degree: young, brilliant, and a bit more book learning and over confidence than experience.

But like everyone else on DS9, there’s a lot more to him under the surface, all of which make excellent starting points for adventures.

The planet the Station is connected to, Bajor, is also vital as part of the universe building.  The Bajoran’s are very much like many of the planets the Enterprise had to deal with in the Original Series: crazy beliefs, weird requirements, and an extremely difficult and inflexible government representatives.  Yet unlike the ship based shows, which had to put up with this nonsense for only an episode at a time, Bajor is there every week. 
Major Kira puts a face on those issues, as well as exemplifying the reasons those issues are outweighed by the benefits of the Federation maintaining ties to them.

For anyone who wondered how the Federation handled those challenges on a constant basis, now we know.  They handle it with some exasperation, but mostly with the levels of awesomeness the Original Bridge crew showed us should be imparted by Star Fleet.

I could go on with a giant stream of more specific examples and character reviews, but that would spoil a lot of cool stuff.  It’s enough to say that they’re worthy of that Original Series crew awesomeness, with modern long arc television storytelling to add depth to the adventures and characters. 

There are two character specifics I will end with.

Captain Sisko continually shows his leadership abilities and a physical toughness equal to or better than Kirk. He takes out Klingons and Jem’Hadar hand to hand on several occasions but we haven't seen him against a Gorn for a full comparison.  Showing the difference between him being a "father to his men" and a real father to his son adds another unique layer.  

Unlike Kirk, he does not have the advantage of being a Sixties action hero, where being awesome automatically makes him right.  James Bond and Hal Jordan wore that hat as well.   Luckily, near sentient hologram Vic Fontaine is around to bring us a dose of that Sixties era awesome once in a while, pally!
Is he out of place?  Probably.  But he's consistent with Julian's connection to that era, and any excuse to introduce a larger audience to some of that fantastic music is OK by me, baby.

Sisko has the bonds of friendship plus the awesome leadership and command skills of his Sixties predecessor.  (With a touch more messianic bits, that last season REALLY opens the weirdness throttle.)  However, he brings them to bear in more complex setting, doesn’t always have the luxury to “not believe in the no win scenario,” and faces greater ramifications of his actions than James “Our way is better so deal with it” Kirk.

One of my favorite demonstrations of this was in “Rules of Engagement” where he’s Worf's advocate in an extradition trial.

Through the entire episode, in court and otherwise, Sisko defends Worf’s actions to any and all based on Starfleet regulations, moral character and the specific situation.

However, Worf was not wholly in the right (because it wasn’t 1967) and when Ben gets his subordinate in a room alone, he rips the commander a new one for what he did wrong, then quickly shifts it into a lesson about command.

That’s how to lead people.

The second is going to expand a bit…because it’s me:

Garak, the simple tailor and/or exiled super-agent who is simultaneously the most resourceful ally and the most terrifying enemy the crew has,  and who speaks in a combination of unwanted truths and bald faces lies is -by far and hands down- my favorite character.

“There's hope for you yet."

Here's to hoping A Stitch in Time gets a new printing for the show's Twenty-Fifth anniversary next year. [Later edit- it didn't but got an awesome audiobook read by Robinson later on.]  At least there's a cool Adam Nimoy helmed Documentary coming.

The famous/infamous episode “In the Pale Moonlight” combines the points about Garak and Sisko above.  It’s been criticized for not being Star Trek, but I think that’s incorrect.  Sisko’s almost Shakespearean monologue, coupled with the twists and turns of the story, all foreshadowed by Garak’s normal levels of deflection and hinting, makes for great television.  The story shows the Captain is willing to make compromises to the standard Star Fleet high ground to preserve the overall good that is the Federation. Garak is on hand to demonstrate that Sisko looks like he has no clue what level of compromises he really needs, but he must have suspected, or he wouldn’t have asked his espionage-ally excellent tailor for help in the first place.

The Enterprise Incident” was all about moral compromises to preserve the Federation, but thanks to, “I’m awesome so it’s OK,” had a Captain with a much more upbeat reaction to the resolution.

Sisko’s actions were far greater moral compromises, but the stakes were also far greater and they were internally consistent with the characters as portrayed.

Therefore it can’t be said that this was “not Star Trek.”

I’d say more that “In the Pale Moonlight” was “not Next Generation Star Trek,” which is fine with me.

The Next Generation version might be-  the crew decides to let the Federation fall, then get saved at the last minute by Q or something else totally out of left field.

As long as I’m back to picking on that show…

Deep Space Nine has also given me yet another reason to dislike The Next Generation. (Like I needed more.) The adventures of Captain Sisko and company soared everywhere I felt Picard’s gang fell.

Heck, Lwaxana Troi had to be the most irritating character in any TNG I watched, and her appearances on DS9 were both endearing an funny.

The tales of Captain Sisko and crew ended satisfyingly, but open enough for many returns.  Yet the failure of the Next Gen films insured there would be no cinematic adventures to follow this awesome series.

If Netflix pulls it, I guess I’ll have to buy them on DVD as much as I hate multi season packaging in that format because of fragility. Due to weird video format issues, and a myriad of awesome scenes with a metric crapload of starships in them, a blu-ray remaster may never be on the table. 

Since I have become excessively enamored of this series, I hate to end on a down note.

Luckily I forgot to mention an important aspect of Deep Space Nine that is always a high point!


Click Here for Star Trek Index

Click here for the DS9 Documentary "What We Left Behind"


Brian said...

You really put this show into good perspective! I am only up into Season 2 (been watching the entire universe in production order so I'm at a point now where I'm watching both this and final season of TNG). Another thing I really liked about this was the imperfections (set up for Enterprise?) like how they have to make it work on a base built with Cardassian technology run by a Bajoran pseudo-militant crew while overseen by a small Federation operation out in "the middle of nowhere". I think the setting in this way sets up so much storytelling potential. You are right about the buildup of characters in this. I'm finding I'm liking Quark far more than I did upon my first viewing. I'm looking forward to seeing more of it.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx for reading, and chiming in. The character and world building on this show was insane. And those "imperfections" help to keep the viewer in the story. There's usually some compatibility issue to explain why the technology we've seen before that could end this week's episode in 30 seconds isn't working this time.

From early on ("Move Along Home" 10th episode) and moreso as it goes, Quark gives peeks into a much more compassionate towards his friends and family side than he'd ever admit to that makes him easier to like.

Enjoy the rest of the ride, its an amazing one.