Thursday, February 7, 2013

Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 4a)

Season 3b   Season 4b

Star Trek The Next Generation really took off at the end of the 3rd season with the “to be continued” at the end of “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1.” That set up the continuing tradition for that series, of ending every season with a cliff hanger. “Deep Space Nine” did not continue that particular model. Instead they ended the first two seasons with big revelations, but had the 2 part story come at the start of the next season with a looser connection to what had come before. Where they did follow the Next Generation pattern, was in really hitting their stride in the 4th season. These first several episodes are (mostly) really well done in every way:

Episodes 1/2: “The Way of the Warrior” 

In season 3 we saw the buildup of the story arch concerning “The Dominion” and the “Founders,” Odo’s people, who run it. For season 4 they took things to a new level, not by bringing that threat to a breaking point, but by exploring the fallout resulting from the threat. The Klingon Empire uses the danger as an excuse to wage war and try to expand the Empire, breaking a 20 year peace with the federation. This all serves to further expose the less than utopian vision of the Trek future that Deep Space Nine is known for; one that goes against Roddenberry’s Secular Humanist vision. The lesson presented here is the way realistic threats are used to justify otherwise illegal, sometimes even evil acts of aggression. Some would see here a parallel to real world events some seven years later, when acts of terror would be used as an excuse by the U.S. to deal with other foreign policy headaches in ways that normally would normally not be tolerated. It is interesting how science fiction parallels can afford us the chance to look at a situation removed from the patriotic passions that prevent us from seeing reality clearly.

Episode 3: “The Visitor” 

This is one of the most moving episodes of Star Trek ever. The performances, especially from the young actor playing Jake, are incredible. There is a tension in this episode between the way Jake ruins his life with his obsession to rescue his father, and the fact that that obsession does ultimately lead to a solution that gives everyone a second chance. This episode also gives us glimpses into that Trek universe that is less than the ideal future Roddenberry had envisioned. At the heart of Trek—and the Secular Humanist worldview that informs it—is a belief that evolution will inevitably lead humanity into a better and better society. Eventually all our problems will be resolved. Things like money, greed, crime, violence, and aggression will be pruned away through natural selection. The Bible presents another (more believable and demonstrably truer) view of the world. Humanity is enslaved in sin and its resulting problems. We are not and will never get any better on our own or through some natural process. We don’t evolve. Any improvements are due to the action of God, who has provided a way out of the trap of sin and has shown us a better way to live life. Christian teaching has impacted society and ideas like Secular Humanism would not even be possible without it.

Episode 4: “Hippocratic Oath” 

This episode continues what has made this season (and Scifi in general) so good. It forces the audience to look at a stereotypical situation—one we have seen so often that we likely have formed convictions about it—from a new perspective. Here we get the scientist-driven-by-and-even-tricked-into-betraying-his-people-by-finding-a-solution scenario. Only in this case it is a scientist we know, like and trust; and it is a situation where we too can see the benefits. If Bashir can accomplish the task the enemy is forcing him to undertake, he will be doing a good thing, helping his patients, and potentially be dealing a devastating blow to the enemy. But he could simply be betraying his own people if he is being tricked. As is often the case in this season so far, we are left wondering if the decisions made here will come back to haunt our heroes in later episodes…

Episode 5: “Indiscretion” 

Two sworn enemies with a terrible history that are now uneasy allies embark on a quest to find some long lost comrades. Along the way they are forced into seeing each other as individuals and gain some understanding and perspective about each other.

Episode 6: “Rejoined” 

This is a cheat of an episode. Once again the Trill concept is used to force a social issue upon the audience. Only the way that Trills are presented negates the validity of the issue they are trying to represent. The objective for this episode was to get a lesbian kiss on screen. This was not the first such incident in American TV (actually it was the 5th) but one imagines that the writers wanted to recapture some of the cutting edge that they had back in the sixties when they presented the first American interracial television kiss. (Even that instance was a bit of a cheat as the story had the kiss being involuntary.) Here the murky nature of the history between the two characters kissing makes this hard to see as a believable occurrence, let alone a purely lesbian act. See if you can follow the set-up: Jadzia Dax is the seventh host of a symbiotic worm. One of the former hosts, a man, was married to another Trill who was a woman. Now, years later, the two worms reencounter each other. They are now both in new hosts, both women. When they meet they understandably have a deep and strong connection on some level, even though the new hosts (and any subsequent ones) have contributed a whole lot of new history, experiences, and even personality. We are supposed to accept that the new hosts are supposed to now feel a physical sexual, and not just an emotional connection. With Jadzia it is almost understandable since she was the husband in the past “life,” but it is hard to believe a wife would be attracted to a husband who was now a woman. Also, they have already established that Jadzia Dax is heterosexual.

Episode 7: “Starship Down” 

This is a submarine story ala “The Hunt for the Red October” or “Das Boot.” It is entertaining but not particularly philosophical or religious. Except for the side story where we are reminded that Sisko is a reluctant religious figure for the Bajorans similar to the Dali Lama.

Episode 8: “Little Green Men” 

For the most part this is a very funny, light-hearted, entertaining episode involving the comedic presumption that it was a group of Ferengis (namely our beloved Quark, Rom, and Nog) who caused all the hubbub in Roswell in a temporal accident. That being said it does provide some subtle commentary about the culture of that day (and a bit about our current day as well) when we see it through the eyes of these “Little Green Men.”

Episode 9: “The Sword of Kahless” 

This episode promises to be a treasure hunt in dramatic Klingon trappings, but it ultimately fails to inspire. There is a lot to be seen here about religion, hero worship, politics, and the role of story in cultural institutional power, but it doesn’t really add up to much. In the end, the take-away the episode lands on is that legends and histories are too much for current minds to handle. It is better to live in ignorance than to try to interpret meaning in life. Not exactly the same attitude that this observer embraces.

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