Saturday, March 22, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

  I don't usually review TV shows. I might have reviewed 2 or 3 total since I started the blog. I've always intended to review more, like Breaking Bad, Cowboy Bebop, and stuff I've put serious time into. Alas, reviewing an entire show is a daunting undertaking, and I really dislike reviewing seasons because you have to dive into minutiae and talk about stuff a casual reader might not know about. "X character in this season finally married Y character over here! This was a BAD move and really brought the show down." Why? Does someone who's never seen the show have any idea who X and Y might be? Not to mention it's a major spoiler. Would they know why that particular pairing cheapened the show? No. So I prefer to review an entire show, so I can let people know if at the end... you'll feel like it was worth your time as a whole.

  Enter: Deep Space Nine. My love for all things Star Trek feels like I was born with it, but in truth, I merely grew up with the franchise. I was watching episodes of Star Trek: Voyager when I was just a toddler, and I've seen a couple of the Next Generation movies in theaters. Even at the ripe young age of 6 I knew that The Wrath of Khan was the greatest. I used to rent it often. So, in short- I was a Trekkie in the making. I don't feel like delving into my history with Star Trek (as a frame of reference to know where, I, as a viewer am coming from with my point of view on this show) is complete without talking about how I really got sucked into it. Star Trek was always around in my childhood, but it wasn't something we were religious about. We watched the movies pretty often, but even then...

  One fateful day, at a garage sale back in the mid 2000's (mind you, even 2004 was a decade ago) I was digging around for movies or video games and I found a box full of VHS tapes. I do mean full. There must have been about 50 tapes in this box. As I read the label on each tape, I quickly discovered that each tape had two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager recorded on it. This must've been a full third of the entire show. My mom quickly insisted that we buy it. The guy only charged us $5, and then said... he'd have someone help us load up the rest of the boxes. There were two more boxes. Both full. After going over all the tapes at home, we realized we had every episode of the entire show. It took us a good two months to watch them all, in order of course. It was amazing. We'd never had the opportunity to watch any Star Trek show from start to finish before. We'd always happen to tune in a season too late to watch The Next Generation in it's entirety when it was airing on the Sci-Fi (now called SyFy) channel. Couldn't even find the original series anymore.

  In short, we fell in love with Star Trek: Voyager. We started the whole series over again at least once a year. Then, life pushed my family and I around for a while and we moved, things happened, and we kinda gave up watching the show. We'd watch a bit, here and there, but mainly we were back to the movies and whatever out-of-order episode of The Next Generation was on SyFy. Then came Netflix. A proud owner of a PS3, when Netflix streaming hit... it pretty much was the most amazing thing ever. About a year later, all the Star Trek shows appeared on Netflix. Sheer bliss. Naturally, being able to watch Voyager without having to fast forward commercials was my first instinct... but not for long. I now had access to The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.  All of them. So of course, being ever familiar with Kirk, and Picard, we powered through The Original Series, and The Next Generation. At least twice over. But even then, I knew there was one show I simply couldn't ignore anymore. A show not even my parents bothered with, much less even liked... Deep Space Nine.

  I'm not sure if I started watching it because I'd already seen everything else (excluding Enterprise. Which I just don't like) or if I genuinely wanted to discover it. It was always "that one show" in my family. Nobody cared for it. My mind had been made up for me, before I even had a chance to find out on my own. So I started watching it on Netflix. The series premiere didn't grab me. I saw it. Forgot about it. Moved on. After starting Voyager again with my family I thought to myself, the premiere of this wasn't so great either... and neither was the premiere of Next Generation... maybe I should give Deep Space Nine another shot? So I did. I won't lie, it was a timely mix of sheer boredom and inertia that carried me through the first couple seasons of the show. They were unbalanced, and they struggled to find a rhythm. Yet... even Next Generation and Voyager stumbled through their first couple seasons.

  Deep Space 9 however is almost frustrating to watch in it's sophomoric seasons. You get the sense that it's much more story driven than the other shows, and by that I mean a single story. One big unfolding plot that threads through the entire show. Yet, this big plot isn't handled so well in the beginning. Everything sort of... doesn't fit. The show had potential for chemistry, but only glimpses of when everything truly 'clicked' in seasons 1 and 2. It tries to maintain the "monster of the week" formula that served it's predecessors so well, but the catch is, Deep Space Nine is set on a stationary outpost. You can't "seek out new life forms and new civilizations". You're stuck. On a very confined space station. So you're left with mainly character episodes. Unfortunately for the show, the characters are in their infancy development-wise this early on. Usually episodes like this come during seasons 4 or 5 in any other show. You simply don't know these characters that well so early. Certainly not well enough to care by default.

  Season 3 was a godsend. The writers seemed to get wise to how these characters could interact successfully. Bam. Sparks. This was the turning point for the whole show. Am interesting cosmic conspiracy began to form coherently, eventually they were given a swank little ship, the characters blossomed, chemistry flowed and the show mostly dropped the "monster of the week" formula. Some shows NEED that (ahem. X-Files, looking at you...) others can't sustain it at all. Just like DS9.  The cast really came into their own in the seasons that followed and so did many other things. The space station stopped feeling like a hotel, Benjamin Sisko stopped feeling like a hotel director, and everything started feeling important. The station became the lynch pin in a war against a powerful alien enemy, and Sisko, the show's main protagonist, became more than just an explorer and a diplomat like Kirk, Picard or Janeway... he became a soldier. A soldier on the front lines of an intergalactic war.

  The setting of a war like that gave the show some very interesting material to deal with. The show becomes very political and intricate. Cause and effect lasts beyond any singular episode. Things happen that have lasting repercussions for seasons to come. This is also why it's hard to watch out of order. All the other Trek shows can be casual viewing. Not Deep Space Nine. No way. You have to follow the story sequentially to get the full effect. This I imagine, robbed it of some of it's larger audience. Even Trekkies. This show demands your full attention and continually too. Miss an episode of Next Generation, and you're fine. Catch it on a rerun. Miss an episode of Deep Space Nine, and the tides of the entire war might have shifted, a crucial character might have died, someone might be missing, and the station might be under siege. It could be any... or all of these things. And any one of those plot threads might extend over five or six episodes, with measurable effect on the rest of the entire show.

  Deep Space Nine is a show you have to follow intently. Things are mentioned from earlier episodes, even earlier seasons, and you have to know those things in order to understand what's going on. It'd be incredibly hard to simply 'tune in' halfway through the show and expect to enjoy it. However, because the show demands so much of it's viewers in a franchise that's so very very different, it's easily way more rewarding. The characters in the show form a much tighter bond in my opinion. The kind of lasting friendship you can see in Kirk and Spock can be seen amongst the crew of DS9. The camaraderie is palpable because you're watching a group of people bond not just over regular day-to-day situations, but over the course of a war where their lives are constantly on the line in a way previously unseen in a Trek show.

  Deep Space Nine is definitely the red headed child of the Star Trek franchise, but that is no reason to avoid it. Especially not now when awesome services like Netflix have made it available in it's entirety right at your finger tips. It's an incredibly rewarding show with top shelf stories and sci-fi concepts for the ages. The characters end up feeling like family in a way that only certain singular episodes of the other shows were able to relate to the audiences. Having finished the whole show, I feel more complete as a Star Trek fan. Is this a good jumping-on point for people who've never seen any Star Trek shows before? No... I don't think so. For that, I suggest Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 3 and onward. Arguably the most polished and well defined seasons of the entire franchise. Or, fall in love with the movies. Make no mistake though... if you're a newcomer, no matter where you choose to start, Deep Space Nine more than deserves to be a stop on your tour through the vast Star Trek universe. While not my favorite Star Trek show, it is undeniably, a fantastic show, and even a worthy hallmark in the Star Trek franchise. It's one I wholeheartedly recommend and one I can't wait to revisit sometime in the future.

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