Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Emissary written by Michael Piller and directed by David Carson

What’s it about: Phew that’s a toughie. The Cardassians are out, the Federation is in and a disparate bunch of rejects from a dozen races become our new crew...

Single Father: Sisko is such an interesting character because he managed to divide opinion pretty much throughout the entire show. I have read critiques of the show that have condemned him a poor actor (which he clearly isn't) or one that was uncertain in the role (again not true) and from another perspective I have read opinions that have suggested he is the most realistic of all the Star Trek Captain's and the one who surprises more than the others. I know people who think he was too quiet and flourished in the shows latter years and I know people who think he was sensitively characterised at first and became little more than a grunting advocate for war post season five. The only conclusion that I can draw from all of these diverse opinions is that the writers were definitely doing something right by provoking so much discussion and that Brooks himself was willing to play about with the role and shape into whatever suited him. Like Deep Space Nine itself, Sisko is so wonderfully flawed but riveting and unforgettable for it. It's those rough edges that make him stand out. I think he's a marvellous character but my personal view is that he really kicks off his dominancy in season three. The Sisko of seasons four-seven gets two thumbs up from me. 

Watching Sisko desperately trying to get Jennifer free from the rubble in their quarters is heartbreaking. Can you imagine being in that situation and then having to leave her behind. You would think that introducing a character failing to rescue to his wife would be detrimental to the show but it is devastating to watch and makes you feel for Sisko from the off. Thinking forward to Image in the Sand at the beginning of season seven (and I know they made things up as they went along but it's astonishing how it all fits together so perfectly in hindsight) we learn that Sisko’s mum was part prophet so when Opaka says that this was journey he was always meant to take it's not just a throwaway line. His whole life has been leading to this point, heading to DS9 and Bajor and discovering the truth about his family history. His scenes in the wormhole with the Prophets are a vital cornerstone in Sisko's life, a point where he realises that he has to press on with his life. As he teaches them about humanity’s values they in turn show him how he is not moving on with his life and trapped in the moment of his wife’s death. None of the other Trek shows allowed their central protagonist to go through such an intensely personal experience in their respective pilots and it impresses me that from the off DS9 was developing its characters, even though we have only just gotten to know them. We get to witness the first time Ben and Jennifer met, when they decided to have children, the birth of Jake and Jennifer's death. All the important moments in his life whilst also exploring his life as a single father afterwards. If all the other wonderful elements of this pilot hadn’t already convinced me then the moment Sisko breaks down finally convinced me I was going to love this show. It's raw emotion, expertly played and is beautiful to watch.

Tasty Terrorist: Probably my favourite Star Trek character (along with Odo) and the one who is afforded the most character growth throughout the series. Even in season one Kira evolves from a woman who cannot leave her past behind to a woman who is looking to the future. And that is just the beginning of her journey. Anybody bemoaning that Ensign Ro didn’t make it from TNG (she was a lovely touch of grumpiness in that show) should relax because Nana Visitor brings such presence and charisma to the role of Kira that even at the end of Emissary you’ll be thinking ‘Ensign who?’ It’s so refreshing to hear characters criticising the arrogant and luxurious Federation, Kira is literally appalled that as soon as the Cardassians have been driven out the Federation arrives. It’s an opinion that we would see change over the next few years as her character develops but she has to experience a few bumps along the way before she can reach that opinion. Don’t you just want to cheer when Kira plays Russian roulette with Jasad (quoted in full below because it is so awesome). She has some guts and (forgive me) shits all over the previous female leads in Trek, absolutely in touch with her feminine side (there is an argument that the DS9 ladies are written as men) and yet strong, determined and deeply flawed. Sisko and Kira heading a series is a formidable duo that I wouldn't want to clash with. 

Unknown Sample: Despite the fact that in these early episodes he looks like his head has been beaten to a pulp with a mallet, Odo is the most fascinating character on this series and is brought to life by the extremely talented Rene Auberjonois. A man who can change his shape into anything he wants, he doesn’t know where he comes from, who is an outsider and who runs security with an iron fist – what’s not to like? He’s gruff, rude, insulting and rather wonderful. ‘All my life I have been forced to pass myself as one of you, never knowing who I am or wear I came from. Well the answers to some of those questions might be on the other side of that wormhole.’ Be careful what you wish for Odo. He's a bit of mystery in the first season as we get to grips with his wistful wish to find his people but come the final season he will have gone on such an incredible journey of discovery I promise you you will see him in a completely different light. 

Everyday O’Brien: Colm Meaney was one of the strongest performers on TNG and O’Brien the one character with the most untapped potential so it was a stroke of genius to transfer him to the station. Suddenly O’Brien gains real focus and throughout the seven years on DS9 we get to see the ebb and flow of his marriage as he juggles his personal life and the struggles on the station. In any other show that would be expected but it is so rare to see that sort of domestic strife in Star Trek and whilst there will be highs (Accession) and lows (Fascination) it’s a very worthy and absorbing ride, adding more depth and realism to the show. Imagine how dull it must have been standing around in that transporter room day after day…transferring to DS9 must be like a slap in the face. Somehow he makes all that technobabble bearable because he is so charmingly abrasive with the computer that is dishing it out. Their fractious relationship starts here… ‘Computer…you and I need to have a little talk…’ 

Rules of Acquisition: Another gift to the Star Trek universe is the depth that Deep Space Nine gave to the Ferengi. What had we seen of them before this? A really bad attempt to make them the new big bad on TNG (doomed to failure) and then horribly unfunny comedy stooges (Captain’s Holiday, Rascals). With Armin Shimerman, Max Grodenchik and Aron Eisenberg on board you have three actors committed to making this race work within this setting. It’s astonishing what they achieve together and their chemistry is extremely palatable and it doesn’t take long (I would say by season three) before they are the most lovable family in the Star Trek universe. Quark is a brilliant character – they get him about as right as Voyager got Neelix wrong. He’s devious, selfish, perverse and hugely critical of anybody who isn’t a Ferengi and Shimerman always plays him with a twinkle in his eye and a smile in his heart. He gets the best moment at the end of the episode when he slyly puts his hand on Kira’s thigh and nearly gets it bitten off.

Eight Lifetimes: Considering she would become such a vital character from the next season onwards, it is Dax that I find the hardest to get a handle on in the pilot. As far as I remember Terry Farrell was the last of the regular cast to be offered the job and some of the pilot was already shot at that point. It shows because she clearly is trying to grasp at anything at this early stage and seems remarkably restrained compared the good-time girl of later years. It’s wonderful to be able to see the transference of the symbiont from Curzon to Jadzia. It’s a relationship that will be explored in some depth later in the series so this is a vital moment to remember. 

GE Doctor: Poor Bashir in these first few seasons. They didn’t quite get his character right until season three but in retrospect when you learn his big secret (revealed in season five) it kind of makes sense of his bumbling attitude at first. Trying to fit in by appearing so flawed. His chief characteristic this season seems to be to bed Dax so at least he’s not completely daft. Kira’s admonishment of his dewey eyed Federation superiority is a lovely moment. All this character conflict is so refreshing for Star Trek.

Young Sisko: Like a lot of things in Deep Space Nine the creators looked at the mistakes they had made in the past and decided to have another shot and get it right. Jake works because of the strength of the chemistry between Cirroc Lofton and Avery Brooks and thanks to some strong writing he is a very likeable child character. In Star Trek terms that is what we call a miracle. When he gets too whiny about the state of the station his father takes the piss out of him which is exactly what everybody should have done with Wesley all the time.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I thought I’d say hello first and then take the office’ ‘Hello’ 
‘When governments fall people like me are lined up and shot.’
‘D’you know at first I didn’t think I was going to like him.’
‘My mother warned me to watch out for junior officers’ ‘You mother is going to adore me!’
‘I love the Bajorans, such a deeply spiritual people…but they make a dreadful ale.’
‘You can make yourself useful by bringing your Federation medicine to the natives. Oh you’ll find them a friendly, simple folk.’
‘You exist here.’
‘You’re probably right Jasad and if you were dealing with a Starfleet officer they would probably admit we have a hopeless cause here. But I am just a Bajoran whose been fighting a hopeless cause against the Cardassians all her life so if you want a war, I’ll give you one.’
‘Bloody Cardassians! I’ve just got the damn things fixed!’
‘If you don’t take that hand of my hip you’ll never be able to raise a glass with it again.’ 

The Good: Can we say getting off on the right foot? I think so! The pre-titles sequence is like nothing we had ever seen in Star Trek before. The Best of Both Worlds shied away from showing the engagement at Wolf 359 between the Federation and the Borg and instead concentrate on the aftermath, the Enterprise gliding through a sea of wreckage. Emissary takes us back to that cruel time but puts us right in the thick of the action. What jumps out about this series straight away is how close it allows us to get to the characters and how dark the tone is. Whilst the teaser sports some incredible special effects (I almost fainted when I heard what the budget was for this premiere) what’s really important is that it makes this fight scene personal. A man desperately tries to save his wife but fails and just about gets his son to safety before the ship blows up and a boy has lost his mother forever. How can you fail to be moved by that? This stoic Starfleet Officer turns out to be our new protagonist for the show and straight away we feel for the man and there is a fascinating back story to exploit. It's still one of the best openings to any Star Trek episode, a violent upheaval from the lily-white tone of The Next Generation. And its great to see Locutus again. By giving depth to Wolf 359 Deep Space Nine finds its groove and its mission statement – giving some emotional depth to the Star Trek universe. The shot of the ship blowing up reflected in the window of the escape shuttle is one of the most emotive special effects in the pilot. Much more so than the Enterprise, Deep Space Nine feels like a character in itself with its distinctive, functional and yet somehow beautiful exterior and the gorgeous array of sets inside. Visually this is the most original and idiosyncratic of Star Trek shows and everything from the multi level Operations (under lit to give it some atmosphere), Quarks Bar (which is teeming with alien life) and the Promenade (which is my all time favourite Star Trek set) give the show a real visual hook. But more on that as we progress with the series. The comparison with the shiny handed-on-a-plate-luxury of the Enterprise couldn't be made more apparent as we hop from that to the station. Grim, broken, rubble strewn and packed with weary faces walking the Promenade. It makes the show something worth investing in because we get to see them pulling the place together. Head forward to season four/five and DS9 is a gorgeous way station and a hub of activity in the sector. Just as an example of how the characters develop in this show our very first scene sees Nog as a petty thief and his last scene in the series he is being put forward for the position of Lieutenant in Starfleet. The Bajoran matte painting complete with temples, gardens and pools is a stunning planetary surface. Astonishing how old this pilot is and yet the effects stand up so well. Love the gorgeous location work on the beach – those American shorelines crap all over our British ones. The Bajoran spiritualism gives Trek a whole new angle and more layers to unpeel about this fascinating society. The idea that the Orbs can take you back to a moment in your past allows us the chance to learn more about the characters by experiencing their past. Sisko and Dax are treated to the experience here but Kira and Odo would both go on to reveal unpleasant things in their past thanks to the Orb of Time (plus an adventure with Tribbles that will never be forgotten). Look at the amount of aliens on display when Quark’s Bar opens – Star Wars Cantina eat your heart out! Interesting that Deep Space Nine seems to consist of all the alien races that haven’t really been given the time of day by TNG: the Trill, Ferengi, Cardassians and the Bajorans. So many staples of the show are introduced in the first few episodes; Dukat, Garak, Nog, the Prophets, the Wormhole – it just goes to show how right they got it from the off. Marc Alaimo has such presence I can see why they kept bringing him back. What an devious bunch this new crew are, closing the bar and using Odo as a bag for winnings to sneak onto the Cardassian ship. I think this crew are going to do fine with tactics like that. I’m glad they left it out of the titles sequence because the wormhole bursting open is a great shock. You have no idea what is happening when the landscape inside the wormhole switches from a rock face to an idyllic garden. It's nice to be completely in the dark for a change. It might be melodramatic for my to compare a sequence in Star Trek to a work of art but the amount of time and effort that has gone into editing together the scenes in the Wormhole has to be acknowledged. It flows beautifully, it is visually stunning and it reinforces the exploration of humanity that Star Trek is so passionate about better than practically any other example. It’s extraordinarily good. Wowza, they blow the shit out of the Promenade and we see bloody victims screaming for help. We're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. 

The Bad: The scene where Sisko and Picard meet reveals the one advantage TNG has over DS9: Patrick Stewart. He manages to convey with a simple look more than Avery Brooks does with the entire scene. One harmful aspect of the first two years is how pathetic those little runabouts are. The series kicked ass when the Defiant rocked up at the station. Dax only seems to only speak technobabble and I need a translator. Strange how she tosses the science away when she starts shagging Worf.

Orchestra: I love the piano score as Sisko explains about linear time through baseball.

Foreboding: Kira talks about the government falling and the planet falling into civil war and it’s nice to see that followed up in the opening three parter of series two.

Result: Exciting, unpredictable with a highly engaging new cast of characters and a welcome touch of dirt to the Star Trek universe, Emissary barely gets a step wrong. Visually the story is a feast for the eyes with some atmospheric new sets, exciting action sequences and a remains a masterpiece of editing for the astonishing sequences set inside the wormhole. I remember when I first watched Emissary and I was completely blown away by the scale of the story, the rawness of the emotion and the idiosyncratic look of the piece. I had never seen anything like it on television before and it felt like someone had taken all my complaints about Star Trek and ironed them out into a much darker, classier show. This show gets to have its cake (a fixed location with consequences) and eat it (exploration of a new quadrant) and once the Defiant is introduced it even has it's own unique ship. This is a show that isn’t afraid to pull a mirror on humanity’s weaknesses, that handles religion and space opera with equal aplomb and allows its characters to be both strong and unique but also deeply flawed. Emissary kick starts seven incredible years of mythos building and outstanding character drama: 10/10


Michael said...

What an emotive review! I never really gave DS9 a proper look, and unfortunately now in Canada TNG and Voyager get year-round reruns while DS9 has been ignored. Your review makes me want to go rescue it from a second hand DVD store and give it a shot.

Joe Ford said...

I think all my reviews are pretty emotive, and I think most should be to a certain degree. If you don't have some kind of emotional response to the material you are critiquing I question the value of the work or your ability as a reviewer. DS9 brings out all kinds of emotions in me because it hit me at precisely the right each during my childhood and was the first show that I had followed from beginning to end that truly engaged my interest throughout. You could certainly do a lot worse than giving it a go. It's the only show that I can think of that got consistently better as it progressed. If you do find a copy then let me know how you get on. In my eyes DS9 got it wrong about as often as Voyager got it right. Not very often at all then.

James Matthews said...

As always Joe a great review. Many thanks,I have now gone and ordered all 7 seasons of DS9 on Dvd to watch from the start and along with your blog.
your Buffy reviews were brilliant and I am looking forward to seeing what you think of the whole series and I want to be watching along side with your good self.

Thanks again,


Ed Azad said...

Lifelong DS9 fan here. I would add the teaser on the Saratoga to the "Bad". This was back when Paramount was still trying to disguise the fact that they were recycling their Enterprise sets. I don't know why they bothered. Why should the Enterprise-D bridge look different from the Saratoga? Or even the Sickbay from the 23rd century a compared with the 24th? It's foolishness.

So you end up with an opening where the camera is stuck up Avery Brook's nostrils while he half-heartedly yells 'Full reverse" or somesuch.