“If you ask me, this society could use a little chaos.”
The most baffling, and yet virulent, opinion in all of criticism is that dark and gritty is inherently more meaningful than light and funny. You see it everywhere. It reared its sad, clown head over at Warner Bros. when they pledged that DC movies wouldn’t have any jokes, implying that the relentless grayness of Man of Steel is somehow deeper than Peter Quill overcoming the loss of his youth to forge a deep bond with a talking raccoon. It was apparent in the few bad reviews of the Parks and Recreation finale, that the idea of the future as a place for hope and happiness is inherently silly and shallow. “Dark” is too often accepted as a synonym for good, while “light” is empty.
“We’ll make a sailor out of you yet.”
-- Commander Benjamin Sisko
By now everyone knows what “jumping the shark” means. It’s the inverse that a lot of people have trouble with. The term, according to TV Tropes, is “growing the beard,” and it references the second season of Star Trek: TNG when Riker farmed his familiar facial hair. The beard itself wasn’t the reason for the quality -- it was more that TNG figured out it wasn’t TOS -- but the beard is useful shorthand to know whether or not you’re about to waste an hour or not. The weird thing is that it works pretty well with DS9, too. Granted, there are plenty of great episodes before Sisko grows his goatee, but if you see it, you’re practically guaranteed a good time.
“I’m afraid the fault, dear Tain, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
-- Elim Garak
It’s not even a controversial statement anymore to say that TV is better than movies. We can pretty much take it as a given, excepting certain works of genius like Fury Road. The pertinent part of that statement, though, is why this is a given, and the answer is simple. In movies, executives are in charge. In TV, writers are. The reason I bring this up is that this week’s episode, “The Die is Cast,” (a.k.a. Improbable Cause Part 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold) is the first in which Ira Steven Behr was executive producer, and his presence is immediately evident.
“The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination.”
-- Elim Garak
As I’ve been working my way through the series, I’ve been singling out my favorite episodes of each season. Thus far, they have one thing in common: Cardassians. That will hold true for next season’s favorite, as well, and probably beyond, but I don’t remember. I love them partially because, in their minds, they are the great heroes of the galaxy. They are the rightful Stalinist overlords of the Alpha Quadrant, and if all these other races would only realize it, maybe we could get some order around here. In this week’s episode, we turn to not only my favorite Cardassian, but my favorite character overall, the exile/spy/mystery man/simple tailor, Elim Garak.
“Too much spirit can be a dangerous thing. Tends to infect others.”
-- Intendant Kira
One of the most difficult parts of writing fiction is conveying realistic movement when your characters are away. Villains -- well, good ones anyway -- aren’t just sitting on a throne in a room someplace, waiting for the heroes to show up and beat them in a swordfight. Villains have goals. In fact, villains tend to be the proactive ones, bucking the social order, while the heroes are the ones enforcing it, but that’s not really important right now. The point is that the world moves even when the heroes aren’t looking directly at it. It’s like Shrodinger’s Cat, but without the animal cruelty.
“I can do anything I want. It is my mind.”
-- Dr. Julian Bashir
I have an uneasy relationship with spoilers in this space. There are elaborate rules to navigate the revealing of spoilers in our current culture of extreme interconnectiveness. It’s considered bad form to instantly tweet crucial plot twists as a show is airing, for example, but when exactly it becomes okay to discuss in a public forum is very much a subject of intense debate. In this space, I’m never certain how many things I should spoil before they happen.
“I hate temporal mechanics.”
-- O’Briens, past and future
A franchise is exactly as versatile as fans will tolerate. Take James Bond, for example. He’s taken on several markers over the years, from espionage for Her Majesty, to special gadgets, to proto-supervillains, to bevies of beautiful women, and everyone has a weird name. At times, the formula deviates, with Bond out for revenge or in outer space, and, predictably, a certain portion of the fandom rebels. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either embracing or rejecting a change in genre; the franchise that exists in each of our minds exists only there. We have rules those running it could not know and can’t possibly obey, since they’re bound to contradict one another.
“So many needy people, so little time.”
-- Grand Nagus Zek
If Quark is in any kind of record book, it has to be for one thing: In the entire sweep of television history, he is the recipient of the most on-camera handjobs. Look, we can beat around the bush (No pun intended.), but the show certainly doesn’t. And, when this week’s episode opens on Quark’s O-face while a young woman rubs his lobes in the midst of a business meeting, I can’t ignore it. There’s even a clip of Regis Philbin giving Quark a bit of the old oo-mox available on YouTube. Check it out, if you never want to sleep again.
“Trakor’s Fourth Prophecy says that the Emissary will face a fiery trial, and he’ll be forced to choose . . . ”
-- Vedek Yarka
The most fascinating thing about the Bajoran religion is that their gods are real. I’ve touched on this a few times, but this is the episode that really begins to examine what that might mean.
“It’s been my observation that you humanoids have a hard time giving up the things you love, no matter how much they might hurt you.”
In every stage of the writing process, there is a disconnect. The first is between your mind and what ends up on the page. You picture the most awesome, innovative scenes ever, fraught with emotions and big ideas but only in dreamlike glimpses. When you set it down, it’s usually a pale echo of what you wanted, with only flashes of that incredible story in your mind. When you’re writing for another medium, like film, TV, or comics, the next disconnect is what’s on the page versus what ends up drawn or filmed. There are realities like, how well does your artist read? How much budget do you have for this spectacular effect? This is how Star Trek ends up with aliens made out of what looks like an old carpet covered in pizza stains, or this week’s episode which has what Nana Visitor described as “a giant sundae with my head as the cherry.”