Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 4: Paradise Lost

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.html
Deep Space Nine, Season 4
"Paradise Lost"
Airdate: January 8, 1996
82 of 173 produced
82 of 173 aired

Introduction

In the face of the planetwide power outage, the Federation President has all but declared martial law on Earth. As Sisko investigates the problem, things don't add up quite the way they should. Eventually, he discovers that Admiral Leyton was behind the sabotage, in an attempt to justify a coup by Starfleet.

Thank you, sir! May I have another?

Writing

Kevin: Like many a two parter, the set up is better than the payoff, and I hate to say it, but I think it holds true here. I think this is still a good, even very good episode, but it doesn't quite hit the heights of the first half. I think what made the first episode so interesting, the philosophical debate of liberty versus security, takes a back seat to the mechanics of the coup attempt. It's hard to pack in a successfully complex mystery into forty-three minutes, so I give some leeway, but it's still easy to lose some of the steam the first half built.

Matthew: I think this part suffered from having to both develop and wrap things up very quickly. It had to develop the mystery plot and show us how and why things were suspicious, and then it had to take all those threads and resolve them in the remaining 25 minutes or so. This isn't to say that there aren't some very good scenes, there are, especially between Leyton and Sisko. But had some of the previous show been given over to developing their friendship and planting some seemingly innocuous seeds of doubt, this episode would have flowed better. One symptom of this quickness is Joseph Sisko's complete about face on blood testing, fast enough to give himself and the viewer whiplash. He nearly disowned his son last episode over it, and now he smilingly rubs his arm and says "please sir may I have another."

Kevin: I have no problem with the dedicated corps of upperclassmen being the henchmen here, as it makes sense on some level. Experience enough to be useful, but the attention paid to them by an admiral would be enough to purchase their loyalty. I would have liked it to be clearer what exactly beyond the power station sabotage Leyton had done. I always read it that he simply took advantage of the bombing, not that he instigated it. It does make the timing of manipulating the wormhole suspect. If his plan was to imply a cloaked Dominion fleet then sabotage the power station, that makes some sense, and the bombing could just be a "happy" coincidence, but I would have liked that fleshed out.

Matthew: I think there are just too many people devoted to this task for it to remain secret for a day, let alone the weeks necessary to seeing it through.  I think there could have been some ways of compartmentalizing the different actors involved, so that they did not know anything beyond their small role in the plot. Leyton doesn't seem like a very good conspiracy planner, with his mouthy Bolian buddy, and bringing Sisko, a known "principled" officer, into the fray at all. I agree that Red Squad could probably be made to perform the task they were given, but for the Red Squad cadets to know that they were the ones infiltrating an Earth government facility and causing a planetwide blackout, and keeping it a secret, just strains credulity too much, if the coup is not going to take place immediately thereafter.

Kevin: The mystery scenes themselves were done well enough. There was certainly energy and tension, watching Sisko make the correct conclusions. I also liked the scene in the office between Leyton and Sisko. I liked that Leyton defended his position but didn't come off as two-dimensionally power-hungry. It's more fun that way.

Matthew: Despite whatever criticisms I've raised, I agree entirely. It was fun to see a political thriller that was based on Federation/Starfleet politics, and not Romulan or Klingon intrigue, for a change. The Roddenberry-era notion that humanity had moved beyond skulduggery and deft political maneuvering was a drama killer. Some of our favorite Trek tales have involved this sort of thing (Conspiracy, STVI), and it is something that really speaks to an American audience post 1963, and especially post 2001. Minor note: "Riley Aldrin Shepherd" is just a teensy bit over the top.

Acting

Kevin: Everyone did a good job again, though I will single out a few spots for praise. I loved Colm Meany as the changeling. They picked the right actor to do it. The subtle threats under the smile were more effective coming from the normally cherubic O'Brien. It helps that the scene itself was well written, too. I also really liked Gibney this time. I bought both her hesitation at firing on the Defiant and the decision to stop, while not having it destroy her credibility as a member of the original conspiracy. It's a complicated part and she played it well.

Matthew: What Susan Gibney is able to do is seem like a completely credible Starfleet officer with a history and a character who I am really interested in. That's not to say no one else has done something similar, but she just perfectly inhabits the role, and I wish she had been made a regular, whether here on on Voyager. I wasn't a huge fan of Meaney's weird, effete changeling, but I guess that was sort of the point. Brock Peters was better in the previous episode, but that had more to do with the script.

Kevin: Eisenberg did a great job with Nog this time too. Particularly in the scene with Sisko, it was interesting to see how his chosen life of a Starfleet officer will affect his personal life and see how he handles it. The look on his face when he realizes Sisko is speaking as captain, not friend and mentor was really well done.

Matthew: Robert Foxworth was even better as Leyton in this episode, and he carries a lot of the drama in the way you see his character justifying his actions to himself. This was a good Avery Brooks show overall, with nothing going over the top, and his scenes with Foxworth, Peters, Gibney, and Eisenberg all really worked.

Production Values

Kevin: I think there's a lot to like about this episode, though apparently Behr thinks this is was one they screwed up, to the extent he kept a post-it in his office reminding him of it so he wouldn't do it again. He thought the space battle should have been bigger, but I think it was fine. I remember really liking the tight shot of the Defiant weaving around the Lakota. The details were sharp, and it's one of the few times that space battles in Trek are something other than grand capital ships holding position, slugging it out. I'm not saying they need to mimic Star Wars' fighter based combat, but variation, particularly one that seems to suit the reasons the Defiant's entire reason for being. I also would not have wanted fleets standing off. Two ships in an isolated incident is just on this side of the line on something that Starfleet could contain. If we had multiple ships on either side, I think it would have been too big to believe that the genie could be put back in the bottle, or that one captain's decision was enough to snap Leyton's plot.

Matthew: The space battle wasn't one of those epic "All Good Things" style slugfests, but it was novel, and I think that's what is most important here. We got neat new views of the ships, especially the top view of the Excelsior class model, and we got lots of new movement, which often is not the case with a show like Trek with tautly stretched budgets.

Kevin: Where I will agree with Behr on where the insufficient budget does actually hurt the episode is the lack of extras. Matt mentioned it in last's week's episode that it strains credulity that there are enough Starfleet officers ready to have three on a random street corner in the French Quarter. I was willing to give that episode a pass, but here, I think we needed more bodies to really give the impression that business as usual on Earth was done for the time being. I think it could have been another opportunity to show day-to-day life on Earth. What kind of civil police force is there? Would they be deputized (of federalized, I guess) in response to the crisis. Beyond that, I don't think there is much to discuss, and as our comments about the set pieces of Earth could pretty much be copied and pasted from Homefront.

Matthew: The new sets we got were: the redress of the office for Leyton, which had some nice models in the background; the brig set where Sisko was held, which had a few nice doodads; and the "bridge" on the Lakota, which was pretty lame overall (but nowhere near as lame as Maxwell's office in "The Wounded"). Overall, set-wise, it did feel like a bit of a missed opportunity to expand the world.

Conclusion

Kevin: This is not as good as the first part, but it is still very good. I am going with a 4. The acting is great, and the energy and tension remain high, even if the mystery gets a little creaky in places. Together, this pair of episodes is still easily some of the best work this franchise has produced.

Matthew: I agree with the 4 for a total of 8.  I think, despite its flaws, that this episode remained consistently entertaining, shared the same relatively high production values of the previous part, and enjoyed some standout acting from Susan Gibney, Aron Eisenberg, and Robert Foxworth. Although there is a bit of drop-off, this still rounds out to probably the best continuing DS9 story yet, and sits among the top two or three multiple part stories in the franchise.

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