Thursday, December 29, 2011

“Starship Down” Makes The Argument That What The Enterprise Needs, The Defiant Does Not

The Good: Character work, Special effects, Acting
The Bad: Plot, Pacing
The Basics: When the Defiant is crippled in battle, the crew is separated from one another and forced to try to save the ship without aid in “Starship Down.”

In Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s fifth season, there was a desire to strengthen the characters on the show and an episode was contrived where various characters would be put in a position that forced growth upon them. The episode was called "Disaster" and it had the desired effect, the Enterprise was crippled and the characters were focused on the entire time and they were forced to develop. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is always character intensive, inexplicably decided to replicate the episode. Perhaps even more troublesome; the series did it twice, on the station in "Civil Defense" and now aboard the Defiant in "Starship Down."

While the Defiant is conducting negotiations with the Karema in the Gamma Quadrant, it is attacked by the Jem'Hadar. Caught off-guard and determined to protect the Karema ship, the Defiant is taken into a nearby gas giant. Severely crippled, the Defiant finds itself in dire straits: Captain Sisko is seriously wounded with only Kira to keep him conscious on the destroyed bridge, Dax and Bashir are trapped in a turbolift below decks where it seems they will freeze to death, Worf is put in command in engineering and Quark and the Karema businessman Orinthar are stuck in the mess hall when a Jem'Hadar torpedo lodges itself in the wall and could detonate at any point.

The real problem with "Starship Down" is its sheer lack of necessity. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does not need an episode that focuses all on character; it does that almost every single week. So, the plot feels a bit contrived. It's like fishing for a speech in Congress; people are talking all of the time there, you don't have to troll for it. A "character episode" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a regular occurrence.

Add to that, the pace in "Starship Down" seems a bit off. That is, this is a situation that ought to feel very tense; the ship is crippled, the people are separated and wounded and there are still ships out there ready to attack. Given that, we ought to have some feeling of menace and be worried for our heroes. But the episode never gets into stride, never getting tense enough for us to buy.

What it lacks in tension and mood, it more than makes up for in character substance. In a strangely easy to watch segment, Kira surrenders to failure and actually opts to pray for Captain Sisko because she has no other alternatives. While as a general statement, this might be disturbing, it fits Kira's character and it reinforces beyond all other indications that she IS an outsider and not used to this type of situation. Put Kira in a mountain cave and she can lead an attack or defense, put her on a starship and she is somewhat less competent.

Worf's experience in dealing with engineers is decent, but seems overstated. Expecting that Worf has never had to order around engineers is not quite as bad as forcing the viewer to suspend our disbelief to the point of accepting that after thirty years among humans, Data had never heard "guts" used as a euphemism for intuition, but it seems somewhat unlikely. Then again, Worf has worked in engineering ("Lonely Among Us" from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and commanded in security, but not explicitly commanded in engineering before.

The best moments of character come in the scenes between Quark and Orinthar. Here Quark has a chance to successfully do what it is he's supposed to be able to do well. That is, we see him wheeling and dealing and it's refreshing to see Quark be convincing in a business manner in a way we've never been privy to before. Quark actually uses the opportunity of the disaster to illustrate a point to Orinthar and as a result, we have a sense of his finesse that has been lacking in the usual episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There's a wonderful bit of explicit illustration of the cunning and conniving that Quark supposedly has that makes him worth Odo's attention for all of these years.

The acting here comes through given that many of the scenes are so very focused on the characters. Even the extras in "Starship Down" seem to have been cast well, especially the Defiant engineers. They use their facial expressions well to captivate their disappointment, frustration and whimsy. They are a great contrast to Michael Dorn who does not use his face for emoting in this episode. Instead, Dorn relies almost entirely on his voice for his presentation and that works well, too.

Alexander Siddig and Terry Farrell deserve credit for their performances, though they do not have a lot in terms of airtime. Still, they manage to very convincingly play their characters freezing to death and asphyxiating. Similarly, Nana Visitor gives a frustrated performance that at the very least convinces the viewer of Captain Sisko's jeopardy.

But in the end, "Starship Down" proves that if you pay for decent guest actors, you'll get great results. James Cromwell plays Orinthar opposite Armin Shimerman's Quark. As a result, the pair plays off one another very well, with two of the most professional actors given the chance to really dive into their characters. Cromwell makes a great Karema.

"Starship Down" is likely to be enjoyed more by people who were not fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or any of the Star Trek series' because it is more likely to seem new and different as opposed to something that has been done before. Either way, the viewer gets a better-than-average episode of television that focuses very tightly on characters trapped in situations working desperately to get out of them. While this episode does mark the finale to the quasi-romantic relationship between Dax and Bashir, it is not a part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the turnaround season by clicking here!

For other works featuring James Cromwell, please visit my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season 6
Six Feet Under
L.A. Confidential
Star Trek: First Contact
"The Birthright, Part 1"
"The Hunted"


For other Star Trek episode, movie or DVD set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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