Monday, March 12, 2012

The First Climax Of The Dominion War Is The Perfect "Sacrifice Of Angels!"

The Good: Plot, Character, Acting, Special effects, Everything!
The Bad: Nothing! Not a one!
The Basics: The Federation encounters the Dominion in a bloody, dangerous battle in their attempt to reclaim Deep Space Nine while Kira and her friends are imprisoned there.

It is a rare thing when a television show manages to get two perfect episodes proximate to one another when they are not simple cliffhangers. So, when the first big Dominion War arc produced two episodes that made it instantly into my Top Ten Best Episodes Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I was pleasantly surprised. The first of those chart-topping episodes was “Rocks And Shoals” (reviewed here!) and it might well be one of the best neglected episodes of the series. A much more obvious episode to make it into the Top Ten is “Sacrifice Of Angels” and it is absolutely perfect!

“Sacrifice Of Angels” is one of the few big episodes that stands truly well on its own, independent of the rest of the pieces it is associated with. For sure, it is a climax, but it is great television from the first frame to the last and it is one of the most intense hours in the Star Trek franchise! While I do not usually gush about special effects, the special effects in “Sacrifice Of Angels” are some of the best ever seen on television. They were so good that when the time came for me to get an HDTV (reviewed here!), I used this episode to help make the decision as to what looked best!

Picking up in the moments that ended “Favor The Bold” (reviewed here!), the Federation attack fleet squares off with a massive Dominion Fleet about an hour away from space station Deep Space Nine. With the attack underway, Sisko and the Defiant crew fight to stay alive and break through the blockade. Aboard Terok Nor, rumors abound about the destruction of the Federation fleet as Kira works to figure out one final plan to keep the last of the mines from being deactivated. When Damar arrests the members of the New Resistance, the fate of the Alpha Quadrant seems sealed with Dukat and Weyoun coordinating their defense of the station.

But when the opportunity to cut through the lines comes, Sisko and his crew take a gambit and place themselves in a position to stop the Dominion reinforcements from overrunning the Alpha Quadrant. Aboard the station, the least likely alliance is formed to rescue Kira, Rom and the others. As all out war comes, Odo is forced to make the most difficult choice of his life.

“Sacrifice Of Angels” is one of those episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that truly has it all. The episode has high drama – there is a very significant casualty -, a real sense of danger (the sheer number of exploding ships and consoles makes the menacing implication that the Defiant may not survive the attack), moments of ecstasy, and even stray moments of humor. The moment Quark requests Ziyal’s help is very funny, as is Quark’s exchange with a pair of Jem’Hadar guards aboard Terok Nor. And amid the best space battle of the Star Trek franchise (to date), there are some truly great lines and moments of character.

This episode is set up, in many ways, as a strategic match between Captain Sisko and Gul Dukat. Just as chess is as much about evaluating the way your opponent thinks as it is the physical moves each piece may make, “Sacrifice Of Angels” explores the determination of Sisko and the hubris of Dukat. What is so enjoyable about the episode is how evenly matched the two are. Gul Dukat is not a simpleton or solely an egoist. Instead, he has a great tactical mind and he approaches the battle with that mind at its peak. In fact, one of the most impressive character aspects of “Sacrifice Of Angels” is buried as a plot point; Dukat effectively uses his forces to repel Sisko’s forces for most of the battle. It is only when Dukat changes his strategy to attempt to punish Sisko that his strategy slips at all. In other words, on his own, Sisko’s forces and willpower are not enough to overcome Dukat’s armaments and strategic mind. That is why Gul Dukat is arguably the best villain character in the Star Trek franchise!

On the heroic side, the heroes in “Sacrifice Of Angels” are the unlikely ones, as are the villains. The twists at the end are gutwrenching and difficult to watch; they get no easier with subsequent viewings. In fact, part of what makes “Sacrifice Of Angels” so good is how the producers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine defy expectations. Sure, it’s not really a surprise which side Odo comes down on. But, it is impressive how and when he chooses. Even more impressive is how one of the other characters actually steps up to make a big character leap and that leap is not without consequences within the episode and in subsequent episodes.

As for the acting, “Sacrifice Of Angels” uses the full cast – regular and guest – cast phenomenally well. Actors like Andrew Robinson (Garak) turn their brief appearances in the episode into truly memorable and emotional experiences. Casey Biggs once again pushes the envelope of what Damar is and he makes Damar’s love and admiration of Dukat into something that is troubling to watch. He, like Andrew Robinson, uses his time on screen well and sets up future character arcs beautifully. Biggs has a surprisingly subtle quality at moments that transcends the latex his face is covered with. He emotes strongly with his eyes.

But, because so much of the episode – more than being a big special-effects driven story – is a character study of Sisko and Dukat as foil characters, much of the acting credit hinges on the performances of Marc Alaimo and Avery Brooks. Brooks is cool, commanding and strong. One of the more subtle directors notes about the episode is that after the battle is actively engaged by the Defiant, Sisko does not sit again. Brooks’s performance is best near the end when he has a surreal sequence that he must make sensible and he lands it. More than that, he is able to portray compassion remarkably well at the climax of the episode.

It is Alaimo who makes “Sacrifice Of Angels” utterly gripping to watch, though. In “Sacrifice Of Angels,” Alaimo presents the full emotional range of Gul Dukat and at the end of the episode, moments that could have been hackneyed in a lesser performer’s attempt are deeply moving. Alaimo makes Dukat villain and empathetic all in the course of forty-three minutes, truly giving viewers a performance that only went unnoticed by those who give awards because of their prejudice against genre works.

Ultimately, “Sacrifice Of Angels” is a truly great story and it is well-told with engaging characters. Truly, there is nothing better than that.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to check out my index page with an organized listing of them by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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