Sunday, March 4, 2012

"A Time To Stand" Finds The Federation In An Uncomfortable Position!

The Good: Character, Acting, Special effects, Plot
The Bad: Minutiae, A few niggling character aspects
The Basics: Three months into the Dominion War, the Federation is losing badly and “A Time To Stand” marks their most significant attempt to turn the tide!

If you have been reading my many reviews of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine right along – or my reviews in general, I suppose – it ought to be quite clear that I am a huge fan of serialized television. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine remains a real thrill for me because as the show developed, the story became more focused, more intense and designed to serve the characters than a plot-of-the-week. So, at the point that “A Time To Stand” comes up, the story is in its later chapters and characters have complicated relationships and secrets. It is impossible to discuss some aspects of episodes like “A Time To Stand” without revealing some of those secrets – most notably the secret I refused to make explicit in my review of “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” – because they are deeply integrated with this episode.

It also pleases me to mention that starting with this review of “A Time To Stand,” you are reading fresh, new Star Trek reviews! Through the end of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode reviews, the episode reviews are new and represent (I hope) a higher caliber of writing and analysis than many of my earlier ones. The reason for this is simple. I used to write for a website that I have since left. That site only had the episodes up through “A Call To Arms” (reviewed here!) available to review. Now on my own and unrestricted by their sales-based model, I can gladly write about the rest of the series! I hope you enjoy the analysis.

With the idea of higher, more regulated standards in mind, it is worth noting that ”A Time To Stand” is one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but it is not a perfect one. The tricky thing about “A Time To Stand’s” lack of perfection is this, as I sit contemplating it, I know it is not a perfect episode, but I find it ridiculously difficult to explain why. I know when I first saw the episode in college, the source of my disappointment was obvious. I read a review before seeing the episode where the reviewer mentioned how part of the reason the episode is so unsettling is that Dr. Bashir, who is usually ebullient and enthusiastic, appears so run-down that he does not smile the entire episode. I remember being pissed when I saw the episode and Bashir smiles several times. So, to get to it, “A Time To Stand” is a wonderful season premiere, but it is not a perfect episode.

The Defiant is part of a small fleet of damaged ships limping through space. Three months into the Dominion War and the Federation and Klingon forces are decimated, in a state of constant retreat according to O’Brien. While Bashir patches up Garak, he calculates their odds of defeating the Dominion, much to Garak’s annoyance. When word comes in that another Federation squadron has been pretty much wiped out, things look even more grim and the Defiant heads to a nearby Starbase for repairs and reassignment.

Where things do not appear nearly as difficult is on Terok Nor. While Weyoun harasses Dukat to get the Wormhole reopened, Dukat is clearly enjoying being in command of the station again. While Kira serves the Dominion forces as Bajoran liaison, she is upset by the situation and wants to act. She sees her opportunity when Weyoun expresses curiosity about how Odo is doing. Kira uses Odo to try to get the Bajoran security forces reinstated aboard the station. And at Admiral Ross’s starbase, Sisko and the Defiant crew are given a new assignment. Using a stolen Jem’Hadar attack ship, the Defiant crew will enter Dominion space to destroy a Ketracel white facility!

One of the real hallmarks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has to be how well the show fits together. At the outset of the fifth season, there was an intense episode called “The Ship” (reviewed here!) where Sisko and his team hold the line the wreckage of a crashed Jem’Hadar ship. As my wife and I are finishing watching Star Trek: The Next Generation together, we have gotten into a somewhat amusing refrain which is, “And they never mentioned it again!” So many great ideas are brought up in Star Trek: The Next Generation that are never revisited. By the time “A Time To Stand” comes up in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine callbacks to prior episodes are to be expected. So, when the Jem’Hadar attack ship is revealed to Sisko, seasoned viewers of the show will appreciate where the vessel came from. “A Time To Stand” references “The Ship” in a single line without truly revealing the weight of that episode. Thus, the writers reward fans for sticking with the series as opposed to slowing down so everyone can catch up.

As well, “A Time To Stand” succeeds because there is a realistic amount of time granted to the premise and all of the characters are given something to do. So, for example, the StarFleet team trains aboard the Jem’Hadar ship for over a week trying to figure out all of the systems and get comfortable with them. This affords the opportunity for some wonderful comedy for Nog and Aron Eisenberg’s deliveries are wonderful. Similarly, when Sisko has a conversation with his father about Jake remaining on Deep Space Nine, the potentially oppressive episode garners a real smile from viewers. Despite a wonderful opening sequence where Garak delivers some amusing dialogue with Bashir, the fact that Garak assumes some responsibility on the undercover mission is a sign of development – and desperation for the StarFleet heroes!

On the character front, “A Time To Stand” certainly delivers. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has often presented characters who are edgier, troubled or conflicted. They are complex individuals and they do not always do the right thing, but they usually have a damn good reason for going against what is expected of them. In “A Time To Stand,” they are universally demoralized. Sisko looks exhausted, Bashir looks like he has not bathed in months and Dax and Worf are so on edge that when the Defiant and Rotarrn meet, their reunion is preoccupied with staving off an argument as opposed to genuinely embracing one another. On the station, Kira’s fearful declaration that it appears the Federation may be losing the war reverberates through the episode.

The least-affected character is Quark and his perspective allows writers Ira Steven Behr and Han Beimler to make an uncommon observation. The new occupation is comparatively not that bad and while Quark’s opinion may not be popular, it is hard to disprove and it is very much in Quark’s character to say! Armin Shimerman delivers the lines with a no-nonsense delivery that is amusing and perfectly in character. “A Time To Stand” has great supporting performances and it is an episode where Jeffrey Combs is allowed to establish a real rapport with Rene Auberjonois as Weyoun essentially prioritizes his allegiance to Odo over his relationship with Dukat. Marc Alaimo is wonderful, as always, as Dukat and Dukat’s smarmy attraction to Kira builds in a way that will (fortunately) lead to (unfortunately very creepy and) very real consequences later in the season.

“A Time To Stand” is a true ensemble piece and it paints the Deep Space Nine corner of the Star Trek universe as a complex and dangerous place. It is, therefore, no surprise at all that the episode is merely the first part in a longer arc. And with the way “A Time To Stand” goes out with a bang, there is a lot to encourage viewers to come back for the next episode!

[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 visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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