Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Final Arc Begins With “Penumbra,” Rocketing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Toward Its End!

The Good: Decent character work, Good acting, An engaging beginning
The Bad: A little light on plot.
The Basics: When Ezri goes searching for Worf and Sisko proposes to Kassidy Yates, a chain of events begins that will change the fate of the Alpha Quadrant!

I recall the sense of delight and dread with which I approached the final arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when it first aired. I was so excited, because the Dominion War story was so engaging and I was eager to see what would happen to all of my favorite characters. At the same time, I felt like I was losing a constant in my life and I was strangely distraught, a feeling that comes up as I begin the final arc again as I watched “Penumbra” for review.

“Penumbra” is, unabashedly, a first chapter in a nine-part story and, thus, is not intended to stand completely on its own. Even so, the episode has everything it needs to get the viewer engaged and it truly is a reward to the fans who have been watching the series for the prior six and a half years. As a result, those who have not seen the prior episodes in the series are likely to be somewhat lost as there are aspects that can only be truly appreciated by those who know the characters involved. That said, it was with a sense of delight that I sat down to watch (and now review) “Penumbra.”

After Benjamin Sisko buys land on Bajor, he informs Kassidy that he plans to retire to Bajor when he retires and he tells her that he wants her to be with him there, which pushes their relationship forward pretty abruptly. Elsewhere, Kira announces that the ship Worf was commanding has been lost near the Badlands and when the Defiant goes to search for it, Ezri is not invited along. The Dominion forces that initially scare off the Defiant are rerouted by Weyoun and the Vorta orders Damar to get a secure subspace console installed for the Female Shapeshifter, who is suffering now from the Changeling disease. Feeling guilty about Worf being abandoned, Ezri takes off on her own for the Badlands.

Ezri’s instincts at the Badlands are good and she actually finds Worf alive. En route back to the station, where Sisko has proposed to Kassidy, Ezri and Worf are attacked and while they manage to escape to an otherwise empty planet, neither brought an emergency communications terminal and the two realize they are stranded. As the Vorta desperately search for a cure for the Founders and Sisko plans his wedding, Dukat arrives on Cardassia to ask a favor of Damar, setting into motion a series of events that will change the face of the Quadrant!

“Penumbra” puts several important pieces on the storyboard and in some places, it does little more than establish the characters as participants in the final arc. Dukat’s arrival on Cardassia, for example, does little more than put the character in play and have him surgically altered to appear Bajoran. The significance of his action or of his continued influence over Damar does not become apparent until later in the arc.

One of the things that makes “Penumbra” so good is how it takes potentially canned ideas and makes them seem fresh. Ezri, most notably, does not seem like she is stuck in a rut or acting simply as a placeholder for Jadzia in “Penumbra.” When she stands looking at the quarters Jadzia and Worf shared and the voices go through her head, it is a surprisingly powerful scene for motivating the character and it works nicely for exactly that purpose. When Ezri defies Sisko, even in the ridiculous way she does it, it feels like Ezri is coming into her own and trying very hard to live up to her own internal desires and pressures. This makes Worf’s coldness to her when she rescues him all the more hurtful. This, however, works well both within the episode and in the longer arc.

The illness within the Great Link is presented in “Penumbra” as a clear and present danger to the Founders. No longer an abstract or a suspicion, the viewer sees the Female Shapeshifter actually suffering and the seeing her with even a hint of desperation is deeply unnerving. The usually commanding Female Shapeshifter orders the death of a whole generation of Vorta scientists simply to motivate the next generation and that type of wholesale slaughter is uncommon for the usually measured character.

At the same time as all the darkness is descending upon the Star Trek Deep Space Nine universe, there is a ray of light, making “Penumbra” enjoyable. As Sisko and Kassidy move to formalizing their relationship, the viewer is given the hint that the series is coming full circle (Sisko was still a pretty fresh widower when the series began) with Sisko moving toward marriage again. More than most of the episodes that have paired Benjamin and Kassidy, “Penumbra” actually gives Avery Brooks and Penny Johnson the latitude to illustrate some chemistry for their characters and it breathes life into the episode in a way that, for example, the chemistry between Nicole de Boer and Michael Dorn, does not.

“Penumbra,” appropriately, ends with a series of bangs and the rest of the final arc is impossible to discuss without revealing where this episode ends. As a result, if you are a fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine who has managed to get this far without the end of the series getting spoiled for you, I highly recommend stopping here. Pick up “Penumbra” and the other eight episodes that complete the series. Don’t read the analysis ahead of time, simply enjoy the experience of immersing yourself in watching this final arc for the first time; you only get to do that once!

[Knowing that the season is a much better investment, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which provides the full story for the conclusion to the series. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episodes, 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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