Saturday, December 31, 2011


Well, I thought we'd commemorate the end of 2011 (a year I will be exceedingly happy to throw in the bin, because God DAMN it sucked) and post #400 of our little miracle we call Witless Prattle by completing the circle on a somewhat infamous feature.

If you remember, back in the Prattle's first year of issue, I looked at The King of Fighters XII, which was the most recent--and the first HD-ready--installment in the now nearly twenty year old series.

It was a disaster, and I was not kind about saying so.

Essentially, what we got was a half-baked game that had some great-looking character animation, but had no storyline, no end boss, and half the moveset gone. My litany against this awful, awful, game was only one of many--pretty much everyone panned it, and it was such a failure, in fact, that talk was afoot that SNK would probably be finished.

Well, since today we're looking at the 13th installment, the answer is "obviously, they weren't." The even better news is this: The King of Fighters XIII is the return to form that XII should have been, and features pretty much everything that was missing from that misbegotten mess.

This is good and bad, but we'll get to that in a little bit. The storyline picks up from XI again as effete antihero Ash Crimson finally pays off his ongoing master plan, which, I'm not going to lie, started out being overly baroque and ends in the most "wait, what?" way possible and a lot of things get explained and yet don't. I'm being intentionally vague, but even if I explained it in detail it would still make your head explode.

If this seems like an awful lot of tortured plot for a game which involves people beating the crap out of other people, let me remind you that previous storylines involved clones and satellites blowing up cities and millennia-old Japanese mythology. This is just about par for the course.

Gameplay-wise, things are back where they should be, featuring the usual teams of 3 vs. teams of 3 combat and an insanely cheap boss at the end, as is the custom with SNK games. To round out the package, there is a massively increased roster with a substantial increase in moveset (supplemented by 3 DLC characters who act as enhanced alternate versions of three of the cast members) two unlockable characters, and several different play modes.

It's not all sunshine and roses, however. The online is god-awful, despite the legion of killjoys online who will try to make it out to be your fault for not having a wired connection and playing with a joystick The Way God Intended. Fortunately, Atlus is on the case and an online patch is on the way to deal with the crippling lag which is a problem because . . .

KOF XIII has the strictest damn inputs for special moves I have ever seen. And given the depth of the combat system this time and how dependent it is on cancelling moves into other moves and all that, and since online is such a major part of the fighting game scene nowadays, it's kind of a major flaw.

(Then again, one might say that overly byzantine combo and combat systems, coupled with strict inputs and a rather unforgiving learning curve is what ensures your fighting game falls more on the Street Fighter 3 Third Strike--which demands a certain investment of time and is not for everyone--end of the scale, rather than the more accessible Street Fighter II, which pretty much anyone could pick up and play. I'm not saying that one or the other is good or bad, I'm just saying this is what the split between depth and accessibility looks like)

But the general underpinnings of it are sound (and they are making some headway to working on the problems, which is more than we ever got for KOF XII) and I've had more fun with this game than I have an game in a few months (though Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 was still the winner of the year) and over and above all that it's great to be able to have one of these end on a high note, so let me bottom line this by saying that the sins of the past are put to rest, and I have plenty of hope for King of Fighters XIV. This game is well worth your time.

Monday, December 12, 2011


(Beginning a new feature that will hopefully expand the scope of the Prattle, provide some content and has nothing to do at all with the fact that I haven't had any comics to talk about in a fortnight or so, here we take a look at my other big obsession--80's cartoons)

So, back in the early-to-mid 80's, thanks to a loosening of advertising guidelines with respect to children's television, it became OK to create cartoons based on toy lines whose sole purpose was to show off the toys with only the merest skein of a story to hold the whole thing together. This coincided with the rise of syndication as a major force in filling program hours (this would ultimately be killed dead by the infomercial at the end of the decade, but that's another rant altogether) The upshot was--there were more independent stations (typically UHF) and they needed airtime filled, and these were a good investment, as kids tuned in every day and pestered their parents for what they saw, and kids, being creatures of habit around the age of 10, would set aside hours of their live to circle round the TV and watch the damn things.

I speak from experience.

Now, for a successful cartoon back then, you needed a couple things. The first was a toy deal--whether the toy company instigated it or would back you with one later on is immaterial. The second was, you needed 65 episodes for a single season (Think about that--cartoons now are lucky if they have 65 episodes in their entire run) or enough to run an episode a day for five days of the working week for three months time.

So, when you get right down to it, mass production is really the goal here more than artistic expression. It's nice if it happens and the people are involved enough and care enough to raise it over and above the level of a toy ad, but in general the main goal is to full 65 half-hours and sell that bastard across the country. Then, if all goes well, you come back and do 65 more.

There are a number of ways to do it. Robotech squeezed three anime series together and sanded off the rough edges as much as they were able to make it a generational saga. Voltron did the same with two other anime series (though really everyone only knows the first one) Transformers did a 13-episode first season, and made up the difference with the second, G.I. Joe did three five-day miniseries before they rolled out the other 50 episodes in its first season.

Now, the point of this discursive blather is to set up a problem--generally, whatever your storytelling engine, sixty-five episodes of it is a fucking awful lot to do. Imagine watching the Coyote chase the Road-Runner every day for three months and see how long it takes you to get sick of it. Even the best shows can get numbing after awhile--how many times can you watch He-Man punch Skeletor, or Mumm-Ra get his ass kicked by furries (or heaven help us, Berbils) before the episode is a foregone conclusion?

Which finally, however many hundred words I've written thus far, to the subject of today's little rant: The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, a show you've never heard of, but should definitely check out, as it's an interesting little curio that generally managed to stay fresh through its only 65-episode season.

It also has one of the most badass intros of all time:

(Yes, you were just dropkicked in the face by the 1980s. Take it and like it.)

The folks behind Galaxy Rangers came to the table with a number of influences in their heads--Thunderbirds, X-Men, anime (especially Space Adventure Cobra) The Velvet Underground (no really!) and Westerns (obviously) and decide they were going to smoosh all that together into a tasty melange which manages to be traditional and offbeat and pretty awesome.

The general plot is more of a skeleton for the various sub-stories to run through, but here we go: After mankind has it's first contact with friendly aliens who give them hyperdrive technology, mankind starts its early colonisation efforts, which are fairly on-the-nose references to the Old West. However, as mankind makes its way to the stars, a crumbling but still powerful interstellar empire, the Crown, is still a force to be reckoned with.

From here, the plot vectors off in several directions, each of them a storytelling opportunity. Sometimes (merficully rare) episodes would involve a range war between colonists, or problems with aliens or colonisation tech gone amuck, Or the Rangers would run up against one of the minor gangs that plagued the colonies--the Black Hole Gang, Captain Kidd, and the awesomely named, yet sadly underused, Daisy O'Mega.

But the two main threads were directly tied to two of the Rangers, and it's past time we got to know them, so let's ROLL CALL this!

ZACHARY FOXX--The leader of the group, Foxx is tied most directly to the threat of the Crown Empire, as in the opening episode, his wife is kidnapped by the Empire and turned into a Psychocrystal (The leader of the Empire, the Queen of the Crown, creates Psychocrystal to power her Slaverlords, who enforce her will across the galaxy. Humans seem to make the most awesome psychocrystals) To get her back, Foxx gets cyborged and can turn his hand into a cannon. He's also played by Jerry Orbach who was on Law and Order forever. I would like to think these two things are related, but can't really finesse a reason why they would be.

NIKO--The Token Psychic Girl who's not a Token Psychic girl, Niko gets to kick ass with the boys and thankfully avoids being constantly kidnapped or a useless shrinking violet through most of the run of the show. Niko's psychic power is enhanced with the strength of her bionics (all the Rangers are cyborgs) but even if she didn't have that, her tendency to jumpkick people in the face or draw on them with the Ranger equivalent of a sawed off double-barrel shotgun. Niko is pretty damn hardcore, is what I'm saying.

SHANE GOOSEMAN--Man, the Goose, despite having a ridiculous name, ended up being the breakout character on this show. Gooseman is a Supertrooper, a pre-Rangers attempt by Earth's military to create super-soldiers. This went wrong, as they so often do, and in trying to juice them up, they created a bunch of super-powered psychotics, all except for Goose, who is the only stable one. Goose's bionics give him the power of reactive adaptation--whatever he needs to do to protect himself, his body will automatically adapt to protect himself. As a condition of his duty as a Ranger, Goose is also charged with hunting down the other renegade Supertroopers, which is our other long-running subplot through the show's run. Goose is also Clint Eastwood, more or less (mostly more) and is utterly badass. If you meet one of the ten people who remember this show, there is a better than average chance, 80% will say Goose was their favourite character.

DOC HARTFORD--Doc is the plucky comic relief of the group, and he sadly gets the least character development out of our little quartet. That said he's always quick with a joke (and his humour doesn't feel all that forced), never portrayed as less than competent, and actually has a pretty interesting skillset. Doc essentially has a Six Demon Bag of computer programs which can infiltrate and take over any computer system. Even better, said Six Demon Bag is shaped like a whiskey flask, which is all kinds of awesome. Despite getting the short end of the stick when it comes to character development, he's still just as cool as all the other guys.

I'm leaving out the rest of the extended cast or I'd be here all day. Wikipedia has a partial listing of them here (though they sadly omit Daisy O'Mega), and even the show's creators on the DVD commentary joke that they would gleefully add 5 10 characters per episode and think nothing of it--whatever broadened the scope of the show and gave them liberty to explore in later episodes was fine with them. Whatever else you can say about Galaxy Rangers or how well it aged, it one cannot fault for ambition.

So, uh, why is it mostly a footnote now? Well, it had a couple strikes against it--one, they couldn't quite balance their toy deal with their syndication clearance, it had the handicap of debuting simultaneous with two other space Westerns, the seriously cool Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs and the utterly wretched excuse for a cartoon that was Bravestarr (Seriously, I have seen few shows as utterly despondently terrible as fucking Bravestarr). But their main problem (and they're pretty up-front about this on the DVD) was that the show was successful in the wrong demographic--older and college kids loved it (especially in Europe), but as demographics didn't really make allowances for more grown-up kids digging cartoons at the time so while it completed its initial order, it wasn't brought back for a second series, although there was plenty of storytelling gas in the tank.

The entire series is available on DVD (and has been marked down in price quite a bit as well) and its well worth a look, as it presages quite a few things that would become more common practice (more obvious anime influences, arc stories, a little more maturity in characterisation, etc.) and pretty much did Firefly before Firefly was a thing. It's well worth your time!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Witless Prattle Chronicles of THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES

So, as I cast about for things to write about now that the Deep Space Nine reviews aren't around to give this stuff some kind of structure, wouldn't you know it, my sister lend me both DVD collections of Termintor: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which was good in that I was rather keen to watch the whole thing (having frequently missed episodes here and there when was actually on the air) and I was even more grateful when I realised this was a rich vein to mine, as I could turn this into a blog post.

This then, is the resultant post.

Despite the best efforts of people making Terminator movies in this new century (and Kyle Reese inadvertently cock-blocking me that one time, in a story I will never tell you, but invite you to speculate about to your heart's content) I am a fan of the Terminator franchise . . .er, the first couple of movies, anyhow. Then came Terminator 3, which made me sad in that it managed to undo Terminator 2, more or less and did so rather lazily ("Wait at Crystal Peak" was all John Connor had to do? Really? A fucking shut-in with a ham radio could have managed that) and I haven't seen Terminator Salvation yet, because it's buried in my Netflix queue somewhere and Batman leading the war against the machines feels a little like a foregone conclusion, somehow.

So when a TV series was mooted, I was a little skeptical. Oh it could work--a long, open-ended chase structure has worked like gangbusters in the past: The Fugitive and The Incredible Hulk come to mind--but the most recent thing we'd seen from the franchise was Terminator 3 and . . .man, it was just so goddamn disappointing, wasn't it, and one wondered if the people who hold the reins on the Terminator franchise (God knows who they are, given that the rights issues for the Terminator derailed an attempt at a fifth movie recently. For all you or I know, we actually might own the rights for the Terminator franchise right now. We can't know for sure) would put their best foot forward.

Well, fortunately for me, they did. The first season of Terminator (I am not typing out "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" anymore, as that subtitle makes it seem about when she was 12 and vacationed in Nantucket and was all boy-crazy.) is actually pretty awesome, as it keeps the focused energy and stripped-down approach of the first and second movies--the good guys are being chased, and are on the defensive even though the mission statement of the TV show is that they're tired of running. It's a good enough concept . . .

. . .for the small handful of episodes that comprised the first season. It goes a bit like this: Sarah and John are saved by River Tam from Firefly who is a Terminator and has a time machine which allows them to jump from 1999 to 2007 and do what I did--namely, skip the third movie. From there, they decide to focus on eliminating the threat of Skynet rather than just running from the Terminators over and over again, and given how amorphous that threat turns out to be (Skynet is a chess program! No, wait it's this thing!) that's a broad enough goal to hang a TV series on.

The first season is pretty tight and there's not a lot of flab to be had--there's one recurring nemesis in Cromartie, the Terminator who ends up looking a hell of a lot like the guy who shot Wild Bill Hickock, a goal to track down The Turk, a chess program which is fated to become Skynet, and John and River Tam adjusting to life in high school, which River Tam adjusts to about as well as expected.

And then season 2 happens and it all goes a bit wrong. I'd like to think it's a fault of ambition more than anything, as Lost and Battlestar Galactica were busy making named for themselves at the same time Terminator is going on and that made it OK for shows of this genre to have lots of dangling plot threads, incoherent storytelling, and muddled questions with what turn out to be painfully boring answers, and a complete and utter lack of focus from what was pretty damn focused only a season before. And really, something with the name "Terminator" on it, shouldn't feel like it's spinning its wheels this much.

The second season stresses credulity and patience on so many fronts things ultimately break down. For one thing--who in the future doesn't have a fucking time machine? Seriously, half the population of Greater Los Angeles seems to be future refugees or Terminators. Jesse is perhaps the least convincing future solider ever minted, and her plot to keep John away from River Tam with Riley's Boobs (and to a lesser extent, Riley herself--I know this sounds salacious, but honestly . . .her boobs really are everywhere) would have some credibility if 1) we got some sense of the downside of John chilling with River Tam 2) Riley and Jesse weren't both lightweights and 3) It has a resolution that in any way justified the amount of time spent on it (SPOILER: it doesn't)

More than that, there's Sarah going nts and having visions (or maybe she isn't! HOLY SHIT WHAT SYMBOLISM) we've got the T-1000 who runs her own company who's doing . . .something, and for a large part that something seems to be playing with Bionicles and talking about Jesus, and everyone's just kinda hanging out in search of a direction.

And then with about two episodes to go, we get one, and for all the shit I have slung at the second season, I gotta say . . .I really do like the ending, as it manages to be something of a head-fuck, but in such a way that feels like a Terminator head-fuck would be rather than the whole nonsense with the dream sequences and three dots and all we'd slogged through previously.

Despite the wrongness of the second season generally, I found I still liked the show, and decided that the problems with the second season stemmed generally from the fact that they weren't really sure they'd have a second season after the first one, and they'd fallen in with a bad crowd (I very much hope we're done with the BSG era "whatever seems like a good idea at the time run with it and also talk about God some more" style plotting, because I am beyond done with that bullshit) but was a far surer way forward than damn near anything else the Terminator franchise has rolled out here since the second movie . . .

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Just Sayin'--More Delayed New 52 Zaniness

Checking in with some quick thoughts about the latest comics I got in the mail:

JUSTICE LEAGUE #2 and #3--Well, it's a bit less generic than before, but I'm not sure tying the various bits of DC continuity back to the Fourth World is such a great thing--it smacks a bit too much of the Ultimate Marvel continuity, which apparently blamed everything from mutants to the recurrence of gout on the Super-Solider serum.

That said, Wonder Woman wandering around DC with a sword asking if anyone has seen a harpy was a pretty cool bit.

BATWOMAN #3--The pause in my month that refreshes. The thrust of this issue is less the mystery of the Weeping Woman and more the pressure than Chase is exerting with her investigation. While it seemed like it was going to mess things up between Maggie and Kate last issue, the aftermath of Batwoman's first direct conflict with the DEO and the Weeping Woman ends up bringing them close together--that scene between the two of them was rather sweet, and I like the little formalist touch of the panels aligning as Kate changes out of her Batwoman outfit contrasted with Bette changing into her Flamebird suit.

That said . . .Flamebird is problematic, and despite the best efforts of all concerned to make her seem like she belongs in the, book, the whole deal feels like a hangover from the pre-Crisis Batwoman which is stuck on this book like a barnacle because everything that ever happened is important even when it's not, and I like Batwoman so much better when it's not being part of the trends that have all but eradicated my love of comics.

I'm willing to give them time to justify her inclusion, but for now . . .it's not really working for me, apart from giving JH Williams III the opportunity to do an awesome triple-scene final page with Kate and Maggie's scene flowing into the Weeping Woman's appearance and Flamebird going on patrol for the first time.

I'm still on board with this one--even if the story was utter dross, the art is beautiful and has some amazing formal touches to it. Looking forward to the final parts of this story.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just Sayin'--And now, some Shameless Boasting

Like everyone with a Blogger account, the occasional long silences between me writing about stuff, has occasioned me to visit my Stats tab and wonder if there is, in fact, anyone out there.

If you've never been, I encourage you to go, because it will be something of a revelation. Because I have found, without fail, that the two things that draw people like a magnet or things that a magnet might attract are "power girls tits" (no surprise there--I think if ever I want to game the system and up traffic, I'm gonna just start going back and randomly inserting synonyms for boobies into all the old posts) and "Best Dinosaur Comics," referring to this early post I wrote about how awesome Dinosaur Comics is.

This intrigues me on many levels because

1) This means there are a hell of a lot of Dinosaur Comics fans out there

2) They read my blog.

3) Ok, just that one post.

4) But they read it, like, a lot. Every week it's the top hitter, near about.

I would like to think, then, that upon getting a signed copy of the newest Dinosaur Comics collection "Everyone Knows Failure Is Just Success Rounded Down" (which I highly encourage you to buy immediately, if not sooner. It's an awesome book which will make you a better person) that the following was included as gratitude for my service in spreading the word about Dinosaur Comics' awesomeness:

But nahh, it's just coincidence (and money. I think I would now like to be famous enough to where people will pay me to write their name). Still, it was nice to see this pop up in my mailbox. Dinosaurs in funny hats bolstering your self-esteem is a panacea that soothes the soul in ways Bob Seger could never hope to approach.

Just wanted to share and find a way to undercut my own attempt at self-aggrandizement at the same time!

PS: No, there is zero chance that I will ever get anything from Power Girl or anyone connected with Power Girl and then have to diplomatically talk about it in a blog post without saying "tits" the whole time. And you and I are both very happy about that never happening, trust me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #46

I was going to open this one with some obscure reference that no one would catch, but I figured the smartest thing to do would just be to get into it, and not drone on at length for a little until I'm 1,000 words in before I talk about the episode.

Yes, here we are at last, the absolutely last installment of our review of every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Today we look at the series finale. Who will live? Who will die? Who will move away? Perhaps we should find out now!

"Four hundred years ago, a victorious general spoke the following words at the end of another costly war: 'Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended... we have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no going back."

The finale is a bit odd, because it's essentially split in two. The first hour deals with the final battle of the Dominion War, and the second hour tries valiantly to be about Our Heroes splitting up and heading on and also Sisko and Dukat's final reckoning. The problem is that the second half doesn't feel quite as strong after finishing up with the Dominion, which--despite higher-ups irritations with the storyline--had drawn in so much of the storytelling energy of the show for so long that anything coming after it would be a bit of a letdown.

So Sisko and Co. saddle up to fight the Dominion while Damar, Kira, and Garak are in Mila's basement, trying on the whole resistance thing. Meanwhile, Dukat's got his sight back, and he and Kai Ratched go off to the fire caves (finally) and walk around while all the important shit's going on.

Thankfully, two of these things converge. Damar's civilian resistance works a bit better than his military one seems to, at least at first, because he's convinced the Cardassians to stop working and ultimately paralyse the Dominion's ability to communicate with its spacefleet which is engaging Our Heroes at the moment.

However, Big Momma is not taking any more shit from the fucking Cardassians any more and orders an entire city annihilated. That's pretty scary. However, the Dominion makes a slight mistake by broadcasting the "hey we took out your fucking city and every time you act up, we're going to kill another one" message to other Cardassians, which leads to them gunning down the Jem'Hadar assigned to kill Kira and co and more importantly for the Cardassians in the fleet to switch sides and join our heroes in kicking the holy shit out of the Jem'Hadar.

But just to show you how abusive and destructive the Cardassian/Dominion relationship is, the Dominion ups the stakes by killing the Cardassians. I mean every fucking one of them. Never mind that there's a bit space war going on Big Momma is so tired of this shit that the only thing that can scratch her itch is genocide.

There's a subtle touch here, which is carried over the first part of the finale--with the end of the war in sight, Garak is allowing himself to think about his exile being over. After all, he's back home finally . . .which makes his grief and rage at watching the Dominion scouring his home (literally and figuratively) He lost his lfe before thanks to exile, now it's being destroyed in front of him bit by bit.

Damar is killed in the final assault on the Dominion's bunker, and Garak gains a measure of revenge for what's been done to his world by killing Weyoun (once again, Garak Does Not Know What "Stun" Means) and as Damar had destroyed the Vorta cloning facilities, this means that was it for Weyoun (not sure why that would be, really--isn't there a clone bank in the Gamma Quadrant?)

The fleet finally drives the Dominion right back to the Cardassian homeworld. It's all over but the shouting now, but Big Momma is still feeling bitchy and spiteful, and orders the Breen and the Jem'Hadar to fight to the last man, reasoning that Our Heroes might well win, but it will be so awful and so bloody that it won't feel like much of a victory.

For all her bloody-mindedness, at least we're given a window as to why--Big Momma feels like any weakness would be an indication for Our Heroes to bring the war into the Gamma Quadrant and destroy the Great Link (which is in no condition to resist anyone, now) But thankfully Odo rode along and assures her that the Federation won't let its allies strike at the Link, and thanks to some magic firefly butt communication, she is cured and orders her forces to stand down. The war is over.

Remember that prophecy that Big Momma gave to Garak back in "Broken Link" at the end of the 4th season, when she said Cardassia was dead and the Cardassians were doomed from the moment they attacked the Founders? That has finally come home to roost, awfully and irrevocably so: Cardassia is a wasteland, and the numbers of dead (and that isn't including the ones killed in the war) is eight hundred million at least.

Martok, Admiral Ross and Sisko try to make good on their promise to drink bloodwine in the halls of Caradassian Central Command, but Sisko and Ross are way too appalled by the loss of life to be able to drink. Big Momma was right--victory doesn't feel like much of a triumph under these circumstances. Martok is all like, "what the hell, these are Cardassians. If you were Bajoran you would have said these bastards finally got what was coming to them (they're actually worse off than Bajor was at the beginning of the series, now that I think) I really like this scene and the one that follows, because it has the classic DS9 nuance that had been a little thin before the final episodes. Yes, the Cardassians were fascist dickheads who nearly allowed the Dominion to overrun the Alpha Quadrant, but we've known enough good Cardassians (and people like Damar, who were evil but had their eyes opened) to know that scorching the Earth and nearly wiping them all out may not be commensurate punishment.

That ambivalence carries through to a scene with Garak and Bashir, in what is easily the best scene in the finale survey the casualty reports and have the following exchange, worth quoting in full:

"I know things must look bleak for you, Garak . . ."

"Some would say we got exactly what we deserved. After all, we are not completely innocent, are we? And I'm not just referring to the occupation of Bajor. Our history is filled with arrogant aggression. We collaborated with Dominion, betrayed the entire Alpha Quadrant--we're guilty as charged."

"We both know the Cardassians are a strong people. They'll survive. Cardassia will survive . . ."

"Oh please, doctor, spare me your insufferable Federation optimism! Of course it'll survive. But not the Cardassia I knew! We had a rich and ancient culture--Ourliterature, music and art was second to none. And now so much of it is lost. So many of our best people . . .our most gifted minds . . ."

"I'm sorry Garak. I didn't mean . . ."

"It's quite all right, Doctor. You've been such a good friend. I'm going to miss our lunches together."

"I'm sure we'll see each other again."

"I'd like to think so, but one can never say. We live . . .in uncertain times."

The episode never really hits those heights again, sadly. This part of the episode finishes with the signing of a peace treaty between the Dominion and Our Heroes and Big Momma is taken away to stand trial for her crimes, telling Odo it's up to him now. Odo has volunteered to go to the Great Link, heal his people, and also teach them not to fear the solids. This means, of course, that this is goodbye.

O'Brien is going back to Earth with his wife to teach at Starfleet Academy, Worf has been named the Federation Ambassador to the Klingons (which you can tell Martok is looking at him as payback for getting him kicked to the top of the heap, heh.) and Odo's going on as well. They gather for one last time at Vic's, and damn it, I have to admit, whether due to my own sentimentality or not, the scene where Vic sings "The Way You Look Tonight" is pretty effective, especially as it's the exact break point where everyone moves on . . .

. . .oh and Sisko gets called away to finally fight Dukat in the fire caves. Yes, the Prophets have no concept of time at all, really, as they let this get so bad that he's right on the point of victory when they finally page Sisko . . .

But before that, let me back up and bring you up to speed with this plot: Dukat and Kai Ratched walked around the caves and bickered a lot. Then they found the place in the fire caves they were looking for, Ratched babbled some mystical bullshit and everything caught on fire, then she poisoned Dukat as a sacrifice to the Pah-Wraiths. The Pah-Wraiths then resurrected Dukat (as a Cardassian again) with the goofy red contacts and +10 ker-AZYness so he can rant at length to Kai Ratched.

Then Sisko shows up, and after a lot of stuff I don't care about and is frankly beneath this episode, figures out that he has to destroy the book of the Kosst-Amojan and tumbles into the fire with Dukat. Only he gets rescued by Deus Ex Machina--literally, in this case--and becomes a Prophet.

This is kind of stupid. If the Prophets could body-jack a living being and reverse-engineer Sisko as their Emissary, you're telling me they couldn't body-jack someone else and just destroy the fucking book before things got to a crisis? And why a book for heaven's sakes? Are you telling me omnipotent beings who can create their own wormhole and exist without time are afraid of a few bits of wood pulp and binding? The Orbs I could see as being important--they were objects of obvious power. The book was . . .well, a book, and really had no special powers except as how the plot demanded.

So Sisko appears to Kassidy in Prophet-land and tells her he's going to go learn with the Prophets for awhile, but he'll be back someday, just like Frosty the Snowman. What makes it even worse is that he tells Kassidy, and not Jake, who functioned as his lifeline after he lost his wife and we've already seen the effect losing him will have on Jake in "The Visitor." The episode obviously intends you to think in that direction because the leitmotif from "The Visitor" is played in a couple times, so I'm not really sure why this isn't played up more. Yes Kassidy's pregnant, but it's . . .well, a bit abstract. Jake we've seen grow up for seven years and we have a meaningful connection to him as viewers--indeed, when the show was pitched in the first place, the Jake/Sisko relationship was seen as one of the core elements driving the show, and to not take advantage of that seems as much of a shame as all the silly buggers with that stupid book that wanted to be sufficiently epic and . . .wasn't.

I'm told one of the mooted endings for Deep Space Nine would have been Benny Russell finally getting his Deep Space Nine story done as TV series, but the powers that be worried that that might have had some unusual ripple effects--all of Star Trek would have come from Benny Russell pro and retroactively, not unlike when Tommy Westphall saw St. Eligus in that snow globe, I reckon. It woulda been kinda cool--of all DS9's stories, poor Benny's deserved a happy ending, especially given the last time we saw him, and the idea of checking out on a massive head-fuck like that (especially given Voyager and Enterprise's series finales and how safely they played it) It's a real missed opportunity.

Anyways, things finish off with everyone saying goodbye. Odo heals the great link, Kira's in charge of the station, Nog got promoted to Lieutenant (and good for him!) Ezri and Bashir are going out, and life goes on. But (and I think this comes out as more gloomier in light of the lack of closure between Jake and his father) the show finishes on a shot of Jake and Kira watching the wormhole open, looking for his father. It is the bloody Visitor all over again, innit?

It's odd, because Next Generation's finale ends on a very upbeat note. The eternally distant captain walks into the crew's poker game and says he should have done this years ago and they tell him he was always welcome. The message in that finale underlines that of the show's--we are stronger together than we are apart, and we have places and people to whom we belong, even if we don't always know it. But we can take a chance and if all works out, then we're welcomed in a place we always were and never knew.

What then, is the final message of Deep Space Nine? Is it that everyone leaves? Is it that goodbyes are never easy to say? Is that you can dream of going home again but you ultimately do in a way you could never even imagine? Perhaps it's that every time you say goodbye you leave a piece of you someplace or with someone. Sisko says as much during the final party--wherever they go, part of them will always remain there, as everyone you've ever met lives on in memories. But that knowledge sometimes isn't enough to dull the pain of saying goodbye, and sometimes all you find yourself doing is waiting for them to come back, on the slim chance they may return someday.

And so things end on a kind of down note (at best ambivalent) for Deep Space Nine. Kind of appropos in a sense--it was always the odd child out so ending things oddly was probably an inevitable by-product of its life as a TV show. While there were plenty of times (especially in the last season) the show dropped the ball, and sometimes they zigged when they should have zagged, it stayed generally strong and true and we will probably never see its like again. And good thing . . .as it's better to blaze new trails than retrace the footsteps of the past (that's what DS9 was intended to be--a complete inversion of the Star Trek formula) While for Star Trek things ultimately returned back to the formula, we had the interesting little spin on it for awhile, and "awhile" is far better than "not at all."

I hope as we've gone on with these, you've seen and can appreciate what a strong series it was, and how it blazed its own trail. I always enjoy revisiting it, and I always have good things to say about it, and it was quite fun to analyze it in detail for this entire run. I think you for both your patience, your indulgence, and your endurance if you made it this far. I hope you found something in this exercise and will follow along for the next one, whatever that might be.

Got a couple thank-yous on the way out--Thanks to the illustrious Diana Kingston-Gabai, who sparked the idea for me to do this and read with keen interest all the way through, Chris Elam for his continued support (even though there were probably oodles of times he was utterly mystified as to what I was talking about) and one last goodbye to Kati--absent now, but in memory still bright.

And to everyone who read and followed this, thanks for following along with me. I never know how many of you are there or found it, but I am grateful for every time you stopped by and read one of these.

Thanks guys! I'll see you next year for whatever y'all decide I should do next for The Whole Damn Thing.

. . .I suppose I should probably get going on that, shouldn't I?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #45

4 a.m., we ran the miracle mile. We're flat broke, but hey we do it in style, and we do it two more times as DS9 Weekend 2011 continues as we get one step closer to the grand finale of our now not-so-never-ending coverage of every single damn episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we finish up the regular episodes and reach the penultimate point in our saga . . .

The problem is we kinda do that 2 episodes before the final episode, which means we waste two more hours mostly dickering around in ill-considered and ultimately unimportant ways. However, we have one supremely awesome episode to carry us through, perhaps the last perfect episode of DS9 from start to finish.

Let's roll onwards!

"You need a lesson in humility. And I'm going to make sure you get it."

OK, so yesterday we left off with things in a really bad way. The Dominion had kicked the Federation out of the Chin'Toka system, depriving them of their only foothold thanks to the Breen's energy draining ray they used to destroy the Defiant. Dukat and Winn's satan-worshiping bullshit now has a body count and the only good thing that happened was Damar finally rose to his moment and instigated a rebellion against the Dominion.

We open with a little good news--apparently Klingon ships aren't as vulnerable to The Breen weapon, which seems like it would be good news and I suppose it is in the sense that not everyone will be taking the week off from the whole war thing, but bad in a sense that maybe the unstable government full of suicidal warrior yahoos may not necessarily be the best foot to put forward.

But all is not lost, as Our Heroes decide to help out Damar and his resistance movement. This leads to Odo, Garak and Kira going to train Damar at being better terrorists, and even Sisko recognises the irony at work here. In the name of not undermining Damar's authority, Kira gets a Starfleet commission (though I'm not sure Colonel=Commander, but whatever) which is a nice subtle touch--Sisko started out as a Commander, after all, Kira had nothing but contempt for Starfleet and for her to be willing to wear the uniform certain indicates some changes have occurred lo these many years.

But it's easier said than done. When they get there, Rusot is determined to goad Kira into a fight at every opportunity and while Damar is quite willing to consider her new tactics (up to and including attacking their own people) he's not willing to rein Rusot and his toadies in when they try to stir shit up, which means the resistance movement is as much a danger to itself as to the Dominion.

Oh, and that virus that's killing the Changelings? Yeah, Odo has it too. When Bashir tries to get information to possibly cure him, he begins to suspect very strongly that Section 31 is behind the virus (or at the very least the cover-up) which is bad news . . .I know this because I've seen that episode and it's bloody dreadful.

Meanwhile, Kai Ratched and Dukat are playing tug of war with the book, as Dukat hangs around being all nosy and shit until he finally sneaks a peek at the book and the book fucking blinds him. When Ratched tells him it's punishment for his arrogance--because he didn't want to help her, he wanted to see if he could do it without her. In a great scene near the end of the episode, she tells him he's going to be taught a lesson, and throws him out in the street to live as a blind beggar. The levels of vindictive bitchery she reaches in this episode are quite amazing to behold.

And because things weren't tense enough . . .Gowron shows up to the station to honor Martok. Welll . . .that's a bit misleading. He actually plans to kick Martok upstairs and take over the war planning himself. This ultimately leads to Martok being sent on what are tantamount so suicide missions that he's almost certain to fail at in an effort to humiliate him in the eyes of the Klingons.

This episode is less a functioning entity on its own as much as it is the bridge between the last episode and the next which has so much pay off it feels like two hours crammed into one. Things get worse and the odds get stacked higher and higher against them and even things that should be good news (Hey, Damar's on our side! Hey, they Klingons can still fight!) prove to be thornier issues and aren't quite the rally you would expect them to be. Fortunately these payoffs come in the very next episode . . .

"They weren't a part of this rebellion. The Dominion knew that. The Founder knew that. Weyoun knew that. To kill her and my son... the casual brutality of it... the waste of life. What kind of state tolerates the murder of innocent women and children? What kind of people give those orders?"
"Yeah, Damar, what kind of people give those orders?"

If this episode has a theme, it's probably the one reflected in the quote above--what sort of duty to you have to yourself and to your government and whether that whole thing about "being the change you want to see in the world" is a real thing people can do (especially in societies that are as much a slave to duty as the Cardassians and the Klingons) and what kind of people come out the other end.

I should point out also that contained in this episode are Ezri and Worf's Finest Hour., and given how hard I've been on them the entire run of this series, this is saying something. We'll take that bit here in a second, but first . . .

I'm kind of questioning O'Brien's logic that if Section 31 developed the Changeling Virus, that automatically follows that they have a cure, but it's the wheels of the arc turning, and it's amazing that these small scenes inserted between the two major plots have more energy and emotional content than the next episode, which is devoted entirely to the last ride of O'Brien and Bashir. Bashir is the obsessive, monomaniacal guy we saw back in "The Quickening" who can't accept failure on a personal level, and gets so pissy he yells at O'Brien. O'Brien, to his credit, never gives up on Bashir and ultimately comes up with the angle that will draw Section 31 to them.

Meanwhile, Damar and company have decided the best way to help the Federation turn back the Dominion is to steal one of the Breen weapons (which are now being fitted onto all of the Dominion ships) Rusot gets all bitchy about this, because the intent should be to liberate Cardassia, not do any favours for the Federation and co. Damar points out that by helping Starfleet they help themselves, but Rusot is determined to be an asshole about it, which gets him beat up by Kira (who has now thrashed three Cardassians barehanded--one per season) and they're both pretty certain that one will kill the other.

Odo, meanwhile, isn't doing too well either--the virus is accelerating the more he changes shape, but he's determined to stay strong for Kira, partly because he loves her and that's what you do in in that situation, but also because he doesn't want her to pity him. Kira already knows how bad he is, and if him putting on a brave front for her makes this easier on him, she will pretend she doesn't know. I swear, the further they get away from Vic Fontaine, the more credible they are as a couple.

Meanwhile, Big Momma is determined to break the back of the Cardassian revolt, She orders that Cardassian civilians be posted in all facilities from here on in. If Damar blows them up, he'll be killing his own people, and a few hundred civilians as collateral damage ought to turn the people against him. This kind of monomania and overreaction will ultimately come back to bite the Dominion in the ass, but uh. . .we'll have to wait for that.

Oh, she also order's Damar's wife and son murdered. Damar is gutted, and wonders what kind of people can so casually murder people like that and Kira hits him right between the eyes, because she's been just as stunned at how people can do that. Damar's furious and very hurt and Kira immediately realises it was a stupid thing to say . . .

. . .but Garak catches her. Damar always hoped that with the Dominion gone, Cardassia could get back to its usual dickheaded ways as a suffocating totalitarian state and not have to fret over the kind of collective guilt Kira just nailed him with. Hell, at the beginning of the arc, he all but begged Dukat to become Cardassia's leader again, and Dukat told him it had to be him. Cardassia has to change, and for that to be a reality, Damar has to change also.

Naturally, these people being who they are, it all comes to a head when their scheme to steal a Breen weapon nearly collapses just about the time Odo does. Rusot freaks the fuck out and pulls a gun on Kira, which leads to Garak pulling a gun on Rusot and Damar pulling a gun and telling everyone to put their fucking guns down already.

Rusot tempts Damar with the notion of taking the weapon and fighting on themselves, as he and Dukat had during the Klingon attack. Again, the temptations of the past when there wasn't all this confusion, when Damar knew his place and things weren't going to change. He's got it all in his hands, and whether they go forward to a new Cardassia or fall apart chasing nostalgia is his choice . . .

. . .so he shoots Rusot, declaring: "He was my friend. But his Cardassia is dead. And it won't be coming back."

It's a nicely done scene which flares up into near-unbearable tension, then underplays the Big Decision by very quietly conveying the weight of what's happened. How amazing is it that this guy who was just Dukat's second in the fourth season has grown into this character who has his own affecting dramatic arc, huh?

Speaking of characters who grow into something amazing, let's check back in with the Klingons. Gowron is doing everything he can to break Martok's will, and Worf is doing everything to get Martok to challenge him for the leadership, and Martok is all like "Klingon, you crazy." For one thing, Martok doesn't play that way--he is a straight-ahead soldier and right or wrong, you don't try to shank the commander in chief. For another (and this calls back to "Once More Unto The Breach") he can't imagine anyone wanting to follow some common guy.

But something has to be done. Sisko all but orders Worf to take whatever measures necessary, but Worf is stuck. He can see Martok's point, but he knows this is wrong, and knows that so much is riding on this. So he asks Ezri, and this is Ezri's Finest Hour, right here.

Because Ezri doesn't have the romanticism that Curson and Jadzia did about the Klingons. She sees it as an empire that's dying, and what's more, deserves to die, because it's a society obsessed with honour, but perfectly willing to tolerate extreme corruption at its highest level. When Worf balks, Ezri drops some continuity on him and reminds him of all the compromises he's been party to and all the cover ups he knows about and asks him who was the last leader of the Empire he respected.

And there's not one.

There's no hope, Ezri hammers home, because if Worf--the most honourable person she knows (erm, that's probably gilding the lily a bit) will tolerate the status quo, what hope is there.

And this, then, is Worf's Finest Hour. Because what he does is something only he can do, because he's always been the outsider. Only this time, that is the key to his salvation and the salvation of his people.

Because Worf challenges Gowron and fucking ices him. Immediately, Martok is willing to declare Worf the new leader of the Empire and even gives him the badass coat and everything.

But Worf isn't the man for the job, and he knows it--Martok is, and Martok becomes the new head of the Empire. Holy shit is this scene awesome, y'all. In fact, the whole episode is awesome. Go watch it right now. It's like, "Duet"-level perfect.

Sadly, the final two regular episodes? Not so strong.

"What good do you think will come of this?"

Oh dear, I do not like this episode. Probably anything was going to be a comedown after the episode previous but this? ooh.

Some of the reason for this owes to behind the scenes stuff--they'd run out of money that wasn't allocated to the finale (which would still be loaded with stock footage) and do this had to be the "bottle show." Which uh, would have been better . . .well, I can't think of how this would have been better. It is one of many things that hurt this show, really, that so much of it is Bashir and O'Brien chasing Sloan through a bunch of very familiar corridor sets as they go through an "Inception" kind of plot on the cheap (about 10 years before "Inception" was a thing) But if that had been the only problem with this episode, I would have learned to live with it.

It's not though. For one thing, for an organisation that was able to suck Bashir into a hopelessly convoluted plot in "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" earlier in the season, Sloan is a fucking moron in this story, possessing none of the subtlety or shading that he had in his previous two appearances , and . . .not really doing anything, really.

Except they finally get the cure and cure Odo. That happened.

Oh, and the spine of this show, with people going into people's minds and not being sure they wake back up, you could fucking follow in your sleep--it is that wrote.

But what, I hear your say about the Bashir/O'Brien bonding moment? Uhm, if it's your thing, great. I don't really care. The relationship was great window dressing, but I never thought it was strong enough to hold its own episode without some sufficiently interesting outside pressure as in "Hippocratic Oath."

This is just . . .completely insubstantial. That said, in one line break I will be wishing I had this marshmallow fluff to complain about because . . .

"You never told me you had a secret mountain hideaway."
"I was going to surprise you."

. . .ohhhh SHIT y'all it is SO goddamned important in this arc that we get some closure on the Ferengi stuff, isn't it? ISN'T IT? And this episode will tempt me with several good scenes and interesting sub plots which are somehow not the main plot because at the end of everything, by golly let's jam one more Komedy Kavalcade with the Space Jews down my fucking throat, why don't you?

Deep breath. Focus on the positives first. You're almost done.

OK, so Our Heroes get a new Defiant-class ship, and I have to say, as silly as this damn scene is and how it undercuts the loss of the original Defiant a few episode back . . .I kinda like this scene, because it reminds me of the movie Beerfest, wherein they had the heretofore unknown twin brother of a character who just died--who acted exactly like the dead character--come in and insist that they act like he was his dead brother for all intents and purposes.

I love the absolutely bare-faced audacity of that. You pretty much can't get away with underlining how silly that cliche is except in the broadest of comedies.

I think that's what leads me to giggle at this scene, as the USS Sao Paolo, which is exactly like the Defiant except for the carpeting and Admiral Ross gives them special dispensation to call it the Defiant, which once again shafts Brazil (c'mon guys--was Xuxa really that bad?) and handily means they don't have to change any of the stock footage substantially now. All I can say is "wow."

Meanwhile, Damar's resistance movement gets wiped out by the Dominion, and, as so many people have done in our own country, he moves into the basement of Garak's . . .well, we're strongly led to beleive it's his mom Mila (who you may remember from "Improbable Cause," back in season 3) with Kira and Garak, convinced that as the last 3 survivors os the rebellion, they're pretty much fucked.

Only Damar's rebellion has become something else--it's now a popular movement, and his example is so strong that even when the Dominion smugly announce the rebellion's destruction, they don't beleive them, and in this, there's a way forward--Damar can take his case to the streets, and the Cardassian people will be his army.

Now, in the plot I nor any other right-thinking people should care anything about, Quark gets a garbled call from the Nagus, who he thinks has named him his successor. Wackiness abounds, but it's actually Rom who's the new Nagus.

There. I saved you 45 minutes.

There's a lot of chin wagging about how Rom will change the face of Ferengi society and drag it away from the unchecked capitalism of the good old days and Quark's not having that shit and uh, yeah, I have totally seen all of this before with various Ferengi characters in these roles (sometimes Quark is progressive, other times he's not) and this is the penultimate episode and I am just fucking empty.

If you care, Bashir and Ezri get together this episode. I would be more invested in this if their courtship hadn't made Ezri bickering with, then screwing, then bickering some more with Worf. But well, that's 11th hour ticking off plot checkboxes for you.

Speaking of that, let's deal with the final bits of set-up. The Dominion fall back to Cardassia, planning to fortify themselves for awhile and come back out ready to grind the Federation and co. to dust. But The Federation has decided to take the fight to the Dominion in one sustained final assault, and this one is for all the marbles.

After that weighty meeting, Sisko goes back to his quarters, wherein Kassidy drops the bombshell that she's pregnant. Oh-oh, remember how that worked out for Jadzia . . .

. . . but we're going to leave it there one more time. Join us tomorrow for . . .well, the end.

10 months, 2 weeks and 3 days come down to one extra-length two-hour episode and one last go-round. Join us one last time for "What You Leave Behind." See you then!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #44

Wake up kids, we've got the dreamer's disease, edge of fourteen, we got you down on your knees, so polite you're busy still saying please. "Oh, wait, it's not Saturday already is it," I hear you saying? That's when I'd been coming by here for your weekly recaps of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" Nope, it's not, but owing to extraordinary circumstances involving what we will euphemistically term "real life," I will be covering the final arc of DS9 in a weekend. As this is ten hours of programming done at what could probably be referred to as "lickety split," this will be . . .an interesting experiment in my endurance and patience vs that last stretch before the finish.

But I think it kinds works out, given what we're dealing with here. Because for the last stretch DS9 became a straight serial, telling one vast interconnected story that was supposed to tie up all the loose ends (supposed to--as you'll see, they succeed at some and fail and others) and bring all the character plus as many of the recurring characters as possible and do what they could draw a line under everything save the endgame of the war with the Dominion and Sisko's final destiny.

How'd they do? Let's find out now.

"That doesn't concern you."
"No, of course it doesn't"

Our story begins with Sisko telling Kassidy that he's purchased a few acres of bottom land on Bajor and he's planning to finally make good on the thing he said back in "Favor the Bold" last season about building a house on Bajor. There's a bit of ruminating about how things have changed for him and how he really didn't want to be there at first and now he can't think of living anywhere else, and while I can appreciate what the scene is trying to do, it feels every so slightly like Jadzia's sudden onset baby-craziness at the end of last season which so blatantly and obviously painted a bull's-eye on her. Not that I am implying anything about anything here.

Sisko decides to pop the question to Kassidy and she accepts, which sets plot 1 in motion . . .

Meanwhile, Worf has gotten himself lost behind enemy lines in an escape pod, and rather than send the Defiant, they decide to send Ezri along, who despite avoiding Worf ever since "Afterimage" now has a sudden craving to be The Other Dax and go rescue him. And what, pray tell, does she take into the war zone? That cool as gun she had that shot through walls last week? Hell no, she goes in a runabout, because we have to give Ezri something to do, even if it's stupid.

Plot 3 rolls in with Damar drinking himself stupid because being the Dominion's bitch is really wearing him out. Weyoun treats him only slightly better than a lackey and makes no secret about how Damar is cut out of all the big decisions. It's pissing him off, but he doesn't he feel he can really do anything about it. It isn't helped by the grim reality that the war has killed so many Cardassians that no one family on their homeworld hasn't lost someone to the war.

Not that the Dominion is having a great time either. Big Momma's looking quite desiccated as the changeling disease is doing its work. Weyoun tells her their research has reached an impasse, and in one of those wonderful scenes where you get a picture of exactly who you're dealing with, Big Momma tells Weyoun to have the scientist team killed, and have their clones reactivated, because it will provide "a fresh perspective."

Ezri somehow manages to rescue Worf because it's best that the two characters with the least two do get sent off for awhile. Worf expresses his gratitude by being an utter dickmonster to her, not helping when the Jem'Hadar force down the runabout, arguing some more, and then, in a scene that appalled me from the first time I saw the episode and continues to appall me even more now, they have sex, because even in 1999 that "kiss a woman hard until she likes it" was considered "passionate" and not "attempted rape" or shit like that. You can try to wave it off as "oh they're aliens," but there aren't any aliens writing this, are there?

Thankfully, the Breen (yes, the aliens we've seen exactly three times!) show up and tase them, which I can't say as I blame them for. More on them next episode.

Damar is awakened and meets with Dukat, who mercifully is a bit less ker-AZY than we've seen him in some time. Dukat is obviously concerned about his former second in command's dissipation, and their scenes together are really great, and Marc Alaimo plays Dukat with an amazing amount of subtley (I have not been able to say that . . .for a long time) and it plays off amazingly in the next episode. For now, Dukat asks Damar a favour--namely, he wants a good plastic surgeon to make him into a Bajoran. We'll find out more why later on.

Meanwhile, news about Sisko and Kassidy's wedding has gone out and it threatens to become the Bajoran equivalent of the wedding of the century. Or would be, except the Prophets show up (in the form of his robot-voiced mom) and tell him he can't do it because he has a Great Trial coming up (over-egging the pudding a little there, I would say) and if he does get married, he will know nothing but sorrow, and when you consider the last time Sisko waved off their advice his friend got killed . . .well, he's obviously concerned.

"Those days might be gone, but the man I served with isn't. He's still in there--reach in and grab hold of him, Damar. Cardassia needs a leader."

Kai Ratched drops by to tell Sisko that she's invited herself to perform his wedding ceremony, because that's just how she rolls. Sisko tells her all about the Prophets warning him off marriage, but all Ratched takes away is being all pissed off that the Prophets never talk to her, despite that she's Space Pope and all that.

Except! No sooner does she get out of Sisko's office than she has a fucking vision. On the surface, it looks miiiiighty Prophet-like, and gives her exactly the kind of message someone with her level of overweening narcisissim would want to get--only she can bring about the Restoration, and the Sisko has faltered and only she can prevent forest fires. For more details, she's told a guide will be along shortly and he will have "the wisdom of the land."

Meanwhile, Weyoun is playing his favourite game--Shit On Damar, by telling him to get his drunk ass cleaned up, they're going on a road trip. Weyoun spares a few words for Dukat, telling him his whole "dress up like a Bajoran for Casual Friday" is some bullshit and generally just makes Damar reach for another bottle, right in front of a mirror. Unable to look at himself, he turns away and takes a swig.

This leads to Dukat and Damar's goodbye, where Dukat kicks his former adjutant in the ass, tells him to put the fucking bottle down and be the leader Cardassia needs. Damar tries to push it back on Dukat, but now that he's got ker-AZY religion, Dukat isn't interested in that kind of power. He has a different (and incredibly silly) destiny. When what happens with Damar happens, please keep in mind that History's Greatest Villain made it possible, and lament the fact that it would mean a bit more had they not yanked all Dukat's shading last season.

So Sisko decides to call off the wedding, which pisses Kassidy off, until he decides "screw it, they already killed my best friend and Kassidy's only a guest star anyways" and they get married anyways. To the show's credit, Kira is absolutely morose at this, as he's very obviously going against the will of the Prophets and can't really find it in her heart to be festive about it.

Meanwhile, in some excruciatingly padded scenes, Worf and Ezri do the following: Talk, end up arguing, then the Breen come in, tase one or both of them, and drag them off. Then they cut to something else and then the same scene happens again, near-exactly.

Again, to their credit, they at least bring up the whole thing about reassociation that was supposed to be a big taboo in Trill society, but Ezri waves it off by saying that Worf's probably broken a few rules in his time as well which means . . .well, something, I'm sure. I tend to read it as the Trills not giving a shit about what Ezri does or doesn't do, just like everyone else.

This ultimately sours as Ezri keeps psychobabbling about her weird dreams and how she keeps fixating on Bashir, who she seems to have a thing for, though we really only got the merest hint of that before. But whatever. Worf handles this in his usual way, by ramping up his dickmonsterdom to 1.75 Shoggoths. Then the Breen come in and taze them.

Meanwhile, Dukat, masquerading as a Bajoran farmer named Anjohl, meets with Kai Ratched and ingratiates his way into an audience, then into her confidence, and then into her bed, and this may actually be the most messed-up part of the episode because, essentially, Space Hitler is banging the Space Pope. I don't really like to think about it.

Meanwhile, the nine dozen Worf and Ezri scenes finally reach some kind of point when they're beamed away to a Jem'Hadar where Weyoun and Damar are waiting. You see, the Breen are joining the Dominion, which again, would be news except this is only the fourth or so time they've been seen, and the building up of the Breen is going to be rather grating, as is the "Look! The Breen are on our side! Holy shit, right? DUN DUN DUNNNNNN!" ending . . .

"You know, Worf, I'm getting a little tired of your little Klingon aphorisms."

Big Momma shows up to meet with the Breen and welcome them to the exciting world of Amway--er, I mean, the Dominion. Ezri and Worf are sentenced to death, because those fucking arguing scenes last episode were just that irritating they easily rise to the level of a capital offense.

Damar, meanwhile, is a bit pissed off that the treaty with the Breen hands over quite a few Cardassian planets to the Breen, and Weyoun just tells him to sign the thing without worrying about the fine print. When the war's over, they'll have plenty of choice in terms of getting new planets to compensate him for this, but Damar sees it for what it is--Cardassia being thrown under the bus. Again.

This reaches a point which is very nearly Worf's Finest Hour--Damar tries to strongarm Ezri and Worf into cooperating with the Dominion and thus commuting their death sentence down to life imprisonment. When Weyoun teases Ezri that it would be too bad if she gets killed before she can tell Bashir how she feels about him, Worf up and snaps Weyoun's neck. That is, and I say this as someone who finds Worf generally annoying, pretty fucking hardcore.

To Damar this is the funniest thing in the world, and frankly, I can't say as I blame him.

Meanwhile, Space Pope and Space Hitler are enjoying -shudder- post-coital bliss when she has another vision and this time, she twigs that it's not the Prophets that are calling her--it's the Pah-Wraihs. She naturally freaks out about this, tries to consult with the Prophets, who won't speak to her--again (she claims it's because the Pah-Wraiths got to her first) and loses her shit even more when Dukat tells her he's a servant of the Pah-Wriaths as well. When she throws him out, he tells her to keep on graveling to gods who give her nothing in return.

So Ratched turns to Kira, who is very happy that she wants to change and is willing to do whatever it takes to change . . .except for exactly the one thing Kira suggests: give up her power as Kai. Well, there's no way in hell that's happening, obviously. It's actually a really good scene between her and Kira, actually, with Kira genuinely trying to get through to her and being incredibly disappointed when she walks back from the edge.

Meanwhile, Ezri and Worf bicker some more, and Ezri gets off a few good zingers at him. This finally leads . . .somewhere good, believe it or not, as both of them give a little and decide there's no way in hell they actually love each other and maybe the way to be is just very close friends. This is actually a wonderful scene, and it's done with subtlety and real thought and it makes you wonder if they could have got here eventually, then why in the hell did they have to do that really regrettable shit with Worf kissing her until she liked it, because. . .man, no.

Anyways, just when they're about to be executed, Worf and Ezri are saved by . . .Damar. He gives them a way out and tells them to tell the Federation they have an ally on Cardassia. This pays off a bit more in the next episode, and I have to say, Damar's slow groping way toward becoming a hero is one of the most successful things about this arc to me, and we're very close to when that launches into high gear.

But before we do that, we have to have another regrettable closer like we did at the end of the last episode, wherein Kai Ratched pledges herself to the Pah-Wriaths and makes one of the most face-palmingly ridiculous "I am evil now" speeches I have ever heard in my life. Anywas, she's all ready to do whatever evil shit they require, and as we'll find out in the next episode . . .the Pah-Wraiths want her . . .to use her library card . . .

"I believe he was quite fond of that ship."

OK, shit starts getting real right now. The Breen launch an assault on Earth which scares the shit out of everyone. Dukat and Winn hole up on Bajor and get the Text of the Kosst-Amojan (the bible of the Pah-Wraiths. Obviously when it comes to eeevil literature, Bajor is like Miskatonic University and shit) and are all ready to start unleashing some eeeevil on everyone, only oh wait--the pages are blank, so they get more books and try to work out how to make the words appear.

Meanwhile, Damar is plotting with his new aide Gul Rusot (who is played by the same dude who played Neroon on the other show, and is kind of his polar opposite. Nice touch that) and gathering together the first inklings of a resistance movement. Rusot doesn't think much of their chances, but Damar is convinced that people who are fighting for their homes and the sovereignty will ultimately triumph over people even the mightiest force.

I rather like that this story thread doesn't make the parallels too plain here (because yes, the Cardassians have essentially become the Bajorans) and is willing to let things play out in such a way as that they give the viewer credit that they've been paying attention. This will pay off a bit later on, for now, just know Damar has his shit together finally. So much so that Weyoun tries to give him shit about it and he brushes it off, mainly because Weyoun mistakes it as Damar finally getting his confidence in his Dominion masters back.

"You know me so well," Damar says, capping off a fucking awesome scene.

So, hey, you know how Dukat's arrogance usually proves his undoing? Yeah, it happens here too. Dukat slaps around Kai Ratched's assistant, who then has a sample of his DNA re-sequenced and discovers he's the father of--oh wait, sorry. Maury was on in the background--and tells Ratched that she's been fucking Space Hitler.

Ratched freaks out again, and it's kinda bad this time that she has a knife in her hand. Doubly so, when the monk who thought he was doing you a solid finds out you're in league with evil gods and is about to expose you. Fortunately, she stabs him with a knife and then throws some blood on the pages of the book and FOOF! now there's words on it.

Kinda sad that all that could have been averted by putting a sticker on the front of the book: "To see words, please shank acolyte and exsanguinate him on the pages."

In any event, it's just a damn bad day all around anyways, because, emboldened by the Breen (we we're still getting the hard sell on) the Dominion re-takes the Chin'Toka system, which the Federation took over at the end of the last season and force the good guys back out.

And this is a costly battle, what's more, because the Breen have a magic zap gun that paralyses the Defiant and then -sniff-- destroys it. It's a shame they missed the chance to have Sisko glaring out at the Defiant being blown up as he did in "Emissary," but that may have been gilding the lily.

In any event. with things looking this bad for our heroes, they'd need something major to turn it around. And wonder of wonders, Damar makes his move with the following epic speech, quted here in full:

"...And so two years ago, our government signed a treaty with the Dominion. In it the Dominion promised to extend Cardassia's influence throughout the Alpha Quadrant. In exchange, we pledged ourselves to join the war against the Federation and its allies. Cardassians have never been afraid of war, a fact we've proven time and again over these past two years. Seven million of our brave soldiers have given their lives to fulfill our part of the agreement, and what has the Dominion done in return? Nothing. We've gained no new territories. In fact, our influence throughout the quadrant has diminished. And to make matters worse we are no longer masters in our own home. Travel anywhere on Cardassia and what do you find? Jem'Hadar, Vorta, and now Breen. Instead of the invaders we have become the invaded. Our 'allies' have conquered us without firing a single shot. Well, no longer. This morning detachments of the Cardassian First, Third and Ninth Orders attacked the Dominion outpost on Rondac III. This assault marks the first step towards the liberation of our homeland, from the true oppressors of the Alpha Quadrant. I call upon Cardassians everywhere: Resist. Resist today. Resist tomorrow. Resist till the last Dominion soldier has been driven from our soil!"

Damar's opening salvo destroyed the Vorta cloning facilities, as an extra little FU to Weyoun, who now may be the last clone. Big Momma is deeply enraged and orders Damar found at once. There's a wonderful scene after Weyoun order the Breen to find him when he nervously looks over his shoulder at the Cardassians working behind him . . .

I did tell you shit gets real, didn't I? This is the best episode of the arc so far, really, as it features plenty of major turns and not so much annoying drivel to drag it down. We get several plot motions going forward and the stakes have been raised, and unlike when Jadzia died, the loss of the Defiant really feels like a loss and not just a stunt (of course there are problems later, but taken as a standalone for now, it works) and Damar has made his move. The next four (really, the next two) episodes do better in terms of elevating the game and balancing Damar's being a good guy with what he's done in the past.

We'll cross that bridge tomorrow, as things get worse for everyone, in "When It Rains . . ."; Worf's Finest Hour happens in "Tacking Into The Wind"; Bashir and O'Brien have their . . .well it's intended to be their finest hour in "Extreme Measures"; and we stop everything for the critically important wrap-up of the Ferengi plotlines in "The Dogs of War" (sarcasm added) Join us tomorrow for rites of succession, Ferengi Komedy, and pleasure!