Monday, March 12, 2018

Episode Review - Far Beyond the Stars (Deep Space Nine, Season 6)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – Captain Sisko is hosting his father visiting the station. Recent news of the apparent death of a good friend, Quentin Swofford, is causing Ben to rethink his career path. The captain finds that he is seeing people dressed in 1950s garb, and goes to see Bashir. The Julian runs some tests on him, and notices that Sisko’s neural patterns are similar to when he was experiencing visions a year ago. As Sisko takes a look at the readings, he suddenly finds himself on a street in New York City in the 1950s. People around him look familiar (the newsstand vendor looks and sounds like an alien character named Nog), and he no longer sees himself as Benjamin Sisko, Starfleet Captain, but Benny Russel, science fiction writer. At his office, Benny takes a picture of a space station that inspires him to write a story about a space station on the edge of the galaxy, a story that he calls “Deep Space Nine”. As Benny becomes involved in writing his Deep Space Nine stories, he has to confront the racism inherent in that era, both from the violence perpetuated by corrupt police officers and an editor who does not want to anger readers with stories of “negroes in space”, Benny endures with the support of his fiancée Cassie (of whom Benny based the character of Kassidy Yates off of) and a mysterious street corner preacher that looks like Ben Sisko’s father, who admonishes “Brother Benny” to follow the prophets. After being brutally beaten by the two corrupt police officers, Benny is fired from his writing job and suffers from a nervous breakdown. While he is being taken away in an ambulance, he sees the preacher, comforting him, and Ben Sisko awakens in the infirmary, and his neural pathways are returning to normal. He remembers the vision that he had been given, and seems to have found a new resolve from this perspective that had been bestowed upon him

Score: 10/10 – “Far Beyond the Stars” is one of the greatest episodes of television and science fiction ever conceived. I could leave it there and have few arguments made against it, but I must elaborate. The story came from Marc Scott Zicree, the teleplay was written by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimer, and the episode was directed by Avery Brooks, who himself gave a performance as both Benjamin Sisko and Benny Russel that should have earned him an Emmy. This episode is why I have zero faith in awards shows like the Emmys for not recognizing the amazing work that people in Star Trek and science fiction in general do. The worthy nominations in things like effects and makeup aside, it is a shame that there is such a blatant bias against acting in sci-fi and franchise shows in general. There is so much that makes this episode a gem. It hits every mark there is. Excellent acting, check. Engaging story, check. Exploring relevant and timeless issues, check. A deeper exploration of the human condition, big check. It is wonderful to see all of the actors out of makeup and performing roles that are fresh. I really liked how each person had their counterpart character similar to yet different enough from their main character that they play on the show. Seeing how each person from Sisko’s world fits into Benny Russel’s world and vice versa was a lot of fun to watch. We also are given a real hard look into a dark part of America’s past that is still affecting the country today. The racism shown then still exists today, and the story does not pull any punches with it. Overall, a brilliant episode in every respect.

Relevance – 3 points. A point scored for establishing the Benny Russell character that will return in the Season 7 opening story arc. Without seeing this episode, some of the events of “Shadows and Symbols” will not make sense. I am also scoring a point for the reference to the episode “Rapture”, where Sisko first experienced the visions from the Prophets. I am going to score the third point for the depiction of the racism in the 1950s that seems to have a great effect on Sisko. In the next season’s holo-adventure episode “Badda Bing, Badda Bang”, Sisko shows that he has some reservations of helping out Vic Fontaine in his Vegas club due to the fact that it glossed over the racism in the 1960s. In fact, he was quite upset about it, and this episode gave Sisko the experience that showed him how ugly racism was back then. This shows how much of a long-lasting effect that this experience had on the good Captain.

Continuity – 3 points. Honestly, I cannot think about how any part of this episode goes against any type of continuity. It’s a bit of an easy pass as most of the story is a vision given to Sisko by the prophets/wormhole aliens. Because of that, any inconsistencies within the characters or story is covered. Universe continuity is intact as the prophets have used these visions before to communicate to Sisko, so it is no stretch of the imagination that they are giving him this type of adventure.

Character Development – 2 points. A soli Sisko episode, but sadly no other main cast character is given anything meaningful to do. O’Brien, Odo, and Quark do not even appear in the episode. Still, we see the burdens of war take their toll on Sisko, with the death of his friend almost being the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. His vision/experience from the prophets once again gives Sisko the spiritual grounding that he needed in order to continue the good fight.

Social Commentary – 3 points. Yes, racism is a main theme in this episode. Recently, it seems that America has made little progress since the 1950s in its racial relations. There is still much to be learned in that regard. Having said that, I feel that racism is only a means to a greater end here and is not the central idea. What seems apparent to me is the idea that in dealing with the issues of our current situation, we sometimes need to refocus our perspectives and outlooks by examining our roots and our past. We need to learn that sometimes we have to make a stand, even if it means we are going to fall. Also, Benny failed in both his efforts to publish his stories and in his mental health. At the end of it all, he was pushed past his breaking point. From that, Sisko still learned what he needed to learn and found the strength he needed to find. Failure is as powerful a teaching tool as any.

Cool Stuff – 3 points. Wow, what isn’t cool about this episode? First off, seeing all the actors playing different roles was a lot of fun. I bet Rene Auberjonois, Armin Shimerman, Aron Eisenberg, and J.G. Hertzler all enjoyed having an episode without once having to wear all the heavy make-up they were accustomed to with their roles. I also am giving a point for Benny’s breakdown scene. Avery Brooks shows his dedication as an actor in one of the most powerful scenes in all of Star Trek (if not all of television). Why he didn’t even get an Emmy nomination for his work in this episode is beyond me. Finally, I have to score a point for the many Easter Eggs about Star Trek that were woven into the story. There were some obvious ones, such as the preacher telling Benny to “follow the prophets”, but there was much more. A picture entitled “Honeymoon and Andoris” was a direct reference to the planet Andoria, the cover of the “Incredible Tales” magazine has several Original Series episode titles as the stories, the Arthur Trill building, and Nana Visitor’s character of K.C. Hunter, a writer who uses initials of her first name to hide her gender, is an ode to legendary Trek writer D.C. Fonatana.

Rank – Admiral (24 points). A near perfect score for a perfect episode. “Far Beyond the Stars” is Star Trek at its finest, and it is both beautiful and compelling in its delivery. The themes discussed are still relevant and timeless, and if this is not on your Top 10 DS9 episode list, you better have a real good explanation for it. The ideas that Sisko is left with (that he is both the dreamer and the dream) is the result of excellent writing. The acting is excellent, and Avery Brooks was the perfect choice for directing this episode, in spite of him playing the lead character. Truly, this is a masterpiece of science fiction.

If you would like to read other reviews from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, please click the following link.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

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