Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Star Trek: Beyond What's Left Behind 1x04 - 'Common Enemy'

WRITTEN BY: Todd Foose
PREMIERE DATE: 02/10/2005

Quark is delighted when his old Cardassian flame, Natima Lang, arrives on the station after spending several years as a Dominion prisoner of war. While once being a dissident, Natima is now a leading advocate of Cardassia's democratic future, but admits to Quark, as they begin to rekindle their former relationship, that her life may be in danger. Meanwhile, as the Vedek Assembly make plans to choose a new Kai, Ja'Kel's views on the Cardassians land him in trouble and potentially blind him to an assassination plot that could damage the newfound Bajoran/Cardassian peace......

Ah, finally. It's a relief when a show that had undoubtedly such a weak beginning it could have imploded right from the start, at last begins to show some quality. It's taken three episodes, but at last we're starting to hear these characters on the page. Far more than the previous two, you could imagine this episode on the television screen. Of course, it's not perfect, and improvements are still needed, but this is an Everest step up from the dire pilot and largely poor follow up episode. I knew from my involvement in the show's development that things would improve, and this backs up that sentiment.

This is the new era of DS9's first foray into the world of Bajoran politics. The events of the DS9 finale, of course, left a Kai shaped hole in Bajor's everyday life. It's reasonable enough to assume that in the months between that series and this, Winn's replacement would still not have been chosen. It's a good decision to have another election plotline for that position in the show, but only as long as the previous one isn't revisited. It appears to be set up here as a two horse race between the traditionialist Vedek Tunai and the young, open-minded Vedek Jana. Both are interesting characters with great potential, especially Jana. But what we don't want are more revelations about dark pasts collaborating with the Dominion or the Cardassians, as that would be treading old ground. There are other ways for the election race to be dealt with, and hopefully the show will deal with them. This isn't at the forefront here, but the seeds are well sown for later.

No, this episode hits dead on the B-plot of the previous episode: Ja'Kel's racial intolerance. We saw it evidenced in Tactics & Assumptions, but it was more in the background. Here, the story gives us the chance to see Ja'Kel full on. I've made no secret of my dislike for the way this character has been written in the past, or of his general attitude towards thing. I find it hard to believe Ja'Kel would still be as prejudiced after the war as he was before, especially having served on DS9. When he starts ranting about the 'spoonheads' at one point, I had to laugh when even Lance asked if he was still banging on about it. Mercifully, he's better written here, as writer Todd Foose has a better angle on all the characters generally. He's a better writer, simply, than those previously, and he knows how to inject Ja'Kel with far more subtlety than before. He's still outspoken at times, but that fits his character right now, and is central to the plot. Before, it was a device to bludgeon the racism message. Here, it's much more fluid. I'd hope that Foose is one of the writers to handle Ja'Kel's development in the future.

Another big plus point for this episode is giving Quark a significant role. He's barely registered more than a cameo in the opening three episodes, but here he gets dual star billing with Ja'Kel. It's a delightful move to bring back Natima Lang, the Cardassian dissident from DS9 S2's 'Profit and Loss'. The relationship between the two was an odd one, but it worked, and Foose picks right up on it here with perfection. He's done his homework on that previous episode, and knows how to write these characters. At times, the scenes between Quark and Natima fairly sparkle. The development of Natima entirely makes sense too, given the circumstances. She has shades of Garak, in being formerly disgraced and now fighting to rebuild her world against the odds. I also enjoyed her scenes with Jana, which also were excellently written. They did bring up one query, however. At one point, Jana informs Natima that a monastery on Bajor has been named after Tora Ziyal, a fact that also fuels Ja'Kel's anger. I can't help but wonder, however, if this is one call back to DS9 too many after the previous ep announcing the Bajoran flagship will be named after Damar. If BWLB is truly trying to establish itself as an independant entity, these callbacks, while fitting, could work against that ethic.

Ultimately, I can't say I had too much at all against this outing. It's well-paced, at times very well-written, with interesting supporting characters who add something to the plot. The ending, though a shade predictable, is also powerful. Jana's actions are perfectly fitting, and serve to underline what a powerful, influential woman she could be for Bajor. Infact, her actions highlight exactly why she should be the next Kai. I think what lets the episode down more than anything is the formatting and grammar. It clearly hasn't been edited (STILL no page breaks between acts), and the formatting at times comes across as erratic and odd, to the detriment of the episodes enjoyment. These gripes aside, this is a massive improvement for BWLB. It should have followed directly on from the pilot. My advice as a newbie? Skip T & A, and come here first.

WRITING: 1.5/2
STYLE: 1/2
DEPTH: 1.5/2



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