Star Trek 423: Far Beyond the Stars

423. Far Beyond the Stars

FORMULA: Rapture + The Inner Light + Let This Be Your Last Battlefield + The Big Goodbye

WHY WE LIKE IT: It's frackin' brilliant!

WHY WE DON'T: The coda.

REVIEW: The most unusual Star Trek episode ever made is also one of the best, and it's unusual for a number of reasons. It features the regular actors in different roles, it features them without their usual make-up effects, and most of all, it is completely off-format, a rare thing indeed. The episode takes its cue from Rapture in which Sisko had cryptic, Prophet-induced visions and takes it one step further to recast everyone in the world of a 1950s science-fiction publishing. Transitioning with a car hitting Sisko couldn't be more jarring.

Far Beyond the Stars becomes many things, the weakest of which, perhaps, is that it's supposed to be motivational for Sisko, forcing him to learn to lose everything, because that sacrifice will be required of him. One might ask why the Prophets (or Sisko's own mind) choose this vision to represent that, though the resulting drama is reason enough from a creative standpoint. The episode is an homage to the very literature that inspired Roddenberry and spawned Star Trek, and shows us how many of these stories were created. And then it's also a story about how far we've come, at least in our entertainments, in how minority groups are featured. In showing the 50s, the story is uncompromising, with the n-word being thrown out there for the first and only time in Trek, and Benny casually smoking. There's also no happy ending here.

You can play at finding correspondences between DS9 characters and 1950s characters, but they only perhaps exist because Benny draws inspiration from the world around him. The actors actually do create brand new characters and it's great to see them without the usual costumes and make-up. There are some great acting moments, such as Pabst not being to look Benny in the eyes, and of course Benny's final breakdown, which is truly heart-wrenching. How Avery Brooks directed this episode in which he is so heavily featured should give it even more points.

There are a lot of wonderful details on top of it all, like the sf magazines sporting pictures of TOS matte paintings and other references to classic science-fiction (both Trek-related and not), but I have to say the coda at the end is just a little too on the nose. Sisko not knowing if he is a man dreaming he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he is a man is a great idea that didn't need the extra explanation of "hey, maybe we're just inside someone's tv set".

LESSON: Maybe we're just inside someone's tv set.

REWATCHABILITY - High: One of the best and boldest episode ever made, it shows us what SF can do while being about SF. Very strong drama and characters you learn to care about in less than 40 minutes. Top notch.


Anonymous said...

It is an extremely interesting episode. Both DS9 and ST:TNG were good for the occasional stepping out of boundaries of the normal storytelling to try something interesting. Sometimes it worked well (like here), and sometimes it did not.

But I always appreciated the effort.

De said...

Way way back, I wrote a story about Benny Russell meeting a young airline pilot named Eugene. Unfortunately, it was one of the many things I threw out during one of my many moves.

Siskoid said...

Was Eugene played by anyone we know? ;)

Austin Gorton said...

Hands down my favorite DS9 episode. What a fantastic performance from Avery Brooks. It moves me every time I watch it.

Anonymous said...

A top rated episode for sure. The attention to detail (like the smoking/racism/sexism for instance) is what makes so believable.

It is very intense as well. The only humor is in the subtext, that Star Trek is just sci-fi. This is breaking the fourth wall stuff. But putting it in context to the prophet story arc is just sheer brillance.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day, D. C. Fontana used the initials "D. C." because he was actually a she, and it was felt that viewers would not accept a woman writer.


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