What We Left Behind: My not really a review, review
I was rushing to get back to the studio on a dreary Wednesday afternoon. The call had been scheduled and rescheduled a couple of times. Even though it was raining out again, I couldn’t keep the smile from my face. There were a thousand things I should have been doing, instead, I was running through all the characters that Jeffery Allen Combs had played through his career.
No not Stu, the guy that gets his head chopped off in Frightmare. I am talking about Brunt FCA. I had just rewatched “Body Parts” from season four of Deep Space Nine and the deliciously evil Brunt was running thru my head along with Weyoun. While I love both of those characters, Shran will always have a special place as my favorite Jeffery Combs character.
Earlier in the week Daniel (co-host TrekCast) had similar calls with several actors from Deep Space Nine. He already had the pleasure of picking the actors and actresses brains for a bit. I couldn’t help but come up with the most unexpected question for my call. Surely Daniel had done the same. This is the most unpredictable Star Trek podcast for a reason.
The new documentary by Ira Steven Behr “What We Left Behind” is due to premiere nationwide the following week, Monday, May 13th at 7 pm. The lead up to the premiere was an all-out blitz by Fathom Events and Shout! Studios. With interviews coming from all over the place, morning shows, talk radio, CBS News and even on our podcast. It was a rare treat to be contacted directly by the studio and asked if we wanted an advance screener for us to review.
“HELL FREAKING YES!!!!!!! THAT'S NOT ACTUALLY A QUESTION!”
I couldn’t help myself, it was an email from Shout! Studio, but I did reply in all caps anyway. The three of us would be able to watch the screener along with with a dozen other outlets and all the Indiegogo backers. (I probably should have backed this film) It felt like high praise and an honor. It took a few days before I could make sure to clear out the two hours I needed to watch the documentary in its entirety without being interrupted. I don’t know about you, but with something like this I want to enjoy it straight thru, no thought, just soak it in, no one talk to me, I am watching new Star Trek.
I was not disappointed. If you want to hear my excitement, or Dan and Daniels, you can listen to the episode where we go on and on about this doc. Even when Daniel is trying to talk I can not shut up. The opener of this documentary gives you chills. I mean Rom (Max Grodenchik) opens it with a Vic Fontaine style crooner and the stage is set for some serious nostalgia. Makes one's eyes tear up. In a flash they hit you with some of the most beautiful HD shots of the Defiant in battle you can manage (and then multiply that by 10). While you're watching this glorious battle against the Dominion you can not help but want more, and they give it to you!
Just as you see the Defiant swerve in and out and around a newly refreshed HD Tarok Nor, you hear a voice over. It’s Garak (Andrew Robinson) saying “wait just a minute”. Hearing his voice again you can not help but picture a simple tailor even though he is sadly not in makeup. Andrew clearly hasn’t missed a beat as he performs as Elim Garak. His motions and mannerisms haven’t changed over the past 20 years.
Within the first ten minutes of this documentary, you want more. More Garak, more Quark, more Odo and more “The Sisko”. After all Deep Space Nine ended its run after seven seasons with a bit of a cliff hanger. Is Captain Sisko still alive? Will he ever come back? Does he become a prophet? Can Odo have kids? I realize that no one has ever really wanted an answer to the last question. With the exception of Rene.
They go straight to the creation of Deep Space Nine and talk about the backlash of season one in the “mean things said on twitter” format. I mean it's clear Ira gets some enjoyment out of fan reaction, even negative ones. In an exchange with Nog (Aron Eisenberg) the actor says to Ira “that must have been tough for you guys.” Ira responds matter of factly “Why? If you're not pissing anybody off your not really doing anything.” Nog simply shakes his head as if he had never really thought of it that way. It’s as if the show was filmed 20 plus years ago when Aron was a kid and he never heard any of the hate fan mail. Wait.
The sheer joy of being ridiculed continues as they discuss playing second fiddle to The Next Generation and then behind the “new flagship” Voyager. I found that statement to be laughable. I watched all these shows while they aired and I never considered DS9 second fiddle to Voyager. Have you seen the first season of Voyager? You have? Fair enough, but I bet you never think about Caretaker the way you do about ANY DS9 episode (ok “Move Along Home” was trash). If I am wrong on this one please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
At this point in the documentary, it starts feeling like a normal doc. That’s when they pull the rug out from under you and hit you again. Ira Steven Behr, Ronald Moore, Rene Echevarria (I pronounce his name Eye Chi Wa Wa), Robert Wolfe and Hans Beilmer are all suddenly in the writer's room talking about how Season 8 of the show would start. This is one of the golden moments in the documentary. Not only do we get an inside glimpse of how these guys worked to write these shows, the pure joy or returning to the series is evident in everyone. You can see the joy on Ira’s face even threw the ubiquitous small round sunglasses and the bright purple goatee that is threatening to become a full beard. As they launch into their idea for this mythical season eight it becomes clear that they are taking things seriously. Not only is the new season going to be set in the present time, as in 20 years from the last episode of season seven “What You Leave Behind”, but they also want to kill Nog.
I was literally hanging on the edge of my seat wondering how these guys would explain this when they cut back to the actual documentary. It was kinda irritating for a second until I started listening again to what they were actually saying. It goes into a great deal about character development on the series. Which I gotta say is fitting for a show that was all about “characters”. The huge number of recurring roles on the show that carried on throughout all seven seasons was a feat in itself. For each of those minor roles to end up having such huge arcs and changes is another point that they address with all the love and care possible. It’s at this moment in the documentary that you once again forget you're watching a documentary at all. The passion for the series, the writers, the crew and the cast really come oozing off the screen. It is bittersweet to see Michael Piller again talking how he defines storytelling.
Next, we see a long coach filled with all the familiar faces of the “secondary characters” that we now think of as main characters. Jeffery Combs is there who ended up playing four different characters in the series, one time appearing as two characters in the same episode. This another one of those golden moments where they break away from the traditional format of a documentary. Seeing all these actors together again in one place having a free-flowing conversation is just brilliant. You are basically watching a private Con panel.
So how can I be this far into the review and not mention Avery Brooks? I have talked about Sisko, although briefly. But not Avery Brooks. I did this for a reason. I have a few bones to pick about mister Avery Brooks and the producers of the documentary and the series in general.
We all know that Avery Brooks is a bit of an eccentric personality. We love him for it. It’s obvious that the cast and the crew of the show love him for it as well. We get a full 3-minute montage of everyone saying that talking to Avery is like talking to a “jazz musician.” I am pretty sure you’d get a more coherent conversation out of Thelonious Monk than Avery Brooks but I digress.
There is no ill will from anyone in these conversations but you do get an underlying sense that Avery must have been tough to deal with. The director of photography on the first episode “Emissary”, talks about how Avery basically directed how his scenes were shot. Maybe that's normal for a lead, I suppose I could see that. It’s not really implied that Avery was hard to deal with but it was obvious they treated him differently than everyone else in the cast. Maybe that’s the way it is with the leads? While they downplayed this as much as possible it becomes evident that Avery did not want to return even for this love letter to the series. The shots of interviews with him are all repurposed from years ago, nothing new of him is revealed.
Still, there are some touching moments with Avery, a scene where a young girl asks him what his favorite mission was is a standout. He simply replies, “raising Jake”. It’s sweet really as we see bloopers and behind the scenes clips of their relationship. It’s long been known that Avery and Cirroc had a special relationship on an offset. The two still talk today. Cirroc’s retrospect on that time is obviously heavy on his heart as he speaks of his adopted dad, Avery Brooks.
Then we get to one of two gripping scenes in the whole documentary. They spend considerable time talking about how the series tackled social issues. The most important one to Avery was “Far Beyond the Stars” which he directed. Nana retells the now-famous scene of Averys “Benny Sisko”, crumbling to the floor and crying. Depicting a man who is fighting to be recognized as an equal, Avery goes full throttle and gets lost in the scene, even after the director yells cut, he’s still going. You can tell it left a mark on Nana. It’s a beautiful episode that holds up better than most of the “socially conscious” episodes of all Trek.
After all the time dedicated to Avery, you can not help but feel let down that we don’t get more. I don’t know if that’s a good sign that Ira and company did there job or they truly missed an opportunity.
The second gripping scene is back to a one on one interview with Nog (Aron Eisenberg). In the interview, Nog breaks down and tears up about the episode where he loses his leg. There is a montage of interviews from fans of the show who were all in or are still serving in the military. People who know what PTSD really is either first hand or through there fellow soldiers. It's a touching scene from an actor who hasn't really been seen on film or TV much since the series ended.
Do I really need to talk about the “representation” in the series? The documentary goes deep into it. Frankly, I don’t care. Maybe because today’s society is so different than it was when the series was airing. Maybe because it's just me. Do you really care if Garak was gay or not? He never kisses a guy on the show. True he is close to Julian but the same can be said of O’Brien. Its called a bromance. If the character is gay or whatever then fine, have it mean something. Garak being gay wouldn’t have really added anything meaningful to the character development would it? Ira gives himself a bad rap for not pushing harder for this, maybe at the time, it would have mattered more. In today's society, I kinda doubt it. Is that a good thing? Have we progressed past this need to show peoples different lifestyles simply to show it? Or are we still trying to make something that is normal “appear” normal just because we feel the need to?
There is something that they stumble into, try to explain and fail miserably on. The death of Jadzia Dax and Terry Ferrel's departure from the show. While they do spend time examining Worf coming on the show and how that affects the cast, they really never explain her exit. Ira even asks point blank why the studio let her go. He doesn't get an answer. For her part, Terry is still emotional about it and at one point passionately says, “I didn’t want to die.” I get the sense that there is way more to it than what they leave you with. At least we get the action barbie talk for a few minutes. You know, how they made some subtle changes in Jadzia and made her want to marry a Klingon warrior.
Sweeping that aside abruptly they go right into Ezri Dax (Nicole de Boer). Calling her a breath of fresh air on the set. I find that a bit of an overstatement. It was more like they needed someone bubbly to replace Terry just to lift the cloud off of everyone. It was an overreach at first but one that played out. While Nicole does a great I still wish Terry wasn’t killed off. She could have been used elsewhere in Star Trek if not on Deep Space Nine anymore. Like a TNG movie.
During the documentary, they keep cutting back to the writer's room. Again some of the best moments come from the descriptions of the season 8 first episode. They don’t leave much to the imagination as they show animations of the scenes they are describing. It’s really well done and you hope to hell they are pitching it as a pilot to CBS, like right now. I don’t want to spoil this plot they develop and left it out of the review for the most part. You need to see it.
Two things are for certain, by the time you get done with this documentary you’ll want to rewatch the entire series. You’ll also wonder if the title should have been, “We never left it behind”. Because the love and camaraderie of the cast and crew are so evident in every single scene, you’ll want that season 8 to start filming.
Be sure to listen to TrekCast episode 206 for interviews from Jeffery Combs, Chase Masterson and Kai Winn from a freeway….
Also be sure to watch for the next episode, number 207 as we will be releasing an interview with Quark himself. Its a wonderful interview about how he plans to market his bar in the new age of social media and why profit is still a beautiful word.