Saturday, 21 March 2009

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 4

Right I have come to the realisation that there are far too many good episodes of DS9 to be able to tackle seasons 4 to 7 in one long hit. So I am going to look at each of the remaining seasons in their entirety.

As I said in the post about seasons 1 to 3, DS9 can be split into two eras and season 4 is the point where DS9 changes from being an outer space western to being an outer space war story. It is also the point where Worf joins the station. More importantly the show has a change in the way it is presented. The direction of the episodes from here on is much more energetic and intense. It has an immediacy to it that the passive house style previously employed by modern Trek (that is to say the whole of TNG and the first 3 seasons of DS9).

For all that the show remained true to its ongoing storylines and character development, albeit that the show also started to become an effort in guerilla TV making as the writing crew continued to push the boundaries of the show whilst simultaneously transforming the show into a serial.

1) THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR. The first episode of season 4 and a relaunch for the show as well. The issues of Bajor and the Dominion take a back seat as the Klingon Empire goes to war against the Cardassian empire. This is the closest thing we have to DS9 movie, a balls to the wall action adventure. It is absolutely gripping and moves with a pace and energy previously unseen in DS9. Worf is introduced in an effective way and there are some epic battles (both in space and in hand to hand combat). There are also some fantastic moments of reflection (Quark and Garak for a starter). Flawless.

2) THE VISITOR. Another classic (and Hugo award nominee). A sad, sweet, story of Jake growing up without his father and how far Jake would go to get his father back. There's also fun to be had in seeing potential future versions of the regulars. This is the sort of story that can only be done in the genre or SF or Fantasy and as a result a demonstration both of how easily accessible SF can be, but also of the superiority of SF over other genres (SF can do any kind of story and still be SF, other genre's loose their integrity once the story goes beyond the boundaries of that genre).

3) HIPPOCRATIC OATH. Overrated at the time as it felt it was going to be more important to the Dominion arc than it really was. This is ultimately a story about Bashir and O Brien and the resiliency of their friendship. Not an essential episode, but worthy of an honourable mention.

4) INDISCRETION. A Kira and Dukat episode and another absolute winner for season 4. The discovery of Dukat's half Bajoran daughter would inform the rest of the series. Dukat is a fascinating character and even to the last episode of the series they never stopped developing him. Credit too is due to Marc Alimo's portrayal of the character. Here he maintains a very delicate balancing act, imbuing Dukat with a certain sympathy even as he is considering killing his daughter. Kira gets some great moments here too, forming an effective team with Dukat and acting as his conscience too.

5) REJOINED. The “lesbian kiss” episode. I still feel that this episode is ultimately a cop out. Not as much of a cop out as TNGs similar dealings with Trill culture, after all none of the characters even bats an eyelid at the prospect of a same sex relationship. But there was a deliberate analogy being drawn her (in the best tradition of Trek) and ultimately a homosexual relationship is still found to be taboo. So yes the episode is groundbreaking for Trek, but only because TNG was so incredibly timed and conservative. The story is not especially groundbreaking in terms of popular culture at all. On the other hand it does at least have some sensitivity and sincerity to it and does not fall into the trap of featuring a lesbian relationship for how many men it can turn on. Not essential, despite what the publicity at the time would have had you believe.

6) STARSHIP DOWN. A bottle show set on a stricken Defiant. One of the least important episodes this season, but one which I am rather fond of. In particular I like the discussions between Bashir and Dax which is something of a watershed moment for their friendship as they both reveal more about their true feelings for each other. I also love the scenes between Kira and the injured Sisko as Kira makes it quiet clear she views Sisko as The Emissary and the beginning of a proper friendship between them with an invite to a baseball game at the Holodeck. Also its worth pointing out that Sisko does change the shift rotation in line with Kira suggestions a little down the line!

7) LITTLE GREEN MEN. The mystery of Roswell is solved, it was the Quark, Rom and Nog all along! Frickin hilarious episode which brilliantly and affectionately lampoons any number of B-Movies, whilst also poking fun at the Roswell obsession of the mid 90s. Nothing I can say about this one, you just have to watch it and laugh your bloody head off. Absolutely essential.

8) THE SWORD OF KAHLESS. Another good Klingon episode as Dax, Worf and KOR! go in search of the Sword of Kahless (think Excalibur crossed with the Holy Grail). All the usual Klingon bombast here, but done really well. I particularly like the beginning scene with everyone knowing Kor's story is BS, but nobody calling him on it because he tells the story well. Not essential, but still an entertaining yarn.

9) OUR MAN BASHIR. Fantastic stuff. A witty pastiche of 60s spy stories with Bashir playing a Bond like figure and Garak along for the ride. A unique twist on the Holodeck goes wrong storyline as the Holodeck comes to the rescue here. This one is approximately 8 billion times better that A Fistful of Datas. Rom again starts to show his worth in helping to save the regulars too. Out and out fun.

10 & 11) HOME FRONT and PARADISE LOST. DS9s first proper visit to Earth as Sisko and Odo go to Earth to help build up defences against a dominion attack. This is a fantastic story and is criminally underrated. This is one that cuts to the very essence of DS9's (Ira Steven Behr's) take on the Roddenberry vision. A lot of hard questions are asked here as for the first time in years the paradise of Earth is put into direct threat and for the first time its not so easy to be a saint. This was a great story at the time it aired with the two very valid and believable view points being brought into conflict. For much of the world it was also a very real debate. In the UK for years we grappled with the question of how far our civil liberties could/should be curtailed to protect against the attacks of the IRA (see the ring of steel blockade in London). Post 9/11 these questions became much less abstract for the USA and have become all the more pressing in the UK too. Some fundamental questions are raised in this one: At what point do you destroy the thing you are seeking to protect, at what point are you doing the terrorists job for them, when can it ever be safe to relinquish control and safeguards once they have been imposed and are such controls ever effective against their intended targets. Aside from these points we also have the introduction of Sisko's father, brilliantly played by Brock Peters and a welcome update on Nog.

12) CROSSFIRE. Oh how pissed off I was by this episode at the time. I was a huge Odo-Kira shipper and I HATED the way this show put the relationship to bed. With later developments I have come to like it more, but the main reason to watch this is for the Quark/Odo scene as once again Quark shows that he knows Odo better than anyone else. I am still not overly keen on this one though. This one is a good example of the way that TV in the 90s failed to deal with “will they wont they” stories (see also the endless episodes where Niles “almost” tells Daphne how he feels, or the ridiculous dragging out of “Ross n Rachel” in season 2 of friends). At some point writers decided that Moonlighting proves that characters cease to be interesting once they get together. This is simply not the case, the problem is inadequate writing. In any case, endless “will they wont they” quickly goes from exciting to frustrating to tedious.

13) RETURN TO GRACE. An immediate bounce back. A great single plot line story as Dukat and Kira are once again forced into being a team as Dukat goes on a revenge mission to take out as many Klingon ships as he can. Really good action episode and Dukat v Kira is always a guaranteed winner. Again the show doesn't shy away from demonstrating that Kira was a terrorist and very good at what she did, but equally this Kira is far more measured than a season 1 Kira would've been in a similar story. Dukat's impassioned recruitment speech falling on deaf ears is a great moment too.

14) SONS OF MOGH. Distasteful and offensive episode revolving around Worf apparently been wrong to help his brother kill himself, but perfectly okay for Bashir to completely brain wipe him as an alternative.

15) BAR ASSOCIATION. By contrast this episode is great. A Ferengi episode up to a point, but really this one is more about Rom and Quark than Ferengi society. This is the beginning of the new Rom. Previously Rom's rebellions against Quark had been on behalf of others (his family) and this episode does keep to that trend with Rom forming a Union to get better pay and conditions for the staff of Quarks, but ultimately finally doing something for himself by becoming a station engineer. Lots to love about this one including BRUNT (FCA!), Bashir and O Brien ending up in a fight with Worf (after Worf crosses the picket line). Again this is the sort of story that no other Trek series could do. Similarly the Ferengi are the only Star Trek species that would allow for exploration of these sorts of issues (since the Federation/Humans live in some sort of communist utopia). You've also gotta love any US show which basically says “Yay Unions”.

16) ACCENSION. The point of no return for Sisko being the Emissary. Sisko gets to give up the role, only to realise that he needs and more importantly wants to take it back. A necessary episode in terms of putting an end to Sisko's discomfort with being the Emissary, but a purely functional episode too. I was more interested in the examination of the Bajoran caste system, which is one of the few times that the show dealt with the negative aspects of the Bajoran's faith.

17) RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. This one is much of a muchness really as Worf is put on trial for apparently destroying an innocent civilian ship in the middle of a battle. Its not that its a bad show, but there's nothing that good about it either. Eminently forgettable stuff. Plus if you are gonna do a courtroom drama in Trek then you have to have Picard in the show too.

18) HARD TIME. And so we reach this seasons “torture O Brien episode”. Somewhat overrated at the time in my opinion. Nevertheless a good episode as O Brien basically goes through 20 years of very hard time in an alien prison. Colm Meany makes this episode giving a superb performance. The scene with O Brien considering suicide is heartbreaking. Again we return to the “saint in paradise theme” as O Brien crucifies himself for killing his cellmate and Bashir points out that it took 20 years for him to break.

19) SHATTERED MIRROR. Another Mirror Universe episode. These are what they are and generally not to my taste.

20) THE MUSE. Some good ideas in this one, but even the writers admit the whole thing doesn't gel. This is what happens when you let the bosses wife pitch a story idea! Rene Auberjonois does his absolute best to raise the Lwaxana storyline into something good and deserves credit. Actually I am going to do that now. Rene was absolutely fantastic throughout the entire series run and always raised the level of the material he was playing. Unfortunately he was overlooked by the mainstream award bodies because he was in a SF show. The SF awards bodies were too in love with Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik to give Rene a look in too. But for me there is no better actor in a mask than Rene. Plus he went on to be great in Frasier and Boston Legal too.

21) FOR THE CAUSE. A total out and out classic. In a total subversion of expectations the smarmy Eddington turns out not to be Dominion as everyone was expecting, but to still be a traitor. Cassidy Yates is implicated, but happily they kept the Sisko/Yates relationship on. Both have good reasons for their actions and both are mature enough to realise that. Sisko makes it his mission to make Eddington pay.

22) TO THE DEATH. WEYOUN! is introduced and would be the shows primary Vorta from here on in. Jeffrey Coombs is outstanding playing Weyoun as a middle management salesman type figure (he is also versatile enough to play BRUNT (FCA!)). Anyway the story itself is nothing earth-shattering being about a co-operative hunt between the Federation and the Dominion to hunt down a rogue squadron of Jem'Hedar. But still its watchable enough and everyone should see Weyoun's first story at least once.

23) THE QUICKENING. Another winner as Bashir and Dax work to find a cure to a horrendous disease inflicted upon an innocent world by the Dominion. There's a nice examination assisted suicide and paliative care. Bashir gets humbled but eventually becomes the hero, albeit one who is still to be satisfied. The guest cast are uniformly brilliant. DS9 has done quest stories before now, but this is the first example of a genuine personal crusade. Bashir's supposed arrogance would become more understandable in light of later revelations about him too. I love this one.

24) BODY PARTS. Another Quark episode and as usual for Quark episodes its a strong show. Early in Season one Sisko makes the point that Human and Ferengi values are very different. Throughout the next 7 years however it would become clear that this does not mean that the Ferengi do not have values. Quark is a complex guy. Although he does adjust to the values of others, be they Human, Cardassian, Bajoran or Dominion, he always tries to live his life according to his own code of what he perceives a good Ferengi to be. In many ways his the most Ferengi Ferengi of them all as he life is not so much devoted to becoming wealthy as it is to making money and having fun doing it. This is why he stays on a frontier space station, rather than living on Ferenginar and why he would be lost if he ever did have his own moon. And even as he adapts to other cultures, he still does so with an eye towards making a profit and being a successful FERENGI within that culture. This episode puts that to the test with Quark finally being forced into breaking his own moral code to the delight of BRUNT (FCA!). The finale of the episode with the crew rallying around to support Quark is a lovely moment (and Quark charging for storage illustrates perfectly the point above). The episode has two particularly hilarious moments with BRUNT (FCA!) accusing Quark of being a philanthropist and Quark's jubilant reaction to learning he wont die (Quark: It means I get to sue doctor Orfax for malpractice!). Oh and there's some stuff with Major Kira getting pregnant with Chief O Brien's baby.

25) BROKEN LINK. Another relatively low key season finale acting to set up the next season. Odo falls ill and has to be taken to the Founder's home world to be cured and judged for his actions in the previous season finale. Best part of the episode is Garak's conversation with the female shap shifter and subsequent attempt to obliterate the homeworld of the founders. God Garak ruled the frickin earth. The cliffhanger is all sorts of awesome as Odo realises that the Klingon empire is being run by the Dominion and Gowron is a changeling.


I.J. Parnham said...

Ah, glad to see you're doing every episode. I'll make no bones that like a lot of people I think The Visitor was the best episode in all Trek, perhaps in all TV sf.

S4 is definitely where the writers started to become confident. It's hard to identify the precise turning point but I remember at the time an interview in which they essentially said that we're giving up trying to make Trek fans like the show. After tricks like the Defiant and Worf largely failed to capture the die-hards' attention, they just said we'll make the show for the people who do like it. And it certainly worked well.

Ben Willans said...

Looking back season 4 is really where everything came together as they said to the studio, ok you can have Worf but then proceeded to ignore practically everything else. If you haven't got it the Star Trek DS9 Companion is essential reading on the series. The only missed opportunity was that they didn't improve the music and stuck with the house style. Anyway I shall be working my way through the rest of them in the coming days/weeks.


I always love the off beat episodes and Our Man is a great episode, not least because it plays to my Bond fantasies. Oh if only I had an holodeck.

Anonymous said...

You are definitely right