The Best and Worst of Star Trek DS9: Season 4

For previous installments of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

For previous installments of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

 

Season 4 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine brought some changes, as according to the m0vie blog season review:

The fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever produced.

The first three years of Deep Space Nine were relatively rocky, although not quite to the extent that accepted fandom wisdom would contend. Each of the first three seasons had strong episodes, with the second season in particular featuring a strong selection of episodes that clearly cemented the tone and mood of the series. Nevertheless, those three seasons were also remarkably uneven. This is entirely understandable; the production team were consciously pushing the boat out and it is to be expected that it might take a little while to steady the ship.

With the start of the fourth season, the ship has been steadied. After three years of experimenting and tinkering, the fourth season is all about application. It is about recognising the most successful aspects of what came before and compensating for what did not work. The four season is about refining and honing the best parts of those first three seasons and building a new show around it, right down to structuring The Way of the Warrior as a second pilot and featuring a new credits sequence.

Although Deep Space Nine would change quite a bit in the final three years of its run, the fourth season marks the point at which the series seems to have a firm sense of itself. Deep Space Nine has emerged from its chrysalis.

The beauty of the fourth season of Deep Space Nine is the fact that the production team have clearly and excitedly been learning from past experience. Although a new cast member has been added and the theme song has been revamped, this is not retool – even though the studio executives might like it to be. A lot of what works in the fourth season can be traced back to the strongest moments of the prior three seasons. However, the key is consistency. The fourth season of Deep Space Nine is a staggeringly consistent season.

The first three hours of the fourth season rank as some of the best Star Trek ever produced. The Way of the Warrior is the best television movie in the franchise, and would be a strong contender among a broader pool of two-part episodes and honest-to-goodness feature films. It is a truly epic piece of science-fiction, but one that exploits the freedom of the “television movie” format to spend time with the characters. Although the action setpieces get a lot of attention, The Way of the Warrior works just as well in having its cast bounce off one another.

However, as with a lot of the fourth season, The Way of the Warrior did not emerge fully-formed. The idea of opening the season with a two-parter designed to reframe the show’s central narrative and introduce a major new element was something that worked fairly well at the start of the third year. The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II fleshed out the threat posed by the Dominion and added the Defiant to the show, while allowing Odo to reunite with his people. The Way of the Warrior just takes the good idea of opening with a two-parter and refines it.

Instead of splitting the story across a two-parter with each episode to be broadcast a week apart, The Way of the Warrior turns the emergence of the Klingon threat and the introduction of Worf into a big event. Structuring the episode as a single ninety-minute episode instead of two forty-five minute episodes allows for better pacing and structuring, making room for character interactions and easing the flow of the story.The Way of the Warrior takes an idea that worked well enough in the third season and improves upon it greatly.

(Even from a technical point of view, it is quite clear that The Way of the Warrior is built upon the success of Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast. Although somewhat overshadowed by later episodes – including The Way of the Warrior – the second part of that late third season two-parter really pushed out the boat in terms of what could be accomplished by the Star Trek production team working on a television budget. As much as the plot of that episode enabled the Dominion War, it also served as a technical proof of concept.)

However, The Way of the Warrior is dwarfed by the episode that follows. The Visitor is one of the single best episodes in the entire Star Trek canon, and a beautiful tribute to the love that exists between a son and his father. The connections here are markedly less obvious and direct, but the positioning of a quieter and more relaxed episode focusing on Benjamin and Jake Sisko after a status-quo-shifting two-parter reflects the placing of Explorers in the wake of Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast.

There are lots of other obvious examples. As with The Abandoned early in the third season, Hippocratic Oath is placed early in the fourth season so that it might keep the audience’s attention on the Dominion and Jem’Hadar. However, while the third season lost focus on the Dominion for extended stretches, the fourth does a much better job of presenting the Founders as a threat bubbling in the background, with episodes like Starship Down, Homefront, Paradise Lost, To the Death, The Quickening and Broken Link speckled through the season.

While the third season struggled to tell big stories about the politics of Bajor in episodes like Destiny, Life Support and Shakaar, the fourth season opted to take a much more personal approach to crafting these sorts of stories. Crossfire and Accession provided the fourth season with its glimpses at Bajoran politics, but they were built more firmly around Kira Nerys and Benjamin Sisko. In some respects, many fourth season episodes feel like the show calling a “mulligan” and asking for a “do-over” on ideas that did not quite work the first time around.

In some respects, that “mulligan” was applied to entire characters. The writing staff knew that Julian Bashir was not a popular character, and the studio had made it clear that they wanted Siddig El Fadil taken off the show. This was not an unreasonable position. Bashir-centric episodes tended to be some of the more generic instalments of the first three seasons; The Passenger, Melora, Distant Voices. Those Bashir episodes that did work (like Armageddon Game or The Wire) were largely two-handers.

However, the writing team refused to give up on Bashir. Instead of writing the character out of the show or shuffling him into the background, they devoted time to figuring out what made the character tick and how best to use him in the ensemble. The fourth season has three really great Bashir-centric episodes, which speaks to the strength of this approach. After all, had the writers written Bashir out of the show, it would never have produced Hippocratic Oath, Our Man Bashir or The Quickening.

This is something that Deep Space Nine did better than the other Star Trek shows.Deep Space Nine is legitimately an ensemble drama. It is the only Star Trek series where every member of the regular cast (and a significant number of guest stars) feel essential and necessary. On the original Star Trek, Kirk and Spock were arguably the only truly indispensible characters; DeForrest Kelley was not even added to the primary cast until the start of the second season. The crew did not really become an ensemble until Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

This also happened on the spin-offs. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was possible to go seasons between good episodes featuring Deanna Troi or Wesley Crusher. Even Geordi LaForge and Beverly Crusher felt somewhat underused as part of the cast. Star Trek: Voyager seemed to forget that Chakotay, Harry and Tuvok existed. Star Trek: Enterprise found very little character nuance or development for Travis Mayweather or Hoshi Sato. This did not happen from the outset of each show, it just happened that some characters found their voices slower.

The beauty of Deep Space Nine was a willingness to take the time to find the voice of each and every character. Jake Sisko feels much better developed than Wesley Crusher. Very few Star Trek characters can claim to have a character study as effective as The Visitor. Jadzia Dax posed problems for the first three years of the show, but the fourth finds the writers getting a lot more comfortable with her. Rejoined is the bast Dax-centric episode of the show’s run, but even her little bits in Homefront, To the Death and Broken Link are memorable.

This sense of Deep Space Nine as an ensemble is reinforced by the tremendous guest cast. Some of those characters – like Garak and Dukat – date back to the earliest days of the show’s run. However, the fourth season really cements this ensemble by introducing five of the remaining major recurring guest characters. J.G. Hertzler makes his debut in The Way of the Warrior, playing Martok. Homefront introduces Brock Peters as Joseph Sisko. Return to Grace features Casey Biggs as Damar. To the Death welcomes Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun.

The fourth season features no less than two of the three actors to play Tora Ziyals; Cyia Batten makes her first appearance in Indiscretion and Tracey Middendorf assumes the role in For the Cause. These characters will go on to become essential players in the larger scheme of the show. These characters are all – in their own way – an essential part of the show’s end game. Perhaps the least essential of these characters is Joseph Sisko, but he remains a recurring important part of his son’s life throughout the rest of the run.

Of course, there are important characters introduced later in the run; Admiral Bill Ross will provide the franchise’s most sympathetic external authority figure in A Time to Stand, Luther Sloan will reveal a shadowy side to the Federation in Inquisition, Ezri Dax will replace Jadzia in Image in the Sand. However, the fourth season represents the last time that so many important characters are introduced in so short a space of time. It suggests that these are the last big pieces of the puzzle that the production team are assembling.

Again, there is a feeling of happy coincidence to all of this, as if the production team have stumbled into a collection of useful characters. Damar has one of the most compelling arcs in the entire run of the show, but he is little more than a named extra inReturn to Grace. In some cases, it seems like the writing staff have no idea of their luck. Jeffrey Combs is phenomenal as Weyoun, but he is abruptly killed off at the end of To the Death. J.G. Hertzler is fantastic as Martok, but he will die in Apocalypse Rising. These do not seem like well-planned arcs.

Then again, the beauty of the fourth and fifth seasons of Deep Space Nine lies in the production team’s willingness to ad lib and improvise with the material available.changeling!Martok and Weyoun might not be long for this particular world, but the writers recognise great performances and won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Capitalising on this great casting, the show contrives to keep the characters around through occasionally improbable means. Martok returns in In Purgatory’s Shadow. Weyoun is resurrected in Ties of Blood and Water.

The fourth season demonstrates the production team’s willingness to improvise and engage around unexpected events. Ira Steven Behr had not planned on starting the fourth season with The Way of the Warrior. The original plan had been to bridge the third and fourth seasons with a two-parter that looked a lot like Homefront andParadise Lost, albeit with the Vulcans leaving the Federation. Instead, the studio instructed the production team not to end the third season on a cliffhanger, leading to a rather hasty writing session for The Adversary.

Between the third and fourth seasons, the studio offered notes and suggestions for what they would like to see from Deep Space Nine. This represented the most direct involvement of the studio in the day-to-day running of the series, which had traditionally been left to its own devices in the shadow of The Next Generation and Voyager. Among these suggestions were a renewed focus on the Klingons and the addition of a cast member from The Next Generation to the show in an effort to bolster ratings.

This was very pointedly not what Behr and his staff wanted to do with the fourth season. However, they engaged with the network’s input and found a way to bend those suggestions to suit their own objectives and their own interests. The Way of the Warrior introduced the Klingons to the fray, but heavily suggested that this was just a front in a larger looming conflict with the Dominion. The closing scene of Broken Linktied those two threads together gracefully, making it clear that the Klingon conflict was a small part of a larger picture.

While Behr and his staff incorporated the Klingon conflict into episodes like Return to Grace, Sons of Mogh and Rules of Engagement, they never let the conflict distract from the stories that they wanted to tell. The show still devoted considerable time and effort to the Dominion threat in the background. They still wrote Homefront andParadise Lost, just positioning them in the middle of the season, rather than the start. Admiral Leyton was still more worried about the Dominion than the Klingons.

This knack for improvisation and adaptation makes the fourth and fifth seasons ofDeep Space Nine so compelling. There is a willingness to follow plot threads and character arcs in the most interesting direction, rather than adhering to a more rigid plan. Gul Dukat’s arc seems ridiculous when examined from afar, but it generally makes sense on an episode-to-episode basis. Dukat can go from high-placed official in The Way of the Warrior to outcast after Indiscretion to space pirate in Return to Grace to ruler of Cardassia in By Inferno’s Light.

Of course, this becomes something of a double-edged sword in the final seasons of the show. The freedom to improvise and elaborate lends a free-form charm to the fourth and fifth seasons, but presents a clear challenge when the production team actually have to begin wrapping up character arcs in the sixth and seventh seasons. The beauty of having a plan is that the ending feels integrated and natural. The improvisational approach leads to sprawling plot threads and messy details that are hard to streamline into a single satisfying conclusion.

However, all of that is still in the future. For the moment, this improvisational approach to plotting has served the creative team well. There is a willingness to build off past plot points that distinguishes Deep Space Nine from all of the other spin-offs, to follow character arcs and plot threads in weird (and occasionally tangential) directions because there is something interesting to be mined from the idea of Dukat as a space pirate, regardless of how silly that might sound when trying to summarise the character’s arc.

Similarly, Deep Space Nine deserves a great deal of credit for its skill in introducing Worf. When a new character arrives on a show, particularly a new character mandated by studio or network notes, they can easily come to dominate proceedings. The addition of Seven of Nine to the fourth season of Voyager is one such example, where it seemed like Seven of Nine immediately became one of the series’ three material leads while the rest of the primary cast were firmly shunted into the background. In contrast, Worf is introduced gradually.

The writing staff integrate Worf in a number of clever ways. Worf’s integration into the cast is made an issue of itself; the show does not assume that Worf finds his place and role on the station immediately, dramatising the difficulty of integrating a new cast member into an ensemble. However, while Worf’s integration is played out as a recurring plot thread, the character is not allowed to dominate the show. Worf generally gets assigned the secondary plot line in a given episode, whether fighting with Odo in Hippocratic Oath or moving to the Defiant in Bar Association.

The first episode to focus primarily upon Worf is The Sword of Kahless, the ninth episode of a twenty-six episode season. That is quite a considerable wait followingThe Way of the Warrior. Worf waits his turn for a character-focused episode, while the fourth season cycles through some of the more difficult and problematic of its regular cast members. Bashir gets Hippocratic Oath. Dax gets Rejoined. Quark gets Little Green Men. There is a sense that Worf is not a particularly special character in the grand scheme of Deep Space Nine.

The fourth season of Deep Space Nine has three Worf-centric episodes: The Sword of Kahless, Sons of Mogh and Rules of Engagement. To put that in perspective, Bashir and Quark also get three character-centric episodes apiece. Bashir gets Hippocratic Oath, Our Man Bashir and The Quickening. Quark gets Little Green Men, Bar Association and Body Parts. Given that neither Bashir nor Quark could be considered the most popular cast members on the show, and Worf was a hugely popular character migrating from a more popular show, this is quite pointed.

Then again, the decision to handle most of Worf’s character development across running threads buried in particular episodes speaks to another strong aspect of the fourth season as a whole. The fourth season marks the point at which Deep Space Nine really grasps continuity and long-form storytelling. Of course, its biggest and boldest experiments still lie ahead, with the shift in the status quo in the second half of the fifth season leading to the six part epic at the start of the sixth season culminating in the ten-part series finalé. But the fourth season sets the basic template.

The fourth season of Deep Space Nine understands that continuity of character is an essential part of serialised storytelling on television. While the second season of Voyager also experiments with serialised storytelling, it fixates upon continuity of plot to the point that characters become chess pieces slotted around a board. However, the fourth season of Deep Space Nine acknowledges that long-form storytelling requires an investment in the characters as much as the sequence of events happening around them. As a result, there is a lot of attention paid to little details.

To pick a number of small examples of this attention to detail: Worf and Dax’s arguments about the relative merits of various Klingon swords bubble across Sons of Mogh and Bar Association; the importance of the “criminal activity reports” to Odo and Kira plays a part in both Crossfire and Broken Link; Garak’s history as a gardener is brought up in Body Parts and given greater focus in Broken Link. Even Rom’s interest in engineering in Our Man Bashir pays off at the end of Bar Association.

This plays into the show’s improvisational approach to plotting. Little details casually mentioned in dialogue can be examined and evaluated in later episodes. The fifth season would radically reimagine the character of Julian Bashir in Doctor Bashir, I Presume, a revision that would be based primarily upon a single line of dialogue inHomefront. On a somewhat smaller scale, the teddy bear that Bashir affectionately mentions in The Quickening makes an actual appearance in In the Cards.

This is a nice way to build continuity and create the impression of a living universe. The fourth season is great at threading these recurring ideas across episodes, suggesting that life on Deep Space Nine continues around the forty-five minute chunks of plot that are distilled every week. For example, both The Visitor and Hippocratic Oath make references to the resurgent Klingon threat in dialogue, even though they are not essential plot elements of a given episode. There is a sense that these elements do not go away once they are no longer plot relevant.

There are limits to this approach, and the show will brush up against those limits in the sixth and seventh seasons. This engagement with character beats as continuity and the shifting status quo works very well for the mood and tone of the fourth season, as stories unfold against the backdrop of an interstellar cold war that might turn hot at any given moment. However, the approach struggles a bit in the sixth and seventh seasons, when it seems like the Dominion War might require a tighter sense of serialisation and plotting.

Again, these are issues that will only become problems in later seasons. The fourth and fifth seasons strike a perfect balance, reconciling the more traditional episodic storytelling of Star Trek and The Next Generation with the more heavy serialisation that contemporary audiences expect from their dramas. This was perhaps the boldest and most experimental phase of the franchise; by the time that Enterprise played with long-form storytelling in its third and fourth seasons, the concept had been eagerly embraced by the mainstream. It is something to see.

In keeping with the sense that the fourth season of Deep Space Nine marked the point at which the spin-off was truly (and finally) fully-formed, it also marks the moment at which Deep Space Nine transitioned into a show about war. Of course, this is debatable. The arrival of the Defiant in The Search, Part I arguably represented an escalation in the show’s militarism and war would not actually be declared until A Call to Arms. Nevertheless, the fourth season marks the point at which “war” emerges as one of the show’s core genres.

The Way of the Warrior is very much a war story, a meditation on the political realities of warfare that features some of the most impressive combat sequences in the history of the franchise. Worf is appointed as “strategic operations officer”, making it clear that his tactical concerns are not just individual phaser and torpedo banks but the military organisation of an entire sector. Rules of Engagement suggests space combat is part of the show’s brief. Broken Link finds Gowron pushing the Klingon Empire and the Federation closer and closer to actual warfare.

The episodes focusing on the Dominion take on a very militaristic bent. Starship Downreframes the franchise’s tried and tested “disaster episode” as a submarine movie.Homefront and Paradise Lost features a military coup on Earth in response to a terrorist attack. To the Death opens with a terrorist attack upon Deep Space Nine by a bunch of renegade Jem’Hadar that leads to some intense ground-based hand-to-hand combat in an effort to deny the Jem’Hadar access to a vital (if not decisive) combat resource.

Even outside of the focus on the Klingons and the Dominion, the general tone of Deep Space Nine morphs into that of a war story; albeit a war story without an actual war.The Visitor is essentially a story about loss and abandonment, about a father taken away from his family. While not explicitly a war story, it shares many themes and tones.For the Cause is a tale about betrayal and loyalty told through the prism of terrorism, which plays into many of the same ideas. Shattered Mirror allows the cast and crew to play at being Star Wars.

Given this conscious attempt to transition Deep Space Nine into a show about war, the fourth season marks the point at which Deep Space Nine becomes even more controversial among Star Trek fans. Of course, Deep Space Nine was always controversial. Many fans refused to engage with a Star Trek show that could not “boldly go”, dismissing a television series about a crew who were forced to “boldly sit.”The concerns about the show’s cynicism and militarism would become a lot more pronounced when war was actually declared in A Call to Arms.

Nevertheless, the fourth season marks the point at which the tone of Deep Space Ninebecomes inescapable. This is going to be a show about warfare and conflict, building off the earlier themes of trauma and survival. For some Star Trek fans, that is simply too much. Some viewers refuse to engage with a Star Trek show that is openly and candidly about warfare, treating it as affront to the franchise’s utopian ideals. This is something of a revisionist narrative of the franchise, given Kirk’s behaviour in A Private Little War or The Omega Glory.

Still, it is understandable that many fans would have trouble engaging with a Star Trek show that was openly and candidly about war. There is enough war on television and film as it is, and it is understandable that some fans would want Star Trek to be a “safe space” where they can imagine a future beyond such petty concerns. At the same time, it seems ridiculous to argue that it is impossible to construct a long-form Star Trek narrative about war and conflict. It is certainly less offensive than more conventional episodes like Tattoo or Alliances.

These arguments that “Deep Space Nine is not Star Trek” always seem hollow and ill-judged. Deep Space Nine does not abandon the guiding principles and optimism of Star Trek. Instead, it filters those ideals through a prism. It is easy to stick to ideals and principles in a world where there is no scarcity or disagreement, where everybody can have everything that they want and technology can do almost everything. But if those values only apply within that hypothetical post-scarcity thought experiment, then they are ultimately pretty shallow and ineffective.

Deep Space Nine dares to ask what happens when that idealism is applied to more challenging and ambiguous situations. How do you apply optimism and hope to horrific disasters and seemingly no-win situations? The fourth season hits on this theme repeatedly, but it always suggests that those ideas and ideals can triumph against impossible odds and in awkward situations. To paraphrase Sisko’s observations from The Maquis, Part II, it is easy to be a saint in paradise… but the fourth season suggests it is possible – just harder – to be a good person beyond that.

This is most obvious in the handling of Bashir. It is no coincidence that the show broadcast Our Man Bashir directly before the Starfleet coup in Homefront and Paradise Lost. In both stories, idealistic characters are confronted with the reality that idealistic fantasies might not be as perfect as they appear. When the holodeck safeties fail, Bashir and Garak argue about how best to proceed. Garak argues that hard choices and sacrifices have to be made, and that realism is about accepting the compromise; Bashir rejects this, and promises to save everyone.

Bashir is correct. In fact, the fourth season suggests that Bashir is consistently and repeatedly correct. The show’s most idealistic character, the fourth season consciously positions Bashir as a champion of the utopian values most associated with the franchise. (As well, perhaps, of some of its vices like self-righteousness and ego.) Despite O’Brien’s cynicism, Bashir is correct that the Jem’Hadar are not unstoppable killing machines in Hippocratic Oath. Despite Garak’s pragmatism, Bashir is correct that he can save everyone in Our Man Bashir.

Bashir faces perhaps his most severe challenge in The Quickening, when he finds that he cannot apply the “fly in, fix the problem, fly out” logic of The Next Generation or Voyager to a horrific situation. Instead, The Quickening suggests that making a better world cannot happen overnight. There is no single magic fix to all of the world’s problems. In fact, Bashir’s magical medical technology only causes more harm than good. In spite of all this, Bashir is able to make a better world for the next generation by rolling up his sleeves and investing in long-term solutions.

This is the idealism of Deep Space Nine. This is a perspective that argues that improvement is possible, but it is not easy. The world can become better, but it takes time and effort. There is no easy fix to the big problems. In fact, some of those problems may never go away. However, according to Deep Space Nine, the key is not to eliminate factors and horrors that may never go away; the key is to respond to them with integrity and optimism. The utopian ideals of the franchise are embodied in the characters of Deep Space Nine more than the world around them.

Deep Space Nine adopts a cyclic view of history. It suggests that patterns and events tend to repeat and reiterate. This is particularly true of the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, positioned midway through the show’s seven-year run. The fourth season suggests that character arcs and events tend to move around in circles, repeating and reworking. Both the past and future of Deep Space Nine resonate through the fourth season, as if to suggest that all of this has happened before and will happen again.

To pick one example, the conversation between Jake and Kira at the docking pylon inThe Visitor calls back to the destruction of the Saratoga in the teaser to Emissary and harks forward to the closing shot of What You Leave Behind. The possibility of losing Sisko evokes the recurring trauma of separation and loss that bubbles across the seven years. Jake lost his mother in Emissary. He will lose his father in What You Leave Behind. He loses versions of both again in the fourth season; his father in The Visitor, his mother in Shattered Mirror.

There are plenty of other examples to be found. Kira finds herself forced to become a rebel and terrorist in Return to Grace, harking back to the life she left behind in Emissary. In that same episode, she finds herself training a bunch of Cardassians to fight a guerilla war against a vicious oppressor. Kira even teaches Damar, as she will again in Tacking into the Wind. Sisko is betrayed by Michael Eddington to the Maquis in For the Cause, mirroring Cal Hudson’s betrayal in The Maquis, Part I.

This approach might easily seem cynical, suggesting that history does not march forward and that the human experience is trapped in an endless repeating loop that dwells upon loss and suffering. It is easy to understand why so many fans treat Deep Space Nine as the most cynical of Star Trek shows. However, there is hope. Even as these cycles repeat and recur, the fourth season makes it clear that they can be broken. It is possible for people to learn and grow through these repetitions.

When Kira teaches Dukat about terrorist tactics in Return to Grace, Dukat aspires to restore his past position. This fixation upon returning to the way things used to be ultimately proves disastrous, both to Dukat and to the Cardassian Union. Instead, it will be Damar who breaks the cycle by coming to understand that Cardassia needs to change and evolve rather than trapping itself within these self-perpetuating cycles of violence and suffering. That growth is painful and harsh, but necessary.

More than that, Kira makes a point to save Ziyal from the life of a terrorist. She takes Tora Ziyal to live on Deep Space Nine, away from a rebel war against the Klingon Empire. When Dukat asks why Kira would do that, Kira explains that she sees some of herself in the young woman. Kira believes that nobody should be forced to live through the pain and suffering that she endured. Kira genuinely believes that there is a better way to live a life, and she gives Ziyal that chance.

Even Sisko has grown and changed through the repeated iterations of that loop. In The Maquis, Part II, Sisko was very clearly betrayed by Calvin Hudson. The two characters never reconciled, never spoke again. In Blaze of Glory, Michael Eddington reveals that Hudson died at the hands of the Jem’Hadar, making such a reconciliation impossible. Sisko was unable to forgive, unable to heal. Again, this plays back into the character as defined by Emissary, a man who carries his scars around with him.

In contrast, For the Cause suggests that Sisko has grown in the intervening years. When Kasidy Yates betrays him to the Maquis, Sisko is heartbroken. As he points out, she unknowingly put Jake at risk. That is a more intimate and personal betrayal than any perpetrated by Calvin Hudson. However, the final sequence of For the Cause reveals that Sisko is perfectly willing to forgive Kasidy for her betrayal. Sisko is willing to heal. When Kasidy promises to return, Sisko promises to wait. Sisko has learned to move past the hurt and the pain.

This is perhaps the true idealism of Deep Space Nine, one that suggests people can learn from their mistakes and improve upon their past performance. For all that Garak and Quark might discuss their anxieties about the corrupting power of the Federation in The Way of the Warrior, the show suggests that both Garak and Quark have been improved and strengthened by their time on the station and their exposure to Federation ideals. The suggestion is that exposure to other worlds and cultures (and possibilities) leads to a richer and better perspective.

In For the Cause, Garak and Ziyal make a clean break from the past. Thrown together by fate, Ziyal decides to forgive Garak for his crimes against her family while Garak decides to open himself up to another person. In Bar Association and Body Parts, Quark finds himself creeping further and further from the rigid capitalist ideals of Ferengi culture towards a more liberal and humanist philosophy. These events do not occur as a result of conscious “meddling” or intervention. They are presented as the logical end point of broader horizons and infinite diversity.

In its own way, Deep Space Nine is as true to the principles and utopian ideals of Star Trek as any other iteration of the franchise. Ira Steven Behr and his writers just adopt a slightly different approach to the source material, albeit one that remains broadly humanist and optimistic about the human condition, even as it becomes wary of political authorities and centralised power. As with a lot of what makes Deep Space Nine unique, that perspective really shines through over the course of the fourth season.

The fourth season of Deep Space Nine is a fantastic season of television, and one that plays to many of the series’ strengths.

 

The Best:

The Way of the Warrior, The Visitor, Indiscretion, Rejoined, Little Green Men, The Sword of Kahless, Homefront, Paradise Lost, Return to Grace, Sons of Mogh, Bar Association, Accession, Hard Time, The Muse, For the Cause, and Broken Link

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Briefly:

  • The Way of the Warrior sees Klingon General Martok arrive with a fleet at Deep Space Nine, so Sisko calls Lt. Comm. Worf to the station to find out their true intentions;
  • The Visitor sees an elderly Jake Sisko save his father from being frozen in time;
  • Indiscretion sees Kira and Gul Dukat go on a mission. This episode also introduces Dukat’s Bajoran-Cardassian daughter, Tora Ziyal;
  • Rejoined sees Jadzia Dax reunited with Lenara Khan, ex-wife of Curzon Dax;
  • Little Green Men was inspired by 50s B-movies;
  • In The Sword of Kahless, Klingon Dahar Master Kor, Jadzia, and Worf search for the fabled Sword of Kahless in the Gamma Quadrant;
  • Homefront and Paradise Lost sees the Federation deal with a Changling infestation on Earth;
  • Return to Grace sees Dukat contacting Kira in order to regain his rank in the Cardassian Empire;
  • Sons of Mogh sees Worf’s brother, Kurn, arrive on Deep Space Nine;
  • In Bar Association, Quark’s employees led by Rom, form a union against Quark’s unfair labor practices;
  • Accession sees a three-hundred-year-old ship, carrying Akorem Laan, arrive through the wormhole, claiming to be the Emissary;
  • Hard Time sees Miles O’Brien through hell, “having him struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder while trying to reintegrate into society“;
  • The Muse sees Lwaxana Troi seek protection from Odo after her Tavnian husband, Jeyal, wants to take their baby and raise him in an all-male environment;
  • For the Cause sees Lt. Comm. Michael Eddington join the Maquis, and Kasidy Yates, Sisko’s girlfriend, be arrested and sent to prison, for aiding them; and,
  • In Broken Link, Odo’s form enters fluctuations, and destabilizes, causing them to take a trip to his homeworld, and enter the Great Link.

According to the A.V. Club review of The Way of the Warrior:

As always, checking into a new season means adjusting to a show which is almost, but not quite, exactly like the show you left behind. It’s a bit like getting a new car—serves the same purpose in your life, but golly gee, look at all these nifty features. Like Sisko, sporting a shaved head which, combined with his facial hair, makes him look quite the badass. Kira has a new haircut too, and it’s very cute. (She’s still a badass, naturally.) After last season’s scuffle with the Founders, Sisko has set the crew of Deep Space Nine do regular drills, trying to master the tricky art of finding a Changeling who doesn’t want to be found. Everyone looks a bit shinier, a bit older, a bit more tightly wound—but not to the point of neurosis. There’s just an inescapable sense that, the shit having gotten real, everyone accepts that it’s going to continue to be real in the immediate future. This is one of the more nebulous advantages of ongoing continuity: It helps to set a tone so subtle we’re not always sure it’s there. Obviously Sisko and the others need to be on their guard for the rest of this feature-length episode, because the story needs to remind us that tensions are high. But that unease lingers. I caught myself looking at various characters and wondering if they were who they really said they were, and wondering what their motives might be. That concern will linger, I suspect. Nothing can be taken at face value anymore.

When a situation becomes this unstable, it’s not just personal identities that are at risk. Alliances become strained, and where some see danger, others look for opportunity. The Klingon Empire hasn’t been a danger to the Federation for quite some time; when reintroduced back in Star Trek: The Next Generation, relations with the warlike culture that plagued Kirk and Spock on the original series had finally achieved an uneasy peace. That peace only strengthened over TNG’s run, as each fresh encounter with the Klingons demonstrated how far a once mighty race had fallen, plagued by infighting, bad decisions, and an inability to move beyond the celebration of violence and conquest which had so long defined them. Most of these appearances centered around Worf, the first Klingon officer in Starfleet, an orphan raised by human parents who spent much of his time on the Enterprise struggling to define his idealized version of Klingon life, and the corruption and pettiness he found back on the home world. Not all these stories worked, but the show’s willingness to treat the Klingons as more than just a fallen enemy did it credit.

The few times Klingons have appeared on the station, DS9 has done its best to continue that trend. Without a Klingon in the main ensemble, though, those stories didn’t happen often; besides, between TOS and TNG, it seemed like all the major Klingon epics had already been told. And yet here we are, with the Founders threatening war on all fronts, while the Cardassians and the Romulans fall back to lick their wounds, and the Federation preaches caution. Shouldn’t someone step up, and do what needs to be done? Sisko is cagey as hell, but surely he can’t be expected to save the universe from the Dominion threat entirely on his own. Surely he’d welcome assistance, especially if it came in the form of the entire Klingon fleet.

“The Way Of The Warrior” is a terrific 90 minutes of television, building to its conclusions slowly but without hesitation, using threats the show has spent the last three seasons carefully establishing to shift the main arc in an unexpected direction. Of all the possible danger our heroes might have faced, Klingons would not have been very high on the list. It’s hard to remember the last time the Klingons have come across as dangerous on a Trek series. I don’t mean on an individual basis; there have been plenty of fierce warriors on both TNG and DS9. But as a people? The Romulans were scarier in Picard’s era; Sisko had to face off against first the Cardassians, and then the shapechangers. A bunch of drunken buffoons tossing knives and pining for the old days hardly seem like a terrifying foe. Yet the presence of dozens of Klingon ships floating casually around DS9’s pinions isn’t a joke, and regardless of what the fleet’s leader, General Martok, assures Sisko, they aren’t a comfort. Martok says the Klingons have decided to get involved with the Dominion War. That’s great, but now they’re just hanging around the station, harassing the locals and beating on Garak. Or worse, they’re illegally seizing outgoing ships for unwarranted searches, demanding proof that every transport or freighter leaving the quadrant is Founder-free.

Trek races work best when they can hit two levels at once. The first level, the most straightforward and the one which inspires all that fan passion and cosplay and media tie-ins, is as convincing fiction. We don’t need to know the Klingons down to their DNA (although I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has tried to), but the more we believe they are a distinct species from our own, an alien race with its own identity and history, the more we invest in the stories around them. The second level is more nebulous: The Klingons should be a reflection of some aspect of human behavior. The better the writers are able to use a species to show us a sort of twisted mirror version of ourselves, the more resonant these stories become.

You’ve probably noticed that these two levels are at odds with one another: The more obviously a Trek race is a human surrogate (or, worse, a symbol for a specific emotion or weakness), the less convincing the fiction. Balance works best (and I’d argue that it’s generally better to focus more on getting the first level down before worrying too much about the second), which is one of the reasons this whole Dominion story is so fascinating. Sisko and the others are the “normal” ones, largely because they’re distinct individuals. They don’t represent anyone but themselves. But the Cardassian and Romulan attack on the Founder’s homeworld last season was an example of how one natural reaction to a potential threat is to use it to promote our own myth of control and self-reliance. Tain wasn’t just trying to end the war. He was trying to use it as an excuse to regain his lost glory, to deny the weight of time and the arc of circumstance and make himself a king once more. There’s tragedy in that, for all of Tain’s cruelty, and the tragedy means more than just a grey guy with a bumpy forehead overreaching and paying the price.

The same is true of the Klingon plan. Martok, under the orders of Chancellor Gowron, is keeping secrets from Sisko. The fleet isn’t simply there to offer protection, or even to head off into the Gamma Quadrant to face down the Founders and the Jem’Hadar directly. Instead, they’re using the chaos to launch an assault on Cardassia. The Cardassian government has been recently overthrown by the civilian authority we heard rumbles of last season, and Gowron and his men argue that this revolt is actually a Changeling plot. It’s an assumption which is both somewhat reasonable (it’s hard to put anything past the Founders, really), and also calculated to offer the Klingons the greatest chance for glory possible. The Cardassians and Romulans tried to shortcut a war by attempting a surprise attack with little useful information; the Klingons have decided to exploit that potential war for their own ends, so intent on returning to the old days that they aren’t particularly worried about crossing every “t.” While their plans threaten to destroy the peace treaty they signed with the Federation, and while their attack on Cardassian space leads to the loss of innocent life, the Klingons aren’t exactly the bad guys. Their position is just understandable enough to put them in a gray area; while Gowron and Martok and the rest are overcome by the lust for battle, there’s every chance that they really do believe this is the smartest way to face off against the Dominion. It’s self-serving logic, but it maintains a level of complexity throughout the episode that keeps the action as fascinating as it is intense. The best part? The only changeling to appear in the episode is Odo. (Or so we think.) Just the idea of them is enough to make everyone crazy.

And when you’ve got crazy Klingons, who do you call? I knew Worf would eventually become a regular on the series; I even knew this episode was his first appearance. But it was still a thrill when, 20 minutes or so in, Sisko decides he needs some help, and puts out the call for everybody’s favorite dorky dad. And Worf is a dork, I realized watching this. That may not be quite the right word, given its connotations of ineffectuality and clumsiness; despite the many beatings he took on the Enterprise, Worf can handle himself in a fight, and he gets shit done when he sets his mind to it. But the character, and Michael Dorn’s slightly awkward, perpetually out of place performance, is stuck as the party stiff, the guy in the corner who can’t ever take a joke, and doesn’t have Spock’s ego, or Data’s oblivious curiosity, to fall back on. He’s hopelessly square, devoted to a culture of honor and sacrifice which no longer really exists, treated as a throwback by his Starfleet peers, and viewed at best as suspect—and at worst a traitor—by his own kind. Worf is, in fact, a perfect addition to the DS9 crew, Star Trek’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys.

Using this as its starting point for the character, Worf’s arc in “The Way Of The Warrior” looks to up the ante, transforming the Klingon orphan’s tentatively accepted outsider status into something more like exile. The episode takes place after the events Star Trek: Generations, and in their first conversation, Sisko offers his condolences to Worf for the loss of the Enterprise. The crash has left the former security officer adrift, and he’s considering quitting Starfleet. Before that happens, he agrees to investigate just what the hell the Klingons are up to, and the answers he gets aren’t pretty. I’ve already described Gowron’s big plan; the main connection to Worf is that it once again forces him to decide between his honor and his people, a conflict which came up regularly back on TNG. The difference being, here, Worf’s decision to stand with Sisko and refuse to join in on the Cardassian assault makes him an enemy to Gowron, and pretty much the whole Klingon race.

That, on the small scale, is a great example of what sets DS9 apart. TOS never had enough continuity to worry about a status quo, and TNG would tease its status quo, but rarely break it. DS9, meanwhile, looks at the way things are, shrugs, and starts setting people on fire. The Klingons don’t just plan an attack on Cardassian space, they follow through on those plans, with devastating results; Sisko is forced to attempt a rescue mission to save the Cardassian high council, and has to fight off a trio of Klingon ships; and then, once the council members are safely aboard DS9, Gowron and Martok demand their return before attacking the station directly. Sisko manages to hold out long enough for Starfleet reinforcements to arrive, forcing Gowron to stand down, but that doesn’t make everything better. The Klingons refuse to give up some of the Cardassian settlements they’ve conquered, meaning they’ll continue to be a dangerously unstable, power-hungry presence in the area. Which, as Sisko points out, is just what the Founders want. The victory is a temporary one, which is as it should be. As with the changeling threat lurking just around the corner, having Klingons next door is a great way to make sure no one ever gets too comfortable.

The gutsy storytelling is exhilarating, just as much as the action setpieces. And those setpieces are fantastic, full of the sort of cheer-worthy bravado and terrifying odds that make adventure stories great. Sure, the effects aren’t always amazing, but it doesn’t matter; if TOS could wring suspense out of two guys plotting against each other in separate plywood sets, DS9 can do it just by having Avery Brooks steeple his fingers and contemplate his next move. Maintaining a building momentum throughout, so that the story becomes increasingly more engrossing as it builds to its climax, is one of the hardest parts about making a doubly long episode like this work. But “The Way Of The Warrior” nails it. The crisis develops and builds steam organically, and each fresh confrontation leads to other, bigger fights, until Sisko and his crew are staring down the entire Klingon fleet without blinking. “Right now I’ve got 5,000 photon torpedoes armed and ready to launch,” Sisko calmly tells Gowron, and I’ll admit it: I cheered. It was awesome.

Of course, the hour and a half wouldn’t work if it relied entirely on its thrills to keep things moving. There’s Worf, grudgingly binding himself tighter and tighter to Sisko and the station every step of the way, until finally, it’s either give up on Starfleet completely, or stick in the one place where he’s truly needed. (Adding a new cast member is tricky business this far into a run, even when it’s someone as familiar to fans as Worf; I’ll be curious to see how he’s integrated into the show when it’s not the end of the world, but I will say I think the writers handled the introduction, and his decision to stay, fairly well.) And then there are smaller, more intimate exchanges between characters, like Garak and Odo having breakfast to together—which gives Odo a chance to demonstrate his ability to impersonate a mug of coffee—or Quark finding out Rom used his disruptor for spare parts. The dialogue is great, and none of these scenes, even when they don’t directly impact the plot, come across as wasted or as padding. It sets the scene, and reminds us who we’ll lose if this all goes south.

Or how about that conversation between Garak and Quark about the awfulness of root beer? Garak has just realized that his people’s best chance against the Klingon attack is the Federation; Quark knows the Federation is the only way he can continue to make his living. Neither of them are very happy about this. So Quark offers Garak a taste of root beer:

Garak: It’s vile
Quark: I know. It’s so bubbly and cloying and happy.
Garak: Just like the Federation.
Quark: But you know what’s really frightening? If you drink enough of it, you start to like it.
Garak: It’s insidious.
Quark: Just like the Federation.

As much as the politics, the battles, Sisko’s genius at out-maneuvering his enemies, Worf’s uncertainty, and the perpetual terror of an enemy who can be anyone or anything, this exchange speaks to DS9’s greatness. These two characters are a small part of this story, and the Federation are basically the cavalry that saves the day in the end—but that doesn’t stop Garak and Quark from being right. Just because we’re all on the same side doesn’t mean we have to like it.

According to the A.V. Club review of The Visitor:

I decided I was going to be a writer when I was 11 years old. Like most kids, I’d wandered around a lot of ideas before settling on this one; but once it came to me, it stuck. I’m sure my parents must have had their doubts, and they were very insistent on making sure I went to college and got a degree to fall back on, but they never tried to convince me to give up, or that it was an impossible goal, or that I was being impractical or foolish, or any of a thousand of the things a loving parent will tell their child when they’re worried that child is making a horrible mistake. There was one time, it all came crashing down, the sheer improbability of what I wanted to be, the way the odds stacked against me like the elephant tower in Dumbo: ridiculous, roaring, and ready to collapse. So there I was, sitting on my bed, crying because I was lost and stupid and a failure, and my dad sitting next to me, patient, saying, “Well, somebody has to write the books. No reason it couldn’t be you.” Or something like that. It’s funny what stays with you.

Sisko’s relationship with his son has always been one of Deep Space Nine’s best relationships, the sort of stable, quietly perfect bond that helps to ground both characters without ever really needing to be underlined. The two will get the occasional episode story from time to time; maybe Jake is struggling with Nog, or he has a new girlfriend, or he’s considering leaving the station to go to school back on Earth. These are pleasant stories, mildly angsty on occasion, but there’s never any doubt of the love between the two. So many shows think the way to generate drama between a parent and a growing child is to force fake drama, to turn the developing teenager into a self-centered howling ball of contradictions because, hey, kids are crazy, right? And while sure, adolescents can be obnoxious, so can everybody; there’s something refreshing and charming about someone like Jake, who can be a twerp, but is fundamentally level-headed and kind. The fact that Sisko is a good father makes us like him more, and works to contextualize the show’s stakes and ambitions. Yeah, this guy’s the head of a space station, facing down a mysterious and utterly alien threat, dealing with all manner of bizarre technical catastrophes and squabbling races, but he’s also just a dad, making dinner for his son and trying to encourage him down the right path.

It’s one of those bizarre technical catastrophes that kicks off the plot for “The Visitor,” although we don’t know that at first. The episode is playing us from the start; instead of the station, the cold open is set in a house in Louisiana, and instead of any immediately familiar actors from the cast, we see Tony Todd in old age make-up, moving slowly about the house, looking at photos (hey, it’s Sisko!), and injecting himself with a high-tech syringe. We soon learn that this is, in fact, someone we know, and know well: It’s Jake Sisko, all grown up. A young woman who wants to be a writer comes to see him, and asks him why he gave up his work. It’s raining, and he’s tired, and she’s worshipful, so he decides to tell her. Why not. If everything goes according to plan, it will be his last chance to tell his story to anyone.

I knew the premise of the episode going in, so I wasn’t surprised by the opening, but I imagine it must have been somewhat disorienting to fans of the show. But then, this isn’t really like other episodes. It features most of the usual cast, it doesn’t try and force us to accept a completely new set of rules and universe, but “The Visitor” is strange, and makes sure to draw attention to that strangeness without making too big a deal of it. This is a bit like a “What if?” episode; it draws on established show continuity, but much of what happens over the course of the hour is undone by the end, and won’t really have an impact on future storylines. I’ve read this used as a criticism, the argument being that without real consequences, the emotions the episode tries to generate are somehow a cheat. To me, the oddness of it, the ephemeral quality of Old Jake’s life and what he does with it, is part of what makes “The Visitor” so powerful. The truths here are built into who Jake and Sisko are. Here is the problem; this is how they deal with it.

My dad had a beeper. That’s a joke now, thanks to 30 Rock and the existence of cell phones, but when I was 8, it wasn’t funny at all. It was a small black device about the size of a cigarette pack, and when it went off, it screamed in a piercing, nasal whine that you could hear anywhere in the house. I hated that fucking thing. During the week, I didn’t really think about it; Dad was off in Portland or the shipyard or Portsmouth, NH, fixing machines and drinking too much coffee. That’s what Dads did. But evenings and weekends, my father was supposed to be home, and we’d sit around the table eating dinner, and the beeper would go off. Or we’d be playing a game of Dr. Mario (I always won), or just watching TV, and the beeper would go off. Or it would be Saturday, and we’d have plans to go to the movies, and the beeper would go off. Or we’d be headed to camp, and the beeper would go off. It didn’t always happen, but after awhile, I stopped being able to trust that he’d ever really be anywhere. There was a time when the strongest image I had of my father was someone just a few steps shy of the door; whether coming or going, I could never say.

If “The Visitor” has a flaw, it’s that the premise is pure Star Trek hokum: something something wormhole something flux something warp core. Given the time that passes, and the nature of that time, the episode is vaguely reminiscent of “The Inner Light” from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but there, Picard’s experience is created for a specific purpose. Here, it’s just an accident. Sisko gets hit by an energy beam and disappears. Everyone assumes he’s dead, but because this is Star Trek, and because Sisko is a main character, he isn’t. Instead, he’s kicked out of sync with standard time, and now only appears in the real world at intermittent intervals. Months and months after his own funeral, Benjamin reappears in his son’s bedroom, confused, groggy, and looking exactly the same as he did when he first vanished. He barely has time to say hello before he fades away. Jake thinks it’s a dream, but then it happens again, and this time, Sisko stays around long enough for Bashir to study him, and determine the problem. Which is, let’s be honest, basically magic. The technobabble is simple enough to make the right amount of sense, but the details of the crisis itself have no emotional impact. There’s no deeper truth Jake and Sisko have to learn about just what happened that day in the Defiant’s engine room. Before the ending, the closest thing to a reveal the episode has is when Jake realizes his father is linked directly to him—that the appearances are always around him, which is why they keep happening, even after he leaves the station.

Still, there’s something to be said for following through the real impact of one of those loopy sci-fi calamities that have always been a reliable plot generator for the franchise. O’Brien had his own bad luck with time travel in last season’s “Visionary,” but Jake’s troubles have a scope that earlier episode didn’t. Losing a parent is horrible enough (and Jake didn’t have any to spare), but he’s haunted by his old man, not just for a few days but for the rest of his life. Sisko isn’t dead. Jake knows this, but there’s nothing he can do about it but move on. There’s randomness to the event, a cruel lack of purpose or clear arc, that renders it impossible to get over. Jake tries. With Sisko gone, the Bajorans lose their faith in Federation protection, and they make a pact with the Cardassians against the Klingon threat. Later, Starfleet hands over control of DS9 to the Klingons, and Jake is forced to leave; thinking he’s abandoned his father behind for good, he goes to school, he gets married, he writes a novel and a collection of short stories. But then Dad shows up in the living room, and it’s like the past won’t let go. Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton do terrific work throughout the hour (Lofton gives the best performance I’ve seen him give on the show), but this belongs to Tony Todd. Old or young, there’s something sad and joyous wrapped up in him, and the look on his face when he sees his father again is everything. He’s relieved and destroyed at once. He gives up his writing career, he loses his wife, he sacrifices his own life to get back what he lost: not just the man, but the home that man stood for, back when life made sense.

Fishing at night is easier than I thought it would be. It’s easier than fishing in the day, almost. Dad and I go out to the raft after supper, and he gets a big flashlight out of the canoe. (I don’t trust the canoe, it rocks back and forth when you climb in, and I’m scared I’ll tip it and dump everything into the lake.) He turns the flashlight on, and stands it top down between two of the raft’s slats, shining white light onto the water, making glow. The light, Dad says, attracts fish, and he’s right; we don’t have to wait long before one us gets a bite, but it’s a lot of patient tugging and swearing (from Dad) before we catch anything. I catch an eel, and it is the ugliest, freakiest thing I’ve seen in my whole life. It whipsaws back and forth in my hands, and it’s hard to keep my grip, but I have to hold on long enough for my dad to get the hook out of its mouth. He does, and I throw the eel back into the lake; I’m completely convinced the eel will remember my name and hate me forever, and that, when I inevitably tip the canoe over, it will be waiting. Dad asks me what I’m reading these days. I tell him I’m on the second book of the Foundation series, which I know he’s read, because I’m reading his copy. We talk about Asimov for a while. The stars come out.

It’s no simple thing, saying why “The Visitor” is so affecting. The hook isn’t a doomed romance, or the power of science, or the horrors of war. Watching it for the first time, I was surprised at how straightforward it is, how moderated and undemanding. There’s not a lot of shouting. Jake is more desperate as he gets older, but we really only see the after-effects of that desperation. We don’t see his wife leave; we hear about it. We don’t watch him quit writing; we just know he did, because the woman who comes to see him keeps asking about it. I suppose you could say it’s not all that heartbreaking to watch his life come undone by bad luck and love, since he gets a do-over in the end. I don’t buy that though, because Jake’s agony, and his ultimate decision to kill himself in order to free his father (and, hopefully, himself), isn’t about consequence. It’s about showing us something that was already there, that was always there. I cried, but not when Sisko realized what his son had done—although that’s an amazing moment, and the way Sisko is so immediately horrified speaks to his credit. I cried when Old Jake, woke up to find his father watching him, smiling. I cry thinking about it now.

The thing is, I see my dad fairly regularly these days. He likes to come over for the weekend every month or two; we drink beer, watch movies, and talk about books. Sometimes, he asks me how my writing’s going, and I try and be honest without getting too heavy, but I think he knows I have my good days and my bad. He’ll say something supportive, but he’s got his own problems, because that’s what happens. Sisko gets to go back in time, and dodge the energy beam, and save his and his son’s life. And I’m sure they’ll stay close for the rest of their lives, but closeness never lasts the way we want it to. I talk to my dad on the phone. He gives me advice about my car, and sometimes it feels like we’re imitations of people we both used to be, like I’m a supporting cast member who left the show years ago, and only comes back for a guest spot when I need the money. This isn’t a tragedy. This is how life works. Jake and Sisko will have many more moments together than they had in Old Jake’s timeline, but after a while, that’s all they’ll be: moments. And we cling to them, no matter how many or how few, because that’s what we get. In the end, we’re all just visiting.

According to the A.V. Club review of Indiscretion:

Another meat and potatoes episode; another split between main plot and sub-plot, with once again the main plot doing most of the heavy lifting. Standard TV stuff, obviously, and it basically works, but “Indiscretion” is a good example of a strong hour which might have been stronger if it had focused more on one single storyline. Sisko’s relationship woes are engaging enough, and it’s good to have this kind of comparatively low stakes drama on the show, reminding us that these are still people (or otherwise) trying to lead their lives in the middle of all this craziness. But like Worf’s story in the previous episode, it’s predictable, and there’s no corresponding satisfaction in seeing that predictability play out.

The idea is, Benjamin and Kasidy’s relationship is going well, and Kasidy has a new job offer from Bajor that would keep her in the system more regularly, and even allow her to set up some permanent quarters on the station. Sisko is uncomfortable about this, and when they try and have a conversation about it over dinner, his lack of enthusiasm upsets Yates, and she leaves the room. It’s the first big argument we’ve seen the couple have, which is important, but it’s also the most predictable argument two people in love on a tv show could have. She wants to take the next step in the relationship; he’s nervous about moving too fast. The fact that Sisko has backstory reasons for his nervousness, reasons beyond simple cold-feetism, helps the situation to an extent. He lost his first wife, and her death was directly connected to his line of work. He’s also the head guy on a space station which has gone through any number of dangerous crises in the last few years, a station which will almost certainly be facing threats in the near future. It makes sense that he’d be worried about having someone else in his life, someone apart from Jake, to be worried about.

The episode manages to convey all this, and the actors handle the material competently, but there’s no real spark to any of it. The most interesting moments aren’t really about Kasidy or Benjamin at all; it’s delightful to see Bashir and Dax teaming up to give romantic advice, or hear Jake relay his conversation to Nog about how Sisko should be handling himself. But to see their helpful tips put into action is, well, it’s okay. It’s not bad. I’m glad Sisko gets over his fears quickly enough not to risk a promising relationship with someone. But in the end, I’m not sure it was worth this much time to see something so rote unfold so rotely.

This especially true when you compare this subplot against the more ambitious, and more unsettling, main storyline. Kira gets news that there might be a way to locate a ship, the Ravinok, that’s been missing since the occupation. She had a friend on board, and there’s a chance that friend might still be alive, so she’s determined to find out what happened. The problem is, the Ravinok was a Cardassian prisoner transport, and once the Cardassians get wind of Kira’s intentions, they insist that she bring along a Cardassian investigator. After some cajoling from Sisko (this is, after all, the Cardassian civilian government; it makes sense to maintain as good a connection with them as possible), Kira agrees to take on a partner, only to discover, to her dismay, that the investigator is Gul Dukat.

It’s a tricky pairing, and one I’m not sure the writers know entirely what to do with. Forcing two former enemies to work together to achieve a common goal is an old trick, and, when done well, a deeply satisfying one; there’s something wonderfully optimistic about watching a pair of people with every reason to want each other dead gradually finding some kind of common ground. Only, Dukat isn’t just a crook Kira’s been trying to track down, or a soldier fighting on the opposite side of a war. He was the head of the occupation of Bajor, the leader responsible for the loss of hundreds, maybe thousands of Bajoran lives. It’s hard to find common ground there, unless you call being in Hell the same time as the Devil sharing common ground. And Dukat’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Kira are misguided, to say the least. His big pitch in the shuttlecraft is that the Occupation helped to make the Bajoran people stronger, made them harder and more confident in themselves; it’s an argument that manages to be both insulting and self-serving at once, and for Dukat to consider it a starting point for opening discussions makes it hard to believe Kira doesn’t just kill him right then and there.

DS9 generally does a good job hiding its TV-roots, at the least when it comes to the more unfortunate restrictions those roots carry. But of course Kira can’t kill Dukat, because that would be too big of a shift—the writers are far more ambitious about changing the status quo on a galactic scale than on an individual one, which is how we can have war and chaos without any major shifts in the main cast. Mostly, this works. None of us want characters to die, and there’s enough drama in the potential that the actual eventuality never needs to happen. But watching Kira and Dukat face off against one another is such an unsettling situation that having them play through the usual getting to know you routines never quite feels right. It’s not that Kira needed to kill Dukat. But more acknowledgement that she had spent a good part of her life determined to murder him for his crimes against her people would’ve gone a long way to generating the right kind of tension. Imagine how this might have played out on a show like Battlestar Galactica, whose characters were seemingly capable of doing just about anything. Just acknowledging the possibility that something bad might happen would’ve been enough.

Instead, Kira puts up a good show, and for a few scenes even appears to be softening towards Dukat. It’s hard to swallow, to say the least; Dukat’s behavior makes him more sympathetic to us (we learn that the real reason he’s interested in the Ravinok is that his Bajoran mistress was on board when the ship disappeared), but it shouldn’t necessarily change how she views him. There’s a scene in which Dukat sits on something sharp, injuring himself, and Kira has to pull the object out of his buttock. She then offers him a device to heal the wound, and starts laughing at the visual of Dukat contorting his body to get a better angle on his own ass. It’s very strange, and not all that funny. I guess there’s something to be said for reducing a monster to a fool, but both their laughter is so awkward and shrill it’s hard to know for sure if it’s supposed to be sincere, or freakish, or something else.

Things snap into focus soon after when Kira finally ferrets out Dukat’s real real reason for coming along. He had a daughter with his Bajoran mistress, and if that daughter is still alive, he intends to kill her; if his enemies back on Cardassia learned of the young woman’s existence, his life and career would be put in jeopardy. This, at least, is the Dukat we know and hiss at, a self-serving bastard with enough charm to make those qualities seem far more clever than they probably are. Kira is appropriately horrified, and it could be that the earlier, minor friendship that had been developing between them served to lull her into a false security. It becomes her mission not just to find the survivors, but also to make sure that Dukat isn’t able to follow through on his goal, and having them be antagonistic, while still forced to work together, brings a clarity back to their interactions which was lacking before.

The climax of the episode comes when Dukat finally tracks down his child, has his gun on her, and then can’t follow through. It should be a thrilling, redemptive moment, a sign that Dukat, for all his coldness, does have some decency somewhere. But it doesn’t quite work, because instead of thinking, “Yay, he didn’t shoot his kid!”, I’m wondering if he has some sort of ulterior motive for not shooting her; if this was all come kind of con to win Kira over. Ambiguity can be a powerful tool, but only when it serves the story’s needs. In this case, my difficulties aligning what I know of Dukat’s character with his behavior on screen robbed the episode of its intended impact. Which is why I wish we’d spent less time with Sisko’s romance woes. The main plot of “Indiscretion” was tricky, and emotionally complex enough to have warranted more screentime. As is, it’s still a good episode, but one that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

According to the A.V. Club review of Rejoined:

This is a love story between two women. It’s more complicated than it sounds; there are alien organisms, gender-swapping, and past lives involved. But those are all devices to get us to that central romance, so it’s worth mentioning that at no point in the episode does anyone object to Dax and Dr. Lenara Kahn’s relationship purely on the grounds of their gender. No one says, “But when you first met, Dax, you were in the body of a man!” It’s irrelevant to the storyline. There are ways to tell this that could’ve dealt head on with the difficulties of re-establishing contact with someone you first knew (and loved) as a different person, but “Rejoined” is more interested in what happens after the reconnection. The script takes Dax and Kahn’s immediate, and intense, passion as an inevitability, which means there’s no real need to get into the logistics of the thing. In 1995, lesbians on TV weren’t unheard of, but they weren’t a normal, everyday sight, either; it’s refreshing to see Dax and Kahn presented so matter of factly. Yup, they’re women, yup they’re in love, yup they’re kissing. That’s not where the drama comes from.

The downside being, while I respect this episode and thought both Terry Farrell and Susanna Thompson (as Kahn) did good work in it, it’s not all that fun or exciting to watch. Partly that’s due to the straightforward plot. Dax hears that Kahn, whom she was once married to while she was in a different host (Torias—Kahn was Nilani, but I’m going to avoid using those names again because this is already confusing enough), is coming to the station as part of a Trill scientist team working to create artificial wormholes. Sisko offers Dax the chance to get off the station during the testing, and we learn that the Trill have very specific, very strict rules about symbionts trying to pick up old relationships in new hosts. If Dax and Kahn make the mistake of ever, ever, ever getting back together, they’ll both be exiled from their home, and their symbionts will never be allowed to take on new bodies; their experiences will die with Jadzia and Lenara.

So, of course, Dax decides to stick around; she bumps into Kahn; and the two of them reconnect as more than just friends. As anyone who’s watched a fair amount of Trek knows, the franchise is hit-or-miss when it comes to romances, but I’d say this one is solid. The two actors have the right kind of chemistry, that sort of immediate spark where you know from the first second they share a scene together that they’re going to end up kissing eventually, like they’ve got magnets in their lips and the room is shrinking. I hope this doesn’t sound prurient; there’s a long and deeply absurd history of pop culture exploiting women’s sexual lives solely for the sake of arousing men, but Dax and Kahn’s intimacy never comes across as manipulative or disconnected from the characters. There’s an eroticism to their first kiss, but the emotional charge of it is as important as the physical one. The two come across as equals, and while we’re only partial to their history through the occasional nugget of expository dialogue, it’s never hard to believe that they’re falling for one another. The whole thing seems perfectly natural.

But again: It’s not very thrilling. Dax and Kahn get closer, Kahn’s brother and team-leader grumble over it, Kahn is nearly killed when one of the experiments goes haywire, and then, ultimately, she decides to go back to Trill and let the forbidden relationship drop. This breaks Dax’s heart, and the episode wrings as much pathos as it can out of the end of the affair, but seeing as how it’s an entirely predictable conclusion to the story, the pathos only goes so far. It’s definitely possible to get grand emotion out of well-worn tropes, but this doesn’t come across as tragic, since it has zero consequences for the show. Dax briefly brushes into someone she once loved, but that was in another life, and while there’s still a connection between them, it’s not enough to power the entire episode. In order to be effective, “Rejoined” needs us to care about this couple, needs us to believe in their belonging to together as passionately as Dax does. Only, we know the relationship can’t last, and because of this, it’s difficult to invest much in the outcome; and without that investment, the hour becomes a slow, passable slog to a familiar conclusion.

There are fine scenes throughout the entry. I’m very fond of the lengthy conversation between Bashir, Kira, and Quark near the start in which the script and the actors do their damnedest to make sure everyone in the audience understands the exact stakes of Dax’s situation; it’s a scene which could’ve come across as leaden and forced, but is instead, thanks to a light touching in the writing and the actors established rapport, is playful and charming. Also charming: Worf’s brief monologue about Klingon dreams, and Kira’s comment about how she never knows if he’s joking or not. (Actually, I think the scene would’ve played better without Kira’s comment, but I guess Worf’s sense of humor is so rare it needed underlining.) And Dax and Kahn’s wuv affair really isn’t bad. There’s not of the creepy paternalism that tainted so many Star Trek: The Next Generation relationships, and, given that they both already know each other, their interactions are less about flirtation, and more about former intimates resuming the friendship and passion that once connected them.

It’s just not enough. There’s an “eat your vegetables” vibe to much of this, a frustrating and enervating lack of fun that a few fun scenes and Dax’s brief walk across a force-field can’t fix. Fun can come in many different ways—you can still have horror and misery in an exciting hour of television. That’s something DS9has done very well in the past. But in order to work, there needs to be something beyond what we see on the surface, a relationship or bit of plot that digs deeper, and there’s nothing like that in “Rejoined.” We learn nothing much about the group of Trill Kahn travels with, we get no sense of the challenges of re-establishing a long-dormant love, and apart from telling us it’s “unnatural” for two symbionts to try and resume an old affair, there’s no attempt to understand the cultural reasons which ultimately drive these characters apart. It’s shallow storytelling saved from complete tedium by strong acting and an admirable lack of stigma. Basically, the fact that it doesn’t make a big deal out of its central coupling is really cool, right up until it isn’t. But the kissing was nice.

According to the A.V. Club review of Little Green Men:

This is cute. The time travel idea is cute, the quick reference to American UFO mythology is cute, the semi-homage to science-fiction films of the 1950s is cute—really, the whole thing is pretty damn adorable, if you overlook the scene where Nog asks the nice Earth lady to give him a ear-job. But the best thing about “Little Green Men” might be everything else: the character moments, the world-building, the tone. The episode’s premise is attention-grabbing, but it’s a shallow, silly riff that exists mostly to get in some decent gags about how a Ferengi might see 20th century American culture. The concept is a grabber—Quark, Rom, and Nog wind up on an Air Force base in the US in 1947—but there’s barely any plot to speak of, and none of the sort of twisty storytelling that time travel tales so often indulge in. It’s a lark, and the pleasure of a lark is largely defined by the quality of one’s company. Ultimately, that’s the real selling point for this hour: getting to hang out with Quark, Rom, and Nog (and, briefly, Odo). Because why the hell not?

Nog is heading to Starfleet, and, as is customary when a young Ferengi male leaves home for the first time, he’s selling all his possessions to raise the necessary collateral to go out on his own. Rom explains all of this to the patrons of Quark’s bar with barely restrained delight, while various crewmembers eye Nog’s stuff. (Dax buys Bashir a holosuite program that, by its description, has to be porn; Worf is initially skeptical, but then gets super keen when he finds Nog’s old tooth sharpener.) The scene establishes that Nog is finally leaving the station, but it also serves as a chance to show off the relationships between the episode’s three main characters. Rom is still incredibly proud of his son; Nog is nervous about leaving, and excited, and determined to be the best he can be; and Quark just can’t believe any of this is happening. It’s the sort of triangle that raises all kinds of possibilities for confrontation and drama, and while we probably don’t need to see Rom reading the riot act to Quark in order to protect his son again, it’s actually a little disappointing the way this all disappears once the time travel kicks in. Oh, everyone still behaves consistently, and they all get some good lines (Quark especially), but there’s no real thematic resonance to the brief adventure in the past. This may be the first time in the history of these reviews when I’ve actually complained an hour had too much sci-fi goofiness and not enough character work, but while the complaint is a minor one, I do think the second half of “Little Green Men” is more hollow than those first 10 minutes. Nog arriving at Starfleet Academy, saying goodbye to his father, maybe Quark showing just the slightest bit of emotion—that could’ve been something.

Instead, we get what we get. Which is perfectly fine, and it’s my job to critique the episode on the screen and not the one in my head, so I’ll let this go. It’s just a weird split, and worth mentioning as still more evidence of how good DS9 has gotten at treating its characters right.

So after the usual techno-babble setup (leavened here by the fact that Quark’s cousin’s attempt to murder him via spaceship is basically the MacGuffin), our heroes find themselves under guard at the aforementioned Air Force base, studied by the military (including Charles Napier as General Denning) and Professor Wainwright (James MacDonald), who just happens to be engaged to the base’s Nurse Garland (Megan Gallagher, doing her Megan Gallagher thing). There are sly nods to the culture of the past: everyone’s smoking cigarettes, for one, and they all get really interested when the Ferengi bring up the Russians. There’s also some miscommunication between the Ferengi and the humans, as Quark, Rom, and Nog’s Universal Translators go on the fritz due to the proximity of an atom bomb. The best joke has Quark and the others hitting his head to try and jar the Translator back into place; the humans think this is some kind of greeting, and hit their own heads in turn. Less funny is that whole “misunderstanding” with Nog’s ears. Look, you can have fun with the idea that the Ferengi’s lobes are erogenous zones, but when that fun involves tricking people into going to second base without realizing they were up to bat, it gets icky. Say positions were reversed, and you had a guy tricking some alien lady into groping his crotch and moaning. That is a very different kind of TV show right there.

Still, this is largely harmless, and Quark’s sudden decision to make the most out of these new customers, with an eye towards traveling to the Ferengi homeworld and jumpstarting their space program, gives Armin Shimerman a chance to add some edge to the proceedings. Nog objects to Quark’s plans; there’s a clever reference early into the hour to the Bell Riots, with Nog recognizing Sisko’s picture in a guide book, which serves as a reminder of the dangers and responsibilities of walking through history. Yet after he makes his initial complaints, Nog never gets into the issue again. He and Rom pretty much roll over for Quark’s ambition, and if it weren’t for the fact that the American government is far more venal and prone to violence than even Quark was expecting, who knows what might have happened. It’s one of the problems with the script, really. Events keep happening to our heroes, and most of the decisions they make have no significant effect on those events. Yes, Nog’s lies do provide the others with a chance to bust out of the interrogation room (and represent a very quick bit of thinking on his part; that boy’s going places). And sure, Quark’s attempts to maneuver himself into a position of power probably got him and the others into an interrogation room a little faster, but I don’t doubt they would’ve gotten their eventually, whatever they said. It turns out Odo snuck a ride on the trip, convinced that Quark was using his nephew’s trip to Earth as an excuse to smuggle goods (he was), which means there’s somebody to come to the rescue when things get physical. And while it’s Rom who comes up with both the initial time-travel glitch and the right way to get them all back home, he’d be screwed if they hadn’t conveniently crash-landed at the right time and place for a massive energy surge, i.e. an atom bomb test. It’s a little like the lightning strike in Back To The Future, but since Marty travels through time and not space, the luck doesn’t seem quite so much a stretch. Plus, getting the 1.21 gigawatts out of that bolt of lightning is a huge pain in the ass, whereas here, the only real challenge Quark and the others face is escaping the base, which they do fairly easily.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled. I’ve seen plenty of time-travel stories, and I’ve even seen time-travel stories which specifically reference this place and moment in time (right down the tossed off Roswell reference); I’m sure if I hadn’t seen any of them, I’d better appreciate what “Little Green Men” accomplishes. As is, it’s far from bad, but depends too much on its premise to do most of the heavy lifting. Wainwright and Garland, while perfectly pleasant, aren’t well developed, which makes their sudden decision to help Quark, Nog, and Rom escape seem as much a matter of plot necessity as character choice. (Their final kiss also comes across as padding, considering how long the camera lingers.) A clever idea can only get a script so far. This episode is good-natured, and it’s not hard to see why it would be a fan favorite, but it mostly just seems like the writers came up with a hook, and forgot to reel us in.

According to the A.V. Club review of The Sword of Kahless:

The story begins, as these stories so often do, in Quark’s: Kor (who we last saw in season two’s “Blood Oath”) is regaling the customers with tales of derring-do and violence. While the crew doubts the veracity of Kor’s claims, they’re all enjoying themselves, except for poor Worf, who’s sitting at the bar, nursing a drink and wondering when he can conveniently slip away unnoticed. Dax isn’t about to let this happen, though, and, doing her Dax thing, forces Worf to admit what’s bothering him: While he’s a big fan of Kor’s work, he’s worried his current status with the Klingon empire (i.e., “traitor”) would bring them both shame if they were introduced. But Kor doesn’t seem that put off at all by Worf’s presence. It helps that Kor isn’t a fan of Gowron, Worf’s greatest enemy. The two share some drinks, and almost immediately, Kor spills the beans. He’s not just hanging around Deep Space Nine to get drunk (although that is on the itinerary). He’s found a clue that just might lead him to the most precious of all Klingon artifacts, a weapon destined to bring together the Klingon people and usher in a new era of prosperity for the empire: the sword of Kahless.

This isn’t a bad way to start an episode. Kor even gets attacked by a mysterious alien who demands to know more about his quest, thus setting us up for some suspense down the line. And yet, while the opening scenes have all the hallmarks of a great adventure story, “The Sword Of Kahless” isn’t so much interested in Klingon honor as it is in Klingon rage. And, unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of that. “Blood Oath” was a straightforward “rage against the dying of the light”-style story, about old men looking to recover lost glory in one final burst of violent vengeance. This story is a bit more complicated.

Not at first, though. Once Worf realizes what Kor is onto, he wants in; and Dax decides to go along for the ride herself. Getting permission from Sisko is surprisingly easy, and while the captain only appears in one scene in the episode, his brief comments are a reminder of just how canny he is, as he immediately grasps that sending a pair of Starfleet officers to help recover such an incredibly important Klingon artifact might go a long way toward repairing relations between Gowron and the Federation. From there, it’s some light detective work to get to a planet in the Gamma Quadrant. Gowron got a piece of cloth from a team of Vulcan scientists, and a quick trip in a borrowed shuttlecraft later, the three are standing in the ruins of the Hur’q civilization. The Hur’q are a race (their name is literally the Klingon word for “outsiders”) that ran rampant on the Klingon home world a thousand years or so ago. They stole Kahless’ sword (which, it must be said, can’t be all that magical if somebody can just up and steal it), and after some poking around and lock-futzing, Dax, Worf, and Kor find the vault where the sword has waited all this time to be rediscovered and returned to its home.

Their moment of triumph is interrupted by the arrival of Toral, one of Worf’s old enemies from the House of Duras. Toral is responsible for the alien (a lethean, which, come to think, is the same kind of alien that tormented Bashir back in “Distant Voices”) who attacked Kor earlier, and he’s determined to claim the sword for himself, in order to bring honor back to his disgraced family. So there’s the expected fight, and we get to see once again how Dax can more than keep up when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. (Later, we see Toral’s men have phasers, but they’re apparently reluctant to use them in the first fight. Wouldn’t be sporting, I guess.) The fight lasts long enough for our heroes to escape, and it looks like we have the basis for the plot which will get us through the rest of the episode’s running time. Worf, Kor, and Dax have the sword, but they’re blocked from getting back to their shuttle by a jamming frequency from one of Toral’s men. So now they have to outthink and outfight their enemies in the caves surrounding the dig site, outnumbered and presumably outgunned.

Only, that’s not really what happens. Toral and the others represent an ongoing threat, but they’re really just an excuse to make sure Worf and Kor can’t escape just yet. Because the real point of “The Sword Of Kahless” is how quickly the two Klingons turn on each other when they achieve their sacred goal. Kor goes first, reasoning that, since the sword is destined to bring his people together, and since the Emperor is a clone and Gowron is an idiot, he should be the one to lead the Klingons forward. Worf isn’t a fan, so Kor starts taunting him about his past, insinuating that his time in Starfleet has made him soft, and not a true warrior. Worf responds by deciding he’s the one who deserves to use the sword. Things go downhill from there.

I spent a good portion of the episode wondering if the sword wasn’t somehow tainted in a way that would raise the ego and paranoia of anyone who held it; this isn’t true, and while that means showing Worf in a fairly unsympathetic light, it also gives the story a more dramatic, and honest, edge. The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre-type plots, in which a small group of adventurers get their hands on some riches, and immediately begin to mistrust and even loathe one another in their determination to keep what’s theirs, are always good fodder for drama, because they offer a chance to push familiar characters out of their comfort zones. With Kor, this isn’t much of a revelation. He’s been likeable in his two guest spots on the show, but with a certain edge, and to find that he can be even more self-aggrandizing and arrogant than he initially lets on is exciting—and useful for the plot—but not really illuminating.

Worf, though… Anyone who’s seen a fair amount of Star Trek: The Next Generation (or, y’know, every single episode) knows Worf’s history. A Klingon orphan raised by human parents, struggling to find his place in the world, living his life by the ideals he read in books, only to discover that those ideals rarely matched how life actually worked. It’s a good backstory, and it’s one that makes Worf seem a little tragic, a little alone, even if his parents are loving and supportive, and even is he has managed to find a kind of home in Starfleet. Yet few, if any, earlier episodes about Worf’s past ever touched on the anger, the desperation which must drive him; the need to believe that his life, and all the suffering and loss it brought him, has some greater purpose. He tells Dax the story of his first visit to the Klingon homeworld, how he was mocked by others his age, and how he fled to the forest and hid in a cave, where he had a vision of Kahless. The vision (which I can’t remember if Worf has ever brought up before) told the young orphan that he would one day do something no Klingon had ever done. Like joining Starfleet, Dax says hopefully, but Worf has his sights set on something bigger. The site of Kahless’s sword has focused the frustration, the humiliation which has defined so much of his life, and he wants to use it to become the greatest of all Klingons. And if that means dropping anyone who gets in his way off a cliff—well, sacrifices and omelettes and all that.

The fact is, while Kor blusters and hurls insults, Worf’s the one who commits the most violence toward his fellow travel hunter, almost choking him at the end of the episode before Dax decides she’s had enough and stuns them both with her phaser. The story has a relatively happy ending: post-stun, Worf realizes the error of his ways and decides that neither he nor Kor were truly destined to find the sword. Also, the Klingons aren’t ready for it yet, or something—it’s the kind of boilerplate “Let us never speak of this again” exchange that tends to happen when people, Klingon or otherwise, realize they’ve been behaving like fools. It’s also maybe a little too easy after the violence we saw earlier. While I understand the show wasn’t going to make Worf into a bad guy, and while I definitely wouldn’t want that to happen, the intensity of his conversation with Dax, and his willingness to go to absolute lengths to do what he believes needs to be done, suggest an aspect of his character we’ve never seen before, one that deserves more attention than a quick cut and three minutes of friendliness. Hopefully, we’ll come back to this soon. It reminds me a little of my favorite moment in The Avengers, when Captain America tells Bruce Banner it’d be a good time to get angry, and Banner says, “That’s my secret. I’m always angry.” Worf seems like such a gruff, stoic stick-in-the-mud so much of the time, but maybe that’s a choice he makes. Maybe it’s better to be a bit stiff, a bit awkward and weird and obsessed with the rules. Otherwise, he might start tearing off limbs.

According to the A.V. Club review of Homefront:

There’s something horrible about the way Odo talks about his fellow Changelings. The show doesn’t make a huge effort to underline this, and I’m not even sure how intentional it is; but whenever he’s discussing strategy with Sisko, or with other Starfleet officers, his comments on how “my people” largely serve to remind us of how alone he is. Sure, he’s on the same side as the rest of the show’s ensemble, which makes him a hero. Sure, trying to stop the Founders from murdering humans and kicking off any number of inter-stellar wars fits most acceptable definitions of doing the right thing. But Odo’s actions made him a traitor even before he became the first Changeling to harm (and kill) one of his own kind. Viewed in a different light, he’s a Judas, a monster first pitied, then despised. While we’ve had glimpses of Odo’s true feelings about the situation (most notably in “The Die Is Cast”), he doesn’t reveal himself willingly, so all we get is the occasional pained look, and the “my” he always adds to “people.” He’s made his choice, but Odo being Odo, he can’t let go of his guilt.

“Homefront” gives us our first glimpse of the fallout from the Changeling death in “The Adversary,” and the signs aren’t promising. It’s a short scene: after an apparent Changeling attack leaves 27 Federation diplomats dead, Sisko, Jake, and Odo head to Earth to help advise Starfleet on how to buff up security and deal with the potential threat. Midway through the episode, Odo runs into a pair of officers he’s met before; everything seems fine, but one of the officers (Admiral Leyton, a friend of Sisko’s played by Robert Foxworth) starts throwing some shade. Odo, realizing something is up, grab’s “Leyton”’s arm, only to find a shapeshifter, who mocks him and quickly escapes. Recounting the incident, Odo mentions the hostility, but leaves the more obvious, shocking fact unspoken: the Changeling’s hatred for Odo was so intense he couldn’t mask it long enough to keep up his cover. Given how good the shapeshifters have been at hiding themselves before now, that’s a whole lot of rage.

That ability to move around hidden in plain sight is one of the driving fears of the episode, a growing paranoia that starts off sensible enough (higher security precautions, phaser sweeps, renewed vigilance) before slowly spinning out of control. Well, not quite out of control; one of the episode’s smarter choices is that each decision Sisko makes seems reasonable, even prudent. It’s hard to pick out any one moment where he and the others cross the line, but one minute, they’re checking the rooms of government personnel for duplicitous desk lamps, and the next, Sisko is yelling at his father for refusing a blood test. Then the power goes out, and it’s time to declare martial law. (Well, not exactly martial law, but close enough.) Given the time we’ve spent getting to know Sisko, we’re well aware he’s not a man prone to rash decisions, and certainly not a proto-fascist looking for his chance to shine. As well, Leyton and Commander Erika Benteen (Sisko’s other contact person, played by Geordi’s former flame Susan Gibney) seem like reasonable adults. Leyton maybe not so much; when we get to part two next week, I won’t be unduly surprised if he’s got some ulterior motives. But so far, no one has stepped over any obvious lines.

The problem with a lot of parables about the horrors of paranoia, and the way war and xenophobia can crush the human spirit, is that they’re rarely subtle. Something like “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” gets its power by showing seemingly normal humans react poorly in extraordinary circumstances, with those circumstances ostensibly demonstrating some archetypal weakness in us all. And sure, that’s a great episode of television, and the lack of subtlety can, if well-handled, generate powerful drama. But it’s always so easy to watch the situation from the outside and tell ourselves, “I would never go that far.” “Homefront” doesn’t allow us that comfort. It’s not a grim hour by any stretch of the imagination, and at no point does someone say, “Makes you wonder who the real monsters are.” (Although Sisko comes close.) Theoretically, the conclusion to the story (which we’ll cover next week) could completely justify all of Sisko and Leyton’s precautions. But if it doesn’t, the road we’ve travelled to get to that point is one that’s lacked obvious signposts. It’s a bad moment when Sisko realizes he was beginning to doubt his dad’s humanity, but it’s also one in which the combination of Joseph Sisko’s actions and the potential Changeling threat made it impossible to not have certain suspicions. The ideal of a free world where everyone is judged by their actions, where no one is the enemy until he proves himself so, is a beautiful one. But it’s not easy to come by, and the episode never makes the mistake of simplifying its morality.

It also finds time to deal with some fairly meaty family drama. Dealing with a parent who refuses to acknowledge his age and limitations is a common theme for TV drama, but watching Sisko struggle to understand his fathers is decent stuff even before it dovetails with the Changeling hunt. Joseph Sisko (the always welcome Brock Peters) is big-hearted, cheerful, and very stubborn, and his failing health is the closest the episode comes to a sub-plot. Both Benjamin and Jake are worried about him, and from what we see, they have cause for concern; the old man still works long hours, pushing food on his customers, regaling the room with stories and patter, and staying on his feet until he’s close to collapse. In a way, he’s being short-sighted and childish, refusing to accept and adjust to his age, but he argues that this is his decision, and one he has every right to make. It’s easy to be annoyed with him when he’s batting off his son and grandson’s concern, but the episode (and Peters) do a good job making sure he isn’t a caricature or a fool. And while the character can be off-putting, that works to make the eventual confrontation between him and Sisko all the more powerful. Joe’s refusal to take a blood test, combined with his lack of appetite and unwillingness to see a doctor, make him suspicious; and yet all this is consistent with the character of someone who is trying to face old age on his own terms. And while requiring blood tests for all high level personnel and their families doesn’t seem unreasonable in the face of the shapeshifter threat, it’s still invading someone’s rights without anything approaching justifiable cause. There’s no easy answer here, and that ambiguity makes the situation all the more intense; it’s hard to tell yourself you’d do the right thing when you don’t know what the right thing is.

Of course, it’s not all doom and slippery slopes. “Homefront” demonstrates once again had adept DS9 has gotten at managing the time requirements of two-part storylines, using padding to reinforce and develop the main ensemble. There’s a cute bit at the beginning about Dax pranking Odo; apparently she’s been breaking into his quarters while he’s in his liquid state and moving his furniture around. In another context, this could’ve come off as mean-spirited, especially given how much importance Odo places in his version of feng shui, but Dax’s behavior instead reminds us of how relaxed everyone on the station has become with one another. Setting Jadzia, who’s life experiences have made her more relaxed, adventurous, and friendly, against Odo’s stone-faced sincerity, works to both their advantages, enough so that I’d love to see the two of them team-up for a story or two at some point.

There’s also a frankly adorable scene where we learn that Bashir and O’Brien have taken to running aviator programs in the holosuites to deal with their stress over events on Earth; as they’re both stuck on the station, all they can really do is watch the news as it comes in, and on their off hours, dress up like flying aces and defend Britain from the evil Germans. O’Brien’s accent is hilarious, and their grief over the loss of one of their fellow pilots is nearly as funny, especially when set against Quark’s confusion. Good comic sequences are valuable in their own right, but this one also manages to once again demonstrate the awesomeness that is the Bashir and O’Brien friendship, as well as giving us a quick glimpse into just how shocking the attack on the home planet is.

That shock is important; along with everything else discussed above, it helps to justify the episode’s finale, in which Leyton and Sisko urge (demand, really) that the Federation President declare a state of emergency. The power goes out, apparently over the entire world (which is impressive), and Sisko is worried a fleet of Jem’Hadar ships might be on their way to Earth. There’s no definitive proof that he’s right, just as no one has any idea what the Changelings’ real plans are. But in the dark, when you can’t tell friend from foe, and the night stretches on forever, it’s hard to see what lines you’re crossing when you’re rushing to bar the door.

According to the A.V. Club review of Paradise Lost:

The only real criticism I can think of for this episode is Admiral Leyton’s use of the Red Squad to carry out his plans. If you squint hard enough, it’s sort of justifiable. Leyton needs a group to sabotage the power relays, but it can’t be one that’ll question his orders, or one that he won’t be able to sufficiently manipulate and move around in the aftermath to cover his tracks. But still—the planet-wide blackout is one of the key parts of his master plan. To leave it in the hands of a bunch of cadets, no matter how well-trained and eager, seems to be inviting disaster. They’re the best of their class, and so they’ll probably pull it off, but even if they do, how are you going to make sure they never tell anyone? I’m sure Leyton told a great story, and I recognize power of authority, and the incredible pressure these young people are most likely under; given how hard it is for Sisko to go against his fellow officers, it’s not unimaginable that the students would have even greater qualms. Still, it’s a bit sloppy, especially seeing as how Leyton doesn’t start shifting personnel around until after Sisko is on to him. If it wasn’t for Nog, maybe he would’ve gotten away with it. But given how far the man was willing to go, it’s hard to accept he’d settle for a “maybe.”

Then again, you could say that the admiral wanted to get caught, not because he wanted someone to stop him, but because he didn’t think his actions were in any way wrong. Nitpicking about slightly over-convenient plot twists doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a powerful, grim continuation of the Dominion War arc, a worthy conclusion to last week’s cliffhanger, and a chance once again to see how Sisko handles himself in a crisis. And one of the reasons it’s so good is that the script makes sure that every character’s point of view is understandable, and even, if you’ve got enough empathy, sympathetic. Apart from the brief appearance of a cackling Changeling (who comes to Sisko in the form of O’Brien; I love the cruelty of that—“Here’s one of your most trusted officers! Next time you see him, I wonder who he’ll be?”) the villains of “Paradise Lost” are all too human, driven to rash acts by their own fears of a threat they still don’t understand. A threat which, in turn, understands those fears all too well.

This is as dark as Star Trek really gets, but I wouldn’t say it’s hopeless. Sisko does manage to set things somewhat right again in the end. A truly dark show would have Leyton be corrupt—he wouldn’t just be angling for more power because he wanted to protect Earth, he’s also be ambitious and greedy and monomaniacal. While it’s certainly possible to draw some unflattering conclusions from the soon-to-be-ex admiral’s behavior (like the fact that his stubborn refusal to listen to Sisko gets people killed), both his response to Sisko’s charges, and Sisko’s own internal struggle at turning on his co-workers and friends, keeps Leyton from being a monster. The real message of all of this was that crises bring out extreme reactions in people, and forcing people into situations where they feel they have to make bold, potentially dangerous choices to protect themselves and the things they care about. The more uncertain the threat, the wider ranging the variety of responses, and the harder it becomes to say, “No, this is going too far,” because how do you know? “Paradise Lost” takes a definite stand on the security measures initiated in last week’s episode; the admiral and his crew have created a false panic to force the president into granting them greater control, which makes it hard to argue that the martial law order was justified or particularly effective. But it’s still possible to follow the train of reasoning that led to this moment, and I’d argue that the respect that Sisko (and the script as a whole) still shows Leyton at the end is why I don’t think this is a cynical, or needlessly pessimistic, series. Optimism is wonderful, but in order for our ideals to have any weight or value, we have to acknowledge the cost of maintaining them. To pretend everything will work out in the end simply because everyone wants it to is almost as bad as pretending we’re all fucked so why bother caring?

There’s a sense of anti-climax that runs throughout the episode, which isn’t rare in the second half of two-parters; what makes it work here is that the lack of proper explosion after all the build-up last week is worked into the story’s structural intentions. “Homefront” was all about raising our expectations for the coming fight, for the chance to finally see the true Changeling threat in all its glory, which meant the audience was anticipating the same thing Sisko and the others were. Ever since we first learned of the Founders, that shoe has been waiting to drop; each successive appearance by a shapeshifter or Jem’Hadar squadron promises potential doom, but it’s never immediately. Which makes sense, from the writers’ perspective. Depicting a constant, on-going war would change the nature of the show significantly, and if the planning didn’t go well, could put them in a box they couldn’t really get out of. But instead of making the series seem stagnate or stalling, it fits in neatly with the real design of the Changeling assault: death by attrition.

You can see this in the conversation between Sisko and the fake O’Brien, halfway through the episode. (Time approximate.) At first, the exchange seems like the weakest of authorial contrivances; after the shock of O’Brien’s appearance wears off, it’s easy to see this as just a cheesy excuse for the bad guys to get one last gloat in, to provide some exposition about their real plans before giggling off into the shadows. Yet this is exactly how the Changelings operate. Fake O’Brien doesn’t give up any key data: he tells Sisko there are possibly as few as four shapeshifters on the planet (not counting Odo), but there’s no way to verify this, and no reason for Sisko to trust him. And trusting him would just make it worse—as the Changeling points out, look how much they’ve accomplished with so few. Look how far their reach spreads, even before they stretch out their arms. The danger isn’t the brutal, mindless determination of the Borg, or the proud warrior Klingons, or the cunning Romulans. The Founders have their fighting force, but that force is as much valuable for the power it represents as it is in actual fact. This enemy looks to win by wearing away the foundations of whatever defines the cultures they wish to destroy. The war is not a war of combat. It’s a war of confidence. And if that doesn’t seem painfully relevant to us now, you haven’t been paying attention.

Everything works out okay for now, thankfully. Oh sure, the people who died on the Lakota and the Defiant aren’t coming back, but at least Leyton doesn’t get to carry out his plan and depose the president. (I say this episode is anticlimactic by design, but the writers are smart enough to throw in a space battle near the end, just to give us some action.) I love how much it pains Sisko to turn on his former commanding officer, and I love that he shares that pain with Odo; the constable doesn’t mention it, but I’m guessing he has some idea what it feels like to do the right thing by betraying the ones you dearly wish you could trust. But Sisko does the right thing in the end, because of course he does, and Leyton stands down, and the lights come back on. (Actually, they come back earlier in the hour, but I thought that sounded cool.) There are still some questions, though. Like how Leyton was able to fake that Sisko was a Changeling in order to arrest him under false charges. Or the bomb that started this whole mess—the explosion that seemed to be Changeling initiated, and yet happened at the same time as the wormhole openings and closings that Leyton initiated in order to raise the specter of a cloaked Jem’Hadar fleet. The biggest question being, what’s going to happen next? Sisko’s noble ideals are all very well and god, but the enemy is still out there. Even if the Federation doesn’t destroy itself, there are others who’ll be more than happy to do the job.

According to the A.V. Club review of Return to Grace:

One of the best parts of serialization on a long-running TV show is the way it can suggest other series inside of itself as time goes on. On Deep Space Nine, we have our main characters, and we know more or less what they’re up to with each passing season. Sisko is a captain, and he’s running the station, and he’s worried about the Klingons and the Dominion War. Bashir runs the infirmary, Odo is the loneliest constable, Worf is uncomfortable, Dax plays with people’s minds, O’Brien is, well, O’Brien. And so on—the point is, this is the main ensemble’s story, and individual episodes tend to focus on one or more of them, which is how TV works. What’s unexpected is when a recurring character drops by, and you suddenly realize that shit has been going down for them the whole time, and we just didn’t know it. Those changes are less noticeable when it’s someone like, say, Garak, who has a past, but these days spends most of his life on the station, having lunch with Bashir and cutting clothes. But when Gul Dukat pops up near the start of “Return To Grace,” and we learn he’s been demoted and divorced after the events of “Indiscretion,” that’s unexpected. In the previous episode, Kira persuaded Dukat not to kill his half-Bajoran daughter, even if that meant his political and personal ruination. Well, he didn’t, and it did, and he’s not too happy about it.

Dukat’s arc on the series thus far is strong enough to have carried its own show, and we’ve only seen segments of it. Imagine it in the mold of one of those antihero narratives that are so popular of late: A proud military man who believes the subjugation of another people by his own is only just, slowly but surely getting his face ground in the idea that there’s no such thing as a “superior” race. The effort he has to expend to maintain power in the face of shifting realities, as first his position is eliminated, and then the very government he’s given his life serving is overthrown. And then he comes face to face with a symbol of his own compromised past, and, unable to destroy that evidence, he loses everything. Now, just as his people find themselves weak, adrift, and teetering on destruction, he himself is reduced to his lowest point, determined to fight his way back to prominence, but stymied by a developing conscience and a lack of options. That’s where this episode kicks off, but it had me looking back, and you know, I’d love to watch a TV show with that kind of through line. Especially one starring Marc Alaimo, whose ability to make Dukat charismatic, slimy, and yet weirdly sympathetic has helped make the character one of the best villains inTrek history. While Sisko and the others are doing their thing, Dukat has watched his world crumble, and all we get are snapshots.

“Return To Grace” finds Kira once again forced to team up with her longtime nemesis, first as a passenger aboard Dukat’s new freighter (well, new to Dukat; he’s been demoted to busywork post-Tora), then as his co-captain as the two work together to track down a Klingon ship that destroyed a proposed peace conference between Bajorans and Cardassians. Kira also runs into Tora, who’s living aboard the ship with her father; while he’s lost everything else, his long-lost daughter is determined to stand by him whatever the cost. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that she doesn’t have a choice, as her Cardassian/Bajoran parentage makes her an outcast in both societies. But as with “Indiscretion,” Tora helps to humanize (well, you know what I mean) Dukat, especially in Kira’s eyes. While it’s hard to imagine the major ever truly liking her former enemy, or even getting much beyond tolerating his presence, Tora is at least a reminder that there is some sincerity behind all that unctuous charm. Cyia Batten once again brings an almost uncomfortable directness to the role, and her presence helps to make Dukat’s big speech at the end of the hour ring true. He is a man of some convictions, if you know where to dig.

While “Indiscretion” serves as a starting point for much of the character work in “Return To Grace,” the latter is the superior episode. Gone are the forced moments of levity, and the attempts to build some kind of unsettling romantic chemistry between the two leads; while Dukat is still trying to pursue Kira, they don’t share a laugh together, and while she seems troubled from time to time, it’s clear by the end that she’s mostly just concerned for Tora, who she sees going down a dark path. The big difference here is balance, and how Dukat’s advances are portrayed. It’s possible to feel a little sad for how his life has turned out—not to the point of serious pity, mind you, and it’d be hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve most of what he’s wrought so far. Saving Ziyal and bringing her back to Cardassia was the right thing to do, but when “not killing my daughter” is the highest mark on your list of good deeds, you aren’t exactly a hero. This episode gets that balance; Dukat love for his child and his desire to save his people are sincere, but that doesn’t mean his sleazy efforts to undermine Kira’s love life are somehow legitimate or welcome. They play like the kind of asshole behavior of a business executive who thinks he can get whatever he wants so long as he keeps pushing for it, exploiting the fact that most people won’t tell him to fuck off as though that means they’re actually welcoming his advances. While I understand the dramatic value of putting Kira and Dukat in confined quarters, it’s never going to be my favorite setup for a story, even when the episode (like this one) is quite good. It’s just creepy in a way that’s never satisfactorily addressed, that I’m not sure can be addressed. But at least “Return To Grace” makes no question about the selfishness of Dukat’s attraction.

As for the rest of the episode, the novelty of having Klingons as villains (or at least a dangerous threat) still hasn’t quite worn off for me, and there’s some old school fun to be had in Kira’s plan to turn the freighter (whose in-ship weapon’s system is so weak it can’t even dent the Bird of Prey’s hull) into a formidable killing machine. The major is once again called upon to put her freedom-fighting past to good use, reminding Dukat he needs to think more like a terrorist if he wants to win. (A loaded statement, but a true one in this case.) The fight against the Klingons is thrilling and fairly clever, but the real kicker of the hour comes at the end, after Dukat gets his great triumph. Ever since he realized he could potentially destroy the ship that murdered so many ambassadors, Dukat had been gloating about his return to power; only to find that once he’s succeeded in capturing the enemy vessel, his superiors order him to stand down. He’ll be given back his military position, but the Cardassian government wants peace with the Klingons, not war, even though the Klingon ship has detailed records and codes that would give the Cardassians a much needed edge.

The title of this episode, “Return To Grace,” is a little ambiguous; while it’s obvious Dukat is the one doing the returning, it’s hard to say if the “grace” is ironic or serious. After all, he does have a chance to go back to the home that exiled him in all but name, with his former rank restored to him, but he rejects that chance, in favor of starting his own guerrilla assault on the enemy. There’s something almost noble in his choice, and the fervor with which he rails against a Cardassia willing to bow down and embrace its own obsolescence. He invites Kira to come with him, and she, of course, refuses (for all his intelligence and cunning, Dukat isn’t the best judge of character), but when she offers to take Ziyal onto DS9, to save her a life of running and gunning, he allows it. That says something about what all this hardship has done for Dukat’s character. He’s still not trustworthy, and he’s still capable of unnecessary violence (witness his cool destruction of the entire Klingon crew), but he’s a purer character now. Maybe what we’re seeing is Cardassian grace: superior intelligence and ruthless efficiency combined in the purpose of utter domination.

According to the A.V. Club review of Sons of Mogh:

I’m a soft touch when it comes to Klingon-centric episodes, but even I have to admit that a lot of the plots are getting stale; we don’t need more entries featuring a couple of regular cast members going off in search of a mystical Klingon artifact, at least. There’s none of that in “Sons Of Mogh,” and while the hour does focus on Worf and the responsibilities of his culture, it finds a new angle in Worf’s brother, Kurn (Tony Todd, who is, apart from the voice, completely unrecognizable from his appearance in “The Visitor”). This is Kurn’s first appearance on DS9, but while Star Trek: The Next Generation dealt with the sibling rivalry/bond between the two Klingons, raised apart only to discover one another’s existence long after they were full grown, this episode is more about what Worf owes his family now that he’s taken a stand against Gowron and the empire’s actions. Worf’s idealism and nobility were often contrasted against the hypocrisy and venality of modern Klingon culture, but here, he’s put in a situation where someone he loves deeply has been set adrift by Worf’s actions. However justified and necessary those actions were, Kurn is still a wreck, his honor gone, his house stripped of lands. All he wants now is death. And Worf, at least at first, is willing to oblige.

That’s a twist I didn’t see coming. Reading a brief teaser for the episode (something like, “Kurn comes aboard the station, wanting Worf to help him die in a Klingon ritual”), I assumed that most of the hour would be taken up with Kurn getting angry, Worf struggling to convince him that life could get better, and the whole thing would end with some kind of bittersweet resolution. Which is roughly what happens, only Worf agrees to kill his brother right after their first scene together. And he would’ve succeeded, too, if Dax hadn’t realized what was happening and interrupted them; as it is, Worf still manages to plunge a large knife into Kurn’s chest before Dax breaks in to whisk the fallen Klingon to the infirmary. This is a smart way to play expectation against character; for us non-Klingons, a relative in good physical health demanding we murder them is cause for deliberation, discussion, and delay. For Worf, well, this is a guy who wanted to be put out of his misery when there was a chance he might never walk again. He’s definitely not happy that Kurn wants to die, but he also believes in the customs of his race, and he has some very deep-rooted convictions about honor and responsibility. Whatever his own wishes might be, it’s his duty to help his brother. To not do so would be to deny the foundations of his own character.

Still, he’s maybe a bit hasty here, and this does lead to the least in the ongoing series of “Worf does something stupid, and Sisko and the others have to set straight” mini-stories. Thankfully, unlike TNG (which seemed to set aside time each week for Worf to get schooled), DS9 has been letting Worf get some wins in, like his backgrounded capture of the assassin stalking Shakaar in “Crossfire.”And his behavior here isn’t simply adherence to (in our eyes barbaric) custom. As Kurn repeatedly points out, the end of the House of Mogh is, for all intents and purposes, Worf’s fault. His refusal to go along with Gowron’s attack on Cardassia led to Kurn’s current impossible situation, and unlike Worf, Kurn has no Starfleet to turn to if he wants meaning in his life. His position is lost, and since he’s become an outcast through no action of his own, there’s no real way for him to get back what was once his. He’s depressed and angry for completely understandable reasons, and to its credit, the script never undermines or tries to mock his pain. It’s a legitimately agonizing problem, and it’s only through an improbable (but kind of cool, and heartbreaking) final twist that we’re able to find something even remotely approaching a happy ending.

But there’s a lot of angst before we get there. (Good angst, too. The well-earned kind.) Sisko isn’t happy about Worf’s stabbing party, so there’s some shouting; to his credit, Worf doesn’t try and defend himself. (Dax stands up for him, though. And this after we saw the two of them sparring and debating weapon efficiency in a holosuite earlier. Love is in the air…) But even after admitting his error, he’s still got a sad, messed up brother kicking around. Kurn is, of course, angry to find that he’s still alive, but instead of turning the episode into a big fight between the two, the focus is more on trying to find some way around Kurn’s death wish, giving him some new life to replace the old. This goes as well as you’d expect, but in a nice touch, Worf asks Odo to take Kurn on as part of the security force, and it turns out Kurn is very good at his job; having given his life over to Worf’s hands, Kurn believes it’s his duty to do whatever’s asked of him. It’s a passive-aggressive move, done to force Worf to take responsibility as well as to demonstrate just how pointless and wretched Kurn believes his life has become. But he doesn’t cheat. He does well as a security officer (Odo even praises him. Odo!), right up until somebody pulls a gun and Kurn lets himself get shot. He survives, but death wishes aren’t great for group morale, and Worf is back to square one.

“Sons Of Mogh” has two storylines; this isn’t unusual for an episode of television, but they fit together in a clever way. On a trip back to the station, Kira and O’Brien see an explosion in space; a Klingon ship appears soon after and tells him to move long, lest he explode their butts, but the two are understandably curious. Long story short, it turns out the Klingons are mining nearby space in an attempt to cut the station off from the rest of the Bajor. So, obviously our heroes are going to want to take care of that—but to do so, they need the coordinates for the mines; otherwise they’d just have to blunder around and make a note of it whenever anyone blew up. (The mines are cloaked, by the way.) That’s where Worf and Kurn come in. It’s both a smart idea to tie the two plots together—they are, after all, both about Klingons—and a useful tool to make Kurn’s position that much worse. Now, not only is he destitute and honor-less, he’s actively working against his own people; and, worst of all, during the mission, he’s forced to kill another Klingon to save Worf’s life.

This leads to some interesting soul-searching with Worf (which he does with Dax, hint, hint), when he realizes that his inability to see the threat of death in the other warrior’s eyes means that he’s never going to go back to being a “real” Klingon, no matter how much he might wish otherwise. Worf’s journey over the course of TNG and DS9 has dabbled in racial identity (well, species identity), and while it’s never really got beyond, “Man, I hope I’m not a wimp because I hang out with humans. Damn, I guess I kind of am,” it’s a struggle that always made sense. Everyone has to wonder about their legitimacy when they realize they don’t fit every parameter from whatever sociological group they identify with, and while neither Trek franchise has ever suggested that the Federation is worse than the Klingon Empire, there’s an undeniable sadness to what Worf expresses here. There really is no more home for him, not in the way he always imagined there would be.

Which is why the end of the episode is so sad, even if it’s the happiest possible outcome for Kurn and Worf’s dilemma. Realizing his brother can never be happy as himself, Worf persuades Bashir to permanently alter Kurn’s features, as well as erase his memories of the past. Kurn will still know enough to survive, but he’ll no longer remember he was a son of Mogh; Worf even manages to find him a new home and a new house to belong to. It’s all a little goofy in the details, a one-off sci-fi switch-up that, even though the individual steps make reasonable sense, seems a bit goofy when put all together. (Does plastic surgery in the future leave any sign? Is Kurn going to get a physical someday and find out he used to look like someone else? Not to mention the fact that Bashir can’t change DNA.) But it works, because of the emotion behind it. The details don’t matter; what matters is that Worf is permanently cutting himself apart from the only Klingon relative he has left. To save his brother, he has to lose him, and it’s ridiculous and tragic all at once.

According to the A.V. Club review of Bar Association:

It’s funny how relevant Deep Space Nine can be, even when it’s telling small, comedic stories like this one. But then, the battle between labor and management is always going to be relevant, because certain basic problems will always arise. The workers want to be treated fairly, to earn a living wage and have time for a life outside of their job; the management wants to maximize profits any way it can. Not to mention the fact that the people in power tend to have wealth, and wealth means political influence, influence that can be used to shape law to favor exploitation. Or the way various dogmas and ideologies can be combined to convince the downtrodden that they deserve their place on the social scale, that they are inferior and weak and greedy just because they want a basic share of dignity. Until we somehow figure out a perfect system (which, well, don’t hold your breath), it’s a conflict that’s never really going to go away. Just seems like it’s been in the news a lot more lately, between attacks on teachers and the attempted destruction of unions. (It makes sense, sadly. When money’s tight, other people’s rights are always the easiest to sacrifice.) A lot of “Bar Association” is played for laughs, but Rom’s quest to do what’s right by himself and his co-workers never is. Because it’s important, then and now and whenever the issue arises.

Remember Leeta? The friendly Bajoran woman who works as a Dabo girl and is apparently dating Bashir? Well, she’s not happy with how Quark has been treating his brother; Rom has some kind of hideous ear infection, but because Quark won’t allow sick time, he has to work until he literally collapses on the job. Leeta, because she’s a nice person, yells at Quark for being so cruel, and Quark, because he’s true blue Ferengi, ignores her. The next day, he tells everyone that due to a drop in customers (caused by a Bajoran month of cleansing), he has to cut they’re wages by a third. He might bring the wages back up if business improves, but probably not. Rom, who’s patiently endured the ear pain and the collapsing, finally snaps, due in no small part to a casual aside from Bashir. The doctor mentioned a union, and Rom latches on to the idea. The only problem is, unions are illegal in Ferengi law. Even openly discussing them is an arrestable offense. (Or worse: something that can get your assets seized and your family fined.)

The biggest weakness of “Bar Association” is that Rom gets what he wants a little too easy. The setup is terrific: Quark’s shock over his brother’s emerging spine, the workers arguing whether or not they dare to stand up for themselves, the arrival of Brunt and his thugs to take care of the problem, that’s all solid. Then Quark gets the crap kicked out of him, and he and Rom make an arrangement that allows Quark to keep (what’s left of his) face, and Rom to get what he thinks the bar employees deserve. This isn’t terrible, and the final scene between Quark and Rom is quite sweet, but there’s a lack of direct conflict that holds the hour back. Once Rom makes up his mind to strike, he does it, and nothing, not even the sight of his brother with a collapsed eye socket, changes his mind. Which is cool: it’s good to see Rom being the hero and standing up for himself. But it robs the episode of tension, because you know he’ll win in the end. Even Brunt, as loathsome as he is, can’t really do much besides spout threats. Oh sure, he has his henchmen beat up Quark, but as scares go, that’s firmly in the comical category. Despite O’Brien’s story about his distant ancestor, Sean, who was killed for being a strike organizer, there’s never any danger here.

Given that this is a Ferengi-centric story, and those tend to focus on the humor, maybe looking for stakes is approaching the hour from the wrong angle. But in the past, the really excellent Quark and Rom episodes have found ways to generate tension without sacrificing humor; in fact, the tension adds to the humor. This story is a little too easy on everyone, apart from Quark, who needed to learn some kind of lesson for being such a jerk. Still, there’s no denying it’s fun to watch. Leeta is as charming as ever, and any hour of television in which a major character quotes from The Communist Manifesto in a wholly positive light wins some points. And while the main plot never gets much beyond an idle, it does lead to an unexpected conclusion. Quark gives in to Rom’s demands, provided Rom disband the union, which Rom does; he also quits work at the bar, and takes up a job as an engineer on the station. It’s a change that’s been a long time coming. As Rom points out, he does better when Quark isn’t around, and for all his ambition and goodwill, he doesn’t fit neatly into proper Ferengi society. He lacks the necessary killer instinct. (i.e. the lobes) But that doesn’t make him useless, and as good as it is to see Quark grant his employees some rights, it’s even more satisfying that the perpetually put-upon Rom figures his way out of a career path that was always going to end with him and his brother miserable.

The episode’s secondary plotline is another look at Worf’s struggles to come to terms with life on DS9; you could argue that the two stories are connected by characters who refuse to compromise themselves despite significant pressure from outsiders to do so. And both Worf and Rom do find their way to a kind of happy ending, albeit in different ways. Once again, Worf is defined by his need for order, and his unwillingness to accept that the station will ever be as professional and free from disruption as the Enterprise. As Odo points out, it’s not as if the Enterprise was exactly worry-free. It’s more that everyone on board the ship was part of a larger organization, one with rules and deadlines and responsibilities. There are Starfleet personnel aboard DS9, but there are also civilians from all over the galaxy. That means there are going to be occasional bad apples, like the thief Worf catches trying to make off with his tooth sharpener. At Worf’s previous workplace, this sort of event would be considered an anomaly, so far outside the norm that it almost certainly stemmed from some sort of larger, potentially episode-filling crisis. Now, though, he’s told repeatedly that he just has to deal with it. Life is going to be messy, whether he likes it or not.

Well, Worf doesn’t like it, and given that DS9 isn’t just his office but his home, he needs to find some way to get comfortable. What works about this plot is that Worf isn’t being completely unreasonable. Yes, he’s stiff and strict about the rules, and that doesn’t make him as immediately endearing as the rest of the crew (regardless of what happens between them, it was a smart move to show Dax caring about Worf, because it makes him more likeable), but there’s an integrity to him that’s admirable. And he’s not entirely inflexible either; if Worf simply yelled at everyone for failing him, he’d be a dick, but instead, he does the yelling (or growling), but then comes to his senses, apologizes, and tries to work out what he needs to do to resolve his concerns. In fits and starts, we’re getting to see a man at the hard business of self-improvement, step by tortuous step. He’s even developing his sense of humor. In the end, he decides to move his quarters on to the Defiant; he’s clearly fond of the ship, and the isolation and routine it will allow him to maintain means that he can deal with the station’s insanity on his own terms. Dax assures him that he’ll adapt to DS9 in time. “Perhaps in the end, it will be all of you who have to adapt to me,” he says, grinning. It’s a funny kind of cheerful threat; sounds like a good Klingon joke to me.

According to the A.V. Club review of Accession:

Whoa, Keiko is pregnant again! Looks like things are going to get a little bit cra-a-a-azy! [Record scratches.]

Okay, so she’s not that pregnant yet, and the news mostly serves to remind O’Brien that life changes, and his imagined idyllic reunion with his daughter and wife will never work out exactly like he planned. (It also leads to one of the funniest jokes I’ve seen on the show yet: Worf helped Keiko give birth to Molly back on the Enterprise, and when Quark tells him she’s having a baby, he panics.) The writers’ ability to get at the complexity of married life in just a few short scenes is gratifyingly deft; the moral is basically, “It’s good to have friends,” but it’s delivered so sensibly and honestly that its very simplicity gives the scenes weight. Keiko and Molly come back home from Bajor, and while O’Brien is overjoyed to have them back, there’s a certain awkwardness. Not a marriage-threatening awkwardness; just the inevitable small distances that form between people when they have time to build their own lives. O’Brien is determined to make the most of their time together, but Keiko, realizing the problem, pushes him back toward Bashir. It’s a cute sequence that does well by everyone involved, and fills out “Accession” quite nicely.

What’s odd, though, is that so much happens in the episode’s main storyline it’s a wonder the writers brought in more material. A long-lost Bajoran poet appears out of the wormhole; he declares himself the new Emissary; Sisko gladly steps down the from the job; the new Emissary starts advocating drastic social change; Sisko realizes his mistake; the two visit the Prophets together; the poet goes back to his own time, and Sisko re-assumes his duty. It’s a fairly complex arc, dealing with the challenges of faith, the necessity of responsibility, and giving us another glimpse at the wormhole aliens and their curiously straightforward method of being utterly confounding. The stakes are high, and while the brevity is in some ways beneficial (Sisko’s soul-searching takes place largely off-screen, which means we’re spared weeks of him getting frustrated, shouting at someone for no reason, and then punching his desk), it also means simplifying and shortcutting the way the Emissary’s misreading of the Prophets proves potentially disastrous for his people.

About that misreading: Akorem was last seen over 200 years ago, and in his day, Bajor operated under a strict caste system called the D’Jarras. Under the D’Jarras, a person’s place in life was defined by his or her last name; when the poet hears Kira referred to as “major,” he’s shocked, because “Kira” should mark her as an artist, not a member of the military. What starts as evidence of just how long Akorem has been out of the loop (as well a interesting piece of Bajor trivia) becomes unpleasant when Akorem decides that the main reason the Prophets brought him back was to bring back the castes. With support from the vedeks and Kai Winn (who doesn’t appear in the episode; her name is bad enough), Akorem starts giving speeches about how important it is that everyone know exactly what their place is in the world. Even Kira goes along with it, although it makes her desperately unhappy, and Sisko is left in the unfortunate position of watching a society purposefully try and push itself into the past, and knowing it’s no small way his fault. And if Akorem succeeds in his aims, the Federation will have no choice but to reject Bajor’s application.

It’s a difficult criticism to pin down, but the ease with which Akorem makes his wishes known, and the speed with which those wishes are followed, doesn’t sit quite right. The idea that some Bajorans would be open to, or even willingly embrace, the castes isn’t an issue; we’ve seen evidence of the culture’s deep religious roots before, and there will always be people who will except a new old idea, especially if it offers them a certain level of safety and continuity. But apart from Sisko’s objections, no one seems to be taking issue with the poet’s demands. Even Kira does her best to go along with the idea, working to find a replacement for herself on the station, and struggling through some pretty terrible bits of sculpture. She’s not happy about it, but she doesn’t ever question going against the new rules. Given the rapidity of the change, and the fact that Akorem offers no real reason for it beyond his own desire to return to what’s familiar to him, it’s hard to accept that this would go over as quickly and seemingly as smoothly as it does. A vedek kills someone for being “unclean,” but we never see the person he kills, nor do we hear any Bajorans objecting to the decision. This makes Bajor look like a bunch of easily led children who need help from an outsider to get their shit together. That’s an awkward angle, to say the least. The planet was in a rough spot when the show began, but by now, they’ve managed to rise above the Cardassians; the Dominion and the Klingons are threats, but without any immediate danger. If the Bajorans were frightened, split, rife with troubles, their acceptance of Akorem’s teachings would be easier to swallow. As it is, given how quickly (and how one-sidedly) it all goes down, it comes across less as a disheartening social movement, and more as a moral crisis for Sisko, and Sisko alone, to overcome.

This is a necessary crisis, though, and while I have some misgivings about the premise, I’m glad to see the show grappling with Sisko’s role as a religious icon again. After my criticisms of the pilot (which I don’t exactly remember, and am too lazy to look up, but I’m sure they were eloquent and devastating), I’ve come around on the Prophets, and the Emissary, and what the hell it all means. For one, having a main character on a science fiction show serving double duty as a kind of unwilling mystic is a terrific idea. It doesn’t come up a whole lot, but when it does (like Kira trying to deal with her relationship with Sisko in “Starship Down”), it raises issues that don’t often get raised on mainstream television. While some of the execution in “Accession” is clumsy and heavy-handed, there’s enough depth for the episode to mostly work. Sisko’s role is presented matter of factly. He runs DS9, and every so often, Bajorans will come to him and ask him for a blessing, which he reluctantly, but sincerely, gives. The casualness of that is fascinating. Sisko isn’t comfortable with how the Bajorans see him, but he has a sense of duty and honor, and he’s not a cruel man; so he tries to give them what they need, while at the same time chafing at the obligation. At some point, he needed to experience some kind of difficulty which would force him to make up his mind once and for all, and that’s what “Accession” provides.

Another reason I’m started to dig the Prophets comes from the conversation Sisko and Akorem have with them at the climax of the episode. Again, this happens a little quickly, and a little too easily; after some discussion, Akorem gets to go back to his own time, with no memory of his trip to the present, which makes still more hash of the past, as Sisko and Kira allude to in the last scene. But the actual conversation, with its usual arrangement of odd tenses and strangely placed articles, is possible to interpret in multiple ways. The more you listen, the more it seems as though the wormhole aliens don’t really have any particular desire for Bajor, and are, instead, reflecting Bajor’s own desires back on itself. So Akorem is troubled by the future, and he decides that means the Prophets want the past back. Or, even more interestingly, the aliens could somehow be aware of Sisko’s complaints, and offer him a potential replacement. Not necessarily to teach him a lesson, but simply because they’re intrigued.

Or maybe it is to teach him a lesson, as part of some larger plan. They do keep saying “You are Bajor,” and who knows what that means. However you interpret it, it’s open to interpretation, and that makes it more dramatically interesting than a more literal, “We’re gods, do what we say” approach. In terms of character, the important part of “Accession” happens before Akorem and Sisko go back into the wormhole; the real crux of the matter is Sisko’s decision to re-assume his duties. The aliens themselves are fascinating and weird, but the end result isn’t really in doubt. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to see Sisko give one more blessing at the episode’s end, and then smile afterwards. It’s not easy being the Emissary, but it has its rewards.

According to the A.V. Club review of Hard Time:

The lie we tell ourselves is that we can’t be broken; that we’re strong, and that strength somehow matters. Or even if we don’t have what it takes, even if our soft lives and selfishness makes us vulnerable to torture and worse, there are men and women who could endure any torment without losing their humanity. We treat civilization as an unshakable fact, as though decency and kindness and compassion were a kind of constant energy, an unbreakable flow; as though being a good person was a choice made years ago which we never need revisit. But the truth is, we are imperfect. Bones break, and so do spirits, and if there’s one fact we could all stand to internalize, it’s this: everything fails. Apply enough pressure, and the most steadfast heart will skip a beat. It’s not even that difficult. All you need is a basic knowledge of the human condition, and time.

Time is what Miles O’Brien is saddled with in this episode, the latest in the ongoing series of “Dear God, I’m glad I’m not him” storylines. After asking a few too many questions about Argrathi technology, O’Brien is arrested and convicted of espionage; before anyone can arrive to rescue him, he’s already served his sentence. The Argrathi have a marvelous piece of tech that allows them to simulate the passage of years in a subject’s mind, even while only moments pass in reality. So the Chief serves a 20-year sentence, locked in a cell, starved half to death, growing some really frightening Santa hair, but upon release, he finds Kira sitting next him, not aged a day, trying to explain. All of this happens in the cold open, more or less. We learn details about O’Brien’s supposed crime later, but they aren’t really important. Unlike Worf, questions of guilt or innocence are irrelevant. (Well, at least in regard to the specific charges the Argrathi used to justify the punishment.) What matters is that O’Brien has been away for what seems like to him a very long time; Bashir can’t clear these new memories away; and now the Chief has to re-integrate back into his “old” life. It doesn’t go smoothly.

This is a terrific episode, serving as both a dark companion piece to “The Inner Light,” and a more subtle, but still effective way to deal with issues raised in “Chain Of Command, Part 2.” But even before you get to the meat of what makes it so affecting, you have to marvel at its structure. The script (by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, from a story by Daniel Keys Moran and Lynn Barker) doesn’t give us any more information than what we need to know to establish O’Brien’s suffering. We don’t know anything about Argrathi culture—so far as I can tell, it’s a race that’s never been mentioned before, and will never be mentioned again. We don’t know exactly how they accomplished this implantation; we just know that, according to Bashir, the experience is designed in such a way as to be impossible to remove without erasing O’Brien’s entire brain. We don’t even know much about the process itself. Did O’Brien know the sentence would only be in his head? I’m guessing no, but I don’t think he confirms either way. How specific was the program tailored to his psychological make-up? And, in purely speculative terms, what effect would a device like this have on a culture at large? Is this punishment more or less humane than actual jail time? (I’m also imagining there must be Argrathi who use more positive versions of the device to extend their lives considerably.)

That’s all fun to think about, but in context of the episode, what really matters are the difficulties O’Brien faces in trying to return to his job and his family, and the secret of what really happened in all that time inside his head. Both of these threads are compelling, and both show what happens when DS9 decides to become truly dark, taking one of its most dependable, loveable characters (is there anyone on-board more good-natured, straightforward, and even-tempered than O’Brien? Morn, maybe, but he never has lines) and putting him through the ringer until what comes out the other end is barely recognizable. And while we understand intellectually the scope of O’Brien’s experience, it’s difficult to relate to in a way that only enhances the tension. We don’t know what he’s capable of now, and we don’t know exactly what happened during his time in prison. He tells Julian that he was alone in his cell, but in his flashbacks, we see he has a cellmate: Ee’Char (played by Craig Wasson, who you might remember as the schmuck “hero” of Body Double; he’s quite good in this), a patient, warm, and seemingly unflappable prisoner who teaches O’Brien the ropes of stashing food and keeping himself sane via sand-drawing. Ee’Char is so clearly kind and decent that you wonder why O’Brien is keeping him secret. You wonder who betrayed whom. And while that’s going on, in the present, O’Brien is snapping at his co-workers, fighting with his best friend, and yelling at his daughter.

That last part is the hardest to take. By now, we’ve been conditioned by various grim dramas to know what child abuse looks like on screen, but the way O’Brien stands up shouting at Molly, and for half a second you think he might hit her, is still shocking. There has never been an indication that O’Brien had ever even considered violence against his daughter or his wife. We’ve barely seen him show his temper. He’s been irritated, yes, and often frustrated, but irrational, out-of-control fury is a new look, and it doesn’t suit him. What makes it even more effective is that, for all the cynicism DS9 has entertained in the past, it’s never questioned the fundamental warmth of its ensemble. Even Quark will only go so far, even he has a heart under all that greed. And yet here is a good man suddenly twisted and hateful almost beyond recognition. I realize I’ve overused the word “dark” in these reviews (it’s far too easy for me to riff off of some imaginary, assumed fan criticism), but this is dark. This is sad and tragic and fucked up, and the worst part is, it begins where most stories end: O’Brien is rescued from danger at the start of the episode. The crisis is seemingly in the past. Yet things keep getting worse.

And they have to get even worse than that before they’ll improve. As if the Molly incident wasn’t harsh enough, O’Brien, realizing how far he’s sunk, goes into one of the store rooms, wrecks up the place, and then points a phaser at his throat on maximum setting. Have we seen a Star Trek character without a terminal illness threaten suicide before? (Apart from Worf and his broken back?) It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t be completely out of place on the original series, where everyone on the Enterprise was always getting up to desperate shenanigans, but not on DS9. Bashir stops him just in time, but the idea that things had gotten so far out of hand, that someone who hadn’t done anything wrong, and who had always been as strong and reliable as anybody, could be driven to such an awful place, is deeply upsetting. But it’s upsetting for an important reason, the reason that makes this hour more than just another sci-fi brain trip. There is a fundamental truth in all of this that we don’t often see in fiction.

Pushed beyond endurance, haunted by the ghost of his former cellmate, O’Brien finally tells Bashir the truth. He said he was alone, but he was only alone for the last week or two of his sentence; until then, he had Ee’Char. And Ee’Char kept him sane, mostly, and Ee’Char was always supportive and thoughtful and good. Until the food started to run out, and O’Brien saw his friend going for a secret stash; thinking Ee’Char was betraying him, O’Brien snapped and killed his cellmate. Then he discovered that Ee’Char had actually saved up enough food for both of them. O’Brien killed his only friend for no reason.

I’ve been trying to decide where Ee’Char came from. The one who appears to O’Brien on DS9 is obviously a figment of the Chief’s imagination; he says so, and everything he does is designed to help O’Brien on the path to mental health. But the one in the cell? Maybe O’Brien’s mind, revolting at the thought of solitary confinement, created a companion. But I don’t think so. I think Ee’Char is part of the program specifically designed to break O’Brien. This seems counterintuitive at first, given how helpful and useful this imaginary best friend is, but have you ever spent time without someone who you know is better than you? Not more talented or more attractive, but fundamentally better, more decent, more noble, more giving and helpful. You love them, but the more time you’re stuck with them, the more you start to hate, because you can’t live up to their standard. You can’t be perfect all the time. You can’t always say the right thing, you can’t maintain perfect composure, and so you start to resent someone who can. Ee’Char is far too perfect to be real, and O’Brien spent two decades in a cell with him. He was incredibly grateful, I’m sure, but the rage must’ve built over time. And when finally something bad happened, when the program pushed the right buttons and all of O’Brien’s goodness was stripped away, that rage came out; and after, all he had was the knowledge that he’d murdered someone who never wished him any harm.

The reason all of this makes me think of “Chain Of Command, Part 2” is because this is just another kind of torture, and as with that earlier episode, the moral is the same: everyone breaks. In the end, O’Brien makes his confession and Bashir absolves him, and points out that 20 years is a long damn time to exist under anyone’s complete control. Because this is a TV show, O’Brien will be back next week, and he’ll be basically fine, and that’s okay. The final scene of him coming back home, and his daughter running to him and giving him a hug, helps put us back on even footing; while it might have been more realistic to have the Chief spend the next few years in intensive therapy, living alone and drinking himself to sleep every night, I’d much rather have the softer sell. But the truth remains. Our goodness is a promise we make to the world. It’s helpful to remember how fragile that promise can be.

According to the A.V. Club review of The Muse:

Well, it’s the last appearance on a Trek show of Lwaxana Troi, and thankfully, I don’t have to spend the whole review complaining about the character. Overall, Lwaxana has been well-used by DS9, and “The Muse” provides a fitting cap to her career in the franchise, letting her exit gracefully in a storyline which makes up in sincerity what it lacks in immediate tension or drama. She shows up pregnant, looking for Odo’s help; Odo gives it; and then she leaves. It’s all very low-key. A pity, then, that it isn’t the episode’s only storyline. I’m not sure Lwaxana’s struggles with her latest ex-husband over custody rights would’ve benefited from more screentime, but at least it wouldn’t have been as idiotic as Jake’s storyline, which has the burgeoning writer fall into the clutches of a mysterious alien played by Meg Foster. The alien (the muse of the title) stimulates the creative centers of Jake’s brain with a lot of pseudo-erotic scalp massage, and then tries to drain him dry as he writes his first novel. Wackiness, thus, ensues.

It’s lousy, and immensely silly, although not in a fun way. The whole thing smacks of an early or late Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, the sort of broad, stupid concept that boils down to “aliens are magic, and we are their playthings.” (Actually, that’s pretty TOS too, although it has that cheesy, curtain-heavy sexiness that TNG liked to indulge in from time to time.) The brief glimpse we get of Jake watching for story ideas from above the Promenade is fun, but everything else he does in the episode is goofy as hell, and there’s no real point beyond what happens, apart from the always silly suggestion that great art has to have some kind of outside excuse, as opposed to just being the product of a lot of hard work and time. But really, this is all just embarrassing and childish, and if this is the most interesting plot the writers can come up with for Jake’s artistic ambitions, they should probably just let him go off to the Penington Academy, lest we get an episode in which his latest short story is accidentally downloaded into one of Quark’s holosuites, bringing the characters to life, or something equally lame.

Anyway, there’s not much to say about it. In fact, there isn’t much to say about “The Muse” in general; the whole thing reeks of a certain creative exhaustion that tends to hit series late in the season. Between this and “Shattered Mirror,” it must’ve been hard for the show’s fans, but at least “The Muse” has Odo and Lwaxana hanging around, having fun and being nice to each other. Pairing these two characters together was the smartest Lwaxana-related idea anyone on a Trekshow ever had; Odo’s isolation and loneliness mean that Lwaxana’s forceful personality actually do some good, and also allows Majel Barrett to be tender and a little sad, which suits her much better than forced antics. Given that the last time we saw her, she was going through the Betazed version of menopause, it’s surprising to find out she can still get pr pregnant, but hey, aliens and whatnot. The father of the baby, Jeyal, played by Michael Ansara (this time he’s not a Klingon, but a Tevnian, which translates to “regressive gender politics and a face like a hammerhead shark), is determined that the infant, a boy, be raised by men, as is the custom of his people. Lwaxana objects, hence her arrival on the station. You’d think she would’ve realized Jeyal would come with some baggage, but she didn’t believe she could get knocked up either, so she probably assumed it wouldn’t be an issue.

Jeyal barely registers, though. The real point of all this is to give Odo and Lwaxana some time together, and the few scenes we get of them hanging out are quite sweet. Odo somehow makes Lwaxana necessary in a way she so often wasn’t, and his open, and completely guileless fondness for her makes us like her more in turn. There’s a fun scene with the two of them playing hide and seek in Odo’s apartment (Lwaxana immediately realizes the giant jungle-gym-like structure in the room is for shape-changing), and it all builds to a wedding without a lot of fuss. Not that Odo is permanently marrying Lwaxana; he just determined that under Tavnian law, the new father has say over what happens to the baby, supplanting the biological dad. So he and Lwaxana will get hitched, stay together long enough for the marriage to be binding under Tavnian law, and the baby is protected.

The downside being that Jeyal wants to attend the wedding, and if he objects to Odo’s sincerity, he can null the arrangement. This presupposes Jeyal is an honorable man, obviously, since if he was truly determined to keep the child for himself, he’d object no matter what Odo said. Really, the only reason the clause is there is so Odo can give a very nice speech about how much Lwaxana means to him. He slightly oversells the case, for obvious reasons, but the sentiment is heartfelt, and reinforces just how nifty this small, heartfelt relationship has been. Lwaxana’s limited appearances on DS9 mean that she never entirely wore out her welcome, and it also means that the connection between her and Odo them always seemed fleeting, a rare moment’s peace in two disparate, complicated lives. And, as Lwaxana herself reminds us, she’s still legitimately in love with Odo, which means they can never spend too much time together—she would always want something he wasn’t prepared (or able) to give.

I’m not sure there’s enough here to justify the episode, and “The Muse” is mostly forgettable, lacking a strong center to hold itself together; its pleasures are minor, but they do exist, at least. Neither of this week’s entries is utterly without merit, but it does sting a bit to run into them both at once, a speed bump double feature that squanders momentum as we move into the final part of the fourth season. Five episodes left; here’s hoping things pick up soon.

According to the A.V. Club review of For the Cause:

I’ll be honest: I’d forgotten Eddington existed. He wasn’t a bad character—it was good to have a representative of Starfleet protocol on hand to remind us of the stations connections to a world we don’t often see, and Ken Marshall’s low-key delivery suited the role well. But he wasn’t used very often, and after a few dickhead moves, he integrated into DS9’s inner workings to such a degree that the writers never bothered to show him again. Until “For The Cause,” which starts (after a brief interlude of Sisko and Kasidy exchanging morning pillow talk; the two do good banter) with Eddington giving a briefing to the main crew about a sudden rise in Maquis attacks in the demilitarized zone. After the meeting is over, Odo and Eddington (who act like the bestest of buds) take Sisko aside and tell him they suspect Kasidy has been smuggling supplies to the Maquis. Which gives us the episode’s obvious conflict: our hero, torn between his heart and his duty. While there’s never any question which will take precedence, there is ample opportunity for the sort of long-distance stares that Avery Brooks does so well.

Before we get to that, though, there’s the episode’s lone subplot: the burgeoning friendship between Garak and Ziyal (played for just this episode by Tracy Middendorf). It’s fine? I feel like I’ve been short-changed great Garak storylines this season, and watching him negotiate a potential relationship with his greatest enemy’s daughter doesn’t really fill the void. There’s a fun conversation with Quark about paranoia, Kira is clearly not happy that Garak and Ziyal are friendly with one another, and Garak is briefly concerned that Ziyal might try to kill him. But because she is a very nice young woman who’d rather enjoy some computer-generated hot rocks and hear about a planet she’s never been allowed to spend much time on, the two end the episode in a state of mutual accord. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a romantic tryst (Quark seems to think so, but he’s Quark), and I kind of hope it isn’t; Garak is more interesting when his sexuality is ambiguous, and the probable age difference between the two is icky. But we’ll see.

Regardless, the Sisko/Kasidy sparring takes up the most of the running time, and it works well. Kasidy has always been something of a mystery, in the way all minor recurring characters tend to be; we know the broad outlines (wordplay!), but the motivations can shift on a dime when the writers decide the character can be better used elsewhere. Kasidy Yates is a perfectly charming woman who transports cargo, likes baseball, and has a fondness for one Benjamin Sisko. Penny Johnson manages to convey a decent impression of an inner life in her few appearances, and the actress’s fundamental harshness (far more evident in her work on 24) is put to good use in making sure a potentially sappy relationship has a center, pleasing edge. While she’s willing to change her life to be closer to him, Kasidy still has enough clear sense of self that she doesn’t come across as a pawn or a fantasy. The affair doesn’t bog down the show’s main plotlines, and she’s yet to wear out her welcome. Plus, she’s been around long enough that she’s become a kind of accepted quantity, which means it’s the perfect time to start shifting things around.

There’s never any real question if Kasidy is involved with the Maquis. As soon as Odo and Eddington voice their suspicions (in the cautious, respectful way you do when telling your boss his girlfriend is a spy), it’s clear where this is going, and to its credit, the script (by Ron Moore, based on a story by Mark Gehred-O’Connell) doesn’t make any real effort to keep things ambiguous. Odo and Eddington wouldn’t have brought the information to Sisko unless they were reasonably sure, and even Sisko can’t argue with them for very long. After some understandable anger over the idea, the captain falls into a certain weary resignation, as though he himself might have had questions about what his lover was doing out in the stars all this time. (It’s telling that the first line of the episode is, “Kasidy Yates, where are you going?”) Sisko calls off an inspection of the lady’s ship, only to have Worf follow the Xhosa in the Defiant; Captain Yates heads into the Badlands, where she makes contact with a Maquis vessel and passes along her cargo. It’s mostly organic, so at least Sisko can tell himself that she’s just been transporting food for the colonies. This time, at least.

All of this is well-handled, with that kind of melancholy tension that all stories of betrayed love exude; we know there’s going to be a final break, we just don’t know when it will happen, and how bad it will be. All of which serves as terrific misdirection for the episode’s biggest twist. When Kasidy goes out for another run, the Defiant follows her again, only this time, it’s Sisko at the helm. (There’s a lovely scene before the ships leave when Sisko finds Kasidy and begs her to drop everything and take a trip with him to Risa. She, of course, refuses without realizing what her refusal really means.) The two ships arrive in the Badlands, and spend five hours waiting for nothing before Sisko and Odo realize the truth. Beaming over to the Xhosa, Sisko demands answers, but Kasidy doesn’t have them. The whole thing was a ruse to get the captain off the station, so Eddington and his team could steal the industrial sized replicators that had been intended for Cardassian colonists and deliver them to the Maquis.

It’s a great surprise, and well-crafted. Eddington mentions the replicators earlier, and the script goes to some pains to establish their importance. It makes sure we understand why the Maquis would want them, before dropping the subject until the final 10 minutes. The plan works, too, which is always an unexpected pleasure; we don’t need our heroes to fail every time (or even most of the time), but letting them get tricked occasionally makes them more vulnerable, while making their opponents appear stronger, all of which adds to those mystical stakes that critics like to go on about so much. Plus, it’s immensely entertaining when done well, because it creates the illusion that everything is up for grabs. Having Kasidy working for the Maquis was interesting, but while she was a familiar face, her and Sisko hadn’t been together long enough for her criminal behavior to be devastating. With Eddington, there’d been a history, however brief, that established him as a stickler for the rules. A company man, so to speak. Only now, he’s turned his back on the Federation, and he is super pissed off about it.

That’s where the episode’s flaw lies, and it’s the kind of flaw that probably couldn’t have been avoided and still retained the episode’s biggest strength. That terrific moment when Sisko realizes he’s been had, and comes back to the station to find Eddington and the replicators gone without a trace, is something I’m not sure I’d want to give up; it caught me completely off guard, and gave a jolt of energy to an otherwise solid, but not spectacular, hour. But in order for that surprise to work as well as it does, Eddington needs to be entirely opaque, and that means the character with the strongest motivation in the story is one we never really get close to. Eddington and Sisko have one final conversation over the viewscreens, in which Eddington rails about the horrors of the Federation while Sisko promises vengeance. It’s a good scene, and Eddington’s hatred for his former employers is fascinating, and hard to entirely dismiss. It’s just, where the hell is this coming from? What happened to changing his mind? How long has he hid this anger? There’s a history we’re not getting, and it makes the twist seem a trifle hollow in retrospect. When Kasidy returns to the station and allows herself to be arrested because she just can’t bear to let Sisko go, it’s a little corny, but there’s enough feeling between them for the conclusion to have power. This is an end to a story we’ve been watching, and while it may not be the end, it feels like a continuation of everything that’s come before. With Eddington’s departure, his time on the show seems like something else: a trick played by expert magicians which is still, at bottom, just a matter of misdirection and mirrors.

According to the A.V. Club review of Broken Link:

You could say be careful what you wish for, but that wouldn’t be exactly fair, would it. Because as much as Odo wanted to belong with the solids, I never got the impression that he wanted to be one. Maybe when he was younger; maybe during some of the early years on Deep Space Nine, he might have wished he didn’t have to worry about the bucket every night, or that he could eat food like everyone else. But the thing about Odo is, he knows who he is. In order to face a life as a seemingly unique organism, a creature who had to concentrate at all times to fit in with the people around him, Odo developed an ironclad sense of himself, a devotion to order, rules, and discipline. Then he finally found his own people, and the rules became less clear. I don’t think the Founders were being intentionally cruel when they encouraged Odo to explore his abilities as a Changeling; they were simply trying to remind him of who they thought he was, and to give him more of a reason to come home. But Odo made his choice, and that choice eventually led to him breaking the one law his people had, and that led to the end of “Broken Link”: Odo is no longer a Changeling. In retrospect, all those speeches about textures and birds and new forms seem cruel. Just as he was getting a sense of his potential, he loses it.

After a season spent mostly in the shadows, the finale finds the Founders machinations once more at center stage when Odo is suddenly struck by a terrible disease. One minute he’s in Garak’s shop, meeting a Bajoran named Chalan who’s is crushing on him hardcore (and quite lovely to boot), the next he’s half-melting and shuddering on the floor. Bashir is baffled; all he can say for sure is that Odo’s molecular stability is in flux, and the worse it gets, the more difficult it will be for Odo to stay in his solid form. Eventually, he’ll revert back to liquid and stay there, which creates something of a ticking clock for the other characters. And they have their own problems. Gowron has decided to up the ante in Klingon/Federation relations, threatening outright hostilities if the Federation doesn’t remove itself from the Archanis system, once disputed territory that the Klingons had supposedly given up a hundred years ago. But that’s for the future. Odo’s problems are more pressing, and if a solution isn’t found soon, he’s doomed.

This leads to the expected, though still disturbing, decision that he has to go back to the Founders and beg for a cure. Sisko proposes taking the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant, where they’ll send out a message and hope to eventually be picked up by a Jem’Hadar ship; after all, nobody knows where the Founder homeworld is after the Obsidian Order and Romulan attack on their previous planet. A large part of the episode is finding ways to kill time before the Odo returns to the Great Link, but at this point in the show’s run, the writers know how to fill in the gaps, and they have enough established character relationships that what otherwise might have looked like padding or basic expository conversations have a certain weight and resonance. Like Kira making sure to check on Odo when he’s in the Infirmary, even going against Sisko’s wishes to do so, and bringing the constable a report of the day’s criminal activities. Given what we know about their relationship, and how much time they’ve spent together going over their reports, it’s a sweet, sad little moment. Likewise, Quark’s goodbye Odo when he leaves the station (at this point, poor Odo is half-melting everywhere, a simple makeup effect that nonetheless looks great; it does make you wonder why no one on the station thought to bring a gurney to make the transport easier, but maybe Odo was determined to walk) is well handled. As ever, their mutual antagonism is the closest thing either character really has to a long-term connection, and both of them realize it. Quark’s insistence that Odo is coming back is awfully sweet, too.

Then there’s Garak, who insists on coming along for the trip because he wants to find out if there were any survivors from the attack on the Founders’ homeworld. We’ve had something of a drought of great Garak stories in recent weeks, and while his arc isn’t the main focus of this episode, it does show him in fine, ambiguous form. Well, “ambiguous” isn’t quite the right word, as there’s no real question what Garak wants by the end of the hour (at least what he wants right now). But he is someone with his own perspective, a perspective which is often at odds with the show’s heroes, but one which doesn’t make him an outright villain. Here, it’s clear he has some fondness for Odo (hence his attempts to set the constable up with Chalan in the cold open), but his main interest is in determining the fate of the Order. When he confronts the Female Shapeshifter (played by Salome Jens; has she ever been given a specific character name? It’s the woman Odo met the first time he visited the Founders) he learns there were no survivors from the attack. Worse, the Founders hold grudges; they consider Garak and the entire Cardassian race to be already dead, for the temerity of daring to attack.

It’s a quick, verbally brutal scene that pivots well off the Female Shapeshifter’s more empathetic (if still stern) exchange with Odo, and it drives Garak out of his mind. Garak unhinged is a rare sight for the show, and we don’t see the real impact of the Shapeshifter’s threat on the tailor until Worf finds him in theDefiant’s engines, working feverishly to hack into the weapons’ system so that he can fire all phasers and torpedoes on the planet below. Odo is with the Great Link on the planet’s surface, and Sisko and Bashir are waiting for him, but Garak doesn’t care; nor does he care that the nearby Jem’Hadar ships will surely attack and destroy the Defiant, killing everyone onboard, if Garak succeeds. There’s a hard logic to his intentions, belied only slightly by his frenetic behavior—a handful of lives weighed against the potential millions of casualties from an all out war with the Dominion doesn’t seem like much of a price to pay. Worf disagrees, and proceeds to kick Garak’s ass when the Cardassian refuses to stand down. It’s a good fight, claustrophobic and intense, between two sympathetic characters who clearly don’t much like each other. (Well, I doubt Worf likes Garak. It can be hard to tell who Garak likes.)

The heart of the hour, though, lies with Odo, and his journey from pariah to (apparently permanent) exile. Interestingly, the most important dramatic transition happens near the end of the episode, giving little time to examine the repercussions. Odo joins the Great Link—a terrific image, so-so 1990s CGI and all, of an island of stone surrounded by a sea of liquid Changeling—where he is judged by his supposed peers, and they decide his sentence: they make him human. He keeps his old face, to remind him of what he lost, but every ounce of metamorphic ability is stripped clean. While it’s a shock that the Founders would even be capable of such an action (it’s not like we can turn people into horses… yet), the decision makes sense; it’s unfortunate that the writers will lose Odo’s shape-changing abilities, but in retrospect, those were never all that crucial to the character. His outsider status was what defined him, and now he’s even more of an outsider than he was before, an inhuman human, a frozen Shapeshifter, an outcast in any culture. And yet in the episode’s last scene he seems almost hopeful, almost accepting. To the Founders, locking a Changeling into a solid’s form must be an almost unimaginably harsh sentence; given their closed-off culture and contempt for outsiders, this is akin to an execution, minus the mercy of the blade. But to Odo? We’ll have to wait and see what next season has in store. but I think there’s hope left. Bucket or no, he’s a self-made man.

 

The Worst:

Our Man Bashir, and The Quickening

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Our Man Bashir is a nice episode, but am not fond of the holodeck episodes, and The Quickening sees Bashir on a planet in the Gamma Quadrant trying to rid them of a plague sent by the Dominion.

[yourube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37HhQhE4XvQ]

According to the A.V. Club review of Our Man Bashir:

Well, this is also cute. And thankfully, a bit better paced than “Little Green Men”; comic episodes only work if they’ve got some momentum behind them, and cutting between Bashir and Garak in the holosuite, and Eddington, Odo, Quark, and Rom in the station, keeps things moving nicely. Plus, there’s a clear sense of danger, and a very obvious structure, drawn from the Bond films that Bashir’s program looks to emulate/parody. The jokes are obvious, but enough of them are funny that it doesn’t really matter, and besides, it’s not like the source material was all that subtle to begin with. (Dr. Honey Bear might be over the line, but I’m surprised Mona Luvsitt wasn’t a character in Diamonds Are Forever. It’s a damn sight better than “Plenty O’Toole.”) And once again, we can see the benefit ofDS9’s stationary location and on-going continuity. “Our Man Bashir” only gets heavy for about a scene, but it’s a very good scene, and it works based off of what we know about the episode’s two leads. Plus, there are small touches throughout to make sure we can connect what we’re seeing to the larger narrative. It’s a great way to handle serialization: not every story has to advance the main plot, but the more we feel like it’s all connected, the more invested we become.

On the whole, DS9 has avoided holo-centric premises, which is for the best. WhileStar Trek: The Next Generation had some fun with the idea of a magic room which generated new realities with the push of a button, but it’s a pretty ridiculous concept which the series was never all that interested in exploring to its logical conclusions. Such a device would be even more out of place on DS9. Quark has his holosuites, they’re routinely referenced, but they’re rarely, if ever, plot-relevant. Out of sight, out of mind. But here comes “Our Man Bashir,” with what looks like the platonic ideal of the holo-story. The good doctor is engaging in some pre-work shenanigans, fighting a bad guy and wooing a blonde in a low cut dress, when Garak wanders in, applauding the theatrics. An argument ensues, and we learn the fascinating tidbit that it’s actually illegal to interrupt someone else’s holo-program without their explicit permission. But Bashir finally accepts Garak won’t be put off; the tailor wants to know just what’s been keeping Bashir so busy lately, and, when he discovers Julian is pretending to be a spy, you can imagine the reaction. The two of them go for a team-up, just as a horrific shuttlecraft accident strands Sisko, Kira, Dax, O’Brien, and Worf in the station’s computers. And who do you think pops up in Bashir’s program? Guess.

The funniest part of all holodeck/suite stories is that they always have to go out of their way to eliminate what would be the device’s biggest appeal: namely, the ability to engage in action and adventure without having to worry about consequences. I’d love to be able to pretend I was Indiana Jones for a couple hours, but if “pretending” meant the very real chance that I’d get shot, chopped up, drowned, stabbed, or crushed, I wouldn’t be nearly as interested. So holo-programs come with safety protocols built in, but somehow, because this is all crazy computer stuff (again: magic), the bad guys Bashir faces off against could theoretically hurt him, which means that if the safety protocols are removed, he’s in for a world of hurt. And yes, the safety protocols are removed in this episode. It happens every damn time, or nearly. It’s like having a really amazing TV in your house, only if there’s a glitch, or the batteries in the remote go dead, the TV will murder you. Everyone in the Trek-verse accepts this as a matter of course, but while I’m sure a holodeck experience would be remarkable, I don’t think I’d be so cavalier using the device if I knew there was a one in five chance I set myself on fire. I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist, because it’s amazing technology. But they put safety bars on the roller coaster for a reason, y’know?

In a shocking twist, Bashir’s crewmembers start popping into his fantasy life; first Kira, as his sexy Russian friend (yes, Nana Visitor is good at this), then O’Brien as Falcon, Bashir’s eye-patched nemesis, and so on. It’s a bit like a twist on Barclay’s first TNG episode, only here, instead of Barclay using the holodeck to enact his fantasies with people he can’t bear to deal with in real life, Bashir is forced to keep his made up world going if he wants to save the lives of his friends. There’s some tech speak going on—buffers and what not. When the shuttle exploded, the computer stored the physical patterns of the crew inside Bashir’s holosuite, while using the entirety of the rest of the station to store their substantially larger neural patterns. Which, okay, I’ll buy it, and it gives us some fun moments with Eddington having to team up with Rom to find a work around to reconnect everybody. (I especially liked the reveal that Rom has had to MacGyver up the holosuite circuit boards because Quark won’t put down any money for upgraded equipment.) As always with premises like this, what matters is if the ends (ie, Bashir and Garak playing spy on Earth of the late ‘60s) justify the means.

I’d say they do, although it depends on your fondness for Bond riffs. Most of the gags are relegated to the immediate shock of seeing familiar faces in unfamiliar roles, and anyone looking for a cutting satire of Bond’s Imperialist masculine bullshit shouldn’t get their hopes up; the darkest this gets is a silly moment near the end when Bashir saves himself and Garak by telling Dax she’d look prettier without her glasses and with her hair down. But it is undeniably nifty to watch Kira bust out a Russian accent, or Worf playing the heavy in a tux. As for who comes off the best, I have a hard time picking, but it’s hard to deny Avery Brooks utter awesomeness as the world-destroying arch-villain Dr. Noah. (Get it? Get it?) Brooks has always had a taste for scenery, and he indulges himself at the episode’s climax to great effect, SHOUTING and whispering in ways that make him seem threatening, brilliant, and almost certainly psychotic.

“Our Man Bashir” also gets some mileage out of Garak’s astonishment at this particular brand of espionage, although not as much as I was expecting. He throws out a few one liners, and they’re all good ones, but it turns out his real reason for appearing in the episode was to give the writers yet another chance to take a look at the weird edges that exist between the ex-member of the Obsidian Order, and our noble doctor. Once Garak realizes that they’re playing for keeps, he starts encouraging Bashir to be more ruthless in his work; yes, Julian wants to save everyone, but sometimes you just can’t do that, and to Garak, that means cutting costs and running as soon as the odds are slightly less than favorable. Bashir resists, which builds to a confrontation where the doctor draws a gun on Garak, who’s threatening to shut down the program and escape. (Shutting down the program has a good chance of killing Sisko and the others outright.) Garak doesn’t believe Bashir has the guts to pull the trigger, but when he calls for the doors, Bashir fires, injuring the tailor and defusing the situation.

It’s the only time in the whole hour when the light-hearted tone trembles. (Well, it’s not like Eddington and Odo are yukking it up, but I can’t imagine watching this and being all that concerned about the fate of the crew.) Later, at the conclusion of the spy program, Julian quotes some of Garak’s words to Dr. Noah, stalling for time by giving up being the good guy and helping to destroy the world. Which is amusing, but not particularly subversive; Bashir has already demonstrated his willingness to put his friends above all other considerations, and if that means killing imaginary billions, so be it. That earlier scene, though, is telling. It doesn’t exactly reveal anything we don’t already well know—Bashir is an idealist, Garak is a pragmatist—but it does reinforce once more the the courage of the doctor’s convictions, and the strength those convictions give him. Garak may well mock Bashir’s naivete, but Bashir saves the day, (sort of) gets the girl, and blows up the world. All Garak gets is a neck wound.

According to the A.V. Club review of The Quickening:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has featured the Dominion as a major, if somewhat elusive, threat for a couple of seasons now. It’s been a good fit for the show; the mysterious nature of the Founders, the horrifying brutality of the Jem’Hadar, the Vorta smarm (the last of which, admittedly, has been in limited supply) have all served to suggest an opponent with seemingly bottomless resources and astonishing guile, a foe who has been through a hundred conflicts much like this one, and come out on top every time before. The Changelings’ use of fear and paranoia to unman (so to speak) their enemies means that every new problem that arises on Deep Space Nine might in some way lead back to their machinations, and their access to a devoted, vat-grown race of super soldiers means that there’s always a fist to back up all the insinuations, if one is required. But while this has established them as an adversary to be reckoned with, some of the moral framework of the conflict has been lost. I root for Sisko and the others because these are the characters I care about, and because there is something clearly screwed up about staffing your military with drug-addicted slaves. But it’s not like the Enterprise never stumbled over objectionable societies before. The Changelings have a history of persecution to back up their choices; what makes them so wrong?

There are multiple answers to this particular question, but “The Quickening” provides the most immediate yet; regardless of their past, the Founders decision to not just conquer but utterly destroy anyone who gets in their way is indefensible. And their methods make it even worse. Returning home from a routine mission in the Gamma Quadrant, Kira picks up an SOS message from a planet just outside of Dominion space. Bashir and Dax beam down to investigate (in a nice touch which means that at least one person stays on the shuttle in case anything goes wrong), and find a city devastated by a plague known only as “The Blight.” Everyone on the planet is infected with the disease at birth; it starts as lesions on the skin, until at some point, those lesions “quicken” and become a fatal, throbbing red. Death follows soon after. There’s no cure, and the only doctor Bashir can find, a man named Trevean, has resigned himself to offering what little comfort he can: When someone quickens, Trevean helps them arrange a final dinner with their family and friends, and then gives them an herbal poison that will allow them to die quickly and painlessly.

Unsurprisingly, Bashir isn’t a fan of this, and at first, “The Quickening” looks like it will be story about how the good doctor needs to learn the limits of his science and book-learnin’; any time a character becomes obsessed with something, be it a cure to a plague, a white whale, or the name of that band that recorded that song in 1987—no not that one, the other one—a certain amount of perspective will inevitably be applied before the end credits. And that is a part of what happens in “The Quickening.” While the writers have backed away from earlier portrayals of Bashir as an arrogant, callow youth who thinks some time in the back end of civilization will be a bit of a lark, they, along with Alexander Siddig, have turned that mildly irritating stereotype into something richer and more endearing. Bashir’s earlier brashness was simply a side effect of his deep and passionate optimism, a faith in his abilities that isn’t so much ego as it is a need to be able to make things better. So any time he takes center stage, there’s going to be some kind of conflict between that optimism and the grinding ugliness of reality. After all, he went into medicine, not puppy-cuddling; he chose a profession where he’d have to fight death back every day (as he tells Ekoria in this episode), but no matter how good you are at fighting death, you will lose eventually.

But that isn’t the main focus of “The Quickening,” which is less a morality play for its hero than it is a character study, and a look at how a culture can lose hope, and how difficult, terrifying, and occasionally fatal it can be to rebuild that hope. Apart from a line from Dax reminding Bashir that just because he’s angry with himself doesn’t mean he has the right to give up, this is also pretty much judgement free. (I wonder if one of the problems with Dax—who I think is great, but doesn’t get a lot of great episodes like this one focused around her—is that the age and experience of the symbiote means that she’s relegated to playing the voice of wisdom in almost every situation. She doesn’t have obvious flaws or demons she’s struggling with; that makes her a terrific secondary figure, but frustratingly distant as a heroine.) And that’s good. The storyline isn’t shy about playing up the tragedy and ugliness of its situation; there’s a sincerity and directness to the struggles of Ekoria and her people that for the most part eschews subtlety, choosing obvious symbols (Ekoria is pregnant for more than just plot purposes) and putting us through the emotional wringer. I can see this being labeled as melodrama, but I think it works regardless; the cast is strong, but just as importantly there’s the refusal to pass judgement on any of the characters. Everyone here has understandable motives, and none of those motives are given precedence above the others. That’s an immensely rich approach to storytelling: many perspectives, all of them necessary.

While the plague planet suffers from the usual Trek Economy of Civilization (in that it’s a big planet, but the small piece of it we see is supposedly a stand-in for every possible city/town), and the few characters we get to know are arguably more archetypal than specific individuals, they are convincing enough, and tragic enough, that the distinction isn’t really important. Ekoria (Ellen Wheeler), the pregnant woman who asks Bashir for help, could’ve been the most manipulative cliché imaginable: a young mother alone in the world, desperate to see her baby before she dies. But the actresses’ subdued, earnest performance is heartbreaking, and the script (by Naren Shankar) manages to give her just enough personality that even though the trick is obvious—it’s hard not to get choked up about someone like this—it works. Little details fill her in, like the fact that her dead husband was a painter (leaving behind a mural that reminds people of what life might be like if they weren’t all dying young), or her ease tending to sick patients, so that by the time her quickening strikes, and she’s begging Bashir to help her survive long enough to give birth, it’s nearly impossible not to be moved by her plight.

Textures like this define the episode, which forgoes some of the more complex morality we’ve seen in other entries in the series to have a stronger, more direct empathetic effect. Still, there is some minor, but fascinating, conflict at play. Take Trevean. Initially Bashir is upset by the other man’s seemingly casual acceptance of the inevitability of death. This isn’t a position we’re supposed to share; Bashir’s stubbornness has been well-established by now, and the people who come to Trevean for help don’t seem coerced or indoctrinated, but simply trying to find some dignity in a horrible situation. Yet it’s hard to deny that Trevean’s acceptance of their plight hasn’t helped to make that situation more inevitable. Bashir may have an outsider’s blindness to the difficulties and pain of living in a world where you’re fatally ill from birth (okay, technically, that’s all of us, but you get me), but his perspective allows him to work in an environment where anyone else who might have accomplished something has long since given up. It doesn’t hurt that the disease gets worst after prolonged exposure to the electrical fields given off by Bashir’s instruments; it’s a sickness designed to punish people who try and cure it. So it’s completely understandable that Trevean is doing the best he can. But the anger and fear with which people react to Bashir’s efforts is fascinating—they’ve been hurt before, and the worse that hurt gets, the more effectively they are insulated against any potential cure.

Ekoria dies immediately after giving birth. There’s a happy ending to this story—the antigen Bashir developed works as a vaccine—but it’s not a cure-all: since everyone is born with the plague, the vaccine only works on unborn children. They can save future generations, but not themselves. To be honest, even this is more upbeat than I was expecting, and it’s a mark of how well the episode is put together that hope can be found amid such a dire situation, and it doesn’t come across as cheap or unearned. (Maybe this also has something to do with my ignorance when it comes to bio-engineered plagues.) But even this isn’t enough for Bashir. In the final scene, he’s back in his office on DS9, running computer simulations, rubbing his eyes and hoping that maybe the nth pairing of the nth sequence might yield something he can use, that maybe 10 hours can do what five did not, and if that fails, there’s always tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. This is the cost of wanting to do good: knowing that you can never do enough, but being unable to keep trying to fix everything, cure everyone, save this world and that world and all of them. It’s certainly a kind of arrogance, and the episode makes a point of showing how it has its limits; when his first attempt at a cure ends in multiple deaths without any seeming positive result, Bashir turns his energies inward, and it’s only a quick verbal shoulder-shake from Dax that shames into getting back on his feet. But ultimately, this is who he is, and when Sisko congratulates him for the vaccine, Bashir barely acknowledges the praise. There’s still work to be done. And because Ekoria is dead, and because her child will never know his parents, the work will never truly end.

 

Past_Tense_Part_I

The next in best and worst is Season 3.

 

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8 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Star Trek DS9: Season 4

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