The Best and Worst of Star Trek DS9: Season 3

For previous installments of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

For previous installments of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

 

The Best:

The Search, Second Skin, Civil Defense, Defiant, Past Tense, Heart of Stone, Destiny, Visionary, Through the Looking Glass, Improbable Cause, The Die is Cast, Explorers, Shakaar, Facets, and The Adversary

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In brief pieces:

  • In The Search, Sisko takes the untested Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant in order to find the Founders of the Dominion, and instead find Odo’s homeworld (This story formally introduces the Dominion, and the USS Defiant);
  • Second Skin sees Kira kidnapped by Cardassians, as they try to convince her she is an undercover agent;
  • Civil Defense sees the station taken over by a Cardassian security program from the Occupation that thinks there is a Bajoran rebellion taking place;
  • Defiant sees the return of Lt. Thomas Riker, the transporter clone of Lt. Commander William Riker;
  • Past Tense is a beloved story, about how “humanity can be absolutely terrible, but is capable of so much more” and “demonstrates that mankind has to course-correct itself if it wants to build a better world.” It is also the last of 12 episodes to air without another Trek series on the air, which began with The Search, Part One;
  • I deeply love Heart of Stone for both of it’s stories, Nog wanting to join Starfleet and Odo with Kira, as she is trapped in an expanding crystal formation;
  • Destiny deals with Commander Sisko’s role as the Emissary;
  • In Visionary, O’Brien begins jumping through time into the near future;
  • Through the Looking Glass sees Sisko kidnapped by Smiley, the Miles O’Brien duplicate, in order to have him assume that universes Sisko counterpart;
  • Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast features the introduction of Enabran Tain, the biological father of Elim Garek and former head of the Obsidian Order, meanwhile Odo is interrogated as the Cardassian Obsidian Order and the Romulan Tal Shair attack the Founders homeworld;
  • Explorers sees Sisko builds a replica of a Bajoran eight hundred-year-old spaceship, takes Jake out to test it with him;
  • Shakaar sees Kira visiting her old Resistance leader on Bajor;
  • In Facets, Jadzia Dax decides to undergo the Zhian’tara rirtual, which will give her a chance to communicate with the previous hosts of the symbiote by transferring each one’s memories into one of her closet friends; and,
  • The Adversary sees Sisko and the Defiant crew attempt to stop a Changling infiltrator from creating a war between the Federation and the Tzenkethi.

According to the A.V. Club review of The Search, Part One:

Previously on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—the Jem’Hadar! The Dominion! The Founders: do they exist? Nice psychic lady with wrap-around ears! Space battle! EXPLOSION! (That was a ship.) Escape, suspense, struggle, betrayal. Nice psychic lady with wrap-around ears is secretly EVIL. And poof, she’s gone. Sisko wants to make a stand, but can even he stop what’s coming?

It was a good note on which to end a season, ambitious, shocking, and purposeful, serving as a pay-off to a number of previously dropped hints, and suggesting a clear direction for the show’s next year. Sisko’s final, grim speech is the best kind of cliffhanger for serialized television, or at least the easiest sort to follow up, because it presents a sense of danger without creating specific narrative expectations. Turning Captain Picard into a member of the Borg may sound like a good idea—and sure, it resulted in one of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s best episodes, and one of the most memorable season finales in the history of television—but it’s a hard act to follow, especially when you give your audience a full summer to parse out the various ways the story can resolve. DS9’s second season ended with the implication that the shit was about to hit the fan, but there’s no direct idea of where it’s going to come from. There are powerful folks out in the Gamma Quadrant. They have plans. And that’s all we know.

Which leaves the two-part third season première with a bit of wiggle-room. The show could’ve chosen to put the Dominion threat on the back-burner for a few episodes, and give the audience a chance to get re-acquainted with Sisko, Kira, and the rest. Instead, “The Search, Part One” jumps headlong into the fray, with our heroes deciding to get proactive in the face of seemingly impossible odds. This is exciting for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s a new narrative tack for aTrek show, given that previous crews have been more reactive than proactive when it came to danger. Given the lack of proper serialization on the original series, it’s not surprising that Kirk and friends only get involved when there’s some kind of clear and present danger, but even Picard’s Enterprise only finds a crisis when they stumble over it in their explorations or are ordered there by Starfleet. Sisko isn’t having any of that, and while he is working under Starfleet’s instructions, he’s also pushing to go back into the Gamma Quadrant and confront the Dominion directly, so they can try and forge some kind of alliance before everything goes to hell. It changes the feel of the show. Instead of waiting around dreading bad news, the folks on DS9 are getting their shit together and trying to save themselves before it’s too late.

That’s the other reason this is so exciting, though: it may already be too late. I wasn’t kidding about the “seemingly impossible odds.” The first part’s cold open is basically Kira and the others clarifying just how screwed they’ll be if the Dominion decides to attack, given that the station is the first line of defense outside the wormhole. The answer? Pretty damn screwed. This isn’t surprising, but the thoroughness of the scene effectively sets up stakes that will last us for a long time. TNG managed to make the Borg terrifying by creating a threat which could circumvent the Enterprise’s impressive technology. The Jem’Hadar are undeniably impressive, having taken out an Enterprise-class ship last season, but just as importantly, Deep Space Nine is in no way equipped to handle any serious threat. The station has O’Brien, and it has its defenses, but it can’t escape via warp drive if conditions become untenable, and it’s not built to withstand a prolonged attack. The Dominion isn’t just a bad guy the crew can bump into, yell at, and then flee. The Borg are effective because they manage to get under Star Trek’s usually unshakeable sense that everything will be fine if we all just sit down and talk about it, because the Borg aren’t interested in a dialogue. But here, we’ve got villains who are perfectly willing to talk; they’ll just go ahead and do as they like regardless of whatever anyone else says.

Sisko is already playing the angles, of course. When “The Search” begins, he’s curiously absent from Kira’s crew briefing, making a surprise appearance at the end in a brand new ship, the Defiant. It’s a warship, of a kind the Federation isn’t generally known for; as Sisko explains later, when Starfleet realized the threat posed by the Borg was going to need a stronger response. Thankfully the Borg War ended shortly after it began, but the Defiant, a prototype of the fast-moving, well-armed vessel that might make the difference in a significant battle, was still floating around. It has its problems—a slight tendency to shake itself to pieces when pushed to full throttle, for one—but it’s something, at least, and it comes with a Romulan-loaned cloaking device (along with a Romulan operator named T’Rul). Sisko intends to use the ship to make his first move: finding the Founders, and convincing them that the Federation doesn’t represent a threat. It’s not the boldest play, but options are scarce, and going by simulations and basic common sense, a treaty looks like the only way the good guys are going to walk away from this with their heads attached.

Of course, the trip is a horrible failure, but we don’t really see the fall out until the next episode, apart from the smoke, fire, and screaming which make up the climax of “The Search”’s first hour. This opening half is more about reiterating the stakes, and getting the team together for one big adventure, of the sort we hardly ever see on DS9. It’s exciting too, as Sisko lays out his plan, starts making preparations, and even browbeats Quark into coming along for the ride. Admittedly, Quark doesn’t absolutely need to go on the trip. From a writing perspective, he’s there mostly to pad an hour that doesn’t have enough plot on its own, given that it needs to end on a sudden, doom-laden, attack. But he’s enjoyable enough—and the idea of the whole crew going along for an adventure is so fun—that I feel like a poor sport for being nitpicky.

Odo, meanwhile, plays a more important role in this two-parter than his nominal nemesis, although his story doesn’t get going until the second half. In this episode, he gets pissy when he finds out his authority is once again being challenged by Starfleet personnel, a plotline that keeps coming up on the series but never really seems to pay off. It’s not like Odo is really going to quit at this point, and while the idea that Starfleet is constantly trying to interfere with him fits in with the series’ on-going tension between the station and the external bureaucracies, it’s gotten to the point where it’s just white noise. This time, though, it serves as a reminder of just how distant and separate Odo often feels from those around him, so that’s to the good, although that only really becomes clear in retrospect. (Come to think, the already good scene between Odo and Quark in the Defiant’s crew quarters, which ends with Odo snapping at Quark before turning into his liquid form, serves the same purpose. So maybe I was a little too quick on the “padding” comment.)

Odo is reluctant to go on the mission, but Kira talks him into it, and soon he’s staring at a nebula on a star chart, convinced that it’s calling to him and is driven to return to it as soon as he can. Which turns out to be a lot sooner than anyone expected, as Sisko’s trip goes from “fine” to “godawful” in under five minutes. These two episodes have some revelations, and some twists, but deep down, their most impressive accomplishment is in underlining the message of that cold open, and of the episode which ended last season: the Dominion and the Founders are bad, bad news. “The Search, Part One” ends with the Defiant under attack, after Dax and O’Brien beam down to a relay station and inadvertently set off an alarm. Sisko is forced to abandon his people on the planet below, but it doesn’t do him much good, as the Jem’Hadar break his cloak and beam aboard his ship almost immediately.

Oh, and the first big twist/revelation moment happens here: Kira, after the attack on the Defiant, wakes up on a shuttlecraft with Odo. He seems strange, and when she asks him what happened, there are certain blanks in the conversation—the shapeshifter doesn’t know where the others are, or what happened to the ship. As the symbol of law and order on the show, it’s unsettling to see Odo overcome by his impulses; he flies to the Omarion Nebula like a being possessed. Which, in a way, he is. He and Kira land on a Class M planet, where they find a lake made of a substance that looks a lot like Odo looks in his liquid form, and for good reason. It’s a a sea of other shapeshifters, and one of them, a woman who appears to share Odo’s difficulties with wears and faces, tells him what he’s been wanting to hear since the show began: “Welcome home.”

According to the A.V. Club review of The Search, Part Two:

So, Odo is home. And everything is very nice and peaceful, right up until Kira pokes her nose into a mysterious door, and we find out that the shapeshifters are actually the Founders of the Dominion.

As twists go, it’s a doozy, although I have to admit I find it more intellectually interesting than emotionally so. Odo’s search for his origins was always static; he looks mournful, he pokes around some relic, and then we move on. At least when we learned about his time in a science lab, there was some tension as he struggled to resolve his relationship with one of the scientists who studied him. When it came to the parts of his backstory which weren’t obviously connected to the rest of the show, it was all pretty conceptual. Odo the orphan being struggling to establish his place and purpose in the universe is powerful, and often richly moving. Odo muddling through clues and instinctual longings, somewhat less so, and while the turn here at least means that his progenitors are going to be important as more than just a character conflict, it’s hard to get a visceral sense of the betrayal the changeling must feel. Right now, it’s cool because it’s unexpected, and because of what it might lead to down the line. In and of itself, it lacks the drama of, say, Garak’s various origin stories from “The Wire.”

It doesn’t help that the shapeshifters are, up until that final reveal, really, really boring. There’s no question that it would be difficult to imagine how a civilization full of shapeshifters might be different from our own, but the second half of “The Search” doesn’t even try. These aliens spend most of their time hanging out in the big pool Odo and Kira found them in at the end of the last episode—either that or they take on the shapes of other creatures and inorganic materials in order to better commune with nature. This is all fairly generic “enlightened species” stuff, and while it works to make the episode’s twist all the more of a surprise—they’re so peaceful and kind, and they have such a history of being wronged!—it doesn’t help to personalize Odo’s struggle. As cool as the twist is, and as much as I look forward to seeing it play out in the weeks ahead, it steals Odo’s story away from him, turning his personal and private search into something bigger—and, I’d argue, less moving.

Also distracting, while still being pretty darn cool: Sisko, O’Brien, Bashir, Dax, and T’Rul’s trip to the land of Make Believe. After Sisko and Bashir are rescued by a seemingly unharmed Dax and O’Brien, they return to DS9 to learn that the Dominion has agreed to sign a treaty with the Federation. Which is all well and good, only something strange is going on, because the Federation is playing awfully nice as the Jem’Hadar run roughshod over the station; Starfleet is also apparently trying to keep the Romulan Empire out of the negotiations, which would almost certainly lead to interstellar war. Sisko tries to stop it, and we run through a gamut of familiar faces from Admiral Nechayev to Garak (it’s a short gamut) as the situation goes from promising to catastrophic. Eventually, Sisko gets himself arrested for fighting one of the Jem’Hadar, and the others break him out of his cell, determined to blow up the wormhole and end negotiations with the Dominion for good, or at least the next 70 years or so.

It’s all a fake, although it takes roughly the entire episode before the reveal that the whole scenario is part of a Dominion attempt to see just how far Sisko and his crew will go to fight back. (The answer is, unsurprisingly, as far as it takes.) I love a good mind-fuck storyline, and since the Sisko plot seemed suspicious from the moment Dax and O’Brien busted into Sisko and Bashir’s escape pod, it’s a relief to have those suspicions confirmed in the end. Partly because hey, I like being right, and partly because if this had been real, it would’ve been some terrible storytelling. It’s nerve-wracking to watch an episode of a show you love, feeling certain that it hasn’t gone off the rails, but not being absolutely sure, and that’s what’s kept me watching through most of “The Search, Part Two”’s running time.Trek has played the kind of game before, and it would’ve been ludicrous of the show to cram this much story into a 20-minute space, but I wasn’t sure until the final scene, and it made for a fun ride.

Again, though, it takes away from Odo’s story, and it makes his ultimate decision to leave the Founders behind less a strong statement of character, and more the inevitability of the show’s dynamics. Of course Odo wasn’t going to turn evil all of a sudden, and of course such an important character to the series wasn’t going to disappear in the second episode of the third season, but that’s not what I should have been thinking when Odo made his decision. It’s possible to play conflict like this, even when the outcome is preordained, in a way that has an impact. That’s not what happens here, though, and it’s hard not to be disappointed. Discovering that what you’ve been searching for all your life isn’t what you wanted after all is a familiar, but potentially rich, theme, but while a fair amount of the episode is given over to Odo trying to fit in with the others, and only intermittently succeeding, it’s hard to get too worked up about his struggles while you’re trying to parse what exactly is happening back on DS9.

Still, I think the episode works on the whole, especially when taken in context with the first part of the première. While Odo’s discovery isn’t as intense as I’d like it to be, it’s still a strong step forward for the character, and one which may have some important ramifications in weeks to come. More importantly, the conclusion of the story initiated in previous hour doesn’t offer much in the way of hope for our heroes. This isn’t one of those tales of hopeless odds faced and defeated. It’s more a story of a bunch of people who realize they’re screwed, really hope they aren’t screwed, take a tentative step towards unscrewing themselves, and fail completely. This is a two-parter which resolves a cliffhanger by having the good guys lose. You can qualify that: Nobody died, which usually counts as a small victory, and at the end of the episode, everything goes back to roughly the same way it was before. Only Odo is, at the very least, disillusioned, and despite all their plans, our heroes accomplished roughly nothing.

At first, I was disappointed by the easy out the conclusion seems to represent; Borath (another wrap-around ears alien) and the shapeshifting Founders release their captives as easily as if they were just waiting for someone to use the magic word. But while it’s a bit of a story cheat (because I’m still sure Sisko and company are going to make the Dominion wish they’d killed them), it also serves to establish the depth of the threat the DS9 crew faces. The Founders get the information they want—Sisko is willing to blow up the wormhole if he believes the Dominion is enough of a threat—but they aren’t concerned. He’s not a danger, just an irritant. He’s so insignificant that they’ll release him as a gesture of goodwill to Odo. In the two-part opener of Deep Space Nine’s third season, the good guys try the only plan they can think of to stave off destruction, and they fail. It’s a grim way to start a war, but a brilliant way to start a season.

According to the A.V. Club review of Second Skin:

Try to imagine what it would be like to live a reality where plastic surgery wasn’t just convincing—it was perfect. Where you could go to a doctor, and in a few days (that’s how long Kira’s transition takes in “Second Skin,” so far as we know) come out with a new face, or a new body, or, hell, a new race. Forget, for the moment, the implausibility of it all—how can you generate actual living tissue? How are there no scars, no aches, how is the transition so goddamn perfect—and just focus on the implications. To no longer be restricted by the body you were born into could change everything, especially when you remember that the Federation doesn’t use money, so the process wouldn’t be cost prohibitive. It makes you wonder how many characters we’ve seen on the show have had work done. And it also raises some interesting questions about the nature of identity. I wonder if, in the universe of Star Trek, authenticity is even more important, and even harder to determine, than it is today. We’ve already had at least one person remake himself to look enough like someone else to fool nearly everyone (back in “Duet”—sure, all the DS9 crew had to go on for comparison was a photo, but it was still impressive). Between Odo’s shape-shifting and the apparent wonders of facial reconstruction, I’m amazed anyone trusts anyone as anyone.

“Second Skin” takes good advantage of this idea from both sides: on the one, you’ve got Kira, transported to Cardassia and made over to look like a Cardassian spy, through a transformation so thorough and carefully constructed that she gradually starts to doubt her own identity; and on the other, you’ve got Legate Tekeny Ghemor (Lawrence Pressman), the father of Kira’s supposed spy identity, who believes that his daughter has finally come home after years of undercover work. Sure, “Iliana” claims she doesn’t remember him or their house, and acts convinced that she really is Bajoran, but those are just implanted memories still lingering in her system. Tekeny is convinced that some tender loving care is all Kira needs to understand the truth, and that makes Kira’s struggle to remember who she really is even more difficult. Entek, the Obsidian Order agent in charge of Kira’s supposed re-integration, is pleasant enough, but he’s also forceful, and there’s a threat of violence behind every chummy smile, a threat which only grows more and more obvious as the episode wears on. But Tekeny is respectful, patient, and kind, and despite his position of political power, seems to have no real artifice about him. It would be difficult, in the face of such relentless decency, to keep saying no.

Kira just barely makes it through, although that has as much to do with the fact that her sanity isn’t the main target, as it does her resistance and determination. There’s no question that her sudden transformation is a ruse, and to its credit, the episode never really tries to pretend otherwise; Entek (the great character actor Gregory Sierra) keeps up the game for a while, even going so far as to show Kira the frozen body of the supposed real Kira, but while he pays lip service to the importance of “Iliana” realizing her true identity, the scenario never takes on the heated intensity of some of the other mind-fucks we’ve seen on Trek series. Episodes like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Future Imperfect” or even this season’s première (which is one of the rare cases of character’s being trapped in an alternate reality which they never question—more proof of the Dominion’s power) work harder to convince the people trapped in their webs and the audience, whereas “Second Skin” continually cuts away to Sisko’s determined attempts to rescue his officer. The mystery in a story like this is always “Why is this happening,” but instead of trying to disorient us, Entek’s plot plays in a largely straightforward fashion. Fun as it is when a show tries to make us question our basic assumptions, the fact that this episode doesn’t is largely a relief, especially after the events of “The Search, Part 2.”

The thing is, DS9 isn’t rewriting the Trek playbook (at least, not yet); the show has made changes to basic assumptions (in suggesting that negotiations can be impossible; there’s a danger inherent in exploration; good people don’t always see eye to eye), but we’re still using the same kind of plots the franchise has always used. Both episodes we’re looking at this week rely on a lot of magic-resembling technology to get their work done, and both work off of central concepts TNGcovered before. The difference is in presentation, and in the way the series uses its characters’ histories to make familiar ideas richer and more complex.

When Entek starts pushing Kira for answers, Tekeny decides enough is enough. He’s worried how far Entek (and, by extension, the Obsidian Order) will go for the truth, and he doesn’t want to see a woman he believes he loves injured, so he makes plans to get Kira taken off-world. The twist is that Tekeny’s sincerity and kindness are the real deal. He really does have a daughter named Iliana, he really does think Kira is that daughter, and he really doesn’t want her tortured. Tekeny is one of the dissidents working to undermine the Cardassians’ totalitarian regime, and Entek put together this entire con in order to get dirt on the legate to use to attack the entire dissident movement. It’s a clever plot, if a little ornate, and while it ends up making the last quarter of the episode top-heavy (Kira learns Tekeny’s secret, then realizes how they’re both being played, then Entek shows up and gets the drop on them, then they’re rescued at the last minute by Garak and the others, then Kira and Tekeny have to share a moment together), it’s a fun way to catch viewers off-guard by playing with our expectations. It’s only natural to think Kira is the target of Entek’s efforts, and to find out she isn’t—she’s merely convenient—helps make the plot seem fresh. It also leads to a surprisingly touching final conversation between Tekeny and Kira on DS9; the scene pushes the sentiment hard, and it’s not entirely earned by the episode, but the actors make it work well enough.

It helps that Tekeny makes sure to warn Kira about Garak before he goes, which ends the hour on a subtle, but resonant, note of paranoia. As much as “Second Skin” focuses on Kira and her travails, the episode also works as a stealth Garak spotlight, taking the ex-spy (or is he?) out of his comfort zone when Sisko forces him to join them on a rescue mission. Garak started off as a charming figure of mystery, but as his character development continues, the writers have taken him in a direction I didn’t see coming. Garak isn’t some kind of secret hero. He’s complicated, in ways that resist easy answers, and his behavior in this episode demonstrates just how unwilling he is to be cast into the role of a “good guy.” The tailor with a history is still likeable, but it’s a likeability that doesn’t always translate to other characters on the show. (Sisko has no compunctions in blackmailing Garak into doing what he wants, for one.) We don’t know why Garak does what he does, but Andrew Robinson has managed to make that ambiguity utterly consistent, to the point where I don’t always know what to expect from the character, but I believe him capable of nearly anything. Yet he’s far from an outright villain, either, and the way this episode uses the tension between Garak’s sense of self-preservation, and his desire to do, if not the right thing, than at least the thing which will make him look like he’s doing the right thing, is excellent. There’s a desperation and terror behind his charm that we last saw evident in “The Wire,” and I’m happy to see it hasn’t been forgotten.

According to the A.V. Club review of Civil Defense:

The IMDb lists only two credits for Mike Krohn: the teleplay for the 1995 TV movie Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Lightning, and the script for this episode. I’m not sure why he quit; I don’t know if it was personal reasons, or because his career didn’t pan out the way he wanted. Maybe Lightning was a godawful mess. But “Civil Defense” is a fun, exciting hour of television, and Krohn’s writing is a big part of why it works. It’s well-constructed and beautifully paced, finding ways to escalate the tension and worsen the situation that all stem from the initial premise without ever becoming tiresome. The episode makes good use of the whole cast, and it’s funny as hell; the idea that the Cardassians would not only leave their security system intact when they left DS9, but that said system would have a seemingly infinite number of potentially lethal counter-measures (complete  with Gul Dukat video!) for every possible threat is brilliant, and fits in well with everything we know about the station’s former landlords.

The key here is in the escalation. The plot is structured like a comedy sketch: Our heroes are faced with a not-hugely-serious problem, but when they try and solve that problem, they not only fail, they end up making the original problem into a concern, which then becomes a crisis, which then becomes a catastrophe. Here, the setup has O’Brien and Jake working in one of the station’s old ore processing rooms. Sisko comes to visit to see what’s taking so long, just as Jake, who’s been going through the Cardassian computer system and deleting as much of it as he can, comes across a set of files he can’t access. When O’Brien tries to delete these files, it sets in motion the Cardassian security system. A recording of Gul Dukat pops up on the monitors all around the station, addressing Sisko, O’Brien, and Jake as Bajoran rebels, and ordering them to surrender to the authorities immediately. The doors to the room are sealed shut, and when Sisko tries to fool the program by pretending to surrender, the recorded Dukat responds by releasing toxic gas, forcing the three men to escape deeper into the processor. While this saves their lives, it has the unfortunate effect of throwing the station into full lockdown, the security system now being convinced that the “Bajoran rebels” are loose.

Things only get worse from there. In retrospect, this is a very simple, straightforward pattern. Again, like a comedy sketch, the episode introduces a premise—that the Cardassian security program is both extremely efficient and incredibly paranoid—and then takes up the rest of its time exploring that premise as thoroughly as possible. Which means that each section of the story follows the same arc—discovery, discussion, proposed solution, and oh crap, now we’re even more screwed. But this isn’t a bad structure by any means, and it’s one that, when used well, draws excitement out of viewer expectation as much as it does the actual conflict. There’s a reason I keep mentioning comedy: While the security program is consistently threatening, each subsequent reveal becomes more and more hilarious, creating a darkly comic momentum that carries the hour along as much the life-or-death danger. By the time Gul Dukat himself arrives, to gloat over the helplessness of his enemies only to soon find himself trapped as completely as they are, it’s impossible not to laugh.

Dukat’s entrance is particularly smart, too, because in the buildup to his appearance, the one constant in every discussion has always been that the station’s former commander is the only one who could stop the security program. Dukat is in the videos (in his charming, “We’re all friends here, please excuse the knife” way), and Dukat, presumably, would know the necessary codes to shut the system down. But Kira doesn’t want to contact him, for the obvious reason that he’s a creep, and would almost certainly use his power over her and DS9 to negotiate some kind of long-term advantage. This is, in fact, exactly what he does, telling Kira (in private) that he’ll provide the codes only if she’ll agree to allow a small, permanent Cardassian garrison aboard the station. But when Kira refuses the offer, and Dukat tries to leave to give everyone time to think things over, the program reveals it has an additional subroutine designed by one of Dukat’s supervisors, on the assumption that the Gul might try and escape DS9 in the midst of a crisis. So: We spend the first half of the hour being told that Dukat could fix everything, Dukat shows up (which is a total surprise, by the way) operating on the same assumption, and then the institutional cynicism which put him in a position to lord it over Kira and the others ends up hoisting him by his own petard. It’s tremendously satisfying, as well a great way to keep the viewer hooked—with the obvious answer out of the way, what’s left?

In a story like this, character work is usually secondary to the twists and turns of the plot, but while “Civil Defense” never stops too long for serious discussion, Krohn still finds ways to give most of the cast their moments to shine. Sisko, Jake, and O’Brien make a fine team, and it’s great to see Jake getting a chance to prove himself; in the climax of the episode, he first insists to be included on the possibly suicidal run to the reactor, and then disobeys his father in order to save O’Brien’s life. In the command room, Garak makes an appearance, which is always welcome. The third season has already managed to integrate him more fully into the show than the first two seasons did, and for once, his seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of Cardassian secrets prove inadequate to the task at hand. Garak first came across as a fascinating, mysterious figure of untouchable guile and brilliance, but now, while he hasn’t lost his flair or his ability, he’s more complex, and more capable of weakness. His open contempt for Dukat is both highly entertaining and unsettling; Dukat is an imminently hiss-worthy villain, but Garak’s self-control keeps slipping bit by bit, which makes you wonder what’s lurking underneath.

Kira also gets to be, well, Kira, much as Bashir is Bashir and Dax is, er, wounded. There’s a funny moment when Dukat seems to be flirting with Kira, and Garak calls him on it, but apart from that, everyone behaves as you’d expect, with Kira holding everything together as best she can, and Bashir hanging out in the background until someone needs doctoring. The most pure character scenes in the episode come from Odo and Quark, trapped together in security. The two spar a bit, as Quark complains and rolls his eyes, but once again, the show finds the balance of two adversaries who’ve been at each other for so long they’re basically best friends. Quark insists on staying with Odo because he knows that’s the safest place on the station to be; Odo tells Quark he’s the most “devious Ferengi” he’s ever met; Quark complains that Odo’s always reliable integrity is going to get them killed; and then Quark learns that Odo was lying about the “devious” stuff, which gives us a perfect conversation on which to the end the episode.

All told, this is a fine hour of television, an example of how to put together a thrilling, intelligent story which satisfies genre expectations while still working to confirm and expand our notions of the show’s “world.” It’s a pity the writer never returned to DS9; if this script is any indication, he would’ve made a good fit.

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

Last week (last Friday, in fact) marked the 25th anniversary of the première of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s only appropriate, then, that both parts of this week’s double feature involve crossover between TNG and DS9. That’s a concept that nearly always sounds cooler than it is, although given that both shows exist in the same storytelling universe, there’s at least some justification for Jonathan Frakes popping into Quark’s for a drink. By now, Picard’s Enterprise had been off the airwaves for over a year, so I imagine the sudden appearance of Riker in the cold open must’ve been an exciting moment for fans of both shows. But this sort of reunion always feels a little forced, a trifle pandering. Will Riker was a terrific presence on TNG, but he doesn’t really belong on this space station—he should be off captaining his own ship by now, and having his own adventures. Which is why the reveal that he’s not Will Riker is so cool. Will is a known quantity; he can have an edge, but he’s a good guy through and through, and he plays by the rules. Tom Riker, on the other hand, is unstable, desperate, and maybe a little nuts.

In case you don’t remember, or your experience with TNG isn’t as encyclopedic as mine (ha!), the episode fills you in: Tom, an exact genetic duplicate of everyone’s favorite first officer, was created in a transporter accident which resulted in two Rikers, one of which continued on up the ranks in Starfleet, the other of which was stuck in an abandoned science station for eight years. “Second Chances,” Tom’s debut (and sole appearance) on TNG is worth checking out, but for the context of “Defiant,” all you need to know is that Tom wasn’t happy to find out that someone else had his name and his life. He comes into this episode with a chip on his shoulder, determined to prove himself as the “better” Riker (or at least distinguish himself from his more successful counterpart), and the most recent manifestation of this drive is his involvement with the Maquis, which has driven him to the somewhat rash decision of stealing the Defiant and making a run on Cardassian territory.

That’s not to say Tom isn’t sincere. This is another Ron Moore script, and Moore excels at writing likeable characters pushed to make extreme, and often foolhardy, decisions. Tom’s commitment to the Maquis is passionate enough to earn Kira’s affections, even while she questions if his goals are worthwhile. On the Enterprise, Will Riker was TNG’s James T. Kirk, a two-fisted hero who thought good intentions and moral clarity were the best way to approach any problem. Picard’s maturity helped temper Will’s brashness, but Tom doesn’t have any authority figure holding him back, and, since Will is already on the career path, he must spend all his time in Starfleet living in the shadow of the life he thought was his. He gave himself a new name, and now he’s trying to find his own way—which brings us back to that whole ship-stealing thing. It’s a great sequence, as Tom does a good job impersonating the other Riker, right up until he gets what he wants: the access codes to the ship. Then he stuns Kira, beams two other members of the Maquis aboard, and flees.

If “Defiant” has a downside, it’s that, as a character, Tom never really comes into focus. Jonathan Frakes is certainly game, and there’s dramatic potential in the concept, but most of his scenes are either standard “We’re flying into enemy territory, this is very intense” Star Trek boilerplate or Kira trying to argue him into being responsible. To a degree, this makes sense; Tom is interesting, but Kira’s the one we’re invested in, and this is yet another opportunity to contrast her resistance-fighter past against her more law-abiding present. Listening to her explain the difference between a terrorist and a hero is fascinating, and well-argued, so if the episode shortchanges its guest star in favor of her, I’m not going to complain that much. (Hence the “If.”)

Still, this vagueness is problematic when it comes time for the episode’s climax, as Kira works to convince Tom that his cause is lost, and his best bet is to turn himself in to Dukat and his men in order to save his crew. This should be at least moderately suspenseful, because up until this point, Tom has shown no inclination toward turning back or stepping down, not even when the odds are very clearly against him. He’s determined, and what’s more, everything we know about him indicates a man who’s decided to give everything he has to his principles. It’s not unbelievable that he’d stand down in the end, given that he’s not an idiot and the lives of his crew were at stake, but the sequence ought to make us wonder just what he’s going to do, and whether the Riker we know is gone forever. Instead, he listens, thinks a bit, and then goes along with surrendering. The implication is that Kira, with her fervor and top-notch debate skills, managed to wear him down over the course of their journey, but there’s just not enough to Tom for this to register one way or the other. He’s most compelling at the start, when we don’t know his motivations or who he really is. The second half of the episode, he could be any random guest star, just another Starfleet officer so frustrated by the system they decided to take things into their own hands. It still works well enough, but it seems like a missed opportunity.

Even if the ending falls a few degrees shy of greatness, the rest of the hour is strong enough to make up for it; I can even see arguing that the compromised conclusion is part of the point, showing how fiery ideals often fizzle in the light of basic political reality. The latter is best exemplified by the episode’s other plotline, which focuses on Sisko and his efforts to get the Defiant back before lives are lost, and Cardassian treaties are shattered. To do this, Sisko has to travel to Cardassia to work with Gul Dukat and his team; he also has to confess certain technical aspects of the Defiant, like its cloaking device, that he would’ve rather kept secret. Not that Korinas, the Obsidian Order member observing Sisko and Dukat’s team-up, didn’t already know about the cloak. Korinas knows an awful lot, actually, more than even Dukat—and that leads to some complications.

It’s always impressive how much excitement the various Trek series are able to wring out of confrontations which are basically just people standing in various rooms threatening people in other rooms, and “Defiant” is no exception. Sisko’s efforts to figure out where his ship is headed demonstrate once again just how sharp he is, and the importance he puts on protecting his own; Tom’s ill-advised foray would almost certainly lead to a Cardassian backlash against DS9 if he succeeded by even a fraction, and besides, that’s Sisko’s ship he stole, dammit, and you just don’t do that. As always, the interplay between Dukat and Sisko makes for thrilling television, and the effort to place Dukat in a proper context, at odds with the Obsidian Order and missing a playdate with his son, effectively expand on an already rich antagonist. The son speech in particular is a fine piece of work, well-written and beautifully performed; Dukat complains in a way that makes him both more vulnerable, and more of a creep.

Combine all this with the suggestion that the Obsidian Order (which is gradually growing in importance in the show’s mythology) is planning some big military move, and you have an episode that reinforces and strengthens the series’ universe, while finding plenty of time for character drama and a cool crossover from a different show. The conclusion isn’t quite as slam bang as the hour which leads up to it, but there’s an appropriateness to that, deflating as it may be. Tom Riker thought the righteousness of his cause would see him through, but in the end, he’s stuck in a life sentence in a Cardassian labor camp, and who knows if anyone will remember his name.

According to the A.V. Club review of Past Tense:

The original Star Trek takes place in the 23rd century. Star Trek: Deep Space Ninetakes place a century later, which makes it roughly three hundred years from where we are right now. Given the amount of social upheaval and technological development required to get us from the point A of the present to the point B ofTrek’s fictional future, this temporal distance is a smart move. Backstory or mythology on a show is almost always better if you can keep the specifics fairly flexible, and while DS9 certainly has its share of definite history, as with all Trekshows leading up to Enterprise, there’s no real effort put in to pinning down how us poor, messy humans ended up halfway across the galaxy. It’s never been a question all that relevant to the franchise. On the original series, every so often Kirk or Spock or McCoy would mention something from Earth’s past (like the Eugenic Wars), but only if it was relevant to the plot, and there was never enough information to piece together an indisputable timeline of events. This is all to the good; the show was about our future, not its past, and the more effort writers make to pin everything down, the more easily it’ll stop making sense.

The time-traveling two parter “Past Tense”—which has Sisko, Bashir, and Dax getting beamed back to the San Francisco of 2024—tries to fill in some of the blanks. It’s a risky move, and there’s all the padding and awkward structuring that so often haunts two-parters on the series; in addition, it takes some goofy plotting to throw Sisko and the others into the past (O’Brien gives us a wad of techspeak which translates to “Just ’cause”). But while these episodes are imperfect, there’s more than enough good to outweigh the clumsiness. Because yes, trying to delve too much into what happened before can be a recipe for disaster; the past is by necessity dramatically static, which makes it hard to generate much tension from it. At the same time, by picking a year so relatively close to our own (three decades when the episode first aired, a mere ten years now), the writers are afforded an opportunity to deal with social issues which, even when clothed in the veil of genre metaphor, still feel immediate and resonant. Trek has done a number of “social issue” episodes over the years—some effective, most laughably heavy-handed—but there’s a rawness, a directness, to “Past Tense” that makes it seem fresh. It makes sense, too. DS9 has already demonstrated its willingness to show the dark underbelly of Roddenberry’s utopia; of course it would be the show to give us the hell necessary to achieve paradise.

The first part of “Past Tense” is almost entirely set-up. First, we’re given a reason why Sisko, Bashir, Dax, Kira—well, okay, everyone but Quark—need to take a trip on the Defiant. The Ferengi still manages to get a cameo in when he contacts Sisko to ask for a favor for the Grand Nagus, however. It’s an odd exchange, given that it has basically nothing to do with the rest of the episode. If I had to guess, I’d say the writers were just looking for way a to shoehorn Shimerman in, if only briefly.

The truth is, though, everything about the cold open is on the clumsy side. The sudden conference on Earth, the magical chronitons which just happen to be passing through the solar system when Sisko and the others step onto the transporter, the fact that Odo and Kira and O’Brien are all aboard; none of this makes for a dealbreaker, but it’s funny how sharply it contrasts with the effectiveness of the part of the story set in 2024. This persists through both episodes, actually, as the team left behind on the Defiant struggle to find some way to rescue their missing friends. These scenes aren’t actively painful, apart from Kira and O’Brien’s ill-advised trip to Stereotypeville (i.e., San Francisco of the 1960s, where, of course, they run into hippies and a rocking van), and the moment when O’Brien discovers that Sisko and Bashir have inadvertently changed the past enough to eliminate the entire existence of the Federation is appropriately chilling. It’s just that, apart from making sure we know the time travelers have a way back home, there’s no need for any of this. The dramatic tension of the episode arises from the ugliness of the past, and every brief foray into the “present” is a pleasant, but unnecessary distraction.

It’s not hard to guess why the show needs these scenes, just as it’s no huge surprise that there’s a five minute segment of the second episode which seems to exist solely to give Clint Howard a paycheck. Two-parters are tough to build, and I’d bet even if you stripped out most (or all) of the Kira and O’Brien scenes, you’d still have too much content for a single episode. Normally I’d be more critical of this, but the superfluous elements of “Past Tense” are easier to stomach than usual for a couple of reasons. For one, as I may have mentioned before, I like all of these characters, and I enjoy spending time with them. While the exchanges on the Defiant aren’t where the action is, watching Odo, O’Brien, and Kira try and work through the problem has a certain charm. Sure, you know they won’t find the answer until Sisko and the others get through their own, and the scenes are mostly a lot of techspeak without much weight, but it’s better than some of the chaff that filled the spare minutes back on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The other reason to accept all of this is that the San Francisco segments really do need all the time they’re given, and trying to cram all of this into a single episode, even if that meant losing the fat, would’ve been a mistake. The power of “Past Tense” comes from watching Sisko and Bashir struggle to deal with the horrific social conditions of the 21st century. When they arrive in the city, groggy from the trip and minus their com-badges (which are never seen again; no one seems to concerned about potential anachronisms), the captain and the doctor are picked up by a pair of police officers who immediately arrest them for vagrancy and lack of proper identification. Vin (played by professional “That guy!” Dick Miller, who gets a lot to work with and makes the most of it), the more dismissive of the officers, assumes our heroes are “dims,” which we eventually learn is a slang terms for mentally handicapped individuals incapable of holding down long-term jobs. The episode loves its slang terms—in addition to “dims,” there are also “gimmies,” clear-headed and able-bodied people looking for jobs, and “ghosts,” the violent, thieving folks who prey on the less fortunate. Dim, gimmie, or ghost, all the disenfranchised or down on their luck are herded into the slum-like, hopelessly overcrowded Sanctuaries, where they are left to rot.

This is where Sisko and Bashir end up, but not before Sisko gets a look at the date, and realizes they’re just a few days away from the Bell Riots of 2024. Inspired loosely by the 1971 riot at Attica Prison, the uprising is/was the inevitable outcome of a large group of desperate men and women forced to endure impossible circumstance. It’s notable in Sisko’s time for being the turning point when the United States government decided to finally deal with the social problems it had been avoiding and putting off for over a century. This change was driven by the martyrdom of Gabriel Bell, a Sanctuary citizen who helped take a group of government workers hostage during the riots. Bell managed to keep all of this hostages alive during the conflict, and was shot dead for his troubles when the army finally shut the crisis down. When the truth about his actions, and his murder, became more widely known, the public outcry led to change, which ultimately led to every problem getting solved and the creation of the Federation.

This is a little much; “Past Tense” shorthands decades worth of social progress and slow, hard-won change into a single event, and while it’s important for the episode to work (in that we need to believe it’s crucial for both the hostages to live and Bell to die), it still requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief to accept everything Sisko is laying down. Still, time travel plots have a tendency to pivot on one crucial event, so it’s not like this is without precedent. As well, the Bell crisis never plays out in the way you’d expect. The first big surprise comes at the end of the first part, when Sisko and Bashir are pulled into a fight, and a stranger comes to their aid. The stranger is gut-stabbed by a ghost named B.C. (Frank Military, which is a really great name), and dies due both to his wound and the lack of access to medical care. And wouldn’t you just know it: The dead man is Gabriel Bell.

Bell’s death gives Sisko and Bashir a more compelling reason to stick around than simply, “We have no other choice”; one of this two-parter’s strengths is that the way the drama comes not from obvious contrivance (we know the Federation is going to cease to exist, just as we know Sisko, Bashir, and Dax will find their way back to the present), but from the suffering of the people Sisko and Bashir meet. The plot forces our heroes to become directly involved with the events of the riots, and while it may be more than a little contrived, the end result is worth it. There are a few tense moments in “Part II” when it seems like B.C. is going to shoot Vin (who’s one of the hostages, along with most every other Sanctuary personnel we’ve seen), but for the most part, the episode isn’t about suspense. There’s no serious question that Sisko, pretending to be Bell, will pull this off, and he never has to make any intense decisions to bring everything together. This isn’t a “City On The Edge Of Forever” scenario where a hero is forced to surrender to the tide of fate. It’s more a way to spend time with people, get to know some of them, and draw some inevitable comparisons between the world we see on screen and our own.

There isn’t that much difference. Oh sure, there’s a bit of sci-fi thrown in to make sure we remember it’s 2024, but the core concepts are distressingly familiar: overworked bureaucrats punished for trying to make a difference, the indigent and struggling forced into environments where crime and drug use seem like the only possible exit, a wealthy elite watching from a distance, convinced that the those in need are somehow responsible for their suffering. It’s a little heavy-handed, but the directness is part of what makes the best sections of these two episodes so powerful. For once, cloaking modern social ills in a tasty sci-fi snack doesn’t come off as cloying or cowardly. The anger and frustration that drives both hours isn’t subtle, but it is real, and often affecting, serving once again to remind us just how great DS9 is at giving a damn. Both Bashir and Sisko frequently comment on the ugliness around them, and Avery Brooks in particular is on fire; there are moments in the second half when he seems to forget his Sisko self and give over completely to passion and fervor of the moment. And it is awesome when he does.

While all this is going on—while Sisko, Bashir, and a bunch of the ghosts (including B.C.) are holding hostages and trying to persuade the government to accede to their (pretty quixotic) demands—Dax is hanging out with the rich folks, trying to find out what happened to her friends. When Bashir and Sisko were picked up by the security personnel, Dax was rescued by a very rich, very white television executive, who immediately spirits her to his home, allows her use of his equipment, dresses her in pretty clothes and takes her to parties. This is intended as a commentary on how the Caucasian Dax would be treated differently than the darker-skinned Sisko and Bashir; I’m not sure that entirely works (the way it’s framed, it looks like Dax was beamed to a different area than the other two, and her rescue was more a matter of being in the right place at the right time), but the fact that’s it intentional but not underlined is a smart choice. More importantly, the ease with which Dax is able to get what she wants and move through the upper echelons of society, while Sisko and Bashir struggle to get breakfast, is telling.

Most impressive of all is the way “Past Tense” routinely avoids providing us with easy villains. Dax’s rescuer, Chris Brynner (Jim Metzler), could’ve been a corrupt, hypocritical ass; I was half-expecting him to make a move on Dax at some point, given how helpful and friendly he was. But he never does, and while Dax meets a few people in his company who fit the stereotype of the ugly rich, Brynner himself is courteous and helpful, even allowing Sisko and the others to get the stories of the citizens of the Sanctuary out onto the network. He’s just too accepting, too oblivious of the problems, in the same way the bureaucrats Sisko and Bashir meet vaguely know that something is wrong, but feel powerless to change it. Even B.C., the violent creep who keeps on about how much he really wants to shoot somebody, has a decent heart underneath it all; you get the sense that with some direction and some hope, he might’ve amounted to something more. While the episodes aren’t any kind of dry polemic or sociological study, the writers do make the effort to show how this kind of crushing poverty comes about, and how hellishly difficult it can be to change anything. The people aren’t villains or conspiring to destroy each other. They’re just regular people being ground under the wheels of a machine they no longer even see.

It’s not hopeless, of course; this isn’t The Wire, and given that this is time travel, the happy ending is already built in. But “Past Tense” works by addressing the ugliness of a broken system without pretending it’s anything but hellish; and it also succeeds in providing some hope for change, even while acknowledging that change always has a cost. There are people in the episode who realize the error of their ways by the end, and their ability to change speaks to the fundamental optimism of this series, and of all Trek. Vin, who is suspicious of Sisko and Bashir from the start, and openly contemptuous of the rest of the Sanctuary denizens, is finally won over by the decency and humanity of the people he sees, and by something as simple as a conversation about baseball. It’s a transition which should be predictable to the point of formula, but somehow isn’t. Miller doesn’t shy away from making the character cantankerous (though still charming, in that Dick Miller way), so that his eventual conversion doesn’t play out as an inevitability. In the end, that may be “Past Tense”’s greatest success: It’s about history, but it also serves as a reminder that nothing is set in stone.

According to the A.V. Club review of Heart of Stone:

There was a moment in “Heart Of Stone” when I thought the writers had gone too far. Kira is trapped in a slowly growing prison of rock, and Odo’s efforts to save her have all failed. She pleads with him to leave her; the caves they’re in are unstable, and could collapse at any moment. He refuses. She asks why, and he finally comes out with it: “I’m in love with you.” It’s a lovely piece of acting from Rene Auberjonois, full of terror and embarrassment and conviction, and a fine payoff to the hints we’ve been getting about his feelings all season. That’s not the part that bothered me. What bothered me was Kira’s response: “I’m in love with you, too.”

“A-ha!” I thought (because all critics think like a Hardy Boy). “They’re trying to push forward a relationship without doing the proper groundwork. Nice try, fellas, but I’m on to your tricks! Points off for cheating, and if it happens again, I’m telling my dad. He knows lawyers.”

Really, I was mostly just disappointed. Up until that point, “Heart Of Stone” had been shaping up to be one of my favorite episodes of the season so far, with equally strong A- and B-plots, a simple but suspenseful science-fiction twist, and a showcase for Odo and his difficulties with socializing. But for most of the episode, Nana Visitor’s performance had been a little off; she’s always a passionate actress, but here that passion crosses over the line into mild haminess. That wouldn’t have been enough to derail the proceedings entirely, but it’s fairly distracting, and for Kira to respond to Odo’s pained declaration of love with her own feelings in a way that exactly matched what he most (and, given the circumstances, least) wanted to hear makes the distraction too large to be ignored. It gave me something to write about, but it hurts what was, on average, working rather well, and that’s always a let-down.

I needn’t have worried, although all things considered, I’m glad I did, because that made the eventual reveal all the more striking. See, my instinct that Kira would never tell Odo “I love you” so baldly and easily was actually built into the episode itself; Odo reacts with the same suspicion, explaining (in one of the character’s more heartbreaking monologues) how his abilities as an impartial observer meant he already knew Kira did not return his feelings. Which meant that the Kira supposedly trapped in stone wasn’t really Kira at all. I’d briefly thought something might be hinky earlier in the episode, when Odo and Kira split up, and then Odo received a distress signal from her almost immediately after, but I’d forgotten all about that. “Heart Of Stone” managed to pull the wool completely over my eyes, and it did so with a character whose abilities had already been established at the start of the season. In other words, all the clues were there, and I don’t feel cheated by the twist; the episode got me good.

Even better, I’m not sure I can decide which storyline I enjoyed more. While Odo’s struggling to save Kira, Nog pays a visit to Sisko. He’s got a bag full of latinum, and a request: His coming of age ceremony has passed, he’s now considered an adult by his culture, and he wants to apprentice to Sisko. This would mean joining Starfleet Academy, which no Ferengi has ever done before, and Sisko is understandably confused. As is the audience. Nog has never been the most user-friendly character. He’s always a little off-putting, a little aggressive, a little weird, and the main reason he’s been tolerable at all is his friendship with Jake; the fact that Jake (a good kid) would like hanging out with someone so shrill and loud meant there had to be something decent in Nog on some level. That, combined with his occasional flashes of decency are enough to make him not entirely despicable, but that still doesn’t make him someone you’d imagine having much place in the Federation.

Sisko decides to investigate, because he is a much better man than I am, and with some help from Dax, he determines that, if nothing else, Nog is a determined enough worker to qualify for cadetship. But determination isn’t entirely enough, and it’s important to Sisko that he understand why Nog is suddenly so keen. After dealing with Quark this long, it’s not hard to sympathize; Quark isn’t a monster, but his entire life philosophy is based around finding the best profit in any given situation, and as Ferengi go, he’s actually pretty laid-back about it. If Nog is doing all of this just to make some cash on the side, or as part of some scheme, or to get back at someone, Sisko needs to know, so he can put a stop to it here and now.

This leads to the best scene of the episode, as Sisko tries to trick Nog into giving up his ambitions in order to force him to reveal what’s really driving him. As I’ve said, Nog has been off-putting in the past, but he’s amazing here, with Eisenberg rising to the occasion admirably. Nog wants to go to Starfleet Academy because he wants a better life for himself. His father, Rom, is a genius with machines. But Rom is terrible at business, and because of how the Ferengi operate, this means he’ll always be at the mercy of his brother’s insults, stuck repairing equipment behind the bar and toadying to someone with a slightly keener instinct at cheating strangers. Nog has watched this happen again and again, and while he can’t save his dad, he wants out. He knows he shares his father’s poor business skills (and given how generally inept he’s been at dealing with people, this makes sense) as well as the old man’s gift for engineering, and the only way the latter will ever be more important than the former is if he opens up his horizons.

That’s a lumpy summary of an absolutely terrific monologue, and it’s exciting because it’s unexpected (I’d heard once, a while back, that Nog eventually joined Starfleet, but I’d largely forgotten), and because it’s triumphant in a way that doesn’t come across as forced or sentimental. We’ve seen Quark abuse Rom dozens of times, to the point where it’s hard to get bothered by it; for Nog to comment on it changes the whole dynamic, and forces use to look at both him and his father in a different light. And for him to use what’s largely been a running gag as a serious motivation for real change in his life is an unexpected, and entirely welcome, pleasure. Characters often deteriorate as a series goes on, whether by authorial intention or just basic entropy, and it’s wonderful to see one actively work to better his lot. It feels revolutionary, in an enthusiastic, respectful, and utterly adamant kind of way.

Odo and Kira’s story (which is largely Odo’s story) doesn’t allow for the same transcendence, which is fine; as a shapeshifter, Odo’s sanity requires rigid adherence to a core identity, and any real course-altering from him would be unsettling at best, terrifying at worst. But in his attempts to struggle what he believes to be the woman he loves from a death trap, he’s forced to reveal a few more pieces of himself. Early in the episode, he complains to Kira that she didn’t ask his opinion about a routine matter on their recent trip to Bajor. It’s a petty, if understandable, concern, and the script goes on to drop reminders of just how difficult it is for Odo to make himself known outside of his life as “constable”—how much of Odo’s conversation relies on gruff responses, knowing looks, and cynicism. These traits are undeniably parts of who he is, but they aren’t all of him, and the non-professional side to his personality must be feeling starved for attention, and maybe a little resentful at how easy everyone else seems to have it.

“Heart Of Stone” once again highlights Odo’s position on the show as the self-aware outsider, the observer who understands humanoid folly largely because he believes himself separate from it. But of course he isn’t, as his gradually rising panic demonstrates. The fake Kira trick works on him as well as us because it’s so weirdly plausible; the idea that some random moon might have a bit of carnivorous geology on it isn’t that far removed from a dozen other similar Trekpremises. The rock doesn’t have any personality, there’s no complex concept to swallow, just a nasty trap that keeps growing no matter how hard Odo tries to break it. So he gets frustrated and scared, and as “Kira” becomes frightened, he tries to comfort her. This leads to a lot of “Odo doesn’t know what to say, then talks about how he doesn’t know what to say, then says something anyway” exchanges, in which the fake Kira is reduced to reassuring him as much as he’s trying to reassure her.

It works beautifully, apart from the aforementioned overacting from Visitor which I’m going to assume is intentional. The build from concern to despair happens organically, so that when Odo’s big confessional moment arrives, it doesn’t seem like a stunt, or as though everything else in the episode was intended to get us to his line; it’s merely the only thing he has left to say. The monologue about how he got his name is great (I love how Auberjonois always underplays this stuff; the speech itself is already well-written, but his matter-of-fact, somewhat desperate delivery makes it even better), and then, finally, he has to admit the biggest secret he has left, believing that this will almost certainly be the last time he’ll ever get a chance to express how he feels, even while he knows those feelings are unreciprocated.

But when Kira tells him she loves him back… there has to be a second when he believes her, right? Probably not much longer than that, but at least a second or two. But Odo’s curse is that he’s too smart, and too dependent on truth, to believe anything that’s too good to be true. So he works it out in his head, explains his deductions, and forces the fake Kira to reveal herself as the female Changeling Odo met back at the start of the season. She’s testing him to find out what keeps him on DS9; she believes Odo’s attachment to Kira is stopping him from joining the rest of his people, but she’s wrong. Odo’s entire life has been a hard-fought battle of self-determination, and while the Changelings presented a serious blow to his identity, he remains thoroughly, unrelentingly himself. At his core is someone who does the right thing. Everything else, even what he feels for his closest friend, is secondary. At first, I didn’t understand the connection between Odo’s story and Nog’s, but in retrospect, it’s obvious: Both are characters intent on being themselves, no matter what the cost.

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

Prophecy is a lousy way to tell a story. This is a futile complaint, of course; by now, seers and sages and ancient texts are such a fundamental part of genre narratives that we just take their presence for granted, as though having someone wander by to spout vague metaphors about the direction of the plot were somehow a requirement. It isn’t, nor should it be, and in practice, it’s nearly always a weak way to foreshadow upcoming twists. The main conflict of prophecy—namely, the way it throws our notions of free will and autonomy into question, and why a god would find it necessary to provide a hint book to their followers—rarely comes into play. Instead, it’s usually just, “You are the Chosen One!” and “We must stand by the silver tree on the last full moon of next month and spin thrice clockwise, or else all is lost,” or something equally arbitrary, although sometimes there’s also violence.

Which explains why I wasn’t very keen when I found out “Destiny” was about the Prophets and the messages they’d passed on to the Bajoran people, and Sisko’s role in fulfilling those messages. By now, I’ve come to trust DS9 enough to know that it will find some interesting things to say about all of this, but that didn’t make me any happier when Vedek Yarka (Erick Avari) shows up, warning of catastrophe. Arrangements have been made with the Cardassian government for a joint Cardassian-Bajoran effort to establish a communications relay which will work through the wormhole. To that end, two Cardassian scientists are headed to DS9 to work with Sisko, O’Brien, and the others. Yarka believes that Trakor’s prophecy (his third, actually) warns of the dangers which lie ahead. There’s a lot of metaphor about vipers and swords of stars and so forth, but, according to Yarka, it all boils down to this: if Sisko allows the Cardassians to go ahead with their mission, the wormhole will be destroyed.

The first thing Sisko argues is that Trakor warns of three vipers, and yet there are only two scientists scheduled to come aboard the station. Story-wise, this spells the inevitability of a third Cardassian showing up, thus throwing all of Sisko and Kira’s doubts into question. (Even though it eventually turns out that the “vipers” probably weren’t even Cardassians in the first place.) The prospect of an hour’s worth of soul-searching, arguing over semantics, and ultimately proving that the religious fanatic was right all along isn’t a promising one. That’s the way this kind of plot nearly always goes, too; not necessarily because of any propagandist intent (I doubt the folks behind this show were trying to convince any of us that the Bajoran faith is the one true way), but because drama relies on forcing characters to deal with situations that push them out of their comfort zones. Few things would be more uncomfortable to Sisko than having to deal both with a potential intergalactic incident, as well as his role as the Emissary. If Yarka was simply categorically wrong about everything, it wouldn’t be much of a conflict.

Thankfully, it’s a bit more complicated than just “the crazy priest knows all.” He doesn’t even turn out to be that crazy, despite Odo’s discovery that he was defrocked as a vedek after pushing his vision of the prophecy too hard. One of the elements that automatically makes DS9’s religious investigations more interesting is that they are, to an extent, verifiably true. The show hasn’t really dealt with how proof changes the nature of faith, perhaps in part because it’s not like Sisko brought a camcorder into the wormhole when he met the aliens who live there, but for the audience, it adds an extra layer when we know for a fact that there are beings in this universe who can see forward and backward and all the way through time. As Kira and Sisko discuss later in the episode, this adds a level of credence to the prophecies that they might not otherwise have had. There’s still the problematic fact that the words are vague, heavily metaphoric, and have been subject to dozens of different translations through the years, but that they end up having a connection to reality is both an affirmation of faith (after all, there are no definite facts in Sisko and Kira’s final interpretation, just their belief) while still not violating the show’s essentially rationalistic perspective. The implication being that yes, the unknowable exists, but its mysteries are likely more a function of the limitations of our own consciousness than anything magical or mystic.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. The two—three, sir!—three Cardassians arrive, and, as one would expect, there are some tensions. Namely between O’Brien and Gilora Rejal (Tracy Scoggins), a Cardassian female who doesn’t have much faith in the chief’s engineering abilities. If you predict that O’Brien will stand up for himself, that the episode will do a sort of funny, sort of eye-roll inducing inversion of idiot sexism (in this case, on Cardassia, women think that men are the ones who can’t do maths!), and that O’Brien’s backbone will be misinterpreted as some kind of sexual come-on by Rejal, well, you’ve watched a television show before, so congrats. In truth, this isn’t as terrible as it might be, since O’Brien is such a terrific straight man; his pained reactions to both Rejal’s dismissals and flirtation are quite funny. And the final exchange between them, as Rejal asks about O’Brien’s wife and says she’s a “lucky woman,” is both inevitable and sincere. It’s just that trying to expose our own culture’s prejudices by swapping genders or race is rarely as effective or entertaining as writers seem to think. It can work, but too often, it’s just a goofy attempt to laugh away a very real problem. This doesn’t even have that much behind it. Ha-ha, different species are weird, but isn’t it great to know that women are crazy in all of them?

Still, this is a minor subplot in an episode that’s more focused on weightier matters. Inevitably, this means things can get somewhat ponderous; while the conflict which drives Kira and Sisko is a deep one, it’s also a largely internal issue, which makes it more difficult to engage with. Kira is quickly convinced that Yarka was on to something, although her commitment to Sisko and her job prevent her from taking action on this. Sisko is more skeptical, but as the apparent evidence mounts, he starts to question his own prejudices, and how his desire not to be the Emissary may be shaping the way he looks at events.

All of this is intellectually interesting, and the actors do well by the material (Visitor’s increasing awe around Sisko over the course of the episode is nicely done, and a good reminder of how important he is to her people and her faith), but there’s precious little drama in any of this. In a way, I like that; I expected the plot would have a lot of yelling and people storming off and the possibility of an intergalactic incident hovering over everything, but it’s much more low-key. There’s some tension when the relay system goes wrong, and a comet is inadvertently redirected to head towards the wormhole, but at no point do Sisko and the Cardassian scientists engage in heated philosophical discussions, and neither Kira nor Yarka (who spends most of the episode hanging out at the station off-screen) try and sabotage the mission. The wormhole is in danger; there’s some stress about it; but ultimately, everything works out okay.

While I’m glad the episode avoids hitting the drama too hard—and I certainly don’t think every episode needs to be about the end of the world or some equivalent calamity—this does make for an hour with curiously low stakes. Yes, the destruction of the wormhole would be catastrophic, and the sequence in which Kira and Sisko fly a shuttle through it to guide three pieces of the comet to the other side is intense enough, but this is a small part of the hour, and there’s no growing sense of paranoia or danger as the prophet’s words appear to come true. There’s also the weird fact that a member of the Obsidian Order (the third Cardassian “scientist”) tries to sabotage the mission, and nobody seems all that upset over it. Sure, there’s some griping and stares, but the reveal comes so easily and immediately after the first sign of a problem that it robs the scenario of any suspense.

Maybe that’s the point; maybe the writers are more concerned with Sisko’s uncertainty than they are with politics. To that end, the episode has its moments. Sisko’s situation is a unique one, and it isn’t often dealt with on the show, so it’s nice to see the episode try and deal with it head on. And there are some effective scenes. I especially liked the last conversation between Kira and Sisko when they both decide to reinterpret the prophecy in the light of new evidence. As I mentioned before, it’s a nice way to allow for both skepticism and belief, and it’s gratifying that “Destiny” doesn’t insist you accept their interpretation. (I’m skeptical, although the fact that the Prophets literally exist changes things.) It simply presents how the characters would respond, and allows us to draw whatever conclusions we’d like.

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

If you want to get metaphysical for a moment, the god of Star Trek is terrifyingly soothing. You can argue that there is no such entity, or that I’m mistaking authorial intent for the will of the divine, but I think in this case, any distinction between the two is largely meaningless. DS9 has its prophets (which are rational), but while those prophets can see through time, they rarely appear all that interested in controlling the outcome of events—that’s left up to the protagonists, and whatever benevolent force watches over all. Make no mistake, there has to be some kind of benevolent force at work here, or else everyone on the station should be hitting the Dabo tables every day for the rest of their lives. Sure, bad things happen to Sisko, O’Brien, Kira, and the rest all the time, but the way those things happen, and the number of times those seeming catastrophes wind up preventing far more serious damage down the line, is hard to ignore.

Take “Visionary.” (Gasp! Segue!) The episode begins mere moments after O’Brien was zapped with a mild case of radiation poisoning while doing routine maintenance work. According to Bashir, the injury is minimal, although he insists that O’Brien take some time off to recuperate. Which the chief begrudgingly does, setting up a dartboard in Quark’s and attempting (unsuccessfully) to convince Ferengi of the glories of the game. Then, suddenly, he finds himself standing across the promenade, watching himself have a conversation with Quark—something about Klingons wrecking the holosuites. As hallucinations go, this is decidedly unimpressive, as Bashir is quick to point out. (Man, these two are fun, aren’t they? It’s solid writing how their relationship has gone from antagonistic to clearly warm and friendly, without ever losing the basic dynamic established at the start of the series.) Only, it’s not a hallucination, as roughly five hours after the attack, Quark comes up to O’Brien to ask for a repair crew for the holosuites, and O’Brien looks over and sees himself, from the past, watching himself from the present. And then Quark sees the same thing. Something strange is going on.

It turns out O’Brien is time traveling, which, this being a science-fiction series, is probably not a stunning revelation. The rest of the episode has jumping from Point A to Point Q and back again, with little warning before each jump, and, at first, little explanation as to what’s happening to the chief. But while Bashir eventually makes the connection between the radiation exposure and some stray tetrion particles floating around the station, nobody points out the increasingly obvious: O’Brien’s jumps keep getting more and more story-relevant. At first, his ability to see what comes next means he can save himself from a nasty bruise when a fight breaks out in Quark’s, but later, he witnesses his own death not once, but twice—and as if that wasn’t enough, he also sees the destruction of the entire station. There’s never any justification for this (unless I missed it), and there doesn’t really need to be; this would be a boring, and eventually very, very depressing, episode if O’Brien’s jumps were to one of the random, inconsequential moments that make up roughly 99 percent of our lives. (The percentage is probably lower for a major character in an ongoing television series, admittedly.) But it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is guiding him. Sure, his second-to-last jump takes him to a point too late to actually understand what’s happening, but it gives him the tools necessary to save the station—albeit to do so at a shocking cost.

You could say that O’Brien’s malady (and surely Bashir must try and enter this one into the medical books) connects to what ultimately turns out to be the main crisis of the episode: The nefarious Romulans who, deciding that the Dominion is too big of a thread to withstand, are determined to destroy the wormhole, and DS9 along with it. See, the Romulans have a cloaked war bird circulating the station while a pair of Romulan investigators interrogate various members of DS9’s crew for information about their experiences in the Gamma Quadrant. The latter is a front, presumably, and when O’Brien sees the station exploding and the wormhole collapsing, he’s witnessing the culmination of the Romulans’ real plan. The irony is that the Romulans are the reason O’Brien is time-jumping in the first place. Their ships run on a quantum singularity that—well, there’s a lot of techno-babble, but the basic idea is that the particles from the war bird’s engines are reacting to the radiation in O’Brien’s system, or something along those lines, turning him into an intermittent DeLorean. It’s a clever way to connect the episode to the show’s larger themes—namely, the looming Dominion threat—as well as make sure the time-jumps don’t come across as completely random. Sure, there’s still the incredible coincidence of O’Brien getting zapped with just the right kind of radiation right before the Romulans showed up, but it’s more than we’d get in, say, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that had a similar premise.

That’s worth looking at more closely, because it’s an indication of just how good the DS9 writers have gotten at balancing the demands of a Trek show (semi-magic sci-fi stuff, single episode storylines, geek bait) with its own ongoing needs. The idea that drives “Visionary” is fine, but what makes the episode so terrific is how that idea is integrated into the rest of the show, and all the various smart twists the writers find along the way. Like the way people start being ready for O’Brien to show up in the future; this makes perfect sense, and yet it’s startling when it happens and makes the whole concept seem just that much more real. There’s also the way the episode doesn’t waste any time trying to pretend that fate is unstoppable. When O’Brien sees his future self get killed by a beam from a wall panel, he, Sisko, and Odo investigate the panel, and though they don’t find anything immediately wrong, Sisko has Odo put a camera on the hallway, just to make sure. Eventually, Odo discovers a surveillance device beamed into the system that presumably had the built-in phaser security system which killed the future O’Brien, but no one makes a big deal out of this; nor does O’Brien find himself drawn back to the panel or forced to replay the future he’d witnessed by some intricate series of coincidences. In other words, in this episode, the future is very much changeable, and no one makes a big deal out of it. This may sound obvious, given the big twist at the end (you couldn’t tell this story if it turned out that the future was set in stone), but there’s a satisfying impression that the writers trust us to work this out for ourselves.

Then there’s the ending, which, thankfully, I saw unspoiled. In order to find out exactly what’s going to make the station explode in five hours, O’Brien decides he has to do another time-jump. Now that Bashir understands what’s happening to him, they’re able to manipulate the process in order to send him to a point in time before his last jump; unfortunately, the process requires O’Brien to undergo another radiation dose, and this one proves too much. Which is a shock. Bashir goes to great pains to warn O’Brien of the dangers of what he’s attempting before letting him go through the process, but it’s easy to interpret those warnings as just another way to generate suspense, and for much of O’Brien’s last jump, that’s how it plays out, as his growing weakness slows him and future O’Brien’s efforts to get to the bottom of what’s going on. But once they realize the truth about the Romulans, our O’Brien realizes he’s too ill to make the journey back. So he gives the future O’Brien the time-travel armband, and they swap places—which means, from now on, our O’Brien is actually future O’Brien.

Who was basically our O’Brien anyway, just at a different point in time, although I’m not sure why he was sleeping so comfortably knowing that the station was going to explode, except clearly he didn’t know because then—augh, time travel, it’s the worst. Anyway, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that this is a major shift that doesn’t really have any significant impact on the rest of the show (that I know of), but still comes across as unsettling and sad. For the rest of his life, O’Brien’s going to feel a little off, like he walked into a movie just a few minutes late. He’ll get used to it, probably, and the chief is such a stolid, common-sense presence that I can’t imagine he’ll let the existential heebie-jeebies keep him down for long. But it’s just so odd. “Visionary” doesn’t do much dramatic heavy lifting—this is more purely fun than it is deeply felt—but it’s twisty and massively entertaining, giving us effective character moments for most of the cast, and ending in a way that seems happy—and is happy—but also kind of isn’t. There’s nothing quite like reaffirming and undermining the status quo at the same time.

According to the A.V. Club review of Through the Looking Glass:

Sisko’s wife is dead. He’s mentioned this a few times, but it’s a difficult bit of backstory to keep bringing up. The death is a few years old, so the initial wounds have healed; and since Sisko rarely dates (at least, not that we see), there’s no reason to deal with the lingering pain of a lost spouse. We don’t know anything about Jennifer Sisko. She appeared in the pilot, but even then, she didn’t make much of an impression. Nice woman, pretty, seemed fond of Benjamin, and now dead. Widowing your leading man (or woman) is an easy way to add a taste of tragedy without drowning out the other flavors. But it’s the sort of thing which is best left in the past. There’s no question that losing a spouse is an awful, life-changing event, but if Commander Sisko spent every other episode moping around Quark’s and telling the same three or four anecdotes about a woman we don’t care about, it would get old fast.

Thankfully, “Through The Looking Glass” isn’t really about Ben and Jennifer, although that’s the ostensible premise. A strangely dressed O’Brien shows up in Ops and kidnaps Sisko; a couple scenes later, we’re in the Mirror Universe. The strangely dressed O’Brien is actually Miles from the other side, and he needs our Sisko’s help. It turns out that the Mirror Sisko is (presumed) dead, having been blown up on his own ship during a fight with some Romulans. This wouldn’t be a huge problem, but Mirror Sisko’s wife, Mirror Jennifer, is working on a project which will allow the Alliance (who are the baddies) to track down all of the Resistance’s hidden bases, and Mirror O’Brien wants our Sisko to persuade Mirror Jennifer to set aside the project. Which raises all sorts of troubling issues for Sisko, not the least of which is that Mirror Jennifer and Mirror Sisko weren’t exactly on speaking terms. But because Mirror O’Brien refuses to send him home otherwise, and because Sisko really does want to see Jennifer one last time, whatever version she might be, he agrees to go along with the plan. Wackiness, as one would expect, ensues.

This is only the second Mirror Universe episode DS9 has given us (and just the third in the whole history of Star Trek), but the concept is already wearing a bit thin around the edges. “Through The Looking Glass” doesn’t ever drag, and it’s fun watching Mirror Kira do her hyped-up-sexy-evil thing, but the episode never really manages to shake the nagging suspicion that there’s no point to any of this. The first (and arguably best) purpose of an alternate-reality storyline is to show familiar actors and concepts in a different light. On the regular show, Kira is passionate and deeply moral; in the mirror world, she’s venal, sadistic, and perverse. This is fun because it lets Nana Visitor show off different skills (this is not intended to be a creepy comment), and because it suggests what might have happened if our Kira had taken a series of increasingly wrong turns in her life. Mirror Kira is creepy because she’s entirely self-focused—she doesn’t seem to have a value system beyond, “If it keeps me alive, and also if it feels good.” It’s like all of our Kira’s good intentions rotted out from the inside.

This sort of logic extends to the rest of the Mirror Universe design. Seeing DS9 as a vile place where slaves are forced to work until they die is a reminder of what the station was like during the Cardassian occupation, as well as a warning of a possible future. Other characters serve as shadowy twists on their normal selves—and, okay, I don’t really need to get explicit about the premise here, since we’ve already been through one of these. Which is actually my problem, because after that initial coolness wears off, there really isn’t a lot to recommend the Mirror Universe. The charm of it is in the novelty, of that sudden shock of seeing good guys be evil and evil guys get martyred, of seeing a place where the Trek vision of a Utopian future never quite made it off the drawing board. It’s hard to imagine anything good lasting for long in the Mirror Universe, so it’s hard to root for anyone, or get all that invested in what happens next.

This isn’t a premise that can really sustain serious long-term development. It’s hard to root for anyone, partly because it doesn’t seem like they can win, and partly because just about everybody in the Mirror Universe is an asshole. Mirror O’Brien fares the best (I like this; it implies that Miles’ essential O’Brien-ness is consistent regardless of the reality), but given the general tenor and scarcity of these storylines, even he fails to register much. Yeah, it’s funny to see Bashir as a pushy asshole, and it’s funny to see a sexually aggressive Dax with a different haircut, but it’s impossible to escape the impression that this whole concept is a one-note joke trying to achieve depth, and not quite making it. In its way, it’s as frustrating as last week’s only-in-Bashir’s-mind episode, as once again we have one regular character isolated in a world familiar to strangers. There’s more of a sense of consequence here, since these people exist outside of Sisko’s head, but it’s still perilously close to filler. Now that the novelty is gone, the Mirror Universe has to stand on its own, and there really isn’t much holding it up.

It doesn’t help that Sisko and Jennifer’s conversations aren’t revelatory. I wasn’t a fan of Felecia M. Bell in “Emissary,” and while she’s given more to do in this episode, her low-key approach still fails to make much of an impression. Admittedly, unlike the rest of the cast, she doesn’t get to riff on a well-established character; Mirror Jennifer isn’t all that different from what we saw of our Jennifer. But even cutting her some slack, her work doesn’t generate the kind of sparks necessary to make “Through The Looking Glass” worth the time. Bringing back Sisko’s dead wife is probably the last card the writers can play with the Mirror Universe. It’s this or bring back Bareil, and in many ways, that would create the same problems: dull actor, sketched-in relationship, no place to go beyond the initial shock of meeting. Mirror Jennifer isn’t Sisko’s Jennifer, after all, and while he’s happy to see her, and the two seem to get on well (better than Mirror Jennifer got on with her actual husband, even), no one suggests bringing her back to his world, or him sticking around on the other side. Which means there’s no real crisis at the core of the story, and no significant suspense. Apart from the death of poor Mirror Rom, there are no shocks. Sisko and O’Brien come up with a plan, Sisko manages to persuade Mirror Jennifer to side with the rebels, Sisko uses his knowledge of the station against Mirror Kira, and Sisko and Mirror Jennifer have a brief conversation in which she makes it obvious that she knows he isn’t her real husband. Bittersweet, sure, but bland, like a reheated leftover in need of more salt. Maybe our next trip to the other side will have more to recommend it, but for now, the Mirror Universe is a pit stop on the way to something that matters.

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

What makes Garak great? His insincerity is so intense that it somehow turns back around on itself, becoming honest. He’s almost always lying, his smile says, but since he knows he’s lying, and you know he’s lying, isn’t that a sort of truth? It would’ve been easy for Garak to turn into a cipher, a mysterious figure who existed solely to deliver an increasingly elaborate series of shocking twists, but that isn’t the case at all. There is a core to the ex-spy which, while difficult to pin down, is undeniably there. Part of this is the writing, and part of this is Andrew Robinson’s performance; it’s possible to see the precursor to Lost’s Benjamin Linus in Robinson’s work. But where Ben was a great villain on a show that didn’t shy away from good and evil, Garak walks a thin line in a franchise which, to the best of my knowledge, has never had a recurring character so relentlessly ambiguous. Maybe Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation—but while Q’s methods weren’t always obvious, his motives (to screw with Picard, to entertain himself, and to maybe teach everyone a lesson) were. But at this point in DS9’s run, I really don’t know of what Garak is capable. I don’t know how far he’d go, and who he’d betray if he felt it was necessary. Yet at the same time, there’s enough to his at the core that these questions remain important, and compelling. Garak has just enough of a soul to make me hope he never sells it—and he’s just untrustworthy enough to make me believe that’s still a risk.

The reason this is important is made evident in an episode like “Improbable Cause,” the beginning of a two-part storyline which brings our favorite tailor back into the limelight. This time out, there are no alternate realities or telepathically induced comas, and the focus is on a seemingly mundane assassination attempt—no high concept sci-fi hooks to distract us, just Garak, a blown-up shop, and a mysterious killer. That’s a good enough premise regardless of the focus, but by placing Garak in the center of everything, the hour gives itself an extra, exciting edge. After all, we know so little about the Cardassian’s past that the attempt on his life could’ve come from anyone, and for a wide variety of reasons. It might even turn out that he deserved it; that some horrible bit of treachery he committed while serving in the Obsidian Order has finally come back to bite him on the ass. Or it could just be that he set the bomb off himself, for reasons of his own.

SPOILER ALERT: It was the last thing. Garak exploded his own shop, because he saw a Flaxian assassin lurking around the station, realized he was probably being targeted, and decided to force the issue. This is, you’ll pardon me for saying, classic Garak, a duplicity so straightforward it’s practically routine. The truth comes out about halfway through the episode, and the best part is, it doesn’t really matter. On another show, the reveal that the supposed victim was actually behind the attack would be a third act twist; here, it’s a stratagem to maintain control and smoke out the real culprits, as well as ensure the sympathy and assistance of outside parties.

That’s telling, by the way. Instead of seeing the Flaxian and reporting him to Odo, Garak uses a lie to help find the truth. This is how he thinks: The simplest approach to any problem is the one which requires the most lies. He’s probably even right. While Odo is undoubtedly driven to maintain order and justice on the station, any report from Garak would’ve been met with suspicion, if not outright disbelief. By framing his potential killer, Garak ensures that he’s given at least some benefit of the doubt.

Besides, by the time Odo does catch on to what happened, the Flaxian is dead, and it’s become obvious that something is going on. (Odo’s deduction, based on the fact that the Flaxian assassin used gas to kill his targets, and therefore wouldn’t have changed his habits while targeting Garak, is very Odo-like, methodical and based entirely on his observation of behavior.) Which means there isn’t much point in arresting Garak. A number of other former members of the Obsidian Order have been dying off recently, which, while suspicious, can’t be considered all that unusual. After all, the Order is a powerful group of paranoid, brilliant government operatives, and while there’s no doubt that Cardassians are innately talented at the sort of game-playing such work requires, you’d still expect to see a high casualty rate among the retirees. (It’s actually somewhat surprising that these people are allowed to retire in the first place.) No, where things get really interesting is the fact that the Flaxian is connected to the Romulans. They’re the ones that destroy his ship (and him inside it) when he attempts to leave the station, and they’re also the ones that most likely hired him in the first place.

So something is clearly going on, and it’s up to Odo and Garak to find out what. Once they know that old Obsidian members have been taken out, Garak decides that his old boss, that loveable nut Enabran Tain, is next for the chop. Odo heads out to investigate, and Garak, much to Odo’s chagrin, tags along. It’s an excellent pairing, and one we haven’t seen much of before. Garak’s intricate, constantly shifting conversational approach (he plays lies like Glenn Gould played the piano) bounces right off Odo. The changeling is dogged, smart, and relentlessly straightforward, and it isn’t really possible to charm him or put him off with empty wit. The two only really get one big scene together, flying a shuttlecraft to a mysterious planet where they think Enabran may be hiding, but it’s excellent. Slowly, patiently, Odo forces Garak to admit that his concern over Tain’s life isn’t merely academic; Tain was his mentor, and Garak really does care what happens to him, despite the miserable conclusion of their professional relationship. What’s fascinating is that this is far from the darkest secret a person could hide. Garak being fond of his old boss is nothing to be all that ashamed about, and yet the fact that it makes him vulnerable makes Odo’s ability to winnow out the truth all the more impressive. All Garak can do in response is point out Odo’s perpetual outsider status, and his clear lack of emotional connections—an accusation which, judging from what we know about Odo’s feelings for Kira, is bullshit.

That’s another reason Garak is great: he isn’t always right. It’s easy to make this kind of character infallible. A large portion of his strength and his charm comes from the way he stands slightly apart from everyone, always knowing which way the wind is blowing, and just where to stand if he wants to avoid it. (While the two have very different personalities, Odo and Garak share this quality—and I wonder if Garak’s conversational assault on him in the shuttle isn’t at least partly driven by Garak’s jealousy that there’s someone out there who’s even more perfect an observer than himself.) The temptation, then, is to make him always two or three steps ahead of the game, because if his brilliance is punctured too many times, he turns into a joke, an over-confident buffoon whose only advantage is that he’s too stupid to recognize his failings. Obviously Garak isn’t that, but he’s also not so idealized as to be personality-less. Instead, he’s distinct, clearly mortal, the mere fact of his presence on DS9 a constant reminder that something in him prevented him from being the true Cardassian sociopath he once aspired to be.

Which is especially important in “Improbable Cause” when you consider how the episode ends. Garak and Odo find Tain—or, to put it more accurately, he finds them. It turns out Tain is responsible for the deaths of those other Obsidians, and he was also the one who had the Romulans send the Flaxian after Garak. The former head of the Order has decided to come out of retirement, permanently, and to do that, he needed to make sure that there weren’t any former associates with embarrassing secrets hanging around. He has big plans. There’s a reason we’ve heard rumblings of the Order and the Romulans recently. The two groups have teamed up to make a major assault on the Dominion, taking the fight directly to the Founders. In their effort to solve the mystery, Garak and Odo have stumbled upon the flagship of the new Obsidian Order/Romulan coalition. They’re headed straight through the wormhole, and now that he’s seeing Garak face-to-face, Tain has decided to be reasonable. He offers Garak a position by his side in the new government, and Garak accepts.

This is what all of Garak’s excellence comes down to. With a lesser character, it would be easy to predict what happens next. If Garak was more of an obvious hero, his acceptance of Tain’s offer would simply be a contrivance in order to protect himself and Odo until he could figure out a way for both of them to escape. If Garak was more of an obvious villain, then this would be the final reveal of his true colors, and Odo would be on his own. Odo is, after all, a changeling, and Tain is going to have some very definite (and presumably unpleasant) uses for him in the immediate future. But there’s no way to know how much Garak means of what he says. He’s obviously happy to be working with his old master once more, but is there a tinge of forced satisfaction in his voice? Impossible to say. Garak is a hero and a villain, and he just got handed what he wanted most in all the world. There’s no telling what he’ll do next, and that’s exactly as it should be.

According to the A.V. Club review of The Die is Cast:

There’s a machine that can stop Odo from changing shape. That’s the part I keep coming back to. It’s far from the most important revelation in “The Die Is Cast,” but something about it sticks in my mind. Maybe it’s because of how much this whole two-episode arc (as well as the various hints about the Cardassian and Romulan build-up which we’ve been getting all season) is about rigidity; about how much we work to establish an image of ourselves, and once we’ve decided we’ve found the right one, how hard we work to freeze it in place, as though permanence could be made eternal by a simple act of will. Tain’s attempts to return to his former prominence, to destroy the Founders in one fell swoop and end the Dominion threat, speaks of his arrogance, his misguided confidence in himself, and his unwillingness to adapt to the potentialities of new threats. He’s trying to regain his former status, and position himself as the new leader of the Cardassian empire, and to do that requires a certain kind of inflexible thinking. It means ignoring how long he’s been in retirement, how much the universe has changed in his absence. It means believing the Founders are no different than any other enemy, and therefore can be dealt with accordingly. It means, in effect, finding a point and holding to it—in effect, doing willingly what Odo is forced into. The resultant effect is eerily similar.

Then there’s Garak, trapped between what he used to be and what he couldn’t help becoming. Odo suffers more physical agony, but if this episode has a heart, it belongs to the tailor, as his initial enthusiasm for taking part in Tain’s grand plans slowly begins to fade. It’s easy at first, of course. For the first time in many years, Elim and Enabran are spending time together without immediately wanting each other dead. They share a drink (Romulan, and, as such, sub-standard), and cheerfully discuss the destruction ahead. Garak indulges in some revenge fantasies about all the enemies he’s going to eliminate once he gets back to Cardassia, and he and Tain laugh about old times. Then Tain starts in on the real work: he needs Garak to interrogate Odo. Because Odo is a Founder, and even if he claims he doesn’t know any of their plans, surely he must have some useful piece of information he can provide the cause. You get the impression that Tain doesn’t really care one or the other. He is, after all, the mind behind the Obsidian Order. If there was any relevant data to the cause at hand, surely he would have ferreted it out on his own. No, I’d bet the real reason Tain makes his request is to find out how far his old student is willing to go to prove his loyalty.

Pretty far, it turns out. “The Die Is Cast” is an excellent episode across the board, and one of the reasons it works so well is that it doesn’t compromise Garak’s character in order to make him more palatable. He is a gifted interrogator, and while the script makes it a point to describe his efforts as primarily psychological (Tain tells a story about Garak forcing a confession by simply staring at a prisoner for hours without speaking), there’s no question that he’s not above getting physical if need be. Or at least, that’s how he was in the old days. When Tain raises the issue, Garak willingly agrees to question Odo, and their first conversation has all the hallmarks of a villain trying to earn a hero’s confidence. Odo isn’t too worried; after all, he has no real fear of physical danger, and he uses the exchange mostly as a chance to mock Garak’s new allegiances. No one goes too far, and, apart from the shift in power dynamic, it’s a scene which probably could’ve taken place before the capture without too many changes. Basically, this is all within safe bounds, which is probably why Garak isn’t overly uncomfortable. His sleeves are still down, and his hands are still clean.

Then Tain introduces the device which will prevent Odo from changing his form, and things get mean. Last week, we talked about how much of the power of Garak’s character lies in his fundamental ambiguity. Even though there’s an undeniable core to him, which means that his choices still have stakes, and that we care if he goes too far, there’s no comfortable reassurance that he’ll make the right choices, or that he’ll hold back when offered, say, a return to the prominence and power he once enjoyed. Just watch the look on Andrew Robinson’s face (and it always amazes me how much actors are able to convey through all those prosthetics) as Tain tells him there’s a way to truly hurt Odo. He’s clearly horrified at the idea, but even more tellingly, he’s horrified that he’s horrified. For most of his time on the show, Garak has talked a good game, and played the role of someone who choose to appear harmless, but probably isn’t; someone who, yes, is a nice guy right now, but that could change at any moment. Apart from his friendship with Bashir, Garak never really commits to anything. Even his tailor shop is expendable. But the drawback of getting what you most want is that you have to start making choices. You actually have to be someone, as opposed to collection of pleasant anecdotes and vaguely threatening innuendo. And now that the big moment has finally arrived, it turns out he might be the man (well, the Cardassian) he thought he was.

Again, to the episode’s credit, it doesn’t shy away from the consequences. Garak tries a few lame attempts to avoid it, but in the end, he has to go back to Odo’s room, and use the device to torture the constable. And it’s horrifying. The makeup effects of Odo stuck in his human form are some of the most effective I’ve seen on the show; he’s pathetic and ghoulish, somehow, like he died in the middle of the conversation, but is so determined to make his point that he’ll keep talking until his jaw rots off. The camera stays focused on René Auberjonois for most of the scene, and he does remarkable work. Star Trek: The Next Generation took most of an episode to demonstrate the full effect of physical and psychological torture.DS9 does it in basically one scene, and while the result isn’t as quite as harrowing, it’s very, very effective. And of course, Odo does eventually break. Despite the constable’s repeated assurances that he knows nothing, Garak is convinced that Odo must have some secret in him, some piece of information he couldn’t bare to part with, and it turns out the tailor is right. Odo does have a secret: He wants to go home to his people. It’s a deeply personal revelation that Odo must’ve wanted to protect at all costs, and telling it must have hurt him. And it’s useless. It doesn’t change Tain’s mission, and it doesn’t provide any tactical advantage against the Founders. It just means that Garak wins for absolutely nothing.

Leave him there for a second, face in his hands while Odo, finally given back his freedom, pours himself into a bucket. Sisko and the others keep themselves busy this episode, and while his decision to disobey orders and take the Defiant after Odo (and Garak) isn’t as exciting as the main story, it’s never a drag on the episode, and it does introduce some ideas which I’m betting will be important down the line. Namely that Commander Eddington, who’s done basically nothing since he was first introduced, is more a stickler for rules than anyone else in command on DS9, and his commitment to Starfleet leads him to sabotage theDefiant after the ship leaves the station. Eddington isn’t a big enough character for this to be a huge betrayal, and his presence in the first part of the episode (after being seemingly forgotten for so long) suggests he’s up to some kind of craziness, but it’s interesting that Sisko allows him to remain on the bridge after he confesses his actions. It shows the kind of strange gray area the show lives in now. Eddington may not have the right kind of loyalty, but they are all fighting on the same side.

Odo makes a similar decision when he ultimately forgives Garak’s actions. Well, forgives may be going too far, but they don’t end the episode as enemies.

Of course, before we get to that, we should probably look at the big ticket moment in “The Die Is Cast,” the twist which gives the hour its title (at least in the most obvious sense). The Cardassian and Romulan fleet arrives at the Founders’ home world. They read life signs on the planet below, and Tain, after savoring the moment for a second or so, gives the order to fire. The ships bombard the planet, destroying 30 percent of its crust, and—the life signs don’t change. It’s a trap. The Founders knew Tain was coming, and least than a minute after he realizes it, Jem’Hadar ships are popping into view—150 of them, to be exact. They make quick work of the Cardassian and Romulan fleet, which was, it turns out, the whole point of this trip. Tain thought he was in control, but as he realizes in the end (and his manic, despairing monologue as he desperately tries to figure out how it all went wrong, is yet another bit of awesome), the whole thing was designed by the Founders to wipe out the Cardassian and Romulan threat in one fell swoop. They had an inside man, it turns out: Lovok, the head of the Romulan forces, is a changeling. He makes a point of saying goodbye to Odo, and, given what we’ve learned about Odo’s true wishes, and what we’ve just seen of the Founder’s strategic genius, it’s amazing that Odo decides to go back to the station with Garak.

This is all great stuff, thrilling and shocking, and, best of all, it has an impact which is going to affect how the show goes forward in ways I can’t predict. The end has the status quo restored, give or take a few thousand Cardassians and Romulans, but it’s still momentous; bad guys pulling reversals is nothing new, but this takes a background plot and casually, brutally upends it. It’s the kind of bold storytelling which makes for great drama. But as excited as I am to watch this play out, my favorite scene of the episode is the last one. Garak is sifting through the wreckage of his shop, and Odo pays him a visit. Throughout their entire conversation, Odo can only be seen in shadowy reflection, because he’s the one with the power now. Garak’s brief return to the old ways is over, blown to bits only hours after it began, but the truth is, it was over long before then. That’s why Odo invites him to breakfast, and why Garak, lost, stunned, and maybe hopeful, agrees. They both know each other’s secrets now; they both want to go home, but they can’t. There is something which stops them from changing into who they want to be. It’s called a soul.

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

I have to apologize; this review is going to be shorter than it ought to be, as I spent too much time talking about the previous episode (which, to be fair, deserved the space), and now I fear I’ve used up my word quota. I say this because even though “Explorers” is a much quieter, and much less ambitious, hour of television than “The Die Is Cast,” it’s still quite good. I can’t help wondering if fans of the show gave this similar short shrift when it originally aired. Not because they were wrong (or shared my poor time-management skills), but because nothing of any real significance happens here. Bashir runs into a former rival from medical school, and realizes that he was getting worked up over nothing, and Jake and Sisko fly an ancient Bajoran ship to Cardassian space in order to prove a point. The events in the Gamma Quadrant aren’t mentioned, and don’t seem to have any affect on the proceedings. Sure, there’s some minor tension between Sisko and Gul Dukat, but there’s always minor tension between those two, and everything ends in (the non-lethal kind of) fireworks. If “The Die Is Cast” was a bold statement about how far the writers are willing to go with their main storyline, “Explorers” is a low-key reassurance that there’s still time for small, intimate character studies.

But it still feels different somehow—probably because we have a greater sense of just how important the small, intimate moments really are. Plus, it’s been a while since the show gave Sisko some personal time, and while I wouldn’t think “immediately following a massive military maneuver out your back door” would be ideal vacation season, he probably needs all the relaxation he can get. It’s fun to learn a bit more about the commander; his character is clearly defined, but his interests aren’t as clear, for obvious reasons (we follow the majority of the characters on this show because of their day jobs; which doesn’t mean the show doesn’t have room for personal stuff, just it tends to be secondary). The idea that Sisko is so entranced by the history of Bajoran space travel that he’s willing to recreate an ancient Bajoran ship is a charming one. It’s a kind of geeky dad move that just happens to require significant resources, and end in a four day trip through the universe, and his excitement about the project, contrasted against the way almost no one else on the station understands the point of it, is cool. We’ve seen Sisko the badass before, and I’m sure we’ll see him again (he has, after all, finally grown that goatee you folks keep talking about), but I also like getting to know Sisko the dorky enthusiast.

Plus, this leads to spending time with Jake, and the writers and actors on the show have always done a great job nailing the father/son dynamic. Jake’s been less of a presence on the series this season than he has in the past (at least, I think he has), but while he’s done the standard surly, and frustrated, teenager shtick before, it’s never become completely unbearable, and there’s always been a clear sense of the bond between him and Sisko. This episode is no exception. He initially passes on the trip (and I love how no one seems at all concerned about Sisko going off for a few days into deep space; it’s a sign of just how normal space travel has become in the future), but when he gets accepted into a writing school in New Zealand, he comes along for a chance to take over his ambitions with his dad. It all goes down fairly easily, and while there isn’t any real intense drama in the episode (Sisko’s ship has a few problems, and at one point even seems to have broken down completely with no way to call home for rescue, but it never feels all that urgent), it never gets boring. I especially liked Sisko’s reaction to Jake’s short story—the “shows promise” is something I’ve heard before myself, from my own dad, and I reacted to it about the same way Jake does.

Back on the station, Bashir panics when he learns an old rival is dropping in, and, well, you can probably guess how this plays out. As much as I like the doctor, this whole storyline feels like something that belongs on a kid’s cartoon; the reveal that the rival actually wishes she’d gotten Bashir’s assignment on DS9 wraps things up a little too neatly, as though the whole thing were arranged just to teach Julian the value of appreciating what you have. It’s not incredibly tedious, but it does tip over into the kind of too-sweet easiness that Jake and Sisko’s story mostly manages to avoid. Curiously, this seems to happen often with Bashir storylines that don’t hinge on matters of life and death.

Regardless, it’s not so bad as to ruin the rest of the episode, which, again, is good—although honestly, I’m not sure there’s really that much to say about it. Jake is worried his dad isn’t dating (does this ever come up again? No, don’t tell me, I’ll find out), Sisko is surprised about the New Zealand school offer, but then immediately urges Jake to take it. The usual back and forth between people who love each other but aren’t quite sure what happens next follows; Jake is getting ready to go out on his own, and Sisko recognizes that, and supports him, while at the same time feeling a loss. And then, at the end, when it seems all hope is lost, the Cardassians show up to tell them they’ve accomplished their goal, and all is well. Which, come to think, is basically the lesson of Bashir’s story: things are rarely as bad as you think. “The Die Is Cast” had roughly the exact opposite lesson, so maybe that’s the point of placing “Explorers” where it is. You need to have hope if you’re going to have fear, after all.

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

It’s been a while since we’ve had a good Kira episode, hasn’t it? Probably either “Defiant” or “Second Skin,” which is over half a season ago. After being one of the show’s most dominant characters, the major has stepped back into the ensemble; it’s not so much that she’s less important than she was, as it is that everyone else has gotten comparatively more important, and the series doesn’t need to rely on the former Barjoran terrorist to do as much of the dramatic heavy lifting. Still, it’s good to see her front and center again, in an hour which in some ways feels like a throwback to the first two seasons. This isn’t meant as a criticism. “Shakaar” isn’t awkward or forced in the way some of the series’ earlier episodes could be, but it does focus its attentions on Kira and her place in Bajoran politics, specifically the relationship between the provisional government and the freedom fighters who helped to ensure that government’s existence.

Hey, remember Kai Winn? Of course you do. Funny story: The head of the provisional government has died of a heart attack, and Kai Winn is the only one running to take over his place. This would make her the de facto leader of both the spiritual and political existence of the planet, and if that doesn’t make you deeply concerned, well, you haven’t been paying attention. Interestingly, no one complains too much about the religious leader taking a political role; as an American who believes the separation of church and state is one of the smartest thing the Founding Fathers ever did, the idea makes me deeply uncomfortable, but on Bajor, the issue is less about the what than the who. Kira is troubled by the news, although in a conversation with Odo, she can’t effectively explain her concerns. Odo accuses her of blaming the Kai for Bareil’s death, and letting that blame cloud her judgement, which sounds like Odo has forgotten quite a lot of past history. Really, this is a woman who arranged an assassination attempt on a vedek when he stood in her way; who conspired with another Bajoran to drive away the Federation presence around Bajor in order to consolidate their control; has proven time and again her willingness to go to whatever lengths necessary to achieve power. The only reason her run as Kai hasn’t been a complete disaster is that she’s presumably canny enough to know how far she can go, and that a stable Bajor is, in the long run, the best chance for her own success.

But now that the government job is open, all bets are off the table, and it’s strange that no one but Kira seems to be bothered by this. The problems begin almost immediately. Winn comes to Kira asking for a favor—which means, of course, that she demands a favor, in the politest, most cutting way possible. A group of farmers on Bajor is holding on to a set of soil reclamators that Winn thinks would be better used elsewhere. She has her reasons, namely that the reclamators could be used to help the growth of crops that will sell better in galactic market, thus raising Bajor’s status and making the planet more desirable to the Federation. Only, the farmers who are currently holding on to the devices were promised more time with them, and desperately need that time in order to sustain their own farmland. And it just so happens that the leader of these farmers, Shakaar, was also the head of Kira’s resistance cell during the Cardassian occupation.

You can see where this is going, right? Winn wants Kira to get the machines back because of her connections; Kira, who probably feels guilty about her suspicions of the Kai, agrees to try. But when she meets up with her old comrades, she realizes they have claims every bit as legitimate as Winn’s. So Kira tries a compromise, Winn snaps, and eventually Shakaar, Kira, and the others take to the hills, forming the core of a new rebellion which could, if everything continues to go as badly as it has, lead to a civil war.

There’s a lot to like in this episode. I remain fascinated by post-occupation Bajoran politics. Most stories end when the rebellion finally defeats its oppressors, and the fact that DS9 started in the wake of the Cardassian departure was always a point in the show’s favor. It fits into one of the central tenets of the series design, namely the idea of staying in one place and seeing things through. A victory is only one moment; it’s great while it lasts, and can mark the start of a better time in one’s life, but the only permanent solution to any problem is a mortal one. While the Bajorans had a common enemy, while the stakes were obvious and incredibly high, the moral choices tended to be clear-cut: Either stand up for your people, or sell out to protect your own skin. Now that the obvious threat has been removed, conflicts become more complicated, and villains are harder to pinpoint.

Take the episode’s most intense scene: Shakaar and the others lure their pursuers into a box canyon, believing that the only way out of the chase is a direct fight. Kira and Shakaar both recognize the leader of the pursuing force, a man who once served and fought in the resistance just like they did. They realize he’s a strong fighter, and should be their first target. Shakaar takes aim, and the others wait for his signal—but neither he nor Kira is able to pull the trigger. They both realize things have gone too far, and move down to talk with their target face to face. But even that almost ends in catastrophe when someone fires a shot without orders, and the canyon nearly turns into a killing field. The speed with which former allies can turn on each other, without any real reason to do so beyond the immediate circumstance, is telling. Everyone is too used to taking up arms and fighting when life doesn’t go there way. Violence was the necessary answer for so long that it’s started to look like the only answer.

The only real disappointment, then, comes in the ease with which Kai Winn’s ambitions overreach her. This isn’t an episode-killing complaint, but the timing overall is rushed, especially when it comes to the story’s resolution. Once Shakaar and Kira realize that Bajor doesn’t need a civil war, Shakaar decides to run for the office Winn had assumed was hers for the taking. If the Kai tries to run against him, they’ll reveal her inept handling of the reclamator crisis; the fact that she nearly started a major conflict over a handful of machines (and how hard would it be to get some more? I assume this isn’t a question we’re supposed to ask, since no one mentions it, but still) doesn’t speak well of her abilities. While it’s satisfying to see Winn cut back down to size, there’s something overly convenient about it as well. While Winn has always been on the shady side of the moral gray area, part of the power of her ascension is the implication that her methods work. She doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and without the chaos and shifting uncertainties of Bajoran society, she wouldn’t have done nearly as well.

So maybe her defeat is an indication that the people of Bajor are starting to get their shit together. That’s a fine idea—I just wish it hadn’t been quite so simple. Conflicts like this are more interesting when everyone is at least a little bit to blame, and Kira basically gets everything she wants without it costing her a dime. Nice as that is for her, it makes for somewhat muted drama. Still, Bareil remains dead, and hopefully this will help her move on from his memory. And maybe I’m just a little too cynical. After all, people like Winn have the DNA of their eventual defeat hardwired into every victory.

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

I’ve been disappointed with DS9 episodes before, but this must be the first time I felt let down because an entry was actually smarter than I was expecting. “Facets” works quite nicely as a character piece for Dax. It’s intimate and self-contained, and Jadzia remains at the center of the story even when things take a turn at the halfway point. Even more impressively, the writers set up an obvious twist, and then go in a completely different direction when it comes time for the plot to develop complications. And that’s where my disappointment comes in. As silly as it would have been for a Joran-infested Sisko to run around the station terrorizing everyone, I was expecting some variation of just that, and the fact that the hour’s creepiness is relegated to a single scene surprised me. The episode makes more sense the way it actually unfolds, and it gives us a chance to see Curzon Dax in the Odo-flesh, but there’s a small, childish part of me who wishes we could’ve had more time with the pseudo-Hannibal Lecter. Although, let’s be honest here: that probably would’ve been terrible.

That caveat out of the way (and I want to stress, I don’t mean the above as a criticism of the episode; just pointing out how easy it is to both demand innovation, and wincewhen that innovation threatens to do something actually original), “Facets” boils down to two plotlines. In the main story, Jadzia asks her closest friends on DS9 (the main ensemble, plus Leeta, who is adorable) to help her perform the Zhian’tara, a Trill ritual in which a host is briefly seperated from and allowed to “meet” the memories of her symbiote’s previous hosts. This boils down to each cast member getting a chance to pretend to be someone else for a scene or two, which is goofy and fun until the sociopath shows up. In the second story, Nog takes a entrance exam for a Starfleet Academy training program, and fails.

Both stories are about individuals trying to prove themselves against the apparent doubts of others. In Nog’s story, Quark is convinced Nog is working hard to make a fool of himself. Worse, he believes that if Nog does somehow succeed in becoming a Starfleet cadet, it will mean the end of conventional Ferengi society as it now stands. It’s been well established that Quark is a conservative of the old school, someone who passionately believes in doing things the way they’ve always been done. Nog is a clear threat to this, so while it’s undeniably cruel of Quark to sabotage the test program to ensure that Nog fails his evaluation, it makes sense. In Quark’s mind, he’s just doing what’s best for himself and his nephew, even if that breaks Nog’s heart. But then, this isn’t about Nog or Quark; the story is actually about Rom, who figures out Quark’s subterfuge impressively fast, and reads his brother the riot act to convince him to stay away from his son. Again: entirely in character. But it’s immensely satisfying all the same. It’s easy to become accustomed to characters falling into the same patterns of behavior, and Rom is always the weak one, the apologetic one, the sap. But while he isn’t about to run the bar on his own or start pulling in profit, he is very clear-headed when it comes to protecting his boy’s future, and it’s gratifying to see him turn the tables on Quark, if only for this topic.

Jadzia’s story is less simple. At first, the ceremony plays out as you’d expect. Kira takes on the memories and personality of Lela, Dax’s first host, an older woman who served in the government. Jadzia talks with her, learns a little about what this particular host has added to her own life, and then moves on to the next set of memories. Dax has always been one of the most difficult characters on the show to pin down, because the basic premise of her personality is beyond most of our comprehension. Odo changes shape, and there’s no way to understand the freedom of that, or how it’s defined who he is, but he’s still just a single soul. Dax is the samplings from a number of souls, shifted and then reformed into a single, temporary unit, and that’s hard to convey outside of prose. The Zhian’tara, then, is a way to make it easier to grasp exactly what all of this means. In a way, it’s a shame this couldn’t have happened earlier in the series. I’m not sure DS9 could’ve done the concept justice in the first season, and Joran and Curzon both needed some build up for their reveals to be effective, but it at least would’ve made Dax easier to relate to. It’s a bit like looking to your parents and your grandparents and the ancestors beyond, trying to find the pieces that made you; only Dax has these voices inside her head all the time.

Which is creepy, when you consider that means she’s got to deal with Joran 24/7. We first heard of Joran in “Equilibrium,” back when Dax discovered she had a secret host, an unstable murderer the Symbiosis Commission hushed up because of what his existence would reveal about their selection process. In “Facets,” he spends some time in Sisko’s body; as mentioned, this seems to set up an obvious story hook. Most other shows, if a crazy ghost is brought back to life, well, that’s not going to have a happy ending. (Those of you who’ve seen Angel know what I’m talking about—and yes, I realize that wasn’t a “ghost.”) But Jadzia takes precautions. Sisko-Joran is kept in a holding cell for most of their conversation, and what’s more, Sisko is in control of the situation at all times, like all the other temporary hosts. Joran may have some decent willpower, but he’s still just bad memories. Their conversation is unsettling and tense, and raises questions about Jadzia’s suitability as a host that will pay-off later in the episode. But when things go south, and Joran tries to get violent, Jadzia hands his ass to him, and Sisko pushes the memories aside. And that, barring some twist in another season, is that.

This is the right choice. Any circumstance in which Joran was allowed free reign would’ve been contrived, no matter how tempting it might be for the writers to attempt. Instead, the “threat” of the hour comes from the least likely source: Curzon. He merges with Odo, and instead of simply sharing his memories with the shapeshifter, Odo’s abilities lead to a bonding process in which Odo becomes a kind of makeshift Trill. What this means is, Odo’s make-up changes to make him look more like Curzon; and Rene Auberjonois gives a lively, laughing performance, a fine change of pace for a character actor whose role usual calls for intense restraint. It also means that when it comes time for Curzon to rejoin with Dax, he’s having so much fun that he refuses.

So that’s a problem, but it’s only really a problem for Jadzia. The Trill who ran the ceremony doesn’t object to Curzon staying inside Odo, and Odo isn’t trying to fight his way free. He likes the change in himself, which makes sense; of course Odo would like getting to be the charming, brash Curzon. Curzon fits in wherever he goes. But just because he makes Odo’s life temporarily more entertaining, that doesn’t mean he can stick around in the shapeshifter’s head. His memories are a part of the symbiote, a part of Dax. They aren’t Curzon at all, just a collection of his greatest hits, and they belong home.

It comes down to a question of Curzon’s relationship with Jadzia; why he failed her from the initiate program, and why he allowed her to be the first applicant in history to be re-accepted. He was in love with her, and his feelings made him uncomfortable, and that’s why he kicked her out. Then, realizing he’d made a mistake, and because he cared for her and didn’t want to destroy her, he let her back in. This isn’t bad, but it’s probably the least interesting revelation the episode could’ve delivered. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, exactly, but it tells us nothing about either Jadzia or Curzon. Jadzia is just a “beautiful, brilliant woman,” which is we already knew, and Curzon is a charismatic ladies man who finally met his match in his declining years. An older man falling for a younger woman is an old cliche—happens all the time, but that doesn’t make it a great story. The reveal serves its purpose; it gives Jadzia what she wants to know, and confessing it gives Curzon the push to finally leave Odo. But while the actors sell the exchange, there’s nothing in it quite so powerful as the final conversation between Dax and Odo. Odo apologies for his part in Curzon’s games, but Dax tells him there’s nothing to be sorry for. She’s grateful that, because of Curzon’s brief time as a changeling, she now has memories of what it’s like to be able to change forms. And ultimately, this is what “Facets” is about. Not chats with murderers or the discovery of a long lost crush. Just Dax, proving to herself that she’s earned the right to be a host by matching the only qualification that’s truly necessary: endless, boundless curiosity.

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

The unifying factor that has so far held together the different series in the Star Trek franchise is the belief that there’s an Us and a Them; the main goal of both the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation was to work towards as making as many of Them into Us as was reasonably possible. It sounds exclusionary, and to a certain extent it is, but there’s also a fundamental optimism built into that concept which often gets overlooked. An Us implies unity, a group banding together with common interests and goals, and that means shelter through rough times. It means that even in the vast reaches of space, there’s still somewhere we can go home to, places of safety and security the fighting never reaches. Even in the greatest battles, when Earth was threatened and all that stood between civilization and the lifeless sterility of the Borg, at least there was an Earth for us to cling to. Starfleet, the Federation, were concepts inviolate, and regardless of the bureaucracy and occasional dangers, they represented humanity and its reach to the stars at its most pure. Ignore the implications of condescension or imperialism. This wasn’t about conquering. This was about cooperation, friendship, and discovery. A Them is just an Us you haven’t met.

Cracks in the facade have been showing for a while now, though. DS9 hasn’t given up the dream of the unity, but it has addressed the way the base metals of the individual often react in ways no one can predict. It used to be that just wanting to be friends was enough; now, though, there are conflicting allegiances, religions, philosophies. Communication helps, but it’s not a cure all, and situations arise in which there is no real right answer—in which the most two sides can hope to achieve is an uneasy compromise until the next great crisis. There’s no definitive protagonist on DS9, no single hero like Picard of TNG or the Kirk/Spock/McCoy trifecta of TOS. Sisko may get top billing, but he’s first among equals. All viewpoints are welcome, all are treated with equal respect. Hell, the mere fact that the writers worked to make the Ferengi more than just one-note jokes is practically a statement of purpose.

But all these different perspectives lead to new challenges, and in a way, that’s what the Founders represent. While they themselves are unified, their abilities to take on different forms, to become anyone or anything they like—that’s a different kind of threat. Where the Borg presented themselves as a single unit, one which could change its defenses and attacks as needed but which was always unrelentingly itself, the Founders are more, if you’ll pardon the word, fluid. When you accept that others have as much right to their beliefs and opinions as you do, you become a (hopefully) better person, but you also lose the ease of distinguishing right from wrong. Friends and enemies are no longer as separate as they once were; Us is Them, and Them is Us, to paraphrase a line from Pogo.

On the surface, “The Adversary” is a well-made, entertaining rip off of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The Thing is a terrific horror movie, one of Carpenter’s best, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a look. In Carpenter’s film (which is a remake of the ‘51 classic, The Thing From Another World; both movies take their inspiration from the John W. Campbell short story “Who Goes There?”), a group of men in a remote Antarctic research station face off against an alien which can mimic their forms exactly. This leads to a lot of paranoia, infighting, and a growing sense of horror at the implications of the threat. If they don’t defeat this creature now, if it makes it out of Antarctica and to more populated area, the human race is doomed. There will be no way to prevent it from absorbing every human being on the planet, at which point it can move on to devouring all remaining life at its leisure.

The stakes are high, is what I’m saying. It’s not quite as intense on the Defiant (at least, not at first); replacing the research station with a space ship means keeping the isolation, but losing the immediate danger of the threat spreading to the rest of the planet. Sure, if the Founder who cons his way aboard managed to keep his presence hidden for the entire trip, he could easily travel wherever he wanted to, but, well, that’s basically a moot point. We’ll get to why in a bit (boy will we), but for the purpose of this particular episode, the big threat is that the secret Founder, masquerading as an ambassador named Krajensky, will start a war between the Federation and a race called the Tzenkethi. At the start of the hour, just after Sisko gets his promotion from Commander to Captain (the former always sounded more imposing to me than the latter, but I’m not not charge), the fake Krajensky approaches Sisko with orders for a secret mission. The Tzenkethi government has been overthrown in a coup, and, supposedly, Starfleet wants to send a ship or two out to the sector to remind the folks who are now in charge of just who they’re friends are.

This all sounds reasonable enough to pass Sisko’s bs-detector, and it’s not until things start falling apart on the Defiant that he becomes concerned. Things get crazy fast, and it’s not long before Krajensky is discovered—but by then, the damage has been done. The ship is set at warp speed on a course to a Tzenkethir settlement; the weapons are armed; and Sisko realizes that if they don’t get a handle on the situation quickly, he’ll have to set off the self-destruct in order to prevent an inter-stellar incident.

This is where the Thing rip off kicks into gear. “The Adversary” never gets as intense or unsettling as the movie, since the effects aren’t anywhere near as creepy, and, more importantly, the characters aren’t already at odds with each other. There may be some unresolved tension between Sisko and Eddington (who, apparently, isn’t a Changeling after all, although he still gives me the creeps), but the main ensemble is a strong, centered bunch, so much so that in order to ramp up the infighting, the writers need to bring in some guest characters to glare at each other and throw out accusations. The real tension here is the growing sense that anybody could be anybody, and that everything has gotten out of control so quickly that there’s no way our heroes will be able to restore order in time. The direction adds to the uncertainty in subtle ways, focusing on actors for a beat or two longer than usual at the ends of scenes; even if Sisko appears in control, and none of the leads ever break into a panic, the audience is given more and more reason to suspect everyone.

The episode’s most blatant lift from Carpenter’s film is in stealing the movie’s signature scene: the blood test. In The Thing, Kurt Russell and company theorize that, given the creature’s nature, ever cell in it must be a distinct entity. Therefore, if a bit of its “blood” is injured—say, from a hot wire—it will try and protect itself. In “The Adversary,” they realize that Changelings, being liquid beings with no internal organs, have no blood. The resulting scene is nowhere near as scary as the movie version, partly because the Changeling isn’t a murderous, unspeakable monstrosity, and partly because they don’t use the slice-the-thumb method used in the film, which is a lot more visceral than Bashir’s through-the-uniform method. Alas, Sisko and the others make the classic newbie mistake and fail to begin the test by running it on the person getting the blood samples, which allows a fake Bashir to (briefly) frame Eddington, creating even more confusion.

Look, the specifics of the episode’s plot aren’t what’s important. Everybody runs around in crazy confusion until the end, when Odo saves the day just in time, war is averted, and the Changeling is killed. While “The Adversary” deals with the show’s ongoing Dominion arc, it initially appears self-contained. This isn’t a two-parter, and the fact that so much of the story is influenced by a movie makes it feel less ambitious, a solid double instead of a more ambitious swing for the fences.

Of course, the Founder’s death is important. As Odo explained to Eddington earlier in the hour (in the manner of one casually mentioning he only has a few days left until retirement), no Changeling has ever harmed another Changeling, but now Odo has gone and broken the rules. We’re not given a lot of time to process this, but I’m sure this will have ramifications down the line. After all this time wanting to go home, but choosing not to, Odo has seemingly exiled himself from his own kind forever, basically by accident.

Speaking of ramifications: the endgame of The Thing is, we die. The most optimistic interpretation of the final scene is that everyone who worked at the station is dead (or will soon die), and the creature has been either killed or sent back into the ice. But there’s no way to know, not for certain, and if it did escape, if it somehow took over one of the survivors without us knowing, then that’s it. We’re not equipped to deal with a threat this quick, this outside of the norm.

But DS9 is the future, right? A future in which the existence of a wide variety of intelligent life is both known and acknowledged; a future with technology centuries beyond ours, with smart people (human and otherwise) working together to forge a peaceful and sustainable present. So, clearly, the Founders are just one speed bump on the road to Utopia, another antagonist to shake its fist, only to fall before the force of cooperation and heroism. Clearly. Except the Changeling’s last words to Odo are: “You’re too late. We are everywhere.” This isn’t a battle just beginning. This is a war, and it started fifteen minutes ago. The fake Kajensky wasn’t a desperate gamble on the Founders’ part. He was just a plan, presumably one among dozens. There are other tricks to pull, other conflicts to start, and while the Federation sends out exploratory committees; while the Cardassians and the Romulans try their hopelessly out-maneuvered surprise attacks; while Sisko waits at the doorstep, holding his breath and praying to gods he doesn’t believe in—the enemy is here. And you’re next.

The Worst:

Meridian, and Fascination

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Meridian sees Dax fall in love with a scientist from the planet Meridian, which phases in and out of existance every sixty years, meanwhile  Fascination sees things go a little A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

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

Let’s not mince words: This is a terrible episode, and the fact that nearly everyone involved recognized it as such in retrospect does little to dull the pain. It misuses and misunderstands Dax; it relies on a contrived premise; and the romance which drives the plot is tepid, unconvincing, and often actively tedious. After establishing a high standard in the first quarter of the season, DS9 dips back into the dregs of late period Star Trek: The Next Generation, with a tale of thwarted passion which is supposed to be tragic, but isn’t. I don’t think it’s the worst episode of the show I’ve seen, but it’s up there, and it’s a frustrating stumble for a series which had finally hit its groove.

Sisko, O’Brien, Bashir, and Dax are traveling through the Gamma Quadrant in the Defiant, when the come across an anomaly. They investigate, because that’s what they do (it’s been so long since I reviewed TNG, I forgot what it was like to have an episode spin off from the heroes’ need to poke stuff), and find an entire planet with a severe Brigadoon complex. In case you’re unfamiliar with the name,Brigadoon is a musical about a Scottish village which appears for only one day every hundred years. In this case, we’ve got a world which phases in and out of corporeality, because of crazy made-up science. As soon as the planet appears (and it’s something of a coincidence that Sisko et al. just happened to be floating through space at the right time, huh?), Sisko makes contact with a group of villagers who’ve just come into being for the first time in about 60 years. The DS9 team beams down, learns about the locals’ situation, and Dax starts hooking up with a guy who likes her face dots. Ah, love.

It’s nice to see DS9 continuing in the fine Star Trek tradition of presuming women will be seduced by any man who stares at them long enough and then makes weird, invasive comments. I’ll say this much for Deral (Brett Cullen, who will always be “that guy from Lost” to me); he’s not hiding a dark secret, and he really is legitimately passionate about Jadzia. It’s just, in the brief time we see the two together, that passion is never expressed in anything by the most generic terms. They flirt a bit, then he takes her for a walk in the woods, and then, presumably, they have sex. A few scenes later, Deral is talking about a house he wants to build for Dax when they finally get the planet-shifting problem solved; he’s not proposing marriage, but it comes off as more than a little intense. A few scenes after that, Deral is offering to leave his people to come be with Dax, and then, when Deral decides he can’t possibly abandon his culture, Dax offers to stay with him instead. When they end up parted by the episode’s end, it’s supposed to be so powerfully upsetting that Dax can’t bear to talk about it, as though she’s lost something vital to her life that can never be replaced.

In the right hands, this sort of tragedy can be immensely moving; the thought of finding someone who fits you so well you can’t imagine life without them, only to be separated from them through some strange twist of circumstance, is difficult to sell, but potentially heartbreaking. “Meridian” never sells it. It never even comes close. Cullen isn’t a terrible actor, but Delar and Dax never come off as anything more than a pair of eHarmony customers struggling through their first date. And the lack of chemistry makes the damage to Dax’s identity even more bizarre. Deral can’t possibly leave his people—why would Dax be so eager and ready to leave hers? She has a career in Starfleet, and a symbiote to develop and protect. I guess jumping ahead 60 years would certainly offer the slug in her stomach a few new life experiences, but this isn’t even discussed or considered. She goes from being excited that Delar might come back to DS9 with her, to being completely and unquestioningly willing to stay with him instead, with the only justification being her supposed devotion. Which, again, is never satisfactorily demonstrated. Trying to create a believably deep love affair in the space of about 20 minutes can’t be an easy task, but it’s the only way this episode could’ve possibly worked. If Dax had found something in Delar she’d never found elsewhere, or if the script and the actors could have found a way to believably, intensely crazy for one another, that might have saved everything. I don’t need to believe Dax was acting in her best interests. I just need to believe she thinks she is, and that never comes across. Instead, the Dax we know seems to disappear, to be replaced by some half-visible nobody eager to do what anyone tells her. In the end, she doesn’t even make the choice that puts her back on the Defiant; her presence on the planet “destabilizes” the something or other, and she’s force to beam back to the ship, to mourn the loss of a man we’ll all forget in a week.

Oh, and there’s also a creepy subplot about an alien (played by Jeffrey Combs, one of my favorite actors, here making his Trek debut) who wants to fuck Kira, only Kira’s not interested, so the alien asks Quark to make a holosuite program in which he (the alien) fucks Kira. The character behavior is more consistent than in the main storyline, and the cold open scene, in which Kira pretends that Odo is her lover to scare the alien off, is terrific. Hell, it even makes sense that Quark would be willing to help, as it’s a shady deal which stops short of being outright evil. Combs manages to make the alien look like a disgusting pervert just by breathing a certain way, and Kira and Odo team up to make sure the jerk gets the comeuppance he richly deserves. But as always, I find myself thinking too much about the implications of the holosuites and holodecks, and how inevitably such machines would lead to psychotic breaks. Some of us have a hard enough time telling the difference between dreams and reality; can you imagine if your dreams were in 3-D? And talked back? Ugh.

Anyway, that’s not really the point. I’m not a huge fan of Kira-as-object as a storyline, but she got her revenge, and Quark didn’t get anything, so that worked out okay. Plus, every second on DS9 meant a second away from the Planet Of Boringness, which was a relief. I like the Defiant, and I like the way it opens up the show’s possibilities, but if this is the result, maybe everyone should just stay home.

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

Ah, the classic “love potion” episode, where characters who normally wouldn’t dream of approaching one another suddenly develop passionate attachments designed to evaporate before the end credits. There’s no actual potion in “Fascination,” just Lwaxana Troi sending off empathic hot flashes due to a bad case of the made-up flu, but the principle remains the same: a large chunk of the show’s ensemble is going to embarrass themselves horribly, there’s going to be a lot of awkwardness, and maybe some groping, all of it played for laughs.

I’ll admit to not being a huge fan of the device, primarily because it’s so lightweight. Romantic entanglements on a show are only fun to watch if there is actual consequence behind them, and while Bashir explains that all of the temporary infatuations are based on some deeply buried subconscious desire, he immediately follows that up with, “Best not to think about it.” So none of these means anything. That can be enjoyable in its own way, and this isn’t a terrible episode by any means, but it did end up feeling fairly pointless to me by the end.

It’s mostly because I hate laughter, really, because if you can get past the automatic cringe factor of Jake hitting on Kira, or Vedek Bareil aggressively pursuing Dax, there are some funny bits here. I did chuckle; I’m not made of stone. But the joke of someone being really, really into someone who isn’t into them in any way really only has one note, and that note gets creepy really fast. As a kid, I couldn’t stand Pepe Le Pew cartoons because they always played like gore-free horror shorts to me: Horrible monster pursues terrified victim until victim is forced to capitulate to the fell creature’s desire. Yes, the “monster” was an animated skunk with an outrageous French accent, but he was still a jerk, and that kind of aggressiveness never struck me as all that funny, especially when you take into account just how frightened his targets always seemed to be. None of the targets of unwanted affection in “Fascination” are scared, exactly (although Dax comes close, and Keiko looks like she’s about to shriek when Quark briefly accosts her), but the premise of the humor is misguided. There’s only one joke, and it never varies; the only time it really works is Sisko’s party, when everyone comes crashing together. Oh, and Kira and Bashir’s aggressive make-out is amusing because they’re both into it, even while realizing they probably shouldn’t be. That creates a chance for some good physical comedy, and both actors go to it with gusto.

The other couples, though… When Jake turns his attentions to Kira, we’re supposed to believe it’s part of his coping mechanism for dealing with his breakup with Marta. Clearly something is wrong, though, because as goofy and childish as Jake can sometimes be, he’s not a fool; the fact that Kira is very clearly not into him (and good lord is that scene hard to watch) should’ve ended his crush, or at the very least given him pause before going after her again. But instead, he runs around the station trying to find her. That’s fine for a completely non-threatening 16-year-old, but when Bareil gets into the game, deciding he and Dax are made for each other, it’s no longer amusing. Bareil overdoes the goofiness, but even with that, his constant attempts at physical contact are painful to watch. Then Dax starts groping Sisko. The actors do their best, but the material doesn’t have anywhere to go. The only drama comes from waiting to see who’ll be next to fall, and hoping someone will figure out the problem before the station descends into a giant orgy.

For a Lwaxana Troi episode, there’s surprisingly little of the lady, for good and for ill. In her first appearance on the show (“The Forsaken”), her scenes with Odo were a highpoint; they started off much in the same vein as the romances do in this episode (which makes sense—not only is Lwaxana making everyone hot for each other, she’s giving them her technique), but by the end, Troi’s openness and willingness to accept just about anything won the shapeshifter over. Given that Odo’s clearly pining for Kira, who just as clearly has no idea and is still with Bareil, now would seem a perfect time for Lwaxana to swoop in. But while Lwaxana stays with Odo in every scene they share, she’s not truly present. Maybe it’s the sickness taking it out of her, or the way the episode is shaped, but it’s easy to forget she’s even around, and apart from being the root cause of the craziness, she’s not particularly relevant to the story. Which is good and bad; good because too much Lwaxana can be tiresome, but bad because without her yearning for Odo to ground the premise, there are no stakes, and no real drama. There’s a sweet moment at the end, when Lwaxana tells Odo she knows he’s attracted to Kira, because she understands hopeless yearning, but it would’ve been nice to get something like this sooner. Odo’s crush, in its realness, can be funny and sweet and melancholy all at once. Bareil groping Dax has maybe one level to it, if that.

Which means we need to look elsewhere if we want to find any sincerity in this hour at all, and that leaves us with O’Brien, visiting Keiko and Molly for the first time in months. As is so often the case with O’Brien and Keiko stories, this one tries to say some fairly complex and honest things about relationships, and while Keiko comes off as a more of the bad guy than usual, it still fundamentally demonstrates the requirements of a real marriage: two people, compromising again and again. O’Brien is hoping for a magical two days of station time with his family, but when his wife and daughter arrive, Molly is sick and Keiko is stressed. There’s an inevitability to this that makes it more resonant than a hundred of Lwaxana’s empathic mindwipes, and it only gets worse when Keiko tells O’Brien that she’ll need to be on Bajor for a few months longer than they’d originally planned. Here it gets a little mean, as O’Brien is frustrated about the increased time away, and Keiko is bothered by his frustration—this should be an even argument, but given the couples’ history, it’s easy to read Keiko’s response as ungenerous. But then, it’s not like O’Brien is behaving like a prince.

In the end, the two make peace, O’Brien apologizes for being insensitive, and Keiko wears the red dress he likes so much. It’s a nice reminder of the value and solidity of actual relationships amid all the madness. The fact that all the crushes we see are driven by at least some residual feeling doesn’t bode well for Kira and Bareil, unless it’s irrelevant, which it probably is. (The idea that Dax is in some way attracted to Sisko is just strange, considering he’s constantly calling her “Old Man.”) “Fascination” is lightweight, fitfully amusing entry that’s nowhere as bad as it could’ve been, but will still be easy to forget in the morning.

 

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The next in best and worst is Season 2.

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7 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Star Trek DS9: Season 3

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