Nutshell: A season with flaws? Certainly. Nevertheless, I'm willing to call it one of DS9's—and Trek's—best overall seasons. I didn't get everything I wanted, but I certainly got a lot.
Well, this is it folks—my last posting for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. As has been the case in past years, this summary takes the usual format: There are the capsule reviews in part one, followed by the season commentary in part two, and, this year, some closing thoughts in part three. What was accomplished this year? What was overlooked? I'll offer my take on the matter in this final installment of the "Jammer Review" for DS9. Feel free to agree, disagree, or punch your computer screen. Let's begin.
Part 1: Capsule Reviews
Image in the Sand — Air date: 9/28/1998. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Les Landau.
And so we set the stage with the first of the last. "Image in the Sand" plays like several of the "Final Chapter" installments: It's hard to judge on its own because its story destination is unclear and rides so much on what comes afterward. As DS9 goes, this episode was nicely presented, most notably through the pacing and continuity, but nothing groundbreaking. Dax's death had lingering effects for Worf; Sisko's self-imposed exile came to the beginning of its end through some interesting Prophet plotting and imagery; and Kira had her hands full with a Romulan political snafu that drew parallels to the previous season's "A Time to Stand." There's a lot here to digest, but it all remains interesting. It's a necessary piece of the larger DS9 puzzle.
Shadows and Symbols — Air date: 10/5/1998. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
The key word for "Shadows and Symbols" is "suspense." Much like, again, many of the "Final Chapter" installments. Allan Kroeker turns the heat up, particularly as the Kira/Romulan subplot becomes a countdown to disaster. Meanwhile, three generations of Sisko venture into a desert while Worf ensures a place for Jadzia in Stovokor, with the help of O'Brien, Bashir, and Quark. (Quark?) The self-discoveries for Sisko are far-reaching, revealing his birth was arranged by the Prophets. The execution of the hour was nearly flawless, and I particularly liked the way the writers moved the nature of Sisko's relationship with the Prophets into new Trekkian envelope-pushing territory, which sets the stage for what we would later learn is part of Sisko's destiny and existence. Some very neat stuff—sort of Star Wars-esque.
Afterimage — Air date: 10/12/1998. Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed by Les Landau.
"Afterimage" didn't do all that much to rivet me to the screen, and still doesn't. It was certainly a necessary show to acquaint us with Ezri. There was certainly nothing wrong with the hour as it unfolded. And the reactions of the other characters to the presence of this "new Dax" seemed reasonable. I suppose those reactions were just a little too reasonable and somehow lacking in punch. The Worf/Ezri dilemma made sense, I suppose, but it was still frustrating to watch, simply because it wouldn't be until the "Final Chapter" when Worf and Ezri would finally start confronting their problem instead of silently wallowing in it. I also had the sense that Ezri was a little too "goofily" confused (motormouthing away was cute but not very dramatic) when she should've been a little more darkly disturbed—but that's probably just my own opinion on botched Trill joinings. Overall, "Afterimage" is pleasant—a perfectly okay show that doesn't vie for the status of powerhouse.
Take Me Out to the Holosuite — Air date: 10/19/1998. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Chip Chalmers.
Timing can be everything, and possibly no better time could've been picked to release a baseball episode than the year when baseball fully returned from a stint of national scorn and disinterest. Other than timing, what was good about this show? Well, the fact that we have a cast that is fun to watch and a premise that is as simple as a captain wanting to beat a rival captain. Yes, it's corny, contrived, obvious, and overplayed at times. But so what? It's fun. Watching Sisko blow up, then lighten up and put the Amazingly Incompetent Rom in the game is itself worth the view. And Odo as an ump? Me likes. All I ask from a Trek comedy is good spirits and an ability for the hour to leave me with a goofy grin on my face. This episode, while not an inspired comedy on par with, say, "In the Cards," gets the job done nicely.
Chrysalis — Air date: 10/26/1998. Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed by Jonathan West.
A surprisingly forgettable show, and four surprisingly tame role reprisals for Bashir's Lovable Crazies. This show was not unpleasant, was not badly performed, was not the least bit ill-conceived. But it wasn't much of anything else, either. The key word here is "pedestrian." The by-the-numbers romance between Bashir and Sarina honestly didn't strike me as anything more than a quota fulfillment, and the idea of essentially rehashing the bulk of "Flowers for Algernon" suffers from the fact that we're seeing the story through Bashir's eyes rather than Sarina's. We learn little, if anything, about Bashir we didn't already know, and the emotional impact ultimately isn't nearly enough to sustain the interest.
Treachery, Faith, and the Great River — Air date: 11/2/1998. Teleplay by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson. Story by Philip Kim. Directed by Steve Posey.
Now we're getting somewhere. "Treachery" is the best of several worlds, supplying a meaty return to the central story arc, a stellar analysis of the relationship between the Founders and the Vorta, and containing a wonderful set of performances from Jeffrey Combs as two very different yet still very alike Weyoun clones. (Whatever projects Combs has been involved with since DS9 wrapped, the creators are lucky to have him.) The episode plants plenty of interesting seeds that would pay off down the road (the disease in the Link, Damar's growing malcontent). In the meantime we have a very nice self-contained story involving Odo and the defecting Weyoun clone. The action makes sense and the dialog remembers the themes of selfless Dominion servitude a la "Rocks and Shoals." This is an interesting plot development episode but, more than that, an empathetic analysis of two tragic characters (Weyoun-6 and Odo).
Once More Unto the Breach — Air date: 11/9/1998. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
The best word for this episode is "classy." Somehow, you get the feeling this was written by a fan of the franchise as much as by one of its employees (which it was—one Ronald D. Moore). John Colicos' Kor is certainly worth an hour of screen time; I personally don't see how anybody could dislike this guy. The message behind the hour is one of painful obsolescence. The notion of a politically ostracized warrior now cast aside as a useless burden is powerfully drawn through Kor's humiliations and the things he has in common with the ship's yeoman, Darok. In one key scene, Kor responds to Martok's insults with a wonderful speech that makes Martok angry at himself for his own insolent mockery. Unfortunately, something about the ending and its off-screen battle just doesn't sit right, and the show sort of fizzles out. Too bad, because this would've been a classic had it provided a stronger finale. It's a very nice Klingon outing.
The Siege of AR-558 — Air date: 11/16/1998. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
Like "Nor the Battle to the Strong," "AR-558" is one of DS9's great visceral experiences. So much of it is conveyed through atmosphere and photography (in a virtuoso Kolbe direction); a review will only get you so far. Powerful yet simple details of human jitters set the stage for a combat encounter that looms in the all-too-immediate future, until the entire setting takes on a sort of surreal quality. Meanwhile, Quark, Nog, and Sisko form the central core of some war polemics, as Quark's observations of the war-torn Starfleet battalion point out a human capacity for violence that lurks beneath the surface. Nog is the eager soldier whose world will come apart when he is injured. Sisko is the mission commander who must not hesitate in sending his soldiers to die. The story reveals a wartime pragmatism that is necessary but hardly uplifting. And the story puts a face on the millions of Federation soldiers whose sacrifices are typically reduced to throwaway dialog. "AR-558" is probably the best Trek war movie we'll likely get.
Covenant — Air date: 11/23/1998. Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed by John Kretchmer.
There's plenty of interest in "Covenant," but there's also plenty that's suspect. Part of my job for an episode like this is to embrace contradiction and resist presumption, because we're talking about a group of cultists who are following blind faith rather than logic. But still, they're going to follow Dukat, one of the most hated men in Bajoran history? And they intend to follow him even if it's right over a cliff? With Kira's headstrong defiance during this mess, and then a Cardassian child—obviously Dukat's—being born to a Bajoran woman, one would think there'd be room for some sort of dissent within this cult. Alas, there isn't. And the cultists' 180-degree revolt at the end, as well as Kira's "Dukat is still dangerous" speech, prove far too simplistic. On the plus side, the Kira/Dukat interaction was good, and I'm of the opinion that Dukat's worship of the Paghwraiths put at least some grey back into his character (even if the finale wouldn't see it through). Intriguing but shaky.
It's Only a Paper Moon — Air date: 12/28/1998. Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore. Story by David Mack & John J. Ordover. Directed by Anson Williams.
In the year's sleeper hit, Nog is the central character in a well-played follow-up to "The Siege of AR-558." A quietly absorbing, pleasant, and believable hour, "Paper Moon" is the perfect example of how character consequences can be portrayed without requiring heavy serialization but by still acknowledging past episodes and sending a character in a specific direction (Voyager writers take note). The episode has lots of reasonable moments of post-traumatic stress featuring the ring of truth; one of Vic Fontaine's best employments; some rare-for-season-seven Jake/Nog interaction; Ezri getting some moments of clever psychology; Rom and Leeta portrayed as people rather than caricatures; and a general respect and affection for all of its characters. Pretty invigorating. If Jake had been given this sort of attention this season we'd be in great shape.
Prodigal Daughter — Air date: 1/4/1999. Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle. Directed by Victor Lobl.
Among the quietest episodes in recent memory, "Prodigal Daughter" documents Ezri's homecoming, as she visits the family with which she has become somewhat estranged. On the positive side, this episode is one of the more low-key and competent tales of troubled family life that Trek has done. On the negative side, we have a plot involving O'Brien, Bilby's dead widow, the Orion Syndicate, and Ezri's family in a way that features one (or three) too many coincidences and as a result feels forced together. (A quiet family drama saddled with a follow-up to "Honor Among Thieves" strikes me as a bit of a muddle by definition.) The family dynamics of the Tigan household ring true for the most part, but the episode is hard to take as something more than lightweight filler with an occasional note of melodrama. Not bad, but not particularly memorable, mostly because it feels so disconnected from the series.
The Emperor's New Cloak — Air date: 2/1/1999. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by LeVar Burton.Thud went "Emperor's New Cloak," which ranks as the year's most obvious clunker. But what's most a shame here is the wasted potential of the mirror universe. It's been an unfolding mini-arc visited almost once per season since second season's "Crossover," yet here the creators don't think to tie up loose ends, especially involving the usually entertaining power struggle among Regent Worf, Intendant Kira, and Garak. Instead we get a hopelessly lame-brained plot filled with extremely unfunny Ferengi hijinks; offensively glib, wannabe-hip lesbianism; painfully stupid villains; and a lot of poorly conceived comic-book posturing that this time around fails to be even remotely fun. The result is a big, dumb bore—nothing one would've hoped or expected for DS9's final venture into the mirror universe.
Field of Fire — Air date: 2/8/1999. Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by Tony Dow.
It's a competent follow-up to "Rejoined," and a competent Trek murder mystery featuring an ingenious (if high on the opening-a-can-of-worms scale) tech murder weapon. And it's by far a better use of Ezri's dark side than the ineptitude of "The Emperor's New Cloak." Still, at this point it seems to be a bit of Ezri overload, and some of the show's obvious moral moments (Will Ezri give in to Joran and kill the defenseless Vulcan?) prove how much better a homicide works on a TV show that's about homicide every week. As an implementation of a police procedural with a sci-fi twist, "Field of Fire" fares okay but uncovers the murderer too swiftly. I initially defended Ezri uncovering the killer, but while I maintain that her deduction was possible, it is rather contrived. And Leigh J. McCloskey's turn as Joran was too theatrically stylized to be effective as believable psychological terror (though he conveys the smug sarcasm very well). I did like this as an Ezri-in-action installation, but it has a few too many rough spots, not enough lasting significance, and overlooks the fact that Ezri came face to face with violence just a few weeks before.
Chimera — Air date: 2/15/1999. Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed by Steve Posey.
"Chimera," to me, is one of DS9's (and Trek's) all-time greatest moments. The Odo/Kira relationship has often been one of the series' most interesting, but after sixth season's "His Way" it became somewhat more routine by TV standards ... until this gem came along. As a romance, this episode is immensely moving, making every other Trek romance look pale in comparison. As a story about Odo's identity, this is a tour de force; Laas' presence brings with it all sorts of questions that exemplify the best of what Trek has to offer. Who are we, really, and why? How do others perceive us, and why? Echevarria's script is full of brilliant dialog touches and astute character speeches that say a great deal without sounding the least bit preachy. Laas (wonderfully played by J.G. Hertzler) is a sympathetic character whose prejudices and distrust are completely understandable, and when he kills a threatening Klingon we see all the interesting nuances of the Klingons' resulting search for "justice" (including Worf silently pondering the matter while in the background of one scene). It's an unfortunate situation that brings about some truly tough questions, bringing Odo back to wondering whether he belongs with "solids." Quark gets a thoughtful dialog scene, while Odo and Kira get to discuss their feelings in sincere ways that are, really, pretty groundbreaking. All the elements—the romance, the identity issues, the scrutiny of justice—come together to form a near-flawless hour that truly means something and inspires us to reflect upon that meaning. This is a masterpiece. (Did I mention that I liked it?)
Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang — Air date: 2/22/1999. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Mike Vejar.
It was a reasonable lightweight outing, but it was also a victim of bad timing, straining the patience of those of us who at this point were anxious to get back into the series' core material. It's all about style and inconsequential fun. It's not about lasting impact or significance. On the downside: an unexpected racial argument that is brought up and then quickly dropped; scenes between Kira and Franky Eyes that are stale and cliched; and the usual holodeck contrivances. On the upside: a clever caper plan that of course goes awry; an amiable, fourth-wall-breaking Darren/Brooks duet; and an appropriate sense of whimsy. Overall it's pretty entertaining (though not as much fun as "Take Me Out to the Holosuite"). But if you take it away, what have we lost?
Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges — Air date: 3/1/1999. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by David Livingston.
"Inter Arma..." embodies what I believe is a part of DS9's larger contribution to the Trek ideology: It challenges the core values of the Federation in ways that might be unthinkable on the other Trek series, thereby encouraging a growth of the franchise's scope. This is an episode with lots of great polemical dialog, wonderfully conveyed through the performances of William Sadler and Alexander Siddig. The plot, despite being more complex than is sometimes realistically believable (Sloan comes off as the greatest manipulator of all time), is an efficient, tightly-wound series of clever deceptions. What makes this so memorable, though, is its ability to argue the moral issues until we're not sure what is truly "best" for the Federation's survival—Sloan's ice-cold pragmatism or Bashir's unwavering idealism—when we consider the threats of our enemies. Admiral Ross' involvement in the plot only further demonstrates the tricky problem—we give in to our weaknesses during desperate times. The episode is as much a moral play as any classic TOS episode (showing the virtues of Bashir's moral code), but it goes beyond typical Trekkian bounds, and shows that the Federation is not perfect and that even ideal values can be subject to scrutiny.
Deep Space Nine: The Final Chapter — Devoting 10 hours to the series' ending saga wasn't simply a good idea; it was practically a necessity. The producers' willingness to make the final stretch of the series into a huge, ambitious storyline (against the studio's general wishes) is something I'm grateful for. Not everything here was handled in the best possible way (spending so much time on Ezri/Worf and Ezri/Bashir probably wasn't completely necessary, and the ball was dropped with "Extreme Measures"), but it was nice to see DS9 go out with some thinking ahead, a great deal of sensibility regarding its characters, and a storyline that felt "epic" in scope.
Penumbra — Air date: 4/5/1999. Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed by Steve Posey.
The series' final stretch begins with this story centering on two romantic plots: Sisko proposes to Kasidy; Dax rescues Worf. Noteworthy is the internalized, low-key performance by Avery Brooks; the Sisko/Kasidy relationship has quite an impact. More predictable is the Worf/Dax angle, as their runabout is destroyed and they find themselves stranded with nothing to do but talk, argue, and have yadda-yadda sex—but at least they weren't ignoring each other anymore. Meanwhile, the Big Plot fires up: The Dominion's search for the cure to the Founders' disease shows no useful progress; the Female Shapeshifter turns up the Freon for Cold Beeyatch Mode; Damar bottoms out in pathetic status; the Breen enter the picture and kidnap Worf and Ezri; Dukat shows up with a devious plan; the Sarah-Prophet warns Sisko that marrying Kasidy will bring nothing but sorrow. [Gasp for air.] It's a lot set (or resumed) into motion, which makes for an engaging but not standout segment of the story arc.
'Til Death Do Us Part — Air date: 4/12/1999. Written by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
Strangely, it remains just as difficult to render judgment on some of these individual episodes as it was before I knew how the arc would play out. "'Til Death" is still a good setup show that skillfully conducts its suspense elements like an orchestra. Damar's realization of his level of pathetic-ness is nicely staged with a standout scene of silence. The Worf/Ezri/Breen storyline still proves too redundant (though reaching their understanding of each other slowly, through great difficulty, was probably a good thing). Dukat's wandering is interesting. Sisko's marriage is nice, and the promised consequences fearsome (though the wording of him knowing nothing but sorrow seems misleading in retrospect). Nothing is the primary storyline here; they're all important, and, as such, more pieces to a puzzle. The verdict: Good entertainment, little payoff.
Strange Bedfellows — Air date: 4/19/1999. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Rene Auberjonois.
And "Strange Bedfellows" did it again. I find myself almost automatically wanting to discuss plot for an episode like this, because plot is where the show is most involving. This time it was primarily Dukat/Winn venturing into new territory, although Worf/Ezri finally finds some pleasant resolution, and Damar busting them out of their cell plays as a microcosm for Cardassia's imminent uprising against the Dominion (who probably see the Cardassians as useless given their new alliance with the Breen). The show's standout scene is probably the Kira/Winn discussion, which shows Winn as genuinely and understandably lost but still so power hungry that she can't help but follow the Paghwraiths. The show is hurt somewhat by some truly excessive Evil Dialog at the end. Nevertheless, the theme for "Strange Bedfellows": an episode that reveals to the audience which way characters are heading for their final chapters.
The Changing Face of Evil — Air date: 4/26/1999. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Mike Vejar.
Knockout punch number one. After three weeks of intense plotting sans payoff, "Changing Face" explodes, providing a roller-coaster ride of characters committing themselves to new paths. Starfleet mounts a large battle, but before we get into that, we get some well-played comedy that reminds us these people are human beings. We get Weyoun duped by Damar in one of the most deliciously played ironic scenes in recent memory. By the time the battle is over, we have witnessed the destruction of the Defiant in a painfully vivid sequence. And shortly thereafter, we have Damar asking the Cardassian people to turn against the Dominion (in a scene that still makes me want to cheer). And, oh yeah—two words: Mike Vejar. This is simply a wonderfully entertaining thrill ride, done DS9 style, and packed with little character touches that make all the difference in the world. Not for one moment are the characters lost in the mayhem.
When it Rains... — Air date: 5/3/1999. Teleplay by Rene Echevarria. Story by Rene Echevarria & Spike Steingasser. Directed by Michael Dorn.
There's plenty of good material, particularly surrounding the great irony of the Cardassians in almost the exact situation the Bajorans were in during the Occupation. Kira allies with the Cardassian resistance movement, which is a brilliant signpost of change and characters coming full circle. As with other installments in the arc, there's tons going on and this is a middle segment with almost no internal resolution. "When it Rains..." is less effective than some of the other parts because it's one of the least satisfying on its own and comes off as a bit wooden in execution. And it comes screeching to a halt in a way that's almost jarring. But it offers a lot of ideas that are very much worth the time.
Tacking into the Wind — Air date: 5/10/1999. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Mike Vejar.
Knockout punch number two, which proves even better than knockout punch number one. The final arc's best episode, "Tacking" not only continues to move the plot along at breakneck speed, it's an episode that embodies much of the DS9 mythos. We see societies and movements facing internal problems that could bring down the whole war effort, and Ron Moore's script draws brilliantly conceived lines back through the histories of these individuals and societies. Kira's encounters with Rosot reveal an old-school Cardassian hard-liner whose attitudes are obsolete. Kira's encounters with Damar reveal a man with the courage to accept change; a quietly executed key Kira/Damar scene vividly exacerbates old wounds along with new. Meanwhile, Gowron's political foolishness leads Sisko to tell Worf to do "whatever it takes," in a scene that demonstrates just how much Starfleet has changed. And an Ezri/Worf conversation challenges the viability of the Klingon Empire given its willingness to tolerate its own kleptocracy. All of this is put in terms of the current conflict with the Dominion, making the stakes extremely high—but grounding the lasting significance in the terms of fictional societies that have solid, compelling histories, and futures we're inspired to imagine. (And, oh yeah—two words: Mike Vejar.) It's absolutely fascinating to watch play out, and provides one of the best representations of what DS9 is all about. Call it a tie with "Chimera" for best of the season.
Extreme Measures — Air date: 5/17/1999. Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle. Directed by Steve Posey.
Unfortunately, if there's an episode that most hurts the larger scheme of things, it's "Extreme Measures." Here's an episode that by definition should've been the writers' last word in answering many of the moral questions that the Dominion War and Section 31 have provided for this series. All the ingredients are here: Sloan, Bashir, and the titular "extreme measures" involving illegal Romulan mind probes. But many of the most important issues are never discussed. Instead, for reasons I can barely fathom, the writers turned this into a routine Virtual-Reality Adventure [TM] replete with all the VR cliches. And there's a lot of wasted time, like extended scenes of Bashir and O'Brien in a falling turbolift or lying wounded in a corridor. The banter is first-rate Bashir/O'Brien stuff (the "I like you a bit more" routine is classic), but it's simply inappropriate under these circumstances. And, unfortunately, the Section 31 moral dilemma feels like it never received the closing chapter it clearly deserved. Overall, not a complete loser, but clearly the season's biggest disappointment.
The Dogs of War — Air date: 5/24/1999. Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore & Rene Echevarria. Story by Peter Allan Fields. Directed by Avery Brooks.
Present here is more backdrop for the finale involving the destruction of the organized Cardassian resistance and Damar/Kira/Garak taking the struggle to the streets, which is necessary and intriguing. And there's talk of the war's upcoming final assault on Cardassia Prime. However, on its own, this episode might be more easily remembered as the closing of the book on Quark and the Ferengi. As such, it's surprisingly tolerable, underlining the fact that Ferenginar has changed while Quark—who will continue to cling to yesterday's values, today rendered obsolete—has not. It doesn't make up for years of lame Ferengi episodes and a Ferengi society whose drastic change in the past two years is scarcely believable ... but it does send Quark and the Ferengi out with some dignity, and for that I'm pleased.
What You Leave Behind — Air date: 5/31/1999. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
It's possible that your opinion of this season was largely decided by how effective you found the final episode, simply because the final episode had to resolve so much of what was set up in the preceding eight shows (and before). It's certainly true there are plenty of things that I might've liked to see in this last episode that weren't present. But it's also true that a great deal of what needed to be said was said. As a final "event" episode to tie up the threads, this episode worked and worked well. All the characters got appropriate final moments and goodbyes, and Kroeker's direction over this huge project was incredibly well paced. The one true weakness—the unsatisfying conclusion to the Sisko/Dukat/Winn showdown—hurts, but certainly not enough to bring down the show. The bottom line: undeniably flawed ... but still a riveting, satisfying ride. We'll look at all the consequences below in the season analysis.
Part 2: Season Analysis
So, Deep Space Nine is over and done with. And there are still stories that could be told. Stories that, if I were expecting another season, I would say should be told. Of course, they won't be told. (If you're holding out for a DS9 movie, whether in theatrical release or on TV, my advice is not to hold your breath.) Did this season cover as much ground as it possibly could've? Probably not. Cover as much ground as it should've? I dunno—possibly not. There are a couple big things that at season's outset I would've said were "mandatory" to cover but now must accept as unfinished. And, of course, there were other moments this season that happened which I wouldn't have minded had they been omitted.
But in looking back at this season, I think DS9 was about as ambitious as it's ever been—and certainly as solid in terms of quality. Despite the missteps, despite the fact some things went undone, despite the fact some ideas weren't taken quite as far as they could've been, DS9's seventh season goes down as one of Trek's most engaging and well-thought-out seasons—in my book, anyway.
Is DS9 the same series it was when in premiered in 1993? I would say yes and no. (Is that the lame, easy way out of the question? Maybe, but I also happen to think it's true.) Some elements from those first two seasons were retained. Some evolved. Some were thrown out or forgotten. The focus of the show shifted from time to time, sometimes jarringly. (Season three's premiere, "The Search," and season four's premiere, "The Way of the Warrior," both attempted to reinvent the series with great suddenness.) But through all the plot changes, we still had the most important aspect of DS9—watchable, believable characters. These were people whom we could care about. Despite the fact we're talking about a sci-fi/fantasy genre cast, there's always been something about Sisko and his crew that had a ring of truth to them. It's sometimes hard to put my finger on what exactly that is. It's a feeling that I don't nearly as often get the with some other series, like Voyager, for instance.
Anyway, even the best characters need to populate good stories to be useful, and the question for season seven was what stories we would get. This is a series that specialized in setting up dozens of storylines and elements—sometimes too many—and those elements would at times go unresolved. Season seven was a season that covered a lot of ground, particularly in its final 11 hours.
Now, I'll talk about the oversights in a moment, but first I'd like to discuss the major themes for this season. Unlike the stand-alone attitudes of a Voyager season, most episodes of DS9 seem to be coming from somewhere and heading somewhere. Yes, ongoing stories grew out of multi-part episodes. But they also grew out of previous seasons and a general care for maintaining a bigger picture—one that was sometimes most rewarding to those of us in for the long haul.
To be specific, I point for starters to the two big winners of the season: "Chimera" and "Tacking into the Wind." Both of these stories took characters whose histories we knew so well and seamlessly melded those histories into the storyline. "Chimera" took advantage of a long-standing relationship (Odo/Kira) and a long-standing crisis of the self (Odo feeling the call to the Link). "Tacking" played with the societal histories of almost every power involved in the war, but the real standout were the characters of Kira and Damar and the acknowledged parallels of Cardassia's plight and the past-but-never-forgotten Bajoran Occupation. Both episodes are Trekkian masterpieces, albeit for different reasons. "Chimera" was inspired more by the classic Trek sense of storytelling, deeply exploring a few characters upon the appearance of a guest character who harbors a unique perspective. "Tacking," on the other hand, qualifies as quintessential DS9 following the themes laid out by DS9. I guess you could say it's more a DS9 episode than it is a Star Trek episode, showing how DS9 exists as a Trek product with its own identity and unique set of themes.
It's the ability for DS9 to have its own identity that I believe makes it so worthwhile in terms of the Star Trek franchise. I've mentioned this before in other articles and reviews, but over the past two years, particularly with the war storylines and the introduction of Section 31, DS9 has put its own spin on the idea of the Star Trek moral play. "In the Pale Moonlight" was the best example, but this year we had one nearly as good in terms of underlying, growing implications—"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"—which had lingering moral consequences that would echo through the season. I'd argue that the sense of storytelling involving Trekkian morality was even more well-thought-out this season than ever before. For the first time, I got the sense that the writers were taking some risks and heading into uncharted waters—which, given Voyager's problems, is exactly what this franchise needs. Do I think DS9 abandoned the revered Trekkian morality? Not at all. What DS9 did was ask whether those values could survive a war, and showed that the Federation is both flawed and fallible. Season seven is where a lot of such arguments were presented.
Of course, like in season six, with the war and more focus on Federation morality, there was less focus on Bajoran society. The Bajoran political situation, a reliable element from the series' roots, was again absent this season. On the other hand, the subject of a Cardassia left in ruins proved beyond any doubt that the writers still remembered where the series had originated. Seeing the series come full circle in at least this regard is among the best things about this season. "What You Leave Behind" may have been missing some important elements, but it certainly didn't forget where the series began.
Like most other seasons, DS9 did not spend all its time on its "core material." There were, of course, stand-alone episodes that didn't greatly affect the larger picture. One of the more pervasive arguments I've seen against the past two seasons has been that the war is too frequently missing from the storylines. Personally, I won't be jumping onto that critical bandwagon. I would certainly say there were moments this season that tried my patience. (Like with season six, there was that period of fluff and temporary aimlessness that characterized some patches after New Year's.) But I wouldn't at all say that a lack of war-based storylines or dialog was the problem. As much as the war was important to this season, I had few qualms with DS9 breaking away for a stand-alone non-war-based episode. Besides, I personally don't think anyone would be happy with a Trek series that featured constant warfare. I like that DS9 would tell a variety of stories without forgetting about what was important. No, I wasn't always happy with the weird momentum shifts, but the variety was fine, and generally wasn't to the detriment of the whole.
As most people have probably figured out by now (if not long ago), I consider DS9 to be the best of the Trek series. It has told the most stories that are in line with what I want to see on Trek, maintaining optimism but also factoring in sobering doses of skepticism and caution. Where does season seven rank in the DS9 scheme? I can't say I found any of the seasons to fall into the minus column overall (although third season's unevenness would probably be the closest). I'm not exactly sure how to quantify such things, but my favorite overall seasons are two, five, and seven (not necessarily in that order). Season two had a lot of very strong stories and a good emphasis on the Bajoran political aspects. Season five provided the development for what arguably would form DS9's longest-lasting elements. And season seven was a further exploration of the series' more challenging themes and convoluted plots.DS9 featured many different characters and a wide variety of material, so perhaps the easiest way to look at the season's most important aspects would be in shorter snippets. Here's a listing of the most significant successes and shortcomings of this season.
Major aspects DS9 got right this year
1. Damar and the Cardassian rebellion — Few big plots could work this well, not only in being foreshadowed so far in advance (nearly two years, one could argue), but growing logically out of a character's trajectory and attitudes. Damar went from a relatively minor thug to an important piece of the series. (DS9's focus on all its guest characters is one of the things I really enjoyed.) I think Damar's death might not have been the best way to use him in the finale (he might've been more useful as a symbol for Cardassia's future), but the writers' use of Damar as a symbol of Cardassian change was brilliant. The Cardassian resistance was a plot element that I've been anticipating since the beginning of season six—and when something seems that inevitable, I think that's a clear indication the creators are doing something very right.
2. Kira goes to Cardassia — An extension of item #1, but from perhaps the most important perspective. By dropping a character into the action who had previously been in a similar situation—only at the hands of those whom she must now help—we could see the parallels and debates fast arising. (Go back and watch "Tacking into the Wind" and you'll know what I mean.) Kira is a character who has truly grown since "Emissary," from justifiably hating the Cardassians to fighting alongside them for a greater good. This plot displays her as a true heroine, in action and in attitude.3. The Cardassian fall — Yet another extension of item #1 (which shows just how right the final Cardassian arc was), and a nice finish to a great idea. It seemed pretty clear that the Federation could not fall, but through the focus on the Cardassians' role in the turn of the war we also could see and feel the side of some major losses. Garak became the Cardassian patriot who, ironically, ended his exile by returning to a world now destroyed and unlikely to ever again be the Cardassia he knew and loved.
4. Wartime moral issues — I've already discussed these at length, so I won't do it again, but such issues are one of the main things for which DS9 will be remembered, and the seventh season featured them perhaps the most pervasively.
5. Kira/Odo — Whodathunkit? What prompted many a viewer's trepidation back in "His Way" turned out to be one of the most believable bonds imaginable, because (1) they were well written full with deep mutual understanding, and (2) Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois sell their material so well. I doubt I was the only one fighting back tears when Odo walked off into the Great Link—and, hell, I'm a guy! (Heh.)
6. Long-term thinking — It's the glue that held together the season, if not the series. There were lapses in credibility here and there, but the series was well served by the writers simply thinking about what they wanted to do, and planting seeds ahead of time so that major events—like Damar's defection—would make sense down the road. (To the creators of Voyager: This should be your pattern for telling some stories.)
7. Riskier stories — I must give credit to DS9 for trying things, even though such things didn't always work. For a late-in-series example, I liked the idea of the Prophets and Paghwraiths being brought into the core of the story. I didn't like that they were utilized as magical entities that would sometimes substitute for common sense, but like I said, the writers tried. Other risks, like the idea of Section 31 manufacturing genocide, were somewhat edgier by Trek standards.
8. Tasteful sendoffs — "What You Leave Behind" had shortcomings, but it sent the characters off in directions that basically made sense and closed the book in ways that were satisfying. Some characters stayed on the station while others did not, which strikes me as a realistic change in times. Strangely, the writers walked a dangerous line in some cases and got away with it working anyway: A huge example is Sisko's "change in existence." This is something that leaves me baffled as whether to accept the character as "killed off" or as suspended in limbo until the writers change their minds. The weird thing is finding that I'm again reminding myself that there are no minds to change, because what we've seen is all we get. It's over. It makes a nice dramatic end, yet I'm still half hoping there's more to it. It's frustrating yet satisfying and bittersweet all at once. Are we all being cleverly manipulated? If so, it's working.
Major aspects where DS9 fell short or featured a glaring omission
1. Bajor's entry into the Federation — Far and away, this was the thing that seemed to me as the most obvious long-term aspect of the series that did not get the resolution it deserved. Sisko's original mission in "Emissary" was to ensure the Bajorans were ready for Federation approval. While he was successful in that mission and Bajor was approved in fifth season's "Rapture," Bajor's actual entry was something I expected would be re-addressed this season—and it wasn't. Even if Bajor didn't join the Federation, it would've been nice to have some dialog devoted to the matter. Instead, what we have is Kira running the station, which is fine and good. But where is Bajor now that the music has stopped?
2. Internal Bajoran political situations — Similar to item #1. While we had plenty of stuff involving Winn, Dukat, and the Paghwraiths, all of this had zero impact (as far as we were shown, anyway) on Bajor as a world. Whereas we could see the people of Cardassia taking action in attacking their problem, we saw nothing of Bajor, and that feels like an oversimplistic cheat. Bajoran politics used to be important on this series, and it's a shame that we couldn't get something more than a single line about the next possible Kai in "What You Leave Behind." I have to agree with what I read in another review a few months back: It seemed like Bajor had about three people living on it, and that hasn't always been the case in the past. Just one or two supporting characters (like the vedek in "Rocks and Shoals") with something interesting to say could've made a big difference.
3. The final Sisko/Dukat/Winn collision — Of the things we did see on the screen, this was one of the important things that I thought was disappointing. This was something that could've answered a great many questions about Dukat and his relationship with Sisko and Bajor. Back in "Waltz" Dukat was a guy who wanted Bajoran acceptance so badly it hurt. Why couldn't we get more dialog arising from that, and tie it back in with the Paghwraiths? I genuinely think this was possible, and in a way that would've revealed many more interesting psychological aspects of Dukat's problems. This in turn might've given Sisko a more interesting ultimate role as the Emissary than his heroic dive into the fires of hell. And what about Kai Winn? She's killed and we don't get much payoff in terms of larger consequences (see item #2). Everything leading up to this payoff made sense, but having "What You Leave Behind" turn this into an archetypal struggle of good versus evil is not even close to the best way of exploiting the key strengths of these characters and their relationships. Also, the Paghwraiths themselves became a little too concrete, and their motives seemed on par with comic-book villains.
4. Jake Sisko — Quite simply, he wasn't given enough to do. Who is this guy anymore, aside from being Sisko's son? The issue of Jake being a writer was ignored even more than it was during season six. Part of the problem may be that Cirroc Lofton wasn't in a lot of the episodes, but a bigger part of the problem is that the writers didn't set any goals or directions for him. He simply reacted to situations (mostly relating to his father), and that seems like a waste of a character. (And no goodbye to his father? What a shame.) Even one good episode like "Nor the Battle to the Strong" or "In the Cards" would've made a big difference. Ideally, the writers should've given him a mini-arc like they gave Nog. The producers even admitted at one point that they had "dropped the ball" with Jake and had run out of time. At least they were aware of the problem, but that's still cold comfort. Jake most resembles your average Voyager character—a well-established personality not put to much use.
5. "Extreme Measures" — Read the capsule review above (or even my original review) for the full story. This is worth special mention because it was so high in potential for being classic DS9, but was instead an extreme letdown. I don't think it takes away from "Inter Arma" but it could've made the Section 31/Dominion War saga even more powerful.
6. The Breen — Just who are these guys, anyway? The series introduced them into the game so very late, and none of them could be called characters (all they did was stand around and expel electronic noises). The optimist in me realizes the Breen ultimately aren't that important—they were just a catalyst for the Cardassian insurgence—but in and by themselves they're plot pieces plain and simple, given no motivation by the writers for their alliance with the Dominion. They served their primary purpose, but it's still a bit shoddy.
7. The Wish List — Some minor stuff that probably wasn't crucial: It would've been really nice to see the follow-up to Kai Opaka's promise in "Battle Lines." It would've been nice to have Sisko go into the mirror universe one last time (rather than having that travesty called "Emperor's New Cloak"). O'Brien could've had a meatier show as the central character (Meaney was game as always, but O'Brien was a supporting character that had little new to do).
8. Miscellaneous plotting details — It would've also been nice to see the little things gained throughout the war actually pay off in more tangible ways from time to time. For example, holding off the Jem'Hadar and maintaining control of the communications array in "The Siege of AR-558" was supposedly a major victory. Why not actually show that in some way down the road, or at least again mention this all-important communications array in dialog? There are other similar details along these lines that could've been fleshed out a little better, but the writers generally chose to press on and not look back. I guess that while some puzzle pieces are huge and important, others were simply intended to be forgotten afterward.
All in all, I have my complaints, but I don't have serious problems with this season, which offered plenty to be a satisfying final ride for a generally very solid series. Looking at the numbers, I find that this season had only one out-and-out loser ("Emperor's New Cloak"), one major disappointment ("Extreme Measures"), and one forgettable mediocre show ("Chrysalis"). Everything else was okay at worst ("Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang" would be the next-lowest, but is still probably worth a view), or classic at best. There were five that I rank in the four-star, absolutely-must-see position ("Tacking, "Chimera," "Changing Face," "Inter Arma," and "AR-558"), the first two of which harbor some of the series' greatest moments. The week-to-week quality was consistently high.
The bottom line is that I enjoyed this season plenty. And in looking at what it had to accomplish in a limited amount of time in ways that would satisfy the most viewers, I think the creators pulled off quite a job. I didn't expect perfection and I certainly wouldn't say we got it. But a stellar season and a good end to DS9—yes, without a doubt.
Part 3: Closing Comments
So, I guess it's about time for the Inevitably Gratuitous Personal Farewell Look-Back Statement [TM]. Of course I can't resist.
I've been at this awhile. Certainly not as long as some people online, but a good while spanning some important years in my life. When I started writing these things I hadn't quite graduated from high school, and now as I finish up this last DS9 posting, I'm a college grad working a full-time job (though still undecided where I intend to go in life). The first DS9 review I wrote was in the spring of 1994. I had been the movie reviewer for my high school paper, and for more practice I wanted to take a shot at something that wouldn't cost me $6 a view. I'd seen some TV reviews of TNG and other shows in some sci-fi magazines, and with DS9 nearing the end of its second season, I decided to give it a try myself. I launched the word processor and typed away, writing reviews that were shorter (and much, much rougher) than my typical capsules are today. At the time, I hadn't logged onto the Internet even once, and wouldn't for several months. For completion's sake, those second-season reviews would later be completely rethought and rewritten in 1997; if I have my way, the originals will never, ever again see the light of day.
Since I started posting these reviews, I've found a sort of interesting niche on the Internet. When I first logged on in the fall of 1994, I found the Trek newsgroups had opinions of the various shows spanning all the series, with comments ranging from "it's the greatest ever" to "it absolutely sucks." Never had I seen so many virtual voices on such an interesting medium discussing such a specific topic. Naturally, I wanted in. Now there's no way out. Not that I want out—not yet. This is probably the best hobby I've ever had—and the first hobby I had that at times felt like a job.
In early 1995, I put what few reviews I had on the Web. I had no idea how to build a decent Web site, but I certainly was going to try. Now when I get up to go to work in the morning, I go to work with Web sites all day. Funny how the dominoes are placed; you can't tell where they're leading until they've started to fall.
Sure, I enjoy the Web design and administration aspects of this endeavor, and I've learned quite a bit over the years. But the writing is why I do these reviews, no doubt about it. It's fun to take a position and argue it. With DS9 I felt the reviews were particularly worthwhile, because there were often issues to discuss that required me to think about the episode a little more thoroughly than I might've had I not been writing about it. It was nice to eventually find an audience interested in this sort of thing, but I must confess I never expected to get e-mail from overseas telling me the reviews were useful in making videotape purchase decisions. I never thought I'd see the reviews used proactively.DS9 had a great run. It wasn't always great (what show is?), but for seven seasons its writers kept me constantly interested in the where the stories and characters would travel and, finally, end up. DS9 strikes me as a show with a cast, crew, and writers who enjoyed what they were doing and were good at it. And it has been fun writing about the show for the past few years—even the really bad shows. My thanks go out to everyone involved in producing the show for bringing us an entertaining incarnation of Trek that tried to be different.
And thanks, everyone, for reading and offering feedback, comments, debate, and support. Through work and my education, I learned a lot about writing over the past five years. But, strange as it might sound, I'd say writing these reviews was possibly the most important part of the process. It was the one source of constant work that kept me on a quasi-deadline and was still fun to do.
But what am I blathering on about? I'm not going anywhere. After all, Voyager starts up again in a little over a week. I hope to see you then. Maybe you aren't a Voyager viewer. I understand. After all, Voyager is certainly no DS9. The point is, for me, a lot of things started with this series. Now it's over and goodbye. Yeah, it's just a TV show. But I've invested countless hours writing about it, and I've gotten more out of it than I ever had imagined when I started. So maybe for me it's more than just a TV show after all.
If you won't be joining me on the Voyager side, take care. It's been fun having your ear, and even more fun trying to be an earful.
Over and out. May our paghs meet again.
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