Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Fourth Season Recap"

For episodes airing from 10/2/1995 to 6/17/1996
Series created by Rick Berman & Michael Piller
Executive producers: Rick Berman & Ira Steven Behr

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Well, here it is—my most comprehensive DS9 review of the season. Even if you haven't read a single review I've written for Deep Space Nine's fourth season, you will still get a healthy dose of my opinion for each episode. This article is divided into two parts. First is the capsule review section in which I have briefly summarized my thoughts on each episode (with plot summary at a minimum). As always, the rating scale is based on a possible four stars.

The second part of this recap is my general overview and analysis of the season, which looks at what the season as a whole has meant, and my thoughts on where the series as a whole is going. I hope you enjoy this review and hope you tune in for my next season of reviews!

Part 1: Capsule Reviews

To see the rankings and 10-scale ratings for this season's episodes, click here.

The Way of the Warrior — The big, bold, season opener offers tons of plot development and a lot of action. The additions of both Worf and the Klingon threat are done smoothly and credibly, and despite the show's obvious attempts to practically re-invent the series in two hours, it still manages to tell a story quite well. The show is, in a word, entertaining. Mired beneath all the interesting plot developments (which give all the cast members a respectable amount of screen time) is a story centered around Worf and his dissatisfaction with his career since the Enterprise's destruction—a character situation that echoes all the way back to Sisko's original problem in "Emissary."

Rating: 3.5 stars

The Visitor — Without a doubt, the hands-down most moving and skillfully executed character show DS9 has ever done; one of the best installments in the history of the series and the franchise. (Perhaps a five-star rating out of four would be warranted?) This tragic tale, centering around the brilliantly performed and carefully painted character of Old Jake, has a narrative with such genuine emotional truth and attention to subtle and poignant details that it transcends just about anything that could've been expected of it. Wonderful performances. Wonderful direction. Stellar writing. Top, top-notch. The show had a seemingly effortless ability to draw me into its very human story; by the end I was actually moved to tears. Plot summary can't begin to do justice for the show, so I'll leave it at that.

Rating: 4 stars

Hippocratic Oath — Well, it's a step down from the first two shows, but when the first two shows are "The Way of the Warrior" and "The Visitor," what can you expect? This is an interesting analysis of the Jem'Hadar, even if a bit derivative of what we've seen before. It's not always on-the-money dramatically, but the characterization is quite good. The polemical conflict that arises between Bashir and O'Brien over their clash of opinions is an eye-opener that threatens to put their friendship on the line. (I just wish it had actually meant something in episodes down the road.) The Jem'Hadar's drug dependency is an interesting idea—and seems just like the Founders' style. A B-story involving a conflict between Worf and Odo is light but relevant.

Rating: 3 stars

Indiscretion — What begins as a powerful clash between Kira and Dukat's arguments concerning the Cardassian Occupation slowly deteriorates into a decent but predictable tale of a man's decision to heed his conscience and face the consequences of actions from his past years. I thought the early scenes on the Runabout were outstanding, but by the time Dukat is holding a phaser to his daughter and painfully searching for the truths of life, I was not particularly impressed. A completely artificial and unwarranted comic relief scene where Dukat sits on a spike, causing both him and Major Kira to begin laughing hysterically, sure doesn't help the show's cause any. An amusing B-story involving Kasidy's decision to move onto the station so she can be closer to Sisko is lightweight but amiable. Not a bad show, but a missed opportunity in many ways.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Rejoined — So much heated, knee-jerk-response, and (frankly) ignorant-seeming debate has arisen in the wake of the same-sex kiss between the two actors in this episode that it's ludicrous. I find that so ironic, since all the kiss really is in "Rejoined" is a metaphor to play off the contemporary discomfort with homosexuality in our culture. It parallels with the negative feelings Trill culture has for "reassociations," or the resuming of relationships between two people who had relationships in past host lifetimes. The proposed reassociation between Jadzia and Lenara is utilized for some surprisingly good characterization. For the first time in quite a while, Terry Farrell gets a story with some genuine depth and hard choices, and she delivers just fine. A wonderful scene between Sisko and Dax highlights what an asset their relationship can be for the series. The story is handled marvelously; driven completely by the characters and not by convoluted plot turns. Kudos.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Little Green Men — An agreeable but paper-thin story that takes one ridiculous, high concept of a pitch and turns it into an episode in which "Quark, Rom, and Odo travel back in time to Roswell, 1947!" A variety of gags ensue, centering around the U.S.'s military questioning the Ferengi. I liked some of these jokes, like the appropriate running gag that everybody in the '40s was paranoid about a "massive Martian invasion!" Quark's plans to make a quick buck off these silly "hu-mahns," however, is way too typical of him. Add this to Rom's usual stupidity and an uninteresting subplot involving two scientists who are engaged to be married (which I suppose pays homage to the structure of those old '40s and '50s movies about alien invaders, but does not capture attention here) and the show becomes a sum of workable but hardly compelling elements. The conclusion is painfully inevitable.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Starship Down — This one was a hardware show with almost no story, but it was a good hardware show. With the Defiant seriously disabled, the show becomes a disaster movie with four separate stories, some of which work, some which don't quite come together. The characterization between Kira and Sisko is nice, although it is a bit of a rehash of "Destiny," and their discussion at the end of the show is too silly to be taken seriously. The rest of the show is action-oriented, and done with such overall showmanship that I'm willing to forgive the lack of story. The special effects are absolutely terrific. Do you want to see the lives of the crew in jeopardy? Want to see sets explode? See Jem'Hadar ships destroyed? Quark disarm a torpedo? Watch the Defiant fly through a stormy atmosphere? In short, do you want a crafty display of stuff getting blowed up real good? Then "Starship Down" is for you.

Rating: 3 stars

The Sword of Kahless — Worf, Dax, and Kor embark on a search with a scope nearly equivalent to that of an Indiana Jones adventure. Simplistic and totally self-contained, this story is a fresh break from the series' week-to-week plotting and has a sort of mythic, larger-than-life epic feel to it. All the adventure elements are here: There's the Search, the Chase, and the Battle. There's also a very interesting angle—the idea that the sword has a kind of "spell" over the Klingons who hold it, giving them delusions of grandeur. This causes Worf and Kor to turn against each other and quarrel endlessly in amusing and well-written dialogue scenes. The show is skillfully directed by LeVar Burton, and features an impressive score by David Bell.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Our Man Bashir — Here's an unlikely adventure for Bashir and Garak, who must play through a Bond-style holosuite program in order to save Sisko and the crew, whose stored transporter patterns lie in grave danger. About one step shy of total incredulity, this "story" is merely an excuse for silly fun and satire as the DS9 cast finds itself plugged into James Bond milieu. Everything is here, from the colorful characters, to the goofy gadgets, to the over-the-top performances, to the overblown plots (in which Avery Brooks wants to—what else—"Destroy the world!" ). I was grinning a lot through this episode, and I found the priceless banter between Bashir and Garak to be a joy.

Rating: 3 stars

Homefront — This was the only episode of the season to truly tackle the Dominion threat brought up in third season's "The Adversary." It was also among the best episodes of the season. The show very successfully analyzes the subject of paranoia and mistrust. The Founders' ability to undermine trust and understanding is what makes them most interesting and intimidating as villains. Tensions in this episode run quite high, and can be evidently seen in brilliantly realized character sequences between Ben and his father Joseph. The episode easily holds the most absorbing and thoughtfully creepy subjects surrounding the Dominion that the series has ever done. When analyzed along with the second part ("Paradise Lost"), the story, unfortunately, isn't quite as sturdy (because there are actually two different stories being told, having only similar themes), but as a stand-alone show, it's one of the season's most powerful.

Rating: 4 stars

Paradise Lost — Perhaps "Homefront" was a tad misleading as to where it intended to take us, but that makes it no worse a show, and "Paradise Lost" is a good installment in its own ways, even if it can't live up to the setup "Homefront" supplied. While it's true that the show is a foregone conclusion in some respects (who actually thought Leyton would succeed in his plan to maintain martial law on Earth?), this does not lessen a story well told: that Sisko must make some difficult decisions in confronting Leyton's breaches of ethics. Robert Foxworth is good as Admiral Leyton, and the two-person histrionics between Foxworth and Avery Brooks are quite satisfactory. The scene where Leyton has Sisko falsely exposed as a shapeshifter is an eye-opener, as is the sight of two Starfleet ships shooting at each other.

Rating: 3 stars

Crossfire — I don't think such a simplistic and expressively limited show like this is something we want to see every week, but having one like this on occasion isn't a problem. The subject of Odo's feelings for Kira is examined for the first time in a year, and the results are pleasant. The writers finally put the issue to rest, and do it effectively and with some dignity. As a character show, it's quite good, even if Odo's actions are a little bit overstated. His distractions in his job and his agonizing conversation with Shakaar work very well. Much credit goes to Rene Auberjonois' performance, but we should also credit the writers for relying on their faith in the characters to get the job done, and not resorting to pointless jeopardy scenes or other plot manipulations. A standout scene between Odo and Quark is a big winner—highlighting how their scenes together can benefit the series when done right.

Rating: 3 stars

Return to Grace — The reluctant teaming of Kira and Dukat for a mission of common interests works better here than in the creators' lackluster first attempt, "Indiscretion." Maybe it's because this doesn't have the demerit of a dreadful comic relief scene like the first episode did, but I think it's more because this is more relevant overall to the series. There was a smorgasbord of little plot workings in this show, most of which added to the Klingon plane of the series, the rest of which had a character point to them. I greatly appreciated that Dukat's decision to take Ziyal back to Cardassia actual had real consequences. I thought the discussions between Kira and Ziyal about Dukat's past were particularly enlightening. The issue of the Cardassians being paralyzed and weakened by the Klingons' presence struck me as very realistic. I don't quite understand what Dukat hopes to achieve as a lone rebel with one Klingon ship, but Kira's decision to take in Ziyal in order to spare her the life of a terrorist is quite credible. The show is little more than a sum of its parts, but the parts are all appeasing.

Rating: 3 stars

Sons of Mogh — This episode makes some interesting statements about individual choices and what can happen when someone gets in the middle of a heated conflict, showing that Worf's actions have completely destroyed his brother Kurn's life. Watching Kurn in his state of hopeless desperation and personal uselessness is empathizing and even compelling, and the things Worf tries to do to help him (including trying to assist in his death and later getting him a job on Odo's security staff) are respectable. Worf comes across as an unsung hero here, trying to do the right thing for both Starfleet and the Klingon Empire, but at a substantial personal cost. I still think Worf's choice for how to solve Kurn's problem could've been better, but I also think I was a little too rough on the ending in my original review. (I believe I said something along the lines "Too easy a solution for Kurn, despite Worf's sacrifice.") In any case, I did find the ending's resulting emotional consequences absorbing.

Rating: 3 stars

Bar Association — The second-worst episode of the season, but still not terrible. The plot was stupid, yes. Rom acted like an overacted idiot, yes. Quark acted like a big brother cliche, yes. Scenes involving Ferengi fell flat, yes. But there were some genuinely good gags beneath the usual faults that sabotage most Ferengi shows. Among them: Quark using holographic images of himself to replace his bar staff after they go on strike; Sisko blackmailing Quark; a priceless double-take by Odo; Brunt's two thugs playing darts on each other's chests; and a good character bit with the always-reliable O'Brien. Other than these, the show is a waste. But with the good moments included it's probably worth at least a peek.

Rating: 2 stars

Accession — The series returns to what may best be labeled "old school DS9" (first and second season topics) involving the Bajorans' religious beliefs and their identification of Sisko as the Emissary. The result is probably the most intriguing episode of the season, but a show that falls just shy of greatness. There are so many absolutely fascinating arguments and discussions presented here: Kira being torn between religion and politics, Odo's relevant observations, the way Winn stands by Akorem's sweeping reform plans, statements of religious extremism, and more. But the payoff is too cut-and-dry easy and almost simplistic for what precedes it—diluting the overall impact of what could've been a riveting show. Despite the ending's lack of consequence, the show's thoughtful presence still remains one of the best of the season.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Rules of Engagement — An only-average Worf show with evident flaws. The "courtroom drama" is okay—nothing compared to real courtroom drama like, say, Law & Order. The show tries too hard at times, with Sisko, for example, being overly dramatic with obvious lines like "OBJECTION!" Worf's extradition hearing is combined with an unlikely "web of conspiracy" scenario involving faked records and false governmental pretensions, an angle which cheats the ending using convenient plot turns where character truths should've prevailed instead. An interesting technical method for shooting the flashbacks works pretty well, as does the final scene where Sisko gives Worf some advice about command.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Hard Time — The second-best thing Deep Space Nine did this season (with "The Visitor," of course, being the first). "Hard Time" was a perfectly told, wonderfully directed, emotionally gripping and empathizing tale about a man trying to put his life back together after being wrongly punished with memories of endless incarceration. Colm Meaney delivers a tour de force performance that conveys emotion and expression absolutely wonderfully. Alexander Singer handles the subtle details with a fine eye—the details are just right, and feel very real. The show never strays from its main topic, never lets up the intensity of its drama, and doesn't cheat in the end. A fine, fine show.

Rating: 4 stars

Shattered Mirror — Coming right off the heels of the very real drama of "Hard Time" comes the exact opposite: a sensationally simplistic comic book with seriousness being scarce, to say the least. DS9's third foray into mirror universe milieu results in another transparently superficial struggle between Good and Evil. Don't look for too much logic or motivation here; look for lots of amusing characterizations, as the cast members again masquerade as their alter-selves. Also look for one of the most exhilarating action sequences in the history of the franchise when the Defiant battles the Klingons using tactics inspired by the Millennium Falcon. Turn your brain off and indulge in the guilty pleasure of the season.

Rating: 3.5 stars

The Muse — In one of the most irrelevant shows in recent memory (Voyager's "Twisted" and "Threshold" notwithstanding), DS9 delivers a horrendous story with two plots that are both pointless in almost every way. Odo's actions are extremely out of character, apparently motivated solely by a writer's desire to get "Odo gets married to Lwaxana Troi?" printed as TV Guide's episode description. The reason behind the mock wedding is so bad and inconceivable that I wanted to choke somebody. Jake's plot was no better—completely absurd and stretched out over the entire show, only to say nothing worthwhile about the character. One reassuring thing about this installment: no other show this season even approached this level of ineptitude.

Rating: 1 star

For the Cause — Here was a good show in many respects, but I just found the ending to be... too much. Or maybe not enough—I'm not sure. Sisko's theme of being betrayed is certainly relevant, and I appreciate the angst the character has to go through in order to perform his duty. I also like Kasidy's gesture of turning herself in, and Sisko's ability to forgive her. I do not like, however, the contrived use of a Maquis storyline without any explanation of what they do now that political situations (i.e., the Dominion, the Klingons) have changed so much. Nor do I like the insinuation that we won't be seeing the Maquis anytime soon in the future. And the revelation that Eddington is a Maquis sympathizer doesn't feel justified (we hardly know this guy); his ranting and raving about the evils of the Federation seem to come so far out of left field that it's over-the-top. The ending feels like a bunch of plot angles jerking characters around without sufficient motivation. A decent show overall—but an uncertain ending.

Rating: 2.5 stars

To the Death — Another show that has a good story trying to surface, but is sabotaged by a lackluster ending. Where the previous week it was the Maquis, this time it's the Jem'Hadar. What begins as a seemingly large-consequence show turns into a "team with the enemy to defeat the renegades!" This premise turns out to be just fine, and even good—LeVar Burton builds the tension nicely between the two reluctant-to-embrace-the-enemy crews. Sisko's authority is a pleasure to watch, and the Jem'Hadar crew members, while initially menacing, reveal more depth than could've been imagined. The premise of hunting down the renegades' Iconian technology (an old TNG device from seven years earlier) is initially interesting. But the creators botch the ending, supplying us with a completely routine and inconsequential "big-scale" action scenario, which means virtually nothing and is dramatically unsatisfying. The show also ends way too abruptly.

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Quickening — In a rare Bashir show, Siddig is given the role of a hero in a decent medical story. Much like the case with "Rejoined," there's nothing earth-shattering about the plot, but relevant character-driven scenes and excellent execution are quite admirable. Auberjonois' precise approach to the material manages to avoid excessive melodrama and preaching; instead, he takes a commendable approach of subtle and credible demeanor. The result Is a story with characters I cared about, victims I sympathized with, and events I believed in human terms. The writers supply Dax with some good material that is far more interesting than the trivialities many shows tend to reduce her character to. Bashir's reactions are all on target. The show also features a particularly nice ending with a wonderful crane shot.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Body Parts — What begins as another link in the chain of obvious, unfunny, cliche-ridden Ferengi shows suddenly makes an about-face and turns into a respectable episode in which Quark has to make a (gasp!) hard choice about his life. I didn't find Brunt and the transparent greed he represents very amusing, but I could understand Quark's difficulty in trying to decide whether to abandon his Ferengi beliefs or die defending them. At long last, the creators try a Ferengi show without resorting to pointless, predictable goofiness—and it actually has some real consequences, as Quark is blacklisted and exiled from Ferenginar. The B-story, in which the creators write Nana Visitor's pregnancy into the show, works surprisingly well as amiable character padding.

Rating: 3 stars

Broken Link — In the third consecutive DS9 season-ender to center around the Dominion, the writers focus on Odo's character rather than the relatively superficial action ("The Jem'Hadar") or suspense ("The Adversary") of years past. The results are quite good. The character moments are effective, particularly from the always-reliable Garak, who turns out to have hidden, devious intentions to wipe out the Founders. The Changeling "judicial system" is compelling in its bizarre, interconnected properties, and their punishment to make Odo human seems appropriate from their point of view. The show takes a while to get where it goes and, unfortunately, the ending is far too unrevealing and frustrating to be satisfying. However, the show makes a striking promise of consequence. Between the character opportunities of Odo's new humanity and the plot developments likely due to the supposition of Gowron being a Changeling, it seems anything is possible in the upcoming season.

Rating: 3 stars

Part 2: Season Analysis

Well, another season of DS9 has come to a close, and once again I'm quite satisfied with what I've seen. There are some series points that could still use some work, of course (which I'll get to momentarily), but overall this season was more consistent and even-handed than last season was, and offered a fairly wide range of successful stories.

Much of Deep Space Nine's success this season, I believe, was due to the writing staff's ability to tell 25 different stories and, miraculously, have almost every one of them work in characteristically relevant and plot-worthy ways. It seemed that show after show was clicking right into place—almost as if the series had taken to juggling all of its elements with its eyes closed, yet still promised never to drop a single one.

I don't think there was any specific theme to this season—the writers had a tendency to spread it around quite a bit, which turned out to be quite a good thing. If I had to say what this season's "main" storyline was, I guess it would have to be the Klingon situation that seemed to take the series by storm in the premiere, "The Way of the Warrior," combined with the Dominion aspects that have been brewing for two seasons now.

And, ah yes, the addition of Worf.

For the record, Worf's addition to the DS9 cast was exactly what I expected. It wasn't overemphasized by any means, and at the same time, the writers supplied the character with enough material to maintain a respectable presence along with the rest of the cast. DS9's cast is a well-oiled ensemble machine, and despite fears many had that Worf's addition would be equivalent to dropping a monkey wrench into the workings, I will quickly and adamantly say that this was not the case, nor was it anything I ever feared would happen. There is only one significantly negative aspect that I think is the result of Worf's presence, which I'll get to in a moment.

Right alongside Worf came the Klingon plot line and its repercussions: the disintegration of the Federation/Klingon treaty, a new obstinate presence in DS9's area of space, and a plentiful supply of new problems for Captain Sisko and the crew to contend with. (As Sisko very memorably put it in "Accession" when he temporarily stepped down as Emissary, "I'm just a Starfleet officer again. All I have to worry about are the Klingons, the Dominion, and the Maquis. I feel like I'm on vacation.")

So the writers and producers had some new material to work with. All they needed was the solid writing to back them up and give the characters something to do all season—and week after week, the creators delivered. What else can you say about a season that had only two "loser" episodes (two stars and lower) all year, and 18 "winners" (three stars and higher)? I say that somebody is doing something right. (Not to put too much stock in the numbers, but a quick comparison: By the time I reached #18 for this season of Voyager, I was well into the low end of the "okay" and "mediocre" shows, quickly approaching the "losers.")

The key word, as I've said before, is consistency—the writers' ability to make the series enjoyable to watch (in both entertainment and critical frames of mind) from one week to the next; and even when shows missed the mark (like, for example, "Little Green Men," "Rules of Engagement," "To the Death," and some others) there was still a sense that they worked on some levels even if not as many as we perhaps would've hoped.

This season also sported some standout-excellent episodes—two of the series' best ever character stories: "The Visitor" and "Hard Time." Here were tales of personal human struggle that were wonderfully performed and directed, with memorable little details and masterstrokes of characterization.

We also had some larger scaled winners, like "Homefront," the series' most effective Dominion story ever made; a rare return to Bajoran politics in the form of the intriguing "Accession"; not to mention the carefully measured but big-landscaped season opener, "The Way of the Warrior." And there were more where that came from. (More numbers for you: I labeled a total of nine shows with the 3 1/2- or 4-star rating, which is a notable feat; I don't dole out those types of ratings lightly—they must be earned).

Turning to the admittedly less important aspect of the series, but still worthy of praise, this season managed to outdo any other season of Trek (TOS, TNG, DS9, and Voyager) in terms of action scenes and special effects. There was some genuinely impressive work this year in the pyrotechnics department, some of which, in my opinion, looked on par with that of feature film production. I thought last season's "The Die is Cast" was the ultimate in complicated motion photography for TV Trek, but that was outdone by far this year with "The Way of the Warrior" and "Shattered Mirror." The elaborate atmospheric display in "Starship Down" was also a visual treat. I'll give the Defiant one thing over any other Trek ship—it certainly photographs well for fresh and exciting visuals. (And eye-pleasing special effects displays is an area in which DS9 wins hands-down when compared to Voyager. Voyager's action is generally dull and unimaginative. But then again, also unlike DS9, Voyager's stories are frankly dull and unimaginative in general as well.)

But turning back to true relevance, what did I think of Deep Space Nine's characters this year? Glad you asked:

Sisko: Well, the character wasn't as standout this season as he was in third season, mainly because I still maintain that season three was the groundbreaking season of Sisko. He was still excellent this year—Avery Brooks turned in a wonderful performance in the unforgettable "Visitor," as well as having great moments in "Homefront," "Paradise Lost," "For the Cause," and "Accession" in particular; and good as usual in most other supporting parts in other episodes. I'm pleased.

Kira: Now here's my biggest complaint of the season, and I believe it has to do with Worf coming aboard—the only truly negative impact Worf's presence has had on the series. Kira's personality has been toned down entirely too much this year. What happened to the passion? Strength? Aggression? Ambition? Gone. The writers have reduced her character to a state of passivity that was never evident in seasons 1, 2, or 3, and I see no reason why it has come about this season other than the writers' apparent lack of effort for coming up with new Kira-driven stories. Sure, Nana Visitor has been fine with nice bits in "Indiscretion," "Return to Grace," and "Accession"—but those shows tended to reduce Kira's inherent adamant nature more than I would've cared. Why, you ask, do I blame this on Worf? Because we didn't see Kira in command or authority situations where we should have. We saw Worf instead. And just why is Worf giving her orders on the Defiant? Hopefully by the second leg of next season, with Worf fully integrated into the crew and Nana Visitor's pregnancy term completed, the writers will bring back the Kira I know.

Odo: Like Sisko, season three was more of an Odo season than this was, but Rene Auberjonois was excellent this year as usual. Odo's part in plots worked for the most part, including a rather "human" angle in "Crossfire" involving his feelings for Kira. He also wins for "most relevant lines of the year" (for "Homefront" when he said to Sisko, "That's why my people came here; to undermine the trust and mutual understanding the Federation is built on"; and for "Accession" when he very wryly said to Kira "Your faith seems to have led you to something of a contradiction"). Being changed into a human in "Broken Link" is an eye-opener, but I'm not saying anything else about it until I see what happens in the upcoming season.

Dax: An upturn this year. Between the hard choices in "Rejoined," putting Bashir in line in "The Quickening," phasering Worf and Kor in "The Sword of Kahless," and a general improvement in her dialogue, both Dax's presence and Terry Farrell's performances are seeming more deeply involved and less perfunctory.

Worf: Aside from the way focus has been shifted away from Kira, Worf's presence has worked just fine—as well as I could've expected. He had some good personal struggle in "Way of the Warrior" and "Sons of Mogh," a classic comic look of terror when he learns of Keiko's pregnancy in "Accession," good dialogue in "Sword of Kahless," and the usually humorous Worf lines spread out during the season. Not bad at all. It could be better if the writers tried some new character combinations—like pairing Worf with other regulars.

O'Brien: Great as DS9's everyday man, reliable in just about every situation, Colm Meaney is a terrific actor (I can't think of a show where he hasn't been credible and engaging). This was demonstrated in full force by the very gripping "Hard Time," one of the season's best episodes—a large part of the success of which should be credited to Meaney's performance. "Hippocratic Oath" was also quite nice. Now if we could just see him be the lead character in more shows...

Bashir: "The Quickening" was a very good show for Bashir as a medic, "Hippocratic Oath" gave him a chance to stand up for his opinion, and his holosuite fantasy life in "Our Man Bashir" was a humorous joy, as was the usual banter between Bashir and Garak (of which there could've been more this season). Still, Bashir is one character that could stand to have his edge sharpened, and given more interaction with the other characters beyond his usual medical technobabble.

Jake: "The Visitor" gave Cirroc Lofton more significant material than he's probably ever had to carry on the series to date (and that episode's analysis of an Old Jake who had become the main character in a tragedy was, as I've already said a million times, one of the best Treks ever). Jake's use is usually most relevant and works best in terms of father/son scenes with the elder Sisko. But with Cirroc Lofton in only roughly half of the episodes, there's not much that can be done with him plotwise. His role in "The Muse" was awful.

Quark: Not my favorite character, but I must say that he's been looking much better of late. This year Quark was more amusing than he's been in the past. "Little Green Men," though transparent, was tolerable, and "Bar Association," while completely stupid, had some zip. A return to form in the Odo/Quark scenes was noteworthy in "Crossfire," and the writers had a surprise in store when they actually used the character in a halfway serious way in "Body Parts." A big improvement over last season, but if the writers would play him less obvious, it would be for the better.

Garak: So after resolving most of Garak's backstory and likely path for the future in last season's "Improbable Cause"/"Die is Cast" thread, the question for this season became "what are they going to do with this guy?" I'm not sure that this has been answered, but I am sure that Garak is just as puzzling, enigmatic, entertaining, and well performed by Andrew Robinson as ever. He can still banter with the best of them, as particularly demonstrated in "Our Man Bashir." "Broken Link" revealed a rather devious ploy on his mind, and "Way of the Warrior" gave him some interesting plot things to do. But other than that, he's mostly B-story material—albeit, a fountain of good dialogue for B-story material.

Dukat: It was nice to see that "Indiscretion" actually had some noteworthy impact on Dukat's character, and that "Return to Grace" showed that his life had been destroyed due to his, well, indiscretion. But since it was unclear what exactly he intended to do with that Klingon ship he stole, and what that will mean down the road, I'd say the vote's still out on this one.

So, if you haven't gathered already by my droning on here, my opinion is that there has been good characterization and decent use of the DS9 personalities overall. Good work.

However (and you knew that word was coming), as much as I liked this season of DS9, I won't hesitate to add that, yes, it could've been better. The series as a whole would be more impressive if the creators would take some more goal-oriented, long-term risks. As entertaining and effective as this season was, it still wasn't as sophisticated or compelling in its overarching subject matter as the first two seasons were, and I still get the feeling the series is capable of plenty more. The series' premise initially presented the goal of rebuilding Bajor, but then it got sidetracked when the creators attempted to re-invent it at the beginning of the third season (with the introduction of the Dominion threat) and then re-re-invent it at the beginning of this season (with the introduction of the Klingon threat)—both examples of ratings ploys that managed to be entertaining, all while successfully avoiding the bastardization of the series.

Still, it's surprising how little has been done with these threads this season, and as a result I'm still not sure exactly what the real goal of the series is. If the Changelings are indeed "everywhere" like "The Adversary" seemed to say, then why haven't we had some sort of payoff? True, we had the very involving "Homefront" story, but it was in itself a cliffhanger—a cliffhanger that made a complete about-face in its apparent intentions when "Paradise Lost" came along. Likewise, we had the Klingons show up in the season premiere, but since then we've seen surprisingly little of them in the most important ways. Sure, there have been some examples of their planning, such as the minefield thing in "Sons of Mogh," their kidnapping of delegates in "Return to Grace," and so forth, but like the Dominion storyline, there hasn't been a real payoff that affects the whole series in big ways for more than an episode.

That brings us back to something I've been complaining about quite a bit lately with both DS9 and Voyager: the Trekkian Reset Button Plot and the creators' fear of deviating from the status quo. While the reset switch hasn't been nearly as obvious and damaging to DS9 as a series as it has been to Voyager, I'd be lying if I said the reset wasn't present in Trek's Alpha Quadrant showcase. There still seems to be a lack of commitment when it comes to long-term storylines that significantly change and develop from episode to episode. "Paradise Lost" and "To the Death" were two Dominion shows that, while entertaining, didn't have a whole lot to add. And virtually all the Klingon episodes were light in their impact, "Way of the Warrior's" insinuations (but not its follow-ups) notwithstanding. And "Accession," a rarity of Bajoran topics these days, while a marvelously told story, didn't have the huge storyline effects I had hoped for.

I've heard all the rumors circulating on the Internet about a 10-episode war storyline involving the Klingons and/or Dominion that's supposedly going to launch next season. However, I take these rumors pretty lightly; I really don't believe them, and although I would be extremely enthusiastic of such a 10-show arc, I don't want to get too excited now because I frankly doubt the possibilities of such a thing happening. Rick Berman and the producers have a format of Trek that they've been using for many years now, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.

But objections to the reset button aside, DS9 has had an outstanding season that I've enjoyed. If the producers would look into taking more risks with their storylines, I would be that much happier, but as it stands I'm quite satisfied with the series and optimistic about season five. I hope to see you back here then.

Previous: Season 3
Next: Season 5

◄ Season Index

21 comments on this review

Nic
Wed, Jun 1, 2011, 9:59pm (UTC -6)
Season four contains a lot of setup for future seasons - introducing Tora Ziyal, getting Eddington into the Maquis, introducing Weyoun and analyzing the Jem'Hadar a little more, the Changeling infiltrations, etc. I thought that made it less enjoyable on first viewing - it felt like a bunch of unrelated episodes cobbled together which would not be connected until later. But going back to it a second time (after having seen the entire series) is much more satisfying and cohesive.

I still think it's a strange coincidence that four episodes in a row ("Starship Down" through "Our Man Bashir") were hommages of some sort.
Rien
Thu, Nov 17, 2011, 6:05pm (UTC -6)
The reason why Worf is giving Kira orders on the Defiant is simple. Kira is the second in command of the station deep space nine, cause its in bajoran space so technically belongs to the bajorans, and Worf is second in command of the Defiant, which is the property of starfleet.

It is kinda confucing cause the writers didnt really make that clear until a brief exchange in the opening scene of Apocalypse Rising :)
JonChang
Mon, Jan 30, 2012, 9:45am (UTC -6)
Like you, Jammer, I didn’t like the watered down Kira either. I felt she was softened, so Worf could look more macho (and have something to do). But Worf added nothing to DS9. In fact, Worf made no effort to integrate - he even went to live on the Defiant because he couldn’t cope with station life. I mean, THIS was the character who was undermining Kira’s character? Disgusting.

I was originally uncomfortable when Season 4 aired. The Cardassians had been softened. The Klingon situation felt forced. I knew it was because of studio interference trying to turn DS9 into an action-only show, not keep it the character show it already was.

I still can’t watch Way of the Warrior to this day for the self-important way Worf is introduced. When I heard Our Man Bashir was a holosuite-centered show (a first for DS9), I cringed. Didn’t we get enough of that on TNG? “DS9 already had a unique identity - why was the studio wrecking it?” I thought at the time.

Thankfully, DS9’s character-drivenness undid the studio’s meddling in the end, as did its political intrigue side, serial format and creativity.

@ Rlen - Kira was Sisko’s second-in-command and first officer. Worf ranked under her, period. Defiant, DS9, Starfleet or not, she should’ve been ordering him around, not the other way round. Again, more Kira watering to give Worf something to do.
jason
Fri, May 4, 2012, 6:03pm (UTC -6)
I love that season, it's tied with season 5 in the second place of ds9 best seasons (season 6 is no1). Worf is even more badass in ds9 than he was on tng (and I loved him in tng).
Captain Worf
Sat, Jul 14, 2012, 8:43pm (UTC -6)
Excellent season.
Yanks
Wed, Aug 6, 2014, 11:58am (UTC -6)
Here are my season 4 rankings. My average is up from Season 3. I agree, I thought this was a better season.

The Way of the Warrior 4
The Visitor 3.5
Hippocratic Oath 2.5
Indiscretion 2.5
Rejoined 3
Little Green Men 3
Starship Down 3
The Sword of Kahless 1
Our Man Bashir 3
Homefront 4
Paradise Lost 4
Crossfire 2.5
Return To Grace 2.5
The Sons Of Mogh 1.5
Bar Association 1
Accession 2.5
Rules Of Engagement 3.5
Hard Times 3
Shattered Mirror 2.5
The Muse 1
For The Cause 3.5
To The Death 3.5
The Quickening 4
Body Parts 3.5
Broken Link 2.5

Total: 70.5
Average: 2.82
methane
Wed, Dec 16, 2015, 3:06pm (UTC -6)
Perhaps the most consistent season of Star Trek ever, as I only think 2 episodes are bad ("The Muse" & the Mirror Universe episode), though I don't really remember how the later seasons of DS9 hold up in that regard. There are still several episodes that I'd just consider middling (the Ferengi episodes, generally).

Despite all that quality, I don't think this season really has any of the best episodes of DS9. If I had to rank all the DS9 episodes, I'm not sure that any from this season would end up in the top 20, even though many would probably get in the top 50. I know many of you would put "The Visitor" & maybe "Hard Time" in that category, but I don't have those rated quite so highly.

It's interesting that Dukat barely appears in this season & Kira doesn't have a lot to do...when I look over the episodes, "Indiscretion" & "Return to Grace" are 2 of the episodes that I find most memorable from this season, even if I don't necessarily think they're the best episodes of the year. You could put "For the Cause" in that category as well. Seeing old storylines (the Cardassians, the Maquis) continue generally left more of an impression on me than episodes that focused solely on the newer storylines (Dominion & Klingons).

Of course, the old & new storylines will become more intertwined in the following seasons. Which is a very good thing.
Robert
Wed, Dec 16, 2015, 9:18pm (UTC -6)
@methane - Mostly agree but the premier would go on my top 20 and I hate Sons of Mogh
William B
Sun, Dec 27, 2015, 1:52pm (UTC -6)
I want to do character breakdowns later and I also am not sure about all the ratings, but I will share some end-of-season thoughts anyway. I keep going back and forth on a few episodes' ratings. Ratings, with difference from Jammer's score in parentheses:

The Way of the Warrior: 3 (-.5)
The Visitor: 3.5 (-.5) -- not entirely sure about this
Hippocratic Oath: 3.5 (+.5)
Indiscretion: 3 (+.5)
Rejoined: 2.5 (-1)
Little Green Men: 3 (+.5)
Starship Down: 2 (-1)
The Sword of Kahless: 1.5 (-2)
Our Man Bashir: 3 (=)
Homefront: 2.5 (-1.5)
Paradise Lost: 3 (=)
Crossfire: 2.5 (-.5)
Return to Grace: 3 (=)
Sons of Mogh: 2.5 (-.5)
Bar Association: 1.5 (-.5)
Accession: 2.5 (-1)
Rules of Engagement: 2 (-.5)
Hard Time: 4 (=)
Shattered Mirror: 2.5 (-1)
The Muse: 1.5 (+.5)
For the Cause: 2.5 (=)
To the Death: 2 (-.5)
The Quickening: 3.5 (=)
Body Parts: 3 (=)
Broken Link: 3 (=)

Season's best: Hard Time. Runners-up (not in order) The Visitor, Hippocratic Oath, The Quickening; Return to Grace and Way of the Warrior are next-highest.
Season's worst: The Muse, sure, because the Jake A-plot is that bad. Runners-up (not in order) The Sword of Kahless, Bar Association, Rules of Engagement.

The average here comes out to a respectable 2.65, which is my highest DS9 average so far. Overall, I would place this season above seasons 1 and 3, but below 2, which I think is the stronger year overall even though its average is a bit lower. The key difference is consistency: in this season DS9 has the lowest standard deviation so far, for example (around .7, for what it's worth), and with no sub-1.5 star shows it does have a real claim on the greatest consistency. This is a bit funny, because while episodes as a whole end up with pretty middling-to-good ratings, I think that individual episodes veer between excellent and terrible pretty quickly within-episode; Accession, for example, is like part 3.5-star show (maybe even 4) and part 1 star show, which makes rating it particularly difficult. I haven't talked about it yet, but part of me does agree with The Visitor being one of the most touching episodes of the series, but there are also some things that bother me greatly about it on this viewing, which I am still having a hard time getting a handle on. I feel totally out to sea in evaluating Homefront/Paradise Lost, which I overall think mostly kind of worked for me as a whole but also aggravated me in several respects. The overall result is that there are very few episodes that stood out entirely for good or ill, but many which left me feeling very mixed. In contrast, in season two there were still quite a few junk episodes, but most of them could be pretty easily ignored.

I will say that the season falters in the period from Sons of Mogh to To the Death inclusive. Of that run, Hard Time is the only episode I actually recommend. Bar Association, Rules of Engagement, The Muse, and To the Death all have their moments but are mostly failures, to different degrees. However, the real reason this period comes out so low for me is those 2.5* shows, which, more on that in a second. Up to then, the season was doing very well, and the last three episodes are another big uptick, but this portion which takes up the majority of the second half of the season is often very interesting but ultimately is unsatisfying to an episode (Hard Time excepted). Looking through the set of episodes I gave 2.5* to is quite the list: Rejoined, Homefront, Crossfire, Sons of Mogh, Accession, Shattered Mirror, and For the Cause. All of them are actually kind of terrific in some way, but have failings in other ways; the endings to SoM, Accession and FtC hurt those episodes for me, and Rejoined, Crossfire and Shattered Mirror are good for what they are, but what they are strikes me as a little inconsistent with the show generally -- Dax's decision in Rejoined just doesn't quite fit for me, Quark's plan to greedily exploit the hew-mons works in a goofy comedy but not to the extent that we are mostly supposed to see Quark as a real person, Crossfire does well by Odo but at Kira's expense, and Shattered Mirror's fantasy-land is a bit too wacky. (I am kind of on the fence about Homefront's success. Hm....)

The season sets up a paradigm shift in The Way of the Warrior and then the season is mostly explorations of that -- often to good effect. However, while it's nice to see how the various regime changes affect the characters, many of the episodes promise Big Changes to the status quo which are immediately reversed or ignored -- the Homefront/PL two-parter creates and then forgets about a Major Threat to Earth!, for instance, and To the Death has an attack that leaves a pylon removed from the station as background noise to set up a "you men are going to have to learn to work together" story. The episode with the biggest impact besides TWotW is actually probably Accession, which does one better than Destiny in redefining what the role of Sisko's Emissary status within the series is, and it does it in an provocative, fascinating and frustrating way -- Accession may be the most *interesting* episode of the season (and I wrote the most about it), even though it left me really unsure how I felt about it.
Diamond Dave
Mon, Jan 4, 2016, 1:58pm (UTC -6)
An interesting season this one. I ended up scoring it at an average of 2.66, behind only season 2 and two seasons of TNG in my viewing so far. And yet to me that feels like something of a disappointment.

After storming out the blocks it only scored four 3-star episodes and none higher in the last 18 shows. And yet of those only one was a real clunker. Strangely, I also thought that many fan favourites were not to my taste - Homefront, Hard Time, The Quickening, all not for me. I don't know why, but overall the bulk of this series was marked by its consistency rather than its excellence.
Luke
Mon, Apr 25, 2016, 2:08am (UTC -6)
Good Lord, people! It's not that hard to figure out. Kira is the First Officer of the station. Worf is the First Officer of the Defiant. While on the station she gives him orders. While on the ship he gives her orders. Why is this so difficult?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Time for more post-season number crunching! :-D :-D

"DEEP SPACE NINE" SEASON FOUR
10 - The Way of the Warrior
9 - The Visitor
7 - Hippocratic Oath
8 - Indiscretion
6 - Rejoined
6 - Starship Down
8 - Little Green Men
7 - The Sword of Kahless
8 - Our Man Bashir
10 - Homefront
8 - Paradise Lost
6 - Crossfire
7 - Return to Grace
3 - Sons of Mogh
0 - Bar Association
9 - Accession
5 - Rules of Engagement
10 - Hard Time
3 - Shattered Mirror
2 - The Muse
8 - For the Cause
7 - To the Death
4 - The Quickening
8 - Body Parts
7 - Broken Link

19 episodes were above-average, 1 was average and 5 were below-average.

Average Season Score: 6.640
Average Series Score: 6.063
TNG Series Score After Four Seasons: 4.727
TOS Final Score: 5.150

Best Episode: Hard Time
Worst Episode: Bar Association

HOLODECK TOYS - 14 (+11)
WTF HAIR - 31 (+5)

Well, it looks like the crazy-ass hairstyles have been somewhat drawn back while the holodeck toys have been greatly increased. Season Four had almost three times as many toys on display as the previous three seasons combined!

"Deep Space Nine" continues its ascent in the ratings with this season. Season Four ended with an average score of 6.640 - yet another record-breaker for "Best Trek Season". In my Season Three number crunching I noted that TNG was being dominated and that TOS had probably already been irrevocably surpassed. Both of those trends continue apace. We got three more 10/10 worthy episodes (same number as last season). But, while we only got one 0/10 episode with "Bar Association", it was still stupendously bad, phenomenally bad! The season also gave us a new record for lowest number of below-average episodes - only five this season, quite an accomplishment!

However, it really has to be said that DS9 Season Four is another example of a Tale of Two Seasons. The first half of the season is remarkably good. The opening thirteen episodes managed to pull off an average score of 7.692. Impressive to say the least! Sadly, however, the final half of the season didn't fair so well. While it did give us the classic episode (9/10 or higher) "Accession" and quite possibly the best of the series thus far with "Hard Time", it only managed an average score of 5.500. It's almost as if the writers/producers spent all their fuel at the start of the race and then had to coast toward the finish line on fumes.

As for the characters - practically all of them are firing on all cylinders, both in the main and recurring casts. The only two blind spots are Dax (once again) and Quark. I can admit that it's probably just my underlying bias against the character, but whenever the writers try to make Dax seem likable or.... I don't know, spunky?.... it just backfires horribly and makes her look very unappealing. If her annoying characteristics could have been toned down, even somewhat, it wouldn't have been so bad. And then there's Quark. He's easily one of my favorite characters on the show and I just wish the writers would treat him with more respect. When they do the results are surprisingly good. His interactions with Odo in "Crossfire" and the semi-serious nature of his plot in "Body Parts" can attest to that. But they just can't seem to help themselves and have to treat him horribly more often than not. They had Odo arrest and drag him in front of a court without evidence in "Little Green Men" (because isn't that funny?!), used him as little more than a whipping boy in the teaser of "The Quickening" and I won't get into the failures of "Bar Association" again. I am happy that he (as well as Rom and Nog) are being used to somewhat redeem the Ferengi from their TNG days. I just wish they would be more consistent about it.

So, onward to Season Five to see if it can top 6.640.
Iceman
Sun, Jan 1, 2017, 4:18pm (UTC -6)
My scoring for Season 4 would be:
1. "The Way of the Warrior"-4
2. "The Visitor"-4
3. "Hippocratic Oath"-3
4. "Indiscretion"-2.5
5. "Rejoined"-3
6. "Starship Down"-3
7. "Little Green Men"-3
8. "The Sword of Kahless"-3.5
9. "Our Man Bashir"-3
10. "Homefront"-4
11. "Paradise Lost"-3
12. "Crossfire"-3
13. "Return to Grace"-3
14. "Sons of Mogh"-3
15. "Bar Association"-2
16. "Acession"-2.5
17. "Rules of Engagement"-3
18. "Hard Time"-4
19. "Shattered Mirror"-3.5
20. "For the Cause"-3
21. "To the Death"-2.5
22. "The Muse"-1
23. "The Quickening"-3.5
24. "Body Parts"-3
25. "Broken Link"-3.5

Another very strong season, but the next season is where DS9 really steps it up.
Iceman
Sun, Jan 1, 2017, 4:20pm (UTC -6)
The average is 3.1, which makes sense, as I feel each season of DS9 gets better and better.
Startrekwatcher
Sun, Jan 27, 2019, 3:18am (UTC -6)
I thought this was one of the weakest DS9 and Rrek seasons

I preferred seasons 2, 3 and 7 to this. Michael Piller’s presence was sorely missed. The Federation/Klingin plot thread wasn’t put to any use after the premiere

There was way too much pointless B plots—worf interfering Odo investigation, Garak Ziyal, worf movi g to the defiant, kasidy moving to the station etc

The season also didn’t do a very good job at telling stand-alones. Lots of fluff like our man Bashir, little green men, Bar Association. And other episodes were pretty dull like Return to Grace, Crossfire, Sword if Kahless, Starship Down

I could care less about the romancing with Sisko and kasidy or Kira and shakaar or Kira and odo.

The dominion was pretty much sidelined and the one promising story that started out promising in homefront turned into a disappointing outing. The season finale was underwhelming

I could have cared less about regurgitating Worf’s family problems with Kurn. Ziyal was a useless character. Eddington was a useless character.

There were a couple string episodes. Way of the warrior. The Visitor. The Quickening. To the Death. Homefront. Hippocratic oath but overall underwhelming

I still think TNG -4 is much stronger, more consistent and mich much much more entertaining. I even think I had more fun with Voyager season four and the arrival of Seven than I did DS9-4
Strejda
Wed, Aug 21, 2019, 10:28am (UTC -6)
@Startrekwatcher Not that you have to like them, but I don't really see how Worf's sub-plots are pointless-they are about him adjusting to the life on the station. And Kassidy moving in is about development of her relationship with Sisko.
Elliott
Wed, Oct 2, 2019, 1:41pm (UTC -6)
Hello everyone!

Well I didn't mean to take a summer hiatus from posts, but life happens that way sometimes. Anyway, I'm back with my write-ups for VOY S2 and DS9 S4 and will be diving into the following seasons directly. Looking forward to more lively debates!

DEEP SPACE NINE SEASON 4

No. | Title | (x/10) | [Jammer +/-]

**** | Exceptional (must watch)
1. The Quickening (9.5) [+.5]

***.5 | Excellent (truly enjoyable)
2. Hard Time (9) [-.5]
3. Rejoined (8.5) [=]
4. Paradise Lost (8.5) [+.5]
5. The Visitor (8.5) [-.5]
6. Return to Grace (8) [+.5]

*** | Good (solid instalment)
7. The Way of the Warrior (8) [-.5]
8. Homefront (8) [-1]
9. Indiscretion (8) [+.5]
10. Body Parts (7.5) [=]
11.(tie) Little Green Men (7.5) [+.5]
11.(tie) Crossfire (7.5) [=]
13. Broken Link (7.5) [=]
14. Hippocratic Oath (7.5) [=]
15. Our Man Bashir (7) [=]

**.5 | Okay (problems, worthwhile)
16. Accession (6.5) [-1]
17. To the Death (6) [=]

** | Watchable (not good, not awful)
18.(tie) Bar Association (5.5) [=]
18.(tie) The Muse (5.5) [+1]
20.(tie) Starship Down (5.5) [-1]
20.(tie) Sons of Mogh (5.5) [-1]
22. Shattered Mirror (5) [-1.5]
23. Rules of Engagement (5) [-.5]
24. The Sword of Kahless (4.5) [-1.5]

*.5 | Poor (annoying)
25. For the Cause (4) [-1]

Average : 2.7721 stars (7/10) [-6.5]

Season Shape (10pt scale):

1 ********
2 ********.5
3 *******.5
4 ********
5 *******.5
6 *****.5
7 *******.5
8 ****.5
9 *******
10 ********
11 ********.5
12 *******.5
13 ********
14 *****.5
15 *****.5
16 ******.5
17 *****
18 *********
19 *****
20 *****.5
21 ****
22 ******
23 *********.5
24 *******.5
25 *******.5


Summary

I embrace the notion that “The Way of the Warrior” is actually a second pilot to a new series for which DS9 S1-3 serves as a prequel. Now, Trek has a bit of a tradition with that model. You could easily call “The Child” and “Evolution” second pilots to TNG as it struggled to define itself. And “The Expanse” is a very deliberate attempt to reboot a terrible programme. Some have said that “Brother” is a more recent example of this. The difference with DS9 is that the writers were quite happy with the direction their series was going and insisted that their plans not fall to the wayside amidst the new elements. So DS9 S4 is simultaneously a premiere season for certain facets of the series, and the creamy centre of the show as a whole. I think it's worth looking at these threads separately, because of all the episodes to focus on Worf and/or the Klingons (“TWotW,” “Sons of Mogh,” “Rules of Engagement” and “The Sword of Kahless”), only the pilot was enjoyable. There are a couple of episodes which make peripheral use of the Klingon/Cardassian conflict (“Return to Grace” and “Broken Link”) which are pretty good. And the remainder of the season (19/25 episodes) could exist, with very little tinkering, without any of the rebooted elements. Amongst these 19, only “For the Cause” was truly unpleasant to watch, getting about the same score as “Shadowplay” and “Profit and Loss.” But nothing fell to the level of “Sanctuary,” “Move Along Home” or “Fascination.” And otherwise, you've got 14 episodes, excluding the pilot, getting 3 or more stars from me. Taken together, that's a remarkably strong season of Star Trek. And it's understandable that the brand new elements would struggle, as all “first” seasons of Trek do.

So what made this season so good overall? Y'all may scoff, but I think it's exactly what made the good parts of Voyager's concurrent 2nd season good: classic Trek messaging with a fresh twist, deftly woven together with character development. “The Quickening” (best episode IMO) was a crucial and probing Bashir story with a brave message and gorgeous production; “Hard Time,” similarly, is a tour de force for O'Brien (and Colm Meany); “The Visitor,” despite not being as perfect as many Niners insist, is a stunning and moving tale, and quite effective for being so simple; “Rejoined” is a beautiful story that gets queer representation right for once; and “Paradise Lost” is DS9 doing a political story with polish and style, despite budget limitations. With Worf in the mix, the show didn't, perhaps, have the bandwidth to tackle issues related to the Prophets, Bajor and Major Kira. Now, that's a bit of an oversight in terms of what the series has thus far prioritised, but those elements have always been extremely problematic. So their relative absence is not something I'm prepared to complain about. But credit where it's due, “Accession,” while not good, was not nearly the cluster fuck of failure that its S3 prequel, “Destiny,” was. Finally, the smattering of comedies this season was unusually consistent; “Body Parts,” “Little Green Men,” and “Our Man Bashir” all managed to be sincerely funny.

Trends :

The Klingons

One of the most interesting threads from TNG's middle dealt with the decline of the Klingon Empire. It was sadly dropped after “Redemption” in favour of this new-agey pro-”diversity” spin on their culture which celebrated their nonsense (to be clear, I celebrate diversity, just not the shallow, virtue-signalling, limousine-liberal variety). It is most commendable that DS9 took an element which was forced upon them, the Klingons, and spent a great deal of time on this largely-abandoned theme. The writers were thrown a curve-ball in their carefully-laid plans, and I say that the series is all the better for it. As I said in “The Way of the Warrior:” “The foundations of Klingon society are falling away. Honour doesn't mean anything anymore, it's just a word, it's just political currency. As a culture, this is bound to lead to existential nihilism on a broad level. What the Klingon people need is massive reforms, the introduction of democracy, of social programmes, an end to the nobility, and an end to the Empire. All such reforms are a huge threat to Gowron and the rest of the Klingon leadership of course, so in lieu of genuine meaning, the people are given a chance to go back to the days of raping and pillaging, the Klingon bread and circuses.”

I think that what we see in “The Sword of Kahless” drives home the point that the Klingon culture is on the decline. Without the codependence on Federation antagonism we saw in the 23rd century, the Klingons' pernicious cultural perspective is a liability to their continuance, again explaining how easily they (and SPOILER Gowron himself) were manipulated into engaging the Cardassians. And don't get me started on the skull-fuckery going on in “Sons of Mogh” vis-a-vis “honour.” “Rules of Engagement” revealed some of the extent of Klingon rot, as the underhanded tactics employed by the Duras Sisters (“worthy of a Romulan” is how I believe Picard put it) now exemplify imperial policy.

The Dominion

The Klingon skirmish war allowed the writers to “tease” us with Dominion issues. Following the trend established in “The Adversary,” the Founders have taken to subterfuge and (dear God I can't believe I'm saying this) spreading Fake News amongst the Alpha Quadrant powers to destabilise them. Between “TWotW,” where Gowron is shown to be acceding to Klingon decadence in the most destructive of ways, and “Broken Link,” where Odo reveals that Gowron [[[is]]] actually a Changeling, lies the “Homefront”/”Paradise Lost” story, which effectively showcases Dominion political tactics. It all syncs up very well.

Dominion “culture,” such as it is, is expanded in small ways. In “Hippocratic Oath,” we see how the Jem'Hadar regard compassion and empathy as programmable traits, alien bugs their enemies suffer. Conversely, the Jem'Hadar are highly-propagandised victims of the Founders' war against the autonomy of solids. Despite some gummified bits, this is confirmed in “To the Death.” Then of course, there's “The Quickening” where we get a glimpse of the Dominion's sadistic wrath (far more effectively than in “Shadowplay”) against those who would oppose them. The religiosity of the Dominion and the Founders' status as its gods is made more or less explicit by Odo's punishment in “Broken Link.” The will of the gods is inviolate, and Odo is cast off from Olympus for his hubris.

Federation Values

When it comes to economics of the future, DS9 is still firmly in the regressive camp. Emblematic of this is the infamous “root beer scene,” where Quark and Garak brush over neoliberal destruction of labour value and focus upon an entirely superficial discussion of multiculturalism. But the example that is likely more insidious comes from “Homefront” in which societal ills (in this case paranoia and bigotry) stem not from malleable political systems, but from immutable human flaws. Or take O'Brien's off-handed remarks about his old job in the transporter room in “Bar Association” (an episode rife with philosophical inconsistencies); Miles was great at his job AND he had the ability to pursue any project his heart desired, 'cello, marriage, science projects, rafting, whatever. That's the point of the Federation economy. But now he's happier on DS9 because he's so busy fixing this hodgepodge space station that his work days are full? Whose fantasy of personal fulfilment is that? Or take “To the Death” where the Starfleet officers behave like Hollywood clichéd hyper-thyroid foot-soldiers when forced to work with the enemy. Starfleet is full of jarheads now. Fantastic. I've said it many times, but it remains true: these attitudes contradict the overarching thesis of Star Trek at its core. It is perfectly valid, as a matter of personal beliefs, to ascribe to this antithesis, but it disrupts the verisimilitude, at least for anyone grappling with the work as a coherent and philosophical piece of art, of the Universe. And far more so than unimportant disruptions to the continuity of certain plot points or world-building.

It should be noted that in most of the season's political outings, the anti-Trek messaging was only at a simmer (part of why this season is so good), but “For the Cause” unleashed the full onslaught of right wing bullshit upon us. And you know I'm no Sisko fan, but his total dumb-fuckery was way out of character in that story. I have issues with Sisko's ethics, with his hypocrisy and with his toxic masculinity, but he's not *dumb.* Yet in order to make Eddington look like he has a point, because this is DS9 and the assholes who hate the Federation must always be valiant anti-heroes, Sisko is made to look like a completely gullible fool. Good job, Ira.

Bajor & Cardassia

First of all, TWotW immediately resolves all the frustrating non-answers we had about the status of Cardassia from S2/3, which is very much to the series' betterment. Dukat's odd journey from deposed military leader to disgraced outcast to anti-establishment rebel over the coarse of the season vividly paints the picture of a dangerously unstable Cardassia.

The little peeks at Bajoran culture were typically not great. The hypothetical timeline from “The Visitor” was very unflattering to these people. The grab-bag of poorly thought-out Bajoran rituals continues to illicit facepalms (c.f. “Starship Down,” “Bar Association”). And the most Bajor-centric story, “Accession” continued the DS9 tradition of making the Bajoran religion and its (universal???) adherents look totally bonkers. However, that story also raises the possibility of reform for Bajor on its ostensible path to Federation membership. I describe Cardamom's challenge to Sisko's Emissary role as an impasse for the Bajoran people. It's all the more frustrating then that the Prophets self-consciously opt to make the choice for them. They deliberately affect THE Sisko in order to cause changes in the Bajoran people over linear time, despite claiming to have virtually no understanding of linear time. And before someone mentions that maybe Sisko's arrival in the wormhole—or hell Cardamom's arrival--*taught* the Prophets about linear time, remember that the reason the Prophets are considered gods at all is because they exist outside linear time. If the series really wants us to think that the Prophets exist outside linear time, but understand linear time AND utilise this advantage to affect changes to their favour, then they are not benevolent gods, they are devils, and the Bajorans are a planet-spanning group of cultists.

Characters (in order from best to worst):

Odo [+]

Odo remains DS9's most compelling character by a mile. Season 3 saw him trying to adapt to life amongst the solids, despite knowing he had a people to return to, in an attempt to embrace his humanoid ethics. And now, with the Dominion threat on the rise, all these people—the Federation, the Klingons, and even the Bajorans—regard him with growing suspicion and even contempt. So engrossing is his characterisation that he (with help from the excellent Auberjonois) is able transcend even banal plot points like the Kira-Shakaar love triangle and leave us with something compelling. Beyond the triteness of his attraction, Odo's otherness is at the heart of his uncharacteristic cowardice in expressing himself to Kira, leading to further heartbreak amidst an already broken existence. And yet, for now at least, he holds it together and finds solace and friendship where he can (c.f. “The Muse”).

Did I say “holds it together”? Well of course, the season finale cuts fundamentally into Odo's sense of self, bringing him home and making him a solid in retribution for violating the covenant of Changeling superiority.

“I'm trapped in this body. I can never rejoin the Great Link. My job is the only thing I have left.”

Bashir [+]

The first step in fixing this character was to drop the skirt-chasing entirely. Bashir's character this season centres around his job as a physician, and that works remarkably well. While his framing within certain stories (c.f. “Hippocratic Oath”) isn't always great (often way too cynical, per Behr's DS9 idiom), as a character, his professionalism has really done wonders for making his presence welcome. Thus, a lightweight tale like “Our Man Bashir,” which could have been a genre larping disaster, winds up being a fairly fun ride. And then there's “The Quickening,” which takes him to task for his arrogance in the most moving of ways. Bashir has been flighty, horny, brilliant, smarmy, insightful, brave, morose. But he has up to this point lacked a soul. We see now that his convictions as a doctor, and the choices he's made (c.f. “Emissary” and “Distant Voices”) stem from a deep need to help people. We've had some great MDs over the franchise so far, but this is the first one whose career feels truly personal...eh, without being weird and creepy (sorry, Bev).

Dukat [+]

I was worried about this guy after his anaemic appearances in S3, but he's back, baby! Politically, Dukat has evolved to become DS9's analogue character for the “West is best” philosophy within our own world, which is fitting. The man is an aggressive (if nuanced) fascist who happily represented the interests of a fascist state. When his state lost its direct power (losing Bajor in “Emissary” to losing the Obsidian Order in “The Die is Cast” to getting into a lopsided war with the Klingons in “The Way of the Warrior”), Dukat creeped into the “dark web” world of fascist apologism, re-writing history, gas-lighting Kira, etc. And this political orientation suits his personality perfectly, as Dukat's ego requires him to re-write and re-contextualise personal interactions all the time. Despite his intelligence, he is naïve enough to imagine that a relationship between himself and Kira is possible—any relationship, let alone a romantic/sexual one. But as luck would have it, “Indiscretion” provided him a new tool in this mad quest that actually forces Kira to conform; Ziyal, whom Kira all but adopts in “Return to Grace.” Through some very deft and thoughtful characterisation, Dukat is set up for a possible redemption arc that would turn him into one of the “good guys,” which is especially impressive for a space Nazi.

Garak [-]

Garak is still a superstar. Look no further than “Body Parts” for evidence of this. Very little could be done at this point to destroy his character (although, we still have 3 seasons to go), but I did find his appearances this season lack-lustre. Compared with the harrowing adventure in “The Die is Cast,” nothing came close this time. Take his blunt approach with Julian in “Our Man Bashir.” There was no subtlety or misdirection. Now, after the fall (and assumed death) of Tain, one would think Garak's reaction would be to do “The Wire” but in overdrive. Instead, he's become sort of normalised. Gone are the hints at pansexuality. Gone are the labyrinthine psychological games. This character-flattening is most evident in the season's worst offering, “For the Cause,” where his weird flirtations with Ziyal are boring and banal. For a character like Garak, such characterisation is a crime against fiction.

O'Brien [-]

“Hard Time” was a great story, and Colm Meany is a brilliant actor. However, I found O'Brien very problematic this season. In “Hippocratic Oath,” we see that his otherising of the enemy is so insidious that it will lead to outright insubordination. The ludicrous backstory (250 battle engagements in 22 years, 11 “battlefield” letters to Keiko) from “Rules of Engagement” and “To the Death” further emphasise the writers' seeming desire to alienate us from the tinkering family man with a heart of gold persona. But he's got a new kid on the way—maybe bringing Keiko back into the mix will help set him straight.

Kira [-]

Kira is probably most interesting in “Return to Grace” this season, where it is shown how her attraction to anti-authority figures, temper, vengefulness and distaste for bureaucracy can, under the right conditions, make her an unwitting ally to her greatest enemy, Dukat.

She has a boyfriend again because...um, feminism? Don't get me wrong, I'll take Shakaar over Driftwood any day, but the writers have spent approximately 0 moments considering what motivates Kira in this relationship, or almost anything else this season. Take her consideration of the new Emissary in “Accession”; she mentions that accepting this situation is difficult, but is never asked to contend with the ethical/philosophical implications of adhering to her faith. This isn't some minor character attribute, this is a defining feature of her life, and it's left dangling, flaccid and meaningless.

Oh yeah, and she's pregnant now. Do we have any idea how she feels about this? Of course not.

Dax [+]

Dax is finally, mercifully on the rise this season. While the Trill remain mostly unsalvageable (c.f. “Facets”), “Rejoined,” as I said, is kind of genius in its storytelling, not only for the very Trekkian analogy, but in how it makes sensible use of the contradictions in Trill backstory, much how some Torres episodes make use of the contradictions in the Maquis. “Rejoined” is also the first *Jadzia* episode since “Dax” in S1. All other Dax stories thus far have been about the symbiont, or more pointedly, about Curzon and his lingering dominance of Jadzia's personality. We finally see what she brings to the table besides her science background, which is to say, valuing personal freedom and agency. Quite the irony for a Trill.

One positive aspect of “The Sword of Kahless” is that it seems Dax has learnt to objectify Klingon culture more easily. She still has fun with it and feels affection for her old buddy (and a developing admiration for Worf, Prophets help us), but she finds the actual trappings of their society increasingly problematic, as Curzon never quite did. Despite hiccoughs like “For the Cause,” Jadzia's general characterisation is generally much better. Her supporting role in “The Quickening” was wonderfully realised. Ferrel's acting has improved quite a bit with these better stories, so overall I'm optimistic for Dax.

Quark [+]

Quark can certainly still be relied upon for a laugh, thanks to Shimmerman's consistently brilliant performances, but his character also saw a small amount of improvement this season, which was needed. I'd call his characterisation in “Bar Association” decidedly neutral (which is an improvement), but his standout episode was “Body Parts.” Similarly to Bashir, Quark's motivations are wonderfully humanised here. Beyond the avarice and one-liners, Quark craves human connections, a community, a family that values him for who he is. This makes sense given how political and emotionally distant his mother is, and how countercultural his brother and nephew have become.

Worf [(-)]

Since I haven't done an analytical TNG re-watch yet, my placement for Worf here is a bit of an estimate. As I said in TWotW, I loved him in early TNG and grew to kind of hate him by the end. While he showed promise in TWotW, the way his character had already been ruined by “Birthright” and “Rightful Heir” in particular persisted in his DS9 debut. He was good for a laugh or two in some of the subplots early on that added him as an afterthought to pre-planned stories, but his characterisation in “The Sword of Kahless” and “Sons of Mogh” was irredeemable (Kor's, too. And Sisko's. And Bashir's. Yeesh). “Rules of Engagement,” despite centring on Worf, didn't actually reveal anything interesting or important about his character. I'll say that he does feel fully-integrated into the cast, and that this is largely a result of the stories that did not fixate upon him. Little cameos/subplots that capitalised on his grumpiness worked, for the most part.

Sisko [=]

Sisko had ups and downs this season. He remains near the bottom of the list for me because the overall effect on his character was to stagnate, despite some significant changes to his life. And he has a lot of ground to make up from previous seasons. He's probably at his worst in his mentorship of Worf, because in these scenarios, Sisko is an avatar for the writers (hi Ira) lecturing the TNG transplant about how much better it is to be a nihilistic fuckwad. He forces a difficult issue out of sheer laziness (and implicit racism) in “Sons of Mogh,” and then doubles down by making Worf complicit in his cowardly plan to ferret out the Klingons' laying of illegal mines. Then he dresses Worf down for his un-Starfleet behaviour in “Rules of Engagement,” only to once again double down on un-Starfleet behaviour himself (c.f. “Shattered Mirror,” “For the Cause”). Like I said, these are old Sisko tapes, but it still sucks.

“Starship Down” was unkind to everyone' character in some way, but I think it was the worst for Sisko as it's a plot about military tactics, and Sisko is the (sigh...) military leader, so the poor choices in that story do him no favours.

As a captain, Sisko is at his best in “Paradise Lost,” which marries his militaristic loyalty to “the uniform” with a loyalty to Federation principles, which is the most Trekkian characterisation he's received since “Shakaar.”

However, what buoys Sisko up this season are Brooks' performances—lightyears above earlier seasons. This is achieved largely through the close relationships he has with others, Jake in “The Visitor,” Pa Sisko in “Homefront,” and Kasidy in “For the Cause.” That last example is a double-edged sword, though, because, barring some serious therapy or something, these two have no hope of continuing a healthy relationship after the Eddington incident. They lied to each other, over and over. She put Jake in serious danger over a dubious cause. He's responsible for her arrest and for allowing her crew to become renegades (SPOILER: they're all going to die).

Jake [+]

The big take-away from “The Visitor” is that Jake has some major psychological issues brewing between his art and his relationships. This thread actually showed some promise for the character as turning Jake into a tortured artist—while far-fetched—would at least be something interesting for him to do. And we saw them fumble with the theme in “The Muse” (although I maintain it's not a bad episode, just an unremarkable and unfocused one).

He had important character moments in “Shattered Mirror” that were completely left out of Lofton's written lines, assigned instead to be exposited in tedious conversations between Ben and M-Jennifer, so that was all kind of a waste of time.

Rom, Nog and Bitchwhore (/)

None of these appeared enough (or at all) for me to cast a rating, but I wanted to mention them as they will of course recur in later seasons. The Ferengi duo were pretty funny in “Little Green Men,” and I liked Nog's contributions in the Earth 2-parter. RIP Aron.

***

So yes, it S4 is very strong because DS9's toxic elements are far more subdued, it improved its more problematic characters, those characters who fell short were already strong to begin with, and the season had an understated but sensible arc, successfully marrying the shaky new elements with the confident old ones.
William B
Wed, Oct 2, 2019, 3:05pm (UTC -6)
@Elliott, welcome back!

I basically agree on broad strokes. The season is very effective -- although effective in a way that is largely in spite of Worf's introduction, despite Dorn having decent chemistry with the rest of the cast. As you say, cut out the Worf episodes (except maybe WotW) and the season improves, and I like the point that "first season problems" are particularly forgivable. Anyway, it's a very good year, for sure, which zeroed in on the series' strengths and had many very strong episodes and few weak ones.
William B
Thu, Oct 3, 2019, 6:25am (UTC -6)
I'll add: I'm not a big Sisko fan either, all things considered, though I am much more a fan than Elliott. But anyway, I do think that I'd put him much higher in the season ranking. I agree that For the Cause doesn't work that well for him and I'm not a big fan of much of the Sisko/Worf material this season either. I also dislike To the Death and Shattered Mirror. However, I think The Visitor and Paradise Lost are some of the best moments for the character thusfar, not to mention small but important moments in Rejoined, and while I agree to an extent about the problems Elliott has with Accession, I think Sisko's characterization is strong there too. If I used the same approximate "character ranking" (which seems about right to me) I'd probably put Sisko around where O'Brien is. I'd also probably swap Kira and Dax; the Kira-Dukat stories are quite strong but otherwise Kira is really left hanging, with only Accession and Starship Down focusing on her as a person and I'm not sure how well they works, whereas Jadzia has a (perhaps) surprising amount of good material.
William B
Thu, Oct 3, 2019, 6:26am (UTC -6)
Well, okay, I'd still put Sisko below O'Brien, and possibly even below Dax. Still.
Elliott
Mon, Oct 7, 2019, 12:02am (UTC -6)
@William B

Good to be back! Thanks. I just want to clarify that my character rankings are cumulative. So I think Sisko had ups and downs this season that cause him to have more or less the same "score" that he had at the end of S3. Other characters actually deteriorated (like Garak), but were starting from a much higher position. I suppose it's arbitrary, but when you watch the show, you go into a new season with preconceptions of the characters from the previous seasons, so this seems to make sense to me. When 7of9 gets introduced, I will start her from 0 since she's a blank slate. With Worf, like I said, I guessed at where he ended up after TNG and decided that he got a little worse over the course of this season. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with Ezri.
William B
Mon, Oct 7, 2019, 8:53am (UTC -6)
@Elliott, ah I see. I thought the character ranking was per season, with the +- for information about trends. That makes sense, though I guess I'd admit surprise that the cumulative effect of four seasons of Bashir would be higher than four seasons of Garak (e.g.) even though I completely agree Bashir had a great fourth season and Garak a poor-for-Garak one.

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