Nutshell: An absolutely excellent season, filled with an abundance of substance. Overall, this is the best and most complex season of Star Trek ever written and produced, and I have nothing but optimism for DS9's next—and possibly final—season.
Another season of DS9 has come and gone, and it's once again time to see what it all adds up to mean—which, in two words, I suspect can be summarized as "a lot." Just like last year, this recap will cover as much ground as possible. Even if you haven't read a single review I've written for the past season of DS9, you will get my opinions of every episode in this recap, which I'll gladly hype as "the most comprehensive review for DS9 that I'll write all year." The first section consists of the capsule reviews. The second section is the analysis of the season as a whole. It's basically self-explanatory, so let's begin.
Part 1: Capsule Reviews
Apocalypse Rising — Air date: 9/30/1996. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by James L. Conway.
When I originally reviewed "Apocalypse Rising," my biggest complaint was that it maintained the Trekkian Status Quo. I was convinced that once General Martok was uncovered as the Changeling infiltrator, the plot lines would continue along the lines of fourth season for an unspecified long time. In retrospect, my fears about this show being conducive to keeping things the same in the Alpha Quadrant seem somewhat unfounded. While this wasn't the slam-bang, take-no-prisoners season opener I had expected, it certainly wasn't bad. It was an entertaining episode that worked pretty well for the most part. Much of the humor of circumstance worked and Marc Alaimo's performance as the renegade Gul Dukat still out for vengeance (following "Return to Grace") was strong as usual. The most interesting character piece was for Odo, whose transformation into a human from last season's finale left him lost and brooding. There are some problems, like the unanswered question of why Dax didn't go along on the mission. Also, some of the Klingon humor, while amusing, is a bit old and obvious. If this episode shows one thing, however, it's that the writers were biding their time for making fifth season what it should be, rather than delving into a war between the Klingons and the Federation.
The Ship — Air date: 10/7/1996. Teleplay by Hans Beimler. Story by Pam Wigginton & Rick Cason. Directed by Kim Friedman.
I think I'm the only person in the universe who wasn't captivated by "The Ship." Everybody thought this episode was absolutely phenomenal. Me? I respected a lot of what it tried to do dramatically, but I still can't say I was impressed. The idea of Sisko claiming a crashed Jem'Hadar ship is definitely interesting, and the dissension that breaks out among Sisko's crew as the tensions mount made me sit up and take notice. The ending, which tries to analyze the meaning of all the death caused by the mistrust between the Jem'Hadar and Sisko's crew, is certainly relevant. But my problem is that the story pushes its message just too hard, and instead of coming off as profound and thought-provoking, it instead came off—at least to me—as somewhat pretentious and self-important. I wasn't emotionally engaged by Sisko's speech, for some reason, and I can't place my finger on exactly why. I think a big part of it is that I found Kaitlin Hopkin's performance as the Vorta negotiator to be very unconvincing. I just didn't buy it, and it really hurt the impact of the drama in the long run. I dunno; maybe you shouldn't listen to me on this one, considering so many people loved it and that my own feelings are mixed, but I can't quite recommend this episode.
Looking for Par'mach in All the Wrong Places — Air date: 10/14/1996. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Andrew J. Robinson.
Whereas I'm the only person who didn't like "The Ship," I'm also in the small minority of people who actually liked "Par'mach." This episode was silly, to be sure. But it was also a very amusing comedy, and that's exactly what it set out to be. In retrospect, I think the characterizations were not so much "insightful" as they were "spontaneous," but spontaneous is one thing that worked in this episode—everybody here was lusting after somebody. Worf lusting after Grilka; Quark lusting after Grilka; Dax lusting after Worf. Given that kind of bizarre triangle, combined with reasonably well-played shades of "Cyrano," this episode turned into a cross-cultural romp of unlikely romances. Quark's attempts at serenading Grilka—Klingon style—are quite amusing, as is the physical comedy involving a Klingon ritual where Quark must fight Grilka's bodyguard as Worf dictates the movements as "puppeteer." As always, I doubt Quark's "romantic" motives, but what the hey? The genesis for the Worf/Dax relationship felt spontaneous, though I still hesitate on its long-term implications based on how its been handled since. The final scene in sickbay is utterly hilarious. This isn't a deep show, but it's an enjoyable one.
Nor the Battle to the Strong — Air date: 10/21/1996. Teleplay by Rene Echevarria. Story by Brice R. Parker. Directed by Kim Friedman.
"Nor the Battle" was for me everything (and perhaps then some) "The Ship" was for most other people. This episode was a riveting, substantive episode about the horrors of war, and it used Jake in a way that we'd never seen him used before. Everything about this episode was beautifully realized, and Cirroc Lofton's superb performance is highly commendable. The story first foreshadows the horrors by showing a nave Jake who sees war in its glorious superficiality. But things begin to turn ugly when Jake finds himself surrounded by the dead and wounded and realizes he can't cope with his situation. The show's pivotal moment where Jake abandons Bashir during Klingon shelling and later finds himself trapped in his own guilt is emotionally gripping—and we can easily sympathize. This episode was more militaristic than what we generally see on Trek, but the military overtones were put to dramatic use, giving Jake a frightening lesson on the realities of war and violence, as well as the importance of honor, duty, and courage. This episode is packed full of interesting themes from a fresh perspective, and it's executed with a gritty, intense realism that draws us into Jake's plight wonderfully. Bravo.
The Assignment — Air date: 10/28/1996. Teleplay by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson. Story by David R. Long & Robert Lederman. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
"The Assignment" is surprisingly decent given its stale premise of body possession, in this case Keiko O'Brien's. But if there's one person we can count on to make this sort of thing work, it's Colm Meaney, whose character finds himself trapped in a terrible predicament with no choice but to do exactly what the alien wants or else watch his wife die. There are some interesting mind games here, as the Keiko alien runs O'Brien all over the station performing bizarre engineering feats on an impossible time clock. Some nice touches—like an over-stressed O'Brien breaking a glass in his bare hand and an evil Keiko puling Molly's hair as a subtle but unmistakable threat—transcend the basic premise and almost succeed in making the show work. Unfortunately, the story goes wrong when it brings annoying engineering superwhiz Rom into the plot, who figures out what O'Brien's modifications can cause and then explains it to him in a single, dialog-heavy scene that feels way too much like "here's where we explain the entire plot to the audience and present the solution." The solution is also too easy and anti-climactic, making one wonder why the alien—which seems so smart for so long—would put itself into such an obviously dangerous position.
Trials and Tribble-ations — Air date: 11/4/1996. Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore & Rene Echevarria. Story by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler & Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by Jonathan West.
Okay, the plot device that motivates this show's existence is perfunctory, but who cares? In a world where about 40 percent of Voyager's third-season installments were hyped as "special" episodes, "Trials and Tribble-ations" is the one episode that deserves to be called special. This is a wonderful, sincere creation of Trekkian nostalgia that combines the original "Trouble with Tribbles" episode with the DS9 characters, and the results are highly infectious. This craft is a labor of love, and that's exactly what it feels like. Almost all the comedy here works, including a scene where O'Brien and Bashir argue a "predestination paradox"; where Worf explains the reasons no Klingons of the time period have ridged foreheads ("We do not discuss it with outsiders."); where the DS9 characters get into a bar fight. The recreation of the set design, uniforms, and props are incredibly convincing—it looks like these characters were actually dropped into an old episode of The Original Series. And the special effects that blend the footage are both impressive and charming—I was laughing so hard seeing O'Brien and Bashir lined up in the famous "Who threw the first punch?" scene. Yes, Terry Farrell was a bit over-exuberant in Dax's recollections of things past, and the constant references to "James T. Kirk!" were a little overzealous. But isn't that is the point when it comes right down to it?
Let He Who Is Without Sin... — Air date: 11/11/1996. Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe & Ira Steven Behr. Directed by Rene Auberjonois.
"Let He Who Is Without Sin..." is the worst episode of DS9 ever. Mark my words: There will never be another DS9 as insultingly bad as this hunk of garbage. Period. Considering the strength of this season, I'm quite willing to forget this show ever happened, so let's just leave it at that and move on. If you want the full-fledged thrashing, read my original review.
Rating: zero stars
Things Past — Air date: 11/18/1996. Written by Michael Taylor. Directed by LeVar Burton.
"Things Past" is basically "Necessary Evil" revisited. But, as long as it's thoughtful, I certainly don't have any objections to seeing a remake of an episode as good as "Necessary Evil." "Things Past" is very good in its own right, dropping Odo, Sisko, Dax, and Garak into the past by using some sort of comatose condition that affects all of them at once while connecting their minds. The premise isn't nearly as important as the analysis of the situation, which shows Odo coming to grips with a dark secret from when the Cardassians controlled Terok Nor. Seeing the Dukat of the past is interesting when we juxtapose his current role in the DS9 game (which itself completely changes in a subsequent episode). But what's most impacting here is the way the inconsistencies of the skillfully built narrative (involving Thrax, the chief of security before Odo) come together to document Odo's regretful actions—which led to the unjust execution of three innocent Bajorans. The ending sequence's surreal imagery is skillfully visualized by LeVar Burton. The gripping final scene between Odo and Kira is an intriguing mirror of "Necessary Evil," as this time Kira finds herself feeling betrayed by someone she thought kept the order during such chaos—very nicely realized. The only significant shortcoming here is the contrived plot device that puts the characters' lives in jeopardy—hardly necessary to make this episode work.
The Ascent — Air date: 11/25/1996. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
The storyline of "The Ascent" is one of extremes, placing Odo and Quark in a rather tried-and-true survival situation where the odds are against them. The premise is derivative and makes for a repetitive plot, but that hardly matters. This story's success rides completely on the quality of its dialog, which often proves amusing, but even more often telling. This is perhaps the most "major" Odo/Quark show ever; it gives them the bulk of the hour to trade insults and one-liners, but never before has their dialog been so revealing behind the defensive walls of supposed "distaste" each character builds in front of them. Much of the Odo/Quark relationship has been "camaraderie in code," and it works superbly here. Not only does their survival depend on it in their extreme environment, but it highlights how much these two depend on each other's presence all the time. Both Auberjonois and Shimerman turn in strong performances that make their situation feel realistic. The episode also benefits from an amusing and strangely resonating closing scene that highlights a friendship that is obvious even if it will never be spelled out in spoken words. A classic character show.
Rapture — Air date: 12/30/1996. Teleplay by Hans Beimler. Story by L.J. Strom. Directed by Jonathan West.
"Rapture" exemplifies how much thought and substance has been put into this season of DS9. This thematically detailed, emotionally gripping hour ranks among the best of the Sisko-oriented shows—as well as the best of the series' installments. It's about as perfect as I could hope. Plot-wise, everything came together here, tying Bajoran mysticism and politics in with Federation timetables and ominous Dominion foreboding. These are the types of rewarding examples of believable consequences that I watch this series for. Sisko's mysterious visions are compelling, and it's refreshing to see that they aren't explained with technobabble. Instead, they have a dramatic, mystical quality that defies explanation—completely appropriate for this episode. Sisko's discovery of the lost city of B'hala is an eye-opening event. Even more eye-opening is the resulting confusion and lost direction Kai Winn finds herself experiencing once the Emissary has filled this prophecy. Sisko's need to see his visions through—even if it means putting his life on the line—shows just how committed he is to Bajor and its safety, and Avery Brooks' textured performance brings the episode to life. Realized details like the intelligent pondering of faith by the ops staff add still more insight. And in retrospect, I'm thrilled that Sisko's vision regarding the "locusts" was followed up. The Dominion's absorption of Cardassia was foreshadowed here—making me wonder how far in advance the writers planned this season.
The Darkness and the Light — Air date: 1/6/1997. Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore. Story by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Michael Vejar.
This episode went a long way to fully convincing me that the watered-down Kira from season four had been removed, and the real Kira we knew from before had finally come back. Here we see the fire in her eye returned; Nana Visitor delivers her typically strong performance as Kira's old friends from her resistance cell are murdered one by one. The plot is nicely assembled, using a few intriguing twists on the killer's mind games. The surprise visit of Kira's friends Furel and Lupaza makes for some good characterization scenes reminiscent of third season's "Shakaar." The plot, naturally, brings them there simply to be the killer's next victims—slightly manipulative, yes, but surprisingly sensible in story terms. Kira's reactions to these murders are completely believable—she takes matters into her own hands, displaying a confident, measured thought pattern behind her understandable distraught. Kira's final face-off with the killer is visually interesting under Vejar's lighting techniques. More important, however, is the argument of guilt and innocence between Kira and the disfigured Cardassian—another effective analysis of "old school" DS9 themes involving violence and necessary terrorism. Holding this episode back a bit are some plausibility questions about the killer's use of precision technology, as well as Kira's cryptic final dialog, which seems a little too "scripted" to feel genuine. Still a very solid effort.
The Begotten — Air date: 1/27/1997. Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed by Jesus Salvador Trevino.
"The Begotten" was this season's only real Changeling-heavy Odo show, and the discovery of the infant shapeshifter led Odo to reevaluate some interesting self-issues (like parenthood) that managed to make some sense out of his situation of undesired humanity. Odo's plight to raise this shapeshifter is both intriguing and empathizing. The appearance of Dr. Mora, however, is this episode's true winning point. Odo and Mora's scenes together reveal several truly emotionally engaging character topics. Their father/son-like discussions are quite powerful and engrossing thanks to the knockout performances by Auberjonois and Sloyan. Although reasonable (and perhaps inevitable in retrospect), the death of the infant and the way it restores Odo's shapeshifting abilities are not nearly as certain as the Odo/Mora scenes; in fact, I question if this is really character development rather than character regression or stagnation. The B-story where Kira finally gives birth is very standard but surprisingly tolerable, save some drawn-out "ritual" silliness and the terrible use of Shakaar as a complete jerk. The birth scene in particular manages to be watchable where I was expecting something totally grating. The show is quite good, but there are some notable flaws.
For the Uniform — Air date: 2/3/1997. Written by Peter Allan Fields. Directed by Victor Lobl.
I think I may have been a bit rough on this episode in my original review. Yes, this episode was a little too easy on Sisko in the end. Yes, this episode failed to explain the Maquis' role in the political game the way "Blaze of Glory" later did. Yes, the tactical technobabble involving the crippled Defiant navigation was excessively done. But when it comes right down to it, this is a skillfully executed cat-and-mouse game between Sisko and Eddington with some really crisp, scathing dialog exchanges. The idea of Sisko being obsessed over someone who betrayed him is certainly in-character, as is the way Eddington uses his knowledge of Sisko's personality against him. I have some real hesitations about how the ending squeaks out of Sisko's questionable actions (the use of chemical weapons to render a Maquis colony inhabitable) by reducing them to the actions of an acted "villain" trying to manipulate the "hero" in Eddington. Still, Brooks and Marshall are superb, and Lobl's pacing is mostly dead-on. It's good television, but it's not without problems.
In Purgatory's Shadow — Air date: 2/10/1997. Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe & Ira Steven Behr. Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont.
"In Purgatory's Shadow" ranks among the most riveting episodes of DS9 ever made. In a way, it's reminiscent of "The Die is Cast" because it features huge unfolding plot developments while simultaneously telling small—but gripping—character stories. Both facets of the episode are woven together with flawless storyline assembly and wonderful direction. As usual, Andrew Robinson steals his scenes as the infinitely entertaining Garak. Meanwhile, the crew back on the station prepares for an imminent Dominion invasion, in a plot line that proves completely engrossing. The revelations in this episode are downright shocking, including such surprises that (1) Bashir has been replaced by a Changeling imposter; (2) General Martok is still alive; (3) Enabran Tain is still alive; (4) Enabran Tain is Garak's father; and (5) the Changeling spy has sabotaged O'Brien's attempts to seal the wormhole. The writing is ambitious in its scope, and everything here comes together on so many levels. The result was a show that literally had me on the edge of my seat.
By Inferno's Light — Air date: 2/17/1997. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by Les Landau.
There's a notable difference between "By Inferno's Light" and "In Purgatory's Shadow." "Purgatory" was a thrilling hour that worked flawlessly as a stand-alone setup premise with a character core. "Inferno," on the other hand, was not quite as skillful in its plotting (the ending was a bit rushed and the crew's discovery of the Bashir Changeling wasn't executed nearly as well as it could've been) but it was extremely adept at building into the series' current plot threads, shattering the status quo in the process. Worf's storyline was nothing that hasn't already been covered before, and the escape of Garak & Co. featured a few conveniences (for example, why in the world would the Jem'Hadar leave the Runabout in orbit of the prison?). But what this episode boils down to can be summed up in Dukat and Cardassia joining the Dominion, and the Klingons and Federation reinstating their treaty. The convoluted political situations here represent the very core of much of the series, and the way the story plays with them makes the show thought-provoking, entertaining, and especially pivotal.
Doctor Bashir, I Presume — Air date: 2/24/1997. Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore. Story by Jimmy Diggs. Directed by David Livingston.
Buried somewhere inside the problematic script of "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" is a wonderful story about Bashir, his dark secret, and how he copes with his dark secret being leaked into the outside world. There are some genuinely good moments in here, especially a standout scene between Bashir and O'Brien that shows two friends discussing a serious problem that could destroy the reputation—and life—of one of them. Unfortunately, there are also some genuinely awful moments here: "Rom" being one operative word, "Leeta" being the other. Every time the episode seems to find its dramatic momentum, along comes this obnoxious duo—Rom's extremely overstated social ineptitude combined with Leeta's utterly annoying bimbo-ness—to undermine all efforts. Robert Picardo turns in an amiable performance as Lewis Zimmerman, but when he's faced with scenes of forced, uncomfortable transparency (walking in on Leeta nude, etc.) it ultimately doesn't matter. The Bashir storyline isn't great, but it's reasonable. Bashir's dialog with his parents works well in places, though the ending is way too easy and inconsequential. And no points for predicting this would have no long-term bearing on Bashir's character.
A Simple Investigation — Air date: 3/31/1997. Written by Rene Echevarria. Directed by John Kretchmer.
"A Simple Investigation" is the perfect title to this effective sleeper episode. This was a nicely done little drama in the midst of a season that, for the most part, specialized in pretty big shows. Like many Star Trek seasons, fifth season's ability to tell a variety of stories is respectable. There's absolutely nothing wrong with shows like this when they're done right. And while this episode doesn't break any records characteristically, it does use Odo's situation of newfound "humanity" (ironically, now that he's a shapeshifter again) rather pleasantly. Rene Auberjonois delivers a passionate performance—you wouldn't expect Odo would've been the romantic type, but it manages to work. Dey Young works quite well as Arissa. The plot—which places two characters in need of each other's emotional support because of extreme circumstances—is a tad derivative yet serves its purpose. Some standard plot devices include some alien thugs (not extremely interesting) and a mysterious data crystal (reasonably mysterious); never mind—it's the chemistry between Odo and Arissa that makes this show work. The unhappy ending was inevitable, but, like the rest of the show, it was executed with sincerity.
Business as Usual — Air date: 4/7/1997. Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle. Directed by Siddig El Fadil.
Hey, shouldn't "Business as Usual" have been the title of Voyager's "Alliances" from last season? Considering the naivete of its ending you sure would think so. Never mind. Big, gratuitous, unwarranted tangent. Anyway, the episode I'm supposed to be talking about here is one of Quark's best shows. I'm a firm believer that Quark is far too often placed in the unfortunate position of lightweight "comedy" vehicles. This show was a 180 from that; scenes like one where cousin Gaila tried to convince Quark that 28 million people are nothing important are what made this show pretty darn complex and even intensely dramatic at times. The way the episode places Quark into his situation is cleverly done: His back is against the wall and his plight becomes sympathetic, and then we get to watch him wriggle with his conscience. Armin Shimerman delivers a strong performance in an episode that proves surprisingly engaging. Steven Berkoff was also entertaining as the guy who traps Quark in his impossible circumstance, although his scenery chewing sometimes felt a bit misplaced. Quark's ultimate solution to the problem is witty and mildly amusing (as is Sisko's notion that Quark must pay for the damage to the cargo bay). Not earth-shattering perhaps, but very respectable.
Ties of Blood and Water — Air date: 4/14/1997. Teleplay by Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Story by Edmund Newton & Robbin L. Slocum. Directed by Avery Brooks.
There are a few quirks in "Ties of Blood and Water," like how the bond between Kira and Ghemor came to be so strong considering we haven't heard a peep about this since "Second Skin." But as the episode progresses it makes more and more sense. I particularly appreciated that this episode tied into the major themes of the season plot-wise; Ghemor's fleeing from Cardassia stems from the new Dominion rule, a move that not everyone on Cardassia agrees with. The plot hints at Dukat's possible weaknesses within the new political structure. Never mind—what this story is really about is Kira's dark regret, and how Ghemor's slow death rekindles memories of her real father's death. The show is emotionally engaging based purely on its characterization, but the writing here is also commendable—the way the story draws the parallel between Ghemor and Kira's father is very nicely and quietly handled. The story builds the backstory with several flashback scenes, which slowly reveal the burden Kira has carried for the years since her father's death. Sincere, poignant, and reasonably intelligent, this episode is another character-oriented winner.
Ferengi Love Songs — Air date: 4/21/1997. Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Rene Auberjonois.
Ouch. Excepting that episode we won't use the title of anymore, this was by far the weakest episode of the season. But what else can you say about a Ferengi show with a premise that basically goes "Quark and Brunt face off while Zek and Ishka play cute and whisper sweet nothings into each other's big ears"?—it was bad. I laughed a little in the course of the hour, but, as always, it wasn't nearly enough. Zek and Ishka prove incredibly annoying. The extremely predictable, distasteful Rom/Leeta subplot is virtually beyond redemption. Quark and Brunt aren't horrible, but they also fall several leaps shy of "interesting." And the plot? The episode pretends Quark's self-serving motives will really result in the "downfall of Ferengi society," but it's hopelessly transparent. I say: Who would honestly care if that happened, anyway? And color me a fool—I thought Ishka's feminist ideals from way back in "Family Business" might actually add up to mean something here. No such luck—this Ishka is satisfied as long as she can love her dear Zek. Ugh. Ultimately, this was less a comedy than it was a melodrama—a bad melodrama.
Soldiers of the Empire — Air date: 4/28/1997. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by LeVar Burton.
There wasn't really anything particularly bad about the story of "Soldiers of the Empire," but there simply wasn't a whole lot fresh about it either. The biggest problem with the episode is that it moves too slowly and covers territory that has been explored many, many times already. To sum this episode into a single word, "pedestrian" does the job nicely. Even so, considering how annoying Worf has generally been in his supporting roles this season, it was definitely nice to have a vehicle that supplied him a Big Honorable Decision to make, even if it was a rehashed premise. The idea of Martok's crew of "Klingon underdogs" is a somewhat interesting idea, and putting Worf between the duties to this crew (which is on the verge of mutiny) and an uneasy General Martok (who has seemed to have lost his warrior edge) works reasonably. The final conflict feels a bit forced, however. As compensation, there's the coda between Worf and Martok, which harbors a surprising amount of emotional resonance. But the bottom line reveals a show that's one too many trips to the well.
Children of Time — Air date: 5/5/1997. Teleplay by Rene Echevarria. Story by Gary Holland & Ethan H. Calk. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
"Children of Time" was a very pleasant surprise in many respects. The unimpressive preview—including the now-thankfully-defunct Big Words™—that alluded to the "declaration" of Odo's feelings for Kira didn't do much for me. But this outstanding story goes to show just how wrong predictions can be. "Children of Time" exceeded every expectation I possibly could've had for it. The Kira/Odo relationship, which in the past I've accepted only with trepidation, was put to utterly brilliant use here. The time paradox made for a premise that proved among the series' most complex and emotionally gripping stories. The reason: Rene Echevarria's carefully textured, incredibly well-written script, which ranks among the best of them all. The teleplay seeks out tough answers to tough questions, rather than taking the easy roads it could've. This story is about dealing with consequences and emotions, and it weaves in some very interesting arguments. Much has been made of the show's unhappy ending, but as far as I'm concerned the ending is absolutely perfect—and I mean perfect. If this show were about a happy ending, it really wouldn't be nearly as interesting as the way it stands. Events happened the way they did here because they had to. It's all about destiny.
Blaze of Glory — Air date: 5/12/1997. Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe & Ira Steven Behr. Directed by Kim Friedman.
And here it was at last: The Maquis story that brought everything together. In many ways, this tied the season's plot developments together into cohesive political threads that showed not only what happened, but why. Is this the last of the Maquis? Perhaps. But for the first time in years, the Maquis proved incredibly relevant, exiting the picture in a thoughtful manner similar to when they entered. As a Sisko/Eddington match-up, this episode had every bit the scathing dialog that "For the Uniform" had, but it proved even more telling this time. Instead of the simplicity of just "Sisko vs. Eddington," this installment was Sisko and Eddington facing off with dialog that explained why they did what they did and what the results were in the big mess known as Dominion/Cardassian/Federation affairs. The results are very interesting. Two impacting scenes in particular come to mind: the prison scene where Eddington explains how he heard the reports of Maquis slaughter at the hands of the Cardassians' new arsenal, and the Runabout scene where Sisko tells Eddington that false hopes for armed victory instead of negotiated peace is what led the Maquis to their demise. The technical credits and action scenes were excellent as well, but it's how sensible the polemics prove that really makes this a big winner.
Empok Nor — Air date: 5/19/1997. Teleplay by Hans Beimler. Story by Bryan Fuller. Directed by Michael Vejar.
"Empok Nor" was terrific on a technical level. Michael Vejar's direction—particularly the lighting—looked absolutely fabulous, the suspense was reasonably taut, and the atmosphere was great. That leaves story—BZZZT. The story was minimal, which was fine; the plot was doing a great job of staying out of the way for the show's first half, which gave the premise just the potboiler characteristics it needed to be a triumph of technique. But then along came the silliness when the "psychotropic drug" transformed Garak into a Menacing Bad Guy. Pretty much nothing involving Garak's madness worked at all. I didn't buy it for a second. Garak works much better when his sly wit is put to use, not when he's reduced to a maniac with lines like, "I'll admit that I'm tempted to end this right now, but that would be depriving myself of too much enjoyment." Give me a break. Mundane plot developments like the kidnapping of Nog were too obvious and pedestrian, and the ending was predictably inconsequential. The show is entertaining for a long time, but jettisons all believability in its last two acts.
In the Cards — Air date: 6/9/1997. Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore. Story by Truly Barr Clark & Scott J. Neal. Directed by Michael Dorn.
Wow. I'm usually most receptive to the darker, more intense dramas of DS9, but "In the Cards" was like a breath of fresh air. Perhaps the best comedy in the history of Trek, this episode utilized deft, understated writing by Ron Moore to create one of the funniest, cutest, most humanly scaled comedies I've ever seen. If it puts things in perspective, let me add that I liked this show even better than the highly clever "Trials and Tribble-ations." Credit a big part of the success to the wonderful Cirroc Lofton, who brings a charismatic performance that is unequalled by anything he has done on the series. Aron Eisenberg's Nog also comes across beautifully. The twist here is that this time Jake was the one getting the two into progressively more trouble, whereas Nog found himself the unwitting partner in crime. Dr. Geiger's absurd "cellular entertainment chamber" is a hoot, and the ending, where Jake claims Willie Mays is a time traveler, is one of the funniest self-parodies on Trek I can remember. The final scene where Jake gives his father the baseball card is genuinely moving. I loved every minute of this little gem—even the admittedly corny "Lions, Geigers, and bears" ("oh my") line. (Also, you probably wouldn't think the extremely serious and relevant B-story would fit in here, but it does—quite nicely.)
Call to Arms — Air date: 6/16/1997. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
To cap off the season the creators decide to take some risks. As if "By Inferno's Light" wasn't already a major change in the status quo, "Call to Arms" takes things to the next big but believable step. This is a very entertaining hour that makes plenty of sense because the confrontation has been so inevitable; we've so long sensed it was coming, so the whole situation consequently feels very believable. The Federation knows the Dominion has been planning some truly overt action. And with the Cardassians in the middle of everything, Dukat is the key player—a player who wants his station back. One of the most interesting dynamics is the hint of friction between Dukat and Weyoun, his Dominion overseer—expect this to show up again. Also noteworthy is Sisko's recommendation that Bajor sign a non-aggression pact with the Dominion in order to keep the primary mission—the safety of Bajor—intact. The eventual attack on the station is exciting, and when the Federation is forced to leave the station, it feels like a major event. One interesting idea is the way Sisko sabotages the station before leaving it—a sort of inverted situation from when Starfleet took the station in the pilot episode. Sisko's promise to return proves quite poignant. The only thing somewhat holding back this show is the ineffective subplotting involving the small "romance" storylines (including Rom/Leeta, Dax/Worf, Odo/Kira, and even Garak/Ziyal). Basically none of it really worked. So it goes; the rest of the show was quite involving, right down to the powerful closing shot of the massive Federation fleet. One hope I must convey: Please, please don't let this be resolved in a single episode next season. There's so much potential here...
Part 2: Season Analysis
For anyone reading who hasn't already guessed my stance, I think Deep Space Nine has had a terrific year. To say I'm pleased with how the series turned out this season would be an understatement. In fact, I'd like to enthusiastically go on record as saying this is the best season of Star Trek ever brought to the television screen. That's saying a lot considering how much good Trek there has been in the past, even including DS9's illustrious fourth season.
Interestingly, DS9 season five has even surpassed last year's solid efforts. There are a number of tangible reasons why this has happened, but it can probably be summed up in a single word: writing.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Writing has always been the determining factor of success for a season of Star Trek. I'm not saying that production and performances don't play into the equation—they most certainly do. But the thing about Trek the past decade is that it's almost always backed with a plentiful budget, outstanding production values, impressive special effects, and actors who deliver. We've come to expect the production will be rock-solid, and rarely are we disappointed. That's why storylines make or break a season. Writing is the key aspect that has to maintain the energy level and keep us entertained. It's the single aspect (not to take away from all the others) that doesn't seem to come across as a "given." Where is the series coming from? Where is it going? The answers are all within the stories.
And the stories are precisely what has brought everything together on DS9 this season. The storylines were interesting last season, but with season five there has been even more improvement. Once again, the success comes down to political intrigue, which has always been the series' strongest point in one form or another. Political intrigue on Sisko's station and the surrounding area has been extraordinarily complex and interesting. Governments fall. Alliances shift. Political leaders and opportunists are in. And out. Military operations are covert. And then overt.
This season we have seen episodes with major revelations, with large-scale encompassing impact, and that bring about big changes in the status quo. At the same time, there have been foreshadows and events building up to these changes. When large plots unfold, they make sense. Not once this season has something big happened that didn't follow logically out of what came before. Yet, amazingly, the plot developments have been surprising and even shocking. And further, these plot developments inspire us to think about what has transpired; they supply not just the "what" but also the "why."
Then there's the fact that the various plot lines have combined into such a neat package. In order to demonstrate this point, let's digress for a moment. Back in DS9's first season we were introduced to the basic premise with a Bajoran/Cardassian backstory that featured the many shades of grey that have since characterized the series. By the end of the season (which was decent but uneven), the main focus seemed to be internal Bajoran turmoil and the political intrigue of then-Vedek Winn and Vedek Bareil. Second season expanded on this angle greatly, and by season two's completion we also had the Maquis and Dominion coming into the picture. Season three brought us the Defiant and a lot more from the Dominion, though it was haphazardly assembled overall and remains probably the least focused season of DS9 thus far. Season four brought us Worf and the Klingon mess. So what did season five bring us? In a word: "cohesion." This season was incredibly intent on taking all the elements of the previous years' storylines and rolling them together into a cohesive whole with masterful plot assembly. It didn't feel as if the focus were on a single or two major plot lines. This season felt like the whole ball of wax—which, really, is the way it should be. The continuity has been excellent, and the overall picture has been a fascinating web of intrigue, where changes on one front drastically and realistically impact all the other fronts.
For example, the brewing Klingon situation from last year that seemed headed for a major conflict—possibly up to and including war between the Klingons and the Federation—made a sudden about-face with "Apocalypse Rising," the season premiere. At first, I was skeptical of the onset of another status quo. But I soon learned that I had nothing to worry about. In the big game, the creators had other interesting events planned. In "Rapture," Bajor's application to the Federation was approved and Sisko found the lost city of B'hala, complicating the face of Kai Winn and the internal politics of Bajor. Then in the pivotal "By Inferno's Light," Cardassia was absorbed into the Dominion, forcing the Klingons to reopen the treaty with the Federation and later leading to the demise of the Maquis as explained in "Blaze of Glory." (For that matter, Sisko hints that maybe the Maquis' extreme terrorism was one reason why the Cardassians joined the Dominion in the first place.) In a big way, the series has become a compelling set of dominoes: Knock one over and watch in awe as the whole design topples so that it can be rebuilt. Friends today, enemies tomorrow. And vice versa. That's the name of the DS9 game, and the writers and producers have proven so utterly good at it.
So many episodes this season were focused on advancing the primary storylines—making the series feel like, well, a series. That's not to say that there wasn't the usual mix of different types of stories that generally typifies Trek, but nearly every week there was some plot element that tied back into the main scheme of things. Encompassing nearly the entire season was the promise that the series never forgot where it came from nor where it was headed. That's decidedly a good thing, especially for credibility. If things make sense and grow from what we know of the situations, then we're a lot more likely to believe them. It makes the series much more sophisticated and probing, which is what I hope most people would want—I know it's what I want. I also know that's what we got.
In retrospect, one piece of the series that has come a long way since its inception is the Dominion. Way back in second season's finale, "The Jem'Hadar," the impetus behind creating the Dominion seemed to be to supply the series with some powerful (and presumably temporary) "bad guys" that would generate some action premises. What could've been simpleminded (and admittedly has been at times in the past) has emerged this season as another political element completely ingrained into the series—something to be taken very seriously for its intrigue value. That's impressive. Turning superficial bad guys into an interesting situational relationship is a good way for creating drama and plot. Why? Because it presents problems that are more complex and interesting than the simplicity of war or violence.
That's basically all for the "big picture" analysis. The other big reason this season was a winner is because the individual shows were just so damn good from week to week. The writing was extremely consistent. I've given so many top marks (a whopping 10 out of 26 shows earned three-and-a-half or four stars) that it seems almost like DS9 can do no wrong (which isn't the case, I suppose, when you consider the truly awful "Let He Who Is Without Sin..." and "Ferengi Love Songs"). Only seven shows ranked below three stars; only four of those seven at two or fewer stars. Not to get overly dependent on the numbers, but I'd say when so many episodes pass with flying colors then things are going well and there's little that needs to be tweaked in terms of overall quality.
Even when the season was at its most mediocre (excepting the two aforementioned truly bad exceptions), the episodes were still quite entertaining. The less than stellar "Empok Nor" still benefited from outstanding photography; the botched "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" still had some great character moments and interaction; the relatively stale "Soldiers of the Empire" was nicely performed. And when the show was at its best, it was absolutely riveting. I've never given five four-star ratings in a single season until now. There was the extremely patient and rewarding storytelling of the dramatically detailed "Rapture"; the exciting revelations and action of "In Purgatory's Shadow"; the intelligent, fully realized issues of the truly sci-fi "Children of Time"; the powerful drama of heavily thematic "Nor the Battle to the Strong"; and the truly offbeat and inspiring comedy "In the Cards." These and many others were all examples of first-rate scripts that delivered insightful stories.
But let's not forget the credit to the acting, directing, editing, cinematography, and everything else. DS9's production remains a great success. The performances are nearly always solid. The dialog is generally great. The special effects and images rarely disappoint. I'm not going to go into more detail because I could go on for a very long time. But in the production department there's very little worthy of complaint.
Characterization is rarely a problem at this stage in the game. The cast has never seemed more like a well-oiled machine than it has this season. The watered-down Kira I complained about last year has been rejuvenated in episodes like "The Darkness and the Light," "Ties of Blood and Water," and others. Complaints? A few. Rom and Leeta need to be vaporized immediately. And Worf needs to lighten up. A lot. In vehicles like "By Inferno's Light" and "Soldiers of the Empire" he works fine, but as a supporting character he's annoying as hell and always looks confused or irritated for no apparent reason. And where was this season's big Dax episode?
Ah, well. Such complaints are minor in the big scheme of things. DS9 is enjoying great success as far as I'm concerned. It has followed up on just about every major issue from its previous seasons. (Although I do somewhat wonder what happened to the Changeling threat. It hasn't been exploited to its potential lately.) The writing is compellingly substantive and just about everything comes together on the screen. I have nothing but enthusiasm for DS9's next season. I'll see you in the fall.