Nutshell: A pretty good season of DS9, but not everything it could've been. Lots of ambition but sometimes not nearly enough follow-through.
At long last, here it is, my season-in-review article, which, as the saying always goes, is "the most comprehensive review for DS9 that I'll write this year." We're heading into the final season of DS9 this fall, but before we look ahead, let's look back (ah, clichés!). That way we can see what things are going well and what things need to improve next year. You know the drill: Part one has a brief, sometimes-amended review for each episode; part two has the general commentary. On with it...
Part 1: Capsule Reviews
A Time to Stand — Air date: 9/29/1997. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
And so began season six, and with lots of ambition. "A Time to Stand" exemplified some of the best qualities about this season and the Dominion War storyline. It slowly and believably revealed the layered character situations brought about from the Federation losing the space station. Most interesting was Odo and Kira and their quiet actions behind an enemy administration. Also, Dukat's slimy but complex presence was chillingly interesting, and the tension in a key Dukat/Kira scene was a viewer's thrill ride thanks to the performances. Overall, every portrayal brought with it an aura of quiet defeat; from Sisko's grim discussion with his father to Bashir's inability to smile, every character seemed like they were truly brought into this brooding reality. "A Time to Stand" put its characters into uniquely dark situations and got their responses so right that the spell was never once broken.
(Long-term plot patrol says: Apparently the supply of ketricel white Sisko & Co. destroyed at the end of this episode was eventually replenished. Still, it would've been nice to see direct results of this victory written into subsequent stories.)
Rocks and Shoals — Air date: 10/6/1997. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Michael Vejar.
Two shows, two winners. And "Rocks and Shoals" was even better than the first. A wonderfully drawn tragic tale about unfair loyalties, this episode made the enemy so complex that I actually felt sympathy for the Jem'Hadar, who are so loyal to their Dominion masters that they won't even rebel when they're aware they're being manipulated. Keevan and his traitorous arrogance made for a great Vorta villain, and his offer to Sisko brought about moral grey areas concerning "fair combat." Ron Moore deserves big credit for showing creative subtlety in the Jem'Hadar soldiers, but let's not forget Phil Morris' terrific portrayal of Remata'Klan—an honorable man who views himself in no position to defy his slave existence. Back station-side, the use of the "second occupation" in terms of Bajor's role in it all was infinitely fascinating, and putting Kira-as-bureaucrat in the middle made for one of the deepest, most compelling topics of the entire season. Michael Vejar's highly visual direction over everything was nothing short of masterful. "Rocks and Shoals" is cream of the crop; only "In the Pale Moonlight" fared better this year.
Sons and Daughters — Air date: 10/13/1997. Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle. Directed by Jesus Salvador Trevino.
Well, after two of the season's best, I suppose "Sons and Daughters" was the inevitable reality check, bringing us back into the realm of standard fare. Given all the potential, and especially Ira Steven Behr's online comments that he wished the opening arc could've gone nine episodes rather than the only-six the studio would grant him, I seriously wonder if a story about the friction between Worf and his estranged son Alexander was prudent at this point in the season. The story itself was palatable, if not exactly compelling. A few missteps hurt, like Alexander suddenly deciding he wants to be a warrior (without the necessary dialog to support this change), and the overstated notion that he's a misfit (just how in the world was he recruited, anyway?). A key scene near the end also had me somewhat confused about the resolution of the father/son conflict. Some of this works, particularly scenes involving the always-respectable Martok, but the lack of future episodes devoted to this topic again makes me ask why. The subplot involving the relationships between Kira, Dukat, and Ziyal fared better, particularly in again demonstrating that Dukat can be so damn charming through his self-serving motives.
Behind the Lines — Air date: 10/20/1997. Written by Ren" Echevarria. Directed by LeVar Burton.
There are so many wonderfully well-realized moments in "Behind the Lines" that we almost want to overlook the problems caused by them. Specifically, I'm referring to the "one-way" path down which the Female Founder leads Odo—which is so masterfully executed as an example of dramatic irony that it's worthy of awe, but leads us in a direction that ultimately is erased two episodes later with scripting sleight-of-hand. For that reason, I see this episode as the primary drawback to the Dominion Occupation arc, because the writers obviously knew what they were getting themselves into, and probably knew what they'd have to do to get themselves out. Though irritating, I never really felt the way they got out was a complete cheat, and still don't (see "Sacrifice of Angels"), but nor was it worthy of what was so extreme a statement in this installment: that we had effectively "lost" Odo to the enemy. That's too bad, because this episode is still very interesting. Odo never intends any harm, but he's completely blind to how his attempts to understand the Great Link will so certainly cause a catastrophic downfall of everything Kira's "resistance cell" hopes to accomplish. I also appreciated the details of Kira's covert operations, exploiting the flaws in the uneasy Cardassian/Dominion alliance.
(Long-term plot patrol asks: Where has the Female Founder been since the end of the Dominion Occupation arc? Hiding on Cardassia? Under a rock?)
Favor the Bold — Air date: 10/27/1997. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
"Favor the Bold" was all setup and no payoff, and on that level it worked like a charm. There were so many plot pieces to the puzzle, and "Favor" assembled them with great skill, using its characters believably and compellingly. The suspense of the rapidly approaching destruction of the minefield was established with great urgency, while the people involved seemed to be tackling problems at breakneck speed. I liked Rom's willingness to martyr himself; I liked Quark finally coming around to take sides; I liked the way the naive Ziyal turned against her father again (which we knew was only temporarily); I liked Weyoun's snippets of dialog and his natural administrative sensibilities; and I liked Dukat being, well, Dukat. What did I love? I loved Kira beating the daylights out of Damar, and I loved Sisko's downright moving and characteristically crucial speech about "going home to Bajor." This episode was only half of the story, but it was a near-flawless half.
(Long-term plot patrol says: Sisko's crystal-clear attachment to Bajor as evidenced here is among the core aspects of the season and the series. Look for it to be key through the rest of the run.)
Sacrifice of Angels — Air date: 11/3/1997. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
With its moments of plot convenience and easy character answers (see Odo issue), "Sacrifice" played more like an entertaining thriller than the serious drama that it could've been. But, again, on that level it delivered. The space battles were as good as anything I've ever seen on television where special effects are concerned. The tension was built impeccably. David Bell's score was tremendous. The production was of feature-film quality. And watching the plot race to its conclusion was gleefully suspenseful. Unfortunately, the character work was a mixed bag. On one hand we had the wonderfully engaging use of a destroyed and distraught Dukat, starting him down his path to insanity. On the other hand we had Odo's frustratingly easy redemption, as he came to the rescue just when Kira needed him. ("Favor" foreshadowed the redemption well enough, but why was "Behind" so set on making it seem impossible?) Sisko's penance to the Prophets was nicely set up, though I think we've still only seen the beginning of it. Standout entertainment, but not a great wrap-up given all the potential.
(Long-term plot patrol says: Pulling back to Cardassia aside, there was quite a non-reaction on the Dominion's part after having 2,000 ships wiped from existence by the Prophets. It would've been nice to see the writers tackle the Prophets from the Dominion's perspective.)
(Long-term plot patrol also says: All those uneasy cracks established in the alliance between Dukat and Weyoun, and the creators didn't play the card much at all. What a shame.)
You Are Cordially Invited — Air date: 11/10/1997. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by David Livingston.
"Cordially" was an example of lightweight, agreeable fluff, plain and simple. As an "event" show ("Worf and Dax get married!"), it was reasonable. I enjoyed seeing the wild side of Dax emerge at her high-energy party, and I also liked seeing Worf's friends suffer through the torments of a "Klingon bachelor party." Of course, the episode's entire crisis is based upon an ancient cliché of television and cinema, one that I've never really understood: The wedding must be postponed/called off/jeopardized at the last minute only so it can be saved a few moments later. (Why is this such an established standard, anyway? I find it hard to believe it happens regularly in real life.) But Worf and Dax finally began to show a little bit of believable affection through their problems, and characters shone through scenes despite so-so dialog (the Sisko/Dax and Worf/Martok resolution scenes were nice), and I liked Ron Moore's rendition of the marriage ceremony quite a bit.
(Long-term plot patrol says: The easy, off-screen discussion of Odo's betrayal of Kira supplied here was unsatisfying, and after seeing "His Way," it's basically a dead issue. Sigh.)
Resurrection — Air date: 11/17/1997. Written by Michael Taylor. Directed by LeVar Burton.
"Resurrection" is extremely neutral fare. On one hand we have some nice, subtle moments in which the mirror version of Bareil realizes he's not a good person and wants to change. We have Kira getting caught up in emotional turmoil; we have good use of Quark as an observant "people's person"; we have mindful scenes that make good use of the social aspects of Bajoran religion. On the other hand, the episode amounts to practically nothing, because it turns out Bareil is merely a pawn in Intendant Kira's scheming plot to steal an orb from the station. Nana Visitor is fun to watch in the dual roles, as always, but the whole story turns instantly shallow and predictable once the Intendant appears. The ending in particular prompts a "so what" for lack of taking any dramatic risks. Ultimately, it feels like an excuse to bring back "Philip Anglim as Bareil" (whom we'll likely never see again) more than anything else.
Statistical Probabilities — Air date: 11/24/1997. Teleplay by Ren" Echevarria. Story by Pam Pietroforte. Directed by Anson Williams.
In terms of the larger picture, "Statistical" did a good job of reminding us that even though the Federation regained DS9 the war was far from over. The story was good, too—a classic example of good-intended but misguided megalomania, as it tackles a problem (Julian's genetic engineering) that I had thought would be swept under the rug after "Doctor Bashir, I Presume." Watching Bashir try to convince everyone around him that he has calculated the fate of the Federation was interesting through its conveyed urgency and ultimate absurdity, especially in scenes where Sisko and O'Brien set him straight. Bashir's crazies were a colorful group, particularly Tim Ransom as lively rival Jack. I still seriously question the wisdom of Starfleet giving these people access to classified military information (and I was particularly annoyed at the notion that the fate of the Federation resided within one information exchange in a dark alley), but "Statistical" is an intriguing story that's well-told.
The Magnificent Ferengi — Air date: 12/29/1997. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Chip Chalmers.
Once upon a time I used to hope for substantive Ferengi stories that might actually say something relevant about the greedy society that doesn't quite fit in the Roddenberry universe. Well, given that every time the writers tackle Ferengi society we get a really, really bad episode (see "Ferengi Love Songs" or, worse yet, "Profit and Lace"), I'll gladly take silly fluff like "Magnificent Ferengi" rather than the alternative. This was inoffensive, cornball goofiness. Yes, it was dumb. Yes, it was contrived. Yes, it was unbelievable. Yes, it usually took the lowest road possible to get a laugh (including DS9 doing Weekend at Bernie's, no less). But the bottom line is that the episode was likable and I laughed. Is it worth a recommendation? Probably not as DS9 goes. But as Ferengi fare, this is well above average.
Waltz — Air date: 1/5/1998. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Rene Auberjonois.
I love episodes where the performances have me riveted to the screen in anticipation for what the characters will say next. "Waltz" was such an episode: Take two arch-enemies (Sisko and Dukat) and get them stranded somewhere with nothing to do but talk. A conveniently reliable plot device, perhaps, but reliable for a reason. And, boy, do these two talk. "Waltz" is extremely intense, almost apocalyptic, the intensity matched only by the intrigue factor, as the true past comes into the open while a tortured Dukat teeters on the edge of insanity. Dukat's inner demons are released in ways that change him forever, but never didn't it seem like a plausible outgrowth of his character. The only thing keeping this from a four-star rating is the unnecessarily heavy-handed judgment passed down by the writers through Sisko's final speech to Dax. I had gotten the idea through the characterizations; I didn't need it reiterated in such obvious terms (and this dialog was entirely too theatrical). But overall, "Waltz" is a big, big winner that serves as an example for why I watch DS9.
(Long-term plot patrol says: Although, I wonder if "Waltz" is a good thing in the long run. After seeing "Tears of the Prophets," the new, "evil" Dukat seems more transparent than the old one, though it's still too early to tell.)
Who Mourns for Morn? — Air date: 2/2/1998. Written by Mark Gehred-O'Connell. Directed by Victor Lobl.
In the tradition of mid-season trivial fluff came this yarn about Morn, the barfly who never speaks. Morn as an understated symbol of things unchanged on DS9 is well and good. But Morn as the center of a caper movie is about what it sounds like: not all that urgent. The story might best be summed up as "The Legend of Morn's Gold-Pressed Latinum," as Quark and Morn's old business partners (read: thieves) assemble to find Morn's stashed loot after he is presumed dead. The overriding joke, of course, is that Morn never talks on screen, so we therefore hear about his past life from all these strangers. Fortunately, there are some amusing moments scattered through the episode, which are tied together surprisingly well with a clear narrative—though one must ask just how many times we've seen Quark get in over his head. If you like Morn, you might like this episode. I like Morn—sort of.
Far Beyond the Stars — Air date: 2/9/1998. Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Story by Marc Scott Zicree. Directed by Avery Brooks.
Every once in a while Trek will offer an episode that exists more as a legendary piece than a typical episode (last season's "Trials and Tribble-ations" comes to mind as another example). This outing tackled the sensitive and difficult issue of racism, putting it into believable, even-handed, and sometimes (though not always) subtle terms. Without going into interminable editorial comment, I'd like to mention the evident passion that went into this episode. The story setting was engaging; the acting and alter-characterizations were believable and entertaining; the production and music were great. The sci-fi explanation for Sisko's "trip" into the past was keenly conceived, making the ending something intriguing to ponder—an imaginative reflection that aspires to keep dreams alive. And as a commentary, this episode is classic Trek. All things considered, it's not the best episode of DS9 this year, but it's definitely one for the books.
One Little Ship — Air date: 2/16/1998. Written by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
Selling sci-fi high-concept premises to an audience works better when it's done well. For example, an episode that can be described in a sound bite as "shrunken Runabout," and comes packaged as an entertaining adventure with good special effects, a sense of fun, decent action sequences, appropriate one-liners, and an attitude that takes itself just seriously enough to hook us—but not so serious as to insult our intelligence—is probably going to fare a lot better than an episode that, say, has a sound bite of "crew replicated by liquid-metal lifeforms" and features awful technobabble, inexplicably convoluted and senselessly incredulous turns in the plot, and aimless characterization. In other words, "One Little Ship" is one danged silly premise ... but it works. (Prizes go to those who guessed Voyager's "Demon" as the said example of how not to do high concept.)
(Long-term plot patrol asks: Will the strife between Alpha and Gamma Jem'Hadar established here ever be revisited?)
Honor Among Thieves — Air date: 2/23/1998. Teleplay by Ren" Echevarria. Story by Philip Kim. Directed by Allan Eastman.
"Honor Among Thieves" utilized a derivative concept (main character must go undercover, where he finds his loyalties tested under the duress of sympathizing), but was executed extremely well. Naturally, it helps if the central characters are believable. In this case, that quota went double; Colm Meaney's turn as O'Brien was typically stellar, and Nick Tate as Bilby was every bit as good, making the episode an old-fashioned, gimmick-free drama where acting was everything. By the end, I fully cared about family men Bilby's and Miles' plights—and Bilby's eventual demise struck me as genuinely tragic. Another example of good characterization: Even though Bilby shoots a man dead in cold blood at one point during the episode, he didn't seem so much a bad person as a victim of circumstance. It makes one wonder where Miles would be if he had Bilby's unlucky draw.
(Long-term plot patrol asks: Will dealings between the Dominion and the Orion Syndicate pan out into a larger story, or was it just for the benefit of this episode?)
Change of Heart — Air date: 3/2/1998. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by David Livingston.
And along came "Change of Heart," which also was based upon a derivative story outline (main character must choose between duty and the life of loved one), though it didn't have nearly as much dramatic momentum as "Thieves." What can I say about this episode? It held my attention and it had some nice moments of sincerity, but "riveting" doesn't exactly sum it up truthfully. There's plenty of quasi-filler material, none of which is completely necessary nor completely disposable. There are some amusing and talky marital bickering scenes. And an Empire-Strikes-Back-dash-through-the-asteroids scene. What does it all amount to? An ending where Worf realizes that Jadzia comes first, duty second. Nice, but hardly groundbreaking.
Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night — Air date: 3/30/1998. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Jonathan West.
"Wrongs" made one major mistake: It framed the story as a literal timeline-altering episode, which created some troubling problems, primarily the moral implications of Kira's actions, which purported to have a radical impact on the future even though we knew the Reset Button™ was inevitable. Against my better judgment, however, I'm going to set aside this problem as an isolated flaw, because the rest of the story works in spite of it. (Besides, only about three lines of dialog needed to be changed to make the story ideal. Instead of the orb of time sending Kira into the past, it could've just given her visions of the past.) Fortunately, what the story demonstrated through its premise made the drawbacks forgivable. The use of Dukat was good, skillfully highlighting his manipulative abilities and perhaps making his attraction to Kira more understandable (if in a sick way) as we learned he was her mother Meru's lover way back when. What I particularly liked was the way the story utilized Kira's judgmental tendencies: She labels Meru a "collaborator" because Meru didn't have the strength to resist Dukat's relentless charms. But this is a complex story about people who are trapped by circumstance, right up to Kira being trapped by her own strengths, abilities, judgments, and personal hatred of Dukat.
Inquisition — Air date: 4/6/1998. Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle. Directed by Michael Dorn.
"Inquisition" is one of those episodes that improves with each viewing. It has a tight plot, sharp dialog, flawless pacing, and solid performances. The premise looks like a standard example of an Innocent Wrongly Accused™, but this was anything but standard, with a brilliantly executed story. William Sadler as investigator Sloan was terrific, believably turning on a dime from friendly to menacing. The unraveling of the mystery leading to the unveiling of Section 31 was masterfully done, with plot manipulations that work both before and after the truth is revealed. But "Inquisition" also works well for the invisible reasons: Its plot thinks quietly about possibilities without showing us the cards; its portrayal of a frustrated but determined Bashir is believable; its acknowledgement of past story elements creates thoughtful arguments; Dorn's direction and McCarthy's score are effective and atmospheric; and the episode is edited together to good dramatic effect. Ultimately, what's best about "Inquisition" is that the plot twists and turns in fascinating ways while possessing so many subtle little details, and yet it remains completely believable in terms of its characters' motivations.
(Long-term plot patrol says: Here's yet another thread for the myriad of DS9 elements. But I'm glad we'll be seeing Section 31 again. It'd be nice to somehow tie it into investigating a larger Dominion plot.)
In the Pale Moonlight — Air date: 4/13/1998. Teleplay by Michael Taylor. Story by Peter Allan Fields. Directed by Victor Lobl.
My one-word review for "In the Pale Moonlight" is simply "masterpiece." One of the best episodes of DS9 ever made, this is among the best hours of television I've seen this year. Like many of the high points of this season, it focused on Sisko as the tortured central figure in the universe, weighing problems upon him with the stakes of which no human being should ever be demanded. This powerhouse had infinitely urgent plot development and intrigue, and then thought about every consequence of that plot. Sisko got the hot seat to end all hot seats—facing a complex moral crisis as he was forced to play hardball while convincing himself the ends justify the means—the implications of which are addressed with more power and self-torment than anything I've seen on Trek. Avery Brooks' monologs to the camera were gripping and compelling; Andrew Robinson's turn as Garak was nothing short of brilliant; Stephen McHattie as Romulan Senator Vreenak was well-utilized; and the plot developments were wonderfully suspenseful in their risk and impending sense of doom. Lobl's directing over the effective flashback device (and everything else) was first-rate, and David Bell's brooding score was mesmerizing. Everything came together here to create a top-notch story. The result: one of the series' finest hours.
His Way — Air date: 4/20/1998. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
After two knockouts came this featherweight, which should've been aired during the "fluff streak" in the whereabouts of "Who Mourns for Morn?" rather than here as the dramatic momentum-shattering tool it served as. That aside, "His Way" was okay. Deep or challenging it most certainly was not, but it was amiable as "sitcom DS9." Seeing the bashful and confused Odo again address his feelings for Kira was kind of cute. James Darren's holographic Vic Fontaine was full of charisma; the musical numbers were fun; and the comedy was often energetic. BUT ... the Odo/Kira relationship is frankly not something I wanted to see reduced to an entertaining sitcom. The nature of their friendship in the early seasons was often complex, and interesting precisely because of that complexity and the fact that it wasn't based on the typical television standards of romance. Alas, most everything about "His Way" went against the very fabric of that complexity. For what it is and aims to be, "His Way" is reasonable. But it probably shouldn't be what it is.
The Reckoning — Air date: 4/27/1998. Teleplay by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson. Story by Harry M. Werksman & Gabrielle Stanton. Directed by Jesus Salvador Trevino.
Sigh. "The Reckoning" had the opportunity to be one of the season's best installments, but it instead came off as one of the year's most ineffective—a disappointment given all its obvious potential. Don't get me wrong; there's a lot of revisited material here that's worthy of respect (most notably, Sisko's faith in the Prophets alongside his need for answers, Jake's admission that his father being Emissary can be a scary thing, and numerous snippets of Odo/Kira dialog concerning faith). But where the story took us was nowhere I needed to go. The use of the Prophets' and Pah-Wraith's age-old struggle of "good versus evil" was completely glib, not to mention heavy on corny special effects that pushed it into the realm of unintentional self-parody. And most disturbing was the regressive characterization of Kai Winn in what was her sole appearance of the season. What happened to all those layers of self-doubt in "Rapture"? Her actions at the end of this episode are dubious at best. Under the scrutiny of fictional prophecies that could be read a million ways, it merely seems as if the writers were trying to have their cake and eat it too. Will this episode ever add up to anything? I'm not sure. Although it makes the season finale's use of the Prophets' power struggle more current (rather than having us think all the way back to "The Assignment"), the actual events of "Reckoning" ultimately aren't that meaningful, because anything and everything truly important has been deferred for some later, uncertain date.
Valiant — Air date: 5/4/1998. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by Michael Vejar.
Here's a fresh spin on a reliable war story standby: Trap a bunch of naive cadets behind enemy lines with no experienced supervision. Not just ordinary cadets, but Red Squad, which is completely convinced it can do anything. Then enter two outside characters—one who wears the uniform and one who doesn't—specifically, Jake and Nog, who offer two sides of a running commentary. Then find the central dilemma: What happens when naivete, fraternal obligation, and self-righteousness collide? The answer is the unfortunate but inevitable downfall of the Valiant crew. "Valiant" pulls few punches, showing a good but hopelessly deluded crew that gets caught up in an impossible mission under the direction of a well-intentioned but sorely misguided captain. The inevitable story events pretty much fall into place on their own, but I did enjoy some of the subtle moments, like Captain Watters' early signs of self-destruction and his inability to separate the concept of people from soldiers—including in himself. The horror of it all is that at the end the only surviving member of Red Squad still hasn't learned the lesson; she has been deluded for too long by a self-righteous cause to the point she can't see the importance of a crucial fact—that everybody died when they didn't have to.
(Long-term plot patrol asks: So, will we see that "super Dominion battleship" again? If so, how is the Federation going to deal with it? Sometimes it seems as if the producers are writing themselves into impossible corners.)
Profit and Lace — Air date: 5/11/1998. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Alexander Siddig.
One year ago in my fifth-season recap, I wrote: "Let He Who Is Without Sin...' is the worst episode of DS9 ever. Mark my words: There will never be another episode of DS9 as insultingly bad as this hunk of garbage." I will now eat those words. While "Without Sin" was stupid, insulting, boring, and pointless, "Profit and Lace" was stupid, insulting, boring, pointless, overwrought, contrived, cliché-ridden, unfunny, offensive, and just downright unwatchable. This was a "comedy" done in terrible taste, featuring more obliviously buried sexist overtones than I care to count, scenes that provided awful excuses for farce, all packaged as a "progressive" development where Ferengi women "receive the right to wear clothing." Whoop-de-friggin'-do. If development in the Ferengi ideology warrants such travestied turns of plot handling, then I never want to see Ferengi development again. Ever. Congrats—we have a new flame-bearer for "worst DS9 ever."
Rating: zero stars
Time's Orphan — Air date: 5/18/1998. Teleplay by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle. Story by Joe Menosky. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
I think generosity got the better of me in my original review. This episode is certainly passable and watchable, but a far cry from powerful and wonderful. It's not nearly on the level of a typical O'Brien episode (e.g., "Hard Time," "Whispers," or even this season's "Honor Among Thieves"). An episode in which Molly is lost in a time portal and then retrieved after she has aged 10 years strikes me as having a built-in catch-22: Weighing down O'Brien with yet another personal tragedy seems to happen for the sake of itself these days. On the other hand, having a happy ending where little Molly is returned is reaching dangerously near Reset Button Mentality™. Question: Why do it in the first place? Answer: To see O'Brien perform under pressure for an hour, which Colm Meaney conveys exceptionally well. The episode benefits from many believable moments and tough choices. And it was nice to finally see Keiko again (in her only appearance of the season). Still, I have some doubts about the "moral timeline argument" that sets up the premise, which strikes me as too under-developed and quickly established to be convincing. Bottom line: Miles has been put through the wringer more effectively than this.
The Sound of Her Voice — Air date: 6/8/1998. Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore. Story by Pam Pietroforte. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
Ron Moore posted that this episode arose from Pam Pietroforte's pitch about a stranded captain talking to the Defiant crew through a time anomaly. I find that odd, because the entire time anomaly angle is tacked onto the end of the episode almost like an afterthought. I don't see how exactly it fits into this story; it's a gratuitous twist that does little dramatically aside from bringing forth plot holes (like the fact that, after hours on end of talking to the stranded captain, no one on the Defiant notices the three-year difference). Twist ending aside, "Voice" was surprisingly unaffecting. Despite all the dialog in this episode, I found it hard to get caught up in a lot of it, because it just wasn't all that challenging—aside from O'Brien's probing confessions, which reveal that the Dominion War has taken its toll on him and caused all of Sisko's crew to drift apart. A funeral service at the end did a good job of foreshadowing Jadzia's then-forthcoming death. But I was still left feeling some indifference toward this story.
Tears of the Prophets — Air date: 6/15/1998. Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler. Directed by Allan Kroeker.
After a fizzle-out in the last few episodes of the season, the finale came to the rescue with an "event" show that packed some genuinely intriguing developments with obvious lasting significance (but what else would you expect of a DS9 season-ender?). From Dukat's vengeful plotting to war-front developments to Prophets and Pah-Wraiths, everything here seemed to be part of a larger purpose (even though that purpose still isn't completely clear). Unlike "The Reckoning," the elements of setup had their own immediate character payoffs. And while I had some questions about what this episode meant and will mean, such questions had me absorbed rather than annoyed ... and were not making me doubt the motives of the characters. The one notable drawback was that this episode didn't make me feel Jadzia's death as I'd hoped it would. The episode moved so fast at end that the fact Jadzia had died barely had time to sink in before its implications were being examined. But implications are everything here: "Tears" is a Sisko-oriented episode in what is, really, a very Sisko-oriented season, and reflecting on the impact this show has on the captain is where this episode truly stands out.
(Long-term plot patrol asks: Why is Dukat the only person in the Dominion/Cardassian alliance to have investigated launching an attack against the Prophets, especially considering they wiped out all those reinforcements in "Sacrifice of Angels"? You'd think Weyoun might have some respect for that kind of power.)
Part 2: Season Analysis
Deep Space Nine, in one form or another, has always been a series about building—building stories on top of one another; connecting the dots of cause and effect; showing that actions and events have consequences. Whether such building involved the Bajoran political developments of the early seasons, or Odo's quest to understand his people in the middle years, or Sisko's ongoing search for answers concerning his relationship with Bajor, or the Federation's recent war struggles in the Alpha Quadrant, DS9 as a series usually views its storylines as ongoing events for months or even years. That's one reason why I generally find it the most sophisticated and entertaining of the Trek series—it's always interesting to look and see where we are while pondering where we've been and where we're going.
Of course, the biggest drawback to this approach of storytelling has often, if not always, been that sometimes we're not given the follow-up consequences we want or expect. Sometimes we're just left hanging out to dry as the writers change their minds and head off in some new direction. (One notable example is the paranoia-inducing changeling threat, which subsided to non-existence for unknown reasons.) It can occasionally be frustrating, and sometimes costs the series some credibility.
So, as we head into season seven, which is absolutely, positively the last season of DS9, what does knowing all of this mean to the sixth season? Well, plenty.
For one thing, the proverbial sands are running through the proverbial hourglass—there are only 26 hours of DS9 screen time remaining (if you count commercials)—and there's still a lot of story to tell. One year from now all we'll be able to do is look back at what has been while pondering what could have been. So the sixth season's job, in essence, was to set up the major pieces of the puzzle that will be resolved in the final season, while also resolving some of the pieces that were established in the fifth season and earlier.
All things considered, I feel this has been a somewhat unfairly maligned season. Some have called it unwatchable because it's too unrealistic, saying the war is underutilized and not believable, etc., etc. Personally, I view this year as a pretty good season that could've been better. I don't believe season six lived up to the gobs of potential set up by season five. But nor do I think this has been a season squandered (though some opportunities certainly have been).
The producers of DS9 have often touted their series' ability to tell a "mix of stories." This season was no exception to that policy, though I'm sure there are those out there that believe it should've been. Personally, I'm not one who thinks DS9 needs to be "all war all the time"; in fact, I don't think I'd want to see that. The often-touted "mix of stories" in theory gives a lot of characters different things to do. DS9 has never been a series that focuses solely on its core material. As Trek, it has provided its share of high-concept outings and comedy episodes, and season six was no different.
But as I said, the clock is ticking.
I'd hate to get to the point where I'm questioning every episode that doesn't directly move the thrust of the series along toward its conclusion, but at the same time I do think that in this stage of the game we deserve more hard-hitting stories, and not so many diverting but trivial fluff pieces that can so easily be labeled forgettable. Season five proved that DS9 wanted to be much more focused and urgent in its storylines by providing huge, sweeping changes in the relationships between the major powers of the Alpha Quadrant. The Dominion absorbed Cardassia; the Klingons reinstated their treaty with the Federation; and in the middle of it all was Bajor, a planet without the ability to defend itself from the Dominion, thus forced into "neutrality" until the Federation was able to offer them the protection they needed. Meanwhile, the personalities were set up as forces that would be forced to reckon with each other—most specifically in Weyoun, Dukat, and Damar, who led the Dominion assault. Sisko and his crew were forced off the station and the war broke out—a war tackled with, for Trek, unprecedented directness.
Then season six started with a bang. "A Time to Stand" was everything I could've hoped for and more. The episode established a number of relationships and complex problems. I particularly liked the way the episode brought the Bajoran government into the mix via Kira's "co-administration" with the Weyoun/Dukat presence. And then came "Rocks and Shoals," which was so effective in its use of Bajor as its own independent struggle in this conflict that I thought the series had finally found the perfect balance in telling a large story about the Federation at war with the Dominion, all while Bajor still remained a crucially important aspect of the storyline. The use of Odo and Kira in these first two episodes was especially keen.
But then what happened? All of it just sort of subtly went away. Kira finally decided she had to take a stand for Bajor and created her station-based "resistance cell" (comprised, conveniently, of all the recurring characters who frequent the series), which was well and good, but where are all of the Bajoran people during this? What's happening planet-side? Why don't we see more people like the martyred Vedek Yassim ("Rocks and Shoals"), who represent the many, many people on Bajor who don't typically work day-to-day with a Starfleet administration?
The Bajoran role is definitely a big issue that didn't pan out as deeply as it could've, but there are other plot issues of this year that served as similar examples. Take the whole Dukat/Weyoun alliance as another example. Here was a partnership that had so many subtle cracks, so much uneasiness, and so many differing agendas that back when "Call to Arms" aired at the end of season five, I wrote, "Subtle as it may be, there is significant tension here. And while Dukat will heed the Dominion's decisions to remain peaceful toward Bajor, he certainly doesn't like it—and I think I see the beginnings of a rift here. I wouldn't be surprised to see a major internal conflict that—if I may be so bold in my predictions—could rip the Dominion and Cardassians apart from the inside." Dukat and Weyoun and their mutual loathing of each other formed the perfect microcosm of the Dominion's absorption of Cardassia, and they seemed destined for a collision that would be instrumental in giving the Federation a chance to survive. Was there a payoff? Well, there was, but it didn't begin to utilize the pieces of the puzzle that seemed to be on the table. Instead, new pieces were created.
We've heard on several occasions that there are many people on Cardassia who do not like the fact that the Dominion is there. From as early back as Ghemor's talk of Dominion-opposed dissidents in fifth season's "Ties of Blood and Water," to as recently as Garak's mention of unhappy, Dominion-opposed Cardassians in "In the Pale Moonlight," the whole idea of Cardassians unhappy at being, as Sisko once so keenly put it, "Dominion puppets" is a long-established one. Unfortunately, we have yet to see it play out in any significant way. Maybe we will before it's all over (I certainly hope so), but the fact we haven't seen it up to this point as a serious consideration beyond a line of dialog here and there is questionable. It seems like huge potential left untapped.
What I'm basically talking about here, and what is officially my theme for Deep Space Nine season six, is that there's too much ambition and not enough follow-through. DS9 is a solid series, and it takes risks. But there are so many more risks that it could and should be taking—potential risks that are strongly hinted at with wonderfully established little pieces of plot ... pieces that somehow go forgotten again and again.
To name some other noteworthy examples:
- Why didn't we see any reaction from the Dominion after the wormhole aliens destroyed their entire fleet of reinforcements? We're not talking about 50 or 100 ships; we're talking about a towering loss of 2,000 ships, yet there was never any mention of the wormhole aliens from the Dominion front.
- Odo was tempted by forbidden fruit ("Behind the Lines") and it seemed we had lost him forever. Not to worry, though, because he redeemed himself within two episodes of his betrayal. A bigger risk would've been to truly follow through on this betrayal and break the conventional rules, making him a regular character who was not part of the "good guys's" cause (though I admit that would be a BIG risk and probably a permanent change in character).
- Time and time again we were reminded how hopeless the Federation's struggle already was. Yet time and time again the writers invented new challenges, like the "super battleship" in "Valiant," and ignored major victories, like the destruction of the ketricel white supply in the season premier. How deep are the writers going to get us in? Getting in too deep begins to strain credibility and seems motivated by melodramatic intentions.
- In "One Little Ship" we were given a new breed of Jem'Hadar that doesn't respect the old breed, yet we haven't heard a peep about it since.
It's no wonder that I decided to initiate with my capsule reviews the "long-term plot patrol," which comments on plot aspects while taking more than a single episode of consequences into consideration. (This "plot patrol," by the way, may play into my reviews on a regular basis next season.) Deep Space Nine specializes in having a lot going on—sometimes too much—but the series doesn't always specialize in utilizing those elements nearly up to their potential. Sometimes they are merely Swept Under the Rug™.
Now, don't get a one-sided impression here, because there was a lot to this season that was wonderfully worthwhile. (The drawback of the year was in what wasn't done this season; I don't have too many objections to what was done on the major story fronts.) A big thing this season accomplished that previous seasons had not so audaciously attempted was to actually bring the Prophets into the plot as active participants, stemming from their interests in Bajor. Say what you will about the literal deus ex machina in "Sacrifice of Angels"; it may turn out to be one of the most important turns of the plot the series has seen. Sisko's relationship with the Prophets has much to do with Bajor, but it also has much to do with everything else these days. The idea that the Prophets are preventing any Dominion ships from coming into the Alpha Quadrant has intriguing possibilities: The Bajorans' gods are literally exercising divine intervention. Meanwhile, we also have the power struggle between the Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths. As much as I disliked elements of "The Reckoning," I do find the idea of an inevitable showdown that has far-reaching effects on Bajor to be fascinating, and I only hope that it is utilized intelligently in the future, rather than glibly as it was in "The Reckoning." There is a potential here to tie a great many things together; as "Tears of the Prophets" showed, many plot aspects could be affected, including the consequences to Bajor, Dukat's evil agenda, Sisko's tormented role as Emissary, and action on the various war fronts.
Sixth season also established a Romulan presence precisely the way it should have, bringing them into the war to make the Alpha Quadrant superpowers a unified effort against the Dominion. "In the Pale Moonlight" was a tour de force that exemplifies how the DS9 staff can shine when it sets its mind to it and pulls threads together.
Meanwhile, most vividly demonstrated this year was the season's effective use of Benjamin Sisko as a central figure in a torturous galactic mess. He's no longer just the Bajoran Emissary and commander of DS9. He's the man who was instrumental in starting the Dominion War. He's the man Starfleet Command pulls away from his crew to coordinate battle strategy for entire fleets. He's the man who led the assault to retake DS9. He's the man who tricked the Romulans into entering the war. He's the man who led the assault on the Cardassian colonies. Meanwhile, Sisko has to live with all of this. He carries all the baggage, including the loss of his own self-respect after being forced to lie and being an accessory to murder, and having to carry Jadzia's death and the Prophets' apparent "abandonment" of Bajor. Sisko has become a quintessential leader—a hero—but at great personal cost. He's cursed with accepting the responsibility of everything that goes wrong in his universe. He's a man defined not just by his past, but by the problems and burdens he faces every day. I find it immensely appealing in its tragedy.
And if there's one thing the opening stretch of shows demonstrated, it was that a radical change in setting can bring out interesting facets (some new, some old) in familiar characters. Odo caving into temptation courtesy of the Female Founder was nicely done (even if the end result left much to be desired). Kira's role as resistance leader featured a focused strength reminiscent of her character's first two seasons. It was telling to see Quark come around to choose sides, sucked into being a friend of the Federation for fear that the alternative was far worse. Jake facing the futility of reporting behind a totalitarian administration was a reasonable idea (though he wasn't given much to do). Dax taking command of the Defiant as Worf and Martok fought on the Klingon front made sense. Bashir was dark and disturbed, much more grim than in the past. Rom's willingness to martyr himself for the cause was a fresh and respectable approach. Garak, who had nowhere else to turn, was an honorary member of Sisko's crew, which would've been unheard of two years ago. And Leeta was ... well, still Leeta (I guess you can't have everything).
What was unfortunate was that after the opening stretch of shows, it was a return to the Status Quo. Aside from Sisko, what did these characters do for the rest of the season that could live up to what they faced in the first six episodes? Well, Worf and Dax got married, making most of their stories romantically oriented for the rest of the season. Kira was once again first officer under a Starfleet administration, although her subsequent major roles were alongside the mirror-universe Bareil ("Resurrection") and later looking back into the distant past ("Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night"). Quark fell back into typical "Quark shows" like "Magnificent Ferengi," "Who Mourns for Morn?," and the awful "Profit and Lace," all but abandoning the depth that serious roles during the Occupation Arc had provided him. Odo, alas, was a near-cipher, given little of substance aside from the romantic matters of "His Way." O'Brien received his annual dose of personal torture—par for course. Bashir was probably the best-utilized outside Sisko, being placed in stories ("Statistical Probabilities" and "Inquisition") that were framed exceptionally well as Current DS9 Episodes.
Characteristically, many characters seemed to be treading water for the latter half of the season, doing a pretty good job while being conservatively drawn. But there's not much challenge in sitting still and treading water, which is why the possibilities presented during the Occupation Arc were all the more intriguing, where everyone was shuffled around and trying to cope with overwhelming situations.
Of course, there's always Dukat, who is one of the challenging personalities that the writers feel they can take risks with season after season. As I've said, I wonder if his "crystal-clear" hatred and evil won't turn shallow (there are signs of that possibility in "Tears of the Prophets"), but I can't imagine I'll ever get tired of seeing this guy on the screen.
I think that sums up my thoughts on the big picture. At this point I'd like to discuss some trends of the season, for good or ill.
I mentioned that this season didn't have enough follow-through concerning some of the larger points. It did, on the other hand, have a tendency to fall back onto lightweight fluff, an angle that sometimes baffles me. I have nothing against comedy or slight shows in moderation. But there seemed to be a lot of standby devices put to work here, ranging from three "Quark comedies" to obvious romance episodes like "You Are Cordially Invited," "Resurrection," "Change of Heart," and "His Way," which were sometimes annoyingly placed right in the middle of more intense, probing drama trends.
On the other hand, despite some of these annoying trends, we had a good number of excellent episodes and very few episodes that rated as out-and-out clunkers. I didn't care much for "The Reckoning" (especially given all the potential), and "Profit and Lace" was the worst garbage the series has ever put out, but overall this season had fewer losers than any season of Trek I've reviewed. At the same time, there were also a lot of watchably middling episodes, making this seem like the season of the two-and-a-half-star rating (a whopping nine episodes), which says to me the season was staying afloat just fine, but was capable of more.
But numbers aren't everything. I'm more interested in going into the seventh season looking for closure on as many fronts as possible. There is a lot of material that needs to be followed up and put to rest (which ideally should be done much the way fifth season's "Blaze of Glory" nicely sealed off the Maquis storyline), including many of those oft-requested fan desires like the return of Kai Opaka in some manner, a follow-up to the Thomas Riker incarceration, a final mirror-universe episode, a revisit to Section 31, and all the other things I have failed to mention; as well as more pressing matters like an intelligent analysis of the new Dax character we'll be receiving, a plausible end of this war, a resolution to the struggle between the Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths and the implications that struggle will have on Bajor, a detailed examination of the entry of Bajor into the Federation, and all the other major issues I have either mentioned earlier or have forgotten to discuss.
If the makers of DS9 have learned nothing else this season, I hope that they have come to realize time is short, and touching all bases next season would be prudent. As such, there's little time to waste, so every episode, and every minute, has to count for as much as possible. Season six seems more than anything like a respectable but lengthy transitional stage from a fifth season that could've been leading into the final season but wasn't, and the seventh season that really is the final season. We've covered a lot of ground, but we've also missed opportunities and come to realize there's a lot more territory that still needs to be charted. The final mission begins this fall, and I'll be back then to offer my usual comments.