Monday, October 24, 2011

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Five

This season seems more back on track than the previous; I'm now reading the fourth as something of a lull caused by studio demands for Klingons (thanks for the info on that, Semaj) and we're tying back into the Dominion in a big way. So far, this is still my favorite Star Trek series ever, something which delights and amazes me.

1. Apocalypse Rising (my rating: 4 out of 5)
Yay, Gowron's not a Changeling! Boo, Martok is! Good stuff, tying the Dominion threat into the previous season's Klingon distraction and, in my opinion, saving the fourth season from derailing the whole series. I dig Klingon Sisko; Sisko's already the biggest badass on this show. Seriously, you get this guy in a room with anything--Jem'Hadar, Klingons, Vorta, Cardassians--and he still seems like the most commanding, capable, and threatening guy in the room. Sisko is awesome.

2. The Ship (4/5)
Suitably tense episode, though the tension might have been even better if the characters had been forced to stay inside the downed Jem'Hadar ship they were trying to salvage. Wow, two episodes in and we've already got two dead Founders. I think the very end is interesting, how Worf talks about the Klingon ritual of protecting the recently dead from predators; lots of Klingons on TNG talked about how the body is a worthless shell immediately upon death. Worf does say it's ancient, though; Worf's always had a thing about ancient Klingon rituals. He's deeply spiritual that way, and I think I see even more in this moment how Worf's biggest schism with the Klingon Empire has been that he expects them to act more like the noble heroes he read about as a child. Also, Sisko yelling at Dax is unexpected and amazing. This guy is one hell of a commander.

3. Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places (4/5)
This is how you do a Worf episode for me on DS9: make it a Quark episode. I didn't expect to see Grilka again, but I like her relationship with Quark, and Worf's jealousy (and his willingness to sort of play Cyrano to Quark's Christian) is a better examination of Worf's continued alienation from his own people than, say, "Sword of Kahless" or the odious "Sons of Mogh." Plus, it's just a fun episode. I love Quark.

4. ...Nor the Battle to the Strong (3/5)
It's nice to have a Jake episode; something rare on this show. I think it's a little overly earnest in its examination of Jake's guilt over a moment of cowardice, but this is fairly new territory for Star Trek. Seeing the perfect Starfleet officers as real people with real fears, willing to desert out of desperation or purposely injure themselves to get taken off the front line. It's very human, and that's the sort of thing that makes this my favorite Trek series: we're seeing a future populated with people, not saints.

5. The Assignment (4/5)
Surprising. I was surprised the episode played its hand so early and told us flat-out that Keiko has been possessed by a Pah-wraith trying to destroy the Prophets. But that actually manages to up the tension even more, because the writers turn it into a hostage situation, with the Pah-wraith willing to kill Keiko (and Molly) unless O'Brien does what it wants. It's chilling (I think Rosalind Chao is having fun playing a villain) and compelling, and O'Brien's final plan is ingenious. I also like the relationship between O'Brien and an admiring Rom, and how Rom can realize his hero is flawed without losing respect for him.

6. Trials and Tribble-ations (5/5)
Very cute. This is the only episode outside of the first season that I saw when it was originally on. I dig this one; seeing the original Enterprise sets re-created is just wonderful, and the special effects trickery going on here is very good. My only real complaint is the music; the brawl in the bar had such jaunty, comic scoring in "The Trouble with Tribbles," and here it's re-scored to sound more like, well, Ds9, and it just takes you out of the nostalgic fun. Sisko meeting Kirk is dorky but cute. Funny stuff, and even if it's in archival footage, I always love to see William Schallert.

7. Let He Who Is Without Sin... (1/5)
Terrible. I love Worf and Jadzia together, but here they have to do an entire episode on Risa just to get across a point we already knew: Worf is incredibly uptight. This episode just beats you over the head with its message of tolerance for all lifestyles, so it doesn't work either as comedy or as a message (or as character exploration). It is cute finding out that Leeta's in love with Rom, though. Good for Rom. I'm just invested in his happiness.

8. Things Past (2/5)
They can dress it up all they want, it's basically another time travel episode. Time traveling is apparently easier than programming a DVR. Gul Dukat is very interesting in this episode--we see in the past version of him that he really wants to be loved by the very people he is oppressing, showing the depth of his delusions. What bothers me here, though, is the end of the episode, where Kira discovers that Odo had, however accidentally, had innocent people executed under Cardassian rule on the station--and that he's not sure if anyone else innocent was killed. It makes Kira, the former terrorist who has been very honest about her past, look like a hypocrite. Hell, when she confronts him it mirrors a scene in the second season episode "Necessary Evil," where Odo discovers that Kira had committed a murder he had never solved, and she admits she never told him because she didn't want to lose his respect or his friendship. Here, she turns on him in the way she was afraid he would turn on her, calling his principles into question after years of defending her own actions as a terrorist and murderer. I know she has Odo up on a pedestal, but it's incredibly unfair for her to hold him up to standards she refuses to be held to herself.

9. The Ascent (4/5)
I like the way this episode combines its odd couple stories; Odo and Quark trying to climb a mountain for a chance of survival, and a newly-spartan Cadet Nog living with a lazy, messy Jake. Both stories are good, and the humor of the Nog and Jake story offsets the dire, Jeremiah Johnson-like Odo and Quark story.

10. Rapture (5/5)
Fascinating. Another step in Sisko's willingness to embrace his role as Emissary of the Prophets. Not even a step, more of a leap. I love Avery Brooks in this episode; he never plays his sudden fervor, brought on by visions of the future, as any sort of craziness. There's no moment where it seems like he's being controlled by something else, or going mad. His commitment to the role is evident, but his commitment to this episode is compelling. Oh, and Kasidy Yates is back, shortly before dropping off the face of the station... must be filming Larry Sanders.

11. The Darkness and the Light (1/5)
Okay, here we go again with the Kira stuff. While there's some suspense with pregnant Kira (carrying the O'Briens' unborn son) being put in peril by a Cardassian who wants revenge against Shakaar's terrorists, here Kira stands up and says she's not sorry for killing any innocent Cardassians who got in the way, because it happens in war and the Cardassians should never have been there. Meanwhile, just a couple of episodes ago, her friendship with Odo was in jeopardy because he was responsible for innocent deaths as well. This kind of moral equivocating is distasteful to me.

12. The Begotten (5/5)
Trying to put Kira in labor is funny, especially the inevitable clash between Shakaar and O'Brien, but the story of Odo trying to raise a Changeling child is so lovely and touching. It's really a story about parenting styles, with Odo finally confronting Dr. Mora Pol, the doctor who first experimented on him and "raised" him, and overcoming some of his past trauma. Beautiful ending, with Odo once again a Changeling.

13. For the Uniform (3/5)
The stuff with the Maquis is becoming less interesting to me; I like the personal anger between Sisko and Michael Eddington, and Eddington can be an interesting villain for Sisko, but I don't feel as invested as I once did in the Maquis. The idea of a holographic communicator is potentially dramatic, but it's not visualized very well beyond Eddington just appearing on the bridge of the Defiant. I understand the idea of it--that it adds more dramatic energy than just watching a guy on a screen--but somehow it doesn't work the way it's supposed to. Avery Brooks really sells this episode with his intense performance.

14. In Purgatory's Shadow (5/5)
15. By Inferno's Light (5/5)
WOW. This is this season's mid-run epic, and it's a good one. The Jem'Hadar prison, the return (briefly) of Enabran Tain, getting to rescue the real Martok (yay, I love Martok!), the revelation that Bashir has been a Changeling spy for the last few episodes... wow, there's a lot going on, and they really pull it off and give us suspense, some excellent personal moments (I knew Garak had to be more than just Tain's protege), and a Great Escape-style prison break. And that's a major step in the Dominion conflict, too, having the Cardassians actually join the Dominion under Gul Dukat's leadership. I like that Sisko is the one to re-establish the alliance with the Klingon Empire. This show has some great implications for the future, and I'm so happy we're finished with the hostilities with the Klingons.

16. Doctor Bashir, I Presume? (5/5)
This is one of my favorite episodes of this show, which shows just how far I've come from my initial dislike of Dr. Bashir. Fantastic science fiction, with a guest appearance by the always-great Robert Picardo (one of the things I'm looking forward to with Voyager), and Rom finally getting the girl. But the personal story about Bashir and his parents, about his genetic engineering and the reasons for it, is just wonderful and riveting. I especially liked Brian George as Bashir's father; I don't think I've ever seen him play a character like this before.

17. A Simple Investigation (3/5)
Not a bad episode, but this kind of mystery noir drama just isn't my thing when it comes to Star Trek. Odo finally loses his virginity, though.

18. Business as Usual (4/5)
Always good to see Lawrence Tierney, who was sadly recovering from a recent stroke. Interesting stuff, with Quark becoming involved in weapons dealing on the station. I'm glad the producers have gotten so comfortable with examining Quark's ethics.

19. Ties of Blood and Water (5/5)
This is a very necessary episode as far as Kira's maturation goes. I like that this episode tests her relationship with Tekeny Ghemor, who has become something of a father figure for her. That she could even have a father figure who is a Cardassian says a lot, but I love the resolution of this episode, that she ultimately doesn't let the violent past Ghemor is trying to atone for destroy their relationship at the end of his life. I found the ending--in which Kira buries Ghemor next to her real father's grave--very touching. Ooh, and they found a way to bring back Weyoun! So glad to see Jeffrey Combs back, anytime, anywhere.

20. Ferengi Love Songs (5/5)
This episode is hilarious. Quark going home and finding the Grand Nagus hiding in his closet--and then, later, Liquidator Brunt. Besides just being a very funny episode, it's also interesting how both stories--Grand Nagus Zek being in a relationship with Quark's mother Ishka, and Rom trying to come to a marriage agreement with Leeta--examine the role of women in Ferengi politics and business. And it has Wallace Shawn and Jeffrey Combs... amazing. Love this episode.

21. Soldiers of the Empire (4/5)
The presence of General Martok makes the examinations of Worf's place in Klingon culture easier to deal with. It's less heavy-handed than I expected, and I just genuinely liked the crew of the IKS Rotarran. It's interesting to see another viewpoint in the fight against the Dominion. I also loved Worf becoming a member of the House of Martok at the end, in a sense becoming Martok's adopted son. So in this episode, it seems like Worf has finally found a place and an identity. That they could do it at the same time as examining the relationship between Worf and Jadzia is really something. I think it just helps immeasurably that Martok is such an understanding individual; he's a better bridge between Worf and the heart of Klingon culture than we've ever had before.

22. Children of Time (4/5)
Interesting. Kira finally finds out that Odo loves her, and it adds another layer to Odo to see what he is willing to sacrifice--namely, the future--to protect her. It's been a while since DS9 has visited the idea that reality may be entirely subjective, and the part that belief and memory play not just in identity, but in our conception of reality itself. That's a heady theme that TNG could never quite get right, but which this show specializes in (and which made "Sons of Mogh" so offensive to me).

23. Blaze of Glory (3/5)
Not entirely successful for me--they play Michael Eddington a little too much like Hannibal Lecter here--but Avery Brooks helps to sell it and the B-story, with Nog trying to get respect from Martok and the Klingons, is charming. Thankfully, this seems to be the end of the Maquis storyline, and it's not a bad ending. I like Sisko's look out the window at the end; this isn't an arbitrary wrap-up, and we see that what happened and the decisions made really affected the character. I'm pleased with that.

24. Empok Nor (4/5)
Some real cat-and-mouse stuff here; Andrew Robinson's performance as Garak is downright scary in this episode. They're sort of doing Alien in this one, but it really works. I guess there's some controversy about a racist slur made by one of the Starfleet officers in this episode, but I've never bought the idea that there's no racism in the Federation. Half the episodes of the original series were about racism against Spock, and it was examined with Data and Worf in TNG. Granted, racism is something science fiction is particularly good at examining, and I have no problem with it at all, but those episodes wouldn't play at all if there wasn't still a human capacity for racist feelings. Look at they way the regard the Ferengi with such distaste.

25. In the Cards (5/5)
Lovely. Just a lovely episode. I love how a simple story about Jake and Nog trying to procure a Willie Mays baseball card to cheer up Captain Sisko becomes bigger and bigger, and more and more complicated, and ends up involving Weyoun and the Jem'Hadar, but also ends up smoothing out a lot of tense feelings and solving everyone's immediate problems. It doesn't feel like filler or a distraction, but like a calm before the storm, a reminder of what's at stake just before the Dominion War finally breaks. Speaking of which...

26. Call to Arms (5/5)
At last, it's open war against the Dominion, with the station on the front line, and the Federation standing only with the Klingons against the Dominion (including the Cardassians). This episode is so confident about how packed it is that it reveals early on that the Dominion has signed a non-aggression pact with the Romulan Star Empire. Later, it does so with the Bajorans, essentially abandoning Deep Space Nine to the Dominion. Rom's minefield is ingenious, and a good plot device to keep the bulk of the Jem'Hadar troops behind the lines. I also like that they can still weave his marriage with Leeta into the plot without any dissonance in the narrative. This is an excellent episode, and the final moments--with Sisko's message to Dukat and the appearance of a combined Federation-Klingon fleet--truly impressive. I'm glad I'm watching this now and don't have to wait months to see what happens next! This is the kind of excitement I've been waiting to see again.

Fantastic. They pulled this show out of an uneven season and, even if this season wasn't a total home run, put us right back into the momentum at the end.


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I can't tell you how much I am diggin your reviews of this series. I have such respect for your pop culture sensibilities. You analysis is spot on. I am glad you are getting to experience how cool this series was. Oh and the last seasons are the BEST seasons.

Semaj said...

Yep, a great season. I really like the direction Dukat goes throughout the series. You're seeing another stage in his character. wait till you see where he goes.

At this point, Rick Berman sort of lost interest in DS9 and let them do whatever they wanted, because Berman focused in on VOY and the movies.

Martok: The actor playing Martok got the job because he threw a chair in the casting call room during the interview.

I've always liked how Martok, the real one, respects all races and sees honor in all of them. Plus, you brought up the father-figure thing with Worf, and I never realized that but it is true.