Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Four

I'm just going to come out and say that I found this season very uneven. Not that there isn't some truly great stuff here, but after the tight build-up of the previous season I think there's some loss of focus and momentum here.

1. The Way of the Warrior (my rating: 5 out of 5)
EPIC. The threat of the Klingons backing out of their alliance with Starfleet is realized in probably the most epic Star Trek battle I've ever seen. Bringing in Worf really does add something to this episode, and makes the idea of a non-allied Klingon Empire more personal than it might have, but for the rest of the season I'm not sure bringing him in was the best idea. This episode, however, is truly fantastic. One of the best of any Trek series. And General Martok is a great Klingon character (and always excellent to see Gowron). Great stuff here, too, with Garak and Dukat working together to help defend the station.

2. The Visitor (5/5)
Damn, Jaquandor, you were right: even better than "Blood Oath." A beautiful episode, extremely well-written (and it makes me a little less apprehensive about Voyager to see that the same writer wrote a lot of Voyager episodes). I'm impressed when time travel and the nature of how we experience linear time can be used as pieces of the plot rather than just plot devices. The narrative device works beautifully, not least because of a very touching performance from Tony Todd as an adult Jake Sisko. Todd is a favorite of mine, and I don't think I've ever liked him more than I do here. This is just great television, great science fiction; a beautiful father and son story, told elegantly.

3. Hippocratic Oath (3/5)
After the epic opening and the loveliness of "The Visitor," this one almost seems to come out of nowhere. Still, it does serve as a fascinating look at the Jem'Hadar; they may be machines bred to kill, but there is also humanity and difference of opinion in there. Somehow, this serves to actually make them scarier... I still find that I'm not so irritated by Bashir anymore. In fact, I think I'm starting to like the guy. Very interesting.

4. Indiscretion (4/5)
I find the relationship between Kira and Dukat very interesting, and it only deepens here with the revelation that Dukat has an illegitimate half-Bajoran daughter out there. Watching them come to any sort of understanding--of course, necessitating a conflict between the two to balance it--is always very compelling to me. I also wouldn't mind seeing more of the Breen. Way more interesting than Pakleds, at any rate. Ever notice there are always a lot of Pakleds hanging around the station? Must be cheap costumes. This episode owes a lot to The Searchers, which is fine with me.

5. Rejoined (5/5)
Fascinating; another aspect of Trill life that I hadn't considered before, examined in an organic way. The idea that Jadzia Dax (or any Trill) would be forbidden to reunite with a former mate is something I'd never considered. It seems very cruel, but I also see the logic of it: what's to stop these joined Trill from creating some kind of hierarchy of intelligence? I was proud to see Trek go with a lesbian kiss on this episode and not approach it from a salacious angle; it's a love story between two people, not between two women. That's nicely pulled off. I think again of the failure of the TNG episode "The Host" and I'm impressed to see them go further here and do it in a way that doesn't draw attention to sex and gender but instead to emotions. Nicely done, and progressive in the way science fiction should be.

6. Starship Down (5/5)
A real submarine episode, with the Defiant and a Jem'Hadar ship sinking into a gas giant. The disaster aspect, with people trapped on various parts of the Defiant, allows for some great tension, and even offsetting it with moments of humor doesn't dilute the suspense. I did love Quark and Hanok trapped with a bomb and trying to defuse it. Fantastic stuff.

7. Little Green Men (4/5)
Fluffy, but cute. This series has made me love the Ferengi, and seeing Quark, Rom, and Nog as the actual Roswell aliens just cracked me up. Of course Quark's greed nearly sees him taking over the Earth through business! And Charles Napier, chomping that cigar as a grizzled general... I enjoyed the heck out of it.

8. The Sword of Kahless (1/5)
Okay, this is where I think the season starts to lose some of the focus (and it's a shame, because I love John Colicos as Kor). Here's where DS9 starts to ignore basically everything that happened in the last two seasons of TNG and starts fucking around with Worf again. I'm so sick of it, guys. Bad enough you've taken his son away from him, so there goes all of that character development; now you've once again decided that Worf doesn't have anywhere he belongs. Is he a Starfleet officer or a Klingon warrior? Ugh, this is the drama that just won't quit. Now that he's been disgraced and the House of Mogh erased, we have to have all of this turmoil over where Worf fits in, and it just gets boring and repetitive. They handled this better in "Starship Down," where the writers addressed how the crew saw Worf as unapproachable. It's something you can weave in. But to focus an entire episode on it--especially an episode where so much reverence is dropped about Kahless, who is much more fascinating as a legend than as a figurehead spiritual clone--is just too much. This feels like we're in season two of TNG again.

9. Our Man Bashir (5/5)
Becca and I are totally split on this, but I absolutely loved it. A nearly pitch perfect Bond parody (the only snag to me is some of the names... Honey Bare? Really?), with the cast clearly enjoying themselves in the roles. I really expected to hate this one, but it helped a lot that the set-up is so damn good. After seven seasons of TNG, the last thing I wanted to see was yet another killer holodeck malfunction, but I like how they pulled it off: the idea that the crew's transporter signatures are stored throughout the station, their images in Bashir's holo-novel, is really interesting and at least sounds possible (and is treated as if plausible). And then Bashir having to keep the holo-novel going and make sure none of them are hurt and erased by the computer while Odo and Michael Eddington try to recover the crew adds suspense to it. And on top of that, having Garak invite himself into Bashir's Bond fantasy and the two of them fighting over the level of ruthlessness that may help them survive. And to have the whole thing be so funny and enjoyable! They really pulled this one off, and seeing the characters get to have fun as scenery-chewing villains is hilarious. Avery Brooks especially sells it; the whole episode really roars to life when he shows up as Dr. Noah. He's so damn committed to it. And really, the fact that it's even centered on Bashir and still so enjoyable is a testament to how far both the actor and the character have come for me. Fun on the bun.

10. Homefront (5/5)
And now there are Changelings infiltrating Starfleet on Earth. It's scary to see how unprepared Earth is for such an event. There's some interesting and intense debate on what constitutes defensive readiness and how far it should go, with some real steps in this and especially the next episode towards military fascism. Great turn by Brock Peters as Sisko's father.

11. Paradise Lost (5/5)
Intense stuff; we see how easily people can unravel and suspect each other, even their families, during times of uncertainty. This episode gets across the point that fear and distrust are our greatest enemies in a crisis without being heavy-handed; we see how Starfleet attempts a coup in order to deal with the Dominion threat, and at the same time, we see how the Dominion threat is very, very real. It's scary, and it's smart not to act as though everything is resolved by the end of the episode. One immediate threat at a time.

12. Crossfire (3/5)
Frankly, I'm just not that invested in Shakaar as a character. He doesn't even seem like the same character from last season. I am invested in poor Odo and what he goes through here, his love for Kira getting unknowingly stomped on. Decent and dramatic, but Shakaar just doesn't compel me.

13. Return to Grace (4/5)
We get it, DS9, everyone is in love with Kira! I think this season is meandering just a bit by having to split its attention between Bajor's admittance into the Federation, the Klingon-Cardassian war, possible Klingon-Federation hostilities, the Maquis, and the Dominion threat. This is a good episode, too, especially for Dukat, as he manages to figure out how to use the war situation to further his position and his career, and uses Kira to do it. Very much in character, and as usual, I like seeing the two of them work together. You can see how much the Federation has changed Kira, as she's unwilling to kill a Klingon crew at her mercy, but Dukat has no problem with it at all. (I think Kira's softening femininity is also interesting evidence that her character has changed and is embracing fuller possibilities in her life).

14. Sons of Mogh (1/5)
This episode just pisses me off, and it's the clearest example I have now of why I think Trek handles the Cardassians more effectively than the Klingons. This whole time, the Klingons have been caricaturized too much. As much as I love seeing Tony Todd as Kurn again, this episode is such an injustice both to his character and to the idea of ethics. For all of their talk about cultural diversity, here Sisko takes a clear and vocal stance against ritual assisted suicide simply because it doesn't fit in with his personal morality. I can't believe they actually put those words in Sisko's mouth: "I've had all I'm going to take in the name of cultural diversity." What an insult!

What pisses me off is that the Federation can never reach any kind of understanding with the Klingons. It's all unease and suspicion simply because the Federation is too squeamish to understand a culture that has been willing to embrace and ritualize its own violent tendencies. Maybe it's not our way, but isn't that part of the point of the Federation? So there's entirely too much treating the Klingons as though they're these barbaric children who haven't truly been civilized yet. So the interference here is just too much for me to brook. And then, at the end, to decide that lobotomizing Kurn is somehow morally superior to allowing him to die as he wants to? I just find that offensive. That the writers think it's somehow more humane to take away Kurn's right to self-determination rather than letting him face his own end as himself is just depressing. I despise this episode. It goes against everything the Federation is supposed to stand for.

15. Bar Association (5/5)
Thankfully, a much better episode. Finally, Rom finds his voice, and I love the way the episode ends, with him joining the station's engineering crew. How can the writers be so open to really giving Ferengi culture a respectful chance, and then look so condescendingly on Klingon culture? How can Quark be such a rich, complex, compelling character and Worf be so goddamn boring? Anyway, this episode is great, Chase Masterson is very pretty to look at, and any chance to see Jeffrey Combs play Brunt again is a joy.

16. Accession (4/5)
Very interesting episode, with Sisko finally accepting his role in Bajoran religion as the Emissary of the Prophets. What I especially liked is that Akorem, the other Emissary, was exactly what he claimed to be rather than some kind of plot by the Bajoran spiritual leaders, which would have been the easy way out. Akorem meant well, but was the wrong guy at the wrong time, with an untenable plan to return to past ways. Again, this is a progressive episode, especially in the way it views the inevitability of adaptation in both culture and religion.

17. Rules of Engagement (1/5)
Interesting narrative device (having witnesses in a trial addressing the camera) can't make up for a boring episode with a tired premise. Does Worf think like a human or a Klingon? Does it matter? The trial isn't even resolved, anyway. I'm so sick of going down this road with Worf, who barely even defends himself here. He just sits there while people talk about him. So far, the introduction of Worf and the Klingon-Cardassian war has just been a distraction from the Dominion threat. Where did the momentum go?

18. Hard Time (3/5)
An interesting concept; O'Brien is convicted of espionage by an alien culture and spends a few hours in prison. But he's given the memories of 20 years of imprisonment, so when he comes out, we see this hardened ex-convict who has trouble reassimilating to a life he was living just the day before. Colm Meany is excellent in this episode, taking O'Brien in to a hell he nearly can't get out of.

19. Shattered Mirror (2/5)
I'm getting awfully tired of the Mirror Universe, here, guys. It's getting harder to pretend I care.

20. The Muse (2/5)
Two parts that never come to a satisfying whole. While it is a nice farewell to a much more fully-realized Lwaxana Troi (and always nice to see Michael Ansara), the story with Jake and the alien muse (Meg Foster, always lovely) just doesn't really work. Hey, what's going on with that whole Dominion thing?

21. For the Cause (2/5)
A complicated episode that never quite makes it for me. It does try to show how the situation with the Maquis can put everyone in danger without realizing it, and there are some good twists and turns (although I knew something had to be up with Eddington, and he does make a couple of good points in criticizing the Federation), but it just doesn't gel somehow.

22. To the Death (4/5)
I forgot about those Iconian gateways. Very tense episode, throwing us back into the Dominion. Seeing Sisko have to work with the Vorta in order to save the Alpha Quadrant from a Jem'Hadar threat is pretty ironic, but that kind of tension is what this show needs. Surprising ending, too. Jeffrey Combs is excellent as Weyoun. Sorry to see him killed so quickly when he's exactly the kind of sleazy character you'd expect to try and use diplomacy to trick the Federation into submitting.

23. The Quickening (1/5)
I understand it's an important episode in establishing just how far the Jem'Hadar can go to punish a people (even though in this episode the entire population seems to be centered in one shantytown), and it's an important step in humbling Bashir, but that certainly doesn't make it a pleasure to watch. This reminds me of when ER started to do those "issue" episodes set in Africa. Too serious to be compelling.

24. Body Parts (5/5)
A great episode for Quark, who has to agonize over fulfilling a contract (which means his death) or losing the right to conduct business with the Ferengi (which means potential financial ruin). Watching Quark really have a hard time with this dilemma shows just how good a job DS9 has done with humanizing, for want of a better word, the Ferengi and Quark in particular. Also, nice to see Quark sparring with Brunt again. I love Jeffrey Combs. Lovely ending.

25. Broken Link (4/5)
I wondered when Odo would have to be judged by the Founders for killing a Changeling in the third season finale. I can't believe it took this long. Making him a solid is an interesting punishment; I can't wait to see the ramifications on future episodes. And Gowron a Changeling? I hope not, because I love Gowron, but at least we're finally bringing this thing back to the Dominion threat; if they could tie it in, that would at least take things back to the level they were at a year ago.

I think this season just lost the focus by having too much to focus on. Bringing the Klingons into the conflict is interesting, sure, but by having to focus on their war with Cardassia, we've lost a lot of the momentum that was building up with the Dominion. I really hope this is just something of a lost season, and that next season there are better ways for Worf to fit into the dynamic and that we can end some of the loose, disparate plotlines meandering on.

We have the Maquis, we have the Cardassians, we have the Bajorians, we have the Klingons, we have the Klingons at war with the Cardassians, we have the Dominion threat... oh, man, if they bring Romulans into this next, it's just going to destroy everything. Again, I hope Gowron's not a Changeling, but if we get some proof that the war and the severing of ties to the Federation are some kind of plot by the Founders to destabilize the Alpha Quadrant, not only would that make sense, but it would also make the fourth season seem a little less meandering.

I'm not down on this show yet, not by a long shot, but I really want to get back to where we were going.


Semaj said...

The Studio wanted to shift the show into another direction with the Klingons, and even the producer admit the show went too far in a different direction. Homefront/Paradise Lost were supposed to be the opening season episodes. They were planning on dealing with the Changling threat this season.

General Martok: you're going to see a lot more of Martok. More than you ever thought.

Let's just say you're in the right direction with the Dom/Klington thing. I won't say how.

Dukat's relationship with Kira is more twisted than you thought once it is reveal about the secret about Dukat and Kira...

Jaquandor said...

I am SO rewatching DS9 sometime in the next year.