Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Two

This show continues to surprise, delight and compel me. Already, in its second season, I'm mentally putting Deep Space Nine on the same level as shows like Babylon 5 and Farscape... shows which, honestly, I've always considered the superiors (by far) of any Trek series. It's like they worked out most of the kinks that always held Next Generation back for me and are willing to tell more thoughtful stories about ethics and disillusionment. It's a more well-rounded picture of the future than Trek has ever had. I like it very much.

1. The Homecoming (my rating: 4 out of 5)
The biggest problem with this episode is the character of Li Nalas, the reluctant Bajoran hero that Kira rescues from a Cardassian prison camp. Once they work through what he represents vs. who he really is, it seems like there's nowhere left for the character to go. I like Kira a lot on this episode--this show really does some interesting things with her. And Frank Langella is very good (of course) as Minister Jaro. The violent dealings of Bajoran politics in the next few episodes really justifies my earlier comparisons to the 14th and 15th century papacies.

2. The Circle (5/5)
Very gripping episode. I didn't mention in my previous DS9 post, but Louise Fletcher is very good as Vedek Winn. If you want someone to play a passive-aggressive, controlling woman, you go to the woman who won an Oscar for it. There's so much going on in this episode--the coup against the Bajoran provisional government by the Circle, the plot to force the Federation out of Deep Space Nine, the secret Cardassian involvement in Bajoran inner politics, the continuing disillusionment of Kira with Bajor's ability to self-govern... they really turn her into a cynic, taking away more and more of her reasons to be optimistic and hopeful. It's something they'd never have done within the Federation on TNG. Great cliffhanger, and according to Becca, Vedek Bareil is the sexiest man on this show. I can take him or leave him.

3. The Siege (4/5)
And suddenly, Steven Weber. That was just surprising. I like the idea of the crew using guerrilla tactics to resist the Circle's attempts to take over the station; even in this situation, Bashir is still irritating. When O'Brien says "Julian" it still sounds like "asshole." The goodbye scenes are touching (I still like the friendship between Jake and Nog), and Quark is hilarious in this episode. I really think, to my great surprise, that Quark is my favorite character on this show. The military-political plot against the Bajoran provisional government comes to a satisfying close, but the death of Li Nalas isn't so satisfying. I get why he has to die and the point it makes, but after his rescue in "The Homecoming" he becomes such a nothing character that his death doesn't have much impact. Too bad.

4. Invasive Procedures (3/5)
Flawed, but gripping. I do think it was a mistake to have an episode where the station is evacuated immediately after the emotional emergency evac of the previous episode, but there's a lot of tension in this one that makes it exciting. I love John Glover as the joined Verad Dax... I liked him so much that I almost wouldn't have missed Terry Farrell if he'd just stuck around as the new Dax entirely. I think the major flaw with this episode is that Quark is responsible for endangering Jadzia's life and doesn't get punished for it at all. It's a major betrayal, far beyond just trying to make a few bucks off of a situation, and even if he didn't know Verad's real aim was to steal the Dax symbiont, I'm not sure helping to subdue Verad's Klingon henchmen was any redemption.

5. Cardassians (4/5)
If this episode illustrates anything, it's just how deep and complex Cardassian psychological warfare can be. That Gul Dukat would toy with the destiny of a Cardassian child just to humiliate a political rival is another chilling layer to a fascinating character. Also, more of Garak, which is always awesome. So he fixes the computer at the home for war orphans... tinker, tailor... soldier, spy?

6. Melora (4/5)
It's a nice attempt to look at the idea of having a handicap in the perfect Federation future. It's not entirely successful, but this is the first time Bashir's had a story arc that I felt really invested in. What I don't buy is that Bashir would be so amazed by Melora's low gravity experience. "You let me fly." They seriously don't have zero gravity training at Starfleet Academy? I mean... you're going to work in space, you think it would come up. I do like Daphne Ashbrook's performance as Melora Pazlar, and I like her final decision not to see her handicap as what defines her. Love love love the singing Klingon chef. Klingons are awesome.

7. Rules of Acquisition (3/5)
Well you can see from a mile away that Pel is a woman in disguise. It opens up a discussion on the place of women in Ferengi culture (and by extension the way we view a woman's capabilities in a business environment) that has a point but isn't presented in a very compelling way. Good to see Wallace Shawn back, and the Dosi are potentially fascinating (always great to see Brian Thompson). I'm still very interested in what's going on in the Gamma Quadrant, and the mention of the Dominion is tantalizing.

8. Necessary Evil (5/5)
At last, a glimpse of what life was like on the station under Cardassian occupation. The relationship between Odo and Kira and the way it changes here is especially interesting to me; they both were at the station under Gul Dukat's tenure, but Kira sees Odo as a collaborator. It's very brave to end this episode where it ends, with Odo's realization that Kira committed his unsolved murder years ago, and both of them unsure whether their friendship will be irrevocably damaged by that realization. Powerful stuff. Also, if I haven't mentioned it before, Gul Dukat is a fascinating character to me, and Marc Alaimo's performance in the role is astoundingly good. Never before in Star Trek have we seen this kind of character; he's capable of evil, but it's so a part of his nature and a realistic outgrowth of his life and career that he's never cartoonish. You can see the motivation for every evil thing he does, and it's almost understandable. Fascinating.

9. Second Sight (2/5)
Predictable and kind of bland. If there's one thing Star Trek doesn't do in a way I find interesting, it's love stories. I'm at least glad to have a focus on that side of Sisko, the side that's ready to accept the loss of his wife and be open to a new relationship, but the episode itself just doesn't do it for me. I do like Richard Kiley as Gideon Seyetik, though. Brash and over the top, sure, but he's got some fun and lively moments, even his death scene.

10. Sanctuary (4/5)
A complicated episode, one that comes to a bitter end and perhaps could have ended no other way. The parallel to the situation with Israel and Palestine is obvious, and laid out believably, and it's a mark of the maturity of this show that it's willing to come to such a realistically unsatisfying resolution instead of doling out a phony compromise in the last moment. We're also seeing the real power of the Dominion here, whetting my appetite to know more about them.

11. Rivals (3/5)
Not a wholly satisfying episode for a fluffy aside, but I did like Chris Sarandon quite a bit. I wish they'd bring him back, though it's my understanding that they don't. Quark is great on this episode, but the whole racquetball thing with O'Brien and Bashir doesn't do anything for me.

12. The Alternate (2/5)
Though it's nice to peel back a little more of the mystery of Odo's origin, the episode itself is pretty lazy. This feels like something a lesser show would do. Through the second half of this season, DS9 treads too close to being a "Monster of the Week" type of show.

13. Armageddon Game (4/5)
Tense as all hell. Earlier, I didn't quite buy that O'Brien and Bashir would spend time together playing racquetball. In this episode, with the two trying to survive being hunted, I think they reach the sort of understanding of each other that men find in the trenches. It decreases the level of awkwardness between the two in the future. Colm Meany and Alexander Siddig are both very good on this episode, and I love the denouement here--the idea that Keiko initiated a search and rescue of her supposedly dead husband based on her own misunderstanding. It's pretty brilliant without being one of those episodes that just leads up to a punchline.

14. Whispers (5/5)
Amazing. This episode does everything perfectly. By sticking only with O'Brien and never weaving in any subplots, the viewer is put through the same confusion and tension that O'Brien goes through, trying to figure out why everyone is acting so weird around him. It ends at just the right moment, too. This is like a Twilight Zone episode in the best possible way, and one of the best episodes of the series. Deft and very well done.

15. Paradise (4/5)
A difficult episode, one that's willing to say that the Federation model may not work for everyone. It pokes holes in the long-standing Star Trek assumption that the Federation way is the best way, and even if the episode doesn't argue it in the least frustrating way, it makes its point and introduces the idea that not everyone is happy in the Federation. I never even thought before about whether it's even possible for humans to live outside of the Federation. It's marred by a final shot that's a little heavy-handed, but it challenges a lot of notions about Gene Roddenberry's future that have previously been impossible to criticize.

16. Shadowplay (5/5)
A surprising and touching episode, one that makes some interesting points about the nature of reality and experience. It's also a step on the road for Odo, as lots more hints about the Changelings are dropped, and we also hear more about the nature of the Dominion. But the heart of this episode is the way Odo and the little girl Taya learn to relate to one another, and it's touching indeed.

17. Playing God (3/5)
It is nice to see more focus on Jadzia Dax, a character that I've still yet to really warm up to. But I was less interested in the character of Arjin, the Trill Initiate she's mentoring, and the whole situation with the pocket universe. The Cardassian voles were neat, though. And the singing Klingon chef is awesome once again. We need more of this guy. And Morn. Morn rocks.

18. Profit and Loss (5/5)
Yeah, it's Casablanca, but if you're going to steal, steal from the best. I know there's some talk about this episode that Quark is too heroic, but I think seeing that he's even capable of deep love and a willingness to sacrifice his own happiness for her wishes further removes him from the old Ferengi caricatures and makes him that much more complex. And speaking of complex, Garak is surprising and delightful in this episode. One of the highlights of this season.

19. Blood Oath (5/5)
Being very honest: I don't see me liking an episode of Deep Space Nine more than this one. I'm willing to be proved wrong, of course, but this episode is utterly fantastic. Where do I start? I love this episode bringing in the three best Klingons from the original series: Kor, Kang, and Koloth, played by the same actors, John Colicos, Michael Ansara (still with that tremendous voice), and William Campbell. I haven't said much about it, but the makeup on this series is so much better and more committed to making aliens who are utterly different than it was on TNG; Michael Westmore is taking more chances. Also great: the hair. I love the hair on the three Klingons; it reminded me of The Three Musketeers, which is perfect, because the plot reminded me of Twenty Years After. The three Klingons are enough to make this episode, but it's here that Jadzia Dax (and Terry Farrell) really comes into her own as a character, attempting to prove to the Klingons--friends of her predecessor, Curzon Dax, with whom they shared a blood oath for vengeance--that she is not only capable of joining them in their revenge, but that it's something she deeply considers her duty. It adds another layer, too, that there's serious talk about the ethic of revenge and what killing can do to someone who kills. It's another episode which confronts head-on the notion that the Federation way is not always the way of other people. There's a hint, to me, that this episode is saying that there will always be unease between allied cultures, because there will always be points of importance to one culture that will be almost impossible for the other to understand the importance of.

20. The Maquis, Part I (4/5)
Here we finally get a full picture of what this season's been hinting at regarding the Federation, its reach, and that there are humans in the Alpha Quadrant who don't consider it necessary. The notion of the demilitarized zone is interesting; sort of a Gaza Strip in the galaxy. It's also here that we see the ramifications of the treaty signed between the Cardassians and the Federation in the TNG episode "Journey's End," where some Federation colonies have been basically abandoned and left to defend themselves and their homes. Seeing the colonists involved in this kind of dispute really brings home the idea more than the uneasy Cardassian-Bajoran peace or the heavy-handed Native American allegory of "Journey's End." Extra points for Bernie Casey, who is always awesome.

21. The Maquis, Part II (5/5)
Two things really elevate this episode for me. First, it's that we see more ambiguity and complexity to Gul Dukat. Here is a being who really wants peace, but who equates peace with a certain order and who is willing to go to cold extremes to achieve it. The second thing is Sisko's "It's easy to be a saint in paradise" speech, which expresses a lot less optimism about human nature than we've ever seen before. Personally, I think it strengthens the accomplishments of the Federation; we see how much work it's taken to achieve such a utopia on Earth, and how hard it can be to maintain in the face of other cultures and outside threats. Humanity isn't perfect, but it can strive. I find the Maquis much more believable and understandable here.

22. The Wire (5/5)
This is an amazing episode for Andrew Robinson. Garak is such a rich character anyway, and here we find out that his exile from Cardassia and his life among Bajorans has filled him with so much pain that he's been using an implant to numb it. He has some fantastic scenes in this episode, and the denouement at the end--"It's all true... especially the lies"--is powerful. What a great character. I'm interested in the ramifications of the Obsidian Order. I also love Paul Dooley. This show gets fantastic guest stars.

23. Crossover (4/5)
Of all the things in the Star Trek universe to go back to, I didn't expect to see the Mirror Universe again. Interesting stuff. Mirror Sisko is downright scary, but Mirror Kira is amazingly sexy. It's a great double performance by Nana Visitor. Interesting to see what life on the station would be like if the Cardassians were still in charge (and if the Romulans had conquered Earth).

24. The Collaborator (3/5)
Some interesting debates over what exactly collaborating with the enemy means, even if it's in the name of saving people, but I just don't find Vedek Bareil all that interesting. The ideas of guilt and justice are examined as two different things, which is played for a nice ambiguity. This show doesn't take a lot of easy answers, which is impressive.

25. Tribunal (2/5)
Interesting to see the Cardassian idea of a trial, but I didn't think a whole lot of the episode. Just didn't click with me, I guess.

26. The Jem'Hadar (5/5)
Amazing. Now we see what a very real threat the Dominion is to the Federation and the Alpha Quadrant. It's amazing, too, how this starts off as a light comedy episode with Sisko and Quark camping, and then suddenly becomes a dire situation. The Jem'Hadar are genuinely scary villains, scarier even than the Borg because they're so completely aggressive. The way one ship rams and destroys the USS Odyssey, or the way one soldier simply steps through a Federation containment shield, just scared the hell out of me. In their first meeting, the Jem'Hadar, who have vowed to stop incursions into the Gamma Quadrant, seem far more advanced and undefeatable. Armin Shimerman is great in this episode, first in his comedic reactions to nature, then in the way he stands up for the Ferengi and puts the notion of their barbarism to rest, and finally in the way he discovers the Vorta spy on the station. This is really gripping, edge-of-your-seat stuff, and one hell of a way to end the season. Now we have an idea of what's out there, and we're just finding out how dangerous it could be. I can't wait to find out more about whomever the Founders are, but I have a bad feeling about how it probably ties in to Odo...

Cannot wait for more.


Bob said...

I was on my visa run last week and so missed your season one recap... I take it that you are now in "uncharted territory" in that you're watching these for the first time?

I remember getting chills when I watched "Blood Oath" in first-run... seeing Kor, Kang, and Koloth again. As you said, utterly fantastic episode.

Also, interesting fact, I am at this moment in the process of burning DS9 onto DVDs from my hard drive (to make room for Moar Stuff) and up pops this post. :)

SamuraiFrog said...

Ha, funny coincidence! Yes, other than the episode where they redo "The Trouble with Tribbles," I've never seen anything before past a few episodes in the first season. It's been rewarding as hell getting to watch it. This is really the show that got away from me.

Jaquandor said...

I'll be very interested to see your reactions to Season Four -- specifically, "The Visitor", which I think may well give "Blood Oath" a run for its money as far as your favorite episodes go. That episode is one of my favorite Trek stories of all time, and I consider it to be one of the great episodes of a teevee show ever.

greginak said...

I'm enjoying your reviews. I love DS9, in many ways its the best ST of all. Going through these first two season reminds me how many good episodes there are even though these are considered the weaker seasons. The character development in this show is better then any other ST, the places they go and how they grow and change is amazing. You think you like Garak now, it gets better. Every major character gets better, especially Sisko, Bashir, O'Brain, Bashir and O'Brian relationship and Dukat.