Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

I tried to go into this one completely fresh. I remembered the characters, but I slacked off watching this one after a few weeks when it originally started airing in 1993. (By that time, Star Trek: The Next Generation was in its 6th season and I wasn't watching it at all.) Turns out I remembered even less of this show than I thought, and I have to say the quality of it surprised me. It benefits greatly from two things.

First, it's a spin-off: no need to go too deeply into explaining the Federation and Starfleet, because that's all been done already; there's a fully realized fictional universe here, with some depth and history, so the show needs less shakedown time. Second, because it's set in a space station instead of a new location every week, the show can afford to take chances and let its characters and premise build and breathe. Stories can carry over instead of the Enterprise just flying off to some other situation every week. I like that a great deal. You can see right from the beginning that DS9 is willing to break the shackles of A-B-A storytelling and go into A-B-C. That alone is pretty damn exciting.

So, here are my thoughts on the first season.

1. Emissary (my rating: 5 out of 5)
This is a great pilot. I've seen it a few times over the years, but always gotten bogged down in it. I think because I'm older now, and find the politics much more interesting than I did when I was a teenager, I got much more involved in it. I also find it endlessly interesting that here we have a Star Trek series so open to a real consideration of the science vs. faith debate. You could see it growing in TNG, but never quite handled with real intellectual curiosity. Putting an atheist in command of a station near a wormhole that is seen by an entire race as the home of their deities is a fascinating idea, especially for American television.

I think I appreciated this even more after delving into all of those DC reboots this month. Here we have a premiere, a first episode, that introduces its characters and premise efficiently, makes you interested in them as people, and tells a complete story while leaving the door open for more to come. Imagine that; a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Let's talk about the characters. Of course I'm thrilled to see Miles O'Brien come over from the Enterprise. Not all of the characters work for me right off the bat, but none of them truly annoy me (with the exception of Dr. Julian Bashir, whom I find very irritating indeed, though part of that is deliberate on the part of the show--this doctor is arrogant to the point of nearly having a God complex).

But the real triumph here is Commander Benjamin Sisko. He's a command character we haven't seen in Trek before; Kirk was the adventurer and hero, and Picard was the thoughtful, artistic intellectual, but Sisko is something different. He's smart and thoughtful, of course, and his sense of duty is obvious, but there's something about making him a widower and a father and a baseball fan that puts Sisko on a more realistic and personable level. He's not so imperious. He's reasonable and open, but firm and commanding. I really like him, and I was really invested in his discussion of linear life and the way he eventually assimilates the loss of his wife into his current life instead of living in the past. Avery Brooks is a very interesting actor, and it's hard to picture anyone else being this interesting in the role; he's curious and open to experience, and has an interesting vocal cadence, but he's also tough and a man of action.

Great scenes between Sisko and Picard, too. The best Star Trek pilot so far.

2. Past Prologue (2/5)
A bit of a drop off for me; I think it loses something by throwing in the Duras sisters as a tie to TNG. This show seems to work best in the first season when it's not trying to remind you that this is all the same fictional universe. I do find the political situation on Bajor very interesting, though, and I think the Cardassians work better than any "enemy" race introduced on TNG. Also, Andrew Robinson is a delight as Elim Garak. I know he recurs and I can't wait to see more.

3. A Man Alone (2/5)
I just find Dr. Bashir's interest in Jadzia Dax creepy. I'm interested to learn more about Odo and I think it's interesting the show is even acknowledging the problem of legal jurisdiction (re: station security vs. Federation security), but I was more invested in the playful friendship between Jake and Nog, and Keiko opening a school on the station. I also didn't care for the whole Sisko calming the mob scene; it's like the producers just wanted to have their Atticus Finch/Western in space moment.

4. Babel (4/5)
The aphasia virus was just scary as hell; the nightmare look on everyone's face as they begin to jumble their language was terrifying. Genuinely suspenseful; Major Kira really comes into her own in this episode for me. I like that not being a Federation officer gives her some leeway to break the rules. She's the strongest woman I've seen on Star Trek. I also loved Quark having to help Odo run the station when everyone else is infected. The way Armin Shimerman just delights in playing the character redeems every shitty, uninteresting, nigh-insulting portrayal of the Ferengi on TNG.

5. Captive Pursuit (4/5)
Here's where things really get interesting, I think: seeing what kind of life is going to come through the wormhole and out of the Gamma Quadrant. The Tosk and the Hunters are genuinely interesting aliens, the kind of characters we haven't seen so much in this world. Having this unexplored quadrant of space gives the creators of this show so much room to define what's going on out there in truly foreign worlds. I think the ending of this is a little too pat, though it's nice to see O'Brien start to realize that he can break the rules if he has to. Extra points for Gerritt Graham, whom I will always see as Beef.

6. Q-Less (1/5)
Terrible. Q just does not work on this show. I do like that Sisko isn't afraid to just pop him one, but with Picard we have two intellects philosophizing over the state of the universe and humanity's role in it; here, Q is just chasing tail. And it's Vash, at that, which I just don't get. I was thrilled when this one was over.

7. Dax (4/5)
An interesting exploration of the symbiotic nature of the Trill; is Jadzia responsible for the crimes committed by an earlier host of her symbiont, Dax? It's a great question, one even the show can't answer, as it does away with the trial through new information before an outcome has to be decided. It's a much, much more interesting look at the ethics of the Trill biology than that horrible TNG episode "The Host" was.

8. The Passenger (1/5)
I liked the deeper look at security jurisdiction on the DS9, but the main plot is so hammy and ridiculous. It's that old SF standby, the evil entity taking over someone's body, and it's just as hammy and stupid as it usually is. This also highlights a lot of Siddig El Fadil's weaknesses as an actor, which are many. The overacting onboard the cargo ship is insane!

9. Move Along Home (3/5)
Another hoary old SF premise: characters who are trapped in a game and fighting for their lives. It's not an incredibly well-written episode, but I like a few things about it. First, the gaming between Quark and Falow is actually tense and is well-acted. Second, it keeps up the level of foreign weirdness coming from the Gamma Quadrant. Third, it's impossible for me to ever not like Joel Brooks. And fourth, the punchline. Yes, it's one of those episodes that is only there to lead up to a punchline, but it genuinely made me laugh.

10. The Nagus (5/5)
This is how good Armin Shimerman is on this show: he makes me thrilled when they do an episode that goes into more depth on Ferengi culture. Also, Wallace Shawn is another actor it's impossible for me not to like. I really dug this episode and pretty much everything about it (even the intentional parody of The Godfather, something which TNG could never have pulled off). It was nice to see Rom put himself forth a little more (he's a hilarious character with a genuine heart to him), and I was genuinely touched by Jake's resolve to stay friends with Nog. The scene where Sisko finds Jake teaching Nog to read really moved me. Fantastic stuff, possibly the highlight of the season for me.

(Also, Armin Shimerman reminds me a lot of Frank Gorshin. Anyone else see that?)

11. Vortex (2/5)
I wanted to like this one more than I did. I want to learn more about Odo, but I found the Croden character thin and predictable. One of those times when DS9 tries too hard to be a Western in space, though I liked Odo's change of heart and that well-earned smile.

12. Battle Lines (1/5)
Heavy-handed anti-war statement. This feels like the kind of message-over-drama episode that Gene Roddenberry would've liked on the original series.

13. The Storyteller (2/5)
DS9 does The Man Who Would Be King. Some interesting ideas that aren't laced into a very interesting story, though I do like that O'Brien is as reluctant to spend time around Dr. Bashir as I would be. I liked all the stuff with Jake and Nog, and Varis Sul getting to spend time being a kid.

14. Progress (1/5)
Another self-conscious Western, this time with Major Kira trying to get a grizzled old Bajoran to leave his frontier home before it becomes toxic. The stubbornness of the farmer is really grating after a while (as are his homilies), but Nana Visitor's quite good. Once again, I was more interested in Jake and Nog. This feels like an episode of Little House on the Prairie.

15. If Wishes Were Horses (2/5)
Ridiculous, but cute. I dig Keone Young on this episode as Buck Bokai and his talks with both Ben and Jake Sisko.

16. The Forsaken (3/5)
I really thought I was going to hate this episode; after seeing how badly Q and the Duras sisters fit onto DS9, I expected Lwaxana Troi to also be an ill fit. Between this and TNG's "Dark Page" this year, the Trek writers did a really good job of humanizing her and turning her into less of a caricature from The Women. I like the scene in the turbolift with Odo where she opens herself up to him and removes her wig. That kind of character scene is so welcome.

17. Dramatis Personae (2/5)
The "everyone is acting out of character" episode that all of these shows do. (I think it's funny that the writer of this episode pats himself on the back for being gutsy enough to do a show like this, where everyone's so out of character, so early in the run of the show. Meanwhile, TNG did it in their second episode). Exhausting.

18. Duet (5/5)
Powerful and incredibly well-acted. What starts as a political mystery becomes so much more, and ends up exploring not only Kira's character and past, but also the ethics of war crimes and the meaning of justice. Harris Yulin is amazing as a Cardassian prisoner who may or may not have butchered countless Bajorans, and Nana Visitor outdoes herself in one of many fine performances on this series. Utterly riveting, one of the best episodes of any TV show that I've ever seen.

19. In the Hands of the Prophets (5/5)
For its season finale, DS9 builds on the breathtaking tension of the previous episode and creates a very brave episode, one that not only spells out the real danger for Bajoran attempts to rebuild post-occupation (the religious class, with various orders willing to murder one another to become Kai, much like the violent papacies of the 15th century), but also seizes on everything left unsaid in "Emissary" about science and faith. In a way, it's the contention of Evolution vs. Creationism, a "debate" which always comes with its entrenched politics. Here we have terrorism, idealism, politics, science and religion competing in this community, and innocent victims caught in between (and, of course, all of this a smokescreen for something more sinister). A brilliant close to an uneven but fascinating season that hints at more to come.

I can't wait to keep going on this show.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Skipped over your episode reviews, I think maybe I may give this show a watch some time soon. I never gave it a chance past the first season way back when it first aired.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Andrew Robinson is fantastic as Garak. That character pays off in so many cool ways as the series goes. I like Sisco but I LOVE Garak. There is a conversation that he has with Quark when the war with the Dominion is going on that is genius. Two aliens discussing what is wrong with humans and how they compare to Root Beer. I am ejoying that you are liking this show.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I watched every episode of this series (which becomes a war soap opera its last two seasons) in its original run, but never felt the need to revisit it in reruns. I do, however, recall vividly how brilliant Duet was, and how Yullin's performance knocked me out. I thought it came from a later season. That episode was this show at its best.