Wednesday, November 27, 2019

''Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,'' Season 3

It's been over three months since I watched an episode of Deep Space Nine -- I'm watching alongside the Mission Log podcast, and they took an unexpectedly long break, so I broke right along with 'em.  I've been looking forward to getting back to it (sort of), and without further delay, so I shall.
  
  
"The Search, Part I"
  
  
(season 3, episode 1)
  
airdate:  September 26, 1994
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (story); Ronald D. Moore (teleplay)
directed by:  Kim Friedman
  
Sisko arrives back on the station after a visit to Earth, and he's brought with him a surprise: a teensy little Starfleet warship called the Defiant.  Its purpose: to carry a small crew -- consisting, basically, of the series regulars -- to the Gamma Quadrant on a mission to find the Founders and convince them that the Federation poses no threat to the Dominion.  Along for the ride is a Romulan officer who is monitoring the use of a loaned cloaking device.  Things seem to be going pretty well up until they aren't; the ship is discovered and attacked, Dax and O'Brien are captured, and Odo takes Kira with him on a mission to a nebula that has been drawing him the way Roy was drawn by the UFOs in Close Encounters.  The two of them arrive at a rogue planet, and on its surface they find a whole pool of Odos -- our shape-shifter has found his people at last.
  
  



You may or may not recall that the season-two finale left off on not a cliffhanger, exactly, but certainly on an unresolved note of menace: the Dominion had tired of the Federation incursions into the Gamma Quadrant, and had more or less forecast a shitstorm headed their way.  It's logical that this is where the third season would pick up, and so if you enjoyed that previous episode, I expect you'll enjoy this as well.
  
I did on both counts, and while I wouldn't give this season premiere super-high marks, it's confident and enjoyable.  
  
You may have noticed a new name in the credits above: Ronald D. Moore, who joined the writing team this season.  The Next Generation had ended its run at the same time DS9's second season ended; Moore's tenure there being done, he made a lateral move to the spinoff.
  
Are the effects immediate?  I don't know that I'd say they are.  That's not to imply that his work on this episode isn't good; it's fine, just nothing you'd call inspired.  However, most of the character work is good, and Sisko in particular seems to have a spark that he hasn't had in a long while, if ever.  (Avery Brooks, too, for that matter.)  Dax even points it out: this looming threat of conflict with the Dominion has given Sisko a passion he's lacked since his wife's death.  Brooks plays it well, and even has a funny scene -- a very funny scene, actually -- in which he coerces Quark to join the mission.
  
Other major developments:
  

  • The debut of the Defiant is a pretty big deal, I guess.  I remember at the time thinking -- which probably means I read it in a magazine or newspaper --that this was a reaction to complaints from butthurt Trekkies that this show didn't have a ship and never went anywhere.  Which wasn't precisely true, but it's not hard to imagine someone on the production coming up with the idea to give 'em all an actual bridge to be on so as to placate the old-guard fans.  I mean, it's not NOT a consideration, right?  The ship itself is kind of cool; it's built for firepower and maneuverability, so it darts here and there and fires off a rapid burst of phaser fire.  The bridge is awfully small, but kind of charming.  It's by no means a favorite ship of mine among Trek vessels, but if it's one of yours, so be it.  Go with the prophets, child.
  • Dax's hair is hot.
  • Kira's hair is also hot, but not as hot as Dax's.
  • The Romulan is played by Martha Hackett, who would later play Seska on Star Trek: Voyager.  If you liked her there, you'll probably like her here; if not, good luck.
  • In the cliffhanger final scene, we find Odo's people, who apparently all live in a big shapeshifter lake and look like Odo when they assume humanoid form.  We'll find out more about that in Part II, I'm sure; I don't remember much, as it's been many years since I last saw it.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"The Search, Part II"
  
  
(season 3, episode 2)
  
airdate:  October 3, 1994
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (story); Ira Steven Behr (teleplay) 
directed by:  Jonathan Frakes
  
Odo learns more about his people and his origin, while back on Deep Space Nine a series of peace talks with the Dominion alienates Sisko.
  
  
Gross.
  
  
Spoiler alert: the Changelings are actually the Founders, the core species around which the Dominion has formed.  It's a pretty good reveal, and though I'm not much interested in Odo and the Changelings, there are some good bits of mythology for both here.  We learn that Odo is one of a hundred Changelings who were, long ago, sent out into the galaxy unaware of who they were; programmed with an innate desire to someday return home, the idea was that they would go out and learn about the rest of the galaxy and then bring that knowledge back home to the Founders.
  
None of this explains why they all look like Odo.  Because, see, the deal with Odo is that he looks that way because he was trying to emulate a Bajoran face and failed.  He's pasty and ill-formed because he sucks.  So why should the same hold for these experienced Founders?  There's no indication that they are assuming that form so as to make Odo more comfortable; the unstated idea seems to be that that's just what they all look like when they take humanoid form.
  
We don't find out that the Changelings are the Founders until the end of the episode.  It's part of a double plot twist, the other side of which is that all the strife aboard Deep Space Nine is part of a simulation run by the Vorta, designed to find out how Sisko and company would respond to a Dominion effort to gain a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant via peace treaty.  I like the plot twist; I dislike much of what happens "on the station" leading up to it.  Can I say it?  Admiral Nechayev sucks.  I never liked her much on Next Gen, and I don't like her here, either.  And yes, I get it: this is not her, it's a version of her emanating from Sisko's perceptions.  I get it.  I just don't care.
  
And that's my reaction to much of the episode, actually.  I just don't care.  It's relatively effective that the Vorta and the Founders run that simulation; I just don't care.  It's interesting that Odo is never fully swayed by his people; I just don't care.
  
Another big problem for me: I hate the makeup design for the Founders so, so much.  So very, very much.  It's not a bit different than the design for Odo.  Guess what?  I hate that design, too; always have, always will.  I'm not a huge fan of Rene Auberjonois in the role, either.  You know that; you've read my thoughts on the first two seasons, after all.  I assume.  It's not that I think Auberjonois gives a bad performance, here or otherwise; he's fine, and occasionally (I refer to other episodes and not to this one) he's great.  But guess what?  Say it with me: I just don't care.  Nothing about Odo moves me.  I don't connect with him.  Other people do, and I envy them that connection.  I do not share it, however, which means that for me, an episode like this one is one that has a few background points that cause me to make a mild noise of approval in the back of my throat.  That's about as far as it goes for me, though, and I continue to feel that that's probably just the way it is, permanently.
 
Bryant's rating:  ** / *****

Side-note: the Vorta in this episode is played by Dennis Christopher, who was grownup Eddie Kaspbrak in the 1990 It miniseries.


"The House of Quark"
  
  
(season 3, episode 3)
  
airdate:  October 10, 1994
written by:  Tom Benko (story); Ronald D. Moore (teleplay)
directed by:  Les Landau
  
Quark kinda/sorta accidentally kills a Klingon in a bar fight, and ascends to the head of the dead man's house.  Thus it is that he finds himself with a Klingon wife and, potentially, a vengeance-fueled duel with the man who was seeking to assume control of the dead man's House.  Meanwhile, Keiko closes the school because her only students are Jake and Nog, and who the fuck can blame her for that?  Miles seeks ways to make her feel better, and kinda succeeds.




Before I forget it, I've got to divulge that the crossover with the It miniseries continues from last episode; not with Dennis Christopher co-starring this week, but with Richard Bellis composing the music.  Yes, that's my leadoff comment.

This is an amusing episode that pokes a bit of fun at Klingon ceremony, much of which was written by Ronald D. Moore, who returns for his second episode of the season and does strong work.  His teleplay takes good advantage of Armin Shimerman's strengths, and continues down the path of making Quark one of the most likeable characters on the series.  Surprisingly, I even liked Max Grodenchik as Rom; and I usually can't stand Rom.

Elsewhere, Mary Kay Adams makes for a very satisfactory Klingon playing Grilka, who marries Quark at knifepoint so desperate is she for a resolution to her family's precarious position.  We also get some good Gowron scenes, and those are always appreciated.

In the b-plot, the Miles and Keiko stuff is fairly good; both Colm Meany and Rosalind Chao do well, and that's a thing I haven't always found to be true.  I'm not super invested in their story, but I didn't mind it here.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Equilibrium"
  
  
(season 3, episode 4)
  
airdate:  October 17, 1994
written by:  Christopher Teague (story); René Echevarria (teleplay)
directed by:  Cliff Bole 
  
After a chance encounter with a musical instrument seemingly prompts a series of hallucinations, Dax makes a journey to Trill to be examined by the doctors of the committee that governs joinings.  Sisko and Bashir accompany her and uncover a secret wrapped in a conspiracy.




As I rewatched this episode for the first time in over a decade, I found myself thinking for the first half or so that it was reminiscent of a handful of Troi-centric episodes of The Next Generation; so much so that if I'd discovered this was a repurposed unused script from that earlier series, it wouldn't have surprised me much.

But as the story unfolded, I came to realize that this is actually a tale that could only be told using the unique joined-personalities conceit of the Trill.  With that in mind, I gradually became more and more interested in what was going on.  No huge surprise there; I like Dax, and I like Terry Farrell as Dax.

That said, the episode never quite took off the way I might have liked it to.  The mystery is relatively interesting, and the insight into Trill culture is interesting.  I suppose Sisko's resolution is in-character (he basically agrees to sit on a conspiracy that affects all of Trill in return for Jadzia's life being saved), so it ends up being a decent episode for him as well as for Dax.  But somehow, it never quite rose above the level of mild diversion and intrigue.

You can certainly do worse.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"Second Skin"
  
  
(season 3, episode 5)
  
airdate:  October 24, 1994
written by:  Robert Hewitt Wolfe
directed by:  Les Landau
  
Kira is kidnapped by a member of the Obsidian Order who takes her to Cardassia and uses her to ... well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?




This is a good episode, so why don't I like it more than I do?

It comes down to two aspects, I think -- spoilers ahead, so tread lightly.

Thing the first: it's one of those super-duper-intricate plots that you sometimes get with spy fiction where by the end, I'm left wondering if it made a lick of sense.  I'm not fully sure I even understand what happened here.  So Major Kira just happened to look like a Bajoran version of this Legate's daughter, I guess, right?  Same height, even?  Same voice, even?  At the risk of sounding crass beyond even my standards, are her breasts basically the same size?  Fathers notice those things, and no, I mean nothing salacious in pointing that out.  My point being, isn't that a lengthy list of convenient similarities?  One might say it's too lengthy.

Thing the second: boy, I'm just done with surgical-alteration stories that involve turning the regular cast into members of a different species.  By this point in Trek's history, it had been done numerous times already (going back at least as far as "The Enemy Within" on TOS); one might say too many times.  Thing is, if this level of surgical alteration -- and possibly DNA manipulation, as well (I'm unclear on that) -- exists in the universe, then one can never rely on anything one sees.  This is compounded by the existence of shapeshifters, by the way.  No human can ever be assumed to actually BE human; no Klingon can be assumed to actually be Klingon, no Ferengi, so forth and so on.  Unfair to blame Deep Space Nine for using a story trope that was already well-established by this point, but nevertheless I am holding them at fault for it the entire time I watch this episode.  This despite the fact that Nana Visitor plays her role well in Cardassian makeup.

This also despite the fact that the plot presented here by the Obsidian Order is strong enough that one would be forgiven for falling victim to it and assuming that we were being given a world-shifting development in Kira's plotline.  I remember wondering if that was what was happening way back in 1994 when I first saw the episode.  Boy, what a mind-fuck that would have been!

I guess I'm glad they didn't go that route, but part of me thinks it would have been cool.

The episode also has a solid supporting turn from Andrew Robinson as Garak, by the way.  And for that reason among others, I expect many Niners will be horrified to learn that Bryant's rating is a mere *** / *****.  Sorry, guys; too many things here that leave me cold.  I know they shouldn't, but they do.


"The Abandoned"
  
  
(season 3, episode 6)
  
airdate:  October 31, 1994
written by:  D. Thomas Maio and Steve Warnek
directed by: Avery Brooks
  
Quark accidentally buys a Jem'Hadar baby, who quickly grows into a combative adult.  Sisko frets over Jake's relationship with an older Dabo girl. 




This is a decent episode, but it's one that stands on wobbly legs within the shadow of a much better one: "I, Borg," the Next Generation episode in which Picard wrestles with the morality of liberating a Borg from the Collective.  He names him Hugh and they have a grand old time.

The Jem'Hadar kid in "The Abandoned" never gets a cutesy name.  It's also abundantly clear from the outset that (A) Odo is no Picard and (B) there's no rehabilitation for the Jem'Hadar.  These are dangerous killers who have been genetically created to be precisely that.

I'd be intrigued to know what a Picard solution to this quandary might look like.  I'm not going to speculate; I myself am also no Picard, and I feel as if any speculation I might make would run the risk of being ill-considered and unsuccessful.

So maybe it's to this episode's credit that it doesn't bother going down that road very far.  Odo's big idea is to try to provide Jim (that's what I'm calling him) with a sort of methodone so as to not need thew heroin of actual murder: he tries to sell him on killing holodeck simulations.  That shit don't work.  What other ideas you got, Constable?  None.

This -- more or less conceding defeat (at the end, Odo tells Kira that she was right to warn him against even trying to save the boy) -- is not a particularly Trekkian approach to an ethical dilemma.  It's a realistic one within the boundaries of the story the series has established, but in order to do that, the story had to exceed the boundaries of what makes for good Trekkian ethics.  So well done, episode: you defeated your franchise's prime directive and then patted yourself on the back for your gritty realism.  Well done...?

I'm snarking, and I'm sincere in my criticism; but this is an engaging enough episode, and it does go a long way toward making the Jem'Hadar a more threatening and memorable set of baddies.  As worldbuilding goes, it's a successful episode of Deep Space Nine.

I was actually more engaged by the subplot involving the Siskos.  Jake is 16 and is dating a 20-year-old Dabo girl, who is played by an 18-year-old actress who looks about 30.  Maybe it's the makeup, and anyways, it doesn't hurt.  We'll never see her again, which seems like a bit of a shame.  Benjamin is dead-set against Jake dating this girl, and Jake is surly about it, and Mardah intuitively realizes that assumptions are being made about her.  She successfully parries Benjamin's thrusts, and even causes him to learn some things about Jake that he didn't know.  Nothing world-shattering here, but it all works, and is probably the most invested I've ever been in the relationship between the Siskos.  Is this because Avery Brooks directed the episode?  I wouldn't rule it out.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"Civil Defense"
  
  
(season 3, episode 7)
  
airdate:  November 7, 1994
written by:  Mike Krohn
directed by:  Reza Badiyi
  
The station is on the brink of destruction after a Cardassian worker-suppression defense system is accidentally triggered.




People who love Deep Space Nine may well love this episode.  If not, I suspect they'll like it, at worst.  Me?  I'm mostly indifferent.  There are a few good character moments strewn here and there, and there's nothing that actively aggravates me.  Things take a good turn once Dukat is knocked off his high-horse and trapped on the station along with everyone else.

Otherwise, I just don't have anything to say about this episode.

Bryant's rating: an as-middle-of-the-road-as-it-gets ** 1/2 / *****


"Meridian"
  
  
(season 3, episode 8) 
  
airdate:  November 14, 1994
written by:  Hilar Bader and Evan Carlos Somers (story); Mark Gehred O'Connell (teleplay)
directed by:  Jonathan Frakes
  
Jadzia falls in love with a man on a planet that phases back and forth between different states of being and decides to leave the crew to be with him.  Meanwhile, Quark tries to create a holosuite program of Major Kira for a client.




I dozed off and on throughout watching -- "watching" -- this episode, and frankly, I feel no urge to go back and give it a second go.  My give-a-shit tank has run down pretty low with Deep Space Nine, especially when it offers up a lame a-plot like this one, in which Dax plays the role normally played by Deanna Troi.

The problem with the plot, in my eyes, is that it feels the need to try and pitch the idea of Dax falling head over heels in love with this guy.  As with all such stories that involved Troi, the guy in question is as bland and uninteresting as though he had emerged from a 3D printer.  I'll grant you that I slept through most of it.  I feel like it was the right decision.

In the b-plot, an alien who wants to fuck on Major Kira is disappointed by her spurning his advances, so he hires Quark to make him a pliant and supple holosuite version.  Quark is all too happy to do so.  We'd been making some progress with Quark, but here, he's flung right back into season-one-style despicableness.  The punchline to the joke is fairly amusing; I thought about using that as the representative image for the episode, then shuddered and settled for a bland and unmemorable one that adequately represents the episode from which it came.

Bryant's rating:  ** / *****


"Defiant"
  
  
(season 3, episode 9)
  
airdate:  November 21, 1994
written by:  Ronald D. Moore
directed by:  Cliff Bole
  
The Maquis steal the Defiant, with Major Kira onboard, and fly it into Cardassian territory.  In an attempt to prevent the likely fallout of full-blown war, Sisko travels to Cardassia Prime to help Dukat try to subdue the ship.




Spoiler alert: I neglected to mention this in my capsule summary, but Jonathan Frakes makes a special guest appearance as Riker.  Double spoiler alert: he's playing Tom Riker, not Will!  And in the beginning of the episode he's playing Tom Riker playing Will Riker.

See, it turns out that Tom has joined the Maquis, so this whole steal-the-Defiant thing is his idea.

Anyways, there are some good Cardassian-intrigue scenes between Sisko and Dukat and the lady from the Obsidian Order, who turn out to have a much bigger presence than even Centeral Command knows about.  I like most of that stuff a good bit.

All the Maquis stuff, as well as most of the Tom Riker stuff, plays like a bean-rich fart in an elevator.  Holy fuck do I give virtually no shits about the Maquis.  The Maquis suck.  They won't be redeemed even slightly until the first season of Voyager, and it's arguable whether even that does the trick.

Worse, this episode ruins Thomas Riker.  The sixth-season TNG episode "Second Chances" is a highlight of the latter couple of years of that series, and it's one of -- two of? -- Jonathan Frakes' best performances.  He seems lost at sea here.  Maybe that's the point; in fact, it seems likely that it IS the point.  Kira point-blank intuits -- showing a level of insight available only to those whom the screenwriter is feeding words -- that Tom must be trying to make up for not being Will.  Ugh.

I blame Ronald D. Moore, whose name is growing less and less dear to me, at least as far as Star Trek is concerned.  This episode arguable undoes much of the charm and pathos of "Second Chances" in favor of tying off its perceived loose ends by (essentially) bringing the Tom Riker story to an end.  And why?  All to service a Cardassian subplot on fucking Deep Space Nine?!?  Gimme a break.

As if that wasn't bad enough, "Defiant" debuted roughly three days after Star Trek Generations hit cinema screens; in that one, Moore participated in the lame assassination of James T. Kirk, whose death came in so bogus a fashion that I'm pretty sure the internet was invented shortly thereafter so as to provide a venue for complaints about it to be voiced.

The worst thing in the episode is probably the moment toward the end in which Tom, about to be beamed aboard a Cardassian warship for transportation to his life imprisonment, takes Kira in his arms and plants a kiss right on her mouth.  Kira looks uncomfortable; Tom looks like a mouth rapist.  Jonathan Frakes has never been less convincing a ladies' man than in that moment.  Again, perhaps this is the point.  If so, what an excruciatingly lame point to make.

Bryant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****


"Fascination"
  
  
(season 3, episode 10)
  
airdate:  November 28, 1994
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and James Crocker (story); Philip Lazebnik (teleplay)
directed by:  Avery Brooks
  
Lwaxana Troi has caught Zanthi fever, which means that her emotional state is being transmitted to others during the Bajoran Gratitude Festival.  She's been lusting after Odo again, which produces unusual desires among the crew.  Like, suddenly Jake is madly in love with Kira, and Dax with Benjamin, and so forth. 
  
Meanwhile, the O'Briens squabble.
  



In what I'm sure will be a shock to all those reading along, this episode didn't do much for me.  But it's alright; it's inoffensive, and has some "Naked Time"-esque entertainment value to it.  There's no bad guy, which I always find to be a good thing for Trek.

The highlight of the episode, weirdly, is probably the Miles/Keiko subplot.  Now, if you were always a fan of the two of them arguing, boy is this a great episode for you.  If you weren't, it's rough going, right up until the point where their differences get worked out.  Miles blows up, but later has a rather touching apology scene, which leads to a scene in which Keiko accepts his apology by showing up in a red dress and looking hot AF.  (That's a bid to appeal to younger demographics you just witnessed.  Yeet!)  Then she gets hit on by Quark, who, I shit you not, ear-rapes her.  Meaning he puts his ear against the side of her head and uses it to perform oo-mox (or whatever that's called) on himself.  Keiko, in a fine bit of acting from Rosalind Chao, looks genuinely horrified by this.

There are a few other quality moments sprinkled throughout the episode.  By 2019 law, I suppose I'm required to complain about how there are seemingly no same-sex attractions breaking out.  It would have been pretty damn funny if, like, Quark had been totally into Odo instead of Keiko; there was gold in them thar hills, but 1994 just couldn't get a license to mine it.

So anyways, not a bad episode.  As I've said before, fans of the show are apt to be much more enamored of it than I am.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"Past Tense, Part I"
  
  
(season 3, episode 11) 
  
airdate:  January 2, 1995
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (story); Robert Hewitt Wolfe (teleplay)
directed by:  Reza Badiyi
  
While en route to Earth to take part in a conference about the big Gamma Quadrant problem that's brewing, there is a chronoton fluctuation in the Defiant's transporter beam.  And so it is that Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are sucked into the past, ending up in San Francisco in 2024.  While Dax expertly blends in with the hoi polloi, Sisko and Bashir are imprisoned in a "sanctuary city" and try their best not to interfere with any events.  Unfortunately, they are mere days away from the Bell Riots, a seminal event of the era that Sisko credits with being one of the things that led America to get its shit together.  Gosh, sure do hope nothing happens to disrupt that...




This is a boring, pretentious episode in 2019; it was a boring, pretentious episode in 1995, too.  I can remember watching it when it aired and being vaguely dissatisfied with it in a way I couldn't quite understand.  It was a simpler time; I didn't yet understand that sometimes, things you think you're going to like turn out to be things you don't like all that much.

I feel bad about not liking this one.  I'm sure I've said that seventeen or eighteen times during these capsule reviews for Deep Space Nine, and I'm downright positive I've said a variation of this about a hundred times: I just don't have any inherent love for the series.  I wish I did, guys; I wished it at the time it was in first-run airings, too.

My big problem with this one is that it's just one goddamn time-travel episode too many.  I swear, I think that conceit ought to have been forcibly retired sometime during the TNG run.  That's not to say that there aren't numerous time-travel stories to come in the (relative to this episode) future of Trek that I enjoy; there are.  But I'd say that with each new entry into that subgenre of Trek stories, it became more difficult to persuade me that the idea was worthwhile.  That ANY of them succeeded with me is probably worth praising.  In this particular episode, though, the approach to making the time travel occur is so lazy that there may as well be subtitles saying "temporal anomaly due to a malfunction in the bullshittium drive in the wrtiters room."  It's so lazily achieved here that I can't fully remember what caused it; a passing microsingularity, or something like that...?  Fuck off.

Worse, there's zero sense of fun here.  Granted, fun is not what this episode and its sequel have on their mind; "Past Tense" is intended to be a sobering look at an America which has slipped a bit off the rails by 2024, and I guess it is that, especially from a 2019 standpoint.  But none of it is interesting; it's boring, it looks like it was all filmed on a barely-disguised backlot, and too many of the guest performances are unconvincing.

I know this one is a fan favorite, but it just leaves me totally cold.  We'll see if Part II works better for me.  This one's a ** / *****.  Sorry about that.


"Past Tense, Part II"
  
  
(season 3, episode 12)
  
airdate:  January 9, 1995
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (story); Ira Steven Behr and René Echevarria
directed by:  Jonathan Frakes
  
Sisko and Bashir struggle to maintain the safety of the hostages as the Bell Riots rage on.  Meanwhile, Kira and O'Brien hop around various timelines looking for a residual trace of their fellow officers.




Part two of "Past Tense" is definitely an improvement on the first hour.  But let's not all start "s"-in' each other's "d"s just yet; I remain unable to wrap my arms around this story.

Again, I'm left suspecting that in large part this is due to my simply not being a devoted fan of Deep Space Nine as a series.  Broken record much, Bryant?  Yeah, I guess I'm guilty of that.  But why, though?  What is it that's keeping me at a distance?  Is this really any more fundamentally less entertaining and/or edifying than "Time's Arrow," the Next Generation two-parter?  I think it probably is, actually, but is that purely because that two-parter has Jerry Hardin memorably chewing the scenery as Mark Twain alongside Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan?  I mean, what's "Past Tense" got to compare to that?  Dick Miller and Clint Howard, I guess, for what that's worth.

The bottom line for me is that "Past Tense" simply lacks any sense of fun.  Okay, fine; it needn't be fun.  Star Trek doesn't have to be fun; Star Trek can instead be ethically compelling, and that's what "Past Tense" is shooting for.  The approach is summed up in the episode's final scene, where Bashir asks Sisko how the people of the 21st century can possibly have let things get so bad.  "I don't know," says Sisko, who turns and looks directly into the camera; "how could they have done that?"  Alright, alright; I'm exaggerating -- there's no turn to the camera, no portentous "how could they."  But otherwise, that's the gist of the conversation.  In other words, this is Star Trek looking directly at the people of 1995 and saying, "You better get your act together, or this is where you're headed, and by the way, how dare you?"

In other words, this is Star Trek deciding that rather than point the way to the stars, it's going to point an accusatory finger and say that things are going to have to get worse before they can get better.  I doubt anyone looked at what they were doing in that manner, but that's the implication of the episode.  It doesn't sit well with me.

Otherwise, though, it's not bad.  Avery Brooks seems to be enjoying himself in action-hero mode; the episode could have gone farther down that road and I'd have been okay with it.  The aforementioned Dick Miller is always good to see; as, I suppose, is the aforementioned Clint Howard (who is squandered here in what amounts to a glorified cameo).  The scene where Kira and O'Brien visit the sixties and are given flowers by high-as-a-kite hippies is kind of amusing; a little lame, also, but kind of amusing.

It's all well-intentioned enough.  This is at least an example of Deep Space Nine trying to be Star Trek.  That's more than you can say about it some weeks.  It's not a great example of success in that regard, but shit, man, I'll take it; I'll take it.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"Life Support"
  
  
(season 3, episode 13)
  
airdate:  January 31, 1995
written by:  Christian Ford and Roger Soffer (story); Ronald D. Moore (teleplay)
directed by:  Reza Badiyi
  
When Vedek Bareil is gravely injured while en route to a secret round of peace talks with Cardassia, it throws the whole endeavor into doubt.  Bashir revives Bareil from near death and uses a series of (increasingly dangerous) experimental procedures to extend his life long enough to continue guiding Kai Winn through the negotiations.
  
Meanwhile, Nog ruins a date for Jake and the two find their friendship strained.




A decent episode that takes a swing for ... well, if not the fences, exactly, it does take a swing.

Problem is -- for me, if not for you -- that the Bajoran politics angle of the story is dull.  Vedek Bareil never caught on as a character; he's just kind of dull, bless his heart, and he and Kira have no palpable chemistry.  So when this episode ends with her crying over him, it doesn't provoke any meaningful emotion despite Nana Visitor's best efforts to provoke them.

Also, this episode finds Kai Winn in more or less a good-guy role.  Kai Winn is no fun unless she's being evil; again, Louise Fletcher does what she can with the part, but this screenplay does not play to her strengths.

As for the subplot in which Jake and Nog go on a double date and then have to learn to respect one another's differences, it's execrable.  The moral of their story is, "Let each other BE each other, and don't let differences ruin a good friendship."  Which is a good point in theory, but the dates are ruined because Nog insists on telling his date to remain silent.  He also expects her to cut up his food for him.  And the moral of the story is, that behavior is okay because it's part of Ferengi culture to act that way toward females.  I can't get onboard with that sentiment for even one second, nor can I get onboard with the sentiment that the polite thing to do if your friend behaves that way is to simply shrug and clap a hand on his back while shaking your head in amused disbelief.  Maybe that would be the polite way to respond if you were on your friend's planet at the time; but otherwise, I don't think it's asking too much to expect people onboard a space station to conform to the behaviors of those running it.  Believe as you wish, young Ferengi; but behave yourself.

That this episode doesn't ask that of Nog is kind of a bummer, in my opinion.

Bryant's rating: half a star deducted for the terrible subplot, so *** / ***** is where this one lands.


"Heart of Stone"
  
  
(season 3, episode 14)
  
airdate:  February 6, 1995
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
directed by:  Alexander Singer
  
Kira and Odo chase a Maquis in a small vessel to a small moon; once there, Kira becomes ensnared in some sort of crystalline hazard, and she and Odo must face the mortal threat it poses as it begins to spread over her entire body.
  
Meanwhile, on the station, Nog tries to get Sisko to recommend him for training at Starfleet Academy and the Commander decides to test his resolve.





This is a solid episode that manages to work across both of its plotlines.  I suppose the A-plot -- in which Odo declares his love for a dying Kira, who declares her love for him before revealing herself to be a Founder who has been testing the Constable -- is both contrived and a little sappy, but it's effective despite that.  I'm not the world's biggest Odo fan, but I admire his tenacity and his loyalty here; this is the closest he's ever gotten to fully working for me as a character, I think.

Speaking of which, I quite like the Nog subplot.  I've got caveats about that, though.  It was just last week that Nog caused a big stink about women being fit only to be silent and cut his food for him.  Here's the thing: Starfleet is a diverse and accepting place, but I do not believe it can be accepting of reckless misogyny of the sort Nog displayed in "Life Support."  There's a reason there are no Ferengi in Starfleet, and Sisko is entirely correct to be not merely skeptical of Nog's efforts but disdainful of them.  At least as it relates to the Nog we've seen up until "Heart of Stone."

The Nog we get in "Heart of Stone" seems to me almost like a different character; consequently, his subplot here feels like a bit of a course correction.  If that's the case, is his subplot here fair from a storytelling standpoint?  If you say "no," I'm not sure you're wrong.

So how come I, a noted Nog detractor heretofore, feel like it's an acceptable development?  Because I do.  This works for me, surprised though I may be to find myself saying it.  I guess I believe in it for no better reason than that I want to believe in it; I want to believe in the notion that Starfleet could and would inspire that sort of shift in people who might otherwise not seek out such a course in life.  Granted, as he eventually reveals to Sisko, Nog has his own reasons for this that have been growing in him regardless of any influence from Starfleet; the idea to join Starfleet simply crystalized and focused them.

Great!  Fine by me.  I kind of have to rationalize that much of this happened offscreen as a result of Nog and Jake's awful double date during "Life Support," but I can get my mind to go in that direction, so I'm happy to do that if that's what I need to do.

Bottom line: I dig this episode.  Nog's teeth -- not to mention Rom's -- still need to be forcibly corrected, however.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / ****


"Destiny"
  
  
(season 3, episode 15)
  
airdate:  February 13, 1995
written by:  David S. Cohen and Martin A. Winer
directed by:  Les Landau
  
In the wake of the new peace treaty with Bajor, a pair of Cardassian scientists comes aboard the station to help establish a communications relay between the Alpha and Gamma quadrants.  A Bajoran Vedek expresses concerns to Sisko that this matches up with a prophecy which fortells doom for the wormhole, and Sisko must wrestle with his feelings about his status as the Emissary.  Meanwhile, O'Brien has to wrestle with his own feelings about feelings one of the Cardassian scientists develops for him, and Kira has to wrestle with her feelings about working for the Emissary.


Speaking of tight access tubes, Chief...


The Sisko-as-religious-icon aspect of Deep Space Nine has never sat particularly well with me, but the good news about that is that -- at least as of this point in the series (and I can't remember where it lands once the seven seasons are over) -- it's never sat particularly well with Sisko, either.  Much of this episode revolves around that tension, not only as it pertains to Sisko himself, but also as it pertains to Kira.  Is he actually the Emissary?  If he is, what does that mean?  Are prophecies to be believed by default?

The episode flirts with the issue, but comes down firmly on the side of feeling blind adherence to prophecy is a bad idea.  It's a good thing; I'm not sure you could go the other way within the bounds of what Star Trek is.  Maybe some would argue with me on that, but that's how I feel about it.  This episode seems to agree, painting prophecy in a less than complimentary manner.  Three thousand years leaves an awful lot of room for mistranslation and for biased interpretation; and those things lead, potentially, to grave mistakes.  I think the episode tries -- and arguably succeeds -- to show how dangerously attractive belief in prophecy can be, at the same time.  All in all, it's a relatively successful attempt to look at the idea from a nuanced standpoint.

I'm actually more interested in the b-plot, in which a hot Cardassian scientist -- played well by former Lois & Clark gossip columnist and future Babylon 5 commander Tracy Scoggins -- bristles at the presence of Miles O'Brien because she feels males are poorly suited to the sciences.  He bristles at this and refuses to back down, which she -- in a case of crossed cultural signals -- interprets (and not without interest) as a courtship initiation.  O'Brien's racist anti-Cardassian tendencies are never brought explicitly into the story, and while I'm happy not to go down that route, I'm a little saddened; this would have been a good vehicle to use them to give Miles some really solid character growth.  Instead, we're kind of left to maybe assume that he's turned a corner offscreen at some point.

That's a bit of a missed opportunity, though; this could easily have been fertile ground for a memorable a-plot in which not only is Miles grown, but the Cardassians are further individualized.

As-is, though, I like what's here; there's not much of it, but it works.  Colm Meaney and Tracy Scoggins have solid chemistry, which counts for a lot.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Prophet Motive"
  
  
(season 3, episode 16)
  
airdate:  February 20, 1995
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
directed by:  Rene Auberjonois
  
The Grand Nagus pays Quark a visit, promptly moves into his quarters (displacing Quark to live with Rom), and announces that he has rewritten the Rules of Acquisition from a more benevolent and less profit-focused standpoint.  What the what?!?  Meanwhile, Bashir is nominated for a Starfleet Medical award that nobody expects him to win.


When the first shot of an episode is an extreme close-up on Quark making an O face, you know you're in trouble.


At one point in time, I'd have told you that I had very little tolerance for the occasional Ferengi side-trips on Deep Space Nine.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I said as much early in my first post about the series.  Consider me surprised, then, by how much I'm digging them this time around.  For example, through sixteen episodes of season three, the three episodes I'd say are my favorite of the season are strongly Ferengi-focused.

In considering why that is, I think I've come to the conclusion that focusing on the Ferengi allows the writers of the show an opportunity to do what they really want to do: pay as little attention as possible to the ethical values that are supposed to typify Starfleet and Star Trek.  I've taken them to task for that on a few occasions and will do so on a few more occasions, I'm sure, but I feel little to no urge to do so when the plotline of the week focuses on the Ferengi.  Those sorts of stories suit them well, and in that way can fit within the framework of "Star Trek" without violating it.  Everyone wins!

It's an amusing idea to say, "What if Quark met the wormhole aliens like Sisko did in the pilot episode?"  That's a charming what-if, because it naturally leads to comedy such as the aliens being extra annoyed by the aggressive selfishness of the Ferengi.  So when you posit the notion that they'd get one taste of the Grand Nagus and decide to "fix" him, well, that's pretty funny.  Armin Shimerman and Wallace Shawn can play that sort of thing in their sleep, and Max Grodénchik is pretty good in this one, too.

Good lord, did the wormhole aliens get ahold of me...?

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Visionary"
  
  
(season three, episode 17)
  
airdate:  February 27, 1995
written by:  Ethan H. Calk (story); John Shirley (teleplay)
directed by:  Reza Badiyi
  
Miles is zapped by some mysterious radiation and soon becomes slightly unstuck in time, occasionally bouncing forward five hours.  While so doing, he finds evidence that the station is going to be destroyed.
  
Meanwhile, a delegation of Romulans are onboard gathering facts about the Dominion.  This might or might not result in trouble if the party of Klingons who are aboard while their ship is getting prepared push it in that direction.




There's nothing too terribly interesting going on in this episode, but it's inoffensive and is well-made across the board, and you can always say worse things about an episode than that.  If I have a problem, it's less with the episode itself than with the fact that it reminds me how ineffectual the Dominion arc has been up to this point.  The Dominion is this big sword dangling over the head of not merely the Federation but the entire Alpha Quadrant, but there's nothing whatsoever happening with it.  In theory, that's okay; the idea, I guess, is that the Dominion is out there, biding their time rather than rushing right into a conflict.

Does it feel as if that's what is going on in the story, though?  It feels to me as if what's going on is that the series' producers were desperately trying to avoid the need to have every episode deal with the Dominion, lest the show's ratings suffer as (what would have been) its newly serialized approach alienated confused viewers week after week.  That's how all of this feels to me.  In which case, why do any of this?

I don't really mind any of that too much, though.  I get it.  If that was their concern, they were right to be concerned about it.

All of which has little to do with this episode.  The bulk of the action is devoted to Miles figuring out ways to deal with the things he sees on his trips into the very near future.  The bar is raised higher and higher, until eventually he's having to keep himself alive; and then he has to stop the station from being destroyed, which is a high-stakes proposition indeed.

The episode comes to a surprising end when the "real" Miles ends up dying as a result of the radiation, and the five-hours-in-the-future Miles takes his place.  This means that technically, the Chief O'Brien who is in the series from now on is a (slightly) different character than the one who we've known since his TNG days.  Trippy!  The gang at Voyager would pull a similar trick with Harry Kim about a year later, in the second-season episode "Deadlock."  I like this episode; I love that one, though.  If it's a competition, I'll side with Voyager just about every time.

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"Distant Voices"
  
  
(season 3, episode 18)
  
airdate:  April 10, 1995
written by:  Joe Menosky (story); Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe (teleplay)
directed by:  Alexander Singer
  
Julian is attacked by an alien and wakes up to find the station mostly deserted and himself rapidly aging.




This is another third-season DS9 episode which I'd describe as being thoroughly middle-of-the-road.  There's nothing bad here, but the episode never manages to achieve liftoff and turn itself into something memorable, either.

One might be inclined to disagree if one is a big Julian Bashir fan.  I'm not, personally.  He's fine; he doesn't irk me or anything like that.  He's one of those Trek characters that I don't mind, but whom I would rate as being merely okay.  See also Beverly Crusher, most of the cast of Deep Space Nine, Tom Paris, Harry Kim, Malcolm Reed, Travis Mayweather (whose name I literally just had to look up), and almost the entire cast of Discovery.

Do I mind someone else being a devoted fan of any of those characters?  Nope.  I just don't share it and confess that I am a bit confused by it.  But y'all do you, it's fine by me.  And with that in mind, if you're a huge Bashir fan, you'll probably jump this episode up about a full star higher than I have it rated (spoiler alert: ** 1/2), if not a star and a half.

One thing's for sure: Siddig El Fadil gives it his all here.  He's fantastic, as is the old-age makeup which won the episode a well-deserved Emmy.  The problem with the episode is that it's all very obviously just an excuse to have worked with that concept (rapidly-aging Bashir).  Unlike, say, "The Inner Light," this one doesn't really seem to have anything on its mind beyond providing one of the central cast members the opportunity to shine.  Sure, it's got a decent theme: it's an exploration of Bashir's agita over his impending thirtieth birthday.  Didn't Bashir kind of lament his youth to some extent a mere two weeks back, though?  (In "Prophet Motive," Julian is up for the Carrington award for achievement in Starfleet medical practice, but glumly posits that he's nowhere near old enough to win.  He clearly wants to win very badly, implication being that he wishes he were older and more seasoned.)  And, as they pointed out on the Mission Log episode about "Distant Voices," why would anyone fret about being thirty in a society where people routinely live to be well older than 100 (and at a significantly higher standard of living than you or I enjoy)?  Anyways, the episode does serve as a decent exploration of Bashir worrying about getting "older," so it's by no means totally brainless; I just don't think the horse is leading the cart here.

But is it a bad episode?  Laws, no.  You can do worse.

Bryant's rating: as promised, ** 1/2 / *****


"Through the Looking Glass"
  
  
(season 3, episode 19)
  
airdate:  April 17, 1995
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
directed by:  Winrich Kolbe 
  
"Smiley" O'Brien pops over from the Mirror Universe and abducts Sisko, who he needs to help convince the wife of that dimension's Benjamin to stop work on a device which will give the Alliance a dangerous power over the rebels.


 


Disclaimer: I hate the mirror universe and think it is stupid and lame.

That said, it can sometimes be a fun concept, and I think "Through the Looking Glass" ends up being a fairly fun episode.  It's fun enough that I can kind of overlook the various contrivances which are required to make it happen; I can't forget them, but I can temporarily move past them.

Avery Brooks is very good in this episode in the scenes which require him to be the stoic, thoughtful version of Sisko; he's less good when he's doing the mannered wild-man stuff that typifies the unhinged mirror-Sisko.  It's the former part of that equation which is by far the most important, though, and in the moments where he's interacting with Jennifer -- who is not his former wife, but is obviously very much a reflection of her -- this episode works quite well.  There's probably an even better version of it where that relationship is the sole focus; this one isn't it, but that's okay, because the action/adventure/intrigue elements work fairly well on their own accord.

The episode also involves Prime Sisko putting dick to both Mirror Jadzia and Mirror Kira, which kind of sat poorly with me.  I mean ... no shame or whatever.  It just doesn't seem much like a thing Sisko would do; I think he'd find a way out of that, because he'd feel it was a betrayal of his relationships with the "real" Jadzia and Kira.  This feels more like weird wish-fulfillment on the part of the filmmakers.  Hey, whatever.  Y'all think some weird shit isn't gotten up to with these sci-fi shows?  You bet it is.  Just felt a little off to me here.

Oh...!  I almost forgot to mention that there's a cool appearance by mirror-universe Tuvok, which implies that there essentially IS no mirror-universe crew of the Voyager.  Tim Russ isn't given much of anything to do here, but he's fine; it's nice to see him.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Improbable Cause"
  
  
(season 3, episode 20)
  
airdate:  April 24, 1995
written by:  Robert Lederman & David R. Long (story); René Echavarria (teleplay)
directed by:  Avery Brooks
  
When Garak's shop is destroyed in an explosion (and he is nearly destroyed along with it), Odo launches an investigation that points at the Romulans, and then at the Obsidian Order.  What's the truth?  IS there truth?




If you're a big fan of episodes in which Garak banters/lies his way through things, then this will be right up your alley.  If you are less impressed by this aspect of Deep Space Nine than the average Niner, like I am, then you might be entertained but mildly nonchalant toward the episode.

It's well-made, well-acted, and well-paced.  I just don't find myself invested in it.  This isn't Star Trek, and it's not quite good enough intrigue to make me overlook that fact.  Is it bad?  Nope, not at all.  I just kind of don't care about it.  Sorry about that!

Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"The Die Is Cast"
  
  
(season 3, episode 21)
  
airdate:   April 24, 1995
written by:  Ronald D. Moore
directed by:  David Livingston
  
The Romuladassian -- Cardomulan? -- plot to invade the Gamma Quadrant and deliver a killing blow to the Dominion gets underway, and while the armada is en route, Garak finds himself in the position of torturing Odo for any information about the Founders he might have forgotten to share.  Meanwhile, Sisko takes the Defiant through the wormhole on a not-entirely-convincing mission to save the Constable.




The b-plot of the episode, in which Sisko and the gang take the Defiant to go try and save Odo (whom they have zero reason to think they will be able to find), is illogical.  This is the sort of thing that gets into an episode of television when there's a production need to keep certain actors and/or characters involved in an episode.

But even that stuff is okay, and otherwise, I think this is a strong episode.  The bulk of the focus is on Garak, with Odo a close runner-up.  The two of them share a connection of sorts that is obvious in retrospect, but comes as a bit of a revelation here: they both would very much like to return home to live with their people, but have found themselves in circumstances where that may never be possible.  As a result, I like both characters an awful lot in this episode -- and that's a thing that isn't always the case.

It also seems as if the Dominion plotline takes a large step forward here.  I guess we'll have to see how it plays out going forward, won't we?  (Spoiler: it does.)  The notion of changelings having infiltrated upper-level positions in organizations like the Tal Shiar is provocative, and while I still don't necessarily feel that the threat of a quadrant-wide war is the right thing for a Star Trek series to have been doing back in the day, I can't deny that this particular episode makes the continued buildup to it into exciting entertainment.

Bryant's rating: a season-high-to-date **** / *****.  Enjoy it while you can, "The Die Is Cast," you won't have it for long.


"Explorers"
  
  
(season 3, episode 22)
  
airdate: May 8, 1995
written by:  Hilary J. Bader (story); René Echevarria (teleplay)
directed by:  Cliff Bole
  
Benjamin becomes fascinated by the idea that ancient Bajorans constructed a solar-sail spaceship and traveled all the way to Cardassia in it, so he builds a replica and, accompanied by Jake, sets out to prove it is possible.  Meanwhile, Julian catches up with a classmate from his Academy days.




Anyone who's been following along with my DS9 posts knows that more often than not, the series is a failure for me.  I just don't connect with the characters most weeks, nor do I accept some of the show's central premises and conceits.  The approach some of its writers and producers took leaves me cold, if not hotly hostile.

But...

BUT, sometimes there are episodes which really do scratch that itch which I think of as "Star Trek," and when that happens, it tends to happen at a high level.  There are three of those in the first season, one in the second, and now we get our second consecutive third-season episode to hit that mark for me.  "Explorers" does what I like the most in Trek: it presents an emotionally rich story without feeling the need to insert violent physical conflict from an antagonistic enemy.  And understand: I'm fine when Trek does those things.  I mean, that's just the medium of American television, right?  It can be taken too far, but before you reach that point, a certain amount of fighting is to be expected.

For that reason, when an episode of Trek manages to avoid those tropes, it's a cause for celebration.  An episode like "Explorers" offers a hint at the placid, satisfying future of space exploration that is what I personally hope our future holds.  I won't live to see it.  YOU won't live to see it, either, and your grandkids' grandkids may not live to see it.  But if we all hope for it enough to make us want to then work toward it, the future generations of our species will live in that future.  It'll be somebody's present, and maybe they'll look back on our doofy flat-screened storytelling and think, "Huh, maybe those old savages had their pluses."

If you don't want that from Star Trek at least occasionally, then I accuse you of not knowing what it is that makes Star Trek meaningful.  And you should by all means take offense at that; I intend it.  If you need every episode of Star Trek to be about war or murder or brawling conflict of some sort, you can take those impulses and go right to hell with them.

What makes "Explorers" so special is not merely its avoidance of that sort of trope, but also its avoidance of melodramatic tropes of any kind.  Benjamin -- debuting his goatee in this episode -- and Jake go solar-sailing out into the void between the Bajoran and Cardassian star systems, and you'd expect them to have to work out some sort of differences.  Maybe this would be an episode where Jake's been surly over something for weeks, so Benjamin has made him come along as a punishment; to get him away from Nog's bad influence, or to break him up from some girl he thinks is no damn good.  Something like that, you know?

Nope.  Ben reads a short story Jake has written, gives him some praise along with some constructive criticism (which Jake graciously accepts and plans to incorporate), and finds out he's been accepted into a writing program which will take him back to Earth for an unknown period of time.  Ben doesn't freak out about it, he encourages Jake to go; Jake says he might, but he's going to wait a year so he can make sure his old man is going to be alright without him.  Speaking of which, he knows a freighter captain who wants to meet Benjamin in a potentially romantic capacity; this, I assume, is the pre-introduction of Kasady Yates.  Ben laughs about it and says he, maybe so, son.  They have a few hiccups with their ship, none of which are especially perilous for them personally, and they end up proving exactly what they set out to prove.

Beautiful!  So beautiful that there's even a touching moment at the end in which Gul Dukat -- played (as always) wonderfully by Marc Alaimo -- congratulates the Siskos personally and the Bajoran people at large for their tremendous achievement.  Dukat is simultaneously chagrined as a representative of his own people, chagrined on a personal level as an adversary of Sisko's, and delighted personally as someone who respects Sisko as an individual.  Marvelous writing marvelously acted and directed; top-notch in every respect, especially if you have been watching the entire series to this point.

I'm also quite fond of the b-plot, in which Bashir frets over the arrival of the starship Lexington, whose CMO is the woman who finished valedictorian in their graduating class at Starfleet Medical.  Bashir was second only to her, and he is not-so-secretly neurotic about her visit because of the fact that if she had wanted his post on DS9, she could have had it.  As he says, he'll always be second to her in that regard.  And when he walks up to her her in Quark's, she literally does not even notice he is there; this is a dagger to the heart in numerous ways.  It leads to a charming and phenomenally well-played scene in which Bashir and O'Brien get drunk -- on real alcohol, not on synthale -- so the doctor can wallow in his embarrassment for a while.

But even this comes to a touching and positive conclusion: it turns out that Bashir and the other doctor never actually met, and that she really didn't know who he was.  It's mildly credulity-straining that the two top people in the class would never have met, but then again, it implies that Starfleet Medical has graduating classes in the thousands; that works for me, and anyways, so collegians in a similar position always recognize each other years later?  Probably not.  Anyways, in this particular fictional example, she thought, thanks to a miscommunication, that Bashir was an Andorian!  But she's familiar with his work, and is fascinated by it, and admits to being a bit jealous.  These are adults behaving like adults; even the drunkenness never gets mean or spiteful.  (Speaking of which, I almost forgot to mention that the scenes in which Jadzia messes with Julian's head are also pretty great.  The first scene is basically one in which she cockblocks the doctor from hooking up with Leeta -- Chase Masterson, making her first appearance -- the dabo girl.  Very funny.)

Folks, I'll tell you right now: I hold Star Trek close to my heart because when it is at its best, it offers glimpses of what a better version of humanity might be like.  When it is at that best, it is a special thing.  So while I have problems with Deep Space Nine in the larger sense, there are nevertheless moments when it soars.

This, the best episode of its first three seasons, is certainly one of them.

Bryant's rating:  ***** / *****


"Family Business"
  
  
(season 3, episode 23)
  
airdate:  May 15, 1995
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
  
Quark's bar is shut down by the Ferengi Commerce Authority, who have decided to hold him accountable for the actions of an unlawful family member: his mother, who has, disgustingly, been earning profit and wearing clothes.  He and Rom return to Ferenginar to sort the mess out.  Meanwhile, Benjamin meets Kasidy Yates, the freighter captain Jake has been trying to set him up with.




Well, goldarn it, I think I might officially be a fan of the Ferengi episodes of Deep Space Nine.  This is an unfortunate situation, as my distaste for Quark, Rom, Nog, the Nagus, and their various associates has long been one of my cherished go-to complaints about the series.  But the evidence has simply mounted until it's has become untenable to do anything other than embrace it: most of their episodes are highlights of each of the first three seasons.  To some extent, this is because my problems with the series are so legion that it gives the show's virtues an opportunity to ascend into the spotlight.  Hence, my newfound appreciation for the Ferengi.

Now, before we proceed with a few sentences about the episode, here's a note about some of the background which powers these posts.  As I've mentioned many times, I'm watching the series along with the Mission Log podcast.  This week, they announced that one of the show's hosts would be leaving; so the John and Ken show will now be minus the Ken.  And while I'll definitely (at least for now) keep going with the podcast, I have to say that my enthusiasm for it has just taken a big hit.  That's not to diminish John's half of the show; no, I love his approach.  But for me, Mission Log is the chemistry between those two, and their specific approach to Star Trek, which matches closely enough with my own for me to take it to heart but diverges from it enough that I consistently feel like I learn from it.  Who knows, maybe the next co-host will be as good or better; for now, I don't see how.

In any case, it's kind of a bummer of a day for me in terms of my Trek blogging.  Happily, the DS9 episode that I watched on the day of the announcement is a good one, which softens the blow.  The episode is mostly about Quark coming to terms with his mother's challenges to Ferengi tradition, which comes to a satisfying conclusion by the end.  But there's also plenty there which kind of helps explain why both Quark and Rom ended up being the somewhat-atypical Ferengi men that they are, and that stuff is fun and successful.  So is the b-plot involving Benjamin and Kasidy, for that matter.

And that, folks, is all I've got to say about that.

Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****


"Shakaar"
  
  
(season 3, episode 24)
  
airdate:  May 22, 1995
written by:  Gordon Dawson
directed by:  Jonathan West
  
Kai Winn sends Kira to the surface of Bajor to resolve a dispute over some soil-reclamation devices.  The people Kira is dealing with on the surface were formerly members of her resistance cell, which means Kai Winn is probably in for some serious disappointment.


That guy played Dracula in The Monster Squad.


Confession time: this is probably a better episode than I'm about to give it credit for being.  I'm about to give it very little credit at all, however: this episode bored me.  Most of the Bajoran-politics episodes do.

What happens in this episode is that Major Kira arguably commits treason against her government, and in the process arguably abandons her post on Deep Space Nine without even informing her commanding officer she is doing it.  No way she should have a job when she gets back; if Kai Winn doesn't fire her, Commander Sisko should.

Mainly, this episode made me ponder the wisdom of the Prime Directive.  Or, perhaps, the wisdom of this show's writers/producers for consistently foregrounding it as much as they do.  They don't always call it by name, but it's there plenty.  I get the urge.  Part of me thinks the Prime Directive is a big old bunch of bullshit; I'm not sure I genuinely feel that way -- the concept is written so inconsistently that it's difficult to contend with -- but I certainly feel that way sometimes.

For example, I feel that way as it regards Bajor and Deep Space Nine/Deep Space Nine (show and station alike).  In a theoretical discussion of the Bajor issue, maybe I agree that the Prime Directive would/should apply and that Starfleet and the Federation should follow their laissez-faire approach to interference.  If so, they need to stay out of things completely.  Starfleet should have zero presence in Bajoran culture, including aboard DS9.

If they're going to be hanging out in the vicinity, though, they really ought to be administering humanitarian aid whenever such aid is needed.  So the squabble over soil reclamators that drives this episode really ought to be irrelevant, because Starfleet should simply provide the extra machines Bajor needs.  If they are an advanced enough civilization that they are even being considered for Federation membership, then the Prime Directive shouldn't apply, in which case this would be like Starfleet providing humanitarian aid to the Klingons or the Vulcans or the Tellaraites.

What I'm saying is, "Shakaar" points directly at all the flaws which cripple Deep Space Nine for me in the broad scope.  Fans of the show would likely retort that "Shakaar" instead points directly at all the flaws which cripple Roddenberrian philosophy.  They're possibly right about that, which makes it all the more baffling that a Star Trek series would take on subject matter which pushes that philosophy past its breaking point.

Bryant's rating:  ** / *****


"Facets"
  
  
(season 3, episode 25)
  
airdate:  June 12, 1995
written by:  René Echevarria
directed by:  Cliff Bole
  
Dax goes through a Trill ritual which allows her former hosts to inhabit other peoples' bodies.


 

So apparently the Trill have a ritual in which the symbionts' hosts get to know the previous hosts better by their memories being transferred temporarily into other peoples' bodies.  This is a fundamentally nonsensical notion.  The current hosts already have access to the memories of the previous hosts; so what is to be gained from this ritual?  An opportunity for the regular cast members of some mediocre television series to do something different than what they usually do, I guess.

And that's the problem with this episode: it's just an excuse for tomfoolery.  Sure, there are good moments; if you're invested in the series (especially if you're invested in Dax as a character), then this probably works better for you than it does for me.  Curzon and Odo deciding that they like their new existence is kind of interesting, and Curzon having had a crush on Jadzia is kind of interesting; but Jadzia would already know about that, wouldn't she?  The process of reconciliation she and Curzon go through here would have already happened -- or not, as the case may be -- internally long ago.

I'm actually more interested in the b-plot involving Nog taking a test to qualify to be able to take the entrance exam for Starfleet Academy.  God help me, this is a thing that is true.

Bryant's rating:  ** / *****
 
 
"The Adversary"
  
  
(season 3, episode 26)
  
airdate:  June 19, 1995
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
directed by:  Alexander Singer
  
Sisko is promoted to Captain and promptly receives his first assignment: take the Defiant to a nearby star system to try to help a coup that is taking place.  En route, the ship experiences setback after setback at the hands of a Changeling who has somehow gotten aboard.
 
 
  
 
This is kind of a lame-yet-overstuffed season finale, one in which:
 
  1. there is a fake-out opening in which it initially seems as if Sisko is leaving the station/series;
  2. it is revealed that Sisko has been promoted to Captain (of, specifically, the Defiant);
  3. we find out that Sisko's father is still alive;
  4. a war with the Zen-Kethi Tsenkethi (thanks, internet!) threatens to break out;
  5. a Changeling wreaks havoc aboard the Defiant John McClane style, if John McClane were a Thing from The Thing;
  6. and things end on an ominous note as Odo informs the rest of the crew that the Changelings have apparently already infiltrated the Alpha Quadrant and are "everywhere."
 
Let me comment further on each of those points, respectively:
 
1.  I have a vague memory of having been briefly fooled by this when the episode first aired.  This was 1995, when it was still possible for big changes to a show to happen unexpectedly in just such a manner.  Looking back on the episode now, it seems likely that what happened here was a harmless bit of trolling on the show's part of "fans" who disliked Sisko (and Avery Brooks).  Dangle the hope of him being sacked only to then...
  
2.  ...double down on him by saying, "Ha-ha, fuck y'all motherfuckers, we're giving him a promotion!"  This was also a way of correcting a perceived wrong by admitting that yes, okay, fine, the lead character of a Trek series DID have to be a Captain, after all.  Which is nonsense.  The command of a station like Deep Space Nine would be vastly too important a job for that Commander to also spend huge amounts of time gallivanting around in a starship.  What the series needed was either for the Defiant to have its captaincy given to some other character who would be under the direct command of Commander Sisko, or for Sisko to be "promoted" to Captain but to then be placed under the command of a new character who would run the station.  The sensible thing -- given what happens in the opening of the next season -- would have been for Worf to be brought in Captain of the Defiant.  Or maybe for the show's producers to have had confidence in the concept of the series and not tinkered with the way it had been set up.  But no, Trekkies circa 1995 simply could not deal with the idea that this show didn't have a literal Captain.  And so you get a plot development that strikes me as pointless.  Harmless, but pointless.
  
3.  It hasn't been a major focus of the series up to this point, but Sisko has made (I think) two different references to his father being dead.  But in this episode, he mentions having sent him a letter informing him of his promotion.  That seems like the sort of thing a show ought to stick to once it's been established, wouldn't you say?  (I guess if you really wanted to, you could hypothesize that Sisko might be referring to two different men: one a barely-known biological father and the other an adoptive father who raised him.  Or something like that.  Which if so, fine; but you've got to spell that shit out.)  Anyways, it's not a big deal here; just something mentioned in passing.
  
4.  I spent much of the episode trying to remember who the Tsenkethi were, and it turned out that they were nobody.  They'd never been mentioned before, and would never be mentioned again in any meaningful way.  We never see them; they are nobodies.  But apparently, there have been several wars between them and the Federation.  This is a silly thing to introduce into a series where numerous major interspecies struggles are already present.  That being the case, I wonder: why do it this way?  I think the answer has to be that if there were any other approach, it would make it unlikely that anyone could trick the Federation into thinking a coup was taking place within the government of that people.  And that has to be because it's ridiculous to think one man (even though he's a Changeling in disguise) could stroll onto a Federation station and get a starship to fly into quasi-enemy territory on nothing more than his word.  But the episode can't take place if that's not how things happen, so the screenwriters had to make some shit up.  There are times when you can practically feel this show hollering out, "Star Trek as Roddenberry envisioned it is bullshit; we want it to be realistic!"  And yet, here, they've had to dip into the bullshit well (ewww...) quite deeply in order to make the points they are trying to make.  The Tsenkethi may as well be called Plaht-Devyseans; they are offensively pointless creations.
  
5.  Some of this is kind of cool, moreso in theory than in reality.  The show is so flatly directed, and so flatly acted, that you never for one second believe there is any actual jeopardy.  Sisko and Kira activate the self-destruct device to prevent war from breaking out.  If you think for one second the Defiant is actually going to be destroyed, you are a sucker among suckers.  Why would you?  None of the actors seem to believe it for even a second.  What's happening here is that Deep Space Nine really, really, really wants to set itself apart from The Next Generation in both intent and tone.  But through three seasons, it has been almost entirely unable to do so in tone.  This was then and remains now a tremendous failure of production.  In order to work, this series needed to be wildly emotional; it needed to reinvent the way Star Trek was filmed, written, and acted.  I'm not saying I wish it had; I happen to think that the production style fit Star Trek pretty well.  I just don't think Deep Space Nine itself fit Star Trek very well, which means that the production style was all wrong for this specific series.  We'll see as we move forward whether that remains the case; but through three seasons, this is a square peg being unsuccessfully jammed into a round hole.
  
6.  I guess the quasi-cliffhanger works...?  Kind of...?  Thing is, the Changelings would be an unstoppable foe.  You'd have to do something crazy to defeat them, like trick the Borg into invading the Gamma Quadrant.  (Which would have been kind of dope, actually.)  Once you introduce an enemy as potentially pervasive and powerful as them, you have to invent bullshit in order to keep the Federation from falling.  The Next Generation had already successfully done that with the Borg themselves (capably "defeating" them in a plausible manner in "The Best of Both Worlds Part II" [although they kind of undid that defeat in later episodes]).  I guess we'll see if Deep Space Nine can pull off a similar trick with the Dominion, but it feels to me as if the battle ought already to have been lost.
  
Bryant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****
  
And now, a worst to best ranking for the season:
  
"Meridian"  (**)
"Shakaar"  (**)
"The Search, Part II"  (**)
"Facets"  (**)
"Past Tense, Part I"  (**)
"Defiant"  (** 1/2)
"Distant Voices"  (** 1/2)
"Civil Defense"  (** 1/2)
"The Adversary"  (** 1/2)
"Fascination"  (***)
"Life Support"  (***) 
"The Abandoned"  (***)
"Equilibrium"  (***)
"The Search, Part I"  (***)
"Improbable Cause"  (***)
"Visionary"  (***)
"Second Skin"  (***)
"Past Tense, Part II"  (***)
"Through the Looking Glass"  (*** 1/2)
"Destiny"  (*** 1/2)
"Family Business"  (*** 1/2)
"Prophet Motive"  (*** 1/2)
"Heart of Stone"  (*** 1/2)
"The House of Quark"  (*** 1/2)
"The Die Is Cast"  (****)
"Explorers"  (*****)
 
I feel obliged to issue my umpteenth apology to those of you who are hardcore fans of the series.  In my defense, I'll point out that there are eight episodes I genuinely like from this season, including one that I proclaimed to be top-notch Trek no matter the series.  So I'm capable of loving the show; it just mostly doesn't happen.  This simply isn't the Star Trek I'm looking for, and nobody yet has been able to convince me otherwise.
 
If you think you've got what it takes, use them comments, y'all.  See you next season.

9 comments:


  1. (1) I hate the make-up design for Odo and the Changelings/Founders (just as I hated the re-use of it for the damn Sphere Builders in ENTERPRISE). I agree: it goes against the concept. And they never make much sense beyond their visual either. This is my main problem with all the alien baddies (or even allies) on DS9; they all feel contrived to me. Everything with the Bajorans is just Dune Lite (if it even rises to that) or worse, and the Cardassians are just generic-military-power, the Changeling/ Jem-Hadar, all of it: just seems like none of these things make sense independent of the plots bringing them together. Perhaps a thorough rewatch would disabuse me of this notion; I'm not closed to the possibility.

    (2) That's a good point about surgical alteration stories in Trek.

    (3) "As with all such stories that involved Troi, the guy in question is as bland and uninteresting as though he had emerged from a 3D printer." That got a laugh from me. Very true. ("Sub Rosa" being the exception that proves the rule!)

    (4) Agreed on "Defiant" more or less ruining Thomas Riker. And I have to agree on Ronald D. Moore, too. He wanted to do BSG, it's very clear in retrospect; Trek was just his training ground. Glad it existed for him, as I love BSG. ANd he wrote some of my favorite TNG episodes to be sure, but he also wrote some of the worst Trek ever (Generations). Lots of asterisks next to Ron's Trek CV.

    (5) "While Dax expertly blends in with the hoi polloi..." Nice job on all the plot summaries this post, by the way: my blanket comment for all of them.

    (6) ""temporal anomaly due to a malfunction in the bullshittium drive in the wrtiters room." Yep. Hard to disagree. I was thinking of this during my last rewatch of VOYAGE HOME, which I love, but it's like... uhh, guys, if you can do THIS, then why are so many other stories involving anything BUT just sling-shotting around the sun, then, and fixing whatever happened?

    (7) "Speaking of tight access tubes, Chief..." Ohhhhh my.

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    1. (1) I remain unmoved by Odo as a character. A big part of that is the design; another big part is the concept; another big part is the big reveal about who his people are. A shame; Rene Auberjonois is not at fault here.

      (3) So true. And hey, I love Deanna Troi; looking forward to seeing her on "Picard" in a few weeks.

      (4) BSG is so thoroughly excellent that part of me thinks it might have been worth quasi-wrecking Trek just for him to cut his teeth enough to be able to step up to a series like that. Which reminds me: I need to zip over to Apple TV Plus at some point and check out his alternate-history astronauts show.

      (5) Thanks!

      (6) It's pretty weird. If one was determined to do so, one could speculate that the Time Police agency or whatever have been steadily going around and making little changes that wipe that knowledge out from the brain of the average Starfleet officer. This could even explain continuity errors, if one was of a mind to apply it in that way. Me? I say an overload in the bullshittium core again.

      (8) It's like he's speaking in my ear!

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    2. (8) shoulda been (7). Dadgum typos!

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  2. (8) Man do I hate prophecies and chosen ones in stuff more and more as I get on in years. Dune (and Iron Maiden) are exceptions, of course. I'm sure I could think of others. (Does Buffy count? If so, then definitely Buffy.) But mainly it's a concept that makes me roll my eyes.

    (9) Actually, this Ferengi exception to alien-races-making-no-independent-sense-of-the-plotlines makes a lot of sense to me.

    (10) "I like this episode; I love that one, though. If it's a competition, I'll side with Voyager just about every time." Amen, brohter. And I love that "Deadlock" one, too.

    (11) "as they pointed out on the Mission Log episode about "Distant Voices," why would anyone fret about being thirty in a society where people routinely live to be well older than 100 (and at a significantly higher standard of living than you or I enjoy)? " This is an excellent point from those Mission Log guys. Very true. There are a few things like this in Trek, like when people complain about the Sick Bay food or what not. I mean, hospital food not being great might be a thing/cultural memory for awhile, but do the replicators work differently in Sick Bay? If so, is this some kind of tradition, like there's always one replicator worse than the others and that's the one that goes to Sick Bay, cuz tradition or something?

    (12) You know, I don't know if I ever saw the Mirror Universe DS9 episodes. I sat down to watch them once, I know that, I just have zero memory of any of them. Hmm. I did see the "Improbably Cause" garak episode that follows this, though, and I liked that one. I like Garak, though, so I'm probably of the demographic of viewers you mention here.

    (13) "What makes "Explorers" so special is not merely its avoidance of that sort of trope, but also its avoidance of melodramatic tropes of any kind." AGreed. I remember this aspect of "Explorers" especially, that no one had any axes to grind or anything, it was just interesting people being thoughtful doing interesting things with accessible moments of growth and wonder.

    (14) "This is an unfortunate situation, as my distaste for Quark, Rom, Nog, the Nagus, and their various associates has long been one of my cherished go-to complaints about the series. " Same thing happened to me with Neelix! It feels kind of weird but also gratifying to discover these things can actually change in our advanced years.

    (15) The Trill business never made much sense to me altogether.

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    1. Re: my example in (11) above: this is one of my (many!) Trek-windbag go-to examples, which I've probably brought up on many occasions. Apologies for my inability to keep track of myself in this regard.

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    2. actual (8) I'm with you. At this point, I think it only works if you find some new angle for it (which I'd argue they more or less did with "The Matrix") or if there's a hearty helping of humor to go along with it ("Buffy"). Looking forward to seeing how the "Dune" movie handles the idea. I keep forgetting that's even being made, mainly (I think) because I simply cannot afford to let myself be excited about it. And if I let myself, I'd be VERY excited about it. So no, not happening!

      Yet.

      (11) Keep on releasing that bag of wind, my friend! These are evergreen points in a discussion of Star Trek(s). Anyways, I hate to think how many times just within this one post I must have made the same points about the ways in which I disapprove of DS9. But what am I going to do, NOT make the points every time they occur to me? What am I, a professional? Damn that.

      (12) No shame in being a part of that demo. Sometimes I am, too.

      (13) It's so great. It's the type of Trek I keep finding myself wishing was made more often; and I know it never will be because that sort of thing isn't what sells. And isn't that a massive shame? Well, I guess I should be grateful that such episodes ever happen at all. And I am! And the fact that it happened on what is by no means one of my favorite Trek series actually makes it all the more special to me; it kind of adds to the whole thing, somehow.

      (14) Very much so. I think there are still aspects of the Ferengi involvement on this series that I can't deal with, conceptually; but I find myself so entertained by what the actors are doing that I'm willing to put that to the side for a while. I mean, really, though -- in what universe does it make sense for Sisko to allow these cretins to hang around? They are decidedly less cretinous by the third season than was the case in especially the first, but still.

      Whatever, though. Bring 'em all back on "Picard," by Golly! Get Neelix over from the Delta Quadrant and have he and Quark open up a pawn-shop/delicatessen! I'm down for it. Or, better yet, the two of them plus Phlox open up a barber shop.

      (15) It does to me, except I think I only mean that Terry Farrell is hot. Beyond her, I don't know that my investment is too high with the Trill. That said, I hope the third season of "Discovery" -- which takes place a thousandish years in the future -- will bring in a new Dax. Because if you've got all this stuff to play around with and then DON'T play around with it, you're a fool.

      "Co-starring Taylor Kitsch as Riggins Dax" -- Make that happen, CBS.

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  3. In a week that has already taken both D.C. Fontana and Robert Walker Jr. beyond the rim, apparently Rene Auberjonois has died. He leaves behind him seven seasons' worth of performances which sci-fi fans will be watching for untold ages to come; so in the grand scheme of things, he bows out a richer man than most.

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    1. That's a terrible trio of deaths right there. RIP to Rene. One of the first actors whose names I ever remembered, thanks to BENSON and his having a somewhat memorable one. RIP to each of them, of course.

      First I read of that was right here at Where No Blog Has Gone Before. Not the "hooray"iest of occasions, but where were you when you heard Odo died? I was right here.

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    2. I heard the news from my friend Erich Wildgrube, who texted me as I was about to walk out the door and go to work. I paused long enough to answer him and then put a quick comment on this post.

      I'm going to go listen to "Les Poissons" now -- one of the world's perfect creations, sung beautifully by Auberjonois an unbelievable 30 years ago.

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