(continuing from end of season 2) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 3 is the season where the series has to prove that it can carry the franchise on its own. With The Next Generation finished and the transition film Generations coming out during this season, for a while DS9 was the only show around. Voyager only started airing during the middle of the season (while DS9‘s excellent Past Tense was also airing), and attracted a lot of advertising effort. Perhaps just as the producers had tried to make DS9 as anti-TNG as possible, vice versa they tried to make VOY as similar to TNG as possible without repeating themselves. VOY will take TNG‘s elements of self-contained episodes full of sci-fi technobabble while DS9 will take TNG‘s elements of character development and interstellar politics.
Similarly to season 2, season 3 kicks off with a very strong multi-part story followed by more independent stories. The writers have developed many story threads that they can return to at will, and they pace themselves, there’s no sense of rush to exploit a particular story thread to its full extent yet. It’s true that episodes become more and more interconnected: events from previous episodes are often referred to in the dialogue, but that doesn’t mean (yet?) that the story follows a strict arc. Rather, significant events happen in some episodes which change the universe of DS9 and most other episodes tell self-contained stories within that universe; we inhabit that world, we don’t follow a world-changing serialized story. If I would compare with Babylon 5 (again), DS9 season 3 is quite similar to B5 season 2, which aired concurrently, and interestingly both seasons end with important events that point towards an acceleration of the main storyline in the next season! Yet, unlike with B5, there are some story decisions in DS9 that still point to a method of trial and error and see what sticks or not: Kai Opaka didn’t go anywhere, Vedek Bareil either, the Maquis are around but don’t develop particularly.
But what I’ve noticed and I like a lot is the presence of the secondary characters. Some of them are just as present as the leads, for instance Rom. And there’s plenty of Garak, Nog, Dukat, Keiko, that guy Morn… Their presence does a lot to give a feeling that the place is alive and exists outside of the episodes, a full world. It’s something that is quite different from TNG, where the focus was on a much more restricted cast of characters.
This year, the starship Defiant is introduced in DS9. The Defiant (and its sets) is used quite often, like a mini-Enterprise for exploration, to the point that the runabouts almost not used anymore! There are also more early 1990s CGI space battles, mixed together with miniature shots, which are not too distracting, they are actually quite good.
On to episode reviews of DS9 season 3 (1994-1995)!
3×01/3×02: The Search: “Welcome home.” / “The Alpha Quadrant seems racked with chaos. It could use some order.”
The season kicks off with a big sense of urgency, with feverish preparations to mount a defense against the Dominion. There has been a time jump from last year’s finale but the story picks up directly with the same sense of threat. The Defiant arrives — originally designed to fight the Borg! — with cloaking technology on lease from the Romulans. There’s a real sense that the whole quadrant is gearing up for this confrontation, that ex-enemies are banding together in the face of a common threat, which is great, although the priority must still be on the Borg (First Contact is still two years away). And since TNG season 7 I had a feeling that the Romulans were growing closer to the Federation.
These are the most important and world-changing episodes since, well, the pilot! I truly didn’t expect that many revelations so soon. Odo finds his kin (his character has been defined by this search since the beginning!). We meet the Founders behind the Dominion (already!). They are the same race (!!!). And Sisko and crew are captured by the Jem’Hadar!
We spend time with Odo coming to terms with this realization, spreading his wings on his homeworld as a true Changeling would (literally, he turns into a bird), discussing with other Changelings. They are all together in an ocean of liquid, the Great Link — do they have individuality in there or are they truly mixed into a single consciousness? (I got echoes of Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Human Complementarity Project!) I liked the idea that Odo is one of many covert Changeling that were sent in the Galaxy to collect information and were genetically programmed to return; indeed Odo had been feeling the will to find his homeworld (and he always had a liking for order!), only he returned some 300 years sooner that expected because of the wormhole. In a nice ironic twist, the Changelings were persecuted by the “solids”, but now the Changelings have become the powerful rulers of many “solid” races. All these scenes in the “Changeling garden” are great, it’s a shame the show doesn’t exist in HD.
The rest of the episode is spent in what proves to be a simulation, putting Sisko and company in a situation where the Dominion tests their reaction to a potential scenario where the Dominion strikes a good deal with the Federation, again with the plotting Admiral Nechayev, and DS9 is handed to them. Sure enough, they decide to destroy the wormhole link — so much for diplomacy and TNG‘s modus operandi with alien races! So the Dominion knows that they will encounter resistance if they try to gain a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant. But then with this knowledge I found it odd that they just decide to simply release Sisko and company; it has to happen for the series to continue, however it’s convenient for the plot.
Two impressively dense episodes! Of course this is the start of the season, after that we return to the usual “everyday life aboard DS9” type of episodes.
The Vorta in these episodes was Dennis Christopher, who was…the elusive serial killer Jack of All Trades in Profiler, whose identity was hidden during 3 whole seasons! (For many of them uncredited…tough choice for an actor!)
3×03: The House of Quark: “I’m Quark, slayer of Klingons!”
This is typical Quark fare, semi-comedy, semi-drama: he accidentally kills a drunk Klingon and gets mixed up in a typical Klingon affair of damned if you do damned if you don’t: was it an unfortunate accident or did he truly kill him honourably in battle? After he marries the deceased Klingon’s widow, he uses his Ferengi tactics to argue for land property rights: hilariously, he talks budgets and economic balance sheets and expenses in front of the Klingon High Council, who would rather have a fight instead of listening to capitalist logic! We also see Gowron again (last seen by me in TNG Redemption II).
Meanwhile, Keiko‘s school closes down, and the O’Briens both agree Keiko is best off doing her true calling, being a botanist, away on Bajor. Entertaining.
3×04: Equilibrium: “Nobody said life was fair.” “Even if you’ve had seven of them.”
Mysteries on the Trill homeworld! Jadzia Dax starts having some spooky hallucinations with a robed and masked figure. It turns out there was a forgotten Dax: between its two previous hosts, Dax was mistakenly joined with another host for a short time. This revelation can shake the Trill society to its core: many are compatible to be hosts, not just a select and competitive few! What happens to the Trill society is ultimately unclear. Jadzia Dax, however, makes peace with that forgotten host, by taking a swim in the symbionts’ natural environment: underground lakes of whitish liquid! This reminded me quite strongly of the origins of the worm-like Goa’uld of Stargate SG-1. Quite good.
3×05: Second Skin: “Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”
Kira wakes up…as a Cardassian! Everyone tries to convince her that she truly is a Cardassian, genetically modified to become an undercover spy amongst the Bajorans (an extension of a concept introduced in last season’s Tribunal). The horror of being faced with the possibility of being her own worst enemy! The episode makes the doubt last to the point where you really think it could be true. A very Philip K. Dick-like story of existential vertigo. Ultimately, this was a case of staged revenge among Cardassians (like in last season’s Cardassians…they like revenge!), and you have to feel bad for the father of the Cardassian that did truly go undercover and has not been seen since. Will she return one day, and believe as truly as Kira that she’s a Bajoran? Good stuff.
3×06: The Abandoned: “Anyone who is not a Jem’Hadar is my enemy.”
Quark buys some Gamma Quadrant stuff and finds a baby in the rubble. The baby turns out to be a Jem’Hadar, obviously completely artificial and genetically engineered to grow quickly and think nothing but fight and obey the Founders’ orders. Odo takes a liking to him, partly because he feels responsible as a…representative of the Founders’ race, but especially since he reminds him of himself: a specimen destined to be taken away and studied by all kinds of scientists in a lab. Odo tries to “convert” him to goodness but it’s impossible, and Odo has to release him in the Gamma Quadrant. This episode is the anti-I, Borg, the TNG episode where Geordi successfully or at least probably managed to “turn” a Borg to individuality and kindness. This observation is interesting per se, and as much as I had found it anti-climactic at the time to humanize the Borg, it is true that it was a touching story, full of hope, typical of TNG. DS9 here attempts the opposite, and shows there is no hope for the Jem’Hadar. It’s a tough lesson, but I’m not sure it makes for a more memorable story.
Meanwhile, Jake is dating a dabo girl…which in itself would be fine, but he’s 16 and she’s 20! This is an opportunity for Ben to learn things about his son he didn’t know, and to actually accept the girl as there’s much more to her than meets the eye. With little domestic scenes here and there, Ben Sisko’s character iswell fleshed out and he is a really good father to his son. The relationship between the Siskos is something of a highlight of the series.
3×07: Civil Defense: “Warning. Unauthorized use of command code. Initiating counterinsurgency program level four.”
O’Brien activates a hidden sub-routine from the time when the station was under the Cardassians and Bajorans toiled as miners: thinking that a workers strike endangers the Cardassian rule, successive protocols are activated, doors lock, weapons are activated, the situation becomes more and more dire. And it is hilarious! There are plenty of recorded messages by Gul Dukat, warning the Bajoran workers not to act stupidly. Dukat himself shows up and nonchalantly sips a replicated tea while the weapons fire all around (and don’t hit him, as they are programmed not to), while he and Garak exchange plenty of colourful and loaded menaces! This is like in season 1, Babel, where the crew awakens a sleeper virus on the station — I like this kind of story where we are reminded that the station is still something alien!
3×08: Meridian: “I was admiring…your markings…If you don’t mind me asking…how far down do they go?” “All the way.”
I had many issues with this episode.
In the main story, the Defiant discovers a planet which phases in and out of ‘our plane of existence’ every 60 years, and Dax very quickly falls in love with one of its inhabitants and decides to leave everything — everything! — behind and join him in that parallel existence. It’s sudden, I don’t know if it’s the acting or the writing or both but the melodrama is not very believable, and it’s full of technobabble that make you feel how much this is more fantasy than science. Dax is often defined by her being a beautiful woman, and it’s the case in this episode as well.
In the second story, an alien is sexually infatuated with Kira and orders Quark to make him a holosuite program with a virtual recreation of Kira, for his own sexual reasons, so Quark has to stalk Kira in order to capture her likeness. Again, a story that by today’s standards would be categorized as completely sexist (or at least it would be acknowledged in the dialogue that these are sexual predators and it’s not for laughs).
On these thoughts, let’s take a break! Back soon.