Previously on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the writing team attempted its most complex feat yet, starting season 6 (1997-1998) with six completely serialized episodes. After this solid piece, it’s time to take a breath again with more traditional stand-alone episodes — but also in the tradition of DS9 they still all connect to the overall world-building and larger events, which by now is the on-going threat of the Dominion War, always in the background but not in the fore any more. Let’s go to the capsule reviews:
6×07: You Are Cordially Invited: “After 356 years and 7 lifetimes, I still lead with my heart”
Well, we were warned! Immediately after the big war ends, or rather this chapter of the war, it’s time for Worf and Jadzia‘s marriage! It is a quite ridiculous episode that goes all-out in the weirdness of Klingon rituals to get the most laughs out of the audience, and frankly it works great! I enjoyed it immensely despite my prior fears that this would be a soap opera romance. After the very serious and Quadrant-spanning events of the previous episodes, it was a good choice to follow that with a more relaxed and humorous episode. O’Brien and Bashir were expecting a bachelor party with loads of Klingon bloodwine; instead they get an austere session of torture and abstinence. Jadzia is more promiscuous and outgoing as a character and she organizes a big party with dancing and music (and hints at sex with that muscular Maori Lieutenant — quite bold for Star Trek!).
But the price she has to pay for the marriage is to strictly follow Klingon rules, as Worf demands it: Martok’s wife Sirella arrives and as the matriarch of the House she is very strict about tradition and knowledge of the family’s past. Interesting here that Martok might look like an alpha-male, Klingon society is such that he defers to his wife in issues of tradition and family and honour; interesting also that all of this happens thanks to Worf having joined the House of Martok a few episodes back; it would have been impossible with the (now non-existent) House of Mogh. The marriage is cancelled and brought back to life twice. Jadzia reluctantly has to follow the rules — it’s only for a moment anyway, it might seem one-sided but this all seems of the highest importance to Worf.
I must address this here because it ends up not being discussed at all after this, unfortunately: at Jadzia’s party, Kira and Odo spend the whole night discussing and sorting out the mess that Odo made with his adventure with the female Changeling before. This was a funny little moment, seeing these non-lovers discussing so passionately, but it also means that a scene with such a dramatic potential entirely happens off-screen. After this, it’s back to the usual Odo/Kira relationship.
Worf and Jadzia are married, at Quark‘s! Alexander is there; I would have liked to have seen Worf’s foster parents at least, or anyone from TNG (Worf was there in Nemesis for another marriage!). The episode cuts right when their friends, were going to “attack” them, as part of the ceremony and re-enactment of an ancient Klingon battle, and we leave them in this moment of fun. Another deep dive into Klingon culture by Ron Moore, and a showcase of the debates about clashes of cultures that have become the staple of DS9!
6×08: Resurrection: “Isuppose I am a lot more like you than I’ll ever be like Vedek Bareil”
I was expecting a hangover after the big innovative arc in the beginning of the season, but this one was really rough!
Bareil appears but it’s not the Vedek Bareil who died in 3×13: Life Support — it’s Mirror!Bareil, a completely different character, a space pirate and liar who is not at all spiritually-inclined. Inevitably, we are on full soap opera mode as often happens with the most coveted woman in two Quadrants, Kira, who since Bareil has had other men in her life to forget him. Yet, we follow Kira’s conflicted feelings for him, Dax teases her as the only other woman in the cast, they have a relationship, he betrays her for Mirror!Kira, etc. So this episode becomes a Mirror Universe episode (last seen in 4×20: Shattered Mirror), none of which I particularly like, but this one really felt as if they were extending the scenes with boring dialogue because they couldn’t get to 45 minutes otherwise. Not even Nana Visitor can save this, despite her efforts to portray Kira and the hypersexualized Mirror!Kira (you can tell it’s her even by the way she walks!).
They must have burnt through the budget of the entire season with the earlier Dominion War story arc, so I expect now we will see a series of bottle episodes with little budget. That means story, dialogue, and acting, none of which was good in this one.
6×09: Statistical Probabilities: “It’s not our placeto decide who lives and who dies. We’re not gods.” “Maybe not, but we’re the next best thing.”
From one of the worst episodes to a really good one! I didn’t much like the episode where Bashir‘s competence is explained by the revelation that he is genetically enhanced (5×16: Doctor Bashir, I Presume), but that earlier story gave rise to this episode, which is another example of DS9 writers sort of running ahead with plot points with relatively little planning ahead, but is also a tribute to the series’ complex and interconnected world-building.
Bashir receives four genetically enhanced humans like him, but unlike him they didn’t have the chance and privilege to be exceptionally allowed to work in Starfleet; instead they are confined in a medical institution, overqualified for anything but not allowed to contribute to anything. There’s the neurotic talkative one with ticks (some over-acting here but that’s part of the role); the seductive femme fatale; the plump sympathetic grampa; and the silent one. All of them are very good in sciences and also psychology but they don’t filter any of their comments in order not to hurt normal people’s feelings — some very funny scenes when they figure out exactly O’Brien, and when later Bashir failing to mend his friendship with O’Brien without using terms like “superior” or “uncomplicated”. There’s some excellent and intelligent dialogue here.
The core of the episode is actually one of logic vs emotions, a core Star Trek theme which this episode illustrates exemplarily. Bashir finds a use for these enhanced as essentially strategic advisors for modelling scenarios on the outcome of the war with the Dominion; and the data, systematically, inevitably, points to the Federation losing. It’s all strongly reminiscent of Asimov‘s psychohistory in his Foundation trilogy, and the plan to shorten the period of barbarism that is coming inevitably (here it is the number of deaths that can be prevented in the Dominion war). Yet Sisko, O’Brien, the Federation as a whole, completely reject this or the idea of a surrender; it doesn’t matter if logic would have you become a pessimist, the complexity of human nature is such that one cannot live without optimism, faith, hope. The enhanced might be gifted at many things, they are impaired at such “soft” concepts. Yet, that doesn’t mean that the Federation shouldn’t give them the chance to live their lives as human beings.
Bashir comes around at the end, seeing that they didn’t actually have all the data available to them and so the outcome of the war is actually uncertain — that’s a simplistic way to present things and one could poke holes at the overall logic (they know nothing about what’s going on in the Gamma Quadrant, how can they account for the supernatural (?) intervention of the Prophets in the wormhole, and generally it’s practically impossible to know all initial conditions in a given system, what about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, etc…) but the episode works for what it wants to say and we don’t need to be unpleasant geeks about it.
In this episode we also see that Damar has become the leader of Cardassia, the new Gul who betrayed the old Gul, but Damar is much more loud and straightforward and belligerent (“I challenge the Federation to answer my call for peace!“, he shouts!) than the articulate and scheming Dukat. Weyoun is breathing down his neck pressuring him into submission, and you can tel that Damar is boiling with rage for it.
6×10: The Magnificent Ferengi: “We’ll just use Ferengi.” “Then we’ll all die.”
Look, it’s the Ferengi version of Ocean’s Eleven (rather than of The Magnificent Seven, ie Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai for non-US people…)! The Dominion have captured Moogie and Quark mounts an operation to rescue her. Cue comedic sequences as he tries to recruit Ferengi to his cause, as they fail at training, and generally acting not competent at all for a mission against the Dominion. There’s no real reason why the whole mission should exclusively consist of Ferengi, other than that’s what this humorous episode is going for. Nog acts all responsible-like, as if he were a Starfleet Commander. They travel to Empok Nor (from 5×24: Empok Nor), funny how the setting shot is of the station at an angle like a sinking ship to show it is abandoned, while DS9 is always “horizontal”, but there is no “up” in space… They take the Vorta from 6×02: Rocks and Shoals and attempt a prisoner exchange, but they kill him before the exchange happens. As Ferengi episodes go, it was funny enough, dumb but entertaining!
Iggy Pop makes a cameo, of all people, unrecognisable under that Vorta makeup! And it took me a while, but I realized that Brunt and Weyoun are the same actor, the amazing Jeffrey Combs!! Now, how about a scene with both Brunt and Weyoun?
6×11: Waltz: “What do you know about the truth? You bend the truth into whatever shape suits you.”
Sisko vs Dukat! This one grew on me after my initial viewing. Sisko accompanies Dukat to trial but they are attacked on the way and crash land on a conveniently placed deserted planet with breathable atmosphere right there (as often happens in Star Trek…). In a reversal of the prisoner situation, Sisko is wounded and depends on Dukat for shelter, food and calling for rescue. But what Dukat has in mind is redemption: he yearns for recognition that he is not as bad as people say he is, that he is not a dictator, that he is actually good-intentioned but trapped by circumstance — simply, he yearns for somebody he appreciates to tell him a good word, he pains to be loved! This directly ties with what he was confiding to Weyoun earlier in the season.
There is a strong resemblance to another episode where a Cardassian tough on the outside was trying to expiation his sins by perversely boasting about his crimes: 1×19: Duet, perhaps the best episode of season 1. And certainly the title here is a direct reference: Waltz! So there is a sense of repetition here that doesn’t make the episode as fresh as it could be. However, this episode goes one step further in putting us in the head the Cardassian, and it is a scary place. Dukat has visions of people in his life, Damar, Kira, Weyoun, ridiculing him or taunting him — in a nice directorial trick, the actors appear, the camera moves, and when it returns the actors have disappeared. And as Sisko figures out the situation and unfolds what Dukat is all about, Dukat gets carried away and progressively completely exposes his true thoughts, how he hates all Bajorans and would like all of them to die. It culminates into a fistfight between them, in an appropriately apocalyptic landscape with red colours and flashes of lightening (I thought of the end of Star Wars III: The Revenge of the Sith here).
Superior race, occupation, holocaust: the parallels of Dukat with Hitler are now complete. There were a lot of back and forths previously, one time presenting him as a colonialist villain, one time presenting him as a man that has the potential to redeem himself and become a hero and a friend, shades of grey typical of DS9; but compared to that this episode feels quite final. Sisko concludes: “Everything seems to be a shade of grey. And then you spend some time with a man like Dukat, and you realize that there is such a thing as truly evil.” Dukat escapes; he is now set up as the ultimate villain with a thirst for revenge against Bajor and Sisko. Another successful script for Ron Moore for what is essentially a bottle episode, and a special mention to Marc Alaimo‘s consistently excellent portrayal of Dukat.
6×12: Who Mourns for Morn?: “You know Morn, he never shuts up.”
They really seem to be alternating one comedic episode with one serious one in this season. This is an entire episode centred around a background character who never speaks — that is how confident DS9 has become in its world-building! Morn is of course the silent presence at Quark‘s bar, who it is always implied is very talkative just when the camera moves away from him — for binge watchers it is very easy to know who this is, but for original viewers in 1990s live TV I imagine this was less obvious.
Morn dies in an accident and Quark holds a memorial service — hilariously, the actor for Morn, Mark Allen Shepherd, this time without make-up, occupies Morn’s chair, poor guy he will never be given a speaking role! — and, unexpectedly, Quark gets his inheritance and together with it his problems. As the episode goes on Quark realizes he didn’t really know Morn that well: in a hilarious sequence of events he is approached by his so-called ex-wife, then members of a crime syndicate, then an official out for his arrest, and Quark is told story after story about Morn, all lies, because everyone is after a big bounty of latinum!
Morn ends up having faked his death in order to have these ex-partners of his come out of hiding and, well, have Quark deal with them. They manage to keep Morn silent in this last scene as well, this one felt more artificial than other cases where Morn didn’t speak, but we finally get a look at real, pure latinum — an odd quicksilvery liquid, stored in Morn’s second stomach… It’s a lively episode, full of twists and turns, well-paced comedy, and frankly as Ferengi episodes go this is one of the best! — certainly less dumb than the all-Ferengi episodes like The Magnificent Ferengi.
6×13: Far Beyond the Stars: “I am a human being, dammit! You can deny me all you want but you can’t deny Ben Sisko, he exists!”
This is one of the most highly-regarded episodes of DS9 and I can understand why. It is a completely different episode compared to the rest and was promoted like the event episode like last season’s 5×06: Trials and Tribble-ations, so much that I knew about it before I sat down to watch it. I really liked it as an experiment and there’s a lot to discuss here, but I didn’t feel it made the most out of the concepts it introduced.
The episode’s central idea is that Ben Sisko flashes in and out of the life of Benny Russell, a science fiction writer in 1950s USA, in a similar way he had visions given to him by the Prophets in 5×10: Rapture — or is it the other way around, Benny flashing in and out of his imagined story of Ben, a space captain in the far future? Which is reality and which is dream? At the end of the episode, both could be true. Strong echoes of most of David Lynch‘s oeuvre here, especially Twin Peaks: The Return, or of Philip K. Dick, and more! This kind of existential identity crisis is not a very usual theme for DS9, it hardly connects with anything else in the series or with Star Trek as a whole. I did find it very interesting as an experiment.
It does, however, have elements that resonate more with Star Trek, in the form of time travel and what our ideas about the future tell about ourselves as a society. Benny feels the full weight of commonplace racism of the 1950s, being denied publication for stories that have black leads. The series mobilizes all of its black cast (Sisko’s father and Kasidy Yates as guests) to illustrate this: an athlete proud that he has been accepted in higher league with the white guys; a diner employee whose highest dream is just to own the diner; a street thug who thinks Benny’s stories of a black Captain are too far-fetched; a preacher who promises redemption for their people. In showing this setting, the science fiction stories that Benny comes up with are then an escape hatch but also a vision of a more just society where racism is no longer an issue — exactly what Star Trek TOS showed (although timidly, compared to today’s standards!) in the 1960s, just about ten years after this episode is set. Benny gets strength and self-confidence at imagining these stories, and Ben recovers the faith that he had lost that it might just be possible to win the war against the Dominion. (In-universe,that might have been the point of the episode, for the Prophets to give Sisko that strength, with the Prophets being incarnated in Sisko’s father/that preacher.) Both Benny and Ben are allowed to imagine a better future, and the viewer is invited to do so for their own future.
But is it as effective as other episodes that have done similar things? I’m especially thinking of the two-parter 3×11/12: Past Tense. In my opinion, no. First, the topic of racism is repeated again and again in not so subtle ways that the episode becomes very didactic and transparent instead of narrating a story. Sure, racism was anything but subtle in the 1950s (and it still isn’t today in many cases…), but what I found simplistic is the way that the episode talks about it and underlines it with strong fluorescent colours; if the episode had been spread over two parts it might have had time to be less frantic about it. And second, there is so much time spent in presenting things, so much scene-setting and characters to introduce and flesh out, that Benny’s story kind of…stops because they ran out of air time. Benny comes up with an idea, is denied publication, defends his person; and that’s it; it’s two acts in search for a third act. What meaning and message can we draw from Benny taken away perhaps to a lunatic asylum? It’s not a happy ending for Benny, not that a happy ending was necessary given his situation, but even thematically with the hope for a better future that end is as depressing as that of Brazil. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, I just felt like it was a very good episode that could have been much better.
There’s also the odd choice to have Avery Brooks direct the episode when he also needs to be so much present in front of the camera as well — obviously he felt very strongly about the theme of racism here; and he gives it all in that final “it’s real!” speech, his acting is very peculiar but if you get used to it it was a powerful performance.
Much of the joy of the episode is of course all the Easter eggs of discovering the whole cast without make-up: the first and only time we see the true faces of actors we know for 100+ episodes, a very funny and at times shocking experience! Several times I pointed at the screen screaming! Shimmerman/Quark as the writer likely to be blacklisted as a communist sympathizer! Dorn/Worf, unrecognizable as the smiling easy-going womanizer! (what an actor!) Alaimo/Dukat and Coombs/Weyoun, as the shady cops, of course the bad guys of the story! (cops as bad guys? yes, this is possible, oh privileged white reader!) Lofton/Jake in a completely different role, with his little street-savvy moustache. And many more… Too bad they didn’t manage to fit Robinson/Garak in there! There’s also the fact that Benny works in a pulp SF magazine like the ones that existed during that Golden Age (the real Galaxy and Heinlein and some other authors are referenced), magazines that inspired a whole generation of authors like Star Trek inspired the next. Meaney/O’Brien is obviously modelled after Asimov (all talk of robots and little emotional intelligence!), so I wonder if the other “writers” referred to existing ones (early Heinlein for Quark? James Tiptree Jr for Kira?). And the magazine has those appropriate pulpy covers of near-naked busty women and menacing aliens! A lot to love here!
I’ll take a break with this high point here. Coming back from the intensity of the war in the first six episodes, it was difficult not to feel a bit let down by how like old times it all seemed. Episodes alternate between lighter comedic episodes and more serious ones, to the point where it’s easy to forget that the war is still raging on, it’s just not happening on DS9 itself. Despite these in-universe musings, the series manages to produce high-quality episodes six years in, be they dramatic, comedic or experimental. See you next time for more!