ST:DS9 in 2020 : Season 6 (Part 4)

tearsofthephrophets_570

I have more to say about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is why I have gathered my reviews for this season in four parts instead of the usual three (see parts 1, 2, 3). It’s particularly difficult to pick up after some of the show’s best episodes (Inquisition, In the Pale Moonlight)! Here follow my capsule reviews for the rest of DS9‘s season 6 (1997-1998).

 


6×20: His Way: “You’re not exactly the most lovable person in the galaxy. You’re not even the most lovable person in this sector… or on the station… or even in this room.”

After the deeply serious previous episodes (Inquisition, In the Pale Moonlight), it’s back to light-heartedness, with an episode that should send Odo-Kira ‘shippers to heaven! Am I one of them? No. But this episode was still very entertaining.

Vic Fontaine‘s holosuite is the latest go-to place on the station. 1950s Las Vegas crooner à la Frank Sinatra. Odo sees Vic’s talent in getting all the girls and asks him advice about approaching Kira. Hilarity ensues. Odo is timid like a rock, Vic trains Odo with many simulated situations with virtual girls and virtual Kira (including a sexualized Kira singer who completely flirts with Odo as she lays all over Odo’s piano), and finally Vic invites both Odo and Kira for a romantic dinner without Odo knowing this is the real Kira. Kira is reluctant but is conquered by Odo, victorious.

OK. At least the episode boldly advances a story thread introcued since at least 3×14: Heart of Stone, but I can’t say that the actors for Odo and Kira have particularly good chemistry between them, nor do I see how this romance serves the larger story and themes.

OK. But it’s funny how DS9 projects itself to the 24th century yet makes so many references to the 1950s and 1960s — Far Beyond the Stars, Bashir’s Ian Fleming adventures, Vic Fontaine and all of his references to the pop culture of that era. Perhaps that was the comfort zone of the writers, the era they grew up in or the culture they grew up with, and as a result this dates DS9 quite a bit as a product of the past century. Indeed its conception of gender roles are antiquated when one would expect something more forward-looking for a science-fiction show. Plenty of dialogue sound like they come from the 1950s: “Women have been known to change their minds. You just have to give them a reason.” “You make it sound so easy.” “That’s because it’s not that hard.” It’s like Back to the Future‘s “the other great mystery of the universe: women!“, only that it’s not even ironic, Odo does use this sexist cliché to get his woman. Kira loves Shakaar, next there’s nothing between them, next she doesn’t feel anything for Odo and all it takes is a little nudge and Odo gets “His Way” indeed!

Not to mention that throughout the show’s history Kira has had several relationships which don’t go anywhere story-wise, and seem to be there just for her to finally see how good Odo is for her; and that Kira is coveted by many male characters as if she were the prize (Dax too…). Both of these reveal how nearly all-male and (unintentionally) sexist the DS9 writing room was!…

Overall despite all of the above it’s still a fun and sympathetic and charming episode. I mean, Vic (James Darren), I like that guy, who wouldn’t? It’s just that it’s far from being a ground-breaking episode as social science-fiction can be.

 

6×21: The Reckoning: “Let it begin”

It’s the season’s Sisko-as-Emissary episode! Previous episodes like this focused on Sisko’s uneasiness in his double role as a representative of Starfleet and as a religious figure for the Bajorans, and on visions sent to him by the Prophets. This episode goes considerably further, fleshing out the mythology of these Prophets/wormhole aliens considerably, but I don’t much like where this goes.

It starts with a favourite subject of mine, xenoarcheology, and findings in the ancient Bajoran city of B’hala (see 5×10: Rapture), a tablet with inscriptions. In a decision that will make any art conservation student scream, Sisko just breaks the tablet in frustration of the Prophets’ cryptic messages. This releases two energy beings that were imprisoned in the tablet, which possess human(oid)s and turn them into superhumans with superpowers and power flashes coming out of their hands — it’s all very pseudo-spiritual Fantasy, forget scientific verisimilitude, this is Star Trek going full Constantine-meets-Dragon Ball Z!… It’s funny because this is something that happened often in Stargate SG-1 as well, but SG-1 does not carry this aura of being scientifically accurate and being praised as a serious series that popularized scientific principles like Star Trek does.

So Kira is possessed by the blue/positive/angelic/good Prophet spirit, Jake is possessed by the red/negative/demonic/bad Pah’wraith spirit (complete with red demonic eyes), and they duel. I did not sign up for this!

There is a whole story about Kai Winn contending power from Emissary Sisko, challenging him on his decisions that she thinks defy the will of the Prophets while Bajor is plagued with odd weather events that feel like divine retribution à la Plagues of Egypt. When the Kira/Prophet vs Jake/Pah’wraith duel becomes so powerful that it threatens the station, DS9 is evacuated. Yet it is Kai Winn who activates a field that forces the spirits to leave DS9, a decision quite unexpected when she spent the rest of the episode saying that she respected the will of the Prophets.

This episode does some more world-building in that it connects some disparate dots: the Pah’wraiths and the Prophets are ancestral enemies, they can both possess humans (as happened to Keiko in 5×05: The Assignment) , they are both from Bajor. With this simplification we are far remote from the more interesting aspects of the Prophets as aliens who see time differently (1×01/02: The Emissary), or of the Bajoran religion being a misguided understanding of things that can be explained scientifically, or even of the Eastern philosophy touches of the Bajoran religion, here it’s all very black and white, good vs bad (Christian, you could say). In previous Emissary episodes I was waiting patiently to see where all this was leading, I can’t say I’m very excited now that I see it.

 

6×22: Valiant: “You’re Starfleet, you’re Red Squad, and you’re the best”

Jake and Nog, the show’s young characters, find themselves with the young crew of the Valiant — it’s like a junior version of the Defiant, perhaps this was a test pilot for the long-rumored show focused on Starfleet Academy. It’s like a teenager version of TNG‘s 6×07: Rascals (where characters were de-aged to young kids), only that TNG‘s episode was comical whereas DS9‘s is full-on drama.

Jake and Nog are rescued by the Valiant, which entirely consists of the Red Squad, the elite team of Starfleet Cadets referenced before (it would have been interesting to see somebody from TNG 5×19: The First Duty or reference the events of 4×11/12: Homefront/Paradise Lost here!). Left all alone after the adult Captain’s death, they have self-organized and are very serious about carrying out their mission. With the highly competitive spirit that characterizes the elite Squad, there’s no room for emotions or weakness or second thoughts, it’s success or death. Nog is immediately in love and fits right in a crew that wants recognition as Starfleet’s best.

Yet things are breaking apart: the “Captain” is taking medication to cope with the stress, and the “Chief” is nostalgic of home (Tycho City on Luna! in a rare appearance of the solar system colonization in Star Trek‘s future). Jake is at the complete opposite of Nog, afraid that they’re not responsible enough. Indeed, they take unnecessary risks and have themselves killed in a strike against the Dominion — only Jake, Nog and the Chief are rescued by the real Defiant, with real adults. Interesting that there’s no happy ending here, they really do make bad choices and nearly all die — this probably would not have been allowed back in the TNG days!

It’s a really good premise and for most part the episode delivers, but towards the end it becomes very unsubtle. The Captain has his motivational speech and the whole crew shouts back as if they were brainwashed nationalists out for violence; and the final scene, Jake and the Chief arguing about the Captain’s legacy, spells out in dialogue what was already very obvious from the action and was superfluous. Great but not perfect.

Alumni-spotting:
The “Captain” is very well-cast, good looking and self-confident — he was Paul Popovich, who recently had a small role as another Captain in the first season of The Expanse.

 

6×23: Profit and Lace: “He’s the one that should be wearing the dress”

So, another Ferengi episode. Early seasons introduced various guest characters (the Grand Nagus Zek, Quark’s mom Moogie) and fleshed out the Ferengi culture (the Rules of Acquisition…). Like with the Klingons, nothing was subtle about their depiction, giving plenty of opportunity for comedy. The extremely caricatural sexism of Ferengi culture was funny in the beginning (from 2×07: Rules of Acquisition) and became tiresome rather quickly. This is another episode that tries to get more jokes out of this but fails quite badly, so your enjoyment of the episode depends on whether you’re a fan of self-inflicted cheesiness like Z-movies.

The story is that Moogie’s influence over Zek has become so big that he has started giving women rights, which has created scandal in the Ferengi society, to the point where he is destituted and Quark’s nemesis Brunt attempts to seize power. Quark and co try to influence powerful Ferengi to Zek’s cause and when one of them (the only one that accepts, actually) visits the station, Quark has to impersonate a woman and convince him she is worthy to gain profit. So Quark undergoes sex change twice in the space of a day or two — that’s some extreme 24th century medicine! Quark learns how to dress, walk, talk and act female, and even gets the visitor to fall in love with him. The whole thing is absurd and plays on cliché jokes and transphobic sensibilities of the 1950s or 1960s (again, like with 6×20: His Way). The story tries to be feminist (it all starts with women’s rights) and even with “good” intentions (punish the sexist Quark by having him become a woman) but ends up having the same tired sexist jokes one would expect from a men’s writing room.

The whole thing is bookended by some extremely slimy and sexist scenes where Quark corners one of his employees to have sex with him; Quark regrets his behaviour by the end of the episode, but by then the employee has grown to like the idea (!). Hm. I hope these were not the usual working conditions for women on the Star Trek shooting lot.

6×24: Time’s Orphan: “Molly home”

It’s this year’s “Miles must suffer” episode — and oh what suffering it is! It goes to such extremes that although the idea was interesting I was not sold to it, plus as time-travel stories often do there are some logic inconsistencies at play.

First, Miles and Keiko must live through the pain of losing little Molly as she disappears inside a time portal she comes across during a picnic — funny to think here that they would travel to a completely different planet for a picnic, while today on Earth it takes some planning and coordination to meet up and go to the local city’s park! Sent in the remote past, Molly would have lived all alone in a deserted planet, possibly starved to death or eaten by some wild alien animal. Then, Dax works her science magic and brings Molly back, only that the aiming was slightly off and it’s Molly some ten years later that comes out: a proper teenage Mowgli! It’s amazing that she even survived, really. She doesn’t speak, in the enclosed space of the stations she is like an animal in a cage, she considers the picnic planet as “home”, all of this despite her parents’ patient efforts to make her feel at ease. Miles and Keiko resort to bringing her back to the planet and sending her in her past, essentially abandoning her to her fate — something that I found extreme and unrealistic for parents to do! I understand that Molly would feel better planet-bound, but perhaps a more intermediate solution than complete abandonment was possible, like, I don’t know, keep her in the present, build her a shelter, visit her often, until she gets accustomed to them again?

Still, they send her back. But back to the exact moment young Molly entered the portal, so old Molly sends young Molly back and the loop is complete. The logic doesn’t quite work here. Initially, they didn’t want to send the old Molly back and try again to catch the young Molly because then the older Molly wouldn’t have existed. Yet at the end that’s exactly what happens, young Molly is back so old Molly could never have existed, yet the universe doesn’t implode. OK, Back to the Future is not devoid of paradoxes either. Actually what bothered me more was Miles and Keiko’s rather lack of strong emotions: they were emotive but given the enormity of what happens to them I would have expected wails, tears, laments, pain! I don’t know if Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao were playing it more laid back, in line with how 24th century people are more logical and less emotional (although that’s more of a TNG thing than DS9), or whether their acting (or acting directions) was just not  up to par with the script. Still, it was a nice episode with a cool central idea and I liked the scenes with older Molly, but it was a bit too far-fetched emotionally and story-wise.

Meanwhile! While the O’Briens have other kids to attend to, baby Kirayoshi is given to Worf to take care of. Worf believes that with this he has to prove to Dax that he can be a responsible father! Worf takes great pride in anything he does, and takes any incident as a personal failure, and it’s very funny to see him despair here when things go not well with Yoshi, and vice-versa glow with joy (as much as Worf glows) when Yoshi is happy.  Some nice moments that ring true to character.

 

6×25: The Sound of Her Voice: “The war changed us. Pulled us apart.”

The Defiant answers a distress call from a stranded Starfleet officer, Lisa, the only survivor of a crash. On the way to get to her, the crew maintains contact with the officer and discuss with her to keep her spirits up, and she is very, very (very!) talkative! This is the opportunity to get the crew talking, reflecting about the past year and how they have been changed by the Dominion War, literally a retrospective of the season that is drawing to a close. And so we follow character after character in long sessions of confessions to this distant voice, who instantly becomes a sort of ship’s councillor. It’s clear that they have been thought a lot and are in need of rest; I particularly liked O’Brien’s “sessions”, Colm Meaney is good in such scenes where he just talks about life and work and you just want to hang out with him with a beer. In the end, the SF twist is that Lisa’s radio signals were delayed by the planet’s peculiar atmosphere and everything was happening with two days shift — as a result, the Defiant did not arrive on time and she was dead of asphyxiation already. The crew holds a wake to their new-found friend.

The series needed such an episode before the season finale and I am guessing some important events that will come with it. Inevitably, listening to a voice and still camera shots didn’t make fore very exciting viewing. It’s a low-key episode, I understand what it tried to achieve but it could have benefited from some better directing/editing (this is an issue I often have with DS9).

Meanwhile! Kira and Odo are complete lovebirds, hiding (badly) from co-workers to share kisses, not being very concentrated at work. Odo being Odo by still being very strict with his colleagues, but completely melting when Kira is around! He even makes an exception and although he knows of a shady dealing of Quark‘s, he does not arrest him and lets him go through.

6×26: Tears of the Prophets: “I know this is small comfort, but I never intended you any harm”

I don’t much like it when behind the scenes drama determines what happens on-screen. If it cannot be avoided, the best thing a production can do is find a way to deal with it in a way that makes sense in-universe and blend it seamlessly in the story that they are trying to tell. Sometimes it works great, other times it feels forced. I am of course talking here about the departure of Terry Farrell and how that is dealt with with the death of Jadzia Dax. The death of a main character is something that hardly ever happened on Star Trek (see: Tasha Yar in TNG s1), and despite the high-stakes highly serialized nature of DS9 the closest thing that had happened to that was the death of Ziyal earlier in the season — that was a move clearly motivated by dramatic reasons. One could have expected more deaths in order to make the menace of the Dominion War more palpable, but 1990s television was less keen to have cast changes in that way (“if it works, don’t break it”) compared to later shows (see: Game of Thrones aka An Overkill of Murders). So when Jadzia is killed, it carries a lot of weight for the story and the characters, a major loss for the good guys. But it was too out of the blue to work as well for me.

The season finale deals directly with the Dominion War storyline, as could be expected. Starfleet wants to strike a direct blow into Cardassian territory and a mission is organized together with the Klingons and with the new allies, the Romulans; the only thing that ties them together is their common foe (and it will be interesting, if the series ever gets to that, to see the future of this alliance beyond the Dominion War). The attack is launched, the allies face particular difficulties, but they emerge victorious. It’s a storyline that is quite by-the-numbers, and if all stories around the War were like this then I understand why the writers wanted to do other things and set the main theatre of the war away from DS9 (the station) for most of the season. But, the miniature + CGI special effects are really amazing and complex compared to earlier season.

But meanwhile! Dukat plots his revenge against Sisko and he emerges from the shadows. By now, he has become quite the one-note villain, less interesting than his prior self, and he appears delusional even to the rest of the villains of the show, Damar and Weyoun, who by comparison are purely logical antagonists. It was odd to see Dukat just barge in on a strategic meeting with Damar and Weyoun, as if there was no security and Dukat was free to roam around. It was also odd to see that meeting room on Cardassia: for the place where enormous decisions are taken deciding the fate of the whole quadrant and more, this just looks like any other room on a starship, small and constrained, instead of large and majestic. Budget issues, I guess.

Dukat’s one-note villainy intersects with the one-note villainy of The Reckoning: Dukat lets himself become a host to the pah’wraith, gets these demonic red eyes, and, two-in-one, heads for DS9. Via one of the Bajoran Orbs he/they shut down the wormhole, this time apparently for good, thus cutting off Bajor from its gods and Sisko from the beings that enabled him to win over the Dominion earlier. The title of the episode refers to the prophecy that was still not prevented at the end of The Reckoning: the Prophets will weep and the gateway (the wormhole) will burn. This is a victory of the pah’wraith over the wormhole aliens, but I wonder if that will not actually weaken the Dominion since now they are really cut off from the Gamma Quadrant. I did like Marc Alaimo‘s face when the pah’wraith left Dukat’s body and completed its mission: a mix of horror, surprise, physical strain, and madness! Overall this is a good twist, continuing on the idea that whoever controls DS9 and the wormhole has great power over the outcome of the war. But I still find the pah’wraith idea simplistic and not well explored.

While doing so, Demon Dukat quickly neutralizes Jadzia; I thought that she was dead on the spot, but she stayed alive long enough for a painful goodbye scene with Worf. The loss is felt more strongly since we know that Worf and Jadzia were planning to have children, which is a very transparent way for the writers to underline how dramatic this turn of events is. Earlier in the episode Bashir and Quark were drowning their sorrow that they did not manage to “get” Jadzia for themselves in Vic Fontaine‘s bar (this aspect of the trophy woman I didn’t much like, it’s a rather sexist trope that the writers also used with Kira‘s pretenders). The episode then spends quite a long time on Jadzia and her death, completely erasing the joy of the military victory, to the point where it might as well not have happened at all, as the episode ends completely differently with a darker pessimistic note. Shocked by Jadzia’s death, overwhelmed by the Prophets’ disappearance that make him powerless as Emissary, Sisko retreats away from DS9 to Earth. Away from responsibility and into the simple, repetitive, mind-cleaning task of peeling potatoes for his father’s restaurant — it really is a beautiful and powerful scene and a great, humbling way to end a season.

Overall for Jadzia Dax’s character arc (and Worf’s), her death didn’t make much sense and was clearly a way to accommodate Farrell’s departure. Episodes like the excellent Change of Heart pointed to a long-term Worf-Dax relationship that would overcome all odds; Jadzia’s death, instead, is entirely for the shock of it. There are some declarations and some gossip on why Farrell did not renew her contract for another season, which point to a very sexist working environment (coming from top producer Rick Berman in particular, who was also responsible for Troi‘s décolleté, so, yeah, there is a pattern here…). I don’t think there’s any argument that Farrell was hired partly for her good looks, but during production the kind of comments she got must not have been very uncommon in 1990s television unfortunately, something that would never fly in today’s productions! So although this brought the writers to a tight spot, I can’t blame her. Besides, six 26-episode seasons is a lot any way you look at it, and it’s understandable any actor would want to explore other opportunities.

This whole situation did bring Sisko to that point of despair at the end of the episode, which closes this Dominion War season in an appropriately dramatic and painful way. So, this episode was a mixed bag for me, but I’m very much looking forward to season seven and the continuation of the Dominion War storyline.

 


All right, all right, I realize I have had several issues with the episodes especially in this fourth part of my reviews and I sound as if I didn’t enjoy it at all, but overall season six of DS9 was a wild ride, and for me it was perhaps the series’ best so far, on par with 4 and 5!

Season 6 started with this six-episode arc that had never been done on Star Trek before, and continued by alternating serious episodes that explored and deconstructed Star Trek‘s utopian dream, with more light, humorous episodes. I suppose because of that plot-heavy six-episode arc in the beginning, season 6 is the first one without a mid-season two-parter (since the first season), although Inquisition and In the Pale Moonlight do make an atypical thematic two-parter. I definitely saw the train of thought that led to Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica in this season.

On the other hand, the many humorous episodes did take away from the tension that three seasons have been building towards, and it was easy to forget that there was a war raging somewhere else in the galaxy. There were also story decisions that didn’t do much good, either the simplification of Dukat (Waltz) or the simplification of the Bajoran religion and the Prophets (The Reckoning). And there were more than a few cases where 1990s sexism has aged the series quite a bit (His Way, Profit and Lace).

With this season, even more than in the fourth (tensions with the Klingons) and in the fifth (tensions with Cardassia and the Dominion), DS9 fully embraces a more serialized form of storytelling with the Dominion War. The series format is not serialization as will become more common in future series, but the general setting at that point in time, the War, is different from the setting in previous seasons, and that defines how self-contained stories are told as well. The Dominion pops up everywhere and the War seeps into nearly all stories told this year (see: Honor Among Thieves, where the Orion Syndicate has dealings with the Dominion; or The Magnificent Ferengi, where the Dominion is even present in a humorous Ferengi episode); the world of DS9 feels more coherent and lived-in as a result.

I will wrap up with my usual comparison with Babylon 5. By this point in time Babylon 5 was revealing all its cards and going all-out with its long-brewing storylines with its last two seasons. Any accusations that B5 was copying or taking inspiration from DS9 and not the other way round do not stand close scrutiny. But by comparison, B5 was even more serialized, while DS9 kept things more to the background for most episodes, told self-contained stories and concentrated its world-changing events to specific, dense episodes. In this way, these plot-heavy episodes were still telling self-contained stories, although with larger consequences than others, still retaining the episode narrative format of beginning, middle and end. For instance, In the Pale Moonlight is a self-contained story that is extremely powerful because it packs a lot of punch in such a short amount of time; in B5 this would be a story thread spread over a good half-season, but which would perhaps carry even more emotional weight because of spending more time observing the characters making these decisions. They are two different ways to tell stories, both with benefits and short-comings, both quite new for genre television in the 1990s. Today, B5‘s more serialized format has completely eclipsed DS9‘s (and The X-Files‘) more hybrid format; even Star Trek has moved more towards serialization (see: Discovery and Picard). I would like to see more series to return to that episodic format, which used to be the bread and butter of television for decades; it is happening with more anthology series of late (Black Mirror, Twilight Zone), but it’s not the same as following the same world and characters.

Well, after a break to absorb all this I’ll be back with the show’s seventh and final season!

 


6 risposte a "ST:DS9 in 2020 : Season 6 (Part 4)"

  1. I didn’t enjoy very much The Reckoning either, I must admit…

    And I’m glad you’re starting to hate Ferengi episodes too! Welcome to the club! What a waste of time…Profit and Lace is no exception, as far as I’m concerned!

    But I actually liked The Sound of Her Voice, I still remember it vividly! One of the many sad stories of DS9’s final seasons…

    And then Jadzia… I don’t know how much in advance Terry decided to leave the show. I do know, though, that she regretted that decision and blamed it on a misunderstanding, rather than a real clash. Maybe we’ll never really know the real thoughts of the people involved… But it’s interesting that you mention sexism in Star Trek! I’m listening to the weekly podcast by Robert Duncan McNeill and Garrett Wong of Voyager and they are re-watching the whole series. They spent a whole episode regretting all the racism and sexism in Voyager in the mid-nineties! And we’re talking about Star Trek! Still, the comfort zone of the head writers was rule, so there you go with all those US of the 50s and 60s, and all those interactions that now feel so odd between men and women.

    Piace a 1 persona

    1. I will be interested to see the new documentary once I am done with the show, and hear what Farrell has to say so many years later. Yes, there was a lot of “casual sexism” around, much of it unconsciously. Maybe it’s because I only saw a “best of” with TNG, maybe because DS9 has more soap opera tropes, but this issue has bothered me much more in DS9 than in TNG.

      Piace a 1 persona

      1. And that’s nothing with respect to TOS! X–D

        Voyager has a lot of that too, but I think it would be wrong to judge it from 2020 eyes, today PC is pervasive (possibly even too much – in the 90s everything was much more relaxed)… wouldn’t it be?

        "Mi piace"

Rispondi

Inserisci i tuoi dati qui sotto o clicca su un'icona per effettuare l'accesso:

Logo di WordPress.com

Stai commentando usando il tuo account WordPress.com. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Google photo

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Google. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto Twitter

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Twitter. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto di Facebook

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Facebook. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Connessione a %s...