After Part 1, we continue with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 7 (1998-1999), with the last string of episodes that are self-contained, before we get on the next level with the Final Chapter!
7×09: Covenant: “I’m a changed man.”
Kira is taken away by Dukat and Dukat tries to convince her (and even flirt with her) that he is really, in fact, truly, where it counts, ultimately, a good person. Now, why does all this feel familiar? It’s because nearly all Dukat episodes over the past seasons have followed this template! (e.g. 4×14: Return to Grace).
In this case, Dukat turns out that he is the leader of a religious cult — the cult of the Pah’wraith that we have seen in 7×01: Image in the Sand. Kira is taken on Terok Nor (still the same shot of essentially DS9, but tilted, because things are weird — but we are in space, there is no “up”, I find that hilarious!). The cult has settled there, hoping to convince all Bajorans that the Pah’wraith are the true Prophets — all Bajorans except Dukat! Incredible that he even managed to convince that many people! Throughout the episode, we move through the predictable plot points of Kira refusing to follow Dukat and Dukat showing what a great leader he is. It is only when the first Bajoran baby of the cult is born that cracks appear in the cult in the most blatantly obvious way: the baby is a Bajoran-Cardassian hybrid, Dukat has taken advantage of the woman (has Dukat really had sex with all the Bajorans he has encountered except Kira?!).
Ever since the end of the six-episode arc that started season 6, Dukat has lost a lot of his aura. It’s not that the writers don’t manage to find things for him to do that fit well with the overall plot, it’s that we get a repetitive situation and Dukat is more like the caricature of a villain rather than the menacing presence or even the pitiful failure that he could have been. The only difference in this episode is that he appears to be a true believer in the Pah’wraith, not just using this to manipulate others in his advantage (well, that too). We are heading towards the finale with crazy religious leader Dukat, and I’m not too excited about that.
7×10: It’s Only a Paper Moon: “Are you okay?” “No, but I will be.”
This episode came as a complete surprise and quickly made its way to one of the best episodes in the entire series! It is entirely based around two secondary characters — Nog and Vic Fontaine — and deals with the delicate matter of war trauma. 4×19: Hard Time also dealt with trauma, focused on Miles, but in a more science fictional context (brain manipulation to make Miles believe he spent years in jail); whereas here the situation is much more realistic (despite the use of the holosuite), much closer to Picard’s trauma episode (the memorable TNG 4×02: Family).
Following the titular 7×08: The Siege of AR-558, Nog undergoes surgery to grow a new leg and has medical counselling. He is received back on DS9 as a hero, but he wants nothing of it, he’d rather be left alone. He uses a cane and limps but indications are that this is all psychological. Nog only finds solace at Vic’s (Bashir was playing recordings of Vic’s at AR-558 and that has scarred Nog’s memory). Actually, Nog spends his whole time at Vic’s and while at first his colleagues understand this is helping him to heal, they start wondering when Nog’s time inside a hologram becomes too much.
Now, the rules of the holodeck/holosuite have always a bit hazy, whether they malfunction or not, the way they work adapts to the story rather than to anything approaching any kind of realism of how such things could work. Inside the world of Vic’s holosuite, time passing is synchronous to the real world; day follows night follows day; holosuite characters have homes, rest, plan gigs, have bills to pay, dream about future projects! When the program shuts down, Vic continues living, and when it is activated again “in-hologram” time has passed. Unlike software that can be copied endlessly and losslessly, there is only one instance of the Vic hologram program, if somebody is using it then nobody else can. And Vic can shut his own program and prevent others from entering! (“You mean he has free will?” “I’m an engineer, not a philosopher!“) I suppose things are even weirder with Voyager‘s hologram Doctor! It’s 24th century magic!
But it serves the plot all right. Nog shares Vic’s flat and watches old Western movies, and as time passes Nog starts finding more meaning in what happens within the holosuite than outside: he cleans up Vic’s finances, works on building a new casino, and progressively forgets about his leg. Still, he has to be pulled out of the holosuite, outside of his comfort zone back to the real world: the crew have Vic “ban” Nog and the two have a discussion, Vic acting as a better Counselor than Ezri or anybody else from Starfleet! Yes, Nog carries a big weight with him from having experienced the war, but it’s not as simple as him being witness to violent events or him missing a leg (that 24th century medicine has managed to regrow anyway). Previously, Nog was always on the rise, breaking Federation preconceptions about Ferengi (and vice-versa), winning a position as an Ensign, eager to prove himself — but his experience with war has landed him back to the most basic of realities, that he is mortal. That his engagement with Starfleet is not just an adventure. Out of all this, a more serious Nog emerges, able to make better decisions as a Starfleet officer and able to cherish his connection with his family better.
It’s a simple story, very effectively told. Who knew that Nog, this little alien child that was created just to give Jake Sisko somebody to bounce dialogue to, would develop in such a complete and complex and fascinating character! From Ferengi caricature to surprising Starfleet hopeful to mature war veteran, Nog certainly has some of the most complete character arcs out of the whole series (while Jake hardly appears any more.) Well done, Aron Eisenberg (and RIP…). And I was lukewarm about the inclusion of Vic in a Star Trek show, but within this episode he works wonderfully, the nostalgic 1960s setting paralleling Nog’s need for escapism (if a Ferengi can be nostalgic for something from Earth’s remote past…).
This episode flows directly out of 7×08: The Siege of AR-558 and I don’t know whether they had planned any of this in advance or decided to explore Nog further after they had done the first one, but it certainly turned out great. Both make for one of the series’ best “informal” two-parter!
7×11: Prodigal Daughter “I’m feeling… like I don’t want to be analyzed by my sister.”
The prodigal daughter returns! This is an episode giving us background on Ezri and given how many episodes are left I expect we won’t get many more than this one. We meet Ezri’s family – Star Trek‘s “family” episodes are more misses than hits (TNG 7×03: Interface, 7×10: Inheritance…) and this episode is so-so. It tries to do multiple things at the same time and doesn’t satisfy much on all.
It’s a sequel to 6×15: Honor Among Thieves where O’Brien went undercover in the Orion Syndicate; here he searches for the widow of the earlier episode’s contact and this storyline is very short. It’s an exploration of who Ezri is, by meeting her family: a mother who is all about business, a brother following in her footsteps, a brother who would rather be an artist, but we don’t quite learn anything new about Ezri herself actually – she has been avoiding all of them for years. And it’s a self-contained story on the clash between Ezri’s family business and the Orion Syndicate, with blackmail and cover-up of murders, a by-the-numbers drama that is not very impactful because I didn’t feel much for Ezri’s family (or their actors). It’s more like the Adventures of Ezri, Starfleet Counselor, than a story that truly felt personal to Ezri.
7×12: The Emperor’s New Cloak: “It’s the smart move.” “Do we look smart to you?”
I was content with season 6 having no Mirror Universe episode. I didn’t miss it. So when here we get a combination of Mirror Universe over the top drama and Ferengi dumb comedy, you know that this is not going to be one of the show’s best hours…
Grand Negus Zek attempts to expand the territory of Ferengi commerce into the parallel universe! And this results in Quark and Rom having to steal a Klingon cloaking device to transport it to the Mirror Universe, where they don’t have this technology. The novelties of this Mirror Universe episode are of course Mirror!Ezri, who was not part of the cast in the previous one, here a cyberpunk leather-clad rebel quite unlike our Ezri; Mirror!Leeta, Ezri’s sexy lover (!); Mirror!Brunt, so puzzingly kind that he even offers tea; and the presence of our Quark and Rom, whose Mirror counterparts have been executed. Otherwise,we have the usual sexy slithering Kira, the Han Solo-like Bashir & Miles/Smiley, the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance Regent Worf, his sidekick the sadist Garak…
Rom wonders all the time to what extent is everything reversed in this Universe — if good guys are good then are bad guys bad? There’s the inexplicable presence of Mirror!Vic Fontaine — how can a holosuite character have a real-life counterpart? Since this is the last Mirror episode, there are a few more developments, like Worf’s scheme to attack the Terrans fails and he is caught, presumably radically changing the Mirror Universe’s geopolitics just as our Ferengi return to our universe. It’s quite entertaining overall, but nothing groundbreaking — personally I got tired of the campiness of the Mirror Universe episodes ages ago!
7×13: Field of Fire: “Listen to your instincts. Listen to me.”
A murder mystery wrapped in a spooky self-discovery. Mysterious murders happen aboard DS9. Odo finds clues thanks to him reading 20th century crime novels! Ezri has very strong feelings and is disturbed by this, as she knows that a previous Dax host, Joran, was a murderer (see 3×04: Equilibrium). She has nightmares where Joran appears. At this stage I was thinking that the repressed identity of Joran was taking over Ezri as she was asleep, and was committing these murders. The battle of multiple personalities within a single mind was really pointing to that.
But it turns out it’s more straightforward. There really is another killer out there, and Joran is emerging because Ezri feels things related to who Joran was: a killer. The heart of the episode is really Ezri embracing the fact that as much as she might not want to, Joran or at least his memories are part of who she is now — she no longer actively tries to bury this like Jadzia did, although she herself refuses to become a killer. Quite simple.
The search for the killer involved some visually interesting scenes where a rifle with a scanner that could see through walls and point anywhere on the station, and the final confrontation between Ezri and the killer happen in this way, at a distance! The killer turns out to be an emotionally traumatized Vulcan — illogical! DS9 trying to subvert expectations! Overall, this episode could have been something closer to David Fincher‘s Seven or Fight Club if the directing was more inspired and the guest star better.
This Joran (different from the one introduced in Equilibrium) was Leigh J McCloskey, who portrayed an unfortunate member of the Telepath Resistance towards the end of Babylon 5.
7×14: Chimera: “You’ve given up a great deal to remain here.”
Randomly travelling through space, Odo meets another Changeling! Same as him, it’s one of the hundred Changelings that were sent centuries ago to explore the Alpha Quadrant and later report back to the Dominion (see 3×01/02: The Search). Odo’s joy is immense! Not only to be in contact with one of his people, but one who is so much like him as well: alone among strangers, not aligned with the Dominion.
It turns out that this Changeling, Laas, has travelled around longer than Odo has and has had a longer experience with solids: more opportunities to love a solid and see his love grow old and die, more opportunities to be betrayed or discriminated against or hunted by the solids. Laas is completely anti-solids, finds Odo’s imagination very limited, and prefers spending his time not as a humanoid but as an animal, a floating space creature (in vacuum, do you need to look like an actual fish and wiggle and swim as if you were in water?…), or even as something completely abstract…like fog!
Soon enough, Kira becomes jealous: how many times will Odo have sex–sorry–link with and become one with this intruder?! This link-sex parallel is even in the text: “Compared to the Link, it is a pale shadow. A feeble attempt to compensate for the isolation that mono-forms feel because they are trapped within themselves.” The story develops into a battle of opinion between Odo, who truly believes in the worthiness of love (his love of Kira), and Laas, who gives Odo many examples where the solids’ tolerance of the Changelings’ difference is very small. Laas is an impressive presence, proud and independent, and it makes sense because behind that makeup is actor JG Hertzler, Martok himself! Anything that Odo tells Laas, Laas throws it back at him. Did Odo really choose to look like he does or is it a form of submission to solids? Can Odo shapeshift in public or would that be too much? Is Odo really free?
All of this is makes for very interesting discussions, with callbacks all the way back to the series’ very first episode focused on Odo, 1×04: A Man Alone — fittingly, as we are approaching the end of the series. However, this does not mean that this episode is a mere repetition: Odo chooses to refuse Laas’ offer and remains with the solids and Kira at the end, but he has gained a certain sense of pride and independence for what he is, announcing perhaps his future desire to find his kin (as was already teased in 7×06: Treachery, Faith and the Great River).
The episode ends with an absolutely beautiful scene where Kira urges Odo to appear to her in any form he wants, and Odo explodes into a being of light rising above her and around her and everywhere in the room, raining glitter on her and abstractly embracing her, to Kira’s delight. I originally had my usual soap-opera reluctance at the Kira/Odo relationship, but it has given rise to episodes like these (also, Nana Visitor‘s acting has greatly improved compared to the early seasons). One of the best episodes on Odo.
7×16: Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges: “You’re also the reason Section 31 exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn’t share your sense of right and wrong.”
When Section 31 was introduced in 6×18: Inquisition, we were left with a cliffhanger: Sisko advised Bashir that when they would next approach him, he would play their game in order to find out more about them and denounce them. That cliffhanger pays off here, in a very complex episode impeccably written by Ron Moore (do I sense a pattern here?) that deals with deception, loyalty, astropolitics and Romulan ale.
The episode deals with Romulans — this is, after all, a spy story! — and Bashir being recruited by Section 31’s Sloan to gather intelligence in a medical conference on Romulus. Sloan mysteriously appears in Bashir’s quarters one night, all clad in mysterious black leather (does he really go unnoticed, dressed this differently?). You have to wonder, is Section 31 an actual organization working without the Federation’s permission, is it a top secret but legitimate branch of the Federation, or is it just…Sloan’s invention (and only his)? This episode toys with all options but does not give a clear answer.
The plot is convoluted. There are Romulan patriots who see their best interest with the side of the Federation-Klingon Alliance and there are Romulan patriots who would rather side with the Dominion, and then there are Romulan patriots who would already be planning the war with the Federation that will come once the Dominion War is done. While trying to disentangle a possible murder plot of a Starfleet Admiral and possibly becoming involved in another murder plot of the Romulan leader of the Tal Shiar, Bashir finds himself captured and brought before the Romulan Committee. There, Bashir is surprised to find that instead of manipulating Sloan, Sloan has successfully been manipulating him and that the Romulan was not who he appeared to be. There are more twists, like Sloan faking his death and the planting of a mole for the Federation, all in order to ensure the Romulans will remain in the Alliance against the Dominion.
At the end, a very angry Bashir confronts Admiral Ross about all this, and you know that something is fishy when Ross takes off his comm badge to answer. Section 31’s so-called unethical dealings is tolerated by Starfleet, and is actually very useful to them — Bashir says, quoting Cicero “in times of war, the laws fall silent“. At that point, Bashir is disgusted, but when he again gets the opportunity to perhaps capture Sloan when he makes another appearance, he lets that opportunity pass. The moral dilemma is very strong in Bashir; he is no longer the innocent young doctor he was in the beginning of the series, he is a war veteran who is more cynical he thought he could have become, a man with a strong ethical code but who would reply that he can see the forest from the trees when need be.
Although this episode was essentially a variation of the themes of Inquisition, it is no less impactful. The dialogue is crisp and Bill Sadler‘s Sloan is excellent, with lines like these: “I’ll spare you the ‘ends justify the means’ speech and you spare me the ‘we must do what’s right’ speech. You and I are not going to see eye to eye on this subject, so I suggest we stop discussing it.” The interesting thing is that Sisko and Bashir are so repulsed by Section 31’s dealings, and this is what makes this a Star Trek story. Section 31’s actions would be absolutely not out of place in any Intelligence branch of present-day Earth nation-states that takes its work seriously — the fact that it is morally wrong doesn’t prevent them from existing, out of a cynical and couldn’t-care-less attitude of a large part of the population. In the more utopian world of Star Trek, that high-ranking members of the military/Starfleet would find these actions condemnable is a sign that they are less well accepted. After all, if the Tal Shiar exist, then the Federation needs an organisation that thinks like them in order to combat them — it’s utopia everywhere or nowhere! DS9 appears to destroy the blind utopianism of TOS/TNG but in fact serves to shed a light on how much work needs to be done to strive towards utopia.
Cretak, the well-meaning Romulan, is not the same actor as in the opening episodes of the season: here she is portrayed by Adrienne Barbeau — ex-wife of John Carpenter and star in The Fog and Escape from New York! While the sinister Romulan, Koval, is John Fleck, who was the lizard man in Carnivàle and also had a role in Millennium, Blood Relatives.
7×15: Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang: “So, where are you from again?” “Bajor.” “That’s in Jersey, right?”
Well, if I was told that Star Trek would produce something like this I would have called them crazy! Same with the baseball episode, really (7×04: Take Me Out to the Holosuite). This is a mob/casino/heist/music/comedy experimental episode, nothing less!
The weird un-software-like way in which the holosuites work like in 7×10: It’s Only a Paper Moon continue, with Vic‘s Las Vegas lounge suddenly bought by New York mobsters and the DS9 crew unable to revert to the earlier version unless Vic’s entire existence and memories as we have known him since he was activated are deleted… Plus, the DS9 crew cannot intervene from the software back-end, nor can they import any modern technology in the holosuite’s front-end, they can only act as if and import items that are period-specific, ie 1960s Las Vegas… Once you accept this is preposterous and is only a justification for the crazy plot of this episode, and I had a hard time doing it, you can enjoy it.
I’ll skip the horrible and endless series of Italian mafia clichés here (the accent, the dumb enforcer, the talk about food, the Don…) and focus on the meat of the episode: the DS9 crew doing an Ocean’s Eleven heist! They all sit in Vic’s apartment, going through their plan in detail, we see footage of the execution of that plan, and then we see how things actually happen — and as expected not everything goes as planned… Sexy Kira acts as the seductress (I really don’t understand why they constantly cast Kira into these sexy roles, especially when the other female lead is also sexualized…the gender dynamics part of DS9 has not aged well); sexy Ezri is the waitress that catches the accountant’s attention; Nog is the “ears” that get the safe unlocked; Sisko and Kasidy act as diversions, etc. There are also cameos you wouldn’t know unless you read about them: the substitute accountant is Robert O’Reilly, ie Gowron without makeup!
There’s an interesting note on racism and how things have changed since the 1960s: Sisko initially refuses to be on board with this because 1960s Las Vegas casinos did not accept Black patrons, whereas Kasidy, while aware of that, is happy to celebrate their ability to role-play in this fictionalized version of the 1960s where history has been “corrected”. I appreciate that DS9 does not omit this; the novelty of such a mainstream show having a Black lead in the 1990s is lost on modern viewers.
Overall, I had some issues with the first part, but that whole second part is very fun and entertaining. And it ends with an extended musical scene — quite unusual for television to spend so much time on just the music — where Vic and Ben Sisko have a duet on stage. James Darren as Vic Fontaine has a great voice but here Avery Brooks sings and twists with such ease, wow he’s very good at it! His musical background shows — maybe he can reprise that role in a future DS9 reunion…
Cicci, the dumb mobster, was Mike Starr, who was the serial killer Henry Dion in Millennium‘s Paper Dove.
Badda-Bing was produced after Inter Arma and was intended to be the last “stand-alone” episode before the multi-part sequence that ends the show, however the airing of the two episodes was switched for reasons of programming (a crowd-pleasing episode scheduled for a date where a higher audience was expected). I have reverted them to how they are supposed to be here, really this is how they should be presented on the DVDs and streaming: the last light-hearted episode before all the seriousness that is coming. And, the song “The Best Is Yet To Come” takes all its significance this way!
Because yes indeed, the ten-part Final Chapter of DS9 is coming and this is going to be huge!