Sunday, July 18, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Four

The term “widescreen” has been used for certain large scale comic book storytelling in the past, and is meant to suggest a summer blockbuster scope. I’d suggest that starting in the fall of 1995, Deep Space Nine got into widescreen mode, now that anyone who had been paying attention previously knew everything there was to know about the particular circumstances of the station at the edge of the final frontier. Now it was time to have a little fun.

4x1/4x2 “The Way of the Warrior”
Part of the change was studio mandated, to punch up the series and hopefully broaden its appeal. Worf (Michael Dorn, the only regular cast member from one Star Trek to become a regular cast member of another) was brought in to help that along. But even if the producers hadn’t intended to start out the year with Klingons, they still managed to figure out just exactly how they could work within the story that had emerged, the Dominion threat, at the end of the second year. Martok (J.G. Hertzler) makes something of a premature debut here, while a bunch of other regular guest characters (Garak, Dukat, Gowron, Kasidy Yates) also make appearances, guaranteeing that this apparent new direction is rooted firmly in what has come before. Oh, and to help mark the transition, Avery Brooks refines Sisko’s appearance still further, sporting a shaved head for the first time, which along with the goatee he’d acquired at the end of the third season, gives the captain a confident new look.

4x3 “The Visitor”
The episode that’s arguably the finest hour of the series, putting the spotlight squarely on Sisko and his son Jake, and the bond that unites them against impossible odds, including an anomaly that untethers Sisko from time, but not from Jake. Tony Todd, usually portraying Worf’s brother Kurn in the franchise, puts in an emotionally satisfying performance as an older Jake.

4x4 “Hippocratic Oath”
Somewhere along the way, Alexander Siddig must have realized that the best way to mark the transition Bashir had been making from brash and near-unlikable was to portray him with more confidence and maturity, and this is easily the best episode to see the distinction. Scott MacDonald makes another appearance, this time as arguably the most distinctive Jem’Hadar soldier, Goran’Agar, who seeks to break his people from the chemical control of the Founders. Also one of the finest Bashir/O’Brien episodes, which again demonstrates how far the doctor has come from his early days. Just watch this one after “Armageddon Game” and you can’t help but appreciate the difference.

4x5 “Indiscretion”
Dukat’s first real spotlight episode (the guy traveled such a gradual role to true prominence in the series, you’d have to listen to him to believe he was always what he seemed to be, a major presence), pairing him with Kira in the unlikely search for his half-Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal. Debut of the Breen (on screen, anyway), whose body armor, and certainly helmet, are reminiscent of the bounty hunter disguise Princess Leia adopts in Return of the Jedi, a point that started to drive parts of my family away from the series. Some people, evidently, didn’t much care for this new direction.

4x6 “Rejoined”
I don’t know that I’ve seen this one in its entirely, even to this day, because along with the Breen, this was the other big episode to drive a wedge in my family’s appreciation of Deep Space Nine. The only episode of Star Trek that I was outright forbidden to watch. If you know anything about the episode, you know why pretty easily. Star Trek troupe member Susanna Thompson appears as a Trill scientist with complicated ties to Jadzia, with certain elements providing a breakthrough for television and viewers, and a considerable step up from “The Host,” the Next Generation episode that saw the debut of Trills, where Dr. Crusher comes away with the kind of impression my family did with this one.

4x7 “Starship Down”
A patented ensemble disaster hour, featuring James Cromwell once more making a Star Trek appearance, and the debut of low key recurring character Muniz (F.J. Rio), who’d make his biggest impression a season later, with a somewhat more significant starship crisis.

4x8 “Little Green Men”
The comic gem of the series, a time travel episode that deposits Quark, Rom, and Academy-bound Nog in Roswell, NM, circa 1947. If you’ve never seen the episode, you can imagine what happens from there, when the Ferengi fall into the hands of the military, but you’ll definitely want to watch it if you haven’t. Another member of the regular cast turns up eventually, and makes a great episode even better, but I won’t spoil that here.

4x9 “Sword of Kahless”
Dahar Master Kor makes his first appearance since “Blood Oath” two seasons earlier, competing with Worf on a quest to recover the eponymous piece of Klingon lore. It was all fine and dandy to bring Worf in as a regular, but there was the little problem of finding a way to truly make him relevant to the series. Here, you can see the seeds of the answer, because when you’ve got Kor, you’ve got Jadzia, too.

4x10 “Our Man Bashir”
Here’s another of those infamous “holodeck-run-amok” episodes, but you’ll probably hear very few complaints about this one, since, as the title implies, it’s really just an excuse for a romp, with Bashir running around as a James Bond figure and the rest of the cast out of character in amusing ways, including Sisko as the villain.

4x11 “Homefront”
The story that was supposed to open the season, changelings on Earth, at the very heart of Starfleet! Sisko and Odo travel home to consult with Admiral Leyton (Robert Foxworth) about the considerable security issues that will need to be addressed, but of course things still go wrong. Along the way, we see how Nog is doing at the Academy, and finally meet Sisko’s dad, Joseph (Brock Peters)…Hold on, didn’t the early seasons go out of their way to suggest at least very strongly that he was dead? Well, sure, pretty unmistakably. But with Peters portraying him, are you really going to argue the point? The transition started in the third season, naturally, when a different story started to emerge. If you want a concrete example of what really separates early Deep Space Nine from the more mature later seasons, you can start with that, an increased scope of all the things it’d been doing before, but now being done even better.

4x12 “Paradise Lost”
Just for the record, it was worth the wait, for this story, which concludes here, which might as well be seen as an update of the one aborted during Next Generation, quite infamously, with “Conspiracy.” This was the point where I realized the new direction was really working, that there were no more rules restraining the show.

4x13 “Crossfire”
Shakaar makes a return visit, but this episode is all about the increased torture Odo feels from not being able to consummate his feelings for Kira, making for some pretty considerable emotion from a man who tries to pretend he doesn’t have any. In this sense, you can almost interpret him as an improved version of Spock (heresy, I know!).

4x14 “Return to Glory”
Damar (Casey Biggs) debuts here, as part of Dukat’s desperate gamble to win back the respect of his people, lost after he reclaimed the forbidden family member Tora Ziyal, in an episode that brings back the urgency of the Klingon conflict that’s technically been ongoing since the season premiere, but adding a Cardassian element that would really pay off in later seasons.

4x15 “Sons of Mogh”
This has always been the definite Worf/Kurn episode for me, even though at some level it’s a rehash of what they’ve done before on Deep Space Nine (especially with the dishonor Worf has brought on himself from “Way of the Warrior,” siding with the Federation rather than the Klingon Empire). As long as I’ve been mentioning episodes that the show has done better than Next Generation, I’d call this one better than “Ethics,” doing a better job of exploring the limits of Klingon honor.

4x16 “Bar Association”
Jeffrey Combs makes his second appearance as Brunt, just as Rom begins carving his own destiny, with a little help from Leeta. Basically an extension of “Family Business,” with a little more satisfaction in it.

4x17 “Accession”
A Bajoran episode of the later period, as much if not more about Sisko and his role as Emissary as the changes Akorem Laan brings about when he temporary replaces Sisko in that role. It’s probably far more palatable for most viewers than the comparatively dreary politics of earlier seasons.

4x18 “Rules of Engagement”
Star Trek troupe member Ron Canada plays a Klingon who tries to trick Worf into sparking a still great conflict for the Federation. If Worf ever had a chance to become a Starfleet captain, this would probably have become a more significant episode, but for various reasons, that fate was denied him. I still don’t know why, personally, a far greater injustice than Sulu having to wait a few extra years for his own seat.

4x19 “Hard Time”
The ultimate Let’s-Torture-O’Brien episode, where he’s forced to live out an entire prison sentence in his mind, to considerable mental distress when he finally gets to go back home. One of my favorites. Muniz makes another appearance.

4x20 “Shattered Mirror”
Now that the show had done two Mirror Universe episodes and integrated Jennifer Sisko, in a way, back into the series, it was necessary for at least one more visit, this time so that Jake could meet her, with tragic results. It was at this point, more than the previous visit, that it began to feel like a necessary element of the series, this recurring visit to an original series concept, how it said as much about Deep Space Nine as its place in franchise lore. Regent Worf makes his debut. (Dead Ferengi: Nog.)

4x21 “The Muse”
Viewers get a nice little tease about the legacy Jake will one day leave behind as a writer (as seen in “The Visitor”), but I prefer to think of this episode as the culmination of Lwaxana Troi’s appearances in the series, as she essentially repeats her “Manhunt” trick in getting a supposed series regular suitor (in this case Odo) to get her out of a nasty relationship. Michael Ansara, another original series alum (along with Majel Barrett, naturally), makes a second Deep Space Nine appearance, after famously reprising Kang in “Blood Oath.”

4x22 “For the Cause”
This one was pretty big for me, personally. Kasidy Yates is accused of being a member of the Maquis, putting a definite wrinkle in her relationship with Sisko, but as it turns out, the traitor is really Eddington, fulfilling the promise of the tease in “The Adversary,” finally positioning the character into a position of real significance, and reclaiming the Maquis for the series, proving the producers could use even a gimmick forced on them to help launch Voyager to their advantage, eventually. Meanwhile, Garak engages in an unlikely relationship, with Tora Ziyal (ah, Dukat’s daughter).

4x23 “The Quickening”
Bashir returns to “Hippocratic Oath” territory, with another impossible medical dilemma dropped in his lap.

4x24 “To the Death”
Jeffrey Combs debuts his other iconic Deep Space Nine role, Weyoun, while the Jem’Hadar are embroiled in another rebellious act that leads to the unlikely call for assistance from the station for a little help. Brian Thompson makes another appearance as one of the warriors, while Clarence Williams III portrays First Omet’iklan, the other truly memorable Jem’Hadar, after Goran’Agar.

4x25 “Body Parts”
The title of this episode cleverly covers both stories being told, whether it’s Brunt holding Quark to the desiccated remains he’s placed on the Ferengi market after a fatal diagnosis that turns out to be a little premature (not that Brunt cares), or the O’Brien baby now being carried by Kira after some, er, other complications.

4x26 “Broken Link”
Ever diligent when it comes to Odo, the Founders finally see fit for a little revenge after the events of “The Adversary,” the finale of the previous season, stripping him of his shape-shifting ability, but not before leaving him with just as starting a gift, knowledge of a changeling infiltrator deep in the heart of the Klingon Empire, apparently Chancellor Gowron himself. Meanwhile, Garak gets some startling news of his own, that all the Romulan-Cardassian forces from the attempted invasion last season (including Enabran Tain) are dead. Or so Female Founder says.

This is the second season where I ended up listing every episode, even though I hadn’t intended to. But really, I might as well have anyway, given that I’ve listed so many episodes across so many of the previous Fan Companions. I realized pretty quickly while I was planning them out that as a tangible distinction, the number of episodes I was able to distinguish as either personal favorites or notable entries helps to explain how and why I became such a devoted fan of the franchise. With Deep Space Nine itself, I knew by the third season I was pretty committed, but it became a little hard to deny that my affection for Star Trek itself went pretty deep. That’s what I hope comes across during this unveiling of the Fan Companion, that I found many reasons to like what I was watching.

On Deep Space Nine, especially during the fourth season, it was a continued blossoming of potential that I couldn’t overlook, despite whatever considerable obstacles that began to present themselves, including a schism from within my own family. It was at this point that I started to distance myself from those whose interest in the franchise was tested beyond their limits, which seems strange to some of the Star Trek fan community that I’ve gotten to know, where it wasn’t Deep Space Nine but later incarnations, but low ratings became a fixture here, no matter what the show did, even with the apparent answers to nagging viewer concerns as to whether or not it would actually be fun to watch.

Star Trek always had a funny relationship with its audience. Originally, there didn’t seem to be enough of it, and while popular demand did a lot to sustain and create a franchise, that demand was always a double-edged sword. You ask too much of it (because, in the end, even with the serialized nature of many of the early films), and the support starts to lag. Star Trek was always an episodic affair. Paramount wanted something that could develop deep and passionate appeal. Well, it had that once, and it made it happen again. But a third, fourth, fifth time? In the end, no matter what Deep Space Nine, or its successors, did, it was going to be a losing battle.

But that hardly means those still watching couldn’t have a little fun…

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...