Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Six

Here’s the start of the Deep Space Nine its most fervent fans to this day will still remember vividly, entering into serialized territory for the first six episodes of the season, exploring the opening months of the Dominion War. What its curious competitor, Babylon 5, had been doing for most of its run, and what would become popular with Battlestar Galactica and Lost, a total immersion in storytelling, the show was now ready to exploit its own way.

6x1 “A Time to Stand”
Sisko and his station crew, exiled thanks to Dukat, Weyoun, and the rest of Dominion command at the end of last season, trade the Defiant for the Jem’Hadar vessel he captured last season in “The Ship” to kick off the six-part season opening arc. Kira and Odo, meanwhile, struggle to life on the station with its new overlords. The debut of Admiral Ross (Barry Jenner), plus an appearance by Joseph Sisko.

6x2 “Sons and Daughters”
Alexander makes his Deep Space Nine debut, now portrayed by Marc Worden, updating his familiar storyline from Next Generation as an unlikely Klingon warrior. It takes considerable convincing from Martok to get Worf to see his son as worthy of the ideals he has so long championed.

6x3 “Rocks and Shoals”
This one’s a favorite of mine from the arc, a subtle entry that sees a marooned Sisko crew square off once more with a squad of Jem’Hadar, with an even more dubious Vorta representative (Keevan, portrayed by Christopher Shea), who turns up again, though with far less dignity. Phil Morris, a frequent member of the Star Trek acting troupe (dating back all the way to the original crew films), appears as one of the Jem’Hadar.

6x4 “Behind the Lines”
Just as Kira, Odo, Jake (who’s stayed behind to act as a reporter), Rom, and probably Quark are forming a resistance (bringing the series back to its roots, which of course we never really saw) at the station, the Female Founder shows up and basically starts to seduce the constable. At this point, I would argue that in order to really understand the impact of this, you really need to be familiar with the rest of the series, from Odo’s longing in the first season for a connection to home to “The Search” to “The Die is Cast,” where he admits to Garak how badly he wants to return home, despite never truly showing it otherwise, to “Broken Link,” where he accepts wicked judgment from his own people. Only to reach this point. But hey, it’s not as if the story’s done, right?

6x5 “Favor the Bold”
Basically the start of a capping two-parter for the arc, a huge action drama that sees Sisko begin the reclaiming of the station.

6x6 “Sacrifice of Angels”
The arc concludes with the moral victory of Sisko winning back the station so that, technically, the series can get back to status quo. It’s funny, because the more Lost tried to reclaim status quo, the more its fans rebelled, but Deep Space Nine fans seemed perfectly fine with it, possibly because for the fans tuning in for this arc, the status quo really wasn’t all that familiar. Anyway, Dukat receives a further and far more significant blow when his daughter Tora Ziyal is accidentally killed during his escape, driving him into madness, a key development for the character, whose calm and calculated demeanor was always his calling card, which therefore set up the first domino leading to the end of the series.

6x7 “You Are Cordially Invited”
This is Worf and Jadzia’s wedding, but it’s really a sort of sequel to “Playing God” and other early Jadzia episodes, where her free spirit got her into plenty of trouble, and certainly with the wife of Martok here. Alexander makes a return appearance, probably better than “Sons and Daughters,” while Sisko and a few other lucky friends of Worf enjoy a Klingon bachelor party. It’s wild, all right, just not exactly in an…enjoyable way. Still arguably the most memorable wedding in Star Trek history, even though the wedding itself isn’t really all that memorable.

6x8 “Resurrection”
Of all the Mirror Universe episodes, I think this may be my favorite, because it bends all the rules. Instead of our characters traveling there, a few of theirs travel here. Intendendant Kira, naturally, is one of them (besides Smiley, clearly the most constant character, and its most defining one), but unexpectedly, Bareil is the other. Again, while it was forging the defining season for many fans who couldn’t care less for what seemed like a completely opposite and different series from the early seasons, here’s a concrete example of the show mixing the two together, so that to really appreciate it, you’ve got to look backward a little. Bareil was always a favorite of mine, so even to see an alternate version was still pretty awesome, and it gave viewers the last real Bajoran episode of the series. (No dead Ferengi.)

6x9 “Statistical Probabilities”
Returning to the business of war, but in a most unlikely way (because once the season started with that strong focus, it was pretty brilliant to then ignore all the expectations, which then made it possible for the series to do what it did best, explore its story its own way), with a pack of damaged genetically-enhanced individuals to help Bashir calculate the course of the conflict. We also see Damar begin to emerge as a stronger presence, now that he has inherited from Dukat leadership of the Cardassians. Sarina (Faith C. Salie), would return later, with a stark contrast of her own.

6x10 “The Magnificent Ferengi”
This is why I always enjoyed the Ferengi episodes, because they were so much more diverse than people gave them credit for, even while they were all pretty distinctively Ferengi in nature. Here an unlikely dream team of them (Quark, Rom, Nog, Brunt, and Gaila) travel to Empok Nor to exchange Keevan for Ishka. Iggy Pop appears as a distinctive Vorta, appropriately bemused by the proceedings.

6x11 “Waltz”
My favorite war episode had nothing to do with the war, but rather the ravaged mind of Dukat, finally squaring off with Sisko, a true powerhouse of an episode for two Star Trek acting giants. In many ways, there was no way “What You Leave Behind” could ever compete with it, and in a way, it didn’t even try.

6x12 “Who Mourns for Morn?”
The character who never said anything, but was there from the beginning, finally got his episode. No, he’s not really the star here, either, but hey, you can’t have everything! You might notice character actor Gregory Itzin (most famous as President Logan in 24) in a guest appearance.

6x13 “One Little Ship”
An episode of complete nonsense. Have a little fun, move along.

6x14 “Far Beyond the Stars”
After “Waltz,” it probably would have been difficult to imagine a better Sisko episode from the season, but here it is, a phenomenal little allegorical trip to the past, wrapped up in the continuing drama and weight of the Dominion War. A completely different look at the series, a standout, important episode, one of the best, “The Inner Light” as done by Deep Space Nine.

6x15 “Honor Among Thieves”
O’Brien is sort of the guest character in his own episode, thrown into an undercover assignment with the Orion Syndicate, in another of many episodes that would be revisited in the final season. Nick Tate as Bilby basically steals this one, not because he’s flashy, but because he’s perfectly understated. I’d probably call this one O’Brien’s “The Wounded” of Deep Space Nine, especially as it allows him to be a little more reflective than normal.

6x16 “Change of Heart”
I didn’t really agree with this one, didn’t really see why it was necessary, but all the same, Worf and Jadzia’s relationship gets pushed to the breaking point in a most unexpected way, forcing Worf one last time to choose between his heart and his career, which is the explanation for why the dude never got the captaincy. Sulu, you think you got it tough? Try being Worf. As far as the defining story of the character, though, this was probably preferable to once again pitting him against his own people. Some day, Star Trek will feel comfortable with a main character representing an alien species, who actually feels comfortable representing that species, who won’t for some reason be deemed, by some misplaced idea of necessity, an outsider. (Phlox probably counts, but we’ll keep that between you and me for now.)

6x17 “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night”
Kira travels back to Terok Nor days, and discovers some nasty family secrets. All considered, I would have preferred that something a little more original would have come from this story.

6x18 “Inquisition”
Six seasons in, the series was still ready to break new ground, not even considering the opening arc. This is the debut of Section 31, as represented by Sloan (William Sadler), who does his best to recruit Bashir, which would become a staple of franchise lore, at least among the fans, and would even resurface in Enterprise.

6x19 “In the Pale Moonlight”
The trifecta of season six Sisko episodes, the captain wrestles with his conscious when he schemes with Garak to bring the Romulans into the war, hoping to even increasingly desperate odds. Three for three in classics, Mr. Brooks.

6x20 “His Way”
If Section 31 was the big addition for fans, then Vic Fontaine (James Darren) was the big one for the show’s creators. But although you might be mistaken into assuming this is Vic’s episode, it’s really all about Odo and Kira, finally reading to embrace the romance that has been simmering between them since the second season.

6x21 “The Reckoning”
The unthinkable happens in this one: you may actually feel some sympathy for Kai Winn! But the episode really plays like a preview of the series finale, what that final confrontation with Sisko and Dukat might have looked like…if they hadn’t already gone better rounds in “Waltz.”

6x22 “Valiant”
The team of Jake and Nog returns! This time paired aboard a Defiant look-alike that’s crewed by a pack of cadets, which absolutely does not end well. This can be considered an improved version of “The First Duty,” if you’d like.

6x23 “Profit and Lace”
The most controversial episode of the series, the most hated, however you’d like to say it. Basically, Quark ends up having to pose as a female, or appear in drag, in order to help finally convince Ferengi society that some social changes are finally due. Aside from the awkwardness of the scenario, it’s still a perfectly fine and necessary episode, fully in keeping with the rest of the series. But eventually, the writers would realize this could be done better simply by making Rom the new Grand Nagus.

6x24 “Time’s Orphan”
Molly finally gets an episode! But like Morn’s, there’s a lot of shenanigans to get it done, involving some time travel that doesn’t really end up having that much of an impact. But the effort was certainly there.

6x25 “The Sound of Her Voice”
Another season highlight and another innovative story, featuring our characters attempting to rescue a stranded Starfleet captain, who offers a lot of sage wisdom and conversation, a necessary breathing point for war-weary souls, with a wonderful little twist at the end.

6x26 “Tears of the Prophets”
It’s sad that this had to happen because Terry Farrell simply wanted to exit the series, but the war finally claims a significant casualty when a crazed Dukat begins his worship of the Pah-wraiths by murdering Jadzia, bringing to a close an era of the series, a fitting end to a season that had effectively begun one.

With so much ambition, there was little doubt that all the excitement the season generated in viewers, basically creating a whole new set of fans (but sadly, not really more viewers) helped form a memorable season, with a lot of defining work and development. Yet there was also the sense that sometimes, the cost was that the series was tapping itself in reaching its full potential, with a few episodes missing the mark with considerable contrast to the material around them. Unlike Next Generation, which to its fans could have continued far beyond seven seasons (even though it had been running on empty well before the final episode), Deep Space Nine was making a significant push toward a definite end, all the bold maneuvering a clear indication that the best cards were being played, that there would literally be nothing left in the end. In many ways, again, clear parallels can be seen between Deep Space Nine and Lost, which deliberately shrank its episode count for the final three seasons, mostly because the sprint had begun, and there would be little time for leisure, only big ideas.

The sixth season telegraphed much of what would happen in the final season, indicated all the necessary final moments, even as it made it that much harder to say goodbye, by making the station feel more and more like home, especially with the introduction of lounge singer Vic Fontaine, who instantly felt like the missing element from the rest of the series. And just like that, it would be that much easier to leave that home behind…

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