I still consider this one to be my favorite season of Star Trek, and it’s not strictly because it was the first one I watched completely as first run material. It was the year Deep Space Nine seemed to finally click on all cylinders, make bold strides toward the future, mold some definite franchise ground of its own. More importantly, the actors themselves really seemed that much more invested in the material, and maybe that’s what makes all the difference with these things. I know I talked a lot about confidence when Next Generation hit its own third season, which on that show meant simply earning the right as the second incarnation of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, but here, there was half a season where the series was going to be the only Star Trek on TV, and then all the attention would go from the end of the predecessor to the beginning of a successor. It was if Deep Space Nine was saying, yeah, we’re definitely here, too.
3x1 “The Search, Part I”
Sisko brings the Defiant, the show’s version of a starship, with a completely unique design for Star Trek, loaded beyond strict capacity with defensive capabilities, including a cloaking device on loan from the Romulans (embodied by Martha Hackett, who might as well be auditioning for what would soon become a recurring presence on Voyager). The Dominion, of course, was the big story, but as a season premiere, this could not have had more teeth, even more than the previous season finale, which set everything up. Salome Jens debuts as the Founder figurehead, as does Kenneth Marshall (think a balding Cary Elwes) as Eddington, a more permanent Starfleet security officer than had previously worked out in the series, one of my favorite recurring characters. Also, John Fleck makes a Star Trek appearance prior to earning his own franchise legacy on Enterprise.
3x2 “The Search, Part II”
As Sisko leads a furious argument against an apparent Federation deal with the Dominion, Odo learns about his people, the Founders, leaders of the new enemy, and makes the difficult decision to return home, to the station, turning his back on everything he’s wanted since the start of the series. Garak makes the first of many appearances during this breakthrough season.
3x3 “The House of Quark”
Basically a far more successful version of “Profit and Loss” from the previous season, Quark struggles with an unlikely relationship. Gowron makes his first appearance in the series.
Well, like I’ve said, a lot of Jadzia stories tended to come from her Trill symbiont biography. This one uncovers a previously unknown host, a creep named Joran Belar who briefly had possession of Dax (you might think of this as an improved version of “Invasive Procedures,” if you like). Joran becomes something of a recurring character, but he gets portrayed by someone different every time.
3x5 “Second Skin”
Some might say this one’s a little too similar to “Face of the Enemy” from Next Generation, but as good as Troi was as a Romulan, this one’s far better, a classic addition to Kira’s ongoing evolution concerning her relationship with Cardassians, which quite memorably inducts Legate Ghemor during this episode, a father just hoping to reclaim his daughter, while others are looking to manipulate him into revealing his dissident leanings. There’s some deliberate foreshadowing concerning Garak’s big moment this season, too.
3x6 “The Abandoned”
Because of the nature of the Dominion, Odo would often find himself in unexpectedly influential positions, including here, when a Jem’Hadar ends up maturing on the station. “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River,” in the final season, would be the ultimate version of this story. Includes a fine little subplot for Jake with Dabo girlfriend Mardah, meeting the old man (not Dax!).
3x7 “Civil Defense”
A patented ensemble episode, which Star Trek seems to do only sparingly, with a crisis pitting groups in unfortunate circumstances, notably Kira, Dax, and Bashir in Ops, where they’re eventually joined by Garak and then Dukat, making his first truly defining appearance (I know I said something similar about “The Maquis, Part II,” but here you can feel Marc Alaimo truly slipping into his comfort zone with the character), with some terrific use of station history working against just about everyone, except Sisko and O’Brien. Where are Quark and Odo during all of this? Trapped in the constable’s office. Together…
While this one may be easy to dismiss on the weakness of the romance Jadzia seems to fall into far too easily, you can think back on it now for the fact that this love interest is played by Brett Cullen, another connection to Lost, where he would turn up as the ill-fated Goodwin. The b-story also features the Star Trek debut of Jeffrey Combs, who would quickly set about establishing a series of memorable recurring roles and appearances.
This one’s long been a favorite of mine, the return of Tom Riker, the transporter duplicate of the Next Generation first officer introduced in “Second Chances,” now a member of the Maquis, when he isn’t posing as Will, of course! It’s weird to think that when Jonathan Frakes, the best friend modern Star Trek turned out to have among the casts, made this appearance, his own show was only off the air for half a year and Generations was in theaters, but it was still great to see him again. I don’t know if he ever poured on more charm. Well, maybe in First Contact, but that’s because he got to see Marina Sirtis play drunk…
Speaking of happy returns, Lwaxana Troi stops by for another visit. It’s probably her least effective appearance in the series, but there was that subplot with Miles and Keiko trying to enjoy her short visit home and failing kind of miserably. All in all, this one could easily have played during the first season, and hardly anyone would have noticed that it was out of place.
3x11 “Past Tense, Part I”
This is the next and biggest reason why I developed such a soft spot for the season, because of this bold time-traveling adventure filled with all the social commentary Star Trek is known for but rarely does quite this directly. Actually, like the terrorist plots and the governments struggling to define themselves in a post-war era, “Past Tense” helps make Deep Space Nine still incredibly relevant, in light of the still-lingering Recession that might help remind viewers that the homeless still have it pretty tough.
3x12 “Past Tense, Part II”
I knew at the time that I was truly invested in the series because I missed this half of the story on original broadcast, and I can still remember today exactly what I was doing, and how much I regretted not being able to watch the conclusion.
3x13 “Life Support”
I think a lot of viewers would watch this one and give thanks again that dreary Vedek Bareil was finally written out of the series, but I liked the character, and loved this episode, which plays like a more sophisticated and improved version of “Ethics” from Next Generation. Also helps demonstrate how wicked and self-centered Kai Winn could truly be.
3x14 “Heart of Stone”
The nature and potential of Kira and Odo’s relationship is probed here, with a little “help” from the Female Founder, but perhaps just as significantly, Nog officially declares his intention to attend Starfleet Academy, to considerable skepticism from just about everyone.
Part of the series that had been thoroughly neglected to this point was Sisko’s role as the Emissary, but this episode helped define that a little better, with the help of sci-fi regular Erick Avari. Tracy Scoggins also makes an appearance, if you can recognize her as one of the Cardassian scientists setting up permanent communications between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants. Also one of many episodes to feature the running subplot of the season, the Obsidian Order, which would culminate pretty spectacularly soon enough.
3x16 “Prophet Motive”
Grand Nagus Zek makes his season appearance (Wallace Shawn was the John de Lancie of Deep Space Nine), with some hilariously fishy business going on, which Quark and Rom scramble to figure out. One of my favorite Ferengi episodes.
Because it’s not every Let’s-Torture-O’Brien episode that actually kills off the good chief.
3x18 “Distant Voices”
Bashir hits 30, and has a really bad experience of it. This season did everything it could to finally complete the rehabilitation of the character, and this would be the episode that’s actually dedicated to it, so I’ve got to mention it at least for that. Also served as the pretext for the apparent need for every Star Trek to feature at least one character in aged form.
3x19 “Through the Looking Glass”
Another of the things the season seemed determined to do was make sure Sisko was the lead character, so this return trip to the Mirror Universe (after “Crossover”) finally puts him in the front seat, and in a very spectacular way. Given that his wife was killed off in the opening moments of the series, it’s a clever use of the alternate reality to bring Jennifer back, to finally spend some real time with her. Felicia M. Bell represents herself well, just as Avery Brooks seems to relish the chance to sink his teeth back into his more carefree version of Sisko…whom Sisko has to impersonate because he’s actually dead. Anyway, don’t let that very brief synopsis confuse you. Just watch and enjoy. Tim Russ makes a cameo as Mirror Tuvok, a subtle crossover of a different kind, with the newly-launched Voyager. (Dead Ferengi: Rom.)
3x20 “Improbable Cause”
An apparent attempt on Garak’s life leads the episode to follow Odo along one of his investigations, something the series rarely did. But it truly becomes interesting in…
3x21 “The Die is Cast”
…Where we learn the Obsidian order and the Tal’Shiar have a preemptive strike against the Dominion, which of course goes horribly wrong. Memorable for the interrogation scene between Garak and Odo, as well as Garak’s brief return to Cardassian society, represented by Enabran Tain. Leland Orser, another member of the Star Trek acting troupe, marks one of his earliest appearances as a Founder posing as a Romulan.
The other half of getting Sisko into a more convincing position as series lead was allowing him to let loose a little. A constantly grim presence throughout the first two seasons, he was noted from the start of the third to finally start thinking of the station as home. This is the culmination of that effort, as he and Jake take a trip in a replication of an ancient Bajoran solar sailing ship, a pivotal bonding moment between father and son that reveals new directions for both of them, including the first mention of a certain freighter captain and a writing career. Easily one of my favorite episodes of the series, and a key reason why the season was so memorable. And where would I be if I overlooked the debut of Leeta (Chase Masterson), and the legendary drunken duet between O’Brien and Bashir? And just in case you didn’t have enough reasons to watch this one again? The debut of Sisko’s goatee!
3x23 “Family Business”
Ishka (here played by Andrea Martin) debuts, Quark and Rom’s “Moogie,” forcing a family reunion for irresponsibly earning profit, with an assist from liquidator Brunt (Jeffrey Combs, in his first officially memorable role). Also, the first actual appearance of Kasidy Yates (Penny Johnson, who would go on to popular heights as a treacherous matron of an entirely different kind on 24), who reveals to Sisko that baseball is still being played!
With Bareil and Li Nalas both impossibly out of the picture, another male Bajoran heroic figure must be created, this time from Kira’s own backstory, the leader of her old Resistance group, Shakaar (Duncan Regehr, who had previously romanced Beverly Crusher in “Sub Rosa”). If nothing else, viewers should be happy with this one, because he ends up clearly and decisively handing Kai Winn a defeat.
Quick it’s a Jadzia episode. Can you guess what might provoke the story? Something, something, Trill symbiont? Right-o! This time the cast gets to portray each of her previous hosts, with a lot of interesting contrasts going on (Sisko as Joran Belar being certainly an extreme case). But Odo as Odo/Curzon is the real treat, not the least because we finally “meet” Curzon, who has been referenced about as often as anyone actually still living, but because it resolves some things about both Curzon and Jadzia that have been lingering for a while. Also, Nog completes his journey to the Academy, at least the entrance exams. Quicker than Wesley Crusher did it, anyway…
3x26 “The Adversary”
Sisko is finally promoted to captain, and a Founder antagonizes Odo enough so that he ends up breaking the one rule the Founders live by, namely that they claim to not harm one another. You’ll also notice Eddington positioning himself for later character developments.
Unlike how Next Generation did it, when Deep Space Nine took the giant leap in confidence, it was from a team that had been around from the start, and was refining and fine-tuning its own creation, its own baby, so it’s not so surprising that a show that was suddenly comfortable in its own skin wasn’t just becoming the best it could be, but positioning itself for greater things still. That was the main difference, for me, between the two shows. I’d always loved, and still do, Next Generation, but there’s such a wealth of fondness and warmness for and in Deep Space Nine, it’s a little hard to have been a fan and not become extremely attached to it. It wasn’t just Star Trek at this point, not anymore. It was its own show, which was a realization perhaps out of necessity. Plenty of time would be available for fans to grow tired of Star Trek, but for those who watched ‘Deep Space Nine,’ they never grew tired of that one, because in a sense, it wasn’t really just or merely Star Trek they were watching. This one was exempt, in exactly the way the original series fans wouldn’t let a show die just because it was cancelled. And the show was just getting started…