Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Two

Up to this point in my Star Trek experience, I had been following the franchise in second run syndication, but finally, in 1994 (quite handily, with the still-memorable occasion of the broadcast of “All Good Things…” looming), I started catching it the first pass around, notably as Deep Space Nine was wrapping up its second season, which I can say with all honesty to this day probably made me the fan I still am, forever invested in this crazy future.

2x1 “The Homecoming”
At this point in the series, there was no other story tell but Bajoran politics, and this is the start of the magnum opus of Deep Space Nine Bajoran politics stories. Like the John Wayne classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a hero of the Resistance is tracked down and revealed to be less than he seemed to be, but the myth is far more powerful and important, so that’s what Bajor is going to get, in a big way. Frank Langella makes the first of three consecutive unbilled appearances as Minister Jaro.

2x2 “The Circle”
The story continues, Major Kira apparently exiled to Bajor while Li Nalas (Richard Beymer) reluctantly holds her position on the station, while the deeper implications of these events sink in, with Vedek Winn putting in her second appearance, and Bareil romancing Kira.

2x3 “The Siege”
The story concludes, and at three parts, marks the longest Star Trek storyline to this point, and a sign that Deep Space Nine probably might have bigger arc aspirations (which the start of the sixth and end of the seventh seasons would certainly play out). You’ll note Sisko has a bit of foreshadowing up his sleeve, too, leaving his baseball as a calling card on his desk for invading Bajoran forces to find, just as he would later do for the Dominion.

2x4 “Invasive Procedures”
John Glover is a character actor who always seems to take on villainous roles (playing the father of both Lex Luthor and Sylar, for instance). Here he steals Dax right from out of Jadzia!

2x5 “Cardassians”
Gosh, would you believe that this is only Garak’s second appearance? Like all of the show’s guest characters, he began to seem like a member of the regular cast, but it took some time to fully integrate him. I didn’t think much of this episode until its context really sunk in for me (a product of how I experienced much of Star Trek to roughly this point, playing catch-up), as pretty much what the title might suggest, the first opportunity for the Cardassians to truly become a regular presence in the series, which itself might explain Garak makes his return in it.

2x6 “Melora”
While technically a Bashir episode, you might as well consider this one thoroughly belonging to the guest character, like “Ensign Ro,” which is pretty appropriate, because much as Ro Laren subsequently became a regular presence in Next Generation, Melora had originally been conceived as a series regular, but it became impractical to present her low-gravity problems, which put the whole idea on the backburner until this episode.

2x7 “Rules of Acquisition”
I wouldn’t necessarily blame Deep Space Nine (or Ira Steven Behr, the obvious champion of the whole campaign) for the routine failure of the series to properly depict the plight of Ferengi females, because as a concept, they were very hard to portray on family television (here’s a hint: they’re as a rule naked and subservient), so any time an episode directly addressed it, the results were going to be a little muddled. Still, this episode marks the first real mention of the Dominion, so whatever else, you’ve got that to look forward to, plus perennially awesome Brian Thompson (still wish the guy would have found a sufficiently significant role, whether in Star Trek or otherwise, at some point, but I’m not sure that ever happened, though he was a pretty memorable Hercules in the TV version of Jason and the Argonauts that co-starred Jolene Blalock).

2x8 “Necessary Evil”
I realize a lot of the time in the Fan Companion I expound on personal favorites, but I try to emphasize the episodes that are absolutely essential, whether or not you’re a fan already or have affinities of your own. This is certainly one of them, the first from this season so far, ranking alongside “Duet” as an early Deep Space Nine classic, featuring to no great surprise Kira. But it’s Odo in the spotlight, in this flashback to his days working under the Cardassians during the Occupation (when the station was still known as Terok Nor, which is an awesome name I need to mention at least once), when he runs across Kira in a somewhat compromising position. One of the episodes from the season that would result in revisits later in the series, but was rarely matched in its impact.

2x11 “Rivals”
Chris Sarandon sets up shop on the Promenade and runs Quark ragged trying to compete. It’s rare that this kind of story actually happened, so it’s worth noting at least for that. But it’s also good fun.

2x12 “The Alternate”
Dr. Mora Pol (James Sloyan) makes the first of two appearances, this one a little more doggedly episodic than his later fifth season visit, “The Begotten,” but it’s still remarkable to watch his impact on Odo unfold. Dr. Mora is the Bajoran scientist who first discovered the shape-shifter, making this the kind of episode even Data never got (how is it that Next Generation never thought mining his actual discovery, and his formative years in Starfleet interesting?), even though it degenerates into a fairly generic monster story.

2x13 “Armageddon Game”
I just recently read an interview with Alexander Siddig that helps explain why Bashir seemed so underformed early on, because the writers literally had to throw out all their ideas for the character once Siddig had been cast (he had originally auditioned for the role of Sisko; which brings up an interesting contrast with ‘Lost,’ the show that eventually became for me the “new Deep Space Nine;” Jorge Garcia auditioned for Sawyer, and Hurley was created for him instead). Anyway, this is probably the episode that really begins to humanize the brash young doctor who at first seemed like an irredeemable cad, by of course kicking off his friendship with O’Brien, something that had been toyed with in “The Storyteller,” but here, the two really have no other choice. And weren’t we all glad for that? Also a good episode for O’Brien’s wife, Keiko, who’s the only person who seems to realize what’s really going on, but with a funny little twist at the end of the episode involving certain habits her husband might have regarding coffee.

2x14 “Whispers”
Still my favorite Let’s-Torture-O’Brien episode, in which the viewer is led to believe there’s been some massive conspiracy leveled against the chief, but another good twist ending reveals something much different has been happening. Also, this episode is as fine as any to remark at how adorable Hana Hatae was as Molly O’Brien, as she expresses her rejection of her dad in the succinct terms only a truly gifted child actor can pull off.

2x15 “Paradise”
It’s funny to keep referencing “Progress,” an episode that apparently means nothing to pretty much every other fan, but “Paradise” would be exactly what the writer of “Progress” feared his episode had become, something that meant one thing in written form, but ended up completely different when shot, losing its effectiveness. I never agreed about “Progress” (where it was deemed too much sympathy for the actor playing the old Bajoran Kira had to try and convince to leave his home ruined things), but here, I’ve always felt “Paradise” kind of falls apart, because you absolutely can’t sympathize with the crazy woman who rejects technology (except when it’s useful to her), and makes everyone in her makeshift colony agree with her, including the shipwrecked Sisko and O’Brien. It does put Sisko in a position of moral strength, but I just can never feel comfortable watching the episode, memorable as a result though it remains.

2x16 “Shadowplay”
I don’t want to come off as creepy, but another child actor who was truly effective in her precociousness was Noley Thornton (did she end up joining Haley Joel Osment for prodigies who inexplicably went bust, at least in Hollywood?), who parlayed her charm into two Star Trek appearances (the other was “Imaginary Friend” in Next Generation). Here, she joins an elite club of actors who just seem to work well with Rene Auberjonois.

2x17 “Playing God”
It wasn’t that the only material for Jadzia had to do with symbionts, but there was an apparent rich supply of that (almost to the exclusion of anything else, pretty much until Worf), and here she gets to be herself while mentoring an applicant in the joining program. In case you don’t know what “Jadzia being Jadzia” means, this is a good episode to watch.

2x18 “Profit and Loss”
For some characters, backstories seemed easy to exploit (Kira, Odo), but inexplicably, Deep Space Nine really did have a hard time with this sort of thing. Here, Quark has a former Cardassian flame help him reenact Casablanca. Though it marks the second appearance of Garak in the season, it still kind of misses the mark, or at least, seems pretty well forgotten in later episodes.

2x19 “Blood Oath”
This is another Jadzia episode, but it’s stolen by the unexpected Star Trek legacy appearances of original series Klingons Kang (Michael Ansara), Kor (John Colicos), and Koloth (William Campbell), marking the first time the show would demonstrate that, along with thoroughly being itself, it really did live up to the bill, eventually, of being a good place to sort of absorb franchise continuity.

2x20 “The Maquis, Part I”
Moreso than “Preemptive Strike” from Next Generation, this was Star Trek’s attempt to set up Voyager (which is kind of funny, because the series itself would eventually downplay or downright ignore the Maquis politics on display here). It also features Sisko’s old friend Cal Hudson, who might as well be called Finnegan or Gary Mitchell (with about as much episodic significance as Kirk’s Academy associates). More important as Sisko’s most decisive defense of Odo to Starfleet brass.

2x21 “The Maquis, Part II”
I would consider this to be Dukat’s most important episode to this point in the series, where he stops being just the resident Cardassian (which he might as well shared with Richard Poe’s Gul Evek until then) and a truly personable figure in the lives of Sisko, Kira, and the rest. Also features a definitive line of dialogue for the series, when Sisko remarks, “It’s easy to be a saint in paradise.”

2x22 “The Wire”
Garak makes a third appearance in the season, and I’m sure to most fans, easily the most significant one, not the least because the episode is quite literally built around him, as Bashir tries to figure out what’s going on when his friend experiences a series of increasingly debilitating attacks, eventually tracing them to Enabran Tain (Paul Dooley), a recurring character who would be used sparingly, but whose importance would grow each time.

2x23 “Crossover”
No other Star Trek ever directly produced sequels to an original series episode (not counting “Naked Now” or “Flashback”), but here’s the first one from Deep Space Nine, a return to the alternate reality first seen in “Mirror, Mirror” (the episode featuring Spock with a goatee!), dropping Bashir and Kira into a nightmare version of everything they know, including Kira’s double, the Intendant, perhaps the most memorable dual role in franchise history. Also shocking to see a completely different side of Avery Brooks as a far more self-centered version of Sisko. (Also worth starting the tally - dead Ferengi: Quark.)

2x24 “The Collaborator”
Kai Opaka returns from the grave in a way “Battle Lines” did not foresee, and Winn officially maneuvers herself into succeeding her, leaving Bareil to the first of two times he’d sacrifice himself for the greater good of Bajoran politics. An overlooked gem, something fans who tend to overlook the first two seasons would probably do well to revisit.

2x25 “Tribunal”
Something Deep Space Nine tended to do a lot was foreshadowing, not in a way that suggested the creators always knew what they were doing, but quite the opposite, in the best way possible. They knew how to improvise, and exploit kernels of ideas as they came up. Here it’s the seed of an idea planted in an earlier episode about the Cardassian legal system, and to no one’s surprise, O’Brien’s the unlucky victim fed into it.

2x26 “The Jem’Hadar”
And just like that, the Deep Space Nine that would be familiar to even the casual viewers of later seasons is born, with an unlikely Vorta representative and the title species, the first warriors since the Klingons to shake the franchise to its bones, the first faces of the Dominion to menace our crew. Also worth viewing to witness an even more unlikely pairing of Sisko and Quark.

Now, obviously (at least to me), this is the longest Fan Companion entry to date, which may seem to indicate the further I go, the more I have to write about, the more warm memories. This isn’t to say anything against the original series or Next Generation, but to me, Deep Space Nine really marks the point where Star Trek stopped being a fun little escape, and started becoming a cherished experience, something that really felt lived-in, which was the point of the series, of course. To a lot of fans, and viewers in general, this was a fine time to stop watching, but to me, the appeal of the franchise was really just beginning to blossom. Hopefully, I can continue to convey that…

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