Monday, October 31, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x21 "The Maquis, Part 2"

rating: **

the story: Sisko and company must figure out how to resolve the crisis once they realize his friend wasn't lying about the Cardassians.

what it's all about: "Maquis, Part 2" kind of proves that this was Deep Space Nine still not entirely sure how to tell multipart episodes, which was what the ambitious three-parter at the start of the season had already suggested.  While it's absolutely true that later in the series this was no problem at all (as soon as the two-part third season opener, in fact, plus the couple other two-parters from that season).

The problem here is that it's a story that was unnecessarily stretched out, the idea being to make it more of a dramatic event than it really warranted.  In fact, in hindsight it probably would've been far better just to concentrate on Dukat's participation and downplay the role of Sisko's friend, the defecting Starfleet officer who could never hope to contend with Ro Laren over in Next Generation's "Preemptive Strike."

You can tell there was some effort at emphasizing the importance of the story when frequent Star Trek guest actor John Schuck is cast, and Admiral Nechayev makes an appearance.  But neither is enough to salvage an episode that instantly loses all its relevance to the series when everything about it is done infinitely better later on.

But the one redemptive element is actually pretty cool of the season: It's kind of the apology to the earlier "Sanctuary," which completely botched an analogy of the State of Israel.  If you think about it, the Maquis are an analogy of Israel, too, and it's really "The Maquis, Part 2" that makes that clear, especially with the Cardassians being caught playing dirty against them.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Concluding the story that helps launch Voyager makes it at least noteworthy.
  • series - It improves at least one thing, from earlier in the season, which is a good thing.
  • character - Not especially relevant to any of the characters, though.
  • essential - If the episode had known what I read into it above, I think it would've been better, but I'm not sure it did.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Natalija Nogulich (Nechayev)
John Schuck

Friday, October 28, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x20 "The Maquis, Part 1"

rating: **

the story: A Maquis raid pits Sisko in the middle of a potential new conflict with the Cardassians.

what it's all about: The two-part "Maquis" has a lot of things working against it: For one, it's undeniably not as impactful as Next Generation's "Preemptive Strike," which like "Maquis" was produced with the express purpose of helping set up Voyager (which as part of its premise incorporated Maquis fighters into a Starfleet crew).  It's also not as good as "Defiant," which a season later also has Sisko forming an uneasy alliance with Gul Dukat to hunt the Maquis.  And finally, Cal Hudson is ultimately no Eddington, a character introduced next season who eventually defects to the Maquis and makes a formidable adversary for Sisko, and a personal one in far more organic ways than what is cobbled together for "Maquis."

So that's what works against the story as a whole.  For this opening chapter, much of that is still relevant; Cal Hudson is no Ro Laren.  Usually I don't mind if a character is introduced for a single appearance who otherwise is important to a main character; despite what some fans may claim, Voyager pulls off such a thing nicely in "Ashes to Ashes," with one of Harry Kim's friends we'd never seen before.  But the sudden introduction of Sisko's supposed good friend, whom we'd never even heard referenced before, is all the more glaring in a series that was to prove a gold mine in repeat appearances for guest characters.  It may be irrelevant to say we never see Cal again after this adventure.

To say it all falls a little flat, whether comparatively or not, is about all there can be said about "Maquis, Part 1."  It's like the creators who cobbled together the unsatisfying end of the season-opening three-parter also showed up for this one, having learned none of the lessons from the episodes in between.  But at least it brings back Dukat, who is nonetheless forced to contend with the presence of the Cardassian character he was to completely supplant, Gul Evek, by the following season. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - As far as concept building goes, this is a minor contribution to an important Star Trek cornerstone.
  • series - It's also a minor precursor to a lot of far better stories in Deep Space Nine itself.
  • character - Shows they still hadn't figured out Sisko.
  • essential - Yeah, to sum it up, not essential.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Richard Poe (Evek)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x19 "Blood Oath"

rating: ****

the story: Dax reunites with three legendary Klingons for one last glorious adventure.

what it's all about: Anyone who ever questioned Deep Space Nine's place in the greater franchise needs to have a look at "Blood Oath."  Forget the whole Dominion War.  Forget the heavy serialization.  Forget the seeming departures from Star Trek's ideals.  Forget all of that.  "Blood Oath" may be the single greatest access point any fan could hope for, the most unlikely, and at the very least the best episode of the second season.

"Playing God" was just the warm-up...Dax's evolution from "just a pretty face" to one of the best characters in the series was completed with "Blood Oath," in which three actors who had portrayed Klingons in the original series reprise their roles: William Campbell as Koloth ("The Trouble with Tribbles"), Michael Ansara as Kang ("Day of the Dove"), and John Colicos as Kor ("Errand of Mercy").  Ansara would actually appear once more as Kang in Voyager's "Flashback," while Colicos' Kor would return in Deep Space Nine's own "Sword of Kahless" and "Once More Unto the Breach," but "Blood Oath" is the one chance to see all three at once, a dream team of Klingons if there ever was one (Worf and Martok would both join Kor in his final appearance, in case you wanted another dream team).

When fans think of episodes featuring characters from other series, they typically bring up Next Generation's "Sarek," "Unification," and "Relics" as the best examples, a trilogy that is pretty tough to compete with, but where "Blood Oath" triumphs over them is telling a completely unexpected story, one where the Klingons, each of them originally presented as villains by the way, as the heroes, the transformation Worf helped initiate finally completed, well before Deep Space Nine had actually begun heavily featuring the classic aliens (with the addition of Worf in the fourth season).

"Blood Oath" is unlike any other episode in the franchise, a full Klingon romp, following Klingon ideals.  And in the center of it?  Dax.  The least likely character possible, right?  Remember that Dax is actually a Trill, a joined species, and that Jadzia was the latest host, and that the previous one, Curzon, had been a Federation ambassador to the Klingons (how Sisko met Dax).  If we never really got to meet Curzon, "Blood Oath" more than adequately presents how Jadzia was able to follow in his footsteps, embrace his legacy, and yes, make it possible for that later romance with Worf to happen.

It's a completely magical experience.  After the early series attempts at bringing in familiar Next Generation characters, many fans probably never even dreamed such a thing was possible.  This is exactly how Deep Space Nine fully came into its own.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - An update of original series Klingons?  Heck ya!
  • series - A killer way to represent the difference between Deep Space Nine and the rest of the franchise.
  • character - All those Klingons, and Dax.
  • essential - It's positively irresistible. 
notable guest-stars:
William Campbell (Koloth)
Michael Ansara (Kang)
John Colicos (Kor)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x18 "Profit and Loss"

rating: ***

the story: Quark reunites with someone he used to know, who just happened to be a Cardassian interested in social reform.

what it's all about: Somewhere along the way, Deep Space Nine's own producers began to dismiss "Profit and Loss" as a failed attempt to recreate the classic film Casablanca.  They should beat themselves up so much.

"Loss" is actually a considerable gain, an episode that recasts a lot of Next Generation tried to do with the Romulans, and actually a nice follow-up to Deep Space Nine's first acknowledged classic, "Duet."  In essence, it's a valuable deeper look at the Cardassians, a characteristic nuanced perspective on aliens usually easy to dismiss as villains, and as such it's fairly important to the whole series.  Like "Cardassians" earlier in the season, it even has the good sense to bring Garak in on the action.  "Loss" functions to some degree as a teaser to "The Wire" four episodes later, which remains the definitive statement on the enigmatic tailor, and as such is pretty fascinating.

But this is also Quark's story, one of the handful of episodes where he's unabashedly cast in heroic light.  Regardless of how well it works, "Loss" is still a worthwhile addition to a whole season where Quark was the MVP, the most consistent contributor to the emerging tapestry of the series. 

I actually think if there's a problem with "Loss" it's that the concept just seems too jarring, and it doesn't help that next season's "House of Quark" is so much more organic, and that "Second Skin" handles the trickiness of Cardassian politics so much better.  But "Loss" has its own charms, and they're incredibly unique.  The still later "Business as Usual" features a far more conflicted Quark.  It's nice to be reminded that he's not always the odious little toad he tends to be depicted as.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Begins to help demonstrate how the Cardassians in this series reflect the work done on other aliens in Star Trek.
  • series  - As such is a valuable episode to remember later.
  • character - It's good for both Quark and Garak.
  • essential - But the series would do better with all these elements later.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x17 "Playing God"

rating: ***

the story: Dax plays host (heh) to a potential symbiont initiate who ends up baffled by her approach to life.

what it's all about: "Playing God" is one of those peculiar episodes that is absolute fantastic for a given character (in this case, Jadzia Dax) but kind of only ends up serving to set up a better episode ("Facets") later.  We learn a great deal about Dax, her backstory with previous host Curzon (but again, "Facets" does a better job of that, too), but more importantly, it's the episode in which the character really crystalizes.  If there's a downside, it feels, ultimately, like half an episode, one that shoehorns formulaic elements into the story in the theory it'll make things more interesting, proving once again the series had yet to find its stride, trust its own instincts.

But the elements that work, work really well.  Not only do we get to explore the life of Dax, but like "Rivals" before it allows us to revel in the possibilities of the Promenade, a kind of mall within the station that not only includes Quark's bar but an environment that dwarfs any other such recreational facility in Star Trek lore (read: move over, Next Generation's famous Ten-Forward).  This is actually the episode that's most pertinent five seasons later when the next Dax host, Ezri, is trying to find her place and everyone is still dwelling on their memories of Jadzia.  Simply put, she really was a tough act to follow.

What's great about "Playing God" is that it completes Dax's transformation from just another pretty face to a three-dimensional character who along with Kira helped redefine the role of women in Star Trek well before Janeway headlined Voyager.  Dax and Kira's team-up during "The Siege" at the start of the season started the process, but what was needed was something exactly like "Playing God" to finish it.  Other Dax spotlights like "Dax" and "Invasive Procedures" had a knack for exploring the nuances of Trill culture, but tended to leave Dax herself out of the equation.  Well, not anymore.  It took Troi six seasons in Next Generation to reach a similar point.  It's very telling that Deep Space Nine as a whole was on the verge of finally figuring itself out.  I don't think it's a stretch to call "Playing God" the tipping point.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Since Star Trek tropes are the least effective elements of the episode, it's safe to say you don't need to like the rest of the franchise to like this one.
  • series - Helps crystalize what works about Deep Space Nine.
  • character - Best Dax showcase to date, by far.
  • essential - Will help you love the series, so yeah, it's essential in that regard.
notable guest-stars:
Richard Poe (Gul Evek)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x16 "Shadowplay"

rating: ***

the story: Dax and Odo investigate a colony in the Gamma Quadrant whose inhabitants are disappearing.

what it's all about: Concerning the pettiness of fans watching Enterprise a decade later as they viewed the similar episode "Oasis" (which happened to feature Rene Auberjonois, who portrayed Odo in Deep Space Nine), it's worth noting the extremely myopic view they'd developed at that point, saying it was a rip-off of "Shadowplay."  But if you want to be that reductive, "Shadowplay" is basically a rip-off of Next Generation's "The Survivors."

Consider this an object lesson in storytelling.  Stories that are similar to each other cannot otherwise be exactly the same.  It's always worth at least trying to consider each version on its own merits, because the truth is, there really aren't any new stories, only new versions.  If you've found what you think are new stories, you've merely failed to understand them.  Look deeper.

The deepest and most relevant level of "Shadowplay" actually harkens back to the original series, "The Galileo Seven," in which Spock elicits new levels of sympathy from his peers and perhaps fans alike (he didn't truly gain equal status with Kirk until the second season).  To this point in Deep Space Nine, Odo's gruff exterior and heaviness of his stories (such as "Necessary Evil" a few episodes earlier) probably made it hard to appreciate him, and yet his relationship with a charming little girl in "Shadowplay" helps break the ice considerably.  That's the heart of the story right there.

What's great about this is that it reveals Odo to be ultimately more approachable, given the right circumstances, than another Star Trek character with similar problems, Picard, who despite several chances never had an experience like this.  In a lot of ways, this led to Odo's relationship with Kira (it's ironic that the subplot of "Shadowplay" actually features her onetime lover, Vedek Bareil).  The heart of the series blossomed into having arguably the biggest heart of the whole franchise, and this is the first time fans really get to see it.

That's what happens when you look beyond the surface details of a story.  It's also worth noting how essential the charismatic child actor Noley Thornton is to the success of the episode.  She'd previously appeared in Next Generation's "Imaginary Friend," but her role is more substantive and endearing in "Shadowplay."  She helps make Odo approachable just by showing how easy it can be.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A lot of episodes are technically similar to this one.
  • series - But this one proves itself pretty series-specific.
  • character - It's a key breakthrough in the depiction of Odo.
  • essential - I won't, however, call it a classic, so this building block episode should be understood in its proper context as a good but not great experience.
notable guest-stars:
Noley Thornton
Philip Anglim (Bareil)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x15 "Paradise"

rating: ***

the story: Sisko and O'Brien are marooned on a planet they soon learn is inhabited by colonists who have rejected technology.

what it's all about: This is one of those incredible episodes you wonder even exists, as it cuts so clearly through some of the nonsense we allow ourselves to believe, mostly about the need for conformity and the impossibility of tolerating any rebellion against it.  It isn't so much a screed against fascism, because the society "Paradise" explores is so limited in scope it's really more of a general commentary on the pitfalls of any particular mode of thinking.  And while it's from a franchise dedicated to the wonders of advanced societies, it doesn't condemn those who reject technology so much as forcing everyone to think the same way about it, the kind of reactionary thinking that has become more prevalent since the episode first aired, unfortunately.

The more advanced cultures get, those who feel left behind tend to feel incredibly uneasy about it.  We can see that very easily today.  In the '60s, the original series confronted the seeds of this backlash in the several episodes it dedicated to the counterculture of that decade, and yet those were such obvious parallels to such an obvious movement, it might be easy to dismiss them as too obvious.  No such possibility with "Paradise," which remains downright scary, so much so that it manages to give Sisko his first strong appearance of the series when he takes his typically principled stand against the tyranny with which he is confronted, being forced to abide by rules that don't apply to him except by accident.  It becomes downright harrowing when he is forced, essentially, into the life of a slave, with similar punishments, the first time the series alludes to the color of his skin, really, well before the much more famous and deliberate episode "Far Beyond the Stars."

How far do I want to say this episode succeeds?  Do I want to call it a classic?  In the end, no.  It works better as a Sisko spotlight than as a true indication of Deep Space Nine's potential.  Once again, there's no real relevance to the series itself, as with so much of the first few seasons.  You really have to read into the material to see how much it accomplishes.  While this is fine for someone like me who thinks a lot about what everything means, for the average viewer it'll be harder to appreciate, and I try to base my recommendations on what's readily accessible, how and why, the basic success elements of any story.  But then again, you might go ahead and consider it a classic for those very reasons, because the more complex a story, the bigger the emotional impact, I'd say that trumps its relative impenetrability (which is something a lot of people have a problem with, which is why for the purposes of this review, I'll assume it's not so easy to see the slavery parallel, and thus take that out of consideration for the moment).

What's interesting is that "Paradise" stands in stark contrast to a similar culture in Star Trek: Insurrection, one that has also rejected technology but is far less hostile about it.  In the end, it's not really about technology at all, but power, and the lengths some people will go to acquire it.  I always thought of "Paradise" as one of the most chilling episodes in the whole franchise, the mounting horror of Sisko's plight something that's just impossible to ignore, once you've seen it.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One of the most successful episodes of Star Trek to explore the perils of power.
  • series - Not an episode that's otherwise relevant to the series itself, unless you consider it an analogy for later explorations of Gul Dukat and the Founders (but that would be a stretch).
  • character - The first time Sisko really shines on his own.
  • essential - Either of the two previous selected criteria work well enough to make this essential viewing for them.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x14 "Whispers"

rating: ****

the story: O'Brien starts to suspect a massive conspiracy has been woven against him.

what it's all about: This has long been one of my favorite episodes of the whole franchise, on the basis of its cleverness alone.  That and the fact that it's one of O'Brien's best episodes (which tend to be among the best of the franchise, too).

The whole thing is a mystery, and yes, you find out what's really going on at the end, and yes, it absolutely delivers, in a way that surpasses any other Star Trek mystery you could think of, because suddenly everything makes perfect sense without even needing to be explained at any great length.  In the meantime, however, "Whispers" also functions as one of those quintessential O'Brien-is-having-a-hard-time episodes.  You'd think, because he technically just had one of those (with Bashir) in the previous episode ("Armageddon Game"), the impact might be dulled.  But this was a character who thrived on having miserable experiences (there's another near the end of the season!).

At heart, O'Brien was one of the most relatable characters in the franchise, which is why this sort of thing was so easy to pull off.  It's not so hard to imagine things going wrong in your life, is it?  O'Brien was known for being humble (eventually retconned to be one of the few crewmen, which is to say he enlisted Starfleet, to be regularly featured, which is why in Deep Space Nine he's referred to as "Chief" rather than by rank).

So anyway, for the majority of this episode he's faced with, yes, a massive conspiracy that just seems to get deeper and deeper, so that he can't even trust his own wife Keiko.  The clever thing about this is that it may be the first time in the season Sisko is portrayed in a way that truly flatters him.  There were moments when even Picard was less than fair, at least apparently, to his crew, when otherwise he was presented as the consummate professional.  But here's Sisko being the most professional of anyone aboard the station, not only as he should be, but in a way that is totally in-character for him, certainly as he was originally depicted, someone who came to the station just to do a job, who has yet to find a real reason to care, but who nonetheless performs his duties impeccably and with remarkable compassion.  The same goes with O'Brien in this case, even though O'Brien eventually sees through it.  (In a lot of ways, Sisko's first few seasons saw him behave in exactly the way management in the real world was to start performing thanks extensive corporate training, although never as well as he did, but then Sisko had the benefit of being a fictional character.)

I'd rank "Whispers" with the likes of Next Generation's "Conundrum," an unexpectedly stellar experience that seems to have nothing much to say, just excellent storytelling behind it, the kind of sci-fi Star Trek often aspires to but doesn't really nail as often as you'd think.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Can easily be held up as exemplary of Star Trek storytelling.
  • series - By exploring O'Brien's plight you get a window into the whole series.
  • character - But this is certainly an O'Brien showcase.
  • essential - A typically great one.
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Hana Hatae (Molly)
Susan Nimoy

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x13 "Armageddon Game"

rating: ***

the story: O'Brien and Bashir bond as they attempt to survive a civilization's purge of its deadly past.

what it's all about: It's sometimes tough to summarize in a single line what an episode's about, which you can tell was a particular challenge for "Armageddon Game," which is probably as close to an original series episode as Deep Space Nine ever got, a commentary not only on the ludicrousness of war but how people who want to end it tend to act about as ruthlessly as those who participate in it. 

But more than that (although that's a valid reason to value the episode, too), it's the episode where O'Brien and Bashir finally become friends, a friendship that ends up helping define the rest of the series.  This is classic franchise material, too (Enterprise's "Shuttlepod One" and 2009's Star Trek are two examples of this same story archetype).  Watching as they struggle past their differences even as they struggle just to survive is surprisingly fun.

But more than that is some excellent Keiko O'Brien material, too, one of the few times she was not, for all intents and purposes, depicted as a shrew or a helpless bystander (whether in Deep Space Nine or Next Generation before it).  In fact, "Armageddon Game" can obviously be viewed a lot of ways, but as arguably the best Keiko episode, perhaps best of all.

In that regard, it features one truly classic scene, at the end of the episode, no less.  The whole subplot involves a ruse on the part of the aliens O'Brien and Bashir helped and were betrayed by, their attempts to kill them and also tell the Federation they were dead already (it's so complicated, just keeping track of that is a fun part of the episode, too!), that Keiko is informed her husband is dead, but refuses to believe it, even coming up with perfectly logical justification for believing the aliens are, if not outright lying, hiding something, and she becomes convinced because of one thing she's absolutely sure about: O'Brien never has coffee in the afternoon, which the recording she's shown features him doing. 

Except in the final scene, she learns that he does.  It's one of the classic scenes of the whole franchise.  If it weren't for the fact that "Armageddon Game" doesn't particularly represent Deep Space Nine as a whole, it would be very easy to call it a classic. 

But fans of the series have ample reason to remember it fondly all the same.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Ironic observations about war, a favorite topic of the franchise, to be found within.
  • series - A series, however, that ended up with its two final seasons in a war ended up viewing the topic with additional, and ultimately unrelated, nuance.
  • character - This is a big episode for O'Brien and Bashir.
  • essential - But an even bigger one for Keiko!
notable guest-stars:
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x12 "The Alternate"

rating: **

the story: Odo is reunited with the Bajoran scientist who first assimilated him into the world of "solids," and who is now claiming he's found Odo's secret origin.

what it's all about: "The Alternate" has an odd predicament; on the one hand, it's not as good as the second Dr. Mora episode, "The Begotten," and it ends up having too many similarities to the first season episode "Vortex," which also teased Gamma Quadrant origins.  Later, of course, we learn that Odo's people are the Founders, who created the Dominion, and as such he really does come from the Gamma Quadrant, but with two episodes teasing it but being otherwise unnecessary to the rest of the series, it's the second episode that gets the short shrift in terms of originality.

Thank goodness it at least introduces Dr. Mora, with whom Odo has plenty of unresolved issues, not the least being barely-concealed resentment and rage, where Dr. Mora still thinks of him as the pile of goo he spent months analyzing without ever once realizing it was sentient...

As an exploration of backstory, "Alternate" still exists in a relative vacuum (other than "Begotten").  While flashbacks, thanks to Lost, became a common element of TV storytelling later, usually this was something told, not showed.  Sure, the random element of the past would resurface, but never quite as relevant as Dr. Mora, who literally helped shape the individual Odo was to become. 

It's just a shame that the first story the producers came up for him was a virtual duplicate of "Vortex" in terms of misdirection and lack of payoff, which clearly was because the rest of Odo's origins hadn't yet been figured out.  There are people (fans of Lost, actually), who think this kind of serialized storytelling is irresponsible, but that's only when, such as with "Alternate," things hadn't just not been figured out, but it's extremely obvious after the fact.  Again, once showing a possible Gamma Quadrant origin is fine, and if anyone had bothered, later, to explicitly state the story links, it would have continued to be fine, but that just didn't happen, and then "Alternate" did it again, and eventually filled out the story with needless monster-of-the-week material, the same kind of episodic foot-dragging that filled too much of the first few seasons. 

Still, as foundation material, like the rest of the second season, "Alternate" does feature some relevant stuff, so I can't complain too much.  Frequent franchise guest actor James Sloyan arguably has his best role as Dr. Mora, besides.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The episodic appeal of the episode actually detracts from its impact, so I'm not giving points for its standard Star Trek nature.
  • series - If this had been linked (heh) to later Odo developments, it would be more relevant.
  • character - Still, excellent Odo material with the introduction of Dr. Mora.
  • essential - Again, "Excellent Odo material."
notable guest-stars:
James Sloyan (Dr. Mora)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x11 "Rivals"

rating: ***

the story: Quark's status as the premier gambling proprietor of the station is challenged.

what it's all about: "Rivals" is such an interesting episode.  It's actually kind of the episode that represents what could only have been possible, in the best sense, in the early seasons when everything about the series hadn't been figured out.  It's actually one of the few that just runs with one of the most famous elements of the original Deep Space Nine premise; the existence of Quark's bar and its importance to the Promenade, and the station in general.

What happens when...Oh, it's right there in the name of the episode: "Rivals."  When it was still possible to merely introduce a random element and let it play out, without really wondering about, say, its significance to the Dominion or Bajor, which is to say, have a one-and-done adventure in the classic Star Trek sense, "Rivals" is probably about as good as any such story could get, especially because it does also play so well into the series itself.

Quark was clearly the MVP of the second season, the go-to character when other elements of the series weren't so easy to figure out.  Not only was he easy to interpret, but he was also open to interpretation, in other efforts like "Rules of Acquisition" and "Profit and Loss."  He also gave a valuable assist to "Necessary Evil," which "Rivals" is kind of an answer to, a lead story where he's getting up to the kind of trouble you expect of him.  Only this time, the script has been flipped, and someone is using Quark's own playbook against him!

The other great thing about "Rivals" is that it helps develop another continuing element of the series, which is the friendship between O'Brien and Bashir.  In fact, the name of the episode equally applies to the B- as to the A-story.  That should always be the case.  I understand the impulse to add a layer that some producer thought was missing from the initial one, but more often than not, the new layer sticks out like a sore thumb and threatens to ruin an otherwise pleasant experience ("Data's Day" over at Next Generation and "The Catwalk" over at Enterprise are two such examples, for much the same reasons, trying to shoehorn unnecessary drama into a situation that was already sufficiently complex).

Anyway, "Rivals" ends up being the last statement on the engineer and doctor's frictions that typified their relationship until "Armageddon Game" only a couple of episodes later; and actually, their later friendly competitiveness comes from "Rivals," too.

So it's an extremely satisfying episode for fans of the series, one of those potential entry points for skeptical viewers still trying to figure out the appeal of Deep Space Nine.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - I don't think you need to like anything else in the franchise to like this episode.
  • series - But it's a good one for series fans.
  • character - Good for fans of Quark, Bashir, and O'Brien.
  • essential - Good?  Great!
notable guest-stars:
Chris Sarandon
K Callan
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x10 "Sanctuary"

rating: *

the story: Refugee aliens from the Gamma Quadrant claim Bajor is their home of destiny.

what it's all about: Well, "Sanctuary" is about as awkward an episode as you'll find in the whole of the franchise.  In short, this is because it's a one-and-done episode that seeks to read as an analogy to the State of Israel, but this is really hard to pull off because it puts the whole concept of Bajor into complicated knots the story is not nearly prepared to answer.

Simply put, the analogy is too simple, and it undermines everything the series had previously tried and would continue try doing with Bajor, itself a victim world in ways that are not wholly compatible with the realities of the Middle East, certainly not so I can summarize them here and that "Sanctuary" itself adequately explores.  I'll give the episode one star for making the attempt, but otherwise it's probably best to be considered a huge mess.

Not the least, again, because it has no relevance to the rest of the series, without even a single major Bajoran appearing in it aside from series regular Kira, which for a story like this is just plain unacceptable and would never have happened later.  Simply put, this is an episode that better deserves to exist in the first season, if it really needs to exist at all, when something like these omissions were more common, because the series simply hadn't developed enough of its mythology to accommodate such storytelling.  And yet by this point, there had been several prominent Bajorans developed, as seen just a few episodes earlier.

The very strangest thing is that "Sanctuary" does portend the later Dominion arc, officially begun in the season finale, and so it actually stands as an episode of minor significance, which just makes the oversights, which scream in hindsight, so much harder to overlook.  When you ask the viewer to think of the Bajorans as the enemy, not because of some fringe movement as in the three-part season premiere, but as people incapable of assimilating desperate refugees who in many ways mirror them, it stretches incredulity too much.

If not for that attempt at analogy, this would be a very easy candidate for worst episode of the series.  Actually, that analogy, and how badly it's botched, might actually make things worse.  But I will at least make it possible for other opinions on the core concept to remain as a valid reason to watch it.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - As analogy for the State of Israel, it's worth a look.
  • series - But not for fans of the series.
  • character - Or for fans of the characters.
  • essential - Or anyone who likes their storytelling good.
notable guest-stars:
Leland Orser

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x9 "Second Sight"

rating: *

the story: Sisko falls in love with a woman who keeps disappearing.

what it's all about: After a hot start, the season starts collapsing under everything the series still hadn't figured out, starting somewhat predictably with Sisko.  This would have been a perfect episode for a lot of other Star Trek characters, but for Sisko it was just an excuse to remind fans that the series had really only sketched out 1) he lost his wife in the Battle of Wolf 359 and 2) the Bajorans immediately declared him a sacred figure.  Now, the second one continued to be a fruitful source of material throughout the series, but until the introduction of Kassidy Yates in the third season, Sisko's relationship status was a dead end rarely and poorly explored.

But given that, "Second Sight" is still a fairly nifty episode.  This is entirely due to its premise and the execution thereof, a person who is actually an astral projection of someone else, who has no idea this even happens to her.  In some ways it's the same story as "Sarek" or "Fascination," in which far more famous characters in the franchise (the latter is one of many Deep Space Nine appearances of Lwaxana Troi) suffer medical conditions that are affecting those around them.  As a one-and-done, when this was still happening in Deep Space Nine, episodes that really could have been told in any Star Trek series, it is what it is, it's fun, and lets just leave it at that.

Don't worry, though, it's a short slide in quality; the season picks up pretty spectacularly later.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Fans normally leery of this series because it's so different from the rest of Star Trek will get a kick out of the episode.
  • series - Fans of the series, however, will probably find it somewhat pointless.
  • character - Not really much of a Sisko episode.
  • essential - Do you really need to ask?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x8 "Necessary Evil"

rating: ****

the story: Odo works an investigation that reminds him of one he conducted years before, under Cardassian control of the station.

what it's all about: The series had pulled out some great work in the past, but "Necessary Evil" may mark the moment the series itself started to look great, with a story so deep, so essential to the nuances inherent in its premise, it's hard not to call such an episode a classic.

The scenes with Quark and his brother Rom happen to be some of the best material they'd had to this point, too, but the meat of "Evil" is the tense relationship between Odo and Kira, not so much in the present but the past, which actually intensifies their relationship in the present, paving the way for a series-long arc that gave so much poignancy to many episodes to come. 

As anyone who's ever watched an episode of Deep Space Nine knows, the eponymous station wasn't designed or created by Starfleet, but rather the Cardassians, who throughout the series and elsewhere in the franchise are easy to interpret as villains.  And yet, this was a series built to explore moral grey areas.  It's such an interesting detail for Odo's background that he worked as constable under the Cardassians before he did for the Bajorans and Starfleet, because it means his moral compass is not at all as clear-cut as you'd expect from a Star Trek character.  In fact, "Evil" serves as the first real statement on Odo's character the series had attempted ("A Man Alone," one of the very first episodes, worked quite well, but as more a study of bigotry than about Odo), and proves beyond doubt that this series was capable of great characterization, which was to become its hallmark.  You can know how easy it is to like anyone else in the franchise, particularly the original series, with all their quirky charm, but in Deep Space Nine characters become fully three-dimensional for the first time.

"Evil" also puts a strong focus on Kira, who had previously been featured in the standout "Progress" and "Duet" from the first season, textbook examples of moral ambiguities in their own right, and yet, since they focus on guest characters, their impact is ultimately muted to a certain extent.  "Evil" is so sensational because the focus, ultimately, is on Odo and Kira, who technically should be on opposite sides, both in the past and present, just going off of where they started out.  But as the title implies, the universe just isn't that simple.

For anyone who refuses to accept the relevance of such complicated storytelling in a franchise that is usually about as subtle as a rock, "Evil" probably can be summed up as a simple investigation (that's actually the title of an episode later in the series that doesn't quite pull off a similar impact) that doesn't really go anywhere.  Anyone looking for something deeper (who is the prime candidate for anyone reading my thoughts on Star Trek) need look no further than "Evil" to see just how deep Deep Space Nine really is.

"Duet" is usually called the best episode of the early seasons, but it's really "Necessary Evil."  It's not as flashy, but its impact and resonance is so much greater.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This is what it looks like when Star Trek goes truly deep.
  • series - This is what it looks like when Deep Space Nine finally discovers its true potential.
  • character - The first and arguably best look at the Odo/Kira relationship.
  • essential - Given all that sparkly talk above, this is an easy four-for-four.
notable guest-stars:
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x7 "Rules of Acquisition"

rating: ***

the story: Quark's new business associate is hiding a considerable secret beneath his lobes...

what it's all about: The funniest thing about the reputation "Profit and Lace" gets is that no one seems to realize it's basically the opposite of an earlier episode.  Well, this one, "Rules of Acquisition."  The difference may be tone.  "Profit" may be considered a farce, in some respects, but it addresses the same concerns and social messages as "Rules," the role (or lack thereof) of women in Ferengi culture.  This was in fact a running theme of the series, the shortcomings of Ferengi culture in general, which was somewhat slightly always used as a running commentary on...the shortcomings of our own present culture.  (Hence, a woman is only just now a serious contender for the presidency of the United States, the acknowledged superpower of the world for some seventy years.)

"Profit" had Quark in drag, an image few fans found possible to take seriously.  "Rules" has a guest character, a woman, pretending to be the opposite sex.  The whole story about her attempts to be taken seriously in the market, and while Quark believes she's a he, he certainly does, and so does the Grand Nagus, Deep Space Nine's version of Q, a character whose near-yearly visits always guaranteed great fun.  The Nagus is actually the first person in the series who seems to take a serious interest in the Gamma Quadrant, which as of the end of this season was to become a defining element of the series.  It's his efforts at establishing business relationships that may have alerted the Dominion to the Alpha Quadrant's existence and/or significance (it could be argued).  This is one of the first times the Dominion is even mentioned, although certainly not seen (at least in any acknowledged way).

Still, it's gender equality that's the best reason to watch the episode, the start of a series arc that, yes, includes the later "Profit," and somewhat incredibly, given his sleazy reputation, Quark is the agent of reason.  When Starfleet does it, you might consider such stories to be preachy, but when someone totally unexpected (and this would hardly be the last time, and not even last time this season!) like Quark exhibits such tendencies, it forces you to pay attention in ways that are new in the franchise.  Again, that's what the Deep Space Nine premise was all about, and "Rules" is another instance where the young series was finally figuring out how to pull such things off.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A valuable nod to the topic of gender equality.
  • series - It's the first, but not the last, time the series touches on the topic.
  • character - Quark, the unexpectedly nuanced Ferengi toad.
  • essential - Strangely, because it's a guest character who's never seen again, the impact is somewhat dulled. (Take that, "Profit and Lace" haters!)
notable guest-stars:
Wallace Shawn (Grand Nagus Zek)
Tiny Ron (Maihar'du)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Brian Thompson

Monday, October 10, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x6 "Melora"

rating: ***

the story: Bashir falls for a new officer who is classified as disabled because she's used to a different environment than what's generally available to her in Starfleet.

what it's all about: "Melora" is basically the second season in a nutshell: an attempt to get back to the root of what this series was supposed to be about, after a first season that could sometimes seem like it was struggling to come up with stories that were relevant to its premise.  The thing about "Melora" is that it takes a different approach than other episodes in the season, because instead of looking at what the series should be, it gives fans a glimpse of what it could have been.

Which is to say, the character of Melora was originally conceived as one of the main characters, but the idea was vetoed because it would've been even more expensive to portray on an ongoing basis than the shape-shifting abilities of Odo.  Melora comes from a low-gravity world, so that in what we consider normal gravity, she tends to...float.  Actually, it's a lovely idea all around, and so is the episode that finally brings her to life.

It's also an episode about the disabled, which surprisingly never really happens elsewhere in the franchise (a glaring oversight for such an idealistic vision of the future, even moreso, in some ways, than overtly acknowledging the LGBTQ community, which finally happened in Star Trek Beyond).  I mean, you have Pike in "The Menagerie," but that's a whole story about him finding a way to get away from his disabilities, rather than confront their realities, which is the exact opposite of "Melora."  (The whole point of Geordi LaForge and his VISOR compensating for blindness was a thing Next Generation never really confronted, except for references here or there, which itself was a fine commentary, to be fair, because he never let it become an issue.)
The thing is, even though this is a good and helpful exercise, it's kind of dampened by using Bashir to help tell it, in what basically becomes the Bashir version of a Riker episode ("The Outcast," say), in which a noble lesson is learned, along with a doomed romance (this is known in Star Trek as the Kirk Effect).  This was when the series was still trying to figure out Bashir's character (later in the season, the famous Bashir/O'Brien friendship would finally become a reality, for instance), which as with some other characters (Sisko) was still a work in progress at this point.  It shows.  You can't just define a character by borrowing the character traits of other Star Trek characters. 

But the good thing about all that is the B-story, which borrows the ever-present charm of Quark's misadventures, a reliable theme of the season, this time involving an old acquaintance's efforts to kill him, or so he's certainly led to believe.  The great thing about Quark is that although he was known for his moral ambiguities, he was still easy to root for.  Kind of like the series itself, which was an element otherwise missing from the episode, and it shows.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A good spotlight for the plight of the disabled.
  • series - Brings to life a character originally intended to be part of the main cast.
  • character - Quark's subplot helps the episode ring.
  • essential - It doesn't quite fire on all cylinders.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x5 "Cardassians"

rating: ***

the story: A Cardassian orphan raised by Bajorans becomes caught in the middle of continuing efforts to heal old wounds.

what it's all about: "Cardassians" on the surface seems like a somewhat unnecessary duplication of Next Generation's "Suddenly Human."  I mean, it's pretty much exactly the same story.  But the thing "Cardassians" proves is that Deep Space Nine's interest in grounding stories in a continuing background, rather than the traditional serialized format of the franchise where most episodes can be viewed in a vacuum, has considerable merit to it, and it's arguably the first episode of the series to prove so.

Like the second season in general, it's a tentative step forward into the full potential the series was going to explore later.  It's Garak and Dukat, two diametrically opposed Cardassians who nonetheless represented the best of the series in their own ways, tentatively working their way into the tapestry Deep Space Nine was still just beginning to weave, in a story that doesn't necessarily need either of them, except to give depth to the Cardassian side of things, when it would've been much easier to simply dismiss them as the back guys.  That's the series in a nutshell, everything you need to know to understand why so many fans have come to love it over the years.

"Cardassians" otherwise is not something to make too big a deal about, but it certainly deserves credit for helping the series become the best possible version of itself.  Incidentally, for those interested in seeing what happens to the Cardassian youth caught in the middle of this episode's dilemma, they should definitely check out Una McCormick's insightful novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - I'll dock it here just because I don't want to say it's a classic.
  • series - Though it's hugely important to the series.
  • character - Certainly for the recurring Cardassians in the series.
  • essential - Note "hugely" important above.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x4 "Invasive Procedures"

rating: ***

the story: A rogue Trill seeks to pilfer the Dax symbiont.

what it's all about: The highly unfortunate thing about the timing of airing "The Siege" and "Invasive Procedures" back-to-back at the beginning of the second season is that they both feature the station getting evacuated, so it creates a situation where you've kind of got to decide which is the better version of the story.  On the one hand, you'd think "Siege" would come out on-top because it's the conclusion of the ambitious three-episode arc that is itself a huge selling point.  But the thing is, "Siege" seems thrown together and unearned.  "Invasive Procedures" on the other hand seems anything but.

The key difference is that the good guys have a dilemma that directly involves them this time, rather than merely the unwitting center of a crisis that otherwise doesn't really involve them except by choice (yay generic hero situation!).  And actually, "Procedures" is the soft beginning for what became one of the defining character arcs of the series, the trouble of Trills without symbionts. 

The Next Generation episode "The Host" introduced the concept of the joined Trill species, but it was Deep Space Nine that really had a chance to run with it, thanks to having Jadzia and then Ezri Dax as series regulars.  Jadzia would run into more problems of this kind in "Equilibrium," and then there was Ezri herself, the next host after Jadzia of the Dax symbiont, who embodied the problems of new and/or unprepared hosts.  (In case it slips your mind, but the reason Sisko tends to call Jadzia "Old Man" is because he knew the host before her, who was an old man.)  Ezri experiences the same problems in "Field of Fire," all the way in the last season.

So that's considerable reach for the problems "Procedures" addresses.  The Trill in Deep Space Nine were more fully developed than in "The Host."  "Equilibrium" is a better episode than "Procedures," but "Procedures" features a more memorable villain, mostly because he's played by John Glover, and has the future Tuvok in Voyager, Tim Russ, supporting him in one of Russ's several minor appearances before becoming a Star Trek regular.  In the end, it's all about hubris, not having any idea what the problems really are in what Glover's character is trying to accomplish.  Pretty standard storytelling, but it helps bring the characters together in a way that hadn't really happened previously in the series.  In a way, if you want to overlook the three-parter, or consider it an extension of the first season finale ("In the Hands of the Prophets") you might think of "Procedures" as the real second season premiere.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This is pretty series-specific.
  • series - Could easily function as the easy entry point of the season.
  • character - Important for the future of the Dax symbiont.
  • essential -  Okay, pretty important!
notable guest-stars:
John Glover
Tim Russ
Megan Gallagher
Steve Rankin

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x3 "The Siege"

rating: **

the story: The rogue Bajorans calling themselves the Circle have sieged Deep Space Nine!

what it's all about: The biggest problem with the ambitious three-part episode that opened the second season is that it spent so much time focusing on Kira, it kind of almost totally forgot Sisko.  Now, this is a problem.  A lot of fans think Sisko in the early seasons is pretty weak, and while on the whole this isn't really true, his appearances in material like "The Siege" certainly don't help.

Again, this is a problem, because by this third episode in the arc, it's arguably Sisko's turn at driving the story, and instead it just seems as if he's trying desperately to play catch-up the whole time.  And thus we discover the essential weakness of this arc: the series was by no means ready for it.

As we would see later in the series, whether in "The Search" or "The Way of the Warrior" (which are, essentially, similar stories that opened the third and fourth seasons, respectively), or even the comparatively minor but vastly superior "Civil Defense," getting Sisko right is absolutely imperative in pulling off a story like this.  If you put the station in peril, its commander has to have a commanding presence.  Which just doesn't happen in "Siege" (not to be confused with the seventh season "Siege of AR-558," another episode unfortunately regarded as vastly superior). 

Simply put, if you're going to pull the trigger on a big moment, such as putting the station in peril, you really need to think it all the way through, especially if you try to do it so near the beginning of the series.  This is probably the very episode the producers started to realize the importance of this, because by the end of the season, a truly credible threat (the Dominion) was introduced, and it ended up defining the series far more than Bajoran politics.

Again, this is not to say fans who think Bajoran politics ruined the early seasons are right.  Clearly they could produce great drama, with or without direct Cardassian involvement (although that's another gaping hole in this episode, the absence of Gul Dukat, which even by the two-part "Maquis" later in the season, and the Dukat-heavy third season and beyond, had been identified by those same producers).  But you can't let Bajorans overrun the station.  You just can't.  I don't care how many admirals are telling Sisko they can't do anything about that sort of development. 

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this was exactly the episode that needed to happen, not just to galvanize the storytelling, but to clear the Bajoran problems that were the original basis of the series.  The bottom line, though, is that "Siege" feels like an underwhelming conclusion to what should have been a shining creative moment for the young series.  There's something wrong with that, anyway.

Still, the best moment in the episode, Dax joining Kira in some antiquated fighter unit, helps shine a renewed light on Dax, her lively personality, which would come up again later in the season ("Playing God").  Seeing these two women bond is probably one of the better moments hindsight can give, from an era where that has become increasingly important.  This had never happened before in the history of Star Trek, but soon, in Voyager, it would become a welcome new staple.  So that's the best way, probably, to think of "Siege."

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Not essential to the franchise per say.
  • series - Pretty important to the series.
  • character - Has good character work from Dax and Kira.
  • essential - Not essential.
notable guest-stars:
Frank Langella
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Hana Hatae (Molly)
Steven Weber
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x2 "The Circle"

rating: ***

the story: Kira is replaced in her position aboard the station, so she decides to go to Bajor and see if there's anything interesting happening there.

what it's all about: This second chapter in the opening trilogy (trilogies were a big thing in Enterprise's final season, but arcs tended to go longer after this initial extended effort) of the season sounds a little flippant in that description above, doesn't it?  That's probably because "The Circle" might be considered filler.  But really, it's just Deep Space Nine testing the waters of serialized storytelling, which it really wouldn't try again (as opposed to heavily-interrelated storytelling, which began in the first season and continued steadily throughout the series) until its final seasons.

What "Circle" has going for it is a further exploration of Bajoran life and politics.  As such, we again meet two crucial Bajorans, Vedek Winn (later to be better known as Kai Winn, a position she parlayed from being analogous to the Catholic pope to being prime minister as well) and Vedek Bareil (Kira's love interest for the first three seasons), as well as enjoy the continued killer uncredited appearances of Frank Langella (that's probably the biggest selling point of this whole trilogy right there) as the main villain, the secret conspiracy leader who's about to play his hand and/or be exposed.  We'd met Winn and Bareil last season ("In the Hands of the Prophets"), and so seeing them again was a sign that this was indeed going to be a series where seeing familiar faces would take far less time than in Treks past, as the whole premise of a station-bound series had always promised but to this point seldom delivered.

Winn ended up becoming a crucial recurring character throughout the series, and so each and every early appearance is important in seeing how she developed into the monster fans best remember her as, a crass opportunist for whom events like this were made.  If you want to view the trilogy, and this second act, as important for any other reason than putting Kira in the spotlight and trying to make the most of Bajoran drama, then this is how to do it.  Her absence from the previous "Homecoming" installment seems odd in hindsight.  Actually, if you like Star Wars and don't mind comparisons from the prequels, watching Winn in these moments is like seeing Palpatine blatantly manipulate everyone before he completes his transformation into the Emperor, hiding in plain sight.

The scenes with the hero from "Homecoming" are almost meaningless by comparison.  I remember the character's name (Li Nalas) perfectly well enough, and apparently the actor, Richard Beymer, was in West Side Story (the creators of this series loved vintage Hollywood, as you'll see later in the season), but he leaves no real impression in the series, which was otherwise gifted with an abundance of memorable characters.  That will always be a drawback of this ambitious early arc-heavy effort.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This one's pretty series-specific.
  • series - See above.
  • character - Come to see Kira, stay for Winn.
  • essential - It's actually pretty important to where Winn ends up later in the series.
notable guest-stars:
Frank Langella
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Deep Space Nine 2x1 "The Homecoming"

rating: ****

the story: Kira believes the key to reviving Bajor's fortunes is liberating a Resistance hero who has just been discovered alive in a Cardassian labor camp.

what it's all about: A lot of fans found the first few seasons of Deep Space Nine dull because of their heavy quotient of Bajoran stories.  Actors playing Bajorans tended to play them as subdued individuals (a key exception to this rule was Nana Visitor's Kira, who's one of the most spirited characters in all of Star Trek).  The hero Kira liberates in "The Homecoming" conforms to this standard.  Thankfully, there's always Kira and the complexities of Bajoran politics.  It's fascinating that politics became such a favorite subject on TV in the years following Deep Space Nine's conclusion in 1999, whether in The West Wing or House of Cards.  Like a lot of its content, this was one element in which the series was ahead of its time.

Another was its focus on serialized storytelling, of which "The Homecoming" was the first of an unprecedented three-episode arc (the series later had six- and ten-episode-long arcs, but not until its final two seasons).  It's also the best and most focused episode of this first stab at extended storytelling.  It builds on work from the first season, notably "In the Hands of the Prophets," the season finale, which helped set the tone for the rest of the series. 

The story of a forgotten hero is a compelling one, which fans might tend to overlook because the two episodes that follow kind of move on from it to other elements.  In fact, the whole of the arc is very relevant to 2016 U.S. politics, the search for a hero who will unite a dispirited population, amid controversies over outside influence and outsiders within the population itself.  (It's no surprise, then, that scores of Star Trek personalities have been pledging to oppose Donald Trump, who certainly appears to fit the model of the villains in this story.) 

In fact, the xenophobia in the arc is later echoed in Enterprise's "Demons"/"Terra Prime" arc, which many fans consider the true final episodes of that series.  Certainly, fans remember those episodes better.

The problem, again, is that Deep Space Nine became much better known for other stories, or for earlier, more self-contained efforts like "Duet."  Yet it's absolutely worth immersing yourself in the most ambitious look at the problems facing Bajor, the planet Starfleet and Sisko came to help transition from years of Cardassian oppression, as represented in "Homecoming" and its two sequels.  The hero Kira finds actually helps Kira find her own voice, as someone who's far more willing to cooperate with Starfleet than she'd been previously.  That means this episode is best viewed as an essential Kira episode, which in turn helps unlock the entire series for fans still wondering what it's all about.

As a lot of fans have already, you may decide that Deep Space Nine has considerably more merit than you have previously considered.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Star Trek's mission statement is all about discovering the hero in all of us.
  • series - The mission statement of this series is all about discovering heroes in unlikely places.
  • character - Kira's most certainly a hero, which this episode makes clear.
  • essential - As stated above, this is an episode that unlocks a lot of series mythology.
notable guest-stars:
Frank Langella
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
John Fleck
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