the story: Quark and Odo discover that in order to survive an impossible situation, they will have to trust each other...basically for the first time ever...
what it's all about: Unlike its immediate predecessor, "Things Past," "The Ascent" is a successful attempt to remind long-time fans that everything that happened before the third season, really does still matter.
While the emerging Dominion arc couldn't be discarded, and that was in large part what make the third season so important, there had been a concerted effort in the fourth to totally revamp the series so that a broader audience might be able to enjoy it. This meant that old standards of the series began to recede into the background. "Things Past" consciously set out to evoke the simple horrors (this explains why fans might have been hesitant previously to embrace the complexity of Deep Space Nine) of the first few seasons, when the Bajorans were more important. But it really only duplicated the earlier "Necessary Evil" (while admittedly further increasing the significance of Dukat) rather than really build on anything.
So "Ascent" would have to something a little more obvious, which was to finally feature a showdown between Odo and Quark. In the best franchise tradition, people who thought of each other as enemies would have to try and work together, which made the prospect not only familiar but more palatable than Odo finally having to decide if his Ferengi nemesis was more than a mere nuisance (the popular term these days is "frenemy").
The added benefit is that it actually gives the fifth season the excuse it needed to finally do something worthwhile with the Odo arc introduced at the end of the fourth: his people removing Odo's trademark ability to shapeshift.
In hindsight it was both a worthless gimmick (the removal) since it was undone so quickly (just a few episodes after "Ascent") and also, perhaps, the best thing that could've ever happened to the character. At this point in the series, after two seasons of mystery surrounding his origins had finally been answered, Odo had become tangled in two fairly limited arcs: whether he would embrace his people (the Founders, who run the Dominion), and when the romance with Kira would begin.
The loss of his shapeshifting ability put Odo in a new context, one that unbalanced him as never before. This wasn't really evident, or showcased properly, because the third element of the character, which had more or lain dormant for a few seasons, had been left out for eight episodes. How do you forget how important Quark is to this guy?
That's what makes "Ascent" so compelling. On the surface it seems pretty formulaic, almost forgettable, on the whole. Yet its significance has great resonance. This is the point in which the season finally starts to come into focus, and thus the rest of the series.
It's a totally different kind of classic, in a very Deep Space Nine kind of way. There's also a subplot in which Jake and Nog finally reunite (another arc from the third season finally coming full circle), and they find their roles in the friendship totally reversed. Nog can't stand to be reminded of the life he used to lead, which was one of the defining elements of the early episodes (they're together, really, for the last time, as originally envisioned, in the crucial second season finale, "The Jem'Hadar," fittingly enough). This is what it means for the characters of this series to mean so much to each other, and for their relationships to evolve over time, as they advance in their lives well past anything possible aboard a starship, where roles are easier to define (and nearly everyone is a member of Starfleet; of the four characters featured in the episode, only one is, and that's Nog, which as a Ferengi had been unthinkable until he did it).
It's an episode that general fans can appreciate (in much the same way general fans who watched the last episode of Lost could appreciate Jack and Locke finally fighting it out, even though they would've had no clue as to why), but for fans of the series means so much more. Odo's composure (we'd had a preview of this in the earlier "Crossfire") finally totally cracks, and it's easy to see why, because everything he knows about himself has been stripped from him, and he's going to die, and the only person who'll know how it happened is Quark.
This is also the start of Quark breaking away from the way he'd been presented previously, almost totally defined by Ferengi hijinks, which opens up room for the far darker "Business as Usual" later in the season. It's the beginning of his needing to reconcile all the radical changes happening around him (which is to say, the development of the series) with how desperately he'll need to cling to constants, like his bar.
In a lot of ways, "Ascent" ends much as "Amok Time" did some thirties year earlier, with one character convinced another one is dead, and he's responsible. Is that context enough?
- franchise - Seems to evoke the tradition of the survival experience.
- series - But actually speaks to the heart of Deep Space Nine.
- character - Odo, and Quark, at a crossroads in their lives.
- essential - Loathe as they are to admit it, they're indispensable to each other.
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)