Friday, March 10, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x6 "Sacrifice of Angels"

rating: ****

the story: Sisko retakes the station in spectacular fashion.

what it's all about: If "Favor the Bold" feels weightless, war-for-the-sake-of-war (and in turn, action-for-the-sake-of-action), what fans who never really watched Deep Space Nine assumed the Dominion War arc to be, then "Sacrifice of Angels" fulfills the promise of the concept, tying everything together neatly.

An unexpected callback to the wormhole aliens, or Prophets, who come to the rescue as a kind of deus ex machine but in a fashion that has considerable impact later in the series (one almost wonders if Sisko actually released the Pah-wraiths when he asks the Prophets to make the Dominion fleet disappear), bridges nicely with the physical act of winning back the station, a thrilling sequence of events that might have made a dramatic series opener.  Star Trek, to this point, was always afraid of action, aside from fight scenes that more often than not were poorly choreographed.  The Borg invasion from Next Generation's "Best of Both Worlds" happens mostly off-camera.  Deep Space Nine's pilot, "Emissary" actually features more of the battle at the heart of that invasion than was previously seen, but only as Sisko loses his ship, his wife, and his life (for a time).  The Cardassians were more or less wrapping up the Occupation at the same time, thus opening up the station to Starfleet in a bloodless coup.  Twice, during the course of the series, the station needed defending on an epic scale, but this time it had actually been lost.  In terms of significance this is huge.  Even Odo's temporary loss of his shape-shifting ability didn't seem this important when it happened a season previous. 

The action becomes deeply embedded in the history of the series, and its future as well.  Besides Sisko's future hassles with the Pah-wraiths, and Prophets, there's Dukat on a collision course with destiny, too.  Damar completes his journey to becoming a truly significant character when he betrays Dukat, murdering his daughter Ziyal, who collaborated with Kira and the other good guys who'd remained at the station (I talked previously about the importance of collaborators in the series, but this is easily the most dramatic example of them).

It's a big, big moment, and it justifies everything that preceded it, even the parts that seemed to be dragging their feet in an effort to make a big continuous arc, the longest in franchise history to that point, where one episode led directly into the next.  Some of the episodes in the arc didn't seem to contribute much to it, the producers still uncertain about the studio's willingness to let them pull it off, perhaps.  Or maybe they just weren't ready yet.  The minefield dilemma, however, does manage to justify all of it, sort of like the need for Obi-Wan Kenobi to deactivate the tractor beam in Star Wars in order for Luke, Han, and Leia's escape from the Death Star to be possible.  What was needed was a big ending, and that's what's accomplished here.

Arguably, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan works as well as it does because of Spock's death at the end of it.  I'd argue that Ziyal's death functions in much the same way.  Obviously Tora Ziyal is nowhere near as important a character as Spock, but her death greatly affects her father's future.  Dukat begins a descent into madness at the end of "Angels" that carries over into "Waltz," which permanently bonds him to Sisko, which finally crystalizes one of the most important arcs of the series, where Sisko's destiny as the Bajoran's Emissary (that term from the pilot) ends.  Again, that sequence with the Prophets makes that all the more important, too.

The Pah-wraiths are the enemies of the Prophets.  Dukat eventually becomes their Emissary, Sisko's opposite number.  They'd previously appeared in "The Assignment," but were relatively impotent, directionless other than their vague feud with the Prophets.  My argument is that whatever was keeping them in check previously ends when the Prophets directly intervene on behalf of Sisko.  This is big storytelling, somewhat beyond the scope of anything else Star Trek ever attempted, except maybe the abandoned Temporal Cold War arc in Enterprise.  To find anything like it, you'd need to watch Lost and wait to find out about Jacob and the Man in Black, and still end up with a fairly ambiguous explanation of a similar mythology...

The point, however, is that "Angels" ushers in a bold new era for Deep Space Nine, and the franchise in general.  It's the moment the whole serialization concept truly clicks, and as such is directly responsible for the image of the series as it persists today.  Actually, there was far less serialization than fans tend to assume; recurring characters tended to have a lot more of an impact than their ongoing stories, many of which don't really exist.  The one ongoing thread of the series is actually Sisko's role as Emissary, which of course is something that is touched on in "Angels," somewhat tellingly.

So anyone looking to see what the series is all about really could do far worse than catch "Angels," which could very well open up the whole concept for them.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - In some respects, it's the must-see moment that could just as easily define the series for fans and skeptics.
  • series - It's the lynchpin of the serialization concept.
  • character - A defining moment for Sisko and Dukat.
  • essential - Kind of the definition of can't-miss.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Salome Jens (Female Founder)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)

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