After the introduction and the previous post, here is the concluding part of my Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 1 “capsule reviews”. Season 1 was shorter than the rest of the seasons as it started towards the end of the 1992-1993 television season during TNG‘s season 6 — still, it had an impressive 20 episodes! TNG: Birthright aired at around this time, where the Enterprise visits the station, Worf first walks the Promenade and Data meets Dr. Bashir. And so the BluRay of TNG is the only place where you can see DS9 in HD for most likely a long time still (see featured image), plus a handful of shots in the new DS9 documentary…
1×12: Vortex: “The shapeshifters are harsh in their judgment.”
A political fugitive from the Gamma Quadrant teases Odo with clues about his homeworld. Odo is shared between what is expected of him, to release the fugitive to the authorities of those who have hunted him all the way to DS9, and his curiosity about his origins. The tease proves to be just a ploy from the fugitive to get to where he has actually kept his family safe; touched, Odo does trick their pursuers into destruction. Odo is then willing to tell lies in the official story in order to give the fugitive a second chance in life, a satirical DS9 “we will work it out amongst ourselves” story. Odo doesn’t get to reunite with his race but gets the first clue: a shape-shifting rock!
Double The X-Files! The fugitive, Cliff De Young, was Doctor Nemman in the pilot episode, and the pursuing twins, Randy Oglesby, was the snake-handling reverend in Signs & Wonders! Oh, yes, for those that just arrived, I have a strong thing for The X-Files…
1×13: Battle Lines: “My work is here now.”
Sisko and Kira accompany Kai Opaka‘s first trip off Bajor and the religious leader insists to journey through the wormhole. She was expecting “something” to happen related to what destiny the Prophets have in store for them and it does: they get stranded on a prison planet where nanotechnology resurrects everyone once they’re dead. They find humanoids, two warring factions who wage an eternal war there, in short there’s disappointingly little difference between the Alpha and the Gamma Quadrant. The Kai gets infected with the nanotechnology, which strands her to this planet; she accepts this destiny. A not very exciting episode and an odd destiny for the Kai, I liked the actor and I hoped that she would have a more interesting role to play. I suppose the function of the episode overall was to clear the path for a different Kai, but the writers could have found plenty of ways to get rid of her, or to strand her in the Gamma Quadrant.
That warlord is none other than Jonathan Banks, the hit man of few words Mike Ehrmantraut in Breaking Bad!
1×14: The Storyteller: “For all we know, you really were sent by the Prophets.” “I was sent by Commander Sisko!”
Bashir and O’Brien are on a mission on Bajor and get mixed up in a town’s traditions, where O’Brien is “chosen by the Prophets” to be a priest-like figure that exorcises away a weird meteorological/supernatural/alien monster…phenomenon…thing. This being Star Trek, one would have expected the superstition to be explained away rationally, but this never happens. This is perhaps a way for DS9 to say that it’s doing this differently, but it’s also very anti-climactic and disappointing. We do get some interaction between Bashir and O’Brien (who still insists in calling him “sir”). The B-story was much more funny and interesting: Sisko is arbitrating a dispute between two Bajoran villages; the leader of one of the villages is a proud young girl, and Nog and Jake awkwardly flirt with her.
One of the village officials, James Jansen, was Dr Werber in three episodes of The X-Files, thanks to whom Mulder remembered his sister’s abduction through regressive hypnosis.
1×15: Progress: “If I leave here, I’ll die.” “No, you won’t. I won’t let you.”
Kira has to convince a stubborn old Bajoran farmer to evacuate a moon that is going to become a huge power plant and so become uninhabitable in the name of progress. Kira has to play the role of the powerful institution deciding for others less powerful, something diametrically opposed to her days at the Bajoran resistance. The episode introduces all these themes and character issues but eventually does little more than have Kira reluctantly do the job she has been asked to do. It is again a bit anticlimactic; perhaps we know a bit more about Kira but she could have been explored even better. Again the B-story is excellent, with Nog and Jake trying to make their first profit!
1×16: If Wishes Were Horses: “I’m going to have to ask you all to please refrain from using your imaginations.”
Imaginations suddenly manifest themselves as reality — including figures like a dwarf straight from fantasy (from O’Brien‘s tales to his daughter), a 20th century baseball player (from the Siskos), and a sexually submissive Dax (from Bashir‘s holosuite). Just when it couldn’t get any crazier, it’s revealed that these fantasies are actually mind-reading aliens trying to consume the station. The fun part is that everybody hallucinates apart from Odo, who doesn’t have an imagination — until he “wishes” Quark in his prison cell. A quite forgettable episode.
The dwarf is the dwarf actor of the 1990s-2000s: Michael J. Anderson, of Twin Peaks, The X-Files (Humbug) and Carnivále fame!
1×17: The Forsaken: “You are not at all what I expected.”
Federation ambassadors visit the station (including Lwaxana Troi from TNG, actually my first encounter with her!) and everybody has to act all official and servile, but nobody really wants them there (another big difference with TNG!). An alien computer program uploads itself in the station and nothing works any more. Odo has to spend time isolated in an elevator with an annoyingly flirty Lwaxana and Bashir has to prove his worth by saving the ambassadors’ lives. Lwaxana eventually leaves her seductress persona behind and actually connects with Odo, seeing how they are both different inside compared to what they present outside, and we get Odo’s backstory from his awakening on Bajor. An odd episode with some good dialogue!
One of the ambassadors, Michael Ensign, was Dr Barnes in the “ancient aliens” episodes of The X-Files, Biogenesis and The Sixth Extinction.
1×18: Dramatis Personae: “How do you repay me? With betrayal.”
A suspicious ship that could arise Bajor-Cardassia tensions is the motive behind a sense of paranoia among head officers that grows and grows until nearly everyone is on each other’s throat with mutiny and counter-mutiny coups. It turns out that they were influenced by a telepathic alien virus brought on-board by another Klingon ship from the Gamma Quadrant; Odo, as the only one not affected, saves the day. The changes happen very progressively and realistically given what we know about the characters, this could really happen under different conditions and reveals who they really are (hence the title of the episode). This is particularly true for the Kira-Sisko relationship, which is tense to begin with given their different allegiances. I really liked this one!
1×19: Duet: “You’ll pay for that death, and all the others you’re responsible for.” “Oh, I don’t think I could pay for all of them, major, there were so many. And you can only execute me once.”
Kira investigates a Cardassian who could very well be responsible for heinous war crimes in a Bajoran labour camp. There ensues a complex game between Kira and the Cardassian: was he the megalomaniac and formidable leader the Butcher of Gallitep? was he a filing clerk at Gallitep with great admiration for his leader? was he a reluctant leader that did not want to commit these crimes? was he so scarred by what he saw that he wants to expiate his sins by confessing? Either possibility makes this Cardassian a memorable and tragic figure. The only possible outcome arrives suddenly but fatefully at the end of the episode, with a Bajoran murdering him. The quality of the dialogue, the impressive acting (especially by guest star Harris Yulin), the twists-filled scenario, everything combines to give us the best DS9 so far (and by far)!
Yes, Harris Yulin was also on The X-Files, as Cardinal O’Fallon in the meta episode Hollywood A.D.!
1×20: In the Hands of the Prophets: “It is my philosophy that on this station there is room for all philosophies.”
The season finale returns to the Prophets introduced in the pilot, or rather to the politics of Bajor. We have been told several times that the “provisional government” of Bajor is unstable and does not satisfy all factions. Here we are introduced to the micro-politics of the Bajoran faith, with multiple religious leaders scheming to get the post of Kai (left vacant in Battle Lines earlier in the season): we are presented with a clearly positive contender, the Zen-like Vedek Bareil, and a clearly negative contender, the ultra-orthodox Vedek Winn. Keiko‘s school becomes the target of extremist Bajorans who don’t want their children be “infected” with the Federation’s though — giving rise to interesting exchanges in defense of rationalism. One of O’Brien‘s Bajoran engineers is involved in an assassination attempt against Bareil. The episode’s plot is wrapped up by the end, with no cliffhanger, but clearly the elements are set up for more stories set on Bajor.
There is a palpable sense of taking stock of what has happened as we have followed these characters since the pilot: at the end, Sisko reflects on the past months on the station (i.e. the season) and how they have all, Federation and Bajorans, attempted to bridge their gaps towards a better future; it is his personal philosophy, and the philosophy of the Federation. It is a reminder of the mission statement of the station, of the DS9 series and of Star Trek as a whole. Contrary to several season 1 episodes, which could have been slightly modified stories from TNG, the plot of this episode is directly linked to the station and the planet close to it, and this episode is all the better for it. A very good season finale, promising more!
Louise Fletcher, the sinister Vedek Winn, was one of cinema’s most memorable sinister characters of all time: Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest! (also serial killer Jack’s mother in Profiler!) While Philip Anglim, the radiant Vedek Bareil, was Frank Black’s brother Tom in Millennium!
Well, this is it, an uneven first season, with the last two episodes being the season’s highlight. There is a lot going on in the last episode in particular, this being a season finale. This does not necessarily imply that the writers were at that point building towards a grander plan, they are just furthering a plot out of a number of possible plots (judging just from the episodes themselves — I have yet to read any behind the scenes interviews in depth). Babylon 5 also had a first season of mostly independent episodes spent on just getting to know the station. However, B5 also included several episodes hinting at grander happenings, both in secrets of the past and teases about the future. There is very little of that in the first season of DS9, if at all. It is a show that is still discovering itself, from writing to the mood to the acting.
See you soon with season 2!