Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1995-1996) continues with its fourth season (see part 1), with another string of mostly excellent episodes that made me glad I stuck with the show in its earlier episodes! Capsule reviews coming up:
4×09: The Sword of Kahless: “It’s mine!”
Master Kor (from 2×19: Blood Oath) arrives on DS9 with a grand mission: to recover the fabled Sword of Kahless, the sword of a mythical warrior that founded the Klingon Empire (just a thousand years ago), and whoever yields it yields great power to the Klingons — enough to influence the Council and draw power away from Gowron. Dax and Worf join him. Along the way they run into Toral of the House of Duras (see many episodes of TNG) who also looks for the object — Belloq to Worf’s Indy? They finally find the fabled sword and travel through the caves to the exit (these sets of the caves start looking very, very familiar!) and things turn into The Lord of the Rings, with the power of the preciousss sword turning Kor and Worf into selfish power-mongers who don’t trust anyone but themselves to be the best Klingon leader. Ultimately they find a solution in just dumping the sword out into space, judging that the time has not yet come for Klingon society to accept the sword back — but will it ever be found with it floating in interstellar space? Worf thinks that fate will intervene eventually. It’s interesting how Klingon faith has no use for supernatural gods, their spirituality is all built around some Eastern meditation practices and the worship of very real existing Klingon warriors. Not a particularly strong episode, but good enough.
4×10: Our Man Bashir: “Kiss the girl, get the key. They never taught me that in the Obsidian Order.”
In this episode it’s JB: secret agent! Julian Bashir, that is, not James Bond. Bashir’s holosuite adventures involve him being a secret agent in the 1960s — a continuation of Picard‘s 1930s detective adventures? The episode is essentially a parody of James Bond tropes, with JB getting all the women, with the Russian spy, with the megalomaniac bad guy with his absurd grand plan for world domination, with the villain never straight out killing JB but prolonging his death scene so as to give him an opportunity of escape. It comes out of nowhere in the world of DS9 but it’s great fun!
Additionally, it’s a holosuite malfunction episode. The transporter malfunctions and Eddington finds no other solution than to dump the crew’s patterns in the station computer, with their “minds” occupying the whole of the station’s computer storage space and their bodies taking over the appearances of Bashir’s cast of characters. Now, I could get on and on about how and why that is: if the transporter transfers patterns to recreate those being transported then it had been storing all the information before Eddington’s operation, and I can’t imagine the transporter’s computer having more storage space than the entire station. But, well, that’s what the story needs and I’ll go with it.
So much of the fun is the progressive reveals of each cast member in Bashir’s story: Kira as the sexy Russian spy (again Nina Visitor playing the sexy one, after the Mirror Universe…), O’Brien as the one-eyed assassin, Sisko as the crazy villain… Then there’s Garak, who follows through Bashir’s adventures with his ironic and witty comments. And of course Bashir himself, who with his English accent and good looks makes for a great MI6 spy. I really liked this episode! It’s the kind of experimental episode that DS9 couldn’t do in its early seasons, having fun with the characters and actors, in the same way that TNG started doing experimental episodes starting with its fourth season.
4×11/12: Homefront / Paradise Lost: “In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you”
These two ambitious episodes deliver on the threat announced in the season three finale: the Changelings are everywhere, including in the heart of the Federation, Earth! Apparently, this is the idea the writers had for the finale but the studio postponed it in order to have the more action tentpole with the Klingons with The Way of the Warrior.
The Changelings sabotage Romulan-Federation peace talks on Earth with a bomb attack. This brings Sisko and Odo to Earth as Changeling specialists. Jake comes along for the family reunion: we meet Ben’s father Joseph, a jovial man who lives for his cooking and making people happy with his Creole restaurant in New Orleans, completely unconcerned with larger politics. When Starfleet enforces systematic blood tests to control who is a Changeling or not, grandpa Sisko stubbornly resists this invasion of privacy. The episode first makes us appreciate Joseph and his free spirit, and then makes us doubt whether he really could be a Changeling. When Ben spies over his own father’s shoulder to see if the accidental knife cut really did result in human blood loss, Ben understand that this paranoia business has gone too far.
Meanwhile Odo manages to identify the Changeling infiltrator, who escapes. But Starfleet, in the face of Admiral Leyton, manages to convince the Federation president to declare martial law, bestowing more power to Starfleet. By the way, interestingly President Jaresh-Inyo is not a human, and there is a slight racist undercurrent here with a sort of “Earth First” feeling to this coup. It turns out Admiral Leyton has been planning for all this, going as far as artificially activating the Bajoran wormhole to give the impression that the cloaked Dominion fleet has started invading, and using Starfleet Cadets to coordinate a shutdown of Earth’s power grid (Sisko learns of the latter thanks to Cadet Nog). Leyton even orders the destruction of the Defiant, as it carries a Lieutenant that would testify as to Leyton’s actions. Federation shoots Federation, in an impressive space battle sequence — the effects quality and quantity have improved considerably, I guess part of it if not all is CGI and I don’t remember the whole of TNG having as ambitious a sequence. Sisko confronts Leyton and ultimately Leyton’s orders are not followed through — yet, as with all good adversaries, Leyton was doing this for a good purpose, to shield Earth and the Federation against the Dominion, even if it meant dictatorship for a while.
While all this is going on, the real Changeling infiltrator reveals himself to Sisko, casually walking to him during a night stroll. Changeling!O’Brien reveals that there are just four Changelings in the Alpha Quadrant: will all four be revealed? Is this a search for the infiltrators like the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica? They have certainly managed to sow more chaos with the simple threat of their presence rather than with their acts directly, for the time being they are winning the war for Alpha Quadrant domination.
Continuing ideas from last season’s two-parter, Past Tense, DS9 is not afraid to become political. At stake here is nothing less than the issue of freedom versus security, of turning to fascism in the face of external threat versus standing your ground for democratic values even when they are not the easy way. The episode titles are particularly memorable. There is a line that directly echoes the landmark dialogue criticizing the Federation back in 2×20/21: The Maquis: “So you’re willing to destroy paradise in order to save it?“. Heavy stuff well told: an excellent two parter from the winning team of writers Behr/Wolfe/Moore!
Leyton was Robert Foxworth, who was Brenda Chenowith’s father in Six Feet Under! He was also a General in Babylon 5 (in a similar “coup” storyline!) but interestingly his role there was cut short…exactly because he chose to shoot these DS9 episodes instead! Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko) was also Admiral Cartwright in Star Trek IV and VI!
4×13: Crossfire: “It takes passion to do something like this, and I always thought you were colder than a Breen winter.”
It’s back to more basic stuff with this episode, where the new Bajoran Prime Minister Shakaar (from 3×24: Shakaar) visits DS9 and, well, he falls in love with Kira and they start a relationship — right in the face of Odo, still in love with her and trying to hide her feelings. What’s worse, Odo is personally responsible for Shakaar’s security while there is a threat on Shakaar’s life and Shakaar uses Odo as his confidant regarding Kira. Odo cannot perform as everyone expects him to, i.e. impeccably professionally, and even Quark is worried about him (he is losing money on Odo-related bets, you see…). Odo makes the radical decision not to tell Kira anything but to cut all ties with her, not even having their morning routine going through the day’s business. Odo keep to himself and continues being the show’s most tragic figure, but I wonder where this Kira business is taking us — she was already involved with another powerful Bajoran over the last two seasons and that didn’t go anywhere.
4×14: Return to Grace: “Everything I have lost I will regain. It’s only a matter of time.”
Uh, I must say, two episodes in a row where it’s all about who will claim the heart of Kira Nerys is too much. Odd choice to position this one right after the previous one, and odd choice in general to make Kira so coveted. In this episode, Kira is on a mission on a ship commanded by Gul Dukat and as the two spend time together Dukat’s typically Cardassian compliments eventually turn into outright flirting. He wants her sexually, and he wants her to join him in fighting the Klingons — now that Cardassia is weakened and the Klingon menace is everywhere, and now that due to the return of Dukat’s hybrid daughter Ziyal his family has disowned him, Dukat has found new meaning in becoming a resistance fighter against them. There is an epic battle against Klingons and Kira and Dukat pull a Star Trek III on them and switch crews, taking command of the Bird of Prey. Kira is not yet ready to forgive Dukat just like that; she declines both of Dukat’s offers and takes Ziyal back with her to DS9, where she will be more safe. Really, a good episode that takes risks with the Star Trek world and redefines the life purpose of a character — what I didn’t like was that part about flirting Kira again.
4×15: Sons of Mogh: “For a long time I have tried to walk the line”
Tony Todd returns, after playing older Jake in 4×03: The Visitor! Worf‘s brother Kurn arrives on DS9 and, since the Mogh family is disgraced due to Worf’s actions and Kurn has lost all meaning, asks him to take part in a Klingon ritual: Kurn asks Worf to kill him. Which he does! Worf really does accept and follows through with Klingon tradition, and Kurn is saved in the nick of time by Dax and Odo. Worf is seriously reprimanded for not following Starfleet regulations — yet the Federation promotes the respect of other cultures, as Worf observes, which in this case results into a paradox. Still not despite his best intentions, Kurn wanders aimlessly, obeying Worf’s orders like a zombie, a tragi-comic situation. He gets a job as an aide of Odo’s and actually tries to get himself killed, but fails again. He goes on a spy mission with Worf to get intelligence on Klingon operations, a betrayal of the Empire but Kurn still follows, dead inside. Desperate, Worf suggests the only solution he can think of: erase Kurn’s memory and give him to a friendly family for an adoption of sorts. Which is what happens.
I really did not expect that ending! It is, again, a bold decision to make in terms of writing, a decision that looks final and non-reversible for Kurn. It’s also big for Worf, this essentially closes the chapter for a long series of TNG episodes developing Worf’s character and the world of the Klingons. He really has given up on trying to restore his family’s status with the Klingons and reconciles with the idea that Starfleet/DS9 is his home now. Following the Klingon death ritual was the last straw. Except his foster parents and son Alexander back on Earth, Worf no longer has a family. A sad ending for an episode that is overall excellent, although I still don’t know how I feel about that decision with Kurn.
4×16: Bar Association: “Ferengi workers don’t want to stop the exploitation. We want to find a way to become the exploiters.”
It’s not every day that you see a mainstream US production referencing Marx in the text: “Workers of the World, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” For that alone, this episode is a must-see!
This is the episode where Quark‘s bar employees form a union, led by Rom. Like some other Star Trek episodes that cover a specific topic over the limited runtime of a single episode, the story and development is rather simplistic, like a stand-alone tale. But it does its job very well. All the elements you would expect are there: the employee discontent, the hesitation to cross the step into an actual unified movement (the word “union” is verboten among Ferengi!), the strike, the bigger capital coming to pull the ears (lobes?) of the middle management (in the form of Brunt, the corruptible financial controller seen in 3×23: Family Business), the attempt to stop the strike by buying out the union leaders (Quark approaches Rom), the mafiosi strike-breakers (Brunt’s Nausicaans), the deception (Quark puts end-date clauses in his concessions), the negotiation, the happy ending in this case. It’s like a crash course in labour movements, you could show it to educate high school students. Indeed, writers Behr & Wolfe were active members of the WGA, and Shimerman (Quark) was active in the SAG!
O’Brien reminisces his ancestors’ achievements in labour strikes. Leeta, seen once or twice in the past, has a larger role here, it’s funny seeing this beautiful tall woman shouting strike slogans next to a group of short ugly Ferengi! Rom is usually comic relief but here he takes an important role as the union leader. The surprise comes at the end, where Rom instead of returning for work at Quark’s decides to change career completely and becomes part of an engineering crew, uniform and all — he presents himself at Quark’s no longer as a servant but as a customer! This change looks permanent. After Worf and Kurn in the last episode, DS9 continues to make bold irreversible changes to its characters, which differentiates it from TNG.
Meanwhile! Worf really is not comfortable living on DS9 — he even fights with O’Brien and Bashir over breaking the bar’s strike — and decides to move permanently on the Defiant. I like the continuity with previous episodes here.
4×17: Accession: “That’s the thing about faith. If you don’t have it, you can’t understand it. And if you do, no explanation is necessary.”
Akorem Laan, a revered Bajoran poet that had disappeared for three centuries emerges from the wormhole, onboard one of those lightships like the one Sisko reconstructed in 3×22: Explorers. Immediately, he identifies himself as the Emissary of the Prophets and he becomes very popular among Bajorans. This lifts a weight off Sisko’s shoulders, who was never comfortable with the role of Emissary, nor was the Federation comfortable with intervening in religious affairs of a planet that they are supposed to be guiding towards Federation membership.
However, things get complicated when Akorem discovers how much Bajoran society has changed in his absence, and he enforces a return to the good old times when all Bajorans were defined by their caste, the d’jarra, with large political ramifications all the way to the Prime Minister. Kira has to abandon her post to become an artist, and she is very bad at that! Federation accession talks will be stopped, marking a failure for Sisko.
Eventually, Sisko can no longer take it and takes action for Bajor on his own initiative. He takes Akorem into the wormhole to clarify the situation with the Prophet aliens: all this was done to remind the real Emissary, “the Sisko“, of the importance of his role! Akorem is sent back to the past (in the new timeline he never disappeared) and Sisko presently accepts his role as Emissary more gladly.
I still don’t know what to think of all this about Emissary and Sisko, it’s a religious concept mixed with sci-fi and four seasons in we still don’t know anything more about the point of it all than in the pilot. This episode is, however, much more interesting than last year’s Emissary-themed 3×15: Destiny, which was already quite good. Here, I liked all the back and forths of the Bajoran society, the way customs and traditions are at times a welcome part of one’s identity and at other times are an obstacle to progress.
Meanwhile! O’Brien and Bashir‘s epic holosuite adventures as Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain end when Keiko and Molly return to the station — and, surprise, Keiko is pregnant! With so many months living apart, I would have been suspicious but Miles is not. Worf remembers epically delivering Keiko’s first baby (TNG 5×05: Disaster) and, horrified, schedules time as far away as possible for the second birth!
This was written by Jane Espenson, who would go on making a big career in the Whedonverse (Buffy, Angel, Firefly) and in Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica!
Whew that’s a lot. We are taking a break to digest all that, but I have seen the rest of the season and it’s no less good!…