ST:DS9 in 2020 : Season 5 (Part 2)

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I’m back with more news from the Gamma Quadrant from the 1990s/2370s! Star Trek: Deep Space Nine continues its season 5 (1996-1997) with some experimental episodes, some important “story arc” episodes, some more run-of-the-mill episodes, and a considerable dose of soap opera. Season 5 part 1 here, part 2 episode capsule reviews below:

 


5×10: Rapture: “Locusts! They’ll destroy Bajor unless it stands alone!”

Sisko‘s role since the beginning of the show has been to shepherd Bajor in becoming a member of the Federation. But when that day comes, once more he has his loyalties shared between his role as a sworn Starfleet officer and the role the Bajorans have attributed to him, the religious Emissary. This is an episode in the vein of 3×15: Destiny and 4×17: Accession, the writers occasionally return to that story thread again and again with better results, and with each time Sisko involves himself deeper with Bajoran spirituality, embracing more and more his designation as Emissary. This episode goes much further. His interest in Bajoran archaeology (like Picard!) grows into an obsession as Sisko starts receiving visions of past and maybe future. Sisko is entranced in religious rapture and completely sabotages the Bajor-Federation talks, warning of impending doom. His health grows worse but he wants to know more (a repeat of the case of Vedek Bareil in 3×13: Life Support, who pushed himself to death to get the Bajor-Cardassia peace treaty signed). Even Sisko’s family, Jake and Kasidy Yates (back from prison after 4×22: For the Cause!), can’t convince him to stop, and Kai Winn (presented in a much more positive light here) guides Sisko through Bajoran ceremonies. Ultimately a surgery saves Sisko, but he is devastated he no longer gets visions. Oddly enough, Sisko is not reprimanded by Starfleet for all these actions.

This was an odd episode. It is well structured, with the intensity growing and growing, Sisko’s transformation was very powerful and impressive, I liked the prop of the ancient Bajoran obelisk and the scenes with Jake and Kasidy. But I felt I was watching something from a different series: a lot of religiosity, a lot of visions and prophecies. I was used to less supernatural and more science in Star Trek. It could all be sort of rationally explained with the wormhole aliens who have a different concept of time, but it certainly doesn’t feel like the writers or the director are interested to explore that much. It feels more like a good episode of Millennium!

 

5×11: The Darkness and the Light: “No sense of morality… no thought given to the consequences of your action…”

Incredible, a second episode of Millennium in a row! This is one of those episodes where Kira‘s past in the Bajoran resistance catches up with her, and we see again her old comrades in her cell that I had liked from 3×24: Shakaar — sadly for the last time! People linked with violent resistance against the Cardiassian occupation start dying in mysterious circumstances and Kira receives menacing messages. It turns out that they are being murdered in intricate ways by a Cardassian that had been physically deformed by one of those attacks, this is his revenge to those who harmed him. The episode ends in a confrontation between a stranded Kira and her captor, both vehemently debating for the righteousness of their actions, justrifying them as the light against the darkness of the other — and I liked that none of them convinced the other. Both were right to some extent: the violence of the occupation justified a resistance, and a resistance created more violence.

The lighting of the episode as a whole and particularly during the last act was very dark, even by DS9 standards, approaching The X-Files or Millennium. Lights contrast silhouettes, scarred faces emerge from the darkness, metal fences cast shadows on faces — reflecting the dialogue on light and darkness. They put a lot of thought into this. An excellent episode overall, even though again I got the impression I was watching a different series! DS9 is experimenting and that is not a bad thing.

 

5×12: The Begotten: “I’m not going to make the same mistakes that were made with me.”

Quark gets ahold of a thing…which proves to be a Changeling baby! A thick liquid in a jar. Odo immediately steps in to, well, take care of it somehow, feed it, talk to it, try to persuade it to change form and become a fully developed Changeling — before he realises it, he has become a father! Then Dr. Mora comes in, the Bajoran doctor that “raised” Odo (2×12: The Alternate), and their methods differ: Odo wants to be gentle and nurture the puddle of slime into changing shape by talking to it, Dr. Mora is a methodical scientist and when one test does not work he passes to the next, with electricity shocks and more. We understand then that Odo is traumatized by the experiments Dr. Mora had done to him, as we knew from the earlier episode, but those experiments are exactly the ones that he wants to prevent from doing on this new Changeling. And from the point of view of big creatures like humanoids, a little jab of electricity to stimulate an apparent inert mass of fluid doesn’t seem like much, but to Odo it was hell. Under the additional pressure of Sisko, who wants results unless the experiment be taken from their hands to Federation scientists, Odo has to accept Dr. Mora’s methods. The baby Changeling starts to react, and the two men somewhat reconcile over past deeds.

Tragically, the baby never gains strength and seems to be dying — but a dying gift to Odo is that it merges with him and gives him his shape-shifting abilities back. The shot of Odo morphing into an eagle and flying over the Promenade is beautiful and powerful! It is unexpected for him and for us and it’s a moment both of mourning and of liberation. And so, Odo becomes a Changeling again, after being condemned to humanoid form in last season’s finale. This episode by itself was very good (Odo’s version of Data‘s fatherhood in TNG 3×16: The Offspring) but looking at the larger picture I’m not sure what purpose this whole process of making Odo human and back again served. He got some deeper understanding of human(oid)s, but that was not explored much. Again, with DS9, some things work in the macro scale and some things work for the purpose of single episodes.

Meanwhile! More child-rearing! Finally, finally, Kira gives birth and we are done with this storyline! Sure, you could say Kira bearing the O’Briens‘ child is some sort of progressive political statement about the possibility of surrogate motherhood and non-nuclear families, but overall it was a very forced storyline. Here we also get some awkward humor involving Miles and Shakaar who are competing for Kira’s attention. The second child of the O’Briens’ is born, which means that Visitor (Kira) and Siddig (Bashir)’s child was born in real life!

 

5×13: For the Uniform: “What is my excuse? He’s just a man, like me. And he beat me!”

Kirk had The Wrath of Khan, Picard had First Contact, here Sisko gets his Moby Dick moment with the Great Hunt for Eddington! A direct sequel to 4×22: For the Cause, this episode jumps right into the action, showing that Sisko has been trying to track down Eddington ever since he betrayed Starfleet and left for the Maquis, and Eddington always manages to slip his grasp. Sisko tries to predict Eddington’s next move and Eddington seems to be one step ahead. Eddington and the Maquis start releasing a toxin on colony planets that make the planets uninhabitable for the Cardassians — large-scale warfare in effect, but actually with all Cardassians evacuated it’s “just” a strategy to ensure the planets will revert to Maquis ownership.

It’s not quite a Moby Dick moment: Eddington gives Sisko a copy of Hugo’s Misérables. Sisko and Dax figure that in order to catch Eddington they have to perversely play the role that he wants them to play, good versus bad, Eddington/Valjean versus Sisko/Javert. This setup presents Eddington as an idealistic fighter that is looking for self-sacrifice and glory in suffering while knowing he is right — this strikes me as more fitting of a simplistic representation of the mind of a serial killer than a real-world resistance fighter, especially someone who used to be Starfleet like Eddington. But then the show presents the Maquis in this grey light, terrorists who are suffering, but terrorists nevertheless.

At the other end, there’s Sisko, who is also depicted in a grey light. Sisko uses the same method as the Maquis, attacking a whole planet with this toxin gas, but in reverse, harmless to the Cardassians but forcing the Human Maquis out. This is a big decision, surely a move that would be reprehensible by Starfleet! Worf resists Sisko’s orders a bit but overall Sisko’s plan goes through. Facing more destruction by Sisko, Eddington plays his part as the martyr hero and surrenders. Sisko’s ruthlessness reaches the point where in the heat of the moment Sisko shouts orders to his crew with Eddington listening in via hologram, and you no longer know whether Sisko is playing an act to distract Eddington or whether he has really lost his cool because of his obsession!

As the series’ lead, we as viewers are supposed to take Sisko’s side and more generally the Federation’s side and consider the Maquis as terrorists, however the series never quite convinces that this is the morally right thing to do — quite the contrary, in the original 2×20/21: The Maquis episodes it wants us to consider the opposite point of view legitimately. In this episode, I get the impression that we are following Sisko’s point of view and should sympathize with him but I sympathize more with the Maquis who are chased and are unwanted wherever they go. Which might be on purpose, to present shades of grey, but it left me with nobody to really root for. The episode presents this battle of wits between Sisko and Eddington and makes Sisko into an obsessed man who puts ego over duty and who loses his temper, and makes Eddington into somebody who hides deep doubts behind his self-assured facade and who has sort of the mentality of a serial killer. Again, all of this might have been on purpose and the episode left me conflicted, so I don’t know if I should say that this episode was flawed in some aspects or successful in manipulating me. Overall, at first viewing I liked For the Cause more, but this one does have a lot of food for thought. With this one we are presently very, very far away from the idealistic depiction of the utopian future of TNG.

 

5×14: In Purgatory’s Shadow / 5×15: By Inferno’s Light: “It’s the honorable thing to do.” “You use that word, but you have no idea what it means.” / “As of last week, Cardassia has agreed to become part of the Dominion”

At times I feel DS9 is much less tightly plotted than its inevitable comparison series Babylon 5, and then DS9 comes up with these big two-parter episodes that usher great changes for the world of the series, for its characters and the balance of powers in the Alpha and Delta Quadrants, like with season 3’s 3×20: Improbable Cause / 3×21: The Die Is Cast, of which these episodes are a direct sequel. DS9 rolls along with mostly stand-alone stories set and then these big plot-heavy episodes come in. This stand-alone/mythology formula was being developed by The X-Files alongside DS9 (not to mention plenty of UK series), and we know the DS9 writers were aware of The X-Files (see 4×08: Little Green Men, 5×08: Trials and Tribble-ations). Two-parter episodes for the high-ratings season of February was becoming the norm at the time.

Purgatory, Inferno, with such heavy Dantean titles, you know these episodes are serious! We have:

– The reveal that Tain did not die after that attack in The Die Is Cast but was imprisoned, and the reveal that Tain was actually Garak‘s father. The Tain-Garak relationship was already complex, with a mentor-mentee dynamic that was already a form of father-son love-hate relationship. Here it becomes literally familial, which was perhaps not necessary; but I did like how to the very final moment in his life Tain was ambiguous and letting meaning be derived from the context of his words rather than straight away confirming he was Garak’s father. Tain dies and Garak feels a weight is off his shoulders.

– Imprisoned by the Jem’Hadar, Worf and Garak meet the real Martok (after the Changeling Martok was uncovered in 5×01: Apocalypse Rising, which is great since I like this actor, J.G Hertzler) and unlike with the Changeling Martok, he and Worf become friends in arms. While Worf is essentially being tortured, Garak has to fight with his claustrophobia and manage to tech-wizard a way out of there for them, calling on the runabout to beam them out. (A plot hole here: the runabout was conveniently still in orbit and not guarded by the Jem’Hadar after they captured Garak and Worf?)

– The reveal that a Changeling had been impersonating Bashir for a while, this one is really odd to me because it means that the Bashir we saw in previous episodes was not the real one. It can actually be pinned down to four episodes ago due to the change in Starfleet uniforms — which means a Changeling delivered Kira’s baby! It is not quite a Battlestar Galactica Cylon-level reveal, but it is odd.

Dukat passes an alliance with the Dominion and with the help of a Dominion fleet takes over Cardassia, and promises to reclaim lost territory from the Klingons and the Maquis. Now that’s a big twist and a huge development! Dukat had previously been shown in a more positive light, even in a near-heroic one (4×14: Return to Grace), now Dukat shows his old egoistic self and burns all the bridges he had come to build with the DS9 crew. In particular with Kira but also with his half-Cardassian daughter Ziyal, whom he abandons as easily as he had changed his mind about not killing her in 4×05: Indiscretion. Also, Ziyal and Garak have become very close! Isn’t Ziyal too young for a deceiving tailor?

– As a result of all this, Gowron officially revives the Khitomer Accords and the Klingon-Federation alliance is reestablished, closing a one-and-a-half year parenthesis in the world of DS9! And when it seems like Dukat is attacking DS9, Romulan ships also decloak in defense of the station: that’s quite a large alliance against the Dominion!

– The Bashir Changeling attempts to completely obliterate Bajor and DS9 and anyone defending it by detonating Bajor’s sun — that’s not nice, exploding a whole star! — but he is stopped.

A large Dominion fleet is now in existence in the Alpha Quadrant: that scene of its arrival when the crew was afraid it would attack DS9 was awesomely tense, and made for a great cliffhanger for the first part! Incidentally, this arrival echoes Sisko’s prophetic vision from 5×10: Rapture, that locusts would hover over Bajor and then go to Cardassia (I actually read up on this, I did not make the connection…my obsessiveness with details in series is not what it used to be!) This is a nice show of coherence and planning here on behalf of the writers. Well, it doesn’t reach Babylon 5‘s prophecies spanning multiple seasons between setup and payoff, but I’m just saying!

There’s also a quick mention of the movie First Contact (released three months prior to the airing of these episodes), with “the recent Borg attack” — in the meantime the Defiant has been fully repaired!

Well, that’s a lot of plot to go through! They are dense episodes, tightly paced, no time to be bored or get sentimental. As often with important episodes, Garak has a predominant role — Andrew Robinson rules! Very exciting stuff, these could easily have been edited into a feature length movie VHS, and maybe that did happen!

 

5×16: Doctor Bashir, I Presume: “Just stand there and look like a doctor. If you can.”

What I like about DS9‘s format is that after these heavy episodes we can have a light-hearted episode to counter-balance them! This one definitely starts light, with Voyager‘s Doctor Zimmerman (Robert Picardo) arriving on the station — actually the real human doctor who served as a basis for Voyager‘s hologram doctor. Now, I haven’t watched VOY but I imagine that the hologram doctor is not a big womanizer, well the original definitely is! What else did not translate from human to programmed hologram? That is the question with Bashir, who has been chosen to be scanned and turned into a longer-term hologram doctor. The episode then quickly turns from funny to really serious, when Bashir’s parents visit the station to answer Zimmerman’s questions and a terrible secret from Bashir’s past is revealed.

Bashir’s parents had “Jules” genetically enhanced, that’s when he turned from a challenged student to a genius and became “Julian“! Ever since the Eugenics Wars centuries ago with Kha(aaaaa)n, genetic modification is taboo in the Federation — we are reminded of this towards the end of the episode, but I spent a long time wondering why genetic engineering is so badly looked upon when everything else about the Star Trek universe is very technology-friendly. Keeping this secret eventually drove Julian and his parents apart, but there’s more to it, with his father being sort of an under-achiever who never finishes what he starts and Julian accusing them of “killing” his earlier self.

I liked the fact that Bashir’s parents are not geniuses themselves but rather what you would call “common people”, more simple-minded people, who have plans that don’t materialize but talk about them because that’s all they have in life and are not big heroes of Starfleet. For them, having a genius genetically engineered son was a way out of this simple life! (I found it odd that immediately the focus is on Bashir’s father, Sisko asking him what is job is, etc, but we know absolutely nothing about his mother. She’s there, what does she do?!)

With the secret out, Julian prepares to be expelled from Starfleet, but (twist!) his father chooses to be imprisoned instead of him. I have no idea why this is a solution but it is, and Starfleet is willing to forget Bashir’s past and bend the rules for him. This part really didn’t work for me.

All of this comes as a big surprise and a big change to who Bashir is. Bashir was presented as “good in everything” in the past but he has shown signs he is human after all, when he was unashamedly flirting with Dax in season 1 or when he was ashamed of having the first of his class visit him on the station (3×22: Explorers). In short, I’m not sure why this revelation of genetic engineering was necessary. Interesting within the drama of this episode, but beyond it?

Meanwhile! It’s the soap opera B-story of the week: Leeta waits for Rom to make the first move on her and she prepares to leave the station with Dr. Zimmerman when he doesn’t, but at the last moment Rom runs to tells her he loves her!…

Alumni-spotting:
Bashir’s father, Brian George, was Chrisjen Avasarala’s husband in The Expanse (well, only for season 1 unfortunately)!

 

5×17: A Simple Investigation: “I don’t have a heart.” “You could have fooled me.”

With a film noir title like that, what did you expect? Odo investigates into some shady dealings and falls for a beautiful woman who is in danger from a crime syndicate. They fall in love, Odo even has sex for the first time (some shoulder nakedness justifies the PG-13 rating of the episode? 1990s!), Odo convinces her there is a way out, and of course things don’t go as planned. It turns out the woman was genetically engineered to look like a different species in order to infiltrate the crime syndicate and her past memory had been blocked; with her “real” memories returned, this is no longer the woman that fell in love with Odo and they part ways, Odo again alone.

A rather predictable episode. Many episodes this season are about the sentimental lives of the leads, hence a feeling of soap opera. At times it’s well integrated with other story ideas of ethic choices or science fiction, at other times it feels more like filler. The oddest thing is that this story of Odo exploring his body is exactly the kind of story I expected during the time he was indeed a solid — it’s as if they didn’t manage to finish the script in time before he turned into a Changeling again but still decided to do the episode…

But it was funny that during this film noir episode, Bashir and co were continuing their James Bond-like holonovel from 4×10: Our Man Bashir!

Alumni-spotting:
The beautiful guest, Dey Young, was unrecognizable in The X-FilesBorn Again as the generic housewife whose dead husband is reincarnated in their daughter.

 

5×18: Business as Usual: “Twenty eight million dead? Can’t we just wound some of them?”

This Quark episode sees the Ferengi tested for his selfishness. At the edge of a financial breakdown, he accept his cousin Gaila‘s offer to get involved in weapons trafficking, circumventing the station’s rules by not having the actual trafficking done on DS9 but just using the holosuites as displays and making deals. The Godfather-like head of this trafficking band was very convincing, switching from smiling to menacing (good actor, this Steven Berkoff). Gaila is doing all this because he himself wants a way out and only sees this happening by putting Quark in his place. The moral quandary becomes very obvious when Quark starts having nightmares about the lives these weapons will take, and Quark reaches his breaking point. Quark is no longer the Ferengi he used to be! He betrays the traffickers and leaves a genocidal prospective buyer against his enemy alone to sort out their differences by shooting. A very simple episode with a simple message at the end of it, not particularly memorable.

Meanwhile! Miles‘ days as a young father for the second time are tough, hilariously he can’t leave his baby alone for a second without it crying — and the baby only doesn’t cry when it’s with Worf, of all people!

I have to mention here a specific point on dialogue: Gaila’s speech on comparing the dead from weapons sales to stars which might vanish but don’t amount to much given how many stars there are in the galaxy — it’s amazingly similar to a speech in The X-Files episode Max, a conspiracy henchman makes nearly the exact same speech about collateral damage to Mulder. I checked and the episodes aired barely two weeks apart, too short to have influenced each other. What an amazing coincidence!


Well, that’s all for now! 26 episodes is a lot, no wonder they had so many writers contributing with scripts. I’ll be back for part 3 shortly…


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