Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 6 (1997-1998) aired at the same time as Voyager season 4 and while the TNG film Insurrection was in production. Season 6 was the last season from the initial planning of DS9, contractually; ratings were slowly but consistently decreasing, DS9 never managed to become the cultural event that TNG was and remained a niche program, while marketing was focused more around Voyager. And so DS9 was extended to a seventh and final season late during season 6, which means that during the production of season 6 there was the possibility that this might have been the last season (imagine the stress on the writers!).
After two strong seasons (4 and 5), season 6 is the one I have been expecting as I know that this is where the Dominion War storyline is really what drives the story and the series moves closer to serialization. As DS9 progressed it became more and more different to TNG, both in the type of stories told (less SF, more character; less moral dilemmas, more shades of grey) and in the way they are told (more interconnected episodes, more world-building, more recurring characters).
The beginning of season 6 is a prime example of that, with Ira Stephen Behr driving DS9 into a big six-part fully serialized story arc, a first for all of Star Trek. Let’s dive into it!
6×01: A Time To Stand: “I never expected to say this, but as occupations go, this one’s not so bad”
We start with a similar shot to the last shot of season 5, the Defiant and the Rotarran among a large Federation/Klingon fleet — but it’s now months later and the fleet is badly damaged from many battles with the Dominion! I was surprised at first that this was not a direct continuation of the cliffhanger, that ending made me expect that the joint fleet was directly heading to battle in order to retake DS9. After that initial surprise, we get acquainted with the situation, and it is a very dire situation indeed: there have been many Dominion wins, many Federation/Klingon losses, large losses of life, the crew, Sisko included, is exhausted and tense and on the edge of a psychological breakdown. In short, it’s the sort of situation that would form the basis of Ron Moore‘s Battlestar Galactica!
Bashir is extremely serious and complaining about lack of medical equipment; and he no longer hides his superior cognitive abilities due to him being genetic enhanced, which does feel odd. Sisko has a call with his dad on Earth and gets scolded for leaving Jake behind in DS9. Then the Defiant crew gets a mission, to use the Jem’Hadar ship they recovered (in 5×02: The Ship), which really looks like a purple firefly (inspiration for Firefly?), in order to infiltrate Dominion space and destroy the local supply of ketracel-white. Sisko and Garak get acquainted with the Jem’Hadar visor system — quite futuristic even for Star Trek, and some nice shots of things from their point of view, a view of outside space overlaid over their normal vision. There is a lot of tension but they all succeed in their mission and the episode suddenly ends with them being on the run from the Jem’Hadar — without a “to be continued”! This is the new normal: serialization. Quite innovative for Star Trek!
We also get an update of things aboard Cardassian-occupied DS9: Dukat being reprimanded by Weyoun, Kira not liking the new situation at all, Weyoun bringing Odo in the station’s commanding council because he is a Founder — Kira and Odo trying to manipulate Weyoun or is it the other way round? A completely new situation here too, it feels like a pilot for a new series, or a situation so different from what came before that it is more like a new season from a show of the 2010s! We have Dukat relishing in his role as the station’s ruler again (by the way, if he is leading the whole of the Cardassian Empire, what is he doing on DS9 for so long? I mean, apart from the fact that the DS9 sets are the DS9 series’ principal sets? :D). Again, he tries to bring Kira to his side, a perverse flirt that has been going on for several seasons now, and with Kira still determined to reject him, but now she is all alone in a hostile world. One remark here: Weyoun was memorable for being constantly smiling and for his conciliating appearance, as if the Dominion was this friendly paradise of peace so long as you gave up your freedom, which I found an interesting approach. So I didn’t like it here that Weyoun in private with Dukat becomes tough and full of menaces of using brute force to get his way; he becomes a much less interesting classic villain. Also, Jake is trying to develop his news reporter skills and in an excellent scene on the freedom of press he is shocked (shocked!) to learn that he is being censored by Weyoun because his texts are too biased against the Dominion.
Overall, I got plenty of BSG vibes here, with the rag-tag crew and the darker setting and even the occupation and resistance, but also in the way that the story is more serialized, with episodes still telling stories with beginning-middle-end but like chapters in a longer and more complex whole. This is the type of storytelling that inspired Ron Moore to do his BSG later in. But I wonder how long this new setting will last in DS9 before we return to the normal “status quo”, which I imagine will happen at some point. An excellent first episode!
6×02: Rocks and Shoals: “There are rules, Garak, even in a war!” “Correction. Humans have rules in war. Rules that make victory a little harder to achieve, in my opinion.”
This episode is in direct continuation of the previous one but takes the story in an unexpected direction, with our crew stranded on a desert planet and hunted by the Jem’Hadar. Some outdoors location shooting out in sunny and desertic Southern California here, which is always welcome. The core of the story becomes one of faithfulness and betrayal and moral compromises in a time of war. We get to know the individual Jem’Hadar and feel their hate for their Vorta; we get to feel for the Vorta who is wounded and fears for his life as the supply of ketracel-white is dwindling. And we get to hear our crew debating the merits of pacting with someone who is willing to betray and kill their entire crew in order to save himself. Sisko negotiates with the Vorta behind the Jem’Hadar’s back, but also tries to negotiate with the Jem’Hadar to betray the Vorta. In the end, as in previous episodes, the Jem’Hadar’s designed faithfulness to their duty prevails (“It is the order of things”), and our crew has them all killed and takes the Vorta as a prisoner of war. A great episode for Sisko.
Meanwhile! On DS9, the season is building a very interesting character arc for Kira. The Cardassian/Dominion presence wants to have a peaceful collaboration with Bajor and starts sending innocent unarmed economic aid there; there is no forced labour, for Quark it’s business as usual, it’s clear that Dukat is making an effort of not repeating the previous occupation. But the whole situation is unbearable for many Bajorans; Kira might dislike it but she considers the enemy too big for Bajor to deal with isolated and alone and so she attempts to limit the damage by trying to influence things from the top, with Odo and Dukat and Weyoun. In short, a politician. The sudden suicide of a Vedek in protest on the Promenade — a tough and shocking scene, especially for Star Trek! — is Kira’s wake up call. She has become the sort of person she would have been fighting against during her days in the resistance, a collaborator, and with Odo she decides to organize the Bajoran resistance, again. Bottom-up overthrow of the system versus top-down influencing of the system, this is a perfect story to tell via a character like Kira.
The redshirt who, well, dies, was Joseph Fuqua, who played the (young version of) the inventor of time travelling in an episode of The X-Files, Synchrony!
6×03: Sons and Daughters: “I will teach you what you need to know to be a warrior, and you will teach me what I need to know to be a father”
The title refers to Worf‘s son Alexander and Dukat‘s daughter Ziyal. Alexander Rozhenko appears out of nowhere as a young Klingon warrior recruit aboard the Rotarran, last seen way back in TNG (I last saw him in 6×07: Rascals). It had felt odd to me that Worf had completely left his son with his foster parents, never playing the role of father for him, but I guess it was either that or making Alexander a recurring character and constraining what Worf could or could not do — something that the writers were reluctant to do. As could be expected perhaps, Alexander is bitter with Worf and wants to prove to everyone that he is a worthy Klingon despite his Terran upbringing; he gets in brawls and has trouble being accepted by the rest of the Klingons. He could have, but Worf doesn’t give up on him, and patiently tries to train him in Klingon ways, and even gets him to join the House of Martok in a bloody ritual. Good.
The characters’ development follow naturally from previous episodes, but it all felt a bit unimaginative and predictable. It’s as if we are watching again Worf’s doubts of being in-between that Federation world and the Klingon world, or his family baggage with his brother Kurn. It might have been more interesting if they had made something entirely different with Alexander, like somebody even less of a conservative Klingon than Worf himself. Not to mention that Alexander seems to have suddenly aged a lot t fit the needs of the story, and the actor is different. Will all this matter in the long run or will Alexander now become a full recurring character, significantly changing how Worf stories are told?
That being said, I must comment that DS9‘s world is now expansive enough that we get half an episode entirely set on a different ship with just Klingons (introduced in 5×21: Soldiers of the Empire); it’s just another recognizable setting where the characters evolve.
I liked the B-story with Ziyal better. Dukat brings his daughter Ziyal back from Bajor, where she has been learning art and has a promising start with Bajoran and Cardassian expos. We last left Ziyal fleeing the Cardassians (5×26: Call to Arms), with Dukat essentially leaving his daughter to die given how she had sided with Kira and the Federation. It’s a stretch to see them reconciled here, justified by the fact that Ziyal as half-Cardassian didn’t feel at home on Bajor either — indeed it’s a lot to ask from the viewer. But once you pass that, you see that the writers have brought an interesting situation: Ziyal is what connects Dukat and Kira, and as much as Kira hates Dukat and tries to avoid any contact they do have this in common. It’s best shown, visually, in that scene where Ziyal sits in the middle between Dukat and Kira and shows her paintings: they are an odd sort of family, Kira the closest thing she has to a mother, Ziyal a Cardassian/Bajoran hybrid to begin with. The three of them at that moment are the incarnation of what Dukat is constantly telling the Bajoran officials: that this is an opportunity for both their peoples to live and prosper together peacefully. Kira is still organizing the resistance and I can’t imagine Kira giving in to Dukat, but for that brief moment this impossible situation has managed to make her feel conflicted. Again, I am reminded of things that BSG would later play around with.
Compared to the urgency of the first two episodes, this one felt like an aside, a sort of “meanwhile, while the war is on” episode. Not a bad episode, but the first two set the bar quite high!
6×04: Behind the Lines: “Take a good look at this, people. It says something about this ship. It says that we will fight, and we will keep on fighting, until we can’t fight any more.”
On DS9, a female Changeling arrives (same actor as in 3×01/02: The Search and others), she is now stranded in the Alpha Quadrant while Dukat gets increasing pressure to deactivate the self-replicating mine field left behind by Rom and O’Brien. The female Changeling is a welcome addition to the power dynamics aboard the station: now that we have Weyoun who is more humanized, the presence of a real Founder to whom Weyoun defers as if she were a god gives her a lot of weight. Odo is wary of her but he can’t help but be curious. What he wants from her is to ease the pain of rejection because of his unrequited love for Kira — and this is what will be his downfall: numb his feelings for Kira, distance himself from all solids, connect with the Changeling, get lost in this Great Link, progressively he forgets that his friends in the resistance cell count on him!… Interesting how personality is lost in the Changelings’ Great Link (“the drop becomes the ocean, the ocean becomes a drop“), making any Changeling a summation of all his/her race; yet Odo did keep his individuality after his visit there.
Kira and her little resistance group scheme to sow dispute between the uneasy allies Cardassians and Jem’Hadar, and aim particularly at Damar, Dukat’s officer; he is a military man, very forthcoming in his opinions. Unfortunately for him he doesn’t hold his alcohol very well, and as they say, “loose lips sink ships” and Quark gets good intelligence out of him! But eventually, because Odo was too busy with his new Changeling friend, this gets Rom captured and imprisoned. I loved how the various storylines on the station mix together.
On Starbase 375, Sisko gets a promotion, which for his place in the hierarchy means…more of an office job and less action on the field — that’s how things are! The Captain on the Defiant becomes Dax (acting), and Sisko remains behind with Admiral Ross, worried constantly about his crew and spending sleepless nights on whether the decision he is taking as a strategist are sending people to their deaths or not. We do not see Dax’s mission and focus instead on Sisko’s anguish. And when they return safe and sound, Sisko watches as Dax performs Sisko’s little ceremony of showcasing used power cells in the common room and have the crew repeat her words! Military team-building traditions: more echoes of Battlestar Galactica for me!
An excellent episode! No time to waste, firing on all cylinders without feeling overwhelming, one of DS9‘s best.
6×05: Favor the Bold: “They need our guidance, Odo, not our pity.” “They cherish their freedom.” “We’ll have to break them of that.”
Plenty of things going on in this one too, it’s difficult to write separate reviews. Odo falls deeper in the grasp of the Changeling, drunk by sex — not only is the Great Link suspiciously depicted like sex, but they also try physical sex, just to rub it in our face how inferior it is for us solids! It all leads to the Changeling trying to convince Odo that the natural order of things is the superior Changelings guiding the inferior solids. This storyline is well developed.
With Rom in prison and Kira closely monitored, the minefield is about to be deactivated and the future of the entire Quadrant lies on the shoulders of…Quark! He devises a way to call for help: the one to smuggle a secret message out of Dominion space to the Federation is none other than Morn! We get to know Weyoun more, interesting how the Vorta are just as genetically designed for a specific purpose as the Jem’Hadar: they have no sense of aesthetics and have a bad eyesight, things not needed when they are just supposed to be the Dominion’s managerial class.
One bit I didn’t enjoy as much is the Ziyal/Dukat relationship. Here it serves the plot that Ziyal would take Kira’s side and be angry at Dukat, but this is yet another reversal of the already reversed situation of two episodes ago. I understand Ziyal is conflicted but it is all too sudden and radical. And, because it serves the plot best, Ziyal again becomes very important for Dukat, more important than all these great strategic military decisions, and he obsessively sends Damar to do something about her, which only makes things worse. Damar sure is not a subtle guy!
On Starbase 375, Sisko tries to convince Starfleet of an all-out attack to retake DS9. I was surprised at how passionate Sisko has become about Bajor, saying he plans to build a home and retire there; I’m not the Emissary but if I had roots from New Orleans I’m not sure I would say that! Nog is promoted to Ensign. And the episode ends as the assault on DS9 is launched, leaving the actual attack for the last of the six-episode arc. This is the only one with an actual “to be continued” card at the end, because initially this one and the next were going to be a single episode, but they very well could have put that card in all six episodes. A no less excellent episode than the previous one!
6×06: Sacrifice of Angels: “It appears this war is going to take longer than expected”
Here it is, the culmination of this story arc! What they planned over six episodes should pay out here, which means I am going to nitpick the hell out of this episode! Plenty of things I liked, but it was in no way a perfect conclusion.
Some epic starship scenes on the scale of 4×01/02: The Way of the Warrior here! There were so many ships on-screen, so many different battles, that I’m sure they blew the budget of the whole season already! This was the 1990s, using CGI was something new for TV but it was necessary here given how many elements there were in a single shot; by comparison just a few years before TNG 4×01: The Best of Both Worlds II had maybe five ships in a single shot, all models. (Babylon 5 was there before DS9, yes! But you can tell the budget of Star Trek was quite higher than B5.) There were some nice scenes where both sides discuss their strategy and the movement of their fleets, with little pawns and on-screen maps, scenes inspired by military history obviously — but in this context I was reminded how this became an iconic and recurring setting for Battlestar Galactica!
Now, nitpicking: Why was that battle so far away from DS9? Once they break through, they go into warp again. If they were so far away, couldn’t have Starfleet approached DS9 from a different angle? Space works in 3D, not 2D. These kind of things that decrease the credit of Star Trek as science fiction…
The Starfleet fleet arrives at DS9/Terok Nor just as Dukat is successful at disabling the minefield. So the Defiant, all alone, enters the wormhole to confront the second wave of Dominion ships, hundreds of them, heading for the Alpha Quadrant: a hopeless mission, a bit like Frodo and Sam in the middle of Mordor. Sisko then has a séance with the Prophets and convinces them to act: it is quite a deus ex machina moment when the whole Dominion fleet just…vanishes! I can’t say I am too big a fan of Sisko’s role as the Emissary, the Prophets’ actions here really do feel…supernatural and truly religious; in the pilot episode (1×01/02: The Emissary) the Prophets were deconstructed from their religious aura given to them by the Bajorans into alien beings who exist with different rules of physics than we do, a deconstruction fitting I think with Star Trek‘s progressivism. Here they act like gods, completely erasing any tension that was built for the Alpha Quadrant. And why did they need convincing? Beings that have a different perception of time would surely foresee, no, already know that the invasion needed to be stopped for there to be any Bajorans left (see Arrival for a great depiction of such thinking!); that aspect of them has been forgotten.
Dukat gets the best lines, he is a big villain that has extreme confidence he will be victorious, but the writers give him a layer of psychological depth that make him much richer. There is pain at his loneliness behind his dictatorial exterior: “A true victory is to make your enemy see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place. To force them to acknowledge your greatness.” “Perhaps the biggest disappointment in my life is that the Bajoran people still refuse to appreciate how lucky they were to have me as their liberator. I protected them in so many ways, cared for them as if they were my own children. But to this day, is there a single statue of me on Bajor?“
It is then like the punishment of hubris when Dukat’s whole world comes crashing down. Quark and Ziyal free Kira and Rom and save the day. Odo wakes up from his spell with the Changeling woman, and perhaps a bit too quickly he makes a 180 degree turn and is his old self again, helping Kira and co. The Cardassians/Dominion have to evacuate the station and in the midst of all this, all Dukat can think of is Ziyal (doesn’t he have like ten children back on Cardassia?!) Since when does he treat Ziyal like his most cherished and only family? So when Damar shoots Ziyal because she is slowing down the evacuation, Dukat completely collapses into madness. Who wouldn’t? Dukat’s story arc is memorable here, I am just bothered by Ziyal’s constant back and forth over these six episodes.
All in all, a very strong episode, miles ahead of the production values of early seasons of DS9, but with some narrative choices that still bothered me.
And so we are back to the status quo ante: Starfleet controlling the wormhole, the Dominion still a menace and in alliance with the Cardassians, minus Dukat. I could argue that it is a bit too much like the way things were before, and next episodes will be as if these big events did not happen or did not change things in any fundamental way. A radically different season that would change the basics of how DS9 tells its stories would be a bold departure; DS9 did achieve that with those six episodes, but it was still a 1990s network series. It was a different way to plot the series for the writers, much more complex and risky.
In the beginning it was going to be only 4 episodes long but the writers expanded it to 5 then 6, on the one hand because the writers realized the complexity of what they were doing when they got into the details of the scripts (the last episode was split into two), and on the other hand I suppose they also realized that the opportunity was too good to go to waste and they spent more time during that arc (Sons and Daughters feels less inter-linked to the other five). Again, I can definitely see the roots of what Ron Moore would do with Battlestar Galactica a few years later (2004-2010). And more generally this story arc is a true precursor of serialized storytelling that became the norm for TV series from the mid/late-2000s onwards (Babylon 5 was, again, the outlier here, doing super-ambitious two-season-long story arcs, but with a fraction of DS9‘s budget!). How different DS9 has become from TNG!
With this story arc wrapped and this wall of text done, I will pause here. Stay safe!