No, 2020, you will not manage to cancel my DS9 first-watch! Although you did delay it.
It’s good to find these characters again — there’s something unique about spreading the watching of a series over an extended period of time instead of binge-watching, you build a different relationship to the characters, your immersion to the world, your care about the story. Although 2 years for my watch is much shorter than the original airing over 7 years!
But now this is it, the final season! Everybody knew at the time that season 7 was to be the last one, and accordingly the writers organized themselves to resolve their big plot and structure the season accordingly. Nicole de Boer joins the main cast after the unfortunate departure of Terry Farrell — but frankly there are so many recurring characters that for the viewer the distinction between main and guest cast is not important. Meanwhile, Voyager season 5 is on and the TNG film Insurrection is released; Star Trek is not as hot as it used to be but it’s still in its period of glory.
So let’s delve into the first episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: season 7 (1998-1999)!
7×01/02: Image in the Sand / Shadows and Symbols: “In times of trouble, some people find comfort in hate and fear.” / “The Sisko has completed his task.”
The season starts off with a double episode, some months after the momentous season 6 finale. And it definitely needed the two episodes, as no less than four or five parallel storylines are developed. It starts off with long scenes for each storyline and as we approach the climax the back and forths become more frequent — exciting but also a bit tiring, I liked the first episode of the two more, which had a more leisurely pace.
These episodes shed a light on the mystery of The Sisko: Ben Sisko’s status as the Emissary of the Prophets, the series’ elements that are in-between science fiction and religious fantasy. And it all amounts to…Sisko is part-Prophet! Now, for any series, when there are big revelations like this about things that happened before the series started and change fundamentally who a character is, you are either convinced by it or reject it. I…have trouble accepting it. In these two episodes, Sisko has first lost his sense of purpose following the death of Jadzia Dax, gets stabbed by an anti-Prophet Bajoran belonging to the Cult of Pah’wraith that is not mentioned again, finds meaning for himself by going on a mission given to him by the Prophets, discovers his mother was his stepmother, his real mother was Sarah, learns that Sarah was a Prophet-alien possessing a human body, and finds an alien Orb artefact which results in the Prophet-aliens winning the war against the Pah’wraith-aliens. According to the Prophets, everything since he was named Emissary in the series’ pilot episode and referred to as “The Sisko” has been leading to this. Mission accomplished.
Within the episode, it works but in the larger scheme of things…I have to ask: why? Why was it necessary to have Sisko be part-Prophet for him to carry out this mission? Why couldn’t he just be convinced to search for the orb? And while we’re at it, how did a Prophet manage to have a long-term relationship with Ben’s father and things went so smooth that they had a child together — while Prophets always approach humans and their like in a way that shows that thinking in linear time is always so confusing to them? Was the Prophet actually only a light influence on Sarah and not a full possession (like Keiko in 5×05: The Assignment and Dukat in 6×26: Tears of the Prophets)? All of this really generates more questions than it answers. And overall, if this was the culmination of the Sisko as Emissary storyline, it is still not an element of the series I like much.
It definitely helps that I like all the scenes between the Siskos a lot! The interactions between the three members of the Sisko family is one of my favourite things here, they really feel like a family that care for each other and are comfortable with each other’s presence. I’ve appreciated Joseph Sisko (Brock Peters) and his New Orleans restaurant ever since it was introduced in 4×11: Homefront. (By the way, I still don’t know how the Earth economy works though: with replicators, is there still a need to clean clams, serve tables, worry about a restaurant’s clientele and revenue? or is the post-scarcity economy only limited to important Starfleet military vessels? The series is not interested in exploring that, content with showing us New Orleans almost as if it were frozen in the 1800s, with horse carriages and wet back alleys — minus the racism!)
There’s also the unexpected interjection of the Benny Russell storyline here — the meta reality-shaking story of 6×13: Far Beyond the Stars, where Sisko is actually a 1950s pulp scifi writer imagining the story of DS9! Here, Ben’s visions of Benny are used as a tool of the Pah’wraith for Ben to doubt what is reality and fail in his mission. Ben perseveres with the mission — all the while Benny shakes his psychiatrist away (Damar!) and continues writing his story. It is still ambiguous which one of the two realities is the ‘real’ one! I didn’t expect this to resurface after Far Beyond the Stars: are the writers preparing a P.K.Dickian series finale where it’s revealed that all of Star Trek is a product of Benny’s mind? This would drive fans crazy!
Meanwhile, Kira has been appointed Colonel and commands Deep Space 9 firmly. Kira’s storyline is about showing that she can wield power effectively and affirm her opinion when necessary — as if we didn’t know that already! 🙂 A Romulan envoyé, Cretak, arrives at DS9 and Kira finds that she’s actually a sympathetic and pragmatic person she can work with — until it turns out that the Romulans have abused the Bajorans’ trust and are building a military base close to Bajor. Bajoran and Romulan vessels face off until one of them blinks. It’s a storyline that starts very well but becomes very simplistic by the end. I didn’t understand the role of the Starfleet Admiral, Ross (seen in early season 6), who could have stood his ground with Kira from the start instead of letting things go out of hand like this. Nor was it clear to me why Kira (and Bajor) have to accept Starfleet’s decision on bringing Romulans along — I thought DS9 was Bajoran and command had temporarily been given to a Federation representative, Sisko, but was still under Bajoran rule. This storyline reminds us of the uneasy state of things in the anti-Dominion alliance, but it could have been handled a bit better.
On the Dominion/Cardassian side, we also see Weyoun starting having doubts about Damar‘s ability to rule, spotting an alcohol (well, kanar) problem.
Meanwhile also, there’s Worf‘s storyline, who mourns the death of his wife and wants to go on a typically over-the-top mission in her honour and have her soul enter Klingon heaven Sto-vo-kor! This is the semi-serious semi-comical part of the episode, as all of Jadzia‘s erstwhile candidate lovers — Bashir and Quark, and O’Brien comes in for the ride — join Worf on the trip. There’s the excellent Martok, there’s ritual, there’s an impressive fight scene (DS9‘s CGI gets better and better), there’s friendly banter.
And finally, there’s Dax. Ezri Dax, that is. Terry Farrell has left and Jadzia has died, but the scifi concept was present and the opportunity was too good for the writers not to use it! The Dax symbiont is given a new host, the young Ezri, who has some eight lives’ worth of memories and experience unloaded into her unexpectedly. The scene where Ezri arrives at DS9 and, wide-eyed, sees the Promenade for the first time, but also it’s not her first time, is excellent! Nicole de Boer was excellently cast. It’s still Dax, Sisko still calls her “old man” although Curzon is now two lives back, but it’s no longer the Jadzia we knew — and the relations with every single cast member will have to be redefined. It’s a situation that is full of storytelling potential and I’m excited to see where this goes! I know it’s the last season and it’s a bit odd to cut off the story arc of a main character so close to the end and have a ‘new’ main character just for one season; this sort of situation was definitely forced on the writers from real behind the scenes situations and I doubt the writers would have ever attempted this on their own. But I admit it’s interesting and funny, I’m willing to discover who Ezri is.
All in all, a solid introductory two-parter that flows very well despite all my remarks above!
7×03: Afterimage: “How dare you presume to help me? You can’t even help yourself. Now, get out of here before I say something unkind.”
The episode after the big plot happenings in the opening two-parter is focused on the “new” character, Ezri Dax, as it should. As a viewer aware that this is the beginning of a season of television, the purpose of this episode is transparent from the very start: to make us like Ezri and bring the story to the point where Ezri becomes a full part of the main cast. However, it doesn’t reach its objective as smoothly when you consider things in-universe.
A large part of the episode is about Garak, and once more anything that has to do with Garak is a DS9 highlight (with almost no exception)! Garak has panic crises because — after some quick psychoanalysis — he feels like he is betraying his people, caught as he is between him being a Cardassian and him providing Starfleet with intelligence against the Cardassians, in the framework of the war against the Dominion. Cardassians are the enemy given that they are allied with the Dominion, but that doesn’t mean that Garak doesn’t feel awful every time his intelligence is used to kill his own people. But still, there he is, with that eternal smile hiding the enormous pressure within. It’s not easy being Garak.
Garak’s story is only a pretext to talk about Ezri, who, it turns out, is a counselor, like Troi! She’s still very young and inexperienced, an assistant counselor, and not only that but she has a lot of issues to deal with herself and herselves right after absorbing the Dax symbiont and its memories of eight other lives! Still, I was surprised that such a person very uncertain of themselves would be a counselor: you have to solve your own issues first before you help others — and Garak doesn’t lose the opportunity to wound Ezri with that when Ezri tries to help him. The parts where Ezri does try to be a counselor do feel like a simplified pop TV writer’s version of what psychology is.
Overall, it all happens really too easily and quickly for young Ezri. Sisko, because of his previous experience with Dax, is certain that she would make the perfect ship’s counselor for DS9 and plays some tricks on Ezri in order to convince her to take that position. And voilà, the episode ends and an inexperienced confused junior joins the select group of top officers of DS9 — writers, I see what you did there! Not to mention that the station didn’t need a counselor up until then.
There’s also all the somewhat dated gender-stereotypical soap opera aspects. Ezri is beautiful, that gets noticed and commented upon, and Jadzia’s potential lovers all become Ezri potential lovers: Quark is certainly all over her; for some odd reason this late in the game, Bashir learns that “if Worf hadn’t come along, it would have been you“; Jake finds her “cute”; and Worf avoids her because this is all very awkward. And it is awkward! I remembered the Trill taboo of not rekindling relationships from past hosts (4×06: Rejoined) and although this is not quite the same with Worf, having Ezri Dax around all the time doesn’t help Worf to heal his loss.
Well, despite all these issues, I still liked the episode! It’s a small-scale episode with existing sets after all the costly special effects of the opening episodes, but it doesn’t feel constrained. I find the addition of Nicole de Boer refreshing and dynamic, and the episode is well-made and edited. I also noted that the image quality is even better this season, incomparably better compared to season 1 or 2. It is not HD, but the TV technology was noticeably better in 1998 compared to 1993!
7×04: Take Me Out to the Holosuite: “To manufactured triumphs!”
Well, it was bound to happen: a holosuite episode dedicated to the arcane 400-year-old US sport of baseball! This is “Too American” for a show that is supposedly for a future unified humanity, says this European viewer! At least, it’s adapted to the target audience, mainly US viewers. OK, I don’t know if I would have liked it better if it was about football (that’s soccer for you US readers!), professional sports in general fail to excite me…
But I must say, as with most DS9 episodes lately, I will find many things to nitpick but I still find them very sympathetic! There’s a lot of fun here, and the actors must have had fun to shoot the episode as well — exterior shootings, under the sun!
The story is simple: a team of Vulcans challenge the DS9 staff to a game of baseball — it’s the “Logicians” vs the “Niners“! For Sisko it’s important to win because he has bad blood with the Vulcan Captain, but the DS9 crew lack training. Nearly the entire cast of secondary characters joins for this episode: Rom, Nog, Leeta, Kasidy Yates. Their training sessions are quite hilarious in how awful they are as players! There’s a bit of meta in the characters trying to learn the very complicated rules and jargon of the game — for me too it is a mystery. Even Odo trains all alone as the umpire, training to shout “you’re outta here!“. Worf shouts “We will destroy them“!
The script is without surprises: training, motivational speech, opening of the game with the teams’ anthems (both get the Federation Anthem! this thing exists!), demotivation as our heroes keep losing, then manage to score one point to save face, ultimately they do lose the game but still celebrate at the end to the Vulcans’ amazement. It’s not about winning, it’s all about the team spirit, it’s about trying.
Essentially, the whole episode could be read as an allegory for DS9 the series itself: the heroes are all from different backgrounds but have banded together, they are not perfect, they have flaws, they are “human”, and that’s why we like them. Instead of the Vulcans, the game could have been between the crews of TNG‘s Enterprise and DS9, the overly perfect superhumans vs the underdogs. Imagine that!
7×05: Chrysalis: “What are you looking at?” “Everything.”
It’s the return of the four genetically engineered geniuses from 6×09: Statistical Probabilities! Their first episode was a season 6 highlight, so it makes sense that they tried to do a second episode with them. This episode focuses on the silent one, Sarina, and a medical procedure pioneered by Dr Bashir that allows her to communicate with the outside world like a “normal” human being.
The scene where she really matures from babbling to a fully integrated member of the team of geniuses is totally unexpected: it happens through music. The others start singing simple notes patterns, Sarina timidly joins in, the singing develops into more complex improvisations until they all sing in unison like top-level opera singers. A two-minute scene without any other dialogue, exceptional for a TV series where it’s usually all about plot and dialogue! It could have been awkward but it’s beautiful.
And so Sarina blossoms into an intelligent beautiful young woman (the chrysalis of the title). They focus on whatever it is that big minds do: solving the mysteries of the universe, i.e. the heat death of the universe! Surely enough, Sarina is grateful to Bashir for all this and Bashir is happy to find a like mind and, well, a romance develops! Dr. Bashir falls in love with one of his patients — apart from being so-so for the ethics of his profession (he does try to assign her to another doctor during the course of the episode), the story is similar to 3×08: Meridian. Bashir is the character who is single and keeps getting involved in one-episode stands. It does happen smoothly and is true to character though — Bashir is not a creep!
Initially I thought Sarina would eventually devolve into her earlier state, mimicking to some extent the plot of the excellent little book Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Sarina does present complications but the story doesn’t go there. Instead, she chooses to continue developing her distinct personality and leave for a distant outpost. Bashir ends up alone, again. Well, he does have O’Brien — they come this close declaring their love to each other! A good, if a bit predictable, romance episode, way better than Meridian.
7×06: Treachery, Faith and the Great River: “Please, Odo. Tell me that I haven’t failed, that I’ve served you well.”
An important episode for the plot, and an important character episode too. Odo is contacted by Weyoun, who wants to defect from the Dominion!
While Odo is taking Weyoun back to DS9, they are followed by Jem’Hadar bound to kill them — one of the scenes where they try to hide in an ice asteroid reminded me of the asteroid field chase from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back! It turns out that the Weyoun we knew (5) has died, but since there are clones he has been replaced with another (6), who is now with Odo, and in turn has been replaced by another (7), who is with Damar on Cardassia. Weyoun 6 changes his story several times: he believes that the war is wrong, that the Dominion will be defeated, that Odo will become their leader so Odo is a true god, that chances of survival are better if Weyoun 6 sides with Odo. Between genetically programmed faith to the Founders and a selfish sense of survival, it is a fine line for this Weyoun, especially with Odo being both an enemy and an object of reverence for the Vorta. Not even Weyoun 7 wants to order Odo killed, Damar tries to manipulate him by playing with semantics (is Odo a Founder?) but doesn’t manage. There’s a lot of political intrigue on Cardassia that is only in the subtext here: it’s quite obvious from Damar’s mannerisms and irritation with Weyoun(s) that Damar was responsible for the previous Weyoun’s deadly “accident”: could the Dominion-Cardassia alliance end up breaking?
Ultimately, Weyoun 6 has to sacrifice himself, activating his termination device like a faithful Vorta should, in order to allow Odo to live. Weyoun 6 dies in Odo’s arms, fulfilled to get Odo’s blessing that he did well. Odo is confused at the effect a few words of his have on a stranger — indeed, he can wield power over the Vorta and Weyoun 6’s idea of Odo taking over leadership in the Dominion suddenly doesn’t sound so crazy at all. The Galaxy-shattering intelligence that Weyoun 6 gives to Odo is that the Founders are all dying by a disease infecting only them, which has destabilized them significantly. We can see that disease impacting the Female Changeling, her face is full of wrinkles as if it had dried up and she can’t morph into something smooth. Since Odo is not joined with the Great Link, he is the only one that is spared. Once more, Odo is the tragic figure here: whatever the outcome, Founders decimated by the virus or either side winning the war, he will lose.
There are several things here that give the impression that the writers are introducing things to pay them off later in the season, a level of preparedness that has become perfected over the seasons. I’m of course talking about this mysterious disease for the Changelings, but also Damar’s kanar/alcohol addiction and growing discontent with the Dominion.
Meanwhile! (First time I use this this season — previous episodes were surprisingly focused!) Sisko pressures O’Brien to accelerate repairs of the Defiant and O’Brien accepts Nog‘s help: Nog uses his inner Ferengi to mobilize The Invisible Hand of the Market, aka Capitalism! Nog explains how everything in the universe flows through the Great Material Continuum and a good sailor will know how to take advantage of the currents and provide goods where there is need for them: “the river will provide“. I love this kind of alien anthropology as a metaphor for something in human cultures, with the Ferengi it’s hilarious! In essence, it’s a repeat of Nog and Jake’s doings in 6×25: In the Cards, but I didn’t mind. And it’s funny to see Nog battle all that Starfleet bureaucracy with his own culture of origin, which Starfleet looks down on. So Nog gets something that he wants to sell in exchange for something else, that he will offer to get yet another thing, etc, in a fragile chain of Starfleet-bypassing transactions until the Defiant gets the parts it needs for its repair! It all works out, things are Pareto-efficient, and O’Brien wants to try the experience again. Great stuff.
This is a dense episode full of surprises, adeptly switching from drama to comedy and back, written by the duo Weddle/Thompson (from a story by Philip Kim). By far the season’s best so far.
7×07: Once More unto the Breach: “Savor the fruit of life, my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it’s fresh from the vine. But don’t live too long… The taste turns bitter… after a time.”
The resident Klingon expert Ronald D Moore delivers another episode which happens entirely within the ranks of the Klingons. The old wise man Kor (who we last saw in 4×09: Sword of Kahless) has fallen out of favour of the Klingon High Council and he asks Worf for…a job, essentially! The complication is that Kor, although popular with many Klingons, is hated by Martok. We learn that Kor belongs to the Klingon aristocracy, which systematically gets all the prestigious positions in Klingon society and military, while Martok is of much more humble descent and had to fight his way up the ladder, and was even blocked by Kor at some point. This layer of class critique makes the episode interesting, but otherwise it is quite predictable. Kor and Martok avoid each other until they clash, Worf is torn between his allegiances.
The aspect of Kor being old and no longer fitting in modern warfare reminded me of Scotty in TNG 6×04: Relics: Kor tries to be useful but messes up, he is over eager to prove himself and talks of romantic heroism of the past and completely lacks the sense of strategy that Martok has developed, he is understood only by Martok’s aide who is the same age as him. So Kor ends up volunteering for a suicide mission thanks to which everybody else is saved — he is attracted by this as he will still be remembered as a hero. Martok is still bitter at him but Kor’s legend will live on.
Meanwhile! All the soap opera tropes you can think of, with Quark trying to seduce Ezri and being paranoidly jealous that she will get back together with Worf. Also, it was fun to hear Sisko explain to Martok the origin of Terran expressions: “A cavalry raid. Ancient Earth soldiers mounted on horseback” — 19th century and before is definitely ancient history!
An OK episode, well done by DS9 standards and with some great lines performed very well, but not wholly original at this point of the series.
7×08: The Siege of AR-558: “There’s only one order, Lieutenant. We hold.”
The Defiant crew goes to assist Starfleet soldiers in the defense of a strategic communications array. The Dominion really wants it back and sends wave after wave of Jem’Hadar to get it. The Starfleet troops are exhausted and worn down after being left for months alone; the arrival of a more senior officer in Sisko gets them a bit more organized but does little for morale. It’s a battle of endurance, with little hope for reward at the end.
This “war from the trenches” episode reminded me of the one where Jake found himself in the battle lines on the ground (5×04: Nor the Battle to the Strong): the worry, the horror, the fine line between acts of heroism and acts of cowardice. I don’t know to what extent ground troop operations are needed in an interstellar war, but it’s certainly much more impacting in showing us the reality of war than starship-based episodes like the immediately previous episode.
It’s a “bottle episode” with the only set being the styrofoam caves and rocks we have seen in many other episodes for many different locations. Yes, the sets are cheap, but this should not overshadow the quality of the dialogue. We spend many calm moments, tense moments where we wait for something to happen — and that something, an attack, will inevitably lead to death. It’s a situation that is familiar from many war films (Saving Private Ryan comes to mind, which was released just a few months before this episode) but if you are willing to be transported by the episode it is very chilling and effective.
The whole episode takes place in darkness, increasing the tension. The new characters that we meet are given individual traits and quirks, they are not generic re-shirts, so that we worry for them even beyond the end of this episode. There’s the Lieutenant who is in command because everybody above her rank have been killed; the cynical soldier who has given up to despair; the tight-lipped veteran who cares about his knife and collects prizes from his Jem’Hadar victims (a touch of The Predator?); the low-rank engineer who is excited to get to do something new.
Death can come at any time, with invisible mines. They find a way to use the invisible mines against the enemy: an object of horror against you can become a source of hope for doing harm to your enemy. This irony is not lost on Ezri, who nearly expresses empathy for the lives of the Jem’Hadar, but in war there is no space left for ethical dilemmas (this scene reminded me of a similar scene in The Lord of the Rings where Sam empathises with a dead Easterling — short but effective).
Quark is there to remind Nog (and us) that the Federation’s ideals are a thin veneer and that humans can become savages again when circumstances are dire — this is similar to other occasions where Quark criticised the Federation’s moral double-standards (like in 2×26: The Jem’Hadar). The emotional core of the episode is Ensign Nog, who puts a lot of pressure on himself to prove that he is worthy of his uniform; he uses his Ferengi nature to their advantage (big lobes means he can hear at a greater distance) but they are ambushed and Nog ends up losing his leg! Now, I trust 24th century medicine will be able to fix that, but the shock of losing a leg was there, and unless Bashir got him to a better medical facility even he might not have been able to repair him. Nog is left, alone with Quark and his injury, listening to Vic Fontaine recordings, while everybody else gets ready for the imminent attack outside (again, Saving Private Ryan and Edith Piaf).
But they hold. The name of the episode points to both something grandiose (“the siege“) and something unremarkable (“AR-558“), a reminder perhaps that these events were extremely important for the characters that we followed but they are only one example of battles happening in many places in this war. People die, suffer, survive, all over the front of this war. With so many self-contained episodes and changing styles in DS9 it’s easy to forget that. More lists of the war casualties keep coming to the Station, and they count in the thousands; that wall of names introduced in 6×19: In the Pale Moonlight is used very effectively again.
No heroes, no motivational speeches, no lifting music, just the muck of getting through this war. All in all, this was easily one of the best episodes of the entire series, written by showrunner Behr with his right-hand man Hans Beimler. Perhaps it was not the most original piece of television ever made, but it was very, very effective.
Plenty of familiar faces! The young engineer was Bill Mumy, aka Lennier from Babylon 5, one of my favourite characters! (also when he was a kid, in The Twilight Zone, It’s a Good Life — and also a friend of Ira Behr, who was on set to see his death scene being filmed!) The rough soldier was Patrick Kilpatrick, who appeared in season 8 of The X-Files, Surekill. The desperate soldier was Raymond Cruz, who appeared in season 4 of The X-Files, El Mundo Gira, and as Tuco in Breaking Bad!
Let’s end on this high note — I will be back soon with the last string of self-contained stories of DS9!