We head into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Final Chapter in its final season 7 (1998-1999)! After the usual mix of episodes between self-contained and continuing storyline, the writers give us a beautiful ramp up in intensity with no less than ten hours to finish the series! It’s like a mini-series within the series. It’s interesting reading the behind the scenes information on this Final Chapter: the writers talk about how much resistance they met from the studio despite the success of the six-episode arc in season 6; they talk with excitement and exhaustion about how complex the whole enterprise was, how the first four episodes of this arc were all written simultaneously. This form of writing has, by now, become the norm: seasons of a series now even get written entirely before the first thing has been shot! Correspondingly, seasons now have much less episodes than 26. In so many ways, DS9 was a precursor.
As the series has become more tightly focused around its Dominion War storyline, the number of writers has becomes smaller, and it’s certainly not a coincidence. After the studio-led first seasons where Piller and Berman launched the show and let literally dozens of writers play with it, Ira Stephen Behr has given it a sense of purpose and direction and by season 7 he has gathered around him a very tight team of writers: Hans Beimler, Ronald D. Moore, René Echevarria, David Weddle, Bradley Thompson — just by themselves these 6 are responsible for all of season 7’s episodes (along with a couple of writers from the earlier seasons for two episodes and some one-offs who contributed with story ideas but not actual scripts). On the directors side, it’s funny to see so many actors trying that role — René Auberjonois, Avery Brooks, Michael Dorn — and I didn’t see any particular drop in quality (or spike in quality for that matter) in their episodes!
These episodes are all about plot, plot, plot, based on the extensive character work of all the past years. There is no A/B story structure, no “Meanwhile” in these episodes, it’s all very interconnected. It’s difficult to review them separately, as so many things that are introduced in one episode are developed in the next and pay off in another, but I’ll try.
7×17: Penumbra: “Your greatest trial is about to begin.”
We start off slow, with an episode that concentrates all the soap opera aspects of DS9 (not my favourite as you can tell even by my use of this term).
As he had promised in early season 6, Sisko buys land on Bajor, where he plans to build a house. Looking back to the beginning of the series, this land that was once new and alien — Bajor — is now part of who Sisko is; like the viewer, DS9 was once new and so different from TNG, but by now it has become something we love. Ben also asks Kasidy to marry him, there’s a ring, it’s all very conventional and gender-normative. But the Prophets come between their sacred union! Ben’s “mother” Sarah (who is not actually Sarah but a Prophet that possessed Sarah, let’s not pretend otherwise) says that this is not Ben’s destiny and that sorrow will follow if he goes through with the marriage. I had understood that the Emissary’s role was completed with the reopening of the wormhole in the beginning of this season, but it looks like there’s more to it; and with a marriage in the middle it’s not my favourite kind of drama.
On Cardassia, the search for a vaccine against the disease of the Founders continues (so ironic to watch all this in the year 2020 with Covid-19!). Weyoun plans and Damar executes. Damar complains about how many Cardassians have died in this war, whereas the Dominion’s forces are much more expendable given that they are all clones. Is Damar preparing to become some kind of double agent, venting his frustration against the Dominion? Suddenly Dukat appears, barging in Damar’s quarters (and barely missing his drunken lovemaking!), I’ve always wondered how Dukat manages to pass security in what must be the Quadrant’s most well-guarded building!… Dukat has something planned but leaves Damar out of it: Dukat surgically changes himself into a Bajoran! It’s a shock! And it’s a big writers’ shortcut for characters to be able to switch back and forth between races like this, it’s in Star Trek ever since at least TNG 5×07/08: Unification, but it’s surprisingly easy if you start considering the medical implications of all this…
Worf disappears in battle and Ezri leaves to search for him. Ezri’s memories of Jadzia are very alive in her and she often confuses her own self with Jadzia; in a beautiful scene, Ezri enters Worf’s empty apartment, we hear past dialogue that Jadzia said, and Ezri completes her sentences. So when she finally manages to find Worf, they quarrel because Worf wants no mention of the elephant in the room. Ezri and Worf seem to like each other but don’t want to continue because of the past with Jadzia; certainly Worf can’t consider Ezri as a separate person from Jadzia and inevitably he sees her as somebody he should be attracted to romantically. For instance, Ezri dated a guy that Jadzia had dated previously and Worf is jealous (this is Captain Boday, mentioned sporadically in past episodes but never seen, maybe because it would have been tough to pull off the special effects of his transparent skull?). They quarrel and quarrel, and then: make-up sex! I didn’t expect that! Can’t Ezri just…be herself, without pairing her with somebody just because she is a pretty girl? Oh well.
7×18: Till Death Do Us Part: “What happened to the brave officer I served with? The one who stood at my side as we fought the entire Klingon Empire with a single ship?” “Those were simpler times.”
Sisko hesitates for his marriage with Kasidy Yates because of the Prophets warning that things will be very painful if he proceeds. The fact that Sarah is Ben’s mother means that there is additional pressure on Ben to follow not just the Prophets advice but his actual mother’s advice — these Prophets are big time manipulators! Ultimately, the marriage happens in a very quickly organised ceremony (that only Kira disapproves of, given her faith to the Prophets). It’s a very British Navy like affair, with Nog sounding the whistle, Admiral Ross officiating, and old English phrases like “I wed thee” uttered, and precious stone rings. Conventional.
The best part by far is Dukat! Marc Alaimo‘s performance is amazing, and thanks to him being turned into a Bajoran we can see his face better. Dukat first pretends to be a humble farmer and progressively throughout the episode he gains confidence. He comes to Kai Winn, who has had a vision from whom she believes are the Prophets telling her to await her Guide. Obviously the Pah’wraith are using Dukat and Winn as tools and twisting the Bajoran religion to their own advantage – manipulators like their cousins the Prophets. Winn is in deep doubt, Dukat uses his acting skill and his knowledge of Bajoran history to make her fall under his influence – even using a story from the time of the occupation where Winn had bribed Cardassians — and setting Winn aside from the Emissary Sisko because he is not Bajoran (while only we the audience know that Dukat is only posing as one!). Now, at the end I don’t think it was necessary for Winn and Dukat to kiss passionately (and sex is implied?) for us to understand they are allied…more soap opera tropes!
Worf is once again himself: he considers that his one night stand with Ezri means that their union is forever! They are captives of the Breen (complicated ship design!), who sedate them with algae spiked with something that induces dreams. Ezri, the Counselor, tries to interpret their dreams. This reminded me of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, of the scenes where Luke has dreams of self discovery on Dagobah, and taking off Vader’s helmet like Ezri does in her dream, while the Breen are very Star Wars-like aliens! Athough Ezri denies it it looks like she has feelings for Julian, while Worf is full of guilt that he is betraying Jadzias memory… One episode Worf and Ezri fall for each other, the next they have already found they’re incompatible. How many “I love you” s in a single episode? They had to deal with this elephant in the room since the beginning of the season, but I didn’t expect the two to have sex in the process. Okay, so I predict Ezri will end up with Julian, while Worf…will end up alone? Or they will form a trio?
Damar is a complete tool of the Dominion and Dukat tries to remind him of glorious days in the past as proud Cardassians. Damar is taken by Weyoun on missions without even knowing the destination. They meet the Breen, who have brought Ezri and Worf as gifts, and an alliance is about to be made!
A lot, and I do mean a lot of soap opera like twists in this episode!… Everybody sleeps with everybody! But there’s a lot going on already, things have become very interesting indeed, and this is only part 2 of 9!
Winn’s aide Solbor is James Otis, who had a small role in The X-Files episode Alone.
7×19: Strange Bedfellows: “The Federation and its vedek puppets, the false gods and their precious Emissary, they’ll all be swept aside like dead leaves before an angry wind.”
On the Love Boat DS9, the Siskos are married! However, Ben is still the Emissary and Kasidy is not comfortable with playing the role of the Emissary’s wife — I mean who would be? She’s a freighter captain, not an official in Bajoran religious ceremonies!
We have been rooting for Damar, as he gets humiliated again and again until he hits rock bottom and reacts! Weyoun decides everything for Damar and all that is required by him is to sign his approval. Cardassians die by the hundreds of thousands in the Dominion War. Damar mistrusts the Cardassians’ traditional enemies the Breen while for Weyoun all are equal under Dominion rule and their single Founder overlords and all must share their military secrets. When Weyoun 7 is killed, Damar laughs in repressed joy. When he drinks, he can’t stand to see himself in the mirror – an excellent example of narrative with imagery instead of dialogue. And finally the moment we have been waiting for: Damar allows Worf and Ezri to escape, saying that the Federation has an ally on Cardassia! Will Damar live to see Cardassia liberated?
Indeed, as they are set to be executed, Ezri and Worf spend their last moments clarifying their feelings for each other. There is a bit of repetition with previous episodes here — DS9 has a tendency to leave nothing in the subtext and make everything explicit in the dialogue. Ezri and Worf both felt mutual attraction, but it was more the result of the ghost of Jadzia still being present in the minds of both than actual feelings. I liked how Ezri truly felt like a Counselor here, toning down Worf’s absolutes and saying that they are all people, with flaws.
The purpose of the episode is to bring Kai Winn Adami fully into the hands of Dukat. Winn is totally lost, pulled between her faith in the Prophets, to which she has dedicated her whole life, and the temptation that is being offered to her, that the Pah’wraith will give her whatever she wants. The Prophets have given no sign to her and yet she has tried to be patient while, as Dukat points out, living in the shadow of a non-Bajoran, the Emissary Sisko. It is a classic situation that the faithful face in the real world: if God exists, then why does He not make His presence more felt in the world? Christian theologians have tried to answer that it is through free will and not by motivation for reward that faith will be proven true. And indeed this is Kira‘s counsel to Winn: renounce the power that corrupts, renounce the position of Winn, and be content of a simple life. But Winn is convinced that she is too important, she tries to justify her ego by saying that it is only as a leader Kai that she can help her people and serve her gods. Before that ego, the gods are silent. This was a superbly written scene, full of subtext. Yet, what bothers me here is that we are not talking of the God of the Judaic monotheistic religions, who by definition is silent (or inexistent, take your pick), we are talking about a race of aliens worshipped as gods: the Prophets could easily manifest themselves and guide Winn back towards them, and prevent whatever evil Winn and Dukat will be doing later on. DS9 wants to have its cake and eat it too, represent religion in secular sci fi respectfully and have the gods be material physical beings. Well, anyway, the episode ends with the super evil alliance of Winn and Dukat and Pah’wraith!
7×20: The Changing Face of Evil: “Instead of the invaders, we have become the invaded. Our ‘allies’ have conquered us without firing a single shot. Well, no longer.”
This episode has all the ups and downs! Earth is attacked! The Defiant is destroyed! But also, Damar launches his rebellion of all Cardassians against the Dominion!
The Breen prove to be formidable foes. They attack straight to the core of the Federation, destroying the Headquarters in San Francisco — an impressive matte painting! That was totally unexpected, this is truly the most momentous period of Federation history, and short of a complete annihilation of the Federation the DS9 writers seem to be ready to do anything within the Trek universe (while TNG is doing stand-alone stories with Insurrection).
Meanwhile! Ezri and Worf are back on DS9 and they share an understanding of each other that they didn’t before. They observe Julian and Miles playing with their miniatures for the holosuite and gossip (a nod at Trekkies who collect toy figures?). Ezri is evidently trying to find the courage to talk to Julian, and Worf is like her comic relief sidekick!
Ben Sisko is overprotective of Kasidy — as he often tends to be — and pulls strings to have Kasidy remain at DS9 in safety. Kasidy reacts saying she never asked for such a preferential treatment and gets back her right to travel — this is how I like Kasidy, a more fierce and independent character like in earlier seasons: over the past 3 episodes she’s been too much like a clear cut obedient wife… But just then, the opposite situation of what the Siskos were discussing happens: it is Ben who is called to join the war and risk his life! There is no escaping this war.
The Federation-Klingon-Romulan Alliance mount an attack against the Jem’Hadar-Cardassian-Breen Dominion. It’s an all-out war at the Chin’toka system, the same system hard-won by the Alliance in 6×26: Tears of the Prophets. Bombastic Star Wars-like music! Special effects are really impressive! The actual shots with the space battle with miniatures and CGI are actually few, but they show a lot of ships, a true evolution compared to TNG where the mere presence of two ships in a single shot was a television event! The menace of the Dominion is further reinforced with the loss of the Defiant, the flagship of the series since season 3. To hear Sisko say “abandon ship” and to see the Defiant blow up, that was tough! The crew survives on escape pods and they could all have died right there but the Founder lets them survive in order for them to spread stories of fear in the rest of the troops — understandable, but that’s an easy way out for the writers, I would have preferred if they had been beamed out of there and the attention had not been drawn to the Dominion choosing to let them live. But all in all, things are dire.
Now all of this would have been more than sufficient for one episode, and it might even have been more impactful to end on this dramatic note. But hope comes from Damar and his rebellion of all Cardassians against the Dominion! And ever since he took this decision, he has been sober, putting his life in order. It’s impressive that a secondary character like him has become a leader and perhaps the one that turns the tide in the entire Quadrant! DS9 is truly very good with its extended cast. It’s important to note that Damar is a patriot and his rebellion is a patriotic one, not an olive branch to the Federation, alliances change with the circumstances. The Cardassians were promised more territories but instead of dominating over others they themselves are being dominated — it’s a call to arms ad there’s nothing there that says that Damar would be sad to have Bajor under Cardassian rule once more. Casey Briggs is very good in Damar’s empowering speech that closes the episode.
Finally, Dukat continues to extend his grasp on Kai Winn. He gets her to study forbidden texts on how to release the Pah’wraith from their imprisonment (?), but Winn still quotes scripture that describe what she is doing as evil. When the Kai’s aide gets too nosy and finds out who Dukat is, Winn is abhorred, but still thinks of herself: the aide tries to get away, Winn instinctively stabs him, Dukat offers to dispose of the body. Winn wanted to have nothing to do with Dukat but now they are in a conspiracy together, and the mysteries of the Pah’wraith are revealed to them, promising more power: Winn is seduced. Overall, Winn is a victim of circumstances but also of her own curiosity and thirst for power. Even so, she is a bit too easy to be convinced — the episodes spend much time on her story, but it’s still a full 180 degrees turn for her character, it’s hard to pull off!
The different storylines start paying off, and it’s impressive! These reviews have become so long that I have to split this in multiples part — I’ll be back soon with more of the Final Chapter!