DS9: Now If You’ll Excuse Me, I Have to Return to My Bucket

Fell behind in my DS9 write-ups (and still about ten episodes ahead in viewing) so the push continues here. Usually I try to alternate DS9 posts with something else, but focused on getting these knocked out.

S3E1/2, “The Search” (story: Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe)Sisko and the Grand Nagus' staff (on loan)

Everyone’s been scrambling since the end of season 2 to prep for possible attack by the Jem’Hadar. The simulations paint a dire picture of doom. New purple undershirts have been issued. Sisko has returned from traveling to talk with the Federation. He’s come back with the Defiant (a prototype attack ship with a cloaking device) and a lot of workplace-related anger. Federation leadership has been devious, unsympathetic, tone-deaf, and corrupt throughout Trek. It’s kind of a running theme that the desk jockeys back on Earth will always come off as hopelessly detached and frustrating to every starship captain, but Sisko has had it with them even before they show up to negotiate a treaty in Part II and really screw things up.

Sisko takes a new turn here. Dax observes a shot of extra emotion in him and he agrees that he’s tired of being the coffee-sipping bureaucrat. It doesn’t really jive with what we’ve seen from him the first two seasons but let’s go with what he says: he wants to get out there and shake things up. Not sure if the showrunners felt they’d hit a wall with the gentle diplomat version of the character or the situation simply dictated a change, but with the Defiant in the mix we’ll presumably be seeing more of Sisko sitting in a command chair barking orders at people.

Odo also gets some major face time here and I’m ready to decide that he’s my favorite character of the series as we lead off season 3. He’s a true outsider—more than say, Worf or Data from TNG—and it’s increasingly interesting to see how he fits into DS9. I really like Rene Auberjonois’ portrayal in a challenging role. He can’t use his face, it’s all eyes and voice inflection. Anyway we find out that one of the reasons Sisko has come back mad is because the Federation bigwigs have decided to demote Odo from security chief just because there have been several breaches, no one trusts him, and he won’t follow regulations. (See! They are totally out of touch!) He’s not sure what will happen next and may resign, but Kira persuades him to join the away mission in the meantime. The relationship between these two has been on the upswing for a while now since the awkward standoff at the end of “Necessary Evil” and I’m curious where it’s ultimately going.

So things get underway, and I don’t really know what anyone thought was going to happen when they sent one measly ship into Dominion space (like, they remember what happened with the Odyssey literally last episode, yes?), but I think dramatically it sets up three things. First, Odo may have been welcomed by Kira but trapped on board a tiny ship, he doesn’t get his usual space and time to himself, and has to bunk with Quark, of all people. So he feels as out of place as ever. Second, also re: Odo, he starts getting wobbly around mention of a special nebula in the Gamma Quadrant, but he doesn’t know why. And third, we establish Sisko in some captain’s chair action, which lasts like maybe 15 minutes of screen time before the Jem’Hadar get wind of them and predictably disable and board the ship. Because this mission is very stupid. Anyway Part I ends with things looking awfully bleak, but Part II starts in a strange place where everything’s fine. Looking back, I should have realized right away how weird the transition was, but the plot got rolling quickly and it slipped my mind.

In any story where things start going off-the-rails terrible for everyone, there’s a point where it crosses over into such radical territory that the willful suspension of disbelief gets, uh, suspended, and it’s like, wait, no way, what’s going on. Sisko & co. somehow find themselves getting back to DS9 with nothing to explain their escape. But everything’s messed up, and it slowly dawned on me that something was off. Federation goons are aboard trying to negotiate a treaty with the Dominion. Jem’Hadar guys are just walking around the station, hurling poor O’Brien around Quark’s with no repercussions. (Scotty knew how to handle himself in a bar fight, is all I will say here.) The treaty is taking on increasingly outrageous terms: namely that the Federation is to give up their position in space, hand over DS9, and split up the crew. Which like, come on, that’s not going to happen. Garak declares that the only way a treaty like that could happen is if “our leaders have gone insane.” So they all commit treason to try to stop the treaty by destroying the wormhole and Garak gets killed in the skirmish. But by then I was ready for something to make sense again. I think this was all done well—it’s fun to go just a little past a point of no return and be forced to entertain a deep change in the show structure…and then have it restored to normalcy in time for the next episode.

Meanwhile Odo and Kira woke up from the attack separately, and head to the nebula Odo was so keyed up about. Kira wants to stop him but what are you gonna do. There they encounter a rogue planet that isn’t part of any system (sure why not–I mean, I’m sure there are rogue planets in the universe but they’d be basically big balls of ice) and—surprise!—it’s filled with shapeshifters. They live as one in a big lake, and if we understood their biology I’m sure it would be considered some sort of porn. They welcome Odo home and invite him to get in on the joining. Odo’s position is interesting here—as much as he’s also exhausted by the “Solids” (namely Quark) it’s a pretty major life decision. They encourage him not just to shapeshift into a rock but to, like, be a rock. Who even are these hippies? The stodgy Odo is not sure he’s ready to find out.

Ultimately the two threads come together in the type of ending that will get you banned from any creative writing workshop: i.e., it was all a dream. For all the DS9ers but Odo and Kira anyway. The rest of them got hooked up to some VR something that is feeding them their half of the story to see how they’d react. They further reveal that the shapeshifters are the Founders, the leaders of the Dominion. Odo can get in on the ground floor so it’s a pretty good deal for him. But he rejects them. He’s appalled to find his friends treated like this. He doesn’t like their methods and cares too much about his friends and justice.

Yeah, it was all a dream, but I think the ending is solid. (Har, “solid”. Didn’t intend that, but Zing!) It’s entirely consistent with the justice-loving Odo we have gotten to know. We’ll know the Founders are out there going forward, and it’s bound to put Odo into some complicated situations. We’ll see.

Quark is not your friend: Quark is included in the simulation purely to convey the information that the Jem’Hadar actively enjoy gambling. Quark, for one, welcomes his new Dominion overlords.

Odo’s biology corner: He gets very grouchy before bedtime. Which is one thing he has in common with the Solids, although we don’t collapse into a puddle of liquid organic stew if we wait too long. YMMV.

Overall: A very important episode for the series, continuing directly from the end of season 2. Sets up a lot and accomplishes a lot. 5 out of 5.

S3E3, “The House of Quark” (story: Tom Benko)

A lot of my favorite TNG episodes were about Klingons. Many of my favorite DS9ers so far are about Quark. “The House of Quark” is both, and I was not disappointed.

It’s a quiet night in the bar, spurring the cash-desperate Quark to confront a drunken Klingon about his tab. This is, of course, a guaranteed brawl. But the Klingon is drunk enough to be roughly as bad a fighter as Quark, and rather than epic battling they end up tripping down some stairs, which results in the Klingon’s knife in his own chest. After weighing the various ethical questions of whether to claim it was the result of valiant self-defense or a terribly unfortunate accident, Quark does the thing that will make him some money. He thinks that will be the self-defense story, which he believes gawkers will pay to hear. Instead it gets him completely entangled in Klingon politics and house rivalries. At one point he ends up married. But never mind that, the real story here is the power of bookkeeping.

After a serious stretch, we were due for a lighter episode about how Ferengi and Klingons work together (we covered Vulcan/Ferengi a few episodes ago, so continuing to check off some inter-species boxes here, one surmises). Klingon culture may be on the decline amongst the Federation but it’s alive and well on the Klingon homeworld, replete with Byzantine rules of order and heredity law. Quark’s profit motivation is a ridiculous mix-in, and makes for an extremely delightful episode. Literally any Klingon could crush Quark physically so he goes Moneyball literally and metaphorically, seeking out an under-the-radar strategy that he can succeed with. As mentioned, that is bookkeeping. Klingons are evidently terrible at it, and Quark easily exploits leaky records to turn the tables and extricate himself from trouble. It’s silly but the plot is fun and internally consistent with both cultures.

Morn watch: Rather than close down the bar, Morn actually leaves early, inexplicably accompanied by another sentient lifeform, and giving Quark the thumbs-up. Quark makes up a new Rule of Acquisition on the spot to describe how desperately bad business is when even Morn has better things to do.

Overall: Klingon accounting practices are an intrinsically funny concept and they made a whole show about it. I liked it. 5 out of 5.

S3E4, “Equilibrium” (story: Christopher Teague)

Getting into the third season, I think there’s a lot we still don’t really understand about Dax. I’m not sure they’ve found great ways to introduce Trill stuff gently into the thread of other stories, they seem to be leaning more on deep-dive episodes about them. Which is fine but it feels like we forget about her for weeks at a time. Though it does require a light touch, which they do well. The concept has some danger of getting out of control: it’d be easy to make Dax into a sort of superhero, where there was a past life skillset that surfaced to save the day any time there was a problem. “Equilibrium” gets more into the flipside of things, where Dax has a fuzzy memory of a past life that she can’t shake. It’s maddening enough when an old song gets into your head and you can’t remember where it’s from, imagine if it happened several lifetimes ago.

As a single story, “Equilibrium” is fine. It’s basically a medical drama, which walks a fine line between interesting and artificial. It’s not that different from a standard Trek Trope where some technical issue arises whenever they need some drama.

Doctor: “Your isoboramine levels are up!”

Patient: “Oh no!” [Dramatic scene commences]

Doctor: “Now they are down again.”

Patient: “OK good! Whew!” [Let’s re-examine our lives now.]

But it’s done well enough here, the show remains engaging. It ends up being less about Dax than Bashir and Sisko trying to figure out the larger mystery, but that’s more Trek’s style. Julian has scaled back from a wannabe ladies’ man into a competent medical professional with understated charm. More relevant long term is the a major Trill reveal at the end—that the exclusivity of symbiont pairing is largely artificial and a secret, to avoid them becoming commodities. I can envision a story down the road where this information falls into the wrong hands (his name rhymes with Smork).

Overall: Some important Trill stuff and filling out some Dax history but not super memorable. 3 out of 5.


    1. Ha. Hilariously ill-conceived marriages borne from mistakes or schemes are a delightful silly TV trope not confined to Trek, although they’re certainly utilizing their share.

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