S3E9, “Defiant” (story: Ronald D. Moore)Sisko and the Grand Nagus' staff (on loan)

This one has a fun surprise that deserves a reminder of my standard spoiler warning–that these shows were made in the strange faraway decade of the ’90s when the dream was still alive, and I don’t really bother withholding twists and spoilers if it requires any effort to do so. Who would read a review of a random Trek episode prior to watching it at this point anyway is beyond me, but I try to be a good citizen. OK? OK.

So, our old TNG pal Will Riker turns up on DS9. Our primary question at first is not so much “What is he doing there?” but “Is he going to make moves on Kira or Dax?” And to be perfectly clear, I mean to say: “Will it be Kira or Dax that he makes moves upon?” …The answer is Kira. Only because he already tried and whiffed with Dax a year ago, per Dax. Kira is still involved with Bareil but who can resist Riker’s harmless charms? She indulges him on a tour of the station and everything’s going great up until the part when he stuns her with a phaser and steals the Defiant. He strips off some beard segments, leaving only the more sinister goatee and the revelation that he’s not Will Riker but Tom Riker! He is further revealed to be a member of the Maquis on a daring mission into Cardassian space to get to a strategic shipyard and blow stuff up.

T. Riker has thus inflamed both the Federation and the Cardassians and things could get really messy. Like, assassination of Archduke Ferdinand messy. So Sisko accompanies Dukat to Cardassia to make sure the response is handled with a delicate touch instead of Dukat’s instinctive reaction to murder everything. The show does an unusual flip here as the response becomes the focus and T. Riker’s Maquis gang’s mission is just the plot driver.

The intricacies of the attack and response are interesting to watch but would be boring to rehash here, so I’ll wrap up by saying: this was a good one. Some random thoughts:

  • I’m not sure if there was a better way to revisit poor ol’ transport clone Tom Riker. We had to see him again at some point, but Memory Alpha tells me that stories about him were verboten among the showrunners. But we also know Jonathan Frakes has been hovering around the show as a director already, and I guess they were seduced by his charm as well. This story gives him some identity other than “bitter jerk” and leaves things slightly open for a return later.
  • Also the detail about him stripping off some fake facial hair patches to convert Will Riker-style-beard into Tom Riker-style-goatee and reveal his identity is wonderful. I love that Tom doesn’t just grow out his beard, but instead risks some trivial costuming malfunction might blow his cover during this extremely dangerous mission. He’s that convinced the full beard look is the domain of the wretched Will Riker, or that he looks just that bad with it.
  • The showrunners continue trying to revise their early vision of Sisko (started in “The Search”). We knew he was a good diplomat at least, and that’s super handy here, but he also demonstrates some solid military tactics. He’s constantly outguessing the Maquis while Dukat (sort of ridiculously) falls for every trick. Dukat looks so bad the Obsidian Order observer lays a sick burn on him about there finally being a good tactician around, with a nod towards Sisko.
  • Speaking of the Obsidian Order, we’d learned about them back in “The Wire” but we get a little more insight here. Namely that they run a super secret sector that even Dukat doesn’t know about.
  • I’m starting to think we may be in store for a major Dukat pivot at some point. More and more he’s getting left out of the Cardassian inner circle, and he always seems to have time to turn up for some DS9 taunting or other petty business. Eventually he’s just not going to leave and he’ll end up opening a rival clothing store on the promenade. Or: that could just be what it’s like to work within the vast Cardassian bureaucracy. You only get a tiny sliver of power, but you’re expected to be running every minute detail of it.
  • Further, he and Sisko are absolutely starting to build a grudging respect for each other. Dukat even laments that he’s missing his son’s birthday and gets some comfort from Sisko.
  • Didn’t mention one of Riker’s ruses to get aboard the Defiant. O’Brien was aboard fixing stuff when he got there, and to get rid of him, Riker snarls some insult about never wanting to talk to him again, so poor O’Brien slinks off wondering what he did. It was effective enough that I was trying to remember what happened too. It’s been years since my TNG watch. Were they making a point about the unreliability of memory? Probably just a clue that all was not as it seemed with Riker. W. Riker would’ve bear-hugged O’Brien.
    • Sub-point: I hear the term “gaslighting” all the time now for obvious political reasons. I’d never heard it before this last election cycle and it took me a while to wrap my head around what it meant beyond just “lying,” but I think this episode helped! O’Brien was told such an effective lie he questioned his memory (as did I).
      • Getting quite afield of the Trek discussion, but just to close the loop on the the meaning of the term, it further strikes me that should stop using it w/r/t the modern GOP. It implies a level of cunning that would almost be a compliment. Rather than what is actually happening, which is repeated, easily-disproved lying so brazen that the only people whose sanity I’m questioning are people who shrug and vote for them anyway.

Overall: Tremendous character episode and a riveting plot. Good job, everyone. 5 out of 5.

S3E10, “Fascination” (story: Ira Stephen Behr and James Crocker)

Like global climate change causing more weather extremes of both hot and cold, DS9 is getting more extreme in both seriousness and silliness. I am a fan. Excepting the horrid “Meridian,” season 3 has been outstanding. I think it’s really finding its groove in both directions. Anyway if episodes were classified on a sort of contrast color scale where the darkest shade indicated the most serious episodes, and pale colors indicated more farcical elements, “Fascination” is the blinding white light of a nuclear blast.

It’d be dizzying to recap much of the plot, suffice to say, everyone starts acting like they’ve been cooped up in a space station without any smooching for too long. Each has their own love interest—based in reality or not—and of course none of them line up. This occurs during the Bajoran Gratitude Festival, so the mood is wily enough anyway that it’s not immediately clear people aren’t just feeling amorous, but are actually enduring some kind of space love sickness. It all gets very silly until they get it together enough to realize something is wrong and get it all sorted.

Naturally a true farce of a Trek episode prominently involves Lwaxana Troi. My take is that this episode is the ultimate tribute to her character. The thing is, it’s an open question whether her character is good. I’d hypothesize that most Trek fans sort of hate her and roll their eyes and sigh at her appearance, the same way I do the first time the computer doesn’t respond properly when a show starts off in the holodeck. I’m not sure I liked her at first either, but, she grew on me. Everyone knows someone just like some facet of her. She can be thoroughly overbearing, driving Troi nuts or spawning a comically fearful element in the otherwise restrained Picard. But she can also be terrifically sweet, connecting with Odo in a way that probably only she could. Similarly, one can see this episode as too silly, as a straight-up farce with no real value, and not in the spirit of the show. But it’s got a warmth that is typically missing from a show that can be overly stiff, and as an occasional treat, I think it’s needed.

Odo’s biology corner: Odo doesn’t dance. Perhaps there is a biological basis for this, or he’s just being his usual reserved self, but it’s a shame because if he could/would dance I’m sure he’d have some boss moves.

Morn watch: Morn is letting Dax review his renewal scroll (something one does at the Gratitude Festival). She says: “”Morn, It’s hard to believe a handsome, fun-loving guy like you could have so many problems! My advice to you is to burn this as quickly as possible and don’t look back.” (He does so.) This quote is some kind of tantalizing tease.

Overall: I mean, yeah, it’s ridiculous. But the good kind of ridiculous. I saw a lot of sheepish embarrassment about it from the cast and crew, definitely a mixed bag among both fans and creators, but I kind of loved it. 4 out of 5.

S3E11/12, “Past Tense” parts 1 & 2 (story: Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe)

I’m much more of a TV watcher than a movie fan. As a rule it’s a medium for story rather than spectacle. Naturally books are even further along the continuum, but TV sits in the middle as a happy compromise. When it’s well-done it can succeed at both. Good shows have room to build characters and settings in a way that movies never can. Especially in SF, too many movies have this formula:

  1. Introduce a fantastic premise that meshes together some interesting new idea with a social issue. Characters trapped in this world are striving to battle evil or oppression.
  2. Everyone runs around fighting and blowing stuff up.

It’s not difficult to understand why this happens so often. In a reasonably long movie, by the time you’ve covered all the bases in step 1, you don’t have time to pragmatically solve the issues. Step 2 can’t be “build an inclusive grassroots movement to remedy society’s problems.” There’s only time for a revolution.

“Past Tense” is a good episode about homelessness and inequality in society, and it paints an interesting, inevitable picture of the west’s economic future. But, same formula. Part I is essentially step 1 of the episode above, and Part II is step 2. Not unexpectedly, I thought Part I was a little more engaging and interesting. Though at least in the context of the show, we benefit from knowing Sisko pretty well by now, so the weight of his character factors into his increased involvement with the revolution (as noted). Though this situation one-ups most action flicks: here the protagonist knows the history, which means he knows the outcome. He just has to find a way to get there and not screw it up.

Perhaps this setup relies on your particular view of time travel. If you prefer Back to the Future style infinite threads where you can go back, change something, and affect the future, then yeah, Sisko needs to not screw it up. But if you prefer more of the pre-destiny style “you cannot change the past, it implies you’d already changed it” version, then Sisko should really be able to just react as he goes and it should work out, somehow. I think you can read the outcome of this one either way, which is a sign they pull it off.

Other stuff:

  • How Sisko and Bashir get treated (immediate relocation to homeless containment area) vs. Dax (taken in by rich sympathizer) is yet another dimension, with the obvious lesson that society tends to treat you better if you’re pretty and white.
  • STILL MORE Sisko shedding the gentle bureaucratic character in favor of some Kirk-style actioning.
  • It’s really a Sisko episode, but Bashir handles himself pretty well. He’s slowly matured from lovesick hotshot doctor into Competent Away Team Guy.
  • Future minor spoiler: Memory Alpha tells me that they planned to cast Iggy Pop into the minor street guy role that Clint Howard played, but Iggy turned out to have another commitment. Of course, Clint Howard was, and continues to be, available for all one’s twitchy lunatic casting needs. But…Iggy will appear in a season six episode! I am very excited for this.

Overall: A really strong script all-around, layered and detailed, with an good plot and some time travel. 5 out of 5.

S3E13, “Life Support” (story: Christian Ford & Roger Soffer/teleplay: Ronald D. Moore)

Within an episode, I suppose you can treat A & B stories either as complements (addressing the same theme, or eventually tying together) or opposites (time for two stories? do two stories). In the latter case, you need to be sure that the two aren’t so different that you’re expecting the audience to essentially manage two separate emotional reactions. Like for instance, don’t have one story where a major secondary character—whom we’ve seen numerous times and is involved in a very serious relationship with one of the leads—endure a serious accident and difficult experimental medical procedures, but then die slowly in front of our eyes, while the B story is about Nog being a sexist teenage idiot.

Both the individual stories work pretty well, actually, but the combo is a weird, weird choice. Maybe the B story got sillier in execution and they didn’t anticipate it. I dunno. I’m keeping track of who’s credited with the story for each of these, but not usually the teleplay. I’ll note who it is here, though, because Memory Alpha tells me that Ronald D. Moore was more or less the one who convinced the showrunners they needed a lighthearted complement to Bareil’s death story. M.A. also says everyone was horrified how it was turning out. (But I guess, production schedules are production schedules.) And not to be too hard on Moore, who wrote dozens of great episodes of TNG and DS9. (Including “Defiant” in this same dang post.)

Well anyway, so, Bareil dies. I never really cared for the character or his stories, so, honestly, oh well. Memory Alpha also clarifies that they killed him off because the showrunners didn’t really like the Kira love story and didn’t know what else to do with him. So it’s not just me. Though I’m sorry for Kira. Goodness, hasn’t she been through enough? The story itself is interesting enough. It carefully tiptoes around “Spock’s Brain” territory but I’d say it comfortably avoids it and stands as a successful medical drama. (Pro tip:  For believability, do not have characters narrate their own brain surgeries.) Further, Kai Winn manages to become a somewhat sympathetic character, although not without outing herself as being in over her head as Kai. Well, sorta sympathetic. She readily admits she needs help and has deep respect for Bareil, but she also subtly pressures him to risk his life for the negotiations. But he also pressures himself. So I don’t know. I don’t like here any more than I did, but she became a little more human Bajoran.

Forgetting all that, let’s turn to the lesson of Nog being a bad date. Wait—a lesson implies we have learned something. We did not. I think we’d all have guessed Nog would make a bad date. He is not part of a more socially progressive younger generation. He blindly carries on the sexist traditions of his elders, and is so embarrassing he ruins Jake’s date with Lisa from Saved by the Bell. But Jake has to accept some blame. Who thinks it’s a good idea to double date with a Ferengi? Eventually they find a compromise wherein they’ll remain friends but not be expected to adopt either’s cultural norms. The logic being: maybe Jake does some disgusting human stuff that offends Nog’s Ferengi sensibilities, for example, openly being nice to a girl. Or maybe, eating with utensils. So, they will just not bring those things up anymore. Uh, good enough.

Wardrobe note: This is the episode I noticed their undershirts have toned back from the neon purple of the first few season 3 episodes into a more subdued lavender/gray. Probably a good choice. I can say that now that the 90s are well behind us and we understand the full scope of mistakes that were made with purple.

Overall: Just OK I guess. Bareil’s story was better, and sends him off honorably. Also, Nog is gross. 2 out of 5.

S3E5, “Second Skin” (story: Robert Hewitt Wolfe)Sisko and the Grand Nagus' staff (on loan)

In my write-up for “The Search” last time out, I talked about stories that gradually pile on disorder until things are so divergent they’d actually change the premise of the show, which jolts you as viewer out of willful suspension of disbelief. “Second Skin” is another premise trick: introducing a radical change immediately, which you know is BS, so the arc of the show is more about untangling the mystery. (Another classic Trek in this vein is, obviously, SPACE LINCOLN.) Here: Kira wakes up…as a Cardassian! This isn’t even the first time they’ve gone to this well: Troi woke up as a Romulan in some TNG episode that, if I was a paid and/or skillful reviewer of Trek episodes, I would go re-watch to compare and contrast here. Since I am neither, I will not do that.

I won’t go into the whole plot thread, suffice to say, I thought it was well-plotted and it’s a good mind twister even though you know everything’s going back to normal around the 40 minute mark. Somehow. And it does! Memory Alpha tells me that Robert Hewitt Wolfe wanted it to feel like a Philip K. Dick story, and I think he succeeds. Just enough details add up to make one occasionally think, well, maybe it’s true? Memory Alpha also says Wolfe originally thought they’d have O’Brien get the Cardassian treatment, but they couldn’t explain how he’d have managed to father a human child if he was a secret Cardassian. (Which exposes the one flaw in this whole premise: certainly Kira has been to a doctor, ever? Bashir never thought to be like, “Hey, uh, did you know you’re a Cardassian?”) But I think it’s a stronger show with Kira anyway. Besides the way more horrifying experience for the thoroughly Bajoran Kira to contemplate being a secret Cardassian, the pseudo-father-daughter relationship she develops with her fake Cardassian Dad works surprisingly well. I can’t imagine the same emotional connection would’ve happened with O’Brien. Plus it would’ve just been another O’Brien Must Suffer episode.

Garak is a super secret reverse double agent: Essentially the wrap-up here hinges on Garak’s continued inscrutability. Again a Cardassian tells someone not to trust him. Such a strange thing. Not sure if I really understand how this can make sense yet. If he has genuinely betrayed Cardassia (as covered in “The Wire”), wouldn’t they have already hunted him down? It’s been established that sufficiently motivated Cardassian bigwigs will arrange a show trial even if they don’t really have solid evidence. Even if there’s a good reason to just exile him (considered a worse punishment, perhaps), what’s in it for Cardassians to warn Federation people? Unless they are hoping that planting doubt will help neutralize any help he might offer the Federation while in exile. Maybe that does make sense, really, but there’s probably more to the story. More than the alternate possibility, that he’s a legit Cardassian agent. He keeps helping the Federation and obviously is no friend to Dukat. Best guess at this point is that is that the betrayal & exile situation is mostly true. I’d guess he’s been caught within competing factions within the Cardassian government, so he has both supporters and detractors. We are also slowly learning Dukat doesn’t have the clout he once did, so there’s more to come here, I’m sure.

Overall: Extremely solid episode. Some holes in the premise but it works really well. 4 out of 5.

S3E6, “The Abandoned” (story: D. Thomas Maio and Steve Warnek)

“The Abandoned” posits the old nature-vs.-nurture question, but for Jem’Hadar, and it turns out that for genetically-engineered creatures designed for killing, the answer is totally nature, and that nature is for killing.

This is really just a character-building episode. Here’s what’s covered:

  • Jem’Hadar kids: they grow fast, implanted with an enzyme to keep them under control, and all they want to do is fight. It reminds me of this bit from Aqua Teen Hunger Force where Frylock puts Carl’s head onto a mass of eyes. Shake says, “Is he going to be able to chase us? Because if I woke up looking like that, I would just run towards the nearing living thing and kill it.” That is pretty much the Jem’Hadar programming.
    • However: this episode comes off as mostly sad. Odo wants to this one to be saved, raised in a helpful environment where he can do something other than violence. Unfortunately, his overwhelming need is to find his people and fight everything else, and nothing Odo can do will stop it.
  • It’s a largely sad one for Odo as well. He takes to the boy and is trusted at least a little as an outsider ally. But it’s not a natural setup and won’t work out. So for the second time in the series, Odo has a new young friend that he loses. I’m not sure if this or the virtual girl from “Shadowplay” is sadder. Probably “Shadowplay”. Harder to form an emotional connection with an ultraviolent Jem’Hadar when even a simple walk around the promenade is like herding a wild animal.
  • Meanwhile, Jake is growing up and dating a dabo girl several years older than him. But she actually charms Sisko at dinner, so it’s all good. Mostly this thread is about Jake growing up and Sisko sensing a natural shift away from the close relationship they had when Jake was a kid.

So in conclusion: the Jem’Hadar are really really scary death machines, and Jake isn’t a kid anymore.

Odo’s Biology Corner: Odo is moving beyond a bucket in the security office to full quarters in order to explore his true nature in private. Knock before entering, probably.

Overall: Not really any story per se but effective and interesting. 3 out of 5.

S3E7, “Civil Defense” (story: Mike Krohn)

As noted, I do not get paid to write reviews of Star Trek episodes for a living, despite the extreme quality and insight which I produce. Instead I develop web sites and manage some back-end systems. In this line of work, there are many opportunities to make very bad errors which can ruin your day. I have sent servers into infinite loops, overwritten database tables (as a colleague and I used to remind each other frequently, like unto an heroic war remembrance, “Remember your WHERE clauses”), and profoundly botched file permission changes to the point where I myself could no longer edit them. Anyone in this line of work has similar stories. “Civil Defense” is the Trek version of this. One would think this would happen like, daily, with these unfathomably complex systems integrated into every conceivable function of the station. But it’s a good thing it doesn’t because when it happens to me, a website goes down for a few minutes while I frantically restore backups. When it happens on DS9 the station actively tries to murder them.

Cardassians, as is well-established at this point, are (1) brutal authoritarians and (2) extreme planners. It’s also been established that the Cardassians left behind plenty of programmatic cruft in DS9’s mainframe. An outcome of this combination, as seen here, is an exhaustively well-thought out contingency-handling subroutine that disables the station in the event of trouble. The DS9ers manage to trip the program, which interprets their actions as some sort of prison riot, and to sum up, their day doesn’t turn out too well.

This episode maybe comes across as a little more funny than really intended. I think it must have been at least somewhat intentional, especially while the program is on a lower defense level and mostly they are just getting locked into or out of stuff. From there, basically everything that can go wrong does—which as a concept has to have some comic intent or it’s just cruel—but beyond the surface laffs the entire station is in pretty serious peril. Every brilliant idea to circumvent the problem is met with even harsher defenses: including but not limited to poison gas, electronic shocks, replicated laser mines. Dukat even gets in on it personally. The system fires off a latent notice about the situation and he eventually turns up personally to enjoy some taunting—and also to try leveraging the mess for Cardassian gain.

I think my favorite thing was how Dukat had a pre-recorded message for every minor infringement. I mean, he really thought through this potential uprising. But this just turns out to be Cardassian SOP I guess, as revealed by his boss’ pre-recorded message in case Dukat himself tried to flee the station during a riot. These people think of everything. Cardassian parties must be amazing.

Special bonus: Some end-of-episode closing comic banter (a classic TOS trope) between Odo and Quark.

Overall: Honestly a pretty delightful character episode all around, if a bit ridiculous. 4 out of 5.

S3E8, “Meridian” (story: Hilary J. Bader and Evan Carlos Somers)

Two threads. One is bad. One is really really bad.

A. This is the bad one. Some of the crew is out on a Gamma Quadrant exploratory mission when a planet materializes out of thin air right in front of them. They meet a small community on the surface. Oh no! They’ll be evil! No. Wait. Actually they are super nice. They explain that something in this system regularly hurtles their planet into an alternate dimension of pure consciousness and like, what can you do? They just enjoy their brief stopovers in the material world as they can. Actually this is a great premise! Only, as a book. One could really dig into the consequences of this, how it affects different people who want to join up or leave. In one part of one TV show, nah.

There’s just no time to get into anything interesting. Instead it hammers in a Dax love story. A Meridian dude takes her tree climbing and she agrees to abandon her entire life up to that point to join their society. (Keep this idea for a date handy, I guess.) So she has prolonged tearful goodbyes with everyone. Then she undergoes some kind of transporter re-phasing which is supposed to prepare her to enter the pure consciousness dimension with him. Only…she doesn’t? It doesn’t work and she’s left behind. She is devastated. There is no explanation. Credits roll.

I know they’re not all going to be winners on a show with 173 episodes. But nothing makes sense here. Obviously the ending doesn’t. The episode doesn’t end so much as stop bothering to try. I’m going to hope this was a bad week of production meetings and not a trend of things to come. Just as bad is having a character do something bizarre and out of character to churn up some drama. Dax has her impulsive side but, I dunno. Characters giving up their Federation lives for a sudden love interest is more of a TOS thing. It’s not believable at all in the scope of like three scenes. The scenes where she says goodbye to everyone are touching, but that’s to the actors’ credit. We all know she’s not going anywhere. Why don’t they work in a long arc next time someone is actually leaving the show, which would 100% make sense?

B. Back on the station, Quark is creepily trying to create a holosuite porn program of Kira by special request of an even creepier stalker. Yup. It is so much worse than the under-developed, improbably silly A story. This is probably the ickiest, least tasteful, pointless story thus far in the series.

The less said about this half, the better. The mysteriously wealthy stalker character is completely abhorrent, but he’s a villain, so he’ll face justice, yes? Nope. Quark just goes along with it. “The things I do for money,” he says. Hey maybe instead Quark could have surprised everyone and tricked the stalker into some legal entanglement, redeeming himself and pocketing his cash in the process. Quark has absolutely seen The Sting, it must be a beloved Ferengi classic. Let’s make this happen. But the DS9 showrunners did not and this is what we got.

Quark being who/what he is, maybe that would be out of character. But Odo and Kira’s responses are thoroughly out of character. They sniff out the scheme right from the start and have a brilliant chance to catch Quark and end his criminal malfeasance once and for all. So they arrest him and restore law and order, fulfilling their personal and professional dreams. Oh wait, no, actually they use the opportunity for an epic prank. Oy. Maybe they felt like Quark is so squirrelly no charges would stick, or he’d just continue being a nuisance from jail. Better to ruin his business instead, but I suspect nothing will really come from it and we’ll all just forget about this sorry episode.

Odo’s Biology Corner: Odo cannot eat and doesn’t have a sense of taste. Kira badgers him to do so anyway, which strikes me as culturally insensitive.

Morn watch: No appearance, but his name is invoked by Quark to lure Kira down to the bar. There wasn’t much to like about this episode at all, but Kira rushing down to Quark’s because she thinks Morn wants to talk to her provided a brief moment of pleasure.

Overall: Two very poor stories by the standard of this show, gerrymandered into one episode. “Meridian” is a bad TV hazardous containment area best avoided. 0 out of 5.