Frankly, the majority of Deep Space Nine season 1 was underwhelming, the odd episode here and there, though it challenged itself to do better in the last two episodes. I was curious to see to what extent that would carry on into the second season, when DS9 was still the junior partner to Next Generation, then going into its final season.
I did wonder if we would once again get a season-opening two partner, but instead the series went for broke with a three-parter – this first ever in Star Trek history, I understand – which took the show to an altogether new level, in which I begin to see the show I so thoroughly enjoyed.
The triple-episode was heavily Kira-centric, which always suits me down to the ground, especially if it gets Nana Visitor out of that heavily-Eighties super-shoulder padded uniform top, so I was highly satisfied here.
At first, the opening episode concealed its scope. Quark acquires a Bajoran ear-ring, smuggled off Cardassia 4, which Major Kira recognises as belonging to the great Resistance Leader and hero, Li Nalis (an excellent guest role played by Richard Beymer, not that long since of Twin Peaks), long believed dead. Kira asks for a runabout to go to Cardassia 4 and rescue him.
Sisko is initially concerned about the effect of a virtual Federation invasion of the Cardassian Empire but after discovering graffitti supporting the Circle – a fringe group of Bajor-for-the-Bajoran extremists – sends O’Brien with the Major. The Provisional Government on Bajor, with whom the Federation is allied, is not doing well. It is split by factions, and is ignoring the problems of Bajoran citizens. Planet-wide, the Bajorans are slowly disintegrating: Sisko sees the value of a charismatic leader with broad-based support.
Kira and O’Brien’s mission is a complete success, greater than they anticipated, since there are over a dozen Bajoran prisoners in a work camp. They have to land to rescue almost all of them: four stay behind to cover Nalis’s retreat. But back on DS9, Kira and Sisko receive a great shock: Gul Dukat himself presenting an apology for the unknown Bajoran prisoners, who should have been handed back ages ago: those who stayed back are also being repatriated to Bajor.
But things are not destined to be so simple. In its first season, DS9 a couple of times featured legendary heroes whose repute was based upon fiction, and Nalis is another. Not that he is guilty of exaggeration: from the very beginning he tried to tell the comic circumstances of the great exploit on which his reputation was built, only to find himself trapped by the epic story his fellow rebels made of it (cf. The Man who shot Liberty Valance: when the legend becomes fact, print the legend!).
Nalis feels trapped by his own reputation, unworthy of the awe in which he is held, uncomfortable at the hopes placed in him. It’s an intriguing situation,though unfortunately, even in a three-parter, there isn’t room to explore this sensation beyond Nalis’s initial, embarrassed admissions.
Because the rescue of Li Nalis is a big thing, and Bajor wants to celebrate. Minister Jaro Essa arrives at the station with an official admonition for Kira for declaring war on the Cardassians, even though Cardassia hasn’t taken up the gauntlet, and personal congratulations. Nalis accepts his fate and returns to Bajor to shoulder his burdens. Meanwhile, the threat of the Circle grows: Sisko’s quarters are grafittied as well.
But Nalis doesn’t stay on Bajor long. He is returned by Minister Jaro, newly-entitled Navark – a rank invented for him and him alone. The very qualities that Sisko saw in him make him a menace to the Provisional Government so in order to neuter him, Nalis has been appointed the Bajoran Liaison to the Federation on Deep Space Nine: Major Kira is being ‘promoted’ back to Bajor.
End of Part 1.
I know that, strictly speaking, I should leave it at that, but I was too enthused by the opening part to be willing to wait two weeks to see the story, so, as I didn’t have to, I ploughed on immediately.
‘The Circle’ goes on to expand the scope of the story immensely, but first it treats us to a scene of both comedy and affection. Kira in her quarters (jacket off!) is packing, and being interrupted by all the rest of the cast, Sisko excepted, turning up at even shorter intervals than the dwarves at Bilbo’s door, each with their own variation on goodbye. She’s driven almost to distraction until the last visitor turns out to be Vedek Bariel, inviting her to a contemplative break at his monastery.
But that’s the last of the comedy. The Circle it seems are considerably more than experts with a yellow aerosol can. Quark’s connections reveal to him that they are smuggling enough artillery onto Bajor to equip an army, whilst Sisko’s visit to General Krim arouses his suspicions that the Army aren’t going to lift a finger to defend the Provisional Government when the crunch comes.
Quark has no intention of being anywhere within earshot of any crunches, and is planning to have it away on his toes from DS9 after cluing Odo in, and he only does that because he’d been assaulted and branded with the Circle symbol in part 1. Unfortunately, Odo maliciously deputizes the Ferenghi, forcing him to stay, which proves to be of extreme use later on.
At the Monastery, Kira is having trouble adjusting to doing nothing. She’s very much aware that she’s undergoing punishment, and despite hating her job when she started it, she really does miss DS9. Bariel seems to be taking an unpriestly interest in her, providing the devout Kira with an experience with the Third Orb: Kira has a strange vision which culminates with her finding herself naked with Bariel and about to become lovers…
Even after Bariel admits to an Orb-vision involving Kira, she conceals this aspect from him.
Unfortunately the vision also included Vedek Winn, and here she appears in real life, sweetly but poisonously berating Bariel for letting the Major anywhere near the Orb, and unsubtly suggesting Kira hightail it out of here pretty damned sharpish.
This quickly comes to pass, although not voluntarily: Kira is kidnapped by three men in monk’s robes. They are of the Circle, and she is taken to their underground headquarters where she meets the man behind the Circle: Minister Jaro.
Of course he’s the villain in all this: he’s being played by a strangely-uncredited Frank Langella which is tantamount to waving a great big flag with ‘I am a miserable, rotten, sneaky, treacherous bastard’ on it. Jaro intends to bring down the Provisional Government and take power for himself. He also wants – and gets – the support of Wnn’s faction: after all, they share the same goals and she’ll make one hell of a Kai.
What Jaro wants from Kira is what the Federation, and Sisko in particular, will do when they topple the Provisional Government. Kira refuses to answer, even after torture, from which she is rescued by Sisko and co, after Deputy Quark comes up with a location for Circle Headquarters.
To add to this increasing turmoil, Odo has discovered that, unbeknownst to them, the Circle are being equipped by the Cardassians. And why not? Once the Bajoran extremists eject the Federation, they’ll be wide open for the Cardassians to march back in again. And it’s all starting to kick off. DS9 is jammed electronically, two battle cruisers are en route to the station and, despite the long-term political implications, Sisko is ordered to evacuate from DS9: it is the Prime Directive: they cannot and must not interfere with local disputes.
So Sisko plans a retreat. The battle cruisers are due in seven hours, but all Federation personnel could be off-station in three. However, Sisko has other plans. If he’s got to evacuate then he’s damned well going to evacuate everything: every last nut and bolt of every piece of Federation equipment is going with them. O’Brien reckons it will take a week. Very well then: they’ll just have to dig in and stay until they’re good and ready.
End of Part 2.
‘The Seige’ began almost immediately afterwards. Sisko gathered together all the Federation officers to put to them the situation. To stay would be difficult, demanding and dangerous: not all of them are full-time DS9 staff: no-one who wished to leave would be blamed. And all stayed.
But an evacuation was still necessary, for families and other non-Bajorans, which led to a variety of short but neatly judged scenes: Keiko O’Brien’s resentment that the Chief put Sisko and his duty ahead of her, Jake’s petulance at moving on yet again and losing another friend countered by Nog’s refusal to accept that their friendship would, or even could break, and Quark’s plan to profit by selling seats, only to find in the end that his browbeaten brother Rom had sold his!
So the seige began. Dax left with Kira, to locate an old resistance ship that would get them to Bajor and get the proof of the Cardassian involvement to the Council of Ministers. Dax had changed into civilian clothes: everyone had bar the Major (shame) since Starfleet itself have withdrawn.
And it was a most unusual seige, consisting of allowing the Bajoran forces, under General Krim – who was too smart not to realise there was something going on – and Colonel Day – who was all gung-ho cowardly lying Federation have fled us and too stuffed with the Circle’s principles to see that the sheer emptiness of DS9 was a trap.
Guerilla tactics effect a bloodless coup and hold the Bajoran military long enough for Kira, with Vedek Barial’s aid, to get the vital evidence to the Council of Ministers, just as Minister Jaro is assuming how. He blusters and bluffs smoothly enough, but Vedek Winn is too wiley not to understand that this is not going any further. She insists on the evidence being examined: it is the end.
So finally the order goes out to return to Bajor. The Provisional Government holds, the Federation remain its allies and DS9 is ceded back to Sisko. The frustated Day attempts to gain revenge by assassinating Sisko, but Li Nalas intercepts the shot, dying for his people, as we who understand the mechanics of televison series in this era knew he always would.
He remained a legend though, and in more than just the Bajoran’s eyes. Sisko will always see him as such.
So: a superb, effectively sustained three-parter that set Deep Space Nine it’s own challenge for season 2: keep up that standard. The kind of stories that had been writen in the first season would no longer do. The series came of age here, and I at least will be expecting more and better from it from now on.