Deep Space Nine: s06 e26 – Tears of the Prophets


This is one of the points I’ve known about all along, going back almost twenty years. It’s been a long long time coming, in both senses, and when it came, despite the opinions of many, I found it disappointing, if still emotional. Terry Farrell’s last episode, Jardzia Dax’s death, a death foretold yet in its arrival perfunctory and meaningless, a side-issue in an episode that wanted to engineer a reversal for Captain Sisko.

In terms of guests stars, this was one of the fullest episodes of them all, with practically every recurring character popping up somewhere or other, including Vic bloody Fontaine in the most seriously ill-thought out idea of the whole script, wasting time crooning to Bashir and Quark, who’d chosen to have themselves serenaded as ‘The Losers’ (oh, you bet) after Jardzia announces that she and Worf are going to try for a baby.

As if that wasn’t a glutinously cheesy bit of melodrama in itself.

It had been known for no little time that Farrell wasn’t renewing her contract, having burnt out on the long days of filming. What wasn’t known then was the disgusting sexual harrassment the actress had been experiencing from day 1 from co-Showrunner Rick Berman, who’d pretty much put a stop of Farrell’s willingness to stay on as a recurring, not cast member. No, it was pretty much decided that Jatdzia had to be written out by dying, and originally it was supposed to be heroically, of course.

But with all that time to think it out and get it right, there was a colossal failure of imagination as Jardzia just gets ambushed by Gul Dukat, who’s possessed by a Pah-Wraith, and blasted with no-one there to even be horrified by the assault on her. Except the audience, of course.

For the season finale, the show wanted to kick Sisko in the teeth. The set-up was that the Federation had finally agreed to his urging to switch to an Offensive War, striking at the Cardassians in a weak system, under-defended. Gul Damar is having it seeded by automated defence platforms, so there, but the nutcase Dukat turns up out of nowhere with a plan to open up the Wormhole to enable Dominion reinforcements to flood in again.

The Prophets warn Sisko not to leave Bajor but Admiral Ross makes him choose between the Federation and being an Emissary, which is all stuff and nonsense anyway. Sisko leads the assault, leaving DS9 under Jardzia’s command and vulnerable to the possessed Dukat beaming aboard into the Bajoran temple (how? Just like that, into the Federation’s most important centre?).

Jardzia goes down, the nearest Orb gets carbonated, the Wormhole vanishes, Sisko falls ill on the Defiant‘s bridge, the attack succeeds, the Dax symbiont is saved, Worf mourns, Sisko mourns then he buggers off to Earth on indefinite Leave of Absence (Supreme Tactical Commander of the Federation and he can just nip off on holiday like that?). And, to make it all seem so serious, he takes his baseball.

No, this one fell flat on its face in so many respects. It failed to provide even a half decent send-off for Farrell, it spilled dross over everything else, it was completely unconvincing, and if I’m in a minority again, sobeit. After six seasons, they should know how to do better than this.

Six months from now, give or take the odd double-episode, I’m going to be coming to the end of this long run of Deep Space Nine Tuesdays. I’d like to hope the show finale is better than this was. For once, I’d accept a spoiler warning that it is.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e24 – Time’s Orphan

Molly’s a big girl now

After the unadulterated filth that was last week’s episode, practically anything would have been an improvement, but what Deep Space Nine gave us was a deeply personal, entirely human story, made possible only by this being a science fiction series, with an ending that shamelessly cheated its way into blatant sentimentality of a kind that usually destroys something like this but which, on this occasion, was whole-heartedly welcome.

This is an O’Brien story, and for the first time this season (and the penultimate time in the show), Keiko is back, with the children. It’s finally safe enough to bring them home, and to celebrate they’re all going on a picnic. All fun and games, and relaxed enjoyment. Until Molly falls through a time portal and is lost.

Yes, the ultimate parents’ nightmare. But only in a show like this can this horrible incident be turned back on itself. Molly’s gone back in time, maybe three hundred years, back to before Bajor first began colonising Golana. With O’Brien working furiously, a team including Jardzia, Bashir and Kira manage to re-energise the portal, project a transporter beam through it, lock onto Molly’s DNA and retrieve her.

Except that she’s ten years older, and feral.

Michelle Krusiec guests as the older Molly, and is quite simply brilliant. Her air of barely suppressed fear, her desocialisation, her inability to accept confinement are all balanced with her slow-growing recognition of her parents, the moments of tentative connection with her childish self. There’s one moment, when she’s still suspicious, still fearful of danger, but moving towards acceptance, when Keiko brings out her silver-backed hairbrush and brushes her hair: the fascinated Molly approaches slowly, touches the hairbrush, and squats down beside Keiko, using her mother’s hand to draw the brush through her own hair, all done without words, that brought tears to my eyes.

But a space station is the wrong place to assist a wild child whose overwhelming experience, memories and sense of inner security is bound up in being on an entirely natural planetary surface. Frustrated and scared, Molly lashes out and injures someone who presses charges. She’s to be taken to a specialist facility – another confined area – away from DS9 and her parents.

And O’Brien rebels. At first, he’s going to do it alone, to shield Keiko but she, quite properly, is having none of it. So they break Molly out of the infirmary, steal a runabout and take her back to Galona, to put her back through the Portal to where she will be safe, and in her own world, even at the cost of never seeing her again.

At least, that’s the plan. Security catches them but Odo, after expressing his disappointment in the Chief – he’d always thought that O’Brien was the best bet to pull something like this off – he sends them on their way.

Back to Golana, to send older Molly back to the timepoint she was removed from. Never to see her again. In reality, cold and black-hearted that it is, that would be the long and the short of it. But this is fiction, where there is a greater leeway to order things as they should be, not as they would be, no matter how sentimental that becomes.

A bit of ex post facto gobbledegook to ‘rationalise’ it, but really it’s down to the purely human desire to please, just this once, let it all work out. Instead of sending Big Molly back to her extraction point, the portal slips back to its original setting and delivers her to Little Molly’s entry point. And Big Molly sends her younger self back into the portal, to re-emerge in her proper time, at her proper age, to be re-united with Miles and Keiko.

And, because the logic of time-travel is immutable, Big Molly erases herself from existence, or rather reaches the furthest end of her divergent and entirely personal time-loop. And although all of this ending is, as the Chief put it in a surprising expletive that, first time round, got muted in the UK, “Bollocks!” (took me by surprise that did, rather like the time some smartarse writer slipped the word ‘wanker’ into a 1975 Justice League of America issue), anyone who’s ever been any kind of parent will be too awash with endorphins to care about how cheap it is.

This was intended to be a single story episode, and a bottle one at that, but it ran out at nine minutes short, so what was a very pertinent B-story was created. By now, it was known that Terry Farrell was leaving at the end of the season, that her ending was planned, and that her relationship with Worf would be severed forever. By having her and, primarily, Worf, babysit Yoshi O’Brien, we were given not just one last close-up on their relationship but, in Worf’s striving to be a worthy father, a poignant glimpse of a future that, in so short a space of time to come, would be denied forever.

Dear me, I seem to have something in the corner of my eye… Doubtless, I will be ok for next week.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e16 – Change of Heart

Run thru’ the jungle…

This was an oddly simple and plain story, and yet it was still a satisfying episode.

After speculating the other week about a reversion to the old A-B story formula, that was exactly what we got, even down to the B story being comic and inadequate. It looked to have been inserted because the A story couldn’t be stretched out that long without being paper-thin, and its to the writer’s credit that he managed to work in enough reference to the A story to reinforce the overall event.

The A story is a Worf/Jardzia two-hander. Two months into their marriage, Worf’s being accommodating of Jardzia’s foibles in a most unKlingon fashion, even when the two are sent on a secret mission to pick up an urgent message from a Cardassian spy supplying Spacefleet Intelligence. Lassara is close too being exposed and wants out, so Worf and Jardzia have to go get him from a jungle rendezvous involving 20km of jungle-trekking.

They’re working together well, efficient and professional, but also light-hearted and jokey, until they’re surprised by three Jem’Hadar. They kill the Jem’Hadar but Jardzia is seriously wounded by a disruptor blast and grows steadily weaker, the further they penetrate, until she can go no further, and indeed desperately needs surgery.

Worf goes on alone, aware of his duty, his career. Until he has a change of heart, turns back, puts rescuing Jardzia above his mission. Lassara is killed, and the tons of vital information he carried dies with him. Worf explains that he could not leave his wife. Sisko condemns his as a captain: the two will never be paired on mission again, and Worf will never be offered command. But as a man, he confirms he would not have left Jennifer either.

The B story started with Jardzia sitting in with the Ferengi playing tonga. Quark’s on a 206 winning game streak. Worf is confident Jardzia will end this, enough to bet bloodwine against whiskey with O’Brien on it. When Quark makes it 207, the Chief develops an obsession with ending Quark’s streak, but he’s rubbish at tonga. So he gets Dr Bashir to play the game for him,and the genetically enhanced Bashir’s doing well, until Quark distracts him by talking about Jardzia’s marriage to Worf, and how nobody expects it to last, and both he and Bashir let her slip through their hands, she being so special…

Whether he means it or it’s flim-flam doesn’t matter: that’s 208.

What else is there to say? The episode was plotted very plainly, and the message, about the power of love, was so simple and unnuanced as to be all but banal. Yet I enjoyed it, without ever feeling particularly moved. A most odd episode.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e14 – One Little Ship

Tiny spaceship time

We’re already into the back half of season 6 and, whilst there were a few things about this episode that aren’t going to escape critical comment, I enjoyed this rather more than I’ve done for some weeks. ‘One Little Ship’ was something of a comedic episode, helpfully signalled to the audience in the open by having Major Kira burst into hysterical laughter over the premise, but the humour was more in the playing by Colm Meaney, Alexander Siddig and Terry Farrell, as the three who shrunk, because the story was otherwise completely serious.

There was a certain amount of disguised playing to the open as well. Everybody’s off on the ‘Defiant’ doing a scientific mission as a break from the ongoing War that’s ongoing exceedingly slowly and mostly everywhere else except near Deep Space Nine. Point of criticism #1: I’m very disappointed in DS9‘s failure of nerve over the War, which they’ve started but don’t really have any commitment in pursuing, taking every opportunity they can to run away from it into a one-off story. ‘One Little Ship’ set up shop to appear to be doing that again. But it didn’t.

And there was a point when I thought that, for the first time in quite some time, we were going to have the old A-story/B-story set-up, with Dax, O’Brien and Bashir having one adventure in the Accretion Anomaly that was going to shrink them to about half a centimetre in height, and Sisko, Kira, Worf and Nog having another when the ‘Defiant’ was attacked and captured by Jem’Hadar. I was proven wrong on both points.

What happened was that, because it exited the anomaly on a different course from its entry (the anomaly being the MacGuffin, the scientific gobbledegook required to create the situation), the runabout Rubicon was stuck at 4cm long. So the tiny ship had to fly into the ‘Defiant’ and use all manner of sneakiness to zip here and there, lending a next-to-invisible hand to the Sisko-led response to the invasion.

In this, the shrunken warriors were aided by an intriguing new plot development that was never mentioned again, because nobody bothered to follow up on it. After the Jem’Hadar fleet was destroyed in the Wormhole, the Founders decided not t try to bring in any more Jem’Hadar but instead breed a new Jem’Hadar race on the spot (shades of the Mekon’s ‘New Treens’ in my favourite Dan Dare story, ‘All Treens Must Die!’).

These ‘Alpha’s are specially bred, genetically redesigned to thrive on war in the Alpha Quadrant, which has created a friction between the new, upstarts Alphas and the long-established but now overshadowed Gammas. The First is an Alpha, the Second a Gamma, and a well-respected Elder who was himself First until just two days ago. The Second has a great deal of experience, the First has practically none, and not only does he ignore the Second’s advice, he openly resents it and is even more determined to go his own way, with the arrogance of (assumed) natural superiority.

Needless to say, the Second is right at every turn, though his reward is a death that overcomes him before he is able to complete the Jem’Hadar mantra, ‘Obedience is Victory: Victory is Life’.

Point of Criticism #2: everyone agrees this Jem’Hadar division should have been taken further, but it never was. That relegation to a one-off weakens what was, ultimately, a fundamental plot-point, makes it look as if it’s a gimmick that was invented as a ‘Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free’ card, and you know how often I’ve complained of cheap, shoddy writing in the last thirty months. That it was intended as a permanent development redeems it a little, but it should still have been woven into the overall storyline.

Then again, in way way could this have been used that wasn’t basically a repetition of this episode? The answer is, I Don’t Know, but I’m sure a bank of screenwriters could have come up with something.

‘One Little Ship’ was filmed before last week’s ‘Far Beyond the Stars’ but airedafter because of the increased post-production time, adding the shrunken ‘Rubicon’ in Special Effects, which brought the episode an Emmy nomination. It may not have been of great significance overall, but I personally had a better time than I’ve had for many Deep Space Nine Tuesdays.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e13 – Far Beyond The Stars

Who’s Who?

Well, I guess I must be suffering some sort of burn out on Deep Space Nine because I just couldn’t get into this episode at all, and it’s one of those episodes that’s not just a fan-favourite but a favourite of so many members of the team that made it, including many of the actors themselves. Clearly, it’s me, then.

‘Far Beyond the Stars’ is another of those get-the-cast-out-of-character episodes, as Sisko undergoes a practically episode-long hallucination in which he’s a staff writer on a 1953 SF magazine, facing racial prejudice. It involves every member of the cast and a bunch of recurring characters out of costume and, in several cases, out of make-up.

Basically,the peg is that Sisko is approaching burn out. The Dominion War is still ticking over in the background, with wins and losses, but the latest loss – the Cortez and it’s 400 strong crew, especially its Captain, Quentin Swofford, an old friend of Sisko – has him talking of stepping down.

Immediately he suggests that, he starts seeing people in 1953 clothes walking around where they aren’t. Bashir diagnoses strange synaptic potentials akin to those in the season 5 episode, ‘Rapture’ when he was having visions sent by the Prophets (not so much a hint as a crowbar to the back of the neck) and, presto changeo, he’s in 1953 New York where he’s Benny Russell, employed by Incredible Tales magazine.

Everyone’s there, so it’s spot-the-unmake-upped- actor time (I didn’t get Aron Eisenberg, Jeffrey Combs or J. G. Hertzler and I was incredibly slow about Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn) whilst the story hammers on its theme of racial prejudice. The hammering is relentless, but then again so was the racism. I don’t doubt there’s a social faction that would kick-off against snowflakes and SJWs, but just because the present day isn’t as relentlessly open and universal as the world depicted here doesn’t mean it no longer needs saying.

To be honest, I found the unrelieved nature of the depiction to be dramatically unbalanced: over and over and over again. In another context, where you could focus on this story without having Deep Space Nine looking over your shoulder constantly, it would have worked far better. Instead, it was never possible to escape the awareness that this set-up was doubly unreal, a fiction within a fiction.

Anyway, Benny Russell is inspired by a drawing of a space station very much like DS9 to write a powerful, engrossing story. About DS9, and it’s captain, Benjamin Sisko. Everybody loves and admires it, but it won’t get published. Because the Captain is a negro.

To jump briskly forward, after a tour of Benny’s world and constant reminders of the restrictions inherent on black people (Marc Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs as two violently prejudiced cops,who beat the living shit out of Benny at one point), he gets his editor to accept the story (and possibly the six sequels he’s already written), in return for his altering it slightly, to make the whole thing a dream. Whatever gets it into print. But the owner orders the whole print run pulped, the magazine’s going to skip a month and Benny’s fired. We all know why.

Throughout the hallucination, Sisko Senior keeps popping up as a Minister, preaching about the way ahead and insisting Sisko keep on his path, that he writes the words. He keeps mentioning the prophets (there’s that crowbar again). Benny has become fixated on his Captain Sisko, his DS9, this future he’s imagined. This latest setback unhinges him.He cracks up, onscreen, as if this block on publication of the story is an attempt to stop this entire future, the world of DS9, in which black and white and every other shade are equals, from ever happening.

Sad to say, I found it unconvincing, even when supported by Sisko’s musings in the close, which attempts to tip the show into metafiction, by wondering if Deep Space Nine is actually nothing more than the fiction it is, created by Benny Russell?

It’s Jorge Luis Borges’ paradox writ large: who is dreaming who? Is Sisko dreaming Benny, or vice versa? For me, it completely flops. Firstly, because when Benny goes into his meltdown, talking about ‘creating’ DS9, in the sense of a Creator creating Reality, he’s doing so as a character we know to be at a lower level of existence, the centre of a story-within-a-story. The same goes for Sisko’s musings: in an isolated story, you can play this angle for all it’s worth, and leave the reader genuinely uncertain, but after 136 previous episodes of Deep Space Nine, you’re pushing credibility to suggest that might be a fiction. A Tommy Westphall ending doesn’t work unless it is the end.

When Sisko recovers from the hallucination, his synaptic potentials have cleared up, even without a take-two-of-these-and-see-me-in-the-morning (crowbar time…) and he’s decided to soldier on. Phew, I was worried there…

The whole thing was a vision from the Prophets, to show Sisko that some fights have to be fought even in the face of frustration, defeat and loss. But really the episode was about the cast dressing down and playing outside their characters, with the framing story a loose-fitting McGuffin. That the story chosen was an important issue is impressive, but paradoxically it was weakened by being played in the context of Deep Space Nine, where it could have n serious impact by virtue of our knowledge that by the end it would all be reset, nothing gained, nothing lost, all that anger, frustration and heartache meaningless.

Or is it all just me?

Deep Space Nine: s06 e07 – You Are Cordially Invited…

Oh come on, what else did you think I’d select?

Despite my ongoing attempts to avoid spoilers (for a show twenty years old), I knew this was coming, that after a six-part sequence, the Production crew at Deep Space Nine had decided to schedule the wedding of Worf and Jardzia as a deliberately upbeat, and lightweight, counterpart to the seriousness thus far. And in terms of filling intention, this was a good 80% successful.

I don’t really have much complaint about this episode. It started in buoyant mood, everybody still on the high of returning to the station after a week of settling in, smiles all round and the only worm in the apple being that the Station Chief of Security and its First Officer are avoiding each other like bessy mates who’ve fallen out.

As rightly they should. I know the show is going to forgive Odo, sooner rather than later, for his defection and, though it goes completely against her character to do so, so will Kira. It was good to have this tension acknowledged, and even better that it was done without going into any depth about it.

It was less good that the pair ended up talking it out, offscreen, in a very relaxed, private, heart-to-heart context, without our hearing a single word said and I hereby give notice that if, next week, it turns out they’re back to normal, I’m going to scream very loudly whilst jumping up and down on it with hobnailed boots.

But enough of that sideshow. The wedding is progressing. It’s going to be very traditional Klingon, so much so that Kira is asking whether any of it reflects Jardzia. Worf has it planned for after the War, on the Klingon homeworld, but here’s son Alexander, about to be transferred to a distant ship so Jardzia suggests holding it this week, in Quarks, so that Alexander may not merely be there but be the equivalent of Worf’s best man.

This is where things get ever so slightly awkward. We can’t just have the pair get married and everyone have a good time. So the show rummages in the Cliche Drawer to start throwing up things that will lead to the wedding being called off first.

On the one hand, we have Worf and Martok inviting Sisko, O’Brien, Bashir and Alexander to his Kal’Hyah, or four day bachelor party. Everyone imagines feasting, drinking, bacchanalia, but instead it means fasting, endurance, great heat: nice, if predictable, reversal but the joke is one-note and goes on a bit too long.

Meanwhile, outside, Jardzia is undergoing her own torture, by having the rule run over her by Sirella (guest star Shannon Cochran), wife of Martok, mistress of the House of Martok and ultimate arbiter over whether the wedding will be allowed, and Jardzia permitted to join the House of Martok. Given that Sirella doesn’t believe the House should be weakened by admitting aliens (and she doesn’t much like Worf either), the outcome is pretty obvious.

Sirella is super-toughh on Jardzia, Jardzia rebellious and it all comes to a head when Sirella turns up in the middle of Jardzia’s pretty raucous party (complete with Hawaiian fire-dancer). Sirella is not best pleased at the less-than-Klingon behaviour she’s seeing (even the writer reckons that, but for Sirella turning up, the party would have come to the traditional end of Jardzia shagging the fire-dancer). She demands Jarzia attend the next ritual, Jardzia refuses, a quarrel develops (he said, euphemistically: Sirella draws a knife, Jardzia smashes her one in the face – literally, though by accident, on one take) and that’s it, the wedding is off.

Unless Jardzia grovels to Sirella, that is, which, in her hungover state, and in her sober pride after, she’s not prepared to do. Since she refuses to bend to Klingon tradition like this, Worf sadly concludes that the wedding is a mistake. But Martok talks Worf back into it, and Sisko practically orders Jardzia back into it (she’s not Curzon any longer and has to let go of his pride), and offscreen, so that none of the hard writing has to be done convincing us, Sirella melts. The wedding is back on.

And amazingly fit does Terry Farrell look in her red leather wedding dress with its diamond cut out between her, ahem, breasts. The pair are joined and everyone is happy, especially Milesand Julian, who have every intention of making the symbolic attack-with-clubs on the happy pair a bit less symbolic than usual after that Kal’Hyah…

Nevertheless, the episode was a bright spot, and it worked mostly: I enjoyed watching it at least. But once again, I was disappointed to see the hard spots in writing swept offstage, impossible enmities resolved as if by magic. And I now understand that that does go for Kira and Odo.

That is a massive, colossal fuck-up. No-one: actors, producers, writer, fans, no-one is happy with it. It came about due to time constraints, the bane of a prime time series, to the late decision not to pursue a logical course with Odo that would have isolated him and destabilised him, but it is still shit, it is still a massively damaging, credibility undermining turn. You just cannot abdicate moments like this and hope to be taken seriously: what is the point of anything in Deep Space Nine, knowing that it can and will be undone by the wave of a magic wand and a conversation offscreen, and everything’s kissed better?

I’m not going to forget this.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e05/6 – Favors the Bold/Sacrifice of Angels


So the six-part (seven, if you count the final episode of season 5) Dominion War arc concluded with a two-parter of its own, and with the expected victory for the Federation in the re-taking of Deep Space Nine. This was originally intended to take a single episode, but the sheer profusion of events requiring to be covered forced its expansion, and the sheer volume of guest stars to accommodate.

Both parts were excellent, but I’m not sure if the first part, ‘Favors the Bold’, wasn’t the better of the two. Though the double-episode structure meant that it was all build-up and no resolution, after the relatively innocuous open (the Defiant acting as a decoy to attract Jem’Hadar ships to be destroyed by it and the Rotaran), the episode started on the edge, and remained on the edge throughout.

The Federation are losing the War, and morale is falling at the constantly defensive stance. The Federation needs to go on the attack and Sisko has drawn up a plan: the retaking of DS9, and regaining control of the Wormhole.

Meanwhile, on DS9, Rom is still in the cells. He’s been declared a terrorist against the Dominion and there is only one sentence: execution. Kira can’t get Weyoun to change his mind, Ziya can’t get her father, Gul Dukat, to change his mind either. Leeta and Quark are trying to encourage Rom: Quark promises he will get him out, and that’s before Leeta agrees to run the dabo wheel for two years for free.

But Rom is adamant that he is unimportant. He should not be rescued. The anti-graviton beam must be sabotaged before it can neutralise the minefield on the Wormhole. Billions of lives depend on the War. Quark must take over from him. Though Quark refuses, it’s only because he’s afraid. He’s not being Quark, not being Ferengi, he’s taking everything seriously and it’s strange but I like him better here than I ever have before.

Meanwhile, Odo has been closeted with the Female Changeling for three days, not that he’s been aware of time. They’ve been communing, both via the Great Link – which is slowly beginning to addict Odo – and the way solids do (wipes mind of image thus produced). In every way except actively, he’s gone over to the other side. Kira can’t even get in to see him.

Next, Demar, still knocking back the booze like it’s going out of fashion, lets on to Quark that the mines will be swept within the week, Quark gets this out to Sisko via Morn, and the Federation attack has to go ahead without delay: without half the planned fleets, and without the Klingons. Oh, and with Ensign Nog, who gets a promotion from Cadet!

I hadn’t immediately realised this was going to be a two-parter, though as we got into the last five minutes or so, this became obvious. The Fleet is on its way. Sisko’s back in the Captain’s chair on the Defiant. O’Brien and Bashir are trading lines from The Charge of the Light Brigade, much to Nog’s consternation, and the Dominion fleet comes up ahead: 1254 ships, outnumbering the Federation more than two to one. Let battle commence.

The title of the second episode filled me with foreboding from the outset, a foreboding that was realised, though strictly speaking it related to a different kind of sacrifice.

With the Fleet now engaged in battle, the Cardassian/Dominion War counsel, Dukat, Demar, Weyoun and the Female Changeling, takes the entirely sensible decision to arrest the Resistance: Kira, Jake and Leeta are hauled in for questioning, but once Dukat has achieved the victory he’s so delightedly anticipating, everyone’s going to be for the chop.

Sisko’s battle plan is to concentrate fire on the Cardassian ships, hoping to provoke them into the kid of direct response that will break the formation, leaving a hole the Defiant et al can punch through. Dukat recognises this and orders the necessary ships to break, intending to create a trap: Bashir recognises the tactic. But it’s all they’ve got, they’ve got to go for it.

With the aid of a timely arrival of a Klingon fleet under Martok and Worf, the Defiant breaks through, alone, and barrels towards DS9. But the time until when the mines will be eradicated is getting tight. Quark and Zyal break the Resistance out of the cells. Odo puts the agonising appeal of the Link aside to ensure Kira is not killed. She and Rom feverishly work at dsabling the station’s weapons array and succeed. There’s only a second in it. But it’s not the cliche second that saves the day. It’s a second late. The mines are cleared, a Dominion fleet of 2800 ships starts through the Wormhole and Sisko, knowing it’s suicide for everyone but having no other alternatives, takes the Defiant into the Wormhole to face them. Alone.

And here is the ending that, for many people, was a letdown, and in a way it was, because all deus ex machina endings are, by definition, a cheat upon drama, but this ending was integral to the entire Deep Space Nine arc. Because Sisko is the Emissary. And the Emissary was taken to the place of the Prophets, against his will, and there told that he is not allowed to die, not allowed to end the game. He rants and raves, demands to be returned, challenges the Prophets that, if they are Gods, they owe a duty to their children. We’re a long way from the Emissary’s complete scepticism and discomfort at his role.

And the Prophets return him, and they use their powers to sweep away, without trace, the entire Dominion Fleet. Deus ex machina, and with real deus’s who exist within the overarching storyline. You can see why people thought it weak, thought it a cheat. Is it a cheat to build just the very thing into your five-years-long-so-far story? I don’t have an answer to that. But I didn’t feel cheated on an emotional level.

But there will be a price for intervention. Sisko, who has declared his intention of building a home on Bajor, will not know peace. And before then, there will be another sacrifice.

When the Defiant emerges from the Wormhole alone there is a general consternation on DS9 and an immediate decision to head for the lifeboats, Female Changelings first. Dukat can’t believe it. They’d won. They’d won. How could this have happened?

It’s everybody out, but Dukat won’t leave without Ziyal. He’s already half-crazed, which is worsened when she refuses to leave with him. Here is her home. she is not a true Cardassian. Though she loved him, she has acted against him, freeing Kira and the rest. And Demar, who has heard all this, draws his gun and cuts her down. Dukat goes over the edge.

So Sisko and co return to DS9, to a hero’s welcome. Everyone’s there to meet them, except Kira, who’s in the infirmary with Ziya. When he hears this, Garak heads straight there. Kira informs him that Ziya loved him. Garak’s response is deeply sad: he says that he knew, but he could never understand why. Now, he never will.

Dukat is still in DS9, collapsed into madness. He is sobbing his forgiveness of Ziya, of others. He returns Sisko’s baseball, tells him he forgives him too. It is a sober moment in the middle of victory.

To be honest, I am already wondering about what happens next. I know the subject of the next episode, but it is what the series does from episode eight onwards that concerns me. The Dominion have not been defeated. They have not given up their war or their plan. The Wormhole is still there: are the Prophets going to wipe out every Dominion ship that tries to go through it?

I really hope we don’t go back to the kind of individual stories that have dominated earlier series. Things have changed irreversibly and that would be a total letdown.

However, it’s a case of waiting for future episodes to come round on schedule. I will wait and see.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e02 – Rocks and Shoals

This episode, part 2 of the six-episode ‘Dominion War’ arc though apparently filmed after part 3 due to location availability, achieved the feat of being dark and bitter without cynicism, indeed of being such within a story that lauded honour.

We are but moments on from the end of ‘A Time to Stand’: the captured Jem’hadar ship that Sisko and Co. are using needs three days of repair but doesn’t get three minutes. Two Jem’Hadar ships are in pursuit and fire, damaging the ship beyond repair, and damaging Jardzia Dax so much that, despite the majority of the episode taking place on a sunny planet, she’s laid up in a cave (a necessary twist, given that Terry Farrell had a skin condition effectively making her allergic to direct sunlight).

To escape, the ship plunges headlong into an uncharted dark nebula, crashing into a digitally-created sea, forcing the crew to have to swim ashore. Unfortunately for them, only two days earlier, a completely different Jem’Hadar ship has crash-landed on the same planet, just a few caves over.

The set-up is a bit too coincidental, though we mustn’t forget that we are still deep in Dominion-controlled space. What follows though only grew in strength, and that odd nobility that seems inextricably intertwined with war, thanks in no small part to the performance of guest star Phil Morris in the role of the Jem’Hadar commander, Third Remata’Klan. Morris chose to play his part as a very steady, close to emotionless, very serious role, lending gravitas to a figure that is supposed to be a drug-dependent, near-deranged, purpose-bred killer, who was to be central to the story.

The story itself was relatively simple. The Jem’Hadar are under the command of the Vorta Keevan (Christopher Shea), who has been wounded in the crash. After Garak and Nog are captured, Remata’Klan is sent with terms: that they will be released unharmed, in exchange for Sisko and Bashir meeting with Keevan. The Vorta’s purpose is two-fold, Bashir to save his life, Sisko for a deal. There is only one vial of White left, between ten soldiers. Once it is gone, they will lose all control and slaughter everyone. In return for his safety, as a Prisoner of War, Keevan will direct the Jem’Hadar into a trap where the Starfleet crew can massacre them. They then get the Jem’Hadar comms unit, which O’Brien can fix and send a rescue message.

Despite his moral reservations about slaughtering the Jem’Hadar, which several of his crew (not Garak, of course) share, Sisko goes ahead. But before ambushing the Jem’Hadar, Sisko offers terms to Remata’Klan. If the Jem’Hadar will surrender, their lives can be spared. Bashir will sedate them and, after rescue, they will be put in stasis until they can cured or returned. They have been betrayed by Keevan, he does not deserve their loyalty.

Here was where the episode hinged on Morris. Remata’Klan refuses. He has known all along that he and his men are being set-up: the plan of attack is tactically stupid. But he is loyal to the Vorta and he has his orders. It’s not that Keevan has to earn loyalty, it is that Remata’Klan was born loyal. It is the way he is. it is the Order of Things.

What depends on Morris, what has been built by his steadfastness, his entrenched solidity throughout, is that we not see this as stupid, as naive or unblinking loyalty, the subservience of cattle. Remata’Klan is more than that. He is an intelligent, thinking being. He knows that what is being done to him and the men for whom he is responsible is wrong, he knows that he faces an enemy far more worthy, who will bend over backwards to assist their own enemies. But he knows who he is, and he has long ago accepted that, and he must act in accordance with the dictates of his being. It is not that he cannot make a different choice, but rather that he will not, and it depends on Phil Morris showing us that and having us believe it or the whole episode is lost.

And without a single histrionic, indeed because there are no histrionics, he knocks it out of the park. There is bitterness, that someone of such high intelligence and purpose has to be killed and even more so in the smug face of Keevan looking down on his dead men as if they are no more than animals, a moment from Shea that was equally crucial to the episode, but as I said above, there was no cynicism, save in Keevan and that moment.

Originally, the script called for a closing scene in which Worf beams down from General Martok’s ship to rescue the stranded crew. Because of the excessive, unanticipated heat on the three-day location shoot, time ran out before this scene could be shot, leaving the episode to focus, much more effectively, on Sisko’s close-up, grappling with his rage at the part he’d had to play in this brutal slaying, wanting to execute the smug, grinning Keevan with his own hands, but having to accept the part his duties, and the condition of war forces upon him.

Of course, this was not all. The parallel DS9/Terak Nor story centred upon Major Kira: the routine of her role as Bajoran Liaison Officer, working on the Bridge with Cardassians and Jem’Hadar alike, the ease with which she slips into the role of trying to prevent Vedek Yassim from organising a protest on the Promenade, her discomfort at Jake Sisko’s entirely reasonable questions.

Then came the shock: the Vedek’s protest turned out to be something very small and very personal, derived no doubt from those Monks who, in order to protest the  regime in Vietnam, would set themselves alight in public and burn to death. Vedek Yassim jumps from the upper deck of the Promenade with a noose around her neck.

The sight shocks Kira into realising just how gradually, how easily, she has slipped into becoming a collaborator. Even though her role is in line with Sisjo’s orders, in her own eyes she has become what she despised in the days of the Cardassian Occupation. She must become an active, not a passive, resistor.

That’s to come, some of it, I suspect, next week as the writers juggled with episodes being written out of order and how later episodes affected earlier ones written afterwards. We’ll see how that pans out.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e01 – ‘A Time to Stand’

A look of disgust

At the end of season 5, my researches turned up some interesting details about the crosssover to season 6, when the Dominion War would start to play out in earnest.  Firstly, there was the show’s resistance to having cliffhanger endings to seasons, born of their desire to have a free hand at the start of next season to take whatever direction they thought best suited, as opposed to being tied down to respond to a specific set-up.

And the second was a particular example of that, being the closing shot of season 5. The Defiant, retreating from Terek Nor, as it has once again become, joins a Federation/Klingon fleet and swings round to lead it. This little present from the Special Effects team was not what was wanted: it implies an immediate retaliatory attack, which was not what had been intended and thus further dictated how season 6 was going to have to play out.

So here we are. Technically, ‘A Time to Stand’ is the first part of a multi-episode story, originally intended to cover four episodes but eventually running out at six. I normally treat two-parters and even three-parters as a single story for this blog’s  purposes, but I’m not going to watch and write about six in one go. In any event, the impression I have, on which I stand to be corrected, is that this is not a cohesive single story, but rather the onset of a serialised format, at least temporarily.

This change caused no little consternation on Deep Space Nine about whether or not this was a step too far, even though serialisation was always implicit in a format built around a stationary setting. I shall have to pay careful attention to this extended storyline as it unfolds, and even more to what follows it.

Three months have passed and the Federation is losing the Dominion War, even without the availability of reinforcements via the still-mined Wormhole. Tensions are rising between Dukat and Weyoun over who, exactly is in charge. The gang’s still split up: Kira, Odo, Quark and Jake, the latter of whom’s press reports are being suppressed due to anti-Dominion bias, are still on the station, Worf with General Martok and an increasingly exhausted Sisko, Dax, O’Brien and Bashir on the Defiant, supplemented by Garak and Nog.

Worf turns up briefly, to argue with Jardzia about their forthcoming wedding ceremony and take her off for a shag, but the rest of the episode beats back and forth between the two main groups. Quark’s in profit, and rather more reconciled to the occupation, in part because it’s considerably more humane than under the Cardassians, although that won’t last if Dukat gets the upper hand on Weyoun. Kira and Odo are working in concert. Dukat makes plain his ongoing interest in her lilywhite body, and she her ongoing preference to make it with leprous swine in preference (not that she uses such words…)

At Kira’s prompting, Odo exploits his god-like status with Weyoun to get his Bajoran security team reinstated and re-armed, at the cost of agreeing to join the station ruling Council alongside the Vorta and the Cardassian. It’s a move that worries Kira, making it feel like a defeat.

Meanwhile, Sisko and crew are ordered to Starbase 375 where Admiral Ross (a first appearance by new recurring guest Barry Jenner) relieves him of command of the Defiant. Fear not: Sisko and Co are heading deep into Cardassian/Dominion territory, in the refurbished Jem’Hadar ship captured in season 5, to destroy the asteroid where all the supplies of Ketracell White are kept, crippling the Jem’Hadar threat.

And the mission is a success, but not without a cost: the asteroid suspects something, refuses to lower its security shield. The ship escapes at the last second, thanks to precise in-his-head calculations from Doctor Bashir, whose revealed  status as a genetically-enhanced being is being played up all of a sudden. But it is badly damaged. It’s Warp Drive is fried. And under normal power, the journey back to a Federation base is going to take seventeen years, two months and three days (give or take an hour: thank you, Julian).

All of this is very Voyager, albeit over a projected timescale less than a quarter of the length of the franchise’s other extant series, but as we already know, this arc covers six episodes not seven seasons, so the wait will not be indefinite.

Judged in isolation, this is very much a set-up episode, with only the relatively minor resolution of the accomplished mission to point to, and even the implications of that will have weeks to play out. So let’s not judge it yet: there are still five parts to go. The last year starts here.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e26 – Call to Arms

Don’t make yourself too comfortable…

This is the point that’s taken me over two years to reach, the outermost point of those evenings twenty years ago, of sprawling in front of the BBC2 showings of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The end of season 5, the start of the Dominion War. By the time DS9 came back, I had a house full of people, and coming in, throwing off my jacket and tie and sprawling on the couch was no longer an viable option.

I started watching DS9 from the beginning to fill in the beginning and end of a middle that, falsely, I remembered as stretching maybe as much as three seasons. When I finally caught up with my recollections, it turned out to be not even one full season. But the end of season 5 concludes that phase of the rewatch. Ahead of me lies terra incognita, just as much as if things had never gone the way they did and I had remained free to watch TV whenever I felt like it.

‘Call to Arms’ might have begun with the comic note of Rom and Leeta trying to agree a wedding dress for a ceremony in which, under Ferengi culture, she should have been naked (insert your own shallow comment here), but swiftly modulated to the tension that underlies the approach of war. The Dominion are bringing in warfleets every week, via the Wormhole, en route to Cardassia, regular as clockwork. Sisko has to take a decision: do nothing, and allow an irresistible fleet to be assembled, capable of ultimate victory when it chooses to act, or halt the incoming reinforcements, and preciptate war now.

The only choice, if victory is to be possible, is the latter: Sisko orders  the entrance to the Wormhole to be mined.

Weyoun appears, to protest, to suggest a deal by which the mines are removed and the Dominion limits itself to civilian ships, medical and economic assistance for the poor, stricken Cardassian Empire. Sisko will consult the Federation, which isn’t sending its own reinforcements, for reasons we won’t learn until the end (a Federation/Klingon attack that destroys the Dominion shipyards in Cardassian territory). No-one believes anything for a moment.

War is coming. Everyone’s preparing for it. Keiko O’Brien and the children have been evacuated back to Earth, Jake Sisko won’t go because a reporter’s duty is to be where the action is. The Romulan Empire has signed a non-aggression pact with the Dominion, Sisko advises Bajor to do the same, over Major Kira’s protests: five years ago, he was assigned to DS9 to protect Bajor after it gained its independence and that duty still remains, so he will use his position as Emissary to take them out of the firing line.

All Bajorans evacuate. Rom and Leeta get Sisko to marry them, before she is ordered to go: Rom has a duty to stay as a Starfleet member, and a duty to protect his brother, who seems for once to appreciate this. Gul Dukat’s half-Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal parts reluctantly from Garak. Quark starts smuggling in yamok sauce. Odo and Kira are still acting awkwardly around each other until Odo officially tells her that he’s locking away his feelings for the duration (some of these scenes are more effective emotionally than others: you can actually hear the writing staff’s cheers of relief underlying this one).

Seeding the wormhole with self-replicating mines (Rom’s suggestion) takes time, and the Defiant   will be a sitting duck until it has finished. And it is not finished when the War steps across the line between coming and arriving. A Dominion/Cardassian fleet under Gul Dukat comes to attack DS9. General Martok’s Klingon Warbird protects the Defiant. The station defends itself steadfastly, destroying 50 ships. But once the seeding is done, it is time to take the inevitable decision. Deep Space Nine is lost: the Federation will evacuate.

Not permanently. Sisko, his staff and Garak depart to join a major fleet approaching DS9. McArthur-like, he promises he will return. Quark’s bar stays open. Rom rejoins him as Assistant Manager and (self-proclaimed?) Federation spy. Jake remains as a journalist, trusting in his ‘status’ as the emissary’s son to protect him.

Major Kira, Odo and Quark officially greet Dukat’s return to Terak Nor. The Major has already initiated a Sisko-developed programme that thoroughly wipes the control room computers of any ability to function.

But although it’s not the final shot, that being the cliched one of Sisko looking defiant, the episode and the series ends with a very effective moment. Gul Dukat commandeers the station commander’s office: his again, after five long years of waiting for revenge. It has been stripped of everything, but one item, Sisko’s baseball. Dukat recognises it as a message. Sisko is coming back.

We move onwards, I move onwards towards the only real step into the future since I began this series back in October 2015. Everything until now has been backing and filling, getting up to speed with the background to that brief period of which I was already aware. Forward I go.

Next week being Christmas week, I haven’t decided yet whether or not to take a week’s break. It is a perfect point to do so, but on the other hand, habit is habit. If you don’t get a DS9 post off me next Tuesday, that’ll be why, and we’ll pick things up again in the New Year.