Sunday, February 21, 2010

DS9 Season 6

The sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (first aired 1997-98) carries forward an ongoing storyline of breathtaking scope. The season opens with a six-episode arc that picks up where Season 5 left you hanging: in the midst of an all-out war between the United Federation of Planets (our guys) and the Dominion (those control freaks from the Gamma Quadrant with all the shape-changers and clones). As of the end of last season, Station DS9 has been captured and occupied by the combined Dominion forces of Cardassians, Vorta, Jem'Hadar, and the female changeling "Founder" over all. Kira has stayed behind on behalf of the neutral Bajoran government. Quark is still running his bar. Odo is still looking out for station security (a job he did under the previous Cardassian occupation, after all). Even Jake Sisko has stayed behind, hoping for a break in his budding career as a reporter. But all the other regular characters have run for it, and spend the next six episodes gathering the forces of Starfleet and the Klingon Empire to take back Deep Space Nine.

"A Time to Stand" begins this opening arc. DS9, or rather Terok Nor (as the Cardassians call it), is under the joint administration of Gul Dukat and the Vorta Weyoun. Jake Sisko is hoping his inside story of the Occupation will make his journalistic career, but the censors won't release his articles for political reasons. Kira, Odo, and Quark settle uneasily into the same-but-different-ness of doing their old jobs under new management. And on the front lines, the war against the Dominion isn't going well for the Federation-Klingon alliance. A chance to pilot a captured Jem'Hadar ship behind enemy lines may give Sisko and his crew a way to even the odds. It's a complex episode, setting up several far-reaching plot lines.

"Rocks and Shoals" is the one where Sisko, Dax, Bashir, Nog, Garak, and O'Brien crash their stolen Jem'Hadar ship on a planet where a Dominion crew is already stranded. This sets up a tense confrontation with a group of Jem'Hadar who are running out of the drug that keeps them sane, and with a treacherous Vorta who is willing to betray his own men in order to survive. Meanwhile, Kira gets shaken out of her complacency with the Dominion occupation when a Bajoran cleric publicly hangs herself in protest. "Evil must be opposed!"

"Sons and Daughters" reveals that Worf's son suffers from Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. Last seen as a 10-ish boy on TNG, Alexander has suddenly aged to young manhood, as seen here. And in spite of having rejected his Klingon heritage until now, Alexander is suddenly keen to join up for death and glory, Klingon style. His adventures on the good ship Rotarran, where Worf serves as General Martok's second-in-command, provide ample fodder for father-son conflict. Meanwhile, back at the castle--er, the space station, that is--Dukat revives his on-again, off-again relationship with his daughter Tora Ziyal. Though there seems to be a real affection between the Cardassian warlord and his half-Bajoran lovechild, it's obvious that his real reason for bringing Ziyal to DS9 is to keep Kira off-balance. Sometimes Dukat's need to win Kira over can be quite pathetic, if pathological isn't a better word; but in the context of the Occupation it's diabolically shrewd. Here's a shocker: One of the female Klingons in this episode was played by Gabrielle Union, who has had a big Hollywood career since DS9.

"Behind the Lines" focuses on Kira's double life as the executive officer of Dominion-occupied DS9 by day and the leader of a resistance cell by night. She and her rag-tag team of Rom, Leeta, Quark, and Jake Sisko have to risk everything to stop the Cardassians from taking down the mine-field that prevents Dominion reinforcements from coming through the wormhole. But just when they're counting on Odo to do his part, he goes all gooey--and I mean that literally--over the Female Founder. Once he starts linking with his fellow-changeling, Odo loses all sense of time, not to mention concern for the resistance cell and the cause it represents. Meanwhile, back on the front lines, Sisko gets promoted right off the bridge of the Defiant, then squirms in anxiety while Dax commands a risky mission he had planned.

"Favor the Bold" is the one where Sisko plans a big-ass fleet action to re-take Deep Space Nine, but its success hinges on whether Worf and Martok can talk the dithering Klingon chancellor into committing his forces. Meanwhile Rom awaits execution after being caught in the act of sabotage. Ziyal is torn between devotion to her father and her own better nature as she tries to go to bat for Rom. Damar begins the countdown to the minefield being taken away so that Dominion reinforcements can arrive. Jake finds a creative way to send a message through the information blackout. And Odo comes to his senses, only to hear Kira tell him: "We are way, way past 'sorry.'"

"Sacrifice of Angels" takes its name, evidently, from the fact that sweet, innocent Ziyal meets her demise in it. This happens after she helps Quark spring Rom, Kira, and Jake from the brig. As their little resistance cell scrambles to stop the minefield from coming down, the combined forces of the Federation and the Klingons face a Dominion-Cardassian fleet twice their size in one of Star Trek's greatest space battles. Finally, however, the only thing that can save the day is the proverbial God from the Machine--or rather, the Prophets from the Wormhole--who make a huge incoming Dominion fleet vanish halfway between the Gamma and Alpha Quadrants. This episode marks the series' transition from optical to CGI effects, the beginning of Dukat's madness, and a pivot point for two other Cardassian characters, as Damar (now a murderer) becomes the new Cardassian leader, and Garak (who had a November-April thing with Ziyal) seems fated to become harder and more ruthless than we have seen him before.

"You Are Cordially Invited" to the first on-screen wedding of two regular Star Trek characters: Worf and Jadzia. But first, they have to go through a bunch of Klingon marriage rituals, including a bachelor party that is more like an ordeal by fire and a gruelling grilling by Jadzia's future "mother-in-law" (i.e., Martok's wife, the exquisitely shrewish Sirella). It's a wonderful exploration of the romantic side of the Klingon character, but it also happens to be oh, so funny! FYI, it's goodbye to Alexander after this episode. I wonder what happened to him. Maybe he turned out to be a great Klingon miiltary officer. I was going to say "warrior," but the very suggestion made me choke...

"Resurrection" resurrects the late Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim), a recurring character since the end of Season 1 and a sometime love interest for Kira, who was killed off in Season 3. You wouldn't know that, of course, since we skipped Seasons 2-5 (for now), but this episode does a good job of filling in the blanks. Kira is understandably surprised when Bareil appears on DS9--holding her at gunpoint, no less!--but he's actually the mirror-universe Bareil. Kira warms to him, even though he is confessedly a habitual criminal with nary a spiritual bone in his body. Eventually he turns out to be in cahoots with the Intendant (i.e., bizarro-Kira), and planning to steal one of the Orbs that give the Bajoran people a spiritual connection to their Prophets. They seem to think a religious scam will go over well in their mirror universe--but the Intendant isn't counting on Bareil discovering that he likes our Kira better.

"Statistical Probabilities" introduces Jack, Lauren, Patrick, and Sarina: four genetically-enhanced people whose mental gifts are offset by disabling social and personality problems. Being a mutant himself, Julian takes them under his wing in hopes that he can somehow get through to them. Get through he does--or maybe it's they who get through to him. Before you know it, the four savants are calculating the outcome of the Dominion war to the umpty-umpth decimal place. The result? Julian advises Starfleet to surrender in the hope that, some years further on, they can break up the Dominion from within. It's the only way, as he sees it, to save billions of lives. The difference between Julian and his newfound friends is that he will, grudgingly, reluctantly, acknowledge defeat when Starfleet rejects his advice. Now he has to stop his friends from betraying DS9 to the Dominion.

"The Magnificent Ferengi" is basically "Star Trek does The Magnificent Seven." In this spoof of a classic Western movie, Quark leads a crack(ed) team of six Ferengi up against a whole battalion of Jem'Hadar. Together with Rom, Nog, his arms-dealer cousin Gaila, business nemesis Brunt, and stone killer Leck (even Ferengi families have them), Quark escorts a Vorta prisoner (Keevan, previously seen in "Rocks and Shoals") to DS9's abandoned sister-station Empok Nor. Their plan is to trade Keevan for Quark and Rom's mother Ishka, a.k.a. "Moogie," who has somehow gotten captured. Naturally, everything that could go wrong does so, with all the dark humor one can expect. Picture a dead Vorta, plastered all over with neural stimulators, being manipulated like a life-size puppet. Rock icon Iggy Pop plays another Vorta, trying not to roll his eyes at the Ferengi's antics.

"Waltz" begins with Sisko visiting Dukat in the brig, where he is being held in preparation for his war-crimes trial. The Jem'Hadar attack their ship, and Sisko wakes up on an inhospitable planet where Dukat has managed to land their escape pod. The next few days are a an acting bonanza for Marc Alaimo and Avery Brooks, and a nightmare for the injured Sisko as Dukat becomes dangerously insane. Perhaps shockingly (from some people's point of view), Sisko comes to realize that Dukat is the embodiment of pure evil. It is therefore worth noting that these two characters never see each other again until the series' final episode, Season 7's "What You Lave Behind." Dukat on the Bajorans: "I should've killed every last one of them! I should've turned their planet into a graveyard the likes of which the galaxy had never seen! I should've killed them all!"

"Who Mourns for Morn?" would be a perfect place to show a picture of the big, bristly barfly at Quark's, whose name is significantly "Norm" spelled backwards (cf. Cheers). A running joke throughout the series has it that the ever-present Morn hardly ever shuts up, whereas on-screen he never utters a syllable. In Morn's one and only "star turn," the chubby alien hardly appears at all, on the very reasonable grounds that he is supposed to have been killed. Quark inherits all his worldly goods, notably including a jacuzzi full of mud and a painting of a bullfighter on black velvet. He also inherits a ton of trouble, in the form of several of Morn's past criminal associates, each of whom expects Quark to hand over a large pile of latinum. The alien pictured here, from an unknown race, is named Krit, and the actor playing him (Brad Greenquist) seems determined to make you think of Jack Nicholson. One of the other crooks is played by frequent Trek guest Gregory Itzin. And finally, this episode reveals that the Ferengi's beloved "gold pressed latinum" consists of a precious liquid metal (latinum) suspended in worthless gold!

"Far Beyond the Stars" is the episode where Sisko dreams that he is a 1950s pulp science fiction writer named Benny Russell. It's an unusual episode, to say the least. All the main characters, and several recurring ones, are transformed into period earth people in Benny's life, dramatizing (in a somewhat heavy-handed way) the professional and social plight of non-WASP males in pre-civil rights-era America. It's weird to see all the alien characters made up (or rather, not made up) as humans. O'Brien plays an Isaac Asimov type, Quark becomes Harlan Ellison, Jadzia becomes a gum-smacking secretary, Martok an artist, Kasidy Yates a waitress, Worf a baseball hero, Jake a street hood, Dukat and Weyoun a couple of brutal cops, and so on right through the cast. Of course it's the kind of episode that one imagines Avery Brooks had stipulated in his contract. And since he directed it, it also serves as an example of why some actors should never direct themselves: the climactic scene where Benny loses it is totally overdone.

"One Little Ship" is "Star Trek meets Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!" Miles, Julian, and Jadzia have just piloted a runabout into an "insert technobabble," which causes them to shrink down to the size of toys, when a Jem'Hadar ship captures the Defiant. Now the crew's only chance of turning the tables depends on, heh, one little ship flying around inside the big one. In this picture, you can see the Rubicon nosing up to a button that will open a door on the Defiant. In another scene, O'Brien and Bashir run around inside a circuitboard filled with chips as big as themselves. It's a cute episode, spotlighting a conflict between two generations of the cloned Jem'Hadar production line. If you've got to get little in order to save the ship, this is clearly the way to do it (in contrast to the wretched TNG episode "Rascals," in which four Enterprise officers regress into children).

"Honor Among Thieves" is "Star Trek does Donny Brasco." A "vacation episode" focusing almost entirely on O'Brien, it involves him in an undercover operation targeting the mafia-like Orion Syndicate. An honest crook named Bilby (played by Nick Tate, late of TNG's "Final Mission") vouches for O'Brien before the local crime boss, meaning that when Miles breaks his cover, Bilby will be killed. This becomes more of a problem as Miles gets to know the guy. The denouement, when Miles must reveal himself to Bilby or let him fall into a Klingon trap, strikes the kind of tragic note film noir is made of. On another tragic note, Tate was a last-minute casting replacement for Charles Hallahan (Dante's Peak, TV's "Wings" and "Hunter"), who passed away suddenly as filming was about to begin. Though it's interesting to imagine what this episode would have been like with Hallahan playing Bilby, Tate turned it into one of the series' most memorable guest performances.

"Change of Heart" may be a misleading title for this episode, suggesting that Worf and Jadzia are having second thoughts about their marriage. On the contrary, it is one of DS9's most movingly romantic love stories. On their first mission together since they got hitched, Worf and Jadzia are sent to extract a Cardassian double agent from the jungle surrounding a Dominion base. But when Jadzia is injured, Worf is forced to choose between devotion to his wife and his career as a Starfleet officer. And, though it may surprise many of us who have followed his career through (at this point) nine and a half seasons of Star Trek, Worf chooses the old ball and chain. It's a decision that could cost lives (over and above the life of one obnoxious Cardassian) and that will hurt Worf's career, but it will leave you dissolving in valentine-pink awwws. Plot B, meanwhile, involves Julian and O'Brien trying to break Quark's winning streak at tongo. Sometimes I think it would be interesting to learn that game. (Yes, I know it isn't a real game.)

"Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night" reveals the true fate of Kira's mother. Long proud of the memory of her mother, who supposedly died for the cause when Kira was a wee tot, Kira is shocked when Dukat gleefully tells her that Mama Kira was his mistress. This claim is too disturbing for her to take sitting down, so Kira goes back in time to see for herself (via the Orb of Time, a uniquely low-tech plot device for Star Trek). Dukat's claim turns out to be technically true, but even as Kira's feelings toward her mother swing from "venerate" to "despise," she has second thoughts when it comes to blowing Mum up with a bomb. Leslie Hope, lately Mrs. Jack Bauer on 24, plays Kira Meru in an episode also featuring the familiar face of character actor David Bowe and frequent Trek guests Thomas Kopache and Tim deZarn.

"Inquisition" introduces Sloan and the shady, beyond-top-secret Section 31 in an episode that turns out mostly to have been an elaborate, holographic prank on Dr. Bashir. At first it seems Julian is under suspicion as a Dominion spy. Later the scary possibility is raised that Julian may be hiding the memory of his double-agent status even from himself. But ultimately it's all just a recruitment exam by Starfleet's most elusive, unsanctioned intelligence agency. Interestingly, in the original story concept for this dark, creepy episode, it was supposed to be a comic romp. You never know where an idea will take you!

"In the Pale Moonlight" is the episode where Sisko confesses to his personal log how he rode a slippery slope to evil while trying to get the Romulans to join the war against the Dominion. His dance with the devil (suggested by the episode's title) takes the form of a partnership with Garak, who takes care of the more morally dubious side of a plan involving forgery, deception, and assassination. At the end of this most disturbing episode, Sisko cynically concludes that he would do it all again and deletes the log entry. Stephen McHattie of TV's "Beauty and the Beast" is here pictured as the Romulan senator who delivers the memorable line: "It's a fake!" I guess it was in the delivery, but somehow it became one of those cult moments that fans like to repeat. If DS9 is regarded as Trek's darkest series, this may be its darkest episode.

"His Way" is, as you can see here, the episode where Odo and Kira finally lock lips. But before that can happen, Odo has to work out how to approach her, how to woo her. He takes lessons from a holographic 1960s Vegas lounge singer Vic Fontaine (a recurring character through the end of the series, played here for the first time by James Darren). Vic turns out to be smarter than your average collection of asymmetric photons, able to transfer his holo-matrix to the Bajoran temple, turn himself on and off, and call people on the station's comm system. And he also shows an interesting flair for matchmaking, including a scene that made me wriggle with glee - the one where Odo thinks the real Kira is a hologram, and makes love to her accordingly.

"The Reckoning" isn't the first DS9 episode to introduce the pah-wraiths (that honor goes to Season 5's "The Assignment"), nor is it the first episode to position Kai Winn as a villain (she antagonized Sisko from her first appearance in Season 1, though she warmed to him later). Nevertheless, both of these elements of DS9's long-range storyline take on a new significance here, foreshadowing tragic developments to come. It begins when a Bajoran archaeologist finds an ancient artifact with an inscription referring to the Emissary. Sisko takes possession of the artifact (to study it); Winn gets territorial; the thingy gets broken and some kind of energy escapes. By the time they figure out that the inscription has to do with a cosmic battle between good and evil that must take place on the station, a prophet has taken possession of Kira; a pah-wraith has taken Jake (pictured); and Winn has pretty much decided to mess things up for everybody. Interestingly, there's a note of "Abraham and Isaac" in this story, with Sisko showing a willingness to sacrifice his son.

"Valiant" is another "vacation episode," focusing on Jake Sisko and his Ferengi friend Nog. The opening finds them bickering on a runabout. Their argument is interrupted by an attacking Jem'Hadar ship. Their annihilation is, in turn, interrupted by a Defiant-class starship named, duh, the Valiant. This ship is crewed entirely by Starfleet cadets in what began as a training cruise. (Anybody thinking about the classroom ship Concordia?) Then the war broke out and they were caught behind enemy lines, the grown-up officers bit the dust, and for eight months they have been trying without success to complete their mission (which involves gathering intelligence about a new class of Dominion ship, and must be carried out in radio silence). What makes me mad about this episode is how dumb these space cadets are. They've just completed their mission. It stands to reason that they avoid engaging the enemy - especially vastly superior forces - and run like the wind to bring their valuable intel home. Instead, goaded on by a charismatic young twit whose brain has been fried on drugs, these kids decide to attack a ship eleventy-two times their size. And get killed. Every. One. Of. Them. Except, of course, Jake, Nog, and exactly one sweet young thing who lives to argue with Jake about the difference between a good leader and a good captain. Aargh! If they give cruises to cadets that spacy, mankind has no right surviving into the 24th century.

"Profit and Lace" is "Star Trek does Some Like It Hot." Sort of. What you see here is not, in fact, Quark in drag. No, friends, he has actually become female. Surgically. Talk about taking one for the team! Why does Quark do this? Because the Nagus's job is on the line. Zek's only chance of heading off "Acting Grand Nagus Brunt" is to make a deal with the CEO of Slug-o-Cola (the slimiest soft drink in the universe) proving that females are good for business. Females, that is, who wear clothing, work outside the home, buy and sell property, and even make business deals themselves. Zek is under fire because of his new, female-friendly policies, inspired by his love for Quark's forward-thinking Moogie. Quark disagrees with these reforms, but what with one thing and another, he (she) ends up having to sell the idea to Slug-o-Cola. Quark's discomfort, his efforts to elude the advances of the amorous Nilva (played by Henry Gibson of "Laugh In" fame), and his exchanges with Rom and Leeta on how to walk, sit, and talk like a female, are pure comic gold (pressed latinum).

"Time's Orphan" puts Miles and Keiko through parents' worst nightmare. Or maybe, what their worst nightmare would be in a world where an ancient civilization left a fully-operational time-portal lying around where any kid on a family picnic might stumble through it. When they beam her back from the other side, cute little eight-year-old Molly has grown up into a wild, eighteen-year-old woman. After surviving ten years alone on an uninhabited planet, the new Molly has trouble adjusting to life back at home on DS9. In fact, it begins to look like the O'Briens may be forced to give her up to an institution, when they escape with her and go back to the picnic planet for another go at that portal. No episode of Star Trek explores this particular heartbreak, the heartbreak of parents discovering that their kids have grown up to be strangers. Plus, in Plot B, Worf is driven to desperation when he attempts to babysit Yoshi O'Brien, believing that it is a test of his worthiness to make babies with "the magnificent Jadzia Dax."

"The Sound of Her Voice" features the voice of "Mad TV" star Debra Wilson as Lisa Cusak, a Starfleet Captain whose distress call reaches the Defiant from a remote planet. As the ship races to her rescue, members of the crew stay on the horn with Capt. Cusak around the clock, encouraging her to keep her chin up even as she slowly dies of oxygen starvation. Meanwhile, she helps them talk out some of their sorrows and anxieties. In the end it turns out that all these transmissions went through a time distortion, so all along they've been talking with a woman who has been dead for three years. Shown here is the final scene of the episode, in which the DS9 officers hold a wake for a friend who died before they met her.

"Tears of the Prophets" wraps up Season 6, and sets up Season 7, with Sisko, Martok, and Admiral Ross planning an attack on a weak point in Dominion-held territory. They have to hurry if they're going to take out the Chin'toka system before the Cardassians activate their new "orbital weapons platforms." Before separating for the battle, Worf and Jadzia find out there's a chance they could have a baby together. Sisko, meanwhile, has a vision in which the Prophets warn him not to leave the station. He goes anyway, leaving the way clear for a pah-wraith to transfer itself from Dukat's body into the Orb of Contemplation in the station's Bajoran temple. As a result, the wormhole seals itself and all the orbs on Bajor go dark. As collateral damage, Dukat mortally injures Jadzia, leaving her just alive enough so that Julian can save the symbiont and Worf can say his farewells. The season ends with Sisko going back to Earth to think about how he can bring the Prophets back to Bajor.

Season 6 is a landmark year for DS9 in many ways. The wedding between Worf and Dax was a big event. Jadzia's death struck one of Star Trek's most tragic notes ever. Kira and Odo finally hooked up. Rocker Iggy Pop (pictured) guest-starred as a Vorta. Comic legend Henry Gibson appeared as a Ferengi. The Romulans, Klingons, and Federation all become allies for the first time in history. This season is sprinkled with incidents that had long-range plot significance, from the beginnings and growth of Dukat's madness to Sloan's first attempt to recruit Dr. Bashir for Section 31. The conflict between the Prophets and the pah-wraiths is introduced. Tora Ziyal makes her exit, while we meet Vic Fontaine and Julian's mutant friends for the first time. And we get a last look at two characters we thought we might never see again: Bareil (or someone just like him) and Alexander (all growed up). Some of Star Trek's funniest, some of its darkest, some of its most romantic, and one or two of its saddest episodes hail from this year. And even from a Trekkie point of view, there are surprisingly few lame moments in it. Its 26 episodes go down smoothly, many of them with a flavor that lingers.

Want a refresher course on previous seasons of Star Trek? Click the following links to see my reviews of TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, and five; and of DS9 seasons one and seven. For comparison purposes, see also my review of Babylon 5 season one.

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