Friday, February 12, 2010

DS9 Season 7

Breaking with my plan to view each season of Star Trek in chronological order, I skipped directly from Season 1 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to the seventh and final season. It's partly a matter of availability. I couldn't get hold of Seasons 2 and 3 as readily (or as cheaply) as Season 4-7. Of those four, the one I was really jonesing to see was Season 7. I had missed a good portion of it when it first aired, particularly the crucial final nine episodes, which wrapped up the entire series in a single, huge, ten-hour arc. So I decided to skip ahead. And I'm so glad that I did. I was really moved by this set of DVDs. DS9 Season 7, which originally aired between September 1998 and June 1999, may be one of the greatest achievements in television history. It is certainly the greatest single year of Star Trek, and a big part of what makes DS9 the standout show of the Trek franchise.

Before we dive in, it behooves us to take note of some developments we missed by skipping from Season 1 to Season 7. The sheer number of them is a testimony to the cumulative depth of the DS9 mythos. The first thing you'll notice, right away in the "Last time on DS9" preface to the first episode, is that Jadzia Dax bit the dust at the end of Season 6. In the real world, this happened because actress Terry Farrell had been offered a role on a different series and chose to take it rather than see DS9 through one more year. Short-term, it was probably a good career move. Trek-wise, it was even better. Her departure opened the door for some excellent Trill-based stories written around the new character of Ezri Dax (played by Nicole de Boer). You'll also recognize Jadzia's bereaved husband as Worf, late of TNG. Surprise! Starfleet's only Klingon officer joined the DS9 family in Season 4, and he and Jadzia became the first two regular Trek characters to get hitched (in Season 6). This season puts Worf through eight different kinds of hell. Isn't it marvelous?

More things have developed that you'll want to be warned about. First, as Season 7 opens, you'll find a war in progress. On one side is an all-but-incredible alliance of the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans. On the other side are those snake-faced Cardassians and an outfit called the Dominion. Who are these Dominion guys? They're the main superpower from the "Gamma Quadrant" end of the wormhole. If we hadn't skipped the middle 5 seasons of the show, we would have heard the first menacing rumbles of conflict with the Dominion in Season 2. We would have learned that they have an empire spanning hundreds of worlds and going back thousands of years. We would have learned to recognize three tiers in the Dominion power-structure. The crocodile-like Jem'Hadar are the footsoldiers, genetically engineered for unstoppable nastiness, bred in mass-production facilities called hatcheries, and kept in line by addiction to a drug called Ketracel White. Above them are the Vorta: graceful courtiers, diplomats, administrators, and staff officers descended from a race of timid, furry tree-dwellers, they are programmed to serve their masters with worshipful devotion. Most dangerous of all are their masters, known variously as the Founders, changelings, shapeshifters - in short, Odo's people. They have a profound distrust of "solids," and know of only three ways to deal with the threat: hiding from them, ruling them with an iron fist, and (after failing at the first two) extermination.

The Dominion is a seriously fascinating enemy. I think the show could have gone on much longer, simply by telling a few of the possible stories inherent in such a complex and alien culture. But they aren't the only culture that we'll learn more about in this season. We'll find out that one of Dax's previous hosts was a murderer (a fact first revealed in Season 3) and that a joined Trill isn't supposed to hook up with a previous host's mate (a plot point in Season 4). We'll learn that Dr. Bashir is a genetically-enhanced mutant (known since Season 5) and meet more like him (who first appeared in Season 6). We'll discover that Kira and Odo are a hot romantic item (something that gradually developed throughout the series, only coming to full flower in Season 6), that Commander Sisko has been given a promotion to Captain and a heavily-armed starship (both in Season 3) known as the Defiant. Jake Sisko is all growed up and has his own bachelor pad, which he shares with his Ferengi pal Nog - who, by the way, has become Starfleet's first Ferengi officer (a process that started in Season 2). You'll hear about Quark and Rom's iconoclastic mother Ishka, affectionately called "Moogie," who first appeared in Season 3 and has lately stolen the heart of Grand Nagus Zek; though you'll only see her at the very end of this season. The O'Briens have had another baby (the result of a really interesting plot arc in Season 5-6), and Miles has formed a buddy-buddy relationship with Julian Bashir. Bashir's other buddy, Cardassian "tailor-spy" Garak, has revealed his background as a disgraced operative of the top-secret Obsidian Order and the unacknowledged son of its head.

What else have we missed that you'll need to know? Let's see... Worf, having lost his family's honor in TNG Season 3 and regained it in TNG Season 4, lost it a second time in DS9 Season 4; but in Season 5 he was adopted into the family of a certain General Martok, a recurring character since season 5, played by J. G. Hertzler (who, in addition to his 24 appearances as Martok, played at least a half-dozen other characters on various Star Trek series). Odo, of course, has finally found his people - only to find himself on the opposite side of a galactic war sparked by their aggression. You'll have missed the whole build-up of the Dominion War, including some paranoid stories about "solid" people being replaced by changelings and a related conflict with the Klingon Empire. You'll be interested to learn that Vedek Winn has become Kai Winn (basically, the Pope of Bajor), though she is still as nasty as ever.

Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) has been gradually losing his mind, a process that began with the discovery of his half-Bajoran daughter Tora Ziyal (a recurring character played by three different actresses from Season 4 to 6), who was subsequently murdered by Dukat's right-hand-man Damar (played since Season 4 by Casey Biggs, who also has a recurring role on "CSI"). By Season 7, Damar has evolved into the Dominion's figurehead leader of Cardassia: a ruthless politician with a tortured conscience, whose eventual redemption is a major part of the series-ending plot arc. Recurring Ferengi "liquidator" Brunt, like the IRS auditor from hell, puts in two of his eight appearances in Season 7, played by the same Jeffrey Combs who also plays the succession of Vorta clones named Weyoun; for playing both aliens in the series' penultimate episode, Combs received the unique dual credit seen here.

Have I caught us up on everything? No! I forgot to mention that Sisko has a main squeeze: a fiercely independent freighter captain named Kasidy Yates, played by Penny Johnson since Season 3. The Female Founder played by Salome Jens makes eight of her 15 appearances in this season. Rom (Quark's brother, Nog's father) has gotten hitched to a "Dabo girl" named Leeta (played by Chase Masterson since Season 3). Season 6 introduced the holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine (vintage Vegas, 1962), played by James Darren of the "Gidget" movies and "T. J. Hooker." Darren even released an album of songs he sang on DS9. Klingon Chancellor Gowron (Robert O'Reilly) wraps up a character arc begun in TNG Season 4 and continued through 11 episodes in 7 seasons of 2 Trek series. Berry Jenner plays Admiral Bill Ross in 8 episodes of this season, following four appearances in Season 6. Brock Peters adds two appearances as Capt. Sisko's father, New Orleans restauranteur Joseph Sisko, to his four previous appearances since Season 4. William Sadler reprises his role as covert "Section 31" agent Sloan, introduced in Season 6, in two Season 7 episodes.

At the moment, that's all the characters I can think of who first appeared in Seasons 2-6 and figure, one way or another, in Season 7's grand wrapping-up. There's no need to remind you of the already large cast in play since Season 1, or to forewarn you of the new characters whose destiny will impinge on multiple episodes of Year 7. But then there's the matter of important alien worlds that you get to see. DS9 Season 7 will feature panoramic views of Bajor, Cardassia, and Romulus, all previously-seen planets. It also boasts a visit to the "mirror universe" first seen in TOS's Season 2 episode "Mirror, Mirror," and seen again in four earlier DS9 episodes beginning with Season 2's "Crossover." And that reminds me, TOS's very first Klingon Captain, John Colicos's inimitable Kor, makes the last of his three DS9 appearances in this season, having first returned in Season 2 along with Michael Ansara's Kang and William Campbell's Koloth. Who knew Klingons were so long-lived?

"Image in the Sand" picks up where Season 6's cliffhanger ("The Tears of the Prophets") left off. Jadzia has just been killed by Dukat as the latter unleashed a pah-wraith against the wormhole aliens (a.k.a. "prophets"). If the wormhole aliens are the Bajoran gods, the pah-wraiths are like demons. Now the wormhole is closed, perhaps forever, and the sparkly orbs that enable the Prophets to "reach out and touch" the Bajoran people have gone dark. Sisko, who by this time has grown to accept his role as the Emissary of the Prophets, takes an indefinite leave of absence and goes home to lick his wounds. While hanging out at his father's New Orleans restaurant, Sisko has a vision of a woman's face buried in the sand of the planet Tyree. By and by he learns that the woman in his vision is his biological mother, who abandoned her family when Benjamin was a baby. As he struggles to interpret his vision, Sisko becomes increasingly convinced that it will lead him to the elusive "Orb of the Emissary," which will enable the prophets to drive the pah-wraith out of the wormhole/Celestial Temple. Meanwhile, back on DS9, Kira is in charge and she has problems. The Romulans have set up a hospital on one of Bajor's moons, but when they begin turning other wounded aliens away and, worse, arming the moon for bear, an interplanetary incident starts to develop. Worf is hurting because Jadzia can't get into Sto-Vo-Kor (think a Klingon type of Valhalla) unless her loved ones win a glorious victory in her name. And a red-armbanded pah-wraith cult spreads through the Bajoran population, resulting in an attempt on Sisko's life. In the episode's final scene, as the three Sisko men are preparing to leave for Tyree in search of the Orb, a cute young Trill woman knocks, walks in, and says, "It's me, Dax!" TO BE CONTINUED...

"Shadows and Symbols" wraps up the three-episode arc that began with the Season 6 finale. Like the previous episode, it has three plot lines playing out simultaneously. Plot A has Ben, Jake, and Joseph Sisko, along with Ezri Dax, digging on Tyree for the Orb of the Emissary. Ben Sisko continues having visions, some of them revealing that his mother Sarah was possessed by one of Bajor's prophets when he was born. This apparently explains why his destiny is so closely tied with Bajor and the wormhole. On the other hand, he also has a series of confusing visions, which turn out to be deceptions by the pah wraiths, indicating that the whole DS9 saga exists only in the mind of a disturbed 20th century writer (apropos Season 6's episode "Far Beyond the Stars"). In Plot B, Kira plays an interstellar game of chicken with the Romulan Senator Cretak (pictured). The Romulans have bigger ships and more guns. Guess who wins? In Plot C, Worf and Martok carry out a raid on a Jem'Hadar shipyard in an attempt to get Jadzia into Sto-Vo-Kor. Julian and Quark tag along because they loved Jadzia too; O'Brien, because he and Julian are joined at the hip. As serious as this episode is, Quark provides some exquisite comic relief. Hours after seeing this episode, I could still make myself laugh by thinking about Quark's reaction to the Klingon custom of slicing their hands open in order to show devotion to Jadzia's memory: "Can't you just take my word for it?"

"Afterimage" shows Ezri beginning to fit into her new role as a counselor on DS9. She has a tough time adjusting to being joined to the Dax symbiont, having never planned to be joined. It doesn't help that she's surrounded by people who remind her of her past hosts' experiences, particularly Worf - who, in his own way, is equally troubled as to how to deal with her. Ezri's first assignment as counselor is to help the claustrophobic Garak get over his latest string of panic attacks, so that he can get back to decoding Cardassian transmissions for the Alliance. It's an important episode, establishing the character dynamics of Season 7 and revealing just how much an exchange of one character for another can affect even an ensemble show like DS9.

"Take Me Out to the Holosuite" features the adolescent rivalry between Ben Sisko and a Vulcan captain named Solok, who has based his entire career on using Sisko as an example of humanity's inferiority to the Vulcan race. Now Solok brings an all-Vulcan baseball team to DS9 and challenges Sisko and his crew to the ultimate test of whether Vulcans are superior to humans in all things. Sisko has two weeks to teach the game to this clueless, bumbling bunch in what proves to be, essentially, a needed moment of levity in an otherwise dark and serious, climactic season.

"Chrysalis" brings back Julian's fellow mutants Patrick, Lauren, Jack, and Sarina, introduced as a group in Season 6's "Statistical Probabilities." While the sociopathic Jack, childlike Patrick, and seductive Lauren stay busy trying to figure out how to halt the heat death of the universe, Julian makes a medical breakthrough with the catatonic Sarina. With a little surgical tweak, she perks up and proves to be a genius. Julian senses a kindred spirit and promptly falls in love. But Sarina, unable to reciprocate his feelings, doesn't know how to cope and goes into a crisis. It's another relatively light episode, but with a thought-provoking twist. It also contributes to an unexpected general theme that pervades this season: live music being performed, onscreen, by the characters themselves. In this instance it's a session of improvisational solfege, sung by the four mutants while Bashir looks on indulgently. As much as I respect the episode's musical ambitions, the scene is a bit silly and hard to justify from a dramatic standpoint.

"Treachery, Faith, and the Great River" has got to be one of the worst episode titles in the history of Star Trek, right up there with Season 6's overcooked "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night" and Season 5's ungrammatical "Let He Who Is Without Sin...." Nevertheless it's a good episode. The A Story has Odo forming a rapport with the next-to-latest Weyoun clone, who has decided to defect because he can't support the Dominion's war policy. This doesn't set well with the latest Weyoun (who, in defiance of custom, has been activated while his predecessor is still living). Weyoun 7 paints a big target on Weyoun 6's back, and Odo is in the crossfire. In this episode, DS9 explores the beliefs and background of the Vorta more deeply than ever before. Meanwhile, in Plot B, it gives us a glimpse of the religious beliefs of the Ferengi, whose concept of the "Great Material Continuum" puts their greed into a philosophical context. This forms the background for a comedy in which Nog applies his deal-making know-how to helping O'Brien meet a tight maintenance deadline. It's always fun to see O'Brien suffer, but never more so than when his suffering is in a clever and funny context.

"Once More Unto the Breach" is the swan song of Klingon "Dahar Master" Kor, the ruthlessly ambitious warrior whose escapades go back to TOS's first-season episode "Errand of Mercy." Now he comes to Worf, begging for one last chance to die as a warrior. Kor has made too many enemies in his long life, and all his friends are dead. His influence has waned, and even with Worf's support he can barely attain to Third Officer on General Martok's flagship. Martok has a personal grudge against Kor (a fascinating story when Martok tells it), made worse as he watches his crew fawn over the old veteran, but when Kor's evident senility makes him a danger to the crew, he is relieved of duty. Then it happens that someone must sacrifice himself in order to give the Rotarran a chance to escape from a pursuing Jem'Hadar fleet. Worf is supposed to go, but Kor gives him a knock on the head and takes his place, achieving one last brilliant victory and triggering another musical outburst as the entire crew of the Rotarran joins in a Klingon opera chorus. This may be the best place to mention that Klingon is a language that sounds better sung than spoken. Whenever an actor has to read lines in Klingon, I find myself overwhelmed with pity as he or she stumbles haltingly, painfully, from one word to the next. I guess it's that rare language whose natural flow and cadence makes its native speakers sound like beginners attempting to speak a dead tongue for the first time...

"The Siege of AR-558" is one of the darkest, grimmest lessons on the theme "War is hell" in the Trek canon. Sisko and a small away team drop in on a planet that a beleaguered garrison has held against repeated Jem'Hadar attacks for far longer than anyone should have to. Predictably, they find themselves stuck on the planet, forced to defend it against another wave of Jem"Hadar. Their suspenseful waiting is punctuated by deadly explosions, thanks to these diabolical, levitating landmines that appear out of subspace at random intervals. Poor Nog gets his leg blown off, and as he lies in the infirmary under the concerned eye of his Uncle Quark, takes comfort in a recording of Vic Fontaine singing "I'll Be Seeing You." This sets up a truly eerie scene in which the defenders wait for the Jem'Hadar attack, while the sky lights up from "Houdini" mines exploding in the distance and Vic's voice croons in the background. Pictured here is evidence that Quark is not entirely devoid of fighting spirit; he is shown defending Nog from a Jem'Hadar. This episode's stars include Raymond Cruz ("The Closer"), action-film maven Patrick Kilpatrick, and Bill Mumy of "Babylon 5."

"Covenant" brings back Gul Dukat and DS9's sister station, Empok Nor (introduced in Season 5). The former abducts Kira and takes her to his secret base on the latter, where he has gathered a colony of pah wraith cultists - including one of Kira's childhood spiritual leaders. Kira grudgingly comes to realize that the cultists aren't bad people, and that Dukat really believes that he has "found the love of the pah wraiths." But she resists Dukat's absurd plan to make a disciple of her, and she suspects that he's the father of a Bajoran couple's baby. (Her big clue: the kid looks half-Bajoran, half-Cardassian.) She ends up having to MacGyver her way out of a locked room in time to stop Dukat from tricking his followers into committing suicide. It's a spooky episode, potentially touching a nerve for anyone who has lost a loved one to a wacko cult.

"It's Only a Paper Moon" is the episode in which Vic Fontaine turns the corner from being a holo-program that one may turn on to listen to a few songs, and then turn off again, to being a person with a round-the-clock life of his own. He owes this opportunity to young Nog, who is struggling to cope with the trauma of losing his leg at AR-558. While Ezri stands in the wings wringing her therapeutic hands, Nog charts his own unique path to recovery by living full-time in Vic's holographic casino. They become friends, business partners, and co-stars in one of the few Trek episodes to focus entirely on non-regular recurring characters. And perhaps surprisingly, it's a very effective episode. On the other hand, it draws attention to another theme that pervades the first two-thirds of Season 7. Therein lie a lot of "vacation shows," as my father calls them: episodes in which one or two regular characters, and perhaps one or two recurring characters, hold down the show while the rest of the cast gets most of the week off. We see a lot of Worf in "Once More," Kira in "Covenant," Ezri and Miles in "Prodigal Daughter"; "Chimera" comes across as an Odo episode, "Field of Fire" as an Ezri episode, "Inter Arma" as a Julian show, etc. It makes an interesting contrast to the "all in" look of the Final Chapter ("Penumbra" ff.).

"Prodigal Daughter" is, as I noted just now, an "Ezri/O'Brien" episode. The new Dax gets a lot of strong stories in this Season, which I suppose is fair since she only had one year to develop as a character. Here we follow her on a visit to her home planet (not Trill but New Sydney) and get to know her mother and brothers (whose last name isn't Dax but Tigan). For all this episode's considerable flaws, at least it can be said that they made a convincing family, complete with all the problems that drove Ezri out into the galaxy to seek her fortune. O'Brien comes into play when he investigates the murder of an Orion Syndicate operative's widow (this Mafia-like organization also has recurring significance from Season 2 onward). Mrs. Tigan is played by Emmy-winning ("Picket Fences") actress Leigh Taylor-Young, also of "Peyton Place" and Soylent Green. The tragic younger brother Norvo is played by Kevin Rahm, late of "Judging Amy" and "Desperate Housewives." Unfortunately, none of the actual story happens on screen, so apart from character development the episode comes across as essentially pointless.

"The Emperor's New Cloak" was not the first DS9 episode to revisit the alternate universe introduced in TOS's "Mirror, Mirror." Nor was it the first DS9 episode to show a lesbian kiss. However, since the kiss happened in another universe, it doesn't really count. What happens in Vegas, etc. If you're tuning in after skipping Season 2-6, this is probably the episode that will confuse you the most. Previous "Mirror Universe" episodes have already established the bizarro-versions of Kira (a.k.a. The Intendant), Worf (a.k.a. The Regent), Miles (a.k.a. Smiley), and so forth. Knowing who's on which side, who's still alive in one universe even though they're dead in the other, and who is liable to kill you or save your life, can be a complicated and tricky business. And since Quark and Rom have never been in the mirror world before, they're no wiser than you are. All they know (by hearsay) is that their mirror selves are already dead, and that bizarro-Worf will kill Grand Nagus Zek unless they bring him a real-universe cloaking device. Pretty soon everybody's trying to kill them - and the mirror universe has a way of wearing out Ferengi characters, as you would know from previous epsidoes in that thread, if you hadn't skipped them. So these two cowardly little guys are going to have to fight hard to keep their ears on.

"Field of Fire" is something like "DS9 does The Silence of the Lambs," with Ezri Dax as Clarice and the symbiont's ex-host Joran Dax as Hannibal Lecter. Almost beyond belief, a serial killer has begun targeting Starfleet officers on DS9, and chances are he's in Starfleet himself. Ezri's only hope to profile the killer is to commune with the previous Dax host who happened to be a murderer. Joran (Leigh J. McCloskey of "Dallas," and not the first actor to play this character) provides some really helpful insights into the killer's profile, but he also pushes Ezri the brink of murder. The murder weapon is this episode's coolest sci-fi concept, but the identity of the killer is what's going to leave you going, "Whoa..."

"Chimera" guest-stars Garman Hertzler (i.e. the same "J. G. Hertzler" who also plays Martok) as another member of the "Hundred" - changelings who, like Odo, were sent out into the galaxy to learn about the solids. Laas has been at it far longer than Odo has, and he's ready to go back to the Great Link and put it all behind him. While Odo presses Laas to stay a while and make changeling whoopee with him (image: two golden, liquid dudes flowing into each other), Laas puts his own pressure on Odo to get over his fascination with solids and grow up already. Because of this temptation to rejoin the Great Link (and for other obvious reasons), a strain develops in Kira and Odo's relationship. And though, for the time being, that strain is resolved when Odo lets Laas go, this episode implies a certain time limit on Kira and Odo as a couple: once the Founders put a stop to their evil war against the Alpha Quadrant, nothing will stand between Odo and rejoining the Link. EDIT: OK, strictly speaking it's Kira who lets Laas go. That's because (I forgot to mention) he was locked up for killing a Klingon, and the resulting legal and ethical dilemma would have driven everybody crazy unless someone helped him escape....

"Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang" could be summarized as "DS9 does Ocean's Eleven." It seems Julian's friend Felix, who furnished him with the Vic Fontaine program, built a "jack-in-the-box" into it: a couple of Mafia wise-guys who suddenly buy Vic's casino and begin to blackball him out of Vegas. Because of the special nature of Vic's program, the only way his DS9 friends can save him is to play along with the story and all its period-specific parameters. In other words, they have to rob the counting room to prevent "Frankie Eyes" from being able to pay his skim to the big boss. Everybody gets a job in this ridiculously complicated caper in which nothing goes quite as planned. This episode's guest cast heavily samples the Mafia movie genre, including Marc Lawrence (Key Largo, Gotti, Newsies), Mike Starr (Goodfellas, Miller's Crossing), Robert Miano (Donnie Brasco), James Wellington (TV's "Las Vegas"). The burly guard who comes to Kasidy's rescue is played by Chip Mayer, who was one of the "replacement Duke boys" in the 1982-83 season of "The Dukes of Hazzard" - which is only interesting to me because (1) as a 10-year-old boy at the time, I never missed an episode, and (2) as a music major in college, my big brush with fame was studying in the same fine arts building as the acting grad student who had played a replacement-Duke-boy (I don't remember which one, though). Memory doesn't exactly serve, but I might have gone to college with this guy!

"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" means "In war, the laws are silent." In DS9's last stand-alone episode before the continuous 10-hour sweep of its "Final Chapter," Julian Bashir finds himself (once again) the pawn of Section 31's secret agent Sloan. He's supposed to be visiting Romulus to deliver a paper on his medical discoveries. Unlooked-for, he finds himself caught in a spy game between Sloan and the head of the Romulan "Tal Shiar." Horror-film maven Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Swamp Thing) plays the ill-fated Senator Cretak, who was previously played by Megan Cole. Koval (pictured) is played by frequent Trek guest John Fleck (late of "Carnivále" and "Murder One"). It starts out with the makings of a really cool and thought-provoking episode, but it takes a fatal misstep near the end, when Julian gives Admiral Ross a self-righteous harangue. Perhaps that scene was added to fill up extra time; but it was a bad idea, its only effect being to neutralize Bashir's feelings of responsibility for what had happened. No one should escape from an episode like this with a clean conscience.

As the final arc of the series begins, I will increasingly rely on notes that I scribbled while I watched the episodes. I would simply have no other way to recall where one episode ended and another began, or how each of the interlarded layers of story progressed within each named episode. Let me also draw your attention to another aspect of DS9 that developed during Seasons 2-6: the tendency to plot storylines across an arc of 2, 3, or more episodes. This 9-episode, 10-hour "Final Chapter" is the tour-de-force of this technique, which DS9 carried out to a far greater extent than any other Trek series.

"Penumbra" opens the game with four players on the board. The first move goes to Ezri Dax, who defies orders (and her own space-sickness) to mount a one-woman rescue mission when Worf's escape pod gets lost in the Badlands. (Oops! You missed that space-flight hazard, introduced in Season 2.) She finds Worf, but then the Jem'Hadar find them and shoot their runabout out of the sky. Marooned, they have the kind of fight only a joined Trill could have with the widow of her previous host - culminating in a wild night of, well, you know. Luckily, before it can get really icky, the Breen (see next photo) show up, stun them, and take them prisoner. Meanwhile (Player 2), back on DS9, Sisko asks Kasidy Yates to marry him, but just as she says Yes, he gets a vision from the Prophets (specifically his mother Sarah) telling him that if he goes through with the wedding, he'll be sorry. Meanwhile (Player 3), on Cardassia, the Female Changeling starts to look flaky while her faithful Weyoun struggles to find a cure for the disease that's killing the Founders, and Cardassian leader Damar begins to drink himself to death because he can no longer live with being the puppet of the Dominion occupation. Finally, Dukat (Player 4) comes to Damar and calls in a marker, insisting on being surgically altered to look like a Bajoran. Now, what could that rascal be up to?

"'Til Death Do Us Part" continues to mix together these four distinct storylines. (1) Ezri and Worf remain prisoners of the Breen. These guys are the most mysterious aliens in Trek: they never reveal their faces, they speak in a shrill Star Wars-robot-like language that everyone but you can understand, and they require a super-cold environment evironment even though their homeworld isn't one. They torture the daylights out of both Worf and Ezri, resulting in the latter deliriously blurting out "Kiss me, Julian" and provoking another ex-lovers' quarrel. (2) After telling Damar to clean himself up because Cardassia needs a strong leader, Dukat (disguised as a Bajoran farmer named Anjohl) goes to DS9 and insinuates himself into Kai Winn's presence. She is ripe for the picking since having what she took to be a vision from the Prophets, telling her to expect a man "of the land" to be her Guide toward bringing about Bajor's Restoration. Dukat, who is really working on behalf of the pah-wraiths, first hoodwinks Winn, then shtups her. (3) Sisko agonizes over whether to go through with his and Kasidy's wedding in defiance of the Prophets' warning, though the Bajorans already expect a huge ceremony full of traditional pageantry. For a while it seems the engagement is off, then they make it up and have Admiral Ross hitch them in a quick wardroom ceremony. (4) As Damar is running out of patience with the way Weyoun and the Dominion are treating Cardassia, the Female Founder does who-knows-what in her quarters with a private, secure, long-range communications system. At the end of the episode, the Breen show up with their prisoners (Ezri and Worf, remember?) and the Founder announces that the Breen have joined the Dominion.

"Strange Bedfellows" acquaints us further with the aims of the Dominion's new allies the Breen. Led by a tall storm-trooper type named Thot Gor, who looks exactly like all the other Breen, they are eager to rub out the Federation once and for all. Meanwhile, the new alliance quickly puts Cardassia in its place when Weyoun orders Damar to sign a treaty making unspecified territorial concessions to the Breen. Together with the massacre of a Cardassian military order that the Dominion deliberately left unreinforced, this pushes Damar's loyalty to the breaking point. So when Weyoun inadvertently gives Worf an opportunity to snap his neck (guess how long Worf hesitates!), Damar laughs it off: "You should have killed me. There's only one Damar!" Over on Bajor Dukat, still in chracter as Anjohl, continues to seduce Kai Winn into joining the pah-wraith cult. Winn is horrified when she realizes that her "Guide" is working for the other side. She runs to Kira for spiritual counsel, admitting that her love of power has led her astray; but when Kira tells her she must step down as Kai, a wall goes up between them - perhaps the turning point of this tragic story. Now in Cardassian custody and awaiting their imminent execution, Worf and Ezri make up as friends and break up as a couple, once and for all - just in time for Damar to spring them and announce that he plans to lead a Cardassian rebellion against the Dominion. I wish I had space to mention a few more of the notes I took on this episode; it's equally rich in both dramatic sweep and character-driven moments.

"The Changing Face of Evil" is the episode in which the Breen attack earth, leaving Starfleet Headquarters in ruins. A newly sober Damar and his friend Gul Rusot (John Vickery, lately "Neroon" on Babylon 5) lay their first plans for the resistance movement to take back Cardassia from the Dominion. Kai Winn, now fully committed to the pah wraiths, begins to study the Book of Kosst Amojan - basically a grimoire for raising the pah wraiths from the Fire Caves and triggering Bajor's armageddon. At first the pages are blank, but when Solbor (Winn's personal assistant, pictured) reveals that Anjohl is really Gul Dukat and threatens to expose what they are doing, Winn kills him and uses his blood to discover the book's writing. The Federation-Klingon-Romulan fleet takes a beating from the Breen, who have an energy-drain weapon only the Klingons can fight off. The bad news: The Defiant gets blown up. The good news: having abandoned ship, Sisko and his crew get home on time to see the broadcast of Damar's speech calling on all Cardassians to resist the Dominion. Their resistance starts things off by blowing up the cloning facility from which, for example, future editions of Weyoun would have come. The episode ends with Sisko and Admiral Ross agreeing that Damar may now hold the key to winning the war against the Dominion.

"When It Rains..." is the episode where Kira (newly commissioned as a Starfleet Commander) goes to Cardassia with Odo and Garak to teach Damar and his friends how to wage a war of resistance - i.e., the style of fighting the Bajorans had used against Cardassia a few years earlier. Understandably, they find it hard to communicate with some Cardassians - notably Gul Rusot - who can't see past their hatred of Bajoran terrorists. Ironically, Kira gets along fine with Damar, though she has a personal beef with him (Ziyal, remember?). They simply never mention it to each other. Meanwhile (I have to use a lot of this word!), Klingon Chancellor Gowron arrives on DS9, ostensibly to decorate Martok for his brilliant tactical leadership, but really to take personal command of Klingon forces. It soon becomes clear that Gowron's strategy is either suicidally stupid or... (I can't tell you yet. Worf doesn't figure it out until the next episode.) Meanwhile (again!), Dukat tries to sneak a peek at the Book of Kosst Amojan, and is struck with blindness. Winn sends him out in the street to beg until he learns a lesson in humility and regains his sight. One more meanwhile: Julian studies a sample of Odo's goo and discovers that the Constable has the Founders' disease. As he digs deeper, hoping to find a cure, he runs into a stone wall at Starfleet Medical. First they won't give him access to records of Odo's medical tests three years earlier, then they send him a fake file, and finally Julian realizes that Odo didn't catch the disease from the other Founders. In fact, Odo was deliberately infected by Section 31, making him Patient Zero in an unauthorized bio-war of genocide.

"Tacking Into the Wind" is the episode that rings down the curtain on Klingon Chancellor Gowron. As Worf and Sisko realize, Gowron's orders are intentionally reckless, so that the resulting defeats might discredit General Martok as a political rival. Martok is lucky enough to recover from his wounds caused by Gowron's first set of orders, but he refuses to go against his leader in a time of war. As the Chancellor orders another, equally reckless offensive, Worf puts his foot down. He calls Gowron out and kills him in single combat. Then, refusing to accept the mantle of leadership, Worf places it on Martok's shoulders, making him the first commoner to lead the Klingon Empire since Kahless himself. Meanwhile (here we go...), as Odo hovers near death, O'Brien and Julian work out a way to lure a Section 31 agent to DS9 so they can thumb-screw out of him the cure for Odo's illness. Kira continues teaching Damar & Co. how to be good terrorists. While raiding a Dominion ship in hopes of stealing a Breen energy-drain weapon, Damar is forced to kill his friend Rusot when the latter pulls a gun on Kira.

"Extreme Measures" gives us a break from following the multiple plot-lines of the Final Chapter, by focusing solely on Miles & Julian's team effort to squeeze Section 31's Agent Sloan for information on how to cure Odo's disease. In their final buddy-buddy adventure, they corner Sloan, stop him in the process of killing himself to protect his secrets, and then enter his dying mind to look for the information they need. I don't know which is more amazing: Bashir's ruthlessness, or the ease with which he invents a device for transferring his and O'Brien's minds into Sloan's brain. At times it's sort of like a prophecy of Being John Malkovich, with almost enough weird whimsy to keep you from questioning the doctor's medical ethics or noticing the darkness inherent in a story that makes light of a man's suicide. Nevertheless it also has some lightness in it, particularly the moment where Bashir admits to himself that he is in love with Ezri. After a fake-out ending in which Sloan almost convinces the boys that he’s dead and they have failed in their task, they succeed in wresting the cure from him and, in spite of the temptation to stay and ransack his secrets, escape from Sloan’s mind before he dies and takes them with him.

"The Dogs of War" is DS9’s last one-hour episode. It’s the one in which the Starship Defiant is raised from the dead. It’s also the one in which Jeffrey Combs earned his double credit for playing two recurring characters at the same time (though never in the same scene). Liquidator Brunt shows up as soon as Quark gets a fuzzy transmission from Zek announcing his retirement and anointing Quark as his successor. The static turns out to be a major plot point, for when Zek and Ishka finally arrive, it’s to pass the Nagus’s staff to Rom. Ferenginar needs a kinder, gentler Nagus, Zek declares. This is all right with Quark, as long as he needn’t have anything to do with the new Ferenginar and can run his bar as the “last outpost” of unbridled avarice. Meanwhile, after one of the most spectacular battle sequences Star Trek ever achieved, the Dominion begin a strategic retreat. Nevertheless, all is not well with the Cardassian resistance. Betrayed from the inside, Damar’s rebellion is comprehensively crushed. Only Damar, Kira, and Garak survive, holed up in the basement of Garak’s boyhood home, under the grumpy but loyal care of his housekeeper Mila (Julianna McCarthy in a role introduced in Season 3). Though Weyoun broadcasts a speech announcing that the Cardassian mutiny has been crushed, a revolution by the whole Cardassian people begins brewing around the legend that Damar still lives. In a suspenseful scene involving a time bomb and a couple of Jem’Hadar who want to hold Garak for questioning, Damar gets his people’s attention and the revolution begins in earnest. Meanwhile, Ezri and Julian stop dancing around each other and just kiss. And finally, Kasidy tells Sisko that she’s pregnant. Wow!

"What You Leave Behind" ties up all the loose ends in a two-hour episode which ambitiously tries to one-up “The Dogs of War” in the scale of its climactic space battle. Ezri and Julian wake up together on the morning of the battle, very decidedly a couple. The O’Briens (in Keiko’s only Season 7 appearance) discuss their plans to move to Earth after the war – Miles is going to teach at the Academy, but he worries about how to break the news to Julian. The Federation-Klingon-Romulan alliance pursues the retreating Dominion forces all the way to Cardassia and commit, at any cost, to breaking through their defenses, while on the planet below the Female Founder orders the extermination of the rebellious Cardassian people. Quark bites the bullet and visits Vic Fontaine’s, because with everybody gone he’s lonely. Dukat and Winn get back together and begin their evil ritual in the Fire Caves. The war finally ends when Odo convinces the Female Changeling that the Federation will guarantee the security of the Founders. She agrees to stand down (and stand trial) while he agrees to take the cure for the Changelings’ disease to the Great Link. During the victory party at Vic’s, Sisko receives a final vision warning him that he has to stop what Winn and Dukat are doing. He arrives just on time to prevent the pah wraiths from getting loose, but only by making the ultimate sacrifice. Apparently elevated to the status of a Prophet, Sisko comes to Kasidy to reassure her that he isn’t missing, and will return one day when he is ready. The episode ends with a somewhat slow-paced and indulgent sequence in which the characters, some of them departing from DS9, look back on their past seven years together.

Where do they all end up? Well, at the end Damar is dead, and Garak stays on Cardassia to help rebuild his devastated world. Dukat and Winn are dead too—so the galaxy is that much safer. Rom and Leeta have moved to Ferenginar to be Mr. and Mrs. Grand Nagus. Worf has accepted the job of Federation Ambassador to Kronos (Chronos? Qo’noS? – I’ve seen it spelled all three ways in the captions of this season alone), and leaves the station with newly-vested Klingon Chancellor Martok. The O’Briens are going back to earth. Kira says goodbye to Odo before watching him merge with the ocean of liquid people known as the Great Link; then she goes home to take command of DS9. Nog has been promoted to Lieutenant. Julian and Ezri stay put, but they’re a couple now. Only Quark remains in essentially the same position, though the world around him has changed. The final shot of the series shows Kira joining Jake Sisko on the Promenade, looking out a window at the stars, wondering where his Dad might be. The camera pulls back; the station shrinks into the distance and, to the heart-rendingly lonely sound of a solo trumpet playing the show’s main theme, it finally disappears.

Sigh. All right, it was a slow and indulgent ending, but after seven years of a complex and ongoing story, wouldn’t you want some closure? And don’t you feel that ache as you see the station shrink away to nothing? What you’re seeing means that, although life goes on for the people on Deep Space Nine, the story has ended for us. And if that gives you a choked-up, wistful feeling, it must have worked.

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 season one. For comparison purposes, see also my review of Babylon 5 season one.

IMAGES from top: Miles and Julian in their last "buddy" episode; a Jem'Hadar; a Vorta; the Female Founder; Jeffrey Combs' double credit for "The Dogs of War"; the Defiant; Sarah Sisko; Senator Cretak; Ezri & Garak; Sisko & Odo; Jack, Patrick & Lauren; Weyoun 6 dying in Odo's arms; Kor; Quark; Dukat; Nog; Mrs. Tigan; the Intendant & Bizarro-Ezri; Joran Dax; Laas; Vic Fontaine & Sisko; Koval; Ezri's runabout in the Badlands; Thot Gor; "Anjohl" and Winn; Solbor; Odo, Kira, Garak, Rusot & Seskal (one of numerous Trek characters played by Vaughan Armstrong); Gowron; Sloan; Damar stirring up the people; the Cardassian capital in ruins; the entrance to the Fire Caves; Station Deep Space Nine.

1 comment:

revalkorn said...

By the way, the James Darren CD is excellent. His lounge act is a highlight of the last two seasons, and his character added that intangible something that made season 7 the best season of the best of the Star Trek serials.