Sunday, October 31, 2010

DS9 Season 3

Season 3 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine aired in first-run syndication from September 1994 to June 1995. This was approximately my "second junior year" in college, a very stressful year during which I worked diligently on my studies in music and German. Nevertheless, I almost always had time to relax and watch an episode of my favorite Star Trek series. As a result, I don't think I missed a single one. Watching them again over this past month was like returning to visit well-remembered old friends.

Season 3 was also a sort of "second junior year" for DS9. Coming on the heels of the show's first mature, full-length season of innovative and high-quality Trek episodes, Season 3 carried that achievement even further. Now that Star Trek: The Next Generation had ended (or rather, shifted into feature-film gear), DS9 was, briefly, the only Trek series on television... during the first half of this season, in fact. Star Trek: Voyager started in January 1995 on the UPN network, giving the still-syndicated DS9 a bit of friendly competition. What with the TNG feature film Star Trek: Generations going into production, there were actually three different incarnations of Trek in production at one time, all on the same Paramount lot.

DS9's third year has some distinctives that don't require a familiarity with the timeline of multiple Trek series. This is the year that added a dynamic new element to the DS9 formula: the lean, mean Starship Defiant. Sure, the main focus of the series remained the strategically-situated way-station between Bajor and the wormhole. But when warp-speed is the need, it's nice to have something like the Defiant enabling you to go where no runabout has gone before. In Trek canon terms, the Defiant came about because of the threat of the Dominion coming through the wormhole to conquer the Alpha Quadrant (a piece of Trekbabble that gathers the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and sundry hangers-on into a single heap). In real-world terms, the arrival of the Defiant is a gift to DS9 made possible by the departure of TNG from first-run syndication, meaning that there was now room for one more starship on TV. Any way you cut it, a lot of exciting possibilities were opened up by this tough, tight vehicle with its overly souped-up engines, overly high-powered guns, and (gasp!) a Romulan cloaking device, on loan with strings attached.

So, if you want a quick rule of thumb to distinguish DS9's third season from the other six, it's this: It was the only year in which the series's original cast had the U.S.S. Defiant to fly around on. Season 4, after all, was the year that brought Worf into the ensemble. So Year 3 also holds the distinction of taking the original formula for the series as far as it ever went. I think it could have gone farther... though, in retrospect, I'm not complaining about what the Klingons added to this already complex canvas.

The Search, Part I & Part II After Season 2's slow buildup to revealing the Dominion, Season 3 begins with a two-part episode bringing this multi-layered new threat into sharper focus. We learn that the Vorta (pictured immediately below) are the carrot, the Jem'Hadar (pictured below, "The Abandoned") are the stick, and the hand holding them are the Founders, a.k.a. Changelings. In other words, Odo's people. Yes, folks, this is the episode in which the galaxy's most beloved grouch finds his way home and learns who his people are... and the knowledge doesn't make him happy. Who would be? Odo's entire life has been driven by what he thinks of as his sense of justice. Now he's supposed to accept that what he really has is a sense of order, an instinct that has led his people to impose totalitarian rule on almost a whole quadrant of the galaxy. Where trade and diplomacy (Vorta-style) don't work, the Founders send the Jem'Hadar to crush entire races into submission, and to utterly destroy those who do not submit.

Meanwhile, recognizing that "solids" (like you and me) tend not to trust shape-shifters, the Founders sequester themselves on a planet covered with the amber-colored ooze that is changelings in their natural state: the "Great Link" whose physical and spiritual communion is unlike anything known to humanoids. The location of their planet is hidden within secrets within secrets, and the chances of anyone finding it out are a deadly threat to the leaders of an Empire that has endured for thousands of years. So, obviously, they don't let the Defiant find them too easily. Odo and Kira only find the changelings' homeworld after jumping ship during a desperate battle with Jem'Hadar boarding parties. While Odo wrestles with the dilemma between his instinct to rejoin his people and his feelings toward his humanoid friends (particularly Kira), the other crewmen find themselves back on DS9, trying to stop the Federation from making a corrupt bargain with the Dominion. The guest cast of this two-parter includes John Fleck (later "Silik" on Enterprise) as the leader of a recurring, minor Dominion race called the Karemma; Martha Hackett (later "Seska" on Voyager) as the Romulan T'Rul, pictured above; Salome Jens in her first of fifteen appearances as the Female Founder; Kenneth Marshall in his first of nine appearances as Starfleet Security officer Michael Eddington; Natalia Nogulich in her last of six appearances, mostly on TNG, as Admiral Nechayev; and Dennis Christopher (who later wore Suliban makeup on Enterprise) as the Vorta pictured here.

The House of Quark is the one where Quark gets married to the matriarch of a noble Klingon family. It's sort of a shotgun wedding, actually--only they use these huge, curving swords called bat'leths instead of shotguns. It's also one of Star Trek's funniest fish-out-of-water stories, forcing a mercenary little Ferengi to pit his brains against the brawn of a Klingon warrior who covets milady Grilka's property. The whole mess starts when Grilka's husband makes a drunken lunge at Quark and accidentally stabs himself to death. Quark takes full credit for slaying the Klingon, which improves his business but puts him in a dilemma when Grilka comes calling. Now, in order to save her family's honor (and, perhaps more importantly, its assets), he has to face the leader of a rival house in mortal combat. What does Quark do? Not telling! This hilarious romp, charged by the vast potential for contrast and conflict between two alien races, features Mary Kay Adams as Grilka. Adams was credited as a regular cast member throughout Season 2 of Babylon 5, though she only appeared twice in the role of Na'Toth. Joseph Ruskin (who acted in all five flavors of Trek, if you count the TNG feature films) plays Grilka's counselor Tumek; both actors reprised their roles in Season 5. Robert O'Reilly here makes his first of seven DS9 appearances as Klingon Chancellor Gowron, a role he had played four times on TNG. Carlos Carrasco (who played the bus passenger "Ortiz" in the film Speed) plays D'Ghor, the first of two Klingons and a total of four Trek characters he played. And the Klingon whose accidental death started it all is played by John Lendale Bennett who, besides serving as Avery Brooks's stunt double, also played another Klingon in Season 5 and, later in this very season, the "real" Gabriel Bell of 21st-century Earth.

Equilibrium is one of DS9's "Trill episodes." I have a fondness for them, probably out of proportion to their merits, because I find the whole concept of the Trill race fascinating. In this one we learn a lot more about how Trill hosts are joined to the symbionts. It turns out that very few Trill are actually joined, though far more of them could be than is generally known. The result is a very rigorous program of training and selection, which is supposed to weed out unsuitable candidates. Unfortunately, someone really unsuitable--in fact, a murderer--seem to have slipped past the filters. This only gradually becomes apparent as Sisko and Bashir struggle to get to the bottom of why Jadzia's body is suddenly trying to reject the Dax host. If the two are separated, Jadzia will die--but, according to the ethics of Trill society, that could be a necessary sacrifice so that the symbiont may live on. There turns out to be a way to save both host and symbiont, however: allowing suppressed memories of Dax's killer host rise to the surface and be integrated into their composite personality. The role of Joran Dax, later played (in Season 7) by another actor, is here created by noted Las Vegas stage magician Jeff Magnus McBride. The "Trill Guardian," that nerdy guy who knows everything about the care and breeding of the symbionts, is played by Nicholas Cascone, who had played an Enterprise ensign on TNG. The elderly Trill who fondly recalls his brother's sociopathy is played by Harvey Vernon, late of the 1970's TV series "Carter Country."

Second Skin is the one where Kira wakes up one day in a strange bed, gets up to look in a mirror, and sees a Cardassian face staring back at her. Does this remind you of the TNG episode "Face of the Enemy"? So far, it should. What sets this story apart, however, is the possibility--originally intended to be left unresolved at the end of the episode--that Kira may actually be a Cardassian sleeper agent, surgically altered and implanted with false memories so that everyone, including herself, would believe she is Bajoran. Now she is asked to believe that the Obsidian Order has brought her home to be debriefed, and to return to her loving family. They even show her the body of a Bajoran terrorist, perserved in stasis, who looks just like Kira--supposedly the rightful owner of the identity her Cardassian self appropriated. It's all cruelly confusing for a Bajoran patriot who despises the Cardassians for what they did to her world. It's also, as she learns just in time, a plot to expose her Cardassian "father" as a leader in the revolutionary Cardassian Underground. Legate Ghemor, Kira's putative father, is played by Lawrence Pressman (late of "Doogie Howser, M.D." and other series), who went on to play the dual role of Admiral Krajensky and a menacing changeling in this season's final episode. Ghemor appears again in Season 5. Cindy Katz (here playing a Kobliad woman working with the Cardassians) also played a Cardassian on Voyager. The suspicious Bajoran character of Yeln is played by Tony Papenfuss, one of the brothers Darryl of "Newhart" fame. Gregory Sierra (pictured; late of "Barney Miller") plays the particularly memorable role of Cardassian intelligence officer Entek. Billy Burke (who plays Bella's father in the Twilight movies) appears here in his first TV role. And Christopher Carroll makes his first of two Trek appearances, playing a Cardassian Gul.

The Abandoned is the one where Quark discovers a live baby kicking and screaming in a pile of wreckage he bought for scrap. As the child grows to adulthood in a matter of days, it becomes evident that he is a Jem'Hadar. It would be a wonderful opportunity to study that species, if the kid would sit still and submit to being studied. What the DS9s do learn, however, is that the Jem'Hadar are bred to fight, to kill, and to submit to no one except the Founders--of whom, fortunately, Odo happens to be one. Odo hopes that he can teach the boy that there's more to life than violence and thuggery, but that doesn't work out any better than Sisko's orders to bring the kid to Starfleet for further study. Ultimately, Odo realizes the only thing to do is let the young Jem'Hadar go back to his people. This episode features former child star turned voice actor Bumper Robinson (pictured; late of Enemy Mine) as the Jem'Hadar teen, and Leslie Bevis in one of her three appearances as Quark's sultry, purple-haired business associate.

Civil Defense is the one where somebody accidentally trips an automated security program dating back to when DS9 was a Cardassian ore-processing facility. Recorded messages by Gul Dukat begin playing on all the monitors, warning of successive steps being taken to put down what the station interprets as a slave uprising. Every time the crew eludes certain death from one security measure, the station takes its programmed response up a notch. Soon deadly disruptor rays are shooting all over Ops, nerve gas is creeping up ore chutes, and a countdown to self-destruct proves resistant even to the command codes of an intolerably smug Gul Dukat. It's one of Trek's most intense "bottle shows," using the regular cast and existing sets to the max in an hour of danger, action, tests of resourcefulness, and laugh-aloud irony.

Meridian is basically "Star Trek does Brigadoon." I am surprised to read that many of the series' staffers consider it one of the worst episodes of the show. I've always liked it. First, there's a delicious B-story featuring Jeffrey Combs in his first of many, many Trek appearances. Here Combs plays Tiron (pictured), a loathesome alien with upward-pointing nostrils and a jones for an erotic holoprogram featuring Kira. Quark tries to oblige him, but he gets a cruel yet funny comeuppance. Meanwhile, in the A-story, Jadzia falls hard for a good-looking alien whose planet phases back and forth between normal space and a non-corporeal plane of existence. Their "solid spells" are getting shorter and farther between, so that eventually their world will cease to exist altogether. The Defiants offer to help them stabilize whatever solar technobabble is causing the effect. Tragically, just when Jadzia is ready to put her Starfleet career on hold so that she can be with her beloved Deral, it turns out that her presence on the planet as it phases out of physical space threatens to rip the whole world to pieces. The Defiant rescues her in time to permit Meridian to phase out of existence, leaving a heartbroken Trill who, even more sadly when you think about it, won't live to see Deral again (pace the Season 6 finale). Deral is played by Brett Cullen, late of "Falcon Crest," "Young Riders," and From the Earth to the Moon.

Defiant is the episode where the eponymous starship gets stolen by what looks like TNG's Commander Riker gone rogue. He actually turns out to be "Tom Riker," the transporter-glitch-generated double of our Will, previously seen in TNG's "Second Chances." Here, after stealing the Defiant on behalf of the Maquis and attempting to use it against a secret Cardassian base, he gives Kira a big wet kiss and goes stoically to his fate in a Cardassian work camp. I guess this is as good a place as any to admit that I've never thought much of Jonathan Frakes as an actor, though he did a fine job directing three of this season's episodes. By virtue of his appearance in this episode, Voyager's "Death Wish" and Enterprise's series finale, he is also the only actor to play the same character (or one who looks just like him) in all four Trek spinoffs--unless you count Majel Barrett, who was credited as "computer voice" in all five Trek series, plus the animated series and the feature films. Plus, two-time TNG guest Tricia O'Neal appears here as an agent of Cardassia's Obsidian Order; Shannon Cochran, who would later play both a Klingon and a Romulan, reprises her TNG role as a Maquis guerilla; and Michael Canavan, in his first of three Trek guest roles, as another Maquis. Cochran and Canavan, who met while filming this episode, are now married. Isn't that romantic?

Fascination--speaking of romantic--is the episode in which Lwaxana Troi's feelings toward Odo trigger an epidemic of infatuation on DS9, thanks in part to a geriatric disease that affects the Betazoid ambassador's control over her telepathy. So Vedek Bareil, on board for the Bajoran gratitude festival, throws himself at Jadzia; Jadzia offers herself to Sisko; Quark declares his love to Keiko; Jake makes puppy-eyes at Kira; and... well, you can see the picture! All this happens while the O'Briens are quietly having another marital crisis. Perhaps it's appropriate that Kira and Bashir turn out to be the only pair mutually affected by Lwaxana's "Zanthi fever," since actors Visitor and Siddig were actually the parents of the child whose advent became a plot thread in Seasons 4 and 5.

Past Tense, Part I & Part II Is the mid-season two-parter in which Sisko, Dax, and Bashir beam down to Earth and, due to some technobabble or other, materialize in the year 2024, at a climax of mankind's dystopian phase, just before problems like poverty and social injustice started to be solved. (Hey, this is Star Trek.) It's a time when the homeless are herded into ghetto-like "sanctuary districts," honest people fallen on hard times ("gimmies") thrown together with creeps and crazies ("dims"), so that the wealthy and privileged don't have to look at them. Sisko and Bashir get lumped in with the dims and gimmies in Sanctuary District A, where (Sisko realizes) the historic Bell riots are due to break out in a few days' time--a deadly uprising which would serve as a "wake-up call" to a lot of people. Dax, meanwhile, comes under the protection of a kindly media magnate who agrees to help her find her friends, though he fears the repercussions of defying the rules that keep his class separate from the folks in the ghetto. As the tension builds, Sisko's presence inadvertently leads to a crucial change: Gabriel Bell, who heroically gave his life to save the hostages taken during the riots, is killed before the crisis even begins.

Meanwhile, back in the future, the stakes go up when some sort of temporal paradox causes the entire Federation, except the Defiant and its crew, to be erased from existence. Evidently, whatever happened as a result of Sisko & Co. going back in time has changed Earth's history so that warp flight was never invented, etc. O'Brien and Kira (the latter sporting a bandage across the bridge of her nose, to conceal her Bajoran identity) beam down to San Francisco at a variety of points in history, hoping to find signs that their lost crewmates are there. (Their brief visit to the 1960s is simply hilarious). The stranded officers, for their part, ride out the storm as best they can, with Sisko taking over the identity of Gabriel Bell and trying to repair the damage to history. It's a perhaps needlessly talky, yea, preachy episode which combines a shrill, hyperbolic depiction of present-day America's supposed class warfare with an understandable effort to harmonize Trek's vision of mankind's future with present reality. Bear in mind that in the Trek universe, something called the "eugenics wars" was supposed to happen by the 1990s, followed I presume by the "post-atomic horror" referenced in TNG's pilot episode.

The guest cast for this two-parter is so extensive that it needs a paragraph of its own! First, there's Jim Metzler (pictured here; late of Tex and North and South) as Jadzia's wealthy protector; TV producer-writer Frank Military (pictured next above) as the hair-trigger dim named B.C.; familiar-face character actor Dick Miller (who had previously guested on TNG) as one of the cops taken hostage; and Bill Smitrovich (late of "Life Goes On" and "Millennium") as sympathetic gimmie Michael Webb. Webb's teenage son is played by Richard Lee Jackson of "Saved by the Bell: The New Class." Social worker Lee (pictured second above) is played by Tina Lifford, whose credits include the voice of one of the sheep in Babe. Detective Preston is played by Deborah Van Valkenburgh, late of The Warriors and TV's "Too Close for Comfort." And finally, the "dim" who steals Jadzia's combadge is played by Ron Howard's brother Clint, whose other Trek appearances included a Ferengi on Enterprise and the childlike alien Balok in one of TOS's earliest episodes.

Life Support is the episode that casts Dr. Bashir in the role of the gruesome reanimator who extends Bareil's life, during a series of crucial negotiations between Cardassia and Bajor, by turning him into something between Darth Vader and Frankenstein's monster. By the end Bareil is, as one may say, "more machine than man." All this puts Kira through an emotional wringer, especially given the confusing circumstance that she wants the same thing as Kai Winn but for different reasons. I originally hated this episode because it scorched one of my favorite recurring characters to oblivion, but from the perspective of so many years further on, it now comes across as one of DS9's movingest tear-jerkers. Andrew Prine, late of Gettysburg, Gods and Generals and TV's "Weird Science" who had also guested on TNG, plays the Cardassian negotiator. Jake's would-be girlfriend Leanne is played by Lark Voorhies, late of "Saved by the Bell."

Heart of Stone is one of those unfortunate episodes in which the B-story comes across more strongly than the A-story. The main plot has to do with Kira getting her foot stuck in a crystal that gradually grows to envelop her entire body, while Odo hopelessly looks on. The two of them had followed a Maquis raider into the caves below the surface of some god-forsaken piece of space rock, and as Odo exhausts every possible way of getting Kira free, he finally opens up to her and says, "I love you." It's when she replies, "I love you too," that he realizes he's dealing not with the real Kira, but with a fellow changeling who is testing him to learn what makes him tick. Actors Visitor and Auberjonois go to heroic lengths to redeem this essentially pointless story, in spite of the physical constraints limiting the visible interest in most of their scenes. Meanwhile, back on DS9, Nog saves the episode by attempting to purchase an apprenticeship for himself... from Sisko! While the commander squirms at the idea of a Ferengi joining Starfleet, it soon becomes clear that young Nog is serious about his application--in spite of all the cultural and family obstacles. So this episode is about as "bottle-show" as they come, with mixed results.

Destiny is the one in which a fundamentalist Bajoran cleric (pictured) demands that Sisko pull out of a planned joint experiment with Cardassian scientists because of an ancient prophecy that, in his interpretation, foretells the doom of Bajor's prophets (a.k.a. "wormhole aliens"). What ultimately happens, while quite exciting, is not so disastrous and yet equally susceptible of being interpreted as fulfillment of the prophecy. It's an unusual episode for its approach to religious issues. Vedek Yarka is played by three-time Trek guest Erick Avari, late of Stargate, Planet of the Apes, and The Mummy. Two of the three Cardassian chicks are played by B5's Tracy Scoggins and Wendy Robie of "Twin Peaks." A funny story has it that, while playing her role in this episode, Scoggins liked to wander around the Paramount lot in full makeup, scaring children until studio security ordered DS9 staff to "keep your aliens contained."

Prophet Motive is the one where Bashir finds out that his name has been put in the hat for the Carrington Award, a prestigious medical honor usually reserved for very old and accomplished doctors. He is deliciously torn between hoping to win and refusing to count on it. Meanwhile, Quark and Rom are horrified to read the new edition of the Rules of Aquisition that Nagus Zek brings with him to the station. Zek offers them the honor of being the first to read the new guiding principles that will change Ferengi society forever. But though Rom happily joins Zek in his sudden philanthropic crusade, Quark smells a rat. He follows that smell straight to the wormhole, where an orb encounter convinces him that the Bajoran Prophets have done something funny to Zek's head. They agree to undo it when Quark tells them that if they keep reverting every Ferengi they meet to an earlier, gentler stage of evolution, they will have no peace from Ferengi visitors coming to find out what happened to their friends. What a sales pitch! It's always fun to see the inverted cultural responses of Quark and his race, such as his horror on reading a new Rule that says "Virtue is its own reward." The alien shown here giviing Quark oo-mox is played by Juliana Donald, who also appeared on TNG.

Visionary is an atypical DS9 episode, heavily driven by a sci-fi concept: some type of radiation poisoning is causing O'Brien to jump forward in time by a few hours, then back again, usually after witnessing his own death and/or a scene of mass destruction. While each successive jump comes closer to killing O'Brien, the foreknowledge he gains saves his and everyone else's bacon time after time. Finally O'Brien has to sacrifice himself so that a future version of himself can... Ugh. To quote a remark O'Brien makes to O'Brien: "I hate temporal mechanics." Meanwhile, the Romulans come over to visit their cloaking device which, you may remember, is on loan to the Defiant. Lots of little clues about the weird stuff going on around the station add up, in the end, to a Romulan plot to blow DS9 and the wormhole out of the sky, ending the Dominion threat once and for all. Once that's cleared up, life returns to normal... except, perhaps, for O'Brien? One of the Romulans is played by Jack Shearer, who previously played a Bolian on DS9 and later played two different Starfleet Admirals on Voyager. The other Romulan is played by Annette Helde, who also played three other Trek roles.

Distant Voices opens with Julian refusing to sell a highly controlled substance to a scary-looking alien named Altovar. A little later, he gets a nasty shock. Literally. Altovar, who happens to be a Lethean, grabs the doctor's head and zaps him with some type of psychic attack which, in almost all cases, eventually leads to death. Now in a coma, the doctor finds himself inside a weirded-out version of DS9, which is actually his mind's way of visualizing itself. Other characters Bashir encounters during his coma are actually aspects of his own personality, which the Lethean invader is viciously destroying one at a time. As he gets nearer and nearer to death, Julian's mental self appears to grow older and more feeble--a world-class make-up job that (finally!) brought out the best in actor Siddig. The Lethean, who at first serves as nothing but a scary monster, later develops a more interesting personality--which is perhaps why we see his race again in Season 4. Another thing that develops in this episode is the backstory, previously mentioned in Season 1, about how Bashir lost his valedictorian standing at Starfleet Medical--a step toward revealing, in Season 5, a secret Bashir has kept since he was a child. Appearing as Altovar is former Miami Dolphin and current anti-domestic violence spokesman Victor Rivers.

Through the Looking Glass reunites Sisko with his late wife Jennifer, last seen being killed in DS9's pilot episode. She turns out to be alive and well... in the mirror universe. While Sisko's Jennifer has been killed, mirror-Jennifer's husband Ben is the dead one, killed fighting for the rebellion against the Klingon-Cardassian-Bajoran "Alliance." But only Smiley (i.e., mirror-Miles O'Brien) knows this for sure. So Smiley kidnaps Sisko in a daring strike on DS9's ops center, crosses over with him to his own universe, and blackmails him into helping him "rescue" Jennifer from the Alliance-run station, which at that point is still the ore-processing facility Terok Nor. Actually it's more a choice between persuading mirror-Jennifer not to help the Alliance develop a sensor device that can flush the rebellion out of the Badlands, and killing her if that's what it takes to stop it. In the course of carrying out his dangerous mission, Sisko is forced to (a) bloody mirror-Bashir's nose, (b) make sweet love to mirror-Dax, (c) look upon the corpse of mirror-Rom (the crossover world isn't kind to Ferengi), and (d) avoid being upstaged by the Indendant, a.k.a. bizarro Kira, a bisexual sociopath who oozes disturbing chemistry with practically every character who crosses her scenery-chewing path. Felicia M. Bell here makes her first of two appearances as mirror-Jennifer Sisko, having played the real Jennifer in Season 1's "Emissary."

Improbable Cause begins a two-episode arc (distinguished from a two-part episode mainly by the fact that the episodes have different titles) in which Odo helps Garak solve the mystery of who bombed the Cardassian's tailor shop. The clues put them on the trail of a Flaxian assassin who, just as they are about to follow him to see who hired him, gets blown up by the Romulan covert-ops agency, the Tal Shiar. Even the duplicitous Garak seems intrigued to know why the Tal Shiar would want to kill him. Long story short, it was Garak who blew up his own shop, just to put Odo on the trail of what turns out to be a joint Romulan-Cardassian (or rather, Tal Shiar-Obsidian Order) invasion of the Dominion. Commanding the attack is Garak's old mentor Enabran Tain (Paul Dooley reprising the role he created in Season 2), who now that Odo and Garak are onto him, chucks the one into a cell and invites the other to join him. TO BE CONTINUED... But before we go on, let me note that this episode features Julianna McCarthy, late of "The Frighteners," in her first of three appearances as Tain's old housekeeper Mila. Carlos LaCamera (late of "Close to Home" and "Nurses") plays the Flaxian merchant/assassin.

The Die Is Cast takes its name from the words Julius Caesar spoke when he crossed the Rubicon. In this episode, completing the arc begun in "Improbable Cause," the die is cast not by a Roman general but by a joint operation of the most covert intelligence branch of both the Romulan and Cardassian governments. Garak is allowed to accompany his old mentor Tain, as long as he demonstrates his old zest for torturing information out of people. In this case, the subject of his interrogation is Odo. There turns out to be a way to torture changelings after all: surround them with an energy field that prevents them from reverting to their gelatinous state. While Odo goes through hell and Garak starts to worry that he might be growing a conscience, the Romulan-Cardassian fleet gets closer to the deadly trap the Dominion have set for it. Sisko, meanwhile, demonstrates a staggering level of hypocrisy when, first, he defies his Starfleet orders and pursues the invasion fleet into the Gamma Quadrant in hopes of saving Odo and Garak; and, then, he gives Eddington a dressing-down for violating the chain of command by (of all things) following his own orders from Starfleet command to sabotage the Defiant's mission. Between its outrageous treatment of military discipline and its blithe dismissal of the fact that Garak tortured Odo, this episode made me so angry I could spit. Truly not writer Ronald D. Moore's finest hour! Character actor Leon Russom, who in one of the Trek feature films played the commander-in-chief of the Federation, here takes a demotion to Vice Admiral, while four-time Trek guest Leland Orser plays the Romulan captain who is actually a changeling.

Explorers is the episode that won the 1995 "Best Vision of the Future" award from the Space Frontier Foundation, recognizing its imaginative portrayal of a space vehicle. The vehicle in question is a replica of a Bajoran light-ship built by Ben and Jake Sisko as a father-son bonding project. Though it's not really a plausible design for a solar sailing vessel, the Siskos' ship is really a remarkable work of art. And when the Siskos take it out to test ancient Bajoran legends about flying all the way to Cardassia, they find out that it somehow flies not on solar rays, but on some type of technobabble found abundantly in that sector of space. It's really a cool episode, and I haven't even gotten to the part where Bashir, depressed about not being recognized by his closest academic rival at Starfleet Medical, gets blind drunk with O'Brien and the pair of them sing "Jerusalem," before and after the following exchange:
O'BRIEN: You're not an in-between kind of guy. People either love you or hate you.

BASHIR: Really?

O'BRIEN: I mean, I hated you when we first met.

BASHIR: I remember.

O'BRIEN: And now...

BASHIR: And now?

O'BRIEN: Well... Now, I don't.

BASHIR: That means a lot to me, chief, it really does.

O'BRIEN: And that is from the heart! I really do... not hate you anymore.
Three-time Trek guest Bari Hochwald appears as Bashir's medical-school rival. And Chase Masterson makes her first of 16 appearances as Bajoran dabo-girl Leeta, who at first seems attracted to Bashir before going on to become Mrs. Rom. The role of Leeta was reportedly written with Masterson in mind after she unsuccessfully auditioned for a different guest role. When one door closes...

Family Business introduces the character of Ishka, the ne'er-do-well mother of Quark and Rom. In this first appearance, she was played by Tony award-winning comedienne Andrea Martin (late of "SCTV" and My Big Fat Greek Wedding), who declined to return to the role because of the punishingly heavy prosthetics. In four subsequent episodes, Ishka (a.k.a. "Moogie") was played by the late Cecily Adams. Besides introducing Moogie, this episode is also noteworthy for the first appearance of Jeffrey Combs in the recurring character of FCA Liquidator Brunt, and of Penny Johnson as Sisko's love-interest Kasidy Yates. It is a hilarious, heartwarming episode revealing the climate, customs, and family values of the planet Ferenginar, and just how out-of-step with the latter Quark and his family are. Ishka is charged with earning profit, which for a female is a horrendous crime in Ferengi law, though wearing clothes and speaking to males outside her family are nearly as scandalous. Jake, meanwhile, has set his Dad up with an attractive freighter captain who, in time, will become his wife and the mother of his child. (By the way, I really think we're about due for a TV movie showing what happened to all these characters. Don't you?)

Shakaar is the name of a Bajoran resistance-cell leader much mentioned in reference to Kira's backstory, but never seen until now. At last he appears, played for the first of three DS9 appearances by the same Duncan Regehr who, on TNG, once made passionate love to Beverly Crusher in the barking-mad episode "Sub Rosa." In his first appearance, Shakaar isn't presented as a romantic match for Kira. Rather, he's an old brother-in-arms whom Kira must talk down from his high horse, on the orders of Kai (and now also First Minister) Winn. But as it grows increasingly clear that Winn will not hold back from taking high-handed measures against her own people, Kira joins with Shakaar and his fellow freedom-fighters. The result is a chase, an anxious standoff, and finally a political turnabout that ends Winn's hardline administration. I always enjoy seeing Louise "what a piece of work" Fletcher playing that nasty woman. I can't think of anybody who does a better job of saying gut-wrenchingly vicious things with an air of sincere friendliness. Diane Salinger here makes her first of two appearances as Lupaza, and William Lucking his first of three as Furel, both members of Shakaar's cell; Lucking later played a green-skinned Orion pirate on "Enterprise." Three-time Trek guest Sherman Howard plays O'Brien's Vulcan dart-playing rival. And John Doman (late of HBO's "The Wire") played his first TV guest role in this episode, as the Bajoran officer sent to arrest Shakaar.

Facets is this season's second fascinating Trill episode. In it Jadzia and her friends participate in the Trill ritual of zhian'tara, in which the memory of each of her past hosts is telepathically transferred to someone else and allowed to speak with her as an individual. Kira embodies the senior politician Lela, O'Brien the nervous Tobin, Leta (who already, in only her second appearance, seems to qualify as one of Jadzia's best friends) as the gymnast Emony, Quark(!) as the motherly Audrid, Bashir as hotshot pilot Torias whose life was tragically cut short, a prudently restrained Sisko as the dangerous Joran, and finally Odo as the outrageous Curzon. One would think that, force-field or no, Joran would be the real threat. But once Curzon's appearance and consciousness meld with those of Odo, Dax's most recent host shows no desire ever to go back to being a mere note in Jadzia's personality. The fun-loving Trill-changeling mix claims that both he and Odo are happier this way. When Jadzia demands that Curzon go back where he belongs, he at first cruelly dismisses her. It isn't until he admits that he was in love with Jadzia that Curzon finally agrees to go back. The late Jefrey Alan Chandler, who had already guested on Voyager, here plays the Trill Guardian in charge of the telepathic transfers. It's "Star Trek does Sybil," and I, for one, think it's great!

The Adversary begins with Sisko finally receiving the pip on his collar that makes him a Starfleet Captain, equivalent in rank (if not in seniority) with the commanding officers of the other Trek spinoffs. One almost forgets that he was a mere Commander up to this point! Once that ceremony is over, Sisko leads his command officers on board the Defiant to escort Admiral Krajensky to the Tzenkethi frontier, as a show of force to the new leaders of that warlike race. Before they get there, however, the Defiant receives a transmission indicating that the Tzenkethi have attacked a Federation colony. It soon becomes evident, however, that a Dominion changeling has infiltrated the ship. Presently the crew finds itself locked out of the Defiant's command functions, the ship set on a course that will most certainly trigger all-out war with the Tzenkethi. While O'Brien sweats over how to regain control of the ship, the rest of the crew gets carried away in a paranoid nightmare in which anybody, at any time, could be the changeling. At the end it comes down to a hand-to-hand battle between Odo and one of his own people, who have (we are told) never, ever harmed each other. Until now. The evil changeling's dying words: "We are everywhere." Cue scary music: That's your Season 3 cliffhanger! Besides Lawrence Pressman (whom I already mentioned), this show's guest cast includes Jeff Austin (who also appeared on Voyager as well as Babylon 5) as the Bolian security officer who lets his suspicions run away with him.

Season 3 brought a lot of great stuff to the Trek table. I'm not just talking about Sisko's goatee. It's the year that gave DS9 the Defiant, Eddington, Leeta, Kasidy Yates, Brunt, Ishka, and several other recurring characters. It killed off Bareil (though we would see him again) and brought Jennifer Sisko back from the dead. It added the creepy Joran to the list of previous Dax hosts, and gave us a look at each of Jadzia's predecessors. It set Nog on the path toward becoming Starfleet's first Ferengi officer. It gave the triple-layered Dominion threat time to heat up to a nice sizzle. It risked revealing the mystery of Odo's origins (which could easily have destroyed all that was interesting about him) and deftly turned the solution into a whole new set of fascinating problems. It gave us heady sci-fi (e.g. "Visionary"), mysteries ("Improbable Cause"), battles ("The Die Is Cast"), paranormal thrillers ("Destiny"), romantic heartbreak ("Meridian," "Life Support"), outrageous comedy ("The House of Quark," "Family Business"), family bonding road-trips ("Explorers"), a couple of TNG touches (Lwaxana in "Fascination" and Tom Riker in "Defiant"), and a brain-bending tale of espionage and intrigue ("Second Skin") which would, by the way, pay off in Voyager's Seska plot-arc. Some of the episodes are less than great; a few of them even irritate me ("Past Tense" and "The Die Is Cast," for reasons stated above). But it remains a consistently good year in a forget-it GREAT show.

Want to brush up on your Star Trek? See my reviews of TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, two, six, and seven; of Voyager season one; and of Enterprise season one. As a control group, see also my review of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, and four.

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