10 July 2012

Deep Space Nine Season 2

Deep Space Nine Season 2 Improves, Thankfully.
By Kristin Battestella

After the faulty onset of the Star Trek spinoff Deep Space Nine, the series’ second season has a lot of damage control on its hands. Fortunately, things are much better for this 93-94 Year Two. 

Bajoran and Cardassian relations are not going too well, and Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) and his Bajoran liaison Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) are caught in the middle of the tensions along with Deep Space Nine.  Maquis rebellions against the Federation and trouble on the other side of the wormhole in the Gamma Quadrant aren’t making life on the station any easier for Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) and Doctor Julian Bashir (Siddig El Fadil).  Security Constable Odo (Rene Auberjonois) is still seeking his place as a shapeshifter among the humanoids on DS9, but Ferengi bartender Quark (Armin Shimerman) is looking for profit through the wormhole with a little group called The Dominion.

Deep Space Nine begins to come into its own with a great three-part opener, “The Homecoming,” “The Circle,” and “The Siege.” Multi part and in depth storylines give this series a chance to establish itself beyond The Next Generation copies and traditional Trek ideals. The heavy “The Jem’Hadar” finale, other smartly planted touches regarding the Dominion enemy, and Mirror Universe examinations in “Crossover” further define the uneasy amid the supposedly tranquil.  Yes, the Mirror plots may seem like a cop out way to spotlight our players by showing how they alternatively could be so bad. However, these properly used insights and ties to the original Star Trek in “Blood Oath” add nostalgia and older creditability to DS9’s repertoire.  Besides, Mirror treats are always a fun, healthy way to twist things without doing a throwaway comedy episode like “Rivals.” There is definitely something more to Deep Space Nine beyond the TNG dark side and Trek filler. Some players on DS9, it turns out, don’t like each other very much; comings and goings on the station are not always what they seem, as showcased in “Sanctuary” and the aptly named “Cardassians.”  The Late season “Maquis I and II” gets right to the core of DS9’s growing specialty.  The idyllic Federation life way back on Earth can’t handle all the frontier trouble facing Deep Space Nine, can it?  

However, there are still plenty of troubles on Deep Space Nine.  We’re stuck on a dark and dated space station, and the confined setting and wayward plotting feel like a step down in production, even amateurish. We don’t see wondrous explorations from week to week, and some of the compensating alien makeup is either too weird and inconceivable or ho hum humanoid. Really, dudes with prosthetic giblets over their lips yet they’re still drinking synthehol at Quark’s?  Internal episode pacing is also patchy. There’s a lot going on on this show, perhaps too much.  TNG filler, TOS homage, dry Bajoran politics, Cardissian angst, Maquis trouble, and Dominion rumblings along with character bottle shows.  Can one series, let alone one season of a show, handle all that? While there have been considerable storyline strides since the first season, the viewer is still expected to wait on the supposedly major and important plots for an offshoot fluff show. The 26-episode order seems so long today, almost feeling as if it is an excuse to meander.  We’re two seasons in now, and this is really an awful lot of episodes for us to not intimately know all our players.  Some finer episodes still come across as TNG retreats, too. Crowded and spotty A and B or C storylines still don’t give the audience the vital character development we need.  Though Oscar winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) is great as guest star Vedek Winn and Frank Langella’s (Frost/Nixon) surprise Minister Jaro is a treat; I’m kind of tired of Bajoran corruption and Kai politics.  How many times can we go round and round because it’s so important yet have its resolutions disappear for 20 episodes?  Deep Space Nine feels so roundabout thanks to this burden of riches, and the series does tread some water this season while trying to find its place. 

Fortunately, individual episodes like “Second Sight” create more interest and romance for Benjamin Sisko. Although “Paradise” is another sub par TNG plot, a strong performance from Brooks allows Sisko to step it up as needed, seen likewise in his battles with Gul Dukat in “The Maquis I and II.”  It’s also wonderful to see his alternate rogue in “Crossover,” simply because Mirror Sisko is much more head-to-head and badass.  We know Sisko can do much more; it’s just a matter of giving Brooks episodes with enough room to shine.  Also lacking in episodic focus is Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko. The commander’s son is still too absentee for a regular character family dynamic, but his storylines are pleasing when we get them- as seen in the “The Jem’Hadar” finale. Thankfully, the explorations for Major Kira are observed through different lenses in “Crossover,” “Sanctuary,” and “Necessary Evil.”  Her relationship with Philip Anglim as Vedek Bariel in “The Collaborator” just feels left field stale and unnecessary, yes. It’s not easy for the former militant to find herself in this newfound peace and uniting with the less than perfect Federation, but we know who Kira is, was, and wants to be. No man is needed to define the character anyway, and the already given opportunities for family and relationships get shafted. However, Kira’s uneasy peaceful parallels are a nice embodiment of the gloomy Trek trying to come across on Deep Space Nine.  

Colm Meaney as Miles O’Brien is also his usual steady in “Tribunal,” “Armageddon Game,” and the perfectly un-Trek “Whispers.”  They don’t do much to expand the character, but more reasons for the audience to love O’Brien are always a good thing.  I don’t know why the writers seem to have a go-to for letting people mess with the Chief!  Rosalind Chao’s Keiko is again underutilized in terms of appearances and realistic marriage representations, unfortunately. Why create couples of the week when you have a married regular? I digress. At least Chao provides solid marital support when tasked. Rene Auberjonois is also superb in “The Alternate.” His unique outlook and begrudging attitude are a welcome change of pace in the usually happy Trek family, and Odo stands out whether he has a few moments or an entire centric episode.  Similarly, even if you find the Ferengi too outright comedic, Armin Shimerman as Quark and Ferengi focused shows like “Rules of Acquisition” are wonderfully insightful and revealing. The Ferengi are supposedly so corrupt, merely an imperfect race of ugly little trolls compared to pleasant Trek pretties. Nevertheless, DS9 shows us so much more- including the plight of female Ferengi and the loveably cranky Wallace Shawn as Grand Nagus Zek.  Max Grodenchik as Quark’s brother Rom and Aron Eisenberg as nephew Nog are always endearing, too.  If I had to choose between musty, sluggish Deep Space Nine filler and misuses of Odo like “Shadowplay” or Ferengi fun like “Profit and Loss,” I say bring on the latinum.

Once again, despite several Trill centric episodes- including “Invasive Procedures,” “Playing God,” and “Blood Oath”- we still don’t know that much about Jadzia herself. Strangely, we know a lot more about prior Dax hosts while Jadzia remains the stagnant but pretty talking head tech babbler.  Big whoop. On the rare occasion she does give an answer or contribution, it’s usually a convenient experience from the symbiont. Likewise still underdeveloped, even Bashir focused shows like “Melora” aren’t actually about him.  We know he’s a compassionate doctor in a budding O’Brien friendship- a doctor who plays racquetball in the subpar “Rivals.” Wow.  Fortunately, the recurring players are once more perfection. The transitions for Bajor and the Federation aren’t supposed to be easy, but imagine if Marc Alaimo were taking the piss as Dukat at every morning meeting. It’d be more interesting than Jake’s few and far between nothing new teenage drama. The second tier regulars should be developed more or they should make room for the waiting in the wings recurring characters.  We don’t know much about them either, but they are intriguing, mysterious, and the allure keeps Deep Space Nine going when the these limp regulars fail.  Andrew Robinson’s Garak is again wonderful in “The Wire.” Seriously, why isn’t there a regular Cardassian always on the show? Mary Crosby (Dallas) also gives us a fine female Cardassian spin in “Profit and Loss,” and John Colicos, Michael Ansara, and William Campbell are also great Klingons in homage to TOS in “Blood Oath.”

The problems that plagued Year 1 are still felt here in Round 2, definitely, and there is still a long way to go towards Trek greatness. However, with its tighter possibilities, budding promises and potential, and less reliance on its predecessors, Deep Space Nine Season 2 feels like a far, far better introduction to this series. Dare I say it, but those completely new to Trek may even forgo Season 1 altogether and begin fresh here.  Even in a feeling long season, there are only a handful of less than stellar episodes here to stall an audience, making Season 2 of Deep Space Nine a vast improvement over its rocky beginnings.

No comments: