Deep Space Nine Season 3 Begins to Find Focus
By Kristin Battestella
Finally in its Third Year, Deep Space Nine’s continued improvements have separated the spinoff from its traditional happy go lucky Star Trek predecessors.
DS9 Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) and his Security Constable Odo (Rene Auberjonois) use the newly arrived USS Defiant to search the Gamma Quadrant for Odo’s shapeshifting species. Unfortunately, The Founders turn out to be the enemy, plunging Major Kira (Nana Visitor), Bajor, and everyone on the station into fear of a Dominion attack. Wormhole dilemmas, time travel troubles, Cardassian treaties, and Maqui tension only add to the Jem’Hadar threats.
Had this been Deep Space Nine’s debut season, oh me oh my! Strong multi part story telling from “The Search” 2 part opener, “Improbable Cause,” and “The Die is Cast” narrow Deep Space Nine’s previously busy and unfocused internal Bajoran politics and instead focus on Gamma Quadrant dilemmas and lovely Cardassian ambiguity and intrigue. “Past Tense I and II” make a few wonderfully eerie- even unsettling- statements, too. We are dealing with some of that predicted economic crisis and protest whirlwind today, aren’t we? The Ferengi centric “House of Quark” and “Family Business” keep some of the humor and lightheartedness in DS9 as well. Who knew the profit obsessed little trolls could be the perfect parallel with their- gasp- non profit oriented social change? The mirror universe episode “Through the Looking Glass” also has a lot of decidedly un-Trek possibilities, and self contained shows like “Civil Defense” put our players in a mini crisis before the big crisis. The blended brooding and foreshadowing of bigger things to come happens at a pleasing pace- elements linger and build rather than being forgotten from one episode to the next. However, even with these vast improvements, Deep Space Nine is still rather undefined at this point in the series. Plugged in Maqui angst is used as needed, and all the plotlines are again unnecessarily stretched over too many filler episodes per season. There’s internally good suspicion in “The Adversary” finale, but with so much foreboding left hanging, it feels a bit flat. The Dominion and The Founders are built up too much, seemingly insurmountable, almost mythical in the undefeatable-ness. Fortunately, there’s enough here to create hope and interest in Season 4.
Well, Sisko grows a goatee and what do you know, the character gets better! “Destiny” combines the Bajoran prophecies and intergalactic angst nicely, and Sisko has some fun in the Mirror Universe, too. Finally promoted in “The Adversary,” Captain Sisko does well in a crisis, indeed. It’s ironic how Brooks also shines as the twisted and murderous former Dax host in “Facets.” He certainly has the range to take Sisko to the next level. I like Cirroc Lofton as Jake a lot, I do- especially compared to the usually annoying Trek kids- but he simply doesn’t appear enough to warrant regular status. Though it’s great to see family and history DS9 style for “Explorers,” Aron Eisenberg as Nog is far more interesting in the teen explorations and Ferengi familial tug and pull with Starfleet aspirations. Some characters and their roles are still unacceptably undefined here in Season 3. I swear the writers would rather Colm Meaney’s Chief O’Brien be single just so they can by default strengthen Siddig El Fadil’s Doctor Bashir with his friendship. Why was Keiko O’Brien not a useful character? Short botanist missions to Bajor, through the wormhole alien plant adventures, space station hydroponics gone awry- there were plenty of possibilities for Rosalind Chao, and I don’t understand her awkward appearances and weakly excused disappearances. Fortunately, O’Brien does lay on the heavy wonderfully in “Visionary,” and even Bashir grows some thanks to “Distant Voices” and the “Past Tense” events.
Some of Odo’s personal explorations in “Heart of Stone”, are a bit silly against trumped up tensions in “The Abandoned,” but Rene Auberjonois’ comes to play any time, any place. Even if some didn’t want Odo to meet his people and much less have them be villains, his story is delightful even when effects, plotting, and the rest of Deep Space Nine are lacking. Likewise, I’m glad Major Kira’s going nowhere relationship with Philip Anglim’s Vedek Bariel is resolved in “Life Support.” We’re treated to more of Kira’s Bajoran roots via some healthy aversion and the titular guest Duncan Regehr (V: The Series) in “Shakaar,” and there’s still plenty of questioning of herself in “Second Skin.” The Bajoran apprehensions have upped the ante, but my goodness gracious Louise Fletcher as Kai Winn is so love to hate that her appearances aren’t even enjoyable. Winn’s cruel spiritual and political manipulation is just too irritating and change-the-channel worthy to be entertaining angst or fine drama.
By contrast, I want to like Jadzia, she seems to be smart and fun. Unfortunately, we still don’t know that much about her personality against the previous Dax hosts. “Equilibrium” and “Facets,” though fine episodes, are once again used to explore Trill inner workings instead, and “Meridian” is just a completely dumb romantic waste. Besides, isn’t it wrong to identify an individual solely by her species? In some ways, we don’t know any more about Jadzia then we do about that lovable and fun to spot barfly Morn. Sometimes, we get more depth and explorations from the generally perfect or exceptional guest stars. We know more about Andrew Robinson’s Garak, and yet all we know about the sometime tailor or spy is that we know nothing. It’s fascinating, and Robinson should be a $$^%& regular!! Wallace Shawn is also lots of fun as Zek in “Profit Motive,” mixing the expected Ferengi charm with wise words and change. Humanizing and dare I say it even heartwarming elements from Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat are also superb. Despite “Defiant” being a Thomas Riker/Jonathan Frakes vehicle, the multifaceted layering and subterfuge amid Cardassia shines brighter.
More ships and space battles have also improved the effects and action on Deep Space Nine this season. Though I don’t like the notion of action being called in to spice things up or replace story telling, seeing hefty felt battles is new, special, and enticing in Trek TV. Having more aliens we already know and love like Klingons and Romulans is nicer than weird Mos Eisely random aliens that don’t always work. Why are there no long-standing Federation representatives on DS9 anyway? What do the Vulcans and Andorians think of The Dominion? Where are the rest of the hundreds of Alpha Quadrant species looking out for their planet’s interests beyond the wormhole? Why did they create dang Betazoids if they aren’t used? Sometimes closer to home Star Trek prospects are overlooked just for the sake of something wham bam. It’s a shame that Majel Barrett only visits in “Fascination” for the usual telepathic making everyone get sexy mishap. We need the lighthearted now and again, sure, but Luwaxana Troi deserves more- and Deep Space Nine needs to focus even deeper on what it intends for itself amid Trekdom.
Here in Year 3, Deep Space Nine makes huge, even tremendous strides in setting itself apart as a series whilst also taking Star Trek forward as a franchise. One need not choose any one version of Trek over the other. However, I can see why some who didn’t like previous Trek incarnations love DS9 for its darker interpretation. The show truly begins to find itself and take shape this season. Unfortunately, this spinoff is still unnecessarily taking its dang time with its own M.O., and there’s still more fine-tuning to go. Nevertheless, new viewers or returning Star Trek fans can begin with Deep Space Nine here before the series’ major heavy begins.