Saturday, 4 January 2014

Ensuring Dominion: Arise Big Threat

No other way about it; I am a bigger fan of the Dominion than I am of the Borg.

Which means that hitting the second season of Deep Space Nine meant I could hunt out those blink-and-miss references that pervaded the series and marked a brand new direction for the space station drama. First off it was rare for Star Trek to lay any kind of clues as to what might be coming in the future. The Original Series certainly avoided it and the only time The Next Generation attempted something along these lines was in The Neutral Zone and the lines referring to the attacks on the outposts which was intended as a nod to the upcoming Borg of Q Who?

Indeed these dropped lines have been used a lot and the two that I am most aware of would be the Shadows of Babylon 5 and more recently Bad Wolf in the first series of the relaunched Doctor Who. It's become a bit of a staple but I remember that I didn't even catch some of the references until I returned to the second season in the last few months.

The first line is in Rules of Acquisition where Quark travels to the Gamma Quadrant to do business. To acquire tulaberry wine the Ferengi must meet with the Karemma (whom we would see later in Starship Down)  and if you deal with them, you deal with the Dominion of which they are a part. Nice one liner, thrown in there and easily forgotten. In fact it wasn't until a few episodes later in Sanctuary that the senior officers first hear of the force on the other side of the wormhole and again it's done marvelously off the cuff as though we've known about this organisation all along. The Skrreea had fled through the wormhole after their homeworld was conquered by the Gamma Quadrant power, leaving them refugees.

While the Skrreea are a tragic civilisation it is an important note that the Dominion have displaced such a large number of people, demonstrating possibly their mercy as well as their might. A similar situation is suggested when Odo and Dax investigate a mysterious world in Shadowplay. Not only do we have a reference that Rurigan, the only person in the Yaderan village to be real, travelled there after his home planet was conquered but also the fact that the word "Changeling" is clearly known although putting the two pieces together would take until the beginning of the following year.

Notably the season is actually light on the references - the first forgettable but the later more prominent in the script. Babylon 5 more than slammed home the references to the Shadows in its first and second season but here the time between announcement and reveal seems about right. The only way that could be done is with the season finale and one of the episodes that can proudly wear a badge saying "Game Changer".

Let's set the scene a little before we talk about it.The Jem'Hadar aired on June 12th 1994 with The Next Generation's finale All Good Things... having only been premiered weeks before on May 23rd. In some respects the build up had to pay off here as for the first time since it's arrival, Deep Space Nine was on its own and would be until Voyager turned up in January of 1995. There was something for the episode to prove and make fans want to remain engaged with this more diverse offering from the Star Trek universe. This was the flagship now and there had to be a kick, something to draw in the attention; a viable threat to the stability of the Star Trek universe. A reason for its very existence.

Introducing both the Jem'Hadar and, although we don't appreciate it at this point, the supervisory Vorta replete with never-seen-again telekinetic powers. Also here the Jem'Hadar have black tubes for their ketracelwhite intake. By The Search these would have turned clear with the controlling substance pulsing through. Again it would take some time (The Abandoned) before we appreciated what that was all about. Their appearance and demeanour were set clearly from this point and even the suggestion that we might get to see a Klingon fight one was just another dose of temptation. Indeed, The Jem'Hadar is all about feeding fandom titbits of information and could-be's to build and secure the audience for season three. 

The key destruction of the USS Odyssey was not only that key game-changing moment when we realised that not even a Galaxy Class starship could strike fear into the Dominion but perhaps something of a salute to The Next Generation fans that the voyages of Picard and crew were over on the small screen. The Dominion were coming and through the actions of the Jem'Hadar and Eris (whatever happened to...) they were going to be a force that would pose a considerable threat. Maybe at this early stage of proceedings we didn't realise just HOW much of a threat. Could we have envisoned a galactic war or were our thoughts that it would all be over by the conclusion of the following year? That explosion and the suicide run still send a shiver down my spine two decades later. This was true danger and right on the doorstep; not everyone could blow up a Federation starship with such ease. I always manage a small chuckle when Captain Keogh expects the Dominion to have "sharper teeth" than the Maquis. Oh dear is he going to be proved right.

The Dominion themselves were the ultimate deep space gangsters when fully fleshed out. Here they simply seem to be brutal - the seemingly unstoppable edge of the Borg coupled with the individuality of the Klingons or the Romulans. That attack on the Odyssey would have been unthinkable from the Borg but here that pure drive is about winning no matter the cost. Enterprise tried something similar with the Xindi and effectively buried the show even though I personally felt the show got better in the last two years. Voyager meanwhile fell back on old faithful the Borg while also passing through Kazon, Hirogen and Vidiian space amongst others - here were several big evils rather than one. In the sense of nemeses Deep Space Nine here created a great that would affect and be referenced in the movies and later fiction - most recently in The Fall series.

The Jem'Hadar might not have had "cliffhanger" labelled on it and the traditional season-closing To Be Continued... tag but there was no question that the story here would have to be concluded and at the very least continued. The structure of the Dominion would be explained over the next few seasons and the Vorta cloning process would only arrive in season five with the second appearance of Weyoun but this was a story showing that there was real grit and danger in the Gamma Quadrant. The days of exploring and meeting cuddly aliens was over; now there would be a reason for heightened alert. Sisko's role as a builder would be truly explored and even deconstructed. 

In The Jem'Hadar it's just the beginning of that realisation for the commander (above) and it is he who will face the most changes following the events of the story. Initially it seems just a nice trip out to an uninhabited world and some father/son time but at that key moment where he and Quark finally start to talk the show is spun on its head and the real action begins. While Quark might bear a phaser rifle and the boys, Jake and Nog, come of age to some degree this is definitely all about Ben Sisko. As we see in season three he certainly handles change well.

Think of the change of direction that the introduction of the Dominion would bring about. The revelations of Odo's past, the arrival of the Defiant and later Worf, In the Pale Moonlight...I could go on and probably will in the next few months. While we'll look at the rest of season two another time it's important to appreciate how significant that final episode really was. 

The edge of the frontier was a lot sharper than we might have been led to believe and there was a lot more to the show than a lot of Bajoran religious mysticism, Quark's dodgy dealings and Bashir's overexuberance. For fans who had been watching from Emissary this was pay day. I personally felt that we'd been given a fitting end to the year which showed an abundance of promise and meant that my faith in continuing to watch Deep Space Nine had been vindicated.

Yet I've failed to answer that original point - better than the Borg? In my mind, yes. While Voyager diluted the lethal assimilators over the course of seasons four to seven when they should have stayed property of The Next Generation, the Dominion were solely the responsibility of Deep Space Nine. The show deserved this strength of enemy and used it in so many ways thanks to the layers of story that could be built in over six years, bringing in brilliant recurring characters such as the Female Shapeshifter and Weyoun. Remember as well that the Borg were focused on Earth but here everything was at stake. While Deep Space Nine might be noted as the dark, unloved child of the franchise, the Dominion were responsible for shaping the quadrant and therefore the Star Trek universe forever after.

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