Monday, 29 December 2014

Actions and Reactions: Deep Space Nine: Season Four

The Visitor, Hard Time, Broken Link - just three of the golden episodes that graced the fourth year of the increasingly impressive space station series.

By this point when I first watched the show I was absolutely questionning how I could ever have considered turning it off back in the "dark" days of season one. Then someone reminds me about Move Along Home and I nod, sadly.

But lo, the crew were too late and the Founders were everywhere - or so Odo declared at the end of The Adversary. Odd thing is that they're so damn good at hiding we barely see them all season as just about everything else steps into play.

It's impossible to discuss season four without talking about Worf - which is why I dedicated an entire post to that thread a while ago - and while I can now slip out of that stranglehold, it has to be said that Deep Space Nine would have been an incredibly different show if it wasn't for his arrival post-Generations. The tone changes, the lights are darker and there's a little bit more growling going on as soon as he steps into Quark's and lays out Martok's son, Drex (and we never saw him again did we...?). There's no escaping that Deep Space Nine is the show which shows up the faults in the universe and instead of paving over them it decides that making those faults a bit more obvious is the answer. Hey, they confront a lot and a lot gets resolved.

Opening with the unpresidented double-length The Way of the Warrior, it was a season that meant to cement the show in our consciousnesses, even if they did initially rely on a certain Klingon to do that job. The premiere was and still is a thrill ride every step of the way and the closing battle scene demonstrated that the game had been stepped up. The episode is one of the best and most gripping and one of only two book adaptations that I own, the other being the pamphlet thick Trials and Tribble-ations. No other season opener packs as much in or attempts to set as much in place as The Way of the Warrior and nor does any after it try to.

But it's best not to dwell or laud over Worf's transfer because this is a season which ensured that every single one of the regular cast excelled - and some in ways that we didn't expect. He does take centre stage for The Sword of Kahless but gets slightly upstaged by the mesmerizing John Colicos as Kor in his second of three appearances and again in Sons of Mogh which brought back brother Kurn and Rules of Engagement.  The Visitor for one covers that perfectly. Coming straight after the season opening The Way of the Warrior no-one expected the tour de force that oozes from every line and shot of this beautiful episode. I've watched this more times than it's been repeated on TV and each time I love it a bit more. For me this is better than The Inner Light, more gut-wrenching than The City on the Edge of Forever and Tony Todd hits every emotional button in his arsenal to make this one of my top ten Deep Space Nine episodes of all time. 

Back in the day it was all about those fascinating glimpses into the future - Morn at the bar, Dax and Bashir married - but as I reach the middle of my thirties with children of my own it resonates in a very different way. Not that I expect to be sucked out of time and revisit my son every few years for ten minutes, but I do value family a lot more than I ever did before. For me The Visitor will always be one of the best.

As for Jake, Cirroc Lofton gets both this episode and later, The Muse to have a stretch of his acting wings. Both are a decent weight and steer clear of the more light-hearted occasions we might have seen him in before. I was never that keen on The Muse in the 90's because there's no big action beat and nothing significant to the overall arc happens (unless you count that Jake writes Ansolom which was mentioned in The Visitor) and now I do see it as a character piece to give Jake a bit more maneuverability after the earlier episode's success. I like The Muse now because Lofton and Meg Foster seem to work well and having carried these, Nor the Battle to the Strong in season five would really raise my admiration for Lofton's abilities on the show which made him a more rounded and able character than Welsey ever was in The Next Generation. The same can be said for his partner in crime, Nog, whose arc potentially is a mirror to Worf's early years in the fleet as the only Klingon. On the flip of that I actually utterly hate The Muse because Lwaxana is back and if there's one Troi I really detest....

While Lofton got to expand the role, Bashir appeared more constrained, attempting to cure both the Jem'Hadar of ketracelwhite addiction in Hippocratic Oath and then a mystery Blight (also linked to the Dominion) in The Quickening. While I could say that it limited the doctor I find both of these brilliant episodes. Namely with the former because it failed to pacify the Jem'Hadar which The Next Generation had done with the Borg in I, Borg and Voyager would attempt with Species 8472 in In the Flesh

Addicted or not they were born to fight. Hippocratic Oath does add to the Jem'Hadar backstory significantly and on this viewing it refreshed a bit of Jem'eral knowledge (jeez...pun out) as well as giving me an "ah" moment when the O'Brien/Bashir ruckus happens towards the end. It's a big tick box because even after four years of their relationship flourishing Deep Space Nine could still remind you that not everything is always sweetness and joy. Things happen and people do have different attitudes and not every week can we skip merrily back to the station. 

Probably the big winner for Siddig this year was the brilliantly entertaining Our Man Bashir. Genius and one of those episodes alongside Far Beyond the Stars which let the cast stretch their acting legs a little. Total nonsense but magnificent from start to finish and certainly a lighter moment ahead of the Earth-centric mid-season two-parter. Brooks chews it up as Doctor Noah and Garak's role as the sidekick and some of his words of wisdom are perfect as the spy gets to play his role once more.

Kira of course ended the season pregnant with the O'Brien's child in Body Parts to hide Visitor's real life pregnancy and that would play a part in her onscreen appearances the following year. In season four we have more material which seeks to change her mind about the Cardassians, in both Indiscretion and Return to Grace both eyeing up her relationship with the ever-changing Gul Dukat. The introduction of his half-Bajoran daughter, Ziyal wasn't that necessary but her flourishing friendship with Kira and Garak in later stories again forces the major into a position where she has to examine her opinions of the former occupiers of Bajor. Being Dukat though it's never straight-forward and both these stories add dimensions onto the already multi-layered villain of the series. 

Kira's tales for this season don't give her much more room to go except on that Bajor vs Cardassia line which she's been dragging along for four years. Luckily, again, season five would rectify that to some extents. That's not to say that Kira wasn't key to the season; far from it as Visitor is one of the best actors in the show but you do feel her role was cut down to allow Worf more screentime since he does her job for Starfleet.

An example of that is Worf's new position as alternative commander of the Defiant when Sisko is away (Paradise Lost) which would have been assigned to Kira a year earlier. It does make more sense for a Starfleet officer to command a Starfleet vessel but his appearance in the series makes it more evident at this time that Worf and Kira are effectively playing the same part. That two-parter throws a lot of questions in the air and also means that the later Section 31 make a lot of sense. Starfleet admirals are reknowned for being a bit mental right back to the days of Kirk and neither are conspiracies anything new after, well, Conspiracy but knowing about the ever-creeping shadow of the Dominion makes you forget all those possibilities. Earth is a realistic target and to be fair you do realise how much of a sitting target it might well be. Robert Foxworth's Admiral Leyton  isn't the typical slightly unhinged senior officer we might have expected and his argument even seems fairly reasonable especially when you look at what the Breen accomplish in season seven's Penumbra. Deep Space Nine always excelled at instilling a wave of paranoia over its viewers in these darker Dominion days and the Homefront/Paradise Lost duo are are shining example I enjoy year on year. Barely set on the station itself, it's a Sisko story which adds weight to the occasionally sidelined captain and also looks at the bigger picture surrounding the imminent threat from the Changelings and their brethren from the Gamma Quadrant. A great double-header though and not even a season-closer.

Talking of Kira, season four was the last time before Enterprise's In a Mirror, Darkly, that we got a decent Mirror Universe episode. Both Resurrection and the final season's The Emperor's New Cloak were tedious, dull episodes which offered much and gave nothing in return. The Mirror Universe in the first three Deep Space Nine takes are great, fun and totally indulgent with Garak sucking up to Regent Worf here and the alternative Kira playing everyone like a fiddle where she can. 

The problem after here is that the ideas seem to dry up and giving us a Mirror Bareil and later allowing the Ferengi across the dimensional threshold were two unforgivable errors of judgement. Given that Little Green Men, The Bar Association and Body Parts are decent Ferengi episodes which mix humour with enjoyable plots and a point, making them into bumbling cross-universe sales merchants was a step too far in my opinion. Here the Mirror Universe is a real threat; there's danger, anyone could end up dead (and does). Maybe they just ran out of good people to kill off?

The quality of the season does dip a little and my thoughts on that have remained the same since '96 as Crossfire (another Bajoran Kira episode),The Bar AssociationAssession and Rules of Engagement are average but none that I would speedily revisit. They are still a cut above average The Next Generation and good Voyager and if they were in the first couple of years of this show would have been seen as early classics. The Bar Association does have a welcome return for Leeta but it's drippy Ferengi stuff which I find difficult (but not impossible) to handle. I saw Rules of Engagement originally on a first cut VHS with all the running times still on the screen and marvelled at the clever talk-to-camera techniques used as part of the evidence against Worf. It's a fresh way of telling courtroom drama in Star Trek as it's been pretty standard if you look back at The Original Series' Court Martial, The Menagerie or The Next Generation's The Measure of a Man or The Drumhead all of which are variations on that theme. I admire that these asides do make it different and memorable but not in the same category as others that surround it in the year such as the subsequent and brilliant Hard Time.

The much vaunted annual hit-O'Brien-when-he's-down episode is the best of the lot; more cerebral than Whispers, more twisted than Visionary and probably Colm Meaney's top Deep Space Nine performance ever. O'Brien is utterly taken apart, lives another lifetime in minutes and becomes a different man by the end of the story. Bitterly though he's absolutely fine the following week as if nothing had ever happened (two episodes actually as the next one is in the Mirror Universe). I would have liked to have seen this resonate a bit further down the season but the relationship between Ichar and Miles is believable to the core and the brutal finale and the lifetime of punishment it in turn would provide is heart-crushing.

But what of the captain, what of Sisko? It is a Ben-lite season oddly with only For the Cause marking out his niche in the fourth year. Yes, he's around all the time and The Visitor is big on the Family Sisko but this late season entry is key to the character's development as I noted in another post recently. This starts a key arc and the descent of Sisko into his deepest darkest emotions which will travel through the troubles of For the Uniform and emerge kicking and screaming in In the Pale Moonlight. I never thought much of the Kasidy/Eddington/Sisko interwoven story however on this run through I realised just how important and damn good this one is. It jumped a lot of places in my favourites list. The duplicitousness of virtually all involved is delicious.

Which leaves only a couple of episodes to digest - To the Death introduces one of the greatest recurring characters ever in the form of Jeffrey Combs slippery and silver-tongued Weyoun who we thought would never turn up again but was so awesome he did and meant that the Vorta ended up being clones to cope with the issue (clever clever) and is one of those rare episodes where action takes presidence over everything else from the off. Add in a bit of Deep Space Nine destruction with one of the pylons getting blown up and it has a lot of memorable if simplistic high points plus the return of the long-dead Iconians and their rather useful gateways. It's a personal guilty pleasure episode and nice of the rebel Jem'Hadar to wear different coloured uniforms to distinguish themselves.

And finally. Broken Link. In the deep space tradition it's full of ongoing threads and repercussions playing to every strength of the show and once more ticking every box possible - and adding a couple in. I admit I do look forward with enthusiastic hunger for the season finales of Deep Space Nine. There are massive highs in the mid-season but you can't beat one of their not-a-cliffhanger cliffhangers which every season from The Jem'Hadar through to The Tears of the Prophets does with aplomb.

Odo, like Sisko got a quiet season but that "No Changeling has ever harmed another..." bit from The Adversary was never going away. The Dominion have skipped in and out of season four just as they managed in season three but their stamp is all over Broken Link more than it was the previous season closer. Broken Link is not a massive action packed, explosive jaw-dropper and much more character focused, more explorative of cause and effect than anything else. It reminds us that there is no getting away from events which has been the big winner in the trail of Deep Space Nine. For me it's not the best season finale in the seven years of the show but it still leaves you with a shiver, with a terrible fear that it's going to get worse and that, once more, nothing will be the same again...which can't be possible...again...can it?

Season four is again a step forward for the show and I can't fault it's efforts. The arcs are more rounded and you can see that there is payoff. No good deed goes unpunished here and everything has a consequence. Deep Space Nine never stepped away from showing its characters in a varied light. Here in season four that's most evident and maybe Worf's arrival just pushed some more dirt under those already grubby nails. No-one comes out of year four looking like a saint even though they may have entered the year decidedly on the more honest side of life. Season four sees a lot of information set in place, as subtle a buildup as the previous year but this time there is an sense of imminence to proceedings. Seeing little of the Dominion works in the opposite manner as every conversation leans towards them, by leaving them out they are felt even more.

Worf's arrival too might have seemed convoluted at the beginning but as the year grew on it became clear he was a better fit for the conflict-rife Deep Space Nine than the polished corridors of the USS Enterprise. He might take the occasional trip back but here Worf's links to the Empire could be explored much more deeply and the introduction of Martok as a semi-regular in the following year would have an even bigger effect on the Klingon as would his relationship with Dax. This does mark the mid-point of the show however as I've pointed out before it feels as though it's a fresh start, a stronger start with much more idea of where events will lead - the year felt like it was the first with a full roadmap from day one.

Now let's talk season five to see if that gets edged any further.

How did you rate the fourth year of Deep Space Nine? Was it the best, average or failed to deliver?

No comments:

Post a Comment