Monday, 31 August 2015

This Place Where I Belong: Deep Space Nine: Season Five

How much do I love season five of Deep Space Nine?

It has everything going for it - battles, treachery, death, big character developments, the Dominion and, most importantly, Martok.

Yes, I'm a fan of the most Klingon of Klingons to the point where I would have trouble deciding if he or Sisko is my favourite Deep Space Nine character ahead of Weyoun and Garak; First COntact Day can't come soon enough so I can meet the man behind the prosthetics himself, JG Hertzler.

Anyway, where did I finish - yes, that's it, Broken Link. Wow. Big finish there huh? I remember sitting with my dad when the revelation over Gowron spilt from Odo's lips about what he'd experienced in the Great Link and spending days trying to work out what it would all mean - was Gowron dead? If so for how long? What had happened? How were they going to stop the Klingons and reveal him as a Changeling???

No fear because the veritable Powers would unleash Apocalypse Rising on us for the season opener and for my dad seeing a ton of Klingons punching seven shades out of each other as well as Sisko, O'Brien and Odo made up with full foreheads was worth the price of admission alone. It's not as explosive as The Way of the Warrior and you do get a softer start in the storytelling as the crew go undercover to expose the Changeling infiltrator plus provide us with further insight into the wonders of Klingon Kulture. Playing the long game overnight does make this episode feel a lot longer than it is with all the serious action happening in the last five minutes but this is a slow, steady buildup as everything gets put in place. Shame of the story is that while we get the reveal and it's a cunning little twist that will come back later in the year, the show is upstaged by the fantastic episode that follows it; The Ship.

Simple in execution, the 100th Deep Space Nine episode gets shockingly overlooked against Redemption and Timeless as I discussed in our 100th post yet it perhaps has a stronger twist than Apocalypse Rising manages. Claustrophobic, tense, tinged with the sadness of losing a comrade and topped with Dominion sliminess it's a top story, well-written that, again, has echoes that will reverberate further down the line.

I can't say that for the subsequent Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places. A Klingon episode that falls flat nay stumbles first and then falls flat. Attempting a sequel to season three's nicely played The House of Quark was never going to be easy and while adding Worf into the mix might make it a tempting offering I didn't connect in the '90's or now. Average season fodder that doesn't really affect anything else around it. I suppose the same could be directed at Nor the Battle to the Strong as it does tie back into the Klingon war arc which is coming to a close following Apocalypse Rising but it's more than just a military story. 

What my re-watch has made me realise is how much development went into Jake Sisko once Cirroc Lofton matured. The Muse isn't mind-blowing but it pushed the character onwards after the legendary The Visitor and here we get to peel back another layer and expose his fears and find out just how much he isn't nor will ever be Starfleet material. I admire the writers for their line on making Jake terrified of the ugliness of war and highlighting his cowardice because it makes him more human. This story really made me appreciate Lofton and the contributions he made to the show. Allowing him stories like this was a master stroke and Wesley never got anything this good to work with on The Next Generation.

The Assignment however leaves me fairly cold. It's not risen in my expectations over the years and even with the introduction of the Pah-Wraiths it's not the most endearing hour of my watching time. I like Keiko and Miles but Rosalind Chao doesn't make for electrifying viewing even when coupled up with Meaney. Luckily the arc that flushes out of this into the sixth and seventh seasons bore better material which would ultimately end up in What You Leave Behind. I do sense that this was a filler episode at the time with the Pah-Wraiths as a nice idea but with no vision to take it any further.

Happily though it gets the season to Trials and Tribble-ations marking 30 years of Star Trek. Worryingly it's now 48 years of age which makes this episode 18 years old in its own right.  It's utter indulgence from start to finish and a solid, very clever, episode. In fact on this rewatch it was one of the few that light up the start of this season. Truth be told season five has a very average kick off aside from The Ship and the 30th anniversary story with Let He Who is Without Sin next up and the Necessary Evil semi-sequel, Things Past dropping next. The former makes me want to curl up and hide and even worse is that I don't think I minded about it that much back in 1996. Now I do and I found it slightly uncomfortable to watch if a little sexist and very dated. Things Past is a firmly-based Odo story again looking back to his days under Cardassian management in near-monotone effect. The vehicle to send them back is ok but the way in which the story unfolds as opposed to the narrative flashback of Necessary Evil isn't as effective.

The Ascent too keeps Odo in the frame but this time alongside Quark and marks a route into much more character-centric episodes than the ensemble affairs that opened the '96-'97 series. I never rated this one but with some degree of middle-aged maturity I can see that it's a platform for Auberjonois and Shimerman to play out the sparks of their bromance with the benefits of some rare location filming (I say rare but this is the third location-based ep this season after The Ship and Let He Who is Without Sin). This pairing is always watchable and with an average script and story they still pull out a great and watchable show.

Rapture welcomed the new First Contact greys and blacks with Sisko not getting to grips with combadge placement until Darkness and the Light. I know this isn't a big hit with a lot of people as it returns us to Bajoran society (second time this year) and the role of the Emissary. I really enjoy this one. I've watched it a few times over the years and I think the whole archaeological aspect appeals to me. Kasidy's return after her incarceration in season four's For the Cause is underplayed against Sisko's monolithic obsession. I also becaome more aware this time around of how all these Bajoran storylines are starting to link together and become as prophetic as we may have been promised as far back as Emissary and the set up of season one. The real killer moment is Sisko's resolute determination to stop Bajor from entering the Federation. For the first time there is a real sense that the conflict we have had suggested since The Jem'Hadar, the season two finale, is just around the corner.

Indeed that realisation is half-played out in the season's brilliant, near-perfect two-part entry which is only a hop and a skip away in the season - By Purgatory's Shadow and By Inferno's Light. As a split story and a 90 minute movie it's spot on every step playing every key secondary figure from Weyoun, Dukat, Garak, Gowron and Martok onto the board and showing that they are just as important as the main cast. Setting up an apparent invasion that then turns out to be the invasion of Cardassia is a shock to most but even when I knew the plan it didn't detract from the setup, the second-guessing and the preparation for what could be coming through the wormhole. For character development it's one of the best ever action-orientated episodes to do so, adding more layers to Worf and claustrophobic Garak as well as, later, Martok. What's not to love. 

It also feels that this is a staggered storyline opened in Apocalypse Rising with the restoration of the Khitomer Accords by Gowron through this double and then leaping straight into one of my all-time favourites and the best season-closer ever, A Call to Arms - but more on that one in a bit.

That Dominion storyline still isn't that evident. Everyone talks about it; a lot but when it comes down to it there's not a lot seen on screen save for key points in the season. That doesn't make it a bad year in any way though. The arcs are well-paced and later two-thirds of season five are magnificent. Even the Ferengi episodes aren't that bad this year. 

Kenneth Marshall's return in For the Uniform is Eddington's finest moment as he toys with Sisko in a way not too dissimilar to a certain Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II using historical literature as his beating stick. Once more it's the more emotional Sisko that makes this so watchable and I've lost count how many times I've sat through this one. In my mind I can never be sure how much of this was Brooks acting and how much of it was him genuinely being seriously p***ed off with the punchbag. There is the two-episode holographic communicator and one of our few chances to see the refit Excelsior Class which also add to a great episode. Probably not on everyone's chart but for me it's one of Deep Space Nine's most intense episodes ever. I recall talking about this one for weeks after I saw it for the first time. Blaze of Glory which turns up in the last handful of the season's episodes nicely ties up the Eddington arc but I felt then as I do now that it could have been so much more. It is very much a one-on-one but the spark that we saw in For the Uniform doesn't leap from the screen and while I enjoyed it I feel Eddington deserved a stronger sendoff even if here he does go out as a hero.

Thinking that I've forgotten to mention the Kira-heavy The Darkness and the Light and The Begotten off this? Sorry - for a second I did. The Darkness and the Light is a return to the Shakaar resistance cell we finally met in season three but their gradual demise through the episode didn't concern me. Kira's capture was well realised and the imminent danger to her unborn child at the hands of a slightly deranged Cardassian is chilling to the core if somewhat wrapped up more quickly than I can sneeze. Her tormentor remains hidden for a great deal of the time, playing in the words of the episode title although exactly which one is in which category is the true debate here. Again, I find that years on the more cerebral episodes, the ones with a lot more base in character carry much more weight for me and The Darkness and the Light is certainly one of those.

The Begotten brought Odo's penalty of being a solid to an equally speedy conclusion and if that kind of sentence for murder was in place in the real world we'd all be dead by now. Watching Rene Auberjonois play with a jar of semi-solid goo isn't what I signed up for and the fact I could remember bare seconds of this episode this time around makes me believe I didn't care for it when it was originally aired. James Sloyan is good as Mora Pol but even he can't pull this one out of the "Average" bin.

I was holding back mentioning them to go alongside A Simple InvestigationBusiness as Usual and Ferengi Love Songs. Now I seem to remember season five being way better than it was on this revisit as sporadically throughout the year there are some slow-burners I'd forgotten and those five sit firmly in that category. The addition of Steven Berkoff did raise at least my interest for a few minutes but at this stage in the game any offhand episodes seem to badly detract from the main Dominion thread and seem a bit out of place. That's not to say I don't, 20-odd years on, appreciate the writing and the subtexts here but you do get the sense that there's a chunk of season padding to make the 26 episode quota. Imagine if they did make a new Star Trek show now and restricted it to the more popular 13 episode run?

Luckily the season spills out a gem dead centre with the two part In Purgatory's Shadow/By Inferno's Light. As with last year's The Way of the Warrior it's a game-changer and significantly impressive for it's Bashir twist as well as the return of Martok who would continue as a semi-regular for the remainder of the show's seasons. How I missed the huge significance of this two part story back in the '90's is beyond me. I suspect that having the wonders of foreknowledge of seasons six and seven helps a lot. This one sets up the Dominion/Cardassian alliance and ramps up the danger level, pre-empting the darkest season close in the whole history of Star Trek bar a certain Borg one from The Next Generation. Watching this one as a single movie is a nice experience and for once the pacing works across the full 88 minutes without a second-half slump which was a particular failing of Picard's Enterprise in later years. For once the second part might actually be my preference.

Season five keeps them coming with Robert Picardo guesting in the surprisingly clever and character redefining Doctor Bashir, I Presume. Alexander Siddig might not have liked the redirection but it does bring in the often-mentioned genetic enhancements a la Khan Noonien Singh in a more positive light and would lead the arrival of the "Jack Pack" in season six. Bashir's English parents might not be the best actors on the planet and that had been my one memory of the episode for years, even moreso than Doctor Zimmerman's letching over Leeta. It's a good piece for Picardo to stretch and become one of the few actors to don all three uniform shades during his tenure and play a slightly more flexible character than the Doctor on Voyager (barely) however it is all about Bashir and Siddig adds more to the role than ever. I would go as far to say he's the most developed character in the seven years of the show and to think how annoying he nearly was in Emissary.

Having already mentioned a few slow burners mid-season the year closed on an explosive run starting with Soldiers of the Empire. Now my dad was always one for the Klingon episodes and they could get bogged down with all that honour and chest-beating, totally avoiding any decent character evolution and plot but in this one, we tick all the key boxes and it has to be said it's down to the return of Martok who is perfect against Worf and is the regular counter that character has been needing since the midpoint of The Next Generation. It's easily become one of my favourite Klingon episodes that cemented Martok as one of my all-time Star Trek favourites. 

Recalling the VHS that this episode came on, it was a double-winner with the second ep being Children of Time. At the time it was a classic but since I think it gets hugely overshadowed by the more emotion-kicking The Visitor. Children of Time is one of my all-time favourites. Not for the Kira/Odo relationship reveal but more for the dilemma itself. We know they are going to survive but the how and the ultimate decision NOT to change the course of time are more Deep Space Nine curveballs. This isn't explosions, twists and turns but good, character-defining TV solidly performed. It does, at the end, slightly miss the edge that The Visitor found but I'd pick it to watch anyday.

Season Five also introduced us to another Nor Class space station. With a bit of a camera tilt we were on Empok Nor and being hunted by Cardassian sleeper soldiers and then by a rogue Garak. Good thing there's Nog or O'Brien around in that mass of not-seen-before security folk and engineers or it would have been a total bloodbath. Nice, edgy, dark stuff that means Andy Robinson got to chew the scenery and go full out evil/psycho on drugs. Also this episode raised the question as to why Deep Space Nine only rarely got to use the First Contact rifles while Voyager seemed to have a plentiful supply of them and also some nifty other pieces of weapon tech. We would return to the slanty station for season seven's religious cult episode Covenant.

Closing off the boxset were two Dominion episodes. The first being In the Cards with Jake hunting for the perfect gift for dad with the assistance of Nog. Wrapping in Weyoun, the bizarre Dr Giger and the Kai made for one heck of a weird setup but somehow it works and makes this a great, calming story with some comedic turns, which acts to mis-step us all into a false sense of security right before Call to Arms

This is how to do a season finale, easily on a par with The Best of Both Worlds and showing how you go down fighting until the bitter end - Voyager take note. Sisko truly flourished in season five and the speech he gives on the steps of the Bajoran temple before he beams away to the Defiant is one of the series best, emphasising his links to the station and just how far we've come since the reluctant Commander Sisko grumped his way though his first few days looking for a quick way out. The VHS cover in the UK was even different to emphasise the importance of the episode with Jem'Hadar and Cardassian ships attacking the station as, literally, everything changed. One of the best to finish the year, one of the best not-a-cliffhanger cliffhangers, one of the most infuriating fade-to-blacks of all time. Oh - and there's that magical moment where Dukat gets his hands on the baseball...we too know Sisko will be back. All round, every second of Call to Arms has something to love, another piece to add in and we really do get to understand what this station oand the Bajoran people have come to mean for the defeated Starfleet crew. Five out of five.

My favourite season of Deep Space Nine and by default, Star Trek, is a close toss up between five and six. Five packs a ton of character with the most intense build up in anything the franchise has ever done and ever would do. It started out with layers of suspicion and the potential that the Dominion may have infiltrated further than we thought and left with the very future of the series in balance. Twist in there some major character revelations, the introduction of two of the show's best recurring characters in Martok and Weyoun (proper) and magnificent standalone episodes and you know it's a winner. While we knew the station would be returned to Sisko, it was a very real case of just how long that would be. The best thing was that season six  was going to be just as strong. It could well be said this was the year that got it right from start to finish, solidly maintaining the back-story while managing, somehow to build the existing main cast and enhance the stories of several recurring characters. Season Five cemented without doubt that Deep Space Nine was the best of the franchise and like Sisko, there is no other place I would rather be. It's the place where my love of the series firmly belongs.

Was season five of Deep Space Nine the perfect year? Was there a more quintessential season of Star Trek?

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