Thursday, 26 November 2015

The End: The Finality of Deep Space Nine Season Seven

After the excitement, action, adventure, character building and general all out war, season seven of Deep Space Nine had a lot to live up to.

Shame is that it followed the greatest season of Star Trek ever produced which meant it was on the back foot to start with and, honestly, it never recovered. Season seven is still brilliant and a fitting way for Deep Space Nine to end with a true closure of the multiple arcs that had run through the show since Emissary but it would be a heavy trip to the finale.

Opening with the two-part continuation to Tears of the Prophets from season six, Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols take us to the heart of Sisko's dilemmas as visions, a stabbing and the return of Dax all happen within the space of 45 minutes - and then we get a yomp across the desert planet of Tyree and a spin off into the world of Benny Russell just to top it all off. As season openers go it's low on the bangs and effects but ticks the box for edge and sparkling story whether it's the Sisko line or effectively the alternate A-story with Kira holding the fort on the station with the Romulan Empire trying to assert its position.

The revelation that Sisko's mum was a prophet might get him on Jerry Springer in the 20th Century but for some reason it's not that hard to believe thanks to the arcs and threads woven through the previous six seasons of the show. It's a good one with a very different feel most likely due to those scenes on the desert planet. 

The thing is that introducing a new character in Ezri this late in the game was always going to be difficult but Afterimage does go some way to fill in the new Trill beyond a bout of space sickness and a badly fumbled, hasty joining. Garak is clearly the stronger character in the odd pairing but it's great to see the inexperience and exuberance of the new arrival attempt to take on the super-enigma of the Cardassian tailor/spy. Ezri is a great character but the series doesn't insist on spending a ridiculous amount of time introducing her and focusing on her as Voyager lavished on Seven of Nine. 

Instead we just get on with things. Take Me Out to the Holosuite is a cunningly little diversion from the upcoming finale, divulging us into the possibilities of the holodeck and also exploring those competitive tendancies that exist within Sisko. Facing him off against Captain Solok is a high point of the year and he might be the most unemotional Vulcan we've ever met - and that's saying something. 

Season seven does avoid the family thread that The Next Generation chose to weave in its final year but it does manage to tie up all those bits we've wondered "what happened to..." and Chrysalis is a perfect example. Following on from the introduction of the Jack Pack from Statistical Probabilities it's much more about the relationship between Bashir and Sabrina once she reconnects with the world. In the literary Star Trek universe this pairing is still going strong today (at least it was in the last Section 31 novel, Disavowed).

Likewise the later Prodigal Daughter rounds out the "Bilby" storyline from season six's Honor Among Thieves with O'Brien's involvement with the Orion Syndicate taking another turn as he tries to track down his former, deceased associate's wife. Simple enough but then this is Star Trek which also means it somehow manages to link up with Ezri's unsurprisingly dysfunctional family. Oddly this is an O'Brien episode where he's not in some sort of severe mortal peril and manages to survive dying at least once which makes it a good year for the chief but not so brilliant for the story quality.

Ezri does get one final solus episode in season seven with Field of Fire. It's something very different but draws on Dax's darkest rebirth using Joran to help catch a killer. Not being directed to the guilty party from the beginning is a hard call in the story but finding him isn't what this is about. The gun is pretty cool and the way in which the killings are taking place is cleverly executed. Joran's effect on Ezri's personality is fairly marked and Nicole De Boer puts in a fine performance here. 

While season seven rounds out stories it just manages to hit the mark on brilliance. Treachery, Faith and the Great River and Once More Unto the Breach which follow it really encapsulate a lot of the best and worst of the year. Both are effective follow-ups and round outs to stories, the former giving us a more insightful look at the background and origins of the Vorta while the latter closes off the "Kor Trilogy" which has taken us through Blood Oath and The Sword of Kahless to this point. Both have original, unique stories but somehow the greatness that was instilled into the sixth season just isn't quite there. 

Jeffrey Combs is superb as the faulty Weyoun defector and it does manage to also explore Odo's feelings about his connection to the Great Link and where he really stands with his people and those who regard them as deities. In a sense Chimera also touches on that aspect with JG Hertzler heavily disguised as Laas a Changeling with a far more advanced use of its shape-changing abilities. Laas is a much softer character for the Martok actor to play and I don't think he's 100% successful at it. Nor is the story a winner with Odo having to battle with his conscience and the ideals of his people all over again. It's a path that's been trodden numerous times especially since season three's The Search.

Perhaps it's expectation lets them down and even now I still feel a bit deflated watching this season - because I have some very clear recollections of these stories, because I'm just bidding time until the ten-parter and thirdly because I just know it's not totally delivering. Looking at it another way there is a lot that needs to be tied up and there may well have only certain manners in which this could be done and still leave enough to provide a decent final dash to the line with the closing arc but more on that in a bit.

Covenant too is a sequel of sorts although if it was necessary I'm never totally sure. It does follow on from Empok Nor and reminds us of the many talents of Dukat but it doesn't seem to give anything at the end and reflecting on the later episodes and how the former Cardassian gul is portrayed I'm not sure that this exposure was required. It does mean that Kira gets one last chance to go head to head with him and who can scoff at any opportunity to see Visitor and Alaimo sparring once more.

Continuing the sequel and closure aspect of season seven is the atrocious Emperor's New Cloak. Now Resurrection last year was poor and Bareil tended to leave me cold on a good day but this one is my low point of the whole season and one of the lowest of the show as a whole. The Mirror Universe was a brilliant addition to the Deep Space Nine mythology and made it feel a lot closer to The Original Series than The Next Generation thanks as well to those classic Klingons and a magnificent 30th anniversary episode. Yet once we'd closed the show on Shattered Mirror and taken a season break from the adventures of Smiley and the Terran rebellion it all seemed to take a slide didn't it?

Making this a Ferengi Mirror Universe episode frankly took the p**s. Sorry, yes I swore but there's no excuse for this one and having Vic Fontaine turn up was butt-clenchingly awful and shocker, Ezri appeared too. All a bit convenient and self-indulgent. I bet Avery Brooks was glad he'd been killed off over there after Crossover.

But then there are some stunners that kick where it matters. The mid-year eps are a bit average yet The Siege of AR-558 is brilliant. Dark, uncomfortable and horribly close to the bone in its portrayal of ground war it contrasts starkly with the space-bourne warfare we're usually accustomed to. Nor the Battle to the Strong in season five had shown the aftermath of a ground battle but here we see the beginning, middle and end in all its gory detail with It's Only a Paper Moon two stories later dealing with the fallout as only Deep Space Nine can. While these two can make uncomfortable viewing they highlight the show at its finest and I can never imagine The Next Generation and certainly not Voyager ever attempting to deal with such events and then have the balls to tackle it again all within the space of a few episodes of the final year. Kudos where due, a great move.

Another hat-tip has to be made to Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges or, "In Times of War the Law Falls Silent". With the benefit of hindsight you can see where the Section 31/Bashir arcs have evolved from because this is Julian playing the spy game for real. He's indulged in holodeck adventures as a secret agent but the reality is nearly as bleak as The Siege of AR-558. Adding in the Romulans just teases the excellence of the episode and having it all turn a bit sour for the doctor is a nice move - again as with It's Only a Paper Moon, only Deep Space Nine could have nailed it this well.

Which brings us, triumphantly to the final spread of episodes encompassing all from Penumbra through to What You Leave Behind. And what an arc that is. It seems that everyone gets their fair share of action here so let's head on through.

Starting out with Worf missing and Ezri determined to find him leads us into the revelation that the Breen are now allied with the Dominion which then narks off Legate Damar who finally sees that the writing is on the wall, makes it clear he's going rogue and leads to the formation of the Cardassian terrorist group and a visit from Kira, Odo and Garak. Of course there are two memories we all carry from this line of the story - Damar's "For Cardassia!!!" and Colonel Kira getting herself a Starfleet field commission.

Back on the station Sisko gets married and discovers he's going to be a dad and then leads the fleet to the Cardassian homeworld where the war is put to rest and Martok gets to sup some blood wine. Sadly that's not the end of the road because as we know, Dukat has been wooing Kai Winn and turned her, successfully, over to the Pah Wraiths. Cue ultimate showdown between Sisko and Dukat and the captain's apparent demise as he enters the Celestial Temple.

Jeez. That was the briefest summation of all time. Now I adore the final ten episodes of Deep Space Nine like no other multi-episode arc. It is still unrivalled in Star Trek history in terms of scope, continuation, finality, characterisation and overall damn greatness. The 10 part arc does everything you could expect and more - even to a point where I felt disappointed by What You Leave Behind... because it was so final. I love what the novels have done since 1999 however the show is a perfect bottle, a beginning, an end and one heck of a middle. Look at what is achieved here and you realise how much had gone into the seven seasons and how the producers ensured that the viewers were paid off as best as possible and as fully as possible. 

Rom becomes Nagus, Bashir and O'Brien nigh on cose down Section 31 and Garak gets to go home. Even a couple of straggly bits from The Next Generation were closed (Gowron!) but the pace never slowed and there was still character evolution to the bitter end especially around the brilliant roles of Kai Winn, Odo and Dumar who all take big steps within the overall story here.

I have no doubt I will cover off the arc in more detail in a separate pot in the future because a season overview is the last place I'll do it any justice but here are some of Deep Space Nine's strongest stories, its most inspired moments and heartbreaking goodbyes. All even better a second, third or fourth time round. This was the first time I've watched it all the way through from Emissary and certainly you do appreciate the box-ticking closure that Deep Space Nine attempts in season seven a lot more than either The Next Generation or Voyager managed effectively.

For everything it got right or wrong though, season seven of Deep Space Nine is the strongest and most concrete ending to any Star Trek series ever. There is nowhere left to go, the character arcs are resolved and we have a firm conclusion to 176 episodes both with the 10 episode arc and the double-length finale.

So that's it for Deep Space Nine. I'll leave the season one Voyager review over to Matt but I'll return shortly with my look at the second year of Janeway and crew in a short while.

Fan of the final season? Was it the best closing year of any Star Trek show?

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