Monday, 16 November 2015

The Overriding Arc: Deep Space Nine Season Six

Season Five ended about as darkly as it possibly could. 

The station was in Dominion hands, Kira, Odo and Jake had stayed behind and Sisko was joining the fleet to take on the Gamma Quadrant's greatest power. So not much to resolve then.

Sensibly this isn't all wrapped up in 44 minutes and the first six episodes create a mini-arc never before seen on the show. It certainly set Deep Space Nine apart to not only conclude the previous season's cliffhanger as always at the beginning of the following year but not to completely resolve it for several weeks. It also meant I was shelling out for the videos every two weeks.

Time to Stand, Rocks and Shoals, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines, Favor the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels isn't without its faults or the sense of dragging out time to fill but it achieves much given the extended development time. The opening pairing do focus more on the activities of Sisko and the Starfleet officers from the station (accompanied by Garak in place of Worf who is bunking with Martok on the Rotarran) and having them confined to either a tiny starbase, Defiant or the Jem'Hadar ship they captured in The Ship precisely a season before. The fish-out-of-water element was a master-stroke but the six-parter fell a bit flat in it's mid-section with the focus shifting from the Defiant crew to the beginnings of a resistance cell on Terok Nor and the return of Worf's rapidly aging son, Alexander. Seeing his speedy maturation makes me wonder if he might have dropped by Genesis. 

There's a lot of backstory in there as well as the sprinkling of Sisko being removed from the front lines which lasts for all of two episodes before he's back in the command chair of the Defiant preparing to take back the station. Favor the Bold is all about set up, maneuvering the players into their cliffhanger positions ready for the retaking of Deep Space Nine. The sections which do take place on the station I found dragged when highlighting the actions of the Founder and Odo gelling around but Dukat, Weyoun and Dumar were always watchable and the sparring between them here and through the remaining two seasons of episodes were some of the best bits worth waiting for.  The final battle sequence in Sacrifice of Angels and the recapture of the station are some of the show's best space pieces by far - so good that they were reused extensively in What You Leave Behind.  The conclusion is satisfying and I know that it's rated amongst the series best - however I prefer the standoff and double-dealing that takes place in Rocks and Shoals between Sisko and the injured Vorta overseer, Keevan.

Wrapping up the arc almost as a bow on the box is You are Cordially Invited. Notable for the wedding of Worf and Jadzia. And that's it. It's one of those necessary episodes but I never caught the excitement. They got married. Great. Let's move on - which would usually be a good thing to say but we slam straight into one of my all time least liked episodes; Resurrection. Jeez this is awful. I dislike Bareil in the Prime Universe so giving us the mirror version was like pouring salt into a wound. The problem is that Bareil was a drippy character and by this point the originally well-realised Mirror Universe was growing tired and a little too full of character co-incidence. Note - I love Deep Space Nine but this and The Emperor's New Cloak are dire. No argument. Close the case.

The season is abruptly pulled up and returned to form with Statistical Probabilities and the Jack Pack. I once believed these guys to be super-annoying but I loved it this time and the dynamic of the more vocal three members of the group is fantastic. It's easy to see why a season seven sequel happened because they're so good with Jack himself one of Deep Space Nine's most memorable returning characters.

In line with this, Bashir does get some serious meat this season with his next top role coming in the overlooked Inquisition. I say overlooked purely because it's not one that would leap into a "Best of..." list but should be recognised as a classic of the show and I mean for more than the arrival of Sloane and Section 31 an organisation that would reappear in both Enterprise and Star Trek into Darkness. They are the perfect foil for the enhanced physician and coupled with Statistical Probabilities is another episode to create a memorable returning character in the final year. Bashir's story turn might not be to Siddig's liking but it did provide a lot more intrigue and depth to the doctor that I for one welcomed. 

While Bashir got some great moments, season six also carries the best Ferengi episode Deep Space Nine ever did and I regret it took me 20 years to realise that it was such a moment of excellence. Finally they got the balance of comedy and adventure spot on with The Magnificent Ferengi enhanced by a surprise turn by Iggy Pop as a Vorta. There's even death by misdemeanour as Moogi is part of a prisoner exchange on the off-kilter Empok Nor. The script sparkles, Quark and Rom have never been better and dropping in extended family and the ever-magnificent Jeffrey Combs makes this ever watchable. Tragically the other Ferengi episode in season six, Profit and Lace is total bilge of the worst kind. A sex change Quark is not something I ever need to see again - well, at least until the next full run-through in about four years time. 

Kira is the character who gets a noticeable retreat from the front line in season six accounting for Nana Visitor's real-life pregnancy. Always watchable and a highlight of the show, her absence mid-year is glaring but she does have the brilliant highlight of Wrongs Darker than Death or Night. It's one that I've added to my "I totally underrated this episode back in the day" list with it's rapid removal of characters and the eventual one-on-one confrontation that takes place. Nerys and her captor are well-matched - not quite to Marritza levels from Duet but a comfortable top three I would suspect and this one is much more sinister and calculating to the end. Visitor plays her terror on the money here and I would definitely say this is a hidden gem of the year and maybe the series as a whole.

What you do notice about this year and I loved then as much as I do now is the appreciation as a character that Sisko achieves. Kicking off with the good-but-not-Duet episode, Waltz it's a year that totally encapsulated why Avery Brooks was the perfect choice as the station commander. Anything with Brooks facing off against Marc Alaimo is worth 44 minutes of your time and this one is no exception. It's a twist on that Duet formula with the main character here being in the more submissive position and placing it in neutral territory also adds a sense of dangerous loneliness.

Brooks performances in season six only get better though with Far Beyond the Stars close behind and one of the truly format-breaking episodes in Star Trek's history. With the cast fully out of makeup the story directly targets some of the darker aspects of the 20th Century but it is Sisko/Benny Russell that steals the show here and it's easy to forget that there are hints to the larger picture within this brilliant tale all based around the "issue" of a black space station captain. The beating Russell receives at the hands of the two cops played by Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs is truly shocking, more-so being intercut with Weyoun and Dukat delivering the blows. Brooks' delivery of his final speech is just as emotionally hard-hitting as the closing moments of The Visitor. Truly a classic to this day and at this point Far Beyond the Stars was my favourite on the original watch through.

That didn't last for long though since just six episodes later we hit the utterly franchise-shaking, mid-digit waving In the Pale Moonlight. Amazing to look back to years one and two and see that the writers were head-scratching as to how to deal with Sisko yet three years later his character was solidly defined, exciting to watch and brilliantly played by Brooks. 

This episode was a show-stopper with the finest, darkest ending the show ever experienced - indeed he could live with it. The unusual pairing of Sisko/Garak makes this story sparkle as we see the descent towards the point of no return loom ever closer. The added twist that the plan actually fails is quintessential Deep Space Nine proving that life is never the perfect picture that many a The Next Generation episode used to excel at on a weekly basis. There is impact here, there is a price to pay and in some respects it would have been nice to see someone work out - some way down the path - that the Romulans were tricked into believing their ambassador was assassinated by the Dominion. One of the five episodes I've watched the most ever and I never get bored.

O'Brien's annual mangle-run comes from Honor Among Thieves and the first appearance of the oft-mentioned Orion Syndicate. It's OK but the trouble is if you're expecting the levels of Hard Time you'd be disappointed. That's not to say it's bad but it's not quite hitting those heights. Miles' relationship with Bilby is great and would be explored further in season seven's Prodigal Daughter. The O'Brien family story close to the end of the season though is poor in comparison. Never been a fan of Keiko/Molly stories and fortunately this is the only one that ever got made. I'd agree with general opinion that it's one of the series weakest episodes and it isn't helped by season six being one of the strongest batches ever. In another year it might have been average but here it sits firmly below par.

In other news mind there is the shouldn't-work-but-does One Little Ship. It could well have been a terrible episode filled with shoddy effects and a story that might have made us cringe and recall Land of the Giants however by adding in some Alpha and Gamma Jem'Hadar, Sisko hatching a cunning plan and just three of the crew being miniaturised aboard a Runabout it's a concept that works and Deep Space Nine gets away with - I reckon Voyager could have attempted it but could well have failed.

Actually season six did have it's fair share of oddments - Who Mourns for Morn? was a Quark story at heart with some neat double-crossing and a nice selling ploy that it focused on the ever-present (and apparently super-talkative) barfly. Valiant too was a little out of the norm, relying on Jake and Nog to carry the story while also reintroducing us to Red Squad last seen in season four's Paradise Lost. It's a good outing for the pair and I have found that their episodes have been a lot stronger than I remember. That and a lot more enjoyable; Cirroc was underrated I think and that might be because Jake just isn't your typical Star Trek main character and the show is better for this. He offers the other side, the non-establishment opinion and with Valiant it's his perfect soapbox in what is an utterly futile and mindless mission.

However, it is a year best documented for the death of Jadzia Dax.

The Worf/Dax relationship had been gestating since he arrived in The Way of the Warrior with their wedding earlier in season six then followed some time later by the ill-fated away mission in Change of Heart. I wouldn't say it's a standout story of the year, again because of the calibre of episodes that surround it, but it is important in relation to the Worf/Dax dynamic and also to see Sisko take him down a peg or three for his choice of wife over mission.

Tears of the Prophets was highly anticipated but just misses the mark that Call to Arms hit in season five. Marking the turning point in the war with the Dominion and a major victory with some top notch battle sequences, the events on the station do tend to make Sisko's success take a back seat. His choice to take his baseball to Earth and that the season ends on a very downbeat captain peeling potatoes in a back alley is one of the most understated closes of any batch of episodes produced.

Jadzia's death isn't as senseless as Tasha Yar's although being at the hands of Dukat makes it ever so poignant and adds another layer to the structure of the series and the tensions between Sisko and the former Cardassian despot. Also having two episodes back to back involving the death of a Starfleet officer is a little much. I still love it as an episode and it's a fantastic 45 minutes but the element of danger, the unknown is missing which filled every word of Call to Arms. Sisko might be gone but knowing that there was a year left ensured there was no doubt he would be back. Removing the wormhole and reintroducing the Pah-Wraiths meant they were still a force to be reckoned with and certainly one that meant the Dominion weren't the only problem to be solved in the final year.

What were your memories of season six? Was this the best of times for Deep Space Nine? What were the highlights?

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