Boldly Going: Deep Space Nine: Season 2: a review

DS9

 

A little over 4 months ago–on May 7, to be exact– I posted my review of the first seasons of all the Star Trek series following the original (and the animated series). The second season of DS9 had 26 episodes, and my plan was to watch one episode per week, so it seems I finished maybe eight weeks ahead of schedule. Since I still have five seasons  with this series, that may be a good omen.

After watching the first season, I said that DS9 was the show that most-pleasantly surprised me. I had not been looking forward to watching what I assumed was a show about a space truck stop. People who haven’t watched the series—even people who consider themselves Trekkies—still make this insulting assumption. I’m happy to tell you that the action of this series isn’t just confined to the station. I hear rumors that DS9 will eventually have its own starship, but even in these early episodes it has runabouts, which are larger than shuttles and have both warp capability and weapons. By using the wormhole, these runabouts can travel thousands of lightyears from the station with relative ease.

Despite this fact, the show doesn’t seem hindered when the action all takes place on the station, which happens on occasion. Deep Space 9—once known by the Cardassians as Terok Nor—is a richly rendered environment. Everything about it, from various sound effects to its unique sprocket-like doors, screams not-Starfleet. And, this is a good jumping off spot for the first Trek show not created by Gene Roddenberry. There is a great feeling of space on the station. From the command center with its odd, and unsafely designed, centrally placed elevator, to Quark’s casino bar, Odo’s security office, and even the Klingon restaurant with the singing Klingon waiter, there is a feeling of verisimilitude. You can easily imagine that all of these settings continue to exist even when the cameras aren’t rolling. In a video game, this could easily be a hub world.

During the second season, I gained more appreciation of the setting. Even though the main focus isn’t having characters explore dozens of new systems, the characters are still explorers. Through the wormhole lies the Gamma Quadrant, over seventy thousand lightyears away from the Alpha Quadrant, and mostly unexplored. New discoveries on in the Gamma Quadrant drive many of the plots of the series.

This series, too, wasn’t forced to operate under some of the strictures Roddenberry had placed on TNG. Namely, on DS9, it was okay for the characters to have interpersonal conflicts. In fact, this sometimes seems to be a major driving force of all the stories. The Ferengi Quark is always at odds with the station constable Odo, and while the two are enemies they are, strangely, also friends. Major Kira, as a Bajoran, is often at odds with Starfleet because of her own beliefs and her resentment towards the Cardassians. The station itself is often a major antagonist to operations chief Miles O’Brien, who is charged with keeping everything in working order.

The series often explores the gray areas in inter-species relationships. As we get to know and understand Quark more, the Ferengi seem to be downgraded as Trek villains. The actions of the Ferengi make more sense as we understand their culture, codified in the Rules of Acquisition that Quark often quotes. The Cardassians are still characterized as villains, personified by the terrific Gul Dukat, but then we get characters such as the tailor Elim Garak, who seems to be Dr. Julian Bashir’s best friend. We later find out that Garak had been a part of the Cardassian intelligence agency, the Obsidian Order, and that he was exiled to Terok Nor. In this season, we still don’t know the truth about Garak, because he gives Bashir one lie after another, insisting that they are all true.

This is also the only Trek series, so far, where we really get to see characters as belonging to actual families. The relationship of Commander Sisko with his son Jake is a part of his characterization and not simply background story. Likewise, Chief O’Brien and his wife Keiko have a daughter, even though Keiko and the littlest O’Brien are seldom part of the main plot. Quark has a brother, named Rom, who is also Quark’s eternal victim, and Rom’s son Nog is also Jake’s best friend on the station. In no other Trek series are family relationships explored as fully.

My least favorite parts of DS9 have been any of the episodes focused on the Bajoran religion. I realize that the religion was central to the discovery of the wormhole, and is essential in understanding Kira Nerys more fully. But, much of this mystical stuff fails to gain my interest. Even with Commander Sisko being the Emmisary, some kind of Bajoran Chosen One, I never really enjoy these storylines as much as the others. I remain open-minded about it all, of course, and may change my mind later. But, I didn’t change my mind this season. Let’s leave all the hokey ancient religion stuff to Star Wars. I want my miracles in the Trek-verse to be science-based. I prefer technobabble to mystical incantations. Fortunately, there are only a half-dozen or so episodes this season I would put in this category. They’re not all bad, just not my first choice.

Benjamin Sisko is still not a true Trek “captain” in this season. He remains at the rank of commander. Even so, he has risen in my personal rankings of the Trek Captains (which excludes Kirk, for the moment). If I were ranking the captains today, Picard would still head the list, followed by Kathryn Janeway—which hasn’t changed—but, then I would place Sisko ahead of Archer now. Sisko’s leadership style seems more assured to me now than Archer’s. If this trend continues, I can see Sisko overtaking Janeway as well. We’ll see.

I enjoy the more serialized storytelling nature of DS9 as well. I can see why it would be difficult for a casual viewer to watch one episode at random and get drawn in by the show. Much of the action in the plots depends heavily on what has come before. This was new in the Trek universe. I believe that it enriches world-building as well.

I like this series. A lot. I don’t love it yet, but I do like it. In my own personal 5-star ranking of every Trek episode I watch, there were only two episodes in season two of DS9 that I gave 4 stars, which equates to “very good,” in my opinion. And both were near the end of the season.

Episode 2.23 “Crossover” was a parallel universe story, which always appeal to me for reasons I can’t begin to explain. And this alternate universe is the same one from the original series episode, “Mirror, Mirror,” a result of all the reforms introduced by the mirror Spock from the original episode.

And, Episode 2.26 “The Jem’Hadar” introduces a formidable adversary in the Jem’Hadar, the military force of the Dominion we’ve heard so much about. This is the season finale, which ends pretty dramatically after the Jem’Hadar demonstrate how easily they can board the station, or destroy a Galaxy-class starship (think Enterprise-D). As the episode ends, Sisko makes the comment that DS9 would be the Dominion’s first stop when they decide to invade the Alpha Quadrant, and he intends to be ready for them. This makes me look forward to season three. I suspect that a militant Sisko may easily overtake Janeway in my ranking system.

While having only two episodes ranked “very good” may not seem like a ringing endorsement of the series, I will point out that there were only four ranked less than 3-stars, which I would consider an average Trek show. And average Trek is better than most television out there. So, with twenty episodes ranked average or better-than-average, that’s a successful season to me. And going out on a high-note, leaving me wanting, and excited, for more, is a definite plus.

I will no longer refer to DS9 as that Trek show about the space truck stop. It is worthy of the Star Trek name.

 

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