Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never-ending like the rotation of a space station, it's time once again for our weekly sojourn through the entirety of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we begin Season 3, and the first of several soft reboots and refocuses of the series.
To set the stage--with Next Generation finishing and Voyager six months off, DS9 was retooled slightly to better serve as an anchor for things to come. So, with addition of the Dominion threat to the overall tapestry, this is used as a motivating factor to make Our Heroes a little (okay, a lot) more proactive and less provincial (there aren't going to be many Bajor stories from here on in) and the collective mythos of Trek circa 1995 is opened up for DS9's use.
This works for the show more than it doesn't, as it works out, and the Dominion presence gives the show more urgency than its previous remit as no one's entirely sure how they were supposed to get Bajor into Federation (indeed, this will more or less be quietly pushed aside) Functioning as the first last and only line of defense against the Dominion is a more easily graspable storytelling engine.
So, here's what you need to know: Last season (or last week) Our Heroes directly encountered the Dominion, and learned that they were not to be fucked with. The Dominion is vast, aggressive, powerful, and not easily trifled with and they control the Gamma Quadrant and don't want anyone from the other side of the wormhole fucking up their action. This begins a period of cold war that will last three whole years . . .
"THE SEARCH, PARTS 1 & 2"
They didn't split both parts over two discs, so I'm taking 'em together. Fortunately, Part 1 is pretty much all set-up and we can talk in generalities while we wait for the plot to get humming along.
In the wake of their first meet cute with the Dominion, things have gone rather tits-up. Nothing Our Heroes can suggest can do anything to halt a theoretical Dominion attack, short of closing the wormhole, which is not an option on the table (being that it's the focus of Bajoran religion and all that) Fortunately, Sisko returns to the station with a plan, and three more members of our recurring cast.
The main one, of course is their new starship, the USS Defiant, which really requires a whole entry of its own, but we'll be as succinct as possible. The Defiant was designed by Sisko before his days running the station. As much a metatextual comment on Trek itself as a break with established Dogma, the Defiant is a warship made by the guys who aren't supposed to make warships, designed specifically to fight and defeat the Borg.
To paraphrase SFDebris, when Picard got abducted by the Borg he cried about it, got into mudfights, and stared pensively out the window looking mopey. When Sisko lost his wife in a Borg attack, he designed a ship so powerful it would put them on the backside of hell if they so much as blinked in their direction.
Here's what I mean . . .someone stitched together a Youtube video of the Defiant kicking massive amounts of ass. Enjoy:
Yes, this is the ship that makes cool space battles happen in Star Trek, finally.
Of course, the Defiant isn't completely a game breaker--it's overpowered and overgunned and nearly tore itself apart on its shakedown cruise, and it's only one ship, besides. But it being here is a concrete statement that DS9 is not going to play the usual games that Next Generation did--we're not going to be dicking around on science missions (except when they do, alas) or worrying about the families and other adorable moppets on the ship should we have to go into battle (there aren't any) or solving things with diplomacy--if they're on it, it probably means shit has gotten real.
Which is funny, because among the many other things "The Search" is about is how the Next Generation diplomatic peace-at-all-costs approach is not going to work on this show.
But we'll get to that later, we've got two more people to into. The first is Commander Eddington, head of Starfleet Security, and played by the dude who was the title character in the movie Krull (and if you're one of the four other people who remember that movie, that's two more than I thought would admit it) back when he was sporting a mullet. Eddington is a bit of a cipher here, and exists more to drive Odo into a tantrum over being replaced (of this sounds familiar, yes, this is exactly how things played out in the first season when Primmin showed up for two episodes just to piss off Odo--it's almost verbatim, actually) but as Eddington sticks around a bit longer, it will come to more than that. For now, he's just here to piss Odo off, who's having a bad day anyways.
The third member of our little troika is Subcommander T'Rul who is only around for this episode and the next because no one really liked the Romulans and the actress was needed to play recurring evil bitch on Voyager.
So, at last, the plot--Sisko's going to take the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant and contact the Founders (the mysterious rulers of the Dominion) and show them that they pose no threat to them. Meanwhile, Odo drops my blog's name when he gets all shouty and seems to be suffering from an urge to go to a nebula deep in Dominion space for some reason, an urge he seems unable to ignore.
The peace mission doesn't go well, as the Jem'Hadar kick the crap out of the Defiant and board the ship, leading to what soon becomes a DS9 "thing"--you jump on their shit, they will go hand-to-hand on your ass--they are that fucking hardcore. This leads to Dax and O'Brien being captured and the Defiant crippled and in Dominion hands.
But Kira and Odo have gotten away and have made it to the nebula, found a rogue planet within (don't think about it too hard) and wander right up to a big pile of suspiciously familiar looking goo and sure enough . . .Odo has found his people. End part one!
"You mean no one told you about the plan? You see, I pretend to be their friend, and then I shoot you."
So the peace mission was a bit of a mess, wasn't it? Let's see--Dax and O'Brien are captured, Odo and Kira have buggered off to the planet of Goo, and Sisko and Bashir are limping away from the battle in a shuttlecraft that's just about on its last legs. All seems lost when the door to the shuttle opens and they see . . .Dax and O'Brien, safe and sound. Apparently they were able to talk some sense into the Founders and it's back off to the station to play this thread out.
Obviously, something doesn't add up.
Meanwhile, the Female Changeling (seriously, that's her name. However, for the purposes of my blog, we will call her Big Mama, for reasons that will soon become apparent) spends a lot of time vomiting exposition--Odo's race has no actual name, though they've appropriated the word "Changeling," once used as a pejorative, as a term of honour. They live a solitary life here on Planet Goo, having been driven into hiding by suspicious "solids"--aka people who can't change shape. Big Mama explains that the Changelings exist as The Great Link, which has nothing to do with the Legend of Zelda, it seems. As near as I can figure (because seriously, arguing the logic of what the Changelings can and can't do will make your fucking head explode) the Great Link is a gestalt consciousness and which can individuate itself at will (hence the multiple Changelings we see here) or exist as a unified whole. Confusing as the day is long, but better than the stupid-ass Borg Queen.
Back on the station things are . . .not great. Sisko seems frozen out of the negotiating process, which has had some . . .well, odd blowback. For one thing, the Romulans have been excluded from the negotiations, the Jem'Hadar are allowed to beat up O'Brien without any sanction, and most of Sisko's crew is being reassigned. The news doesn't improve all that much when he's told that the Federation is pulling out of Bajor, leaving it to the Dominion. In fact, all the Federation seems to be doing is appeasing the Dominion and giving, giving, giving instead of making a stand (tying into the whole "TNG diplomacy is boound to fail on DS9" running through this two-parter)
Clearly, things are totally fucked.
Back on Planet Silly Putty, Odo works on his shapeshifting and his abandonment issues (turns out the Changelings still send out some of their race to look in on the other races in the galaxy, and Odo was one of a hundred goo-babies sent out) while Kira twigs that something is not quite right, and not just that Big Mama pretends she's not even in the fucking room when she's around.
Meanwhile, on the station, Sisko has had all of this shit he's going to take, and with Garak's help (more on that later) they get loose, take a runabout and blow up the wormhole . . .
. . .right about the time Kira and Odo find them all strapped to a table. Yeah, it was all a fucking dream, which is stupid and bullshit, and I know the creators of the show have said that it was meant to show that the Dominion was so far ahead of us they were playing with us and the real story was Odo and the Changelings, but uhm, that does not excuse hauling out one of the most overused cliches of our time.
Finally, Big Mama shows up to drop another exposition bomb--the Changelings are the Founders. Sick and tired of being hunted and killed by bigoted assholes, the Changelings decided that if the solids couldn't behave themselves, they'd roll over them all and force them to stay the hell off their collective lawn.
Odo breaks bad and tells Big Mama off, saying that his "thing" is justice, but Big Mama says it's not justice he wants, but order, and the Link can help him achieve that (she has a point--we've seen Odo skirt very close to he whole totalitarian thing several times already) Odo says to let his friends go, declaring that whatever the Dominion does to them they're going to have to do to him first.
Big Mama backs down almost immediately. No changeling has ever harmed another, she says (this is very important) and lets them go. She tells Odo next time it will be different and since they were kind enough to pay them a visit, they may decide to return the favour and install some order Dominion-style on the other side of the wormhole.
Yeah, so . . . this episode is sort of a mixed bag, innit? The first part feels incredibly creaky as a whole lot of retooling is ever so clumsily slotted into place, and it's all just a way of setting up the real meat of the story, which is in the second part.
Unfortunately, the second part's story--Odo has finally found his people and they're fascist bastards, making him an outsider among his own people as well as among solids is completely drowned out by the damn dream story (and I find it annoying that it's the audience's fault that the dream story is weighted more--I'm sorry you didn't pace your exposition scenes to make them less tedious) On the other hand, we do have the introduction of the Defiant, the Dominion is a little more fleshed out, and we do get, on pretty much every level the message that the Dominion is not going to be fobbed off with diplomatic concessions, as you only negotiate with equals, and they don't consider the solids fit to muck out their goo pond.
Nope, it's gonna be war. The only question is when.
"THE HOUSE OF QUARK"
"A brave Ferengi . . .who would have guessed?"
So, stop me if you've heard this one--guy running a bar that's losing clients gets in a fight with an alcoholic Klingon who is a dead ringer for Buck "Rock and Roll" Zumhofe (is that my most obscure pro wrestling reference ever?) and Buick Zumhofe falls on his knife and dies. Bartender then weaves this into a legend about how he heroically slew a Klingon despite being a Ferengi and all that. This leads, through a series of hilarious misunderstandings to political intrigues on the Klingon homeworld, duels of honour and the wily Ferengi outwitting the Klingons because he's in the main cast and there's not a Klingon on the main cast list. Yet.
If this all looks familiar, it's because it's the plot of the epic Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines 80's action epic Running Scared. For the purpose of this episode, however, Quark gets entangled with the Klingons, married to a Klingon, and there's a lot of bluster and swinging bat'leths and it's all . . .okay, I guess?
Oh, and in the B plot, Keiko O'Brien, mopey because no one's even referenced the school in god knows how many episodes, gets shuffled off to do botany on Bajor, after O'Brien's attempts to turn her frown upside down only buy him a little time before she gets all sulky. That's also OK.
Look, this is a perfectly serviceable Quark episode, separate from Ferengi episodes in that they will not kill portions of your soul with irritating "comedy" bits that sound so very much like an angel being strangled. Quark episodes are generally less irritating and feature the character either subverting the action around him (as he does here) or providing a perspective on things somewhat outside the typical human-centric viewpoint.
It's pretty much pure entertainment and is OK if you're in the right mood.
"Beets are a very misunderstood vegetable."
Hey, so, you remember all those times in the past that I've complained that far too many Dax-centric episodes that are supposed to feature her as a character have her incapacitated due to some plot-related shenanigans? Well, here is an episode that features Dax, is supposed to provide some character development for her, but has far too much of her being crazy or wigging out or fainting.
Here's the plot in a nutshell--Dax's symbiont starts having repressed memories resurface, causing her to become musical and flip out. You see, it turns out that one of her former hosts was a mentally disturbed killer and his memories were supposed to be wiped from the symbiont and it's all tied up an a conspiracy on the part of the Trills and . . .yeah.
This episode sucks. It sucks because every eerie "oh shit what's wrong with my miiiind" cliche is trotted out, it sucks because the conspiracy really doesn't make all that much sense, it sucks because it's going to lead to several episodes over the rest of the series where we drag out the attendant cliche of "getting in the mind of a killer" bullshit.
But most of all, this episode sucks because you can't really say that one of your main cast has a crazy person within them who's killed people and then just treat it like a bad day that was a long time ago. It causes so many problems I don't know where to begin. Is it the trivialising of the whole crisis you spent the episode building up? Is it the fact that this is treated as Major Shit and then barely referenced? I seriously don't know where to begin razing this thing.
So I'm not going to. I will simply say: This episode is foolhardy.
That's all for this week! Join us next week when the taste of "Equilibrium" is washed out of my mouth with one of my all-time favourite DS9 episodes as Kira experiences her worst nightmare in "Second Skin"; Odo tries to be a foster dad to a Jem'Hadar in "The Abandoned"; Things go from bad to worse to utterly vigor-fucked in another favourite of mine, "Civil Defense"; and things end on a sour note as we touch on one of the shittiest DS9 episodes ever as Dax visits Planet Brigadoon in "Meridian." I'll see you then!