Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday Review: Deep Space Nine

You'll have to forgive me for rambling on about another old show hardly anyone cares about anymore.  I should be talking about "Game of Thrones" or "True Blood" or "Falling Skies" or "Breaking Bad" right Mr. Offutt?  (Well except I don't have HBO so I can't watch the first two.)

Anyway, I always liked DS9.  Part of it might be that it's kind of the neglected middle child of Star Trek series, which being a neglected middle child I can sympathize with.  It did suffer a bit of bad timing in that when it debuted in 1992 Next Gen was still on the air and not long after Next Gen was gone, when DS9 would have been able to go solo, Voyager came along on the ill-fated UPN.  Added to that you had Babylon 5 with a similar premise, which probably stole some of DS9's thunder.  And I'm sure a lot of people would say Babylon 5 is better, though at the time I don't think that aired on a channel my family had or just not at a time where we could watch it so I never saw that until they reran it on TNT years later.

Anyway (again), thanks to Netflix Instant I could rewatch all 7 seasons in about 7 months.  It wouldn't have taken as long if I hadn't spent a month or so rewatching GI JOE from the 80s.  (And yes I'm obsessive in that if I start watching an old series I want to just plow through to the end; I don't mix and match series really.)  I have to say I really did enjoy rewatching the series.  It did make me think (again) that this shouldn't be relegated to a mere footnote in Star Trek history as it was just as good (if not better) than Next Gen and better in my opinion than Voyager or Enterprise--my sisters would disagree with the latter as they have some weird obsession with Enterprise despite the fact they were never really much into Star Trek.

Getting back on track, the basic premise of the show is that for the last fifty years or so the evil Cardassians have been occupying the planet of Bajor.  When the series begins, the Cardassians are finally leaving and Bajor is now free and under the protection of the Federation.  The Federation takes over the old Terok Nor space station, renaming it Deep Space Nine--obviously.

One of the first interesting things is that in this series (at first anyway) the guy in charge was not a captain.  Commander Ben Sisko is sent to this seemingly backwater outpost, which seems likes a dead-end assignment.  Needless to say he's not exactly thrilled at first.  Another interesting thing is that while Kirk and Picard were unattached in terms of family, Sisko has a teenage son Jake and had a wife who was killed during the Borg invasion in Next Gen, which is kind of a sore point when Picard visits him at the station.

But things take a turn when Sisko discovers a "wormhole" near the station that connects the "Alpha Quadrant" to the "Gamma Quadrant" of the Milky Way.  The wormhole is stable because there are aliens living inside of it, who are known to the Bajorans as "the Prophets."  The aliens don't really have a sense of time in the same way as us "corporeal" beings but Sisko is eventually able to explain this to them thanks in part to a baseball analogy--which is really another reason I like this show because I like baseball.

The discovery of the wormhole then overnight transforms DS9 from a remote afterthought to a crucial outpost.  Like St. Louis back in the 19th Century it's kind of the last point of civilization for traders or researchers or colonists going from the Alpha Quadrant to the Gamma Quadrant.  The first two seasons for the most part focus on the cultural clashes and so forth that happen as a result of this.  At the end of the second season "the Dominion" is introduced and parts of the third season then expand on who and what the Dominion is.  It turns out they are pretty much the rulers of the Gamma Quadrant and not so happy about all these ships invading their space.

The fourth season added Worf from Next Gen to the cast as tensions rise between the Federation and its Klingon allies.  By the fifth season there's open war between the two powers, which winds down during that season as the Dominion enters the fray, taking over the station at the end of that season.  The sixth and seventh seasons focus primarily on the war between the Federation and its allies versus the Dominion and its allies (the Cardassians and later the Breen).

Perhaps what I liked most about this show is that since quite a few of the characters were not Starfleet officers they weren't all a bunch of stuffed shirts, which is the way it sometimes seemed on Next Gen and Voyager.  The way they rebooted the Ferengi was especially good, making them pretty much the opposite of Starfleet in their lust for profits.  And in many ways the Ferengi resembled humans of the 20th Century, especially Republican types.  I mean the Ferengi believe in business and profit above everything, believe women should be locked in their homes to serve men (and also that females should not be allowed to wear clothes), and pretty much see everyone else as someone to exploit for personal gain.

Another good idea was transferring Chief O'Brien, a relative minor recurring character on Next Gen, to DS9.  O'Brien was the kind of blue-collar Everyman character the other series lacked.  He was a lot more relatable than most Star Trek characters because he was pretty much just an ordinary guy with a sort of crummy job and a family to support.  To a lesser extent you could say that about Sisko because unlike the other captains he had a family, not only a son but a girlfriend he eventually marries.  That makes him seem not as much of a cold fish as Picard or Janeway or Archer.

Oh yeah and both Dax-es were pretty hot.  I'm just throwing that out there.  Plus the Defiant could have probably kicked the shit out of any of the Enterprises and especially Voyager.

Another thing I liked was the show alternated between doing serious episodes and fun episodes.  Most of the fun episodes involved the Ferengi, like when Quark, his brother, and nephew go back in time to Roswell in 1947.  There were also some fun non-Ferengi ones like when Dr. Bashir is playing a James Bond-type program in the holosuite and then the characters turn into real people from the station and the only way for him to defeat the Dr. Evil-type madman (Sisko) is to let the bad guys win.  Or in another holosuite-related adventure the crew puts together an "Ocean's 11"-style caper to save beloved lounge singer Vic Fontaine.  Maybe it's just my faulty memory, but I don't think they did nearly as much of that in the other series.  Of course some episodes maybe got a little too goofy, like the one where a runabout gets shrunk and has to do a "Fantastic Voyage" type thing in order to save the day.

A lot of the episodes, though written from 92-99, are still relevant today.  All the ones about Quark's mother fighting for female equality among the Ferengi are pretty relevant to the recent War on Women.  Then there's a two-part episode where Sisko, Dax, and Dr. Bashir go back in time to 2024 or so where thanks to a Great Recession all the poor have been rounded up and stuffed into ghettos like Jews in Nazi-occupied territory.  We're only about a Rick Santorum or Donald Trump presidency away from that happening for real.  In another two-parter Sisko goes back to Earth shortly after it's revealed "the Founders" of the Dominion are evil shapeshifters.  There's all sorts of paranoia on Earth about what these evil shapeshifters might be doing and all sorts of intrusive steps taken to find them, to the point where a rogue element of Starfleet establishes martial law.  Those two episodes really smacked of post-9/11 hysteria like the Patriot Act and the need to balance safety with personal liberty.

Since most of my regular visitors are writers, there were a few episodes that were writing-related.  In the second episode of the fourth season "The Visitor" an elderly Jake Sisko has become a reclusive author and is visited by a young woman who loves his work and wants to know why he stopped writing.  He explains then how he stopped writing in order to try and save his father from sort of temporal thing.  I didn't really remember that episode from when it aired in the 90s but watching it now, about 3 years after my father died, I got a little misty-eyed.  In another writing-related episode, a muse stimulates Jake's creativity though nearly kills him.  There's another one where Captian Sisko has a dream where he's a writer for a sci-fi magazine in the 50s and comes up with the whole story for DS9 but it can't get printed because his lead character is black.  (What's interesting about that episode too is you get to see most of the cast without the alien makeup.)

What I really didn't like was first when they added Worf (who was one of my least favorite Next Gen characters after Wesley) and then hooked him up with Dax--the first one.  They already did the "Beauty and the Beast" thing on Next Gen and it was icky then and just as icky on DS9.  So in a way it was a good thing the first Dax left the show because it put an end to that whole plot.  Though it might have been fun to see what kind of baby they could have produced--one with forehead ridges and spots?

Another thing that occurred to me as I rewatched the show is it started to bug me how the first Dax was always going on about her previous host Kurzon--or was it Curzon?  Whatever.  Anyway, it was always Kurzon, Kurzon, Kurzon.  I mean she had 5 other lifetimes before that--and a repressed sixth one that comes up later--so why only keep mentioning the one?  They did a better job with the second Dax of mentioning some of the other ones to balance things out more.

Also, while the first few "mirror universe" episodes--an extension of the original Trek episode where there was an evil parallel universe populated with versions of the characters with goatees--were pretty good, I think the writers went back to that well a little too often.  Pretty much once a year they'd have one of those episodes, though after about the third one it had started to lose its appeal.  Though in the last one you do get a kiss between second Dax and Kira--if that sort of thing appeals to you.  Just throwing it out there.

Certainly one drawback is the effects and such aren't as good as more recent shows.  It's too bad they didn't have better technology and more money back then.  That would have let them render the space battles better and Odo the shapeshifter could have done more shapeshifting.

Finally, like many last episodes, the finale of DS9 was a bit unsatisfying.  The final showdown between Sisko and Dukat seemed really tacked on.  It also didn't make sense in that Dukat and the Kai must have been in the fire caves for about three weeks while everything else was going down.  Eliminating one Ferengi or mirror universe episode might have given them a little more time for the finale instead of compressing it into essentially two episodes.  This was probably one area where Voyager was better, but then it's finale was predestined, sort of like when I watched the finale of "Smallville" where it was predestined to end with Clark becoming Superman; in the same way Voyager was predestined to return to Earth--ooh, spoilers!  There wasn't really any of that for DS9, which probably made it tougher.

But still I enjoyed revisiting this series and if you like Trek you should too.

Tuesday is another Two-Fer.  You know the drill by now...

17 comments:

  1. Pat, this show never really clicked with me since I was incensed about the apparent theft of the concept by Babylon 5. Now that I got over that I agree it had some really interesting stuff going on.

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  2. You already know what I liked about this show from a previous comment. Last season of DS9 sucked the big one. The meat was the middle of the show. First two seasons were so bad it made them almost unwatchable.

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  3. I know a few people who absolutely loved this program, but other than the pilot I don't think I saw any episodes. It just didn't hold my interest.

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    1. It was the kind of show like "The Simpsons" for instance where it needed a little time to develop. I suppose that was a good thing about being in syndication that they didn't have to worry about network expectations.

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    2. I loved Deep Space Nine - and wish they had done more episodes! I will agree that some of the episodes, especially at the beginning, could have been better. I think that put some people off, but if you had kept watching you would have seen the very best of Star Trek! Especially the Cardassians and the superb acting of Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat!
      Ah!! Bring back Deep Space Nine!!!!

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    3. I loved Deep Space Nine - and wish they had done more episodes! I will agree that some of the episodes, especially at the beginning, could have been better. I think that put some people off, but if you had kept watching you would have seen the very best of Star Trek! Especially the Cardassians and the superb acting of Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat!
      Ah!! Bring back Deep Space Nine!!!!

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  4. Big, big fan of the series. It's a little hard to understand how you thought the series finale felt rushed, considering there were ten episodes in the arc. Dukat's transformation into the emissary of the Pah-Wraiths was something that more or less began at the end of the initial Dominion War arc, when his daughter dies. By the end of the sixth season he's found his calling, and in final season he's figured out that he's got to seduce religion, something he's never had any interest in, and more importantly Kai Winn, whose ambition was always threatening to be her undoing, but it took Dukat to finally put her over the edge, before she realizes she didn't actually want to go there (too late, much as "The Reckoning" had portended earlier).

    Anyway, so the final episode wraps up the Dominion War in the first hour and then wraps up the Cardassian/Bajoran mess in the second, by eliminating the last two problems either species has to finally move forward. Dukat takes care of Winn, and Sisko takes care of Dukat, and in the process learns that the only way forward, at least for him, after this is to sacrifice everything he held so dear and grew to cherish over the last seven seasons. Everyone had already started moving on. Sisko could have stayed, too, and maybe that would have been a happy ending, but for everything that happens in the pilot, it's like the culmination, even if you go so far as to consider his joining the Prophets as being assimilated, something that negatively defined his life for years.

    Anyway, big fan of the series.

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    1. It just seemed the final showdown was a bit rushed and tacked on from the standpoint of he's in the club with everyone else to say goodbye and then, "Oh gee, the Prophets are calling me to Bajor!" And then we wrap up that whole thing in about five minutes. It would have been better if they could have devoted a full episode to that part of it.

      But oh well, that was 13 years ago. Poor Sisko's still in there with the Prophets, isn't he? Though maybe in the books they got him out of there. Really they needed to do a reunion movie where he could have come back.

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  5. I'm a big fan of the show. I went through the complete run of the series a few years ago and enjoyed it more the second time than I did the first. I think the show fell flat on its biggest moments, but was strong as could be for the most part. The whole death of Dax thing was almost as bad as a Redshirt death. It wasn't as meaningless ad Tasha Yar from TNG, but it wasn't much better either.

    I think the strength of the show was the relationships amongst the characters. It's unique for a Trek series to have main characters with such conflicting goals - it made for better drama.

    Although, I wasnt a fan of the early episodes either.

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    1. I think when it comes to writing off a character who's been in a contract dispute, the writers like to exact a little vengeance. "Two and a Half Men" springs to mind. I think the natural inclination is to get a little petty about the whole thing. The question that sprung to mind in that scenario was why Dax was in charge of the station while Kira went on the mission when the opposite was usually true.

      It is probably better than "Happy Days" or "Family Matters" where a character simply disappeared and was never seen nor heard from again. And less cheesy than the "second Darren" approach of just replacing someone as the same character. The whole Trill worm thing allowed them to write in a new character but one who had all the memories of the old one, so that was advantageous.

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  6. I loved ST:TNG but never clicked with DS9 for some reason. I never liked the Ferengi -- they just seemed cartoonish, and the Cardassians were like "KlingonsLite" as Bad Guys, so I never paid too much attention to it when it was first on. But now I'd probably grow into liking the show if I sat down and watched enough episodes to get into it. Kinda like "Firefly" - I ignored it as a hokey 'cowboys in space' concept when it was first on, but later watched it on DVD and grew to really like it.

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  7. I love Star Trek in general, but don't remember watching DS9 much. Fun that you watched it all the way through.

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  8. Hey PT,
    Over in here in Britain, they are about to reshow the entire series of DS9 and Voyager. Looking forward to it. Make it so.
    Enjoy your weekend :)

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  9. In 1972, when I ws in England, Star Trek seemed so futuristic and out of this world- - guess what, if you watch it again it will be still very good fiction and futuristic in nature. They must have done something right.

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  10. I honestly had a hard time getting into DS9, or Star Trek, for that matter, but then my wife introduced me to Voyager and I'm fairly acquainted now. :)

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  11. I don't really remember much of this one as I moved out of the States in '93. But I certainly was fascinated by your recap of the series main events and characters. Long live Star Trek and all its spin-offs. :-)

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  12. Nice post. Deep space nine was 50/50 for me. Some shows I liked and others not so much. I agree with Chris that the Ferengi were rather cartoonish, but yet again aren't most aliens? I guess it's hard to make realistic aliens.

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