Friday, May 10, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 3: Defiant

Deep Space Nine, Season 3
Airdate: November 14, 1994
53 of 173 produced
53 of 173 aired


An unexpected visitor claiming to be Commander William Riker visits the station and charms the crew. Things go awry, though, when it turns out that he is in fact Thomas Riker, Will Riker's ersatz twin from a transporter accident, and that he is intent upon stealing the USS Defiant in service of the Maquis rebellion.

So here's a scene that really didn't need to happen...


Matthew: So this episode has two big hurdles to clear. DS9 has suffered from an unfortunate spate of "stunt casting" episodes, and this episode thus has to establish its bona fides to a much greater degree than a regular show. But then, it is stunt casting based on a stunt episode, TNG's "Second Chances." The only reason "Second Chances" wasn't a complete failure was that it focused on the character story between Troi and Riker, and this episode doesn't have that to fall back on. It has to succeed as a stand alone story, and make us care about the characters on their own terms. I do think that it largely succeeds, albeit with a few caveats. Overall, I'm glad to see the Maquis storyline revisited, as it frequently gives us a look at the underbelly of Federation politics, and a greater sense of conflict and struggle than the traditional Federation role.

Kevin: I agree that this one of the more successful stunt casting episodes. I think it helps that they reached so deep into the bag. I don't think you could claim the producers thought TNG fans would rush to DS9 to see what happened to Thomas Riker the way they would a Lwaxana or Q. I also like that the Maquis storyline was not dropped in light of the new Dominion threat. Overall, I like that the episode presages the arc storytelling that the show will get. We know that something is going on in the Orias system but not what, and the writers will eventually pay it off later in the season.

Matthew: Let's talk about Thomas Riker. I think the original story in TNG punted on really going into what spending 8 years in essentially solitary confinement would do to a person, and I think this story does the same. We learn basically nothing about Thomas as a distinct individual, and only get one line about him trying too hard to differentiate himself from Will Riker. In the end, Thomas Riker is superfluous to the story, it could have been any other "fallen" Starfleet officer in the role. I was annoyed by Thomas Riker's apparent "Riker Power" over women, specifically Kira in this case. I just don't see her as the type to be taken in in that way, especially since she is involved. I also don't see how Thomas Riker would have the same magnetism as Will Riker, given his particular history. I also just don't like it being so obvious and spelled out in the script. In TNG, Will Riker was never said to be a ladies' man, and it was much the better for it. Here, it seems like a trope instead of an actual character trait.

Kevin: I largely agree. I think the conversation about how Tom was trying to be Will no matter how hard he claimed not be was good and interesting, and I think it should have been tied into a larger facet of the Maquis as a whole. Dukat makes a similar claim when being interrogated, that despite protesting the Federation's actions, they are Federation citizens to the core. That conflict is inherently interesting, as in any rebellion, more or less radical factions fight for dominance, and that could have been fun. Maybe another Maquis member could have been pushing for Kira's hypothetical plan, simply inflicting as much damage as possible. It would have made Riker's personality and character more central to the conflict.
Matthew: On the plus side, we get some good, juicy scenes with Gul Dukat and some insight into Cardassian politics. The Obsidian Order is an important part of understanding the Cardassians, and the relationship is inherently interesting... just as it was interesting when it was the Romulans and the Tal'Shiar. But all good ideas are worth doing a few times, and it still works here. The relationship between a security apparatus and a government is interesting for anyone, I think, especially a post 2001 US citizen. Now, the way they go about it involves a lot of "control room battles," but they benefit from being inter-cut with footage on the Defiant, so it wasn't too boring.

Kevin: I thought the pacing of the Cardassia scenes was good, and everything dripped with personal disdain between Korinas and Dukat. These people clearly have a history and it showed. I also like Sisko's deft insult that he would have been more subtle about keeping him out of sensitive areas. Finding out the Order but not Central Command knew about the cloaking device was a good reveal as it neatly explained a lot about the relationship between the two entities. I also liked Dukat's homily about prejudice and hatred. I like when the writers attempt to show Dukat showing himself as more nuanced than Bajor or the Federation see him. It adds layers to his megalomania.

Matthew:  Random notes - taking off the sides of his beard was ridiculous. It risks discovery more than just saying "I shaved last night." Does the hand scanner have every Starfleet officer's hand print in it? Even if so, do all Starfleet officers have access? It seems like the Defiant, especially given its secret cloaking device, should only have assigned crew allowed access. Sisko gets a really awful line in this script: "I know her vulnerabilities... and her weaknesses." Um, aren't those the same things? Really, RDM... really. This is basically as bad as "Set course for the Klingon Imperial Empire." Why does the Maquis crew agree to what Riker agrees to, then follow Kira's orders? Are none of them actually terrorists? The Maquis need to be given actual teeth in a story some time soon. The kiss at the end... WEIRD. Ugh. Talk about no chemistry, whether in story or between actors.

Kevin: I agree with all that, particularly the kiss. I almost wish Dax had been his mark, since Terry Farrell managed more energy referencing him in conversation. In the random note plus column, I liked Kira's harsh appraisal of her terrorist life. I like that one of Kira's arcs is growing beyond that, and seeing her still fervently believe in what she did and why she did, but also not excuse its morality is good for the show and the character.


Matthew: Jonathan Frakes is, by this point in his career, a pro's pro. He is an expert at adding what he needs to a performance to make up for deficiencies in a script. He does it here. Despite the script not giving us any real information about Thomas, Frakes does most of the heavy lifting with various choices.

Kevin: I will say I bought that this was the Thomas Riker we met in TNG, to the extent he was given a distinct character. The dialogue was wanting, but I did really think this was a version of Riker with something to prove.

Matthew: I was not in love with Avery Brooks' performance here, specifically the scene in which he paces the room and monologues about what the Defiant is up to. Ugh. Marc Alaimo does his usual bang-up job of being interesting. Nana Visitor did not convey real chemistry with Frakes, and one wonders if it was because she didn't believe the script for her character. She did have some fine scenes with Frakes when convincing him to surrender, though.

Kevin: Yeah, Sisko was just okay for me. It's getting repetitive to say Alaimo is great, but it still bears repeating. Korinas was played by Tricia O'Neill, who played Rachel Garrett in Yesterday's Enterprise, and I loved her just about as much as I did then. She was great. She was menacing and scheming and, like Dukat, interesting. There was steel in her voice when she forces Dukat to stay out of the Orias system, and like Yesterday's Enterprise, she did a great job of credibly sounding like a part of the world her character inhabited.

Matthew: We keep getting the same vaguely space-piratey woman as a guest star in these Maquis shows. The Maquis extras, in addition to being too sparse, were completely unmemorable.

Kevin: That's actually Shannon Cochran, the woman who will play Sirella later on. I saw her in a production of A Little Night Music last year and she was amazing. It's a shame they keep casting but then not using her for anything more interesting.

Production Values

Matthew: This episode is pretty unimpeachable as far as visual effects, models, and sets go. The space battles were excellent, and we're just going to have to come to the conclusion that the bar has permanently been raised as far as effects go. I liked the new ship design for the Cardassians.

Kevin: Agreed. The staging of the shot when the Defiant comes up along side of the Cardassian ship was just great.

Matthew: The Cardassian control room set had plenty of visual interest, and was a good backdrop for the characters. The diagrams did a good job of conveying information about the ships and their positions.

Kevin: Cardassian design has really emerged as one of the most complete and interesting designs in the franchise. The room felt bust and claustrophobic and every shot in it looked great.


Matthew: This is a 3 for me. Blasphemy, you say? Look. Ron D. Moore writes exciting political intrigue stories, there are no two ways about it. But the Riker element, though appreciated from a continuity angle, just didn't really connect and scream out as a story that needed to be told. That's the real standard for stunt casting, whether it was a story that really advances the character in question. But the political aspects, as well as acting and production, were enough to keep this in a good, entertaining place for me. I think all put together it comes out to be an average show.

Kevin: I agree with the 3. I enjoy it a great deal and always relish the rewatch, but the slightly undercooked integration of Riker into the overall plot keeps this from a 4. That makes a 6 from two of us.

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