DS9 lurched into Season 3 with one promising story thread on the horizon - the Dominion. Luckily, instead of going the way of TNG and focusing on characters instead (not a criticism of TNG per se, see below), DS9 actually began to deliver on this promise about halfway through the season.
Stuck... in... middle... of... Season... 3...
Waiting... for... good... part... to... begin.........
Waiting... for... good... part... to... begin.........
This is sort of a tale of two seasons. There is the promising start and the crackling last third, and then there is the big, mushy middle. "The Search" two-parter was a lot of fun, introducing the USS Defiant to the show as well as advancing the Dominion story arc in a meaningful way. We finally get a payoff on the many (and mostly boring) teases at Odo's origin, and it was all pretty good.
In my opinion, Deep Space Nine is not a "character show." It's an "events show." For whatever reason, the show is less geared towards developing characters in the way that TNG was, and the characters themselves are a bit less charming and interesting. We don't really need to get into why here, I think we've covered this. The point is, episode after episode in the TNG vein, saying "this is an Odo show," "this is a Kira show," just kind of falls flat. Like it or lump it, DS9 is a show about a particular place at a particular time in history. Big things are happening, and the history of the region dictates the characters much more that the other way around. And you know what? That's fine. Once DS9 settles on telling big stories and having the character get swept up in them, it really moves briskly and starts entertaining in spades.
I mention all this to call attention to what the middle of this season fails to do. After getting off to such a good start, we get interminably awful character spotlights like "Meridian" and "Distant Voices." We also get stunt shows like "Through The Looking Glass" and "Fascination." Ugh. Things just sort of meander along until Ron Moore and Ira Steven Behr are given the full reins of the show and really start telling big political tales.
Once this change-over takes place, I think you can mark a distinct new phase in the show. Gone are many of the unrelated B stories and boring character explorations ("Facets" notwithstanding). Instead, we get skulduggery, secret plots, changeling infiltrations, and all manner of other exciting stuff. "Improbable Cause" is when DS9 "grows the beard," as they say. It's a real relief to be done with the onerous portion of the show, and it's too bad it took so long. But finally, I'm excited to keep watching.
I remember that I always thought of Season 3 of DS9 much the same way I thought of TNG's, as when the show came into its own. I think I was mentally skipping over the soft middle of this season and rounding up the first and last thirds. Especially looking at the numbers below, taken as a whole, this is a weaker season overall than Season 2, and that surprised me. Still, I think this season has something to recommend it. To this day, I still remember how absolutely gripped I was by "Improbable Cause" and "Die is Cast," and I still feel it when rewatching it.
I think Matt hit the nail on the head by identifying the better shows as "event shows" as opposed to "character shows." Moreover, things like the B-plots are a very TNG story device.Even when the B-stories have been good we have tended to find them unconnected. I think on some level Behr and Wolfe were just not as into incorporating a B-story and were doing it out of tradition. I will agree that the relationship of the ensemble does not drive the show the way TNG did, but I would say certain pairs of characters, like O'Brien/Bashir or Quark/Odo do eventually have a major role to play, but even that is different than TNG.
Saying the back third of the season is very good sounds like we are damning it with faint praise, but we're not. I don't think it's unfair to say that Improbable Cause represents a real turning point for the show. Except for Facets, every other episode after is at least solid to very good. Those half dozen episodes are not only good, and consistently good, but together, really start to feel like the show I remember DS9 being.
Matthew: "Life Support" - I gave this a 3, but it sticks in my head. Why? It demonstrates that you can tell a great sci-fi story while still advancing the overall plot of the "big story" of DS9. The philosophy geek in me really gets off on the discussion of what makes a person a person, and what changes when you remove it bit by bit.
"Shakaar" is another Bajor story, and it covers some pretty familiar ground (see "Progress"). But it's got genuine tension, a non-boring love interest for Kira, and a good villainous turn by Kai Winn.
"Improbable Cause" focuses on Garak. Lots of good episodes seem to focus on Garak. What a coincidence! Andrew Robinson is just fun to watch, and he gets tons to do here. Rene Auberjonois also has a lot of fun "hard boiled detective" type material here, plus a Watergate-style "Deep Throat" scene.
"The Search Part 1" has a new starship, Michael Eddington, a Romulan played by Martha Hackett, and a plot in which we find the Founders. That's pretty much all you need.
Kevin: I agree with all these obviously. I would throw "Civil Defense" in there as a personal favorite. I still enjoy hearing that Dukat's access codes have been rescinded. The contrived nature of the crisis aside, we get just tons of great interactions between the characters.
"House of Quark" is another personal favorite of mine, and a shining example of how great an actor Armin Shimerman is. No matter what absurd situation he ends up in, he is never absurd. Quark believes in the Ferengi way of life, even if he doesn't practive perfectly, and his obvious faith alone is enough to sell (and rehabilitate) the Ferengi. The same goes for "Family Business." They are funny episodes, intentionally played for laughs, but in the end we learn something about Ferengis in general and Quark in particular, so the episodes don't feel like a waste.
Matthew: "Facets" irritates the hell out of me. It doesn't know which story it is telling, and it cycles through two boring stories and one implausible story to get there. It adds dumb new wrinkles to the Trill host-symbiont thing, and it fails to answer the questions it raises.
"Heart of Stone" threatens to push me into a comatose state every time I watch it. Who thought "cast member slowly turns into a stalagmite" would be a thrilling, rip-roaring spectacle?
"Fascination" is yet another awful Lwaxana show in a litany of bad Lwaxana shows. This one rips off the plot of "Sarek," and it puts our characters into excruciating, compromising, but ultimately pointless sexual attractions with each other.
"Distant Voices" is the worst character focus story I can imagine. It places us inside the head of DS9's most irritating character, and then proceeds to tell us nothing about him which wasn't either covered in a previous episode or superseded by a future one.
Kevin: I know I rated "Prophet Motive" higher, but it's still not "good" by any stretch. The Prophet plot made no sense, and the laughs this time felt flimsy and undeserved.
"Meridian" is just awful. I didn't care about Brigadoon or the romance, and Dax's choices make her look ridiculous.
I don't have much to add beyond that. Your list was distressingly comprehensive.
Matthew: Wow. I did not really expect the cumulative average of Season 3 to be so low. But you can see a long line of stinkers populating the middle of this season. It's amazing what putting together a solid run of shows near the end will do for one's perception of a season of TV. Those seven episodes had me thinking Season 3 was above average as a whole. But the numbers clearly show that this was a pretty rough year of TV overall.
Kevin: I'm shocked that this came in so much lower than Season 2. Is Improbable Cause really that good? Maybe it is, because its quality seems to have bled all over the rest of the season and my recollection of it. Here are the charts for this season, and something that did not strike me until I looked at them is that there are no 9s or 10s. That means neither of us gave any episode a 5. I don't think that's happened to any season of Star Trek before, not even The Animated Series.
Matthew: It was weird how the show switched gears so quickly, weird and wonderful. Even a slower show like "Explorers" was made better by being surrounded by actually interesting plots and legitimate developments in the world of the story. DS9 sure took its sweet time, but it has finally coalesced into a worthwhile show that can tell a story that has a right to exist. The hall is rented, the stage is set... now it's time to see if they can dance.
Kevin: I remain surprised by how weak this season has been. This is really the first time in teh Treknobabble project that the numbers have not borne out my recollection, except maybe season 7 of TNG was not quite as good as I remember. I swear to God, with seasons like this, if I end up objectively rating Voyager higher, Matt is never gonna let me hear the end of it. In any event. Matt and I agree that the last half dozen episode are really good and make us want to see Season 4.