Friday, July 7, 2017

Deep Space Nine Season 7 Recap

Deep Space Nine Season 7 Recap

Introduction

Deep Space Nine has come to a close. Did it go out with a bang? A whimper? Some gurgling sound somewhere in between? How will we get our Garak fix now?

This photo feels odd to me. Quark is up top (and possibly on a footstool), which makes sense given his stature. But then shorties Kira and Ezri are down below, while towering hulk Work is at the very top? Awkward.






Kevin's Thoughts

I think there is a lot to recommend season 7. It has a bit more to do than most finale seasons. It has to introduce a new character and make me care about her in time to care about how they wrap her up. They have to weave a tapestry of the major threads they have been working for the last six seasons. How well do they do that? I think they did it mostly fine.

Ezri Dax is not my personal favorite Trek character, but that's more an issue of personal taste than quality. She definitely inhabits the universe quickly and they even manage to mine her slightly outsider status for some good drama. Sleeping with Worf (or Bashir for that matter) was the writers' fault not hers. I think it's safe to say that she certainly didn't drag down the show generally, and the episodes that focus on her are generally good.

The war arc gets I think the most satisfying ending television at the time would allow, if you'll go with me for a second. DS9 was pushing the bounds of serialized story telling in prime time and science fiction stories, and I think they did a solid job. The final arc gets plenty of points from me for ambition alone, and I think there is plenty to recommend it. Kira helping the Cardassians was super interesting for me, as was Dukat and Winn chewing the scenery on the road to Perdition. I could even be charitable and say that plot managed to energize and incorporate Bajoran politics in a way that the previous six seasons had not done consistently well.

There are some gaps, of course. The war focus short shrifts Quark in a meaningful way, and Sisko's exit left a bad taste in my mouth. Also, most of the really interesting stories and characters continue to seem to be not our main Starfleet crew. Still, in the balance, I think this season is possessed of an energy and direction that we haven't seen since the heyday of TNG's 3-5th season.

Matthew's Thoughts

See, I kind of enjoyed Ezri as a character, at least until they decided they had to bed her down with one character or another. I found he more likable than Jadzia, and I felt like the writers did some of the stories that were missing from Jadzia's character history. Making her uneasy and gawky just made sense - like someone moving immediately into a new body and re-learning how to walk. I also liked that we met her family, and that they found the whole thing weird, too. 

An interesting aspect of this season was the Sisko/Kasidy relationship. On the one hand, I really liked how they portrayed her as an independent woman who did not need to be with anyone, but rather wanted to. On the other hand, once she got pregnant it was sort of all downhill. They forgot to take their pills? She's worried about the prophecy? Sisko wants to build a house? It all felt just a bit manipulative, as well as half-assed.

For me, a favorite part of this season was Sloan. I know he only appears in two episodes, but they are both solidly good, and his presence is felt in the other episodes of the season's war arc. Section 31 is a real force in Federation politics, and everything is not as squeaky clean as one might expect. This is a marked departure from prior shows, and lends a refreshingly dark air to DS9.

The war arc did something I had thought impossible based on the prior 6 seasons - it made me care about Bajor again. Dukat/Winn was just such a delicious relationship, and imagining her Machiavellian machinations having deleterious effects on the people of Bajor really tickled my fancy. I frankly with they had focused more on this and less on the somewhat lackluster Cardassion revolution. I wanted to see an episode like TNG's "Devil's Due," set on Bajor, and asking all of the questions that the TNG show couldn't by design - if the gods are real, and they do hate your guts, what is to be done?


Highlights

Kevin: I'm going to invent a category and then award it to "the final nine episodes." I don't think I'm overstating when I say they are meant to be consumed as something of a set, if not an outright contiguous episode. At it's worst, we felt ant one episode may have been marking time a bit, but none were bad and none broke the momentum in too severe a way. At it's best, I was absolutely compelled.

In terms of individual episodes, "The Changing Face of Evil" is right up there. You could slip that into any Netflix flagship drama and not miss a beat. Frank Underwood has nothing on Weyoun and Gul Dukat,

I also like "The Siege of AR-558" and its almost companion It's Only a Paper Moon a great deal. I think both explore the dark side of humanity honestly. Paper Moon continues to pull just the right heartstrings for me in both an honest appraisal of PTSD and a look at how people would actually use holodecks.

On a purely personal note, "Once More Unto the Breach" always does it for me. I'd watch JG Hertzler give me Klingon Shakespeare any day of the week. Anything that takes the Ron Moore version of Klingons and give them even more shading as a people is going to have me pretty happy.

Matthew: I know that the final rating didn't reflect it, but "Extreme Measures" remains one of my favorites of this season. The sci-fi concept is relatively novel, and it focuses on a favorite secondary character of mine, Sloan. There were missed opportunities, to be sure, but I was excited by the ideas all the way through.

The "Changing Face of Evil" really started it, but "When It Rains" did a lot of fun stuff with the absorbingly disgusting and entertaining Winn/Dukat relationship. Seeing Dukat try to slither his way back into Winn's good graces even after he was revealed as Bajor Hitler, and then seeing her twist the knife after his blinding, was just exquisite. It's this episode that sets up my favorite scene in the uneven finale, when Winn and Dukat get jiggy with each other in the fire caves (just prior to his stabbing).

Speaking of Dukat, "Covenant" really worked for me. The look at Dukat as a sleazy cult guru was excellent both in its allegorical overtones as well as in what it does for his character. Watching him try to BS his way through his bad behavior, and then seeing him come to grips with the thought that he might actually believe this Pah Wraith stuff, was absorbing. This was another episode that helped me care about Bajorand again.

"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" (very thankful I won't need to type that again for a while) is a favorite of mine, also for its focus on Sloan. The Sloan storyline made Bashir somewhat interesting. It gave him a non-sleazy direction to go into as a character. I really liked all the twists and turns in this plot.

"Prodigal Daughter" was an episode that was a bit ham-fisted in leading to its conclusion, but the look at Ezri's family was very welcome to me, as was its setting on a corrupt backwater. It made the "syndicate" feel more real than prior episodes.

Lowlights

Kevin: Well, let's get it out of the way at the start. "The Emperor's New Cloak" is insultingly bad on like nine different levels. It's a stupid plot in a stupid universe that trades in some fairly tired tropes of same-sex attraction being for villains and straight men's titillation. Garak is an idiot, which should be a capital offense. Lastly, making Vic Fontaine a real person just hocks me off.

"Chrysalis" annoys me for revisiting Dr. Bashir's upsetting tendency to fall for his patients (Hi, Melora).

And "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" is proof you make other people like your hobby as much as you do through sheer force of enthusiasm. And that's a lesson for both Captain Sisko and the writers.

Lastly, I'm going to ding "What You Leave Behind" for only getting a 7 from us. Don't get me wrong. I stand by my 4, but even if we agreed it was an 8, that's still a bit of a problem isn't it? The war arc stuff is just gangbusters, but the maudlin Return of the King number of endings just killed some momentum. A series finale should get a 5, shouldn't it? Maybe I'm holding it to too high a standard set by "All Good Things...", but not only was that episode excellent inside itself, it manages to create and satisfy a thesis statement for the show and one if its central character pairs. I felt resolved by that episode in a way I did not, and that's where they lose the 5 for me, and that's a little sad. Good episode, but not great finale.

Matthew: "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" was an extraordinary waste. They had a great setting, and even a decent premise, but it ended up just assassinating Sisko's character, and really he didn't recover for the rest of the season in my book.  Sisko was petty and childish at the outset in his antipathy towards the Vulcan, then he was mean and indifferent to the feelings of his friends, and then by the end he reverted to petty and juvenile. Not a stellar outing.

It took me like four tries to get all the way through "The Emperor's New Cloak." The mirror episodes of DS9 have really set a new watermark for bad Trek. I don't care about the characters at all. The conflicts and overall plot are uninteresting. The humor is flat at best and insulting at worst. They started with one interesting premise - seeing how Sisko would react to meeting Jennifer again. Then they redid it with Bareil. Then they decided to make the chicks kiss each other. Sigh.

Statistics





Kevin: Well color me surprised. The season levels out to 6.72. That puts it ahead of all but the golden age of TNG and TOS Season 1. I think the last arc is largely responsible. The show never racked up anything below a six for so long in its run. Generally, there are at least two or three real dogs that drag the average down, and this season we only got The Emperor's New Cloak. So, this episode has the consistency and the height the series has...struggled with...at points. But the numbers don't lie. Racking up a run of ten episodes where nothing is worse than average will do wonders for your score.

Matthew: This is definitely the best season of the series in terms of consistency. The highs may not be as high, but the lows are generally nowhere near as low, and there are fewer doldrums, which afflicted basically every season of DS9 before this one. You can see the marked preponderance of 8 ratings in your second chart, there, and that more than anything really boosts the numbers here.

Conclusion

Kevin: So now that we are at the end of DS9, I have to ask if my general opinion that I started with has changed. Generally, it has not. It remains my second favorite franchise, and I enjoy the places they pushed Roddenberry's universe. I think it is good as a show for itself, and a valuable addition, if only for contrast, with the other entries. The rewatch has certainly sharpened my issues with the episodes I always disliked, and I am far less charitable to the Worf/Dax relationship than once I was, but in the end, this awkward, gangly, moody show that was struggling with its idea and its place in the universe suited the awkward, struggling teen I was when I watched it. Honestly, even if the numbers, even if my numbers alone, end up giving Voyager a higher average, I'm not going to lose any sleep over liking this one more. Did the show fail at points? Oh, yeah. But by and large they were enthusiastic, whole hearted failures.

And the show gave me Garak, and that alone makes it better than approximately 95% of all visual media ever.

Matthew: DS9 was never my favorite of the series. I always respected it but never craved watching it. This run-through had not really changed that for me. Oh, I found Dukat and Kai Winn freshly entertaining, and I can to respect a few of the more high-concept pieces a bit better. But overall, my initial impression remains - I don't find many of these characters very involving. Which, actually does teach me something about my relationship to Star Trek: I guess I need a "Mary Sue."

The world is interesting to me, of course. But there are only so many "introduce the world or some technology in it" stories you can do. Once those are done, you need characters to inhabit the world that I identify with. In TNG, I was always a Wesley Liker, and I also enjoyed the character arcs that hey have Geordi, Riker, and Barclay. They were my avatars. But who does the same in DS9? Not Sisko. Not Quark. Not Jake or Nog. Not O'Brien (though he is closest), and not Bashir. They all are just too different, too unlike a fresh-faced college student in late-twentieth century America. Jake was something of a cipher. Nog was fun in small doses, but I never really identified with his "otherness," - and then they switched his motivation around entirely and made him a militaristic Federation fanboy. Bashir was really off-putting for large stretches.  Sisko was all tormented and stuff.

Here was the setup of the show: there is a frontier outpost where all kinds of crazy things happen. And they are located by a strange world with a set of real gods and a deep history that clashes with Federation values. How much of that setup was paid off by the series we got? Not a whole lot. DS9 was essentially jettisoned as a place of interest by season 6, and Bajor only got a little bit off a conclusion in the finale arc. Many of the most interesting questions about Bajor went unasked, and precious few episodes mapped out the culture clash between the "Western" Federation's values and the religious fundamentalism of the Bajorans.

With all of that said, the show did carry out experiments in storytelling that largely worked. I didn't hate watching it. But I don't crave watching DS9 the way I do TNG, Voyager, or TOS.

So hey, DS9 fans, more power to you. I have not come around to your fervent "DS9 IS THE BEST TREK SERIES AND ALL WHO DISAGREE ARE WRONG" beliefs. I get why you like it. But it doesn't animate me the way it does you. TNG will always be superior for me, as well Voyager, whick, while flawed, does a much better job of giving me characters like Paris and Torres that I can really empathize with.

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