Wednesday, April 3, 2013

DS9 Season 2 Recap

Introduction

Season 1 is mercifully a thing of the past. Season 2 bursts into full swing with an action extravaganza three-part episode. Can it sustain its momentum?
No! Don't make me watch Season 1 again! Anything but that!




Matthew's Thoughts

Well, this is definitely an improvement over a mostly forgettable Season One. With a few blips, I think this is because the show's writers and editors have settled on a more consistent theme and tone for the series, and that they've become a bit more ambitious in terms of storytelling. In a sense, DS9 sort of comes into its own in this season, differentiating itself from TNG instead of laboring as a poor imitation. We get one two-parter, and one three-parter, with no cliffhanger. This is definitely a departure from TNG.

The multi-part stories work to deepen the portrayal of this corner of the Trek universe, developing both Bajor and the Maquis. Beyond that, and I think this is a godsend to the series, the Cardassians are finally developed, both as a culture and as individual characters. "Cardassians" shows us Cardassian family values and Garak's morally gray machinations. "Necessary Evil" shows us Dukat in his prime as the administrator of Terok Nor. "Profit and Loss" shows us both a Cardassian woman, and the faces of dissenting Cardassians. "The Maquis" finally lets Dukat take center stage, and "The Wire" shows us the Obsidian Order and its disdain for Garak. And, I think most importantly for the portrayal of the culture, "Tribunal" shows us Cardassian justice and devotion to state. If these episodes had been replaced with middling dross like "Rivals" and "Melora," Season Two of DS9 would be a very different animal. This Cardassian focus achieves what Season One failed at - situating DS9 in a political and cultural context which feels not only real, but is actually interesting.

After a strong start to the season, I think the Bajorans come off a little less well in Season Two, as I found shows like "The Collaborator" to be snoozers. I wish DS9 had stuck with the action packed intrigue they gave the Bajorans in the opening three parter. I really think characters like General Krim and Minister Jaro should have been featured more, as opposed to a bunch of samey swishy robe-wearing types who are just hard to care about. The Vedek Bareil/Winn rivalry just wasn't all that interesting, though I freely admit that Winn will become more interesting as the series goes on.

Kevin's Thoughts

I certainly enjoyed season two more than season one. I think everyone, cast and crew, learned a lot from season one. Kira is never shouty, Dax is more relaxed and no longer trying to a Spock impersonation, etc. I also appreciate the multi-part storytelling, and by the end of the season, setting up a story meant to span the series, not just certain episodes. If nothing, the opening arc is a clear indicator they are trying to take the show in a different direction, and I really liked that when I first saw it. As good as TNG was and is, I think another seven seasons of the same wouldn't have been as satisfying.

The problem remains that the guest characters and the bartender and running circles around the main cast in terms of being interesting and able to anchor an episode. Once the show starts developing the pairs of friendships, like O'Brien/Bashir and Dax/Kira, this improves dramatically. TNG was more an ensemble show, especially in the emotional tenor the cast struck. They were one big family. DS9 will never have quite the same groove, so once they hone in on individual relationships, the stories about the main cast get much stronger.

I'll be honest, I got through first season and started watching the second, largely because it was more new Star Trek. Season two, for all its flaws left me genuinely interested in the forthcoming third season, and not just as a consolation prize for the now departed TNG.

Highlights

Matthew: For me, "Blood Oath" is exactly what can be right about DS9. It focuses on a main cast member (Dax) instead of a stunt guest star. It presents that cast member with a true ethical quandary. It weaves in past Trek continuity in such a way that it both honors the past as well as elaborates on an interesting "darker" theme: how far can a Federation citizen go when old debts come into play?

"Tribunal" is a lot of fun, and finally develops the Cardassian culture after a long period of doldrums. We got a good look at their culture through their judiciary, after a few hints here and there in the past two seasons. I really liked the Kafka-esque wringer that O'Brien was put through, and the character building for the O'Briens as a couple.

"The Maquis" two-parter was a coming out party of sorts for Gul Dukat. As I state above, I think proper utilization of the Cardassian recurring characters is one of the keys to this season being more enjoyable than the last. Dukat plays a key role in the plot, and he is by far the most interesting thing in any scene he populates.

"The Wire" spotlights Garak. Everything I said above applies here. But this episode focuses even more on Garak than The Maquis did on Dukat. It is anchored by an excellent performance by Andrew Robinson, and a surprisingly good turn for Siddig El Fadil as Dr. Bashir, too.

Kevin:

"Necessary Evil" is in the running for my favorite DS9 story, and may even be in my top ten for the franchise. It did such an awesome job of telling a noir story while using medium to tell me more about the characters and the history of the Occupation and then used that in turn to impact a current relationship. It really took what could have been "just" a fun noir-style episode and really gave it some narrative teeth.

I continue to really like the opening arc. The resolution is a little flat and there are some logic flaws within the coup attempt, but still, it's top notch acting and a novel storytelling style for the franchise, so I can't be too disappointed. I was really hooked waiting for the next two stories when I first watched, and I really enjoy watching it collectively now.

I'll throw in the two Quark episodes "Profit and Loss" and "Rules of Acquisition" as highlights, for while they only got 6s from us overall, they really showcased Armin Shimerman and his really unparalleled acting skills.

Lowlights

Matthew: "Crossover." Ugh. What a piece of crap. This episode suffers from all the sins that Season One shows like "Q-Less" did. Dumb stunt storytelling, cringe-worthy overacting, and an overall lack of story logic and sense. Why did this story need to be told? If you'r asking yourself this question by twenty minutes in, something is probably quite wrong.

"Rivals" is another story that harks back to Season One. By this I mean that it is a story that really doesn't have anything to do with DS9 per se, it could have been told in any series with minor alterations. But adding insult to injury is the frightfully dumb treatment of probability and "luck." The lack of a compelling visualization of the gambling devices is the doo-doo icing on a crap cake.

"Sanctuary" is an execrable piece of trash. I hate it. I hate the aliens, I hate the way the actors portrayed them, I hate their makeup, and I hate the fact that I watched this show all the way through again for this blog. It's an utter waste with no redeeming value. It's boring, it doesn't teach me a damned thing about the universe whether big or small, and it's annoying.

Kevin:

"Second Sight" makes my eyeballs bleed. The acting and the story are extremely weak and I end up not caring about any of it, and it was a total waste of awesome-voiced guest star Richard Kiley. You could have just put him in a room to sing something from Man of La Mancha and I probably would have been happy. Whenever I watch season 2 and I get to that episode, I not only skip it, I actively roll my eyes at its existence.

"The Alternate" is another episode like Rivals that just doesn't have an engaging story or engaging visuals and ends up the dramatic equivalent of what happens when you mix all the paint colors and you get that weird brown that will never be anything else no matter what you do to it. Rene Auberjonois and James Sloyan are incredible actors, but you need to give them something, anything to work with.

Statistics




Kevin: So, numerically, this season turns out a small amount better than Season 2 of TNG, which given that there was only a single 1 between the two of us, makes sense. I bet if you excise Shades of Grey, the numbers would be fairly identical. This feels similar in relative improvement to TNG's second season. There are a couple of AWESOME episodes, like Necessary Evil and Blood Oath, but still some clunkers. It's a an improvement, and a big one, over season 1.

Matthew: Indeed, minus "Shades of Gray," TNG Season 2 works out to a 6.333. I think, had it gone a few more episodes, even mediocre ones, instead of being strike shortened, a few more shows would have absorbed that bitter pill better. I do think there is a case to be made that the improvements are similar - finding tone and voice, with a few missteps lingering from the earlier season. But I also agree with your above statement - the main cast members just haven't achieved the easy charm of the TNG crew.

I think our numbers show a clear bump in the middle. The preponderance of 6 episodes really buoys the overall rating of the season. Your ratings are more generous as a whole, with mine just peeking above average. I just haven't really come to love the cast yet.

Conclusion

Kevin: I think it is safe to say the show has found its legs to a large extent. There are still some bad episodes, but they don't have the frequency or severity of the stinkers from the first season. Shows like Blood Oath, Necessary Evil, and the season opener and closer show that DS9 can do interesting, darker storytelling than the franchise has seen before, and my foreknowledge aside, I am really looking forward to Season 3.

Matthew: Season 2 had a big, mushy portion in its middle that just failed to satisfy. But it was book-ended by exciting, fresh ideas that really pushed the format heretofore established in the franchise. And since a narrative direction, any direction really, is a big improvement over Season 1, it's impossible to say this is anything but a solid improvement, and an encouraging portent of things to come.

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