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WARNING: This article has spoilers for the entire fourth season (and possibly seasons before) of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". Proceed at your own risk.

Whew. Here we go again. This review should look a lot like the other season-enders I've written in the past few years: an episode-by-episode summation first, and then some general commentary (which may prove lengthy). Without further ado, then...

I. DS9 Season 4, Episode by Episode

"The Way of the Warrior"
Written by: Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by: James L. Conway
Initial rating: 8
Quotables:
"Seems like everyone's got the Dominion on their minds these days." [interesting as a meta-line about the series, and because it's Kasidy Yates who says it ]
"That's what I like about you, Julian -- you're easily impressed."
"If it makes things any easier, think of me as a man -- I've been one, several times."
"The way I see it, we only have two choices, both of them bad."
"The Klingons have withdrawn from the Khitomer Accords. The peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingon Empire has ended."
"In other words, you [Dukat] saw which way the wind was blowing, and switched sides."
"Well, that should make the trip home a little more interesting."
"I find this whole procedure offensive." "And I find YOU offensive."
"It's vile!" "I know -- it's so bubbly, and cloying ... and happy." "Just like the Federation." [possibly my favorite line of the show]
"Doctor, if a Klingon were to kill me, I'd expect nothing less than an entire opera on the subject."
"I will KILL him!" "With what?"

And so, the roller-coaster ride begins. Apart from the fact that the episode felt very forced in its setup (a very sudden case of "look, the situation's changed" and "look, here's Worf to stay!" adds up to "look, we're retooling the show" in my book), most of the rest of the show worked fine. The Klingon motivations generally seemed
sound, and Worf's introduction was at least plausible. The second half of the show in particular was quite well done -- perhaps a little hard to swallow at times (the final battle being particularly bloodless), but solid. Enough little things were problems to keep this from being stellar, but it was a more than respectable beginning.

Final rating: 7.5.

"The Visitor"

Written by: Michael Taylor
Directed by: David Livingston
Initial rating: 10
Quotables:
"You are my favorite author of all time." "You should read more."
"There's only one first time for everything, isn't there? And only one last time, too."
"It's life, Jake -- you can miss it if you don't open your eyes."
"Time passes -- and they realize that the person they lost is really gone -- and they heal." "Is that what happened to you?" "... No ...I suppose not."
"I'm not a writer, yet." "Sounds like you're waiting for something to happen to turn you into one."
"You still have time to make a better life for yourself -- promise me you'll DO that!"
"To my father -- who's coming home."

Wow. This story was very simple, but very emotionally gripping -- I still get a lump in my throat during parts of it, no matter how many times I've seen it and how much I know what's to come. Everything, from Tony Todd's and Avery Brooks' performances, to the direction, to the powerful depiction of a love that's a little too strong for its own good, just works beautifully. This is in a two-way tie for the best of the season..

Final rating: 10.

"Hippocratic Oath"

Written by: Lisa Klink (teleplay); Nicholas Corea and Lisa Klink (story)
Directed by: Rene Auberjonois
Initial rating: 6.5
Quotables:
"So ... you wish Keiko ... was a man." "I wish I was on this trip with someone else, that's what I wish."
"Your escape plan was flawed." "Obviously -- I got caught."
"There -- you can bring me up on charges when we get back."
"You are a soldier?" "I have been." "Then you explain."
"Let's just say DS9 has more shades of grey."

"Hippocratic Oath" had a lot of strength in places, mainly the Bashir/O'Brien relationship and the strains put on it by a situation where neither party had the "right" answer. That core conflict had a great deal of power, and both Meaney and Siddig did a good job illuminating it. Unfortunately, the show also has a generally dull subplot involving Worf playing bull in Odo's china shop, and features fairly dull Jem'Hadar (now there's a redundant statement) as the people for Bashir and O'Brien to play off. It's still a nice show -- but it's one that could have been more.

Final rating: 6.

[Note: the next time we see the pair of them together, in "Little Green Men", they're still friendly, though perhaps not quite so buddy-buddy as they were previously.]

"Indiscretion"

Written by: Nicholas Corea (teleplay); Toni Marberry & Jack Trevino (story)
Directed by: LeVar Burton
Initial rating: 7
Quotables:
"Captain Sisko's right -- you are in love with the sound of your own voice."
"I know you find this hard to accept, but I believe that in some ways, the occupation actually helped Bajor." "Which part -- the massacres or the strip-mining?"
"It could've been worse -- he could've said 'it's a very big step.'"
"I mean, who knows more about women than me?" "Everyone."
"You'll need the command codes." "Standard Cardassian military codes from six years ago, right?" "Yes." "I got them from Bajoran intelligence before we left."

"Indiscretion" is another mixed bag that's generally good in the final analysis. There's the beginning of a new path and some new depth for Dukat, both of which are quite nice, and some rare (for this season) fire from Kira. On the other hand ... the Sisko/Yates subplot is mostly a waste of time (brought up only by looking at Yates' job change in light of later revelations, and by a great Sisko/Jake dialogue), and bits of the show move a bit too slowly. (That's not even mentioning the horrible "get this sand-spine outta my butt" scene with Dukat and Kira, which was just childish.) All in all, this was good -- but as with "Hippocratic Oath", it's not as good as it could
have been.

Final rating: 6.

[Note: wouldn't an easier and more believable threat from Kira have been simply that she'd expose Dukat's "indiscretion" herself? That leaves Dukat in a situation where there's no point to killing Ziyal.]

"Rejoined"

Written by: Ronald D. Moore & Rene Echevarria (teleplay); Rene Echevarria (story)
Directed by: Avery Brooks
Initial rating: 9
Quotables:
"It's a little more complicated than that, Quark." "I'm sure it is -- but to be honest I'm sorry I brought the whole thing up; it's giving me a headache."
"What did he do?" "He ... sort of set fire to it."
"I didn't come here to listen to a lecture about my responsibilities!" "You came here for advice from a friend, and that's exactly what you're getting!"
"That's the tricky part, isn't it? Living with the consequences."

"Rejoined" pleasantly surprised me when it first aired, and it pleasantly surprised me now. Far from the heavy-handed or exploitative lesbian "issue" story I was expecting, it was a surprisingly touching story about Dax and Lenara's unwillingness to let go of the past. (Between this and "The Visitor", that's a common theme early in the season.) Although there are a few problems here and there in the show, most notably in the technical logic used to set up the situation, the jeopardy, and to bring in Worf and Eddington for no particular reason other than getting their faces on the screen, things on the whole worked just fine. Avery Brooks did a particularly solid job in both acting and directing.

Final rating: 8.

[Note: lots of people have pointed out that Terry Farrell looked and was uncomfortable with the kiss she had to give Susanna Thompson. I can't really disagree that she seemed uncomfortable with it, but I'm not certain that that causes a problem with the show -- it was an uncomfortable situation.]

"Little Green Men"

Written by: Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe (teleplay); Toni Marberry & Jack Trevino (story)
Directed by: James L. Conway
Initial rating: 7
Quotables:
"I've always been smart, brother; I just lacked self-confidence."
"Father, have you ever heard of the Bell Riots?" [absolutely the single funniest in-joke I've heard from Trek in a decade]
" ... but we can't risk causing a panic." [spoken like every bad '50s movie military man]
"If they buy poison, they'll buy anything; I think I'm gonna like it here."
"... but the more we talk, the more you remind me of my brother-in-law."
"There's something about that female that I don't like. She's so ...cheerful."
"They're crude, gullible, and greedy." "You mean like you." "Yeah!"
"You mean your people are going to invade ... CLEVELAND?"
"We forced them to help us using our, uh ..." "Your insidious mind-control powers." "That's not bad."
"Vast alliance of planets ... you get the craziest ideas."

The true miracle of the early part of the season wasn't that "Rejoined" dodged a bullet -- it's that "Little Green Men" did. :-) Boy, it sounded like a stupid concept waiting to be a disaster -- and boy, was I surprised to find out that the show actually worked. It's one of the very few Trek comedies I've seen of late that grew funnier with
later viewings rather than more tiresome -- and that's high praise. Sure, there are still occasional annoying bits -- but this homage to bad '50s alien-invasion films just sparkled so much that I couldn't help enjoying myself.

Final rating: 7.5.

[Random question: we're told here that the Ferengi had to buy warp technology. I wonder from whom?]

"Starship Down"

Written by: David Mack & John J. Ordover
Directed by: Alexander Singer
Initial rating: 6
Quotables:
"I know, Chief. You've told me this story." "Oh, yeah? Well, unless you want to hear it again, you'd better get down to the torpedo bay and start working on those probes."
"It's funny ... a year ago, if you'd done something like this, I would have thought you were just trying to be a hero." "And now?" "Now that I know you better ... I realize it was just a really stupid thing to do."
"If you don't mind my saying, Julian, that's a very strange fantasy."
"Well, we'll worry about that tomorrow." "Yeah, that's easy for you to say -- it's your day off." "Don't count on it."

Yawn. "Starship Down", another "disaster" piece a la TNG's "Disaster" (or even "Battlestar Galactica"'s 'Fire in Space'), had to move way too many plot "inconveniences" out of the way to work -- having everyone on the Defiant, suddenly having Worf supplanting Kira as first officer, putting in an implausible Bashir/Dax rescue
sequence where no one realizes they're alive and no one later seems to care that they're alive, and so forth. Some of the strategizing was nice, and a look at engineering from the point of view of the "non-coms" was interesting as well -- but apart from that, there were only glimmers of interest around. "Starship Down" isn't bad ... but it's not really good, either.

Final rating: 5.

"The Sword of Kahless"

Written by: Hans Beimler (teleplay); Richard Danus (story)
Directed by: LeVar Burton
Initial rating: 9.5
Quotables:
"So we cut out his heart ... and all three of us feasted on it." "Big heart."
"Ah, Worf: the traitor! The pariah! The lowest of the low! Pleasure to meet you."
"What is it?" "Lunch."

Okay, so maybe the combination of a quest story and John Colicos made me a little giddy when the show first aired. :-) I still think it's a very solid show -- the initial quest to find the Sword was done with a reasonable amount of intelligence (leaving aside some nagging inconsistencies about Letheans and some questions about the forcefield), and the slow buildup of suspicion and megalomania after the Sword's recovery was extremely well done. There was nothing magical here -- just good, solid ambition getting out of hand. Even an ending that's a little too sweetness-and-light for its own good can't change that too much.

Final rating: 7.5.

"Our Man Bashir"

Written by: Ronald D. Moore (teleplay); Robert Gillan (story)
Directed by: Winrich Kolbe
Initial rating: 8
Quotables:
"A lot of kick for a '45 Dom."
"I think I joined the wrong intelligence service."
"I want you to stop treating this like a game where everything's going to turn out all right in the end. Real spies have to make hard choices. You want to save Dax; fine, but you may not have the luxury of saving everyone."
"Another decorator's nightmare. This era had a distinct lack of taste."
Bashir: "Diabolical." Noah: "Visionary." Us: "Oh, bullshit." :-)
"We'll need women like her to propagate the second human race."
"Try to stay cool, Mr. Bashir." [Ow; that's a bad pun even by my standards.]
"So what do we do now?" "I'm thinking." "Think faster."
"Is that your plan?" "Shut up."
"I must say, Doctor, this is more than I EVER wanted to know about your fantasy life."

... and Bashir's final stalling-for-time speech to Noah, mirroring Garak's. It's too long to reproduce here, but it's fabulous.

"Our Man Bashir", like "Little Green Men", had shades of self-parody and of parodying another genre, in this case Bond films. And once again, it worked fairly well. Garak was a bit too open about his time in the Order to suit me, and the kludge of getting five of the top people on the station on the same runabout was incredibly silly, but if you could get past the questionable logic and technobabble, the show was just a hell of a lot of fun. Bashir is a blast, Garak's wry observations are as amusing as ever, and very little else in the show actually
mattered. This one just worked.

Final rating: 7.5.

[Note: given later revelations, one wonders if Eddington could have had any ulterior motives in erasing the computer files.]

"Homefront"

Written by: Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by: David Livingston
Initial rating: 9
Quotables:
"Grandpa will not expect you to chop vegetables ... he'll want you to wait tables!"
O'Brien: "To Clive ... the best bloke ever to prang his kite into the Channel." Us, as Pythonically as possible: "Pardon me, sir, but I can't quite understand your banter."
"Forgive me for staring, but you're the first Changeling I've ever met." "That you know of."
"At my age, staying healthy is a full-time job, and I am too old to work two jobs!"
"We have rights, Ben -- including the right to be as stubborn and as thick-headed as we want."
"You can't go around making people prove they are who they say they are; it's no way to live."
"Benjamin Lafayette Sisko ... what the hell has gotten into your head?"
"This business has got you so twisted up, you can't think straight. You're seeing shapeshifters everywhere!"
"What you're asking me to do is impose martial law." "What I'm asking you to do is let us defend this planet."

Where "The Visitor" got me emotionally sucked into the Sisko/Jake relationship and its potential for great joy or great tragedy, "Homefront" is one of the very, very few shows of the season that really got me viscerally involved with the "big picture" of the Alpha Quadrant. The threats seemed real, the paranoia was real and
compelling, Sisko's relationship with his father gave everything the personal touch it needed to really come home to roost, and even the power blackout seemed okay at the time. The issue of liberty vs. security is an age-old one, and there's a reason it's so powerful. When it comes right down to it, "Homefront" got me passionate. 'nuff said. (Extra praise to Brock Peters for a phenomenal performance as Joseph Sisko.)

Final rating: 10.

"Paradise Lost"

Written by: Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe (teleplay); Ronald D. Moore (story)
Directed by: Reza Badiyi
Initial rating: 7
Quotables:
"He admitted to committing acts of treason against the Federation. If he was going to lie, I think he would have made up a better story."
"You're not O'Brien." "Luckily, no."
"We're smarter than solids -- we're better than you. And, most importantly, we do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it's your fear that will destroy you."
"Paradise has never seemed so well armed."
"You want to talk to me about loyalty? After you broke your oath to the Federation? Lied to the people of Earth? Ordered one of your own starships to fire on another? You don't have the right."
"Don't you see, Admiral -- you're fighting the WRONG WAR!"

Ouch. Where "Homefront" left me passionate, "Paradise Lost" left me angry. It wasn't the abrupt shift of focus or the sudden way that Joseph Sisko became a friendly pod person that did it, though they didn't help. No, what left me absolutely furious was the fact that, after two hours of watching a well-organized coup try to take over Earth and the Federation from within, things returned to normal without even a blip. Apparently, Earth and the Federation are so perfect that they trust Starfleet implicitly even after a subset of it has betrayed their trust; and if so, they're not humans I know or can relate to. Real people don't take well to betrayal -- and no amount of solid performance from Avery Brooks, Robert Foxworth or anyone else can make the episode avoiding being seen as fundamentally shallow after that.

Final rating: 6.

[Note: the cadet Sisko gets information out of is named Aldrin Shepard. Very cute.]

"Crossfire"

Written by: Rene Echevarria
Directed by: Les Landau
Initial rating: 5
Quotables: "You could hear that?" "Hel-LO?"
"Maybe he just wants to see you in your dress uniform; it does show off your figure." [from Bashir to O'Brien, which is the only reason it's funny]
"I'm just trying to keep to the essentials, Major."

"Crossfire"'s main saving grace was that it put an end (I hope) to the running Odo/Kira soap opera we've been subjected to for a year. Apart from that, there wasn't much there -- we got a nice summation of Odo's opinions about the Federation (always believing they're right), and a nice rescue sequence after Odo shirked his duties.
However, just about everyone in the show from Kira to Dax to Shakaar to Odo was too adolescent in their attitudes, Worf's involvement in security was odd (given that he's supposed to be involved in bigger things and that he's already screwed up one security role here), Shakaar is far more bland than he was in his debut, and, like "Life Support" last year, an important step forward in Bajor's history (in this case, the timetable for Federation membership) is used as an off-camera sidebar. No, thanks.

Final rating: 4.

[Note: Does anyone wonder how the "True Way" assassin intended to sabotage the turbolift? Imitating Worf's voice only makes sense if you actually have the command codes or expect Odo to falter in his duties.]

"Return to Grace"

Written by: Hans Beimler (teleplay); Tom Benko (story)
Directed by: Jonathan West
Initial rating: 8
Quotables: "Now, may I take your bags ... please?"
"It would seem we're not ... worth destroying."
"... but when I look at my father, I have a hard time seeing a murderer." "And when I look at him, I have a hard time seeing anything else."

"Return to Grace" was interesting for a number of reasons, the evolution of Dukat from villain to "freedom fighter" being chief among them. (Given the events of "Sons of Mogh", the implication that Dukat may be following false leads is also very interesting, looking back.) Both Dukat and Ziyal were used to good effect here, and most of the plotting was well worth the trip. The only significant negative here was Kira -- she gives in to Dukat's various wishes all too easily, is again put in humiliating situations (not so much the inoculations at the start so much as the explanation that she was "tricked" into going to this conference by pillow-talk pleadings from Shakaar to go), and generally seems far more wishy-washy than I'd like. (Her opinion of her past among the resistance, however, is used to very good effect.)

Final rating: 7.

"Sons of Mogh"

Written by: Ronald D. Moore
Directed by: David Livingston
Initial rating: 7
Quotables:
"Tell me, Worf -- does Starfleet ever make mistakes, even in their furniture?"
"There is a limit to how far I'll go to accommodate cultural diversity among my officers, and you just reached it."
"This is all I have." "Is that enough?" "It will have to be."
"I have no family."

"Sons of Mogh" doesn't age all that well, being another in the line of "is Worf of the Federation or of the Empire in his heart?" stories that we've been seeing as far back as TNG's first-season "Heart of Glory". There are some solid ideas in it surrounding Kurn, Tony Todd's performance is quite strong (not as good as in "The Visitor", but that's tough to top), and Worf's final (I hope) realization that he will never really have a place in the Empire could be a significant turning point. That's enough to make a generally solid show -- but a general sense of "been there, done that", some odd plotting (such as Klingons on a secret mission being willing to accept Federation aid), and a mischaracterized ending (as powerful as Kurn's mindwipe is, Bashir should not have been so willing to do it) all undercut the show quite a bit.

Final rating: 5.5.

[Note: Worf's quarters are mentioned here as "comfortable". That seems odd -- most officers tend to redecorate their quarters according to taste. However, this does set up Worf's move to the Defiant in the
next episode quite nicely.]

"Bar Association"

Written by: Robert Hewitt Wolfe & Ira Steven Behr (teleplay); Barbara J. Lee & Jenifer A. Lee (story)
Directed by: LeVar Burton
Initial rating: 3
Quotables: "This never happened on the Enterprise." "Really?"
"Oh, I'm perfectly healthy -- except I've got a disgusting cyst on the back of my neck. Now, either I paint a nose, eyes, and mouth on it and pretend I've got two heads, or you take it off." "Well, I'll get you some paint." "Julian..."
"Do you know how much latinum that is?" "A lot." "That's right." "I'll talk to my brother." "I'm glad we're in agreement."

Yuk. I was raked over the coals when I originally slammed "Bar Association". I was told that I was overlooking significant character growth in Rom, among other things. Well, I went back over the episode looking for it -- and while Rom has had some remarkable progress, it's not nearly enough to save a horribly unfunny episode
from itself. A few moments shone here and there -- Nausicaans playing darts using themselves as targets and O'Brien getting into a bar brawl with Worf, for two -- but the use of Yet Another Heretofore Unknown Bajoran Holiday, Ferengi masturbation humor, Rom quoting Karl Marx rather than the more appropriate Chico, and
Brunt's useless threats really made this painful to watch again.

Final rating: 3.5.

"Accession"

Written by: Jane Espenson
Directed by: Les Landau
Initial rating: 10
Quotables:
"Who are we to dismantle this piece of art?" "I don't know -- but if we don't, Keiko will dismantle ME."
"It's just hard getting used to being a religious icon."
"I'm just a Starfleet officer again. All I have to worry about are the Klingons, the Dominion, and the Maquis. It feels like I'm on vacation."
"Did you hear? Keiko's going to have another baby!" "NOW?"
"That's the thing about faith -- if you don't have it you can't understand it, and if you do ... no explanation is necessary."
"Your pagh is strong. I see now why Kai Opaka believed you were the Emissary -- and why Winn fears you."
"Know you? How can I know someone who doesn't know himself?"
"He is the Sisko."
"We are of Bajor." (and later) "YOU are of Bajor."
"I want you to have this; it's an original Kira Nerys. Could be very valuable someday." "I hear she didn't make many."

Except for the fact that the show's a bit rushed (it would have been better as a two-parter), and that the idea of the d'jarras was something I wish we'd heard about before, this one's just about flawless. It builds on both the past and itself, it cuts to the heart of Sisko's dilemma where Bajor is concerned, it uses Kira to good effect as a portrait of Bajor's reaction to Akorem Laan, it puts Sisko's Orb experience and the Prophets to excellent use, and even the O'Brien/Keiko fluff storylet is generally funny. "The Visitor" may be Hugo-nominated, but "Accession" is the sort of show I watchS9 for even more.

Final rating: 10.

"Rules of Engagement"

Written by: Ronald D. Moore (teleplay); Bradley Thompson & David Weddle (story)
Directed by: LeVar Burton
Initial rating: 4
Quotables:
"I should not have accepted the mission." "I'm glad you realize that."
"You made a military decision to protect your ship and crew -- but you're a Starfleet officer, Worf. We don't put civilians at risk or even potentially at risk to save ourselves. Sometimes that means we lose the battle, and sometimes our lives -- but if you can't make that choice, then you can't wear that uniform."
"Life is a great deal more complicated in this red uniform." "Wait 'til you get four pips on that collar -- you'll wish you had gone into botany."

It's no accident that everything I quoted above is from the final scene of the episode, as that's about all of "Rules of Engagement" worth hanging on to. Apart from a good performance from Colm Meaney (as usual), and some nice directorial techniques in the flashbacks, the Sisko/Worf scene at the very end is the only bright spot in a show with a horribly contrived plot, lousy mustache-twirling acting from Ron Canada, a judge who is even worse controlling a courtroom than most TV judges, and the villain boasting of his plans so openly that his case should have been laughed out of court. No, thank you.

Final rating: 3.

[Note: one does tend to wonder why O'Brien would have taken command if Worf had been injured. What about Kira?]

"Hard Time"

Written by: Robert Hewitt Wolfe (teleplay); Daniel Keys Moran & Lynn Barker (story)
Directed by: Alexander Singer
Initial rating: 10
Quotables: "It's real to me, Major ... it's real to me."
"I was alone ... [scene proving he wasn't] ... completely alone."
"If you ask me, he's the one with the problem."
"Discipline THIS!"
"It's a treatment, not a cure."
"When we were growing up, they used to tell us humanity had evolved -- that mankind had outgrown hate and rage. But when it came down to it -- when I had the chance to show that no matter what anyone did to me, I was still an evolved human being -- I failed. I repaid kindness with blood. I was no better than an animal."
"The Argrathi did everything they could to strip you of your humanity -- and in the end, for one brief moment, they succeeded. But you can't let that brief moment define your entire life. If you do -- if you pull that trigger -- then the Argrathi will have won. They will have destroyed a good man. You cannot let that happen, my friend."

Whew. About the only criticism I have here is in the "might-have-been" territory. I've seen some of D. K. Moran's original outline for the story, and there are some scenes in there I would have loved to see filmed. (There are also other elements I consider improvements, though.) "Hard Time" as is, though, is a superlative piece of work: gripping, painful, with no easy answers, and with some of the best acting the show's ever had. Everything from the nuanced beginnings to the intense ending just works beautifully. This one's in a tie with
"The Visitor" for the best of the season.

Final rating: 10.

[Some of those elements I wish I'd seen? Well, O'Brien breaking down into tears while playing darts, saying "they never let me have anything sharp", for one. There are certainly others, but they'd take too long to explain.]

"Shattered Mirror"

Written by: Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
Directed by: James L. Conway
Initial rating: 8
Quotables:
Sisko: "This is the woman I told you about -- the one I met in the parallel universe." Us: "You think he uses that line a lot?" :-)
"Captain Bashir, Captain O'Brien, Captain Sisko -- we may not have enough troops, or ships, or weapons, but we have plenty of captains."
"You are attempting to shift the blame away from yourself!" "Am I succeeding?"
"There's a difference between interrogation and torture!" "The Alliance never made that distinction." "But you should."
"At least I was able to please her now and then." "You ... are not my type."
"So what am I supposed to do with these torpedoes?" "I have a few ideas."
"Ah ... pattern suicide."
"Captain, you never cease to amaze me." "Sometimes I even surprise myself."
"And while you dispose of the Intendant, I will dispose of the rebels. Make it so!"

Another year, another trip to the mirror universe. While "Shattered Mirror" was certainly entertaining in spots, the most significant thing it did for me was whet my appetite for the theatrical re-release of "Star Wars", where I can see the inspiration for a lot of the quotes listed above. :-) A lot of the Jake angle was nice, and Garak was much improved from the boring thug he was in "Through the Looking Glass" last year -- but apart from that, it's another excuse for well-done battle sequences and for the actors to have fun playing against type. Certainly not bad -- but not overly deep, either.

Final rating: 6.

[Note: am I the only one who wondered what the regular DS9 staff did while Sisko was gone for four days?]

[Note #2: after Bashir punching Sisko and Dax slapping Sisko, I started hearing paraphrases of a quote from Woody Allen's "Love and Death": "Hey, what is this, Slap Benjamin Day?"]

[Note #3: if we see a fourth trip to the mirror-universe, I think one of the only workable approaches would be for the rebellion's success to start reminding Sisko about the Terran Empire. Full circle, and all that.]

"The Muse"

Written by: Rene Echevarria (teleplay); Rene Echevarria & Majel Barrett Roddenberry (story)
Directed by: David Livingston
Initial rating: 4.5
Quotables: "I think that's Lwaxana's husband." "Good of him to come."
"The dialogue is sharp, the story's involving, the characters are real... the spelling's terrible."

Oy. Let's see, on the one hand we've got a contrived plot surrounding Lwaxana and Odo, helped only by the fact that the Odo/Lwaxana friendship has at least hints of realism from time to time. (Does anyone wonder why Odo didn't just send her to Bajor? She'd be safe there.) On the other hand, we've got a creativity-sucking vampire attaching herself to Jake and speaking in a voice so sultry you'd think she was Jessica Rabbit. I can't say I'm too impressed either way -- and that's a shame, as the Jake angle could have been really interesting. In the end, that episode made the same mistake as TNG's "The Bonding": the obsession was artificial. If
Jake had come upon some dangerous technique himself and decided to try it, there could have been real meat here -- but as it is, all we got at the end was a nice back-reference to "The Visitor". Sorry, but that's not enough.

Final reference: 3.5.

[Note: It is, however, worth noticing that Sisko seems a little less ...clinging ... to Jake than he was in the past. That could be interpreted as a result of the events of "The Visitor", or potentially it's just an acknowledgment that Jake's growing up.]

"For the Cause"

Written by: Ronald D. Moore (teleplay); Mark Gehred O'Connell (story)
Directed by: James L. Conway
Initial rating: 9
Quotables:
"I am a Starfleet officer -- the paragon of virtue." "You're more like a parody of virtue."
"I would not become a terrorist -- it would be dishonorable." "I wouldn't say that around Major Kira if I were you."
"I do my job, Chief. Starfleet says to find the Maquis, I'll find them; they tell me to help them, I'll help them. What matters to me is doing my job like a Starfleet officer. Anything else ... is an indulgence."
"Paranoid is what they call people who imagine threats against their life; I have threats against my life."
... and Eddington's main speech to Sisko, which I'm including just because it's so marvelous:

"Open your eyes, Captain -- why is the Federation so obsessed with the Maquis? We've never harmed you -- and yet we're constantly arrested and charged with terrorism. Starships chase us through the Badlands, and our supporters are harassed and ridiculed. WHY? Because we've left the Federation -- and that's the one
thing you can't accept. Nobody leaves Paradise -- everyone should want to be in the Federation. Hell, you even want the Cardassians to join; you're only sending them replicators because one day, they can take their rightful place on the Federation Council. You know, in some ways, you're even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious; you assimilate people, and they don't even know it."

[Sisko's return speech is good as well, but not as good.]

"For the Cause", like "Accession", typifies the sort of DS9 that I really think plays to the strength of the series. It's a show with no real villain -- just differing mindsets and a willingness to challenge assumptions. It's a show that does an expert job of suckering the viewer (at least, I sure was). It's a show that gives people hard choices without an easy "cheat" out. It's a show that sparks a lot more debate than "how can the villains be defeated this time?", and that's what I like. Only a somewhat flat performance from Penny Johnson and an iffy subplot surrounding Garak and Ziyal (isn't she a tad young for him?) keep this one from being top-notch.

Final rating: 9.5.

[Note: Does anyone else think that Kenneth Marshall (Eddington) bears a strong resemblance to Keir Dullea, aka Dave Bowman from "2001: A Space Odyssey"?]

"To the Death"

Written by: Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by: LeVar Burton
Initial rating: 7
Quotables:
"There's a lot of things about this mission that bother me -- but lying to the Jem'Hadar is not at the top of my list."
"There'll be a joint briefing session at 1900 hours." "Followed by a get-to-know-you buffet at 1930." "And I forgot my dress uniform."
"It is not for us to accuse a god of betraying heaven."
"You're lying -- and you're not very good at it."
"I didn't know that was public knowledge." "You told Commander Dax."
"I am Chief Miles Edward O'Brien; I'm very much alive, and I intend to stay that way."

"To the Death", on the other hand, seems more like the kind of episode we've seen a lot of this year. There are clear-cut villains (though there's a "hero must team with villain A to destroy villain B" component), not a lot of hard choices (since Omet'iklan's threat against Sisko was rescinded), station damage that seems to magically
reset itself, and lots of argument and action. As such ... well, it was pleasant enough, but a steady diet of near-bloodless violence isn't really my thing. (There's also some questionable logic -- I have difficulty with the tiny number of casualties Our Heroes took, and I really wonder how the renegade Jem'Hadar planned to manage their rebellion without a supply of white.)

Final rating: 6.

"The Quickening"

Written by: Naren Shankar
Directed by: Rene Auberjonois
Initial rating: 7
Quotables: "I thought you were a healer." "I am -- I take away pain."
"... and I was so arrogant, I thought I could find [a cure] in a week." "Maybe it was arrogant to think that -- but it's even more arrogant to think there isn't a cure just because YOU couldn't find it."

"The Quickening" was another solid outing. I still think some of the biology is questionable (artificially created virus or not, having the "EM fields from our instruments" create an effect which strikes everyone at the same time regardless of exposure and which causes everyone the same problems is just silly with a capital Silly), and there are a few other things that annoy me (such as the plot kludge of three major DS9 officers in a light mapping mission in the Gamma Quadrant, and the overemphasis on Bashir's "doctorese"). On the whole, though, this was a show that took Bashir to hell and back, and one that also managed not to have a real villain of the piece. The populace's reactions were reasonable, Bashir's comeuppance was expected and superb, the solution was okay, and we always knew Bashir had a teddy-bear someplace. :-)

Final rating: 8.

[Note: this is one of several shows that takes quite a while (in this case, over 3 weeks) to happen, others being "Accession" and "Hard Time".] I imagine there's still enough time to let the whole season fit in a year, but it's nice to see some longer-term stuff now and then.

"Body Parts"

Written by: Hans Beimler (teleplay); Louis P. DeSantis & Robert J. Bolivar (story)
Directed by: Avery Brooks
Initial rating: 6
Quotables:
"Maybe I wasn't clear: I'm not dying." "Maybe I wasn't clear: I don't care."
"You weren't always a tailor." "You're right -- I used to be a gardener. Now, if you have something you want weeded, just let me know."
"DON'T quote Rules of Acquisition to me!" [I've always wanted to say that...]
"Would you buy a book called Suggestions of Acquisition?" [...] "You mean it was a marketing ploy?"
"How am I? I'm broke ... ruined ... destitute ... a pariah. How're things with you?" "Not bad." "Glad to hear it."

Under the category of "will miracles never cease", we have here a Ferengi episode that actually manages to be (a) funny, and (b) possessed of some real dramatic merit. Quark actually had a real problem that he couldn't squirm or grovel his way out of, and that's a very good thing. The two main things that got in the way of the show were the Kira/Keiko/Miles "baby-swapping" plot, which continued to turn Kira into a shadow of her former self, and the ending of the Quark plot, which suggests that Quark's difficult decision to separate himself from Ferengi society is going to be ignored as often and as strongly as possible by future stories. Tends to undercut the sacrifice when it's not "real", yes?

Final rating: 5.5.

"Broken Link"

Written by: Robert Hewitt Wolfe & Ira Steven Behr (teleplay); George A. Brozak (story)
Directed by: Les Landau (?? uncredited)
Initial rating: 7
Quotables:
"The next time you call me, it had better be to report a crime."
"If there's one thing Cardassians excel at, it's conversation."
"I guess it's just being in the room with so many naked men."
"They're dead. You're dead. Cardassia is dead. Your people were doomed the moment they attacked us. I believe that answers your question."

"Broken Link" was a mixed bag, but a generally positive one when all is said and done. While I still find the "revelation" about Gowron a needless and counterproductive one (it's turned Alpha Quadrant politics into another Changeling plot, and has at least made the reset button a possibility), the Odo side of things worked very well, from his initial desire to carry on no matter what his condition through to his acceptance of "justice" and feelings of loss about his newly-understood kin. There were a lot of little things wrong with the show (both Aroya scenes, a number of jarringly light moments in the middle of a grim show, too many people on the Defiant, and a woefully unnecessary if not insulting action sequence with Worf and Garak), but they're minor wounds, not gashes.

Final rating: 7.

Whew. That would seem to cover that. For those interested in the statistical side of things, that gives a mean of 6.8 for the season -- well above season 3 (6.3), but a bit below the first two seasons (7 and 7.5, respectively). For those interested in more general commentary, look below.

II. DS9 Season 4 -- General Commentary

It's taken me a while to write this particular review -- much of it certainly due to real-world constraints, but some of it because it took me a lot of time to get my thoughts on this season in order. This has probably been among the most contested seasons I've seen in Trek history. There is a substantial contingent of fandom saying that season 4 of DS9 is not only the best DS9's ever had, but among the best Trek's ever had -- and there is also a substantial contingent of fandom saying that season 4 of DS9 is an unwatchable travesty,
having betrayed everything that made the show worth watching in the first place.

In my opinion (such as it is), the truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.

On one level -- yes, this has been a strong season, absolutely. I've never given a season of DS9 this many 10's before (though season 2 had twice as many "9 or above" shows as season 4 did). "The Visitor" and "Hard Time" were two of the most emotionally gripping shows I've seen come out of Trek in a while, with "Accession", "For the Cause", and "Homefront" right behind. What's more, even the weak shows weren't absolutely terrible the way "Melora" or "Meridian" or "Fascination" have been -- while a 3 is certainly pretty unpleasant, it's not unwatchable. So on the level of individual shows, I think I have to agree that DS9 has had a very strong season.

However ...

It should be obvious to all that "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" is not the same show in season 4 as it was in seasons 1 and 2. The focus has almost completely shifted, and the sorts of stories DS9 is telling now generally bear little relation to the sorts of stories it used to tell.

This is not, in and of itself, a problem; however, what is a problem is that I don't think DS9 is playing to its strengths any more.

I said back in season 1 that DS9 was uniquely suited to show the long-term relationship between the Federation and one planet -- Bajor -- and to delve into the politics and culture of a single world in a way
that Star Trek had never done before. That is still true -- and shows like "Accession" make it very clear to me that the ability's still there to tell stories like that.

But "Accession" is now the exception, not the rule. Nearly half the shows this season were centered around Worf, the Klingons, or the Dominion. Bajor and its relationship with the Federation or with Cardassia is a comparatively minor focus -- at best, you could argue that it was covered in four shows, and that's counting both "Indiscretion" and "Return to Grace" as Bajor shows, something which I'm not sure is justified. What's more, one of the other two shows, "Crossfire", is first and foremost a story about Odo pining for Kira, with any hint of Bajoran politics or Bajoran/Federation relations relegated very sternly to the background. That's a track record similar to DS9's third season, where only four shows had Bajor as a focus: "Life Support", which was horribly mischaracterized and which used the Bajoran/Cardassian peace treaty as a background subplot, "Destiny", "Explorers" (where Bajor isn't the main focus, but is an issue), and "Shakaar".

So, is a Klingon/Dominion focus a problem?

I think so, and it's taken me a while to figure out why (apart from "I just like Bajor better", that is :-) ).

In times past, DS9 was a portrait of the Federation from an outside view -- it was building the Federation along the borders. As such, questions arose like "is the Federation really worth joining?", "Why is the Federation so long-lasting and stable?", "Are the Federation's values always best?", and so forth. Those questions are questions that could just as easily be asked of any relatively stable culture -- be it Federation, be it Klingon ... or be it any number of current civilizations on this planet. Those are interesting questions -- questions you'll never really get to the end of. There's material there to think about, to mull over, and to debate.

The Maquis only added to that. When part of the Federation disagrees with the Federation enough to break away, that should add to soul-searching questions about the Federation Way: is it really serving everyone, or just a fortunate few? I said back when "For the Cause" aired that I've always liked the Maquis; after looking back on this season, I was downright cheering Eddington's speech to Sisko at the close of the episode.

Now? Well, the material with the Dominion's machinations and Klingon/Federation tensions is exciting enough in its own way -- but in playing this massive game of "pile on the Federation", the questions I mentioned above start to fade away. In its place is a combination of "will this straw be the last one?" and "how can the bad guys be defeated this time?" Both of those questions, while entertaining in the short term, don't have the same sort of long-term ability to make you think that the earlier ones did. It's sort of like the difference between (as films) "Jurassic Park" and "Blade Runner": the former's a wild ride, but the latter leaves you with questions that don't always have easy answers.

Now, given that "Jurassic Park" made more money in its run than some countries do in a year, a "Jurassic Park" thrill-ride effect may be what the DS9 staff is aiming for these days. If so, I have to commend them; they've pulled it off and it seems to be working well. I, however, will miss the days of the more interesting questions.

This isn't helped by the fact that I really don't find the Founders or the Jem'Hadar particularly interesting. The Founders' motivations were given once, in about a sentence -- but frankly, I found them less than believable at the time and still do. That already just turns them into Bad Guys [tm] rather than anything more interesting. What's more, their shapeshifting abilities, while visually impressive and strategically formidable, have made them not only Bad Guys, but Nigh-Invincible Bad Guys. When that happens, the only interesting thing about them is going to be finding their weak points. I've seen that once in Trek, with the Borg; I'm seeing it in "Babylon 5" with the Shadows; if I'm going to see it yet again, the process needs to be interesting. So far, the only weakness we've heard (that they don't have as much control over the Jem'Hadar as we thought) wasn't
interestingly presented -- it was just told to us outright by Weyoun. The Jem'Hadar are even less interesting to me; they're the Bad Guys' Thug Henchmen, and that's about all they are. That makes them difficult to build an episode around -- I mean, I liked Oddjob in "Goldfinger" just fine, but I wouldn't want an entire story devoted to
him. :-) Granted, "Hippocratic Oath" and "To the Death" were improvements over "The Abandoned" last season, but they've still got a ways to go if they're going to be interesting.

There are some other things about this season that have left me strangely ambivalent. On the one hand, as I've said, there have been some marvelous stories that have grown from the strengths of the characters: had the Sisko/Jake relationship not been illustrated over the past three years as well as it has, "The Visitor", while still good, wouldn't have been quite so wonderful -- and "Accession" was a fantastic way to showcase Sisko's divided role in the eyes of the Bajoran people. The show has managed, at long last, to bring in a humorous side without getting insultingly dumb about it -- "Little Green Men" and "Our Man Bashir" were both very pleasant surprises. Some characters have managed to change in ways that are quite interesting, Gul Dukat chief among them. Other characters have gone through things that would shatter lesser individuals -- Dax in
"Rejoined", O'Brien in "Hard Time", Quark in "Body Parts", Odo in "Broken Link", Sisko in "For the Cause" and "The Visitor", Bashir in "The Quickening", Worf virtually all season, but particularly in "The Way of the Warrior" and "Sons of Mogh" ... and so forth. That's not solely cause for rejoicing, though.

It's not solely cause for rejoicing because things rarely if ever seem to come from those events. Dax is prepared to defy her society for a forbidden romance, only to be jilted at the last minute? Unfortunately,
that seemed to evaporate: nowadays, she's being heavily set up for a possible romance with Worf. Worf, in "Sons of Mogh", not only loses his brother, but also realizes/convinces himself that there really is no place for him among other Klingons, regardless of the political situation: but come "Rules of Engagement", there's no mention of Kurn, and no indication that he's trying to be anything but your standard Klingon warrior type. O'Brien has to deal with a horrible secret in "Hard Time" -- but after the episode, there's not a trace of it. O'Brien and Bashir have a major falling out in "Hippocratic Oath" -- but the next time we see them together, they're friendly. Quark loses his bar and his ties to Ferenginar in "Body Parts" -- but in "Broken Link", he's plotting with Pinky again to rule the world (or something like that).

None of these things is fatal in itself -- and some of them, like "Hard Time", may be stretching the point. (Given that "Hard Time" spent a full hour of screen time and three weeks of "station time" showing O'Brien starting to deal with it, I'm hard pressed to fault it for too much.) However, each time some momentous event happens to a character and is later ignored, the show's long-term credibility takes a nick. Those nicks haven't added up to a gush yet the way they did with "Voyager", by any means -- but they're there, and they're growing. It's a case of The Series that Cried Wolf: after you've been burned enough times, you get wary of future shows which promise Big Events. (Or, as I put it in mail to someone once: "When they drop the ball 90% of the time, is it any wonder people get leery of Hail-Mary shows?)

"Paradise Lost" is another example of this -- one that's plot-based rather than character-based. In the two-parter which "Paradise Lost" ended, Earth was inches away from falling before a military coup which could embroil the Federation in a civil war. A faction within Starfleet, the Federation's own defense force, was prepared to topple the Federation to "protect" it from the Dominion. It seems to me that such a plot should force hard questions on Earth and within the Federation: is Starfleet too powerful? Should someone be watching over it? Can someone be watching it? Should the wormhole be closed down to avoid any further paranoia? Should the Federation become isolationist, or at least pull back?

These are logical questions coming out of a story like "Paradise Lost". Instead, what happened after the plot was revealed? Joseph Sisko clucked at Ben about being a mother hen, Odo said "he means well", and apart from a few words saying "yes, we're still concerned about Changelings, but they won't destroy us this way", there is no indication that anyone's concerned about what just happened. Half a season later, there's still nothing. The "Pandora's box" that Leyton said he and Sisko were opening apparently contained three gum
wrappers and a baseball card.

Characterization has been an equally double-edged sword. On one level, everything seems more vibrant: Sisko is much more active than he used to be, Dax is much more free and open, Worf is ... well, Worf, and so on. On the other hand, that renewed emphasis on the surface mannerisms has, I think, led to a much reduced emphasis on any depths the characters have. Dax doesn't seem conflicted by her double life; she's too busy reveling in being "a beautiful young woman", in her words. Garak is no longer a figure of mystery: on the contrary, he's only cryptic when asked to be in order to "entertain" Odo. Odo, far from having the dark side of his passion for justice that was evident in places like season 2's "The Wire", is nowadays primarily a crusty ol' shapeshifter with a thing for Kira.

And Kira ... well, Kira's been the only character to get really short-changed by the revamped focus of the show. She used to be my absolute favorite female character on Trek in any form -- fiery, convinced she's right, passionate about her causes, and with little to no pretension. Now? She's not in any position of authority on the Defiant any more; apart from a verbal blast or two, she has no reaction to Dukat's claims about Bajor and Shakaar; she grins and giggles more this year than she has in the entire three previous years put together; and she sneezes uncontrollably. Kira is the one person I really think has been clearly and unequivocally hurt this season: she's a shell of what she was, and not one I care for. (Apart from "Accession", every single Kira-heavy episode featured at least one person with a serious romantic interest in her. This isn't a strong
female character; this is an attachment for other characters.) I saw signs of it in "The Way of the Warrior", and it shone clear through to "Broken Link". Not a good sign.

All in all, then, it's not surprising that season 4 of DS9 has been so controversial. It's changed its focus so much that it's certainly picked up new fans, and just as certainly lost some old ones. In the confines of each 60-minute show, it's usually good and sometimes tremendous. But in the longer term, this approach may not have the staying power that DS9's original focus did.

Did I enjoy this season? You betcha.

Will I keep watching next season? Happily.

Do I feel that this is the best Trek ever? Not even close.

Enjoy the rest of the summer reruns; hailing frequencies closed. :-)

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu <*>
"That's the tricky part, isn't it? Living with the consequences."
-- Dax, "Rejoined"

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