WARNING: This review contains spoiler information regarding DS9's third season premiere, "The Search, Part I". If you haven't seen the show and don't want information about it, don't read any further.
In brief: well, not bad, but lots of causes for concern about DS9's much-touted new direction.
First, a change from the old review style. I had piles of people last year asking me to please include some sort of summary to help them remember which episode I was even talking about. Far be it from me to refuse such
stout-hearted pleas :-), so from now on I'll include a one or two sentence blurb before going on to the review proper. So, onwards...
Sisko and the DS9 crew take a new ship, the Defiant, into the Gamma Quadrant to search for the Founders, legendary leaders of the Dominion.
On the surface, there's a fair bit to like about part one of "The Search". Much of the dialogue was snappy, the looming threat of the Dominion was very real, and there was enough action to satisfy most fans. Some of my students have been singing the praises of the show to me all week, using such justifications as "didja seen the GUNS on the Defiant?" and "what could be better than Odo's race?". As a tool to draw people in, then, "The Search" is working beautifully.
Digging deeper, though, I'm worried -- and I wonder if DS9 has altered itself to its own detriment over the season break.
While I'll admit that my main fondness in DS9 stories is "political" stories such as "Duet" and the opening trilogy from last season, some of DS9's core strengths are in its character interactions. In particular, DS9 has broken with Trek tradition (at least current Trek tradition) in dealing with characters who (a) don't have to like each other, and (b) can have dark sides [Odo, in particular, was shown to have a beaut last year].
Given these strengths, then, I almost wonder if the staff didn't fall prey to the fallacy of "if some is good, then more must be even better". Consider this:
Before, we had tension between characters at times. Great. Now, we get people shouting at each other and virtually no one getting along.
Before, Odo had a dark side. Now, he's kidnapping people and acting as though he's in a hormone-induced rage.
Neither one of these particularly appeals to me, I'm afraid, and I'm a little concerned that it may be a harbinger of times to come. Time will tell, of course.
Back to "The Search", itself, however, much of it was good. I did very much like the idea of taking a ship in to take the crisis to the Founders. Slim chance or none, it is more sensible than waiting to be overrun, and also
gives the characters something to do with all the nervous energy they'd otherwise use in insulting Quark. :-) The use of the Defiant is also sensible; I'm not surprised that the Feds had something left over from their Borg preparations looking for a use.
While the Defiant itself makes sense, though, I don't see the logic in having Sisko and the rest of the crew run it. I can see Sisko perhaps using it for this one mission, and taking some of the regular station crew with him -- but taking all of them (even if Odo had to be "invited" through a side entrance) goes well beyond the absurd. Suppose the Jem'Hadar launch an invasion while the Defiant is on a wild goose chase. The station could use
some strong defenses then -- so who's left to run them?
Slapping everyone onto the Defiant simply reeked of setup. Sisko makes sense. O'Brien I can see for technical reasons, and Quark was justified on screen (in a swooningly funny scene, too) -- but everyone else isn't needed. Bashir in particular is utterly unnecessary; this is a SUICIDE mission, and everyone knows it. Given that sickbay is virtually nonexistent anyway, you certainly don't need the CMO of the large and well-populated station.
I also think that we'll need some justification if the Defiant is sticking around for the foreseeable future, as has been stated in the popular press. It makes perfect sense to have the Defiant around for this mission, but once it's over, I can't quite see Starfleet Command saying "nah, keep it" -- or for that matter, Sisko wanting to use it for joyrides.
On to some other issues. I'm also a little bit concerned about this "Odo finds his people" plot. While we got a nice sense of wonder, and I am curious about where it's all going to lead, I'm worried by the following:
-- Why is Odo being affected now? He's been in the Gamma Quadrant before, on at least one occasion ("Shadowplay") that I can remember, and never felt any ill effects in the past. Is it time for him to swim upstream to spawn? Is he being "recalled" by his people? As long as we get some explanation, I'll be happy, but if it's not forthcoming I'll be more than a little annoyed.
-- The Founders are only a legend. Changelings are only a legend -- or were until now. Are the two legends of the same beings? I truly hope not -- way too contrived. (On the other hand, if they're not, then Odo's story may get short shrift, and I don't want that, either. Ugh.)
And so it goes.
Character-wise, on the other hand, things still look mostly good. While the appearance of "more conflict! More, more!" is a concern, as I said, the characters themselves seem to be okay once you get past that. In particular, none of the reactions we saw seemed wrong to me -- overplayed at times, yes (such as Odo's growling at Quark and Sisko's unexpected passion), but not wrong.
I particularly liked seeing Sisko's scenes with Jake and Dax. In addition to seeing a good sense of time passing, the Sisko/Jake scene just felt utterly right in terms of the two characters involved. Jake's still a realistic kid (though I think it'd have been better if his "last Thursday" comment hadn't had a real reason :-) ), and Sisko's sudden realization that he cares enough to call "this Cardassian monstrosity" home hit hard. It may also have a double meaning -- with TNG gone, DS9 as a series has to be home for diehard fans on some level. Given that Ron Moore, who wrote the script, just came to the series from TNG, I think it's worth considering.
I've already mentioned Sisko's scene with Quark, but it's definitely a keeper. Kira's work with Odo also rang true with me -- while her "I'm your friend; you know, the one who comes to you when she needs help" prompted a "you know, the one who commits murder and lies to you about it" response from us, it makes sense in context that she might want to overcompensate for having betrayed Odo in the past. Besides, just hearing her rant about "what the HELL is wrong with Starfleet?" was amusing. At least in the last two years she's learned to ask nicely first. ;-)
As a sidebar to that, Starfleet's worry about Odo seems extremely right on the money. There have been security breaches, and Odo has seemed well out of the "Starfleet way" of doing things and of considering things. The Federation is generally very hands-off and "talk it out"-ish, and that's not Odo at all. That may be part of the appeal of the character, but it also means that he and the Feds are liable to have strife. I'm sure this issue won't last (at least insofar as Odo's resignation is concerned), but it'd be nice to see hints that Odo has to compromise a little bit.
Then, of course, we come to the action sequences. Crotchety though I may be this week, they were damned fun. :-) I do have one nit, though -- why was T'Rul the only one carrying a sidearm? I can't imagine that it would have done more than slightly delay the Jem'Hadar overrunning the ship, and it would certainly have made sense. Other than that, though, the battles were fun, and the tension scene with "have we been discovered?" was one of the better tactical sequences I've seen in Trek. (And my students had a point; those weapons on the Defiant are pretty neat-looking. ;-) )
The cliffhanger was pretty neatly set up, in that the characters have been broken up very smartly by the end. Quark is off hanging around with Ornithar, having shown the intelligence to want off the ship as quickly as possible; Dax and O'Brien are imprisoned someplace; Kira and Odo are on Odo's world; and we have no idea where Sisko and Bashir are going to be. That's a lot of balls in the air; I hope they don't all come crashing down.
(Speaking of "no idea where they are", I thought the transition from the Defiant's attack to Kira waking up in the shuttle was beautifully handled.)
Now, some short takes:
-- From the "hey, isn't that..." file: we've seen two of the guest stars before. Salome Jens, who played the changeling welcoming Odo home, was last seen as the humanoid delivering the "you are the end of evolution" speech in "The Chase" -- something I'll try not to hold against her. :-) John Fleck, who played Ornithar (and very nicely, too), should also seem familiar, at least in voice -- he played the Romulan brainwashing Geordi back in "The Mind's Eye", and is probably better known as Del Varner in "Babylon 5"'s pilot.
-- I know I'm going to get hurt for this, but was anyone else yelling "hey, it's Moonbase Alpha!" when Odo's world came into view? (Actually, I won't take the blame for this; Lisa yelled it out. I just relayed the message...)
-- An interesting (and undoubtedly wrong) theory about Odo's folk: We saw them all emerging from the same location, and only one spoke. Suppose that they're all actually one being? Might Odo have been a Bit'o'Changeling sent out to explore, and accidentally have picked up more free will that was intended? [This one's also Lisa's idea; maybe she ought to help me write the reviews from now on...:-) ]
-- A word about the cloaking device. One of my officemates wondered why they weren't using the phased-cloak we saw in "The Pegasus" -- and if he's wondering it, I'm sure others are as well. :-) My take is this: the Defiant certainly wouldn't have been designed with one originally, since the technology wasn't known at the time. After that, the Feds couldn't very well tell the Romulans "no thanks on the cloaking device; we've got one already, you see, it's very nice...". (This assumes that the Romulans knew about the Defiant years ago, true, but I think it makes sense. It also leaves the whole issue of the morality of the phased-cloak out of it, which suits me fine right at the moment.)
That's about it. I'm reserving judgement on DS9's new direction until I see how much of it sticks around and how well everyone settles into it. If the changes we're seeing can be (1) toned down a bit, and (2) justified, then I think everything will turn out fine, and DS9 can continue the run of quality it had for much of last season.
So, to wrap up:
Plot: A bit too contrived for my liking. This was a strong show in some ways, but this wasn't one of them.
Plot Handling: This, on the other hand, was very nice. We got a lot of good atmosphere in both the writing and the directing.
Characterization: Overdone, but not wrong. Some of this might be due to Ron Moore's inexperience with these particular characters; if so, I hope to see his next script work out better.
OVERALL: Call it a 6.5, providing part 2 doesn't change my opinions of this setup drastically.
Wait a sec. We must've missed something here...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Can I speak freely?"
"What the HELL is wrong with Starfleet?"
-- Kira and Sisko