By Tom Anderson
Thus far, we’ve looked at the first three seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9). The series had an exceptionally rocky and controversial start, and never truly won back many casual Star Trek fans who could not get past their objection to its static setting. However, as well as achieving new heights of human (in the broadest sense!) storytelling and character and setting development, DS9 had started to win back a portion of the crowd with a series of retools from the end of the second season to the start of the fourth. It is all the more remarkable that this succeeded considering how desperate much of it looks on paper: don’t like the stationary concept? Well, here’s a cool crash bang wallop warship, the USS Defiant! Don’t like how there isn’t a captain protagonist, well, Sisko gets promoted at the end of season 3, and at the start of season 4 he even gets his head shaved to be more like Picard! (I don’t think that was actually the reason, but it’s what a lot of fans joked about at the time). Don’t like the slow political intrigue and post-colonial relations stuff, well, here’s a new bad-guy power, the Dominion, unlike what we’ve seen before, and this is them outwitting and beating up the Romulan Tal Shiar and Cardassian Obsidian Order to show how powerful they are!
Yet somehow, it worked. These retools may look cynical laid out on paper like that, but there remained a real heart to the show, helped by its strong characters. The retool would be completed in the opening two-parter to season 4, “The Way of the Warrior”, in which – in addition to the aforementioned Sisko head-shaving – the cast is shaken up by a new regular joining, no other than Worf from TNG, and the galactic political situation is upended as well in spectacular fashion.
I have complained many times about the now-absurd-seeming delays that we faced in getting new Star Trek episodes in the UK. Even after I had access to Sky, I was still routinely having plot points spoiled for me by reference books (or the Star Trek Fact Files magazine) being published before the episodes appeared on British TV! The Teletext Star Trek rumours page also had a tendency to reveal things, although some of their rumours turned out not to be true (or more interesting than the reality) – I’ll talk about this again when we get to parts that I remember being featured there. So to cut a long story short, the first time I saw “The Way of the Warrior” was as part of Sky One doing a Star Trek Marathon event, and I was immediately hooked back on DS9 after not quite being drawn back in by season 3.
We open with Kira and bald Sisko searching for a Changeling infiltrator in the station, only for it to turn out that it’s a training exercise and the Changeling is Odo posing as one of his people, the Founders of the Dominion. (Remember that the preceding episode at the end of season 3, “The Adversary”, had ended with a dying Changeling infiltrator telling Odo “It’s too late, we’re everywhere.”) IN UNRELATED NEWS, the Klingon flagship Negh’Var, under the command of General Martok (one of the many characters played by Star Trek regular J. G. Hertzler) decloaks. In a nice touch, the advanced new prototype super-ship of today is a modified version of the model that represented a bog-standard workhorse ship in the possible future seen in Picard’s visions in “All Good Things” – like a Klingon version of the Excelsior, but in reverse.
Martok asks for shore leave on the station. After Sisko says yes, an entire fleet full of Klingon troops decloaks with it. (This scene taught a valuable life skill for work). The Klingons seem hostile to Odo keeping the peace on the Promenade. Sisko’s new love interest Kasidy Yates even gets her freighter stopped and boarded by a Klingon captain – when Sisko tells him to back off, Martok has him executed and presents Sisko with the bloody dagger. A shaken Sisko decides to call in a favour and asks Worf, who recently survived the destruction of the Enterprise-D in “Generations”, to visit and use his Klingon contacts to find out what Martok’s plan is. After a reunion with O’Brien, Worf discovers that the Klingons secretly plan to invade Cardassia. The Cardassians have just had a great offscreen revolution (some weeks have passed since “The Adversary”) and the civilian Detapa Council, formerly more of a rubberstamp body, has asserted control over the military for the first time in years.
It’s a shame this is rushed through rather than being a plot arc in the previous season, but I do like the touch that Gul Dukat, the Talleyrand-style consummate opportunist, has kept his job under the new regime and is now military advisor to the Detapa Council. The Klingons’ justification for their attack is that they believe that Changelings have infiltrated the Detapa Council, and a paranoid Martok even insists Sisko and Kira (as well as himself) submit to blood tests when he first meets them. (Despite the fact that when they introduced blood tests in “The Adversary”, the VERY FIRST TIME they do them, they are suborned by a Changeling pretending to be Bashir…coincidence I bring this up, obviously).
Here’s where we get something a tad peculiar about DS9 from this point on (and to some extent before) which the critic Phil Farrand also pointed out years ago. How come Sisko gets to basically set Federation foreign policy, as Starfleet’s newest minted captain, without consequences? It feels like he gets away with stuff that even Kirk would be court-martialled over. For example, here the official Federation policy is not to act until they have discussed it with Chancellor Gowron (from TNG) as the Klingons are their allies and they might be right about the Dominion infiltration – but their invasion fleet is already on the way to Cardassia and soon it will be too late – so Sisko has Garak come in and measure him for a suit while ‘coincidentally’ discussing the classified information with his officers. So, of course, Garak is able to leak the invasion to his Cardassian contacts and the Cardassians are not caught completely offguard. It’s a cool sequence but really, there are no consequences for Sisko doing this to the Federation’s allies?
Incidentally, that Canadian 35th anniversary guide to Star Trek I own (the same one that did all the surveys where people hated Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) suggests that, as the Klingons were originally used as a metaphor for the Soviets or the Eastern Bloc in The Original Series (TOS), their increased hostility here reflects how the end-of-history attitude to the end of the Cold War was getting tarnished by political unrest and militarism in post-communist Russia. If so, DS9 was bloody prophetic, to say the least, other than making the Klingons’ targets the at best, morally ambiguous Cardassians – they would have been more on point if the Klingons had randomly attacked innocent Bajor for no reason.
The Cardassians’ outer colonies are overrun but Sisko has bought them time to mobilise and stand against the Klingon attacks. Gowron visits Deep Space Nine in person to try to bribe Worf into supporting the invasion, only to angrily turn on him when he refuses. (It was very cool to see the TNG Klingon politics continuing here, and show that Worf’s ambiguous ‘happy ending’ from TNG isn’t as pat but in real life can get reopened – just like the Klingons/Russians Are Our Friends Now was). Maybe Sisko got away with it because, after the Federation Council condemns the invasion, Gowron throws a hissy fit, withdraws from the Khitomer Accords (from Star Trek VI) and expels all Federation citizens from Klingon space.
Depressed, Worf plans to leave Starfleet and look for work in the distant Nyberrite Alliance (which, of course, we have never heard of before and never will again) but Sisko employs him when the Defiant is sent, illegally under cloak, to extract the Detapa Council before the Klingons can take them. En route they encounter a destroyed Cardassian fleet and can’t stop to offer aid to the survivors. Then they find the Detapa Council’s ship under Klingon attack and Sisko is forced to make a moral choice – as Bashir says, “Twenty years of peace with the Klingons, and it all comes down to this.” (That doesn’t fit with any of the previous time frames for when the Federation and Klingons are supposed to have made peace, but shut up, it’s a great line).
In the end, Sisko tried to neutralise the Klingon ships while beaming the Cardassians onto the Defiant, but Worf has to end up destroying a Klingon ship outright. (Again, there are never any consequences for this). The Cardassians are brought back to Deep Space 9 and Sisko has them blood tested, finding no Changelings, but of course the Klingons don’t believe him. Gowron and Martok send their fleet against the station, but – in a really cool call-back to “Emissary” – the station now really does have integrated phaser banks and five thousand photon torpedoes, as Kira bluffed to the Cardassians back then. We then get one of the best space battle scenes in all of science fiction history, and really the last hurrah for models in Star Trek before CGI took over, with a genuinely huge Klingon fleet flying around the station and blasting it. But when Starfeet sends six ships (including the good old Galaxy-class USS Venture) to tip the balance, Gowron accepts Kahless the Unforgettable’s maxim that “Destroying an empire to win a war is no victory, and ending a battle to save an empire is no defeat”. (Though Martok argues they should fight on, funny, that). The Klingons withdraw (remaining at war with the Cardassians), but the Klingon-Federation alliance is broken and the status quo has changed irrevocably.
As you may have gathered, despite the whole ‘newly promoted Captain Sisko decides foreign policy for the Alpha Quadrant’ plot hole, I think this two-parter was fantastic and some of the best material not only from DS9, but from Star Trek in general. It showed how you can do crash boom bang battle scenes and political intrigue and continuity and character stories, all at once. It made everything established in TNG feel more ‘real’ and part of a solid setting rather than isolated stories, which DS9 was already starting to excel at.
“The Way of the Warrior” is followed by another extremely strong, but very different, episode – “The Visitor”. In the future, a now elderly Jake Sisko threw away a promising career as an author to study physics, and a young writer who admired his two books asks why. Turns out that Ben Sisko disappeared in a wormhole-related warp accident and Jake has been trying ever since to get him back. In a great example of continuity, we get to see a future (midway between ‘now’ and when Jake is talking) where a grown-up Nog, who’s joined Starfleet Academy, is now captain of the Defiant and everyone is old and grey, Deep Space Nine was abandoned to the Klingons – I think this episode was badly timed for that – and they’re all wearing the future uniforms seen in “All Good Things”. It’s great. Anyway, that attempt failed, but now Jake has realised it’s the connection to him that is keeping his father trapped in the phenomenon (so he doesn’t age when he appears) and Jake commits suicide to reset the timeline and give Ben a second chance to escape the accident before it occurs. It’s a powerful story and a good use of a what-if future glimpse.
This is followed by “Hippocratic Oath”, in which we learn more about how the Jem’Hadar are controlled by addiction to the drug ketracel white, and some rogues want Bashir to help them escape that addiction, and Worf struggles to adapt with leaving security matters to Odo; “Indiscretion”, in which we learn Dukat has a half-Bajoran bastard daughter, Tora Ziyal (and we finally get to see one of the mysterious, often-mentioned Breen in person – they look exactly like Princess Leia’s disguise in Return of the Jedi, weirdly); “Rejoined”, AKA The One With The Lesbian Kiss Which Was A Big Principled Moment And Then They Undermined It With The Mirror Universe Doing It For Cheap Thrills Later (and also contradicted several previous Trill episodes – and Jadzia’s friendship with Sisko – by saying Trill are supposed to break previous relationships on taking a new host); and “Starship Down”, which has nothing to do with sentient space rabbits in a dark realistic story, but is more of a submarine war-movie plot where the Defiant’s crew have to outwit the Jem’Hadar while their damaged ship is stuck in a gas giant.
“Little Green Men” sees Quark and his family travel to Earth on a new ship he’s bought, only for an accident to have them land in – of course – Roswell in the year 1947. As well as the obvious jokes, this one has some interesting background lore about when warp drive was invented which later got contradicted, or Quark was wrong – he thinks the Vulcans didn’t have warp drive in 1947 (so he can give it to the Ferengi first and change history) but later episodes, and old non-canon novels, imply the Vulcans had already had warp drive long before that. Also, in a fun obscure continuity nod, Nog reads a historical document about Gabriel Bell from “Past Tense” and remarks on how the photo there looks like Sisko, but Quark dismisses the resemblance with ‘all hew-mons look alike’. This is classic DS9, unlike VGR’s reset buttons, we are reminded of the consequences of changed timelines after the relevant episode’s story is over.
“The Sword of Kahless” is about Kahless’ titular bat’leth being found by Kor, Dax and Worf in the Gamma Quadrant, where it was left there by an ancient super-race called the Hur’q who raided the Klingons thousands of years ago. (This almost sounds like it ties in with the Furies from the novels, but doesn’t). Honestly we’re so used to plots about ancient super-races appearing on Earth that this is quite refreshing – even though TNG’s “Rightful Heir” already implied the actual sword of Kahless is at the Klingon monastery on Boreth, but I suppose it could just be a replica. In another nice bit of DS9 continuity, Toral, son of Duras (the whiny kid from “Redemption”) is also on the trail of it. However, because the Sword of Kahless is apparently the One Ring and corrupts the minds of those who wield it with desire, they end up deciding to beam it into space in a bit of an Indiana Jones moment.
“Our Man Bashir” is one of the few times they did the ‘holodeck gone awry’ excuse plot straight in DS9, with crew members’ likenesses trapped as holograms (somehow) in the holosuite in Bashir’s TOTALLY NOT JAMES BOND WHY WOULD YOU THINK THIS IS A REFERENCE TO JAMES BOND holoprogramme. Now Bashir has to keep the scenario going while they work to recover everyone. It’s a stupid plot but a really fun story in which everyone does the same Austin Powers jokes, Garak gets to be the John le Carré stale beer and cigarettes spy who thinks all this is just silly (and gets shot when he tries to leave and doom everyone), we learn the writers don’t know how Russian surnames work as Kira is a KGB femme fatale named Colonel Anastasia Komanov (not -ova), and Sisko is the delightfully diabolical Dr Hippocrates Noah, who plans to flood the world and his evil lair is on Mount Everest. It says something that the parody Bond villains have more interesting plans and well-defined goals than most of the actual ones nowadays. Also in a fun touch, the plan ends up succeeding in the scenario when Bashir deliberately triggers it to buy time, and Dr Noah is confused because what does a Bond villain do when he actually wins?
This is followed by another really strong two-parter that feels politically prophetic, “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost”. An explosion at a conference on Earth kills several people and Sisko is recalled, as Starfleet fears Changeling infiltrators are implicated. We then get a plot that is somehow clearly a criticism of ‘War on Terror’ paranoia post-9/11 despite the episode being broadcast in 1996. History repeats itself. This episode gives us a bigger than usual view of future post-scarcity utopian Earth; it’s DS9 at its best, because when it’s morally darker around the edges it’s because of the actions of people, but the utopia without poverty and deprivation remains very real and they don’t feel the need to be cynical about it. We also get to meet Sisko’s dad – whose actor previously played an admiral, but this character is dismissive of Starfleet and prefers his traditional life as a master chef in New Orleans. (Not unlike Picard’s brother in fact, remember him, some writers didn’t). Anyway, when power goes down on Earth a Changeling impersonating O’Brien boasts to Sisko that there’s only four of them on the planet, but look at the havoc they’ve caused. Sisko makes a realisation – four Changelings couldn’t do all that. In fact, Admiral Leyton (who was heading up the investigation) and a group of elite cadets called Red Squad, working for him, deliberately sabotaged Earth themselves to persuade President Jaresh-Inyo to impose martial law. Leyton is also faking evidence of a Dominion fleet about to invade Earth, all so he can launch a coup d’état. The Dominion wasn’t involved at all – they just had to sit back and let ambitious humans destroy themselves.
It’s a plot we’ve seen before in the novels (e.g. in Diane Carey’s “Dreadnought!”), of the Starfleet admiral who thinks he can run the Federation better than the civilians, but it’s very well delivered and hits doubly hard post-9/11. Like 9/11, it’s not that the Dominion threat is nonexistent, but often the real threat came more from those who sought to take advantage of it for their own ends. Oh, and Starfleet becomes obsessive about blood tests (even though we’ve established they don’t work – this is almost too realistic) and Starfleet Medical examines Odo to get clues. A minor, throwaway moment that definitely won’t come back as a huge plot point later. Odo is also the central character in “Crossfire” which sets up a love triangle between him, Kira and Bajoran First Minister Shakaar Edon.
“Return to Grace” is a surprisingly important episode for the direction of the show. Gul Dukat has been disgraced for publicly acknowledging his half-Bajoran daughter Ziyal and is now reduced to running a freighter, whose latest job is to transport Kira to a conference. They are attacked by a Klingon Bird-of-Prey en route and Kira and Dukat are forced to work together, converting the freighter to a Q-ship by adding weapons and then pulling the old transporter switcheroo with the Klingons (see Star Trek III) to seize the Bird-of-Prey. Dukat is offered his old job back by the Cardassian government, but as he’s disgusted to see them refuse to prosecute an offensive against the Klingons, he instead becomes a maverick independent fighter using the Bird-of-Prey and his crew – including his first officer Damar – to fight a private war against the Klingons. He even offers Kira a place, with the tables now turned and Dukat having become the resistance fighter she once was. She refuses and returns to Deep Space 9 with Ziyal. Few, watching this episode at the time, would guess that Damar would rise from first officer of a freighter to the position he’d eventually reach by the end of the show, in terms of both in- and out-of-universe prominence. Meanwhile, the audience (and Marc Alaimo, Dukat’s actor) start wondering if this onetime Hitler stand-in might not be so bad after all – but they’ll get the rug pulled out from under them before too long.
“Sons of Mogh” follows a loose end from Worf’s refusal to kowtow to Gowron’s plans at the start of the season. Not only did Worf burn his own bridges with the Klingon Empire, but also those of his brother Kurn (from TNG) who now wants to commit ritual suicide. In the end, they instead wipe his memory and have him adopted by a Klingon who claims he is his amnesiac son. It’s a sad ending to Kurn’s TNG arc but another case where DS9 can feel ‘realistic’ in that not everyone gets a happy ending. Oh, and one of the novels had Kurn reappear after this in his new identity for no reason in a completely pointless sequence, but we’ll get to that when we cover more novels. “Bar Association” is that rarity, a piece of American-made television that actually presents trade unionism positively, when Rom and company form a union of bar staff against Quark and the Ferengi Commerce Authority send their thug Brunt to stop it – by beating up Quark.
“Accession” is arguably the opposite of “Return to Grace” in that it should be a big significant episode but isn’t really – a Bajoran solar sail ship from centuries ago appears through the wormhole and its pilot, Akorem Laan, claims he is the true Emissary. Sisko is at first relieved to relinquish the role, but Akorem is from a time when the Bajorans strictly observed a caste system, the D’Jarras, and is alarmed that they effectively abandoned it under Cardassian occupation and the resistance struggle. Tensions arise when he tries to force it on people, and in the end Sisko and Akorem return to the wormhole to confront the Prophets. Of course this was all really a test of Sisko, and Akorem is sent back to his own time with no memories of this to complete his great unfinished work (which then appears in the databanks – butterfly effect, what’s that). The only part of this which sort of has long-term significance is that the Prophets say ‘We are of Bajor’, which Sisko will later quote in an important moment but we never really find out what it means. (Some have suggested it means the Prophets are actually far-future evolutions of the Bajorans, remember they have no notion of linear time so they could exist simultaneously now and then).
In “Rules of Engagement” Worf is put on trial for allegedly destroying a Klingon civilian ship during a battle, but of course it was all an entrapment strategy. The most interesting aspect is that Worf’s court antagonist is a Klingon lawyer and there is a discussion about how their warrior-focused society deals with such occupations, which TNG was always a bit too simplistic about. “Hard Time” may be the ultimate “O’Brien Must Suffer” episode, in which O’Brien is punished for a crime he didn’t commit by a planet inserting decades of computer-generated prison time into his memory, including him desperately killing his cellmate over food. Back here and now, O’Brien hoards food and contemplates suicide before Bashir reminds him that, like on VGR, this will never be mentioned again so it’s OK. (Though it did lead to some hilarious black humour memes of O’Brien and Picard discussing their relative experiences with this and “The Inner Light”).
“The Muse” is one of those very TOS episodes where an energy being takes on the form of a woman and inspires Jake to write a novel (“Anslem” from “The Visitor” which is a fun link) while draining his creative powers, thus limiting his future writing projects to Disney Star Wars sequels. Critic Phil Farrand thought Sisko’s new love Kasidy Yates might turn out to be a Changeling; instead, she’s involved with the Maquis, albeit only peripherally and only gets a minor sentence for it. Instead, the real major culprit is Eddington (remember him? Neither did we) who, while standing in the background being all inoffensive and Canadian, actually turns out to have developed a burning hatred for Starfleet and now defects to the Maquis. This sets up a recurring plot thread with Sisko as Eddington’s nemesis. “To the Death” (which I always mistakenly think is the second part of a two-parter) very interestingly – and unusually – brings back a concept that felt very one-off from TNG, the Iconian Gateways from “Contagion”. Because the Iconians were one of those galaxy-spanning super ancestral races, there’s also a Gateway in the Gamma Quadrant, and some rogue Jem’Hadar are using its powers to teleport everywhere and raid places. Sisko has to team up with some Dominion forces led by a Vorta named Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs) to stop them. One of the loyalist Jem’Hadar commanders ends up killing Weyoun in the end for questioning their loyalty, but the writers liked Combs so much that they decided to bring Weyoun back and establish the Vorta are replaceable clones. (Like Damar from “Return to Grace”, Weyoun will become way more important than this first appearance implies). The Iconian Gateway thread would be picked up in a series of spinoff novels.
Speaking of the Dominion, in “The Quickening” Bashir tries to help a planet called Teplan whose people were infected with a bioweapon by the Jem’Hadar in punishment for resisting. “Body Parts” is an excuse plot to explain Nana Visitor being pregnant – Keiko is pregnant with her second child with O’Brien, but a runabout crash injures her and all Bashir can do is transfer the child to Kira’s womb. This feels a bit soap opera for Star Trek, even DS9. Meanwhile, Quark hilariously thinks he has a terminal disease, auctions off all his stuff, then realises he was misdiagnosed, but Brunt shows up and he has to end his life to complete the sale. Of course in the end he doesn’t but is ostracised from Ferengi society but his friends on the station help him start again. Finally in “Broken Link” Odo starts losing his ability to stay solid. It turns out that the Founders infected him with a disease (how? When?) to make him come back to stand justice as The First Changeling Ever To Harm Another (remember that at the end of season 3?) They cure him of the disease but lock him in solid form forever (so we think). But while he was in the Great Link, he was also part of their collective mind and remembers a key piece of information – Gowron has been replaced by a Changeling! (Dun dun dun)
So much for season 4, which was a huge step up in quality, just as the same numerical season had been for TNG. Some people think season 5 is the peak in DS9’s quality; it never appealed that much to me due to the way I saw it (usually after being spoiled on plot points due to the delays behind it being shown in the UK) but I can see where they were coming from. It begins with the hilariously over-the-top title “Apocalypse Rising”, with Sisko, O’Brien, Odo and Worf disguised as Klingons (er, the first three are, I mean) going to infiltrate the Klingon military headquarters to expose Gowron. To do so, they get help from Gul Dukat and his captured Bird-of-Prey. (What is it with Klingon Birds-of-Prey being used by other people as often as they are by Klingons themselves – Kirk in Star Trek IV, Dukat here, the Ferengi in “Rascals”…) They are initially foiled by General Martok, but then Martok reveals he agrees with them that Gowron is an impostor and will help them. Wait, hang on, remember back in “The Way of the Warrior”, didn’t Martok want the Klingons to fight to the death while Gowron ordered a retreat, which wouldn’t be in the Dominion’s best interests, and Martok was the one who insisted on blood tests which we know don’t work, and – oh whoops, turns out Martok is the Changeling. In a fun dose of cold reality, our heroes do work this out and the Klingons kill the Martok-Changeling, but Gowron still refuses to concede more than a ceasefire with the Federation, or admit his error, and the damage done seems permanent.
“The Ship” is another innocuously important episode, where the crew fight for control of a crashed Jem’Hadar ship so they can capture and study it – it will come back in season 6. “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” is about Quark actually falling for Grilka, the Klingon woman he had to marry for political reasons in “The House of Quark”, and having a love triangle with Worf – who instead starts falling for Dax by the end. In “…Nor the Battle to the Strong” (a nice Biblical reference to Ecclesiastes) Jake is writing an article about Bashir on a Federation colony when it gets attacked by Klingons (that ceasefire didn’t last long then), and he ends up as a war correspondent realising it’s a fine line between courage and cowardice. (It was almost disconcerting at the time to see TNG-era Star Trek doing war plots like this, with a Starfleet officer having self-inflicted a wound to get sent back, etc.)
“The Assignment” is another of those disconcertingly important episodes, where Keiko is possessed by an entity that turns out to be the EVIL COUNTERPART of the Prophets, the Pah-wraiths, and is trying to destroy them. (It should very obviously be Pagh-wraiths, as in the Bajoran word for soul, and someone dropped the ball with the transliteration). This comes completely out of nowhere but ends up being strangely important for the rest of the show. “Trials and Tribble-ations” is a wonderful anniversary special in which Arne Darvin from “The Trouble With Tribbles” wants to go back in time to kill Captain Kirk during the events of that episode, and our heroes have to follow him back and infiltrate the original Enterprise. Greenscreens and other camera trickery let the DS9 crew be inserted into the original scenes, and there are fun moments like Worf muttering something about not discussing with outsiders why Klingons looked different back then (which did unfortunately get spoiled later on). Some of the jokes can get a bit too ‘laughing at rather than with TOS’ (like how the 2009 film feels more like a parody at times) but on the whole it’s respectful and fun. And in the present day, Sisko has to deal with awkward questions from the Temporal Agents Lucsly and Dulmer (anagrams of Scully and Mulder from The X-Files) about whether he changed history. Well, he did get to fanboy over Kirk at least. This is also I think the last time that Star Trek ever presented TOS as it was originally, rather than reimagining and updating the aesthetic (as done VERY BADLY in the 2009 film and far better in “Strange New Worlds”).
“Let He Who Is Without Sin…” is a controversial episode where they go to Risa, Worf is falling in love with Dax but he also falls in with a puritan terrorist organisation that argues sybaritic pleasures are making the Federation weak, and sabotages the weather control system. I know what they were going for but the Risans are so parodically annoying that I couldn’t quite hate the puritan terrorist guy. Also we find out that Curzon Dax died in the process of Risan Euphemism For Sex on the planet. They must have worked fast to get him to that slab on the Trill homeworld we saw him dying on in the flashback in “Emissary” then, eh? “Things Past” involves Sisko, Odo, Dax and Garak waking up, seemingly in the bodies of Bajorans, during the Cardassian occupation. It’s not true time travel, but getting lost in Odo’s memories of a time where he felt guilt over those four Bajorans being unjustly convicted and executed for a crime they did not commit, under his watch. “The Ascent” has Odo and Quark forced to work together when they crash-land on a desolate planet.
“Rapture” has Sisko having prophetic visions, and the busybody Kai Winn reconsiders her attitude towards him when he finds a lost city. He also has a vision of locusts heading for Cardassia but passing over Bajor. This leads him to tell the Bajorans to delay joining the Federation, whose accession they had just been about to begin, as otherwise the ‘locusts’ will destroy them. (We’ll see what that meant before too long). Also that’s the first episode to introduce the First Contact style uniforms with the grey shoulders, but because Voyager was stuck in the Delta Quadrant, they ironically kept using the original DS9 ones even after DS9 itself had finished. In “The Darkness and the Light” pregnant Kira gets captured and tortured by a Cardassian psychopath who was wounded by one of her resistance bombings. “The Begotten” sees Odo and his adopted ‘father’ Mora Pol try to raise a young abandoned Changeling – it doesn’t work out but leads to Odo regaining his shapeshifting abilities.
In “For the Uniform” Michael Eddington returns and Sisko (referred to by Eddington as Inspector Javert) becomes obsessed with capturing him. After Eddington attacks Cardassian colonies with bioweapons that render them uninhabitable by Cardassians, Sisko realises that as Eddington thinks he’s the hero, the best way to get him to surrender is to do something villainous (checks notes) and threatens to use a bioweapon on a Maquis colony to render it uninhabitable (frowns, checks notes again) and then actually does it (shrugs and burns notes). Yes, really. Somehow he gets away with this, but it was another one on Phil Farrand’s list of queries why Starfleet hasn’t busted Sisko back down to ensign yet. Anyway, Eddington is captured. This episode also introduces THE HOLOGRAPHIC COMMUNICATOR which doesn’t look all flickery and light-show like a Star Wars one but just looks like a Star Trek hologram, i.e., it’s just the actor standing there in a glowing circle. Even TOS could come up with better reasons for saving SFX than that, lads. And, of course, because this is presented as a new technology, the writers of Discovery decided to have them as well a century earlier and have them all glowy and flickery like Star Wars. For chuff’s sake.
We then get another cool two-parter that changes the whole direction of the show – “In Purgatory’s Shadow” and “By Inferno’s Light”. These follow on from the similarly-titled “Improbable Cause” and “The Die Is Cast” from two years earlier. Garak gets information suggesting Enabran Tain survived the Dominion attack on the Cardassian-Romulan fleet. He and Worf go to investigate, but find a huge Dominion fleet on the other side of the wormhole and are captured. They do manage to alert Sisko and Sisko contemplates destroying the wormhole to stop a Dominion invasion of the Alpha Quadrant. (They do remember to discuss the point about the Prophets and the Bajorans’ religion, if you were wondering). Worf and Garak are taken to a Dominion prisoner camp, only to find familiar figures there – a dying Enabran Tain (who Garak hints is not only his mentor but his father), the real General Martok (with one eye), and, to their horror, Julian Bashir – wearing his old uniform, so he was captured and replaced by a Changeling weeks ago.
Sisko’s attempt to close the wormhole fails, actually making it impossible to close in future, and the Dominion fleet comes through, passing over Bajor and heading for Cardassia – like the locusts in his vision. Dukat shows up in his Klingon Bird-of-Prey, but rather than attacking the Dominion fleet, he’s joining it – having negotiated for Cardassia to join the Dominion. (This would have been a great plot twist, had it not already been spoiled for me by the aforementioned time delay and the Star Trek Fact Files). In a real ‘stuff has got real’ moment, the Klingons show up and Gowron agrees to restore the Khitomer Accords, and even the Romulans appear to stand against the Dominion (prefiguring later seasons). The Bashir Changeling plans to blow up Bajor’s star, because that’s totally a thing you can do and wasn’t a coveted far-future superweapon in “Captain’s Holiday”, to destroy the combined fleet. However, he is foiled. Worf and Garak escape with the real Bashir and Martok, and Martok becomes the Klingon liaison on Deep Space 9 at the head of the restored alliance. This is probably as epic as Star Trek ever got with geopolitics (galactopolitics?) and set up the remainder of the show.
“Doctor Bashir, I Presume” is a pseudo-crossover with VGR, with Lewis Zimmerman (Robert Picardo) using Bashir as the basis for a new Long-term Medical Hologram (as opposed to VGR’s Emergency Medical Hologram). Bashir’s parents are also present, and a damaging family secret slips out: Bashir was born with a severe learning disability, and his parents had him illegally genetically augmented. His genius IQ is therefore of artificial origin, which after Khan and the Eugenics Wars is a big no-no in the Federation; Augments (as later called) are barred from service in Starfleet or practising medicine. Before Bashir can resign, his father goes to prison in his place. This episode was brilliantly conceived for a number of reasons – it fits wonderfully well with Bashir’s backstory about deliberately messing up an exam due to not wanting to stand out from the crowd, his unthinking arrogance in early seasons, the fact he fantasises about being open as a brilliant super-spy in his holosuite programmes, etc. None of that was planned, but it was welded together beautifully. It also helped link back to the Eugenics Wars (albeit getting the dates wrong and/or trying to retcon them) and helps remind us of the sheer stigma of genetic augmentation in the Federation – to the point that we wonder if this future utopia is entirely free from prejudice after all.
“A Simple Investigation” has Odo fall in love with a woman he’s investigating (it also goes full cyberpunk, with her being a ‘netgirl’ prostitute who lets men into her head rather than her body). “Business As Usual” has Quark faced with a moral dilemma when he works with his arms dealer cousin Gaila. “Ties of Blood and Water” is a follow-up to “Second Skin” where Legate Tekeny Ghemor, now dying, comes to Deep Space 9 to spend his last days with Kira, whom he bonded with when he thought she was his amnesiac daughter. (Meanwhile Dukat, of course, tries to claim Ghemor’s last words praised Dukat’s policy of joining the Dominion). “Ferengi Love Songs” features Quark’s mother having fallen in love with Grand Nagus Zek. “Soldiers of the Empire” establishes the IKS Rotarran, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey with a motley, demoralised crew that’s General Martok’s first command since his return. Worf and Dax have to help him get the ship in shape despite Martok’s own PTSD, and in return Martok adopts the discommended Worf into his own House. The Rotarran and its crew would show up again, and was part of a tendency at the time to try to flesh out the idea of a Klingon-crewed protagonist ship (also seen in video games and spinoff novels, which we’ll get to).
“Children of Time” is a very TOS-type episode amid all the geopolitics, where the crew find a planet populated by their own descendants – the Defiant is destined to crash and and travel back in time. After moral dilemmas over whether they have to sacrifice their lives and futures, if they can duplicate the ship and preserve both timelines, etc., turns out the future alternate Odo cooked things up so the ship escapes and their descendants, including himself, are erased from history – in order to save Kira, who would have died in the crash. One interesting aspect here is they take advantage of Dax being a Trill by having a future host among the colonists.
“Blaze of Glory” ends the Eddington story and the Maquis with it. With the Dominion on their side, the Cardassians are now easily crushing the Maquis, but the Maquis hope to use cloaked missiles to strike back, potentially starting a war. It turns out the cloaked missiles thing was fake and it was all a ruse to get Sisko to bring back Eddington from prison so he could rescue his wife (who we’ve never met before and has never been mentioned before) and the surviving Maquis. Eddington dies in the process. (This would go on to be a plot point in VGR). Anyway, good thing this didn’t start a war, seeing as said war would go on to start (checks notes) three episodes later anyway?
“Empok Nor” is a cool concept where our heroes have to go to an abandoned Cardassian space station that’s the same design as Deep Space 9 in order to get some parts. It then turns into a survival horror plot. It’s a great excuse to reuse the same model but have it tumbling aimlessly through space, and Empok Nor will show up again as a setting. “In the Cards” is a weird plot where Jake wants to get his father a rare baseball card as a present, but the Federation doesn’t have money, so he has to borrow Nog’s (?) I don’t think that’s what post-scarcity future means (?) Also they have to deal with a weird human scientist who thinks he’s discovered an immortality process, and Weyoun of the Dominion (now the main Dominion spokesman, bit of a step up from his previous role). It does have a fun moment where Jake comes up with an elaborate time-travel plot to explain their actions to Weyoun, who doesn’t believe a word of it. Also Weyoun is fascinated by the immortality guy’s immortality pod, which seems a bit odd considering Weyoun is already functionally immortal via his clones. Come to think of it, not unlike the already very long-lived Dr Soran in “Generations” being obsessed with mortality. Maybe the more you have, the more you want.
The closing episode of season 5 is “Call to Arms”. Dominion fleets have been travelling through the wormhole to reinforce Cardassia; Sisko and the Federation are worried that war is inevitable and the balance is tilting farther against them all the time. The Dominion has also signed nonaggression pacts with the Romulans, the Tholians and the Miradorn (a nice example of actually bringing up powers mentioned before rather than the Star Trek norm of never mentioning them again). Starfleet has Sisko mine the wormhole (using mines designed by Rom!) to prevent further fleet movements – which, of course, leads to the Dominion declaring war. A Dominion-Cardassian fleet attacks the station (the first appearance of large-scale CGI in Star Trek fleet battles) and Sisko abandons the station to them, with the Defiant and Rotarran leaving. Quark orders his staff to break out the kanar – the Cardassians are back. But as Bajor did not join the Federation, as Sisko foresaw, the Dominion treat them as a neutral power and allow the Bajorans (including Kira) to retain a presence on the station. Sisko and the rest of the Starfleet crew join a huge Federation-Klingon fleet (again, CGI allowing more ships on screen than ever before) and war begins.
This was a fantastic cliffhanger and would begin the first time Star Trek ever depicted large-scale space warfare. Next time we cover DS9, we’ll talk about the Dominion War and the series’ moderate decline in quality in season 7. But before then, we’ll be covering VGR’s own more debatable increase in quality for seasons 3 and 4.
Tom Anderson is the author of many SLP books including the Look To The West series (Diverge and Conquer, Uncharted Territory, Equal and Opposite Reactions, Cometh the Hour, To Dream Again), The Twilight's Last Gleaming, Not An English Word, The Curse of Maggie, The Unreformed Kingdom, The Surly Bonds of Earth and Well met by Starlight.