By Tom Anderson
Last time on “Alternate History in Star Trek”, I looked at the concept and first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Like many of the Trek series, DS9 struggled in this first season for a number of reasons, some of which are inevitable, like actors taking time to find their characters. Already established was the fact that new kinds of stories could be told in this setting (what Phil Farrand refers to as ‘Bajor: Terok Nor’ episodes) involving the Bajorans, Cardassians and Ferengi, and this would continue into the later systems. However, a major flaw in season one (in my opinion) is that the gimmick of the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant was sorely underused. Only about three episodes centre on newcomers from the Gamma Quadrant travelling to the station (“Captive Pursuit”, “Move Along Home” and “Vortex”) and none of them feel profoundly different enough to carry the weight of how ‘special’ this should be. (Voyager would go on to have a similar problem with the Delta Quadrant).
As we’ll see, this problem was largely rectified in season 2, although this is not a season I watched at the time – having been turned off by season 1. I only resumed watching DS9 with the significant retool that began at the end of season 2 and start of season 3, and would be resolved with the beginning of season 4, as we’ll see. In this article, we’ll look at seasons 2 and 3, before pausing to look at spinoff media again before going on to season 4. As a reminder, The Next Generation (TNG) was still going, with its seventh and final season running in parallel with DS9 season 2, and then Voyager (VGR) started up in parallel (roughly) with DS9 season 3.
As previously mentioned, season 1 ended with “In the Hands of the Prophets”, a setup for Starfleet being ordered to leave the station and some Bajoran extremists called THE CIRCLE trying to take it over. For the first time Sisko goes against orders and stays and then the first three episodes of season 3 are about resolving this and pushing the reset button. Or something. It’s honestly probably the most forgettable Star Trek story I’ve ever seen, to the point that I struggle to write about it now – which is all the more remarkable considering it’s the first time ever Star Trek had had a directly continuing episode story arc over more than two episodes (three, or four if you count “In the Hands of the Prophets”). Maybe they needed to do it this way just to gain experience for the much better story arcs we’d see later on!
No sooner had they returned to the station that they needed to evacuate once more in “Invasive Procedures”, as a swirly space thingy resulted in only the bridge crew staying aboard – conveniently providing an opportunity for a Trill named Verad to take over, with the intention of forcibly stealing Dax’s symbiont and taking it for himself. Like the earlier episode “Dax”, this one does a few things with the Trill race that would later be contradicted – albeit not to the same extent as the earlier version of the Trill seen in the TNG episode “The Host”! For example, it’s stated that only one Trill in ten is joined with a symbiont – whereas later episodes established a much more rigorous background for the Trill and said that only one Trill in a thousand is even a candidate for joining. This is followed by the appropriately-named episode “Cardassians”, another ‘Bajor: Terok Nor’ episode, this time about an ethnically Cardassian boy raised by Bajorans who hates his own kind. “Melora” basically represents a drastic cut to a main character concept planned for the series but never implemented – an ensign from a low-gravity world who normally walks with an advanced exoskeleton for Earth-like gravity, but, whoops, it doesn’t work on DS9’s Cardassian technology. So, obviously, O’Brien replicates her a wheelchair – not any of the more advanced ones from any later century, clearly, but one that just so happens to resemble the ones that existed in the 1990s. On a scale from one to Geordi LaForge, when it comes to attempts to do representation of disabled people well in Star Trek, this ain’t it – just as well it only ended up being one episode.
“Rules of Acquisition” follows on from “The Nagus” in further developing Ferengi culture. Armin Shimerman, who played Quark (and had been playing Ferengi since their first, rather comical appearance in the TNG episode “The Last Outpost”) was determined to reinvent them as a more interesting and well-rounded civilisation. Initially conceived in TNG as a 1980s ultra-capitalist bogeyman contrary to future Federation post-scarcity values – even thought of as a replacement for the Klingons when it came to a hostile enemy power! – the Ferengi had rapidly become a silly punchline, perhaps even with antisemitic undertones. Shimerman and the DS9 writers re-envisaged the Ferengi as a people whose defining values still revolve around capitalism, but who are capable of being solid and memorable characters whose different way of thinking sometimes achieves things which the Federation can’t. Also, ‘Grand Nagus’ joins other titles (such as ‘Grand Admiral’ in Star Wars) that are sadly probably familiar to a bigger western audience from their use in sci-fi than their actual real-life use (Nagus is a title signifying king in Ethiopia, with an emperor sometimes being called ‘nagus of naguses’). “Rules of Acquisition” also delves into the Ferengi’s sexist society, with a female disguising herself as male to act in business, turning it from something that was a cardboard punchline in TNG into something better-developed.
After a few more self-contained episodes, we get to the episode “Sanctuary”, and is here that we see the second season really get to grips with making Gamma Quadrant encounters feel more ‘special’. In many ways this feels like the ‘real’ first contact with the quadrant. A group of refugees are rescued from an exploding ship that comes through the wormhole. At first, the Universal Translator cannot cope with their very alien language and takes time to process it, meaning that we get to see the refugees interacting with the regulars for a while before familiar words finally start to appear in their incomprehensible tongue. It turns out that they are the Skrreea, a race of peaceful farmers who were formerly the oppressed subject people of a race called the T-Rogorans. However, they managed to break free when the T-Rogorans were in turn conquered by ‘something called…the Dominion?’ This nicely sets up a reveal for the end of the season, and feels far more appropriately portentous than the forgettable Gamma encounters we got in season 1. Anyway, the plot is that there are a full three million Skrreean refugees, and their religion suggests to them that Bajor is their legendary home planet of Kentanna, wanting to settle there. The Bajoran government eventually says no, and the disappointed Skrreeans are sent to a different planet – their leader pointing out to Kira that, as farmers, they could have helped Bajor with its famine. This ending was criticised by critics at the time, but I feel it really reveals what DS9 was doing differently – yes, on TNG, this would probably have been resolved more satisfactorily, but DS9 can afford to be morally grey and ‘realistic’ without delving into being dark for the sake of it. Also, I imagine some viewers were expecting there to be some dark secret behind the Skrreea, so them really being just simple refugees is itself something of a plot twist.
“The Alternate” introduces us to the Bajoran scientist who first studied Odo, Dr Mora Pol, as a possibly related life form is discovered from the Gamma Quadrant (more foreshadowing). The episode is mostly, however, about the dissonance between how Mora sees himself almost as Odo’s ‘father’, whereas Odo thinks he was never more than a lab experiment to him. (Even his name, Odo’Ital, is Bajoran for ‘Unknown Sample’). They eventually reconcile, and Mora is seen again later on. “Whispers” is a psychological thriller that plays with our expectations from TNG; O’Brien thinks everyone on the station is being affected by aliens or replaced due to the way they are treating him, but it turns out that this O’Brien is an alien duplicate and the others are aware – quite Twilight Zone. Colm Meaney’s acting ability would mean that the writers would introduce at least one story per season referred to as “O’Brien Must Suffer”.
The infamous episode “Paradise” involves an abusive back-to-nature cult run by a woman who has a device that makes modern technology stop working (that device would be quite a useful weapon, don’t you think? Funny we never hear of it again). The controversial part is that after Sisko and O’Brien uncover the truth and arrest the woman, her supporters want to just carry on with it, and this is treated as acceptable rather than calling in the de-programming specialists. Moving on, “Shadowplay” has a plot about people on an alien planet disappearing – the reveal is that they’re all holograms except one, who recreated his home civilisation with a now-failing hologram generator after it was destroyed by (again) the Dominion. Also, Kira begins seeing Vedek Bareil Antos, a Bajoran priest who’s one of the frontrunners to be the new Kai. “Playing God” features the Trill again, with Jadzia mentoring a new applicant for joining, among other things. “Profit and Loss” is another Ferengi-centric episode, this time having Quark revive his interspecies romance with a Cardassian woman, Natima Lang.
“Blood Oath” is an important episode for Star Trek crossovers and revivals – as well as invalidating quite a few spinoff stories! The actors who played the iconic TOS Klingon villains Kor, Kang and Koloth (from “Errand of Mercy”, “Day of the Dove” and “The Trouble with Tribbles”) return to reprise their characters – now elderly and with forehead ridges, don’t ask how – and team up with Jadzia. It turns out that Curzon Dax swore a blood oath with them to revenge the death of their sons at the hand of a pirate named ‘the Albino’ whom they had defeated. Though the Klingons are initially sceptical about working with Jadzia, she earns their trust and they successfully slay the Albino – though with the loss of Kang and Koloth. A great homage to the past of Trek, it’s also another case of the Trill conception not being fully formed yet; as we’ll see in the season 4 episode “Rejoined”, Trill society is explicitly supposed to sever all commitments from the previous host with the new one (which should also have been brought up with the trial in “Dax”).
This is followed by perhaps the only time that one needed to have watched a DS9 episode before a TNG one to figure out what was happening. “The Maquis” is a two-parter that sees Sisko’s old Starfleet friend (who we never met before and is only mentioned once afterwards, of course) Calvin Hudson, working with them to investigate the explosion of a Cardassian freighter at the station. It turns out this is the result of the titular Maquis, a group of Federation colonists who have rejected the treaty with the Cardassians that concedes their planets to Cardassian territory. They have turned terrorist – or freedom fighter, depending on one’s perspective, taking their name from the French Resistance. The big twist at the end of part 1 is that Hudson is also working for them now. Saddened by this betrayal, Sisko finds himself forced to work with Gul Dukat against his old friend to maintain the treaty. This story introduces the Maquis, who (as well as continuing to appear in DS9) then went on to appear in the TNG episode “Preemptive Strike” (and thematically tied to “Journey’s End”) as well as being a major part of VGR.
“The Wire” is a Garak-centric episode in which we learn something of his past, despite him being an unreliable narrator (as he tells Bashir at the end, it was all true – ‘especially the lies’). Garak was indeed a spy for the Obsidian Order and was fitted with an implant that helps him resist torture by counteracting pain with positive endorphins. However, after being abandoned on the station alone, he became addicted to using it just to stave off his own depression – and now it is running out. Bashir has to track down Garak’s mentor (and, we’ll later learn, illegitimate father) Enabran Tain, for help. Garak’s rambles repeatedly include a man named Elim, a hated rival or childhood friend (the story keeps changing); Tain reveals that Elim is Garak’s own first name. (This reveal works particularly well as we’re not even that used to Cardassians having first names at this point).
This is followed by “Crossover”, which is the first time the canon, on-screen show returns to the Mirror Universe. Kira and Bashir return from the wormhole to find the station isn’t where it should be, being back at Bajor. More importantly, it is controlled by the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, of which Bajor is also an important member state, and operated by human (‘Terran’) slave labour. Kira’s pervy counterpart is the Intendant in charge, with Garak and Odo as her subordinates, while O’Brien is a slave and Sisko a slightly more privileged one who carries out piracy operations. Our Bashir manages to persuade O’Brien to rebel; they are captured, but O’Brien’s speech convinces Sisko to switch sides and start a revolt, while our Bashir and Kira escape. The general concept of this episode is actually not bad, if it had been a generic alternate universe scenario; as one commenter on our forum pointed out, it’s essentially reversing the historical positions of humans and Bajorans, and forcing Bashir to confront his blasé attitude about Bajor being ‘the frontier’ compared to the post-scarcity Federation. Unfortunately, it also started the on-screen strain of something we already saw in spin-offs: Mirror Universe stories that become worse because they involve the Mirror Universe.
In this case, there is really no reason at all to involve the Mirror Universe; about the only actual connection we see (in a later episode) is that the new Terran Resistance uses some symbolism from the old Empire seen in TOS and includes Vulcans as well as humans, like the Empire did. The link is described by pervy alternate Kira in an absurd “as you know, Bob” expository sequence in that she somehow knows absolutely everything about when Kirk & co. visited their universe (but strangely not about the chronologically earlier encounters in Enterprise, Discovery, etc., wink wink) and what happened with Spock trying to reform the Empire. As a reminder, in our previous non-canon spinoff Mirror Universe follow-up efforts we’ve seen “Just changes his mind and then changes it again later” (TOS DC comics Mirror Universe Saga) and “Did OK for a bit, then pushed too far and got bumped off” (Diane Duane’s “Dark Mirror”). Both of those are already a bit pants, but DS9 manages to do it even worse: Spock succeeded…and the Empire was sufficiently weakened from within by his reforms that it got conquered by its neighbours. You can say what you like about Discovery, the reboot films, or even the controversial later bits in DS9 – nothing is as big a betrayal of the optimistic Star Trek message as that offensive nonsense. Which, as a reminder, has no reason to actually be in the story, which would have worked much better if it had been generic other timeline. The link is purely in there for fanservice reasons, both in terms of continuity and the more usual meaning – as it’s the Mirror Universe, everyone is really kinky and alt-Kira dresses in leather and bathes in milk and etc. etc. whatever. There would be four more Mirror Universe episodes in DS9, and despite some original ideas, somehow this aspect gets even worse each time. And, of course, it has the same logical problem as any other Mirror Universe follow-up – the chances of all these characters happening to be in the same place in both universes beggars belief, especially considering alt-Odo gets killed (just like that, with one phaser shot!) in the course of the episode.
Moving on from that, “The Collaborator” is another ‘Bajor: Terok Nor’ type episode, this one involving the race between Vedek Bareil and Vedek Winn (remember her from “In the Hands of the Prophets”) to be the new Kai. In “Tribunal”, O’Brien Must Suffer by being accused of a crime he didn’t commit and being put on a trial on Cardassia, whose Kafka-esque justice system assumes everyone is guilty from the get-go. (This episode was the first directed by Avery Brooks). It has some call-backs to Picard’s interrogation in “Chain of Command”.
Season 2 ends with a great cliffhanger, “The Jem’Hadar”, which helped supercharge the series and prepare the viewers for what was to come. Sisko and Quark, and their son and nephew (respectively) Jake and Nog, go hiking on a Gamma Quadrant planet, much to Quark’s continual complaints. They are taken captive by some fierce alien soldiers of a new, previously unseen race and aesthetic, the titular Jem’Hadar. They are held alongside a woman named Eris from the Vorta race, who promises to use her telekinetic abilities to help them escape if they can get the restraint collar off her, which they do. She also tells them that the Jem’Hadar are a specially bred soldier race which enforces the will of the invincible Dominion (them again) who rule this area of space. (This is nicely hinted by their name, which is based on the Indian Sepoy rank jemadar, i.e. implying that like the sepoy armies of the British Raj, the Jem’Hadar are fighting on behalf of an unrelated ruling class).
A Jem’Hadar named Third Talak’talan informs Sisko that the Dominion will no longer allow Alpha Quadrant ships to enter their space (a threat which is completely forgotten in later episodes, or at least, nobody ever brings it up). Talak’talan also takes a ship to DS9, beams through the shields, walks through a restraint forcefield, and informs the crew that Sisko is captive, before beaming out again. (All of this does a great job of making the Dominion seem intimidatingly more advanced and powerful, but, again, it pretty much never appears again – as soon as the next episode, the Jem’Hadar can’t beam onto a ship until its shields are down. Maybe it was all done through trickery and knowing the station’s shield frequencies, like O’Brien did to Maxwell in “The Wounded”?) Anyway, Captain Keogh shows up on the Galaxy-class starship USS Odyssey to mount a rescue mission. Although Sisko and company are rescued, the three small Jem’Hadar ships can still shoot through shields (again, something that is barely ever…do you see where I’m going with this) and one of them destroys the (retreating) Odyssey by ramming it. Killing off a Galaxy-class ship so soon after the end of TNG was a deliberately shocking moment for the viewers and really did help present the Dominion as a serious threat. Furthermore, no sooner have Sisko and co. got back to the station that Quark has figured out that Eris’ restraint collar was a fake and she was working for the Dominion all along. She promptly beams away…somehow, as there’s no ship nearby (but at least a later episode does say that the Dominion can beam over multiple light-years with a special beacon, so maybe that’s OK). There were quite a few things with Eris that the writers conceded were mistakes due to changing their minds later, but one of them – Vorta not being telekinetic later – seems not to be an oversight to me, as presumably she could have just pretended to be to set off a pre-arranged failure and get them out of jail.
With the Jem’Hadar and the Dominion, the DS9 writers successfully created the first really memorable and seriously intimidating Star Trek threat since the Borg, with pretty decently distinctive aesthetic and values. To add to the retool, the third season begins with the two-part episode “The Search” that introduces a decisive new element to DS9. Sisko has gone back to Earth for weeks and Kira is worried, especially when O’Brien detects a cloaked ship near the station. But it decloaks to reveal the USS Defiant, a new Starfleet ship designed specifically for tactical operations. The Defiant was designed to fight the Borg, and Sisko worked on it during his years at Utopia Planitia between Wolf 359 and “Emissary” (a nice bit of continuity). Starfleet is taking the Dominion threat so seriously that they have struck a deal with the Romulans to allow the Defiant to be fitted with a cloaking device despite the Treaty of Algeron ban on them. A Romulan officer must be on board to oversee it, however, and (later) they are only allowed to use it in the Gamma Quadrant. Now, it would be easy to see the addition of the Defiant as a desperate bid for ratings – not only giving DS9 a ship after two years of fans and critics complaining about the lack of one, but making it a warship with a cloaking device, cool and edgy and against TNG values! Yet the episode surprisingly works very well at making it feel like this is the Federation going ‘oh crap’ and turning to desperate measures – which is also a nice change from the trope of the bureaucracy being complacent about the new threat. A new Starfleet security officer named Michael Eddington also arrives to become a recurring character.
“The Search” sees the Defiant exploring the Gamma Quadrant to learn more of the mysterious Founders of the Dominion – which goes brilliantly well when they are attacked by the Jem’Hadar and have to evacuate. Odo and Kira escape to a planet where Odo meets others of his shape-shifting species for the first time. Meanwhile Sisko and co. are back on the station and the Federation is about to sign a treaty with the Dominion (whose Founders are apparently the Vorta after all) but the whole thing feels dodgy and the Romulan officer finds that the Romulans are being shut out of it. Sisko steals a runabout to blow up the wormhole, fearing the Dominion have suborned the Federation negotiators. However, Kira discovers that Sisko and the others are actually all trapped in a Dominion simulation on the shape-shifter planet, trying to find out how they would respond to such a situation. It turns out that the Vorta are just the middlemen, and the real Founders are Odo’s species – much to his horror. Persecution and fear from ‘the solids’ led them to hide themselves away and become the paranoid leaders of the Dominion, believing the only way to truly be safe is to subjugate everyone else before they can persecute them. The crew and Defiant are released because of Odo (“no changeling has ever harmed another”), setting up an arc that will run until the end of the show.
Season 3 goes on with “The House of Quark”, in which a comedy of errors leads to Quark marrying a Klingon widow and the resulting clash between Klingon and Ferengi cultures. “Equilibrium” really starts to establish the Trill species (and contradicts some of what’s gone before), with us seeing the Trill homeworld and society for the first time. It turns out that one of Jadzia’s hosts had their memories suppressed when they became a murderer, and now she has to cope with those memories resurfacing. As if that wasn’t enough trauma, we then have “Second Skin”, where Kira wakes up on Cardassia looking like a Cardassian, and a politician named Legate Tekeny Ghemor tries to convince her she’s his deep-undercover daughter, Iliana, who was surgically altered to infiltrate the Bajoran Resistance. As a paranoia-based plot goes, this is quite original. It turns out that Kira isn’t Iliana (as we could probably have guessed) but Ghemor was not trying to manipulate her. Rather, it was a plot by the Obsidian Order to convince Ghemor Kira was his daughter, and throw himself on his sword to save her by admitting he is a member of Cardassia’s underground reform movement. This was an original plot twist, and Ghemor would reappear in a much later episode, which Kira actually accepting his paternal friendship – considerable character development considering her history with Cardassians.
In “The Abandoned”, a mysterious alien infant rapidly grows up into a Jem’Hadar, and we learn something more of them. They are addicted to a drug (later called ketracel white) and are already born with a genetic loyalty to the Founders, so Odo is the only one who can control him. They only usually live a few years, and any who reach the age of ten is called an ‘honoured elder’. They can also either hide themselves or move at super speed (it’s inconsistent), the former originally intended to call back to Tosk from “Captive Pursuit”. In the end, Odo helps the Jem’Hadar escape the obligatory Federation attempt to investigate him.
We get another original plot twist in the episode “Defiant”. Will Riker from TNG is visiting, obviously just a crossover to get the viewer ratings in, right – except then he knocks out Kira, takes over the Defiant, and turns out to be Thomas Riker, Will’s transporter clone from “Second Chances”. It turns out that Thomas, frustrated with being in his alternate’s shadow, has decided to throw his lot in with the Maquis, who now take over the ship and go after Cardassian bases. This is such a brilliant plot twist because it doesn’t feel contrived; rather, the viewer is lulled into a false sense of security because how rarely a plot element like Thomas is ever brought back, and then kicks themselves for not thinking of it. In the end, after several successes, Sisko and the Cardassians manage to stop the Maquis – but not before (like Maxwell before him) Riker proves that the Obsidian Order has built a secret fleet. This is against Cardassian law and Gul Dukat is appalled, but more importantly, it’s foreshadowing for something to come.
Lwaxana Troi appears again in “Fascination” and then we’re into the, aha, fascinating two-parter “Past Tense”. This is a time travel and alternate history episode, so it deserves a full treatment here. Like Star Trek: First Contact, it runs on the impressively bold conceit that the timeline gets changed, not because of some event from world history the viewer already knows about like WW2 or the Kennedy assassination, but because of something that hasn’t happened yet. The Defiant has returned to Earth, and a problem with the cloaking device causes Sisk, Bashir and Dax beaming down to arrive in the year 2024. As part of the Star Trek franchise’s once-a-decade reminder of how much California sucks in the past (see also Star Trek IV, “Time’s Arrow”, “Future’s End” and Star Trek: Picard), we learn that homeless people are being herded by police into ‘Sanctuary Districts’. A man named Gabriel Bell is due to die a martyr while protecting hostages, and change public attitudes towards his fellows. However, due to the accidental intervention of Sisko and O’Brien (while Dax meets a wealthy businessman), Bell is killed before his time and history changes.
The Defiant, in orbit, is protected from the timeline changing because mumble cloaking device, but Starfleet and the Federation are gone. I find the description of the changed timeline to be one of the most impressively original aspects of this story. Usually, when timelines get changed, we get either huuuurgh humans evil militarists conquer all (Mirror Universe and the timeline seen in Star Trek: Picard) or humans nuanced militarists oh crap we’re losing (“Yesterday’s Enterprise”) or humans someone else’s slaves (the Mirror Universe again). Here, on the other hand, we never actually get to see the changed Earth close-up, we are just told that it’s not a peaceful society. The nearest transmissions are from Alpha Centauri, and they’re Romulan. The idea that humans are not the centre of things, not even important enough to be enslaved by the Romulans, just…an irrelevance, another forgettable planet of the week…is a powerful one and arguably an even darker fate than those usual ones. Anyway, O’Brien and Kira (with the rather trivial disguise of a plaster over her Bajoran nose!) beam down to various points in history to try to find Sisko, Dax and Bashir, but they only have so many goes, and for some reason it takes them a while to think of just doing a binary search to narrow it down. It does mean we get to see both 1930 and 1967 for some shout-outs to TOS, though.
Back in 2024, Sisko takes Bell’s place and fulfils his role in history, then at the end puts Bell’s ID on a body. This gets a neat shout-out in a later episode where it turns out Bell’s picture in the historical record has been replaced by Sisko’s! The timeline is restored, but not before we hear things about 2024 such as the internet being very important, Europe being in turmoil and Americans with diabetes being unable to pay for insulin. This far-fetched sci-fi stuff, eh? More seriously, this episode genuinely changed history, as the Los Angeles city government had actually been about to set up ‘homeless sanctuaries’ of this type to keep the homeless away from the business district before the episode aired, and it made them rethink their plans. Wolfe and Behr saw this episode as an exploration of the vision of Star Trek, and – as had appeared before – 24th century humans reflecting on where they had came from and if humanity’s bright future had been inevitable or not. To the viewer, it sends the message that they should never give up trying to make the world a better place. “Past Tense” also reflects the model that Star Trek generally used to tackle racism in a subtle and implicit way, as it’s never explicitly brought up that the dark-skinned men Sisko and Bashir are being treated more poorly than the light-skinned woman Dax despite them arriving under identical circumstances. However, later DS9 episodes took a more explicit approach, as we’ll see; perhaps, as TV Tropes says, ‘some anvils need to be dropped’.
“Life Support” sees Kira’s lover Vedek Bareil helping Kai Winn (yes, she emerged victorious) negotiate with the Cardassians, but an accident causes brain damage. He insists on working onwards as part of his brain is transferred into a positronic matrix like Data’s brain, but after the negotiation is complete, when told the rest will have to be transferred too, he decides that isn’t living and he would rather die at Kira’s side. Immediately afterwards, “Heart of Stone” sees Odo and Kira stranded on a planet with Kira slowly overcome by a crystal growing over her, and Odo admits his feelings for her (too soon, mate) and she agrees – upon which point he realises it’s not the real Kira, but the female shape-shifter from “The Search” tricking him. Still, this sets up a later plot arc for an Odo-Kira romance (again, too soon!)
“Destiny” is an interesting episode providing one does not examine it logically too closely; three female Cardassian scientists have come to study the wormhole, but a Bajoran prophecy about ‘three vipers returning to their nest in the sky’ (i.e. DS9) makes Kira suspicious. It’s meant to be about prophecies having multiple meanings and being subverted, though the second meaning doesn’t work that well. It’s more interesting for how O’Brien accidentally attracts one of the Cardassians, Gilora, due to not knowing that showing irritability is a form of flirting in their society – not unlike Kira before, a far cry from his history with Cardassians! Part of the plot also involves the Obsidian Order trying to sabotage the wormhole, again perhaps some foreshadowing. “Prophet Motive” involves the Bajoran Prophets affecting Grand Nagus Zek and ‘de-evolving’ him to an earlier state of Ferengi development, before they developed their ruthless capitalist instincts – Quark has to get them to change him back. Silly but fun.
“Visionary” is a neat time travel story in which O’Brien, affected by radiation, keeps jumping into the future and seeing glimpses of it, including the station’s destruction, while it hosts Romulan and Klingon delegations. O’Brien resolves to change the future, and succeeds, exposing a Romulan plot – but dies in the process, and his future counterpart has to complete the job (don’t think too hard about this). “Distant Voices” has a telepathic alien trap Bashir in his own mind, forcing him to navigate his way out. It also provides an unintended hint for the future – Bashir previously said that he only came second of his year in his final exams because he ‘mistook a preganglionic fibre for a postganglionic nerve’. Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s Celeste, who had medical experience, had pointed out that was unlikely, so here the alien suggests Bashir deliberately made the mistake because he fears standing out. This would fit quite unintentionally well with a later revelation about Bashir’s character, still far in the future.
“Through the Looking Glass” is the second DS9 mirror universe episode. Mirror O’Brien comes to kidnap our Sisko, because mirror Sisko has died in battle. Jennifer Sisko, who you may remember is Sisko’s wife who died in the Battle of Wolf 359, is still alive in the mirror universe (and they’re still married there despite how absurdly unlikely that is because shut up). She’s working under Pervy Kira as a collaborator, and alt-O’Brien wants our Sisko to convince her otherwise or else the resistance will just kill her. Well, there’s a nice plot. As before, everything about this episode is made worse because it’s meant to fit with the old mirror universe, but it does have some interesting ideas – such as one of Sisko’s resistance allies being Tuvok from VGR, who we’ll get to. It says something about how contrived the mirror universe model is (everyone is always in the same place in both dimensions) that we think it’s almost clever to actually feature someone who isn’t! You know there are problems when Keith R. A. DeCandido, the king of contrived Star Trek continuity references, only rated it 6/10. Still, the idea of bringing back Jennifer (and getting her actress back from the pilot) was fairly impressive.
What follows is a two-parter that many earlier references have been building up to, “Improbable Cause” and “The Die is Cast”. Garak’s tailor shop is bombed, and he and Odo investigate – fearing Enabran Tain may be in danger. However, while en route to him, they are captured by a Romulan warbird. In fact, it turns out that Tain is in charge of a joint operation between the Cardassian Obsidian Order and the Romulan Tal Shiar. The two spy agencies are operating unilaterally to bring a fleet of twenty cloaked ships through the wormhole, planning to destroy the Founders’ homeworld via orbital bombardment and end the potential threat from the Dominion. Garak agrees to join them, and ends up reluctantly torturing Odo with a device that prevents him from shapeshifting – as he has to revert to his liquid form every eighteen, I mean sixteen, hours, that causes him to start dying. (Nasty, but that would have been a nice technology to remember you have later on). The plan seems to succeed, but then it’s revealed that the Founders evacuated their homeworld early, and a Jem’Hadar ambush destroys the Romulan-Cardassian fleet. Garak is unable to persuade Tain to flee, leaving him beating himself up on a Romulan bridge about failing to find a traitor. Meanwhile, the main Romulan commander helps Odo and Garak escape – “because no changeling has ever harmed another”. If we had forgotten just how much of a threat the Dominion are, they just outplayed the two most feared spy agencies in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. The Changeling also tells Odo that the Dominion has plans for the Federation and the Klingons – a throwaway line that the writers later looked back on and decided to use. Foreshadowing is where you find it.
This is a great story, all the more impressive considering it was a last-minute idea to turn the Odo investigation plot into the first part of a two-parter – hence why it’s the first time Star Trek doesn’t use ‘part one/part two’ titles but different ones for each part.
In “Explorers”, Sisko grows a beard. Other things happen too, like him and Jake building an ancient Bajoran spaceship and finding if the old stories of Bajorans travelling to Cardassia in ancient times might be true (yes, this is a reference to Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki). Turns out there is an actual phenomenon that kicks the solar-sail ship to warp and sends them there, much to the surprise of three Cardassian warships that show up. In a nice moment, rather than doing what we might expect them to, the Cardassians decide to set off some space fireworks and reveal they found a wreck of a similar ship on Cardassia. So that’s nice. Also Jake tells Sisko about this freighter captain he wants to introduce him to, named Kasidy Yates, which he does in the next episode “Family Business”. That also sees Quark’s mother breaking Ferengi law and running a business herself, which will be a running theme in future episodes. “Shakaar” has Kira track down the titular former resistance leader, who will also reappear in later episodes. “Facets” continues to develop the Trill, with Jadzia doing a ceremony that lets her previous hosts occupy the bodies of her station colleagues (including Odo half-transforming into Curzon). Shame that one of them was a murderer, that probably won’t matter, right?
Season 3 ends with “The Adversary”, setting things up nicely for season 4 and showing how far we’ve come. Sisko has just been promoted to Captain, and the Defiant is going on a diplomatic mission to a very powerful important race who we’ve never heard of and will never actually see on screen, the Tzenkethi. However, as we know, all Starfleet admirals and ambassadors are evil, and this week’s ambassador is no exception, turning out to be a Changeling. The Changeling plans to use the ship to attack the Tzenkethi and start a war, so they now need to be tracked down while they unlock the controls or Sisko will have to destroy the ship. This stars a bit of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”-ery, in which it’s pointed out by Odo that if blood is extracted from a Changeling pretending to be a human or other alien, it will revert to their natural liquid state. Or, you know, we could use that device Garak had in the earlier episode that stops Changelings shape-shifting and makes them start peeling and crumbling, that should smoke them out? No, we’ve got to do blood tests, blood tests are more dystopian, even though (as THIS FIRST APPEARANCE demonstrates) they’re easily suborned. Michael Eddington seems to be the Changeling, something which fans had long suspected as he’s an anodyne Canadian suspiciously lurking in the background, but in fact Bashir was the Changeling (the real Bashir stuck in a cell) and he could make it look like Eddington was by using a hypospray made out of his own body. Obviously.
Anyway, in the end they do stop the Changeling, but it requires Odo killing him with help from the warp core – which, as we may have guessed from ‘no Changeling has ever harmed another’, is A Big Deal. His last words before he crumbles are “You’re too late – we’re everywhere.” That paranoia is going to be a driving focus of season 4.
Thus endeth season 3. Seasons 2 and 3 definitely represent DS9 winning back the hardcore Trek crowd who had been sceptical about a stationary station and no ship and everything. And yet, Wolfe and Behr were disappointed that significant events like “Past Tense” and “Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast”, didn’t come with much of a mainstream media impact. Never again, it seems, would Star Trek reach the mainstream heights it had with TOS and TNG.
Next time, we’ll look at some of the DS9 novels and other spinoff media that came out in these early years.
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.