“You have sided against us in battle, and this we do not forgive. Or forget.”
-- Chancellor Gowron
If there is a single episode when DS9 becomes the show people are always insisting, “No, seriously, this is the best Star Trek,” it’s this one, the fourth season premiere. The modern TV fan in me rebels at the idea of waiting three full seasons for “things to get good,” but I hope if these reviews do nothing else, they at least point out a lot of goodness lurking in the first three seasons of the show and establish that DS9’s quality was less a switch getting flipped and more a series of incremental improvements.
“You’re too late. We are everywhere.”
-- The Changeling
My favorite movie of all time is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Not Citizen Kane. Not Casablanca. Not The Shawshank Redemption or Pulp Fiction. That’s right, the film I love above all others is about a group of men trapped on Antarctica with a shapeshifting alien who looks like someone turned a meat locker inside out. At the time of its release, The Thing was dismissed with the same sneering distaste leveled upon modern horror subgenres like torture porn or found footage and using some of the same language. Over time, it has come to be recognized as belonging in the pinnacle of the genre, somehow melding the deep psychological question of how well you can know anyone with practical gore effects that still look incredible over three decades later.
“What is a person but the sum of their memories?”
-- Lela Dax
Identity is a tricky thing. Even for someone like me, who has a pretty self-explanatory setup. When you’re young, you try on different personae, different obsessions, different cliques. And then, there’s the stuff that might not be okay in the culture of the time. There are a lot of things that determine both one’s identity as presented to the world, and one’s identity as a concept held internally, and how these two faces interact. Certainly, a large portion of identity comes from experiences, filtered through memory. The most terrifying aspect of that is just how unreliable memory is, meaning one of the largest things shaping who we are is a bunch of s--t our brains made up.
“I didn’t fight the Cardassians for twenty-five years just so I can start shooting other Bajorans.”
-- Shakaar Edon
In a long-running series, specific episodes are often thought of as “sequels” to earlier ones. While every episode coming after one is technically a sequel, these kinds of things draw clearer connections between them, uniting themes, events, characters, and ideas across seasons of distance. The writers intended this as a sequel to “Life Support,” which was the one where Winn and Bareil united like the Riggs and Murtaugh of diplomacy (so, you know, the exact opposite of Riggs and Murtaugh) to carve out the treaty with Cardassia. Bareil died, and his death is still felt here, with Kira praying for his soul. I saw a deeper connection with another episode, the first season hour “Progress,” when Kira had to move a cranky farmer off a moon before it was turned into a charred hellscape.
“If you ask me, this society could use a little chaos.”
The most baffling, and yet virulent, opinion in all of criticism is that dark and gritty is inherently more meaningful than light and funny. You see it everywhere. It reared its sad, clown head over at Warner Bros. when they pledged that DC movies wouldn’t have any jokes, implying that the relentless grayness of Man of Steel is somehow deeper than Peter Quill overcoming the loss of his youth to forge a deep bond with a talking raccoon. It was apparent in the few bad reviews of the Parks and Recreation finale, that the idea of the future as a place for hope and happiness is inherently silly and shallow. “Dark” is too often accepted as a synonym for good, while “light” is empty.
“We’ll make a sailor out of you yet.”
-- Commander Benjamin Sisko
By now everyone knows what “jumping the shark” means. It’s the inverse that a lot of people have trouble with. The term, according to TV Tropes, is “growing the beard,” and it references the second season of Star Trek: TNG when Riker farmed his familiar facial hair. The beard itself wasn’t the reason for the quality -- it was more that TNG figured out it wasn’t TOS -- but the beard is useful shorthand to know whether or not you’re about to waste an hour or not. The weird thing is that it works pretty well with DS9, too. Granted, there are plenty of great episodes before Sisko grows his goatee, but if you see it, you’re practically guaranteed a good time.
“I’m afraid the fault, dear Tain, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
-- Elim Garak
It’s not even a controversial statement anymore to say that TV is better than movies. We can pretty much take it as a given, excepting certain works of genius like Fury Road. The pertinent part of that statement, though, is why this is a given, and the answer is simple. In movies, executives are in charge. In TV, writers are. The reason I bring this up is that this week’s episode, “The Die is Cast,” (a.k.a. Improbable Cause Part 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold) is the first in which Ira Steven Behr was executive producer, and his presence is immediately evident.
“The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination.”
-- Elim Garak
As I’ve been working my way through the series, I’ve been singling out my favorite episodes of each season. Thus far, they have one thing in common: Cardassians. That will hold true for next season’s favorite, as well, and probably beyond, but I don’t remember. I love them partially because, in their minds, they are the great heroes of the galaxy. They are the rightful Stalinist overlords of the Alpha Quadrant, and if all these other races would only realize it, maybe we could get some order around here. In this week’s episode, we turn to not only my favorite Cardassian, but my favorite character overall, the exile/spy/mystery man/simple tailor, Elim Garak.
“Too much spirit can be a dangerous thing. Tends to infect others.”
-- Intendant Kira
One of the most difficult parts of writing fiction is conveying realistic movement when your characters are away. Villains -- well, good ones anyway -- aren’t just sitting on a throne in a room someplace, waiting for the heroes to show up and beat them in a swordfight. Villains have goals. In fact, villains tend to be the proactive ones, bucking the social order, while the heroes are the ones enforcing it, but that’s not really important right now. The point is that the world moves even when the heroes aren’t looking directly at it. It’s like Shrodinger’s Cat, but without the animal cruelty.
“I can do anything I want. It is my mind.”
-- Dr. Julian Bashir
I have an uneasy relationship with spoilers in this space. There are elaborate rules to navigate the revealing of spoilers in our current culture of extreme interconnectiveness. It’s considered bad form to instantly tweet crucial plot twists as a show is airing, for example, but when exactly it becomes okay to discuss in a public forum is very much a subject of intense debate. In this space, I’m never certain how many things I should spoil before they happen.