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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Search, Part I (Review)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Search, Part I is interesting. It is an episode that, in effect, serves as something of a second pilot for the show. It’s an episode that re-conceptualises the show, while taking a great deal of trouble to ensure that any new viewers will be brought up to speed. In fact, The Search is a rather disjointed two-parter as a whole. The first part feels like a lot of set-up with a cliffhanger tacked on to the end of the episode, while the second part is very clearly its own story.

It makes sense. At this point, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the only Star Trek on television. It’s a period that doesn’t last, and which is really just a scheduling fluke. The show’s second season continued on past the airing of All Good Things…, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The third season began broadcasting before the airing of Caretaker, the pilot of Star Trek: Voyager. Star Trek: Generations was released somewhere in the middle. So the stretch where Deep Space Nine was “the only Trek on television” feels largely illusory.

Still, The Search, Part I feels like a conscious attempt to welcome any wayward Star Trek fans. Including, appropriately enough, new staff writer Ronald D. Moore.

Staring into space...

Staring into space…

Assigning The Search, Part I to Ronald D. Moore is an incredibly gutsy move for Deep Space Nine. Moore is a veteran of Star Trek at this point. Outside of Michael Piller, he’s the only writer who has been working consistently on the franchise since the third season of The Next Generation. He’s one of the strongest writers to work on the franchise, and his decision to migrate over to Deep Space Nine rather than working on Voyager is a massive boon to the show.

However, unlike Brannon Braga and Jeri Taylor, who were moving to a new show with a new cast, Moore was moving over to an existing Star Trek spin-off that had been on the air for two years at this point. He was very much hopping on board a moving train. Moore obviously had an established working relationship with Ira Steven Behr, who had worked with him on the third season of The Next Generation, but it’s still interesting that Moore chose Deep Space Nine.

You just can't get the staff these days...

You just can’t get the staff these days…

Talking about his choice years later, he admitted that he was drawn to the ambition of the series:

I remember watching Duet and thinking that here was a Trek series willing to push the franchise and go into new and powerful territory.  I also remember watching Move Along Home and wondering if everyone had lost  their minds. (Not that I had much room to talk as the proud author of Aquiel and Rascals.)  I liked the fact that they were setting out in new directions from the TOS and TNG models and that they weren’t afraid of  presenting their regular characters as less than perfect.  I wasn’t that interested in the Bajoran politics in those first couple of years, but felt that it was something that could be better mined in time.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the original pitch for Voyager featured the idea of conflict between the Maquis and Starfleet, but it’s easy to see how Deep Space Nine appealed to Moore’s sensibilities. (And he’d go on to push it further in that direction himself.)

A commanding presence...

A commanding presence…

Still, at this point, Moore had no real experience with these characters or this world, which makes him a strange choice to pen the first episode of the season. It was, apparently, a purely pragmatic decision. Robert Hewitt Wolfe had planned to write the episodes with Ira Steven Behr (they both get a “story” credit), but real life interfered. As Wolfe explained:

Wrote these stories with Ira.  I was supposed to write the teleplays with him as well, but I had the bad grace to go on my honeymoon and not be around when it was time to do the writing.

As such, there’s a sense that Moore stepped in to fill a gap in the production plan, and that he had never been intended to write the first episode of his first season as a staff writer on the show. In fact, Moore’s second script – House of Quark – feels more like a “let’s gently ease Ronald D. Moore into Deep Space Nine” assignment than The Search, Part I.

Hardly the gold standard...

Hardly the gold standard…

Still, despite the fact that it’s an odd fit, the decision to assign the script to Moore has merits. After all, the episode is clearly written as an introductory episode – it’s a show that is designed to be accessible to anybody tuning in for the first time. It takes the time to introduce us to the characters and the world they inhabit, to set up the show’s status quo. Moore is only really delving into the characters at this point, much like many of the potential new audience that Deep Space Nine is hoping to capitalise on, with the the third season airing in the time slot previously occupied by The Next Generation in many markets.

Very little actually happens in The Search, Part I. The over all plot doesn’t move that far forward at all. Up until the last five minutes, nothing too shocking or stunning unfolds. It’s only when the episode needs a cliffhanger that the plot pushes forward. The Defiant is attacked by the Jem’Hadar and the crew are forced to evacuate. Odo discovers his people. These are primarily plot points that the show will deal with in The Search, Part II, and their presence here seems jammed into the final few minutes of the episode.

Point of interest...

Point of interest…

However, up until that point Starfleet is still (rather unsuccessfully) looking for the Dominion. Odo is still pining for home. Instead, we get lots of scenes of character establishing how serious the Dominion are as a threat and making the relationships that exist among the cast quite clear. Odo is established as an insecure outsider, with Eddington introduced as a spiritual successor to the character of Primmins from The Passenger back in the first season. Quark and Odo bicker. Kira is concerned about Odo. Sisko is determined to find the Founders.

The Search is the episode that really solidifies the typical structure of a Deep Space Nine season. The show rarely did direct season-bridging cliffhangers. Instead, it preferred to upset the status quo at the end of the season and pick up with the consequences in the next season premiere. The Next Generation and Voyager preferred rather neat two-part episodes straddling the summer hiatus, with the cliffhanger at the end of one season intended to lure viewers back a few months later.

She's not 'earring any more of this...

She’s not ‘earring any more of this…

Deep Space Nine adopts a slightly different approach. The season finalés are always big “event” stories, but they tend to be relatively open-ended. As such, the season premieres are less concerned with tidying up loose ends than they are with providing a mission statement for the season ahead. This is a clever way of structuring the show – allowing Deep Space Nine to have its cake and eat it too. Fans who watched The Jem’Hadar have been waiting to see the arc move forward, while The Search devotes considerable time to bringing new viewers into the world.

The show had attempted something similar at the end of the first season. In the Hands of the Prophets teased two new recurring characters and complications with the Federation’s relations with Bajor, all of which came back into focus for the season-opening three-parter. It didn’t work as well as the bridge between the show’s second and third seasons, for a number of reasons. For one thing, In the Hands of the Prophets felt more like a nice book-end to Emissary than a hook for a coming season. And Bajor was already slipping from the show’s focus.

Odo's attachment to the place is quite nebulous...

Odo’s attachment to the place is quite nebulous…

In a way, The Search feels very much like a template for The Way of the Warrior, the two-parter that would open the fourth season of the show. Both episodes are two-parters that represent a considerable shift in the show’s focus. The Search confirms that the Dominion are to be the show’s primary adversaries, while The Way of the Warrior sees the Klingons returning as a focal point for the show. Both are structured in such a way as to be accessible to new viewers tuning in for the first time.

The Way of the Warrior is very much a more confident execution of the stuff that The Search did rather well. The Search adds the Defiant to the show; The Way of the Warrior adds Worf. The Search is a two-part season opener with different writers and directors on each installment; The Way of the Warrior was the work of one creative team broadcast as a feature-length adventure.

No Major problems...

No Major problems…

Still, a lot of The Search seems consciously aware of the lacuna in which Deep Space Nine currently sits. There’s a sense of awkwardness about trying to re-conceptualise the show. There’s still a sense that the series is trying to prove that it is Star Trek to the viewing public. In the introductory scene, the crew spend quite some time debating the station’s strategic weaknesses. O’Brien runs off a laundry list of excuses that feel a little bit like self-criticism of the show.

There’s talk of the “structural limitations” restricting the station’s ability to operate at maximum efficiency. There are concerns about the “available power supply”, perfect reflecting the time and energy that the studio is willing to expend to promote the show, with so much happening around it. And then there’s the classic criticism of Deep Space Nine, as O’Brien mentions “the difficulty of defending a stationary target.” It feels like the series is still trying to get past that pithy “to boldly sit” dismissal that so many fans and critics held against it.

Packing it in...

Packing it in…

After all, Deep Space Nine is a show that always felt secondary. It arrived at the peak of the success of The Next Generation. Even when The Next Generation ended, Voyager was the focus of attention, launching Paramount’s UPN network. As Behr notes on The U.S.S. Defiant DVD special feature, this was part of the context of Deep Space Nine‘s third season:

Voyager is coming on. And all we’re hearing is that Voyager is going to be all this, that and the other thing. Piller kept coming over to me and saying, “Look, Ira, Voyager is going to come on and it’s going to the show. Even though Deep Space Nine is a wonderful show, it’s always going to be number two. It’s a station-bound show. It just doesn’t have…” And I’m thinking, “This is unpleasant!”

Indeed, the Dominion were – according to Robert Hewitt Wolfe – engineered specifically to provide a contrast with Voyager. The theory was that Voyager would be doing alien-of-the-week stories in the Delta Quadrant, so doing alien-of-the-week stories in the Gamma Quadrant would be redundant.

The original Quark-y roommate comedy...

The original Quark-y roommate comedy…

Moore himself has conceded that Deep Space Nine was always the overlooked entry in the Star Trek franchise, but that this wasn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world:

Yeah we kind of prided ourselves on being the bastard stepchildren of the Trek franchise. We were the only one that truly different. Every other series was essentially about a starship boldly going somewhere, and we weren’t. We were proud of that. And we were kind of proud we didn’t get the same publicity and that we were the forgotten ones. It was something we sort of wore as a badge of honor amongst the writers. …. I think they missed an opportunity by not continuing to diversify what the franchise overall meant.

Moore has a point here, and there’s an argument to be made that Deep Space Nine was really the last time that Star Trek was in time with (or even ahead of) the general trend in television storytelling.

"These secondary colours don't make me feel any more comfortable about the Dominion..."

“These secondary colours don’t make me feel any more comfortable about the Dominion…”

If one were feeling cynical, you could argue that Deep Space Nine was overcompensating with the addition of the Defiant to the show. The space station was really a bold departure for Star Trek, something new and exciting for the franchise, radically different from anything that had come before or has followed since. So having the cast spend most of the first season premiere to air since The Next Generation went off the air on a spaceship feels like a bit of a cheat – like the faintest acknowledgement that maybe the stationary setting wasn’t interesting enough on its own.

In fact, The Search, Part I is very much structured like a typical Star Trek episode. We have our lead characters on a mission of exploration and discovery, flying their nifty starship into the unknown in the hopes of making peaceful first contact. Whereas the second season premiere, The Homecoming, was designed to emphasise the distinction between Deep Space Nine and conventional Star Trek, The Search, Part I seems to be written to play up the similarities – at least in broad strokes.

Venturing outside the Federation's dominion...

Venturing outside the Federation’s dominion…

To be fair, this isn’t a big problem. The episode treats those familiar elements as as a backdrop for the character-driven storytelling that Deep Space Nine did better than any of its siblings. The second part of this adventure, The Search, Part II, is much more in keeping with the show’s unique approach to storytelling. And the Defiant itself is pretty distinct from the Enterprise or Voyager in just about every respect.

The Defiant is quite clearly designed to break as many of Gene Roddenberry’s rules as possible. This is apparent even from the design of the ship. Roddenberry rather famously mandated that starships need to have nacelles in numbers evenly divisible by two and which would have at least 50% visibility of each other across the ship, seeming arbitrary rules widely speculated to exist simply to invalidate the work done by designer Franz Joseph’s 1973 blueprints. The Defiant’s engines are built into the main body of the ship on either side of the hull.

An unconscious design decision?

An unconscious design decision?

According to Jim Martin, this wasn’t an intentional design decision, just something that happened organically:

When you’re in the art department and you’re doing the job from episode to episode, you don’t really think, ‘Boy, this is really going to revolutionize Federation design.’ You’re getting a design out of the way. It’s only after the fact that you think, ‘Wow, that was a different idea.’ I’m glad we took the chance to take a little bit of a departure.

Still, even the external design of the Defiant suggests what a radical departure it is from Roddenberry’s vision of what Star Trek spaceships should look like.

Sisko was pleased to discover that the Defiant's other designers had not removed his suggested "atmospheric alert" setting...

Sisko was pleased to discover that the Defiant’s other designers had not removed his suggested “atmospheric alert” setting…

The interior design of the ship is also worth noting. The corridors are a lot smaller, a lot more cramped. The lighting is lower, especially when the ship is under cloak. In many ways, it is a submarine to the luxury liner that is Picard’s Enterprise. However, even the concept of the ship seems intended to move away from Roddenberry’s vision. In The USS Defiant special feature, Ronald D. Moore takes a lot of credit for developing the concept of the ship:

I got to invent the Defiant and I had a ball doing that, because I made it more of a war ship and got to do things that I wanted to do within Star Trek anyway. I was going to call it the Valiant at first, and then I was told by Rick that “I couldn’t name it anything V”, he told me mysteriously, because they hadn’t even released the name “Voyager” yet – but they were going to call it “something V name” so I couldn’t call it “a V name.” That was the only caveat. So I dug back into Trek lore and decided to name it the Defiant, after one of the starships in the original series.

In many ways, the Defiant feels like a Ronald D. Moore concept. It’s a very militarised spaceship, and one which is intentionally constructed to push the boundaries of what viewers have come to expect from the franchise. After playing with Roddenberry’s assertion that the Federation would never use cloaking technology (“our people are scientists and explorers — they don’t go sneaking around,” to quote The Star Trek Encyclopedia) in The Pegasus, Moore creates a Federation starship that comes equipped with a cloaking device.

Eddington's first assignment was to figure out what the heck had happened to Primmins...

Eddington’s first assignment was to figure out what the heck had happened to Primmins…

This was apparently a point of contention behind the scenes. Rick Berman objected to the cloaking device. The writing staff managed to convince him to sign off on the idea by promising that the device would only be used during important missions in the Gamma Quadrant. Naturally, that bit of tension makes it into the script as well, with the crew reluctant about the implications of the device, and Sisko offering the same assurances.

The Search is quite cynical, drawing attention to just how much the show is getting away with by making a few diplomatic concessions. As if trying to sell Star Trek fans and Rick Berman on the concept of the ship, Sisko offers, “Officially, it’s classified as an escort vessel.” However, he immediately makes it clear that this is just double-speak used to conceal what the ship really is. “Unofficially, the Defiant’s a warship. Nothing more, nothing less.”

I can't help but feel that casting the Rick Berman stand-in as a Romulan was a little pointed...

I can’t help but feel that casting the Rick Berman stand-in as a Romulan was a little pointed…

Similarly, despite the promise to only use the cloaking device in the Gamma Quadrant, Sisko never seemed too concerned. When Bashir – still defined as the most “idealistic in the classic Star Trek mould” character on the show at this point – objects to its use in Cardassian space during The Way of the Warrior, Sisko makes his position quite clear. “Well, I won’t tell the Romulans if you don’t,” Bashir reluctantly concedes.

To be fair, this was very much Ira Steven Behr’s favourite way of dealing with restrictions imposed by the studio. Although Rick Berman contends it didn’t happen as often as most people think, Behr and the Deep Space Nine writers had a wonderful knack for getting permission for something relatively small-scale and just running wild. The Defiant’s cloaking device is one example, but Rick Berman originally agreed to the Dominion War on the condition that it be resolved in four episodes. It ended up running two years.

Tough little ship...

Tough little ship…

Outside of that set-up and background, The Search, Part I does a nice job establishing its characters and status quo for the audience. Moore has a pretty good grasp of the characters’ voices, and he manages to write the show as if he’s been on staff the whole time. We get some nice reflection and introspection here, as well as a reminder of how far these characters have changed over the past two seasons. “I wonder when that happened?” Sisko muses at one point. “When did I start thinking of this Cardassian monstrosity as home?” It’s a nice little scene that feels well-earned.

That said, the majority of the character focus in The Search, Part I is on Odo. It makes sense, both from a plotting point of view and from the perspective of reeling jonesing Star Trek fans into the show. Odo is Deep Space Nine‘s outsider character. He is the show’s version of Spock or Data, albeit with a far more cynical and detached (and multi-cultural) twist. So focusing on Odo, the character with the closest resemblance to the franchise’s other two breakout characters, seems perfectly reasonable.

Much Odo about nothing?

Much Odo about nothing?

Of course, Odo is a tougher character to like than Spock or Odo, and Moore doesn’t try to bend the character to make him anymore appealing. His early conversation with Sisko establishes his fascistic tendencies to the viewers. When Sisko complains about security breaches, Odo responds, “If I was given the authority I asked for instead of being tied to Starfleet regulations, there wouldn’t have been any security breaches.”

In fact, the entire exchange serves to bring viewers up to speed with Deep Space Nine‘s more cynical view of the Federation and Starfleet. When Eddington arrives on the station to take care of Starfleet’s security needs, Odo isn’t convinced by Sisko’s attempts to placate him. He’s quite candid in his assessment of the situation. “I think Starfleet decided to bring in someone they could trust, someone besides the shape-shifter.”

Quark always was a bit of a kiss-up...

Quark always was a bit of a kiss-up…

Despite Sisko’s repeated assertions that “this is not a racial issue”, it’s hard not to feel like Odo might have a point. As Armin Shimerman argues in The Deep Space Nine Companion, the scene where Sisko forces Quark to kiss the Nagus’ sceptre is decidedly uncomfortable, even beyond continuing The Nagus‘ references to The Godfather:

Despite the Federation’s lip service to their Prime Directive, which says they’re not supposed to apply their standards to any culture’s attitudes, it seems to me that this was another example of the Federation making fun of, taking advantage of, and ridiculing the Ferengi way. So kissing the scepter was a bit irksome to both the actor and the character.

And Quark is a humanoid. What of Odo? Look at how Starfleet treated Data in The Measure of a Man. The institution seems less than trusting of lifeforms that don’t conform to recognisable biological templates. Odo is just as much an extraterrestrial “other” as Data; however, Odo lacks Data’s optimism and innocence. He’s less tolerant of the unease felt by those around him. And Starfleet, for all its openness, hardly has the best track record when it comes to treating outsiders well.

Giving him an earful...

Giving him an earful…

Odo is a fascinating character. Partially because of all the wonderful conflicts at the heart of his character, and partially because of the fantastic performance of Rene Auberjonois in the role. Both strengths are on display here. Odo’s confrontation with Sisko about Eddington is fascinating enough as written, but Auberjonois pushes the material a step further. Odo isn’t just proud and stubborn. He’s also petrified and insecure. Auberjonois gives us all manner of subtle visual clues emphasising that – despite all his posturing – Odo is legitimately afraid of being replaced.

The script and Auberjonois are both smart enough to trust viewers to pick up on Odo’s true feelings despite all the effort he makes to conceal them. He talks a good game, and presents a very stern image to the wider universe, but Odo is still something of a child. He’s still afraid that he might be useless or cast aside, or that the people around him might see him as replaceable or weak or ineffective. Ironically enough for a shape-shift, or perhaps understandably, Odo has a lot invested in his self-image.

"We also got a new briefing room set, but everybody's WAY more interested in talking about that warship I parked out front..."

“We also got a new briefing room set, but everybody’s WAY more interested in talking about that warship I parked out front…”

One of the nicer moments of the episode has Odo joining the Defiant at the last minute. He claims to be serving as a representative of the Bajoran Provisional Government, even though he just had a conversation with Kira where they both admitted the assignment was fake. Claiming to be joining the mission in an official capacity allows Odo to save face, and his fellow crew members all seem to respect that – the silent affectionate smile from Sisko after matter-of-factly granting permission to come on board is a lovely character moment.

Similarly, the interaction between Quark and Odo is remarkably charming. The show has hinted that Quark might actually have some genuine affection for Odo in the past, but the conversation here all but confirms it. Quark is terrified about journeying into the Gamma Quadrant to meet the Dominion, so he spends most of the scene babbling. However, it’s telling what Quark decides to babble about. He doesn’t babble about how this is an injustice or about how he’s going to die. He babbles about how glad he is to see Odo, and how the mission is lucky to have Odo.

Odo really shouldn't get so bent out of shape...

Odo really shouldn’t get so bent out of shape…

“So, what’s your role on this little adventure?” Quark ponders. Without leaving time for Odo to reply, he offers his own answer, “Providing security, no doubt. Well, of course you are. I mean, why else would you be here? I can tell you I feel much safer now, just knowing that you’re along, because I know I can trust you…” Quark is telling Odo exactly what he needs to hear right now, trying to reinforce the Changeling’s sense of purpose. That Quark understands Odo enough to offer this reassurance casually (even subconsciously) is telling.

Odo, naturally, lacks this sort of empathy and understanding. He freaks out at Quark, shouting and ranting at the barkeep. He insists that Quark doesn’t watch when he reverts to his liquid state to rest. There’s a very clear sense of Odo’s insecurity here. “I don’t want you to watch and gawk at me,” he states – hitting on the same fear that Mora tried to exploit in The Alternate, the crippling fear that Odo is really nothing more but a circus freak, a passing amusement rather than an individual in his own right.

The shape shifters of things to come...

The shape shifters of things to come…

This is the real strength of The Search, Part I. It’s a solid character piece designed to introduce (or reintroduce) the audience to the characters. It’s a good idea, and something the show would get better at the following season. The episode seems a little slow in places, spending so much time establishing a new status quo that it doesn’t really accomplish that much in terms of plotting. For an episode about how everything has changed, it seems surprisingly relaxed. (Again, this is something the show learned from.)

Still, The Search is a nice affirmation that while Deep Space Nine might boldly sit, as the critics complain, it’s still willing to go where no Star Trek has gone before.

You might be interested in our reviews of the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

4 Responses

  1. I became a fan of DS9 through the Dominion after being rather sceptical about the show in its first two seasons. I just couldn’t see how a Star Trek show would work on a space station compared to a starship which seemed filled with infinite possibilities. But between The Jem’Hadar and The Search, these episodes eased me into DS9 and forced me to reexamine my rather narrow view of Seasons 1 and 2. I’m glad I did, because otherwise I would not be here now talking about this wonderful show, which I now believe is the definitive Star Trek series.

    • I’m a huge DS9 fan. I think it’s my favourite Star Trek show. And I joined with The Way of the Warrior, so we have a similar perspective. But I do think S2 is underrated, particularly the final third or so of the season.

  2. It’s a very small point in a wonderful review, but I just want to say that the title sequence isn’t changed to add the Defiant to it at this point… It’s exactly the same as it was for the first two seasons.

    Now, the DVD menus DO change, which might be what caused the confusion.

    (A small but odd comparison to season 5 and the rest of the franchise… The new comm badges were designed for Generations, just like the new uniforms were designed for First Contact. However, here DS9 switched to the new comm badges before Generations aired, but for season 5 they were only allowed to switch uniforms once FC was in theatres.

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