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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 7 (Review)

The seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a remarkable accomplishment.

The seventh season is not perfect by any measure. Taken as a whole, it lacks the consistency that made the fifth season one of the best twenty-odd-episode seasons of television ever produced, particularly in a dire mid-season run of episodes that includes Prodigal Daughter, Field of Fire and The Emperor’s New Cloak. The fifth season (and even the sixth) never hit a run of three consecutive episodes that drag that hard. Similarly, there are moments when the production trips over itself during its epic run of ten closing episodes.

Similarly, it lacks the sheer quantity of all-time great episodes that made the sixth season so exciting and compelling, like that opening six-episode arc or Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight. However, the seventh season does quite well for itself; episodes like Treachery, Faith and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Chimera, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges and Tacking Into the Wind are massively underrated and count among the best episode that the franchise ever produced.

However, the seventh season has a very clear sense of direction and purpose. After all seven years is a long time on television. By the time that the other Star Trek series hit that mark, there was a sense of exhaustion creeping in around the edges. The final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation often felt aimless and meandering, the production team waiting to transition to feature films. The final season of Star Trek: Voyager felt similarly worn out, a faded photocopy of an approach that had worked on the previous three seasons.

In sharp contrast, the seventh season of Deep Space Nine knows roughly where it is going. From the opening scenes of Image in the Sand, the production team are cognisant of the fact that the curtain will be coming down at the end of the season. As a result, the seventh season is written with an ending in mind. The writers might not have known that ending from the outset, and were still working on it even during the sprawling final arc at the end of the year, but they knew that it existed and was waiting twenty-six episodes in the future.

As a result, the seventh season of Deep Space Nine has a very strong sense of identity and compelling sense of urgency. These attributes distinguish the season the final years of The Next Generation and Voyager, but also mark it out as one of Deep Space Nine‘s (and the franchise’s) strongest years.

The seventh season of Deep Space Nine is dominated by several major strands. The most obvious is the latest addition to the regular cast, Ezri Dax. Introducing a new member of the regular cast during the final season is a risky move on any series. After all, the production team has enough to be worrying about as the end approaches. It is very hard to introduce, develop and then wrap-up a new character at the same time. At a time when a series should be winding down, it can be counter-intuitive to focus on a new beginning.

To be fair, the writers on Deep Space Nine were stuck between a rock and a hard place by circumstances outside of their control. The departure of Terry Farrell at the end of the sixth season had meant that Nana Visitor was the series’ only credited female lead. Had one of the male leads departed, the production team might have left that space vacant. However, the gender imbalance in the cast would have been very noticeable. A new character made sense, particularly given that there were also relatively few recurring female characters in the wider ensemble.

More than that, the character of Dax all but demanded the introduction of a new character to the ensemble. The Dax symbiont was such a fascinating concept that it almost feels like a Chekov’s Gun, a set-up in Emissary that demands to be paid off before the curtain comes down in What You Leave Behind. Jadzia Dax had always seemed like she skipped the most interesting arc for a joined Trill, the process of integration. More than that, introducing the new host on to Deep Space Nine opened all manner of potentially interesting dynamics.

As such, Ezri Dax was an inevitability. Her introduction is a challenge for the seventh season. It is not the same as introducing Worf in the fourth season, where the character joined the main cast with an understanding that there would be four seasons to develop them. However, the writers also needed to avoid a situation similar to the introduction of Seven of Nine in the fourth season of Voyager, where a new character was introduced with such force that she sidelined the overwhelming majority of the cast.

The seventh season of Deep Space Nine strikes a careful balance. The character of Ezri is introduced at the very end of Image in the Sand, and spends most of Shadows and Symbols as a companion to Sisko while the rest of the cast go about their business. By the time that the season decides to construct an Ezri-centric episode in Afterimage, the production team very cannily true to diffuse the focus on the new cast member. For the episode’s primary plot, Ezri is teamed up with fan-favourite character Garak. For the secondary plot, the existing cast react to Ezri.

As a rule, Ezri works well as part of the ensemble. She integrates very effectively into the dynamic. Nicole de Boer is a charming performer, and she fits quite neatly in lighter pieces like Take Me Out to the Holosuite or Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. Smaller moments in episodes like Once More Unto the Breach or The Siege of AR-558 do an excellent job of capturing the uncanny nature of the character. She even gets to drive one of the more dynamic story threads in the opening three episodes of the final arc; Penumbra, ‘Til Death Do Us Part and Strange Bedfellows.

However, there are minor problems along the way. Most obviously, the heavily Ezri-centric episodes of the season are the weakest of the year. Ezri is the focus of three episodes in the middle of the season, and they are all underwhelming. Taken together, Prodigal Daughter, Field of Fire and The Emperor’s New Cloak kill a lot of the momentum of the episodes leading into them. None of this is down to Ezri as a character or de Boer as an actor. There is a general sense of fatigue and exhaustion that sets in.

There are other issues. Ezri is very cleverly introduced as a counsellor, which makes a certain amount of sense. The characters on The Next Generation were so well-adjusted, that Deanna Troi felt redundant. However, Deep Space Nine is set in the middle of an epic intergalactic war. As a result, it makes sense for Sisko to request a counsellor. However, Ezri does relatively little counselling outside of Afterimage, even in episodes like Chrysalis or It’s Only a Paper Moon, when her skills might be of use but the plot demands another focal character.

Still, the introduction of Ezri adjusts a number of the dynamics on the show in a very interesting and clever way. Ignoring the misstep of teasing a Bashir and Dax relationship in Afterimage and paying it off in The Dogs of War, Ezri has a very compelling set of interpersonal relationships. This is most obvious in here relationship with Worf, which is allowed to play across the season. Her awkwardness with Jadzia’s husband in Afterimage, Once More Unto the Breach and Field of Fire lingers over the season, and pays off in Penumbra.

Similarly, there is something very compelling in the new dynamic between Sisko and Dax. Curzon Dax was a mentor to Sisko; Jadzia Dax was a friend. Ezri feels like a student to Sisko in episodes like Afterimage, Field of Fire and Penumbra. This feels like an organic development of their relationship. More than that, it allows for some more development of the relationship between Sisko and Yates. With Jadzia Dax gone, Kasidy Yates becomes a sounding board and foil for Benjamin Sisko in episodes like Take Me Out to the Holosuite or Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang.

The seventh season of Deep Space Nine is willing to play the long game with the character of Ezri Dax, just like it is willing to play the long game with any number of other concepts. The production team begin seeding plot points and character beats relatively early in the season, setting up reveals and developments that will become vitally important to the series as it enters its final episodes. Deep Space Nine was never entirely serial, but there are points in the seventh season when it is very clear that the writers are setting up ideas for pay-off down the line.

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is very clearly intended to introduce the disease affecting the Founders, which becomes a key plot point in later episodes like When It Rains… and Extreme Measures. Similarly, Chimera is structured in such a way as to seed the idea that Odo could never really belong among the crew of Deep Space Nine, and that he would be returning to the Great Link. Even the exploration of Martok’s backstory in Once More Unto the Breach sets up his conflict with Gowron in Tacking Into the Wind.

One of the bigger issues with the sixth season of Deep Space Nine was the sense that the writers had no idea where they were going following the impressive opening arc – A Time to Stand, Rocks and Shoals, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines, Favour the Bold, Sacrifice of Angels. The sixth season lacked direction or purpose, leading to strange episodes like One Little Ship or Time’s Orphan, episodes that seemed to exist to fill up the twenty-six episode order count. Indeed, the seventh seasons of The Next Generation and Voyager are filled with such episodes.

In contrast, every episode within the seventh season of Deep Space Nine serves a clear purpose, even if that purpose is to take the opportunity to finally do a baseball episode in Take Me Out to the Holosuite or to do one last “fun” episode before things get heavy in Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang. Space is very much as a premium, perhaps best demonstrated by the fact the seventh season consciously avoids several of the pro forma standalone episodes that have been a fixture of Deep Space Nine to this point.

Most obviously, there is not a clear “O’Brien must suffer” episode in the seventh season, with the production team working it in as a secondary element in both Prodigal Daughter and Extreme Measures. Similarly, there is not a single clear Ferengi-centric episode in this season; the aliens have to share their allocated space with the expected mirror universe episode in The Emperor’s New Cloak and with the nuts-and-bolts of the epic closing arc in The Dogs of War. Watching the seventh season, it seldom feels like there is a second to spare.

Even the season’s clear misfires, like Prodigal Daughter and Field of Fire has a clear purpose in terms of the mechanics of the season; they are designed to develop Ezri as a character. Even seemingly standalone stories set up character beats or dynamics intended to pay-off down the line. Chrysalis is a story that focuses on Bashir’s loneliness and isolation, particularly at a time when everybody else is happily in love; in doing so, it sets up his last-minute romance with Ezri. Covenant confirms Dukat’s faith in the Pah-Wraiths, setting up his gambit at the end of the year.

There is even a clear sense that the Dominion War will be coming to an end. The sixth season seemed unable to imagine a future past the end of the conflict, barring Martok’s promise to have taken Cardassia by the end of the seventh season in Tears of the Prophets. However, the seventh season repeatedly gestures towards the unknown space that lies beyond this immediate conflict, suggesting that the characters and the various governments no longer see the Dominion War as a clear-cut existential crisis.

In Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols, the Romulans plot to annex a Bajoran moon so that they might hold it when the dust settles. In Treachery, Faith and the Great River, it is confirmed that the Founders have been infected with a deadly disease that threatens to completely wipe them out. In Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, Bashir becomes embroiled in a game of espionage between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire jockeying for position when the dust settles. In Penumbra, Sisko buys land on Bajor, hoping to retire when the war ends.

As such, the seventh season provides a more holistic view of the Dominion War than the sixth season had done. Part of this is undoubtedly down to the fact that the Dominion War is no longer a shocking novelty in terms of the Star Trek canon. The writers had written a full season of the Dominion War at this point, and so had dealt with the conflict as an all-encompassing existential threat. The seventh season works hard to ground the conflict. This is most obvious in the lingering on the effects of the conflict in episodes like The Siege of AR-558 or It’s Only a Paper Moon.

More than that, the seventh season makes a point to emphasise the tragedy of war on all sides. Building off the scenes between Damar and Weyoun in Tears of the Prophets, the seventh season makes a point to repeatedly shift its attention to Cardassia. This focus is initially character-driven in Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols, with Damar and Weyoun serving as something of a Greek chorus commenting on various developments in the episode. However, that perspective gradually widened.

It is too much to suggest that Deep Space Nine was ever overly sympathetic to the Dominion. However, episodes like Treachery, Faith and the Great River suggest that war is a tragedy on all fronts, whether for innocent individuals caught in the crossfire like Weyoun VI or for the victims of mass destruction like the Great Link. The seventh season seems genuinely outraged by the attempted genocide of the Founders orchestrated by Section 31, with Bashir railing against it in When It Rains…, Tacking Into the Wind and Extreme Measures.

More than that, the seventh season develops a great deal of sympathy for the Cardassians. War is presented as a crisis without any winners. In Strange Bedfellows, a Klingon victory is presented as a Cardassian catastrophe. In Tacking Into the Wind, a Klingon loss is portrayed as a Dominion victory. The seventh season of Deep Space Nine suggests that war is a tragedy on all sides, an idea perhaps best captured in the scene of Martok drinking the halls of Cardassian Central Command. Surrounded by mangled Cardassian bodies, Sisko is no longer thirsty.

Indeed, the seventh season of Deep Space Nine builds upon a lot of what made the early seasons so successful, particularly when it comes to developing the supporting cast. In particular, the seventh season devotes considerable time and effort to fleshing out antagonistic characters. Weyoun has been consistently characterised as slimy and untrustworthy since To the Death, but Treachery, Faith and the Great River finds time to humanise him. Even the genocidal Female Changeling is allowed to express some sense of compassion to Weyoun in What You Leave Behind.

Of course, the seventh season’s most developed supporting cast member is Damar. The character was introduced as something close to a named extra in Return to Grace, but gradually evolved and developed in the years that followed. He followed Dukat to prominence in Call to Arms, and was gradually fleshed out over the sixth season. His alcoholism was introduced in Behind the Lines, and his guilt over what happened to Dukat suggested in Statistical Probabilities. However, Damar did not really develop until the seventh season.

Over the course of the season, particularly in the final ten episodes, Damar evolves from alcoholic Dominion stooge into a fully-fledged revolutionary. Indeed, Damar is afforded one of the most surprising (and compelling) character arcs in the entire Star Trek franchise, from a man unable to look at himself in the mirror in Strange Bedfellows to a patriot offering his life to liberate Cardassia in What You Leave Behind. It is a powerful narrative, and a testament to how carefully and how thoughtfully the seventh season of Deep Space Nine builds its character arcs.

Indeed, the seventh season of Deep Space Nine accomplishes a rare sense of symmetry. Watching the season from beginning to end, it feels like the series has come a full circle. There are inconsistencies and problems, of course. The Pah-Wraiths should never have become a focal point of the show’s long-running arc in episodes like The Assignment and The Reckoning, and they are undoubtedly the weakest aspect of the series’ epic ten-part finale and of its final ninety minutes. However, a lot more of the final season holds together very well.

Even before the sprawling ten-episode finale, the final season of Deep Space Nine seems to reach back into the show’s history, in terms of style more than continuity. Chimera features the first reference to “the hundred” in quite some time, as Odo encounters another changeling who had been set adrift by the Great Link; it harks back to early episodes about Odo’s search for his identity, like Vortex and The Alternate. Similarly, Chrysalis feels like an episode that harks back to the sort of “romance of the week” episodes that were common in the early years, like Melora or Second Sight.

However, this sense of symmetry really comes into play during the sprawling ten-arc finale. Kira once again becomes a revolutionary in When It Rains…, albeit one wearing a Starfleet uniform. Worf once again played a vital role in the transition of power within the Klingon Empire in Tacking into the Wind. Deep Space Nine once again became the site of a transition of power within the Ferengi Alliance in The Dogs of War, Grand Nagus Zek once again announcing his retirement, seeming to hand power to Quark only to hand power to his (step)son.

The most obvious juxtaposition was the reversal of Bajor and Cardassia from one end of the series to another. When Sisko arrived on Bajor in Emissary, the planet was in ruins. It was burning. The ravages of a Cardassian Occupation had taken their toll. However, Cardassia endures its own tragedies in What You Leave Behind. Many of the horrors that the Cardassians inflicted upon the Bajorans are visited upon the Cardassians by the Dominion, an irony not lost on characters like Martok and Garak. Even Damar acknowledges that Cardassia is not in an alliance, but under occupation.

The seventh season benefits greatly from the decision to put the sprawling epic multi-part story at the end of the year, rather than at the beginning as it had been during the sixth season. The sixth season began with an impressive six-episode arc that brought Sisko back to Deep Space Nine, but the production team never seemed sure of where they wanted to take the story from there. Closing the series with a ten-episode arc is a shrewd decision, as it gives the seventh season something to build towards.

Of course, the ten-episode arc that closes the seventh season is not as strong as the six-episode arc that opened the sixth season. There is a sense that the writing staff might have bitten off more than they could chew in trying to stitch ten episodes together into a single story; even with six episodes, the production team tripped over themselves with Sons and Daughters. There are a number of plotting and pacing issues with the ten episodes that close the series, from running out of plot for Dukat and Winn in When It Rains… to the jumbled misfire of Extreme Measures.

At the same time, the production team make a point to structure these episodes in a very organic manner. As with the six episodes that opened the sixth season, the first six episodes of the final arc are structured as four interwoven episodes leading into a two-parter. Penumbra, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Strange Bedfellows and The Changing Face of Evil are effectively one cohesive block of story. The Klingon- and Cardassian-centric two-parter of When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind serves a similar function to the two-parter Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels.

Indeed, it is telling that the final chapter’s weakest episode, Extreme Measures, is the seventh episode of the cycle. It seems to suggest that six interlinked episodes is the limit for the production team, that the writing staff needs a quick reset before moving on. Indeed, Extreme Measures is arguably the most standalone episode in the sprawling ten-episode arc, a caper with Bashir and O’Brien that shifts focus away from Damar’s rebellion or the Breen weapon or the Dominion Occupation or the Defiant’s destruction. Then The Dogs of War dovetails the arc into What You Leave Behind.

The ambitious ten-episode structure is a particularly clever development because it allows every member of the ensemble the opportunity to be part of Deep Space Nine‘s final story. Sisko gets engaged and married in Penumbra and ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Ezri gets to reconcile herself with Worf and Bashir in Penumbra, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Strange Bedfellows and The Changing Face of Evil. Bashir is the focus in Extreme Measures. Quark gets centre stage in The Dogs of War. Odo ends the war and goes home in What You Leave Behind.

(Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that Miles O’Brien is the most neglected character across these last ten episodes and the final season as a whole. O’Brien is a supporting character in both Treachery, Faith and the Great River and Prodigal Daughter, but he more frequently seems like the glue holding the station together. He is Worf’s drinking buddy in Image in the Sand and Afterimage, Bashir’s confidante in Chrysalis and adventure companion in Extreme Measures. However, O’Brien never quite gets to take the focus in this final year.)

Even outside of these character-driven story beats, the decision to spread the final story across ten episodes allows more room for smaller character-driven moments; Quark delivering coffee to the infirmary while Bashir works to save Odo in When It Rains…, Bashir and O’Brien bickering about the Alamo model in The Changing Face of Evil, Martok and Sisko discussing marriage in Strange Bedfellows. Indeed, What You Leave Behind is crammed full of these beats; Worf joking about killing Bashir, O’Brien finding the lost figure, Damar flirting with Mila.

These little moments breathe life into the show, distinguishing Deep Space Nine from Voyager or Enterprise. One of the joys of expanding the final story across ten whole episodes is the freedom to indulge in these moments. Indeed, the seventh season as a whole is populated with these moments. Even otherwise underwhelming episodes give over space to nice character beats; Worf and Ezri sharing a moment late at night in Field of Fire, Kira and Odo together in the teaser of Extreme Measures.

Even the lighter episodes of the season, like Take Me Out to the Holosuite or Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang, exist in this context. They reinforce the idea that these characters share the same space and the same interests, enjoying more complicated (and perhaps even richer) interpersonal dynamics than the primary cast of any other Star Trek series. Even when the seventh season of Deep Space Nine is not consciously building towards its finale, it is still conscious that these characters’ time together is coming to a close. It is a reminder of what is being left behind.

The seventh season of Deep Space Nine is a spectacular accomplishment, a worthy cap on a bold and experimental series.

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