Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' Season Four (1995)

Starring Avery Brooks, Nana Visitor and Michael Dorn
Created by Rick Berman and Michael Piller
Based on 'Star Trek' created by Gene Roddenberry

Though not at war, the Season Three finale had proved to Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) that the conflict with the Dominion was already in motion.  The Founders had tried to start a war between the Federation and a neighboring empire.  As Season Four opens, that plan continues.  A massive Klingon fleet arrives at Deep Space Nine led by a General Martok (J.G. Hertzler), claiming to be there to shore up the Federation's defenses should the Jem'Hadar invade.  But Sisko, suspicious of these motives, recruits Lt. Commander Worf (Michael Dorn), late of the Starship Enterprise, to get to the bottom of the matter. 

Worf discovers the Dominion has planted intelligence that the ruling council of Cardassia has been replaced by shapeshifters, prompting the Klingon Empire to launch an attack.  Sisko, knowing the way the Founders work, takes the Defiant into Cardassian space and rescues Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) and the ruling council, but in doing so triggers the ire of Klingon Chancellor Gowron (Robert O'Reilly).  Gowron dissolves the peace treaty between the Klingon Empire and the Federation.

Throughout the course of the year, Worf and the rest of the DS9 crew will deal with the growing threat of war with the Klingons, as well as more incursions by the Dominion.  The changeling threat to the Federation becomes ever more present when they detonate a bomb at an important diplomatic conference on Earth.  And for Constable Odo (Rene Auberjonois), reuniting with his people may prove to be equally dangerous as he must face their judgment for becoming the first changeling to kill another.

Season Four is another year of big changes for 'Deep Space Nine.'  The biggest, of course, is the addition of 'Next Generation' cast member Michael Dorn to the main cast.  An increased presence on the show for the Klingons in general takes over the identity of Season Four.  A number of episodes focus on Worf and his deteriorating relationship with the Klingons.  Gowron, who had always been a friend an ally of Worf and particularly of Captain Picard on TNG, here begins to see Worf as both a traitor and a coward for not joining him in the assault on Cardassia.

Episodes like "Starship Down" feature Worf struggling to come to grips with his new role as a command officer, and he often comes into conflict with Odo as he can't leave his history as security chief behind.  In "Sons of Mogh," Worf's brother Kurn (Tony Todd) arrives on the station in disgrace, hoping to perform a Klingon suicide ritual that puts Worf in a bad position since doing so would violate his Starfleet oath.  In "The Sword of Kahless," Worf joins Dax (Terry Farrell) and Kor (John Colicos) on a quest to locate a legendary Klingon sword that could reunite the empire.  "Rules of Engagement" puts Worf on trial after an escort mission aboard the Defiant ends in disaster.

So while there's a big spotlight on Worf and the Klingons this season, there's also plenty of time for everyone else.  There are a handful of absolutely classic episodes in this season, some of the best the series ever produced.  Of particular note is "The Visitor," in which Sisko is trapped in subspace and only appears to his son Jake (Cirroc Lofton) every few years.  The episode follows Jake throughout his adult life and into his elderly years, when he is played by Tony Todd, as Jake becomes obsessed with saving his father, even at the expense of his own life.  It's a fantastically emotional episode, one of the more openly dramatic works of the entire franchise, which often seems to play down the emotions of its characters in favor of focusing on their morals.

Another highlight is the two-part episode "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost."  In these episodes, a diplomatic conference on Earth is destroyed by changeling infiltrators.  Sisko and Odo are recalled to Starfleet Command to consult on the investigation, and Sisko gets caught up in a plot to usurp control of Earth from the civilian Federation government by those in Starfleet who believe security is more important than freedom.

This is a fantastic and important two-parter.  Watching it all these years later, noting the similarities to what happened in the United States after 9/11, the concepts it explores seem more terrifying and real.  This is all bolstered by the fact that the scripting and performances are first-rate.  Brock Peters is introduced as Sisko's father Joseph, who owns a restaurant in New Orleans.  There's a fantastic scene where Sisko realizes he's gone too far when he's actually scared that his own father might be a changeling, and Joseph chews him out for it.  It's excellently played by both actors, and the highlight of both episodes.  It all comes to a head with a battle between two Starfleet ships, and when both crews decide they simply don't want to fire on each other, the 'Star Trek' themes of cooperation come through beautifully.

Other highlight episodes include "Hard Time," a fantastic episode in which O'Brien (Colm Meaney) is subjected to a unique form of punishment on an alien world: he is forced to live through a simulation of years of his life in a harsh prison, and then suffers post-traumatic stress when he discovers the whole thing occurred in only minutes and he must readjust back to his life on the station.  The climax of the episode is a huge departure for a 'Star Trek' show, with a main character actually considering suicide by phaser.  O'Brien even puts the phaser to his own head, ready to kill himself, before he's convinced to go to therapy instead by his friends.

Also of note are episodes like "Shattered Mirror," which returns Sisko to the Mirror Universe to save the rebellion from an assault by the Alliance (led by Regent Worf, of course); "To the Death," which features the Defiant crew teaming up with a group of Jem'Hadar to take out a rogue squad of Dominion soldiers; "The Quickening," where Doctor Bashir (Alexander Siddig) struggles to cure a plague engineered by the Dominion that's slowly killing an entire world; "Little Green Men," a humorous time travel story that has Quark (Armin Shimerman), Nog (Aron Eisenberg) and Rom (Max Grodenchik) accidentally landing in Roswell; and "Our Man Bashir" in which Bashir plays a James Bond-esque spy in the holosuite and discovers that the crew is trapped in the program with him.

As with any batch of episodes, however, there are a few stinkers.  "Muse," for example, seems entirely pointless and silly.  In this episode, an alien woman uses Jake's creativity to steal his life force.  It's just dumb and plain dull all the way through, too.  In "Bar Association," Rom forms a union of Quark's workers who go on strike.  It's a decent enough episode, but the ultimate resolution seems so obvious that it's hard not to wonder why it takes so long for the characters to figure it out.  Similarly, in "Accession," a Bajoran who also claims to be the Emissary of the Prophets starts causing trouble for Sisko, and even though the episode is somewhat important to solidify Sisko's role for the character, it's another episode that just seems too obvious and predictable.

Overall, though, Season Four is another winner for 'Deep Space Nine'.  With plenty of great action, well-made drama and suspense, 'Deep Space Nine' continues to prove itself a gem for the 'Star Trek' franchise.