Monday, January 16, 2012

'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' Season Six (1997)

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


With Deep Space Nine and Bajor occupied by the forces of Cardassia and their Dominion overseers, Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) and the crew of the Defiant face months of losing battles against the Cardassians and the Jem'Hadar.  As morale dips dangerously low, Sisko realizes the Federation needs a major victory to get it back into the fight.

To this end, Admiral Ross (Barry Jenner) assigns Sisko the task of devising strategies to win.  Meanwhile, Dukat (Marc Alaimo) is frustrating Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs) and the female Shapeshifter (Salome Jens) with his inability to take down the minefield Sisko placed over the entrance to the wormhole.  Much-needed Dominion reinforcements are waiting on the other side, ready to sweep through the Alpha Quadrant and conquer the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans and anyone else who get in their way.

While Sisko, Dax (Terry Farrell), O'Brien (Colm Meaney), Bashir (Alexander Siddig), Worf (Michael Dorn), Nog (Aron Eisenberg), Martok (JG Hertzler) and exiled Cardassian spy Garak (Andrew Robinson) attempt to retake the station from without, Major Kira (Nana Visitor), Jake (Cirroc Lofton), Quark (Armin Shimerman), and Rom (Max Grodenchik) begin their on resistance movement to overthrow the Dominion occupation of the station, return Bajor to freedom and protection of the Federation, and stop the Dominion from conquering the Alpha Quadrant.

The sixth season of 'Deep Space Nine' is like no other season of 'Star Trek'.  The season opens with a six-episode arc detailing Sisko's attempts to retake the station from the hands of the Dominion.  Every major and supporting character on the show is integrated into this arc and has a role to play.  From the season opener, "A Time to Stand," it's obvious that 'Deep Space Nine' has taken a turn into new territory.

Season Six takes the advanced humans of Gene Roddenberry's future and puts them through their paces.  While the crews of the Enterprise have always been adventurers and capable fighters, never before has a 'Star Trek' show chronicled a state of constant warfare.  The war against the Dominion is built directly into the tone of the show, with nary an episode going by where we don't learn the status of the conflict.  Sisko posts casualty lists, the characters discuss recent battles, either victories or losses.  The Klingons maintain a constant presence on the station, with Martok becoming a major supporting character.

The final episode of the first arc, "Sacrifice of Angels" features some of the biggest special effects the show has ever done, now rendered totally in CGI.  While these large battle sequences are a bit few and far between for the season, the war still permeates the rest of the show.  In "Statistical Probabilities," a group of genetically engineered geniuses arrives on the station and helps Bashir calculate certain strategies to win the war.  In "Honor Among Thieves," O'Brien goes undercover in the Orion Syndicate and discovers they are in league with the Dominion.  In "Inquisition," Bashir is accused of spying for the Dominion by Sloan (William Sadler), who heads the super-secret spy organization, Section 31. In "The Magnificent Ferengi," Quark, Rom and Nog must rescue their mother (Cecily Adams) from the Jem'Hadar and their Vorta overseer (Iggy Pop!).

There are a few truly standout episodes in this batch, some of the series best entries.  First up, "Waltz" which finds Sisko and Dukat marooned together on a barren world.  Dukat is clearly insane, even to the point of speaking to characters who aren't there, while Sisko is wounded and at the mercy of this madman.  It's a great exploration of the Dukat character, his true motivations, and an awesome performance from Marc Alaimo, especially towards the end when he starts to get truly unhinged.

Next, "Far Beyond the Stars," in which Sisko has visions of himself as Benny Russell, a black science fiction writer in the 1950s who must deal with overwhelming racism keeping him from realizing his dreams of a better future.  This episode is remarkable for its production and powerful script.  It's great seeing the cast out of their alien makeup and space suits, wearing regular clothes.  Some characters you almost don't recognize at first until you hear them speak, like JG Herztler who appears here as a concept artist for Russell's magazine.  Marc Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs appear as two racist cops who beat up Russell in the street, and Michael Dorn is a black baseball player who despite his success still can't be considered the equal of whites. 

Lastly, "In the Pale Moonlight" pairs Sisko with Garak on a dangerous mission to bring the Romulans into the war against the Dominion.  This episode is probably one of the darkest and most important episodes of 'Star Trek' ever produced.  In it, Sisko ends up falling deeper and deeper into a dark hole as Garak's plan to trick the Romulans into joining the war forces him to move past his moral code.  How far will he go to do what he knows must be done in order to win?  What kind of wrongs can be done to make a right?  The ending, when Sisko's mission is complete and he's utterly disgusted with himself but decides that he can "live with it" as an understated but powerful moment. 

The rest of the season is littered with great episodes, like "Change of Heart" where Worf's love for Dax causes him to abandon an important mission, or "Times Orphan," a rare episode with a real sci-fi premise.  In "Time's Orphan," the crew finds a colony of people on a distant planet which claim to be the descendants of the Defiant crew themselves.  This episode was later ripped off on 'Enterprise,' but works far better here.  The moral quandary for the crew is interesting: save themselves and get back to the fight, which means erasing thousands of lives from time, or complete the loop so that those thousands of people can live.  In the end, the decision is made for them, and it's an incredibly powerful moment.

Another excellent episode is the penultimate one, "The Sound of Her Voice."  In this episode, the Defiant is on its way to rescue a stranded Starfleet captain named Lisa Cusak (Debra Wilson) who they can only communicate with via radio until they arrive.  Cusak, alone on a world that's slowly suffocating her, has only the Defiant crew to interact with, and they form strong bonds over just the few days talking with each other.  It's a very emotionally effective script, with a fine twist ending that just makes it all the more tragic. 

Season Six is probably my favorite season of 'Deep Space Nine'.  With crackling action, a new focus on the dark corners of the 'Star Trek' characters and some truly fantastic storytelling, it's absolutely well-worth your time.