Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reviewing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine turns 25 today. That's gone quickly, especially since I last rewatched and retrospectively reviewed it all when it turned 20. Here's that, reposted all on one long, laggy page.

If you're interested in what some random guy thinks about what he thinks is the best Star Trek series, you might get something out of it. Though I recommend Terry J. Erdmann and Paula M. Block's excellent Deep Space Nine Companion instead, if they ever get around to releasing it in ebook.

Key-ra Nerys:

Bajoran episode
Ferengi episode
Cardassian episode
Klingon episode
Trill episode

Mirror Universe episode
Dominion episode

DS9 1x01 Emissary ***

I re-watched a couple of seasons of The Next Generation recently (I didn’t waste time writing reviews of them all though - what would be the point of that?), so I feel I’m in a good place to crack open DS9 with something approaching the state of mind that audiences might have had 20 years ago (Update: make that 25), even with the burden of knowledge about the better and worse stuff to come. This feature-length pilot (an impressive industry term for ‘two episodes without credit interruptions in the middle’) stands up pretty well, though more for setting the tone and look of the show than the characterisation and plots it would become known for. This won’t be the last time I say it, but the station looks incredible, and feels more tangible and lived-in than the Enterprise and Voyager sets ever did. Seeing it again feels like revisiting a slightly traumatic childhood home.

This is more like a pilot for the early years of DS9 than the entire series. I remember CIC video bundling it with the series finale to squeeze some desperate buxx out of the dying days of VHS, but watching those back-to-back would only show how much the series changed. I guess season four’s opener ‘The Way of the Warrior’ works like a secondary pilot ushering in that latter era of the show... or something like that. I’ll deal with it when I get there. Clearly, I know a little too much about this show to make watching it all again worthwhile, though there’s a lot of the first three years I don’t remember much about.

So I’ll cover all the things that seemed worth pointing out. As a spin-off from TNG, the parent series features pretty prominently, including a guest appearance by Patrick Stewart AND NO ONE ELSE (who’s that random woman who talks to O’Brien on the bridge? Couldn’t they have used Data or something?), and the very beginning calls back to one of the most popular Trek episodes. The show wastes no time before making clear the distinctions between the happy, pastel world of the Enterprise and the dingy, dilapidated husk of Deep Space Nine, establishing Sisko as a bereaved single parent who doesn’t even want the job until some annoying aliens help him come to terms with his wife’s death.

The first half of the episode is actually pretty depressing, in a nice way. Nothing approaching Battlestar Galactica levels of wrist-slicing despair, but it would have been nice if the station had stayed beaten up and on fire for at least a few episodes, rather than being cleaned up within 30 minutes, though I guess they didn’t want to push their luck with the network by being too serialised just yet. I found the Bajor politics plot a lot more interesting than I did as a teenager too, when I was more interested in seeing computer-generated starships shooting at each other (idiot), and this bodes well for all the Bajor politics plots I remember being scattered throughout the first couple of seasons.

The second half is less engaging and tries to set up the Prophets in a way that doesn’t really work, mostly because they’re really irritating and their inability to grasp linear time makes no sense in the context of everything. The episode even resorts to the “what is this Earth thing called ‘kissing’?” clichĂ©, and focuses too much on an arbitrary holographic baseball player who will go on to have ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING on the series whatsoever across its seven year run, so that was a good use of time in the pilot.

This man is of no consequence

Despite these differences and the switched-around uniform colours (why does O’Brien have to change his uniform temporarily when visiting the Enterprise? Is Picard that strict? How did Deanna Troi get away with having her cleavage out for the best part of six years then? It’s one rule for them and another for the Chief), this is still clearly a Trek spin-off, and otherwise tense scenes are drenched in ambient technobabble concerning ‘elevated neutrino emissions,’ ‘high energy thoron fields,’ ‘antilepton interference,’ ‘duranium shadows’ and ‘rerouting the fluh bluh bluh I’m not even listening any more, you could be saying anything.’ Let’s see how long it takes for the series to find its feet and escape the shadow of TNG - will it manage it within the year?

The main characters are all introduced, though the ensemble feels lacking right now without all the supporting characters that would gradually show up. O’Brien was already established over five years of TNG, and is already the most entertaining of the lot, but apart from him the humans are pretty dull in contrast to the aliens that really run the show, especially Bashir who would mostly be annoying for three years and then annoying in a different way for the last two. Oh hang on, I just realised I was counting Dax as a human, when we’re clearly shown that she has a slug in her belly and are told is over 300 years old. Well, she’s pretty boring here too, basically being a smiling Spock. With an incredible figure. No offence to Spock, I know the ladies love him.

It’s nice to see Starfleet’s presence and humanitarian aid not being universally welcomed, which I drew parallels with the United States military setting up camp all over Asia now I’m an adult and think too much. Oh good, there are some shooting starships and explosions at the end, so I can stop doing that now. The audience has never really seen things from the alien perspective before, and it’s satisfying that first reactions to Sisko range from “who the hell are you?” (Odo) to “I suppose you want the office” (Kira). Even Gul Dukat is more cordial, and he'd go on to be Sisko's arch enemy (spoiler alert - though clearly they're trying to foreshadow that in their tense meeting, before forgetting about it for four years).

Should Starfleet really be there? Will we ever get to see all the differently coloured orbs, or will they get to about five and cheat us like those cartoons I devotedly watched as a child before they were cancelled half-way through the story (I’m looking at you, Pirates of Dark Water)? How far do Dax’s spots really go down? These questions and more may or may not be answered within the next 172 episodes. 172??? May the Prophets have mercy on my soul.
"I guess Starfleet officers aren’t used to getting their hands dirty" – Kira Nerys

DS9 1x02 Past Prologue **

After delving into Sisko's painful past in the first episode, Kira is the focus of DS9's second instalment, meaning the arbitrary cover art of CIC video releases has an unprecedented 100% relevance rate up to this point. While some characters take a while to find their feet (Dax doesn't get fun until season two and Odo seems even sourer than usual, though that could be the wrinkly make-up), Kira is consistent right from the start. Which means if you find her feisty temperament annoying at this point, things aren't going to get any better. I think she's pretty good, even if her 'oil and water' relationship with Sisko was never quite as heated as it should have been, though it's still better than the rubbish Maquis bending to the Federation instantly on Voyager.

The other stand-out character is Garak, the only Bloody Cardassian left aboard the station since his people were forced out, whose sinister presence is nailed by Andrew Robinson right from the start, which is more than can be said for the wide-eyed Bashir. I didn't pick up on the grooming sub-text of their first meeting when I was a kid, but I don't think that's reading too much into it. That would be like claiming there was nothing to intimate in that scene from Farscape when the leather gimp suit clad Scorpius begs Crichton to 'insert the rod,' or like claiming The Empire Strikes Back wasn't all about wanking.

Unfortunately, the show doesn't have the confidence to fully stand on its own yet, so we get gratuitous cameos from recurring, breastacular Next Generation villains Lursa and B'Etor, who feel out of place amidst the other myriad bumpy headed aliens for being a bit too familiar. And look, there's Star Trek's Vaughan Armstrong playing the Cardassian commander, a few years before he became the default choice to play every Slightly Tall Man Alien in Voyager. Why am I so fixated on that series? It's like some sort of post-traumatic stress, and reading Irish Gav's blogs has brought it all back.
"Ah, an open mind. The essence of intellect" - Garak

DS9 1x03 A Man Alone ****

This episode was apparently the second produced, but someone decided 'Past Prologue' would work better as episode two because it had an explosion in it or something. I like this one better, it's great to see the characters settling in to the new environment (some really not) and the development of key friendships (some really not), and there's a very crafty murder mystery plot that manages to bring up issues like prejudice and the conflict between transient laws and universal justice and that has Odo in it.

There's so much going on that we get the first in an extremely long line of split stories with the most superficial of links. The A-plot starring Odo is the more interesting, partly because it stars Odo who's automatically one of the more intriguing characters for being the resident outsider and the weirdest among weird aliens. Like Kira in the last episode, Odo already feels fully established, though the antagonism in his rivalry with Quark seems to be taken down a notch - even as we're explicitly told they're 'sworn enemies,' they seem pretty comfortable just hanging out.

Other relationships explored in the various B-plots (maybe they're technically C-, D-, E- and F-plots) include O'Brien and wife (nice human touch), Jake and Nog (a bit annoying, let's hope this doesn't happen too often), Dax and Sisko (she's sexy) and Dax and Bashir (never going to happen). Dax is already more laid-back than I gave her credit for in the pilot when she was a bit of an android, though her revelation that Trills are too sophisticated for sex conflicts with what we'll later see of loose Dax. Bashir is still irritating though. Just because it's deliberate character set-up for later maturity doesn't make it more bearable.

While Andrew Robinson nailed his Garak performance in the previous episode, Max Grondenchik's Rom has a long way to go here. It's not Rom at all, it might as well be one of the other generic Ferengi they make the Funny Faced Short Man play. This episode also gives the first hint that people use holosuites for something more than period drama roleplays when a character gets a sexy, webby massage. The 24th century can't come soon enough.
"I don't want to add years onto my life if I can only eat steamed azna" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 1x04 Babel ***

Episode four and we've already reached the point where 'wacky things happen to the characters.' Really, you've exhausted this series' unique potential this soon? That's better than The Next Generation managed at least, where they apparently ran out of plots by episode two and had to start directly ripping off the sixties series.

At least the aphasia virus is caused by Bajoran sabotage from back in DS9's Cardassian days, so that gives it a tad more relevance to the series than if Quark just bought a dodgy space thing or something (that happens in a couple of episodes' time). And the aphasia virus that makes people cannot is be achieve talking xylophone is a little different from the usual 'crew possessed by entities' or 'fictional characters become reality' plots (both of these happens in a couple of episodes' time), even if the predictability of the lead characters supernaturally resisting its effects for longer than the other thousands of people aboard the station stretches credibility as much as it used to when Captain Kirk would be immune to stuff every week.

This was looking set to be an O'Brien episode from the start, which would have been better, but even with his early incapacitation he gets most of the good lines, and it's nostalgic to see the Chief straining night and day to get this ramshackle station working properly. I have the same thing with Wi-Fi networks on a daily basis, so I empathise. Quark gets a lot to do this in one, but there aren't so many interestingly-foreheaded aliens this week. Captain Jaheel just looks like a middle aged carpenter in a Christmas jumper, and salmon for bandstand calculating. Garden extreme bubblewrap? Scaly treacle grouting menace, otherwise Snickers.
"Victory strike limits frosted wake. Simple hesitation!" - Miles O'Brien

DS9 1x05 Captive Pursuit **

After the false start last time, we're finally treated to a full-on O'Brien episode (I say that like there's been more than five episodes so far, but it feels overdue), and this is easily one of the most memorable from the show's first year, not least for introducing the Jem'Hadar race of genetically engineered soldiers that would go on to... oh hang on, that's not a Jem'Hadar. If it looks like a Jem'Hadar, is bred like a Jem'Hadar, comes from the Gamma Quadrant like a Jem'Hadar, produces its own nutrients like a Jem'Hadar and goes invisible like a Jem'Hadar, it is Tosk. And Tosk won't let you forget that he is Tosk.

I guess the writers got to the end of season two and were struggling to come up with a new and scary idea for the ominous Dominion, so decided to rip off their own back catalogue. We don't see these guys again, which is probably a good thing as this enjoyable man-hunt plot could have been worn into the ground, like Voyager did with the Hirogen and every other one-episode enemy race they stretched out to six. Looks like I'm back to Voyager bashing again.

For an O'Brien episode, this is surprisingly light on torture and emotional grief for the Chief, with Tosk getting all the peril. I guess it would be a while before they realised how much they love hurting the Irishman. His transition from the clean-cut world of The Next Generation to dirty DS9 is complete when he realises he can just break the rules now, as Sisko doesn't really care. Not schizophrenically pretend to care while conveniently breaking the Prime Directive on alternating weeks like Captain Janeway. Leave Voyager alone, Dave. Voyager is already its own punishment.
"Alpha Quadrant has far too much downtime" - Tosk (I wonder what he would have made of this blog?)

DS9 1x06 Q-Less *

If there's one episode that proves you can't do a Next Generation plot on Deep Space Nine... actually, there are a few of those coming up. But this is definitely one of them, clumsily inserting one of the longer running show's most recognisable antagonists and not really having him do anything. Sisko isn't impressed by Q's parlour tricks, and neither am I - rather than feeling insightful in establishing that there are more differences between Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Commander Benjamin Sisko than just skin colour, the boxing match scene feels like the sort of thing you'd get in an early TNG comic. It would be sub-standard even for Voyager.

Q's only here because he's hanging doggedly around Vash, another character who appeared on TNG a couple of times but doesn't feel so out of place here. The episode would have worked just as well without Q hanging around (better even), but I don't know, maybe they wanted to lure over some of those stubborn fans who felt betrayed by a Trek spin-off trying to do something different (most weeks, anyway). I understand how they felt. I became instantly obsessed with Star Trek after seeing the film First Contact when I was eleven, but it even took me a while to give this darker series a chance. It seemed a while when I was eleven anyway, it was probably about two weeks. And when my uncle lent me a load of recorded-from-TV VHS tapes, this was the first DS9 episode I watched on repeat, possibly finding solace in the familiarity. What a young, naive, incredibly handsome young fool I was.

There are too many TNG references here, with Picard being discussed on three separate occasions. John DeLancie's great, but Q should never have come to DS9, and never would again - they have the Ferengi when they want light comic relief. After a couple of weeks without much in the way of outlandishly-foreheaded aliens (Tosk excluded), we also get a veritable menagerie here. According to dialogue, I think one of those guys in the blue sacks was called "Raul the Obscure." That was the funniest thing in the episode.
"I'll never understand this obsession with accumulating material wealth. You spend your entire life plotting and scheming to acquire more and more possessions until your living areas are bursting with useless junk. Then you die, your relatives sell everything, and start the cycle all over again" - Odo sums up my feelings precisely. Apart from the spending eight hours per day in liquid form thing, we have a lot in common.

DS9 1x07 Dax **

No prizes for guessing which character gets the spotlight this week, in one of the most lazily titled episodes ever. It's as if Ronald D. Moore's award-winning Next Generation instalment 'Sins of the Father' had been titled 'Worf' to help the stupid audience understand who it was about. Though I suppose there is a deeper meaning behind these three simple letters, as this story concerns the plural lives of the long-lived Dax symbiont (unpleasant slug) in relation to its current Jadzia host (beautiful woman).

The Trill are an interesting race, and it's necessary for the show to spend some time establishing how the symbiotic relationship works (especially as it's changed completely since they were first introduced in TNG), but at times this trial show (we keep being told it's not a trial, but that's not fooling me) feels like it's passing off extracts from the Star Trek Encyclopedia as dialogue.

There are a couple of episodes later on that explore the Trill phenomenon in a much more entertaining way, using the 'show don't tell' approach that my creative writing teachers always stressed, but that apparently isn't as important in the Star Trek writers' room. I forgot to point out last time how it was annoying to be told about the adventures and mishaps Q and Vash apparently got up to in the Gamma Quadrant when all we're shown is some old statues. Here, we're told about what a riot Curzon Dax was, and we have to take Sisko's word for it.

Odo gets to sink his gelatinous teeth into another murder mystery here, but one that's less engaging than 'A Man Alone.' And while supposed main character Jake Sisko can sneak off the station every other week without anyone noticing or caring (I guess Cirroc Lofton had to go to school or something?) it's nice that O'Brien's unusual absence requires a dedicated station log and conversation at the start, in case the viewers are worried about what's happened to him. You've got to love the Chief.
"I can think of better ways of keeping you up, and they're more fun than drinking Klingon coffee" - Julian Bashir

DS9 1x08 The Passenger **

I don't really like Doctor Bashir at this point in the series, and if this episode was trying to make him even more insufferable, it succeeded. Even Harry Kim wasn't this annoying. Even Wesley Crusher w... alright, let's not go crazy. We've already seen Bashir's desperate flirting with Dax, but here his self-aggrandising arrogance makes it a positive delight when a hand grabs him around the throat. DO IT!

So this is sort of a Bashir story, though the final act sees Siddig El Fadil diversifying his acting range to play the villain, which he decides to do by talking... very... slowly... in his... genial... British... accent, as if anyone would feel threatened by that. His most impressive achievement is managing to be even more irritating than Bashir is normally.

Oh yeah, Bashir gets possessed. 'Spoiler alert.' Though these episodes are 25 years old, you've had time. There's a slightly more interesting B-plot where Odo has to learn to share his totalitarian jurisdiction with a Starfleet security officer, but that's only interesting because I like Odo a lot. The writers seem to have accepted that he's interesting enough as a character now, so we don't need to see him transanimateobjectify into a rat every week (if you got the Watt on Earth reference there, let's meet up some time). Either that or they ran out of money for the effect.

We see some more generic Alpha Quadrant aliens who look entirely human apart from a facial bone ridge, and another race that may be from the Gamma Quadrant but don't even bother with the ridge this time. There's also far too much technobabble for a DS9 episode, I wouldn't be surprised if this was written for TNG and shunted over. There's not much that's especially DS9 about it.
- "I've been asking myself, why would anyone induct a bioelectric charge into a glial cell?"
- "A question I have always wondered about" - Dax and Sisko

DS9 1x09 Move Along Home *

The first delegation from the Gamma Quadrant huh? This sounds like it could be int... Oh. Oh god. Oh sweet Jesus, it's that one.

It's been a long time since I watched the early years of DS9, and not too many individual episodes stand out in my memory among the ambience of the excellent sets. Unfortunately, most of the memorable ones stand out for the wrong reasons, and this might be the worst contender.

Our heroes get trapped in a game, with the merciful exception of Chief O'Brien who chose the right time to abandon station. This game has no internal logic, no real sense of peril and nothing visually stimulating, which could have been rendered less painful if a little more budget and creativity had been thrown in its direction. Though that wouldn't help one of the worst Trek scripts this side of Voyager, which avoids having to think up any real explanations by providing vague answers along the lines of 'neither and both' and makes gratuitous use of the copy and paste function.

How does Quark immediately make the logical leap that the four missing crew members are the four pieces on the board? Because that's two sets of four? If Broik walked past with four glasses on a tray, he's presumably jump to the conclusion that these contained the four characters melted into liquid form. Adding insult to injury, this is one of the few Emmy award winning Star Trek episodes - the coveted Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series. I can't say I noticed the hair.

This episode starts off okay, with the first real scene between Sisko and Son for a while. It's also nice to see Bashir being dressed down, mocked, electrocuted and zapped, after getting a bit big for his boots last week. That'll learn 'im. Please come back soon, O'Brien. I think the worst is over.
"It's only a game!" - Falow

DS9 1x10 The Nagus ***

The biannual Ferengi episodes might be the major dividing point among DS9 viewers, assuming any were left after last week. Like Marmite, you're supposed to either love or hate these episodes. But like Marmite, in reality they're a little unpleasant but mostly tolerable, though become increasingly difficult to get through by the end.

The introduction of Grand Nagus Zek isn't anything particularly special, and lacks the wacky quotient and genuine humour of most of his later episodes, but as far as first impressions go, you're not going to forget Wallace Shawn's eccentric performance any time soon. When The Next Generation tried to be funny, they brought in Deanna Troi's overbearing mother. When Voyager tried to be funny... I dunno, was Neelix supposed to be funny or something? DS9 gets it right with the snaggle-toothed, hairy-eared, repulsive old codger but the humour is still very much the "it's funny for Star Trek" type rather than the genuine funny episodes we'd get later. Honestly, they exist.

It's another Quark-heavy episode after the last one, but as we've all agreed to place a mental block over that episode existing, it doesn't feel too much like The Quark Show yet. One of my major criticisms of these early DS9 episodes is that they don't take advantage of the format to tell original stories, mostly playing it safe with generic 'anomaly' and 'possession' plots that be written for any series, but this one feels truly Deep Space Nine, probably because it was written by the future showrunner.

This extends to the time-filling B-plot where Jake teaches Nog to read, which would probably be touching if I wasn't so distracted by the fact that Aron Eisenberg is clearly an adult man trying to pass himself off as a 14-year-old opposite a genuine 14-year-old. I remembered the first couple of seasons being full of Jake/Nog (Jog?) hi-jinks and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of them so far, but it seems they're here to stay now. Because if there's one thing we learned from Wesley Crusher, it's that Star Trek viewers love kids.

Oh, O'Brien's back. And Rom finally sounds like Rom, even if he doesn't act like Rom yet. These light comic relief characters obviously take time to perfect.
"Once you have their money, you never give it back" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #1

DS9 1x11 Vortex ***

I often wish I'd spent less of my precious youth obsessively poring over The Star Trek Fact Files when my friends were probably out mountain biking and heavy petting, especially as it sometimes feels like I know too much about Star Trek to really enjoy it. But occasionally there are some nice surprises, as was the case with this episode that otherwise wouldn't stand out as particularly memorable.

So while I already know vaguely what happens in each episode from memorised synopses, and know what this week's slightly-different-forehead aliens are called without having to look it up (the Miradorn and the Rakhari, obviously - so much useless knowledge up there), it was interesting to see some genuine foreshadowing of the Changelings, who won't show up for a good while yet, but are entirely consistent with the myths and half-truths teased here. Sorry, 'spoiler alert.'I know this was almost definitely accidental foreshadowing, as if the DS9 writers did have any sort of grand plan spanning its seven seasons it was pretty bloody well disguised. How did 'Move Along Home' fit in?

Being able to occasionally find something new in these episodes, armed with the burden of later knowledge, is all I ask from this entire fruitless exercise. I'm glad it's finally starting to pay off - only 165 more to go now!

I'm also realising how much I like Odo, now I'm becoming increasingly like the pathologically cynical misanthrope. I can only assume the comparisons will grow closer as I get older until we're practically indistinguishable, sloshing around in our respective buckets. He might be even better than Chief O'Brien, though the jury's still out until I get to some of the O'Brien Must Suffer episodes. So much to look forward to - on days like today, I almost don't regret putting myself through this.
"On Rakhar, we tell stories about Changelings. I thought they were a myth until I met you" - Croden

DS9 1x12 Battle Lines **

Did they cobble together this generic War Is Bad plot just as an excuse to get rid of Camille Saviola as the unpopular Kai Opaka? There's nothing else that really justifies another episode of very hairy, very angry guys pointlessly fighting each other after season three of The Next Generation already gave us about 12 of those - though the crashed shuttle, the clashing halberds and the unconvincing scenery are at least nice callbacks to the sixties series. The fight scenes were really missing the frantic fanfare soundtrack though.

They're already not bothering to make aliens from the other side of the galaxy look different from humans, apart from some scars. They couldn't even come up with two different names for the rival clans, so we get the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis. That's just the same name with 'Nol' at the start. Did you think we wouldn't notice?

Nana Visitor tries her best with some good bawling to make Opaka's death seem significant, but it would have helped if she'd been in more than just the one scene prior to this episode. Bashir somehow seems less annoying than usual, but that might be because Sisko's so dull by comparison. At least the presence of Mike from Breaking Bad as one of the hairy, angry guys allows for some satisfyingly drawling line delivery.

Meanwhile, back on Deep Space Nine
... nothing is happening. There are no Jake/Nog escapades this time, and Quark isn't even in it. The only thing resembling a B-plot is O'Brien and Dax tracking down the crashed runabout, which they're obviously going to do anyway, so is just an excuse to bulk out the script with technobabble.
"Prophecy can often be vague Commander, that's why we must test it" - Kai Opaka

DS9 1x13 The Storyteller *

After a fair few weeks of generic stories that could have conceivably taken place on any series with any crew, we're finally back to dealing with Bajor... in a couple of entirely unrelated stories that could have conceivably been about any other alien race if you'd just swapped the bumpy noses for a Slightly Different Forehead.

Apparently, the main O'Brien/Bashir plot was originally written as far back as the first season of The Next Generation, which goes some way towards explaining why it's so rubbish. It probably works better with O'Brien bluffing and stumbling his way through an improvised story to keep the energy creature at bay than it would have with Geordi or something, but even the first tentative developments in the O'Brien/Bashir bromance aren't really followed up on until next year. And didn't we already do the Apprentice Learns His Lesson plot as recently as 'The Nagus?' At least the lava lamp effects of the Dal'rok look nice.

I guess I need to touch on the secondary story, which is extremely awful. If this had been the main focus of the episode, this would be even worse than 'Move Along Home.' A Queen Amidala style kid with responsibility thrust upon her must learn to enjoy her childhood again with the help of Jake and Nog. I'm so thankful that this episode-a-day format means this pair will undergo rapid ageing like some sort of Molly O'Brien, I don't want their antics spoiling things when the series finally gets good.
"Bloody hell" - Miles O'Brien sums the episode up succinctly

DS9 1x14 Progress **

After a long absence, that's two episodes in a row focusing on the slightly boring Bajorans, though at least Kira's involved this time rather than arbitrary Starfleet personnel. It's just a shame the plot is exactly the same as one they already did on The Next Generation a few years earlier, except that had Data in it so was a bit better.

It's satisfying to see that some actual 'Progress' is being made with the station's original mission of helping to rebuild Bajor after the Bloody Cardassian occupation (you remember, before they discovered the wormhole and filled us with false promise), and we get to see some of the lasting damage the spoonheads inflicted rather than just being told about it.

This is mostly commendable for being a character story, even if Kira seems too easily persuaded to Mullibok's cause, Mullibok himself is unsympathetic and Sisko gives her too much leeway. After last week's time-filling Jake/Nog B-story set the bar extremely low, this week's jolly juvenile escapade feels like 'The Way of the Warrior' by comparison, and it's nice to hear the first mention of self-sealing stem bolts. Whatever they are exactly. No reverse-ratcheting routers yet.
"That's a lot of yamok sauce" - Nog

DS9 1x15 If Wishes Were Horses **

For a Trek spin-off that apparently dared to be different, it didn't take long for DS9 to fall back on the 'figments of our imaginations come to life' cliche. Complete with a cloying, Roddenberryesque moral about the wonder of the human(oid) imagination, this feels like too much of a throwback to the worst excesses of the 1960s series.

The limitations of a TV budget are never more painfully obvious than when you're dealing with the boundless realm of imagination, and here the most outlandish fantasies the writers can bring to life are a couple of emus on the Promenade. Sorry, I mean 'Gunji jackdaws.' This episode at least has the decency to throw the audience some red herrings, but in the end the reason behind all the kerfuffle isn't much more satisfying than the typical holodeck malfunction and spatial anomaly tropes, and I still feel slightly offended by its existence.

Not as offended as Colm Meaney was about the original inclusion of a Leprechaun in the script though. Because O'Brien's Irish, so what other fantastical creature would he be telling his half-Japanese daughter about in the 24th century? It couldn't have been much worse than the pantomime Rumpelstiltskin we ended up with. This one's practically a kid's show, how long until the Dominion shows up?
"I'm going to have to ask you all to please refrain from using your imaginations" - Odo

DS9 1x16 The Forsaken **

Deep Space Nine's broken again, so we get to see O'Brien getting pissed off with the computer while finding out a little about Odo's backstory. But despite the prominence of my two favourite characters, this is just another in a long line of forgettable first season episodes before the writers really knew where they were going with all this.

To make matters worse, we get our latest out-of-place Next Generation guest star in the form of Deanna Troi's squawking, predatory mother, who threatens to destroy everything I like about Odo long before Kira would go all the way. Oh, spoiler alert there. At least they don't go overboard on the TNG references like they did for Q's similarly uninspiring appearance earlier in the... oh hang on, Lwaxana's just described the entire synopsis of one of her earlier episodes in dialogue. Forget I said anything.

There are three interlinked plots going on in this episode, and the fact that the least worst one features Odo and Lwaxana Troi trapped in a broken lift should give you an idea of how bad the others are, as Bashir deals with some cranky ambassadors (Hilarious!) and the rest of the senior staff deal with a boring probe (Tedious!)

This was actually the first episode of DS9 I saw as a kid, or I at least remember switching channels to see Odo melting into Lwaxana Troi's lap. It can't have left much of an impression, as I didn't consciously watch the series again until 'Destiny' two years later, around the time it started to get really good. Just 40 or so more mediocre episodes to go then! There's got to be a decent one soon, by the law of averages alone.
"Procreation does not require changing how you smell or writing bad poetry or sacrificing various plants to serve as tokens of affection" - Odo

DS9 1x17 Dramatis Personae ***

Possession is nine tenths of the law when it comes to writing a lazy Star Trek episode, or at least it feels like that sometimes. I expected to dislike this 'we're possessed by malevolent aliens' episode after recent 'we're in a game' and 'our daydreams come true' episodes weren't exactly stellar, but it's actually refreshing to see the cast acting out of character now they've become sufficiently established, as some of them are more interesting like this. This probably isn't a good thing.

While the Evil Bashir of 'The Passenger' was just annoying, Evil Sisko is genuinely scary in this aggressive, unhinged persona, and Distracted Dax is pretty funny even if it doesn't really make sense. Was an officer on the doomed Klingon ship wandering around reminiscing about some really good gagh he ate once? Why would malevolent entities preserve a comic relief character in their evil archive?

It's a shame the conflict had to come from an external source when there was always potential for Federation-Bajoran relations to be more abrasive early on, like the Federation-Maquis relations of Star Trek: Voyager weren't, but we at least get to play around with that for an episode. What's potentially more interesting is that we're explicitly shown that only the senior staff were affected by the entities, which means all those subordinate security officers were of clear mind when they joined in with the mutiny and tried to assassinate Sisko.

This is never followed up on. This is early DS9 and everything's back the way it was in time for next week's adventure, except Sisko has a nice new clock.
"My name will blaze across the stars long after your petty treacheries have been forgotten" - Evil Sisko

DS9 1x18 Duet ****

Where did that come from? I thought the first season was going to bow out with more possessions, holosuite malfunctions and embarrassing Jake/Nog escapades, but instead we get a fantastically twisty drama that finally makes the Bajoran occupation by the Bloody Cardassians a tangible part of future history. Mostly by making blatant parallels with Nazi and Japanese labour camps of the 1940s, but such displacement has always been one of the points of sci-fi. Our heroes can't get trapped in a board game every week, fortunately.

It's too early to say whether this is one of DS9's best episodes, but it's got to be up there. I'm not even sure it's the best Kira episode, as the writers seem to enjoy putting her in tight spots almost as much as O'Brien. But it's the best of season one by a long way, even if that's not saying much. This is the season when they got trapped in a board game, remember.

Nana Visitor stands up well to the bellowed monologues of guest star Harris Yulin, who seems very familiar but I'm probably just remembering from this. There's not a lot for the rest of the cast to do, though Odo once again demonstrates his innate sense of justice when he picks up on an extremely slight clue that unravels this complex and psychologically disturbing plot. Deep Space Nine got great much earlier than I expected, I just hope we're not back to wacky antics and generic spatial anomalies for the season finale.
"What you call genocide I call a day's work" - Aamin Marritza

DS9 1x19 In the Hands of the Prophets ****

When I watched DS9 the first time around as a stupid kid, I'd probably sigh audibly if Vedek Winn showed up or anyone mentioned the Celestial Temple, annoyed that I'd have to wait until Sunday for Voyager to give me my generic spacial anomaly fix. This time around, this subtle season finale is the sort of episode I've been waiting for since the start - finally getting its teeth into Bajor's religion and politics, confirming why Starfleet is here in the first place and nicely rounding off the first year while making it clear that there's still a long way to go. These last two episodes have been really good.

If the comparison between the Bloody Cardassians and the Nazis wasn't exactly subtle last time, parallels with the infuriatingly ongoing debate about creationism being taught in school curriculums is very blatant here, though admittedly it went over my head when I was younger and didn't know quite how wacky the real world was outside my space fantasies. Although I'm squarely with the resolute Keiko O'Brien on the Prophets issue, Sisko makes some great points and puts in his best performance of the year, whether he's teaching his son about the importance of cultural respect or shouting "noooooo" in slow motion and jumping on an assassin.

After being slightly disappointed by the reset button ending of 'Dramatis Personae,' it's also very satisfying to see the real friction between the station's Starfleet and Bajoran personnel, which really should have been touched on more in earlier episodes, but I guess they didn't want to alienate the newcomers just yet. By this point though, there's no turning back - and the result is greater tension, greater internal conflict and a more entertaining show. Jesus, even the O'Briens' impenetrable domestic bliss is shaken up ever so slightly - on your toes, O'Brien!

There are many twists and turns in this series' long-running story arcs, some of them better than others, but at least one feels firmly established now. There'll still be plenty of time for spacial anomalies, possessing entities and wacky antics of variable quality every other week, but at least the persistent viewer has something to cling on to now. Sort of like the mytharc episodes of The X-Files.
- "I don't think you're the devil."
- "Maybe we have made some progress after all" - Kira and Sisko

DS9 2x01 The Homecoming ****

After waiting most of the first season for this show to find its feet, they continue to plough a distinctive DS9 furrow and start taking risks with Star Trek's first three-parter (make that second after movies II, III & IV). This first part of the trilogy reveals that the situation on Bajor is rapidly going downhill, but A New Hope could ignite the feuding factions and mean we can get back to episodes where the characters get possessed and stuff. Yeah, because that's better.

I didn't appreciate just how good these Bajoran episodes were when I was a kid, and was more interested in seeing space fights, time travel and stuff. The idea of a xenophobic group of Bajorans follows on well from the end of the first series, and I enjoyed learning more about the intertwined, pseudo-Catholic structure of Bajor's religious and political systems. I even appreciate Vedek Winn now, and Bareil just gets more likeable every day.

Even leaving aside the story, it feels like something's changed in a very positive way. Maybe the actors or writers are feeling refreshed and newly energised after their summer break or something, but literally every character is at their best here. Even Jake. This really feels like Deep Space Nine now - I thought it would take longer.
"Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #76

DS9 2x02 The Circle *****

True to Empire Strikes Back form, the central part of this trilogy is the best one before things get a little tedious in the third part. This episode is really damn good, certainly the best in the series so far, and more evidence to present to my child self that things didn't only get good when the Dominion invaded.

The characters are still really strong, which is going to take some time to get used to. I just sat through season one after a few seasons of The Next Generation, I'm not used to this 'development' stuff. Sisko doesn't pull any punches with Frank Langella's asshole politician or the asshole general, though he doesn't actually punch them. Kira gets a load of great scenes too, including a genuinely funny opening when she prepares to leave and her quarters gradually fill up with guests. Then Bashir shows up and it gets annoying, but then Bareil shows up and we swoon.

Hooray, another orb! And look, Odo has a security buddy on Bajor who we never see again, but it doesn't matter, these people have actual lives. There's another great Odo/Quark scene for anyone making a compilation, which proves that their relationship peaked early, and everyone's given a little something to do to keep them busy.
"We've gotta leave! Well I do, anyway. You can just turn into a couch" - Quark

DS9 2x03 The Siege ***

Things escalate and deflate in this Return of the Jedi denouement to a formerly bold trilogy, which maybe should have been a two-parter after all. After setting up some shady politics and intriguing social issues, everything's resolved with the MacGuffin of a scanned thumb print that Kira has to show to some people while Sisko and ko. defend the station against occupying Bajoran forces.

There are some nice scenes, like O'Brien's love of combat rations and Kira and Dax flying a ramshackle old craft, but for the most part the plot relies on cliches, from "there aren't enough lifeboats" to "leave me behind, I'm slowing you down" and "I'm going to jump in front of the phaser blast, I served my plot function."

Quark's back to being a scheming asshole, Odo's reduced to shape-shifting into tripwires and most of the interesting supporting characters introduced in these episodes end up dead, disgraced or otherwise just don't show up again. I'll have to get to subsequent Bajoran episodes to tell if these episodes had much of an impact overall, but their greatest impact was to the format of the series itself, which has started to take risks and now seems eager to set itself apart from the ship-based series by taking advantage of its stationary format.

So back to space anomalies and generic forehead aliens next week then?
"Dying gets you off the hook. The question is, are you willing to live for your people?" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 2x04 Invasive Procedures **

Now the serialised stories are over and everything's back to normal, except the entire station has been evacuated again as a plasma storm approaches. Couldn't they have just agreed to economise by having the storm arrive when the Bajoran military did? Could have saved a lot of admin.

While the station felt desolate and creepy last time, here it just feels like they wanted to save money on background extras. Quark stays behind again, but instead of being a slight nuisance like last time, he sells out the crew and almost gets Dax killed. But then later he pretends to have an ear infection so Bashir can knock out a Klingon and everything's forgiven. Really?

I knew the return to episodic stories was going to be a slight disappointment, but this one just isn't very interesting, especially compared to later Trill stories. It's a little racist of Sisko to assume Verad will have any connection to Dax, just because they're both... oh I see, he's here to steal her symbiont. I guess you can't be an arbitrary Trill after all.

Odo spends most of the episode locked in a box and Bashir's still in annoying hero mode, but he has one good scene when Jadzia wakes up sans symbiont and he comforts the frightened young woman. The young, attractive, vulnerable... you know if that Klingon wasn't there he would have taken a peek under the gown, if only to answer the question of how far down those spots go. One day, Julian.
"Forgive me" - Julian Bashir

DS9 2x05 Cardassians ****

The least imaginatively titled episode since 'Dax' is actually a lot better than I remember. I had a pretty arbitrary smattering of DS9 videos as a kid, which means I'm overly familiar with some episodes from this era while others are capable of pleasantly surprising or painfully disappointing me. This was definitely one of the former. Not that you'd glean much from the title. The Cardassians show up a lot.

But here we learn more about their society and politics, helping to make them more than just space Nazis, not to mention the chance to see Dukat and especially Garak again, in his first appearance for more than a year. Talk about underutilising your assets, he'd pretty much become a primary character as the show went on, certainly showing up more than the tardy Jake Sisko. I actually forgot Sisko was a father until it was mentioned late in this episode, I hadn't made the parallel. We shouldn't have to be told this.

This is also notable for being the episode where Bashir finally gets good, after some spoiled promise in previous weeks. Though it's still satisfying to see him taken down a peg by Sisko after barging in on his conversation with Dukat, and he's still wholly the low status Watson to Garak's Sherlock.
"Gentle was bred out of these Cardassians a long time ago" - Miles O'Brien

DS9 2x06 Melora ***

The Disabled Episode. The idea was originally for a character like Melora to be this series' science officer, which explains all the background details, but all that zero-G floating around would have been prohibitively expensive. They cover a lot of these issues in a single episode anyway, and it's a credit to the characters that they don't come off as patronising as those on the timid Next Generation would have. It's clear that Melora's a bit of a stubborn, cocky asshole and they're not having any of it, and it's good to see her taken down some pegs by Bashir. Who then succeeds in... I dunno, some pun about his 'peg.' They do it.

This romance angle is a little awkward really, and once the disabled issues are covered, the more entertaining B-story about Quark's impending murder is allowed to take over. The two plots are clumsily mixed at the end, and after forsaking the wormhole for a few weeks, we get to see that lovely event horizon effect about six times in as many minutes.

The station has a Klingon restaurant now. I want to live there more every day.
"There is no Melora problem until people create one" - Melora Pazlar

DS9 2x07 Rules of Acquisition ***

Ferengi Episode. The series has started to get really good recently (surprisingly early), but they're falling into some habits. This might have seemed like a bit of a sequel to 'The Nagus' back when these were the only two episodes featuring Zek, but overall it feels like just another bi-annual troll romp.

This is one of the better Ferengi shows actually, dwelling on that insane society's gender politics and getting tantalisingly close to dealing with gay issues for about a second, before Pel reveals she's a woman in drag. It'd be a couple of years before Jadzia kisses a woman, but it's not really gay when it's a woman is it?

Wallace Shawn's Zek is reliably amusing and still randy at this point in the series before he settles down. Rom's character still doesn't feel right, and Quark is the strong lead as alwa... Wait. This is how they're introducing the Dominion? Are you serious? That's great!
"Then I suppose a night of wild, passionate romance is out of the question?" - Zek

DS9 2x08 Necessary Evil *****

My new favourite character Odo hasn't had much to do this year, but they were saving this one up. Re-opening a five-year-old murder investigation finally gives us the chance to see what Deep Space Nine was like back in the Bloody Cardassian days, and it's as dingy and smoke-machine-filled as you'd expect.

With Odo's first meetings with Dukat, Kira and Quark and an exploration of how he got started in the justice business, this feels like inappropriately good fan fiction, except it's canon. The issue of how we're supposed to trust people like Odo and Quark when they were around in those days is dealt with satisfyingly. Odo doesn't take sides and you can't trust Quark anywhere.

Although this is clearly Odo's episode, Quark (and Armin Shimerman) stay on top form after last week, and finally, finally it's established that Rom isn't a complete moron, he's just a little slow. That makes him funnier too, balancing out a dinginess that I associate more with the later years of the series.

The noir detective and specific Colombo references doubtless went over my head as a kid, when I never gave this episode too much thought in the grand scheme of things. It could be one of the best ones, and I'm thankful they didn't revisit the bad ol' days too frequently to take away some of its charm. Who needs Starfleet?
"At the request of Commander Sisko, I will hereafter be recording a daily log of law enforcement affairs. The reason for this exercise is beyond my comprehension" - Odo's first (only?) log entry

DS9 2x09 Second Sight **

After a run of very DS9 episodes this season, I was prepared for disappointment when the generic Trek episodes made a comeback. This one starts off promisingly with a creepy mystery and some long overdue humanising for the austere Sisko, but gets duller and more Voyager as it goes along. That other show hasn't even happened yet, but most of its plots had.

I'm having to adapt my standards as I go, and if this was a first season episode it'd be above average, but here it mainly serves to remind us that there are some human beings among the rubber foreheads on this alien space station. Stepping back inside a Starfleet ship is jarring and the pompous, overbearing scientist is the sort of character who'd crop up in The Next Generation five years earlier. TNG-style technobabble is also out in full force, though the mention of "protomatter" should be lapped up by old school fans.

On the plus side, there are some new model shots of the station from different angles and with different ships glued on, and that looks nice. It was good to get a Sisko episode, but he deserves something better next time.
"I understand, it's hard to talk man-to-man with a woman" - Jadzia Dax

DS9 2x10 Sanctuary **

I don't think I'd seen this episode for about 15 years, but the memory of the Skrreean (as it's apparently spelled) never left me. Though apparently I was inventing memories too - I recalled a particularly distasteful scene where their flaking skin littered the Promenade, but all we actually have in the episode is a brief description of their shedding from Quark. Their make-up design obviously had a big impact on me as a kid. They look pretty unpleasant. That's not them pictured by the way - this episode gave us a wealth of slightly ridiculous background aliens, all of which I'd rather have spent more time with than the Skrrreeean.

Are we supposed to find them repulsive to make the xenophobia angle stronger? I might think twice before letting the Skrrrreeeean move in next door too, but only because I'd be worried about the condition of my lawn if the wind changed. It'd help me to be more sympathetic to their plight if Starfleet hadn't found them a decent uninhabited world to settle on already, but they stubbornly insist on Bajor due to some prophecy or something. Pfft, prophecies. Since when have those ever held any... oh wait.

At least this take on a matriarchal society is better than TNG's 'Angel One,' but even the most misogynistic episode of the original series ('Mudd's Women?') seemed progressive compared to that one. After they made the Bajoran story interesting this season it goes back to being boring again, and by far the most entertaining part of this episode was the very brief mention of the unseen Plix Tixiplik, a Regrunyan apparently. Sounds like another case of the writers throwing in tongue twisters to keep themselves entertained, except unlike self-sealing stem bolts and reverse-ratcheting routers I don't think this guy pops up again. He's probably in some of the expanded universe books or something.

Did someone mention the Dominion again? In a non-Ferengi episode? Sounds almost like they're building to something, I guess the next episode... no, it's more Quark antics.
"I don't have any males... not at the moment, anyway" - Kira Nerys

DS9 2x11 Rivals **

The writers have been melding the A- and B-plots pretty well in this second season, but here it takes a long time for any link to be made between Quark's business rivalry with Martus and O'Brien's sporting rivalry with Bashir, until Quark bridges the gap with some convenient blackmail.

The racquetball plot is the more entertaining of the two, even if it only amounts to about 15 minutes in total, and there's still a long way to go before the Englishman and the Irishman are best buddies playing fighter pilots in the holosuite. Bashir has great respect for the Chief - who couldn't? - but it isn't mutual, as Bashir's quite a tosser. If the legion of Trek fans weren't already on O'Brien's side from the onset, they surely must have been after he whipped his shirt off and revealed he was a bit fat and sweaty like them.

The main plot involving the El-Aurian and the unconvincing probability machines is less satisfying. Chris Sarandon is suitably smarmy but mostly boring as Martus, and about the only thing that saves the story is Rom. This show can get away with some pretty cheeky nonsense science at times, but this pseudo chaos theory thing isn't one of those times. And didn't Quark learn his lesson last time he was impressed by a rubbish looking alien game?
"Never trust a man wearing a better suit than your own" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #48

DS9 2x12 The Alternate ***

There are some elements of good old-fashioned Trek as they visit a mysterious planet with unconvincing ruins to track down Odo's people (again), but then this gets pretty dark and interesting, as is usually the case with Odo's episodes.

Overall, this one doesn't do a lot to uncover the mystery of the shapeshifters, which is a good thing because what they eventually come up with next year is great. All we get is a mysterious pillar, an ill-fated metamorphic life form and more indications that if shapeshifters were once widespread in the Gamma Quadrant, they're nowhere to be seen now.

This is another good episode for Odo though, going even further back in his chronology than 'Necessary Evil' and with a pretty good twist, even if it's left conveniently unexplained because Bashir is inept.
"Humanoid death rituals are an interest of mine" - Odo

DS9 2x13 Armageddon Game ***

I always thought of this one as the start of the O'Brien/Bashir bromance after their earlier troubles (troubles on the Chief's part only - everyone loves the Chief), but it wasn't as much of a leap as I thought. There must be more bridge building before those guys are fighting the Jerries, defending the Alamo and taking it in turns to watch each other... oh hang on, that was never explicitly stated in canon.

This is a pretty dull episode saved by some nice touches, like the impressive audacity and sickness of the conspirators to not only lie about O'Brien and Bashir's apparent demise, but to blame it on the Chief screwing up.

Keiko side-stepping grief by obsessing over a fortuitous continuity error with the tape that would impress even a Trek fan is the highlight though, and this would have been a two-star show if it wasn't for that last line. This is another episode that won an Emmy for hairstyling for the T'Lani and Kellerun's barnets. They really hand those things out.
"Marriage is the greatest adventure" - Miles O'Brien

DS9 2x14 Whispers ****

We've had the daft Ferengi shows, the slightly boring Bajoran plots, bloody Lwaxana Troi and finally we're introduced to my personal favourite DS9 sub-genre - episodes where Chief O'Brien gets put through hell because there's no better character to tug at your heart strings. Actually, didn't he already nearly die in the last episode?

I don't know how long it took for the writers to start doing this intentionally, though I know at some point they coined the 'O'Brien Must Suffer' moniker so they must have realised eventually. But really, there is no other character who speaks to the everyman like the self-made Irish engineer and family man. If Bashir was in some kind of life threatening situation, I wouldn't care less. I just thought of about three episodes where that happens and I don't.

This is one of the better ones, and one of the best episodes they've done so far, giving us a different insight into life aboard the station as we get it exclusively through the Chief's increasingly paranoid eyes. He briefly teams up with Odo, which is always a treat but doesn't last long enough, and even Jake's pretty good in this one.

The ending is a bit abrupt and spoiled by patronising over-explanation, but it feels like a sci-fi mystery in the classic mould in a way this series doesn't do so often.
"I haven't had a physical take this long since I was born" - Miles O'Brien

DS9 2x15 Paradise **

If I hadn't watched DS9 for years and saw it appear in the listings when visiting my family or some other normal people who own a TV, I'd be extremely disappointed if it turned out to be this episode. That's what happened to me a few years ago, but I stuck with it, mostly because it's one of the few episodes I don't think I saw the first time around. Those always end up being the worst ones, don't they? There's a reason you didn't track them down on video or download.

This could have come from any of the Next Generation-generation series, and it wouldn't surprise me if the plot had been tossed around for a few years before they decided to get the damn thing out of the way and do a find-and-replace on the character names. There's nothing original or engaging about its main we-hate-technology plot or even more tedious we're-looking-for-you B-plot, and the guest cast are pretty annoying and unsympathetic too.

It's not terrible. It's Star Trek, but it's not Deep Space Nine.
"I'd strongly advise you get rid of that uniform" - Alixus

DS9 2x16 Shadowplay ***

Another episode I had no memory of until Odo started talking to that girl with the spinning top and I remembered the memorable last scene. It's another episode that could have been done on any of the other series, but they do it better here and thanks to Odo's freedom from Federation bureaucracy we don't have to endure any conflicts between his firm morals and petty things like the Prime Directive.

The Odo/Dax dynamic isn't used very much in the series, maybe because there isn't much of a dynamic to it, but he's one of the best characters and she looks great so I have no problem with them teaming up. I was more perplexed by my reaction to Bareil arriving back on the station, which made me strangely happy, despite (or perhaps because of) my knowledge of what's to come later. I had no idea I liked that character so much.

Even the brief C-plot where Jake apprentices for O'Brien manages to surprise the audience by revealing that the commander's son has no interest in following in his father's footsteps. The anti-Wesley is born and Jake just became a lot more likeable.

With all this ongoing continuity, including more legends of the Changelings and another mention of the Dominion, the series is starting to get a more serialised undercurrent now, and it's all the better for it.
"Who's to say that our definition of life is the only valid one?" - Odo

DS9 2x17 Playing God **

Another cluttered episode, it's not a good sign when the most engaging of three parallel plots is the lightweight one dealing with the Cardassian vole infestation, which I thought happened a lot earlier in the series.

In the end though, the minimal debate over humane vole extermination seems to mostly serve as a commentary on whether we're justified in wiping out a developing proto-universe to save our own. If I haven't made it clear already, this is another of those technobabble-heavy episodes they usually reserved for the ship-bound series.

But the main focus is a different matter entirely, as Dax tutors a cocky and tedious initiate who unfortunately smacks too much of those cocky and tedious characters who'd show up on The Next Generation every so often, particularly that Betazoid guy from 'Tin Man.' Arjin doesn't make much of an impact and wouldn't show up again, but he's probably in the novels or something.

It's a better Trill episode than 'Invasive Procedures,' but if they'd been bold enough to dedicate an entire episode to O'Brien chasing voles through service ducts, that would have either been excellent or ridiculous. More memorable than this one either way. The main thing I took away from this one is the introduction of slutty Dax, which they get past the censors under the euphemism of an early morning 'wrestling' match. Yeah, yeah.
"Never have sex with the boss' sister" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #112

DS9 2x18 Profit and Loss ***

There are two main types of episodes at this point in DS9 - Starfleet ones and alien ones, and this second type generally tends to be more interesting. The Bloody Cardassian ones tend to be the best of the lot, and although this one isn't up to the standard of the earlier 'Cardassians,' it does flesh out the spoonhead empire a little more. Plus, it's got a less awful title.

The main love story between Quark and a Cardassian revolutionary is less exciting, mostly for undermining Quark's character and bringing him disappointingly in line with the honourable hew-mon types. This is the guy who sold out the station earlier this season and nearly got them all killed. This at least presents the opportunity for some good scenes with Odo, where Quark pushes his generosity to the limit to beg Odo to let Natima go. Above image may have been taken wilfully out of context.

Another character who develops in slightly the wrong direction here is Garak. The more we learn about the exiled tailor, the less intriguing he becomes, and he's certainly lost some mystique by the end of this episode, even if he gains some notoriety points by zapping a double-crossing Cardassian. His tailoring metaphors are getting a bit laboured now though, to the point that even Quark gets bored. I prefer their later root beer analogy for the Federation, but I shouldn't get ahead of myself - a lot of things get better later.
"How could I expect you to understand? You've never had those feelings. You don't know what it means to care about another person, you've never been in love. You've got all the emotions of a stone. No offence" - Quark to Odo

DS9 2x19 Blood Oath ****

Another 'aliens' episode, this time with a Starfleet officer getting involved in bloody Klingon affairs to the dismay of her more clean-cut colleagues. This has been a good year for Dax, and this episode in particular adds greater depth to the character who started out as little more than a beautiful robot with a slug inside.

While Dax's moral dilemma is the main focus of the episode, it's a lot more memorable for bringing back the three most fondly remembered Klingon commanders from the 1960s series (sorry Kras, you were rubbish), updated with pasty foreheads and Viking values. Kor and Kang both adapt well to the 24th century makeover, but I've never been able to take William Campbell seriously as a Klingon with that voice and line delivery. If they'd brought him back as Trelane for some kind of Q crossover instead... that would have been awful.

Ronald D. Moore's Klingon episodes were always reliably among the best of The Next Generation, and this one doesn't disappoint either, with plenty of bat'leths and barked Klingonese curses that should satisfy even casual fans. I keep forgetting Worf joins this series later - check it out, they were doing decent Klingon episodes long before he showed up.
"It is a good day to die" - Jadzia Dax

DS9 2x20 The Maquis, Part I ***

The Trek two-parter used to be a fairly prestigious thing, but it was around this time that its value depreciated, with The Next Generation throwing them out willy-nilly and this one essentially being set-up for the following year's Star Trek: Voyager. Some of the later Maquis shows are interesting, but I'm a little hostile and resentful about this one, which feels like the equivalent of inserting Ewoks into your trilogy to sell more action figures.

Unless the second episode really shakes things up, it doesn't really earn the two-parter status either, especially as a couple of contemporary TNG episodes would also be spent dealing with dissatisfied Demilitarized Zone colonists. The big reveal of the Starfleet traitor at the end would have an impact if it was someone we'd been introduced to prior to this episode, more like Neela in season one or Ro in one of those aforementioned TNG episodes, but there'd be time for that in later seasons.

The most notable aspect of this episode is Sisko and Dukat teaming up, and Sisko comes off worse. Dukat's criticisms of his joyless stoicism are right on the nose, I guess it'd take until the beard for Benji to lighten up a little. The most disappointing part is watching a battle play out with computer sprites, because they're too cheap to show it. We don't see the oft-mentioned, transparent-skulled Captain Boday either, but that's probably for the best.
"Never begin a business negotiation on an empty stomach" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #214 (Quark may just be making these up when it suits him)

DS9 2x21 The Maquis, Part II ****

In what might be a Star Trek first, part two was a lot better than part one, and a lot of that's down to Dukat. It's odd seeing him chatting with Sisko and Kira with the knowledge of what's to come later post-breakdown and infernal spiritual awakening, but the character is never inconsistent, making no apologies for his preference for efficient and bloody methods of extracting information and dishing out punishments. Though with all that swaggering, it's satisfying to see him taken down a few pegs when Sisko reveals the Central Command was willing to let him die.

Sisko comes off better than in the first part as he wrestles with the justification for what the Maquis and his former best buddy are doing, and though there's never any danger of him crossing that line, his "the problem is Earth" speech is one of the franchise's milestones. Less inspiring is his relentless fetishising of the Starfleet uniform, which began in 'Paradise' and would continue into the Michael Eddington years. They even named a bloody episode after it.

We finally get a decent battle scene too, which was a nice surprise after last week's monitor sprites. Though we're still in the pre-Defiant days, and those runabouts can only do so much. Good job the Maquis didn't have more than two puny ships, I'd hate to see this crew having to deal with a full-scale war or something.
"It's easy to be a saint in paradise" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 2x22 The Wire ****

Cardassian exile, tailor and potential spy Garak has been gaining momentum this season as a clear favourite of the writers (and the fans, presumably), and he gets his own not-very-long-awaited episode here. There's a lot for Bashir to do as well, but you're not watching for him. Unless you're watching desperately trying to contrive homo-erotic slash undertones, of which there are plenty, from the Doctor's caring vigil to the hand-holding forgiveness scene and bedroom brawl. Actually, there's probably more to read into here than in the entirety of the Bashir/O'Brien friendship.

DS9 found its feet early in the second season before faltering for a while, but it's really back on form in this final stretch of episodes, and this introspective tale of layered deceit and bitterness couldn't have been pulled off on any of the other Treks. If this was Voyager, Dax's irrelevant sick plant would have been the cause of Garak's headache in the opening scene, and we would have gone from there.

We may not ultimately learn too much about Garak in this episode apart from his first name and probable involvement in the Obsidian Order, but we do get to see beneath that cordial exterior, and it's not pleasant. On a lesser note, this episode also highlighted the need for some sort of consensus on how Quark's name should be pronounced.
"Has it ever occurred to you that I might be getting exactly what I deserve?" - Elim Garak

DS9 2x23 Crossover ***

What could have been an awkward and gimmicky serving of fan fiction is handled pretty well, as DS9 pays respectful tribute to an episode from the classic Star Trek canon with the same creativity as the later 'Trials and Tribble-ations,' except this time Kirk is merely name-checked rather than digitally superimposed.

Revisiting the alternate universe from 'Mirror, Mirror' had been done in the books and comics, but this is the first time it's been done in a live action series, and the writers have typically put a lot of thought and care into its execution. The bleak resolution to Spock's apparent revolution of peace in a war-like anti-Federation sees the human race serving a Klingon/Cardassian/Bajoran alliance as its slaves, so if the plight of Bajoran slave labourers in those recent flashback episodes didn't stir you, here you can care about someone from your own species.

Reusing the style, look and atmosphere of pre-withdrawal Terok Nor could be viewed as a little lazy, but the station handles dingy and sinister well, and it's starting to feel like the brighter, jollier station we're used to is the odd one out. What is Starfleet doing there?

I have fond memories of some of the later episodes set in this universe, but here we're mostly presented with a bunch of one-dimensional caricatures, some of whom are evil for evil's sake (Garak, Odo) and others (Quark) who are kind philanthropists just because that's quite funny. Fortunately, some of the more boring ones are killed off.
"The players are all the same, but everyone seems to be playing different parts" - Kira Nerys

DS9 2x24 The Collaborator **

Another Bajoran politics episode. It's been a while, but they're starting to get stale now, as well crafted as they are and as dreamy as Bareil is. He just gets more selfless and plain good in each appearance. Too good to live.

I can see why they moved away from Bajor for a while, as this is a very slow episode that I can't really imagine appealing to new viewers drawn in by the Jem'Hadar and the Defiant in the next season. I loved 'The Circle,' which has similar themes, but was bored through a lot of this.

While there's a shift in the Bajoran political landscape by the end, this episode merely reinforces that Winn is nasty and Bareil is ace. But there are some smaller touches that make it more memorable, like Odo's curious reaction when Kira reveals she's in love with Bareil (I wonder where that's heading) and Kira and Odo drafting Quark to hack into the Vedek Assembly archives.

During this season, the Bajorans have got more boring and the Bloody Cardassians much more interesting. We go to Cardassia next time, it should be a more entertaining trip.
"No good deed ever goes unpunished" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #285

DS9 2x25 Tribunal **

Another O'Brien Must Suffer episode, which are always morbidly entertaining, though this was lacking compared to 'Whispers.' Following through on an off-hand comment by Dukat a few episodes earlier regarding the Cardassian legal system, we get our first look at that Orwellian world, with some nice architectural and design similarities to the Cardassian-built DS9 station.

Beyond that, the Cardassian brutality is nothing we haven't seen before in The Next Generation, and I wasn't ready for another episode focusing so heavily on the soon-to-be-overshadowed Maquis threat, but I guess the writers needed some excuse to turn O'Brien's holiday into a living hell.

O'Brien's character feels a little stilted by this point, borrowing a love of technical manuals from Scotty and still mostly being defined in relation to his family and his job, but it's interesting to see the characters debating whether the Chief's slightly dodgy racism towards Cardassians could mean he's genuinely betrayed Starfleet. After all, Sisko's already gone through that with Hudson, and he knew him a lot better, even if we didn't. I can't imagine that "what if...?" conversation happening on the clean-cut Enterprise.
"The bloody Cardies can't be trusted" - Mokbar quotes O'Brien

DS9 2x26 The Jem'Hadar ****

Well that shook things up a bit. After the previous season finale saw some minor status quo shuffling, the universe feels a lot more dangerous by the end of this episode, which started out so innocently as a father-son outing. It was inevitable that something was going to interrupt the frivolity, especially after last week did the same thing, but they took their time getting there, which offered some nice scenes with the Siskos that have been lacking this season, and saw the normally uptight Commander laughing three times. I like him better when he's relaxed. I guess there's not much chance of that in the near future.

After sowing some extremely vague seeds throughout the year, we finally see the Dominion, or their Tosk-esque soldiers anyway, and they pack a punch. They destroy the goddamned Enterprise just to show they can. Even if that wasn't actually the Enterprise, I doubt Picard's charm would have made much of a difference in the face of superior firepower. The Borg are nothing.

I always enjoyed this episode as a kid, but it's more satisfying watching it in context, and chilling to find out just how much the Dominion knows about the Alpha Quadrant when our guys know so little. There are also some other nice callbacks as the series takes permission to serialise, like Jake's engineering course (ultimately futile) and Bashir citing their rubbish battle with two Maquis ships as evidence of their hardened battle experience, which is rightly dismissed by Keogh. There'll be more battle experience to come, Doctor. In what would become DS9 tradition, the writers keep their options open for the future, which offers more freedom than a straight cliffhanger.

There's more to this episode than just establishing the Dominion threat though, and I surprisingly enjoyed the Jake and Nog stuff, which was integrated into the actual plot for a change. Jake is developing into a likeable character - a low-tech kind of guy who cares about his friends. There's also more Federation bashing courtesy of Quark's insightful speeches about humans looking down on the Ferengi, which is probably true. That Jem'Hadar guy also has a fair point when he advises Sisko not to continue violating their territory, an ultimatum he would subsequently ignore. Sisko was nearly right - Earth isn't the problem, it's humans who are the damn problem.
"Nature decays, but latinum is forever" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #102

DS9 3x01 The Search, Part I *****

I always had mixed feelings about this two-parter, which is fairly pivotal in the grand scheme of things but lacks the drama of next year's 'The Way of the Warrior' and is spoiled by a really rubbish ending. Watching through the series again, this uneven nature is reflected in a sharp contrast between the two episodes. Part one is just great, part two significantly less so.

The plot takes the only acceptable route after the season two finale by having the crew actively trying to contact the Dominion for peace talks, after getting the shit scared out of them last time and apparently spending their entire summer holiday conducting ill-fated battle simulations. Meanwhile, Sisko took a trip back to Earth to pick up a dodgy warship with a malfunctioning cloaking device and a replicator that can't even make an acceptable raktajino.

The Defiant is a welcome addition to the series and enjoyably ramshackle in the DS9 tradition, getting put through its paces before the end of its debut episode. It's no match for the Dominion, but it's a damn sight better than those crappy runabouts that were previously the only line of defence. It's hard to believe the insignificant battle with the Maquis was just a few episodes ago. The universe has changed.

But beyond the main plot (which is a very good one) and that surprise ending (which is excellent), this episode also makes plenty of time for character interaction, which makes sense when you consider the new audience they will have been hoping to attract. Despite the grave situation, Sisko hasn't lost his newfound sense of humour, Quark gets something useful to do, and there's a lot of good stuff with Odo that cements him as probably my favourite of the lot. Weird that the Romulan woman would never be seen again though.
"I've brought back a little surprise for the Dominion" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 3x02 The Search, Part II ***

I might be wrong in my reflexive generalisation that Trek two-parters are always better in the set-up than the pay-off (I think 'The Maquis' already disproved that, but who hasn't forgotten all about the Maquis now the Dominion's around?), but this has got to be one of the worst offenders. That cop-out ending is almost insulting, and really harms the rewatch value of what should have been one of the series' stand-out stories. It's a shame.

While it may be sinister that the Dominion can construct such a painstakingly accurate virtual environment from the crew's shared consciousness, it actually felt creepier when the Jem'Hadar soldier spouted random Klingon trivia in the season two finale. Make them too powerful and any victories by the good guys detract from the threat, like happened with the Borg on Voyager. The deus ex machina ending might have been excusable if there was any real point to it, but Borath's explanation that they're investigating the crew's tenacity doesn't satisfy.

The Founders themselves are better defined, and their reign of terror is convincingly justified by their xtreme xenophobia. Odo's character arc goes through a prominent shift before his search for identity was run into the ground too deeply, and having to live with the knowledge that his people are bigger Nazis than the Cardassians is the sort of punch in the stomach the writers normally reserve for Chief O'Brien. Whoever was responsible for connecting those particular dots should be commended for one of the best twists in Trek.

I try to find something new in these episodes I watched many times as a kid, and this time it struck me that the Dominion bothered to run a simulation in which Sisko and Bashir are cooped up alone in a cramped escape pod for six days. What did they get up to? What tactical information were the Founders trying to glean from that?
"To become a thing is to know a thing" - Founder Leader

DS9 3x03 The House of Quark ****

I didn't buy Quark as a romantic hero in 'Profit and Loss,' but here he proves he's more than capable of taking on Klingons without compromising his values. And he doesn't need the wacky Ferengi ensemble to do it, though Rom provides reliable relief as ever.

This is one of the best Quark episodes and remarkably doesn't even do a disservice to the Klingons, though Quark's outsider status gives the writers free reign to expose some of the Empire's more ridiculous values without Starfleet's burden of cultural respect. He also puts down Sisko quite convincingly for bringing the Jem'Hadar threat to the Alpha Quadrant, and in the heartwarming B-plot it's satisfying to see the status quo evolving as the station becomes an even less welcoming place than it was already due to the ominous Dominion threat. That's some achievement. Good job, Sisko!

While Quark's story is the more interesting of the two, and Grilka's a very memorable character who'll show up again, the O'Brien/Keiko story deserves credit too, even if it mostly seems to have been contrived to get the wife out of the picture so the Chief and the Doctor can build on their bromance. Bashir seems to have grown up since spending six days in an escape pod with Sisko, dispensing sage advice to his more experienced comrade and not even coming across as annoying. They've come a long way from 'Armageddon Game' already, and this is one piece of character development I welcome wholeheartedly.
"A brave Ferengi. Who would have thought it possible?" - Gowron

DS9 3x04 Equilibrium ****

Finally, a decent episode with Dax and the Trill. It didn't really work out when the Trill visited DS9, so this time we go to see them. I'm not sure it was entirely necessary to take along our new warship when a runabout would do, but you never know when you might run into the Borg or something.

This is a very creepy episode - more so when I was eleven and genuinely freaked out by the masked figure in Dax's dreams, theatrical masks always did that to me - and it's an entertaining mystery too, with Sisko doing the detective work for once rather than Odo.

The idea of the Trill is an interesting one that deserved better treatment than they've been given in the past, and this episode remedies that, though it doesn't leave a lot of room for the future (same-sex kisses excepted). The planet itself may be the same type of dull matte painting we've seen since The Next Generation started (beige towers, square lakes and walkways) but at least we see the symbionts in their natural environment, where they like to hang out when they're not squashed up inside someone's abdomen.

This story wouldn't have worked as well in earlier seasons, as it relies strongly on the crew's love for Dax that's built up over the past two years. Sisko's come to know an old friend on her own terms and Bashir seems to have outgrown his infatuation, even if he finally gets Jadzia in his bedroom. Shame the Defiant has those bunk beds.
"If you want to know who you are, it's important to know who you've been" - Jadzia Dax

DS9 3x05 Second Skin ***

Demonstrating that it's not all about the Dominion these days, we return to Cardassia for a story that could have been significantly more interesting if they'd been bold enough to leave Kira's true identity open-ended. Plus, we've been fooled too many times for any of this to really be convincing, even when we're presented with a body. Kira suggests a couple of possibilities off the bat, and I can think of at least a couple more we've seen before. Anyone who doesn't like Kira's character might enjoy seeing her broken at least.

Cardassian society and culture is explored in a little more detail, which is welcome, and once again we see a contrast between Nice Cardassians and Bloody Cardassians, particularly when it comes to the Obsidian Order. The more interesting aspect of this episode, as usual, is Garak, who clearly hasn't been softened too much by the revelation of his full name. Those Cardassian phasers don't do half measures.
"A pity. I rather liked him" - Garak

DS9 3x06 The Abandoned ***

Back to the Jem'Hadar with an interesting and relatively low-key return in the form of a single juvenile, not that you can tell until the actor reaches an acceptable age to plaster him in prosthetics. It doesn't make sense that the Jem'Hadar would look practically human at birth, or at least I don't like the idea of it. Couldn't they have made a Farscape-style puppet or something? Actually, that would have looked horrific. I don't know the answer.

We learn a lot about the Dominion's foot soldiers in this one, though their penchant for motivational slogans would come later. Odo's attempt to strike up rapport with the lean, green killing machine feels doomed from the start, especially when he starts preaching about equality and I'm reminded of all the frustrated conversations I've had with racist/homophobic acquaintances.

The B-plot about the teenage Jake Sisko going out with a 20-year-old bar girl is even more uncomfortable, even if Jake's a better character now he's grown up a little and Nog seems to be out of the picture. I have a feeling it'll be a while before we see the Jem'Hadar again. One day we'll get enough of them.
- "Seems a pretty cold-blooded thing to do."
- "My people don't have blood, Chief" - O'Brien and Odo

DS9 3x07 Civil Defense ***

This feels like DS9's take on TNG's 'Disaster,' except no one gives birth this time. Instead, we have the Siskos crawling through ducts with O'Brien, Odo and Quark trapped together for no reason other than it's funny and the rest of the staff dodging phaser fire in Ops that one anonymous redshirt gets full in the back. Good going, Jake - that blood is directly on his hands. That's what happens when the character appears for an unprecedented two episodes in a row. Bad things.

I could criticise this episode for being an obvious bottle show, but I enjoy the concept of these dangerous Cardassian systems still lurking in the depths of the station's computers, and the situation nicely escalates from bad to worse to extremely bad to oh shit, did you see that? That innocent guy got vapourised for no reason.

It gets even better when Dukat appears, swaggering around Ops, insulting Garak and making passes at Kira, and reaches its peak when his own security system stabs him in the back. It's even more satisfying when you know it's coming.

Garak is once again a little more interesting than the majority of the main cast, Dax is a damsel in distress for the third time this season and Kira blasts the hell out of some consoles. Just another day at the office.
"Home is where the heart is, but the stars are made of latinum" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #75

DS9 3x08 Meridian **

This would be a dreadful episode if it wasn't for the entertaining B-plot saving it, but that's just leading up to the amusing denouement as Jeffrey "Weyoun" "Brunt" "Whatever That Andorian Was Called in Enterprise" Combs' character attempts to buy a sexy holo-image of Kira from Quark without the Major's permission.

The main plot sees Dax instantly falling in love with the same type of bland guy that Counsellor Troi used to go inexplicably crazy for, and the jeopardy lies in the prospect that they might not be able to be together. Needless to say, I was on the edge of my seat throughout. I'd hoped the show had left this sort of arbitrary planet-of-the-week episode behind in the second season, but there might be a couple more where this came from, I'll have to wait and see.

The episode makes me angry from the start, with Sisko's log admitting that they're going to continue exploring the Gamma Quadrant in spite of explicit warnings from the Dominion not to keep doing that. They're not even using the cloaking device. These people are idiots!
"Satisfaction is not guaranteed" - Quark

DS9 3x09 Defiant ***

It turns out there's more to this episode than just a semi-gratuitous Jonathan Frakes guest appearance, though a Next Generation character showing up in Deep Space Nine was always going to overshadow any actual plot. And the plot itself isn't bad - not particularly gripping, but suitably intriguing and setting events in motion for later in the season, with the Obsidian Order's sneaky fleet.

There's the chance for Sisko to team up with Dukat again, who's really in more episodes than I thought, and their relationship builds on the one established in 'The Maquis.' Unfortunately, this episode suffers from the same boring monitor space battles as that one, though at least we see the Defiant shooting at stuff for real for a little bit. It's always satisfying to see Dukat belittled by other Cardassians, especially here on his home soil, but I can't help feeling retroactively disappointed that the guy giving him status updates isn't Damar.

The Thomas Riker backstory (TNG: 'Second Chances') is summarised by Odo mercifully briefly, through the conceit of telling the story to Dukat, and in more overly expository storytelling, having Kira tag along helps to patronisingly clarify what Tom's doing at various points in the tale and why he's doing it. Still, this is a chance to see Riker doing his thing (back when we think it's Will), and you can't help but love him. Maybe it's the beard. His character doesn't feel too out of place in this environment, like some of them would. I wonder how Worf would fare...? Nah.
"Tough little ship" - Thomas Riker

DS9 3x10 Fascination *

Jesus, that was terrible. I didn't know DS9 got so annoyingly soapy this early on, but with Jake moping about his girlfriend, Bareil and Kira, O'Brien and Wife and Odo's not-so-subtle feelings for Kira, this is the sort of sci-fi-lite episode I hadn't exactly been longing for. They would do these types of shows much better later on, but when the actual plot begins it unfortunately goes down one of my least favourite avenues - Wacky. It also doesn't help that I really don't have time for Lwaxana Troi, especially on DS9.

There are a few things that annoy me about the Everyone Gets Horny plot, from its basic derivativeness to the seemingly arbitrary attractions going on and, worst of all, the fact that it inexplicably makes everyone completely stupid, especially Bareil. Did they really have to spoil that character so close to the e... I mean, nothing. I don't have foreknowledge or anything. Oh come on, these episodes are from 23 years ago.

To look on the bright side, there's only one more Lwaxana episode to go.
"I'm a poor substitute for your wife" - Julian Bashir

DS9 3x11 Past Tense, Part I ****

I really don't know why I didn't give this two-parter much credit when I was younger. Maybe because it skews on such a tangent from the normal order of things, but watching again this is one of its (many) strong points. It feels more like a good episode of Sliders than Star Trek, though at the risk of the audience forgetting what show they're watching, we do uncomfortably jump back to the present every so often and hear O'Brien spouting technobabble as he takes far too long to work out what we already know. These are undoubtedly the weakest parts of the show - did we really need them?

Sisko's really good in this one, though his chemistry with Bashir hasn't really moved on from colleague to friend, and I don't think it ever does. Dax is a damsel in distress for the fourth or so time this season (I've lost count), and is even explicitly called that at one point, and Quark has an unnecessary viewscreen scene right at the beginning in case anyone watches just for him.

The guest cast are all very good, though some of them don't really feel right for Trek (not necessarily a bad thing). This feels a little like a predecessor to First Contact (two years later) as well as Voyager's own 'Future's End' two parter, which was reliably much, much worse.
"21st century history isn't one of my strong points. Too depressing" - Julian Bashir

DS9 3x12 Past Tense, Part II ****

Once again breaking the 'rule' I invented when I was younger and that really hasn't been holding up so far (except for 'The Search'), the second part is better than the first, and really feels like a classic sci-fi story rather than just another walk down the Promenade. Although it's still not in my top 10 episodes, I could understand if other fans placed it up there with the best. I enjoyed how different it felt from the norm, and when the intro started with the comet I was actually surprised to see it. I really thought I was watching a different show.

The weakest points are again the compulsory flashes back to the present as O'Brien and Kira try to retrieve their crewmates from time (some really shaky science and contrived tech plot device there, even for Trek), and this turns into outright farce as they transport to various, extremely stereotypical periods throughout 20th century history.

This silliness is contrasted with a tense hostage situation and social revolution in the main plot, which is much more engaging. There are enough vague references to things like 'the state of the economy' that could serve to make this depiction of the near-future seem uncannily prescient when 2024 comes around.
"You get on my nerves and I don't like your hat" - Benjamin 'Gabriel Bell' Sisko

DS9 3x13 Life Support *

This is a pretty heartless and confused episode that seems to exist primarily as a way to make Kira single again for future dramatic prospects. I wasn't such a fan of the Kira-Bareil relationship either, but they could have gone down a less cold-blooded route than killing off a well-liked character in such a dehumanising way.

Sorry, I guess that should have been 'debajoranising,' though the script doesn't make such concessions in its homo sapiens chauvinism, with Bashir informing Kira that Bareil won't have any 'humanity' left if he goes through with the treatment. He didn't have any to begin with, you bloody quack! To most people, the nose is a dead giveaway.

That segues into the similarly dull B-plot, where Nog makes his first appearance this season only to reaffirm Ferengi stereotypes, just one episode before they try to distance him from them. How's that for a lack of character plotting? There's nothing endearing about this episode, it's a definitive trough in the series I wasn't even aware existed. It might be even worse than that one where they got trapped in a board game, though I'm not willing to put them head-to-head with a re-watch to work that out.
"Money is money, but women are better" - Nog

DS9 3x14 Heart of Stone **

Just one episode after Bareil's merciless death, Kira seems to have forgotten all about him, though for most of this episode it's not even Kira (Belated Spoiler Alert), so the revelations it contains about Odo (Unnecessary Coyness Alert) basically don't mean anything.

There are a few things to criticise about this episode, most notably the tedious and unconvincing rock that takes its sweet time to surround Kira and is a lot less tense and dramatic than it would have been if she was running out of air in a spacesuit or drowning (as well as a lot less expensive to shoot). But after last week set a new low standard, I'll cut it some slack.

Because there are a few things to like about it too. We see how skilful the Changelings can be at mimicking humanoids for the first time, Nog applies to Starfleet and they manage to make this convincing, and it's nice to see that not every minor diplomatic mission requires use of the station's heavily armed battleship after all. For trivia fans, there's also the first of several mentions of Ensign Villix'Pran, whose bizarre and frankly nuisance biology forms a running joke I'm looking forward to being reprised in the future. There should be a spin-off with him and Captain Boday getting up to something, preferably involving self-sealing stem bolts and Morn's big mouth.
"Everything that goes wrong here is your fault, it says so in your contract" - Quark

DS9 3x15 Destiny ****

This is a significant one for me as it's the first episode of Deep Space Nine I properly sat down and watched when I was 11/12, and with its political intrigue, eerie mysticism and lots and lots of gratuitous wormhole effects, it got me hooked in a way the previous couple of episodes really wouldn't have.

Casual viewers apparently weren't into the series' Bajoran religion angle, and neither was I as a kid, but now I tend to find these episodes among the most interesting. Now they've dulled Winn's duplicity and killed off Bareil (it still hurts), this week's borderline fundamentalist Vedek is... actually, I can't remember his name, but he's the guy who chomped Daniel Jackson's chocolate bar and said “bunny-way” in Stargate. He may have done other things.

There are good scenes for Kira, resolving the conflict between her faith and her duty, Sisko, grudgingly accepting that there might be something to these wacky prophecies after all, and O'Brien, whose prickly relationship with the Bloody Cardassians takes an unexpected twist as he accidentally flirts with one of the scientists. On your toes, O'Brien!
"I assure you, I'm quite fertile" - Gelora

DS9 3x16 Prophet Motive ****

The second Deep Space Nine episode I ever saw (I'll stop keeping track of this some time), this was also my introduction to the Ferengi and particularly Grand Nagus Zek, and it remains one of my favourites from that sub-genre. That's not too difficult, considering some of the Ferengi episodes are pretty awful, but this one's genuinely funny in a way few episodes have achieved in the past.

That's helped substantially by Wallace Shawn's unhinged, borderline demented performance which goes even more over the top than usual, as well as Max Grodenchik's very theatrical take on Rom, with some great line deliveries. But the biggest surprise in this already entertaining tale comes with the reappearance of the Prophets, not seen since the pilot.

It's to the writers' credit that both the Prophets and the Ferengi come out of the situation with their dignity intact. It might be one of Quark's finest achievements that he manages to convince advanced wormhole gods to restore Zek's scheming tendencies on the basis that they won't have to be bothered by the Ferengi again. There's an orb too, which is always nice. The third one we've seen so far, I think. It's pink.

There's a sub-plot about Bashir that builds to nothing. I thought this was the one with his rival from the Lexington, but that must be in a different late-third-season episode, despite being extremely similar. I guess they're running low on sub-plots now Jake and Nog are more mature. The dartboard makes its first appearance too - now we're just waiting for Sisko to grow the beard and Worf to show up and this is the DS9 I know and love.
"Greed is the purest, most noble of emotions" - Quark

DS9 3x17 Visionary ****

I'm usually critical of DS9 episodes that feel like they could have been written for any generic Trek series, but even though this could have easily been from The Next Generation with some find-and-replace on the character names, or Voyager if you made it a lot dumber, it's another ambitious sci-fi concept executed almost flawlessly.

But this is Deep Space Nine, which means they manage to incorporate some of the show's long running mythology concerning the Dominion and Starfleet's deal with the Romulans, and all the main cast get something to do, from Bashir's medical know-how to Odo's cunning detection, Dax's scanning for anomalies and Quark attempting to turn some latinum from the time-shifting (actually, Sisko doesn't do much except provide exposition). Most of all, it's another instalment in the O'Brien Must Suffer sub-genre (arguably the third or fourth so far, depending on whether you count 'Armageddon Game' - yeah, let's), which goes further than those have before by making his situation steadily worse.

There's a morbid humour about the Chief's increasingly distressing time jumps - witnessing his own death a couple of times before the whole station explodes - and although the explanation why he's jumping back and forth through time is the most contrived since 'Q did it,' the cause at least ties in with the overall mystery. This is what happens when you have Klingons and Romulans living together - mass hysteria.
"I hate temporal mechanics" - Miles O'Brienses

DS9 3x18 Distant Voices **

It might have escaped your attention if you haven't been watching along, but Deep Space Nine has started to get really good recently. It's almost as if they knew I'd started watching in real-time back in the mid-90s and started putting in more effort. I'll have to see how the rest of the third season holds up, but I remember it all being pretty damn good from 'Destiny' onwards, before steaming into the excellent fourth season and beyond. But then they had to spoil this impressive run by making a nonsensical episode based entirely in Bashir's ageing anxiety dream.

It was only in the previous episode that the good doctor berated O'Brien for his sadly deficient fantasy life, but Bashir's subconscious isn't any better. Don't worry, I haven't spoiled anything - the big reveal comes about half-way through, 10 minutes or so after the audience has already worked it out.

The conceit of his mind personifying various aspects of his personality in the cast is pretty ridiculous, especially when it's over-explained, and leads to some real pantomime performances from the regulars. I know I praised Wallace Shawn for being over the top a couple of episodes ago, but here it really doesn't work, and the attempts to pull of wackiness just feel embarrassing. I think it's only Farscape that can make that stuff good.

Siddig El Fadil is reliably decent in his naturalistic acting as Bashir, but always seems out of his comfort zone when called on to play something different. He's as convincing as you could reasonably expect when his ageing reaches the extreme, doddery end of the scale, but before that it's a little silly. I could also offer some unreasonable pedantry and question why the Lethean who apparently knows all of Julian's secrets doesn't mention the Bashir family's "little secret" that presumably wouldn't be conceived of until season five, but there's enough to criticise about this one already without needing to be a dick about it.
- "You represent my doubt and disbelief."
- "No I don't!" - Bashir and O'Brien

DS9 3x19 Through the Looking Glass ***

The not-so-long-awaited-this-time return to the mirror universe, I like this one a little more than 'Crossover,' as it doesn't have to waste time explaining the concept and introducing the characters. Instead, Sisko gets abducted and really lets himself go as he gets into character as his dead, alternate self. This apparently includes getting it on with the mirror Dax and Kira, so presuming anatomy remains unchanged between the universes, he's now been intimate with two of his closest friends and colleagues. He even gets to see his late wife again, though there doesn't seem to be time for a hat trick.

The return of Jennifer Sisko is the only thing that justifies this excursion really, as the rebel/rescue plot itself is nothing new, even for DS9 which has previously given us the Bajoran Resistance and the Maquis, along with other one-off rebel factions that probably featured in some first season episodes I've happily forgotten. Though this does at least make the audience question how these groups are portrayed based on which side 'we're' on - the Terran rebels are pretty similar to the Maquis, even hiding out in the Badlands, but they get the label 'terrorists.'

There's an unnecessary cameo from Voyager's Tuvok (that show started a few weeks previously) which I enjoyed as a kid. Also showing up is Mirror Bashir, who I guess they couldn't show the first time around for fear of exceeding their split screen budget, and Mirror Rom gets finished off like the alternate Quark and Odo before him. They'll run out of characters at this rate. I think the mirror universe stories rapidly descended into farce after this point, but I could be wrong - I'll let you know in a few weeks.
"Too much spirit can be a dangerous thing" - Intendant Kira

DS9 3x20 Improbable Cause *****

One of the early classics, if you can still reasonably call late third season 'early.' Whereas The Next Generation hit its prime post-spandex uniforms, I generally assumed Deep Space Nine got great when Sisko grew the beard and Worf showed up, but really the major turning point was when Ira Stephen Behr took over as showrunner, which I think was directly here. This is the episode that always comes to mind when I (wrongly) assume that most Trek two-parters start promisingly and end dismally, and was always among my favourite episodes. I'll try to be objective, or I could just leave that for the disappointing follow-up and be unapologetically gushing here.

Garak was already borderline over-used this season, but this is without doubt his finest episode, reminding us that, as much as we enjoy his riddles and wisecracks, he really isn't to be trusted. Once the mystery unravels and we find out who blew up Garak's shop, his insecurity and vulnerability are exposed between the lines. For a show that's so associated with nerds, Trek writing isn't usually this intelligent.

The Garak/Odo double-act is used for the first time, or at least the first memorable time, and it's a natural pairing of outcasts that doesn't suffer from the mentor/grooming angle of his friendship with Bashir. Odo reminds us once again why he's the Constable in a great scene with a Flaxian assassin, whose make-up (pictured) actually made me feel sick as a child, and then there's a Romulan warbird with Enabran Tain on it, Garak betrays us and things are excitingly To Be Continued...
"The truth is usually just an excuse for lack of imagination" - Elim Garak

DS9 3x21 The Die is Cast ***

Well, that denouement wasn't as bad as I remembered, but it still doesn't live up to the quality of part one. At least there are some space battles, much devastation and real consequences for the balance of power, and they don't just wake up to find it was all a simulation like 'The Search, Part II.'

If I wasn't so hung up on comparisons to the preceding episode, there's actually a lot to love here, the key scene being Garak's torture of Odo that stands out as one of my early memories of Deep Space Nine. This results in the characters bonding in a way I didn't think Odo was capable of, once he lets slip a secret that could lead to big things in the future.

Speaking of setting things up, the elimination of the Obsidian Order after they featured so prominently this season was a smart move, and helps to give the feeling this was all building to something even if it wasn't a conscious decision. The Changeling's line about the Federation and the Klingons being the only major threats remaining on the other side of the wormhole is also significant in setting up events in the next two seasons.

And although this uneven two-parter is proof that dazzling effects are no substitute for smart plotting, I have to say that battle scene looks fantastic, and is the sort of thing I've been longing for all season. Hopefully the days where Sisko and Dukat watch icons slowly moving across monitors are now a thing of the past.
"Oh no, you're going to torture me, aren't you? How I've been dreading this. Please, have mercy, Garak" - Slightly sarcastic Odo

DS9 3x22 Explorers ****

This is such a good episode. It's not a great episode like 'Improbable Cause,' but it's very heart-warming and one of the leading candidates for the best episode to initiate someone who thinks they don't like Star Trek into DS9 ('The Visitor' is another).

This is the sort of father-son bonding episode we were promised back in the pilot but very rarely given, and it's the best one I can think of. Oh, maybe apart from 'The Visitor' again, damn that tear-jerker. We see Sisko's nascent love for Bajor, his beard shows up for the first time (but the hair's in place for now) and Jake makes what may be the first mention of bathrooms in Star Trek history, a couple of years before Zefram Cochrane had to take a leak.

While it's nice to see Sisko and son spending time together, considering their changing relationship and seeing more of Jake's evolution down a satisfying non-Starfleet path, there's a lot more to this episode, which is an old-fashioned seafaring tale in an old-fashioned ship. Just one that's set in space rather than at sea, in a steampunk capsule fitted with solar sails. It's impossible not to root for the plucky sailors as their craft gets battered by tachyons and delight when they reach their final destination.

There's also another sub-plot about Bashir's anxiety for about the third time in the last ten episodes, which is only saved by the 'Jersualem' scene and some subtle comparisons between the station-bound series and its more famous forebears as Doctor Lens regrets having to move to a new planet every week. The Next Generation would never have featured a scene in which two principal characters got drunk and got tantalisingly close to professing their platonic love. The Bashir/O'Brien bromance is now official.
"Till we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant laaaaaaand" - O'Brien and Bashir

DS9 3x23 Family Business ***

It's a little too soon for another Ferengi episode after Zek last showed up, but this just about gets away with it for taking a more serious tone. Slightly. It's also our first chance to see the rain-sodden Ferenginar, Liquidator Brunt and Quark and Rom's controversial Moogie. We see a lot of her.

Kasidy Yates shows up too in this guest-packed episode, who I never had much of an opinion about first time round, but Penny "Her From Larry Sanders" Johnson is a great naturalistic actor and the character scores instant points for breaking down Sisko's tough exterior. It's quite cute seeing the commander trying awkwardly to arrange a first date, and when they uncover the shared love of baseball, his enthusiasm is infectious. To the extent that I seem to be talking a lot more about this B-plot than the main story. I guess it must have had an impact.

Well, this episode doesn't really tell us anything we didn't already know about Quark and Rom, but it's interesting to see Ferengi gender inequality up close, and to generally see how the Ferengi do things. Unsurprisingly, it involves a lot of bribes. The diminutive stuntman fight is fun, but all those sarcastically small doorways took me out of the action a little. Presumably there's some pretty heavy and depressing stuff coming up as the season approaches its conclusion, so I'd better enjoy the levity while I'm able.
"Moooogieeeeeeeeeeee!" - Rom

DS9 3x24 Shakaar ***

Casual viewers were supposedly turned off by the Bajoran politics episodes, and even I'm getting pretty bored of them now. After not doing much in the awful 'Life Support,' Kai Winn is at least back to being despicable here, though I don't understand how Kira's so tolerant and trusting of her in spite of their history.

We're introduced to the titular Shakaar, who's the type of boring, handsome hero Trek's female characters can't resist, but at least Kira doesn't disrespect Bareil's memory by jumping into bed with her old friend this soon. I don't remember Shakaar showing up in too many future episodes (only 'Crossfire' springs to mind, and I literally can't remember anything about it other than he's in it), but I know Furel and Lupaza will only show up one more time and that's a shame - their warm, bickering double-act makes an otherwise dull story a lot more bearable.

We're told that these dashes through the mountains are “just like old times,” though personally I'd have preferred some flashbacks to the Occupation, along the lines of 'Necessary Evil.' Oh well, at least there's nice location shooting to get us off the station.

Back on the station, there's an entirely pointless but very entertaining B-plot about O'Brien being on a winning streak until he injures his shoulder. His explanation of being "in the zone" stayed with me for many years, long after I'd forgotten all about Shakaar, the soil reclamators and even which episode it was from. Nice to see it again. Hang on, why was Bashir surprised to hit the bullseye when we later find out…oh shut up!
"I didn't fight the Cardassians for 25 years just so I could start shooting other Bajorans" - Shakaar Edon

DS9 3x25 Facets ***

For a show that tends to be associated with strong female characters, Dax has spent a lot of time this season getting kidnapped and being a damsel in distress, so it's fitting that there's an episode focusing on her insecurity before she meets Worf next year and remembers how to be a tough cookie.

The zhian'tara ritual itself (it's tragic that I not only know its name without looking it up, but can spell it correctly too) is a very contrived gimmick, but gets away with it by being weird alien stuff. The first half of the episode is fun, sweet and lightweight as Jadzia gets to interact with Dax's former hosts, and this gives the main cast something different to do as their characters are temporarily possessed. For O'Brien and Bashir, this means attempting American accents, as there's evidently no diversity on Trill, Kira plays an old woman admirably and Leeta is…well, we don't even know who her character is normally at this point. Quark gets the laughs by embodying a feee-male and emphasising the joy of child rearing, that's the best part.

Then we come to the recent hosts - Joran in the body of Sisko, Curzon morphed with Odo - and the episode takes a dark and serious turn. The Joran stuff is short lived and basically just a follow-up to the better 'Equilibrium,' as it's Curzon we get to spend the most time with. Unfortunately, his fairly one-dimensional portrayal here doesn't live up to the legend our characters are constantly reminiscing about, but Rene Auberjonois makes him different enough from Odo that I buy it.

Like O'Brien in the zone last time, there's a tacked-on B-plot that could have been inserted into any episode, about Nog training for Starfleet Academy. The only scene of note is Rom standing up to Quark again. Not a bad episode, but I had higher hopes. The Trill are a fascinating concept, but they don't make for great episodes, which is doubtless why there are hardly any more after this one.
"Root beer. This is the end of Ferengi civilisation" - Quark

DS9 3x26 The Adversary ***

This is the point where Deep Space Nine starts trying to be The X-Files, and I'm generally happy with that. The subtle Changeling infiltration of the Alpha Quadrant to destabilise its major powers may be less instantly gratifying than a load of Starfleet and Dominion ships exploding on screen, but in the grand scheme of things it helps to give DS9 the saga quality it secretly strived for in these early years, before Ira Stephen Behr decided he wasn't going to pay attention to the network any more and would be as serialised as he darn well liked. These changes were all for the better.

Another change that doesn't really make a difference but was a long time coming is Sisko's promotion to captain. Oh, he wasn't a captain already? Was that just an oversight or something? The recurring jobsworth Eddington shows up again to bookend the season, and doesn't do much to win over detractors, but at least they make him a bit of a red herring for viewers who thought it would be too obvious if the Changeling infiltrator turned out to be that ambassador guy we've never seen before. Give the writers more credit than... oh, it was him.

The second half of the episode (no pointless B-story this time!) is a tense and paranoid search through the extremely cramped corridors and maintenance shafts of the Defiant, which would make for a very claustrophobic series if this was the principal location, but works very well here. We also get the introduction of blood screening, phaser sweeps and other makeshift anti-Changeling measures.

The main issue I have with this episode is that they introduce an apparent major power we've never heard of and casually reference “the last Federation-Tzenkethi war.” This is the Talarians all over again. Couldn't they have used the Klingons or something? Turns out we wouldn't have to wait long.
"I've got more important things to do than play 'Choose the Changeling'" - Miles O'Brien

DS9 4x01 The Way of the Warrior *****

I think I decided this feature-length season opener was my favourite Deep Space Nine episode the first time I saw it, which was actually fairly late in my non-chronological viewing order based on what VHS tapes I could find on sale or second-hand shops. I wasn't just blown away by the effects, as I'd seen there was more of that to come, but it just seemed to have everything. After a few views, you completely forget that this is the one where Worf shows up.

Watching this in order is even better, as the paranoia sown in the previous episode has run rampant throughout the Alpha Quadrant without the Dominion even needing to feature, to the point that even I felt suspicious when Kasidy probed Sisko for sensitive information and I know she isn't a Changeling. Fear of and manipulation by the Dominion drives the whole plot and really shakes things up, which was apparently the show's simplistic brief from the network - do something to make this show better.

But they go beyond, with some of the most memorable character scenes the series would ever produce (alright, maybe part of the reason they're memorable is because I watched this one so much). If you're a newcomer to DS9 at this point, like Worf, everyone is introduced and there's a definite sense that their relationships have evolved and softened over time in a way I didn't feel in 'The Search' the same time last year.

If I have one trivial complaint, it's that the theme music is now far too fast - while this is the version I used to be most familiar with, after three seasons of ponderous fanfares and lingering model shots (admittedly skipped through most of the time), this sped-up version just sounds wrong. I'll get used to it. I'm already used to Worf.

Things go from bad to worse in the second half as the writers destroy all Worf's hard work to restore his family name and an even-more-manic-than-usual Gowron strips him of everything, except his honour. If you were a Next Generation fan trying this out for the first time, you'd be rightly furious.

Things slow down a little as the Defiant heads to Cardassia to rescue Dukat and co., but then the scene is set for a dramatic showdown that feels genuinely scary and horrible, even more so because just a few days earlier the Klingons would have been fighting alongside us, not piercing Kira with their mek'leths. It's painful, but there's no regret - the Klingon hostility can be viewed as a temporary distraction in the grand scheme of things, but here it produced one of the series' classic episodes, possibly the best. There are too many classic scenes to write about, but the root beer analogy is probably the highlight.
"First it was the Cardassians, then it was the Dominion, now it's the Klingons. How's a Ferengi supposed to make a decent living in a place like this?" - Quark

DS9 4x02 The Visitor *****

Hot on the heels of my (possible) favourite episode is another certified classic that's up there with 'The Inner Light' and last season's 'Explorers' as one of the best episodes to show someone who thinks they hate Star Trek. It won't make them like Star Trek or anything, but they might like the episode, so give it a try.

For repeat viewers there's permission to weep right from the opening pan over the late Benjamin Sisko's baseball and a family photo from simpler times with a music score that mercilessly prods in all the most sensitive areas. It takes me out a little when we get to Tony Todd's unconvincing old man make-up and the general weirdness of him portraying an existing character when Cirroc Lofton already gets next to nothing to do on a weekly basis, but maybe they thought the kid wasn't up to it.

Jake is put through hell in this episode, a role that's normally reserved for O'Brien who has plenty of misery and suffering to look forward to later this year, so there's no need to get jealous. Captain Sisko's death is handled very movingly, even though you know the status quo will almost certainly be restored by the end, and even if you're a completely heartless cynic, there's some future post-chronology stuff to help you speculate about what might have been, including a mysteriously alive Jadzia Dax which suggests that Sisko's actions were somehow tangentially responsible for her death (though clearly had nothing to do with that from a production point of view). Whoops... I mean, obviously all the characters come out of this series alive.

This episode was clearly written without new character Worf in mind, as all he does is stand next to Kira in one scene and speak half of her lines. There are plenty of flaws, but it's still up there with the best.
"It's life, Jake. You can miss it if you don't open your eyes" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 4x03 Hippocratic Oath **

The winning streak had to end some time and DS9 slips out of the zone with this one, another O'Brien/Bashir story that feels like it's been done before with those characters and their equivalents elsewhere in the franchise. The promise of conflict is wasted at the end, when Bashir basically forgives and forgets. They're big on the reset button this season so far, but at least tensions with the Klingons are continuing to rise, otherwise what would Worf have to do?

As it turns out, he gets a tacked-on B-plot designed to make him look stupid and create friction with Odo, which is a shame as I thought those two would get along. This plot feels lightweight and also like it's been done before, and it actually annoys me how Quark's let off with no consequences after committing a blatant crime, that just feels careless.

As for the main plot, it's surprisingly been almost a year since they've done anything with the Jem'Hadar, and I'm not too fond of the disobedience on display. It's not that I approve of the Dominion genetically engineering a race of drug-addicted soldier slaves to fight their battles, but I'd appreciate some consistency in how they're presented throughout the series. The more they humanise them, the less threatening they feel, especially as we're now supposed to be scared of the Klingons for the first time since The Search For Spock.
"So you wish Keiko... was a man?" - Julian Bashir

DS9 4x04 Indiscretion ***

Season four has a more soapy feel to it that I guess is here to stay, it just didn't feel this pronounced when I used to dip in and out of the series at random. The B-story in this episode is all about Sisko having to sort out his feelings and realise he wants Kasidy to move in on the station, and in the process the Captain loses much of his status and authority, even getting criticised by Quark without a decent rebuttal. They're succeeding in humanising the character, especially compared to the stoic, cold Commander Sisko of previous years, but maybe I'm watching through these too rapidly and it's a little jarring to see such a shift.

Why do I have a habit of talking about the inconsequential sub-plots first? The main story threatens to be another boring Bajoran adventure, but becomes a more interesting odd-couple search-and-rescue that sees Dukat softening even more than Sisko with the revelation of his illegitimate daughter. I forgot she even existed until now, she'll be back, though I guess she's involved in an accident along the way and regenerates like a Time Lord because this character goes through actresses at an even faster rate than Worf's son.

It's a little boring, but I was cheered up with the first appearance of the Breen towards the end, which was a nice surprise. Weird that Kira and Dukat are wearing the suits - I guess they've seen some naked Breen and just never told anyone about it.
"Women are the enemy" - Quark

DS9 4x05 Rejoined ***

The station's soap opera vibe continues, but feels more natural this time as Bashir, Dax and Kira socialise and confide in each other as genuine friends, something I guess we have Ira Stephen Behr to thank for. I've always separated pre- and post-Behr DS9 in my mind as distinct entities (I didn't even bother buying the first two seasons when the DVDs came out), and this is clearest when crossing the threshold and arriving on the other side. It's also helped by subtle changes in lighting that make this season look a little different to the last - does everything look a little oranger to you?

Of course, this is famous/notorious as the lesbian episode, though what's most impressive about it is that the same-sex issue is never even mentioned, being cleverly analogised as a taboo in Trill society about the reassociation of lovers from previous lives. This is the episode The Next Generation should have done instead of 'The Outcast' and it even makes up for the ending of 'The Host.' Finding out about which parts of America vocally objected to two women kissing on prime-time TV could be interesting and amusing background reading for you. There are no surprises there.

Terry Farrell is actually really good here, after last season took a bit of a sexist dump on Dax, and seeing the strength of her relationships with Sisko, Bashir and even Quark are the best parts. The worst part is the tacked-on sci-fi plot about creating an artificial wormhole, which exists solely to put Lenara in danger. They could have come up with something more relevant. And isn't weird that they named her Khan, of all the endless alien names available? What's that about?
"How can it be unnatural for a married couple to renew their marriage?" - Kira Nerys

DS9 4x06 Starship Down **

Damn, I was looking forward to watching 'Little Green Men,' not that boring bottle show one. CIC Video liked to screw around with the episode ordering in the old days just to upset continuity, sometimes the video box didn't even agree with the episodes on the tape. Never mind anyway, this looks like it might be better than I remember. Oh, no, I was right first time.

When the tough little Defiant is left worse for wear in the atmosphere of a gas giant following a Jem'Hadar attack, the crew are separated in different parts of the ship, and in varying levels of mortal danger. Of these groupings, the only one that's truly worthwhile is Kira caring for the concussed Sisko, where she reveals more about her faith relating to his role as the Emissary and he's in no shape to walk away or plug his ears.

Others are less engaging, including Dax and Bashir trapped in a room that's getting colder by the minute (isn't space always cold?) that patronisingly explains to us how Julian has changed over the past year. I'm not sure whether I even prefer him like this, there's a newfound arrogance that I fear will only get worse as the series goes on. Meanwhile, Quark teaches a Karemma the fun of gambling, with a stupid moral that feels even more contrived than the folk tale Kira relates to Sisko. Oh, and Worf needs to lighten up again.

There is tension, but the episode drags on. To its credit, they at least avoid killing off the anonymous redshirt helmswoman who I was certain was going to bite it, though after the attack we're still informed "Boyce and Peterson are dead" and that Sisko's merely concussed. Of course he is.
"The bigger the risk, the bigger the win!" - Quark

DS9 4x07 Little Green Men ****

The first really good episode for a while, the prospect of Quark, Rom and Nog flying to Earth in Quark's new ship sounds like a winner even before they're sent back in time and become the Roswell aliens. If that sounds unbearably cheesy and contrived, rest assured the writers made the right decision and play it for laughs, bordering on parody a lot of the time with stock characters straight out of every B-movie - the cigar-chomping general, the war-crazed military officer, the pacifist scientist and his fiancée's unbridled optimism.

The three Ferengi are all at their best, with Rom and Nog evolving and Quark stubbornly refusing any sort of character development as he disregards that hew-mon Prime Directive nonsense for a chance to earn significant profit. He does dispense some very heavy-handed condemnations of cigarettes and atom bombs, but this is made up for with a great little piece of continuity as he attempts to demonstrate his in-depth knowledge of Earth based on what little he's gleaned from his bar's hew-mon patrons. Baseball... root beer... darts?

Really, this could be any generic sci-fi show doing a time travel episode, but it's fun that it's the Ferengi, and even more fun when it's time to return to the present and they have to do a Back to the Future. Watching this back after so many years it's still undoubtedly one of the best Ferengi episodes (I may still prefer 'False Profits'), but there was one minor detail that really stood out: that large PADD O'Brien gives to Nog as a send-off gift is bigger than an iPad, which can store more than just one dedicated guidebook. We have superior technology to that now!
"New customers are like razor-toothed gree worms: they can be succulent, but sometimes they bite back" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #203

DS9 4x08 The Sword of Kahless **

Eight episodes in and finally Worf gets something to do, in a story that seems intended to be a fun romp but that you'll have to dig out your Next Generation companion to fully understand all the back references. Not only does Kor show up, from the original series episode 'Errand of Mercy' and more recently season two's 'Blood Oath,' but the clone of the Emperor Kahless is mentioned ('Rightful Heir') as it Toral ('Redemption'). Do we need to do this much background reading every time we want fun with Klingons?

The story is simple and should have been a lot better - Kor enlists the aid of Worf and Dax to recover the legendary Sword of Kahless, which Kor believes he's tracked down in the Gamma Quadrant (inexplicably). Sisko provides a flimsy reason why the success of this self-indulgent quest would be good for Federation-Klingon relations and we're set for an Indiana Jones style space adventure, though it doesn't turn out like that.

Stargate SG-1 was much better at the whole quest thing, and once they start involving holograms and forcefields it's clear this isn't going to be much of a romp. Then it gets ridiculous and even a little offensive as Kor and Worf (who should really know better) start arguing over the sword and driving Dax (and me) up the wall. It's generous that they gave Kor one more episode to redeem himself in the future, but the damage to Worf has already been done.

In other matters, Sisko uses a sci-fi razor.
"Hard to pass up a good quest" - Jadzia Dax

DS9 4x09 Our Man Bashir ****

It might not be a good sign that the only good episodes in a while have been outright farces, but I'm hopeful things will get better. I used to revere season four as a solid year, maybe third in the running after the excellent seasons five and six, but so far it's been very shaky. This is a fun one at least, though I wouldn't go as far as some sites that rank it among the best episodes the show ever produced. Maybe it's because I'm not a Bond fan, but I have enough vague familiarity with the subject matter that I can appreciate what they're doing, and that jazzy take on the title theme is a great touch.

Essentially this is yet another holodeck malfunction episode with a very desperate attempt to come up with a new reason we can have our regular cast playing ridiculous fantasy roles. Nana Visitor really throws herself into the part as a Soviet agent and is the stand-out performer here, though Avery Brooks as the demented Doctor Noah is fun to watch as he explains his crackpot scheme. His plot to flood the Earth by lowering the tectonic plates and creating an island paradise on Everest actually sounds more convincing than last week's Klingon quest.

Garak has been sadly absent this season until now, and here he's mostly reduced to a killjoy, though as Bashir observes there could be underlying reasons for this departure from the norm. With episodes like this you can't avoid thinking about what might have been, and it's a shame Quark wasn't in the mix - though in the past year we've already seen his head transposed onto a holographic seductress and his body possessed by one of Dax's female hosts, so I don't feel wanting.
"What could possibly go wrong?" - Elim Garak

DS9 4x10 Homefront ***

The Earth two-parter. I knew it was coming since the dying Changeling's ominous message at the end of the last season, and with its double length, mytharc-heavy plot and position pretty much right in the centre of the whole series (still a long way to go, but I'm in the better half now) it was bound to be a little disappointing once you actually get into it.

There are a few things I don't really like about these ones that made me less enthusiastic to re-watch them than the average season four episode, and unfortunately one of them is the visibly limited budget that asks us to accept a sparsely populated park as Starfleet's bustling headquarters and two security officers as representative of the iron grip of martial law. There aren't many effects eating up the budget, save a few Changeling morphs, so stretching to a few more extras would really have helped. That single shot of a crowded Promenade for Sisko's funeral in 'The Visitor' made that scene much more powerful.

But I'll shut up about budget issues, which probably couldn't be helped, and get into the actual story, which is refreshingly different and does try something new at least. Anyone who wasn't fond of the paranoia and subtle Cold War meddlings of the show's middle years will doubtless hate it, but as I know there's plenty of action coming further down the line I can be forgiving. One change I noticed in my attitude as I've grown up is in my response to Sisko Senior's refusal to comply with blood screenings, which I just found unforgivably stubborn and irritating as a kid but now empathise with and might even be on his side, as someone who's hesitant to spread his identity around through social networks and other things.

Strangely, my favourite scenes are ones that have next to nothing to do with the main plot and were probably just written to give the other characters something to do. There's Dax's bizarre pastime of moving Odo's furniture around to annoy him, Worf explaining how the Klingons killed their gods and O'Brien and Bashir playing holographic fighter pilots. Let's see how part two stands up to the sometime-rule of disappointing pay-offs.
"And the Andorian says, 'that's not my antenna'" - Quark

DS9 4x11 Paradise Lost ***

I think this one was better, though this two-parter is still distinctly average and doesn't live up to previous multi-parters like the pilot, the opening trilogy from season two, 'The Search,' 'Past Tense,' 'Improbable Cause'/'The Die is Cast' or 'The Way of the Warrior' from earlier this year, which is presumably where a lot of this season's budget went. Did I mention how good that episode was? This is better than 'The Maquis' at least, but that isn't saying much.

After a very slow set-up, we get into the conspiracy angle that proves Starfleet can be its own enemy, though as usual this all comes down to a renegade admiral. I'm sure we've seen more devious and/or insane admirals than upstanding ones across the Trek canon, why does Starfleet even promote these guys?

Avery Brooks' distinctive line delivery is at its most exaggerated here, I guess he felt really passionate about it. As in 'The Way of the Warrior' before it (great episode by the way), this episode picks up towards the end with a very pretty battle scene that sees two Starfleet ships pitted against each other. It's not exactly The Wrath of Khan, but Worf's report that two Defiant officers were killed does hit home when you consider how avoidable those deaths were. Once you get past sniggering at the mention of two unseen, unknown redshirts anyway. Bartlett and Ramsey, RIP.

Overall, I preferred that early episode of The Next Generation that dealt with a conspiracy on Earth. This one didn't have a gratuitously violent head explosion or anything.
"Paradise has never seemed so well-armed" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 4x12 Crossfire ****

I was surprised at how much I liked this one, which is more evidence that my preconceptions about this series are still largely informed by what I liked when I was twelve. Odo losing control as he watches Kira slipping away from him into the arms of a man he's obligated to protect didn't do much for me back then, but these days I feel great affinity with Odo.

There's more effort to show the daily lives of the characters, which is always appreciated, and Kira and Odo's friendship feels completely genuine, regardless of what else he feels. He even lets his guard down in his antagonistic relationship with Quark, which might be at its best here. Odo is so thoughtful and cute, if I was a woman I'd definitely go with him and not just because he has shape-shifting genitalia.

There's even a fun scene between Odo and Worf that finally sees these characters bonding over their unsociable nature of all things. This series has changed so much this year, and even though some of the individual plots might not be up to much, the overall viewing experience is warmer.
- "Make sure everyone knows they can't just drop by your quarters to say hello. If someone does - whatever happens - don't make them feel welcome."
- "Of course not!" - Odo and Worf

DS9 4x13 Return to Grace ***

They like to involve Kira in these staggered two-parters. Last year she lost Bareil and reunited with Shakaar with a gap of about 10 episodes between them, this time there's a more direct sequel to 'Indiscretion' that's left long enough not to put casual viewers off. This one's a little better though, which is all down to Dukat.

Like Worf before him, the Hitler of the Alpha Quadrant has been stripped of everything he had after bringing home his illegitimate daughter, and is desperate for any chance to reclaim his former power, which takes a satisfying turn towards the end as he realises he doesn't want to be part of this cowardly, broken Cardassia after all. Even with the foreknowledge that the path he's setting out on will be a very dark one indeed, you can't help but root for him.

Unless you feel utterly repulsed at his attempts to woo Kira, which reaches its peak here. When I first saw an image of them bantering over dinner I felt a little betrayed by the writers, but when you actually watch the scene and the rest of the episode it's clear (even expressly stated) that Kira will never forgive him for what he's done or be his friend, let alone the other things in his depraved mind. I'm reiterating that for myself more than anything, as it's hard to shake that initial feeling.

It's a slow episode, but there are two small touches I particularly liked about it: Damar shows up for the first time, and the conference is being held on 'Korma.' I guess they ran out of alien-sounding names and just browsed an Indian takeaway menu.
"Why is it when you smile I want to leave the room?" - Kira Nerys

DS9 4x14 Sons of Mogh ***

I'm starting to see why this whole Klingon arc in the middle of the series was unpopular, as episodes like this one feel confused in whether the Klingons are being treated as scary villains or estranged acquaintances. It's nice to see some continuity though, and Worf having to face up to the wider consequences of opposing Gowron's paranoid invasion, as we see how much this decision has screwed up the life of his brother.

Kurn is back, which means Tony Todd returns not long after playing the adult Jake Sisko in this same season. That is strange, it's not like the actor is particularly generic with that rasping voice, even if he's hidden under Klingon make-up. I'll have to wait and see whether I have a similar problem accepting Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun and Brunt in the future, even when they appear in the same episode.

The Klingon stuff is actually pretty good, if you like Klingons, especially the surprise of Worf actually going through with the ritual killing of his brother before the good guys spoil things and save him. There's no sense of Worf being an untouchable property due to his iconic status, and the writers take all liberties to screw him over, but at least there's the hint of attraction between him and Dax for the future, if only he'd lighten up a little. She is definitely flirting.

The other characters are given a compulsory B-plot to occupy them, which isn't very engaging and actually makes no sense. How can you block off access to a whole sector of space by laying mines in a specific area? This isn't just speculation, they actually show us a map of the minefield that's so narrow as to be practically two-dimensional. Did they learn nothing from Star Trek II?
"There is a limit to how far I'll go to accommodate cultural diversity among my officers and you just reached it" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 4x15 Bar Association ***

Ferengi time again, this episode follows in the footsteps of last season's 'Family Business' by focusing primarily on Quark and Rom's relationship and rises above the more throwaway ensemble Ferengi shows that are more concerned with goofiness. Though it seems like I've praised all Ferengi episodes over the past two seasons for being better than the average Ferengi episode - either the biggest stinkers are yet to come or I really don't mind these episodes as much as I thought.

This could be the defining example of a distinctly average DS9 episode from this point in the run, but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. There's more character development for Rom as he steps out of his brother's shadow once and for all and there's a relaxed sense that we're seeing day-to-day life aboard the ststion between crises, the union strike notwithstanding. Bashir and O'Brien offer counsel to Rom and Worf moves aboard the Defiant, having decided he just doesn't fit in here in a way that doesn't mirror my feelings about the character's transition from The Next Generation. Can you imagine if Data or Counsellor Troi had come over? That'd just be weird.

The final scene is quite touching, and it's interesting to see such radically different takes on alien brotherly relationships in these last two episodes. The Ferengi have always been distinctly less alien than the Klingons.
- "I'm perfectly healthy except I've got a disgusting cyst on the back of my neck. Now either I paint a nose, eyes and mouth on it and pretend I've got two heads or you take it off."
- "I'll get you some paint" - O'Brien and Bashir

DS9 4x16 Accession **

This is one of the more forgettable episodes, which isn't helped by a forgettable title. It's quite significant in Sisko's changing feelings towards his role as a religious icon, but that also means it's another episode about Bajoran religion, which are usually on the dull side. There are no prophetic vipers or death risks this time around, with the jeopardy being the setback of Bajor into an outdated caste system. Maybe I'm heartless, but that doesn't have the same emotional impact of Sisko putting his life on the line in the later 'Rapture.'

The guest characters are boring and not a lot happens until Sisko consults with the Prophets, but Nana Visitor puts in a moving performance. She's been really good this year, I guess I was always too distracted by Dax when I used to watch these. Sisko feels a little warmer too, which is still surprising after I got used to his blander character in the show's first three years, but I have an issue with him performing blessings. I also have an issue with his massive laptop, it's not just sixties Trek that looks really outdated.

As usual in these cases, the worthless B-story is actually more fun, and O'Brien missing spending time with his buddy after his family moves back in feels like an original idea. Those two were made for each other, and I'm not talking about Keiko.
"See Brok acquire. Acquire, Brok, acquire" - Popular Ferengi children's story

DS9 4x17 Rules of Engagement **

An intriguing opening with Worf in a prison cell instantly becomes duller as another trial episode. They made a decent stab at this genre in The Next Generation's 'The Measure of a Man,' but nothing they did after would top that. So for want of an interesting story, the writers favour style over substance and have the characters speaking directly to camera as they run through their memories of what happened. It's a fun gimmick, especially as Quark revises details as he goes along, but it doesn't add a lot.

Sisko's fetishising of the Starfleet uniform resurfaces (it's just a costume, Ben) and Worf's put through minor hell again, seemingly trying to wrestle this responsibility from O'Brien. Don't worry, the Chief's life will be screwed with again soon enough. I don't have much to say about this episode, it's less captivating than the average show and I'd rather just watch them hanging out in Quark's or something. Possibly the worst of the season, though I haven't got to the one with Lwaxana Troi yet.
"I'm always suspicious of people who are eager to help a police officer" - Odo

DS9 4x18 Hard Time *****

This was always one of my favourite DS9 episodes and still probably in my top ten, as well as being the defining example of the O'Brien Must Suffer sub-genre. Last season's contender 'Visionary' was a great sci-fi episode, but didn't have the emotional impact of this one, which messes with this loveable character so much, I feel the writers should be prosecuted for their crimes.

The Chief wakes up after 20 years in a dingy prison cell to find out it was all a dream, and the rest of the episode sees him trying and dramatically failing to reintegrate into his normal life. Unlike the average Trek episode that plays it safe, all your questions are answered one by one as he struggles with work duties, social interactions and family life, sleeping on the floor, rationing his meals out of habit and almost hitting his annoying daughter. Deep Space Nine is often called the 'dark' Trek series, more for its colour palette than anything else, but this is as dark as it gets. At least until Sisko teams up with Garak anyway.

'The Visitor' is this season's famous emotional story, but 'Hard Time' is equally powerful, it just swaps warmth for depression and is a little more inaccessible as a result. This is bleaker than Battlestar Galactica, and if there's one flaw, it's that the series' essentially episodic nature means there are never really any consequences. Not on-screen anyway - I often wondered if O'Brien was dwelling on his prison years and friendship with the fictional Ee'Char when Colm Meaney pulled a sombre facial expression in years to come.
"If you know what's good for you, you'll stay the hell away from me" - Miles O'Brien

DS9 4x19 Shattered Mirror ***

The not-so-long-awaited return to the mirror universe again again, there's a law of diminishing returns as this particular horse is flogged to death. Maybe because the previous two episodes fleshed out the situation, this one feels like there's less substance as we simply wait for the inevitable battle, which is admittedly impressive and starts to demonstrate what the series can do with CGI.

The CGI ships don't look all that convincing yet, but they'd get better, and it's a lot of fun seeing the alternate Defiant loop around the station and strafe along the massive Klingon vessel, even if I was a little distracted by the purpose of the Starfleet stickers on the consoles that Smiley and his team seemingly felt the need to dutifully copy from the original despite the time pressure they were under. (There's one right in front of the camera on the helm console, couldn't they have just painted it?)

This starts off promisingly by seeming to be a decent Jake story - we wouldn't have to wait long after for a terrible Jake story - but it soon becomes about his father again, who's less fun to watch than when he was acting the bastard in 'Through the Looking Glass.' Even Intendant Kira doesn't get to do much that's notable, through she delivers a few fun lines that are borderline insane in their maliciousness.

Worf's appearance doesn't add much to this universe, being the most over-the-top pantomime villain yet, and I didn't like that they forget all about Kasidy Yates. There are a couple more in this sub-genre to go (season six and seven if I remember correctly), I'll have to see when we get there but this might be the weak point.
"Captain Bashir, Captain O'Brien, Captain Sisko. We may not have enough weapons or troops or ships but we have plenty of captains" - Smiley O'Brien

DS9 4x20 The Muse *

I always remembered this as one of the worst Deep Space Nine episodes, and while I'm not sure at this point how it would stand up to the worst of the first few seasons (like the one where they got trapped in a board game or the one where everyone went wacky), it's particularly disappointing here, in a season that has its share of below-par episodes but generally feels to be on the right track.

It's another Lwaxana Troi episode, thankfully the final one ever, and almost manages to undo Odo's character development over the past year, before the final scene between the two that sorts things out. At least when she's making everyone feel depressed she isn't making them wacky. That was a Lwaxana episode too, by the way.

Their marriage plot being rightly dismissed, the other story in this episode concerns Jake, which is refreshing, and is also awful, which is a shame. An alien woman arrives on the station and encourages Jake to write so she can feed off his creative energy. I needed to see that written out to really take in how ridiculous this is. The only thing it really has going for it is that it's a little exciting to see the still largely innocent Sisko Jnr covertly visiting an older woman in her quarters, though it's also nice to see him getting some writing done. Even if his digital writing seems to consist, as ever, of him simply scanning over pre-written lines with a pen and pretending that does something.

When discovered, the alien woman turns into a glowing ball of energy and goes to warp. I needed to see that written out too. An episode like this could drag down an entire season, but fortunately it's forgettable enough not to have an impact. Let's just move on.
"Haven't you ever been alone in a woman's quarters before?" - Onaya

DS9 4x21 For the Cause ****

More nice scenes of daily life aboard station in this one, which feels less significant than it is despite all the bridge building and burning that's going on. This is primarily another Sisko episode as he deals with the possibility that his live-in girlfriend might be helping Maquis 'terrorists' - O'Brien gets dangerously close to treason by expressing his sympathies there - and I felt for him.

On a more villainous level, this is the episode where clean-cut security officer Michael Eddington builds on his well established career devotion until it reaches a sickening level, only to burst open as it's revealed he's with the Maquis and the character finally becomes interesting. All these characters are fantastic liars, apart from Sisko who practically lets on that he knows what Kasidy's doing as she remains unfazed.

They also shove in a B- or C-plot where Garak and Dukat's daughter Ziyal (now played by her second of three actresses) bond over their mutual exile, and Ziyal gets a lot more interesting too, making Garak more paranoid than usual and being impressively direct with her invitation to a holo-sauna. Maybe those two could actually have something, if it wasn't for the unpleasant age gap.
"Paranoid is what they call people who imagine threats against their life, I have threats again my life" - Elim Garak

DS9 4x22 To the Death ****

As much as I enjoyed last week's character-driven episode, it's a lot of fun to get a bloody, action-packed follow-up. At the time, I remember this feeling like they'd really upped the ante with the violence, and watching through the series in order it is shocking to see one of the station's familiar pylons blown to bits. It's back aboard the Defiant for another militaristic, claustrophobic episode to get some answers, justice or vengeance, it isn't made entirely clear as they run into the plot.

From out of nowhere, this becomes a sequel to an early Next Generation episode, one of the best from that show's extremely shaky early years, as some rogue Jem'Hadar (again) uncover one of the Iconian gateways. You've seen Stargate, right? It's that.

After the Jem'Hadar were softened a little in their last appearance there's a lot of effective damage control here, making them a little frightening and very alien again, as the audience is informed through exposition-heavy dialogue that Jem'Hadar soldiers are bred to be all male, short-lived and without the need to eat or sleep.

Weyoun shows up for the first time too, which is a fan-pleasing moment that makes the Dominion War feel a lot closer, and then gets killed, which is a fan-confusing moment that has some explaining to do. He'll be back. There are some mixed messages about what the Dominion thinks about Odo's betrayal as well, and I'd trust the Jem'Hadar's threats over Weyoun's words of compassion any day.
"I've found that nothing keeps me alert like a healthy fear of death" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 4x23 The Quickening ***

Whereas O'Brien episodes found something fun/horrific to do with the Chief, episodes centred on Bashir don't really have their niche yet, outside of his job. This is probably his best doctoring episode though, harking back to his deliberately naive and arrogant desire to practice 'frontier medicine' and be a hero back in the pilot and giving him some pretty harsh lessons in his limitations. You can easily overuse the adjective 'dark' when describing DS9, but it's definitely taken a turn further down that road this season, and would never really go back.

I quite like Bashir in this one - I guess I like them all when they're being put through hell - and even if you find the character annoying, you'll at least get some satisfaction when he accidentally causes a roomful of people to die in agony and then mopes around for a few days. Nice one, Bashir! Mostly though, I get the feeling of an average episode of Voyager from this one, but the change of pace and scenery isn't entirely unwelcome after a lot of station-bound shows.

Back on the station, this week's B-story is condensed into a brief and very funny opening scene that's got to be up there with the best teasers of the series, as Quark hacks into the station's comm system and replicators to promote his bar. Worf isn't amused.
"Come to Quark's, Quark's is fun. Come right now, don't walk - run!" - Quark's advertisement

DS9 4x24 Body Parts ****

This is one of the best comedy episodes of the series, and makes the wise decision of cutting back on the Ferengi ensemble to mostly focus on Quark. It's depressing, twisted and genuinely funny, with some scenes that get perilously close to breaking the fourth wall and might annoy purists, like Quark commenting on the tackiness of the Divine Treasury conjured from his limited imagination (not to mention a low budget).

The twists keep coming as Quark learns he's not dying after all, but finds himself having to honour the contract to sell his vacuum dessicated remains regardless. His thought processes and attitudes throughout show that the character's more than just comic relief (though there's plenty of that), and that deep down he may have been softened by living with hew-mons and Bajorans for so long. He's all the better for it, and the final scene is touching.

Oh yeah, there's also a contrived B-plot where Keiko gets injured and Bashir has to transport her baby into Kira's womb, because that's believable and isn't just an obvious gimmick to let Nana Visitor show her pregnant belly on screen without having to make changes to that character. It's pretty silly, but they'd manage to do good things with it after. At least they didn't just make her wear a long coat like Beverley Crusher or get her abducted by aliens for a few weeks like Scully. Hang on, she is an alien. How the hell can a human baby... forget it and just enjoy the Quark.
"Garak, let's talk about death" - Quark

DS9 4x25 Broken Link ****

Another season finale that sows seeds for the next without making any commitments, there's less violence and bloodshed than you'd probably expect by this point, but at least Worf and Garak enjoy a punch-up.

Infected by the omnipresent Dominion at some point over the past year, Odo starts to lose his form and gets all melty, and as we've established Doctor Bashir is incompetent, the only option is to send him home. For the second time in just a few episodes, the Defiant cooperates with the Dominion towards their mutual goal and everyone's allowed to go on their way.

Bringing the Klingon threat back into focus sort of bookends the season, but mostly reminds us that this plotline hasn't really gone anywhere yet. Its prestigious finale status slightly works against a very good stand-alone story by giving it extra obligations and scope, but the best scenes are on a more personal level, most notably the ailing Odo's strident walk and Garak's vengeful attempt at genocide.

By promising more Klingon conflict and Dominion espionage, I can't say this really whets my appetite for season five, which is strange as I always considered that the series' finest. Four was pretty good too.
"He's one of them" - Odo

DS9 5x01 Apocalypse Rising ****

In the tradition of season openers before it, the story continues with an almost direct sequel, following a small gap in which events took a turn for the worse. Oddly for the season that aimed to wrap up the Klingon arc before it got out of hand, the threat of violence has erupted into a full-scale war that's not going very well for either side. With all the Dominion conflict later in the series it's easy to overlook the Klingon war, but for these first few episodes they don't let you forget it.

Odo gets a couple of scenes adapting to his new non-shapeshifter status, but for the most part the plot runs with the twist revealed at the end of season four, that Klingon Chancellor Crazy-Eyes Gowron has been replaced by a Changeling. That would tie things up very nicely, though true to form by this point in the series, it's not as simple as that, and we can't hit the reset button and make friends just yet.

This is a very fun episode that might have made for a good two-parter, but what it makes up for with a concise plot it lacks in character moments. There are a few attempts to give the main cast something to do, but it's no 'Way of the Warrior.' There's more to this one than just the titillation of seeing Sisko, Odo and O'Brien in Klingon make-up though, and it sets the tone of the new season very well. That tone is TENSE.
"So let me get this straight: all we have to do is get past an enemy fleet, avoid a tachyon detection grid, beam into the middle of Klingon headquarters and avoid the Brotherhood of the Sword long enough to set these things up and activate them in front of Gowron?" - Miles O'Brien

DS9 5x02 The Ship ****

That tension hasn't gone away as we stumble upon another bleak and dangerous mission: safeguarding a crashed Jem'Hadar ship against the Jem'Hadar. It's a memorable episode that I wasn't too eager to watch again, mostly because it's so bloody unpleasant, but it's a fair sample of the militaristic direction the show is inexorably heading in. Things have come a long way from that episode where they were trapped in a board game.

For nerds, it's a chance to see the inside of a Jem'Hadar ship for the first time (albeit upside-down), which is even less accommodating than the Defiant, but it's a shame they didn't bring back an established Vorta instead of this bland HR woman. Her mention of Weyoun's profile on Sisko is very curious though, and is either a hint of that character's later return or a massive continuity oversight. Either way, I can't say I noticed it first time around.

This episode is also commendable for trying to make death mean something, as we witness Muniz's decline and Sisko pores over the casualty list. Still, it's a little jarring how the main characters all escape unscathed again, and that the weirdest looking redshirts are dispensed first so we can start caring about the humans.

Why is Starfleet trying to establish mining outposts in the Gamma Quadrant? Haven't they been paying attention the last few years? I'm starting to think these people deserve everything they get.
"What's love without danger?" - Quark

DS9 5x03 Looking for Par'Mach in All the Wrong Places ****

A much-appreciated break from the bleakness and misery, this relationship-heavy episode might be as soapy as DS9 ever gets, and it always stood out for that reason. But not in a bad way, as there are some great lines and fun ideas, all wrapping up with a load of aggressive Klingon sex (off-screen I'm afraid).

"Par'Mach" is the Klingon word for "love, with more aggressive overtones," we're informed by Dax, and like 'The House of Quark' before it - which this is basically a sequel to, two years down the line - they mine Klingon traditions for laughs without doing them a disservice. It's all in Quark's line delivery, and Armin Shimerman is damn good with a bat'leth.

Apart from Worf and Dax finally getting together, this episode could also cause controversy with its B-story, where O'Brien and Kira get a little closer than they should. It's not entirely unprecedented on O'Brien's part - he was a little flustered by his assistant at the end of season one, and he has put up with Keiko's nagging for seven years - but I can understand if anyone felt offended that this didn't fit their views of Kira or the Chief.

I mean, Miles.
"For a Klingon who was raised by humans, wears a Starfleet uniform and drinks prune juice, you're pretty attached to tradition. That's okay, I like a man riddled with contradictions" - Jadzia Dax

DS9 5x04 Nor the Battle to the Strong **

That impressive run of episodes had to end some time, and I never really liked this one. I'm glad they at least tried to do a Jake-centric episode, introducing his journalist aspirations and using him as the everyman shoved into a horrible situation, but it's a little dingy for me. And this is coming from someone who loves Battlestar Galactica and late-period Deep Space Nine.

Jake confronting his cowardice and lack of preparation for the battlefield is the best thing about this episode, culminating in Sisko Snr and Bashir reading his painfully honest report at the end (yeah, the main characters survive - spoiler alert!) but I don't like the execution, and the father-son dynamic isn't anywhere near 'The Visitor.'

It also doesn't help that I'm not even sure what franchise this is. There's a Bolian in the medical team and Klingon corpses scattered around, but with the weird uniforms and mentions of unseen technology like 'hoppers,' this doesn't even feel like the established Star Trek universe. They tried to do gritty trench war a couple more times, and I wasn't such a fan of those ones either.
"Who cares about anomalies? People want stories about things they can relate to: life and death, good and evil" - Jake's internal monologue contrasts DS9 with Voyager

DS9 5x05 The Assignment ****

It's time to torture O'Brien again! Making him endure 20 years of virtual imprisonment and driving him to the brink of suicide last time wasn't enough, so this time they're screwing around with his nearest and dearest as Keiko gets possessed by a pah'wraith - the Satans of Bajoran mythology.

So far it sounds pretty terrible, but this episode is saved by some smart choices. Firstly, Satan-Keiko establishes the ground rules that mean O'Brien can't get out of this using conventional methods employed in the franchise's other couple of hundred possession episodes (though he cheats at the end anyway), and secondly he involves Rom.

The engineering team's newest and goofiest member continues to demonstrate his expertise as well as his loyalty to the Chief. If you jumped in to DS9 later in the season and wondered what Leeta saw in this guy, you just have to do the research, it's all there. He's got to be the most improved secondary character in the series.

This might not be up there with the best of the O'Brien Must Suffer category (it's probably my least favourite since 'Armageddon Game'), but I admire its ruthlessness. The Kosst'Moran or whatever Satan-Keiko's called is ridiculously evil - it's horrible when she "accidentally" hurts Molly and there's no need to make O'Brien kiss her in front of Bahir apart from getting off on its own evil.
- "Nobody will get anything out of me, not even my name!"
- "Rom, everybody on the station knows your name."
- "Riiight... but I won't confirm it!" - Rom and O'Brien

DS9 5x06 Trials and Tribble-ations *****

It's kind of a shame that one of the most popular DS9 episodes has very little to do with DS9, like it's only worth watching when the real Trek heroes have showed up. But this is an extremely fun episode regardless, and a fitting tribute for the 30th anniversary - better than that crap they did on Voyager.

It's largely impressive for the superimposing effects, which were cutting edge at the time but don't stand up completely to scrutiny today - the franchise will soon be coming up on its 50th anniversary after all, and Deep Space Nine has passed 20 itself, so shut your face. The portions of sets they rebuilt, the vintage props and the colourful lighting are spot-on.

This was one of many episodes I over-watched as a kid, and watching back I was actually more excited to see the tribbles than the interactions with Kirk and crew. I didn't expect that. And I love how they bring up the Klingon make-up discrepancy between the old and new series (real reason: budget) only to completely dismiss it.

It's also amusing to me just how contrived the plot is, to get the characters into positions where they can interact with the scenes filmed in 1967. And coming up with the Orb of Time is such a lazy explanation for time travel, it'd probably annoy me if this was any other episode. Especially how Kira conveniently figures it out at the end, but I guess she needed something to occupy her while the others were cosplaying. Flawed but fun.
"He put a bomb in a tribble?" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 5x07 Let He Who Is Without Sin... *

There you go, that's the only reason to watch this terrible episode. Now you're off the hook.
"Interspecies romance isn't without its dangers. That's part of the fun" - Jadzia Dax

DS9 5x08 Things Past ***

After a light-hearted technicolor time travel romp and that excruciating Risa stuff last time, season five gets back on dingy track with an episode that peers under Odo's clean-cut veneer. It feels like the Odo response to Kira's 'Necessary Evil' back in season two, and was clearly intended that way, even down to the mirroring of the last scene, but I liked that one a lot more.

For a start, it didn't have any qualms about being a flashback, whereas this one tries to pull off the dream angle in a novel way but doesn't really succeed. In spite of how much they're retreading old ground in terms of plots and characters this season, the writers seem preoccupied with finding new takes on cliched ideas (like Keiko's possession) and this one's just a bit weird.

It picks up when Kurtwood Smith channels Odo and we get down to the real reason this is happening, but even for offering a rare chance to see Deep Space Nine back when it was Terok Nor, it all feels strangely unsatisfying. As Incredible Tales writer Herbert Rossoff will later put it, "making it a dream guts the story."

It looks like Garak's out of prison, and his controversial efforts to justify the Cardassian occupation and his scientific racism regarding Bajorans' servile nature still gives him enough edge to counteract the weird sight of him hanging around with the crew.
"Everything's tidy when someone else is doing the cleaning" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 5x09 The Ascent ****

This is another one of those episodes I always loved, and it's difficult to overcome the nostalgia to give it an objective rating, so I won't bother. Watching Quark and Odo struggle their way up a mountain is a simple but fun idea, with all the required verbal and physical scraps that come with it, but at least there's an atypical take on the resolution which refuses any form of character development. Some conflicts are never meant to die. This episode couldn't really have come at any other point in the series, highlighting Odo's vulnerability now that he's stuck in one shape with pesky internal organs.

The B-story is at least thematically linked as Jake and Nog move in together as roomies, but it's fair to say that their conflict over early bedtimes and untidiness is a little less engaging than the main plot. I like seeing Jake's progress to adulthood though, even if four years have been condensed into four months on this daily rewatch, and the brief scene between Rom and Captain Sisko where the former fears that his son might be a Changeling convinced me that Rom's now one of my favourite characters.
"I'm not trying to save you, I'm taking you along as emergency rations. If you die, I'm going to eat you" - Quark

DS9 5x10 Rapture *****

It's a testament to superficial fandom that this episode is mostly notable for changing the colourful jumpsuit to the darker uniforms made for First Contact, but even without this titillation it'd still probably be up there among the best of the series. Previous episodes centred on Bajoran spirituality and Sisko's role as the Emissary have ranged from intriguing ('Destiny') to tedious ('Accession'), but this one finally gets all the ingredients right.

I'd been irked by casual name-drops of 'God' in recent episodes from the supposedly enlightened Federation, but here they tackle faith head-on and it's so compelling, I even found myself siding with Sisko in his decision not to have surgery at a cost to his visions and Worf's belief in the power of belief over O'Brien and Dax's scientific rationalism. It must be a good script if it can make me betray my own beliefs like that, though I think Starfleet lets Sisko off a little too lightly with his enthusiastic embracing of the Emissary role.

This one takes the vague prophecies of 'Destiny' and turns things up a notch, as Sisko himself starts spouting apocalyptic tales of the coming war with the Dominion and a swarm of locusts headed to Cardassia that will decimate Bajor unless it delays its Federation membership. Don't Jem'Hadar ships look sort of... insecty? Oh yeah, Bajor almost joined the Federation and wrapped up the series' primary plot arc here before getting rudely interrupted by a teaser of things to come. Maybe it wasn't a coincidence that they chose this episode to introduce the darker costumes - this series is headed down an increasingly bleak road and I'm loving watching it right now.

Kasidy's back too, and so's Winn, but Shakaar isn't, which is strange. We get another random admiral who's friendly with Sisko and would never show up again, and Jake gets something interesting to do for a change. Back to the superficial level, I always enjoy it when Sisko gets one of his fun obsessions. Deciphering a monolith, building a solar sailing ship, hunting down traitors, it's not all work, work, work.
"You cannot loosen a man's tongue with root beer" - Ancient Klingon proverb (possibly farcical)

DS9 5x11 The Darkness and the Light ****

Bloody hell, how dark are things going to get? It's like they somehow gained access to my lazy season five reviews from the future, made a keyword cloud to find the most overused adjective and tried to make the most definitively DARK episode they could. Even the lights in sickbay are reduced to a ridiculous level, how's Bashir supposed to work?

Kira and her Resistance buddies are being picked off one by one by a needlessly creepy killer who uses Kira's own distorted voice for his body count messages and talks about his victims in the third person like a reject from Silence of the Lambs. They do a pretty good job making him stand out as a villain, but he does seem to have undone some of Kira's progress made back in 'Duet' towards indiscriminate killing of Bloody Cardassians. That'll happen when you kill someone's friends.

Speaking of the killings, did they need to show the transporter accident in such gruesome detail? It's more horrific than that one in the first Star Trek film. It's a shame to see off Furel and Lupaza, though I guess they wouldn't have had much more to do anyway, and considering Shakaar only pops up for a pointless plot in the next episode before mysteriously vanishing forever, it feels like they missed a trick by not having him brutally murdered here too. Even if just to give Kira's life some consistency.
"Treat people in your debt like family: exploit them" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #111

DS9 5x12 The Begotten ***

One final chance to explore the human condition through Odo before he regains his shape-shifting powers, and they choose to make him a hypochondriac for some light comic relief at the start. I guess they didn't have too many ideas for that arc after all, it's good to have him back on amorphous form.

This is one of the more memorable Odo episodes and sort of a sequel to season two's 'The Alternate' (there are an awful lot of sort-of-sequels and reappearing characters this season, but oddly it's probably the finest year), though it's strange that even with Doctor Mora back, everyone seems to have completely forgotten about what happened in that previous episode.

Like when we get a new orb, it's always gratifying when they find one of the 100 Changelings that were sent out across the galaxy (so far: 2), and watching the poor, dying creature slop around ineptly is disconcertingly reminiscent of my dreams where I'm responsible for caring for an animal only to accidentally neglect and destroy it. There are some messages and stuff.

Oh, I almost forgot about the B-plot, where Kira gives birth to the O'Briens' baby (Nana Visitor gave birth some time ago, so they had to get rid of that fake belly at some point) and the Chief and Shakaar argue a bit, because they had no idea how to make that plot interesting. It drags the episode down somewhat.
"Constable, why are you talking to your beverage?" - Worf

DS9 5x13 For the Uniform ****

Another gritty Defiant show, made even more rugged and hands-on after the tough little ship gets battered, Dax has to pilot manually and all communications need to be transferred through Nog. That's a nice touch.

In this sort-of-sequel to 'For the Cause,' security chief turned Maquis leader Michael Eddington starts out feeling like a fitting foil for Sisko, until he becomes another pompous Trek villain spouting classic literature. At least they let Dax be a voice of criticism, to avoid being overly reverential to Victor Hugo. He was probably a dick. I've done no research.

I was a little irked by Sisko doing things his own way in 'Rapture' with regard to the Emissary stuff, but that was a better episode, and as exciting as this one is, I was somehow annoyed to see him taking matters into his own hands again. So I'd rather watch a tedious crew doing things by the book? Sounds like I need to take a break and watch some Next Generation to get that out of my system and make me re-remember how superior DS9 is.

As self-indulgent as he gets, I'm left wanting to see more of Eddington. That's got to be a good sign. Though considering the changing nature of the Federation-Cardassia relationship in the next couple of episodes, I guess this is the last we'll see of the Maquis. Unless there are some other Maquis characters out there on another series that the Maquis were specifically designed for, but which wasted their potential before the final scene of the very first episode? Its name escapes me.
"I think it's time for me to become the villain" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 5x14 In Purgatory's Shadow *****

This was always one of my most revered DS9 instalments, a two-parter that really makes use of the extended running time unlike some of its predecessors, and considering it's probably one of the TV episodes I'm most familiar with ever (outside of Red Dwarf), I was worried that revisiting it after so many years would mean knocking points off. Fortunately, the first part stands up, as would the whole if it hadn't been sliced in two.

You could point to several episodes as re-defining Deep Space Nine and inaugurating a new era of the series - 'The Jem'Hadar' and 'The Way of the Warrior' in terms of plot, 'Explorers' and 'Rapture' in more superficial beard and uniform terms - but this is the point of no turning back when DS9 clearly sets the direction and tone of its remaining two and a half seasons. Though I guess 'Call to Arms' would do that again in a little while. Whatever.

As well as being a sort-of-sequel to 'The Die is Cast' back in season three with the reappearance of Tain, we also get the first real sign of a Dominion invasion, an attempt to close the wormhole and the real Martok showing up for the first time after his Changeling replacement was exposed. A series regular is also shockingly revealed to have been a Changeling all along for a very brief time. My personal theory is that Bashir was replaced after 'The Begotten,' which avoids the potential continuity mess. The uniform discrepancy is simple: he wears the old one as pyjamas now, and he was abducted in his sleep. They did sort of look like pyjamas, can we admit that now?

Behr and Wolfe are the series' best writers and they put in some nice sentimental farewells with Worf/Dax and Garak/Ziyal before they head off on their suicide mission. It's good to see Dukat being a bastard again, compassion didn't suit him.
"Lying is a skill like any other and if you want to maintain a level of excellence, you have to practice constantly" - Garak

DS9 5x15 By Inferno's Light ****

It pains me to mark this episode down a little, as it's certainly not the sort of disappointing resolution they churned out with 'The Search Part II' or even 'The Die is Cast,' and there is plenty to sink your unpleasant Klingon fangs into.

The teaser wastes no time in revealing the new alliance between Cardassia and the Dominion, which is an alliance in the same way an internet start-up insists its 'merging' when taken over by a larger enterprise. This is a very big thing, and by jolting the balance of power after spending so long humanising the Cardassians and working to protect them against the Klingons and the Maquis, long-time viewers could feel let down. But it was an enjoyable journey for the most part, and you need to have faith that the writers aren't done with Cardassian misfortune yet. You don't just join the Dominion and enjoy the rewards.

The Klingons restore their peace treaty with the Federation too, so I guess those conflicts over the last year and a half were all for nothing as well, now we've presumably moved on from Changeling infiltration to more tangible conflict. That's a little more irritating, but at least the Klingons are going to stick around. Even the Romulans show up for the party.

The only things I don't really like about this monumental episode are its simplistic resolutions and nick-of-time rescues that rely an awful lot on luck, though I guess Garak's technical prowess under adversity deserves some credit. It's also a little strange to see Worf, a character who's often been shat on as a failed Klingon, suddenly hailed as the mightiest Klingon in the universe, at least in the admiring eye of Martok. Enter the station's latest bromance.
"You and I on the same side - it never seemed quite right, did it?" - Dukat to Kira

DS9 5x16 Doctor Bashir, I Presume ****

They couldn't have got away with any other 'character' from Voyager crossing over to DS9 - even Tuvok in the background in season three just felt pointless - but there seems to be universal consensus among those who love and loathe the lesser Trek that the Emergency Medical Hologram was the best thing about it.

Robert Picardo reprises the role of the EMH's creator Lewis Zimmerman as he interviews Doctor Bashir's friends and family and gets some revealing insights for the next generation of the program, based on Bashir's own charming character. While Picardo's guest spot is the episode's main draw, the revelations about Bashir's genetically enhanced background are its legacy - it's an interesting idea that certainly adds to the character, but unfortunately its last-minute genesis creates more annoying contradictions in past episodes than it clarifies.

Zimmerman himself is a lot of fun, with traces of the EMH but a great deal hornier, with a killer last line. I'm so glad they didn't just make an episode where Bashir gets incapacitated and the EMH comes online or something. Meanwhile, this is another significant episode for Rom as he struggles to say anything other than "byeeee" to the woman he's infatuated with, but at least both plots tie together for a change.

It's a solid, fun episode with some standard season five darkness thrown in for good measure, and because I usually watched these out of sequence in the past, this is the first time I noticed that there seems to be a permanent garrison of Starfleet ships docked at the station now the tension has risen, when they're not recycling the same old stock shots at least. It's thoughtful touches like that that really add to this show.
"You said you like cerebral men, and at the risk of sounding immodest I have a towering intellect" - Lewis Zimmerman

DS9 5x17 A Simple Investigation ***

Odo finally gets it on, and it feels very strange that this episode didn't take place when he was temporarily human, that would have added more to that brief arc. This is also shortly before Kira learns about his feelings for her, which seem to have dissipated entirely by this point, so it's generally oddly placed.

Still, it's another decent episode for the Constable, and the mysterious and deceptive Arissa does feel like a good match for him, so I don't have to feel over-protective there. They were certainly better together than he'll be with bloody Kira! There are also signs that Odo has softened a little over the years, as despite some discomfort with her flirting initially, he soon warms to it and even seeks advice from Bashir. A scene like that would have really stood out in early season four when they started doing the more soap opera-y stuff, but I've relaxed into the camaraderie now, and those stiff early seasons are largely forgotten.

There are a few other things about this episode that bother me though, like the lousy criminal henchmen (the Bebop and Rocksteady of the Orion Syndicate?) and how we're expected to believe the Idanian cover-up story unquestioningly, when there have already been twists and turns. Maybe Arissa's stolen memories were false, implanted memories and her original identity's still out there? But I guess they need to fit these into 44 minutes.
"I fell in love with a woman who never really existed" - Odo

DS9 5x18 Business as Usual ****

Back in the day, a fortnight couldn't go by without one episode being based around Quark's dodgy financial exploits, but that character's taken more of a back-seat since the show found its feet and gained confidence with the ensemble. These days, Quark episodes may be less frequent but they're usually well worth the wait, and this is another of my favourites.

Like 'Body Parts' before it - but several shades darker - this story demonstrates how Quark has been corrupted by living among Bajorans and hew-mons so long, struggling with his new-found conscience as he tries to make it in the weapons business. His duplicitous cousin Gaila makes an overdue appearance, accompanied by the thunderous Steven Berkoff who's a great casting choice, as is the old guy who plays the insane, war-mongering Regent. They really help to sell these bastards.

There's a clear divide now between a Quark episode and a Ferengi episode, both in tone and in the lack of the more cartoonish recurring characters. The only misplaced humour in this one is the time-filling B-plot that involves O'Brien taking his baby to work because it can't be apart from him. Seriously, they fill up at least a quarter of the episode with that.
"What do I have to lose?" - Quark

DS9 5x19 Ties of Blood and Water ***

This is quite a strange episode, as I really didn't enjoy it until over half-way through when the B-story takes on greater prominence and the inevitable Dominion war gets ramped up a few notches.

The main story sees Kira acting as a witness to the dying Cardassian Tekheny Ghemor, who last appeared in season three's 'Second Skin' (but you don't need me to tell you that, when Dax does such a good job flatly delivering plot exposition for five minutes), and facing her own inner turmoil over abandoning her real father during a Resistance battle. I like Kira generally but it felt like a huge step backwards to show flashbacks of her Resistance days again, and felt like an unwelcome reminder of the show's early years - albeit with typical season five bleakness that actually makes it a little distressing to watch.

But you can forget all about that when a Dominion battleship approaches the station unannounced and we get our first glimpse of the Dukat/Weyoun odd couple, along with some candid revelations about the Vorta that were invented just so they could get Jeffrey Combs back after Weyoun died last year. There's also a brief and satisfying scene between Dukat and Kira that skilfully undoes all that uncomfortable bonding they struggled with in season four.

They also do a nice job of making you curious about what's happening on Cardassia behind-the-scenes. How are the people adapting to this sudden change in circumstances as part of the Dominion? After all, we've spent four years insisting that Cardassians aren't necessarily bad people, things can't be entirely peachy over there. Maybe it's just me.
"I like games" - Weyoun

DS9 5x20 Ferengi Love Songs **

Oh dear, that wasn't anywhere near as entertaining as I remembered it being! In fact, this might be the worst Ferengi episode we've had yet, and the format's starting to get plain annoying now, even as they steadily add more colourful characters to the ensemble.

Whereas most Ferengi episodes have at least had some sort of message at their heart, this one just feels like an excuse to get Zek and Ishka back by coupling them off, and Brunt's doing his pointlessly nefarious dealings again. Everyone acts like they're in a pantomime or something, it's ridiculous, and the major shift in tone just feels distracting rather than a welcome change from the tension of the series' ongoing Dominion arc.

About the only thing the story has going for it is the further proof that Quark's getting humanised through his interactions with the station crew. Even Zek doesn't make me laugh any more like he did in season three - it could all be down to mood swings on my part, but I don't think so. I should probably mention that there's a worthless B-story where Rom and Leeta's engagement has turbulence, but that's tarred with the same broad cartoon brush as the main story and even affects the regulars.

I was going to say this is the low point of season five, but then I remembered the Risa episode. I hope I don't remember it again.
"What's the Nagus doing in my closet?" - Quark

DS9 5x21 Soldiers of the Empire ****

It's nice to see that growing up has at least had some impact on my tastes - when I bought the video with this heavily Klingon-centred episode as I kid I found it almost insufferably boring, whereas I found the previous Ferengi episode a real hoot. Now I can see the Ferengi show for the lousy farce it is, and appreciate this fine effort to get down and dirty with the Klingons, who really never should have been made enemies. This feels so much better.

I love Martok in this too. J. G. Hertzler's gravelly voice and occasional explosive line delivery feels so authentically Klingon, and yet he loves our Worf. This might be intended as a Worf episode, but really it belongs to Martok as he comes to terms with his experiences during two years of imprisonment by the Dominion and gets his... I don't know if Klingons have a word for soul/pagh/katra. Gets that back.

Thanks exclusively to Ronald D. Moore, the Klingon episodes of The Next Generation were always reliably good, and this one stands up. Moore does a great job distinguishing the Klingons to make individuals stand out - my favourite's the argumentative one who looks like a Viking slacker and likes to spin in his chair - and by resisting the temptation to cut back to regular life aboard station until right at the end, this episode succeeds in making you care about these guys and appreciate the Klingons' borderline insane values, if only briefly.

In terms of overarching plots, we see how deeply the Jem'Hadar have started to infest the Alpha Quadrant now, as Starfleet and Klingon ships seemingly run into them on every mission. It was around this point that I started keeping up with Trek news and developments in magazines as a kid, but my love for this period of the show isn't all down to nostalgia - Ferengi distractions aside, we're now firmly in the show's best era. There's even a song!
"This ship is made for tears" - Kornan

DS9 5x22 Children of Time ***

Maybe my memory's failing me, but it feels like a long time since this show's given us a planet-based, sci-fi technoproblem that could have been conceived for any of the Trek series. This sort of thing happened a lot in the first three seasons, so it's more forgiveable here, and does serve to break up the ongoing arcs if casual viewers weren't so into that stuff. Though this is DS9 season five, so there's still a very dark undercurrent and a hell of a lot of death.

Reminding us once again that sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the 8,000, this one-off episode has a surprising lasting impact with the public revelation of Odo's feelings for Kira, which doesn't amuse her or make her nauseous, so could actually go somewhere. You could therefore point to this episode as the beginning of the end for Odo's character, but he still has some decent episodes to go. Not the ones based on their ridiculous relationship though.

The ending is otherwise a big reset button, as much as Sisko claims otherwise, but is quite a memorable episode regardless, and has some nice touches, like the crew finding out who they hooked up with in the alternate, limited gene pool timeline. But it feels quite retro at this point in the series and isn't a classic.
"Praying over your own grave. That's got to be a new one" - Kira Nerys

DS9 5x23 Blaze of Glory ***

Remember the Maquis? It's slightly satisfying to get some closure on one of the series' less engaging ongoing plots, but I would have been happy with a brief "the Dominion wiped them out" rather than another Eddington episode, which doesn't live up to 'For the Uniform' and feels a little confused. He's still annoying and doesn't feel like a hero, this episode just adds more unnecessary flourishes to his character like his interests in gardening and collectable coins. That's character development.

The Jake/Nog B-story might be more interesting, mostly for being bold enough to admit that the kids have grown up and are now legally allowed to drink in Quark's. Though the actual "plot" of Nog trying to earn respect from the Klingons doesn't show any kind of progress in the quality of Jake/Nog adventures over the past five years.
"Courage comes in all sizes" - Martok

DS9 5x24 Empok Nor ****

This used to be one of my favourite episodes when I was younger, or at least I assumed it was. I don't think I watched it too often. I'm not saying it's disappointing, it's just a little bland when you get past the titillation of Garak murdering someone (one? I thought he killed more) and when you realise that the additional delight of seeing Deep Space Nine's abandoned 'sister station' is really just a clever money-saving trick of letting them use the same sets without having to hire extras. This isn't the last time we'll see Empok Nor - at least they filmed some new exterior shots of the slanted station and didn't just reuse their regular stock.

Garak and O'Brien is a good pairing, with the tailor trying to get under the Chief's skin even before he gets infected and goes mental. Though his observation of O'Brien and Bashir's holosuite activities will always be enjoyably tarnished since I watched a Brokeback Mountain parody of the scene on YouTube.

Otherwise, this is quite a standard horror episode that's actually no more horrific than 'The Ship,' which also featured some of O'Brien's yellowshirts getting picked off one by one. It fits into the dark fifth season very nicely.
"The worst part is, this isn't a coil spanner. *stab* It's a flux coupler!" - Garak gets stabby

DS9 5x25 In the Cards ****

While the last episode wasn't as good as I remembered, this one was a lot better. Both as a fun stand-alone episode and as a great lead-in to the blood, devastation, death, war and horror to come immediately after.

Finally there's a Jake/Nog episode that's actually decent, where their antics help to lift the depressing mood hanging over the station under the threat of imminent invasion. There's a B-story involving Kai Winn and Weyoun that's technically more significant, but Winn is still an annoying character and I don't understand why it wasn't Shakaar, Bajor's political leader who should really be the one doing these things. Are they just bored of him now? I don't think he ever shows up again.

Doctor Giger is a fun characer too, who's quirky without being utterly ridiculous, and his crackpot theory of cellular ennui sounds commendably absurd even in Trek's technobabble universe. I like it when they show the flawed examples of 24th century folk. If the series had been abruptly cancelled at this point, we would have missed out on some of its finest episodes and eras, but the mood would have been brighter. Let's plunge into the war.
"Sold to the blue man in the good shoes" - Quark

DS9 5x26 Call to Arms ****

This is probably one of the best season finales in all of Star Trek, but for some reason it didn't hit all the right notes for me this time around. The final battle is exciting and the denouement is even better, as Kira and Odo are forced to welcome a victorious Dukat back to the station that Sisko made sure to incapacitate before he left, but there's an awful lot of build-up when I was just waiting for something to happen.

It doesn't help that the first half also spends a disproportionate amount of time on Rom and Leeta's wedding. I know they were trying to show that life goes on and war brings sacrifices and everything, and it might even be a homage back to 'Balance of Terror' in the sixties, but it makes a pivotal episode feel padded. Sisko has more pressing things to do!

This feels quite separate from the six-episode arc that opens the next season, partly due to the time gap, but there are some hints of what's to come, especially the rivalry between Dukat and Weyoun. By the end, all the pieces are in place, and for me the most dramatic one was Jake choosing to stay behind. That character's shoved to the sidelines nearly all the time, but sometimes they really use him right.
"Hear all, trust nothing" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #190

DS9 6x01 A Time to Stand *****

I always held this six-episode arc in high esteem, but I didn't remember how great the individual instalments were. 'Sacrifice of Angels' is the big finale, but 'A Time to Stand' sets up the new season and the Dominion War arc expertly, and manages to set an even bleaker tone than season five from the onset. That gleaming fleet we saw heading into battle at the close of the previous episode is now battered and bruised, Starfleet's on the retreat and Bashir's coming up with depressing survival statistics.

Like 'The Search' and 'The Way of the Warrior' before it, the season opener spends some time with the characters, with highlights being the camaraderie between Sisko and Martok and the tension back on the station between Weyoun and Dukat, along with his hard-drinking lackey Damar who gets better with each episode.

Half-way through the episode we get into this week's stand-alone mission, as Sisko takes a Jem'Hadar ship undercover from their new crappy sub-DS9 base. But this time around, I actually find the scenes on the Dominion-occupied station even more intriguing, with Odo being forced to toe the line again like he did under the original Cardassian Occupation in a relatively rare moment of genius character development. They could really come up with some great writing when they tried, and going fully serialised like this seems to have brought out the show's full potential. A shame it took over five years!
"32.7" - Julian Bashir rates their chances of survival. Gloomy bastard

DS9 6x02 Rocks and Shoals *****

The quality doesn't slip with this second episode, where we get to see Kira at her most mature, defending her actions in keeping Bajor neutral while observing the Federation's chances slipping each day, before realising she's become the kind of collaborator she always despised. Or is that in the next episode? They get a bit jumbled, but they're still making great use of the B-story format to give all the characters a chance in this split setting.

The main/Starfleet plot of this one feels a lot like a re-tread of season five's second episode, 'The Ship,' down to using the exact same location (how can a planet in a dark matter nebula be so sunny anyway?) and making the exact same Jem'Hadar ship crash land again. I guess that ship had a thing for arid, rocky planets. It's also quite convenient that the other Jem'Hadar ship crash landed on the same bit of coast...

Alright, I'll stop nit-picking, because this is another damn fine episode that wastes no time launching into the action in the teaser and ends quite abruptly too. We get to see the biggest dickhead Vorta yet, which is really saying something, and again the Jem'Hadar disprove the Klingon accusation that they have no honour. I'm happy they didn't pursue the idea of independent, free-thinking Jem'Hadar introduced in early season four, they're more interesting and tragic as obedient foot soldiers.
"I tore my pants" - Miles O'Brien takes stock of their dire situation

DS9 6x03 Sons and Daughters ***

Changes to the order of things are usually a good sign in this show, and it's a refreshing change to swap the Federation for Klingons in this episode's A-story, though the thematic link with the B-story back on the station is very well done. Seriously, it's like they actually put thought into these episodes! As much as I love the build-up to war in season five, this is undoubtedly my favourite era of the show.

The Klingon plot itself isn't all that great to be honest, with the return of Worf's son Alexander bringing some distracting continuity issues and not feeling very satisfying. It's also a shame we don't see any of the original Rotarran crew introduced in 'Soldiers of the Empire,' and maybe because that episode was so recent, this feels like a bit of a re-tread.

Meanwhile, back on the station, things get a lot more interesting. Ziyal returns and is made more heart-wrenchingly sweet and innocent with each episode to make her later death the more poignant. It works, you bastards. Dukat's being a complete asshole again and the founding of the new resistance by Kira, Odo and the other good guys is such an obvious development that I somehow didn't see it coming. Did I mention that this is the show's golden age?
"War is more fun when you're winning!" - Martok

DS9 6x04 Behind the Lines ***

This feels like the most water-treading instalment of the six-parter, but it has its moments and takes some welcome risks, especially by compromising Odo. It makes the Founders even more villainous when they can steal that character from us and make him forget that he ever cared about 'solid' matters, it's pretty creepy.

Damar comes to the fore in this one too, unwisely confiding in his bartender as Quark once again lets his Ferengi veneer slip to reveal a conscience. Their scenes together are some of my favourites, I wish we could have had more of them, though Quark's impression of Rom is fun too. It seems like they're finally giving every character something to do in this format, it's a shame it didn't last.

It seems I've started to regard the station-bound parts as the A-plot and the Starfleet stuff as the B-plot now, which surprises me, but really Sisko and the crew don't get a lot to do in this one. Actually, the crew are sent off on a mission and get into some trouble, but we only see things from Sisko's perspective in his boring office. Maybe they were trying to save money for the final part or trying to rub in how detached Sisko feels, but it feels disappointing watching the Defiant fly off to battle and not being aboard it.
"I just shared a bottle of kanar with Damar. That rhymes!" - Quark the drunken poet

DS9 6x05 Favor the Bold ****

Addressing my biggest problem with the previous episode right from the onset, Sisko announces that office life isn't for him, and they're going to re-take Deep Space Nine. But not until next week, because we've created a satisfying and elaborate web of plots that need to be given due time to resolve. It was definitely the right decision.

I guess my biggest gripe with this episode is how slack the Dominion is in its occupation of Bajor. We're told that they're concerned about setting the right example and not striking fear into the Bajorans by repeating the harshness of their Cardassian rule, and we later find out just how long-term the Dominion likes to plan their insidious takeovers, but it might have been more exciting if things were a little more heavy-handed on Terok Nor. The Founder knows all about Kira's resistance movement, but doesn't do anything about it. That's as short-sighted as the Borg not considering armed Starfleet officers a threat when they beam inside their ships: convenient for the plot, but pretty unrealistic and tension-dampening. Whose side am I on?

Quark is the star of this show, stepping up to finish Rom's work for the greater good. Admittedly, only after Leeta agrees to give up her salary for two years. Ziyal also gets involved. Oh dear...
"I always hope for the best. Experience, unfortunately, has taught me to expect the worst" - Garak

DS9 6x06 Sacrifice of Angels *****

BOOM! WHOOSH! ZAP! It's the action-packed finale to this six-parter (seven-parter if you count the season five finale, which you shouldn't really), and it's one of the best ones they ever did. So there's a bit of a deus ex machina ending, but it does reference an ominous "penance" that Sisko must pay in the future, so I guess that'll pay off some day. Right...?

There are a lot of CGI starship battles and explosions in this episode, which was my main memory of it from childhood, but like 'Call to Arms' last season, it's the denouement with the characters and the shifting tide of events that are the most powerful. Dukat is taken to the brink of megalomania and then utterly destroyed, it almost feels like the writers have crossed some humane line there. Quark gets to be a hero to make up for all those times he's been an utter dick and Sisko tries to defend a bizarre suicide run. That's the weirdest part.

The ending is both happy and terrible, but very satisfying all round. I've suggested episodes like 'The Visitor' and 'Explorers' for people who don't think they'd like DS9, but really they should just watch a defining episode of the series like this one or 'The Way of the Warrior.' And if they still don't like it, they can piss off.
"Time to start packing" - Yeah, you can sod off too, Weyoun

DS9 6x07 You Are Cordially Invited **

It was a good call to go with something daft and light-hearted after the war episodes, and the lift in mood makes for a welcome change, even as we're reminded that the conflict is far from over. There's some slight world-building as DS9 becomes the headquarters for the ninth fleet, which I guess means they'll be using those stock shots of the station surrounded by a few Starfleet ships a lot more from here on, and Worf and Dax tie the knot. Yes, it's a marriage episode. Yes, it isn't great.

It's impossible to look past the oversight of Worf's "closest friends" not including anyone from the Next Generation days (apart from O'Brien, who's already there). Are you telling me he's closer to Bashir than Riker or Data? But I guess those guys are movie guys now, and they wouldn't come back for some random episode of TV Trek. Like how Marina Sirtis was in all those Voyagers and that abominable last episode of Enterprise alongside Jonathan Frakes (who was in Voyager one time too, and an earlier DS9). Brent Spiner was in an Enterprise or two himself, and Levar Burton was in Voyager. Sod it, they could have arranged it.

I really don't like Dax in this episode. I'm not any kind of puritan, but Martok's wife nails it when she describes her hen party antics. She should have more respect for Worf. I hope she gets what's coming to her. Meanwhile, Kira and Odo patch up their differences during the occupation by talking all night off-screen. That's not great either.
- "Blood, pain, sacrifice, anguish and death."
- "Sounds like marriage alright" - Worf and Bashir

DS9 6x08 Resurrection *

Season six goes downhill really quickly after the war arc, and this is even worse than the last episode. It's one of the few times I found myself craving a banal B-plot where Jake and Nog mess around with self-sealing stem bolts or something, just to get away from the tedious story. But no, they decide this is worthy of the whole 44 minutes.

It's a very old-school episode, with someone from Kira's past beaming into Ops before the teaser (specifically, the second episode they ever did), and the return of Bareil via his mirror universe counterpart doesn't feel like a welcome continuation of that character, who was actually really good until they mercilessly killed him off.

I've had enough of the mirror universe, and I'm surprised this mediocre plot got green-lit at all. When I think about DS9's mirror universe episodes, I mostly forget this one even exists, because it's completely unmemorable. I didn't even note down any worthwhile quotes, I'll have to dredge one up from the internet:
- "His eye bothers me."
-"Which one?"
- "The middle one" - Kira and Dax. Sadly, that's probably the best bit of the episode

DS9 6x09 Statistical Probabilities ****

They finally seem to have found an angle for Bashir episodes, demonstrating that the reveal of his genetically engineered background wasn't so pointless after all. Season six is pretty good to Bashir, as he later gets the episode with Section 31 too. It almost makes up for him being so annoying for the best part of five years.

The mutant trio (plus the silent one) are fun characters and well cast, and there's another smart integration of the A- and B-plots as they're invited to decipher hidden meanings and subtleties in Damar and Weyoun's double-talk. Jack spotting Weyoun's use of the passive voice transitive when switching to native language mode is the real highlight, this is clever writing.

We also get some sneaky foreshadowing of upcoming events in the team's (admittedly flawed) predictions, similar to Sisko's revealing visions in 'Rapture,' of the Romulans joining the war and the Dominion's long term plans. Of course, it ultimately won't end up going exactly as they planned, as their mathematical calculations don't account for factors like dramatic plot twists and deus ex machina endings, but I'll deal with those when I get there.

This is the first real reminder that there's still a war going on off-screen that will crop up occasionally, and I like how it influences the overall story. They could have done this episode in season five, but it wouldn't have been as effective.
"You want me to play with you, do you, Chief?" - Julian Bashir

DS9 6x10 The Magnificent Ferengi ***

It's a Ferengi episode, and it isn't terrible! Iggy Pop's in it too, though he's pretty boring. Grand Nagus Zek isn't in it at all, which is probably to its credit.

Like last time, the ongoing war is well integrated into what would otherwise be a random plot, as Quark and Rom's moogie is kidnapped by the Dominion, and they set about forming a crack squad to break her out. Until they realise they're not cut out for that, and go about things like the good Ferengi most of them aren't.

This is a lot of fun, and genuinely funny at times in a way the stupid Ferengi episodes usually aren't. I like the bit where they accidentally break into Sisko's office while he's still in it, but barely acknowledges their presence. For fans, there's also some continuity as several characters Quark was instrumental in ruining come back for more, and we're introduced to a couple of new ones too. This might be the last decent Ferengi episode, I think they're all downhill from here.
"A child, a moron, a failure and a psychopath. Quite a little team you've put together" - Brunt, FCA

DS9 6x11 Waltz ***

This seems like an episode that worked better on the page than in the execution, and isn't helped by yet another re-use of Trek's fake-looking 'Planet Hell' set. There's not much that's visually stimulating here, but if you're into the character of Dukat - and you should be - it's a strong character piece, and a rare two-hander for the most part.

Driven insane by the death of his daughter, the fallen dictator is patronised and encouraged by an injured Sisko to reveal his true feelings, finally destroying the veneer of the loving despot that he spent so long nurturing, he even believed it himself.

This is another episode without a lightweight B-story to bulk things out, and it's probably the better for it. Though it is quite dark and dingy, and I can't say I'll ever feel the need to watch it again.
"You spend some time with a man like Dukat, and you realise that there is such a thing as truly evil" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 6x12 Who Mourns for Morn? ***

So soon after 'The Magnificent Ferengi' we get another episode of fun and peril with Quark, and it's good to see that character and aspect of the show haven't been lost amidst the sombre war plots. Of course, this is also an episode about Morn, everyone's favourite background character who's been there since the very start, though true to form he's hardly in it.

This episode feels like high quality fan fiction, with its focus on such a tangential character. Morn's old partners in crime are memorable additions to the series, like the Jack Pack a few episodes before them, and the twins' dinosaurish make-up is some of the most striking Michael Westmore would ever devise.

Overall, it's an entirely pointless episode that's a lot of fun, has some retro Quark/Odo ribbing and even messes with established continuity just to give fans something to complain about. Gold has apparently lost its value since 'Little Green Men.'
"There's nothing here but worthless gold!" - Quark

DS9 6x13 Far Beyond the Stars *****

It's easy to over-hype this episode, but it truly is one of the best ones they ever did. I never really appreciated it as a child, and I think I actually enjoyed its video companion 'One Little Ship' more. Idiot.

To the layman with passing familiarity with the Star Trek franchise, Deep Space Nine might be "the one on the space station," "the one with the orange meatball-head guys" or "the one with the black captain." This episode is the first to address the issue of skin colour in a series where Sisko's colour has been an important issue all along, and by shifting it back in time a few decades to the barbaric 1950s (bear in mind, DS9 itself is already 20 years old now), they're able to tackle the race issue with commendable frankness. It's uncomfortable and horrific at times, and Avery Brooks (who also directed) puts in an extremely memorable performance when his character breaks down, whether you think it's a fine piece of acting or completely over-the-top.

So now those serious issues are dealt with - gee, it's fun to see the regular cast out of make-up! The gimmick of this all being a "vision" from the Prophets doesn't really matter, as it's at least not another time travel show. The homages to classic sci-fi authors and publications are very nicely done, and I've always wanted to read Benny Russell's fifties take on Deep Space Nine. Maybe that's what I've been watching all along...

Season six gave us the war arc and this episode, and there's more great stuff to come. This has got to be the show's finest year.
"You are the dreamer and the dream" - Preacher

DS9 6x14 One Little Ship ***

A shrinking episode. It was bound to happen sooner or later, I'm just a little surprised it happened on DS9. And that the Ferengi are nowhere in sight. Did they really mix the shrinking shenanigans with a Jem'Hadar takeover? These are strange times.

At least the Jem'Hadar's presence saves this from being a generic 'anomaly' episode, we really don't need another one of those. I forgot about the whole distinction between Alpha and Gamma Quadrant Jem'Hadars, I guess the writers did too as it's never touched on again. You have to wonder why they even take prisoners in the first place, and they only make more dumb choices as the episode goes on.

The incredible shrinking runabout is a fun idea in places, especially when the diminutive Bashir and O'Brien beam into the console and walk around massive data chips, but I never understood why Bashir was the comic relief guy on that mission. What do they even need a doctor for? I like the suggestion of bonding between Worf and Nog more, I wish that had gone somewhere too.

Overall, it seems everyone involved was happy to forget this one even existed. I think it gets away with the absurdity by being suitably fun.
"This is the story of a little ship that took a little trip..." - Worf's "poem"

DS9 6x15 Honor Among Thieves ***

It's time to torture O'Brien, though less painfully this time. Really, the main injury to the Chief this time is keeping him away from the station for so long, and it's nice to see the place falling apart without his vigilance, it feels like a callback to the early days of the show.

This episode has a cyberpunk/noir feel about it, enhanced with a new matte painting (wow!) that they show about seven times. I always have some difficulty reconciling things like the Orion Syndicate with the glitzy 24th century universe of the Federation, but it's nice to see the show do something different from time to time, and this one certainly stands out, with its cyber-crime and prostitutes.

I'm not won over by Bilby though, who feels a little too gullible, trusting and easily duped for someone in his position, and anyone who's ever seen a TV show before will know how O'Brien's arc develops across the episode before the opening credits begin. The Dominion involvement is a surprise at least, though maybe just a tenuous effort to tie this into the overall tapestry, and O'Brien gets a new cat.
"That's the most important thing" - Liam Bilby

DS9 6x16 Change of Heart ***

Worf and Dax at least get one episode during their brief time together, and though it's a little mawkish in places, I do quite enjoy it - from their sitcom bedroom scenes to their bickering on the runabout and Worf's decision to save her life at the cost of the mission.

Other good things include the realistic-looking jungle set, complete with real reptiles, the sense of traditional adventure as they trek into the wilderness and even the stupid B-story where Bashir plays Quark at tongo and that's all that happens.

The main thing I didn't like is seeing Dax reduced to a damsel in distress yet again, not long after she spent the whole of 'Rocks and Shoals' lying in a cave. She hasn't really done anything this season, it's not like Terry Farrell was pregnant or something. I don't blame her for wanting to leave, they haven't done anything interesting with that character since season four.
- "On the Enterprise I was considered quite amusing."
- "That must have been one dull ship" - Worf and Dax

DS9 6x17 Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night ***

The third in what could loosely be called the Terok Nor trilogy, though it doesn't have the same thematic links as 'Necessary Evil' and 'Things Past,' it's always nice to revisit those dark days, and a final chance for Marc Alaimo to play a version of Dukat that isn't completely insane.

It's stretching credulity a bit that he wouldn't have revealed he knew Kira's mother earlier though, and the whole Orb of Time gimmick is a bit convenient like it was in 'Trials and Tribble-ations,' but I guess they were looking for something different than the flashbacks and dreams used to visit this period previously. Alright, whatever, let's get on with it.

It's an interesting moral story that reintroduces some grey areas into a DS9 that's recently become a little too black and white with its heroes and villains, and I'm glad Kira doesn't just come around and forgive her mother. Why didn't Dukat or Kira's father recognise Kira later on if they met… whatever, the Prophets sorted it out.
"Come, sit on my lap and tell me how much you hate Cardassians" - Some Bloody Cardassian

DS9 6x18 Inquisition **

This was a real disappointment, I'd been looking forward to this vaguely-remembered episode for a while, and it turns out to be really boring. To the point that I actually fell asleep when Sloan started tediously explaining what Section 31 was, though I was on a long flight at the time.

The introduction of this shady secret service, Starfleet's equivalent of the Obsidian Order, fits in with the darker DS9 universe and I don't have a problem with it, but I do have an issue with them revealing their existence here for no reason, so Bashir can just tell everyone all about them. They also seem to have very low expectations for their prospective candidates, if Bashir's holodeck 'ordeal' is anything to go by.

The simulation is convincing for a while, though something does feel a little off even when I assumed it was real, but later on things get insultingly transparent, and Bashir's genetically enhanced brain takes slightly longer to cotton on than the audience. The Maquis plot was tied up last season and now we've got a new ongoing arc that's sure to run itself into the ground before long. There's only a year and a bit to go, after all.
"When push comes to shove, are we willing to sacrifice our principles in order to survive?" - Julian Bashir

DS9 6x19 In the Pale Moonlight *****

This is such a great episode. It’s been called the best episode of DS9, but I'd place 'The Way of the Warrior' above it for packing in everything that's great about this series, whereas this episode simply excels in its darker forays.

This is primarily a Sisko episode and it's Avery Brooks' second stand-out performance this season after 'Far Beyond the Stars' (another for the top 10 there). It also features Garak heavily, who became a little boring lately when he started working for Starfleet but is at his best here, lying, scheming and murdering for the greater good and self-preservation. Sisko and Garak make a great pairing, like Odo and Garak in season three and O'Brien and Garak in season five. He's basically great with anyone who isn't Bashir, but they seem to have given up on that friendship now anyway.

I've watched this one so many times and even though I know the twists and turns intimately, Sisko's increasing turmoil still does it for me. It's definitely in the top three. Maybe the top two. Watch it.
"Every man has his price" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #98

DS9 6x20 His Way ***

Another divisive episode and another one I ended up enjoying, which is surprising considering I've been dreading the Odo/Kira relationship all the way through the series and it's finally arrived. The kiss scene is stupid. The stuff before it's pretty good.

Especially Vic Fontaine, who won me over with his insights and charisma even though I'm not a fan of the period and music that Ira Behr and his friends on the production team evidently are. I like the idea of a self-aware hologram who's content in his situation and doesn't strive to be human or something more, as well as one who's crafty enough to sneak into other people's private holosuite programs and hack into the station's com system. The fact that he's doing it all to help Odo out just makes it more endearing.

I used to find Vic intrusive on the more plot-heavy episodes of the show, like its finales, but I've warmed to him this time around. Odo impressed me less here, and he's borderline embarrassing at times. I don't want to see Odo loosening up unless he's pouring himself into a bucket. I'd have preferred it if he was more like Quark, stubbornly refusing to grow across seven years.
"You're not exactly the most lovable person in the galaxy. You're not even the most lovable person in this sector, or on the station, or even in this room" - Quark

DS9 6x21 The Reckoning ****

Another Emissary/prophecy episode, which have proven hit or miss in a big way previously, I liked this one more than I remembered but it's no 'Rapture,' and the ending is very anti-climactic after all the build-up to the end of days. It tries to replicate some of that earlier episode's success by focusing on the relationship between Sisko and son (I guess Penny Johnson was busy that week?), and the best twist in a satisfyingly twisty episode comes when a pah-wraith possesses Jake and puts Sisko's faith to the test. The Odo/Kira relationship at least serves some purpose here in making the potential sacrifice of Kira more emotive too.

This is actually a great episode for the characters in general, with Dax's sarcasm, Sisko's passion and Kira's faith. Kai Winn is back to being annoying again, though not as annoying as the Prophets, who are as needlessly cryptic as ever. It's a bit of a cop-out for this to be [The] Sisko's penance for asking them for help earlier in the season, and if you didn't like the bit where the tablet broke and blue and orange swirly things came out of it, you might want to stop watching this series right about now. Forget the previous five and a half years of build-up, it's all about the blue and orange swirly things from here on.
"I had a pretty good idea what this was the minute I laid eyes on it. That confirms it. It's a slab of stone with some writing on it" - Jadzia Dax

DS9 6x22 Valiant **

Two episodes with Jake in them in a row, has the world gone mad? It's fun to get a Jake/Nog episode where they're all grown up and doing their respective jobs rather than dicking around on the Promenade, but this isn't a very entertaining episode.

It's mostly due to the guest characters taking up most of the screen time, who we don't really care about and are made purposefully dislikeable. Those new cadet uniforms incorporating the department colours are even worse than the old ones too, but I try to veer away from nitpicking like that. The CGI Valiant looks pretty dodgy too, but I guess they were resistant to re-use too many model shots of the Defiant in case some asshole like me took a screenshot where the NX-74205 registry was partly visible or something.

Unlike 'The Reckoning,' which was rich in plot twists, you know exactly what's going to happen in this episode all the time, though you might not be prepared for the full level of slaughter as barely any of those cocky kids makes it through alive. The battle itself is the best part, only slightly spoiled by the unlikelihood of Jake and Nog's escape pod miraculously making it through. Maybe the Prophets did it or something, we can always use that excuse now.
"Red Squad! Red Squad! Red Squad! Etc." - Et al.

DS9 6x23 Profit and Lace *

This has got to be the worst Ferengi episode they ever did, and one of the worst episodes they ever made in general. It rivals the one where they got trapped in a board game, the one where Vedek Bareil was slowly murdered for no reason, the one where everyone got horny and the one where Worf didn't take off his uniform on Risa, it's that bad. Even Zek's lost his charm by now, and they couldn't seem to get his make-up right.

I hate Quark in this one, from the exaggerated sexual blackmail at the start to his ridiculous stint in drag during a temporary sex change. Yeah, Quark gets a sex change for an episode, and obviously it's entirely played for laughs. In Star Trek's exclusively heterosexual universe, the idea of a man lusting after another man is hysterical.

The running jokes fall flat and no one really seems to be enjoying themselves in this one, which apparently a few of the actors really hated. It's especially disappointing for coming so late in the series, I can't instantly recall anything after this that'll be quite this bad, but of course I could have put mental blocks there to save me the pain. We'll see soon enough.
"Drink Slug-O-Cola, the slimiest cola in the galaxy" - Marketing slogan

DS9 6x24 Time's Orphan ***

We've had the Ferengi episode, time to squeeze in another O'Brien Must Suffer episode before the year's out. I criticised 'Honor Among Thieves' for not screwing with the Chief to the same extent as his previous episodes, and this one makes up for it, by taking the O'Brien family to their peak of escapist ecstasy before snatching away their daughter, eventually returning her as an adult savage. He even says “life doesn't get any better than this” just before things take a turn for the worse, the writers clearly know what they're doing to Miles by now.

This is quite a nasty episode, but it's handled in a mature way so you don't dwell on the sillier aspects, like what a Guardian of Forever style time portal's doing in some random field. It's for plot purposes, alright? The failed rehabilitation of Molly feels realistic, and even the time-filling B-plot where Worf looks after Kirayoshi is quite adorable, thanks entirely to Michael Dorn.

Yes, there's a big reset button at the end. But even if the O'Briens live happily ever after, it's upsetting to watch Worf and Dax's preliminary parenting talks with knowledge of what's soon to come.
"Oh, bollocks!" - Miles O'Brien

DS9 6x25 The Sound of Her Voice ***

I think this episode was too mature for me as a kid, when I'd always fast-forward past it to get to the explosions and death of the next episode. But watching it as an adult (and ever so slightly more mature), it felt like a refreshing change of pace to deal with the crew's feelings of isolation and depression, and isn't boring at all.

Though at least some people involved apparently weren't that confident in its success, which is why we get some fake tension to sustain interest over an ad break and a B-story about Quark antics that feels like a throwback to season two, though it's nice to see him joined by Jake in his nefarious activities. The Quark/Odo friendship/rivalry comes to a head here, and even if they don't find the time to do much more with it in the final season, it feels like a satisfying resolution.

There are even a couple of old-school Trek references thrown in for nerds, in the form of tri-ox compound and planet Deneva. Dax is hardly in this one, which is a shame.
"No good deed ever goes unpunished" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #285

DS9 6x26 Tears of the Prophets *****

Another one of my favourites that stands the test of time, this is probably the best finale the show ever had, and does the usual job of really screwing things up to be sorted out next year.

This episode self-consciously has a bit of everything, as most of my favourites do - a big space battle, the Prophets, good and evil, Klingons and Romulans and a significant death. They even throw in a new orb, but I forgot to keep count of how many that's been.

Most of the characters get something to do as well, from Sisko being forced to choose between his duties as an officer and the Emissary to Bashir and Quark brooding over their missed chances at happiness. The death of Dax never really affected me as I was never such a fan of the character - and by her nature as a Trill, she's the most replaceable - but Worf's howl to Sto-Vo-Kor still gets to me. I care more about that guy.
"Something's wrong..." - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 7x01 Image in the Sand ***

I always had the feeling that season seven was a bit of a letdown compared to the previous few years, and these first two episodes are partly responsible. We get three separate plots spread over a two-parter, with the set up here and the more entertaining resolutions next week, that might have worked better if divided into stand-alone shows.

Maybe open with Sisko's story and the second episode could split the sweet Worf story and boring Kira story? Or reverse it and have the audacity not to deal with Sisko and the Prophets until the second week at all. Or at least make it a single feature-length show, but I guess they're saving that for the finale.

It's not actually a bad episode, just the weaker of two halves, and I find mopey Sisko more frustrating to watch than mopey Worf. Although I admittedly prefer it when Star Trek remains staunchly atheist, the discussion over whether Jadzia's hypothetical soul would prefer to spend eternity in Klingon heaven or Trill heaven is a thoughtful debate, if pointless.
"Too much imagination can be dangerous" - Weyoun

DS9 7x02 Shadows and Symbols ***

Sisko and ko. go looking for an orb and it ends happily ever after.

Worf destroys a Dominion shipyard in Jadzia's name and feels some resolution, which is then almost instantly shattered by the arrival of the new Dax.

Kira plays poker or something, I drifted off during those bits.
"Take me out of the oven, Moogie" - Quark

DS9 7x03 Afterimage ***

The inevitable Ezri Dax acclimatisation episode is better than I expected, and after her slightly awkward introduction she feels like an interesting addition to the show. It feels like the seeds have been planted all along for the death and rebirth of Dax in a new host, after all those slightly tedious Trill episodes, and it was a great choice to make this rebirth an accident. It's also a very nice development to cast Sisko in the role of Dax's mentor.

Worf is a complete arsehole in this until he comes around at the end, I always like it when we see how dysfunctional these people are. Garak's claustrophobia triggered by the guilt he feels over betraying his people feels secondary to the Ezri introduction, but it at least proves she has some practical use, or as much use as a counsellor can ever have on Star Trek. After all, Deanna Troi was clearly the most useful of the Enterprise's crew, right?
"You're not worthy of the name Dax" - Garak

DS9 7x04 Take Me Out to the Holosuite *

I hated this episode. As a British Star Trek fan, I don't exactly have a passion for baseball. I'd prefer to watch an episode of Star Trek, to be honest, and this is about as far removed from that as I can imagine. I've applauded them for taking risks before, and maybe this episode appealed to some people in a big way, but for me it ranks alongside the one where they got trapped in a board game and those other five or six stinkers I've given a one-star rating to.

Some of the characters feel completely out of character or have unclear motivations, and the taunting of the Vulcan at the end just feels uncomfortable, even borderline racist. I cringed a lot, but I never laughed. At least by setting the standard so low, the average episodes coming up this season should seem incredible by comparison.
"Death to the opposition" - Worf

DS9 7x05 Chrysalis **

The not-so-eagerly-anticipated return of the Jack Pack from last year's 'Statistical Probabilities' is a weak sequel that doesn't bring as much to Bashir's character this time around, apart from demonstrating that he isn't above malpractice when he starts dating his patient who's just emerged from a lifelong catatonic state.

Jack and co themselves don't do a lot, apart from one quite enjoyable scene where they strive to avert the inevitable end of the universe in several trillion years' time, and they feel more like one-dimensional caricatures. I wasn't a fan of the singing scene either - this season's making me cringe with nearly every episode.
"That's a stupid question" - Admiral Patrick

DS9 7x06 Treachery, Faith and the Great River ***

Stepping away from the soapy feel of previous episodes to remind us there's a war going on, this episode finally puts Weyoun and Odo together, which is a very good pairing. Even if the Weyoun in question is a defective clone. There's also some important seed-sowing leading into the series finale, with the revelation of the disease that's spread through the Great Link and Damar's increasing dissatisfaction with the Dominion.

There's a fun B-story too, where Nog swaps things to get other things yet again. It's almost the exact same Nog plot as 'Progress' and 'In the Cards,' but with O'Brien standing in for Jake, now Sisko Junior prefers to while away his days drinking at Quark's. Seriously, he shows up for about five seconds in the next episode and that's all he's up to these days.

In another case of intriguing off-screen characters, we're introduced to nerdy collector Al Lorenzo, who likes taking photos of himself next to famous captains' desks. It's the little touches like this that really flesh out this universe and make me want to live in it.
"Of course I'm paranoid, everyone's trying to kill me" - Weyoun VI

DS9 7x07 Once More Unto the Breach ***

My patience for Klingon episodes has been on the wane since 'Soldiers of the Empire,' and the return of Kor again again doesn't help things, even if he's given a satisfying send-off. Martok is as good as ever, one of the stand-out recurring characters of this series' later years, and it's another decent episode for Worf, who comes tantalisingly close to sacrificing himself, enjoying a warrior's death and getting off the hook from dealing with the Ezri business.

There's a lot of great CGI in this final season, it's a bit of a shame that the technology finally caught up with the ambition as the show was nearing its end. I like Martok's doddery old aide too.
"Don't live too long" - Kor

DS9 7x08 The Siege of AR-558 ***

One of the series' more controversial episodes, I admire its audacity to go all-out and present dark and gritty trench warfare to avoid glamourising conflict, but all the same it's not an episode I have any desire to put myself through again.

It's very disconcerting seeing Starfleet officers reduced to 'soldiers,' and Quark's statements about the inherent barbarism of humans are the highlights of the episode. That character's so out of place on the front lines, it does the job perfectly. It's also a good episode for Nog, who has his illusions of heroism cruelly shattered when he loses his leg.

Unfortunately, most of the guest characters are taken straight from the stock war stereotypes bin, apart from the engineer Ezri befriends who inevitably doesn't make it to the end. It's a nice touch to focus on the scientists and doctors of the show rather than combat veterans like Kira and Worf, but overall I feel more ambivalent about this one than maybe any other episode. There's a lot of nice music anyway.
"You can't make a deal if you're dead" - Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #125

DS9 7x09 Covenant ***

Dukat's up to his old tricks again, in an episode that makes a last, desperate attempt to set him up as the main villain of the show, something that was accomplished well enough way back in the pilot before they forgot about him for a while and then made some arguable decisions. He declares himself the emissary of the Pah-Wraiths, and by claiming Deep Space Nine's abandoned sister station, the dark Sisko parallels couldn't be clearer.

Except he isn't up against Sisko, not yet. This is the final chapter in his often disturbing, frequently distasteful courtship of Kira, who really should have taken the opportunity to shoot him when she had a clear line of sight. Her character has mellowed a little in the last few years, which is good development, but here I really could have done with her being a bit more angry and proactive.

This episode makes clear allusions to suicide cults like Heavens Gate, and the line cult leaders straddle between insanity and megalomania. However much Dukat claims he's changed - we do see him praying in private at one point, so he clearly believes this stuff to an extent - he's still the same dirty old man, and it's pretty funny when he tries to pass off the birth of the child of two Bajorans sporting a distinctly Cardassian forehead as a miracle. Whatever, Dukat.

My biggest problem with this episode is the transporter that can beam someone three light years. Why does the Dominion even use starships?
"He believes. And that makes him more dangerous than ever" - Kira Nerys

DS9 7x10 It's Only a Paper Moon ****

I always applaud DS9 for taking risks, and fortune favours the bold once again in this episode focusing on two peripheral characters - namely Nog, recovering from the loss of his leg and taking solace in the holosuite, and Vic Fontaine, the self-aware holographic crooner who's made more of an impression on me this time around. I still find it a little odd how all these aliens get infatuated by 1960s Las Vegas though, don't they have any culture of their own? And has the human race created any new entertainment since the 20th century?

Nog (via Aron Eisenberg) handles the responsibility of a full episode well, and as much as I enjoyed the Ferengi dissecting Western films and immersing himself in this fantasy, I'm a little worried about the prospect of another Vegas-heavy episode coming up in the near future. Still, for taking chances and showing us the realities of war and loss less unpleasantly than 'The Siege of AR-thingie,' this might be the best episode of the season so far. I know things get a lot better later.
"My son's insane. He's a one-legged crazy man" - Rom

DS9 7x11 Prodigal Daughter **

It feels a little early for another Ezri episode - there's another one coming up soon - and I really couldn't care less about this new character's family problems when we're approaching the climax of the entire series. I guess it's nice to see the difficulty Ezri's going through from the other side by meeting the people who knew the host rather than the symbiont, but the plot isn't particularly riveting.

Worse, it even has shades of being an O'Brien Must Suffer episode when the Chief goes missing and shows up with a bruised jaw, but he's quickly sidelined to the point that he basically doesn't do anything. The first half of season seven has been distinctly average, but this is its low point. Oh hang on, I forgot about the baseball episode.
"There's days when I wake up and I don't even know if I'm a man or a woman until I pull back the covers" - Ezri Dax

DS9 7x12 The Emperor's New Cloak ***

The final mirror universe episode and one of the final Ferengi episodes (I can't remember how much 'The Dogs of War' dedicates to the Ferengi plot or what it's even about), merging these two strands works very well and excuses the rehashing of the alternative universe again again again again again. Introducing these slightly goofy characters into this insane dimension works much better than that tedious emotive stuff with Bareil in season six.

It's a fun episode that works best if you don't think about it too much, as Rom demonstrates in his near-fourth-wall-breaking analysis of the universe's inconsistencies, and it's lightweight enough in the canon that it can be easily skipped past if the prospect of spending time with one-dimensional caricatures of Worf and Garak doesn't appeal to you. But then you'd miss the spectacle of Quark and Rom stealing a cloaking device while it's cloaked.

Did Evil Ezri have to be a lesbian? DS9 did a lot of good things for the franchise, but it could have done more to remedy 30 years of ubiquitous heterosexuality than that one episode.
"Do we look smart to you?" - Quark

DS9 7x13 Field of Fire ***

Yes, Ezri's cute and new, but this series does have other characters, and this is her third centric episode this season already. It's also something of a sequel to 'Equilibrium,' which I felt was a pretty good episode at the time but feels positively classic compared to this re-hash. Strange what a few years can do.

This feels like an average episode of Voyager overall, which probably would have overused Seven of Nine and come up with some similarly tenuous reason for her to be handling a murder investigation, and as much disdain as I have for that other show, it would have been some nice continuity if the doomed Lieutenant Ilario could have graduated from the Class of '71 rather than '72, which could have made him a classmate of Harry Kim. I know, I'm normally happy to forget that series and that character in particular even existed, but my love for pointless continuity must be greater.

The writing staff has something against Vulcans this year. Maybe someone's wife ran off with a Vulcan or something and he bears a grudge.
"Nice melon" - Odo

DS9 7x14 Chimera ****

Why does this Changeling look like Odo? He's had 200 more years to master mimicking the humanoid face, even if he dislikes doing so. More to the point, why does Salome Jens' character go around with an Odo face even when she's talking to Weyoun? As Odo makes a point of noting here, that isn't what they actually look like. Do the writers need to patronise us like this?

Oh right, the actual episode. It's a pretty good one, definitely a shade above most of early season seven which feels like it's treading water and placating network executives with stand-alone stories to excuse launching into a serialised arc at the end. After seven years, it feels like we're finally exploring some unsaid issues about Odo's potential and the sacrifices he's making to deny his nature, and Quark dispenses the hard truths again with some great observations about humanoid fear of difference.

J. G. 'Martok' Hertzler is almost unrecognisable as the Changeling, and I probably wouldn't even have noticed that was his voice if I wasn't looking for it, so this isn't jarring like when they paint Weyoun blue and stick some antennae on him for Enterprise. Fortunately, I won't put myself through watching however many seasons there were of that, even DS9 can get trying at times and I love this show for the most part.

I've got used to the Odo/Kira relationship now, and this is their best episode together. After being a little disappointed by the 'bisexual = evil' message of the mirror universe episode, we also get the closest thing to a gay sex scene in Star Trek here, as two Changelings assuming male form get gooey with each other. Kira doesn't seem too hurt, maybe it's been a fantasy of hers.
"Our tolerance to other life forms doesn't extend beyond the two-armed, two-legged variety" - Quark

DS9 7x15 Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang ****

I really didn't expect two of the stand-out episodes of season seven pre 'The Final Chapter' to be dedicated entirely to the world of Vic Fontaine, but I guess that shows that the show was at its best when taking risks and trying something different. Or maybe just that the more conservative sci-fi episodes have really been lacking this year, one of the two.

In the tradition of the best holodeck episodes, this caper episode feels like a fitting tribute to its subject matter while still remaining relevant within the context of the show, though if you haven't been following and enjoying Vic's appearances over the last year, there's going to be very little tension in the prospect of his program being deleted, which is the extent of the jeopardy here. No malfunctioning holograms trying to take over the station or safety protocols going offline: the crew's motives are borne out of pure friendship.

Apart from Sisko, initially, who makes some passionate arguments about the status of black people in 1960s Vegas that feel out of place in a show that's always tackled the subject of race in a more abstract way, or at least through the veneer of a prophetic vision. But like Picard in the final scene of The Next Generation, the captain comes around, loosens up and enjoys himself in what really should have been the final 'normal' episode before they start building for the finale, but then someone had the idea to switch this and the next one and take away what could have been a welcome fresh of breath air from war politics.

Never mind, the next one's good too.
"The best is yet to come" - Vic Fontaine

DS9 7x16 Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges ****

Once you get past the needlessly poncy X-Files-style title, this is a very good episode, one of the few of season seven so far that I've actually been impressed by - though that's all going to change when things get serialised and we head into the finale. Only ten episodes left and then I'm free from this self-imposed obligation. I'm going to miss this place.

It's the inevitable return of Sloan and Section 31, in a much, much better episode than their debut. There are no patronising simulations in this high stakes espionage plot, which does the customary DS9 thing of making decent Starfleet officers do dubious things and annoying the purists, though Bashir remains upstanding on his moral high ground. Unlike 'Inquisition,' where the audience was far ahead of Bashir's genetically enhanced intellect in working out what was going on, here the twists are actually surprising and smart.

On a more superficial level, this is one of the relatively rare chances for fans of the Romulans to get a look at their world, and even reprises the character of Neral from way back in The Next Generation's 'Unification.' Fans of Voyager might also be happy or confused to see another Intrepid-class starship, allowing the producers to save some money by re-using the sets and fly-bys. At least they didn't just make another Defiant or go to bloody Empok Nor again.
"Then I shall endeavor to become more cynical with each passing day, look gift horses squarely in the mouth and find clouds in every silver lining" - Julian Bashir

DS9 7x17 Penumbra ****

I'm grateful for distractions like travel, work and relationships, as it would have been extremely easy to spend the next seven and a half hours ploughing through this series to its conclusion. But moderating myself to a paltry two to three episodes a day means I can at least appreciate them as individual instalments, some of which are more successful than others, and recapture some of the drawn-out process of waiting four weeks between VHS releases in 1999. That was a very DS9-heavy Christmas.

In part one of nine, Commander Worf is missing! Ezri goes to find him and they spend some uncomfortable time alone together until their runabout is mercifully blasted out of the sky and they get to spend even more alone time together on a planet and apparently have fully clothed sex, until the Breen show up and zap them. Meanwhile, the Sisko soap opera develops, Damar becomes increasingly frustrated with the Dominion's treatment of Cardassia and there's a reference to the Son'a thrown in to make it more difficult to ignore Star Trek: Insurrection.

What did I think about it? I liked most of it. A lot. This is going to be difficult.
"She's a Dax. Sometimes they don't think, they just do" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 7x18 'Til Death Do Us Part ****

Kai Winn shows up and is added to the ever more elaborate plot, and putting her together with a cosmetically smoothed Dukat is very satisfying to watch. She deserves everything she gets, as long as Dukat gets similar comeuppance later on, but right now I'm happy to watch the gloating in his eyes as his latest dastardly scheme comes together.

The Breen are established well as a mysterious and quite horrifying race after a couple of earlier appearances, so at least they weren't plucked out of thin air (and at least they didn't go with the Son'a or something). Their addition helps to make these late episodes stand out, and provides more of an incentive for Damar's rebellion that... will apparently have to wait for another day. He apparently has sex in his uniform too.

They're really drawing these plot strands out, aren't they? But I guess they have a lot to deal with, and the parallel plots work a lot better than they did in the season opener. I should probably mention Sisko's shotgun wedding, which admittedly feels like the less interesting of these developments, though is at least more compelling than the Ezri/Bashir 'arc.'

My main problem with Sisko's marriage anxiety is, just how much does a marriage mean anyway? Whatever's going to happen between him and Kasidy in the future (she dies? He dies? Like I don't know), how would being married be any different to being in a committed relationship? Bloody dramatic devices. I don't really like that ministers still survive in the 24th century either.
"You are being humorous" - Worf

DS9 7x19 Strange Bedfellows ***

This is the first episode so far that feels mostly like a bridge in setting up new plot threads and resolving current ones. It's still enjoyable, but if you were watching for the first time it would probably be the last time as well.

There's resolution to Worf and Ezri's relationship and their imprisonment, which I'm surprised to see was extended to three episodes. They escape with the aid of Damar, who's put down the bottle and decided to grow a conscience, possibly taking a leaf out of Quark's book. It's a credit to the writing that this feels both inevitable and unexpected, and for me it's the most exciting prospect for the episodes ahead.

Meanwhile, Winn comes perilously close to being forgiven and turning into one of the good guys in her talk with Kira, before it becomes clear that she's incapable of reform and goes all the way to the dark side to embrace the love of the Pah-Wraiths. The episodes focusing on Bajoran religion and politics have been very hit or miss in the past, but at least Dukat's involved, so something interesting should come of it.
"They'll all be swept aside like dead leaves before an angry wind" - Winn Adami

DS9 7x20 The Changing Face of Evil *****

This is where the story really gets going, and doesn't waste any time in confirming the Breen threat with an attack on Starfleet Headquarters followed by the even sadder destruction of the Defiant.

But just when the situation seems hopeless, there's another major turning point with Damar's official announcement of the Cardassian Resistance, a brilliant parallel to the Bajoran Resistance against the Bloody Cardassians that set up this entire series nearly seven years earlier.

Not only are these final episodes creating a satisfying ending for the show, but if they keep up the same level of quality, they're going to rival the first war arc that opened season six as my personal golden era of the show. Throw in O'Brien and Bashir obsessing over the minutiae of their Alamo Warhammer and this could even be in my top ten episodes.

But then they introduce that stupid magic book and I lose some of my enthusiasm.
"Nobody touches my peppers" - Benjamin Sisko

DS9 7x21 When It Rains... ****

It's not only the Cardassians that have come full circle (or should that be half-circle if they've become the new Bajorans?), but both Kira and Garak are set on creative paths to resolution as they join Damar's resistance movement to pass on their respective skills. Giving Kira a Starfleet commission and uniform feels like pure fan service, and personally I'm more in love with the prospect of Garak finally returning home to help liberate it. Hopefully there'll be plenty more of Garak in the days to come.

The revelation that Odo's been infected with the disease that's killing the Great Link is another welcome shock too that at least gives that character something to do other than accompanying his girlfriend, and the Section 31 conspiracy theory should give O'Brien and Bashir something to do in the days to come as well. I guess all the pieces are in place now.

Unfortunately, the weak link in all this is still the Winn/Dukat plot, which is somehow still going on five episodes in, but buggers off for a while at least. To the writers' credit, they were juggling a lot of balls and only this one was a bit of a balls-up. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the Klingons, who show up too, though they could have been saved for the next episode as this one's already overcrowded. Not another classic this time, but the next one should be a blinder.
"I need to borrow a cup of goo" - Julian Bashir

DS9 7x22 Tacking into the Wind ****

In one of the last great episodes of the series, everything I liked about the previous episode is done better. Damar's Cardassian resistance sets out on an actual mission, reminiscent of 'A Time to Stand,' while the Klingon situation comes to a head in a typically violent manner, wrapping up Ron Moore's Klingon drama from long before DS9 even began and making a great finale for Worf, who would unfortunately show up a couple of years later in the terrible Star Trek Nemesis with no regard for continuity.

Odo's illness is deteriorating rapidly, which could also signal a grisly end to that character's story even though you know that's not going to happen. Bashir and O'Brien are still talking about Section 31 without actually doing anything, and there's a little more Bashir/Ezri irritation. There's seven years worth of plots to be wrapped up in the next few hours, they really didn't have to waste so much time on this.
"The Klingon Empire is dying, and I think it deserves to die" - Ezri Dax

DS9 7x23 Extreme Measures ***

I used to really enjoy this threenultimate instalment in the final 'mini-series,' maybe because it takes a break from the parallel plotlines to dedicate its full 43 minutes to Bashir and O'Brien's final adventure prowling around Sloan's unimaginative mindscape to find a cure for Odo. Those 43 minutes are ridiculously extended though, seemingly allowing enough time for Bashir to relax with a good book during the 'we're still in the holodeck' sequence that I'm disappointed they actually went with again.

This episode is disappointing in a number of ways, which is a real shame this close to the end, even if it's saved by the classic exchange where Bashir admits he prefers spending time with O'Brien to any of the women in his life and fails to get the stubbornly heterosexual Chief to admit anything similar. Placed in sequence after O'Brien's "I really do... not hate you any more" from 'Explorers,' Bashir's "you wish Keiko was a man?" from 'Hippocratic Oath' and Garak's enquiry about just what those two get up to in the holosuite in 'Empok Nor,' a pretty convincing slash portrait forms.

But this episode is confused in tone, as the pair goes too far in being responsible for Sloan's suicide without dwelling on the fact, while using the regular station sets yet again to illustrate someone's subconscious is as disappointing here as it was in 'Distant Voices.' This might have benefited from some resistance B-plot or something, just to see how Kira was dealing with things.
"I like you... a bit more" - Julian Bashir

DS9 7x24 The Dogs of War ****

Ezri and Bashir finally get together, so the most critical story arc is finally put to rest and we can concentrate on paltry matters like the Dominion's retreat and the beginning of the Cardassian civilian uprising. Wiping out the entire resistance apart from Damar, Kira and Garak reiterates the Dominion's ruthless efficiency and makes for a more concentrated and personal revolution, one I continue to be delighted that Garak is a major part of. There's another character getting a fitting resolution.

This is also somewhat bizarrely a Ferengi episode, which I'm quite happy they made time to fit in, even if there was doubtless a large section of the audience that really could have done without this final outing. In the best tradition of confused DS9 episodes, the lightweight plot really doesn't work alongside the serious resistance one, but they're both entertaining to watch. And anyway, serious Ferengi devotees may find the social reforms of Ferenginar to be an even more worrying state of affairs than the Cardassian occupation and impending final battle for the Alpha Quadrant. There's got to be at least one weirdo.

And Kasidy's pregnant! And a replacement Defiant shows up! Robbing that earlier episode of some of its impact for the sole purpose of allowing the CGI artists to save money in the finale by reusing stock footage of the old ship. If only they could have done something about that carpet.
"I hate the carpet" - Julian Bashir

DS9 7x25 What You Leave Behind *****

The final episode of a long-running, complex series like Deep Space Nine has a heavy burden to carry, and for those who've watched since the beginning as I just - ridiculously - have, disappointment may be inevitable. I remember the anticipation I felt when I made the pilgrimage to W.H. Smith on 27 December 1999 to buy the last ever VHS volume of DS9 and awaited the satisfying conclusion to a series that had consumed an unhealthy portion of my thoughts throughout my early teens (second to Red Dwarf of course, I wasn't a complete loser). I also remember the enjoyment tinged with moderate disappointment that I felt when it was all over, and a couple of things didn't go exactly as I wished. (A decade or so later, I'd nostalgically be able to relive this experience with Lost).

But this time around, nearly fourteen years later (I must have counted that wrong, surely), I headed in knowing more or less what to expect and as a solid two-parter, a season finale and the conclusion to the 176-episode-strong series I just sat through, I actually like it a lot better. There are still some questionable, borderline idiotic elements and some forgivably over-the-top dramatic swells, but for the most part it's really good. Of course, it's even better if you watched the last nine episodes that led directly into it, and better still if you've been watching since the Dominion came on the scene (those first couple of seasons you can take or leave). On the other hand, it's possible you'd like it a little more if you were a casual viewer, and not the sort of obsessive devotee who'd be irked by the gratuitous reuse of familiar CGI battle sequences from season six and the complete absence of Jadzia in Worf's memories. Nerds are our own worst enemies.

The first hour is dedicated primarily to wrapping up the war, with the exciting dramatic twist of having the Cardassian fleet turn against its oppressive Dominion allies and the hasty truce arranged by Odo, who turns out to be one of the most important characters after all. His send-off is superb, and one of the few instances where a character's arc from the pilot to the finale really stands up. The only other character who comes close to this sort of resolution is Garak, whose return to a battered Cardassia embodies the depressing and gritty tone this series was built on. Elsewhere, Kira gets the station, O'Brien buggers off to Earth, Worf buggers off to Qo'nos and Bashir and Dax play doctors and counsellors on a very empty station.

The final 30 minutes is spent on goodbyes, the highlight being a cute montage sequence with some well-chosen clips from previous episodes, and there’s also a jarring B-plot of Sisko vs Dukat, Prophets vs Pah-Wraiths, Good vs Evil that sticks out quite awkwardly. I enjoyed the prophecy episodes for the most part, but the gratuitous Hell scenery feels pretty clunky and Sisko's send-off has never felt as satisfying as Odo's, especially as all he actually does to defeat Dukat is burn that bloody book. Seven years of prophecies and riddles and it all comes down to that. And he didn't even say goodbye to his son - that annoys me more than anything.

What I do like about this final episode is that it wraps up stories without cutting off the possibility of a reprise, though I didn't hold out hope for a Deep Space Nine movie at the time and certainly don't now. The expanded universe of the Relaunch books took care of that, and from what little I’ve let myself read of the blurbs, it feels like the writers have done justice to the surviving characters while introducing strange and off-putting new ones in the way this quasi-fan fiction tends to. Maybe one day, if I'm feeling Promenade withdrawal and don't fancy the prospect of sitting through all those terrible early episodes again (remember the one where they got trapped in a board game?), I'll step tentatively into the 'season eight' novels.

But you know I'll probably just watch through all these again for the show's 40th anniversary in 2033 when I'm 47, so until then I'll enjoy all the colourful memories of those incredible tales until they become a blurry haze of Morn propping up the bar at Quark's.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same" - Quark

Top 10 DS9 episodes

I allowed The X-Files two lists, so I should be just as generous to DS9. Otherwise, fun but inconsequential episodes where Quark fails to learn a life lesson wouldn't stand a chance against the "important" stories.

Top 10 'mythology' episodes

#1. The Way of the Warrior (4x01)
#2. In the Pale Moonlight (6x19)
#3. Tears of the Prophets (6x26)
#4. Improbable Cause (3x20)
#5. Sacrifice of Angels (6x06)
#6. In Purgatory's Shadow (5x14)
#7. Rapture (5x10)
#8. A Time to Stand (6x01)
#9. The Changing Face of Evil (7x20)
#10. The Search, Part I (3x01)

Top 10 random episodes

#1. Far Beyond the Stars (6x13)
#2. The Visitor (4x02)
#3. Hard Time (4x18)
#4. Trials and Tribble-ations (5x06)
#5. Explorers (3x22)
#6. Statistical Probabilities (6x09)
#7. Body Parts (4x24)
#8. Whispers (2x14)
#9. The Wire (2x22)
#10. Business As Usual (5x18)

Top 7 DS9 seasons

Despite the characteristic inconsistency that comes with a (mostly) episodic TV series written by a bunch of different people, each season of DS9 has a distinctive identity. I could tell you which seasons are my "favourites" in those terms, but that doesn't necessarily bear out when you stack up the piles of good, bad and middling.

Adding up my non-definitive episode ratings (and averaging out when there's less than the standard 26), my ranking turned out to be:

#1. Season 5 (94 stars)
#2. Season 7 (87)
#3. Season 6 (86)
#4. Season 4 (84)
#5. Season 3 (83)
#6. Season 2 (81)
#7. Season 1 (63)

The only surprise is season seven, the extended grand finale being so good that it drags up the really mediocre first half of the year. But outside of the clear winner and loser seasons, it's all so close that a minor change of heart here or there could shuffle them into pretty much any order. Turns out Deep Space Nine was more consistent in its inconsistency than I've been giving it credit for.

One more for luck

Cardassian episodes: 3.64 stars average
Dominion episodes: 3.61
Bajoran episodes: 3.30
Klingon episodes: 3.23
Ferengi episodes: 3.17
Trill episodes: 2.67
Mirror Universe episodes: 2.6

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