Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Third Season
Original air dates: September 1994 – June 1995
Executive Producer: Rick Berman
Executive Producer: Michael Piller (through to “The Die is Cast”)
Executive Producer: Ira Steven Behr (“Through the Looking Glass” forward)
Station log: The third season of DS9 is the first season of the show where the show aggressively takes on the notion of serialization and of forward movement of various plotlines. It begins in the very first episode when we get the addition of the U.S.S. Defiant and Odo learns who his people are. In addition, the Dominion threat hangs over the entire season, seen more overtly in “The Abandoned,” “Heart of Stone,” “The Die is Cast,” and “The Adversary.”
Other threads are picked up on and continued: we go back to the Mirror Universe in “Through the Looking Glass,” and the Maquis remain a going concern particularly in “Defiant” and “Heart of Stone.” Of course the Bajoran-Cardassian relationship has some twists and turns, including a new treaty in “Life Support” that results in a new communications relay in “Destiny,” plus we get significant looks into the politics of both worlds in “Second Skin,” “Improbable Cause,” “The Die is Cast,” and “Shakaar,” as well as reminders of the history between those two worlds both in the distant (“Explorers”) and recent (“Civil Defense”) past.
Most important, though, is the character work done. While Odo’s reunion with his people in “The Search, Part II” ends poorly it does provide him with more knowledge of who and what he is, leading to him taking on crew quarters and putting aside his bucket so he can explore his shapeshifting more thoroughly in “The Abandoned.” Sisko gets to let out his inner badass, mostly while pretending to be someone else—his Mirror Universe counterpart in “Through the Looking Glass” and Gabriel Bell in the “Past Tense” two-parter—and also gets to answer a centuries-old question about Bajor’s space-travel history (“Explorers”) and get a girlfriend (Kasidy Yates in “Family Business”). Dax learns about a host she never knew she had (“Equilibrium”) and gets to meet all of her previous hosts (“Facets”). We learn a bunch about Kira’s past (“Second Skin,” “Shakaar”) even as she loses her boyfriend (“Life Support”). Quark has to deal with both his mother (“Family Business”) and his wife (kinda, in “The House of Quark”). And the O’Brien-Bashir bromance is deepened, from the dart board making its first appearance (“Prophet Motive,” being ensconced in Quark’s in “Visionary”) to their drunken affirmation of their friendship in “Explorers.”
Even the recurring characters got a great deal of development. Nog announced that he wanted to join Starfleet in “Heart of Stone,” and took his preliminary entrance test in “Facets,” which were also two of the three episodes in which Rom actually stood up to Quark (the third being “Family Business”). We got some insights into Dukat’s family life in “Defiant,” and we learned a good deal more about Garak in “Improbable Cause” and “The Die is Cast.”
Highest-rated episode: “Improbable Cause,” the season’s only 10.
Lowest-rated episode: “Meridian,” the season’s only 1.
Most comments (as of this writing): “The Die is Cast” with 70. Status quo changes FTW!
Fewest comments (as of this writing): “Distant Voices” with 12. Nobody wants to talk about what goes on in Bashir’s head, obviously...
Favorite Can’t we just reverse the polarity? From “Civil Defense”: Lotsa technobabble in this one, mostly from Dax when she jiggers with ODN conduits and reroutes secondary whozamadingitzes, and so on. We also get a smattering from Dukat and Garak (and surprisingly little from O’Brien). Also, as just indicated, it’s pretty neat that the station can lose life support, the power grid, and the fusion reactor, and yet the lights and doors still work....
Favorite The Sisko is of Bajor: From “The Abandoned”: Sisko has Mardah over to dinner with the express purpose of, as O’Brien puts it, lowering the boom on her relationship with Jake, but as dinner progresses he learns quite a bit. As expected, he learns more about Mardah—that she’s an orphan, that she’s a budding writer—and she also has some pointed remarks about people who judge her solely on the basis of her job. (Sisko briefly looks chastised when she says that.) As not expected, Sisko also learns many things about Jake, including that he writes poetry and that he hustles dom-jot.
Favorite Don’t Ask My Opinion Next Time: From “Second Skin”: Kira handles her imprisonment with gusto, not budging an inch with either Entek or Ghemor. It isn’t until she sees the recording of Iliana that she starts to lose it, but she also instantly figures out Entek’s plan once she realizes that Ghemor is a dissident. The one thing we don’t know is how Entek knew about her childhood memory, but he could’ve gotten that out of her with truth drugs before her “official” waking up in the Ghemor house. (We’ve seen Cardassians use such in the past, notably in “Chain of Command, Part II.”)
Favorite Rule of Acquisition: From “Destiny”: We get quite possibly the two best Rules—#34 (“War is good for business”) and #35 (“Peace is good for business”), which Quark admits are easy to confuse with each other. In addition, the original script had a Rule that was not used in the final teleplay, but which Ira Steven Behr liked so much, he included it in the books The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition and Legends of the Ferengi: “Faith can move mountains of inventory.”
Favorite Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: From “The Search, Part I”: For the second time, Odo gets pissed at the presence of a Starfleet security officer assigned to the station, and his interactions with Sisko on the subject of Eddington mirror those he had with the commander regarding Primmin in “The Passenger.”
Odo also at the end of the episode finds his people’s homeworld in the Omarian Nebula. For reasons passing understanding, they all go into humanoid form with the same unfinished look that Odo has, even though Odo only has that form because he can’t do anything more detailed. It’s an understandable bit of visual shorthand to make it clear to the viewer that these are Odo’s people, but it doesn’t make any kind of story sense.
Favorite The slug in your belly: From “Past Tense, Part I”: Dax’s super science officer-ness comes into play here, as she not only effortlessly creates an identity for herself with a computer interface, (no Montgomery Scott saying “Computer” into a mouse here...), but she also never misses a beat when explaining her situation, unhesitatingly referring to her combadge as a brooch and her spots as tattoos. So often these things are played broadly, in a manner that realistically would raise red flags to the person being spoken to, but instead Dax slides effortlessly into the 21st century, as you would expect a professional science officer (and person with three centuries’ experience) to do.
Favorite For Cardassia! From “Explorers”: Cardassia’s official position is that Bajorans couldn’t possibly have visited Cardassia before the latter achieved faster-than-light travel. When Sisko proves that it could’ve happened thanks to the tachyon eddies near the Denorios Belt, the Cardassian government all of a sudden reveals an archeological find of a Bajoran solar sailboat from eight hundred years earlier. It’s a Christmas miracle!
Favorite Plain, simple: From “Civil Defense”: The bad history between Garak and Dukat that was hinted at in “Cardassians” gets more play here, as apparently there was some manner of interaction between Garak and Dukat’s father that ended with Dukat's père being put on trial (and as we know from “The Maquis, Part II” and “Tribunal,” Cardassian trials always end the same way). And just in general, Dukat and Garak spend a lot of time sniping at each other, including Dukat saying the whole trip was worth it to see Garak cowering in a corner to avoid the disruptor fire, while Kira spends a lot of time telling them to stop comparing dick size and actually work at solving the damn problem.
Favorite What happens in the holosuite, stays in the holosuite: From “Heart of Stone”: O’Brien has been taking Odo kayaking on the holosuite. Odo enjoys it, though O’Brien does all the singing (“ancient sea shanties” such as “Louie Louie”).
Favorite Victory is life: From “The Search, Part I”: We learn that the Founders of the Dominion are rarely seen, and considered mythical by many members of the Dominion, including the Karemma. This confirms what Eris said in “The Jem’Hadar” (since she was a spy, all her information has to be considered suspect). The Dominion is administered by the Vorta; people in the Dominion do what the Vorta say or the Vorta send in the Jem’Hadar. (That the Vorta is Eris’s species has not yet been established.)
Favorite Tough little ship: From “Defiant”: Hilariously, I had chosen this header for the section on the Defiant based on Will Riker’s line in First Contact, having completely forgotten that Tom Riker said the exact same thing about the ship in this episode. Ronald D. Moore scripted both movie and episode, so the movie line was probably a deliberate callback. Either way, it fits, as the Defiant destroys an outpost and two ships with only minimal damage to itself. (Kira does more damage with her sabotage, truly.)
Also we get our first mention of quantum torpedoes, which are apparently bigger and badder than photon torpedoes....
Favorite No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: From “Fascination”: Where do I even begin....
Jake, having broken up with Mardah, hits on Kira, who is hit on (and hit on back) by Bashir and is no longer being hit on by Bareil, who’s hitting on Dax, who’s hitting on Sisko (leading to Bareil hitting Sisko). As an added bonus, Quark hits on Keiko. Given the red dress she’s wearing, I’d have hit on her too. And Lwaxana spends the entire episode hitting on Odo, to no avail, though she does get in a kiss at the end.
Favorite Welcome aboard: This season sees the debut of several new recurring characters: Jeffrey Combs as Brunt (“Family Business”), Salome Jens as the female changeling (“The Search” two-parter, “Heart of Stone”), Penny Johnson as Yates (“Family Business”), William Lucking as Furel (“Shakaar”), Kenneth Marshall as Eddington (“The Search” two-parter, “The Die is Cast,” “The Adversary”), Chase Masterson as Leeta (“Explorers,” “Facets”), Julianna McCarthy as Mila (“Improbable Cause”), and Duncan Regehr as Shakaar and Diane Salinger as Lupaza (both in “Shakaar”). Plus, Robert O’Reilly comes over from TNG to make his first of many appearances on this show as Gowron in “The House of Quark.”
Previously established recurring guests show up as well: Marc Alaimo as Dukat, Philip Anglim as Bareil, Majel Barrett as Lwaxana, Felecia M. Bell as Jennifer, Leslie Bevis as Rionoj, Rosalind Chao as Keiko, Paul Dooley as Tain, Aron Eisenberg as Nog, Louise Fletcher as Winn, Ann Gillespie as Jabara, Max Grodénchik as Rom, Hana Hatae as Molly, Natalija Nogulich as Nechayev, Andrew J. Robinson as Garak, Wallace Shawn as Zek, and Tiny Ron as Maihar’du.
Other nifty-keeno guests include Mary Kay Adams (“The House of Quark”), Erick Avari (“Destiny”), John Doman (“Shakaar”), John Fleck (“The Search, Part I”), Martha Hackett (“The Search” two-parter), Annette Helde (“Visionary”), Bari Hochwald (“Explorers”), Clint Howard (“Past Tense, Part II”), Tina Lifford (the “Past Tense” two-parter), Andrea Martin (“Family Business”), Frank Military and Dick Miller (both in the “Past Tense” two-parter), Tricia O’Neil (“Defiant”), Leland Orser (“The Die is Cast”), Lawrence Pressman (“Second Skin,” “The Adversary”), Wendy Robie (“Destiny”), Joseph Ruskin (“The House of Quark,” “Improbable Cause”), Tim Russ (“Through the Looking Glass”), Leon Russom (“The Die is Cast”), Jill Sayre (“The Abandoned”), Tracy Scoggins (“Destiny”), Jack Shearer (“Visionary”), Gregory Sierra (“Second Skin”), Bill Smitrovich (the “Past Tense” two-parter), Deborah Van Valkenberg (“Past Tense, Part II”), and Lark Voorhies (“Life Support”).
But the big guest this season is Jonathan Frakes, who shows up letting everyone think he’s appearing as Will Riker, only to pull a bait-and-switch and be Tom Riker from TNG’s “Second Chances” in “Defiant.”
Favorite Keep your ears open: From “Second Skin”: “I’ll go along on your fool’s errand, but I want one thing to be perfectly clear: I have no intention of sacrificing my life to save yours. If it looks like we’re in danger of being captured, if there’s any sign of trouble at all, you’re on your own.”
“Mr. Garak, I believe that’s the first completely honest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“How perceptive of you, Commander.”
Garak and Sisko, both speaking truth.
Favorite Trivial matter: Probably the one for “Defiant,” for what the episode established, for what it picked up on, and for the number of ways it was followed up on in the tie-in fiction.
Walk with the Prophets: “Begin Captain’s Log, Stardate 48960.9.” There is much to admire about this season. For starters, it redresses two flaws from the show’s earliest days. In “The House of Quark,” Keiko is no longer being unconvincingly crowbarred into the role of schoolmarm, and instead is allowed to be what she was established way back in TNG’s “Data’s Day” as being: a botanist. And then at the end of the season, Sisko gets a long-overdue promotion to captain.
Plus, the character work this season is superb. Of particular note is some stellar acting, particularly Nana Visitor’s refusal to give in when confronted with the idea of being a Cardassian sleeper agent in “Second Skin,” Avery Brooks trying to survive the 21st century in the “Past Tense” two-parter, Rene Auberjonois’s impressive display of Odo’s evolution over the course of the season, pretty much every single moment Andrew J. Robinson is on screen, and, perhaps most impressively, Aron Eisenberg’s heartfelt delivery of Nog’s explanation of why he wants to join Starfleet in “Heart of Stone.”
But ultimately, rewatching this season has led me to a similar feeling of mild disappointment that I got after I finished TNG’s fifth season. Some true high points, but an overall sense that the season wasn’t all it could have been. Yes, there are some great episodes here—“The House of Quark,” “Second Skin,” “Defiant,” and especially the “Improbable Cause”/“The Die is Cast” two-parter are brilliant, and the “Past Tense” two-parter is a very well done piece of Trek social commentary—but also a lot of episodes that are less than they could’ve been. Some are done in by poor acting (“Equilibrium,” “Life Support”), others by plot holes (“Civil Defense,” “The Adversary”), or both (“Meridian,” “Fascination”).
And perhaps the biggest disappointment is that “The Search” two-parter gave us so much wonderful setup for the future—and then very few of the subsequent 24 episodes did a damn thing with it. Talak’talan said in “The Jem’Hadar” that the Dominion would view any entry to the Gamma Quadrant as an act of war, yet the Defiant went into the GQ in “Meridian” with no consequences whatsoever. More fundamentally, though, the Dominion threat was either nonexistent or passive until the season finale. The Jem’Hadar baby threatened the station in “The Abandoned,” but his arrival was an accident (though that episode did showcase how brutal the Founders are in their genetic manipulation of their soldiers). The female changeling’s actions in “Heart of Stone” were designed to learn more about Odo, not threaten the Alpha Quadrant. Even the Dominion’s biggest victory of the season, in “The Die is Cast,” was a reaction to someone else’s plan, and they won by exploiting Tain’s hubris.
For that matter, we’re given a shiny new ship in the Defiant, and precious little is done with it. Sisko takes it to Trill in “Equilibrium” for a mission that a runabout would be better suited for, and its use in “Meridian” isn’t much of an improvement. The ship gets to kick ass and take names in “The Die is Cast,” but the episode gains nothing by the Defiant’s presence, indeed would’ve been just as effective without it. Hell, the Maquis get better use of the ship when they steal it in “Defiant.”
The exception to the above two paragraphs is “The Adversary,” but it’s unfortunate that it took an entire season to do something substantive with either the Dominion threat or the ship that was assigned to DS9 to deal with same.
Warp factor rating for the season: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido is thrilled that fellow Tor.com blogger Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer has waxed rhapsodic on the subject of my Trek novel A Time for War, a Time for Peace on this here site.