Rating: Babylon 5, Season 3

The action revs up in season 3 of Babylon 5, bringing both new characters and higher stakes. Here’s how we rated this season’s episodes:

Babylon 5 season 3 cover
  1. “Matters of Honor” – 5.5
  2. “Convictions” – 2.5
  3. “A Day in the Strife” – 4
  4. “Passing through Gethsemane” – 5.5
  5. “Voices of Authority” – 4
  6. “Dust to Dust” – 5.5
  7. “Exogenesis” – 2
  8. “Messages from Earth” – 5.5
  9. “Point of No Return” – 8
  10. “Severed Dreams” – 8
  11. “Ceremonies of Light and Dark” – 4.5
  12. “Sic Transit Vir” – 6
  13. “A Late Delivery from Avalon” – 3
  14. “Ship of Tears” – 4
  15. “Interludes and Examinations” – 6
  16. “War Without End, Part 1” – 7.5
  17. “War Without End, Part 2” – 8
  18. “Walkabout” – 4.5
  19. “Grey 17 is Missing” – 4.5
  20. “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place” – 6.5
  21. “Shadow Dancing” – 5.5
  22. “Z’Ha’Dum” – 8

There’s a step up in the ratings this season, with the average hitting 5.4 after the previous season’s 4.5. Most episodes are comfortably in the 4-6 range of “okay, but not great,” with only a few lower and several standing out higher.

This season sees a couple of changes to the cast. The Minbari-trained human ranger Marcus Cole joins the station, bringing a distinctive wry quirkiness. At times the witty, roguish, smooth character veers perilously close to being a Mary Sue, but the warmth and charm of Jason Carter’s performance is usually enough to save him from tipping over the edge. In addition, the telepath Lyta Alexander returns in a shake-up of the cast (the previous seasons’ telepath, Talia Winters, was reportedly a casualty of contract negotiations with the actor). Lyta’s return is welcome, and Patricia Tallman plays the ambiguity of the character—a human serving the mysterious Vorlons—well enough.

Along with the changes to the cast we get some significant forward motion in the larger story this season. The war with the Shadows heats up at the same time that the Earth government goes full-bore fascist. Our heroes on the Babylon 5 station are caught in the middle of both developments and have to move fast in response. Meanwhile, the Centauri invasion of Narn enters a dangerous new phase.

Our lowest-rated episode of this season is a side-story without much connection to the larger arcs. In “Exogenesis,” a 2, Marcus and Dr. Franklin investigate strange goings-on among the station’s homeless. The episode does offer Marcus and Stephen a chance to bond, but beyond that there’s not much substance to the story. It feels more like a first-season episode, a self-contained story building the background of the setting but not connected to much else.

For the best episode of this season, though, we are spoiled for choice. Four episodes get an 8 from us, with a fifth one close behind at 7.5. First there’s “Point of No Return” and “Severed Dreams,” not properly speaking a two-parter, but two episodes in a row that both see the Babylon 5 crew have to deal with the consequences of Earthgov’s violent power grabs, culminating in a watershed moment when Babylon 5 declares itself independent. The next is a proper two-parter: “War Without End,” Parts 1 and 2, a clever revisiting of the first season’s time travel story “Babylon Squared” in which we see the reappearance of the Babylon 4 station from a new perspective, and Captain Sinclair gets his send-off. Finally there’s the last episode “Z’Ha’Dum,” in which Captain Sheridan sets off to the homeworld of the Shadows to discover what drives them.

Season 3 effectively builds on what seasons 1 and 2 accomplished, and it sets the stage for the dramatic events coming in season 4. Overall, quite a strong season and worth a rewatch.

Image: Babylon 5 season 3 cover via IMDb

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Rating: Babylon 5, Season 2

The second season of Babylon 5 brings in a new captain and a new look for the Minbari ambassador, and sees the larger story begin to take shape. Here’s how we rated this season’s episodes:

Babylon 5 season 2 DVD box cover
  1. “Points of Departure” – 4
  2. “Revelations” – 5.5
  3. “The Geometry of Shadows” – 2.5
  4. “A Distant Star” – 1.5
  5. “The Long Dark” – 4
  6. “A Spider in the Web” – 4
  7. “Soul Mates” – 7
  8. “A Race Through Dark Places” – 4
  9. “The Coming of Shadows” – 5.5
  10. “GROPOS” – 4
  11. “All Alone in the Night” – 4
  12. “Acts of Sacrifice” – 4.5
  13. “Hunter, Prey” – 4.5
  14. “There All the Honor Lies” – 5.5
  15. “And Now for a Word” – 4.5
  16. “In the Shadows of Z’Ha’Dum” – 8
  17. “Knives” – 4.5
  18. “Confessions and Lamentations” – 4
  19. “Divided Loyalties” – 6
  20. “The Long, Twilight Struggle” – 5.5
  21. “Comes the Inquisitor” – 0
  22. “The Fall of Night” – 6

Season 2 comes in slightly ahead of season 1, with an average rating of 4.5, up just a little from the first season’s 4.4. Most of this season’s episodes fall between 4 and 5.5, a competent if not inspiring range. Only a few stand out above this range, but not many fall under it, either. Most episodes have their weaknesses, but they also offer something worth seeing in terms of developing the story or giving the characters room to grow.

This season has two pieces of narrative heavy lifting to accomplish. The first is to establish Bruce Boxleitner’s John Sheridan as the replacement for Michael O’Hare’s Jeffery Sinclair. O’Hare bowed out of the series after the first season, as we know now, because of his increasingly difficult mental health problems, even though important elements of the ongoing story had already been tied to the character. The transition to the new station commander is a little clunky at times, but O’Hare’s decision to leave is completely understandable, and it is a credit both to Boxleitner and to the production team that they found ways to position the new captain where they needed him for the long-term story without just making him a copy of Sinclair.

The other major piece of business this season accomplishes is establishing the growing menace of the Shadows. The slow build is expertly handled, with little pieces of information filtering in, episode by episode, letting us know that something is out there, something powerful and terrifying, without giving the game away too soon. If for nothing else, the gradual build-up of the Shadows makes it worth rewatching most if not all of the season.

Our lowest-rated episode of the season is “Comes the Inquisitor,” which we gave a complete 0. In this episode, the Vorlons subject Ambassador Delenn to a cruel test of her worthiness as a tool against the rise of the Shadows. The writing is loose, the characterization weak, and the story driven too much by larger narrative needs and a giggling serial killer fanboyism, not enough by the characters within it.

At the other end of the scale, “In the Shadows of Z’Ha’Dum” gets an 8. This episode does a lot to establish important elements for the future of the series, but it remains deeply grounded in the lives and emotions of the characters themselves. Sheridan confronts the Shadows’ agent Morden about his connection to the expedition that killed Sheridan’s wife. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the station, the pseudo-fascist government of Earth extends its tendrils into Babylon 5 through the innocuous-sounding but insidious Night Watch. The tensions are high in this episode, and the actors carry it well.

Babylon 5 remains a product of a different time, not just in television but in our history. The age shows, but time has been kinder to some of its elements than to others. Some parts of season 2 feel awkwardly dated now, other parts chillingly apt. But still, it is (for the most part) worth a rewatch.

Image: Babylon 5 season 2 DVD cover via IMDb

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Rating: Babylon 5, Season 1

Babylon 5 is something you either fondly remember or have forgotten ever existed. There isn’t much middle ground for this ambitious, expansive, flawed masterpiece of science fiction television. Here’s what we thought on our rewatch of season 1 (note that this does not include the pilot movie, “The Gathering”):

Babylon 5 season 1 DVD cover
  1. “Midnight on the Firing Line” – 5.5
  2. “Soul Hunter” – 4
  3. “Born to the Purple” – 4
  4. “Infection” – 3
  5. “Parliament of Dreams” – 8
  6. “Mind War” – 6
  7. “The War Prayer” – 2.5
  8. “And the Sky Full of Stars” – 4
  9. “Deathwalker” – 2
  10. “Believers” – 3
  11. “Survivors” – 4
  12. “By Any Means Necessary” – 7
  13. “Signs and Portents” – 6
  14. “TKO” – 2.5
  15. “Grail” – 5
  16. “Eyes” – 5
  17. “Legacies” – 6.5
  18. “A Voice in the Wilderness, part 1” – 4
  19. “A Voice in the Wilderness, part 2” – 3.5
  20. “Babylon Squared” – 5
  21. “The Quality of Mercy” – 5
  22. “Chrysalis” – 3.5

The average rating this season is a rather low 4.4. It’s a shaky start for a series that aimed to do so much, perhaps unavoidably so since the greater story Babylon 5 wanted to tell required so much background and worldbuilding. Some episodes this season end up falling flat because they were there not so much to tell an episode-long story as to fill us in on things we would need to know later. The idea of telling a connected arc story over dozens or hundreds of individual episodes was still new and largely untested in US media (apart from soap operas, which occupied a very different space in entertainment than B5 aspired to). Season 1 played it safe, probably by necessity, convincing both an uninitiated audience and a hesitant network to buy into the world of the show before striking out into such new territory. Three decades on and arcs are everywhere, even in series that don’t really need them. B5 may seem quaint now, like a Model-T car, but without it our modern television landscape might look very different.

Babylon 5 is a collection of contradictions. It is two parts Star Trek and one part Tolkien, with too much geeking out over the physics of space travel to be fantasy and too many ancient prophecies and mystical rebirths to be science fiction. It is the most Star Trek-like of all the shows that sold themselves as “not like Star Trek,” and the one that most strenuously insists on the difference. In some ways, it is timeless, telling a story that spans the lifetime of the universe and finding its narrative touchstones in everything from Arthurian legend to World War II. In other ways, it is unmistakably a product of the US in the nineties: a time when we believed competent military technocrats could solve everything, thought Russia was going to be our friend and Japan an alien menace, and bought collarless shirts and Zima.

But the contradiction that strikes us the most on rewatching is in the talents of the actors. Most of the main cast are adequate, if not inspiring. Guest roles are a mixed bag of lifeless line readings and overdone melodrama. There’s a lot of tedious under- and overacted scenes to get past if you want to watch Babylon 5 straight through. Yet amid these tepid talents are some blazing stars. Claudia Christian as the snarky second in command Ivanova owns every scene she’s in. Bill Mumy’s Lennier and Stephen Furst’s Vir, two junior diplomatic aides, are as endearingly awkward now as they were three decades ago and a delight to rewatch. But the most mesmerizing performances come from Peter Jurasik as the louche, cynical Centauri Ambassador Mollari and Andreas Katsulas as the canny, passionate Narn Ambassador G’Kar. Every scene with either one of them is elevated by their presence, and the scenes with both positively crackle with energy. Watching the two of them dance around one another like knife fighters, first as mortal enemies and later as fire-forged allies if not exactly friends, is as thrilling now as it was the first time around.

Babylon 5 is a parade of strengths and weaknesses, and it is in some sense to its credit that the two do not cancel each other out. Not surprisingly, the worst episode of the season falls under the weight of a lot of these weaknesses, and the best soars with the strengths. At the bottom of the heap we have “Deathwalker,” in which a war criminal from Narn’s past reappears offering the secret to eternal life. We rated it a 2. On rewatching, you can see that this episode helps set up the tensions between the galactic powers and the controlling hand of the Vorlons, but that comes at the expense of any meaningful development or resolution of the immediate conflict raised in the episode.

At the other end, the best episode of this season is “The Parliament of Dreams,” rating an 8. So much of what was great about B5 is on display in this episode. The main storyline, about a cultural exchange of religious traditions among the assembled ambassadors, gives depth and richness to the alien races while the secondary story, about an attempt on G’Kar’s life, gives the character some of his first opportunities for growth.

Do you have any special memories of the first season of Babylon 5? Let us know!

Image: Season 1 DVD cover of Babylon 5 via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 7

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ends on a high note. Here’s our ratings for the seventh and final season:

  1. “Image in the Sand” – 5.5
  2. “Shadows and Symbols” – 5
  3. “Afterimage” – 4.5
  4. “Take Me out to the Holosuite” – 10
  5. “Chrysalis” – 2
  6. “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River” – 6.5
  7. “Once More unto the Breach” – 2
  8. “The Siege of AR-558” – 5
  9. “Covenant” – 1
  10. “It’s Only a Paper Moon” – 8.5
  11. “Prodigal Daughter” – 3.5
  12. “The Emperor’s New Cloak” – 6
  13. “Field of Fire” – 4
  14. “Chimera” – 2
  15. “Bada-Bing Bada-Bang” – 8
  16. “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” – 5
  17. “Penumbra” – 4.5
  18. “’Til Death Do Us Part” – 3.5
  19. “Strange Bedfellows” – 7
  20. “The Changing Face of Evil” – 5.5
  21. “When It Rains…” – 5
  22. “Tacking into the Wind” – 6.5
  23. “Extreme Measures” – 6
  24. “The Dogs of War” – 7
  25. “What You Leave Behind” – 7

The final season comes with an average rating of 5.4, a solid way to end and the best season of the whole series. This average comes from a whole lot of episodes the decent-but-not-stellar range of 4-6. This season has only one real standout, but only a couple of clunkers, too. The final ten episodes of the season make up an arc covering the conclusion of the Dominion War, and these mostly hold up well (apart from “Penumbra” (4.5) and “”Til Death Do US Part” (3.5), which are a bit weaker as both mostly serve to set up plotlines for later episodes to pay off).

Nicole de Boer joins the cast this season, playing the next host to the symbiont Dax after Jadzia’s death. As the newest addition, she gets a fair number of episodes focused on her and her struggles to reconcile herself to her new memories without the years of preparation usually given to Trill host candidates. We’re sad to lose Terry Farrell and her swashbuckling smart-ass science officer Jadzia, but Ezri Dax is a worthy addition to the crew.

The weakest episode this season is “Covenant,” in which we discover Gul Dukat leading a cult of Bajoran pah wraith worshipers in an abandoned Cardassian station. Marc Alaimo is as brilliantly slimy as ever in his performance, but he can’t save an episode that feels both predictable and hollow. The pah wraiths had potential as an inscrutable foil to the equally inscrutable prophets, but the writers decided to turn them into standard-issue evil gods and never put much effort into thinking about their relationship to Bajor.

At the other end of the scale, though, we get the wonderfully warm and silly “Take Me out to the Holosuite,” a full 10, in which Sisko goes a bit off the rails trying to beat an old rival who challenged him at his favorite game: baseball. It’s charming to see how the crew rallies around Sisko, even as he gets too caught up in the competition, and utterly heartwarming to see him finally realize how his obsession with winning had blinded him to what made him love the game in the first place. This episode is a refreshing break from the ongoing Dominion War story, and the best realization I’ve seen of the old adage that “It’s not whether you win or lose that matters, but how you play the game.”

A couple of other episodes are worth noting. “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” at 8.5, deals with the consequences of Nog losing his leg a couple of episodes earlier in “The Siege of AR-558.” This episode rests on the performances of Aron Eisenberg as Nog and James Darren as the holographic singer Vic Fontaine. Both pull the episode off with subtlety and depth, and it is a tribute to the series that it trusted such a weighty episode to two side characters. Vic also features in “Bada-Bing Bada-Bang,” (8) a light-hearted holosuite casino caper that gives us a nice breather before the plunge into the final arc.

Thanks for being with us for our Deep Space Nine rewatch. Feel free to share your favorite episodes and memories!

Image: The Niners celebrate a manufactured triumph, from “Take Me out to the Holosuite” via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 6

The Dominion war heats up, taking the characters of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in lots of new directions, some more interesting than others. Here’s our take on what season 6 has to offer.

  1. “A Time to Stand” – 6
  2. “Rocks and Shoals” – 7
  3. “Sons and Daughters” – 0
  4. “Behind the Lines” – 3.5
  5. “Favor the Bold” – 5
  6. “Sacrifice of Angels” – 6
  7. “You Are Cordially Invited” – 8.5
  8. “Resurrection” – 2
  9. “Statistical Probabilities” – 4
  10. “The Magnificent Ferengi” – 8.5
  11. “Waltz” – 3
  12. “Who Mourns for Morn?” – 7.5
  13. “Far Beyond the Stars” – 8
  14. “One Little Ship” – 9
  15. “Honor Among Thieves” – 0
  16. “Change of Heart” – 4
  17. “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night” – 0
  18. “Inquisition” – 2
  19. “In the Pale Moonlight” – 7
  20. “His Way” – 1
  21. “The Reckoning” – 4
  22. “Valiant” – 2
  23. “Profit and Lace” – 2
  24. “Time’s Orphan” – 6
  25. “The Sound of Her Voice” – 4
  26. “Tears of the Prophets” – 5.5

This season’s ratings are all over the place. There are a number of strong episodes in the 7-9 range, but also multiple 0s. The average comes to 4.4, in line with season 5 and a bit less than seasons 3 and 4. It seems a bit unfair to average out this season’s episodes, though, because there are so many different things going on. The Dominion war storyline runs through the season and provides a lot of solid episodes. There are also big moments of character development, some good—Worf and Dax getting married in “You are Coridally Invited”, everyone’s favorite barfly getting a backstory in “Who Mourns for Morn?”—some less good—Kira doing a reverse Back to the Future on her mother and Gul Dukat in “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night,” Quark learning what it’s like to be a feeeemale in “Profit and Lace”. Then there are some episodes that just come out of nowhere, like Sisko having a vision of twentieth century science fiction and racism in “Far Beyond the Stars.”

At the bottom end of the scale, we have a trifecta of absolute 0s. There’s “Sons and Daughters,” in which Worf’s son Alexander and Dukat’s daughter Ziyal both get to have strained relationships with their respective fathers. There’s “Honor Among Thieves,” in which O’Brien inexplicably has an undercover mission infiltrating a seedy crime syndicate, an episode with no good reason to exist, let alone be in this series. And there’s the aforementioned “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night,” a limp episode for such a pretentious title that is both overly contrived and weightless at the same time. I’ve mentioned before that it sometimes feels like there was a frustrated noir writer in the writers’ room, and they have their fingerprints on this season as well. “Honor Among Thieves” is straight-up noir, and “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night” leans hard in the same direction. It’s as uninterseting now as it was before.

But this season also has some great episodes at the other end of the scale. The best of the season is “One Little Ship,” at 9, in which a miniaturized Dax, Bashir, and O’Brien in a miniaturized runabout help rescue the Defiant from being captured by the Jem’Hadar. It’s a fun episode that gives all the characters something to do and nicely balances the silliness of its main conceit with the seriousness of the ongoing war plot. Two more episodes that also strike a good balance between goofiness and gravity are “You Are Cordially Invited” and “The Magnificent Ferengi,” both at 8.5. In “You Are Cordially Invited,” the weighty question of whether Worf and Dax can make it as a couple despite their differences is interwoven with Klingon wedding rituals that are as gloriously over the top as you would imagine. “The Magnificent Ferengi” finds Quark, Rom, Nog, and some of our other favorite Ferengi mounting a rescue operation when their Moogie is captured by the Dominion, and it goes both hopelessly wrong and delightfully right.

For all that Deep Space Nine is remembered as the dark, gritty version of Star Trek, filled with tension and war, it has also given us some of the goofiest, most wonderfully weird episodes of the franchise.

Image: Little O’Brien and Little Dax contemplate big problems on the Defiant, from “One Little Ship” via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 5

It’s a bit of a lackluster fifth season for Deep Space Nine, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bright spots. Here’s our take:

  1. “Apocalypse Rising” – 4
  2. “The Ship” – 5.5
  3. “Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” – 7
  4. “Nor the Battle to the Strong” – 5
  5. “The Assignment” – 2.5
  6. “Trials and Tribble-ations” – 9
  7. “Let He Who Is Without Sin” – 1
  8. “Things Past” – 1.5
  9. “The Ascent” – 7.5
  10. “Rapture” – 5.5
  11. “The Darkness and the Light” – 1
  12. “The Begotten” – 4
  13. “For the Uniform” – 3.5
  14. “In Purgatory’s Shadow” – 4.5
  15. “By Inferno’s Light” – 5.5
  16. “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” – 6
  17. “A Simple Investigation” – 2
  18. “Business as Usual” – 1.5
  19. “Ties of Blood and Water” – 2
  20. “Ferengi Love Songs” – 5
  21. “Soldiers of the Empire” – 6
  22. “Children of Time” – 4.5
  23. “Blaze of Glory” – 3.5
  24. “Empok Nor” – 1
  25. “In the Cards” – 8
  26. “Call to Arms” – 8.5

The average rating for the season is 4.4, not terrible but a bit weak. There are some good episodes this season, even some great ones, but there’s also a lot of crud at the other end of the scale dragging the average down.

The worst episode of the season is a rare three-way tie between “Let He Who Is Without Sin,” a character study of a grumpy Klingon; “The Darkness and the Light,” an overblown bit of noir that kills off some of Kira’s more entertaining old resistance buddies; and “Empok Nor,” another bit of noir which forces the usually sparkling Andrew Robinson to play a duller, flatter version of Garak. All of these rate a 1 for having tedious plots (if any at all) and wringing the joy and life out of the performances. In fact, a pall of noir hangs over a lot of the lowest-rating episodes this season, suffused with angst, tension, and cynicism. “The Assignment” (2.5), “Things Past” (1.5), “A Simple Investigation” (2), and “Business as Usual” (1.5) all feel like the writers’ room was full of frustrated 40s detective pulp scribes.

On the other hand, there are some brilliant episodes this season, too. The best of the lot is “Trials and Tribble-ations,” coming in at 9 with a joyful celebration of both the spirit and the silliness of classic Star Trek. The loving recreation of the classic sets, costumes, and props, plus the ingenious ways our DS9 crew get to have their own adventure in the background of one of the great comedy episodes of the original, make this episode a delight to rewatch. The same spirit of fun animates “In the Cards” (8) and “Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” (7), two episodes that part the gloom of war and politics for a moment to let the relationships between the characters flourish. And the season ender, “Call to Arms” (8.5) is a gripping action piece that throws all of our characters into unexpected situations for the start of the next season.

There may be a lot to skip this season, but there are definitely some episodes that are well worth going back to.

Image: Sisko and Dax blending in on the original Enterprise, from “Trials and Tribble-ations” via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 4

Season 4 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has some great episodes and some fairly bad misfires. The Klingons, having been quiet for years, are suddenly feeling aggressive again, and our favorite Klingon, Worf, joins the station crew to help them deal with the consequences. This story fuels a good part of the season, but there’s plenty more to see, too. Here’s our take:

  1. “The Way of the Warrior” – 7
  2. “The Visitor” – 9
  3. “Hippocratic Oath” – 5.5
  4. “Indiscretion” – 5.5
  5. “Rejoined” – 8
  6. “Starship Down” – 8
  7. “Little Green Men” – 8
  8. “The Sword of Kahless” – 1.5
  9. “Our Man Bashir” – 10
  10. “Homefront” – 3
  11. “Paradise Lost” – 5
  12. “Crossfire” – 2
  13. “Return to Grace” – 4
  14. “Sons of Mogh” – 1
  15. “Bar Association” – 7
  16. “Accession” – 2
  17. “Rules of Engagement” – 2
  18. “Hard Time” – 2
  19. “Shattered Mirror” – 3.5
  20. “The Muse” – 2
  21. “For the Cause” – 4
  22. “To the Death” – 6
  23. “The Quickening” – 4.5
  24. “Body Parts” – 6
  25. “Broken Link” – 4

The average rating this season is 4.9, the same as in season 3, but season 4 gets there a different way. Where season 3’s episodes were mostly in the weak-average to average-good range, season 4 sends its episodes to the far ends of the scale. Only a handful fall in the 4-6 okay-but-not-great range; most are either well above or well below.

The distribution of ratings shows a certain level of confidence by the writers this season. You can tell that they felt comfortable enough with the characters and the setting at this point that they were ready to try new ideas, even really weird ones. What if we spent an episode in the holosuite playing a James Bond pastiche? What if we met a suicidal Klingon? What if Quark, Rom, and Nog were the Roswell aliens? What if there were a conspiracy to stage a military coup on Earth?

Some of these ideas really flop, like “Sons of Mogh,” scoring only a 1, in which Worf has to deal with his brother Kurn, who is depressed about the loss of status their family has suffered in the empire. The story presents the kind of ethical dilemma Star Trek specializes in—suicide is an honorable end for a Klingon with no hope, but it is unacceptable for a Starfleet officer like Worf—but never goes anywhere interesting with it. The episode boils down to Kurn standing on one side of Worf shouting “Kill me!” and the rest of the station crew on the other shouting “Don’t!” There’s nowhere interesting for this story to go.

On the other hand, some of these ideas pay off brilliantly, like “Our Man Bashir,” a full 10, which finds Dr. Bashir and Garak playing a swinging-sixties spy game in the holosuite for much higher stakes than they expected. DS9 largely avoids the Next Generation shtick of having the holodeck go haywire so the crew can have an adventure in period garb, but this episode figures out a way to make the holosuite matter: after a transporter accident, the main station crew’s physical patterns are stored on the holosuite until they can be rescued, but if the game shuts down they could be lost forever. This set-up gives us several delightful results: Bashir, the doctor playing spy, and Garak, the spy playing tailor, take their witty repartee to new heights in this episode, while some of the other regular cast get to go full ham in their holosutie roles—Nana Visitor as a sultry Russian agent and Avery Brooks as an omnicidal mad scientist steal every scene they’re in.

The rest of this season largely follows suit. Some ideas, like sending Worf and Dax on a quest for a lost Klingon artifact in “The Sword of Kahless”, just sputter and die. Others yield fantastic episodes, like “Little Green Men,” a hilarious romp through pulp sci-fi tropes, or “The Visitor,” a touching meditation on the power of love and memory.

While the Klingon war story at times just feels like a holding action while waiting for the Dominion to make its move, it also gives the series some new avenues to explore. This season does a lot of interesting work by overturning the status quo and seeing what happens to familiar characters in unfamiliar situations. Worf, Quark, Odo, and Dukat all find themselves cut off from their people in different ways; Sisko faces the possibility of treason within Starfleet; Dax has to grapple with the legacy of her past lives in ways she has not faced before; and Rom and Nog start new lives outside the traditional bounds of Ferengi culture.

Season 4 has a lot going for it, even if not every idea works. There’s a lot here that’s well worth coming back to.

Image: Bashir and Garak all tuxed up from “Our Man Bashir” via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 3

We’re back with season 3 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and things are starting to look up as the series moves further toward developing its characters and its longer-term plots. Here’s our episode ratings:

  1. “The Search, Part I” – 4
  2. “The Search, Part II” – 5.5
  3. “The House of Quark” – 8
  4. “Equilibrium” – 4.5
  5. “Second Skin” – 5.5
  6. “The Abandoned” – 2
  7. “Civil Defense” – 6.5
  8. “Meridian” – 3.5
  9. “Defiant” – 4.5
  10. “Fascination” – 4.5
  11. “Past Tense, Part I” – 3
  12. “Past Tense, Part II” – 3
  13. “Life Support” – 4
  14. “Heart of Stone” – 7
  15. “Destiny” – 6
  16. “Prophet Motive” – 6.5
  17. “Visionary” – 6
  18. “Distant Voices” – 3.5
  19. “Through the Looking Glass” – 4
  20. “Improbable Cause” – 6
  21. “The Die is Cast” – 5
  22. “Explorers” – 6
  23. “Family Business” – 5
  24. “Shakaar” – 4
  25. “Facets” – 5
  26. “The Adversary” – 4.5

The average rating for this season is 4.9, a good step up from last season’s 3.9. There are few particularly good episodes this season, but also few particularly bad ones. Most sit comfortably in the okay-but-not-great 4 to 6 range.

You can tell that both the writers and the actors are more at ease with the characters and ready to push them in interesting directions. This season Kira has to reckon with the consequences of her violent past as a freedom fighter, Jake takes his first faltering steps as an adult, while Sisko the elder gets a promotion to captain, a new ship, and a handsome bald head. Even minor characters such as Nog, Garak, and Kai Winn experience substantial changes. No one faces as much of a challenge this season, though, as Odo, who discovers his people only to learn the horrible truth about them.

Our lowest rating this season goes to “The Abandoned,” at 2, in which Odo tries to show a young Jem’Hadar an alternative to violence. Despite a strong performance by Rene Auberjonois, this episode falls flat. There is little development and no payoff in this story. Other episodes do a much better job of both exploring the Jem’Hadar and showing us how Odo deals with the atrocities committed by the Founders. It also hews uncomfortably close to the racist 90s discourse of “superpredators.”

At the other end, we have the delightful “House of Quark,” at 8, as our highest-rated episode. This episode is a violent but entertaining comedy of manners as the bloody, honor-bound world of Klingon dynastic politics collides with the cowardly but cunning financial chicanery of the Ferengi. Armin Shimerman and guest star Mary Kay Adams play marvelously off one another as the lovable Ferengi rogue Quark and the imperious Klingon grande dame Grilka, while Robert O’Reilly, who plays the normally intense and calculating Chancellor Gowron gets to do a bit of slapstick comedy. Also worth noting is “Heart of Stone,” at 7, in which Odo confesses his love to what he thinks is a dying Kira, and Nog seeks Sisko’s support for joining Starfleet Academy; both stories give us some excellent acting and interesting character development.

This season sees some significant shifts toward the long-term storytelling that would define DS9‘s later seasons. Although most episodes remain standalone (or self-contained two-parters), many of them bring important changes to characters or plotlines which are picked up by later episodes. The politics of both Bajor and Cardassia, as well as the relationship between them, see major upheavals this season, while the threat of the Dominion becomes more sharply defined and its relationship with the Alpha Quadrant more complicated.

Got any favorites of your own from season 3? Let us know!

Image: Grilka and Quark in a marriage of (in)convenience, from “House of Quark” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 2

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took some time finding its legs, and season 2 is still pretty wobbly. Here’s how we rated this season’s episodes:

  1. “The Homecoming” – 5
  2. “The Circle” – 4.5
  3. “The Siege” – 6
  4. “Invasive Procedures” – 4
  5. “Cardassians” – 2
  6. “Melora” – 2
  7. “Rules of Acquisition” – 3.5
  8. “Necessary Evil” – 5
  9. “Second Sight” – 2
  10. “Sanctuary” – 2.5
  11. “Rivals” – 2.5
  12. “The Alternate” – 1
  13. “Armageddon Game” – 4
  14. “Whispers” – 6
  15. “Paradise” – 1
  16. “Shadowplay” – 5
  17. “Playing God” – 4
  18. “Profit and Loss” – 2
  19. “Blood Oath” – 5
  20. “The Maquis, Part 1” – 4
  21. “The Maquis, Part 2” – 5
  22. “The Wire” – 6.5
  23. “Crossover” – 5
  24. “The Collaborator” – 6
  25. “Tribunal” – 2
  26. “The Jem’Hadar” – 6

In all, not a great second season. The average rating is a meager 3.9, and there are no standout episodes like season 1’s “Duet.” You can tell that the actors were still growing into their roles, and the writers were still figuring out how to balance the optimistic, episodic tradition of Star Trek with the morally complicated ongoing stories they wanted to develop.

We have two episodes at the bottom of the barrel: “The Alternate” and “Paradise,” both rating only a 1. “The Alternate” promises some interesting development for Odo’s backstory when the crew finds remains of a similar being in ancient ruins, but only delivers a bog-standard fathers-and-sons-with-a-bad-relationship story. “Paradise” similarly promises a critique of the Federation’s techno-uptopia when Sisko and O’Brien crash on a planet where their technology doesn’t work, but delivers only a manipulative extremist who loves to give interminable monologues. These may be the most disappointing examples, but a lot of other episodes this season have interesting ideas in them that they can’t manage to do anything good with.

The best episode of the season is “The Wire,” at 6.5. In this episode, we learn more (but less than it seems) about the mysterious Cardassian tailor, Garak. While this episode has its weaknesses, it blossoms in the nuances of Andrew Robinson’s performance as Garak the erstwhile spy, by turns ingratiating, crabby, frightened, playful, and remorseful as he dangles hints of his past life just out of reach of the doctor who is trying to help him cope with a hidden addiction.

But if this season doesn’t have much to offer in the way of great episodes, it does lay a lot of the groundwork for the seasons to come. Important elements of the ongoing narrative are established or developed, like the Maquis resistance movement in the Badlands, the post-occupation chaos of Bajoran politics, the return to Classic Trek‘s “Mirror, Mirror” alternate universe, and the slowly growing menace of the Dominion in the gamma quadrant. Just as importantly, it sets up some of the important character and relationship growth that would become the heart of the series. Doctor Bashir and Chief O’Brien’s friendship first stretches its legs this season, as does Dax’s history with Commander Sisko. Recurring characters like Garak and Rom begin to come into their own.

Season 2 is not the best that Deep Space Nine has to offer, but it lays the foundation for the greatness that is to come.

Image: The operations crew at work, from “Playing God” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 1

With everything that’s going on this past year, we’ve been looking for comfort rewatching, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine offers a special kind of comfort. While the show was “dark and gritty” by the standards of the 1990s when it came out, it has a Star-Trekian humanity and optimism that we need right now. 2020 makes us appreciate the message of: “We’re all a little messed up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to make things better. The world’s a little messed up, too, and fixing it isn’t easy, but it is possible.”

Here’s how we rated season 1.

  1. “Emissary” – 8.5
  2. “Past Prologue” – 5
  3. “A Man Alone” – 4
  4. “Babel” – 6
  5. “Captive Pursuit” – 4
  6. “Q-Less” – 1.5
  7. “Dax” – 4.5
  8. “The Passengers” – 5
  9. “Move Along Home” – 2
  10. “The Nagus” – 5.5
  11. “Vortex” – 2
  12. “Battle Lines” – 3
  13. “The Storyteller” – 3
  14. “Progress” – 4
  15. “If Wishes Were Horses” – 3.5
  16. “The Forsaken” – 7
  17. “Dramatis Personae” – 4.5
  18. “Duet” – 9
  19. “In the Hands of the Prophets” – 8.5

It’s a rocky start to the series. Despite a strong opening, a strong closing, and some good episodes along the way, the average episode rating is only a pretty weak 4.8. Much of this season is spent establishing the main cast of characters and the unique place of Bajor and its history with the Cardassians in Star Trek‘s universe. Much of what we love about Deep Space Nine—the ongoing story, the relationships among the characters, the recurring cast of side characters—is still just being built here.

The worst episode of the season is “Q-Less” at 1.5, Next Generation‘s omnipotent pain-in-the-ass Q’s lone appearance in DS9. Clearly intended as a bridge to ease TNG fans into the new series, for established DS9 fans like us it just feels pointless and out of place. The shaggy dog story of “Move Along Home” and “Vortex,” an early attempt to develop Odo’s character that is hampered by a truly abysmal guest performance, both rate pretty low as well, at 2.

At the other end of the scale “Emissary,” the premiere, and the finale “In the Hands of the Prophets” are both standouts, at 8.5. “Emissary” does an excellent job introducing us to the main characters and to the world of the station and Bajor, graced with a powerful performance by Avery Brooks as Commander Sisko, still carrying the trauma of losing his wife Jennifer. “In the Hands of the Prophets” adds a new level of complexity to the Bajoran story and introduces some important new recurring characters. One of the great things in DS9 is its villains: the smug Cardassian Gul Dukat and the sanctimonious Bajoran Vedek (later Kai) Winn could have been flat one-note villains in lesser hands, but Marc Alaimo and Louise Fletcher give them a depth and nuance that holds up against the stellar performances by the main cast.

The quality of the acting shines in the season’s best episode as well: “Duet,” at 9. At its heart, it is a fairly simple story as Major Kira tries to prove that a mild-mannered Cardassian filing clerk is actually a wanted war criminal in disguise. Most of the episode is just two people in a room talking to each other, but every moment of that dialogue crackles with energy. In a modern tv landscape where writers think they have to kill off characters, concoct shocking twists, and splurge on special effects to keep viewers interested, “Duet” is a master class in how you write compelling drama.

Another delight of season 1 is seeing some of our favorite side characters in the early stages of their growth. Garak, the mysterious tailor, is intriguing from his first scene, long before his dark history as a secret agent unfolds. We also see Rom and Nog in the early stages of their transformation from bumbling idiot and conniving miscreant to bumbling sweetheart and upstanding Starfleet officer.

Got any favorite memories from DS9‘s first season? Share in the comments!

Image: Deep Space Nine season 1 cast via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.