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

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

The Importance of Being Spock

When I was young, there wasn’t a lot to choose from in children’s media. This was before the internet and back when there were only a few tv channels. What there was was mostly written for the “average kid.” Those of us who weren’t “average kids” (whatever that even means) didn’t have much chance to see ourselves reflected in the things we watched and read.

As a young person who enjoyed reading books, learning things, and thinking, I didn’t have many role models in my media. “Smart” characters tended to be portrayed as weirdos and outsiders. At best they could be inventive but eccentric cranks like Professor Calculus from Tintin. More often they were comically bumbling know-it-alls like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew from the Muppets or Owl from Winnie-the-Pooh. They were often insufferably arrogant about their intelligence, like Brainy Smurf. This was the image of smartness I saw as a young child: smug, generally useless, and barely tolerated by the people around them. (It’s also true that these characters were invariably male, but that’s a separate issue for another time.)

Then I discovered Star Trek. I can’t remember how old I was, but I was still pretty young when my sister and I stumbled across afternoon reruns of original series episodes on one of the local channels. I was hooked. It was my first exposure to adult speculative fiction, and it opened up a whole new world of storytelling to me, but there’s no question that there was one thing about Star Trek I loved above all else: Spock.

Spock from Star Trek

In some ways, Spock was like the other “smart” characters I had seen before. He was an outsider, an alien on a ship full of humans. He had quirks. He was sometimes razzed on by other characters (especially Dr. McCoy). But despite these things that set him apart, he was emphatically part of the crew, embraced and appreciated by them. His knowledge and intelligence were respected by his fellow spacefarers and often contributed to solving the problem of the episode. Spock was the first time I saw a smart character who was valued for being smart.

Anyone who knew me as a child knows how deeply I identified with Spock. I was Spock for Halloween at least once (and probably more often, though I can’t remember). When teased by my classmates (I wouldn’t say I was bullied, but kids are kids—sometimes people were mean to me, sometimes I was mean to them) I imitated his arch emotionlessness in self-defense. I devoured any kind of Star Trek trivia, but it was always Spock I loved the most.

As I grew older I gathered more role models for people who loved knowing things and whose knowledge was appreciated by those around them, from Sherlock Holmes and Brother Cadfael to Professor McGonagall and Jadzia Dax. But you never forget your first. Spock will always have a special place in my heart because in him I saw the first glimmer of what I wanted to become: someone whose love of books and ideas could become something valuable I could contribute to the world around me. I know I’m not alone in these feelings. I think a lot of the quiet, bookish kids of my generation first saw ourselves in Spock.

We’ve come a long way since then. There’s lots more to choose from for kids’ tv, movies, and books these days. I wonder if that makes a difference, or if there are other touchstone characters for younger generations of thoughtful, curious kids.

What about the rest of you? Who was the fictional character you first looked at and thought: “That’s me?”

In Character is an occasional feature looking at some of our favorite characters from written works and media to see what drives them, what makes them work, and what makes us love them so much.

MCU’s One Hour Dancing Zemo Loop

One unexpected thing to come out of Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—have you seen it, by the way?—is definitely this video clip:

ONE HOUR DANCING ZEMO | Marvel Studios’ The Falcon and The Winter Soldier | Disney+ by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

Not only is Daniel Brühl’s performance great—he looks bored and baffled, and yet simultaneously slightly entertained, until he seems really to enjoy himself.

But. Baron Zemo. Dancing in a disco! Looped for an hour? Made and uploaded by Marvel itself, not a fan?!?

I think it’s absolutely hilarious, which makes me think either I’m completely out of the cool loop, or Marvel actually did manage to hit the zeitgeist on the nose, or it’s all haphazard. Or all at once, LOL!

Some things are just too silly not to share!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trailer for Debris

Has anyone followed news on Debris? It’s a new tv series described to be a bit like Fringe. Here’s a trailer:

DEBRIS | Official Trailer by NBC on YouTube

The story follows two agents, one from MI6 and the other from CIA, who investigate debris—surprise, surprise—from an alien spacecraft falling to Earth.

Debris is set to debut on NBC on March 01, 2021.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Ryan Coogler Is Developing a Wakanda Series for TV

Fantastic news for Wakanda fans! Tor.com reports that “[a]ccording to Deadline, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler has made a 5-year television deal with Disney. His first scheduled project will be a drama set in Wakanda that will be featured on Disney+.”

Flickering Myth Coogler Black Panther Set w Boseman

Apparently developing this series is a part of a broader deal between Coogler’s production company Proximity Media and Disney.

Although we don’t have any other details yet, not even a tentative name, I’m pretty excited. I absolutely loved Black Panther, and as long as he keeps—or is allowed to keep—to that ethos, I have high hopes for the series!

Image via Flickering Myth.

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

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

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

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