Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 25th Anniversary Retrospective: Season 3 As the shadow of war looms, the series goes from strength to strength.
25 years ago, on 3rd January 1993, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” made its TV debut in America. It wouldn’t reach UK TV screens until 22nd August later that year. To celebrate the 25th Anniversary, What The Craggus Saw is taking the time between those two premiere dates to revisit and review each season of what is arguably “Star Trek”‘s finest series.
Using the game-changing finale of season 2 as a springboard, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” launches into its third season with a real sense of urgency and confidence. Having finally revealed the threat of the Dominion, the series opens with a two-parter that thoroughly explores and expands their mythology. If you were expecting details to be drip-fed over the course of several seasons, as would be the approach now, then you’d be in for a surprise as famine turns to feast and the show puts it all out there, including revealing the identity of the mysterious ‘Founders’ and their long-term agenda when it comes to the Alpha Quadrant.
Rene Auberjonois, who had excelled as a man out-of-place, had always assumed that when the series finally revealed where Odo actually came from, there would be no more stories for him. He couldn’t have been more wrong as the revelation that Odo is one of the Founders starts off a sequence of events which would reverberate through to the end of the series. With the increased sense of tension and paranoia seeping into the Alpha Quadrant, the series still finds time to devote episodes to developing and expanding each character alongside the building series arc.
As is, by now, traditional, the fourth episode of the season deals with Dax having to deal with a new and unsuitable host and she also finds time for a doomed romance in a story, “Meridien”, which provided much of the framework for the recent season one finale of “The Orville”. Quark, too, gets a few notable episodes as he ends up leading a Klingon house, dealing with his mother’s social activism and handling the Grand Nagus’ newly found wormhole alien imposed altruism. There’s action and adventure with a return to the Mirror Universe (still nobody sensitive to light, mind) and a riff on “Die Hard” in “Civil Defence”, a spin on “A Nightmare On Elm Street” and “Red Dwarf”’s Emo-hawk in “Distant Voices” and even some terrific comedy as Lwaxana Troi returns to the station and turns Deep Space Nine into a well-played bedroom farce. There’s even a guest-spot for Riker from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” which offers a sequel to one of that series’ Season six episodes “Second Chances”. Some of the series’ trademarks further establish themselves in Season 3, too. The Cardassian drink Kanar assumes the colour and consistency it will retain for the rest of the show’s run: a black, treacly liquid, a far cry from the turquoise pseudo-WKD it was in its first appearance and there are several mentions of the techno-babble staple component, the self-sealing stem bolt. It’s also worth noting that despite the constant budget challenges to deliver a series of this calibre, the show did apparently have “Happy Birthday” money lying around, as the song features in its royalty-incurring entirety during Bashir’s “Distant Voices” visions.
And these diversions and amusements are necessary counterbalances as the series continues to weigh in on some serious issues. There’s a searing social commentary and disturbingly prophetic take on America in the early 21st century in the powerful two-parter “Past Tense” and the ongoing intrigue of the Bajoran and Cardassian governments deepens its shadows with psychological drama, medical intrigue and political power plays. The religious and spiritual angles also return in force this season, with several episodes focussing on Sisko’s role as the Emissary of the Prophets.
In nearly every season of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, there’s an episode or two which steps head and shoulders above the rest of the season and, in effect, offers a taste of what’s to come in the following season. In Season Three, that honour falls to “Improbable Cause”/ “The Die Is Cast” which sees the Cardassian and Romulan intelligence services launch a preemptive strike in these devastating, pivotal episodes which reveals the extent of the Dominion’s power and the Romulan and Cardassian hubris. It also features a starring role for Garak, which is never a bad thing.
It’s a strong series, with a near-perfect balance between character development, series arc, action, adventure and good old-fashioned “Star Trek” sci-fi. It also ends on a disturbingly paranoid and foreboding note, signalling that the series is only just warming up.
Season 3 earns an overall score of 8/10.
Top 3 Episodes:
A wonderfully light-hearted character study which explores all the main characters by showing them in a new and very different light. It has some similarities with “The Naked Now” but manages to balance the sci-fi and comedy much, much better and reveals just how good this cast is at out-and-out comedy. Not only that, after all the romantic entanglements and un-knotted, it genuinely moves some relationships forward in important ways.
“Past Tense Part 1” (S3E11)
At the time of transmission, this episode seemed an unusually bleak vision of the near future, a cautionary tale of the pitfalls on the path to Rodenberry’s utopian vision. Nowadays, it seems just a couple of years away from reality in Trump’s America/ Brexit Britain. The exploration of the social divides and the insidious unfairness of the ‘othering’ of the poor and the sick fits firmly into Trek’s allegorical wheelhouse and while the second episode of the two-part story is slightly less impactful, they’re yet another example of why “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” was a series twenty years ahead of its time and quite possibly the best “Star Trek” ever. If you need any further convincing, it’s also got Dick Miller in it.
“Improbable Cause” (S3E20)
A magnificently twisty thriller which starts as a murder mystery before revealing the scale of its ambitions and turning into a massive political espionage story, revealing much about both Garak and Odo that had only been hinted at before. An episode with real ramifications for the rest of the series, this probably marks the point at which war becomes unavoidable and the Alpha Quadrant is changed forever. No other Trek show has ever dared to shake up the status quo as much as “Deep Space Nine” did and this audacious episode had galactic implications.
One(s) To Skip:
None, really but “Equilibrium” is the weakest episode of the season if only because the series has stepped up its game and this story doesn’t quite keep up. While it introduces a new facet to the character of Dax which comes up in a couple of future episodes, there is a little ‘long lost brother’ soap opera-ness to it.