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.
Following on from the paranoia-inducing season three closer, season four saw “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” make some bold changes, and not just in finally allowing Avery Brooks to finally shave his head. Opening with, in effect, a second pilot (and a remixed and slightly more urgent theme tune arrangement), “The Way Of The Warrior” shatters the comfortable TNG-era status quo by placing the Klingon Empire and the Federation at loggerheads once again as the Klingons decide the best way to counter the rising threat of the Dominion is by going on the offensive. To try to head off this threat, Sisko turns to the best Klingon expert Starfleet have: Lieutenant Commander Worf.
To its credit, the series isn’t content to simply add Worf into the mix then carry on with business as usual. The writers leap at the opportunity to reframe the character in the more mature and morally uncertain world of “Deep Space Nine”, scrutinising exactly what it means to be a Klingon Starfleet officer in the midst of war. In many ways, “Deep Space Nine” rehabilitates Worf, rescuing him from being the butt of disappearing plank jokes and back to being a troubled, credible warrior figure weighed down by the responsibilities of his heritage. It uses Worf as a springboard to explore aspects of Klingon society away from the stultifying Shakespearean palace intrigues of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and into the place where the race has often been at its most fascinating: the battlefield.
The introduction of Worf serves as a catalyst for the series to up the ante across every facet of its strengths. Season four delivers political and social commentary, poignancy, foreboding darkness and sparkling wit, driven by the superb cast of characters inhabiting the station.
The bromance between Chief O’Brien and Doctor Bashir is tested several times, becoming stronger and deeper for it. There’s also a sweet side plot of Keiko returning to the station and the O’Briens preparing to welcome another addition to their family (prompting a delightful call-back from Worf to TNG’s “Disaster”) which predictably hits a snag and enables the series to deliver a creative way to accommodate Nana Visitor’s real-life pregnancy. Kira and Dukat are brought together in a twisted ‘odd coupling’ as the former occupier-in-chief of Bajor struggles to find his place in the new galactic order. There’s a superbly acerbic chemistry between the two, a dark anti-romantic spark that hints at a funhouse mirror reflection of the classic screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s.
We get a visit to Earth, to Starfleet Command no less, as the series begins to show us just how far its willing to test the strength of the Federation’s commitment to its Utopian ideals (and DS9 again demonstrates it unerring ability to reach forward and pluck headlines from the resent day to use a quarter century ago) and Sisko finally starts to accept his role as the Emissary of the Prophets in “Accession”, the second chapter in the loose Emissary Trilogy which started in “Destiny” (S3E15) and continues in “Rapture” (S5E10). All this against the backdrop of a slow, creeping, insidious campaign of destabilisation by the Dominion as they seek to undermine each Alpha Quadrant power and turn them against themselves and each other.
There’s not a character who doesn’t get multiple moments to shine in this, probably the series’ most consistently strong season. Action packed yet thematically rich, complex and multi-layered without becoming opaque and inaccessible, the addition of Worf – somewhat derided at the time as a possibly a desperate move to bolster ratings – turns out to be a masterstroke, adding a little something extra and making DS9 far greater than the sum of its parts.
Season 4 earns an overall score of 8/10.
Top Three Episodes (very tough to pick just three this season):
The Visitor (S4E03)
After the bombastic hurly-burly on the season opener, this episode immediately went smaller, more intimate and infinitely more heartbreaking as it delves into the Father-Son bond between Ben and Jake Sisko. When his father is lost in a freak accident, Jake Sisko spends his life torn between the need to move on and the belief that he can still save his father.
Little Green Men (S4E08)
Thanks to a sabotaged shuttlecraft, Quark, Rom and Nog’s trip to Earth to take Nog to Starfleet Academy ends up with them crashing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. A deliciously whacky comedy which pokes the foibles of 50s B-movies, conspiracy theorists and still manages to land some decent social commentary punches when it needs to. Easily ties with “Futurama”’s “Roswell That Ends Well” for best sci-fi comedy Roswell story.
Our Man Bashir (S4E10)
Despite the dramatic highs of the season, I’m going to go with another comedy pick for the top three. A brilliantly realised pastiche of Bond, U.N.C.L.E. and half a dozen other classic spy tropes, “Our Man Bashir” again showcases the cast’s comedic abilities but it also deserves recognition for managing to find a new spin on the old, old trope of a holodeck malfunction.
One(s) to Skip
A somewhat turgid episode, it serves a functional role of temporarily capping off the Odo/ Kira romance plotline for the time being but other than that, the burgeoning romance between Shakaar and Kira never feels organic and the assassination plot never feels urgent or threatening or even close to being resolved. Still, I guess they couldn’t just call the episode ‘Friendzoned’.
The Muse (S4E21)
An episode with an interesting idea, a spin on the traditional Trek favourite of ‘space vampire’, but it just doesn’t work, despite the cast giving it their all. It does feel very much like a holdover idea which was recycled from TNG and doesn’t sit easily in DS9’s style. The B-story featuring Lwaxana Troi and Odo fares a little better but is still too slight to fill an episode. Rene Auberjonois shines but Majel Barrett deserved a better story for her final on-screen appearance in “Star Trek”.