Phil’s Season 1 Summary
So, we’ve finally completed season one of Deep Space Nine. Was it worth it?Maybe. The show to this point has been very up-and-down, with a lot more downs than ups. I’m told that it does get better in season two, but that it doesn’t really start to shine until season three.
We had nineteen episodes in season one, which is an odd number for a show. In the nineties it was pretty common to have between 22 and 24 episodes per season, and generally leaning hard towards 24, so I wonder what happened there with DS9. Of course, I don’t wonder enough to try to go look it up. Maybe Drake knows or remembers.
I have a spreadsheet where I have kept track of the ratings I’ve given each episode, and based upon that the entire season averages out to a “C-.” A very low “C-” at that. I think that matches my subjective opinion as well. While there were some good highpoints and even an episode I gave an “A” to, as a whole the first season was very, very skippable. For me it was at the lower end, and sometimes below, the threshold of “barely watchable.”
That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it, however. I did enjoy it. I think I enjoyed it a lot more because of this project of reviewing the episodes. It gave more motivation to finish each one, and to keep watching them. Without that, I am certain I would not have made it through the first season. It was also really nice to be able to read and react and talk about things with Drake as we went through it together. It added a lot to the experience and tempered my emotions (mostly negative) about the show and kept me going through it.
And I am really glad I went through it. There was some really good TV in there, sprinkled among some of the not-so-good. I understand the tone of the series is going to change over time, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that evolves. I really have no idea what to expect. It is rare that one can come into a franchise decades later and be almost completely ignorant of what to expect. I really wonder what I would think of some classic movies now if I watched them for the first time at this point. Stuff like Star Wars, or Indiana Jones, or Ghostbusters. Would I like them as much as I did when I first saw them? Would I like them as much as I do now? Would I pick them apart and find flaws?
Questions Drake wants to ask Phil:
Drake: What gave you the idea to do this project and why’d you come to me? (I’m very glad you did)
Phil: It just kinda happened. DS9 had been recommended to me several times by various folks, and there was a discussion occurring with Jon Del Arroz and others. You mentioned that you were going to watch it, and I knew you had a blog and were interested in getting more active with it. I took a flyer and said that if you were ever interested in watching it in a book-club-style setting, I’d be interested in participating. It all just came together at the right time.
I’m not a big Trek fan. I’m a more casual fan with no specific knowledge or attachments to the lore, setting, characters, etc. I actually liked the Abrams Trek reboot a lot more than I had any other iteration, plot holes and ridiculous astrophysics/astrodynamics notwithstanding.
I had enjoyed TNG in my youth, but it was not a frequent thing. I had seen only a handful of episodes of DS9 and couldn’t tell you a thing about it. I had watched at least part of a season of Enterprise, but it didn’t air on any TV I had access to when it was being broadcast, and I just never got into it.
Based on previous conversations with friends who were Trek fans, and their opinions that DS9 is the best Trek but takes a while to get good, I believed that I would have a hard time getting into the series. Doing this as a writing project kept me plowing through it. Without that, I’m certain I would have given up long before I completed season one.
Drake: What’s your overall opinion of the season and the series so far?
Phil: It is pretty rough. I tried to get my wife to watch it with me, and she quit very quickly. Instead, she went and started watching TNG without me. I have definitely seen more of TNG, but not a lot. She used to watch that with her dad, though, when he was still alive. He came to live near us towards the end of his life, staying in a nursing home that was very nearby. I bought the first season of TNG on DVD at the time, and we went over together to his place to watch an episode every week. I think we finished the first season, but did not have a chance to even purchase the second season before he died.
Needless to say, my wife has a strong emotional attachment to TNG. She’s currently getting her Master’s degree, and she likes to put it on in the background while she works on her schoolwork, or while she grades papers and the like for her 5th grade class. She tore through TNG, and periodically would stop and come let me know about how good it was. It wasn’t her direct intent to make me jealous, but it sure worked.
I watched a couple of episodes of TNG during the middle of DS9 season one, and it was kind of a bad idea. TNG is just so much better. It isn’t even close. Don’t get me wrong. TNG has issues, and their first season was pretty rough too. But TNG gets going, most of the issues tend to be of scale and budget. The shuttle bay, for instance, is just a big, square warehouse with some bad CGI props. But it is forgivable, because we know the constraints the show was under, and the writing is just so gosh darn good.
DS9, on the other hand, struggles across the board. The only thing that really works well on the show (in my opinion) during the first season are Quark and Odo. I don’t know if that is because of the acting talent, the writing, or something else, maybe a combination. But Quark and Odo have the best chemistry in the first season, and they do such a good job of conveying thought an emotion as well as really getting each other’s goat and playing off each other as actors. They are phenomenal. Everyone else seems rather forgettable at best in comparison.
Drake: Are you enjoying the project more or less than you expected so far? What aspects are different than you expected?
Phil: Both more and less. That doesn’t really make sense, but I thought this would be a bit of a slog before we started. I wanted to do it as a project like this to help me get through it, and also to experience it with someone who knows Trek better than I do. I wanted someone to help explain things to me and answer questions when I needed it, and to talk me off the proverbial ledge. I figured there would be a few times I would just want to throw in the towel and want to quit because it was so bad, and someone who could coach me through it was something I knew I needed. That has worked out splendidly.
There have been some nice surprises in season one. We had a really, really great episode in Duet. After the rest of the season, that was a really splendid surprise. I did not expect, nor did I think the creative team for DS9 had it in them, to see such a great episode after all the stinkers that we’ve had. There is some truly terrible TV in season one.
Comparing it to the tar monster of sin in season one of TNG, though… Well, I’m not sure what I’d grade that one as I haven’t seen it in a long time. But it would be a low score for sure.
To put it another way, I’m enjoying it enough that I want to keep going, and I want to do other series as well. It’d be nice if Drake and I had unlimited time and we could do all of the Trek series and movies, popping out at least one a day. But there’s no way that’s going to happen. We may decrease our output, not step it up.
We are agreed that we will definitely do Enterprise at some point. That’s good. I’d really like to watch that one too.
Drake: Excluding Quark and Odo, who I think it is safe to say we both really like and appreciate, which characters do you like on the show?
Phil: I like O’Brien, but he’s been a bit of a disappointment. He’s gotten a few episodes where he’s had more screen time, but he’s only really had one where he got to really have any character development. He’s a comforting presence on the show, providing some continuity and an emotional anchor point from TNG, but he hasn’t really stood out yet. He’s the stereotypical competent technician who doesn’t get along well with others. He needs some fleshing out.
I also like Kira, up to a point. Her character doesn’t have a ton of depth or range, or so it appears to me at this time. But what she has she sticks to consistently, and she plays it up loud and frequently. If you find yourself playing the hand you’ve been dealt in life, who can really blame you?
Sisko is just kinda there for me. He seems like a nice guy, a decent fellow. He’s a bit of a calming presence, and I guess that’s his role. He reminds me just a little of the principal from Boston Public, if you’ve ever seen that show. Of course, I think the guy in Boston Public pulled that role off better than what Sisko has. Sisko just isn’t anyone to write home about. I don’t particularly care for the way he’s handled a few things, but that seems really nitpicky in a Trek show where the writers are the real problem there. I don’t know… Sisko is just basically background noise to me at this point.
Dax is too. She had that one episode where she was on trial, that I really didn’t care for all that much. I don’t like the concept of the Trill, and outside of that, she’s just a bit of a foil for others to react to.
I actively dislike Doctor Bashir. I don’t know why. I don’t care for his demeanor, I guess. He tries to be a bit of a womanizer, but he’s not likeable when he does it. Most womanizers aren’t likeable, but an example of someone who was likeable is Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother. He’s an unforgiveable ass, but he’s so much fun to watch as he does it, and his character just oozes and drips charisma all over. It is easy to see why all the women fall for it in the show. Doctor Bashir is just the ass without the charisma. He also really hasn’t had an episode where he was allowed to shine and really come into his own yet. I hope that happens and we get some good character growth from him.
Drake: I think The Forsaken was the episode we disagreed on by the most. I know you really hated it, but I didn’t get a good sense of what you didn’t like about it. What was it that was so bad?
Phil: It was a little bit of everything. I dislike Lwaxana Troi as a character, which doesn’t help. I especially dislike that this is more-or-less a repeat of the episode in TNG where the same thing happens—she falls for Captain Picard and follows him like a lost puppy dog while also trying to seduce him. It was annoying the first time, but to do it again is lazy and stupid.
The entire side plot that was almost a second main plot with the other ambassadors I thought felt really tacked on and meaningless, and it didn’t really go anywhere. They got on Doctor Bashir’s case for no real reason, and it just seemed a massive waste of time for me.
The main plot with Odo and Lwaxana in the turbolift I thought was super cringy. I did not care for it at all. They tried to have an intimate, vulnerable scene, and instead it came off really poorly. It was painful and unpleasant to watch, and it was a little comical for all the wrong reasons. It also doesn’t help that they had “plot setting,” which is a lot like “plot armor.” They have had a tendency to show a fair amount of turbolifts in DS9 season one, and they are all the same. They are slow, they are open air, with minimal guard rails, no safety equipment, no walls, etc. But of course, Odo and Lwaxana get stuck in one that is built like an earth-elevator, because otherwise they wouldn’t be trapped at all and that whole cringe scene couldn’t happen.
Then there was the bizarre probe/malware explanation and O’Brien tricking the code into a software cage and keeping it as a pet…
It was an episode full of some of the worst writing, the most pointless writing, the cringiest writing, and the laziest writing that we’ve seen on the show yet this season. I don’t think I can point to a single redeeming or worthwhile moment in that episode. I just felt the entire thing was garbage and not worth my time, nor anyone else’s.
Drake: Which, if any, episodes would you recommend a newcomer skip if they are trying to get into DS9 for the first time? Which episodes should they definitely watch?
Phil: I think I would recommend anyone new to DS9, and with no or little experience with Trek in general, to skip quite a lot of season one. I think you can safely skip all of these episodes:
1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 13, 16, 17, and 19.
That’s half of the first season. There are a few more to bypass if you really only want to watch the good stuff, but that is a pretty safe list of marginal (or worse) TV that I don’t recall has any major plot info that will make it hard to pick up what is going on later. The only exception to that last was the pilot, but that was a two-hour episode that I felt really only had about 10 minutes of good content in it. The rest was pretty rough, and a 30-second session on a wiki somewhere can probably get you what you need to know.
Episodes that I think should definitely be watched, and really set the tone, are the following:
· Episode 4, Babel: A mysterious virus plagues the station, causing speech distortions and eventually death. A good, but slightly irritating episode. Good drama, good scene setting, but lacking in execution. Still, it helps get a feel for DS9.
· Episode 5, Captive Pursuit: O’Brien befriends an alien from the Gamma Quadrant who is being hunted. This one has a lot of bad Trek along with some good Trek, but it is a great episode for O’Brien and definitely worth a watch.
· Episode 6, Q-Less: Q and Vash arrive on Deep Space Nine. However, Vash has realized the annoyance of Q and wants him to leave her alone. Pretty much any episode that has Q in it should be required viewing.
· Episode 11, Vortex: Odo discovers he may not be the only one of his kind when a visitor from the Gamma Quadrant claims he can contact Odo’s people. This one is extremely important, maybe even vital, for Odo’s character and understanding him.
· Episode 12, Battle Lines: The spiritual leader of Bajor, Kai Opaka, travels with Sisko on a trip to the Gamma Quadrant but is stranded with him on a world where the dead are resurrected. I suspect that the death of Opaka will have larger ramifications throughout the series, making this one more important to watch. If that isn’t the case, and there aren’t significant down-timeline effects, then this would be borderline and not must-see.
· Episode 14, Progress: Kira has to deal with a stubborn farmer who refuses to leave his home even though it is slated for destruction. This is a really important episode for Kira, and I thought one of the better episodes this season. I wouldn’t skip it.
· Episode 18, Duet: A visiting Cardassian, Marritza, may in fact be the notorious war criminal Gul Darhe’el, butcher of Gallitep Labor camp, and Kira is determined to bring him down. By far easily the best episode this season, and just a great episode in general. It should not be missed.
Drake: Could you give some predictions on where you think the show is headed? What would you like to see explored further and what would you like to see dropped?
Phil: From bits and pieces of other conversations, I believe that a war will become the primary plot driver of future DS9 episodes. However, I think that may not happen until season 3 or so, and I’m not sure that I can see DS9 actually becoming all that militarized.
I also believe, from other sources I can’t recall, that the show starts to leave behind the “status quo reset” at the end of each episode, and starts to tell more stories with plot lines that span episodes. I hope that does happen, but I guess we’ll see. I don’t have a lot of foreknowledge or expectation.
As far as things I’d like explored: More of the station. I’m confused, actually, by the size of DS9. At various places they both act like the thing is huge (and it seems to be, based on shots of the Enterprise D docked there in episode one), and like it is a tiny, humble, intimate gathering. I think at one point it was stated there are only three hundred people living on it. That seems like a ridiculously small number, but it does explain why we don’t run into a lot of other cast members, why Quark’s bar/casino is the only hangout, etc. I believe the TNG Enterprise had a full complement of over one thousand, so the DS9 population seems really small.
Anyway, if it were a big station, I think it could be fun to have Jake exploring the bowels of the station, running around, getting lost, sneaking into other bars or something, etc. It would probably take a lot of money for their limited sets, though, so I’m not too optimistic. Having Odo have somewhere else to chase people other than to Quark’s would be a good thing, too.
I think I would like to see the station retrofit up to Federation or Bajoran standards. The Cardassians made an ugly station, and I keep wanting to comment about their terrible monitor bevels. Every time Dax is working on something, she has this tiny screen surrounded by feet of blank, empty space doing nothing. And for the love of all, fix those turbo lifts into something safe!