Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Deep Space Nine: Part 3, Starting the Ending

Alright, let's finish this up, shall we? Spoilers!

4. The Ending.

The first and last seasons of DS9 were sort of odd.  The first season was strange because the show didn't know quite where it wanted to go at that point, and none of the Gamma Quadrant aliens were as deep as ones created in TOS and DS9, until they revealed the changeling Founders, the Vorta, and the Jem'Hadar. Still, the first season was okay, definitely better than TNG's first season.  Not that it takes much to be better than TNG's.

The final season, however, had an unfortunate blight.  Her name was Ezri Dax.  While she's certainly no Neelix, the idea in itself of adding a new character during a final season is iffy on its own.  Sure, this would make sense if the new character were incidental to new circumstances in the other character's lives, but to bring in a new main character who has to not only become an interesting person on her own, but also correctly take on the legacy associated with all the memories of around ten past lives?  That's a heavy plot burden right there.

It doesn't help that as a young girl who hasn't at all been prepared to become joined to a symbiote and must deal with the consequences of Jadzia's death, there's a lot of plot potential for Ezri.  She has to be introduced and develop friendships when everyone else is well established and finishing up their stories.

Nicole de Boer does an okay job as Ezri, I guess.  People can blame her acting job for the poor reception of the character if they want (it's not great), but I tend to blame the concept. Apparently the producers thought it was a good idea to make Ezri some naive, bright-eyed girl who doesn't have lots of confidence.  Sure, this is an interesting contrast with the ever confident Jadzia, but it's weird for Sisko to call a little girl "old man".  It worked with Jadzia because she showed she had other lifetimes to refer to.  Her confidence made "old man" feel ironic.  Ezri doesn't feel like that at all.  In most episodes, she feels like some random girl with memories, not someone sharing a life with another sentient being.

This whole naive thing might have worked if she wasn't supposed to be a counselor (she does almost zero counseling on the show), and if she had stayed consistently naive.  Instead, about maybe the second half of the season she starts saying really snarky and even judgemental things, especially when she's talking to Worf.  Snarky isn't really consistent with naive, and both are very bad when it comes to being a counselor.  She's too uncertain on the one hand, and too harsh on the other.  Being a counselor is about attempting to understand others and having a realistic, knowledgeable worldview. Ezri's the sort of counselor that makes cynics lash out at psychiatry.  Or she would, if she ever counseled anyone after her heart to heart with Garak.

If you think about it, there was no real need to replace Jadzia.  The rest of the cast could simply just carry on after her death, and the Dax symbiont could go to a new host and have a new life, maybe appearing once for a one-shot.  But no, they had to just put Dax in some random ditz so that she could take up screentime from more interesting characters who needed more to do.  Seriously, there are a lot of characters that needed the time, and she wasted a lot of it.

Despite how it might sound, I'm not angry or anything about Ezri.  Ezri feels like wasted potential, and I find myself skipping episodes that focus on her, because her acting is just too...well, "sincere". Like she's trying too hard.  It doesn't help that the show gives her really corny concepts, such as her whole family being corrupt business people and solving a murder mystery with the incarnation of a past lifetime.  Since all this is before her mid-season change to a somewhat more confident person, she's still in "meek mode" and being victimized throughout this.

You know which last season added character actually works?  Vic Fontaine.  Well, he appeared briefly at the end of season 6, but it's still the same principle of making a late-added character work among better developed characters.

It's gimmicky that they added a singing hologram to the cast list, and you kind of get the sense that they wanted to take up screentime with songs.  But hey, there's nothing on the surface wrong with having a holographic 50s themed lounge.  The only episode where it gets on my nerves is where a song Vic sings plays over a battle scene.  Emotional manipulation isn't fun.

Vic works because he has no relation to anything else that happens on Deep Space Nine.  He gets to be himself, aware that he's a holographic projection.  His entire character revolves around just being a support for the other cast members.  That's the main reason why he worked better than Ezri Dax.  Ezri needed more definition than the remaining episodes could give her, and so she took up time that would have been better spent elsewhere.  Vic had no such trouble, and became a part of others' stories rather than wasting time with one of his own.

Let's talk about the endings of characters while we're at it, shall we?

Miles O'Brien and Julian Bashir:
I paired these two up because they hang out together so much during the final season.  They play a lot of war simulations in the holosuite, as well as planning battles with their model Alamo.  That, and there isn't that much to talk about for O'Brien because not much happens for him.  He has no final arc.  That in and of itself is mostly okay, as he's a side character for Bashir when the latter faces off against Section 31.

O'Brien ends up being offered a job at Starfleet Academy to do some teaching, and then leaves the station on the last episode.  This is a decent enough ending, I guess, except that it feels weird that O'Brien is offered a job during the war for when the war is over.  For one thing, how does the Academy know when the war will end?  Either they'll need O'Brien to teach an emergency course to help support the war, or they're too focused on the war to bother about hiring people on the basis of uncertain times.  I know, small thing.  It's just weird to me.

Bashir gets a little more to do.  He works on curing Odo of a changeling disease that Section 31 gave him, with the intention of it spreading to the others.  It does spread, but Bashir, with all the determination he has, finds a cure so that Odo might live.  In the final episode, Odo takes this cure to the female changeling, who immediately decides to end the war once he does.

While I don't mind this as a storyline, I couldn't help but think that if Section 31 had cured Odo of the disease after finding out he'd spread it (maybe keep an agent on the station for that purpose), then Odo never would have found out about it, Bashir would never have cured it, and the changelings would have died. The Jem'Hadar would still have to be dealt with, but y'know.

Still, Bashir and O'Brien's romp into Sloan's brain to find the cure (hey, it's science fiction) is an entertaining way to bring them together one final time.  I really like the part where they admit they like each other better than their female counterparts.

Speaking of female counterparts, I like Keiko's haircut in the last episode.  It's adorable.

Ezri Dax:
As for Bashir's counterpart...nggh.  As mentioned, I do have a lot of problems with the Ezri character/actress.  To speak on the romance between her and Bashir, they just plain don't fit together. They're too similar -- two professionals trying to live up to the ideal of who they want themselves to be -- and they're also too different -- Bashir is confident and open-minded, Ezri is weak-willed and prone to judge.  They're the same in their perspective of careers, meaning that they'll likely sacrifice their relationship for their jobs rather than the reverse.  Their differences make Bashir look too good for her.

Y'know, that's probably a too complicated way to look at it.  Simply put, they have all the chemistry of a pair of random rabbits put into a cage to ensure they breed.  It feels like an artificial romance put there to (a) give Ezri some kind of conclusion and (b) make it up to disappointed fans who wanted Bashir with Jadzia.

Other than that, there's nothing much to say about Ezri's plotline.  She participates in some battles, then ends up on the station after the war.  Okay, I guess.

Poor, poor Worf.  He spends his whole time in DS9 being ashamed, secluded, and made fun of.  It doesn't even let up on the last episode, where he awkwardly and stubbornly states that O'Brien should go live in Minsk, Russia when he gets his job in Starfleet academy.  This sort of thing makes me glad Worf wasn't the focus in TNG very often.

Worf does get a nice job as ambassador to Qonos, so his time on DS9 isn't entirely wasted.  I just wish the writers had loved the character as much as they loved torturing him.  Since the whole last season involves him being forced to face the new host of Dax, and then her dating someone else, it's just tortuous.  I guess I should mention that he helped Martok become Chancellor by killing Gowron, but it's just a tired retread of how he killed another Klingon to help Gowron become Chancellor back in TNG.  It's the same plot, only this time a woman isn't involved.  The writers give him nothing else to do during this time, which is lame, but perfectly fitting for a character who really never should have been on the show in the first place.

Oh, and speaking of never should have been there, it turns out that the studio, not the writers of DS9, decided to interrupt season 4 with a bunch of Klingon stuff, including the re-introduction of Worf. Apparently the writers had a direction they wanted to go all along, and they didn't get back on track for half a season.

Quark, Nog, and Rom:

I haven't talked a lot about these three as individuals, have I?  Well, overall, Quark can go either way. He's had some interesting episodes and been a good support character at times, but he's also had some really annoying episodes as well.  He has some great costumes, though.  Nog is his nephew, and while he's likewise annoying at times, often Nog is used effectively, either as a support character or co-protagonist with Jake Sisko.  He has a good arc where he goes from thieving Ferengi to upright Starfleet officer.  He works.  Rom is annoying, but likewise has a...half decent arc, going from a pathetic victim of his brother's manipulations to a married man with a good job, to

...Grand Nagus?!  The fudge?

Season 7 is not a great one for the Ferengi.  Nog's plotline is probably the best.  This is the season where he explains the "Great Material Continuum", and how it makes sure everyone has what they need.  If this kind of creative thought had gone into the Ferengi sooner, they wouldn't have had so many grating episodes.  However, Nog is shoved into an emotionally manipulative episode where he gets his leg shot off, and then an even more useless episode where he is so mentally scarred from losing his leg that he has to seek solace in Vic's bar, as though it were real.

Both of these episodes are overly emotional, manipulative, and in the case of the second, utterly without interest.  Some might disagree, but I grew up in a military town, so I'm sensitive to how this sort of thing is portrayed.  I want it done in a mature, intelligent fashion, not in a manipulative, uncomprehending way, written by someone who has probably never been to war or even fired a gun. Placing a Ferengi in that kind of role makes the audience take it less seriously, and there's not even a unique angle taken on the idea of a soldier being hurt in battle.

Quark the bartender fades more or less into the background for the final season, and none of its episodes hinge on him.  This makes sense, as he's just a bartender, and there are so many serious things going on with the war that he has no control over.  It might have been interesting if he were somehow involved in the war effort, or that Ferengi involvement in the war was clarified, but it is what it is.  He's left at the end of the season at his bar, like always.

The only episode which gives Quark a strong role at all is in The Emperor's New Cloak, where Quark believes he's being selected to replace the Ferengi leader, Grand Nagus Zek.  This is reasonable, as Zek not only knows Quark well, but has solicited Quark's services throughout the series.  Not to mention he's seeing Quark's mother, Ishka.  Zek wants to retire (in the middle of a war?) to the pleasure planet Risa (a war encompassing the whole of the quadrant and multiple species hasn't touched it at all?).

But whatever.  Zek wants to retire with Quark's mother, and so there's a spot open for Grand Nagus. Quark believes that he's going to be the Nagus, only to find out that Ferenginar has changed over the years.  The Ferengi government now levies taxes and outlaws monopolies.  Quark freaks out at this, as he believes that these things are violations of the true Ferengi way.

The fudge?  Capitalism is all about competition.  It's the very nature of anti-monopoly, particularly government monopoly. You can't claim that a race like a Ferengi is all about capitalism and then make it a shocker that they've outlawed monopolies.  Then again, it's not a surprise to anyone that the writers of DS9 know nothing about economics, what with how they've portrayed the Ferengi before. It's so weird.  Ordinarily the writers of DS9 are very aware of their weaknesses, or at least appear to be.

They make it worse with the tax thing.  If the Grand Nagus never taxed anyone, where did he get his money?  If his "bathrooms are plated with latinum" as Quark claims, then where did the money for that come from?  His own investments?  Surely the Nagus would be too busy ruling his own people and stewarding his world rather than chasing money.  Either the Ferengi would be forced to pay taxes or the Ferengi could just all be more or less anarchistic, doing whatever profit-bearing schemes they can throughout the universe without having a Nagus at all.

Sheesh.  I have a policy of not mocking writers when I review, but it's all I can do to not to make a joke at their expense.  Clearly they write the Ferengi this way on purpose, but in contrast with the intelligence the attempt with basically everything else on the show, it makes absolutely no sense.  A joke character I'd understand, but a joke race?  Things aren't funny simply because they're dumb. Otherwise people wouldn't be fed up with Adam Sandler by now.

Speaking of joke characters, there's Rom, Quark's brother.  By the seventh season he's become an engineer working with Starfleet, and he's had a fairly good growth arc.  That's not to say that he hasn't gotten on other viewer's nerves.  He whines, lets others bully him, and is presented in a cheesy way that makes it pretty understandable whenever someone says they don't like him.  He doesn't bother me that much.  Sure, Rom is annoying and overly simplistic, but many of his appearances are tolerable.  He's never given a lot to do screenwise, so it's rarely a big deal.

....And then the episode reveals that Quark isn't supposed to be Nagus, but Rom is.  Um, that's the dumbest thing ever.  Sure, Quark's mother has always liked Rom better than him, but surely she's not so stupid that she would choose Rom over Quark for a leadership role.  The series has generally portrayed Ishka as someone intelligent, but this reveals the truth about her character: she chooses her own preferences above what is smarter.

The thing about Rom is that he has zero leadership and creative problem solving talents. Look at any episode where the Ferengi have faced a problem.  Who solves it?  Quark.  Rom did build the mines that prevented the Dominion from bringing in reinforcements, but he doesn't have that ability Quark does in solving creative problems -- there's one way to make a machine work, but there's many different ways to get someone to stop being mad at you, or escape from danger, or convince someone to see your side of things.  Quark has done those.  Rom spent those same years being bossed around and awkwardly trying to please people in the hopes they decide to accept him. What about that makes him a good leader?  With Rom in charge, the Ferengi government will implode in a year.

Kira and Odo:
Kira is one of my favorite characters in the show, but I have to say I wasn't all that fond of her this season.  Maybe it was her Seven of Nine-like lanthi (Leave Almost Nothing To tHe Imagination suit). Maybe it was how her relationship with Odo softened her character a bit too much for my liking.  Or maybe I just found their romance a bit underwhelming, since they don't give Kira a lot to do outside of that relationship.

That's not to say their relationship was all bad.  It was nice to see Kira support Odo when he was ill, even if supporting him meant pretending she didn't know how bad it had gotten.  She knows how he feels as a person, and she's bent on respecting him and his difficult outsider position with his race. That was really sweet.

Kira does get some stuff to do.  She faces off with a Romulan in the first two episodes of the season, and is by Odo's side when he meets another changeling.  The only episode in the season that is truly hers is one where she is kidnapped by a Bajoran man who happens to be part of a Pagh'wraith cult that happens to be led by Gul Dukat.

While this has weird implications on the character of Gul Dukat, it's an interesting episode in how a Cardassian can sway the people he's oppressed before in such a manipulative manner.  The episode is more about him than about Kira.  While the episode attempts to show some things about the nature of faith, most of these themes are pretty blunt.

To top it all off, Kira has this dumb line about faith making Dukat "all the more dangerous".  Um, how?  Belief in something doesn't make an already dangerous man more or less so -- it's clear that Dukat's desires are more important to him than anything.  Besides, the four greatest murderers of the world (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Planned Parenthood) are all materialistic rather than religious.  It's not belief that made any of them dangerous, but love of self.  Well, unless you want to say a firm belief in the non-existence of God is a belief in the same manner.  What about nonreligious beliefs?  So...if all "belief" is dangerous, is it dangerous to believe in gravity?  Rain?  Burritos?  I totally could believe in some burritos right now.

Whatever.  I guess that's my entire reaction to Kira this season as well.  She's unremarkable.  Sure, she gets a promotion to Colonel, and that's nice, only we never learn the implications of that for the Bajor army.  It seems more or less just a rank swap.  She doesn't get to do much involved with the main plot of the last season until the end, when she must use her background as a rebel to help the Cardassians rebel against the Dominion.  Not that that has anything to do with being a Colonel.

Funny, though.  It's kinda weird that Kira could never forgive Gul Dukat, but she has no problem forgiving (or getting along with) Damar, his close assistant.  She almost seems to respect him.  I wish that angle had been a little more developed.  It'd be a great way to top off Kira's series long struggle in learning to forgive the Cardassians.

Well, I have characters left, but this is long enough for now.

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