Now where was I? Spoilers!
2. Over-arcing Plotlines.
- The Emissary of the Prophets/Spirituality: Thumbs up!
So in the first episode, Sisko is revealed to be the Emissary of the Prophets. This role is never clarified, but apparently it means he hears from the Prophets more directly than other people do. He does things like find artifacts, bless couples, and help the Bajorans not become victims of the Dominion. It's cool.
What makes this better is that Kira is a firm believer in the Prophets, and Worf is respectful of it. So many Trekkies feel that God has no place on the show, but that's wrong. First of all, Trek writers have always wanted to touch on sensitive matters, so that alone makes spirituality important. Secondly, the Prophets themselves can go either way. You might call them gods, or you might call them aliens in a more "advanced" state than most of the other creatures in the universe.
Best of all, the characters all had various levels of belief and doubt, from the firm believers to the moderate believers, from the disillusioned to the dense materialist. This is the exact sort of thing that allows for realistic reactions to all the things that are going on. It gives the show a very three dimensional scope, making it feel more like different viewpoints are accepted (infinite diversity in infinite combinations), rather than the frankly self-superior feel that TNG showed far too often.
That doesn't mean there aren't weak spots, though. For example, the episode "The Reckoning" was pretty darned silly. A Prophet and a Pagh'wraith (demon, more or less) literally stand in a hall and shoot lasers at one another. You couldn't possibly cheese that cheese.
Another weakness, at least early on, is Kai Winn. She's a religious leader who really should have just gone into politics: she's a powermongering woman who just wants to be respected, only to have Sisko, a human, become Emissary and completely upstage her when it comes to the spiritual life of Bajor. The reason why she's so weak early on is that she's too obvious. She's too "stage villain"; everything she does is so obvious a power grab that Bajor is nonsensical for not doing something about it. Kai Winn actually comes out and tells Kira about some of her machinations, despite the fact Kira despises her. It makes the whole exercise seems pointless.
Later on, Winn makes it up. She becomes a stronger character, one who isn't so dang obvious, in the last season. Winn reveals her internal struggle: despite being the Kai of Bajor, she has never actually heard from the Prophets and strives for their affection in vain. The best part is when Kira says that Winn needs to resign as Kai, so that power is no longer something that keeps her away from the Prophets. And then in the last few episodes, Winn's plotline is fun, intense, and very entertaining. It could have ended a little better, but it ended alright.
The Maquis: Thumbs down.
Forgive me, but I don't care about the Maquis. Why? Because the Maquis are hardly worth talking about. Basically, they're Federation citizens whose worlds were ceded to the Cardassians in political negotiations. That's a good premise, but it doesn't work out, for a few reasons.
One is that they just plain don't get enough episodes. We don't have a good sense what they want and how they intend to get it. None of their members are important characters on the show, and eventually they're treated as though they no longer exist. Maybe the Cardassians wiped them out. I don't know. The episodes they do have aren't very interesting.
The characters given to the Maquis are a huge detriment. Captain Calvin Hudson was once Sisko's friend, but then betrays Sisko to join the Maquis. Trouble is, we've never seen this character before, so his betrayal doesn't resonate with the audience. To make it even worse, his actor is terrible. Bernie Casey does an unfortunate job, almost as though he's choking on his words. Yeesh. No wonder he never appeared again.
The other character associated with the Maquis is questionable as well. Michael Eddington was presented originally as a character who would replace/assist Odo in keeping the station secure. He appeared to be a loyal, competent officer. Too loyal, in fact, as he sabotaged the Defiant when Sisko disobeyed Starfleet orders by taking it into the Gamma quadrant. Seriously, Eddington messes up the cloaking system while the Defiant is in the middle of enemy territory, leaving them open to attack for several hours. All because Starfleet told him to.
That's why his eventual turn to the Maquis was more out of place than surprising. He doesn't seem at all like the desperate, rebel type. It's obvious that the writers wanted to make Eddington the new Calvin Hudson, apparently believing that because Eddington has an on-screen history with Sisko, that the audience would find it more credible. This isn't the case. It's extremely obvious Eddington was never intended to be part of the Maquis. It feels like a cheap way to throw away the character. His death signals both his own end and the end of the writers' concern over this plotline.
Well, in DS9, anyway. The Maquis get a few brief mentions in Voyager, but they're likewise wasted potential there too.
The Dominion War: Whatever.
It's sort of difficult to talk about an arc that so greatly consumes the plot of the show. It's less of an arc and more of a setting. Still, it was pretty good. Star Trek very rarely shows its people at war, despite the political tension presented on TOS and all the struggles Picard goes through in TNG to prevent it. I guess earlier on it was the point of Star Trek to prove humans were beyond war, but that slowly went by the wayside when Gene Roddenberry died -- even in TNG the writers allowed serious allusions to the possibility of fighting once the Great Bird of the Galaxy bit the space dust.
I didn't know whether to give this thumbs up or thumbs down. I'm very divided on how the Dominion War turned out. There are things that are good about it, and also things that are bad. The Dominion War itself didn't make Deep Space Nine better or worse, but simply brought it to a different place than Star Trek had ever been before. The goods and bads both even out, more or less.
First the bad. The motives of the shapeshifters in starting this war were unclear. Sure, they're a domineering race who wanted to make up for all the pain other races caused them, but there's trouble with that idea. We, the audience, never see anyone mistreat the shapeshifters. Any bad things characters do or try to do to them is out of reaction to the shapeshifters' insistence on violence, self-superiority, and getting their own way.
There's also the matter of defending the wormhole. If you're Starfleet, and you more or less have power over the wormhole that is the only entrance to where the Dominion live, certainly you would guard it. But literally the only attempt Starfleet makes to control the flow of the wormhole is the bomb field, which Sisko's people, not Starfleet Command, decided to put up on their own. Starfleet Command never sent a fleet, set up space stations, or installed any form of cannons. They even move their fleets to other positions when the station is under threat of being taken over. Where's the sense in that?
And don't get me started on those emotionally manipulative episodes, like the one where Jake is a coward or Nog gets his leg shot off. Seeing sappy points what would have been better done in a real war film is not what I watch Star Trek for. Also, Trek tends to be weak on war material for the unavoidable fact that nobody in real life has ever fought with spaceships. There's no established strategy, so they have to bullcrap their way through with orders like "attack pattern omega" which quickly communicates to the audience that the writers are dodging the subject.
However, the war has allowed for other good opportunities. For example, the episode where the Defiant destroys a supply depot full of the drugs the Dominion's puppet race needs to survive, that was good. I also liked watching them survive while stranded on a planet in the next episode, and the twist at the end of that was sick and excellent.
Also, I like how DS9 addresses technology being bested, in that cloaks are not a guaranteed way to keep a ship invisible. I've always wondered why Starfleet hasn't been able to figure out cloaking devices despite the fact that Kirk and company have captured both Klingon (ST4) and Romulan (TOS) technology, and that was about 80 years before Next Generation. Surely Starfleet would have figured out cloaking technology by then.
Overall, though, DS9 proves why Star Trek doesn't do war. To do sincere war, you need people who have been in war or studied it enough to make the fight believable. Such people are probably not the types to have Trek-ish ideals. Science fiction tends to be better at smaller, encapsulated stories, such as fan favorite episodes Children of Time and Far Beyond the Stars. When the stories get too big, more characters and settings need to be developed to make it all seem real. Since Trek has both lots of technology and species with their own technology, that's going to be a lot of work no matter what.
The Mirror Universe: Thumbs down.
This plotline started out really good. Actually, I think it started out good because there was no evidence it was anything more than a one-shot. In any case, Kira and Bashir find themselves in the same alternate universe that Kirk and friends encountered in TOS.
Instead of the humans being the bad guys, as it was in TOS, the good-guy morals that made TOS's Mirror Mirror a fun romp ended up leaving the humans at the mercy of non-humans. This irritated me, as the themes of TOS's episode was that immorality lead to violence, death, and societal collapse. The officers of mirror Enterprise were stabbing each other in the gut for personal gain -- a house set against itself can't stand, y'know. DS9 instead blames future human oppression (this is a century ahead of TOS times, even in the mirror realm) on alternate Spock's change to morality. *sigh*
On the more objective side, this changes the mirror universe from the realm where everyone is evil to a generic realm where oppressed people have to fight for freedom against domineering others. Now there's a plotline we haven't seen forty bajillion times.
To be fair, those are my only two major complaints about the first episode of the mirror universe. Well, that and I think alternate Kira should have been less sympathetic to humans. However, she was plenty evil, and her sick obsession with her alternate self was played up very well. I also liked evil Odo, despite his small role. It was a bit cheesy and could have been more subtle (show evil Kira falling for her good self rather than having Garak say it), but it was exactly what someone would expect for a one shot. It was fun, silly, and not particularly serious. And it had Avery Brooks doing a great job as a renegade leader.
And then they wrote a sequel. Alternate universe "Smiley" O'Brien kidnaps our universe Sisko to force him to get Dr. Sisko (his alternate wife) to join the human resistance. While this is a great setup, the episode ends on just an okay note, and it's really weird that Sisko sleeps with alternate Jadzia while he's trying to find the copy of the woman he loved. But we do get a Tuvok (from Voyager) cameo, and of course we all love random Tim Russ appearances.
Next mirror episode: alternate Mrs. Sisko lures the Captain and Jake to her side, where she obligates Sisko to try and rebuild the Defiant. This is the point where the mirror universe gets stale. Why does the mirror universe need its own Defiant? The whole point of an alternate universe is to be different, and yet since so many character opposites are dead (alt. Odo, Sisko's wife, alt. Sisko, alt. Quark, and in this episode, alt. Mrs. Sisko) that it's no longer a way to contrast personalities with the original crew. Especially since there's no significant difference between Smiley and our O'Brien. Still, this episode featured the one moment when alt. Kira was scary: when she killed alt. Mrs. Sisko.
And then the mirror universe turned to crap. Eventually someone realized that if it's easy to go back and forth from the mirror universe, then bad guys as well as good guys would try to take advantage of that. Then someone came up with a nonsense scheme for the alternate of one of Kira's late boyfriend Bareil, to steal a Bajoran orb. This is a boring, pedestrian episode where alt. Kira makes a fool of herself and Bareil is inconsequential, and they both disappear into the mirror universe again because....something about not fitting in. Alternate Bareil is a criminal, and has a hard time living in a world where its counterpart was an upright religious leader. This by itself would have been interesting, and if the episode was nothing more than alt. Bareil's story, it could have worked. Instead, alt. Kira is forced into the plot again, where she can ham it up on the screen despite the fact she's about as scary as a drunk Ferengi in this episode.
In one final, extremely insulting episode where nobody has killed alt. Kira yet (seriously, near about everyone else has died, including alt. Jadzia, alt. Nog, alt. Brunt, alt. Vic Fontaine, alt. Garak....), Nog and Quark must rescue Grand Negus Zek from the mirror universe by exchanging a this-universe cloaking device for his life. Everything about this episode is an exercise in being derivative, in addition to lots of annoying Ferengi characters. The end of this episode is a happy, chirpy bit where the human resistance show promise in freeing themselves. Too bad the mirror storyline slowly degraded over time, ensuring that nobody in the audience cares. If only they'd killed alternate Kira off before she became stale and trite.
Section 31: Thumbs up.
Like the Maquis storyline, this one is very short, and only really concerns the sixth and seventh seasons. It's much better than the Maquis storyline, though. Section 31 is a secret organization allowed by an obscure section of the Federation's constitution. It's ethically questionable in its methods to protect Starfleet and the Federation, and do things such as falsely accuse officers of wrongdoing, betray Romulan allies, and create a disease to give to Odo so that he can inadvertently give it to the other changelings and kill them all.
One of the good things about Section 31 is that it doesn't have enough time to mess itself up. It's there in three or four episodes, and is left to exist in case future Trek series want to use it. It mostly hinges on the acting ability of William Sadler, the guy who plays Section 31's Sloan. He's a good actor, and by making sure he's the only guy we know for sure is a part of the clandestine organization, the writers ensure that Sloan's mysterious nature gives the exact right impression of what the organization is about.
The plotline hinges, toward the end, on the disease given Odo. They want to murder all the changelings, which is of course against Trek ideals (more DS9 controversy), and despite the fact that killing all the changelings won't kill the Jem'Hadar or Dominion allies. Dodging Section 31's secrecy, Bashir finds the cure, and we'll talk about that more once I talk about the ending of the show. For now, I'll just say that Section 31 was a good way to keep the latter parts of DS9 fresh, without rehashing too much of what went on before.
Deep Space Nine did a couple of races well, but generally tended to be better at newer ones than the classically established ones. Let's do a quick run.
Bajorans: Thumbs Up.
Everything about the Bajorans works. They have a culture, their makeup is effective, they have a clear historical past, the writers take their religion seriously, and they have really neato earrings that the fans will want to buy. I want one. Probably a nice custom one, if I had money to burn.
The Bajoran religion (which really needs to have a distinct name) is pretty good, with the Prophets having created the Celestial Temple (wormhole), where they live. They kicked out the Pagh'wraith for trying to take over the Celestial Temple, sealing them in the Fire Caves of Bajor. The Prophets appear to care for Bajor, warping Sisko's destiny so that he'll protect it. They communicate to their people through special orbs, though sometimes they talk to Sisko through direct visions.
It's a simple story, but sometimes simplicity is a good thing. Maybe the writers didn't want to step on anyone's toes by emulating a real religion too much. That, and by not going into detail about the religion, we the audience can imagine the details for ourselves.
The Bajorans are competent as a race, with lots of plot potential. This is especially true with their past of being oppressed by the Cardassians. I haven't seen enough of The Next Generation to know how well this matches up with what that series established, but nothing appears to contradict Ensign Ro's character in TNG. What I know of it, anyway.
The only real downside to the Bajorans is that their plot potential for future series is somewhat limited. They don't appear to travel a lot or have a fleet of ships that they can call their own. Actually, now that I think about it, few of the Bajorans were developed at all. There's Kira, Kai Winn, and the doctor that raised Odo when he was a little slimeling. That's about it. Oh wait, there were a few in that one episode where Dukat tried to start a Pa'wraith cult. They weren't great, though, as they were a bunch of cult-manipulated sheep. Not the best example of Bajoran kind.
Whatever. The Bajorans are still a good race, and they can always build their own ships to join the other species in space travel later on.
Vulcans: Thumbs down.
Vulcans are the single most iconic race in Star Trek history. Leonard Nimoy by himself probably saved Star Trek from obscurity more than Roddenberry or any of the other creators are willing to admit. It was Nimoy's thoughtful portrayal of Spock and creation of Vulcan culture that made people sit up and take things seriously. Vulcans are well realized beings with a stable, intelligent way of life, and their emotionless culture is certainly something to think about.
Notice, however, that Vulcans don't appear much outside of the Original Series run and its associated movies. And when they do appear, they tend to suck. I'm having a hard time thinking of Vulcan characters that appeared in The Next Generation, other than guest appearances by Leonard Nimoy and Mark Lenard. I don't mind Vulcan absence in Next Gen, as it was the second series and had enough of a budget to try and make new aliens. Tuvok was the only Vulcan on Voyager, and...well, I'm not all that pleased with his performance there. Don't get me wrong, I love Tim Russ, but it may have been better if he portrayed a human (more on some other time, though). As for Enterprise...well, one of the reasons I despise Enterprise is that it turned Vulcans into whiny manipulators.
DS9, sadly, does no better than the others. For the most part, Vulcans are never mentioned. That alone is...mostly fine, I guess. If the show is entertaining, it doesn't have to refer to older things. Still, I would at least like to see them sometime. Besides a random Tim Russ in the mirror universe. That was pretty awesome.
There is one episode with Vulcans in it. It's a fun episode, but probably the single most insulting thing the Vulcans have ever been forced to do. And that counts being greeted by a drunken hick in First Contact. The episode is called Take Me Out to the Holosuite, and as the title implies, it's a baseball episode. Captain Sisko knew a Vulcan back in his academy days, and the two didn't get along. This guy, Solok, feels that humans are inferior to Vulcans in every way, and constantly rubs it in Sisko's face, even writing a report for the academy on the guy. So Solok challenges Sisko to a baseball game, and they play. The Vulcans cream the humans, but Rom makes a bunt that ends up scoring Sisko's team a single point. Solok attempts to talk to the other team after the game, but they laugh at him, enjoying their one single score. Solok leaves in a huff.
Can we please, please get past "emotional" Vulcans? It's not interesting! It was nice to have Spock crack once in a while, as he was young and half-human. Sarek had a disease, so that's his excuse. But the backstory of the Vulcans is that they were so violent in their long past that they had to reject emotion just to survive. Besides, we have emotional people in Star Trek already. What we don't have are people who are competent with their emotions pushed aside. It's so hard for me to watch Solok when I've seen so much better from Spock, Sarek, Saavik (both versions), and even bad guy Valeris that watching this casual actor portray a stale, hollow, egotist makes it impossible for me to take the guy seriously. It's like the writers of Star Trek decided to write a parody of their own creations.
It's one thing if Solok is a jerk, but the whole rest of his crew? Why do they care about beating a slapped together team of untrained misfits in a holographic baseball field? For that matter, why does Solok care about race? It's not logical to have an ego about different species, particularly since his grudge seems to be against humans specifically. There's lots of other species out there, and since many of them are more or less comparable to humans (emotional, not as enduring as Vulcans), then why care about humans specifically?
Vulcans are not naturally emotion free. They train and resist their impulses as a cultural choice. Given that a human has adopted this culture before (Is There in Truth No Beauty?), then maybe Solok needs to get over the whole Vulcan superiority thing. Vulcans have always shown a sort of self-possessing patience for others. Solok must be an outcast or something.
Granted, this episode isn't the worst thing ever. Captain Sisko is hilarious the whole way through, and his girlfriend Kasidy shows a lot of characterization. I know I'm not supposed to take the whole race thing seriously in a silly baseball episode, but that's the most awkward race issue Trek has ever had since the film Nemesis wanted the audience to sympathize with people who kept a slave race.
Cardassians: Thumbs up.
The Cardassians did get a lot of help in their characterization from their appearances in TNG. However, when DS9 took the baton, they didn't drop it. The Cardassians are as tricky as ever, without being fake or sterile. They feel the most real out of all the races portrayed in the show. They have good elements and bad elements, those who care more about order and those who care more about people. Just like real people. Granted, they're almost always wearing those strange, black rubber uniforms, but whatever.
The Gulag Archipelago has influenced my life in a number of ways, and one of them is that I have higher expectations for bad guys. The Cardassians fit the bill. I don't feel the need to point out flaws, the ones lazy writers would have given them just to make sure the good guys win. Well, with the single exception of how when the Cardassians created some automated fighting platforms, and then gave them all a single power source and pulled out the conventional army before making sure they work. That's just asking for their enemies to beat them. However, that isn't so much of a flaw in the Cardassians themselves as it is just a problem with one episode.
The Cardassians do have a philosophy, a philosophy of family and social structure. What I like about this philosophy is that it isn't handed to specific characters, like say all the bad characters or all the good ones, to make their culture look negative or positive. Instead, we see the natural consequences of this culture, both positive and negative. There's a positive in that Cardassians genuinely love their families. There's a negative in that trials become displays of Cardassian unity against crime, to the point of subverting justice. There's a positive in the cute tradition of telling one's secrets to one's heirs when death is near. There's a negative in thinking it's alright to conquer other planets.
Probably of all the races on the show, the Cardassians feel the most real. We get to see a lot of their citizens, as opposed to only seeing relatively few Bajorans. All the Cardassians feel like normal people, but because Bajorans get used as set dressing a lot of the time (this is most obvious when Sisko is strutting about and being the Emissary), they don't quite real the level of reality the Cardassians do. It helps that the two most important Cardassian characters, Gul Dukat and Garak, are played by magnificent actors whose recurring appearances on the show are always entertaining.
It may seem odd to go on and on about what I don't like and not saying a whole lot about what I do, but you can only say "they were really good" so many times.
Klingons: Thumbs down.
It's so strange. DS9 can do such a great job on the Bajorans and Cardassians, and yet they have perhaps the worst portrayal of Klingons in all of Trek. Now, it's not all that easy to figure out how to write Klingons without being cheesy. During TOS, they were more or less Soviets, as their behavior mimicked the way Soviets reacted to Western powers. TNG changed them, making them more honor-based and violent, along with the update in looks. The trouble with this is that nothing about the Klingons was all that honorable in TOS. I highly doubt the TNG Klingons would poison grain instead of fighting directly. Not to mention the Klingons being simple baddies-for-hire in the movies.
There's no doubt that any series would have trouble keeping the Klingons interesting and consistent. The only trouble is, DS9 didn't even really try. While there are a few Klingon based episodes that people appear to like, usually they're pretty boring. None of the Klingons can go more than two minutes without saying "warrior", "honor", or "blood wine." They're always fighting and doing things ego-first, despite the fact that ego and honor are not the same things. And surely they drink something besides blood wine. That just sounds disgusting. It's not as if there's no other things to drink, and other types of wine, for that matter.
Sure, races in Trek have been defined by a handful of characteristics before, but the Klingons here are just too narrow. They generally only say and do things according to cliches of their species. Now, while the same thing happened to the Vulcans, the writers of DS9 had the good sense to utilize Vulcans as little as possible. Klingons, however, just won't go away. The presence of Worf on the show, as well as the Dominion War, practically guarantee that the warrior race of the Alpha Quadrant has to show up. Since the writers apparently expect to scoot by with minimal effort, we get a lot of boring episodes to watch. Or skip over.
That's not to say that the portrayal of Klingons was all bad. With the wedding of Jadzia to Worf, as well as an episode where Quark must save a Klingon woman's house, adorable details are added to Klingon lore. Granted, I think the whole thing about Klingons killing their own gods is weird, especially in light of the respect Worf shows for Bajoran gods. Still, it's a unique way to describe both Klingon creation and wedding tradition. Quark's episode doesn't add much to Klingon lore, and simplifies them by the fact the Chancellor of the Empire and his council apparently don't give a crap about economics (why are these guys leaders again?). Still, I like how Klingon family houses are treated in this episode, and the rules about special dispensation. It feels very competent.
Chancellor Gowron has a nice moment in that episode where he shows without saying that he understands how a desperate Klingon woman would temporarily marry an odd little Ferengi. He senses Grilka's desire to save her family and lands, but shows it only with his expression and tone of voice. Say what you will about the direction the writers took with Gowron; his actor, Robert O'Reilly, did an excellent job whenever he was on the screen.
I was rather less pleased with General Martok. For some reason, other people like him (there's no accounting for taste, I suppose), but I just can't get over some of the horrible lines they give him. So many things he says on the show are abnormally cheesy, especially for a Klingon. Sure, he's a nice guy that seems to have a balanced understanding of life, but his lines are so full of cliches and his acting so dreary, it was difficult to ignore the desire to skip ahead on Netflix whenever he appeared.
Here's some examples.
-"There is no greater enemy than one's own fears."
-"We keep falling back. The Dominion keeps pushing forward. I tell you Worf, war is much more fun when you're WINNING! Defeat makes my wounds ache."
-"We are not accorded the luxury of choosing the women we fall in love with.”
Yeah, Martok's full of all kinds of these nuggets. Maybe if the writers gave him a little more to work with in terms of dialogue, I'd like him better.
I could bring up Worf's son Alexander at this point, but I've done enough ranting on Klingons for now. Y'know, I'm watching Voyager's Barge of the Dead, and so far it's miles above anything Klingon DS9 ever did.
Romulans: Thumbs up.
It's true that the Romulans weren't used nearly as much as other races. But that's fine. They were used from time to time, and were generally effective in their appearances. Well, when individual characters were around. Any time actors showed up only to portray a group of Romulans representing the species' interests, they were pretty bland and generic.
Thankfully, DS9 dodged this as much as they could, and their individual Romulan actors were great. There's Sub-Commander T'Rul, a woman who was assigned to work on the Defiant when the Romulans loaned Starfleet a cloaking device. She's a bit of a crank, but not at all annoying. I like how she contrasts the generally agreeable and personable DS9 crew by being straightforward and efficient. She doesn't mince words, and I was very disappointed not to see her reappear.
Senator Vreenak is mostly known for his adorable "It's a faaaake" line, but I still like him as a character. He's skeptical, intelligent, and someone you're sad to see go. Senator Cretak shows up in season 7, and her open-mindedness toward other species and culture is really refreshing for a race that has shown so much self-concern over most of its run. I was very disappointed to see her degrade into almost a normal Romulan in the first episode in which she appeared (Image in the Sand). All the same, her disagreements with other characters don't stem from "I'm a Romulan so I'm better than you", making her a very rational person, out to gain for herself but not disrespect others just for being different.
Overall, I wish there were more Romulan characters. At times the Romulans were stifled by their stereotypes, but any time a side role is given to a Romulan character, it works out. It must be that the actors they hired for the Romulan characters put extra effort into their work.
Ferengi: Thumbs down.
Note that this is a commentary on the Ferengi as a whole. Quark was a good character, and his nephew Nog was pretty good in his own way. However, Ferengi culture is the fakest thing that's ever been on Star Trek. You can call the episode on TOS with the half-black, half-white aliens to be ridiculous, but the Ferengi just take the cake in non-reality. It's not even just one or two episodes. Almost every Ferengi episode is an exercise in retreading cliches, oversimplifying real life conflict, and just generally insulting the audience. Outside of the main Ferengi characters, the Ferengi on this show are generally annoying, two dimensional bores.
It's pretty shameful that the show that tried to get so much depth into Trek reduced the Ferengi to nothing more than profit-mongers. For one thing, liking profit so much is hardly a characteristic that can be applied to a whole race -- only the most highly energetic salesman types can go into marketing, and once other races find out that the Ferengi are all this way, they will ignore the little creeps. Something like honor for Klingons, faith for Bajorans, or societal obsession for Cardassians, works because those characteristics are broad and can be translated into individual characteristics in any number of ways, from absolute devotion to rejection, from mild indifference to twisted beliefs.
People who worship money tend to be specific types. Money isn't an all-encompassing philosophy like love, honor, or belief in God. Sure, sometimes the writers' attempt to try and make it all-encompassing was fun. Like when Nog explained the "material continuum", where all materials are determined by fate to go to where they are most needed, as though in an all-knowing river. That was cute. However, all other attempts to explain Ferengi culture are full of cliches and trite morals.
For one thing, feminist "woman power" stories were cliches long into the nineties. Not only are women already "liberated", but we don't need to be trivialized with stupid plots where the "surprise" is "this male character is really a woman!" or "let's see what male character would do if in a woman's shoes!"
Newsflash: I got over the whole "boys vs. girls" thing when I was a pre-teen. I'm a grown-up now, and can accept that the other half of the species aren't complete idiots just because they're not women.
What makes it even worse is that the show appears to blame anti-feminist feeling on capitalism, or the love of money. What does treatment of women have to do with that? Let's observe our own history. Women are more equal in which cultures? Capitalist ones. Places like the United States and Britain are places where women tend to be most free, most likely to gain power, and most likely to spend money. Because capitalism hinges on individual ability to sell, any individual who can provide a product or service can succeed. In the US alone, women are responsible for $4.3 trillion of yearly spending. We influence 80% of all purchasing choices (Bridget Brennan, Why She Buys). Tell me again how capitalism is bad for women.
Leaving that aside, the Ferengi themselves are pretty annoying. They're too boxed-in by their own tropes. Only the ones that have individual development get to be more than cliches in DS9. They spout "profit" and "latinum" as much as the Klingons spout "honor" and "blood wine". In a show where the writers attempted more depth and reality than previous Trek incarnations, the Ferengi were absurdly fake and cartoonish.
I don't really care about the changelings, to be honest. Oh sure, they're cool enough, what with being able to change shapes, but the trouble is, they're kinda boring. They have no observable custom, traditions, or architecture. Most of the changelings we meet are simply parts of a massive sea, with no distinctive features other than the digital grading of 90s television. The female shapeshifter that manipulates Odo doesn't even have a name.
It doesn't help that they start a war over apparent racist acts done to them by the solids. We never see any of these things, and nothing about being a changeling seems weak enough to suffer very much from solids. They're strong, maneuverable, and apparently live really long periods of time. For that matter, Odo has almost never been mistreated, despite being a changeling outcast. The Cardassians trusted him, the Bajorans never got mad at him for working with the Cardassians, and the only thing Starfleet ever did to him was attempt to replace him once, and that was quickly forgotten.
Oh wait, Section 31 set a virus on the changelings....which happened long after the changelings started the war against the Alpha Quadrant.
Jem'Hadar: Even more meh.
I don't want to give them a thumbs down, as they're not really offensive. Like the changelings, they too have no culture. They're just genetically manipulated monsters kept addicted to a drug so that they serve the changelings. It doesn't help that their appearances are strictly disciplined in nature, making them like Klingons except with fewer emotions and no alcohol. They serve the changelings blindly, even to the extent of offending other servants of the Dominion. It's hard to talk about them, as they are so bland they have no individuality. If they were as brief in appearance as the Breen, it would be fine. But they have episodes featured about them, none of which make the Jem'Hadar more interesting.
Except for one. There's an episode where the Defiant's crew and some Jem'Hadar soldiers with their Vorta commander are trapped on a small planet together. The leader of the Jem'Hadar, the Third, has a deeply ingrained sense of honor, but isn't blind to the fact that his Vorta is using him. That was really good.
All the rest of the times? The Jem'Hadar are nice set dressing, nothing more.
Vorta: Thumbs up.
And again, the Vorta don't really have a culture. They're also servants of the changelings, but the intelligent genetic clones that lead the Jem'Hadar. They have a lot more personality than other Dominion beings, and are capable of sarcasm, wit, betrayal, and any number of emotions. And when killed, they're cloned again and sent back to work. While they can't figure out art and their vision sucks (do the changelings really want their servants like that?), they've got the personality to be on a TV show.
Particularly good is of course Weyoun, the Vorta with the most appearances. He's got a really strong actor, and when he goes from berating someone to humbly bowing to the changelings, it's pretty funny. Iggy Pop guest starred as a Vorta, and he did a good job in his episode as well, especially with his monotone voice.
I think the reason why the Vorta succeed so well is that they have no collective personality. There's no honor, or profit, or anything else that is the box to keep the Vorta in. DS9 tends to define the races too strongly by collective characteristics, while the Vorta don't even have absolute loyalty to the founders all in common. They get to be individuals, if only because there are no stereotypes for their race.
Overall, DS9 tends to have trouble with the races that they didn't primarily develop. Sure, the Cardassians appeared in TNG, but it wasn't until DS9 that they were well defined. They were DS9's race, primarily. As were the Bajorans. Since TNG didn't give either of these two races extensive background, DS9 was free to pick up the slack, and did a good job with them.
Not so with the others. The Ferengi, Klingons, and Vulcans all languished in their own stereotypes, and the Romulans might have done the same had they gotten more screentime. The Dominion was pretty good, but suffered from a lack of background detail.
Hey wait a minute. You know what? There was a wormhole to an entire new quadrant, and the story only briefly touches on a few of their normal inhabitants who aren't on the attacking army. Hey wait, if these other solid races are oppressed by the Dominion, why aren't they being pressed into the Dominion Armada? Why aren't those game-obsessed dudes with the bad makeup zapping the citizens of the Alpha Quadrant into their little fantasy world?
Meh, too complex, I guess. Still, you'd think that if the Dominion was forcing the Cardassians and the Breen to be on their side, they could do it to the Gamma Quadrant inhabitants too. It might not be the smartest idea, but the Founders sometimes chose the cruel thing over the smart thing, so it makes sense that they'd try and force people to fight for them.