The Star Trek Chronological Binge: Deep Space Nine seasons 3 & 4/Generations/Voyager season 2

If any Trek series benefitted from pushing the studio out of the writer’s room, it was Deep Space NineVoyager was the flagship series of the fledgling (and badly put-together) UPN. So that syndicated show could do whatever they wanted.

Which meant story arcs! Much is made of the similarities between Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, which J. Michael Starczynski pitched to Paramount as a possible successor series to TNG. However, Benjamin Sisko is not John Sheridan, the decrepit Cardassian mining station is not the shiny new Babylon 5, and Odo is most definitely not Garibaldi. The similarities are the station with the commander having a destiny. But the devil (Shadow? Pagh wraith?) is in the details. The Prophets would not work in JMS’s built-from-scratch mythos, and the Vorlons make lousy Trek antagonists in a universe that includes the Q, the Metrons, and the Organians.

And really, tribalism in scifi franchises is so repulsive to me I can’t even watch Star Wars anymore.

SiskoDeep Space Nine Seasons 3 & 4

That rant out of the way, season 3 saw a build-up to the Dominion War with a red herring at the end: The Klingons once again becoming the villains. Of course, the subtext is that Gowron is kind of an idiot. The Federation has already thwarted the Empire twice (once purely by luck, according to Discovery) and saved their fat from the fryer several times. The idea Klingons are the Vikings to the Federation’s Normans makes ongoing Klingon antagonism a bit of a stretch. But that’s the point.

By the end of season 3, Sisko has a girlfriend, meets Mirror Jennifer (who is very much like Prime Jennifer Sisko to the point she’s feels a maternal pull toward Jake), and transitions from clean-shaven with a full head of hair to bald with a goatee. To be honest, it looks more natural on Avery Brooks. Had they cast Sam Neill, who was considered early on, he’d just look like an older Peter Gabriel. I digress.

WorfA lot of journeys begin in Season 3. Odo learns his people aren’t the noble justice seekers he thought they were. And he’s repulsed by them. Kira has settled into her relationship with Sisko, respecting him as a commander (now captain), but still seeing him as a spiritual figure. When a possible Bajoran Emissary emerges, she expresses disappointment as this temporally displaced poet doesn’t seem to do as good a job as the reluctant human from Earth.

We meet Dax’s previous hosts, see Nog join Starfleet, Rom become something more than a lackey to his brother Quark, and learn quite a bit about the Ferengi. Props must be given to the writers room and Armin Shimerman for burying the absurd, monkey-like image of the Ferengi in the beginning. Jeffrey Combs also debuts, first as the Vorta Weyoun, who is smarmy as hell, and as the cocky, arrrogant Brunt, a Ferengi enforcer who seems to give the Grand Nagus pause. (Oh, and Wallace Shawn as Zek, the Grand Nagus of the Ferengi.) And then there are the Jem’Hadar, humanoids bred in a lab ready to fight at three days old and seldom lasting beyond five years of age. Yet their loyalty is in question as they resent their addiction to a drug called ketracel white.

The biggest change comes as a result of Generations. (More on that shortly.) Worf joins the cast as the station’s strategic officer. He arrives at the start of season 4 as Sisko must deal with a hostile Klingon Empire. Worf considers leaving for the Empire, then another polity as he feels he doesn’t fit in anywhere since the Enterprise crashed. (Oh. Um. Spoiler alert!) He also runs afoul of Gowron. Ever vindictive, the shady chancellor revokes the restoration of Worf’s honor when the latter sides with the Federation, making him an outcast. Ironically, Worf is more Klingon than Gowron in that moment. Originally, I thought the addition was gimmicky, and Ira Behr admits they added Worf to boost sagging ratings. Yet Worf, already on a journey when Generations effectively ends TNG, becomes even more complex. Sisko is the perfect captain to succeed Picard as Worf’s mentor–no nonsense, perfect balance between friendly and aloof. Worf also finds a foil early on in Odo, whom he will call “a man of honor” in season 3 of Picard. And Dax, having been hosted by the Klingophile Curzon and ready as Jadzia to spar with a Klingon using real bat’letlhs, provides some much needed stability. An appearance by John Colicos as an aging Kor, who hates Gowron, also shores up Worf’s Klingon cred.

And give Worf some overdue payback to the Duras family.

DefiantDS9 also gets a ship at the beginning of season 3, the Defiant. This is not the time-shifting victim of the Tholian Web of TOS/ENT/DISCO. This is a new ship which doesn’t look like your typical Starfleet vessel. Sisko pulls it out of mothballs and has O’Brien, Rom, and Dax shake out the bugs. By the end of season 4, Worf moves his quarters aboard, effectively making it his first command. It’s actually a good addition to the show. A Defiant show would never have worked, and after two seasons, DS9 needed something more than a runabout to deal with the growing Dominion threat and a way for the cast to kick some ass. Sisko is even lured to the Mirror Universe to make their Defiant work.

Props have to be given to the writers for making Lwaxana Troi something more than Deanna’s annoying mother. She comes aboard doing that Lwaxana thing and takes a shine to Odo. A few hours stuck in the turbolift forces her to drop the Auntie Mame act, and the pair begin to bond as she lets Odo rest as a liquid, using her dress to hold him in her lap. When she marries someone from a culture she cannot abide, Odo comes to the rescue and marries her himself, offering to annul the marriage on Bajor when a few months pass.


Kirk and Picard in GenerationsAbout ten episodes into season 3 (and three into season 1 of Voyager), we come to Generations, the first TNG movie. Sigh. I realize they struggled with The Motion Picture, and many would like to forget Star Trek V, since we never really find out what God wants with a spaceship. But Picard and company’s first big-screen outing should be something more than an extended episode.

So let’s sum up. We begin a year after the events of Star Trek VI. Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov are present to see the Enterprise B off on her maiden voyage. Commanded by John Harriman, one of the Roy kids from Succession, the ship leaves Spacedock sometime before Tuesday, when everything a starship needs will be installed. (I sincerely hope the Starfleet media rep who arranged this disaster of a photo op was shoved out of an airlock on Monday.) A temporal ribbon that whips around the galaxy every 37 years just happens to whip by Earth. Before Tuesday. Harriman doesn’t know what to do, so of course, Kirk and Scotty step up while Chekov becomes the most improvised chief medical officer in Starfleet since… Well, thanks to Discovery, we can say Jett Reno, but since this was released in 1994, we’d have to say Starfleet history. Anyway, they manage to rescue 47 El Aurian survivors from the ribbon, including Guinan and a moody guy who looks like someone’s humble narrator, one Soran. The Enterprise gets trapped, so Kirk goes below to save the day. Apparently, he’s killed.

Soran turns up 78 years later trying to use a trilithium weapon to implode stars and draw the ribbon someplace he can be swept back into it. As the Enterprise arrives to investigate, Picard gets news his brother and nephew have died in a fire at the vineyard. Data gets an emotion chip. And Soran reveals he has some Klingon playmates in the Duras sisters, Lursa and Betor. Having taken Geordi hostage, Soran turns Geordi’s VISOR into a bug. It allows them to send Geordi back and see the frequencies to the Enterprise‘s shields. As Picard beams down to stop Soran, Lursa and Betor fire on the Enterprise and damage its warp core, dooming the stardrive section. However, Data and Riker figure out how to trigger their cloaking device and fire a photon torpedo, killing the sisters. Unfortunately, Deanna Troi has to bring the saucer of the Enterprise in for a controlled crash. Soran is successful, and Picard is swept into the Nexus, the heart of the ribbon. Unconvinced by the vision of a Christmas with the family he never had, Picard stumbles into Guinan and asks her to come back with him. But Guinan says she’s already back. But someone else is there who thinks he’s just arrived: Captain James T. Kirk. Picard convinces him to go back with him to Veridian III. Now, Soran is confronted by two captains of the Enterprise. Kirk disables the cloaking device on the missile tipped with Soran’s starkilling warhead.  Picard almost sabotages it only to find himself confronted by a gat-wielding (Seriously, that disruptor/phaser/ray gun is designed to look like the gangsta grip police find hilarious) Soran. He runs away. Soran discovers Picard has locked the missile clamps in place and dies in a Wile E. Coyote moment that lacks only a sign reading, “Yikes!” Sadly, Kirk falls to his death.

This could have been an epic movie, but Ron Moore and Brannon Braga, usually Trek’s 90s dynamic duo in the writer’s room, were handed a checklist of points to hit in the script: TOS cameos, Kirk meets Picard, wreck the Enterprise so they can have a cooler one in the next movie, some Klingons, and a time travel thing. Let’s address that last one first. Rick Berman really hammered the time travel thing to death in the TNG movies. First Contact uses it to great effect (and serves up a great Enterprise episode.) Insurrection has a time-bending aspect built into it. One of Nemesis‘s (very) few redeeming qualities was that it had no time-travel aspect whatsoever.

Enterprise D crashesThe movie is contrived, the Enterprise bridge reconfigured to make up for the wider cinema screen. Oddly enough, they don’t do this in season 3 of Picard, shot in 4K. It’s great seeing Chekov stepping up and taking charge because Kirk’s busy and Scotty’s working miracles. The chemistry between the TNG cast is terrific as always. Data’s emotion chip gets to be a bit much, although his, “Oh, shit” as the Enterprise loses orbital velocity is classic. Yes, this is the guy who pulls a Lando Calrissian inside the Borg cube 30 years later.

But it’s paint-by-numbers, and there’s not enough story there to justify a two-part episode. And what happened to Harriman and Demora Sulu? Beta canon provide some interesting fodder, including using a gambit from Deep Space Nine where Harriman finds a bunch of dead Federationers who mysteriously got better in time for him to stage the Tomed Incident that drove the Romulans into seclusion and the Klingons to embrace the Federation. And many dislike Kirk’s fate, which unfortunately, was a condition of Shatner’s participation, one he later regretted.

Kathryn Janeway

Voyager Season 2

Voyager  Season 2 is probably one of the series’ strongest. It maintains a balance of straight up science fiction and character development. The EMH becomes more of a living being, at one point having to fake being merely a sophisticated AI to thwart a takeover of the ship. Chakotay is fleshed out with a believable, if fictitious, tribe and his indigenous roots emphasized. At the same time, he’s the senior Maquis on the ship who isn’t afraid to impose Maquis discipline when his comrades don’t quite get Starfleet.

The show embraces loose story arcs, not as tightly connected as those on DS9, but close enough. A Betazoid sociopath named Lon Suder presents Janeway with a problem: Starfleet does not execute people, nor can Janeway simply put him off. On a seventy-year trip home, She confines him to quarters and lets Tuvok make him a reclamation project. Suder goes out bravely when the Kazon seize the ship in the Season 3 opener. Tom Paris spends two or three episodes becoming every bit the jerk his doppleganger Nick Locarno was in an effort to leave the ship and go after Seska.

Seska as Bajoran and CardassianAnd let’s talk Seska. The Cardassian who joined the Maquis disguised as a Bajoran, is one of Trek’s most complex and vicious antagonists. She betrays the crew to the Kazon Nistrum, but she’s no loyal Maquis. She’s not even doing it for Cardassia. She’s getting even with Chakotay, with whom she has a relationship. However, hell hath no fury like a Cardassian woman disguised as a Bajoran scorned. She finds ready allies in the Kazon and a gullible former Maquis aboard ship. Over the final ten episodes, she attempts to steal Voyager‘s technology. In one episode, where Paris has infiltrated the Kazon, the mole is killed by, of all people, Neelix.

Season 2 has a couple of duds. There’s “Threshold,” where going warp 10 turns Paris and Janeway into salamanders who mate and have little salamander babies. Not “Spock’s Brain” bad, and not “Code of Honor” repulsive, but pretty bad. Then there’s “Tuvix,” the most controversial episode of Voyager‘s seven-year run. Tuvok and Neelix are fused into one person by a transporter malfunction. Does Janeway essentially kill this person to save the original two? The solution is one of Voyager‘s most common flaws: Let’s solve a thorny problem with five minutes to go in the episode. People argue about this episode today, but Lower Decks does salvage it when Carol Freeman, faced with a similar dilemma, is horrified to learn Janeway’s solution had more to do with being cut off from Starfleet in the Delta Quadrant than any precedent-setting decision other captains can use. (And of course, Mariner and Boimler save the day.)

Like Deep Space Nine‘s Founder-centered finale and its Klingon-focused follow-up, Voyager has one of the most satisfying finales/premiers with the two-parter “Basics.” Janeway and crew are stripped of all technology and left to die in a planet that could best be described as a less-pleasant version of Land of the Lost, complete with a crew member getting eaten by that world’s version of a dinosaur. Paris really steps up as he escapes to get help from the Talaxians. And for once, Neelix shows some leadership ability.

But Trek’s center of gravity is Deep Space Nine. Free of studio scrutiny, they decide a darker turn at long-term storytelling would make a better series, and they were right.

All images Paramount