TV Review | Star Trek: Deep Space Nine | Season 3
Season summary: Benjamin Sisko brings the USS Defiant, a ship he helped to construct at the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards, to Deep Space 9 to protect the station from a Dominion attack. (Memory Alpha)
Now, this is more like it! DS9's third season is definitely a step above the first two, even if the show still isn't quite on the level it will eventually reach. The key thing is that the level of consistency has risen, with the 'lesser' episodes being fewer in number and even the more mediocre efforts still having something to enjoy about them.
I think the key is that, by this point, the cast and the people behind the show now had a couple of years' experience working with each other, the characters had history too them that the audience were aware of and certain relationships (like Bashir and O'Brien's glorious friendship) have really got going too.
Then there's the arrival of the Defiant, right in the season premiere. Honestly, that "tough little ship" (spoken by Tom Riker here and to be repeated by Will in Star Trek: First Contact further down the line) is my favourite of the Trek ships - yes, even above any of the various Enterprises - and it was almost the final piece in the DS9 puzzle.
Suddenly, DS9 could match the other Trek shows and go away from the station, exploring the Gamma Quadrant or getting involved in fights where it punched well above its weight. It meant that you could split the cast easily enough and still have them in regular locations, rather than just DS9 itself and a random planetary location filmed somewhere in California.
It also meant that it made the galaxy a little smaller - and in the best way possible. It made contact with other species easier and the political element was ratcheted up a notch as a result, with the Bajoran leadership up for grabs; divides between the Cardassian Central Command (the military) and Obsidian Order (intelligence agency); and even the Romulans getting involved to a larger extent.
This also lead to more screen-time for Garak, which was also no bad thing thanks to his murky history. Andrew Robinson clearly enjoyed the extra time to shine and this is definitely the season where Garak became much closer to a regular member of the cast rather than occasional guest star. Not bad for someone who's clearly not 'one of the good guys'.
The most pleasant surprise came from Nog, despite his cringe-worthy behaviour in the episode "Life Support". In fact, his shining moment came in the very next episode, "Heart of Stone", where he admits that he wants to join Starfleet so he doesn't end up like his father, Rom. It's a brilliant scene between Aron Eisenberg and Avery Brooks that sets up the Ferengi for a much more important role in later seasons.
Sadly, "Heart of Stone" turned out to be one of the sadder episodes to watch this season. Following the deaths of Eisenberg and Rene Auberjonois, it was bittersweet to see them both give such good performances in this episode and be reminded that they are no longer with us. Still, their talent under heavy prosthetics was still obvious even at this relatively early stage of the show's life.
The biggest issue that this season had was that a lot of the plots were relatively predictable, for lack of a better term. This isn't a case of me having knowledge of what happened, rather the episodes signalling a bit too much where the story was leading. It wasn't too bad in most cases, but there were still times that it frustrated me when I already knew exactly what was going well before any of the 'highly-intelligent' characters in the show.
There were also a couple of times when it felt like episodes had been put in the wrong order, usually a standalone story coming after something that affected a longer arc. The best example of this is the jolt going from the second episode of the season ("The Search, Part II") and the third ("The House of Quark"). There are huge revelations affecting the show in the former that are then entirely ignored in the latter and for no apparent reason - it was a little bizarre to experience.
Despite these minor mis-steps, I pretty much enjoyed the season from start to finish, with no real lulls as DS9's level of quality improved and avoided spells of mediocre or worse episodes that hampered the first two seasons. In fact, this is probably the first season of DS9 where I would say the show edged ahead of the other Trek series for me.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's third season certainly begins the upswing in quality, with very few bumps in the road this time. The characters all know each other better and, with years of history, behind them, it shows too. The addition of the Defiant was also a massive boost, letting the show leave the station behind and really opening up the horizons for new stories to be told.