Monday, January 28, 2013

The Top Ten Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Episodes

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The Basics: Neglected by mass culture, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a classic in its own right and possibly the best of the Trek pantheon. These are the indispensable episodes...

So, now that I've begun writing up some of my lists for my readers, I find myself in the pleasant and horrible position of sometimes having to truly be concise and nail down some of my opinions. After all, when I'm simply reviewing a film, book, or c.d., where it falls in my larger pantheon can often be overlooked. I can go back and see trends in my reviewing and justify higher or lower ratings based on what I was experiencing at the time.

This became a real issue when coming up with my list of the ten best Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes of all time. There are a number of perfect hours of this much-neglected show and in cutting down the list, I was forced to leave off several worthy episodes, like "Sacrifice Of Angels," "Looking For Par'Mach In All The Wrong Places . ..," and "To The Death" (when I originally posted this, I took a lot of crap for not including “In The Pale Moonlight!”). Paring down the best episodes into a list of ten is a kind of "put up or shut up" for the best series in the Star Trek franchise. If you've never seen Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, weren't able to get into it, or loved it and want to see the cream of the crop, these are the episodes that represent the best the series produced and perfect hours of television that may be returned to again and again and again.

10. "Hard Time" (reviewed here!) - Every season, poor Chief O'Brien got tortured by someone, usually for doing nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the fourth season, the show did an episode that smartly dealt with the repercussions of O'Brien being imprisoned by a race that time compresses jail sentences. So while he was unconscious for only a few hours, he had memories implanted in his mind of being imprisoned for decades. The powerful toll that takes on O'Brien makes for one of the most enduring character studies of the series,

9. "Tacking Into The Wind" (reviewed here!) - At one of the last Star Trek conventions I attended while the series was still running, Alexander Siddig (Siddig El Fadil, "Dr. Bashir") was asked the pretty standard question about what season was his favorite and he answered the current (7th) season because the show just keeps getting better and better (in his words). Perhaps there's no better proof of that than in the last few episodes, the series would create one of the top ten episodes of the series. While Damar, Kira and Odo work to free Cardassia from the clutches of the Dominion, Odo begins to succumb to the disease ravaging his people. At the same time, the Klingon Empire stands on the brink of ruin as Gowron's jealousy of Martok overcomes his judgment. A clever episode with a tension that ratchets up until the last moments of the episode, this is one of the last gems the series would produce without feeling like it was going to end (i.e. the events in this episode inspire events that could have inspired a whole additional season!),

8. "Rocks And Shoals" (reviewed here!) - Wow. War sucks, but watching the ethical dilemmas laid out so succinctly when Sisko and his crew crash land on a planet occupied by a lone garrison of Jem'Hadar who are running out of the drug they need to sustain them is intense. Combined with a powerful b-plot aboard the station of a Bajoran's willingness to protest the war at any cost, this is easily the most neglected episode of the top ten. Performances by Nana Visitor on down to the Lieutenant who has to bury the bodies at the end make this an astonishingly great episode,

7. "Return To Grace" (reviewed here!) - One of the nice things about writing a list like this is that it's okay to be biased. Objectively, this spot should probably be saved for “Sacrifice Of Angels;” too bad. I love the character of Gul Dukat. He's Star Trek's" greatest villain and the most consistently, best written adversary for any of the crews. So when Major Kira is transported by Dukat to a conference where the Klingons intervene and she must teach Dukat how to be a terrorist, it's a pretty great hour of television. Smart and managing to make Dukat out of his element without being a buffoon, this episode smartly does what most of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does best; it forces characters to deal with the consequences of their prior actions and this one knocks it out of the park with that,

6. "Necessary Evil" (reviewed here!) - No episode more poignantly and profoundly changed the direction of the characters without saying anything than this episode. The last shot of the episode knocked my socks off when I first saw it and tugged my heartstrings every time thereafter. A murder investigation makes for a great excuse to look back to how Odo met Kira, Quark and Dukat and it's a smart episode that is a great character study,

5. "What You Leave Behind" (reviewed here!) - The series finale of Star Trek Deep Space Nine did what no other Trek series has been ballsy enough to do, it ended the series with a sense of finality and futility that perfectly fit the show's overriding motif of "Dreams die." The Cardassian War ends, with significant casualties both in literal terms (characters are killed off) and metaphorical (one character leaves with a sense of permanence that destroys all of his individuality). Sisko's role as the Emissary comes to a head when he must take on the Pah Wraiths and ultimately, everything ends. The last shot of the series still brings a tear to my eye. Every time,

4. "In Purgatory's Shadow" / "By Inferno's Light" (reviewed here! and here!) - The first of my two cheats on this list is this two-part episode that marks the turning point that leads directly to the Dominion War. Dukat returns from his private war with the Klingons to stand beside Sisko and his team as they prepare for a Dominion assault. Only, there's intrigue afoot and one of Sisko's people is not himself and Dukat's made an alliance with the Dominion that changes everything. This is quite possibly the best, most plot-driven episode that keeps the suspense building until the last moment of the episode and truly juggles every character involved effectively,

3. "Improbable Cause" / "The Die Is Cast" (reviewed here! and here!) - And then there's this two-parter that for the first time gives Garak a real juicy story. When the tailor is almost killed, Odo begins an investigation and what starts as a simple investigation leads to a convoluted scheme. But the brilliance of the two-parter is that the convoluted scheme serves mostly for Garak and Odo to share some deliciously character-building scenes, including the revelation of Odo's true feelings and a quiet, poignant denouement that wraps up an episode with amazing special effects with a genuine character moment,

2. "The Visitor" (reviewed here!) - Anyone who has seen this episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine knows why it's considered almost universally one of the top five episodes of the series and one of the top ten episodes in the franchise. And who would have guessed; it's a story of Jake Sisko! Set in the distant future, author Jake Sisko spends a night with a young author reminiscing about the death of his father and the effect that had on him. Spanning fifty years, the episode is a tear-jerker and the ultimate tale of loneliness and loss. Well written, amazingly acted and all around great, this episode manages to have an effect on viewers every time they watch, even if it's the only episode of the series they ever see,

1. "Duet" (reviewed here!) - What "The Visitor" does on a personal and character level, "Duet" does on a social and historical level. Subtle in its perfection, for an hour, Kira is able to interrogate a Cardassian whose identity oscillates between filing clerk and war criminal. The mystery of one man's identity sparks a character struggle that asks what the true price of vengeance is, and what it ought to be. This is easily the smartest hour of television yet written and it becomes worthwhile for anyone to see. There is no finer reason to own a television than to see this hour of programming.

For other best and worst of Star Trek, check out:
The Worst 10 Episodes Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The Best 10 Episodes Of Star Trek
The Worst 10 Episodes Of Star Trek
The Best 10 Episodes Of Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Worst 10 Episodes Of Star Trek: The Next Generation

For other television and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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