Plot – DS9 was always willing to push the boat out when it came to serialisation (it started way back in series one and two where In the Hands of the Prophets – The Siege charted Bajor’s tricky first steps in political independence) but it was with the debut of season six that it truly embraced the idea with a six episode arc to kick start the season. It was probably the highlight of the entire show (although there is an argument to be made for the final ten episodes too) and was certainly the point where it was at its most confident and the characters and storylines were firing on all cylinders. There is a much needed ‘previously on Deep Space Nine’ at the beginning of A Time Stand but it does a such a superb job of getting everybody up to speed and ready to explore this new Dominion occupied station that I would say that you could easily tackle the episode without it. The teaser is almost eight minutes long, fatalistic, and quickly lets the audience know that things are going very badly indeed for the Federation.
The climax of season five ended with a huge fleet building momentum and heading off to kick the Dominions butt and season six opens with shot of Federation ships limping out of battle, battered and damaged, after six months of slaughter. Suddenly we are in new territory. It goes without saying that at this point DS9 is serialised but it can still throw in some surprises like the return of the Jem H’adar ship that they acquired at the beginning of season five.
The cliff-hanger to A Time To Stand promises much more serialisation to come. It closes on a terrific action sequence that leaves our heroes stranded behind the lines in an enemy ship. And that’s avoiding the sticky point that the crew have become terrorists and are striking at the heart of their enemy. DS9 is breaking all the rules now and is all the better for it.
Character – There’s a glorious sequence that seems to suggest that Garak and Bashir are going to be the new Bones and Spock. Bashir discusses the loses in the war dispassionately and Garak calls him out on it. To one it is cold hard facts, to the other it is a matter of their lives. Bashir’s genetically enhanced background really yielded fascinating results for Bashir. Plus, he’s got his hair slicked back and his sleeves rolled up…when did Bashir get so cool?
DS9’s extended guest cast is the shows bread and butter and so many of the best examples appear in this episode (Garak, Dukat, Weyoun, Martok) that I was helpless to resist. The trio of Weyoun, Dukat and Damar on the station is especially rewarding because this is three men who all consider themselves to be important and all treat each other as though they are the one in charge. Power struggles are so much fun; Weyoun defers to the Founders but treats Dukat and Damar like they are dust beneath his feet, Dukat relies on Damar and treats Weyoun like an annoying Uncle who has been left to look after them, Damar respects Dukat but treats everybody else (especially Kira) as though they are living embodiment of everything that is repugnant.
Dukat is drunk on power and loving having his position back on Terek Nor. This is peak Dukat; full of himself and in a situation where he can stroke his ego with every line of dialogue. He’s back in Command of his old haunt, he’s cosying up to the woman who loathes him and there is nothing she can do about it and he is on the verge of conquering the entire Alpha Quadrant for his people. He’s the hero of his own story, despite how loathsome he behaves and Alaimo captures that euphoric sense of supremacy so charismatically. You want to hate this guy for everything he represents and yet it is a performance with such magnetism that you can’t help but love spending time with him anyway.
Listen to the banter between Dax, Bashir, O’Brien and Nog on the Jem H’adar ship. It really doesn’t get much better than that, people. These are characters who have fully matured and work in any combination firing off great dialogue.
Performance – He doesn’t get a lot to do in this episode but has anybody else noticed how JG Hertzler lights up the room whenever he appears in a scene? It’s a great talent and for a guy who doesn’t really enjoy Klingon culture all that much it is a wonderful reason for me to engage with those scenes. His charisma is terrifying.
Sisko being removed from the Defiant is an unusual turn of events because generally the second half of an end of season cliff-hanger is devoted to returning the show to the status quo and not shifting things out of alignment even more. Even better is him having to explain to his dad that he left Jake on the station in the hands of a vicious, bloodthirsty enemy. Joe Sisko kicks ass and any scene between him and his son is instant gold. I don’t doubt for a single second that these two are related. Listen to Joseph Sisko’s confusion about why there isn’t enough space amongst the stars for everybody to just leave each other alone. It’s hardly a radical point but it is a very relevant one.
Production – Having so many scenes amongst the Federation characters taking place at either a space station or on the Defiant I am left with the inescapable conclusion that the décor of Federation stations and ships is decidedly dull and I much prefer the greasier, harsher and more atmospheric aesthetic of a Cardassian architecture on DS9.
Why does the CGI look more impressive on DS9 than it does on Enterprise (which came afterwards?). I feel that this was the point where the show could really experiment with how ambitious they could make their effects work and they went hell for leather to prove they can pull off some very dynamic space action sequences. I am not for one second suggesting that the effects work on Voyager and Enterprise should be mocked because they are frequently excellent, it just doesn’t feel as ambitious or as assured with what it is trying to achieve. DS9 went to all-out war and for the first time we are seeing enormous fleets in action in an explosive manner.
Best moment – Some of my favourite Quark moments come when he is given the chance to break out of the Ferengi mould and say something profound about the human condition. For such a treacherous lowlife, he is possibly the most honest character on the station when it comes to his opinion. He puts an interesting spin on the way the Occupation of the station is playing out, suggesting that things could be an awful lot worse than they are (as they were during the previous Occupation). It’s enough to make both Kira and Odo sit up and acknowledge that he has a point.
The scene between Kira and Dukat in his office is very unpleasant (in the most gripping way imaginable) viewing. It’s the sort of scene that highlights the places this show was prepared to go compared to some of the others. Dukat behaves in a loathsome way, and essentially tells Kira that if she fucks him he will make her life very easy. When she recoils from his advances he tells her he is willing to wait, leaving the threat of sexual harassment to come hanging in the air. Kira’s face says it all. She would rather die. She would rather he died. You know this is going to explode at some point and the anticipation this scene generates is delicious.
A reason to watch this episode again – A Time to Stand is where TNG was in Yesterday’s Enterprise, but in order for that show to embrace war and conflict it had to trip into an alternative universe. This time it’s for real and it’s an ugly situation. You’d think the show heading down such a fatalistic path would be agonising viewing but it’s razor sharp; full of juicy characterisation, fine dialogue and plenty of unusual situations that characters on Star Trek don’t get to face. There is a confidence to the show at this point that is unmistakable. It knows it has fully matured and is delivering powerhouse material and yet refuses to become complacent, still pushing the boundaries. This is essentially half an hour of character material with an action sequence bolted on the end and I can tell you what is the more formidable part of the episode. A Time to Stand isn’t anywhere near the best episode in this seven-episode run (I’d put Call To Arms, Rocks and Shoals and the two final episodes above this) and it is still absolutely riveting television – Trek at its most muscular, and dynamic and bursting with character.
****1/2 out of *****
Clue to tomorrow's episode: