Friday, November 29, 2013

Season Five of Deep Space Nine

The first season appears to be about threading the old Trek with the new show, introducing the characters, the basic rules, the basic types, and the basic ideas for this set's exploration. Since it's a station and not a starship, it's not going to be the new alien of the week, but the same set of them. It's a study of characters, principles, and philosophies at the surface level before going into the darkness. Study is the theme of the first season.

The second season appears to be about illusions or fantasies and how those support the status quo, which is sometimes associated with justice and sometimes with order. From the very first episode, we learn a very basic logic that's then turned over again and again in different philosophical situations. The logic is this: the truth about why things are noble or ideal is something that has to remain hidden for the ideals to function as ideal. This is then applied to relationships, ideology, religion, secularism, and the myths of Starfleet and the Federation. The Maquis are a very fascinating concept, especially in light of the Bajoran resistance being accepted by the Federation. This season contains some very impressive episodes, and Miles O'Brien has some of the most intense experiences in "Tribunal" and "Whispers." Garak as a character is really amazing during this season, where he is at his most peculiar. Justice's fantasies is the theme of the second season.

The third season begins the long, slow march towards the show's statements about the politics of necessity or the politics of the emergency. The problems latent in justice as ideal and grounded in imposed fantasy really start to become reflected in the characters. Now, we start to learn how the characters have sides and aspects to themselves they hide from themselves to maintain the illusions of rationality, sobriety, calm, or, again, the status quo. The continuing theme is something similar to the return of the repressed being like a reflection: at first it appears to be ourselves, an identical idea we have of ourselves—afterall, our reflection moves exactly the same way we do, right?—but in truth a reflection is not our self at all, not even in appearance, since it is an enantiomorph. It is ourselves flipped. Flipping the ideal of Starfleet for the Trek audience is no easy task, but it has to be done. Images and perspectives is the theme of the third season.

By the fourth season, the show is now really quite amazing with what it's doing to all of the characters set up and given life in the first season. Although there is some marketing approach influencing the logic of putting Worf into the show, it does help pose a new kind of philosophical challenge to the maturity of the show: what does the sense of prudence and honor and justice Worf presents do when set against the prudence and honor and justice of Odo? They are both very honorable moral agents, with Odo clearly being set up as a philosopher and Worf being an honor-loving kind of guardian. This is just one way of taking how this season develops, but you can already see in the previous seasons that DS9 is very willing to explore the fantasies of Starfleet. Here, the constant fear of the insurgent changeling terrorist agent, able to become anyone or anything, begins to undermine what makes the Federation a fantasy, a paradise, by threatening its loss. Shedding or losing one's sense of previous innocence—which, in the context of the show, is fundamentally a lie, since that innocence or paradise was built on a certain kind of irreality, and so shedding this is a major step towards maturity—is a major theme of this season. One of the best episodes of this season has got to be "Body Parts," a Quark episode, but I also found "Rules of Engagement" and "Hard Time" to be worth really exploring, too. These are explorations of the deep myths for the cultures of the show, unrooting how they function to further tinker with those logics.

This leads into the fifth season, where we are now in watching through the show. It has also been impressing me how well-developed the long story arcs are, and how completely different the world of DS9 is from my own. That world is constantly getting things right when it comes to understanding the difference between justice and order, standing up to genuine evil while also denying the worst tendencies to protect innocence. Invasion of privacy, invasion of intimacy, militarization, thuggery, growing coldness towards others has to be avoided by genuine trust, even trusting your own enemies. Trust is the significant theme of season five so far.

Above all, it is amazing to me how DS9 had predicted everything that will come to happen in the United States after 2001, probably even all the events leading up to that one singular event. 9/11 paves the way for a number of significant changes to the psyche of the collective cultures of the United States. While there are no isomorphic mappings from the ideologies and cultures and races of DS9 to those in the US, there are enough structural similarities to see how we fail to live up to the show's sense of justice, to its sense of the ideal moral outlook. We can see how people grow too accustomed to fear and loss, so they forget to open their eyes and see how what was once paradise is now being maintained by brutal weaponry and gripped rifles and uncompromising pragmatism. War breaks people. Torture breaks people. Regret breaks people. And broken people do dangerous things without thinking, because they are too afraid to celebrate the sensuousness of bubbles in a fizzling beer.

Being an adult, I see more in the show than I did when I was in high school. I remember how some aspects of the show turn and how some of it ends. I'm looking forward to watching all this again for the first time, with someone who has no idea of any of this, enjoying how she celebrates the characters and feels for their mistakes and laughs at their jokes. She has this cute way of saying 'Odo' when he does something important or silly or when the situation calls for him to do that arm-raising half-turn that's supposed to indicate flexible, adaptive surprise at a turn of events. A mild alarm, of sorts.

Sisko, though, at this point in the show is a good man. All fantasies, though, do come to an end.

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