WARNING: "A Time to Stand"? Yes, but also a time to review -- and thus, a time to spoil. For you, then, it might be time to skip this article unless you want spoilers.
In brief: I didn't *love* it, but I definitely liked it a lot -- and it shows a nice trend.
Wait a minute.
Did I just see a season premiere which *didn't* essentially press the reset button on the previous cliffhanger? I did? Wow. What a pleasant notion. :-)
In the final half or final third of its previous season, DS9 began to really weave many different threads together into a whole that, while not always consistent or seamless, was without a doubt interesting to watch and to speculate about. If "A Time to Stand" did nothing else, it showed that DS9 is also starting to take a somewhat longer view about how long major changes can be "allowed" to exist ... and that, by itself, is a strikingly good sign.
That shift in timing was evident almost from the very beginning, with "A Time to Stand" picking up not immediately where "Call to Arms" left off, but three months later -- far enough into the war to have the situation plain. On a practical level, this makes it easy to justify between-season changes like hairstyles (both Kira's and Dukat's), but it also justifies the Federation's desperation, and also allows references to lots of destroyed ships without having to blow a season's worth of effects budget. :-)
Far more important than the beginning, however, was the fact that the episode ended *without* everything returning to normal. The station isn't back in the good guys' hands; rather, Weyoun may be cementing his hold politically by bringing Odo onto the ruling council, and it's been fairly clear that at the moment, there's not much that can be done to reclaim the station, from within or without. Sisko's actions this week may help turn the tide of the war over the long term, but in the short term it did him and DS9 no real good. That sort of incremental progress is far more natural to me than most of the major DS9 plot developments we've had in the past (such as the onset of the Klingon war, which was shoehorned in like crazy), and is quite refreshing.
As with any new approach, though, there were a few gaps in logic that left me scratching my head. In this case, the feel of "it's been three months" was broken a few times, which was jarring. For instance, Starfleet has had the Jem'Hadar ship of Sisko's for about a year now, but no one's ever tested the headsets to see if there are side effects, and no one's trained to fly it properly. Even given that it would have taken Starfleet time to get it operational, that feels like a reach. It's not completely implausible, but I think it needed to be justified. Similarly, Quark's attempt to get the Jem'Hadar to loosen up is something that should have been tried rather early into the occupation, not three months in. (Admittedly, his speech was somewhat halfhearted, so perhaps it was the umpteenth attempt.) In any case, while the attempt to show time passing was generally successful and helpful, there were a few glitches here and there.
On a character level, things haven't changed that much, with one exception: Bashir's genetic enhancement is now mentioned a great deal, and is very much in the forefront of his character. I'm not entirely sure I like that; as I said back when his background was first revealed, making him a superbeing was unnecessary to the plot at the time, and felt likely to spark a lot of distrust among the rest of the crew. So far, we've had a few bon mots about it from Garak (which were, of course, delightful), but there doesn't seem to be any sense that people resent it. Perhaps in a perfect Federation society, they wouldn't ... but DS9's strength for years has been its distinct *lack* of perfection. Granted, this sort of followup is definitely better than none (and is in some ways more than I expected), but it felt a little off in spots to me. (I'm not sure the staff really knows what they want to do with Bashir; certainly, he's been tossed around as a companion for everyone from Garak to O'Brien to Jake, and who Bashir *himself* is has only come up once or twice a season at best.)
As I said, not much else changed on a character level -- and in addition, the plot held few real surprises. In a lot of respects, though, that's a good thing. The characters and their interactions have generally been working well on DS9 for quite some time, so major shifts aren't particularly necessary or even expected -- and the plot was unsurprising because a lot of the events in it were very sensible ones given the situation. One would certainly expect Weyoun to be even more obsequious than usual when dealing with Odo, just as one would expect him to deny Jake's articles the light of day. Similarly, one would expect Kira to use Odo's godhood against Dukat and Weyoun, and Dukat trying to impress Kira is equally natural. On that level, then, having the plot hold few surprises works.
Unfortunately, that sometimes robs the show of any edge-of-your- seat quality it might possess, and that was more or less the case here. "A Time to Stand" was a good, solid piece of work, but it didn't have me absolutely avid to find out what happens next the way the truly top-of-the-heap shows do. It accomplished a great deal, showing a good sense of what life is like on the station now and tossing in a bit of the war to boot, but didn't leave me agonizing for more.
One scene did stand out, though. I was on the edge of my seat for the Kira/Dukat confrontation in his office, mostly because my skin had crawled there on its own. That scene was about as stellar as they come: Kira's plight and Dukat's power became both very, very real and very, very worrying. Dukat's statements, while certainly in line with the character we once saw as sympathetic, were also quite chilling in many respects, and Kira's fire even in the face of serious danger ("you could start by doing something about your breath") had me simultaneously cheering her and fearing for her safety. On every level -- writing, directing, and acting -- that scene was a standout. Bravo.
Another scene that felt right, if not as chilling as the Kira/Dukat scene, was Jake's attempt to interview Weyoun. Weyoun's casual dismissal of Jake with "you're biased against the Dominion" was very interesting; it's certainly something you'd expect a media-savvy Weyoun to do, but even more importantly it suggests that Jake may well eventually end up writing Dominion propaganda despite his objections to the contrary. Weyoun is quite aware that controlling information is key to any dictatorship's success, and stonewalling Jake with a smile on his face is, long-term, one of the nastier things we saw him do all episode. There are an awful lot of ways Jake can go here, and I'll be intrigued to see which way things end up.
As for the main plot, Sisko's mission to destroy the Dominion supply of "white" ... that's the one part where a lot of rules seemed to bend in order to fit the story, so it impressed me less. Some of them I've mentioned above -- the question of why there wasn't an experienced crew already on the ship, the question about the headsets, and so on -- but other things felt forced as well, such as Sisko's call to his father. The scene itself was fine, and having Sisko be forced to tell his father about Jake certainly makes sense, but the scene nonetheless felt like it was in there solely to give Sisko a scene with his father. In addition, the "whoops, the security net's up" followed by "whoops, the bomb blew early" both felt like artificially created crises to prevent the situation from resolving itself cleanly. Neither one was explained -- and with the asteroid destroyed, neither one is likely to be next week either. As a result, the last act or so felt anticlimactic in a lot of ways. (The final bit of dialogue, though, with Bashir bleakly spelling out how much time it would take them to get to a starbase without warp drive, was a killer.)
Some shorter thoughts:
-- Who has the Defiant now? Given Starfleet's desperate situation, they can't possibly be holding it in mothballs for Sisko's return. Who has it?
-- If Jake were really smart, he'd try to smuggle his stories out via Quark -- or better yet, talk to Odo and have Odo order Weyoun to release them. Jake's young enough that it'd certainly be understandable if he didn't, but I think either of those might be a savvy thing to try.
-- Similarly, were I Kira I'd bring Odo along for my next meeting with Dukat, disguised as a padd or something. Odo certainly knows what Dukat's been up to, but having him intrude on Dukat's "private moment" might drive a little spike into Dukat's sense of superiority. Dukat certainly couldn't do anything about it; it'd drive Weyoun through the roof.
-- The one Worf/Martok scene was cute. Martok's insistence that Worf tell Dax what's been on his mind led to lots of speculation over the next few minutes: I think my favorite response to "You must tell her *now*" was "I'm not a complete man any more." :-)
-- As contrived as the Sisko/Sisko scene was in some ways, the elder Sisko's question about why space wasn't big enough to let everyone leave each other alone was very pointed -- and very good.
That about covers it. "A Time to Stand" wasn't flawless by any means -- but after three months of waiting, having a followup that doesn't drop the ball or feel like backpedaling (a la "Apocalypse Rising" in many respects) is a substantial achievement in and of itself. I'm definitely curious to see where things go next, particularly on the station.
Wrapping up, then:
Writing: Some questionable twists to make the story "work", but generally true to the characters and to the situations. Directing: The Quark-makes-a-speech scene went on too long, and in other spots the pacing felt a mite off ... but generally fine. Acting: No real worries here; the cast dropped back into character just fine.
OVERALL: 8.5, I think; too many contrivances to be truly top- notch, but quite nice nonetheless.
Sisko and company are marooned on a planet, with lots of Jem'Hadar for company. Suddenly I have this extraordinary feeling of deja vu...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "What do you think is going to happen here, Dukat? That you're going to wear me down with your charming personality? That I'm gonna be swept off my feet by that insincere smile? Are you really so deluded that you actually believe that we're going to have some sort of intimate relationship?" "Oh ... we already do." -- Kira and Dukat Copyright 1997, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.