This is the season Deep Space 9 really came into its own. At the beginning of the season Odo finds his people and discovers they’re the force behind the Dominion which was brought up as a threat at the end of season 2. There’s some Klingon political action and we get a few Ferengi culture episodes. We learn about the intelligence operations that the Cardassians have and the Romulans and then they both get lured into a trap by the Dominion. Kasidy Yates shows up and the romantic interest with Sisko develops through baseball. Bashir and O’Brien are now firmly bros (and Keiko is off on Bajor botanizing). And Sisko goes back in time and becomes a fighter for better conditions in the 21st century. There’s a peace treaty between Bajor and Cardassia which Vedek Bareil dies while helping create.
The episode where that treaty is created showcases one of the things that made DS9 better than other Star Treks. Because they’re in one place they have to deal with their villains over and over again. And man, Kai Winn is way more of an infuriating villain than Gul Dukat ever could be. They’re both smug condescending assholes, but the graspy nature of Winn bothers me way more than Dukat’s opportunism. If I remember correctly, by the final seasons when the war is in full swing, their villainy gets kind of ridiculous, but Season 3 DS9 has them operating beautifully.
Of course, the other big thing that happens in this season is that they get the Defiant, which is a different kind of Federation starship than we’d really seen in Trek before. No niceties, just an overpowered shooting machine. When it first aired this is why I got back into DS9 (and these are episodes I do remember watching as a teenager, whereas I didn’t remember most of the first two seasons). Now they weren’t weak when they wandered away from Bajor. The stakes seemed higher. (Now I just love the tiny bunkrooms compared to Enterprise-D quarters.) Again, this is something that gets overplayed in later seasons, but at this point in the show it works. There are definitely missions they take the Defiant on that could use a more scientific ship, and it’s probably not entirely realistic, but this is the season the galaxy DS9 was in felt much less claustrophobic.
Finally, Sisko gets promoted to Captain at the end of the season, and one of the things that used to bother me so much about this show as a kid happens in the final episode. O’Brien refers to Sisko as being the best captain he’d served with. O’Brien who used to be on the Enterprise with Picard! That used to really bother me, because obviously Picard was the best ever and the writers were making O’Brien lie. Now though, I get where the character is coming from. Picard was so distant and above the rest of his crew, but Sisko is much more a hands-dirty kind of guy in the mud with a character like O’Brien.
Knowing a bit more about how the world of work goes, I no longer get mad at O’Brien for forgetting his past. He wasn’t in those Observation Lounge meetings seeing the high-level stuff Picard did. But Sisko includes O’Brien in decision making and trusts him to be more than just a competent expert in a narrow field. The two talk about parenting, which I don’t get the sense that Picard ever would do with an enlisted member of his crew. Anyway. Sisko growing as a leader is something I see very differently now than I did as a kid. Which is why I’m rewatching this stuff.
I’m amazed at how many episodes there are in each of these seasons. I guess I’m getting used to HBO-type 13 episode strings, but there’s a lot that happens in each one of these. I feel a bit bad for not doing brief episode by episode highlights, but also lazy. Now that I’ve said that, the second episode of Season 4 will be getting its own review, as it’s my favourite episode of any Trek ever.