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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Defiant

It doesn't look it at first, but in a manner of speaking this is a game-changing episode.

Reviewing some later shows I have come to adapt a somewhat broader definition of what a "character" in a show really is. On Gotham, the city itself is often touted as the main character. On Farscape, Moya and Talon are both quite obviously characters. In Solaris, the planet is the main character.

On Deep Space Nine, the Defiant is a character.

Deep Space Nine is a show that circles around the station. It was the first Star Trek show to be named after its "lead ship" – since then, all have been, but where latter shows are named by routine, Deep Space Nine's name holds meaning. For the first two and a half seasons its titular location is its main focus; its detractors would argue it's the only focus.

A station is stationary. A starship is mobile. Introducing the Defiant is a way for the show to break out of its cocoon.

Departing from Starfleet tradition, the station's not given some ship of exploration; it's given a warship. It's not a luxury yacht with nurseries, spas and virtual hippodromes, it's barely got functioning replicators, its only mission reconnaissance and killing people. In a sense it's the Picasso to the Michelangelo of the Enterprise, a crude and brutal contraption – at least I've never considered it very beautiful. It's a ship that's "built to fight"; you could argue it's a ship that wants to fight.

In other words it fits the show perfectly, and that's a compliment.

The main and only plot of 'Defiant' is lieutenant Thomas Riker, the "transporter clone" of commander William Riker, sweeping Kira off her feet en route to stealing the Defiant from Deep Space Nine and using it to unmask a Cardassian scheme and a secret shipyard. Turns out, that scheme's news to all players but the Obsidian Order, who's behind it. It's a pretty simple but extremely well-written story. The chief power struggles are the Obsidian Order versus Central Command and the Maquis versus Starfleet. The chief character conflicts are seemingly Tom against Kira at the Defiant and Dukat against Sisko at Cardassia Prime... but not really.

"When my son looks back on this day... the only thing he'll remember is that a Federation officer on a Federation ship invaded his home and kept his father away from him on his eleventh birthday. And he won't look back with understanding... He'll look back with hatred.

... and that's sad."

You see, as character conflicts go these are funny ones, because the gist of the episode is how these people are very much alike. At heart, Commander Sisko and Gul Dukat are both the centrists invested in maintaining the status quo, while Kira and Tom – as well as Korinas, the envoy of the Obsidian Order – are the extremists wanting to upend the order. Sisko and Dukat are both fathers and very much parts of their respective establishments. Kira and Tom are both single, rootless. In fact, apart from some acidic banter – incidentally making for the best dialog of the whole episode – it's hard to claim there's any conflict at all between Skrain and Ben here.

Still, the center of the episode is Tom Riker, and even if the latter is never on-screen, the chief conflict is actually Tom versus Will. Will's the laid-back, mature man, the team player who cares nothing for personal glory, someone who consistently refuses promotions because he simply likes where he's already at. Tom's the individualist, forever damaged by his years in isolation, the raw, untempered romantic.

So, it makes perfect sense that while Will's found tranquility on his Enterprise in a show put to sleep, Tom's busy snatching the Defiant for a suicide run, because he is the Defiant, a violent brute desperate to make his mark on the galaxy and claim the destiny he thinks that fate has stolen from him.

Kira's interactions with Tom are surprisingly interesting because while she's actually sympathetic to his goals, she has actually started to evolve into a more nuanced character, yet the way she gets through to him is by trying to drive home that "he's better than her." By painting her former self as the brutal terrorist who didn't care for anything but destroying her enemy, she simultaneously manages to paint him in the role as the hero. Ultimately this is what sticks and marks the end of his rebellion.

In a way I was surprised the show wouldn't allow Tom to go out in a blaze of glory. Sending him to rot in forced labor, never to be seen again, does not seem a fitting end for him. That's probably my only criticism of this episode – "whatever happened to Tom Riker?"

The main takeaway from this episode for further events is that now, the Obsidian Order has warships. That's something upsetting the balance in the galaxy, and that's not something the show will forget.

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