Paramount // 1994 // 1182 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // May 23rd, 2003
Not quite up to par with later seasons, but enjoyable.
The early seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine marked a turbulent time for the Trek faithful. Several flies jumped into the ointment, settled in, and got comfortable. Deep Space Nine was the first series without the hand of visionary Gene Roddenberry at the helm. In his place was the much maligned Rick Berman and friends. Deep Space Nine was the first Trek series to be filmed in parallel with another Trek series (the venerable Next Generation), which split both resources and the fan base. To make matters worse, Deep Space Nine faced competition from newcomers such as Babylon Five, Hercules, and a crop of WB shows.
Another "stumbling block" of sorts was that Deep Space Nine took risks with the Trek formula: it was set on a stationary base and had a darker, less pristine façade. These changes came at just the wrong time for many Trek viewers. Though it opened with the highest viewer ratings of all the Trek series, Deep Space Nine lost 53% of its viewership in the first season. That loss was never recovered.
But the biggest obstacle for Deep Space Nine was the succinct synopsis uttered by thousands of casual fans: "bor-ing"! For many viewers (myself among them), Deep Space Nine was disjointed, the sets murky and confined, the captain ponderous. Halfway through season one, I was out of there...never to return.
But history has proven that Deep Space Nine was strong enough to last, even become one of the crowning achievements of the Trek canon. Viewers praised the complex subplots, strong characters, attention to detail, and extensive action. The risks taken with the formula paid off in a big way, giving Deep Space Nine a complexity and character unmatched in the Trek universe.
Conventional wisdom marks the turnaround at mid-season three or thereabouts. The Next Generation ended, Worf came aboard, the battleship Defiant moored at the station, and a protracted war with the Dominion ensued. These were the glory years for Deep Space Nine. Season two is better than season one, but the series had not yet hit stride. The result is an uneven patchwork of themes and mid-course corrections, with a handful of classic Trek moments. The boxed set gives Trek fans opportunity to revisit Deep Space Nine without the baggage surrounding its original release.
Season two begins with a bang: the first three-part episode in Trek history. Kira obtains the earring of a legendary Bajoran freedom fighter, Li Nalas, who had been thought dead. The news comes at a good time. Bajor is being menaced by an extremist, xenophobic terrorist group known as "The Circle." Kira is convinced that Li Nalas can unite (or at least untie) the people of Bajor. She and Chief O'Brien set off to rescue Li Nalas. "The Homecoming" sets a strong tone and has a fair amount of action and suspense, including a subterfuge reminiscent of the stolen space shuttle ruse in Return of the Jedi. The closing revelation is touching and sets the tone for the following two parts. Grade: A
Kira gets "promoted" off of Deep Space Nine to explore her Pa in a sanctuary on Bajor. In her place is the inexperienced Li Nalas, who has barely recuperated from the travails of a Cardassian labor camp. Political machinations abound, including some by the sinister anti-cleric Vedek Winn (Louise Fletcher in an inspired performance). Eventually, Bajoran warships set out to take Deep Space Nine by force. A worthy middle child for the opening trilogy. Grade: A-
Sisko and his officers wait in hiding to intercept the invading Bajoran rebels. Meanwhile, Kira and Dax go to the surface of Bajor to unearth a stashed ship to get them into the chambers of the provisional government. Tense battles ensue on both Bajor and Deep Space Nine, along with betrayals. This is a taut episode, but it fails the sniff test. Can a handful of Starfleet officers really defeat an invasion force of battle-hardened military personnel? Grade: A-
DS9 is evacuated because of a violent plasma storm. The skeleton crew that remains aids a damaged ship caught by the storm. But the ship houses a renegade Trill who means to join with a symbiant -- by stealing Dax from Jadzia. This episode rehashes past Trek themes. The Trill is very like Reg "Broccoli," with annoying ticks and deadpan reticence. Avery Brooks alternates between stone-faced pouting and ebullient overacting. The melodrama is wasted because there is absolutely no doubt how the episode will end. Grade: C-
Did you know the Cardassians were manipulative? Gul Dukat left behind the son of a high ranking bureaucrat when Bajor was evacuated. The boy was raised by Bajorans and tutored in the inherent sliminess of his race. When Gul Dukat "discovers" the boy, Bashir and Garak must thwart the deception. Sisko holds trial on the boy's fate in a tired impersonation of Picard's ambassadorial style. Grade: C
Even in the shiny world of Trek, disabilities exist. Melora is an ethereal trailblazer from a low-gravity world. She survives in "normal" gravity via awkward struts and wheelchairs. When she is assigned to DS9, Bashir bends over backwards to accommodate her "special needs." Preachy and unsatisfying. Did you know that Bashir can whip up neurochemical breakthroughs on a whim? Grade: D+
"Rules of Acquisition"
Wallace Shawn (The Sicilian) visits Deep Space Nine in the guise of Grand Nagus Zek. Death is not on the line, but profits are. He enlists Quark and his new assistant Pel to obtain 10,000 barrels of tulaberry wine. This transaction will establish Ferengi trade in the Gamma Quadrant, making them rich. Quark soon learns two things: Zek has hidden plans and Pel is a female in love with Quark. Wallace Shawn is a hoot. I find the Ferengi annoying (I've disliked them since their introduction in TNG), so this episode did little for me. Not that there's anything wrong with Ferengis. Grade: C+
A mysterious, seductive stranger woos Quark into finding a list of names hidden on DS9. The list re-opens an old murder case of Odo's from the days of the Cardassian occupation. The prime suspect was Major Kira. Through flashbacks we see the station as it was under Cardassian rule, replete with oppressive fascism and mistrust. The secret behind the murder will strain Odo's relationship with Kira, and shows a dark side of the resistance. A truly masterful Trek episode. Grade: A+
Another TNG rehash, "Second Sight" has Sisko fall for a mysterious, seductive stranger who disappears like Cinderella. Meanwhile, a renowned terraformer is tackling his greatest project yet: the rebirth of a star. His wife looks just like Sisko's strange love interest. The pieces fall together through a predictably "freaky" anomaly. Grade: C+
A broken down ship emerges from the wormhole. It is the harbinger of a mass exodus of Skrreeans, a peaceful farming people who are being hunted down by the Dominion. This time the mysterious stranger is not so seductive. Haneek, the matron of the ship, informs Kira that they are searching for their planet of origin. When Kira tells her about Bajor, Haneek decides that Bajor is the "planet of sorrow" her people are searching for. They seek asylum on Bajor, who decides they cannot support the addition of three million farmers with a skin condition. This episode unabashedly provokes one of my pet peeves. The alien race is humanoid with a funky hairdo and some bumps on their skin. At least the original series had weird glowing lights for aliens. Grade: C-
Quark is irked when a smarmy con-man opens a competing bar on the promenade. The main draw in the rival bar is plasticky purple globes that periodically light up. Meanwhile, weird turns of luck are haunting the ship, and Dax discovers that the globes are manipulating probability. Most consider this episode a throwaway, but I was amused to no end watching Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) ham his way into the hearts of the ladies on DS9. Grade: B+
Odo's mentor/captor/Oedipal father figure comes to the station to help Odo investigate strange ruins on a distant planet. The planet offers evidence of Odo's origin, including a mystifying ooze that is quite similar to Odo himself. Influenced by weird gasses, Odo pulls a Frankenstein and goes after his dad. If you love Odo, this one is for you. Rene Auberjonois gives a fine performance but I found the plot one-dimensional. Grade: B-
Ahh, the old "crewmen get stranded and hunted planetside without anyone knowing" gambit. Bashir and O'Brien are the lucky two this time. After helping eradicate a deadly bio-weapon, they barely escape a botched assassination attempt. The powers that be want no knowledge of the bio-weapon to exist. An ironic misunderstanding leads the crew to rescue the stranded pair just in the nick of. There is a lot of Bashir in this one. He usually grates some nerves and whisks away, but here he takes center stage. Grade: C
"Whispers" is a paranoia episode with a classic feel and refreshing execution. The story is told from O'Brien's point of view, which is both intriguing and unnerving. The mystery is well-crafted: O'Brien is fleeing for his life, alone on a runabout. He recounts the strange behavior of his crewmates and his growing alarm. He had to use all his tricks to escape DS9. As the episode unfolds, the depth of the conspiracy mounts to epic proportions. When the truth is revealed, it is a neat and creative reversal of the truth. Grade: A+
Sisko and O'Brien are castaways on an Eden-like planet. They encounter a village of stranded Federation colonists who are victims of a duonetic field. The field prevents equipment from functioning, so they have made a new life on the planet. Their leader is the passionate radical Alixus, who continually praises the communal life they've built. Sisko reads her writings and suspects that she might have something to do with the "crash landing." Avery and Colm shine in this episode. Gail Strickland plays Alixus with zeal that decomposes into haughtiness. The ending is quite a letdown, with long philosophical speeches in the place of a much-needed action sequence to break the tension. Grade: A-
Odo and Dax beam down to investigate some unusual readings on an unknown planet. Coincidentally, their arrival occurs just after 22 people have gone missing from a quaint village with a high-tech centerpiece. Odo offers to investigate the disappearances. He develops a relationship with a young girl whose mother has vanished. The investigation reveals a startling truth about the village and who the people really are. This routine mystery is elevated by the believable and touching chemistry between Odo and the girl. Grade: B+
Jadzia mentors her first Trill initiate, who is quite nervous due to Curzon Dax's reputation. Jadzia understands -- after all, she was terrorized by Curzon herself. The two find each other lacking. The initiate finds her too casual, she thinks he is aimless. When they discover a protouniverse whose expansion threatens the regular universe, they must rely on each other to fix reality. Incidentally, there are cute/ugly Cardassian voles running around. This episode is a nice character study of Jadzia's struggles to become a mentor, marred by ludicrous stretches of common sense. Can a vole really violate a level 3 containment field just by putting his paws on the wrong panel? Grade: B
"Profit and Loss"
A damaged Cardassian ship limps into the station carrying a Cardassian reformist and her two pupils. The woman turns out to be the love of Quark's life, who left him when he mixed love with business long ago. Quark is desperate to regain her affections and tries to help the students escape the Cardassian authorities, who have been tipped off by Garak. This is a rare episode that shows a vulnerable and honest Quark. We also get to see more of Garak's story, which is intriguing. Grade: A-
Three aging Klingons show up on Deep Space Nine: the venerable Koloth, Kor, and Kang from the original series. Years ago they swore a blood oath to destroy their most hated enemy, the Albino. Curzon Dax also swore the blood oath, but Curzon has died and passed Dax on to Jadzia. Now that the Albino is at hand, Jadzia must decide whether or not to honor the oath and murder the Albino. I watched most of the early DS9 episodes and all of the second season; this was the first episode to make me sit upright and hang on. The acting is outstanding, the action intense, and the moral ambiguity is fascinating. Terry Farrell and the three Klingons do an outstanding job. Avery Brooks and Nana Visitor provide brief but compelling interactions. Grade: A+
"The Maquis, Part I"
Espionage aboard the station reveals the existence of a Federation colonial militia. The Maquis feel abandoned by the Federation and arm themselves to the teeth to fight Cardassia. Both the Maquis and the Cardassians are violating the treaty, which could start a new war. Gul Dukat surreptitiously boards Deep Space Nine to speak with Sisko. The two join with Sisko's old friend Cal to discover the truth about the Maquis. Non-stop intrigue and enjoyable political rhetoric compensate for the very obvious "Scooby Doo" revelation of the bad guy. Grade: A+
"The Maquis, Part II"
Conscious of impending war, Sisko races to discover the plans of the Maquis. Gul Dukat and Sisko form an uneasy alliance to halt treaty violations on both sides. Some of Sisko's officers are taken prisoner and he goes to rescue them. Meanwhile, Quark obtains key information that reveals the Maquis intentions. Sisko leads a team of runabouts who make a last stand to prevent war. This episode builds on the momentum of part one, delivering strong action and several neat twists. Grade: A
An implant in Garak's brain malfunctions, which will eventually kill him. Bashir struggles to aid Garak, but to do so he must delve into Garak's brutal past. Bashir finds out more than he ever wanted to know...or was it all lies? This is a nice character focus, but the constant doublespeak and web of lies gives the affair a whiff of artifice. Grade: A-
For the second time, Federation officers visit the mirror universe breached by Kirk in the original series. The lucky pair is Bashir and Kira, who find that the mirror Bajorans are an overbearing, totalitarian regime. The leader is Kira Nerys. Since humans are slaves, Bashir is sent to the mines where he encounters a dark Odo and downtrodden O'Brien. Kira uses her doppelganger assets to get them out of the looking glass. This episode gets points for boldly incorporating past Trek lore, but is too unbelievable to be entirely successful. Grade: B
An old Bajoran boards the station, and is recognized as a hated collaborator who has been exiled. On Bajor, the new Kai is about to be chosen. The favorite is Kira's lover, Vedek Bareil, who was chosen by Kai Opaka to succeed her. This displeases Vedek Winn. She uses information from the collaborator to find information to discredit Vedek Bareil. Enraged, Kira sets out to defend Bareil. In a complicated web of truth, Kira unearths unpleasant information. High-stakes personal interactions, frustrations, and emotion power this episode to a satisfying (if sad) conclusion. Grade: A
O'Brien is taken into Cardassian custody and put on trial. Cardassian trials are just for show; the verdict is always guilty. O'Brien doesn't know why he's being held and no one can help him. Odo joins him on Cardassia to represent O'Brien in the trial. Meanwhile, Sisko uncovers evidence that might save O'Brien...if he can get the evidence heard. This episode is derivative of past "trial" episodes from The Next Generation. The conclusion is too pat. Grade: C
Sisko contrives to have some R&R time with Jake. Unfortunately, Jake invites Quark and Nog along. Quark complains loudly the whole time, louder still once he and Sisko are taken prisoner by reptilian (but still humanoid) creatures known as the Jem'Hadar. They are joined in captivity by a humanoid with funny ears. The three escape, but are warned by the Dominion that trespassing into the Gamma Quadrant will not be tolerated. This entire episode exists just to establish the aggression of the Dominion. It is weak for a season finale and much less exciting than the majority of the previous episodes. Grade: C-
Alternatives. Isn't it nice to have them? If you ate filet mignon every day, it would get old. Deep Space Nine gives a great alternative to the regular Trek diet.
The strongest draw to Deep Space Nine is the characters. Nana Visitor's Kira is strong, feminine, sensitive, and completely ass-kicking. Rene Auberjonois gives Odo such sardonic detachment that he commands the screen. Jadzia Dax is sensual, but playful and multifaceted. Bashir is easy on female eyes and embodies the typical Federation super-optimism. Quark is completely annoying, as it should be. You have to give props to Armin Shimerman for delving into the character. Sisko is commanding but weary. In season two, each of these characters have annoying sides to them, but each provides moments of poignancy and drama, particularly in their interactions.
The tone of Deep Space Nine is in some ways more complex than the other series. The political intrigue on Bajor is intense, as is the residue of the protracted Cardassian occupation. The station has to contend with political strife daily.
There are a handful of truly classic Trek moments that make the set worthwhile for collectors. My personal favorite is watching Jadzia take on a Klingon master to prove her grit. But the image of the station under Cardassian rule is haunting. Fortunately, we have the audacious outfit of the dark Kira to distract us. The humor, technobabble, and melodrama are all here.
The audio is a nice, if subtle, 5.1 mix. The surrounds contribute the inimitable Trek background hum and periodic effects while the mains and center bear the brunt of the aural weight. The mix was pleasing and sounded fuller than most TV mixes do.
The video suffered in CGI shots, but for the most part is decent. The colors are well saturated (although I noticed bleeding at times) and the black levels mostly stable. The overall value is quite dark, which made it difficult to read faces and background details. Shots of the station invariably revealed shimmer, which highlighted its absence from most of the scenes. The effects shots definitely show their age.
Finally (though it may be a small thing to some), most of the episodes had chapter stops after the opening credits. This is a must have feature in my book; I dislike hearing the same theme song 26 times. Many boxed sets mess up this detail.
Although the court recognizes the merits of the series, Deep Space Nine is rife with annoyances that contributed to his honor's disenchantment with the world of Trek. Objectively, I can say that season two had many enjoyable episodes and enough juice to carry us to later, better seasons. But I cannot ignore the truth, which is that Deep Space Nine somehow magnifies the fallacies of Trek and leaves me dissatisfied.
Solutions are way too pat. The protouniverse that threatens to destroy reality ceases to be a problem when it is dumped back into a subspace pocket. Kira and Bashir flee the mirror universe by exactly mirroring trajectory and speed. Whenever a complex astrophysical problem presents itself, the solution is always handy.
The heavy reliance on O'Brien seems like a desperate ploy to capitalize on a well-liked bit player. His crossover from The Next Generation says "hey, DS9 is legit but we couldn't spare any of the main Next Generation characters." This is the same fallacy that doomed Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Bit players succeed because of their infrequent charm. They are like spice in the main dish. Once a spice is dumped on too heavily, it ruins the flavor of the meal. Don't get me wrong, I like Colm Meaney. He was the perfect foil to the formality of the Enterprise. His transfer to DS9 took away from TNG and strained the characters of Kiko and Miles.
Sisko's character is (admittedly) not well-defined. His ponderous speeches and deadpan gaze failed to "engage" me. But his is not the only annoying character. Quark is unilaterally off-putting. Combined, these two manage to slow the momentum of most episodes. The irony is that the actors are quite good.
Why are all Trek aliens humans with funny prosthetics? Other sci-fi shows take much greater license with their alien races, to better effect. Even the original series played with alien representation in a more conceptual manner. I hear that the phenomenon is explained somewhere, but who cares? Every time I see a beautiful woman with a funny bit of latex, my eyes roll.
The sets are as claustrophobic as those of the Enterprise, but they feel more so. Perhaps the stationary nature of Deep Space Nine reinforces the sense of confinement. If I tried to put my finger on it, I'd say that the other series had an undercurrent of movement. Even the ubiquitous background of star trails contributes to the sense of forward progress. It was only in later episodes that DS9 capitalized on the lack of movement to help define tension.
My biggest gripe is that the show felt episodic, not continuous. They had such an opportunity to explore ramifications of previous episodes. Every time I saw Chief O'Brien at work, I thought "hey, he just narrowly escaped death. Shouldn't he be taking it easy?" The trilogy and duology achieved integrated plots, but the episodic nature of the season lent it a fractured feel. The DVD medium of course contributes because we see the episodes back to back.
Speaking of DVD, how about those extras? There are more of them in this set than the first season had, but I wasn't blown away. Quantity versus quality...The interview with Terry Farrell was revealing and was the high point as far as perspective and honesty are concerned. If you are a Trekkie, you will undoubtedly appreciate the discussions of aliens, ships, and other details of series execution more than I did. The whole shebang felt self-promotional, particularly the interviews. (Ira's mirrored shades make an encore performance.) The hidden files, which might be tricky to navigate on a remote, are simply cut scenes from the other featurettes.
The packaging didn't bother me as much as it does others, except for one thing: the smell. Every time I touched the set, I felt like washing my hands. This is a strong plastic odor.
The cumulative effect, for me at least, was a quiet but sure loss of interest in Star Trek. Perhaps I will watch the later seasons of Deep Space Nine, be wowed, and come back to season two with fresh appreciation. I hope so, because it feels like a series still trying to find its way.
Despite my objections, this set offered plenty of entertainment and a handful of touching moments. Each character had his or her day in the sun. Subplots were introduced in season two that blossom into major elements of future seasons.
If the price were lower, I'd have no qualms about recommending this boxed set to sci-fi fans. Given the relative hit-or-miss quality of the episodes, your DVD dollars might have the most value if you await later seasons. But if you are a Trekkie, the extras and production quality are good enough to jump right in. May the force be with you...or something.
Deep Space Nine is off the hook, because his honor is an old softie.
Review content copyright © 2003 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1182 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "New Frontiers: The Story Of Deep Space Nine" -- Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe Discuss the Creation Of the Legend and Its Development Through the Second Season
* "Michael Westmore's: Aliens Season Two" -- Michael Westmore Explores the Aliens from Trill Symbiotes to Cardassian Voles
* "Deep Space Nine Sketchbook -- Season Two" -- Richard Sternbach and Jim Martin Discuss Designs and Props
* "Crew Dossier -- Jadzia Dax" -- An Exclusive Interview with Terry Farrell Featuring Insights from Ira Steven Behr
* "New Station, New Ships" -- Dan Curry, Robert Legato, Robert Sternbach and Others Describe the Designs and Models For the Space Station, Runabout, and Cardassian Warships
* "Section 31: Hidden Files"- Discarded Tidbits from the Other Featurettes Hidden About the Station