TV Review | Star Trek: Deep Space Nine | Season 5
Season summary: Dukat reveals that he has negotiated Cardassia's entry into the Dominion, becoming absolute ruler of his planet under Dominion rule. Gowron agrees to Sisko's proposal to reinstate the Khitomer Accords, restoring the alliance between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The Dominion War has begun… (Memory Alpha)
First off, I feel I should repeat what I wrote in last Monday's post, which is that I have watched and re-watched seasons 5-7 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine a lot. Why? Because they're really, really good and feel much more like modern TV shows than The Next Generation or Voyager ever did. The reason I bring it up is because this comforting familiarity should be kept in mind.
And not just because that means I might give the weaker episodes a pass as I'm more used to them either. Sure, that is probably the case, but if that's true, then you would also think that level of familiarity would dull the excellent moments, right? Except that's not the case. There are moments, scenes, sequences and even entire episodes of excellence that still feel awesome now.
Having said that, I'll actually start off by pointing out that this season arguably has more sub-par episodes than the previous one, including one of the worst in DS9's entire run thanks to "Let He Who Is Without Sin" - which feels like it was made solely so the show could get Dax (Terry Farrell) and Leeta (Chase Masterson) into swimsuits. Yeah, it's that bad.
On the other hand, the season also has series greats like "Trials and Tribble-ations"; the two-part story of "In Purgatory's Shadow" and "By Inferno's Light"; and "A Call to Arms" - which has one of the greatest season-ending shots in Star Trek's entire history. Then there's the other amazing episodes that are 'just' great DS9 episodes (read: better than 90% of the rest of Trek's output).
Now, I'm not going to list them all here, but there is a hell of a lot of brilliance here to balance out the weaker stuff. And by 'weaker stuff', I still mean episodes that would, on average, still be better episodes of the other series thanks to the characters and continuity inherent to the set-up of DS9. Is it unfair to compare a series with that attribute to those without? Yes - they're still Star Trek shows and should be held to the same standards.
As for that continuity, it was time for the show to get back on track with the Dominion, quickly shuffling the Klingons off-stage as antagonists to concentrate on the biggest threat to the Federation to date. While I would include this season as part of the main 'Dominion War' arc, this season is more of a cold war that only truly ignites into full-scale conflict in the season finale.
Nevertheless, the Dominion and their forces are featured far more heavily and it's made explicitly clear that they are the enemies to be concerned about going forwards. This is especially the case in the second half of the season following their gaining of a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant, making a treaty with a familiar enemy to DS9 viewers.
Another reason to slowly phase out the Klingons is the fact that Worf has now been around for an entire season and the character (and actor, Michael Dorn) has settled into his place in the ensemble, meaning there's less of a need to focus on him quite so much. I don't dislike Worf, but the previous season's focus on him, presumably to bring in TNG fans, did grow a little frustrating at times.
Less focus on one character meant that there was more time to focus on others, with just about everyone getting an episode centred around them. Truth be told, these make up a bulk of the 'weaker' episodes, still being good but sometimes feeling a little extraneous considering the bigger arcs running throughout the season - a huge revelation about Dr Bashir (Alexander Siddig) aside, that is.
Apart from these standalone stories, this fifth season continues the trend of DS9 becoming even more serialised than before, and there were moments in later episodes that made me wonder if people might catch a particular call-back or understand a character choice if they hadn't seen every episode. This isn't so strange an idea to audiences now, but this was a pretty big thing at the time.
This greater focus on the longer story arcs also meant it was time to tie up some loose ends - and not just the conflict with the Klingons. The Maquis, ostensibly brought in to help set up Voyager - although DS9 still ended up doing more with them - were quickly eliminated as an on-going concern. Also, (spoiler alert!) Odo's (Rene Auberjonois) shape-shifting is quickly restored, and Nog (Aron Eisenberg) is brought back to the station too.
But the entire season, and especially the previously-mentioned 'cold war' with the Dominion all builds to that final episode, "A Call to Arms", and a final shot that changes DS9 and its place as a Star Trek show forever. It's not a cliffhanger exactly, like other Trek shows would end on, but it does set in place a new status quo and potential stories that will have you desperate to find out what happens next anyway.
All in all, DS9's fifth season is the best yet, despite the increased number of episodes that fall below the series' standards - and only really because Deep Space Nine's standards are so damned high in the first place. And the show hits some truly great highs across the course of this season - with incredible regularity too.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's fifth season is where the show takes the mantle of best Star Trek show and never lets go. The serialisation of story-lines increases; there are reveals and revelations that upend the status quo multiple times per season; and the Dominion finally arrive in force, taking over from the Klingons as antagonists - a status they will hold all the way to the series finale.