TV Review | Star Trek: Deep Space Nine | Season 6
Season summary: Three months into the Dominion War and things are not going well for the former crew of Deep Space 9. Sisko leads a battle to reclaim DS9 and the Romulans enter the Dominion War. (Memory Alpha)
You want to know why the Dominion War makes Star Trek: Deep Space Nine so good? This sixth season is why. Yes, it may contain possibly the single worst (and most offensive) episode in DS9's entire run with "Profit and Lace", but the rest of the season more than makes up for it, balancing out that single terrible episode with two of the best Star Trek episodes ever with "Far Beyond the Stars" and "In the Pale Moonlight".
But before I get onto the positives, let's get on to what I consider to be the only other negative about this season other than the aforementioned episode: the standalone episodes are a little too standalone. The Dominion War dominates so many episodes that the stories that aren't heavily influenced by it feel a little disconnected from the larger picture.
They're not entirely separate, thanks to DS9's excellent continuity and the war certainly affecting the characters' mindsets, it not the the plots. Also, this disconnect doesn't actually make those episodes bad in any way at all - "Far Beyond the Stars" is up there as one of the best Star Trek stories of all time and has very little connection to the Dominion at all.
It was also a little disturbing watching that particular episode considering what's happening around the world right now with the Black Lives Matter protests and having to watch a black man being beaten by two cops for protesting the death of another black man. This episode was condemning racial attitudes of Fifties America, but is still worryingly relevant in 2020.
"Far Beyond the Stars" is perhaps the closest Star Trek has ever got to being 'just' a drama and not science-fiction, but Avery Brooks' performance and direction are both absolutely stellar and it defies belief that he didn't win any award for this episode. It's heavy on racial issues, which I imagine could make a lot of people uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, but is absolutely worth watching.
The strange thing is that it came only two episodes after "Waltz", where Dukat accepts his evil nature and beats down Captain Sisko more than once. Considering he's played by a white actor and the Cardassians are effectively 'Space Nazis' living in a police state, this can also be more than a little jarring to watch, although it's strangely comforting that Dukat's hatred of Sisko has absolutely nothing to do with the colour of his skin.
However, it's worth examining this episode a little closer too when considering the state of politics in both the UK and USA. Dukat was loved as an antagonist by fans for how complex he was, with his charm winning over plenty. Except this is exactly how populists and dictators gain their support to seize power before ruining the lives of millions.
Sisko rightly points out that Dukat has always been deluding himself about being a good person when taking into account how many millions of Bajorans were killed under his watch, which is something the audience forgot - a million being a statistic, not a tragedy and all that. The best way to think of it is this: Dukat pre-"Waltz" is the GOP in their suits, swaying millions to their side with lies and trickery; post-"Waltz" he's Trump, openly evil and happy to attack everyone he feels deserves it.
Then there's "In the Pale Moonlight", which is my personal favourite Star Trek episode and seems to be pretty much regarded now as legitimately one of the greatest episodes in the franchise's history. It was incredibly divisive when first released, with many saying it was a betrayal of Gene Roddenberry's vision of humanity's Utopian future, but - much like DS9 as a whole - has come to be far better appreciated over time.
And boy, is it dark. A forgery, bribery, a stabbing and political assassination all in one episode? No, this isn't Game of Thrones, this is DS9 going where other Trek shows before and since still haven't gone with how murky it can be to maintain hope in paradise with an enemy who refuse to negotiate. Yet again, Avery Brooks is the star of the show and displays exactly why Benjamin Lafayette Sisko is also my favourite captain in all Star Trek too.
As if all this wasn't enough, this sixth season is also where Section 31 makes its debut ("Inquisition") and exposes even more of a dark side to the Federation. Unfortunately, Star Trek movies and shows post-DS9 have never come close to using this covert group as well as this show will do - although this takes nothing away from from Section 31 here and William Sadler's excellent showing as Luther Sloan, head of the group.
You want more? Okay, how about the six-part story that opens the season as the Federation and Klingons attempt to retake Deep Space Nine from the Dominion, who seized it in the final episode of season five? The huge starship battles are incredible to watch, especially as this was before CGI would've made these scenes easier, and yet the characters are never overshadowed by the spectacle on display, with deaths and permanent shifts in character all coming together perfectly.
The season also ends in a similar manner in "Tears of the Prophets", with the death of a main cast member, more huge space battles and major shifts in the status quo that once again leaves you desperate to jump straight into the next season despite not being a cliffhanger - this is an art that DS9 perfected and even modern shows could still stand to learn something from this approach to ending a season.
It's incredible just how much is packed into a single season, which I initially thought was just because seasons back then were actually longer - this season has 26 episodes, far longer than dramas today which mainly seem to have 8-12. But a lot happens in this season even relative to other seasons of DS9, packing in so many developments and changes in characters that it's astonishing - all while never betraying the core of those characters.
There are 'fun' episodes like "Statistical Probabilities" and "One Little Ship", along with other standalones that I really enjoyed, like "The Reckoning" and "The Sound of Her Voice" - and that's on top of all the other episodes I've mentioned! Even some of the 'lesser' episodes (meaning better than most other Trek shows, but under par for DS9) still have plenty of enjoyable moments too.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's sixth season may just be my favourite in all of Star Trek. Yes, it contains one of the worst episodes in DS9's history, but also has many of the best, including at least two which count among the best Star Trek episodes ever. It hits the ground running with a six-episode arc unlike anything seen in Trek before and never lets up.