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The Deep Space Nine DVD Marathon continues! One of the best and most beloved science fiction shows ever gets the once-over with this complete second season review. The first season may have built the foundations, but season two goes deeper into the rabbit hole as the Dominion finally arrive. I smell trouble…

Deep Space Nine got off to a great start last season. The writing, acting and the way in which the characters and concept grew was nothing short of amazing. Season two is a slightly longer show this time around. There are twenty-six episodes in this season, and most of them are fantastic. Everything in this year improved over last; the actors became more astute with their onscreen personas and the writers grew more confident in scribing them. Deep Space Nine’s eloquent serialised progression also became much svelter as story arcs wove in and out of focus – Season two was a huge success on all fronts.

Before we get into the real swing of things, let’s just take a moment to address a couple of issues that matured since season one. Armin Shimmerman is a name one might not be fully aware of, but his cheeky Ferengi alter-ego Quark stands as one of the best television creations yet seen. Having a character that was fuelled with mistrust, deception, scheming and the constant wooing of the opposite sex was a daring, yet brilliantly creative move on the part of the show’s producers. His every appearance brings a huge ear-to-ear smile to my face, one that never fades. Quark was only ever used to inject some light fun into the preceding season, but within the realm of this outing the character grew exponentially. Then again, so did everybody on this show. They are always in a state of growth and maturation and it is often truly wondrous to observe as a member of the audience. Nothing is more appreciated in a show that is renowned for being character-driven.

Deep Space Nine also became a shade or two darker this season as well as stretching outward with its photography. The Promenade set grew another story, allowing the cameras to sweep upwards or downwards or even follow the crew along those elaborate windows overlooking the wormhole. In general, the directing also became more confident with the location shooting and station-bound photography. Everything was bigger and a lot more visual. Even the sense of realism and mythology became much more expansive this year as more doors were opened and the concept reached an at-the-time apex.

One thing I want to address in this review, and perhaps try to clear up in so doing was of an issue that sprung to light during the commencement of this second season of Deep Space Nine. The already highly-regarded Babylon 5, which had a large culmination of dedicated fans by that time, and the fans of Deep Space Nine, engaged in a deadly war with one another. Babylon 5 fans readily accused Deep Space Nine as a clone of their show, while Deep Space Nine fans concluded that Babylon 5 was the very same. In light of this, rather amusing monikers were formed by members of each fanbase. Babble-on 5 and Deep Sleep Nine were those names.

It was all for a lost cause really, for those who could actually see though the fog of war will realise that both shows were in development for a long, long time. Interestingly, both actually launched in the same year and there is little to no possible way that either could have replicated from the other. Indeed, concepts were similar, but as a fan of both shows, I see no real comparison beyond the fact that both are set upon a space station and both include a lengthy war at some stage. It would be like comparing Antz to A Bug’s Life or Star Trek and Star Wars; both are similar in concept but totally different in anatomy. As Garak says in this season, “I believe in consequences, they happen everyday”.

At the end of the day those who make any Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5 comparisons need not. Both were obviously in development for years so the prospect of both shows being a copycat of each other is barbaric. I am an avid fan of both and I see no likeness between either of them. Whatever the cause, both show’s were equally brilliant and constantly demonstrated the uttermost intelligence, creativity and finesse. Some of the best writing, stories, ideas and characters ever conceived for television can be found in both of them –   Nuff said. It’s just personal preference as to which you favour more than the other. Both engraved equally large cornerstones for their genre, a cornerstone so big they are forever etched into the hearts of true sci-fi lovers. Those who can see beyond any sort of competitive face-off will truly benefit from two esteemed, richly textured television masterpieces.

Before I go off-course with my endless rambles, let’s get down to some of the finer points of season two. Now, season one was a fine example of a series that benefited from strong writing and superb character growth. By the last episode, Deep Space Nine had established a great many things. It had effortlessly sewn together this eagerly dark conceptual model, sketched all of the many characters into highly characteristic beings and given us a taste of quality science fiction. A great many character and story arcs popped in and out of focus last season, and I am glad to report they continue precipitately here.

The unique ‘story-book’ undertone that Deep Space Nine has inscribed into its soul feels that much more natural in season two thanks to an even tighter hold of events and its overall maturation. The more I watch the show, the more I realise that every episode is a page of this book and every season is a chapter. It becomes very addictive to experience first-hand, but ones attention must not be caught wandering. There were nights when I fought desperately to watch ‘just one more’, but I begun to realise that my enjoyment could be at risk if my mind wasn’t sharp enough, especially in the very early hours. Being something of a night owl, the addictiveness of this show got the better of me from time to time. There were nights when I actually saw daybreak creeping through my windows, and I knew that not even a healthy dose of caffeine intake could resurrect my tiring eyes. In all honesty, I must have witnessed several picturesque sunrises during season two; a true testament to how good this year was.

Anyone that still watches Star Trek: Enterprise will know that the most current season (four) has been experimenting with mini-arcs, usually three episodes long. This was actually something Deep Space Nine did all too often. In fact, the opening of season two just happens to be a rather epic three-part spectacular. ‘The Homecoming’ is the first of the three and opens with a message that an illustrious Bajoran freedom fighter is alive and well at a brutal Cardassian labour camp. Due to the state of affairs on Bajor – a planet desperate for a potent leader – Kira sets off on a mission to rescue him, a mission that could prove to be a one-way trip. Once things are moving, ‘The Circle’ throws things into utter chaos when Kira returns back to the station having succeeded in her mission. She is suddenly relived of her duties to the Federation and is sent back to the home-world for reassignment.

It quickly becomes clear that these actions are part of an elaborate and corrupt political satire, one that could even threaten war. Finally, ‘The Siege’ is the much needed action-packed finale that is bound to cause some hair-raising, jaw dropping sci-fi giddiness. Between them, these episodes embody some of Deep Space Nine’s more cultured aspects. Lineaments such as; politics, religion, spirituality, war, love, ideas, opportunities and some kick-ass good vs. evil adversarial conflicts are all touched upon and all richly graced with lucidity.

These virtues seem to fortify the show’s vein and even find time to spin some intelligence into the presentation. This opening trilogy also serves as an excellent foreshadowing of the flourishing integrity that grows exponentially with each passing season. This opening does more than just tell a good story, it touches on everything the show is about in the most honest way possible, and has some fun in the process. If Deep Space Nine has one the richest of universes ever wielded on television, then this trilogy sketches a mere glimmer of the quality we can expect to see in forthcoming seasons.

Another episode I feel deserves some acknowledgment is one that took me by complete surprise. ‘Invasive Procedures’ seemed, at first, to be one of those droning medical episodes that act as a filler rather than anything of any real substance. How wrong I was. Just ten minutes into the story and the abundance of chemistry and the ambient atmosphere that envelopes this episode caught me totally off-guard. The story is fairly simple; a Trill who was rejected the Dax symbiont comes aboard Deep Space Nine to steal it. But it is so much more than that. For starters, the station has been completely abandoned of secondary personnel and is being run on a skeleton crew due to a hazardous spatial storm. This construct alone creates an unnerving atmosphere, one that clearly proved successful and was experimented with quite a few more times during the seven year run of the show.

Those looking for some goofy fun will find it in droves in the episode, ‘Rules of Acquisition’. Wallace Shawn (Pixar favourite who voices Rex from the Toy Story films and Gilbert Huph from The Incredibles) returns as the always hilarious Grand Nagus Zek. Interestingly, this episode (which is the seventh of the season) first introduces the Dominion. Though we never actually see them, this is the first of several references of the Gamma Quadrant nemesis before the epic season finale.

‘Necessary Evil’ was something of a treat for Deep Space Nine fans. Many television shows, especially Star Trek series’, always have heaps of character-centred episodes during the early years. This is where Deep Space Nine differed from the usual proceedings, integrating character tie-ins during almost every episode, giving it a much more mature, more natural progression than most. ‘Necessary Evil’ was one of the few episodes that that indeed did flesh out one character in particular, Odo. The sheer intelligence of this story is somewhat amazing, using a very effective ‘past, present’ device to unfold various events. It also adheres to strict continuity, showing the station in the days during the Cardassian Occupation as seen in the very first episode when Sisko arrives for the first time. Of all the Star Trek shows of this nature, ‘Necessary Evil’ is one of the best and most thoroughly thought-provoking.

‘Sanctuary’ was another entertaining story about Gamma Quadrant aliens (who at first cannot communicate with the station occupants) that claim Bajor as their destined homeworld. While, ‘Rivals’ was a highly amusing two-way story about O’Brien and Bashir’s argumentative slant. It also saw Quark facing some stiff competition from a new bar, adjacent to his. ‘Armageddon Game’ also spares time to develop O’Brien and Bashir’s somewhat unique friendship when they are sent to aid an alien world in ridding dangerous chemical weapons.

‘Whispers’ was one of this season’s absolute best. When Miles O’Brien returns to the station from an assignment, he finds that the crew react to him differently. As time goes by (and with some superb voiceover commentary by Colm Meaney himself) O’Brien begins to piece parts of an elaborate puzzle together. After a few awry conversations with the crew he quickly begins to fathom that he must escape from the station and seek external assistance, but seemingly the whole galaxy is against him. The ending is simply perfection, and for those who have never seen this masterpiece, it might well linger in the mind long after you have seen it. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t fall in love with it and at least come out thinking Colm Meaney and his character was fantastic – if you didn’t already.

Another turn for the better this season was from an episode that, conceptually at least, never stood out. ‘Paradise’ reads as something of a typical filler; crew land on a planet, they cannot escape and must befriend the hostile humans. But again, this was so much more. Yes, that is essentially what happens in the plot, but the passion that has been infused into the story itself and the way in which the actors chose to flesh out their character’s action was exemplary work. It also works very poetically, with Sisko and Alixus at opposite ends of the spectrum, clashing in a very memorable, very astute way.

Honourable mentions must also go to both ‘Shadowplay’ and ‘Profit and Loss’. The former sees Odo and Dax assisting a troubled colony whereby the residents seem to randomly disappear. Yes, yes, yes I hear what you are thinking, ‘just a typical filler, right?’ – wrong again. ‘Shadowplay’ takes a little while to get going, but when it does, it does so in a fluently organic way. Just to fatten up the episode however, the writers came up with a great little ‘B story’ set on the station. ‘Profit and Loss’ on the other hand, centres around one of Quark’s romantic entanglements with predictably comical and not so predictably touching moments.

‘Blood Oath’ was a major kick-ass action adventure treat that was just superb to behold. It was nothing but pure fun on one hand, yet it was suffused with that all important Klingon coolness. When three elderly Klingon’s arrive at Deep Space Nine, Dax meets up with them to discuss an infamous Blood Oath she took many years prior when the Dax host was none other than Curzon. Risking her life and her career, Jadzia sets off on a bloodthirsty mission with the raged Klingon warriors. Take it from me, this episode rocks! While it also works on many different levels, it is at its best when it touches on Klingon mythology and cynicism.

‘The Maquis, Part I and II’ heralds the start of an ongoing story told via both Deep Space Nine and more prominently in Star Trek: Voyager. It introduces the Badlands (the spatial nightmare Voyager enters before it is thrust into the Delta Quadrant) and also sets up the titular rebels themselves. During the course of this two-part story I couldn’t help but be reminded of the epic good vs. evil story as seen in the Star Wars saga. The Maquis certainly seem to be an offshoot of the Rebellion, either that or it is just coincidence. Still, it’s a good story and sets up Voyager quite well.

Garak returns to the screen in ‘The Wire’, another seemingly drab medical episode turned brilliant by great writing and superb acting. The story is quite simple; Garak, stubborn as he is, refuses medial treatment from doctor Bashir when he experiences severe head pains. When Bashir uncovers some breadcrumbs to Garak’s odd condition, it leads to a much larger picture, one that leads him to sway Garak’s decision and uncover titbits of his past. Entailing a good story, sumptuous acting and those all-important ideas that make Star Trek so legendary, ‘The Wire’ is a hugely enjoyable, brooding character-drama that endures long after you have seen it. It also sports perhaps the best quote in this entire season. “What I want to know is, of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren’t?” asks Bashir. “My dear doctor, they’re all true” responds Garak. “Even the lies?”  - “Especially the lies.” finishes Garak with a smile.

If season one’s absolute best was ‘Duet’, then the season two’s equivalent would undoubtedly be ‘Crossover’. Being both a technical masterpiece and a truly classic characterization of science fiction, ‘Crossover’ is easily one of the best episodes in at least the first one hundred Deep Space Nine ventures. Some of the imagery captured here will last a lifetime and its clever take on the Original Series episode from which it was spawned is jarring. What’s more, this episode is massive in scope and I outwardly refuse to believe this was shot in little over a week. Television was never meant to look this big, but somehow the creative army of Deep Space Nine managed to pull Peter Allan Fields audacious script off with authenticity.

One scene that features the mirror universe Kira, talking to the regular Kira is so convincing from a technical standpoint that only afterwards did it hit me that the scene was a work of smoke and mirrors. Of course this is thanks to brilliant acting from Nana Visitor, intelligent, gripping dialogue and jaw dropping visuals. In many respects, ‘Crossover’ exemplifies everything that Deep Space Nine strove to be on a weekly basis. This is a classic, one that cannot be missed and one that has already found its place amongst the behemoths.

O’Brien gets some more focus in the penultimate ‘Tribunal’, by all rights a superb character elaboration and a journey into a darker Cardassian seasoning. But another highlight has to be the daunting season cliff-hanger, ‘The Jem’Hadar’. It was the rather infamous episode by which the Dominion story hits an at-the-time high and comes crashing down in a rain of fire. The message by the ending sequence is clear; if the Dominion decides to come screaming through the wormhole, the first fight will be here, at Deep Space Nine. A superb finale and something which sets up the third season with a furious panache.

Showing marginal improvements all-around, season two proves to be a shade more ocular than its already good predecessor. Another thing you will notice this season is the seemingly more colourful station. Sets seem to be a little more tweaked, lighting a little better and the directors more confident to explore new angles and techniques. All this and more can be duly noticed from the opening trilogy, right the way through to the finale. It adds to the overall quality of the DVD transfer, which in itself appears to be a little cleaner and shaper. Whether the guys in technical upgraded the cameras or film-suite during the hiatus between season one and two, I cannot be sure, but the image does look better. It could simply be that the DVD team have put more effort into this set, but whatever the reason, this DVD stands only to benefit from it.

I must profess though that it’s still a far cry from perfection, and the image quality still doesn’t deserve a higher rating that the one previously given in season one, but it is good. The visual standout has to be ‘Crossover’, reiterating for the umpteenth time the solidity of the production design. As for the DVD, it handles it with style, being both highly detailed and having just enough subtly to pass off as a work of exceptional calibre. Shadow detail throughout is impressive, as is the fine detail and the vast array of colours. Sadly there are still some annoying image problems that remain such as compression issues and such.

There really isn’t much to say about the audio that was already spoken of in the season one review to be perfectly honest. Everything is pretty much as it was back then – everything, right down to the finest point. Dolby’s 5.1 soundtrack still envelopes the listener in a great environment and it still cracks out the old space rumble that monopolises the optical shots. Perhaps the one slight improvement in this season however would be the use of lower end frequencies. With slightly more action and more spatial scenes, the subwoofer gets a healthier workout. Save for that, season one and two are practically identical in this department.

Following in the same vein as its predecessor, Paramount have cooked up another modest but still underachieving array of special features for this second boxed set. Once again, you can expect about an hour’s worth of interviews, mini-documentaries and some off the wall scrapings. Just as with season one, the features are presented on a static background with bonus ‘section 31’ files scattered around the image that you have to find. Rather pointless really, not to mention somewhat annoying.

Onto the features then. ‘New Frontiers: The Story of Deep Space Nine’ examines the further developing show and interviews many of the main faces from behind the scenes. Though it doesn’t last too long, this is probably about as in-depth as these features ever get. Good, but not great is generally the theme with these Star Trek DVD special features.

‘Michael Westmore's Aliens: Season two’ is another cool feature that runs us though the many alien and makeup effects Westmore created for this season of the show. Especially cool in this season was his Cardassian Vole creature, plus many others of course.

Deep Space Nine Sketchbook: Season two’ is back, but this time slants towards the sophomore season. ‘Crew Dossier: Jadzia Dax’ on the other hand is a rather confusing feature to have placed in this season boxed set. Without giving too much away, I feel Paramount’s decision to lump it here was something of a grave mistake. Still, this lengthy feature is a good insight into the Trill temptress.

‘New Station, New Ships’ looks at the various ships, both new and old that season two employed. Finally ‘Quark’s Story’ and the ‘Section 31’ hidden files round out the set. All in all, season two is pretty similar to its older brother and indeed its grandfather (The Next Generation). While there is no one feature that stands out and does something extraordinary, what we get is a reasonable offering.

Season two was a hugely successful year. It effortlessly fused brilliant scripting with solid control over the many, many sub-plots and complex arcs that were germinating all over the place. Though it was far from being a perfect season, it is nonetheless very hard to criticise. There’s so much fun to be had and so many niches to explore that it blows away the competition. Every character nuance and every crack of the creative whip proves to be an elating experience, one that stays with you long after an episode ends.

Deep Space Nine really does pay the uttermost respects to this genre and practically reinvented many aspects in the process. If I were to make a movie-themed similitude to best describe Deep Space Nine, then it would be this; it is the Lord of the Rings of the stars. Its fusion of romance, drama, politics, war and religion made it different from the usual pickings; its canvas was deep, intelligent and rich with texture. Techno babble, for once, has meaning and vibrancy in this show. They are not just senseless words, but intellectual, scientifically slanted theory. Like it or loathe it, it makes the show more naturalistic and gives it a greater depth and mythos or even a sense of science and technology.

The presentation of the DVD is once again outstanding. Menu screens are pretty cool and the audio/visual aspects, while not too dissimilar from the previous set, are still noteworthy. The extra features are once again lacking, but still offer about one hour’s worth of decent giving’s. Watch out for the season three review coming soon! The Defiant finally docks at the station and Odo may have something to discover too!