Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
got off to a solid start in Season 1, thanks in
large part to a well-thought-out setting that offered distinctly different
storytelling possibilities than a traveling starship. With Season 2, DS9
shows that it can produce satisfactory episodic science fiction, and even that
it's willing to dip its toes into the scarier (and more thrilling) waters of
extended story arcs.
Season 2 sees the return of all
the characters from Season 1, including Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks), Kira
Neriss (Nana Visitor), Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), and Odo (Rene Auberjonois).
Dr. Bashir (Siddig El Fadil), whose characterization fluctuated quite a bit in
Season 1, here seems to have firmed up into a good-intentioned but slightly
over-idealistic (and over-imaginative) figure. Fortunately, the character of
Sisko's son Jake is handled reasonably naturally, with no Wesley Crusher-style
"save the station with my science project" hijinks; in the context of
a space station rather than a starship, his character fits in reasonably well.
Quark (Armin Shimmerman) continues to have a substantial role and makes the
most of it; I'd never have foreseen that one of my favorite characters on the show
would be a Ferengi, but there you go. Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) also gets a
substantial chunk of screen time in episodes like "Whispers" and
DS9 Season 2 continues
to have a different feel than either the original Star Trek series or Next
Generation. One of the most intriguing aspects of this different feel is
the new perspective it offers on the Federation. For perhaps the first time, we
really start to see the Federation in a critical light. They're one of the
superpowers of the galaxy, and while they always claim to be benevolent and
guided by the Prime Directive, when push comes to shove, they have
imperialistic designs just as much as the Cardassians or Klingons do. We see
the Federation as the Bajorans do, as potentially being an iron hand of
domination inside a velvet glove of cooperation. For the Bajorans, appreciating
their first taste of freedom after the end of the Cardassian war, the
Federation's eagerness to draw Bajor into itself, and to control access to the
wormhole, make them worthwhile but slightly dangerous allies.
Season 2 starts off with a
three-part episode arc involving the politically unstable situation on Bajor.
These opening episodes ("The Homecoming," "The Circle," and
"The Siege") actually don't feel like Star Trek much at all;
they're clearly opening up new, productive territory for the series. While this
mini-arc wasn't quite as involving as I think it was intended to be, it's
certainly very satisfying to see DS9 work with the narrative threads
established in the first season. Several interesting secondary characters recur
in these episodes, including Vedek Winn (Louise Fletcher) and Vedek Bareil
(Philip Angim), competing members of the religious establishment on Bajor.
But DS9 isn't ready
quite yet to take up the reins of full-blown continuous storytelling; the
fourth episode reverts back to the stand-alone episode style with a "reset
button" pushed at the end. Actually, "Invasive Procedures" is a
very peculiar episode indeed, in terms of story continuity. Some elements in
the episode's premise echo events that took place in just the previous episode,
down to specific details like a reference to Quark not getting a seat on an
outgoing shuttle due to his reluctance to leave behind a suitcase full of
latinum, but the rationale behind these events is entirely different, which
leads me to wonder what was going on with the scriptwriters.
The remainder of Season 2 is
mostly made up of stand-alone episodes that don't really change the status quo
on Deep Space Nine. "Cardassians" is a good example of a solid
DS9 stand-alone episode. It draws on the backstory of Bajor and the Cardassian
war, and while the opening setup threatens a high pathos level, the episode
actually turns out to be a decent story of intrigue with a not-quite-predictable
ending. Midway through the season, "The Alternate" picks up on the
story thread of Odo's origins, as begun in Season 1. Many of the episodes in
Season 2, however, are completely unrelated to the ongoing loose story arc
concerning Bajor; along these lines we get fairly standard fare such as
"Second Sight," "Rivals," and "Paradise." The
great thing about DS9, though, is that even the stand-alone episodes are
well done and lots of fun to watch, like the highly entertaining "Rules of
Acquisition," in which Quark and the other Ferengi take center stage.
Toward the end of the season,
however, inklings of better things to come begin to surface. A two-part
episode, "The Maquis," again brings the Cardassians into the picture,
this time involving the Federation as well. And, first in "Rules of
Acquisition" and then in the final episode, "The Jem'Hadar," we
start getting some hints about the Dominion... perhaps the most interesting and
compelling adversary that DS9 ever came up with. It's a great way to end
the season, and it's a definite reason to continue the story in Season 3.
As with Season 1, DS9:
Season 2 is packaged in a very attractive and user-friendly case. The full
complement of 26 episodes is spread across seven discs, with the final DVD also
including the special features. The discs are held in clear hard plastic
"pages" that are bound into a "book": a very nice setup
that allows easy access to the discs without having to unfold a long accordion
of pages as in the Next Generation sets. The covers of the
"book" as well as the set's slipcase are all a tough, durable plastic
that's sure to hold up well over time. The case as a whole is the same design
as Season 1, with an attractive station cross-section design gracing the cover,
but with accents in green this time.
Deep Space Nine is
presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The image looks
outstanding, better than Season 1 and better even than the best of the Next
Generation transfers. Colors look exactly as they should, with bright
colors being appropriately vibrant, neutral colors and skin tones looking
natural, and black levels nicely rich and dark. Contrast is handled very well
also. The image is sharp and clean, with nary a hint of noise and no print
flaws in evidence. It's hard to see how this transfer could look any better.
DS9's remastered Dolby
5.1 soundtrack offers excellent audio quality, with all the actors' voices
consistently clear and natural-sounding. There's no hint of background noise or
distortion, so the overall track is very clean. Music, effects, and dialogue
are consistently well balanced. Surround effects are limited, but the overall
sound experience is quite pleasing.
The default soundtrack is the
Dolby 5.1, but the original Dolby 2.0 track is also available. English
subtitles are available as well.
I have to admit it; the special
features menu really rubbed me the wrong way. The menu is in the form of the DS9
station, and only the title of the currently selected special feature shows up;
the rest are not shown. A straightforward listing of the features would have
been much more user-friendly.
What's worse is that the DVD
designers decided to get cute and put "hidden files" into the menu.
These are a series of short interviews, each a separate menu choice, that can
only be found by hunting around with the arrow keys on the menu; when you do
find one, it lights up a small segment of the station, but doesn't put a title.
Sorry, Paramount, but I don't find it entertaining to hunt for easter eggs on a
DVD. Special features should be readily accessible, not require frustrating
fiddling with the remote control.
The bonus material for Season 2
is included on the seventh disc of the set. About an hour's worth of special
features are readily accessible through the menu. "New Frontiers: The
Story of Deep Space Nine" is a fifteen-minute featurette in which
creators Rick Berman and Michael Piller along with writers Ira Behr and Robert
Hewitt Wolfe discuss the origins and early development of the series. The
twelve-minute "Aliens" featurette has makeup artist Michael Westmore
discussing more of his designs for Season 2's aliens, while the eleven-minute
"Deep Space Nine Sketchbook" offers a look at the art design
of the show, with senior illustrator Rick Sternbach. "Crew Dossier: Jadzia
Dax" is an eighteen-minute interview with actor Terry Farrell. "New
Station, New Ships" is a shorter (five and a half minute) featurette
showing the designs and models for the station as well as the space ships used
in various episodes.
There are also ten "hidden
files": five in the first special features menu and five on the second
menu, adding up to a total of about 25 minutes of interviews. Scenic art
supervisor Michael Okuda, actors Armin Shimmerman (Quark) and Siddig El Fadil
(Dr. Bashir), director David Livingston, and executive producer Michael Piller
get one interview each, while writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe and actor Terry
Farrell (Jadzia Dax) get three each. I found the interviews to be interesting
but the experience of finding them irritating.
While Deep Space Nine is
cautious about breaking further new ground in Season 2, it does a good job of
maintaining the level of storytelling established in the entertaining Season 1
as well as adding some material to the ongoing story arc related to Bajor's
political situation. The introduction of the Dominion, which is hinted at quite
effectively over several episodes, also bodes well for future story
development. All in all, DS9: Season 2 continues to offer an
entertaining viewing experience that is sure to please both Star Trek
fans and any viewers who enjoy solid science fiction television. With great
video and audio quality, as well as some interesting special features, it's