Seven seems to be a magic number for Star Trek, as Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and later Voyager all ran for seven seasons before wrapping up their stories. In the case of Deep Space Nine, Season 7 wraps up what's arguably the best of all the Star Trek shows. It was the first series to be begun entirely without Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry's input, and it pushed the envelope in many ways, creating a complex ongoing saga of politics, religion, war, and tough choices, while sticking to the Star Trek virtues of imaginative storytelling and a memorable ensemble cast who grew and changed over the course of the series.
Deep Space Nine: Season 7 has a hard act to follow, as Season 6 was the high point of several outstanding seasons, both beginning and ending on very strong dramatic notes. Season 7 starts off well with "Image in the Sand," developing some new plot threads involving the Prophets, the cult of the Pa Wraiths, and Sisko's destiny; it's a bit of a letdown to have some of these plot threads wrapped up so quickly in "Shadows and Symbols," but it is a solid and entertaining pair of episodes... and the Pa Wraiths will play a part later in the season as well.
There's a lot of exciting storytelling in Season 7, but after the strong two-episode start to the season, we do have to wait through a long stretch of fairly inconsequential episodes before we get to the good stuff again. "Afterimage" has little to offer beyond showcasing the new character of Ezri Dax; "Chrysalis" is a passable story with Dr. Bashir and his genetically-enhanced patients from last season, but it could just as easily have been dropped into last season as this one; "Once More Unto the Breach" is exactly the same, a Worf-centered story that isn't all that interesting in its own right, and contributes nothing to the overall story. Any purely stand-alone stories are bound to be at least a little bit in the shadow of the episodes that are part of the larger story arc, but here the problem is exacerbated by the fact that many of these stand-alones are not up to the DS9 standard of storytelling. "The Siege of AR-558" is shockingly uninteresting, and its follow-up "It's Only a Paper Moon" is only barely salvaged by the character of Vic Fontaine. "Prodigal Daughter" is clearly an attempt to cram some back-story into Ezri to make up for the fact that she's a new character, and "Field of Fire" is an utterly generic episode again pushing Ezri as an important character.
Part of the problem with these early episodes is, in fact, Ezri Dax. As viewers of DS9 know, Season 6 also killed off the character of Jadzia Dax, as actor Terry Farrell had decided not to renew her contract. It was a shame to see her go, as I'd just started warming to the character of Jadzia in the last few seasons, but at least her death (and the reactions of the other characters to it) is handled well. With its large ensemble cast, DS9 could have gone on perfectly well without a replacement for Jadzia. Instead, we get a "replacement Dax" who turns out to be, hands down, the least interesting and most annoying character DS9 has been stuck with. It probably doesn't help matters that too much attention is given to the soap-opera plot of "who is Ezri in love with?"
The humorous stand-alone episodes actually stand out as the best of the first half of the season: "Take Me out to the Holosuite" and "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang" are both very well done and very funny stories that attest to the DS9 writers' skill at writing character-based comedy. "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River" also works very well, due to one of its story lines being a nicely done humorous story with Nog and Chief O'Brien and the other involving Odo and the Dominion, one of the few episodes in the first half of the season to contribute to the overall story arc.
Fortunately, the story picks up again as we get into the second half of the season. "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" is good enough to make us forget (if not forgive) the so-so episodes that lead up to it. This extremely well plotted and thought-provoking episode connects nicely into the overall story arc, with Dr. Bashir becoming a real-life double agent as he goes along with Section 31's reconnaissance on the Federation's Romulan allies. This is followed by the final nine episodes of Season 7, which form a continuous story arc bringing various plot threads to a close in both the Dominion war and on Bajor. I won't spoil any of the plot developments here; suffice it to say that these episodes get Season 7 right back on track.
The Bajoran side of the story line gets rolling with "Penumbra" and "Till Death Do Us Part," while the Dominion war heats up in "Strange Bedfellows" and "The Changing Face of Evil." The forces of change are brewing in both the Klingon Empire and Cardassia itself, as we see in episodes like the dramatic "Tacking into the Wind." We're talking about good stuff here: with nine episodes all tightly connected into one single story, DS9 turns into one long and gripping feature film that you will most definitely want to see the conclusion of.
I've often praised DS9 for its subtlety and willingness to explore complicated moral territory; in its final season, Season 7 pushes forward into intriguing territory is in its increasingly ambiguous view of the Federation. Far from being the amiable protector figure that we saw in Next Generation, the Federation has increasingly been shown in DS9 as far from perfect, even potentially oppressive; in Season 7 the cracks in the fašade widen, showing the Federation as being quite willing to cut corners and work in the shadows to preserve itself. The plot threads involving Section 31 raise some interesting questions about the extent to which the ends can ever justify the means, and whether Dr. Bashir's ideology of saving lives on an individual level could be a case of putting the needs of the one before the needs of the many.
DS9 admittedly doesn't stretch as far as it could have in Season 7. The conflict between the Pa Wraiths and the Prophets is a missed opportunity: by painting the Wraiths as evil even when the plot would have benefited from more ambiguity, DS9 opts to not explore some potentially compelling religious issues. How do we know that the Prophets are the "good guys"? After all, the Prophets are the ones who cast them out of the Celestial Temple, and it's the winners who always get to write the history books. But this is an avenue that remains mostly unexplored, and even the character of Kai Winn, who has been a complex figure throughout the series, is pushed in a more simplistic direction. On the other hand, the story thread of the Pa Wraiths draws in the character of Dukat, who becomes an even more interesting and three-dimensional character... as does Damar, Dukat's successor as leader of Cardassia. All in all, while Season 7 gets off to a bit of a slow start, the second half of the season packs a strong punch.
Deep Space Nine: Season 7 is packaged in the same attractive style as the earlier DS9 seasons. The seven DVDs are held securely in separate hard plastic "pages" bound into a "book" made of flexible plastic, and enclosed in a plastic slipcase. It's slim, looks very nice on the shelf, and appears to be very durable.
Deep Space Nine: Season 7 appears in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. While it doesn't look quite as good as last season, the image quality is still excellent. The print is clean, with no flaws or dirt appearing at all, and edge enhancement is minimal. Colors are rich and vibrant, and skin tones are natural; in general, any scene that has a reasonable amount of lighting looks very good indeed. In the "deep space" shots, the black levels are just right, offering a nicely deep black in contrast with the lighter-colored ships and planets. Dimly lit scenes, however, are less satisfactory, with a considerable amount of grain appearing and the contrast not supplying enough detail. Overall, it looks good, but you'll notice some scenes that aren't as good as they could be.
DS9's Dolby 5.1 sound, remastered from the original Dolby 2.0 (which is also included), sounds as good as ever. The dialogue is clear and crisp, special effects come across effectively, especially in battle scenes, and overall the soundtrack is clean and pleasing to the ear.
The seventh DVD of the set contains our last taste of DS9's bonus material. "Ending an Era" is a 15-minute piece that takes a look at the way the series was wrapped up in its final season, and "The Last Goodbye" (14 minutes) specifically focuses on the season (and series) finale. We also get the last installments in the "Crew Dossier" series: a 13-minute piece on Benjamin Sisko and a 10-minute piece on Jake Sisko, each with interviews not only with the actor, but with the people they've worked with over the years. The featurette on Jake is especially revealing, as clips from DS9's pilot episode remind us that Jake has grown up over the seven years of the series.
For minor special features, we get a photo gallery and a trailer for Indiana Jones.
There's also the usual assortment of "Hidden Files" scattered throughout the special features menu. These mini-featurettes, accessed by clicking on a highlighted bit of the station image in the menu, are often quite interesting, which is why it's so annoying that they're half-hidden.
For seven years we've shared the adventures of the Deep Space Nine crew, and what great adventures they've been! Season 7 isn't quite as strong as the exceptional Season 6, but even with some weaker episodes, it wraps up the DS9 saga with style. We have great plot twists in the Dominion war, troublesome developments on Bajor, and dark doings within the Federation, and of course we have the characters we've come to know and appreciate. Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Season 7 is not to be missed. It's highly recommended.