Sisko and crew are having trouble keeping up with the Cardassians in our 25th Anniversary Retrospective Review of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 5
25 years ago, on 3rd January 1993, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” made its TV debut in America. It wouldn’t reach UK TV screens until 22nd August later that year. To celebrate the 25th Anniversary, What The Craggus Saw is taking the time between those two premiere dates to revisit and review each season of what is arguably “Star Trek”‘s finest series.
The season opens with the Alpha Quadrant still in disarray as the Klingon Empire continues its war against the Cardassians and the Federation. It may feel something of a cheat that much of the Klingon war occurs off-screen in-between seasons but once the season gets underway, you don’t really mind because there’s so much else to capture your attention. Season 5 may start with a solid Odo and the Klingons on the rampage but it ends with the Dominion in the ascendancy and Odo far from the only Changeling in the Alpha Quadrant.
The opening episode wastes no time in plunging us into the thick of the action as the Federation decides to act on Odo’s revelation from the season finale that Chancellor Gowron is, in actual fact, a Changeling spy. It’s a fun, action-packed visit to the Klingon homeworld, far from the dour, turgid trips we took with the Enterprise-D. It ends with the revelation that Martok, not Gowron is the Changeling and a delicious moment of foreshadowing as Gowron taunts Worf that he should have killed him when he had the chance. From there, the season pivots back towards the Dominion as it draws the two adversarial plot threads together.
Its fixed setting has always been one of Deep Space Nine’s strengths and by this point in the series, it’s not only the character’s past which return to haunt them but the actions and events of previous seasons sometimes literally, as Eddington returns to taunt Captain Sisko or conceptually, when the crew are faced with the choice between their own lives or their descendants, thanks to a temporal anomaly. Speaking of the past, the series also takes time out to honour the 30th Anniversary of Star Trek by revisiting the past in an innovative and unsurpassed way.
For the first time in the history of Star Trek, the events of one branch of the franchise have a direct influence on the other as the smart new uniforms from “Star Trek: First Contact” make their appearance. It’s not just a passive switch-out either, as it’s used as a plot point to identify a prominent imposter in the mid-season two-parter which pivots the entire series in a new direction. For the longest time, war has been looming over the series like a tsunami and season five is when the wave comes crashing down.
There are revelations aplenty for the crew, too, especially Doctor Bashir who’s placed at the centre of many of the series’ most important moments and reveals a startling secret from his own past. Worf and Dax’s relationship continues to develop even though it ends up being the focus of the some of the season’s weaker episode. And, although it was an inevitability, it’s nice that the restoration of Odo’s shapeshifting abilities doesn’t happen too quickly and is actually managed in a surprising and touching way. The mythology of the Bajoran Prophets expands too, with the introduction of the Pah-wraiths coinciding with Chief O’Brien’s birthday (side note: the series apparently no longer had cash to splash on the rights to ‘Happy Birthday’ so O’Brien merely saluted as a jolly good fellow, no doubt thanks to those expensive Tribbles). While they’re introduced in a Manchurian wife plot, the Pah-Wraiths/ Kosst Amojan are a crucial introduction, the antithesis of the Prophets who will go on to play a huge role in the series’ closing moments. And as if all this wasn’t eventful enough, the series still finds time to develop the supporting characters like Rom, Leeta, Dukat, Ziyal and Damar.
Covering the horrors of war, the series’ trademark murky morality, diplomacy, romance, drama, spirituality and flashes of comedy (although noticeably less than previous seasons), Season Five has a couple more missteps than Season Four did, but its highs are even higher and the best was still yet to come. Like Sisko, I’m leaving my baseball here: ⚾ because I want you to know I’ll be back to look at Season Six soon enough.
Season Five earns an overall score of 8/10.
Top Three Episodes:
Trials And Tribble-ations (S5E06)
Utterly charming, stunningly realised and seamlessly blended with original series footage, this 30th Anniversary tribute episode took one of the best ever episodes of “Star Trek: The Original Series” and turned out one of the best episodes of “Star Trek” period. There’s such a sense of affection for the original series both in the production and in the performances – it never fails to delight me when you see the enthusiasm and excitement in Sisko’s eyes when he’s telling the agents from Temporal Investigations whose ship he encountered in the past. The episode even finds a way to acknowledge the difference in Klingon appearances in a light-hearted, throwaway sequence (which was then ruinously and tortuously canon-ised by “Star Trek: Enterprise”. At the time of production, “Trials And Tribble-ations” was the most expensive hour of television ever produced, and it was worth every penny.
In Purgatory’s Shadow (S5E14) & By Inferno’s Light (S5E15)
I’m cheating a little bit here and choosing to include this two-parter as ‘one’ of the top three episodes but I regret nothing. Usually, its been easy to pick one or other of the two-part stories but with these two, they’re both brilliant in different ways, having huge impact on the series’ most important ongoing plotlines. The revelation of Bashir’s replacement by a Changeling infiltrator takes place against the backdrop of huge insights into the culture and philosophy of the Dominion. While in the second episode, the Dominion invasion of Deep Space Nine is revealed to be a feint and, in a stunning betrayal, Dukat reveals his true colours and joins the Dominion, welcoming them into Cardassian space and sealing the Union’s entry to the Dominion and setting up the central conflict which will power the series through to its end.
Call To Arms (S5E26)
The palpable sense of doom which has been building since the Dominion gained a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant finally bears bitter fruit as they launch their assault on Deep Space Nine. Thanks to the intervention of the Prophets and some nimble diplomatic manoeuvring from Sisko, Bajor is protected by a non-aggression pact as Starfleet is forced to abandon the station and surrender it to Gul Dukat.
One(s) to Skip
Let He Who Is Without Sin… (S5E07)
From the sublime (“Trials And Tribble-ations”) to the ridiculous in the space of two episodes, this misjudged Risa-based episode isn’t funny enough to be a comedy episode and too half-hearted to be a satire. There’s a ripe target, too, with religious fundamentalism and puritanism taking aim at a liberal and progressive society it wants to oppress – once again DS9 proving its prescience – but for once the series can’t quite seem to make it work and everything falls flat, feeling silly instead of insightful. A real contender for worst episode of the series overall.
A Simple Investigation (S5E17)
An Odo story with a love interest involving the Orion Syndicate, it’s a decent enough story but feels very much like a missed opportunity taking place, as it does, after he’s regained his shapeshifting abilities. A little bit detective noir, a little bit romance, it feels isolated and out of place as the series progresses towards its doom-laden finale. Plus, given his feelings for Kira, how invested are we ever going to become in one of Odo’s flings?