War! Good God y’all! What is it good for? Serialised Star Trek storytelling, evidently. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 6 25th Anniversary Retrospective Review

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.

Season Overview

War! The Federation is crumbling
under attacks by the ruthless
Dominion, led by Gul Dukat and Weyoun.
There are heroes on both sides.
Evil is everywhere.

Hang on…that seems vaguely familiar, I may have stolen that from somewhere. Anyway, season six of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” boldly went where no “Star Trek” series had gone before. Not only was the main ‘vessel’ of the show not under the control of the usual characters but it would take an unprecedented six-episode arc before (a greatly altered) status quo was restored. Again, the series bucks against the normal tropes of Star Trek storytelling, tackling the murky morality of life under occupation as well as the price paid by those who collaborate and those who resist. Its thematic echoes for the present day still resonate strongly, as do some of the darker and more complex storytelling decisions such as Dukat’s psychological manipulation of Major Kira, weaponizing his own daughter to do so or the pivotal ‘evil must be opposed’ moment on the station’s promenade which still shocks all these years later.

In many ways, the six-episode run at the start of this season is a dry run for the epic ten episode narrative which would close the series the following season but it’s made so much richer by the fact that, despite the action and massive – especially for “Star Trek” at the time – spaceship battle scenes, all of the best scenes are character driven, from the schism between Kira and Odo, to the burgeoning romance between Worf and Dax to Sisko’s determination to retake the station whatever the cost, it’s the payoffs of the character developments up until this point that give the greatest satisfaction. Surprisingly, it’s Gul Dukat (the magnificent Marc Alaimo) who gets the lion’s share of the character development in these early episodes as he reaches in vain for a twisted domestic bliss that can never be his and watches, even as he tightens his grip, as everything he values slips through his fingers, culminating in a devastating tragedy which sees him abandoned and left behind as the Cardassians and Dominion abandon the station.

Season Six continues to see the series juggle the drama with action, comedy and even the occasional sojourn into pure sci-fi but with the battle lines firmly drawn and the players all manoeuvred into position, it’s harder for the series to completely escape the soap opera feel of some of its plotlines. Thus, the marriage of Worf and Dax and the rapprochement of Kira and Odo takes up a whole episode, positioning both couples for trials to come and season six more than the other seasons often feels slightly irresponsible and indulgent when it takes the – necessary – time out from the ongoing story arc of the war to focus on other characters and events. There are important developments in the Bajoran prophets plot threads as well as the ongoing Ferengi social revolution and still more revelations about the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. Ethical lines are crossed, the Mirror Universe continues to cause trouble, and the station gets a new, permanent holodeck location which will end up taking up a little too much time in season 7. In amongst all this, the series finds enough time to tackle issues such as child soldiers and even, with its now customary uncanny prescience, a tale examining the root causes of societal disillusion with expert opinions. It’s Dukat, though, who shapes the season more than any other character as he finally, irrevocably, makes his choice and surrenders to the darkest impulses.

It shows how strong the series is by this point and how invested we are in all the characters that the season ends on a cliff-hanger which is very similar to the season that precedes it, yet it feels very different this time. As the galaxy hangs in the balance, Sisko leaves Deep Space Nine, tellingly taking his baseball with him this time.

Season Six earns an overall score of 8/10.

Top Three Episodes

S6E06 – “The Sacrifice Of Angels”

The culmination of the second Cardassian occupation arc, everything is at stake as Leeta, Rom and Kira face execution for treason, the minefield guarding the wormhole is about to be taken down and an overwhelming Dominion fleet prepares to invade the Alpha Quadrant. On the galactic scale, Sisko will strike a bargain with enormous consequences in order to save the day while onboard the station, Dukat suffers a loss that leaves him a broken man, little knowing that through his cracked psyche something darker and far more malevolent will rise. It’s everything you were hoping the payoff to the cliff-hanger ending of Season Five would be and even if it’s taken an episode or two too long to get here, it’s so worth it.

S6E13 – “Far Beyond The Stars”

It was pretty much standard operating procedure for every genre show in the 90s to do an ‘asylum’ show where one or more of its characters were shown in a contemporary setting, suffering from mental illness and delusions, suggesting the entire series was simply a figment of their imagination. Few series did it with such aplomb as “Deep Space Nine”, though, turning the trope into a pointed critique not just of the series’ own foibles but also the racial prejudice of the 1950s and intimately intertwining it with the story of the Prophets to such an extent that it would re-emerge in Season seven. Alongside the serious subject matter, there’s a genuine pleasure to see the entire cast sans prosthetics for once as they navigate the politicised world of sci-fi publishing in the 1950s.

S6E19 – “In The Pale Moonlight”

Often cited as one of the finest ever episodes of “Deep Space Nine”, the episode is staged as Sisko recording a personal log entry direct to camera, with flashbacks fleshing out the details of a fateful decision made to turn the tide of the war by bringing in the studiously neutral Romulan Empire. The allusions to Pearl Harbour are evident but it’s the tortured nature of just how many principles Sisko will need to compromise to achieve his goals that gives the episode such dramatic heft. Sisko’s initially reluctant but increasingly easy embracing of the fluid morality of plain, simple Garak is an exquisite character study, the tell-tale heart of an episode which leaves the man himself and the course of the war changed forever.

One(s) To Skip

S6E07 – “You Are Cordially Invited…”

A welcome, and perhaps necessary, respite after the tumultuous season-opening epic, it nonetheless feels like too abrupt a change of gears. Shippers of Worf/ Dax may rejoice at the two of them finally getting wed but it’s all a bit silly and, like the worst rom coms, unnecessarily melodramatic and soapy as we get the usual ‘it’s all off’ tropes before everyone learns a valuable lesson about respect, tolerance and being yourself. At least it allows Kira and Odo to settle their differences and rediscover their friendship.

S6E15 – “Honor Amongst Thieves”

With such a packed agenda, it’s disappointing the series took the time out for this dull-as-dishwater “Star Trek” version of “The Departed”. It may have been more tolerable if the Orion Syndicate had figured more prominently in the ongoing story arcs but they never did, apart from an ill-advised return to the story in the following season.

S6E20 – “His Way”

No offence to James Darren, but I’ve always had mixed feelings about the introduction of Vic Fontain into the “Deep Space Nine” repertory company. It always feels a little too twee to really sit alongside the life and death stakes of the war-focussed episodes and while it may have worked in earlier seasons, it feels oddly anachronistic here. Although he ends up being better used in Season 7, here he’s reduced to a plot device to help Odo finally get it together with Kira, so maybe it’s just me that finds the romance episodes frustratingly timewasting when there’s a war on?

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