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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 2

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's first season did a fine job of establishing that DS9 wasn't your daddy's Star Trek. Its richer probings into characters and stories — richer on the Trek scale of such things, at least — offered an antidote to the dun-colored repetitiveness that drained potential from The Next Generation even in its good years. We still got funny-forehead aliens and two-fisted derring-do from our weekly heroes, but it was becoming clear that the adventures of Commander Sisko and his team weren't aimed solely at the stereotyped Trekker teens in their Capt. Picard uniforms or older fans who could quote The Klingon Dictionary. Instead, this new series was smarter, more nuanced, less naive, and less dependent on the formulas that had come to define what Star Trek was "supposed" to be. Here was "space, the final frontier" for (mostly) grown-ups. Today, with high-definition hindsight, it comes as little surprise that so many long-time fans not only didn't embrace DS9 — they stayed away with a petulant sniff. Too bad for them, because they were really missing something. (We can wonder whether the low-key reception DS9 received ultimately caused the studio decision-makers to overlook its strengths, which were subsequently ignored in the ill-favored Star Trek: Voyager.)

For its second season (1993-94), the production staff made developing the characters a prime directive, and within a year DS9 was delivering the franchise's most full-bodied portrayals. Here's where the series found a strong stride and where the successes of Season 3 and beyond emerged from the achievements and shortcomings on hand in this sophomore year. Starting here is the close friendship between a more action-oriented Dr. Bashir and family man Miles O'Brien. Likewise, Bashir gets cozier with Cardassian tailor Garak, who claims to be "plain and simple" yet ultimately proves to be anything but. Kira is pulled front and center in the trilogy that kicks off the season, and her days in the Bajoran underground gain some illumination. We see the first inklings of the eventual friendship-turned-romance between her and shapeshifting Odo. Ferengi barkeep Quark starts to prove that he's more than just comic relief (and turns into quite the ladies, er, man). And this is the year that introduces viewers to no less than three "Let's torture O'Brien" stories, a subgenre that would remain a perennial favorite among the writing staff.

Season 2's 26 episodes forecast the shape of things to come in Star Trek's first three-part story, a trial run for the heavy-duty multi-episode arcs that will add so much to later seasons. The heroism of freedom-fighting — rather, the power that even the illusion of heroic leadership wields — occupies "The Homecoming" and the two eps that follow. They take us back to the planet Bajor, where civil and religious factions struggle for the hearts and minds of a people trying to reconstruct their civilization after generations of brutal occupation by the Cardassians. Superb guest stars Frank Langella and Louise Fletcher prove that even theocrats can have shady political agendas. In "Rules of Acquisition," Wallace Shawn returns as the Ferengi Grand Nagus and drops the first mention of the mysterious Dominion, the galactic Cosa Nostra waiting at the other end of the wormhole to become DS9's supreme baddie.

One of the series' favorites, "Necessary Evil" employs film noir flashback atmospherics as gumshoe Odo reopens a murder case that occurred during the space station's prior military occupation and Kira's days as a resistance fighter. Another Odo ep, "The Alternate," offers a nifty twist of the shapesifter's troubled psyche. Sci-fi B-movie favorite Ken Tobey is one of several very good things in "Shadowplay," an atypically sweet Odo story. Paranoia drives O'Brien to an effective O. Henry ending in "Whispers."

Avery Brooks' Commander Sisko is a strong presence throughout the season, though "Paradise" is one of the few that gives him top attention. As for Jadzia Dax, "Invasive Procedures" gives another glimpse at what's under her skin (literally) when the grub-like Dax symbiont is forcibly removed. Her connections to three Klingon warriors from the original Star Trek series (played by the original actors) are revealed in "Blood Oath." In two entries, "The Wire" and "Cardassians," not-so-plain-and-simple Garak steps into the spotlight. A gripping two-parter, "The Maquis," focuses on the vigilante band of fed-up colonists using terrorist tactics to ignite a Federation-Cardassian war.

With more than two dozen stories here, naturally there are the usual clunkers ("Second Sight" and "Rivals" come to mind) and the standard assortment of in-betweeners. But they're trumped by this year's memorable "Crossover," which revisits the evil Spock-with-a-pointy-beard alternate universe first encountered by James T. Kirk and company a century before. So, through twisted versions of our new Trek characters, we get to witness the damage that Kirk's meddling brought to an entire parallel universe. The crossover stories became an annual DS9 tradition, and actor Nana Visitor got a kick out of playing kinky Evil Kira in that black fetishwear catsuit.

The season concludes with a cliffhanger that fires the first shot in the Dominion War, an unfolding epic-sized smackdown that drives much of the series from this point on. "The Jem'Hadar" introduces the Dominion's hired muscle, the born-to-be-bad warriors who work for the middle-management Vorta, who in turn serve the near-mythical Founders. High times and low doings are ahead in Season Three and beyond.

*          *          *

Paramount's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 2 DVD boxed set presents all 26 episodes plus extras on seven discs, racking up more than 20 hours. The episodes look very good, with full-frame imagery that's clean and vibrant. Audio options are each ep's original DD 2.0 stereo plus a new DD 5.1 mix that's especially nice when environmental ambiance and musical scores wrap around our ears.

The usual Special Features are made up of new and archived video material, and are stylistically identical to their kin within the Season 1 set. The newest behind-the-scenes featurette, New Frontiers: The Story of Deep Space Nine (15:23), turns the cameras around on exec producers Rick Berman, Michael Piller, and Ira Steven Behr to discuss the show's development through its second season, including original concepts, DS9's similarity to classic westerns, and the evolution of its characters. The in-house ET-maker is back in Michael Westmore's Aliens (12:14), with the makeup designer displaying his interstellar fauna that took a bow in Season 2, from Trill symbionts to Cardassian voles. Then in Deep Space Nine Sketchbook (11:04), senior illustrator Rick Sternbach and illustrator Jim Martin show off their ships, set designs, and props seen throughout this season.

Actor Terry Ferrell gets her seventeen minutes in Crew Dossier: Jadzia Jax, a new interview punctuated with insights from Ira Steven Behr. Among other things, we get to see why discarding her forehead appliances as originally conceived was such a smart idea. New Station, New Ships (5:30) brings us Dan Curry, Rick Sternbach, and others who describe the designs and models for the space station, the runabouts, and Cardassian warships. Once again the two Special Features menu screens play hide-and-seek with each title.

Ten brief cast & crew video interviews are barely Easter Egg'd as "Section 31: Hidden Files," and although this format is as welcome as a classmates.com popup, the content is good stuff. As usual, there is no printed episode guide.

The set-matching all-plastic digipak holds the discs in book-hinged trays, with the whole thing enclosed within a plastic slipcase.

—Mark Bourne

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