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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 5

Fans who've been following these Deep Space Nine DVD sets through Seasons One, Two, Three, and Four have by now hit the Trekker sweet spot — the zen state where our fannish yin resides in satisfying equilibrium with our other, less geeky critical-judgment yang. Achieving full clarity here in this Season Five (1996-7) boxed set, we feel our chakra points tingle as Deep Space Nine keeps unfolding as not only superior Star Trek (an oxymoron for years now) but also as darn good television (ditto). DS9's predecessor, Star Trek: The Next Generation, hit its fifth season only to plateau and coast humdrumly along for its three final years. Not DS9. The writing remains top-notch, surprises keep coming, and there's no sense of Next Gen's boilerplate sameness setting in. Years-long story arcs are building to a head, with Season Five throwing more deuterium onto the fire.

In this 26-episode set, the Klingon war set up in the previous season is resolved quickly so that the series can get back to the imminent treat of a Dominion invasion. Nonetheless, shapeshifting Changeling infiltrators are still hidden in surprising places, and Klingon-lovers still get their fix with nearly an entire episode set on a Bird of Prey and lots of those Wagnerian Klingon operas and songs. Elsewhere, Captain Sisko is forced to embrace his dual position as both a Starfleet leader and a spiritually guided religious figure to the Bajoran people. His son Jake chooses the life of a Starfleet war correspondent. Kira's pregnancy with the O'Briens' baby, established last season, runs its course with the dynamic Major still capable of fending off bad guys action-hero-style while being seemingly three minutes away from labor.

Odo gets his shapeshifting abilities back in a touching story, and he and Quark add new dimension to their ostensibly antagonistic relationship. We discover the illegal secret behind Dr. Bashir's upbringing. Lovely Leeta and bashful Rom finally unveil their hearts (or something) to each other with an assist from guest star Robert Picardo on loan from Star Trek: Voyager. Worf and Dax hook up in every meaning of the term, and in the final story she agrees to marry him if he survives fighting the Dominion invasion. Nog returns from Starfleet Academy in time to assist Jake in tracking down a 1951 Willie Mays baseball card. Our favorite Vorta, the weasely Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs), is back after his vaporizing demise last season (his numerous deaths become a recurring gag). The mysterious wormhole aliens' evil counterparts reveal themselves. All this plus tribbles in the most fondly remembered DS9 ep of them all.

With "Apocalypse Rising" the season picks up where the last one left off, with the revelation that the Klingon Empire, now warring with the Federation, is being led by a Dominion shapeshifter — although who's real and who's not remains a tricky point right to the end. "The Ship" takes Sisko, Dax, Worf, and O'Brien to a Gamma Quadrant planet and a crashed Jem'Hadar warship. Then things lighten up as Quark fights for love and honor, Klingon-style, in "Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places." Young Jake Sisko, budding journalist, experiences the horrors of war first hand in "...Nor the Battle to the Strong."

Once a season we must make Miles O'Brien utterly miserable, so in "The Assignment" the pah-wraiths, ancient noncorporeal beings banished eons ago by the wormhole aliens, are released to possess his wife Keiko — and to become recurring foes all the way to DS9's final moments in Season Seven.

Ask a roomful of Trekkies what's the most fun episode in all of Star Trek, and you'll likely hear shouts of "Trials and Tribble-ations." This 30th Anniversary salute to Trek old and new uses time travel to Forest Gump-ize DS9 crewmembers onto James T. Kirk's original Enterprise, and accomplishes it with cleverness, humor, and technological seamlessness. (Good odds that this DVD set will ring up countless purchases for that episode alone.) Of course, every season gets its crappy entries, and here it's the underbaked, tepid "issue" ep, "Let He Who Is Without Sin..." Then we wash that taste from our mouths with "Things Past," as Sisko, Dax, and Garak relive a piece of Odo's troubled history during the Cardassian occupation. A life-or-death crisis in "The Ascent" forces Odo and Quark to bury assorted old hatchets. Sisko's status as Bajor's Emissary to the Prophets becomes far more than just a figurehead title in "Rapture."

Thanks to "Soldiers of the Empire" we get a glimpse of what Star Trek might be like if it were produced by Klingons and set on a dispirited warship (it's good to see General Martok getting so much screen time this season). Odo finds love in "A Simple Investigation" and raises an infant Changeling goo in "The Begotten." A big two-part update of The Great Escape — "In Purgatory's Shadow" and "By Inferno's Light" — imprisons Worf and Garak in a Dominion internment center guarded by Jem'Hadar soldiers, where they encounter a dangerous truth about one of their crewmates. Two strong Kira episodes are "The Darkness and the Light" and "Ties of Blood and Water," and two others — "For the Uniform" and "Blaze of Glory" — bring Sisko face-to-face again with Eddington, his former Starfleet Security Chief who betrayed him and joined the Maquis. Our annual Ferengi fests are "Business as Usual" and "Ferengi Love Songs."

The seriocomic "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?" brings us the good doctor's parents and his dire secret, as well as Dr. Zimmerman (Robert Picardo) testing him for the new version of Starfleet's holographic doctor program while keeping abreast (hoping to, anyway) of busty Leeta, who's pining for the Ferengi Rom. "Children of Time" is a moving time-travel tale with a whopper of a moral conflict that arrives when the Defiant crew crashes on a planet, where they meet their distant descendants. O'Brien leads a team to salvage "Empok Nor," a derelict (or is it?) Cardassian space station. Willie Mays and a velvet matador are only two components of the lightweight but entertaining "In the Cards."

The season closes on another big upswing in "Call to Arms." As convoy after convoy of Jem'Hadar ships emerges from the wormhole toward Cardassia, Sisko and his crew face the grim realization that the Dominion invasion has begun. The final twenty minutes are packed with enormous fleets of warships and a startling turn of events involving Gul Dukat. We love, love, love the baseball at the closing, and the shot of a vast Federation armada is Trekgeek porn. Now we open a new bag of Doritos, spilling them in quivering anticipation as we await the arrival of the Season Six set.

*          *          *

Paramount's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 5 DVD boxed set presents all 26 episodes plus extras on seven discs, totaling just under 20 hours. The episodes look terrific — clean and sharp with excellent color. Audio options are the original stereo DD 2.0 plus a new DD 5.1 mix that's especially nice when the ambient sound effects, starship whooshes, and musical scores wrap around our ears.

Compared to the other sets, this one offers no surprises: there's still no printed episode guide, and the Special Features — brief featurettes and other snippets assembled from new and archived video material — are good but come with no convenient menus. Two items focus on the conception and making of "Trials and Tribble-ations": Uniting Two Legends (17:00) traces the origins of the episode, and A Historic Endeavor (16:39) examines its technical challenges. Writer Ronald D. Moore is our main talking head for both. This set's Crew Dossier (11:31) focuses the camera on Colm Meaney to discuss Miles O'Brien. Inside Deep Space Nine with Michael Okuda (7:20) is a tour of the Promenade with affable designer Mike pointing out the jokes hidden in the readout panels. Michael Westmore's Aliens (7:22) is back for a Season Five spin of Klingons, Jem'Hadar, and other races.

Another ten of those good but irritatingly Easter Egg'd "Section 31 hidden files" are here. As before, a routine Photo Gallery and the Indiana Jones Preview Trailer are so much pocket lint.

We still really like the all-plastic digipak that holds the discs in book-hinged trays enclosed within a semi-transparent plastic slipcase (and this time the sequential art on the disc faces is clever, a seven-part flipbook "animation" of an approaching Jem'Hadar war fleet).

—Mark Bourne

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