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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 6

Deep Space Nine's sixth and penultimate season (1997-8) does more than just pick up where Season Five left off. The station may be evacuated and Cardassian and Dominion forces may have settled in for a long-awaited re-occupation — but the war's far from over, the Federation isn't throwing in the towel, and Sisko's crew are determined to take back their home turf, no matter what it takes. What it takes is a strong six-episode story arc, the longest sustained serial so far in Star Trek history. (Its success opened the door to the ten-episode arc that concludes Season Seven and the series.)

By Season Six DS9 shoulders a spine-cracking amount of weight from its unfolding megastory and increasingly accumulated backstory. Dramatic rabbits keep getting pulled out of unforeseen hats, and these 26 episodes ratchet up the series' drama, characterizations, and cool visual-effects gravy as the Dominion War becomes the armored spine of seasons Six and Seven. Elegantly and admirably, a number of eps don't short-shrift "the horrors of war" or settle for comic-book simplicities. In this best-written of all Star Trek series, there's not a jumped shark in sight as DS9 juggles its increasing number of tennis balls and chainsaws without feeling overburdened or confusing, and without losing its sense of fun, which is really the bottom line, isn't it?

Something that stands out in Season Six is how good the villains are. Star Trek rarely trucked with long-lasting, intimately interlocked Big Bads such as Gul Dukat and the Vorta Weyoun (in all his clone numerations), and the paths these characters follow place them well above such cardboard bogies as the Romulans or Q or the overused Borg. In particular, Dukat — loving father, leader, and patriot — becomes as fleshed out and intriguing as any of the core good guys. It's said that any well-written villain is the hero of his own story. Dukat is that maxim played to the hilt. His personal arc drives irrevocably to the climax and conclusion of the entire series, and frankly we'll be sorry to see him go. Similarly, one of Star Trek's oldest tropes is the Godlike Noncorporeal Superbeings, which Starfleet captains have had to deal with ever since Kirk's tussles with the Organians, Metrons, and Trelaine. But only in DS9 do such beings occupy a vital place in the storytelling and the main characters' lives. (Next Gen's Q only barely counts, being mostly Trek's answer to Superman's Mr. Mxyzptlk.) The wormhole aliens and now their antitheses, the Pah-wraiths, push DS9 forward from here on, with Dukat and Sisko both playing powerful roles in those entities' cosmic fisticuffs.

Also of interest are some all-time favorite episodes, including Worf and Dax's wedding, the brutal moral gray zones of "In the Pale Moonlight," the Kira-centric "Wrongs Darker than Death or Night," and "Far Beyond the Stars," perhaps the most remarkable Trek hour of them all, period.

"A Time to Stand" opens the six-part arc by placing Sisko and his Defiant crew on a covert mission deep in Dominion territory. That episode's cliff-hanger ending takes us to "Rocks and Shoals," which gives the Dominion's bred-for-battle Jem'Hadar soldiers some interesting dimension. Then Worf's estranged son Alexander and Dukat's half-Bajoran daughter Ziyal take center stage in "Sons and Daughters." On the station, Kira, Odo, Worf, Jake, and Rom form a resistance cell that reveals unlikely heroes in "Behind the Lines" and subsequent stories. In "Favor the Bold," the war goes poorly for the Federation, while on the station Ziyal, as well as Odo's tormenting female Founder counterpart, set new dominoes tumbling. The arc concludes in pow! bang! fashion with "Sacrifice of Angels" as Sisko plays a risky hand with the Prophets to turn the tide of interstellar war, and Dukat suffers a loss that sends him off the edge for good. "Sacrifice of Angels" is also the ep where we get the big payoff in space armada battles.

To lighten things up, the wedding episode, "You Are Cordially Invited..." plays right to the cheap seats with style. In "Statistical Probabilities," Bashir must work with a misfit group of genetically engineered humans like himself. "Resurrection" blends a Mirror Universe crossover with Kira's renewed chance for a lost love. Sisko is forced to face down Dukat's madness in the powerful "Waltz." In a light romp, "Who Mourns for Morn?," our favorite silent barfly finally gets his hour in the spotlight to reveal a lethally shady background that includes two alien gangsters doing Jack Nicholson impressions.

It takes "One Little Ship" manned by Dax, O'Brien, and Bashir to save their comrades even though their runabout is reduced to toy-like dimensions; this utterly stupid but nonetheless enjoyable Fantastic Voyage riff stays just this side of becoming a cartoon.

The annual fuck-with-O'Brien is "Honor Among Thieves," although "Time's Orphan," involving his three-year-old daughter and a time portal, runs him through the wringer as well. In "Inquisition," a spook from Section 31, the NSA-like branch of Starfleet Intelligence that answers to no one, comes looking for Bashir. To enlist Romulan support in the Dominion war, Sisko dances with the devil "In the Pale Moonlight," one of the darkest, and most memorable, of Star Trek episodes.

The Prophets give Sisko a heavy-hitting vision in "Far Beyond the Stars," placing the captain into the life of Benny Russell, a black sci-fi writer in 1950s America, a place where bitter racial hatred is an ordinary part of everyday society. It's beautifully shot and directed by Avery Brooks, and one of the most unusual and moving landmark stories under the Star Trek brand name. Look for the entire cast out of their usual makeup, some playing analogs of real penny-per-word genre magazine laborers, such as Colm Meaney's thinly veiled Isaac Asimov and Nana Visitor's C.L. Moore. This year's featherweight Ferengi fests are "The Magnificent Ferengi" (look for Iggy Pop) and "Profit and Lace," the latter being the unquestionable winner of the Worst DS9 Episode Ever award.

Another lighthearted ep is "His Way," which cements Odo and Kira's romance and introduces a new holosuite character, Vic Fontaine, a 1960's Sinatra-like lounge crooner who also provides advice for the lovelorn. (Fan opinion remains mixed over Vic, but I dig the whole Rat Pack Vegas holosuite scene, daddy-o.) "Change of Heart" sees Worf and Dax coping with being a married couple who've also sworn oaths as Starfleet officers who must sometimes face death in battle. In "Wrongs Darker than Death or Night," Kira journeys into the past for gut-punching revelations about her mother. In "The Reckoning" Sisko is called to Bajor when an ancient tablet addressing the Emissary is discovered. Jake and Nog find themselves on board a rogue starship, learning hard lessons about hero-worship in "Valiant." "The Sound of Her Voice" guides the Defiant to a distress call that's not what it seems.

DS9 sure knows how to end a season big, with Six no exception. "Tears of the Prophets" escalates everything — the course of the war, the conflict between the Prophets and the Pah-wraiths, Dukat's psychology, the show's big-ass battlefleet effects budget, and especially Sisko's status as the holy Emissary. By the closing moment, his vulnerabilities laid bare, he is the most human Trek captain before or since. Oh yeah, one of our favorite characters dies. For real. Sort of.

Could DS9 Season Six be the best season of Star Trek so far? Quite possibly. Either way, Season Seven is set up with a hard act to follow.

*          *          *

Paramount's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 6 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.

As usual there's no printed episode guide, and as usual the now-standardized Special Features — brief featurettes and other snippets assembled from new and archived video material — offer lightweight but decent fan magazine content, though yet again without the courtesy of a decent menu. Mission Inquiry (8:48) probes "Far Beyond the Stars" with passionate actor/director Avery Brooks, Ira Steven Behr, Armin Shimerman, Rene Auberjoinois, Jeffery Combs, Penny Johnson Jerald, Herman Zimmerman, and others. In 24th Century Wedding (10:54), Terry Farrell, writer Ronald D. Moore, director David Livington, and Aron "Nog" Eisenberg, reminisce about the Klingon-flavored nuptials.

We get two Crew Dossiers this time, and they may be the best so far: Julian Bashir (14:21) with a candid and scruffy-looking Alexander Siddig, and Quark (16:00) with a contemplative, warm-hearted Armin Shimerman and others. Both offer fine examinations of the thoughtful character work DS9 produced. Sketchbook: John Eaves (9:16) shows more concept art.

Hunt and click for another ten of those good but goddamned Easter Egg'd "Section 31 hidden files." Another routine Photo Gallery and the Indiana Jones Preview Trailer again take up more pixels.

The all-plastic digipak holds the discs in book-hinged trays enclosed within a semi-transparent plastic slipcase, which may be the best multi-disc DVD packaging going.

—Mark Bourne

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