Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 7
DS9's final season (1998-99) brings to a satisfying conclusion a series that we can soberly and fannishly argue developed into not just the best Star Trek series then or since, but also one of the few TV "sci fi" programs that assumed its audience was comprised of grownups. Like Babylon 5, it proved that episodic television SF can support evolving story arcs of epic scale and scope that build over many hours or even over entire seasons. More importantly, it showed that such big storytelling demands, and can accommodate, strong writing and performances to put flesh-and-blood characters before winky-blinky lights and frap rays. In a series that gives some 20 continuing characters and their relationships equal footing with sci-fi hardware and plot gimmicks, no one is the same person we met in Season One, a virtue that benefits from this year-in-a-box DVD format.
Speaking of characters, necessity required that DS9 gain a new one this season. Rather, an old one in a new form. Because actor Terry Farrell chose to not renew her contract after Season Six, the death of Jadzia Dax left the writers in a lurch and with a mighty large hole to fill. As a result, actor Nicole deBoer enters the series as Ezri, the new host for the Dax symbiont. A small, elfin-faced cutie, inexperienced and girlish Ezri Dax can't match the charismatic presence of her predecessor. Like Next Generation's Ensign Ro, Ezri and deBoer arrive way too late to leave a strong footprint on the series. The episodes needed to flesh out her character and her relationships with Jadzia's old friends and crewmates drain time and energy that might have been better channeled to this season's major story developments. (We can also argue that, as good as deBoer is, the DS9 staff avoided bold choices in creating Ezri. Imagine the Dax symbiont coming back as a man, especially for Worf's new dynamic with his former "wife.") Still, deBoer holds her own quite well in a unenviable situation, and her presence means that at last Julian Bashir gets laid.
In other season developments, surprises and twists keep dogpiling. The Dominion arc proves that war is still hell, loyalties are shifty, and the notion of clear-cut "good guys" and "bad guys" is as naive as it is foolhardy. Sisko's intimate connection to the Prophets both starts and ends the year with Oh, wow! impact. Plus, he and Kasidy Yates get married and conceive a child. In a series rich in brilliant pairings of ostensibly antagonistic characters, we see Gul Dukat and Kai Winn summoning up Ultimate Evil as they share destinies and beds (frankly, everyone short of Jake and Nog gets laid this year, and we notice that they're awfully close). Colonel Kira joins forces with Gul Damar to lead a Cardassian rebellion against the Dominion. Dr. Bashir grudgingly works for the shadowy Section 31. Political chicanery keeps a wartime alliance between the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Romulans on edge.
Meanwhile, over on the Dominion's side, a mysterious disease is slowly destroying the Changeling "Founders," and a new Weyoun must contend with a duplicitous Damar and lead the Dominion's newest allies, the masked warrior race known as the Breen. The season concludes the Dominion War with a ten-part serial that's first-rate in all departments. It's capped by a two-hour finale that includes TV's coolest space battle scenes and ends with a poignant, pitch-perfect long pullback shot that's a real lump-in-the-throater.
"Image in the Sand" and "Shadows and Symbols" open this set by picking up where Season Six left off, in New Orleans with an overwhelmed Sisko gathering his wits. Visions from both the Prophets and the Pah-wraiths lead to an attempted murder by religious zealots, a trip by three generations of Siskos to an alien world, and a stunning revelation interlocking the captain's origin and destiny. After her entrance in that two-parter, Ezri Dax gets her first dedicated ep in "Afterimage." In addition to coping with the memories of her past lives, she must deal with the range of reactions her presence generates on the station. Everyone takes a break in "Take Me Out to the Holosuite," which pits a team of Deep Space Nine rookies against a rival baseball team of Vulcans. It's one of two Tales From The Holodeck eps this season that manage to rise above the trope to be top-drawer hours (watch how Avery Brooks has a hell of a lot of fun on the big diamond).
In "Chrysalis," the group of genetically enhanced savants we met in Season Six escape from their medical institute home hoping that Bashir himself genetically engineered as a child can cure their friend Sarina. Naturally, romance blossoms for the doc. A key Dominion War arc story is "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River," wherein Odo is lured to a secret meeting site to face not one but two fundamentally different Weyouns. Stories spotlighting the Klingons grew tiresome after so many in Next Gen and DS9, yet one of the best is "Once More Unto the Breach," which gives aging war hero Kor (John Colicos, who played the role in The Original Series' first-ever Klingon episode) a fine sendoff. A grim battlefield drama, "The Siege of AR-558," is one of the darker hours in Trekdom.
Kira and Dukat come front and center in "Covenant" when the former Cardassian warlord tries to recruit his old enemy into his cult of Pah-wraith followers. The holosuite Sinatra, Vic Fontaine, returns in "It's Only a Paper Moon" to console a somber Nog, who lost a leg, and his spirit, in battle. Then the requisite Ezri's-past story, "Prodigal Daughter," is, alas, a middling entry as she returns to her home and Godfather-like family. Another weak link is "The Emperor's New Cloak," the last of the overplayed Mirror Universe eps, with Grand Nagus Zek abducted and held hostage by Alliance members from the alternate continuum (it's a superfluous and tired episode, although the leather-bedecked Ezri liplocking the alternate-Kira is a forgivable thrill). "Field of Fire" is a tepid throwback to old Dax stories, with Ezri solving a series of murders by summoning Joran, one of her previous incarnations.
The good stuff starts amping up again when Odo encounters a fellow Changeling with vital information in "Chimera." Perhaps Trek's most entertaining holodeck-fantasy episode is "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang," with Sisko and crew going Oceans 11 to save Vic from a virtual rub-out at the hands of mobster Frankie Eyes. (You gotta love the '60s-vintage crime-jazz score and the station crew's Reservoir Dogs group strut on their way to the big heist.) Bashir learns that wartime politics and covert ops are nefarious indeed in "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges," when on a crucial trip to the Romulan homeworld he's inducted by Sloan, the director of the off-the-books extremist intelligence organization Section 31. Of course Worf and the new Dax must confront their altered relationship realities, so a two-part story, "Penumbra" and "'Til Death Do Us Part," forces them together and revs the engine of the final ten-part Dominion War arc.
Meanwhile, Sisko and Kasidy plan to marry (despite a warning against it from the Prophets) and Dukat returns to Bajor by posing as a simple farmer to lure Kai Winn to the side of the Pah-wraiths. In "Strange Bedfellows," Kasidy must adjust to her new role in life, while the Dominion forges war-turning new alliances. "The Changing Face of Evil" kicks off with the Breen winning an attack against Starfleet Headquarters on Earth.
On Bajor, Kai Winn (an engaging portrait of religious faith shaken to its core) discovers how to release the Pah-wraiths, while Damar's rebel movement gains ground and Bashir learns who's behind the Founders' genocidal disease in "When It Rains..." In "Tacking Into the Wind," Bashir works on a cure for Odo's debilitating illness, and Martok assumes power following the death of Klingon Chancellor Gowron. "Extreme Measures" sees Bashir getting literally inside the mind of Section 31's Sloan in an attempt to find a cure for the Founders' disease. Kira, Damar, and Garak lead a rebel cell on Cardassia Prime, Rom becomes the new Grand Nagus, Bashir and Quark and Ezri express their feelings ... all that and Kasidy's pregnancy in the exemplary "The Dogs of War."
Finally, "What You Leave Behind" (the two-part finale presented here as a single extended episode) climaxes the Cardassians' revolt against the Dominion, the Federation fight against Dominion forces, and the conflict between the Prophets and Pah-wraiths, a battle royal with permanent impact on Dukat, Kai Winn, and especially Sisko, whose role as Emissary escalates to serious new levels. DS9's two-hour closer doesn't pack the sci-fi/gosh-wow punch of Next Gen's "All Good Things", and given the huge dramatic crescendo to it, some fans may feel that it's a bit anticlimactic. However, as a series-capping destination it's more potent than "All Good Things" while being more poignant and less "skiffy", and ends the series on all the right notes. Sisko's eyebrow-raising fate is a perfect extension of his arc after the big revelations early in the season. In this boxed set's extras, writer Ronald D. Moore says that if they'd had five more episodes they could have tied up more loose ends more thoroughly, but "What You Leave Behind" is a strong character-driven climax that chooses to see our favorite space heroes part ways rather than carry on as if nothing had changed over seven years. The mood is somber as "What You Leave Behind" leaves behind just enough ambiguity to end Deep Space Nine with an ellipsis rather than a period or exclamation mark a fitting ending for a series we're going to miss a great deal (that is, until we slide these seven sets of 48 discs into our players once again).
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Paramount's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 7 DVD boxed set presents all 25 episodes plus extras on seven discs, totaling just under 20 hours. Just like six times before, the episodes look terrific clean and sharp with excellent color (although expect some grain in darker scenes). Audio options are the original stereo DD 2.0 plus a new DD 5.1 mix that's especially nice with surround applied to the ambient sound effects, space-battle scrunches, and musical scores.
As usual there's no printed episode guide, and as usual the Special Features brief featurettes and other snippets assembled from new and archived video material offer their content without the courtesy of a decent menu. The series wrap-up deserves its two good featurettes: Ending an Era (15:22) delivers Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, Rick Berman, Mike and Denise Okuda, Alexander Siddig, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, and others reminiscing about the mammoth achievement they all helped pull off. The Last Goodbyes (14:13) is made largely of behind-the-scenes footage from the final shooting day and the wrap party afterward. On hand are René Auberjonois, Siddig, Visitor, Chase Masterson, Moore, Behr and others, including Avery Brooks in a heartfelt farewell toast to his colleagues. This set's Crew Dossiers give us the ever-passionate Brooks speaking about Sisko (13:03), and Cirroc Lofton reminding us of how much he grew up before our eyes during his years playing Jake Sisko (10:09).
Of course there's another click-through Photo Gallery, another Sketchbook: John Eaves (9:16), and nine more brief yet revealing actor interviews cloaked as "Section 31 Hidden Files" (while we're here, let's bitch one last time about the jughead idea of Easter Egging these things, which makes repeat visits unnecessarily exasperating experiences).
And now's our last opportunity to praise the nifty all-plastic digipak that holds the discs in book-hinged trays enclosed within a semi-transparent plastic slipcase. It's a packaging model that may be the only good thing to be said about the upcoming boxed sets of Star Trek: Voyager, a plucked nose hair of a series that learned zip from the virtues of Deep Space Nine. What you leave behind... indeed.