Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 1 started airing mid-season and had “only” 20 episodes; season 2 is the first “full” season with no less than 26 episodes — double the amount of the standard season length some twenty years later! That’s a lot of airtime to fill, if such a series would be made today I believe the writers would be more choosing in what to include or not include in the final episodes in order to make a tighter, stronger season. Season 2 aired simultaneously with the last season of The Next Generation. During the 1993-1994 season, Star Trek was riding the peak of its popularity; it was decided that TNG would conclude its run on television and transition to film, and that a third series would launch afterwards.
DS9 season 2 continues to explore the environment it has built and give depth to its characters. It continues to have everything lit with that diffuse soft lighting or more hard overhead lighting that is filtered through metal screens; this distinguishes it from the cleaner brighter look of TNG and corresponds to the murkier worldview DS9 tries to present. In terms of story-telling, after a very strong launch to the season with a 3-part story, it settles in a rhythm that feels a lot like season 1: episodes are mostly self-contained, with one dramatic A-story focusing mainly on one character, and a shorter B-story that is often more comedic. It relies less on bringing over characters from TNG, but in season 2 there will be more occurrences of bringing over characters or concepts from TOS! Towards the end of the season there is a string of episodes, from The Maquis onwards, that tackle concepts that feel more original and proper to DS9: how well do the Federation’s values can hold at its frontier, figuratively and literally? There are also signs that the writers are planning more long-term story arcs, but plans do seem more like sketches for the time being.
These changes, by all accounts, come from the impulse of Ira Stephen Behr, who was becoming the main writer, along with Robert Hewitt Wolfe, while veteran writer/producers Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor are still present but progressively turn their attention to the next series, Voyager. What is impressive with DS9 is how many writers are involved! Nearly all episodes are credited as collective efforts, with as many as 4 writers per episode. Over the 46 episodes of seasons 1-2 I count no less than 47 writers, with most of those contributing with just one script; the situation was rather similar in early TNG. With so many voices behind the wheel, it’s no wonder that the show is having trouble to find a unique voice and a consistent direction.
On to the episodes!
2×01: The Homecoming / 2×02: The Circle / 2×03: The Siege: “I’ve done everything I can to help. I’d die for my people, but–” “Sure you would, dying gets you off the hook. Question is, are you willing to live for your people?”
While season 1 ended with a single self-contained episode, season 2 kicks off with a 3-parter, no less! The arc was developed under the impulse of Michael Piller, playing with elements that are specific to DS9 — the Bajorans, the Cardassians, politics — instead of being a variant of what could be TNG episodes, showing that DS9 can be its own thing. After this arc, DS9 would return to the usual unrelated self-contained episodes, and would try multi-part arcs again only after nearly 20 episodes.
The arc begins with an expedition to liberate a Bajoran resistance hero, Li Nalas, from a Cardassian labour camp by Kira. His return starts a chain of events that amounts to a coup d’état on Bajor. Kira is replaced by a reluctant Li on DS9, in order to distance him from Bajor; Kira spends time on Bajor with Vedek Bareil (from the season 1 finale) and she has odd visions where she and Bareil…kiss?!; an extremist xenophobic Bajoran organization, The Circle, is attempting to destabilize the provisional government; Odo discovers that those arming the Circle are actually Cardassians, through an intermediate, as a covert attempt to remove the Federation from Bajor space; Bajoran Minister Jaro conspires with the shady Vedek Winn (whom we saw in the season 1 finale) to take power and it is revealed that Jaro is behind the Circle; DS9 is evacuated and boarded by the Circle; Kira and Dax manage to inform the Bajoran council on time and the coup is averted in extremes.
The arc includes two memorable guest roles. Li proves to be a misunderstood and tragic figure: instead of being the hero he is made to be he just happened to survive, he has little self-worth and is reluctant to embrace the role of leader for his people that is asked of him. Bajoran politics ultimately leave him few personal freedom, he is trapped by the symbol he represents. His arc concludes by a true self-sacrifice at the end, an act that actually releases him from all these dilemmas; yet history will still remember the constructed hero, not the real person. I would have liked his character to continue the journey.
The other role is that of Minister Jaro. Despite the clear-cut role of him being “the bad guy” of this story, his motivations come out genuine and believable: he wants what is best for Bajor and is tired of the weak government that does not seem to have a good control over things, something even Kira acknowledges. It turns out that he was inadvertently manipulated by the Cardassians, which is a nice ironic twist. The Cardassians are behind everything in DS9, but they don’t come out as much a caricature as the Romulans in TNG.
I particularly liked the scene early in the second episode where Kira prepares to leave the station and each lead character comes to pay a visit; it is great comedy writing with quick dialogue that shows that these characters have come to care for one another. The third episode is rather weaker, as if it had less story than one full episode warranted. Surely these were costly episodes to make at the time, however by today’s standards the scenes with Kira and Dax flying a Bajoran raider do look rather weak and would benefit from exterior shots actually showing the thing flying. But for the time, that last scene in particular showing two women doing kick-ass piloting action à la Han Solo was certainly quite new!
The plotting is dense, the editing is tight, the developments keep you interested. This is a great arc and a very strong start to the season indeed.
Li Nalas is superbly portrayed by Richard Beymer, who of course was the scheming Benjamin Horne in Twin Peaks!
Minister Jaro is portrayed by the excellent Frank Langella, whom you have seen everywhere but never remember where exactly; he was Boris Balkan in Polanski’s The Ninth Gate and Nixon in Frost/Nixon.
2×04: Invasive Procedures: “Don’t call me Benjamin.”
Helped by a crew of Klingons, a Trill takes over the station and forces the symbiont Dax to be transferred to him. The disappointed Trill, Verad, was not chosen to be a host in the Trill’s very strict system — this system does sound very competitive and traumatizing, I understand why such incidents would occur! how can a whole society survive like this? The twist is that once Dax is inside Verad, Verad Dax becomes a whole new person, still the old but new, more confident, less concerned with his Klingon lover (great acting by John Glover here!). It was funny to see the new Dax and Sisko laugh at common memories while the others are just watching! Yet he is neither Dax nor Verad any more. Sisko does not befriend Verad Dax just because Dax is in there, which shows that even though Sisko shares a lot of memories with Curzon Dax, he is also a friend of Jadzia Dax specifically. The changes in Verad eventually convince the Klingons to turn against him, and Dax is safely restituted to Jadzia — including the sad memories of Verad. A bittersweet ending.
Wow, that Klingon was Megan Gallagher, who was Katherine Black, Frank’s wife, in Millennium!
2×05: Cardassians: “He doesn’t actually tell me what he really thinks… I sort of have to deduce it.”
Tensions arise when a Cardassian war orphan, raised by Bajorans, is identified as the son of a still-living Cardassian officer. The Bajoran foster parents have raised him not only as a Bajoran but with deep hatred of all Cardassian — what a schizophrenic situation, like a slow racist revenge! Yet their love for the boy seems genuine. The boy stays at the O’Briens’, which is quite awkward given that Miles is not too fond of Cardassians either. Garak (last seen in 1×03: Past Prologue) is in for the ride, and with remarkable wit and impressive determination he and Bashir investigate into the matters. It turns out that the whole event had been orchestrated years in advance by none other than Gul Dukat, in order to publicly humiliate the real father, who is a political opponent of his! His plan revealed, it’s a stalemate, and the boy is returned to his father. And what does Garak have to gain from all this? Is this all there is to him or is he secretly manipulating Bashir? He is turning into a very intriguing character. A complex and quite good episode.
2×06: Melora: “You can depend on us.”
Bashir falls in love (his favourite activity!) with Melora, a woman from a planet with low gravity, so low that they essentially fly; but on standard Earth/Federation/DS9 gravity, her body is so weak that she is significantly impaired, in a wheelchair. During their romance, Bashir gives Melora an experimental neural treatment that allows her to walk and Melora gives Bashir a taste of what it is like to fly in low-g. Faced with the possibility to never being able to return home in order to continue the adaptation in higher gravity, Melora calls the treatment off, and the two separate.
It is interesting how this is 1993 and an entire episode is spent on explaining how different life would be under a different gravity, and how the human(oid) body would adapt; today such knowledge would almost entirely be taken for granted (see how quickly and matter-of-factly such concepts are introduced in The Expanse with the Belters and Martians visiting Earth). The episode is also frustratingly simple with how completely humanoid the aliens are once again — I know this is a budget issue, but I can’t imagine low-g people not evolving differently. It is also odd that the artificial gravity in Federation installations works so well and everywhere, that Bashir has never experienced the lack of gravity! I would expect zero-g and high-g acceleration be part of the basic training in Starfleet. A cute story, but I have difficulty getting past these scientific details.
2×07: Rules of Acquisition: “You really know your Rules.”
Just how sexist are those Ferengi? We learn that their women do not work, they never leave their homes, go naked, are illiterate, and generally don’t do much apart from being submissive. They also have smaller ear lobes (because men are turned on with their lobes, so lobes are penis substitutes?) But — surprise! — Quark‘s new business associate, who is very intelligent and knows all her Rules by heart, turns out to be a woman. This could be fine with Quark, as what could have been a homoerotic idyll is actually a “normal” one; but it also gets Quark into trouble as he is not even supposed to associate with women who break the rules. A funny little episode!
With the dealings in the Gamma Quadrant, we have here the first mention of the Dominion, which I know will become…important!
2×08: Necessary Evil: “You were a better liar than I gave you credit for.”
One of Quark‘s little schemes goes wrong (we get plenty of ridiculous Ferengi screaming!) and Odo reopens a five-year-old investigation, giving us plenty of flashbacks to the time when DS9 was ruled by the Cardassians and was called Terok Nor. The photography and set deign are particularly effective in those scenes: the overall atmosphere is darker, the lights that are there are cold and focused and more blue than the usual warm yellow/orange, there are more wire and metal fences. Terok Nor was a scarier place, run in a strict manner by the Cardassians and in which Odo could be much more “efficient” as he says! We witness Odo meeting Gul Dukat and being assigned the role of security officer; we see Kira‘s arrival on the station, still in the Bajoran resistance (and with longer hair and more sexualized), and Odo meeting Quark and Kira for the first time. Eventually, the story is one of Bajoran collaborators with the Cardassians and retaliation against them — as Bajoran stories often are. Even though years have gone by Kira still holds out secrets from her activities back then, to Odo in particular. Odo and Kira’s friendship ends up shaken from all this, as the episode ends in an awkward silence. This episode was a memorable one, and a highlight of the season!
DS9 returns as soon as O’Brien fixes these wires…