Paramount was one of the last major studios to support the DVD format, but it certainly knows how to release TV shows on DVD. Unlike companies that release either "best of" compilations or entire seasons with months of waiting between sets, Paramount is doing fans a great service in releasing entire RUNS in one calendar year. 2002 saw the release of all seven seasons of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", and 2003 will see the release of all seven seasons of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". Coupled with the special edition re-releases of the "Star Trek" feature films, there's an average of one new "Star Trek" release every month--a definite cause for celebration.
"Star Trek: The Next Generation" was doing so well in syndication that Paramount wanted a new show to expand the franchise. The powers that be launched "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" on January 3, 1993. Since "DS9" began its run while "TNG" was still generating new episodes of its own, a couple of crossover episodes were filmed for both "TNG" and "DS9". Some "TNG" episodes even dealt with the Cardassians (an alien race meant to be the villains in "DS9") without mentioning anything that might be happening on DS9 or on Bajor, a planet considering joining the United Federation of Planets.
"DS9" focuses on the Federation presence in the Bajoran system. The Cardassian Empire left Bajor after a brutal sixty-year occupation. The withdrawing Cardassian forces left behind a space station orbiting the planet, re-named Deep Space Nine by the Federation. Starfleet dispatches Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) to oversee DS9. His arrival in the Bajoran system was foreseen by Bajor's spiritual leaders, who think that he is the Emissary to the Prophets, the gods of their religious system. Sisko's arrival on DS9 triggers the opening of the Bajoran wormhole/Celestial Temple, the only known stable wormhole in the universe (i.e. its beginning and end points don't move or disappear). The "discovery" of the wormhole, which connects the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants, suddenly turns Bajor into a strategically important planet.
Sisko runs DS9 with the help of First Officer Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), the Bajoran liaison and a former freedom fighter. They are joined by Chief of Operations Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney from "TNG"); Science Officer Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), a symbiont with a worm living inside of her; Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig or Siddig El Fadil--the man changed his name sometime during the show's run); the shape-shifting Security Chief Odo (Rene Auberjonois); the Ferengi barkeeper, Quark (Armin Shimerman); Rom, Quark's brother; Nog, Rom's son; and Jake Sisko, Benjamin's son. Recurring characters include the Cardassians Gul Dukat and Garek, DS9's tailor.
The "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" Season Two box set includes the following episodes:
Disc 1: "The Homecoming", "The Circle", "The Siege", "Invasive Procedures".
Disc 2: "Cardassians", "Melora", "Rules of Acquisition", "Necessary Evil".
Disc 3: "Second Sight", "Sanctuary", "Rivals", "The Alternate".
Disc 4: "Armageddon Game", "Whispers", "Paradise", "Shadowplay".
Disc 5: "Playing God", "Profit and Loss", "Blood Oath", "The Maquis, Part 1".
Disc 6: "The Maquis, Part 2", "The Wire", "Crossover", "The Collaborator".
Disc 7: "Tribunal", "The Jem'Hadar".
The Second Season got off to a great start with a three-part opening. In "The Homecoming", "The Circle", and "The Siege", we see extremist forces on Bajor trying to take control of the planet from the provisional government. The extremists hope to force the Federation to leave the Bajoran system as well as to enforce the observance of the most religious branch of the Bajoran national religion (shades of Islamic fundamentalism as well as George W. Bush's over-reliance on "faith" with regards to political affairs.) Sisko refuses to abandon DS9, for he and his company discover that the Cardassians have been the ones who were supplying weapons to the extremist faction. Surely, the Cardassians will attempt to re-take Bajor once the Federation leaves the sector.
After the mini-series within a series opening, "Deep Space Nine" Season Two suffered a precipitous drop in narrative quality. Just about every episode until the season finale seems like filler material. Season Two reveals many key details about the characters as well as the future of the show, but everything is done in a lackluster manner. Sure, we find out that Jadzia Dax embraces Klingon traditions because Curzon Dax (her predecessor as a symbiont host for the Dax worm) lived with Klingons for many years, leading Jadzia to developing a romantic relationship with Worf when he joins the DS9 crew. Sure, we hear about the Dominion of the Gamma Quadrant for the first time (akin to the oblique references to the Borg during the first few seasons of "TNG"). Sure, we see the struggle between Vedek Winn (the religious zealot) and Vedek Bareil (the religious leader who's too cool to be a religious leader). Still, most episodes feel rather lifeless. The lack of energy really impeded my desire to watch all of the episodes to their ends.
"The Maquis, Part 1" and "The Maquis, Part 2" provide a much needed peak towards the end of Season Two. This two-parter introduces another angle to the Federation-Bajoran-Cardassian conflict. Near the Badlands along the borders between the Federation, the Cardassian Empire, and Bajor, some colonists are arming themselves despite a peace treaty. Both Federation and Cardassian colonists, now living on "wrong" sides of the border because of the treaty's terms, raid the other side's vessels in order to wreak havoc on their enemies. We've gotten used to seeing the Federation solving most problems through diplomacy, but the Maquis push the Federation to its limits. Sisko and Starfleet must contemplate the use of force on fellow Federation species. "The Maquis, Part 1" and "The Maquis, Part 2", in examining the universe on the brink of war, provides the kind of tension that most of Season Two lacks.
"DS9" was so overshadowed by "TNG" that it would mimic its predecessor's footsteps to a fault. The show's handlers couldn't impart a sense of direction to the proceedings until the third season, just like "TNG" didn't truly take flight until its third year. The first season of "DS9" won an Emmy for its opening credits theme music. The fourth season inaugurated a revised theme that featured an electronic beat to give the music more "pulse" and urgency--a change that recalls how the opening sequence for "TNG" was re-done for its third year. Finally, Worf (Michael Dorn), one of the seven major characters in "TNG", joined the "DS9" cast during Year Four. Worf's presence brought the Klingons back into the game.
For the most part, the 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors) video transfers look a tad soft to me. While the colors are vivid and life-like, I wanted more clarity and detail than the DVDs were willing to give me. This probably had something to do with the source masters, but the show's appearance on DVD look like digital videotape presentations rather than done-for-DVD work. Also, the video quality wavers from episode to episode. Some installments look as if they had been filmed within the past three months, but others show their near-decade-old age.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio tracks are very good but noticeably less than great. Most of the bass comes from pulsing energy fields and hydraulics, so the audio doesn't sound very full on the low end. The rear speakers don't have much to do, and even the front soundstage seems mostly restricted to the center channel. Dialogue and music come across very well, though, and that's what counts when it comes to "DS9".
The episodes' original DD 2.0 surround English audio tracks are available (and recommended for those of you without DD audio receivers). English subtitles as well as English closed captions support the audio.
All of the extras in the Season Two box set are found on Disc 7. Like most Paramount bonus offerings, most of the extras are featurettes. There's "New Frontiers: The Story of Deep Space Nine", a fairly standard look at the show. "Crew Dossier: Jadzia Dax" focuses on the character's development during the course of the show's run. "Michael Westmore's Aliens: Season Two" is a brief featurette that covers some of the make-up work done for the show. "New Station, New Ships" takes a look at some of the miniature models that were used for shooting. (Frankly, I prefer the use of models than computer graphics whenever possible--which is why the effects in "Enterprise" look awful to me when compared to the work done for "TNG", "DS9", and "Voyager".) The "Deep Space Nine Sketchbook" provides a glimpse of some of the ideas and props that were used for the show.
"Star Trek" buffs will get a kick out of the ten Easter Eggs that are on Disc 7. Collectively, they are known as "Section 31 Hidden Files", a reference to Starfleet's Section 31, a rogue group that acts like a secret police, much like the Romulans' Tal Shiar and the Cardassians' Obsidian Order. These Easter Eggs are basically a collection of interviews with cast and crew members. They're not hard to find--while you move the DVD cursor to access the featurettes, you'll stumble upon these Easter Eggs.
A custom plastic packaging houses seven disc trays that can be flipped like the pages in a book. Episode airdates are etched onto the discs themselves, while their stardates are printed on one of the inside covers of the plastic packaging. Everything fits inside a plastic slipcase.
Earlier in this review, I noted how "Deep Space Nine" seemed to rely on the blueprint that the "The Next Generation" followed. Remember how "TNG" had a noticeably less-than-good second season? Well, the same goes for "DS9". Despite an awesome three-part start, the rest of Season Two is kind of blah. There are oblique references to the Dominion (and the Jem'Hadar make a brief appearance, too), but the gang seems to be roaming around the neighborhood looking for something to do besides facing the usual sectarian violence on Bajor (religious fanatics versus moderates). The best moments in Season Two are when Bashir and Garek have their snappy conversations, but Garek isn't as important here as he is during later seasons. (Well, at least Bashir no longer behaves like a dog in heat when he sees Jadzia Dax...) It's kind of hard justifying buying a seven-disc box set just for the first three episodes. Of course, if you already have the seven box sets for "TNG" as well as the 2-disc special editions of the feature films, you might as well continue buying "Trek" on DVD. :-)