Season in a nutshell: It's a promising beginning, but there's naturally room for improvement. Bajor and DS9 are extremely fascinating places with interesting grey-area situations. But the science fiction content so far has been less than compelling.
The first season of DS9 was surprisingly good. It definitely had its problems, but it also had some very strong episodes. Overall, there's a sense here that the series used its first season as a shakedown run—and used it very effectively. It introduced all the major characters and gave them all adequate screen time, fleshing them out reasonably well. It found its own tone—one of grey-area politics and philosophy analysis—that will separate it from its sibling series, The Next Generation. And it established a few significant plot threads that will definitely be around next season.
This season was solid, but not incredibly focused. It was a tad uneven—although that's to be expected from a series that just came into existence. I'm sure the cast and crew is just beginning to learn itself. Hands down, this season of DS9 is leaps and bounds ahead of where TNG was after its first season. But that was probably to be expected as well; after all, Berman and Piller have had the opportunity to learn from their other series before making this one.
Anyway, this season sort of exhibited a case of split personality. There seemed to be two types of episodes attempted. There was the philosophical/political theme emphasized in the Bajor-oriented shows—which highlighted the season at its best. Many of the most probing stories—"Duet," "In the Hands of the Prophets," "Progress," "Past Prologue," "Battle Lines"—had much to do with Bajoran situations and, more specifically, Major Kira. As the Bajoran who represents the communication between Bajor and the Federation, Kira has proven the most interesting and well-developed character. Under Nana Visitor's gutsy performances, the character has grown and shone this season. Other strong episodes like "Dax" and "Vortex" took some interesting looks at DS9's non-Bajoran characters. "Dax" was a fulfilling courtroom show that got deep into Dax's backstory; "Vortex" was an interesting look at DS9's resident shapeshifter Odo. The heart of "Emissary" was of course Sisko, who was put to brilliant use in the pilot and used well as the station's commander; still, I'd like to see more of what he thinks and feels, and hopes the series gives him a focused agenda in the future.
The other personality of DS9's freshman season was considerably less effective, although the show never really approached anything that was downright bad. This second personality was the "sci-fi" angle of the series, which proved relatively pedestrian overall. "Vortex" and "Captive Pursuit" were good examples of this side of DS9, but other sci-fi episodes didn't fare as well. "If Wishes Were Horses" was the most mediocre episode this season, with some pretty shoddy storytelling a lot of technobabble. The plots of "The Forsaken," "Babel," "The Passenger," "Move Along Home," and "A Man Alone" were also relatively nondescript. Strangely, all were sci-fi types of episodes, whereas the effective shows were mostly political intrigue or character development episodes.
Let me hasten to mention that DS9's shortcomings with the sci-fi angle of things really have nothing to do with the setting being stationary. I have no qualms whatsoever about the setting. It changes very little of what would be dramatically possible on TNG, plus it adds the benefit of forcing the series to present consequences and follow-ups to every action—especially politically.
Based on "In the Hands of the Prophets," the season finale, I would guess we're going to see a lot of episodes next season centering around Bajor and its political intrigue. And I look forward to it. However, I also look forward to improvements in some of the sci-fi plots and a lessening of the technobabble. Star Trek has always been known for its ability to tell wide ranges of stories. Deep Space Nine's setting has that ability more than ever. The series' first season has shown a lot of promise, and next season has every opportunity to follow up on it.
For what it's worth, I have ranked the episodes for this season in order of preference and included my 10-scale ratings. The rank is based on the numeric ratings combined with my overall feelings about an episode as they happened to be when I did this ranking. (The 10-scale ratings are as they appear in the S.O.S. under my submissions.)
|3||"In the Hands of the Prophets"||3.5||9.5|
|16||"Move Along Home"||2.5||5.5|
|18||"A Man Alone"||2.0||4.5|
|19||"If Wishes Were Horses"||2.0||4.0|
Next: Season 2