Nutshell: Aside from a mild case of Split Personality Syndrome in some of the dual-plotted episodes, this was an excellent season that defined some of the series most important and lasting character relationships and pivotal storylines.
And so here are the questions: Season two of Deep Space Nine—what was it? How can it best be summarized? What are my "themes" of the season? I'll attempt to answer the broad questions fully but also try to keep it brief (yeah right).
Season two is not the best season of DS9 (season five's extremely involving, intertwined plot arcs still earn it that title), but it was an outstanding season overall, and definitely one of the better seasons in both DS9's run and the Trek canon. I'd probably rank it second—right after fifth season and before the fourth. It's especially when stepping back to look at the large canvas in terms of the entire series that second season's strengths and importance become clear.
The reasons for DS9's success this season can be traced to (1) the amount of pivotal impact and relevance its stories had to the major plot lines as they continued to unfold in subsequent seasons, and (2) how deeply the season fleshed out the characters. This season is almost without a doubt the most important in character terms. The true relationships between everybody began to feel completely real. And with the possible exception of Quark, the DS9 personas were given new dimensions that were previously unseen in the series' freshman season. At the same time, these characterizations grew out of what we knew of each person.
For example, the relationship of mutual respect between Odo and Kira really began to take on a subtle power that hadn't been explored in season one. Especially powerful were the issues of trust and betrayal in "Necessary Evil" (still one of the series' best installments) and even hints of buried feelings in "The Collaborator." I still maintain that this was the best point in the Kira/Odo relationship—later episodes have tried to make this into a romantic issue, but the stuff of season two involving loyalty and friendship was simply more powerful in its portrayal.
But not to get off the subject by discussing subsequent seasons, the types of stories this season were extremely conducive for substantive character building. It was a point where the show was new enough to still tell us plenty fresh about the characters, but was experienced enough to know what logical directions to take them. A prime example also showed itself in "Homecoming," the season premiere. Kira and Sisko exhibited a very believable dialog that really felt like interaction between a Starfleet officer with one problem and a Bajoran representative with another. Characters who had remained sketchy in season one were given very strong development. Garak's big vehicles, "The Wire" and "Cardassians" managed to keep his motives as enigmatic as ever, but offered great insight into the way he thinks and acts—turning him into one of the most interesting people of the ensemble. Similarly, Gul Dukat was provided great depth and shades of grey in the "Maquis" two-parter; as three-dimensional as he still remains, I don't believe I've seen the character grow any more three dimensional than he did this season. Also, Bajoran characters like Bareil and particularly Winn greatly benefited from shows that highlighted them. There was evolution in Winn to indicate that there's more to her persona than meets the eye, even if by the end of the season she was still as self-serving as when she was originally introduced.
Friendships like those of Bashir/O'Brien, Garak/Bashir, etc. provided good dialog. Watching characters act in tough situations (Odo in "Necessary Evil," O'Brien in "Whispers," and Sisko in the "Maquis" two-parter especially come to mind) unveiled a number of respectful qualities—intelligence, patience, duty, cleverness, and so forth. These types of virtues are things I like to see in my television heroes. There's also the backstory factor—Dax's past in "Playing God" and "Blood Oath" added unknown dimensions; Odo's reunion with Dr. Mora in "The Alternate" was downright brilliant; the confusing half-truths of Garak's past in "The Wire" was very enlightening, even if it was all supposition. Even the stunt pairing of Sisko and Quark in "The Jem'Hadar" shed some light on how Ferengi and humans views each other. The bottom line is that the characters benefited more in season two than any other season, so even if the rest of the season was a failure it would still hold that virtue.
But the rest of the season was most definitely not a failure. There were pivotal plots that were marvelously executed and defined most of the elements that would determine how the series would play from this point onward. The Bajoran political situations, though already present in season one, were greatly developed in the opening three-parter, as well as "The Collaborator" (in which Winn was elected as Kai). And, obviously, the introductions of the Maquis and the Dominion in the last third of the season would prove to have lasting consequences for seasons to come. It's not so much that the episodes created these conflicts that made them good, it's that the series did it with intelligence and style, putting the characters in troubling situations that allowed us to see how they think, feel, and respond (much more so with the Maquis than the Dominion, I should probably point out).
Of course, that's not to say this season was perfect, because it most certainly wasn't. While it probably sported fewer absolute "clunker" episodes than any other season of DS9 (no episode received fewer than two stars), and had long stretches of very strong shows (the opening stretch from the three-parter and the closing stretch from "Blood Oath" were extremely solid), there was a significant—and consistent—flaw that season two exhibited. I'm referring, of course, to what would have to be Split Personality Syndrome (SPS)—which I'm officially nominating as the theme for this part of the review. SPS was the uneasy clashing of A-stories and B-stories that severely undermined some otherwise excellent work. Let me count the ways it mucked up some (in most cases) good shows and turned them simply "average" (or mildly bad in the worst case): The pointless bad guy revenge plot in "Melora"; the sci-fi telepathic nonsense in "Second Sight"; the B-movie creature feature in "The Alternate"; the holograms-as-life retread in "Shadowplay" (though that's a mild case); and the appallingly misplaced proto-universe plot of "Playing God." This is a mistake that the writers made far too many times this season, and in far too consistent a fashion. As these examples all seem to indicate, if there's one undoing of a perfectly good main plot, it's a weak or inappropriate subplot. In a way, this makes DS9's entire second season a sort of split personality: Part of the season exhibited the SPS, while the other part of it didn't. The funny thing about SPS is that it's so blatantly obvious. In many cases, it's not that these episodes were weakened because of their own unique storytelling circumstances (though some like "Sanctuary," "Melora," "Profit and Loss," and "Rules of Acquisition" were). They were weakened because they had obvious problems in their basic narrative structure, which is rather odd considering how excellent the overall season was. Perhaps I'm the only one to notice this phenomenon? Perhaps I'm just crazy?
Ah, well. The final leg of episodes by far more than made up for the unevenness of the season's middle. The consistent success of the last nine episodes remains the longest running streak of winners I've seen on a Trek series. And not only did the season add to DS9's collection of good Treks, it was the genesis for some of the series' most relevant issues.
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.)
|4||"The Maquis, Part I"||3.5||9.0|
|7||"The Maquis, Part II"||3.5||9.0|
|23||"Rules of Acquisition"||2.0||5.0|
|26||"Profit and Loss"||2.0||4.5|