Greatest TV Seasons: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season Five (1996-1997)
What is the greatest season of your favourite TV series? And what makes it stand out from those seasons around it? Every fan will have their own opinion of what is great and what isn't and here at The Digital Fix, our team of writers are going to complete the possibly impossible task of selecting what season of their favourite shows makes the cut above all others.
We continue our Greatest TV Seasons regular feature, looking at the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Once considered the black sheep of the Star Trek family, the show is now considered the gold standard in storytelling, not just within the franchise but for television as a whole. In an age of episodic television, it developed long-form story arcs, tackled social issues, developed well rounded characters, including a host of amazing recurring roles and delivered a comprehensive tale of a station tasked with the political ramifications of Bajor's occupation before becoming a leading role a galactic war with the Dominion and the spiritual conflict between the Prophets and the Pai Wraiths.
The seeds had been lain before season five - the emergence of the Dominion at the end of season two, the addition of Starfleet battleship the Defiant in season three and the conflict with the Klingons in season four - all building to the show's momentous fifth season that kicked off the war that would consume its final two seasons. The debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation character Worf and the war with the Klingons kick-started an almost flawless fourth season and the fifth continued the high standards achieved. Like season four, there were a couple of dud episodes, but there was an almost breath-taking scope to the fifth season that built to that inevitable war to come.
This was Star Trek in the depth of the cold war. The Dominion continued to build as a threat, exposed as the masterminds between the Federation-Klingon conflict, leading to the momentous mid-season two parter that saw the Cardassians join the Dominion as the fate of the Alpha Quadrant changed forever. There was a perfect blend of horror (Empok Nor, The Ship) to comedy (Trials and Tribble-ations, In The Cards), emotional character development (Children of Time, The Ascent) and stunning action (By Inferno's Light, A Call to Arms). Over the course of one season, the Pai Wraths made their debut, Gul Dukat cemented himself as the show's true villain with his devastating alliance with the Dominion, Worf and Dax fell in love, Martok became a key player, Bajor's fate was sealed and war broke out. To say it was one of the momentous seasons of Star Trek history is an understatement.
It was a season of huge revelations and cliff-hangers - Martok and Bashir exposed as a Changelings, the Dominion-Cardassian alliance, Michael Eddington's last act on behalf of the Maquis and the final battle which drove our heroes from Deep Space Nine. While the show would occasionally falter in its attempts to maintain a war across the two final seasons, the build up in season five was nothing short of spectacular.
And here are the five greatest episodes of that momentous run...
5.06 Trials and Tribble-ations
Recorded to celebrate Star Trek's 30th anniversary celebrations, Trial and Tribble-ation is one of the finest comedy episodes of all time. In Forest Gump style, the crew of Deep Space Nine are inserted into the classic 60's episode The Trouble With Tribbles to ensure history is not changed. From Dax in a red mini-skirt uniform to Worf's offhand comment explaining why Klingons do not talk about why they look so different, this is a hugely fun episode, celebrating one of the original series' most iconic episodes. Seeing classic crew members interact with those from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is hugely fun and you can tell the cast are having the time of their lives too.
5.13 For The Uniform
Anyone surprised by Captain Sisko's actions in season six's superb In The Pale Moonlight, obviously didn't pay close enough attention to this season five episode, which saw the Captain take the Defiant into the Badlands in search of Maquis traitor Michael Eddington. This is a brilliant cat and mouse story, Sisko and Eddington going head to head, with the Sisko threatening to destroy an entire Maquis colony to achieve his goals. Filled with murky moral dilemmas and tense, claustrophobic drama, this is a thrilling continuation of the long-running Maquis storyline that will come to a head later that season in the Sisko / Eddington rematch Blaze of Glory.
5.14 In Purgatory's Shadow
This is where things really get serious. After two and a half seasons of Cold War-style conflict with the Dominion, In Pugatory's Shadow sets the dominos falling as the path to war at the end of the season begins. This is an episode full of big revelations, from the discovery of the orginal Martok and Enabrian Tain in the Dominion prison camp, to the even bigger shock that Doctor Bashir has been replaced by a Changeling for a number of episodes. This is a tense affair, building to the dramatic cliff-hanger as an armada of Jem'Hadar warships come pouring through the wormhole.
While In Purgatory's Shadow is stronger we need to address the fallout in By Inferno's Light. Gul Dukat turning traitor and revealing that he has secured his return to power by allying the Cardassians with the Dominion is a massive game changer. Coupled with Martok, Bashir, Worf and Garak's desperate prison break and Changeling Bashir trying to blow up Bajor's sun, and the stakes seem higher than ever...
5.24 Empok Nor
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does horror well, and Empok Nor, which sees O'Brien and Garak head to an abandoned replica of Deep Space Nine is a delightfully dark, nail biting slasher movie in 45 minutes. From the creepy pods containing Cardassian super soldiers, to Garak succumbing to a drug-induced psychopathy and hunting down the Starfleet crew, this delivers a delightfully twisted side to Garak, brought to life by Andrew Robinson's macabre performance, pitting him against all rounded good guy Miles O'Brien in a fight to the death.
5.26 A Call To Arms
This is the moment the show has been building to ever since the dramatic debut of the Dominion in season two finale The Jem'Hadar. The continuing advance of Dominion warships through the wormhole to strengthen the Dominion / Cardassian alliance sees Captain Sisko take drastic measures by blockading the wormhole with mines and igniting the inevitable war this season has been building towards. It's the show's greatest finale, leading to a spectacular battle at the station (only beaten by season four's The Way of the Warrior) and Starfleet loosing. With Gul Dukat and Weyoun in control of the station, Odo and Kira forced to play hosts and the Defiant joining a huge armada of Klingon and Federation star ships, the stage was set a two-year long war that will cost everything in the fight to save the Alpha Quadrant...
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season five delivered some of the show's finest episodes and took a huge leap forward in storytelling, moving to more heavy arc-based tales and changing the status quo forever. Do you agree with us? Is season five the best? Do you feel season four, the with the debut of Worf and the Klingons was stronger? Or perhaps season six with its epic six-part opener to take back the station? For us, season five us the axis on which seasons three and four are paid off, and seasons six and seven are set up. It might be the finest season of any Star Trek TV series...