If the third season opened the series up and the fourth season made it go widescreen, then the birth of the Deep Space Nine that most fans would truly recognize was the fifth, which premiered in the fall of 1996, the thirtieth anniversary of Star Trek. By the end of the season, the Dominion War had begun. What else do you need to know?
5x1 “Apocalypse Rising”
Sisko, O’Brien, Odo, and Worf go undercover into Klingon territory, with the intention to expose Gowron as a changeling infiltrator, but to everyone’s surprise, it’s actually Martok, thereby setting the stage for the real thing to be discovered…later in the season.
5x2 “The Ship”
As the show’s one-hundredth episode, this one’s noteworthy one way or another. Sisko is tasked with retrieving a crashed Jem’Hadar ship, and spends the episode trying to guard it from a Dominion very much interested in reclaiming it. Muniz finally reaches the culmination of his minor recurring status, with the intention being his death wouldn’t be just another Star Trek red shirt death (I thought it worked, anyway, even without his prior appearances). The big surprise is just what the objective for the Dominion actually was, which brings about one of the show’s trademark shades of grey moments, with a frustrated and exasperated Sisko musing if any of the preceding misery was worth it. Not to spoil, but a season later, he’s probably looking back at this moment a tad differently.
5x3 “Looking for par-Mach in all the Wrong Places”
Finally, Jadzia and Worf hook up, after a little instigation from Quark and the returning Grilka, an episode that nods back to the show’s past, and its future.
5x4 “Nor the Battle to the Strong”
The kind of episode Star Trek tried many times, representing the horrors of war from the point of view of an innocent, but it works well here, with Jake Sisko, on a slightly expanded writing career path as journalist, another element that would grow in significance later.
5x5 “The Assignment”
The debut of the Pah-wraiths, the evil Prophets, in an episode that finally allows Keiko get some revenge on O’Brien for all those times he was forced to turn on her by some alien menace. Certainly became more important later, but might have seemed almost flippantly throwaway for the show at this point.
5x6 “Trials and Tribble-ations”
The most famous episode of the series, splicing Deep Space Nine with the original series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” seamlessly and cleverly integrating our crew in the action, possibly the only time a classic was or could be made so directly from another. This was the show’s celebration of Star Trek’s anniversary, obviously, but watching it, you never get a sense that it’s a gimmick or that it’s terribly out of place, even with all the old footage around. Truth is, it’s entirely a part of what Deep Space Nine was like at its very best.
5x7 “Let He Who Is Without Sin…”
A somewhat preachy episode, based at the vacation Mecca known as Risa, of all places, allowing for some exploration of Worf and Jadzia’s relationship, and helping to spark one between Leeta and Rom. Vanessa Williams guest-stars. It’s not hard to imagine how she’s revealed as the reason Curzon Dax died of pleasure.
5x8 “Things Past”
A return trip to the “Necessary Evil” past, with Odo forced to examine just how good, or not, he actually was at his job. Kurtwood Smith makes one of many Star Trek guest appearances as the Cardassian who previously held the security post at Terok Nor. While feeling a tad derivative of the previous story, it’s still nice to finally acknowledge that the constable isn’t infallible.
5x9 “The Ascent”
From one Odo episode that perhaps wasn’t inevitable, to one that absolutely was. You’ve got to remember that at this point in the series, he’s been made a Solid, unable to change shape thanks to the Founders, so when I say he’s stuck finally thrashing out with Quark, their complicated relationship finally coming to a head, you’ve got to realize they’re very much on equal ground. The episode also reunites the team of Jake and Nog, which doesn’t turn out as favorably as either could have imagined. Always their own kind of odd couple, the years haven’t made it any easier to relate. This time their friendship really is in question! For a series that didn’t seem to have a problem creating contrasting associations, theirs endured and kept changing, a true testament to the strength of the idea, the characters, and the actors.
The debut of the Next Generation movie uniforms in Deep Space Nine, this one’s also the most dramatic example of Sisko’s dual role as Starfleet officer and Emissary, as he becomes driven by visions that starkly conflict with his duties, and cause strain all around. Easily one of my favorite episodes for the character.
5x11 “The Darkness and the Light”
I guess it’s a little surprising that an episode like this hadn’t been done earlier, but Kira becomes the target of a vengeful Cardassian (played by Randy Oglesby in an early Star Trek role), which may be why it seems a little on the nose, though it’s still a worthwhile piece of continuity.
5x12 “The Begotten”
Kira finally gives birth to the O’Briens’ baby, and Odo unexpectedly comes into custody of another Dominion orphan, this time a changeling, and begrudgingly calls in the services of Dr. Mora to handle the infant, which has no idea who or what it is, just as Odo was when he was first discovered. The unexpected gift the baby Founder gives him at the end of the episode might come across as a reset button to cynical viewers, but that would take away from the power of this utterly perfect hour.
5x13 “For the Uniform”
A warm-up episode for the war ahead, Sisko confronts Maquis rebel and traitor, Michael Eddington, who made it personal the moment he betrayed the Federation on Sisko’s watch. Basically an improved version of “The Maquis,” and featuring a terrific sequence where the Defiant must be run manually, and featuring the debut of the short-lived holographic projectors in lieu of the ordinary viewscreen (which I thought was a pretty good idea, but its subsequent absence made Shinzon seem all the more menacing in Star Trek Nemesis). Eric Pierpont, one of the lower key members of the Star Trek acting troupe, appears as Captain Saunders, who I always hoped could become a recurring character. But we got Admiral Ross instead. It was a pretty good switch all considered. Anyway, one of my favorite episodes, making it clear that Eddington, not Dukat, was Sisko’s white whale, Khan, the Borg.
5x14 “In Purgatory’s Shadow”
The first part of the season’s answer to “Improbable Cause”/“The Die is Cast,” we learn that Bashir has actually been a changeling infiltrator throughout much of the season, partly because the real one turns up in a Dominion prison camp, where Worf and Garak also encounter…Enabran Tain. Oh, and the real Martok. Tain dies, but not before we learn that he is actually Garak’s father.
5x15 “By Inferno’s Light”
Like a mini-arc, these two episodes are among the most satisfying mid-season two-parters the franchise ever did, mostly because they weren’t some outright big story so much as a momentous event. Dukat reveals that the Cardassian Empire has formed an alliance with the Dominion, thereby setting up another key bit of storytelling for later seasons. I hadn’t mention an actor behind Tora Ziyal until this point because there had been a number of women behind her, but finally, Melanie Smith assumes the role. James Horan, makes another of his many Star Trek appearances, as a Jem’Hadar.
5x16 “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?”
Robert Picardo, from Voyager, guest-stars as Lewis Zimmerman, creator of the holographic Doctor he normally plays, but the huge news of this episode is that Bashir is actually genetically modified. His parents, including Brian George, appear. Alexander Siddig apparently wasn’t a big fan of the revelation, saying it weakened the character, but I never thought that personally. I think it rather helps explain and expand on other things we’ve learned about Bashir, including things suggested in “Distant Voices,” that he would sometimes deliberately downplay his abilities. If there has to be an explanation as to why, this is as good as any, with a strong franchise foundation that was too infrequently drawn from. But for those still wondering if this was the right way to do it, Enterprise would try again later, with an even more bold attempt. I would like to circle back, though, to Picardo. Even for those who didn’t like Voyager, it had to be nice to see him here, an excellent loophole of crossover storytelling. Plus he’s the guy who finally, inadvertently, gets Rom and Leeta together.
5x17 “A Simple Investigation”
An unexpected follow-up to Odo’s last spotlight, allowing him to experience human emotions now that he’s no longer a Solid, and a rare look at his security duties firsthand.
5x18 “Business as Usual”
One of my favorite Quark episodes (you can begin to see how this was a favorite season of mine, and how it helped confirm my affection for the series, well before everyone else swooned over the war season that followed it), the one that truly does justice to his dramatic potential while remaining firmly rooted in everything we know about him. Lawrence Tierney appears as a potential recipient of his questionable dealings. Also the first appearance of the oft-mentioned cousin Galla (Josh Pais), “the one with the moon.”
5x19 “Ties of Blood and Water”
The return of Legate Ghemor, from “Second Skin,” giving Kira new reasons to hate him, and new reasons to love him. Where a typical show would start to generalize after five seasons, you could literally see the series growing deeper in its own mythology.
5x20 “Ferengi Love Songs”
Brunt, Zek, and Ishka (now portrayed by Cecily Adams) return, with a romance evident and evidently complicated between two of them. I’ll let you guess which two.
5x21 “Soldiers of the Empire”
Martok and Worf truly get to bond, now that they’re free from the Dominion prison camp, and it’s pretty complicated at first, but eventually both realize it’s better to be friends. Like the whole season, the episode makes it seem so easy to spotlight individual characters by exploring relevant things in their own worlds, but always as they’re relevant to the series, which I think was the key to the success of Deep Space Nine, what truly helps make it unique, even more than a decade later, and how later seasons helped make the show seem that much better by doing this better.
5x22 “Children of Time”
A time paradox episode that Star Trek would become increasingly familiar with (but its origins traced back to “Yesterday’s Enterprise”), families and people that are hard to say goodbye to but must disappear in order for everything to go back to normal. But the real impact of the episode is Kira finally realizing that Odo loves her.
5x23 “Blaze of Glory”
Eddington’s farewell, the final showdown with Sisko. Appropriately awesome, but not quite as impactful as “For the Uniform.”
5x24 “Empok Nor”
Awesome if only for the fact that there’s another station exactly like Terok Nor out there, which has gotten to keep its name. Garak and O’Brien are featured in a different kind of Let’s-Torture-O’Brien episode, a little of a return to the kind he used to endure in Next Generation’ When you think about it, it’s weird that Colm Meaney was tied down to one series, let alone two, for so long, but he’s only now really starting to get real wide exposure in film, with notable co-starring roles in Law Abiding Citizen and Get Him to the Greek, after a string of breakout performances in Irish dramas like The Commitments and InterMission. So it’s not so surprising that his presence in the show diminished over time, which is why he seems virtually absent this season, aside from considerable appearances in “The Ship,” “Trials and Tribble-ations,” this one, and a few others.
5x25 “In the Cards”
Another personal favorite, which seems to break all the rules of the season, allowing Jake and Nog to have the kind of adventure they had in the first season all the time, and even allowing Weyoun to be a benevolent presence. But aired in any other season, it would have shown just as brightly.
5x26 “Call to Arms”
The start of the Dominion War. What else needs to be said? Robert Hewitt Wolfe leaves the series, after having helped guide it since the first year, notably with the defining “In the Hands of the Prophets,” while fictionally, the crew is forced to abandon the station, with Dukat reclaiming his office, where he finds Sisko’s baseball waiting for him. The guest cast is a who’s who: Garak, Weyoun, Dukat, Rom, Nog, Martok, Leeta, Tora Ziyal, and Damar. The only really missing is Kasidy Yates. But she’d definitely be back.
Not just a powerful statement in itself of the continuing vitality of the series, the fifth season is also an implicit promise that Deep Space Nine was just getting started. The only other show I’ve watched that’s had comparable, sustained, and relevant narrative thrust would be Lost, which is why both shows are my undisputable favorite TV experiences. I realize that’s not what everyone wants, which would certainly explain why viewership didn’t increase accordingly during the season, even though you could hardly ask for better television, but it still baffles me.
Not that it really ended up mattering. The show would most certainly go on…