Next Generation had established a new mark for Star Trek TV shows with seven seasons, a full four more than the original series, which became the model for two of its three successors. So the fall of 1998 promised but one thing for fans who’d become so enamored of Deep Space Nine the previous season, that this would be the final year of the show. Unburdened but still energized, the creators knew the best way to impress was to take out all the stops, which included limiting the writing staff to just the core names (at least in the final teleplay credits) that had developed over the past few seasons, who seemed to have the whole thing mapped out just nicely.
7x1 “Image in the Sand”
Talk about a big move, the season premiere rewrites the character of Sisko by looking into untapped areas of his past and strengthening his ties to the Prophets in one bold move: by revealing that his mother, Sarah (Deborah Lacey), was in fact one of the wormhole aliens. Kira receives a much-deserved promotion, but as Sisko looks for spiritual renewal back at home on Earth, she gets to confront the latest crisis back at the station on her own. And just as the episode ends, Sisko meets Ezri Dax (Nicole deBoer, perfectly the opposite of Terry Farrell).
7x2 “Shadows and Symbols”
Remember how Sisko was renewed by his experiences in “Far Beyond the Stars”? Well, this is the opposite episode, because the Pah-wraiths do their darndest to end his latest rally. It’s been a favorite of mine from the season since first airing.
The first real Ezri episode also serves as the last real Garak episode, which is pretty interesting when you think about it, because Garak was the first unofficial regular to appear after the pilot, and Ezri was the last official regular to join the series.
7x4 “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”
This one practically screams, “we finally get to do this story because it’s the final season and nobody can tell us otherwise.” I mean, it’s a baseball episode! Finally!
Sarina from “Statistical Probabilities” returns, and gets to be a completely different character thanks to a little medical work from Bashir, which leads to romantic possibilities, until it all falls apart. Still, it was pretty rare that Bashir got even this far, which is a nice bit of foreshadowing, because he was always pursuing Jadzia (before Worf), and would finally win over Ezri by the end of the series, thus completing his arc from brilliant but clueless to confident and accomplished. But this is not exactly his best episode of the season.
7x6 “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River”
This is another episode where I get to reference both the A- and B-stories, because Nog presents the Ferengi notion of the Great Material Continuum, which I thought was pretty brilliant. But the episode is really Weyoun’s chance to finally shine, or at least, one of his least effective clones, betraying the Dominion and joining Odo for a desperate ride to freedom. Their interaction is a highlight of the season, and as I alluded in the third season recap, an improvement in the idea that Odo is unwittingly held in great esteem by the Dominion merely for “being” a Founder.
7x7 “Once More Unto the Breech”
Kor makes one final appearance in a bid to reclaim his own personal sense of honor, clashing with Martok, who considers him an impotent relic, especially in time of war. Standing between them? Who else - Worf. This one counts as about as much of a Worf episode as he was going to get in the season, which is kind of sad, when you think about it, but it was a busy season, and most of the character episodes necessarily had to go to Ezri. What could you do? By the end of the series, Worf would be ready to rejoin his perceived real family, in Star Trek Nemesis three years later, just as if he’d never left. Though he actually fit much better into the Deep Space Nine family thematically, the fact that he joined midway through always made it a little to actually fit him in, which is still one of the few things that might legitimately be said to be a weak point of the series. But without him, there wouldn’t have been so many Klingon episodes, and arguably, Deep Space Nine had the best of those.
7x8 “The Siege of AR-558”
One of the fan favorites, this is also a patented “war is bad” Star Trek episode. Personally, I thought the show had done it better before, if not in “Nor the Battle to the Strong,” then in “Rocks and Shoals.” But that’s just me.
The opposite of a Bajoran episode, this one features Dukat’s large stride forward in his direction along the path of the Pah-wraiths, with Kira getting to get a peak, even though the rest of his arc wouldn’t affect her in the slightest (which is kind of weird when you think about it).
7x10 “It’s Only a Paper Moon”
The big pay-off from “The Siege of AR-558,” what really makes that one worthwhile, is this episode, which sees Nog struggling to recover from the loss of his leg. Strangely, it isn’t Jake who gets him out of his funk (which is actually really appropriate for the arc their relationship had taken since the first season), but the holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine. This is easily a favorite, if not my favorite, episode of the season.
7x11 “Prodigal Daughter”
Ezri returns home and finds her family in disarray, and tangled in the “Honor Among Thieves” drama O’Brien had previously dabbled in. Frankly, that more Star Trek episodes didn’t as directly deal with family matters like this is more surprising than the fact that precious final Deep Space Nine season material was being spent on it, with a new character, which was the bulk of why some fans disagreed with it originally. Ezri wasn’t new by choice, but by necessity. And frankly, having her deal with this kind of crisis, rather than something rooted in the Dax symbiont, was another way to distance her from her predecessor.
7x12 “The Emperor’s New Cloak”
The only Ferengi/Quark episode of the season (Quark was definitely the big loser of the season, a fact that was not lost on actor Armin Shimerman, but in a way, it was probably pretty appropriate that finally, he managed to avoid big drama, which is exactly the kind of circumstance that had allowed him to be a part of the series in the first place), and the final Mirror Universe episode of the franchise, until Enterprise. Also, the final Zek episode! So anyway, I thought it was good fun. (Dead Ferengi: Brunt.)
7x13 “Field of Fire”
Remember when I suggested Ezri was pretty much the opposite of Jadzia? Well, not all the time. Aside from the fact that a lot of her character arc had to do with her problems adjusting to her new joined existence (which was itself the opposite of her predecessor), this is the one episode that is directly about the complications of Trill life, with the third actor to portray Joran Belar supplying the crux of her problems (which actually centered around a Vulcan assassin, but who wants to get into the debate about how Deep Space Nine seemed to feature such different Vulcans from the rest of the franchise here?), as well as part of the solution.
For the first time since assuming the role of Martok, J.G. Hertzler takes on another Star Trek character (it wouldn’t be the last time), helping to bring back the concept of the infant changelings the Founders sent out into the stars, of which Odo was a part, and bringing about a new level in the constable’s relationship with Kira.
7x15 “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges”
The second and better Section 31 episode, Bashir is once more drawn into Sloan’s web, this time on Romulus, where he and Admiral Ross have been tasked with the ongoing efforts to smooth relations with the Star Empire, which is appropriate, because this episode doesn’t play like a sequel to “Inquisition” so much as “In the Pale Moonlight,” the episode that followed Section 31’s introduction, and also featured questionable decisions concerning Romulans. Alexander Siddig truly gets to portray Bashir here as he would in his most prominent movie success in films such as Syriana and Doomsday, performances that suggest what Deep Space Nine originally saw in the actor, when he was considered for the role of Sisko.
7x16 “Badda-bing, Badda-bang”
Succeeding where “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” seemed to stumble with fans, and failing in doing what “It’s Only a Paper Moon” really did, which was to present a proper diversion and give Vic Fontaine his own episode, respectively, this was a great way to prepare fans for the intense ten-hour arc that would conclude the series, by letting just have a little fun.
Sisko finally proposes to Kasidy Yates, while Worf and Ezri finally confront their complicated relationship, as the drumbeat begins. Oh, and the Female Founder reveals to Damar and Weyoun that her people have been poisoned, and the condition is terminal.
7x18 “’Til Death Do Us Part”
Sisko marries Kasidy, despite dire warnings from Sarah, while Ezri and Worf are held prisoner by the Dominion, which reveals a new alliance with the Breen, and the unholy union between Kai Winn and Dukat begins.
7x19 “Strange Bedfellows”
Damar makes the big switch to martyr-hero when he springs Ezri and Worf from their holding cell, while Kai Winn learns that she’s now going to be serving the Pah-wraiths.
7x20 “The Changing Face of Evil”
Dukat’s ruse is exposed, straining his relationship with Kai Winn, at least temporarily, just as the war heats up, as evidenced by the destruction of the Defiant, just as Damar officially announces his resistance against the Dominion.
7x21 “When It Rains…”
Kira is dispatched to join Damar’s resistance movement, with Odo along to aid her, but not before Bashir confirms awful suspicions that Section 31 is behind the Founder disease, and that the constable is also infected. Garak is the third member of this little assistance team. Meanwhile, Gowron starts make war hell for Martok.
7x22 “Tacking into the Wind”
While the ad hoc resistance movement struggles to figure itself out (including a poignant moment where Garak gets to observe Odo in much the same circumstances he was forced to put the constable in during “The Die is Cast”), Worf realizes the only way to strengthen the Klingon Empire is to end the squabbling between its two greatest warriors, and to do that, he’s got to replace the misguided Gowron with Martok, by any means necessary.
7x23 “Extreme Measures”
The last Bashir-O’Brien episode is also the final Section 31 episode, as the duo struggles against increasingly impossible odds to break Sloan and find the cure for the Founder illness. This one gets a little out of hand, unfortunately, but it still manages to accomplish the tall orders it imposes on itself. Notably, the first and only episode of the arc to center so squarely on a single story.
7x24 “The Dogs of War”
Much of this one is pretty much a run-up to the final episode, but the highlight has to be Zek finally passing on the title of Grand Nagus, which is something he’d been trying to do since his first appearance, and yes, as I suggested previously, the honor falls to Rom. Not really a Ferengi episode, which is kind of perfect, because at the last possibly moment, the series finally seems to have figured out how to integrate the Ferengi elements in with everything else. Having just completed a generalized account of the eight individual hours of the season-ending arc, this is probably the first time since I actually watched them in 1999 that I’ve been able to differentiate the events, and how they developed, during it. This is probably why it was better that Deep Space Nine was never fully a serialized drama, because it probably would have been extremely difficult to care as much about it when it would have been harder to know exactly what was happening (which is something that could be and probably was a problem for shows like Lost, Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica, all cult favorite shows that struggled to retain their fans over heavily-serialized runs, as Babylon 5 did before them, especially as it grew more and more interested in that form of storytelling). Deep Space Nine was easily at its best when it was able to tell serialized stories in episodic ways. Though this was pretty great and probably absolutely necessary at this point, ten episodes was definitely pushing the limits of the idea for Star Trek.
7x25/7x26 “What You Leave Behind”
The series finale, split between the first hour depicting the end of the Dominion War and the second hour depicting the end of the crew as a collective unit at the station, punctuated with Sisko’s final stand on behalf of the Prophets, against Dukat, who has finally completed the transition to the exact opposite number, representing the Pah-wraiths. No Star Trek could ever hope to end on such an effective and necessary and complete loop (except that Voyager would have to bring its crew hope, after stranding it originally).
It’s as much the way it ended that made fans, those fans who had come to love it, that helped Deep Space Nine develop its mystique as the cult within the cult, because it became increasingly clear that these characters would never be seen again, which was exactly the opposite of the promise Star Trek seemed to develop once The Motion Picture was released in theaters, that in some form, it was preordained destiny to be accepted and embraced by the franchise, if not always the fans. Even Janeway appeared on the big screen. If Enterprise hadn’t killed the last incarnation of the franchise, doubtless Archer would have had that much better a chance of some return engagement than Sisko, too.
So to leave this captain separated from his family, just as he had begun the series, was more appropriate than surprising. It didn’t matter. And it still doesn’t. No Star Trek before or since has managed to provide such an inclusive and involving experience in and of itself, and to its fans, that’s all that really matters…