Generally speaking, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, is revered amongst Star Trek fans. Unlike Star Trek Voyager – and all later Star Treks – which most fans seem to deride unanimously, Star Trek DS9 occupies a cozy position in the average Star Trek fan’s heart. Sure, it’s definitely not as ground-breaking and exciting as that sixties wonder TOS, but it’s also not as disappointing and cloyingly pedestrian as the two Star Treks that came afterwards, VOY and ENT. All things considered, one has to wonder at the irony. DS9 is arguably the least Star Trek of the Star Treks. Roddenberry’s original vision of the federation – a veritable utopia where the pressing issues of our time (i.e. war, discrimination, poverty) have either been vanquished or ameliorated – is not present in DS9. For example, the Prime Directive, the bedrock of Federation idealism that was created to prevent the Federation from exploiting other worlds, has a less idealistic more ominous tint to it. Also, the Bajorans – having come out of a terribly vicious war with the Cardassians – are ravaged by all of the ills that previous iterations of the show would have merely brushed over as incidental. As an example, the newly instated Bajoran government is saddled by poverty, corruption and the clawing hands of alien carpetbaggers eager to exploit the Bajoran people. Additionally, the station itself, a Cardassian relic, remains a hotbed of intrigue and devious political machinations. Societal problems which would have been addressed in an indirect manner in previous shows are addressed directly in DS9. The season five episode Far Beyond The Stars is perhaps the best example of this as it places Captain Sisko, an African American – or whatever goes for America a thousand years from now – in the sixties and examines racism without being overly hedgy and indirect like previous shows have been.
Keeping in line with the show’s realistic emphasis, most of the main characters are flawed. Quixotic characters characters pervade the show’s landscape but not to the same extent and degree as in TOS or TNG. Captain Benjamin Sisko, for example, is not as principled as Picard. He has less scruples and regularly makes choices that seem to go against the principles the Federation professes to uphold. To the Bajorans, Sisko is also a religious icon – The Emissiary. At the start of the series, Sisko regards his position as ‘The Emissiary to the Bajoran people’ with scepticism and ambivalence. However, as the show progresses this ambivalence greatly diminishes and it is at this point that the show tackles difficult topics like religion and mysticism head-on. In DS9, the level of attention and sensitivity paid to seemingly irrational, arcane topics like religion is unmatched. In TNG, religion was addressed in a superficial, touch-and-go fashion; touch-and-go in a literal sense, since the Enterprise would literally warp away from the problem following the episode’s termination. Remember the mission?
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Benjamin Sisko’s son Jake, also resides in DS9. Ben and Jake are fairly close. This means that the work life and personal life of both Siskos blends seamlessly, sometimes to the detriment of their relationship. This is a new development as far as the Star Trek series is concerned. In previous iterations of the show, the lead character (Captain Picard or Captain Kirk) had separate work and personal lives, perhaps owing to the danger of their position. In TNG, Dr Crusher’s son, Wesley, did reside in the Enterprise, but this was not a persistent thing. In any case, Jake Sisko does not directly participate in the running of the space station, and as viewers quickly find out, he doesn’t aspire to either. Jake’s talent seems to reside in the world of literature, poetry, and journalism.
Kira Nerys, serves as the second in command in DS9, and this position carries with it, its own unique set of responsibilities and challenges. Challenges, which are in fact compounded by the fact that Kira is also the Bajoran liaison to the Federation. Conflicts of varying degrees of severity arise out of this. For example, to Kira, Sisko is both Commander (later Captain) Sisko and ‘The Emissiary’ with no degree of mutual exclusivity separating these two terms. Also, Kira’s peculiar positioning in the DS9 chain-of-command results in her constantly having to rub shoulders with her native Bajorans, Cardassians and the Federation – conflicts which no sane person would relish.
While, Kira is second-in-command in name, in reality she shares this position with Jadzia Dax. Jadzia Dax, is a Trill, a humanoid race first introduced in Star Trek TNG. Trills are unique in that they are able to achieve immortality by embedding sentient symbiotic organisms inside their bodies. At the show’s outset, Jadzia is the host of the Dax symbiont. Since Jadzia, is the host, she is able to assimilate all the thoughts and memories of previous hosts, including, most notably Curzon, who’d already developed a relationship with Captain Sisko before passing. Since, Sisko knew and was close friends with Jadzia in her previous lifetime their relationship is of a different nature than the relationship he has with Kira. It is not uncommon for Sisko to seek advice from Jadzia, even though technically he outclasses her in both age and experience.
The station’s chief of security Odo, is perhaps the most novel addition in Star Trek DS9. Odo is a changeling / shape-shifter and belongs to the Founders, a previously unheard of race in the Star Trek universe. For Odo, the entire Star Trek DS9 journey is a canonical ‘Coming-of-Age’ one. It is filled with self-discovery, angst, identity crises and other similar adolescent experiences. Odo’s status as a changeling, causes him to suffer a lot of discrimination. In spite of this he becomes attached to the many colourful characters residing in the station (Quark, Kira, Nog, Morn). Thus, when the war between the founders and the federation breaks out later on during the show, his feelings become conflicted and his loyalties tenuous to say the least.
While DS9 is lauded for its serious tone, it should be said that a fair number of the characters, like Quark, don’t take themselves too seriously. Quark is a Ferengi, a race first introduced in TNG that’s noted for its business-infused culture, and unmatched avarice and thirst for profit. Quark’s shady business-minded endeavors lead to him regularly crossing paths with Odo, the DS9 ‘Constable’. Throughout the show, Quark remains a permanent fixture, and as a result participates or plays a tangential role in some of the more serious episodes. In an overall sense, however, Quark is mostly just comic relief. Quark’s posturing, and mildly antagonistic banter with Odo are a frequent source of laughs. Many times Quark’s overzealousness and unbridled enthusiasm lead to an instant evaporation of his ill-gotten wealth and him floundering in arrears. Quark’s propensity to quantify and arithmetize every aspect of his existence is a trait that I found revolting at first, but gradually warmed up to as the show progressed.
Doctor Bashir’s presence in DS9 is not wholly surprising. All the Star Treks have had a character trained in the medical field, who handles all of the ailments that everyone incurs throughout the show. Like Picard from TNG, Bashir’s voice has an evidently British tint to it.
In addition to the many new characters, a few characters from previous iterations of the series – most notably TNG – also make an appearance. While they do not reprise the exact same roles that they had in TNG, TOS, etc … their roles are still significant.
In TNG, Miles O’Brien was merely a Transporter Chief – a necessary, important position – but one that was not as ritzy or glamorous as ‘Captain of the Enterprise’, ‘Chief Engineer of the Enterprise’ or ‘Counsellor’. Luckily, in DS9, O’Brien moves up the ranks to become ‘Chief of Operations’. O’Brien and Bashir strike up a friendship, that eventually blossoms into a strong, enduring relationship.
Similar to Miles, Worf’s rank in Deep Space Nine is an upgrade over the one he occupied in TNG. In TNG Worf was merely a Security Chief (later on Chief Tactical Officer) whereas in DS9 he is the Strategic Operations Officer (SOO) a position that carries more weight and responsibilities. Worf’s personality does not change from TNG. He is still – as Michael Dorn habitually mentions – ‘a guy’s guy’. However, Jadzia – who has taken a romantic interest in Worf – is able to penetrate his frosty demeanor. Their relationship eventually leads to a marriage.
Here are a collection of episodes – one episode per season – that I felt really represented what DS9 was about as a whole (all 176 episodes):
Q-Less: In Star Trek TNG, Q played by John de Lancie was a fairly important character. As part of the Q-continuum, Q possessed demigod like powers, which he’d more often than not, squander or misuse to the detriment of the Enterprise. Devoted viewers could count on each season having at least one episode focusing on the enigmatic demigod. Even though these episodes would have the Enterprise immured in some sort of danger, they were typically lighter in tone. Most of the famous Picard sound bites / screencaps / memes floating around the internet stem from these episodes. Not shirking precedent, the first, and only Q episode in DS9 – Q-Less – is also light in tone. Just as Q was universally reviled on the Enterprise, he finds no friends in DS9. Q’s antics and duplicity quickly make him persona non-grata at the station. Unlike Picard, Sisko is less tactful and diplomatic when dealing with Q. He does not attempt to mask his profound disdain for him. Indeed, at one point he even ventures to punch the elusive demigod:
Q: “You hit me… Picard never hit me.”
Benjamin Sisko: “I am not Picard.”
Q-Less is important because it adds depth to Sisko’s character and serves to separate him from Picard. As such it enables Sisko to find his own identity rather than get subsumed by Picard’s legacy.
Necessary Evil: The static nature of Deep Space Nine (a space station rather than a starship) afforded the writers greater latitude in developing relationships, at least more than they were used to in previous shows. This worked to the advantage of certain characters like Odo. At the outset, Odo is one of those characters whom the viewer knows absolutely nothing about. For some of the characters, like Dax and Quark, viewers have encountered their races in other shows (TNG) and as a result they have some kind of insight into how they act, what motivates them, how they view the Federation, etc. For Odo, there’s no mental dossier of information that the viewer can subconsciously retrieve. His race is utterly foreign and unknown. Furthermore, nobody knows about his personality, motivations or any of those little esoteric elements that make him what he is. By the end of the episode, it becomes apparent that there’s more to Odo than meets the eye. For example, he is guided by an unwavering respect and appreciation for justice. Also unlike a lot of characters in the show – even the captain – Odo is a hugely moral and principled creature.
Through The Looking Glass: TNG’s holosuite, resulted in a plethora of mind-bendingly delightful episodes that, if nothing else, spoke to the creativity of the writers. A dearth of these kinds of shows (wacky, flashy) by season three of Deep Space Nine meant that one could sense, if only instinctively, a dip in quality, as if the show had missed a beat. The introduction of the Mirror Universe in Through The Looking Glass managed to rectify this issue. The Mirror Universe, is just as it’s name suggests, a ‘mirror’ version of the regular Star Trek universe. The same characters populating the regular universe, populate the mirror universe. However there are some interesting inversions and twists. Unlike, in the regular universe where the Bajorans have ran the Cardassians off, in the Mirror Universe, both the Bajorans and the Cardassians collude against the Federation. Nana Visitor (Kira) is evidently attractive but she is never really sexualized in the regular universe. In the Mirror Universe, however, this changes; she becomes an overly sexualized femme fatale. Interesting enough Sisko remains a leader in the Mirror Universe, but this time a leader of the rebels (natural born leader I guess?). Jadzia, who also belongs to Sisko’s cell, is also a rebel. However, she is far less cerebral than her regular universe counterpart. Quark is still the same profit loving Ferengi that he usually is in good ol’ normal DS9, the only difference being that he is more sympathetic to the plight of others.
The Muse: Surprisingly few of the episodes in DS9, focus on Jake specifically. A fair bit of them do have Jake in them, but these episodes only have ‘The Captain’s Son’ playing a tangential role. Even the episodes that do have Jake playing a major role don’t really push the boundaries. Thus they retard what could’ve been a potentially, immersive and gripping storyline to embryo form. So much so, that it’s unrecognizable. The Muse is, fortunately, not included in this category. In The Muse, an empathic alien of unknown origin infiltrates the station. Seeking prey, this female alien quickly endears itself to Jake. By manipulating Jake it is able to greatly enhance his writing abilities, making him uncharacteristically prodigious. Jake, who by this time, is an aspiring author quickly takes to this alien’s help, but unfortunately he remains blisffuly unaware that this help comes at a cost.
Empok Nor: The star of this show, is Deep Space Nine’s most artistic and articulate taylor, Garak. Garak is one of the fringe characters in Deep Space Nine. He straddles the border that separates the major (Sisko, Bashir) and minor (Morn, Vladek) characters. Like Quark, Garak has a sharp tongue and is capable of skillfully deploying venomous rebuttals (to humorous effect of course). Like Odo, Garak is also a blank slate. Viewers know little about him initially. Once war breaks out between the Alpha Quadrant and the Gamma Quadrant, Garak’s dark past swiftly subsumes his innocuous and carefree side. In Empok Nor, the darker aspects of Garak’s personality come to the forefront. I will refrain from giving out the entire plot here but suffice it to say that an interesting twist happens that leads to the hunters being the hunted and the hunted the hunters. Most of the Garak episodes in DS9 are stellar but Empok Nor is a real gem, I feel, because it places Garak in a very interesting dilemma. Following this episode it is very difficult to look at Garak the same way again.
Far Beyond The Stars: Out of all the Star Trek episodes, Far Beyond The Stars probably generates the most controversy. It’s the first Star Trek episode to ever address the question of discrimination DIRECTLY. The way in which the show tackles the issue is very un-Star-Trek but very brilliant. Essentially, Captain Sisko gets transported to the fifties, back when racism was pervasive and vicious. In some aspects, Far Beyond The Stars is a very fun show. It portrays all the DS9 characters without makeup. Seeing Gul Dukat speak as a human was interesting to say the least. At any rate, this episode is a personal favorite of mine. Being an aspiring (colored) writer myself, I was very much taken with how Star Trek treated this subject. Much has been said about Sisko’s laboured and melodramatic, ‘final speech’ towards the end. However, in spite of whatever acting deficiencies Avery Brooks may have (purportedly), this was still a very well done episode. The props were great, the actors were fantastic, and the issue of racism in American institutions was respectfully addressed.
Field Of Fire: This episode is unique in that it’s one of the few episodes that showcases Nicole de Boer’s talent as an actor. Following Terry Farrell’s untimely departure from the show, someone had to fill in her shoes. Rather than do a simple switch-up a la Ms. Banks in Fresh Prince, the creative minds behind the show decided to kill off Jadzia and introduce a new Dax host (~ Ezri Dax). The entry of Ezri into the mix was somewhat jarring, and even some could say unnecessary, given that the show was just about reaching its end. However, Field of Fire endeared Ezri to the sceptics, like me. Ezri is simply phenomenal here as is Joran, the oft-forgotten homicidal Dax host. Also, Field Of Fire has what is – in my opinion – one of the most memorable sound bites in Star Trek history:
Ezri:“Tell me, why did you do it?”
Chu’lak (Vulcan):“Because Logic Demanded It”
DS9’s main strength is also it’s main weakness. While the station’s permanence allowed the writers to roam and expand on the Star Trek universe at their convenience one has the distinct feeling that they did not do as wide ranging an exploration as they could have. A lack of a clear focus permeated the entire endeavor. Arcs, in general, lacked depth and were too fleeting. Also, the emphasis on having each episode ‘stand-alone’ on its own made it easy for one to lost interest. While having a loose structure has always been a Star Trek staple, DS9 shouldn’t have followed precedent given how different its initial premise was. In shows like TNG, TOS or VOY it’s possible to watch the episodes in any sort of order you wish as all the episodes are – for the most part – stand-alone. No energy is expended in trying to develop relationships between the show’s main characters or the many supporting characters since the entire show is a journey of sorts and it’s not possible for the ship to stick around in any one place for too long (‘our mission is to explore the universe … etc’).
However, none of the aforementioned issues should take anything away from this show. Overall, DS9 was a very strong, worthy addition to the Star Trek canon. It’s breadth, spanning 7 seasons – 20+ episodes in each season no less – meant that it was inevitable that it’s sense of direction and cohesiveness would unravel. A veritable icon of 90s pop culture, DS9 will continue to be examined and adored by many.
8 Bajoran Orbs out of 10