|Star Trek: Deep Space Nine|
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Scott, we’ve been looking at the heroes of the Star Trek universe. This week we look at Deep Space Nine.
Yes, Greg, it’s the first Star Trek series that’s not about exploring space but rather occupying space. But oh, what a space it is. Quark’s bar, Odo’s bucket, and Sisko’s skillet are part of the amazing DS9 universe.
Deep Space Nine is arguably a spinoff of the popular Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are introduced to Commander Benjamin Sisko who is taking over the Bajoran space station on behalf of the Federation. Bajor just ended a turbulent war with occupying Cardassia and DS9 sits between Bajor and Cardassia.
His second in command is Lt. Kyra Nerys – a Bajoran who was in the resistance. Along with her are Odo – a shapeshifting alien who is the “constable” – the sheriff if you will, of the station (he allows no guns on the ‘promenade’ level of DS9). His old friend “Dax” (who is a Trill and has another being inside her), Dr. Julian Bashir (who is a Federation medical doctor looking for adventure in the frontier), Mr. Miles O’Brien (an engineer transplanted from ST:TNG and the Enterprise-D). And the Ferengi Quark who runs the bar. (Later, Mr. Worf from ST:TNG would join the crew).
Greg, I’m excited to review DS9, my favorite TV series in the Star Trek universe. I’ll be quite candid about the shortcomings of DS9, but the virtues of this brilliant series far outnumber the weaknesses. Let’s compile a list of DS9’s many strengths.
First, we have the first African-American Star Trek Captain in Benjamin Sisko, played in the inimitable style of Avery Brooks. Our Captain defies stereotypes with his leadership role and by being a highly devoted father to his son Jake. The series takes place on a space station near a wormhole that holds the key to strategic dominance in the entire galaxy. There is the spiritual backdrop of Bajoran religion and Sisko’s status as Emissary to the Prophets. DS9 pulls no punches in dealing with the thorny issues of colonialism, terrorism, racism, espionage, political intrigue, religious extremism, and xenophobia.
The ensemble cast is strong, albeit not uniformly so. Sisko is an extraordinary hero — smart, strong, and fiercely brave, and he has an emotional range and intensity that separates him from Kirk and Picard leadership style. No one can stare into the camera with the power and magnetism of Avery Brooks. Kyra Nerys is the station’s Bajoran representative, and Nana Visitor does a tremendous job of portraying Kyra as a self-confident powerhouse of a character. No one, and I mean no one, messes with Kyra Nerys. Odo, the changeling, is another strong character trapped between two worlds. Star Trek has always excelled in creating characters who occupy the uneasy space between two races. Spock and Data filled these roles in the original series and in TNG.
Miles O’Brien is a carryover from TNG, and he plays the “everyman” archetype with perfect agility. O’Brien’s best friend on the station is Julian Bashir, the brash young doctor with a hopeless crush on Jadzia Dax, who is arguably the weakest member of the cast. To boost ratings, Worf from TNG joined the cast in season 4, adding depth and continuity to an already strong ensemble.
Perhaps the greatest strength of DS9 is that it features the most charismatic set of villains in all of Star Trek. Gul Dukat and Weyoun are remarkable villains, ruthless in every way and yet smart and charming enough for us to want to see them make trouble for our heroes. There is also the morally ambiguous character of Garek, whose mysterious background and motives keep us glued to the screen.
Another positive attribute of DS9 is its consistency. In my opinion, DS9 is by far the most consistently strong series from season 1 through season 7. Yes, there are a few stinker episodes here and there, mostly the Ferengi-based episodes, but the stinkers are few and far between compared to all the other Trek series — with the possible exception of Star Trek: Picard.
ST:DS9 was a departure from the other Star Trek series in that the characters were at odds. The show and its characters were also morally ambiguous. These made DS9 much more a soap opera than an episodic adventure. And for me, this was a serious problem. Still, ST:DS9 has been listed as the best and most favorite series of the Star Trek universe by critics and fans alike.
If ST:TOS and ST:TNG were a wagon train to the stars, ST:DS9 was more like the Radio/TV series “Gunsmoke.” The space station was a sort of Dodge City – sitting on the edge of the frontier. The stable wormhole was like the railroad coming through town. As such, much like Dodge City, Deep Space Nine was where everyone eventually passed through. (Although, instead of the beautiful Miss Kitty running the speakeasy, we had Quark).
There were a number of problems with the series. Among them was the bestowing of the “Emissary” title on Sisko which was practically ignored until the end of the series. Sisko’s character was wildly variable. Avery Brooks’ versatility was squandered with bad writing.
And the episodes were so ploddingly slow. There was a ton of exposition and “talking heads.” This was such a problem that in season 3 they gave Sisko a ship to command so that the characters could “get out of Dodge” from time to time and have an adventure and some space battles to liven up the action. It’s ironic that Captain Picard of ST:TNG was criticized for talking his adversaries into submission, when all anyone on DS9 ever did was talk each other to death.
There were a lot of throwbacks to ST:TOS in the mirror universe (which made no logical sense with Kyra Nerys taking control of DS9), time travel, and plotlines. Even one of the best episodes involved a time travel trip to the ST:TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” This sort of fan service kept ST:DS9 from moving forward.
And, there was a huge controversy over the similarities between ST:DS9 and Babylon 5. “B5” was about a space station with a crew of aliens on the outskirts of civilized space. (The Star Trek universe ran into a similar problem with Star Trek: Discovery which used tardigrades to power its engines – much like the video game “Tardigrades”). It turns out that the creator of B5 had presented the series to Paramount just months before DS9 was created.
Greg, I will agree that compared to modern-day Trek, DS9 episodes were “talky”, full of exposition, and slower to get to the action sequences. Having said that, however, the Trek series of today tend to err on the side of too much frenetic action at the expense of character development.
DS9 was ahead of its time in eschewing the standard formula of stand-alone episodes in favor of a large plot arc. The Dominion War seasons, which spanned dozens of episodes in the final few years of the series, showcased Star Trek at its best, IMHO. Let’s remember that Gene Roddenberry passed away just as DS9 was getting started, meaning that for better or worse Star Trek was no longer the naively optimistic wagon train to the stars but rather a darker, grittier version of exploring good and evil in a morally complicated universe.
For its bold portrayal of life on a strategically important space station and its innovative characters, screenplays, and long story arc, I give DS9 the full 5 Reels out of 5. The heroic ensemble cast that I fell in love with in the 1990s also deserves the full 5 Hero points out of 5.
In preparation for this review, I went back and watched 4 episodes of each season. And I have to admit, ST:DS9 was better than I remembered. As with most Star Trek series, there is a lot of character development. And it appears that instead of an episodic or anthology series, the creators were looking for a long story arc. Had I known that’s what I was in for, I might have stayed with DS9 longer. Going back, it truly was better than I remembered.
Having said that, it doesn’t seem like there was a master plan to the story arc. Unlike its cousin, Babylon 5 (which was planned as a 5-year novel), DS9 seemed to plod along and finally resolved all its plotlines in the final season.
The characters were diverse and compelling. But still suffered from what I call “character normalization.” This is the problem where the sharp edges of the characters as they are introduced are smoothed over as the characters grow and develop. Eventually, the characters all become very much alike and more “normal.” After about five seasons, the characters have to develop and when that happens, you’re no longer watching the show you came to love.
Still, in retrospect, DS9 has held up very well. I enjoyed the 28 or so episodes I watched, most were very good. Stand out episodes included “Trials and Tribble-Ations,” and “Far Beyond the Stars” (where Avery Brooks played a black science fiction writer in the 1950s), and “The Visitor” (where Sisko is trapped in a time loop and his son Jake grows old waiting for his father to reappear).
For a good, but not great story arc and a lot of talking heads, I give ST:DS9 4 out of 5 Reels. For depictions of heroes and their transformations, I give the crew of DS9 4 out of 5 Heroes.
|Star Trek: Deep Space Nine|