Deep Space Nine is, without doubt, my favorite show within the “Star Trek” family. In terms of writing and character development — in my opinion, the two keymost factors to a show’s success — DS9 was anchored with excellent production with massive sets, amazing f/x, and with each episode the feel of a forty-six minute movie.
Deep Space Nine is the only “Star Trek” series not to take place on a starship — there’s no “boldly going” here. After a sixty year occupation of the planet Bajor, during which time the planet was raped of its natural resources and its native population enslaved, raped, and murdered, the Cardassian Union has bowed to internal and external political pressures and withdrawn its forces. Acting on the request of the Bajoran provisional government, Starfleet sends a small team to help with Bajor’s reconstruction (and hopeful eventual admission into the United Federation of Planets). Deeming the surface to be to instable for a land presence, the Starfleet team — led by the embittered Ben Sisko — sets up shop in an old ore processing station in orbit — Terek Nor.
Terek Nor, which is now owned by Bajor, but operated by Starfleet, is designated Deep Space Nine, and it’s where Sisko must work with an integrated Starfleet/Bajoran crew (his first officer, Kira Nerys, is, depending on who you talk to, either an ex-freedom fighter or an ex-terrorist) to deter renewed Cardassian interest in the area after the accidental discovery of a stable wormhole — a “short cut”, taking decades off travel to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. This discovery turns Bajor from a desolate backwater planet in the far depths of barely explored space, to a major commercial and exploratory hub, as well as a strategic location for the local military powers. In addition, the discovery of the wormhole is proof for Sisko that Bajor’s religion — the worship of the Prophets of the Celestial Temple — is founded in fact. Indeed, as he is the one who locates the wormhole, Sisko finds himself inenviably made a religious icon — the “Emissary of the Prophets.”
The show boasts a large extended cast of regular and irregular characters — in addition to the station’s crew (which includes TNG’s former transporter guru, Miles O’Brien), there are a variety of criminally-minded folks led by the Ferengi barkeep Quark, Cardassian interests represented by the evil-yet-sympathetic Gul Dukat (a former overseer of the occupation, and past commander of Terek Nor), a variety of odd-ball residents of the station (including an exiled Cardassian spy), and a wide number of other foreign leaders, dignitaries, and military commanders.
As the seasons progress, the wormhole becomes more troublesome — at the other end, the menacing military might of the Gamma Quadrant, the Dominion and its shock Jem-Hadar troopers set their eyes on the conquest of the Alpha Quadrant, while suspicions among alliances fracture the long-standing Federation/Klingon treaties.
Right About to Start …:
The Top 10 Episodes are presented in order of airdate, and I think I’d be hard pressed to number them beyond this. Enjoy!
1×19 – DUET
Kira is shocked when a Cardassian, Martiza, arrives on the station wanting to be diagnosed for a medical condition — kalinora syndrome — which affected the population of the slave camp Gallitep. While the Cardassian first claims to only have been a clerk at the camp, investigation reveals he’s none other than the camp’s overseer, Gul Darheel, and on Bajor’s Top Ten list of wanted war criminals. As much as Kira wants to nail this monster to the wall, Odo’s suspicions breach her thick hide — there’s no possible way this individual could have come aboard Deep Space Nine with the syndrome and not have expected to be caught and prosecuted. When she learns that Darheel died on Cardassia before the outbreak of kalinora syndrome, she confronts the imposter, who was indeed at Gallitep — a clerk who breaks down and confesses that he wept at night to the screams of the Bajoran slaves, and whose guilt at standing by and doing nothing drove him to impersonate Darheel in the hopes that his trial, and execution, would force Cardassia to admit its crimes.
This isn’t just a powerful episode of Star Trek, this is a powerful episode plain and simple. Harris Yulin portrays Maritza, a cowardly man who decides to make his life count for something. Right before he breaks down at the end, still “playing” Darheel, he insults the man he was — the weak, sniveling Maritza — a man viewed with contempt by his own people for his cowardice, and by the Bajorans for his race. Equally moving is Kira’s story. Remember, this is a character who for thirty-plus years was raised to hate and kill the Cardassian occupiers of her world. As first officer of Deep Space Nine, she’s been forced to work with Cardassians on occasion, but this is the first time she’s ever felt sympathy for one.
I can’t watch this episode without crying.
1×20 – IN THE HANDS OF THE PROPHETS
Prior to the Cardassian occupation, the Bajorans were a very spiritual people. Following the occupation, they’re a very split people — plagued by terrorists who now turn against the Provisional Government, a very hard-core right-wing religious political faction has emerged with an aim to take over the Vedek Assembly (Bajor’s version of the Vatican) and the Provisional Government. In the Hands of the Prophets was both the first season finale, and also served as the launching pad for the second season’s three-episode premiere story line.
Vedek Winn, head of a small but orthodox and vocal sect, travels to Deep Space Nine to protest the lesson plans of the Starfleet run children’s school. The lesson plan teaches about the wormhole as a scientific phenomenon, whereas from a religious perspective, the wormhole is the Celestial Temple, and teaching about it in any other way is sacriligious. Sisko — himself an object of Bajor’s religious interests — tries to mediate the conflict with particular attention to Starfleet’s mission in helping rebuild Bajor, a mission that becomes much harder when the school is bombed, and an assassination attempt is carried out on the moderate Vedek Bariel.
I always like DS9 the best when it focuses on the internal politics of Bajor, as well as the policies between Cardassia and Bajor. It also introduces two new regular characters — Louise Fletcher as the devious Vedek Winn, and Philip Anglim as her well-intentioned competitor, Vedek Bariel. For Sisko, this is the episode where he makes his connection with Bajor, and becomes “comfortable” with his role in the Bajoran religion, even if he doesn’t quite accept, or like, that role.
2×14 – WHISPERS
Chief O’Brian returns to the station after assisting an alien race with security procedures before negotiations begin to end their long civil war. It doesn’t take long before his suspicions are aroused by the unusual conduct of the station’s senior staff members, and soon he’s on the run — in a runabout — to prevent a Starfleet conspiracy to thwart the peace process. What O’Brian doesn’t know is that he’s the threat to the peace process.
Viewed through the eyes of O’Brien, it’s the station’s crew who appears slightly “off”, an illusion maintained well enough that the twist at the end is a surprise. In reality, it’s O’Brien who is “off”, a clone-assassin so well copied off the original that it flees the station to warn its target.
3×22 – EXPLORERS
Centuries ago, the ancient Bajorans took to space in vessels made of wood and steel and propelled by solar sails (legends say they even made it as far as Cardassia). Having found plans for one of these vessels, Sisko is intent on making and sailing one himself (even though O’Brien is convinced it won’t work), and is pleased when his son Jake wants to go with him on the vessel’s trial run. In fact, it works better than they could have ever dreamed when the ship is propelled into warp and finds itself confronted by three Cardassian warships … which, in a small act of reconcilliation for their neighbors, promptly launch fireworks to celebrate the inginuity of the ancient Bajorans.
This is just a great, light-hearted, character story, probably why it works so well.
4×2 – THE VISITOR
No plot synopsis can do this Hugo-Award nominated episode justice. Seventy years earlier, a young Jake Sisko watched his father phase out of time during scientific observation aboard the Defiant. As Jake aged, he would occasionally see and speak with his father again as the time-phasing fluctuated. An old man now (played by Tony Todd), Jake abandoned his family, and his career, to study the circumstances that occured to his father, earning degrees in advanced sciences in the process — and he finally learned how he could reverse the process, and prevent Ben’s initial time-phasing “…by severing the bond which connects us,” he explains to his father as he lies dying of the poison he injected himself with. Ben returns to the Defiant at the time of the accident, and is able to prevent it.
The plot synopsis doesn’t describe the intensity of the episode, and no words I can write could possibly come close to capturing the character drama and love that shines through the writing and acting. This is an incredible story, and any television show would be proud to be capable of this level of achievement.
4×18 – HARD TIME
On Deep Space Nine, Miles O’Brien is the “tortured” character. I don’t mean that he gets all the heart break … I mean that the writers set out each season to write an episode where the poor man gets literally tortured. Hard Time is easy to explain: on a mission to an alien world, O’Brien is accused and convicted of spying. He’s plugged into a computer and has the fictitious memories of a thirty-year prison sentence planted in this brain. In reality, he’s only been plugged in for an hour, but as a person, he’s experienced decades behind bars — including a memory that’s so real and painful to him, it is driving him to the point of suicide as he’s struggles to reintegrate himself aboard Deep Space Nine.
5×6 – TRIALS & TRIBBLEATIONS
Deep Space Nine‘s tribute to Classic Trek, the crew of the Defiant finds themselves transported back in time while on a mission to return one of the mystical Orbs of the Prophets to Bajor, a gesture of peace by the Cardassians who had looted it. What they don’t know is that one of their passengers is an elder Klingon agent who was discredited by Jim Kirk over a century ago and forced to live as a human. Finding an opportunity to right this past wrong, he’s returned to the scene of his dishonor – the space-station that was the setting for Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode, on a mission to assassinate Kirk (via a bomb planted inside a tribble). Sisko and his crew must dress the part in an attempt to locate the culprit before he succeeds in his mission.
Look, what can I say? This was a great fun episode where everybody gets to dress up in those old bright pajamas and interact with the original cast in some pretty nifty CGI effects. Most fun is watching characters used to 24th century technology try to grasp the basics of the older equipment and wondering why the Klingons don’t have bumpy foreheads (“We don’t talk about it”, Worf says, a dissapointment since we don’t get to learn what happened, although we do learn that Klingons dislike tribbles so much that decades earlier they launched an epic crusade to commit tribble-genocide). This is a great take on a classic episode.
5×13 – FOR THE UNIFORM
A year earlier, Starfleet’s security representative on Ds9, Lt. Commander Michael Eddington, betrayed his oath and stole industrial replicators to help the cause of the terrorist Maquis. Sisko’s gung-ho on tracking him down when the Defiant is sabotauged and another officer placed in charge of bringing Eddington to justice. When Eddington strikes again, Sisko takes the barely-functioning Defiant on a rather personal mission of vengeance.
Sisko’s sort of a cross between Kirk and Picard. When he’s not all riled up, he can be very Picard-like in his negotiation skills. But when he’s crossed, he becomes a very dangerous man willing to cross any line to accomplish what needs to be done, in this episode, battering a punching bag, he lays it out to Dax: “This is personal! He is my responsibility!” Eddington also sees this as a very personal fight, comparing himself and Sisko to the lead characters from Les Miserables. Cool sequences involve flying the Defiant manually.
5×26 – A CALL TO ARMS
Sisko’s plan to end Dominion reinforcements through the wormhole is approved by Starfleet when it becomes clear their enemies are preparing to move on Deep Space Nine: line the wormhole entrance with self-replicating mines. It’s an action that is, for all intents and purposes, a declaration of a war that has been brewing for quite some time. And with this decision, and the knowledge that Starfleet can’t defend the station, Sisko has to prepare for his retreat. But as Dukat later explains to Weyoun in Sisko’s office, examining Sisko’s prized baseball left as a message: “He’ll be back.” Indeed, the final shot of the episode is a huge fleet of Starfleet and Klingon warships moving ominously across a starfield.
As a stand-alone episode, it’s an odd choice: it isn’t very good as a stand-alone episode. But what it is good at is establishing a dire feeling of doom to end the fifth season with. At the end of the episode, our major and minor characters are spread across the quadrant: Kira and Odo remain on the station, forced by Bajor’s peace treaty to work with Dukat and the Dominion representatives; Sisko, O’Brien, Bashir and Dax aboard the Defiant; Worf serving with the Klingons; and Jake secretly remaining behind on the station in some romantic ideal of the reporter he wants to be. Deep Space Nine is once again being called Terek Nor, and the future looks very bleak indeed.
6×19 – IN THE PALE MOONLIGHT
As the Federation and Klingons take increasing losses in the war, Sisko believes a new ally is needed to help turn the tide against the Dominion. With Garak’s help, he manufacturers a faked tape containing evidence of a planned Dominion first-strike against the Romulan Star Empire. Unfortunatly for Sisko, the high-ranking Romulan senator who arrives secretly aboard the station to examine the record recognizes it as a fake — and proclaims that Sisko’s trickery will result in a Romulan declaration of war against the Federation. With no other choice, Sisko arranges the man’s assassination — tragic, but believing the Dominion to be involved, the Romulans go to war, and Sisko’s efforts have not been in vain. “And all it cost was my soul,” Sisko reflects.
This is, among other things, a great showcase of Ben Sisko and Garak, the Cardassian spy turned tailor. It’s Garak who plants the bomb that blows up the Romulan senator, and after being confronted by Sisko, he points out that Sisko knew damn well Garak’s past, and how determined Garak is to free Cardassian from the Dominion’s clutches, and most importantly: what Garak is capable of doing. Sisko knows Garak is telling the truth, and his haunting confession to a recorded log entry (through which the story is framed) shows a man willing to explore his deepest, darkest, evilist depths to achieve the greater good (a theme touched on again in a later episode where he all but orders the assassination of the corrupt Klingon Chancellor).
Hope this post inspired some of you folks to stick DS9 on your Netflix queue and see what all the fuss is about — this is the show even non-Trek fans can get into. For those of you who watched the show when it was on, I hope this’ll inspire you to return to that ghetto-esque space station to rewatch those fantastic tales.