I know, I know. I am about 25 years late to the Deep Space Nine party.
And it’s not like I’m not a Trek person. I am. I will go toe-to-toe against anyone you like and recite Wrath of Khan word for word, any day of the week. I commissioned my own Next Gen uniform and wrote fan letters to Brent Spiner when I was in high school. I swooned over the hotness of Michael Dorn at cons. I own Ol’ Yellow Eyes Is Back. I do the things.
Honestly, I think with DS9, I think the timing was just wrong. I tried to watch it when it aired, I really did. Star Trek: The Next Generation was my Trek, that was the one in my formative years, and it was still running when Deep Space Nine first aired. And I don’t know about you, but for me, that didn’t do DS9 any favours. I was so attached to the one, and with them so close together, it was hard to not make comparisons, and to take Deep Space Nine on its own terms, and see it as its own thing. And as it turned out, some distance was all it needed.
Everyone always said I would like it because it was darker, and they were right. And I liked that it was more serialized (I keep thinking that Deep Space Nine is to Next Gen as Angel is to Buffy the Vampire Slayer—darker vibe, more of an ensemble piece, and, in my opinion, ultimately better).
There were some things I needed to warm up to, of course. Jean-Luc Picard has been and ever shall be my Captain. I applauded them for going more diverse in their casting when it came to Sisko, but he gave me the crankies right at the off with how hostile he was to Captain Picard. I’m very sorry you lost your wife during the Borg attack, Mr Sisko, but getting Borgified was not Picard’s fault, and the last thing he needs on top of his trauma and the guilt he’s already carrying around is crap from you. And let’s be real, showing that kind of ‘tude to any other superior officer would have probably landed him in a world of hurt. But he got some therapy from the nice wormhole aliens, became the Emissary, chilled out a bit toward my favourite Captain, and I was able to forgive him.
I’m pretty sure that Avery Brooks’s roots as an actor come from the stage. I’m dying to see him play Prospero or something else Shakespeare-y. That’s another reason it took me a little while to enjoy him properly—stage acting and film acting are two very different disciplines, and not all actors excel at both. Sir Patrick Stewart does, of course. Brooks, however, is playing to the back row of the theater…only there isn’t a back row, but a camera, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. After a while, I got to really enjoy his style of scenery chewing, and constantly expecting him to break into song (and then he actually did break into song that one time, and I felt very validated).
All that said, the actors on Deep Space Nine were a well-oiled character actor machine. There really wasn’t a weak link in the chain, and I liked the fact that it was an ensemble piece, and not “the Captain and his backup singers”, the way both previous series had been. And it started off strong—you certainly couldn’t say that about Next Generation, which had taken a little while to find its footing. Rebooted Trek had street cred at this point too, so the parade of fantastic guest actors was nonstop.
With most long running shows, I find that Season 3 is often the magic one, where they really hit their stride. Strangely, with DS9, I found that one to be the one I had to push through, where they flailed a bit. They regrouped, however—I would put Deep Space Nine Season 4 right behind Wrath of Khan (maybe tied with Undiscovered Country) as the best Trek in the canon.
Some highlights, as I went through the show—it’s always fun to see Q (John de Lancie). And Sisko vs Q was a hoot. No, Q, this is not a captain who will be all uptight and British at you and your shenanigans, this is a captain who will actually punch you in the face when you mess with him. It took me a while to warm up to Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), but that was because it took him a while for his character to evolve beyond “the guy who is always trying to get some”. Honestly, why is there always that guy whose character arc always seems to consist solely of him trying to get a girlfriend (or worse, just to get laid)? I knew I could expect growth for Dr Bashir, I was just impatient for it.
S2E5, “Cardassians” was an episode that really got under my skin as a single mom. It speaks to how well-written and effective the episode was that it made me want to throw my television across the room. There’s a Cardassian kid who was a war orphan, raised by Bajorans, and taught to hate Cardassians like the rest of the Bajoran people. Eventually, they discover that his birth father is actually alive, and they decide that it is in the kid’s best interest to be returned to him, regardless of how the adoptive parents feel about it. I’ve often felt that mothers are an underrepresented minority in writers’ rooms, and this episode is a shining example of why—it tweaked every maternal instinct I have, screaming that this man’s accidental DNA should mean nothing against the parents who raised this child and loved him. Nothing makes me rage more than the phrase “but I’m his FATHER” in the place of actual parenting or time spent, like it instantly makes up for time or effort made (and all the people involved in deciding this kid’s fate were men). They did put in a line about how the kid could visit his adoptive parents any time he wants, but it felt like a throwaway. The episode did, however, begin the burgeoning Bashir/Garak friendship, and Garak (Andrew Robinson) quickly grew into one of my favourite characters, so there was that. It bears mentioning, by the way, that TNG did a similarly-themed episode in their fourth season, “Suddenly Human”, and Captain Picard was the one who made the call to return the teenaged boy to the adoptive parent he had known and loved all his life, despite the existence of a blood grandmother who was probably a lovely person, but the kid didn’t know her from a hole in the wall. Way to go, favourite Captain. But I digress.
If you’ve read any of my articles on episodes of Angel, you know I always have things to say about the quality of the fight work, and I have to say, it was a very nice change to see well done fights (I’m talking hand-to-hand here, not ships or phasers, or even the occasional holodeck sword fun) on a Trek show. Much as I loved you, TNG, most of your fights had a tendency to look like old ladies (or terribly obvious stunt actors) whacking each other with their pocketbooks. I don’t know if Deep Space Nine noticed this and decided they could do better, but do better they did, intentionally or not. The fights looked like actual fights, and they were (for the most part), well-choreographed and well-shot. Bravo.
I was never particularly large with the Ferengi, but Armin Shimerman (and I know that to a lot of you he will always be Principal Snyder, but to me he will always be Vincent’s friend Pascal) is such a good actor, he was able to bring depth to Quark (and Rom was just adorable). In the finale to S2, Sisko is being all superior and patronising to the Ferengi, and Quark gets up in his face with a truth smackdown: “You Federation types are all alike—you talk about tolerance and understanding, but you only practice it toward people who remind you of yourselves…the way I see it, hoo-mahns used to be a lot like Ferengi—greedy, acquisitive, interested only in profit. We’re a constant reminder of a part of your past you’d like to forget…But you’re overlooking something. Hoo-mahns used to be a lot worse than the Ferengi. Slavery. Concentration camps. Interstellar wars. We have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you. We’re better.” BOOM.
Even before I officially joined Team Sisko, I couldn’t deny what a lovely dad he was. Out of all the TV dads, Ben Sisko is right up there among the best of them. And then they established him as a fantastic cook, and Cajun food, even—yes, I wanted to get invited to the Sisko’s house for dinner. The early S4 episode “The Visitor”, where Tony Todd (finally getting some prosthetic-free face time in all his years of doing Trek) plays grown-up Jake Sisko, made me cry like an onion. On the whole dad thing, I also got all warm and fuzzy when Odo mentored the foundling assassin kid (S3E6), and then later was all daddish to a formative Changeling. Watching Rene Auberjonois emote at a jar of goo is glorious.
A word or three about Odo. I think he was one of the main reasons I needed to put some distance between this show and TNG, for me to be able to appreciate Deep Space Nine for what it was. Right out of the gate, it was hard to not look at him and think “oh, he’s the Data”. But he wasn’t. Rene Auberjonois is far and away one of the strongest actors on the show (I’d been a fan of his character and voice work for years), and honestly, it was so much fun to watch him get to do things you didn’t normally get to see him do. He’s always cast as Mr Officious Guy (his character on Benson, for example), but in this he got to beat people up, do love scenes, and be a badass. His relationship with Kira Nerys was wonderful throughout. Normally, I hate it when a TV friendship crosses the line into a romance (it never lasts, in the interest of strong storytelling, and then the friendship is damaged), but I rooted for this one. And when it finally happened, it felt like we had all earned it.
I am one of those theatre nerds who thinks that everything is a musical (and if it isn’t, it should be). Deep Space Nine in particular was problematic for me in this way, owing (as stated) to the constant expectation/wish for Captain Sisko to break into song. And all the dad issues had the score to Into the Woods running through my head, and when Quark’s brother Rom (Max Grodenchik) led the bar workers in a strike, the thought of an all-Ferengi production of Newsies was perhaps one of the best notions my brain has ever given me. If that were not enough, there was an entire episode (“For The Uniform”) where Sisko and Eddington (Kenneth Marshall) literally spend the whole thing referencing Les Miserables at each other. They even introduced this nifty bit of holo-tech where each could holographically appear in front of the other so they could glower at each other from a distance. They didn’t mention the musical, only the Hugo novel, but still—Eddington is so in love with the idea of himself as Jean Valjean, you cannot tell me he didn’t walk around his Maquis ship belting out “Who Am I?” because I will not believe you.
It would be a crime if I didn’t give special mention to the Season 6 episode “Far Beyond the Stars”, and not just because it reminded me of yet another musical (City of Angels). It seems like it is a favourite of everyone I have talked to since starting to watch, and it is easy enough to see why. Directed by Avery Brooks, Sisko experiences a timey-wimey thing and spends the episode bouncing back and forth between two different realities. There’s his usual one, and then there’s this other one, in which he is a guy named Benny Russell, trying to make a living as a science fiction writer for a magazine in 1953 New York City. Benny Russell imagines a fantastic story about a Black captain named Sisko who lives on a space station called Deep Space Nine, but a Black man can’t publish such a thing in 1953.
If that weren’t bad enough, he has to deal with racism on the streets when he’s doing that thing that unfortunately can find a person at the business end of police brutality even today—walking while Black. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and this is one of those times when Brooks being Brooks as an actor really works, because he pours his heart into it, and you can really feel his pain in both realities. It’s also a treat getting face time from the rest of the cast, sans prosthetics (they even made sure that Michael Dorn’s character in the alternate reality was a hunk-a hunk-a burning Worf, to go with his gorgeous un-Klingon-ed face). A beautiful episode, start to finish…and then there’s a callback to Ben Russell later on, in Season 7.
My personal favourite episodes were the darker ones, the ones that dealt with the war, and the repercussions from the war. “Hard Time”, when O’Brien (Colm Meaney) is captured and has to come home and deal with PTSD, absolutely knocked my socks off. And equally sock-knocking and even more heart-warming was “It’s Only A Paper Moon”, when Quark’s nephew Nog (Aron Eisenberg) comes home to the station after losing his leg in battle. His PTSD includes phantom pain and depression, and all he wants to do is brood to music. I LOVE self-aware holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine (James Darren), and Nog wanting to move in with Vic full time turned out to be good for both of them. It kept Vic’s program running round the clock, Vic was able to draw Nog out of himself, and finally Nog was able to leave the holo-suite and go back to real life. A holo-mitzvah, that.
Not going to lie…I thought the finale left something to be desired. Not the buildup. The buildup was fantastic…but there was this huge buildup, and then it was resolved in seconds? Odo merges with the Founder, and suddenly she surrenders and the war is over? And the whole subplot with Kai Ratched (that’s what I called her in my head—I love that they were able to write Louise Fletcher the most Louise Fletcher role that ever Louise Fletchered) and the Pah Wraiths…don’t get me wrong, I loved Gul Dukat’s whole rollercoaster of a character arc, and I was happy to get a chance to watch Marc Alaimo and Avery Brooks chew scenery at each other one last time before the end. It just seemed very deux-ex-machina-y, and too fast. Disagree all you like, this was my takeaway (maybe I will feel differently after a second viewing—that is often the case with me).
The personal, sentimental side of the finale was fine, and I guess that was what they wanted to pay the most attention to. And they had to hit me right in the feels and have Vic sing “I’ll Be Seeing You” at everyone, and it’s always been a favourite of mine. It frustrated me no end having to watch Odo and Kira say goodbye to each other after having waited so long for them to get together in the first place. Why couldn’t he come back to her after curing the Great Link? He cured the female Founder in seconds. And if there is the possibility that Sisko can come back to his family after doing his Emissary thing for a year or whatever, why can’t Odo?
I wasn’t too terribly invested in Dax 8.0 or whatever model Ezri (Nicole de Boer) was, but it was nice to see Julian finally get the romantic relationship he wanted, especially since his best bro-Brien was planning to move back to Earth with his family (oh, I forgot to mention—props to this show for best incorporation of an actress’s pregnancy, using Kira as the O’Brien’s surrogate was a great way to deal with Nana Visitor’s pregnancy, and it made for some fun character work). And the Sisko family singers will be okay…presumably they will go back to New Orleans with Granddad, Jake will write, and Kasidy will raise Ben Jr on tales of his father, the Emissary. I think apotheosis is a pretty decent excuse for your dad not being around.
So anyway, that’s me, late to the Deep Space Nine party, but very glad to have finally arrived. While nothing will ever take the special place Next Gen holds in my heart, I agree with everyone who says this is the best (S4, at least) Trek on the TV. Now that I’ve got the whole story, I’m going to go back and revisit the parts I liked the best, or don’t remember well. Since I’m a rewatcher by nature, and find that I always seem to like things better the second time round, I’m guessing that with Deep Space Nine, the best is yet to come.