Weekly Trek – April 18-24, 2016

So far in these Weekly Trek posts I have spent most of my time either talking about the original Star Trek television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, or ancillary matters.  It’s high time that I forged ahead and discussed what came after TNG. 

Well, kind of during, actually.

The television next series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9 in fan parlance), premiered in January 1993 while TNG was in its 6th season.  For the next year and a half, we had two Trek series on the air as TNG wrapped up its run and prepared to make the jump to the big screen.

Two Star Trek series on the air at the same time seemed revolutionary in 1993.  Remember this was prior to CSI, Law and Order, NCIS, and other franchises monopolizing everything.  And while these series all follow the same basic procedural frame work, DS9 was actually vastly different than TNG or TOS. 

While previous Trek had focused on the crew of the USS Enterprise, DS9 was set on a space station positioned near a wormhole to another part of the galaxy.  The station, which had been left behind by the Cardassians, a hostile species that once occupied the nearby world of Bajor, was not the pristine environment we were used on a Federation starship.  Due to the stationary setting (Yes, I see what I did there.) and lack (until later seasons) of a starship, DS9 heavily developed its environment and characters.  By the end of the series seven seasons later, there were over twenty major and minor characters whose fates we viewers cared about.

While DS9 is in many ways my favorite Star Trek series ever, the continuing nature of its storyline doesn’t lend itself to grabbing an individual episode.  Also, if I’m truly honest, parts of the first two seasons can be a rough go as the show works to establish its various characters and storylines.  I was never a fond of episodes centered around Bajoran politics or, even worse, the Ferengi.

Still, DS9 contains some of the very best Star Trek episodes ever in my opinion due to the nature of its setting.  Unlike Captain Kirk or Captain Picard, Commander (and later Captain) Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks, can’t just zoom off to his next adventure at the end of an episode.  He and his crew are there dealing with the ramifications of each event. 

And Sisko himself is unlike his predecessors.  While Kirk and Picard could be said to be married to their ships and careers, Sisko is a family man.  He is raising his son alone after the death of his wife and attempting to balance those responsibilities with his duties as a Starfleet Officer and an unwelcome position in Bajoran religion that it thrust upon him.  I feel that he was the most three-dimensional of all of Trek’s commanding officers.

As I said earlier, DS9 had over 20 major and minor characters to follow by the end of its run, and, unlike TOS and TNG, many of them were not a part of Starfleet.  Sisko’s second in command, Kira Nerys, is part of the Bajoran military.  The station’s constable, Odo, is a shape shifter.  And one of the most popular establishments on board is a bar run by a Ferengi named Quark.  Sisko’s science officer, Jadzia Dax, meanwhile, is a member of Starfleet, but she is a Trill, a joined species.  She may appear humanoid, but she has been merged with a slug-like creature that lives in her abdomen.  The Dax symbiont has lived many lives in many hosts, and is actually an old friend of Sisko’s.  Although, last time they were together, Dax was in the body of an elderly man. 

The varying backgrounds and perspectives of these characters create more interpersonal drama than was present in earlier Star Trek (or Gene Roddenberry allowed in the case of TNG).  The external situation, with Bajor rebuilding from being occupied by the Cardassians, continued tensions with those same Cardassians, and the unknown waiting on the other side of the wormhole, is ripe for drama as well.  And, by the later seasons, the fate of the entire Federation hinges on the actions of Sisko and his crew.

Again, it’s hard to recommend just a single episode due to the show’s continuing storyline.  DS9 was the first Trek to really deal with large story arcs.  When I covered this in a Pick of the Week last year, I suggested “Duet,” from the first season, but really it’s best just to start with the pilot, “Emissary,” and go from there.  While it does take some time to get going, DS9 is well worth the time investment

- Alan Decker

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