All the way back in January 1993, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) premiered. Its predecessor – Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) – was in its second to last season, which led to a few cross-over episodes for both series. DS9 was a bit of an orphan throughout most of its 7 year run despite its superb quality and sometimes controversial episodes. This is not to say it was an unpopular show, rather it was because the show pushed the boundaries of Star Trek creator (who died in 1991) Gene Rodenberry’s utopia vision of the future. In particular, the idea of the Federation of Planets being a harmonious organisation of different alien races and Starfleet, Earth’s supranational body, was dedicated to science, exploration and continuing the well-being of everyone on the planet (in the future there is no longer war or poverty).
The creative talent behind DS9 – in particular, Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Irh Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, René Echevarria and Ronald D. Moore – wanted to explore this idea further. A major focus was on non-Starfleet and non-Federation characters who would often be sources of conflict within the show, casting doubt on the ‘do-gooder’ tendency of Starfleet officers who never seem to get their hands dirty. This naïveté of Starfleet would be cast in to doubt in several later episodes, especially during the Dominion Wars.
These themes will be discussed as I look to review the series one season at a time over the coming weeks. The Top 5 episodes of the season are selected based on a limited criteria: do they further explore these ‘darker’ themes; are they of exceptionally high quality; or do they explore some newer themes within the Star Trek universe? There are three categories as well: Top 5 (the best of the best), runners-up (really good episodes but not essential to the criteria being considered) and favourites (episodes I personally enjoy).
You might think picking only five out of 19 episodes in the first season would be easy – it was not. There are many exceptional and entertaining episodes, which is unusual for a show in its first year to be so confident. Sure, much of what DS9 was doing in its first year was not boundary pushing for a Star Trek show, even TNG had its controversial episodes. Rather, it was laying much of the groundwork for the years to come and sticking to the episodic nature of this franchise. Nonetheless, let us take a look at my pics.
- “Duet” (ep 19)
This was supposed to be a bottleneck episode no-one would think twice about, instead, it is the best episode of the season if not the entire series. What makes it so good? Firstly, the performances by Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys) and guest star Harris Yulin (Marritza) are superb. Secondly, the ideas it explores are quite profound.
Basically, Marritza is a Cardassian visiting the station and ends up being put under arrest after Kira, the station’s Bajoran liaison, recognises him as a war criminal responsible for a brutal work camp during the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor. However, questions about Marritza’s role during the Occupation and his true identity lead Kira to investigate further.
The mind games both Kira and Marritza play with each other informs the title of the episode. Kira wants to convict him simply for being a Cardassian as well as the man responsible for killing thousands of her people. Marritza, at first, takes delight in being held up as evil and being a thorn in Kira’s side despite his protestations of innocence. As the episode continues, the similarities between the Cardassian Occupation and the Jewish Holocaust become quite apparent (although the show never makes this explicit). It also considers the idea of the Other, where both the Bajorians and Cardassians hate each other simply by their very race and reduce each other to nothingness, deserving only of contempt.
The big reveal is the Marritza here was in fact a mere clerk at the camp who underwent surgery to impersonate the real Marritza, who died years ago. He does this, with an impassioned and sad speech, to atone for doing nothing then and so justice can be served now, which would allow both Bajor and Cardassia to heal. Yet Kira refuses to let another innocent person die when so many already have. As Kira releases Marritza to escort him off the station, another Bajorian stabs him from behind, killing him. When Kira asks why kill an innocent man, the Bajorian says killing another Cardassian is reason enough. Kira says, “No…it’s not.”
2. “Progress” (ep 15)
Again, another strong episode with excellent performances by Nana Visitor and guest star Brian Keith (Mullibok). What makes this episode so interesting is it turns the roles on its head, where Kira becomes like the Cardassians she fought to get off her planet and Mullibok is another Bajorian defending his home.
The story involves the Bajorian government wanting to relocate some settlers on a nearby moon in order to begin extracting valuable resources, the process of doing so will make the moon inhabitable. However, Mullibok and his friends would rather die than leave their home. This forces Kira into questioning her loyalty and whether to follow her orders. She sympathises with Mullibok having been a rebel against the Cardassians herself, yet she argues this is different but Mullibok sees it as exactly the same. Eventually, Kira makes the choice to force Mullibok and his friends off the planet, destroying his home before finally evacuating the moon.
It is a great episode for Kira who throughout season 1 must confront where her loyalties are. She is a proud Bajoran through and through, yet she distrust both her own government and Starfleet. However, by the end of this episode she knows sometimes you must do bad things to make a better future, both in peace and in war.
3. “Emissary” (ep 1/2)
The first episode of this series introduces us to many characters and themes, with several themes featuring heavily throughout the show and the series finale. We are introduced to a war-torn Bajor, finally free from 50 years of Cardassian occupation; a dilapidated, alien space station far from Federation space; the introduction to the Wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant; a group of aliens (who live in the Wormhole) viewed as Prophets by the Bajorans – a deeply religious people; and an ongoing threat from the Cardassians. Interestingly, the show took the angle of making the station merely administered by Starleet yet remain in Bajoran hands, leading to some great conflicts throughout the series.
We also meet Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), who is the first non-Captain for a Star Trek series. At the time (and being an American show) the fact Avery Brooks is black was also a big deal. The show does address his ethnicity on several occasions (with the season 6 episode “Far Beyond the Stars” done exceptionally well). Brooks is perfect in the role, bringing charm, warmth and humour with it as well as intelligence, strength and confidence.
This episode does a great job at balancing not only a huge ensemble cast but some complex and serious topics as well. Yet it is the themes and tone it lays down from the beginning which last throughout the entire series.
4. “Dax” (ep 8)
The character Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) is a Trill, a species which were introduced in TNG but look notably different (it’s the spots!). The species have symbiotes inside them (basically slugs) which carry the memories of all the previous hosts (Jadzia is up to at least 7 lifetimes worth of memories). Yet this episode explores whether or not Jadzia Dax is an entirely different person from the symbiont (named Dax) insider her and whether she is responsible for the previous actions of the symbiont inside her.
This could easily be a talk-y courthouse episode (Dax the symbiont, and therefore Jadzia, is accused of treason and murder) with some good performances from all around (seriously, this episode features such heavy hitting talent as Gregory Itzin, Anne Haney and Fionnula Flanagan), yet the questions it explores are just so interesting. Jadzia is her own person and Dax along with basically 7 different people, yet she also something completely new – Jadzia Dax. She accepts responsibility for Dax and all the previous hosts, yet Commander Sisko refuses to let an innocent woman die. Interestingly, the show never resolves these issues and we are left to consider the ideas on are own.
5. “The Nagus” (ep 11)
On its own this show is simply entertaining, yet what makes it within the Top 5 is the fact it reintroduced us to the Ferangi to make them much more complex (and likable) characters. Originally, the Ferangi were meant to be hardcore villains. They were not, and their introduction failed miserably. However, on DS9 we have already spent time with Quark (Armin Shimerman, who incidentally was involved in developing the characters and stared in the TNG episode “The Last Outpost” which marked their introduction) and have seen how unscrupulous they are.
Here, we meet The Nagus (brilliantly played by Wallace Shawn), who is basically the man in charge of the entire Ferangi Alliance (or just like the Godfather). He comes to the station to hold a conference to announce his successor, who ends up being Quark. The Nagus mysteriously ends up dying which leaves Quark as the new Nagus. Of course, some Ferangi start kissing-ass straightaway while others go about trying to kill him. Yet we find out the Nagus faked his death in order to test whether or not his son Krax was worthy enough to take his place.
This episode shows how funny the Ferangi are for comedic episodes in DS9; however, they would be equally suited for more dramatic shows as the series continued to further explore their culture. It was in this show we got to see some more complexity in their society, as well as an introduction to the Rules of Acquisition (285 rules which govern all of Ferangi society), and just how devious they could really be.
1. “Past Prologue” (ep 3)
This episode takes another look at where Kira’s loyalties are. A rogue Bajoran terrorist (like, the really bad Bajoran terrorists) seeks asylum on DS9 as he escapes from Cardassians, who want him brought back to stand trial (which means put to death). While the Bajoran insists he has given up his ways, he in fact wants to carry out an attack on the Wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant which has made Bajor an important region of space. Once it is gone he believes everyone will leave Bajor alone and all Bajorans can return to their own lives without any major powers nearby. Kira ends up stopping him, showing where her loyalties are and how the times have changed for her.
2. “A Man Alone” (ep 4)
An episode which featured the shapeshifter and station’s police officer – Odo. It introduces us to who this grizzled character is and how he works (for him rules come and go but “justice is justice”). Also, it shows the Bajorans are still at odds with a lot of the people on their station. In fact, the Bajorans are outright racist towards Odo for him being a shapeshifter. There is also some history here for his character: he provided station security during the Occupation, which some view as being a collaborator and just as guilty as the Cardassians for the genocide. It turns out Odo was being framed for the murder of a Bajoran man, but the episode does a great job setting up Odo as the odd man out and a man of principles.
3. “Vortex” (ep 12)
Another good episode featuring Odo and attempts to explore his background. Being a shapshiffter found in space near Bajor, Odo is not sure if others like him are out their. Yet when a visitor from the Gamma Quadrant starts talking about changelings and shows Odo a shapeshiffting locket (which is indeed someway related to Odo), he becomes curious. This leads Odo to help the man, who is being extradited back to his home planet, in hopes of finding some answers. Sadly, it was a trick so the man could rescue his daughter. Yet despite not getting any answers, the man insists the stories about shapeshiffters are true even though he had never met one until Odo. This is the first episode we hear the word ‘changelings’ and also the first part of a much bigger arc about Odo and his people, which would last throughout the entire series.
1. “Babel” (ep 5)
This was one of many episodes which would end up doing mean things to Miles O’Brien (a reliable favourite, Colm Meaney). More than that, it was a great little episode where a Bajoran bio-weapon left over from the Occupation ends up infecting the crew, making them speak random words so no-one can understand each other. Kira saves the day, but we also get a great team-up between Odo and Quark (who are always at odds with each other).
2. “Move Along Home” (ep 10)
Here Quark’s cheating ways almost catch-up with him as a new alien race – the Wadi, who love games – arrive from the Gamma Quadrant and want to go to his bar to play games. To teach Quark a lesson of sorts, they end up transporting some of the crew into a game. It is standard sci-fi here but it is always a cool idea for someone who loves games as much as the Wadi.
3. “If Wishes Were Horses” (ep 16)
I am not sure what about this episode I like so much. The idea of our dreams becoming a reality is certainly a cool one, and the fact these dreams are really aliens trying to better understand humans by becoming real is a different take on it. Sure, the episode is really just ‘how powerful our emotions and imaginations are’, but it is a well-done, interesting and entertaining hour of television.