“Emissary”

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THERE’s our favorite Cardassian monstrosity!

Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) takes over as head of the new Deep Space 9, a former Cardassian space station. It orbits Bajor, which had been brutally occupied by the Cardassians for decades. The station is on the edge of friendly space and the Bajorans need the Federation’s protection and help to rebuild. Sisko’s mission is to ready Bajor for Federations membership, and he is identified by Bajoran spiritual leader Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola) as the “Emissary” an important figure in the Bajoran faith destined to discover the “celestial temple” where the Bajorans believe their prophets (gods) live. Working with his science officer, Jadzia Dax (Terry Ferrell), Sisko finds a wormhole (leading 75,000 light years away, to the Gamma Quadrant) near Bajor, and non-linear aliens inside it, possibly the Bajorans’ temple and prophets. A Cardassian vessel follows and disappears, prompting more Cardassians to come to the station, demanding to know what happened to the ship. Sisko eventually convinces the wormhole aliens that he’s not an invader and they help him get past his wife’s death — which occurred during the Battle of Wolf 359 — by showing he’s been living a non-linear existence (i.e. he’s stuck in the past). Sisko convinces the aliens to allow passage through the wormhole and returns the Cardassian ship to the Alpha Quadrant, preventing an all-out attack on the station. With the wormhole’s discovery, DS9 is set to become a key outpost for the Federation.

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The celestial temple — otherwise known as the reason the Federation got in a big war with the Dominion.

Why it’s important

Considering DS9’s status as the black sheep of Star Trek series, it’s really astounding how much was established in this pilot that went on to be of huge importance for the rest of the series and for Trek generally. A quick list:

— The wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, which sets the stage for the war with the Dominion in DS9’s later seasons.

— The proximity to the Cardassian Empire, and notably Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) who would become DS9’s main villain.

— The Bajoran theology and Sisko’s place in it, which would be a major thread throughout the next seven years. Bajor’s political instability would be a major thread in the early seasons.

— The mysterious background of Odo (Rene Auberjonois), which would eventually tie in to the Dominion leaders, the Founders.

All of that happened in DS9’s pilot episode — one that ALSO tied in TNG’s most significant event, “The Best of Both Worlds”. Having Sisko be a survivor of that attack — and having him harbor feelings of anger against Picard, who shows up in this episode — were truly great touches.

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“Yeah, I don’t like your boy Picard. Got a problem with that, Trekkers?”

What doesn’t hold up

DS9 wasn’t initially successful and was never as successful as TNG or TOS because it was so different. It was much darker — too dark, for some fans — and that was set into motion even in season one.

But I’ve always felt DS9’s initial issues — other than some boring station-bound episodes — stemmed from many of the characters being over the top in the early seasons. Kira’s too angry, Odo’s too antagonistic, Sisko’s too brooding, Bashir’s too annoying and Quark is too villainous. The Dax character — who was pretty much totally redefined in season two — is too cerebral. Really, the only character who doesn’t become more likable over the years was O’Brien — and, of course, that was probably because the character had already existed for years on TNG.

It’s almost as if the creators tried to do something SO different that they didn’t do characterization very well. That improved over time, but the characters are more like archetypes in the first season. As a result — and somewhat strangely — DS9 is the most interesting series to watch for its evolution. More than any other series, the first season is very, very different than the final season.

From a consistency/historical perspective, DS9 sort of rewrote two alien races we first saw in TNG. Bajorans initially were a bunch of refugees and not slaves on their own planet. The Trill look changed here, but backstory changed more later as the relationship between the symbiont and the host was very different in TNG. For more, see our reviews of “The Host” and “Ensign Ro”.

Final thoughts

While the series is inconsistent, I find DS9 to be as strong as TNG or TOS (which both had seasons that were pretty weak). That’s a stance many fans won’t embrace, but it’ll come through in these reviews. While TOS was the trailblazing series and TNG was the most consistent (even given the weird first and second seasons and some awfulness in season seven) DS9 was the most daring. It’s the Trek series that most closely approximates the great television of the past 15 years (“The Wire”, “Breaking Bad”, etc.). When it failed, it did so because it slid back into episodic shows when doing so didn’t make sense and/or when the consequences didn’t match the buildup. Or, it failed because it had too many Ferengi episodes. Speaking of which …

Coming next week …

The first of many Ferengi episodes. Shoot me.

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