To celebrate 50 years of Star Trek I decided to watch all of the Trek I could. Some of it I had already seen many times over while some of it I was watching for the first time. So far, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), which falls into the latter category, has been the most eye-opening and delightful experience.
I will admit that as a teenager I was not drawn to the show for two main reasons:
It felt boring because there was no starship. I would make a very common baseless criticism of the show, “How does one Trek the Stars in a stationary starbase?”
It was dark. And when I say dark, I don’t mean just the tone of the show but the lighting and the set pieces too. There was nothing visual that drew me in right away.
Deep Space Nine just didn’t have the right Trek ingredients present for someone who loved The Original Series (TOS) and eventually grew to love The Next Generation (TNG).
As we grow older, we hopefully grow wiser. And as I sat to watch all seven seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I sort of kicked myself in the ass for not having gotten into the series when it was actually on. It’s not only more daring and adventurous than any of its sister shows, it is also extremely thought-provoking and morally ambiguous – something that Star Trek hadn’t always been able to translate very well into its stories.
Like most modern Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine doesn’t really get churning until after the third season, but its first two seasons are not terrible when the show stays away from rehashing a few rejected TNG-type space anomaly scripts. And these first two seasons are especially good compared to TNG’s first few outings because they attempt to set the show apart from its predecessors right away in a few important areas. First, they establish a mixed crew that is not as chummy with each other as one may expect from a Trek series. And second, they focus on the political, social, and religious landscape of where the show is set which make the series go into overdrive from the third season on.
And talk about overdrive!
Seasons four to six, and most of seven, are arguably the best scripted seasons in any Star Trek series. By this time, the entire cast is rounded out and free to explore their separate arcs. Additionally, Lt. Commander Worf joins the crew and his character sees growth and dimension like he had never seen on TNG.
As for the series development, the battle between the Dominion and Star Fleet is not only unprecedented but epic in scale. This is not only due to the excellent writing, but because the show plays on a creative decision that differentiates it from earlier Trek series (and was always TNG’s biggest fault) – there is no reset button. Each episode builds on the last, which makes binge watching this middle stretch of DS9 a real breeze compared to the first few seasons.
The most attractive part of Deep Space Nine, though, is how well it has aged. It was produced in the 90s, but the conflicts that it tackles are front and centre today. There is religion (from the moderate to the fanatic) mixed with politics – in the same doses. There is sectarian violence mixed with moral ambiguity over who really is the aggressor. There is occupation mixed with the point of views of the occupiers. At any point in the series, you can find yourself sort of agreeing with any of the different sides of the ongoing conflicts.
Whereas other Trek series have always pursued complex answers to even harder questions of what it means to be man, it had always held a more static approach when it came to questions of war and peace – its heroes and villains (though three dimensional) where always clearly set on their side of the board with the exception of the Trek-cliche of making what appeared to be the predator actually be the prey. DS9 delves deep into these very issues and for the bulk of the series offers no clear solutions and no clear heroes.
This series also digs deep into an area that other Trek series usually don’t touch – religion. From the pilot episode, we already discover that faith and God are as an essential part of what makes DS9 tick as its warp engines and transporters. One must be willing to take this journey with Captain Sisko and crew in order to truly appreciate what this backdrop means to the evolution of each character and to the series itself.
To conclude, Deep Space Nine is worth a first watch if you had brushed it off as just another “morality tale and techno-babble Trek series”, and a reviewing if you want to be amazed but how well it has aged and how much it reflects the world in which we live today.
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