5 Reasons Why "Star Trek: DS9" Should Be On Your Summer To-Watch List (Even If You Aren't A Trekkie)
Full disclosure: I am a lifelong Trekkie. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager with my parents, and since then, I have enjoyed watching and rewatching the shows, and expanding my understanding of the fictional universe.
I love the world of Star Trek. Envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, it is ultimately hopeful. While humanity has had a history of violence and struggle, by the 24th century, humans have built a near-utopian society. There is no more poverty, hunger, or greed. The characters and the adventures they go on are compelling. It is a show about exploration—as the characters venture out into the vastness of space, they make not only scientific discoveries, but personal and philosophical ones. The characters try to understand what it means to be human, what to do in the face of overwhelming adversity, how to carry on even in the face of insurmountable odds.
My experience of the golden age of Star Trek was incomplete until college, when I viewed Star Trek: Deep Space 9 for the first time. By the end of the show, I could not believe that this show had not been included in the early years of my Star Trek journey.
It. Was. SO. GOOD!
This Spring, as we began to understand the enormity of this global pandemic, I turned once again to Star Trek, and gravitated for a second time to Deep Space 9. This time, I watched it with my boyfriend, Brooks. It was his first time watching it, and he echoed some of the thoughts that I had when I watched it years ago.
So, without any more delay, here are 5 reasons why Star Trek: Deep Space 9 should be on your summer to-watch list (even if you aren’t a Trekkie).
1. It is DARK
Star Trek: Deep Space 9 takes place at the end of a 50-year conflict between the Cardassians and the Bajorans, in which the militaristic Cardassians enslaved and inflicted genocide upon the spiritual and peaceful Bajorans. Star Fleet has just signed a treaty with the Cardassians, with the intention of establishing peace between the two nations and protecting the Bajorans from further violence.
To help maintain this shaky peace, Commander Sisko is assigned to Deep Space 9, a formerly Cardassian space station called Terok Nor that used to utilize Bajoran slaves in ore processing.
The effects of this long conflict are prevalent among the characters who survived—exhibited in varying degrees by Odo, Quark, Major Kira, and members of the Bajoran provisional government.
Because the premise of the show is so dark, it gives the writers license to write more frequently and more candidly about other darker subject matter—slavery, racism, prejudice, rape, prostitution, executions, terrorism, refugees, murder, and more.
Please don’t misunderstand me—just because something is dark does not make it good, nor does it make it inherently deeper, more valid, or more “artistic.” But DS9 provides a good counterbalance to the brassy optimism that its contemporaries show.
2. It is Nuanced
Very few problems in this show are black and white. With so many characters in play, each with their own motivations, the solutions to obstacles are often unexpected and complex. Many of the characters are not fully good or fully evil. Major Kira, now the first officer of Deep Space 9 and a representative from the Bajorna militia was once a Bajoran resistance leader, and many times through the series must reckon with her past actions against the Cardassians. Gul Dukat, while ruthless, manipulative, and nearly completely evil, has a saving quality in his love for his half Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal.
The nuance in the show is also illustrated in the offering of varying interpretations of events. Captain Sisko often tries to maintain focus on facts and data while the Bajoran religious leaders will attribute events as signs and communications from their Prophets (or worm-hole aliens as the Federation officers call them). As the show continues, and Sisko further embraces his role as not only a Starfleet officer, but the Emissary of the Prophets, even his own motivations become conflicted.
Another example of the show’s nuance is the inclusion of the Maquis. The group is made up of Federation citizens, displaced after a treaty yielded territory to Cardassia. The inhabitants of those planets refused to move, and when they were forced to do so, the Maquis was born.
Seen as rebels and freedom fighters by their members, called terrorists by Starfleet, the writers play with the audiences’ loyalties as we watch the Federation fight these underdogs who wanted to keep their homes.
Should we root for the Maquis? The desire to protect our home is a strong and relatable one, and we can understand the desperate actions the Maquis take in the face of the powerful Federation and the militaristic Cardassians. But can we root for an organization that takes such violent action?
Or should we be on the side of the Federation? The idealistic institution that throughout the franchise has been used as the shining example of goodness and morality. What happens when our moral guide is led astray?
People’s loyalties change to fit the circumstances. Bonds are made between the characters that sometimes override previous allegiances, making the show exciting to watch.
3. Jake Sisko
As much as I love Star Trek, I can recognize its flaws.
Writing women and children characters seems to be a challenging feat for many science fiction writers. It is sometimes as if the writers aren’t exactly sure what to do with them but know that they somehow need to include them, and the Star Trek franchise is no exception.
But let me make this clear: Jake Sisko is the best written child character in the Star Trek Franchise.
I can write for quite a while on the fantastic job the writers did in crafting Jake Sisko, but I will try to keep it brief.
TNG and Voyager also feature child characters, but neither character is as well-developed as Jake Sisko.
Where Wesley Crusher from TNG is the boy-wonder, Jake is mischievous and playful. Where Naomi Wildman from Voyager is perpetually happy and naïve, Jake is given the room to grow and learn. Where Wesley is an indefatigable people-pleaser, Jake stands up for himself and does what makes him happy. Where Naomi Wildman often serves as a device to ask uncannily prudent questions to foster growth in the adult characters, Jake is given his own arcs of self-discovery.
4. It has the shortest awkward phase
Many shows suffer from a beginning awkward phase. This is the time in the show where the actors are still getting to know the characters and find their rhythm. Lines are clunky, the plots may have more than the daily suggested level of camp or cheesiness. This is the time in the life of the show before everyone has really hit their stride.
Star Trek shows are not immune to this phenomenon. Star Trek: The Next Generation kills off one of its main characters by using an evil black goo monster. Star Trek: Voyager has many clunky episodes in the beginning (many of them including a warrior race of aliens with what look like barnacles attached to their heads). While this is a very subjective topic, I feel like both The Next Generation and Voyager don’t really hit their stride until their third seasons. (At this point, Baby-face Riker is gone, and Beverly Crusher has returned; and the Kazon are a thing of the past and most episodes stop centering around Kes).
DS9 takes about half of the first season to find its groove. Yes. Half a season. And there are some gems in the first half of the first season. One that stood out this time around was "Babel", season 1, episode 5, where the station is struck by a mysterious disease that causes aphasia. The measures that the space station takes to slow the spread of the disease are very similar to the early measures that our country took in attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The short awkward phase lets the audience settle easily into the story, and means that fans have to say "no wait, it's good, I promise!" for only a few episodes.
5. Golden-age Star Trek
I am a firm believer that the 90’s were the golden age of Star Trek. Like TNG and Voyager,
DS9 has many of the characteristics that made the franchise so loved and so successful. It is ultimately a show exploring what to do when faced with terrible situations, loss, and consequences. What do we do when we are faced with violence, with discrimination, with loss? How do we rebuild? How do we let go? How do we become strong again?
I could continue gushing over DS9 for quite a while. I haven’t discussed the broad narrative arc, the complex character relationships, the inclusion of well thought out religion and politics, the writing for Jadzia Dax and Major Kira, two of the best female characters in science fiction, the in-depth and expansive world building. But I will leave you with this:
In this time, when the world is ravaged by disease, enraged over systemic and widespread brutality and murder, and feeling on the edge of defeat, stories like those told in DS9 show us that we are capable of untold depths of strength and resiliency. These stories give us hope that even if we aren’t perfect, even if we face unprecedented challenges, we can do the work that needs to be done. In a world so full of pain, hope is essential.