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Hello, and welcome back to Second Chances where I shine the light on the overlooked, and it so happens that today's overlooked is a birthday boy!
25 years ago, the first Star Trek spin-off series not to have direct involvement from creator Gene Roddenberry debuted in syndication. Subtitled Deep Space Nine, the third live-action Trek series had the odds stacked against it, but it won me over big time. Unlike all the other series which were set on various starships, this one had a starbase outside the Federation as its setting. Unlike the other series where the crews were close-knit families, here the mix of humans and aliens had their beefs with each other. Finally, no other Star Trek series before or since took as many chances with controversial subject matter like DS9 did. For proof, check out this exchange from a first season episode (when most other shows play it safe):
The name Deep Space Nine is also the show's setting, a space station that was under the control of the ruthless Cardassians during their decades-long occupation of the planet Bajor. Now run by a mix of Starfleet personnel and Bajoran soldiers, it gains greater importance when a stable wormhole that leads to the distant Gamma Quadrant of the galaxy is discovered nearby. The aliens that created the wormhole are seen as gods by the highly spiritual Bajorans, and the station's commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), the first one to communicate with them, is seen as the Bajorans' own Jesus Christ. While the first two seasons see the exploration of the Gamma Quadrant as a new opportunity, things intensify when the Dominion, a totalitarian force occupying that quadrant, launch an invasion. Soon, what was a waypoint to the new frontier ended up on the frontline of a galactic war.
I'm a lifelong Star Trek fan, and I easily consider DS9 my favorite show in the franchise. The reasons why are expansive, but I'll try to avoid rambling like Jadzia can. The stationary location allows the characters to be more fleshed out than on any of the other shows. Even the supporting characters have more to them here than in the others. The storylines are more epic in scale. Long arcs spanning multiple episodes are the norm rather than the exception. In fact, it took TEN EPISODES to wrap everything up rather than just a two-hour finale. Like I said before, it took a lot more chances with the plots than the other shows. It actually took on topics like religious fundamentalists, the dehumanizing effects of war, PTSD, and even genocide.
However, rather than ramble on about how awesome and under-appreciated DS9 was, I'll sum it up by naming my 15 favorite episodes (in order of premier). Now, these are episodes that can be enjoyed on their own; they're not tied completely to the big arcs. These are a great primer for newcomers to the series.
Chief Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) transferred from the supporting players on The Next Generation to the main cast of DS9. His friendship with the first visitor from the Gamma Quadrant and his handling of that visitor's pursuers shows how differently problems can be handled in the new surroundings.
That scene shown above is from this amazing episode. The top Bajoran officer on the station Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) spent her life fighting Cardassians to help win her people's independence. Now, her inner fire erupts again when facing an infamous war criminal. The interplay between the two is a sight to behold.
The shape-shifting Security Chief Odo (Rene Auberjonois) takes on a hard-boiled detective mystery when he has to investigate the attempted murder of his favorite adversary, the Ferengi bartender Quark (Armin Shimerman). It also provides early insight to one of the best developed relationships in TV history between Odo and Major Kira.
This episode is just pure fun. Quark has trouble when a rival gambling hall opens next door to his. Also great is how this episode sets the stage for the bromance between Chief O'Brien and the initially green and somewhat annoying but brilliant Dr. Julian Bashir (Siddig El Fadil).
I love psych thrillers, and this episode manages to match the best of them in only forty minutes. A strange conspiracy against Chief O'Brien started on the station, and the episode is all about playing with paranoia. The twist ending is one of the best in the franchise.
My favorite recurring character in the franchise is the tailor and suspected (later confirmed) Cardassian spy Elim Garak (Andrew Robinson). This episode sees Dr. Bashir go to tremendous lengths to save Garak when a malfunctioning implant threatens to kill him. This episode doesn't give all the answers, just like Garak himself.
I always enjoy episodes that give everyone something to do. Sisko, his son Jake (Cirroc Lofton), and O'Brien accidentally trip a security system left behind by the Cardassians, and the whole station goes on lockdown. A crisis like this even requires the help of one of the show's principal antagonists, Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo).
"Heart of Stone"
Though this episode focuses on Odo coming to terms with his feelings for Major Kira, the B-plot is actually more interesting. Quark's nephew Nog (Aron Eisenberg) takes his first steps toward leaving his delinquent youth behind and becoming the first Ferengi in Starfleet. The scene below is actually one of the best moments of the show:
"Our Man Bashir"
I've already said how I'm a lifelong James Bond fan, and this episode is a wonderful celebration of 007. Bashir and Garak enjoy a sixties spy program which ends up going haywire. Though the "malfunctioning Holodeck" story had become cliche by that point, this episode proves it can still be fun.
Remember Nog's father mentioned in the scene above? Here he gets his big development. Rom (Max Grodénchik) is tired of he and the rest of the staff being abused by Quark and leads them on strike. The interplay between the brothers is a joy, and this episode also features a great antagonist with Liquidator Brunt (Jeffrey Combs).
"Trials & Tribble-ations"
The 30th Anniversary episode, this one is a tribute to everything great about Star Trek. The crew takes a trip back to the Original Series era to save Captain Kirk from a vengeful Klingon. The computer tricks used by Forrest Gump to put Tom Hanks in old footage come in here to allow the DS9 crew to interact with the Kirk of the 60s. It's an absolute joy!
Bashir is suspected of treason and gets the works. The under-appreciated Bill Sadler was excellent as Director Sloan, and this episode took a major chance by introducing something that Roddenberry would never have had in his idyllic utopia... a Black Ops organization.
"In the Pale Moonlight"
Depending on which fan you ask, this episode where Sisko goes to outright illegal lengths in a desperate attempt to bring the Romulans into the Dominion War is either the greatest episode of DS9 or the greatest betrayal of Roddenberry's vision. This was, quite simply, the ballsiest episode of the entire franchise, and Andrew Robinson and Avery Brooks' performances knocked it out of the park.
Yes, I was an Odo & Kira shipper; sue me. This episode where Odo tries to win Kira's heart with the help of holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine (James Darren) always puts a smile on my face every time I watch it.
The last fun episode before the epic ten episode finale sees almost the whole crew coming together to help Vic Fontaine get gangsters out of his holographic nightclub. It has all the fun of Ocean's 11 squashed into 40 minutes, and it's a wonderful calm before the storm.
Deep Space Nine is an entirely different beast from the other Star Trek shows, and that's why it often gets overlooked. However, it deserves attention as one of the finest sci-fi shows of the 90s. It took what made Star Trek work (memorable characters, wry comedy, social commentary) and took more risks with it. The whole series is streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and the CBS app. Give this trip to the new frontier another shot.
What are your favorite episodes of this under-appreciated gem? Let me know. Signing out.