TV Review | Star Trek: Deep Space Nine | Season 1
Season Summary: The Provisional Government of Bajor invites Starfleet to help them rebuild after the Cardassian Occupation. Commander Benjamin Sisko is selected to take command of their space station, formerly known as Terok Nor that is then designated by Starfleet as Deep Space 9 (Memory Alpha).
I’ve got to be honest and admit that Deep Space Nine (DS9) is my favourite Trek series by some distance. The fact that the crew couldn’t just fly off at the end of each episode leaving everything wrapped up in a neat little bow was always more interesting than anything else the franchise had offered before.
Saying that, even the majority of DS9 fans will acknowledge that the first couple of seasons were a little rough, much as had been the case for The Next Generation crew too. So when my random number system selected DS9 as the next TV show to look at, I was both pleased and disappointed.
Pleased because I know where these characters end up and their journeys toward those endings, but disappointed because I had always resisted going back to watch anything before Worf crossed over from TNG to join the new show permanently and DS9 truly started to shine.
It was a pleasant surprise to learn that DS9’s first season wasn’t quite as terrible as its reputation might suggest. There’s a lot of good stuff here, although more than a couple of stinkers – worth noting is that DS9’s worst episodes feel like they belong to TNG or Kirk’s crew in comparison to where this show would eventually end up.
You can tell that Paramount were hoping to use the popularity of Picard and his crew to help out, with the former actually appearing both as himself and his Borg ‘counterpart’, Locutus, from the epic TNG two-parter, “The Best of Both Worlds”. What makes this really work is how much Sisko dislikes Picard, with Locutus and the Borg cube he controlled being responsible for the death of Sisko’s wife.
Then there were appearances from the Duras sisters, Lursa and B’Etor; and Q and Vash appear in what was effectively a sequel to their TNG episode – a notable appearance, with Sisko flooring Q and the godlike alien never returning to DS9.
There are also hints of what was to come, with the alien Tosh looking almost like a proto-Jem’Hadar, the Dominion’s foot soldiers; Garak making his presence known (just one appearance to my surprise); Odo learning that there are Changelings like him in the Gamma Quadrant; the start of O’Brien and Bashir’s fiery friendship; and, in the season finale, the introduction of Vedek Winn as a future antagonist and religious hardliner.
Now, I’ll admit that last paragraph probably made absolutely no sense to you if you haven’t already seen the show, so just take that list as examples of how long-term some of these plots and story threads are in DS9. There was no reset button at the end of each episode, and narratives continued across seasons, not just two-part tales.
It’s really not a surprise that the ‘Netflix generation’ have taken to DS9, with how well it works as an on-going story that encourages binge-watching. Hell, I’ve seen this show plenty of times and just wanted to keep on watching rather than moving onto something else just yet.
This first season isn’t perfect though. The make-up and prosthetics for Quark and Odo, two of the large central cast, take more than a few episodes to really come together, with Odo’s actually still a little work in progress even by the finale.
There are also lighter, more techno-babble based episodes which – as mentioned before – feel more like something Kirk or Picard should be dealing with. This might be because of my knowledge of just how seriously DS9 takes its characters and how strange it is to see them doing something ridiculous at times.
My personal most disliked episode is actually “Progress”, rather than the TNG-fluff like “Q-Less”, “Move Along Home”, or “The Storyteller”.
To explain, “Progress” is trying to sell a serious story about one man making a stand against a government trying to relocate him from his home, comparing his struggle to that of the Bajoran resistance during the Cardassian Occupation. Sounds okay so far, right?
Except the episode tells the audience at the start that he is being relocated to provide heating for hundreds of thousands of people to help them through winter. Taking that into account, and his reasoning for not moving being little more than he doesn’t want to, he comes across as unreasonably selfish and dragging down Kira, Sisko’s second-in-command, with him.
Comparing that episode to the season’s unquestionable best, “Duet”, is like night and day. “Progress” feels very much like the sort of moralistic story that bored me in TNG, and “Duet” does what DS9 does best: living in the murky shades of grey between right and wrong, while dealing with war crimes and survivor’s guilt, in addition to racism (from Cardassians to Bajorans, and vice versa) and vengeance.
“Duet” really was a sign of what was to come in future seasons, aided by the fantastic performances of Harris Yulin and Nana Visitor making the title a perfect fit. It’s the sort of story no other Star Trek show could ever do, as it relies on the audience’s understanding of exactly the type of relationship existing between Bajor and Cardassia.
And another thing to note as a modern viewer: a black commander raising his son as a single parent, multiple women in positions of importance (including one who had previously been male), a British Asian doctor, and a mixed race marriage between Keiko and Miles. Science-fiction shows, or any other shows in general, have rarely been as diverse or progressive in the near two decades since DS9 ended.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s first season isn’t great, but it does what needed to be done to establish the setting and the characters. The premise, with the needs for actions to have consequences, provide a better setting for long-term storytelling than any other Trek show and makes this clear repeatedly. A stronger start than I remembered.