Monday, September 10, 2012

Deep Space Nine, Season 1: Emissary

Deep Space Nine, Season 1
Airdate: January 3, 1993
1 of 173 produced
1 of 173 aired


The Cardassians have at long last withdrawn from Bajor. The newly formed provisional government has asked for Starfleet's assistance in rebuilding their ravaged world. The Cardassian mining station in orbit has been rechristened Deep Space Nine and command has been given to Command Benjamin Sisko.  Tasked with helping Bajor rebuild, ideally one day joining the Federation, he must also contend with the Cardassians who may view their own withdrawal as temporary, raising a son in his own after his wife was killed in the Battle of Wolf 359, and a volatile, divided society trying to fill the power vaccuum left by the Cardassians. Can he? What will the consequences for Bajor and the Federation be if he cannot?

Holy overexposure, Batman! This must really be annoying the home audience!


Kevin: I think the first thing to discuss is the frequent criticism of the show in that it diverges too far from traditional or "real" Star Trek. I think both the more complicated moral landscape and the eventual turn to serialized storytelling have a place in the franchise. I may not want Star Trek to be just this, but I think the show serves a valuable purpose. It holds a mirror up to the world Rodenberry created. TOS and TNG are populated by heroic people living in paradise. Is it the lack of material want that makes them so nice, or some deeper change that Picard advocated in Encounter at Farpoint? The Federation characters on the show certainly maintain the vein of heroism, but they are forced to deal with problems and with people the other shows have not. It also forces them to deal with consequences in a way the other shows do not. Had Picard parlayed his gambit in Ensign Ro into getting the Cardassians to leave Bajor, they would have patted themselves sin the back for a job well done and warped off into the sunset. Here, we see that that is only the beginning of the Bajoran struggle for peace and freedom. Actions will have consequences here in a more direct way. Basically I view DS9 as testing if Star Trek people and ideals could survive a world closer to the one we, the viewers, are actually living in.

Matthew: My issue with the show is not one of tone, for I agree that the more morally gray tone is a welcome one. I just had two fears going in - that plots would focus and dwell on uninteresting local issues; and that science fiction would be lacking. For the most part, this episode does not fall prey to these two vices.

Kevin: Secondly, what I think really cements this as proper Trek is that it respects the canon. Anchoring Sisko's grief in the aftermath of Wolf 359 provided an opportunity to see more of a pivotal Trek event, and unlike episodes that shall remain nameless (These Are The Voyages...), it doesn't retroactively change what a character was thinking. Sisko displays the appropriate curious joy at discovering a stable wormhole. The show doesn't dismiss the previous series' optimism; it puts it through its paces. Particularly because I started watching this show as a teenager, it grew more complicated in its world view as mine did, and that may be apart of my enduring enjoyment of this show.

Matthew: I definitely appreciated the Wolf 359 bits, because they offer a different angle on a beloved story, but without ruining the emotional tenor or retconning said story. It's good nerd fodder, and it gives us a consequence to that even that we only saw in passing during TNG - the human cost of the Borg attack. Jennifer's death scene is quite effective, and Sisko's single parentage afterward is a very real manifestation of the "consequence" angle. I just want to address what I think is an overall too complicated plot. As you'll hear in the podcast, it can be easy to lose sight of the overall thrust of the story, when there are longish scenes dedicated to secretive, arcane things. I wasn't quite clear on what Odo was up to without watching the episode twice. I still don't know why the Cardassians relented in their attack, or why there were no consequences for it (given all the treaty sturm und drang in TNG...).

Kevin: The scenes with the Prophets were hit and miss for me. The scenes with just Jennifer were better, and the use of baseball to explain linear consequence was fun. I think it should have made it more clear that the Prophets taking human form was Sisko's mind assigning them that to help him interpret what was happening, rather than them reaching into Sisko's mind. It would have also emphasized the declaration that Sisko was the one keeping them at the moment of Jennifer's death. The scenes back on the station were pretty good. We got a decent, non-dragging introduction to the characters and Kira and O'Brien really carried the scenes with the Cardassian warships. Moving the station was cool, and it was interesting to watch Kira be on the brink of surrendering.

Matthew: This pretty clearly (at least to me) seems like a writing/editorial staff biting off more than it can chew. Is it possible to imagine a race of beings who are outside of linear time? Maybe. Can they be dramatized effectively within the confines of maybe 10 minutes of screen time? Not bloody likely. These beings are out of time, but corporeal intruders "threaten" them with annihilation? Sounds like The Flash being threatened by a slow drip of molasses in January. How can non-temporal beings "construct" anything? Why can't they understand simple things about creatures whose minds they can read (e.g. kissing, death)? What the heck are the orbs, anyway? By the way, I think Sisko's emissary status would be about a million times cooler if his entry into the wormhole was the cause of the Bajoran religion - since they are atemporal, his entry could precipitate events tens of thousands of years in Bajor's past.

Kevin: It would be unfair to penalize this episode for whatever failures the religious arc of the series may commit. Still, I would have liked to get more explanation of the nuts and bolts of Bajoran faith and the Orbs. As it stands, they tend to be the Orb of Necessary Exposition, and that's a little less interesting. I enjoy the idea of Star Trek exploring religion directly, and there's enough in this episode to get me to watch the next episode, but they could have done more with it.

Matthew: I discuss it in the podcast but I'll summarize here - I think it's a copout to essentially have a "true" religion that requires precious little faith on the part of the Bajorans. If sci fi is meant to hold up a lens to our own experience, it is a bit off the mark to show this sort of religion, when all of the ones we're privy to display a distinct lack of physical evidence and obvious divine intervention in history. I think it would have been better had the Bajoran religion started out like ours - lacking completely in evidence, proof, and historicity. Then, the orbs could have been discovered, Sisko could become the emissary, and the prophets could become truly "known." This would have a drastic effect - atheistic Bajorans would be challenged to reevaluate, while previously faithful Bajorans might find their gods to differ from their traditional expectations. They eventually do some interesting things with it in the series, but here it's a little thin for my liking. Kira says that religious faith was the only thing that held her people together. Well, that's easy enough, when you have actual obviously divine physical objects to worship. It's like having faith in the Yankees, as opposed to being a devout believer in the Cubs or the Indians. It's less interesting, in my book.


Kevin: I have few complaints on this front. Nana Visitor appears to be reading the part closer to what Michelle Forbes would have done, and I enjoy the character more when she calms down, but even here, she has several enjoyable moments. Chief O'Brien's scenes on the Enterprise were fantastic and I remember being excited we would get to see more of his character when the show started. Avery Brooks certainly threw himself into the part. I'm pretty sure he was really crying in the final Prophet scene and I can't but appreciate an actor who commits to being so vulnerable so early on. I will never be a big fan of the Jake character, particularly when he hits the whiny layabout phase, but I always thought Brooks and Lofton had wonderful chemistry and really read as a father and son.

Matthew: I think there is an overall feeling of less likability to the cast as a whole. There may be several reasons for his not owing to the acting, but the acting has to be part of it. Siddig El Fadil was pretty "meh" for me, I found him irritating. Colm Meany is as stalwart as ever, of course. I wish we had gotten to see Rosalind Chao in this episode. I liked Nana Visitor quite a bit, even given her shrill take this episode. Armin Shimerman undoes most of the damage caused to the Ferengi in just a few scenes - he was great. Rene Auberjonois acts pretty well through some bad preliminary makeup. They will get better scenes together as the show matures. Avery Brooks is... complicated. He has a tendency to overact his "jovial" scenes (Ow!), as well as his wrenching scenes (It's Not Linear...), but when he is cool and calm he is pretty likable if you ask me. So it's kind of hard to feel at ease with him on the screen because of this unpredictability.

Kevin: Marc Alaimo was given criminally little to do, but even in small scenes like waling around his old office, he was amazing. He acted like he belonged there. Felicia Bell did a good job with some daunting material. Her Real and Prophet Jennifers read very differently, and in the genuine flashback scenes, she read as warm and caring, and it was easy to see Sisko falling in love with her.

Matthew: Yeah, Alaimo knocked all of his scenes out of the park. He is by far the most interesting character in any scene he's in. Patrick Stewart did a good job, both as the aggrieved hardass as well as the paternal father figure to O'Brien. Camille Saviola was interesting as Kai Opaka. She is kind of short and stout, but she projected enough gravity to make the role pretty interesting.

Production Values

Kevin: This is probably the strongest part of the episode, and that's not terribly surprising. Everyone behind the camera had six years of experience at this point and it showed. The station is an amazing design and really succeeds in looking alien from the standard Starfleet design. The pylons leave ships exposed to space rather than the nurturing cocoon of a Federation Starbase. The angles are harsh and the lighting stark. Best of all, it manages to portray an alien and unpleasant aesthetic without actually being unpleasant to look at for the viewer.

Matthew: Although I do think everything is a tad overly dark for television, I agree on the aesthetic in general. Like it or lump it, it's a well realized look that is consistent and easily identifiable.I think the interior shots of the Promenade showed lots of pyrotechnics, but I've always felt that the space looks too small. We never seem to get beyond the one portion of the circle that it always shown. I wish they could have dressed it different to make the promenade feel larger and more full of mystery. Anyway, the visual effects were pretty great, among the best in the television franchise thus far. The matte painting of Bajor, for instance, had loads of depth and motion, making it probably the best matte so far in the franchise. The wormhole looked cool, and the space battle with the Borg was excellent.

Kevin: The wormhole, inside and out is gorgeous. It is massive and delicate and layered and they really nailed the effect perfectly from the beginning. The inside was fascinating and I enjoyed any trip back. The runabout is a nifty design and a nice addition to the pantheon of ships.  I like the new uniforms, and happily, here they ARE uniform. I never liked the Bajoran uniforms, but I do like Bajoran civilian wear.

Matthew: Yeah, the runabout is cool. They really nailed the sort of midpoint in design between a starship and a shuttle. These uniforms are among my favorite because of the bold graphic element to the design - they look better once Voyager gets started, for some reason, though. Maybe it's the lack of rolled up sleeves. The Bajoran undies are ridiculous, plain and simple.


Kevin: This is a 4. The acting is good to very good. The production values are excellent pretty much across the board. The story has some issues, and the Prophets never get the full explanation they need, but there was certainly enough here to make me want to watch next week.

Matthew: I am in agreement with the 4. There's a lot going on here and it doesn't all stick, but the whole complicated mess is pretty entertaining throughout. There is enough sci-fi, half baked though it may be, to please the nerds among us. The Star Trek feel is sufficiently realized for me, too. I never felt that this was somehow "not Star Trek" (unlike the feeling I got about ten minutes into the 2009 movie...). I think it does enough to reach the top quartile of all shows, but it's perhaps more borderline for me. Either way, that makes a total of 8 from the both of us.



  1. I have a lot of trouble deciding whether TNG or DS9 is my favorite show. They're so different, but each enriches the other. TNG provides breadth, DS9 provides depth. It's almost like canonical fanfiction. And it really does prove its main point: it's easy to be a saint in paradise, *and vice versa*. The existence of consequences does worlds for the show.

    And ohhhhh the characters with whom they populate their little corner of the galaxy. You get perspectives from all over the map. Federation, Bajorans who want to be Federation, Bajorans who don't, Klingons who have a tenuous interest in being happy about the Federation, Garak and Quark looking in from the outside who would never want to be Federation... It's enough to make a girl swoon at the writers. Though I always have to remind myself that Julian gets better. He really does. *wince*

    Back on topic, I am one of the very few Trek nerds who really liked the Bajoran religious arc, a LOT, and found it extremely satisfying. I will be fascinated to see a logical argument against it, though. I like to see different sides of things.

    As for me, I liked that even though the Prophets were real, they *weren't* gods. That aside, they were still what the Bajorans needed. It was a great lesson in the fact that sometimes, even if what a person has isn't as literal as others or outsiders think it should be--that is to say, the Prophets introducing themselves as actual gods--it's enough for a thing to be what a person needs.

    Ever watch Firefly? Like that town that revered Jayne as a hero, even though he was the opposite. ('Cause, well... *Jayne*.) It's what the townsfolk needed, so it's what they took from the experience.

    It's a powerful thing.

    Star Trek took this concept and tried to show it for what it is. You don't try to convince the Bajorans that the wormhole aliens aren't Prophets, because that's taking something away from them that defines who they are.

    In the same light, that's a good way to treat anyone of faith. You don't try to debunk the thing they need, for the exact reason that they need it. As a girl caught between a love of science and rationality and a love of faith and religion... it really seemed to parallel a lot of the issues of faith vs the observable universe that I've had over the years. I've come to a good balance where I can reconcile both as being able to coexist, and DS9 helped. It would be a fantastic teaching tool if it weren't an entire series long.

    I await the promised podcast to see what else you fellows have to say on the topic.

    1. I don't know if I subscribe to the idea, or see value in the idea, that just because something makes people feel cozy, warm and fuzzy on the inside, it is a great thing that ought not to be touched/taken away; that it then becomes above reproach since, hey, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

      In Firefly, those people needed Jayne because everyone needs hope, something or someone to aspire to, especially if life offers you the crap you see it does; someone to be a fan of, someone to worship and put on a pedestal and if you can't find it in reality, you make one up. I mean that is why we have religion right? Wishful thinking and the arrogant idea that the billion galaxy universe was just created for us. An emotional pacifier.

      Jayne is a selfish, crooked, greedy bastard yet he is worshiped as a god by people who dont know any better or who dont WANT to know any better, taking the head in the sand approach because reality is just too damn ...well, real.

      Now one can say, hey come on, what is the harm in thinking some wormhole aliens, jesus, hobbits, santa clause, bunnies or unicorns are your god. why not. let them have at it - if you need to believe in hobbits as your god to make it through life, go for it.

      Just that, religion doesnt work that way, does it? As it is rarely confined to peoples' personal realm. On the contrary, religion is harmful. Just look no further than contemporary politics, from homophobia to marriage equality, abortion and bodily autonomy, stem cell research, teaching creationism in schools and a myriad of other terrible, hateful, bigoted, truly harmful legislation enacted based on religious grounds.

      We saw it in DS9 too with the De'jarra part of the Bajorans and their blind faith in the prophets, no matter how out of place and harmful. That Vedek that murdered another bajoran in cold blood because he was of a lower d'jarra and who didnt understand why that was an issue "well my, my god said so, how can he be wrong?"

      Well he can be and he is. That is what happens when you have faith in someone or something. Unquestioned faith. There is a downside to feeling cozy and warm about one' pet fantasy. A huge downside. Detrimental, harmful.

      Also, except for the d'jarra part, I found the approach to bajoran religion too unproblematic. Too idyllic. Like there is one religion and no factions and everyone agrees on everything about the Prophets and their teachings and it is just harmony throughout one planet.

      In reality, of course, religion doesnt work that way as it creates factions, exclusion, otherness, tension, war, mine vs yours - someone interprets one piece one way and someone another piece the other way and before you know it, you have several denominations.

      In DS9, there was no religious rivalry among Bajorans, everyone agreed with the Kai and no one ever questioned anything and no one ever abused their powers (well, Winn did but she was more subtle, not an open dictator and in the end it turned out that it all was fake anyway on her part).

      Anyway the Bajoran religion was a bit too perfect and i dont buy it.

    2. Continued:

      I will never understand why people need to have faith in something they cannot see, hear or feel and why there is value in that, and carried like a badge of honor. "look i have faith, ain't it great"

      I will never understand why having faith is a good thing in the first place as opposed to fact based knowledge....why having faith in some invisible sky fairy or some wormhole aliens who couldnt give a shit has value. I mean, what, the cardassians murdered Bajorans for 60 years and those prophets were sitting pretty in the wormhole letting these fools worship their useless asses? Speak of your useless gods and naive believers woh love believing and faith for the sake of loving believing and faith.

      Anyway, I liked that in DS9 there was a scientific explanation for the "prophets" and that they made it clear that they are aliens whom the bajorans just happen to erroneously worship as gods because well, why not? It feels good.

      If Star Trek had gone down the route of "there really is holiness there" I would have been gravely disappointed and it would have been a betrayal to the core of Star Trek and Roddenberry would be rotating in his grave...

  2. I mentioned in my philosophy of religion class tonight. My students think I'm a nerd now. Which is fine by me.

  3. By the way I think Michelle Forbes would have made a FANTASTIC Major Kira, much better than Nana Visitor. Sometimes I try to imagine Kira's part as played by Forbes and it would have been fantastic, she would have brought so much to the part - Forbes has a wide range acting wise Too bad she bailed.

    1. I think the character they were trying to make Kira be in the first season would have been awesomely portrayed by Forbes, as it's pretty clear that was the image in their head. I think once they shed that, Visitor came int her own. That final scene in "Tied of Blood and Water" just kills me every time.