15 April 2016

Deep Space Nine

Star Trek: Deep Space certainly had its share of issues during it early years, with its first two seasons being very solid, but not very focused. Though, to be honest, that’s sort of to be expected from a new series, even one with a long pedigree as Star Trek. And much like its sister show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, those first few months of production can be a trying time, as cast and crew settle into a weekly production shoot. Still, I think Deep Space Nine was a quantum leap from where TNG was during its shaky first two years. I will admit, though, that by the time DS9 roared into life, the makers of TNG knew where the pitfalls where and tried their hardest to alleviate them on DS9, because by season three, the show would find its true north and begin setting the stage for what would become the first serialized Star Trek show.

For the most part, since Gene Roddenberry died in 1991, Rick Berman and the late Michael Piller tried never to waver from the creators ideals of the 23rd and 24th Century. What had begun in TOS was continued in TNG, with Starfleet officers who acted and seemed to be, fundamentally, Boy Scouts. These were characters that were always to be trustworthy, always loyal, friendly, obedient and brave (and straight). And while this worked in the 1960s and worked on TNG to a point (there was much criticism leveled at the spin-off due to fact that conflict between fellow officers was non existence, and many believed this harmed the show thematically), with DS9 those ideals would need to change if the show was going to stand on its own.

Almost from the start, this spin-off was going to way different from TNG. DS9 introduced a divergence that I thought was very much welcomed. The first ambitious move was to have Commander Sisko’s first officer be a Bajoran, the freedom fighter Major Kira, whom after years of fighting in the trenches of the Cardassian conflict, now she had to deal with Starfleet’s sometimes fascist ideas and the sometimes vague US foreign policy notion that the Bajoran people could not rebuild by themselves. Their disagreements on how things should be done were a highlight of the relationship between them, and something that was always there during the shows seven year run. But to me, that was all a bit of smoke and mirror, because the second move was going to go where none had yet gone, as the show was going to bring in the concept of religion into a franchise that deliberately steered clear of open theological belief.

During its first two seasons, the show would slowly introduce the tension between a tolerant, secular, and probably, maybe, atheistic Federation and the deeply spiritual Bajorans. Eventually, Bajor and its politics and philosophies, would become the series bread and butter, woven like a fine tapestry through the shows long run. This would also have a major effect on Sisko -whom was thought as some savior by the Bajoran people- putting him on a path that he was not comfortable with at first (neither was the brass at Starfleet), but would eventually embrace in later seasons. 

As mentioned, season three would see the show become more focused, with continued arc building on Bajor, Cardassia, and what was becoming another staple of the show, a large corral of recurring characters. The show also began laying the foundation for the Dominion conflict during season three, something that would take a back seat, however, during season four to deal with a new Klingon threat, but would go on to virtually dominate the show during seasons five, six, and seven when, for all intents and purposes, DS9 became a serialized show about war –another story point the Star Trek tired its hardest to stay away from. 

The show remains a personal favorite, mostly because it tried to be ambitious when Star Trek needed to be ambitious. And while it never became the ratings hit TNG managed, and would always take a backseat to Voyager’s (which came two years after DS9 launched) return to the naval romance of the TOS, it became the most creative, most emotional, and thus most deeply satisfying of the spin-offs.

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