Review of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993)

Parts only

This page describes the individual parts of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The work as a whole is reviewed elsewhere.

Emissary (1993Moving picture, 90 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Benjamin Sisko loses his wife in a battle at Wolf 359; a battle featured in “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990). Three years later, having taken time off to care for his child, he assumes command of Deep Space Nine. He does so with reluctance until he and an old friend—a Trill symbiont like the ambassador in “The Host” (1991) but retconned to be more cooperative—discover the first predictable wormhole not far from the station’s normal position in orbit around Bajor.

A fantastic start, unlike Encounter at Farpoint (1987). Highlights include Miles O’Brien taking a skin-of-his-teeth approach to the primitive machinery and Sisko’s very long detour into the wormhole. In the former, technobabble and boldness win the day as usual and I would have preferred failure, but the grubbiness of the setting and the less formal camaraderie among O’Brien’s peers in Ops produce a better impression than a cheaper “reverse the polarity” trick would have. In the latter highlight, Sisko explores the mentality of nonlinear energy beings who are dubiously understood, by Bajoran clerics, to be numinous.

Before this, only “Darmok” (1991) devoted comparable screentime to exploring any truly alien species as such, in any Star Trek series. The usual humanoid, prosthetic-and-makeup kind of aliens are still prominent, but the scenes of Sisko “talking” to people inside his own memories to interrogate his transcendent captors are very good. Like “The Inner Light” (1992) those scenes offer a meditation on life that is personally transformative, but this time, the transformation sticks, drastically reshaping Sisko’s career. At the same time, the experience provides worldbuilding and characterization and the function Q had in Farpoint, which is to pose yet again the question of human nature and value. Doing it without Q is obviously the smarter move.

No relation to “The Emissary” (1989). Wormholes were a recurring but rare motif in TNG.

References here: “Captive Pursuit” (1993), “Birthright: Part 1” (1993), “Battle Lines” (1993).

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“Past Prologue” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The launching of the great Bashir/Garak ship which, but for the conservatism of executive producer Rick Berman, could have been the first openly gay pairing in the franchise. It’s a lot of fun, more so than the visit from Lursa and B’Etor who appear in three episodes of TNG, or the focus of the A plot. I like the fact that Tanha Los’s strategy to aid Bajor is to “drain the pool” in the Heather McGhee sense, damaging everyone involved to make Bajor uninteresting to outside interests; it’s nasty, heely stuff, but it’s smarter than pure evil. The problem is how his outright lying affects Kira’s relationship to Sisko.

In this genre of trust-based personal drama, rapid reverses for the sake of tension are bought at the cost of withholding information from the audience while making the characters, in this case Kira and Los, implausibly dumb or unsympathetic. This, I suppose, is why Roddenberry forbade this trick. I’m OK with it in this instance, given how Tanha is characterized.

References here: “Firstborn” (1994).

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“A Man Alone” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Odo is accused of murdering a man he once apprehended, who was since been released from prison by the provisional government. Keiko O’Brien, dissatisfied with her husband’s posting, starts a school.

The murder is resolved in improbable sci-fi style, with one of those already-adult clones from “Up the Long Ladder” (1989), but here, the writers gently retreat from the scaremongering of TNG, getting in under the wire of Dolly the sheep. A surviving clone embarks on its life without horror, like Spock in “The Infinite Vulcan” (1973), and it is stated that only some methods degrade the DNA. Keiko’s B plot, though it is simple and sadly modelled on the Western, reintroduces the motif of those few every(wo)man scenes of domestic life she had with her husband Miles in “Night Terrors” (1991). Her future students play a prank on strangers that has them masking through a series of colour changes as whimsical as “Albatross” (1974).

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“Babel” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

An overworked O’Brien repairs a replicator in his sleep and gets viral aphasia.

Smarter than all the contagion stories of all the previous Star Trek shows. It’s just a shame that the results of the virus, which physically remaps the brain, are so easily reversed.

References here: “Birthright: Part 1” (1993).

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“Captive Pursuit” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Tosk.

As a concept for an alien culture, it’s less successful than “Darmok” (1991), but it’s in the same vein and less outlandish. The costumes are great whimsical fun. The biggest problem with it is that this is supposed to be first contact with a species actually living on the far side of the wormhole, yet it’s much more human than the Emissary (1993) species, and the script provides no explanation for why the numerous explorers travelling via the station have not found anything first.

Good incidental Quark. I’m not sure how to interpret “Oh Brien”’s romantic little mutiny; it’s a cheap trick, but then again, the previous episode and this one have clearly established his dissatisfaction with the job.

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“Q-Less” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Q.

There’s some decent incidental character writing in this one, but there’s also poor acting and Q, one of the most boring things that ever came out of TNG. O’Brien alludes to “Qpid” (1991), so that’s still canon, and the consequences aren’t good: Vash and Quark selling unknown stuff for money in a post-scarcity economy, and Q playing the role of an abusive romantic partner with magic, to no consequence. Watching this, my girlfriend aptly likened Q to Karlsson-on-the-Roof, the Astrid Lindgren character.

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“Dax” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Trill.

The DS9 equivalent of “The Measure of a Man” (1989). It’s smarter, but not very smart; like most real court cases it’s based on crude philosophies rather than Bashir’s brief glimpse of the biology.

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“The Passenger” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

There is an Alexandra Dumas quality to the writing that I quite like, and as paranoid ghost stories go, it’s nicely SF’d up in the manner of “Space Seed” (1967) and other past Trek supervillain fantasies. Like those stories, it’s pretty kitschy. Seems awfully tolerant of Sisko to just ignore Quark hiring those murderous mercenaries. Maybe it’s just the badly lit grey 1990s sets that are getting to me.

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“Move Along Home” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

First contact with the Wadi, a human species of gamblers.

Pageantry, arbitrary limits to knowledge, and arbitrarily powerful “aliens” are all recognizable from past Trek series. This one adds a dungeon crawl.

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“The Nagus” (1993Moving picture, 45 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Quark gets a leg up.

The first emic description of Ferengi culture at length. That’s appropriate, and it’s well executed, and the basic premises are consistent with TNG, but that means they’re poor. This outing reasserts that mainstream Ferengi ethics are subject to the same kind of “moral inversion” as is shown in “A Piece of the Action” (1968).

At the end, Quark not only rewards his brother for having tried to assassinate Quark, but also continues to work closely with him. The net result is to enable and encourage another murder attempt in the future. This behaviour is unlike typical trolls in fantasy literature and unlike real-world people in the psychological “dark triad” of narcissism, Machiavellian personality traits, and psychopathy. It is a compromise solution, using a few realistic features from the dark triad to disguise the allegorical fantasy.

A meeting in this episode satirizes predatory corporate board meetings, but Ferengi ethics are unlike even those of real-world leaders of organized crime, including Richard Sackler, Martin Shkreli, and Griselda Blanco. It remains a paradox that the Ferengi are even interested in jewels and gold in an age where such things should be abundant. The writers sometimes toss in novel rarities to mitigate the problem, but the Ferengi are ultimately unfit for the setting.

There is a lazy effort in this episode to continue to enable the interpretation of Ferengi behaviour as culture, i.e. nurture as distinct from nature. Jake teaches Nog how to read, which doesn’t make sense; it is ludicrous for O’Brien to expect Nog to produce an essay for school without knowing how to read. The subject of the essay, ethics, is not discussed. The design of the Ferengi shows that the writers themselves did not have a working understanding of ethics as part of a society, no more than they understood the concept of “reversing the polarity” outside of ethics.

On a side note, Morn—though as yet unnamed—takes up more space in this episode than any previous one. Nice to see the odd-looking background extras being integrated.

References here: “Progress” (1993), “If Wishes Were Horses” (1993).

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“Vortex” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The possibility of shapeshifters (“changelings”) in the Gamma Quadrant.

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“Battle Lines” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

The priestess from Emissary (1993) dies on a sightseeing tour.

The setup is promising, merging a bit of “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988) with the mythological motif of warriors continually dying and rising. Unfortunately, the hatred these warriors have for one another is caricatured and poorly played, still patterned after the allegorical “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969). Its relationship to the priestess is undetermined and the whole thing peters out.

References here: “In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993).

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“The Storyteller” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Bashir and O’Brien fail to save the life of a motivational speaker while Nog hits on a cute Bajoran queen.

The storyteller A plot is high on magic, disconnected from the series even in the detail that Bashir explicitly retracts his request for O’Brien to call him “Julian”, made at the start of the episode. The B plot is more strongly connected to the serialized plot, and better as a juvenile romance than “The Dauphin” (1989), but not by much.

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“Progress” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Kira dislodges a farmer on a moon while Nog and Jake barter.

It is clarified here that “Kira” is a family name, or at least “Nerys” is a given name. She is well characterized in this outing, which offers some of the strongest scenes of domestic bliss in the franchise up to this point. “Family” (1990) had Picard’s brother’s farm, but the brother was a bitter man, resenting Picard’s authorially celebrated glamour. This episode is smarter. The farmers are tough but not resentful or otherwise morally inferior.

The farmers do not produce luxury drugs like wine but the essentials of their own lives, including foods that are slow to cook. This falls in line with two prior lines of development in Star Trek. The first is unease with high technology as fake, seen in various weak and evil AIs throughout TOS and TAS, more relevantly in Troi’s dissatisfaction with syntetic food in “The Price” (1989). The second line of development is otium cum dignitate, the subject of “The Inner Light” (1992) and All Good Things (1994).

By this point, well into the first season of DS9, the food synthesizers seem to be in good working order throughout the station. However, the B plot concerns an old order of a Cardassian condiment, apparently placed before the Cardassians left the station. The condiment is authentic, not synthetic. Whether there is any chemical difference is never determined. The implication, going back to Troi’s 1989 lament, is that synthetics are chemically different and generally inferior, though subtly so. On the other hand, when the Ferengi plot their invasion of the Gamma Quadrant in “The Nagus” (1993), one of their avenues is the distribution of synthehol, the healthy synthetic substitute for ethanol from “Up the Long Ladder” (1989). Given that ethanol is chemically trivial and they’re already happy to break laws, the Ferengi would not choose the synthetic if it were less attractive.

Mullibook, the reticent farmer whom Kira is sent to evacuate for an infrastructure project, represents both authenticity and hard work as a moral justification for peace, in this case the rest of a yeoman in the home he built. His kitchen has the careful mise en scene and lighting of 17th-century Dutch painters. This detail actually glamourizes the farmers themselves, more so than the rubes of “Up the Long Ladder”, even though Mullibook’s food does not appear to be very tasty. The point is ultimately moral, not sensual. The man’s otium is one of the franchise’s few morally sanctioned responses to a post-scarcity economy where the lotus threatens at every turn. This episode brings attention to the paradox that although trade and commerce are generally accepted in this part of the setting, there is still no currency, presumably because in Roddenberry’s original vision, money itself was just more lotus.

It is a dramaturgically correct choice for Kira and Sisko to uproot Mullibook and his mute friends against their will. That decision is not motivated by the violence done with farm implements—as impractical for their main purpose as the spear of “Birthright”—but by more abstract matters off screen. There is a utilitarian economic calculation behind it all, which makes more sense than Nog and Jake’s bartering in lieu of money.

References here: “Journey’s End” (1994).

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“If Wishes Were Horses” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Figments of the imagination materialize.

This is fundamentally a remake of “Imaginary Friend” (1992) on a larger scale. There is no Zizekian id machine and an expansion of the holosuites is a red herring but the basic template is pretty close to Sphere (1987) etc.

The attendant sexual lotus-eating recalls “Hollow Pursuits” (1990), with Dax meeting a persistent version of herself who was produced from Bashir’s narcissistic lust and is killed under surprisingly non-fridge-stuffing circumstances that go somewhat beyond fabulism. Compare Quark who is similarly attended by products of his pornographic holosuite programs, both of whom are human yet neither of whom are humanized.

In the red-herring scene, Quark talks about building holosuites that are not devoted to pornography, confirming that sex as in “The Nagus” (1993) is the main use for tangible-hologram technology on the station. That may be true even in Starfleet, despite the unlocked door in “Hollow Pursuits” and the stronger moralism of earlier entries in the franchise.

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“The Forsaken” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Lwaxana Troi takes Odo into her dress.

Trapped in an elevator, Troi recounts the plot of “Ménage à Troi” (1990) and refers to Tog—a man who kidnapped her for purposes of sexual abuse—as “kind of sweet”. Clearly, the writers viewed both Tog and Lwaxana herself as funny jerks and featured them because they are irritating. In this particular appearance, Lwaxana becomes relatively sympathetic, but only after speaking interminably for four hours.

The plot is contrived to continue to highlight Barrett, who is still doing the voice of the computer, so that computer is infected by an inappropriately humanized virus in this episode. There’s some decent Odo backstory and characterization thrown in too.

References here: “Dark Page” (1993).

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“Dramatis Personae” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A Klingon ship exits the wormhole well ahead of schedule. As it explodes, its first officer teleports off the ship, proclaims victory, and dies on DS9.

A more intelligent remake of “Conspiracy” (1988) where the plague is Machiavellian factionalism, not squick.

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“Duet” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Kira interrogates a possible war criminal.

While it’s smarter than “Chain of Command” (1992), the plot and dialogue fail to explain why this episode is held in unusually high esteem. There is a sort of universality to it, in that science fiction is pushed to the periphery, and it is an effective way to characterize Kira, but I suppose the reception is mostly due to the immersively moody dramatic acting, like “Obsession” (1967).

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“In the Hands of the Prophets” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

One of the candidates for the position vacated in “Battle Lines” (1993) visits the station to agitate against Keiko O’Brien’s secular curriculum.

On the strictly ideological level of the worldbuilding, this is the strongest episode of any Star Trek series up to this point. Keiko, a minor figure even in DS9 and married to the humble “everyman” of the show, grows in stature as she defends science and free thinking in simple and effective terms. Her villain counterpart, Vedek Winn, is well written as a hypocrite with the Sydney Opera House on her head. The fact that Winn as a Bajoran represents Abrahamic obscurantism interferes productively with the tendency to paint the Bajorans as the allegorical native Americans of the setting; it weakens the allegory, thus weakening the racism that underpins the Western genre.

This all connects beautifully to the political situation, Sisko’s religious status, a subplot that weaves into the main plot, and all the established characters. Mobile crane shots, extra extras, public speaking, slow motion and reasonable forensics all decorate a grand season finale based on the franchise’s best ideas.

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“The Homecoming” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

A Cardassian prison camp is found to be still in operation and the symbol of a sinister new season 2 organization, the Circle, is not a circle; it’s more of a δ inside an upright oval.

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“The Circle” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Open hostilities on Bajor.

Though the titles vary, this is heavily seralized, both continuing directly from the previous episode and “to be continued” in the next, making it the first overt three-parter in Trek history. It’s a bit of a left turn where Kira and Dax mention their skin-care regimen because, you see, they are the women, and Kira gets a blast of prophecy with the most TV-PG sex scene 1993 could muster. There’s a fun long take, also a franchise first.

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“The Siege” (1993Moving picture, 46 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Not entirely satisfying, but the highlights are fun: O’Brien relishing the “siege” of the station from within, and Kira and Dax dogfighting badly in an old hunk of junk. The latter scene is designed to show some delta-v, practically for the first time in Trek up to this point, but it doesn’t do a very good job.

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