Emissary (original airdate: January 3rd, 1993)
Written by Rick Berman and Michael Piller
Directed by David Carson
Where did Deep Space Nine come from? The concept started with Brandon Tartikoff, the Chairman of Paramount in the early 1990s who wanted a new addition to the franchise that was a Western. This would be about a lawman (Starfleet officer) coming with his son to a station on the edge of the frontier trying to restore order. Elements of American westerns were woven throughout with the bartender, the sheriff, the native people, the kindly doctor, etc. Showrunner Michael Piller liked the idea of a stationary Star Trek series because he saw it as an opportunity to make the effects of episodes long-lasting. Instead of a procedural, this could be a serialized program with ripples across seasons from storylines. Characters would not be part of a crew on an assignment but a community of disparate people forced to live together and learn how to survive.
Deep Space Nine also brought in the long-running conflict between the Cardassians and Bajorans that had taken place in The Next Generation. The Cardassian Empire had recently agreed in a peace treaty brokered by the Federation to end its occupation of Bajoran space. That doesn’t mean the conflict was over, and this animosity between the two peoples fueled many episodes of the series. Major Kira was a typically headstrong Bajoran who spent her youth as a freedom fighter trying to liberate the death camps run by the Cardassians. Joining her was Odo, a Changeling and seemingly the one of his kind. Odo had become the constable on DS9 and would head up many detective-themed episodes.
The main character of the pilot though, was Captain Benjamin Sisko, a Starfleet officer assigned to the station despite his apprehensions. He’s the most reluctant captain we’d seen up to this point, his story begins with tragedy. The series opens years earlier at the Battle of Wolf 359 when Captain Jean-Luc Picard was assimilated by the Borg. Picard as Locutus of Borg is responsible for the destruction of the ship Sisko was on and the death of his wife. Sisko holds this grudge ever since, and that emotional journey is the crux of the episode.
A wormhole opens in space and DS9 races to reorient itself closer to the anomaly before the Cardassians lay claim to it. A journey through the portal reveals that it connects to mysterious Gamma Quadrant. Sisko is kept from returning to the station on his trip back through and has an encounter with entities that live inside the wormhole. Through this encounter, Sisko is allowed to revisit moments from his relationship with his wife recreated from his own memories. The aliens don’t have a physical existence and, therefore, don’t understand the flow of time. The captain is forced to explain both the material aspects of human life as well as the emotional parts that come from being mortal.
This is definitely not the best episode of DS9 but sort of essential in setting up the premise of the show. It’s such a different show than the previous two that you have to start here to have an understanding of what is going on in future episodes. I don’t think Avery Brooks’ performance as Sisko holds up all these years later, which is sad. He’s definitely a stage actor and plays the role like he’s performing a play. I imagine he’s absolutely spectacular doing Shakespeare or something in that vein. Here, though, it can be pretty cringey at moments.
It’s ultimately a lot of table setting with the payoff not coming until later episodes. We get a cursory introduction to the additional cast members, but they remain in the background. Patrick Stewart guests as Picard, and it actually serves a purpose beyond just a handing over of the torch. Sisko’s arc is about him learning to forgive Picard and, from a broader perspective, let go of his wife and move past the pain of her loss.
Duet (original airdate: June 13th, 1993)
Written by Lisa Rich & Jeanne Carrigan-Fauci, Peter Allan Fields
Directed by James L. Conway
Duet feels like an excellent stage play about a Jewish Holocaust survivor confronting a Nazi responsible for harm to her people. That’s what the metaphor of the Bajoran/Cardassian conflict eventually became in DS9. For a while, on The Next Generation, the writers played with its connections to Native Americans being displaced or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But eventually, it worked best as a metaphor for the Holocaust and Nazi. Here the writers don’t hold back on the comparison much, and it ends up being a tense and compelling piece of television.
A freighter docks with a passenger needing treatment for a deadly condition suffered by those at a mining accident in one of Cardassia’s brutal labor camps. Major Kira assumes this is one of her fellow Bajorans only to discover it’s a Cardassian. Aamin Marritza is the man’s name, and he claims to be a clerk, working a desk job at the mining colony and not directly taking part in the atrocities. Kira refuses to believe his story, but Sisko and the other suspect she is allowing her anger over the injustices to cause her to target the man. The rest of the episode is essentially a two-person show, a tense back and forth with many revelations about identity and an ending that will ultimately surprise the viewer.
Nana Visitor, who plays Kira, has a perfect acting partner in Harris Yulin as Marritza. Yulin is one of the character actors you have seen in hundreds of television shows and movies, a veteran of stage acting as well. The structure of the episode is like a play, so Yulin’s experience in a confined space sparring verbally helps in building the tension of the story. The revelations about Marritza’s identity never come off as hokey, and the final moment is like a punch in the gut.
These were the sorts of episodes where DS9 shined, telling darker stories than we were used to seeing in the Star Trek universe. It helped differentiate the show from its predecessors and expanded the scope of what could be a Star Trek story. The early years of the show were still pretty fraught as it was finding its footing. It would take several seasons before DS9 came into its own, and we’ll be exploring that here for a few months.