“Bloody Cardassians! I just got the damned thing fixed!”
This is the one pilot episode I dreaded writing about. Deep Space Nine is my personal favorite of all Star Trek franchise shows; a show that improved as we went along. I watched Ira Behr’s wonderful documentary, What We Left Behind, at the movies with an over-buttered popcorn tub in hand. I love the show and the characters. It worked on a much more interesting level than all of the other Star Trek shows. What destroys the pilot for me are Sisko’s interactions with the prophets, and the over-reliance on religion and “spirituality” dictated by the episode’s writers.
Let’s start at the very beginning…. It’s a very good place to start! Sisko has an ax to grind. He’s an angry man, but a devoted father. Wolf 359. Captain Jean-Luc Picard has been assimilated by the Borg to be used as the mouthpiece, Locutus, for conquest of humanity and the Federation. Sisko serves as First Officer aboard the Saratoga when the Borg attack. He orders the ship to be abandoned. He manages to save his son, Jake, but his wife, Jennifer, is killed.
One of the most memorable shots of the series is Sisko’s reflection in the window of the escape pod as he watches the Borg cube destroy his ship. Avery Brooks is an excellent actor. I don’t care what anybody says. Three years later, Sisko is assigned to administrate Deep Space Nine, originally a Cardassian mining station during the occupation, now under Bajoran rule. His second-in-command, Major Kira Nerys, is upset at the idea of another “occupying” force, in this case Starfleet, seizing power, but the Bajorans have only a makeshift government and Starfleet is there to flex their muscles, to keep the Cardassians out of their way.
Meanwhile, Jake is getting used to uncomfortable Cardassian mattresses, Miles O’ Brien transfers from the Enterprise, and Bajoran religious leaders want to audit Sisko. I wonder what his thetan levels are? You have only but to grab his ear! I’m totally into this. This is what I like. What bothers me is the perceived wisdom of theocracy, even though this is a strictly progressive religion. No one is forcing Bajorans to believe in the “Prophets.”
Sisko is required to attend a meeting with the venerable Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I enjoy Sisko’s seething hatred of Picard, even as he knows Picard was not responsible for what the Borg did to him, and then in turn, made him do. Bear in mind, Picard was just recently and needlessly tortured by the Cardassians. He is uncomfortable confronting Sisko’s anger, so he gets right down to cases.
The Bajorans need an effective military presence with this station to keep the Cardassians away. Sisko doesn’t know if he wants this assignment. Later, as Sisko greases Quark’s palm so that he’ll continue to operate his business on the station, new arrivals Dr. Julian Bashir and Jadzia Dax (“old” friend of Sisko from another body) come aboard. Julian is taken with the beautiful Jadzia, but I have to believe after 300 years as symbiont slug inside various Trill bellies, the rules of courtship have changed.
Kira takes Bashir to his infirmary and then gets angry at him for being excited about his new posting. Kira? Chill out, Honey. In early episodes, Kira tended to take out her anger on whomever happened to be within ear-shot. This is the closest we get to the over-the-top madness of “Encounter at Farpoint.”
The main plot point floating slightly above all of these other elements is the discovery of a stable wormhole connecting the Alpha Quadrant to the “Gamma” Quadrant. Sisko and Dax take a ship through the wormhole and are immediately beset by non-corporeal aliens, which Sisko can only assume are the “Prophets” the Bajorans speak of. This is where the episode comes to a complete stop for me.
Sisko has to educate these aliens on the mechanics of life, time, and death. The Prophets don’t play fair with him and drag him to the moment of his wife’s death because they’re convinced this is where Sisko lives. Sisko achieves an uneasy alliance with the Prophets, enabling the Bajorans to view him as the “Emissary,” and a powerful religious figure to boot.
While Sisko schools the Prophets, Kira plays chicken with a Cardassian fleet determined to re-take the station after Gul Dukat’s ship disappears inside the wormhole. This is a show that has its cake and wants to eat it too. It wants the “tinker bell” aspect of religion combined with hard science and military action, but with very few exceptions, the show stays away from the religion, as it should. It’s not a very promising beginning, but Deep Space Nine manages (almost miraculously) to overcome the deficits of this ambiguous pilot.