Chris Bouton: Encouraged by a Twitter conversation the other day about Star Trek, we (meaning David and I) decided to talk about our favorite Star Trek series: Deep Space Nine. Erin prefers Next Generation, but she’s not here today, so we’ll save TNG for another day.
I guess we can start with a simple question, what drew you to DS9 and Star Trek in general?
David Mislin: I started watching TNG when I was nine, in the 4th season. I think for me it was everything about the future…the technology was cool, but also the people were nicer and they got along
DS9 came on two years later and it just seemed natural that I’d watch it
I should say that initially I didn’t like DS9 for all the reasons I do now
the characters weren’t as likable, the future seemed bleak
Chris: My parents, especially my father, were big fans of Star Trek. We watched TNG and DS9 as a family. Probably the earliest TV memory I have is watching “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1” where Riker orders the attack against the Borg with Picard on board. “Mr. Worf (dramatic pause). Fire”
So it was natural for us to watch DS9. I didn’t remember much about the first 2 seasons or so until my wife and I rewatched the entire series a few years ago.
And like any TV show, I think those first seasons were choppy as they were trying to figure out what precisely the show was going to be.
David: Yeah, though I think season two had some of the series best episodes. “Necessary Evil,” “The Wire” and “The Maquis” all come to mind
Chris: The Maquis storyline always struck me as something that could’ve been a bigger deal. It just kind of came and went for a while. Had they been more interested in serialization at that time, I think it would’ve been.
But one that had a lot of fruitful storytelling potential
David: Agreed. Though at the time I liked how it was a thread on TNG as well. It mad e the shows feel connected in a way they often didn’t
Chris: Star Trek had presented Star Fleet as this idealistic organization living in a post-scarcity society. And the biggest threats always came from the outside (Borg, Romulans, those bug creatures from “Conspiracy”). DS9 moved away from that to suggest that maybe this society wasn’t as perfect as was made out to be.
Gene Roddenberry had a rule about not having interpersonal conflict between characters on Star Trek, well that takes away a whole rich vein of storytelling
David: Yeah. I’d like to revisit that point when we talk about TNG with Erin, but I’ve really come to the view that Gene Roddenberry was good at big picture vision, but he told really terrible stories.
And created really bland characters
Chris: Yeah, I mean those first season episodes of TNG which was Roddenberry and a lot of the old writers are really bad
DS9 made a point from the beginning to clearly define its main characters and identified the leads with some kind of trauma
Sisko’s wife had died. Kira had been a terrorist and now she’s a military officer trying to adjust to a new life
Since the station couldn’t fly through space and the holodeck could only break so many times, the tension had to come from somewhere else
David: Kira is a good case in point. I’ve often wondered what they would have done with her character if the show had been made after 9/11
having one of your central characters be a former terrorist is a really interesting device
Chris: Yeah, and it’s a thread that they returned to across the length of the series.
In season 7 she has to go teach her former oppressors how to be terrorists
That’s quite a change for the rougher edged Kira from the beginning of the series
David: Which again is something that I think DS9 did well
All of the characters really changed
Even Quark, who was initially little more than comic relief, had to contend with all sorts of moral ambiguity
Chris: Sisko at the beginning of the series is still very angry and mourning the loss of his wife. And he’s very reluctant about embracing his role as the “Emissary” and later on in the series, he’s putting that religious role ahead of his Star Fleet one.
One of the biggest differences between DS9 and the other Star Trek shows was its willing embrace of religion as a storytelling device
David: Yeah, it’s a very 1990s sort of religion though. Very much in the tradition of spiritual liberalism
With frequent attacks on fundamentalism
Chris: Yeah and the organizational leader of the Bajoran faith is a total fraud
David: Though that is a reflection on Winn being successfully manipulative, not because the faith is a fraud
the show went to great lengths to suggest the validity of the faith
Chris: Right, she was a fraud, not the faith itself
David: even if it had a naturalistic explanation. That’s one of the major differences between how DS9 handled religion and how TNG did.
Chris: Winn also highlights one of the other things that DS9 did really well
Creating multi-dimensional villains
David: Definitely. I think Dukat was the best exemplar of that. Though I’m not sure having him go off the rails toward the end of the show really served the character well.
For most of the series, he was the epitome of the banality of evil. The bureaucrat who’s always trying to pick the winning side.
In the final episodes, he became more of a cartoonish villain
Chris: Yeah, he descended from villainy to cartoonish super-villainy.
I think the “banality of evil” phrase is the correct one. Because he would be allied with the crew in one episode and then allying himself with the Dominion soon after.
David: There’s an episode where Sisko says to him “in other words, you saw which way the wind was blowing, and switched sides”. That was such a perfect description of the character.
Chris: There’s a great episode that highlights this really well–the one when he and Kira go in search of a lost ship that has one of her cell members on it and it was also carrying his half-Bajoran daughter.
They’re there for different reasons, and he and Kira have this joking moment together when he sits on a pike. Then he reveals that he’s there to kill his daughter lest he ruin his reputation.
David: I need to rewatch that episode. I’d totally forgotten about it.
Chris: And Kira threatens to kill him if he does. In the end, he doesn’t do it because his daughter says, my love for you has kept me alive and if you want me dead, I don’t want to live.
It’s the kind of character work that you didn’t get on TNG
David: Weyoun was another really good villain. He was never fully redeemed, but the defective Weyoun in one episode made for some great character development
Chris: Yeah, I loved that they would take essentially a 1 dimensional villain and give them shading
David: The character stuff also benefited from having a much stronger cast than TNG did. I’m sure Erin will want to dispute that with me.
Not just the regular cast, but also the recurring characters (of which there were a lot more)
Chris: Yeah, the recurring cast was a strength
David: Andrew J. Robinson as Garak
Chris: Garak was one of my favorites
He was right out of a John Le Care novel, down to his tailor shop.
David: What’s amazing about Garak, to your earlier point about shaky first seasons, is how they nailed his character right off the bat
in the second episode
Chris: Agreed, when I was younger I always wanted more Garak episodes.
Looking back, they probably used him the right amount. Too much Garak might have taken away from him.
He was also a nice contrast to the idealism of Star Trek. The shadowy operator who will do the things that others won’t.
Like kill a Romulan senator to get the Romulans into the war. His speech to Sisko in that episode is fantastic.
David: Yeah, I’m not sure what they could have done more of with him. By using him sparingly they could do the slow reveal.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the best episode of Star Trek ever made
Chris: It’s one of my favorites, the moral compromising that Sisko makes throughout the episode.
David: We’ve been talking a lot about the positives. What do you think are some of the mistakes the show made?
Chris: I never liked the Kira-Odo romance.
It seemed forced and the politics of it, looking back are kind of weird and stalkerish.
David: I think it’s inevitable that any show that’s on for that long starts to pair off characters. Like Worf-Troi on TNG.
I do think that Sisko-Yates is like the one, normal healthy relationship ever depicted in Star Trek
Chris: Yeah because she was treated seriously as a character and she often had the upper hand
I hated the mirror universe episodes
David: Agree. The first couple weren’t bad, but that was a well they went back to a few too many times.
Initially, they overused Worf when they added him, at the expense of other characters. But that got fixed by the fifth season.
But that bothered me for a time
Chris: Yeah it was a “Hey look, we have Worf!”
Everyone’s favorite honor-bound Klingon.
As I mentioned on Twitter the other day, I disliked the Ezri Dax character a lot.
The show never quite figured out what to do with her. It also undercut Dax’s death
She’s like Jadzia, but not.
David: So this I have to disagree with you about. I actually liked her. I agree that it undercut Dax’s death, but I was not a huge Jadzia fan and I thought Ezri was a more interesting character.
Chris: I rolled my eyes on the re-watch when she and Worf hooked up.
David: I think part of my issue with Jadzia was that they tweaked the character a few too many times. Unlike Kira, it seemed like the writers didn’t know what to do with her.
Chris: I would agree that she spent more time in the character wilderness than others, but I thought they balanced the wisdom of her previous lives with Jadzia’s intelligence and assertiveness.
Rather than bring back Dax, I wish they’d had introduced a whole new character or just not replaced her at all.
David: They didn’t need a new character
Anything you particularly disliked?
David: What would have been interesting would have been to bring on the Romulan senator from season 7 as a regular
Chris: Yeah, though they kind of killed her off in that episode when Bashir learns about galactic politics.
David: Right. Think how much better that episode could have been if we invested in that character
I think we covered my critiques. I guess I wish the show had done more story arcs. It’d have been cool if the whole series had been like the end of the seventh season
Chris: I’d end that DS9 had an impact leading to more hard-sci-fi in terms of storytelling. Ronald D. Moore, who worked on DS9, went on to create Battlestar Galactica, one of my favorite shows, that took a lot of these DS9 themes even further.