When I was a little kid this Deep Space Nine cast picture was on a poster on my bedroom door. I was ten when my family moved to a tiny island and, among the changes, there was no cable TV. I owe my older sister big-time for taping DS9 and Voyager in the city and mailing them to me.
Coming back to watch Deep Space Nine feels like coming home and even though I watched those tapes until they nearly broke, I’m noticing a lot of stuff I didn’t notice before, starting right off the bat with the series premiere.
There’s so much packed into the two hours that make up the episode that I can’t give a play-by-play but will pick out some of the highlights.
Right away, we can tell Benjamin Sisko is going to be a complex character. When he arrives on DS9, with his son Jake, he’s reluctant. In the first scenes we saw his wife, Jennifer, killed at Wolf 359 as the Federation fleet was routed by Locutus of Borg. It’s clear he and Jake are still grappling with that reality.
The first main character they meet is their Chief Engineer, and hey, it’s Miles O’Brien, which is pretty great! Miles takes Sisko and Jake to their quarters. Jake is pretty whiny and petulant about the whole roughing it in deep space thing, thereby giving one of the most realistic representations of a teenager on Star Trek to date (though the bar was pretty low). Sisko sets Jake straight but in a loving way, poking fun at him to try to cheer him up.
Next, Sisko wants to meet their Bajoran attaché, Major Kira.
“Sir, have you ever served with any Bajoran women?” O’Brien asks as a way of warning him that he’s about to get yelled at. Pausing for a moment to look at this question, O’Brien is probably supposed to be drawing on his experience with Ro Laren, but when we get further into the series there are many Bajoran women (including Kai Opaka, Leeta and even Kai Winn) who defy the stereotype O’Brien seems to have picked up. There’s certainly no evidence in the show to support the idea that Bajoran women have any more of a chip on their shoulder than Bajoran men.
But O’Brien is right about one thing: Kira is indeed, very angry when Sisko shows up. “I have been fighting for Bajoran independence since I was old enough to pick up a phaser,” she says.
She’s understandably wary of the Federation as potential new occupiers of Bajor, which has only just ridden itself of the Cardassians. Instead of Sisko shouting at her or belittling her concerns, he is firm but respectful, reassuring her “the Federation is only here to help.”
So far I am digging Sisko’s style. He’s firm in knowing what he wants to happen, but understanding that his crew (and his son) have their own thoughts and feelings that need to be negotiated.
As for Kira, she comes across a bit over-the-top to begin with, but by the end of her second scene, where she and Sisko clean up rubble on the promenade, she’s becoming a more nuanced character and it’s clear that her anger has come from the terrible things she witnessed during the Cardassian occupation of her planet. It’s also clear that she’s smart and deeply principled.
Next, Sisko meets with Kai Opaka, Bajor’s reclusive spiritual leader. She is a non-stereotypical woman character: a wise woman who commands the respect of an entire planet.
She believes Sisko is the “Emissary” who is foretold in Bajoran prophecy. She feels Sisko’s pagh, which basically means grabbing his ear, and pronounces: “One who does not wish to be among us is to be the Emissary.” Sisko is pretty skeptical but he follows Opaka to an orb called The Tear of the Prophets. After reliving the first time he met Jennifer, his now-deceased wife, Sisko is retuned to the Kai and learns that he must study the Tear of the Prophet and find the Bajorans’ “celestial temple” before the Cardassians do.
The next main characters we meet are Bashir and Dax. The over-eager Bashir wastes no time asking Dax out on a date, somewhat awkwardly. Sisko takes Dax aside to go study the orb and he seems to be a bit territorial or at least not sure how to relate to her now the Dax symbiont is in a young woman’s body instead of an old man’s:
Sisko: He’s a little young for you, isn’t he?
Dax: He’s twenty-seven, I’m twenty-eight.
Sisko: Three hundred twenty-eight, maybe. Did you tell him about that slug inside of you?
Dax: Yes, but Benjamin, he knows I’m a Trill. He finds it fascinating. He’s never met a joined species before.
Sisko: I wonder if he’d’ve been as fascinated if you still looked the way you did the last time I saw you.
Dax: Perhaps not.
Sisko: *whistles* This is going to take some getting used to.
Dax: Don’t be ridiculous. I’m still the same old Dax. More or less.
I absolutely adore the next scene. Bashir is being insufferably egotistical and smug, bragging about how he had his choice of any job in the fleet but chose this one so he could practice “frontier medicine”. But Kira doesn’t hesitate to bring him down a peg or two.
Bashir: I didn’t want some cushy job or a research grant. I wanted this. The farthest reaches of the galaxy. One of the most remote outposts available. This is where the adventure is. This is where heroes are made. Right here, in the wilderness.
Kira: This wilderness is my home.
It’s the perfect caution to Bashir’s idea that Starfleet officers are merely benevolent explorers. Like the “explorers” in Earth’s past, there were other people there on the “frontier” first and it was not so benevolent to assume the explorers knew best.
Part I ends with Sisko and Dax making a run out to the Denorios Belt, now under pressure from the Cardassians, who know something’s up. It’s pretty epic that Dax manages to figure out where to go to locate the “celestial temple” after only a few hours of research, when the Cardassians have been working on the problem for years.
When they get to the Denorios belt they are sucked into the first stable wormhole known to exist. On the way back, something in the wormhole scans them, transports Dax back to DS9, and keeps Sisko behind…
To be continued…
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail