Back on February 21st, I posted about getting the complete series of Deep Space Nine and said, “In the coming days, I may occasionally write up my impressions in some posts as I rewatch the series….” So, hundreds of days have come and gone but they’re still coming, so here’s a write-up of impressions. (Apologies for any Trek stuff I’ll misspell in these posts and apologies if I miss the happy medium between belaboring the obvious for watchers or being insufficiently explanatory for the non-watchers.)
“Emissary” is a double-episode premiere that is primarily about finding your place in life. One of the ways in which this is illustrated is by having Commander Benjamin Sisko constantly revisit the scene of his wife’s death and seeing alien-induced imaginary landscapes as stormy and unwelcoming while, for instance, happy Dax, the science officer, revisits her joining with her symbiont and seeing the same landscape as an idyllic summer day. It also takes a larger view of humanity as explorers through a fundamentally clumsy but sometimes effective device of having our temporally linear Sisko explain to some strangely non-omniscient yet non-linear aliens what our existence is like and how that makes us automatically explorers through time and space in everything we do. Meanwhile, it introduces or makes more detailed a new Star Trek setting, a couple of alien races, a fairly large cast of characters, and more. At this early stage, the plotting is sketchy (particularly in the dramatic crescendos) and the acting quality rises and falls intermittently (sometimes it’s a long fall – I can’t watch a bit of the beach scene between Benjamin and Jennifer) and it’s simultaneously slow, yet overly busy, but it’s a promising start.
So, to back up: the episode opens smartly with an FX-laden battle scene of Commander Sisko leading a ship into battle against the Captain formerly known as Picard, who has been turned into Locutus of Borg and is leading them against the Federation. While the Enterprises could always pretend to be on missions of exploration and thus not unreasonably have civilians on board, this was obviously a battle situation so why civilians like Sisko’s wife and small child are on board, I don’t know, but such is Star Trek. The wife is killed in the battle and Sisko’s ship is destroyed though he, Jake, and some others escape. This provides the foundation of Sisko’s character as explored in the episode and establishes the motives of some extremely prickly interactions between Sisko and Picard. After that bit of action comes the slow-pening credits, which have always bothered me as the all-time dullest. Next, the characters and milieu are all gradually introduced. The Cardassians have been exploiting Bajor and its subject population before abandoning it. The Bajoran provisional government has invited the Federation in, so they are taking over the Cardassian space station formerly known as Terok Nor and now known as Deep Space Nine. Major Kira is a Bajoran native and first officer/liason officer serving under Sisko. Odo is the shapeshifting foundling security chief who worked with the Cardassians when they were in charge and will work with the Federation now that they are. Quark is the Ferengi owner/barkeep of a gambling house. Dax is the joined Trill science officer who was friends with Sisko when she was an old man in her prior life but is now a beautiful young woman. Bashir is the egotistical doctor out to practice “frontier medicine.” And, of course, O’Brien is the engineer transferring over from the Enterprise.
Things pick up when Sisko meets with Kai Opaka who is sort of the Pope of the Bajorans who are a deeply religious people with a theology built around the Tears of the Prophets which have appeared around Bajor every thousand years or so over about ten thousand years. The Cardassians have rounded up all but one and are investigating them to see if they can find the so-called Celestial Temple so it’s imperative that the Federation beat them to it. (No explanation as to why time is so much of the essence when the Cardassians have presumably been at it for awhile.) With the advantage of the Bajoran historical records and Star Trek‘s magic computers, Dax is able to find the X on the space map and a wormhole opens up. Once inside what turns out to be a kind of celestial temple of aliens and their tech (which includes the wormhole), we have another FX-laden scene of travel inside and then meeting with aliens which has a lot of the same dynamics in relation to the general action that the Yoda scenes have in The Empire Strikes Back – kinda cool the first time, but kinda boring, and very boring later, but not without some germs of enduring insight and perspective. However, the Cardassians are on the hunt, too (with Gul Dukat commanding, who will become very prominent later), and Dax and O’Brien whip up some ST-technobabble and turn the space station into a sort of big slow spaceship, chasing a Cardassian ship to the wormhole. When that ship disappears into the wormhole and more Cardassians arrive and are annoyed with the defenseless space station, things get very tense. Ultimately, the situation is resolved and, rather than being a minor backwater, DS9 and Bajor are now in position to be a major hub of interstellar commerce and exploration.
- DS9 gets great credit for taking the worst Trek species ever in the Ferengi, and making them somewhat interesting and sometimes tolerable, especially with Quark, played by Principal Snyder, aka Armin Shimmerman. (Though they do over-use them over time.)
- I love that Picard gets to do the “straighten my shirt” thing twice in the first meeting with Sisko.
- The Sisko/Quark/Odo dynamics are set up wonderfully with a simple line to cap it when Sisko uses the imprisonment of Quark’s nephew as leverage on Quark to make Quark help the station. Odo ends the scene by saying of Sisko, “At first, I didn’t think I was going to like him.”
- Kai Opaka is brilliantly cast/played (though, alas, ultimately underused).
- There’s a nice Windows vs. Linux moment after O’Brien has fought with the computer which resisted doing what he intended to do to save the station because it was dangerous and “not recommended.” O’Brien says, “Computer, you and I are going to have to have a little talk.” Computers should do as they’re told!
- While there may have been some self-aware mockery (after the six billionth “What is this?” from the wormhole aliens, Sisko says, “I was afraid you were going to ask that.”) the wormhole aliens’ “What is this?” starts to put me in mind “What is this brain? Brain and more brain!” or whatever the line is in the worst TOS episode ever.
- It bugs me that Sisko originally expressed the idea that he might need to be replaced as he didn’t want the DS9 job and that, when he later changes his mind, he does it because he’s a changed man but it ought to look to Picard like he just didn’t want a crappy backwater job but, now that it’s an important one, he wants it.
Again, while the series didn’t catch fire for me until the Tosk episode, it’s a decent start.