I’ve been working my way through all seven seasons of Deep Space Nine on Netflix on-and-off for the past 10 or so months. Because a girl’s gotta have goals, right? And guess what? I finished it this past weekend!
DS9 was my dad’s least-favorite Star Trek series. In practical terms, this means that we never had any old VHS tapes of recorded episodes (complete with commercials) lying around the house when I was growing up, whereas with every other Star Trek series, we had quite a few of those (although not necessarily of very good visual or story quality — I recall watching an incredibly grainy version of “The Lights of Zetar” once upon a time), plus a bunch of actual purchased VHSs and DVDs, not to mention the tie-in novels and other such goodies. But DS9, nope. I’d never seen an entire episode of it until I started watching it on Netflix lo those many months ago.
So I have to say, given how low my expectations were set, DS9 was a million times better than I thought it would be, though it did have some notable weaknesses. It also had some really wonderful strengths, mostly due to it being more serialized than other Trek series.
Strength #1: Character continuity and development.
This wasn’t necessarily taken as far as it could have been — there are certainly plenty of standalone episodes that are never referenced again and never have major consequences for the characters — but often I was very pleasantly surprised to see elements that I thought were one-off concepts return and be developed in interesting and relevant ways. I’m not going to give specifics because *spoilers* but there are quite a few, especially surrounding Dr. Julian Bashir.
And then there’s the fact that the characters themselves are given arcs and journeys that genuinely change them, bringing them to entirely new psychological territory between the beginning of the series and the end of it. The standouts to me in this area are the aforementioned Dr. Bashir, and Nog, the young Ferengi. Bashir starts out as a cocky, motor-mouthed, frankly annoying manchild, and evolves into a serious, idealistic, genuinely charming dude. (I’ll admit, by the end, I was quite fond of Julian Bashir.) Nog’s transformation is even more extreme — he starts as a stereotypical Ferengi: scheming, manipulative, irritating, an overall no-goodnik. He ends as the first Ferengi in Starfleet, a conscientious officer, even a war hero, and it all happens in a slow and natural progression that is convincing to watch.
Strength #2: Two words: Kira Nerys.
I have such a mad crush on this woman that I intend to write an entire post about her alone. Stay tuned.
Strength #3: Interesting, multidimensional villains.
This area could be especially spoilertastic, so I’m not going to go into much detail. Suffice it to say, very few villains do not switch sides in some way at least once, and sometimes the good guys can go bad, or at least go rogue. And not in the typical sci-fi, possessed-by-aliens way. Real, voluntary choices made under conflicting pressures. Good stuff.
There are of course many more strengths — if you’re a fan of serialized plotting with a huge big-picture arc that spans an entire series, you’ve definitely got a lot to sink your teeth into in DS9 — but those are my faves.
Now, the bad.
Weakness #1: Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko.
I hate to say it, but it was almost always painful to watch Brooks onscreen. Throughout the series, he is wooden, has very little range of expression with his face, he makes strangely deliberate-seeming choices with his movements and facial expressions that rarely feel organic, but worst of all is the way he has the character speak. He pauses in odd places, huffs out some of his words, emphasizes others unnecessarily, and just overall sounds like a bad, scripted actor who doesn’t know how to make the lines sound like something a real person would spontaneously say. It’s unbelievably distracting. The show is infinitely stronger when it focuses on characters other than Sisko, or on plots so strong that even his involvement can’t trip them up too much (“In the Pale Moonlight” is an ep that comes to mind in that department).
Weakness #2: Mysticism.
This section is pretty spoilery, so skip it if you don’t want any of that.
The show basically invents its own religion, practiced by the inhabitants of the planet Bajor, surrounding aliens that live in the wormhole right next to Bajor and the Deep Space Nine space station. The aliens are referred to by the Bajorans as “the Prophets” and the more we interact with them during the series, the more it seems that they are built on the God-concept of “powerful but limited beings with unfathomable motives and little concern or understanding of the average person’s day-to-day life, but with influence over the big picture.” I understand that this is certainly a God-concept in plenty of religions, but I find it hard to believe that the vast majority of Bajorans would be totally cool with this, and that the population is so united religiously. Then again, in Babylon 5, every alien race is portrayed as having one major religion, so maybe it’s just a sci-fi trope.
The bigger problem with this God-concept, though, is that the rules and limits regarding The Prophets are so vague that the writers can pretty much do whatever they want with them. Over and over and over again. It often feels like a cheat, and makes me wonder if a better story could have been told without the religious/mystical angle, because having it at their disposal means the writers can essentially use magic to solve their problems when they feel like it, instead of coming up with complex and satisfying solutions.
Weakness #3: Ferengi.
…Yeah, Ferengi can be really annoying, and there’s a lot of Ferengi stuff on DS9. Surprisingly it’s not bad all the time. DS9 actually made a few Ferengi-centric episodes that I found enjoyable. Quark is multi-layered character, thanks largely to Armin Shimerman’s nuanced performance, and the writers did give some character development to characters who initially seemed like they’d just be walking punchlines, like Rom and Nog. But yeah, sometimes Ferengi are just REALLY ANNOYING.
Those are my main pet peeves about the show. They can interfere with the enjoyment of quite a few episodes, unfortunately, and often the show seems to be great despite them, not because of them. But the show at its best is great, and at its worst is still pretty darn okay.