Star Trek, as we all know, is about a bunch of people traveling through space, exploring strange new worlds, and so forth. Or is it? Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is set on a space station, and although there are a few field trips in the course of the series, the bulk of the action takes place on board DS9 itself.
I think that there isn’t really a huge difference, practically, between setting the show on a space station and setting it on a space ship. There’s no reason that the two have to be presented any differently. However, the feeling I got watching DS9 is that there’s more focus on the characters–more time spent just seeing characters interact as the plot moves along. It’s been a while since I’ve seen DS9, though, so this may just be nostalgia; we’ll see how well my memory matches reality as I go through each episode. That said, let’s begin at the beginning.
The first episode of DS9 is a two-parter called “Emissary”. Like most shows, we’re introduced to a lot of characters, and given lots of hints about the backstory.
We meet Commander Benjamin Sisko, who is assigned to command DS9, but appears reluctant to do so. Sisko has a son, Jake, who also seems reluctant about living on the space station. Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, was killed during the attack at Wolf 359, and we see that Sisko has not forgiven Captain Picard for his role in it, when Picard gives Sisko his orders: as commander of the station, Sisko is to work to prepare Bajor to join the Federation.
Upon arriving at DS9, Sisko meets Major Kira Nerys, a Bajoran woman who is to act as liaison between the Federation and Bajor, and Odo, the chief of security on DS9, who is a shapeshifter. We also learn that Miles O’Brien, previously a member of the crew of the Enterprise, will join DS9 as chief of operations. Quark, a Ferengi, runs a gambling establishment, and although he had intended to leave the station, Sisko convinces (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘coerces’) him to stay. Later, Julian Bashir, the station’s chief medical officer, and Jadzia Dax, a friend of Sisko, arrive, and the main cast is complete.
In order to fulfill his mission to prepare Bajor to join the Federation, Sisko must attempt to stabilize the government. Kira opines that the only way that will happen is if Kai Opaka, a spiritual leader on Bajor, were to assist. So, Sisko heads to Bajor to meet with her, and she tells him that he will be the Emissary of the Prophets, the Bajoran gods. She shows him a glowing object she calls the Tear of the Prophets, which induces a vision of his past, when he first met his wife.
Nine of these ‘orbs’ have been found in Bajoran history, but eight have been stolen by the Cardassians. Kai Opaka fears that the Cardassians will seek out the Celestial Temple, the home of the Prophets, in order to control their power. She cannot help him to unite Bajor, she tells him, until the prophets have been warned of this danger. She gives him the orb, and he returns with it to DS9, where he sets Jadzia the task of finding the Celestial Temple. She, too, has a vision, of her joining with the Dax symbiont.
Dax discovers a pattern which suggests the Celestial Temple might be located nearby, and when they approach its approximate location, they are pulled through a wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. On returning through the wormhole, though, their runabout slows and seems to land inside the wormhole. Shortly thereafter, Jadzia is sent from the wormhole toward DS9, while Sisko remains trapped inside. Recognizing the value of a stable wormhole, Kira orders DS9 moved closer to it.
Inside the wormhole, Sisko is shown scenes from his memories, but the other people in his memories talk to him. He realizes that these are aliens that live inside the wormhole: Bajor’s Prophets. It becomes clear that the aliens are not corporeal and do not experience time in a linear fashion, and they are concerned that Sisko means to destroy them. Sisko spends a while trying to convince them otherwise and to explain the meaning of a linear existence, and in the process realizes that his existence isn’t quite as linear as he believed: that he has never really left the time when his wife died.
Ultimately, Sisko succeeds in convincing the aliens to allow passage through the wormhole, and returns to DS9, resolved to command the station, rather than return to Earth, as he had been considering.
Whew! Enough plot summary. Condensing a ninety minute story to a few paragraphs forced me to leave out quite a few things, but c’est la vie. Sisko’s conversation with the Prophets in particular merits some further consideration, and I intend to write more on that subject at a later date. For now, though, this post is shaping up to be quite long enough.
In this first episode, we see relationships between the characters that will continue to develop as the series goes on. At this juncture, Kira does not entirely trust or like the Federation, and her relationship with Sisko is strained; this will be revisited in the next episode.
The story, as is so common with introductions, feels slightly insufficient to fill ninety minutes–much time spent introducing the characters and situations, and not enough left for a really engaging story. However, I do like the time spent looking at the characters, so I don’t count this as too great a fault, and in any case I’m perfectly willing to be forgiving of this fault; there are precious few television shows that avoid this without committing some other, and often greater, sin.
It’s a forgone conclusion that I like these characters and believe that the series has promise–DS9 ended thirteen years ago, and I’ve seen all these before, but it’s still worth noting that in my opinion this episode serves as a good introduction to the series. It’s a pretty good mix of on-station and off-station action, we get to see most of the principal cast, if in little depth, and get a feel for the forces that will shape the first couple of seasons.
Following this episode, we may expect a series of episodes that offer us a chance to get better acquainted with the characters. Things won’t get too serious for a while yet, so for now we can just settle back and enjoy the standalone stories to come.