Deep Space 9 White Album
So with the seemingly endless presence of Star Trek on Netflix, it’s never been easier to engage with the iconic fictional universe. I myself had never really delved into it; I understood it mostly culturally as the nerdier Star Wars.
And while it definitely can be inscrutably self referential, the various series all have value (yes even enterprise). But for my money, Deep Space 9 is the best and most worthy of revisiting. Next Gen and original series have the more iconic characters, but DS9 has something none of the other series had: an overarching story.
It took the series a little while to get there, with the first season being a noticeable slog, but it eventually bloomed into the kind of long form television storytelling that we take for granted now a days. The story is of Captain Sisko having to juggle interplanetary politics with a whole new section of the galaxy accessed through a stable wormhole. Or put another way, he’s the administrator of the busiest inter-space border post.
A friend of mine asked for the “Essential DS9” episode list; only the episodes that relate to the overall story, all killer no filler. I thought that would be a useful resource of anyone looking to get into the series.
So here’s the cream of the crop for season 1, the worst season of DS9. Star Trek series have a solid record of bad first seasons.
Episode 1- Emissary
A two part opener for the series. Not necessarily a brillaint series of episodes, but sets up all the characters and what the status quo will be the series. Its also a solid exploration of trying to communicate with higher dimensional beings. The “Prophets” are 4th dimensional aliens that exist inside the super valuable stable wormhole and Sisko has to figure out how to explain linear time to them. His solution? Baseball metaphors.
Episode 3- Past Prologue
Another mid tier episode. The A-B plot format is still alive and well at this time in television history. Main plot deals with the Bajorans, the people who technically lay claim to the wormhole, since the aliens inside it are their gods. More importantly for the show is the introduction of side character Garak, a former spy played brilliantly by Andrew Robinson. A character for whom the term slippery was invented and is one of the best characters on the show.
Episode 7- Dax
A trial episode. The character of Dax had a rough start on the show, but would eventually become amazing. And the central idea of transferring memories between different people through a symbiotic slug is fascinating. And yes, Dax was the character in the DS9 episode about lesbians.
Episode 10- Nagus
The Ferengi were mostly used as comic relief throughout the series, but they get a handful of interesting episodes. This is the first exploration of their culture beyond “greedy, possibly offensive Jewish stereotype”. The more things that differentiate the Ferengi culture from god’s chosen people, the better. Also has Wallace Shawn, who shows up about once a season.
Episode 12- Battle Lines
This episode PROBABLY should have come much sooner in the season, as it deals with the Bajoran “pope” making her first trip through the holy wormhole. Naturally things don’t go well and we get some space shenanigans in the Gamma Quadrant. Surprisingly good one shot sci-fi idea, but the main value of this episode is the effects it has on Bajoran politics going forward.
Episode 14- Progress
I’m a bit of a fibber; this episode doesn’t really have an affect on the ongoing series. But its two solid stories that reveal a lot about the characters and are just good fun to watch. You become intimately familiar with Bajoran politics over the course of this series, so its important to spend some time with them. Also, Jake and Nog are friends and its fun.
Episode 18- Duet
Another stand alone episode, but FAR too good to skip. The Cardassians (no not those) occupied Bajor and were in the middle of grinding their culture into the dust before the Federation stepped in and ended the occupation. This episode is about the potential trial of a Cardassian who slaughtered thousands of Bajorans in his labor camp. But its not quite what it seems. Tour De Force for Kira who was a little uneven at the start of the season.
Episode 19- In the Hands of the Prophets
For a weak first season, the last two episodes are spectacular. A solid murder mystery tied up with religious debates on the station all converge for a blow out that really tests the crew. Also introduces Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratchet) to the cast as a Bajoran religious leader angling for the role of space pope. Her performance is right in her passive aggressive wheel house and she makes a great addition to the extended cast.
Episode 13 “The Story Teller” isn’t that good, but it serves the same role as Progress; setting up the Bajoran culture. And the B story is cute.
Episode 9 “Move Along Home” is HORRID. Its amazingly, stupidly, gloriously cheesy and you just feel bad for all the actors involved. Its kind of wonderful. If you like cheesy bad sci-fi or are in the mood for riffing, this episode can definitely scratch that itch.