Why Deep Space Nine is the best Star Trek series (In 5 Reasons)
If I could name the most underrated show in Star Trek history, I would point to a space station, located in a galaxy not too far away: Terrok Nor, or as the humans call it, Deep Space Nine. Not only is it host to a wide array of strange creatures, but also home to a Starfleet crew, newly settled and occupied with the arduous task of managing it.
At the helm is Captain Sisko, war-hardened from the loss of his wife at Wolf 359: a man dedicated to getting the job done at any cost, even when it means balancing his life as a commander with his status as holy “emissary” to the Bajoran prophets.
The complexity starts as baffling, and initially I found myself a little reluctant to watch. But as I dove deeper into the show I started to find something special and more unique than any other Star Trek series. Here are five reasons why I think it’s the best.
1. New themes, New Concept
DS9 had the novelty of trying something Star Trek had never done before: going into a completely new setting. The writers dispensed with the typical starship story of exploring new worlds and created Terrok Nor: a civilization in itself, full of new and exciting creatures.
They decided to place the focal point of the action right at home, rather than seeking out into distant space. The concept itself is much bolder, and larger than anything Star Trek had ever attempted at the time. When you consider the fact that the writers pulled it off for seven straight years, it adds ultimate kudos to the DS9 legacy.
It also widened the scope of the Trek universe. The station was not just home to starfleet, but also to various races and cultures. Terrok Nor was essentially a melting pot. On the Enterprise everyone dressed in uniform: and the Prime Directive was sacrosanct. Here, the writers decided to shake things up a bit. Ideologies, human, Klingon, Bajoran, Ferengi, Cardassian, and Changeling came clashing together. Not only was there the Prime Directive: there were the countless, quoted Rules of Acquisition, the word of the Prophets, Cardassian nationalism/guilt, and the rising tide of the Dominion.
Deep Space Nine took the liberty of going above and beyond classic Star Trek, while still keeping it Star Trek in nature.
2. More Diversity
Deep Space can boast the most unique cast of Star Trek characters, featuring Bajoran, Klingon, Trill, Ferengi, Cardassian (Garak) and Shapeshifter. From these different races came characters with a wide array of different backgrounds.
Kira was a resistance fighter during the Cardassian occupation. Hardened by war and oppression, she had a raw toughness unlike anyone else. With a warrior’s spirit, she made a fine fighter, as well as a great first officer. And, over the years, came to explore her tender side, through several romances, one of which included Odo.
Dax was the reincarnation of seven lives joined by a symbiont; like Kira, she was a fighter. Her toughness was matched by her charm and humor, and due to her past lives she had a wisdom far beyond her years. Unfortunately she met her end at the hands of series villain Gul Dukat. Ezri, the succeeding host, might have lacked a bit of her toughness but established herself as a sensitive soul, with every bit the charm of her predecessors.
Quark was the sneaky bartender always getting himself into trouble. Undeniably the comic relief, he showed that the Ferengi (though greedy at times) could be much more than slithering, sneaky shysters.
Odo was the always brooding, always grumpy shapeshifting chief of security who could morph himself into any form. Initially withdrawn and uptight, he came to embrace a more human side through “human” experiences: romance, heartbreak, self-discovery, and even being fully “human” himself at one point. He was the long arm of the law on Terrok Nor, expertly played by Rene Auberjonois.
Garak was an exiled Cardassian spy turned mild-mannered tailor. At times he pushed the limits of moral behavior, namely Sisko’s, in the series’ most unforgettable episode. Garak had a checkered past of violence and was willing to slither under the law in order to get what he wanted. But buried beneath this was a man suffering from trauma, both in war (as Season 7 revealed) and as a child abused by his father psychologically.
And Worf, well, we all know Worf. A Klingon in Starfleet uniform struggling with the conflict between culture and duty. Next Generation explored this duality, but Deep Space Nine took it a step further, through stories that delved into his identity as a Klingon. At times he was pitted against his race. At times he faced tragedy (Dax’s death). But Worf kept a warrior’s heart through all of this: walking the tightrope between Klingon honor and Starfleet duty.
3. Darker Premise
Deep Space Nine proved to be different when it decided to explore the darker elements of the Star Trek universe. For starters, we had the Cardassian occupation, a 50 year holocaust that saw the forced enslavement and murder of countless Bajorans. This theme was most appropriately explored in a Season 1 episode called “Duet,” in which the collective guilt of a people is encompassed in one man who witnessed war crimes and did nothing to stop them.
Later, the premise grew even darker with the Dominion War (Seasons 3–7), a battle between Starfleet’s finest and an intergalactic army of Cardassians, Vorta, Jem’Hadar, and Founders (shapeshifters).
We saw death.
We saw the horrors of war played out like never before on Star Trek.
We saw characters pushed to the edge.
More importantly we saw gray areas in places traditionally painted black and white. Honor does not always come before duty. The line was drawn on TNG: no crossing the Prime Directive. But Sisko was a man beyond the books. In DS9’s darkest episode he utilized pure deceit and, in the end, murder, to bring the Romulan army into the war (In the Pale Moonlight).
It was a tactic never before attempted by any captain that left us questioning the moral calculus of Star Trek as a whole. But it showed true humanity. Sometimes the heroes don’t always act heroically. Sometimes laws become secondary when the ends justify the means. And DS9 was never afraid to show that.
4. Serial Format
While other Star Trek shows mostly functioned on a episode-by-episode basis, DS9 was the first to change that and create a more consistent storyline. Plots build up for multiple episodes. And then culminate at the end of a season.
This made it feel more like a sci-fi drama than just a sci-fi adventure show. As the series got on, more choices had repercussions. Characters grew and matured. And the show extended its premise.
We got to see a final, 10-episode arc that satisfied in its conclusion more than any other Star Trek finale. More plot-drive means better focus and better direction. It follows the trend of modern television, where every hour leads to advancement, rather than simply a different story.
For Deep Space Nine this quality had the effect of drawing you deeper into the story. It enhanced the characterization by adding new layers of development. It made the show more believable as an epic, ongoing storyline.
5. The Religious Element
What started out in Season 1 as initially overbearing became a fascinating concept as the series matured. Sisko is a Starfleet commander, later captain, committed to duty. But he has the balance this role with his role as a demigod: the Bajoran emissary.
Star Trek has always been known for its humanistic tendencies. With Sisko we had a captain whose identity encompassed the moral wing of science and Starfleet, and the moral wing of spirituality. Similarly, that personification applied to the bad guys as well as the good.
In this we got to see the spiritual, as well as physical side of evil. In the end there were two battles: Starfleet and Dominion; Prophets and pah-wraiths. We got to see the hero and villain (Sisko and Dukat) take their respective roles in both places. In the end, you could say that Dukat became Sisko’s darker equivalent: a military leader whisked into the throes of a spiritual war between good and evil.
It was brilliant.
In a universe where science persistently trumps faith, we got to see the balance of them in Deep Space Nine. And a conclusion on both fronts, even if one did leave us with somewhat of a cliffhanger (spoilers).
Deep Space Nine isn’t likely to get its fair dues, except on forum pages. While The Next Generation was undeniably a classic followup to the Original Series with equally “classic” characters (Picard and the gang), Deep Space Nine gave us both story and characterization on a whole new level.
Defining Episodes to Watch:
- In the Pale Moonlight
- Call to Arms-Sacrifice of Angels Arc
- What You Leave Behind (Parts I and II)
- Far Beyond the Stars
- The Visitor
- The Way of the Warrior (Parts I and II)
- The Changing Face of Evil
- Past Tense (Parts I and II)
- Trials and Tribble-ations
- Improbable Cause/The Die Is Cast
- Necessary Evil
- The Search (Parts I and II)
- Homefront/Paradise Lost
- Take Me Out to the Holosuite
- In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light
- For the Uniform
- Hard Time
- It’s Only a Paper Moon