When I first heard about a new spinoff Star Trek show that was going to be premiering in January of 1993, I really didn’t think much of it. The Next Generation was still going strong at that point and quite frankly, I wasn’t all that interested in a Star Trek show that wasn’t about the voyages of the starship Enterprise. That was what Star Trek meant to me and what separated it from other sci-fi shows. Without the name of the ship that had captured my imagination from the age of 5, a Star Trek show would not have that magic. I would simply keep on watching TNG. That is indeed what wound up happening over the next two years, but as I was fresh out of high school, had just entered the workforce and was preparing to enter my first semester of college, I decided to at least check out the pilot; if nothing else, to see what Chief O’Brien was going to be moving on to.
The character of O’Brien had gone through a very satisfying metamorphosis from being just an extra in the background to a regular fixture in the transporter room. By the fourth season of TNG, he had become popular enough to gain a first and middle name and a new wife named Keiko. And by the fifth season of TNG, was a family man and as much a member of the team as the regular cast; so it was extremely gratifying to me that this new show sported “Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien” in its main cast. I thought it was well-deserved.
Patrick Stewart’s role of Captain Picard/Locutus of Borg would be seeing off this new show, and I loved how it introduced the new show’s lead, one Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) on the bridge of the U.S.S. Saratoga at the Battle of Wolfe 359! There we saw that battle actually played out for the first time, and we saw that Sisko’s wife was among the many casualties.
It was a tremendously spectacular beginning for this new pilot.
Along the way, we meet the other characters of the new show, learn some of the politics and discover the galaxy’s first stable wormhole.
All of this was all well and good, but during this time, O’Brien was the only character I was truly invested in. He was the anchor from TNG to this new show and quite honestly, I wouldn’t have complained if the entire show had focused on him. I especially loved the scene where Picard grants O’Brien permission to disembark and beams the Chief to his new assignment- from Transporter Room 3. Picard is like a proud parent watching one of his “kids” go off to college. (Mirroring my own Dad’s feelings about my own journey to college, I wondered.)
Then the Enterprise left the station, leaving O’Brien, Sisko and these other new characters to either shine or fail on their own. They were an interesting bunch: a former Bajoran freedom fighter, a shapeshifter, a Trill science officer, the Commander’s son, a cocky young fresh out of the med-school doctor and …a Ferengi?!?! On top of that, instead of being assigned to a starship and going places to explore, they were assigned to a space station that didn’t go anywhere and the action would have to come to them! I really did wonder how this show would find it’s footing.
Then the wormhole is discovered, and Sisko must communicate his intentions to the non-physical and non-linear beings who inhabit it. They seem to be threatened by humans’ violent nature and say he must be destroyed and in order to survive, Sisko must make the case for humanity and our linear existence.
This is best shown when Sisko is put into the physical context of a baseball game, his favourite sport that he loves to play with his son. He tries to explain the rules to two of these wormhole aliens who assume the form of the batter Sisko is pitching to and the form of his son, Jake, as a catcher. But they do not understand. And then comes the following speech:
“Oh…the rules aren’t important. What’s important is…it’s linear!
Every time I throw this ball, a hundred different things can happen in a game. He might swing and miss; he might hit it. The point is, you never know. You try to anticipate, set a strategy for all the possibilities as best you can, but in the end, it all comes down to throwing one pitch after another…and seeing what happens. With each new consequence, the game begins to take shape.”
“And you have no idea what that shape is until it is completed.”
“That’s right! If fact, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.”
“You value your ignorance of what is to come?”
“That may be the most important thing about understanding humans. It is the unknown that defines our existence. We constantly searching, not just for answers to our questions, but for new questions. We are explorers. We explore our lives, day by day, and we explore the galaxy, trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge, and that is why I am here; not to conquer you with weapons or ideas, but to coexist and learn.”
I was truly impressed. What a terrific metaphor for life! There was no doubt that the writers of this show were really trying. And best of all, they were staying true to the spirit of Star Trek, with a pilot what was right up there with “The Cage” in cerebral ideas and that good old Roddenberrian optimism.
Sisko mourns the loss of his wife, forgives Picard, and accepts his new assignment and all the challenges it will entail with gusto. I really liked this character.
But… I was going to be working and studying now and no longer had time for such things. I would not be a regular viewer of Deep Space Nine during its initial run. Nor would I be catching very much of seasons six or seven of TNG. I was 18 years old (I would turn 19 two months later), now legally an adult and trying to assume some semblance of adult responsibilities and salvage some future for myself in the wake of being disqualified from the Air Force for a benign heart condition.
I honestly didn’t think then that DS9 would have as long of a run as TNG, despite my being really impressed with “Emissary.” I just didn’t think the premise of exploration from a space station would hold for that long.
My father would continue to watch and tape the show, just as he had reruns of Classic Trek and TNG during their runs, and I would occasionally watch one with him. After Generations hit the movie screens, Worf eventually joined the show as well, and the show found its footing with the Dominion War arc. Among the episodes I liked were “Duet”, “The Maquis” two-parter, “Explorers”, “The Visitor” (which moved me like few things ever had), “Far Beyond the Stars” and of course “Trials and Tribble-ations.”
Years later, when all seven seasons of the show were readily available on Netflix, I finally had the chance to binge-watch all seven seasons of this show…and felt truly inspired. There were SO many more good episodes that I had never seen that touched on a lot of issues people face in many walks of life, and the toll taken on soldiers who fight and defend what they love in a war. Some might say that a war story is not what Star Trek should be about, but it is a real issue that people do face, and I can’t think of very many shows that did it better.
They faced challenges, moral dilemmas, had to compromise their principles more than once and suffered tremendous losses, but through it all, they continued to endure. Star Trek is about so much more than simply the voyages of the starship Enterprise, it’s about all of us!
A new kind of Trek magic began 25 years ago.
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