“You are the dreamer... and the dream.”
-- The Preacher
Science fiction has always had the cherished position of being able to indirectly comment on the issues of the day. Star Trek managed to do it subtly, by having people of color as valued members of the bridge crew and even guest-starring as superior officers to the white hero. It also managed to do it a bit more clumsily, with that one episode where everyone is half-white and half-black. Star Trek’s self-appointed role as social commentator was vitally important, and illustrates what makes sci-fi not only valuable but necessary in the fabric of fiction.
“You know Morn, he never shuts up.”
Morn, the saturnine barfly, has been part of the show from the very beginning. Originally, he was little more than a distinctive extra in full-body makeup. In fact, some of the early publicity stills prominently featured him, as though to send the message that DS9 would evolve past TNG’s over-reliance on slightly different forehead wrinkles, featuring many more innovative (and expensive) alien designs. While this ended up being inaccurate, Morn had been indelibly imprinted on the consciousness of fans.
“Sometimes, life seems so complicated, nothing is truly good or truly evil. Everything seems to be a shade of gray. And then you spend some time with a man like Dukat, and you realize there is such a thing as truly evil.”
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko
Writers have no real control over how our work is perceived. We just sort of shove it out the door, pat it on the ass, and give it a “Good luck, kid!” Oftentimes, the reactions are unexpected. In some cases, villains are embraced as romantic leads (by predominantly female fans), their flaws excused, or handwaved away with a “Oh, I could change him.” This phenomenon is so widespread, TV Tropes even has a suitably evocative name for it: the Draco in Leather Pants.
“A child, a moron, a failure, and a psychopath. Quite a little team you’ve put together!”
-- ex-Liquidator Brunt
By the middle of the sixth season, viewers knew what to expect when a Ferengi episode rolled around. The writers had long used them as comic relief, a way to lighten DS9’s oft-referenced bleak tone. While many viewers objected (incorrectly, in my opinion) on the grounds that light slapstick has no place in Trek, Ferengi episodes were always a welcome break for me. The downside to this was that the entire race had devolved into a bit of a joke. From their original conception as the new Klingons, they had been turned into spineless and physically weak cowards, desperately trying to stab each other in the back for even the tiniest profit. The fall was precipitous.
“It’s not our place to decide who lives and who dies! We’re not gods!”
“Maybe not, but we’re the next best thing.”
-- Dr. Bashir and Jack
How many people are permissible to kill? Chances are, you said zero, because you’re a good person. But even now, you’re probably counting up the exceptions. What if someone was threatening a loved one? What if someone was in pain and would die in agony otherwise? What if you had to choose between killing a stranger and your own child? There are always reasons to kill.
“I couldn’t leave without saying hello to myself.”
-- Intendant Kira
The way I experience DS9’s Mirror Universe episodes is emblematic of the way I view the series as a whole. For the most part, my opinion of any one episode is fairly constant; if I liked it when it aired, I like it now. The major exception are the Mirror Universe episodes. I used to love those things. Like, seriously love them. Look forward to them every season. I was even mad that “Trials and Tribble-ations” -- you know, one of the consistently top-rated episodes in the entire series -- meant there wouldn’t be a Mirror episode in Season 5.
“We Klingons often tout our prowess in battle, our desire for glory and honor above all else. But how hollow is the sound of victory without someone to share it with? Honor gives little comfort to a man alone in his home. And in his heart.”
-- General Martok
Wedding episodes are a sure sign that a show is getting a bit long in the tooth. To loyal viewers, though, they’re nearly always welcome. As you’ve been living with these characters for several years now and their romantic entanglements have become bizarrely important. There’s a reason shipping is one of the most recognizable and ubiquitous forms of modern fandom. For a Star Trek show, wedding episodes give the unique opportunity to explore the marriage customs of an alien culture. And though these are distressingly hetero-normative (something that becomes more glaringly obvious as progress marches along in the real world), they are still a lot of fun.
“A true victory is to make your enemy see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place. To force them to acknowledge your greatness.”
If you want to understand Dukat (and I’ve taken to eliminating his rank, because at this point, he’s the de facto leader of the Cardassian government, and after this point he doesn’t really have a rank at all), the key is that quote right there. That explains pretty much every single action our favorite Space Hitler has taken since the beginning of the series, stretching into the backstory revealed in flashback episodes. His need to not only be right, but be acknowledged for it, makes Dukat a weirdly prescient creation, or else the rise of social media has made people like him far more visible.
“When I go home, it will be to Bajor.”
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko
Long-time viewers were probably disturbed a bit by Odo’s abrupt turn to evil last week. I know it disturbed me back when I was originally watching the show. Though Garak was my favorite character overall, Odo was always up there with Kira as my favorite among the regulars. So, to watch this man, who has never been anything but a paragon of justice, suddenly turn to tacitly supporting the Dominion’s tyrannical rule and condemning poor Rom to the firing squad was disturbing.
“I tried. I tried my best to run my establishment under this occupation. But, you know what? It’s no fun. I don’t like Cardassians. They’re mean and arrogant. And I can’t stand the Jem’Hadar. They’re creepy. They just stand there like statues, staring at you. That’s it. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing business with these people. I want the Federation back. I want to sell root beer again!”
As a young fan, I used to be frustrated about the lack of really alien-aliens on Star Trek. Oh sure, occasionally you’d get something like the black slime guy who killed Tasha Yar, or a good Janusian Horta, but nine times out of ten, you’re just seeing some guy with slightly different forehead ridges. They even stopped painting their guest stars bold colors, so we don’t get creations like Orions or Andorians. Of course, the reality is, they only have so much money and so much time to get actors into complicated prosthetics. At the end of the day, Star Trek aliens are mostly going to be roughly humanoid for purely practical reasons.