A lot has happened since I finished The Future Will Be Carpeted for this very website in mid-2017. What hasn’t changed is my abiding love for DS9 and my desire to have more of you join me in my fandom. The biggest hurdle for new fans is something I acknowledge even as the superfan I profess to be: DS9 gets off to a rocky start. Modern TV watchers aren’t going to stand for a 173-episode show that takes a long season to even start to find its footing. After all, there are eight million critically acclaimed shows we should be watching and another eight million trashy reality shows we actually want to watch. It’s tough to sell a show with the caveat that “Okay, the first season is mostly terrible, and it doesn’t really become great until the third season.”
But DS9 is worth it. Give it the time, and you’ll discover not just the best of Star Trek, but some of the best science fiction out there. Not only are the stories good, but it’s far ahead of its time when it comes to the issues it explores.
DS9 came at a strange time for television, right on the cusp of serialization, and so it wrestles with its overarching story. The upside is that if you’re only after the major storylines, you can skip a lot of the early episodes. This gets you over the hump as quickly as possible, and once Sisko shaves his head and grows the goatee, you know you’re into the good stuff.
This guide will let you know how to get into DS9 by providing a breakdown of each season's episodes ranked by viewing necessity. The loose categories (e.g., Watch, Optional, and Skip) go like this: Watch are the mythology episodes that tie directly into the major plots and character arcs on the show. Optional are fun episodes that don’t have much to do with anything, but are still a good time. Skip… you should know what that means.
Both the Ferengi episodes and the Mirror episodes have been put in the Optional category. While I like a lot of them, they don’t have any impact on the larger story. If you end up a fan of Armin Shimerman’s Quark and his extended family (How could you not?), go back and watch the Ferengi-centric episodes. “The House of Quark” is a contender for a top 10 episodes of all time list.
The Mirror Universe has no connection to the storyline whatsoever, but some of them are quite fun. Additionally, the Mirror Universe has become bizarrely important to the franchise as a whole. They’re almost better to appreciate as part of a larger story told across four (and presumably counting) series than they are as a part of DS9.
Okay, that’s enough hedging. Here’s your streaming guide.
YOUR GUIDE TO BINGEING STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE
Emissary, Past Prologue, A Man Alone, Battle Lines, Progress, Duet, In the Hands of the Prophets
These are the only ones you absolutely have to watch to get what’s going on. There might be dropped threads here and there, but this will give you an idea of who everybody is and what they’re doing here. The standout is “Duet,” which isn’t just the best episode of the season, it’s one of the best of the series.
Captive Pursuit, Q-Less, Dax, The Nagus Vortex, The Forsaken, Dramatis Personae
These are more of a mixed bag. “Q-Less” is entirely pointless, but if you wanted to see someone punch out Q, here you go. “Dax” gives you the first take on Dax’s character. “Captive Pursuit” is more fun to revisit once you know what’s on the other side of the wormhole.
Babel, The Passenger, Move Along Home, The Storyteller, If Wishes Were Horses
These are all pretty weak installments. Avery Brooks has been less than complimentary about “Move Along Home,” and the writers acknowledge that nothing really went right on it. While the villains can kind of be retconned into the Dominion, they don’t make a whole lot of sense in light of the later show.
The Homecoming, The Circle, The Siege, Cardassians, Rules of Acquisition, Necessary Evil, The Alternate, Armageddon Game, Shadowplay, Blood Oath, The Maquis Parts 1 and 2, The Wire, The Collaborator, Tribunal, The Jem’Hadar
You’ll note that the show is already getting better. The writers drop the first big hint about DS9’s ultimate direction in an innocuous Ferengi episode, and we start the struggle that will define the next five seasons in the finale.
Sanctuary, Whispers, Paradise, Playing God, Profit and Loss, Crossover
Some of these are legitimately excellent, especially “Whispers,” “Paradise,” and “Profit and Loss.” They just don’t tie into either the Dominion War or the troubles between Bajor and Cardassia.
Invasive Procedures, Melora, Second Sight, Rivals
“Invasive Procedures” is probably the only episode that gets retconned from existence, so that’s fun.
The Search Parts 1 and 2, Second Skin, The Abandoned, Civil Defense, Defiant, Life Support, Heart of Stone, Destiny, Visionary, Improbable Cause, The Die is Cast, Explorers, Shakaar, The Adversary
By now, the show understands that the Dominion is the central threat and begins to pivot in that direction, though stories about both the Cardassia/Bajor situation and the nature of the Prophets are vital for the eventual endgame. “Explorers” doesn’t follow that pattern closely, but I left it in largely for the Ben/Jake Sisko relationship which is vital for season four’s “The Visitor.”
The House of Quark, Equilibrium, Fascination, Past Tense Parts 1 and 2, Prophet Motive, Through the Looking Glass, Family Business, Facets
There are a ton of truly great episodes here. “The House of Quark” has nothing to do with anything, but is so good I nearly put it in Watch just because. The two-parter “Past Tense” is also ridiculously relevant and well worth the time. I put Dax’s two episodes here, as well, even though they’re both solid entries, they’re part of the Joran Dax story, which can easily be lifted from the narrative.
Meridian, Distant Voices
“Meridian” is the worst episode of the show, full stop. It’s god awful. “Distant Voices” isn’t terrible, but later revelations make it make less sense.
The Way of the Warrior, The Visitor, Hippocratic Oath, Indiscretion, Rejoined, Starship Down,The Sword of Kahless, Homefront, Paradise Lost, Crossfire, Return to Grace, Accession, Rules of Engagement, For the Cause, To the Death, The Quickening, Broken Link
Due to flagging ratings, the show gets a little shake up here, adding Worf to the cast. At the same time, the series takes a season-long detour into a war with the Klingon Empire. “Rejoined” is probably my favorite Dax episode, so I left it in, despite it having nothing to do with the larger plot. “The Visitor” is one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the show.
Little Green Men, Our Man Bashir, Sons of Mogh, Bar Association, Hard Time, Shattered Mirror, Body Parts
It killed me to leave “Hard Time” off the Watch list. It’s one of my favorites, goes darker than nearly any other episode did, and it’s an amazing showcase for Colm Meaney. “Our Man Bashir” is a trifle, but it’s a fun trifle and does a good job imbuing stakes into a goofy holosuite adventure. My chief objection is with “Sons of Mogh,” and it’s the one place where DS9 suffers from a bad case of values dissonance, prioritizing life over consent.
Jake’s writing career was a tough nut to crack, and the writers, being writers, wanted to try. “The Muse” has some interesting ideas, but none of them are executed well.
Apocalypse Rising, The Ship, Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, …Nor Battle to the Strong, The Assignment, Trials and Tribble-ations, Things Past, Rapture, The Darkness and the Light, The Begotten, For the Uniform, In Purgatory’s Shadow, By Inferno’s Light, Doctor Bashir, I Presume, Ties of Blood and Water, Soldiers of the Empire, Children of Time, Blaze of Glory, Empok Nor, In the Cards, Call to Arms
This is a truly great season. I left “Trials and Tribble-ations” in, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with anything. It’s the most famous episode (with good reason) and an ideal place if anyone wants to check out a single hour of the show.
The Ascent, A Simple Investigation, Business as Usual, Ferengi Love Songs
These are all solid episodes, but they have less to do with the main narrative.
Let He Who is Without Sin…
Our first glimpse of famous pleasure planet Risa. Nothing in this episode works, from Quark being creepy to Worf briefly joining a fundamentalist sect.
A Time to Stand, Rocks and Shoals, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines, Favor the Bold, Sacrifice of Angels, You Are Cordially Invited…, Statistical Probabilities, The Magnificent Ferengi, Waltz, Far Beyond the Stars, One Little Ship, Change of Heart, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night, Inquisition, In the Pale Moonlight, His Way, The Reckoning, Valiant, The Sound of Her Voice, Tears of the Prophets
This is probably my favorite season of the show, and it features my favorite Trek episode of all time “In the Pale Moonlight,” the best and most essential Ferengi episode “The Magnificent Ferengi,” and the sailing of my very first ship with “His Way.” “Far Beyond the Stars” was one of those that, although it has nothing to do with the larger narrative, is so good I had to leave it in.
Who Mourns for Morn?, Honor Among Thieves, Time’s Orphan
I feel kind of bad I picked two Chief episodes, but they’re among the weaker ones. If you like Keiko, and, hey, who could blame you, watch them. “Who Mourns for Morn?” isn’t well respected by the cast, but I’m a fan.
Resurrection, Profit and Lace
“Resurrection” features my least favorite cast member coming back after I thought we were free of him. “Profit and Lace” isn’t just bad; it’s horribly offensive and pretty much destroys the concept of Ferengi episodes.
Image in the Sand, Shadows and Symbols, Treachery, Faith, and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558, Covenant, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, Penumbra, ’Til Death Do Us Part, Strange Bedfellows, The Changing Face of Evil, When It Rains…, Tacking Into the Wind, Extreme Measures, The Dogs of War, What You Leave Behind
The writers were lucky enough to know season 7 was the end, and they went for it. The final ten episodes of the show amount to a ten-parter, something unprecedented in television at the time. It’s a staggering achievement, and if you stuck around, you’ll want to see how this ends.
Afterimage, Take Me Out to the Holosuite, Chrysalis, Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak, Field of Fire, Chimera, Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang
The show was stuck with an impossible choice at the beginning of season 7: Either let the show be whittled down to a single woman on the cast, or throw a brand new character into the mix. They went with the latter, and in the process I think got a better handle on the relationship between a Trill host and their symbiont. Ezri Dax is an interesting character, though her episodes are flawed and feel strange in the larger context of the final season. I’ve placed them all here as Optional, but if you’re a fan of the character or of Nicole de Boer’s quirky performance, check them out. “Field of Fire” is a sequel to “Facets” and “Equilibrium” in its way.
The other episodes are the one-offs and comic relief. You get the wrap up of the Mirror Universe, a couple holosuite adventures, and the introduction of another Odo-like Changeling. Fun and worthwhile, though not strictly speaking necessary.
Deep Space Nine is a product of its time—one look at the costumes will convince you of that—but it shouldn’t remain in the past. It’s exciting, thought-provoking, diverse science fiction. I can only hope that this viewing guide gets potential watchers past the trepidation of wrestling with 173 hours of TV to join me at my favorite space station.
And when you’re done, you’ll be sad that there are only 173 hours to watch.