The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S4E16)’

“I am the Emissary.”
     -- Akorem Laan


Federation officers are not supposed to interfere with the internal affairs of other cultures. That’s not quite the Prime Directive, but it’s pretty close, and certainly a related concept. It’s a good policy to have when Starfleet is zooming around the galaxy in spaceships that basically have access to magic. I’m not joking -- the holodeck, replicators, and transporters all might as well be acts of gods, even for relatively advanced races.

With access to this kind of stuff, it would be pretty easy for the Federation to become a colonial power. Move in and be like, “Okay, we live here now, and everybody better be happy.” To force everyone around to drink the root beer, as Quark and Garak might say. In a lot of ways, the Borg is this version of the Federation, transforming everyone into super high-tech, shiny, happy zombies all working for the greater good of all.

What if Starfleet shows up, and the natives decide the captain is God? This is what happened to Sisko when he arrived on Deep Space Nine. Not technically God, but closer to a Muhammad figure, who while not divine himself is a representative of divine will. It’s tough to call him a prophet, since that’s what the Bajoran gods are called. He’s more an important figure in prophecy, someone who guides Bajor from a period of tribulation toward a new golden age.

Awkward, right?

How can you avoid being involved in a planet’s inner workings when you’re Space Jesus? (Yes, he’s closer to Muhammad, but I’ve been calling him Space Jesus too long to back out now.) This has forced Sisko to walk a truly weird tightrope, one more precarious than any captain before or since. Look at it this way: It’s Sisko’s mission to guide Bajor into the Federation. Sisko believes this is the right thing to do, because the Federation, for all its faults (and he sees this more clearly than any other Starfleet officer), is still utopia. If he woke up one morning and sent a message to Bajor that said, “Guys, join the Federation,” Bajor would do it.

And, Sisko would manage to succeed in his mission and fail the Federation. He can’t issue that order. He has to prod, and nudge, and maybe be a little passive aggressive every now and again. While dealing with a Quadrant in open war and another one breathing down his neck, it’s a lot on his plate.

So, he’s never been comfortable with this whole Emissary business. You could argue that this makes him the perfect person for the job. Reluctance to exercise power really should be the prerequisite to having it. This episode asks what would happen if he were forced to fight for this position he never really wanted.

When a crippled Bajoran lightship comes hurtling out of the wormhole with a crew of one, Sisko orders the possibly injured occupant beamed to sickbay. It’s Akorem Laan, a famous Bajoran poet from two hundred years ago who has been spending the last couple centuries chilling with the Prophets. Oh yeah, he’s also the Emissary, as he tells everyone as soon as he wakes up.

Sisko acts thrilled to have the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders, but it’s pretty obvious he misses it just a little. It’s tough being Space Jesus yesterday and then some other guy is Space Jesus today. Odo points out the flaw in logic in a conversation with Kira, wondering if Sisko never really was the Emissary, or if he somehow stopped being one. Kira responds by paraphrasing Thomas Aquinas: “That’s the thing about faith. If you don’t have it, you can’t understand it. And, if you do, no explanation is necessary.”

The big hiccup comes when Akorem learns that Bajor has abandoned their d’jarras, a caste system thrown aside during the Occupation. The d’jarras have never been mentioned until now, but this is a minor bit of retcon that makes perfect sense. After all, if you worship creatures that see the future, wouldn’t a caste system necessarily follow? They know what you’re going to do with your lives before you do it, and that includes generations of descendants. Of course, we learn in the end the Prophets could not give less of a f--k about the d’jarras, and this was something ancient Bajorans made up because even the heroic races in DS9 can be jerks sometimes.

Caste-based discrimination is illegal under Federation law, and for good reason. Bringing the d’jarras back means their application to join the Federation will be thrown out, and Sisko will have failed his mission. It also means poor Kira has to resign her commission and get to work being the worst sculptor alive, as she is part of the artist caste. It also means murder on the Promenade as the formerly sweet and rational Vedek Porta murders a fellow Vedek who is part of an unclean caste and won’t return to his birth-mandated duties of not being a Vedek. Dogs and cats seemed to have moved in with one another. We all know what’s next.

Sisko has an admirably simple solution: Go and ask the Prophets what they want. Pretty convenient at that. Imagine if you could discuss matters with your personal god by getting into your car and taking a short trip. The Prophets, unsurprisingly, back the man they call The Sisko. They don’t find Akorem’s key claim to the position all that compelling: that he was there “first.” Creatures living out of time don’t really get concepts like “first.” Makes their comment threads pretty bewildering.

They sent Akorem to Sisko for Sisko’s benefit, presumably to get him to do what he does in this episode, which is finally accept his position as Emissary. “You are of Bajor,” they remind him, drawing a clear connection between him and them (they are also “of Bajor,” remember). Akorem gets sent back to his own time -- where he is able to finish one of his famous, unfinished poems -- and Sisko can be who he was meant to be. He’s back to walking that tightrope, but at least now he knows it’s one he wants to walk.

The b-plot has absolutely nothing to do with the a-plot. It features the return of Keiko, back from Bajor and disrupting Chief’s bachelor existence. She’s also pregnant, which proves O’Brien is not a suspicious soul. Then again, I’d imagine DNA screening is ridiculously easy, and if the kid came out with nose ridges and an earring, it would be pretty clear the marriage was in trouble. On that note, Molly returns clutching a doll with obvious ridges, a nice nod to the sorts of toys she would be likely to get on Bajor. I, of course, instantly wondered if Molly would grow up to be weirdly self-conscious about her smooth nose.

The best scene takes place in Quark’s. Our favorite Ferengi bartender is oddly appealing when he sweetly reminisces about Nog as a toddler. “You know babies. Every little thing they pick up goes straight in their ears.” Worf, though, gets the funniest bit when his reaction to “Keiko’s having a baby!” is a panicked “Now?!” See, Worf delivered Molly, and though he is a fearless Klingon warrior, the last thing he wants to face is Keiko’s dilated cervix. If he has to flee halfway across the galaxy to avoid it, he will.

Keiko ends up seeing how her husband misses his pal, Bashir, and with a little scheming (that O’Brien sees through and thanks her for), puts them back together. It’s another quick note that I appreciate: Keiko and Miles as a real, married couple. They’re not perfectly matched, because people never are. They love each other and are willing to make sacrifices for the other’s happiness.

I’m halfway temped to come up with some half-assed commitment thread to connect the two plots, but forget it. They work just fine as part of the same hour, advancing both relationships between characters, and those between characters and their reluctant vocations.


Next up: Worf defies the Geneva Convention. Or does he? Dun-dun-duuuuuuun.

Go to top