“Sentiment is the greatest weakness of all.”
-- Elim Garak
From the writers’ perspective, the story of the fifth season has been getting DS9 back on track. The fourth season was designed to bring in new viewers, and it did that by becoming more like other Trek installments, pushing the Dominion into the background in favor of the more recognizable Klingons. At this point, the brass was well and truly concentrating on Voyager, either pleased with the increased viewership of their odd stationary offspring, or resigned to the modest audience they already had. When I watched DS9 for the first time, week-to-week, I could not have been more happy that we were back to the good stuff. Especially because they decided to kick off the Dominion War in a two-parter, that a) prominently featured my favorite character and b) was a direct sequel to my favorite episode(s) of season 3.
“I think it’s time for me to become the villain.”
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko
If there’s one thing any study of history will teach you, it’s that terms like “hero” and “villain” are largely a matter of perspective. Sure, there are outliers (pretty much entirely on the villain side) who most non-sociopaths can all agree were bad, but, for the most part, one culture’s noble defender of freedom is another culture’s bloody handed madman bent on destruction.
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
-- Dr. Mora Pol
It was inevitable that DS9 should be more preoccupied with family than any other Trek property before or since. Familial relations are important, and the stationary setting and serialized elements guaranteed the writers would explore the family trees of their vast array of characters. Sisko’s relationship with Jake is central (though thankfully never overpowering) to the show, and Sisko’s father is a welcome, if infrequent, presence. Quark’s brother and nephew are nearly regulars, and even his mother reoccurs. Gul Dukat mentioned his family on Cardassia, and his half-Bajoran daughter is an important character. Kira’s family history will be explored in an upcoming (and crushing) episode. The O’Briens are the most realistic married couple on television. Eventually, we even get into consummate mystery man Garak’s family.
“He wanted to protect the innocent and separate the darkness from the light. But he didn’t realize the light only shines in the dark. And, sometimes, innocence is just an excuse for the guilty.”
-- Major Kira Nerys
As much as DS9 was, if not directly influential, certainly a harbinger for what television would become over the following decade, there is one thing it did that would never be done today: one of the main characters, the defining heroine, is a terrorist. While a show anchored by a terrorist is a natural fit in the era of the conflicted anti-hero, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine one getting such sympathetic treatment, and one being a woman. With very few exceptions (such as with the transcendent ‘80s spy show The Americans), morally questionable behavior is confined to male characters.
“I knew we were headed for trouble the minute he allowed the Bajorans to call him Emissary.”
-- Admiral Whatley
You can’t fire Jesus, no matter how many shenanigans he pulls. That’s the take home message for Starfleet at the end of this week’s episode. If Bajor is going to join the Federation, they’ll only do so because they believe the local Starfleet representative, Captain Ben Sisko, has a direct line to the Prophets. All the available evidence says this is pretty much true. Sisko is the one who explained linear time to the aliens who live in the wormhole (using baseball as a metaphor, which helps make it the most versatile of sports) and since then he’s enjoyed a special bond with them.
“My brother will get the bar. My nephew will be completely corrupted by the Federation and become a Starfleet captain. And, my bones will lie here and freeze, unsold, and unmourned.”
Back in the ‘90s, we didn’t have the word “frenemy,” but if we did, we might have known how to describe Quark and Odo. That might not even be accurate, as “frenemy” implies an outward friendship masking a deeply passive aggressive rivalry, while Quark and Odo have the exact opposite dynamic. It’s strange to say it, but those two might be the closest thing either one of them has to actual friends.
“Anyone who lived through the Occupation had to get a little dirty.”
-- Major Kira Nerys
Odo was DS9’s first breakout character. Following the patterns of previous outsiders Spock and Data, Odo was a keen observer of human nature, but as often baffled by it. Unlike them, he had a mysterious backstory that abruptly turned tragic, and a deeper connection to his emotions than the other two. The writers smartly modified Odo so that while he fit a broad type in the Trek canon, he didn’t feel like he had emerged from a replicator. The only problem was, he had a massive inconsistency baked right into the character.
“Do not hug me.”
-- Lt. Commander Worf
In the old days, when I wanted to get a friend interested in DS9, I would write up a viewing guide. Most people, when faced with a series this long, will understandably give up in the doldrums of the first season. Generally speaking, I advised them to skip vast swaths of Season 1, decent chunks of Season 2, and worst episode ever “Meridian” from Season 3. After that, I would tell them, is smooth sailing.
“Tell me, do they still sing songs of the Great Tribble Hunt?”
-- Constable Odo
DS9’s fandom is often characterized by our defensiveness. It’s because our favorite corner of the Trek universe generally gets ridiculed, with it taken as a given that TOS, TNG, and in some extreme cases even Voyager, are somehow superior. While the vast majority of DS9’s run was dismissed as “that show where they never go anywhere,” one hour was recognized, even as it aired, as great. This one.
“Strange, these corporeal bodies of yours. So fragile. Burst even a tiny blood vessel in the brain and every memory, every passionate emotion, gone forever.”
-- The Pah-wraith
It’s been nearly twenty years and I still don’t know what I think of the pah-wraiths. DS9’s attempt to add demons into the mix has never quite sat comfortably with me. The hard SF fan in me wants things to make sense in a non-supernatural way. The thing is, a) what am I doing watching Star Trek then, and b) the pah-wraiths do make sense in a non-supernatural way. They have the feel of the paranormal to them, and despite that being an element of Trek from the very beginning, it always makes my skin crawl as I imagine myself defending it to a skeptic.