Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Emissary, Parts 1 & 2

A runabout heads for the wormhole.
This "wilderness" is my home. -Major Kira Nerys

You can see right away that they're breaking the rules. It's almost as if, in this pilot episode of Deep Space Nine, Berman and Piller are trying to emphasize what different things they're doing which diverge from the usual path of a Gene Roddenberry universe. This isn't a parallel world. It's an unexplored growth of the same world. At times this treatment can be heavyhanded; at others, it works extremely well. Of course, any pilot is really struggling to figure out its identity; I'm pretty sure even Buffy didn't really solidify until the second half of the second season.

Warning: this may be a tad longer than the usual post. There's a lot going on here, and the episode's a two-parter (which the Gods of Netflix have joined into one 90-minute episode.)

I missed ST:DS9 the first time around. My television had captioning, but it was faulty on the night of the pilot, so most of the words were gobbledeygook, although I enjoyed the wormhole, which had the eerie golden light of the Andromeda Galaxy. Then I went away to school and my dorm's television was co-opted by football fans. It was exciting to see familiar faces from ST:TNG - but also jarring to see the different tone and theme of the show.

The first few scenes place us perpendicular to an existing story: the Wolf 359 battle between the Federation and the Borg is historic in the Trek universe, and the scenes edited from the original ST:TNG episodes are tasteful and provide a nice launching background to the beginning. Here, we see it from Sisko's perspective on the U.S.S. Saratoga. But the change in perspective is far more than that: the sense of loss, of making difficult choices, wife or son, here and there. Even Sisko's initial expression, which seems like a frustrated attempt to maintain inner tranquility despite overwhelming and seemingly inevitable loss, is alien for the Trek Universe in some ways.

In the more mainstream, sometimes overwhelmingly optimistic Next Generation, a seemingly dead or dying character can be resurrected by the transporter. Honestly, I was expecting a transporter solution for Jennifer's death – get her out of the rubble, maybe even directly into medical - which just shows how intent Berman and the crew were on stamping their own print on Star Trek. There's no chance, no hope, no helpful suggestions around the Captain's Table, no time. So: this sets the scene. Jennifer's not going to be resuscitated, clearly. We're beginning the series with a sense of immense loss, and the first episode of a new series is about the emotional journey of a starship captain.

From TrekCore.com. Sisko gazes in frustration as he leaves his wife.
Even when we switch into a scene which reminds me of one or two of Picard's scenes in France from TNG, or on Earth at the Academy, we find ourselves a minute later we're smacked in the face with the fact it's a holodeck: illusion. All peace is illusion, is the message you get from the first five minutes of "Emissary."

The meeting between Sisko and Picard was well done. It emphasizes a theme of the show, which Rick Berman apparently discussed even prior to the premiere, that actions have consequences. Picard never really faced that many consequences for what happened with the Borg, did he? But for all intents and purposes he colluded with the enemy and led a charge which killed so many, so many... I kind of wish, seeing the depth of his acting here, that this issue had been allowed to grow and fester in ST:TNG. Picard shows so much here–his own frustration with being questioned, unable to build the rapport he's famous for, with being hated, unable to excuse or explain his own actions.

Picard, looking discombobulated for once.
Picard, looking discombobulated for once.

About 30 minutes in, we get a hint at the real plot of the show: not just resuscitating the station and re-structuring Bajor, not just getting it into the Federation, but also finding a mystical temple in the sky which has deposited random glistening orbs in the atmosphere that teach people powerful lessons. Sisko has a lot on his plate.

Love the first meeting between Bashir and Nerys. Incredible depth there, and kind of a blip on the radar for social justice speech, isn't it? What is the Federation's role on Bajor? An outsider colonist type, taking over, or a supportive ally? I've often thought the Prime Directive was important but easily ignored by a starship which hops away in the night. Well, this Station can barely hop across a room, so we'll finally see that Directive in the crucible where it belongs.

First Sisko gets a message, then Dax. Is there more than one Emissary? The Enterprise leaves and Gul Dukat arrives. I know enough about the show to know he's a major Bad Guy, or at least a Very Uncertain Guy Way Worse Than Quark. And he knows about Kai Opaka, and the orbs. And the Enterprise has been called far away. Danger! Some CSI work by Clever Odo. But still at this point not much about our man of mush except that he was found in the Denorios Belt, just like the mystical glowing orbs. This episode is full of action, and the action serves to introduce us to most of the major players.

By the end of the episode we learn that the wormhole, itself oddly stable, might bring stability. Both the Captain and the station take a journey, and when the journey's over they both realize they're where they need to be. It's an effective circle. The opportunity to speed march through Sisko's life really helps me connect with his character. Although his speech to the aliens really does remind me of Picard. Maybe because that's the Federation ideal. The ability to sell the Federation to aliens has been the standard opening Crucial Test for Kirk and Picard, too.

This was a good opening pilot with some exciting moments. I can see this show blossoming into something powerful. Intrigued at least enough to stick with it for a few more episodes. The interplay between many of the characters feels 'right'—and in one episode, we've set up so many possible storylines to pursue, it'll take a few seasons just to hit them all. One in particular: what's going to happen to the Bajoran religion now that they find out their Prophets are aliens with no concept of linear time? And another: since Sisko basically did a whole season of character development in one episode, explaining and getting over the pain of his life AND finding a new home all at once, how are they going to keep up the emotional pace for the character? This feels like Trek for me though, and kind of more exciting than the movies they've been spewing out lately. I'll keep watching.

Bits and Pieces

Did anyone else feel a little disappointed by the slimness of the station? It felt like a dock, or something that attached to something else once. Perhaps it'll grow on me. Babylon 5 felt huge. This feels tiny.

Spontaneous reaction: What the HECK is Cirroc Lofton wearing? Are they trying to draw a parallel to Wesley, who clearly had a designer of no small individuality on the Next Generation? The fashion on this show disturbs me. Generally, few people look like their costumes fit, or look good in their costumes. A Jake-vs-Wesley comparison below: the children of this generation suffer.

Wesley Crusher, wearing something that looks like a combination of a turtleneck, afghan and jumper. In 1960's orange.
Wesley Crusher, wearing something that looks like a combination of a turtleneck, afghan and jumper. In 1960's orange.

Star Trek is a kind vision of the future - unless you're a young person attempting to be fashionable. But it IS nice to see Miles O'Brien; he was one of my favorite initial ST:TNG characters. Note again how the costumes echo the not-so-subliminal theme: the same, but different, with colors reversed.
Kira seems a bit off; is the actress trying too hard? But again her openly shown emotions and reations provide another contrast to ST:TNG, where everyone seems to walk around placidly and speak in pleasant tones, even when Borg ships are descending from hell. Or maybe it's just being forced to wear that pyramidic hair.

Major Kira, standing with her hair in a strict pyramidic form.

In some ways, what ST:DS9 seems to be to me is multicultural Trek. It's kind of exciting, and something I didn't notice at 13, despite being Puerto Rican and Middle Eastern in heritage myself. You notice? I mean, for the first fifteen minutes, not many of the main characters really look white. Maybe Dax; she's quite light-skinned except for the spots. Odo and Kira don't "read" as white to me at all; Kira gives me a strong Latina vibe, maybe Middle Eastern, and except for the extremely weird hair; Bashir also reads as vaguely Middle Eastern, and so do the Bajorans in general; Odo is a blob of jelly...

Although whether he chooses to have that particular pigmentation is up in the air.

(Update: So much for my "reading": Nana Visitor identifies as White, while Siddig El-Fadil is Sudanese and probably is closer to Middle Eastern... although apparently, according to my Wiki reading, the actors have kids together later on. I only think all this is important because it represents a shift further in the multicultural Roddenberry vision.) Compare this to the Cardassians and the Borg, who read as Superwhite! Compare it also to the first Trek cast, which seemed to have token people of color - an important change, but still a limited one.

I'm sort of weirded out by the way Sisko seems to be melting into light, leaving only bits of his face, like a Monty Python version of God. I kept expecting to find him unprotected in the wormhole or local space environment, gasping for breath.

One thing I'll add. For an older show, some of the CGI here is pretty nice. Other parts seem iffy. I'm watching this on Netflix, which only seems to have standard definition, so that might be making a difference. Sometimes, I think, small touches in the right places are far more effective than overwhelmingly done CGI work.

Overall

Four and a half out of five glowing wormhole wisdom-bringing products, with one half deducted for questionable hair and fashion choices.

11 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Congratulations on your first post, JRS, and yay for Deep Space Nine reviews on our site!

Brettsky said...

If you're watching DS9 for the first time, stick with it! The first episode is awesome, but I feel the show does't reach this level of awesome until later on. The show didn't click for me until season 3, but then it's great. I just started season 5 of DS9 in my "watch every episode of Star Trek ever" adventure. Looking forward to future DS9 reviews!

Mark Greig said...

I'm so happy that you're going to be reviewing DS9 for us, JRS. It is my favourite Trek series and one of my all time favourite shows. I re-watched the first to seasons last year and was surprised to see how well it held up. Well, the storytelling and the FX did. The fashions? Not so much. Why does everyone in the 24th century have such terrible tastes in clothes?

JRS said...

You know, Mark, the ONLY thing I could think of after that was a scene with Sisko and Jake watching an old episode of Honey Honey Boo Boo, turning to each other, and saying simultaneously how much better clothes are in the 24th century.

But yeah, you'd think they could do better than "let's drape elastic over our bodies!"

WADEZILLA13 said...

Great to finally some DS9 reviews; it was getting to the point where I was going to volunteer to write them myself! Seriously, while the first season can be a grind at times, this show evolves into what I feel is the finest iteration of Star Trek bar none. The depth of storytelling and character on display here is so rich that secondary and even tertiary characters seem more fleshed-out and vibrant than major players on other Trek series (for example, Elim Garak could be the most interesting character Star Trek has ever produced). Much of this awesome as can be attributed to the space station setting, which allowed for more consistency than jetting to a new planet each week on a starship. It's also due to the fact that the writers took time to build story arcs, using the show's entire seven year run to construct an amazing - and at times grim - saga that culminated in a brutal war on a scale never before seen on Star Trek. If it isn't clear yet, I LOVE THIS SHOW. (Side note: the continuation of the DS9 story in book form is equally awesome, if you haven't read those yet)

Patrick said...

Very excited to see DS9 being reviewed here! It's my absolute favorite Trek show by miles, and one of my all-time favorite shows of any kind. I don't want to spoil any of the big storylines for those who haven't watched it yet, but I loved the overall concept of a stationary setting & cast of characters, who couldn't just fly off into the sunset after each crisis. They have to stay and live with the consequences of their decisions, whether they involve the station, the planet, or the whole sector.

The pilot itself was quite good, possibly the best of the Trek pilots, at least the modern ones. I never watched the original series, sue me. We got a good introduction to each of the characters, to the political situation involving Bajor, Cardassia & the Federation, and of course they introduced the Wormhole and the mysteries contained therein. This show had a harder job than the other Trek series when it came to the pilot. Being stationary instead of wandering the galaxy meant they had to spend more time establishing the world around the station.

Sisko's entire conversation with the "Prophets" about the linear nature of existence, using baseball as a metaphor to describe it(a personal favorite of mine, being a big fan of baseball), and how they show him that he's essentially living in his own past by not letting himself move on after losing his wife was excellent. It tackled big ideas, but at the same time was very personal.

Probably the most amusing scene of the pilot was Sisko & Quark negotiating Nog's release in Odo's office. I loved watching Sisko manipulate Quark, but it was Odo's line at the end that really clinched it, "You know at first, I didn't think I was going to like him." :)

I hope visitors to this site who haven't watched Deep Space Nine before give it a chance, it really is a great show.

Anonymous said...

My favorite TV show... glad to see it getting covered! Will be neat to read along...

Try not to know stuff from later before you reach it. There is good stuff. EG, you mention Dukat as the big bad villain... don't assume that until you see how he actually evolves... they go some very interesting places with him...

Best part of the show though, compared to a lot of shows nowadays. There are no 'made up' redemption arcs. Either a character earns it, or there is no redemption for them.

JRS said...

Loving all the comments, it's helping give me some texture for the show - and stuff to look forward to! Stay tuned for more reviews soon...

Anonymous said...

Here's another yay for finally seeing DS9 reviews. Keep going!

DS9 is by far the best of the trek series. Pity they didn't give them the eighth season they deserved to close everything properly :(

WADEZILLA13 said...

@Anon: Lost needed another season. Angel needed another season (or two). 24 needed another (and thankfully got one)... As much as I would've loved more DS9, I think everything was wrapped beautifully; in fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a more satisfying series finale.

Besides, as I've already mentioned, the series did continue in novel form (any of which would, admittedly, be great to see on screen).

Patrick said...

I don't feel like DS9 needed an eighth season. In fact, of all the Trek shows, it felt the most like one complete story, rather than an anthology of short stories. The starship-based Trek series feel in many ways like another version of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, only with a consistent cast of characters to hang the various stories on. They really could've ended at any time. DS9 actually got what felt like a proper conclusion. Sure they could have continued telling stories in that world, and there are multiple novels that do just that, but the series does provide quite a bit of closure. That's quite rare on television.

Hopefully I was able to respond without spoiling anything :)