The Great Star Trek DS9 Rewatch: Emissary

We’re here. We’ve made it. With heavy hearts we must bid goodbye to Captain Picard and his trusty crew, and venture into the world of Commander Sisko and the eclectic bunch who inhabit space station Deep Space Nine.

This new entry in the franchise begins as Starfleet takes control of Deep Space Nine, formerly a Cardassian space station in orbit of Bajor. The Cardassians have just withdrawn from Bajor after sixty years of stripping the planet of its resources, and the Bajorans are in desperate need of help – not that that means they’re thrilled with having to rely on the Federation for assistance.

The man sent to administer this situation is our initially reluctant hero, Benjamin Sisko. Having lost his wife in the Battle of Wolf 359, all he really wants is to leave Starfleet and go back to Earth with his young son, Jake. Of course, the events of the pilot change his mind, as they do for every jaded commander who stars in a pilot episode.

So, how is this brave new world overall? Emissary is an odd one for me because back in the nineties, I started watching DS9 from around midway through season two, and only saw the earliest episodes later. In fact, I read the novelisation of Emissary before I actually watched it, and in some ways the book is better, because it really adds a depth to characters that isn’t noticeable here. For now, everyone is a bit bland and cookie cutter, and whilst we’re well aware that it took a while for the TNG actors to warm up to their roles, it still means we have to sit through some wooden performances.

The plot itself concerns the discovery of the first stable wormhole, and how the non-corporeal beings who live inside it have inadvertently become the focus of the Bajoran religion. I’ll talk more about that later, but obviously if you’re the kind of person who watches Star Trek for the science, you may not appreciate what my viewing companion calls “mystic crap on the level of Babylon 5”.

Characters

  • Commander Benjamin Sisko is the new commander of DS9, and is also our first main character to tick two new diversity boxes – he’s black, and he’s a father. Remember how Picard and Kirk could never really fit children into their lives as starship captains? Well, Sisko is going to have to raise his son by himself over the course of the series.At the start of the episode, we see Sisko’s wife die in the Battle of Wolf 359, a scar that remains with him until the healing experience of having the Prophets delve into his memories. It’s a shame that all those Starfleet counsellors weren’t at least trying to help him work through this over the last three years, but maybe they all died at Wolf 359 too.
  • Major Kira Nerys is a member of the Bajoran militia and first officer of DS9, a role originally written for Ro Laren. Kira is clearly meant to be written as a strong, antagonistic woman, but unfortunately this initially means that she’s written as a complete bitch. Fortunately, this is toned down after her first couple of interactions with Sisko, but it’s a shame that TV can rarely divorce those two things. It doesn’t help that O’Brien prefaces Sisko’s first meeting with Kira with a remark about Bajoran women – way to perpetuate sexist stereotypes.
  • Lieutenant Jadzia Dax is a joined Trill, a race we previously saw in TNG’s The Host. The Trill prosthetic make-up is ditched in favour of spots akin to those seen on Kamala in The Perfect Mate, since it was judged to be a shame to cover up Terry Farrell’s attractiveness with prosthetics. As science officer, Jadzia is in charge of technobabble, but we already know that the Dax symbiont was previously joined with an older man named Curzon, who was a good friend of Sisko.
  • Chief Miles O’Brien has transferred over from the Enterprise, and is now chief engineer. For now, his job is fixing things and complaining about the generally shoddy state of DS9.
  • Dr Julian Bashir is the chief medical officer, and a bit of an arrogant prick. He boasts that he could have had his pick of assignments, but wants to be out here on a remote station practising ‘frontier medicine’. I think Bashir eventually becomes bearable for limited periods, but we’re a long way off that.
  • Odo is the shapeshifting chief of security with a strong sense of justice. For now he’s just the gruff humourless one.
  • Quark is a Ferengi entrepreneur who runs the bar. After their failed attempt to be taken seriously as adversaries in TNG, the Ferengi are now portrayed as a neutral merchant alliance, obsessed with profit and bending the law.
  • Jake Sisko is Ben Sisko’s son, and is too young to be interesting as yet.
  • Nog is Quark’s nephew, and will spend quite a while just being a petty thief and bad influence on Jake before he develops a story arc of his own.

Key themes of DS9

  • Since the original point of Starfleet coming to DS9 was to help the Bajorans with their reconstruction and possible entry into the Federation, the Bajorans will feature heavily. Religion is particularly important to them, and as Sisko is the prophesied Emissary of the Prophets, there’s no getting away from involvement in their religious and political struggles.
  • The Cardassians will be antagonists throughout, and as the former owners of DS9 and occupiers of Bajor, they aren’t happy that the wormhole was discovered right after they left.
  • The Gamma Quadrant is at first an exciting new place to explore, but later becomes more dangerous when the Federation encounters the Dominion, and war begins.
  • The stationary nature of DS9 means that actions have consequences, and no one can fly off into the sunset when the episode is over. It also leads to lots of recurring characters, although arguably TNG could have lent itself to this if people like Barash and Jeremy Aster stayed aboard instead of bonding with the main characters and then being dumped at the nearest starbase.

The Prophets

The Prophets are non-corporeal beings who exist out of linear time and purportedly do not understand it until Sisko goes to the trouble of explaining it. They form a key element of DS9, but unfortunately their nature makes little sense. Let’s examine it more closely.

A more believable premise is that the Prophets have evolved beyond linear time, such that they once experienced it, but at some point learnt how to move backwards and forwards through time as we do through space. This explicitly cannot be the case, as they are depicted as having no idea what time even is. But if that’s the case, then there should be no way whatsoever that they can communicate with Sisko.

If the Prophets are outside of time, then they can never learn, because learning involves going from a past state where you didn’t know something, to a present state where you do. Essentially, the Prophets can only ever know what they’ve always known and always will know. Additionally, when talking to Sisko, they say things like “do you know the consequences of your actions?”. Consequences only make sense in a linear time scenario!

Finally, as humans, the writers themselves exist within linear time. Even if non-linear-time beings can exist, we could no more understand them and write about them than they could ever understand us.

Other points

  • Picard appears in this episode to hand over O’Brien and perform a bit of a handover. Of course, it was Picard as Locutus who led the Borg at Wolf 359, so it’s no wonder that Sisko feels a bit antagonistic towards him. Their first meeting is probably my favourite part of the pilot, as we see Picard hurt by Sisko’s hatred, but having to accept it as a consequence of what he did – even if he didn’t do it voluntarily. The novelisation explores this strand much more richly, and ends with Sisko finally seeing Picard as himself and not Locutus.
  • If corporeal beings entering the wormhole is painful for the Prophets, why did they make the wormhole accessible in the first place? We see in this very episode that they can close it if they want. Also, why is it suddenly fine at the end to reopen the wormhole and let people start using it?
  • If the Prophets weren’t trying to contact anyone, why were they sending out the Orbs? Is it their equivalent of taking a shit?
  • Closing Quark’s to get the Cardassians to go back to their ship and inadvertently take Odo aboard is such a stupid and obvious ruse. Sisko just manipulated Quark into keeping the bar open, only for the other officers to close it one evening on an apparent whim.

Summary – Emissary: A weak pilot, but I know it gets better.

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