With losses to the Dominion mounting, Sisko finds himself admitting to his father that he’s starting to have doubts about remaining in Starfleet and seeing more friends turn up amongst the missing and dead. But just as Sisko starts to voice these feelings, he finds himself in a completely different time and place – as science fiction writer Benny Russell, scraping a living in 1950s New York. Benny is inspired to write a tale of Deep Space 9, a space station where a black man can be captain. But is the world ready for such a progressive story?
Far Beyond the Stars is one of the most well regarded episodes of DS9, but it’s one that I have mixed feelings about. Taken on its own, it’s an excellent story – a chance to see the main cast assume new roles and tell an insightful tale about racism and prejudice. But in the context of the Star Trek universe, it feels a bit too much like breaking the fourth wall. It’s also only barely justified by the framing story – Sisko is having doubts, so the Prophets send him a cryptic vision to keep him on track? They could have just as easily shown him a future where he gave up on the war, and the Dominion enslaved everyone he cares about.
That aside, let’s examine the morality play aspects of the story. Star Trek is famous for examining real life issues one step removed, and this episode is no exception. We can all accept that the 1950s were a much more prejudiced time – a world in which a female writer has to hide her gender under a pseudonym, and where a black man can get shot or beaten by police for no real reason. But hang on a minute – could it be that the episode is not only indirectly talking about 1998, when it aired, but also about today? Back in the day, a black man being cast in the role of captain was a big deal, and even now, racism is far from gone. Whether it’s insidious or outright, those prejudices are still with us. It may be the best part of twenty years since it aired, but Far Beyond the Stars still has a message that’s worth listening to today.
Their alter egos
- Sisko becomes Benny Russell, a science-fiction writer at Incredible Tales. He is inspired to write about Deep Space 9, and a future where a black man could be a captain.
- Kira becomes Kay Eaton, another science-fiction writer at Incredible Tales. She has to publish under the pseudonym KC Hunter so that the readership won’t know that she’s a woman.
- Quark becomes Herb Rossoff, another Incredible Tales writer. He is talented and argumentative, but sticks up for his fellow writers.
- Odo becomes Douglas Pabst, the editor of Incredible Tales. He frequently argues with Herb, over everything from the freshness of the doughnuts, to maintaining the societal status quo. Pabst is unwilling to challenge the readership by revealing that he has a woman and a black man on his writing staff. Herb considers this to be cowardly, and frequently calls him out on it.
- Bashir becomes Julius Eaton, an Englishman, Incredible Tales writer, and Kay’s husband.
- O’Brien becomes Albert Macklin, a socially awkward Incredible Tales writer with a penchant for penning robot stories. He eventually gets a novel accepted for publication.
- Dax becomes Darlene Kursky, Pabst’s new secretary. She loves reading science fiction.
- Worf becomes Willie Hawkins, a famous baseball player. He’s a ladies’ man who enjoys the admiration he receives from the black community, but who still feels like an outcast amongst his white peers.
- Jake becomes Jimmy, a young man who prefers stealing and ‘being his own boss’ to the limited career prospects for a black man in the 1950s. He is shot by the police for trying to steal a car.
- Nog becomes a street vendor with a disdain for sci-fi and a love of From Here to Eternity.
- Kasidy becomes Cassie, Benny’s long-time girlfriend and a waitress at the local cafe. She hopes that she and Benny can take over running the place once her boss retires – despite Benny’s objections that his writing career takes precedence.
- Dukat and Weyoun become Burt Ryan and Kevin Mulkahey, a pair of cops with little respect for black people. They shoot Jimmy, and beat Benny.
- Martok becomes Roy Ritterhouse, the illustrator for Incredible Tales. It is his drawing of a space station that inspires Benny to write his first DS9 story.
- Joseph Sisko becomes The Preacher, a religious man who talks about the Prophets and encourages ‘Brother Benny’ to walk their path.
Summary – Far Beyond the Stars: Required viewing for any diversity training.