Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bajor Rebuilding In Star Trek Deep Space Nine Season 1

The Good: Excellent character development, Nice acting, Interesting stories, Mood!, Special effects
The Bad: Lack of DVD commentary, Difficult to get into for non-fans
The Basics: On a distant space station, Star Trek Deep Space Nine's first season tells the story of recovering from a planet's brutalization with a dark mood and well-conceived characters.

When Star Trek The Next Generation was winding down, the thought that the series had done quite a lot for Paramount and for merchandising was a deep concern to the studio and they asked for another installment in the series, effectively making Star Trek into a franchise. The irony of this move was that Star Trek Deep Space Nine was created and it became the least merchandised, least-marketable Star Trek series.

It was also the best.

Geared toward adults, Star Trek Deep Space Nine was a grittier, more conflicted view of the universe than the prior two Star Trek series'. The characters were less polished, less good, less noble than in Star Trek The Next Generation. This made them less marketable as action figures and far more beloved as insightful, intriguing characters to watch week after week. Star Trek Deep Space Nine was also a series that required an adult sense of commitment. Serialized with the expectation that those that tune in this week will watch next week and next year, this series instantly became a show dedicated to creating a time and place with a sense of reality and continuity that was lacking from the other Star Trek series'.

The story of the first season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine is actually a simple one: it is the tale of a planet rebuilding after being occupied by a ruthless enemy who has decided - for reasons not made clear - to withdraw from the planet. The planet is Bajor and the citizens of Bajor find themselves instantly poor and weak following the Cardassian withdrawal. Asking for aid and protection in their rebuilding process, Bajor enlists the help of the mighty and benevolent Federation. No sooner than the Federation arrives on space station Deep Space Nine - where the Federation administrative efforts will be centered - than a miraculous discovery is made in Bajoran Space; a stable wormhole (tunnel through space) that connects the Alpha Quadrant (where everything in Star Trek that we know at this point is located) with the distant and mysterious Gamma Quadrant.

As the first season goes on, the crew of Deep Space Nine deals with the ramifications of the passage to the Gamma Quadrant with threats from terrorists ("Past Prologue"), threats from the Gamma Quadrant ("Captive Pursuit" and "Dramatis Personae"), as well as the consequences of the end of the Occupation ("Duet"), the consequences of rebuilding ("Progress") and the loss of Bajor's prime religious leader ("Battle Lines" and "In The Hands Of The Prophets") as well as the simple consequences of dealing with one another in this new place together ("A Man Alone," "The Nagus," and "The Storyteller"). More than any of Star Trek Deep Space Nine's seven seasons, the first has a quasi-episodic feel to it. While it is largely serialized, telling one big story, the first season has the most divergences from that, the most stories with the big story.

As well, the first season introduces two of the three most developed and important subplots in the Star Trek Deep Space Nine story. The first is the exploration of Ferengi culture. In "The Nagus," the leader of the Ferengi economic society is introduced and he's such a wildly popular character that the delving into Ferengi culture becomes a regular occurrence each season on Deep Space Nine. As well, the lesser plot exploring the Trill culture is begun in "Dax" and continues throughout the series at least once per season.

The reason Star Trek Deep Space Nine works so well is the characters, so it seems appropriate to introduce them:

Commander Benjamin Sisko is a widower whose grief over the death of his wife causes him to nearly leave StarFleet and turn his back on everything. Dark and moody, the Commander finds himself stationed to the distant outpost Deep Space Nine where he finds himself miserable until he encounters the Prophets, strange aliens who make him realize he has been punishing himself for his wife's death. Since human emotion is not so easy to simply overcome, Sisko spends the early part of his command (and the entire first season), working himself out of his emotional rut to becomes a leader for those on the space station.

Major Kira Nerys is the Bajoran first officer on Deep Space Nine. Exiled to the station for failure to get along with the new provisional government, Kira finds herself at odds with Sisko. She has a deep belief in Bajor and the need for Bajor to stand on its own and a mistrust of the Federation. As she grows in the first season, she finds her own religious fanaticism coming into conflict with practicality in the new order of the galaxy.

Security Chief Odo is a shapeshifter with mysterious origins. Believing firmly in a rule of law and the importance of order, Odo works to keep the Promenade of Deep Space Nine as free of crime as possible.

Science Officer Jadzia Dax is a Trill, a joined species. The race, originally introduced in the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "The Host" is revamped to look more like Kamala from the prior series' "The Perfect Mate." Jadzia is a young woman who harbors a slug-like creature named Dax in her abdomen. Together, they share a brain and an existence as a joined species. As a result, Jadzia looks quite young, but has a great deal of wisdom. Brought to the post specifically by Sisko, who knew Dax's previous host, Jadzia works hard to explore the Gamma Quadrant while drawing Sisko out of his isolation.

Dr. Julian Bashir is a young an energetic medical officer whose arrogance and enthusiasm are barely contained by medical genius and a strong grasp of all things to do with helping others. He is one of the least defined characters in the first season, appearing almost childlike in his enthusiasm and display of brilliance.

Chief Miles Edward O'Brien is a familiar face to those who watched Star Trek The Next Generation. He appears on the station with a great deal of work; when the Cardassians left, they nearly destroyed Deep Space Nine. The first season is packed with O'Brien attempting to get everything up and running once more.

Quark runs a bar on Deep Space Nine and is the station's resident Ferengi. He is always looking for an opportunity to advance his fortunes and outwit Odo. He is motivated by the most basic need to earn profit and expand financial control in the galaxy. Quark does so with limited success in the first season.

The cast is rounded out by Jake Sisko, Commander Sisko's son. Jake is basically a kid, doing what kids do in a new environment. He explores the station and gets into trouble, makes friends with the only other youth he can find - a Ferengi boy named Nog - and works to balance adolescent rebellion with obedience to a man who now wields quite a bit of power.

The reason Star Trek Deep Space Nine works so very well is that it creates a sense of realism by having an entire group of characters outside the main cast. By having such a strong supporting cast of recurring characters, there comes a sense that the place is bustling and alive and there is more going on than what we see each week. That's a very real thing and it works only to the series' advantage. The recurring characters introduced in the first season are:

Nog, the nephew of Quark, appears in the pilot as a trouble maker and thief. Throughout the series, Nog will develop more than most of the characters, transforming from a delinquent into an upstanding citizen. In the first season, Nog grudgingly forms a friendship with Jake and that soon begins to affect how he sees the universe.

Keiko O'Brien, Miles' wife and a reluctant resident of Deep Space Nine. In the first season, she finds purpose by opening a school for the children of the station and that suits her character quite well.

Rom, Nog's father and a bumbling idiot of a Ferengi. The first season finds Rom fumbling through assisting his brother in one scheme after another and looking out for Nog. Rom is a rather unappreciated character the first season and it works well toward contrasting how he is able to develop in the future years.

Garak, the most neglected recurring character of the series in the first season, is a Cardassian tailor who appears only in the second episode "Past Prologue." With a mysterious agenda and the implication that he is an exile from Cardassia as well as a former spy, Garak's brief appearance in the first season will be enough to intrigue viewers into looking for him in the future.

Kai Opaka, the religious leader of Bajor and the only recurring character of lasting importance to appear only in the first season. Her attempts to unite the Bajoran people are met with tragedy and disappointment.

Vedeks Winn and Bariel, two religious leaders introduced in the season finale which will come to shape Bajor as it rebuilds with their conflicting religious views.

And rounding out the recurring characters is the chief villain of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Gul Dukat. Dukat was the former commander of Deep Space Nine and he has a cunning personality which leads the viewer to believe instantly that he has many layers to him. Perhaps the greatest villain ever created, Dukat is more than simply a faceless villain. Like our heroes, he has his triumphs and tragedies and in the first season, it is a shame he only appears twice. Still, his presence is enough to convince us that he has enough to continue to returning to and it's a great thing that he does resurface throughout the series.

It seems like there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but the truth is that they are spread through twenty episodes and as a result, there develops a rather natural ebb and flow to the series that works quite well.

The acting in the first season is excellent. Avery Brooks makes Commander Sisko dark and moody, Nana Visitor plays Kira as loud and angry and the two play off each other quite well. Rene Auberjonis adds a great deal of dignity to Odo and helps round the cast with a stern demeanor that comes through his make-up. The entire cast is professional: Terry Farrell is more than just a pretty face and body as Dax and similarly Siddig El Fadil is more than just a resident hunk. Rounding out the cast is Armin Shimerman, often neglected as Quark, but one of the most talented individuals to portray someone so different from our sensibilities with realism.

The only real detraction of the first season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine is that it is difficult to get into initially because of the moodiness of it. Commander Sisko is not a happy man and as a result, it makes it difficult to watch the early episodes and see how apathetic and uninspired he can be in the face of so much happening around him.

As for the DVD set, this is a nice piece. The extras are great, featuring all sorts of interviews and behind the scenes explanations from those who were a part of the series. There are many stories and insights to be heard in the bonus featurettes. Unfortunately, there is no commentary on each episode. More than any series of Star Trek, Star Trek Deep Space Nine deserved a commentary track where those who were involved: writers, directors, cast and crew had an opportunity to speak throughout the episodes on the importance and difficulties of scenes and episodes and such.

The benefit of the DVD set is the ability to see "Duet." This is easily the best hour of television ever created. I mean EVER. It's a pleasure to see in crystal clearness on the DVD. The strongest episode is "Duet" and the weakest is probably "Babel." But for those who never had the chance to see the early episodes, the first season DVD set is an excellent chance to get into an amazing series from the beginning. There are a lot of episodes here that are worth returning to.

For those who are fans of science fiction in general, this is an indispensable beginning to one of the most incredible and enduring - not to mention neglected - sagas of science fiction. This series is great for those who do not particularly or classically enjoy Star Trek because it diverges from the formulas established in the earlier series' and creates something bigger, darker and more encompassing. As well, this is a great series for those who love great drama. Commander Sisko's healing process is complicated and enjoyable to watch.

Entertaining and packed with intriguing characters well acted by truly professional actors, the first season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine is wonderfully presented on DVD and ideal for any adult audience.

For those interested in exactly what you would be getting in the DVD set, I've reviewed all of the episodes from the first season as follows:
Past Prologue
A Man Alone
Captive Pursuit
The Passenger
Move Along Home
The Nagus
Battle Lines
The Storyteller
If Wishes Were Horses
The Forsaken
Dramatis Personae
In The Hands Of The Prophets


For other Star Trek series, episode or movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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