Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dreams Die - The Perfection Of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

The Good: Amazing cast, plot, acting, CHARACTERS!, and special effects, Good DVD bonuses
The Bad: No commentaries, No exclusives in the series set, Expensive!
The Basics: Intense, dark and gritty drama, Star Trek Deep Space Nine The Complete Series is a massive collection that presents the story of a station in the wilderness fighting to survive.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine is the peak of the Star Trek experience. While Star Trek and especially Star Trek The Next Generation (seasons 1 - mid-season 5) embody the dream of the future of creator Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek Deep Space Nine takes that galaxy and that vision in a very different direction. A much darker direction. If the other incarnations are the embodiment of Gene Roddenberry's dream, Deep Space Nine's message is "Dreams Die." And they die hard and they die from the first moments of this perfect series.

Set in the 24th Century (the same timeframe as Star Trek The Next Generation), Star Trek Deep Space Nine follows the life and times of the denizens of a space station in the middle of nowhere in pretty much the backwater of the galaxy. Plagued by thieves, rebels, and a nearby enemy who has just abandoned the station, Deep Space Nine is taken over by a newly freed people called the Bajorans and with the aid of the Federation (and their military branch, StarFleet), the station is overhauled and the attempt is made to put the Bajoran people on the path to becoming members of the Federation.

Almost as soon as the Federation arrives to assume control over Deep Space Nine, a spatial anomaly is discovered nearby. It is a hole in space known as a wormhole and it allows travel from one point in space to another, very distant, point in space (in this case a place called the Gamma Quadrant) safely. As the series progresses, the crew of the space station learns about an enemy in the Gamma Quadrant that is bent on taking over all they see and it does not take long for them to find themselves face to face with a powerful enemy known as The Dominion.

One of the nicest things about Star Trek Deep Space Nine is that it is essentially a serialized show, which means that episodes build on one another and actions have consequences. Characters grow throughout the episodes and this allows for more sophisticated plots and subplots throughout the series. Here is what Star Trek Deep Space Nine is about:

A-Plot #1 - Preparing the Bajorans to enter the Federation. The Bajoran people were once leaders of art and architecture in our area of the galaxy. They were a power for some time, until their people were all but slaughtered and enslaved by a rival power known as the Cardassians (think: Jews and Nazis - with the Cardassians as the metaphorical Nazis). The Federation works hard to bring the Bajorans back up to a level of civilization and independence worthy of joining the Federation. The task means establishing a stable government and balancing the government with the Bajoran's dominant religion (which is problematic because the faith of the Bajorans allowed them to survive the Occupation). This process is complicated by the arrival of Benjamin Sisko, the commander of Deep Space Nine whose very existence and destiny appears intertwined with the Bajoran religion through their Prophets (the gods of the Bajoran people), who he speaks to personally,

A-Plot #2 - The Dominion's Aggression. As the local problems ebb and flow, the threat from without grows in the form of a mysterious interstellar alliance known as the Dominion. the Dominion is made of three groups: the warriors (the brutal Jem'Hadar) who are enslaved by the ambassadors (the conniving Vorta) through the use of a drug who are in turn genetically programmed to be subservient to the leaders (the mysterious Founders). The Founders are motivated by a sense of order that leads them to approach our area of space with an obsession with setting order to the chaos they see there. Soon, the Dominion is spreading forces through the Alpha Quadrant and Deep Space Nine finds itself on the front lines of a war that consumes the galaxy,

B-Plot #1 - The Ferengi Influence. Because Deep Space Nine is a mixed station filled with different races and allegiances, it becomes a hub of activity for the Ferengi. The Ferengi are businessmen (it is a male-dominated society) who run a strictly capitalist economy based upon a series of laws called the Rules of Acquisition. The Ferengi business ventures in the Gamma Quadrant and on Deep Space Nine start a series of events on the homeworld (Ferenginar) that change the people forever, which is relevant to Deep Space Nine because one of the primary characters (and two of the secondary characters) are Ferengi,

B-Plot #2 - The Cardassian Withdrawal and the Maquis. When the Cardassians abandon the Bajoran System, a new region of space is created between the Federation and the Cardassian Union called the Demilitarized Zone. Planets within the DMZ trade places over the diplomatic table with little influence from the citizens there and as a result, tensions flare high. A group of renegade colonists called the Maquis begin terrorist actions in the DMZ and their operations affect and influence Deep Space Nine as it is the nearest and strongest Federation presence in the area. This has profound effects on the already weak Cardassian government which finds itself on the verge of collapse,

B-Plot #3 - The Mirror Universe. In the original Star Trek, there was an episode called "Mirror, Mirror," which featured a dark, murderous universe that was accessed via a transporter accident. An accident within the wormhole brings two members of the Deep Space Nine crew into that alternate universe and soon the political events of the new tyranny there has recurring incursions into our universe at Deep Space Nine. This is a minor subplot, but one of the most memorable ones as the slaves of the mirror universe enlist the aid of heroes in our universe to overthrow their oppressors.

Fans of the series might note that I do not mention the Klingon conflict that dominates the fourth season (and the beginning of the fifth). The Klingon conflict is a function of the problems with the Dominion and should be kept in that context.

What makes Star Trek Deep Space Nine so worthy is the characters. While they do not yet have the mass cultural recognition of the characters from Star Trek or even Star Trek The Next Generation, Star Trek Deep Space Nine took the most time to develop and grow the characters on the show. Most all of the stories are advanced by the characters and they create the events of the show (as opposed to merely surviving the plots that overwhelm them). A great show is made that way by the characters that are on it. The essential characters on Deep Space Nine include:

Commander (later Captain) Benjamin Sisko - The StarFleet officer assigned to space station Deep Space Nine, he immediately finds himself taking a role in the Bajoran spiritual life when he meets their gods - the Prophets - and is named the Emissary of the Prophets, which is a role that has been alluded to in prophecies thousands of years old. Uncomfortable with this distinction and its implications, Sisko tries hard to get over the recent death of his wife, raise his son Jake, and hold together Deep Space Nine as best he can. He works hard to embody the best of the Federation, but often finds himself forced to do questionable things to maintain the peace and keep the station from falling apart,

Major Kira Nerys - The Bajoran first officer of Deep Space Nine and a former terrorist who helped liberate the Bajorans from the Cardassians. Stuck on Deep Space Nine - likely as punishment to keep her away from the government - and forced to serve under Sisko, Kira is deeply conflicted over her place and her relationship with Sisko, who she secretly reveres. Kira finds herself forced to get along with all sorts of different people and work toward peace, which is difficult for someone who has fought so long,

Security Chief Odo - The mysterious shapeshifting security chief, Odo is a man who does not know his origins. He finds satisfaction with establishing justice on the station and finds himself at odds with the bureaucracy of StarFleet and the Federation, which adds a number of rules to make his life more difficult. He is a neutral party who came with the station and while he has a close friendship with Kira, he is often an outsider. When the wormhole is discovered, he gains hope that he might find his people, a hope that comes to haunt him,

Lt. Jadzia Dax - The science officer and a member of a race of joined creatures known as the Trill (the Trill consist of a humanoid body that burns out and a fairly immortal worm in the belly which passes from host to host when the body dies). In its previous incarnation, Dax was an old man who mentored Benjamin Sisko and now in the body of a young woman, Dax finds herself adapting to the role reversal. With her love of Klingons, humor and chaos, Dax becomes a memorable science officer and pilot,

Dr. Julian Bashir - Young and arrogant, Bashir is a brilliant doctor who chose to come to Deep Space Nine for the adventure. He hides a secret (it doesn't come out until late in the fifth season, so I'm not ruining it here!), but his arrogance is based on ability and in addition to being a medical genius, he develops a strong friendship with O'Brien and harbors a love for Dax that he works hard to get over,

Chief Miles O'Brien - A transfer from the U.S.S. Enterprise (Star Trek The Next Generation), he is instantly put in charge of the maintenance issues aboard Deep Space Nine, a daunting task as it involves integrating three different forms of technology. O'Brien is unhappily married, living in a dangerous place and he often finds his life in jeopardy (at least once a season he has the living crap kicked out of him). His struggle to survive in the galaxy puts him into an awkward, but deep, friendship with Dr. Bashir, a familiarity with Kira and a mentor role for both Jake Sisko and Nog,

Quark - The Ferengi businessman who owns the bar and casino on Deep Space Nine, he is extorted to stay aboard by Sisko in order to prevent the business establishment of the area from collapsing. Quark schemes to get rich and manipulates circumstances rather constantly to try to profit,

Jake Sisko - The child of Benjamin Sisko and the deceased Jennifer, Jake struggles to find his place. While it initially looks like he might follow in his father's footsteps and join StarFleet, he soon discovers his passion and talent is for writing and as the Dominion conflict escalates, he finds an opportunity to become a war correspondent and his own man,

and Commander Worf - After the destruction of the Enterprise (in Star Trek: Generations, reviewed here!), he finds himself lacking direction and purpose. When the Klingons make a bold move, Sisko calls Worf in from his retreat at a Klingon monastery and Worf joins the crew as Strategic Operations Officer, which basically makes him responsible for defending the sector by being aware of the overall tactical situation between the major powers in the area.

There are critical secondary characters who include:

Nog - Quark's nephew and a friend for Jake Sisko. Nog starts as a petty criminal who needs Jake for help and guidance, but develops into an adult with a dream to join StarFleet as the first Ferengi in the Federation military, an ambitious journey which takes him around the galaxy,

Gul Dukat - Former Prefect of Bajor and commander of Deep Space Nine, he was displaced when the Cardassian government withdrew from Bajor. He cares deeply about his people and he takes a slickly adversarial role to Sisko and the current crew of Deep Space Nine, though he saves their lives (and they save his) throughout the series. Easily the most compelling and complex villain in the Star Trek cannon,

and Elim Garak - The only Cardassian left on Deep Space Nine after the withdrawal, who assumes the role of the tailor though there is immediately the concern that he is a spy. It does not take long for those around him to learn that he cannot be trusted, though he has no love of Dukat or the current Cardassian regime in the Central Command. He befriends Dr. Bashir and works to redeem himself in his own eyes for past crimes that might well pale from the ones he commits during the course of the series.

What brings these characters together is the cast, filled with actors that rival the caliber of actors and performances on much more established hit shows like The West Wing and NYPD Blue. This is a casting dream, with veteran actors who own their characters over the seven seasons and 176 episodes in this set. This is an accomplished cast that uses genuine emotion, body language and expressive vocal modulation to embody well-developed characters. The cast includes Colm Meany (O'Brien), Siddig El Fadil (Dr. Bashir), Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax), Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko), Michael Dorn (Worf), and Armin Shimerman (Quark), as well as recurring guest star roles from Aron Eisenberg (Nog), Marc Alaimo (Gul Dukat) and Andrew Robinson (Garak). Dorn, Shimerman, Eisenberg, Alaimo, and Robinson deserve extra credit for their performances as they are consistently forced to emote around heavy prosthetics.

Three performers stand out among this already distinguished cast. They are Rene Auberjonois (Odo), Nana Visitor (Kira) and Avery Brooks (Sisko). Rene Auberjonois is a distinguished actor (known to the masses from Benson and now Boston Legal) and he instantly lent some strong credibility to Star Trek Deep Space Nine. As Odo, Auberjonois had the task of creating a likable curmudgeon and Odo is easily one of the most endearing and enduring characters in the Trek pantheon due in large part to Auberjonois's performance. He is grumpy, but expressive underneath layers of latex and he is forced to keep a rigid posture to make his character. Auberjonois is brilliant through the course of the series and one to watch episode after episode for a knockout performance.

Nana Visitor plays Major Kira Nerys and she is possibly the most neglected performer on Deep Space Nine. I've seen Ms. Visitor at several conventions and every time, she is gracious, kind and friendly. She has a smile on her face constantly when meeting the fans. I mean it; she is always happy in person. Visitor is an incredible actress because she convincingly portrays a character that doesn't smile until the third season. Visitor plays a tough-as-nails former terrorist who is deeply emotionally damaged and she does it with such a convincing performance than none would figure her to be as nice as she actually is in person.

Arguably, a Star Trek series is only as good as its Captain and Star Trek Deep Space Nine succeeds in that regard with the performance of Avery Brooks as Commander (and Captain) Benjamin Sisko. Sisko is a military man and a widower, from the opening moments of the series. Brooks' performance is more cerebral and - ironically for those critical of how far away Deep Space Nine is from Star Trek - more like the performance (and role) of Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike in the original pilot to Star Trek ("The Cage"). Brooks appears stiff at the beginning of the series, but his reserve is perfectly appropriate for the conflicted nature of the character. Brooks's acting genius is embodied by the strength of his facade over the first few years and the way he slowly softens that demeanor as he becomes more emotionally connected both to himself and the station.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine is the brain child of Rick Berman, Ira Steven Behr (who did The 4400 after), Ronald D. Moore (who does Battlestar Galactica now), and Michael Piller. Behr and Moore are creative geniuses and their role was integral to creating a truly unique Star Trek series that stands completely on its own. Dreams may die in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, but the series lives and thrives because of their brilliance.

This set offers nothing exclusive that the individual season boxed sets did not already have. There are no commentaries on these episodes, which is unfortunate. Even so, the series stands as a monument of creative accomplishment. It is a must-own for any fan of science fiction and equally important for fans of genuine drama. It may be set in the future, it may occasionally have tremendous space battles, but largely, this is a drama of the highest order, populated by complex and well-developed character exploring the nature of the human condition.

It's worth your time and attention.

For more details on the series (to learn more about what you'd be shelling out so much money for), please take a look at my reviews of the individual season boxed sets available at:
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7


For other Star Trek episode, DVD set and movie reviews, click here to visit my index page that has an organized listing of all Star Trek reviews I have written!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. Great review and - while I don't agree that DS9 is perfection (perfection is boring to behold anyway) - it's still easily my favorite Star Trek series (and that's coming from someone who was a big TNG fan throughout the 90's and who only recently has opened his eyes to the many flaws that particular Trek series has; it saddens me to see how many Trek fans still refuse to give DS9 a chance and keep on praising TNG as the best - or even worse - the only good Trek show thus disrespecting TOS fans as well).

    I agree that Brooks, Auberjonois and Visitor stand out among the other actors, though none of the performances from the main and supporting cast were poor IMO. You're lucky to have met Nana Visitor (Kira & Odo are my favorite characters from DS9), I would've loved to be able to meet her myself but unfortnately as far away from any sci-fi convention locations as I live, it will probably never happen.

    Just one small nitpick with your review : where did you get the ridiculous idea that O'Brien is "unhappily married". I'm not married myself (not yet anyway) but from my experience with my parents (who are still together after 26 years of marriage) that happily married doesn't mean having no arguments or experiencing only moments of harmony and joy. It takes patience and commitment to make it work and keep the flame alive, and both Miles and Keiko had plenty of it.

    Sure, at the start of the series Keiko is understandably unhappy with the living conditions on DS9 and she is right when claims a cardassian space station on the outskirts of Federation space is not exactly the ideal place to raise a child. It doesn't help that she is also conflicted while trying to make herself useful given that the station doesn't require a botanist.

    And while Miles is sad for her and unhappy at things being the way they are, he still supports her and tries to find a place for her on the station and put her skills to good use so that she can feel useful.

    Bottom line is, he loves his wife and she loves him; it's been proven many times in episodes like "The Assignment", "Tribunal", "Destiny", "Time's Orphan" and even "Children of Time" (where he is the one who pushes the most for the crew to leave the planet regardless of the consequences that would have on its inhabitants, because he has a wife and 2 children he deeply cares about back on DS9).

    An unhapilly married man would not think twice about accepting the cardassian female's advances in "Destiny" or having an affair with Kira in "Looking for par'Mach in all the wrong places". At the very least he would spend all of his time in Quark's Bar or doing extra hours on his shifts, request different living quarters or forget to come home alltogether.

    Sure, Miles and Keiko do have their occassional arguments (like the one in "Fascination") but that's to be expected in a married couple; it can't always be sunshine and laughter, like The Ink Spots said in one of their songs "Into each life some rain must fall". But they've got what it takes to make it and they're marriage is not only one of the few marriages in sci-fi tv, it's also one of the most believable and the closest to real life.

    Anyway, great review overall and I'll be sure to follow the individual episode reviews once I have the time for it! I've also bookmarked your blog page just in case the good folks at imdb decide to delete your threads or ban your account for so called spamming; personally I support you 100% and I've posted a reply to your thread on the DS9 boards in your defense). Thanks for the post!

  2. Thank you SO much!

    As for the O'Brien/Keiko relationship, they spend the vast majority of the series apart and they achieve their greatest happinesses when separated. But more than that, the relationship was pretty inorganic to begin with - i.e. in "Next Generation" Keiko first appears when the pair is getting married and while they used that well in episodes like "The Wounded," it was clear the writers didn't know where to go with it. Moreover, they didn't know how to make Keiko fit Deep Space Nine after the school closed, so they essentially got rid of her. And yes, when she is there, she is never really happy and her relationship with O'Brien - while stable - is seldom characterized as overly loving (after the second season). Still, I like the couple!

    Thanks so much for reading and please feel free to share the links!