Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Emissary:" Every Epic Starts Somewhere And This Is It For Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!

The Good: Excellent beginning, Good initial characterization
The Bad: The "eye scenes" get grating quickly, Some effect work looks less refined (usual "pilot problems").
The Basics: A good-enough beginning strong in the fundamentals, "Emissary" makes it worth committing to the series (though viewers need to be patient)!

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is arguably the best of the Trek franchise because it is the most adult Trek series. It's refreshing to have a series that treats its viewers with intelligence and "Emissary" does that from the beginning by presenting adult characters who have extensive histories and they are not all happy. In fact, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine begins filled with angst.

Following the battle of Wolf 359 where Commander Benjamin Sisko loses his wife to the Borg attack, the young first officer retreats to the shipyards on Utopia Planitia for years to simply work on starships. Then, the day comes that he is reassigned to an alien outpost in the backwater of space and he grudgingly takes the assignment. Reporting in as the StarFleet leader of Deep Space Nine, Sisko finds the Cardassian station is disrepair with its denizens fleeing rapidly. After receiving officers and small starships called Runabouts from the U.S.S. Enterprise, Sisko soon finds himself alone, raising his son on an alien station around an alien world, feeling pretty miserable.

That misery changes when he meets a Bajoran spiritual leader named Kai Opaka, who informs him that he has a destiny to fulfill. He grudgingly accepts her mission to find the Temple of the Prophets (the Bajoran gods) and he takes an artifact back to Deep Space Nine with him to study. With his new science officer and old friend (sort of), Dax, Sisko soon traces the artifact to a region of space near the station where he and Dax soon find a spatial anomaly that ought not to exist. The discovery of a stable wormhole is potentially the biggest find in the history of the area, but when Sisko and Dax are lost in the anomaly, it is up to the Bajoran first officer, Major Kira, to take control of Deep Space Nine and secure the claim for her people.

The fundamentals of the series are established here: Commander Sisko meets some aliens in a celestial body called a Wormhole as he attempts to reconcile the loss of his wife and Major Kira represents the ravaged Bajor aboard the space station Deep Space Nine. The rest of the series fundamentally deals with these two things: the wormhole/Dominion and the Bajoran/Cardassian relationship. The third main plot - which is actually a mediation of the two major ones - also begins here: the relationship between Benjamin Sisko and Gul Dukat. All are begun here.

The plot of "Emissary" relies on some very specific Star Trek franchise knowledge. For example, the beginning of the episode illustrates the Battle of Wolf 359, which was fought in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II" (reviewed here!), though in that Star Trek The Next Generation episode, all the viewer saw were the effects of the battle. Similarly, a lot of information on what wormholes are in the Star Trek universe (especially how unstable they are) is dealt with in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Price" (reviewed here!). This is not to say that "Emissary" is particularly derivative or that it is difficult to get into (the opening scroll well establishes the circumstances of the Battle of Wolf 359 and there is ample technobabble to inform viewers of what wormholes are all about), only that this new chapter in the Star Trek franchise is enhanced by some knowledge of what has come before.

The particularly brilliant thing about "Emissary" is in beginning the story of Deep Space Nine, it doesn't feel so much like a beginning. We are meeting people very clearly in transition in their lives, but who aren't just starting. They come to the station with a head on their shoulders, for the most part.

The essential characters introduced are:
Benjamin Sisko - widower, father, leader of Deep Space Nine,
Kira Nerys - Bajoran former-terrorist, first officer, religious fundamentalist,
Odo - Security chief and shape shifter,
Miles O'Brien - (Essentially) Engineer, husband, father,
Jadzia Dax - Science Officer, Trill, babe and reigning sense of humor,
Julian Bashir - Human doctor with delusions of becoming a hero,
Quark - Ferengi, capitalist, local bar owner,
Jake Sisko - Son of Ben, student,
Nog - Ferengi, nephew of Quark, petty thief,
Gul Dukat - Cardassian, Opportunistic former leader of Deep Space Nine.
Oh, and Morn - local barstool occupant. :)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does what all good adult shows do - it builds upon itself, it starts at a beginning and it progresses from there. This is the beginning of a highly serialized storyline. While the first and second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have an extensive number of "bottle" episodes (or self contained), they largely do character work and the overall story progresses and develops. That is, as an adult series, commitment is required.

"Emissary" is the story of how everyone arrives at Deep Space Nine, the discovery of the first stable wormhole, and the first stabilizing elements of the Bajoran government. The nice thing is this episode is more setting up the board than moving the pieces. Instead of coming up with cheap answers, this episode sets up the questions that will rule the series. Who are the Prophets? What does it mean that they exist outside time? Why did the Cardassians finally leave Bajor, a planet they had enslaved for over fifty years? What will the Cardassians do now that something of true value has been found in the area they only recently abandoned? What does it mean that Benjamin Sisko is a spiritual figure to the Bajorans? How does that work when he is also the head of the StarFleet presence on space station Deep Space Nine? Will Morn ever speak?

The acting is competent, though it's hard to tell in the case of Avery Brooks as Sisko, whose character is traumatized and coming out of a long shock. He seems listless and boring. It takes a while for him to come out of that, but by the end of the episode, the viewer is given a glimpse of the stronger man he re-becomes! Brooks is playing a deep game as Sisko and it is important in "Emissary" that he not grow so much as to make his character arc appear worthless to begin with. Brooks plays Sisko as a many plagued by demons that are not easily exorcised. He does that extraordinarily well.

The downside of the episode is twofold: 1. Being that it is the beginning of an adult series, it requires some trust and patience, 2. For non-Trek fans, it asks a lot of that with the recurrence of "eye scenes." Eye scenes are in the wormhole with the heartbeat going and they're just too much for a beginning. Basically, inside the wormhole, where Sisko encounters the Prophets, there is an abstract sense of reality and the establishment of those scenes involves long, slow pans in to Sisko's eyes and the sound of his heartbeat thumping in the viewer's ears. These scenes become repetitive quickly. They do, however, establish a very different and compelling alien presence.

Forgive the producers and writers and stick with the series! This is the best show out there, or it was for years, on a consistent basis. It has a good, but rocky start. It's a long term investment on an adult series!

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the first season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, movie or DVD set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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