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Retro Review: Emissary

Posted by Michelle - 14/10/11 at 12:10 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 01 Episode: 01 (s01e01)

Original US airdate: 01/03/1993

Commander Sisko arrives at Deep Space Nine and finds himself caught between Starfleet, the Bajorans, the Cardassians, and the mysterious beings called the Prophets who may hold the key to controlling the Alpha Quadrant.

Plot Summary: Commander Benjamin Sisko reluctantly brings his young son to Deep Space Nine, a former Cardassian station which the Bajorans have asked Starfleet to help them reclaim. Captain Picard, who has brought Miles O’Brien to the station to become chief of operations, is disappointed to learn that Sisko is planning to leave Starfleet. The Bajoran first officer, Major Kira, doesn’t trust the Federation much more than the Cardassians who occupied her planet for decades, fearing that Sisko will be autocratic and the adventurous Doctor Bashir will be condescending. Sisko’s team includes a young Trill science officer, Dax, who was Sisko’s good friend when her symbiont was joined with an older man, and a security officer, Odo, who formerly worked for the Cardassians yet is trusted by Kira and has the invaluable ability to shapeshift. Sisko pressures the Ferengi Quark to keep his bar open on the station’s Promenade and visits the Bajoran spiritual leader known as the Kai, who tells him that it is his destiny to protect the Celestial Temple of the Prophets. After seeing a vision in an Orb of the Prophets that allows him to relive his meeting with his late wife, Sisko asks Dax to help him search for evidence of a Celestial Temple and discovers a stable wormhole that leads to the Gamma Quadrant. The beings that live in the wormhole have no sense of linear time and cannot understand why Sisko experiences emotions like pain and fear of loss. While they learn from each other, the Cardassian Gul Dukat – the former prefect of the space station, who intends to reclaim that position – searches for the wormhole as well. Kira proposes moving the station to stake a claim to the wormhole for Bajor and defend it from the Cardassians. While Dax and O’Brien take on that dangerous task, Sisko convinces the Prophets, who appear to him as people from his life, that linear life forms like himself and the Bajorans are not a threat and they have much to teach each other. When the wormhole reopens, Sisko must rescue Dukat, who orders the rest of the Cardassians to cease hostilities against Deep Space Nine. Because of his new role as the Emissary to the Prophets and his new perspective on how the loss of his wife changed him, Sisko decides to remain in command of Deep Space Nine.

Analysis: Nearly twenty years ago, I experienced love at first sight with Deep Space Nine – much to my surprise, given how long it took me to warm up to The Next Generation. I suffered a brief period of disillusionment right after Voyager premiered because my love for Janeway blinded me to all other Treks, but by the time DS9 went off the air, it had proven itself to be the best by far of the Star Trek series, and I waver about calling it my favorite only out of lifelong loyalty to Kirk and Spock. There’s no doubt in my mind that, episode for episode, DS9 is better written, and the extended recurring cast is exceptional – more than 20 characters who recur through the show’s storylines in addition to the series regulars, each one cast and played superbly. I know some fans believe that DS9 is too dark to fit in with Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision of the future, and it’s certainly more engaged with themes like war, occupation, slavery, bigotry, and the limits of religious tolerance than either of its predecessors. To me, though, that makes it more realistic and relatable than the original series or TNG; rather than simply assuming that peace, financial stability, and tolerance have been achieved among most of the spacefaring worlds of the galaxy, DS9 shows the painful process by which peace and tolerance might be achieved, and it is not afraid from the first to tackle tough subjects like crushing grief and the yearning for spiritual faith. Looking back at it now after seeing some of the shows that followed (Babylon 5, Andromeda, the Stargate franchise, the Battlestar Galactica reboot, to name a few), its influence seems as great as that of the original Star Trek.

I must admit that, before this week, I hadn’t watched “Emissary” since the show finished its first broadcast run. I had remembered it being slow in parts, and that I’d had a hard time warming up to Sisko, particularly after his confrontation with by-then-beloved Picard. So imagine my surprise to find myself on the edge of my seat this time around despite knowing everything that was going to happen, and to find that my sympathies had shifted entirely. Of course, this is hindsight born of great affection, and I’m not sure that I wouldn’t still find it a bit plodding if it was entirely new to me, but wow does “Emissary” hold up with the best of Star Trek episodes (and exceeds “Encounter at Farpoint” so greatly that comparisons seem odious…though I’d argue that it leaves the reboot film just as far behind). Some things that I loved the first time around still leap out at me, like the fact that two women are in charge of the station, making all the important scientific and strategic decisions for Starfleet and for Bajor while Sisko is off communing with the Prophets, and the fact that Kira and Odo have an immediate and deep rapport that suggests a long, complicated backstory. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that as a fan I’m very relationship-oriented – not in the superficial “oh, Dax and Bashir would be hot together” sense that the writers seemed to be pushing from the first, but in terms of watching drama unfold centered on the characters and their interactions rather than from whatever sci-fi gimmicks come into play. Many fans were skeptical about how a Star Trek series set on a space station rather than a moving spaceship could work, fearing that an element would be lost without exploring strange new worlds, suspecting that we’d get even more of the kids-and-families elements that didn’t always work on TNG. I will admit up front that the community-building, the marriages, the friendships, the personal bonds are the biggest thing that I love about DS9…and I think they are catalysts for the optimism and forward thinking that might otherwise get lost in the Bajoran-Cardassian conflict and later the Dominion War. This show demonstrates over and over a belief that most beings inherently want to learn from and trust one another, and that the inability to do so eventually leads to catastrophe.

We don’t really see enough of the characters besides Sisko to get a sense of who they are in this pilot, and Sisko at the end isn’t who he was at the beginning, before the Prophets showed him that he has never let himself move on from the moment of his wife’s death. I remember having a few moments of fear that Kira might be a stereotype of a woman with a chip on her shoulder, clinging to control at all costs, but she’s beginning to work with Sisko, O’Brien, and Dax before the second hour is up, and there are magical moments when she and Odo seem to understand one another without dialogue. It’s pure joy to watch those now, knowing the full arc of their relationship, even its less-than-happily-ever-after denouement. It’s also pure joy to watch Kira and Bashir’s first meeting, in which he’s a bouncy puppy and she’s a wry cynic, though the wider interest there involves knowing that those actors eventually married and had a child, even if that story too has a less-than-happily-ever-after denouement. If Bashir has a bit too much Wesley Crusher in him, if O’Brien seems to be channeling Montgomery Scott, if Jake’s role isn’t quite clear, if Dax’s personality seems fuzzy around the edges, there’s plenty of time for the characters to be more sharply defined and their jobs to be more thoroughly explored. Curiously, considering that this is the installment to launch him as the new leader, DS9′s pilot is much more focused on Sisko’s roles as husband, father, friend, and Emissary than on his command style. One of the reasons I adore Sisko is because he never stops juggling all those roles; unlike Kirk and Picard, who define themselves first and foremost as starship captains even with their nearest and dearest, Sisko always understands that he is part of a much larger community, and his threat to resign in the early minutes here is the last time he will ever try to withdraw from full engagement with it. Kira’s first line to him is, “I suppose you want the office!”; Odo’s first line to him is, “Who the hell are you?” And it’s all to the good!

For all these reasons, it’s very difficult for me to come at “Emissary” as if it were all new rather than as a delightful reunion. Even things that I know are coming which I resisted upon first viewing – the fits and starts of Odo’s self-awareness, Kira’s growing religious consciousness, Dukat’s madness, Worf’s arrival, the O’Briens’ marital ups-and-downs, a change in Dax’s host – now seem worthy of anticipation, since I know how well everything worked out in the end. Don’t count on a lot of negative criticism in these reviews, but rather on nostalgia, a sense of how perspectives change over time and with hindsight. And expect spoilers not just for this entire series but for all the Star Trek shows, plus many of the franchises this one inspired. Episode for episode, I don’t think there has ever been a science fiction show as good as Deep Space Nine – its peers are M*A*S*H and The West Wing, not space operas and alien thrillers – and I can’t make that case without talking across individual episodes to look at the larger picture.

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  • Redshirtpunk

    Great review, I couldn’t agree more. It’s nice to hear DS9 getting some of the love and respect I think it deserves. Can’t wait for your thoughts on some of my favorite episodes.

  • Bobby

    I loved this episode.

    I miss DS9. What a great show.

    The first season was uneven but the pilot was fantastic!

  • http://profiles.google.com/kevbayer Kevin Bayer

    Wow! I recently rewatched Emmissary too, and your comments reflect mine almost exactly!
    It was such a joy going back and rewatching this after so many years.

    Thanks for your review!

  • http://twitter.com/jonthetwit John

    I’m a huge DS9 fan i’m always in favour of continuity, storylines and character development that occurs over episodes and entire seasons, and with such a huge cast of regular and supporting characters it covered just about every theme you’d want to see in a sci fi show and for the most part had a coherent structure that allowed for the development of its characters while still sticking to the core Trek mantra of a better future a better humanity.

    Unlike TOS, TNG and ven Voyager where Humankind was at theier best it showed humans and humanoids had weaknesses it emphasised the struggle to be better rather than what it’s like when human kind is already there. Sisko was the most human captain he had responsibilities outside his uniform he had moments of doubt, anger, fear regret, happiness, all the characters were different in someway in What You Leave Behind from Emmissary, or in Worf’s case The Way of the Warrior. Without making it sound to much like a love letter to the show yes it had flaws things that didn’t work, episodes that were bad or just average one that even bores me to tears when i’ve sat through it but overall it was a fantastic and underrated Trek Show. I’m currently going through my Next Gen and Voyager DVD’s but its been a while since i visited and i think it may time to return to that strange looking space station and its mytraid of inhabitants and passersby.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Toriach Roy Frank Tottie

    “some fans believe that DS9 is too dark to fit in with Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision of the future,”

    Personally I believe that many people fail to understand the difference between optimism and naivete. Sadly I would count even Gene in the last years of his life among their number. To put it briefly an optimist looks at the state of things and after noting the good and the bad believes that if he works his hardest, does his best, and never gives up he can make the good more so and the bad less so. On the other hand, one who is naive simply refuses to accept that the bad even exists and as a result is destroyed by the bad and does nothing to help the good.

    To be sure DS9 deals with some very complicated subjects. But the message is never about how things are awful and we are helpless to change them. Rather the message is about how awful things can be and about how if they are going to change it must be up to each of us.

    If there is any better encapsulation of what Star Treks core message is I’ve yet to find it.

  • Chris

    After six plus years of reviewing Star Trek episodes once a week, you FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY got around to DS9, my absolute favorite, and the show that doesn’t get nearly enough respect from Trekkies.

    TOS will always be my favorite, but, aside from a very slow second season, and some early questionable acting skills from the Major Kira character (she got much better), this one far surpasses Voyager, Enterprise, and even TNG.

    Oh, I miss this show. I can’t believe it’s been nearly 13 years since it went off the air:(

  • Anonymous

    This show demonstrates over and over a belief that most beings inherently want to learn from and trust one another, and that the inability to do so eventually leads to catastrophe.

    That is truly insightful. You got me hooked for the next 175.

  • Kevin

    For me, DS9 is the jewel in the crown for the franchise. A multi layered, multi arc show with characters that were flawed and often at odds with each other. DS9 is complex, compelling and, despite the perception that it is “dark” is a lot of fun to watch.

  • Kozmikg

    TNG will always be my favorite as it introduced me to Star Trek, but DS9 is the best series IMO. Looking forward to the retro reviews cause I know there are some excellent episodes and arcs to discuss.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NHC3OFBCSE3LWZ4G2ZENZAPR6I Mike DeLaney

    It’s exactly why Bashir and O’Brien fight unwinnable scenarios in the holo-suites. It’s about the fight for good, not just having good abound all around you.

    It’s easy to be good when everything is handed to you. Picard is no different. We just rarely, rarely see it. Probably the only time in my mind is the revenge sequence in the observation lounge of Enterprise-E during First Contact… When Lily is trying to convince him to abandon ship. In that one sequence we see that Jean Luc Picard isn’t quite as evolved as he’d like us to believe… Benjamin Sisko wears that humanity as a badge of honor. Though, it’s a little different commanding a crucial space station outside Federation space under hostile circumstances than ferrying diplomats on the Flag Ship.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NHC3OFBCSE3LWZ4G2ZENZAPR6I Mike DeLaney

    For anyone that never watched the show, or even those that gave it a go during the first run syndication, but never watched again, let me emplore you: DS9 is good on the first watch, but becomes epic after the second time through. Once you’ve seen the entire thing, witnessing the personal and political journey showcased within is amazing. There are some Bajor heavy arcs that are somewhat lackluster as standalone entries, but nothing is lackluster, nor standalone, truly, in this series. So, if taken as a whole, easily the best Trek… and shocker, they got to tell the stories they wanted without going back in time and destroying 45+ years of storytelling.

  • Seventhbeacon

    I completely agree with your review, but I’m also passionately biased toward DS9, having watched all of Trek save for the “Xindi Season” of Enterprise. It is hands down the best of the Trek series, so amen! And I look forward to these reviews =)

  • fainodraino

    Well, no big surprise…now we have to sit thru these retro reviews and read all the drooling over DS9. This is the main reason why I don’t normally like your reviews, because you wear your bias on your sleeve. It’s obvious to everyone you’re a DS9 fangirl, and your reviews of the other series are always tainted because of it. I’m sure you’ll even drool over the bad DS9 episodes (like Meridian), and all the instances when they copy themselves and other Trek series. Good grief, they couldn’t even do a “Q” episode right.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater. I do really enjoy the show, but let’s be real…it isn’t flawless…most DS9 fans think it is.

  • fainodraino

    Oh, and Babylon 5 wasn’t really AFTER DS9, was it?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NHC3OFBCSE3LWZ4G2ZENZAPR6I Mike DeLaney

    Well, you don’t really HAVE to sit through the reviews. I mean, this isn’t compulsory reading, is it? She likes DS9. She’s apt to give it more slack. Isn’t it all the better that we now, at least, have a comments section to add our opinions to the mix? If you don’t like an aspect of an episode, or disagree with the reviewer, engage in a nice, healthy debate. Trek debates are fun when handled among adults who are willing to discuss the material. Your comment presumes a lot about upcoming reviews, and I’ve seen no “coming events” from this reviewer… so let’s just have fun! The reviewer is the reviewer. She’s not going to pretend to hate the show and then somehow review it. As the reviews come, since you’re forced to read them, comment then and we can all have a good talk about the strengths and weaknesses. Trek can handle it.

  • David

    DS9 is my favorite Trek series. I would like to get all 7 seasons on DVD at some point. “Some fans believe that DS9 is too dark to fit in with Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision of the future.” I never understood why people think this. Personally I think it makes it more real by showing conflicts. Also I never thought it was that dark.

  • ldude

    DS9 is without a doubt my favorite Trek show. Thank you for reminding me why. Yeah, not everything worked perfectly (“Let he who is without sin”), but all of the characters were eventually very well developed. It’s particularly fascinating to watch Sisko’s 7-year transformation from a somewhat whiny recent widower to the truly wise and formidable Emissary of the Prophets.

  • Tndavis_05

    No mention of Wolf 359?

  • byrd85land

    Although my favorite series is TOS, I’ve always felt that the Dominion War arch of seasons 6 & 7 is the best that Star Trek ever produced. The entire Federation on the brink of being swept away, with no way to stop it?! And yet they find a way. Hard to top that in any series, Star Trek or otherwise.

  • Tim

    Michelle is right, DS9 is simply an amazing show. I spent the past summer watching the whole show from start to finish and it was epic. The characters, acting, and writing are the best of all the series. The characters are real and have strengths and faults and demons. And the message is a Trek message, that good triumphs over evil, that freedom beats tyrany, and that people can forgive and find redemption.

  • T’Play Well

    I wish the writer stop going on about women in these reviews. They are mostly irrelevant to the story lines in most of Trek, and it really smacks of personal bias.
    Most of the stories within Trek have both men and women in lead roles, and decision making. (as with race and ability.) Other than TOS or the animated series, there are no issues here.

  • T’Play Well

    “…, if Jake’s role isn’t quite clear,”

    Heh? I thought he represent us, the viewer; as a child looking at the unfamiliar, complex and uncertain future. He grows to become an artisan, a writer – having nothing to do with the political militarism aspects of Star Trek DS9.

    A Sisko’s son he has experienced the loss of his mother, who should be very bitter against war, alien races and Star Fleet. He is amazing not.
    He is at the very beginning of the story and remains at the very end – seeing another loss – his father – and appears in the last shot with Kira and the DS9. In the ending to be left alone to face the future.

    I’d argue differently. Jake is central to the whole story of DS9.

  • Anonymous

    You can’t have bias in your own review. It’s your personal opinion, reflecting your personal views and preferences and look on life.

    If the writer is consistently disappointing to you, I suggest you shouldn’t read the reviews.

  • Allenric

    For me, ST:NG rarely lived up to Gene’s “Cowboys In Space” description. Now DS9 was more in line with this then any of the other series before or after besides the classic series. DS9 wasn’t neat and tidy. There was conflict, things seldom worked as anticipated (station systems and gear) nor did we always see the tide closing comments of “After hours of repair, all is well and sanitary again.” This made DS9 more enjoyable. The old west as conflict, supply shortages and encounters with individuals that would just as easily attack you for what you had then try to open dialog. Gene was as far as I’m aware in on the concept work for Deep Space Nine prior to his death. And if he had lived to see it run its course, I’m sure that he would have loved this vision of the future as much as the rest. Even more so I think because it fit his desire to show not only an bright future for humanity, but the growth of humans as a species.