Retro Review: The Emisarry
These days Star Trek can, and is, a collection of tales with multiple settings. From secretive science experiments, to unimportant Starships. In the 1990’s Star Trek was seen as only one thing: A crew exploring space on the Enterprise. And there was even pushback to there being a different Enterprise and crew in the 80’s before the launch of The Next Generation. But producers of the time weren’t worried about cries of heresy as they came up with a new plan to expand the Star Trek Universe with Deep Space Nine.
Having a show on air that followed the Enterprise flying through space and meeting the bumpy foreheads of the week, Deep Space Nine would go the other way, focusing on a space station that finds a gateway to a far away quadrant allowing them to focus on exploring the local Bajoran cultures, whilst the aliens of the week would instead come to Deep Space Nine. A galactic crossroads.
It was a risk, and one that would give the opportunity to show something different in the Starfleet world. Though how it would begin in it’s pilot episode would show less risk while setting up what would end up becoming the most arc-based series of it’s time.
Despite starting anew series, the core of the pilot would link in heavily with The Next Generation, starting off with a flashback to the battle of Wolf 359 from Next Gen fan favourite Best of Both Worlds. Giving us our first look of the off-screen decimation of the fleet by the Borg, we see the scars of the battle first hand as the USS Saratoga comes under fire and it’s first officer, Benjamin Sisko, finds his wife dead in the rubble before being dragged to an escape pod. Thus giving us an arc that, for Trek at the time, had a dark edge for the introduction of our new hero.
In a lot of ways the plot resembles TNG’s Encounter At Farpoint. Mainly in encountering a new alien wonder that will define and entwine with the series as it goes on. And in throwing us into an unfamiliar world. Though where we met Picard, his introduction was a question of humanity and exploration of what that meant. Deep Space Nine started with a more visceral introduction for Sisko. Anger, loss and disillusion.
When we skip ahead, to Sisko first arriving at Deep Space Nine, we see a man who’s just biding his time. Taking what looks like a desk job and riding it out long enough to quit. With Jennifer Sisko dying, and him never really getting over the loss, he’s put all his energy into being a father to their son Jake and wants him far away from the type of conflict that saw his wife killed in action. We also see, for the first time, a view of Picard outwith the comfort of his crew following Wolf 359. Something we’d see again years later with Liam Shaw. Picard is our hero, but to Sisko he’s just Locutus. The Borg that, in essence, was responsible for the loss of his wife.
It’s a ridiculously uncomfortable scene. And it;s wonderful. A lot of people took exception to Sisko’s instant dislike and disrespect for Picard, but Sisko isn’t Picard. He’s hurt. He’s raw. And in comparison to this idea of The Enterprise crew representing the idea of a more perfect vision of humanity, Sisko instantly became more real.
Before the story kicks off, the rest of the cast are introduced quite nicely. O’Brien get glossed over a bit as he’s done all his development and is a more permanent link to TNG by transferring. Jake Sisko gets introduced as a military kid who doesn’t really want to be there. Quark is quickly greedy and blackmailed to stay by Sisko, while Odo gives hints to his shapeshifting ways while being the ruthless kinda-independant copper grumbling about justice and Dax and Bashir are introduced together; getting dropped off and having a conversation showing him as an awkward and annoying youngster failing to impress the locals with how clever he is, while Jadzia quickly informs the audience she’s a Trill and older than she looks.
Kira gets the best introduction however with O’Brien quipping about the temperament of Bajoran women before introducing her to Sisko who, just buy standing upright, invites a rant about Starfleet and the Federation taking over (by invitation) and how stupid she finds the idea as the Bajorans had only just won their freedom against the Cardassian Occupation of their world, and doesn’t feel her people need to ask for help from Starfleet.
Other long term recurring characters get nice introductions. Dukat, former commander of Deep Space Nine – a former Cardassian outpost – comes in and tries to intimidate Sisko as soon as the Enteprise leaves. And Kai Opaka, spiritual leader of Bajor, foreshaws Sisko’s importance in his new role before the real story kicks in and Dax, the new science officer, finds breadcrumbs and abnormalities that lead to a stable wormhole leading to the Gamma Quadrant.
After some quick sciencing, Sisko and Dax head out to the weird readings near DS9 and discover the wormhole. Inside it all gets weird as they appear to land and gain visions by aliens living inside the anomaly. They quickly send Dax back and take an interest in Sisko, keeping him with them as the Cardassians run back to DS9 wondering whats going on and from there, the plot splits and continues to introduce us to these new characters and set the stage for DS9 as a series.
Back on DS9, the Cardassians are swooping in ready to attack. With their ship going through the wormhole, and refusing to believe there is a wormhole they hadn’t noticed for over fifty years, they’re on the offensive. Quickly taking charge, Kira shows her resilience in fending them off despite having next to nothing to defend themselves with. Help is too far away, and the station only has the bare bones of a defence system since the Cardassians took everything when they left.
Everyone gets their shining moment, from Dax and O’Brien figuring out how to transport the station closer to the wormhole to guard it while Odo and Bashir handle clearing and protecting the civilians on board. Kira has the best moments, just showing her fighting spirit and bluffing that the Federation armed the station to the teeth. The lie fails as the Cardassians attack anyway leaving her to make the call to keep fighting or surrender…
Meanwhile Sisko’s got the easier time of it. But not really. Being the central figure of the show, and opening up with the cause of his grief and personal suffering, the womrhole aliens – who Bajorans believe to be their prophets – are giving him an impromptu therapy session as they try and figure him out. Having no understanding of linear time, Sisko tries explaining it to them as well as trying some culture sharing as they take him through key moments of his life. But they’re more preoccupied as to why he keeps bringing them to the moment his wife died, and his preoccupation with that memory.
Eventually he has to give in and tell them his memory isn’t linear since he’s living in a past he can’t let go of. Which is a heavy subject for the introduction of a new captain (well, commander) but nicely blends the introduction of a less than perfect leader with some classic Trek alien weirdness. But once he accepts his grief and the guilt he feels for the death of Jennifer, who was simple a civilian in battle following her husband towards danger, they let him go and deal with the personal revelation.
They also very kindly give him Dukat and his ship back, which is a nice moment of Siskoo towing the Cardassian warship back home just in time to interrupt Kira surrendering to save the people on board the station and make the Cardassians look like a pair of clown shoes.
But with Kira holding strong, the first stable wormhole discovered that Sisko was able to negotiate use of and the insignificant Bajor suddenly being an important territory, it opened the doors for what seemed to be a show about rebuilding into a show about a galactic crossroads to an unexplored region. It also gave an opening for flaws. An angry and fed up man who hated Starfleet, only accepting the job as the Prophets accepted and helped him.
When it comes to DS9, there’s a thing about it only becoming a good show by it’s fourth season with Way Of The Warrior being a second pilot. And I’ll admit that it did have a shaky start as the first season was a mixed bag as the show and the concept found it’s footing; a difficult task running against the established and highly popular Next Generation.
But as a starting point, The Emissary worked incredibly well to establish this new settings and it’s characters. While it did have a leg up thanks to Next Generation already setting some of the stage, primarily with the Bajorans and Cardassians, the show made a seamless effort to reintroduce them and give a backstory that strengthened the premise while offering new opportunities to explore and stand alone from it’s counterpart.
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