Friday, March 23, 2012

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season One (1993)

     For some reason, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99) is inexplicably regarded as the least worthy of the Star Trek endeavors by many diehard Trekkers.  Not the animated series (1973-74), not Enterprise (2001-05), and not the downright heretical feature film helmed by J.J. Abrams (2009).  No, for some reason taking Star Trek off a ship is – or was – an unforgivable offense.
     It has taken me some time to get up the notion to rewatching DS9.  I last saw it when it enjoyed a brief late-night run on WGN shortly after going off the air, but what really peaked my interest was noting that I had actually read at least 10 of the DS9 novels.  Clearly I had some kind of emotional investment in the show, but my hindsight also makes me aware that reading these books was a way to reinforce my fanhood to myself.
     Even though I had not seen most of the episodes since the 1990s, I was surprised that there were only two where I did not clearly remember the major plot points and characters.  Yes, Season One was fraught with moments highlighting the strangeness of the Cardassian station or the mistrust of the Bajorans.  Worse, it didn't do much to develop the Bajorans (when does Sisko take the solar sailboat out?, because that would have been a nice story idea for the end of the first season).  But it kept the kiddie factor much lower than I remembered it being, and it did much to build up the Major Kira character, probably more than any other single main cast member.
     Most of the Star Trek shows did not have stellar first seasons.  Star Trek: The Next Generation (1988-1994)may have had some memorable moments from its first season, but it didn't find its voice until the third season (when the uniforms started looking good and Dr. Crusher returned).  Star Trek (1966-69) may have had some of its most iconic episodes in its first season, but there were far more clunkers (and little definition to the universe in which the U.S.S. Enterprise operated).  Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) may be the lone exception, where its first season was probably stronger than the following two, but there was still a lot of work to be done.  No, the first season is where the rough patches are identified, but in the case of DS9 those rough patches were really just the delay in moving towards the overarching story.
     As I have recently seen the first season of some other syndicated shows of the era – I watched Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994 for the TV movies, 1995-1999 for the series) back in 2010 as a way to wind down after studying, but more recently took in the first seasons of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda (2000-01) and Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict (1997-98) in the last few months, the latter being far superior to the former – I can state without qualification that DS9 is a much better package as a show.  Hell, its first season makes Babylon 5 (1994-95) look quaint, though B5 did make an effort to get to the storyline much quicker.  The only real problem that DS9 has early on is in the premise that the Federation wouldn't garrison the mouth of the wormhole or construct their own space station there.  But that gets into the politics, and while the foundation for it is there, DS9 was just a little too slow to start working the inherent conflicts until the end the the first season.
     Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, like Voyager after it, attempted to have a meaningful story running through the length of the series.  In the case of Voyager, it was really just Lost in Space (1965-68) on a Federation star ship that eventually makes it home.  With DS9, it was an odd amalgam of destiny and religion, politics and vanity, greed and corruption, and how the enlightened Federation humanist viewpoint wasn't always the one that made the most sense.  Even with its slow start, there was more than enough promise in the first season of DS9 that Sci-Fi fans should have climbed aboard.  But I think that many felt that Paramount was overstepping their bounds by launching a Star Trek show while one was on the air, and just as many were ready for something much grimmer than TNG (they should have stuck around for the Dominion War) and claimed B5 as their own.
     As it stands, DS9 seems largely abandoned.  It deserves much more than that.  It deserves the kind of attention that critics stumbled over themselves to throw at the re-boot of Battlestar Galactica (2004-09), even if it still bore the shine of Roddenbery's optimism about the future.  And I am looking forward to making some slow progress through the rest of the series.

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