Such a strange experience. Watching Deep Space Nine‘s pilot episode was like a reunion with old friends, except that I was supposed to have never before met them. And yet it was an introduction and an information, telling me many things that I was previously only aware of as events that had been settled in my old friends’ lives.
Not least of this was the basis upon which the Bajorans regard Benjamin Sisko as the Emissary.
I hadn’t previously known that the third Star Trek series had been so firmly spun-off out of The Next Generation, which was extant when this series began. Straight away, we were taken back to the time Jean-Luc Picard had been captured by and converted to the Borg, leading them in battle with the Federation, a battle in which Bridge Officer Sisko, serving under a Vulcan Captain, loses his beloved wife Jennifer, leaving him with his son Jake to bring up.
Three years later, Commander Sisko, with young Jake, is posted to take charge of Deep Space Nine, a space station in orbit around the remote planet of Bajor, a planet that has only recently thrown off the yoke of the Cardassian Empire (that’s Cardassian with a C: there are, thankfully, no Kim’s in this programme). That the Federation has been asked in to aid the badly-crippled Bajorans is a bit of a controversial step, especially for Sisko’s First Officer, Major Kira Nerys.
There’s a reasonable amount of exposition required here, but over ninety minutes it’s distributed pretty painlessly, and show-runners Rick Berman and Michael Piller are canny enough to introduce the main cast in careful stages and not to try to present them in anything more than broad brush-strokes at first.
Patrick Stewart guest-stars to help bridge the gap. Understandably, though not to Picard, relations between him and Sisko are initially very frosty, with Sisko wanting out as soon as he gets there, but demonstrating his capabilities in a reluctant posting.
We already know Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) from TNG, and he’s in place a couple of days before Sisko and the as yet barely-sketched Jake (Cirroc Lofton). Major Kira (Nana Visitor, wearing a perfectly deplorable haircut at this early stage) is introduced as an ex-rebel who still hasn’t begun to unloose her anger.
Next, there’s Odo (Rene Auberjonois), the ‘Constable’, chief of Security and apparently a shapeshifter. Odo’s crusty and gruff, but he’s also the only one of his kind, with a deep need to find out more about what and why he is. He arrives more or less alongside the Major, but you can already see the double act coming with the Ferengi wheeler-dealer, Quark (Armin Shimerman). I never knew that Sisko had had to blackmail Quark into staying when so many people were pulling out.
Lastly, Doctor Bashir (Siddig el Fadil), no Julians yet, and Lieutenant Jadzia Dax, the Trill, arrive together. At this stage, neither showed too much by way of personality. The Doctor was all naive thrills and inexperience, wisely not given too much room to play, whilst Dax came over as entirely too calm and unemotional.
And of course, though I like him immensely, Avery Brooks was from the start a rather stilted actor in his way of speaking, as if sentences had to be broken down into small chunks for him to say them. He still seems to be to be an odd choice for leading actor for that reason alone, but he demonstrated his chops in the long scene in the Wormhole, with a strange race of creatures, vastly technologically superior, but who do not and cannot understand linear existence. Sisko has the task of representing not merely humanity, but life in all the forms, real and fictional that we know, to creatures that have no corporeal or chronological existence.
To finally do so, Sisko had himself to understand that he had ceased to exist linearly, that he had imprisoned himself in the moment of recognition of Jennifer’s death, because his past had not prepared him for that specific consequence, and he did not know how to go forward from there.
What solution he found, or perhaps it needed only the defining of the problem rather than any answer to it, we were not shown, perhaps because it’s something that lies beyond the ability of most of us to put in words without cheapening the dilemma. Sisko emerged to save the day, both physically and spiritually, taking on the role the Bajoran Priestess, Kai Opaka, had identified for him: the Emissary.
All told, this aspect of the story was slow, solemn and serious and despite equal time being given to a more traditional Trekkian battle, superimposed its atmosphere on the entire pilot. I can see by just how much it would have upset the expectations of fans accustomed to a certain amount of Boldly Going. I loved it for what it was, and for what I know it’s going to grow into, and that that growing is going to be long, slow and sure.
Two guest stars were worthy of mention. Felecia Bell was excellent as both Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, and as an alien incarnation of her, as the good Commander was put through his memories: with a figure like that, it was no surprise he chose to keep remembering her in her bikini. And Marc Alaimo made the first of what would be may appearances in heavy Cardassian make-up as Gul Dukat, the former chief of Deep Space Nine.
So, a beginning. Be here when we move onto the next episode.