Having Watched All Of Deep Space Nine, I Now Say….

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I have now devoted one hundred and twenty-nine hours of my life to watching the entirety of Deep Space Nine.  Assuming I’d never slept, that’d be five and a half straight days of television, but as it was, finishing DS9 was a commitment.  We gave up Mythbusters, we gave up sitcoms, we gave up Boardwalk Empire because we knew if we strayed we’d wander off and never know how all of this ended.
And how did it end?
Well.
I told you when I started watching DS9 that I hadn’t seen it before now because I “knew” it was a pale rip-off of Babylon 5 – a complaint that has some traction.  But DS9 and B5 had similar evolutions because of the nature of the show.
Which is to say that Next Generation was a spaceship swooping from exotic locale to exotic locale, every week a new distraction, so you didn’t have to worry about the characters all that much.  Hey, it’s Picard – on a pleasure planet!  Hey, it’s Picard – fighting the Borg!  Hey, it’s Picard – arguing with Q!  So your main plotline isn’t so much the evolution of the characters, it’s the latest show-and-dance.
….Though I note that the fan favorite episodes tend to be the ones where Picard is forced through character evolution, such as “Picard has to live a whole life as someone else” or “Picard goes home and breaks down over the Borg.”
What DS9 did, simply because it was a static locale and didn’t have the luxury of a different enemy every week, was to change the characters.  Because you literally couldn’t go elsewhere, the characters had to evolve, and as such what you had was a situation very unlike Star Trek where the characters’ choices in Season 1 would not be the choices they made come Season 7.  (As evidenced by Sisko’s chilling, yet correct, choice in “In The Pale Moonlight” – a choice Picard never could have made, yet a choice that needed to be made.)
Deep Space Nine is both far better and far worse than Babylon 5.  B5 had the problem of wooden characters and bad actors, while DS9 had rich characters and some very bad actors mixed in with some very good ones.  (It took me a long time before I could accept Sisko’s stilted delivery as a riff on Shatnerian earnestness.  And ever since Bec made me watch Shatner’s documentary “The Captains,” where he interviews all of the other Star Trek captains only to find Avery Brooks is a singing, piano-playing loon, I found it hard to separate Avery from the role.)
Basically, every flaw Deep Space Nine has when compared to Babylon 5 comes down to “Babylon 5 knew where it was going.”  B5 had an end point, so it had a clear character arc for every character – Londo’s redemption and corruption, Garibaldi’s fencing with the Psi Corps, even Sinclair/Sheridan’s attitude towards Earth.  As such, the characters had very bold decisions where they moved from friends to enemies, or vice versa, with the grace of a dancer.
DS9 gets the evolution, but falters a bit because they don’t know where they’re headed – they were just running for a few seasons and hoped to tie it up.  The only one where they absolutely nail the arc is Odo and Kira, and even that wavers for a bit as the “Will she or won’t she” turns into cruelty for a bit as you can sense the producers not quite sure what to do.  So you have a lot of relationships like Odo and Quark that are quite nice as they are, but are entirely about moving by inches and never reach a breaking point.
On the other hand, DS9 has a much better grasp on emotional issues, unlike B5 which treats emotions as something that happens to further the plot.  DS9, like all Star Treks, loves devoting individual episodes to giving each of their leads a challenge that shows us who they are.  So we get these character spotlights where we wind up getting very much inside the heads of Kira and Dax and co, which matter more because that’s what Star Trek does well – that human factor.
On the other hand, DS9 has the Ferengi episodes, which vary wildly in quality, and a lot of Klingon episodes – and since I can’t stand Klingons, it feels like there’s a lot of filler.
Thing is, though, the end game of DS9 is ultimately pretty satisfying.  It suffers because, like all “We’re making it up as we go along” shows, there are dead-ends and shoehorned in aspects – hey, what’s that book that suddenly turns out to mean anything, and why’s it only show up three episodes before the end?  Why did the prophets make such a big deal about Sisko making a choice where his punishment was that he could never return to Bajor if this was their end game all along?  Who are these Breen guys, anyway, and why’d they steal Leia’s armor from Jabba’s palace?
None of that matters, though, because they got some of the emotional arcs right.  DS9 is different from Roddenberry in that it believes that war has a cost, and that cost takes its toll.  The end of Next Generation is Picard saying “Engage,” and that there are tons of new adventures to be had – which is inspiring, but not necessarily honest.
DS9 shows that characters must make sacrifices in the course of this war, and what happens in the end isn’t always happy.  Some real losses are had – not death, which is kind of easy in fiction, but the kind of thing where ultimately to do the right thing you have to step away from what you want personally to accomplish the larger goal.  And in that, DS9 shows how friendships are born and shift as yes, you have friendships, but you have marriages and careers and, yes, the fate of the fucking galaxy, and sometimes you’re going to pay for that currency in unhappiness to get the paltry satisfaction of having done the right thing.
That’s where DS9 nails it.  Yes, it’s a little uneven in the last season as the non-arc shows sputter out.  Yes, maybe some of the end game is too much “Because The Prophets say so.”  Yes, maybe all our questions are not answered.  But the emotional resonance of knowing that no, in fact being a tool of the Prophets does not lead to happiness, war does not lead to happiness, combat costs.
And that, I like.  So much that I can forgive the unevenness.

4 Comments

  1. Kellie Lynch
    Dec 24, 2011

    I’m in the middle of watching DS9 myself, and just finished “In the Pale Moonlight.” I definitely agree with your observations–the character development is what makes this show great (and in a wholly different way from TNG), and the choice he made is not the one he’d have made in Season 1. Similarly, I find the slow erosion of Odo’s black-and-white sense of justice really interesting…even though that was one of the things I loved about the character in the beginning.
    I’m not a big fan of the O’Brien episodes, myself. It feels to me like the writers are trying to hammer home that he’s a good man by having the other characters repeat it over and over again…while O’Brien is actually shown on-screen as prejudiced, rage-filled, often violent, and with a pretty non-rigid sense of ethics. It’s the old “show, don’t tell” problem–when the other characters sing his praises despite the evidence, it doesn’t make me respect him. It makes me lose a little respect for the other characters.

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 26, 2011

      I think part of the problem with O’Brien is that they kept putting him through so much torture because he was the Everyman that eventually, his personality shifted to stasis – really, especially after the one where he’s trapped for twenty years, he should be considerably different. I don’t have a problem with his characterization – he’s tetchy, not the best technician, and hot-headed, but I rather like him anyway.
      And yes, on Odo. I agree.

  2. Tom England
    May 13, 2012

    I was very very reluctant to watching DS9.
    I love scifi. Almost all scifi.
    I liked enterprise, though it was terribly cheesy. I liked Voyager, even though there were so many inconsistencies it drove me crazy.
    I loved B5, because in a lot of ways it felt real.
    I loved Farscape because IT WAS real.
    I really liked Stargate SG-1 because… well, I don’t know, there was so much about it that was terrible, but despite that I liked it.
    Atlantis.. same thing as above, different location, better enemies, better story arcs, worse leaders (until they got the Holographic Doctor, he fucking rocked as a protagonist, and even better as an uncomfortable leader)
    SG Universe was terrible. I wanted to love it, but the producers/writers … someone screwed it over by making the leader completely unrecognizable, and by putting in shoddy story arcs that felt cheesy despite the dark nature of the show.
    Firefly was better than all of the above, and I’m still disappointed (but not shocked) by Fox’s cancellation even though I never knew of it at the time. (Firefly is one of the few TV shows I could actually see being revived)
    then, I basically have reached the end of scifi shows, except for pre-80’s like Blake 7 and the such, which I can’t watch because I let the graphics/appearance get to me too much.
    So, I started with great reluctance DS9.
    I’m amazed, and yet not. Both by the series and the fan reactions.
    DS9 suffers from idiotic producers and writers. I’m serious, some of their decisions are retarded, and I applaud the actors for their contributions and dedication.
    DS9 has the best episode of Star Trek, and the worst. (Best, the one where Jake Sisko is connected through timespace or something with his father. It hit me on such an emotional level as I’ve had a father who has been around my entire life and yet not, he’s taught me very little, leaving me to stumble through the world despite his best intentions – I know he wants the best for me) (Worst – several, hard to choose, but pretty much any where the only focus is on Sisko)
    I hate Captain Sisko, his character as awful as his actor is amazing. Yet, that said, he is more real than any other Star Trek captain who live in idealism and a lack of reality. Sisko’s wooden character actually makes real choices and decisions.
    I love the supporting cast, all of them. I like Bashir, O’brien (though I agree with the above comments), Odo is my favorite non-humanoid/very different humanoid in all of Star Trek. Kira faces the troubles of having a warriors past. Dax is incredible, and an actual human being (rather than someone who is not even 2d, but 1d).
    All that said, I wish Sisko had been different, less.. restrained or something.
    And last but not least, Gul Dukat. Holy shit. An enemy that makes sense… FINALLY.

  3. Mike
    Nov 26, 2013

    I have watched pretty – much all Sci-fi shows available to me. My favorit top 5:
    1) Babylon5, 2) DS9, 3) BattleStar Galactica, 4) Firefly, 5) Farscape. STargate SG1 is not bad as well…
    I started watching Andromeda, but dropped it on 2nd season…
    I think the best one (for me) is B5. I disagree with “poor character development” of B5. In all my Sci-fi shows I have not seen better character development (and acting) than those of Lando Molari and G’Kar. I also find B5 philosophy more human and deeper… The message that comes with B5 is really universal observation of sentient beings… To me, DS9 is almost as good as B5. I believe if DS9 wasn’t part of Star Trek Galaxy and franchise, it wouldn’t have that popularity… B5 (the the tv show) itself competes with entire Star Trek Universe. I’d really like to see more of B5, if Mr Strazinski agrees to go for it…
    Good luck to all of you!

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