The Star Trek Chronological Binge: Deep Space Nine Seasons 1 & 2

Deep Space NineWhile watching seasons 6 & 7 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, we enter a situation which, in the 1990s, lasted until the end of Voyager. By now, there are two Treks on the air and would continue to be until the Voyager finale. Yet watching chronologically, we’ve already watched Enterprise. But in 1993, Paramount introduced a new Star Trek to replace the Shatner-led movies: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

DS9 was a gamble. It would be the first Trek set on a space station rather than a starship. Gene Roddenberry not only had little to do with it, he died before anyone was cast. And were they going back to the well too soon? Executive producer Rick Berman wondered that aloud when Enterprise debuted eight years later.

Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko.

Additionally, DS9 would be led by the first black commander, Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks. Producers did not know this until they found their Sisko. Early in TNG’s development, Picard almost became the first black starship captain and regular series lead when Yaphet Kotto auditioned for the role. For DS9, future Doctor Who Peter Capaldi, Tony Todd (Worf’s brother Kurn), and Richard Dean Anderson all auditioned. Even, pre-James Bond, Pierce Brosnan was considered, as were several who later had regular or recurring roles on the show. But producers chose Avery Brooks. Like any other actor, especially on TNG, the choice would come to define the character. (Hence, the insistence of producers of calling Kate Mulgrew a few years later when the original Janeway flounced on day 2 of Voyager shooting.)

Jake Sisko

The cast was as solid as TNG’s. Jake Sisko, whom producers insisted was “not a boy genius,” went to Cirroc Lofton after Brooks reacted in a very fatherly way to him during Lofton’s audition. Armin Shimmerman, having played several Ferengi over the years, was brought in to flesh out this poorly handled species. Quark would become the anti-hero of the cast, antagonist to Odo and the crew, yet also a valuable ally. Perhaps the most important casting choice after Sisko would be former Bajoran terrorist Kira Nerys.

Kira NNerys

Originally intended to be Ro Laren and played by Michelle Forbes, Forbes went out and got famous. Like Ashely Judd before her, Trek proved a stepping stone to bigger things. So the character was changed to Kira, and dancer Nana Visitor would step into the role. Perhaps for the better. Ro fit in with the crew of the Enterprise crew and would have been too Sisko-like to be an effective first officer character on DS9. Kira, on the other hand, is not happy Sisko’s there in the beginning.

Jadzia Dax

Terry Farrell plays Dax, or rather, the latest host of Dax, Jadzia. Dax is a joined Trill: A slug like symbiont who lives inside a humanoid host. TNG introduced the species, but with typical Michael Westmore lumpy heads. For Farrell, the makeup lasted maybe three screentests before producers did what Roddenberry did to the Klingons in 1979 and said, “Well, they always had spots.” Dax is a Doctor Who-like character. If the actor dies, quits, or, as criminally happened before the show’s final season, fired, another actor can step in. What really sells this character is that Dax boards as a twenty-eight-year-old woman, but Sisko has known him most of his life as “Old Man” Curzon Dax, a lecherous, free-spirited diplomat who probably was somewhere in the background in Star Trek VI. (Not Crewman Dax, the footwear challenged alien someone tried to frame for Gorkon’s assassination.)

Quark and Odo

The best casting decision seems to have been the brilliant Rene Auberjonois as the shape-shifting Odo. Cranky, suspicious, but solidly dependable, he’s the moral conscience of Deep Space Nine. And as a foil for the shifty Quark, he plays brilliantly off Shimmerman.

Bashir and O'Brien

Rounding out the cast is Colm Meany as Mile O’Brien, giving the show some continuity from TNG. O’Brien is the show’s Scotty, and he’s more Scotty-like than Geordi, who is an engineering nerd if there ever was one. O’Brien is the workingman, and also the voice of the audience in this show. Yet it doesn’t take a season to establish one of the show’s major tropes: O’Brien must suffer. He eventually bonds with the young, naive Julian Bashir, a somewhat arrogant but earnest doctor who becomes O’Brien’s drinking buddy.

The surprises are the recurring cast. With the exception of the ambitious, ruthless Vedek/Kai Winn, most were not even intended to return or play any major role. Yet Max Grodenchek’s Rom would become a major force in the show. Similarly, Aron Eisenberg’s Nog goes from a token relative of Quark’s to probably the most finely developed character on the show. Indeed, during Discovery‘s first season in the 32nd century, a ship called the Nog is named for Starfleet’s first Ferengi captain. (And based on the callouts to Voyager and a handful of other ships, the Nog is probably the latest in a line of several Nogs to serve Starfleet.) Oscar-winner Jessica Fletcher imbues the scheming Winn with a personality fans now call “Space Karen.”

So how did it work?

The writers wanted Deep Space Nine to have long story arcs. This, of course, put it in conflict with another well-done show set on a space station, Babylon 5. But while the broad strokes were the same, no one will mistake Sisko for Sinclair or Sheridan, Kira for Ivanova, or Molari for Quark. The fandoms overlapped so much a rivalry arose. To quell the problem, Majel Barrett Roddenberry did a guest appearance on B5. If the first lady of Star Trek can do an episode of Babylon 5, your argument is invalid. (Ironically, it was probably the best performance of her career.) But we’re in seasons 1 & 2 now, with TNG driving the bus. Syndication stations did not want to be bound by production order to run episodes. TNG had callbacks and light story arcs, but episodes could be run somewhat out of sequence if they weren’t two-parts like “Gambit” or one of the season cliffhangers/premiers. So Deep Space Nine begins episodic.

They use the time wisely to setup the show’s setting and flesh out the Trek universe further. Occasionally, one of the DS9 actors would show up on TNG. Bashir worked with Data when the latter discovered he could dream. And Quark, unsurprisingly, owes Riker money. (That scene would have been funny with Odo glowering in the background as Riker takes Quark to the cleaners, but Paramount was notoriously cheap. Still is.)

Yet by the end of season 2, when the talented pessimist Ira Steven Behr moved into an executive producer role, the seeds of the story arcs that would later define DS9 would take root. We’re introduced to the Founders, the Vorta (though not by name), and the Jem’Hadar. Nothing major, just quick glimpses which will be fleshed out in subsequent seasons.

Seasons 1 and 2 tied DS9 back to the rest of the Star Trek universe. The Enterprise gets several mentions, but it’s the antagonism between Gul Dukat and Sisko that takes root, as does Kira’s ambivalence toward Starfleet, Dax’s redefinition of herself as a woman after a long life as a man, and Odo’s search for his origins. The Gamma Quadrant is not much of a factor the first season. Starfleet and the Bajorans are too busy trying to keep Cardassia from retaking the station. In fact, preventing their war with the Federation from reigniting also takes up a fair chunk of TNG’s final two seasons. This gives rise to one of the most enigmatic and under-used groups in Trek: The Maquis. Even the Bajorans, whom the Maquis believe should sympathize with them, are confused. “We’ve always lived on Bajor. You can always pack up and go somewhere else.” Which, as you can imagine, is an argument that doesn’t land well.

Deep Space Nine is a bit murky in its first two seasons. Part of this is finding itself, which it does more deftly than TNG did in its first season. But DS9 is also dark. The station is introduced in a shambles, and it still looks shabby by the beginning of Season 3. Sisko eventually warms to his role as station commander, but he has visible headaches. Unlike Kirk, who is a hotshot on his second command, and Picard, for whom the Enterprise is simply his next achievement on an already storied career, Sisko starts out not wanting the job, reluctantly stays after meeting the Prophets, and is combative with his superiors and even his hosts if he thinks they’re wrong. He sums up the difference between TOS/TNG and DS9 in a rant to Kira, who patiently listens in agreement: He says on Earth, you can look out the window at paradise. No war, no poverty, no disease. “Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise!”

And for that reason alone, Deep Space Nine will produce some of the finest episodes of Trek ever. Unfortunately, it will always share screentime with two shows, TNG and Voyager.