(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime, Paramount+, and Netflix
The Pitch: Deep Space Nine set out to boldly go where no Star Trek series had gone before – by staying still. The series follows the captain and crew of the space station Deep Space Nine, positioned near a strategically important wormhole to another quadrant of space. The space station is also right next to the planet Bajor, recently liberated after a long-standing occupation by the Cardassians (who just happened to be the ones who built the station).
Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) not only has to deal with intergalactic politics and the day-to-day stresses on running a space station, but he’s also apparently the divine Emissary of the Bajoran gods, the Prophets. His crew is diverse even by Trek standards: his second-in-command Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) is a former Bajoran freedom fighter, his Chief of Security Odo (René Auberjonois) is a shapeshifter, believed to be the only one of his kind, and even the ship’s tailor Garak (Andrew J. Robinson) is a former Cardassian spy of some infamy. Deep Space Nine is full of so much brilliance that even the documentary about it is an absolute must-see.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Deep Space Nine has never been the most popular Trek series (at least at first), mostly because people get hung up on the whole “trekking” part of it. Sure, the crew of Deep Space Nine don’t go stumbling through space finding new lifeforms and civilizations like the Enterprise, but they have plenty of other stories to tell within the greater Star Trek universe. The general lack of away missions and exploration means we get to spend more time with the crew at home. Character drama is the driving force behind Deep Space Nine instead of some grand sense of adventure. The intricate and nuanced relationships between these characters who we grow to know and love (and hate!) make Deep Space Nine a little, well, deeper than some of the other Trek series.
The overarching plot of Deep Space Nine focuses on Captain Sisko’s journey from skeptical Starfleet officer to embracing his destiny as the Emissary of the Bajoran Prophets. The pilot episode is about half fever-dream as Sisko explains the concept of linear time to the Prophets, who live in a place beyond time within the wormhole. It’s heady stuff, and the writers on Deep Space Nine weren’t afraid to get in the weeds with difficult topics. The series deftly handles racial inequality, sexism, homophobia, mental illness, neurodivergence, and more. There’s guaranteed to be a character you can relate to, at least on some degree, on the series. The characters are allowed to behave more like real people and less like superheroes, which leads to more emotionally satisfying arcs and development. Having more relatable characters also helps because of the scale of Deep Space Nine – by the second half of the series, our heroes are entangled in an intergalactic war that could mean the end of civilization as they know it. Plus there’s the whole “wormhole aliens as gods” thing. It’s a lot, but the characters are our anchors.
Since the characters are what makes Deep Space Nine sing, the actors have to really be at the top of their game. This cast is spectacular, and you can really feel the love they have for their characters and one another. The characters aren’t tropes. They’re flawed, and through their flaws and strengths, we are able to see aspects of ourselves. We get to explore single fatherhood through Sisko and his son, Jake (Cirroc Lofton). We can think about the moral implications of being a freedom fighter (or a terrorist, depending on how you look at it), through Major Kira. Kira also gives us a brilliant window into grief, survivor’s guilt, and PTSD, especially in the episode “The Darkness and the Light.” Written by Bryan Fuller (Hannibal), the episode pits Kira against someone who survived one of her renegade attacks. She is forced to reckon with the collateral damage, and it doesn’t paint her in the most flattering of lights.
There’s a kind of moral ambiguity to Deep Space Nine that permeates every character. Each has their own moral code. Some, like Ferengi bar owner Quark (Armin Shimerman), follow strict societal guidelines that determine right and wrong. Others, like Captain Sisko, believe in the might of the Federation, and in the philosophical ideals they represent. Whether their faith is placed in the Rules of Acquisition, the wormhole Prophets, or their governments, they all have faith that’s explored in some way. Even Garak, who could have been a two-note joke in the hands of lesser writers, is allowed to be a nuanced and complex character with motivations for his actions. He’s even given a hint of a romance with another man, the gorgeous, genetically-enhanced Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig)…though that proved to be too much for broadcast television back in the mid ’90s.
Look, I could go on about why Deep Space Nine is the best Trek for days. Seriously, I could probably write 20,000 words on the Ferengi episodes alone. What it all really boils down to is simple. Deep Space Nine is full of incredible situations (Intergalactic war! Shapeshifters! Space antichrist! A mirror universe!), but the characters at its core are profoundly human. Whether we’re traveling back in time to explore racism in science fiction literature of the 1950s or battling against ancient alien forces trying to start an apocalypse, we care because we care about the crew. When so many series and franchises talk about family, Deep Space Nine feels like it actually is one.
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