Five Reasons Why “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Was Way Ahead of Its Time

By Manny Otiko

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(Courtesy Paramount Pictures)
  • “DS9” exists in a morally grey universe. They are no wholly good guys or truly bad guys in the “DS9” universe. During the course of the show, the heroes lie, cheat and scheme to achieve victory in a desperate war. According to “Variety,” cast member Rene Auberjonois said all of the main characters have a deep psychic scar. Sisko begins the show as a bitter widower whose still mourning the death of his wife. The female lead Nana Visitor is a former terrorist who figures out that maintaining peace is tougher than fighting a war. And the writers really stretch themselves by making the Cardassians, who are essentially space Nazis, not come across as one-dimensional goons. Dukat, who is the lead villain, constantly shows flashes of charm and kindness, even though he lead the occupation of Bajor which killed millions of people. I liked the fact that “DS9” was unlike the previous Trek shows where the Federation is portrayed as shiny, happy good guys in a clean and perfect world. Unlike Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, I never believed the future would be perfect. Making the heroes imperfect made them relatable. According to Trek Today, Andrew Robinson, who played Garak, said, “It’s not the most popular because it’s the most morally ambiguous… Whenever you have characters who are gray rather than black and white… Although they are more interesting, they are more difficult for people to get a handle on.”
  • It’s complex. Some people said they couldn’t get into “DS9” because it wasn’t centered around a ship. I think other people couldn’t get into the show in the later years because the plot was so complicated. Sides are constantly shifting, good guys become bad, and bad guys become good, then turn bad. Again, this was a sign of great writing, but it may have scared people off.
  • It dealt with weighty issues. Some of the issues that “DS9” tackled included genocide, slavery, sexual assault, war crimes, terrorism and suicide. In the episode “ Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night,” Kira goes back in time and discovers her mother became a “comfort girl” with the enemy to protect her family. At the time, the punishment for collaborating with the enemy was death. The episode doesn’t pass judgment on her decision, but presents both sides of the argument. During the Dominion War, the Federation turns on itself and a covert organization, Section 31, starts looking for enemies inside the union. Sloan, Section 31 leader, justifies this by saying, “sometimes you have to break the rules to win.” The was long before the George W. Bush administration sanctioned torture. Section 31 also develops a biological weapon to win the Dominion War. And, a member of the Bajoran clergy commits public suicide to protest the occupation of the station. That’s pretty deep.
  • The show got pretty trippy. In the episode “Far Beyond the Stars,” Sisko keeps flashing back and forth between the future and segregation-era New York City. Sometimes the characters appear as humans and sometimes they appear as aliens. Also, the episode is metaphysical and allegorical as it tells a deeper story and is filled with messages. I didn’t realize this until I watched it again.

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Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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