I am on year three of my five year mission to boldly watch every single episode of Star Trek in chronological order. Though I grew up watching the Original Series and occasionally caught an episode of Voyager or Enterprise when I was a kid, my lack of Trek knowledge was a major blank spot on my geek cred card.
So far on my journey, my favorite Trek has to be Deep Space Nine. For the casual Trekkies amongst you, Deep Space Nine was unique in that it did not take place on a traveling starship but rather a station in orbit around the planet Bajor. In the pilot episode Commander Benjamin Sisko is given command of the station, an undesirable gig in Starfleet. Deep Space Nine, besides being located at the dead end of space, comes with a dark history and a mess of political conflicts. For years Bajor was occupied and exploited by the militaristic Cardassians, but Starfleet is able to negotiate an uneasy peace between the two races.
By the end of his first day Sisko and his team discover the only known stable wormhole in the galaxy, allowing transit between the distant Gamma Quadrant on the far side of the galaxy. Suddenly Deep Space Nine is the last stop before heading out to uncharted space. In addition Sisko has a psychedelic experience in the wormhole, and is told that he is the Bajoran Emissary of the Prophets, a sort of messianic figure in their complex religion.
A lot of the early seasons of Deep Space Nine are about Bajor and its people, meticulously setting up an alien planet in a way Star Trek never really has done before. We learn about their religion, their politics, their history, we get a look at their ancient technological achievements and their art. I’ll be honest with you: I found Bajor to be boring. The planet itself is a vaguely tropical paradise, its people an unadulterated expression of non-threatening early 90s new age pop psychology. The most interesting representative of the Bajoran people is Major Kira Nerys, who spent her entire life as a guerrilla terrorist fighting against the Cardassian occupation. She becomes Sisko’s second in command.
There’s always a lot going on in Deep Space Nine. Quark, the Ferengi bartender, always has an amusing scheme, and Odo, the shape-shifting station constable, slowly uncovers the secrets of his mysterious origins. The main political body of the Gamma Quadrant, the Dominion, ends up being pretty bad news, and their ruthless pursuit of conquest makes even the Klingons look meek in comparison. Their hostility towards the Federation leads to some fantastic TV. After six seasons of the show, I started to notice something. As the characters were growing and changing, I was changing with them.
You see, Sisko never wanted any part in Bajoran culture, certainly not to be the Chosen One of their hokey religion. He’s not rude or anything, but actor Avery Brooks gives a masterful performance, always suppressing an eye roll, barely containing his fury and frustration with the Bajorans and their traditions. However, as Sisko is forced to live through these early, boring episodes, he starts warming to Bajoran culture.
An important moment in Sisko’s relationship with Bajor comes in the episode Explorers. After attending a conference on Bajor and learning about their ancient solar-powered spaceships, Sisko wants to see if he can build one. He spends the episode following ancient designs and trying to connect with his teenage son, Jake. Sisko is motivated by a very human curiosity about the spaceship, and a desire to connect with Jake, who’s more interested in girls and his creative writing then going on a space-roadtrip with his dad. That’s the crux of the conflict; Jake is trying to be a teenager, and his dad wants to spend more time with him. It’s charming and compelling without resorting to cartoonishly evil villains.
The story serves another purpose. Sisko approached the Bajoran ship from a standpoint of curiosity, the same way someone in our contemporary world might be curious about building one of Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines. But he gets it working! The ancient Bajorans were an impressive people with unique cultural achievements.By reliving a piece of their history, Sisko truly starts to connect.
Three seasons later, it’s clear Sisko is starting to find happiness in his life. He’s proud of his now college-aged son and he values his relationship with his officers more than anything. The once unwanted position as station director has forced him to make some of the toughest and most impactful decisions in the history of the massive Star Trek franchise. He’s found purpose, friends, family, love.
Which leads us to the perfect moment. It happens in the fifth episode of season six, Favor the Bold. At this point, the Dominion and the Federation are openly at war with one another and Deep Space Nine is the most tactically important spot in the galaxy. Sisko and his crew are getting ready for a big battle; the fate of the station is uncertain. Sisko’s commanding officer, Admiral Ross, comes to wish him good luck. They get to chatting, Ross expresses admiration for Sisko, asks if he has grown to appreciate his assignment. After all, Ross says, he hears that Bajor is nice. Sisko responds thusly:
Sisko: There are parts of the Eastern Province that are like Eden itself. Lush, green valleys covered in wildflowers that seem to spring up overnight, hundreds of small crystal-clear ponds, interconnected by waterfalls…
Admiral Ross: All right, all right, I’m convinced. I’m already planning my next R&R down there. You know, it sounds like when your assignment on Deep Space Nine is over and Bajor is welcomed into the Federation, you’re gonna have a tough time saying goodbye.
Sisko: I don’t plan to say goodbye. I plan to build a house on Bajor.
Admiral Ross: And what if Starfleet assigns you to a different sector?
Sisko: I will go wherever they send me. But when I go home- it will be to Bajor.
I’m not going to lie, that exchange nearly moved me to tears. This is the critical moment for the main character of the series. Not only has Sisko slowly, meticulously, over six years changed his opinion of Bajor from bemused irritation to a passionate love, but he feels that this is the only place in the galaxy he can call home. Sisko is from New Orleans (which still exists in the 24th century and has not sunk into the sea, probably because of Vulcan technology or something). His father still operates a restaurant there. He has a home to return to, if he wants it, but he doesn’t!
The essential part of their brief conversation is when Admiral Ross asks Sisko what he’ll do if he is ordered to leave Bajor. With the turmoil of the war, and the heightened feelings that come with it, it seems feasible that Sisko will take off, renounce Starfleet service, and just build his dream house by the crystal-clear pond. But Sisko is a good man and he will continue to be a loyal and dutiful officer, the hero of the Alpha Quadrant. His love for Bajor is equally steadfast, and Sisko is the kind of man who makes stuff work, whether it’s a wreck of a life, galactic politics, or an ancient Bajoran solar-sailer. He’s come to uneasy terms with his position as Emissary of the Prophets, but it is Sisko the human who loves Bajor.
My favorite stories are ones that show slow change over time. That’s what stories are- change. The story of Benjamin Sisko isn’t the story of a man going from adventure to adventure and jetting off at warp factor seven when he’s ready to leave. Sisko is forced to face the consequences of his choices and consequently is changed by them. It’s hard to represent a change like that in a single moment, but the moment when Sisko decides to live on Bajor no matter what captures it beautifully. The best part of it all was that I realized that I had changed too. I had gone from my own mere tolerance of Bajor to a real appreciation, brought on by my connection to the character of Benjamin Sisko. It’s a perfect moment, not just for the way it changes the character, but for the way it changes the viewer.