?It’s been said that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the red-headed stepchild of the Trek franchise, and I’m pretty much inclined to agree with that assessment. During its initial run from 1993 to 1999, the series was constantly overshadowed by Star Trek: The Next Generation, Trek feature films of the era and Star Trek: Voyager. But here’s the thing, in my opinion it’s also the best thing ever to be spawned from Gene Roddenberry’s space saga. The show that began about a station on the outpost of a wormhole soon morphed Odo-style into a drama about heroes and villains and the shades of gray that sometimes only just barely separate the two. With the start of the Dominion War storyline, DS9 got increasingly serialized and complex. Like what happened subsequently with Lost and Battlestar Galactica, this meant that new viewers were hesitant to start watching a show with so much pre-existing backstory. As a result, ratings never reached the heights that studio execs would have wanted.
Yet despite some big changes implemented to the series throughout the years — i.e. the addition of the Defiant and adding Worf to the cast — Deep Space Nine remained its own thing: A wholly original entity in the Trek universe. Much of the thanks for this can be given to showrunner Ira Steven Behr and his commitment to advancing the story in new ways, regardless of how nontraditional they may seem. Combine this with a stable of amazing actors — both main and supporting — generally well-defined characters and memorable villains and you’ve got a sci-fi show for the ages. Here are the 10 episodes that kept fans happily stuck in a small outpost at the edge of space.
10) It’s Only a Paper Moon
Otherwise known as “Deep Space Nog,” this atypical episode focuses on the Ferengi ensign coping with the aftermath of the events depicted in “The Siege of AR-558.” Stricken with post-traumatic stress from losing his leg in battle, he retreats into the holographic world of entertainer Vic Fontaine — where he unexpectedly finds what he needs to do in order to move on with his life. As scripted by Battlestar Galactica‘s Ronald Moore (based on a story by David Mack and John J. Ordover), this daring installment put the series’ regulars on the back burner in order to tell a very human story with supporting players Nog and Vic. Not only did the episode give actors Aron Eisenberg and James Darren a chance to shine, but it inadvertently illustrated how even the secondary characters on DS9 are often more developed than the leads on other Trek series. *cough* Voyager *cough*.
9) The Search, Part I
Fans thinking that they would have to wait until the series’ finale to find out what the deal with Odo was were thrown for a loop when the third season premiered and revealed that his people were what the Brits might call sodding wankers. Yes, here we get our first look at those shape-shifting bastards, the Founders. Although the seeds for the conflict that came to dominate the series were planted in the second season, they really begin to bloom here as we learn more about the hierarchy of the Dominion and how (literally) twisty their conniving could be. Elsewhere, this episode debuted the Defiant, a stout-yet-powerful vessel whose introduction opened up countless story possibilities and silenced Trek fans who kept bitching about DS9‘s lack of a starship. While an opportunity was missed to flesh out the Subcommander T’Rul character (who makes her debut here, overseeing the usage of the Defiant’s cloak for roughly five minutes before vanishing from the show), “The Search, Part I” does also give us our first look at Lieutenant Commander Michael Eddington and his complex scheming. There’s a lot happening, and it’s clear from watching this episode that the production staff’s goal was to bring in new viewers by upping the action on the series. The most unfortunate thing about this (other than Dax’s new hairstyle, meow)? The second part doesn’t come close to matching the oomph and wow factor on display here.
8) Our Man Bashir
Because DS9‘s holosuites were 24th-century whorehouses, they didn’t remotely get the screen time of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s holodecks. (I’ll leave it to you to debate whether or not this also has to do with better writing on Deep Space Nine in the comments). One of the most notable exceptions to this rule is the pitch-perfect James Bond spoof “Our Man Bashir,” in which a transporter accident results in our heroes getting transported into Julian’s spy program. It has adventure, scantily clad beauties and some major scenery-chewing from every cast member. Avery Brooks gets a lot of unjustified criticism for what some to feel is a wooden acting style. But to any naysayers out there, I suggest checking out his performance here as the sinister Hippocrates Noah to see how much fun he can have in a role.
It’s kind of off topic, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the greatest failure of Playmates entire Star Trek action figure line is that we didn’t get toy versions of Falcon, Professor Honey Bare, et al. I mean, who wouldn’t want a figure of Worf in a tuxedo? FYI, for more hologram-fueled madness, be sure to check out the equally awesome/self-indulgent “Take Me out to the Holosuite,” which was a loose rewrite of an old Fame episode that Ira Steven Behr did. Wacky!
7) ) Crossover
I could go on and on about how this risky episode was completely successful in its attempts to follow in the footsteps of Star Trek‘s “Mirror Mirror” and ushered in several great alternate universe episodes for the Trek franchise, but I’m guessing most of you are just stuck on thinking about evil Kira’s catsuit at this point.
6) Far Beyond the Stars…
“Far Beyond the Stars” envisions the events of Deep Space Nine as the creation of Benny Russell, a struggling science-fiction writer living in 1950s New York City who dreams of an escape from the racism and social tumult that surrounds him. He also looks exactly like Ben Sisko, giving the rest of the cast a chance to ditch their makeup and prosthetics to appear as his friends, co-workers and tormentors. This episode may be low on production costs, but it extraordinarily high on concept. Avery Brooks (who also directed) delivers a captivating performance as a man who holds on to his yearning for something better with such conviction that it nearly destroys him. Deep Space Nine‘s early detractors were quick to spout off about how the show doesn’t share Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. But “Far Beyond the Stars” demonstrates the power and potential that each person possesses. I can’t help but think the ideas presented in this striking hour of TV wouldn’t fit perfectly with Roddenberry’s worldview.
5) What You Leave Behind
There was a, to put it scientifically, shitload of loose strings that had to be tied up in the Deep Space Nine finale. How would the Dominion War end? Who would finally get to kill Gul Dukat? What would become of Odo and Kira’s relationship? What sort of tragedy would befall the Siskos? How many times could Ira Steven Behr reference the Alamo? And so on. Fortunately, the answers to these questions were full of the darkness and complexity that became the series’ calling card. There’s been some bitching about the fact that Captain Sisko didn’t die in the finale (a decision that Avery Brooks played a crucial role in making), but in my opinion the only real complaint to be lobbied about how DS9 wrapped up involves Worf becoming a Federation ambassador. If I could make a nerdy nitpick here, it would have made much more sense to give him his own command due to the fact that Starfleet was nearly decimated and probably in need of good captains. With that said, if you’ll excuse me I have to dust my collectibles.
4) In the Pale Moonlight
The episode that gave birth to the awesome It’s a Fake meme, “In the Pale Moonlight” is Ben Sisko’s journey into Heart of Darkness territory. While recording a personal log, the good Captain relates the toll that his attempts to get the Romulans to join the Federation in their battle against the Dominion has taken. From compromising his most basic values to turning a blind eye to Garak’s murderous ways, Sisko reveals that he hasn’t so much danced with the devil as done an all-night lambada with evil in order to accomplish his mission. After releasing the weight from his shoulders by clearing his conscience, he shakingly tries to convince himself that he can live with his actions before deleting the log for good. In the process, viewers are given insight into the secret burden that military men must face in wartime — a message that seems even more timely now than it did during its original airing in 1998.
3) The Way of the Warrior
The introduction of Worf onto the show created friction amongst Trekkies who moaned that his addition was nothing more than a shameful ratings grab that would take screen time away from other characters. Instead, what really happened was that Worf was given a more of a chance to develop than he ever had on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Of course, none of this was clear from his initial DS9 outing — which was too busy concerning itself with ass-kicking action sequences and Klingon madness to do much of anything. Come for the groundwork for future episodes that is laid out here, but stay for the glorious Mek’leth-inflicted mayhem.
2) Trials and Tribble-ations
Remember how awesome it was in Back to the Future II when Marty McFly interacted with scenes from the first flick? With that technology perfected, the producers of Deep Space Nine decided to utilize it to place their characters into “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Sure, it’s gimmicky as all hell. Yet seeing the DS9 cast in classic Starfleet uniforms interacting with Spock and company from one of the original series’ most iconic episodes is nothing short of squee-inducing. The best bit? Tough call, but I’m going with Worf’s pained reaction to the question about why old-school Klingons look so different from him.
1) The Visitor
This episode was featured on my list of Nerdy Moments Guaranteed to Make You Cry and it rightfully appears here as well because it gets to the heart of what Star Trek is ultimately supposed to be about: the human condition. After the unexpected death of his father, Jake spends a lifetime figuring out how the boy that he was can be reunited with the dad that he so desperately needed. For those unfamiliar or unwilling to watch Deep Space Nine, check out this episode and you’ll see that at its core “The Visitor” is not about technobabble or sci-fi. It is a story about love, loss and self-sacrifice that is so powerful that it transcends its genre trappings and becomes television that is truly universally relatable. Watch it, and prepare to be devastated by its beauty.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.