Deep Space Nine has always been a polarizing series among Star Trek fans. How does Emissary fare since it premiered, and is it a successful pilot?
In 1992, I’m fairly sure we were paying AOL by the hour for internet access. Commercials were still the only way I learned about new movies and toys. So when it was announced that a brand new Star Trek series would premiere at the beginning of 1993, well… I didn’t know what to think.
To me, at age seven, Star Trek was always a thing.
Want to watch Kirk and the gang? Pop in a VHS.
Want to watch Picard and crew? Weeknights at 7pm EST was the place to be.
Star Trek was everywhere, and I honestly didn’t know a world without it. More Star Trek could only be a good thing, right? So suddenly this mysterious Deep Space Nine had me enthralled. A space station at the edge of the universe or something? Sign me up!
There were doubts, however…
“But how will they go anywhere if they’re stuck on board a space station? It’s not like they can move it around or anything…”
“But it’s not called the Enterprise. Everyone knows that Star Trek is really about the Enterprise.”
Oh yes, gatekeeping was alive and well even in the early 90’s.
1993: New Year, New Show
So I remember watching the pilot with my family, eager to see what new and fascinating things this series could bring us.
It started out great, with its Star Wars inspired screen crawl, an action-packed opening at Wolf 359 full of explosions and sparks, tragedy, Locutus, Borg. Then we meet the untested crew, the bitter commander, Bajorans, Cardassians, Ferengi, a shapeshifter guy, some lady with an old man’s slug symbiont inside of her. Oh, and Picard is there for a minute and Sisko really, really resents him.
Then there’s this new wormhole, and Sisko has these weird visions that do the “walking with dead relative on the beach” thing well before Jodie Foster did in Contact. This shiny, glowing artifact does stuff that one would expect such things to do, and then the Cardassians attack. And the space station moves, quashing arguments that space stations can’t go anywhere.
All in all, it was kind of a weird episode to my child mind. I didn’t understand grief or bigotry, or post-traumatic stress. I kind of didn’t like Sisko because Picard was totally my BFF and you weren’t allowed to dislike him. Odo seemed more like a member of the X-Men than someone in Star Trek. But wormholes are cool, so there was that.
All in all, I happily went back to The Next Generation where everything was just like it always was. Safe, clean, fun, easy to understand, not at all morally ambiguous. It was Star Trek.
Coming Back to DS9
But then years passed. Eventually the series ended, by which point I had moved onto Voyager anyway. And Deep Space Nine’s chapter ended without my notice.
Ultimately I did watch the pilot again. And again. And yet again. And this pilot has only gotten better as I’ve watched it. While time is not always kind to television shows, there is one thing that this episode would sell me on today without changing a thing: Commander Benjamin Sisko.
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Single father. Widower. Psychological trauma. Hates his job. Doesn’t care about rules. The man who is kind of his boss is responsible for his wife’s death. If you are cruising through Netflix looking for a new show and saw just this much in the description, then you’d be sold, too.
But back in the 90’s, this just isn’t what you saw in Star Trek. The Federation and Starfleet seemed always to inspire everyone to be their best, but in “Emissary” we see that simply isn’t the case. And that is challenging.
Thankfully, I started liking challenges as I got older.
But it isn’t just the premise of Sisko that sold me, it’s the man he is. Whether he is gleefully chatting up his wife in a vision, strong arming Quark into remaining aboard the station, or explaining linear time to energy beings who live in a wormhole, this is a man who carries passion and a joy for life. It’s just that his burdens, tragedies, and responsibilities have buried those feelings.
And don’t even get me started on his realization that his constant dwelling on his grief keeps him from enjoying the exciting prospects of the linear time he’s been trying to explain. That scene is just way too deep, too poetic to be just part of a television series pilot. That is bang on emotion, right there.
Does It Hold Up?
While there are so many other aspects to this pilot episode, such as the amazing cast, the diverse types of characters, the enticing prospect that humans are a racial minority on the frontier that is Deep Space Nine, it’s Sisko’s arc that drives it all home.
If I had any complaints about this pilot, then it is also a complaint about the first season as well. The pilot is full of so many story points that it is trying to establish that at times the episode seems burdened with an overly frenetic pace, the latter half especially. Several episodes in the first season, on the other hand, really drag along. It’s like the ideas ran out and took a full season to replenish.
Having said that, “Emissary” is a great episode and a successful pilot. It’s a different take on the, at the time, tried and true Star Trek formula, but I think it proves that Star Trek is malleable enough to shake things up every now and then. At the very least, watch it for Sisko’s squeal of “Ow!” just before he awkwardly offers his wife some lemonade.