“Star Trek: DS9” – Series Pilot (“Emissary”)

It was a bold move for creators Rick Berman and Michael Piller to branch off from TNG (still airing on primetime TV when their new show- DS9- began in early 1993). This pilot is considered to be a very strong start to the sci-fi series, which is known (and loved) for its focus on characters, rather than the alien of the week and techno-babble. The show starts out w/ a bang- literally- as Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks- the first African-American main lead on a Star Trek show) loses his wife, Jennifer (Felicia M. Bell), when his starship is attacked by the Borg at Wolf 359. This attack was led by Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) when he was captured and turned into Locutus; this is another unexpected move by the creators. The survivors of the attack, incl. Sisko and his 12 y.o. son Jake (Cirroc Lofton), abandon the ship in escape pods.

About a year later, we see the father and son headed to Deep Space Nine, a space station (built by the Cardassians) in the Alpha Quadrant near the newly-liberated planet- Bajor. Sisko and Picard have a (very tense) meeting, where Sisko admits that he may not want this job; these are yet more bold moves for the show. Many drew comparisons between Bajorans and the Jewish people (particularly the atrocities they faced under Nazis during WWII); there are several writers and producers of Jewish heritage on the show. The Cardassian occupation of Bajor (which lasted 50 years) can also be compared to England and colonial India. When Sisko arrives, he meets engineer, Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney), who served on the USS Enterprise in TNG. Picard and O’Brien (who served as transporter chief) have a touching goodbye before the Enterprise flies off.

The station (formerly named Terok Nor) is under Federation control; it could be compared to a frontier town in a TV Western (as some reviewers have commented). It’s in ruins and merchants are preparing to leave. We meet the bar owner, Quark (veteran actor Armin Shimerman), who is Ferengi- a race of aliens primarily concerned with profit. The Bajoran commander, Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor- who hails from a dance/theater background), is a former freedom fighter (“terrorist”) who isn’t a fan of the Federation. Chief of Security, Odo (veteran theater/TV actor Rene Auberjonois), is a Shapeshifter (one of a kind perhaps) who worked to keep the peace (for some years under the Cardassians). Unlike most TV lawmen, Odo doesn’t carry a weapon (phaser), and bans them from the promenade. Kira and Odo trust each other implicitly. Sisko is happy to be reunited w/ “old” friend Dax, who is a Trill- an alien race who live many lives inside different hosts. Jadzia (Terry Farrell) is the young science officer who is Dax’s current host. Right on her heels is the station’s wide-eyed doctor, Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig, who is English w/ Anglo and Arab heritage). On his maternal side, Siddig is the nephew of veteran actor Malcolm McDowell (the villain in the TNG movie- Generations). When Bashir sees the sick bay, he comments re: “practicing real frontier medicine.” As a kid, it was very exciting to see an actor of Muslim heritage on such a big TV show! A professor/media critic I follow (Zaki Hasan) said this was the same for his young sons, who are watching DS9 in recent years.

Bajor is not yet a part of the Federation (which Picard explained); it is also beautiful w/ many natural resources. Kira noted that there are several factions now at odds (though they worked together to remove the Cardassians). When Sisko beams down to the planet to meet Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola), one of the most revered religious leaders, she declares that his destiny is to be “emissary” to the Bajoran people. Unlike most TV shows, DS9 doesn’t shy away from religion, or the fact that it plays a big role in the lives of many (humans and aliens). Kai Opaka takes Sisko down to a secret underground cave, and reveals an orb (one of several which traveled to Bajor years ago). When Sisko touches this orb, he is instantly transported (“where no one has gone before”)! There is much more to the story (in the second part of the pilot), so check it out on Amazon Prime.

We see that not all the cast are part of Starfleet, so don’t all wear the same type of uniforms. The makeup for Odo had not yet been perfected, so he looks quite different in S1 than in the rest of the series. The ensemble cast is introduced rather smoothly in this pilot; each character gets a moment to show their personality. There is a mix of young newcomer actors and theater veterans (who provide gravitas). O’Brien is the the “Everyman” character that we know somewhat from TNG; he will get much more to do in DS9. The warm father-son relationship (rare for ST) will grown and develop over the series; Jake is not one of those TV kids who disappears. Brooks insisted on this element to the producers, as he felt there weren’t enough positive role models of black fathers/families in the media.

2 thoughts on ““Star Trek: DS9” – Series Pilot (“Emissary”)

  1. Apart from my love for Avery Brooks and Alexander Siddig, René Auberjonois is a true pleasure. I first encountered him on a sitcom called “Benson” when I was a child and admired him ever since.

    Liked by 1 person

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