Feeling Good: On Watching the First Episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
I’m a Star Trek TNG fan from way back. I watched reruns most nights for years between 6th grade and my high school graduation. I saw all of the movies that featured its cast as they debuted in the theater and it’s definitely my favorite Trek series & crew.
I never really got into DS9 during its initial run on air. I saw a very small handful of episodes here and there, but it was never something I felt really compelled to watch. I was invested in TNG and getting my Trek fill there, plus I wasn’t able to get past the fact that DS9 was on a space station rather than a ship, meaning they were “never going anywhere”.
That said, for no particular reason I recently decided to watch the very 1st episode of DS9 and I have to say…I thought it was amazing. I enjoyed the premise, the characters, and especially how reflective it got with regard to religion and the concept of linear time as an illusion. It was solid stuff and I will definitely be watching more.
One moment from the episode really stood out for me though, and in a way that I wouldn’t have expected. It’s during the 1st meeting between TNG’s Captain Picard and DS9’s new commanding officer Cmdr. Sisko. This meeting does NOT go well.
[Some quick backstory for the non-nerds: a few years prior Captain Picard had been kidnapped by the hostile Borg species, assimilated into their collective hive mind, and forced to lead an attempt to conquer Earth. Many Federation lives were lost and a few starships were destroyed before the Borg were halted and Picard was rescued and deprogrammed. We learn in the 1st few minutes of DS9’s premier that Sisko (then a lieutenant) lost his wife in the battle when the ship he was serving on was attacked by borg-Picard's cube.]
As you can imagine, it can be a little awkward when you go to meet a superior officer and he just happens to be the guy who attacked you ship and killed your wife.
The conversation basically starts like this:
Picard: Welcome! Thanks for coming.
Sisko: It’s a been a long time sir.
P: Have we met before?
S: Yeah, you blew up my ship, and killed my wife plus a bunch of other people.
Watching this I know that Sisko has every right to be livid and resentful while standing in a room where he has to be cool and refer to the agent of his greatest woe as “sir” instead of, you know, acting out years of pent up revenge fantasies and strangling the dude with his bare hands.
On the other, as a TNG fan and Picard admirer, I feel damn sorry for the captain. He didn’t wish to do any of the horrible stuff he did and he had absolutely no choice in the matter. In fact, he still wakes up screaming in the night from the horror of what he was subjected to in becoming an unwilling pawn of the Borg. But yeah, Sisko’s got him here. He can’t really say shit to the dude whose wife he killed so he just changes the subject to Sisko’s new command of the space station.
This is an assignment that Sisko in no way wants, so their already testy conversation gets even more tense. By the end of it, while they both remain professional, they’re totally bristling at each other and the vibe is awkward & hostile as hell.
I suppose it’s a testament to the strong writing & acting, but the scene was pretty uncomfortable to watch.
Until I thought about it for a second…and then it totally warmed my heart.
Here’s why: I saw a black man and his white boss get into a heated exchange with raised voices and start to really resent each other and it was the 1st time I ever encountered a situation like that (whether in a fictional setting, the news, or my own life) where I was 100% sure that race was NOT a factor. This was just 2 guys who happened to be not digging each other at the moment. Black vs. white didn’t have anything to do with it. I mean, how could it?
Think about it, this is taking place in 2369 AD. Aside from the general progress of tolerance & liberal humanist values in the FOUR HUNDRED YEARS between fire hoses & German Shepherds in Birmingham and this Sisko/Picard meet, we need to remember that there are hundreds of alien species running around the place. Call me an idealist, but I think it’s kind of hard to pay much attention to the melanin discrepancy between you and another human being when you regularly spot dudes like this walking past you in the hallway on the way to the transporter room.
I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of it, but it was just damn refreshing to watch 2 people get into it with each other and know that race was not a subtext to their conflict and that at no point, no matter how ugly it got, no one was suppressing (or not suppressing) the desire to let a good old fashioned 20th century racial slur slip out of their mouth. I know that stuff like this was kind of Gene Roddenberry’s whole point when he created Star Trek, but it never hit home for me as much as it did in this moment.
Way to go DS9. I can’t wait to find out what the deal is with that non-corporeal wormhole building species is.
P.S. Dr. Bashir is TOTALLY insufferable.