The “Worst” Episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

On 3rd January this year, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. We finished watching the show at the end of last year. My impression, in general, is that pre-Discovery it was the most divisive Star Trek television series (it might still be; do many people actually think that Discovery is good?) and I’m keen, once we finish watching Voyager and (I guess) Enterprise to get into some of the writing about it (and other Star Treks). Thus far (midway through season 3 of Voyager), it’s certainly my favourite Star Trek – but then again, I was never much of a Star Trek fan. The long-running narrative of broken people trying to come to terms with their pasts as the future looks increasingly bleak? That’s much more my television-style.

I meant to write something to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary, but I never got around to it. I’ve been delaying reading this Variety article on the show for a couple of months, too, but I finally got around to that today as well. I’ve only watched the show once; I don’t really have a favourite episode about which I could write anything more insightful than I’ve read from other people. But back in October 2017 I wrote about the worst episode of DS9 – at least according to IMDb.[1] In (belated) celebration of the show’s twenty-fifth anniversary, here is what I thought of that:

We watched two episodes of DS9 on Tuesday 3rd October, 2017. The first (5.06) was “Trials and Tribble-ations”, one of the highest-rated DS9 episodes on IMDb. It’s no wonder why – the episode is fun, respectful, and unchallenging; it’s arguably the least-DS9 episode of DS9. One thing that I found particularly interesting was that Jadzia Dax, through the memories of the symbiont’s former host Emory, could remember the time period in which the Original Series was set and enjoyed the return visit.

The following episode (5.07), “Let He Who Is Without Sin…” is the lowest-rated episode of DS9 on IMDb. The set up: Jadzia Dax takes Worf to the pleasure-planet Risa, with Bashir, Leeta, and Quark tagging along. The Dax symbiont has never been to Risa with Jadzia before, but it’s where the previous host, Curzon, died and she reconnects with an old lover of his, Arandis, much to Worf’s chagrin. This point is one of my first favourite bits of the episode – the casual bisexuality of the Trill, in a show that’s main progressive bugbear is its unwillingness to have LGBTQ characters.[2]

Worf then falls in with a group calling themselves the New Essentialists, who believe that the Federation has gone soft, leaving itself open to defeat at the hands of the Borg, the Dominion, or (ironically, given Worf’s interest) the Klingons. They want to shut Risa down, screaming that it represents how unprepared to defend themselves and the Federation the dastardly millennials are. Oops, I mean “young people”.

Arandis, Julian, and most significantly Dax are having none of it. Dax is most significant because as we have been reminded in this episode through reference to Curzon and in the previous episode through reference to Emony, she is hundreds of years old and remembers the Federation in days gone by. That she has no interest in “restoring its values” should have been a warning sign – one that the Essentialists ignored because she appears to them to be a young woman.

Another thing that I liked was the reminder that the Federation’s values include trust and freedom. As explored in 4.11, “Paradise Lost”, Deep Space Nine repeatedly questions what sacrifices are necessary to win a war and what sacrifices mean that you have lost anyway.[3] Furthermore, just a few episodes earlier in “The Ship” (5.02), the Federation and the Dominion caused one another great harm in their failure to trust one another.

The final thing I enjoyed was the reveal of Julian and Leeta’s reasons for going to Risa – to perform the Bajoran rite of separation and end their relationship. The rite is designed to emphasise the good times and celebrate the new opportunities that open up to them. It’s quite a sweet little reminder that not every Star Trek culture is filled with the violent garbage of the Klingons, and that some of them are quite positive – albeit one that was also conquered by the Cardassians for about fifty years. But that background matters too – the Bajorans endured and repelled occupation and yet maintained its positive values.

Even in one of its weakest episodes, DS9 could engage with its long-running themes about war and survival in a thought-provoking way. Furthermore, by developing characters as much as setting and story overarching themes can become more pronounced and apparent. Twenty-five years after it originally aired, I found that Deep Space Nine stands up admirably.

[1] My actual least-favourite episode is probably 1.09, “Move Along Home”, although there are several candidates. While I don’t think IMDb ratings are usually that good an indication of the actual quality of media content, it nevertheless served a suitable jumping-off point for this discussion.

[2] Or, subsequently, killing them off when it does.

[3] This is why, subsequently, I’m not so keen on 6.19 “In the Pale Moonlight” – although it is an excellent episode, in terms of the writing, performances, directing, et cetera, in my opinion it shows too much willingness to sacrifice the Federation’s values.

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