I am ambivalent towards Deep Space 9. For years, until now really, I could not get into it (and as a Trek fan i like all the other Star Trek shows). Somehow the idea of a stationary object (i.e. a space station) in a Star Trek themed show which is all about exploring space and new civilizations and boldly going where no man has gone before (the operative word here being GOING), just doesn’t resonate. In this show, “trouble” or the galaxy has to find DS9, because it cant go anywhere. Worse, DS9 circles around the same 3 main themes with variation more or less: Bajoran religion, Cardassian-Bajoran conflict, Dominion War. That’s it. Sure, there are themes within themes thrown and those episodes are great but the structure, the main skeleton if you so will, of the show are those three themes.
But it is Star Trek and I think after a while I got into it, especially Season 6 which I find to be breathtakingly good. I truly enjoyed the intensity of some of the episodes. The theme(s) in DS9 are smart and darker than what is generally portrayed as an idealistic future in the Trek universe, such as the whole Dominion arc and the Maquis rebellion as well as Section 31.
They also get more into the Cardassian-Bajoran conflict and history and explore some of the themes and species that were introduced in The Next Generation (TNG). I liked that. It put the whole Maquis insurrection in perspective – especially with respect to Voyager.
I also liked how the Ferengi, with the introduction of Quark, were more fleshed out as a species and really stopped being caricatures. Moreover, I enjoyed witnessing the gradual downfall of the Cardassians, a treacherous species I always personally disliked. They were like the Nazis on steroids or something. Just god awful people.
However, after going back to watching TNG, and The Original Series (TOS) and then Voyager, I realized how microcosm DS9 is; how confined. I can’t place my finger on it, but I think the problem is that it is overtly political and has little to do with the themes of exploration and space travel, meeting new species and going where no man has gone before. It just did not strike the right balance. At some point I felt that they should have named the show “The Dominion War” or something rather than Star Trek, as there is no trek in DS9.
Here are a few of the serious short-comings of DS9
1) A Starfleet captain being the divine Emissary crap and all the prophet stuff just didnt seem right in a Star Trek show. I mean, if there is one thing Gene Roddenberry didnt want in there, it’s been religion. In TNG they dont even say “my god” when something bad things happen. Religion is ancient, backwards and the downfall of every society. Star Trek is about an enlightened era, civilizations and epoch – where people have grown past their infancy. Religion is unworthy of intelligent, space-faring civilizations (especially Starfleet) that have gone beyond their limited view of the universe (i.e. know better). All those religious themed episodes, up until the very last episode culminating in Sisko’s disappearance in the “Celestial Temple” (wormhole) among gods (wormhole aliens), really was annoying, distracting and just out of place.
Religion, explored to that extent and then validated (i.e. when Sisko wants to stop the Jem’hadar ship coming through the wormhole and the “prophets” magically make them go away) has no place in Star Trek.
Star Trek has always been about using reason, intelligence and science to make things happen, not pleading to divine entities to magically bring about change. Watching educated folks who have explored space and have so much scientific knowledge seriously still believe in such things as prophets and divine entities behind things that happen in life is utterly ridiculous. But I guess if you make a show about a space station stuck right in front of the wormhole, that is also the divine place of worship of a backwards civilization (Bajorans), you probably got no choice but to explore that backwards aspect, i.e. their faith. In a sense the writers trapped themselves there.
2) The entire Dominion war: half the show is a space version of some war/political soap-opera, not to mention that the entire premise behind it is ludicrous: you have a species (Changelings) that want to annihilate an entire quadrant and start an interstellar war resulting in billions of deaths, for no intelligent or world shattering reason other than faulty intelligence and bigotry. We are to believe that the Federation, Romulans, Cardassians and everyone else in the alpha quadrant is incapable of bringing an end to this? Really?
This theme was artificially extended by the writers obviously as the Federation has gone through far worse but came out without spending 5 Seasons and millions of worlds on it. Couldnt they have just prevented the war from starting by simply destroying their planet? That way, they could have saved them and us 4 more seasons of back and forth fighting a silly war based on equally silly reasons and repeating the same junk over and over again.
3) Sisko and DS9 have apparently become Starfleet Command and HQ and Intelligence – all in one place and person. Except for Admiral Hayes, I dont think I recall even seeing the offices and halls of Starfleet HQ when it came to making command and tactical decisions about the biggest and bloodiest interstellar war in their history. It was like everyone else had stopped mattering or existing and all decisions were made out of DS9, under the watchful eyes of the all knowing Bajoran, “prophets” and the divine Sisko, without Starfleet or the governments of the Federation even being seen once saying anything.
4) The entire Maquis arc was treated miserably and totally unworthy of both the cause of the movement (especially because they did continue it into Voyager) and in how passionately the Maquis were introduced into Star Trek in TNG with Ro Laren who eventually defected to join them. After the writers spent a few episodes in TNG and then a few more in DS9 to build them and their cause up quite intelligently, they just dropped them like that and it was sort of later on mentioned, on the side in one of the episodes about something else as kind of an afterthought- that “yeah by the way, all the Maquis are dead”. Uh-huh. Ok.
Maybe the writers wanted to do away with them so they can focus on the ridiculously tedious Dominion arc (in fact I believe that is the official story), but they could have done so by at least dedicating a single episode to their demise. This cold cutting off was just an unworthy ending to such a worthy theme, as there was so much potential in the Maquis insurrection. But they just killed it like that.
There was also a disconnect between how the Maquis were portrayed in Voyager and here. In Voyager, as well as in TNG with Ro Laren, they were seen as real people with causes, in DS9 they were mostly portrayed as terrorists deserving Sisko’s and the Federation’s wrath.
5) What’s the point of Jake Sisko? For 7 years that kid didnt do anything but bum around the station eating creole food with daddy. Complete waste of character and actor if you ask me. They never did anything with Jake, as in his character didnt undergo a change really, and he was the token scene filler every now and then.
6) Same thing with Bashir: no past loves, no passionate romance, no skeletons in the closet (except for that one time), no personal growth as a character, not even anything in the medical department. Looking back, the one thing I remember about Bashir the most is him hanging around Quark’s playing darts with O’Brien. The Doctor on Voyager, who was a hologram, had more of a life and personality and dimension than this flesh and blood human. Another wasted character.
His crush on Jadzia was unresolved and just made worse in the end when he just falls in love with Ezri whom he just met five minutes ago for the sake of falling in love with Ezri.
7) The characters in DS9 do not have a lot of chemistry with one another and their relationships to each other seem forced and fake. In all the other Trek shows you had these strong friendships between people that felt genuine and believable – like Kirk and Spock, Gordi and Data, Harry and Tom, Reed and Trip, Trip and Archer, heck even Neelix and Tuvok, but in DS9 that was missing somehow. I dont know if it has to do with the casting or writing, but here really wasnt one single character I really liked or was sympathetic toward or a pair of characters about whom I could believe that they were buddies.
Unlike Voyager, for example, whose crew are a bunch of good, likable, kind people whose relationships to one another feel authentic and genuine, DS9 just really felt like it was a job for each cast. While in the other shows it felt like the characters had been real friends for years, in DS9 it felt like they just met a few weeks ago and had about that much time to forge a friendship.
8) The romance between Ben Sisko and Cassidy Yates must go down in Star Trek history as the most useless, boring and dispassionate liaison ever. Their relationship was based on nothing really: no love, no affection, no passion, no respect. Nothing. You dont know why he loves her or why she loves him. Because it was written in the script? It was rushed through and brushed over haphazardly to just check off the “introduce love interest for captain” box. Sisko and Yates have no chemistry, not to mention that Sisko treats her like crap all the time, doesnt even want her around and avoids her mostly. her character is also not explored and we only get to know her vis a vis how Sisko sees her. This is just bad writing and story telling – making people fall head over heels out of the blue.
9) The punishment the Female Changeling and the Great Link got was disappointing and pathetic. For 5 seasons we saw war, and destruction as well as hopes killed and entire civilizations torn to pieces and destroyed (Blight infection anyone), because of this genocidal race and in the end not only did they not get punished for their genocidal ambitions, but they also got the cure passed on to them.
Since the Female Chnageling and the Link were all the same, there was no reason to treat them as separate entities. I was surprised I didnt see them all at DS9 in the end, in humanoid form, celebrating at Quark’s together with the Federation folks, playing Dabo. The way they handled that was just pathetic and way out of character for Star Trek. There seemed no pay-off for enduring 5 seasons of genocide by these treacherous species.
They should have done to The Changelings and the Link what the Allies did to Nazi Germany after WWII. No wonder the Maquis and Section 31 developed. The Federation lacks some serious backbone.
If you ask me, the only people who had any integrity and loyalty to Federation and Starfleet principles, were the Maquis and Section 31, including Luther Sloan.
Bottom Line: When looking at the spectrum of Star Trek movies and series (the newest piece of junk of a movie excluded), DS9 is sort of not remarkable. Unlike TNG or Voyager, DS9 is not a show I would watch over and over again. It lacks a lot of the exciting themes of Star Trek, like space exploration, time travel (that doesnt involve a Bajoran orb), spacial anomalies, scientific phenomena and curiosities, astronomical oddities, new species, different cultures etc. None of that, especially not in the later years when the Dominion war started, were explored or if they were, just minimally and to basically support the main plot, the Dominion War. It makes you appreciate all those TNG and Voyager episodes where actually something interesting besides war and politics happen to people.
Most of DS9 is just battle scenes and CGI and maneuvers and political bickering, which can get tiresome. It would have been ok for one season but the entire show is based on that one theme. I assume it is popular among fans because a lot of Star Trek geeks like the ship models and battle scenes. Real geeks dont care about content and quality of episodes as long as the battle scenes are fiery and well coordinated.
I think the creators and writers missed a great deal of opportunity in DS9 to explore and flesh out some of those themes and issues they had introduced on other Trek shows or began exploring at the beginning of this show. They did not strike a proper balance between those elements.
At the same time, I understand why they were limited to the same three story lines all the time, as a space station that doesnt go anywhere can only offer so much in terms of exploration and the themes that are generally praised and loved by Star Trek fans, and which drew them to the franchise in the first place. In this sense, the show was self-limiting by design.