Deep Space Nine is the best Star Trek series

Over the summer, Netflix added all of the Star Trek series to it’s instant service–well, all but one: Deep Space Nine. This made me sad, because DS9 was my favorite, but I figured it would be a good opportunity to catch up on Voyager and Enterprise, which I watched some of (two seasons and one season, respectively) but never really got into. I tried, and quickly remembered why I’d stopped watching those shows (Neelix and implausibility, respectively). I was already in a Star Trek mood, though, so I went back and started watching The Next Generation. I really enjoyed this series while it was on TV–it’s final season ended my senior year of high school, and my friends and I were all Star Trek nerds–and in rewatching some of the old episodes I was delighted to see that they held up over time. It wasn’t just nostalgia that made me like them in high school, and in fact many of the episodes I remember as kind of boring turned out to be pretty great once I watched them with a more discerning eye.

Last night, having just watched “Pen Pals” from season two (specifically because it was recently covered in Tor.com’s TNG rewatch), I decided on a whim to do a search for DS9, just in case Netflix had added it to the Instant Streaming options. TNG is great and all, but the episodic nature of it was really starting to get to me. I wanted the depth of an ongoing story, and the darkness and tension of DS9′s murky political minefield. What could it hurt? I pulled up the search window and…it was there! My sweet, precious Deep Space Nine! I went straight toward the end of season two, when the long-form story just starts to get going (a two-parter about the formation of the Maquis, a resistance/terrorist organization) and started watching.

I love this show so much. We start that episode by watching someone plant a bomb, and then instead of watching it explode, we jump to the control room and listen to Dax and Kira have a snarky, half-friendly-half antagonistic conversation about dating. Not only does this serve as a perfect example of the Hitchcock Principle (“Suspense is when you know there’s a bomb but it doesn’t go off”), its wonderful character development, and nicely humorous. Then the bomb goes off and a ship explodes, and the entire sequence is a perfect, representative slice of DS9: darkness, conspiracy, humor, character, and mundane life. These characters didn’t have time to catalog anomalies and dork around with the Prime Directive, because people were setting bombs on their ships. It was all they could do to keep their heads above water while the darker forces of the universe did everything it could to destroy them. And in the midst of it all they do their best to live a normal life.

The first two seasons of Deep Space Nine were still trying, albeit half-heartedly, to mimic a normal Star Trek show; you still got a lot of political stuff (I can’t even count the number of people I’ve talked to who hate the show based solely on its early preoccupation with Bajoran politics), but there was a lot of “Anomaly of the Week” type stuff. I’m not saying that the other Trek shows were frivolous–they’re well-known and well-loved precisely because they deal with weighty issues like ethics and responsibility. The difference with DS9 came in its tone, which was dark and tense and far more bleak than the others. Every Trek show has tricky questions, but DS9 has questions with no good answers–and, more importantly, consequences that come back to haunt the characters for years.

The TNG episode “Pen Pals” is a great example. Data accidentally contacts a young girl on a dying planet, resulting in a fascinating quandary over the Prime Directive: do they save her? Do they save her planet? If saving her will irrevocably destroy her culture, is it still worth it? If the only other option is death, does the Prime Directive even matter? They wrestle with this back and forth for an hour, and it’s great science fiction, and then in the end they choose to save her planet and–here’s the kicker–wipe the girl’s memory. They broke the Prime Directive by directly interfering with a developing culture, and then there were zero consequences, and then they flew away and never thought about it again. All of their deep, philosophical theorizing was interesting, but ultimately meaningless.

Deep Space Nine doesn’t have that kind of crap. If they mess with something and cause a problem, they’ll have to deal with it, probably several times. They’re a space station, so they can’t just fly away to a part of space they haven’t ruined yet. The Maquis I mentioned earlier were a resistance group forged by the events of a TNG episode: the Federation came to a political agreement with the Cardassians, resulting in a demilitarized zone that displaced a lot of people. Colonists in Federation territory suddenly found themselves, and the homes they’d given so much to build, under enemy control. TNG never really dealt with this, but DS9 used it all the time. The colonists felt betrayed, and when the Cardassians exercised what the colonists considered to be unfair control, they formed a resistance movement and/or terrorist organization. They blew stuff up and killed people, and the DS9 characters couldn’t just wipe anyone’s memorizes or reroute power to the deflector array, they had to hang around and deal with it and try to make peace in an impossible situation.

In season three, Deep Space Nine embraced its long-form nature and went whole hog, starting a massive war that consumed not only the Federation and the Cardassians, but the Klingons, Romulans, and a new alien nation called the Dominion. The one where the Romulans join the war is one of the best episodes ever: the Federation is losing the war and needs more help, so they order DS9′s captain to enlist the Romulan’s help as allies through “any means necessary”. If he doesn’t get their help, the Federation will be destroyed–but the only way to get their help is to break his own set of ethics in a profound and terrifying way. There are no easy answers on DS9, and the implications of his decisions in that episode haunt him forever.

I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this–I can’t convince you, objectively, that a piece of art is “good.” It’s on Netflix now, so watch it for yourself. Perhaps it would be simpler to say that DS9 has my favorite characters of any Star Trek show and leave it at that. Perhaps it’s enough to point out that DS9 was run, in part, but Ronald Fracking Moore, who also ran the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. Whatever convinces you totry it, try it. It’s my favorite Star Trek show ever.

(And that makes it the best.)

23 Responses to “Deep Space Nine is the best Star Trek series”

  1. Bryce Moore says:

    Give me a specific episode to start with. Denisa’s favorite show ever (as of now) is BSG, and DS9 might be a good followup to that one. We’re two episodes into Caprica right now. Not sure about that one. What have you heard?

  2. admin says:

    I tried to like Caprica and couldn’t get into it. I’m trying to decide which would be the best entry point for DS9: season 3 is when it gets awesome, but you need a good grounding in the situation and the characters to really get it. I’ll see what I can come up with.

  3. Lee Falin says:

    DS9 is the only series I’ve ever been able to convince my wife to watch, precisely for the reasons you mentioned. In my opinion I think a good way to start is the following:

    1. Watch the first two episodes of season 1 so you can get a good understanding of Bajor’s relationship with DS9 and Sisko’s role as emissary.

    2. Jump to the season finale of season 2, “The Jem’Hadar” because that introduces you to the main antagonists of the rest of the series.

    3. Continue in order from there (starting with the 1st episode of season 3)

    4. Stop watching at the end of Season 6 and tell yourself that Dax really is dead, and that Sisko retired to the restaurant business.

  4. Arnaud Koebel says:

    Yep, “In the pale moonlight” is my favorite hour of television ever!

    @Bryce : I’d say that “In the hands of the prophets” (last episode of season 1), followed with the 3 beginning episodes of season 2 should give you a good starting point. After that, you can jump to “The maquis” as Dan said.

  5. Alissa Leonard says:

    Wow…perhaps I should look at DS9 again… It was my least favorite of all the Star Trek shows. It actually wasn’t because of the Bajoran politics, but the Ferengi. They were so annoying! I probably watched most of the first season and a few here and there afterwards. I really liked Sisko and his son though.

  6. admin says:

    Lee, you’re the second person today who’s complained about Season 7, and that just blows my mind. I LOVE Season 7, and especially Ezri Dax. She’s not Jadzia, but she’s a great character. Plus, if you skip Season 7 you miss out on the 8-episode-long finale, which is still one of my favorite bits of anything on TV (most notably Garak and Damar, but all the characters get good resolutions). DS9 was a show that really knew how to do a finale.

  7. Lee Falin says:

    I must confess that I stopped watching season 7 after the first few episodes, so I missed the finale. Maybe I should withhold judgment until I watch the whole thing.

  8. Mike L says:

    DS9 will always be my second-favourite after TNG, but part of my attachment to the latter might be sentimentality.
    I was a fantasy-lover as a youngster and hated Star Trek (TOS). TNG really opened my eyes to Sci-Fi as a genre and I loved almost every episode. DS9 was awesome but it had a lot to live up to.
    I still have to defend my choice of it as second-best to a lot of people who never got into the series at all, but I really did enjoy it very much.

  9. Berin says:

    I never understood why DS9 was the forgotten child of the Star Treks. Once it got going in the third season, it easily became my favorite. In addition to the long story arcs, I felt that Commander/Captain Sisko had a lot more depth than the other ST captains. And, of course, DS9 had my favorite ST character of all time: Vic Fontaine. That cat was just too cool.

  10. admin says:

    Watch it the final season, Lee. You’ll dig it. So many amazing episodes, and final multi-episode arc that really brings the house down.

    And yes, Berin: Vic Fontaine! Someone asked for my five favorite Trek characters on Twitter, and I almost put him on the list.

  11. Eliza says:

    We’ve been watching TNG for the past month or so, and loving it, but I can see what you mean re: the episodic nature getting tiresome. I think Picard is just amazing, and the relationships they’re illuminating are great (esp post-Tasha ARGH). But you’re definitely making me want to try out some DS9, too. I remember liking it when I was younger, Ferengi or no.

    My husband also made me watch one episode of the newer series. Made me want to claw my eyes out.

  12. David Hill says:

    In general, I agree that DS9 is the best of the Star Trek television shows. I just think the series finale ran about 30 minutes too long (I could have done without that really odd conclusion involving the Prophets and the Pah’wraith or whatever they were called).

    Conversely, I was angry at Voyager for (imho) ending the final episode about 30 minutes before it should have ended. There were just too many things that the return of Voyager to Earth entailed that I wanted to see.

    Oh well…

  13. I always loved DS9 for the long story arcs. It remained my favorite sci fi show till BSG went 20 steps farther. It is the only Star Trek show that dealt with consequences.

    1. The invented a religion where the Gods were real.
    2. They tried two trippy episodes where the Pah Wraith made Sisko think his life was a dream and he really lived in 1940s NY.
    3. The whole war with the Dominion was amazing with a cheat for an ending.
    4. Garak had a harrowing spy to freedom fighter transition in the final season.

    There are so many moments I still remember that made it a special show.

  14. Heidi says:

    “In the Pale Moonlight,” is absolutely phenomenal. It’s that episode that often tips the “who would you rather follow into battle” argument in favor of Sisko. (Sisko and Adama are always the top contenders.)

    DS-9 has truly, deeply, fascinating characters. Garrick, the truth about which you never really learn, Dukat, who is a Hitler-like villain, yet we somehow feel for him even as we loathe him, Quark, who is, well, Quark. And it’s got, in my opinion, one of the best friendships in Star Trek: O’Brien and Bashir. I think they even beat out Data and Geordi.

    I could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up with yes, DS-9 is fabulous.

    (I struggled through Enterprise, but all I remember is that there was lots of “I’ll be damned”ing and lots of obvious erotic pandering. I’ve tried some Voyager, but I couldn’t get into it.)

  15. DS9 is my favorite of all the Star Trek. I have to say that right off the bat because I consider myself a big fan of Trek in general.
    DS9, even in the oft-maligned first 2 seasons, kept a level of intensity and quality that leaves you wound-up at the same time as it leaves you feeling as if punched in the gut.
    I was ecstatic when the Netflix streaming became available as the DVD set is ridonk expensive.
    I introduced my fiancee to it. Huge TNG fan but had never seen a single episode because DS9 is not a syndication friendly show.
    We are about to get to the Ma Quis (sp?) part of season 2 but already there have been a lot of killer episodes.
    She mentioned that you could tell that, for TNG, the writers read a lot of history, political and otherwise. She thinks the DS9 writers (many of the same people) instead read a ton of psychology and morality/philosophy. it is seem in the show.
    Love it.

  16. enochobus says:

    I think I too will have to give DS9 another chance. At the same time, I would encourage you to give Voyager another chance. I started watching it as it aired and within a season lost interest because “it just wasn’t TNG.” However, a few years ago, I went back and started watching . . . hmm . . . beginning in season 3, I think. That’s where Kes leaves the show. (In my opinion, she was a more annoying immitation of Deanna Troi—and that’s saying something!) That’s when they started dealing with the Borg a lot more (enter, Seven-of-Nine). The Borg were always a much more intriguing foe, I thought. As you’ve discussed on Writing Excuses, the Klingons (Romulans, et al.) are “monochromatic,” one-dimensional races. The Borg were too, but that was their whole purpose—to forcibly erase individual identity.

    So yeah, I think the stories (though without as many multi-episode arcs as I’d have liked) became more interesting, particularly Tom Paris’s B&W holodeck throwbacks to the golden age of radio serials (if the holodeck is in the episode, chances are something will go wrong with said holodeck) and the development of the holographic doctor as a character.

  17. cfornia says:

    This post really got me thinking about what I like and why. Personally, TNG has always been my all-time favorite. DS9 was good, but in my memory got bogged down by the drama of the war, the politics and the romance (just kiss her Odo!). But, after reading this, I’ll admit, it has been several years–I was in high school as well–and maybe it is time to give it a second chance with new eyes.

    That being said, I HAVE revisited my beloved TNG (later seasons being the very best) and I beg you NOT to base your opinion on “Pen Pals”. What I loved with the episodic storytelling was its ingenuity–see “Darmok”, “Genesis” and “Ensigns” to name a few interesting and new ideas that came out of TNG. They had forty minutes to introduce you to a new alien or new problem; get you to really care about it, and then use what you know about the characters to solve the problem while introducing new character depth at the same time. In forty minutes! And more often than not, they were successful.

    In some ways it is like comparing a 1,000 page epic with a 1,000 word short story. Both are good for different reasons. With television, however, you get sight and sound to help the words along, for that reason I admire the screenwriters who effectively do a lot in a small amount of time.

    I love Doctor Who for the same reason (Russell T. Davis years, although Steven Moffett tries SO hard, and isn’t always successful). In one episode we meet people we never see again; care about them, cry when then die (because they usually do) and cheer when The Doctor saves them (because he usually gets at least one). Great storytelling forty minutes at a time (because I’m in a hurry and so very few shows are smart enough to pull it off).

  18. admin says:

    cfornia:
    You’re absolutely right, and I shouldn’t have implied that long-form storytelling was inherently better, just that I tend to like it better (which is, despite my ego, not the same thing). TNG did a great job turning SF short story ideas into awesome TV shows, and I do love the show. I just tend to like DS9 better.

  19. Thistlefizz says:

    TNG will still be my favorite of the Star Trek series simply because of Sir Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of Jean-Luc Picard. That being said, Deep Space Nine is amazing. I love that they took the Star Trek universe and presented with a darker tone in a world that had weightier consequences. The Dominion War was compelling, the Prophets story line was fascinating, and bringing back Worf, well, that was just icing on the cake. It did a lot of things well, and had some of the best characters in the entire Star Trek franchise–especially the villains. Gul Dukat is my favorite Star Trek villain, and I thought they did a great job of making him multidimensional.

    However, I have to agree that season seven fell short. It just had too many problems. For one, it became too episodic, which would have been fine except for the fact that those episodes had a tendency to ignore the fact that the entire Alpha Quadrant was supposed to be at war. The over-arcing story of the Dominion War got pushed to the background, and its resolution ended up feeling rushed.

    And as far as Ezri Dax is concerned, well, opinions can differ about her character, but I personally found her to be whiny and annoying. However, if you were able to get past that, she did have her moments. Her character did at least have a distinct arc, and she did get less obnoxious as the season went on. The biggest problem that I (and I bet everyone else who didn’t like her, whether they knew this was why or not) had was not the fact that she replaced Jadzia Dax, but rather the how and why.

    When Terry Farrell left the show, fans were let down. Her death was meaningless. And we were continually reminded of that empty, pointless death every time Ezri Dax came on screen. If Jadzia had died in a meaningful way it would have gone a long way towards allowing for a smooth transition for Ezri to take over as Dax.

  20. dr reality check says:

    DS9 is clearly the best Science fiction show ever made. Roddenberry stifled the creativity of the franchise and it wasn’t until he was gone that the Star Trek franchise could reach it’s potential. DS9 was able to deal on an adult level with religion, politics, history, race relations, interpersonal conflict, and overall superior writing. The other star trek shows dealt with these issues too, but very superficially and not very intelligently.

    I own the series and recently, we re-watched the entire DS9 from beginning to end. With the exception of 2001 and Forbidden Planet (the uncredited inspiration for Star Trek in the first place), DS9 is clearly the best Science Fiction ever put to film. It’s acting, story lines, special effects, theme, character development as well as it’s clear references to religious and historical events and beliefs, were unique in this gentre.

  21. Ross says:

    I loved DS9 and truly hated to see it end when and how it ended.
    It seemed even for TV science fiction having characters from the very beginning not exactly liking each other yet being on the same side, was a nice change. Kira’s attitude towards the Federation, no one liking Bashir and what not, etc. I found myself enjoying the stories more after the second season, the look of the show, the depth and enjoy being able to watch them on Netflix now. Garak, by far, is in my opinion one of the more memorable characters, just as The Wire was one of the better episodes.

  22. Trek fanantic says:

    As a life-long fan of all things Trek…. My rank of Star Trek shows:

    1) DS9
    2) TNG
    3) VOY
    4) TOS

    Haven’t seen “Enterprise” yet as a matter of principle (long story). But I agree with many of you guys that DS9 had some of the most memorable characters and relationships of all. My only gripe with DS9 was the death of Jadzia… the beautiful Terry Ferrell. Forgivable because of the new storylines/tensions between Worf and Ezri. Bashir/O’Brien bromance is the best. Slightly better, even, than Kirk/Spock (I know! Blasphemy). Was not as forced as Paris/Kim. LOVED Garak. Even Quark and Rom. And how great was it seeing the first Ferengi to enter the Federation? The only character I couldn’t stand was Jake Sisko. Mr. wanna-be author. Could not stand him.

    There has never been a show quite like DS9. The first 3 seasons of BSG gave us a grittier version (b/c RonDMoore was allowed to really play) but the end was not at tidy and well thought-out as DS9 (despite the flaws; I could have done without the rushed feeling of “Ok, so Sisko is now inside the wormhole, wtf?”).

    My interpretation of the 2009 “reboot” movie is that it must be an alternate and not altered timeline– because it would break my heart to imagine that DS9 will never happen if it is altered and not an alternate reality.

  23. StarWatcher says:

    I am watching DS9 for the first time now. I like it but I’m not yet connected with the characters so it hasn’t gripped me yet like the other series have. I’m only at season 1 though so I expect it to get even more interesting.

    I urge you to give Voyager more of a chance. I too didn’t like it at first and didn’t watch it for years because I thought Neelix was stupid. Neelix and Kess are annoying at first, but once they get rid of Kess, Neelix becomes far less annoying and eventually becomes integral to Voyager and saves them multiple times. Once Seven of Nine comes aboard and bring with her all the borg gizmos, Voyager becomes certifiably awesome.

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