I've been watching, watching and re-watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on PlutoTV. I know, I can watch my DVD's or Paramount Plus on demand commercial-free anytime I want. But there's something almost nostalgic about watching it on "TV". But that's not what this post is about. This post is my way of finally picking my top 10 episodes. That's not an easy job. I was never one who thought of DS9 as the middle child or the "dark Trek". There were episodes I liked better than others, certainly, but DS9 was as much "Star Trek" as its predecessors. I have a new appreciation for the cast, especially Avery Brooks as Captain Sisko with such a commanding presence. And Nana Visitor, who in the beginning, could've been Michelle Forbes as Ensign Ro, but brought such a nuanced character to life that is wholly different than Ro would've been.
I could go through each of the actors and their characters one by one and distill how their presence on DS9 brought a weight to the ensemble show that could turn from deadly serious to comedic in a single act. The one character that I still hadn't quite understood after 30 years was Marc Alaimo's Gul Dukat. He is an incredible actor, but I always saw Dukat as a character who had many facets. Finally, in watching "What You Leave Behind", I realized his path was very much the opposite of Sisko. Dukat was always the foil, but never quite the villain. He's cunning and sly, but his motivations are in support of Cardassia--even when that meant that he would benefit. But in that final episode, we saw Sisko go from the commander who took over the Cardassian space station to die and join the Bajoran gods. In contrast, Dukat was the commander of said Cardassian station who was dethroned and after tangles with Sisko embraced the the "anti-gods" of Bajor.
Both family men, they each had an almost parallel journey of victory and loss throughout the series. The turning point that sent the two on a crash course was when Dukat killed Sisko's best friend (Dax) in the penultimate season's finale. The two-man battle, which began in episode one, culminates in the final episode between Sisko and Dukat--after the galaxy is saved and in the last few minutes of the series. The world, too, is saved as a result of the battle (the world in this case is Bajor) and both men presumably join their gods. And now, my top 10 (BTW, two-parters get to count as one by my rules!)
The Maquis, parts one and two - Not a story that makes it on most lists, but this really hits the moral dilemma and is one of the first “serialized”-style stories that began in TNG, continued in DS9 and set up part of the premise for VOYAGER.
Way of the Warrior - Worf! Klingons! Dax promoted! Bald and goatee Sisko! A souped up DS9 station ready for war! Yes, please!
The Search, parts one and two - This is the first episode where DS9 was on its own, following the end of DS9 and before the launch of VOYAGER. The best part is the arrival of the U.S.S. Defiant, revealing for the first time a Starfleet battleship. This debuted before spoilers on the Internet and who didn’t say “holy shit” when the Defiant fired its machine gun-like phasers for the first time?! Also, we got to really see Avery Brooks sit in the center seat of a starship, which in a scene elevated him to his rightful place in Trek captain lore—a whole year before actually getting promoted to captain.
Call to Arms - A pretty shocking season ender that resulted in the crew abandoning their home to the Dominion but leaving some of their crew behind to serve alongside the Cardassians and Dominion.
The Visitor - There are a few Star Trek episodes that you can point to that illustrate the power of storytelling in science fiction, while also being some of the best hours of television in the history of the medium. This is one of those episodes. Tony Todd is exceptional as an elder Jake Sisko as we follow his entire life trying to bring his father back to our reality after a warp core accident.
The Ship - This is another one that's not on most lists, but there are two things that make it land so well for me. One is Avery Brooks and the other is Kaitlin Hopkins as the Vorta, Kilana. Both playing the highest stakes poker with each other after the ultimate prize. For Sisko, it's the intelligence and tech that the crashed Jem'Hadar ship could deliver and for Kilana, it's the return of a dying Founder who she considers a god. Ultimately, Sisko wins, but at the cost of every red-shirt on the mission. After all these years, I can still hear those haunting lines when Kilana, her soldiers dead by suicide, asks Sisko if he has any gods suggesting "duty, Starfleet, the Federation. You must be pleased with yourself. You have this ship to take back to them. I hope it was worth it." Kilana sincerely tells Sisko that she would have given him everything he wanted if he would have given her the changeling. No one won--and because they couldn't see past their own ultimate goal, nearly everyone else died.
Far Beyond the Stars - This episode is powerful for showing real racism in 1950's America. Brook's powerful performance stands out, but so do the other actors (especially Colm Meaney) as the play characters from that bygone era. I love an almost Mad Men-style period piece anyway, but this is one of those like "The Visitor" or TNG's "Inner Light" that are something special. And I'd forgotten that, gulp. they'd even allowed Cirroc Lofton's character to say the N-word.
Children of Time - I like this episode because it's one of those classic Star Trek conundrums. What is the moral solution? What's the right thing to do? The Defiant travels through an anomaly and meets the crew's descendants that will result when they are to be thrown back in time. If they avoid the anomaly and go home, these people will cease to exist. If they do indeed fulfill the history in front of them, they never see their loved ones on DS9 again...and Kira dies.
Tears of the Prophets - This was the last real shocker. On the edge of what we would consider modern Internet, I recall seeing "upcoming episodes" on a spoiler/news site of the late 90's. And I remember there being a rumor that a main character was going to die in the sixth season finale. I didn't believe it and then...wow! It happened. Not since Tasha Yar (I didn't see that one when it first aired) had a main character been killed off and it was a permanent thing. That was the last time that I was legitimately surprised and shocked with an episode of television. Since then, the Internet and spoilers have taken over--and almost certainly can't be avoided.
Rejoined - This episode is criticized by its writers for not going far enough in showing an LGBTQ relationship. They cheated by making the character Dax who, as a non-human Trill, has been both male and female in previous lifetimes. TNG had similarly tried to toy with the issue in "The Outcast", but again used Riker who was clearly a heterosexual male. Rick Berman was notoriously conservative and protective of the franchise and would push back on any attempts to introduce gay storylines. It wouldn't be until Discovery that actual gay characters were shown (and by then it was very much mainstream). The standout scene was between Dax and Sisko where they discuss Dax's decision to violate Trill law. While he may not agree with it, he'll support his best friend of two lifetimes.
That was hard. And probably would change if I did it again in a week or so. I would have included "Emissary" since it had Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise. And "Defiant" because Jonathan Frakes returns as Thomas Riker. "Duet" should probably be on the list for such a weighty story and Nana Visitor's grand performance. Speaking of performances, I can't go without noting Aaron Eisenberg's Nog, who went from stealing gems in the first episode to being the first Ferengi in Starfleet in the final episode. But after having his leg amputated, Nog retreats to Vic Fontaine's 60's era Vegas casino in "It's Only a Paper Moon". Oh, and "The Die is Cast" with the Cardassian/Romulan fleet attacking the Founder's! Maybe this should've been the top 20 list.
Stay tuned for more as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!