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The five best Deep Space Nine episodes of all time!

The five Deep Space Nine episodes that defied typical Star Trek boundaries and defined the franchise's most daring and unorthodox spinoff series.

Deep Space Nine was the first (and, really, only) Star Trek spinoff series to break from the formula of an intrepid (and morally unambiguous) crew charting space aboard a starship, instead opting for nuanced stories of a motley band maintaining a military space station above a recently demilitarized frontier. While the results weren't always pretty, Deep Space Nine nonetheless produced some of the most compelling episodes in the annals of Trek canon -- and these five are arguably DS9's best.

5. Trials and Tribble-ations [Video clip]

Star Trek has never had trouble making fun of itself (or its fans), and "Tribble-ations" is doubtless the most artful self-referencing work in Trek history.

Riffing on the old "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" formula of revealing the untold (and unlikely) tales of minor characters from a famous story, the crew of Deep Space Nine warp back in time to the events of the original Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles" to prevent a retroactive assassination of Captain Kirk. The DS9 production team pull out all the stops for this one, dressing up the modern characters in period 1960s Trek garb -- Dax in a beehive hairdo, go-go boots, and miniskirt is a particular treat -- and superimposing them Forrest Gump-style into remastered footage of old-school Trek. The deft weaving of the new narrative with familiar scenes from the old is handled with aplomb, and Team DS9 is clearly enjoying every minute of it, right down to Worf refusing to discuss why Kirk-era Klingons originally had smooth foreheads to Bashir and O'Brien jumping into a bar brawl alongside Chekov and Scotty to Sisko and Dax standing in awe of one James T. Kirk. Eventually all pop culture eats itself, but rarely does it taste so sweet and light as this multi-generational remix of everything that makes Star Trek fun.

4. Far Beyond the Stars [Video clip]

Plenty of television series have tried the old "this is all a dream...or is it?" narrative device, but few with so much heart and subtext as this sterling moment from Deep Space Nine. Put more simply, this is Deep Space Nine's answer to NextGen's "The Inner Light", and the junior series holds its own.

Sisko is suffering recurring and unexplained visions that he's actually Benny Russell, a struggling science-fiction writer in 1953 New York dreaming tales of a star station called Deep Space Nine. Russell's terrestrial social circle includes Wizard of Oz-style corollaries for every major character on the show, as you'd expect. What elevates this episode above the standard fare is the racial commentary -- Russell isn't taken seriously as a writer both because he's black and because he dares to suggest that, in his imagined Roddenberry-esque future, a black man can be both the commander of a space station and the hero of his own story. As Russell wakes up intermittently as Sisko, he struggles with the weight of his Starfleet career, and considers resigning his commission. In the end, Russell is the victim of a hate crime that sees his career ruined and his freedom denied -- due in no small part to his uncompromising dream of racial equality. As Russell is taken away, Sisko awakes, his visions never explained, yet committed again to his role as a leader of men. The audience is truly left to wonder whether Sisko dreamed Russell, or the other way around -- and the ambiguity only amplifies the message, and makes this episode one of DS9's finest.

3. The Visitor [Video clip]

There's an inside joke amongst Trekkies that the franchise might better be called Time Trek, as many of its best episodes involve time travel. Case in point: "The Visitor" -- arguably the most personal and intimate trans-temporal tale that Star Trek has yet produced.

We begin with a frame story of an aged Jake Sisko (Tony Todd, in his most understated and captivating Trek performance ever) revealing to a young woman why he abandoned his writing career many years ago. During a treknobabble "wormhole inversion," Capt. Sisko is struck by a strange energy beam, while Jake is forced to watch. Sisko vanishes, presumed dead, and Jake is wracked with guilt at his helplessness. Hours later, Sisko reappears, and continues to do so at random intervals for the next several years, revealing that he isn't dead, but trapped in some timeless limbo. Jake tries to move on, but eventually succumbs to an obsession with rescuing his dad, abandoning his career, his family, and everything he loves to save the father he could not live without. In the end, Jake succeeds at the cost of his life, revealing to his father in harrowing terms just how much he means to his son. Sisko avoids the accident in a rebooted timeline, but must live with the knowledge that while his son's love for him is indomitable, he must teach Jake how to live without him, lest that same bond someday destroy his son. It's a subtle and bittersweet ode to fatherhood, and one of Deep Space Nine's finest hours.

2. Duet [Video clip]

Deep Space Nine has often been called a thinly veiled reference to the Nazi occupation of Europe, with the Cardassians vaguely alien-ized versions of the Gestapo and the Bajorans their Jewish victims.

"Duet" is the episode where the veil is more or less dropped in favor of Kira flat out confronting a Cardassian war criminal -- played with dazzling presence and depth by Harris Yulin -- who tortured and murdered Bajorans in a forced mining camp. Yulin's character quickly becomes a lightning rod for Kira, the Bajoran government, Sisko, Starfleet, Odo, and the Cardassian military, all of whom want to see him alternately prosecuted, executed, or extradited as a stand-in for every other Cardassian officer who never answered for his actions during the occupation. These demands are complicated by the uncertainty of Yulin's identity and his guilt.

The episode is built around a sterling series of interrogation-slash-debates between Kira and Yulin's Cardassian, with Yulin accusing Kira's own resistance cells with as many indiscriminate atrocities as the Cardassians. The tete-a-tete becomes a treatise on the horrors of war, and the damage suffered by persecutors and persecuted alike. In the end, Kira learns that not all Cardassians were, or are, the enemy -- but that wisdom comes at a heavy cost. This was the episode where DS9 proved it could step out of the shadow of The Next Generation, and that science fiction can confront questions far more grounded and human than most casual observers would ever suspect.

Find out which DS9 episode ranks number one.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

15 comments
sirdulac
sirdulac

Kinda curious about the other 4 best episodes?

sniperlt
sniperlt

But DS9 was my favorite Stat Trek Series. Just becasue not all the characters got along. The station was not clean and tidy and did not work just as the occupants wanted it to al the time. The bad guys were not totally bad and the good guys were not totally good. Things were not as clear cut and black and white. Just like they are not so in real life.

RichA
RichA

For those trying to find the episodes on their favorite streaming service???and who are uninclined or too lazy to click the links to StarTrek.com kindly provided by Mr. Garmon???here's a summary of the [b]S[/b]eason/[b]E[/b]pisode numbers and air dates: [ol][*][b] In the Pale Moonlight[/b] S6/E19, 15 Apr 1998 [*][b] Duet[/b] S1/E18, 13 Jun 1993 [*][b] The Visitor[/b] S4/E2, 9 Oct 1995 [*][b] Far Beyond the Stars[/b] S6/E13,11 Feb 1998 [*][b] Trials and Tribble-ations[/b] S5/E6, 4 Nov 1996[/ol]

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

Sisko ended up being my favorite of the captains, too. And IMO there is a clear worst amongst them, too, and I can tell you [b]exactly[/b] [i]which[/i] episode in [i]which[/i] season made me abandon the series - that show provoked a HUGE debate in my office the next day. The one Jay is about to do...

marsha.hinnen
marsha.hinnen

Thanks for covering my favorite Star Trek in your "Best of" series (as well as your "Worst of"!). Some fans complain that it was boring for the storyline to be tethered to the space station, but I felt that setting the series among "ordinary people" rather than a starfleet vessel gave the series many more options for stong drama and nuanced characters. "Far Beyond the Stars" is my most favorite DS9 episode. Avery Brooks portrayal of Sisko was powerful - as much as I love all the ST captains, Sisko is my favorite.

pgit
pgit

Thanks, Mr. Garmon, your writing has overcome my lack of enthusiasm for DS9. I have texted this list back home to our entertainment system, and starting tonight my wife and I will begin watching the series in it's entirety, from the beginning. (I'm picking up the disks on the way home tonight) Actually, we may start with these 5 in your order as listed, then tackle the whole series including these ones when they come along. Your insight, and ability to put it into the written word in article form has convinced me there's more to DS9 than that 'European occupation' you mention. That arc irritated me whenever it reared it's head. But now I'll be looking for the humanity in Ben Sisko and where he breaks from the canon. (exemplified in Saint Picard) Good job. Good writing. Thanks.

xangpow
xangpow

If you watch the behind the scenes things of DS9 they talked about how there really was no way to explain the major differance between the Klingons of the 60' and the Klingons of the 90's. So they decided to just do a tongue-in-cheek thing and have Worf just say "we dont talk about that to other species." lol You know I never watched "Far Beyond the Stars" until it came out on dvd and I watched it just a few years ago. The funny thing was THAT was the episode that I realized that Benjamin Sisko was African-American. lol I never saw race in any of the characters in Star Trek. Everyone was either Human, Klingon, Bajoran, Cardassian. The color of the characters skin never entered my mind. I remember watching it thinking "Wait a min. But that means Sisko is...black? Well duh. How many episodes have you watched and NOW we realize this?" lol

P.F. Bruns
P.F. Bruns

Love the piece, and I generally agree with your main points. However: *originally had smooth foreheads *Chekov (Anton Chekhov was the famous Russian novelist who postulated that if an author introduced a pistol in the first act, it had to get fired in the third act.)

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

I agree with your choice Jay. :) War is what happens, when "The Rules" fail. You have to fight to win, or you lose.

ScottCarmichael
ScottCarmichael

I think "The Visitor" is the best DS9 episode just because of the emotion and bond you see between Jake and Sisko. But I think the best DS9 episode that isn't focused on father/son would be "In the Pale Moonlight" where Sisko basically has an official assassinated in order to get enemies to enter the war against the Dominion. In his mind, it had to be done for the greater good. You really get a sense of how dark, dangerous and desperate the galaxy had become and really, that's what DS9 was all about - showing the gritty underbelly of the Star Trek universe.

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

...we'll see if I'm so well received when I do "best of Voyager" next month.

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

...but glad to be of service to fandom. DS9 is far from perfect, but it made a conscious effort to do more with Trek than had been tried before. It's worth observing.

xangpow
xangpow

That is what drew me to DS9 and Babylon 5. Humans are NOT the crisp and clean race that has no faults. While it is a nice dream, the reality is that humans are fragile and full of faults.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

I think they tried to explain smooth forehead Klingons in ST:E.

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