Deep Space Nine was perhaps the most ambitious of the Star Trek spinoff series, abandoning the starship concept for life aboard a space station, boldly staying where no man had stayed before. Alas, ambition leads to failure as often as radical success, which is where these five wormhole-sucking episodes come in.
Most Next Generation guest stars never found a comfortable place aboard Deep Space Nine, but none moreso than Majel Barrett‘s Lwaxana Troi, the oversexed unfiltered mother of the Enterprise’s empathic counselor. Lwaxana pined for Constable Odo, bulldozed Captain Sisko, and — in this indescribably cloying episode — staged a marriage of convenience to steal her unborn child from her alien baby-daddy. And that’s just the B-plot!
Back over in the main storyline, Jake Sisko (heir to the Wesley Crusher throne of fan-patronizing youth-oriented plot gimmicks) is preyed upon by an alien who steals the brain energy from the artists whose work she psychically inspires. Sort of like alcohol did for Hemingway, if alcohol was a quasi-hot alien babe you can’t resist. Yes, the metaphor was that brick-to-the-head obvious. Sadly, we had no similar meta-Muse for the screenwriters of this episode; they would have benefited from either additional inspiration or early demise (preferably both).
Remember the previous rant about youth-oriented storylines designed to “appeal” (read: condescend) to Star Trek’s many starry-eyed young fans who dream of being in Starfleet themselves? Here’s the reducto ad absurdum fallout of that line of thinking. Jake Sisko and Nog find themselves aboard the USS Valiant, a Defiant-class warship crewed entirely by teenage Starfleet cadets. (It takes a wildly implausible infodump to explain how Starfleet was dumb enough to let unproven kids have detached command of a Borg-smashing escort vessel.)
Drunk with power, said cadets attempt to single-handedly take on a Jem’Hadar battlecruiser — despite a blandly delivered warning from Jake, who smugly namedrops his dad — whereafter the big bad universe fatally smacks the Valiant down. Seriously, like a few dozen kids die. Moral of the story: Arrogant talent is no substitute for humble experience. Moral of the episode: Talking down to the audience makes for pedantic television.
You know it’s going to be a long episode when the premise is blatantly lifted from a Silver Age Justice League comic. Quark introduces the first alien delegation from the gamma Quadrant to the novel concept of rigged casino games. Said aliens respond by magically entrapping Dax, Sisko, Kira, and Bashir in a labyrinth so un-Gordian that it makes the classic Red Box Dungeons & Dragons set look like a masterpiece of byzantine gamemap design. The aliens then force Quark to use the captives as gamepieces in a chess match for their lives.
The rules of the game are never explained, the mystery is drawn out painfully long, and the acting is atrocious. Oh, and in the end, the hostage-taking was just a ruse to prove some point to Quark, and also ruin the chances of anyone in the Alpha Quadrant to ever take the game (or aliens) seriously again. To quote the WOPR, the only winning move is not to play. And by that I mean this episode. Ever.
The Ferengi have always been rather hamfisted caricatures of 1950s male businessmen — arrogant, greedy, ruthless, sexist, and amoral — sort of like Don Draper gene-spliced with a Morlock. Trying to reform these clumsy archetypes invariably leads to preachy episodes and, in this case — to our abject horror — Quark dressing in drag to impersonate his own mother. The Grand Nagus, played by a wasted (probably literally) Wallace Shawn, has decided to allow Ferengi women equal rights, which includes such stunning reforms as owning property, wearing clothes, and forcing Ferengi men to chew their own food.
The Nagus’s moral conversion came as a result of sleeping with Quark’s mother — a triumph of women’s liberation if ever there was one. Unfortunately, Mama Quark has a heart attack immediately after being held up as the example of strong Ferengi womanhood, forcing Quark to fake out the Ferengi elders while cross-dressing. Because women can only earn their freedom when their sons step in, right? This plays far more like an outtake from Bosom Buddies than it does an homage to Some Like It Hot. An episode to be enjoyed only ironically, which is to say while drinking heavily.
When a stunt casting guest spot by Vanessa Williams is the best thing you can say about an episode, you know you’re in for a painful 42 minutes (plus commercials). On its face, the premise is comedic gold: Take stick-in-the-mud Worf and throw him on Risa, the hedonistic pleasure planet made famous on NextGen. Double down on the slapstick potential by making this a double-date vacation for Worf, Dax, Bashir, and Leeta — with Quark playing fifth wheel! Alas, what results not only isn’t funny, it isn’t watchable.
All the relationship foibles between Worf and Dax are amped up to 11, and rather than deal with this out-of-nowhere pettiness, Worf A) joins with an anti-pleasure terrorist cell and B) reveals he once committed manslaughter during a childhood soccer match. Laughs all around! Oh, and in the B-plot, Leeta and Bashir are having a “traditional” breakup of revenge-flings, while Quark cruises the singles scene for Ferengi fetishists. Yeah, seriously. Don’t just cast the first stone, cast this entire episode into a black hole and never look back.
No doubt, you have your own list of drop-dead indefensible DS9 episodes. Let’s get it all out of our system in the comments section.
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