Every once in a while, I’ll go back to my old comfort shows. I’d been watching a lot of newer stuff lately and while there are difficulties that come with that, I fell back into watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for no reason in particular.
Considering I’ve watched DS9 so many times through already, I allowed myself to do some skipping around. If there’s an episode that doesn’t do much for me, I just… skip it. There’s something liberating about that, even. I’ve gotten to where I’m about to fall headfirst into the Dominion War and I’m not sure I’m gonna keep watching, although I might.
The reason is that I’ve been enjoying all that DS9 offers and reminding myself just how radical that show was for its time. This is a show that was unafraid of asking tough questions and framing them from a progressive point of view, something that’s even refreshing today. There are a lot of criticisms of modern Trek, but I suppose my own would be that it’s downright liberal (read: moderate) compared to older Trek. It’s not asking tough questions as much, instead it’s very action-oriented and cocksure in its politics.
DS9, in comparison, is revolutionary.
Episode 19 of season one, for example, “Duet.” In that episode, a Cardassian boards DS9 and Major Kira believes he’s a Cardassian War Criminal, having him arrested. It’s much more complicated than that, and explores some really heavy material such as being complicit in war crimes, the guilt that comes with it, and the concept of forgiveness for someone like that from the victims. They handled it with grace, dignity and was genuinely mind-blowing to know how old this show was and how deftly it handled said topic.
It’s also one helluva way to address colonialist aggression, occupation, guilt and basic imperialism. It’s staggering.
“Cardassia will only survive if it stands in front of Bajor and admits the truth. My trial will force Cardassia to admit its guilt, and we’re guilty—all of us—my trial is necessary.”Aamin Marritza
Followed immediately after by an episode about religious extremists boycotting the station’s school, leading to a bombing, protests and the whole works.
Season two opens with looking at Bajoran extremists forming while their government hems and haws. Where it really floored me again was episode 5, “Cardassians.” It’s an episode about Cardassian war orphans left behind on Bajor, one of which showed up on DS9 with his Bajoran adoptive parents, and said kid bites Garek because he’s a Cardassian, and Cardassians are bad. The father was, by all measures, a nice, nurturing parent, except for the fact he was a bitter racist who trained his Cardassian son to despise his own people. This leads to investigations, subterfuge and, of course, Gul Dukat having pulled strings to undermine the civilian government of Cardassia and harm a political rival.
Followed immediately by “Melora,” an episode about an alien Federation science officer who came from a planet with lower gravity and less dense bones. Hence, she’s restricted to a wheelchair when in “normal” gravity. Dr. Bashir falls for her and tries to help her, including healing her “condition,” which creates many moral dilemmas. It was a gentle and even-handed look at how folks with disabilities have to live in the world, how they create barriers because of how people treat them, and how well-meaning folks trying to “fix” them mean well, but it’s not always welcome.
Never mind episode 10, “Sanctuary,” where aliens from the Gamma Quadrant show up in search of their mythical homeworld, only to discover that Bajor may indeed be that, and the Bajoran government, one that benefitted from the many races of the Federation assisting them after the Cardassian occupation, immediately pump the brakes and say they don’t have room, even in abandoned parts of their planet, for refugees.
This show had one helluva run in its second season, one I could keep going on about, but I won’t. If you haven’t watched it recently, I highly recommend another visit.
I’m not gonna get into “Past Tense” here, because that warrants its own post. Amazing two-parter that’s eerie considering when the time travel gimmick took place and where we are now.