I’ve seen a lot of discussion online over the past week or so regarding Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which has just reached its 25th anniversary. Sadly, shamefully, I’m only now making my own way through the series for the first time ever. I bounced off the first few episodes back when it was new — in fairness, those episodes have the usual Star Trek startup doldrums, and I was in college at the time and had bigger concerns than television — and it took until I needed something to stream while I exercise to nudge me into getting past season one. It was worth the effort, of course, and at the moment I’m only halfway through season five. (I’d be done by now, but I decided after season two to begin alternating season-by-season with my simultaneous first-ever viewing of Voyager… initially because I had heard Voyager was painful, but now, four seasons in, because I’ve legitimately grown to enjoy Voyager. Alors!)
For the most part, DS9 has been great. But as with all of these old TV shows, sometimes you come across an episode that doesn’t hold up in the cultural climate of a few decades later. (See also: A great many original Trek series episodes.) I recently watched a really rough episode of Voyager in which Seven of Nine begins to experience PTSD flashbacks of personal assault and violation, which was pretttty obviously a television rape metaphor. In the end, though, everyone decides she was just imagining it, and they all feel bad about her alleged assailant bugging out at great harm to himself, while Seven is left to deal with her feelings on her own. Not really a good look any time, but especially not at this particular moment in history.
I’ve come across a couple of those in DS9, but none quite so jarring as the most recent episode I’ve viewed: “For the Uniform.” The episode started out quite strong, with a recurring traitor getting the jump on Captain Sisko and sabotaging his starship, the Defiant, leaving Sisko disgraced and the Defiant limping at half-capacity. That’s a great hook, making a long-running feud even more personal. It also staged a great setup for the second half of the episode, in which the crew of the Defiant is unable to rely on the system’s futuristic automation and has to use verbal communication to relay operational commands instead. It gives the episode a submarine warfare vibe, which is always a great fit for Trek (think “Balance of Terror” and The Wrath of Khan).
I can’t say I’m crazy about where the episode ended, though. Sisko ultimately commits an act that displaces thousands of civilians in order to bring in the traitor, which plays out through a sequence that initially seems like a bluff, but in fact is not. Granted, Sisko’s target was in the process of displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians of another race and needed to be stopped, but between the pronounced militarism of the Defiant sequences and Sisko’s unapologetic attitude about his actions, it resonates uncomfortably with the U.S.’s current role in the Middle East. I mean, Sisko even calls himself a villain outright, which makes those real-world parallels interesting, but the show treats his actions as laudable. As a memetic Archer image macro might say, “Do you want ISIS? Because that’s how you get ISIS.” (Although I guess the whole Archer/ISIS thing is a whole other ball of confusion, so never mind.)
Given the show’s propensity for following up on plot threads and forcing people to deal with the consequences of their choices, I’m hoping this comes back around at some point. But episode like this make it easy to see why some people feel DS9 is entirely too cynical to fit into the Trek pantheon.
[Image source: tor.com]