Deep Space Nine, which turned 30 this month, is most remembered for its later seasons, which radically challenged the tenets of Star Trek as a franchise — often to the point that people actively brush aside or look down on its early seasons as skippable, or a trudge to get to the good stuff. But while there are definitely some iconic clunkers, DS9‘s debut season still has plenty to offer.
Emissary, Parts One and Two (Episodes 1 and 2)
A traumatized Commander Sisko questions his future in Starfleet while on a new assignment — one that thrusts him into a complicated web of relationships between the Federation, the recently liberated Bajorans, and a mysterious group of aliens who call a wormhole to another quadrant home.
From its antagonistic brushes with TNG icon Jean-Luc Picard to its exploration of a premise that is often left behind in a Star Trek story — what happens after a society is saved from oppression and upheaval? — this is an incredibly strong start to the show. It lets you know from the get-go Deep Space Nine is going to be a very different beast from its legendary predecessors.
Past Prologue (Episode 3)
When an old friend of Major Kira from her days in the Bajoran resistance requests asylum on Deep Space Nine, the Bajor-Starfleet liason finds herself examining her loyalties to her people and the new Federation officers she’s now working with.
Deep Space Nine starts strongly with its interest in Kira’s interiority, an exploration that will continue even as she becomes more firmly entrenched in her relationship with the station’s Starfleet crew. But this is a good early exploration of the friction points between the new Bajoran government and the Federation that comes to define a lot of the conflict in season one. Also: this is where Garak debuts, as does the very subtextually gay relationship between the simple Cardassian tailor and Dr. Bashir.
Q-Less (Episode 7)
Picard’s messy frenemies — the unscrupulous archaeologist Vash and the omnipotent annoyance Q — come to make deals and cause chaos on Deep Space Nine, which finds itself mysteriously afflicted with power losses.
The “mystery” of the episode isn’t all that great, but what really works here is Sisko just having zero time for Q’s bullshit. Another quick, succinct display that this new Star Trek leader is not just a second Captain Picard or Kirk. And that he’s got a pretty mean jab.
Dax (Episode 8)
Jadzia finds herself on trial for a murder she didn’t commit — but that her Trill symbiont’s former host, Curzon, might have — leading to an ethical quandary over whether or not she can be held accountable for his actions.
Star Trek loves itself a “trial for a wrongly accused Starfleet officer” episode, and this is a solid one of those, but Deep Space Nine elevates the trope with this early exploration of Jadzia’s relationship with her past selves, not just on the ethical level of the premise but emotionally as well.
Battle Lines (Episode 13)
Sisko and Kira’s relationship with the Bajoran religious hierarchy takes a lurch when a mission through the wormhole threatens the life of beloved spiritual leader Kai Opaka.
An important episode not just setting the stage for the main crisis of DS9‘s first season, but a great follow up on both Kira’s spirituality, and Sisko’s uneasy relationship with the Bajorans after being heralded as the Prophet’s Emissary.
Progress (Episode 15)
Kira has to step in as both a comforting face and a representative of great change on Bajor when she is forced to confront a farmer on one of the planet’s moons; he’s refusing to evacuate from his home after it’s scheduled for demolition to make way for energy harvesting.
Another Kira-heavy episode, like “Past Prologue” before it this examines Kira’s place as a figure of authority — but instead of framing it between her present position and her past as a resistance fighter, it frames it around how the people she fought so hard to free now see her.
The Forsaken (Episode 17)
Some people are going to shudder at the prospect of being recommended an episode about Lwaxana Troi, but this is a great exploration of one of TNG’s most up-and-down guest characters, one that balances humour and a sincere, mournful look at a character too often seen as an annoying obstacle. Her brief friendship with Odo is very sweet, and begins to show us a side of the grumpy constable that blossoms as Deep Space Nine continues.
Duet (Episode 19)
Kira faces a horrific reminder of Bajor’s occupation when a sick Cardassian comes to Deep Space Nine with an illness revealing that he has ties to an infamous prison camp commander… and may even be that man.
Perhaps Deep Space Nine’s first truly exquisite episode, this bittersweet look at the trauma of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor makes for an incredibly dramatic, emotional story — one that importantly examines just how the horrors of the Cardassians’ cruelty destroyed the lives of Bajorans and Cardassians alike.
In the Hands of the Prophets (Episode 20)
Tensions between DS9’s Federation command and the Bajoran government come to a head, when the mysterious (and suspiciously sinister) visiting cleric Vedek Winn protests the newly opened school on the station teaching students that the wormhole beings are aliens, not gods.
Aside from introducing one of Star Trek’s most deliciously detestable antagonists in Winn, this episode sets the stage for the explosive opening of season two, where DS9 comes under assault by a Bajoran coup attempt. Everything that the first season was building towards in the friction between Starfleet and Bajor leads to this, a satisfying payoff for a conflict that Trek fans don’t often give Deep Space Nine credit for.
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