DS9 gets deep-sixed

Culture | Star Trek spin-off draws to a close

Issue: "Is our military ready?," May 29, 1999

Before Star Wars, there was Star Trek, the TV show that pioneered the phenomenon of science fiction and commanded a mass cult-like following. Finally, 33 years later, its second spin-off, Deep Space Nine, ends its mission on May 29. Deep Space Nine (DS9) has been on for seven years, premiering in January 1993 as the first Star Trek spin-off series-Star Trek: The Next Generation-was nearing the end of its own seven-year run. The original Star Trek was mainly a space opera. It embodied 1960s liberalism, but had occasional tributes to Christianity (Captain Kirk refusing to worship the alien Apollo wannabe, on the grounds that "one God" is enough for him; the "Children of the Son" being persecuted on the ancient Roman planet). Next Generation, in contrast, plunged into liberalism at warp speed (Commander Riker phasering all of the developing clones of himself on the grounds that he has the right to control his own body; the empath shrink Deanna Troi encouraging everyone to get in touch with their feelings). DS9 was noticeably darker, less optimistic, and less banal than much of the rest of Star Trek. The creator of the series, Gene Roddenberry, had used The Next Generation as his increasingly liberal soapbox. DS9, though, was the first post-Roddenberry Trek, and the new master of that universe, Rick Berman, saw things in a more complicated way. The action has taken place on Deep Space Nine, a space station above Bajor, a troubled planet recently occupied by the Cardassians, an evil, dictatorial race. During their reign, they were opposed by guerrilla freedom fighters. The withdrawal of the Cardassians left Bajor divided and in flux, undecided about joining the Federation. Bajor has a very traditional culture, with a long-established religion, leading to "culture wars" with the modern and postmodern perspectives of the high-tech Federation. In one episode, the Bajoran creationists were at odds with the evolutionist educational system brought by the earthlings (not that the Bajorans-with their priestesses, visions, and mystical rites-could be seen as extraterrestrial Christians). Nevertheless, throughout the series the traditional ethos of Bajor has been taken seriously, with important questions raised about whether the liberal "Federation values" might undermine Bajoran culture as much as the violent Cardassian occupation. The space station's commander, Captain Benjamin Sisko, has been something of a social conservative. The highly positive portrayal of the relationship between him and his son Jake (who grew from childhood to adolescence as the series progressed) is one of the bedrocks of DS9. DS9 introduced a degree of thoughtfulness and seriousness absent from the original Star Trek series, and the relationships between the characters were seriously and clearly worked out. The other, still-running Star Trek spin-off, Star Trek Voyager-though a Berman production with some of his complexity-is more liberal in tone. Though DS9 will continue indefinitely in syndication reruns on cable, the end of its run means that in the pop culture, space will be a little less deep.

-Mr. Wegierski is a Canadian writer and researcher.

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