How to Start Watching (And Fall in Love with) Star Trek — Part Four!
Welcome back! We’re drawing to the end of the most important blog series I will ever write: a guide to how a newbie should discover Star Trek! In part one, I recommended fifteen stand-out episodes of the Original Series. In part two, I recommended that, as a next step, a newbie watch the following four original Trek movies: the informal trilogy of Star Trek II, III, and IV, and then skip to Star Trek VI for the grand finale of the adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the Original Series cast. In part three, I gave detailed instructions for what to watch and what to skip when diving into the first great Star Trek spin-off, Star Trek: The Next Generation. And now, in part four, we arrive at my VERY FAVORITE Star Trek show: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!
I adore Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
I think DS9 seasons 4-7 are my favorite seasons of a Trek show (only rivaled by TNG seasons 3 and 4), and they for sure the best extended run of episodes that Trek ever had. It does take the show some time to arrive at the greatness it would become, but I will guide you around the potholes.
Here in season one, I think the pilot episode is fantastic. When I first saw it, back in 1993, I found it a little “talky”, but now it is my very favorite of all the Trek pilot episodes. I think it’s emotionally rich and complex and does a great job of introducing all of the characters. These days, when I want to rewatch a DS9 episode, this is my go-to episode (even before some of the huge action episodes of later years).
What follows that pilot episode is a run of six of seven decent stand-alone episodes. The show falls back, here, on a TNG model of stand-alone sci-fi adventure stories each week. Compared to today’s TV, and also to where the show will go in the 2nd half of its run, it feels like a very old-school style of storytelling. But I think the first half of the season has fun stories, and they do a nice job developing and exploring the characters. I think the second half of season one is a mess, and I will mostly have you skip those episodes. The season ends very strong, with two terrific episodes. “Duet” is, I think, one of the best Star Trek episodes of all time, of any series. This strong ending will lead into a fantastic three-part opening of season two (Trek’s first three-parter!), and we’re off to the races.
I will say that you’ll see, in seasons two and three, the show occasionally struggling with its format. There is strong continuity between episodes, but also an occasional over-reliance on stand-alone adventure stories. (The show was developing great continuity, driven by the show’s being set on a space-station as opposed to a starship that goes to a different planet each week, but clearly they were not yet ready to break away from the episodic style that had defined Trek to that point.) You’ll also see some times when the epic nature of the stories they were starting to tell would conflict with the limitations of the show’s visual effects budget. (By season four, they shifted from using mostly miniatures to using mostly CGI effects, which really blew the lid off what they could depict on-screen each week and really opened up the canvas of the show.) I’ll guide you past the lesser episodes in seasons 2-3 to get to the best stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’ll feel like, oh my goodness, I have to wait until season four to get to the great stuff. There are some all-time great Trek episodes in season one, and you’ll already see in seasons two and three how the power of the show’s narrative would be building, with better character development and more interesting long-running stories than you ever saw on TNG. But what I am saying is that, while there is a lot of great stuff in those early seasons that I am confident you will enjoy… oh man, just wait until seasons 4-7 which will, I think, blow the doors off for you of what a Trek series can be. It certainly did for me.
OK, enough preamble, here are my recommendations for how to watch DS9 season one:
01/02 – Emissary – The two-hour pilot – As described above, I absolutely love this episode.
03 – Past Prologue – A very solid beginning to the series’ regular-length episodes. This episode digs deeply into the character of Major Kira Nerys, former Bajoran terrorist/freedom fighter. This episode also introduces “plain, simple” Garak, a Cardassian tailor living on the station who will, I kid you not, develop into one of the best characters on any TV show ever. I love Garak that much, and I think you will agree, by the time you’re done with DS9, that I’m not exaggerating. They didn’t quite yet have Garak all the way figured out here, but you’ll soon see what I’m talking about.
04 – A Man Alone – A decent first spotlight on Odo. I have some problems with the resolution of this episode’s sci-fi B-story, but there is some decent early character work here. (Note: this episode was produced second but aired third. The DVDs preserve this order but I believe Netflix switches them and has this as the first episode after the pilot. It doesn’t matter too much in which order you watch things, but I think “Past Prologue” is a much stronger follow-up to the pilot and as such should be watched before this episode.)
05 – Babel – This is the weakest of the first season episodes I’ll suggest you watch, but it’s still a decent episode with some nice early character work and an interesting (albeit not terribly exciting) sci-fi story.
06 – Captive Pursuit – A much stronger entry in this early run of stand-alones; it spotlights O’Brien (always a path to success) and introduces an interesting new alien race.
07 – Q-Less – An early TNG crossover! DS9 would stop doing this after season one, as the show was quickly able to stand on its own narrative two-legs. But still, seeing Q (and the very different attitude towards him by Sisko, as opposed to Picard) is fun.
08 – Dax – An interesting spotlight on Dax.
09 – The Passenger – Not terrible, but not great either. I suggest you skip this.
10 – Move Along Home – Definitely skip, unless you’re interested in seeing what is generally considered one of the series’ worst episodes. (“Allamaraine!”)
11 – The Nagus – A great spotlight on Quark and Ferengi culture, which is a big first step in DS9’s Ferengi reclamation project, taking this fairly silly TNG alien race and developing them into something far more interesting. The great Wallace Shawn guest-stars and he is a hoot and a half.
12 – Vortex – Probably skip this. Like “The Passenger,” this is not terrible, but not great either. It’s better than “The Passenger,” so if you’re enjoying these early DS9 episodes this one is worth watching (more worth watching than “The Passenger”, at least)… but if you’re finding yourself a little impatient with these early TNG-style episodes, you can skip this without fear.
13 – Battle Lines – This is a bad episode that you should skip, BUT there is one important plot point concerning Kai Opaka, so maybe look up a plot summary of this episode on-line; it’s not worth watching the episode.
14 – The Storyteller – Skip.
15 – Progress – A solid Kira episode.
16 – If Wishes were Horses – Skip.
17 – The Forsaken – Skip.
18 – Dramatis Personae – Skip.
19 – Duet – The series’ first true home-run episode; this is one of my favorite episodes of ALL the Trek series. It’s magnificent. Here in this episode is a taste of what this show really is/will become.
20 – In The Hands of the Prophet – A great season-ender.
01-03 – The Homecoming/The Circle/The Siege – A fantastic three-parter that kicks off season two in style. Some amazing guest stars and some great new recurring characters. I will say no more here.
04 – Invasive Procedures – Mediocre Dax spotlight. You can skip without fear, but there are some things of interest here if you want to watch.
05 – Cardassians – A great episode.
06 – Melora – Skip.
07 – Rules of Acquisition – A sequel to season one’s “The Nagus” – It’s not as good as that first episode, but it’s a decent episode that, without your noticing it, will be step one of a storyline that will be HUGE down the road…
08 – Necessary Evil – A SPECTACULAR episode, one of my all-time favorites. This episode explores DS9 during the years of the Cardassian occupation. This one is a masterpiece in my opinion, with a killer ending.
09 – Second Sight – Skip.
10 – Sanctuary – Skip.
11 – Rivals – Skip.
12 – The Alternate – An interesting exploration of Odo’s past. This episode is OK on its own, and worth watching because there will be a very important follow-up years later
13 – Armageddon Game – DS9 would have a lot of fun with the oil-and-water Bashir-O’Brien pairing, and this is a solid early Bashir-O’Brien adventure.
14 – Whispers – There is a subgenre of DS9 episodes called “let’s torture O’Brien” episodes, and this is a good one
15 – Paradise – A good Sisko spotlight.
16 – Shadowplay – Skip.
17 – Playing God – Skip.
18 – Profit and Loss – I disliked this episode when it first aired, but I’ve subsequently rewatched it and found a lot to enjoy. The episode as a whole doesn’t work at all, but there’s a lot of great Cardassian stuff in there. I think it’s worth watching, though it is skippable if you choose.
19 – Blood Oath – Kang, Kor, and Koloth from the Original Series re-appear, played by their original actors!!! The episode doesn’t quite live up to that amazing premise, but still, I love this.
20/21 – The Maquis Part I and II – A nice solid two-parter (that finally sets in motion a bunch of stories you’ve already seen referenced in TNG season 7).
22 – The Wire – A terrific Garak episode.
23 – Crossover – Coming after Blood Oath, here’s another great and surprising follow-up to an Original Series episode. I will say no more.
24 – The Collaborator – A decent Bajoran episode that will be more important later on.
25 – Tribunal – A “let’s torture O’Brien” episode that is decent and very watchable, but also skippable if you’re impatient to get to the best stuff.
26 – The Jem’Hadar – A terrific season-ender.
01/02 – The Search Part I and II – I have a love/hate relationship with this two-parter. On the one-hand, this is a HUGE two-parter with a lot of very important stuff. On the other hand, part two makes some hugely annoying choices which frustrate me to this day. Thankfully, I feel this was the final time the show ever did something stupid to maintain the status quo. After this, the show would be more unafraid to turn over the apple cart…
03 – The House of Quark – When this 1st aired, I had no patience for this comedic Ferengi episode, coming right after the big opening two-parter. But upon rewatches I’ve found a lot to enjoy. (Like the season 2 Quark romance, “Profit and Loss”, this episode will also get followed up on later in the show.) I recommend watching this, but it is also skippable if you want.
04 – Equilibrium – I think you should skip. The episode explores Dax and the mythology of the Trill, so there’s stuff of value there, but it’s not a very successful episode.
05 – Second Skin – A solid Kira/Cardassian episode that will have more importance later on.
06 – The Abandoned – It’s a decent episode with some nice character stuff, but it’s nothing special and skippable if you’re in a hurry to get to the best stuff.
07 – Civil Defense – Here we go. The first great episode of season three. I love this one.
08 – Meridian – Avoid at all costs.
09 – Defiant – A very solid episode that also includes a bizarre callback to a best-forgotten TNG story that is actually sort of used well here.
10 – Fascination – Skip at all costs.
11/12 – Past Tense part I and II – I know some people who LOVE this two-parter. Myself, I think it’s skippable because it has nothing to do with any of the main DS9 stories or character arcs. It’s really a TNG type story. I think it’s out of place in DS9. But as a TNG story it’s a solid one, so it definitely can be enjoyed… but also very easily skippable if you’d prefer to speed ahead to better DS9 episodes.
13/14 – Life Support and Heart of Stone – Ugh. These two episodes represent DS9’s low point. I almost gave up watching the show, originally, after seeing these two episodes. (Thank goodness I didn’t, because DS9’s transformation into total awesomeness is just a few episodes away.) The problem is that there are two very important plot points buried in these two terrible episodes. So you could hold your nose and watch them, or just look up plot summaries on-line. (I will say that there is some terrific Nog stuff in “Heart of Stone”. If you skip the episodes, watch the key Nog scenes on-line.)
15 – Destiny – Skip. (It’s not a terrible episode and there is good stuff in here, but still I think you should jump ahead to better stuff.)
16 – Prophet Motive – Skip. (Wallace Shawn returns as Zek which is always fun, but as with “Destiny” I think you should jump ahead to better stuff.)
17 – Visionary – Skip. (Like the previous two episodes, this isn’t a terrible episode, there are actually a bunch of fun things in it – this is another fun “torture O’Brien” episode… You certainly wouldn’t go wrong watching all three of these episodes (Destiny, Prophet Motive, and Visionary), but I think you should skip ahead to the better stuff.)
18 – Distant Voices – Skip.
19 – Through the Looking Glass – Here we go. Season three finally rights itself with this terrific sequel to season two’s “Crossover”.
20/21 – Improbably Cause/The Die is Cast – A FANTASTIC two-parter, and suddenly the show is back in business. I adore this two-parter so much.
22 – Explorers – Not critical but a very solid stand-alone Sisko/Jake episode.
23 – Family Business – There’s some interesting Quark/Ferengi and Sisko stuff here – it’s not a home run by any means, but a very solid episode. We finally get to see Ferenginar, and there are several terrific new supporting characters introduced.
24 – Shakaar – A terrific Kira/Bajoran episode.
25 – Facets – like “Equilibrium” (the fourth episode this season), I think this is a very mediocre Dax/Trill episode that is very skippable. I wish these mid-run Trill episodes were stronger. If you’re interested in more Dax/Trill backstory, then there is stuff to enjoy in both these episodes, but otherwise skip.
26 – The Adversary – as always, DS9 concludes the season with a terrific season-ender.
The two-hour season premiere, “The Way of the Warrior,” functions as sort-of a second pilot for the series. It’s an amazing episode, with one brilliant character moment after another, and the most extraordinary action sequence the series had done yet. (Also: Quark and Garak’s conversation about root beer is one of my all-time favorite Star Trek scenes.)
I suggest watching every episode this season except #21, “The Muse.” It’s a Jake episode in which he starts writing the novel, Anslem, mentioned in “The Visitor”, so that’s a cool connection, but the episode is a disaster and just doesn’t work. The only other skippable episodes are #18 and #19, “Rules of Engagement” and “Hard Time.” They’re OK episodes but are stand-alone and both are a bit flawed. They’re definitely watchable but if you want to just skip to the best stuff, they are skippable. (But also very watchable if, at this point, you want more of a “complete” DS9 experience!) Pretty much every other episode this season is good to great!!
I think this season is the best season of any Star Trek show ever. Highlights of this season include (but are by no means limited to):
The Visitor — One of the most heartbreaking Trek episodes ever. Just beautiful.
Rejoined — A beautiful story of lesbian love that treats that as a total non-issue, which was rather groundbreaking for 1995.
Starship Down — Great action and wonderful character vignettes.
Little Green Men — Quark, Rom, and Nog wind up in Roswell in 1947. ‘Nuff said!
Our Man Bashir — Out of nowhere the show gives us this hilarious and extraordinarily well-made James Bond pastiche!
Homefront/Paradise Lost — a fantastic two-parter filled with Changeling paranoia.
Accession — The show, and Sisko, finally starts to truly grapple with what it means for Sisko to be the Bajoran’s Emissary.
Broken Link — A great season-ender with a heck of an ending.
Like season four, you can watch almost every episode! There are just a few stinkers I recommend you skip:
07 – Let He Who is Without Sin
08 – Things Past
17 – A Simple Investigation
There are two other episodes that are a little on the weaker side (episode 9: “The Ascent” and episode 20: “Ferengi Love Songs”), but I think they’re still worth watching because of their place in the larger continuing storylines.
The rest of the season is pretty much great to SPECTACULAR. Highlights of this season include (but are by no means limited to):
Apocalypse Rising — A strong season-opener.
The Ship — The series’ 100th episode.
Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places — A great title for a terrific fun romp of an episode.
…Nor the Battle to the Strong — One of the best Jake episodes.
Trials and Tribble-ations — A beautiful, brilliant, joyous, and extremely well-made salute to the Original Series, in honor of Trek’s 30th anniversary.
Rapture — A huge Sisko episode. (FYI, Star Trek: First Contact takes place immediately before this episode.)
In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light — My very favorite DS9 two-parter — a highlight of the series!
Doctor Bashir, I Presume — Robert Picardo (who plays the best character in the subsequent Star Trek spin-off, Voyager, which was deep into its run by this point) crosses over to DS9. I don’t like Voyager at all, but Robert Picardo is great and I really like this episode.
Soldiers of the Empire — A fantastic Klingon episode.
Call to Arms — My very favorite DS9 season-finale which I think is easily one of the top 5 best DS9 episodes!
As with seasons 4-5, this is a terrific season and you should watch almost every episode. There are a few questionable ones:
Episode 8 — Resurrection — You might want to skip this. It’s this season’s Mirror Universe episode, but it’s by far the worst one. It’s maybe worth watching to check in on the Mirror U, but it’s mostly a waste.
15 — Honor Among Thieves — Skip this one.
16 — Change of Heart — I’m torn about this. It’s a bad episode that doesn’t work at all, though the core of the story is interesting and there is a decently important event for one of the couples on the show. If you skip it (which probably you should, since like “Resurrection” I think it’s mostly a waste of time), just go online to read the plot summary.
23 — Profit and Lace — By all that’s holy skip this one. It’s an abomination before the Lord. One of the show’s absolute worst episodes. Yech. (Unfortunately, this episode contains a moment that the show had been building to for years, when Grand Nagus Zak grants rights to all Ferengi females. That’s an important development in the life of the show. I wish it didn’t come in such a lousy episode.)
Other than that, dig in and enjoy! Highlights of this season include (but are by no means limited to):
Episodes 1-6 — The incredible arc that launches the season. A high-point of the show, and of all of Star Trek.
Far Beyond the Stars — A beautiful story that is a powerful morality play and also a wonderfully meta examination of the series as a whole.
In the Pale Moonlight — A riveting episode that pushes Sisko to the limits of his morality.
Tears of the Prophets — DS9 sure knows how to do a season-ender.
The show’s triumphant final season will not disappoint.
There are two bad episodes I suggest you skip:
Episode 11 – Prodigal Daughter — It’s a bad episode that’s a sequel to a bad season 6 episode (“Honor Among Thieves”) that I’d had you skip.
Episode 13 – Field of Fire – This is an Ezri story that follows up on a Trill subplot that has run through several episodes I have had you skip. None of these episodes are bad, but none are that great either. If you wanted to watch these episodes, they are: season 2’s “Invasive Procedures” and then “Playing God,” season 3’s “Equilibrium” and then “Facets”. If you wanted to go back and watch those episodes, you could. There is some good stuff in there, and some interesting world-building for the Trill. But unless you do, I suggest skipping “Field of Fire.”
Highlights of the season include (but are not limited to):
Treachery, Faith, and the Great River — You don’t see this on a lot of “best of” Trek lists, but this is easily one of my favorite DS9 episodes of all time. It encapsulates everything I love about this show.
The Siege of AR-558 — Trek has never done a gripping ground-war episode like this one. Dazzling, intense, and heartbreaking.
It’s Only a Paper Moon — A beautiful, moving episode that also has a wonderfully meta title.
Inter Ama Enim Silent Leges — A taut, twisty tale that embraces the core questions at the heart of DS9 — what actions are ethical in a time of war?
“Deep Space Nine: The Final Chapter” — The series concludes with an extraordinary 10-hour run (nine episodes, including the two-hour finale). The show finally became the fully serialized epic it always wanted to be. This might feel old hat to a modern TV audience, but this type of serialized storytelling was extremely groundbreaking at the time. It’s an incredible run of episodes, and it brings the DS9 saga to an extremely satisfying conclusion.
The actual series finale, “What You Leave Behind,” is good and I love it, though it’s not quite as strong as the best of that 10-hour run. It misses the mark in a few places; but it is filled with an array of extraordinary moments. I am so satisfied by where almost all of the characters wound up — which is so critical for a series finale, and generally very hard to get right. And the final few minutes — and the final shot — are absolute perfection.
And with that, we’ve arrived at the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, my favorite of all the Star Trek series!!
C’mon back tomorrow as we wrap this all up…
Click below to discover my complete blog series, describing how best to start watching (and fall in love with) Star Trek!
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