'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' Was Television Ahead of Its Time

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine debuted on January 3, 1993. 25 years later, it is still the most underappreciated entry in the Star Trek canon.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was ahead of its time. Years ahead of its time. It has more in common with Star Trek: Discovery than with The Next Generation or Voyager. Deep Space Nine's storytelling pioneered a model that has become modern television's standard.

There is, of course, another more obvious way that Deep Space Nine was ahead of its time. Avery Brooks became the first black actor to lead a Star Trek series when he was cast as Benjamin Sisko. Again, this was in 1993. In 2015, Star Wars fans were struggling with the idea of a black Stormtrooper.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pushed further. The episode "Rejoined" featured one of the first lesbian kisses on television. But then, being ahead of the curve on these kinds of issues isn't anything new for Star Trek. What's often overlooked is how Deep Space Nine pushed the envelope of televised storytelling.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is often credited with establishing the season-long arc model. Each episode has a monster-of-the-week "A-plot" while a longer story continues across the "B-plots" of multiple episodes. Deep Space Nine was doing something similar, but on a larger scale. The story that began in "Emissary," the show's pilot, carries on right up until the finale, "What We Leave Behind."

This is the same model used by most "prestige television" series today. Enjoy the 73-episode serialized story of HBO's Game of Thrones? Imagine trying to pull that off over 176 episodes on network television in the 1990s. But also, those episodes have to be self-contained enough for syndication. That's Deep Space Nine, both accessible and addictively binge-able.

The series also broached topics considered too dark, too real, or too personal for Star Trek in the past. These include the lesbian romance of "Rejoined", but more often it dealt with the horrors of war.

The Federation of Planets is an idealistic organization. Star Trek in the past always tried to downplay the military aspect of Starfleet, so what happens when idealists go to war? What happens when those idealists need to make a sacrifice or die?

Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation often skirted these issues. Captain Kirk's cunning and Captain Picard's unwavering idealism were almost always rewarded with positive results. And if something went wrong, so what? The episodic nature of those series meant that mistakes were forgotten by next week. Picard turned Borg and attacked Federation space. Many died. Two weeks later, no one seems to think about it anymore.

That's not to say the episodic format is inherently flawed. There's been some talk of how a classic episode like "The City on the Edge of Forever" couldn't be made today. If it was, Kirk would have to mourn the death of his love for an entire season or more. But Deep Space Nine's change of pace allowed it to go deeper than any Star Trek series before it.

For example, those people who died during Lucutus's attack? The Next Generation may have forgotten about them, but Deep Space Nine did not. Sisko was at the Battle of Wolf 359. He lost his wife. "Emissary" makes it clear that he has not forgiven Picard, and that battle informs Sisko's decisions and character arc throughout the entire series.

It wasn't that Deep Space Nine explored a war that made it so special; it was that it examined how great conflict intersected with everyday life. The death of Sisko's wife doesn't turn him into a vengeful soldier; it turns him into a wary single father.

Almost every major adult character on Deep Space Nine has had their life altered by conflict. Kira has spent years trying to liberate Bajor from the Cardassians. What does she do once the war is over? Odo is a man of the law. He's also an outsider appointed by an oppressive government. The Dax symbiote has lived many lifetimes. It has gained the knowledge and experience of many conflicts. Sisko and Chief O'Brien both have families on top of their Starfleet duties. Sisko is also a literal figure of prophecy in the Bajoran religion.

Their stories are all about how far they are willing to bend or break their convictions in the face of another conflict. And, once that conflict is upon them during the Dominion War, what they're willing to do to end it.

Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones. These are just a few of the shows that owe a debt to Deep Space Nine. Any work of serialized speculative fiction to air in the past 25 years does as well.

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If you've never watched Deep Space Nine, do yourself a favor and check it out. You'll be shocked by how modern the series still feels today.

Be sure to check out our list of the 10 best episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.