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Top 10 Episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Posted on the 14 August 2013 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Twenty years ago this past January, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered to the confusion of most Star Trek fans.  There was no multi-year mission to explore space and encounter new civilizations nor was there a ship decorated with a disturbing love of earth tones. Instead, there was a formerly Cardassian space station occupied by a Federation commander (Avery Brooks as Commander Sisko) who didn’t want to be there, and staffed by a combination of Federation misfits and Bajoran natives who didn’t want the Federation there.  In short, these people sure as hell didn’t seem as chummy and conflict-free as The Next Generation crew.

What developed over the ensuing 7 seasons and 176 episodes was an increasingly complex and captivating exploration of the Star Trek universe, finally  freed from Gene Roddenberry’s overly idealistic shackles.  Initially created as an apparent allegory for the Bosnian War (Bajorans = Bosnians, Federation = the United Nations), DS9′s multi-faceted exploration of terrorism makes it appear all the more topical now in a post-9/11 world.  To me, it is the height of accomplishment among all Star Trek shows.

There are flaws, of course.  The early seasons reveal few rewards, long-running conflicts were far too frequently resolved via a practical magic wand (a similar problem encountered on Battlestar Galactica, created by DS9 writer/producer Ronald D. Moore), and there are way too many sub-par holodeck, alternate dimension, and Ferengi-centric episodes to sit through. Plus, Avery Brooks’ at times overly theatrical performance and out-of-nowhere stentorian line readings derails many a fine episode. Granted, Stark Trek‘s very foundation is built upon bizarre-but-endearing acting (looking at you William “Captain Kirk” Shatner), but in Brooks’ case he quite frequently came off as what medical experts might call “bat shit insane” or, if w’ere nicer, just a bit too intense:

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Sisko and his “Crazy Eyes”

It is the most difficult of Star Trek shows to simply pick up without having started at the beginning, with there being as many as 10-episode stretches of uninterrupted serialized storytelling.  It is also the Star Trek show for which I have the hardest time selecting 10 best episodes, partially due to the heavy serialization and also just because I love so many of them.  However, here are 10 amazing episodes of Deep Space Nine, with a slight effort on my part to lean toward the more episodic ones:

(SPOILERS EXIST BELOW. READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL.)

10) “Nor the Battle to the Strong” (Season 5, Episode 4)

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A.K.A.: The one where Jake Sisko discovers the thin line between courage and cowardice when he accompanies Dr. Bashir behind battle lines to offer medical aid to a Federation outpost under siege by the Klingons.

For whatever reason, Stark Trek tends to just assume its characters are courageous and heroic.  The fact that a character might simply run headlong away from danger never seems like a possibility.  What “Nor the Battle to the Strong” does brilliantly is make no assumptions of heroism, and give us a hero who is a coward.  The focus is on Jake, Captain Sisko’s son and aspiring writer.  He is not a soldier nor is he even a member of Starfleet; by his chosen profession, he is an outsider.  When thrust into his first real combat experience he folds, consistently doing whatever it takes to stay alive with no thought to the well-being of others (even Dr. Bashir).  Through his ability as a writer, he is able to articulate the truth of his actions, as everyone had been so eager to assume he had performed in a manner befitting the son of a Starfleet captain.  However, we might identify more with Jake’s need for self-preservation than Captain Sisko’s badass heroism than we care to admit.

Check out a Trailer Below:

9) “Things Past” (Season 5, Episode 8) 

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A.K.A.? The one where Odo, Garak, Sisko, and Dax appear to somehow quantum leap back in time and into the bodies of four rebellious Bajorans on Deep Space Nine when it was occupied by the Cardassians.  We learn that Odo, assumed to be the ultimate outsider above it all, has blood on his hands just like everyone else.

Deep Space Nine was always known to have been occupied by the Cardassians with enslaved Bajorans toiling away in work camps prior to Bajoran rebellions and the Federation’s intervention.   This meant that for several of the characters (like Odo and Kira) their home, Deep Space Nine, had once been their prison.  This is an area so ripe for dramatic potential the show’s writers threw out multiple flashback (or interactive flashback) episodes.  Among these, “Things Past” just happens to be my favorite.  These episodes tended to function to reveal how new information concerning Kira and/or Odo from their past would inform their present.  In “Things Past,” we are walked through an interesting mystery, and get to see the show’s primary sets redressed to indicate what hell the place used to be for the Bajorans.  The episode’s recurring bit involving Odo’s literal blood-covered hands is regrettably heavy-handed, but  this is a fantastic showcase for Renee Auberjonois’ acting as Odo. The final scene between Odo and Nana Visitor’s Kira?  Gut-wrenching.

Check out a Trailer Below:

8) “The Quickening” (Season 4, Episode 23)

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A.K.A.: The one where Dr. Bashir and Jadzia Dax encounter a people stricken with a genetically engineered disease known as the Blight, which present as facial postules at birth before turning fatal at some unpredictable moment later in their life. Bashir attempts to discover a cure, staying behind by himself to do so when Dax has to leave.

The plot has a couple of nice twists and an interesting reflection on the medical ethics surrounding euthanasia, but it mostly appears to be your basic Star Trek “delivering new technology/modern medicine/enlightenment to a disadvantaged people reluctance to accept aid” story.  However, boy does it have an unexpectedly bitter ending.  Plus, in two masterful scenes we learn that Dr. Bashir is driven by an arrogant desire to defeat death.  When Bashir concludes, “There is no cure, but I was so arrogant I thought I could find it in a week!” Dax rightly reminds him, “It’s even more arrogant to think there is no cure just because you couldn’t find it.”  The actions of the episode utterly humble him, forcing him to realize how cruel it is to deliver false hope to a people long since accustomed to a hopeless existence.  Ellen Wheeler’s performance as Ekoria, the native person who refuses to give up hope even after Bashir has, is deserving of considerable praise.

Check out a Trailer Below:

7) “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Season 7, Episode 10) 

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A.K.A.: They one where they did The Best Years of Our Lives with Nog (Aron Eisenberg) and the self-aware holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine after Nog lost his leg in battle in the episode “The Siege of AR-558.”  Think of its as Deep Space Nine: Post Traumatic-Stress Disorder but with a lounge singer.

Remember when Picard was made a Borg on The Next Generation, killed a bunch of people (including Sisko’s wife, as it turns out), was rescued and made human again, and then the next week he went home to his brother’s wine vineyard to have a good cry about it?  Well, the “good cry” part of that equation is what “It’s Only a Paper Moon” is for Nog.  He returns to the crew with a new bionic leg, but a psychosomatic need to walk with a cane and desire to avoid all contact with anyone.   He copes with his PTSD is to escape into a fantasy world on the holosuite where becomes a business partner with a Vegas lounge singer.  Next Generation had used the socially awkward Barclay to explore the potential for addiction to holosuite fantasies much as we in the real world can escape into our various fictions to distract us from life.  By re-purposing this idea to involve a wounded soldier attempting to overcome PTSD and depression “Paper Moon” made it far more profound.  Roddenberry’s vision for futuristic medicine was such that all maladies could be solved, but “Paper Moon” reminds the Star Trek universe that not even advanced science has a cure for well-earned emotional trauma.

Check out a Trailer Below:

6) “The Sound of Her Voice” (Season 6, Episode 25)

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A.K.A.: The one where the crew interacts remotely with an unseen Captain whose escape pod has crashed on a remote planet following the destruction of her ship.  They plot her rescue while becoming increasingly attached to her as she offers each of them helpful advice.

Thankfully, DS9 never had a counselor around to offer gems like, “I sense great anger in you,” until its final season, and even then they avoided Deana Troi-level uselessness.  However, in “Sound of Her Voice” from near the end of the sixth season we see just how much the crew could benefit from having someone to talk to.  By that point, they were living in war day to day, normalizing the constant loss of friend and co-worker for how else do you cope?  When they find themselves forced to consistently communicate with an insightful woman on a distant planet until they can rescue her, it not only allows the characters to open up in a way they otherwise couldn’t (similar to how the songs in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More with Feeling” function) it also provides them with something around which they can rally.  The ending is devastating, but it feels earned.  Plus, there is a fantastically enjoyable B-plot involving Quark attempting to manipulate Odo’s new romance with Kira to keep him distracted so that he might miss all the illegal deals Quark is pulling.

Check out a Trailer Below:

5) “In the Pale Moonlight” (Season 6, Episode 19)

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A.K.A.: The one where Captain Sisko seeks the Cardassian spy Garak’s help in recruiting the Romulans to the Federation’s side in the war against the Dominion.

This one might has well bear the subtitle “moral gray area.”  By the end of the episode which Sisko himself is narrating, he has lied, cheated, and even become an accessory to multiple murders.  He has sacrificed his principles for a greater cause, but successfully turned the tide of war in his side’s favor.  However, the show neither villifies nor vindicates Sisko for his actions.  He ends by proclaiming how he thinks he can still live with himself after everything he’s done, and the audience is left to judge whether or not they feel the same.  Be warned, though, as a Sisko-heavy episode that means there are plenty of over-the-top moments for Brooks, and there is one one deeply, deeply unfortunate and very unintentionally funny reading of the line, “It’s a faaaaake!” from a Romulan.

Check out a Trailer Below:

4) “Rocks and Shoals” (Season 6, Episode 2)

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A.K.A.: The one where we feel sympathy for our enemies, the Jem’Hadar, and Kira and Odo are cruelly reminded of how easily you can empower injustice by taking the path of least resistance.

DS9′s sixth season opens with a six-episode arc so stellar I wish I could just include it all on here as one single episode, but “Rocks and Shoals” from that arc might be the best.  During this portion of the show, Sisko is plotting to re-take Deep Space Nine after the Federation was forced to abandon it to the Cardassians and Dominion in the season five finale.  However, the Bajorans had to remain behind, officially taking no side in the war as per Sisko’s wishes.  In “Rocks and Shoals,” Sisko and crew get stranded on a planet also featuring stranded Dominion members (a single vorta and his cadre of Jem’Hadar soldiers, whose behavior-controlling nutritional supplement is running out).  On Deep Space Nine, Kira and Odo realize just how gradually they’ve become accomplices to the Dominion attrocities by doing nothing to stop them because that was the most convenient option.  By the end, you come to better understand the Jem’Hadar and admire their nobility while pitying their geneticially engineered inability to question the way things are.  

Check out a Trailer Below:

3) “Visitor” (Season 4, Episode 3)

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A.K.A.: Jake Sisko copes with the grief of losing his father by devoting most of the remainder of his life to discovering a way to bring him back.

For a show which was so concerned with the on-going conflicts between warring factions, DS9 often dealt with themes of loss and grief.  There is perhaps no finer example of this type of episode than “Visitor.”  In real life, when a loved one dies we might spend the rest of our days wondering if we made them proud, or if there was anything more we could have done.  Now, imagine if that person you lost was caught in a weird sci-fi time loop where they show up wherever you are every couple of years but only stay for a minute or less before jumping ahead in time again.  That…would be torture, and that’s exactly what happens to Jake Sisko, played in young age as usual by Cirroc Lofton and in the older age scenes by Tony Todd (yep, Candyman’s Tony Todd).  Sisko’s continual pleading with his son throughout the years to move on with his life is particularly devastating since we know how impossible a request it is.  The concluding scene has moved many to tears.

Check out the Final Scene Below:

2) “In Purgatory’s Shadow”/”By Inferno’s Light” (Season 5, Episodes 14/15)

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A.K.A.: The one where Worf and Garak are imprisoned by the Dominion only to discover that Klingon General Martok and Dr. Bashir are also prisoners, meaning the Bashir we had seen for the prior 4 weeks was a changeling impostor.

Ah, Garak.  He was the show’s man of mystery, a Cardassian spy not allowed to return home for unknown reasons and thus stranded on Deep Space Nine to work as a tailor.  Andrew Robinson’s masterful turned him into the show’s secret MVP, and this two-parter from the fifth season starts with Garak attempting to flee the station to respond to a coded distress signal.  What follows is a series of huge revelations of just how many people had been imprisoned by the Dominion and replaced with impostors, including our very own Dr. Bashir (which is a cooler twist the less you think about it).  Unlike some other episodes on this list, there are not necessarily any great universal themes being explored in interesting new ways here.  Instead, there is a healthy dose of political intrigue, a thrilling prison escape, equipped with Garak having to hide in the crawl space of a wall despite his claustraphobia, and generally well-done epic action scenes. Sometimes, DS9 could just be a thrill-ride of surprising plot twists and well-executed character revelations, and “In Purgatory’s Shadow”/”By Inferno’s Light” features them doing that at their best.

Check out a trailer below:

1) “Trials and Tribble-ations” (Season 5, Episode 6)

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Which one is it? The one where the DS9 crew is spliced into the classic Original Series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” in a time-travel plot that sees the crew charged with stopping a Tribble-shaped bomb from going off.

For the 30th anniversary of Star Trek in 1996, both DS9 and Voyager did homage episodes, with the latter involving a guest turn from George Takei as Captain Sulu.  However, DS9 pulled off Star Trek fantasy camp by using Forrest Gump/Back to the Future 2-style trickery to have its characters interact with Original Series characters.  Honestly, this isn’t really the best DS9 episode, but for any Star Trek fan it is undoubtedly the most essential.  Come on –  you get to see the DS9 cast wear the old 1960s uniforms, walk through the sets, and even appear as if they are interacting with Original Series-era Kirk.  Nerdgasm achieved.  In fact, this episode adds an extra layer of tension to the “The Trouble With Tribbles” from the Original Series, whose ending can now be viewed while knowing just how dang close Kirk came to getting blown up by a Tribble.

Check out a DVD Extra Featuring the Cast Discussing the Episode:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is available to stream through Netflix, Amazon (free to Prime members), and Hulu.

So, what do you think, guys? Are you a fan of our picks, or are there other episodes you think should have made the cut? Let us know in the comments!

Those Are Mine, Here Are Some Others:
Check Out Our Prior Top 10 Lists for Other Stark Trek TV Shows:

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