Shallow Space Nine

Long time no read! Recently, I finished the quite long project of watching Deep Space Nine. In a previous post, I mentioned how I always enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation. I never got into DS9. So quite some time ago, I decided to give the series a watch. 173 Episodes later, here is what I think.


Uh-oh! We are running out of ideas. Quick, add some space battles! And get me some movie plots we can copy! MORE FERENGI!

Watching the Series was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. I had some troubles getting into the series initially. Some episode from Season 1 really got on my nerves. Especially 1×18 “Dramatis Personae”, which was basically a cheap re-hash of TNG’s 7×17 “Masks”. And that idea wasn’t very original even back then. But did enjoy some of the characters. Especially Dax and Kira seemed like interesting, multi-faceted female characters. Ideas like the Dominion war helped to make watching the show worthwhile. But I felt like DS9 got very soon into certain habits that I began to loathe. Here are some observations.

  • Downfall of the Female Characters – As promising as Dax and Kira seemed, they soon turned into familiar tropes. Kira was pushed from one relationship to another which she always passively accepted. Quite uncharacteristic for a resistance fighter she also remained for the entire series. Dax turned into some kind of super-woman that everybody on the station fell in love with and had no character flaws whatsoever. Only on DS9 can a character be scientific and stoic as well as fun-loving and extrovert at the same time. I absolutely loved Ezri Dax. They did everything right with her that was wrong with Jadzia. But she was way too late.

  • Nerd Button – After Season 2 or so the show seems to have been scrapping the bottom of the barrel. The writers used a cheap trick to bring life back to the series – they pressed the “Nerd Button” by bringing in the Defiant. I mean, the ship is a Star Trek nerd’s wet dream. It is made for combat which was something Star Trek was trying to avoid indulging in. It has a cloaking device which was always something reserved for the bad guys. Most importantly, it meant that the crew could do something the show was actually trying NOT to do – to fly around in space. The ship comes absolutely from nowhere and its existence is poorly explained. Later on, the show tried to repeatedly push that Nerd Button again. By the end of the Dominion War, they were practically mashing it whenever they could. There at least 4 major space battles or so. The Defiant itself got destroyed (oh no!) and then re-built immediately (yay!). All of this left me cold. Perhaps it was because it was so obviously sensationalist and ultimately inconsequential. Or perhaps I just really don’t care about space battles anymore.

  • Ferengi Epiosdes – The show was full of them. I hate them. The Ferengi originated as a failed attempt at creating a new enemy for the TNG crew. They came out too stupid to be a threat. Instead of letting them go, they not only brought them back as a major part of the DS9 crew, they also decided to center SO. MANY. EPIOSODES. around them. And there is really nothing about the Ferengi that can sustain that amount of attention. All those episodes play out like the “The 3 Stooges” or “Dumb and Dumberer” in space. “Oh look, Quark is being sarcastic and Ron doesn’t even notice. Oh Ron, when will you ever learn”. Also, The Grand Nagus’ voice gave me ear cancer. The only Ferengi episode I did enjoy was 4×08 “Little Green Men”. But that’s more because I liked the play on the Area 51 mythos, not because the Ferengi were involved in it.

  • Mirror Universe Episodes – Apparently, somebody liked 1×18 “Dramatis Personae” so much they made an entire concept from it and they repeated it over and over again. So every now and then, it’s that special time for the crew to be visited by the evil version of themselves. I hate those episodes because they are so self-indulgent. They seem more fun for the actors and the writers than for the audience. The writers can cut loose and to get away with cheesy dialogue. The actors get to dress up, they can play a different character and over-act without any guilt. Oh yeah, and they could also bring back dead characters so they could write those old actor buddies a new paycheck.

  • Vic Fontaine – “I know what this show needs. Singing!”. Seriously, First the 3 Stooges and now singing? What were they thinking?

  • Quasi Religion – I did not enjoy the religious themes of the show. They started out somewhat promising with the worm hole aliens being seen scientifically by the Federation and religiously by Bajor. But they soon dropped the scientific part. And the religious part kinda lost it’s spiritually and turned into fantastic magic. I mean, religion is based on faith. On believing something in absence of evidence. Contemplating the nature of our existence and so on. The Bajoran “religion” quickly turned into spewing out lots of very specific prophecies that somehow always came 100% true. And all that build-up of Sisko being the prophet just fizzled out into meaninglessness. His destiny was revealed to be the dude to push the evil dude of a cliff – something every idiot on the station could have done. Or even better, there were plenty of opportunities and reasons to kill that evil dude way before he even got there. Why waiting until the very last moment?

  • Inspired by… – It seems like around season of 3 or so, the writers started to draw heavily upon other works. Perhaps they ran out of ideas. Because they started pretty much taking random movies, plays and novels and turning them into DS9 episodes. We had Silence of the Lambs, Ocean’s Eleven, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Voyage of Kon-Tiki, The Thing, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Bodyguard, Cyrano de Bergerac, And Then There Were None, 12 Monkeys, Donnie Brasco, The Bad News Bears and what not. I know we are standing on the shoulders of giants. And not all of those episodes were bad. But at times, the show felt very much like a re-hash of tired ideas.

But of course, there were episodes I really liked. Yes, 5×06 “Trials and Tribble-ations” was amazing for its special effects and the goofiness of taking the original series at face value. 6×19 “In Pale Moonlight” was dark and had the kind of significance and far reach I was initially hoping to find in the series more frequently. I personally loved 3×05 “Second Skin”. I thought it was superbly well written and suited Keira’s character perfectly.

However, looking back at the series and especially how it ended, I still feel very “Meh” about it. I guess sometimes one’s gaps in knowledge are there for a good reason. The real question is what I liked less, DS9 or Voyager. This is something I have to contemplate as I move on to Babylon 5, another series I never gotten into. It will be interesting to compare the two, as there are some pretty astonishing parallels.

What did you think of DS9?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

7 responses to “Shallow Space Nine”

  1. daniel

    i am quite at the beginning of ds9 (still season 1) and i guess the slow progress already shows how much i like it (or not).

    at the end of voyager i think i have to admit i wasn’t anymore interested returning to next generation. it was always my favourite, but voyager took over – and this might even be due to some facts like visual quality… even blu-ray next generation does not help that it look is sooo old :-)

    basically i still think its great to have such a (positively motivated) series like star trek and am hoping that the future might bring a new one (and better than enterprise ~200X). albeit chances are there will never be another scifi series as versatile as next generation or voyager.

  2. MisterT

    I predict that you will hate the last season of B5 :-) I really enjoyed the absence of techno-babble, something which somtimes made the solution in star trek episodes quite dull (”oh look, I just fixed the deflector shields once more seconds before our iminent destruction.”), but unfortunatly they step more often into other dull deus-ex-machina traps and all in all B5 suffers very often from bad writing in a way that the easiest connection between A and B is a straight line which then is drawn and taken, leaving out a lot of potential.

    DS-9 kind of invented the long story arc for the star trek universe. Pretty much from the start, everything that could be done in space was already done by the original series or in an more sophisticated way in TNG, so what I liked about DS9 was the idea of having season-spanning plots rather than random weekly adventures (TNG did that as well after the D9 spin-off started, I guess both of series got that from B5, which started as a very well planned space saga, maybe too much planned in some ways) and a setting with more potential for character interaction than the series with a bunch of allies on a ship who repeat the McCoy/Spock thing over and over again.

    There is more emphasize on the clash of the different races’ cultural backgrounds. for the first time there is also more attention to detail in those backgrounds. The Borg and the way they acted had to be explained within half an episode and on the longer run was changed around the way the stories of the TNG and the voyager needed it. The dominion could be explored much more slowly and seemed to be better thought out regarding future episodes, showing their abilities and weaknesses. Unlike the races in the older series which mainly took one human culture and copied it into space (like the klingons pretty much were the USSR), DS9 seemed to look at the philosophies behind it. In that light I also liked the Ferengi episodes which played out this entirely different way of dealing with ideas. The ferengis seemed to be spawned by the libertarian ideas which came up in the 90ies after the fall of the USSR, exploring the advantages and limits, rather than being the simple new and not very well defined enemy they were in TNG. This also results in a less obvious good/evil categorization of the characters – everyone, even Sisko himself – follows some agenda, which sometimes leads him to do the right thing though being one of the baddies or the wrong thing though being one of the good ones. This way the tension between the characters also isn’t used up too quickly.

    The absence of this analogies to the real world in the mirror-universe episodes made those seem even more annoying to me. I kind of skipped everyone of those and started doing other things while they were playing in the background.

    But the episode I disliked the most was the one where the universe is at the edge of a military confrontation beyond everything experienced before and Sisko has nothing better to do than sail in a f*cking historic ship with his son exactly through that part of space where an invasion is most likely to happen. Such things really destroy the credibility of a universe to me, since they corrupt the real characters and not just comic-relief side-kicks like Quark.

    I agree to the problems you see with the female characters. But compare them to the female characters in TNG – an empathic superwoman who is the only crew member to be allowed to wear sexy stuff and a middle-aged doctor who has an annoying child. I think DS9 made a great step in the right direction with Kira. In that way I really enjoyed Voyager’s Janeway, a woman being the captain without becoming a man. But seen at its time every different series of the franchise was on the progressive side in its time and should be judged in consideration of the cultural context. If in the new movies Uhura would be used the way she was written in the old series, it could be considered almost racism. At the time they were produced it was progressive beyond what most people could imagine. Same goes for Kira and Dex.

    Gosh, this post got longer than I planned. But you kinda asked for it….

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Woah, thanks for the lengthy answer!

      I predict that you will hate the last season of B5

      Interesting! I hear divergent opinions. So far I’m enjoying it a lot more than DS9.

      DS-9 kind of invented the long story arc for the star trek universe.

      I know. I knew that going in. Perhaps that’s my problem. Because I don’t think they ever delivered on that promise.

      This way the tension between the characters also isn’t used up too quickly.

      Well, that’s one way to see it. I thought that the relationship between the characters develops at such a snail-pace it could just as well never change. Take Odo and Quark for example. They have maybe one or two episodes throughout the entire series. And in the final exchange they have, the writers admit that actually nothing between the two ever changed.

      Odo and Kira may be one of the most awkward romances in the world simply because it plays out at such a snail’s pace. By the time they FINALLY talk to each other, they are bearing such a huge burden, the authors decided to let that discussion take play off-camera. “Phew, dodged that bullet.”

      All of the characters of DS9 make less development throughout the entire Series than the characters of a series like O.C. California do just in a few episodes.

      DS9 experiments with arcs but never commits. More often than not, the show resets to default after each episode just as the previous shows did. Even after the occupation (which was cool), everything just returns to normal. I mean, there is not even one death among the principal cast. I guess Dax dies. But not really.

      This also results in a less obvious good/evil categorization of the characters – everyone, even Sisko himself – follows some agenda

      Come on, that’s what they may say on the box, but it never actually happens. The DS) crew are all good guys. The Dominion and Cardassians are the baddies. It’s as simple as TNG. I was hoping for at least Garak to double-cross the DS9 crew but – nope! He is “dark” yet he stays loyal to the end. “In Pale Moonlight” was great in this regard, but it was just one episode. And it stood out because everything else was so tame.

      Sisko has nothing better to do than sail in a f*cking historic ship with his son exactly through that part of space where an invasion is most likely to happen.

      Haha, that was a hilarious Episode. They even set the sails by hand and everything. I already knew it so I saw it coming. But it’s just so bizzare on so many levels. Somebody had to have their space Butterfly Kon-Tiki.

      But compare them to the female characters in TNG

      Yeah, I think you have a point there. The female characters in TNG were even worse in comparison. Troi episodes were always such a let-down. And then that awkward on and off relationship with Riker.

  3. daniel

    thanks MisterT for your long post – i liked it a lot (now have to read krysts longer answer ;)

  4. daniel

    after reading both posts i think i know why i like voyager so much (nowadays):

    its the most modern todate, it still has a lot of the old star trek “vibe” going (cant clearly put my finger on what this means most out of the sthitload of aspects), it deals even more (progressive) with its females – i think besides janeway being the one i hate the most in the series i guess they did a really great job on her (trying to speak objectively ;) , its back to the show-by-show episodes but still manages to have some larger story arcs (in itself) AND continuing a few where ds9/tng left off (or is it only borgs? not sur ehere), and last but not least while i think it keeps the funnyness of tng without being so over-funny as ds9 it has the best character development of tng all series: believable, measurable (as in not to snail like little baby steps) and last but not least repeatedly shown in multiple episodes and not forgotten in future ones (like i often had the feeling with tng).

  5. daniel

    a thing i forgot to ask:

    krystian, you like abrams and liked the LOST series, right?
    did something “feel strangely known” to you, when you watched DS) S2E15 “paradise” ?

    i really had to laugh, that it is the complete foundation of the “others” (camp, what i disliked most about LOST). even the peoples names where bluntly copied, aswell as faces when it comes to the casting.

  6. MisterT

    Just wondering how far you got with B5 so far.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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