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  1. Sisko's Style of Command
  2. Sisko's Style of Command, Part II
  3. Is Today's Star Trek Still Star Trek?
  4. In the Center of the Storm - Deep Space Nine

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1. Sisko's Style of Command

Of all the four major Star Trek captains, Kirk, Picard, Sisko and Janeway, every one has a different style, a different approach towards command, towards their job and towards their crewmembers. This difference in style was especially apparent with the transition from Kirk to Picard with The Next Generation, but with Sisko or Janeway I haven't found such remarks yet. The usual saying would just allude to skin color (Sisko) or sex (Janeway). But apart from Sisko being black, this is very much not the only characteristical feature of him - for to define people by skin color or sex or age or anything else superficial is just silly and antiquated.

Sisko is a very strong person, he has a very strong and tough peronality - and doesn't refrain from showing this. He acts much more emotional than Picard, so he is much more like Kirk in this respect. He is much more a soldier than his 'predecessors' have been, he is a tactical genius combining diplomacy with action. He might be a bit more moderate than Kirk, but he is much more aggressive than Picard. He has fought too many battles, has seen too much death to be willing to let an enemy strike the Federation too hard. His determination as Starfleet officer is not wavering, he is loyal to the principles of the Federation and will accept any task assigned to him.

Sisko has grown to get accustomed to his spiritual role as Emissary of the Bajoran Prophets; he has even gotten some insight, some understanding, some belief even into what he once just plainly described as wormhole aliens. The unease he feels with his position as religious leader of the Bajoran people somehow changes when he realizes that the position he has gained might very well be a way to help Bajor, to use his combined military and spiritual authority to support progress on Bajor; thus he also is superior to Kai Winn. But what he does is not that he would exploit this advantage one-sidedly; he has much too much respect for the belief of the Bajorans and for their planet - a planet he has come to call his home now. He performs his task with something like a pragmatic dignity or a dignified pragmatism. He doesn't want to be the center of attention; but if he has to, he will do his duty as best as he can. He feels greatly responsible not only for the fate of the Federation and the inhabitants and crew of Deep Space Nine, but also for Bajor. Getting Bajor into the Federation (at the appropriate time) is as necessary as it is for getting Eastern European states into NATO in present time - the objective being not the expansion of the Federation but the safety and prosperity of Bajor.

Sisko's command over his crew is a bit different from what we've seen from Kirk or Picard so far, which might also be due to the different nature of the necessities of a starship and that of a space station. Also, with the mixed Starfleet and Bajoran crew, the chain of command would be a bit more difficult. But at least Sisko is not being held aback by his Number One when he wants to get some action of his own. - He also has a very good eye for choosing the right person for the right job (with just one exception: Eddington). His efforts to include Worf into the crew were a masterpiece (given an in-show perspective, apart from the realities of television writing, and treating Sisko and the events as real, not as fiction). He is again very pragmatic; this is shown already in the pilot episode when he persuades Quark to stay. He can use the full potential of his crew, like a good commander has to do. But that's also a problem, it is the cause for his obsession with Eddington (episode 5.13 'For the Uniform'): As much as he tries, he cannot refute that his actions against his defected Starfleet chief of security are to a large extend motivated by his anger, by his feeling of betrayal. He cannot understand the Maquis, he cannot understand how people could turn away from the Federation to join a partisan war against Cardassia (although I suspect that there might have been forces within the Federation government tolerating this; in that way having some kind of underground movement against Cardassia without even the need to finance it).

By now I realize I've gone into some length with this article; so I will move up to a conclusion. But what conclusion then? The interesting thing about Sisko is that his personality has a lot of aspects to be explored; he is the result of good writing and acting. He has a son, has had a wife, which is very different from the other captains presented to us (apart from the late appearance of Kirk's son, but then Kirk has never been quite a family guy). Sisko has indeed a life other than his station; he does his duty but knows when to step aback for a while; and when he does that, he knows that his crew will be able to take over for him. The Sisko character is the result of a development within television to arrive at more believable, at much deeper portrayals of persons. And Avery Brooks is able to turn every appearance of Sisko into a peak performance.

October 29th, 1998

2. Sisko's Style of Command, Part II

In the previous part, I focused on some general aspects of Sisko's character and style of command. Now it is time to concentrate on several crucial episodes; crucial because they can show in a very direct way how Sisko acts under certain circumstances. This is of course a very incomplete selection; but that would hold true for any kind of choice. Spoiler warning for those who haven't yet seen the episodes discussed.

'For the Uniform' (5.13): Sisko is tracking down his former chief of Starfleet security, Michael Eddington, and doing all he can to get him, including bombarding a Maquis colony with an agent making human life on this planet impossible - as a retribution for a similar Maquis action against a Cardassian colony. Sisko's devotion to get Eddington might be explained from two perspectives, fistly, the personal one. Eddington has betrayed him, and Sisko didn't anticipate this. He trusted Eddington and made a mistake - that's quite a psychologically damaging situation. So he wants revenge, he wants Eddington brought before trial, and he wants to do it by himself. But secondly, he is going after Eddington because of his sense of duty: He's a Starfleet officer, defending the United Federation of Planets against their enemies. The Maquis acts against Federation politics, they are rebels, terrorists, raising the stakes in the conflict between the UFP and the Cardassians. In addition to that, Eddington also betrays the Maquis themselves by giving them hope, false hope, of victory: He is creating a revolutionary motivation where there is no place for that. Eddington sees himself as the noble Jean Valjean from Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables" and Sisko as the narrow-minded policeman Javert whose only interest would be to catch Valjean. Well, I've never thought of Javert being entirely the bad guy or Valjean entirely the good fellow - in "Les Misérables", there are no winners, there is no black and white, at the end, there is just pain and desperation. Hope remains though, but only concerning a life after death. On Earth, no piece or justice is to be found. - Sisko's decision to contaminate the Maquis colony was a logical one: The only way to get the Maquis out of the Demilitarized Zone is to eliminate their bases. And in the end, he proves right - during the following war, the Maquis is being destroyed. Terrorism doesn't pay - and it stays wrong, no matter how heroic their leader wants himself to be seen.

'The Sacrifice of Angels' (6.06): Sisko leads a combined Federation and Klingon fleet to reconquer Deep Space Nine. He succeeds and gets help from the Prophets, who destroy the Dominion fleet passing through the wormhole. Military historian John Keegan (Masks of Command. London: Jonathan Cape, 1987) writes about Alexander the Great that he used to attack always the strongest and best fortified enemy positions, by that using the element of surprise. In addition to that, the psychological victory would be much greater: For the winner, because a seemingly impossible aim had been reached, and for the defeated, because a seemingly safe position had been overrun with ease. War means to attack; defense means to carry the war into the area of the aggressor. As soon as one has no more options to attack, one has lost. Sisko, knowing that, attacks the strongest Domionion position, now DS9/Terok Nor, he bets it all - and wins. Where others see a trap, he sees an opportunity. He is not easily deterred, he's a warrior with the greatest tactical and strategical comprehension. His victory is completed by the acts of the Prophets. He doesn't care about the personal sacrifices it is going to take for him, he is responsible for the fate of the Federation - and of Bajor. He uses both his power as Emissary and as Starfleet officer to achieve what he wants. The same repeats in 'Tears of the Prophets' (6.26): Sisko leads the combined Federation / Klingon / Romulan fleet into Cardassian territory, taking down a new enemy defense grid and thus hurting the enemy hard. Meanwhile, Dukat 'melds' with a Pah entity, gets to DS9 (probably by using the same Dominion beaming technology as seen in 2.26 'The Jem'Hadar') to influence the orbs, accidentally killing Jadzia. Thus he causes the wormhole to disappear, the connection to the Celestial Temple is gone. At whatever costs and with whatever warnings by the prophets, Sisko does what his sense of duty commands: Attack, strike the enemy, move forward, advance into enemy territory. He has to pay a price, but I doubt that he could have decided otherwise. He could never have prevented the possessed Dukat from doing what he did, Jadzia was at the wrong place at the wrong time. And the Prophets will find a way to get through to him and to Bajor again.

'In the Pale Moonlight' (6.19): Sisko wants the Romulans to join Federation and Klingons in their war against the Dominion. He works together with Garak to decept the Romulan ambassador with a faked conversation showing Damar and Weyoun discussing an attack against Romulan territory, but the game doesn't work - until Garak causes the destruction of the Romulan ship, this way making it appear as if the Dominion had done it to prevent the delivery of a very delicate piece of intelligence. The Romulans join the war on the side of the Alpha Quadrant. Sisko pairing with Garak - well, the Captain has to be quite desperate, and indeed, he is. The Federation/Klingon alliance is losing the war, and it needs every ally it can get. Making the Romulans shift sides is an excellent idea, but the measures he takes to achieve that? Sisko is betraying himself when he thinks everything will work out just fine. He knows what Garak is capable of, but he just didn't want to realize that. And so fate will enfold the necessary consequences. Sisko's morality is at stake here, and he has made a mistake in that respect: He has encouraged Garak to act, he hasn't told him exactly what to do, but he knew what Garak was capable of doing. He had ignored the voice of reason, now his consciousness is damanding its tribute. This episode also shows the darkness of war in that there is no morality in war, there is just the aim to win, or at least, to survive. Morality and innocence, and most of it, as said so often, the truth - those are the first victims of war. Sisko's acts might have resulted in the Romulans joining the war on the right side - but he has also silently contributed to the death of the crew aboard the Romulan ship. There are no easy answers nor easy accusations nor solutions for that dilemma. How many people does it take to make this wrong?

Sisko has a very strong personality, a very richly portrayed character, one of the best Star Trek has ever seen. With all the confrontations and problems he is confronted with, he still stays a human being, making right decisions as well as problematic and wrong ones. He is mortal and can fail - but he has realized that, he is not blind but very aware of the things he does. And whatever mistakes he might make, he knows that he has to live with them. He is constantly questioning his own actions, trying to be a better man, his motivation always is to serve the Federation, Bajor and his crew - and family. He is not just a dumb puppy following orders blindly, he is not excusing his actions with hollow words like duty or custom, he is filling those empty constructs with personality, with his own morality. To that, failure ultimately belongs, but he always is a man making bold moves - in the end, he will succeed.

November 14th, 1998

3. Is Today's Star Trek Still Star Trek?

Today, Star Trek is a phenomenon which has grown into such dimensions that to some it might seem to have changed too much, to have left the original concept behind the classic series. It is mostly claimed that there would be an overuse of technical gimmicks, of techno-babble, a lack of character driven stories, also a lack of interesting characters; that Star Trek would today be too conventional, less exprimental than the original show. - There's another aspect of that discussion; the one totally rejecting the original series in favor of the new ones; seeing the 'old' show as well as the 'old' characters as less evolved and less charming. Basically, there are two fronts opposing each other with similar or even the same arguments. And that's just a discussion within Star Trek, not even the lame approaches to compare Star Trek with Star Wars or Babylon 5.

All I can contribute to this discussion is just to give my own point of view. I do not aim at solving a conflict, being aware that no one would be capable of doing so. Alas, I'm a fan of the original show as well as of TNG and its offsprings; and basically, because of two different reasons: Firstly, because all of them are terrific shows and, secondly, because all are Star Trek. So, concerning point one, there is some difficulty of evaluating the newer shows: They all had quite a difficult and even lame start; TNG in my view had the worst - it had some good episodes during the first three years, but it started to maintain a higher standard just with 'Yesterday's Enterprise' (3.15) and 'The Best of Both Worlds' (3.26/4.01). But then, it was still the best show on the air at that time. DS9 was better in that respect, having proven a worthy successor already in late season one with 'Duet' (1.19). VGR was, like TNG, in the beginning a similar cripple, having some excellent episodes but no consistency, having reached that perhaps partially with 'Death Wish' (2.14) and, finally, with 'Scorpion' (3.26). The original series had another kind of problem and was in that respect different: It had a terrific start (no, not with 1.01 'The Man Trap' but with the second pilot, 1.3. 'Where No Man Has Gone Before') but deteriorated until the final year. Those tendencies are but just descriptions of the general impression of the average episode quality; this tendency is not denying execellent episodes with in a difficult year.

Concerning my second argument, that all those shows are Star Trek, which is pointing at the question asked, the answer to that would perhaps need some definition of what Star Trek is about. That's a bit difficult, taking into account the vast amount of Trek now existing, but such a statement would at least need some basic definitions. So, with Star Trek there are linked certain properties: It is a show basically set in the future, it is about a multi-racial and multi-cultural society. Not even the setting of the UFP or of Starfleet I would consider primarily, for I could very well imagine some day a series set in a Klingon surrounding or so. The topics generally dealt with in Star Trek are mostly issues of human society and history, disguised into an allegoric form. The main and recurring theme could be that of rationality and of understanding; Star Trek is a show about how to solve a certain problem; it is not a show about visual effects - it is a talkative and more abstract and less emotional show than others, like e.g. The X-Files or Twin Peaks.

So, now leaving that abstract level, there are today also classical episodes of Star Trek, dealing with typical Star Trek topics and giving typical Star Trek answers. Typical, but not stereo-typical. One of the impressive episodes of Voyager's fourth season, 'The Killing Game', does give such an answer; apart from the fighting and confrontations, the primary object and final aim always is to reach a point of understanding, even of peace. But Star Trek also shows limits to that approach: Apart from TNG's Hugh (5.23 'I, Borg' and 6.26/7.01 'Descent') and VGR's Seven of Nine, the Borg are an enemy not being affected by that kind of noble gestures; that's something perhaps to be considered as new within the new shows: There are limits shown, limitations to any kind of peaceful approach: The shows contain more darker elements than the classical Trek (although Star Trek VI wasn't such a bright vision either). That's a tendency towards realism - although such elements were also included in the classic show, it just didn't run as long as today'a Treks - therefore a possible future development would be very speculative.

The Vulcan (= Star Trekian) philosophy of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) could very well be applied here: combinations also includes variations and development. Star Trek, and especially the classic series with its scenarios of various societies, always has been arguing against a static state, against passivity, against unflexibility. That's also an Emersonian thought: "The one thing in the world of value, is, the active soul, the soul, free, sovereign, active" (Ralph Waldo Emerson. "The American Scholar". Nina Baym et al, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed., shorter. N.Y.: Norton 1995, 470). The differences within the various Star Trek shows are originating from the very nature of Star Trek itself: the shows are not individual shows, they are all, classic Trek included, a variation of the same theme, a manifestation of the philosophy of Star Trek. The question of whether Star Trek today is still Star Trek in that respect I would answer with a yes, but also with the notion that the question itself is irrelevant: Nothing in the material world really stays the same.

December 5th, 1998

4. In the Center of the Storm - Deep Space Nine

Star Trek's desire for diversity has created a series serving this Vulcan principle more than any other Trek show ever; Deep Space Nine. Having started while TNG was still running, and now concurring with Voyager, this Star Trek installment never has been an easy show to exist nor to watch. But while DS9 is different, it still definitely is belonging to the franchise and enriching it. With the same problems every of the new Trek shows had in the beginning, it has grown to be a very strong show very early on with the last two episodes of season one. From that point on, DS9 had gained a momentum which couldn't have stopped, a momentum TNG and VGR had reached only by its fourth seasons.

DS9 is often being described as a darker show than any Trek ever, and to a certain extent that would hold true. Darker DS9 is indeed as it has to settle with conflicts as they can not be escaped: The Bajoran situation, the Cardassians, the Dominion - DS9 is a space station and therefore necessarily has got a different character and a different pace. Originally a lame Cardassian outpost orbiting the Cardassian latest occupation, Bajor, it is now the outpost of a dying United Federation of Planets, protecting the entrance to a wormhole which is both the celestial temple of Bajor's Prophets and the gateway to the Dominion's reinforcements from the Delta Quadrant; while momentarily closed, it might open again. So, Terok Nor, now Deep Space Nine, has all of the sudden gotten into the center of the storm, once ore processing labor camp, now the strategically most important part of the Federation.

DS9 has the most perfect cast in Trek history, and together with the station itself, the crew also has grown - Captain Sisko, once set out to lead a boring and distant space station, still grieving for the death of his wife, has become the Emissary of the Bajorans, their most important spiritual leader, and with this position he has come to be a politician, quarreling with the ever-troubling Kai Winn. His strategic wits also have proven true, having defended the station and Bajor successfully against Klingons, Cardassians and Dominion. His second in command, Major Kira Nerys, also has come a long way to her position - once a terrorist fighting in one of the Bajoran resistance groups against Dominion oppression, she now has grown and become a much more balanced, peace-loving character, still tough, but a bit more civilized, so to say. The commando staff then joins Worf, well-known TNG Klingon, as always a charming person. Doctor Bashir is next, first a greenhorn in both Starfleet and personal matters, now much more mature and being in close friendship with the ever-cheerful Miles O'Brien and Jadzia Dax, now deceased, her Trill symbiont surviving within Ezri Dax. Besides the top of the commando, there also is another, non-Federation level, very strange for Star Trek indeed: The Ferengi bartender, Quark, eternally involved into a private little war with the stiff and righteous shape-shifter Odo; a strange couple having more compassion for each other than they ever would publically admit. And then there are the family members of the various characters: Sisko's son Jake, the O'Brien family, Quark's brother Rom together with his son and wife, and, last but definitely not least, the mysterious Garak.

After getting into some length with the cast, I will now go over to the villains, and those are not just few. The most prominent one is of course Gul Dukat, the best and most dangerous villain of Star Trek ever: Best portrayed, best played - always fun to watch despite his evil nature. Never had Star Trek had a regular villain, for I do not consider Q a villain. Dukat is somehow a key for the show: Without him, without a believable adversary, something would be missing. Beside Dukat, every other enemy looks pale and void: Weyoun, the chief Alpha Quadrant Vorta as it seems, might be in charge, but Dukat is by far superior to him. Dukat is the reincarnation of Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, Alexander, Napoleon and Caesar; he is brilliant but ruthless, self-righteous and ego-centric. His obsession is both his fuel and ruin: his only weak point. His overwhelming self-confidence let him fail; and Sisko is the only one he can accept and respect as an opponent. Sisko, beside matching Dukat's wits, is superior in morality and followership: The Dominion and the Cardassion Empire are built on despotic rules; as soon as the leader falls, agony will follow. Not so the Federation, not so the Klingons: Both are superior systems, the Federation through democratic representation, the Klingon Empire through individual strength and loyalty. As dark as the day might seem for both, they will prevail.

DS9 has also followed the Star Trek tradition in portraying other cultures - mainly the Klingon and Ferengi ones. By doing that, it creates both analogies for our own history as well as role models of other possibilities. But then there is something DS9 is doing less which would normally be assumed from Star Trek, which still is a sci-fi show: There is less sf, less experiments in that direction as featured mainly by TNG and VGR, but instead of that DS9 goes a bit back to the Classic concept, relying a bit more on character conflicts (which are also a strong element of VGR). In addition to that, it continues the TNG tradition of being a history show - continuing what its mighty predecessor started, portraying the development of the Federation in the twenty-fourth century. With that in mind, I am quite confident that the DS9 legacy will not vanish away too easily, the story needs to go on. Star Trek will find a way to continue.

January 3rd, 1999

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