Star Trek has not had a great time of it these last couple of years. I wasn’t on-board the J. J. Abrams hate-train when he first made his first Star Trek movie. I think it sort of holds up as a fun, action-focused spin-off, in a turn-your-brain-off kind of way. However, I guess that’s the main problem.
Star Trek isn’t a franchise you were ever supposed to turn your brain off for, like the best games at SlotoCash Casino. Both Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation spent the majority of their run-time exploring deep themes and fascinating thought experiments. These series tried to answer questions and make their audiences think.
By comparison, STD, Picard, and Lower Decks are skinsuits- monstrous, blockbuster abominations wearing the dead skin of the beloved franchise. They make no sense. They posit questions no one asked. They are the intellectual equivalent of vomit on a marble floor. No chunks. Just a bland mess that someone else is going to have to clean up and then have forgotten about.
One of the main criticisms of these series is how they push politics into the storylines. Some accuse these series of pushing the “woke agenda” by inserting LGBT characters, pushing token “diverse” characters, and constantly preach to the audience about how terrible everything and everyone is.
The supporters of these series point out that politics has always existed in Star Trek, and to criticize STD or Picard for having politics is a non-sequitur. And it’s true to an extent for any medium. Politics is upstream from culture, after all. One often manifests itself in the other. And both Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation pushed for modern, progressive ideals that hadn’t quite taken off at the time. Heck, The Original Series is even credited with the first interracial kiss on television. Ain’t that something? So what makes them different from the modern slob?
Well, to answer that, let’s examine one Star Trek series that I haven’t mentioned yet: One that was chock-full of politics, progressive ideals, and minorities, yet is almost universally acclaimed by Star Trek fans everywhere. Let’s take a look at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. What did it do, and how does it hold up?
The series begins when we’re introduced to Commander Sisko, a disgruntled Starfleet officer who has been assigned command of Deep Space Nine, a space station orbiting the planet of Bajor.
Bajor was only recently liberated from a terrible, fifty-year occupation from another alien species known as the Cardassians. Sisko takes to the job, and struggles with juggling the interests of the Federation, the Bajoran government, the Cardassian government, Bajoran xenophobes, and Federation settlers turned terrorists known as “The Maquis”- all of which is complicated when he accidentally discovers a wormhole on the edge of Bajoran space that can transport you to the other side of the galaxy almost instantaneously.
Bajoran spiritualists declare Sisko “The Emissary of the Prophets” while visitors and merchants travel to and fro from one side of the galaxy to the other.
However, not every visitor is looking to make new friends…
Like every good Star Trek show, Sisko is aided by a strong cast of characters who help run the station and get things done. There’s Kira, the Bajoran Liason officer, who spent most of her life-fighting Cardassians. There’s Odo, the shapeshifting head of security.
Doctor Bashir, the naive, wide-eyed optimist. Jadzia Dax, a science officer, and an alien from the race of Trill who has a parasite in her stomach that is passed from one host to the next for hundreds of years. And Chief O’Brian, stolen from ST: The Next Generation’s secondary characters. And how can I forget Quark, the sleazy bar-owner, or Garak, the enigmatic, Cardassian tailor?
The Authenticity of True Respect
All these vast and varied elements and characters come together to create one of the most cinematic yet definitively Star Trek series to ever air on television. It’s incredibly well written, with loads and loads of amazing character moments, moral quandaries, and thrilling action.
And what I think is the cherry on top is that everything “Woke” that STD has had the gall to claim its own, Deep Space Nine did first. Sisko, the man of the hour, is black. Jadzia is bi and, ahem, down for anything. Kira can beat just about every other character, male or female, in a hand-to-hand fight. Morally gray situations are thrown at the characters constantly, and walking the line of doing what’s right versus what needs to be done becomes like walking a tight-rope by series end.
So what makes Deep Space Nine different from STD?
First of all, the writing isn’t shiiiiit. And I mean that quite literally. Unlike the verbally liberal crew of The Discovery, Deep Space Nine holds more respect for its own audience and the franchise. And I think that’s the keyword, respect.
Deep Space Nine gives all its topics and themes their due diligence and treats each and every character with the respect they deserve. While STD certainly likes to pretend that it has a wide and diverse cast, by making a character per letter of the LGBTQAAIP acronym, Deep Space Nine creates actual diversity by creating a space for a diversity of thought, and not just race or sexuality.
Kira and most of the Bajorans are deeply spiritual, and religion is treated with the utmost respect. Kira and Jadzia are occasionally shown having discussions over coffee about their choices of men and dating habits, where Kira is accused of being too rigid and traditional while Jadzia would sleep with anything that moved… and intrigued her.
Yet neither character demeans the other, and are both good friends throughout the entire series, even though they disagree with each other’s lifestyles. They respect each other.
Gosh, ain’t that a foreign concept in this day and age?
Alex Kurtzman’s skinsuit of Star Trek lacks any sort of basic human decency, something that defined the best Star Trek series. For an almost direct comparison, we can compare how the characters of Lieutenant Barclay versus Edward Larkin. The two characters play very similar roles. The first debuts as a minor character in “The Next Generation”, and the other is from Kurtzman’s “Short Trek”.
Lieutenant Barclay was a social introvert. He worked in engineering and was socially awkward- the kind of character that’s frightened of his own shadow. The other characters questioned how he had even made it as far as he had in Starfleet. So what did they do? They helped him.
Edward Larkin is a character that fills the exact same role as Barclay. He’s smart but completely lacking in social skills. However, in the hand of Kurtzman, he’s treated the opposite completely. The other characters scorn him. His Captain signs off to transfer him to somewhere else because she cannot be bothered dealing with him. The bullying literally leads to disaster and ends with Larkin’s death… and it’s treated as a joke. During the episode’s cold open, the Captain is questioned about his death. They demand to know why one of her officers died. Her reply? “He was an idiot.”
And that’s with a relatively simple, self-contained plot! A single character who doesn’t fit the mold! The writers might as well have added a laugh track and a cartoon BWAM sound effect as he died. They have zero respect for the franchise or its characters.
Deep Space Nine handles topics and issues on the scale of War, Colonialism, the Israeli-Arab Conflict, Religion, false flag operations, espionage, and so much more. These are very serious topics with high stakes and no direct answers. People have very, very strong opinions on these topics, and it’s hard to say who’s right or wrong. In some cases, it could be argued that no one has the right answer. Which itself would be one opinion of many.
Deep Space Nine is one of the only TV shows I have ever watched that tackles such topics. Most shows fear them. They’re too large. Too volatile. Nowadays, they could get you “canceled” if you depict an opinion that certain people don’t like. Deep Space Nine, thankfully, was made before our modern PC era and was willing to depict every side of every issue- and treated them equally.
In other words, Deep Space Nine is a one-in-a-million kind of series. The characters are excellently written. The plot is thought-provoking and deep- and not in a Tumblr, omg, a love triangle kind of deep. True, intellectual depth that all good science fiction aspires to invoke. And throwing all that aside, it’s just a gosh-darned good show. The characters are well developed. The villains are charismatic, and you love to hate ‘em. All of the different factions play their parts, and everything comes to a head in an exciting climax most television shows can only dream of pulling off.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is amazing, and I wholeheartedly recommend it without any trepidation. You don’t even need to be an avid Star Trek fan. Just watch it, already!