Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Best & Worst Episodes
Star Trek's toughest fans rate the best (and worst) episodes of 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.'
One of the most popular television shows ever developed for the Star Trek franchise, Deep Space Nine (DS9), came to an end in June of 1999. Its growing popularity did come as a bit of a surprise, especially to the community of Trek fans. When the show began airing in January 1993, Star Trek: The Next Generation was at its prime, and it had taken long enough for the fans of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to warm up to that show. Deep Space Nine had quite a few other strikes against it. Not only was it a darker vision of the future, but it was the first Star Trek ongoing series to be developed after the death of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
And yet, it persevered. Fans of the old show grew to appreciate the grittier world of the abandoned space station near the Bajoran wormhole. The interpersonal conflicts among the crew of the station added some much-needed spice to the Trek universe. For example, the second-in-command of the station was a Bajoran, not a member of Starfleet. And the head of security had worked the same job for the Cardassians who had occupied the station before.
The series also went where no Trek series had gone before when it came to storytelling. Perhaps it did start in the fires of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, but the focus soon shifted to the war with the Dominion for control of the Alpha Quadrant. For the first time, the Federation of the Trek universe presented itself to viewers in a long, protracted war to defend its very existence. The story arc started in the middle of the series and wouldn't be resolved until literally the very last episode. The Trek fans took to this new form of storytelling like tribbles to food.
Nine's Worst 10
Move Along Home
In the first season, the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant could be seen as the ultimate plot device. Just through the wormhole could be any bizarre alien race that might pop onto the station for a visit, forcing the crew into a first contact situation over and over again.
Unfortunately, the idea doesn't always work as well as it could. Although fans were amused by the thought that the Wadi race were only interested in playing games, even the delightful performance by Joel Brooks as their leader couldn't save this episode. After Quark attempts to trick the Wadi, Falow traps the crew in a surreal deadly maze and forces Quark to play a game in which each piece represents a crew member. But in the end, the fans felt cheated when the life-and-death situations turned out to be nothing but a game.
This second-season episode is another one whose focus is mostly on Quark's bar. Chris Sarandon plays Martus, who acquires a strange alien device that affects luck and uses it to set up a bar and casino to compete with Quark's. He replicates the device as a gambling game, and Dax eventually discovers that the alien devices are affecting probabilities all over the station. The rivalry is lame, but what really hurts this episode is the alien device—or plot device.
However, this episode did have one saving grace: the racquetball game between O'Brien and Bashir.
The mirror universe has been a popular concept with Trek fans ever since the original series episode "Mirror, Mirror," and most fans were pleased when DS9 decided to resurrect it. But not in this particular case, even though this sixth-season episode used the alternate universe to bring back Bareil, one of the more popular love interests for Kira.
Then again, maybe that was the problem. After all, the noble Vedek Bareil had a tragic, but well-meaning, death, and perhaps the new version of him cheapens the memory of the old. Having the mirror Bareil seduce Kira in order to steal an Orb for the Intendant just didn't work for many fans.
This fourth-season episode combined two things that fans might have liked: Jake Sisko's attempt to write his first novel, and the love life of Lwaxana Troi. And yet, both of these stories fall flat, and for good reason. Some believed that the "soul-sucking vampire muse" is an overused idea, and although Jake does write his novel, for some fans it is a bit of a cheat that he required the help of Onaya. As for Lwaxana Troi, by this point a lot of fans had gotten tired of following her love life, even if the episode revolves around Odo protecting a pregnant Lwaxana from her husband Jeyal.
Of course, there is one other possibility why this episode ranked so low. By Season 4, viewers expected higher quality episodes, and so this one tends to stick out for its flaws.
Whenever any television series attempts to do a show about a serious issue, it either succeeds gloriously or falls flat on its face. DS9 had its share of triumphs, but also had its share of losers, including this one from the second season. Some fans felt that "Melora" tried to be an issue show about dealing with disabilities, but does it so badly that it's just terrible viewing. Bashir falls for a recent transfer from a low-gravity planet who's stuck in a wheelchair most of the time. His solution is no help, Quark's jeopardy is no threat, and the episode is no fun. Others felt that even with a promising guest star, such as Daphne Ashbrook, the story leads to a failure.
It can hurt to watch this third-season episode, given the embarrassing situations in which the characters find themselves. During the Bajoran Gratitude Festival, Lwaxana Troi comes to visit, and many of the station personnel throw themselves at each other. It turns out that Lwaxana has Zanthi Fever and is infecting everyone on the station with her amorous feelings for Odo.
What makes "Fascination" so painful is the odd pairings of the characters, and the awful plot device for bringing people together in what the writers probably expected to be humorous situations.
Ferengi Love Songs
Because Quark, a Ferengi, ran the bar on the station, the show's writers could explore the Ferengi society in more depth, and from the fact that two Ferengi-themed episodes made it to the bottom 10, it would appear that their time might have been better spent.
In this fifth-season episode, Quark's mother Ishka has fallen in love with Grand Nagus Zek and is changing the face of the Ferengi economy. Guest stars Cecily Adams and Wallace Shawn are practically wasted. Furthermore, Quark acts very nasty in this episode, especially to his mother, which left some fans with a bad taste in their mouth. How are they expected to like someone who intentionally breaks up his mother's relationships and makes her miserable?
Let He Who is Without Sin…
Guest star Vanessa Williams and the pleasure planet of Risa. A winning combination, right? Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for this fifth-season episode, in which Worf, Jadzia Dax, Bashir, and Leeta travel to Risa together for a vacation. Worf joins a group whose goal is to destroy the planet, all in the name of keeping the Federation strong and his behavior, along with the preaching on both sides of the issue, gave this episode a bad taste for many fans.
Fans dislike this episode for its preaching against sexual puritanism. Additionally, the Risans seem like harlots, and as a result, it turns Worf into a man willing to commit terrorism upon a harmless resort planet, and all of its citizens and customers. How is this an honorable act?
Almost anyone who is told the plot of this episode from the third season can immediately identify it as a take-off of the musical Brigadoon, in which a town only wakes up once every hundred years. Jadzia Dax falls in love with a man, Deral, whose planet in the Gamma Quadrant will disappear into another dimension for 60 years. She wants to stay with him but, of course, in the end does not.
So what's wrong with (yet another) plot involving romance? Well, Jadzia Dax isn't exactly behaving like a Trill when she decides to throw out centuries of Trill tradition and sacrifice her symbiont, not giving it any chance to find a new host, sentencing it to an eventual death on a planet that phases out of existence—and she's willing to do it all for a man with blue eyes and an easy willingness to take her to bed? Other fans point out that episode has some of the most sappy, saccharin, terrible dialogue.
Profit and Lace
And now we come to the episode some to as "easily the worst DS9 of all time, and possibly the worst episode of Trek ever." When Grand Nagus Zek gives Ferengi women full rights in the Ferengi Bill of Opportunities, he is deposed by Liquidator Brunt, and Quark disguises himself as a woman named Lumba to convince a member of the Ferengi Commerce Authority to support Zek. Sounds like a great slapstick comedy, right?
To the contrary, many fans were offended by the episode. It begins with the assumption that the entire concept of men disguising themselves as women will immediately alienate a certain percentage of the population. That's a given. Now, of the remaining percentage, assume that a certain percentage of those will be offended by constant, overt, unrelenting sexism and gender bias. Take the remaining handful of individuals who are not offended by any of that, and let's make them watch a horribly unfunny comedy where all of the characters whine, grunt, and squeal a lot.
But enough of this. It may be true that science fiction fans love to tear down the worst parts of their favorite shows, but they also love to praise the best. Finally, here are the best 10 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Nine's Best 10
Call to Arms
At the end of the fifth season of DS9, war with the Dominion was inevitable. Continuing in the tradition of great Trek cliffhangers comes this episode, in which Starfleet actually abandons the station to the Dominion and the Cardassians. There's a lot of drama to like in this episode: Sisko leaving his baseball behind; Jake sticking around to report from the station; Kira being forced to work with Gul Dukat, Dax mining the wormhole; Worf joining the Klingon fleet; and, of course, the wedding of Rom and Leeta.
However, one scene stays with the viewer long after the episode. The final shot of the Defiant meeting up with the combined Federation and Klingon fleet was in itself one of the best things about the episode.
The whole episode cranks the tension up a notch, and for the first time, fans get to see Star Trek put aside the magic reset button. DS9 hooked the viewership into tuning in next season, with the station abandoned to the Dominion forces.
Rocks and Shoals
The sixth season of DS9 picked up where "Call to Arms" left off, with a six-part arc in which Starfleet takes back the station. Many fans felt that "Rocks and Shoals" was probably the best episode of the arc.
What makes this episode so powerful is the way the story challenges the principles of both Sisko and Kira. Sisko tries to convince the leader of a group of Jem'Hadar soldiers that they don't need to sacrifice their lives just because a dying Vorta orders them to do so, and in the end, Sisko and the crew end up mowing them down.
As for Kira's challenge, in a shocking climax where another Bajoran commits suicide for her principles, Kira realizes that she has become no better than a collaborator. One of the real strengths of the episode lies on the station, where Kira realizes how much of herself she's lost in working with Dukat, Damar, and Weyoun.
The Changing Face of Evil
The series came to an end in the seventh season, and the final story arc managed to place two episodes among the top 10, this being one of them. As the series concluded, many fans wished it would go on—and yet, the irony is that the episodes that made us long for more DS9 did so because they ended the series so well.
This one starts with the destruction of Starfleet Headquarters by the new Breen/Dominion alliance. The Defiant is destroyed by a new Breen energy-dissipating weapon that destroys the entire force. In addition, Kai Winn and Dukat begin researching the Pagh Wraiths. Dukat is finally exposed as a Cardassian, and Winnis forced to kill her most trusted Bajoran advisor. Finally, Damar finally breaks free from the Dominion, starting the Cardassian resistance movement. A power-packed hour of entertainment that illustrated the direness of the Federation's situation.
This third-season episode forms a two-part story along with "The Die Is Cast," and the story was so gripping that both episodes made it onto the list. It's not hard to see why: The story opens with Garak's tailor shop blowing up, and Odo spends the episode trying to find out who wants Garak dead. The special appeal to many was an episode centered around Garak, who is widely believed to be DS9's most interesting character. He's witty and engaging, but his past is mysterious and probably ugly, and he gets all the best lines. In this episode Garak was used to wonderful effect, playing an elaborate game-within-a-game with Odo while maintaining his usual sunny charm.
This fourth-season episode, the first one written by Michael Taylor, had the distinction of being the first episode of DS9 ever nominated for the prestigious Hugo Award. In this episode, Jake loses his father to an engineering accident that throws Benjamin Sisko into another dimension, and Jake lives his entire life with the goal of trying to rescue his father. Tony Todd plays an older Jake brilliantly, wringing every last drop of emotion out of his performance.
Jake deals with the loss of his father—or more to the point, doesn't deal with it the way he should—and that loss follows him through the rest of his life. Tony Todd was denied an Emmy nomination for this one, and I think it was unfair.
The Die Is Cast
This third-season episode is the second part of the story that began in "Improbable Cause." To start with, Garak has a strange, almost disturbing relationship with his old mentor, Tain, who has such a hold over Garak that he gets Garak's help immediately after trying to kill him. At the same time, in this episode the Dominion really seems like an unbeatable adversary, capable of anticipating all of its opponents' moves.
A memorable part in the episode is the final scene between Garak and Odo, They're both extremely reserved men, and the scene managed to convey their reconciliation without violating their reserve. It was a rare case in TV of using an unusual cinematography to very good effect. As Garak is cleaning a mirror in his damaged shop, he (and the audience) discover Odo's shape reflected in the mirror, and from that point forward the scene is all one shot, with Garak directly visible and Odo only a distant shape in the mirror. Without seeming at all pretentious, that device nicely conveyed the distance between the characters.
Trials and Tribble-ations
It is perhaps inevitable that this episode would end up on almost any fan's 10-best list. The fifth season of DS9 corresponded to the 30th anniversary of the original series, and in honor of that, the producers developed this enjoyable time-travel romp. Charlie Brill reprises his role as the Klingon spy Arne Darvin from "The Trouble with Tribbles," and he goes back in time in an attempt to change how the events of that episode played out. Fans were delighted to see Sisko, Dax, O'Brien, Worf, and Odo interacting—or trying their best not to interact—with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekhov, Uhura, and Scotty.
This episode had a lot of great bits to it, but one of the best was when Worf is confronted with the question of why the Klingons of the original series look different. It was very clever when they had Worf say that the old Klingons are in fact Klingons, but that they don't discuss the change in their appearance with outsiders. It was a nice tongue-in-cheek way of providing continuity between the old series and the new—which was, of course, what the whole episode was about.
Tacking into the Wind
Although this seventh-season episode came very close to the end of the series, it managed to captivate the fans enough to bring it into the top 10. What makes this episode stand out is that it is steeped in Trek history that goes back to The Next Generation. Worf must challenge Gowron for the leadership of the Klingon Empire. He eventually kills Gowron, and helps Martok become the new leader. Also, this episode delves into Damar and the Cardassian resistance. Some great tension between Damar and Kira, as well as illustrations of Odo's illness and his relationship with Kira.
One doesn't usually expect an episode from the first season of a series to make it into a top 10 list. Star Trek: The Next Generation didn't have a single five-star episode in its entire first season. Neither did Voyager. And yet, fans of DS9 agree that this episode was one of the best.
Harris Yulin plays Aamin Marritza, a Cardassian who served under Gul Darheel during the occupation. Driven by guilt, Marritza goes to DS9 and pretends to be Darhe'el, hoping to atone for his own lack of action by confessing to Darheel's crimes. At first, Kira is filled with hatred for Marritza, but when she finds out who he really is, she orders him to be freed. Just as it looks as if the two of them, a Bajoran and a Cardassian, may actually become friends, Marritza is assassinated by another Bajoran who kills him simply because he is a Cardassian.
What carried this episode so close to the top is not just the story, but the performances by Yulin and Nana Visitor, who plays Kira. DS9 was able to tap into a racial conflict that had only been introduced a few episodes earlier, and create a character as tragic and nuanced as Aamin Marritza, was, and still is, amazing. Ask your average DS9 devotee what made him or her a diehard fan who never, ever missed an episode. The answer is usually one word: "Duet."
In the Pale Moonlight
It is almost impossible to ask anyone about this highest-ranked episode without hearing superlatives galore. Fans are unbridled with their praise for the acting and for the story, in which Sisko goes along with a plot to fool the Romulans into joining the war against the Dominion. This episode, from Season 6, creates one of the sharpest moral dilemmas ever shown on Star Trek. As science fiction writer and Star Trek novelist Susan Shwartz puts it, "In the Pale Moonlight" is "a stunning examination of whether the ends do indeed justify the means."
Fans declare that this is one of the darkest episodes that DS9 has ever done in terms of looking deep into the darkest recesses of the soul, specifically Sisko's. But what makes it so dark is the way it goes against the very things Trek always seems to stand for Daniel M. Kimmel, a Boston correspondent for Variety, points out why it works. "It's a standout because it shows just how much the inmates are running the asylum. Here is a show that subverts much of the goody, goody Trek ethos—a Federation officer fabricating evidence to win an alliance, and then erasing the records of his treachery—and we're cheering him on."
In essence, what makes this episode the favorite among the fans would appear to be the way it pushes the envelope to the very edge, truly fulfilling the promise that DS9 would be a darker and grittier exploration of the Star Trek universe. Sisko winds up compromising his own sense of right and wrong, little by little—and all for the good of the Federation, or more specifically for the good of the war effort. He says he can live with it—can Roddenberry's ideals?
Watch the Best and Worst of Deep Space Nine
Whether you're a die-hard Trekkie or the reboot of the franchise got you interested, it's important to not take others' opinions for granted. Watch (or rewatch) Deep Space Nine to compare our best and worst to your own.
Commander Sisko and crew welcome alien visitors, solve any number of unexpected problems, and root out evildoers at the space station located just next to a wormhole in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
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