What a great pilot episode! I’m not sure I ever appreciated how good this pilot is. It really does a thorough job of introducing the prime players and setting up their relationships. It also establishes early on who the major political factions are and how they relate to each other. I always loved the political intricacies of DS9, something none of the other Trek series really had much of. Plus we get to go on a convincing emotional journey with Sisko that helps him close the door on one part of his life and open the door to another while setting things up for the series to move forward.

Kai Opaka reads Sisko's Pah by touching his left ear

"Have you ever explored your Pah, Commander?"

A critical part of the pilot and of the series as a whole is the Bajoran religion, one of the richest creations in the Star Trek universe. Here we have the religion of a 10,000-year-old civilization presented with two faces: the spiritual (these are Prophets from the Celestial Temple) as seen by the Bajorans, and the practical (these are intelligent life forms living inside a stable wormhole) as seen by most everyone else. And who is to say that one is more valid than the other? The show certainly doesn’t take a side, and I like that. The Bajoran religious leaders and adherents could easily have been made to look silly, but the writers did a good job of treating them respectfully. I like how the ideas of spirituality and faith are presented and explored without getting into the question of GOD. I suppose in a way that Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica represents an evolutionary step in that it was unafraid to deal with a monotheistic god that many feel is the same as OUR “God”, but I think that that created more problems in the end.

One of the things I find most exciting about the pilot is how they set up all these characters to have some really potentially interesting stories. Odo is a shapeshifter; imagine the possibilities! And you wouldn’t know this without the hindsight that comes from having watched the whole series, but most of these “potentially interesting” stories eventually do make it on screen, some with some pretty exciting payoffs! There’s one character who I feel never fully reaches his potential (I’ll go ahead and say “his”; there are so few female characters here that I’m not really giving away much) in the way the other characters do, but I’ll save that discussion for later.

Those are my overarching thoughts regarding the pilot. A detailed summary of the episode can be found at Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki. My immediate impressions while watching the episode are in the following notes:

  • Of course they have to tie it into TNG. Interesting that they chose Picard’s abduction by the Borg as a point to pivot off of. At first it seems clichéd to set up Sisko as having issues with Picard, but Sisko’s issues are explored pretty deeply by the end of this episode. It ends up not being some cheap device, but a clear signal of the tonal difference between DS9 and TNG.
  • I remember my first impressions of the theme music. The slowness of the music reinforced my impression that this would be a boring, staid, static show. It’s still not very exciting, but it can be stirring.
  • Besides Picard, the only other TNG cast member we see is Chief O’Brien. What a break for Colm Meaney! The Chief ends up staying to become a regular DS9 cast member along with his wife Keiko, played by Rosalind Chao.
  • After the exciting opening scenes, we join Sisko and his son Jake as they arrive at the station and get to know the major characters. We find out that there aren’t very many Starfleet types around, but we do have Bajorans, Ferengi, and others, including a shape-shifter! The venerable Rene Auberjonois plays Constable Odo, and Sisko’s second in command is a Bajoran played by the lovely Nana Visitor. Nana has a slight tendency to overact I think; it’s a trait that we will see through all seven seasons, fortunately with decreasing regularity.
  • Wow, we’re only 19 minutes in and it’s already clear that this is going to be different from TNG. The relationships being introduced are already fraught. Sisko has issues with Picard and with his assignment on DS9; Sisko’s second in command, Major Kira, is a Bajoran who resents the Federation’s presence on the station. Major Kira is friends with the station’s constable, a shapeshifter who wears a Bajoran uniform and who held the same position under the Cardassians but was not any more loyal to them than to the Bajorans or Starfleet. The Constable is at odds with a Ferengi merchant named Quark and would like nothing more than to see him leave, but Sisko asks him to stay to become “a community leader;” this rankles Constable Odo, of course.
  • And boom, at the 23 minute mark we learn about Bajoran religion, another big departure for Star Trek. Religion plays a HUGE role in this series, and the groundwork is laid at the beginning. This is another area I groaned about when this came out, but in retrospect I really admire the world-creation done by the writers of this show. I don’t know how much the writers knew about where they would go with this story, but it gets richer as the series goes on. In fact, the resolution of Sisko’s role as Emissary is one of, if not THE, points of the whole show. And it’s handled much more organically than TNG’s humanity-being-judged-by-Q story that was introduced in “Encounter at Farpoint” and resolved in the finale. But did anyone ever really think that TNG was ABOUT the trial… or Q? We got reminded of it now and then, but Q as a character became more comic relief than some driving dramatic force. Here in DS9, Sisko-as-Emissary is a hugely important theme throughout the series.
  • An aside: Avery Brooks’s portrayal of Sisko is usually very good, but I have to grin at his flashback scene on the beach. His crisp, precise delivery usually serves him well, but it has an awkward ring in this scene.
  • Dax! Another interesting thing about DS9 is that they took ideas from episodes of TNG and expanded them. We were introduced to the Bajoran plight at the hands of the Cardassians through Ro Laren starting with the TNG episode “Ensign Ro.”  Symbiotic life forms were introduced in the TNG episode “The Host,” where a life form introduced as a “Trill” was actually two life forms (a slug-like creature living inside a humanoid) that shared a merged consciousness. This idea is fully explored in DS9 through the character of Jadzia Dax, the station’s science officer who is both a Trill and a member of Starfleet. Jadzia is new, but Sisko knew the Dax symbiont from when it was in its previous host, Curzon. The writers really had fun with this one, creating a whole culture and society, complete with taboos, around the Trill. It seems like we never stop learning new things about Trills on this show. Even in season 7, when… but we’ll get there eventually!
  • Finally we get the tiresome Enterprise out of the picture, and we are introduced to… Gul Dukat! Marc Alaimo‘s performance of this character is delicious. His villainy often comes through implied threats, a tactic that would be completely ineffective if not for Marc Alaimo’s slithering delivery. He takes Dukat through some amazing changes over the course of the show.
  • I enjoy the scenes with the “prophets.” I get chills when Camille Saviola‘s Kai Opaka speaks as one of the prophets. She is REALLY good. She totally delivers in a role that could very easily have been hokey or silly. And these scenes are a fun way to see what each actor brings to a role. When Kai Opaka is speaking, the prophets seem old, wise, and confident. Then Cirroc Lofton’s Jake is saying, “‘time’… what is this?” And the prophets seems innocent and naïve. It’s a great technique.
  • In the second half of the pilot, we’ve pretty much been introduced to all the main characters, and we see Sisko beginning to fulfill his role as emissary. While tension with the slimy Gul Dukat and the Cardassians increases outside the wormhole, Sisko is inside getting the full Freud. He has to explain linear time to beings who can’t conceive of it, and he has to face some inner demons along the way. I really like how the prophets keep challenging Sisko by taking him to a dark moment in his past and saying, “you exist HERE,” and then demanding an explanation. It takes Sisko a while before he can understand the question, and that leads him to his answer. It’s a wonderful, emotional story arc that provides some good food for thought. Why DO we “exist” in painful moments in our past?

Such a great episode. Such a great series! And we’ve only just begun…