by The Octopus Man
So now it's all down to this...We've tromped through 138 episodes of this series in the previous four installments (links below), and now we're staring down the disruptor barrel at the top 35 entries in the show's catalogue. It's been a long, long, long list, and we still have plenty more miles to cover, but thanks for sticking it out this far.
Again, the methodology - technically 176 episodes of the show were produced, but three of those were aired as two-hour presentations. Those three are counted as one episode each, and all other episodes are counted separately, even if they were part of a two-part story (or more). That leaves us with 173. BTW, two of those three two-hour episodes have already been ranked, but one's still floating out there.
Here are the past four entries...
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...
35. "Defiant" - Season 3, Episode 9 (11/21/94)
"No, you're trying to be a hero, and terrorists don't get to be heroes." - Maj. Kira Nerys
This is a tightly wound little episode. Of course, the big draw is the presence of Jonathan Frakes, who had just finished up a seven-year run as Cmdr. William Riker on TNG. With that show having recently ended, any Trek fan watching this episode would probably figure the Paramount bigwigs had planned a Riker appearance as a way of 1 - boosting ratings and 2 - passing the torch to the newer series. This is certainly what it appears is going on until Riker acts like a penis toward O'Brien, which seemed odd, then holy crap, he just stunned Kira (with a phaser, not his muy macho beard) and stole the Defiant. (I do love the detail of Riker removing his full beard disguise, which takes it down to a suitably evil goatee.) Pulling Thomas Riker, Will's transporter duplicate from TNG's generally solid "Second Chances", into the Maquis storyline is both a nice character turn and a risky decision from a production standpoint, since who knows how many people in the audience happened to catch "Second Chances". (Note - I saw this episode before that one.) Risk aside, Tom and Kira make for a pretty solid duo. The episode does a great job of establishing who this Riker is, with Kira playing amateur psychiatrist and pretty much hitting the nail on the head. Add to that more excellent scenes between Sisko and Dukat (trying to stop the renegade Defiant from doing any serious damage) and the Obsidian Order doing Obsidian Ordery things, and you've got a taut little political thriller reminiscent of The Hunt for Red October.
Trivial Note - Sisko's role in the story was based off the Cold War thriller Fail Safe, where the American President has to help the Soviets destroy an American bomber before it nukes Moscow. Of course, Stanley Kubrick's classic Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb pretty much features the same plot point, just presented very differently. The Tom Riker storyline had been percolating in the writing staff's mind-grapes for a while before this episode was filmed, but they seemed very uninterested in returning to the character. Jonathan Frakes was willing to return for a "Rescue Tom" episode, but the series largely forgets about Tom after this. Quantum torpedoes make their first appearance in Trek in this episode. The city where Dukat wanted to take his son for his birthday is Lakarian City, the same city that's destroyed by the Dominion in the show's final story arc, thus cementing Damar's Rebellion. And, humorously, Tom Riker's quote about the Defiant - "Tough little ship." - is the same thing Will Riker says about it in Star Trek: First Contact. Ronald Moore had a hand in writing both scripts.
34. "Our Man Bashir" - Season 4, Episode 10 (11/27/95)
"Well, who am I to question Julian Bashir, secret agent?" - Elim Garak
Of all the holodeck/holosuite-based episodes in Star Trek (and there are many), this one is the best. I stand by my assertion that the show needed some out-and-out fun to counter-balance the grimness that sets in with the Dominion storyline and only grows from there. 173 episodes over seven years allows for inessential, yet stylistically distinguished episodes like this, "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang", and "Take Me Out to the Holosuite". And this one has style to burn. The technobabble story that places Sisko, Kira, Dax, Worf, and O'Brien into Bashir's spy program is intentionally ludicrous, and I think the show does a fair job of lampshading the whole thing. While Bashir and, to a lesser extent, Garak play heroes in the program, Eddington, Odo, and Rom are the real heroes, as they do all the techno mumbo jumbo that saves the day just in the nick of time. (You'd think Eddington would bring this up to Sisko at some point after "For the Cause".) But in the program, Alexander Siddig does a pretty credible James Bond-impersonation (especially the cheekier Bond from the 60's and 70's), while Avery Brooks is hilariously over-the-top as the impressively named villain Hippocrates Noah and Nana Visitor somehow turns up the sex even more from her Intendant episodes. Great moments abound, but my favorites are O'Brien's first appearance as the Falcon and the super-brassy arrangement of the show's theme song that plays during the climax. That's one of the best music cues in Trek history.
Trivial Note - More of these were planned, but MGM (which owns the rights to the James Bond movies) sent an angry letter to the producers after this episode aired. The only other episode where we see this setting is season five's "A Simple Investigation", where it's used for a quick scene between Bashir and Odo that has little to do with the program. This is similar to TNG's issues with the Sherlock Holmes rights-holders, which cropped up after seasons two's "Elementary, Dear Data" and kept the show from returning to the Moriarty character until season six's "Ship in a Bottle". The second of those is the best of TNG's holodeck episodes, and is another valid choice for best holo-Trek episode overall. Obvious allusions to various Bond flicks can found all over, but the title is actually a play on the film Our Man Flint, which is also a Bond parody. Due to the sets, stunts, and extras, this was a very time-consuming and expensive episode to shoot, though everyone ended up loving it when they saw the finished product.
33. "Once More Unto the Breach" - Season 7, Episode 7 (11/11/98)
"To Kor, a Dahar Master, and noble warrior to the end!" - Lt. Cmdr. Worf
The introduction of Kang, Kor, and Koloth to the series back in season two's "Blood Oath" placed the Klingons at the fore of DS9's storytelling for the first time, but in a way altogether different than what we'd seen of Klingons before in the franchise. As major antagonists on TOS and in its related movies, then (mostly) as allies on TNG, the Klingons were mainly depicted as vibrant, boisterous fighters. TNG started a running plotline in "Sins of the Father" that picked at the underbelly of Klingon politics, showing a far less glamorous side of the Empire, one that persisted onto this series after Worf's arrival in season four. But the addition of the three Dahar masters to the show saw the writing staff dive headlong into a tale about aging Klingons, warriors who'd seen their best days and lamented what had become of their beloved Empire over the decades. Kang and Koloth are killed in that episode, but Kor, the first Klingon we ever met in the franchise, lives to fight another day. That other day first came in season four's "The Sword of Kahless", but a glorious death in the heat of battle finally awaits him in this episode. It can't be that simple, however, as first we're treated to a story that once again depicts an aging warrior grappling with his place in the universe more than he is grappling with any tangible foe. General Martok's role in all of this only adds more fuel to the fire, as he represents Kor's past coming back to haunt him. In the end, though, a glorious warrior earns a glorious death in a battle sequence that was wisely left off camera. Harkening back to the excellent discussion about Davy Crockett between Worf, Bashir, and O'Brien in the teaser, the episode doesn't need to give us the details on Kor's death (or of the rest of the crew on that Bird-of-Prey). We know what really matters. He died a warrior's death, protecting his shipmates from a bloodthirsty foe that had him severely outnumbered. It's a death befitting a legend. Anything less and he would just be a man, and it would not matter how he died.
Trivial Note - The Davy Crockett conversation at the beginning is a continuation of an old debate about the frontier legend. Historians believe it likely that he survived the Mexicans' assault on the Alamo, only to be executed the following day after surrendering. Most TV and film depictions of the event show him dying in battle, which has been a widely held belief among many Americans despite any academic claims to the contrary. No one really knows for sure, as all evidence that points in either direction seems at least somewhat untrustworthy. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a classic Western starring Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, also served as an inspiration for this episode, as it had for season two's "The Homecoming". This was John Colicos' final role, as he passed away the following year. And, of course, the title comes from Shakespeare's Henry V.
32. "Second Skin" - Season 3, Episode 5 (10/24/94)
"Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder." - Elim Garak
This is yet another excellent pre-Dominion War character piece. The twists and turns of Major Kira's relationship with Cardassia provide the series with deeply compelling material for the entirety of the series' run, but this episode may provide the biggest twists and turns of any. The relationship she forges with her "father" Legate Ghemor speaks to a warmth and compassion that was present in the character, but had been repressed for years due to the extreme circumstances she'd always found herself in. By this point in the series, we'd already seen her view of Cardassians soften in the excellent "Duet", and her view of other Bajorans harden in episodes like "In the Hands of the Prophets", "The Circle" trilogy, and "The Collaborator". What was formerly a black-and-white world was becoming very gray for Kira, and this episode blurs those lines as far as possible. That the story gives you all of this excellent shading with her and Ghemor, yet still also manages to pack a wallop both with the Cardassian political storyline and Garak's general awesomeness is a testament to how sharp Robert Hewitt Wolfe's script was. It covers a lot of ground without sacrificing any of the compelling character work or spy-game drama.
Trivial Note - O'Brien, a noted non-fan of Cardassians, was the original protagonist of the story, with the idea being that he would've been revealed as a Cardassian deep cover sleeper agent. This was dropped as it created too many inconsistencies, so Kira was subbed in. Originally, the character and audience would've been left unsure of Kira's actual identity (is she Bajoran or Cardassian?), but the producers removed that ending from Wolfe's story. On the Defiant, Garak refers to the cabins as "claustrophobic". He is revealed as being claustrophobic in season five's "By Inferno's Light". Coincidentally, actress Nana Visitor actually does suffer from claustrophobia, which caused great discomfort during the scenes where she wore the heavy Cardassian makeup.
31. "Hippocratic Oath" - Season 4, Episode 4 (10/16/95)
"He's their commander. They trusted him; he can't leave them." - Chief Miles O'Brien
This episode is the first of two in season four that further establish the Jem'Hadar as more than mindless killing machines. Now, they're still killing machines, mind you, but episodes like this manage the difficult task of filling in their blanks without sacrificing the aspects of the characters that make them so terrifying. Many a TV show or film over the years has unwittingly ruined a good villain by feeling the need to explain too much about him/her/it/them. Somehow, DS9 managed to actually improve on the Jem'Hadar even as they were revealed to not be the real power behind the Dominion and as dependent on a drug that basically made them slaves to the Founders. Scott MacDonald (who played Tosk in season one's "Captive Pursuit") returns to series as Goran'Agar, and again takes a minimalist role and knocks it straight out of the park. Throw in more great work from Colm Meaney and Alexander Siddig, pitting O'Brien and Bashir against each other for the first time as friends, and you've got one of the show's most underrated actors' showcases. The final resolution of the Dominion War partly hinges on the Founders mistakenly thinking the Cardassians to be as replaceable as the Jem'Hadar or Vorta. While that story plays out nicely, episodes like this (and a couple of others) make me wish this characterization of the Jem'Hadar had played more of a role in the series' endgame.
Trivial Note - The script was cobbled together from two different pitches, with one of them being heavily inspired by the classic film The Bridge on the River Kwai. This was produced before "The Visitor" but aired after it. The reason for this was Colm Meaney's filming schedule. Because of this shuffling, the directors of the two episodes were swapped. Rene Auberjonois had prepared to helm "The Visitor", but was assigned to this script instead, which caused him to feel nervous. As a relatively inexperienced director, he wasn't completely comfortable with the material given the short prep time, though his work ended up being excellent. This is also the episode in which ketracel-white, the drug the Jem'Hadar are dependent on, is first named.
30. "Bar Association" - Season 4, Episode 16 (2/19/96)
"Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!" - Rom
A crackling Ferengi farce, "Bar Association" stands as one of the finest moments for one of the show's most underrated characters, Rom. Max Grodenchik is excellent throughout the series, as his oddball take on a Ferengi masks the character's technical expertise in the early seasons, and episodes like this one show the promise that's buried underneath his doofiness. Rom's general likability and wasted potential play well in Nog's big speech to Sisko in season three's "Heart of Stone", and once the show began moving Nog in such an interesting direction, it was a welcome addition to take his father down that path, too. Grodenchik's timing and delivery were always impeccable, and from this point onward, the show isn't afraid to give him more to do as a character than just be Quark's stooge. Pairing him with characters he hadn't had much of a chance to interact with before (O'Brien, Bashir, especially Leeta) also helped broaden his horizons a bit, and having the fallout from Rom's strike draw some of the Starfleet characters into its wake just re-emphasizes how important Quark's bar and the people who work there are to the station as a whole.
Trivial Note - The chemistry between Grodenchik and Chase Masterson (Leeta) was an unexpected by-product of this episode. It was so apparent to the production staff that they made the decision to eventually romantically pair the two together, which had not been considered as a possibility prior to this point. Armin Shimerman (Quark) is a huge fan of this episode and its depiction of labor relations. He's a member of the Screen Actors Guild Board of Directors. The name of the Ferengi homeworld, Ferenginar, is finally established in this episode. And Rom's admission of performing oo-mox on himself is the only mention of masturbation in Trek history.
29. "Crossfire" - Season 4, Episode 13 (1/29/96)
"Funny, for a minute there, I thought you were talking to me as a friend." - Constable Odo
This such a sharp little character piece. The fluid nature of Odo's biology is countered by the rigidity of his personality. This is an odd contradiction that sits at the heart of all Changelings, as evidenced by their inherent love of order. Here, we spend a full 45 minutes deconstructing who Odo is, reducing the Constable to a disheveled mess before a pep talk from Quark snaps him out of it. While the plot here is fairly low-key (by DS9 standards at least, as the head of a planetary government is almost assassinated in this episode), visual touches from director Les Landau cement this as one of the most well-staged episodes of the entire series. While the stray hairs hanging over Odo's face at the end may seem like an incorrect character choice, I think the visual is powerful enough to overcome any logical problems it may cause (and I think the idea that Odo had to try to look that way, whereas a Solid in that situation would look that way on accident and not care, is an interesting character detail, not a flaw). But even before that, Odo is increasingly filmed in ways that make him seem like less of a man, only highlighting the personal turmoil he's trying to hide from the rest of the crew. Plus, his interactions with Worf in this episode are uniformly excellent, as their stern-off provides a fairly heavy episode with some solid levity.
Trivial Note - Odo destroys the plant that Kira gave him in "The Abandoned" during his tirade at the end. The plant had been kept in his former regeneration pail, which was also destroyed. Many of the producers were not happy with Odo's hair being mussed at the end, for the logical reasons that I alluded to above. This was an improvisation by Rene Auberjonois, who based the look off a piece of Japanese artwork. This wasn't the only time he emulated artwork in his performance. While the episode is generally considered one of the show's stronger outings, the presentation of Shakaar was disappointing to showrunner Ira Steven Behr and may have led to the character only appearing in one more episode after this.
28. "Rapture" - Season 5, Episode 10 (12/30/96)
"What I believe in is faith. Without it there can be no victory. If the Captain's faith is strong, he will prevail." - Lt. Cmdr. Worf
The so-called Emissary trilogy concludes with this episode, and it's the strongest of the bunch. Sisko is named Emissary of the Prophets way back in the pilot, but not until season three's "Destiny" does that role, and its related conflicts, really stand front-and-center in an A-plot. Season four's "Accession" dredged it back up for a stronger episode, and now season five's "Rapture" pushes Sisko even further down the path to acceptance. Along with some doomy foreshadowing of the coming war with the Dominion, this episode places Sisko's growing faith in the Prophets squarely against his role as Captain of Deep Space Nine, whereas "Destiny" and "Accession" had merely made his handling of both roles somewhat uncomfortable. His mission, as given to him by Capt. Picard in "Emissary", is to bring Bajor into the Federation. He's mere seconds away from completing that mission before he himself is the one that sabotages it in order to follow the will of the Prophets. The guy playing the Admiral isn't exactly Laurence Olivier, but his (and Starfleet's) displeasure with this development is clear. And none of this even mentions the conflict Jake faces in this episode, as his father's life is possibly placed in his hands, with sound medical advice on one hand and his addled father's potentially insane wishes in the other. Throw in Kai Winn's always obfuscating presence, and add in the conversation between Kira, Worf, Dax, and O'Brien that's partially quoted above (one of the show's all-time best scenes), and you have the best of the Bajoran religion episodes, one that promises major ramifications for several plotlines going forward.
Trivial Note - Because of his actions here and the soon to erupt Dominion War, Sisko never truly completes his original mission. Bajor isn't part of the Federation by series' end, but it does join in the post-finale tie-in novels. This is the first episode to feature the gray-top Starfleet uniforms that debuted in Star Trek: First Contact. Again, considering that Bashir is found wearing a blue-top uniform in the Dominion prison in "In Purgatory's Shadow", this makes it likely that the highly complex surgery that was performed on Sisko here was done by a Changeling. Knowing that adds to the complexity of the story, as Bashir advocates for the surgery throughout the episode. Several of Sisko's ramblings foreshadow coming events, especially the lines about locusts stopping over Bajor and Bajor needing to stand alone to survive. The locusts are the Dominion, who come through the wormhole at the end of "In Purgatory's Shadow" but then move onto Cardassia Prime in "By Inferno's Light", as the Cardassians join their ranks in the latter episode. To avoid becoming the first world conquered by this new alliance, Bajor negotiates, then signs a non-aggression pact with the Dominion in "In the Cards" and "Call to Arms", something they wouldn't have been able to do if they were part of the Federation.
27. "Progress" - Season 1, Episode 15 (5/9/93)
"I told you; my life's here. If I leave here, I'll die, so I'd rather die here." - Mullibok
"Duet" is rightly considered a classic, but it wasn't the first great episode of the series. This episode aired just over a month before and stands as one of the show's early triumphs. There had been a few solid episodes prior to this - "Past Prologue", "Captive Pursuit", "Vortex" - but "Progress" really focuses the show on its earliest strength, Kira Nerys. "Past Prologue" had already laid out the central conflict of the character nicely, a former terrorist now having to work for the ruling class, but this episode put a face on that conflict. That face is the weathered old visage of character actor Brian Keith, who nails the role of Mullibok. Mullibok is a farmer, a storyteller, a consummate bulls#!t artist, and a former fighter. So many things about him remind Kira of herself, or of people she'd admired in the past, right down to the stubbornness. And when two people who're this stubborn square off against each other, you can expect it to end in tears. Peter Allan Fields is the credited writer of this episode, and between this, "Past Prologue", "Duet", and "Necessary Evil", he laid much of the groundwork for the show's running plotlines involving Bajor, Cardassia, Kira, and Odo. And the biggest key to his script for this one is that the ending doesn't pull any punches. No compromise, no having it both ways. Kira has to do her job, as distasteful as she might find it to be.
Trivial Note - The B-plot to the episode centers on Jake and Nog trying to make profit off a surplus of Cardassian yamok sauce. This was inspired by the character Milo Minderbinder from the classic novel Catch-22. Wheeling and dealing by Nog and/or Jake would come up again on the show in two of my favorite episodes, "In the Cards" and "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River". Despite the warm reception the episode received, Peter Allan Fields wasn't happy with the way Mullibok was depicted. He had envisioned the character as a much less likable, manipulative, stick-in-the-mud type of guy. I don't think the more overt conflict that type of character would've provided Kira would've improved the episode. Also, on another Breaking Bad note, the actor who played the Bajoran functionary in this episode is Michael Bofshever, who also played Jesse Pinkman's dad.
26. "Improbable Cause" - Season 3, Episode 20 (4/24/95)
"The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination." - Elim Garak
The best part about this foundation-rattling two-parter is how unassuming the whole thing seems to be at the beginning. Most of the "event" episodes of the series begin with a portentous log entry or some overt sign that a big battle or revelation or something is coming. Sure, this episode begins with an explosion, but given Garak's checkered past and the many, many ne'er-do-wells who populate Deep Space Nine's fringes, this type of thing couldn't have been expected to turn into the multi-government-spanning covert military operation revealed by the end of Part One (much less the even more extreme places Part Two goes). The pairing of Odo and Garak works like a charm in both episodes, and Odo, in particular, gets to be balls-out awesome in this episode. He has contacts everywhere, in every government, and his ability to get to the truth (even when dealing with deeply untruthful people) is second to none. And of course, bringing out more of the cold-blooded spy in Garak definitely pushes things in an interesting direction. This is one of Trek's all-time best two-parters, as both episodes are excellent and satisfying in their own ways.
Trivial Note - Funny enough, this episode wasn't intended to be a two-parter until very late in the game. The original concept had the Obsidian Order come after Garak as payback for his actions in "Second Skin". The first three acts wrote the story into a corner, though, and the writing staff couldn't think of a satisfactory resolution. Michael Piller suggested making the episode a two-parter, and the episode lost the "Second Skin" connection and instead tied in to "Defiant", which had left the mysterious loose thread of the Order's secret buildup in a remote part of Cardassian space. This is all largely why the episode starts out small, then suddenly becomes a major, status quo-shifting two-parter. It's also why this is the first explicit two-parter in franchise history to not use the same title for both episodes (plus part one or two to differentiate them). Oddly enough, the series would never use that titling format again, as all future multi-part stories feature distinct titles for each individual episode.
25. "In the Cards" - Season 5, Episode 25 (6/9/97)
"Even in the darkest moments, you can always find something that'll make you smile." - Capt. Ben Sisko
The friendship between Jake and Nog isn't something that I would consider a cornerstone of the series, at least not in the same way as the O'Brien/Bashir friendship or the father/son relationship between the Siskos, yet it still stands as a key strand in the show's fabric. The two characters go through a lot on their journey to adulthood, with Nog turning from a scheming Ferengi prankster to a battle-hardened Starfleet officer and Jake growing from a little boy to a young professional author. Through it all, there's a warmth to their friendship that keeps you rooting for the two characters through the dark hours they each face. Dark hours are pretty much what everyone's about to face throughout "In the Cards", as the increasingly doomy atmosphere around the station provides a critical backdrop for the wheeling-and-dealing shenanigans that propel the story. This is one of the show's most crackerjack scripts, briskly moving from deal to deal and character to character with the energy of one those classic M*A*S*H episodes where Radar or Klinger has to make logistical magic happen. We encounter an unusually sympathetic Kai Winn, the always welcome villainy of Weyoun, and one of the franchise's all-time loopiest characters in Dr. Giger, with the show's regular ensemble also getting several moments in the sun. What keeps all these comings-and-goings moving in the right direction at the right speed is the episode's editing, which may hit a series high-point here (and editing is and shall always be the unsung hero of TV comedy). It's a wonderful, perfectly timed episode, as things get pretty hardcore after this.
Trivial Note - The Willie Mays card that spurs the episode's plot is very valuable in real life, so if you come across one, take good care of it. The whole idea behind this episode was to invert the normal formula of A- and B-stories, with the A-story being comedic and the B-story being dramatic. This was the franchise directorial debut of Michael Dorn (Worf). His work here was excellent. The sole purpose for Giger's name was to make that lions, tigers, and bears joke, which isn't the episode's greatest moment. The painting that Morn leaves the auction with is the same one Quark inherits in the next season's "Who Mourns for Morn?". As with Quark's comic version of a serious Picard line from Star Trek: First Contact in "The Dogs of War", Jake similarly quotes another of the Captain's bits of dialogue from that movie during the exchange with Nog about the Federation eschewing money, "We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity." Both episodes and the movie were all at least co-written by Ronald Moore.
24. "Homefront" - Season 4, Episode 11 (1/1/96)
"You actually thought I was one of them, didn't you?!" - Joseph Sisko
The genius of this episode may not have been completely apparent until after September 11, 2001. While Part Two of this story doesn't quite keep the momentum going, this is one of the most socially relevant episodes in Trek history. Admiral Leyton aside, seeing two of the show's "heroes", Sisko and Odo, be the mouthpieces for martial law is one of this series' most powerful moments. They realize the error of their ways in the next episode, but everything this script allows the audience to see makes their paranoia and panic seem entirely justified. It's only really Joseph Sisko (a critical piece of this story's puzzle) who stands against what seems so obvious to the other main characters (aside from maybe Jake). The Changeling Cold War that bubbles through seasons four and five of the series allows for some of the show's strongest allegorical storytelling, as it pertains to fighting an untraceable enemy from whom there is no such thing as total security. While "Paradise Lost" provides the audience with a specific point-of-view on this matter, one of this episode's strengths relative to that one is that it doesn't answer the question for the viewer. It leaves us twisting out there along with the characters, just as we so often are in real life when faced with issues like these. And remember, this episode aired a full five years before 9/11, yet speaks to our world now much more than it spoke to that world then.
Trivial Note - As mentioned before, this was originally planned to be the season three finale, before the studio requested that the series avoid cliffhanger endings to seasons. It was then slated to be the premiere of season four, but the studio then requested a narrative shakeup take place, which ended up being the introduction of Worf and the Klingon conflict to the story. In its earlier form, the episode would've seen the Federation nearly pushed to the brink of civil war, with the Vulcans going so far as to leave the Federation entirely. After being pushed back to mid-season, the budget couldn't sustain such a story, so a political thriller plotline similar to that of Star Trek VI was introduced. That film coincidentally featured actors Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko) and Rene Auberjonois (Odo) as two of the conspirators. The presentation of Federation President Jaresh-Inyo didn't sit well with the production staff, so the character never appears again after this two-parter, with future dialogue establishing that he's out of office before the series ends. The character was originally based on former President Jimmy Carter.
23. "The House of Quark" - Season 3, Episode 3 (10/10/94)
"I am Quark, son of Keldar, and I have come to answer the challenge of D'Ghor, son of...whatever..." - Quark
On the broad spectrum of Star Trek alien cultures, the Ferengi and the Klingons are about as diametrically opposed as possible. One of the underrated aspects of DS9's storytelling is its willingness to examine Trek races beyond their basic concepts and throw them up against other Trek aliens just to see what happens. This early season three episode is arguably the strongest and clearest example of that, as something that happens far too infrequently happens here - the Ferengi and the Klingons have to play in the same sandbox. This is all played for some of the series' finest comedy, as Armin Shimerman really brings the comic heat as Quark and director Les Landau stages some of the show's finest visual gags. The best of those is probably the image of a room full of decorated Klingon warriors struggling with Quark's financial presentation in the Great Hall, but that's just one of several excellent bits found in the episode. Plus, the final scene between Quark and Rom shows how much the former's experience with the Klingons seems to have changed him. It's a rare sweet moment between the brothers.
Trivial Note - This, oddly enough, is the only time the Klingon homeworld of Qo'noS is seen on DS9. All of the future action involving Klingons takes place elsewhere, with only a couple of episodes featuring any Klingon-controlled territory at all. The scenes in the Great Hall are deliberately staged similarly to the scenes set there in TNG's "Sins of the Father", which introduced the setting to the franchise. Both episodes were co-written by Ronald Moore and directed by Les Landau. Also, Stephen Hawking (who cameoed in TNG's "Descent") visited the set during production and took a photo with Armin Shimerman and Carlos Carrasco while they were in costume as Quark and D'Ghor.
22. "The Siege of AR-558" - Season 7, Episode 8 (11/18/98)
"There's only one order, Lieutenant. We hold." - Capt. Ben Sisko
It's debatable which episode of DS9 is the furthest removed from the franchise's traditionally idealistic viewpoint. "In the Pale Moonlight", "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges", and a few others are all in contention, and this episode is right in the thick of that discussion. While the tactics used by both the Starfleet and Jem'Hadar troops in this episode seem very anachronistic for a 24th century war (Houdini mines aside, they basically fight it out like a World War II or Vietnam battle), that narrative "error" only serves to reinforce the point of the episode. Following on from the very de-glamorized view of combat presented in prior episodes like "The Ship", "...Nor the Battle to the Strong", and "Rocks and Shoals", "The Siege of AR-558" takes several of the show's greenest characters (most notably Ezri and poor, poor Nog) and tosses them into an old-school, "don't fire 'til you see the whites of their eyes"-type of ground battle. Sure, wide-beam phasers, orbital bombardment, and any other of a number of Trek technobabble innovations should've figured into the fight, but that misses the point. As much as the Federation and its allies are the good guys in this war, that only matters to a point. Ina fight like this, eventually there are no idealogical debates, no attempts at diplomacy, and no moral hangups over doing whatever is needed to survive. The enemies, weapons, and tactics may change, but war is still war, and war sucks.
Trivial Note - The 558 in AR-558 comes from the episode's production code. Not giving the planet a real name works in the episode's favor, as it only reinforces how otherwise worthless this rock was. Writers Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler developed this episode over the objections of several people who were involved with the franchise in some capacity. From their perspective, the battle was based on the WWII Battle of Guadalcanal, one of the most significant engagements to take place in that war. Director Winrich Kolbe, a Vietnam veteran, based the look of both the planet and the combat sequences on his own experiences, with the Battle of Khe Sanh serving as a loose template. Nog was originally supposed to lose both legs, but Rick Berman requested that he only lose one. The Vic Fontaine song that plays before the shooting starts is his rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You", which was a very popular song during World War II. Among the guest stars are Bill Mumy, who plays the engineer Kellin, and Raymond Cruz, who plays the unstable Marine Vargas. Mumy is best known as Will Robinson from the original Lost in Space series. He also played Lennier on Babylon 5, a 90's sci-fi show with similar themes to DS9, and he appeared in two notable Twilight Zone episodes, the more famous of which is the deeply unsettling "It's a Good Life". Cruz is probably best known for playing Tuco Salamanca on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, but he's been a reliable character actor for a couple of decades now.
21. "For the Cause" - Season 4, Episode 22 (5/6/96)
"You know in some ways you're even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious. You assimilate people, and they don't even know it." - Lt. Cmdr. Michael Eddington
This episode succeeds on several levels. First, the story smartly uses multiple bait-and-switch techniques on the audience, with the setting up of Kasidy and the ultimate reveal about Eddington. Second, the use of Kasidy as a red herring draws out some real emotion from her and Sisko. Their relationship to this point had been nice, but not an essential part of the show's storytelling. Maybe it never became completely essential, but this was the episode where you started to feel what kind of place they each occupied in the other's life, with Sisko in particular caught between love and duty. The scene where he tries to convince her to go with him to Risa is an underrated showcase for Avery Brooks. He really makes you feel Sisko's desperation in that moment. Third, after all the twists have twisted and the turns have turned, the audience is left with Eddington's parting shot. The speech partially quoted above is one of the first times we the Federation really taken to task by someone who's not mustache twirling-ly evil. Eddington, by design, was never a beloved character, but seeing someone in a Starfleet uniform compare the Federation to the Borg and and make at least some sense was an unprecedented move for the franchise. (Plus, using the Borg to make his analogy must've stung Sisko extra-deep, given what happened to his first wife.) The script for this episode is among the show's best, as it deftly manages to tell both a very large story (a new day for the Maquis) and a very small one (Sisko and Kasidy, plus the burgeoning personal rivalry between Sisko and Eddington).
Trivial Note - This is yet another example of Ira Steven Behr's desire to deconstruct the Federation. Note how many times the word "paradise" is used in these episodes to describe the Federation, with almost every use of it carrying a negative connotation. "The Maquis, Part II" featured Sisko's, "It's easy to be a saint in paradise," line, which started this tradition. "Paradise Lost" features it right there in the title, and Sisko again has the key line, "Paradise never seemed so well armed." Eddington gets this episode's mention, during his speech at the end, "Nodody leaves paradise." The Eddington reveal in this episode was the culmination of the writers' desire to use him as a red herring in the Changeling storyline, with many audience members only suspecting him of being a Changeling spy. They wanted to take him in a direction no one would expect. The original influence on the story was the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, but much of the subtext that alluded to that bombing was removed from the script.
20. "Duet" - Season 1, Episode 19 (6/13/93)
"You have no idea what it's like to be a coward...to see these horrors...and do nothing..." - Aamin Marritza
Any questions about what sort of identity DS9 would cultivate in the shadow of its successful older brother The Next Generation melted away after "Duet" aired in June of '93. I stand by my assertion that "Progress" is the first really definitive episode of the show (it aired about a month before this one did), but "Duet" is rightly considered an early benchmark for the series. Diving headlong into the aftermath of the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor, the script features some of the show's most memorable bits of dialogue, with much of it coming from the mouth of guest star Harris Yulin. Yulin's been one of those actors you always see popping up here (Scarface) and there (Ghostbusters II), and his performance here is very sharp. He plays a meek, ordinary man who himself is playing a blustery supervillain. The dual layers of his performance are note-perfect (and the highly quotable dialogue might seem overwritten until you realize the character himself would've rehearsed this over-the-top persona). Also, once again Kira continues to be the standout of the show's early days, and, if it wasn't already the case, this episode firmly establishes the relations between Bajor and Cardassia as the show's best fastball in its pre-Dominion era.
Trivial Note - The Shakaar Resistance Cell (with whom Kira fought during the Resistance) is mentioned for the first time in this episode. It's unclear if the writers had decided that Shakaar was a person whom the cell was named after, which season three's "Shakaar" establishes is the case. The episode was conceived as a bottle show (an episode that uses few locations, special effects, or guest stars in order to save money). It came near the end of the season, and episodes like "Emissary" and "The Storyteller" had drained the series' budget with the season finale still looming.
19. "Heart of Stone" - Season 3, Episode 14 (2/6/95)
"Save her if it suits you, but it won't make any difference. She's never going to love you. How could she? You are a Changeling." - Female Changeling
The series deployed its Changeling-related tension effectively. Red herrings populate several Changeling scares, and very few actual impostors are revealed considering how ever-present that threat is throughout the final five seasons. Sure, we find out that characters like Martok and Bashir have been replaced by Changelings in a couple of season five episodes, but only two times does the series truly play the "Ha! It was a Changeling all along!" card. Considering the nearly limitless potential Changelings offer for cheap twist-based storytelling and plot hole-spackle, this restraint is admirable. It's even more admirable that one of the episodes where a Changeling randomly twists its way into the resolution isn't a big, super-important Dominion War story, but is instead a low-key, character piece fueled by desperation and survival. I'm cool with a twist from time-to-time, as long as it's earned, and I think this was earned. We'd learned in "The Search, Part II" how much the Founders valued Odo, and that value persists until the series finale. With that in mind, it makes narrative sense for the Female Changeling to use her shapeshifting not as a way to start a war or gather military intelligence, but as a way to really figure out what makes the Constable tick. Rene Auberjonois gives one of his strongest performances as an increasingly desperate Odo, and Nana Visitor does more than admirable work as the Changeling-as-Kira, especially considering how difficult her part proved to film. Odo would only allow himself to be fooled so completely if it was Kira in danger, not anyone else, and the script really takes a couple of different storylines to interesting places in these scenes. Couple that with one of the two finest true B-plots in any episode (Nog's desire to join Starfleet, thus kicking off one of the show's most impressive character arcs), and you have one of the show's strongest character pieces.
Trivial Note - Everything about this episode is a favorite among the many of the cast and crew, with the notable exception of the rock prop that was used to slowly encase Nana Visitor. Visitor, who is claustrophobic, especially hated it, but no one else, from director Alexander Singer to the show's producers, was particularly fond of it, either. We find out how Odo got his name in this episode, and we also see him brandish a weapon for the only time in the series. Unsurprisingly, Aron Eisenberg (Nog) lists this as his favorite episode of the series. Nog's character arc from here on is incredible. In that storyline, we get the first spoken confirmation of Rom's engineering skill, which had been hinted at in multiple prior episodes. We also see the process that Federation outsiders like Worf and Ro Laren must've gone through to be admitted to Starfleet Academy. Finally, special mention to Salome Jens (Female Changeling), who agreed to be credited in the closing credits in order to hide the twist ending. Too many times, the actor involved in a twist is credited up front, leaving audience members waiting for him or her to show up.
18. "Little Green Men" - Season 4, Episode 8 (11/13/95)
"You mean your people are going to invade...Cleveland?" - Capt. Wainwright
Of all the Ferengi farces found in Deep Space Nine, this one is the best. On the surface, an episode featuring Trek aliens time-traveling back to 1947 Area 51 is a very risky proposition. It could easily have been too cutesy, or too stupid, or too narratively inconsistent, or too anything, but instead we got an offering that was about as good as its jokey premise could ever allow it to be. Armin Shimerman, Max Grodenchik, and Aron Eisenberg continued their generally strong Ferengi work in the episode, but the casting of the guest stars was both highly important to the episode and highly successful. The good guy 1947 humans played by Conor O'Farrell and Megan Gallagher are as likable as the script needs them to be, but the less warm-and-fuzzy military officers played by Charles Napier and James G. MacDonald really push the episode to another level. Napier (who was stuck playing a space hippie in his only other Trek role, in the s#!t-awful TOS episode "The Way to Eden") gets to play the intimidating-just-by-walking-in-the-room kind of guy he made a nice, long career out of playing, but MacDonald (a character actor who popped up on a lot of TV shows around this time) steals most of his scenes as the no-nonsense Captain Wainwright. His scene with the three Ferengi that's quoted above is one of my all-time favorite Trek scenes (as is the one featuring Rom's pure, uncut Colombian technobabble when he keeps Quark's ship from crashing, along with Quark's response to it). I've said repeatedly that season four is DS9's finest, and episodes like this show how in control of all of its storytelling modes the series was during that year.
Trivial Note - I have a fondness for old sci-fi and horror B-movies, as the producers of this episode obviously also seem to have. Three of the 1947 humans were named after B-movie actors of the 50's and 60's (General Denning, Nurse Garland, and Professor Carlson). James L. Conway's direction also deliberately attempted to evoke the science fiction movies of that era. Ira Steven Behr (who co-wrote) fought with Paramount for the right to depict the 1947 characters smoking cigarettes, which was a reference to both the real world and the movies of that time, where it seemed like everyone was smoking all the time. Generally speaking in the mid-90's, cigarette smoking on TV was a big no-no. Aside from B-movies, the other major influence on the episode was probably the Original Series episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday", which also featured time travel and featured the phrase "little green men" in its dialogue.
17. "For the Uniform" - Season 5, Episode 13 (2/3/97)
"I think it's time for me to become the villain." - Capt. Ben Sisko
Sisko's journey in this episode is one of my favorite character beats in the series, as I find it to be strangely applicable to everyday life. Everybody (well most everybody) walks around thinking they're the main character in the story of their life and probably the hero in that story, to boot. Eddington takes that to a certain extreme in this episode, as his romantic-for-a-lost-cause nature surely casts him as the grand Robin Hood or Jean Valjean-like hero fighting against the monolithic government and its Sheriff of Nottingham or Inspector Javert-like stooge, Sisko. Honestly, he acts like Malcolm Reynolds would act several years later on the beloved sci-fi series Firefly. For Sisko, the only way out is through, as he has to embrace his role as villain and be willing to bring the full power of Starfleet to bear on the Maquis in order to put a stop to them. Anything less would let them squirm away, ready to fight another day. The ride there is suitably melodramatic (in a good way), with Sisko's over-the-top supervillainy really selling his actions to a shocked Eddington. Avery Brooks is pretty out there in general in the episode, but this is a case where that sort of broadness is what's required by the story. There is an old-school grandiosity to this episode, which continues the surprising development of the once-bland Eddington into one of the series' most compelling antagonists.
Trivial Note - This episode and "In the Pale Moonlight" represent the peaks of Sisko's morally compromised decision-making. While this type of ethically gray storytelling was a favorite of many members of the regular writing and production staffs, both episodes feature writing credits for Peter Allan Fields, who was working as a semi-retired freelancer at this point (he had been part of the writing and production team during the first two seasons). Aspects of the classic films The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Run Silent, Run Deep made their way into the episode, with the first two informing Eddington's character and the latter inspiring the submarine-style sequence where Nog is used to relay communications between the Defiant bridge and its engineering staff. It was also during filming of this episode, in which his only scene was cut for time, that Alexander Siddig found out that Bashir had been replaced by a Changeling at some point prior in the story. This would be revealed to the audience in the next episode, "In Purgatory's Shadow". Siddig had played the role without knowing of the Changeling switcheroo in "Rapture", "The Darkness and the Light", and "The Begotten", which are the three episodes prior to this where general logic holds that Bashir had been replaced. (The show never fully address how many episodes feature the Changeling Bashir, though the amount of time he was held captive by the Dominion was established in "By Inferno's Light" and "Inquisition".)
16. "Tacking into the Wind" - Season 7, Episode 22 (5/12/99)
"The Klingon Empire is dying, and I think it deserves to die." - Lt. Ezri Dax
Easily the strongest of the episodes found in the series' final arc, "Tacking into the Wind" concentrates most of its energy on two of the most fascinating storylines present in the closing hours of the show - the long-running Klingon political drama that started way back in season three of TNG and the ever excellent Kira-trains-the-Cardassians plotline that had just begun in the previous episode. Focusing so much of this entry on Worf, Martok, and Gowron on one hand and Kira, Damar, and Garak on the other was bound to make for a strong episode, but the real winner of this episode may just be the much-maligned Ezri Dax. Her come-to-Kahless speech to Worf about the Klingon Empire (partially quoted above) was just the breath of fresh air the big lug needed to do what needed to be done. Worf had played a long, very high stakes game of give-and-take with the Klingon High Council over the years and had suffered immeasurably as a result, yet still continued to put his idealized vision of the Empire first. Ezri, a character uniquely constructed to put a fresh, less romanticized spin on Curzon and Jadzia's vast knowledge of Klingon culture, throws a bucket of cold bloodwine in his face by forcing him to face a truth he didn't want to consider. Couple these developments (and the generally awesome ascension of the totally kickass Martok to role of Chancellor) with a similar bucket of kanar being thrown in Damar's face by Kira, and you have an episode that forces characters we generally sympathize with to face some cold, hard realities about the societies they love. The show earned these moments by putting in so much time on both the Klingon political machinations and the Bajor-Cardassia backstory (which both began on a different show).
Trivial Note - Originally, Worf would've merely convinced Gowron that he was wrong, after which Gowron would return to Qo'noS and put Martok back in charge of the war effort. This didn't go far enough in writer Ronald Moore's opinion, so the Klingon quotient was upped with Worf killing Gowron in single combat. It also bookended Gowron's reign as Chancellor with Worf killing someone, as Worf's defeat of Duras in TNG's "Reunion" is what put Gowron in charge in the first place. Also, it was around this time that the writers decided Odo would actually become sick from Section 31's virus, as the original plan was for him to only be a carrier for the disease. The woman who plays the female Vorta Luaran is Kitty Swink, Armin Shimerman's wife. She also appeared as a Bajoran government official way back in season two's "Sanctuary".
15. "The Die Is Cast" - Season 3, Episode 21 (5/1/95)
"Do you know what the sad part is, Odo? I'm a very good tailor." - Elim Garak
The phrase "the show would never be the same after this" can be applied to multiple DS9 episodes, and this is definitely one of them, but this outing has a different feel to it than most of the rest. Yes, there's a big firefight between the Cardassians, Romulans, Jem'Hadar, and the Defiant at the end, and the events of this episode bring about tremendous political upheaval going forward, but this episode is more personal than the others. If you read the trivial note for part one of this story, "Improbable Cause", you know that these episodes were only turned into a two-parter late in the game, and the decision to pay off the Obsidian Order's mysterious actions in "Defiant" came even later in the game. All the quadrant-rattling events that take place here spring from those two decisions, so in some ways, those are the afterthought portions of the episode. The meat is the interactions between Garak and Odo, which were also the highest of lights in Part One. The interrogation scene between the two is one of DS9's most powerful sequences, featuring tremendous acting from Andrew Robinson and Rene Auberjonois, strong script work from Ronald Moore, and impressively upsetting prosthetics from the makeup team. Use that as the foundation for a story that also massively raises the stakes in multiple running plots (Changeling Cold War, Cardassian politics), and you have a satisfyingly unique game-changer.
Trivial Note - This was the first episode to feature Ira Steven Behr as executive producer, and one of his first requests was for the series to show more on-screen space battles. Budget and effects limitations had forced the previous Trek series to talk about battles that happened without ever showing them, but DS9 had the money and the technology on-hand to bring the battles to the screen. The Battle of the Omarion Nebula was the largest space battle sequence seen in the franchise to this point, and the series would top it several times over the course of its run. Garak and Bashir discussed Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in the cold open of "Improbable Cause". Garak, despite professing his disappointment with the play, paraphrases one its key lines to Tain during the battle with the Dominion, "I'm afraid the fault, dear Tain, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." The title of this episode is also drawn from a famous quote attributed to Caesar. Eddington's secret orders from Admiral Toddman only served to detach him further from the main cast in the audience's eyes. This perception of him as a "company man" and Sisko's mention of trusting someone in "that uniform" set the stage for his Maquis turn in seasons four and five. While the Tal Shiar seem to at least somewhat recover from this debacle, the Obsidian Order is completely wiped out, which causes a sea change in Cardassian politics, leading first to a civilian government, then to them joining the Dominion, then to Damar's Rebellion, and eventually to their near annihilation in the series finale.
14. "To the Death" - Season 4, Episode 23 (5/13/96)
"I am First Omet'iklan, and I am dead. As of this moment, we are all dead. We go into battle to reclaim our lives. This we do gladly, for we are Jem'Hadar. Remember, victory is life!" - First Omet'iklan
This may not be the greatest of all DS9 episodes (though it is extremely good), but it's certainly the most badass one. We'd seen the Jem'Hadar a few times before this aired late in season four, with two of those episodes, "The Abandoned" and "Hippocratic Oath", revealing much about their culture and biology. This episode and season six's "Rocks and Shoals" function alongside those to form a loose quadrilogy of stories that provide the audience with an intriguing sketch of Trek's most militant species. Particularly notable are the ways in which they're shown to differ from the Klingons, Trek's next most militant species, as any grand concepts like honor and glory are missing from the Jem'Hadar culture. Instead, they function as a lean, mean, professional killing machine, with victory standing as their only goal (not honor, not glory, not even survival). Contrast that further with the other notable introduction in the episode, the first of the many Weyouns we see over the course of the series, and you begin to see the manner in which the Dominion both has succeeded and will eventually fail. From a Starfleet perspective, this episode stands opposite from the later battle story "The Siege of AR-558", which intentionally featured several of the show's least experienced fighters, by bringing the heat in the form of Sisko, Worf, O'Brien, Odo, and Jadzia, all of whom are seasoned combatants (with Eddington having just defected, Kira is the only experienced soldier missing). This amount of testosterone may not normally be Star Trek's bag, but given how balanced it is by sharp writing, it makes this episode truly stand out, from both action and character standpoints.
Trivial Note - As mentioned above, Jeffrey Combs makes his first appearance as Weyoun in this episode. Obviously, he was planned to be a one-off character, seeing as how's he disintegrated and all, but his performance was such a hit the writers cooked up the idea that the Vorta are clones so he could return to play more Weyouns. It is later established that he is Weyoun-4, and Weyouns-5, 6, 7, and 8 all eventually appear on the show. The script clarifies that, under orders from the Founders, Weyoun infects Odo with the virus that manifests itself in "Broken Link". He does so by clapping his hand on Odo's shoulder, but the scene in question is unclear in the finished episode. The big fight sequence at the end was edited for content, which was likely the first time in Trek history that had occurred. Opinions are split on the edit, as most of the production staff were irritated, feeling that the battle was built up and then given short-shrift as a result. Jadzia was to be a particularly spectacular fighter during the battle, killing at least 10 Jem'Hadar on her own. Terry Farrell herself felt that maybe this was overkill, and thus supported the edits. I should also note that Brian Thompson, a great sci-fi and horror show character actor, played the Jem'Hadar Second who kept getting into it with Worf. Thompson played a Dosi in season two's "Rules of Acquisition" and appeared on TNG and Enterprise. Outside of Trek, he played two different Buffy the Vampire Slayer villains, the recurring alien bounty hunter on The X-Files, and, perhaps most importantly, one of the German dudes in Three Amigos!.
13. "In Purgatory's Shadow" - Season 5, Episode 14 (2/10/97)
"Stay here if that's what you want! Stay here and be damned!" - Gul Dukat
As pure two-parters go, "In Purgatory's Shadow" and "By Inferno's Light" may stand as the finest duo in Trek's history. (Yes, they may even eclipse the mighty "The Best of Both Worlds" from TNG.) As I wrote about season six's "Favor the Bold", this episode serves as the appetizer for the thunder that's following in Part Two, but it's still a damn good appetizer. Similar to how "Improbable Cause" succeeded both as the first half of a larger story and as an episode on its own, the (actually, truly) shocking reveal of Bashir in the prison camp at the end puts a nice bow on this outing and makes you salivate for the next one. Along the way, we get some excellent banter between the under-utilized Worf/Garak pairing, some nice character drama between Garak and Tain, some wonderfully testy (and portentous) scenes featuring Dukat, and the revelation that both Tain and General Martok are still alive (the former if only for a while). The show had been teasing the Dominion War for ages by this point, but the teasing was about to stop.
Trivial Note - The prison storyline in this two-parter initially involved the recently captured Michael Eddington ("For the Uniform" directly preceded this episode). The writers were unable to crack that storyline, so his next appearance was shuffled down to "Blaze of Glory" while the prison break aspects were fobbed off onto Garak, Worf, Bashir, and Martok in "By Inferno's Light". Also, the revolving door of Ziyals finally stops with this episode. Cyia Batten played the character in season four's "Indiscretion" and "Return to Grace", with Tracy Middendorf taking over later that season in "For the Cause". Melanie Smith debuts in the role in this episode, and portrays the character in all subsequent appearances. Different reasons were given for the recasting, but the most likely (and practical) was the sense that the prior actresses didn't come off as believable love interests for Garak due to their age.
12. "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River" - Season 7, Episode 6 (11/4/98)
"Tell me I haven't failed...that I've served you well." - Weyoun-6
The most evocatively titled DS9 episode, "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River" continues the series' generally impressive dialogue on matters of faith from a non-Human perspective. Jeffrey Combs was a treasure on this show (and in the franchise in general), and the series gives him a real showcase episode in its final season. A "defective" clone, Weyoun-6, attempts to defect to the Federation, but is pursued by the agents of his successor, the more typically loathsome Weyoun-7. Along the way, we get what passes for the Vorta creation myth, several nice sequences between Weyoun-6 and Odo, and a major revelation about the Founders. All of this is run through the standard Vorta-worship-of-Changelings filter, complete with Odo's deep reluctance to take on the role of someone's god. Juxtapose that with the much lighter B-story, yet another of Nog's wheeling-and-dealing schemes, this time in search of a missing part for the Defiant. While it may come off as fluff to counterbalance the heavy stuff going on in the A-plot, this storyline features the first truly serious examination of why the Ferengi are the way they are. We'd heard about some of their religious concepts before - the Divine Treasury, the Blessed Exchequer, the Vault of Eternal Destitution - but these were always presented in a comic way, as money-based stand-ins for Heaven, Hell, and so on. The Great Material Continuum (or the Great River) isn't an entirely original idea, but it does give the Ferengi a much less despicable background for their mercantile nature while not seeming like a jokey riff on something that commonly exists in many religions. Beyond these socio-theological concerns, the episode is well-acted by it's four main leads - Combs pulling double duty as two very different Weyouns, Rene Auberjonois as an even more uncomfortable than usual Odo, Colm Meaney as an exasperated O'Brien, and Aron Eisenberg as a philosophically scheming Nog - and it stands as yet another fine example of the series attempting to understand its aliens on their own terms.
Trivial Note - Odo and Weyoun-6's runabout is the Rio Grande, which means Big River or Great River in Spanish. The Cardassian contact Odo thinks he's meeting in the beginning is likely to be the same unseen informant he met with in season three's "Improbable Cause", though the episode never confirms it. Jeffrey Combs compared the different Weyouns to different slices of the same pepperoni pizza. Coincidentally, Weyoun-6 attempts to eat a slice of pepperoni pizza (with chopsticks) in the episode. The morphogenic virus (which we later find out was manufactured by Section 31) makes its debut in this episode. At this point, there weren't any plans for Odo to suffer from it, but those plans changed. The writers also felt that Odo's reluctant acceptance of his godly status in Weyoun-6's eyes sowed the seeds for his return to the Great Link in the series finale. This is also the first time we see an overt display of irritation from Damar over the losses the Cardassians had incurred in the war. It definitely wouldn't be the last.
11. "Sacrifice of Angels" - Season 6, Episode 6 (11/3/97)
"I forgive you, too..." - Gul Dukat
Series finale aside, this is probably the grandest episode of the series (and arguably of any Trek show). The picture above is from the instant the giant space battle in the episode begins, and it's probably still the finest space battle in Trek history. If that's all there was to the episode, it might be enough, but the story is packed with subplots that had been simmering for five episodes. Quark's growing dissatisfaction with Dominion rule, Rom's new-found heroic nature, Kira's resistance, Odo's temptation to rejoin the Great Link, Damar's growing suspicion of Ziyal, Dukat's overconfidence, the intervention of the Klingons, and a surprising and satisfying appearance from the Prophets all come to a head in this episode, and the results are a near-symphony. As far as the deus ex machina ending goes (where the Prophets banish the Dominion reinforcements to the land of wind and ghosts), I think it's completely earned. It literally is a deus ex machina, by definition, but it isn't one in the sense of the negative connotation that phrase usually carries. Sisko's points during his rant at them in the wormhole are completely logical and valid, and it would make little narrative sense for them to just not care about the war at all, seeing as how they went to all this trouble to keep Sisko on the path of the Emissary. I see it as a series using all of its narrative abilities to create a compelling, large-scale tapestry of a story, one that complements both what came before and what would come after.
Trivial Note - Several things here - Bashir and O'Brien quote "The Charge of the Light Brigade" before the fighting commences. The penance the Prophets exact on Sisko in exchange for their help in the battle comes to pass in the series finale, as does the Female Changeling's prediction that Odo would rejoin the Great Link in time. The Prophets refer to "the game" when talking with Sisko, which continues the baseball metaphor he used in the pilot episode. Their demand for a penance was based off the Biblical story of Moses, fated to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land but punished by not being allowed entry. The writers also once again riffed on The Searchers with this plot turn, basing it off John Wayne's character's fate in that film. Dukat's strategy of intentionally opening a hole in the battle line, only to envelop any ships that tried to take advantage was based off a tactic the great Carthaginian general Hannibal used against the Romans. And of course, Sisko gets the baseball back that he left on the station in "Call to Arms". That baseball is really what won the war.
10. "Necessary Evil" - Season 2, Episode 8 (11/14/93)
"Will you ever be able to trust me in the same way again?" - Maj. Kira Nerys
My favorite episode of the show's early years (basically its first three seasons), "Necessary Evil" quietly establishes several key elements of the series. This is our first chance to see what Terok Nor was like during the Occupation, and it paints a suitably bleak portrait of the time period. We'd heard about the casual Cardassian brutality of the era from multiple characters, but seeing it is important for the viewer. This is also our first chance to see just how Odo came to be the station's security chief without becoming an object of scorn to the Bajorans. This backstory is key to understanding the character, and it's nice to see his first meetings with both Kira and Quark. For her part, Kira's arc in the episode is an absolutely pivotal one for the character. The show doesn't shy away from the rough edges her past life as a freedom fighting terrorist required, and this episode is the tip of that iceberg. Without the morally murky ending, this episode fails. Again, the show does a great job at understanding its characters on their own terms, not our terms. Kira shouldn't and wouldn't have to apologize for her past, as she felt what she did was an absolute necessity. Lying to Odo muddied the waters for her, but it doesn't change her feelings about her actions. We have all that to chew on, but just as important is the episode's presentation of Dukat. We'd seen him a few times before, but his full presence wasn't felt until the flashback portions of this outing, as we finally see every ounce of his strutting, oily charisma. It's another crucial development for a major character in an episode chock full of them.
Trivial Note - The episode deliberately attempts to cultivate a film noir feel, as it apes the style of the Mike Hammer novels Odo had begun reading on O'Brien's recommendation. Odo continues to read them off and on throughout the series. We also see him pull the classic Columbo "Just one more thing..." trick. This episode's writer Peter Allan Fields also wrote for that series. We find out that it's Kira who first applied the term "Constable" to Odo, even though prior episodes seemed to indicate it somehow came from Starfleet. This episode also features the first hint that Rom is smarter than he lets on, at least in mechanical and engineering matters.
9. "The Way of the Warrior" - Season 4, Episodes 1 and 2 (10/2/95)
"A Starfleet officer. That's what I am, and that's what I'll always be." - Capt. Ben Sisko
This is such a kickass episode. The producers of the show were instructed to shake things up by the Paramount brass between seasons three and four, and that shakeup came in the form of a sudden influx of Klingons. Considering how out of left field this plot turn is, especially since three of the third season's later episodes really worked hard to establish the Dominion as the show's major antagonists, the cast and crew pull it off especially well. While the other two hour presentations (the pilot and the series finale) don't maintain their momentum from front-to-back, this one roars all the way through its runtime. We get the introduction of Worf to the series, which wasn't necessary but definitely added to the show's deep bench of awesome characters, as well as a whole new status quo going forward. This may ultimately be a stall to where the series was originally headed (for about a year and a half, the Cardassians are good guys and the Klingons are bad guys before dramatically switching places halfway through season five), but the arrival of the Klingons on the scene injects the series with a certain verve that maybe we didn't know it was lacking. Plus, through all of this, Garak and Quark find the time to have one of Trek's all-time greatest conversations, which is generally referred to as the "root beer" scene. It's a wonderful piece of writing and acting that shines as one of the clearest examples of how this series took the time to explore different viewpoints, with two morally questionable, yet fascinating outsider characters casting some of the franchise's major powers, especially the Federation, in a different light.
Trivial Note - The root beer scene was added to the episode to fill out its running time, but was then almost cut for time anyway. Writer/producer Ronald Moore (not a credited writer for this outing) fought for the scene, as he felt it was the best sequence in the episode. The Klingon attack on the station was the largest battle sequence in Trek history to that point, topping the battle in "The Die Is Cast". It would be re-topped in "Sacrifice of Angels". Sisko's new look, shaved head and goatee, is how he looks for the remainder of the series, and with it seems to come a new assertiveness that becomes essential to the character going forward. And, of course, we find out that the Martok we're introduced to in this episode was a Changeling impostor in season five's "In Purgatory's Shadow".
8. "It's Only a Paper Moon" - Season 7, Episode 10 (12/30/98)
"Look kid, I don't know what's going to happen to you out there. All I can tell you is that you've got to play the cards life deals you. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but at least you're in the game." - Vic Fontaine
Hated by some and loved by others, Vic Fontaine is one of the show's most polarizing elements, but this episode should remove any doubt about his place in the show's fabric. Vic and his nightclub are such a disarming way to address Nog's trauma that the show's heaviness is able to sneak up on you a little bit. Sure, you can tell as soon as Nog walks back onto the station that this episode is going to be serious, but the Vic scenes seem to counterbalance it, for a while at least. This makes the big conversation between the two at the end just hit harder, as a character the audience has no real investment in suddenly becomes a powerful influence on a character the audience has every investment in. Aron Eisenberg's performance as Nog is spectacular and is a culmination of the great work he had done with the character from the outset. I don't know if I can confidently say who the show's best character is, but Nog is definitely in that discussion. His story arc covers as much ground as anybody's, as he goes from snotty kid to grizzled war veteran over the course of seven years. This episode is the most pivotal stop on that journey, as the show somehow combines a space war, a traditionally greedy alien race, and a holographic lounge singer into a story that's one the most potent post-traumatic stress disorder tales you'll ever see on television.
Trivial Note - This episode was originally a multi-plot piece that featured several story threads running through Quark's bar. Over time, the setting was changed to Vic's club, and the Nog PTSD plot became one of the storylines that would take place there. The others were to be more humorous in tone, but Nog's tale became so heavy and dramatic that the others had to be cut out of the story entirely, lest the show have another episode like season three's tonally jarring "Life Support". After the episode aired, Aron Eisenberg reported being contacted by multiple war veterans who complimented him on the accuracy of his performance. The episode also makes an overt mention of The Searchers, the classic Western that had influenced a couple of the show's plotlines.
7. "By Inferno's Light" - Season 5, Episode 15 (2/17/97)
"Cardassia will be made whole. All that we have lost will be ours again, and anyone who stands in our way will be destroyed." - Gul Dukat
After a tremendous set-up from "In Purgatory's Shadow", this episode drives all the hanging plot threads home with a flourish. You can quibble, perhaps, with a few things (Why did the Dominion leave the runabout operational? Why didn't they just kill their prisoners in the first place?), but the plot turns and character beats in this episode are strong across the board. Worf's gladiator-style combat with the Jem'Hadar, Garak's struggle with claustrophobia, Dukat's betrayal, the Bashir Changeling's plot, and the whole battle fake out at the end all flow briskly into one another, leaving us with one of the show's most impactful episodes from a plot standpoint and a nice character piece. As I've mentioned before, I don't care that much for the evil path Dukat takes in the middle of season six, but his shenanigans here stand as one of the series' strongest character turns. If you were paying close attention, you could see this brewing in his head (not the Dominion alliance per se, but a desperation to return Cardassia to its prior heights). Throw in the return of the Federation-Klingon alliance, and the story creates a ton of forward momentum for the show. I also really enjoy the prison break storyline, with the actual prison break itself being a tidy, well composed action sequence. Remember, never turn your back on a Breen (something the main characters all seem to forget in season seven). All told, this (along with "Call to Arms" and "Sacrifice of Angels") is DS9 at its most symphonic, as it takes most of the pieces on its chessboard and moves them forward in satisfying ways.
Trivial Note - The riff on The Great Escape that was originally developed to be a Michael Eddington story was mostly applied to this episode, with Garak taking on the Charles Bronson role. Andrew Robinson is actually claustrophobic, so filming those scenes was very difficult for him. Writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe based much of his depiction of Cardassia on Germany, with parallels to the World War I-era Kaiser-led Germany (Cardassia prior to the events of "The Die Is Cast"), the Weimar Republic that poorly managed the country after WWI and before Hitler's rise to power (the Detapa Council, a civilian government which ran Cardassia between the destruction of the Obsidian Order and Dukat's power play in this episode), and the Third Reich (Dukat's move of allying with the Dominion). Also note Dukat's use of the term "alliance" with the Dominion, which is a view of the arrangement the Dominion won't share going forward. One of Sisko's predictions from "Rapture" metaphorically comes true in this episode, with the locusts (Jem'Hadar fleet) pausing over Bajor, then moving on to Cardassia (as allies). Luther Sloan questions Bashir about the convenience of the Dominion leaving Worf and Garak's runabout in orbit, but this colossally stupid decision is never explained (and let's face it, it can't be).
6. "Trials and Tribble-ations" - Season 5, Episode 6 (11/4/96)
"Before I leave I just want to say, it's been an honor serving with you, sir." - Capt. Ben Sisko
For a show that was so often accused of straying too far from Gene Roddenberry's vision for the franchise, DS9 sure did manage to craft the finest love letter to Roddenberry's original creation of them all (and there have been multiple attempts from both inside and outside the franchise). It was certainly risky to take an episode as beloved as "The Trouble with Tribbles" and use it in such a fashion, especially with the limitations of a TV budget and 90's technology, but the production team really knocked this episode out of the park. Every element works, from Dax's fanboy squee-ing, to Bashir and O'Brien getting caught up in the original episode's bar fight, to Worf and Odo's banter, to the humorless Temporal Investigations guys, to the exquisite production design. That last part may be the real MVP of the whole thing, as the crew packs as many easter eggs as possible into the episode without completely overwhelming it. The mixture of DS9's more muted vision of the future and TOS's colorful, atomic age aesthetic alone makes the episode worth watching. The script works a buttload of winking references in, too, while still managing to tell a coherent story in between all the nerding out it does. From a certain viewpoint, this is all of Trek's finest achievement, and something only it and maybe Doctor Who could ever hope to pull off.
Trivial Note - Of all the episodes, this one easily has the most trivial factoids surrounding it. This was done to mark Trek's 30th anniversary, as The Original Series began airing in 1966. Multiple other concepts were considered by the producers, but Rene Eehevarria's idea to revisit "The Trouble with Tribbles" won out over the others. In an extraordinary coincidence, members of the writing staff were at a pizza joint discussing casting options for the episode, when Charlie Brill, who played the Klingon spy Darvin in the original episode, happened to walk in to pick up an order. Ira Steven Behr approached him and was pleased by Brill's enthusiastic response to the episode's concept. Tremendous effort went into the set design and image compositing that was required for all this to work. I won't even start listing off any of the easter eggs in the episode, as there are too many to count, but Worf's response when questioned about the other Klingons' appearance is my favorite bit of Trek nerdiness in the story. Enterprise would actually combine O'Brien and Bashir's suggestions for the change in Klingon appearance for the official explanation given in that show's fourth season. Also, the scene with Sisko and Kirk at the end was taken from "Mirror, Mirror" instead of "The Trouble with Tribbles". Lastly, the names of the two Temporal Investigations agents (Dulmur and Lucsly) are near anagrams of Mulder and Scully, of X-Files fame.
5. "Rocks and Shoals" - Season 6, Episode 2 (10/6/97)
"It is not my life to give up, Captain, and it never was." - Third Remata'Klan
Episodes like this one run throughout the series, with "Hippocratic Oath", "To the Death", and "The Ship" all serving as excellent examples of stories with similar themes. This is the best of the bunch, though, for both subtle and obvious reasons. The casting of the guest actors here is perfect, especially the jarring dissonance between Phil Morris' noble Jem'Hadar Remata'Klan and Christopher Shea's especially wormy Vorta Keevan. Avery Brooks is also excellent, and his interactions with Morris are uniformly tremendous. From this point on, we don't really get anymore of the Jem'Hadar as real characters (with the possible exception of "One Little Ship", which isn't good), and that's a shame. Every episode that had presented them as such was excellent, with no exceptions. The other element that separates this one from the pack is the B-story that takes place on the station. It's just as strong as the A-story, and in concert, they may serve as the finest pair of storylines in any one episode of the series. Kira could easily be argued as the character closest to the series' heart, and both the subtle and overt ways she's basically been assimilated into the Cardassian-Dominion routine are wonderfully presented, as is the jarring moment that snaps her out of it. Every one of the top six episodes on this list could be argued as the series' finest without any gripes from me, and this one may be the most quietly powerful of them all.
Trivial Note - This episode was difficult to write because the location filming required it to be shot after "Sons and Daughters", but air before it. Getting the story straight for the Terok Nor scenes in both episodes was very difficult. More difficult was the location shoot, which saw the production return to Soledad Canyon for the final time. This was the hottest and least hospitable of all their trips there, with time literally running out on the crew before a scripted scene with Worf rescuing the survivors could be filmed. The ending closeup shot of Sisko was forced to be the final shot, but after seeing it, everyone involved with the episode ended up loving it. Writer Ronald Moore didn't know exactly what the phrase "rocks and shoals" referred to when he chose the title, but he knew of the phrase and thought it sounded appropriate. The phrase was the informal name for the U.S. Navy's former code of justice, which involved the use of very harsh, old-school methods of punishment often traditionally associated with navies. This code of justice is no longer in use.
4. "Call to Arms" - Season 5, Episode 26 (6/16/97)
"He's letting me know...he'll be back." - Gul Dukat
Similar to "By Inferno's Light", "Call to Arms" is a symphony from the series. Several seemingly disparate elements are all marshaled together into one epic, sweeping season finale, which like any great episode, feels like both a complete tale of its own and a teaser for what's to come. What's to come in this case would be the six-part "Re-Taking Deep Space Nine" story arc that kicked off season six, but all the greatness that's too be found there could only happen as a result of the greatness found here. We get a stirring battle sequence (which the good guys technically lose), some wonderful character moments, some legitimate comedy (much of which comes from Rom), and some romance. This was an episode where the show used every club in its bag effectively (which wouldn't always happen with such episodes), and the ending lets the audience know that it's about to see something on a scale that Star Trek had never operated on before. After literally years of teases, the Dominion War was finally here.
Trivial Note - Sisko's baseball plays its most prominent role here, as the Captain makes sure to leave it behind for Dukat to find. Dukat's no fool, so he knows exactly what Sisko meant with this maneuver (and he keeps the ball with him for the entirety of the following story arc). After everything we see in this outing, a baseball may be the important thing in it, narratively speaking. (That's amazing to me.) Rom's spazzy moment where he alternately frets over his impending wedding and comes up with the technical innovation that keeps the Federation from losing the war is perhaps Max Grodenchik's finest moment. Also, never forget how important Rom proved to be to the war effort. Without him, the entire Alpha Quadrant is conquered, literally. The second of Sisko's predictions from "Rapture" comes to pass, as Bajor's non-aligned status keeps it from being attacked in this episode. This is also the first time we see Weyoun directly overrule Dukat, a clear indicator of how the Founders and the Vorta feel about Cardassia. This, like Rom's efforts in this episode, proves to be extremely critical. The famous final shot of the fleet was mirrored by the opening shot of "A Time to Stand", the season six premiere, except that in that episode, the fleet has just had its ass kicked.
3. "Far Beyond the Stars" - Season 6, Episode 13 (11/11/98)
"For all we know, at this very moment, somewhere far beyond those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us." - Capt. Ben Sisko
Words really can't fully explain the importance of this episode, but I guess I'll try. Star Trek has always prided itself on representation. No, the franchise's record in this area isn't at all perfect, but the successes still outweigh the failures. Casting an African-American to play Sisko was a big move for DS9. We'd seen different cultures represented on the previous two shows, but to put a person of color front-and-center was a whole 'nother thing entirely. Slowly, as the show went on, Sisko's racial identity began to inform the character more (Jake's, too). That culminates in this mid-season six episode, which was directed by Avery Brooks. In a different context, the show once again calls back to the pulpy post-WWII era of science fiction that so heavily informed season four's "Little Green Men". The difference here is that the episode tells a story about the creators of those imaginary worlds, not the worlds themselves. Each of the writers in Benny's office, including Benny himself, are variations on real science fiction authors of the 50's and 60's (sometimes more than one). And the world depicted in the 50's-set sequences is very much in keeping the real world of that time, a period of tremendous strife for certain segments of society but also a period of boundless imagination as to what the future might bring. So much of science fiction even today is still informed by this particular era of history. Against this backdrop, we see a remarkably imaginative story that simultaneously functions as a paean to old-school science fiction, a harsh and realistic depiction of the intolerance of the era, and a stirring epic about one man's indomitable spirit. For those who believe Brooks goes too far over-the-top during his big meltdown at the end, I say, "Shut up." This is a story that doesn't require subtlety. It's a story that's supposed to hit you like a freight train exactly because it doesn't shy away from what society was at this time (and for many people, still is). This is a beautiful episode, and one that is really, truly unique, not just for Star Trek, but for television as a whole.
Trivial Note - Again, there are far too many factoids to list. I strongly recommend looking into this episode (and "Trials and Tribble-ations") further. Anyway, the Benny Russell character is based on African-American sci-fi author Samuel Delany, whose career really took off in the 60's. Kira's analogue Kay Eaton is a composite of Catherine Moore and D.C. Fontana, both of whom were women who published stories under their initials to hide their gender from their readers. O'Brien's Albert Macklin is a spin on the legendary Isaac Asimov. Quark's Herbert Rossoff is based on the notoriously prickly Harlan Ellison. Bashir's Julius Eaton is a riff on Henry Kuttner, and Odo's Douglas Pabst is a take on the famed writer/editor John W. Campbell. Campbell really did tell Delany that the audience wasn't ready for a Black protagonist in the late 60's, and Asimov's first novel was picked up by a publisher in almost exactly the same way Macklin's is in this episode. The magazine they write for in the story is fictional, but the magazine Russell buys in the intro was real, Galaxy Magazine, at which several prominent authors got their start. In addition, Worf's Willie Hawkins character is based on Willie Mays (who may be the greatest ballplayer of all time), and many of the things said about the Giants were true of the 1953 version of the team. The building they work in is the Trill building, a dual reference to both Dax's species and the Brill Building in New York, which was better known for housing famous songwriters. There are also tons of in-references to Trek throughout.
2. "In the Pale Moonlight" - Season 6, Episode 19 (4/15/98)
"Garak was right about one thing - a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant." - Capt. Ben Sisko
This episode stands as both one of Trek's finest moments and the perhaps the exact instant Gene Roddenberry's ideal vision of the future died. The story utilizes the normally hacky flashback narration structure to watch a man slowly compromise himself and everything he stands for and then try to make sense of it all after the fact. It's that last part that really makes the episode sing, and it's also why the flashback structure suits the episode so well. Sisko's plan to get the Romulans to enter the war slowly pulls him down deeper into the muck in such a way that he doesn't even realize it until it's too late. When Garak chides him at the end about the true nature of their plot, Sisko is forced to realize that while he managed to maintain some air of plausible deniability about the whole thing, deep down inside he knew what he was getting into and the kinds of people he was getting involved with. It's a stunning performance from Avery Brooks, and in many ways, this was the episode "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" didn't quite manage to be. Here we see Garak used to his fullest potential, while we also see one of our heroes (and really THE hero of the story) actually get this hands dirty in a way most series avoid. There's intrigue and suspense to burn, but the real drama is inside Sisko's head as he records that log entry, trying to come to grips with what he had just done. He's telling us he can live with it, but who's he trying to convince?
Trivial Note - The title comes from the famous line in Tim Burton's Batman, which both The Joker and Batman say to one another. Jake was to be the main character in multiple earlier versions of the story, but uncredited teleplay writer Ronald Moore decided to drop his role in the story as he didn't want to try and break the Siskos' bond. The use of Betazed as the planet that falls to the Dominion, finally pushing Sisko past the point of no return, is crucial. Vulcan was originally to be the planet in question, but the producers felt it would be too weighty to have Vulcan fall, so Betazed was chosen instead, due to its familiarity to viewers of The Next Generation. Sisko's line about being able to "live with it" at the end was inspired by The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It also gives this list its title.
1. "The Visitor" - Season 4, Episode 3 (10/9/95)
"To my father, who's coming home..." - Jake Sisko
This is probably my favorite episode of any TV show (even if I probably wouldn't consider DS9 to be my favorite series full-stop). It doesn't have the epic sweep of "Call to Arms" or "Sacrifice of Angels", it doesn't feature the trenchant social commentary of "Far Beyond the Stars", nor does it feature the great ethical questions of "In the Pale Moonlight" or "For the Uniform". What it does feature is a deceptively simple story of the bond between a father and a son. Cirroc Lofton, Tony Todd, and Avery Brooks are all magnificent here, as the series builds upon the three-plus years it had put in establishing the warmth of the Siskos' relationship. The subtle alterations in the dynamics of their encounters throughout the episode are an excellent feat of writing, acting, and directing, as it's the ease with which Jake slips from productive and successful author to obsessed loner that propels the story without ever allowing it to slide into melodrama. There are just little touches here and there that reinforce what we're seeing (Sisko's face when he appears for the final time, his super cute desire for grandkids, the way Tony Todd plays the revelatory scene at the end, Avery Brooks hitting the right amount of desperation in the "Promise me!" scene). It's a universal story, but it's told in a way only Star Trek could tell it, using just the right amount of Trek's particular brand of technobabbly futurism to make it feel both uniquely like a Trek show and like a story that just about anyone anywhere should be able to appreciate. As far as DS9 is concerned, stories like this are what set it apart from the rest of the franchise. Allowing Sisko to be a family man (no other Captain is in the other Treks) provided the series with the kind of emotional stakes the other shows just don't quite have, which is just one of the ways in which this one is the best.
Trivial Note - The main inspiration for the framing story was an incident where the ever-reclusive J.D. Salinger gave an interview to a high school student who simply showed up at his house. Melanie, Jake's fan, was played Andrew Robinson's daughter, Rachel. Robinson played Garak in the series, but didn't appear in this outing. Sisko's "death" in this episode, where he's essentially pulled out of linear time, is similar to his "death" in the series finale. In both instances, the series features a shot of Jake looking longingly out a Promenade window with Kira at his side, but the perspectives of the two shots are reversed. The one in the series finale is the final shot of the series. This episode also predicts a future where several terrible things do not happen. The Dominion War doesn't occur in this timeline, at least not within the next fifty or so years after the series' primary time period ends, which means Jadzia doesn't die fighting in it. The Klingons do however take control of the station and hold onto it for several decades, which indicates that the alliance between the Federation and the Empire does not heal after the events of "The Way of the Warrior". It also means that Bajor doesn't have any chance of joining the Federation anytime soon. The presentation of the bad things in this future was obviously intentional, but the dodging of the Dominion War and Jadzia's death was unintentional, particularly the Dax thing, since there were no plans for her to be killed off at this point.
Well, that's it. I didn't plan for it to happen, but coincidentally the new Star Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, opens tomorrow, so go see it. I didn't like the last two movies either, but this one looks like it'll be better. Obviously, rest in peace Anton Yelchin, who passed away while I was writing this mammoth. That was a real tragedy.
I want to thank everyone who read this thing, or even part of it. I hope you'll take the time to comment on the list. I'd love to read your thoughts on the show, the list, or both. I also want to acknowledge several invaluable resources. Memory Alpha contains almost everything you'd ever want to know about Trek, so visit it if you're at all interested in the franchise. Many of those factoids I didn't have time to include in the list can be found there. Keith R.A. DeCandido's rewatch reviews of the series for Tor are also wonderful, so I suggest hitting those up. I think they have them for all of the series; I know they do for the first three shows, which are the three best, anyway. Otherwise, I'm glad to have had a chance to write this, so thanks to Jeff at Atlanta Classic Comics for giving me the platform. As always, the Great River pushes you to Atlanta Classic Comics on eBay, where any kind of cool, geeky science fiction, fantasy, or comic book material you want, the River will provide. I'll be writing something else for the site soon, though probably not as intense as this. Anyway, thanks for indulging me...
Computer, erase that entire personal log...