Saturday, January 29, 2011
Deep Space 9 - Why it kicks TNG ass
I have been wanting to write this post for a long time. Ever since I had seen the first season of DS9 I thought that I needed to tell the world how wrong I was about it. But there are always those post where you know you just won't be able to make it justice. No matter what you write it just won't be what you are thinking. But it can't be helped. I have to give it a try. I have to try to explain why DS9 is so awesome. Oh and be warned, this is pretty spoilerish.
The reason I initially thought DS9 wouldn't be good is probably simply because it's based on a space station, instead of a star ship. With only this information to guide me I quickly drew the conclusion that it just couldn't be as compelling and interesting as the other Star Trek series. How could a stationary station offer the same diversity and adventure as a moving space ship? I did know that DS9 was situated on what is known as the far end of Federation space, which of course opens up the opportunity for weird things to happen just as in any series. What I didn't know is that the DS9 was situated by a worm hole leading to the Gamma Quadrant. Suddenly alot more possibilities open up. But in the end my quick drawn conclusion wasn't all wrong. DS9 isn't about exploring space - instead the creators have tried to offer something that isn't present in any of the previous series up until then, at least not anywhere near to the same extent - personal relationships and in depth characters.
Before I had seen DS9 I liked Voyager the best, then TNG and then TOS. What I liked about Voyager is exactly this, it builds on the characters in a way the previous series hadn't done before. Or at least if you don't count DS9. Well actually it's more complicated than that. TOS does build on the characters alot, but only on the four main characters, that make up a sort of quartet - Spock, Kirk, McCoy and Scott (Chekov, Uhura and Sulu having minor sidekick roles). But the surrounding characters come and go. There is no background story that binds all the episodes together, the only common denominator is Kirk and Co becoming the hostages of some evil omnipotent being who wishes to test them and in the end they prevail because if their awesome humanity (seriously, this desribes 90% of the TOS episodes). But TOS is TOS, and I don't wish to compare DS9 with it, because the age difference is a big factor in just how and what you'd like to produce in order to entertain between the two. TNG on the other hand ran simultaneously with DS9, at least to some part, so comparing between those two seems more logical.
I really liked TNG. And then I watched DS9. And I realized TNG had some really big flaws. Sure they fly around in their fancy Enterprise ship, while DS9 just sit around there in their space station, but DS9 has so many things that TNG lacks. Like interesting characters. Throughout the 7 seasons that is TNG, the designers have decided to develop two characters more than others. Those are Picard and Data. Sure every character get their own episodes in which we get to know them a little better. Worf gets a child, Troi has her annoying mother, Dr Crusher gets to be all moshimoshi with her extremely irritating son Wesley (the most hated character in Star Trek?), Riker is a womanizer and so on. But once you've seen DS9 and what the writers have done to the characters in that series you'll startle at how bland... and dull... and extremely boring all the characters in TNG are. Ok, all the characters except Data. Data is awesome. Let's just make that one clear. I mean he gets to play Sherlock Holmes and everything. Why can't the other characters be interesting like him?
What especially annoys me about TNG, as opposed to DS9, is that the characters don't get to evolve together. The relationships they have at the beginning of the series are exactly the same as they have at the end. Picard has some dry fling with Dr Crusher, or whatever you'd like to call their daily breakfasts together. Troi and Riker have had something together that died long ago and never gets to resurface (except when Rikers teleport twin shows up). Worf gets a child, but doesn't care for it or the woman until she dies, and actually not much after that either. The relationships are robotic to say the least, making Datas tries to become a human all the more ironic. He's nearly the only one who has some casual sex, tries to raise a child of his own accord, find out more about his family and all the other things that all humans are interested in. Just because you're in space you don't stop caring about other people. But the characters in TNG just go about their daily business. The only times they're in distress or start loosing control are when they're under alien influence. When you compare the TNG characters to the DS9 characters you realize that they're not really alive.
And honestly, that doesn't have to be a bad thing. According to some anonymous contributor at IMDB.com, Roddenberry wanted the series to focus on space exploration and how people would react when they came into contact with unknown things. The people are only substitues for anything that interacts with something else. But it is clear they are doing this to highlight difficult questions about what it means to be human. They're doing this already in TOS. Some of the best episodes of all the Star Trek series are the ones that make you think "well, does it really have to be this way?". Like all the times the captains have to make a decision between saving people and standing by the famous Prime Directive about not interfering with other cultures. Star Trek is so good because it raises all these questions in the best of settings - space, where anything can happen. And if you want to ask questions about humanity, I think you'd like to have characters that feel human. TNG have failed in this.
And DS9 excells. The writers have really managed to come up with some of the most interesting characters in all the Star Trek series, and also connections between the characters that make the series never grow dull. DS9 also introduces another theme to the series which I really like - the continous background stories. Like mentioned there are none such in TOS, and there are only a few in TNG. You've got Q, and the occasionaly double-episode, but that's about it. In DS9 however, you've got storylines that run in the background of episodes for seasons. I know TOS and TNG are designed so that anyone can jump in anywhere and still get what's happening. But honestly, being drawn in by some fascinating storyline really beats anything. That is what makes you think "oh.. but just another episode", "I just have to know what happens next".
So in DS9 the characters are highlighted. The story wouldn't be the same without those very characters, and this is the big difference between DS9 and TNG. In this sense DS9 is much more like TOS, but with the added great story telling that TNG has. Another thing I really enjoy about DS9 is that communication with Starfleet High Command is cut to a minimum. Overall Sisko (read more about him further down) does all the decision making and I sometimes wonder if he really has the authority to do what he does. In TNG it feels like Picard calls back to home for directions in every other episode. This is probably also the logical course of action. Sisko is involved more than what would be logical, but on the other hand he is the commander of the station that is the Federations closest real outpost in the areas of action, so giving him close to full authority and picking him for every mission musn't be such an odd thing to do.
But everything isn't perfect about DS9 of course, just close to. There are some characters I don't really like, even here. But overall they are great.
Jake Sisko - Benjamins son. The Crusher family had left me with a bitter aftertaste when it came to Star Treks tries to portrait families. Worf & Son weren't exactly interesting either, but they were at least not extremely annoying as the Crushers were. Jake and Wesley are similar in that they've both lost a parent at young age - Wesley his father and Jake his mother. But that's where the similiarities end. Jake is played by a fairly unknown actor who is doing a great job. Eventhough he's a kid, and I generally dislike kids in shows like these, I never ever find him to be "acting". They guys' actually a really good actor. The relationship between Benjamin and Jake is also a believable one and filled with comic relief suitable of a father-son relationship. All the things that should've been an issue between the Crushers finally get to surface here. How will a parent react when child wants to find a girl/boyfriend? When they ask questions about life? When they are misbehaving? Or trying to do the right thing but in the wrong way? None of these things are being touched upon in the Crusher family, all we ever get to know is that Wesley is the best son ever.
Major Kira Nerys - Before I saw DS9 I had only ever encountered one Bajoran in the Star Trek series, and that was Ro Laren from TNG. I wonder if the actor of Major Kira took inspiration from her, because they are both very similar. Headstrong women, to say the least. As with Benjamin Sisko I would understand if people disliked the way Kira is portraited, because she is very much of a person, so to speak. But on the other hand, if one accepts that thats part of the personality of the character it fits perfectly. Kira Nerys does bring something unique to the series by being the way she is. She is strongly religious and will go against better judgement for her believes. This puts her in interesting situtations, and that makes for an interesting show.
Garak - One of my favorite characters of the show. The outcast Cardassian, and we don't really get to know if he's on the good guys side, or on the bad guys (just as Snape, and everyone loves Snape!). This kind of character has never really existed in Star Trek before. We've got Q, but he was more of the omnipotent being who liked to play around with people like in TOS. In the end we all knew he was one of the good guys. With Garak you do get the feeling he's one of the good guys, but then he goes and does something not so good and you'll start to wonder again. I absolutely love the way Andrew Robinson (who also was in Hellraiser) portraits his character. Garak is extremely lovable, not because he's such a nice guy but because he's so a damn cool character, and the more you get to know about his background story the more you understand what a complicated person he really is.
Quark - Also one of the best characters of the show is Quark, the Ferengi barkeeper. Quark has an easier job being interesting since the Ferengi are such a funny race in Star Trek. Everything about their customs and rituals is basically designed to humour us viewers, and in my case they succeed perfectly. Quarks brother Rom and nephew Nog are also great characters of the show. Even sidekicks like these get their own episodes to build on their personalities.
Chief O'Brien & Family - Was already in the TNG series where we occasionally got to see him as the teleport operator. O'Brien was definitely not an interesting character in TNG and it took him quite a while to become interesting in DS9 as well. O'Brien and his wife Keiko symbolize the family life of Star Trek. Actually I read, again by an anonymous imdb contributor, that their family were added to the TNG series because Roddenberry was afraid the future looked to glum when it came to family relations. Eventhough the O'Briens arent't the most interesting characters of DS9, they're still way ahead of most characters of TNG.
Dr Bashir - I really didn't like Dr Bashir initially. He has what has to be the snottiest british accent I've ever heard. Unfortunately I belong to those people who ascribe much of a persons personality based on how they talk. And I'm sorry but Dr. Bashirs accent is horrible. Overcoming that and liking Dr Bashir for what he is has taken me some 4-5 seasons, and I still have trouble hearing the guy without becoming irritated. Fortunately for Dr. Bashir he's been paired with Garak as the pair that are supposed to be opposite poles. And that does make the character more interesting. But that accent... *shiver*
Jadzia Dax - The only character of the show I haven't come around to enjoy yet. And it's sad because she really has everything going for her - being a Trill she's a joined symbiant, meaning she has a creature in her body that has lived for hundreds of years and in several other symbiants. Jadzia therefore has the memories of several other people, an interest in Klingon culture and a strong relationship with Benjamin Sisko since he was a good friend of her former host Kurzon Dax. And the actor is making a good job, but somehow I just can't get myself to find her interesting. I can't really put the finger on it, but somehow I just see too much of overachiever girl trying to prove herself in the character. The only times I really enjoy Jadzia are the sad episodes she's in because the actor can really make a convincing sad face.
They've just got too many characters in TNG and each had to get a piece of the character development cookie, they just all ended up with a very small piece. In TOS on the other hand they have focused on a few characters but don't have that much story telling instead, and yet I like that better overall. DS9 takes the best of these two worlds and puts it together. Great story telling told by great characters, and it all comes together into a lovely series. They managed to do it again, and maybe even better, with Voyager. Now I just have to see Enterprise and see if that is as good as DS9 and Voyager.