Netflix Better / Chill Harder: Star Trek: Deep Space 9

As Netflix's backlog of content shrinks in the wake of its emphasis on self-produced content, Eithne Dodd dredges up one old series still worth binge-watching. Deciding what to watch is hard. Too much choice mixed with too much crap means you just end up watching stuff you know is good, but have seen a million times. Well I encourage you to take just a tiny side step away from you default show-to-chill-by and start watch Star Trek: Deep Space 9.Regardless of whether you hated, loved, or even know about the original Star Trek series or how you feel about The Next Generation reboot, Deep Space 9 will find a way to please.The show takes what the original Star Trek presented us with, a utopian future of peace and prosperity and posed the question: ‘How much are you willing to change your Utopia in order to save it?’Set on a neglected Cardassian space station on the edge of Federation Space, a very reluctant Commander Sisko is assigned to run it as a federation outpost in conjunction with the brazen Major Kira who wants nothing to do with the Federation. Major Kira is from Bajor, a planet that has just been liberated from a 50 year unjust occupation by the Cardassian Empire.The series begins with Star Fleet setting up in the new station, on a runabout mission, Sisko and Lieutenant Commander Dax discover a stable wormhole that allows ships to pass through into the other side of the galaxy. However the discovery of the new wormhole brings new threats and reignites the Cardassian interest in Bajor.DS9 used its stationary setting to go boldly in depth about classism, religion and terrorism. The characters are not instantly likeable and their situation is far from glamourous but, trust me, it is as show that grows on you.The character development is solid and even every recurring character grows as a person on screen. We go from a Commander Sisko who resents being assigned to the station to a Captain Sisko that risks his life to save it. Even characters with smaller roles such as Nog and Garak get to expand who they are and grow into themselves as the series progresses.If you watch TV for their watchable “bad-guys” then DS9 won’t disappoint. You may have difficulty picking which one is the worst though; you’ve got a manipulative spiritual leader, a handful of terrorists, traitors of Star Fleet, corrupt positions, evil military leaders and strategy officers, defective soldiers and nearly omnipotent alien beings. Gul Dukat, Kai Winn, Weyoun (and many others that would be spoilers to name) are all deeply engrossing and often give very valid reasons for why they pursue their respective goals. None of them are two dimensional in their character or plot and all of them force the characters to re-evaluate their beliefs and positions.DS9 introduced new ways of identifying with people that previously weren’t seen in TV shows. Most of the time bad-guys just about had enough air time to explain their dastardly plan while maniacally stroking their cat before the good-guy swept in to stop them. In DS9, terrorists are given time to be seen as people and identified with leave the audience and the good-guys with mixed feelings.The characters in DS9 are fallible and have divided loyalties and inherent biases. The star fleet crew are betrayed, more than once by people who the audience has come to trust. There are many times when the crew are forced to look at people they’ve known for years and ask ‘are you an imposter?’ There is even an episode (“Paradise Lost”) where the paranoia about imposters becomes so fervent that the federation imposes Marshall Law leading to a brilliant speech on the ethics of taking away personal freedoms in order to protect personal freedoms.However, if you are an original series fan, don’t worry; DS9 still has the look and feel of the Trek franchise. From Season 3 on DS9 steps up its over-arching plot and the episodes blend into each other nicely while also leaving enough room to either have fun (episodes such as “Our Man Bashir”, “Little Green Men” or “Trials and Tribble-ations”) or explore specific philosophical issues. “The Quickening” looks at how people’s attitude towards death defines their life; “It’s Only a Paper Moon” deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and “Duet” examines how war criminals should be treated.In spite of the many looming threats on the show, DS9 also manages to live up to the utopian vision of humanity. Racism is explored in the brilliant episode “Far Beyond the Stars”. “Melora” examines how people with physical disabilities are treated. “In the Hands of the Prophets” deals with the conflict between scientific and religious teachings.But perhaps one of the best reasons to watch Deep Space 9 is an educational one. Even if you are not a fan of the Star Trek franchise, DS9 could be viewed as a forerunner for the heavily serialised tv shows we are used to today. Running from 1993-97, DS9 is one of the first shows to have long arcs that were carried out for more than an episode or a single season. Because DS9 was a station and couldn’t move onto a new planet or people every episode, you, as the audience, don’t so much see the characters “seek out new life and new civilisations” so much as you see them make new life and redefine civilisation. DS9 explores the values of utopia and constantly redefines them throughout the series as new threats emerge. It is also not a show that refreshes the audience’s memory with a “last time”, you are expected to remember who the Jem’Hadar are and what the deal is with Ketracel-white.While it is a Star Trek show, and Star Trek can be predictable and corny, it is also a Star Trek show and Star Trek can be magnificent.Star Trek Deep Space 9 has its moments of light-hearted romps and some cheesy filler episodes but at its core it’s a thought-provoking and engrossing show with intriguing plots and characters. All Star Trek imagines a world where humans have created a peaceful world where everyone can achieve their potential but DS9 shows us that the human race will still have many fights worth fighting.