Emissary Season 1, Episode 1 - January 3, 1993

Reviewed December 10, 2023
This review contains spoilers.

When I heard that the Delta Flyers podcast was going to begin covering Deep Space 9, something clicked in my head. I’ve been wanting to start writing up some TV reviews for a while, and I realized this was the perfect opportunity to get some words down about my all-time favorite series.

I’ve seen Deep Space Nine all the way through twice now, and having also recently watched Babylon 5 for the first time recently, this era of sci-fi has been on my mind a bit.

The first time I started watching DS9 was the same night I finished Next Generation for the first time. TNG was always in the background of my life through my dad’s obsession with it, but I never really gave it the time of day until I graduated high school. After that I started slowly working my way through TNG for the next few years, and once I was finally done I figured “well, I might as well see if any of these other shows are worth the time too.”

I finished watching Deep Space Nine three months later.

I really like this show.

And so we begin with the opening two-parter, Emissary. Right away this episode pulls zero punches, dropping right into the Battle of Wolf 359, as the newly assimilated Locutus of Borg bears down on the USS Saratoga, where we’re introduced to Benjamin Sisko.

Locutus of Borg watching a few Federation starships firing on his Borg cube, including the USS Saratoga.

Opening with the star of the other show attacking your new lead was a bold choice.

You could argue this opening is too fanservicey and a cheap way to generate interest in this new series, but I love the dynamic it sets up between DS9 and the rest of Trek. From the get-go this show is screaming that there are consequences to the actions our heroes on the Enterprise takes, and that they cannot be ignored or brushed aside for the new gravitational anomaly of the week.

It also sets up some great character stuff between Sisko and Picard, when the two meet to discuss Sisko’s promotion to commander of Deep Space 9, the former base of operations for the Cardassian occupation of Bajor.

Captain Picard, grimacing after learning Sisko is a victim of Wolf 359.

"Yes, sir. We met in battle. I was on the Saratoga at Wolf 359."

You know, it’s kinda funny that both of the screenshots I’ve included so far for the DS9 premiere are of a TNG character.

Picard’s scenes in this episode are short, but not a second of them is wasted. The way his collected demeanor instantly washes away when Sisko explains his animosity towards the captain is one of my favorite bits of characterization in all of Star Trek, and the look Picard gives him says so much about his mental state.

There’s a bit from the 2022 run of comics that inverts this scene in a way I really enjoy. 1

Snippet from Star Trek (2022) #1. Sisko and Picard are talking in The Enterprise-D's meeting room. Picard: "Then just ask for the damned thing! You're a war hero, captain! The man who defeated the Dominion." Sisko: "Sure...and then I was taken by a mysterious alien race no one else understands and had my body and mind forever changed. ... *That's* why you. Of all people."

We also see quite a few different sides to Sisko as well over the course of this two-parter. We see him as a commander, as a caring father, as someone willing to play the Ferengi commerce game, as a baseball pitcher, as a lover, as the reluctant Emissary to the Bajoran people, we see him struggle with his past, and we see him try to make sense of the impossible.

I really like how all of the supporting characters are developed as well. It would have been very easy to establish everyone as being the Roddenberry image of perfect and beyond all conflict, but everyone feels so much more real than that. Kira, the freedom fighter who now struggles to cope with the newfound freedom she spent her whole life fighting for. Odo, the station’s security chief who has strongly fascist tendencies and shows a disdain for anyone he considers trouble. Dr. Bashir, the bright-faced Starfleet graduate who wanders into the world Kira has struggled to protect her whole life, and can only think to call it “the new frontier.” Quark, the lying, cheating bartender who is responsible for most of the trouble aboard the station.

Of course, despite their conflicts the one thing that unites everyone more than anything else is their shared loathing of the Cardassians, Gul Dukat in particular.

Gul Dukat is such an incredible villain, on a show that has so many incredible villains. He’s slimy, he’s self-obsessed, he’s stubborn, and he refuses to see himself as anything other than the misunderstood hero that the ungrateful lot surrounding him continually refuse to acknowledge. You can immediately feel the change in the air when he shows up as everyone braces for impact.

This episode also fleshes out the Bajoran religion, which was briefly touched on over on TNG. Here, we see a lot more of its ;leadership structure, as well as how it contributes to their social and political systems. In addition, we’re introduced to the Prophets, the creatured worshipped at the center of their religion. These creatures exist outside of linear time as we know it, and live in a stable wormhole within the Bajoran star system, leading to the distant Gamma Quadrant.

The Prophets are one of the most controversial aspects of this show, but I’ve always appreciated sci-fi that addresses religion with a bit more nuance. Babylon 5 also does this quite well, showing a bunch of different perspectives on religion without feeling forced to pick a side.

The way the meeting with the Prophets is really interesting. I like the way they take on the appearance of people from Sisko’s past. It’s haunting seeing these familiar faces speaking in such an unfamiliar voice, especially when they take the form of Jennifer, Sisko’s wife who was killed on the Saratoga.

Sisko in the Wormhole, seen in a memory of him playing baseball.

"You value your ignorance of what is to come?" ... "That may be the most important thing to understand about humans."

In this sequence we see Sisko use the game of baseball as a metaphor to explain the concept of linear existence, and in turn the Prophets use his explanation to interrogate Sisko on his inability to move on from his past trauma.

Sisko in the Wormhole, seen in a memory of him on the Saratoga, standing over Jennifer's lifeless body. A prophet is seen, in the image of a Bolian crewmember. Prophet: "If all you say is true, why do you exist here?"

"I exist here. I don't know if you can understand. I see her like this every time I close my eyes. In the darkness, in the blink of an eye, I see her like this."

Seeing Sisko totally break down after he’s forced to confront the memory he keeps himself chained to is heartbreaking, and it perfectly sets the stage for what this show is going to become. This whole sequence is incredible, but I would’ve enjoyed it more if there was just a bit less of the prophets asking “[Thing]? What is this [Thing]?” in response to everything Sisko says, in the exact same tone. I get what they were doing, but it felt a bit repetitive after a point.

This episode has a lot of character building to do, and the fact that they managed to make everyone feel so real and three-dimensional, while establishing the political stakes that would define the series, while exploring one of the most profound science fiction concepts I’ve ever seen, while telling an exciting and engaging story, while also expanding on the characters of its sister show without detracting from either…

This episode is amazing.

I love this show so much.

I’m not sure how regular these posts will be, but I want to try and get up reviews for the whole series if I can. I’ll try not to let them all run as long as this one has, but I have way too many thoughts about DS9 to keep them all bottled up.

1 Those comics are really fanservicey, but I liked them quite a bit for what they were. Worth checking out if you want some post-DS9 storytelling and can stomach it getting a bit fanfiction-heavy at times.