DEEP SPACE NINE: PART 1, SISKO, MADNESS AND THE FERENGI

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In case you’re pretending to not be a nerd, DS9 stands for “draw out the opening credits as long as possible so we can save nine minutes worth of show production costs per episode.” ¯ What, are Trek fans going to complain about something being ponderous and dull? Yes.

The show is set aboard a space station that is also named Deep Space Nine. The station is partially a Benthamian hellhole, modeled on the utilitarian’s insane plans for building “panopticon” prisons because of his belief that the greatest possible aggregate utility would occur if he could stand in one place and watch dozens of people going to the bathroom at once. Also, it was critical that inmates know that they might be observed at anytime, but never know when they are being observed. True, the walls on DS9 are not transparent from the outside, but they might as well be. Anybody on the station at any time can just be like, “computer, locate Matt Cale.” And the computer will be like, “Lieutenant Cale is in the holsuite, sir. Heart rate is elevated though he seems to be laying still on his back. Probably because he is masturbating.” Nobody ever knocks because it would be a mostly empty gesture. Oh, also there is only one cop, but he can turn into anything and hide anywhere. Like, for example, a piece of furniture in your room or a glass of water in a restaurant could turn out to be a cop at any time. The authorities throw people in jail whenever they want for as long as they want and that jail cell is completely transparent and constantly under intimate observation unless the plot requires otherwise.

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Somehow, DS9 is simultaneously an intergalactic bazaar where trafficking in both human beings and weapons of mass destruction is commonplace. There’s lots of drinking, gambling and fighting. Everyone acts like there’s a lot more sex than there really is. Overall it reminds me of the place where one of my favorite movies (Casino) is set, and where about 150 of my least favorite movies are set: Las Vegas. Controlled depravity under total surveillance. I would definitely go there for the holosuites and I would say that I was going to take the opportunity to fire a phaser off into space but then I’d never get around to it and then I would want to go home. In any case, I think it makes for the best premise of the franchise because the action comes to them more organically. Especially because DS9 is a point of strategic importance to various conflicts, so it saves them from having to be like, “for the 89th time, we’ve discovered a planet with a population of less advanced humanoids. The only question remaining is, will some sort of predicament arise where we have to decide if we should aid them with our technology, or will it turn out that they were actually super advanced god like creatures who will never be heard from again?”

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Captain:
We know what we like in our Star Trek Captains: grandiloquent, swashbuckling geniuses who are overly good at everything and never wrong, played by the most preposterous hams thespianry has to offer. Avery Brooks’ Commander/Captain/Emissary/The Sisko, whose side jobs include heading earth defense and Cajun and Southern cookin’ fits the bill. He’s not the intergalactic booty destroyer that Kirk was, but he does attract some of the finest sisters in the galaxy, all of whom have good hair. And when he’s not doing that, he is creating the entire universe and much of history with his imagination.

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Really! At least two episodes put forward the theory that the universe of Star Trek is the story told by the Sisko’s counterpart, also played by Brooks, a frustrated black writer in the 1950s named Benny Russell who dreams of space ships and equality between races. For this, he is thrown into the nuthouse, but he completes the story on the walls of his rubber room, granting life to billions. The evidence for this theory extends beyond the those episodes that posit it. It would also explain why Sisko has a fascination with the long forgotten sport of baseball. Also, the writer in the story is kind of a hack, which explains the show’s dialog and stuff like that and it makes sense that he would think up a protagonist’s name by doing something like, “Well, he’s a master soul food chef… Crisco… Cisco. Better make it Sisko.” Plus, if Benny was wrong, how do you explain his knowledge of the scientific trends of the future? And if the world of DS9 is imagined into existence by by Benny Russell in the 1950s that would mean he also correctly imagined all of the historical events mentioned between the time he lived and the time DS9 is set. Especially those that actually occurred between the time of Benny and the the time the fictional TV show DS9 was filmed, which probably means he even imagined your birth into existence from inside the TV. Therefore, I recommend believing the Benny Russell scenario because there’s kind of a Pascal’s wager thing going on where if he is wrong maybe you would cease to exist. Further discussion of the issue can be seen here, but if I have learned anything at all, it is this: The path of The Sisko is one of madness.

Back to the racial thing. I’m sure that at the time, Fox News types were like “Oh they just HAD to have a black captain!” But to those of us who live in the realm of sanity, Sisko’s blackness isn’t really a big thing. Like, of course a Star Trek captain could be black. We rational, progressive folk reserve our “political corectness gone mad” spiels for Janeway (see video above). However, when you watch episode after episode, while Sisko being black is rarely a major plot point, you can see that a great deal of thought went into presenting Sisko as a role model for Star Trek’s millions of African American fans. His favorite baseball player–Robinson being too on the nose–is Willie Mays. And as a hero, Sisko is of a similar template, representing the best of Afro American culture, but long having shed the aspects that were vestiges of racist oppression. Star Bleks are never proud of ignorance or how many different women they’ve had kids with. If cross walks existed, they would walk through them more quickly if they saw you trying to make a right turn. But they honor the memory of the civil rights struggle and their own formidable cultural achievements. For example, Sisko is reluctant to go to Vic’s Las Vegas Lounge because the holosuite program sanitizes the discrimination of the era it portrays. But Sisko doesn’t name his kid L’Janthony or BMW, but Jake. In short, in a few hundred years everybody will conclude that the truth lies somewhere between Bill Cosby and Chris Rock. Just in case you can’t see through all of the stoned glibness and rambling, a really do believe that all of the racial stuff was handled admirably.

Sisko certainly equals or exceeds his forerunners in terms of bombast, courage, and pretension somehow coexisting with near omniscience and totally unrealistic combat skills for a middle aged administrator. I’m going to reiterate what I said before. Sisko is: 1)A Starfleet Captain 2) Promoted to Commander 3) The Emissary, which is to say the intermediary between man and God and 4) Promoted to just being God, at least insofar as being creator of the entire post-1950’s universe. Also, there’s a side story where they travel back in time and accidentally get a Gandhi-like figure in the 21st centrury killed, so Sisko just fills in for him and takes his pivotal place in history. Because creating the universe was not a big enough feather in his cap. Because of all of this, the worm whole aliens refer to him simply as The Sisko. It’s almost as bad as Jesus.

So, in terms of over the top macho awesomeness, Sisko can stand with any other captain. But what about the acting? Obviously, nobody wants to see great, naturalistic acting here. This is a question of who devours the most scenery. Patrick Stewart might be a famous, old, British, Shakespearean actor but those guys are always gigantic hams who get too much deference because SIR LORD SHAKESPEARE OF ENGLAND. So he was a fine choice for Picard. And in any other franchise, he would be cock of the ham walk. But let’s get real. This is a two ham race, between Shatner and Brooks. I’m not going to argue that Brooks is a grander ham than Shatner because that is a hell of an argument to make. I will suggest, however, that if you view both performances with an open mind, the subject is at least open to discussion. Plus, the Siskos give us three generations of hams. For a kid, Cirroc Lofton is a pretty impresive ham as Jake, the most disappointing son since the retarded Manning brother, while Sisko’s father is played by Brock Peters with every ounce of the hammyness one would expect from an actor named Brock Peters.

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As an aside, one way to differentiate Trek captains is whether they constantly defy logic and jeopardize thousands of lives on the basis of gut, or principle. Kirk is all gut, while Picard is more of a principle guy. Archer (the one played by Scott Bacula) is almost all principle. Janeway is… well, honestly I usually kind of tuned out whenever she was talking. For me, Sisko strikes the right balance. He is the Star Trek Captain I would most fear at a poker table. Kirk’s luck would run out at some point because he couldn’t just keep guessing right forever. Picard would be tough, but he would have certain limits that could be tested. Archer would be predictable and kind of an ABC player, though a good one. Janeway is a woman with babies and hormones (see her video above). Sisko is capable of anything at any time. His repertoire of decisions includes all of the good ones and very few bad ones. He is a mad man tethered by reason. The fact that gods whisper into his ear could be a problem too. I bet Avery Brooks really had to reach deep to create this persona:

Lamest Alien Race:

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The lamest alien race on DS9 is The Dosi, who appear in the episode “The Rules Of Acquisition.” They would be horrible enough looking if they were some race of hapless peasants, but this species is meant to be tough and intimidating. The implication of this is that somebody thought “you know what springs to mind when I think ‘intimidating?’ Well mimes, of course. And LARPers. Wait, wait…. what if I combined mimes AND LARPers into a single entitiy of pure fearsomeness? I’ll even throw in some Umpa Lumpa. Look out Giger!”

Best Alien Race:

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The Ferengi. For one thing, they are one of the only races humanity can look down on from a cultural perspective and would also beat at most sports. This exchange sums it up pretty well:

Kira: I don’t understand your attitude about the Ferengi

Jadzia: That’s because you don’t socialize with them like I do. Looking back over seven lifetimes, I can’t think of a single race I’ve enjoyed more….

 

Kira: They are greedy, untrustworthy misogynistic little trolls and I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them for a second!

Jadzia: Neither would I but once you accept that, you’ll find they can be a lot of fun.

What could be a more powerful endorsement than Jadzia liking them and Kira hating them? That is like if a new movie came out and Gloria Allred was suing the producers while Kreayshawn got baked and attended the premiere. We’re meant to think of the Ferengi as still battling the limitations that humanity outgrows as part of the federation: ignorance, discrimination and lust for money. As those values clash with those of The Federation, we see the first cracks in the Ferengi cultural dam, which will eventually give way to Reason. This is dangerous territory because the defining element of the “outdated” Ferengi culture is totally unfettered capitalism. In the Ferengi afterlife, you have to bribe your way into heaven. I think a pretty sizable part of the Star Trek audience are power nerd Libertarians and you can’t risk alienating them. So the Ferengi have to make up for everything with spunk, odd charm and guile, much like the humans had to do relative to the Vulcans and this best/worst dynamic makes them the most entertaining race.

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Quark is the owner of the station’s bar and casino and the show’s primary Ferengi. In the first couple of seasons they were using pretty broad stokes and about every third or fourth episode, Quark would be involved in some scheme that had implications that were far bigger than they needed to be for any dramatic purpose. When he was found out, Sisko or Odo would chew him out for, say, smuggling biological weapons for use in a genocide and say “if I ever catch you doing that again…”

As the show develops, Quark becomes the center point of clash between Federation and Ferengi cultures and they scale back on the angle of him being a soulless merchant of WMDs, slaves, drugs, child pornography and Axe Body Spray. We learn that Quark underchargered starving Bajorans in the past, and he is riven by unspoken tendencies towards compassion and justice, his adherence to Ferengi values and his personal virtues and failings. His mother is the vanguard, advocating for everything from fair trade to women being allowed to do business. Rom, (below) is the labor progressive. Liquidator Brunt is the reactionary force that initially has some sway with Quark. But his extremism and refusal to compromise ultimately makes Brunt into centrist Quark’s chief nemesis, thereby nudging him towards progress. Like many hard reactionary factions, say the KKK, Brunt eventually becomes an out of control TIE fighter (sorry for crossing streams) of craziness, spinning off into the dark space of irrelevance and compelling everyone else to move in the opposite direction. Wallace Shawn steals the show every time as Grand Negus Zek who obviously represents the elites. All of them. He’s like a business guru/king/religious figure/president, except when the story requires him to answer to some other political apparatus. He too is eventually persuaded towards progress, but that sort of seems like it could have gone either way. If Zek didn’t end up Delonte Westing Quark’s mom, maybe he would have thrown his hat in with Brunt and Ferengi progress would have been more tumultuous.

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Rom:

Rom is Quark’s brother and Nog’s father. Early on, he is just sort of a groveling idiot who lets Quark walk all over him, but then it turns out that he is good at fixing stuff and he works with O’Brein, fixing stuff for Starfleet. At first, I thought this was inconsistent because Rom never seemed very smart and now here he is fixing quantum flux fantabulators all of the sudden. Then I realized that it is the future, so fixing a matter transporter then is like some guy fixing an engine now and that Nog really just has what they call “bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.” Because the Ferengi only value wealth, Quark feels like Rom being a skilled laborer makes him useless and Rom feels compelled to go along with him. Contrast that with humans, where you think the guy who fixes your car is an idiot because he religiously listens to Mancow’s Morning Madhouse and he thinks you’re an idiot because you don’t know how to change your own oil. Maybe that is why, after being exposed to Federation culture, Rom winds up being a general progressive, crucial to the movement to make Quark’s a union shop and moderately sympathetic to Ferengi feminism. What can we take away from all this? The working man is only a friend to progressive causes when he has his employer’s boot on his neck. I think this is why Democratic presidents rarely do anything to actually help workers, like quintupling the size of OSHA the minute they take office. Because of Rom.

Nog:

Nog is somewhat disturbing because while Jake sprouts from a tween into UConn recruit, the actor who plays Nog undergoes no physical changes during the show’s seven year run. I wonder if he was one of those child actors whose parents gave him female hormones so that he would have a better chance to get roles and then everyone involved turns a blind eye to this horrible act of child abuse.

As the first Ferengi to enter Star Fleet, and before that, one of the first Ferengi to receive a liberal education in an earth style school, Nog represents the nerdy kid from a backwards culture who is the first in his family to go to college but his family is kind of ambivalent about it rather than proud because they are resentful rubes and then the kid comes home insisting that the earth can not possibly be 6,000 years old, just as his parents had feared. If the show ran longer, they could have further developed Nog to the point where he overcompensated and became a complete knob. Like the kind of kid who decides to stand up and louldy declare his vegetarianism at Thanksgiving Dinner and who gets mad at his dad for liking Larry Bird. So Nog is the one you identify with if you are one of the only smart kids in some hick town or if you are an Antwon Fisher. Look at this scene between Nog and Jake and pretend that instead of being a Ferengi, Nog comes from white trash, but Jake remains a black kid.

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Jake: I guess humans and Ferengi don’t have a lot to talk about.

Nog: That’s what my father says

Jake: Yeah, mine too.

Jake (hesitating, but then with conviction): That doesn’t mean they’re right. We always had stuff to talk about before! So what do you say, you still want to be friends?

Nog: Yes. But when my father finds out, he won’t be happy.

It is as if DS9 is reaching out, offering that first ray of light to trapped young minds. Not just by giving them something to relate to, but by forcing them to face the tension of relating to a character that is an amalgamation of extreme stereotypes about Jews and stereotypes about the kind rednecks who believe that extreme stereotypes about Jews are true and whom I believe stereotypes about. Money grubbers/teeth that look like a candy cane you accidentally left in your back pocket; see greed as a virtue/abusive towards women; good with money/love to gamble; manipulate politicians to their interests/manipulated by politicians against their interests, eat disgusting food/eat disgusting food. And in the same way that tube grubs look like spam and mayo sandwiches on wonder bread to us, through the eyes of someone traped in West Memphis, Arkansas they look like Chinese food. And/or Jake and Nog are gay.

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About Plexico Gingrich

Plexico likes to gamble. He writes for a boxing site which you can visit: here
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