In January of 1993, Star Trek expanded once again, notably for the first time in its history to have two series run simultaneously on television (though it might be noted that competing crews had been a problem for fans since 1987, not just as a matter for debate but as a practical concern, between movie and TV adventures). Deep Space Nine was the first franchise incarnation to launch without the hand of Gene Roddenberry, guided instead by the emerging new creative generation led by Rick Berman and Michael Piller.
The show immediately focused squarely on internal matters, from the “Best of Both Worlds” flashback that introduced Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) to the space station Starfleet inherits from the aftermath of the Cardassian-Bajoran conflict. Visually, the debut of the wormhole, and the Prophets who help guide Sisko to an unlikely destiny, are a catchy way to distinguish Deep Space Nine from Next Generation, which is called to mind both in the guest appearance of Picard and the promotion to series regular of Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney). Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo), Nog (Aron Eisenberg), Jennifer Sisko (Felecia M. Bell), Rom (Max Grodenchik), and Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola) all mark their first appearances, establishing the regular appearances of guest characters in the series. In addition, J.G. Hertzler marks an early debut as well, a cameo as a Vulcan captain, before finally returning in what would become a regular role, three seasons later.
1x3 “Past Prologue”
Major Kira, the Bajoran liaison officer created to replace Ro Laren once Michelle Forbes passed on the series, receives her first proper introduction, and Nana Visitor quickly establishes herself as not just a worthy successor, but a dynamic force and icon in her own right. Also notable for the debut of Garak (Andrew Robinson), and an appearance by the Duras Sisters.
1x4 “A Man Alone”
Odo (Rene Auberjonois), station security chief and shape-shifter, is properly established here (just read the episode title again), as well as his relationship with shady Ferengi bartender Quark (Armin Shimerman), probably the earliest episode with the most direct relevance for later episodes, after the pilot.
While the story itself is pretty throwaway, this is the first episode since the pilot to handle the ensemble in its entirety.
1x6 “Captive Pursuit”
Hard to believe that early on, the inhabitants from the Gamma Quadrant were left as one enormous riddle, a way to bring the typical Star Trek episodic alien worlds to the station, which isn’t to say you’d be wasting your time, waiting for the Dominion, with the early seasons. This is as much an O’Brien episode (any Next Generation fan must have loved Deep Space Nine from the start just for a more regular dose of that) as anything, plus an interesting episode in itself, which in hindsight probably still manages to conjure the Dominion (would it really be much of a stretch to assume The Hunters engineered Tosk - played by Star Trek troupe regular Scott MacDonald - after the pattern of the Founders, who after all similarly engineered the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar?).
Vash and some other dude (“You hit me! Picard never hit me!”) take up residence for an episode, just in case viewers are still wondering if this new show really is Star Trek.
Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) probably with this episode has the honor of initiating the Deep Space Nine trend to feature the context of a character through unfortunate aspects of their past (“Necessary Evil” is probably the most famous example). Jadzia, however, has a whole lot of past, which this episode is specifically designed to spotlight, since she’s a Trill, the latest host for the Dax symbiont, one of the more ambitious elements of an already ambitious show, since the prior host, Curzon, has been established already to have a past with Sisko (which is why he’ll sometimes call Jadzia “Old Man”). Probably an overlooked episode.
1x10 “Move Along Home”
Easily dismissed as one of those classic, silly Star Trek first season episodes, another look will reveal it does its best to do what later seasons would do more easily. Notably, the second of two appearances of Lieutenant George Primmin (James Lashly), a sort of prototype Eddington meant to serve as a Starfleet counterpoint to Odo. Also worth viewing to see Quark paint himself into a corner.
1x11 “The Nagus”
Ah! The first appearance of Maihar’du (Tiny Ron)! Oh, and Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn), who employs Quark in a plot to trick his own son (never, ever seen again) into revealing that he doesn’t have the lobes to become the new Nagus.
Later, of course, we’d learn concrete details about Odo’s people (yay!), but this is another example of what a comparatively innocent Deep Space Nine might have to say about the subject, offerings as it turns out some accurate teasers.
1x13 “Battle Lines”
Kai Opaka makes a premature exit (if Bajorans and viewers don’t appreciate it, two words: Kai Winn), wrapping a continuity episode around an episodic one.
1x14 “The Storyteller”
Notable as the earliest O’Brien-Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) episode. Nog and Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton) also share one of their earliest b-stories in the episode, even establishing dangling their legs above the Promenade.
If “Past Prologue” is easy to overlook and “Duet” is considered the sole classic of the first season, then “Progress” is the Kira episode I’ve tried to champion as another strong piece of nuanced storytelling, something the series would come to be defined by.
1x16 “If Wishes Were Horses”
A bit of fluff that nonetheless is still a strong bit of early defining material, whether over the relationship between Dax and Bashir or Sisko’s love for baseball (which in later years would become iconic, in the form of the ball he keeps permanently on his desk), exemplified here by legendary fictional player Buck Bokai.
1x17 “The Forsaken”
Unlike “Q-Less,” this episodes manages to make a trademark element of Next Generation, namely irrepressible Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett), entirely its own, establishing a counterpoint relationship with Odo that would help soften his rough edges.
1x18 “Dramatis Personae”
Like Voyager, Deep Space Nine was envisioned to push the boundaries of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a perfect future where everyone gets along, and this episode demonstrates how, with a little push, everything that had been working so well during the first season could unravel in a heartbeat.
Here’s the one everyone seems to remember from the season, with good reason, because it elevates the premise of the series to where it would eventually rest, diving deeply and without apologies into the complexities both of the show’s fictional world and what the viewer might notice all around them. This wasn’t just escapist entertainment anymore, the episode might as well have been saying, but a bold move to broaden the franchise’s horizons. Notable also for a Gul Dukat appearance, because in the early seasons, they were more rare than memory might suggest, and for the debut of another short-lived recurring character, Neela (Robin Christopher), who was herself a replacement for a failed attempt earlier (circa “The Forsaken”).
1x20 “In the Hands of the Prophets”
Basically the unofficial second season premiere, with the debuts of Vedeks Winn (Louise Fletcher) and Bareil (Philip Anglim), lots of resulting Bajoran politics, and generally, a return to the sense of what the pilot was trying to set up, the uncomfortable dynamics of a Starfleet crew trying to live totally immersed in an alien environment.
It’s amazing to think how the series has become perhaps even more relevant today than when it first came on the air (notably, around the time of the first World Trade Center terrorist attack), how in a post-Iraq War world, Deep Space Nine can still have things to say, especially given its apolitical, shades of gray storytelling style (notably, in the first season, exemplified by “Progress,” “Duet”). A lot of viewers who readily identify themselves as fans still don’t much care for the early seasons, and not just for seemingly throwaway episodes like “If Wishes Were Horses” and “Babel,” but because they don’t care for the very things that helped make the show what it was, right from the start. I would argue, you can’t be a fan of Deep Space Nine without a healthy appreciation of how it began.