There are too many things to recommend about the first episode of Deep Space Nine. It may be the best pilot in franchise history.
Famously envisioned as the series set on something other than a starship, Deep Space Nine is the first Star Trek incarnation to feature the name of its setting in the title, a trend that continued through the next two creations. DS9 is, of course, a space station, still controversial a setting, as many sci-fi fans believe the idea was stolen from J. Michael Staczynski's Babylon 5, at that time still waiting for an official launch. Gene Roddenberry had been briefed on the concept before his death in 1991, but this is the first time the Great Bird of the Galaxy had no direct input on a resulting product in the franchise. It was truly the dawn of the Rick Berman era.
Anyway, "Emissary" has its roots squarely in the Next Generation "Best of Both Worlds" two-part episode that left a seismic impact on fans. Benjamin Sisko, serving as first officer of the Saratoga, experiences the Battle of Wolf 359 firsthand, the moment Captain Picard, as semi-assimilated human representative Locutus, leads the Borg in its drive toward Earth and obliterates an entire Starfleet armada along the way. Sisko's ship is among those lost in the disaster, and while he is able to rescue his young son Jake, he loses his wife Jennifer. Three years later, he's still brooding over the loss, unable to truly move on, when he's assigned to Deep Space Nine, formerly Terok Nor, a Cardassian station in orbit of Bajor, a planet that has been ravaged for decades and now a protectorate of the Federation, a potential future member, assuming the politics work out. The Bajorans, however, are just as reluctant about this situation as Sisko, who only wants to resign his post, while the Cardassians try and pretend everything's fine.
Just like, well, Captain Picard, who is the officer assigned to help Sisko make the transition. Sisko is less than pleased about it. In fact, he can barely hide his fury. He blames under no uncertain terms Picard, and can't stand to be in the same room as him. It's the first time anyone we're supposed to care about has reacted negatively toward Picard, for whom the audience has always had sympathy, possibly because no one we knew had been adversely affected by his experience with the Borg. Other than, you know, all those ships lost at Wolf 359.
However, Sisko finds himself confronted by Bajor's spiritual leader, Kai Opaka, who says she sees something special in him. It's probably the first time someone has approached him in three years and see potential in him, and not just a body to be moved around, to occupy space here or there. Opaka moves him along the path toward discovery of the wormhole, a passage through space that also happens to contain the Prophets, the basis for Bajoran religion. Except the Prophets are also noncorporeal beings who are interested in rehabilitating Sisko, help him move on from his loss, and move forward, because as Opaka suggested, he has great things to accomplish. They don't understand the concept of time, or human experience, and while Sisko helps them with that, they help him look beyond these things, too.
It's a profoundly spiritual introduction, and if that had been the only contact with the Prophets, "Emissary" would still be a milestone in franchise lore, the first time a main character is truly challenged to become something greater than they once were, to accept the possibility of their own potential. In fact, that's what Deep Space Nine is all about, Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future in working order, striving toward perfection, even while everything seems to work against this ambition. Roddenberry himself liked to believe that humanity would have already reached that point, so all the characters to this point had already come to a basic understanding of themselves and their abilities.
Sisko is surrounded by individuals who have much work to do. Miles O'Brien, a familiar Next Generation presence but mostly relegated to a transporter operator, suddenly has an entire space station to maintain, and a family to pacify, just like Sisko. They're mirror images, in many ways. Major Kira is the angry Bajoran who doesn't believe there's any point to working with Starfleet, but is forced to try. Jadzia Dax is suddenly a young woman, but the symbiont used to belong to an old man Sisko called friend. Julian Bashir just earned his medical license, and is looking forward to adventure, naively. Odo seems most at home, but he's the outsider who doesn't even know who his people are. Quark is the opportunist who doesn't want this opportunity!
Sisko actually didn't have that much more to do during the first few seasons of the show, so that makes "Emissary" all the more important, setting everything in motion, and it does so in grand fashion. Seeing that this would be the first time Star Trek stayed in one spot for an extended period of time (seven seasons, in total), it was important to establish that there would be enough interesting things to care about, and if the characters themselves weren't enough, then hopefully the threat of the Cardassians, long established in Next Generation, and the Bajorans, who had suffered under them for many years, and had previously been represented by the popular character Ensign Ro, who was actually supposed to be featured in Deep Space Nine. Gul Dukat makes his first appearance during "Emissary," and like Sisko would take a long time to develop into the major character he'd become (in fact not even appearing again until the second season).
It is absolutely essential viewing for any Star Trek fan, either as the first episode of Deep Space Nine, or for its profound insights into the human condition.
franchise * series * essential * character
Felecia M. Bell
Memory Alpha summary.