Episode 1.1: Emissary

The closest TNG ever got to destroying Roddenberry’s paradise was in Best of Both Worlds (TNG Ep. 3.26/4.1) where Earth was nearly assimilated by the Borg.  A perfect beginning to DS9.  Even though the crew of the Enterprise was able to resolve the threat, Sisko was not.  It was there at Wolf 359 that his world shattered, and he became stuck in a moment of pain, unable to move on.  The galaxy moved on, but not Sisko.  The show comes back to this, but the episode moves on into an introduction of the station and the rest of its inhabitants first.

The station itself is a most intriguing physical setting.  It’s broken down, dirty, barely functioning.  A majority of the crew doesn’t want to be there or has hesitations about being assigned to that post (Sisko, Kira, Quark, Jake, and O’Brien, each for different reasons).  There is absolutely a sense of this being the wrong place for anyone involved.  The old west feeling of the station is obvious and intentional.  The bar, the sheriff’s office, the school, the temple, and the infirmary all end up in the public square of the promenade.  Modern conveniences of replicators (and even beds!) are not working.  The wormhole offers a completely unexplored quadrant as the frontier.  Like an old west marshal, Sisko’s authority exists because he’s adept at knowing the people he governs and how to get them working together, and not from any external source of inherent authority.  There is no Starfleet, and the Provisional Government is openly mocked.  Sisko’s manipulating of Quark starts a wonderful tradition.  All three players in the constable’s office see the law as mutable.  Odo serves justice, not the law.  Sisko accepts the means as long as the results are justifiable.  Quark is simply self-interested.  This interplay results in Quark becoming the vessel where the crew can work outside the bounds of the law.  This will happen time and again throughout the series, and it reinforces a principle I appreciate: justice is superior to law.

Besides Sisko (whose story sandwiches this middle section of setting and character introduction), nearly all of the crew takes the first step on major themes they’ll explore as the series progresses.  Kira begins to struggle with her trust of others.  Quark is coerced into caring for others.  O’Brien desires a good life and simply wishes to get by.  Odo’s search for self, identity, and values is clear.  We see Jake as a boy as his journey to manhood begins.  Bashir’s idealism is almost painful to watch, and he searches for the answer to whether his idealism is worthwhile or not.  Jadzia Dax is the only character I find makes no step along any path, and I find her the dullest character in the series.  Ezri is far more interesting, but has no time to develop and is months and months away from this discussion.

The central journey in this episode is Sisko’s, and he begins to address my favorite theme to DS9: why be alive?  What does it mean to exist?  Does life have purpose?  Much of the second half of the episode is dedicated to Sisko’s dialog with the Prophets as they explore the meaning of a corporeal existence.  The dialog is opened through faith.  Hinted at by the vedek on the promenade, then more strongly addressed with Kai Opaka, the presence of faith is what enables the question to be brought up.  Prior to Wolf 359, Sisko’s foundation for life was Starfleet.  Seen on the beach, he’s a fresh officer ready to seize the galaxy; at the picnic, Jennifer must fit into his Starfleet life.  Yet, this foundation could not stand in the face of the tragic death of his wife, and three years later, Sisko is prepared to leave the Fleet.  But Opaka sees past all this; she can see Sisko’s pagh, his soul.  Faith sees beyond the corporeal, the scientific, and the surface.  I would say even that the question, why be alive, cannot be answered by the corporeal.  It is inherently a question of faith.  Starfleet is not Sisko’s problem with life.  Only a dialog with the Prophets themselves will make Sisko see.

The dialog itself is the climax of Emissary.  Sisko is forced to defend his existence, and he begins with a very corporeal, almost clinical answer: linear time.  Humanoids exist solely in the moment, passing from present to future and leaving the past behind.  Can existence be defined as a series of moments?  The Prophets are unconvinced, and so should we be too.  They are consistently looking below the surface of what Sisko is saying, looking for meaning to his actions (‘Aggressive!  Adversarial!’).  Sisko gets around to the meaning of existence, but not realizing he did it.  During the analogy with baseball, he has an epiphany on the value of linear existence.  Our past shapes our future, and ignorance of the future breeds in us a joy of the unknown.  I cannot express how true this latter part is in my life.  The joy of an unfolding moment is exquisite (this is why I hate spoilers!).  Give me something unknown so I can have fun figuring it out!  Competition is valued, as is coexistence.  The Prophets hear Sisko’s words and accept the truth of it, but like Opaka, they see beyond the surface of Sisko’s life.  He may be moving through life in a physics-of-time sense, but his pagh is still with Jennifer.  He has not moved beyond her death; he remains stuck in that moment, reliving it in all this dark space of his life.  In essence, his existence has stopped (‘It is not linear.’).  He does not live, nor can he answer the question of why be alive.  The Prophets’ nonlinear world within the wormhole finally permit Sisko to confront his wife’s death by showing him that Sisko himself keeps bringing them back to that moment.  His body may exist in linear time, but his pagh is very nonlinear.  He moves beyond it, allowing his pagh to rejoin the journey of life.  Life being a journey may be a cliché, but it is certainly true.  Or to paraphrase this episode, life is linear time.  Back on the station, as the crisis with the Cardassians averted, we see this theme echoed in the closing moments as the station begins to bustle with everyday life.

Random Thoughts: 1) No wormhole in the opening credits: Nice touch. 2) Picard is amazing!  I love Sisko, but Picard is clearly the best captain. 3) First painting of Bajor is gorgeous, and the progression of paintings is fun to watch through the series.  Nice backdrop.  4) The actor who plays Martok is also the vulcan captain of the Saratoga, J. G. Hertzler.  5) Four major side characters are seen in Emissary: Nog, Rom, Dukat, and Morn.  6) Ferengi are symbolic of present-day humans.  Watch for it!  7) The Odo & Quark relationship starts off brilliantly.  8) Whenever I use the word ‘crew’ I usually mean the pertinent cast, including Jake, Quark, and any side characters.  9) Two runabout names are given: Rio Grande and Yangtze Kiang.  Destroyed-to-date: 0.  10) This episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Special Visual Effects.

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~ by Joshua Black on July 10, 2012.

3 Responses to “Episode 1.1: Emissary”

  1. (Grr, WordPress! I type an awesome comment and then it crashes and now I have to re-type. Let’s see what I can remember…)

    Fantastic! You make me want to restart my Netflix so I can watch along with you. But I won’t. Not yet. Olympics first…

    I think I can agree with your comment about Jadzia being dull. She’s very often calm, collected, and logical – the Data or Spock of this series. But, those are characteristics that I admired in her when I watched this show in my youth. (Interestingly, Data and Spock were my favs in TNG and TOS… Go figure.) Also loved her passion for science and contentedness in being her own person. In middle and high school when there’s so much pressure to conform and fit in, she was a role model for me about being comfortable in your own skin. I mean, look at all the crazy men she dated! And she was interested in Klingon subculture – totally the geek of her day.

    Never considered the progression of Bajor paintings; will have to watch for it.

    My geographical knowledge of rivers was enhanced by watching this show. Each time a new runabout was introduced, I pulled out the globe or World Book to find it. I do remember being keenly aware as runabout after runabout bit the dust that the Rio Grande kept surviving. They were never going to destroy that link back to where it all started!

    • Oh, and by all the men she dated, I mean that she couldn’t care less what others thought about her for dating them. (“His skull is transparent!”) She was going to do whatever she felt like doing, and who cares if you thought she was weird for doing it.

  2. This is true that after about 1.5 seasons, Jadzia gets a lot more passion to her. In the beginning though, she tries to play the ‘unlikely sage’ role, and is overshadowed by Data or Spock. Of the DS9 crew, she was the only one who felt like a clone of a previous Star Trek character. She was the Data of DS9, and Data felt like the Spock of TNG.

    I will look more at her this time around, as you make an excellent point. She is very much at ease in who she is, more than any character. Her past is a stable rock for her, and not a source of tons of baggage. Her major conflicts come when her past is not that rock (think Joran).

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