This past January marked the twentieth anniversary of perhaps the most underrated Star Trek show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It differed from the other Trek shows in that it took place on a space station (the titular Deep Space Nine or DS9) near a wormhole and the characters often had to deal with the political and social ramifications of galactic events and alien first contact. In so many ways, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is arguably the best Trek show and certainly the best spinoff of the original Star Trek. Many episodes were exciting, thought provoking and best exemplified the spirit of Star Trek. Being that it’s the show’s 20th anniversary, here’s a top 20 list of their very best episodes.
20. “The House Of Quark” A white lie about killing a Klingon warrior to boost business leads resident DS9 bar owner Quark (Armin Shimmerman) to unwillingly marrying the Klingon’s headstrong widow (Mary Kay Adams). Later Quark must fight another Klingon for her honor in this humorous social clash of Klingons and Ferengi cultures.
19. “Homefront/Paradise Lost” This two-part episode is an eerie predictor of the besieged, mistrustful mentality that hit the U.S. after 9/11. A Changeling terrorist attack on Earth leads to worldwide paranoia that Changelings are everywhere and infiltrating the Federation. Ultimately this brings about an attempted coup by rogue Starfleet officers.
18. “What You Leave Behind” The final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine brings the show to a proper conclusion as the Dominion War finishes in an epic throwdown involving an armed uprising on the Cardassian home planet, the major space powers in a pyrotechnic space battle and Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) has a final confrontation with his arch nemesis Dukat (Marc Alaimo) and ultimately discovers his destiny.
17. “The Jem’Hadar” What a way to introduce an enemy race! Sisko, his son Jake (Cirroc Lofton), Quark and his nephew Nog (Aron Eisenberg) are captured while camping on a planet in the Gamma Quadrant by the Dominion’s belligerent military force, the Jem’Hadar. Ruthless, deadly and formidable, the reptilian-like soldiers proved their extreme fanaticism by destroying a Galaxy-class starship fairly easily.
16. “Past Tense, Part I and II” Sisko, Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) are accidently transported to San Francisco in the 2020s and become involved in a calamitous social movement called the Bell Riots. When the leader of the movement is killed, Sisko must assume his identity in order to preserve the timeline, while trying to keep himself and hostages safe.
15. “Favor The Bold” The first few episodes of DS9’s sixth season had the Federation on the defensive in the Dominion War with the Dominion occupying the station. Tired of defeat, Sisko devises a bold battle plan to take back DS9 and gathers his forces. Meanwhile tensions boil over in DS9 as First Officer Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) confronts the Changeling Security Chief Odo (René Auberjonois) over his divided loyalties.
14. The Circle Trilogy (“The Homecoming”, “The Circle”, “The Siege”) Bajoran politics start off the second season with Star Trek’s first three parter. A legendary Bajoran freedom fighter (Richard Beymer) is found in a Cardassian prison by Kira, who frees him. This causes a chain of events that culminates in a plot by an anti-Federation, reactionary political group to overthrow the Bajoran government. Guest stars Frank Langella and Louise Fletcher played exceptional villains.
13. ” The Quickening” Dr. Bashir learns a lesson in the limits of his medical skills when he and Dax struggle to help a planetary population infected by the Dominion with a deadly and incurable disease. An allegory to the AIDS epidemic, the scenes of Bashir’s tireless efforts to ease the suffering and cure people were powerful and touching.
12. “Crossover” Kira and Bashir return to the infamous Mirror Universe last seen in the original Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror”. This time humanity has been conquered by the Klingons and Cardassians and the duo get to see a radically different DS9 with once familiar characters like Quark and Garak (Andrew J. Robinson) now complete strangers. Plus, it gave the actors plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery with their over-the-top performances of their doppelgangers.
11. “The Way Of The Warrior” Worf (Michael Dorn) from Star Trek: The Next Generation joins the station crew in this fourth-season opener that sees the impact that the shape-shifting Founders have had with their infiltration of the Alpha Quadrant. The Klingons and the Federation break ties with each other and become adversaries. The climatic space battles between the station and a Klingon fleet and the intense fighting inside DS9 were an adrenaline rush of excitement!
10. “In The Pale Moonlight” One of the most controversial episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Ben Sisko desperate over the state of the war against the Dominion, committing very questionable and treasonous actions to influence the Romulans to join the war on the Federation’s side. These nebulous actions by a Star Trek lead hero best illustrate the murkiness of DS9’s main characters.
9. “In The Cards” This very funny episode showcases Jake and Nog as they go through many headaches and make complicated deals just to obtain a rare Willie Mays baseball card for Jake’s father. Highlights include the mad Dr. Giger (Brian Markinson) and his alleged immortality machine. Meanwhile on an ominous note, on the eve of war, negotiations fail between the Federation and the Dominion.
8. Emissary” The pilot episode introduces the cast of characters and the Cardassian-built space station orbiting the ravaged planet of Bajor. Intrigue and self-discovery abound as the intricacies of Bajoran society and the characters’ quirks are revealed, especially Sisko’s tortured soul. Still mourning over his dead wife and on the verge of leaving Starfleet, Sisko faces a moment of truth after discovering a nearby stable wormhole and the non-corporeal aliens inhabiting it.
7. “In Purgatory’s Shadow”/”By Inferno’s Light” Major changes happen in this two parter when the Cardassians, led by Dukat, unexpectedly join the Dominion. One of the show’s biggest shocks came when it was revealed that one of the major characters was actually a Changeling during several previous episodes and out to decimate the Alpha Quadrant powers.
6. “Far Beyond The Stars” Sisko finds himself in an alternate reality where he is a struggling science fiction writer in 1950s New York and must contend with racism as he tries to get his story published about a space station commandeered by a black officer. It was unforgettable and refreshing to see the show’s actors, many without makeup, portraying distinctly different characters, some good and some bad. Brooks deserves many kudos for captivating performance as Ben Sisko and writer Benny Russell.
5. “Trials And Tribble-ations” In this tribute to the original Star Trek, the crew of the Defiant (the Starfleet ship posted to DS9) time travel back to Captain Kirk’s (William Shatner) era and wind up part of the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble With The Tribbles”. The scenes where the DS9 characters interact with the original Enterprise crewmembers are still jaw-dropping and fun to watch. Some highlights include seeing the original Enterprise, Worf’s abrupt non-explanation about the classic era’s Klingons and when Sisko got to meet Kirk, one of his heroes.
4. “…Nor The Battle To The Strong” Jake and Dr. Bashir are stranded on a Federation outpost under attack by Klingons. This episode focuses on Jake (one of the few by DS9 to do so) and his impressions of war as he is recruited to be a medic and meets several characters who react differently to battle situations. He sees up close how filthy and demoralizing war is and is strongly shaken by its brutality and its senseless nature. This episode was one of the grittiest ever shown on Star Trek and the realistic elements such as the Starfleet officer who wounds himself and Jake’s scared reactions added much to the story.
3. “Call To Arms” The fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine closes with this exciting episode that is about the eve of war between the Federation/Klingons and the Dominion. Tensions boil over and negotiations break down leading to open warfare between the two powers. The episode’s writers skillfully set up many cliffhangers for the coming season and had astonishing multiple endings that could’ve each ended the season effectively. Still, that final shot that has the Defiant joining a massive Starfleet/Klingon armada makes one cheer.
2. “Sacrifice Of Angels” This epic conclusion to the storyline about the Dominion occupation of DS9 rivals any big-screen sci-fi spectacular with its amazing special effects. Outnumbered and outgunned on board the Defiant, Sisko leads an armada of Starfleet ships against combined Dominion and Cardassian battle ships. It’s a race against time to break through the formidable fleet to reach DS9 before the mined wormhole can be opened to send through Dominion reinforcements. Meanwhile, Kira, Quark, Jake and other Federation loyalists on the station try to stay one step ahead of Dominion forces as they try to sabotage the enemy. After seeing the good guys losing ground in the episodes leading up to “Sacrifice Of Angels” it was a cathartic to see them finally confronting the enemy.
1. “The Visitor” One of the best time travel stories shown on any Star Trek series is ultimately about the bond between a father and his son. Sisko and Jake are on board the Defiant when a freak accident apparently disintegrates the captain. During his mourning Jake discovers that his father is actually alive but trapped in a timeless limbo. Life and time goes on while Sisko never ages and helplessly watches as Jake grows older, marries and then gives up his marriage and writing career to help him. The performances by Avery Brooks and Tony Todd (who plays Jake as an adult) will touch a soft spot in any viewer’s heart. The ending of “The Visitor” will be sure to leave a lump in one’s throat. More importantly, the episode illustrates how feelings and relationship trump any obstacle. These themes are why Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stood apart from the other Star Trek shows.
Other memorable episodes that just missed the list include in no order: “Explorers”, “The Siege of AR-558”, “Waltz”, “A Time To Stand”, “For The Uniform”, “The Magnificent Ferengi”, “Our Man Bashir”, “Inquisition”, “The Die Is Cast” and “Duet”.