Hopefully by now you’ve at least started watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It’s my favourite Star Trek series and I believe the most underrated. The series was highly serialized. While that doesn’t seem strange today you must remember that in the 90s that was highly unusual especially for syndicated shows which generally returned to status quo at the end of each episode.
This week as an addition to the viewing guide I’ve already laid out I’d like to present to you what I believe to be the 14 best episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Just a word of warning though: the viewing guide I did my best to keep it as spoiler free as possible. I’m not going to do that here.
Right to it then. Note that this article is spread over three pages.
14: “Improbable Cause” & “The Die is Cast” Season 3, Episodes 20 & 21
This is kind of cheating right off the bat because it’s two episodes however each is half of a whole. Garak is nearly killed and Odo traces it back to the Romulans but it turns out to be a plot orchestrated by Garak’s old mentor Enabran Tain. When they catch up with Tain on a Romulan Warbird Tain asks Garak to join him and he agrees. Tain then orders Garak to interrogate Odo and tortures Odo with a device that prevents him from changing shape.
The first half is mostly Odo and Garak investigating and bonding as friends but he second half is where the story really shines. Garak jumps at the chance to reclaim his old life in the Cardassian Intelligence organization but through the course of being forced to interrogate his friend finds he doesn’t quite have the stomach for it that he once did, and that he may actually be happier on Deep Space Nine despite being an exile there. Also learn that Garak and Odo have something in common: Odo longs to return to his people as well despite knowing what evil they are capable of. Amazing development for both of them and it plays out in brilliantly acted scenes between Rene Auberjonois and Andrew Robinson, with Garak literally begging Odo to give something up so he can stop what he’s doing.
The episode also teaches us one very important thing about the Founders: they’re several steps ahead of anything that anyone in the Alpha Quadrant has planned.
13: “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” Season 7, Episode 16
The best thing about Deep Space Nine is that unlike other Star Trek it exists in a world of grey. Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is one of the best examples of this. Dr. Bashir is on his way to a conference on Romulus and along the way Section 31 shows up with a job for him: spy on a high ranking Romulan: Koval.
Through the course of the story Bashir doesn’t know who to trust but decides to do the right thing and come clean about what’s going on with Section 31. Admiral Ross has fallen ill so he turns to the Federation’s primary Romulan ally, Senator Cretak. A bunch of twists and turns later and the man Bashir Koval, an anti-federation advocate is now the top man in Romulan Intelligence and Cretak is convicted of treason.
On his way home Bashir has a revelation and confronts Ross: it was all a big trap. Koval is a mole for the Federation and they wanted him confirmed to a higher post. The Federation has used him and sacrificed one ally to strengthen another and they exploited Bashir’s own good nature to make it happen.
Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges translates as “in times of war the law falls silent” and the Federation is now complicit in illegal acts. This is not the Federation you would ever see in Next Generation or Voyager or Original Series and this episode is one of the best examples of that.
12: “Waltz” Season 6, Episode 11
Deep Space Nine has another thing that distinguishes it from most other Trek: a well developed villain. Sure, Kirk had Khan, but Gul Dukat is a supporting character for all seven seasons and ends up having more depth than any other Trek bad guy I can think of.
Waltz is another of the beautiful two character pieces that Deep Space Nine did so well. Dukat went mad after witnessing the death of his daughter as the Federation re-took Deep Space Nine from the dominion just a few episodes earlier. While being transported to his trial for war crimes the ship that he and Captain Sisko is on is destroyed and they end up stranded together on a desolate planet. Sisko is injured and Dukat says he’ll take care of him until help arrives. It becomes clear though that Dukat is still unstable and tries to convince Sisko that he has always been a good man.
Sisko confronts Dukat with his own hypocrisy and self deception and Dukat comes completely off the rails. In the end Dukat escapes the planet, Sisko is rescued but knows that whatever happens Dukat is now more dangerous than ever. This story brings to a head the personal conflict between Dukat and Sisko, the former as the oppressor of Bajor and the latter as a guiding light of the people, and sets Dukat down the path towards the series finale in which he’ll attempt to wipe out Bajor once and for all.
Plus it’s just fun to watch Avery Brooks and Marc Alaimo chew the scenery.
11: “The Collaborator” Season 2, Episode 24
Dukat is the main antagonist of the series but in terms of who is the most self serving and amoral of the antagonistic characters Winn gives him a series run for his money and this episode is the one that really hammers that home.
Winn is in the running to the new Kai, spiritual leader of Bajor, against Bareil, Kira’s lover. Bareil is the natural choice as he is wise and kind and understanding where Winn isn’t. During the run up to the election evidence surfaces that Bareil may have been complicit in the deaths of rebel fighters during the Cardassian Occupation and Kira is assigned to sort it all out. She is devastated when she all but confirms this to be true and Bareil doesn’t deny it. He withdraws from the race and Winn is elected Kai, and in the end it turns out that Bareil was covering for the previous Kai, Opaka, and couldn’t let her public image be tarnished lest the people lose faith.
Winn doesn’t care, she just wants the power and used Bareil’s selflessness against him while at the same time trying to drive a wedge between him and Kira with the knowledge. It’s dastardly stuff and while it’s early days in the series this is the point at which you figure out for sure that Winn is never going to be anything but bad news.
It doesn’t hurt that Louise Fletcher, an Oscar winning actress, does a marvellous job of projecting an outward sweetness which only barely conceals Winn’s uncompromising lust for power.
10: “The Visitor” Season 4, Episode 3
Another favourite feature of mine of Deep Space Nine is the relationship between Captain Benjamin Sisko and his son, Jake. I understand why many shows will take the father-son relationship and mess with it to create tension but Deep Space Nine never did, Sisko was a loving father to a loving son and that’s it. Even when Jake makes decisions that Ben doesn’t necessarily like, Ben still respects his sons decisions ad supports him.
In The Visitor there is an accident and Ben is hit by an energy discharge which displaces him in time. The episode follows jake through his entire life, first attempting to move on and then figuring out that his father is in trouble and working to fix it. At the end of the episode an elderly Jake gives up his life to give them both a second chance at living out their lives normally.
The older Sisko realizes what a dedicated man Jake is and their relationship grows stronger as a result. While the timeline that the elderly Jake existed in is erased we still get a few glimpses into the shows future: Jake will publish a novel (which he starts writing later in the series) and Nog will be an excellent Star Fleet officer.
Plus, Tony Todd plays the older Jake and Tony Todd is a great presence in almost any story.
9: “The Jem’Hadar” Season 2, Episodes 26
Season two of Deep Space Nine had one purpose: get you thinking about The Dominion and what they might be. We learn that they’re big and powerful through the course of the season but we never really get a sense of just how big and powerful they really are.
Then because Sisko is captured Star Fleet sends a Galaxy class starship Odyssey into the Gamma Quadrant to find him. The Jem’Hadar attack the Odyssey and not only do they prove more than a match for the federation’s most powerful class of ship, as it’s trying to retreat they make a kamikaze run at her and destroy the Odyssey utterly just to drive this point home: we shall not be fucked with.
At the same time a Jem’Hadar ship comes to Deep Space Nine and beams one soldier to Ops who delivers a message: The Dominion has eliminated a Bajoran colony within their space.
Jem’Hadar: “Here is a list of vessels we’ve destroyed for violating our territory.”
Kira: “Where did you get this data PADD?”
Jem’Hadar: “From the Bajoran colony on our side of the Anomaly. You should be
proud. I hear they fought well for a spiritual people. I hope we won’t have to repeat this lesson.”
There aren’t many episodes that advance the plot as much all in one fell swoop as The Jem’Hadar and there are few episodes that set up an antagonist this well in all of Trek.
This episode held a special significance at the time it aired as well. Star Trek: The Next Generation had ended just a month prior to this episode airing, and this episode featured the same class of starship we’d come to know as the best, fastest and most powerful in the entire Galaxy over the previous 7 years being destroyed, and not just destroyed but easily and handily destroyed. It was a shock at the time to be sure and even rewatching now the episode still packed nearly the same punch.