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Star Trek Deep Space Nine

After posting 2 essays about how Deep Space Nine realizes the ideals of Star Trek and how it was ahead of its time, I would feel remiss if I concluded any discussion of the greatness of Star Trek Deep Space Nine without praising its outstanding cast of recurring guest actors and characters. Seriously, DS9's recurring guest characters are some of the true highlights of the entire show. Their natural charisma as performers is bolstered by the show's fundamental structure as a serialized story, and its setting on a stationary outpost. These two decisions in the design and production of the show allow guest characters to recur frequently, with their own storylines and arcs, and helps make them just as vital to the plot of the show as any of the main cast.

As mentioned previously, Deep Space Nine wasn't a starship like the Enterprise. It didn't have the luxury of sailing off into the sunset at the conclusion of every episode, leaving the people and problems of the episode behind. The crew of Deep Space Nine were stuck dealing with the long-term fallout of the events of any particular episode, and that included the circumstances of characters in the station's immediate neighborhood. Some of these characters come and go, leaving Deep Space Nine behind forever. But others become permanent fixtures on the show, almost as much a part of the main cast as Armin Shimerman or Andrew Robinson.

Being a stationary starbase, a diverse collection of guest characters repeatedly visit Deep Space 9.

The following post will discuss specific plot points regarding multiple guest characters, including some who don't appear until the later seasons of the series. As such, this post will have the most explicit story spoilers of any of these 3 Deep Space Nine retrospectives. Read on at your own risk.

Star Trek's best villain(s)

The highlight of Deep Space Nine's guest cast is its principle villain, the best villain in all of Star Trek: Gul Dukat.

Yes, you read that right. Dukat is Trek's best bad guy.

Dukat is better than Khan. Better than General Chang (but only barely). Better than the Borg (and their stupid queen). Certainly better than the Duras Sisters or any of Trek's rogues gallery of throwaway villains like Commander Kruge. He's better even than Q -- if you want to consider Q a "villain" to begin with.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, copyright Paramount Pictures.
Sorry Khan, I do not think you are Star Trek's best villain. You're 2nd place, at best.

Yes, Dukat is my favorite Trek villain -- by a long shot. It's not even close.

Dukat is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Deep Space Nine's highly serialized structure. He gets an arc as full and complicated as any character in the main cast, and might be more developed and realized than some of the main cast of Next Generation. Picard and Data are certainly highly-developed throughout TNG, but can you honestly say that characters like Troi or Geordi are even half as complex or developed as Dukat?

 
Gul Dukat's Twitter account is a parody
of real life authoritarian leaders.

What really makes Dukat stand out as a character and as a villain is the Shakespearean quality to his rise and fall. He is a character who is undone by his own hubris, but also comes frighteningly close to tragic redemption.

As the former Overseer of the Bajoran Occupation, Dukat is as evil as any character in Star Trek. The grounding of the Occupation in an allegory of the Holocaust (among other historical genocides) casts Dukat as a virtual Nazi. He is literally Star Trek's Hitler. This grounding in reality makes him much more terrifying as a villain compared to someone like the Borg Queen because he isn't just a symbol of inhumanity, but also a symbol of real-world human evil that continues to shape the world and inform political discourse -- to the point that (as of the time of this writing) there is currently a Twitter account for Gul Dukat (@realGulDukat) that is a parody Donald Trump (and maybe sometimes Vladimir Putin) and is an amazing illustration of Poe's Law.

But DS9 also shows us the humanity within Dukat. We see his vulnerabilities. We see him in his greatest victories, and also his most brutal defeats. He's a smooth talker, and is undoubtedly charming. As such, he serves as a fantastic warning to those who might fall victim to the rhetoric of a real-life demagogue.

His arc involving his illegitimate daughter Ziyal even brings him so tantalizingly close to a degree of redemption that it's hard (as an audience) not to root for him to some degree. Ziyal is Dukat's lifeline, his only remaining buoy of humanity. When she is murdered (by Dukat's closest advisor, in yet another Shakespearean twist), Dukat is shattered. Any hope he might have had of seeing any degree of redemption is thrown away, and he descends to the depths of comic book levels of villainy.

Star Trek DS9 - allied with Dominion
- DS9 "By Inferno's Light", season 5, episode 15
Star Trek DS9 - going crazy
- DS9 "Waltz", season 6, episode 11
Dukat goes through peaks and valleys of deplorable evil and tragically sympathetic vulnerability.

Yes, Dukat is as close as golden age Trek ever came to pure evil, but the nuance in his character (and in the charismatic performance by Marc Alaimo) makes him far more than a simple fascist strawman for the heroes to beat up. He thinks he's right, and his charisma and conviction means that others follow him, and sometimes, even his opponents (and sometimes maybe even the audience) briefly fall victim to his charm.

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
- Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, copyright Paramount Pictures.
Actually, sorry Khan, you might be the 3rd best villain.

Star Trek's second best villain?

Heck, Khan might not even be Trek's second best villain, because that honor might belong to another member of Deep Space Nine's rogue's gallery: Kai Winn. Ugh, I hate Kai Winn! Which just goes to show how effective her character is written. She is brilliantly written and performed (by Louise Fletcher of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest fame). She is a villain that is hateable to the degree of someone like Jeoffry in Game of Thrones.

I don't hate Winn because she's a religious fundamentalist. I despise her because she isn't a religious fundamentalist. She's a hypocrite! She uses her own feigned piety and manufactured cultural outrage to manipulate the most gullible among the Bajoran masses and political elite into doing her bidding, while having no personal morals or scruples. She sees everything as a political opportunity for herself, and never considers the actual people who her policies or manufactured controversies affect. Everything she does and says is the most politically expedient thing for her to say and do at that moment, no matter what she's said or done in the past, or will say or do in the future. It's like watching a fictionalized version of Mitch McConnel or Pat Robertson!

Winn channels the same energy as real life evil villains like Mitch McConnel or Pat Robertson.

From her earliest appearances in episodes like "In The Hands Of The Prophets", she gets my fists clenched and my teeth grinding like no other TV villain. I want to yell at the TV almost every time she speaks.

She's not as overtly threatening as Dukat. She'll stoop to anything, but only if she knows she won't get caught or exposed. But Winn is perhaps more insidious and subversive than Dukat. Her brand of villainy is more dangerous to the ideals of democracy and human dignity because she cloaks it in religious authority and feigned moral grand-standing, and she uses the processes of democracy and bureaucratic procedure to achieve her end. Sound like anyone you might see frequently on the nightly news?

Star Trek DS9 - In the Hands of the Prophets
- DS9 "In The Hands Of The Prophets", season 1, episode 20
Winn pulls the exact same scams as real-life religious fundamentalist demagogues.

Winn is frightening as a villain because she represents the most real threat to the liberal democratic values of the Federation and Star Trek -- the same threat that we are seeing threaten real-life democracy in the United States and across Europe right now, in 2023! She is another demagogue who uses the tools of democracy to destroy said democracy from within. She gets people to think and vote against their best interests by playing on their basest fears and prejudices. She's another great example of Deep Space Nine being prophetic and frustratingly relevant even 30 years later.

OK, but surely Deep Space 9 doesn't also have the 3rd best Trek villain?

If you don't already think I'm crazy for snubbing Khan out of the "best Trek villain" award in favor of two characters from Deep Space Nine, then guess what? Deep Space Nine has yet another character who challenges Khan for the position of third best Trek villain. That's because Deep Space Nine is graced by multiple characters portrayed by the loveably charming Jeffrey Combs, and one of those characters is Combs' deceptively evil Vorta diplomat, Weyoun.

Jeffrey Combs is probably my favorite Trek guest actor. He eats up the screen in his recurring roles as Weyoun and Brundt on Deep Space Nine, and the Andorian Captain Shran is one of the true highlights of Enterprise. But Combs also plays in multiple bit parts in both Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and he is just as delightfully brilliant (and sometimes disturbing) in all of them.

Star Trek DS9 - Weyoun
- DS9 "In The Cards", season 5, episode 25
Star Trek DS9 - Brunt
- DS9 "Bar Association", season 4, episode 15
Star Trek Enterprise - Shran
- Ent "The Andorian Incident", season 1, episode 7
Jeffry Combs is always a scene-stealer, no matter which character he's playing.

Weyoun is certainly the stand-out character for Combs. He's charming and goofy, and serves as comedic relief as often (if not more) than as a villain. He's polite, and amicable, and always trying to deflate tensions. That is, until it comes time to get something done, at which point, he flips a switch into evil mastermind mode. His courteous demeanor is just a political veneer intended to keep his political foes off-guard and see him as less of a threat than he actually is, and Combs toggles between the two personae perfectly.

Combs' other notable character in DS9 is the Ferengi Liquidator Brunt, who similarly plays polite and cordial until it comes time for him to mercilessly take what he wants. And what he wants, usually, is to make Quark's life miserable.

It's a damn shame that DS9 never gave Jeffrey Combs the opportunity to portray both Weyoun and Brunt in the same scene, even though they had a perfect opportunity to do so in the episode "The Magnificent Ferengi".

Star Trek DS9 - Brundt and Vorta
- DS9 "The Magnificent Ferengi", season 6, episode 10
It's too bad Weyoun didn't appear alongside Brunt in "The Magnificent Ferengi".

The other semi-regulars are great too

Besides these stand-outs, DS9 is loaded with other wonderfully memorable and loveable semi-regular characters. Garak (Andrew Robinson) feels like a main character, even though his name isn't listed in the opening credits. Instead, he is a frequently-recurring guest who happens to have many of the best one-liners of the series. Even so, he's great. Garak perfectly encapsulates the moral grayness of Deep Space Nine. It's hard to really call him a "hero" considering the evil things that he's done in his career with the Obsidian Order (and his lack of remorse over his actions as an agent), but he does seem to make genuine efforts to be better and do the right thing. He is basically the yin to Gul Dukat's yang -- a Cardassian with a wretched past who does earn redemption.

Star Trek DS9 - Garak
- DS9 "The Wire", season 2, episode 22
Garak is the master of one-liners.

Rom and Nog are other semi-regulars who eventually get promoted to full regulars in the last few seasons. They both have arcs in which they take on increasing responsibility, and are excellent representations of Star Trek's long-standing themes of personal growth and cultural acceptance. They both feel like outcasts among their Ferengi kin, and assimilate into Federation culture. But they both also bring their cultural identity with them and use it to provide new insight to problems that the human characters have a difficult time solving. They are both valued for the diversity of opinions and outlooks that they bring to the table.

And honestly, I love all the Ferengi characters. I already mentioned Brunt (played by Jeffrey Combs), but episodes featuring Ishka (Moogie) and/or Grand Nagus Zek are also always great. Wallace Shawn's Zek always brings welcome comic relief when he shows up.

Star Trek DS9 - Martok
- DS9 "Soldiers Of The Empire", season 5, episode 21
It's refreshing to see another Klingon who
actually lives up to the culture's ideals.

One of my other favorite recurring guest characters-turned-semi-regular is J. G. Hertzler's General Martok. After seeing so many dishonorable and duplicitous Klingons throughout TNG and DS9's early seasons, it was nice to finally see another Klingon (like Worf) who truly tries to live up to the ideals of honor and martial discipline that the culture claims to espouse.

DS9 even avoids falling into some of the frustrating tropes that other shows fall into. For example, Dukat's daughter, Ziyal, could easily have been just another woman in the fridge trope -- a sacrificial lamb, robbed of her agency as a character, in order to foster the development of a (usually male) character. Yes, she is killed off as a catalyst for Dukat's descent into absolute, irredeemable villainy, but DS9's writers at least allow her to do so with a little bit of her own agency. She could easily have been killed off by a rando soldier in the hallways during a skirmish to retake the station. Instead, she decides to stay behind, she decides to commit the act that gets her labeled as a traitor, and she decides to confess that act to Dukat. It is her decisions and actions that lead her to being executed on-the-spot by Damar. Throughout Ziyal's entire time on the show, she has been making her own decisions, including disobeying her father to have a relationship with Garak. She isn't a Gwen Stacy, abducted from her home in the middle of the night by a villain and thrown off a bridge while barely cognizant of what is going on around her. She retains her agency, right up to the tragic end.

Star Trek DS9 - Ziyal
- DS9 "Sacrifice Of Angels", season 6, episode 6
Ziyal maintains more agency and dignity than your usual "woman in the fridge" trope.

What's important about these guest characters is that they all get enough screen time that they all have opportunities to grow and develop into robust characters in their own right -- just like any character in the main cast. We have villains-turned-heroes like Damar, but we also get straight-up villains, such as Weyoun and the Founder leader, who get just as much development. Again, this is a strength of the show's moderately-serialized structure, and its premise of being on a stationary space station.

Missed potential

Not every guest character is a slam dunk, of course. And honestly, any of my long-time readers should have known better than to think that I could go 3 whole essays without saying something critical of the show!

One of the weakest links in DS9's guest roster is Commander Eddington. Despite being introduced as a supposedly permanent member of the Starfleet command staff, and as a possible replacement for Odo, the writers just never bothered to put any effort towards Eddington to make me care about him or believe in him as a legit part of the cast. Kenneth Marshall's name never even makes it into the opening credits of the show. The audience never accepts him as a part of the main cast, and probably doesn't take him seriously as a senior officer. In fact, I don't blame you for forgetting that he's even there to begin with.

Star Trek DS9 - Eddington
- DS9 "The Search, Part I", season 3, episode 1
Eddington gets no development or characterization leading up to his betrayal.

Because of the lack of attention given by the writers, Eddington's eventual betrayal doesn't have the impact that it should. The episodes about Sikso pursuing and capturing him just don't have the weight and impact that the writers seem to want. Prior to his betrayal, Eddington never gets even a single episode about him. His character is never developed beyond his job as the Starfleet security officer assigned to work underneath Odo. We never grow to like him, or to hate him, and so when he turns coat, it's just a whole lot of "meh", and is not at all surprising. Seriously, I dare you to name one hobby or interest of Eddington's besides his fondness for Les Miserables. Go ahead, put it in the comments, and feel free to pretend that you didn't have to look it up.

I also dislike Agent Sloan. It's not really Sloan specifically that I have a problem with. Rather, it's the fact that I just hate Section 31. I think it might be the single worst idea that Deep Space Nine introduced to Star Trek, and Sloan personifies it.

I could also have done without the frequent recurrences of the holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine. He was fine as a one-off character, and I would probably be OK with him appearing again in the episode about robbing the holographic casino. But other than that, I think he's overplayed.

Star Trek DS9 - Ezri Dax
- DS9 "Prodigal Daughter", season 7, episode 11
Ezri's limited screentime makes many
of her arcs feel rushed or forced.

Lastly, there's the conundrum of Ezri Dax. I don't have anything against Ezri as a character, or against Nicole De Boer in the role. The problem is just that she isn't around long enough to get much development. And what little development she does get feels rushed and sometimes forced. And some aspects of her character, such as her eventual romance with Bashir, comes off as a bit of fan-servicey wish-fulfillment, in my opinion.

Honestly, I always cringe whenever main cast members of these shows hook up with each other. It makes the setting feel small. Deep Space Nine is a space station with hundreds or thousands of people living on it. There's plenty of options for romantic pursuits beyond the main cast and senior staff. This is something that I like about Kassidy Yates. She's a civilian, and Jake hooking her up with Sisko is an opportunity to introduce a new guest character -- and a good one too! Similarly, I appreciated Next Generation making an episode about O'Brien and Keiko's wedding. O'Brien is a minor guest character who had only appeared a handful of times, and Keiko was a completely new character. Their relationship made the Enterprise feel bigger and emphasized that there's more going on in the ship than just the adventures and drama of the seven main cast members.

Part of me kind of wishes that Dax had just been allowed to die. An episode about mourning the death of the Dax symbiont and the loss of the generational knowledge of a deceased joined Trill could have been an interesting sci-fi story. But instead, the writers just kind of sweep it under the rug and rejoin Dax to Ezri off-screen. It feels like a cop-out to me.

Star Trek TNG - O'Brien marrying Keiko
- TNG "Data's Day", season 4, episode 11
Star Trek DS9 - Sisko marrying Kasidy
- DS9 "'Till Death Do Us Part", season 7, episode 18
Introducing new characters as romantic partners for existing characters helps expand the world.

In addition to its humanist philosophy, spirit of mutual cooperation, innovative (for the time) story-telling, and surprisingly topical and relevant narratives, I love Deep Space Nine for its revolving door of eclectic guest characters and performers. Main cast members like Avery Brooks and Rene Auberjonois are stand-outs who give performances right up there with the likes of Trek's best performers, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Robert Picardo, and Jeri Ryan. It's absolutely incredible to me that DS9's semi-regulars and guests like Andrew Robinson, Marc Alaimo, Louise Fletcher, and Jeffrey Combs are able to steal almost every scene that they are in, considering who they are often sharing that screen with. The guest characters of Next Generation and Voyager don't hold a candle to Deep Space Nine's eclectic and charismatic ensemble.

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