Friday, May 31, 2013

Deep Space Nine Fridays: Jake Sisko

Welcome to the first real week that we will be discussing Deep Space Nine and ask that eternal question, “Is it literature?” My answer is yes, but then this is my blog and I can say what I want. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull holds up on multiple viewings. There. See? I’m going to have to back it up, of course. So, I ask again, “is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine literature?”

    Nope, I’m still going to have to answer yes.

    This week we’re going to start out with a character that had the potential to sink the entire franchise from the get-go: Jake Sisko. A young boy that was the Commander’s kid had the ability to sink the show... we should all feel sad for the smart boy with the dead mother, tragically killed in a Borg attack lead by Captain Picard. He had the ability to Wesley Crusher the first couple of seasons.

    Yes, I know that Wil Wheaton is the bomb now, but I think his newfound coolness tends to make people forget just how horrible the character was. Go back and watch an early episode of Next Generation. Watch it. You can’t escape it.

    But I come not to bury Wesley Crusher, but to praise what they ended up doing with Jake Sisko. When they started the show, it was obvious they wanted him to be a way for the viewer to connect with Commander Sisko and see him as a different kind of lead character. We weren’t just seeing a man with baggage... he was a man with baggage and a son. The writers could have easily just slapped him into Starfleet and had him follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead they teamed him up with a Ferengi and decided to make him a writer, letting viewers take a look at the non-Federation people. (SOMEONE has to clean the space-bathrooms. It’s not all green skinned alien sex.)

    I wanted to start out talking about Jake Sisko because one of my favorite DS9 episodes featured him. “Nor Battle The Strong...” was an episode that was featured during the Klingon/Federation War. In it, Jake follows a group of young soldiers headed to do battle with Klingons on a distant planet, along with Doctor Bashir. (We’ll get to him in a few Friday Posts.) In this time he finds a soldier who shoots himself in the foot to get out of battle, he abandons the Doctor at the first sign of trouble, and then he manages to trap himself by firing blindly at a bunch of attackers.

    This was an important episode (and a contender for Star Trek Week) because it shows us not just the other side of the Federation and space-battles, but it shows us another side of war. Too often we get either the side of war that’s all glory and honor, or the other side that’s nothing but blood and guts. Here we get a unique middle ground... a story of war that’s told from a complete outsider’s perspective, one that tries to tell a more personal story. Jake is initially horrified by a guy who would wound himself to avoid battle, until the first time he finds himself faced with the same choice.

    It’s a strong statement. Yeah, it’s told under the guise of phaser battles and Klingons... but it’s still an interesting way to get across something that could easily be dismissed if told “traditionally”. While Star Trek is sometimes about these heavy sci-fi concepts, one could argue that it’s best when it focuses on the human element. DS9 was like this because it had the backdrop of war, so it was allowed to focus on the human element of the show often times.

    Jake allowed the viewer into a new way of seeing the world that Star Trek was trying to create by showing us someone who wasn’t a warrior, captain, or engineer. He was just a regular guy, caught up in life-changing events. He was also a big part of an episode I need to discuss on it’s own, “The Visitor” which we’ll get to while we discuss Deep Space Nine this summer. But his “everyman” status allowed him a unique glimpse into photon torpedos or warp cores. I think people tend to forget that as they critique the show, and his character gets moved to the sidelines. It’s a nice reminder that for every Hamlet, there’s a gravedigger who is going about his job, just sort of watching the events.

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