Hello everyone and welcome to Deep Dive Nine! Join me on a wonderful journey through the world of Star Trek: DS9, where we will delve into some of the more arcane elements of the show. Perhaps the writers didn’t have time to fully explain these elements. Perhaps they didn’t think they were important enough to the primary story line of the episode. Or perhaps they were completely unaware of this gold mine of minutiae they created for their viewers to painstakingly analyze years after the fact. We may never know.
Star Trek fans are a diverse crowd. Some can quote Wrath of Khan word for word. Some are obsessed with Voyager. Some think Nemesis is by far the best of the motion pictures. (Just kidding.) I am a child of the ‘80s, so while I was too young to see the Original Series movies in theaters, I was a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I went to the yearly Star Trek Convention in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had the ships, the figurines, a working model of the Enterprise bridge, and a copy of the Star Trek Technical Manual that sits on my bookshelf to this day. TNG was in syndication for most of my childhood, and I watched the reruns so many times that I can now identify any episode within the first 60 seconds.
DS9 began when I was in middle school, and I would watch it with my dad, Saturday nights on CBS. I remember liking it, but in those ancient pre-TiVo and Netflix days, it was hard to catch every episode, and impossible to binge watch. Then, one glorious summer after we all graduated from college and found terrible jobs that paid poorly but left our evenings free, my friends and I decided to watch the entire series from start to finish. We would watch an episode or two, and then spend hours discussing the rules of Dabo, or the finer points of some obscure Romulan law that had been barely relevant to the episode’s plot. I would be honored to use this space to share our groundbreaking conclusions with you.
So with that, to the Pilot!
Airdate January 3rd, 1993
Commander Sisko and a Starfleet crew must work together with the Bajorans onboard station DS9 to protect it from imminent Cardassian attack. However, Sisko’s mission is turned on its head when a new Wormhole is discovered linking the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants.
A new crew is assigned to a former Cardassian space station: Deep Space Nine. It is a joint Federation/Bajoran force, with Commander Sisko in charge, but his life is dramatically changed when he is declared the Emissary to the Prophets by a Bajoran priest.
Now, I am going to assume everyone reading this has seen either the entirety of DS9 or knows enough about the entire series to follow me, because while I would love to talk about the rise of Chief O’Brien as a leading man, or how much darker even the pilot of DS9 is in comparison to other Star Trek shows, the characters I most want to discuss are the Prophets/Wormhole Aliens.
Something’s not right here
Rewatching the pilot of a favorite show is always an odd experience. You recognize the parts that you know and love, but mostly what you see is unfinished makeup jobs and characters not behaving quite the way they should. But behind Bashir’s giddy eagerness, the clay slapped haphazardly on Odo’s face, and Kira’s terrible shoulder pads, something kept calling itself to my attention.
What is this… baseball?
I kept being surprised at how completely, boneheadedly dense the Prophets seemed. It had never really occurred to me before, but the questions they ask Benjamin Sisko during their first encounter do not make any sense in relation to what we learn about the Prophets later on.
Shouldn’t they already know who Ben Sisko is? Didn’t they super-creepily possess his mother and force her to give birth to him? Don’t they reveal to Kai Opaka that Sisko must find the Celestial Temple before the Cardassians, and doesn’t she say that his arrival was expected? You don’t arrange someone’s birth, send cryptic spiritual messengers to lead that person to your doorstep, and then completely forget who they are when they arrive.
Of course, the usual hand waving explanation would be that the writers retconned all that later on in the series. When they were writing the pilot, they had no idea what they were going to do with these beings, and no plan for Sisko’s origin story. They just wanted the Prophets to seem mysterious and foreign. Game. Set. Match.
But then it hit me like a ton of metaphysical bricks. Because the Prophets exist outside of linear time, and because they have no concept of causality, everything they do in what Sisko perceives as the “future” or the “past” is already part of their existence when he meets them, and yet this meeting also sets those events in motion, chicken-and-egg-style, whether the writers planned it that way or not. The Prophets literally cannot be retconned.
How do you retcon without a past?
The reason the Prophets are asking all these seemingly idiotic questions is because at that precise moment, 1 hour 6 minutes and 31 seconds into the pilot, they actually don’t have the answers to them yet. They don’t know who Sisko is. They don’t understand linear time or causality or procreation or death. But once Sisko explains these concepts, they become part of the Prophets’ existence, something they have always known and will always know. As they say to Sisko “What comes before now is no different than what is now or what is to come, it’s one’s existence.”
All the events that lead Sisko to become the Emissary aren’t put in place until after he meets the Prophets, despite the fact that these events, in a linear sense, happen prior to their meeting. Even though Sisko has already been born, even though the Prophets sent the orbs out thousands of years ago and the Bajorans have built a religion around them; it is only once the Prophets understand the concept of linear time that they actually take steps to bring this moment to fruition. To us, they appear to have done these things in the past, but from their perspective it is simply a new part of their continuous existence. It is a causality loop that exists outside of linear time.
What Does it All Mean?
This brings us to the central tenant of the Bajoran religion: predestination. Bajorans are constantly referring to themselves as “walking the path that the Prophets have laid out” for them. But are the Prophets actually taking steps to affect the destiny of these people, or simply observing and then stating things they know to be true? Even the name “Prophets” is really a misnomer – they aren’t predicting anything because past, present, and future are one and the same for them.
However, the moment Sisko helps them to understand causality, they actually do take steps to affect his destiny, to “lay out his path” for him. Once they grasp the concept of procreation, they are able to “go back in time” (from our perspective) and ensure Sisko’s birth. Why would this typically hands-off race of timeless beings meddle so deeply in the life of one human?
Because at the moment of his arrival in the wormhole, Ben Sisko becomes the single most important corporeal being in their entire existence. His arrival takes them completely by surprise, no easy feat when dealing with non-linear omniscient beings. He teaches them something new, concepts they didn’t even have words for before. “The Sisko” is the one element in their universe who consistently defies prediction and therefore, ironically, his existence is the one that must be the most carefully planned. He is their Emissary, their window into the world of corporeal beings. Time and again, throughout the series, he explains to them the dangers faced by Bajor and convinces them take action, to veer from the seemingly inalterable path laid out before them. Without him, the Prophets would be unable to affect the future.
Either that or, you know, the writers had no clue what they were doing.
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