the Little Red Reviewer

Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond the Stars

Posted on: January 30, 2021

Today, we’re gonna go 400 years in the future, to go to the 1950s. And on reflection, we’ll go  back in time another 2200 years or so,  and then jump to the present, and then back to the 1950s.

 

Ready for some time travel whiplash that would make Connie Willis proud?  Let’s go!

 

As Jean at Howling Frog Books is fond of saying, “what is January without a Star Trek story”?   Last year I blogged my way through season 3 of Deep Space Nine. I DO HAVE plans to watch season 4 (and hopefully 5!) this year, but in celebration of Vintage SciFi Month, I skipped ahead of season 6.  Episode 13, to be exact.  One of the most loved episodes of Deep Space Nine, “Far Beyond the Stars”. 

The story set up:  Captain Sisko is having a rough go. A good friend was killed when his ship was attacked near the Cardassian border, and Sisko is so distracted he can barely enjoy his father’s visit.  He starts seeing and hearing some strange things, and then technobabble happens, and then Sisko is standing in front of a newsstand in the 1950s, and he’s buying a copy of Galaxy Magazine.

 

It’s the early 1950s, and he’s not Ben Sisko.  He’s Benny Russell, and he’s a science fiction writer at a magazine.   His fellow writers are Maklin (not-O’Brien), Kay Eaton (not-Kira), Julius (not-Bashir), Rossoff (not-Quark), the editor is Pabst (not-Odo), and later Darlene (not-Dax) shows up as the new secretary (and she gets the Best. Line. Ever).   

Russell is trying to make it as a science fiction writer, while his fiance Cassie (not-Kasidy) is trying to convince him to run a restaurant with her, because it’s more stable work than writing. 

 

 One of my favorite parts of this episode was playing “recognize the voice”.   Nog,  Quark, Odo, and Worf. . .  with no make up.  Armin Shimmerman is criminally under rated.

 

Watching the episode was like watching a stage play, and I mean that as a compliment.  All my favorite characters sounded the same and mostly interacted with each other the same, but they dressed different, their jobs were different, their hairstyles were different, their passions and motivations were different.  And everyone was using typewriters! And I recognized many of the models! But the world is very, very different. The magazine wants to publish photos of the writers. Kay Eaton and Benny Russell are told to sleep in that day.

 

The pool of writers is given sketches as story prompts, and Russell takes a drawing of a three-pronged space station.  As he leaves the office that night, he’s harassed and threatened by a couple of cops, whose photos belong in the dictionary next to “racial profiling”. 

 

The image of the space station inspires Russell to create a story around a fiction space station called Deep Space Nine, captained by Benjamin Sisko, a Black man.  When he brings his manuscript to the magazine, his peers love the story.  Kay loves the strong female characters, and Darlene exclaims “There’s a worm in her belly! That’s disgusting!”. 

The Writer’s Room. Recognize anyone?

 

Pabst says the story isn’t believable. A Black captain? Who wants to read about that?  The only way he’ll publish the story is if Russell changes it to be a white captain.  “But that’s not what I wrote!” is Russell’s response.   He’s under some extra stress, because he’s been seeing things, and there’s this weird preacher who keeps following him around talking about the prophets. Russell starts to worry that he’s losing his damn mind.

 

Macklin suggests to Russell that he add something at the end of the story, that it was all a dream. That the idea of a Black captain, was all a dream.  Russell makes the change, as this is the only way to see his story in print.

 

Yeah, so, welcome to the 1950s. When racism was rampant. When Blacks were told to their face “no one wants to think about a future where you are in a leadership role, where you are the hero”. Cops racially profiled and assumed their lives were danger when within  20 feet of a Black person and shot the guy and then beat the shit out of a Black bystander because how dare he question the police, publishers don’t want to publish Black main characters,  and if you’re white, well, life is grand!   You know, we’re 70 years from the 1950s, but I don’t feel like we’ve made much progress.  Most of this paragraph is straight from this episode. It could be straight from last week’s news headlines. Anyways. 

 

The day arrives for Russell’s story to be in print.  Pabst arrives from the printers to say the publisher of the magazine, Mr. Stone, decided to pulp the whole run, because it wasn’t up to standards. The truth comes out: Mr. Stone refused to print a magazine that contained a story with a Black hero. And on top of that, he wants Russell fired.  And understandable angry Russell struggles to contain his utter rage. 

 

Y’all know Avery Brooks is a freakin amazing actor, right?  Well, you ain’t seen nothing, until you’ve seen his “breakdown” scene in this episode!! 

Macklin suggests that Deep Space Nine was a dream.  Russell shouts that it is real because he created it. In his mind, Deep Space Nine, and all those people, are real, because he created them.

 

You guys. This episode is shockingly, ridiculously good.  I love Deep Space Nine, but I’d watch seasons upon seasons of Russell and Cassie, and the other writers at the magazine.  But that storyline about Russell, it’s not real, is it.

 

There is a beautiful blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment at the end of the episode, where Sisko, now feeling much better, philosophically wonders if maybe his life and everything he knows is all just a dream of Russell’s.

 

Let’s go back in time 2200 years, to Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream, which you may know as:

 

“Once there was a man who dreamed he was a butterfly.  When he awoke he did not know if he was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man”.

 

Which is real? Russell in the 1950’s creating Deep Space Nine and the hope of a better future where a Black man can be a hero and protagonist? Or Benjamin Sisko who is having some major neuron issues in his brain and keeps hallucinating? 

 

Ooh, time travel whiplash, my favorite! 

 

There was a short lived series on Netflix in 2017 called Electric Dreams, it was an episodic series based oh so loosely on Philip K Dick short stories.  There was an episode called “Real Life”, in which a policewoman dreams she is a game designer, and the game designer dreams he is the policewoman. Whose life is real?  Who will disappear when the other wakes up?  The episode is very loosely based on Dick’s short story “Exhibit Piece”, published in 1954.   I’ve not yet read “Exhibit Piece”, but it’s now in the public domain, so you can listen to it or read it, here.

 

So, to come back to where we were, “Far Beyond the Stars” is one of the absolute best Deep Space Nine episodes.   The acting is beyond excellent, the material is timely and fascinating, the interplay between the characters is cinema-worthy, and absolutely everything about this episode is transcendent. 

 

You know. . if Michael Dorn flirted with me like that, I wouldn’t be able to turn him down!

 

9 Responses to "Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond the Stars"

OK, you know what? I’ve not bought any books this month so I’m gonna go buy Deep Space Nine on dvd dagnabbit! You’ve reminded me of so much of this shows awesomeness and I want it all in my eyeballs right frigging now!

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not to tempt you even further. . . but the DVDs have special features and some extra stuff. . . 😀 (you know what? I am TOTALLY trying to tempt you further!)

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TOTALLY confused by all the (“not-“) stuff. What? I admit I only watched the 1st two seasons of the show, that was a long time ago, but… ?

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the “not-” stuff was my way of alluding to that our favorite characters are alternate versions of themselves. Similar personality, but different people. here, this’ll help too:
https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Far_Beyond_the_Stars_(episode)

there’s also this very cool Philip K Dick thing happening about is Sisko just dreaming or hallucinating? Or is it an alternate reality? or is what he’s seeing in the 1950s the actual reality, and is his life on the station just someone else’s dream?

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Such a great episode of DS9. 😃 I re-watched it recently and loved it. Now you’ve made me want to re-watch that episode of Electric Dreams.

Liked by 1 person

and now i’m tempted to rewatch all of Electric Dreams! I remember some of those episodes had surprise all-star casts.

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I do not remember this episode, and now I really want to watch it! This sounds so fabulous. And I can swoon over flirty Michael Dorn, evidently.

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Very slightly related, but I wanted to bring up another exercise in watching actors stretch their limits, and it’s actually literary-based, too. Back starting in 2002, A&E ran a series of adaptations of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels starring Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Baldwin. That’s cool enough, because they both shine in their respective roles, but only recurring characters get the same actor from episode to episode,. Every other role was filled by a rotating cast of Canadian actors, wildly flipping between appearance, costuming, accents, and motivations every time. Half of the fun is trying to figure out the mystery in each episode, and the other half is watching actors that you knew playing one role in a previous segment knocking you flat as they completely surprise you in another. I don’t know if they’re streaming (my wife is a huge fan, and I bought them for her on DVD back around 2005), but they’re worth hunting down no matter what.

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ooh, this sounds amazing! through netflix, amazon prime, or the AV section at the library, i BET i can hunt these down! thank you for the rec!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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