The first Star Trek series not safely aboard a ship named Enterprise had a bumpy start, but when it hit warp drive, boy, did it ever.
I have long trumpeted the virtues of this series. Even though my ardor for it has diminished as more recent non-Trek shows have gone to greater heights — and even as the other Star Trek series have risen in my estimation — I still love DS9 and think it represents some of the very best Star Trek ever produced. Many of the current shows we know and love today, with their serial story arcs and ensemble casts, can trace their roots back to a precious few shows: and one of them is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
(Cue someone to mention Babylon 5, another trailblazing show I love and one that has contributed to a format now familiar for “prestige TV.” If you haven’t checked it out, you should. To those who want to stoke umbrage, sorry, there’s room enough in the galaxy to enjoy both shows. Now back to Star Trek).
Besides the satisfying serial storytelling, there’s three main reasons I’d suggest any Trek fan try out DS9 if they haven’t already. I mean, with streaming, you can skip past the opening credits that take (at last count) at least 47 minutes of a 50-minute episode.
For one thing, unlike many other series, they’re not primarily on a ship, so the issues they’re dealing with –messy Bajoran politics and Cardassian/Dominion scheming to name two– are still there the following episode. Second, those issues aren’t easily dealt with. In a sense, DS9 is one big commentary on what it takes to uphold the ideals of the Federation when you’re surrounded by shades of grey. Finally, there are the characters, a deep bench ensemble that we simply hadn’t seen before on Star Trek.
Note: Everything below may contain spoilers and definitely contains some snark.
The son of a chef with an occasional taste for scenery chewing, Sisko channels Kirk-level righteousness on more than one occasion, but he’s not Kirk. He is, however, the anti-Picard in all the best ways. His full character is revealed in many satisfying relationships with the rest of the ensemble, perhaps none more poignantly than with his son.
Haunted by her past, way too serious way too much, and competing for Worf for the title of most doomed relationships, Kira is a captivating character throughout that ensures the whole series isn’t too human-centric yet very real.
Of course they make the Irish character the one who suffers the most: he expects it. And they make him almost the only enlisted person in Starfleet, if just to remind you that someone in the Federation works for a living.
In a sense, we get to see Bashir grow up over the course of the series as he becomes a surprise stand-in for any recent graduate who learns that adulting isn’t captured in all the books they assiduously read. Much like other characters, he is best revealed in his relationships, particularly with O’Brien and Garak.
One of the best non-human characters Trek has produced, Odo would have been solid (so to speak) without the connection to the Founders, but with them, his identity and notions of loyalty and justice and being true to his own self come to the fore. And what a bow at the end.
As with so many of these archetypical exemplars of their species (see also Spock and Worf), Quark is quite unlike any other Ferengi we meet… and yet there’s probably a Rule of Acquisition that explains why he is the ur-Ferengi.
Worf came from TNG of course, but came into his own on DS9. TNG alluded to Worf as formidable, but his strength was usually implied rather than consistently shown. Indeed, he was easily dispatched by the villain of the week to show how challenging that villain was. In Deep Space Nine, you learn how tough Worf is when he kills villains. On screen. With his bare hands.
That never gets old.
One of the more interesting ways to make observations about humanity and sentients was to make a main character a Trill and a Trill who wasn’t about to take anything too seriously (except for maybe blood oaths).
Alas, regeneration, er, a new host always takes audiences a while to get used to and Ezri just had a season. She has her moments.
Suffering some of the same “what do we do with him?” problems of Wesley Crusher, the writers at least came up with him as a surrogate for some of their writing-based stories. And his relationship with his father remains one of the quiet highlights of the series.
But wait, there’s more!
That’s because, in their wisdom, the writers (whose wisdom I will take over the mercurial Prophets), decided that their ensemble really extended to what, in other shows, would be a very sporadic recurring cast. So integral were many of these characters that, in almost all cases, they were the significant guest star or co-star of a given episode. That, my friends, is world-building ahead of its time.
Rom is such a vital part of DS9, such a perfect foil to Quark, that it’s easy to forget he’s not part of the main cast.
As amazing a character arc as any we see in Trek, Nog starts as an annoying teenage counterpoint to Jake’s maturing and grows into a dedicated Starfleet officer thanks to the singular performance of Aron Eisenberg.
Underutilized and frequently elsewhere in many subsequent seasons, we missed an opportunity to see her character grow along with Miles. Nevertheless, she provided another way view into the ups and downs of a married relationship. And she helped supply a reason for Major Kira’s pregnancy, so there’s that. Sigh.
Complex, sometimes conflicted, and a great addition to the extended cast as we get to see a real, grown-up relationship on Trek for the first time in… ever?
The Klingon’s Klingon, Martok proved to be a great counterpoint to Worf, Gowron, Kor… basically any other Klingon.
A villain with multitudes and bottomless narcissism, it was a delight to see him enter any story, even when he made us nauseous with his ambition and self-importance. Sure he got a little “moustache-twirly” at the end, but the Pah-wraiths will do that to you.
Sometimes touted by fans as an exemplar of DS9’s deep character bench, we first see Damar serving Dukat on a freighter, but he ends up heading the Cardassian Union and becomes a resistance leader to boot.
Quite possibly one of the best Star Trek characters ever conceived, Garak is played to perfection by Andrew Robinson as an anti-hero who can carry the main storyline or fall back to supporting role with complete ease.
Don’t let the fact that she frequently wears the Sydney Opera House on her head fool you, Winn cares nothing for art, truth, or beauty — unless they can fulfill her personal ambition. Masterfully played by Louise Fletcher, her character arc is one of the most infuriating and satisfying of the whole series.
Insidious and ingratiating, Jeffrey Combs manages to channel the annoying aspects of every single unctuous bureaucrat you’ve ever met. Weyoun is deeply saddened that I just wrote that and hopes I will reconsider.
Honorable mention must also be given to the host of other recurring characters such as Sloan, the female changeling, Admiral Ross, and even Dr. Mora.
170) “Let He Who Is Without Sin…”
Season 5, Episode 7
An almost entirely insufferable episode of forced mirth that has the slight saving grace of trying to explain Worf’s uptight nature.
Season 2, Episode 15
An episode that demands you somehow summon the monumental suspension of disbelief that Sisko and O’Brien don’t simply point out they’re Starfleet, not part of this would-be cult colony, and they’ll be getting back to their strategically important space station, thank you very much.
168) “Move Along Home”
Season 1, Episode 10
Starfleet personnel are forced to sing alien nursery rhymes to save their lives in a game that’s indistinguishable from a holodeck malfunction. You want a good game? Try Cosmic Encounter. You want a good episode? Try something else.
167) “Profit and Lace”
Season 6, Episode 23
Armin Shimerman gives it his all, I suppose, but this story does no favors to the cause of Ferengi suffrage. Painful.
Season 3, Episode 8
A generally forgettable episode riffing on Brigadoon that requires that characters fall in love in ridiculously short order.
165) “The Storyteller”
Season 1, Episode 14
I’d love for any episode entitled “The Storyteller” to be a Gaiman-esque exploration of writing, the writer, and the reader. However, both the main storyline and Jake Sisko’s “mini-Dauphin” storyline are snoozefests.
164) “If Wishes Were Horses”
Season 1, Episode 16
Fun to watch if you’re really into DS9 and want to see the actors having fun — or if you really need to see the origin story of Sisko’s baseball.
163) “The Muse”
Season 4, Episode 21
Jake is tempted by a creativity vampire. I’d accept this earlier in the series, but it still wouldn’t have been that good then.
162) “Second Sight”
Season 2, Episode 9
Hey, let’s do a fall-in-and-out-of-love in an episode. Things haven’t changed since the 60s, right? Kassidy Yates can’t get here soon enough.
161) “Dramatis Personae”
Season 1, Episode 18
An episode about alien/anomaly induced paranoia which would have been “meh” in the original series is pretty much intolerable now. Come on guys, blaze some new trails.
160) “A Man Alone”
Season 1, Episode 4
Odo’s physionomy is different and his personality is distant, so doing a story about how people don’t trust him in the first season makes sense. Plus there’s bubbling vats. Don’t tell me you don’t like bubbling vats!
159) “Past Prologue”
Season 1, Episode 3
You’ll be forgiven for having not remembering this episode thanks to the insanely generic if apt title. It’s basically the first example of the political shades-of-grey stories DS9 does so well.
Season 1, Episode 5
The anthropologist in me loves the discussion of language use and aphasia, but that’s not enough to make this an interesting story.
Season 2, Episode 6
An earnest episode showing how a low-gravity race copes with “normal gravity” and its inherent constraints that comes across as a bit too Important Message.
Season 6, Episode 22
This being a Nog/Jake episode isn’t a reason to skip it (“In the Cards” is delightful). However, Red Squad is now 3 for 3 in being arrogant Starfleet dunderheads.
Season 2, Episode 11
Look Chris Sarandon, I love you in Princess Bride, but I’ve got a few hundred more episode reviews to write, some screenshots to capture, and all of it to upload. I’m swamped. Also, this isn’t your finest hour.
154) “Business as Usual”
Season 5, Episode 18
Quark goes a bit to far to the Dark Side in order to get some profit and learns some life lessons along the way. A bit too on the nose at times to enjoy, but Steven Berkoff’s Hagath is charmingly intense.
Season 7, Episode 5
Bashir falls for a patient, a fellow genetically engineered human who’d be a perfect match, except her destiny is to be a panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”
152) “Playing God”
Season 2, Episode 17
Jadzia Dax has issues with her mentoring techniques because of baggage with Curzon.
151) “The Forsaken”
Season 1, Episode 17
Look, I’m as surprised as you are the story between Lwaxana Troi and Odo is as touching as it is, but here we are.
Season 1, Episode 7
A clear attempt to get some interest in DS9 from TNG viewers, this season one entry gives us both Q and Vash. It has its moments, but let’s face it: you’re mainly here to see Sisko punch Q.
Season 1, Episode 12
Odo has more patience with a chronically lying prisoner than you might with this episode. Not bad, but not necessarily wormhole-opening.
Season 1, Episode 8
Should current hosts of a Trill be liable to actions of a previous host? Demerits for an uninspired title, but bonus points for Anne Haney as Judge Renora. Decent.
Season 3, Episode 15
A fun little look at predestination and prophecy is right at home in a Star Trek story.
Season 2, Episode 10
An interesting exploration of immigration and prophecy that, in the end, proves unsatisfying.
Season 3, Episode 10
A fun, but lightweight and inconsequential episode mainly enjoyable to DS9 fans wanting to see how good the actors are at out-and-out farce.
144) “Field of Fire”
Season 7, Episode 13
Criminal Minds: Deep Space Nine proves to be okay, but I wouldn’t put in a season order.
Season 2, Episode 16
A charming if light mystery story, aided greatly by guest turns from Kenneth Mars and Kenneth Tobey, with a touching character moment for Odo.
142) “Prodigal Daughter”
Season 7, Episode 11
Ezri has backstory, so we’re going to do that instead of focus on the Dominion War, because that will make everyone like Ezri that much more.
141) “The Passenger”
Season 1, Episode 9
Reasonably intriguing story with a criminal whose consciousness can hop from body to body in order to give you an entertaining sci-fi tale.
140) “Life Support”
Season 3, Episode 13
If you’ve been wanting to see Bashir in the Federation’s fetching red surgical scrubs and need another reason to hate Winn Adami, have we got the episode for you!
139) “Honor Among Thieves”
Season 6, Episode 15
Have we had any stories about the Orion Syndicate? Okay, let’s do one now. And why not use O’Brien?
138) “Heart of Stone”
Season 3, Episode 14
Let’s make it official: Odo loves Kira.
137) “Invasive Procedures”
Season 2, Episode 4
Thanks to a highly truncated set of circumstances, a far-from-gruntled Trill tries to get Dax. Hey, we get appearances from Megan Gallagher and Tim Russ, so that’s good.
136) “Time’s Orphan”
Season 6, Episode 24
I’ll give it to the writers, they decided to make sure every single member of the O’Brien family suffered. In this case, it’s Molly. Parents beware: this ain’t a fun watch.
135) “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?”
Season 5, Episode 16
As comes as no surprise, the Federation does not like people who dabble in genetic engineering. Also, Rom finally finds his Ferengi cajones.
134) “Statistical Probabilities”
Season 6, Episode 9
Not everyone took to the genetic modifications as well as Bashir, so it’s time for some comedy gold!
Season 7, Episode 3
A narratively necessary, but not especially involving, episode where Ezri comes to terms with her former Dax lives and the writers find a way to get her onto the station full time.
132) “Captive Pursuit”
Season 1, Episode 6
A simple, but enjoyable tale of a society of hunters and hunted that gives the DS9 crew more time to warm up. The aliens, who are like JV Hirogen, have awesome weapons, uniforms, and transport effects.
131) “In the Hands of the Prophets”
Season 1, Episode 20
Religion and science are the uncomfortable focus of this season one closer which also introduces us to one of the all-time great Star Trek villains in Louise Fletcher’s Winn Adami. Get used to hating her folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
130) “The Nagus”
Season 1, Episode 11
The first appearance of Grand Nagus Zek is not his best, but it’s still Wallace Shawn, so it’ll help you get through the Jake/Nog subplot.
129) “Body Parts”
Season 4, Episode 25
Ferengi intrigue always goes better with Jeffrey Combs’ Brunt — plus, we get one of the most cockamamie ways to explain a main actors’ pregnancy ever. Ain’t sci-fi grand?
128) “Battle Lines”
Season 1, Episode 13
Kai Opaka exits stage combat left in an allegorical episode that you’ll probably enjoy unless you’re some of my fight choreography colleagues, who may be fair, but sure are tough judges of fight scenes.
127) “The Emperor’s New Cloak”
Season 7, Episode 12
We get one last romp in the Mirror Universe before the series ends and this romp is all about the Ferengi.
Season 1, Episode 15
A typical entry for season one that finds a character (in this case, Kira) dealing with some ethical conundrum while doing some modest world-building.
125) “The Homecoming”
Season 2, Episode 1
The first part of the ambitious three-parter opening season two is good, but eclipsed by the other parts. Also, there are absolutely no uncomfortable Pinter pauses, so it’s kind of false advertising.
Season 7, Episode 14
The fact that we’re stopping during the Dominion War to deal with one of the lost Hundred changelings is kind of annoying. However, the payoff at the end of the episode regarding Kira and Odo’s relationship is golden.
123) “Image in the Sand”
Season 7, Episode 1
The characters (and perhaps the writers) slowly dig their way out of the hole they found themselves in at the end of “Tears of the Prophets.” Slow-going, but essential for viewers of the whole series.
122) “Shadows and Symbols”
Season 7, Episode 2
We finally get to some momentum and payoff for the final season as Sisko gets his groove back, Sto’Vo’Kor gets Jadzia, and we get a callback to Benny Russell.
121) “The Collaborator”
Season 2, Episode 24
If you had any doubts whether DS9 would not go deep and wallow in the mire of religion and politics in all sorts of shades of grey, this episode casts aside any doubts.
120) “Rules of Acquisition”
Season 2, Episode 7
Essentially a world-building/set-up episode as the mysterious group known as the Dominion starts moving into the foreground and women’s rights among the Ferengi starts getting explored.
Season 2, Episode 5
Post-war intrigue and notions of adoption and identity make this a decent allegorical watch.
118) “Rules of Engagement”
Season 4, Episode 18
Checking both the “Rashomon” and “Court Case” boxes on your Episodic TV Bingo card, this story benefits greatly by some directorial panache from LeVar Burton.
117) “A Simple Investigation”
Season 5, Episode 17
Odo in a slightly noir tale that includes doomed romance, so there’s that.
116) “Distant Voices”
Season 3, Episode 18
A reasonably clever “mind warp” episode focused on Bashir that presents a few nice twists.
Season 6, Episode 8
The Mirror Universe is back and it’s here for heartbreak and mischief.
Season 4, Episode 13
Odo struggles with being in the friend zone. Of course, considering he has little basis for understanding relationships outside observing the solids and his own gender identity is metaphorically and physically fluid, I think we can give him some slack. And a bucket.
113) “Hippocratic Oath”
Season 4, Episode 4
DS9 tackles the chestnuts of doctors treating patients (whomever the patient) and the duties of prisoners captured by the enemy. Oh, and we get pretty firm on O’Brien being enlisted.
112) “The Alternate”
Season 2, Episode 12
The introduction of the previously alluded to Dr. Mora and a little sci-fi inciting incident give us some good room to explore his fractious father-son relationship with Odo.
Season 5, Episode 10
Scenery is chewed as visions are seen — and the Federation begins to realize that having Sisko be a local religious icon is actually problematic.
Season 2, Episode 25
No good deed goes unpunished and O’Brien must suffer. Understand that and you understand this episode.
Season 3, Episode 4
Joined Trill origin stories are way more complex, especially when one of the lifetimes is the equivalent of “redacted.”
108) “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places”
Season 5, Episode 3
Klingons and Ferengi men behave badly — with a little bit of Cyrano de Bergerac. If you enjoy the characters, you’ll enjoy the ride.
107) “Armageddon Game”
Season 2, Episode 13
Entertaining outing with O’Brien and Bashir trying to evade bad guys who’ve decided they know too much. The end reveal of Keiko’s faulty yet life-saving premise is brilliant.
106) “One Little Ship”
Season 6, Episode 14
Almost as much fun as the conceit of shrinking a Runabout is ridiculous, this story is aided by a fun subplot of rivalries between Alpha and Gamma Jem’Hadar, a reminder that Sisko knows his way around a starship (and can technobabble with the best of them), and –of course– Klingon poetry. Okay, maybe not the last bit.
105) “The Quickening”
Season 4, Episode 24
A good illustration of what drives Dr. Bashir and also just how ruthless the Dominion can be.
104) “Who Mourns for Morn?”
Season 6, Episode 12
A fun, comedic story that offers a little bit of fan service and a whole lot of hijinks.
103) “Broken Link”
Season 4, Episode 26
A pivotal episode that only becomes apparent later (in the case of Section 31’s skullduggery, you have to wait until season 7), the story still moves things along to set up the Dominion War at the end of season 5.
Season 4, Episode 17
A story that scratched the narrative itch of whether Sisko wants to be the Emissary in the first place. Bonus points for the callback to Worf delivering Keiko’s baby on TNG.
Season 4, Episode 6
An exploration of the Trill taboos regarding symbionts having relations with each other across multiple host lifetimes also serves as a way to explore love, loss, and letting go… and of course societal views of homosexuality. Yes, for you young whipper-snappers, the same-sex kiss was a reasonably big deal when it first aired.
Season 3, Episode 17
O’Brien suffers (I mean, he dies multiple times), but it’s all in the service of a fairly entertaining time-shifting tale involving Romulans.
Season 3, Episode 9
Give us a Riker appearance we didn’t expect and lay the groundwork for the later Obsidian Order/Tal Shiar assault on the Founders, eh? Well played, DS9. Well played.
Season 6, Episode 11
While no “Duet,” this two-hander between Sisko and Dukat sets up Dukat’s motivations for much of the rest of the series.
97) “Children of Time”
Season 5, Episode 22
A technobabble-instigated alternate timeline provides great fun from the Sons of Mogh to Miranda O’Brien to Yedrin Dax — plus good character moments for the crew and a crucial confession from Odo.
96) “Sons and Daughters”
Season 6, Episode 3
An all-around solid middle entry in the season six opening story arc where Worf (once again) must figure out what it means to be a father to Alexander and Dukat continues his sliminess using his own daughter Ziyal as an instrument of his machinations.
Season 7, Episode 9
If you’ve read about Jim Jones and others, the plot won’t come as a surprise, but –by the Prophets– Dukat makes one creepy cult leader.
94) “Ferengi Love Songs”
Season 5, Episode 20
Assemble the usual players of Grand Nagus Zek, Liquidator Brunt, and Quark’s mother Ishka, and of course Ferengi hijinks will ensue.
Season 3, Episode 25
It’s a Dax backstory bonanza allowing the cast to stretch their acting muscles and with a surprise twist as to which former host proves to be a problem.
Season 3, Episode 22
A welcome gentler look at Bajoran-Cardassian relationships in the framework of a Kon-Tiki style space expedition. We get our first looks at the Sisko goatee and the fabulous Bajoran “lightship.”
91) “It’s Only a Paper Moon”
Season 7, Episode 10
Because DS9 liked to explore consequences and fully use their ensemble cast, we get to see Nog work through his PTSD after his injuries in “The Siege of AR-558.” Bonus points for “The Searchers” love.
90) “Second Skin”
Season 3, Episode 5
A solid Bajoran-Cardassian intrigue story with Major Kira as you’ve never seen her before… and as Kira has never seen herself before. Multilayered.
89) “The Adversary”
Season 3, Episode 26
From time immemorial, no changeling has harmed another change– dammit Odo! Too bad we never see the Tzenkethi in the series.
88) “The Maquis” (Parts I & II)
Season 2, Episodes 20 & 21
Look, it’s going to take a while for us to warm up the whole Dominion-as-anti-Federation storyline, so in the meantime, let’s get you some villains that are completely in line with the whole shades-of-grey DS9 oeuvre. Oh, and let’s throw in some betrayal as well.
Season 6, Episode 18
To the eternal umbrage of those who want Star Trek’s vision of the future to remain optimistic, this story introduces of Starfleet’s own ends-justify-the-means Machivellians: Section 31.
86) “Behind the Lines”
Season 6, Episode 4
Sure there’s the whole Sisko-becomes-an-adjutant subplot as he shifts from commanding a ship to helping direct the war, but the main thing is the female shapeshifter arrives at DS9 and THE LINK IS HITTING THE FAN!
85) “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night”
Season 6, Episode 17
Dukat continues demonstrating his Olympic-level narcissism, we get to understand more about his obsession with Major Kira, and Kira gets to learn some of her family history that will make you want to take a shower to wash off all the ugly.
84) “Ties of Blood and Water”
Season 5, Episode 19
A great follow-up to “Second Skin” which has similar Bajoran-Cardassian intrigue, the re-introduction of Weyoun (and Vorta as clones), and some great character moments for Major Kira.
83) “Apocalypse Rising”
Season 5, Episode 1
Come for Captain Sisko as a Klingon, stay for Dominion skullduggery within the Klingon Empire. Pretty pleasing all around as season openers go.
82) “The Sound of Her Voice”
Season 6, Episode 25
Debra Wilson gets to show off her voice acting chops and the crew gets a necessary reflective episode before everything goes to hell in the season finale.
Season 2, Episode 14
You suffer right along with O’Brien as he tries to uncover a conspiracy that gets deeper and more disturbing until the final, wonderful reveal.
Season 3, Episode 24
Bajoran intrigue abounds in this story introducing Shakaar of the famed Shakaar Resistance Cell that Kira was part of. Plus one-armed comic relief. And did I mention intrigue? Enjoy the limits on Kai Winn’s ambitions while you can. You think you loathe her pettiness now…
79) “The Ascent”
Season 5, Episode 9
Quark and Odo spending quality time together works pretty well because it’s so unwanted by either of them… and Nog captures the “new convert to [self-improvement trend]” perfectly.
78) “Prophet Motive”
Season 3, Episode 16
Following through on the thought experiment of what the Prophets would make of the Ferengi is fun enough. Following through on what Quark would do if his beloved Rules of Acquisition were messed with is golden.
77) “Civil Defense”
Season 3, Episode 7
The crew discovers that the Cardassians were quite devious in terms of monitoring their Bajoran slave labor… and themselves. Inventive and fun.
76) “The House of Quark”
Season 3, Episode 3
Ferengi and Klingons go together like peanut butter sandwiches and chili: you might not think of the pairing at first, but, really, it’s great.
75) “The Jem’Hadar”
Season 2, Episode 26
The Romulans announce their return in TNG with a courtesy call. The Dominion announces itself by demonstrating their disdain for forcefields, destroying a Galaxy-class starship, and providing their resume of previous starship destruction. Badass introduction goes to the Dominion.
74) “Return to Grace”
Season 4, Episode 14
Does Dukat contradict himself? Yes, he contradicts himself. He contains multitudes.
73) “A Time to Stand”
Season 6, Episode 1
After the triumphal ending shot of “Call to Arms” (look at all those ships!), we get the cold, hard reality of the Dominion War and an exciting opening incident for season six’s opening storyline.
72) “‘Til Death Do Us Part”
Season 7, Episode 18
Prepare to get uncomfortable for this installment of the DS9’s concluding storyline as Kai Winn behaves at her Winn-iest, Sisko behaves like a man, and the Prophets behave like jerks.
71) “Family Business”
Season 3, Episode 23
Not only are we introduced to two great characters in the form of Jeffrey Combs’ Brunt and Penny Johnson’s Kasidy Yates, we’re introduced to Quark and Rom’s mom Ishka and the theme of Ferengi cultural reforms that will continue through the rest of the series. Light, but enjoyable.
70) “The Siege”
Season 2, Episode 3
Season Two’s three-part “Bajoran Civil War” arc comes to a satisfying close, though perhaps with a few too many predictable notes. Nevertheless, it gives us a good taste of the complex storylines to come.
69) “The Sword of Kahless”
Season 4, Episode 9
Klingons may not need badges, but they still can get gold -er- bat’leth fever as if they were in the Sierra Madre. John Colicos is always welcome as Kor and we get to see a side of Worf we haven’t seen before.
68) “The Circle”
Season 2, Episode 2
The Bajoran Civil War get complicated in the best way, as the various players in maneuver for advantage, we learn about betrayals and counter-plots, and Sisko gets to decide about the letter and spirit of the law vis a vis the Prime Directive.
67) “Things Past”
Season 5, Episode 8
This episode serves as a friendly little reminder that the DS9 writers aren’t just after O’Brien. Everyone gets to suffer as do their most cherished ideals… like Odo’s idea of justice and fairness.
Season 2, Episode 23
DS9’s first foray into the Mirror Universe is wonderfully inventive, subversive, and satisfying.
Season 4, Episode 5
Another Kira/Dukat episode that has major ramifications to the rest of the series with the introduction of Tora Ziyal. Plus, we get our first look at the previously mentioned Breen and debate whether or not they’re fans of thermal detonators.
64) “The Search” (Parts I & II)
Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2
Season three kicks off in high gear (which it ought to, given the literally explosive season two finale) and Odo gets what he wishes for in finding his people. And you know what happens when you get what you wish…
63) “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”
Season 7, Episode 4
Taken in original broadcast or binge-watching sequence, some viewers may get a bit impatient to get into some of the quality space opera with which they’ve grown accustomed. Taken as a love letter to baseball (a sport enamored by many a sci-fi writer), this episode is absolutely delightful, from Odo getting into his role as umpire to the whiskey-flavored chewing gum. Play ball!
62) “Shattered Mirror”
Season 4, Episode 20
A great entry in DS9’s Mirror Universe storyline that introduces mirror Worf as well as the mirror Defiant and leaves us with some non-mirror heartbreak.
61) “Blaze of Glory”
Season 5, Episode 23
The Dominion doesn’t play second fiddle to any villains, so the Maquis have to go. But before that, Eddington gets one last play.
60) “Badda-Bing Badda-Bang”
Season 7, Episode 15
As with many season seven episodes, this can seem like an unwelcome interruption in the Dominion War story arc. And noting the discrimination in 60s Vegas, while relevant, feels a bit forced. Still, if you accept DS9’s penchant for lighter episodes amid the darkness, you can enjoy a very Trek take on the caper/heist films they so clearly love.
59) “Bar Association”
Season 4, Episode 16
Labor relations, Ferengi-style, is full of the commentary and hijinks you might expect from DS9 at this point. This particular episode benefits, as always, from Jeffrey Combs’ “Liquidator Brunt” as well as a character development twist at the end for Max Grodenchik’s Rom.
58) “Empok Nor”
Season 5, Episode 24
Your creepy reminder that Garak is one psychotropic drug away from full-on serial killer.
Season 7, Episode 17
The series conclusion arc begins with Dax/Worf relationship complications, Sisko learning a bit more of the penance he was told he’d pay in “Sacrifice of Angels,” and Dukat goes in for some plastic surgery that we just know is going to make us queasy in the future.
56) “Once More Unto the Breach”
Season 7, Episode 7
As pretty a Klingon curtain call for John Colicos and Kor as one could ask for… Klingon notions of beauty invariably involving blood and sacrifice.
55) “Blood Oath”
Season 2, Episode 19
Based on behind-the-scenes interviews, this didn’t turn out to be quite the Kurosawan epic intended. Terry Ferrel gets swamped at times by some of the gravitas brought by the veteran actors, but much like her character, Jadzia, she does not back down in her performance. And it’s remarkably good fun to see all three original series Klingons return, inexplicably in modern make-up (we’re pre-retcon at this point), and out for vengeance.
54) “The Siege of AR-558”
Season 7, Episode 8
On the one hand, it doesn’t show us anything we haven’t seen in countless war films. On the other hand, it’s an important entry in the overall Dominion War arc and good to see how it’s impacting the different characters. Quark, as always, has some very trenchant observations about humanity.
53) “The Ship”
Season 5, Episode 2
One of those little gems of an episode where you realize that Sisko really is the most Kirk-like of all the post-TOS captains. And yes, that means some quality scenery chewing. The story itself feels like DS9’s followup to TOS episodes like “A Private Little War” (just as TNG’s “Darmok” is to TOS’ “Arena”)
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
Fortune favors the bold narrative, and this series premiere gamely attempts to go where no Star Trek has gone before — from a setting full of conflict and conflicting characters to a story that involves explaining the concept of linear time to non-corporeal aliens. Clunky at points, which all of the series premieres seem to be, but rewarding as both the plot and theme come together with Sisko’s journey of loss to a shot at redemption.
51) “For the Uniform”
Season 5, Episode 13
DS9’s take on a captain’s obsession, this rather theatrical episode (thanks to the one-time “holographic communicator”) divides fans to this day. Does Sisko go too far? Do we need this many Victor Hugo references in Trek? One thing’s for sure: you’re safer assuming Sisko isn’t bluffing.
50) “The Begotten”
Season 5, Episode 12
You figure this mid-season episode dealing with Kira’s pregnancy and Odo’s study of a gooey cousin will pass the time — and all of a sudden you get some high farce in the birthing scene and some absolute feels at the end.
49) “The Darkness and the Light”
Season 5, Episode 11
A disturbing, uncomfortable exploration of the life Kira led during the occupation and the lives she took. A great story and teleplay by Bryan Fuller and Ronald Moore respectively — and bonus points for Randy Oglesby’s intense and multifaceted “Silaran.”
Season 4, Episode 11
Topical then and depressingly still topical now, Trek examines the balance between freedom and security in the prism of the Changeling threat. Bonus points for Brock Peters’ Poppa Sisko and his non-Starfleet take on things.
47) “Paradise Lost”
Season 4, Episode 12
The payoff to the previous episode “Homefront” is profound, giving us not only a good wrestle with morals and values, but some fine starship combat as well.
46) “The Abandoned”
Season 3, Episode 6
If we learn one thing from this episode, it’s that DS9 is comfortable with unhappy endings. If we learn two things, it’s also that the Founders are evil genetic engineering geniuses. If we have to learn three things, there’s that sub-plot with Jake and the Dabo girl which I suppose is okay if you’re wanting to see some father-son relationship vignettes in Star Trek, but really, let’s be happy with the first two things.
45) “In the Cards”
Season 5, Episode 25
With just enough plot to keep us edging towards the explosive season finale, we are left with this completely charming calm-before-the-storm entry that goes just far enough with Jake and Nog’s unique problem, in part by going too far at just the right moments. Bonus points for poking the sacred Federation philosophy that is “we work to better ourselves” (I mean, it’s lovely, but deserves a little ribbing from time to time).
44) “The Wire”
Season 2, Episode 22
A welcome if entirely onion-layered dive into Garak’s backstory where everything is true, especially the lies.
43) “Change of Heart”
Season 6, Episode 16
Worf makes the right decision and the wrong decision at the same time. If you think back to this episode when you watch “Tears of the Prophets” and cry a little, it’s okay.
42) “Little Green Men”
Season 4, Episode 8
The premise of the Ferengi as the Roswell aliens should be more than enough to capture your attention, but the guest cast, including Charles Napier and Megan Gallagher, helps as well.
41) “Profit and Loss”
Season 2, Episode 18
Not only does DS9 do Casablanca, they do it primarily with the actors in prosthetic make-up. An unexpected delight thanks to some great performances. Remember: phasers are supposed to hurt and some people should never get promoted.
40) “Our Man Bashir”
Season 4, Episode 10
Relax, Trek fans tired of malfunctioning holodeck episodes. This is a transporter accident, which is completely different. Besides, this send-up of 60s Bond films is so inventive, you’ll enjoy all the twists through to the end.
39) “Through the Looking Glass”
Season 3, Episode 19
Can you help oppressed people in an alternate universe even if it means abandoning the love of your life a second time? Sisko can.
38) “Strange Bedfellows”
Season 7, Episode 19
The runaway train that is the DS9 concluding storyline accelerates as Damar questions his allegiances, Kai Winn makes her Faustian bargain, and Worf discards all those times on TNG when he was defeated with one moment of exquisite Klingon martial poetry.
37) “The Reckoning”
Season 6, Episode 21
In which we see yet again that Sisko can make tough choices and Kai Winn will make self-serving ones.
36) “…Nor the Battle to the Strong”
Season 5, Episode 4
A wonderfully uncomfortable episode exploring how wars make it hard to distinguish heroes from cowards and where Jake Sisko learns much more about what it is to be an honest writer and a man.
35) “Improbable Cause”
Season 3, Episode 20
No storyline with Garak is every straightforward and this one proves to be a twisting, turning delight, only bested by its follow-up, “The Die is Cast.”
34) “In Purgatory’s Shadow”
Season 5, Episode 14
The rumblings of the oncoming Dominion War grow louder as we get a huge reveal in Bashir being a longtime prisoner of the Dominion to an absolutely marvelous cliffhanger. Bonus points for the interplay between Garak and Worf.
33) “By Inferno’s Light”
Season 5, Episode 15
A thoroughly satisfying follow-up to “In Purgatory’s Shadow” that continues Worf’s transformation to full-on epic hero, epically ends Garak’s storyline with Enabran Tain, and makes us all feel better about never really wanting to have Gul Dukat as one of the good guys.
32) “Necessary Evil”
Season 2, Episode 8
I still remember seeing this title coming up on screen and thinking, “Well that’s a bold title.”
And then, this neo-noir mystery delivers, both in terms of intrigue and in terms of some of Odo’s “origin story,” full of wonderful character moments and an ending that is satisfyingly unresolved.
31) “When It Rains…“
Season 7, Episode 21
Halfway through the concluding storyline, we get stakes raised all over the place, from Odo’s disease to Dukat’s blindness to Gowron’s metaphorical blindness… and then there’s Kira going to teach her former oppressors how to fight guerilla warfare.
30) “Tacking Into the Wind”
Season 7, Episode 22
I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the virtual waterfall of consequences wonderfully couched in character-based actions from Damar’s decision to kill a friend in the hopes of an bold new future to Worf’s challenge to Gowron — finally doing something about that honor thing that he’s been obsessing about since The Next Generation.
29) “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River”
Season 7, Episode 6
You didn’t think you’d find Weyoun so sympathetic and tragic and then the DS9 creative team pulls out a Pixar emotion wrench. Ingenious bastards.
28) “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges”
Season 7, Episode 16
Why is this episode here? Because Admiral Ross was too nice an admiral for Star Trek and because we were overdue for some well-seasoned Section 31 intrigue in a rich Romulan sauce.
27) “Soldiers of the Empire”
Season 5, Episode 21
A pivotal episode for Worf and a fun story centered on a Klingon ship. Kind of like what TNG’s “A Matter of Honor” wanted to be when it grew up.
26) “Sons of Mogh”
Season 4, Episode 15
Because Worf and Kurn need to suffer for their honor… or rather Kurn needs to suffer for Worf’s honor. Then Worf gets to lose his last vestige of family.
25) “Call to Arms”
Season 5, Episode 26
After seasons of buildup, the Dominion War begins for realz in this appropriately epic season finale that finds time for farce, duplicity, and a really awesome space battle. And how about that ending shot? Immensely satisfying.
24) “Tears of the Prophets”
Season 6, Episode 26
A painful season finale where just about every slight or doubt that the characters have experienced comes to the forefront ending with the death of a major character and Sisko losing his way.
23) “Hard Time”
Season 4, Episode 19
The writers of DS9 apparently had a mandate to “make O’Brien suffer” throughout the series and never did they do a better (read worse) job than this episode. Well done, but incredibly depressing. I guess the writers or the Argrathi have a career ahead of them designing Starfleet psych evals.
22) “Starship Down”
Season 4, Episode 7
While no “Balance of Terror,” this remains an altogether satisfying “submarine” episode of Trek with great character moments all around and a welcome guest appearance by James Cromwell.
21) “The Magnificent Ferengi”
Season 6, Episode 10
A darkly comic take on The Magnificent Seven (and by extension, The Seven Samurai) is arguably the best Ferengi tale of DS9’s many great Ferengi tales. Plus, you get Iggy Pop who has enjoyed his time on this little space opera, but may have to kill you.
20) “What You Leave Behind”
Season 7, Episodes 25 & 26
Given the epic space opera heights the series aspired to, especially with the final storyline, it’s to be expected that the final episode wouldn’t be the best. The division between the end of the Dominion War and Sisko’s personal battle makes the pacing a bit disjointed. The curtain calls, while welcome, go on longer than necessary. Still, we get one last glorious batch of space battling, the pyrrhic resolution of many a character’s storyline, and a Starfleet captain truly going where no Trek series captain has gone before (or since).
19) “You are Cordially Invited…”
Season 6, Episode 7
If the phrase, “we’re having a Klingon wedding” doesn’t make you geek out and tune in, you’re not meant for Sto’Vo’Kor or this episode.
18) “The Assignment”
Season 5, Episode 5
Because the DS9 writers don’t just want O’Brien to suffer when his wife can as well. An ingeniously plotted thriller of an episode with a very satisfying ending.
17) “Past Tense” (Parts I & II)
Season 3, Episodes 11 & 12
A look at the increasingly near future that is disturbingly still plausible with plenty of fun twists and turns. Demerits for asking us to take B.C. as a serious threat when he’s clearly some 90s executive’s idea of “a tough” and a wayward member of Rockapella. Bonus points for Gabriel Bell being referenced in future episodes.
16) “To the Death”
Season 4, Episode 23
The introduction of Weyoun, the return of the Iconians, and some great action make this a quality episode all around. Bonus points for O’Brien’s motivational speech.
15) “The Changing Face of Evil”
Season 7, Episode 20
Twists and turns abound in this exciting entry in the final storyline. We end with a ravaged Starfleet headquarters, a destroyed Defiant, a blood sacrifice, and Damar surprising everyone (probably including himself).
14) “The Die is Cast”
Season 3, Episode 21
The events of “Improbable Cause” are paid off in epic fashion and the entire series shifts its trajectory to what will be the Dominion War.
13) “Favor the Bold”
Season 6, Episode 5
The female shapeshifter learns about intimacy, we learn more about Vorta physionomy, and the Federation learns it’s time to take a big risk as we go thundering into the conclusion of the opening Season Six story arc.
12) “For the Cause”
Season 4, Episode 22
Not only is this a pivotal episode to make DS9 more serialized and less episodic, but it’s full of payoff for characters we know (Kasidy Yates) and thought we knew (Lt. Cmdr. Eddington). George Bernard Shaw awards copious bonus points to the Maquis argument against the Federation and Sisko’s rejoinder.
11) “The Dogs of War”
Season 7, Episode 24
DS9’s penultimate episode is an embarrassment of narrative riches as it starts wrapping up all sorts of storylines all while presenting tantalizing new avenues the characters may go down. It expertly sets up the finale finding myriad ways to be both epic and character-driven. Top notch.
10) “Rocks and Shoals”
Season 6, Episode 2
The abundant character moments in this wartime story of Sisko facing off against the Dominion make it excellent. Folding in Kira’s sickening realization of what she has become make it extraordinary.
9) “His Way”
Season 6, Episode 20
DS9 fans will happily insist that the series could do light as well as dark, and this entry, much needed in-between two exceptionally grim episodes, is a banner example of that.
8) “Extreme Measures”
Season 7, Episode 23
Sure you’ve seen or read other stories of people “going into the mind” of someone else, but this Trek take, where Odo’s life is at stake, is absolutely electric as Bashir and O’Brien race against time in a Sloan’s dying brain.
7) “Far Beyond the Stars”
Season 6, Episode 13
A love letter to the inspirational science fiction magazines and writers of the 50s, an examination of race and perseverance, and a charmingly meta study of Star Trek all wrapped in one satisfying package.
6) “Trials and Tribble-ations”
Season 5, Episode 6
How the DS9 braintrust managed to come up with something so pitch-perfect for both the Original Series and DS9 is a marvel. It’s absolutely delightful and a sequel worthy of song (even though the Klingons won’t be singing it anytime soon). Still, I have to credit some of the ability to delight being based on the source material, so that gets a bit of an edge, Tribble v. Tribble
Season 1, Episode 19
For countless Star Trek fans, unsure of how much clunky roughness we’d put up with in this latest Star Trek spin-off, this was the episode that clinched us for the long haul. Harris Yulin delivers a powerful performance that, at the end, you realize contains volumes of nuance. Kira’s character arc throughout the episode is breathtaking.
4) “The Visitor”
Season 4, Episode 3
Tony Todd has never been more anti-Candyman in this tearjerker about loss, regret, perseverance, and love. Exceptional.
3) “Sacrifice of Angels”
Season 6, Episode 6
Friends: this is what paying off the story is all about. Sisko and the crew try to win in the face of setback after setback only to rely on Prophet ex Machina, which comes with a price, the full weight of it will only be felt by the series conclusion. Meanwhile, we see Dukat’s ego and delusion at its height, only to see that hubris result in a downfall that impacts more than just him. All along, we get great moments from the characters between Odo not being ready for paradise to Quark discovering his heroism. Oh, and we get glorious space battles, too.
2) “The Way of the Warrior”
Season 4, Episodes 1 & 2
Akira Kurosawa reportedly wanted his epic The Seven Samurai to be “entertaining enough to eat.” While this double-sized season opener cannot compete with a signature work by one of the legends of cinema, I maintain that the DS9 team were also on a mission to make something enjoyable and epic. It has major impacts to the overall Star Trek universe in the Klingon Empire withdrawing from the Khitomer Accords. It has wonderful moments between characters such as Quark and Garak’s examination of root beer as an analogy for the Federation. It introduces Worf to Deep Space Nine, where he gets to solidify his status as one of the best characters in all of Trek. In short, this is a sumptuous Star Trek feast.
1) “In the Pale Moonlight”
Season 6, Episode 19
While Deep Space Nine is justly lauded in its push for serial storylines, the payoffs did not simply involve plots, they involved engaging characters. This episode stands as the epitome of character payoff. We watch Captain Sisko struggle with one of the central premises of the entire series: how do you uphold the ideals of the Federation you are sworn to protect in the face of endless shades of grey? Here, life and death are on the line — and watching Sisko come to terms with the consequence of his choices (or does he?) is unforgettable.