I was recently honored to be a guest on The Pink Smoke podcast to join the wonderful Bill Teck, John Cribbs, and Chris Funderburg in discussing the rich, fascinating, and flawed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The winding road that led me to this in-depth discussion of Final Frontier actually began with how I couldn’t help but feel let down, maybe even failed by, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
All through Deep Space Nine, I was waiting for SOMEONE to ask the series’ ever-present, all-purpose plot drivers, The Prophets, “what does God need with a starship?” the way Captain Kirk does in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Or “what does God need with a Space Station?” Or if not “God,” “omniscient aliens who experience all time all at once” or whatever.
I realize The Final Frontier is derided by critics and fans alike, but I think that moment at the end is so emblematic of Star Trek and its philosophy as to make it an essential part of the franchise. It is such a characteristic Kirk moment as well, to not only have the courage to stand up to a being of indescribable power, but also the intelligence to recognize a huckster when he sees one, no matter how powerful they might be.
As a Catholic, this is also where Gene Roddenberry’s secular humanism meets with my own beliefs, as no creature, no matter how powerful or divine, has the right to ensnare or enslave another in its will. Sentient beings have the right to determine their own destiny, to make their accomplishments on their own. It is this viewpoint that is at the heart of the Prime Directive (no matter how many times Kirk himself violated it).
I watched episode after episode of Deep Space Nine in which the Prophets interfered in galactic politics, the lives of Bajorans, the Dominion War, and Captain Sisko’s own life for reasons entirely their own, reasons they rarely, if ever, bothered to communicate with anyone. Meanwhile, Sisko himself was happy to take the path of least resistance as he masqueraded as the messiah for a religion he did not believe in, and Starfleet was all too willing to encourage this state of affairs if it meant maintaining an equilibrium between the Federation and Bajor that allowed them free access to the wormhole.
I was hoping Deep Space Nine would, at some point, admonish the wormhole aliens somehow for their interference in the affairs of other sentient beings, for their manipulation of multiple generations of Siskos, or for imbuing certain beings with a direct link to their outside-of-time celestial thought-temple while arbitrarily ignoring others. Instead, the series allowed them to annihilate an entire Dominion fleet on a whim, causing the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of beings (beings enslaved to the Dominion, by the way), while the audience is supposed to cheer this last-minute salvation. I understand asking Deep Space Nine to admonish certain behavior is anathema to a show created to live in moral gray areas, but when it turns around and asks us to cheer for millions of lives being erased, I don’t feel like too much of a hypocrite.
Finally, in “What You Leave Behind,” the last episode of the series, Benjamin Sisko, our supposed hero, is called to join with the Prophets for… some reason, abandoning his friends, his new wife and mother-to-be of his second child, and, most egregiously, his son Jake. I have a lot of problems with Sisko as a character, especially as a Star Trek captain, but what he never lost sight of was being a great Dad. I thought Sisko’s best moments were with Jake, and we could see the human, caring side of both Captain Sisko and Avery Brooks as they interacted so lovingly with Jake/Cirroc Lofton. For the show to take that away from father, son, and the audience is a bridge too far and a betrayal of the characters they had built over seven years.
I understand the DS9 creators and writers wanted to construct a darker, more morally ambiguous story for Star Trek, but for their main character to disavow what made them the best possible version of themselves, to abandon their family for an ambiguous and ill-defined “destiny” prescribed to them by beings who have been nothing but manipulative and, at best, aloof, is, to be honest, infuriating. I can’t help but feel that Sisko’s legacy as a character is now a captain of moral compromise (see: “In the Pale Moonlight”) and a mouthpiece for omnipotent aliens who are obsessed with manipulating one particular planet for some undefined reason. If he had rejected the Prophets and chosen to stay with his family, to ask them “what do gods need with a space station?” his legacy could have been as a husband and father, what he was best at. Well, for me, anyway.
John Arminio is a comic book, film, and heavy metal enthusiast who peddles his wares at Comix Connection in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He can be found discussing movies, politics, and his favorite Star Trek captains at QuasarSniffer on Twitter and Instagram.