Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Sisko System

Last week I began an unplanned excursion into the relative merits of the various captains in the Star Trek universe, starting with the original show's Captain James T. Kirk, and then The Next Generation's Jean-Luc Picard. In response to my Picard post, regular commenter Abdul-Halim said, "bald Sisko is the best captain," referencing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Avery Brooks shaving his head with the show's fourth season.

Now, you already know of my undying affection for the criminally underrated Deep Space Nine, but as it happens, and entirely coincidentally, Kendra James posted a piece to shortly thereafter making the case for Brooks and Captain Benjamin Sisko's place of importance in the pop cultural firmament not just as a Star Trek hero, but for breaking boundaries as a black leading man in the traditionally white-dominated genre of science fiction. From the article:
I’m struck by how much more I understand this show at the age of 24, compared to when I rewatched it at 17, and before that when I originally watched from 1993 to 1999. I was only 11 when the finale aired (and grounded for a good deal of the season, but that’s another issue entirely) and while I vaguely understood the significance of Sisko, I admit to taking his presence–the presence of a starring Black man–on my screen as normal. I like to think that Brooks would have appreciated that, knowing that part of his reasoning for accepting the role of Sisko was his belief that “brown children must be able to participate in contemporary mythology.”
That last quote from Brooks is remarkable not only in its profundity, but in its prescience. I was all of thirteen years old when Deep Space premiered in syndication in early '93, so I'm a little bit older than the author, but the sentiment expressed is the same as what I felt all along (and still do, for that matter). I never thought of Sisko, to use Brooks' own vernacular, as "the brown captain." It was just never a big deal to me.

And mind you, it's not like his race was ever left in the background. Quite the contrary, in fact. It was an integral element of the character. But it wasn't the only element of the character, which is what made all the difference. So many of the things he represented and portrayed, whether the unquestionable bond with his son as a single parent or the stress of command so far from civilization, are universal constants anyone can relate to, and his ethnic and cultural background just made the tapestry that much richer.

There's no doubt in my mind that Sisko represents Star Trek at its best. And when I think of Sisko at his best, my mind is immediately drawn to this closing monologue from Deep Space Nine's amazingly textured sixth season episode "In the Pale Moonlight," which I would argue is one of the finest Trek hours ever produced. Faced with the consequences of making stark, morally grey decisions in the midst of an expanding and devastating war, Sisko nicely conveys everything that made him stand uniquely apart from his fellow captains:


Abdul-Halim V. said...

Thanks for the mention. Some of the other dimensions which made Sisko unique were 1) the entire religious component, I mean how many captains were messianic figures? 2) he was at least a little bit alien... at least there was that whole storyline where his mother was possessed by a wormhole alien / prophet for a while 3) I think he was connected to our current 20th/21st century life in the most concrete ways... between his love of baseball, his dad in New Orleans, the Bell Riots storyline and the Benny Russell storyline, he is most like us.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Also have you gotten around to seeing Babylon 5 yet? lol.... I think a big part of why I like Sisko is just that I like the show overall... and many of the things which made Deep Space Nine good were also shared by B5

Zaki said...

Still need to watch B5! I assure you, it's right there in my mental queue...unfortunately that queue is has about a half-dozen other series stacked up in front of it!

Adam Hutch said...

I have such a soft spot for the Dominion War storyline that saw them forced off of DS9. I liked that DS9 was able to walk a fine line that allowed for some moral grey areas while holding true to the psuedo-Utopian future that Star Trek's famous for. It rang a lot more true for me than the early very-Roddenberry Next Generation episodes.