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The reputation the “Deep Space Nine” has as being a show that was largely about religion really begins to be earned late in the fourth season. Nearly every episode touches on—if not the faith side of religious institutions exactly—the cultural aspect of religion.
Episode 17: “Accession”
This is an interesting episode exploring many aspects of religion. More than that it does tackle the issue of belief—faith—when the truth is hard to discern. The “prophets” are gods to the Bajorans, and whatever else that means they are they are beyond the understanding of the Trek universe. That being the case, sometimes belief is based on limited understanding. This is a good parallel to real world faith, and Biblical belief specifically. Much of what we understand is beyond our capabilities. We have to truly exercise trust and take what God says about Himself and His plan on faith. We also struggle with the varying interpretations of that revelation that religious figures propose and in some cases impose upon the rest of us.
In this story, a new emissary emerges from the worm-hole and his message—supposedly from the prophets themselves—changes everything the Bajorans have believed. The faithful follow this new teacher unquestioningly, and it leads to some pretty ugly results. Sisko was initially happy to give up the religious role he had been given early on in the series. However, he is troubled by the direction the new leader is taking Bajoran culture and he decides that they need clarification. Rather than debate theology or enter some religious-political fight, he takes things back to the source. What exactly do the prophets want?
This is a good reminder for people of faith everywhere on several levels. One, we should question anyone coming in the name of God. Two, we should compare every teacher’s teaching with what we believe to be God’s word. Three, we should distrust religious leaders that have political ambitions or that are eager to tell everyone else how they should live. That responsibility—discovering what God would have us do—is something we all share.
Episode 18: “Rules of Engagement”
This episode is not as much religious as it is cultural. Worf is accused of a war crime, but the whole thing is mostly being used by the Empire to discredit the federation. What is most interesting here is the Klingon accuser. He uses, and exposes, the legal system as a tool of battle. We are reminded that all cultural struggles, whether outright conflict or more subtle means such as legal processes, are a part of a battle to control society. Politics, legislation, education and religious systems are largely about control.
Episode 19: “Hard Time”
People tend to list “Inner Light” from TNG as one of the best episodes of Trek from any series. In it Picard gets to experience a full and meaningful lifetime in a matter of minutes. This episode, in typical “Deep Space Nine” pessimism, takes the same premise but has O’Brien experience a lifetime of prison. It is an interesting study in the fact that we are so much a sum of all our experiences. The choices we make in life and the experiences we live through make up the people we are. It serves to inspire us to take those choices seriously. At the same time, this episode is a reminder, or a challenge, for us to strive to be more than just the sum of our circumstance. Are we ultimately who we choose to be, or whom the world makes us?
Episode 20: “Shattered Mirror”
A return to the mirror universe is even less engaging than the first two times around.
Episode 21: “The Muse”
There are two interesting issues addressed in this episode, and they don’t really tie into each other. First, we see Jake meet a literal muse. However, this creature doesn’t just inspire artists; she feeds off their creativity and ultimately consumes the artists she inspires. Many of history’s most famous and influential artists do seem to have offered themselves on the altar of their art. Do such impactful individuals have to invest themselves so intensely that they become a cultural sacrifice?
In another plot, Odo demonstrates an act of love that is not the commonly understood love that leads to marriage. However, in some ways this idea of marriage as purely a social contract still manages to be moving. It is perhaps a better understanding of love than the romantic ideal that so many marriages feed on, ultimately starving. For the purposes of the episodic show, though, it is not carried through.
Episode 22: “For the Cause”
The writers suddenly remember a minor storyline they introduced way back in the TNG days, and use it to create a (somewhat artificial) tension for Sisko.
Episode 23: “To the Death”
Mostly an action piece that forces mortal enemies to work together for a common good. There are small reminders here of the nature of the fight with the Dominion, reminders that this is a religious fight as the enemy think that they are being obedient to gods. More on that as the series progresses…
Episode 24: “The Quickening”
At first glance this is a story about assisted suicide. It is that, but that is simplifying things too much. Ultimately it is about a culture that faces inescapable death, and instead of using that destiny as motivation to make life count, they have become a culture of death. They glorify it and see life nihilistically. Bashir helps them see a different future; not in helping them achieve immortality, but by showing them that they do not have to be resigned to a particular destiny. The fact that we are all sinners facing mortality does not mean that we cannot strive to make our lives count for something. We can do our part to make things better in the time we have.
Episode 25: “Body Parts”
Ferengi culture is explored again and we see once again just how religiously driven they are. For them, commerce is more than a system; it is a religion that impacts the afterlife. Comical, perhaps, but it also serves to expose the materialism that we in the West so religiously serve. In the end Quark learns (we hope) that the relationships we have and the people we know are far more valuable than any assets we strive to accumulate.
Episode 26: “Broken Link”
Pushing the series-long story arch along, Odo develops a sickness that forces him to return to his people, only to be judged for the crime he committed at the end of season 3 by killing another changeling. Odo’s people are considered gods by the Dominion, and in this story he in effect experiences paradise by joining the “great link” only to be “cast out.” Not only is he separated from his kind, he is turned into a human as punishment for his crime. This whole development along with a revelation at the end of the episode promise that this religious war will dominate much of the series going forward…
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