One of the many reasons that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was my favorite of the several Trek incarnations is the quality of its pilot episode “Emissary.” In it, we first meet Commander Benjamin Sisko, a widower, the father of a young son, Jake, and previously, the first officer of the USS Saratoga which was destroyed in Trek’s infamous Battle of Wolf 359. His wife, Jennifer, has been dead for three years — killed at Wolf 359 — and he has languished at a desk job since that time. In the beginning of the series, he takes command of Space Station Deep Space Nine without much enthusiasm, and contemplates retiring from Starfleet when his task at the station is finished.
Fast forward to the pivotal scene of the pilot: here is Sisko as he teaches the prophets — a group of non-linear alien beings who have abducted him and who use the appearance of persons and scenarios which are familiar to him in order to communicate — about linear existence using his favorite game as a metaphor.
[On a baseball field]
BATSMAN-Alien: Aggressive. Adversarial.
SISKO: Competition. For fun. It’s a game that Jake and I play on the holodeck. It’s called baseball.
JAKE-Alien: Baseball? What is this?
SISKO: I was afraid you’d ask that. I throw this ball to you and this other player stands between us with a bat, a stick, and he, and he tries to hit the ball in between these two white lines. No. The rules aren’t important. What’s important is, it’s linear. Every time I throw this ball, a hundred different things can happen in a game. He might swing and miss, he might hit it. The point is, you never know. You try to anticipate, set a strategy for all the possibilities as best you can, but in the end it comes down to throwing one pitch after another and seeing what happens. With each new consequence, the game begins to take shape.
BATSMAN-Alien: And you have no idea what that shape is until it is completed.
SISKO: That’s right. In fact, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.
JAKE-Alien: You value your ignorance of what is to come?
SISKO: That may be the most important thing to understand about humans. It is the unknown that defines our existence. We are constantly searching, not just for answers to our questions, but for new questions. We are explorers. We explore our lives, day by day, and we explore the galaxy, trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge. And that is why I am here. Not to conquer you either with weapons or with ideas, but to co-exist and learn.
[Scene switches to the doomed USS Saratoga in Sisko’s quarters as he leans over Jennifer’s dead body.]
TACTICAL-Alien: If all you say is true, why do you exist here?
The prophets force Sisko to face the fact that, by living in the grief and anger produced by Jennifer’s death, he has stopped trying to live up to his own standard.
This is what we all do at various points in our lives. And our task in life isn’t to beat ourselves up for being imperfect in what we say we believe — for failing — but to get back up off of the floor and keep pushing and pressing on, using what we have left.
Sisko still had his son and discovers by the end of the pilot — and by the end of the series — that he has much more than he was able to imagine at the point where we first meet him. This was good TV.
And it demonstrates something essential about the relationship between inner-core beliefs/principles and the fallen nature of humanity: temporarily falling away from the former doesn’t make them any less true or correct …and doesn’t make them any less yours. And the great part about principles which are solid and true is that returning to them will help you dig yourself out of the ditch into which life has deposited you.
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