After the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I pretty much quit watching anything Star Trek. I'm not sure exactly why, but I did. I do not believe I've even watched more than a handful of DS9 reruns since that sad day in June of 1999. I did watch part of the first season of Enterprise, but it never pulled me in that much, despite being a decent show.
Lately, I've used the DVR to grab some DS9 episodes off of the TV. It reminded me of why I liked Star Trek so much, and why Enterprise didn't cut the mustard.
I started toward the end of the series, catching three episodes and one episode from season six and season seven, respectively. All of the four episodes showed off DS9's ability to grapple with a wide variety of plots, from a wide variety of angles and do it well. I then recorded a few more episodes, just this week, catching Emissary Part I and II (the pilot episode), along with a few other earlier episodes.
From the beginning, DS9 managed to walk the fine line of being a dark series (both visually and plot-wise) while keeping an air of hope. Emissary is both depressing, beginning with the death of Commander Sisko's wife at the Wolf 359 Borg invasion three years prior to the beginning of DS9, and hopeful, as the Prophets help Sisko realize that he “remains” at the point of his wife's death despite that he feels he has moved on. Using this ingenious plot, the writers started off the Star Trek spinoff by exploring the psychological issues of loss and grief in a powerful, unique way that immediately made you connect with Sisko.
Connecting with the characters is exactly what the series managed best. Watching the early episodes again feels like being reunited with old friends. Two nights ago, I watched the episode that introduced one of the series' most fascinating, complex characters, “plain and simple Garak.” Garak the tailor turns out to be much more as the series unfolds: he is actually a washed out spy of the Obsidian Order of Cardassia and the illegitimate child of the head of the Order, Enabran Tain, who is never willing to acknowledge Garak as his son until Tain's dying moments in a fight with the Dominion. Garak's participation with Tain in a Cardassian-Romulan battle against the Dominion ultimately also brings about the collapse of Cardassia, which, in turn, brings about the Dominion war that covered approximately two years of the storyline, and is the climax of Deep Space Nine's seven year run.
Every bit of the show was interconnected. Few episodes were merely gratuitous stories: they all fit into the bigger picture, even if they were good by themselves. Unlike the Star Trek franchises before or after it, DS9 was really one giant epic that played out over seven years. Rather than being truly episodes, the episodes where more like chapters in a giant book. It has all the marks of a good story: villains who are evil but likable (Gul Dukat, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Eddington and Weyoun, for example), heroes that are flawed and fail to see their destiny (Captain Benjamin Sisko, especially, but Kira, Odo, Bashir and others too), and plenty of ambiguous characters to keep you on your toes (Quark, Elim Garak, Kai Winn, Sloan, etc.).
While each Trek had its high points, Deep Space Nine episodes such as Emissary, Paradise Lost and In the Pale Moonlight that drove DS9 further. While DS9 did pretty much trash the Roddenberrian idealism that formed the basis of Star Trek, I'd say that doing so was probably a good thing: as nice as Roddenberry's utopian vision was to imagine, it wasn't realistic.
Returning to DS9 after six years has given me a new appreciation for it. Instead of already being “inside the universe,” the story must pull me back in, and this has allowed me to analyze it much better than I could before. DS9 should surely rank among the best dramatic tales told on or off of television in the 20th century. Sure, you have to get yourself accustomed to Star Trek terminology and history to fully appreciate it, but once you do (or even if you do not), you'll find an amazingly complex, dark and rich story that accomplished what few other works have ever attempted, much less succeeded at.