Star Trek has always been one to allow itself to be a platform that speaks about sociopolitical situations but in recent episodes, Deep Space Nine seems to have strayed from that instead focusing on the drama of the war with the Dominion or on fun things like Morn faking his death. Having strayed a little form the very thing that made Star Trek special, it all comes back in a serious way with the episode that originally aired on February 11, 1998, this is Far Beyond the Stars.
Station Log Stardate Undetermined: Far Beyond the Stars
After contemplating leaving Starfleet, Ben Sisko has a vision of himself in the 1950’s where he is writing the story of Captain Benjamin Sisko.
The USS Cortez has been lost and Ben Sisko is taking it hard. It seems that, even though they have managed to regain control of the station, Ben is beginning to believe that this war is all for nothing. With his father visiting, Ben explains his feelings and informs the elder Sisko that it may be time for Benjamin Sisko to step down and move on from his position of Command. It is clear that Ben has some thinking to do and, when he starts to see visions of people in 1950’s period clothing, it is clear he might need a break sooner than later. Soon he has a vision of himself being hit by a car in the past and awakens to find himself in the infirmary. Julian confirms that it seems his brain patterns are similar to his visions he had in the past and soon finds himself in the 50’s as writer Benny Russell acting as if he doesn’t notice the change.
Benny arrives in his office only to witness a fight between his coworkers (all played by the actors who depict the crew of DS9). Everyone is there, Odo (as the Editor Douglas Pabst), Quark (as Herbert Rossoff), Kira (as Kay Eaton), O’Brien (as Albert Macklin), Martok (as Roy Rittenhouse), Bashir (as Julius Eaton) and even Nog (as a news Vendor) but not as themselves, as they all look and sound like humans in the 1950’s. Soon Greenhouse hands out images to inspire the writers for the scifi rag they are writing for and one, that looks strikingly like Deep Space Nine, catches the attention of Benny. Before long, however, Pabst the Editor informs the group that they will be running images of the writers in the next issue with the exception of Kay (Kira) and Benny as the readers will not understand a woman writer nor a black writer being involved in the magazine. This deeply offends Benny but, even with the rest of the staff defending him, the Editor informs Benny that his photo will not be in the magazine.
Benny leaves only to be harassed by a pair of cops (played by Dukat and Weyoun) who threaten to run him in to see if he has a record. After getting away, Benny encounters a street preacher (played by his father) who praises the ‘Prophets’ and tells the young writer to write what is in his heart. Taking the image of the space station home, Benny begins writing his story. Looking out of the window he sees himself as the character in his story, Captain Benjamin Sisko.
The next morning Benny visits his favorite diner and tells his girlfriend Cassie (Cassidy Yates) about his latest story. She is adamant to get married and begs Benny to reconsider his writing gig. Soon a famous baseball player named Willie Hawkins (Worf) arrives and hits on Cassie but quickly strikes out, it is clear that Cassie and Benny are a couple. Willie is soon distracted by group of young women nearby and finds his way to introduce himself. Soon, Benny is greeted by Jimmy (Jake Sisko) who is a small time criminal that Benny is trying to convince leave the life of crime. Jimmy laughs off Benny’s story asking his friend for a few dollars.
Later that day, Benny allows his coworkers to read his story entitled Deep Space Nine. As they complement his story, Benny begins to see his coworkers as their DS9 counterparts. Soon, however, the editor shoots the story down claiming that there is no way he can publish a story with a ‘Negro Space Station Captain’ as the hero. The Editor insists that Benny change the lead to a white man and Benny refuses to budge. Distraught, Benny finds himself in the diner where he has another vision of Deep Space Nine in the form of Worf in his Klingon gear. Frightened Benny hits the streets and runs in to the preacher who still insists that he ‘follow the path of the Prophets’. Benny returns to his home and continues writing about Benjamin Sisko and Deep Space Nine. Later, in Benny’s room, he begins having flashes back and forth from the 50’s to his life on DS9. Benny becomes frightened that he might be losing his mind.
Three weeks later, Benny comes to the office with six additional stories about Deep Space Nine much to Pabst’s dismay. Macklin (O’Brien) suggests that he make the story a dream from a Negro in their world dreaming about a better future. Benny reluctantly agrees and, on his way home, he runs into Jimmy (Jake) who indicates he has something going down. Still excited, Benny rushes to the cafe to tell Cassie (Cassidy) about his success with the magazine and asks her out on the town that very night. That night, things go from bad to worse when they witness Jimmy (Jake) being shot in the streets by the same cops who had harassed Benny earlier. He soon ends up in a fist fight with the cops and, while being beaten he has visions of Gul Dukat and Weyoun in their place.
Weeks later, Benny returns to the office still recovering from his wounds. His friends are happy to see him and soon finds disappointment when the Editor informs them that the owner had the entire run pulped due to not living up to their ‘high standards’. Benny confronts the Editor about the situation and discovers that not only will his story not be published but he is being fired from his job. Benny is upset at the turn of events and tells them all that no matter what they do, they can not destroy the future that is in his head. Benny collapses on the floor and is soon taken away by an ambulance.
In the ambulance Benny is confronted by the Preacher who tells him that he has walked in the path of the Prophets and that he is The Dreamer and The Dream. Benny awakes to find himself back as Ben Sisko aboard Deep Space Nine. He had only been out a few moments but in that time lived several weeks in another man’s life.
Discussing the events with his father, Ben explains that he plans to stay on DS9 and finish the job he started. Joseph is proud of him and asks if maybe his vision helped him in his decision. Ben doesn’t answer as he now wonders if they are all nothing more than characters in Benny’s imagination living a life created by Benny Russel’s dream.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
This is one of the single most powerful episodes of Deep Space Nine to exist. I know that is a pretty big statement but it is very true. As I mentioned earlier, Star Trek has never been afraid of tackling the hard subjects from sexual identity to even drug abuse so for it to dive neck deep into a story about inequality is not far fetched in any way.
The episode itself is obviously about everyday racism and sexism, about the big and small things that people do in their everyday lives that make others feel like less of a person. From denying Benny and Kay their picture in a magazine they work for to the casual racial profiling that results in Jimmy’s death, this episode tackles all of the subtle and obvious issues that we still face to this very day. While the episode takes place primarily in the 50’s, the fact that it still bothers people in the 22nd century is a testament to how deep these issues really are.
That being said, the episode itself comes across more like a solid entry for The Twilight Zone or Amazing Stories than Star Trek but could only have been accomplished on a series such as this. Using the premise that Benny wishes for a better life and ultimately may be responsible for the very reality we have been watching for years is a deep one and goes even further when you begin to really think about the implications it has. Is the universe that Deep Space Nine, and in turn Star Trek, really only in the mind of a character written about in an episode of the very show he is dreaming of? If you take the fact that we are watching this out of the equation, is Ben Sisko real in his own world or, is he only a part of Benny’s dream for a better future. If he is in fact part of Benny’s dream , then what about the rest of the franchise? Did Benny create them all, does all of the Star Trek universe only exist in the mind of a fictional writer in the 1950’s? As for an ongoing story aspect, why did the Prophets give this vision to Ben Sisko? What are they trying to tell him? Is he the dreamer or the dream itself? Lots of meta things to think of here and boy is it headache inducing.
Overall, Far Beyond the Stars is one of the most ‘science fiction’ episodes this series has had in a way that almost makes it seem like it is from an entirely different series and that is not a bad thing. Plus. getting a chance to see everyone sans makeup was pretty incredible. While I am sure it was hard to do, we really got a chance to see these actors work their craft without the benefit (or hindrance) of a mask or makeup and it was great.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
- Several famous authors were indirectly referenced in this one. here are a few:
- Kay Eaton having to write under the pseudonym KC Hunter is a direct reference to Star Trek writer Dorthy Fontana having to write under DC Fontana.
- It is believed that Benny is a reference to real life African American sci fi author Samuel R Delany.
- Albert Macklin (O’Brien) is believed to be an analog to Issac Asimov, seeing that Macklin is fond of robots it only makes sense.
- Assuming this is a dream of Sisko’s we get a really good sense of how he feels about the various people in his life. With Kira, O’Brien, Julian and even Quark as allies with Dukat and Weyoun as serious enemies. You have to wonder though about the role his mind put Odo in as the editor who has to listen to a faceless power. What does that say about his feelings toward the constable? Does he believe that Odo is just a puppet of a higher authority…maybe the founders?
Thanks for reading the Retro TV Review, I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you, one episode at a time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Next Review: One Little Ship
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Late To The Game 1/3/2020
Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
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