Star Trek Deep Space 9’s first season isn’t highly regarded for the most part even among the series’ most devoted fans.
Though many see DS9 now as peak Star Trek, a view I also hold, many are not fond of the series’ let’s say pilot season, if you will, where the writers were clearly still trying to figure out what exactly this new Star Trek would be about. Sisko wasn’t quite the charismatic, prophesized leader he later becomes by the end of the series. Kira and Odo were neither much of a pair, nor were they quite as developed individually as characters yet either. And Bashir was a far hornier station doctor than the far tamer, more sociable, and intellectually mature version he becomes by the series’ end as well.
But season 1 isn’t all bad, of course, even the series’ most ardent detractors will say it has its strong moments and its first episode truly sets the table for one of the series best and most cathartic themes; humanity’s relationship with time and linear existence.
And upon a recent rewatch this first episode hit me a lot closer to home than it did in my first go around because of what I have been through this year…
To rewind a little, after I quit my job in April of last year, I began a reconstruction of myself. I had finally untethered my life from a toxic workplace and an unfulfilling career path in homeless/social services and it triggered a chain reaction within myself to finally see things more clearly. I started to realize I had denied myself many pleasures and ambitious goals in life because I was so sucked into routine that I couldn’t snap out of it. I was going through the motions, just doing enough to survive instead of live. I always wanted more for myself, be it socially, romantically, or professionally but I had accepted mediocrity because it was easier, and I was just too overwhelmed by an unsatisfying and busy work life to take control of it.
But quitting my job finally broke that mindset for me, perhaps because of my change in political philosophy and finally valuing myself beyond a paycheck.
In 2021 I began actually working on things I had always wanted to do/be better at. I began writing more and started a website for this blog that I had maintained on Tumblr since 2013. Without the burden of a toxic work life on my mind, I also began getting far better at martial arts as well as I started seeing the “code” so to speak. And finally, I knew my mental health needed work and got into therapy and finally got medicated for a lifetime of undiagnosed ADHD.
This all started to clear the “fog” in my brain. The medication especially helped here. The goals I had always had in the back of my mind not only started feeling attainable, but I started to see pathways to that success and dreams of finally seeing them through instead of leaving them on the backburner forever to settle instead for routine.
The funny thing though about finally getting direction in life though is that the next thought that follows typically is “OH GOD I’VE WASTED SO MUCH TIME! I’M SO FAR BEHIND!!”
After spending pretty much my entire life meandering around and never truly understanding what it would take to get what I’ve always wanted and to suddenly have clarity on it caused a sense of panic for myself. I always felt I lagged behind some of my more successful peers and friends but clearing my mind up made me feel exponentially far behind because of the time I had lost.
It was as if I had been in neutral at the starting line of a race my entire life and I had just suddenly realized the gun had gone off while multiple people zipped past me.
But at first, it seemed like I was not only back in the race but right on schedule to see my goals completed before the end of the year. Upon finally getting medicated I decided it was time to start learning Japanese again cause I desperately wanted to finally have a conversation with my grandmother and since about late November of last year I still study every morning before I start my day. After spending 8 months unemployed and living off my savings in 2021, I somehow landed a job at an art museum that paid me exponentially more and moving out of my house suddenly felt attainable too if I stuck to a plan until the end of the year. With my head on straight, it also felt like a good time to come forward with my feelings to a good friend whom I had grown quite fond of last year as well and was steadily working toward finally asking her out on an actual date. And finally with my martial arts pedigree gaining considerable traction, I finally told my coach I was ready to fight for real and make my debut amateur Muay Thai match.
And yet, the best laid plans as they say…
Pretty much each one of these goals I had either fell apart or were significantly stalled this year after finally gaining wind in my sails for the first time in my life. My grandmother whom I had restarted learning Japanese for passed away in May, robbing me of my last chance to speak with her. Though my Art Museum job pays me well it doesn’t pay enough to truly get out the house at the moment and multiple unexpected bills that came up throughout the year slowed me down making living on my own, this year at least, impossible. And the friend I had developed strong feelings for got back with her ex before I had the chance to tell her how I truly felt, sending me into a depressive spiral earlier in the year that only recently I finally accepted.
But the one that finally broke me was what happened training for this fight I had been so eager to finally compete in since I started fantasizing about it in my mid-20s.
Over the past couple months, I had been training my ass off for this bout. Harder than I had ever worked before on frankly anything. It was grueling and often painful, but I gained so much more knowledge in just this short time span about fighting than I ever had in my previous years training. The fear of losing and possibly getting knocked out also began to wane as my confidence grew and not to mention my muscles. I even had an epiphany about what my path to victory would look like on fight night on September 30th and finally, for the first time since I started training camp, I felt excited and was even having fun again with my martial arts.
And then this happened…
The same night I suddenly had this string of epiphanies, my elbow developed a bursitis sack the size of a golf ball and from there became infected with cellulitis which then landed me in the hospital on IVs for five days.
I was in denial at first of its severity, hoping maybe it would clear up in a matter of days and I could get right back to resuming training as soon as I got out but after three days I finally accepted it was over for myself and had to call off the fight as the surgeon informed me it would be at least 6 weeks to fully heal.
I was devastated. Cried my eyes out in fact. Of all the things I wanted to finally achieve this year this was one I marked as a must on my goals for the year. The one thing that not only felt very attainable, but I felt had the most potential to truly change me.
You see, not only was I sucked into a routine most of my life, I was also sucked into doing the safe option over and over again as well. The reason it had taken so long to get to this point as a martial artist for myself is that as much as I wanted to fight I didn’t want to chance it. It felt too scary, too unsafe, too much potential for extreme disaster and, having been knocked out before, the fear was also legitimate.
This random, devastating injury just made me feel as if I had been delayed once again. Suffering yet another setback in a long line of them since my childhood and all I could think of was “why do I bother?” I kept thinking back to all my past failures. All my shortcomings and how in a few ways things had not changed at all for me despite my recent self-actualization.
It felt like I was reverting back. De-evolving into the older, less inspiring version of myself. I was forever stuck in neutral, in the past while existing in the present.
One of the things I did to cope with my unsatisfying reality (besides getting high and eating my feelings away every night) was to indulge in my favorite TV shows and with DS9 being one of them I decided to start my first rewatch of the series a couple weeks after my hospital stay and surprisingly in the very first episode I got what I needed to hear.
DS9 opens by calling back to one of TNG’s best episode arcs “The Best of Both Worlds,” this time showing it from the perspective of this series’ primary hero, Benjamin Sisko. In this first episode, just as it happened in TNG, Picard’s Locutust form commands the Borg cube and lays waste to Federation ships and in the process kills thousands of people.
One of those people happened to be Sisko’s beloved wife, leaving him a widow and his son Jake without a mother.
Sisko carries this grudge into his new posting a few years later aboard Deep Space 9 as the story begins. This space station was formerly of the Cardassian Empire but now had been reformed to act as a place of diplomacy and commerce between the newly independent Bajoran people and the Federation. When Picard comes aboard this station though to greet him, Sisko reminds the captain quite starkly who was taken away from him, which leads to a cold distance between them as they converse.
It’s tragic as we both sympathize with Sisko, of course, and Picard who had no control over what happened in his Borg form but ultimately both spend time thinking about what happened in their past.
As Sisko gets acquainted with his new post though, he also becomes familiar with the people of Bajor. They are a highly spiritual race who follow the word of celestial beings they have simply dubbed “The Prophets.” Their Kai (the Bajoran Pope basically) informs Sisko he is destined to find the “Celestial Temple” which as it turns out appears to be a wormhole that opens up near Bajor after Sisko and Dax go searching for it in the Deniros Belt.
It is here that Sisko finds these celestial beings the Bajorans have spoken of, who apparently have no understanding of corporeal and linear existence. The celestial beings also appear to dislike corporeal forms and shut the wormhole as the series primary villain, Gul Dukat, attempts to enter causing them to question Sisko and why he exists in such a state where time is only understood linearly.
Sisko struggles at first to explain directly what it means to live as a corporeal form, as what is time to ethereal beings that exist in a state that is all things past, present and future. So he decides to use the game of baseball to explain why a linear existence, one that never truly knows the future, is worth living.
You see, baseball (and frankly any game) is a great metaphor for life and linear existence. For us “corporeal beings,” life is a game that you’ll spend a countless number of hours, days, months, and years working on and prepping for. You’ll take into account all the possibilities that can occur based on what you do know and what may or may not happen and as the celestial beings start to understand in the above clip you won’t really know what “shape” your life/game will take until all that is taken into account and the game is completed.
And that’s what makes the game interesting and most of all worth playing.
If your existence is linear, and everyone reading this should be, the future at best can only ever be forecasted but never truly predicted as we can never fully see what the future holds for us. We can only ever anticipate it, prepare for it, and hope for the best. That can feel troubling on its own but that’s exactly why the “game” is worth playing as Sisko concludes. If life was truly predictable no one would want to play the game. It takes the “fun” out of it. Each new event in the game, bad or good, is an opportunity to learn and grow and that alone is worth seeking.
But as the celestial beings point out, it appears Sisko has not been playing the game as linearly as he states. They keep asking him why does he exist “here,” as they show him the day his wife died in the Borg attack. Sisko at first doesn’t understand why he has been taken here but the Celestial beings point out it is he who has brought them to this place in his past. They ask why if the point of linear existence is to move forward into the future, why would one exist in the past? Sisko, upon realizing the importance of his own words, discovers that he has been living his linear existence here in this tragic moment this entire time. Stuck in this horrific past because he had never truly left because it had come to define him.
He finally understands that he cannot proceed with the game of life until he finally leaves the past behind for good, no matter how much it hurts to move on from it.
The past is an informative place for us corporeal beings. Past events can remind us what is important, who we can trust, distrust, and why we think a certain way. It’s how we understand how to proceed with the future. There is nothing inherently wrong with reminiscing or even having a bit of melancholy and nostalgia for a time long past but it’s a place you can never go back to because again, we are but corporeal beings living a linear existence.
The past can never happen again for us no matter how many times we rewind it to think about what we could have done differently to get back what was lost or taken from us.
I didn’t tear up the first time I watched this episode but upon this rewatch I finally did. It was not only because I had the benefit this time of knowing everything that happens for Sisko in the future (knowing just how much his family means to him is better understood after watching the whole series) but because I understood that I have largely not lived my life as linearly as I should be as well.
I was stuck feeling sorry for myself.
My therapist likes to call this “Analysis Paralysis,” something I have touched on in other write-ups. It’s basically the inability to get out of your own head about something, be it planning for the future or re-analyzing the past.
When I was training for the fight one of the big things that tripped me up constantly in my preparation mentally, was coming to terms with the worst possible scenario that could occur; getting knocked out.
I was worried about the ramifications of losing, from the embarrassment of losing in front of my friends and family, and a crowd of screaming fight fans and the possible health issues that would follow. The reason I felt so paranoid about this was because of my experiences with the past. I have actually been knocked out before and it’s a scary process from the moment you come to afterward, to the months minding your mental health as your brain recovers from a concussion. But I was also paranoid because I have come to let past failures define me. Failures be it socially, professionally, or romantically made it feel like a failure here was inevitable, that a knockout, the worst possible outcome I perceived was bound to happen. It felt inevitable because of my past and I based this also largely off what had already happened in the year that I was still very upset about.
My shortcomings with my personal goals regarding learning Japanese for my grandmother, trying to move out my house finally, and failing to tell this woman I love how I truly felt seemed to be an indicator of what was to come regarding this fight. I was convinced something would happen. When it finally did end up not bouncing my way with this fight, albeit in a way I did not predict, it again felt inevitable like “of course this would happen. This is my life because my past says that about me. And my past defines me.”
In the weeks that followed my hospital stay I have largely not thought a ton about the future until recently. I have spent most of my weeks during my recovery thinking about my depressing past and why it seems to keep happening. I was existing there still, just as Sisko could not leave what he lost behind because it had come to define him.
So why do both I and Sisko continue to play anyway? Because the unknown of the future is what we are searching for, even if a part of us is still tethered to the past.
Sisko’s relationship to his son, Jake, in many ways personifies this. Jake is a big reason he continues to exist linearly because as I imagine he wants to know the man he’ll become someday. The first episode goes a long way to illustrate how close Sisko is to his son and why, even if a large part of him is in the past, this part of him exists in the present.
The rest of the series illustrates this again and again and it’s frankly one of the more powerful father-son relationships ever depicted on television.
For myself, I guess I continue to live linearly for the chance to see how far I can really go with any of my goals, both the ones I still have and perhaps new ones I have yet to see. It’s why you won’t see me picking up a shotgun to blow my brains out anytime soon because deep down that curiosity, that need to “explore” as Sisko says in his baseball metaphor, supersedes any feeling like my linear existence isn’t worth living. I want to know the unknown of what my future holds.
But as the prophets state, it’s not a linear existence if you stay in the past. The story of DS9 quite literally could not move forward without Sisko accepting and finally moving on from this tragic orgin story in this very first episode and it’s the catalyst and primary theme for the whole series in the end.
Things have to and will change in a linear existence.
It’s difficult, sometimes unimaginably so, to move on from a depressing event in your life, especially ones that seem to have a defining quality of your existence. Even today I still found myself asking questions about how I could have avoided my injury and still fought on September 30th. I found myself thinking about my late grandmother and the conversations I wish I had.
And of course, I am still feel very much in love with that friend of mind even if I keep telling myself I have moved on.
But I understand that if I truly want to see the fruits of my future I will need to find a way to leave these feelings behind. These feelings seem to define my life and the game I have been playing in it but it’s not too late to change the outcome of my game. To go back to the baseball metaphor, a team can go down big in the early innings and they can let that define the entirety of the rest of the game, but the best players and teams find a way to still win in the end or at least get back some of their dignity.
There’s a reason athletes often say “we gotta take it one game at a time.”
I don’t know what the future holds for me but what I do know is that I will not stop trying to grow and trying to become better. My past is informative, but I can’t let it define, nor hold me back anymore. I have to exist truly linearly if I want to see my future.
If I can learn to finally do so, as Sisko does by this episode’s end, maybe new opportunities will arise. It could come in the form of new chances to explore the Japanese language I was studying for my grandma for. Another chance to move out and start making a home for myself and perhaps even find true love in an unexpected place.
Who knows? Perhaps I’ll even grow to like something completely new I wasn’t originally interested in, just like Sisko.
The past cannot be changed and though in terms of the cosmos the future has technically already happened, we can’t stop trying to play the game and see what the future holds. Afterall, as Sisko says once again, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen next and, in that way, to live linearly is a blessing.
So, if the game of life has been throwing you curveballs lately, don’t waste time feeling sour about it; just wait for your pitch instead and knock it out of the park when the time is right.
You never know if it will be one pitch or the next, but that’s what makes the “game” fun.