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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

And the best captain in Star Fleet is...

 by Guy Stewart

The best captain in Star Fleet is not named Kirk or Picard?! What is this madness?!?!?!

But seriously, consider...

Captain, father, diplomat, religious figure?

For three seasons, Benjamin Sisko held the rank of Captain, and was then promoted to Commander for the last three. In my humble opinion, Sisko blew away Kirk (both Shatner and Pine), Picard, Janeway, Archer, and Lorca—blew them right out of the water—plus, he didn't have a starship to flash around in, just a dumpy old space station that broke down every other episode.

Picard was given the top-tech flagship of the Federation. Kirk captained the first starship to actually go on an exploratory mission (though the TOS version of the Enterprise didn’t seem to do much actual exploring or research). Lorca’s job was to save the Federation from a devastating war with the Klingon Empire. Archer took the very first Warp 5 starship and led the very first mission out of Human space, albeit under the watchful eye of the Vulcans, who stood ready to mop up any mess Archer got into. Janeway, with an amazing ship, had to rip disaster out of the mouth of diplomacy as practiced by the Federation and the Cardassian Empire.

Sisko got a ruined space station, intentionally sacked by the departing Cardassian former owners, a deeply suspicious population below who wanted nothing more than to get rid of all these frickin’ aliens and go back to Life As We Knew It…

Oh, and Siskko’s “liaison” with the Bajoran Transitional Government was one of their most celebrated terrorists, who saw the Federation as just another version of the Cardassians.

“Here you go, Sisko. Let’s see what you can do with this. Hehehehehehe…”

Woops, I forgot: along with an actively hostile civilian government on the world below; and an actively hostile military government a few moments away by starship (which neither he nor the Bajorans had access to); there’s also a clandestine observation by an actively hostile alien entity that can detach bits of itself to take on the shape of anything in order to spy on you.

His son Jake’s best friend was so altered by his relationship with the Siskos that he chose to become the first Ferengi to enlist in Star Fleet (and he eventually became a captain, too), which of course, ended up ameliorating the ”money-grubbing” nature of the Ferengi so much so that Rom, Quark’s brother, became the new Grand Nagus.

Oh, and another thing: Benjamin Sisko was the only one of the captains who dared to take the really risky voyage of marriage and family life. [Though Kirk apparently tried, briefly, and admittedly failed, except for the making-a-kid-part. In the canon Kirk tolerated fatherhood for an undisclosed amount of time, then ditched that ball-and-chain like an irritating Orion slave girl—though apparently in Orion culture it’s actually the men who are the slaves of the women who only pretend to be slaves, which is yet another interesting and kinky little corner of the Star Trek universe that remains unexplored.]

In addition to the above, Sisko’s son chose to be a writer, and eventually became deeply involved in Bajoran spirituality and Fulfilling the Prophecy and Freeing the Prophets and Restoring Balance to the Universe and all that stuff that made some sort of sense if you watched all the episodes in sequence, but that is impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t. 

Back to Benjamin Sisko. When confronted with the clandestine observation by an actively hostile alien entity called The Great Link, whose stated intention is to destroy all Solids; and which could detach bits of itself that could assume human-like form in order to spy on Humans, one of which ended up on DS9 and called itself Odo; Odo became so loyal to Sisko that he very nearly refused to halt a plague given to The Great Link because he’d fallen in love with a Solid. Odo’s respect and love for Nerice and Sisko then made him reenter The Great Link with the cure for the plague and save all of it/them, bringing about the end of the Dominion, the downfall of the Cardassian Empire (again), and the integration of a bit of Star Fleet into the Prophets of the Wormhole.

Talk about your big redemption series ending!

So let’s just tot this up. Benjamin Sisko:

  • saved Bajor
  • reformed the top Bajoran terrorist
  • forever altered Ferengi social fabric
  • became a religious icon
  • fulfilled sundry religious prophecies, including the Final Prophecy of the entire Bajoran civilization
  • saved and reformed an entire collective alien life form, in the process ending the Dominion War
  • earned the respect of the Cardassian Empire

And he did this all without a starship, using just a dilapidated, booby-trapped, former prison of a space station as his base.

So tell me again, exactly what did Kirk, Picard, Janeway, Archer, or Lorca ever do that compared to that?    

Finally, from a reality standpoint, Benjamin Sisko has been relegated to being an unsung hero of the Federation. Why doesn’t he receive more accolades? How many real biases did he topple? At the very least, two: he was the anti-absent black father and the anti-uneducated black male. Despite all of this, not only is Sisko—or more correctly, Avery Brooks—pretty much forgotten, he should in fact be a major hero in Star Trek canon.

But he’s not. People rave all the time about Kirk or Picard. Not only did Sisko/Brooks end up being a fictional invisible man, he actually tried to bring this up in the infrequently mentioned DS9 episode, “Far Beyond the Stars.”

Brooks commented: 

If we had changed the people's clothes, this story could be about right now. What's insidious about racism is that it is unconscious. Even among these very bright and enlightened characters – a group that includes a woman writer who has to use a man's name to get her work published, and who is married to a brown man with a British accent in 1953 – it's perfectly reasonable to coexist with someone like Pabst. It’s in the culture, it’s the way people think. So that was the approach we took. I never talked about racism. I just showed how these intelligent people think, and it all came out of them.” 

However, it wasn’t supposed to be entirely about racism. Brooks added, 

The people thought it was about racism, well maybe so, maybe not [….] But the fact of the matter in 'Far Beyond the Stars' is that you have a man who essentially was conceiving of something far beyond what people around him had ever imagined, and therefore they thought he was crazy.” 

This episode was Avery Brooks' personal favorite. 

“I’d have to say, it was the most important moment for me in the entire seven years…It should have been a two-parter.

Rene Auberjonois commented: 

Brilliant episode. One of the best of the whole series and Avery did a fabulous job of directing it.

Michael Dorn said: 

“It was wonderfully shot.

Penny Johnson commented: 

This was beautifully handled and beautifully shot. But it still, in the heart, it got me.” 

J.G. Hertzler commented:

I thought it was one you could have built an entire series from. There was a scene toward the end where he falls apart with the camera right in front of his nose. It was just riveting.” 

The same scene was also extremely memorable for Nana Visitor. Armin Shimerman thought highly of how the installment serves as a reminder of prejudice, especially racism, the actor commenting, 

“That's what that episode does terrifically well…it’s perfect science fiction. I think it stretches the imagination of the viewer and breaks down the fourth wall to talk about the real heroes of any TV shows, which are the writers.”


As for me: Benjamin Sisko and Black Panther should have had a face-to-face...*sigh* 

—Guy Stewart


Pete Wood said...

Well, Kirk did save the universe in the Alternative Factor, several star systems in the Doomsday Machine, the galaxy in the Immunity Syndrome, and the Federation of Planets in City on the Edge of Forever. He was no slouch.
Picard and Sisko were more mature. Kirk has always been a glorified frat boy. But if we gauge this by accomplishments, Kirk wins hands down.
If we rank the Captains by what they had to work with Sisko is the best.
Just by skills, I'd have to go Picard, Sisko and then Kirk. I don't give a crap about the others.
You keep mentioned Jake like that's a plus.
To me the biggest obstacles that Sisko and Picard had to overcome was piss poor writing in the premier seasons of their shows. Kirk had better writing his first year. 'hands down.

GuyStewart said...

I agree with some of your comments, but especially about ST:TOS -- which unfortunately started with the best and ended up pretty poorly...

GuyStewart said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that Sisko ALSO saved the ST universe as we know it -- of course nothing flashy like "City on the Edge of Forever", but taking the place of a societal reformer and allowing a peaceful, pre-Federation resolution to a volatile situation in "Past Tense". IF that situation had ended without Gabriel Bell...well...I guess all we have to do is wait three more years and we'll see what happens. It seems like we're poised on a future not unlike the one they posited in 1995...almost 30 years ago...


Pete Wood said...

I'm still waiting for the race of genetic superman who take over the world.
And, when the hell is that nuclear war coming? Can't have space travel without it.

~brb said...

@Pete - How do you know they haven't? After all, assuming they are genetically enhanced for intelligence as well as other attributes, presumably they'd be smart enough to understand how normal people would feel about them, and therefore smart enough to keep a low profile.

~brb said...

I mean, if I were a genetically engineered super-intelligence -- this is purely speculation; I don't mean to draw any inferences about the program that produced me (though I do wish they'd decided to leave out that self-destruct mechanism they installed in my pancreas) -- I should think I would want to have a whole cast of photogenic "Normals" to be my sock puppets and appear to be in charge, while I ran things from offstage. Ideally I would even want my minions to believe that they did have free will, and that they did what they did because it sprang from their own ideas and desires -- and in unimportant matters, I might even let them actually have free will.

I mean, speaking purely hypothetically, of course.

jamsco said...

I found myself respecting Avery Brooks more after seeing him interviewed by William Shatner on The Captains. (Sorry the links don't work anymore - I can't find it anywhere)

Eric Dontigney said...

I like Sisko and DS9, but Sisko had advantages that no other captain had until the dubiously written Star Trek: Picard. Sisko enjoyed the benefits of serialized, arc-based storytelling in a relatively constant setting. Picard, Kirk, Janeway, and even Archer (for half the series) were stuck with episodic storytelling in constantly changing environments.

You couldn't have things like the ongoing Kai Winn subplot, or the Sisko as a religious icon subplot, or the Sisko as a single father subplot, followed by the Sisko as a dating single father subplot, in those other series. The stability of the space station setting near a significantly militarized non-Federation planet and a wormhole to another quadrant simply allowed for more complex storytelling that could play out across 10, 15, even 20 episodes.

So, Sisko gets drawn as a deeper, more complex character. But, I have to wonder how Picard would have fared in a series like DS9. I suspect he'd have come off looking pretty good too. Kirk would have looked like ass because, let's face it, Kirk is an ass who largely succeeded because of way more talented subordinates.

GuyStewart said...

"But, I have to wonder how Picard would have fared in a series like DS9..."

By the "time of DS9", he was well-enough established to have requested it. He was (if you recall) actually THERE. Had he desired it at all, Star Fleet would have given it to him. But, Picard would have seen it as a demotion. "Ahem, Admiral, perhaps the assignment at DS9 would prove more challenging for an officer whose career needed an increase in focus. Certainly I will accept an assignment here, but I feel my skills might be better served captaining the flagship of the Federation. Ahem. If I may speak candidly."

DS9 was a junkyard with a rebellion and an invasion waiting to happen. Sisko was angry and grieving. Kyra was certain she'd be able to chase out "the Feds" in short order and get back to slaughtering Cardassians (now that she had a movable space station to re-arm and upgrade...) The Cardassians probably peed themselves laughing at Sisko.

Sisko was just plain sulky to start off with.

Oh, I forgot about Odo -- dripping with disdain for both Sisko and all things Bajoran (they'd been ENSLAVED for half a century)...he was an unknowing dupe of the Founders was a self-righteous being with a massive superiority complex. Pretty sure he was "helping" the Bajorans out of sheer boredom. Quark? Just like any American small-time mafioso: unimportant and a caricature of a type. (I shudder to think how short the show would have been if reality had set in.)

Picard would NEVER have subjected himself to the half-witted, mostly civilian characters of DS9...he was a British, spit-and-polish man who (I don't recall actually EVER WASTED THE TIME TO BOARD DS9...He knew better.)

Eric Dontigney said...

Oh, sure, Picard would never have taken the DS9 assignment. That really would have been a demotion for all practical purposes. I just meant that Picard would have come off a deeper, more complex character if he'd had seven seasons of serialized, arc-based storytelling. I think comparing Picard to Sisko is an apples and oranges situation.

If you want a better comparison, Sisko and Babylon 5's John Sheridan would be a better comparison. Both were stuck on space stations that they didn't especially want to command. Both were stuck with civilians they had only limited power over. Both were far from their government's power base dealing with a war against incredibly powerful alien empires. Both were widowers (or we all thought for a long time).

I'm not so sure that Sisko comes out on top in that contest.

GuyStewart said...

I have watched only very scattered episodes of Babylon'll have to carry on THAT argument without me!


Eric Dontigney said...


That's a real shame. Season 1 of Babylon 5 was, well, let's kindly call it uneven. Seasons 2-4 are -- collectively -- some of the best science fiction ever written for television. I highly commend it to you. Season 5 you can take or leave as you see fit. Straczynski thought they were going to get canceled after season 4, so he compacted the last two seasons into one season to wrap up the arc. Then they got renewed, so the last season doesn't hang together or drive the plot forward the way the first four seasons do.