Underrated Trek:"Far Beyond The Stars" (DS9)
Welcome back to Underrated Trek,where I take a special look at Star Trek episodes that I loveâ€¦which may not be the most popular or even liked by most. Today I want to do something a little different. This episode is probably more well liked than the episodes I have covered here and may not not be “underrated” at all. But I want to talk about it so we’re going to. This is:
This episode came along in the middle of Season 6. This is a very unique episode of Deep Space Nine and I could understand how it could be hated. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Plot Synopsis :
We open with word that a Federation vessel was ambushed and his presumed lost. Sisko takes this hard, and then start to see people who aren’t there. Suddenly he passes out and Sisko is now Benny Russell, a sci fi writer in 1950’s New York.
Benny works for a sci fi magazine and he is told one day not to come in for a photo shoot of all the writers. Heaven forbid anyone learns a black person is a writer. Benny goes home and suddenly gets an inspiration, and writes a story about a space station named Deep Space Nine which happens to have an African American captain.
The story is rejected because the captain is black. After discussing it, they decide to make the story of a man dreaming of a more positive future and sell it that way. Benny is thrilled the story was sold, but then he gets beaten up by some cops after a friend is killed. To make matters worst the story is pulled by the owner of the magazine who also fires Benny with no explanation. Of course Benny knows the truth, and collapses as he breaks down saying that they cannot destroy his vision.
Most of the DS9 regular guest stars appear, even if you wouldn’t know it at first. The only one missing is Andrew Robinson, and is there anyone else but me who would have loved to see him play that nasty owner of the magazine who pulled the story? As a bonus Brock Peters reprises his role as Sisko’s father.
fyi I am going to do the following the reverse of how I usually do.
“Fast Forward” Moment :
Nothing against Penny Johnson but some of the scene between Benny and his girfriend drag a bit. Aside from that the episode moves pretty smoothly and the story very well told.
Episode Con’s :
Well if you want to nitpick I do have a few questions. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN? What in the world causes this hallucination? Is it just a hallucination? Yeah the script is pretty vague about what is actually going on. They try to explain it away by recalling events from an episode from the previous season, but the explanation is just glanced over. Then Sisko wakes up and his fine, no reason given. Even Bahsir doesn’t understand it! Though to be fair this does get followed up on the next season.
So why would someone hate this episode? Well to be fair, it doesn’t really feel like an episode of Star Trek. And when I’m watching an episode of Star Trek I don’t need to see Earth in the 50’s! So it comes down to a choice, do you bash it for being about as un science fiction like as sci fi TV show can be? Or do you ignore that an applaud the strong script and wonderful performances? Nothing wrong with a series thinking outside the box once in awhile. Heck, if News Radio can do an episode set in space then why the hell not? FYI that episode was FANTASTIC!
Now that the nitpicking is done, let’s get into why this episode works. First, all of the cast are out of make-up for this one. You could nitpick that but to be fair it’s kind of cool. Not only are they sans make-up but they are also playing totally different characters. And do a great job making them feel like different characters with totally diffeent character traits they don’t have (O’Brien is nervous, Odo is a jerk, etc). It really is amazing how different the actors look too. I knew what Armin Shimmerman looked like (I met him once at a convention) but when Michael Dorn first appeared I had no clue. And it took me forever to figure out who Aron Eisenberg and J. G. Hertzler were. The two bigoted cops were fantasticlly played by Marc Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs. Were cops really like that back then? I also love the little moments when they do appear in character, like when Michael Dorn appears in fulll Worf make-up and scares the crap out of Benny. By the way many people consider Rene Auberjonois the “villain” of the story. I disagree, he is wimp without a spine but not a villain.
It’s an amazingly well written story. Given the time period the subjects brought up are believable and handled well. I was annoyed that women’s rights was only glanced at but I guess I should be impressed it come up at all. Yeah it gets a little one sided at parts but not so much that I can’t watch it anymore. It’s clearly from Benny’s point of view. The characters are all pretty well defined too and the actors don’t feel like they are phoning anything in (which they could have done, let’s be honest this is just a throw away episode).
Do I really have to say that Avery Brooks just shines here? He directed and you can tell this was a script he was passionate about. There are two scenes in this episode I just love. The first is the scene where the two cops beat up Benny. It’s a distrbing scene but so well done with the music building and the way the cops keep switching back and forth to Dukat and Weyoun. It may be one of the strongest DS9 moments ever. The other scene of course is after Ben learns his story has been pulled. His basically loses it as he explains that he is a person and that the world he created still exists whether the story is pulled or not. Until he finally collapses. Man is that strong stuff, brilliantly played by Brooks. So strong I can’t do it justice here, find the episode and watch it!
Finally of course when you put aside the racial stuff this episode is also very meta. Benny Russell is a man dreaming of a better future where people of all race and gender get along and work together, and racial bias is a thing of the past. Yeah, that kind of sounds like a show I’ve heard of. This is reflected in the final lines when Sisko comments that maybe everything they are experiencing is really in the mind of some writer dreaming of a better tomorrow. When I first saw this I thought maybe this was somehow a ;mock bio about how Gene Roddenberry first created the original series. Not sure if that was the intention but it’s in there.
Final Thoughts-What can I say? A unique episode which works! True you have to willing to suspend a lot of disbelief and accept that this is not your average sci fi story.
Ok folks next time I promise to look at an episode I like which is not nearly as popular.