Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond the Stars   Rewatch 
August 15, 2016 8:25 AM - Season 6, Episode 13 - Subscribe

And now for something really different: for the first time anywhere, an adaptation of a long-lost work by the tragic and underappreciated African-American SF author and Afrofuturist pioneer Benny Russell, a story considered so controversial at the time of its writing that it was completely suppressed by its publisher: "Deep Space Nine"!

From the computerized fanzine "Memory Alpha" (and, believe me, there's lots more in this "cyber-encyclopedia"):

- According to an interview in Star Trek Monthly #40, the Incredible Tales staff were based on various real-life genre authors. For instance, Albert Macklin was intended as an homage to Isaac Asimov. Kay Eaton, who wrote under the name K.C. Hunter to hide her gender, was a version of Catherine Moore, who similarly wrote under the name C.L. Moore, as well as Star Trek's own D.C. Fontana who wrote for The Original Series. Indeed, Albert's first novel was to be published by Gnome Press, as was Asimov's debut book in 1950 – a collection of short stories entitled I, Robot.

- Benny's character caused some fans to be reminded of Samuel R. Delany, an African American science fiction writer who actually started in the early 1960s, a few years after this episode would have been set. Delany was friends with most of the real life analogs of the writers in this story, most of whom are noted elsewhere for supporting the efforts of non-White writers. Delany has recalled that his 1967 novel Nova was rejected by Campbell due to feeling that SF readers were not ready for a Black protagonist; identical to the reason that Benny's story was rejected by Pabst. Nova was ultimately published by Doubleday and received the 1968 Hugo award.

- The cover of the March 1953 edition of Incredible Tales shows the surface of Delta Vega from "Where No Man Has Gone Before". It also advertises such stories as "The Cage" (written by E.W. Roddenberry, who is also said to be the writer of "Questor"), "The Corbomite Maneuver", "Where No Man Has Gone Before", and "Journey to Babel" (written by D.C. Fontana).

- The producers also toyed with the idea of ending the series (in "What You Leave Behind") with a shot of Benny Russell sitting outside a television sound stage holding a script for "Deep Space Nine" – essentially making the series, and possibly the whole of Star Trek, either a dream or a prophecy from the Bajoran Prophets – but this idea was ultimately rejected. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion) Ironically, Herbert Rossoff (Quark) comments in this episode that making the whole story a dream would demean the entire story.

- Of the inherent theme of racism in the episode, Brooks comments, "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." Armin Shimerman makes a similar comment about the dual existence of racism in the period of the episode and in society of today; "Star Trek at its best, deals with social issues, and though you could say, 'Well, that was prejudice in the fifties,' the truth of the matter is, here we are in the twenty-first century, and it's still there, and that's what we have to be reminded by, and that's what that episode does terrifically well."

"Call anybody you want, they can't do anything to me, not any more, and nor can any of you. I am a Human being, dammit! You can deny me all you want but you can't deny Ben Sisko – He exists! That future, that space station, all those people – they exist in here! (pointing to his head) In my mind. I created it. And everyone of you knew it, you read it. It's here. (pointing to his head again) Do you hear what I'm telling you? You can pulp a story but you cannot destroy an idea, don't you understand, that's ancient knowledge, you cannot destroy an idea. (becoming hysterical) That future – I created it, and it's real! Don't you understand? It is real. I created it. And it's real! It's REAL! Oh God!" (he collapses, sobbing hysterically)

- Benny Russell (Benjamin Sisko)

"For all we know, at this very moment, somewhere far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us."

- Benjamin Sisko
posted by Halloween Jack (10 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love when shows do some meta-fiction and do it well. It isn't something ST gets into very often, but it really works here because there are so many possible layers to it.

He doesn't have a large role here, but this might be my favorite Cirroc Lofton performance.

It was SO much fun to see the actors out of their makeup. Why didn't we get a spinoff pulp detective show starring a very human Dukat and Weyounn? Quark is the voice of reason? Love it.

I had to go back to the beginning and rewatch the first few minutes because I didn't immediately identify a few of the actors.

I'm not sure what Worf's baseball player's role in the story was. So much so that thinking back on it I'm wondering if I missed a scene. Is he just there to show that the world is starting to be more accepting? I'm not sure.

O'Brien as Asimov seemed very robotic. (Sorry!) I've not sure I've ever actually seen videos of Asimov before. Was his acting style intentional? Oh, and it feels like we haven't had an O'Brien episode in a very long time now. I was thinking the same thing last episode about Odo.
posted by 2ht at 10:04 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


My take on Willie Hawkins (Worf) was that he was there to point out that racism wasn't over, in NYC or elsewhere, simply because (in his case) major league baseball had begun to integrate teams, starting with Jackie Robinson in 1947.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:49 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


It was SO much fun to see the actors out of their makeup.

I did a double take at J.G. Hertzler without the Klingon getup. He was so scrawny!

Also, I love this:
"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.
That was sharp, and it certainly worked for me.
posted by mordax at 6:05 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


A really bold, truly classic episode... but I must admit I've always had a hard time watching Brooks' meltdown at the end. It's hard to call it over-acting, because at that point Russell is having a full-on nervous breakdown! But normally Brooks reigns in a lot and in this case he goes all-out in a way that takes me makes me cringe-y. I'm honestly not sure if it's great acting or bad acting, if he's going over the top or if it's just so raw that it's hard for me to watch.

It is interesting how the personalities of the various characters twist to create their 20th Century counterparts. You can see echoes of the people we know, with Quark's better qualities manifesting in the Ellison-esque, self-righteous Rossoff and Odo's rigidity manifesting in the conservative, small-minded Pabst. (Cute gag about Visitor and Siddig being a couple in this reality too.)

When Buffy did Normal Again a few years later, I was like, "Wait, what...?" (It was a really good episode too. But I'm fairly sure somebody pinched the idea from DS9.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:38 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


O'Brien as Asimov seemed very robotic. (Sorry!) I've not sure I've ever actually seen videos of Asimov before. Was his acting style intentional?

That's always how I read it, though I also perceived a hint of "awkward SF nerd made good" underneath it.

It's hard to call it over-acting, because at that point Russell is having a full-on nervous breakdown! But normally Brooks reigns in a lot and in this case he goes all-out in a way that takes me makes me cringe-y. I'm honestly not sure if it's great acting or bad acting, if he's going over the top or if it's just so raw that it's hard for me to watch.

I know what you mean. My inclination is to say it is definitely not bad acting because I feel like I've seen the same breakdown done badly elsewhere, and this was different.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:45 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


But I'm fairly sure somebody pinched the idea from DS9.

I doubt that - everyone from Wizard of Oz to Farscape has done the 'actors play different characters in the dreamworld/AU'. And 'who is the dream and who is the dreamer?' is a well-used literary device (the episode reminded me of the great Julio Cortázar short story "La noche boca arriba"). As a tv-trope, it doesn't get used as much as the body-swap, the Groundhog Day, the 'It's a Wonderful Life', etc., but I don't think it's a rarity.

Great episode. It's heartbreaking that it's still so timely. I was already crying at the sight of gunned-down Jake even though I figured it was coming, so Benny's breakdown didn't seem like over-the-top acting to me.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:42 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I didn't think that Russell's breakdown was over-the-top, because I've seen people seriously lose their shit and have similar reactions. Brooks could have played it safe and given Russell a tactfully quiet little sobbing breakdown, but the impact would have been far less, especially since the context is the rest of the magazine staff being confronted by their own willingness to go along to get along. I think that part of the scene's reputation for being over the top is that it's been excerpted and combined with Vreenak's "It's a fake!" scene from "In the Pale Moonlight"* (which is coming up a few episodes from now) on YouTube for comic effect, but there's nothing funny about someone just completely crumbling in public like that.

*[Spoilers for "In the Pale Moonlight] For that matter, Vreenak's outburst isn't really that funny either, despite it being the subject of countless parodies; not only does it come at a bad time in the events of the episode, but it's one of the few times we see a Romulan openly angry--most of the time, they're as calm and level-headed as their Vulcan cousins.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:34 AM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I had no idea Russell's meltdown had been memeified, and that kind of sucks. The context of the scene is so tragic that it seems mean and weird to goof on it. I never thought the scene was FUNNY, at all. It's more that it crossed over from "acting" to, "Jesus, should I be watching this..?" With Vreenak I thought the moment was deliberately nuts, and it's like it was so horrifying it crossed over into being darkly funny. Almost an "I drink your milkshake" moment. (Although that got turned into a jokey meme by the trolls too.)

There have been a few shows that played with the idea that the whole show (or franchise) could be somebody's dream. But in this case, having the lead character experience a mental breakdown that calls into question their entire reality, I think DS9, Buffy and Lost (with the Hurley-sees-his-imaginary-friend episode) all took that farthest... and I have the feeling the writers of Buffy were very much influenced by this episode, just as I have a feeling the writers of Lost were specifically influenced by Buffy and/or DS9. This is Hollywood we're talking about, and genre shows written by geeky folks! OF COURSE they all watch each other's shows!

It's a minor thing, but the one personality switch that didn't quite work for me was Weyoun. I can easily buy Dukat as a racist thug cop, but Weyoun only seems to get brutal when he feels he has to and it feels a little off to see him being a sadistic, racist bully. I think Weyoun is more of a true diplomat at heart and he really does like getting along with people, so long as they don't defy the will of the Founders. (But then again if this is Sisko's dream, I suppose we're seeing his subconscious feelings about these characters more than we're seeing some alternate universe version of them.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:06 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


With Vreenak I thought the moment was deliberately nuts, and it's like it was so horrifying it crossed over into being darkly funny. Almost an "I drink your milkshake" moment.

Yeah. I don't want to get too far into Vreenak - In the Pale Moonlight isn't just one of my favorite hours of Star Trek, it's one of my favorite hours of *television*, and I will doubtless talk too much in the appropriate thread - but that feels like a particularly apt comparison.

I think Weyoun is more of a true diplomat at heart and he really does like getting along with people, so long as they don't defy the will of the Founders. (But then again if this is Sisko's dream, I suppose we're seeing his subconscious feelings about these characters more than we're seeing some alternate universe version of them.)

I think you're right about both things - that was always my read on Weyoun, but I agree that Sisko doesn't see it that way at all. Sisko had many fine qualities, but the man knew how to carry a grudge. It was a plot point more than once, after all.

(This is part of why I was so fond of Weyoun as an antagonist. Villains often do the 'we're not so different, you and I' speech... but Weyoun is legitimately similar to them in many important respects, including a genuine interest in other people and cultures. In another time and place, he could've been in Starfleet.)
posted by mordax at 3:18 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]




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