It could only happen on Deep Space 9.
It’s been called “the season of taking risks” by the production team. But Star Trek: The Next Generation was born capable of taking risks-Its mistake was in forgetting for so long that it was capable of doing so. It’s only now when the Enterprise has rediscovered what its place in the cosmos has always been, and it does so by voyaging here. Commander Sisko came to the Celestial Temple and Deep Space 9 to uncover the journey he was meant to take. The crew of the Enterprise come here to remember and be reborn again. But in turn, Deep Space 9 grows and is further sublimated through visiting with the Enterprise: Together, they are much more than they ever could be on their own. They belong together. They belong here and now.
The idea of doing a crossover between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is such an intuitive one it writes itself. There are no two iterations of this franchise that mesh and blend together quite as well as these do: Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are a part of each other’s existence in a way that’s not true of any other Star Trek. Deep Space Nine opens up with the straightforward declaration that it’s a part of The Next Generation-Its opening moments literally take place in a Next Generation episode, its entire setting is inherited from one and The Next Generation plays an integral role in the plot of “Emissary”. This isn’t like Doctor McCoy showing up for one brief scene in “Encounter at Farpoint”, Captain Picard and the Enterprise are actual essential aspects to that plot.
This is not to say that Deep Space Nine is merely a subset or subsidiary of The Next Generation, but rather to argue it was inevitable that Deep Space Nine would return the favour, and sooner rather than later. It’s silly to think there would never be crossovers, or even to think that crossovers aren’t going to be the actual *norm* from here going forward, because these two entities share their reality together in a very deep and profound way. A voyaging canoe is a community just as a village is, and just as a world is; there is no conflict between these concepts. The canoe and the village both symbolize the universe they are each a microcosm of: Each spirit, bringing with them their own talents and experiences, finds a role to fill through which we all can survive and grow. The canoe is the island, and the island is the world that we all share together.
So in the same way Star Trek: Deep Space Nine mirrors and compliments Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Birthright, Part I” mirrors and parallels “Emissary”. One of our main characters experiences a vivid spiritual vision at the Celestial Temple that causes them to bring a newfound clarity to their life, and their guided on their path by a surprising mentor and the cosmic wonder that lies beyond the Edge of the Final Frontier.
Of course the artefact that ends up triggering Data’s dream programme comes from the Gamma Quadrant. When we open our minds to the possibilities of different knowledge-spaces and expand our awareness to the harmonious interplay of people and events, we discover the things we are meant to find. Doctor Bashir cannot study the artefact with the resources he has on Deep Space 9; he needs Beverly Crusher’s lab aboard the Enterprise. Data could not unlock this heretofore unknown level of his potential had he not gone to investigate, or had the Enterprise not come to Deep Space 9 at this point in time. He could not have done so had he not met Doctor Bashir.
The dream sequences themselves are a triumph and a new high-water mark for Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s masterpiece work for both writer Brannon Braga and director Winrich Kolbe: The sequences, and the episode more broadly, cement Braga’s place as the master craftsman of baroque abstract surrealism, and Kolbe’s direction gives the show an appropriately dreamlike and associative feel. Star Trek: The Next Generation has done more unorthodox and psychological work before and Braga long ago demonstrated that he’ll be the one to do the most interesting and compelling work with these themes, but it’s not until “Birthright, Part I” that it all comes together in such a defining and revelatory package. Not until Deep Space 9. Look for answers from within, commander. The direction forward is now clear.
Data searches for answers through art. He paints pictures in an attempt to create a physical representation of his experience that might at once help him better understand what he saw and share with others. Through his brushstrokes, his hands are guided by forces that are not entirely within his control. Captain Picard reminds him that meaning is created dynamically and generatively within the moment within the eye of the reader, the creator and the shaman. Not so much an expression of will, more a tapping into something. Something eternal.
And yet in spite of all its symbolic power, the actual narrative of “Birthright, Part I” remains remarkably straightforward: The A-plot and B-plot mirror and flow into one another in a masterpiece of elegance. Which makes it all the harder for me to make my one criticism of the episode. I wish I didn’t have to, because otherwise this is as close to a Star Trek episode made expressly for me, my tastes and my perspective as we’re ever going to get. But the fact remains, there is no way Julian’s role in this story wouldn’t have been handled better by Jadzia Dax, who is the person it was originally written for. Sidding el Fadil is wonderful and brings an earnest, heartfet and inspiring humanism that contrasts and compliments Brent Spiner’s Data beautifully in a way we really haven’t seen before, or at least not in awhile. But I can’t help thinking he still shouldn’t be here.
Jadzia is the scientist. She’s the one who would be poking around a suspicious and very likely dangerous object from the other side that just so happens to be the exact thing one of the other characters needs to learn something new about themselves. She’s the one who would waltz onto the Enterprise unannounced and help herself to the research lab. And can you imagine her getting to interact with Captain Picard? I’ll bet Jean-Luc had worked with Curzon Dax at some diplomatic function at some point in the past. But more to the point, Jadzia is the one who knows about dreams and visions. Jadzia is the teacher who can help Data better understand his experience from a spiritual perspective. That’s what her character is all about-It’s every bit her part as it is Guinan’s, and frankly, probably more so. Even what little we’ve seen of Jadzia in action to date has all been scenes that reinforce this. She is straightforwardly and unmistakably the correct person for this job, and that she’s not in this episode hurts both her and the story.
That alone isn’t enough to kill an episode that is so exquisite and so defining for me, but it does remind me of and drag me back to a material reality I’m keen to move beyond. It’s that inescapable spectre of unfulfilled potential coming back to haunt Star Trek once again. But that “Birthright, Part I” actually manages to live up to so much of what it hints at and points to is telling. It could only happen on Deep Space 9.
Honestly, I almost don’t want to see part 2.