Ship’s Log, Supplemental: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Emissary (Music from the Original Television Soundtrack)
Other composers may be more renowned in the fandom today, but when Paramount needs to launch a Star Trek show, they turn to Dennis McCarthy. He’s the working composer who holds the franchise together in song on a day to day basis. And his score for “Emissary” (mistakingly affixed with the definite article on the sleeve notes) may well be his magnum opus. It’s definitely a major turning point.
You can make much the same argument for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine itself, at least as it exists now in January 1993. It’s the culmination of everything Rick Berman, Michael Piller and the rest of the Star Trek creative team had learned over the past three years, and it’s the fullest realisation of everything they’d ever wanted to do with Star Trek. More importantly it’s a vision that finally and at long last embraces the franchise’s utopianism instead of bristling up against it, in spite of how many overtures to conflict for conflicts sake the team makes in interviews. In absolute defiance of the “three season rule”, in “Emissary” Star Trek: Deep Space Nine opens straight up with a defining statement that’s easily a contender for the title of Greatest Star Trek Story Ever Told, and it’s a testament to how good this season is that it ends with one too.
Dennis McCarthy’s soundtrack is reflective of every ounce of the team’s newfound confidence and inspiration. There’s even one obvious standout cut from this album that’s just as definitive as “Emissary” itself, and is in my mind the single greatest piece of music ever composed for Star Trek. We’ll talk about it in good time, of course, but as that’s obviously going to take up the bulk of this essay I’ll save it for the end. In the meantime, on the rest of the record McCarthy finds the perfect feel for what Star Trek in the twilight of the Long 1980s should sound like: There’s still a little of that golden age film score sound Ron Jones popularized, albeit quite a bit less bombastic than Jones’ work. And there are definitely slower parts where the music is intended to fade into the background a bit, and by that I mean there are parts of “Emissary” that absolutely sound like, well, a TV soundtrack. But McCarthy strikes just the right balance between that and a more eclectic edge that he’s quite frankly never been given the credit he deserves for.
(Although quite frankly, any argument that McCarthy just writes “sonic wallpaper” flies straight out the window for me whenever “New Personality” starts playing. It’s an instantly reconisable piece and it immediately transports me right back to one of my most formative and evocative television memories.)
Where Ron Jones was given instructions to be extremely classical and old-fashioned Hollywood (a tad dated and overblown to my ears, though I concede that’s my opinion) and Jay Chattaway does his best stuff with organic world sounds, particularly Celtic ones (c.f.…