"Far Beyond the Stars"

Season Six, Episode 13
Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler
Story by Marc Scott Zicree
Directed by Avery Brooks
Music by Dennis McCarthy
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Michael Dorn as Lt Cmdr Worf
Terry Farrell as Lt Cmdr Jadzia Dax
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Colm Meaney as Chief Miles O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Alexander Siddig as Dr Julian Bashir
Nana Visitor as Major Kira Nerys

Guest Stars:
Penny Johnson as Kasidy/Cassie
Brock Peters as Joseph Sisko/The Preacher
Marc Alaimo as Cop #1
Jeffrey Combs as Cop #2
Aron Eisenberg as Newsstand Boy
J.G. Hertzler as Roy Ritterhouse


Life is weighing heavily on the shoulders of Captain Benjamin Sisko. Fed up of fighting a seemingly fruitless battle against the Dominion and saddened at the loss of a close friend whose ship was destroyed by the enemy he considers resigning his commission. But he is given a vision by the Prophets.

Benjamin Sisko awakens from his vision and takes time to ponder its meaning. He decides to continue Benny's struggle and opts to remain aboard DS9, but he wonders whether Benny was the dream, or in actual fact the dreamer...

Recently I've found myself defending a couple of this season's episodes that I felt were unfairly maligned or underrated. Let's see, there was Sacrifice of Angels and The Magnificient Ferengi - both of which were berated but both of which I enjoyed nonetheless. Far Beyond the Stars was certainly a popular episode, but I seem to have gotten a lot more out of it than others. You see, in my opinion, Far Beyond the Stars is not only the best episode of the season thus far, but it may also - along with the fourth season's The Visitor - rate as my all-time favourite episode of Star Trek. And considering there have been literally hundreds of hours of Trek produced since 1966 - a good deal of it being quality stuff, too - that is quite an achievement!

The premise is a simple, yet highly effective one and the original idea was probably as basic as "wouldn't it be cool to put Sisko and co in 1950's New York?". Yeah, that is a cool idea but the episode could have ended up as yet another standard Trek  time-travel tale - an entertaining but insubstantial bit of fluff. But, oh boy, it's much, much more than that!

I must say that if this story had been done on The Next Generation or Voyager (the latter being particularly bad for this) the writers would have spent a lot of time and energy orchestrating a technobabble explanation for the premise. And, rest assured, in the end our heroes would have returned to normal time and at the end of the day the whole exercise would have been about as pointless and insignificant as a dandelion weed. But the DS9 writers have given this a simple yet profound twist - one which automatically gives the whole story deeper meaning and relevance. You see, the visions Sisko receives, are from the Prophets - the aliens that live in the Wormhole and are worshipped by the Bajorans as Gods.

A man receiving visions from God is pretty profound in itself, but it's not as if it's out of the blue (reference is made to last season's Rapture, where Sisko first started to have visions about Bajor) and it has immense relevance to one of the most fascinating aspects of DS9's continuing narrative - the arc of Sisko and his connection with the Prophets. The whole character arc has been one of the show's major triumphs and has been skilfully built up over years to the point where we can now draw some conclusions. The Bajorans believe that Sisko is the "Emissary to the Prophets", a man who has been sent by the Prophets to help Bajor through troubled times. Perhaps the Christ analogy is a little extreme, but it's hinted here that Sisko is "an angel sent by the Prophets" to "lead us out of the darkness".

In his vision, Sisko is Benny Russell, a science-fiction writer in 50's Manhattan, and the plot revolves around his "mission" to conquer the oppressive racism of the era and, as the mysterious Preacher tells him "lead them on the path of righteousness". Benny Russell is a man on a mission to help people in a time of darkness - and so is Sisko. At a time where Sisko is considering leaving Starfleet (the war is obviously weighing very heavily on his shoulders), the Prophets are obviously trying to tell him something in this dream. As a result, whilst the episode is also a strong and powerful exploration of racism, there's a lot of sub-text and relelevance to the series in general in this story. We get a glimpse of Sisko's true "mission" and some tantalising foreshadowing of things to come - specifically, Sisko would appear to be in for a rough ride ("the path of the Prophets sometimes leads to darkness and pain").

But the main gist of the story is the racism encountered by blacks living in 50's America. The story is told from Benny's perspective, and as I said above, the struggle he encounters here mirrors the struggle Ben Sisko faces in his life. But the themes tackled here are about as mature and sophisticated an exploration of racism I've seen to date on television (or film, as well probably). It's also still sadly prevalent in today's society, but looking back at what blacks had to endure yesteryear and comparing that to today's society shows how far we've come. And Benny's mission to "lead people out of the darkness" is achieved by telling a story of a better future, a future where blacks and whites are equal and no one is judged by anything other than their actions -- Star Trek's vision of the future.

And whilst I think that Gene Roddenberry occasionally would have minor quibbles about DS9's corner of the Trek universe (in particular he seemed to have an aversion to religious themes, favouring science over spirituality - and we all know DS9 often sways the opposite way), I think he'd be delighted with Far Beyond the Stars. It's remarkable tale which doesn't squirm from depicting the brutality faced by blacks - one both subtle and more obvious terms. Less than subtle moments occur when Benny is brutally beaten by racist cops. But the fact that no one will print a story set in the future where a Negro is the hero is an altogether more subtle form of racism, and perhaps even more disturbing. It shows that blacks weren't even allowed to dream of a better future for themselves. But in context, there's a wonderfully positive message here - humanity may have had (and has) its problems, but we will move forward. That, in my humble opinion, is the essence of Star Trek, and the heart of this episode.

Anyway, I've discussed the story long enough - it was beautifully written and works on so many levels. The characterisation and acting is equally impressive - and the entire cast shine in their alternate roles. In particular, Avery Brooks carries the show beautifully - giving a subtle, textured and compelling performance and successfully creating a character who is in many ways similar to Sisko, but has noticeably had to endure a life of hardships and knocks. Brooks also directs the show, and does a magnificent job, too - in fact, it's the most assured directing effort I've seen on the show to date. He successfully creates an engaging and genuine atmosphere (you actually believe you're looking at 1950's Harlem) and technically the episode is visually stunning. The sets are wonderful and the music is wonderful. Very good job, I'd say - from everyone involved.

Cue a moving climax where Benny, upon losing his job and having his story pulped, finally breaks down and awakens in an ambulance along side the mysterious Preacher (who claims to "speak with the voice of the Prophets"), with no memory of who he is. "You are the dreamer," the Preacher tells him, referring to his dreams of the future and his other life; "And the dream." Sisko awakens at this, and goes on to muse that maybe his reality is the dream. That's a loving nod to the vast vision that is Star Trek - after all, their universe is all a dream, but one of the most strikingly optimistic and a vision of peace and equality among people that we can all aspire to. This episode not only more than succeeds on its own merit, but it also brings to mind the themes and ideologies which make Star Trek, in all its incarnations, so special.

Rating: 10

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