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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Accession (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

In its third and fourth seasons, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is undergoing something of a transformation; a metamorphosis.

This is only natural. Shows evolve and grow as they go on. The production team discovers what works and what doesn’t, allowing them to play the strengths of the premise and the ensemble. It happens to most shows, if they live long enough. It happened to Star Trek: The Next Generation when Michael Piller came on board in its third season. It will happen to Star Trek: Voyager when Michael Piller departs in its third season. Change and transformation is inevitable, for television shows as much as for people.

That healthy orb-experience glow...

That healthy orb-experience glow…

The third and fourth seasons of Deep Space Nine saw a change taking place. Ira Steven Behr had taken more and more control of the show since the late second season, starting with The Maquis, Part II. Michael Piller had stepped back from the show in its third season, completely ceding control with Life Support. The show was changing in a material sense. The Dominion came to the fore, Bajor faded to the background; Worf joined the cast, Odo found his people, the Klingons were an on-going concern again.

By this point in the fourth season, the transformation is almost complete. Deep Space Nine is very close to its final form, standing on the edge of its biggest departures from the established Star Trek canon. Part of those changes involves a reconfiguring of what Bajor means to the series. Accession begins the process of drawing down the curtain on the Bajor arc as it began with Emissary all those years ago, allowing Sisko to find some peace in his position and a sense of closure in his appointment before the show’s emphasis on Bajor changes dramatically.

Gotta have faith...

Gotta have faith…

Accession is an episode that seems quite important in retrospect. It is filled with a number of “lasts.” It is the last appearance of Camille Saviola as Kai Opaka, the Bajoran spiritual leader who had identified Sisko as the emissary in the very first episode of the show. Opaka had been written out of the show early in the first season, exiled to the Gamma Quadrant in Battle Lines. However, she had remained an important figure in the years since; most notably, her history informed the events of The Collaborator.

Accession also marks the last appearance of the Prophets before the introduction of the Pah-Wraiths in The Assignment. The introduction of the Pah-Wraiths rather dramatically reconceptualises the Prophets, casting them in the mould of Christian deities and reframing the theology of Bajor (and Deep Space Nine) as one of gods and demons. The first few seasons of Deep Space Nine emphasised the ethereal quality of the Prophets, the sense of otherness that underpins their non-linear existence. There was an ambiguity as to whether they were gods or aliens; or both, perhaps.

Who Prophets?

Who Prophets?

In the first few years of Deep Space Nine, the Prophets seemed to operate at a distance from the action. They seemed quite removed from the affairs of mortals. They had rewired Zek’s brain in Prophet Motive, but more out of frustration than as part of some grand plan. In contrast, the Prophets seemed to spend most of the first three seasons offering oblique hints that drove characters towards self-discovery. Kira’s visions in The Circle and Bareil’s encounters in The Collaborator come to mind, visions that leave room for ambiguity and inference.

The first few seasons of Deep Space Nine seemed interested in how the characters related to the Prophets, with an emphasis on the religion and politics of Bajor. In the Hands of the Prophets was an episode about the intersection between politics and religion, but one underscored by the knowledge that the religious belief may actually have some basis in reality. The existence of the Prophets in the first three seasons of Deep Space Nine seemed like pushback against the staunch atheism of the original Star Trek and The Next Generation.

Keiko, okay?

Keiko, okay?

As Abigail Nussbaum contends, the religious themes of Deep Space Nine tended to focus on what religion meant to people and what a tangible (and rationally defensible) belief in divine authority actually meant to those who worship it:

From the moment they started taking a serious look at religion – in the first season finale, In the Hands of the Prophets – Deep Space Nine’s writers never lost sight of a simple truth. Religion is about people. Even if you live next door to heaven. Even if your boss is God’s instrument on earth. Religion is about people, and people shape their gods just as much, or even more, than those Gods shape them. Terry Pratchett makes much of this theme in the Discworld novels, most particularly Small Gods. His gods are opportunistic beings, something along the lines of parasites, who feed off belief, and whose personality is shaped and changed by the wishes and desires of their believers. Neil Gaiman does something similar in American Gods and Anansi Boys, albeit with existing earth myths. In both cases, divinity is brought down to a human level – in order to serve Pratchett’s humanistic message, or because Gaiman sublimates it to his obsession with storytelling. Deep Space Nine, however, manages to discuss the reciprocal relationship between gods and their believers without making those gods any less numinous or incomprehensible.

To be fair, these themes do reverberate through the later seasons. This is most obvious in Winn’s engagement with the Prophets in The Reckoning or Strange Bedfellows. It is certainly true of the Dominion as well. However, at this point, the Prophets begin to take more agency in the narrative.

"How long was I out?" "... We may have some news for you."

“How long was I out?”
“… We may have some news for you.”

How the Prophets see themselves and their relationship with Bajor becomes a focus of the narrative from this point onwards. The Prophets begin to take on some agency in the actual plot. They interfere intentionally (and with clear design) in mortal affairs in Accession. It is no accident that Akorem Laan arrives at this point in time. The Prophets were not carelessly tinkering, as they were when they re-wrote the mind of Grand Negus Zek. Akorem’s return arrives at a very crucial point and with a very specific purpose.

“If the d’jarras belong in the past, why did you send me into the future?” Akorem asks at one point. The Prophets respond, rather simply, “For the Sisko.” The entire point of the exercise is to further Sisko’s journey, to continue his character arc. The Prophets are signalling their intent to become more involved with mortal affairs. In terms of the over-arching narrative of Deep Space Nine, their actions in Accession set the stage for their roles in Sacrifice of Angels and The Reckoning.

The ball is in his court...

The ball is in his court…

Notably, Accession is the first time that the Prophets identify themselves as being “of Bajor.” They apply the same label to Sisko. “The Sisko is of Bajor” are five words that come to have a very profound meaning, hanging over the final two seasons of the show. The words are not spoken here, but they are inferred. “We are of Bajor,” one of the Prophets advises Sisko. “You are of Bajor.” There is a sense that the Prophets are moving away from their policy of non-interventionism as suggested in Emissary.

Indeed, one of the smarter little touches in Accession is the idea that this is all happening out of sequence for the Prophets. After all, one of the nicer twists of the episode is the revelation that the Prophets do not consider Akorem to be “the first one to find the wormhole.” Confronted with the prophecy that the emissary would be the first to find the wormhole, the Prophets seem confused. “First… later,” the Prophets reflect. “They have no meaning to us.” Sisko was the first… from their point of view.

Homecoming...

Homecoming…

As such, retroactively, it seems like the Prophets might be working backwards. Much like Shadows and Symbols would suggest that the Prophets ensured that Sisko was born after he first encountered them, it seems likely that the Prophets are interfering in Accession in preparation for Sisko’s visions in Rapture and his later involvement in the conflict between the Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths. Although it seems unlikely the production team had planned this so far in advance, the implication is quite nice; it is cleaner retroactive continuity than that introduced in Shadows and Symbols.

Still, Accession stands at a threshold for the tackling of religious themes on Deep Space Nine, particularly as those religious themes apply to Bajor. On the face of it, Accession is a story about religious expression and fundamentalism as a barrier to progress; it is very much a story about a religious and social crisis in Bajoran politics that fits comfortably with In the Hands of the Prophets or The Collaborator. On the other hand, Accession also signals a shift in tone and emphasis in how Deep Space Nine will engage with Bajor politics from here on out.

Pour service...

Pour service…

After all, Accession is the second part in a loose (and informal) trilogy that also includes Destiny and Rapture. These episodes really signal the end of Bajoran politics as a driving force in the show. Bajor’s application to join the Federation is subsumed into the Dominion threat in A Call to Arms, while First Minister Shakaar makes his last appearance in The Begotten. From the fifth season onwards, the Prophets seem to have a much stronger hold over the narrative of Deep Space Nine than the Bajorans themselves.

The third and fourth seasons of Deep Space Nine see the show drifting away from its original premise; it seems like Sisko’s mission to induct Bajor into the Federation is all but forgotten, barring one last hurrah in Rapture as a prelude to In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. The early seasons of the show were populated by Bajor-centric episodes like Past Prologue, Progress, Duet, In the Hands of the Prophets, Homecoming, The Circle, The Siege, Cardassians, The Collaborator, Life Support and Shakaar.

Feat of clay...

Feat of clay…

In contrast, most the Bajor-centric episodes of the second half of the show are stuck in the shadow of the Prophets. Time’s Orphan might be the strongest example of a Bajor-centric episode in the second half of the series that exists outside the shadow cast by the Prophets. Although it still found room for episodes focusing on Bajor, the third season refocused significant attention away from Bajor and towards the Dominion. The Search, Part I was the first season premiere not to focus on Bajoran politics in some way.

The fourth season marks a particularly strong shift in emphasis. The Bajoran politics of Crossfire are pushed into the background to focus on Odo’s attraction to Kira. Not only has attention shifted away from the Bajorans to the Dominion, that emphasis has itself shifted from the Dominion to the Klingons. Of course, episodes like Hippocratic Oath, Homefront, Paradise Lost and To the Death emphasise that the show is still more engaged with its Dominion storytelling than it is with Bajor.

The pagh-th to the finalé...

The pagh-th to the finalé…

This shift away from Bajor was intentional. According to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine companion, the production team had to constantly fight to make stories about Bajor, perhaps due to the religious themes:

“Shows about religion, the alien religion and the Prophets, are extraordinarily difficult,” notes Beimler. Not because they’re hard to produce, but because they’re not proven ratings winners. As a result, the studio tends to be happier when DS9 is doing action stories.

“The studio doesn’t like Bajor stories in general,” adds Echevarria. “And Bajor’s religion is one aspect of Bajor to which they really don’t respond.” Although the quasi-ecumenical nature of episodes like Accession is central to the series, Behr continues to be surprised that, outside of the studio gates, few people have noticed. “We do religion as part of the show,” states Behr. “It’s a continuing theme and a source of storylines.” But when TV Guide did an article about religion on television, he points out, Deep Space Nine was lumped together with twelve other shows where the magazine writer really had to stretch to find a religious connotation. “The fact that we were just thrown into the mix amazes me,” he says. “I would have expected it to be more controversial.”

To be fair, at least some of this anxiety could be rooted in the crude criticism that Deep Space Nine was a show about “boldly sitting” that wasn’t really a Star Trek show because there was minimal trekking. After all, the studio had earnestly suggested putting engines on the station so it could go adventuring.

Molly coddled...

Molly coddled…

At the same time, it should be noted that religion was not necessary a frequent topic of conversation in television drama through the twentieth century. The original Star Trek had been avowedly atheist, but it still seemed to acknowledge Christianity as the default Federation religion in episode like Who Mourns for Adonais? and Bread and Circuses. There was a sense that religion was something taken for granted, rather than candidly discussed, on sixties and seventies television.

There were shows that did deal with religious themes or set-ups, but they tended to address these elements in a rather procedural manner. Highway to Heaven played like a version of Quantum Leap featuring an angel and his human friend. The emphasis in Father Dowling Mysteries was placed on the last word in the title. There was a minimal sense of actually engaging with what religion actually meant, even in shows that featured protagonists anchored in religious roles or symbolism.

Oh your gods...

Oh your gods…

Religion was still something of an awkward theme when The Next Generation was on the air. Although The Next Generation was more aggressively and avowedly atheist than the original Star Trek had been, the show still tended to skirt around religious themes. More often than not, stories dealing with religious themes tended to focus on mistaken identity, with very mortal characters mistaken for (or claiming to be) divinity in episodes like Who Watches the Watchers? or Devil’s Due or Rightful Heir.

By the time that Deep Space Nine arrived, the mood had changed slightly. It was easier for television shows to embrace religious themes or content. Picket Fences launched a year before Deep Space Nine; Touched by an Angel launched a year after. Chris Carter would begin weaving religious themes into the fabric of The X-Files from its fourth episode, Conduit; these themes became increasingly pronounced in second season episodes like Red Museum and Fearful Symmetry. It was easier to talk about religion than it had been.

"We used to do this religiously..."

“We used to do this religiously…”

This shift did not go unnoticed. As Richard W. Santana and Gregory Erickson point out in Religion and Popular Culture:

Since the 1990s there has been a discernible and growing presence of the idea of God and religious themes in prime-time drama, a shift that has been discussed in the mainstream press, in Christian publications, and in academic journals. These shows are both supportive and critical of traditional religious beliefs, and range from the saccharine Touched by an Angel to the ironic Joan of Arcadia and the overly serious and critically panned mini-series Revelations. But this trend is also, less obviously and more interestingly, seen in fantasy and science-fiction series such as The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Battlestar Galactica – shows that do not establish themselves clearly within any kind of religious orientating, and shows whose alternate realities allow them to recreate religion in ways that imply important questions and comments on actual belief and practice.

It is too much to say that Deep Space Nine led the way in discussing religion on prime-time television, but it was part of a broader cultural moment.

"I never drew those sorts of crowds..."

“I never drew those sorts of crowds…”

Deep Space Nine has been credited with “taking religions seriously as cultural and social forces.” It is a direct ancestor of Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, broaching many of the same core themes, albeit at a different time and within a different framework. There is a sense that – particularly in its early years – Deep Space Nine really engaged with religion on a philosophical level. Even within Accession, Kira paraphrases St. Thomas Aquinas in trying to explain religious faith to Odo.

Accession works very well as a study of a certain type of religious fundamentalism, a conservatism which uses religious belief as an excuse to enforce a defunct (and outdated) status quo. These sorts of discussions inevitably resort to crass generalisations, but there is an argument to be made that a logical overlap exists between religious and conservative worldviews. Indeed, it could be argued that the veneration of the past – and the belief that all (or even most) of the modern world’s problems are rooted in a departure from that past – is akin to religious faith.

Faith of our fathers...

Faith of our fathers…

Of course, there is a lot of room for nuance and discussion in this debate. Most notably, it has been suggested that religiosity is tied to conservatism and spirituality is related to liberalism. To some observers that distinction might seem like splitting hairs, while to others it makes perfect sense; religion implies a more ordered and traditional approach to matters of faith than spirituality. Indeed, Accession contrasts the more rigid and aggressive attempts by Akorem to impose (an old) order and structure on Bajor with the more free-form new age spirituality of early episodes.

In some respects, Accession feels quite timely. One of the interesting aspects of the Deep Space Nine episodes dealing with the Bajoran religion is the way that they tended to reflect contemporary American culture. Even decades after it originally aired, In the Hands of the Prophets still resonates with the on-going debates about how scientifically-validated concepts like evolution and climate change are taught in American schools. With her feigned moral superiority and suffocating hypocrisy, the character of Kai Winn seems more and more relevant with each passing year.

"You're not STILL mad about Hippocratic Oath, are you?"

“You’re not STILL mad about Hippocratic Oath, are you?”

Accession touches on the ascent of the religious right during the eighties and nineties. Although there is some evidence to suggest that the religious right can trace its roots back to Richard Nixon, this intersection of faithful conservatives really became a force to be reckoned with under Ronald Reagan. By the time that Accession aired in 1996, it was argued that “every serious Republican presidential candidate would have to come to the religious right on bended knee.” Politics become indistinguishable from religion, if there was ever a distinction to be made.

Akorem is not a politician, but Accession makes it clear that he is a political figure. In his speech advocating for the return of Bajor’s caste system (the “d’jarras”), he makes a fairly overt jab at First Minister Shakaar. “People no longer follow the path the Prophets have laid out for them,” he advises the crowd. “They no longer follow their d’jarras. Artists have become soldiers. Priests have become merchants. Farmers have become politicians.” It is a speech likely to be heavily quoted on the Bajoran equivalent of Fox News.

Birds of a feather...

Birds of a feather…

Of course, Akorem denies such overt tinkering in political matters. Having read the fairly obvious subtext to his speech, Sisko inquires, “So, you’re going to ask First Minister Shakaar to step down and go back to farming?” Akorem is careful to provide a suitably rational answer. “No, of course not.” He then adds the sting, “But, frankly, by the next election, I doubt very many people will left on Bajor who would elect a farmer to political office.” Akorem might be disavow any political motive, but the power he holds is explicitly political.

Akorem’s politics are regressive and backwards looking, an appeal to restore the preexisting status quo. He argues that Bajor can only reclaim its past greatness by regressing socially; by restoring a defunct and archaic social order, Bajor can be as it was before. “Bajor suffered a great wound while I was with the Prophets,” Akorem argues. “The Cardassian occupation. The Bajor I have returned to has lost its way. People no longer follow the path the Prophets have laid out for them.”

"Are you acting in good faith?"

“Are you acting in good faith?”

He contends, “If we do this, if we follow our d’jarras, then Bajor will flourish again and become the green and peaceful land I remember. It will be as if the occupation never happened. By returning to our d’jarras, we will have erased it forever.” Akorem’s conservatism and nostalgia is palpable. It has been argued that certain strands of American political conservatism are rooted in a similarly romanticised vision of the country’s past. It is easy to overlook (or even deny) historical injustices if a person is insulated from them.

Accession plays to the broader themes of the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, touching on ideas of eternal recurrence and the wheel of history while arguing that progress must be made. On Deep Space Nine, history moves in arcs; to borrow a quote, history on Deep Space Nine does not always repeat but it tends to rhyme. Situations recur and reverse, characters journey away from where they began and even circle back to something resembling their starting position; sometimes changed, sometimes not.

Matters of faith...

Matters of faith…

In Return to Grace, Dukat explicitly sets out to claw back to the power he once held, commencing a journey that will have disastrous consequences for the entire Alpha Quadrant. Dukat refuses to learn from his situation, to grow as an individual. In contrast, Bar Association finds Rom breaking a cycles of abuse by moving forward. Rom not only breaks out of generations of abuse built into Ferengi culture whereby works seek not to end exploitation but to perpetuate it themselves, but he also manages to escape the shadow cast by his elder brother.

Akorem proposes an arc for Bajor that would attempt to restore the planet to the way it was before the Occupation, just as Dukat rather consciously tries to restore his prestige and position in By Inferno’s Light. The Occupation was a horrific atrocity committed upon an innocent people, but its consequences cannot be denied. The Occupation destroyed the rigid caste system on Bajor, and allowed the Bajorans to rebuild a more egalitarian society. This is not to suggest that the Occupation was a good or justified thing, but it did become a catalyst for growth and change.

This job is murder sometimes...

This job is murder sometimes…

Deep Space Nine suggests that past horrors cannot be ignored or brushed aside. Emissary rooted Sisko’s character arc in the loss of Jennifer, his own personal trauma. Sisko might have moved beyond that, but his life was changed in that moment and it affected all of his subsequent development. One of the big recurring themes of Deep Space Nine is the idea that trauma is something to learn from and move through, rather than something to ignore. Akorem’s attempts to take Bajor backwards are well-intentioned, but wrong-headed.

This is rendered explicit in the conversation with the Prophets at the end of Accession. When Akorem argues that he is trying to change Bajor to the way that it used to be, the Prophets respond, “The Sisko taught us that for you, what was, can never be again.” In some respects, this is a central theme of Deep Space Nine. It is telling that Deep Space Nine is the only Star Trek series to end with the definitive dissolution of the ensemble. (Rather than an implied dissolution like Star Trek: Voyager or a single death like Star Trek: Enterprise.)

Magnetic personality...

Magnetic personality…

One of the cleverer – and more effective – aspects of Accession is the decision not to portray Akorem as a mustache-twirling villain. Akorem is not Kai Winn; he is not a political opportunist motivated by naked self-interest. There is a sense that Akorem actually believes what he is preaching. Akorem is a zealot and a fanatic, but one who masks his fanaticism in a calm and polite demeanour. He never raises his voice, never seems particularly unreasonable in his tone. He seems very matter of fact.

This does not make his ideas any less chilling. in fact, it makes it more chilling. Akorem does not advocate for the overthrow of the state or the imposition of religion law, but only because he recognises the collapse of the Shakaar government and the writing of his policies into law as inevitabilities. He understands that his proposal to reinstall the d’jarra caste system does not immediately take the effect of law. He understands exactly what he is doing and how he is doing it, but his calm and reasoned exterior is grounded in absolute unquestioning righteousness.

The Sisko is of a station floating somewhere near Bajor.

The Sisko is of a station floating somewhere near Bajor.

Interestingly, Richard Libertini was not the production team’s first choice for the role. In Captains’ Logs Supplemental, Ira Steven Behr confesses:

Personally, I wanted David Warner as Akorem. He wanted to do it, but his wife talked him out of it because he was on vacation and she didn’t want him to work. To this day I still wish David Warner was in it. I think it’s a really interesting script and idea, and it leaves us with a nice, interesting mystery. It’s a good show, and Avery was great, but I wanted him to have a better opponent.

While this makes sense, there is a sense that Akorem is so interesting precisely because he never feels like a strong opponent to Sisko.

It's a shame Kira gave it up when she was so Nerys greatness...

It’s a shame Kira gave it up when she was so Nerys greatness…

Akorem doesn’t see it as a contest; he is certain of his own place in the grand scheme of things. The fact that he positions his vision of the future as a matter of fact (rather than ideology) makes him scary in a manner different than Kai Winn. “We hope that eventually the people will support enforcement of the d’jarras by legal sanction,” Vedek Porta suggests, suggesting that the only reason they aren’t bothered by the lack of lawful enforcement is because they see it as almost inevitable.

Porta and Akorem are talking about something approaching religious fascism, but they do it without even raising their voices. Watching the scenes, it seems unlikely that their pulses even quickens at the prospect. Asked about how Bajor would treat those who refuse to adhere to the caste structure, Akorem responds as if proposing a tax reform or grant restructuring. “Society will have appropriate remedies at it’s disposal, such as deportation.” It is horrifying, but horrifying for how banal it all is; the quiet certainty.

Miles disappointed at Keiko's pregnancy? Nothing could be father from the truth...

Miles disappointed at Keiko’s pregnancy? Nothing could be father from the truth…

Akorem and Porta are fanatics, but they are not the sort of fanatics who frequently appear on television. They are not stirring up hate crimes like Vedek Winn in In the Hands of the Prophets. They are not advocating to banish all aliens from Bajor, like the Circle did in Homecoming. They are not threatening to unleash a religious reckoning upon Bajor (and the universe) like Dukat in What You Leave Behind. They are not the face of religious extremism filtered through news media coverage of Islamic State.

Instead, Akorem and Porta represent a quieter strain of religious fundamentalism; one that is no less threatening and no less dangerous. Akorem and Porta do not have to resort to graffiti or bombing because they are working from within an establishment rather than outside of one. Even when Vedek Porta murders a fellow vedek for refusing to honour his caste, the episode avoids sensationalising the crime. Porta confesses in a rather stoic manner, with the quietness of somebody completely oblivious to their crime.

"Bajor hasn't a prayer of getting into the Federation like this..."

“Bajor hasn’t a prayer of getting into the Federation like this…”

However, in spite of all this, Accession never loses sight of its characters. Beneath the social commentary and religious philosophy, Accession is essentially a character-driven story focusing on Sisko. Accession never loses sight of what this particular story means to Sisko as a character. In fact, Sisko’s nightmarish vision casts Kai Opaka as the Cheshire Cat, framing the character dynamics of the episode in stark terms. “Who are you?” Kai Opaka asks, perhaps the most important question of any character-driven drama.

The first few seasons of Deep Space Nine largely struggled with Sisko’s role as emissary, for obvious reasons. After all, the story of a foreign messiah arriving to save a native population has some unfortunate connotations. The decision to downplay that element of the show made sense, and provided nice fodder for drama when the production team incorporated that anxiety into Sisko’s own arc with episodes like Destiny and Starship Down. In a nice touch, Accession even acknowledges Kira and Sisko’s bonding in Starship Down by referencing the shift rotation.

Things are looking down...

Things are looking down…

Again, Accession represents a pivot point for the show. It is an episode about Sisko actively embracing something he had only passively acknowledged to this point. It is an episode that changes the way that Sisko approaches the role, and so shifts the way that the audience perceives that role. Accession marks the end of Sisko (and the show) tiptoeing around his appointment in Emissary, allowing the character (and the writers) to accept that as a part of who he is and what he is doing.

This is not without its own challenges. If the first half of Deep Space Nine struggled with the role of Sisko as emissary, the second half of the show struggles to incorporate that thread in a way that avoids the more awkward undertones of a foreign messiah figure. The success of these attempts is certainly debatable; the shift away from Bajor to the Prophets and the Dominion War positions Sisko as a galactic messiah rather than a local one. It also arguably makes his arc less specific and more generic.

Kiss and tell...

Kiss and tell…

A lot of the success of Accession is down to writer Jane Espenson. She cites the episode as a great example of very basic dramatic storytelling that gets right to the core of the show’s premise in a way that is novel and accessible:

When I’m helping young writers pick stories for their spec scripts, I suggest that they pick a story that speaks to the themes at the very center of the show, often with the dynamic that was set up in the show’s pilot. Sisko’s ambivalence about being called the Emissary was central to that show, so a story that directly addresses that status is going to resonate. One of my Buffy colleagues got his job with a Buffy spec in which she lost her Slayer powers — it’s the same as the Emissary story, in a way. Explore central themes and your story has weight. Of course, I’m sure I also pitched a lot of dumb stories at DS9, but it’s not random that this was the one they picked.

The fact that it took the show four years to do an episode like this, and that the idea came from an outside writer, speaks to Espenson’s understanding of genre storytelling.

(Ba)shir coincidence they ran into each other...

(Ba)shir coincidence they ran into each other…

These days, Espenson is a recognisable name in genre television. Espenson’s body of work is familiar to anybody with an appreciation of genre television. A large part of that is down to her work on shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, but she has built up a sizable body of work in the years since. Espenson has become one of the most reliable writers on television. Notably, Espenson became, along with John Shiban, the first writer to work on both Star Trek and Doctor Who when she joined the writing staff of Torchwood: Miracle Day.

Espenson wrote Accession relatively early in her career. The script was written freelance between various staff jobs on other shows. Espenson had written for Dinosaurs and Me and the Boys in the years before Accession and would find work on Something so Right and Ellen in the years after. (In fact, Espenson would write the episode of Ellen featuring the eponymous character’s first romantic encounter after coming out of the closet.) However, Espenson would shoot to prominence in the next couple of years with her work on genre properties.

Espenson credits Star Trek for helping her get her foot in the door. When she was a young writer, she was drawn to Michael Piller’s “open submissions” policy and honed her craft writing and pitching ideas for The Next Generation:

The first step was just getting involved with television — I loved it so much that I knew I wanted to write for TV from when I was a small child. Every now and then, as a kid, and then as an undergraduate in college, I’d try to write a spec script — a writing sample in the form of a script for an established show. I was in grad school when I learned you could submit scripts to Star Trek: The Next Generation without having to have an agent as intermediary. I submitted three spec episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and was invited in to pitch episode ideas. It was after this modest start that I learned of the Disney Writing Fellowship, which really launched my career.

In fact, Espenson successfully pitched an idea during the seventh season of The Next Generation. Although she would not be credited on the finished episode, Espenson sold the idea that eventually became Force of Nature.

As such, it feels appropriate that Espenson should get a chance to actually pitch an idea and write a teleplay for Deep Space Nine. Indeed, a large part of what makes Accession so good is the space that it affords to Espenson’s character development. Although Accession is very much focused on Sisko and Akorem, the episode offers a number of nice moments for its supporting cast. In particular, there is a wonderful dialogue-less sequence in which Kira tries to sculpt lumps of clay, a rare character-driven Star Trek sequence communicated entirely through visuals.

Accession is a fantastic episode of a strong season, one positioned quite smoothly between the show that Deep Space Nine was when it began and the show that it will become as it enters its endgame.

You might be interested in our reviews of the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

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6 Responses

  1. I feel as if this episode has two major problems though as you point out it has a lot of good content. One is that I know Kira is religious, but I can’t see her just resigning herself to becoming a painter. That felt a little out of character. The other is the ending. If I were a Bajoran and I saw Akorem go into the wormhole with Sisko and not come out, then I would suspect foul play. At the very least, I wouldn’t suddenly just go back to considering Sisko the emissary. The ending just feels a little too glossed over for me.

    • Ha! I like your point about the climax.

      “The Celestial Temple! Two men enter! One man leaves!”

      (On the other hand, I totally see Kira trying to please the new Emissary by abandoning her post. Kira is not a pushy religious person, and she doesn’t make too public a display of her faith, but I think it’s consistently portrayed as important to her. Part of me kinda wonders if the only reason Kira is still in the Bajoran militia after the end of the Occupation is because she never had a direction to do anything else. It was just the next logical step from the Shakaar resistance cell, because Kira was never going to retire to a farm like Shakaar himself. However, Kira seems to lack the commitment to her vocation that defines so many Starfleet officers; I never bought that Kira was particularly attached to the uniform, as the season’s final arc suggests. She just wants to help Bajor in whatever way she can. I can see Kira accepting that the Prophets allowed her to liberate Bajor and now have a different plan for her.)

  2. S4 is the only series of DS9 without Kai Winn and it’s telling that Kai Opaka’s image appears in Sisko’s visions rather then Winn to reassure Sisko that he is the Emissary. Winn plays a part in stirring up hate crimes, ridding Bajor of the Federation, and trying to free the Pah-Wraiths. And Akorem wanting Bajor to return to the d’jarras is like Tahna Los or the Circle trying to restore a Bajor that can never be again. You could say the same of Winn too. It’s funny how her presence is felt even when she’s not in an episode.

    “The Occupation became a catalyst for growth and change”; Dukat tried to convince Kira of that in Indiscretion and it’s interesting that you agree with his viewpoint Darren, even though Kira clearly didn’t.

    I’m mostly familiar with Jane Espenson’s work on Buffy and Angel and had totally forgotten she wrote Accession. Was this the only one because I always loved the way she could merge comedy and pathos with consummate ease. But we also got Force of Nature through her; hmmm!

    Did Kira have any visions in The Collaborator? I thought it was just Vedek Bareil. And it’s Shadows and Symbols, not Signs and Symbols and Rightful Heir, not Righteous Heir Darren.

    • Corrected. Thanks for the spot!

      Yep, I mean, I’d never argue that the Occupation was a good thing, which is the crux of Dukat’s argument. However, there is no denying that the Occupation did serve a catalyst for major change.

      And, in Epenson’s defense, her name doesn’t even appear on the final version of Force of Nature!

      • Force of Nature is a TNG episode the staff would like to forget (although it gets stiff competition from Shades of Grey).

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