Who Teases the Teasers?
This Father’s Day, over coffee, I enjoyed the recent Star Trek: Picard Season 2 trailer that Paramount+ dropped Wednesday the week before, having saved and delayed the gratification for myself in a mild gesture of self-gifting. I haven’t spent the time to review any of the episodes of “New Trek” the way I did each episode for a while back when Deep Space Nine and Voyager were in first-run, but despite a few foibles and plot head-scratchers, I enjoyed Picard Season 1 overall. I didn’t fall in love with every new character and every direction they were taken, but the story’s closure for the character of Data after his untimely death in Nemesis resolved nicely.
Picard was a father figure to all the bridge crew that served under him, but Data became over the years the closest our intrepid Jean Luc ever came to having a son of his own. A father should never outlive his children, if he can help it. I appreciated the series bringing a proper coda to what had been such an abrupt and hollow end to their relationship.
The trailer is full of all sorts of revelations and Easter Eggs for season 2, including the teased return of John De Lancie’s devilishly omnipotent Q and clear plot directions involving some sort of disruption and change of the “prime” timeline. Many of these revelations were confirmations of clues that had been hinted at back in April during “First Contact Day” when the first teaser for Picard Season 2 dropped. The confirmation of the rampant internet speculation over these clues is turning out to be a happy one, filling out the potential story with details that fans are already salivating to have explained, such as Q’s explanation for De Lancie’s naturally aged appearance, or the confirmed reappearance of Jeri Ryan as a version of Seven of Nine—rather, Annika Hansen—who doesn’t appear to have ever been assimilated by the Borg.
Star Trek: Voyager fans of course already had reason to be pleased by Picard, as Seven made her debut in this series in Season 1. But fans of Deep Space Nine at first seemed to have reason to be excited about Picard’s second season after that First Contact Day teaser. Hidden among the props and other Easter Eggs within that teaser, dedicated fans spotted the broken fragments of the Bajoran Reckoning Tablet, a reference which hints at the possible involvement of some portion of the DS9 mythos involving the wormhole aliens: powerful entities who experienced time in a non-linear fashion that worshiped and known by the name The Prophets by the Bajoran people. Captain Benjamin Sisko, the leader and star of all seven season of the show, established communication with these aliens and was known as The Emissary by the people of the planet of Bajor, around which the titular Starfleet station would orbit. So it’s already a cozy fit to have some sort of reference to DS9’s Prophets and their cross-time awareness since Picard Season 2 seems to be taking on alternate timeline plots as its main season-long arc.
Happy Father’s Day 2021 to Benjamin Sisko!
What’s further, and germane to Father’s Day, Benjamin Sisko spent those seven years on that station in the midst of galaxy-spanning galactic turmoil and war while raising his only son Jake single-handedly. Jake lost his mother when Sisko was, in fact, widowed by Jean Luc Picard himself, during the time when the latter was assimilated by The Borg as Locutus, attacking the Starfleet defense force sent to intercept them at the fateful battle of Wolf 359 in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s arguable breakout episode “The Best of Both Worlds.”
Sisko’s commitment and performance as a father throughout challenges both galactic and personal is unwavering, and has already been recognized for Father’s Day over the years, including a nice article on startrek.com from 2019:
No matter their issues, though, Ben consistently makes himself emotionally available to counsel Jake through his struggles, and the two draw unexpected strength from each other. Their relationship is consistently based on a core of mutual respect, trust, and emotional intelligence; Ben leans on his son as much as his son leans on him, with the two growing and changing together in ways not often shown on television.Clint Worthington, StarTrek.com – Benjamin Sisko is One of The Greatest Fathers in TV History – June 14, 2019
Avery Brooks—who played Ben Sisko throughout the show’s run—has highlighted over the years in various interviews interviews his ever-present father-and-son relationship with Jake—played by Cirroc Lofton—as one of his favorite aspects of playing the character. It’s a facet of the portrayal he hoped would make a difference in terms of representation, as he outlines here in an interview with Nashville Scene from 2012:
The relationship between Sisko and his son was also very important. That was something else you still don’t often see on air, at least as it concerns black and brown men and their sons. We got to play complicated, emotional and intricate scenes, and we got to have tender and fun moments. It wasn’t a pat relationship or an easy one, and it was very realistic. The show never took the easy way out when it came to situations, be they personal or political, and that provided us with a lot of great things to do as actors.Avery Brooks, Nashville Scene – Deep Space Nine‘s Avery Brooks went where few black men on TV had gone before – June 7, 2012
Among the pivotal episodes that centered on the relationship between Ben and Jake highlighted in the StarTrek.com article, a standout is “The Visitor.” In this episode, due to some subspace mumbly-wumbly, Sisko is separated from Jake but not killed, cast off into a pocket dimension in which time stops for him, while the years still pass for Jake, who becomes obsessed with finding a way to free his father from the anomaly. As the episode’s writer Michael Taylor points out, this development places Sisko in the role of the “absent father” against his will:
I’d been thinking how remarkable Sisko’s interaction with his son Jake was in television, the idea of a committed black single dad who sticks around and raises his kid. What if Sisko was forced into a more stereotypical situation, where he couldn’t be there for his kid?Michael Taylor, “The Visitor” Credited Writer – Deep Space Nine Companion
Brooks rightfully reminds us that the stereotypical perception of an absent black father was of course born and grown from a past of complete forced family dissolution:
It’s something that we have to see more often, the relationship of a brown man and his son. Because historically, that’s not how it began in this country for brown families who didn’t have the freedom of their own will and volition, let alone the ability to hold their families together.Avery Brooks – Deep Space Nine Companion
“The Visitor” consistently ranks among the most affecting and heartbreaking among series viewers, as Ben must witness increasingly-aged Jake, (played by Tony Todd) throwing away his life in pursuit of finding his absent father—first metaphorically and eventually literally when Jake theorizes that if he dies while his father is present in his timeline, the subspace connection will be severed and Ben will return to the exact moment in time of the accident that separated them. Ben is the only one to remember the alternate future once he has escaped. He realizes not only how much his son loves and needs him, even as a young man, but that the circumstances wherein Ben will someday inevitably leave Jake may greatly impact his son’s life.
In my own experience as a father to two grown children (very much not single-handed), the role of Dad is something you always have, if you’ve made sure to be present and committed to raising your kids enough that they’ll continue to want you in their life. Your educational responsibility shifts from direct teaching of What You Know about life to hopefully a more Socratic method of nurturing growing yet powerful minds as they begin to voyage for answers on their own, to questions you never even thought to ask. Your care-giving responsibility moves from feeding and protecting small and helpless children to caring for yourself as best as you can, to relieve them of inevitable concern for your fate, as they build their lives.
One of the message I took from “The Visitor” was that no age is “old enough” for your kid to be alright with you disappearing abruptly from their lives.
In the Hands of the Showrunners
Avery Brooks is on record as having signed on for the part of Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at least partly on the basis of the strength of the script for its pilot, “Emissary.” The chilly meeting early in the episode between Sisko and Picard speaks to how, despite knowing the circumstance of abduction and assimilation that led to Picard’s unwilling murder of his wife Jennifer, Sisko is stuck on the trauma and its effects on his life, unable to move on.
It would be this past trauma, and the “non-linear” nature of Sisko’s relationship with time, that would allow him to fully explain our relationship with time, and allow the wormhole aliens to form some sort of relationship with our species, and—by extension— our reality. I really liked the implication that the Prophets took an interest in Sisko specifically because he was still in mourning over the death of his wife Jennifer: there was something so beautiful and poetic about how the frailty of a human heart—stuck in the non-linear time loop of mourning a loss—can be the one defining quality that can lead a non-linear-time alien race to recognize our merit as a species, and our potential benevolence.
It was the story that motivated Avery Brooks to take the role. Anything that diminished it was a mistake.
But as the series went on, the showrunners would indeed eventually commit this mistake. In the opening episode of the seventh season “Image in the Sand,” it would be revealed that Sisko’s mother that he had known all his life was not his birth mother, and that his birth mother had been a woman named Sarah whom had been possessed by a Prophet during Ben’s conception and first year of life. Suddenly Ben was transformed from the Starfleet every-man whose loving and mourning heart drew the attention and sympathy of the Prophets, into a literal demigod whose existence was purposefully brought about as he was predetermined to become the Emissary… because the Prophets had sent an emissary of their own to conceive him.
Of course, with the nature of the Prophets experience of time being non-linear, the show has a bit of an built-in cop-out in this regard. Sisko meeting the wormhole aliens may have set the events in motion that led them to decide to bring Sisko himself about, in a scenario of non-linear time. Yet I’m being charitable here; by this point in the series the Prophets were treated a lot less like an unfamiliar alien species with a mysterious agenda and more frequently as familiar religious deities, to the point where evil devil-red Prophets were introduced to the plot, as “Pagh Wraiths.”
In fact, it would be the climax of resolving the conflict with these Pagh Wraiths which would bring about the other unforced error I feel eventually diminished Sisko’s role as Star Trek’s Best Dad.
I had my issues with DS9’s series ender “What You Leave Behind” and I posted them right after initial first-run of the event. In short, after the conclusion of the epic and devastating Dominion War arc, Sisko must return to Bajor to confront his greatest enemy Dukat before the evil Cardassian can unleash all the Pagh Wraiths trapped in the fire caves of Bajor, which would apparently cause some sort of galactic apocalyptic event. Over the seven years on the station Sisko had made numerous difficult decisions to protect the Alpha Quadrant and the Federation from the vast autocratic empire that was The Dominion, attacking from the other side of the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant he had discovered. He even once was forced to directly appeal to the Prophets themselves, seemingly sacrificing a quiet future of peaceful retirement with his new family on Bajor for the help in removing a vast Dominion invasion fleet en route through the wormhole.
You see, rather than remaining single, Sisko’s propensity for a normal human social and family life expressed itself further when he fell in love with and married a scrappy freighter captain named Kasidy Yates. By the series end, they are planning a life together, and Kasidy is pregnant with Benjamin Sisko’s second child.
However, as indicated earlier, Sisko must pay a price for his deal with the Prophets. He must return to Bajor for the confrontation in the fire caves, wherein his special role as the Emissary makes him the only one who can stop Dukat from releasing the Pagh Wraiths… by hitting him with a Holy Flying Tackle, sending both of them into the flames. Dukat is destroyed while SIsko, divinely protected, disappears into the distinctive white nothingness that is our visual cue to designate the realm of the wormhole aliens:
A quick refresher on the DS9 finale: The series ends with Captain Sisko remaining in a spectral plane called the “Ancestral Temple” where the Prophets tell him he will stay indefinitely and continue his duties as the Emissary. Although the epilogue shows Kira Nerys and Jake Sisko mourning the loss of the Emissary, Sisko promises his wife Kasidy in an earlier scene that he’ll return to her at some point — though, with the Prophets, time can be a fickle thing — and the viewer is left unsure if that means Sisko will come back in a few months or a few hundred years.
Deep Space Nine ends on that final mystery: If and when Captain Sisko will return. With the Bajoran Reckoning Tablet in the Picard trailer, we may finally have a hint toward an answer.Lauren Coates, syfy.com – Could a Star Trek: Picard Season 2 trailer Easter egg hint at Deep Space Nine ties? – Apr. 8, 2021
Sadly, the series ending episode for the series led by Star Trek’s Best Dad ends with him leaving his son and pregnant wife for an unknown period of time. Perhaps it was irresistible story gravitas to the writers to put his role as an ever-present father—one of the most important and defining aspects of the character—at risk. It was war, after all, and family disruption and loss was already something from which Deep Space Nine had not shied away.
And, of course, as noted in the quote above, the non-linear nature of the Prophets relationship with time means that Sisko may return to Kasidy at any time. Up until very recently, my fervent hope was that, if the story of Deep Space Nine was ever continued, that Sisko would not turn out to have been away for too long. It’s just not like him. He’s Star Trek’s best Dad.
It was the character aspect that motivated Avery Brooks to take the role. Anything that diminished it was a mistake.
What We Probably Should Still Leave Behind
I think this ending for Sisko ended up much more of a cliffhanger for fans than the writers had intended. For viewers who had spent seven years with the characters, the story of the Pagh Wraiths and the Prophets meant far less in the long term than the story of Sisko and his family. For black and brown men who watched the show as young men, the role model that Sisko portrayed as a father had been practically the only aspect of the show left on a cliffhanger. Would he come back soon, and be the same type of father for Kasidy’s child as he had been for Jennifer’s? Could he?
At first, as a young and probably angrier man, I felt the sacrifice was a cop-out. We had just had a fairly perfunctory main character death in the series a year earlier, when Jadzia Dax had been killed by Dukat rather abruptly when he was possessed by a Pagh Wraith. After so many years of an ongoing war arc in the series, with so many off-screen and references casualties to the conflict, I felt the death of a major character would be powerful and appropriate for DS9. At the conclusion of the sixth season I looked forward to seeing Worf’s warrior rage unleashed upon the taking of his beloved mate, once again. But by introducing Ezri Dax—a character I grew to like only due to the charm and appeal of actress Nicole De Boer—the show fell for the typical serial trope of impermanent death, lessened the impact of Jadzia’s death on the other characters, spent a lot of time the next season hand-wringing over Ezri’s romantic interests, and flipped a giant metaphorical bird to actress Terry Farrell by summarily replacing her with a new actress in essentially the same role… the way soap operas do on the regular.
So for Ben Sisko to “part-die,” to go away and leave his bride and her unborn child with no certainly of when or if he will return, yet to be denied the true self-sacrifice of a necessary death to save everyone in the universe, seemed like a half-measure. It again denied the audience the sorrow and finality of a character’s actual, irrevocable death in Star Trek, a long-running fault of the entire franchise that it also shares with soap operas. Most importantly, it seemed out of character for Sisko.
Before “What You Leave Behind,” I had felt that it would be only death that could succeed in separating Benjamin Sisko from his children.
Still, once again the non-linear nature of the Prophets experience of time allowed me a head-canon solution: Sisko could spend as much time with the Prophets doing whatever it was they needed him to do in his role as the Emissary, and return to Kasidy at any time he could choose. How long he was with the Prophets did not have to correspond with how long he was gone. I like to think he made sure he was back in plenty of time to greet his second child, with plenty of time to rub pregnant Kasidy’s feet to spare. This was the direction where the non-canon Star Trek novels that were set after “What You Leave Behind” would take Sisko as well. Of course, these novels started publication shortly after the end of DS9, serving the hunger for an audience unhappy with the cliffhanger ending of Sisko’s family.
Now, more than twenty years later, dedicated Star Trek fans like myself are still hungry for the official story, for the resolution to that cliffhanger.
And so, if Star Trek: Picard Season 2 does have any intention of continuing the story of Captain Benjamin Sisko, the Emissary to the Prophets, it has a responsibility to the history of this character and his identity as a father. I would think the importance of that responsibility would be self-evident, especially to the the showrunners like Ira Stephen Behr, Ronald D. Moore, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, René Echevarria, and Hans Beimler. But on the other hand, this is the crew that introduced the cliffhanger, and twenty years later they would come back and surprise me with an attempt to write a conclusion for it, one that didn’t assuage these concerns at all.
What We Left Behind was a fantastic crowd-funded documentary about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The documentary was produced by 455 Films, directed by Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone, and released by Shout! Studios. It was fantastically even-handed and loving in its treatment of the history of the show, yet truthful and honest about the ups and downs of productions and storytelling. My feelings about the giant middle-finger flashed to Terry Farrell upon her departure were largely confirmed, for example.
The documentary also offered an inside look at the showrunners, twenty years later, breaking a theoretical eighth season of Deep Space Nine. And it proposes basically the opposite of what I, and the authors of the post-DS9 non-canon novels, wanted and proposed: Sisko returns to his family after twenty years of absence.
Avery Brooks, for one reason or another, declined to take part in What We Left Behind. He is known to be largely retired from professional acting and dedicated to a career of teaching now. But I’d like to think that, if there was ever a plan to commit the theoretical season eight proposed in the documentary to film, you’d literally have to recast the part of Sisko to depict his allowing such a future to come about.
So what is the ONLY WAY I feel Sisko should return to the screen in Star Trek: Picard Season 2? Honestly it doesn’t matter to me how he returns to the story of Star Trek. What I insist on is that the narrative come closer to that of the non-canon books, and ensure that Sisko was not away for long. I want Benjamin Sisko to have long since returned form his service to the Prophets, and finished raising Jake and his next child in a way that is consistent with the character’s most intrinsic values.
That’s why, to me, I found it even more hopeful for any future appearance from the character that there was no sign of any Deep Space Nine references in the second trailer for Picard: Season 2. Since we are still only teased by that first appearance of the Bajoran Reckoning tablet in the first teaser shown for the second season, to my mind this means the likelihood increases that any appearance by the Emissary of the Prophets would more likely be a short cameo. Picard dealing with alternate timelines could justify a a reason for the show to seek and acknowledge Sisko’s wisdom and insight into Time itself. And Benjamin’s appearance in the show could finally bring some closure to the cliffhanger left for those in the audience who so strongly responded to his role as a father, the way Data’s appearance brought closure to unresolved cliffhangers about his character.
I kind of like the idea of one pivotal scene between Jean Luc Picard and Benjamin Sisko… one more powerful scene between these two characters, and between these two actors whose powerful scene together first launched Star Trek into bold new territory: I see Picard seeking out Sisko for his advice and council, finding him retired and happy in New Orleans. Sisko is not shucking any clams himself any more but clearly he’s keeping the family restaurant alive… and he’s swimming in grandchildren, with maybe a few pets trotting around.
If there was a price to be paid, it should only be that Sisko could not rest on Bajor in his retirement; maybe if he was there the Pagh Wriaths would always threatened to rise up to meet him or something. If there was a great burden of time to be paid in service of the Prophets, that burden should be only that of the Emissary, not one to be paid by his family against his will. Perhaps he was away only a short time for Jake and Kasidy, but for Ben it was a long time, longer than anyone else would or should know…
It’s the only way to really respect the legacy of the character Avery Brooks brought to life. I’d like to further think that, if the producers of Star Trek: Picard hope to bring in the captain of Deep Space Nine into their second season, they’ve already had this discussion with the venerable actor to the very same point I’ve been making here.
Unlike the roles most actors portray, when we take on the role of being a father it’s one we take on for life. It’s never Something You Leave Behind. If Picard: Season 2 wants to bring the most satisfying closure to the biggest cliffhanger left at the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by bringing back Captain Sisko, they need to ensure he should already have returned home long ago… after all Ben Sisko is Star Trek’s Best Dad!