Recap / Star Trek Deep Space Nine S 06 E 13 Far Beyond The Stars

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Now this one's a little different.
Joseph Sisko pays a surprise visit to Deep Space Nine to see his son Benjamin and Jake. Ben confides in his father that the war with the Dominion is taking its toll on him and he is considering stepping down. While talking with him, Benjamin sees a strange figure; a man dressed in a suit, fedora, and glasses walking past the door to Ops. No one else seems to have noticed him, though. He experiences another strange visage when talking with Kasidy afterwards; a baseball player walking into one of the homes in the habitat ring. When he tries to follow, he finds himself in 1950s Harlem and gets blindsided by a taxi. Dr. Bashir notices while treating him that Benjamin's brain is showing anomalies similar to when he was experiencing visions from the Prophets some months before. When Bashir passes Benjamin his readings, however, Ben finds himself in Harlem once more, the "readings" now a science fiction comic book in his hands.

Benjamin Sisko is now Benny Russell, an African-American writer for Incredible Tales Magazine, discussing comics with a newspaper vendor (Nog) before heading to work with his co-worker, Albert Macklin (O'Brien). Joining Benny in the office is Kay and Julius Eaton (Kira and Bashir), Herbert Rossoff (Quark), publisher Douglas Pabst (Odo), and artist Roy Ritterman (Martok). One sketch by Ritterman resonates with Benny: a space station. When a memo goes around the office that pictures of the writers are being requested, both Benny and Kay are asked to "sleep in late" by Pabst. As far as the readers know, Kay (who writes under a pseudonym) is a man and Benny is white, and Pabst would prefer to keep it that way, to Benny's chagrin. The ugly truths of the era's prejudices continue to rear their ugly heads when, while walking home from work, Benny finds himself confronted by two racist police officers (Dukat and Weyoun).

On his way home, Benny is singled out by a preacher (Joseph) who espouses the glory of the Prophets, and beseeches Benny to write the truth in his heart. Moved by the preacher's words and inspired by the drawing of the space station, Benny immediately sets to work in his modest apartment writing a story. As he comes up with the name of his protagonist, "Benjamin Sisko", he opens the blinds to look out the window — but rather than seeing his own reflection, for a brief moment, he sees his protagonist, Sisko.

Benny finishes his story and shows it off to his friends at a diner the following morning: Cassie (Kasidy), a waitress and his girlfriend; Willie Hawkins (Worf), a rising baseball star combating prejudice in the major leagues; and Jimmy (Jake), a disillusioned petty criminal. Jimmy isn't so sure that the story would make print. The suspicion is confirmed when, even though most of Benny's coworkers commend his story, Pabst takes umbrage with the protagonist of Deep Space Nine and refuses to print it on the basis that the lead character is black.

Benny is disheartened. Walking home that evening, he is approached by the preacher once more, asking Benny to walk with the Prophets and to write the words that would lead them to righteousness. Undeterred, Benny sets to work writing a new story, typing into the night another story of the adventures of Benjamin Sisko. Throughout the next couple of days, Benny keeps having strange visions, seeing the people in his life as characters from his story; Kay as the feisty Kira, Willie as the proud warrior Worf, and Cassie as Sisko's love interest Kasidy. These strange visions distress him greatly, leading Benny to think he's losing his grip on reality and becoming Sisko.

The following day, Pabst explodes on Benny for continuing to write Sisko stories. Albert suggests ending his story as though it was all a dream, which may be the only chance that Benny has to have the story published at all, so he leaps at the opportunity. Benny is beside himself with joy at finally having found success in his writing, and goes out partying with Cassie to celebrate. He is approached once more by the preacher, who cautions Benny that this is only the beginning, and the path of the Prophets would lead into darkness and despair.

Shortly afterwards, gunfire rings out. Benny goes to investigate, and sees Jimmy dead on the streets, shot while trying to break into a car by the police officers that harassed him some nights before. The two officers brutalize Benny and beat him within an inch of his life, with Benny seeing them as the villains of his story.

After taking a few days to recover, Benny heads back to the office to see his story finally hitting the shelves. Unfortunately, when Pabst returns from the presses, Benny learns that the entire magazine had been pulped by the bosses. Benny believes the magazine was pulped because of his story. To make matters worse, the head publishers, who pulped the magazine based on Benny's story, have also fired Benny. Benny finally loses his grip, calling out everyone in the room and passionately defending not only his humanity, but Sisko and everything pertaining to Deep Space Nine: "You can pulp a story, but you can't destroy an idea!"

Benny suffers a nervous breakdown and is taken away in an ambulance. While being taken to a hospital, he is approached one last time by the preacher, who commends Benny for walking in the path of the Prophets. When Benny looks out the windows of the ambulance, he sees a field of stars zooming by him as the Prophets' preacher calls him "the Dreamer, and the Dream" ...

Benjamin Sisko awakens, having only been unconscious for a brief time. The neural abnormalities have subsided. Benjamin and Joseph enjoy one last chat before Joseph returns to Earth, with Ben, inspired by the dream he had, vowing to stay on the station and see things through to the very end. What if, however, that his dream wasn't a dream? What if Deep Space Nine, and everything Sisko knows, are nothing more than figments of the imagination of a writer from far beyond the stars?

Tropes

  • All Just a Dream:
    • Probably. Sisko does wonder at the end whether his vision of Benny was all fantasy or whether Benny's vision of Sisko is the fantasy. And it was actually intended for a bit to reveal at the end of the series that the entire show (and presumably the rest of the Trek franchise) was a story that Benny wrote.
    • One of Benny's colleagues also suggests this as a solution to get his "unrealistic" story about a black captain printed by adding a dream reveal at the end. The publisher still rejects it.
  • And You Were There: The people in Benny Russell's world resemble those in Benjamin Sisko's (except without rubber foreheads, etc. where applicable). In a few instances, Benny even sees a few of them as their DS9 counterparts.
  • Bittersweet Ending: No question, Benny's plight is a straight-up Downer Ending. But when he wakes up as Sisko again, he feels renewed energy toward "fighting the good fight."
  • Call-Back:
    • Bashir finds that Sisko is experiencing the same synaptic potentials in his brain as he did during "Rapture".
    • Sisko living weeks as Benny Russell within the span of a few unconscious minutes mirrors Picard living years as Kamin in about twenty minutes during "The Inner Light" in The Next Generation.
  • Celebrity Paradox: One of the writers Benny mentions when reciting the list for the current issue of Galaxy is Theodore Sturgeon, who also wrote two episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series. So you have an episode of Star Trek mentioning a writer who wrote two episodes of the original series.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Benny's breakdown when he's fired. He sure seems like he's going to take that table with him.
  • Cigar Chomper: Roy Ritterhouse, Martok's character, frequently has a cigar while drawing.
  • Crapsack World: This episode pulls absolutely no punches about 20th century racist regimes, and the toll it takes on Benny and his friends.
  • Framing Device: Sisko's experience as Benny is framed as a vision sent by the Prophets to keep him from losing his resolve.
  • Freak Out!: Big time. All the racist abuse Benny deals with in his daily life comes out in a furious rant and ends up in a nervous breakdown.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Sisko starts going into one when he learns that his friend Quentin Swofford has been killed. The vision from the Prophets is meant to help him work through it.
  • Homage: The writers here knew their '50s science fiction creators:
    • Benny is based on Samuel R. Delany, right down to Delaney's story "Nova," which Analog magazine rejected for having an African-American protagonist.
    • Albert Macklin, the writer of robots who eventually sells a novel to Gnome Press, is essentially Isaac Asimov; three guesses who Isaac first sold I, Robot to. (Asimov was also a science consultant on Star Trek: The Motion Picture and inspired the concept of Data.)
    • Herbert Rossoff, with his brusque demeanor, outspoken liberal politics, and uncompromising dedication to his craft, is Harlan Ellison® by any other scream.
    • Kay "K.C. Hunter" Eaton is based on Catherine "C.L." Moore, and the same reasoning underlies the use of initials. For the same reason, she's also a reference to Original Series and TNG writer D.C. Fontana.
    • Jules Eaton, her husband, is Moore's husband Henry Kuttner, who was one of H.P. Lovecraft's proteges.
    • Douglas Pabst is John W. Campbell, both at his best (a dedicated and influential writer and editor) and worst (slightly eccentric and harboring some rather racist views). Campbell was the editor who rejected "Nova."
    • The plot line about Benny's story is also inspired by the real world controversy surrounding the Comics Code Authority's refusal, on openly racist grounds, to allow publication of the EC Comics comic story "Judgement Day", by Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando. The story in question was a Robots Enslaving Robots satire of racism, in which the twist ending was that the disgusted human observer of the racist alien robots, whose face had been hidden in a spacesuit throughout the story, was revealed to be a black man. William Gaines's disgust at this caused EC to finally stop publishing comics altogether.
    • Finally, Rossoff lists the writers in the September 1953 issue of Galaxy when he threatens to join them: Theodore Sturgeon (writer, "Shore Leave" and "Amok Time". Also making it a case of Celebrity Paradox), Isaac Asimov (see above), and Ray Bradbury (who never had a direct association with Star Trek, but he did have a starship on The Next Generation named after him). Sturgeon really was the writer of the cover story of the real-life September 1953 issue of Galaxy.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Played for laughs with the Buffy memo (see Trivia), and far, far more seriously with Benny's story.
  • Mars Needs Women: One of the sketches Roy Ritterhouse comes up with (which the writers then have to create stories for) is of a beautiful, scantily-clad woman being menaced by what looks like a giant praying mantis.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The March 1953 cover of Incredible Tales and the September 1953 cover of Galaxy feature references to the original series. The stories listed on the Incredible Tales cover are all original series episodes, credited to their actual writers—including "The Cage" to Gene Roddenberry. "Court Martial", listed on the Galaxy cover, is credited to "Samuel T. Cogley," Kirk's attorney in that episode.
    • The Incredible Tales cover also features the Delta Vega station from "Where No Man Has Gone Before", and Galaxy has a painting based on Starbase 11 from "Court Martial" and "The Menagerie".
  • Politically Correct History: Defied, unlike TNG's visit to the past, in which Geordi and Guinan both seem to have no difficulties in Mark Twain's San Fransisco. The widespread societal and institutional racism against African-Americans in the pre-Civil Rights US, both in its subtle and open forms, is openly acknowledged and is central theme in the episode's plot.
  • Precision F-Strike: Douglas Pabst/Odo utters the religious-based epithet "for Christ's sake". This was the first (and to date, only) time it was uttered in Trek franchise history and was one of the few times it had ever been heard on an American commercial television series. Even in the late 2010s it is rarely heard, even on cable/streaming.
  • Precision N Strike/N-Word Privileges: Jimmy tells Benny exactly what white people will "always" see black people as, even in the future. This marks the only time the N-word is used in the entirety of Star Trek.
  • Raygun Gothic: Particularly in the drawing that Roy Ritterhouse does of the space station, which looks just like it would have had the series been created in the Fifties.
  • Visions of Another Self: A nearly episode-long instance of it.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: Invoked almost word-for-word during Benny's rant.

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