Deep Space Nine - Essential Episodes

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Listed below are my recommended episodes if you decide to watch the excellent Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Although I grew up with the awesome Sir Patrick Stewart and his crew on the Enterprise, DS9 is my favorite Trek because it succeeds in doing what science fiction was originally meant to do: re-contextualizing current problems in an alien setting so people can discuss taboo or sensitive topics without the baggage of cultural censorship. By having the backdrop of the show be a planet (Bajor) whose people have endured a 50-year occupation, many topics usually avoided by Star Trek--hell television in general--were touched upon: racism, a balanced approach to religion, postwar forgiveness, sexism, PTSD, horrors of war, wartime paranoia, homeland security, etc.

To be honest though, discussing these dark concepts was just the high concept of the show, one that was more appreciated in hindsight. What made the show endearing to its fanbase from the very beginning was its excellent cast, long-running subplots, and dabbles in serialized storytelling. Of particular note is DS9's interesting characters, partially due to their nuanced personalities and agendas. For example: the lead is Captain Benjamin Sisko--a black father whose duty to the Federation is strained by his newfound role as a religious icon to the people of Bajor, Worf from TNG is actually used correctly this time around, Elim Garak is a complicated "tailor" who shrouds himself in secrecy, and the well-written Major Kira Nerys is a woman who spent years as a rebel fighting her occupiers but now finds her beliefs challenged by her newfound position as liaison between Bajor and the Federation. And this is just a fraction of the cast.

When people usually recommend which episodes of DS9 to watch and which episodes to skip, many give into the temptation of only recommending the bare minimum number of episodes that cover the core, main story. Because DS9's strengths were its characters and long-running subplots, this approach is a mistake. People usually don't recommend the episodes that seem minor... minor until a main story episode two seasons later builds off a seed that was planted in that previously "minor" episode. Other episodes that people tend to skip are one-off stories that are purely character-driven. To skip these episodes is to miss out on great scenes--the scenes that people like to talk about with friends, the scenes that people quote on forums, the scenes that are found in YouTube montages.

More importantly, if you skip too many of these character-driven one-off episodes, you will start to feel like you're missing something when watching later main story episodes. There will be little references and actions by characters that will leave you scratching your head. Why is so-in-so working with that person? Weren't they enemies? Why is she saying that, I thought she believed something else? And so on. Some of these character driven-episodes are essential in better understanding everyone's changing agendas and beliefs. In turn, this will better contextualize main story episodes.

That is why I'm here, to make sure you get the best of both worlds: a shorter overall series but not missing out on the great little things that make up the glue of a long-running television series. Anyone can recommend the most important episodes, I'm recommending the most important minutiae that will leave you with the feeling of having watched every single episode.

With that goal in mind, here is my personal list of essential Deep Space Nine episodes if you were to marathon the show (on Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant, etc.) but wanted to spare yourself hours of unnecessary watching. Any episode not listed below you can safely skip without missing anything important or anything awesome. The total number of episodes skipped (and time saved) are at the bottom. Have fun!

SEASON 1 (65% Skipped)

EP1 & EP2: Emissary
Main plot. Pilot episodes are usually rough, especially Star Trek pilots. DS9's holds up pretty well. Side note: Sisko will eventually get an overdue promotion, shave his head, and grow a beard. When he does, the show hits its high note.

EP3: Past Prologue
Garak is introduced. A minor character that will grow increasingly in importance as the seasons go on.

EP8: Dax
Several episodes explore Trill culture, like this one. Imperfect, but pure Trill episodes are part of the DS9 experience.

EP15: Progress
An episode dealing with the consequences of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor--an important and recurring aspect of DS9.

EP19: Duet
A poignant episode, dealing with the effects of an occupation on the oppressors and the oppressed. Trivia: this is actress Nana Visitor's (who plays Major Kira) favorite episode.

EP20: In the Hands of the Prophets
Introduces Winn, a major antagonist and one of those love-to-hate characters.

SEASON 2 (46% Skipped)

EP1: The Homecoming
Main plot. The first three episodes of this season are essentially a three-parter.

EP2: The Circle
Main plot. Part 2 of 3.

EP3: The Siege
Main plot. Part 3 of 3.

EP4: Invasive Procedures
Trill episode but a thought-provoking one because it explores an interesting "what-if".

EP5: Cardassians
Explores tensions between Cardassians and Bajorans.

EP8: Necessary Evil
Shows a little bit about life during the occupation.

EP14: Whispers
Excellent O'Brien episode with a clever twist. (Part of the meme of O'Brien being kicked around by the writers.)

EP18: Profit & Loss
Cardassian stuff, with some Garak and Quark.

EP19: Blood Oath
Helps cement Jax's fondness of Klingons. (Useful Later)

EP20: The Maquis - Part I
Justified terrorism?! The start of the important and long-running Maquis Arc.

EP21: The Maquis - Part II
Some good Dukat stuff here as well.

EP22: The Wire
Is Garak a simple tailor? Hint: probably not. Trivia: the man who plays Garak, Andrew Robinson, wrote a novel detailing Garak's true past and future after the show (spoilery unless you finished the show).

EP24: The Collaborator
Bajorans, Cardassians, and Winn. A combination that will become common.

EP26: The Jem'Hadar
Main Plot. Fully introduces the Dominion.

SEASON 3 (35% Skipped)

EP1: The Search - Part I
Main plot. Introduces the Defiant.

EP2: The Search - Part II
Main plot. Who are the mysterious leaders of the Dominion? I think the answer is pretty clever.

EP3: The House of Quark
Quark episode. (Useful Later)

EP4: Equilibrium
Trill stuff.

EP6: The Abandoned
One of the several episodes that humanize (novel approach) the ruthless enemy that is the Jem'Hadar.

EP7: Civil Defense
I thought the episode was sardonically hilarious because of the ridiculous situation the crew finds themselves in and how their problems escalate.

EP11: Past Tense - Part I
Time travel but used to talk about class warfare.

EP12: Past Tense - Part II
Same as above. The ending of this episode has a funny reference in a later episode (in this list BTW).

EP13: Life Support
Bajorans, Cardassians, and Winn.

EP14: Heart of Stone
Beginning of Odo's Quest for Romance Arc (which actually is well done in the long run).

EP15: Destiny
Discusses the issue of interpreting vague religious text verbatim. Also part of the Sisko as Emissary Arc started in the pilot.

EP17: Visionary
Another O'Brien kicked around episode.

EP20: Improbable Cause
Main plot. Beginning of a two-parter, the second of which is Episode 21.

EP21: The Die is Cast
Main plot. This two-parter will have far-reaching consequences that will only begin to manifest themselves during season 4.

EP24: Shakaar
Kira fighting Winn and Bajoran politics. Also, consequences of the occupation.

EP25: Facets
Dax and Trill stuff.

EP26: The Adversary
Main plot. A disturbing aspect of the Dominion is revealed.

(31% Skipped)

EP1 & EP 2: The Way of the Warrior
Main plot. This episode puts things in motion that will eventually change the dynamic between all political parties involved, especially the Cardassians. 

EP3: The Visitor
Touching story about a father and son. Arguable one of DS9's best episodes, second only to one other (listed in season 6).

EP4: Hippocratic Oath
Another episode humanizing the Jem'Hadar.

EP5: Indiscretion
Important for Dukat's character arc. (Useful Later)

EP6: Rejoined
Expands on an important aspect of Trill society. (Useful Later)

EP8: Little Green Men
Great homage to 50's & 60's sci fi.

EP11: Homefront

Main plot. First of a two-parter. Talks about homeland security, relevant today.

EP12: Paradise Lost
Main plot. Try finishing this two-parter without thinking about the Patriot Act.

EP13: Crossfire
Continuation of Odo's Quest for Romance Arc.

EP14: Return to Grace
Important for Dukat's character arc. Also introduces Damar, who will be important someday. (Useful Later)

EP17: Accession
Continuation of Sisko as Emissary Arc.

EP19: Hard Time*
O'Brien kicked around episode. I would have excluded this episode from the list because there are no far-reaching implications of what happens here (even though there should be), but the acting here is so good that I have to recommend it.

EP22: For the Cause
Part of Maquis Arc.

EP23: To the Death
Jed'Hamar humanizing episode. Remember, they're bad guys yet DS9 wants to give them depth. Amazing.

EP24: The Quickening
Helps viewers understand Bashir more. Also, about stigmatizing dieases.

EP25: Body Parts
An episode that also summarizes Quark's internal conflict in all the Ferengi episodes I recommend skipping (because they're awful). My favorite part is Quark with Garak (hilarious). Trivia: Nana Visitor (Major Kira) was pregnant because she was in a relationship with Alexander Siddig (Doctor Bashir) so they wrote it into the show here.

EP26: Broken Link
Main plot and plants a seed that will become important later. (Useful Later)

SEASON 5 (31% Skipped)

EP1: Apocalypse Rising
Main Plot.

EP3: Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places
(Useful Now: House of Quark) Important character developments for Worf and Dax.

EP4: ...Nor the Battle to the Strong
Explores an aspect of war.

EP5: The Assignment
First mentioning of a Pah-wraith and a kick O'Brien episode. (Useful Later)

EP6: Trials and Tribble-ations*
Homage and love letter to original Star Trek series. If you don't care about Captain Kirk and his crew, skip this episode. Otherwise, watch it for fan service. Also, nice Forrest Gump-ish CG work.

EP10: Rapture
Main plot. Sisko as Emissary Arc and the future of Bajor. Also, a prophetic warning that will make sense later.

EP11: The Darkness and the Light
Good Kira episode and provides a balanced argument on the acceptability (or not) of civilian causalities by rebels/terrorists during an unjust occupation.

EP12: The Begotten
Main plot, at least for Odo.

EP13: For the Uniform
Maquis Arc.

EP14: In Purgatory's Shadow
Main plot. A two-parter along with Episode 15. My favorite two-parter in the whole series.

EP15 By Inferno's Light
(Useful Now: Way of the Warrior, Indiscretion, Return to Grace) Main plot.

EP16: Doctor Bashir, I Presume?
Important because Bashir's secret here is brought up all the time after this episode.

EP17: A Simple Investigation
Part of Odo's Quest for Romance Arc.

EP21: Soldiers of the Empire
Wrap up episode for Martok after what happened in the two-parter and Worf being a badass.

EP22: Children of Time
Really thought-provoking episode and one of my favorites. Kind of an alternate series finale, you'll know what I mean when you see it.

EP23: Blaze of Glory
End of the Maquis Arc.

EP25: In the Cards
An episode reminiscent of a video game quest fetch until the ending, when everything makes sense.

EP26: Call to Arms
Main plot. Beginning of the Dominion War, which will dominate the last two seasons of the show.

SEASON 6 (31% Skipped)

EP1: A Time to Stand
Main plot. Next five episodes are actually linked together with this one to make a six-parter. However, you can skip Episode 3: Sons and Daughters unless you know Worf from The Next Generation and wondered what happened to his son Alexander. If that's true, then you should watch EP3.

EP2: Rocks and Shoals
Main plot. Also humanizes the Jem'Hadar.

EP4: Behind the Lines
Main plot.

EP5: Favor the Bold
Main plot.

EP6: Sacrifice of Angels
Main plot. Episodes involving Dukat's character arc especially important for this one.

EP7: You are Cordially Invited...
Marriage between two main characters... you can't really skip this one.

EP9: Statistical Probabilities
Unique guest characters and explores society's reluctance in dealing with genius outliers who can't fit into society.

EP10: The Magnificent Ferengi
Arguably DS9's funniest episode. (It will be funnier if you've seen the other Ferengi-centric episodes that provide background on the principal guest characters in this episode, but those episodes are so terrible the payoff wouldn't be worth it.)

EP11: Waltz
Dukat and fallout after Episode 6.

EP13: Far Beyond the Stars
Explores contemporary racism and also a very meta episode.

EP16: Change of Heart
Important episode for Worf and Dax.

EP17: Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night
Goofy and stupid time travel setup, but otherwise a good exploration of a very dark side of the Bajoran occupation.

EP18: Inquisition
Beginning of Section 31 Arc.

EP19: In the Pale Moonlight
Arguably DS9's best episode (the second being season 4's The Visitor). The episode is even better if you're a longtime fan of Star Trek because it is so unlike the original vision, it's a shock to the system.

EP20: His Way
Odo's Quest for Romance ends.

EP21: The Reckoning
Main plot. Also, Sisko as Emissary Arc.

EP22: Valiant
Important character development for Nog and explores another aspect of war.

EP26: Tears of the Prophet
Main plot.

SEASON 7 (23% Skipped)

EP1: Image in the Sand
Main plot. Two-parter alongside next episode.

EP2: Shadows and Symbols
Main plot. Sisko as Emissary Arc.

EP3: Afterimage
(Useful Now: Rejoined) Important Dax episode.

EP4: Take Me Out to the Holosuite
A really fun episode and homage to Bad News Bears. Trivia: the actor for Rom, Max Grodenchik, was by far the best baseball player on the cast even though his character on the show was by far the worst.

EP6: Treachery, Faith, and the Great River
Another episode humanizing the enemy, this time the Vorta.

EP8: The Siege of AR-588
Very good episode on the cost of war.

EP10: It's Only a Paper Moon
A sort of epilogue for Episode 8 and a poignant exploration of PTSD.

EP14: Chimera
Explores Odo's heritage and humanizes the Founders.

EP15: Badda-Bing Badda-Bang
Fun heist episode and the last humorous story before the final, serialized drive towards the finale.

EP16: Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges
Continuation of Section 31 Arc.

EP17: Penumbra
Main plot. The last 10 episodes are all linked together, similar to the first six episodes of season 6.

EP18: 'Til Death Do Us Part
Main plot.

EP19: Strange Bedfellows
Main plot.

EP20: The Changing Face of Evil
Main plot.

EP21: When It Rains...
Main plot.

EP22: Tacking Into the Wind
Main plot.

EP23: Extreme Measures
Main plot. End of Section 31 Arc.

EP24: The Dogs of War*
Main plot. Half of this episode won't really make any sense because we've skipped most of the Ferengi-centric episodes. Don't worry, you're not missing much.

EP25 & EP26: What You Leave Behind
Main plot. Series finale.

Total Watched: 112 Episodes (64%)
Total Skipped 64 Episodes (36%)
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