The Dreamer and the Dream
"Far Beyond the Stars" Plot Summary:
When a ship commanded by a friend of Sisko's is destroyed on the Cardassian border, Sisko tells his visiting father that he's thinking of resigning. Then he sees a hallucination of someone who looks a little like Odo in an old suit, and later a human who vaguely resembles Worf dressed as a baseball player. In sickbay, a brain scan reveals that he is having visions like the ones which plagued him the last time the Prophets spoke to him, revealing the Bajoran underground city.
Sisko falls completely into the dream, believing that he's a science fiction writer named Benny who works on a pulp magazine. The editor wants to run a photo in the next issue of the staff, which means that K.C. (a woman) and Benny (a Negro) cannot be included or the readership will suffer. Benny is furious, and even more so when a pair of cops threaten him on his way home. He stops and listens as a preacher tells him, personally, that he must follow the true path. He goes home to write and sees a vision of himself in a Starfleet uniform, aboard the space station he is writing about, reflected in his window.
Cassie, his girlfriend, wants Benny to stop writing so he can make more money and they can get married. When his young friend Jimmy comes into the restaurant where Cassie works as a waitress, he insists that crime pays more than any job, and scoffs at Benny for writing about white people on the moon. Benny says he's writing about people of color, and writes a story about a black captain which is acclaimed by all his colleagues...except his editor, who says he can't even consider printing it. He cites commercial interests as the reason, though the idealistic writers argue. Cassie tells Benny to stop living in the future and work for a better today - perhaps taking a job at a Negro newspaper. But the preacher tells him to walk with the Prophets and write the words of righteousness.
Benny, who keeps hallucinating that he is the Captain Benjamin Sisko whom he's writing about, accepts a fellow writer's suggestion to make the story a dream rather than a future reality. The story is accepted, but the preacher warns him that the path of the Prophets is hard. Soon afterwards, Benny and Cassie witness Jimmy gunned down by the police, and Ben is beaten badly when he protests their viciousness. He imagines that it's Weyoun and Dukat attacking him. When he recovers, Cassie sends him to the office to see his story in print, but the editor announces that the issue has been pulped - the publisher objected to the material and refused to distribute it. He then fires Benny.
Benny threatens to trash the place, then calms suddenly and announces that they can pulp his story, but they can't trash an idea. He created Ben Sisko: Ben Sisko is real. He collapses, and is taken on a stretcher to an ambulance, where the preacher, who is also his father, tells him that he has walked in the path of the Prophets...he is the dreamer, and the dream. Stars appear outside the ambulance windows.
Sisko awakes in sickbay, with normal brain patterns, and tells his father he knows he has to stay and finish his job. His father quotes the Bible, to his surprise. Ben asks what if his entire life is an illusion? He catches his reflection in a porthole...and Benny looks back.
A terrific episode on a number of levels, this episode was right on except in one respect: I'm not sure what it has to do with Deep Space Nine. Yes, I mean it. When I think about "Far Beyond the Stars" as an episode of Star Trek, it creates real problems for me...starting with the characterization of the women, who were dismissed in this episode as thoroughly as was Benny, and ending with the implied criticism of the editor for putting commercial interests ahead of idealism - as if Trek isn't constantly guilty of that! On a just for fun level, there's nothing negative to say, but this didn't quite have the impact for me of a "City on the Edge of Forever."
The great stuff: This was a fantastic outing for the cast, with the exception of Terry Farrell who got stuck playing the fannish Darlene. Armin Shimerman in particular shone, largely because his character was so different from Quark; while Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn were a lot of fun out of makeup, the one was a crusty editor and the other an arrogant baseball star, so we didn't get much sense of their range. Marc Alaimo was terrifying as a racist cop. But the real revelation was Cirroc Lofton, whose performance was absolutely breathtaking. He looked like an adult, and I don't just mean the moustache he sported; his entire demeanor seemed to have aged. It was much too easy to believe his cynicism.
The script was good, though awkward in spots: the demands for an end to prejudice sounded a little too much like speeches, and the device of using a preacher was heavy-handed. I thought the switching of realities worked well, especially at the end. Brooks' directing was masterful. Still, I was quite annoyed by the gender politics, however - I realize that racism is a big enough issue for one show to tackle, but the complete dismissal of the women's interests - precisely one line before Benny's first big speech for tolerance - was frustrating, and Cassie disgusted me. Between her whining that she wants him to accept his place, get a real job, marry her and have kids and the predictable nurturing routine when he was hurt, she came across as a total cliche. You'd think the forward-thinking writers of DS9 who feign indifference to commercial concerns could have come up with better women's roles.
Which brings me to the critical conundrum for this episode, namely the oddness of watching a commercial television show criticize the practices of the pulp publishing industry. Yes, Deep Space Nine has a black captain, but the original Trek series mostly had token black and female characters, and this series has its own moments of tokenism with cultural and sexual minorities, and of putting women in catsuits. I'm curious to know how Benny wrote about a black captain, given how important the visual medium is for Deep Space Nine. On the series, weeks go by where Sisko's race is never an issue; it's never commented upon, never dealt with as anything deeper than the color of his skin.
This has often annoyed me: he wears African-American clothes, but in most ways, Sisko is raceless. How did Benny write about him? Did he describe his skin color, his background, his values? What does "race" mean on this series anyway, and does it apply to the way humans think about aliens? Ultimately, what is the point of making Sisko's race an issue for him, even if I understand perfectly why they did it for the audience?
I'm not comfortable with how secure the writers seem to be in the idea that Sisko's future is the antithesis of Benny's past. Racism exists in hundreds of little assumptions - I think Ben Sisko's safe, boring romantic life is a manifestation of it, as was the blandness of his character for the first two seasons. Even Trek has a long way to go.
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