We meet "The Sisko"
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Deep Space 9, Emissary. He will examine the leadership approaches of Commander Sisko and Kira Nerys.
Welcome back! I’m glad you’re all joining me to look at the first episode of my favorite Star Trek series today, Deep Space 9, Emissary!
Wolf 359 - “Resistance is Futile.” We start off big!! The Battle for Sector 001 and the first voice we hear is Locutus…Picard.
We meet our “captain” for this series as Lt. Commander Sisko - the XO of the USS Saratoga. They are getting straight rocked by the Borg. The Captain (pre-Martok) goes down and it is pandemonium! (Gorilla Monsoon here). Sisko goes looking for his wife and son. He finds his son, but is pried away from his now dead wife, Jennifer. They get to the escape pods…and we fast forward 3 years.
Now Commander Sisko meets with his son, Jake, to discuss his new assignment at Deep Space 9. Jake is apprehensive, but Sisko hears him out, shows him the station and gets him excited for the change.
Beautiful look at the station and we see the Enterprise docked. Sisko gives some exposition about the Bajoran Provisional Government and then we meet Chief O’Brien, a transfer from the Enterprise. Sisko walks with O’Brien as he explains that the Cardassians trashed the place on their way out. This hits on a few leadership lessons. First, Management By Walking Around. This is an approach that is exactly what it sounds like: walk around with your teams. This used to be at the core of the “HP Way” when Hewlett Packard was a younger company. It allows for meaningful conversations about the work the teams or individuals are doing. In this case, O’Brien is able to show Sisko what is going on instead of just talking to him about it. It also allows the manager to connect the workers to other experts, creating networks to better expand knowledge bases. This is also a great example of a Gemba Walk - a term used in Lean Six Sigma. This is a methodology that relentlessly seeks to eliminate waste. In Japanese, and please forgive my pronunciation, Gemba is “the place.” Often, a reporter will be on site, reporting from the Gemba. Here, Sisko is in the Gemba with O’Brien experiencing his challenges. O’Brien acknowledges the chain of command lets Sisko know he’s already discussed this with Major Kira, who is the attache from the Provisional Government.
We are also introduced to one of the aspects of this show that makes it unique in Trek - religion. Sisko runs into a Bajoran that invites him to enter a temple as the Prophets await him. He puts him off to a later time.
O’Brien tells Sisko that Capt. Picard wants to meet with him as Jake walks around talking about what a dump the station is. “We’re gonna have to rough it…”
Some cool imagery at play here. The lighting is generally dark, a stark contrast to the brightly lit Enterprise from TNG. There are also the uniforms. Sisko is in the traditional TNG uniform we’ve come to know, while O’Brien and other Starfleet station personnel are in these black jumpers. O’Brien’s sleeves are rolled up; he’s got a lot of work in front of him.
We’re introduced to Kira. Another contrast to TNG. Here’s a woman with authority that is comfortable using it. A very strong personality that Sisko counters by lowering his voice and inviting her to dictate the tone and tempo of the conversation, “but we can do it in any order you like.” She lays it out on the line, compares Starfleet to the Cardassian Occupation and we learn she’s been a resistance fighter her whole life. Sisko pushes right back. His tone changes a little, almost imperceptibly, to add authority to it. He acknowledges her concerns but insists he is here to help. She then takes off to address a security incident and says he doesn’t need to bother coming along. Sisko grins, and takes off after her. He’s demonstrating that he’s one of the team, not afraid to do what it takes.
A thief with some D&D weapons is Star Trek introduces us to Odo…a shapeshifter that is head of station security. Another abrasive personality that isn’t afraid of standing up to Sisko. A Ferengi, Quark, comes out pleads for the release of his nephew as they are leaving the station tomorrow. Sisko, standing up for the law and order he sees in DS9’s vision, sends the Ferengi thief to the brig. He then explains to Kira that he’s holding onto the boy, Nog, as a bargaining chip to be used with Quark.
Sisko finally meets with Captain Picard. Talk about contrasts to TNG! Star Trek fans have been accustomed to people showing deference and respect to Picard…not Sisko. He calls him right out for Wolf 359 and blames him for the death of his wife. Picard, the eternal diplomat, pivots into discussing Sisko’s assignment. Sisko talks business, but doesn’t let down his resentment. He’s not being unprofessional here, he’s being authentic. Authenticity. Such a critical facet of an effective leader. Being the real you. People don’t want to follow an automaton, they want to follow a person. Sisko holds to his feelings, is authentic and isn’t afraid of voicing his true feelings. We learn that Sisko has objected to this assignment, very much on the grounds of the safety concerns for his son, Jake. He goes so far as to consider resigning his commission. In this case, Sisko’s authenticity here gets Picard to start considering a replacement; he is getting what he wants because he stood up for himself. BUT, he’s still a professional. “In the meantime, I will do the job…”
Sisko meets up with Quark and lays out the deal. Stay on board, open the casino; be a community leader. Revitalize the Promenade. Great vision. His people need morale boosters, personal lives and sees the leadership and potential in Quark to provide that. He plays to Quark’s personality to get it done - “You’re a gambler, Quark.” He also threatens to keep Nog in prison for a very long time. Carrot/Stick…you choose, Quark. “It’s up to you.”
Sisko joins Kira on the Promenade; the Gemba. Rolls up his sleeves and starts helping to clean up. Kira talks about the tenuous hold the Provisional Government has and this it’ll fall within a week. She tells us about the spiritual leader of Bajor, Kai Opaka and that she could call for unity and bring stability to Bajor. So, he heads down to the planet to meet with her.
They sit down and she goes right for his ear! Sisko tentatively lets her touch it while she talks about the Bajoran life force, the Pagh. She calls him The Emissary and takes him into a secret compound. Here, she shows Sisko a “Tear of the Prophets.” There were 9, now this one remains; the Cardassians have the others. Sisko suddenly finds himself on a beach…meeting his wife for the first time! He relives the memory and we get to see what smooth looks like! We also get to see the terrible turn men’s swimwear will take in the 24th century. Then the Tear appears again and he is ripped back into reality. Opaka talks about the Celestial Temple, where The Prophets live and charges Sisko with finding it before the Cardassians do. To show she’s serious, she gives Sisko the Tear!
Touching moment between Sisko and Jake as he remembers his wife. This is really Trek doing what it does best: showing a more ideal future. How often do we see single fathers with great relationships with their kids on TV? Now, how often do we see that with African Americans?? This is really well done!
On the Promenade, Quark has made his choice. First big win for Sisko! People are drinking, gambling and having a good time. Starfleet and Bajoran personnel are hanging out together. He’s successfully built a foundation, a “home base” for his people!
We meet Dr Bashir and Lt. Dax. Continuing the theme of contrasts, Bashir tries to hit on Dax…Sisko he is not! Dax is a trill, a joined species where a symbiont, with a very long life span, lives in different people. Sisko was friends with the prior host and calls her “Old Man.” Bashir blatantly insults Kira by calling Bajor the “frontier,” and the “wilderness.” Not making any friends….Kira doesn’t let it lie and rubs his face in his insensitivity. We’re really building Kira and Sisko as balanced opposites…balanced in their integrity and authenticity. These are two people that are very comfortable with who they are.
An appropriate “passing of the torch,” - remember, this is the first “new” Trek since TNG - as O’Brien leaves the Enterprise. Picard sees him off. “This is your favorite transporter room.” Wow…he must have had the most boring job on the Enterprise if that’s Picard’s big good-bye to him! Still, seeing Picard send him off sent the right tone and helped legitimize O’Brien as a leading role for DS9.
In an ominous moment, we meet the previous Cardassian Prefect of Bajor, Gul Dukat…immediately after the Enterprise departs. The ultimate villain - slimy, confident, politically savvy and eerily charismatic. Sisko is not intimidated by him at all. Dukat says he’s aware Opaka gave an “Orb” to Sisko and offers an information exchange; they will share info on the other 8 if they can have access to this one. Sisko plays it close to the vest and says he doesn’t know anything about an Orb - it’s a Tear of the Prophets to him, afterall.
Dax has been studying the Orbs and Bajoran history. She points to the Danorius Belt where 5 of the Orbs were found. Her analysis suggests the Celestial Temple may be there. Sisko’s military strategy comes through. He acknowledges the Cardassians are close and will be watching, so he needs a way to get past them undetected. Kira shuts down Quark’s. Quark gives the Cardassians a bag to put their winnings into…Once on the ship, we see the bag is…Odo?!? Looks like he’s a shapeshifter! Now that he’s infiltrated the Cardassian ship, he can shut down the sensors while Sisko and Dax get on a Runabout, the Rio Grande, and head into the Danorius Belt. They find a Wormhole, that reminds of the cyber world in Lawnmower Man…, that takes them into the Gamma Quadrant. Sisko believes they’ve just discovered the first stable wormhole! Back into it, they are slowed down and “land” on what appears to be a planet inside of it. Sisko and Dax are seeing very different things even though they are in the same place. An Orb appears and seems to take Dax back into Ops on DS9. Sisko finds himself having a vision again…in the Celestial Temple! Now, I’m going to dive into the experience he has in this vision, but first, he comes into contact with the Prophets. They are non-corporeal beings - such a Star Trek thing! - that don’t experience time as we do.
Now, the vision. This is incredible! This is such a sci fi breakdown of how we get into our own heads and hold ourselves back. As the Prophets attempt to understand time as Sisko knows it, we are taken through his memories and are questioned by what appear to be people in his life. They’re trying to figure him out, but they see him, and other corporeal beings as a threat. He initially takes a “first contact” approach with them. He goes through the platitudes of Starfleet: I’m not your enemy, I come in peace, etc. He then shifts his approach, stating corporeal beings can be best defined as the sum of their experiences. He attempts to explain linear time and the concept of memories. They struggle to understand. The epiphany for them comes when they connect the memory of his wife, Jennifer, to him. They see her as part of his existence. He argues that she is gone and he lost her, but they continue to argue that she’s part of him. Sisko explains the essence of linear existence, each day affecting the next; a progression that leads to the current state and shapes the future. They experience a special memory, when Sisko and Jennifer agree to be together and have kids, but they take Sisko to the memory of the Saratoga, of finding Jennifer dead. He says, “I don’t want to be here,” but they reply, “Then why do you exist here?” Why do you EXIST here?? What a great question!! More on this in a few. The vision continues.
The Prophets are beginning to understand and explain that corporeal beings traveling through the wormhole disrupts their existence. This is why they see him, and others, as a threat. Sisko explains that he, and other corporeal beings are aware that every choice has a consequence but that we do not know what it will be. He says we use our past experiences to inform and guide us. We learn that baseball is really important to Sisko and Jake. He uses baseball as a metaphor for linear existence the fact that we don’t know what is going to happen; we must anticipate, but be ready to accept what happens. It’s a great metaphor, delivered very well. The Prophets accept what he says, and they go right back to it - “Why Do You Exist Here??” They explain again that he keeps pulling them back to the memory on the Saratoga. He starts to break down and see what they are saying. Despite the last 3 years, and all he has experienced, he has never let himself move forward from the moment he left Jennifer. He hasn’t been in any of his present moments since then, but has lived and existed, staring at her, trapped and dead. The Prophets drive it home - “None of your past experiences prepared you for this consequence.” He agrees and says that he doesn’t know how to live without her. “This is not linear,” they say. He surrenders himself to the moment and they release him.
I remember watching this sequence in the past and being pretty bored by it. I saw it as a poor attempt at high science fiction. Watching it through a leadership development lens, though, I loved it! In fact, I couldn’t wait to break it down and analyze it.
I want to look at this from two different angles: understanding where YOU exist, and understanding where your teams exist, both as people and as teams themselves. A team is an organism in and of itself. It, like Sisko’s explanation of corporeal beings, is the sum of its experiences, both good and bad. Does your team celebrate and look forward to each success, or does it still exist in a traumatic experience? What is your team’s “Jennifer moment?” How can you, as a leader, lead them through and forward from that moment? As we see with Sisko, that moment must be confronted. Talk about it. Depending on the moment and those involved, maybe enlist a third-party facilitator to go through it. As we saw with Sisko and the Prophets, failing to address those negative events that teams, or the people on your teams, have experienced will result in the constant existence in that moment. And as we also saw with Sisko, once that moment is acknowledged, you can shift the team’s focus to the next big win.
Now, what does this mean for you? Well, it lets me talk about one of my favorite leadership aspects: self awareness. So often, we point at others for failures. It’s so and so’s fault this thing didn’t happen…if it wasn’t for X, I’d have gotten that promotion…and on and on. The secret…and it’s a big one…is to point the finger at yourself! What could YOU have done differently? We’ll be able to dive more deeply into in this in future episodes, but for The Emissary, this applies to your outlook; being aware of why you see things the way you do. Sisko was ready to resign his commission over his assignment to Deep Space 9. He wasn’t prepared to commit himself to his future, or present because he was still living in the moment of his greatest loss. Where are you living? Where do you exist? Once you can answer that question, confront it and be prepared for a renewed and refreshed outlook…or, if nothing else, be prepared to accept your outlook for what it is and where it is coming from. The single most powerful takeaway, at least for me, in this whole sequence is that the Prophets see Sisko’s existence in that terrible moment in the present tense; they see it happening right now, because that colors every thought, action and interaction for Sisko. It may have occurred in the past, but it is happening right now.
The DS9 crew prepare to launch a rescue effort as the Cardassians head towards the wormhole as well. Kira comes up with the idea of moving the station from the planet to the mouth of the wormhole. Dax and O’Brien figure out how to do it and get to work. Kira goes to make preparations. She shows some great management skills, assigning people to work based on their strengths. Even motivates Bashir by calling back his desire to be a hero out on the frontier.
Odo opens up a little. He was found in the Danorius Belt and has faked his way, passing himself off as a humanoid. He’s anxious to get to the wormhole thinking there might be answers to his past in it.
Dukat goes through the Wormhole before the crew can get there. The wormhole closes up tight.
O’Brien and his team do some Star Trek’ing and, through the miracles of some kind of physics, and arguing with the computer, (IS THERE A HEY, ALEXA OR SIRI YELLING GIMMICK TO PUT HERE??) successfully moves the station. This changes the whole paradigm for the station. Now, instead of supporting Bajor and their entry into the Federation, they’re at the mouth of what will become a hub of intergalactic trade and travel.
With Dukat having disappeared through the wormhole, 3 Cardassian warships show up at the new location of DS9. They prep for battle. Kira calls for shields, but O’Brien says there are none; they used everything to move the station. We see the resistance fighter in Kira who fires at them and sets up a sensor screen to make it look like they are armed to the teeth. She stands right up to them - “If you want a war, I’ll give you one.” O’Brien very much approves! This leads to a Cardassian assault on the station. The rouse doesn’t hold for long and the station takes heavy damage.
Suddenly, the wormhole opens up. The Rio Grande, with Sisko, comes out with Dukat’s warship in tow. The Cardassians stand down and Sisko returns to DS9. He assesses the damage, finds his son and embraces him. The Enterprise returns and he meets with Picard. After his experience with the Prophets, Sisko lets Picard know that he is all-in as commander of this station. He has moved past is doubts and is certain that thus is where he belongs. Picard wishes him luck and departs.
Life begins to settle in on the station. Kira lays down the rules to Quark “take your hand off my hip.” Finally, we hear the bustle of a station that is becoming a new political center in the galaxy.
I said it last episode, and it’s important to be forthcoming - this is my favorite Star Trek series. It develops, over time, into a monumental feat of television for its time. It does, however, take some time to find its footing; to “grow its beard” as they say. This episode is really from the time before Trek knew how to put together an exciting pilot. Absolutely a step up from Encounter at Farpoint, but still a difficult watch. I don’t know if it’s that the writers didn’t really know what they wanted from the characters yet, or if the actors hadn’t wrapped their heads around them. I’m inclined to believe the writers had a pretty good idea, but many of the acting choices are, well, questionable. I don’t think Terry Farrell quite knows what to think of Dax yet and Nana Visitor is still feeling her way around this character. One of the things that makes DS9 great, in my opinion, is the characters…so we move past this, but there were some rough moments. Avery Brooks, on the other hand, is incredible. He’s got swagger and confidence…I love the sing-song quality of some of his line delivery. Mesmerizing.
The effects are…well, I think they were going for a cinematic feel; which they get close to in Caretaker, but don’t quite hit here. Some 35+ years after its first airing, many of the effects are just distracting and…not good. The story, though, is great! It really sets the table for the world of Deep Space 9. It distinguishes itself from TNG and introduces us to the complex spiritual and political world of the Bajorans. All in all, a good episode that has the promise for an exciting future.
We get a close and personal look at Benjamin Sisko, commander of the station and leader for this series. Kira gives us a glimpse of who she is, but I think it is safe to say that she is one of the most complex women in Star Trek to this point.
Sisko nails it here. He leads with experience…experience that I don’t know he should have. His ability to understand the societal and cultural needs of a space station as compared to a star ship is uncanny. This really is similar to an assistant manager, or deputy director type in the field being promoted to the corporate office to run an entire division…but the division no one really seems to want and isn’t even located within driving distance from the actual corporate building. Having never commanded a star ship on his own, he has the grace and ability to execute that would make you assume he had.
Early on, he’s on the scene with his people. In separate instances, he’s “walking the Gemba” with O’Brien and then Kira. This engenders trust and respect between both parties. He gets his hangs dirty alongside the people he leads. This is invaluable when walking into a confrontational, potentially hostile situation. He demonstrates that he is just as invested in the mission as he is asking everyone else to be.
He sees the need to create community and leverages existing resources by exercising his negotiating skills. In a way, he has set himself up as being a master negotiator in that, in his first encounter with Quark, a proud Ferengi, he successfully convinces him to stay on board, open a business and lead the community on the Promenade.
Finally, I appreciate his ability to meet people where they are at. Watch as he meets different players: Kira, Quark, Opaka, Dukat. Depending on the interaction, he either matches their tone, or counters in a way that brings them together. He shows the ability to get his point across, clearly, without always swinging a hammer.
He has a huge mess to clean up and the stakes are high with the discovery of the wormhole. He will have tremendous opportunity to not only demonstrate his leadership abilities, but to develop and hone them as well.
Then, there is Kira. The Bajoran attache from the Provisional Government and Sisko’s first officer. She is a resistance fighter, born and bred. She shows no fear and eagerly stands up to confrontation. Her defining moment in this episode comes when the Cardassian warships approach the station. She sees opportunity and leans on the strengths of those around her. She and O’Brien create some distractions to bluff their way through the situation. When it all comes crashing down, though, once she knows they have lost, she starts to throw in the towel. How many companies could have been saved if their leaders could have just done this: admit defeat, come back to fight another day! Of course, Sisko emerges from the wormhole and stops her from giving the order, but she had steeled herself and was ready.
Deep Space 9…not the Star Trek we know from the Original Series or TNG. This episode did a lot of work to separate it from its predecessors…and successfully. From a leadership perspective, we will have opportunities with both Sisko and Kira we won’t have with others; they don’t get to fly off to a new challenge episode to episode.
So, what did I miss? What do you agree with? Any takeaways or ah-ha moments for you? Let me know! You can find me across all the social medias, @jefftakin. I’d love to hear from you!
Next week, we dive back to the past. In what will be a challenging series to watch through the lens of leadership development, we dive into Discovery!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!