One of the standout episodes of Deep Space Nine was “Far Beyond The Stars”, where the main characters are shown as humans on 1950’s Earth. The episode is shown from the point of view of Benny Russell, a vision of Captain Sisko’s, who works as a science fiction writer for the magazine Incredible Tales. As a black man in 1950’s America, he has to keep his identity hidden from the magazine’s readers, and faces institutional racism from the period. He has a very good relationship with his collagues, who appear mostly not to share in the view of most of the population in regards to Benny’s skin colour, but do comment on the public’s unreadyness to accept a black man writing for a publication or to be a central character in a publication.
Captain Benjamin Sisko is talking to his father about leaving Starfleet, but before he makes a decision, he is distracted by a vision of a man who is dressed in 20th Century clothes. The visions rapidly increase in number. Dr. Bashir’s tests of Sisko show the same synaptic potentials as he had when he had visions a year ago (in the episode “Rapture”).
The visions show him as Benny Russell, an African-American science fiction writer on Earth in 1950s New York City. Benny Russell writes for the science fiction magazine Incredible Tales, and after starting for his day, listens in to a conversation with his colleagues.
Pabst announces photo day and Hunter takes the hint that she should not show up that day so that the readers do not learn she is a woman. Benny realizes he’s not expected to show up for photos either because he is black. Though frustrated, he volunteers to write a story based on a stylized drawing of a space station. His story, “Deep Space Nine”, is about the station’s commanding officer, Benjamin Sisko, a Negro. The other writers consider it an important work, but Pabst refuses to publish it due to its racial content. Instead of writing something else, Benny writes six new stories about Sisko. This causes a passionate argument in the office among the various employees with some suggesting that Benny should self-publish. Albert suggests that Benny make the ending of his first Sisko story a dream, a compromise that both Benny and Pabst accept after it is clarified that the dreaming is being done by a Negro person.
While out with his girlfriend to celebrate his story being published, Benny overhears gunshots. He rushes to the scene to find that a hustler (Jake Sisko) friend of Benny’s has been killed by the police (Gul Dukat and Weyoun), ostensibly because he was trying to break into a car. When Benny protests this injustice, the police beat him savagely.
On his first day back at the office, excited to see his story in print, he learns that the whole month’s run of the magazine has been “pulped,” as the owner preferred to take a loss rather than sell a magazine featuring a Negro hero and that Benny is being fired for writing the story. Benny breaks down; he screams that although the world can deny him, they cannot destroy his ideas and the future he envisions is real. He collapses to the floor sobbing and is taken away by an ambulance. As he falls unconscious, he looks through the window and sees not a cityscape, but stars streaking by as if traveling at warp speed. The preacher sits by him and tells him that he is both the dreamer and the dream. Sisko wakes up back on the station, to the relief of his father and his son. He is deeply moved by his vision, and wonders if somewhere Benny Russell is dreaming of them.
The episode not only covers racial issues, but also sexism, as the fact that Benny’s colleague Kay Eaton is female, she also has to hide her indentity to be published, going by the name of K.C. Hunter, and mental issues are also covered (albeit less than the other episode to feature Benny “Shadows and Symbols”).
Sisko’s visions show the rest of his friends, colleagues and foes from his life as Humans who either work with him or are known to him, these are
Herbert Rossoff (Quark) as a left-wing short-tempered Jewish writer;
Julius Eaton (Dr. Bashir), a British writer;
Albert Macklin (Miles O’Brien), a socially awkward stutterer who prefers to write stories about robots;
Darlene Kursky (Jadzia Dax), a secretary whose ditsy, giggly personality belies her intelligence;
Douglas Pabst (Odo), the editor of Incredible Tales, who shows sympathy for the discriminatory treatment experienced by Benny (and K.C.), but refuses to help them or take responsibility for his own role in their treatment;
Roy Rittenhouse, an artist (Martok);
an unnamed newsboy (Nog);
two bigoted policemen, Officer Burt Ryan (Gul Dukat) and Officer Kevin Mulkahey (Weyoun);
Benny’s girlfriend Cassie (Kassidy Yates);
Willie Hawkins, a baseball player (Worf);
Jimmy, a local hustler (Jake Sisko);
and a fiery preacher who preaches about the will of the Prophets (Joseph Sisko).
All these characters are parralells of their original roles and plots, the rivalry of Rossoff and Pabst (Quark and Odo) and the villians of Ryan and Mulkahey (Dukat and Weyoun).
Of being out of make-up Armin Shimerman has commented, “Being out of makeup was slightly off-putting. I’ve grown accustomed to the Quark mask being a mechanism for support. That face describes who I am as an alien character. And also, while many actors worry about how they look on camera, I don’t, because my face isn’t on camera. So it was bizarre to be bare-faced on a Star Trek show. I never had been before.”
The episode was directed by Avery and written by Marc Scott Zicree, Hans Beimler and Ira Steven Behr, and is the favourite episode of Brooks, Rene Auborjonois, Cirroc Lofton, Jeff Combs, Armin Shimmerman and writer Ronald D. Moore, who commented “In my humble opinion, I think it’s one of the best episodes in the entire franchise. (And I wish I was the one who wrote it!) Ira & Hans have written a true classic and when this show is long gone, I hope that people will still remember this one.” In particular Moore singled out the ending. “I always liked the idea that all of DS9 may be nothing more than the fevered imaginings of Benny Russell. I still get a kick out of the ending and think it is one of the key ingredients to elevating the show to something very special.“
On the racial themes of this episode Brooks says “If we had changed the people’s clothes, this story could be about right now. What’s insidious about racism is that it is unconscious. Even among these very bright and enlightened characters – a group that includes a woman writer who has to use a man’s name to get her work published, and who is married to a brown man with a British accent in 1953 – it’s perfectly reasonable to coexist with someone like Pabst. It’s in the culture, it’s the way people think. So that was the approach we took. I never talked about racism. I just showed how these intelligent people think, and it all came out of them.”
And Armin Shimmerman comments “Star Trek at its best, deals with social issues, and though you could say, ‘Well, that was prejudice in the fifties,’ the truth of the matter is, here we are in the twenty-first century, and it’s still there, and that’s what we have to be reminded by, and that’s what that episode does terrifically well.”
Some of the things I love about this episode are the many nods to the Original Series. The “Galaxy” magazine cover art is a matte painting of Starbase 11, which was seen in The Original Series episode “Court Martial”. Additionally “Court Martial” is the featured story in the magazine, and is shown as being written by Samuel Cogley, who was the attorney defending James Kirk in the TOS episode.
The cover of “Astounding Science Fiction”, read by K.C. Hunter, features the matte painting of Eminiar VII from “A Taste of Armageddon”.
The cover of the March 1953 edition of Incredible Tales shows the surface of Delta Vega from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. It also advertises such stories as “The Cage” (written by E.W. Roddenberry, who is also said to be the writer of Questor), “The Corbomite Maneuver”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, and “Journey to Babel” (written by D.C. Fontana).
There are plenty of other really cool references, such as the drawing titled “Honeymoon on Andoris” which depicts a giant praying mantis scaling a skyscraper to find a beautiful woman at the top is a parody of King Kong. The title given it is a reference to Andoria, there is a reference to “It Came From Outer Space” which refers to the 1953 Jack Arnold film of the same name.
But the most outstanding part of this episode is Brooks’ performance, particularly at the end, where Benny suffers a breakdown. As Benny is being more and more sidelined by the publishers he becomes hysterical and Avery plays this perfectly.
The scene’s line is:
“Call anybody you want, they can’t do anything to me, not any more, and nor can any of you. I am a human being, dammit! You can deny me all you want but you can’t deny Ben Sisko – He exists! That future, that space station, all those people – they exist in here! In my mind. I created it. And everyone of you knew it, you read it. It’s here. Do you hear what I’m telling you? You can pulp a story but you cannot destroy an idea, don’t you understand, that’s ancient knowledge, you cannot destroy an idea. That future – I created it, and it’s real! Don’t you understand? It is real. I created it. And it’s real! It’s REAL! Oh God!“
Benny then loses consciousness and is taken to hospital by ambulance. The scene is arguably the best piece of acting in any Star Trek episode, or maybe on a par with Patrick Stewart’s emotional scenes when being tortured by Gul Madred in “The Chain Of Command“
Jeffrey Combs comments, “Avery was spectacular. There was a scene toward the end where he falls apart with the camera right in front of his nose. It was just riveting.”
and everyone who worked on the episode felt that Brooks gave an Emmy award winning performance, and there was a great deal of disappointment amongst both cast and crew when he wasn’t even nominated, a travesty in my opinion.
If you havn’t seen this episode, then you really should, even if you have seen it, dig it out and watch it again, coz I am going to right NOW.