There are many reasons why I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and why it remains my favorite of the Star Trek franchise.
Reason #8: Far Beyond the Stars
With no end in sight to the conflict with the Dominion and the Cardassians, Sisko (Avery Brooks) finds his mind wandering. Whether just his imagination, a vision from the Profits, or left over energy from his previous orb experiences, Sisko imagines himself in the role of Benny Russell, an African-American science fiction writer on Earth in 1950’s who struggles against injustice and racial inequality when he attempts to get a story published about a futuristic space station run by a black commander.
The episode takes a hard look at both the racism and hopefulness of the time as one man dreamed of a future where someone like himself could command a space station. Over the course of the episode the two realities bleed into each other and, as the ending suggests, by the final scene its unclear whether Sisko is dreaming of Benny or Benny is dreaming of everything happening on Deep Space Nine.
The episode is memorable for several reasons including casting several of the DS9 regulars in their first time on-screen without prosthetics. Quark (Armin Shimerman), Bashir (Alexander Siddig), Kira (Nana Visitor), and O’Brien (Colm Meaney) are cast as other writers for Incredible Tales (all of who are based on real sci-fi writers of the period), while Dax (Terry Farrell) and Odo (Rene Auberjonois) find themselves cast in the roles of dizzy secretary and editor respectively. Jake (Cirroc Lofton) is a street hustler, Kassidy (Penny Johnson) is still Sisko’s girl, and Worf (Michael Dorn) is one of the first African-American professional baseball players.
Despite his editor’s refusal to print a story centered around a black commander Benny finds himself unable to write anything but Deep Space Nine stories. When his co-workers find a loophole to get his story published Benny is ecstatic, but soon enough reality will come crushing down as he gets beaten near death by Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) and Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs) cast in the role of racist cops and finds the owner of the magazine has decided to destroy every issue and fire Benny rather than let anyone read Benny’s story.
Brooks does double-duty in one of his strongest performances of the series as well as behind the camera as director. “Far Beyond the Stars” is a personal favorite of Brooks as well as both Shimerman and Auberjonois, both of whom make their only appearance on the show without makeup and prosthetics. The episode was nominated for three Emmy Awards. Benny would return in the series final season in “Shadows and Symbols.”