There are so many great science fiction stories, ones we love to watch again and again, ones we've never seen but know we'll get around to, stories that maintain their potency years after their initial release.
Welcome to Watch Club, a new Syfy Wire segment where we revisit the best stories at the times when we need them the most. Whether you're intimately familiar or new to the story, this is your chance to enjoy something that's important and relevant to the world we're living in now, something you can share and talk about with your friends and fellow fans.
For our inaugural installment, we're talking about the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-part classic, "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost." If you've never watched Deep Space Nine before (or if it's been a really long time) don't worry: We'll fill in the blanks for you.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Deep Space Nine was the third live-action Star Trek series. It centered around the titular space station, Deep Space Nine, its inhabits, the nearby planet of Bajor (which was recently released from a prolonged occupation by an alien race called the Cardassians) and the only known stable wormhole which leads to the mysterious Gamma Quadrant.
The major players for this story are:
Captain Benjamin Sisko, a single father who discovered the wormhole and has become both Starfleet's liaison to Bajor and the Delta quadrant as well as the reluctant emissary between the aliens living within the wormhole and the Bajorans who view them as their gods.
Jake Sisko, Benjamin's son, whose focus is more on writing than serving Starfleet.
Odo, the shapeshifting security chief on Deep Space Nine who recently discovered that his people, The Founders, are the leaders of an invasion force from the Gamma Quadrant known as The Dominion.
Major Kira Nerys, Ben Sisko's second-in-command, and a former Bajoran freedom fighter turned Bajoran representative to the Federation.
Nog, the very first Ferengi Starfleet cadet. He was aided by Captain Sisko to gain admittance into Starfleet but is struggling to find his place.
PREVIOUSLY ON DEEP SPACE NINE
The United Federation of Planets is one of the main forces in the Alpha Quadrant. Its base of operations is Earth. They are currently struggling with the threat of war from former allies, the Klingons, while simultaneously discovering that shapeshifting operatives from The Dominion have secretly invaded Earth.
Captain Benjamin Sisko, his son Jake and security chief Odo have been called back to Earth to work with Starfleet to devise a plan to protect Earth from Odo's fellow shape-shifters and prepare for the inevitable all-out war with the Dominion. It's up to all of them to draft and present a viable plan to the President of the Federation that will protect Earth while not sacrificing the personal freedoms of those citizens who live there.
Got it? Good. Before you read any further, go watch "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost," which are both available on Netflix Streaming and Amazon Prime. Go on. I'll still be here when you get back. I'm an article, not a sentient being -- I'm not going anywhere.
THE PLOT AND WHAT MAKES IT GREAT
"I apologize for staring, but you're the first changeling I've eve met."
"That you know of."
"Homefront" begins with one truth -- there has been an attack on Earth against both Federation and Romulan delegates by The Dominion and something must be done to prevent further attacks.
"Homefront" and "Paradise Lost" comprise a story that is about an invisible enemy, an invisible invasion, and indeed an invisible war, one that must be fought in a way the Federation is unaccustomed to. Even the Cold War between the Federation and the Romulans has a neutral zone, a peaceful space designed to keep aggressions at bay. But the existence of changeling operatives on Earth creates a moral grey area in how Starfleet can ethically safeguard themselves and Earth's citizens from an enemy that looks just like them.
The dilemma is this -- how far can you go in the name of peace on your own soil and still justify your actions? Does safety matter when there are armed Starfleet officers roaming every street? Is that safe? Is that even still the Federation?
The debate plays out through the conflicted choices of Benjamin Sisko and Admiral Leyton, two friends and fellow Starfleet officers who share a belief that something must be done to protect Earth from the Dominion. They are coordinating with a gun-shy Federation President, Jaresh-Inyo, who doesn't feel the changeling threat is great enough to warrant anything even approaching martial law.
The beauty of the story is that there are no absolute right answers in fighting an unknown and unseen force. No one representative in the drama is completely right, the only thing that unites all parties under anything approaching an absolute good is the desire to sustain The Federation's status as a free society.
Whether its Leyton's desire for temporary martial law, Sisko's belief in blood screenings and laser sweeps or Jaresh-Inyo's fear of policing his citizens unnecessarily, paranoia is required but in need of tempering.
FLAWED CHARACTERS REVEAL A GREATER TRUTH
"We're not looking to destroy paradise, Mr. President. We're looking to save it."
The first attack on Earth by the Dominion is genuine. But when Starfleet's energy hub is attacked later, presumably by the Dominion again, there is a much more complex set of circumstances in play. Because while phaser sweeps and blood tests are being enforced in theory, the civilians at large are already beginning to make the President doubt his choices.
Ben Sisko's own father, Joseph Sisko, refuses the blood screenings. And not only does this reveal a natural flaw for our protagonists, but one for the audience as well. We don't know if Joe is a changeling or not. We know that he hasn't been eating (shape-shifter tell-tale sign), that he keeps asking Ben for the top secret details of Ben's work and that Joe refuses the blood screenings. Isn't it only natural for us to suspect Joe of being a changeling in disguise? From an outsider's perspective, maybe, but for Ben it's a much more damning scenario.
Isn't it too paranoid to doubt your own father as he stands before you pleading for the sanctity of a society free from military control? If Ben can't trust his own blood, how can he trust that his friends on Deep Space Nine haven't been taken over? How can he trust Starfleet or even the President of the Federation? How can he trust anyone at all?
All these questions leave Ben with a choice to act or not to act. But while Ben is forced to question his own morality in this conflict, Admiral Leyton is taking decisive action through his elite cadets, The Red Squad. The Red Squad is who attacks Starfleet the second time, forcing the President's hand, forcing the Federation further down an increasingly inevitable path towards martial law.
Leyton makes a power play not purely out of ego but because he truly believes that Earth can be safe by no other means. Leyton comes to believe that, since he is the only leader who sees how dire the danger from the Dominion is, only he can protect the Federation from them. Leyton believes that so much, in fact, that he even goes so far as to frame Ben, his friend and ally, as a secret changeling when Ben threatens to reveal the truth of the Red Squad and the attack on Starfleet headquarters.
Ultimately, lives are placed at incalculable risk based on one singular attack by the Dominion. Everything else that happens, though, is a result of human action. Starfleet being attacked is a fake. When we see the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant mysteriously open again and again, that too is facilitated by Leyton's people to sow seeds of paranoia in an effort to justify martial law in the name of Making The Federation Safe Again.
There may be no absolute right answer, but it's the villains, the shape-shifters who reveal why Leyton's actions are so wrong and how dangerous paranoia truly can be.
CHAOS THROUGH INACTION
"In the end, it's your fear that will destroy you."
How many shape-shifters were on Earth that whole time the sum entirety of Starfleet was tearing itself apart at the seams? Four. Just four on the whole of planet Earth. And all they did was blow up one building, kill a few delegates and impersonate one admiral. I don't mean to minimize loss of life, but the true enemy humanity found itself facing was itself and its own fear.
The Dominion weren't sending ships to destroy Earth at this point because they very nearly didn't have to. Humanity's own paranoia of the unknown was almost the vehicle of their own destruction. It is only through his faith that we can trust one another that Sisko works with Leyton's own lieutenant to prevent an act of aggression that would send the Federation into a state of civil war.
The Dominion creates chaos through inaction. They understand that The Federation is more scared of them than the Dominion is of the Federation. Humanity's own fear is the true invisible enemy.
Even when shape-shifters could be everywhere, trust in the citizens of Earth is what keeps them safe, not martial law. And when Starfleet officers do increase their presence, it's the open arms of citizens who know that, right or wrong, these officers are trying to do their duty, even if it is out of something as questionable as fear.
WHY DO "HOMEFRONT" AND "PARADISE LOST" MATTER NOW?
Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2017
I know, I know. "Stop bringing up politics, Dany. Why must everything always boil down to this stuff?" Because it does, gang. The events leading up to "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost" dovetail with our reality in a way that makes discussing its lessons in the context of our current political landscape essential. Donald Trump and many of his supporters believe that the enemy lives among us and that enemy to them is radical Islam. They are the perceived invisible enemy. They could be anyone: refugees, the press, your neighbors -- anyone and everyone.
American citizens have lived in fear of further attacks on our soil for over 15 years now. That fear is the true invisible enemy, because it makes us not only distrustful of refugees and our neighbors -- it makes us distrust even ourselves. Shape-shifters are the stuff of fiction, but they represent in our world the idea that even people we thought we knew could secretly be the enemy.
Donald Trump's staff has not faked an actual attack on US soil, but his counselor, Kellyanne Conway, has on three separate occasions invented The Bowling Green Attack, an event that never transpired. And Donald Trump himself has begun false accusations that the media is willfully choosing to not report terrorist attacks. Those accusations carry with them the implied notion that the free press are traitors. And that is a lie. When lies are reinvented as "alternative facts" and terrorist assaults are invented whole cloth by American leadership, the very fabric of American democracy comes under threat through paranoia.
And if you believe that ISIS is as great a threat to America as the Dominion is to the Federation, consider the possibility that, right now, there may only be a handful of them actually in the United States. Because, just like with the Founders, there don't need to be anymore than that. American leaders and citizens are tearing each other apart every second of every day and ISIS needs do nothing but watch and wait.
The Federation lives and breathes based on its ability to remain a free society even under threat of invasion. America is the same. Ben Sisko doubted his own father, he doubted his own belief that lying to Federation citizens about false attacks was wrong. Ben Sisko is a good man who faced an impossible choice. And Admiral Leyton is a good man, too. He didn't lie because he thought it would be fun, he did it because he thought the only thing that would preserve the peace was martial law. Leyton tricked himself into believing that only he could save the Federation.
Donald Trump thinks that by enacting an Executive Order to keep out all citizens and refugees from multiple Muslim nations he is protecting America. And he's still trying to engage our fear by saying that, if something were to happen now, it would be "the court's fault" for defying his Muslim immigrant ban. Like Leyton, Trump is doing everything he can, even if it's deep in the moral grey, to establish totalitarian control in the name of peace. And just like Leyton tricked people into believing Ben Sisko was the enemy to get Ben out of the way, Trump did the same with Sally Yates for defying the Executive Order for a Muslim Ban.
Kellyanne Conway is already repeatedly lying about one attack that hasn't happened. Trump himself is implying attacks that don't exist to sow seeds of doubt in the free press. The ugly truth is that, at this point, it is no longer out of the realm of possibility for the current presidential administration to go full Leyton and fake a terrorist attack or use a real one to justify martial law.
People like Admiral Leyton, good people who trick themselves into going too far to protect their society, exist in the real world, too. That's what makes Deep Space Nine such a great show -- it tells honest stories where even people in one of the most-free societies ever imagined might still throw it all away in a moment of panic. And the show dispenses with the notion that people are either good or bad and instead focuses on their motivations and the consequences of their actions. Leyton is not "bad" but, ultimately, his choices sure are. Leyton's attempt to enforce martial law must be resisted because it comes at the cost of civilian freedom. Ben Sisko sets the example for those of us in the real world. When leaders are so scared of their own shadows, when they can't see beyond their own ego and the consequences are the death of civil liberties and the potential death of citizens themselves, you must resist.
Lying to excuse tyranny under martial law goes against everything The Federation or any democratic society stands for, but that doesn't mean good people can't find ways to justify it out of fear. "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost" are both a message of warning and hope -- they warn us not to lose faith in our ideals when they come under attack, and they promise us that we will always find a more peaceful solution when we hear each other and shut out the sounds of our own paranoia.