It is the unfortunate reality of 2020 that many episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that show humanity’s dark side are becoming more and more relevant. Though the Season 6 masterpiece “Far Beyond the Stars” mostly takes place in the 1950s, the issues of systemic racism that it addresses are still being faced today. The costumes are different, and, yep. That’s about it.
Captain Benjamin Sisko, on the front lines of a hopeless war in the 24th century, is given a vision from the prophets. He becomes Benny Russell, a ’50s science fiction writer, working in a time when the notion of a black man having that job was barely tolerable. Women writers weren’t beloved either.
Benny writes a story about a space station called “Deep Space Nine” but the magazine he works for won’t publish it. The reason? The captain in his story is black. Benny doesn’t back down, and it’s eventually accepted — but only if the story reveals that the whole thing is a dream that a black man is having.
Benny accept this and celebrates, until his friend Jimmy gets shot by two cops and those cops proceed to beat the hell out of Benny while Benny’s fiance watches and screams. Benny’s boss then tells him that the entire issue that was to feature his story is being scrapped. Everyone knows why. Also, Benny is fired. He completely breaks down, and this provides Avery Brooks (who also directed the episode) the chance to give one of the best performances in all of Trek.
It’s only a dream for Sisko, who wakes up ready to get back to the Dominion War. He ponders that maybe, somewhere out there, Benny Russell is dreaming of them.
Benny Russell may be dreaming of Captain Sisko and the 24th century, but he’s definitely not dreaming about us here in 2020. The episode is a powerful reminder of how insanely far we still have to go. Avery Brooks once described this episode as “necessary.” It’s only become more necessary as the years have gone on.
Welcome back to Warp Factor, where this week we’re exploring this incredible episode.