I selected a handful of episodes for some of the characters, with five for the bulk of the regulars and three to four for the most important reoccurring players. While they’re far from a complete portrait of the complex and ever-evolving cast, they’re intended to give an idea of the kinds of stories the writers used each character to tell, and a snapshot of these individuals at different points in their journey. And here’s the kicker: This is barely the tip of the iceberg, not only for the characters that I profile, but the number of people on this show. Deep Space Nine is an incredibly deep and rich show that continually rewards those who devote the time to it.
Episodes to Watch: Destiny (Episode 3.15), Explorers (Episode 3.22), Accession (Episode 4.16), Rapture (Episode 5.10), In the Pale Moonlight (Episode 6.19)
In a Star Trek series, the Captain usually takes the role of the protagonist. DS9 was always more of an ensemble, but Sisko’s pragmatic approach to problem solving, as well as his tendency to take the long view, was emblematic of the series as a whole. For him, I picked what’s loosely known as “the Emissary Trilogy.” “Destiny,” “Accession,” and “Rapture,” are episodes from seasons three, four, and five and chart Sisko’s acceptance of his messianic role in Bajoran religion and balancing that with his status as a Starfleet Officer. Unique among TV show captains, Sisko was a caring and active father. Most of his parenting is usually relegated to the background or is part of a Jake story, but with “Explorers” it takes center stage. It’s Ben Sisko at his cuddliest, at once loving and almost adorably geeky. Contrast this with “In the Pale Moonlight,” the series best episode that shows just how ruthless Sisko is willing to be to defend what he loves. It’s a shattering hour that deconstructs everything we know about Star Trek.
Episodes to Watch: Duet (Episode 1.18), Second Skin (Episode 3.5), Shakaar (Episode 3.24), Starship Down (Episode 4.6), Ties of Blood and Water (Episode 5.19)
It was remarkable then, but it’s even more stunning now that DS9 featured a first officer who was an avowed terrorist. Major, then Colonel Kira, was a Bajoran partisan who viewed Starfleet skeptically. I picked a trilogy of episodes that shows her changing attitudes toward Cardassians, the hated occupiers of her homeworld that she sacrificed lives and her own humanity to drive off. “Duet” is the first great episode of the series, while “Second Skin” and “Ties of Blood and Water” give her a complex relationship with a Cardassian military officer. “Shakaar” goes into her time as a resistance fighter and delves into the muddy politics of Bajor. “Starship Down” is an odd choice, because it’s more of an ensemble episode, but I chose it because here Kira directly confronts the fact that she is working for her religion’s messiah and doesn’t always know how to deal with that fact.
Episodes to Watch: Necessary Evil (Episode 2.8), The Alternate (Episode 2.12), Apocalypse Rising (Episode 5.1), The Ascent (Episode 5.9), His Way (Episode 6.20)
DS9’s enigmatic security chief was an early fan favorite, and he only became more popular as his backstory and connection to the Dominion was revealed. Of all the characters, Odo was the most difficult for me to decide on episodes. DS9 liked to open and close its seasons with multiple-parters, ranging from the three-parter that opened season two to the ten-parter that closed the series. I tried to stay away from these, as they’re harder to isolate individual hours without losing too much context, and often Odo’s big character turns tend to happen here. So, I went with “Necessary Evil,” a devastating noir that casts a shadow over Odo’s relationship with his closest friend, “The Alternate,” that sheds some light on Odo’s childhood, and “His Way,” a romantic confection that works better in context but still hits the right romantic beats. Spoiler alert: Odo loses his shapeshifting abilities during the bulk of seasons four and five, and “Apocalypse Rising” and “The Ascent” take place during this time. The former shows how he deals with this (not well), and the latter couldn’t happen at any other time but is more about his contentious relationship with Quark. It’s an absolute delight to watch those two actors sniping at each other during a wilderness survival adventure.
Episodes to Watch: The Way of the Warrior: Parts 1 and 2 (Episode 4.1), Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places (Episode 5.3), Soldiers of the Empire (Episode 5.21), Change of Heart (Episode 6.16)
Thanks to flagging ratings, DS9 added the fan favorite Klingon TNG security officer to the cast in season four, and he fit it better than expected. One of the best decisions was to keep Odo as the security chief and move Worf over to “Strategic Operations Officer,” which necessitated a return to the red uniform he wore in season 1 of TNG and a lot of ass-kicking. “The Way of the Warrior” two-parter opens season four, and it’s actually a good place to start a new viewer. A TNG fan can get to know the cast exactly as Worf does, and the writers were working from the assumption that they would be getting new viewers. I know I said I tried to avoid two-parters, but in this case I didn’t try very hard. From there, his most important plot is his love affair with Jadzia Dax. You’re best off watching “Looking for par’Mach,” “You Are Coridally Invited…,” and “Change of Heart” as a trilogy (even if I picked one of the episodes for Dax rather than Worf). “Soldiers of the Empire” rounds out the picks as it brings back Worf’s estranged son Alexander for some resolution.
Episodes to Watch: Blood Oath (Episode 2.19), Equilibrium (Episode 3.4), Facets (Episode 3.25), Rejoined (Episode 4.5), You Are Cordially Invited… (Episode 6.7)
Science Officer Dax was a difficult character to get a handle on, and it took an unfortunate and shocking death to make that happen. She’s not quite two characters in a single body, but a combination of both of them. So, there are some things about her that are definitely Jadzia, some things that are all Dax, and some things that are a combination of the both of them. It’s complicated. I picked episodes that get to the two major parts of her character: her identity as a twenty-six-year-old genius with an immortal worm in her belly, and her deep connection to Klingon culture. “Equilibrium,” “Facets,” and “Rejoined” all go into aspects of Trill culture and do the best job of showing both halves and the combined whole of her identity. “Blood Oath” brings back characters from TOS and explores the Dax symbiont’s friendship with the Klingon people. “You Are Cordially Invited…” is part of that trilogy mentioned above in the Worf section, but I put it here as it’s more about Dax than Worf, if only by a bit.
Episodes to Watch: Hippocratic Oath (Episode 4.3), Our Man Bashir (Episode 4.9), The Quickening (Episode 4.23), Doctor Bashir, I Presume (Episode 5.16), Statistical Probabilities (Episode 6.9)
The doctor on a Star Trek show has to fight some plagues, and I picked two episodes that show DS9’s darker take on the Trek staple with “Hippocratic Oath” and “The Quickening.” The former asks the question what we, as good people, owe our enemies while the latter is a darker twist on a classic concept. Bashir was an interesting contradiction, because he was both a compassionate doctor and obsessed with espionage. The latter trait gets the James Bond (or is it more Austin Powers?) treatment with “Our Man Bashir.” Lastly, Bashir’s character got a late-series retcon in “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” that sets the stage for his final development. “Statistical Probabilities” shows exactly the pitfalls that Bashir managed to avoid.
Episodes to Watch: Armageddon Game (Episode 2.13), Whispers (Episode 2.13), Tribunal (Episode 2.25), Hard Time (Episode 4.18), Empok Nor (Episode 5.24)
Chief Engineer Miles Edward O’Brien is the everyman of the DS9 universe. A married father of two with a noticeable dadbod and a love of scotch and the Kingsmen, he mostly existed on the show as the galaxy’s surly punching bag. I picked my three favorite examples of his suffering as your backbone of getting to know the hardest working man in the Alpha Quadrant. “Whispers” leans into noir, while “Tribunal” is a courtroom drama that turns hilarious and horrifying. “Hard Time” is the most brutal of all, but finds decency and humanity in the darkness. “Armageddon Game” highlights O’Brien’s two most important relationships: his marriage to Keiko and bromance with Bashir. “Empok Nor” shows us a part of O’Brien that’s easy to forget: He’s a wily combat veteran who bears no love for Cardassians.
Episodes to Watch: Profit and Loss (Episode 2.18), The House of Quark (Episode 3.3), Family Business (Episode 3.23), Business as Usual (Episode 5.18), The Magnificent Ferengi (Episode 6.10)
Quark was the station’s bartender and a proud capitalist in the middle of a socialist utopia. He is a problematic character on a number of levels—notably with his relentless misogyny—and with very few exceptions, his adventures take place in self-contained corners that don’t interact with the main storylines. “Profit and Loss” is the first indication that there’s some hidden depths in our hard-charging capitalist, though the show as a whole suffers somewhat for not bringing back the Cardassian dissidents we meet here. “The House of Quark” and “The Magnificent Ferengi” are two of my favorite episodes of the series, as they show the different forms bravery can take. “Famiy Business” introduces us to Quark’s feminist mother, while “Business as Usual” shows the limits of his capitalist drive.
Episodes to Watch: Defiant (Episode 3.9), Indiscretion (Episode 4.4), Return to Grace (Episode 4.13), Waltz (Episode 6.11)
Gul Dukat, DS9’s major antagonist, went through several incarnations, starting as a pure villain, before softening into an anti-villain, briefly becoming an antihero, then transforming first into the affably evil face of opposition, and then finally into a total cackling monster. He commanded the station before Ben Sisko, back when it was under Cardassian control, and was responsible for unspeakable crimes. Dukat’s habit of justifying his dark deeds, actor Marc Alaimo’s charismatic performance, and the writers’ adding of layers to the character had fans rushing to excuse his past. This explains the sharp turn Dukat takes in the sixth season of the show, when he embraces his status as monster. The journey, though, is worth taking. “Defiant” is where he acquires some depth, “Indiscretion” shows us his take on family values, “Return to Grace” is a redemption story and my favorite episode of the fourth season, and “Waltz” is his ultimate fall. The first and last on the list are also great Sisko episodes, while the middle two are excellent Kira showcases.
Episodes to Watch: The Visitor (Episode 4.2), …Nor Battle to the Strong (Episode 5.4), Valiant (Episode 6.22)
Though credited as a regular, Jake Sisko appeared in fewer episodes than some reoccurring characters, and he was never a factor in the major plotlines. This was due to the excellent decision of finally showing us a human character who had no interest in joining Starfleet. His relationship with his father helped both soften the somewhat forbidding Ben Sisko, as well as provide a vehicle for one of the best father/son relationships on television. “The Visitor” is consistently ranked as one of DS9’s top three episodes and shows us the bond between father and son. “…Nor Battle to the Strong” is a view of war from the eyes of someone who is emphatically not a warrior, and Jake brings the wisdom he gains here to the hero’s journey-deconstructing “Valiant.”
Episodes to Watch: The Wire (Episode 2.22), Improbable Cause (Episode 3.20), The Die is Cast (Episode 3.21)
Garak is my favorite character on the show. As the only Cardassian living on the station— ostensibly a simple tailor, because writers love oblique references—he’s either in exile or a spy. The truth is more complicated and, as with everything Garak, considerably murkier. If I’m being honest, every episode Garak appears in is a must-watch. DS9’s resident magnificent bastard is one of the great joys of the series, both for his snappy writing and Andrew Robinson’s jovially menacing performance. “The Wire” is the closest thing we will ever get to an origin story for him, while “Improbable Cause” and “The Die is Cast” expands and deepens his legend. Those latter two are also incredible Odo episodes, where his conflicted loyalties are laid bare.
Episodes to Watch: Heart of Stone (Episode 3.14), The Siege of AR-558 (Episode 7.8), It’s Only a Paper Moon (Episode 7.10)
Quark’s nephew Nog started his existence as Jake’s troublemaking friend. His transformation into a by-the-book Starfleet officer was a welcome surprise that starts in “Heart of Stone.” “The Siege of AR-558” gives him his first taste of real combat and doubles as an excellent Quark episode. “It’s Only a Paper Moon” deals with the fallout of that episode and is a sensitive treatment of PTSD.
While there’s no substitute for simply diving in and watching the show from front to back, these episodes should give you a broad idea of who these characters are. With any luck, you’ll want to go deeper, and there’s plenty of show waiting for you when you do.