Far Beyond the Stars
|"Far Beyond the Stars"|
|Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode|
|Episode no.||Season 6|
|Directed by||Avery Brooks|
|Story by||Marc Scott Zicree|
|Featured music||Dennis McCarthy|
|Cinematography by||Jonathan West|
|Original air date||February 9, 1998|
"Far Beyond the Stars" is the 137th episode of the syndicated science fiction television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the 13th episode of season 6. The teleplay was written by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler, based on a story by Marc Scott Zicree, and directed by Avery Brooks. The episode is widely regarded as one of the greatest episodes of the Star Trek franchise.
Set in the 24th century, the series takes place on Deep Space Nine, a fictional space station adjacent to the galaxy's only known stable wormhole. In this episode, Captain Benjamin Sisko is worn down by the stress of the ongoing war with the hostile Dominion. During a visit from his father, he experiences dream-like visions of a Black science-fiction writer facing racism in mid–20th century New York City. The main cast of the series, along with several recurring cast members, portray 20th-century humans in Sisko's vision; those who play alien characters appear in this episode unusually without their alien costumes and makeup.
Distraught by the death of a friend in the Dominion War, Captain Benjamin Sisko contemplates leaving Starfleet. He begins experiencing hallucinations of 20th-century New York City, and is suddenly taken over by his vision, becoming Benny Russell, an African-American science fiction writer in 1953.
The people Russell encounters bear the likeness of people from Sisko's life on Deep Space Nine. His fellow writers for the magazine Incredible Tales include Albert Macklin (who resembles Miles O'Brien); the short-tempered, left-wing Herbert Rossoff (Quark); and married couple Kay Eaton (Kira) and Julius Eaton (Bashir). The illustrator Roy Ritterhouse (Martok) shows them some sketches; Russell is drawn to a drawing of a space station resembling Deep Space Nine, and decides to write a story for it. Editor Douglas Pabst (Odo) tells Kay and Russell they are to be excluded from upcoming staff photos, as the magazine's readers might object to a woman and a "Negro" as science fiction writers.
That night, Russell is harassed by two police officers, Ryan (Dukat) and Mulkahey (Weyoun). Later, he encounters a preacher (Joseph Sisko) who seems to be speaking directly to him, imploring him to "write those words" in the name of "the Prophets". He goes home and begins to write.
Some time later, he finishes his story, "Deep Space Nine", about a black captain of a space station. His girlfriend Cassie (Kasidy Yates) doubts his ability to earn a living as a writer, but is faithful to him despite flirtation from the baseball player Willie Hawkins (Worf). A young hustler, Jimmy (Jake Sisko), laughs at Russell's idea of "colored people on the Moon".
At the magazine, the entire staff loves his story, including Pabst's secretary Darlene Kursky (Dax); however, Pabst refuses to print it. As Russell keeps writing sequels to the story, Macklin proposes a compromise: the story will be framed as a dream. Pabst agrees to buy the story; but while Russell and Cassie are out celebrating, Jimmy is shot and killed by Officers Ryan and Mulkahey. When Russell protests, they beat him savagely.
Weeks later, on his first day back at the office, Russell is excited to see his story in print. Pabst arrives empty-handed: the owner wouldn't publish a story featuring a black hero, and Russell is fired. Russell breaks down, screaming that they cannot destroy his ideas and the future he envisions is real. As he is taken away by an ambulance, he sees stars streaking past the window. The preacher sits by him and tells him that he is both the dreamer and the dream.
Sisko wakes up back on the station. He is deeply moved by his vision and wonders if somewhere, far beyond the stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of Deep Space Nine.
Zicree's original pitch for the episode featured Jake Sisko as the main character, and did not deal directly with racial issues. Zicree originally patterned the Bashir/Kira characters on Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, and the O'Brien character on Isaac Asimov. This story was combined with ideas that story editor Robert Hewitt Wolfe had written for a script called "Cold and Distant Stars", a very early draft for the season 3 two-part episode "Past Tense". The story, suggested by Wolfe, featured Sisko as a contemporary homeless man who believes he is a star base captain, but who is diagnosed as schizophrenic and drugged to suppress his visions. At that time, producer Ira Steven Behr had rejected the hallucinatory element in favor of a time-travel story, because it felt too much like a "gimmick". Researcher Allen Kwan wrote that the episode may have originally featured a more positive ending, where instead of showing Benny being institutionalized, it would show him on a set, producing an episode of Deep Space Nine. Supposedly, that ending was not used for fears of breaking the continuity of the franchise.
Much work was put into making their version of New York City as authentic to reality as possible. The production crew included several references to past Star Trek series and episodes – as well as to Deep Space Nine itself. Inside the office, memos from Pabst can be seen. For instance, one is addressed to Rossoff, complaining to him that "no one would believe that a cheerleader could kill vampires", a reference to Shimmerman's work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Brooks, who both directed the episode and played Sisko/Russell, went to great lengths to ensure period authenticity, even during post-production. Brooks went to the music spotting session, and had long discussions about things such as what music Russell would dance to, and the style of the scoring. The only other Star Trek director to attend a music spotting session was LeVar Burton, when working on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Inequality was also portrayed through design; the ambulance which carries Benny was portrayed as dirty and outdated because, as Brooks notes, "that's what they would have sent."
Filming and makeup
Brooks was chosen by the production staff because they wanted a director who had experienced racism. The scene where Russell collapses and has a breakdown was perhaps more realistic than most fans had realized. Once the assistant director called cut, Brooks did not stop. Brooks was so into the part that, as Lou Race remarked, even if he had stayed for half an hour, Brooks would have "kept on".
The cast had little trouble separating their characters in this episode from the ones they normally played. Ira Stephen Behr, for instance, had been concerned at how René Auberjonois might react to being the only main character who had to play a "bad guy". However, Auberjonois loved the part, and was delighted to play it. Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun/Mulkahey) had some trouble at first "finding Weyoun" in Mulkahey, but realized that Mulkahey and Weyoun are both "suppressing authority figures" in Sisko's mind, and played the character from that perspective. Armin Shimmerman (Quark/Rossoff) agreed, claiming that Rossoff is not an extension of Quark, as Rossoff, a communist, was "about as far from a Ferengi as you can get".
One of the few examples of special effects in the episode was the shot where Russell's drawing of the station falls out of his hand, and lands near the foot of a racist police officer. The drawing was attached to a helium balloon which was connected to some monofilament on a fishing line. Then, it had to be "yanked" towards the foot of the police officer, while making sure it would land in the right direction for the camera. Despite concerns that it could take hundreds of tries, the shot was completed with only two attempts.
Makeup was unusually easy for this episode; since most characters appeared as humans, only minimal makeup was required. Appearing out of costume was an unusual experience for many cast members. Shimmerman said wearing a mask had been his mechanism for support, it recused him from being nervous about how he looked on camera. Appearing without one, then, was a "very bizarre" experience. Even though J.G Hertzler (Martok/Ritterhouse) had never appeared on Deep Space Nine out of makeup, he enjoyed the role. Hertzler has a drawing hobby, so when Ritterhouse was seen drawing in the episode, Hertzler was really drawing the cast.
In 2012, Den of Geek ranked this the fourth-best episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, praising the cast's performances, and called it "a treat" to see the actors such as Michael Dorn and Rene Auberjonois without their alien makeup and prosthetics.
The A.V. Club's Zack Handlen said that by escaping the "trap" of cloaking its concerns in "pure symbol" that some other Star Trek episodes fall into, the episode ends up creating something unique. Empire ranked "Far Beyond the Stars" 4th out of the 50 top episodes of any show Star Trek as of 2016. They also noted that seeing the cast out of makeup was an "added bonus". A 2015 binge-watching guide for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by Wired recommended not skipping this "essential" episode, and said it is probably the best episode of the series. In 2019, Den of Geek included this among the top 12 best morality plays of the Star Trek franchise.
The Chicago Tribune praised the episode for having the racism be on Earth, and not on some "far-flung planet". They also claimed the episode would "shatter whatever remnants of that opposition [to Avery Brook's casting which still] linger". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette agreed, and said fans will consider this the "most remarkable episode in the history of Deep Space Nine", and that once Lofton's character says the "N-word" they knew they were "not on Vulcan any more".
In a paper published by the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, Allen Kwan argued that while the episode should be "given credit" for portraying racism more directly than any other episode, the ending in which Russell is institutionalized weakens the moral of the story. Parallels, Kwan claimed, can be drawn from Pabst, the racist magazine editor, to the producers of the Star Trek franchise. Kwan maintains that, like Pabst, the franchise as a whole tends to ignore actual diversity, instead opting to portray a future with only a single cultural and racial norm. Jan Johnson-Smith has noted parallels between Sisko being "the dreamer and the dream" and Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech.
- Barnes, Steven (1998). Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond the Stars. New York City: Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0671024307.
- Nazzaro 1998, pp. 42–46.
- Erdmann & Block 2000, p. 196.
- Erdmann & Block 2000, p. 534-537.
- Kwan, Allen (February 1, 2007). "Seeking New Civilizations: Race Normativity in the Star Trek Franchise". Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society. 27 (1): 59–70. doi:10.1177/0270467606295971. S2CID 144304868.
- What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Motion picture). Shout! Factory. May 13, 2019.
- "Top 10 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes". Den of Geek. November 11, 2012. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
- Handlen, Zack (November 14, 2013). "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: 'Far Beyond The Stars'". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on February 14, 2020. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- "The 50 best Star Trek episodes ever". Empire. July 27, 2016. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
- McMillan, Graeme (May 13, 2015). "Wired Binge-Watching Guide: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
- "Star Trek's 12 Best Morality Plays". Den of Geek. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
- Johnson, Allan (February 10, 1998). "Back to the future". Chicago Tribune. p. 59. Archived from the original on April 26, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Norman, Tony (February 14, 1998). "Deep Space Nine episode boldly faces racism". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 29. Archived from the original on April 27, 2020. Retrieved April 27, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Johnson-Smith 2005, p. 84.
- Nazzaro, Joe (June 1998). "Going Far Beyond the Stars". Star Trek Magazine. London: Titan Magazines. pp. 42–46.
- Erdmann, Terry; Block, Paula (2000). The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (1st ed.). New York City: Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0671501068.
- Johnson-Smith, Jan (2005). American science fiction TV: Star Trek, Stargate and beyond. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1860648823.
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