On a very special episode of Highly Logical – A Star Trek Podcast, hosts Angelo Muredda and Nicole Partyka had the opportunity to speak with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine showrunner Ira Steven Behr about the new retrospective documentary he co-directed – What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – the show’s TV legacy, how DS9 and Star Trek: Discovery stack up, the sexuality of everyone’s favourite Cardassian tailor, the departure of Terry Farrell, and more!
Be sure to listen to the full episode of Highly Logical here, which also includes conversations with DS9 stars Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys) and Andrew Robinson (Garak).
Angelo: I wanted to ask about your return to DS9. You’re remastering the footage, you’re breaking the story for a theoretical first episode of season 8, you’re creating animated storyboards to imagine what characters might look like today. I’m wondering what you see in the show when you’re coming back to it with fresh eyes after this distance of so many years since the show ended?
Ira Steven Behr: There was a period of time, thirteen years or so, where I wasn’t on Deep Space Nine.I have friends who who I worked with on the show. And that was my connection to the series, but I hadn’t watched it, I didn’t go to conventions. It was something that took a major part of my creative life — eight years from when we began — and I had a positive feeling about it but I hadn’t really thought about it much until I got involved in this, at the time, little hourlong documentary, which is how it was presented to me back in 2013. So it was really a slow build, a slow burn into suddenly taking over my entire life again, which was not something I was expecting or setting out to do. It’s been a very interesting journey.
In terms of episode one of season eight, that was just an idea I had to have some fun with the writing staff. I just felt it was a way to prevent this doc, whatever it was going to be at the time — this was 2015 when we did that writer’s room — from just being a study in nostalgia. And I thought, for shits and giggles, we could just have some fun. I was working with Ronald D. Moore on Outlander at the time, and I had worked with René [Echevarria], so getting the band together was was easy and I knew we would have fun that day. I said at the time and I’ve said countless times since, it was one day in the writers’ room: this was not meant to be canon. If we got in for a second day, as would usually would happen when we broke stories — we didn’t break stories in one day unless there was a miracle — things would have changed. It was a fun exercise. We all had a wonderful time, but I think it would be a mistake for people to go and say this is exactly what episode one would be if they ever had a chance, which is never going to happen anyway.
So it’s all make believe. Hopefully, one day we’ll put up the full five and half hours of footage from that day, but there were some hilarious moments. René kept saying, “You guys are acting like this is real!” I kept saying, “It’s an exercise, René, and for the exercise we have to believe there’s an episode six, so you know what the hell we’re doing.”
Angelo: Granted that it’s an exercise and a formal conceit, a way of sort of structuring the movie and rallying the team back together, now that you’ve done it, do you feel like there is an appetite for continuing to tell stories in this world or do you come out of that day thinking we did this, we finished, we’re satisfied with where we ended up at the end of season seven. In a dream scenario where you got to make more DS9, do you feel like you would?
Behr: As Americans, we live in the land of plenty, or we did, and everyone always wants more. I used to say, when John Lennon died, everyone talked about how there will never be another Beatles album again. I was like okay, that’s very sad, but you have plenty of Beatles music to listen to. It’s still there. It hasn’t gone away. Theoretically there will be no more Beatles music but just look at what’s already there for you. It’s the same thing with DS9. When we went off the air, I was sad. It was a shock to go from eight years on the show to having it all end. But at the time I made sure we finished that show off. I knew there would not be any movie, so it was like this is this, the last word: let’s try to end this thing with some talent and dignity. And I think we achieved that.
Nicole: DS9 is widely regarded as one of the most progressive Star Trek shows. What do you think DS9 and Star Trek more broadly can offer people today?
Behr: I think I probably would have had a different answer when we started this back in 2013. But after the events of 2016 I think that Star Trek has a lot to offer. I think unfortunately it’s a bit of the same old, same old: battles we thought had been won seem to have to be fought continually. It’s all the obvious things: acceptance, diversity, treating other people — no matter whether they wear prosthetics or not — with respect and decency — this idea that difference does not equal bad, that difference can can be good. Differences amongst people can be a positive thing. These are like what I would think would be no brainers in 2019, but it seems that is not the case.
I don’t think Star Trek should need to get on a soap box necessarily. I don’t think it has to preach. I used to say back in the day that if you do too many issue-oriented shows you’re just preaching to the choir. And it makes you feel good, but the only people who are listening are people who already share your beliefs. So I don’t think it has to be that. But I think embedded within the storytelling, and embedded within the characters — it all goes back to characters, how they relate to one another, how they share things, how they disagree about things. That’s why I think Star Trek and let’s face it, science fiction in general, has some worth in 2019 and beyond.
Nicole: How have you felt about the new Star Trek series Discovery?
Behr: The never-ending question! I feel the same as I feel about Enterprise and Voyager, which is that I haven’t watched it, so I am free of opinion. I will say that I’ve met a bunch of the actors at conventions, and I like them a lot, so I’m definitely on board with them having a great experience being newbies to the franchise. The other thing I would say is when I see in social media, not that I pay much attention, I hear a lot of negative stuff and it all brings me back to the ’90s and all the negative stuff I was hearing about Deep Space Nine. So once again, Star Trek fans like to grumble a lot, and they don’t like the new, the shock of the new. You would think sci-fi fans would embrace that, but they seem to have a hard time embracing it. Now I can’t speak to the show — there might be some legitimate beefs. I’m not saying there are or there are not. But I find some of the cries of pain and despair from the audience is exactly what we were getting on Deep Space Nine. So I take it all with a grain of salt.
Angelo: One of the links between Discovery, or at least the way it’s been framed, and DS9, is that Discovery is serialized. It seems to me that DS9 is really the pioneer for this in Star Trek. I wonder if you could speak a bit about the benefits of having serialization available to you — not necessarily always having to plan things in terms of larger arcs, but having the potential to do so. What did it do for you on Deep Space Nine, for the characters, the cast, in terms of having plots that didn’t need to be resolved within 45 minutes?
Behr: Early on, there were things I would say over and over again in the writer’s room, and that I may have said in subsequent shows as well. I used to make two comments. One was that to me DS9 was a comedy of manners. That’s what it was in terms of the human interaction and the character development. To me was it was not a science fiction series. It was basically a comedy of manners. The second thing was that it was a novel for television. My personal library has about 5000 books in it. I collect books so I know something about novels. That’s the kind of storytelling I like. I just assumed early on that it was a novel for television. It was just a matter of convincing everyone else.
Now, the fact that Discovery does serialization: I don’t find that impressive. Why should I? If you’re not serialized in this day and age you’re some kind of police procedure or some legal show or some medical show, which is the case of the week, which Star Trek does not do. So obviously it’s serialized. I’m happy it’s serialized, but I don’t think that’s such a a huge deal. But I didn’t think it was a huge deal back then either, which is what I guess got everyone pissed off at me – the studio, the powers that be – but it just seemed logical, with the characters involved in the show, the themes in the show, the style of the show, the placement of the station by the wormhole, the never-ending Bajoran situation, the Cardassian situation, the Dominion situation, the Klingon situation: It’s a serialized show, guys.
Nicole: At one point in the documentary, you said that you did not earn a checkmark for sexual identity because you did not allow Garak to come out of the closet. Can you elaborate on what you would have done differently?
Behr: Of course, we we will never know what I would’ve done differently because I did not do it and it’s now twenty years later, and who knows what we would have done. It’s just one of those things that would have been nice to have happened. But the fact is they probably would not have allowed it in especially since he was so intimately involved with one of the lead characters. If he wasn’t involved with Bashir it might have been easier, but it then would have thrown some shade Bashir if he was involved with this guy — I’m talking about back in the day. So who knows. “Rejoined” was enough of a problem of an episode. I did not mean to imply that this is something we could have done, and there would have been no repercussions or no big blow back, or they would have allowed us to do it. I’m just saying the fact that we did not try, that we never said “Hey, we’re so bold, we’re Deep Space Nine, we’re always bragging about how we’re going where no other sergers will go,” why didn’t we do that? It was right there every time you watch those scenes. You came away wondering what’s really going on there? And maybe the surprise would have been that Garak wasn’t gay – who the hell knows? Maybe it was all a plan from him being a spy. I don’t know, but we never touched it.
Angelo: Terry Ferrell’s departure [at the end of Season 6] still seems to be a source of emotion for the cast and crew, at least in the doc. How do you feel her departure changed the show, for better or for worse, insofar as it seems to have created new writing opportunities but also to have affected the cast and the characters.
Behr: Well to be honest, I don’t think it affected the cast in the way that it affected the show. I mean it affected all of us. No one wanted Terry to leave and no one I think believed that Terry was going to leave. I think that the interviews I had with Terry, the large portion of it is not in the doc, those interviews went to places I didn’t know they were gonna go to. They were very heavy. They were very emotional. But as to how it affected the seventh season, it did energize us in a way because we had one season to make that character of Ezri Dax sing. Once Terry was gone, Terry was gone. We didn’t have time to wear hair shirts or beat ourselves up. We had to move forward. It was like: it’s the seventh season, we’re not going to fuck up the seventh season because a character left. We’re going to make the best season of television we can. So we really leaned heavily on Ezri.
Now did we lean too heavily on Ezri? Yes. But everyone wanted to write Ezri because we weren’t going to have an eighth season. So there were times when the Ezri footprint was a little too deep. But if we hadn’t had Ezri, the battles over how long the Dominion War was going to be would have been even bloodier. To get those ten or eleven episodes was a struggle, but because we had Ezri it was like, “Oh look a pretty, nice bauble” – so that took some of the tension off.
This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine lands in theatres across the United States and Canada for one night only on May 13. Find a screening near you here.