Star Trek’s best recurring characters, part 2: DS9 & beyond
And now, part two of my list of the best recurring characters in Star Trek. Click here for part one!
Deep Space Nine:
Deep Space Nine’s setting, at a space station rather than a starship continually on the move, allowed the show to introduce recurring characters and mix them in effectively with the main cast in a way that the other shows couldn’t. Deep Space Nine took full advantage of that, and probably had the best and most well-developed recurring characters of all the Star Trek TV shows.
I feel like this entry should be split, for early-seasons Dukat, and seasons 6-7 Dukat. Early Dukat had an interesting backstory, as former head of DS9 when it was Terok Nor and under Cardassian rule. He was an ambitious figure, a rival to Sisko, and a nuanced villain who could be charming and funny. But by season four, they were taking him in a different direction, as a figure who had lost power within the Cardassian government, and who had to rebuild his position. Unfortunately, it was at this point when the writers transformed Dukat into a clichéd villain, one step away from twirling his mustache and cackling for the camera. Sadly, that step was taken with the Pah Wraith storyline, which turned him into some kind of conduit for supernatural evil and wasted the talents of Marc Alaimo.
Rom was a fascinating character for the way he changed over the series run. He started out as a simpleminded contrast to his much more clever brother, often around for the purpose of comic relief, and the target of bullying by Quark. Rom was later shown to have strong technical skills that had gone untapped, and he became an engineering assistant to O’Brien. Rom was a Ferengi lacking business skills but he ended the series run in a great position, as the successor to Grand Nagus Zek and married to Leeta.
This one is hardly a surprise, as Garak is a DS9 fan favorite. However, it’s my opinion that they did the character a disservice by revealing as much of his backstory as they did. In early seasons, they merely hinted at his “more than meets the eye” nature, with Garak insisting that he was nothing more than an ordinary tailor, while he demonstrated a wide variety of skills and knowledge more related to a military or intelligence background. By the later seasons, Garak’s history as an Obsidian Order operative was openly revealed. But I still enjoyed the unlikely friendship between youthful, naïve Dr. Bashir and cynical, pragmatic Garak, especially because of Garak’s many quotable lines on the value and art of lying and deception. Garak’s best moment was probably when he manipulated Sisko into making the moves necessary to bring the Romulans into the Dominion War.
Jake Sisko was the second attempt in Trek to have a kid as a main character, and it went much better than the first time with Wesley Crusher. This is of course mostly because they let Jake be a kid, instead of a prodigy who inexplicably got his own spot on the bridge. And part of the way that the writers let Jake be a kid was through his friendship with Nog, a Ferengi who was around the same age. Nog, like Rom, was one of the recurring characters who went through the most development over the seasons, going from young troublemaker to loyal Starfleet cadet, even having to deal in later seasons with the battlefield loss and replacement of his leg.
Eddington, like Dukat, was a very personal villain/rival for Sisko. Eddington added an extra layer of hatred for Sisko because of the personal nature of his betrayal, and because Sisko never really expected much from Dukat. Although the Maquis storyline originated as background for Voyager, to set up the integration of a Federation/Maquis crew, Deep Space Nine ended up doing a lot more interesting stories with them. Eddington is an example, as a Starfleet security officer who betrays his uniform then taunts Sisko about Ben’s disproportionate obsession with him. It brought out Sisko’s uglier side when he was willing to use extreme or unethical means to get at the Maquis, and Eddington in particular.
Jeffrey Combs oozed false charm and amiability as Weyoun, servant and lackey for the Founders in the later seasons of Deep Space Nine. Weyoun had a couple of cool ideas going for him besides how funny Combs’ performance was. One was making him a clone that could be killed off and replaced from stored genetic material, and another was giving the Vorta a genetically-based religious reverence for the Changelings. DS9 did a lot of exploration of religious ideas, and the concept of breeding a race of servants to “gods” that appeared in the flesh was a particularly neat idea. And of course, it led to a great and memorable comparison between the Founders and the Prophets between Damar and Weyoun. (Damar asks how Bajoran belief in the Prophets as gods is different from Vorta belief in the Founders as gods. Weyoun’s answer is that the Founders are gods.)
Was Winn a genuine religious zealot, or a cynical schemer who twisted Bajoran faith in the Prophets for her own ends and desire for power? The concept of a major religious figure who feels spurned by the beings central to her faith is a cool one. It may have been her frustration and jealousy of Sisko and his role as Emissary—which he’d achieved almost by accident, and as an outsider to Bajor no less—that turned her down the path that it did. Although the Pah-Wraith storyline had some major problems, it did give viewers the pleasure of seeing Marc Alaimo and Louise Fletcher working side by side. Kai Winn would undergo a last minute redemption of sorts, giving Sisko the key to victory in his showdown with Dukat.
This will be a short one. I had some difficulty including a great recurring character from Voyager, because most of the best ones appearing in the series were originally from The Next Generation, such as Barclay, Q, and the Borg Queen.
Seska was pretty much the major recurring villain through the early part of Voyager, showing up repeatedly, never too far away from the ship, despite how little sense this made from a story standpoint. She had thrown her lot in with a sect of the Kazon, who were then apparently just going to… follow? chase? Janeway and company through the Delta Quadrant. Was this an MST3k Pearl Forrester sort of thing? At any rate, Seska had some pretty good reasons to resent Janeway, like many of the Maquis crew members, except even more so, since Seska was an undercover Cardassian. Add the wrinkle of her personal connection to Chakotay, and you actually had a pretty decently conceived villain, though one who was often sabotaged by the writing of early Voyager. Her pragmatic approach to alliances and how to make it through the Delta Quadrant made a lot more sense than Janeway’s. Unfortunately, Seska as a character descended into soap opera level ridiculousness by the end of her run on the show.
Here’s a character that on paper could have been a disaster for the show. Naomi was a character whose aging was ridiculously accelerated for storytelling purposes, and another child prodigy character on Trek, no less. So soon after Wesley Crusher? Had the show’s writers learned so little from the backlash from fans during TNG? And yet, the character worked, mostly because Scarlet Pomers did so well with the role and because it was an inspired idea to have her play off of Seven of Nine. You had a situation where a socially inexperienced adult character could play role model, mentor, and also friend to a character that didn’t really have an available peer group on the ship. Naomi could have come across as cloying or irritating, but instead moved gracefully past such concerns.
Like Voyager, Enterprise had a shortage of great recurring characters. When one is seriously contemplating putting Porthos on the list, there’s an issue there. Going by the MLB All-Star game rule of at least one representative per series, though, I reached back deep and went with Shran.
Shran is really the only one worth including here, and that’s due in no small part to the performance of Jeffrey Combs (the only actor who made it onto this list twice) in the role. Shran started out as a villain, but came to increasingly act as an ally of Archer, albeit sometimes a reluctant one with his own interests in mind. Enterprise took advantage of being a prequel show to spotlight the Andorians more, even though there was no real in-universe reason to ignore them the way the other post-TOS shows did. Also, there was the potential of having Shran eventually transition into being a regular character had the show not been canceled after season four. Ironically, Shran ended up getting more development as a character than members of the main crew such as Mayweather or Sato.
Even as I wrap up the list, what’s notable is how many strong recurring characters I had to leave off, which is just a sign of how many effective ones there were. Missing from TNG’s list are Gowron, the Traveler, and others. The DS9 list doesn’t include characters like Ziyal, Vedek Bareil, the Female Changeling, and Damar. Wait, my DS9 list is a lousy one… no, it’s just that DS9 writers were, as I wrote, able to take advantage of the setting and greater serialization of the storylines to bring so many strong characters together onto one show. What’s also notable is how many of these characters had more interesting arcs over their series’ runs than did the regular cast. Eventually, their stories and threads came to intertwine with those of the rest of the shows, creating something bigger in the process.