As we all know, pop-culture face-offs are, by their nature, bipolar. Chaplin vs. Keaton, Sean Connery vs. Roger Moore, McDonalds vs. Burger King. The saddest thing about this is that, like our two-party government, our options are limited. And, yet, nobody ever seems to care much for a third choice when it’s presented — I’m looking at you Harold Lloyd, Timothy Dalton, Wendy’s, Ralph Nader.
Earlier today, you witnessed my esteemed colleagues Darren Franich and Joseph Brannigan Lynch debate the respective merits of Captains James Tiberius Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard as if they represent all that the mighty United Federation of Planets has to offer. But PopWatchers, I come before you to argue for a third choice, a noble choice, the right choice: Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko. The anchor of that greatest of Star Trek series, the haunting, murky Deep Space Nine, is everything a Starfleet captain should be, even if he was merely a “Commander” for the first three seasons.
I won’t linger on Sisko’s stellar resume: the fact that he’s the only captain to design his own starship, the Defiant (Who are the four-eyed paper-pushers who designed the Enterprise, Kirk? Who?), or was himself a veteran of the Battle of Wolf-359, which a certain shiny-headed, King’s-English-accented Borg led, or that he held another little title, oh, I don’t know, Emissary of the Prophets? Did Jean-Luc ever have a non-Starfleet title not called Locutus of Borg? Or James T. any distinguishing characteristic other than an impressive Dickens library, a stash of Romulan ale, and a Starfleet record for notches on his belt?
No, no, no, I’m going to pit Sisko head to head with Picard and Kirk, mah friends. First, Sisko wipes the duracrete floor with JLP in the DS9 pilot, “Emissary,” confronting him about that little matter of how his wife died at Wolf-359 due to Locutus’ attack. Did Jean-Luc have even a “Make it so!” as a comeback? Nada. “Engage” that, mon capitaine!
Second, Sisko saved Kirk’s life in “Trials and Tribble-ations” when he and the DS9 crew traveled back in time to the 2260s to stop a rogue Klingon saboteur from blowing up the Enterprise. What did Picard do? He let Kirk get crushed by a bridge. And that whole bit about Kirk predicting, “I always knew…I’d die alone”? He didn’t even get that right. He died in Jean-Luc’s pasty, French arms.
Third, Sisko is a damn good father to his son, Jake. Now, I have no doubt that Kirk fathered many space-brats, but were any of them worth a damn? Exhibit A: David Marcus. Not even Worf’s son, Alexander, is as potent an example of generational decline.
I realize citing Marcus rests my case, but I’m just getting warmed up. If you thought that William Shatner cornered the market on hammy bombast, just check out Avery Brooks’ histrionics in “Far Beyond the Stars,” when his alter ego, an African-American science fiction writer in the 1950s who may or may not have imagined the entire Star Trek universe in his mind, wails, “IT’S REEEEEAAAALLL! Because… it’s… in… my MIIIIND!” Okay, maybe it’s not quite on the level of “KHAAAAAAN!” But it’s every bit the equal of “You… Klingon bastard… you killed my son!”
As far as showdowns against a backdrop of apocalyptic hellfire go, Sisko wins again. Sure, Kirk had his “I. Have. Had! Enough. Of. You!” parting-shot with Commander Kruge on the Genesis Planet, but Sisko didn’t just push his nemesis, Gul Dukat, into a field of lava. He went in himself, and became a god in the process, forever watching over the Federation from the Apple-Store-bright confines of the Celestial Temple. I realize becoming a deity can come with the territory when enlisting in Starfleet (see also Wesley Crusher and, temporarily, Reg Barclay), but, as far as I know he’s the only Captain to become one. (That 7th Heaven guy in Star Trek: The Motion Picture doesn’t count.)
But perhaps most significant of all, Sisko redeemed the disgraced bloodline of the deeply misunderstood former First Lady Sherry Palmer when he married her 24th century descendant, Cassidy Yates (Penny Johnson Jerald). If the bravery those nuptials demanded doesn’t hands-down distinguish him as the Captain of all Captains, then you need to undergo the Kohlinar and brush up on your logic.
Niners, aren’t I right? I didn’t even mention Sisko’s love of baseball (Go London Kings!) or the fact that, as a native son of New Orleans, he can whip up a mean jambalaya. And will no one stand up for Janeway and Archer? At this point, it’s just sad…