Far Beyond the Stars
Production no.: 538
Teleplay by: Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
Story by: Marc Scott Zicree
Directed by: Avery Brooks
Stardate: not given
First satellite airdate: February 7, 1998
Brock Peters ........
Jeffrey Combs ......
Marc Alaimo ........
J.G. Hertzler .........
Aron Eisenberg .....
Penny Johnson ......
Alternate roles played by the regular cast:
Avery Brooks ...........
Rene Auberjonois .....
Michael Dorn ...........
Terry Farrell .............
Cirroc Lofton ............
Colm Meaney ...........
Armin Shimerman .....
Alexander Siddig .......
Nana Visitor .............
Kira gives Sisko some bad news: the Defiant couldn't find any sign of survivors from the USS Cortez, a ship commanded by Sisko's old friend, Captain Quentin Swofford. Sisko feels the loss deeply; he hasn't been so depressed since the start of the war. When his father Joseph (visiting the station all the way from Earth) enters the office, Sisko unburdens himself a little. "I don't know how many more friends I can lose. Every time I achieve a real victory, something like this happens, and everything seems to turn to ashes...Maybe it's time for me to step down, let someone else make the tough calls." "I see. No one is indispensable, son," Joseph tells him understandingly. "Not even you. Whatever decision you make, I'll support. Of course, if Quentin Swofford was here, I'd bet he'd have a few things to say to you." "But he's not here," says Sisko. "And that's the whole point."
Joseph is about to leave him to think it out when Sisko suddenly catches a glimpse of something odd: a man in a 1950's Earth-style flannel suit, passing by his office door. Puzzled, Sisko steps out of his office and looks around, but there's no one there except the usual Ops workers, and they didn't see a thing.
Later, Sisko is having a reunion with Kasidy Yates in a corridor when he sees a man in a 1950's baseball uniform (New York Giants) coming toward him. He greets Sisko as "Benny" and disappears into a set of quarters. Kasidy didn't see the man at all. Wondering what is going on, Sisko enters the quarters -- and finds himself in the middle of a midtown Manhattan street, circa 1953. As he stares around in confusion, a taxicab knocks him to the ground, and he falls unconscious.
Sisko wakes up in the infirmary, surrounded by his father, Jake, Kasidy, and Bashir, who says he is reading some unusual synaptic potentials, similar to the ones Sisko experienced a year ago during his visions. He wants Sisko to remain overnight for observation. When Bashir hands him a PADD to show him the readings...
...suddenly the PADD is not a PADD but a copy of Galaxy, a 1950's sci-fi pulp magazine; and Sisko is not Sisko but Benny Russell, a writer. He is standing beside a newsstand, with a vendor talking to him about how he personally prefers war stories to science fiction. A friend of Benny's, a fellow writer named Albert, comes up to him, and they walk off to the office together.
There, their colleagues, writers for a science fiction magazine called Incredible Tales, are starting the day. Julius and Kay marvel over the new invention of instant iced tea, while Herb quarrels with the editor, Pabst, over the stale doughnuts. Herb is ready to quit and go over to Galaxy, until Pabst promises crullers tomorrow. An artist, Roy, comes out with his latest drawings, meant to serve as inspiration for the writers. Julius and Kay take the first one (a little girl with some aliens), and though Herb calls the second one (a bug-eyed monster about to accost a sunbathing woman) "garbage", he snaps it up. The third is a space station (resembling DS9). His imagination instantly captured by the image, Benny claims that one.
Pabst has another bit of business for everyone: their publisher, Mr. Stone, has decided to run a picture of them all in next month's issue. He lets Kay know she can sleep in that day, since the public doesn't know she's a woman, and he intends to keep it that way. As for Benny, Pabst tries to tell him it's not "personal", but he would rather not reveal Benny's race to the readers. "If the world's not ready for a woman writer, imagine what would happen if it learned about a Negro with a typewriter," Herb snipes. "Run for the hills! It's the end of civilization!" But Pabst is adamant: "The average reader is not going to spend his hard-earned cash on stories written by Negroes...Sorry, Benny. I wish things were different, but they're not." "Wishing never changed a damn thing," retorts Benny.
That night, as Benny leaves the office building, the drawing is blown away by the wind; he is chasing it when a foot stops its flight. The foot belongs to a plainclothes police officer named Ryan, who is there with his partner, Mulkahey. The two cops take one look at Benny's skin color and start hassling him, as if he has no right to be here or to be wearing a nice suit. Benny just wants his drawing back. The cops discuss running him in to check him for priors, but they have to be downtown soon, so finally Mulkahey lets him have the drawing. Ryan tells Benny next time he won't be so lucky.
In Harlem, Benny encounters a street preacher spreading the gospel. The preacher seems to address him directly. "Oh, that my words were now written! Oh, that they were printed in a book! Write those words, Brother Benny." "How do you know my name?" asks Benny, but the preacher merely continues his exhortation. "Go now and write the truth that's in your heart. The truth that shall set them free! Praise be the word of the Lord. Praise to the word of the Prophets."
Benny walks on and reaches his apartment, where he begins writing his story: "Captain Benjamin Sisko sat looking out the window..." Suddenly, in his kitchen window, Benny sees what looks like his own reflection, wearing a strange uniform. He rubs his eyes; the image has disappeared. Benny tries to put it out of his mind, and goes on typing.
A few days later, he enters the little diner where his girlfriend Cassie works as a waitress. "I have just written the best story of my life," he announces. Cassie tells him she has some good news, too: the owner of the diner is retiring, and is willing to sell the place to them. But Benny doesn't share her vision of their future. He's a writer. Cassie is trying to persuade him when Willie Hawkins comes in, triumphant from his latest game. Willie obviously fancies Cassie, though she is adamant that her heart belongs to Benny. She wonders why Willie is still living uptown when he could live anywhere, but Willie has no illusions of being accepted in white society, famous ballplayer or not.
Benny is joined by a shady young friend of his named Jimmy, who offers to sell him a watch, and scoffs at Benny's warning that one day he'll end up in serious trouble. Jimmy would far rather be doing what he's doing than working in any of the other jobs open to him, like a delivery boy or dishwasher. He can't see how Benny's stories about "white people living on the moon" are any better. "I'm not doing that anymore," says Benny. "I'm writing about us." He tells Jimmy to check out the next issue.
The other writers avidly read Benny's story, along with Pabst's new secretary, Darlene. All of them agree that it's very impressive. "It's a damn fine piece of writing, is what it is," Herb declares. "And 'Deep Space Nine' is a very intriguing title." Kay especially likes the character of the Major. (Benny briefly sees Kira in her place as she's speaking.) Roy is thinking of doing a cover based on the Cardassians. But Pabst tells him not to bother.
It's not that Pabst doesn't like the story -- he does. But he can't print it. "Come on, Benny. Your hero's a Negro captain. The head of a space station, for Christ's sake...People won't accept it. It's not believable." He points out that he's an editor, not a crusader, and none of the people he has to answer to are going to want to put this story on the newsstand. "For all we know, it could cause a race riot." Herb accuses him of cowardice; Pabst in turn implies that Herb is a communist; and tensions rise. Finally Pabst grabs a drawing at random, offering Benny a shot at next month's cover if he'll do another story based on it. As for Benny's story, "the way I see it, you can either burn it or stick it in a drawer for the next fifty years, or however long it takes the human race to become colorblind." "I want people to read it now," protests Benny. "Fine," Pabst tells him. "You want me to print it? Make the captain white."
"I told you you were wasting your time," Jimmy tells a dejected Benny later, back at the diner. "A colored captain. The only reason they'll ever let us in space is if they need someone to shine their shoes...Today or a hundred years from now, it don't make a bit of difference. As far as they're concerned, we'll always be niggers." "Things are going to change," Benny insists. "They have to." To Cassie, of course, it may very well be a sign from God, telling Benny to go into the restaurant business. He could still write for one of the Negro newspapers, after all. But Benny says he's not a reporter, he's a fiction writer. When Willie arrives and speaks to him, Benny suffers a flash of Worf. Claiming to be fine, he leaves, promising Cassie to pick her up at ten for their date.
Benny meets the preacher again on the street. "Walk with the Prophets, Brother Benny," the preacher intones mysteriously. "Show us the way." "What way? I don't know what you're talking about." "Write the words, Brother Benny. The words that will lead us out of the darkness, onto the path of righteousness." Shaken, Benny retreats to his apartment.
He wakes to find that Cassie has let herself in: he fell asleep and forgot about their date. In fact, he was writing another story about his colored captain. The fact that the first one didn't sell doesn't matter to him. "It's what I've got to do." It's after midnight, but Cassie gets him to dance with her. As they're dancing, suddenly Benny finds himself on the space station, dancing with Kasidy. Then he's back in his apartment. Then back on the station. Kasidy asks him what's wrong. Desperate, he tells her, "I think I'm losing my mind." The next moment, he is in his apartment again. "I'm starting to see things from my story," Benny confesses to Cassie. "It's as if I'm becoming this Captain Sisko." Cassie holds him in her arms, comforting him as best she can.
When Benny brings in his new stories, Pabst is incredulous. He wouldn't print the first story; what possessed Benny to write six sequels? Julius suggests that Benny could have them printed by a private publishing house. "Might as well write it in chalk on the sidewalk," Kay says. "More people would read it that way." Then Albert speaks up, suggesting hesitantly that Benny make the ending of his first story a dream. Pabst seems willing to at least consider this, and everyone discusses the possibility. "Deep Space Nine" could be a dream in the mind of someone hoping for a better future -- a Negro, perhaps. Benny can't make all the stories dreams, of course, but he can worry about that later. "I think it's better than chalk on the sidewalk," Benny decides.
Willie is bragging to Cassie about his latest home run when a jubilant Benny enters the diner, announcing that he has sold one of his Sisko stories. He's taking Cassie out tonight to celebrate.
As Benny and Cassie leave the club later, they meet up with the preacher. Benny tells him his story is going to be published. Somberly, the preacher replies, "This is only the beginning of your journey, not the ending. And the path of the Prophets sometimes leads into darkness and pain." He takes hold of Benny's ear, like a Bajoran vedek reading his pagh; his fingers come away bloody, though Benny finds no blood at all when he touches the ear. "I speak with the voice of the Prophets. And in their words, hope and despair walk arm in arm." "Did you understand any of that?" Cassie asks. Before Benny can respond, they hear gunfire.
Benny rushes over, and to his horror, sees Jimmy lying dead in the street, with Ryan and Mulkahey standing over the body and blocking his way. They say that Jimmy was trying to break into a nearby car, and that he had a weapon (a crowbar). Benny, enraged, tries to push past them. Ryan and Mulkahey begin beating Benny viciously. As Benny looks up, the two cops suddenly become Dukat and Weyoun. He fades into unconsciousness.
Weeks later, it's the day that the issue of Incredible Tales featuring the first "Deep Space Nine" story is to be published. Benny, still recovering from his injuries, decides to go down to the office again for the first time. He assures Cassie that he hasn't been having any more hallucinations.
Benny arrives to find the other writers still waiting for Pabst to bring the copies from the printers. They're glad to see him, and that he's up and about again. Albert has some news: he's just sold a novel. Finally Pabst comes in, empty-handed. He announces quietly that there is no issue this month; Mr. Stone had the entire run pulped. "He believes, quote, this issue did not live up to our usual high standards, unquote."
Something within Benny finally breaks. He demands to know what the publisher didn't like about it. "It's about my story, isn't it? That's what this is all about. He didn't want to publish my story, and we all know why. Because my hero is a colored man." Pabst points out that it's Stone's magazine. "Besides, it's not about what's right, it's about what is."
There's more bad news for Benny. Pabst has no choice but to fire him, at Stone's orders. Benny's anger and frustration at all the indignities he has suffered come bursting out of him. He shouts at Pabst, "You can't fire me -- I quit!" The others try to calm him, but Benny has had it with being calm. He tells Pabst to go ahead and call the cops. "They can't do anything to me. Not anymore. Nor can any of you!" Benny begins to break down in tears. "I am a human being, dammit! You can deny me all you want, but you cannot deny Ben Sisko. He exists. That future, that space station, all those people, they exist in here, in my mind. I created it. And every one of you know it. You read it. It's here. You hear what I'm telling you? You can pulp a story, but you cannot destroy an idea. Don't you understand? That's ancient knowledge. You cannot destroy an idea! That future -- I created it, and it's real! Don't you understand? It is real! I created it, and it's real! It's real!" He collapses on the floor.
Benny's friends watch with concern as he is put in an ambulance and taken away. Inside the ambulance, Benny wakes to find the preacher beside him. He discovers that he's wearing Sisko's uniform. "Rest easy, Brother Benny," the preacher says gently. "You have walked in the path of the Prophets. There is no greater glory." "Tell me, please, who am I?" asks Benny. The preacher looks at him. "Don't you know?...You are the dreamer. And the dream." Benny looks out the back window of the ambulance, and sees nothing but racing stars.
Sisko's eyes open. He's in the infirmary of DS9. Bashir tells him he was only out for a few minutes. Now, though, his neural patterns have returned to normal, and the doctor doesn't understand why.
A couple of days later, Joseph visits his son in his quarters. He's getting ready to head home in the morning, and asks what Sisko will do. "The only thing I can do," Sisko replies. "Stay here and finish the job I started. And if I fail -- " "'I have fought the good fight,'" his father quotes. "'I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.'" Joseph notes that the dream Sisko had seems to have helped him sort things out. Sisko has to agree that it did. However, there's something he's been wondering.
"What if it wasn't a dream? What if this life we're leading, all of this, you and me, everything -- what if all of this is the illusion?" "That's a scary thought," observes his father. "I know, I know," says Sisko. "But maybe, just maybe, Benny isn't the dream. We are. Maybe we're nothing more than figments of his imagination. For all we know, at this very moment, somewhere far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us." He looks out the window, and as he does so, he sees Benny Russell looking back.
The story pitch was about Jake going back in time and meeting the science fiction writers, but it would turn out to be an alien mind trip. Originally the role of Roy was to have been played by Andrew Robinson; hence Roy's line about the Cardassians. The episode received Emmy nominations for art direction, costume design, and hairstyling. The Arthur Trill Building (where Incredible Tales was published) is a pun on New York's Brill Building. Other jokes were not as visible to the viewer. The posters outside the dance club Benny and Cassie go to promote acts named the Tom Arp Trio (series construction coordinator Thomas J. Arp) and Phineas Tarbolde and the Nightingale Women (referring to the poem quoted in TOS' "Where No Man Has Gone Before"). Herb has a Hugo award on his desk (loaned by Rick Sternbach, former senior illustrator for the series); his desk also has a memo from Pabst saying no one would believe a vampire-slaying cheerleader (a dig at Armin Shimerman for his role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). A memo on Albert's desk admonishes him to change the four laws of robotics to three (referring to Isaac Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics). Albert sells a novel to Gnome Press, which published Isaac Asimov's I, Robot.