Sunday, February 7, 2016

Character Profile - Jake Sisko

One of the articles I wrote for the Addicted To Star Trek group was about one of my favourite characters. While I have since lost the original article, I thought I would give it a second go at it.

Every Trek fan has their favourite characters. Much debate is made over the who is the best captain, the best first officer, the best engineer, or the best villain. Fans have their favourite from each series and usually a list of their overall Top 5 or 10. For some the character is one they relate most closely to. For others it is the character with the most depth and complexities that draws them in. Some characters have cool abilities or skill sets that make them #1 on the list, while others have the look that the fan just can't get enough of. Some, like myself, have a hard time picking their absolute favourite. It is like picking your favourite child, it just seems wrong. Despite the many great characters that exist in the Trek world, I would like to write my first Character Profile on a character that I have always enjoyed watching. I am talking about Deep Space Nine's Jake Sisko.

When Deep Space Nine was envisioned, there was the idea of making the station's commander a single parent. For that to happen, there needed to be a main character that was the child of this officer. Enter Jake Sisko, played by a young Cirroc Lofton. Unlike Wesley Crusher, the kid on the Enterprise in TNG, Jake was made out to be more like a regular kid. I suspect that with some of the fan backlash over Wesley Crusher saving the Federation's flagship more often than Satrfleet's finest were able to do in the first couple seasons, the producers wanted to keep the kid more, well, not special. Over the seven seasons that DS9 ran for, fans were able to watch Jake grow from boy to teen to young man. In that time, like all youth, Jake didn't have a lot of direction. Instead, his story throughout the show seemed to be one of self-discovery. That is why his character worked so well. Quite often we wish the characters of these shows to be relatable. Who didn't have to find out who they were and where they fit into the world around them? Jake was an everyday kid doing everyday things. He went to school, got into mischief with his friend Nog, went on dates, you know, normal stuff. He got cocky now and then, was put in his place, and tried to do the right thing. He loved his dad, missed his mother, and stood by those he cared about. Like many of us, he felt pressure to follow in a parent's footsteps, but ultimately chose to find his own path. On many levels, Jake was simply one of us, only he got to live in the world we could only dream of being in.

Even though Jake was a main character, he was not featured in many episodes. In fact, of the main cast, he appeared in the fewest. Part of the reason behind this could be the idea that the writers and producers only wanted to have him as part of the episode if there was a real reason for him to be there. While I wished that Jake was shown in more episodes, I must say that I would rather him not be in the episode instead of awkwardly being dumped into the story as a "token Jake" moment. Sometimes the best way to use a character is "only as needed". For the first few seasons Jake's development was pretty much relegated to either acting as a catalyst for Ben Sisko's development or providing an amusing B-story line. Of all the main cast, he had the fewest episodes where he was the main character. Disappointing for Jake fans, but in a way that added a strength to his character. You see, on those few occasions where he was the central focus, the episode and story were powerful, memorable, and/or magical. In these episodes, Jake is not wasted. His character shows real and honest depth.

To prove my point, let us look at some of the episodes where Jake shone. First up, "Valiant". In this episode, Jake and Nog find themselves being rescued by an elite group of Starfleet cadets called Red Squad behind enemy lines. Red Squad is without any adult supervision, and are taking the fight to the Dominion. Nog gets caught up in the romance and euphoria of the adventure and joins in. Jake, on the other hand, becomes suspicious of the behavior of these youth. He became the one who took a stand and was the lone voice of reason. In this episode, Jake learned to stand on his own, even against his best friend for a time.

Next up, "Nor the Battle to the Strong". Here is one of Star Trek's finest episodes about the reality of war. So often when we see war episodes, the show focuses on characters that the majority of us will never be. It shows soldiers who bravely stand their ground against insurmountable odds. Some of those will fall, and some will miraculously survive, and quite often there will be fear that is dealt with bravely. If you had served in the military and seen active duty, you know that such portrayals are often glamorized. In this episode, Jake represents all of us. Thrust into a combat situation, initially he is excited to see the war up close and personal. As the realities slammed into Jake, he found himself like I imagine most of us would be in a similar situation: scared like never before. Whereas his father, or Worf, or O'Brien would have steeled themselves and gotten through it, Jake lacked the training, and found himself overwhelmed. At a crucial moment, Jake panicked and ran. After realizing that he was scared, and thinking himself a coward, he goes on a true coming-of-age journey. Seeing the worst of war up close and first-hand, he acts just like any of us would act. Near the end of the ordeal, he once again acts out of sheer desperation. This time, however, his actions inadvertently save lives, and he is deemed a hero. His whole reason for being in this predicament was so he could write a story, originally on Dr. Bashir, later hoping for a glorious tale of battle and victory, and eventually about the truth. That war scares him. That he is not a brave soldier. That people die and it is not romantic or glories, but gory and terrifying. The impressive thing to me is that Jake could have written the story any way he wanted, as he was the sole witness for most of it. He chose to write the truth, which to me showed integrity and maturity beyond Jake's years. His father, upon reading what Jake had wrote, confessed that anyone who had seen battle would have recognized themselves in his article.

Finally, there is the classic episode entitled "The Visitor". When I am asked about my favourite episode of Star Trek, this is the one I talk about. Heck, when I am asked about my favourite story and television episode period, this is one I talk about. An accident kills Ben Sisko, and Jake is now left a true orphan. While he moves on with his life, he soon discovers that his father is not truly dead, but caught in a temporal inversion, reappearing to Jake seemingly at random. Over the next several decades, Jake strives to save his father. It is in this episode that the real love that Jake has for his father is trumpeted the loudest. The emotional heartstrings are plucked expertly as we witness this young man, and soon to be older Jake Sisko sacrifice so much to bring his father back, even willing to sacrifice everything for one last chance to be reunited. Powerful performances are given by both Cirroc Lofton and Tony Todd as the adult Jake Sisko. This gem of an episode has been lauded by fans and critics alike as one of the greatest Trek episodes of all time, and it's a Jake episode.

So I tip my hat to the boy we watched grow up in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. No, I do not think that Jake will ever be decreed as the greatest character in Trek history. I doubt he would crack the Top 10. For me, Jake Sisko will hold a special place in my heart, not for being the bravest, the boldest, the smartest, or the funniest, but for being the most human.

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