Worf has the distinct status of being a major character on two ‘Star Trek’ series and, as such, provides an effective glimpse into exactly what made the worlds of ‘Deep Space 9’ and ‘The Next Generation’ so different.

It’s very natural, and frankly, very obvious to say that ‘DS9’ is on a space station and ‘TNG’ is on a starship. Of course they’re different! But really, they shouldn’t be. If they are both Federation, and in Federation space, why is it that the two shows operate so differently? Why does one have darker plotlines and arcs that extend whole seasons, while the other does not?

The easy answer to that is that ‘TNG’ and ‘DS9’ may both be apart of Federation space, but their movement within this space naturally makes the spaces different. One is stationary and the other is constantly moving.

I understand that this sounds irritatingly philosophical, so I’m going to simplify it a bit. There is no better way to do that, than to use Worf (with Odo as his foil) as an analogy. So here we go!

When Lieutenant Worf joins the crew of DS Nine, he finds it difficult to acclimate himself to the new situation. In particular, in the episode ‘Hippocratic Oath’, he dislikes the less-than-straightforward approach that Odo takes in order to apprehend a criminal. Worf prefers to arrest criminals immediately before they commit a crime, or, if need be, while in the act. Odo, on the contrary, likes to keep his eyes on larger prizes by using lower criminals to track their more powerful sponsors.

After bungling one of Odo’s operations, where Odo was trying to apprehend the leader of a major smuggling operation, Worf is called to Captain Sisko’s office to explain his actions.

WORF: When I served aboard the Enterprise, I always knew who were my allies, and who were my enemies.
SISKO: Let’s just say DS Nine has more shades of gray. And Quark [one of the low grade criminals and operator of station bar] definitely is a shade of grey. He has his own set of rules and follows them diligently. Once you understand them, you understand Quark. I’d say that is true for everyone here.

Here, Worf explains the very nature of difference between a moving and a stationary space. Of course, in the world of the Enterprise, it is itself a closed space where order and hierarchy is easier to maintain. In addition to that, most inhabitants of the Enterprise are enlisted and commissioned officers who all adhere to the same creed. Because of that, security becomes, more or a less, a matter of Self and Other. Essentially, what isn’t Us is Them, and Them must be destroyed. What must be secured against is always outside the Enterprise, be it renegade humans or aliens. The threat is rarely from within (episodes with Ensign Ro excepted, of course). This is highlighted in the DS9 episode, ‘Crossfire’.

WORF: Providing security was difficult enough on the Enterprise, it appears to be next to impossible on this station.
ODO: It isn’t easy.
WORF: I prefer a more orderly environment.
ODO: We have that in common.

This will not be their only exchange on the matter of orderliness. In the episode ‘Bar Association’, the two security chiefs clash again over how to handle an attempted robbery of Worf’s quarters.

ODO: [trying to appease Worf] Unfortunately, these things happen.
WORF: They did not happen on the Enterprise.
ODO: [smiling] Really. [Retrieving information from his desk computer] Let’s see. Stardate 46235.7, Ferengi privateers led by Daimon Lurin boarded and seized control of the Enterprise using two salvaged Klingon birds of prey. Stardate 45249.1 Berlinghoff Rasmussen, a petty criminal impersonating a scientist, committed numerous acts of theft against the crew of the Enterprise. Shall I continue?
WORF: That will not be necessary.
ODO: I know that these incidents were the exception rather than the rule. But if security breaches like those can happen on a flagship of the Federation, imagine the difficulty of maintaining security on an open port such as DS Nine.
WORF: I understand. It’s just that I find it [pauses] irritating.
ODO: So do I. But I’m afraid you’re just going to have to get used to it.

Although Odo cites these instances as matters of security breach, he fails to understand Worf’s point from an earlier episode about knowing who the enemy was. The simple truth of the matter is before trying to rob Worf’s quarters and getting caught, the burglar aboard DS Nine was just anyone, and therefore there was no way to successfully identify him as a threat or non-threat. On the station, there are Selves and there are Others, but they cannot be successfully organized as threats in such a binary fashion. It becomes a matter of who are risks and who are more likely to be risks. However, it is not only Worf who recognizes the differences between how things worked on the Enterprise as opposed to the station. Even Chief O’Brien, another character which enjoyed a tenure on both ‘TNG’ and ‘DS9’, acknowledges how the two are distinct entities unto themselves, despite being apart of the Federation whole.

O’BRIEN: [explaining to Worf when his work station will be fixed] Two or three hours. But after that, it’ll work like a charm
WORF: [grumpily] Until the next time it breaks down.
O’BRIEN: That’s the problem when you combine Cardassian, Bajoran and Federation technology. None of it was meant to work together.
WORF: How do you tolerate working in this environment?
O’BRIEN: [shrugging] It’s a lot easier than working on the Enterprise.
WORF: Easier? The Enterprise never had these kinds of problems.
O’BRIEN: Tell me about it. Do you have any idea how bored I used to get sitting in that Transporter Room waiting for something to breakdown? Here, I’ve got half dozen new things to worry about every day. This station needs me.

Here, O’Brien highlights more than just a simple difference of orderliness and messiness that Worf was earlier alluding to. From this, it becomes clear that a moving space seems to have some originary point that it can always return to; a status quo. The proverbial Red Shirt will be replaced by someone else wearing a red shirt, and the warp drive, or whatever else that broke on the ship, will be returned to the state it was before the crisis. When a problem is encountered on ‘TNG’, the challenge for the crew is to return things to normal. Although the Enterprise is supposed to encompass the various facets of adventuring into the unknown, it becomes clear that Chief O’Brien’s sense of adventure stems from the challenge of not making things as they were, but rather in simply trying to make them work if even in a completely different way.

There are also other conclusions that can be drawn from this short dialogue between Worf and Chief O’Brien, namely that DS Nine sits in a sort of Venn diagram of trajectories in space where there are Cardassians, Bajorans, the Federation, and the Dominion across the wormhole. It is an analogy for how these three distinct social spaces are so different, and yet the station still functions on a social level as well as a mechanical level, although not without its difficulties. The Enterprise, however, is not a point, but rather a trajectory that operates in space on a binary level. There is the Enterprise, and the not-Enterprise and multiplicity of space in its context is scarce.

The analogy ends when Worf decides to move his quarters aboard the Defiant, a ship assigned to the crew of DS Nine to use for scientific research, military reconnaissance and defense. As it represents a moving space, he finds it to be more orderly than the station. Given what has been said, it is a rational choice. Worf likes knowing who his enemy is, and thus his move to the Defiant while still being attached to the station makes a certain amount of sense. Any person aboard the Defiant who is not Federation or Bajoran Militia is automatically a security risk and he knows how to handle it, unlike in the world of the station, where civilians of all nations meet for all sorts of purposes and intent that is indeed difficult to measure. Being in the closed space that is the moving ship gives him comfort.

Worf’s ordeal in trying to adapt to the new environment that is the space station of DS Nine brings forth another, more important point than just dichotomies of neatness and messiness. It tries to, on one level, answer the question: just how are moving and stationary spaces different, and why?