1.20: “In the Hands of the Prophets”

One season down, six to go. And y’all. Y’ALL. Y’all, I am kind of amazed that we’re here, not gonna lie. I half-expected that my ADHD ass would abandon this effort around “Move Along Home” at the latest. I am having so much fun doing this, and am so grateful to the handful of you who are joining me for it.

This also seems like an appropriate place to mention that I was on Antimatter Pod a couple of weeks ago, where we discussed religion in Star Trek! We touched specifically on this episode and Kai Winn, in fact. It was a ton of fun, and my thanks again to Liz and Anika for having me.

Speaking of religion…

I wish we got more about the internal divisions in the Bajoran religion — honestly the fact that it’s all still under one hierarchy seems a little weird to me, although that may be a function of my Jewishness; certainly, there are different orders within Catholicism. Apparently the main writer for this episode was raised Catholic, and was very much drawing on 15th- and 16th-century Vatican politics for this episode. What with their being introduced as the Palestinians to the Cardassians’ Israelis in The Next Generation, and often being the Jews to the Cardassians’ Nazis throughout DS9 (see the previous episode), and now papal scheming, the Bajorans are in danger of becoming a bit of a Swiss Army Analog.

As we discussed a bit in Antimatter Pod, the whole “religion vs. science” conflict sometimes seems a bit shoehorned in? The Bajorans have had space travel for centuries; it doesn’t really make a ton of sense, on its face, for “science vs. religion” to even be a conflict for them at this point. That said, given the massive cultural upheaval they’re in the midst of — they’ve just gone from one alien society who came in claiming to want to help them, then brutally oppressed them, and now they’ve got another alien society having come in claiming to want to help them sitting right on their doorstep, and one of them is a representative of the Prophets — I suppose it also makes a grim sort of sense that they might be in a place for Winn’s pot-stirring to work.

I also…don’t quite see that “are they aliens or are they gods” is necessarily a conflict, either? We get into “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” territory with the Prophets — a species who do not perceive time the way we do, who are capable of some pretty friggin’ magical-looking things, whose motivations and minds are nearly, if not fully, incomprehensible to most other species — like, it’s not really unreasonable to view them as gods!

(Although this interpretation is likely also be colored by my Jewishness; due to Several Historical Reasons, there’s a fair bit of wrestling with the question of “why would a benevolent deity who loves us let terrible things happen” in Jewish thought, and thus a lot of dealing with the ways in which the divine is, at some level, fundamentally incomprehensible.)

There is something to be said for Keiko’s point that this may not be the last point on which there’s a religion vs. science disagreement, but also…this can’t be the first time that the issue has come up for a Federation teacher? At the very least, different cultures can have very different interpretations of historical events, even without bringing religion into the issue. Like, yeah, Winn is definitely fanning the flames and making this conflict far more dramatic than it had to be, but also, the fact that everyone is completely blindsided by this just seems weird.

Let’s talk vedeks

WINNNNNN. Winn is such an interesting character. My mother (who, as I’ve mentioned before, still hasn’t quite forgiven DS9 for writing out Opaka) may be considering disowning me over this, despite my reassurances that I just like her as a character, not a person.

I love that Winn is both ambitious and ruthless and a true believer. I feel like that’s not a combination we see very often — the ruthless hypocrite who’s just using religion to get power, sure; the complete fanatic, sure; but someone who is both cold and calculating and also completely, 100% dedicated to their faith, not so much. She has a confrontation with Kira in a later episode that I absolutely love, where she calls her on acting as if the only people who resisted the Occupation were the ones who picked up weapons — but Winn was imprisoned for continuing to not only practice but teach their shared faith, and she was beaten and starved and brutalized, and she still kept believing.

And then, also, we have Bareil. Oh, Bareil. So nice, so much potential as a character and a foil to Winn, and so friggin’ boring in practice. I mean, you can 100% see why Kira would be attracted to him later — after the life she’s had, a stable, emotionally healthy, even-keeled guy is absolutely a good choice — but boy, do they have no idea how to make interesting TV with him.

“I don’t think that you’re the devil.”

First of all, I really liked that even in the midst of all of this, even though he’s very much, personally, on Keiko’s side, still, when Jake says that the whole conflict is dumb, Sisko gently corrects him and tells him no, it’s not. I love that we see Sisko really work to model Federation tolerance and openness to his son, even as he’s struggling with it — and that he acknowledges, to Jake, that it’s not always easy, that different cultures don’t always go together seamlessly.

That ending, oh my stars. I have discussed my love of Kira and Sisko’s developing relationship — it’s something I’ve always liked in past viewings, but only on this rewatch have I come to fully appreciate it, I think. The mere fact that it’s the note on which the season ends is lovely, but the moment itself is just perfect:

Kira: I don’t think that you’re the devil.
Sisko: Maybe we have made some progress after all.

Like. The understated dryness of that exchange, and the real fondness and affection underneath it — I love it. Because on the one hand, okay, obviously it’s half a joke, an understatement for comic effect. But on the other hand…it’s taken a lot of work to get here, and given how reasonable it is for the Bajorans to be suspicious of the Federation — given how suspicious Kira was of Sisko and how frustrated he was with her, how little patience he had for Starfleet in general when he first arrived — there was a time when Kira just not thinking Sisko was evil was, in fact, major progress.

Other things I enjoyed

  • How totally casual Dax and O’Brien are about a missing ensign??? It’s completely in the context of one of O’Brien’s tools having gone missing, and is given about as much importance, if not less?
  • The computer in Odo’s office appears to be showing a picture of Quark. Odo, can you ever chill for even thirty seconds? (No, he cannot.)
  • “It is my philosphy that on this station there is room for all philosophies.” I love how Sisko is politely saying “my philosophy is that everyone needs to chill the fuck out”, he’s just so #relatable.

Horniness rankings

  1. The O’Briens’ horniness for one another is so delightfully wholesome!
  2. OK, I know Neela’s awkwardness in her scenes with O’Brien is mostly meant to be about her involvement in Winn’s plot, but also, she 100% has a crush on him, let’s be real.

2 thoughts on “1.20: “In the Hands of the Prophets”

  1. Being raised non-religious, and only really coming to understand anything about religious communities pretty late in life (I really never talked with anyone about their religion until I was in college), I probably had trouble seeing the multiple dimensions to this storyline – and to Winn – when I was first exposed to this episode, and I don’t think I had really re-engaged with it again until now. I love your observation that Winn is both power-hungry AND a genuine, devoted adherent to her faith, and both sides of that identity are integral to her as a character (both here in her debut and in later seasons).

    The writers forget over and over (or don’t know how to use) the concept that the Bajorans were a spacefaring civilization centuries prior to the time of this show. I think this lends itself sometimes to portrayals of Bajorans as overly simplistic in the way they’ve melded faith and science – this episode is not a particularly egregious example of it, there are worse. But even addressing the question of how the Bajorans come to reconcile their faith in the Prophets with knowing more about the reality of the wormhole aliens is pretty advanced for a Star Trek show.

    This was a great episode to end the season on, and a great way to end it – by this point on TNG, all the season finales were becoming increasingly absurd cliffhangers (this would have been right around the time they either did Mark Twain Time Travel or the deplorable Lore-Meets-The-Borg storyline on TNG). A one-off that stops to take stock of the way Sisko and Kira have come to work together as a metaphor for the way Bajor and the Federation are slowly, awkwardly, with a lot of hesitation, growing closer as well was just what the show needed at this point. The plot developments that drive the story are quiet and low-key; just a minor murder mystery (ok maybe a little too low-key on the murder mystery, guys) and an assassination attempt – there are hints that this will play a much larger role in the future of Bajoran society later on, but we don’t really see that here, and that seems fine to me. This episode is about the small things and how they represent the bigger things. If Neela has a crush on O’Brien (which she does), that’s a small thing that helps us see the conflict in her committing murder and sabotage and trying to kill Bareil – the Prophets spoke and she answered their call, she says, but she didn’t really enjoy it. I think this is one of the best season finale episodes in Star Trek.

    Kickstarter to fund remastered episodes in which a new actor plays Bareil but leave everything else the same. I don’t even know who. Not this guy. Geez.

    At this point I also wanted to comment that I expected to hate and cringe-watch all of first season and I was surprised by how well most of it hung together. Most of these episodes I had not seen in over 20 years, some of them not since they were first broadcast (or maybe once or twice back in the 90s and not since). Yeah, a lot of them are embarrassing and dorky, but I enjoyed them a lot more than I thought I would.


    1. At this point I also wanted to comment that I expected to hate and cringe-watch all of first season and I was surprised by how well most of it hung together.

      100% AGREED. There are definitely low points, and I’d say it’s probably the show’s overall weakest season, but honestly, if this is the worst they’ve got, that’s…pretty good? Even the low points are generally just kinda boring/clunky and, if you’ve been watching Star Trek for some time, fairly predictable.

      Kickstarter to fund remastered episodes in which a new actor plays Bareil but leave everything else the same. I don’t even know who. Not this guy. Geez.

      TAKE MY MONEY. The concept of the character as a foil to Winn is great, and later on, I totally get why Kira would be attracted to someone who seems very calm and even-keeled and emotionally healthy, but whew. This guy, bless him, just has all the presence of a block of wood. It’s unfortunate.

      And YESSSSSSSS I love your larger point about what a good decision this finale was, in being a one-off that takes stock of the season’s political and emotional throughlines. It could have felt really heavy-handed or forced, but it didn’t, since we’ve seen, in smaller ways, how the crew are starting to work together and learn to trust each other. It really is lovely.


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