Good lord, Louise Fletcher and Nana Visitor are both just phenomenal in this episode, and Alexander Siddig is no slouch, either.
The loss of Bareil is, well. It’s sad in theory, but in practice, I mostly just feel devastated for Kira. As noted before, Bareil himself is…fine. He’s thoroughly OK. I do feel that he’s a bit of a missed opportunity, in general (and I’m starting to feel like you could make a drinking game out of my using the term “missed opportunity” on this blog). There’s this idea I see sometimes (the “who cares about Superman when Batman is there” mindset) that decent, emotionally healthy people are boring, that you can’t tell interesting stories about them. I firmly believe that they aren’t boring, and that they can make for great TV — hell, a lot of Star Trek stands as evidence of that! I just don’t feel like they ever quite figured out what kind of stories to tell with this particular decent, emotionally healthy person, and it doesn’t help that the actor just doesn’t have a lot of presence, or chemistry with most of the other cast members.
Meanwhile, the B plot…whew. Talk about tonal differences. They did actually want something a bit lighter compared to the A plot, which I get, but this is downright tissue-weight, and it’s just so jarring. Also, it…doesn’t quite work for me this far into the series? I feel like “Jake and Nog go on a double date, but Cultural Differences arise” would have been more fitting earlier on, when they were still getting to know one another. It just seems like a strange place in the series to have it, and it’s even more jarring given that the next episode is a huge one for Nog.
Let’s talk a little more about Kai Winn
So, when I was on Antimatter Pod a few months back, talking about religion in Trek, we touched for a bit on Winn, and I continue to find her a really interesting character. I really liked seeing her and Bashir played off each other, as well — it’s not a combination I would have expected, and they’re very interesting to watch.
(As a side note: I really like that this never turns into a hamfisted “religion vs. science” debate, which I feel like it very easily could have done — especially since originally, when instead of Bareil it was a one-off ambassador, it was meant to be Bashir trying to keep the character alive at all costs, and others having to intervene and tell him that it needed to end, and the character allowed to die.)
I was a little surprised, myself, to find that I thought Bashir was being unfair in accusing Winn of just wanting Bareil kept alive so she could use him. First of all, because, you know, Bareil has a say in the matter, too (see also: TNG’s “Ethics”, which is a whole mess of ableism, but where I also find Crusher’s complete disregard for Worf’s own wishes and cultural beliefs kind of troubling). I mean, Winn is absolutely ambitious — and appealing to her ambition was a surprisingly insightful moment for Julian, and a sign of how he’s growing as a character — but as I said when she was first introduced, something I find interesting about her is that her faith really is strong. She’s not a total cynic just using religion as a way to gain power, nor a fanatic who can’t see further than her own religion. She does truly believe, and she has wrestled with her faith and continues to do so over the course of the show.
Like, I’m sure that what Bashir says, about wanting to have someone who can take the blame, may be an element of the whole thing, but just a few episodes ago, in “Fascination”, Bareil was suggesting that Kira was being unfair to Winn, too, that she really was taking her position as Kai seriously. I don’t think it’s out of the question that she really does care about him for reasons beyond his being politically useful for her.
And honestly, I just can’t shake the scene where they arrived on the station. Winn is never one to miss a chance to emphasize her status, but in the midst of the crisis, her very first line is “the vedek, take care of the vedek”. The first we see of her in this episode — never mind ceremony, she’s waving off basic first aid because Bareil needs it more. This seems pretty basic decency, hardly worth remarking upon, but given the way some of the fandom talks about Winn — hell, given the way some of the characters in this episode talk to her — it seems worth calling out.
Speaking of the politics of the whole thing…
I do find it kind of weird that Winn is so utterly unprepared for these negotiations. Why wasn’t Bareil already briefing her? Like, if she was just there to give her blessing once it was done, OK, but I’m not sure why she would be expected to negotiate in the first place, then, rather than just being flown in from Bajor once an agreement was reached to stand at the signing and make a speech. For that matter, why was Bareil the only Bajoran representative involved in this? Why didn’t he at least have a couple of staff members or attachés who could keep notes?
Honestly, for that matter, why is a vedek negotiating a peace treaty? I get that religion is an important part of Bajoran culture, but Bajor isn’t a theocracy. The head of the religion doesn’t need to sign off on treaties, let alone negotiate them, and I certainly wouldn’t expect a priest to be negotiating them. Shouldn’t there be, like, an ambassador doing this?
Of course, the Doylistic answer is that this episode was supposed to be centered on an ambassador originally, but they decided that it wouldn’t have as much impact if it were just about a one-off character, and Bareil wasn’t really working out for them as a character, so they changed the random ambassador to him instead (after briefly contemplating a more thorough rewrite to make the dying character O’Brien, because there were rumors at the time that Colm Meaney was thinking about leaving the show). Which…I guess, and if they wanted to write out Bareil, this was a good way to kill two birds with one stone, but it raises a lot of questions about Bajoran government.
On the subject of questions raised: as is pretty much always the case, I want a lot more about the Cardassian politics going on behind the scenes here. On the Bajoran side of things, at least, the negotiations have apparently been secret, but how secret are they on Cardassia? Formally apologizing for the Occupation is a pretty big deal, I feel like that’s…gonna cause a stir? Six episodes ago, Dukat was attempting to reestablish a Cardassian presence on the station; where did this sudden willingness to compromise come from? (It also seems worth noting that the Cardassians haven’t actually sent a diplomat, either, since the negotiations are with Central Command, rather than the governing body to which the military is ostensibly answerable.)
That said, I really did love that after Sisko said “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I never would’ve guessed that you would be the one to bring such a bold vision of peace to Bajor,” Winn…doesn’t actually try to argue with him, just flat-out admits that Bareil’s been the driving force behind it.
The whole Jake-Nog-and-their-dates thing is filled with age-appropriate teenage horniness, but it’s so jarring given the rest of the episode that it’s best ignored.
Also, a couple of lines from Winn at different points make me feel like — well, not like there’s actual horniness between them, but like maybe there is a parallel universe out there where she and Bareil have a lot of sexual tension between them, and like I would be interested in seeing the version of the show from that universe.