Hello again! I have not abandoned this blog! June turned out to be a pretty intense month for me, both in terms of, you know, the world, and also in more personal terms, with my roommate and I moving to a new place. Also, I started writing this post weeks ago, then saved the draft and promptly forgot where I had saved it, which meant restarting from scratch, so bear with me.
Synopsis: Kira gets a lead on a Cardassian prison transport that disappeared six years ago while carrying friends of hers — but her search is complicated when Gul Dukat insists on accompanying her. Meanwhile, Kasidy Yates is offered a job that would allow her to spend more time on the station, and is taken aback by Sisko’s cool reaction to the news.
So, I have, on occasion, summarized Dukat’s general arc over the course of the show to people thusly: “OK, so, he starts off pretty garbage, and kinda becomes an uneasy ally, usually more on the basis of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ than any real accord, and then for about five minutes there’s a period where it looks like he might become…not a good person, there’s never really any chance of that, but maybe slightly less garbage? Like, 20% less? And then he stabs everyone in the back and gets worse than ever, eventually just spiraling down into full Chaotic Evil.”
This episode marks the start of that five-minute period where Dukat seems like he might actually be trying to do better. This will end unceremoniously with the next season’s “In Purgatory’s Shadow”/”By Inferno’s Light” two-parter, in which he sells out Cardassia to the Dominion because they promised to make him the head of their puppet government, abandoning Ziyal in the process. Which, OK, fine, that’s less “five minutes” than “a season and change”, but you get what I’m saying: it’s temporary. Extremely temporary.
As someone who rarely, if ever, finds redemption arcs satisfying — like, I can count on one hand the number that have worked for me (maybe even one finger — Avatar: the Last Airbender‘s Zuko) — I am…actually pretty OK with this progression? Like, I do think that there are some things that cannot and should not be forgiven, that cannot possibly be atoned for. Dukat has personally done a few of them, and he’s been complicit in a lot more. Frankly, I do not think that I would trust this show’s writers (nor, in fairness, just about any show’s writers) to pull off a redemption arc for him! I’m 100% OK with them not really making a serious attempt at it, and frankly, as a Jewish woman, I am more than OK with the writers making it clear that eventually doing a couple of genuinely decent things does not actually make up for the fact that this man is complicit in genocide and has personally committed war crimes.
(And also, honestly, I find the general trajectory of “might become slightly less terrible a person WHOOPS NEVER MIND HE’S WORSE THAN EVER”…oddly hilarious? I can’t quite explain it.)
So, uh, can we talk about Tora Naprem?
I swear, one day I will write the Short Trek rattling around in my head about Tora Naprem, because I really, really wish we learned more about her. (It’s called “Jevonite”, it includes the line “I think he thinks he loves me”, and CBS is welcome to call me anytime to discuss it further!) Even if we couldn’t meet her directly, I’d at least like to have gotten some information from a source who wasn’t Dukat.
Because this is my biggest issue, the part over which I side-eye the show real hard: I feel like we’re supposed to just take Dukat’s word for it that they were ~in love~? (Honestly, a lot of the fandom traditionally has taken his word for it, which I may actually side-eye even harder.) Like. Seriously? Fine, his grief does appear to be genuine, so I’m willing to grant that he thought they were in love, that he thought it was some tragic romance. I might even be willing to grant that he loved her, at least as much as he’s capable of loving anyone besides himself.
But, uh, are we really going to take it as a given that she would’ve characterized their relationship the same way? Are we going to pretend that there’s much chance of meaningful consent between a Bajoran woman and a high-ranking Cardassian officer who ran a goddamn prison camp?
The fact that we’re meant to just take the show’s word for this — to take Dukat’s word for this — is so weird and creepy and gross. And I assume we are meant to, because even Kira seems to believe Dukat when he says that Naprem was more than his mistress, that they really were in love. If Kira isn’t questioning that it was really love, I have to assume that we, the audience, aren’t meant to do so either, and I just find it deeply troubling.
(Expect much, much more in this vein when we reach the sixth season’s “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night”, which is easily one of the show’s worst episodes in terms of laying bare how bad it could be on women in general and the possibility of meaningful consent between oppressed and oppressor in particular.)
And, frankly, leaving all that aside — again, since when is it a good idea to take Dukat at his word on literally anything ever? As established previously, I love Dukat as a character. He’s one of my favorite villains ever, if not my very favorite. And that is exactly why I know better than to take him at his word on anything ever. Generally, the best one can hope for is that he might be telling what he believes is the truth, and even then it’s probably a pretty heavily-edited version of it that leaves out some key details. Like, that’s as good as I’m ever gonna get from him (with the possible exception of if he tells me he wants to bone; this can be assumed to be true because he is constantly horny and I am his type, which is to say a passably attractive mammal who can fog a mirror). Why, suddenly, we are meant to take him at his word is just a complete mystery to me.
Y’all, I am someone who enjoys a good fucked-up fictional relationship. I do not believe that depiction is the same thing as endorsement, and I’ve had more than a few problematic faves in my time. (Hell, the whole reason I got back into Star Trek in a really serious way was that I watched Discovery‘s first season, because I imprinted on DS9 and thus the quickest way for this franchise to get my attention is to give me a megalomaniac dictator who’s obsessed with the Starfleet protagonist, so yes, I was immediately into the Burnham-Lorca dynamic.) But, like, you’ve gotta acknowledge that it’s fucked up! You can’t just pretend that it’s true love!
Introducing what is definitely going to be a recurring theme
I’m gonna try real hard not to spend this entire post — or the post for any episode she’s featured in, honestly — yelling TORA ZIYAL DESERVED BETTER. I really am, I swear.
But y’all, TORA ZIYAL DESERVED SO MUCH BETTER. Not just on a Watsonian level — like, obviously she deserved better than, you know…*gestures towards her entire life* But she deserved a lot better on a Doylist level, as well; the writers never really knew what to do with her, and she ends up simply being used as a “no homo” device for Garak and then fridged and it’s just crappy all around.
And this isn’t really a situation where I can (entirely) blame the writers’ room being so dude-heavy, because while I’m sure that didn’t help, they also had no idea what to do with Alexander Rozhenko (nor, really, did the TNG writers, and there was a better gender balance in that show’s writer lineup). Which is a shame, because, like Alexander, there’s a lot of really interesting potential with Ziyal, not only in the characters’ relationships with their respective fathers, but with other characters. Hell, with Ziyal, it’s even more egregious because there are other characters her age on the station! I would’ve loved to have seen some Ziyal-Alexander or Ziyal-Jake interaction.
Just…rewatching, it becomes very clear that the Siskos’ father-son relationship having so much emotional weight to it should mostly be credited to Lofton and Brooks, and also to the fact that Jake appears in most episodes; the other parent-child relationships (and family relationships in general, cough, O’Briens) feel much more like afterthoughts. On that score, the fact that three different people play Ziyal at various points probably doesn’t help, either.
Sisko is…not the most “maybe men were a mistake” man in this episode, but, as with Worf’s parenting still not being the worst on the show, that’s mostly because Dukat exists, and therefore the bar is set so low that it may actually be underground.
This subplot is another that makes me really wish we’d gotten more development for Kasidy — I feel like this would’ve worked a lot better from her point of view, or at least with equal time for her and Sisko. A scene or two of her talking to people — in my dream version of the episode, that might mean people she knows on the station outside of the main cast, or even (a radical proposition, I know) the people on her own crew, but I’d be happy to see her getting to know, say, Dax or O’Brien better, too — would’ve been useful in giving us a little more of her side of this. What’s her own relationship history? Hell, what’s her professional history?
(When Jake first mentioned her to his father, Sisko had a very “she’s a what? whew” reaction to the mere idea of dating a freighter captain; what’s the general reputation/image that they have?)
Alternately, it might have worked better if the scenes with Sisko just had a bit more emotional depth? Like, as much as I love everyone else on the station stirring the pot and enjoying the drama, it’s actually a really moving moment when he finally has to acknowledge the real issue — that the trauma of Jennifer’s death is still affecting him, and has made him hesitant to get too close to someone. I think it deserved to be treated with a bit more consideration and care than “we’re going to make it look like it’s just standard ‘lol men don’t want to commit’ but then, surprise! it’s actually because he’s still carrying around a fair bit of trauma over his wife’s sudden and violent death”.
OK, so, this is not specific to this episode, but more generally: my roommate and I decided, a couple of weeks ago, to embark upon a massive binge-rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve tweeted a couple of my other takeaways already, but, since “my new appreciation for Armin Shimerman’s performance” is something of a recurring theme on this blog, I wanted to note that the Buffy rewatch has only reinforced that appreciation. The mountain of makeup he’s wearing on DS9 as compared to BtVS is practically the least of the differences; prosthetics notwithstanding, his performance is just so different — it’s only the occasional line reading where I’m like “oh yeah, I hear it, that’s Quark”.
(Slightly more relevant to this episode specifically was the realization that my love for a certain type of villain-hero dynamic can almost certainly be traced to the fact that my two favorite shows of my tween and teen years were Deep Space Nine and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because whew.)
- Fun fact: “The Visitor” was originally going to be the fourth episode in the season, rather than the third, but Colm Meaney had a movie filming and they had to shuffle the schedules. That means that the original plan was to go from the tender, poignant story of love between father and child to, uh, Dukat and Ziyal.
- I was watching this episode with my roommate, as I usually do, and she audibly and involuntarily gagged at the end, when Dukat got way into Kira’s personal space for his “I’ll let you know”.
- Jadzia’s face when she and Kira run into Dukat at the end is priceless, she is so into the drama and you know what, I relate.
- OK, we all know I am not the biggest Odo fan, but his interaction with Kira is really lovely.
- The fact that Sisko calls Kira “Nerys” when he comes to talk to her about the trip, ahhhhhhh my emotions
- WHEW, Dukat. Just…whew.
- This shot definitely awakened something in me in my early teens. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.
- Dax remains incredibly horny for drama. As does everyone else on the station, really, but especially Dax, bless her.