OK, first things first: WHY THE HELL DOESN’T THE RUNABOUT HAVE SEATBELTS? Like, OK, theoretically there shouldn’t be any need for them, but things happen! This is a troubling oversight, Starfleet.
With that out of the way: this is a really solid episode. The plot itself is straight out of the original series, but there’s also a lot that makes it uniquely DS9, too. There are some truly fun moments between characters, and I’d probably identify this episode as the one where Kira’s character arc really begins. On which note…
Area woman can’t deal with Kira Nerys
KIRAAAAA, ugh, my emotions. She talks in “Emissary” about Bajor as a whole, but this is the first time we’ve really gotten any in-depth look at the personal toll the Occupation took on her. We’ve seen previously that she’s impulsive and pragmatic, that her first instinct when faced with a locked door is to get out her phaser. But only now does the show call our attention to where that instinct came from: “I’ve known nothing but violence since I was a child.”
Throughout the rest of the show, Kira will struggle with this — yes, she was forced to grow up much too fast, but the other side of the coin is that, not having been able to grow up normally, she’s now stuck in the patterns of her youth. This episode is really the beginning of the arc of her trying to grow up in a way she wasn’t allowed to do, to find ways to make peace with her past and channel her passion into building up herself and her world rather than tearing down the Occupation.
I also love that even though it hasn’t really gotten any significant attention thus far, we’re still seeing Kira and Sisko’s relationship evolve, and Kira grow more comfortable with Sisko in particular and the Federation crew in general. Sisko gently needling her with “when you’re through feeling underappreciated” in the opening, after letting her see Dukat’s file on her, was perhaps disproportionately delightful to me, and Bashir attempting to comfort her in her grief over the Kai’s death was genuinely sweet.
Speaking of Bashir, this episode was a really fantastic use of him. The absolute inability to take a hint when he invites himself along on the trip! His complete failure to read the situation when he and Sisko are working on an escape plan, so his light “isn’t that a bit like assisting a jailbreak?” is met with Sisko stonily shutting him down!
On the flip side, though, his snapping “oh, for God’s sake” and snatching his kit back from the Ennis guard so that he can see to Kira’s injuries is a moment of uncharacteristic anger from him. We’ve seen something like it only once before, in “Emissary“, when he snaps at Odo to help him or get out of his way. As I said then, the character’s saving grace early on is that he A) is actually really fucking good at his job, and B) takes it really fucking seriously. He’s another character whose arc I love, but this episode is maybe the first time I really like him.
Area woman only slightly better-equipped to deal with Bajorans in general
LORRRRRRRD the Bajorans give me so many feelings, in no small part because the things the show does with Bajoran religion are extremely friggin’ Jewish.
Kira: I’m afraid the Prophets won’t forgive me.
Opaka: That is why you need to forgive yourself.
W H E W. That is JEWISH AS HECK, y’all.
I have, uh, cut several paragraphs and several hundred words from this post about the Jewish holiday of Tisha b’Av, and another few hundred about the High Holy Days and Jewish ideas of atonement. (I am, however, going to be talking about religion in Star Trek on Antimatter Pod this weekend, so y’all may not be spared some version of those thoughts.) Suffice it to say that Kira’s journey over the course of the series, her struggle to make peace with her past and to find her identity outside of the context of the Occupation, hits me hard, in places that are inextricably bound up with my Jewish faith.
BUT I DIDN’T CUT EVERYTHING, SORRY, PREPARE FOR SOME JEWISHNESS!!!
The concept of Teshuvah — repentence and atonement, in a larger sense, but also, literally, “turning” — is a big one for the High Holy Days, but there’s a lot in it about repetition, the patterns that we fall into. The holidays come every year, after all — every year, we’ve got more to atone for. Every year, we have to face the ways we’ve disappointed ourselves and others, and every year, we have to start again, even knowing that we’re going to be back here next year. Which is…resonant as hell with this episode, thematically: every day, the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis are given a clean slate, and within a matter of hours, they’re back where they began.
In the words of Rabbi Alan Lew:
Transformation is not something that happens once and for all time. […] Transformation does not have a beginning, a middle, or an end. We never reach the end of Teshuvah. It is always going on. We are awake for a moment, and then we are asleep again. Teshuvah seems to proceed in a circular motion. Every step away is also a step toward home.
And it may never be clear to us that the work of transformation has borne fruit. This is usually the case in the realm of spiritual practice. Real spiritual transformation invariably takes a long time to manifest itself in our lives. Spectacular, immediate results — sudden changes in aspect or in the way we see the world — are always suspect, and usually suggest a superficial rather than a profound transformation.
Sisko and Bashir, the Federation officers, are disappointed at their failure to create any sudden transformation — they seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough, and then negotiations fall apart and the Ennis and Nol-Ennis go back to killing each other.
On the one hand, it’s a sad ending. (My mom, who loves the character of Kai Opaka, is still mad at DS9 for getting rid of her so soon.) But on the other hand — what a profound, and, in its own way, profoundly hopeful ending.
It’s not going to happen overnight. A single cease-fire doesn’t mean the war is over. It’s going to take work, a lot of it. And yet these people are not given up as a lost cause, abandoned to their hatreds — Opaka is determined to start doing the work, determined to stay even before she learns that she’s physically incapable of leaving. Deep Space Nine is often called darker than other series in the franchise, and yeah, it’s that, but I disagree when I see it called pessimistic. It’s not, really, not at all — the hope that characterizes Star Trek is 100% still there, DS9 just…comes at it from a different angle.
On a less intense note
A few things I enjoyed:
- The bisexual pride flag color scheme of Opaka’s robes
- Bashir looks much better with his hair messy, IMO
- Jonathan Banks and the fun moment of recognition I always have when I remember he’s in this episode
Me, for this show, apparently??? I mean, I think we all knew that at some level, but I surprised even myself with this post. Also: me for Judaism, but as someone on Twitter (I want to say it was Talia Lavin, but I’m not finding it in her history) once said, it’s an extremely horny religion, so that’s kinda to be expected.
I also feel like it’s worth mentioning that Kira is mad about Dukat’s file on her because he’s completely dismissive of her. The attention of the Galaxy’s Horniest Lizard has been primarily focused on Sisko thus far, and mostly remains so, but as time goes on it expands to the people around Sisko as well, so, uh, sorry about that, girl.