“Change Of Heart” (season 6, episode 16; originally aired 3/4/1998)
In which Worf has one...
Here I was thinking I wouldn’t have to say anything else about Dworf (Wax?), and the writers decide to throw something like this at us. “Change Of Heart” works very, very hard to find the pathos buried inside Worf and Dax’s marriage, and the episode lives and dies on how much the audience has invested in that relationship. There’s a fun subplot with O’Brien and Bashir (that takes a hard left in an unsatisfying direction), and I suppose you could get worked up about whether or not Dax was going to survive (I actually was, for reasons I’ll get into in the stray observations), but the meat of the story is in Worf and Dax’s mission to meet with a Cardassian spy. It’s in how the rendezvous turns into a rescue, how that rescue gets derailed, and how Worf finally decides between his honor and his heart. If none of this holds your interest, then the hour will be a dud, Bashir and O’Brien notwithstanding.
It worked for me, which came as something of a surprise. I am, at heart, a romantic; stories about characters willing to sacrifice everything to protect their partners (romantic partners, I mean; I’m not going all weepy if Dewey takes a bullet for Cheatum at Howe, Dewey, Cheatum & Steel) always hit me harder than I’d like to admit. I’ve talked at length before about why it’s difficult to get behind Worf and Dax as a couple, but it mostly comes down to a matter of tone. When the balance is off, Worf turns into a stern authoritarian whose adherence to discipline turns his relationship with the fun-loving Dax into something uncomfortably close to strict-dad/rebellious-daughter. When the balance is right, the two characters should bring out the best in each other. Dax can encourage Worf’s latent humor and passion, while Worf can ground Dax’s life and offer unflinching support. The biggest issue is that the writers have rarely managed to achieve this. It’s far too easy to go back to the old well of Worf bitching about tradition, and Dax wanting to have fun but not being able to.
Thankfully “Change Of Heart” avoids this trap, and the scenes between Dax and Worf are some of the best the show has ever done. The cold open has Worf and O’Brien observing a Tongo game in progress; Dax is down by a considerable amount of latinum, but Worf, despite not really understanding the game, is convinced that his wife is about to pull a big upset. He’s so convinced, in fact, that he bets with O’Brien on the outcome, a bet that he then loses. It’s a cute bit, and doesn’t have much to do with the plot, outside of establishing just how fond Worf is of his wife—but considering where the story is about to go, that’s pretty damn important. Just as important, the exchange between O’Brien and Worf gives the latter a chance to actually be friendly and likable, instead of just growling at people. This is a Worf I can imagine hanging out with, and it’s also a Worf I can imagine a sane person dating. While the Klingon has thankfully been given greater range and agency on DS9 then he had on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he’s still too often stuck in the imagination-free curmudgeon role, and any chance to see him break out of that is a good thing.
The rehabilitation continues for most of the episode, as Ron Moore’s script repeatedly finds opportunities to engage with the couple, showing them at home and at work as a functioning, and frequently charming, pair. We see Worf and Dax hanging out in their apartments, him praying to a shrine, her respecting his beliefs and then climbing into bed naked. (So I guess they don’t have to beat the shit out of each other every time they have sex.) We see them chatting about their honeymoon plans, and while this conversation reverts back to their familiar roles—Worf wants traditional Klingon suffering, Dax wants to be “pampered”—it’s still light and pleasant. In just a handful of scenes, Moore and the actors manage to make this relationship not just a plot development, but an actual viable romantic connection, a pairing that has more value than a simple story engine.
These sequences work to make the second half of the episode, after Dax has been injured and Worf is struggling to decide what to do next, more powerful. But stuff like this should be a regular part of the series, the sort of occasional character moment that gives relationships like O’Brien and Bashir, or Odo and Quark, such deep reservoirs of history and charm. And really, this is the sort of thing we should’ve been seeing even before Worf and Dax hooked up. The writers did their best to justify the attraction, but it was too often an abstract concept, a conceit that it was difficult to feel much of anything about. A storyline of Worf and Dax exchanging quips with a will they/won’t they vibe could’ve been great, and while the climax of this episode hinges on Worf making different choices as a married man, it could also have worked as the moment when Worf discovered the depth of his passion for this non-Klingon female. The bottom line is, this romance needs more romance, and “Change Of Heart” manages that well.
The Bashir and O’Brien subplot is less effective, although far from a disaster. O’Brien’s sudden determination to beat Quark at Tongo despite having no real idea how the game is played fits him well, and Bashir’s knack for the game is a good use of his magical genetically engineered powers. These two are made for lightly comedic plotlines, and for the most part, it’s a nice change of pace from the rest of the episode. The weirdness comes in when Quark decides to mindfuck Bashir over his old crush on Dax. Now, I can see making an argument that this is a realistic conversation, and as someone who has had his share of crushes in the past, I can accept that. Plus, while it’s all a con, the more serious tone of the conversation fits the more serious tone of the back half of the hour. My objection is more that I was under the impression that Bashir had moved on from Dax, and to bring his crush back up here twists their friendship in a way I’m not a huge fan of. But then, this is all coming from Quark, who is clearly manipulating the good doctor, so maybe my negative reaction was just me reading things incorrectly.
A more concrete objection comes from the fact that Worf and Dax were assigned this mission (with no one else!) in the first place. The dramatic crux of the story comes when Worf decides to choose saving Jadzia’s life over making the meeting with the Cardassian spy. The spy, who claimed to have important information on the number and location of Founders in the Alpha Quadrant, was killed by his own people after Worf failed to make contact, and Starfleet is understandably upset by Worf’s commitment to love. Sisko tells him as part of his punishment that he and Dax will never work alone together again, and the only sensible reaction is to wonder why this wasn’t policy in the first place. Hell, Sisko even says that if he and Jennifer were in Worf and Dax’s position, he would’ve made the same call.
So why isn’t it standard policy not to allow married couples to team up on dangerous assignments? Generally speaking, I’m willing to hand wave the oddness of children on starships and families going off to war together, but a story like this just underlines the weirdness of Starfleet’s half-in, half-out approach to being a militarized institution. Worf isn’t to blame here. He was put in a position where he was forced to make an impossible choice, and had he accepted his orders and left his wife to die, it would’ve ruined his efficacy as a commander. It’s just an idiotic policy, and while I normally try not nitpick this sort of thing (and I also am mostly willing to forgive it because I liked the episode), stories like this make certain false assumptions impossible to ignore. Worf isn’t to blame for this clusterfuck. Idiot bureaucracy is. I’m just glad we didn’t have to lose two good characters to learn that.
- I suppose I should say something about Worf’s choice here, so: I liked it. I think it was well-handled, and didn’t cheat. And I agree with Sisko.
- Kind of surprised that the Tongo plot didn’t end with a reveal that Quark had been cheating all along.
- Man, that Cardassian spy was a dick. I don’t care if he did have information that could’ve potentially saved millions of lives. I’m glad he died.
- SPOILER: Okay, the reason I was worried Jadzia would die is that I already know she does; I’ve seen at least one episode from the final season that deals with her death, and Dax’s replacement host. I just wasn’t sure if the death happened off-screen or not, and given how poorly Jadzia was doing by the end, there seemed like a good chance that this was going to be her swan song.
“Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night” (season 6, episode 17; originally aired 4/1/1998)
In which Kira meets her mother…
We’re all compromised. Some of us more than others. Here I sit in a comfortable room, in a comfortable house, with two jobs, a lot of high tech toys, and the confidence that I know where my next meal is coming from; plenty of people don’t have that, and there are multiple ways I could be trying to help, and sometimes I do. Mostly I don’t, though. Mostly I ignore the charity drives and the e-mails and the twinges of conscience, because if I didn’t, they would take over my life, and I’m selfish. I want my life for myself. While I don’t know you, or your struggles, I can assume that, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably benefited at least a little from the suffering of others. Doesn’t mean you chose it, doesn’t mean you hurt anyone directly. But we live off the backs of the less fortunate, and no amount of atonement can alter this fact. The best you can do is find your level of necessary appeasement, and hope that’s enough to sleep at night.
Kira, though? Kira has spent her whole life with the firm conviction that her morals are beyond reproach. She is passionate, dedicated, and whole in a way that makes her, at times, difficult to like, the sort of person who’s constantly telling people about her time with the Peace Corp; not because she’s bragging, but because she thinks the value of the organization is so self-evident that simply by discussing it, she’ll win more converts. Kira is a believer to the core, but she’s not really arrogant about it. She’s earned her beliefs, and her scars, and she remains the rare example of a fictional revolutionary whose enthusiasm never makes her tiresome. Six seasons in, and I still want Kira to keep winning. The show has thrown most everything it can at her (but not, to the best of my recollection, rape, so good job everyone), and she comes out swinging every time.
“Wrongs Darker” doesn’t break this trend, but it does present a complex situation, one that pushes at the limits of Kira’s moral compass. The downside to her passion is a certain tendency towards binary thinking. Something is evil or it isn’t; there is no real gray area. This is an understandable tack to take when one is fighting a revolution to free one’s people from enslavement and genocide. Such circumstances don’t really allow the time it takes to parse out situational ethics, and even if they did, the sheer effort of risking your life day in and day out to fight a seemingly undefeatable foe means you can’t waste a lot of emotional energy on internal debate. But now that the Cardassians have left, and Bajor is free once again, life has gotten back to be tricky in different ways. This episode has her traveling back in time to find out exactly what relationship her mother (Kira Meru, played by Leslie Hope, who also played Jack Bauer’s wife in the first season of 24) had with Gul Dukat. In a sense, she’s going back to the old days, when life was simpler: rebels versus the evil empire. But nothing’s simple, really. Not the way we want it to be.
Okay, so let’s get the Orb of Time stuff out of the way first: It’s a very odd idea, and while the show has used it in the past, the fact that Kira can basically just take a vacation from her job and pull a Marty McFly is on the silly side. Sure, she had to get Sisko’s permission before she goes, and she explains that she’ll only get what she wants if the Prophets wish it, which helpfully cuts off any possibility that the Orb of Time does this sort of thing on the regular. But, again—silly. And what are the rules, exactly? Kira uses the Orb, wakes up in her own past, even meets herself (briefly), and then follows her mother around for a while, briefly becoming a “comfort woman” for the Cardassians on Terek Nor. When she finds the truth about Mom (or a truth, anyway), she starts plotting revenge, even planting a bomb inside Meru and Dukat’s quarters. How does this work, exactly? Is she really in the past, or in a vision of it? If her efforts had been successful, could she have killed Dukat a full decade or more before the series even began?
I don’t know. And in all honestly, while I have fun wondering about it, I don’t think it matters that much. In some episodes of DS9, time travel, and the restrictions it places on our heroes, is an important element in the plot. Here, it’s simply a device to allow Kira to face off against her mom directly even though her mom has been dead for some time. I’m a little irked at how casual this has become—we don’t need time travel to become an every-other-week type event on the show, thanks. But in the context of “Wrongs Darker,” it’s basically fine. The only real complaint is that questions about causality (seriously, what would’ve happened if Kira had decided to blow up her mom and Dukat? And why was she so cavalier about the whole thing?) distract from the more important issues at hand.
That issue being Kira Meru, her relationship with the Gul, and what the relationship means to her daughter. This show has always been good at offering difficult scenarios and then refusing to give us easy answers, and “Wrongs Darker” does not disappoint in this regard. The story kicks off when Kira gets a message from Dukat on her mother’s birthday. Dukat claims to have been in a relationship with Meru for years, and provides personal information that seems to corroborate his assertion. This upsets the hell out of Kira, for obvious reasons, and she travels to the past determined to prove Dukat wrong.
But of course he isn’t wrong, and that’s where things get tricky. We already knew that Bajorans under the occupation were in a miserable state, and the episode quickly confirms this: Kira’s family, along with the other families in their camp, are slowly starving to death. When a Bajoran collaborator comes to the camp looking to select some of the ladies as prostitutes for the Cardassian garrison, Meru goes along. She doesn’t really have a choice; none of them do. But while it’s entirely justifiable that the women would try and make the best of an awful situation, Meru seems to take things a step further. Dukat takes a special liking to her, and she accepts his advances. More, she responds to them, and this enrages Kira. Her worst fears are confirmed: her mother slept with the enemy, and enjoyed it, betraying everything Kira stands for.
Except it’s not that simple, as Meru tries to explain. In a way, Kira is approaching her own past from a position of privilege. From her perspective, the fight against the Cardassians was a noble battle that ended in victory. She had a choice, and her choice was the right one, so she can feel pretty solid about everything. Meru’s situation was more complicated. She had a family to protect, which meant that it would’ve been more difficult for her to get involved in the revolution. And maybe she didn’t have a particularly revolutionary frame of mind. From what we see of her in this episode, Kira’s mother was a decent, deeply sad woman who was trying to make the best of an impossible situation. She doesn’t have Kira’s fire, or her commitment. She’s just trying to survive in a miserable, ugly world. Going along with Dukat means that her family is protected and cared for; it means that they have a future (which means that Kira herself will get to grow up to do all those bold things she’s so good at doing). The pleasure she gets from Dukat’s gifts, and whatever she feels for the Cardassian himself—well, how can you blame her?
Kira can, of course, because at her worst, Kira is very good at blaming anyone who fails to live up to her standards. Although really, it’s understandable in this instance, since this is her mother; the mother who Kira thought died when she was a little girl. It’s not hard to imagine Kira spending her whole life building up a woman she never met, and to find out that not only are your assumptions wrong, but that this person you’ve loved your whole life without ever knowing is actually representative of everything you despise, has to be hard. Time travel logic aside, Kira’s decision to blow up Meru and Dukat make sense. It’s not a good decision, exactly, and it’s not one the episode necessarily agrees with, but it’s what she would do; just as her impulsive decision to save Meru and Dukat at the last moment makes sense. This is a sign of good drama: that a character can behave in ways that we ourselves wouldn’t necessarily subscribe to, but that that behavior still fits in with established patterns.
In the end, Kira doesn’t forgive her mother for her weakness; that’s a bold choice, because the script (by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler) does what it can to make sure we feel some sympathy towards the lady. Kira tells Sisko she decided not to blow up Mom because, well, Moms is Moms, so to speak. It’s a nice sentiment, but I’m not sure it’s enough. Maybe that’s because admitting what she was really feeling—that her hatred of collaborators might not be as perfectly justified as she’d like—was too painful to admit. We’re all compromised. Even her.
- So all of Dukat’s gross attempts to hit on Kira in the past are now a hundred times grosser.
- “You want to travel back in time to see if Dukat and your mother were lovers.”—Sisko (I don’t know why I recorded this quote; I think the straightforward statement of a ludicrous premise amused me.)
- The last real scene we get with Meru, she’s receiving a message from her husband, who tearfully thanks her for all she’s done for the family. It’s nifty how the episode manages to make both sides of Meru’s situation true: she’s doing what’s best for the people she loves, and she’s enjoying the benefits herself. The hell of the occupation is that it forces people into situations where they have to compromise themselves to find any happiness at all.
Next week: We hold an “Inquisition” and ponder “In The Pale Moonlight.”