Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “'Til Death Do Us Part”/“Strange Bedfellows”
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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “'Til Death Do Us Part”/“Strange Bedfellows”

Long live Damar

“‘Til Death Do Us Part”/”Strange Bedfellows” (season 7, episodes 18 & 19; originally aired 4/14/1999 and 4/21/1999)

In which the plot thickens

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.)

What do we do when religions fails us? A Sisko/Winn co-production

For most of the run of Deep Space Nine, Sisko’s connection to the Prophets has been a gift. An often ambiguous, confusing gift, to be sure, and one which has led him down the path of obsession more than a few times, making spiritual demands on him that were rarely simple or easy to accommodate—but a gift nonetheless. Sisko has never been a stupid man, and it would’ve strained credibility to believe he’d hold onto his faith in the wormhole aliens for as long as he has if that faith wasn’t a positive force in his life. But now the Prophets—at least, one of the Prophets—is trying to warn him off of marrying Kasidy. This confuses things.

Kai Winn is a woman who has used the bedrock of her belief to justify decades of conniving, plotting ambition. It’s a self-serving, corrupt approach to spirituality (in that instead of an expansion of the soul, Winn is perpetually retracting, interpreting events and others’ wishes only through the dim, flickering light of her own needs), but her belief itself is real. Winn’s hypocrisy is buried so deeply it barely even qualifies to be described as such. Her conviction in the Prophets’ righteousness is the cornerstone of her identity; but since that identity is also predicated on the assumption that she and she alone should hold the reins of Bajor’s destiny, there’s none of the enlightenment or generosity that we see in, say, Kira’s devotion. Winn comes first, the Prophets just barely second, and the only reason that hasn’t been a problem for her in the past is that the word of the Prophets allows room for interpretation.

Both of this week’s episodes follow Sisko and Winn as they make important decisions, for reasons which fit well with both characters. The results will have to wait until next week; for now, all we have to go on are the journeys that lead them to turn their backs on the Prophets.

Of the two, Sisko’s situation is the most challenging. With Kai Winn, the “right” answer is clear enough; her greed and ambition have kept her at arms length from her gods, and if she really wanted to repent, she’d follow Kira’s advice and step down. That she doesn’t is both inevitable and a little sad, but it’s not as if she’s treading in confusing moral waters. For Sisko, though, life is more difficult. Just at the moment of his greatest happiness, he gets a message from the Prophets that he shouldn’t marry Kasidy. Not because their union is evil, not because Sisko is doing anything wrong, but because the marriage will only end in “sorrow.”

That’s it; no further explanation is offered, apart from the standard boilerplate of vague, indefinite foreshadowing. Which is what makes the problem so difficult. Telling your lover that you have to cancel the wedding because an alien being who can see through time told you that you should is never going to be an easy conversation. But because of the Prophets’ apparent inability to speak in clear, direct language, Sisko has no concrete reason to obey their wishes other than the fact that they’ve done right by him in the past. Winn’s struggle is with the gods who have ignored her; Sisko’s is with gods who pay just enough attention to him to make his life terribly confusing.

What troubles me about all of this, in a way that Winn’s story doesn’t, is that dramatic convention demands that the Prophets’ warning prove correct. Given the seriousness of “Sarah’s” words, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kasidy ends up dead, in some way that can be laid more or less directly at the feet of Sisko’s choice. (Like, I dunno, if Winn decides to try and attack the Emissary, and it all goes horribly wrong.) And if that does happen, and if it turns into a chance to dramatically punish Sisko for going against the Prophets’ will, there’s a cruelty there that doesn’t sit well with me.

Not cruelty from the Prophets themselves—they’re nearly always more interested in observing life than taking action, and everything “Sarah” told Sisko sounded like the words of someone who knows a bad time is coming, not a threat so much as prophecy—but from the writers. There’s something sadistic about putting a character in this position, because there’s no choice he can make that won’t in some way destroy his life. If the warning had something weightier behind it than poetry, the situation would be less torturous; painful, but at least then Sisko might know the reasons why he’s turning away from the woman he loves. As is, right or wrong, his decision to go ahead with the wedding is the only decision he really could’ve made. Knowing that this will almost certainly lead to heartbreak loads down the ceremony (non-Bajoran) with a heavy sense of portent. It’s drama the presents the illusion of choice but which is really driven by inevitability. That can work amazingly well, but right now, it has me sort of terrified.

Winn’s transformation is more straightforward, and more immediately satisfying. I love how so many of her scenes over the course of these two episodes are just her and Dukat, hanging out in her room, all intimate close-ups and flirting. Winn’s choice is the end result of a carefully constructed con-job, but it’s a con which relies on long-established resentments and insecurities to work. Since her introduction to the series, Winn’s self-regard and ambition have always come into conflict with Sisko’s role as the Emissary, and while her star has risen considerably over the years, there’s just enough self-awareness in her to realize that whatever position she achieves, however much power she attains, Sisko will always be closer to the Prophets. He’ll always matter more. Until now, given Sisko’s general detachment from regular Bajoran life, this is a conflict that’s been left on the back burner. To bring it out now, and for the enemies of Bajor to use it against her, is some smart scripting.

Or maybe I’m just a sucker for Dukat—I’m sorry, “Anjohl” and Winn’s burgeoning romance. While Dukat’s turn as a cult-leader hasn’t been the greatest character shift in the show’s history, his manipulation of Winn works well, moving him from the conflicted, “Am I lying or am I not?” confusion of his previous appearance and returning him to full-fledged villain status. There’s a clarity to his behavior now that makes him more compelling to watch, and it’s fun (in a mean sort of way) to see how easily Winn is played; how much her ego makes her vulnerable and open to this approach. Watching this unfold over the course of two episodes, and seeing how cleverly Dukat handles his role, is as exciting as Sisko’s trajectory is unsettling. Both Sisko and Winn are heading for a fall, but only one of those falls will be deserved.

Ezri and Worf in captivity: a non-rom-non-com

Sex or no sex, the odds of Ezri and Worf becoming a romantic couple were slim to none. My biggest complaint was that the actual mechanics of building to that one-and-done night together were hamstrung by cliche and a lack of notable chemistry between the actors. For Ezri and Worf’s irritation with each other to bubble over into sexual desire, there needed to be something like legitimate passion in their exchanges, however corrupt and fundamentally unworkable. As it was, Ezri was snippy and Worf was grumpy, but the attempts to escalate this played more as a conceptual choice than anything stemming from character. For the sex itself to happen after a “I just slapped you, now we have to make out!” scene is just adding insult to injury.

Thankfully, this week’s pair of episodes do the necessary work of getting Ezri and Worf to where they should’ve been all along: friends, without benefits. To make this happen, the two go through some torture at the hands of the Breen, some soul searching, the discovery that Ezri is actually in love with Bashir (which… okay), and the stunning reveal that the Breen is now working with the Dominion, in a move which, we are assured, will almost certainly end the war. Hold on to that last for now: the important bit is that Ezri and Worf are in captivity together for an extended period of time, and that forced proximity allows them to work through some issues.

These issues aren’t exactly surprising. Post-sex, Worf immediately decides that he and Ezri are going to be married; and when he finds out that Ezri has feelings for someone else, he starts accusing her of using him and breaking his heart. Which is very typical for Worf. Ezri, for her part, tells him to back the hell off. While it’s fine to see that she’s not cowed by his stridency, and that Worf in turn is willing to back down and relax once the initial embarrassment wears off, this hasn’t been the most effective of subplots. By and large, switching to prolonged serialization has been a boon for the final weeks of the show. It benefited Winn’s storyline immensely, and gave Sisko’s internal struggles time to breathe. But the conflict between Ezri and Worf was a non-starter, something that made sense when Ezri was first introduced into the cast, but which should’ve been resolved a long time ago. It’s great to see them working as a team, and I’m much happier with where this arc ended up than with where it began, so let’s just move on.

Damar: An Appreciation

For the longest time, Damar was a write-off; a thug, a second-in-command, a drudge who followed orders, loved his homeland, and didn’t have a sense of humor about anything. Working alongside Dukat, Damar was stuck in the necessary, but not especially thrilling, position of head hench. Dukat made the crazy schemes, the big plans, the bold jumps, and Damar ran alongside him, occasionally looking pained, generally just getting the job done. Then Damar killed Ziyal, and it seemed like he might become some kind of psychopath, broken by his inability to reconcile his twin loyalties to Dukat and Cardassia.

That’s not quite what happened. I’m sure at least part of the reason why Damar drinks is guilt over Ziyal’s death, but her murder hasn’t been a topic of conversation for a while, and Dukat didn’t even mention it when he came to visit. What’s really driving Damar to distraction is the deal with the Dominion, and the ways in which that deal has slowly but steadily eroded the pride and identity of Cardassia. Dukat is an opportunist; like Winn, he values himself above his people. Damar, though—Damar is a patriot. And these seem like bad times for a patriot.

All of which comes to a head in the second half of this week’s double feature, in a way that manages to be both unexpected, inevitable, and thrilling. Throughout the season, the writers have been inserting occasional exchanges between Damar and Weyoun; few of these exchanges have lasted very long, and most of them have simply served to show that the two characters aren’t getting along so great. Their relationship, and Damar’s clear rage over his situation, seemed static. Damar was introduced as a follower, not a leader, and when he took over Dukat’s position as ruler of Cardassia, he wasn’t so much getting a promotion as he was transitioning to a new boss. What’s so impressive in retrospect is how all those earlier scenes, which were bitterly comic and sort of casual in their way, work to justify Damar’s big turn.

Not that this week’s episodes don’t do a large part of the work as well. The deal with the Breen is a bad sign for Cardassia; the Dominion is a group designed for victory above all else, and when they start looking to bring in new allies, it’s a sign that old relationships are getting downgraded. It’s a point made well, if not exactly subtlely, by Weyoun’s relationship with Thot Gor, the leader of the Breen. Thot has some ideas on how to run the war; Weyoun loves all his ideas; Damar watches 500,000 Cardassians die and fumes in the corner. With his bounty-hunter-esque mask and electronic voice, Thot’s presence is largely a sight gag, but it’s a good sight gag, and it’s not hard to understand how the Breen’s presence is a tipping point.

So what does Damar do? He helps Worf and Ezri escape. It’s narratively convenient, but it makes sense: an act of concealable rebellion that allows Damar to offer a hand to the only group that can possibly get Cardassia out of this mess. Plus, Worf did recently snap a Weyoun’s neck, which I’m sure raised him at least a point or two in Damar’s estimation. Things are starting to pull together. Winn has gone to the dark side; Sisko has taken a step down a difficult path; the Dominion has allied with the Breen; Worf and Ezri are racing home; and Damar has decided to take a stand. Something’s coming into view. We just don’t know what it is yet.

Stray observations:

  • One nitpick: while we’ve seen the Breen before, this is the first time we’ve heard about their incredible value as an ally. The reveal that the Female Changeling has brokered an alliance with them comes less as a shock and more as a “Oh, I guess?” moment.

  • I wonder what the hell the Breen look like under those masks. And I wonder if we’re going to find out before the end.

  • Kira’s strong faith is in full force this week, and whether intentional or not, I appreciate how the writers are willing to let her look slightly unsympathetic. Her conversation with Winn had her on the side of the angels, but her “It doesn’t work like that and you know it” to Sisko in his time of crisis is frustrating in its unhelpfulness. But then, that’s probably just my deep distrust of a religious system which demands great sacrifice from its followers without any clear justification or apparent respect.

  • Bashir and Ezri, huh? I was spoiled on this (if you can call it spoiled, which I really don’t), and don’t really mind one way or the other. I don’t think it was necessary for Ezri to hook up with anyone on the station, and I’m not sure how that romance is going to play out in the brief (sob) time we have left. On the other hand, if Ezri and Bashir do make sense together. So, sure.

  • “When I made love to you, my motives were not spiritual.” Oh Worf. 

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