Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Waltz"/"Who Mourns For Morn?" 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Waltz"/"Who Mourns For Morn?" 

“Waltz” (season 6, episode 11; originally aired 1/8/1998)
In which Dukat and Sisko dance, but Dukat finds other partners...

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.)

How do you solve a problem like Gul Dukat? Former Gul Dukat, actually; I doubt he still retains his position post breakdown and capture. (Maybe he does. I’m not an expert on Cardassian bureaucracy/power structures.) But the point isn’t his title: the point is figuring out what to do with a character who’s had the most dramatic rises and falls of anyone on the series. Dukat has been a commandant, an officiant, a father bent on murder, a revolutionary, a dictator, and, lately, a man with a broken mind, tormented by the simultaneous loss of his daughter (who, let’s remember, he was once determined to kill) and his thorough beating at the hands of anti-Dominion forces. When we meet him at the start of “Waltz,” after a long introductory voice-over from Sisko explaining the current situation—Dukat’s been in therapy, and is now heading to the Federation for some preliminary legal proceedings—he seems well enough. But over the course of the hour, we learn that Dukat is a deeply damaged individual, fractured and tormented in ways that are very likely irreparable. After spending time with the Cardassian under unusual circumstances, Sisko draws certain conclusions, solving Dukat as neatly as Alexander solved a certain knot: the enemy is an evil man, and Sisko is determined to stop him.

While there’s no question Dukat has evil in him, I’m not sure I agree with Sisko’s line in the sand pronouncement. It makes sense from a character perspective; Sisko is a smart, determined fighter, but he’s always been more warrior than philosopher, and in situations where something he cares about is threatened, he’s not going to quibble too much about details. Sisko reacts to crises emotionally as much as intellectually, and that passion typically serves him well. His decision here, after seeing Dukat rant and rave for days before swearing to destroy all that Bajor is, is the sort of decision that DS9 handles better than any other Trek series before it: an in-character beat that is perfectly satisfying (if maybe a little over-the-top), but that doesn’t necessarily line up with our own view of the situation. Dukat doesn’t come across well in “Waltz,” and his final speech is a few screams shy of a Batman villain rant, but the fact that we get to see the demons he’s fighting against make him more complex than Sisko’s determination allows. The final shot of Dukat as he closes the shuttle’s rear door, with the trio of phantasms crowded behind him, is telling. He is a man haunted by his crimes, but incapable of understanding what’s haunting him. The only response left is to double down on villainy, and while it’s necessary to condemn such a choice, I find it hard not have some pity for the fool who makes it.

“Waltz” is a tricky episode, using a set-up that we’ve seen before—namely, characters alone together in less than ideal circumstances (it’s sort of what happened with Kira and Dukat in “Indiscretion”)—and a gimmick with a high chance of failure, ie “let’s visualize my madness through the power of imaginary people.” There are plenty of ways this could’ve gone wrong, and the crazed intensity of so much Marc Alaimo’s performance throughout regularly borders on camp, but it works. This is playing-at-the-edges stuff, trying to understand what drives Dukat without softening him or making that understanding too simplistic. Having phantom versions of Weyoun, Damar, and Kira appear at various times to allow Dukat’s inner turmoil external expression is a clever idea, but not an automatically effective one. At times, it threatens to make the various crises he’s struggling with too obvious. Weyoun appearing in a scene the first time we see Dukat alone is a heck of a shock, but once it’s clear that he’s just an imaginary friend (albeit one Dukat doesn’t realize is imaginary), his presence loses much of its impact. Weyoun and the others can’t effect events; they can only inform us of Dukat’s character, like how Dukat has doubts about whether or not he should keep Sisko alive, and how he also judges himself harshly for his failures. All of which is good information to have, but doesn’t in and of itself justify the gimmick.

What makes Dukat’s hallucinations work, I think, is how they build. Individually, Weyoun, Damar, and Kira are entertaining but unnecessary. Weyoun is Dukat’s loathing of his “weaker” self, while Damar is Dukat’s Cardassian pride speaking out; Kira is his complicated relationship with Bajor, manifesting both as a symbol of what he can never have, and proof that his enemy was always looking to misinterpret his actions to serve their own needs. They give the script a way to illuminate Dukat’s mind without resorting to simple monologues, but it’s such an obvious device that it’s a little distracting to watch. But once the figures start popping up while Dukat is arguing his case with Sisko, things get interesting. While the episode is often ostensibly through Dukat’s eyes (after all, we can see things that he sees, even when Sisko can’t), the primary tension comes from figuring out just why the Cardassian was willing to save his off-and-on nemesis, and what that decision means for Sisko’s immediate future. As Dukat’s desperation to win an ideological discussion with Sisko intensifies, the harbingers of his madness grow stronger; we’re privy to the interjections from Dukat’s psyche, but Sisko is not, which creates a fascinating, and unsettling, back and forth.

So why does Dukat save Sisko? He does it more than once, first saving his enemy when the ship they’re in is attacked, and then building Sisko a cast for his broken arm (Dukat claims he can’t use the bone regenerator device, which could very well be true; it could also be true that he wants to keep his edge). At the end of the episode, Sisko briefly gets an advantage over Dukat, only for the Cardassian to tackle him and beat him before fleeing in a shuttle. Dukat’s behavior in those final moments is, if anything, even stranger; before there was a sense that he was trying, in his fundamentally broken way, to justify himself, but his final speech is a declaration of war and he still lets Sisko live. (He even contacts the Defiant to let them know where the captain is.) Admittedly, Sisko has to live; between the two, Dukat is the only potentially expendable one, and it seems the writers still have stories they want to tell about him. But there’s also a decent in-story reason for why Sisko doesn’t die, and it’s something that works to keep this more complicated than a simple bad-guy-takes-good-guy-hostage scenario.

Ostensibly the conflict of the episode comes from Sisko’s attempts to contact a rescue ship, attempts which are first stymied by Dukat sabotaging the emergency beacon (I love the fake out when we think the Defiant finally got the signal; I also love how visibly disappointed everyone is when they beam two survivors aboard who aren’t Sisko), and then by Dukat’s decision to vaporize the beacon entirely. But while this conflict makes for solid suspense, it’s not really the heart of “Waltz.” The heart is Dukat’s increasingly deranged attempts to convince Sisko of his righteousness, attempts which ultimately only serve to push the two characters even further apart. These attempts fit in well with what we know of Dukat from the past, a man who once told Weyoun that the most important victory was in beating your enemies so thoroughly that they are forced to admit your inherent superiority. Something in him can’t just be satisfied with winning, the way, say, Damar would be satisfied. He needs to be acknowledged.

This is an odd quirk to have, although (credit to the writers and Marc Alaimo, who is never short of excellent) it’s one that always makes sense even if it’s difficult to grasp where it’s coming from. If Dukat really is a psychopath through and through, it’s curious that he would so desperately need the reassurance of others that he wasn’t. It’s especially curious that the people he turns to for that assurance—Sisko in this episode, Kira in the past (yes, he’s romantically interested in her, but a large part of the attraction comes from how much she loathes him; seducing her would be just another way of proving his point)—are the people least likely to accept his overtures.

This may be what turns Sisko so sharply against his enemy in the end: not just Dukat’s big villain speech (which is spectacular, although we’ll see how it plays out), but the manic determination with which Dukat demands his behavior be accepted as just. Because if Dukat can go this crazy in wanting his enemies to accept him, surely there’s some part of him that realizes what he’s done is wrong. He states repeatedly that the Bajorans are inferior to Cardassians, and yet it’s Bajorans—and a representative of Bajoran culture—whom he turns to to reassure him that he’s right. Which implies that deep down, in some small miserable part of himself, he must he recognize his error, and that recognition is what drives him mad. Sisko’s decision to turn on Dukat, to make their contest a him-or-me scenario, is probably the only choice he could make under the circumstances. But for us watching on the outside, it’s still possible to feel some kind of pity. Dukat is doomed by circumstance, culture, and his own brutal ambition. He’s a monster, but what made him?

Stray observations:

  • While I understand the need to show the rest of the ensemble doing their best to track Sisko down, the conflict of the Defiant having a strict deadline for their search is pretty forced. Yes, it’s a time of war, which means that resources are limited, but Kira’s insistence that “You only have 52 hours!” is really just there to create false tension. If Sisko had ended the episode unrescued, that would’ve been something, but as is, every scene off planet if kind of a waste of time. (Did you know that Worf values his honor? I did not. Also, Bashir does not care for Worf’s honor when Sisko is in danger. Gasp!)
  • “From the moment we arrived on Bajor, it was clear that we were the superior race.” The conversation isn’t in a courtroom, but that line is basically Dukat’s version of Col. Jessup’s “You’re goddamn right I did!” from A Few Good Men.
  • “I should have killed them all.” “And that is why you’re not an evil man.” Sisko, being sarcastic and knocking a dude out.

“Who Mourns For Morn?” (season 6, episode 12; originally aired 2/4/1998)

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.)

What can you say about Morn? He’s a fine bit of effects work and a decent running gag. I’m not sure any of the jokes about him—he doesn’t talk, but everyone complains how he never shuts up, and Dax had a thing for him—have ever made me laugh, but they’re amusing enough. The jokes feel less like determined attempts at humor, and more like the writers intentionally winking at the audience; yeah, we know you’ve noticed this guy, let’s have some fun with him, hm? There’s something charming about the whole idea. “Fan service” doesn’t exactly apply (unless there is a very specific fetish out there for giant mute toadstool dudes), but there’s a definite meta vibe to the concept, in a way that seldom touches the rest of the show’s world. Deep Space Nine never pretends it’s a documentary, but it also doesn’t go out of its way to remind us that what we’re watching is staged. But Morn jokes do. It’s cute, and the sort of thing which could easily be over-played; so far, at least, the writers have avoided that trap.

“Who Mourns For Morn?” sounds like it could be a very bad idea. Morn dies! Quark has to deal with the aftermath! Delving into the secret past of a one-note character is a tricky proposition, especially if that past is supposed to have any weight at all; thankfully, Morn’s does not. Strip away the name, and what you have here is a familiar template for the show: Quark gets in over his head. This time, it’s not through any real fault of his own. He tries to make some profit off of Morn’s death, in his Quark-ish way (this pays off later when we learn that both O’Brien and Bashir are invested in keeping Morn’s seat warm), and then discovers, much to his delight, that the old barfly named Quark as the sole beneficiary of his will. Quicker than you can say “I saw this coming,” Quark soon learns that Morn left behind 1000 bars of gold-pressed latinum, as well as a group of rogues determined to get their share of the latinum by any means necessary.

It’s time for Quark to play increasingly annoyed straight (well, maybe slightly bent) man to a bunch of greedy, lying sociopaths. Which is fun—reminds me a bit of the first season episode “The Nagus,” in that someone fakes a death (spoiler!) and Quark has to deal with the fall out. Everyone keeps lying to everyone else for various reasons: there’s the seductive “ex-wife” Larell (Bridget White), who claims a share of the inheritance and keeps rubbing Quark’s ears to get what she wants; there are the brothers Krit (Brad Greenquist) and Nahsk (Cyril O’Reilly), creepy lizard-like dudes who insist Morn owes them money from a previous business arrangement; and then there’s Hain (Gregory Itzin, aka President Charles Logan from 24), ostensibly a member of law enforcement determined to return the bars of latinum to the Royal Family of Luria, who bequeathed the bars to Morn after he stepped down as Crown Prince. All of which is more or less bullshit. Turns out Morn got up to some shenanigans in his past, and when he did, this was the crew he used; together, they plotted and executed the Lissepian Mother’s Day heist, and have spent the last decade or so waiting for the statute of limitations to pass so they could claim their prize. With Morn “dead,” each member of the group targets Quark as their ticket to a bigger slice of the latinum, only to ultimately turn on each other when the money arrives and it’s just stacks of worthless gold.

It’s all pretty delightful, if somewhat limited. The attempts to fill in Morn’s character don’t have much value, because Morn is a prop, not a character; with all due respect to Mark Allen Shepherd (who, out of costume, was the first person Quark asked to fill Morn’s seat), the fact that Morn can speak but isn’t allowed to speak on camera means there’s only so much the writers can do with him. It would be different if Morn was mute, or incapable of communicating through language, but as it is, every scene with him has to be short and a little awkward. Hain lies about Morn being a member of the Royal Family, but the lie is neither more nor less convincing than the “truth” that he’s a criminal mastermind. The fact that Morn pulled off this whole scheme to screw over his former associates and make sure he ended up with the lion’s share of the loot makes sense, and it’s nice to know that we’ll be seeing him in the background of the bar in episode’s to come. Anything more in-depth than that is an impossibility, which is, to its credit, something that writer Mark Gehred-O’Connell seems to realize.

The real focus of “Who Mourns For Morn?” is Quark, and while it’s curious to see him get another focus episode so soon after the last, he’s really the only one who could’ve pulled this off. I mean, maybe Bashir, but as the only person on DS9 with even mildly shady ethics (apart from Garak, but if it’d been Garak, the rest of the crew would’ve never have stood a chance too obviously), Quark’s greed and fundamental likability means that it’s possible for him to get involved with some questionable figures without immediately calling in Odo; it also means we root for him to get some return on his investment, even while knowing that there’s no way in hell he’ll get the full 1000 bricks. In the end, Quark doesn’t learn a whole lot, except that clever people in his life have a tendency to exploit him for their own ends, which is something I would’ve hoped Quark would’ve realized a long time ago. He does end up with some latinum (regurgitated from Morn’s second stomach), and the bad guys are sent to jail, even though none of them seem all that much worse than Morn, who makes out fine. Still, it’s a happy ending all around, and to pick this one apart any further would be to ruin the fun.

Stray observations:

  • Quark hits a level of minor irritation early on and just sticks with it throughout the hour. It sets the tone for the episode quite nicely.
  • The title, “Who Mourns For Morn,” is a play on “Who Mourns For Adonais?”, a title of an episode from the original Star Trek’s second season. (Which was, in turn, a reference to a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem, but my learning only goes so far.)
  • We get it: gold isn’t valuable in the future. No need to rub it in.

Next week: By popular request, we’re going to give “Far Beyond The Stars” its own slot. 

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