Part of the intent of these reviews is to trace the evolution of DS9’s identity, both as it is presented, and then squaring it with the impression left in popular culture. DS9 is the dark Trek, and if one were to make a top 10 list of DS9 episodes, at least half would be among the darker hours of the franchise. It’s at least as important, though, for its serialization. Based on how much I’ve been talking about it recently, serialization has become even more important than the darkness. At this point, the writers are telling a long-form story, essentially, an epic novel released in chapters over the course of several years, complete with several false leads, narrative dead ends, and Chuck Cunninghams who vanish abruptly with nary an explanation.
Which is what makes this week’s episode, part three of DS9’s grand finale, almost perverse in the way it emphatically turns its back on what came before. This isn’t to say that the characters act in strange ways. On the contrary, the characterization of this episode is perfect. The abrupt turns each of the hour’s protagonists make is perfectly in keeping with their characterization to this point, and in fact helps illuminate precisely who they are. For an added treat, the episode largely focuses on members of DS9’s murderer’s row of reoccurring characters. While Ezri and Worf get some screen time, most of the hour is devoted to Kai Winn and Legate Damar, the leaders of the two flagship races of the show. (Yes, I realize technically Shakaar is the leader of Bajor, but he’s one of those characters who walked upstairs one episode and never appeared again.)
Ezri and Worf are taken back to Cardassia for trial, and in a nice nod to one of my favorite episodes of season two, they’ve already been convicted and sentenced to be executed in two days. All that’s left for them to do is make peace. And for Worf to snap Weyoun #7’s neck for, well, being Weyoun. It’s one of my favorite Worf moments, and Damar would agree. He laughs heartily at the Vorta’s death and leaves the Trill and Klingon alone in their cell.
Worf is a tightly wound guy, which is always an interesting contrast when you see him with other Klingons. Star Trek races can often degenerate into a simple race of clones, so it’s always nice to see variations on the theme. For Worf, sex is nearly a religious experience, albeit one with a lot more punching and choking. Klingon sex is weird. Anyway, he is upset at himself because he doesn’t really love Ezri. He loves Jadzia, and they’re different people. It’s nice to see someone finally acknowledge this, especially after Quark’s gross claim that Ezri gives him a second shot at Jadzia. For Worf, their physical encounter was unworthy of the deep, spiritual connection he undeniably had with his late wife.
As for Ezri, she still can’t quite deal with all of these emotions and memories. Of course, she might get confused and throw herself into the arms of a man at least part of her loved with utter abandon only a year ago. The sex was a mistake, and both of them are grown up enough to acknowledge it. They pledge to be friends, and more, a nod to a connection between the two that they will never be rid of, or even really understand.
Kai Winn’s story is one of those that’s shocking at the time but really looks inevitable in retrospect. If you go back to her first appearance in the season finale of the inaugural season, you can see how much I loathe her. While I don’t think hypocrisy should be the end-all be-all of moral failings (Things like racism, misogyny, homophobia, and so on are infinitely worse.), it is an easy button to push. And man, does Winn push it. She was introduced as a hardline conservative Vedek to contrast with the Mother Theresa-by-way-of-a-teddy-bear Kai Opaka. Opaka was basically Pope Francis, while (then) Vedek Winn was Fred Phelps.
The show deepened her character and provided her with nuance, and we see it here. She is a woman who desperately wanted to be one of the faithful, but the Prophets have remained maddeningly silent. Imagine loving something with (what you think) is your entire heart, only to have it ignore you. The answer, of course, is that she never loved them truly. Winn always loved power more than her deities, and it’s likely they knew this. Or, existing out of time, they saw her betray them and decided not to waste their time, and didn’t understand causality enough to see how they might have played a role in this.
When she learns that the source of her visions are the Pah-wraiths and her new boyfriend Anjohl not only knew but is a worshiper of theirs, she understandably freaks. Imagine if Pope Francis discovered his new girlfriend was a Satanist. That might be a bad example. In a panic, she reaches out to what looks like the most unlikely person: Kira. Granted, Kira hates her. But Winn is on DS9, Kira is the ranking Bajoran on the station, and I suspect that in some ways, Winn feels about Kira the way Dukat feels about Sisko. She desperately wants the Colonel to respect her and has wrapped up an unhealthy bit of her self-image in that (lack of) respect.
Above all things, Kira is a woman of deep faith. The show has gone back to this well again and again, and through these seven years Kira has never once wavered in her abiding love and trust in the Prophets. If faith were truly the metric of religious rank, Kira would be Kai and Winn would be... something else. Anything else. Because Winn has no faith at all. She’s a pretender, adept at mouthing the platitudes, but lacking any of the conviction, and more importantly, the empathy necessary to be a good leader. She does, however, know Kira is a woman of faith and desperately envies this spiritual conviction.
Winn gives Kira a tearful confession, and Kira, to her credit, gives excellent advice. Since power is what caused Winn to stray from the path, she should abdicate as Kai. Winn, of course, only truly desires power. Remember, this was the woman who nearly started a full-blown civil war to create a theocracy under her thumb. She was thinking there would be an easy way out: She acknowledged the problem, so redemption would just kind of happen. She doesn’t realize there would have to be a sacrifice. As this sinks in, she turns to stone. If getting into the good graces of gods who never once talked to her will require her to leave her power behind, they can go to hell for all she cares. Winn gets to pick: faith or power, and she chooses power. While the Winn we met in the first season would never claim to make that decision, we knew she would from the beginning. She never could handle an alien chosen as Emissary over a Bajoran. Over her.
Legate Damar, the ostensible head of the Cardassian Union, already made his deal with the devil. If pressed, Damar probably couldn’t point to the exact moment where he made it, either. He was Dukat’s number two, and when the power-mad Gul made his secret alliance with the Dominion, Damar was just along for the ride. Now, Dukat has gone all in on his Satan-worshiping, leaving poor Damar holding the bag.
And what a bag it is. The Breen are instantly more of a valuable alliance mate in the eyes of the Founders. Damar finds himself demoted and sidelined, intimidated by Weyoun into signing over Cardassian territories to the Breen. They are, after all, Dominion territories at their core, so what does it matter which race holds them? Damar’s drinking problem has been a feature of the character at least since the early parts of season six, and it’s only gotten worse. Turns out, the Dominion is the reason he drinks.
Damar hits a tipping point when he learns that a Cardassian world has been invaded by the Klingons. Damar has always been a patriot. It would be difficult to find a Cardassian who didn’t at least claim to be one, but Damar, like Garak (and unlike Dukat), is sincere in his convictions. Weyoun brushes off the plight of this invaded planet, implying, but never stating, that the Dominion will reinforce them. Later, Damar learns that the world was utterly abandoned to the Klingons, dooming hundreds of thousands of loyal Cardassian soldiers to brutal deaths. Weyoun pointed out that it forced the Klingons to tie up valuable resources on a strategically worthless world, and it was a sacrifice these soldiers should have been proud to make. Damar’s mind is on the litany of sacrifices the Cardassians have been asked to make, and it’s a long list.
So, when Damar turns on the Dominion, freeing Ezri and Worf, it makes perfect sense. He helps them escape, giving them a message for the Federation: They have a friend on Cardassia Prime. Damar was introduced in my favorite episode of season four, “Return to Grace,” and there was no sign he would end up being this important. The writers had some inkling, and it’s paying off here. Damar’s emotional arc is what moves the central plot of the Dominion War along, giving the Federation a ray of light in the most unexpected of places.
Trust me, they’re gonna need it.
Next up: The end, part 4.