What They Leave Behind
While the Deep Space Nine finale was a superbly crafted conclusion to the seven-year series, there was one scene I was a little disappointed not to see. I thought that at the very end, we might see Benny Russell - Benjamin Sisko's 20th century alter ego, a writer and a dreamer in an age of prejudice and cynicism - hitting a final key on his typewriter with a smile on his face. Since "Far Beyond the Stars," an episode which could be construed as a vision from the Bajoran Prophets or as a bout of madness on Sisko's part, it has never been clear whether the captain of Deep Space Nine is a Federation citizen who dreams of being a writer...or a writer obsessed with the dream of a Federation.
Deep Space Nine is allegedly the darkest of the Trek shows. Its major plot threads have concerned the Federation's efforts to ward off vicious invaders, plus the planet Bajor's attempts to recover from decades of Cardassian oppression. It is therefore ironic that I find DS9 the most affirmative of the Treks, the most promising, the most hopeful. This is a show about politics and prejudices I can believe in; its most powerful aliens were worshipped as gods, its main character a man struggling to become (quite literally) a prophet. Against the backdrop of exploration in the midst of strife, the characters grew up, got promoted, paired off, shifted allegiances, balanced professional and personal lives.
I'm going to tell you what I loved most about DS9, and I bet it's not something the executive producers would ever claim as one of its strengths. I do believe this series offered quality science fiction, a good balance of action and drama, witty dialogue, a strong social conscience, and the best music ever on a genre series, but those aren't the reasons I kept watching for all these years. Nor did I watch for the Klingons, the Vulcans, the Bajorans, the presence of TNG's O'Brien and later Worf, though the familiar Trek trappings made the tapestry stronger for me than I suspect I'd feel about a similar show set in a different universe. I watched Deep Space Nine for the love stories.
I don't just mean Kira and Odo, or Dax and Worf, or Sisko and Yates, though those romantic pairings added the appeal of slow-developing characterization and sexual tension (in fact, for a long time I objected to all of those pairings being consummated on the show). I mean the familial ties among three generations of Siskos, the inter-species friendship between the Dax symbiont and Klingons who remained loyal through three hosts, the occasionally-glimpsed depth of caring of Quark for his nephew, the passionate friendships between first Bashir and Garak and then Bashir and O'Brien, the perverted desire of Dukat for the love of the Bajoran people.
I've got a news flash for the writers: they created a show that has as much in common with a nighttime soap, following the adventures of a group of people and the city where they live, as with any other incarnation of Star Trek. And they did it superbly.
Until this month, I always had an easy time naming my favorite episodes of DS9: first season's devastating survivor's story "Duet," second season's stunning Kira/Odo backstory "Necessary Evil," third season's dark flashback "Past Tense," fourth season's tearjerker "The Visitor," fifth season's war story "Nor the Battle to the Strong," sixth season's utterly transcendent "Far Beyond the Stars"...but I can't pick one isolated episode for this season, and looking back I find that my opinions of older episodes have changed with their follow-ups. The seeming inconsistencies in Bashir's character which so annoyed me in such episodes as "Hippocratic Oath," for instance, made perfect sense in light of "Dr. Bashir, I Presume." The trial-and-error of Kira's personal life made her later happiness with Odo that much more satisfying. And the religious fervor of Winn and Dukat - ultimately leading her to corruption and him to insanity - made possible a conclusion which was not only exciting but compelling on a spiritual level, a first in my experience with Trek.
I am always sorry to see a family break up, which is how the ending of "What You Leave Behind" felt. But there was also a sense of rightness. O'Brien's family had become increasingly marginal to his life, and the chief was spending a lot of time working with weapons rather than engines. Worf has finally achieved a position which enables him to straddle his two worlds - both worlds which he has helped shape. Julian and Ezri feel rather forced together to me, but Bashir was falling in love with Dax from the very first episode, so even if I'm not quite used to this new perky young woman with the symbiont inside her, I'm willing to accept his choice to be with her for the sake of closure...though he did seem rather devastated to be leaving Garak, the heir apparent to power on the planet which forced him into exile, and to be separating from O'Brien, who understands him better than anyone else.
It's heartwrenching that Kira and Odo had to part, but also inevitable: he may live several hundred years longer than she, and much as he resisted letting her watch him fade and die, she may share the same fears for the long run. Moreover, he's right that he must return to his people to make them understand what he knows about solids. It's the only way to protect the long-term security of the Alpha Quadrant from the Dominion. And, like Benjamin Sisko, he may find it difficult to continue among the limitations of solid, corporeal beings, having tasted a greater Link. This is a love that transcends the domestic, the sexual, even the physical. They will be all right during their time apart, and I am choosing to believe that we will see them together again, as we always did with Kirk and Spock.
Plus, the image of Colonel Kira Nerys in command of Deep Space Nine will make me smile for a long time.
Even if he hadn't sworn to his wife that he would be back, I wouldn't believe reports of Benjamin Sisko's death - not even after seeing him fall into the fiery pit with Dukat. Nobody dies in the Trek universe - not Spock, not Tasha Yar, not Bareil, not Dax, not even the Enterprise or the Defiant. Life after death is one of the recurring themes of the franchise. The concluding arc of DS9 featured the demise of many fascinating characters - Klingon chancellor Gowron, Cardassian leader Damar, Dominion acolyte Weyoun, Starfleet traitor Sloan, Bajoran betrayer Winn and Antichrist Dukat - but though the ending moved me to tears, it wasn't because of the deaths. Death on Trek doesn't mean anything.
I'm sorry to see Sisko pass from the realm of everyday life, but he was right to tell his wife that he can't go home again, at least not now. His existence has been building to this event from his first encounter with the Prophets in "Emissary"...or really since before his conception, since his mother was under the influence of a Prophet at the time. "You are of Bajor," they said, and he is, and has been, and will be. It is as right for him to remain in the Celestial Temple - which he no longer calls the wormhole - as it was right for his Bajoran-born first officer put on a Starfleet uniform to teach her people's mortal enemies how to defend themselves against the unholy alliance created by their mutual nemesis, and as it is right for her to remain and preside over the station orbiting her world.
I find myself haunted not so much by the Emissary, the chosen one who is now apparently immortal, but by his antithesis. It appeared for awhile during the fourth season that the writers might be planning to rehabilitate the villainous but undeniably charismatic Dukat. While this made for some great drama in episodes like "Indiscretions" and "Return to Grace," I felt very ambivalent about it - wanting to believe that everyone is redeemable, and also wanting to believe that there are certain crimes for which no one can be forgiven. Even Winn, who had a lengthy list of sins upon her own head and who became his partner in Armageddon, could not forgive him for the Occupation.
Had he not gone mad, could Dukat have been forgiven by Sisko - who took an oath in "Waltz" never to let his enemy hurt the Bajorans again, even before he knew his mother was a Prophet? It is difficult to imagine that the man responsible for the atrocities of the Occupation could truly reform without a breakdown of the magnitude of "The Sacrifice of Angels." His recovery also seems to have been the catalyst to his ultimate evil: Dukat came to believe in the Prophets and the Wraiths, and methodically set out to destroy Bajor as he prophesied that he would.
I always wondered who would get to kill Dukat - though I'd guessed it would be Sisko, I think Kira really deserved the honor, for what he did to Bajor (the Kai poisoning him was a lovely touch), but he killed Dax's former host, he killed Worf's wife, he tormented Odo and sneered at Weyoun. I think Dukat got off easily: with eight hundred million Cardassians dead, including his friend Damar, merely to have his soul burn forever in the Bajoran equivalent of Hell doesn't seem so bad. Besides, he's got Winn down there with him, and those two always did seem to burn very brightly together. He's lost Bajor, and he's lost Kira Nerys, whom he indicated in "Waltz" was his symbol of the Bajoran people, thus his key to salvation, but if there's any way out of those Fire-Caves - and there are always ways out for epic villains, even Milton's Satan - I'm betting he'll find it. And what's scariest of all is that he won't look like evil incarnate: he never has.
I remember being very frustrated during the fourth season that the characters on Deep Space Nine were all becoming human, having their alienness taken away. Worf had lost his Klingon family, Quark had been cast out by the Ferengi, Odo had been turned into a human by the Founders as punishment for killing one of his own kind. This seemed to be the opposite of Trek's demand for tolerance of differences: it looked like the differences were going to be wiped out. In the end, however, infinite diversity in infinite combinations won out. Worf ended up going to the Klingon homeworld, Quark ended up the brother of the Grand Nagus, Odo returned to the planet of his conception. Even the humans changed: Bashir owned up to his genetic alteration, Sisko accepted that an alien being created him to serve the Prophets of Bajor. Jake and his unborn sibling will have to struggle with being the children of the Emissary.
A prophecy from "The Reckoning" predicted that Bajor would have a thousand years of peace following the purging of the Pah-Wraith. Prophets know the Bajoran people have earned it. Having purged the Dominion, the dominant spacefaring species of the Alpha Quadrant would appear to be poised for a new era of peace as well. Allied with old enemies the Klingons, the Romulans, and the Cardassians all at once, the Federation should be entering the most secure period since its inception: they still need to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge and do something about those obnoxious Breen, but unless the Borg return to muck with history, a glorious new era of exploration and discovery could await all the major players of this series.
Right now there are no plans for a movie, so I'm choosing to believe that they all live happily ever after. In the world of DS9, of course that means endless compromises. Bashir still has to track down Section 31, Odo still has to make his own people understand and accept his experiences among the solids. Worf has to do something about Martok's bloodthirsty streak, O'Brien needs a new partner for hopeless hurt/comfort holoprograms. The politics of Starfleet still need a lot of change and reform, as does the Federation's relationships with most of its allies. Kira is still getting used to the fact that the fate of her people and the Cardassians has been interconnected for centuries, and the planet of her oppressors is going to need great assistance to rebuild.
But Kira's got something very few humans do: tangible proof that her gods are real, that they protect and care for those who worship them. Call them Prophets or wormhole aliens; they are apparently nearly as powerful as the Q, and they're a lot more serious about their responsibility to a species which is not as evolved. It's a more interesting ending than TNG's "All Good Things..." with Q's travesty of a trial, and, I think, a more positive one.
Deep Space Nine Reviews