As a season finale, "In the Hands of the Prophets" is a little unconventional. In a lot of ways, it's a regular episode that's another sign that Deep Space Nine was finally finding its legs, and that in itself is something to cheer, but every other finale in the series had something more dramatic to say, at least more obvious. Then again, perhaps the episode does exactly what it's supposed to. Well, let's have a closer look.
Keiko O'Brien, stalwart wife of Chief O'Brien, is finally starting to feel like she's not completely out of place on the station, having opened a school on the Promenade and accepted any student who wishes to attend. Earlier in the season it was a struggle just to get Nog, Jake Sisko's Ferengi friend, to take regular classes. Now she's got Bajoran kids in the classroom. This is a problem, because Keiko has to navigate certain beliefs, such as what exactly the wormhole aliens are. To Bajorans, they're the Prophets, the central tenet of their religion. To Starfleet, they're simply noncorporeal beings.
Okay, so this becomes a sticking issue for ambitious Bajoran politicians, especially Vedek (later Kai) Winn, who makes her first appearance in the episode, as does Vedek Bareil, the more moderate voice who becomes a recurring love interest for Kira. Winn escalates the situation into a whole fiasco, forcing everyone to the mat, including Sisko, whose posting at the station is supposed to help smooth Bajor's transition into stability and readiness to enter the Federation. It is quickly proving to be exactly the opposite.
Considering that the first three episodes of the second season are an extended Bajoran crisis, "In the Hands of the Prophets" has a great deal more significance than it can sometimes seem. This may be due to the fact that most fans found Bajoran problems to be exceedingly tedious. In later seasons, Bajoran affairs practically become invisible, and not just because Dominion concerns lead to an extended war arc. The first season finale is perhaps the statement of a series that would undergo a somewhat radical transition, and so any ongoing perception of its impact may become malleable, when the truth is at the time of its original airing, "Prophets" could not have been more important, both to that moment in the series and for the series in general.
Deep Space Nine was meant to accomplish a lot of things, and one of them was to explore the original intentions of Star Trek in a dynamic and new way. This is one of those episodes that provides that potential any number of unexpected benefits. The theme of faith and science did not ultimately receive a lot of traction, so this is in that sense an experience that still stands out as unique, even though there are many other elements floating about so that you don't have to think of "Prophets" strictly as a morality play.
Coming off the heels of "Duet," "Prophets" will always seem like something of a letdown, but in its own way, it's just as noteworthy, and just as enduring an episode for anyone looking to examine the long-term development of the series.
So yes, one of the things you begin to realize about Deep Space Nine is that you can learn something important about the series in every episode, if it's done right. Finally we're at the point where the show itself seems to have learned that. If nothing else, that's a fine note to end a season on.
franchise * series * essential * character
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Memory Alpha summary.