Friday, January 6, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x14 "Return to Grace"

rating: ***

the story: Dukat has an epic plan in mind for his redemption.

what it's all about: When "Indiscretion" aired earlier in the season, it seemed like a lackluster attempt at continuing the kind of storytelling that had typified the first few seasons of Deep Space Nine at its best, exploring the gray areas that Kira was all of a sudden discovering in the Cardassian/Bajoran conflicts of the past, somewhat randomly featuring Gul Dukat until the end of the episode revealed the existence of his daughter.  Now, Tora Ziyal in hindsight is a major development for Dukat, but "Indiscretion" was a small tip of the iceberg.  Most if not all the enjoyment of such an episode would really have rested on Dukat's considerable ability to talk and talk and talk.  The mark of a great Cardassian character is their verbosity, and that's how Dukat became the best Cardassian in all of Star Trek.  Above all else, he loved to hear himself talk.  But as a precursor to his pilgrimage in the final episode, "What You Leave Behind," "Indiscretion" seemed remarkably lightweight, unworthy of what was to come.

Well, "Return to Grace" changes all that.  The fears Dukat hinted at all the way back in "Defiant" during the third season, about the crucial importance of family to Cardassians, have come to pass.  He's lost his place in the order of things, and really, all he has left is Ziyal (the revolving door of actresses portraying her that persisted through her early appearances continues here, and so she won't be listed in the "notable guest-stars" section).  And a fellow named Damar.  In his first appearance Damar can't possibly suggest just how important he was to become, but still, this episodes marks his debut.

But "Return" isn't really about Ziyal and it isn't about Damar, and it really isn't about Kira, although her appearance here is another welcome echo to "Defiant," where she's playing much the same role, as someone ironically cautioning against hotheaded behavior, when that used to be her bread and butter.  It's all about Dukat.  This is, essentially, the debut of the Dukat most fans will remember, the one who initiated the Dominion War about a season and a half later, for the reasons that had their roots in "Indiscretion," but really begin in "Return." 

The episode also involves the Klingon war that otherwise vanished as soon as it began in "Way of the Warrior" at the start of the season.  (Clearly the serialized nature of the series had yet to materialize; even the episodes in the final two seasons that didn't directly feature the Dominion War were generally still relevant to it.)  The theme of a wounded warrior (mostly in that sensitive area known as "pride") that had begun with Sisko in the very first episode ("Emissary") finds new resonance here, and would continue to reverberate throughout the rest of the series.  In essence, Deep Space Nine spent a lot of time reclaiming character traits that usually befell hapless Stafleet captains not named Jim Kirk in the original series. 

In its way, "Return to Grace" is a preview of things to come.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Contradicts the Star Trek norm of relegating wounded pride to hapless guest-stars.
  • series - It's a preview of the Dominion War to come!
  • character - A big focus on Dukat.
  • essential - This is where everything really falls apart for the guy, and so it's crucial viewing.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Casey Biggs (Damar)


  1. Kira and Garak often played games on Dukat who was annoying as ever dictating orders given his arrogant Cardassian manner. It suited him. Dr Bashir on the other hand always struck me as being lost in the wilderness.

  2. Bashir was the character who probably best represented the arc of the whole series.


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