Saturday, April 15, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x21 "The Reckoning"

rating: ****

the story: The first experience of the Prophets squaring off with the Pah-wraiths via their chosen surrogates (but you'll be surprised about who represents them).

what it's all about: So yeah, this is a pretty huge episode.  It's in some ways, exactly what you might expect the final episode of the series to look like, a dramatic showdown between the god-like powers of beings long in the background but only seldom seen, and always (except "The Assignment") at crucial moments. 

I'll compare it to the movie version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which ends in, yes, a dramatic showdown between the forces of good (Dumbledore) and evil (Voldemort).  It's the only time in eight films in which wizards are shown to really cut loose.  This doesn't even happen, properly, in the several duels between Voldemort and Harry himself.  It can't, really, because Harry was never as experienced a wizard as his mentor Dumbledore.

Sisko never will be, during the length of Deep Space Nine, because he never develops his abilities.  Most of the time he's barely interested in his role as Emissary of the Prophets (the wormhole aliens Bajorans worship as gods).  Dukat quickly develops his abilities as Emissary of the Pah-wraiths (the "cast-out" Prophets), which is why their showdown in "What You Leave Behind" (the series finale) seems so lopsided.

So what makes the showdown in "The Reckoning" different?  It's literally a Prophet and a Pah-wraith inhabiting a couple of lowly mortals, so it's really a showdown between them.  The Prophet chooses Kira while the Pah-wraith makes a far more interesting choice: Jake Sisko.  It's like Jake's decision at the start of the season, to remain behind at a Dominion-occupied station, writ large, especially where his father is concerned, who must once more look on helplessly.

Actually, surprisingly, it's Kai Winn, who is usually the least sympathetic character in any episode in which she appears, who gains the most points in all this.  And her role is actually far more foreshadowing than the rest of the events in the episode, as later she'll be held in thrall by Dukat, and once again be forced to make hard decisions, decisions she otherwise finds so easy to avoid.  Here she begs Sisko to stop meddling in affairs he doesn't understand (she doesn't understand them any better, mind you), and then forcibly ends the showdown, unwittingly making things ten times worse (and she herself will learn), because that will mean the showdown between the Emissaries will still have to happen, and no one will be prepared for that one...

What makes this episode so compelling is that it openly explores issues the franchise previously only skirted around, the scope of god-like powers, and what it means to confront them.  Throughout the original series, Kirk kept outsmarting "gods," one after the other, whether mere mortals who had suddenly gained extraordinary powers, or god-like beings themselves.  And obviously there was Q in nearly every other incarnation of Star Trek (including Deep Space Nine), but Q is very much Q, and so is hard to fit in this context.  So "The Reckoning" is a unique adventure, in that we see two god-like beings, locked in immortal combat with each other...This is a series that dares to argue that humans really don't have any adequate answer to such events, and this is the episode where that is most abundantly clear.

It's a big, big moment, the likes of which will probably never be seen again, as they weren't even later in the series itself.  It qualifies as a classic almost on that basis alone.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A bold new look at the "god problem."
  • series - A glimpse of the kind of power that was always in the background.
  • character - This is Kai Winn's biggest moment.
  • essential - Everything that was never done before and will ever be done again, and for good reason, and I do mean good.
notable guest-stars:
Louise Fletcher (Winn)

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