Friday, May 19, 2017

Deep Space Nine 7x9 "Covenant"

rating: ***

the story: Kira discovers Dukat's new gig as a cult leader.

what it's all about: I've always struggled with this episode. Nominally, it sets up the Dukat who appears in the final episodes of the series, as a true Pah-wraith fanatic capable of swaying Kai Winn to his side, and so it has value in that regard.  Dukat began this path in the sixth season finale, "Tears of the Prophets," in which he unveils his new role as Emissary of the Pah-wraiths, finally and at least revealing himself to be Sisko's opposite number.  And yet, and yet...

Before I go on, "Covenant" has plenty of value as a study of cults, and as such lines up with franchise feelings on religion in general, how most of the time it seems to be a trick on gullible people (you don't have to take my word for it, watch the original series episode "The Apple" or Next Generation's "Devil's Due" and you'll see for yourself).  Deep Space Nine actually had deep religious roots, and "Covenant" plays nicely with those, too, but it's also an episode that comes down on the negative side, rather than the doubt that was far more prevalent, or the faith, which was the base contradiction the series always presented.  So if you want things simplified, "Covenant" is the way to go.

But there's so much that Deep Space Nine fans will be able to criticize.  Dukat, as I mentioned, is more or less finally and truly set up for his final role in the series, as Sisko's opposite number.  And yet they really won't have been relevant to each other since "Waltz" last season, and not again until the very last episode ("What You Leave Behind").  In some sense this makes sense, since they've been on individual paths from the very beginning (although his significance grew considerably during the course of the series, Dukat was the last Cardassian commander of the station before Sisko took over, and so his presence was always there), finding their way as they struggled against various obstacles, and most ironically their relationship with Bajorans and their beliefs.

So "Covenant" doesn't feature Sisko, but rather Kira, who is once again thrust into what's ostensibly a complicated situation, something she'd mastered all the way back in the first season's "Duet," a standard that was in some ways completely impossible to live up to, and proven by the results across the rest of the series.  "Covenant" is really the last attempt, but the story is so lopsided this time, and Dukat so clearly evil, that Kira's role s by definition completely changed, too.  She's no longer the angry, troubled Bajoran we met at the start of the series, either.  She knows where she fits now, and she's found peace, perhaps more than any other Bajoran.  So to have a whole episode where she's thrust into a madhouse of Bajorans who've actually convinced themselves of Dukat's outrageous lies...I just don't know how it's supposed to work, even twenty years later.

What to make of it?  To even begin to count the number of times Kira was kidnapped and forced to deal with some insane plot is to realize what a tired trope it'd become by "Covenant."  Some of the episodes worked really well ("Second Skin"), while others...I'll give them this: they always made you think about why they were happening.  It's just a shame that she was never given the benefit of the doubt, a position of power.  For one of the most powerful women in the whole franchise, she had it taken away from her a disturbing number of times. 

So on this last occasion, she's forced and we're forced to decide, once and for all, what it all meant.  One of the guest characters is meant to suggest that "Covenant" is, once again, all about doubt, about what faith really means, whether it means even if you're proven absolutely wrong, that faith might still be justified. Or if Dukat, even if he's clearly evil at this point and hindsight proves he's headed toward his most awful actions, is somehow vindicated by the inevitability of it, if because he believes in himself it somehow means something, because like everyone else in the series this was a character who started out having to massively readjust, and in some ways was actually the character who spent the most time trying to rediscover himself.  If this is how he does it, does "Covenant" conclude that Kira should pity Dukat, because she knows better than anyone what exactly happened to him?

I don't know.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Classic Star Trek meditation on faith.
  • series - Sets up some of the last major developments.
  • character - Specifically related to Dukat's ultimate journey.
  • essential - I don't know how well it succeeds in making sense of that journey.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)

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