Deep Space Nine‘s first season came to an end with an effective double-punch, following on from “Duet” with a similarly-strong script again based on Bajoran politics and religion, a subject which, on this showing, seems indivisible. Originally, the series planned to end with a crossover with Next Generation, ending its penultimate season, but this stand alone, which reawakened the otherwise ignored religious role of Benjamin Sisko as Emissary to the Prophets, would serve to introduce a running theme that the series would develop until its end.
“In the Hands of the Prophets” introduced two religious leaders, or Vedeks, representing opposing poles within the Bajoran religion. Vedek Winn appears in the open, on the station, taking steps to close down Keiko O’Brien’s school because she is teaching the children the scince of the Wormhole, instead of its spiritual significance to Bajor. She’s played with perfect calm by Louise Fletcher, best known as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The other is Vedek Bariel, played by Philip Anglim. Bariel doesn’t enter the story until midway, when Sisko visits him at his garden sanctuary on Bajor. Bariel, who is favourite to succeed Opaka as the Kai, is Winn’s opposite. He is liberal, outreaching, eager to see useless tradition abandoned, where Winn is fundamentalist to her core.
I must admit that, at first, I thought the episode was going to act as an allegory for the Creationism vs Evolution argument, but despite the fact that Star Trek has always been an essentially scientific, rationalist series, that would have been going too far for a Network series in the early post-Reagan, Born Again era. Nevertheless, Keiko does stand up for herself, insisting upon the teaching of fact, of information not ignorance, when Winn suggests a ‘compromise’ of teaching nothing whatsoever about the wormhole.
Tensions begin to rise on the station. Bajorans begin to withdraw from serving humans. Winn forces the closure of the School by removing all the Bajoran pupils.
Meanwhile, there’s a b-story that’s slowly working its way towards merger into the lead plot. It begins with O’Brien heavily praising his new, Bajoran, assistant Neela (introduced in the previous episode), and his discovery that he’s missing an important security tool. The search for this leads to the discovery of a disintegrated body, a missing ensign. Everything points towards an accident, but O’Brien doesn’t buy it, and as the investigation slowly uncovers pieces of evidence here and there, another explanation starts to thrust itself forward.
It’s clearly a murder, for reasons as yet unknown.
The two strands come together when the School – thankfully empty – is bombed. Sisko confronts Winn, accuses her intolerance of being the cause of this violence. He gives a great speech about how the Federation and Bajor are learning to work and live together, that despite what mistakes they make, daily they grow more into colleagues, allies and friends, where her way is meant to separate. The commotion is enough to draw Vedek Bariel up from Bajor.
The episode’s one flaw is the same flaw all such episodes face in a dramatic serial. Several minutes before she reveals herself as working with – or rather for – Winn, I’d fingered Neela as the ‘mole’. It’s too obvious: a guest star, not integrated into the series, what else is she there for?
And she’s to assassinate Bariel, removing him from Winn’s path, except that O’Brien’s probings uncover the steps she’s taken to bypass security and create an escape route for herself, and Sisko prevents the killing. Of course, Neela claims to have acted alone, and thus, whilst everyone knows about Winn, nothing can be done. There are, after all, many seasons ahead.
A very clever episode, returning to Sisko’s status as Emissary, as introduced in the pilot but otherwise left untouched all season, to lend a nice air pf symmetry to the finale. It opened up a line of inquiry about Bajorans and their spiritual beliefs that could be extended in the future. And it reinforced how Major Kira had grown throughout the series.
Which was more than most of the characters had. Looking back at Season 1, now that I’ve seen it in its entirety, I’m struck by how little all the characters were developed. Major Kira is the great exception, and whilst Odo was underused, he at least had attached to him an air of mystery, due to his unique nature and its complete lack of background.
The worst treated, as far as I was concerned, were Quark and Doctor Bashir. The Ferenghi was never more than a comic caricature, often wheeled on for a couple of scenes just to remind us he was a cast member, but rarely of any great relevance to any stories, whilst the Doctor never grew beyond being hopelessly naive and bumptious: a very shallow portrayal, but Bashir was limited by what little they gave him to do.
Only slightly more fleshed out was Dax. Terry Farrell was undeniably pretty, but her acting chops were limited, and so too had to be her lines. Jake Sisko didn’t appear in more than half the episodes, and was only ever allowed parts of stories that showed him as raw, whilst his father, given Avery Brooks’ curiously stilted manner of speaking, was given the leading role and ample screen-time, but failed so far to really impress himself as a central character. Too often, Sisko’s leadership came from his position, not his personality.
Those would need to improve in later series. Indeed, it did. Season 2 is ready to play. See you next week.