After last week’s shenanigans, it was good to get back to a serious story, and one that looked to have a bit of meat on it, as it should, given that the end of season 3 is now very close. Also, it starred everybody’s favourite red-haired Major, always a plus point in this sector of the galaxy.
There was an understory as well, just to give other members of the cast some screen-time, about Chief O’Brien being ‘in the zone’ on the dartboard, but since it was entirely perfunctory, it needed no more mention than that, save that it was a particularly obvious contrivance to get everybody else into the episode when they had no place in the overstory. Twenty-odd years later, everybody, the programme especially, would be entirely comfortable with going solo, which would have made for a stronger experience overall.
Not that I initially, and for some time, was convinced of that. This was a purely personal response, based on the story originally coming over as a retread of that bloody awful season 1 episode, ‘Progress’, the one with Brian Keith hamming it up all over the shop.
The open, at least, was excellent. Though it’s three months on, Kira is still mourning the death of Bariel, praying before the rather more ornate Bajoran version of a candle, when Sisko interrupts to advise her that the First Minister has died. A new First Minister, in anticipation of elections, has already been appointed: it is Kai Winn.
Kira is horrified, as is Odo but, apparently no-one else. There was an ironically contemporary twist to things, given the very recent Electoral College confirmation of another gross election mistake, but it very much looked like the Kai would be adding temporal power to her spiritual domain. The story would be about undoing that prospect as a consequence of Winn’s own fanatical, and potentially fascistic, ambitions.
Kira is back at her devotions when she’s interrupted again, this time by the Kai herself, asking her to undertake a personal mission. Louise Fletcher is, as always, the perfectly cloying, creeping figure, steadfastly denying her own personal gain but never quite approaching conviction, secure in knowing that her power insulates her from having to really justify herself.
The set-up is that one of Bajor’s previously most agriculturally productive provinces, soil-poisoned by the retreating Cardassians, needs specially developed reclamators urgently. With these, the forthcoming planting season could be transformed, food for export be granted, Bajor commercially uplifted and its application to join the Federation advanced by years.
The fly in the appointment is that those reclamators have been ‘stolen’ by another, less significant province, and a selfish, arrogant leader who is holding Bajor back by refusing to give them up. The Kai wants the Major to go in and persuade these miserable bastards to give ’em back. She’s perfect for the mission because its her home province, and the leader is Shakaar, her former leader in the Resistance.
Shades of bloody Brian Keith methinks, especially when Kira beams down into a typically Bajoran farming community, and finds that the soil is dry, barren, arid. I mean, we knew Kai Winn’s tale of stolen equipment wouldn’t stand up even if you stapled it to a wall, but thankfully Shakaar was no old, stubborn and stupid old fart but rather an intelligent, thoughtful and clever man, kudos to Duncan Regehr in the role.
The real truth is that Shakaar’s community, who are farming to feed their people rather than exporting for profit, have legitimately received their reclamators only two months previously, after a three year wait, and been promised their use for a year. It is the Kai who is intending to ‘steal’ them.
There’s a genuine sense of camaraderie here, as others from the Resistance are also farming, and Kira’s old sympathies are easily invoked. But she’s learned from past mistakes, at least initially, and mindful of her duties, and the genuine value of the Kai’s project, sets up a face-to-face meeting between Shakaar and the Kai. Until, that is, the Kai sends the militia to arrest Shakaar.
After that, it’s back to old habits, as Shakaar gathers his old buddies and heads for the hills, Kira among them. The Kai is outraged, not least because Shakaar’s rebellion against her Prophet-inspired vision is gaining an awful lot of public sympathy. And Sisko isn’t disapproving this time: he takes great,polite pleasure in informing the Kai that Federation regulations forbid him from acceding to her request that he get his security in there and blast the bastards to buggery.
He even gets to tell Winn that her immediate threat to withdraw Bajor’s application to join the Federation is the little kid threatening to take his ball home that it is, although the actual word he uses in ‘overreaction’.
Meanwhile, the erstwhile Resistance is running round the hills like the old days, giving the Militia the gleeful slip just like the old days, although old habits are gaining ground: more than a few want to stop running and start fighting back. An ambush is laid, but both Kira and Shakaar find out that it is one thing to kill Cardassians and another to fire on Bajorans, especially Bajorans like the Militia leader, Colonel Lenaris (a carefully measured performance by a young-ish John Doman), who are themselves ex-Resistance.
This time a parley works. Lenaris, despite his record and his duty, is no more willing to kill former Bajoran Resistance folk than Shakaar. Rather than capture Shakaar’s band, they return to their farms, with the reclamators, and Lenaris conducts Shakaar and Kira to the office of the suddenly temporary First Minister. With the backing of the Army, Shakaar will stand for Election as First Minister, and he will win. Especially because, if the Kai doesn’t withdraw, the details of this episode will be made public. A lovely mix of democracy and blackmail.
As you know, I don’t read ahead unless I can’t help it, so I don’t know the longer-term implications of this move and what part Shakaar may have to play in future seasons. But he’s clearly that most dangerous of leaders, a clear-headed, thoughtful, rational, intelligent and principled man (thank heaven we don’t have any of them in real life, eh?) so I’m assuming he’ll be back.
And given that, once Kira returned to DS9, without a word of reproach, her first act was to blow out Bariel’s flame, I’m definitely expecting him to be back…