Deep Space Nine: s06 e17 – Wrongs Darker than Death or Night

Bajoran comfort women

Though this is a highly-respected episode, once again I’m more ambivalent than many in my response to it. ‘Wrongs Darker than Death or Night’, a title taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Prometheus Bound is a Kira Nerys solo vehicle revisiting her past during the Bajoran Occupation, refining her ‘relationship’ with Gul Dukat, but from a completely different angle, albeit one whose beats were a little too predictable, even down to the angle on which the greatest moral ambiguity turned.

In an initially comic open in which Worf and Dax provided the set-up, we learn that today is what would have been Nerys’s mother’s 60th birthday, to be celebrated with Bajoran lilacs. Nerys lost her mother aged three, and her only memories are those her father gave her, of a strong and brave woman.

So we’re not in the least surprised when Nerys is woken in the night by a mystery transmission from Dukat, undermining said memories by claiming Kira Meru (Leslie Hope) was his lover and left her husband for him.

Nor are we surprised that, despite Nerys’ steadfast rejection of this as a blatant lie, she’s still undermined by this claim, so much so that she uses the Orb of Time to go back in time to see the truth.

Immediately she finds her starving family, including her three-year old self, and effectively meets her beautiful-if-strained looking mother for the first time. Just in time for Meru, Nerys and a dozen other unaccountably still beautiful, shapely, sexy Bajoran women to be seized as ‘comfort women’ for Cardassian officers on, guess where, Terak Nor, aka Deep Space Nine.

So that explains it. But the episode was set on a greater moral ambiguity than that. Yes, Gul Dukat has his eyes on Meru, impresses her by having her facial scar dissolved, cuts her out from the ‘herd’ with a much-used ploy. And seduces her even further by offering her both limitless food and the promise that her husband and children will be taken care of, in their own comfort. The fact still remains, and it’s not belaboured, that Meru has no option but to allow herself to be taken to bed by Dukat.

Nerys, whose moral absolutes have been formed by a long career with the resistance, as well as the example of a mother turn away by the Cardassians, finds it impossible to forgive Meru. She is a Collaborator, and in one sense worse than the occupiers themselves. What is worse though is that Meru is enjoying herself. She has plenty of food and pretty clothes, the things she dreamed of as a child. Sure, she openly and bitterly acknowledges the irony of how she’s come by them, and how horrible it makes her feel, and she is doing all this – betraying her husband, abandoning her children, fucking a Cardassian – because this will aid her family. But she’s also enjoying the luxury, and Nerys cannot forgive her for that. As far as Nerys is concerned, even the tiniest fraction of enjoyment is ultimate: like in America in pre-Civil War times,where a one hundredth part of black blood in someone’s heritage made them black, not white.

So Nerys joins the Resistance, exploits her mother’s liking and affinity for her to gain access to Dukat’s quarters and plants a bomb that will kill not just Dukat but Meru. But after setting its irreversible ‘fuse’, Nerys sees Meru watching a transmission from her father, Taban. Everything Dukat has promised is true. They have gone home, are well looked-after, the children are healthy and happy, all because of the sacrifice Meru is making. And Meru’s response is sobbing.

Nerys’s certainty breaks. She warns Meru, gets her out. Less explicably, she also warns Dukat, who is further in and who could easily have been left to die (a choice we have to attribute to the Will of the Prophets and the principle of not drastically buggering about with the Past). Everyone survives and Nerys bounces back to the present.

The close is interesting, thanks to Nana Visitor’s insistence on a re-write of a scene that originally had her openly forgiving her mother. Ms Visitor was insistent that Nerys would not be so unequivocal, and of course she was right. The episode doesn’t judge, and Sisko explicitly says that no-one can judge Meru’s decision but Meru herself. Nerys still wants to condemn Collaborators. In a way, it’s a cop-out ending that all she does is acknowledge that it’s not as simple as she always thought it was, but the morality is truly ambiguous, and ultimately there is no right or wrong answer, only the choices we ourselves would make if we were to find ourselves in such extreme circumstances, which we hope we never will.

It ties into the greater good question: can harm to the few be justified by relief for the many? Meru ensures safety and security for her family. What would you or I do? When I was married, I would have sacrificed myself in a heartbeat for them, without a shred of doubt as to whether I was doing ‘the right thing’ or not. ‘The right thing’ was their sanctity.

Having thought it over, I’m more impressed by the episode now than in actually watching it, when I was too aware of the mechanics of its construction and the predictability of its component elements. But, as I’ve often had to remind myself, if not recently, this was a prime-time entertainment drama of twenty years ago, with the inherent restrictions on time, budget and leaving things how you found them for next week that the form required.

And I’ve just now realised that, only three years after this guest appearance, Leslie Hope played Teri Bauer in season 1 of 24! She looks a lot hotter here…

5 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s06 e17 – Wrongs Darker than Death or Night

  1. I felt along the same lines with you here. It’s pretty high regarded and rated by fans, but it struck me on the duller side. As you allude to, the issues and themes it hits at are where it succeeds, but the execution to screen doesn’t quite work for me..
    And probably a sameness feeling, where Kira has a solo episode, dealing with her past/Bajor that we’d been down the road before.

    1. The real issue here is how it trivializes the brutalization of women during wartime by reducing it to a simple question of collaboration. It’s a gross oversimplification to suggest so. I know that the writers probably didn’t intend to do so….but they did. The restrictions of prime time tv strike yet again.

      1. I’m inclined to disagree with you. The episode deals specifically with Collaboration. If a parallel story about others forced to be comfort women by rape had been possible, the position would have been more comprehensive but at the expense of focus and of relation to a cast member. If that had been the case, I think a longer episode would have been required to do justice to both.

      2. Perhaps, but the story is, well, framed as that story. The word ‘comfort women’ draws to mind the stories from WW2 about the areas occupied by Japan.

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