The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S5E11)’

“He wanted to protect the innocent and separate the darkness from the light. But he didn’t realize the light only shines in the dark. And, sometimes, innocence is just an excuse for the guilty.”
    -- Major Kira Nerys


As much as DS9 was, if not directly influential, certainly a harbinger for what television would become over the following decade, there is one thing it did that would never be done today: one of the main characters, the defining heroine, is a terrorist. While a show anchored by a terrorist is a natural fit in the era of the conflicted anti-hero, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine one getting such sympathetic treatment, and one being a woman. With very few exceptions (such as with the transcendent ‘80s spy show The Americans), morally questionable behavior is confined to male characters.

Kira was an oddity even then. For the obsessively clean future envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, she was strange for not wanting to be part of the Federation, for openly courting conflict (Remember, her very first scene was her yelling at a superior.), and for unrepentantly taking part in some pretty heinous acts, ostensibly for a greater good. And that’s the key to Kira’s character right there: she is unrepentant about what she did. That makes her unique.

We should probably stop here and define terrorism, at least for the purposes of this review (and to set myself up for angry comments). Too many arguments get out of hand because no one bothers to make sure everyone is working off the same definitions. So, for now, we should say that terrorism is the deliberate targeting of non-combatants with the intent of frightening an enemy. Oftentimes, terrorism gets tied up in economic terms, when only an oppressed population can be considered terrorist, which is nonsense, since governments like Nazi Germany, or the Cardassian Union, are textbook terrorists. Notice no one ever calls Gul Dukat one, though. “Terrorism,” it seems, is the exclusive purview of the desperate.

Kira has softened over her time on the show. The first major change was in the first season standout “Duet,” where she met a Cardassian she considered to be a good person. For someone who used to kill Cardassians on sight, that’s a big deal. She has since informally adopted the half-Cardassian daughter of Space Hitler which has to make for some awkward family dinners, and she has spent at least some time with Garak without punching him. She’s really growing as a person.

None of this changes her past. The question is, does it change her opinion of her past? It’s a worthy question. In most stories, the answer would be a resounding yes. She would see the evil in what she had done, and she would repent in some way. But this is DS9, and one of the great joys of the show is the way the writers consistently take the story down unexpected avenues. They’re willing to allow a female character to be an unrepentant murderer of non-combatants and willing to allow her to tell her side of the story without standing in tongue-clucking judgment of her. For as progressive as other shows have been, none have ever gone quite this far.

The episode begins when one of the member’s of Kira’s old Resistance cell gets bumped off in the middle of a ceremony, appropriately enough, dedicated to atonement. A message sounding like Jigsaw arrives for Kira at the same time, saying only two words: “That’s one.” Since Kira was the only one to receive the message, it’s obvious she is the primary target. She gets a new message four more times as four other members of her cell are murdered, all using remote-controlled technology called hunter probes. Same method, same motive, and it doesn’t take an investigator of Odo’s caliber to determine that this is an elaborate revenge plot for one of Kira’s attacks.

The victims are an interesting bunch, too. For one thing, they bring back Lupaza and Furel from the third season episode “Shakaar” to give the audience a stronger connection to the murders. For me, though, the most affecting was Trentin Fala, a mousey Bajoran woman who spent the Occupation cleaning floors in a Cardassian records room. She fed the Shakaar vital information to plan their attacks and existed in a constant state of terror. Kira remarks that she always thought Fala was the bravest of them all, a counter-intuitive opinion, but a theme DS9 keeps returning to. There can be no courage without fear, and Fala faced hers on a daily basis.

Eventually, Kira tracks the killer to a planet in the DMZ. He effectively ambushes her, knocking her out with a phaser. She awakens on a table, with a bright light shining in her face, and that’s when you remember that one of the credited writers is Bryan Fuller. That’s right, the same man who would go on to create the most gory, gothic, and insanely great shows that improbably appeared on network television: Hannibal. This entire scene feels like a warm up for that show, as it hits the tropes of serial killer writing like it’s checking them off a list.

The killer is grotesque, hideously mutilated in a bombing attack carried out primarily by Kira, but with assistance from the other five murdered people. He talks to himself for the most part, narrating what’s going on, with particular emphasis on darkness and light. Eventually, Kira does get him to talk, and he launches into a perfect Hannibal lecture to explain why she deserves everything he has done and will do. See, the bomb was meant to kill Gul Privek, a legitimate target, but it also got his family and his staff. The killer was a non-combatant, a civilian whose only job it was to iron uniforms. He was, in his view, innocent.

Kira isn’t having it. In an incredible monologue, she informs him, in no uncertain terms, that no Cardassian belonged on Bajoran soil. Anyone who was there was a legitimate target by default (which in Kira’s view included Marritza from “Duet” who only absolved himself when he returned to make Cardassia confront its sins). The murderer counters that this is precisely what makes him good and her evil: he went out of his way to only kill the people he wanted to kill. There was not a single bit of collateral damage. He cared, and to prove it, he’s going to cut O’Brien’s child right out of her belly and raise him right. Yeah, that’s right. Kira is three weeks from delivery at this point.

He sedates Kira, which doesn’t work because of a Chekhov’s Gun expertly set up in the early part of the episode (an early scene has her complaining that certain herbs Bashir has her take counteract the sleeping pills she needs). She kills the man and calmly waits for backup, which arrives to find her sitting in the dark, contemplative.

The stunning part of this episode is that both Kira and the Cardassian were wrong. Kira did kill innocents; she justified it and continues to do so. The Cardassian was a cog turning a blind eye to a machine of industrialized murder. Sometimes, there is no real darkness and no real light.


Next up: Odo gets his groove back.

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