The writers of DS9 crafted Gul Dukat as one of the main villains of the series, deliberately contrasting him with the hero, Captain Sisko. While Sisko was Space Jesus, arriving to deliver Bajor into a new Golden Age, Dukat was Space Hitler, who had to be kicked out to usher in this new age of peace. They didn’t want Dukat to be a mere mustache-twirler, though. The best villains always have elaborate justifications for any evil acts they were “forced” to perform. It’s always someone else’s fault. Their backs were up against a wall, and the reasonable solutions weren’t working. They are the hero in their version of the story, and others are just too blind to see it.
Not only that, but real human beings (and let’s be honest here, most of the aliens in Star Trek are basically human with one or two cultural values turned up) aren’t purely evil. They have families, and, in fact, it was Dukat’s love for Ziyal -- warped and self-involved though it was -- that finally broke him. Dukat also expresses a level of patriotism -- again, that is often concealing his bottomless ambition -- that, were it for a more palatable government, we’d call a virtue. An accident of birth made him Cardassian, and can we blame him for being proud of his heritage?
So, you have this deliciously complicated character who has in the past performed unspeakable acts, and you cast Marc Alaimo. A man, who, at least in this role, oozes charisma through every pore. Large segments of the fandom loved to focus on his infatuation with Kira (inevitably painting it as a form of love), his devotion to Ziyal (ignoring his sociopathic manipulations of her), and his rock-ribbed patriotism (to an imperialist and totalitarian government). It’s a tribute to Alaimo that he was able to make a man, who on the surface should have elicited nothing but loathing, into a character that was embraced.
But the writers didn’t want that. Dukat was evil, dammit! He was the cherry on top of the genocide sundae that systematically looted Bajor and murdered its population. He was so bad that we would accept a terrorist on the bridge crew, because she was fighting against Dukat’s government. All this fandom excusing his actions was watching it wrong, by the writers’ perspective. So, they were going to change it.
In some ways, “Waltz” is a spiritual successor to the season one standout (and top 10 episode of the series) “Duet.” Both shows are primarily a conversation between a member of the cast and a Cardassian, over the nature of good and evil. “Waltz,” though, has five seasons of continuity behind it, and it thus more about the views of these specific characters. This is the episode that finally gets to the bottom of Dukat, and as the episode quote foreshadows, it’s not a good place.
Dukat has recovered enough from his breakdown that he can face a list of his charges. I’m uncertain exactly what these charges are. He’s being tried for war crimes, but it’s my understanding that Weyoun and the Dominion safeguarded the Bajorans from Cardassian retribution. Thus, I think he’s finally being tried for what he did during the original Occupation. Better late than never, I guess. The big secret is that, though Dukat can pass himself off as largely sane, he’s actually experiencing vivid hallucinations of three of the most important people in his recent life: Weyoun, Kira, and Damar. They aren’t accurate, conforming more toward an exaggerated idea of who Dukat thinks they are, expressing opinions Dukat holds but can’t let him acknowledge that he does. Weyoun is the sociopathic envoy of the Dominion, ready to glass a planet at the slightest hint of rebellion. Kira is the arrogant and mocking Bajoran terrorist, throwing Dukat’s kindess back in his face. Damar is the ruthless Cardassian patriot whose only thought is for the state.
The ship transporting Dukat and Sisko (a Nebula-class vessel, which is one of my favorite designs in the franchise) is destroyed by a Cardassian patrol, scattering survivors across a large region of space. As the rules of good drama state, Dukat and Sisko end up stranded together. In fact, Dukat saved Sisko’s life and bandaged his badly-broken arm. Sisko awakens in a cave on a remote planet, sitting next to a beacon, which Dukat claims is broadcasting a general distress call. Whichever side gets there first “will find one comrade in arms and one prisoner.”
Of course, nothing is as it seems. Dukat has always been obsessed with Sisko, this time referring to them frequently as “old friends.” This is part of Dukat’s sick need to be loved. There’s a decent chance that, without this impulse, he might have been a good, or at least not quite as evil, man. This episode reveals that a lot of Dukat’s violent actions toward the Bajoran people stem from the fact that they regarded him as evil, and returned every one of his attempts to be gentler with increasing violence. He desperately wants Sisko to understand this, so that the admiration he feels, as well as that of the Bajoran people and the galaxy at large, for Sisko will be returned by a man Dukat deems worthy. In that way, Dukat will have his feelings justified.
Sisko, of course, will not play that game. Sisko is a man of clarity, and although later this season will do the most morally questionable thing any Starfleet officer has ever done (in the series-best episode “In the Pale Moonlight”), he is firmly on the side of the angels. Or the Prophets. You know, whichever. The point is, that he would never wave away the systematic slaughter of 50 million people and the enslavement of countless more.
The episode builds a palpable sense of dread. More than anything, it feels like Misery, one of Stephen King’s best books, where an author is horribly injured in a car accident and is taken in by an unhinged fan. As the episode progresses and Dukat’s hallucinations grow more obvious, it becomes clear to Sisko just how broken his old nemesis is, and how much danger he’s in. It’s a great contrast: our hero has a battered body while our villain has a damaged mind. The episode goes to seriously dark territory when Dukat viciously beats Sisko with a metal bar.
Finally, though, the two have it out. As Dukat was on his way to court, it takes the form of a court hearing, with Sisko playing the role of the prosecutor. He grills Dukat over his actions during the Occupation, trying to show Dukat that once you murder millions of people, you don’t get to be a good guy anymore. Dukat points out his initial reforms: he abolished child labor, he brought better medical care, and so on. But each time he did this, the Resistance responded with an attack. He tried to limit himself to justice -- 200 Cardassians died, therefore 200 Bajorans would -- but even that wouldn’t work. The Bajorans just could not understand how fair and reasonable he was being.
Sisko keeps needling, getting to what’s underneath. It’s the most pernicious form of racism that lurks under Dukat’s genteel façade. He believes the Bajorans are simply inferior in every way, requiring Cardassian leadership and guidance, and the problem arose when they refused to accept that basic truth. What started as mere condescension curdled into outright hatred. Sisko eventually gets Dukat to admit that he hated the Bajorans, something he had never admitted to himself, let alone out loud. Hate caused those murders, not some concern for the Bajoran people.
The two men fight, and it’s Dukat who gets the better of the injured Sisko. He swears vengeance on the Bajorans and escapes in the shuttlecraft. This is the last time Sisko and Dukat will speak until the series finale too, when we see where Dukat went with his mania.
Dukat,though, is still Dukat. As he leaves, he sends a message to Starfleet rescue parties with Sisko’s location. You might beat your friends with a metal pipe, but you don’t leave them to die on some godforsaken planet. That’s how he would justify it to himself. We know the true reason from the rosetta stone of quotes from “Sacrifice of Angels” -- true victory requires that your enemy be alive to see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place. Sisko needs to see that. Only then will Dukat kill him.
Next up: Morn gets his day in the spotlight! But no lines.