“The one thing I’ve learned about you humanoids is that in extreme situations, even the best of you are capable of doing terrible things.”
— Constable Odo
If you decided to learn only one rule of writing, here’s the one you want: conflict is king. In order to tell a story, you need some form of conflict, which can be in any form you like. Person A wants to do something, and Person B would rather they didn’t. That’s it. The story is working that disagreement out, and this formula appears in everything from The Lord of the Rings (Frodo would like to throw the One Ring in Mount Doom, while Sauron would rather he didn’t.) to Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. (The evil developer would like to bulldoze the community center, while Turbo and Ozone would rather he didn’t.) “But, Justin,” you say, “what about Twilight? Those barely had any conflict at all, and when it did, it always got sorted out pretty easily!” Well, unseen person, if we were in the same room, I would have just slapped you across the face. So, please do that for me now. The rest of us can wait.
This is what the writers of DS9 realized. No, nothing about Twilight, that hadn’t happened yet, and the Prophets neglected to mention it. The writers had been discussing promoting Vedek Bareil to Kai all year, but when the time came, they realized that this gave them nothing. See, Bareil is basically the Pope Francis of Bajor, and those kinds of values jibe really well with those of the Federation. So, if he becomes Kai, he’s a staunch ally for Sisko, and Kira’s boyfriend is the most powerful man on Bajor. Not exactly a springboard for a ton of stories as he solves more problems than he causes. Vedek Winn on the other hand . . .
To continue my probably insulting equivocation, if Bareil is Pope Francis, Winn is Pope Benedict. She interprets every prophecy in the most conservative way possible, and oh yeah, the last time she was on the station, she incited a riot and was masterminding a plot to assassinate Bareil. Hilariously — and appropriately considering his saintly mien — Bareil is content to shrug off the assassination attempt. I do find it funny that someone who worships aliens who do not experience time is content to leave something in the past, but I’m probably overthinking. Winn and Bareil’s warring viewpoints are elegantly re-established when Winn tells some Bajoran children that if they honor the Prophets, the Prophets will love them. Bareil says the love of the Prophets is unconditional.
This is gearing up to the election of the new Kai. Bajor has been without one since Opaka decided to hang out in the Gamma Quadrant with Mike from Breaking Bad, and the election is nearing. I would have assumed the Vedek Assembly would be the ones who decide, but as it turns out, it’s more of a popular vote. Bareil is the presumptive choice since he was Opaka’s hand-picked successor, he has the kind of cuddly faith that would play well in a post-Occupation arena, and his creepiness might not be apparent in public appearances. Everything’s coming up Milhouse for Vedek Bareil, but this is DS9. It’s time to screw him over. Hard.
The episode begins, and is punctuated, with Bareil’s orb experiences. This is when you stare into the Orb (which isn’t even remotely Orb-shaped), and the Prophets give you visions. They use familiar settings and characters you know, because much like Paramount in the ‘90s, the Prophets don’t want to go too far over budget with this stuff. Bareil’s visions are legitimately troubling. They center around the suicide of a man named Prylar Bek (played by Clay Stork from One Crazy Summer, which is super distracting if you’re my age). Also, “Prylar” is a rank, like Vedek, but this one comparable to a monk.
Things start going pear shaped for Bareil when a man named Kubus arrives on the station. He was formerly Secretary Kubus, an official in the Bajoran Occupational Government. He was, in the parlance of history, a collaborator. It’s easy to condemn him and, honestly, we should, but when faced with that stark of a decision — either you get to be worked to death or someone you’ve never met gets the same fate — most people will pick the former. The episode quote comes from Odo to Kira, when she’s wrestling with what Kubus told her: that Bareil himself is a collaborator. Kubus claims that Bareil was responsible for the Kendra Valley Massacre, in which Cardassian forces wiped out forty-three Bajoran freedom fighters, one of whom was Kai Opaka’s own son. History lays this at the feet of Prylar Bek, who basically held the same post as Kubus, only instead of the secular authority, Bek was the liaison between the Cardassians and the Vedek Assembly. Evidence surfaces that Bek met with Bareil just after the massacre, and combined with the orb visions, it starts to look like Bareil might be a collaborator.
Winn is only too happy to see her main rival go down in flames. Initially, facing defeat in the elections, she’s scraping for favor with Commander Sisko. All of a sudden, she’s calling him Emissary and asking that he come to the Vedek Assembly to show they really are pals (and maybe start talking about that Federation membership thing). Sisko agrees . . . after the election, so no one mistakes such an opinion for an endorsement. As much as he might want Bareil to win, his moral code will not allow him to interfere. And, in the end of the episode, we get to see just what a self-serving snake Winn is. If anyone still had some illusions to the contrary.
Winn, preying on Kira’s doubts, actually gets her to investigate Bareil’s possible betrayal, which she does with the assistance of Odo. They have two excellent moments in this episode. With the quote, Odo is specifically referring not only to Bareil’s actions, but to Kira’s, as detailed in the episode “Necessary Evil.” Nana Visitor even has this flash over her face as she realizes this, knowing for certain that no one got out of the Occupation entirely clean. The next moment occurs when the evidence is piling up and Kira expresses how much this disturbs her. Why? Because she loves Bareil. Odo has an instant and visible reaction, including a stuttered response. The implication is pretty clear: he has feelings for Kira, and that will become darned important in the seasons to come. I had completely forgotten about it too, placing this revelation in the otherwise terrible third-season episode, “Meridian” (my pick for the worst episode in the entire series). I used to think that was the only important thing that happened in that hour, but now that I know that its birth was here, in this excellent episode. You can totally skip “Meridian.” You’re welcome. Oh, you are so welcome.
Kira finally confronts Bareil, and it looks like he’s guilty. He tries to explain his motives, that if the Resistance weren’t given up, the Cardassians would have simply slaughtered everyone in the Kendra Valley. That’s 1200 people. Compared to that, 43 is a bargain. That kind of awful math shows that the decision to collaborate makes a queasy sense, because that’s just how bad the situation truly was. There was no good option, no correct call. Only the cold calculation: how many people have to be killed?
The final irony comes when Kira unearths a last bit of evidence that utterly exonerates Bareil, after he has withdrawn from the elections. He physically could not have collaborated. She brings this to his attention and does a solid end-of-case summing up. (She must have been practicing with Odo.) Why would Bareil lie? He was protecting someone that meant even more to him than Kira. Opaka. That’s right, the saintly Kai Opaka was the one who collaborated, sacrificing her own son to the monstrous Cardassian war machine rather than allow 1200 people to be murdered. No one, not even her, got out clean.
Kira and Bareil, both battered, both somehow a little more wounded, reunite and go to pay their respects to the new Kai. Kai F–king Winn.
Sorry, that should be in the Bajoran form: Kai Winn F–king.
Next up: O’Brien’s court-appointed lawyer is terrible.