“Terrorists don’t get to be heroes.”
— Major Kira Nerys
Riker is the lost boy of TNG. While he was originally intended as the Kirk-equivalent, the dashing adventurer and audience-PoV character (Remember, the pilot is him meeting the crew of the Enterprise.), in practice he was whatever the writers needed him to be. If they wanted a free-wheeling, authority-flouting rebel, he was that. If they needed a by-the-book authoritarian, he was that, too. The only thing that remained a constant was that he didn’t understand how chairs worked. It was, therefore, with a certain irony that the writers decided that their most muddled creation needed a clone.
Tom Riker, as he came to be known, was the result of a transporter accident. Totally identical to the more-familiar Will Riker, down to his decision to grow a beard and develop a paunch, this was a classic case of TNG trying something weird late in its run. It was probably inevitable that DS9 would latch onto this to explore the consequences of a clone maybe driven slightly crazy by eight years of isolation and a far more successful duplicate and have him latch onto the current political instability. I’ve tipped the hand of this episode, but it’s a pretty quick reveal. When “Will” Riker shows up on DS9 and instantly romances Major Kira, it’s actually Tom Riker, and he’s a Maquis agent.
On a side note, it’s interesting that the show has pivoted in whom it considers its sex symbol to be. In sci-fi, you always have two female characters, the Ripley and the Vasquez. The Ripley is more traditionally feminine, often with long hair, a willowy build, maternal attitude, and towering height. (This last one is just a weird coincidence). The Vasquez is a warrior, short-haired, unconcerned with traditional feminine roles . . . and with kind of a willowy build. Okay, so sci-fi is just as bad as anything else with promoting only one kind of body type. Sorry about that. Anyway, when the show started, Dax, the Ripley, was positioned as the sex symbol, and Kira, the Vasquez, was the sexless authority figure. In the last two episodes, Kira has been the one who was pursued by the guest stars. This was a good thing for young Justin, who has always been and remains decidedly Team Kira.
Riker uses Kira to get access to the Defiant and promptly shipjacks it and takes her hostage. His plan is to get out to the DMZ, crew it with Maquis, then head into Cardassian space and wreak a little havoc. Well, that should be his plan, but he’s after a possibly fictional base deep in Cardassian territory, where they’re supposedly building up a fleet of ships.
Meanwhile, Sisko reaches out to Dukat to let him know, hey, sorry, but the baddest ship in Starfleet is heading for Cardassian space. Sisko essentially loans himself to the Cardassian military to help disable the Defiant and return her to the Federation. Dukat isn’t making any promises on that regard — he’s just fine destroying it. An Obsidian Order operative, Korinas, arrives in the war room as they do, but she’s just there to observe. By now, viewers should have a healthy distrust of the Order and figure she’s probably up to something. She begins to grow more and more agitated as the Defiant heads to the Orias System, which Dukat assures Sisko is uninhabited.
Nope. As it turns out, it’s extremely habited. That mythical fleet Riker heard about is real, and it’s full of Keldon-class ships (bigger and badder than the normal Galor-class) that belong to the Obsidian Order. The thing is, the Order isn’t supposed to have any military equipment, but even Dukat admits there isn’t even anything approaching oversight to prevent this from happening. Riker ends up in the middle of a face off between the two most powerful factions in the Cardassian government — the military and the Order — and not even the Defiant can take those odds. Sisko manages to negotiate for the return of the ship and the crew (to be tried by Starfleet), but Riker has to be turned over to the Cardassians (along with all the sensor data about what’s going on in the Orias System). No death penalty though, so . . . yay, I guess? Kira vows to free Riker, but, hilariously, that never happens. Not to tip the show’s hand or anything, but by the time Kira actually makes it to Cardassia, Tom Riker is probably long dead.
The episode is a good one, and it’s notable for two things. The first is the character of Gul Dukat, who gets a little deeper here. I mentioned before that “hero” and “villain” don’t really apply to him, which is a hell of a thing to say about Space Hitler. It’s true, in the sense that Dukat is never consciously evil. There is a wonderful moment when Sisko is trying to divine Riker’s intent with sensor information, and Dukat is woolgathering. He’s thinking about his son’s birthday — they were supposed to go to the amusement center (such a wonderful image, as it conjures some Stalin-esque Disneyland). While Sisko takes this as an “ah, isn’t fatherhood just a kick,” Dukat is melancholy. He points out that all his son will take from this is that a Federation officer in a Federation warship invaded his home, and now his father missed his birthday. Sisko recognizes the truth in this and his face just falls, knowing that Riker’s rash action really might put another generation at each other’s throats.
The other point is one I have been waiting to get into since I started this series: the use of the word “terrorist.” The episode’s quote comes from Kira haranguing Riker for not using the Defiant right . . . like a terrorist would. I had this impression, going in, that “terrorist” was going to be thrown around in a way you would never see post-9/11, and in that I was correct. I thought it would be used in a positive light, and there I was wrong. Kira freely admits she was a terrorist, and the performance hints that she’s begging people to call her on it, because of the guilt she carries for some of her actions. She never calls it a good thing, merely the desperate acts of a brutalized population. Kira as a character is someone you would never see in a heroic role these days. While I believe that Bajor and the Bajorans are mostly intended to be WWII-era Jews and the emerging state of Israel, let’s look at Kira for a moment. She is a terrorist (her word), who made bombs and is fanatically devoted to the Prophets. Sound familiar? Granted, most modern terrorist organizations are more patriarchal than the Bajorans seem to be, but there are some interesting parallels.
The thing about those words, “terrorism” and “terrorist,” is that they’re not terribly useful. If you take the most common definition of the word, that it’s deliberately targeting civilians in order to force surrender, then you’ve just described every government there is. Including this one — the whole purpose of things like the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo — was to frighten a population into surrender (with the intent of saving more lives, ours, in the process). It’s part of the cruel mathematics of modern warfare. I am not excusing it — I’m a guy who thinks violence is basically how stupid people solve problems — merely pointing out that “terrorist” is what the winners get to call the losers.
Next up: Lwaxana Troi is back.