“The Prophets teach us that while violence may keep an enemy at bay, only peace can make him a friend.”
— Kai Winn
There’s a difference between what your characters care about and what your audience cares about. This is initially a hard disconnect to grasp, and many beginning writers fall victim to it. Imagine your main character has a younger sibling, but this sibling has never been onscreen. Sure, your character cares about this person more than life itself, but to your audience, this is just some asshole they’ve never seen before, stopping their awesome favorite character from being cool.
The DS9 writers fell into this trap while writing this week’s episode. Initially, it was about a grievously injured Federation diplomat that Bashir decides, what the hell, let’s play a little Frankenstein with. The writers realized that no one would care. The audience had never seen this guy before, and while they intended it as a Bashir show, it was rapidly taken over by the diplomat. There’s a reason that everyone thinks the monster’s name is Frankenstein, after all. So, they needed to find someone the audience cares about, or at least knows. They first tried with O’Brien, as Colm Meaney had, and still has, a decent film career as a professional That Guy, but he assured them he wanted to stay. That was when they hit on the perfect person: Vedek Bareil.
Poor guy, right? He was all set to be Kai, but the writers figured out no conflict there, so he gets submarined. Now, they figure his story’s been told and there’s nowhere for his Kira romance to go, so he gets the axe. That’s another writing trick there: knowing when your character’s possibilities are exhausted and killing them. Some writers back it up even further and kill their characters before the possibilities are done — Joss Whedon leaps to mind — in an effort to shock and presumably emotionally scar their fans. The point here is, it was Bareil’s time.
The episode opens with Odo, O’Brien, and Bashir converging on one of the airlocks. There’s been a shuttle accident, and one of the first people off is Kai Winn, begging them to, “Take care of the Vedek!” It is, of course, Vedek Bareil she’s talking about, and he has been grievously wounded in a shuttle explosion. The two of them are in the midst of peace talks with the Cardassian Central Command, hammering out a treaty that would include reparations and perhaps even a formal apology. Bareil is instrumental in these talks, and without him, Winn worries that the whole thing might go up in smoke.
In the time since their last appearance together, Bareil has become a loyal aide to Kai Winn, and she really seems to respect the guy. While Winn delivers the episode quote to Sisko in response to his wonder about her desire for peace, it’s pretty easy to see that she was parroting something Bareil has been whispering in her ear the whole time. Imagine if Littlefinger was using his powers for good. In fact, this episode feels like a big turning point in the character of Kai Winn. Bareil’s presence in her life was the one thing walking her back from the precipice of fundamentalist evil. Remember, this is a woman that once tried to assassinate him, that gleefully painted him as a collaborator, and Bareil is able to push all that aside and concentrate on what’s best for Bajor, and how to serve the Prophets. That’s pretty good, especially for a guy with the dead shark eyes of a serial killer.
Initially, Bareil succumbs to his wounds, but Bashir is a pretty darn good doctor and, apparently, brings the Vedek back from the dead. The problem is, it’s more of a stopgap solution, and Bareil will need to be put into stasis to give Bashir time to research his condition. That will end the peace talks, and Bareil’s not having it. So, Bareil asks that an increasingly disturbed Bashir take up ever more extreme measures to keep him alive long enough to finish the talks while his entire body fails around him.
It really does end up being a wonderful episode for Bashir. He passionately fights for precisely one thing: the life of his patient. It is the first time he seems to truly win Kira’s respect, and she ends up calling him by his first name a few times here. Bashir rather awesomely goes up against Kai Winn as well, calling her out for her cowardice and need for a scapegoat should the talks fail, which is presently costing a good man his life. When Winn tells him she won’t forget what he said, he throws it right back in her face. Yeah, I like this new Dr. Bashir. It feels like the trip into the past has put some iron in his blood. He’s seen just how important one person can be, and as a doctor, he’s all about saving individual lives.
The peace talks are a success, and Bareil dies. In the end, with most of his organs, including half his brain, replaced by artificial implants, he’s not the man he used to be. Kira is forced to say goodbye, and the episode ends with her telling him all the things she couldn’t say when he was alive. It’s a poignant reminder — even for someone like me who was never sold on the Bareil character — to let the people in your life know what they mean to you. Otherwise, you’re forced to tell them as their brains slowly spiral to oblivion, unsure if they can even hear you.
What would this episode be without a little tonal whiplash? In a slight miscalculation, the writers decided that such a dark story needed a fun B-plot. They went with Jake and Nog, and what happens is good . . . it just belongs in some other episode. Basically, the gist is this: never double-date with a Ferengi. Jake wants to date Lisa from Saved by the Bell, and he has to cancel plans with Nog to do so. Nog then bulls his way into a double-date. It . . . does not go well. Basically, Nog is a sexist jerk, although not as bad as he could be. He only orders his date to cut his food, while in a traditional Ferengi household, the female would chew the food first.
This leads to a nice conversation with Sisko. After the falling out, Jake thinks the old man might have been right, that Ferengi and humans can’t get along. Sisko readily admits to saying that, but he also admits to being wrong. Jake and Nog are close friends, and it would be a shame to let that go. Jake gets them both arrested to give them time to talk. They both acknowledge that they have customs that disgust the other — one of Jake’s being “treating women like people” — and that double-dating is out.
Meanwhile, Bareil is dying as a horrifying cyborg. Like I said, tonal whiplash.
Next up: Odo comes clean.