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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S3E15)’

“Trakor’s Fourth Prophecy says that the Emissary will face a fiery trial, and he’ll be forced to choose . . . ”
     — Vedek Yarka

The most fascinating thing about the Bajoran religion is that their gods are real. I’ve touched on this a few times, but this is the episode that really begins to examine what that might mean.

I realize by the standards of faith, everyone believes their gods are real, so settle down, internet outrage machine. The point is here that the Bajorans do not believe their gods are real, they know it, and that’s a pretty important distinction. There is actual, scientific proof of entities living in the wormhole who exist outside of linear time, so the trick of the prophecy is really just looking out a window to them. Kira says as much when she points out to Sisko the inherent logic in listening to a Bajoran prophecy.

The problem, though, lies in the interpretation of all of it. The Bajorans who receive the prophecies follow the time-honored way of writing about them. It’s never, “And then, Steve Johnson went to the store on October 3, 1993, for a pack of Menthols and a scratcher and then got totally creamed by a garbage truck.” It’s always, “And, the third of John’s sons did sojourn in dying autumn to provide his heart’s desire, when a great beast . . . totally creamed him.” Sorry about the end there. I’d be a terrible prophet.

That’s the problem this week. On the eave of a cooperative effort between Bajor, Starfleet, and Cardassia to place a subspace relay in the Gamma Quadrant, Vedek Yarka, an imperious and slightly wild-eyed holy man played by genre-stalwart Erick Avari, predicts doom based on Trakor’s Third Prophecy, written down some 3,000 years ago. It’s all couched in heavily symbolic language, warning of three vipers returning to their nest in the sky, burning the gates of the Celestial Temple and casting them open forever. The most troubling part of all of this is that it specifically references the Emissary . . . and his Sword of Stars. I only mention that last part, because it’s awesome.

If you recall, Commander Sisko is the Emissary. And, of course, Sisko has a Sword of Stars. The show didn’t really ignore that, but they didn’t explore it, outside of a few references to the informal power Sisko holds in Bajoran politics. Here, it is front and center. For starters, it means that his First Officer believes he is Space Jesus. Yeah, Kira finally comes out and admits that she believes Sisko is the Emissary, but she compartmentalizes because she’s good at her job. It’s a dynamic never really explored in Trek. Kirk thought he was a god, but Spock didn’t necessarily agree.

The “three vipers” of the prophecy are believed to be the Cardassian scientists who show up to help. To the show’s credit, they introduce the two nicest Cardassians ever, Ulani (Wendy Robie of Twin Peaks) and Gilora (Tracy Scoggins). These two are not like any of the Cardassians we have met. They’re scientists who have a barely concealed distaste for Cardassian politics, a dislike of Cardassian food, and are gracious and respectful to Major Kira upon arrival. The race can support monsters like Gul Darhe’el, but you can also have perfectly nice women like Ulani and Gilora. As you might have noticed, there are two of them, which doesn’t work with the whole three vipers thing. A third arrives later, Dejar, a taciturn and sullen Cardassian who the other two dislike and seems only present to remind everyone of Cardassian orthodoxy.

Chief ends up working with Gilora, and it’s one of the more subtly funny B-plots yet. Gilora can’t understand why O’Brien felt the need to modify the station so much. She sneers at what she sees as Federation hand-wringing, while O’Brien chafes under her dismissive and disrespectful attitude. It isn’t until they blow up that we understand the problem: Gilora tells him men just don’t have a head for the sciences. It’s a solid laugh line and a nice, Trek-related commentary on institutionalized sexism. After the blow up, Gilora’s attitude has totally changed, even telling him that she’s quite fertile and could give him a lot of kids.

Yep. Seems that Cardassians flirt by bickering. So, what Chief was finding to be an insufferable, new colleague, Gilora saw as a human showing his intense interest. O’Brien refuses — that’s becoming a theme, and it bodes well for me that doughy Irish guys are considered hot in the future — telling Gilora he has a wife. Though he says he’s not interested, I can’t help but think he’s protesting too much. Remember that O’Brien is Trek’s only true racist. He does not like Cardassians at all. Racists often eroticize the ethnic group they don’t like in a variety of icky ways, and, look. There’s no delicate way to say this, but if Chief had some Cardassian porn lying around for when Keiko is on Bajor, I would not be shocked in the slightest.

Meanwhile, Sisko struggles with how much he should listen to the prophecy. Kira thinks he should, while Dax counsels him to remain true to himself. This is as each part slowly comes true, as long as you interpret the poetic language in a specific way. The sword of stars is a rogue comet that the test ends up pulling toward the wormhole. The comet is filled with silithium, a fake material that will react catastrophically with the wormhole and likely collapse it. A tractor beam will fragment the comet, as will a phaser blast. Not to worry: O’Brien can modify the phasers to fire a wide enough beam to evenly vaporize it.

Problem solved! Nope. When they fire the phasers, it’s a normal blast, fragmenting the comet into three pieces. While O’Brien blames himself, Gilora outs the true culprit: Dejar, an Obsidian Order agent there to make certain the first joint Cardassia-Bajor operation is a failure. The Order is not a fan of the peace treaty. Then, Sisko and Kira (who invokes religious privilege) try a desperate gambit: they take a shuttle craft between the comet fragments, encase the whole thing in a warp bubble, and take it through the wormhole that way. They leak silithium the whole way, but it’s not enough to destroy the wormhole. When they’re through, the signal from the relay, which previously had not worked, is broadcasting perfectly.

Kira realizes the prophecy came true. The three vipers were comet fragments, and the temple gates are now open from the relay. It was just so darn poetic and vague no one could see it until it was over. Thanks a lot, Trakor. You really screwed the pooch.

The best part is that all’s well that ends well. Gilora will be protected by her bosses in the Science Ministry, while Dejar is likely to be hung out to dry by the Order for failing. Sisko discusses prophecy with Yarka, and the episode quote is the final line of the episode, cutting off as it fades to black. It might, just might, refer to the series finale. Who knows? Prophecies are vague.

Next up: What do you do with a drunken Nagus?

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