“Patience is for the young.”
— Tekeny Ghemor
In fiction, “family” has an awfully elastic definition. Tons of shows and movies are about groups of misfits banding together and calling themselves family. This never quite sat well with me. After all, “friend” is a far better compliment than “brother” ever will be. You choose friends. You’re stuck with brothers.
So, it never really resonates with me when characters come together and artificially proclaim themselves family. When it happens organically, though, it can be some of the most rewarding storytelling out there. The most important shot in this week’s episode occurs relatively early on, when Tekeny Ghemor, the former Legate in the Cardassian military and leader in the dissident movement, happily cradles Kirayoshi O’Brien while Kira looks on with a wistful smile. This is a family, albeit one of a profoundly strange sort. And it is one of the most hopeful images Trek has ever produced. Kira and Ghemor should be blood enemies — him a former occupier and her a former terrorist — and little O’Brien is the child of the one racist in Starfleet. Yet here they are, together, seeing a bit of what could have been.
I’ve always wondered what Yoshi’s relationship with Kira would be. I would hope that she would remain a treasured relation, something more than an aunt but not quite a mother. The way Kira speaks about him and treats him, it’s clear she hopes for the same. Yet Kira has never been defined the way so many modern female characters have. She never, even here, expresses a desire to have children or get married. She’s more concerned with the sins of her past and the future of Bajor. Other than the fact that she’s a beautiful woman, Kira is written very much like a man would be. And to be clear, the problem here is that there aren’t more women in fiction written this way. Also, DS9 is, once again, a pioneer.
For those who don’t remember, Tekeny Ghemor last appeared in the great third season episode “Second Skin,” when the Obsidian Order attempted to smoke him out as a dissident by trying to pass Kira off as his missing daughter. It’s not as insane as it sounds. Iliana Ghemor was a dead ringer for Kira, albeit Cardassian, and she was surgically altered and sent undercover into the Bajoran Resistance. Kira initially took Ghemor to be her jailer, but discovered not only was he a dupe as well, but he was a good man, trying to reform Cardassia from the inside. It’s not a revelation she would have been prepared for without season one’s “Duet” either, once again showing off DS9’s expert, if haphazard, approach to character growth.
Ghemor has returned to DS9 because he’s dying. Finally having accepted his biological daughter will never return to him, he’s embraced Kira as the next best thing. As the Occupation left Kira orphaned, she’s cool with it and even gets adorably nervous when Ghemor is to arrive, making certain he has every amenity. Worf, serving as a late-arriving audience surrogate, expresses surprise that Kira should have a Cardassian friend. Before he dies, Ghemor wants to perform the uniquely Cardassian custom of Shri-Tal, where the dying individual tells his family all his secrets so that they can take posthumous revenge. Two points here. Number one, that’s so awesome and I love Cardassians. Number two, remember how important family is to Cardassians. It was established in season two’s “Cardassians,” then explored in “The Maquis,” “Defiant,” and the entire Ziyal arc. There is nothing more important to a Cardassian than family, and here Ghemor is accepting a Bajoran former terrorist to perform one of the most sacred duties of family. Sure, you could claim he has no one else, but I don’t buy that. He had comrades in the dissident movement who could have served. He chose Kira because he genuinely cares for her, respects her abilities, and knows that secrets given to her will be used to free Cardassia from this new Dominion yoke.
The problem arrives in the form of Gul Dukat, and yes, he’s still using that title. Like any good tyrant, he understands the value of pretenses toward populism. He even needles Sisko that the alternatives — including, pointedly, Emissary — are far more pretentious. He brings Weyoun along as well, who we last saw getting killed by his own Jem’Hadar in “To the Death.” They handwave this, saying the Vorta are experts with cloning, and that was Weyoun #4. This is Weyoun #5. It’s really just an excuse to get Jeffrey Combs back, and I am so good with that.
While Dukat blusters and threatens to get Ghemor returned to Cardassia, Weyoun is a far more genial presence. He, after all, doesn’t have much of a dog in the fight, and he’s a diplomat. It’s his job to be friendly. And to be immune to toxins, which he demonstrates by gleefully guzzling some poisoned kanar meant for Ghemor to the surprise and horror of both Dukat and Sisko. Sisko fearlessly stonewalls the Dominion, practically daring them to do something, while Dukat seethes, both at being balked, and the way Sisko refuses to even listen to Dukat’s elaborate justifications for what he’s done.
Flashbacks keep troubling Kira throughout the episode, eventually illuminating her difficulties in the present. It’s basically the structure of a season one Lost episode. Her father was killed by Cardassians and instead of staying by his bedside, she went out to get revenge. The lesson of the episode, and it’s a remarkably humanistic one, is that this is the easy thing to do. Going out to vent your rage with a little righteous murder is much easier than staying by someone’s side as they ease out of existence. When Kira returns from her raid, she learns she missed her father’s death by less than an hour.
Dukat sows dissent between her and Ghemor by giving Kira records stating that Ghemor was present at a massacre. Odo points out several salient facts. One, Ghemor was nineteen at the time and had just joined the military. Two, there’s no proof he even fired a shot. And three, if it was truly important, Kira would have looked it up herself. It’s a convenient excuse, allowing Kira to avoid the messy emotions that come with watching a loved one die. It’s Bashir, once again acting as a conscience, who persuades her to return to Ghemor’s side in those final moments, and she performs the most sacred duty any person can for another: insuring they don’t die alone.
If there was any doubt what Kira thought of Ghemor, it’s gone at the end. She buried her father on a desolate cliff, and here she returns to it. With the Cardassians gone, it’s bloomed, with trees and grass and flowers. This is where she lays Ghemor to rest, allowing him to spend eternity next to her father.
Next up: Quark gets a new stepdad.