“A true victory is to make your enemy see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place. To force them to acknowledge your greatness.”
If you want to understand Dukat (and I’ve taken to eliminating his rank, because at this point, he’s the de facto leader of the Cardassian government, and after this point he doesn’t really have a rank at all), the key is that quote right there. That explains pretty much every single action our favorite Space Hitler has taken since the beginning of the series, stretching into the backstory revealed in flashback episodes. His need to not only be right, but be acknowledged for it, makes Dukat a weirdly prescient creation, or else the rise of social media has made people like him far more visible.
It also explains his bizarre obsession with Ben Sisko. Dukat respects Sisko as a leader, as a father, and as a worthy opponent. What gets under his skin is that the respect is strictly one way. Sisko sees right through Dukat’s avuncular mask, never forgetting the atrocities inflicted on the Bajoran people, the rank opportunism, the bottomless need for validation, or the sociopathic disregard for the needs of others. Even worse is that Dukat saw himself as a father figure to the unruly children of Bajor. It’s a loathsome point of view, but one that has real roots in colonial thought. In this episode, he laments the fact that there isn’t a single statue of him on Bajor, despite all he did for them.
I’m not sure if there’s a statue of Sisko or not, but the unspoken implication is there. Dukat left and it was a time of joy, and his replacement is instantly greeted as Space Jesus. Imagine how that would chafe an egomaniac like Dukat. It helps explain why he grows steadily more unhinged, and why, at the end of the episode, he is primed for the breakdown he suffers. Because, although this is ostensibly pitched as a Sisko episode, showing our hero’s iron-jawed resolve to take back the key to the Alpha Quadrant and stop Dominion reinforcements from drowning the Federation in bodies, it’s really more about the villain.
All the set up from the previous weeks explodes in this episode. The calmest moment is in the beginning, when Bashir and O’Brien begin reciting Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” on the bridge. As an aside, I’ve always loved the language the British use to describe their military defeats. The Light Brigade, of course, the Miracle of Dunkirk. There’s something more noble about a heroic defeat than a crushing victory, at least in the British mind. Appropriate here, as the undermanned Federation fleet is about to charge into the teeth of a Dominion force that outnumbers them two-to-one.
Sisko and Dukat engage in a long-distant chess match, with Dukat seeing the true purpose of Sisko’s moves and vice versa. Sisko, unfortunately, ends up having to fly right into a trap Dukat has opened for him, simply because there might be no other way through the Dominion fleet. Enemy reinforcements are en route, and some elements of the Federation fleet have to get there in time to preserve the minefield in front of the wormhole.
Meanwhile, that’s the concern on the station. Dukat orders the Resistance (and Leeta) rounded up and thrown into holding cells, which leads to Quark and Ziyal conducting a jailbreak. The best part of this is when Quark is genuinely shaken after having killed the two Jem’Hadar guards. It’s rare to see a fictional character — let alone a largely comic relief one — express a sincere and natural aversion to killing. Jem’Hadar are cannon fodder, genetically engineered soldiers designed to give our heroes someone to cut down that the audience is okay with seeing die, but here, Quark experiences an unspoken affirmation of their humanity. Humanoidity? You know what I mean. Quark is, in moments like this, the most relatable and sympathetic character in the cast.
Kira and Rom fight their way to the central core, where they will hopefully be able to sabotage the station and buy a little more time. They’re pinned down in a cargo bay by Jem’Hadar, only to have Odo come charging in as the cavalry, his Bajoran deputies in tow, to rescue our heroes. Kira asks him why. “It would take too long to explain,” he says, “and besides, you know why.” Though Kira and Rom get to the core and successfully knock out DS9’s weapons, they are too late. Damar detonates the minefield, leaving the path for the reinforcements wide open.
This episode makes excellent use of the concept of the cavalry. The term comes from the old westerns, where a bunch of white people were pinned down and fighting a hopeless battle against the local Native Americans. (It says a lot that this was the exclusive PoV back then, but go with it for now.) When all hope looked lost, the cavalry would come over the hill and save our heroes. (The white people. Always the white people.) To do it well, you have to set up the cavalry in advance, so the payoff doesn’t come out of nowhere. Odo’s collaboration with Kira was set up, first at the end of last episode, and then again here, when he talks about his feelings for her with the Female Changeling.
The other use is in the space battle, and it might be even better. As the Defiant races into the trap with the hopes that it might punch through to the other side, both of its escorts (Miranda-class ships for all my true believers) get stripped away by enemy fire. A wing of Jem’Hadar fighters is on the Defiant’s tail, taking it apart volley by volley. It looks like the end… when the Klingons swoop down out of the sunlight to exact some Kahless-flavored vengeance on the Dominion. You don’t say “F–k yeah!” a lot during TV watching, but seeing the green cruisers rain disruptor death on the Jem’Hadar will do it.
The Defiant is the only ship to reach DS9, and as it does, it heads right for the wormhole. Dukat orders the station to open fire, but Rom’s sabotage pays some dividends. He was too late to stop the minefield from going, but it saves the heroes now. Inside the wormhole is a fleet more than twice the size of the one kicking eight shades of hell out of Starfleet. Sisko gets ready to fight.
That’s when the Prophets get involved. A lot of fans at the time thought this was deus ex machina. I personally disagree. The Prophets have long been established as a part of this world, and, occasionally, they do get involved. They’ve shown their devotion to both Bajor and Sisko (the latter of which gets an explanation soon, and it’s awesome), so it’s not out of character for them to do something. Sisko essentially demands that they take action, and they do, but extract a price. Specifically, the curse of Moses. Sisko might bring peace to others, to Bajor, but he will never experience that peace himself. Don’t worry, this does come to pass. When he returns from his convocation with the gods, the Dominion fleet has simply vanished.
I also give this a pass because space gods have always been one of the preoccupations of Star Trek from the beginning. DS9 is often called the least Trek-like of the shows, but it’s with the Prophets that it shows its DNA. Star Trek is fond of returning to the question of functional omnipotence: what humans would do with it, how we would deal with aliens who had it. In this case, it works for the heroes. At other times, not so much. The Prophets are another narrative tool, but one that has to be confronted with logic and persuasion rather than switching polarity on a tachyon field.
The Defiant emerges from the wormhole, and now, with no reinforcements and the station’s weapons offline, it can bombard at its leisure. The Female Changeling gets the point immediately. War’s not over, and the Dominion needs to withdraw to Cardassian space.
Dukat, though, is falling apart. Look at it from his perspective. His annoyingly perfect rival has once again pulled victory out of his butt, despite Dukat going through hell to put together a foolproof plan that should have worked. He lurches through the station, eventually finding Ziyal in one of the corridors. He tells her that it’s time to go, and they can be together. While she still loves him, she doesn’t want to go. Her home is here. She admits to being one of the saboteurs. That’s when Damar shoots her. As Ziyal dies, Dukat’s final words to her are “I forgive you.”
The crew returns to the station to a jubilant reunion on the Promenade. Sisko and Martok discuss their wager (and this basically means Sisko is going to get hammered with a Klingon because Sisko is awesome), Dax and Worf share a kiss, and Bashir and O’Brien make Battle of Britain plans in the holosuite. Garak, though, joins Kira in the infirmary, where Ziyal’s body lies in state. “She loved you,” Kira tells him. “I could never figure out why,” he says. And he means it. They never got very much screen time, but it was a fascinating relationship in that Ziyal never told a lie, and Garak seldom tells anything but.
As for Dukat, he is completely broken. He sits in a holding cell, babbling to a nonexistent Ziyal. Everything he wanted in the world has been taken away. I think what would have irked him most, though, is the expression of pity on Sisko’s face.
Next up: Season 6, it’s time for a wedding.