“When I was a child, I dreamed of having enough food to eat and pretty clothes to wear, and now look at me. I have everything I ever wanted, and I feel horrible.”
— Kira Meru
Archimedes once said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it, and I shall move the world.” To him I say, give me a seat comfortable enough and a time far enough removed, and I’ll judge the world. It’s very easy to judge the actions of people in hard situations. It costs you nothing to claim you would have been the one German who would resist the Nazis. It’s simplicity itself to crow that you’d have been marching along with Dr. King in the ‘60s. The truth is far more unsettling: human beings are far more willing to live on their knees than die on their feet. Hell, we’re happy to live on our knees if it doesn’t mean being overly inconvenienced on our feet.
DS9 explores one of these situations in this episode, the cumbersomely titled “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night.” Don’t worry, it’s a literary allusion. Kira, as a hero, took the hard life, joining the Resistance and actively fighting the Cardassians. But any Resistance is a minority movement. The vast majority of any population is going to be attempting to live their lives, while a smaller percentage will be actively collaborating with the invaders. Which begs the question, what exactly constitutes collaboration? At the beginning of the hour, Kira knows exactly what it looks like, but at the end, she isn’t so sure. That’s what makes this episode interesting. It asks the audience what it thinks rather than telling it what the writers think.
This all begins when Kira is buying Bajoran lilacs to celebrate her deceased mother’s birthday. That night she gets a call from Gul Dukat. It’s worth noting that the background he’s sitting against is clearly Starfleet technology, implying he’s still flying around in the shuttle he stole at the end of “Waltz.” That episode is on his mind too, because he claims to want to help Kira the way Sisko helped him. By stripping away a layer of self-deception to see the world as it is. With that in mind, he drops a ton of personal details about Kira’s mom, and then claims to have been her lover.
Side note: “lover” is a gross word. Hate it. Haaaaaaaate it. As Tina Fey once said, “That word bums me out unless it’s between ‘meat’ and ‘pizza.’” But it’s all over this hour, with people just saying it like it’s not disgusting. Anyway.
Shaken, Kira asks for a favor from Sisko. She wants to go to Bajor and visit the Orb of Time and find out if her mom and Dukat had a connection or not. It’s kind of ridiculous. Even Sisko’s line (which I was this close to using as the episode’s quote), “You want to time travel to see if Dukat and your mother were lovers?” underlines the inherent silliness of what’s transpiring. All I can say is, try to get past that. The writers wanted to do another Kira-in-the-past storyline, but they didn’t want to repeat the tricks they’d done before. That means no flashbacks, no Quantum Leaping, no old friends from the Resistance. They landed on super-convenient-plot-armored-time-travel. Yeah, another week of development might have helped here.
Kira does in fact time travel, winding up in a refugee camp where her family is starving. She gets to meet herself as a toddler, and she’s pretty darn cute. I like this scene because it shows a pair of Bajoran thugs shaking the family down for their meager rations. It shows that the Bajorans weren’t this unified force of good. They were as petty and desperate as anyone else. In the midst of this, an unctuous Bajoran collaborator who is perhaps the most punchable character in DS9’s history, arrives with Cardassian soldiers. He announces that Terok Nor is almost finished construction, and the men aboard need comfort women. That’s exactly as awful as it sounds. He orders the Cardassians to seize specific women — the attractive ones — and informs them that the prefect, Gul Dukat, has commanded that their families be given extra food and rations. Two of those picked, are, of course, Kira and her mom.
The women are instantly allowed to clean up and eat as much as they like. It’s a stark contrast from the soul-crushing poverty of the camps. It would be easy for them to fall for the temptation of it. One of the flaws of the episode, though, is that it’s not quite dark enough. The only thing the audience sees of the life of a comfort woman is a single party where drunken Cardassians flirt and paw at them. Definitely morally repugnant, but not as far as it could go. As to whether it should, I don’t know. Depicting violence against women is an easy crutch in writing, and the main problem with it is when it’s used as background flavoring. But when your entire episode is about the systematic exploitation of women, it might be a good idea to look more at the systematic exploitation of women.
The point of the scene is to show Dukat chivalrously coming to Kira’s mom’s rescue. He’d already noticed her during orientation, when he healed an old scar caused by a Cardassian soldier. His line is typical Dukat: it sounds great, but when you parse it, it’s horrifying. “This is a reminder of the gulf between our peoples. It must be erased.” Not the gulf, mind you, but the reminder. The Cardassian Kira is alternately flirting with and threatening reveals that this is all a put-on. Dukat picks a favorite and enacts the same playacting with her.
Kira’s one night as a comfort woman goes about how you’d expect, and she’s promptly thrown into the ghetto area of the station after punching a Cardassian soldier who was moving her mom out of their quarters. She spends a couple weeks processing ore and fending off the recruitment efforts of the local Resistance. Her mom contacts her. Dukat has allowed her to have a Bajoran friend, and she picked Kira. Kira flips out when she sees what her mom has become. She’s the pampered mistress of Space Hitler, living in luxury while her people are being systematically slaughtered. Her mother is a collaborator. No different, in Kira’s eyes, to that sentient slime that tore them both from the refugee camp to be comfort women.
This throws Kira into the arms of the Resistance. She signs onto a plan to assassinate Dukat with a bomb (possibly the one he mentions in “Waltz”), knowing that this will likely kill her mother as well. She goes to her mom’s quarters under the guise of apologizing for what she said, and as she plants and activates the bomb, her mother receives a message. It’s from Kira’s father. He’s still thinking of her. He still loves her. But Dukat did do what he said. The children are healthy and happy. Kira’s mom might enjoy her captivity on some level, but she will never see her children again. What she does will help them. Is this morally permissible? This isn’t the heroic end we imagine for ourselves, but is it truly wrong?
Kira relents and at the last second warns both her mother and Dukat about the bomb, and they all get out in time. Kira vanishes a moment later, her orb experience over. Whether or not she actually time traveled, I have no idea. This feels more like a lesson the Prophets were trying to impart, the important, if maddening, point that life is in shades of gray.
As for Kira, she still isn’t certain she did the right thing. Later, she admits to Sisko, her Emissary, her Space Jesus, that sometimes she wishes she had let the bomb kill both her mother and Dukat. She’s experiencing a collision between principle and emotion. Collaborators and Cardassians like Dukat are to be killed — remember, she is long past any racism toward Cardassians as a people — but as a daughter, she loves her mother. And her mother was trying to help, in the most messed-up way imaginable.
There are no good answers. Not for Kira. Not for us.
Next up: Starfleet gets itself a conspiracy.