“‘Til Death Do Us Part”
7.18 (aired April 14, 1999)
“To them I’m the Sisko, an instrument to carry out their wishes. But they forgot that I am also human, with dreams and wishes of my own. They say that marrying Kasidy is a mistake, and maybe it is. But it’s my mistake to make.”
— Captain Benjamin Sisko
I would be very surprised if, when Gul Dukat appeared in the pilot of DS9, the writers were consciously designing the evil reflection of the show’s protagonist. In the thirty-five episodes he appeared in (That’s all? Feels like more.), Dukat slowly took on this role, becoming Evil Sisko in all but name. It would be a mistake to dismiss this achievement simply because it was likely unplanned. A vital part of the skill of producing long-form fiction is adapting on the fly, enhancing what works, shedding what doesn’t, and seizing the opportunities the characters and stories serendipitously grant.
Dukat started life merely as the previous commander of the station, the final link in a long chain stretching across the brutality of the Occupation. Initially, this was the contrast with then-Commander Sisko. Where Dukat was the representative of a cruel authoritarian regime, Sisko personified the utopian Federation.
The contrast deepened when Dukat made the connection himself. He could only see how Sisko, plainly a lesser man than he, achieved everything effortlessly that Dukat had to work so hard for. Dukat was despised by the Bajorans despite mitigating the hardships of the Occupation, while Sisko was hailed as Emissary of the Prophets for showing up to work. A large reason for his rage and envy is that Dukat can only experience the negative forms of emotions; instead of love, he feels only possession and jealously, instead of that vaunted Cardassian patriotism, he sees the state only as one of many tools to advance himself. He couches his venal urges in nobility, but Sisko, appropriately enough, can see right through him.
As the show’s endgame came into focus, Dukat inevitably needed the shadow version of Sisko’s destiny. While Sisko is at heart a good father and a conscientious architect (while Dukat is a bad father and narcissistic destroyer), his story has become one of a man hewing ever closer to the Prophets. Even his darkness, brilliantly explored in the series-best episode “In the Pale Moonlight,” can be seen as an expression of this journey. In placing the needs of the Alpha Quadrant, of the existence of the Federation as a whole, above the lives of four people and his own self-respect, he’s taking a long view perhaps more suited to fourth-dimensional aliens. Those are temporal, linear concerns; Sisko is protecting reality itself. So, Dukat found acceptance in the race of godlings that would find his overweening arrogance and psychopathy attractive, and has become the Emissary of the Pah-wraiths. Last episode, we witnessed a disturbing new (nose) wrinkle in their plans: Dukat’s surgical transformation into a Bajoran.
Sisko’s struggle in this episode is with the words of the Prophets. They don’t want him getting married, but after nearly seven years, he’s ready. This was also part of his story: In the beginning of the series, he was a grieving widower, raising a son in the aftermath of a horrific attack. Now, he is in a stable relationship with an intelligent woman, and he’s ready to give matrimony another try. The Prophets warn him against it, but this is Sisko we’re talking about. He’s not going to let anyone, not even deities, tell him what’s what. The Sarah Prophet (who has to be the one who possessed his mother, and is thus at least emotionally his parent) embraces him, and though Sisko knows he will cause himself pain in so doing, he marries Kasidy Yates.
And because they’re two sides of the same coin, Dukat has to enter into his own union, but appropriately enough, it’s not based on honesty and mutual respect. He’s Shadow Sisko, so he embarks on a relationship of lies and manipulation. Only one of the show’s most loathsome villains, the one who got under my skin like no other, would be a good match for Space Hitler, who is turning himself into Space Damien.
Kai Winn (on the station to graciously offer herself as the officiant of Sisko’s wedding) rather importantly has never been spoken to by the Prophets, so when she has her first such vision, it raises a few red flags. The Prophets promise her a Guide in her coming days and lay out a few cryptic (but for those of us experienced in Prophet-speak, not cryptic enough) clues on how to recognize him. When Dukat, now styling himself as a Bajoran farmer Anjohl Tennan shows up and hits all of the relevant points, it’s obvious her vision wasn’t from the Prophets, but the Pah-wraiths.
Dukat worms his way into her confidence rather quickly. Had Winn not been so desperate for validation from her gods, and so resentful of their acceptance of Sisko (much as Dukat himself resented the Bajoran adoration of him), it might not have worked. She’s primed, and Dukat effortlessly places shards of discord and doubt between Winn and her Emissary. Really, he’s only reinforcing what she’s been thinking for these seven seasons. When he makes a move, it’s almost a wonder of what took him so long. Dukat has a type, and that type is Bajoran woman. And yes, watching Dukat and Winn kiss is a lot like watching your parents make out, if your parents were both Hitler.
Thematically, the episode is about unions, and the subplots bear this out. Ezri and Worf, still held captive on the Breen ship, are being tortured and interrogated by their captors. One night, while raving in a trance, Ezri expresses romantic feelings for Bashir, which breaks Worf’s heart, who saw the young Trill as a way to get his wife back. If you can’t hear the contempt I’m typing with, it’s a shame. I hate everything about this plot. For starters, it’s soapy stuff, which has always been a part of Trek (and DS9 more than the others), but I don’t mind if it’s at least handled deftly. Second, it’s creepy and possessive of Worf, who deserves better. Third, earlier in the episode, Ezri has a nightmare of being pursued by Breen, but when one catches her, it’s revealed to be Dr. Bashir. This sounds less like a romantic revelation and more like the stress nightmare of a woman who is being sexually harassed.
Lastly, this is one of the biggest problems with the Dax character since the beginning: She is defined almost exclusively by the men in her life. Because the writers had since a brittle hold on the character, it was left for others to tell Dax who she was. While her romances (and near-romances, in Bashir’s case), are the most obvious, she’s also defined by characters like Sisko, the three Klingons, and hell, even Curzon. All of these characters have more inner life than she does. Ezri begins her existence on the show as a character confused by the lifetimes of memories and impulses raging inside of her. Her journey needed to be about becoming herself, not merely one half of a romantic couple. It seems that even as the writers got much closer with the Dax concept on their second try, they still failed in one of the most important ways.
The final union in the episode is the one most dangerous to our heroes. The Breen hand their captives over to Weyoun, Damar, and the Female Changeling as a gift commemorating their new alliance. While the Breen might not fill longtime viewers with dread the way the Romulans or the Borg might, rest assured they immediately upset the balance of power. Plus, with their Return of the Jedi-inspired armor and mechanical voices, they add even more variety to the rogues gallery of the Dominion.
Next up: The end, part 3.