“Tacking Into the Wind”
7.22 (aired May 12, 1999)
“Great men do not seek power. They have power thrust upon them.”
— Kahless the Unforgettable
Klingons are a weird ally for the Federation to have. Think about it for a moment. The Federation is intended as a utopia. Racism, sexism, classism, really all the negative isms that divide us are things of the past. And they’re actually things of the past, not the way idiots rushed to declare racism over with the election of Barak Obama or sexism dead because one time their moms made them go to bed early. Actually gone, consigned to the dustbin of history.
More to the point, the Federation is all about embracing alien cultures. They’re xenophiles, seeking out new life and new civilizations and bringing them into the welcoming bosom of this galaxy-wide utopia. DS9 explored some of the negative aspects of this gentle imperialism, notably with the series-best exchange between Garak and Quark about root beer. In accepting other cultures, the Federation is also participating in their erasure. While I’m perfectly fine with getting rid of cultural values like, for example, misogyny or homophobia, positive or unique elements might be homogenized away thanks to the unspoken imperative to further conform to the dominant culture. Look at how much Nog has changed. Granted, it’s largely for the better, and missing leg aside, he seems like a happier person, but still. It’s there.
Contrast this with the Klingons. This is a culture that, by their own admission, does not make friends. They conquer. They enslave. Sure, viewed on a shallow level, Klingons are a whole lot of fun, but they are, in the parlance of our times, problematic. They aggressively espouse a point of view inimical to the philosophies of the Federation. They’re accepted as allies largely because they’re the best of a series of bad options. You can invite a Klingon over to a backyard barbecue (and if you know a Klingon, why wouldn’t you?), but the same can’t be said for the chilly and arrogant Romulans, the robotic Borg, the Stalinist totalitarian Cardassians, or the treacherous Breen. The Klingons know for damn sure they can’t take Starfleet in a fight, so they might as well make friends.
It’s a contradiction, to be sure. The warrior race who thrives on battling worthy enemies forced to ally with the worthiest enemy of all. There are more contradictions, and it’s Ezri who brings them up to Worf. In the entire series, this might be my favorite Ezri moment, because she sees the Klingons with a clearer eye than nearly any other character. While Worf is stewing over Gowron’s foolish and possibly even dishonorable actions, Ezri points out that the Klingon Empire is willing to tolerate corruption at its core, and if Worf, the most decent man she’s ever met (a high compliment from a Trill) is willing to put up with it, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Those dishonorable actions are fallout from last week. Gowron has decided to throw Martok into a series of Kobayashi Marus in an effort to destroy his reputation as a leader. Martok, ever the loyalist, will do whatever his Chancellor commands, even if it means the needless deaths of his men and the loss of the Alpha Quadrant. Even Worf is hesitant to do anything until Ezri talks some sense to him. She probably wasn’t imagining Worf’s solution, though, which is to challenge and then kill Gowron in single combat. The assembled council rushes to declare Worf the new Chancellor, but he begs off, giving the honor to Martok. It’s absolutely the right move. While the Empire would have hesitated at following a Starfleet Officer, there will be no such dismay over the elevation of Martok. Even his low-born roots, which Martok regards as a weakness, is likely to serve him well with the rank and file. He’s a Chancellor of the people. Okay, that’s a little chilling. Or would be, if I didn’t love Martok so much.
As a side note, this marks the second Chancellor in a row Worf has killed in single combat. Yep, Gowron got his job when Worf killed Duras. This makes Worf one of the most important people in modern Klingon history. Or, at least, the answer to some bar trivia at Quark’s.
Meanwhile, at the station, Bashir continues his quest for a cure. He hits brick wall after brick wall when Chief O’Brien suggests what in retrospect is the obvious tack: claim to have discovered the cure. Then, when Section 31 shows up to destroy it, nab the agent and get the cure out of him. Neither the O’Brien nor the Bashir of season one would have gone for, let alone thought up, a plan so devious. Now, they’ve been forged in the fire of DS9’s realpolitik. Garak would be so proud of both men. All he ever wanted was for Bashir to understand that the galaxy was full of terrifying sociopaths (like Garak) and that the young doctor should act accordingly.
My favorite plotline, unsurprisingly enough since it features my favorite characters, is the Cardassian resistance. Gul Rusot is still doing his best to provoke Kira into killing him. He doesn’t see it that way, of course. It might be because the flag-bearers of the Bajoran race, Ensign Ro first and Major/Colonel Kira next, were women, but there was always an element of sexism in the Cardassian/Bajoran conflict. Or it could be because Cardassians embody traits read as male in western culture with their patriotism, martial discipline, harsh punishments, drab colors, while Bajorans were coded female with their brightly-colored uniforms, abiding faith, and rich artistic traditions. Or it could be that conquests and occupations are often described in terms of sexual violence, partially because of the sexual violence that inevitably comes with them.
In any case, the interactions between Rusot and Kira feel like a man seething at the indignity of being lectured by a small woman. No matter that the woman is his better, especially in the area in which she’s lecturing him. Rusot makes sure it comes to blows, and when it does, Kira of course triumphs. She’s only been easily beaten once in an episode that’s all but acknowledged to have been erased from continuity (season two’s “Invasive Procedures”), so watching her bust out the Trek Fu on Rusot’s skull isn’t surprising. He limps off, vowing vengeance after the fight against the Dominion is won.
Garak melts from the nearby shadows and I’ll admit it, I squee whenever he does this. Garak knew Kira had things in hand, but just in case she didn’t, he would be right there to execute Rusot. And make no mistake, this is not about friendship. Kira is far more important to Cardassia’s future than Rusot. Garak is pragmatic enough to understand this. And, I do think he has learned to respect, if not the Bajoran people as a whole, Colonel Kira. She, alone among the cast, truly understands what an unrelenting nightmare the real world can be.
Damar gets a close-up look at it, too, when the Dominion manages to find and execute his family. He’s shaken by the pointless cruelty of the act. His family wasn’t involved in the Resistance. It’s pretty naive of Damar, but that’s the point. When he wonders aloud what kind of people would do that, Kira rather pointedly repeats his words back to him. She feels for the loss of innocent life (Again, this isn’t something that would have bothered season one’s Kira in the slightest.), but she wants Damar to understand. He’s wounded because he’s on the other side of things. Bajorans lived with this horror for fifty years.
Kira scolds herself for that later, but Garak once again steps up, assuring her Damar needed to hear it. This is more of Garak’s fundamental mission statement. He wants people to see the world as a fundamentally psychopathic place. He also wants to help push Damar into becoming the man Cardassia needs: a combination of Spartacus and George Washington.
It’s made more desperate by Odo’s degeneration. He’s shapeshifting a lot for these missions, and the more he does, the more the disease ravages him. He’s desperately hiding it, but Garak walks in on him during a moment of weakness. Their friendship began, strangely enough, when Garak tortured Odo, and since then the Cardassian has always held a respect for the Changeling. He urges Odo to come clean, but the constable refuses. When Garak goes to Kira, she tells him she already knows, but she refuses to rob Odo of his dignity.
The Dominion War is looking bleak. There’s little to no progress at countering the Breen weapon, so Kira comes up with a daring plan. Why not just steal one? It’s a thrilling sequence providing the tensest moments of what stands out as a truly excellent episode. It’s a heist story, complete with twists and false reveals, that also gives our heroes solid character moments. (Garak’s ruthless execution of an entire Dominion bridge crew, as well as Odo’s objection to it, stand out.) The main characters end up on the bridge of a Jem’Hadar fighter, surrounded by the dead, and waiting for the Breen to install the weapon. As with the best stories of this kind, there’s a delay, forcing Kira into her best Vorta impression and some tense waiting. The final straw is when Odo collapses, the disease ravaging him to the point that he can no longer stand, let alone shapeshift.
Rusot loses his nerve. The blustery ones always seem to. He thinks they should leave before the mission is complete, even pulling a phaser on Kira to “convince” her. Garak is lightning fast at drawing his own weapon on Rusot. If there were any doubts about where Garak’s bread is truly buttered, there aren’t anymore. Damar is the question. They remain in this Tarantino scene long enough to get the weapon installed and Rusot thinks, hey, why not kill Kira anyway because she sucks.
Damar kills Rusot instead. Damar gets it. What the Cardassia Rusot knows, and indeed represents, is gone. Whatever comes from the ashes will be entirely new. For a civilization for whom the pinnacle of art is a novel that repeats the same plot for seven generations (Remember Garak’s favorite book, The Never Ending Sacrifice, from season two’s “The Wire”?), the prospect of a new civilization is a daunting one. Of all the Cardassians in the world, perhaps only Damar and Garak understand that while they are fighting because of the past, they’re fighting for the future.
Next up: The end, part 7.