I was going to open up this installment by noting either what good casting the series did with eventual Kai Winn or how much I rather like Keiko O’Brien given what a minor character she is, but then I took note of something: how Bajorans applaud. Instead of slapping their palms together like, say, you or I do, they clap one palm on top of the back of the other hand. That was a nice little touch, I thought, given how often alien races on Star Trek don’t develop much beyond the old “they have one human quality as the basis for their whole society” thing.
However, I did want to mention those other things. Let’s start with Keiko because, well, she usually doesn’t get to do much. Rosalind Chao appeared in a grand total of 23 episodes of Trek, 19 on Deep Space Nine and four more on Next Generation, and I always liked what she represented at least more than anything else. Most crewmen that get followed around on a show like this, if they don’t hook up with each other and for the most part they don’t, are single. Sisko is a widower with a kid, but that’s about it. Dr. Crusher has a similar deal. O’Brien is a married man, and Keiko is his wife, and what little I saw of the two of them together this episode worked for me. She teases him, he offers her a sweet treat from the Promenade, and when she’s in trouble, he backs her up. True, it’s not the most well-developed romantic relationship in the history of television, but I just rather dig it all the same. O’Brien actually had a life away from work. You can’t say that about most of these characters.
Granted, I still don’t get what qualified her to run a school on the station, but that’s why she’s involved in this episode at all. While conducting class on the wormhole, a Bajoran spiritual leader walks in. She goes by Vedek Winn, and she has some objections.
And Louise Fletcher is absolutely perfect in this role. It’s not surprising. Fletcher’s Oscar-winning turn as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a master class in understated villainy. What makes Ratched so terrifying isn’t that she seems to run that asylum. Seriously, there’s a scene where it looks like she holds authority over some of the doctors when it comes to determining patent treatment. But the scary part is Ratched clearly doesn’t do what she does out of malice. She honestly appears to believe the only way to fix those men is through strict adherence to the rules. I think the worst thing you can say about Ratched is she enjoys the power of her position. If it happens to be cruel what she does, I don’t think she sees it that way. She just says everything in a quiet, calm voice for 95% of the movie.
That basically describes Winn so far. Yes, there’s an undercurrent to Winn, eventually made overt, that she’s politically-motivated. But at the same time, she does seem to be something of a true believer. When Winn says that Keiko’s school is disrespecting the prophets and the Bajoran religion, there’s a good chance she believes it. Granted, Keiko isn’t Bajoran. Why she should have to adhere to Bajoran religious practices I don’t know, and her rebuttal the first time Winn says as much amounts to basically, “That’s your job.”
If anything, the conflict seems to be, at first, between Keiko and Winn with Sisko stuck in the middle. That’s the half of the episode that worked for me. And there are a lot of small, subtle things that the episode does that I appreciated. Bajoran spiritual leaders have a habit of grabbing people by the ear as a sign of spirituality or something. Sisko meets a good candidate to be the next Kai and the guy not only doesn’t do it, he says he’s not a fan of it for himself to the point when he does go to see Winn on the station and she reaches for his ear, he gently blocks her arm and prevents it. There’s even a nice speech when Sisko chides Jake not to see the Bajoran religious folks as fools because that would make Jake as bad as the people he was looking down on.
But then something happens and Keiko more or less disappears from the rest of the episode and it becomes more of Sisko against Winn with Kira off to the side. Kira is a follower of Winn’s, and when Bajorans all over the station start to go on strike, she and Sisko have it out a bit over how tolerant he actually is. It’s a good moment in an episode full of good moments, but then some silly things happen. Winn challenges Sisko himself, suggesting the Federation is full of devils out to destroy Bajor, and he declares victory, saying he and his people have been working with the Bajorans for months now, and those Bajorans, even if they disagree, know that isn’t true. He says this to Winn while looking directly at Kira standing off to his side.
And then Kira says she heard what he said later in the episode and, well, she should have. He was there looking in her direction when he said it, and the two are making up after their fight, but what a silly thing to say.
No, the real problem for me with this episode comes from O’Brien’s assistant.
O’Brien has a hyper-competent Bajoran assistant named Neela. She gets everything he needs done before he does, but when first one of his tools and later one of his people both go missing, it’s a murder mystery on the station. Odo is on the case, but O’Brien finds the best clues (to be fair, Odo is the one to piece together how the clues fit together, but O’Brien brought said clues to the constable’s attention). And O’Brien is the one to figure out Neela sabotaged the station in an attempt to try and assassinate Winn’s rival, Vadek Bareil. That would be the same guy who isn’t a fan of the ear grab. Yes, we see in a cutaway shot she is working with or for Winn, though Kira is the one who pieces together that everything that happened on DS9 was because Winn wanted Bareil if not dead than at least almost dead.
The problem is, starting with the speech Sisko gives in the Promenade about how Winn had lost, the one Kira heard because she was standing right there, is Neela is standing next to Kira looking guilty. And when everyone leaves, she’s still there. And when we get back to the command level of the station, Neela is still hanging out in the background in full view of the audience. She’s obviously not on the up-and-up. Quite frankly, given there needed to be a murderer on the station anyway, she was the only real option unless Winn did it herself. And Winn doesn’t seem like the type to get her hands dirty. You can tell that woman has the words “plausible deniability” written into her holy book. So, it had to be Neela, but the episode wasn’t even subtle about it. That was a minor issue for me, but it was still an issue.
But all things being equal, I found this episode, the season one finale, a good way to introduce a reoccurring character that is sure to be a problem for Sisko and the crew of DS9 for the foreseeable future. And the worst part is, she might actually believe her own lines.