I don’t, as a rule, go looking up much about the behind-the-scenes drama for individual episodes when I do these. I’ll open a Wikipedia article after a viewing to make sure I spell names correctly and that’s about it. But for this one, I did find out something interesting. See, this episode is all about who will succeed Kai Opaka as the spiritual leader of Bajor. And, apparently, the writing room spent the better part of a year debating the conclusion to this election.
See, for my part, even though I haven’t seen as much Deep Space Nine in the past, I can say with a great deal of confidence that I’ve seen enough to know many, though not by a far cry all, of the plot points coming up in the near future. And I know Winn, that obsequious troublemaker disguised as a truly spiritual woman, is going to be Kai. Plus, it’s Louise Fletcher doing a religious version of Nurse Ratched. Point is, the casting and the acting on that character are both perfect. Winn is not as good a person as she pretends to be, and she carries herself as someone we can all love to hate, but she’s no dummy and has an answer for everything.
As seen here when she and Sisko have a brief conversation. She hopes things can go smoothly between herself and “the Emissary,” but he’s quick to point out she called him an enemy to the Bajoran people the last time she came by. And she rather deftly brushes that off as a simple misunderstanding of the spiritual weight of her words. Sisko is no diplomat any more than he has to be, but I don’t think even the most patient of Starfleet ambassador types (think Picard) could handle Winn any better than he has with his barely contained rage.
Of course, Winn does have competition for the job of Bajoran Pope, namely Vadek Bareil, a very spiritual man in his own right and Kira’s current love interest, the kind of guy who prays all day and does stuff between the sheets with Kira all night. They aren’t even trying to be subtle about it either.
Naturally, this is TV, and TV has to be dramatic. Heck, Kai Opaka’s departure wasn’t even all that normal in that she is essentially trapped in the Gamma Quadrant, functionally immortal so long as she never tries to leave the planet she’s currently on. Opaka, from what little we saw of her then and in Bareil’s dreams here, was a genuinely spiritual woman who, we’re told, held Bajor together during the long Cardassian occupation. Such a person would be a hard act to follow under normal circumstances.
It gets worse when an elderly Bajoran, a former bureaucrat working in the Cardassian-controlled government and a wanted man, shows up on the station. He’s quickly recognized, arrested by Odo, and questioned by Kira.
This guy signed a lot of death warrants, but the thing is, he didn’t generate a list that got 42 members of a Bajoran resistance cell killed by a Cardassian attack. That was someone else, someone who covered their tracks very well.
And it looks like it was Bareil.
That’s enough to get Winn the title of Kai.
It’s not enough for Kira who can’t believe he’d do such a thing. She loves the man, and Odo’s reaction to that news spawned a lot of fan speculation, but that’s neither here nor there. It means Odo and Kira need Quark’s help to crack some deleted files, and he knows they want something because they’re not insulting or threatening him as soon as they walk into his bar. Smart move there. There’s evidence that Bareil had a alibi, so why take the fall?
Well, because Opaka was the real collaborator, someone who gave away 42 resistance fighters (including her own son) in order to save 1,200 other Bajorans. That’s a somewhat understandable reason, the kind of thing the Cardassians would most certainly do, and also not something anyone would want to hear about the Blessed Kai Opaka, a mortal woman who made one terrible deal to save lives by sacrificing others. If Bareil would just lose a possible promotion and maybe get some public scorn if found out, what would it do for a hero of the Bajoran people?
Point is, stuff like this makes Winn the new Kai. Kai Winn can continue to be a general thorn in the side of our heroes while Bareil, whose holding of the title would have made things easier for Sisko and Co., has a potential disgrace hanging over his head due to a secret he would never willingly share. Since Winn is one of those love-to-hate-characters as mentioned above, I think the show is ultimately better off for that decision in the writer’s room.
Or so I would like to believe. I mean, I still have a full five more seasons of this show to go through.