How bad a man is Gul Dukat? Well, this episode may finally answer that.
The episode opens with Sisko’s narration as he is going along on a trip to take Gul Dukat to a hearing for his war crimes. Dukat hasn’t been the same since Ziyal died, and while he seems better now, that won’t last. A Dominion attack on the Starfleet ship transporting Dukat leaves Sisko and Dukat alone on an alien world. During the attack that destroyed the Federation vessel, Dukat had managed to get Sisko and only Sisko to a shuttlecraft. Sisko had taken a hard hit to the head and didn’t really remember what happened. He also sustained some other injuries. According to Dukat, they have a working comm system that is broadcasting a distress call. The shuttle was damaged, and Dukat patched up the injured Sisko as best he could. Now the only thing to do is wait.
That would be where the rest of the main cast comes into play as the Defiant has a limited amount of time to help search the system and try to find Sisko. Worf needs to report somewhere else within a couple days, there may be other survivors, and the crew isn’t even sure if Sisko survived or not. Their plotline isn’t really important. They don’t even find Sisko by episode’s end without help from Dukat.
No, the thing here is even if Sisko is physically injured, Dukat ain’t right in the head. He’s seeing things. Or, more accurately, other people. Weyoun is on-hand to tell him how the Dominion would have handled things. Damar is there to remind him what a good Cardassian would do. And Kira is there to taunt him and remind him how much the Bajorans hated him.
Now, Sisko is in a position where he has to initially take Dukat’s word for it, but he isn’t stupid. It doesn’t take long for him to realize the communicator isn’t really working until he fiddles with it. He likewise overhears Dukat talking to himself but opts to say nothing about it.
The episode, in the end, is really a battle of wits. Dukat does plan to kill Sisko before leaving in the shuttle which, surprise surprise, is working just fine. He just wants Sisko to admit how much he respects Dukat for his cunning and skill. That obviously isn’t going to happen, especially as Sisko can instead just play off Dukat’s vanity to play a better mind game than Dukat is, and Sisko doesn’t even seem to be trying.
The thing is, I get that Dukat is basically a good Cardassian. He honestly thinks he was being kind to the Bajorans, that he inherited the problems with the Bajorans from previous Cardassian overseers, and that would explain why Kira is there to remind him that it didn’t matter how much he tried to reach out: Bajor was never going to accept Cardassian rule.
So, there’s the situation: Dukat wants Sisko to admit respect for Dukat, and Sisko wants to get Dukat to maybe tell the truth he’s hiding even from himself. And it goes very much in Sisko’s direction, With his injuries, Sisko is no match to an armed and physically healthy Dukat. He only has his mind, a weapon that Dukat probably respects but that won’t win anything other than a moral victory. Dukat knows if he wants to crush Bajor’s spirit, he has to kill Sisko due to his Emissary status. Dukat also knows he needs to do the deed where the Bajorans can basically see it happen.
Sisko, well, he doesn’t really respect Dukat. What he can do is goad Dukat into admitting out loud what Dukat may not have even admitted to himself, that for all his talk that he was trying to reach out to the Bajorans, Dukat actually hates those people and wants them all dead.
The fact Sisko can get all that out of Dukat without even raising his voice is just another sign of how good Sisko is at what he does.
That, however, is the closest Sisko can come to victory here. He’s not his physical self, so he can’t really beat Dukat in a fight, and while Dukat does escape in the shuttle to do back to Cardassian space, he also leaves behind a distress signal so Sisko can be rescued by the Defiant. And why shouldn’t he? He may still want Sisko dead, but he also wants an audience for when it happens.