A friend of Kira’s from the Bajoran Resistance asks Sisko for asylum from the Cardassians, swearing that his days as a terrorist are at an end.
Plot Summary: While Dr. Bashir brags that he has attracted the attention of Garak, a Cardassian tailor rumored to be a spy, Sisko and Kira rescue a Bajoran being chased by a Cardassian ship. He turns out to be Tahna Los, whom Kira knew in the Bajoran resistance, though Tahna was a member of a group known as the Khon-Ma which advocated violence to end the Occupation. Sisko tells Kira that he will not harbor a terrorist, but Tahna promises them both that he no longer believes in violence, even though he has serious reservations about the Federation’s presence in Bajoran space. Kira believes him but the arrival of renegade Klingon sisters Lursa and B’Etor makes Sisko deeply suspicious, and Bashir is able to confirm his fears when Garak allows Bashir to overhear the sisters negotiating to turn Tahna over to the Cardassians after they get rich selling him a component for a powerful weapon. Meanwhile, Kira fights with the Bajoran government for amnesty for former Khon-Ma members, only to learn that Tahna is still an active member who came to the station specifically to enlist her aid to win Bajor’s freedom. Her loyalties torn, Kira decides to trust Sisko with what she knows. He reluctantly agrees to let Kira take Tahna to a rendezvous with the Duras sisters so they can find out what the Khon-Ma is planning. Cardassian forces chase the runabout, which is also being tailed by Sisko and O’Brien. Realizing that Kira has betrayed him, Tahna threatens to kill everyone on one of Bajor’s moons unless Kira takes him to his true target – the wormhole, the destruction of which he believes will cause the Federation and Cardassians to leave Bajor alone. Kira is able to delay the weapon’s detonation until she can eject it safely on the far side of the wormhole. Tahna agrees to surrender to her and Sisko rather than face Cardassian justice, though he tells Kira that she is a traitor to her own people.
Analysis: Allow me to declare my bias up front: Kira Nerys is my favorite female character in the history of television, and “Past Prologue” gives viewers an immediate, visceral, sympathetic introduction to her loyalties, her passions, and her willingness to make any sacrifices she deems necessary in the interests of her planet and her people. There’s pretty much nothing I don’t adore about this episode. I suppose that for someone who had never seen The Next Generation and knew nothing about the occupation of Bajor or Cardassian policies, the events might seem both confusing and rather rushed – rather than a science fiction story to kick off the new series, we get a highly-charged espionage thriller with some obvious real-world parallels, and not a lot of explanation about why the Bajorans hate the Cardassians, distrust the Federation, and aren’t much convinced that the enemy of their enemy should be their friend. I’ve always loved DS9 for its messy, complicated politics – I’ve spent plenty of time arguing with people about whether the Bajorans have more in common with post-1945 displaced European Jews or with post-1967 displaced Palestinians, and I appreciate that there’s no easy answer – but it’s a far cry from the peaceful Starfleet crew whose early crises were generally caused by spatial anomalies and distant aliens. I have never bought the complaint that DS9 is “darker” than the earlier Star Trek shows; yes, it’s grittier and more realistic in terms of conflict about everything from land to money to relationships, but to me it’s therefore all the more satisfying and relevant when things work out, usually after long periods of hard work and soul-searching.
Obviously Kira and what will become her two most important relationships, with Sisko and with Odo, are the focus of “Past Prologue” but the episode starts with another of my favorite dynamics over seven years of DS9, the bond between Garak and Bashir. When I first reviewed these episodes, I commented on every whiff of homoeroticism between the two of them and got a lot of angry mail until both Andrew Robinson and Alexander Siddig – well, Siddig El Fadil, as he was then known – each acknowledged that they were aware that their interactions could be interpreted that way and in fact played it up for dramatic effect except when specifically told by the producers to tone it down. Looking at the scene in which they meet, it is impossible for me to see how anyone could not see the sexual aspect of Garak’s predatory interest in the naive young doctor, “I do appreciate making new friends,” says Garak, leering, thrilled that Bashir has heard of him, offering discount apparel or “a bit of enjoyable company now and then.” Before he leaves, Garak squeezes Bashir’s shoulders and says again that he’s so glad to have made such an interesting new friend. I suppose that if all Cardassians were so effusive, it might be possible to interpret this as something other than an attempted pick-up, but in fact the only other Cardassian who ever leers as much as Garak toward Bashir is Dukat toward the Bajoran women he finds attractive. Even if Garak is only looking for a potential Starfleet ally in his double-agent spy games, how curious that he doesn’t attempt to appeal to Bashir’s intellect or medical curiosity, but instead checks him out and discusses how he’d look in a new suit. Considering that to this day Star Trek’s producers resist depicting gay people in the 24th century, Garak and Bashir make me positively gleeful.
But back to Kira and the Bajorans. Here it is very early in Sisko’s command, before the station is fully repaired and before he and his first officer know each other well enough to trust one another, and a full-scale intergalactic incident begins to erupt. I understand why the pilot had to be about Sisko, his anger at Locutus of Borg and his grief over his late wife, but even the Battle of Wolf 359 seems pretty contained compared to the suffering of the Bajorans during the Occupation. We learned from “Ensign Ro” that the Federation has never addressed the atrocities it knew about yet refused to send Starfleet to stop. Sisko may have suffered a devastating personal tragedy but Kira is essentially a Holocaust survivor; that she is willing to trust anyone from the Federation demonstrates that she has a remarkable capacity to forgive and grow. Sisko is clearly furious when he learns that she has gone over his head to complain to an admiral about his handling of the Tahna Los situation, yet he puts that anger aside to work with her and doesn’t even bring up the fact that trust must work both ways until she thanks him for his efforts on behalf of onetime Bajoran terrorists. He doesn’t make big speeches, but demonstrates through his actions what sort of leader he is; he gives Kira enough rope that she can choose whether to hang herself beside the Khon-Ma or toss a lifeline. Picard and Riker’s big early arguments concerned whether the first officer should stop the captain from joining landing parties, and it took more than a season before they achieved the level of mutual understanding that Sisko and Kira reach with a couple of big ugly fights. We see so many more dimensions in these characters – particularly the women – from the very beginning.
Having said that, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that one of my favorite things about Kira is not how she operates alone but how much Odo is already a part of her decision-making process, particularly when she doesn’t trust her own judgment. Though there’s no proof for several seasons and no strong intimations before the magnificent season two episode “Necessary Evil,” I always suspected that Odo was in love with Kira. He has trouble reading humanoids at times, but he rarely guesses wrongly about what she’s feeling, and his conversations with her even early in the series are those of an intimate trying to help someone make difficult decisions that he trusts will be the right thing to do, not those of a security chief trying to pick important information out of a fellow officer before she does something dangerous. Even without a hint of their backstory, there’s obvious warmth and humor, a familiarity that goes beyond knowing each other’s skills and weaknesses. Odo doesn’t seem to like or trust anyone much, but he cares about Kira more than he cares about the information she possesses which is critical to his ability to do his job. I often dislike sexual tension between characters on TV shows – it’s very often exploited for drama or laughs in ways that make the characters look bad, particularly the women, whether it’s flowery cliches about love or the all-too-common fighting-leading-to-sex – but I adore long, realistic emotional connections even if there are hindrances. Knowing that the ending will be bittersweet does not keep Kira/Odo from being my all-time favorite television romance.
If I have a regret about this episode, it’s that Tana turns out to be a little crazy. It’s not that I don'[t understand, given what he went through personally at the hands of Cardassian agents and what he watched everyone on his planet go through, but Kira is right that Bajor needs men like him as leaders and builders, not as vengeful warriors who can’t let go of the past. He knows that Lursa and Betor are mercenaries who may very well sell him out to the Cardassians and he knows that there is probably a Cardassian spy on the station, yet he can rationalize having dealings with them; he can even rationalize killing thousands of Bajorans just to make Kira take the runabout to the mouth of the wormhole so he can destroy access to the tunnel through the galaxy. Looking in all directions, Kira sees people who can’t be trusted – a provisional government that invited the Federation in, Starfleet officers who’ll negotiate with Cardassians, Bajoran friends who still believe violence is the only way – and somehow she manages to be stronger than all of them, to do what has to be done to keep the balance that allows progress toward peace. Looking back, Captain Janeway’s job, assimilating the Maquis and setting course for home, looks easy compared to Kira’s. She has no peers. She is simply awesome.