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Retro Review: Past Prologue

Posted by Michelle - 21/10/11 at 03:10 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 01 Episode: 02 (s01e02)

Original US airdate: 01/10/1993

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.

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  • Tim

    I think the Odo Kira relationship is one of the best things Star Trek has ever done. I am by no means a ‘shipper.’ I love the science of Trek and the space battles and plot twists. But what made DS9 truly great were the characters and their relationships, from Kira and Odo to Bashir and Garak and so on. But with Odo and Kira, Trek finally got a love story right. And I dont understand the people that find Kira annoying. She is one of Treks greatest characters. She is such a deep, conflicted, and strong character.

  • T’Play Well

    I think the reviewer here is reading far too much into the storyline. Most series find that the first few episodes are designed for introducing the characters and the settings of that story.

    Reading this made me feel I was reading a review of DS8 than DS9 – especially after just watching this same episode before writing my response here.

    I see absolutely no issues of sexuality nor your aspects of alleged anti-feminism here. One only has to look at character of Dax, who has been male and female in “its” lifetime. Jadzia has no problems with her femininity nor acting that way – seeing both advantages and disadvantages; but is quite aware of the differences.

    Really all these personal relationships among the main characters in DS9 is a good reflection of today’s society. They are all equally varied and different. The real challenge in the storylines in DS9 that are to compare and contrast contemporary relationships with those in the future – still with the same old foibles and unresolved contradictions between the sexes.

    As for Kira, she’s really just a terrorist on the winning side, who at the start behaves as if she had the earned the given right to do what she pleases – regardless of who is in power. She makes sure no one to ever forget the wrongdoings of the “enemy” – the Cardassians, some aspects of Star Fleet or the Federation, and even some in the Bajoran the Vedic religious order. Star Fleet are initially only there to make sure that the Bajorans are safe from the Cardassians and other forces taking advantage of the situation. (The Bajoran government see that. Kira does not yet comprehend it.)

    Over the entire series the complicated character of Kira learns that she has to conform to the wishes of others, even though she might disagree. Really it is the change from the ruthless terrorist to basically an DS9 administrator in peacetime. Over the whole story in the series, her position on all the things she has done, what she knows or doesn’t know of her friends and family (and what they have done), her own religious beliefs, etc. are all questioned – ultimately changing the character into a more evolved and rounded personality.

    IMO, the best relationships in DS9, which is not mentioned here, is between Sisko and Jake or even Quark and Odo.

  • Brett Schuitema

    I grew up watching this series, and remember liking the Kira and Odo characters the least. I was a big Bashir and Dax fan, though Sisko became and still is my favorite character of the show. But when I rewatched the series on DVD as an adult, my interests and tastes changed and I truly fell in love with the show again from a completely different perspective… and this time Kira and Odo were far more appealing and fascinating individuals to me. Maybe it’s the ‘loss of innocence’ but I could just identify with her and Odo with more life experiences under my belt. It’s been many years since I’ve gone through it again, and your reviews compel me to revisit it. Thanks!

  • Duanebruner

    Kira is the one DS9 character that never “clicked” with me, unless we also include O’Brien’s wife. I felt that the actress playing Kira was trying too hard to act, and it pulled me out of the episode too many times. She got much better in later seasons, though, and I loved the Odo/Kira relationship.

    Having said that, I have only seen the DS9 series once so I really need to give it another round.

  • Guest

    “Considering that to this day Star Trek’s producers resist depicting gay people in the 24th century, Garak and Bashir make me positively gleeful.”

    “Glee” at the very prospect of homosexuality is either disrespectful or some attempt to pander to a gay readership, and immature either way.

  • http://twitter.com/belmikey Uncle Mikey

    I think in the earliest episodes, neither the writers, production staff, nor the actress were quite certain how far they wanted or needed to go in making Kira Nerys an Angry Young Woman. They definitely wanted to contrast her with the cool, collected, Roddenberrian Starfleet officers we’d come to know from TNG, but they over-balanced things early on, with the result that, occasionally, Kira comes across not so much as forceful as shrill, which can be hard to take.

    Then again…even that shrillness is credible. Kira needs a lot more therapy than she ever gets. She’s wound up, deeply emotional, and at this stage firmly convinced that she’s the only one who really knows what she’s doing. The only person in her government or her faith she respects is Kai Opaka. There’s exactly one person on the station she thinks of as remotely a friend (Odo) and even he raises her hackles a bit because he worked for the Cardassians. The only other person who seems to have her respect at this stage is O’Brien, in part because he’s a working man who loves getting his hands dirty, in part because he’s also fought the Cardassians, and in part because he’s demonstrated his engineering wizardry, without which Bajor would not have claim on the Wormhole. In fact, at this stage, as far as we know, she has no real friends at all (we don’t know about the other survivors from her resistance cell, yet).

    Those trust issues would make anyone either shrill or taciturn, I think.

    All of that said, I largely agree with Michelle about this episode, and definitely like the *potential* of Kira Nerys even this early on, even while admitting that the *execution* was a little rough.

  • fainodraino

    Gleeful???????

  • http://www.facebook.com/wryman1982 Warren Lisak

    Just a quick note about Janeway (from my opinion, as I am critical of Voyager); the assimilation of the Maquis could have been made more tense and difficult, as it should have. But, as was the trend with Voyager, the writers most often chose the easy way out and ignored important or difficult issues that would have made for much more interesting story telling. There were some feeble attempts at drama, primarily with Seska and Suter, but otherwise the vast potential that was Voyager and Janeway were squandered very early, starting with the end of the mostly fantastic ‘Caretaker’.

    But I’ll wait for the Voyager reviews to come in a few years to become more vocal about that.

    As always, enjoying the Retro Reviews. Thanks!

  • Undead

    I never read anything into the Garak/Bashir relationship while the show was on (especially since it was made explicit over the course of the series that neither character was gay). This interpretation has gained steam in more recent years, promoted by those who for some reason feel the need to retroactively inject as much gayness into Star Trek as possible.

    It comes as no surprise that people who are “gleeful” at prospects of homosexuality are going to find it in their favorite shows if they want to.

  • Ritz

    Having read the reviewer previously I think she is simply happy to see that somewhere in the Star Trek world there is a hint of homosexuality. It is hard to believe that Trek has never featured a gay couple or delt with the subject seriously beyond the very good Nex Gen episode The Outcast.

    Star Trek blazed the diversity trail since the beginning and seeing an openly gay character in the 24th Century would have been interesting.

  • ldude

    I like this episode more after having read this review. I never saw the homoerotic angle, and still don’t, but the Garak / Bashir relationship is rich and fascinating for all 7 seasons. At this point his manipulative duplicity finds its perfect foil in Bashir’s naivete. That’s what’s great about DS9: all the relationships become more rich and mature over time.

  • Sara

    I like this review so much. I really never got the whole Bashir/Garak except as a form of friendship but I still found your POV interesting.
    I agree completely with the observations about Kira. Her interactions with Sisko vs. her friendship with Odo. Thank you for posting this.