RSS iconTwitter iconFacebook icon

TrekToday title image

Content filter

Want to find something specific?

Filter content by category

Filter content by date

Retro Review: In the Hands of the Prophets

Posted by Michelle - 24/02/12 at 07:02 pm


Share |

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 01 Episode: 19 (s01e19)

Original US airdate: 06/20/1993

Vedek Winn comes to the station objecting to Bajoran children being taught that the Prophets of the Celestial Temple are mere aliens in an artificial wormhole.

Plot Summary: Orthodox Bajoran sect leader Vedek Winn interrupts a class when Keiko O’Brien teaches that the wormhole is an alien construction rather than the Celestial Temple of the Prophets. Winn accuses Keiko of blasphemy, and Kira warns Sisko that many Bajorans on the station believe that Bajoran children should be taught their own people’s spiritual beliefs alongside Starfleet science. Though Winn claims to be honored to meet the Emissary, she tells Sisko that she cannot be responsible for the consequences if the school does not change. Keiko’s husband has his own problems: one of his tools and the ensign who took it have both gone missing. He and his talented assistant Neela find the remains of both the tool and Ensign Aquino in a power conduit. Miles is distressed about the death, which Odo suspects may not have been an accident, and about the escalating protests at the school. Sisko goes to Bajor to visit Vedek Bareil, the leading candidate to become the next Kai, but the liberal Bareil refuses to risk his own career to help Sisko speak to the Vedek Assembly. When Sisko returns to the station, he learns that that the dead engineer was murdered. Miles and Neela try to trace Aquino’s steps, leading to the discovery that someone used a security bypass module to try to steal a runabout. Then Keiko’s classroom is destroyed by a homemade bomb. Sisko blames Winn’s inflammatory rhetoric for the attack. In the temple, Neela explains that she can no longer hope to escape on a runabout, though Winn insists that the work of the Prophets must go forward even if Neela will be punished. Bareil surprises Sisko with a visit to the station, asking Winn to help seek a peaceful solution. The two Vedeks go to the school to speak just as Miles discovers that someone has tampered with the weapons detectors nearby; he warns Sisko that it must have been Neela. Sisko lunges at Neela as she pulls out a weapon, causing her shot at Bareil to miss its target. A furious Kira deduces that Winn began the controversy at the school to lure her rival to the station so that Neela could assassinate Bareil before he became Kai, though both Neela and Winn deny it. Kira tells Sisko that she thinks the Bajorans, particularly herself, feel more strongly allied with the Federation now rather than less so.

Analysis: “In the Hands of the Prophets” has only improved with time, and it was pretty fantastic to begin with. Sandwiched between “Duet” – an intensely personal story of the cost of the Bajoran Occupation – and the three-parter that kicks off the show’s second season, revealing major political problems both within Bajoran society and between Bajor and the Federation, it establishes the fundamental conflict and introduces characters whose influence will shape all future Bajoran storylines, particularly where Kira is concerned. On the surface, this is a no-holds-barred story about the hypocrisy of religious leaders which seems less influenced by the Scopes Trial than by contemporary creationist politicians. At the time it aired, Winn made me think of Anita Bryant, but now unfortunately she reminds me of certain people with much greater prominence, running for public office on rigid social platforms despite having made ethical choices that would seem to be in conflict with the beliefs they want to impose on others. Louise Fletcher (one of my all time favorite actresses) plays Winn like an older sister of her other iconic role, the superficially calm, controlling, quietly sadistic Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She sounds reasonable, at first, when she asks Keiko about how the teacher balances faith and science in educating Bajoran children. Her voice stays level as Keiko’s grows shrill; it’s not an unreasonable question, since the subject of the wormhole has political ramifications for Bajor as well as spiritual ones. (Looking at the background of the Temple Mount and archaeology of the region in the Middle East, it becomes obvious that even among supposedly objective scientists, rhetoric can slant to support Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or secular historical claims on the land; the fictional situation on DS9 is somewhat similar.) Yet when Winn drops the word “blasphemy” into the conversation, though her level inflection doesn’t change, it’s immediately obvious that she’s come to pick a brutal fight.

Sisko and Kira are both caught in the middle, though for very different reasons. He is forced to explore a role with which he has never been comfortable, that of Emissary to the Prophets – the only claim he has on the attention and respect of Winn, who makes clear her loathing of the Federation and its values even if (as Kira points out) Starfleet’s presence may be the only thing keeping the Cardassians from returning. He tries to reason with her until she pushes him too far, accusing him in front of witnesses of betraying the Prophets and threatening the Bajoran people; then he points out that the Bajorans who have worked on Deep Space Nine know full well that the Federation is neither their enemy nor the devil, but devoted to exploration and mutual understanding. His speech is intended for a wider audience of Bajorans as well as Winn – Kira and Neela among them – but he also seems to be reminding himself of something he repeatedly questions with Kira during this incident, the fact that Bajoran and Federation common interests are much greater than their conflicts. As for Kira, she initially takes a position that surprises me – we’ve seen no evidence that she’s orthodox in her religious beliefs, in fact she expressed doubts to Opaka, though she may be presenting what she thinks is the most widespread opinion among the Bajorans on the station rather than her personal philosophy, suggesting that if Molly O’Brien refuses to teach Bajoran spirituality alongside Federation science, then maybe there’s a need for two schools on the station. Sisko seems to take Kira’s initial willingness to listen to Winn very personally, and it’s not clear whether he feels frustrated as Captain Sisko at his first officer’s insistence that what’s best for Starfleet may not be best for Bajor or whether he feels personally betrayed by his friend’s willingness to side with separatists, make excuses for Bajorans who call in sick as a form of political protest, and imply that she supports him mostly as a matter of protection from the Cardassians. That these events make them acknowledge their personal rapport as well as what they’ve accomplished professionally is a nice way to wrap up a television season.

I’ve always thought it was a pity that Winn’s a psychopath as well as an extremist – we see that from this introduction, that she is willing to kill without regret or apology, and though she seems to become more moderate when she achieves power over people, the megalomania and ruthless belief in her own sense of righteousness will return again and again. It’s not clear here whether she actually believes the Prophets want her to kill Bareil to protect Bajor from his heresies or whether she’s fully aware that she’s exploiting the Prophets to gain clout for herself and her relatively small order. Once Winn starts advocating censorship, Kira stops defending her position on the teaching of Bajoran children, but as Sisko says, she is able to elevate her influence within the Vedek Assembly by stirring up trouble with other Bajorans on the station. She’s a far more compelling figure as a religious extremist than a would-be-murderer, since those actions throw the depth of her faith into question. She tells Sisko a story about how Opaka had said no one should ever look on the face of their gods and suggested that Winn sit in darkness for a day to understand it, something she apparently never does, for seven years hence she will betray everything she ever stood for because she feels her gods aren’t giving her the attention she deserves. Bareil, whose moderate policies are much more comfortable for everyone – he doesn’t even grab people’s ears – is something of a mystery; his beliefs are clearly less xenophobic, but does he want what’s best for Bajor? At this juncture, we don’t know, though in subsequent seasons he will become a romantic figure and then something akin to a saint. Now he makes clear to Sisko that he wants to be Kai, perhaps to counter people like Winn, but in some ways he’s just as ambitious as she is, knowing there’s an opportunity for speech-making on the space station. It’s fun to have so many forceful personalities all in play.

The line that made me laugh aloud on this reviewing was one that I had forgotten all about, from when Quark sees all the Bajorans gathering to support Winn and asks Odo (who doesn’t have a terrific day, having his security system sabotaged from within) whether there’s some sort of Bajoran convention on the station and whether he should get more Dabo girls. Odo says that they’re an orthodox spiritual order, at which Quark rolls his eyes and announces that in that case, he’ll need twice as many Dabo girls: “These spiritual types love those Dabo girls.” It’s clearly meant as a commentary on the religious hypocrites on whom Winn is based – she doesn’t like Dabo girls, and Bajoran women seem to be treated as complete equals in religious as well as secular life – but it figures that the cynical capitalist will articulate what Sisko and Kira won’t, which is that even among the very observant, no matter how important a role faith plays in their lives, there’s generally a time for prayer and a time for Dabo. That’s not a form of distraction brought by the Federation, but left over from the Occupation and even before. Winn’s real problem isn’t the Emissary and his doubt or Bareil and his liberalism, but the fact that in a society entering a period of prosperity, it’s hard to find people like Neela who are unhappy and vulnerable enough to throw their lives away in the name of eternal rewards. Her tragedy – and O’Brien’s, for he considered her a trusted friend and colleague – gets lost in the bigger picture.

Tags:

  • fainodraino

    This is one of those episodes that has always bugged me, like many others among Trek, but especially DS9. Sometimes this show is fair in its portrayal of people of faith, but this isn’t one of them. It takes EVERY bad stereotype and blows it out of proportion in an attempt to paint all people of faith with a broad brush. Not very tolerant, if you ask me. Unfortunately, the reviewer, I think, feels the same way.

    Isn’t Trek supposed to be about tolerance?

    I guess only some kinds of tolerance are tolerated.

  • Zeorangerix

    “suggesting that if Molly O’Brien refuses to teach Bajoran spirituality alongside Federation science,”

    Should be “Keiko.” Heads up if you’d like to correct it.

  • Zeorangerix

    Trek also teaches a universal lesson… “the truth hurts.”

  • Seventhbeacon

    I think the show shows itself to be an honest and fair handler of religious beliefs in the hands of sometimes flawed people (and we’re all of us flawed). While this episode can come off as preachy and ham-fisted, the depiction of Kira as a fully-functioning religious person (still ‘only human’) is incredibly tolerant and compassionate. I only wish the Trek franchise explored the religions and spirituality of actual humans… but there’s an inherent problem with this wish.

    Movie and television bean-counters attempt to white-wash religious elements in an attempt to reach as broad as possible a viewership audience because in the end, it’s “all about the Benjamins” (Not Sisko, sadly, so much as the Almighty Dollar) because end of the day, it’s a business. That’s why movies like “The Vow” completely eliminate the central part of the story it’s based on as a relationship built with God very much at the center of it.

    It’s intellectually dishonest to avoid talking about human religion in a show that so well discusses the human condition, but it just seems to be how Hollywood operates. I’ll be honest and say I’m grateful that DS9 actually attempted to address and examine spirituality and religion in a more direct fashion than any of the other Star Trek series. More than anything, if episodes like this help get people to start talking about important issues of the day, then it does it’s job, and without the biting poisonous words of a Bill O’Reilly or a Bill Maher.

  • SJStar

    Nice review, but you have missed a few key elements in the storyline.

    Put it simply. Is Winn Adami herself truly a “psychopath as well as an extremist?”
    The question should be is Winn being covertly influenced and being used by the Prophets.

    Her main central problem is that the Prophets have ignored her completely. She has become so desperate to be formally recognised by them for her high position she will literally ‘sell her soul’ for even an inkling of enlightenment. Now she has the Emissary now seemingly favoured by the Prophets, the Federation values now influencing the Bajorans and profoundly influencing their society and the religious order. She never hears from the Prophets in all her life, except at the very end when it is too late.

    As she says in Season 7 “The Prophets have never spoken to me; never offered me guidance, never trusted me with the fruits of their wisdom and now I am supposed to step down as Kai in order to be blessed by them.

    (Q. Did Winn actually die in the end of DS9, or was she save by the Prophets because of her endless suffering in achieving their preordained aims?)

    The whole story revolves about Winn’s frustration being so ramped up that she plays and important role in eliminating the Parawraiths – the hidden twist in the story. She is a tool of the Prophets, who have been manipulating the story in the background to achieve their goals.

    I always thought that Vedek Winn was the victim, cruelly being used and manipulated. She was selected because of her absolute passion for her faith and being suggestive enough to follow the path laid out for her. So much so, that she dangerously desires both spiritual as the Kai and real political power.

    Louise Fletcher portrayal is brilliant aiding greatly for the complex character of Winn. The viewer is meant to loath and detest her, not because of her faith but ruthlessness and willingness to hang on to her power over others – by rhetoric or persecution.

    As a final comment, the Scopes trial is interesting comparison, especially in the movie “Inherit the Wind”. Winn is mimicked as the Rev. Brown who is so fundamentalist he is prepared to damn his own daughter (Rachel) to support his beliefs. Seeking the absolute purity of God is his undoing, because in essence, he puts himself and his beliefs above his own God that he suppose to follow. In the Biblical saying; “He who trouble his own house, inherits the wind.”, is exactly what happens to Winn.

    Her unwavering faith and desperation to have others follow it, leads to her loosing the perspective and the real message – essentially guiding the faithful to find their own solutions to mortality and moral behaviours. Compassion and humility is supposed to be the way of faith, and hence becomes wisdom. Deviate from this, and blind faith will soon beget evil.

    Hence this line by Winn who says (apparently attributed to Opaka, too) ;”I once asked Kai Opaka why a disbeliever was destined to seek the prophets. She told me one should never look into the eyes of one’s own gods.”

    The Prophets in their manipulation ruthlessly use her nature to its advantage.

    So who is more cruel and manipulative here? Vedic Winn or the Prophets in the Celestial Temple?

    Get in the Prophets way, and you end up paying the price!

    (Look what happens to Sisko, Jadzia (foiling a coup by Jaro under the guidance of Winn) or Vedek Bareil (attempted assassination by Winn to eliminate a rival for Kai, then finally fatally hurt by an explosion), if someone deviates from ‘true path’ laid out for them!)

  • SJStar

    I disagree. This story is not necessarily about faith but the more fundamental struggle of good verses evil.

    DS9 says nothing about people of faith other than evil people manipulating faith for their own purposes, or people not questioning their faith and blindly following leaders who have their own agenda. The question is are the prophets really gods are are they advanced wormhole aliens? (The same issue could be said by the Q or of Changelings!)

    Are god or gods just those entities who have a better understanding of the Universe than the rest of us?

    Faith is unknowing, based simply explaining what we do not understand or can comprehend.

    In the end, DS9 makes no comment either way, except that faith can sometimes be either dangerous thing (Vedak Winn) or give hope in the light of struggle. (I.e Faith during Cardassian occupation, or compared to the truly spiritual and decent Vedak Opaka.)

  • T Geiger

    While Keiko is played much more sympathetically, she doesn’t come off as a total paragon of atheistic virtue either.

    I also think Neela’s story is very interesting. She really is a true believer and (from her point of view) trusts the Prophets completely, beyond her own doubts, even to the point of sacrificing her life for the greater good. (Even if she’s playing a villain from our point of view.)

    Winn is a bit ham-handed in this episode, especially with allusions to creationism. But I’m not sure you can use that one character to say the episode is mocking all faith.

  • fainodraino

    Truth is a person.

  • fainodraino

    I guess the problem I have with any comparisons to Inherit the Wind is that most people don’t realize how horribly inaccurate that film is. Read some history, folks, it does a body (and mind) good.

  • Seventhbeacon

    I reject the idea that Winn was manipulated by the prophets as an unwitting tool to some master plan. Destiny was steeped in Sisko’s story by the deus ex machina of the nature of his mother they introduced in season 7, but the show never refuted the importance of choices made by him or others. In the end, Winn made her choices, time and again, to be an evil and manipulative person. Personal power and glory were always her motivation, and her decisions were always her own to make. Even Sisko’s destiny as desired by the Prophets was not “as scripted”, with the marriage and child he ended up having despite their wishes.

    “The devil made me do it,” has always been a flawed concept, and it disgusts me when people try to excuse bad decisions and actions as manipulation by the unseen hand of a greater power. In Christian theology, the devil tempts, but cannot subvert free will.

    It was also certainly not the intent of the writers of the show to depict the Prophets as manipulative gods.

    You’re absolutely right about Louise Fletcher. Her performance was chilling and powerful. But Winn was an evil character whose own actions and choices again and again condemned her. Not the prophets, not even the pagh wraiths, but Winn herself.

  • Juventas

    There are many episodes that respect the idea of faith. It’s true this one doesn’t, but I think it is fair in protraying the pitfalls of faith.

  • SJStar

    I like your reply, though it amazes me about the differing opinions people have on DS9.
    Those of faith seems to be disturbed by its parallels with religions. Those without faith are almost appalled with the degree of religiosity.

    Perhaps the greatest strength with DS9 is that some episodes question peoples beliefs and norms beyond just the storyline.

    Where I disagree with you is that the Prophets already knew the outcome of storyline — the meaning of the line “time is not linear.” It is suggested IMO that they could influence anything in our past or future that can be twisted somehow (beyond our understanding), where Sisko could return anywhere in time.

    As for “Even Sisko’s destiny as desired by the Prophets was not “as scripted”, with the marriage and child he ended up having despite their wishes.” Interesting point. However, this could be also construed this was a manipulation too, mostly to hasten the story’s conclusion.

    (I ticked the Liked button because you point is also valid. This “unknowing” makes the attraction to watching the DS9 series again and again – getting something out of this each time.)

  • SJStar

    The inaccuracy of the story is 110% true.
    Yet like most of Hollywood production, there are always portions adopted into other scripts.
    I really meant that I saw parallels with the “Inherit the Wind” movie not the events of the Scopes trial.*

    *I have incidentally read and seen the transcripts of the Scopes trial and have also read the book by Clarence Darrow “The Story of My Life”

  • T Geiger

    I am a person of faith who actually enjoys the religion in the show. The spiritual beliefs are typically positive. It shows the profound effect spirituality can have on people. And while these people are far from perfect, the characters that actually integrate the beliefs into their regular life are generally shown to be good honest people who have their best intentions at heart. The best example is definitely Kira, though it can be seen partially in others as well. The “evil religious people” are also typically shown as characters who would be evil even if no religion existed.

    While there are certainly exceptions, both of these groups are very much part of the real experience people of all faiths have. Its very refreshing to see that authenticity given secular entertainment’s usual penchant for showing religion as evil/stupid/worthless with no caveats.

    As for manipulation, when given the chance to be directly manipulative the Prophets were usually shown to be very aloof and give incomprehensibly riddles that seemed to point in both directions. And regardless of how much manipulation they may have actually attempted, it was clear that they were not all-knowing or all-seeing. (Don’t understand linear time. Can’t predict Ferengi response to mind-washing. Didn’t expect Winn to flood the station with radiation. Etc, etc, etc.) In fact, the only thing they seem to have actually planned out ahead of time mildly successfully was the birth of Sisko, which, as pointed out, was in a Deus Ex Machina episode. At every other turn, they seem purplexed, if not outright surprised, by the turn of events.

  • SJStar

    You make some truly excellent points. I was mostly taken by your comment that; “The “evil religious people” are also typically shown as characters who would be evil even if no religion existed.

    I do entirely agree. Perhaps it is correct that Winn was evil regardless of her faith.

    [I can only then deduce that the reason why the Prophets didn't communicate with was because she was already evil? I.e. It's her decision and not just because "the Devil made me do it"!]

    The general point, which perhaps I didn’t make clear. There are two possibility here. The Prophets know what the sequence of future event will be; but can either do nothing about it OR have influenced various events in time towards their unknowing goals.

    I also note the Biblical parallels here. A God of harmony only existed in the very beginning, Satan broke with god, creating good and evil. God and Satan influences people towards or against belief. In the end God, finally punishes and eliminates Satan (and all of his corrupted followers) forever (hence eliminating evil for ever.) Harmony again exists as it did in the beginning (rapture).

    The basic question is…

    Does God (Prophets) already know the outcome even if it is in the presumed unknowable future? OR
    Does Satan (Parwraiths) have the real possibility of winning that God cannot predict or stop?
    If God wants to win, does he have to use or influences others to stack the odds in his favour?

  • Seventhbeacon

    Yeah, your interpretation is equally as valid. What I like about stories that don’t explicitly tell a person what they should think or take from it, is that it’s left to the viewer to make that call. My interpretations are also just as much an extension of my own personal philosophy and beliefs. I also always believed that the Prophets’ knowledge of the details of what was going on outside the celestial temple was incredibly limited, but yes you could say they pulled strings… I just never got the impression that they were totally omniscient, and so assumed gaps in their plan.

    What I saw with Winn, especially in repeated viewings, was that she was becoming very good at lying to herself and building up this belief in a fiction that absolved her of all responsibility… even at the very end, where I think she acted out of a sense of being betrayed more than of doing the right thing… the role she ended up playing in the endgame was sort of a less likeable Gollum.

  • Seventhbeacon

    “Does God (Prophets) already know the outcome even if it is in the presumed unknowable future? OR
    Does Satan (Parwraiths) have the real possibility of winning that God cannot predict or stop?
    If God wants to win, does he have to use or influences others to stack the odds in his favour?”

    Those are some of the meatiest questions religion and philosophy act, and there’s certainly no consensus among scholars, men of the cloth, and the average believer. How does one confront the paradox of believing in an all-knowing God with the belief of Free Will? If God knows how things will end, why set it up in the first place, etc.

    As someone who believes in Christianity, I myself cannot reconcile the Gods of the Old and New Testament. They are simply not compatible if you believe the Holy Bible to be an inspired manuscript dictated by God and printed by men that are enacting His will. A God of vengeance and hate and plagues and harsh laws transforms into a God of peace, forgiveness and personal spiritual relationships? If He could see how everything turns out, being omniscience, how could He change so drastically when He didn’t need to wait for the coming of Jesus to see how things would come to be?

    The truth of the message that Jesus brought, the truth of redemptive sacrifice, is powerful in and of itself, but doesn’t hold up to the image presented to the ancient Hebrews.

    Heh, a whole can of worms, those questions.

  • Seventhbeacon

    Please forgive the typos… I can’t find the edit button to fix them!

  • fainodraino

    “As someone who believes in Christianity, I myself cannot reconcile the Gods of the Old and New Testament”

    They’re the same God, and there are plenty of examples of mercy in the OT. there is no hatred there…sounds more like bad theological teaching.

    Just my two cents.

  • Seventhbeacon

    That may be. I would not be opposed to taking some classes/reading some companion literature to allow it to provide proper historical and theological context.