Retro Review: The Circle


While Sisko negotiates with Bareil about opposing Vedek Winn, Kira discovers the deadly conspiracy behind the rising powers in Bajor’s government.

Plot Summary: Though Minister Jaro insists that Kira’s replacement by Li Nalas means a promotion for her, Sisko promises Kira that he will get her back to Deep Space Nine. Though Odo insists that she should fight to stay, Kira accepts an invitation from Vedek Bareil to stay at a monastery on Bajor. She feels useless while secluded there until she encounters an Orb, which reveals both that she may play a role in the Chamber of Ministers and that Bareil may become her lover. On the station, Sisko’s quarters are vandalized by The Circle and Quark tells Odo that he’s learned the Kressari are supplying the dissident group’s weapons. Odo sneaks aboard a Kressari freighter disguised as a rat, only to learn that the Kressari are in turn being supplied with weapons by the Cardassians. Meanwhile, Sisko visits Bajor to ask General Krim why the Bajoran army isn’t defending the provisional government and to tell Kira that he’s heard rumors of an impending coup. Kira decides that it’s time to leave seclusion but is abducted by the Circle, who take her to an underground labyrinth where she learns that Jaro is the group’s leader, trying to force the Federation to leave so Bajor can become powerful once again. Once Quark’s contacts reveal the location of the Circle’s headquarters, Sisko agrees to let Li come on a mission to rescue Kira. Though she has been tortured for refusing to cooperate, Bashir is able to get her safely back to the station, where she explains Jaro’s plan to drive the Federation away just as Odo arrives with proof that the Circle’s weapons are coming from Cardassians hoping that a Starfleet withdrawal will allow them to reoccupy Bajor. Li tries to warn the provisional government, but Bajor has blocked all outside communications. While Jaro and Winn agree that she will support him as the planet’s ruler in exchange for his support for her bid to become Kai, Sisko receives orders from Starfleet to evacuate Deep Space Nine, which he is in no hurry to do.

Analysis: It’s always difficult to evaluate the middle segment of a three-parter by itself, since it doesn’t get credit for the originality of the original installment and it usually lacks a satisfactory denouement. Yet the middle bit is often the one that makes or breaks such a trilogy (just look at the brilliance of The Empire Strikes Back…or, by contrast, Attack of the Clones). I know from first-hand experience that it’s nearly impossible to follow “The Circle” without having seen “The Homecoming” despite the few seconds of summary that start the episode, and it ends on a whopper of a cliffhanger that demands resolution. That said, it’s still witty, well-paced, brilliantly acted, and infused with sexual tension…not just the predictable sparks between Kira and Bareil, but the electricity at the start of the episode between Odo and Kira and the unexpected, unholy alliance between Jaro and Winn. I could rewatch “The Circle” over and over just to watch Louise Fletcher snark and scheme with a smile on her face. Kai Winn had a very gratifying arc over the seven years of Deep Space Nine‘s run, but she’s nowhere more enjoyable than standing in the monastery gardens chirping about how Bareil surely brought Kira to the holy place for his own gratification, then letting Jaro know that his personal affection is worth nothing to her compared to his political support. There are dozens of fantastic female characters on DS9, but next to Kira, Winn is my favorite. It’s so rare to see a woman of her age and stature written as such a complete human being, with all her strengths and frailties – political, moral, intellectual, spiritual, sexual – explored in depth.

Of course you all know I think Kira is the most interesting woman in the history of genre television, and she gains much depth in this trilogy, particularly in this episode when we see her religious and romantic sides explored as they haven’t been before. Somehow I never realized that given the life she’s led, she would never have encountered an Orb before — since we see Sisko with the Prophets and with Orbs regularly, it becomes easy to take them for granted and to forget that most Bajorans never have such a close encounter with their deities. The Prophets are fairly direct with her, though also rather Freudian (and where is the Emissary in their message?). Dax appears in a Vedek’s robes as a spiritual adviser of sorts, telling her to listen even if Kira can’t hear what’s being said yet; Kira appears exposed before the assembly while Winn accuses her of blasphemy; then Kira sees Bareil, also naked, as he kisses her and tells her that she does know how to hear the people calling to her. I prefer Bareil as a metaphorical lover, not a literal one, in part because I don’t like Kira’s behavior when she’s with him – yes, I’m speaking as a Kira/Odo fan here, one who didn’t know when she met Bareil that she and Odo would eventually come together, but I also dislike some of her compromises and uncertainties, wishing she could be with someone who makes her feel more herself as Shakaar will do for a time (and when they cease to grow together, they will the relationship, a bittersweet yet satisfying ending). At this point, however, I think my problem is that Bareil simply can’t compare with Li Nalas. Maybe Li’s too much like Kira in the trenches, maybe his recent desire to flee makes him unworthy of her, or maybe she doesn’t want to imagine Bajor’s greatest hero simply as a man, but while Bareil is soothing politicians and keeping Kira out of the emerging storm, Li is throwing himself right into the fray, which I can’t help but appreciate and wish Kira would too.

And maybe I’m just irritated at Bareil for breaking up one of my favorite scenes in the series, in which most of the major crewmembers arrive one at a time to bid Kira farewell and ask her plans. First Odo comes to shout at her, betraying in his insistence that she should fight for what’s hers his own terror at the thought of her slipping out of his life. Then Dax arrives for girl talk to cover her offer to push Sisko to fight to keep Kira. Bashir is all awkward Starfleet manners, O’Brien is his usual affable self, Quark arrives hoping for a farewell seduction and instead gets a party he wishes he’d thought to cater…everyone’s character is perfectly delineated in a few short lines and the relationships among them both revealed and deepened. It’s simply a perfect scene, and when Bareil arrives, reducing Kira to respectful formality, it’s disappointing to see it end. On the other hand, it’s worth having Bareil in the episode just to listen to Winn take him and Kira both down with her hints that their discourse must be more carnal than spiritual and her breezy mention of the fact that she could make trouble in the Vedek Assembly for Bareil since he let Kira encounter an Orb without asking. I love Winn’s careful choreography, maintaining the appearance of being above it all while she’s scheming and manipulating all around her; her tete-a-tete with Jaro seemed at first too contrived to be believable, considering that the two of them were quite alone together and showing signs of previous intimacy in the way Jaro touched her, but their flirtation at the end of the episode is much less about a personal merger than a political alliance, and Winn would probably risk erotic rejection long before she’d risk exposing her ambitions. In fact, we see the same dance at the end of the series, when it’s Dukat who’s her partner in the pas de deux.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Deep Space nine forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green


Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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  • SJStar


    There are dozens of fantastic female characters on DS9, but next to Kira, Winn is my favorite. It’s so rare to see a woman of her age and stature written as such a complete human being, with all her strengths and frailties – political, moral, intellectual, spiritual, sexual – explored in depth.

    Are you saying DS9 (or elsewhere) portray women generally as not being human beings?

    (Factually, Kira and Winn are actually aliens in DS9! Minor point, perhaps, but should they have the same persona as they human characters. Even more picky, even the human beings are sometimes significantly different from humans existing in the 1990s. Considering the trauma and transformation of human society from now, through the destruction of Earth’s environment, surviving a cataclysmic WWIII, eliminating a greedy capitalist society into, to a benevolent altruistic society, I.e. following the prime directive or exploring – then surely such individuals would be far removed from some arbitrary definition of a “complete human being” [An oxymoron if I every heard of one!] )

    Gosh this annoys me. Why do we see almost every time the same old twisted gender nonsense paraded out always in the first part of the “Analysis”?

    I especially hate any reviewer having to heavily lacquered with such personal biassed stereotypes where; “It’s so rare to see a woman of her age and stature written as such a complete human being,…

    Really. What rot!

    [She is a fictional character, whose debonair characterisation (among many others too) is written to present the whole story to its ultimate conclusion! She is complete as the writers want her to be! Plainly the DS9 writers have written her in as an integral part of the whole story, and have done so on the back of Louise Fletcher’s considerable acting talent!]

    Frankly, I disagree with you.

    Winn is quite an “incomplete” human being, because the Prophets couldn’t give a rats about her, and her vengeance and defiance is simply because everyone else around her are interacting with the Prophets. This just feeds her delusions. Plainly she is openly jealous because she has done all the years hard work and study, and she feels she is not being awarded for it. Even the Cardassian officers beat her up and caused her suffering for her beliefs. Also she dislikes Sisko because he as a non-Bajoran found B’hala, after which, she was always chasing him, catching up all the time, rather than being able to take supreme leadership her leading Bajor for her own ends. (Winn actually says “My faith is as pure as the Emissary’s., and Kira replies, with one of the best statement of DS9, “I think you’re confusing faith with ambition.”)

    It has bugger all to do with her sexuality or emotive nonsense like “flirtation” or “probably risk erotic rejection.”

    She’s an old woman who dreams and craves for her long gone youth and attractiveness, and is not some twisted salacious sexual deviant!

    Even “The Wicked Witch of the West” in the “Wizard of Oz” (aka “”I’ll get you, my pretty..”) or even the story of ugly stepmother and the stepsisters of Cinderella, persecute them for the youth and beauty. Yet you could hardly call the cruelty of these ungracious taskmasters either of having lurid sexual motivations nor of them not being “complete human beings.” The may have traits of human strengths and frailties, but they are far from being complete human – even in fiction!!

    As for her role as a spiritual leader of Bajor, she is supposed to be the main moral compasses to the Bajorans, not the open promotor of promiscuity. More believable would be the Vedek Assembly unceremoniously kicking out Winn and Bareil for their immoral indiscretion! Aren’t all Vedeks originally supposed to be humble, submissive and chaste? [Chaste as a Vedek, but free to be married and have children before becoming a Vedek. I.e. Opaka had a son.] As said in DS9 “Covenant” (7×09) “Charity, humility, and faith were seen as the keys to enlightenment in the Bajoran faith.”

    We know Winn Adami’s own evil is being significantly manipulated by the Prophets themselves, ramped up by making her feel unworthy, yet using her as their ultimate tool, to finally expose and destroy the Pah-wraiths forever.

    Heavens to Mergatroid! These fanciful apparitions of Winn are just merely useful tools in her own aspirations and power, and is this case, to become the Kai and start throwing one’s weight around under the adoration of the people! I.e. Later, didn’t Winn granted Kubus sanctuary on Bajor, just so that she could use his testimony against Bareil to her advantage, while also trying to put Kira offside with Bareil.

    Like asserting Bashir and Garek alleged homosexuality , you are just seeing things that are just not there!

    (Brashly, I think you are just having a fantasy within another fantasy! Your pagh is not strong.)

  • SJStar

    Just found how creepy this. Read the September 1979 article; Louise Fletcher & Morgan Mason, which talks about her real life relationship of a 44 year old woman and 22 year old man, with her two male children of 17 and 15 at the time.

    Reading here “…considering that the two of them were quite alone together and showing signs of previous intimacy in the way Jaro touched her, but their flirtation at the end of the episode is much less about a personal merger than a political alliance, and Winn would probably risk erotic rejection long before she’d risk exposing her ambitions.

    Suggest truth is stranger than fiction. Shudder!

  • mvdelaney77

    I think you’re being unfair in this instance.

    Firstly, even though they are presented as Bajoran in the series, the whole point is to use “aliens” as metaphor for humanity… So, pointing out that they aren’t really human is kind of silly.

    Secondly, it is manifestly true that older women*, 45+, rarely get portrayed as having their own motivations or desires, particularly carnal ones. Can anyone give an example otherwise? Even younger actresses rarely get the opportunity to play characters that have as much meat on the bone as their male counterparts. That’s just reality, not saying it’s bad or good, but it’s the reality. So, to see this aspect of Winn portrayed, it does provide the character with a greater sense of depth. Instead of just being a flat hormonal-moustache twirling villain, she had depth.

    Thirdly, when she suggested that she was a complete human being, she was talking about the writer’s and actor’s portrayal, not granting some validity to the actions.

    Fourth, if you’ve seen the series, and particularly this set of episodes, I can’t understand how you would deny the sexual aspects to Winn’s character. You think she’s desperate for her youth. I disagree. I never got that notion from her. I think Winn would see youngsters as morons, unworthy of their beauty, but at the same time, I don’t think she’d ever trade places. She likes herself. She likes her power. She wants more and thinks she deserves it. She doesn’t understand why the Prophets have not yet granted their wisdom unto her, but she still has faith that their gifts to her are indicative of their favor of her. She’s haughty, if not a hotty… but I seriously doubt she’s consumed with envy of her lost youth. Besides, since human females reach their sexual peak in their early 30’s, perhaps it skews a bit older for Bajorans? She was hot to trot… and? That’s definitely evident throughout the series. She drips with sexual tension almost every moment she’s ever on screen… If you missed that, I think you’re just creeped out by older women. lol

    Lastly, I do think this reviewer is a little too consumed by middle-aged women, but in this case, that really is what’s there… I hate the Bashir/Garak stuff as much as the next guy, but I’m not unfair, and in this instance, I think the reviewer was more right than wrong overall, and you’re seeing quibbles that aren’t really there this time.

    *Older for tv/film purposes.

  • Seventhbeacon

    Hehe, respectively:

    “We know Winn Adami’s own evil is being significantly manipulated by the Prophets themselves, ramped up by making her feel unworthy, yet using her as their ultimate tool, to finally expose and destroy the Pah-wraiths forever.”

    It’s not fact, it’s your supposition. Whereas my supposition is that her ambition and craving for power made her unworthy of the Prophets’ attentions in their eyes. The show never comes out and says she’s being manipulated her whole life to this end of destroying the pagh wraiths… that’s just what you’ve read into it and taken away from the events of the series.

    Separately, enjoyed the analysis. Winn was a fantastically articulated character whom I loved to hate.

    I do find it peculiar how often the issue of sexuality is brought up in these reviews. But they are reviews, and therefore a subjective analysis from one person will focus on those things central to that person’s worldview. If she was writing a research paper, there would be other requirements. That being said, I still find plenty of meaty observation and critique in these and will continue to enjoy reading them. (Bashir/Garak suppositions not so much.)

  • Bobby

    I love this episode, especially the opening scene.

    In fact, I’ve been waiting for this review so I could comment on it. Michelle writes: “one of my favorite scenes in the series” … “It’s simply a perfect scene” – amen! 🙂

    This scene is one of the first in the series where the cast as a whole, both as actors and as characters, really starts to “gel” and fire on all thrusters. It was the first time I realized “I really love this group.”

    There is one person whose absence is conspicuous: Sisko. At this point in the series he’s still kind of aloof, as a character, and Brooks still feels to me like an actor reciting his lines, rather than feeling like he’s fully immersed in his character. He’ll get there, during the second or third season as I recall. But he’s not there yet. I always wondered if Brooks’ portrayal was intentional (it does fit his backstory); at first I thought it was just a problem with his acting.

    Interestingly in the latest DS9 novel Sisko is emotionally and mentally back in “Season 1” so to speak, and in that book he is “written” just like Sisko played in those first few seasons- aloof, distant, like he’s just reading his lines but not really all there.

    “I know from first-hand experience that it’s nearly impossible to follow “The Circle” without having seen “The Homecoming””

    I thought this comment was interesting. As I mentioned last week, I missed the opening episode, too, the first time around. I didn’t have any trouble following the other installments.

  • I haven’t really paid such attention to a retro review since I-don’t-know-when…but in this instance, although I may not agree with your interpretations, this review appears as perfect as I could hope. Your presentation of personal priorities/biases are exactly what should both preface a review, and provide a foundation for valid criticism. If someone want to disagree, they must establish whether the basis is on perspective or interpretation/application of similar priorities.

    From a structural view, this is fantastic. The inclusion of “denouement”, “sexual tension”, and “pas de deux” don’t hurt!


  • fainodraino

    Hey guys, this reviewer is obsessed with sex….she’s always gonna mention it, even if it isn’t there…which is often.

  • Seventhbeacon

    Please know Michelle that I thoroughly enjoy your reviews, and it’s my intention to be respectful even when I may be in disagreement from time to time! Your work here is a real treat, and the main reason I visit Trektoday!

  • mvdelaney77

    Practically the only reason, at this point. Mind boggling that they can’t generate other original content.