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.