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Retro Review: Destiny

Posted by Michelle - 16/11/12 at 06:11 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 03 Episode: 15 (s03e15)

Original US airdate: 02/13/1995

Despite an unnerving Bajoran prophecy, Sisko undertakes a joint scientific venture with Cardassian scientists to place a communications relay on the far side of the wormhole.

Plot Summary: Sisko and his crew are excitedly making preparations to work with two Cardassian scientists to set up a subspace relay which will allow communication through the wormhole from the Gamma Quadrant. Even Kira is cautiously optimistic until Vedek Yarka arrives, warning that Trakor’s Third Prophecy has foreseen these events and predicted disaster if the Emissary allows three “vipers” to return to their nest in the sky to peer through the Temple gates, casting open the entrance to the Temple forever. Because the Prophets are not only religious figures, but aliens who exist outside linear time, Kira fears that their warning may be based in truth. Believing that the relay is important both scientifically and to cultivate the new peace between Cardassia and Bajor, Sisko refuses to abandon the project despite the arrival of another Cardassian whom Kira assumes may be the third “viper” of the prophecy. An initial relay test results in a crisis, causing the wormhole to burst open and diverting a comet. Dax fears that if the comet enters the wormhole, its silithium core could collapse the entrance permanently, bringing about the disaster foretold in the prophecy. O’Brien and the scientist Gilora – who mistakenly takes his confrontational behavior for flirting – modify the Defiant’s phasers to vaporize the comet, but the phasers misfire and split the comet into three pieces. Gilora admits that the late Cardassian arrival is an Obsidian Order operative whom she believes sabotaged the phasers to end the peaceful collaboration between Bajor and the Cardassians. Taking a shuttle, Sisko and Kira capture the comet fragments in a subspace field, but not before some of the dangerous silithuim leaks out. To Dax’s surprise, the silithium creates a subspace filament which completes the relay to the Gamma Quadrant, allowing signals to pass through. Kira realizes that the prophecy did indeed come true, but they misinterpreted the symbolism of the “vipers” – not Cardassians, but comet fragments – which have opened the wormhole to subspace signals. Sisko is forced to confront the idea that other Bajoran prophecies about the Emissary may have implications for his own life and role in the region.

Analysis: “Destiny” is one of those DS9 episodes that was good in the first place and has only gotten better now that the various arcs developing in the storyline have all played out. I love that, unlike on previous Star Trek shows where religion is generally shown to be backward and wrong-headed, the spirituality of the Bajoran people is portrayed not only as a binding force for the culture in its darkest hours, but as entirely compatible with science and technology. And I also love Sisko’s slow acceptance of his status as Emissary, the understanding that he may be called to give his life to something bigger than his family or even the Federation. Kira’s role in this is pivotal, though she’s also the character I have the hardest time with in this episode, since the writers have been all over the place trying to pin down her spiritual beliefs and her relationship with the powerful religious leaders on Bajor. She’s seemed to grow more orthodox since we were introduced to her, particularly when debating theology with Bareil, yet she’s unfamiliar with the prophecies cited by Yarka; she’s perfectly aware that religious leaders are are capable of corruption and selfishness as anyone else, as Kai Winn keeps proving, yet although Yarka has been defrocked for putting his politics ahead of spiritual matters, she keeps listening to him even after Sisko warns her that he has no time for her potential conflict of interest. Here for the first time we see Kira insisting that there is no conflict, that her religion offers a historical perspective on events that Sisko wants to view only through his scientific understanding. Both their views are incomplete, for the Bajorans let their own prejudices shape the way they read the prophecy while the Starfleet officers have no way of knowing that there is a real viper among their new Cardassian allies. “Destiny” manages to offer a warning about fundamentalist spiritual views while at the same time maintaining the belief that, to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, religion is just science we don’t understand yet.

If I’m a bit annoyed about the timidity from Kira based on spiritual convictions we’ve never before seen her hold – she didn’t go running to the prophecies for answers when trying to figure out whether Bareil or Winn would be better for Bajor – I’m delighted to see Sisko struggling with issues that Kirk or Picard would have politely dismissed as superstitious nonsense. “Where you see a sword of stars, I see a comet; where you see vipers, I see three scientists; and where you see the Emissary, I see a Starfleet officer,” he protests to Kira after he has to ask her to leave the bridge of the Defiant with him so he can tell her that it’s no place for her religious beliefs. Odo recognizes that while ostensibly Sisko’s agenda is to promote science in the name of peace, he’s equally motivated to distance himself from the title of Emissary, and that desire shapes his decisions just as much as his Starfleet duty; when Kira inadvertently suggests the same thing, Sisko is unduly harsh, not wanting to acknowledge that his first officer is also a faithful servant of the Prophets and, worse, that her respect for him may be in part because of his relationship with them, not only because of his work as her commander. Sisko knows better than anyone that the wormhole aliens involve themselves directly with the people of Bajor, even if he hasn’t begun to guess that he owes his very existence to a Prophet who made certain that he would be born at the right place and time to save Bajor. Sisko knows too that the Prophets sometimes speak to humanoids and provide accurate if cryptic information about the future. His resistance to Trakor’s Third Prophecy has less to do with the prediction itself – since, as Kira learns, it can be interpreted a number of different ways – than with the fact that it forces his hand as Emissary, making him acknowledge that he can’t escape that position.

The pacing is very good, with some apparent new piece of the prophecy coming true every few minutes, so it’s quite satisfying in the end to learn that this likely isn’t coincidence but the fulfillment of an actual message from the Prophets to an ancient Bajoran. But theoogically speaking, how confusing must it be to have gods who are so selective, who apparently did not warn about the Occupation but left this cryptic message about what looks like a good thing for Bajor (though contact with the Gamma Quadrant in general will prove to be problematic for its people and Prophets alike)? The wormhole aliens seem as disinterested in the Cardassians as they are in Kai Winn, who judiciously keeps her nose out of Yarka’s interpretation of this prophecy since she wants her peace treaty to be a success. I have the same reaction that Sisko does when one of the Cardassian scientists slips up and calls the station Terok Nor – that’s potentially more distressing than a prophecy, but I can’t really root against the Cardassian women even if they’re biased against men in the sciences, a precarious career anyway, since we learn that the military oversees the science departments and the women expect to lose their jobs when the relay does not initially work as planned. “Destiny” has no B storyline, nor does it need one, unless we count those few minutes of awkward humor when O’Brien realizes that Gilora thinks he’s hitting on her – an incident crucial to the main story, and how delightful for O’Brien to get a moment of someone thinking he’s sexy. The banter underscores the theme of tolerance for alternate interpretations of events and makes yet another case for understanding among people with different customs without any lecturing. The moment at the end when O’Brien tells Gilora that he’s impressed with her bravery for revealing the Obsidian Order operative is a quiet breakthrough; next to Kira, he’s always been by far the most suspicious and fearful of Cardassians, and now he has a Cardassian admirer.

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  • Purveyor of Truth

    <>

    Nice try, but everybody sees you for the man-hating radical feminist that you are.