Retro Review: AccessionPosted by Michelle - 24/05/13 at 05:05 pm
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season: 04 Episode: 17 (s04e17)
Original US airdate: 02/24/1996
A Bajoran poet who disappeared 200 years previously comes out of the wormhole claiming to be the Emissary.
Plot Summary: An ancient Bajoran lightship emerges from the wormhole carrying a single passenger, a legendary Bajoran poet named Akorem Laan who disappeared two centuries earlier. Akorem tells Sisko, who has been having misgivings about his role as Emissary, that he nearly died during a spacefaring accident and was saved when he discovered the Celestial Temple, where the Prophets healed him. He believes he has been sent back to become the Emissary. Believing that this makes more sense than that the Prophets would have chosen an outsider, Sisko relinquishes the title, something most Bajorans including the Kai and Kira accept. Then Akorem announces that Bajorans must return to the caste system, known as D’jarras, which assign each person a specific status and profession. All at once, Bajorans start changing jobs and giving up seats to higher-caste individuals, while Akorem expects Shakaar to be voted out of office and go back to farming. Because the Federation forbids caste-based discrimination, Sisko realizes that Bajor will likely be denied membership and is deeply troubled. He has a delayed orb vision in which a Prophet in the form of Kai Opaka warns him that he does not know his role. When he tells Kira that he feels he has failed Bajor, she tells him that it isn’t his responsibility and adds that she plans to resign to become an artist as her D’jarra dictates. Then Odo summons Sisko, who learns that a monk has been murdered by a Vedek because he refused to resign despite being from an “unclean” caste. Sisko decides that he was wrong to give up the position of Emissary and asks Akorem to travel into the wormhole with him so that the Prophets can explain their will. The two learn that Akorem was rescued and sent into the future to inspire Sisko, the Emissary, to understand his role. They return Akorem to his own era, where he finishes his famous incomplete poem. Sisko returns to the station with a renewed sense that his destiny and that of Bajor are linked.
Analysis: Watching “Accession” reminded me in a visceral way of how very angry I was with the Star Trek franchise in 1996, during DS9’s fourth season and Voyager‘s second. Both shows were undergoing changes to make them more marketable to a wider audience, one consequence of which, I felt, was that the female characters were written much more stereotypically and passively. “Accession” is a perfect example: although in many ways it’s a terrific episode, struggling with the questions of faith and culture that both the original series and Next Gen often treated dismissively if not with contempt, it focuses on two big patriarchal figures, while one major female character is reduced to asking timid questions and the other – the one arguably most directly affected by the events – allows enormous changes to occur in her culture while passively accepting potentially disastrous consequences. To be fair, all of Bajor and not just Kira ends up looking somewhat pathetic, easily pushed around and not yet ready for Federation membership – in retrospect, it would not have been a surprise to learn that the return of Akorem Laan was a plot engineered by the Cardassians or the Dominion to neutralize Bajor as a potential threat – but because Kira is the one we see as an example of how the new Emissary is affecting all Bajorans, she’s the one who seems most weakened by the unfolding of events. Though I didn’t always like it when she leaned on Bareil for spiritual advice, I so wished he’d been alive to talk about Bajoran faith as a growing, evolving institution. I could ask many practical questions, like why didn’t Sisko consult with an orb before doing anything as drastic as stepping down as Emissary, or pragmatic questions, like do you really mean to tell me there wasn’t a single Bajoran who, demoted suddenly to a low caste, didn’t try to lead an uprising, but my issues really come down to how the story affects characters I care about more than potential flaws in the plot.
There are a couple of things we learn in “Accession” that I really do love. One is our growing understanding that Bajoran faith and science are entirely compatible – not just the distortion of time in the wormhole that has caused it to be called the Celestial Temple and the powerful aliens worshiped as Prophets, but the fact that orb visions are regulated by neuropeptides which Bashir can control. The other is Sisko’s growing understanding of what it means to be the Emissary, though I don’t think the writers had thought it out much beyond its practical uses, keeping Sisko on the station for such a long Starfleet posting and and making him a trusted figure by a critical ally for the Federation. It’s wonderful watching him interact with the wormhole aliens in episodes from “Emissary” to “Accession” to “Tears of the Prophets” knowing that he is, as they keep telling him, of Bajor – that his mother was under the control of a Prophet when he was conceived, that he is in essence the Bajoran messiah, born to save them all. I get chills from that storyline, which is more central to this series even than the Cardassian conflict and the Dominion War. It’s the story of an ordinary man – all right, an exceptionally intelligent and hard-working man, but with the same sorts of family problems and romantic foibles and job stress as anyone – who slowly discovers that beings so powerful that in a different time and place he might have worshiped them as gods have a plan for his life and everyone in his sphere of influence. I love watching him try to balance the Prime Directive, which essentially serves to prevent powerful space-going races from playing god among less developed ones, with the role these aliens who have been involved with Bajor since its prehistory have given him. I love what a fundamentally selfless, broad-minded, compassionate person he is without being too saintly for people to recognize themselves in him. My favorite line of his all episode is, “All I have to worry about are the Klingons, the Dominion, and the Maquis…I feel like I’m on vacation!”
But as for Kira…sigh. I want to make it clear that I have no issue with her devotion to her religion, making what she considers to be personal sacrifices in the name of the Prophets and what’s best for the Bajoran people. She isn’t preaching that her entire world must follow a specific, conservative set of values; she’s simply saying that, for herself, she believes she needs to follow them, though for a change I wish she’d talk it over with Shakaar – or Lupaza, or even Winn, since listening to Winn’s self-serving nonsense usually sharpens Kira’s belief that there isn’t one absolute path dictated from on high to the Kai. Since she knows Winn, she knows that even someone the Prophets have chosen (or allowed to be chosen) can pervert a spiritual role for selfish purposes. She may be a fan of Akorem’s poetry, but I don’t understand why she’s so quick to accept him as Emissary, refusing to try to talk things out with Odo who doesn’t understand this sort of faith and is also struggling with the kind of self-abnegation demanded by his own people. In “The Circle,” Bareil suggested that Kira try surrendering to her artistic side not because it was her caste but because he thought it might give her perspective on her real sense of purpose, yet she seems to have forgotten how important that advice proved to be, personally and professionally. She and Bareil used to argue about his radical interpretations of Bajoran scripture. Even if she was raised traditionally, thinking Winn had a point that the Bajoran students in the station’s school had a right to be taught about the Prophets as well as the wormhole, when did she stop being someone who asks questions?
The rest of Bajor suffers even more, I think, from having an ancient caste system dumped upon it and accepted so blindly. Not even Winn ever suggested anything as reactionary as sending politicians home to be farmers and elevating singers to government posts. If this caste system lasted up until the Cardassians invaded, I understand how they conquered an advanced people so easily, since there must have been many Bajorans who resented being treated as unclean and people who felt that they were in the wrong jobs for their talents. Are we to believe that Bajor’s centuries of achievement emerged from a repressive caste system, that the writers are telling us how well such a system worked? They should take a peek into Bashir and O’Brien’s historic holosuite programs to see how that’s worked out throughout human history. The B-plot of this episode involves a pregnant Keiko returning with Molly from her botanical work on Bajor, sending Worf into a panic at the thought that he might be expected to be involved in another birthing and Bashir into a sulk that his best friend will no longer be around for nightly male bonding. After a few days of attempting to play with Molly and romance Keiko, neither of whom is interested, Miles is in such a sulk that Keiko sets him up with Bashir. This storyline provides much-needed humor, particularly when Bashir tells Quark that Miles is expecting another baby and Quark retorts that he thought females bore human young, yet it is mind-boggling that while such enormous changes are rocking Bajor, the human characters – including one just returning from living on Bajor – seem so completely disengaged from the problems. From the highest levels of Starfleet, whose message to Sisko seems to be “well, you are a failure where Bajor is concerned,” to the fact that neither Dax nor Bashir nor Sisko has a heart-to-heart with Kira about her choices and options, I’m finding non-interference to be kind of hypocritical. As for the Bajorans, I’m not sure which seems stranger, how easily they accept a new Emissary’s rules or how quickly they welcome Sisko back when that new Emissary mysteriously disappears on a trip with him.
I’m not bummed because this isn’t a good episode. I’m bummed because this is so close to being a great episode.
Tags: Retro Review