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Retro Review: Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night

Posted by Michelle - 27/06/14 at 06:06 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 06 Episode: 17 (s06e17)

Original US airdate: 03/28/1998

After traveling through time with the help of an Orb, Kira discovers that her mother was Gul Dukat’s lover.

Plot Summary: Kira receives a secret communication from Dukat on her mother’s birthday, telling her that the truth will enlighten her and revealing that her mother was his lover for many years. Though she initially rejects this claim as a lie, Kira can’t dismiss private details that Dukat knows and asks the Emissary to request access to the Orb of Time so that she can uncover the truth. Though concerned about interference with the timeline, Sisko agrees to let the Prophets guide Kira. They send her to the Bajoran refugee camp where she lived as a child, where she befriends her mother minutes before a Bajoran collaborator arrives to find “comfort women” for the Cardassians. Kira Nerys and Kira Meru are both taken to Terok Nor, where they are given food and fine clothing. Nerys wants to look for a Resistance cell on the station, but Meru is frightened for her children and relieved when Dukat personally assures her that the children of all the women will be given extra food rations. At a party, Nerys gets a Cardassian legate drunk and flirts to try to get information from him while Meru is “rescued” by Dukat from a Cardassian who tries to corner her for sex. When Meru is taken to Dukat’s quarters, Nerys fights with the Cardassian collaborator who brought them there and is locked away in ore processing. During her time there, she meets the leader of the local Resistance cell, who tells her that Meru has gone on vacation with Dukat. When Meru returns, she shows off the life of luxury Dukat has given her and refuses to listen when Nerys tells her that Dukat is planning the genocide of the Bajoran people. Sickened, Nerys agrees to hide a Resistance bomb in Dukat’s quarters. She pretends to want to apologize to Meru to gain access, but while she is setting the bomb, she overhears a conversation between Meru and her husband, Nerys’s father, who tells Meru that she has saved all their lives and hopes the Prophets will send her some joy in her new life. While Meru sobs, Kira saves her and Dukat from the bomb, then finds herself back in the present, where she tells Sisko that a part of her is sorry she didn’t let her mother die.

Analysis: I know many people resent “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” for what it isn’t, namely a serious reexamination of the lives of “comfort women” – which is not a general phrase for women coerced or bribed into sleeping with enemy soldiers, but a term that came into existence to describe the thousands of women (mostly from China and Korea, but also Malaysians, Filipinos, Burmese, and others) forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army beginning in the 1930s. Those women were not given ample food, medical care, and pretty dresses like the Bajoran “comfort women” we see in this episode; they were raped, tortured, rendered infertile, and killed by the tens of thousands by beatings, disease, and forced abortions. While I agree that the use of the words “comfort women” to describe a fictional, extremely sanitized version of a hideous reality is deplorable, I still find that there’s still a great deal that’s powerful in the episode. Star Trek rarely comes close to addressing the full horrors of war, so I hope that people look up “comfort women” and learn more about an atrocity whose extent the Japanese government is trying to cover up to this day, just as I hope the small-scale AIDS allegory in Enterprise‘s “Fusion” and the glimpse of ethnic cleansing in Voyager‘s “Remember” make people think about their real-world parallels. One of the things I like about “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” is that it shifts the emphasis of Dukat’s cruelties from Sisko back to Kira and her people, which is where it has always belonged; evaluating Dukat primarily as a ruthless military dictator is like thinking the worst thing Hitler did was to invade Poland and trigger a war. Even if Dukat sees Sisko as the Bajoran Emissary, Sisko didn’t live through his Occupation, and no matter how much Sisko may be willing to sacrifice for Bajor, he is an outsider to the nightmare of Bajoran life under Cardassian rule, while much of who Kira is was shaped by growing up in such circumstances. She tells Sisko that her mother was always the person she thought of when she killed collaborators; now she is forced to live with the knowledge that by the standards she has always used, her mother was a collaborator.

I don’t find “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” very sympathetic to Meru’s dilemma, but that’s largely because of the things we don’t see – the private moments with Dukat when he uses all of his persuasive powers to convince her that he’s trying to help the Bajoran people against an uncaring Cardassian Central Command, the pictures she’s shown of her children thriving in her absence. We’ve seen how charming Dukat can be – we’ve seen him try to charm Nerys – and while it’s true that Meru may like having plenty of food and pretty clothes, she also believes that she is saving her family. It’s reasonable that she would see Dukat as one of the less awful Cardassians, so trying to assassinate him in his bed in these early days would probably not accomplish anything except to get herself and her family killed. She clearly isn’t a fighter like Nerys; she’s watched her own children starve and can’t protect their meager rations from Bajoran thieves. Does her passivity make her a collaborator? I doubt that many of us have ever been in a position to judge such a poor woman making a decision to leave her family behind in the belief that she’s actually saving their lives. Her own husband forgives her, particularly once he sees their children thriving, and he’s already been told that they will all be sent to labor camps if she stops cooperating. Nerys tries to placate Bajorans who steal food from other Bajorans and doesn’t try to kill the Bajoran collaborator who finds and abuses sex slaves; it’s hard for me to hate Meru as much as Nerys does, particularly since Meru has no way of knowing how powerful and deadly Dukat will become in the future. The fact that Nerys chooses not to kill her mother or Dukat – to change the timeline, possibly to prevent the deaths of millions, to save Bajor from what Dukat will become – suggests that a good portion of Nerys’s anger is directed inward, at the things she can’t bring herself to do. She never seems to consider that perhaps the Prophets intend for her to sacrifice her own mother in an attempt to rewrite a timeline filled with suffering.

The script for “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” has some big holes in it; even overlooking the misuse of the concept of “comfort women,” we see too little struggle from the other women brought to the station, there are no girls young enough to suggest statutory rape…indeed, the word “rape” is never used, though there must be nonconsensual assaults going on, the brutality of the Bajoran overseer is proof of that. Because the story focuses only on Nerys and Meru, the choices for women are laid out as passive acceptance or deadly rebellion when in fact there must have been dozens of small acts of resistance and, one hopes, women helping one another. Still, the Sophoclean subject matter makes the drama powerful. Dukat’s past with Nerys’s mother makes sense of his obsession with her in the creepiest way possible, and his decision to tell her on her birthday about her mother’s past is one of the nastiest things we’ve ever seen him do, which is saying a lot given that we’ve seen him order executions. Sisko can see that his first officer won’t be able to function properly until she finds out the truth; it’s the Starfleet captain as much as the Emissary who agrees to let her go to Bajor. Would Nerys have been more understanding if she’d witnessed Dukat with Ziyal’s mother rather than with her own? When she arrives on Terok Nor, she isn’t starving, she hasn’t lived with years of neglect and abuse in a refugee camp, she feels confident enough to evade molestation by a Cardassian by flirting and hinting that he might get lucky later while she gets him drunk. In the end, will she be the Kira Nerys we saw in “Things Past” who has trouble getting beyond the weaknesses of others, or the Kira Nerys we saw in “Duet” and “Necessary Evil” who knows she must learn to forgive if she’s going to thrive now that the Occupation is over. It’s only a matter of weeks before she will acknowledge that in spite of all the pain they’ve caused one another, she loves Odo, and only a matter of months before she discovers that even Damar can be redeemed. If Dukat never can and never will, I still hope Kira eventually makes peace with the choices her own mother had to make.

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  • Theragen Derivative

    Shorter review: Dukat tried to get it on with both Kira AND her mom and thus became the most sympathetic Trek villain ever.

  • Guest

    “While I agree that the use of the words ‘comfort women’ to describe a fictional, extremely sanitized version of a hideous reality is deplorable, I still find that there’s still a great deal that’s powerful in the episode.”

    Yes, let’s deplore any writers who attempt to introduce such topics within the sharp limits of syndicated 1990s television content restrictions. How “deplorable” they didn’t depict the onscreen rapes of underage girls that they would absolutely not have been allowed to depict. Let’s pretend to acknowledge it is both fictional and sanitized, but then say it’s “deplorable” anyway by virtue of its sheer existence in forced comparison to a very rough historical analogue. It’s not like that cuts off all pop sci-fi at the knees or anything.

    Hey, just for fun, let’s note that Michelle Erica Green reviewed this same episode on her own website and led off with this: “This was a stunning episode, refusing to shirk from either Meru’s dilemma or Kira’s.” I guess it’s somehow grown a lot less stunning since then, huh? Or maybe she’s just bending over backwards to try and poke holes in ST: Deep Space Nine to pander to some Social Justice crew…one that doesn’t seem to be in attendance here.

  • Enterprise1981

    Who said anything having to actually depict rapes of underage girls on screen? But consider how this episode depicts the “plight” of comfort women and makes no other references in a more neutral context to the more graphic abuses of real-life comfort women. The facts are simply incomplete, which can be just as misleading as outright falsehoods. Just saying.

  • Guest

    “Who said anything having to actually depict rapes of underage girls on screen?”

    Oh, it rather looks like she wanted to see something like that: “The script for “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” has some big holes in it; even overlooking the misuse of the concept of “comfort women,” we see too little struggle from the other women brought to the station, there are no girls young enough to suggest statutory rape…indeed, the word “rape” is never used, though there must be nonconsensual assaults going on…” Holes in the script?

    “But consider how this episode depicts the “plight” of comfort women and makes no other references in a more neutral context to the more graphic abuses of real-life comfort women. The facts are simply incomplete, which can be just as misleading as outright falsehoods”

    So neither you nor MEG acknowledge it is both fictional and sanitized, despite her use of those terms, but you rather push an unspoken warrant that the job of the episode is to depict a historical context (it isn’t a documentary) and provide “context” for “graphic abuses of real-life comfort women” (it’s not real-life or even depicting a fictional retelling of that actual situation) and that it is a problem that the “facts are simply incomplete” (a sci-fi show isn’t tasked with delivering “real-life” “facts” about something brought up by a reviewer as a rough historical analogue).

    She called the episode “deplorable” for not depicting material that 1. was beyond the content restrictions of the medium 2. was not directly shown or implied to be part of the fiction and was only brought up by MEG because she wanted to see it.

  • Enterprise1981

    Let me put it this way. If someone had called the unrealistic depiction of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant deplorable, they’d have been laughed off the world wide web in a heartbeat. On the other hand, if a more serious TV series like Deep Space Nine is going to scratch the surface of the subject of comfort women, I wouldn’t say this depiction is “deplorable”, but rather “disingenuous” to suggest that it was all peaches and cream for Tora Naprem and Kira Meru. I wouldn’t have put it past Dukat, considering in his own little fantasy world, he wanted the Bajorans to love him, but he was still in control and he was well within rights to assert that control by any means necessary. So it’s a bit of plot hole for Nerys to come to the conclusion that her mom was living it up Dukat while the everybody else had to struggle to stay alive. The episode still explores Nerys’s dilemma and Meru’s dilemma very well. And at least during her next encounter with Dukat, Nerys is more forgiving of Meru, pointing out that he convinced himself that the Bajoran women he slept with actually wanted to be there.

    That’s just my opinion on the subject. Not expecting you to be in complete agreement. I’m just putting it out there.

  • Ward3

    I found this episode really disturbing. Obviously, the “comfort women” were portrayed as being fairly comfortable, but I suspect some of that was nice window dressing from Dukat, who wanted to appear lovable and loved by Bajorans – had he behaved poorly, then he would be hated more than he already was. It always seemed he wanted the approval of those he oppressed, so it’s not really out of character for him to treat his “comfort” women reasonably well. I suspect some of the other women there for the other officers were not treated nearly as well, but that is implied rather than shown, and makes the whole comfort woman thing seem to not be too bad.

    It’s a bit hard to explain, but I do understand how Kira Meru could seem, for at least a period of time, to be at the very least accepting of her fate. It provided life for her family. It provided some creature comforts for her. Dukat behaved fairly well towards her. A guilded cage is still a cage though, and she definitely died young, perhaps at Dukat’s hand. I understand it from the standpoint of captivity and feeling a total lack of choice. My first marriage was horribly abusive, but yet I stayed to provide some stability for my child, because I felt that I had made a promise to be there, and a lot of days I could forget just how horrible things could become. But they did become those things as well. I nearly died in that relationship. Coming from that, I have incredible empathy for Meru and her choices. I don’t see her as a collaborator at all. She too is a victim, just one living in a lot nicer conditions than a lot of others. She had no good options.

    Saying that, I really have problems with Nerys’ black and white view of the entire thing. I was hoping she could try to understand how difficult and horrible this had to have been for her mother, even though her mother was not outwardly showing it. Nerys had become a lot more capable of seeing beyond black and white, resister or collaborator by this point in the series. I can only surmise that she was so shocked to find the truth that she reacted so very strongly. I was pleased to see her comeback to Dukat in a later episode, but I thought she could be a little bit more understanding than she was. Blowing up one’s mother is a pretty strong reaction. Overly strong I think.

    Still, thought provoking and evocative for me.

  • Cymboli

    Everytime I see that Michelle is writing a review, I know before even reading the first sentence that the entire article will be feminist rambling.