Kira identifies a Cardassian seeking medical attention on the station as a war criminal who massacred Bajorans during the Occupation.
Plot Summary: A ship docks at Deep Space Nine to get medical treatment for a passenger with a rare disorder contracted by the survivors of a Bajoran mining accident during the Occupation. Kira goes to greet the patient and is appalled to discover that he is Cardassian, presumably a jailer at the Gallitep labor camp where the accident occurred. She demands the man’s arrest and alerts the Bajoran government, but Sisko wants proof that the Cardassian committed crimes before turning him over to Bajoran authorities. Kira questions the Cardassian, who claims to be a file clerk named Marritza. At first he denies that he was ever at Gallitep, then claims he was in an office and saw no atrocities. Yet under questioning, he reveals contempt for Bajorans and a particular dislike of Kira, whom he recognizes as a resistance fighter. An old photo provided by Gul Dukat reveals that the prisoner is in fact Gul Darhe’el, the labor camp leader, who slaughtered thousands of Bajorans. But Dukat provides convincing information that Darhe’el was not at Gallitep on the day of the accident and moreover that Darhe’el died six years previously. When Bashir reveals that the man has been taking medicine to recover from cosmetic surgery, Odo begins to suspect that the prisoner really is Marritza, who has changed his face to resemble Darhe’el. Under questioning by Kira, the Cardassian claims that he is Darhe’el, while the coward Marritza, who did nothing to help the Bajorans, is dead. The prisoner insists that he should be prosecuted for Darhe’el’s crimes, since all of Cardassia is guilty. Kira frees him, but he is stabbed by a drunken Bajoran who says that Marritza’s being Cardassian is reason enough to kill him. Kira is forced to acknowledge that seeking vengeance only hurts good people.
Analysis: Widely considered the best episode of Deep Space Nine and often of Star Trek, “Duet” was conceived as a low-budget bottle show, taking place entirely on the station; it gets its power from the writing and acting of a staff and cast that hit their stride and really didn’t let up for six seasons. When it aired in 1993, it was the first time I ever thought a sequel series could surpass the original Star Trek, something I never felt that The Next Generation achieved despite being closer in tone to Roddenberry’s vision than the more complex universe of DS9. I learned later that “Duet” was based loosely on a movie about a man tried for Nazi war crimes, but it was televised in the midst of a real-life trial in Israel in which an extradited U.S. citizen was accused of being a member of the Gestapo. An appeal overturned John Demjanjuk’s death sentence a month after “Duet” was first shown. His story was all over the news, making the episode extraordinarily timely. I know it’s dangerous to try to draw direct real-world parallels with Star Trek, but since “Ensign Ro” I had thought of the Bajorans as being modeled on displaced Palestinians; “Duet” made me rethink not only that parallel but the way in which Jews and Arabs have been constructed into adversaries based on relatively recent history, rather than two peoples than sharing common persecutions.
We’d heard before that Kira killed Cardassian non-combatants in the Resistance, but until “Duet” it had always been implied that those were accidents – that she wasn’t like the Kohn-Ma, terrorists who were willing to target civilians not directly involved in the Occupation to free Bajor from outside influences. We also hadn’t seen so clearly the price Kira paid for those killings, no matter how much she believed in the cause for which she fought. We’ve seen glimpses of her as diplomat (though I note that this time when she goes over Sisko’s head to talk to the Bajoran government without telling him first, he doesn’t object), as a soldier, as someone trying to get used to being part of an establishment in which she doesn’t always believe; here we see so many sides at once, the official who’s outraged to have a criminal on her station, the freedom fighter who wants to kill her onetime enemy, the spiritual woman who’s appalled at the things war makes people do, the idealist who wants to believe that not everyone connected with the atrocities condoned them. She’s amazing. No wonder Marritza chooses Kira, singling her out as the person to whom he wants to confess, doing enough research to be sure she’ll listen to his elaborately constructed story. He could have asked to be taken directly to Bajor for treatment – if he had a death wish, that might have made more sense – yet he picked her, counting on both her authority and her integrity to expose Cardassian crimes. And though she flinches, she never runs away even when she thinks he’s Darhe’el and he insists on comparing elements in their past which she wants so much to deny.
“Duet” doesn’t have a lot of plot as such – no science fiction angle, it’s all about ideas and emotions, not even a distracting B story – Quark’s awkward curiosity about whether the survivors of Gallitep like to gamble is as close to humor as the writing ventures after the opening in which Kira and Dax compare notes on their childhood misdeeds. Nana Visitor and Harris Yulin carry the drama on the strength of their performances, and to a lesser degree Rene Auberjonois, who doesn’t get as much screen time yet is pivotal both to the resolution and to our understanding of Kira. He’s been her confessor since “Past Prologue”, certainly her best friend on the station, possibly anywhere since we rarely see her interact with her old friends from Bajor. If the incident with Marritza marks the beginning of Kira’s ability to let the past go – it probably makes it possible for her to fall in love with Bareil and to deal with the conspiracy that will soon unfold among Bajor’s most trusted officials – it also marks a deepening in Odo’s feelings for Kira, the recognition of how much she struggles with feelings of displacement as complex as his own, the understanding that she also draws distinctions between what is just and what is right. She lets him see who she really is in a way no other humanoid ever has.
“Duet” marks a turning point for the series, the first time we hear about the Shakaar resistance cell and the official Cardassian denial of war crimes during the Occupation. It’s also the start of a five-episode arc that spans the end of the first and beginning of the second season, the first time we see Neela, who plays a major role in “In the Hands of the Prophets” and further complicates our view of Bajoran society by showing what radically different paths Bajorans choose to defend what they believe is their common culture. Here, Kira wants Marritza to be something worse than a filing clerk; she wants him to be guilty so that all of Bajor can punish him and find satisfaction in his execution. Would a war crimes trial have diverted Vedek Winn from her play for power? Would it have made a difference to Bajoran-Cardassian relations if Marritza broke down in public as he did with Kira, telling her that she would never know what it was like to be a coward, to see horrors and do nothing? Probably not, but though Kira tells Marritza that he was only one man, exonerating him for his failure to stop the horrors of the Occupation, she is learning that even as only one woman, she can make an inordinate impact on her people. It’s a powerful, and unnerving, prospect.