Kira learns from Winn that her lover Bareil may have been responsible for betraying a group of Bajoran rebels to their Cardassian murderers.
Plot Summary: On the eve of Bajoran elections to choose a new Kai, former Cardassian collaborator Kubus arrives on the station and is promptly arrested by Odo. Kira is distracted by a visit from her lover, Vedek Bareil, who is expected to win the election since Kai Opaka groomed him to be her successor. When Vedek Winn arrives to promote her own candidacy and seek Sisko’s support, she has a private meeting with Kubus, after which she offers him asylum on Bajor. Though Sisko cannot interfere in Bajoran affairs, Kira is furious and Odo quickly learns that after talking to Kubus, Winn accessed information about the Kendra Valley Massacre, where over 40 Bajoran resistance fighters including Kai Opaka’s son were murdered by the Cardassians. Bareil has been having Orb visions related to the massacre in which he sees himself turning into Prylar Bek, a monk who admitted to betraying the resistance cell’s location, then committed suicide. When Kira demands that Winn turn over Kubus, Winn claims that Kubus confessed that Bareil was really responsible for the massacre. Bareil tells Kira that he only counseled Bek afterward, but Odo learns that Vedek Assembly records from the time have been destroyed and O’Brien discovers that Bareil’s retinal scan proves he erased them. Devastated, Kira confronts Bareil, who says that Bek was indeed ordered to reveal the location of the resistance cell to stop the Cardassians from wiping out the entire Kendra Valley. When Kira leaves him to contact Winn, she learns that Winn no longer cares who was responsible for the massacre, since Bareil has withdrawn his candidacy, leaving Winn the likely victor. Unable to understand how an honorable could have covered up his own crime, Kira investigates further and learns that Bareil was at a silent retreat before the massacre, unable to order Bek to betray the resistance cell. She guesses that Kai Opaka must have sacrificed her son and the others to save the valley, and Bek and Bareil made their own sacrifices to keep that secret. Winn is elected Kai and a reunited Kira and Bareil go to pay their respects.
Analysis: I love the moral ambiguity of “The Collaborator” – more than I love the development of Kira and Bareil’s relationship, I must admit. It must be obvious to them both by now that their approaches to matters both spiritual and secular are very different, and more importantly that they both harbor secrets they’re unwilling to share with one another. Bareil has the excuse of keeping religious confidences, but it’s never been clear to me whether he kept the truth from Kira to protect Opaka or to protect Kira from learning that the person she admired most in her life made a choice that he knows Kira finds reprehensible, even unforgivable – though, again, it’s not clear when she confronts Bareil whether her sense of betrayal is because she believes he was the collaborator or because she believes he lied about it afterward. It’s obvious that they’re enjoying the sex, the springball, the discussions of Bajoran food and art and politics, and since they’re both very driven by their chosen paths in life, it’s even convenient that they’re each involved with someone who understands the need for separation and distance to get their very important work done. But we’ve never heard them have a deep conversation about anything beyond Kira’s total lack of artistic ability and their different interpretation of the prophecies, where at least Bareil clearly respects her even though she lacks his religious training. We don’t know anything about his family, his life during the Occupation, whether she’s told him how many Cardassians she killed, how he feels about that. He’s running for Bajor’s highest spiritual position, an office that requires political as well as religious negotiation – Bareil said as much to Sisko the first time the two met, and Winn’s attempts to suggest that the Federation supports her candidacy makes it clear – yet Bareil also told Kira that he knew nothing of the Circle because he was hiding out at the monastery, so this latest revelation about his noble non-involvement doesn’t feel like a point in his favor.
The unfolding of events, however, is superb, both the revelation of secrets from the past and the way people react to them in the present. “The Collaborator” contains two of my favorite moments of acting in all of Deep Space Nine: Avery Brooks, as Sisko, reacting to Winn’s distress that he and she are not friends, and Rene Auberjonois, as Odo, reacting to Kira’s admission that she’s in love with Bareil. Sisko is usually an exemplary captain, keeping his emotions in check unless there are lives or Federation values on the line, but when Winn disingenuously announces her sorrow that there are people on Bajor who believe the two of them are, “how shall I put this…” he interrupts to finish her sentence, “enemies?”, with a smile that’s charming and dangerous and gleeful all at once. Brooks and Louise Fletcher sizzle in this scene; I wish Kira and Bareil had as much chemistry arguing, let alone flirting! I’ve always liked the fact that Bajoran religious leaders are not expected to be celibate, that Winn is allowed to be sexual despite her age without losing any of her power – Bareil finds himself in an embrace with her in an orb vision that makes him horrified, her exultant – and Fletcher brings so much of the same power she brought to Nurse Ratched out in Winn, who rarely needs to raise her voice to terrify people into submission. She starts so sweetly with Kira after the confrontation over Kubus, calling her “child,” saying she knows that Kira is under a terrible strain, then slams her with, “If you’re wise, you will never speak to me with such disrespect again!” Yet all of these wonderful moments are trumped for me by the look on Odo’s face when an anguished Kira tells Odo that she loves Bareil, whom she also now fears is a liar and collaborator. Kira’s not really paying attention, she’s distracted by her own pain, but Odo goes completely still, stops typing into the database he’s hacking for her, looks (as in “Necessary Evil”) like he’s just lost his best friend. “Really,” he says as if his heart’s just been ripped out. Then Odo forces himself to recover, mutters, “I was just wondering when you were going to figure that out,” and goes back to trying to prove Bareil’s innocence for her. The writers have said that was all Auberjonois, not something they’d scripted, and it gives the episode – indeed, all of Odo and Kira’s interactions – a much greater impact.
Though I’m ambivalent about the excessive use of Orb visions in this episode from both a psychological and storytelling standpoint (too much Orb use starts to feel too much like the dream sequences/flashbacks/holodeck addictions from Next Gen episodes), I’m delighted to see Opaka again. Yet what, precisely, does Bareil hope to learn as he keeps summoning the past? Clearly the Prophets don’t believe that Kira can help him – she’s mostly an antagonistic figure in his visions, ignoring his needs, turning into Winn – while Opaka, who is as peaceful and sympathetic as always, stresses the need to accept whatever will be. I wish that we got to hear a bit more of her reasoning, not about betraying the resistance cell itself, but allowing Bek to die and Bareil to compromise himself to keep her secret. I assume that, like Bareil, her motives are not a selfish desire to look good, so if she wants to protect the spiritual life of her people, why keep the truth hidden after her death? The people of Bajor are not children who need to be shielded from the decisions made by their religious leaders, especially now that they’ve driven the Cardassians out. Kira seems at peace with the discovery that the revered Opaka made a choice she found despicable at the time, and perhaps she even learns from the discovery that such actions aren’t so easy to dismiss as cowardly. She’s even comfortable allowing the truth to remain hidden, despite her utter loathing of collaborators like Kubus. Is she too much the acolyte with Bareil, honored to have his attention, not demanding his respect for her views? Does she love Bareil for himself, or because he’s Opaka’s chosen successor and someone who apparently managed not to get his own hands dirty during the Occupation? Bareil may joke that he’s only sleeping with her to get her vote for him as Kai, but there’s a real sense in which they seem to be in love with the idea of one another, the freedom fighter and the religious devotee, more than with the whole person. I know nothing of Bajoran religious interpretation but I’d take Bareil’s visions of Kira ridiculing and stabbing him to mean that they’re not right for each other. I still think he got off easy, compared to Bek, who apparently couldn’t live with the guilt of what he helped the late Kai do. Bareil’s always been more flexible than Kira, which may make him easier to get along with as a politician, but ultimately I find him less admirable because of it…perhaps less deserving of her.