Kira joins her former leader from the Resistance in his struggle against the political ambitions of Kai Winn.
Plot Summary: Just after the unexpected death of the leader of the Bajoran Provisional Government, Kira is horrified to learn that Kai Winn has been appointed temporarily to the post of First Minister and is expected to win an election to cement her position. Determined to maintain whatever influence she may have with the Kai, Kira accepts Winn’s request to travel to her home province of Dahkur, where a group of farmers have seized soil reclamators that Winn wants to send to Rakantha Province to impress the Federation with Bajor’s ability to be self-sustaining. The group is led by the former head of Kira’s resistance cell, Shakaar Edon, who saved her life more than once. Kira agrees to speak to him because she believes that it is in the best interests of Bajor to produce agricultural exports, but Shakaar explains that Dahkur Province has had the use of the reclamators for only two months and that people will go hungry locally if they can’t bring in their crops. Though Winn tells Kira that she may set up a meeting with Shakaar to negotiate a compromise, the Kai sends troops to arrest Shakaar instead, and Kira flees with him into the mountains alongside their former Resistance cell members Furel and Lupaza. Sisko warns Winn that she is overreacting and that the Federation will not help her, but Winn insists on sending the military to hunt down the fugitives. When Shakaar’s comrades realize that they are badly outnumbered, they lure the Bajoran officers into a canyon to ambush them, but neither Shakaar nor Kira can bear the idea of shooting their fellow Bajorans, some of whom were Resistance fighters like themselves. Surrendering their weapons, they approach the military leader, Lenaris, who is equally upset that Winn has brought Bajor to the brink of civil war. Lenaris takes Shakaar and Kira to Winn’s office but announces that they are not under arrest; rather, Lenaris is supporting a bid by Shakaar to become First Minister. Rather than allowing Shakaar to expose the fact that the Kai asked Bajorans to fight Bajorans, Winn decides to support the popular Resistance leader’s campaign, thus maintaining her own popularity with Bajor’s people.
Analysis: “Shakaar” is an episode that I loved when it first aired, then hated for a long time afterward because I couldn’t stand the way Kira’s relationship with the titular character developed. Rewatching it after all this time, however, my initial reaction returns. This is one of the series’ best Bajoran episodes, giving us some terrific backstory on Kira and what the Resistance meant to her apart from an opportunity to fight Cardassians – it’s clear that she had good friends, even replacements for her own shattered family, and that despite their common goals, they weren’t afraid to argue with one another when they felt it was right. Shakaar is a terrific character, very much like Kira, a former freedom fighter who comes to accept that joining the establishment may be necessary to be certain those freedoms are protected, and if he’s perhaps too much like her for the sort of chemistry and challenges of a great romance, I must admit that his demeanor and wit and, all right, his looks go a long way to making up for that. “Shakaar” makes clear that Kira is trying to let go of Bareil and move on with her life – the episode is framed with scenes of her lighting a prayer lamp in his memory and blowing out the flame – and if Shakaar isn’t the man I wanted her to notice at the time, it’s clear in retrospect that Kira and Odo both had a lot to work through before they could fall in love the way they eventually would several years later. I suppose it’s not fair to complain that Shakaar isn’t Odo or Bareil or Li Nalas, all characters we know much better than this Resistance leader turned farmer whose greatest talents have yet to be utilized. If I were to judge the man only by the loyalty of his friends and comrades, I’d have to admit that he seems like a great guy.
I will grant that Odo still has my favorite line in “Shakaar”: “It has been my observation that one of the prices of giving people freedom of choice is that sometimes they make the wrong choice.” He’s talking about the public’s adoration of Winn, who has cleverly concealed Bareil’s role in leading the peace negotiations with Cardassia, thus portraying herself as the architect of a new Bajor, but he could just as easily be talking about the U.S. reaction to election results following the Arab Spring. In a series that often oversimplifies politics to the attitude that everything will work out if people just share resources and respect one another’s beliefs, the problems and crises surrounding Bajor’s application to join the Federation are handled with surprising sophistication. Winn believes that it is in Bajor’s best interest to join an interstellar community as quickly as possible, to demonstrate that proud Bajorans no longer need outside aid and indeed have much to contribute, an attitude that Kira very much wants to promote. But as Shakaar points out, Bajor can’t even feed its own, and the struggle among former Resistance fighters now officially in the Bajoran military shows that many of the people still have trouble defining their loyalties, trying to work out the extent to which they must go along with a provisional government rather than focusing on the needs and goals of their own regions. Until these internal problems are better resolved – without outside help, as Sisko insists – it isn’t in Bajor’s best interests to try to define itself within the larger context of the Federation, not even with the Dominion threat looming. I do wish we’d heard a bit more of the specifics of Winn’s and Shakaar’s thinking about who should make decisions about he soil reclamators. It’s pretty clear that Shakaar isn’t a Bajor-for-Bajorans type like Jaro was, but I’d love to have heard more specifics about how he’d compromise on an issue that doesn’t involve guns in people’s faces.
Even though I’ve watched all of Winn’s episodes over and over because she’s one of the most interesting characters (certainly one of the most interesting women) I’ve ever seen on television, I’m still not sure whether she’s a hard-nosed leader with a genuine belief in the moral and spiritual value of her actions for her people or whether she’s well over the line into megalomania and doesn’t care about anyone’s welfare but her own. When we first saw her attempting to assassinate Bareil to secure her own position as the next Kai, she seemed purely ruthless, spouting religious dogma less because she believed it than because it fit in with her personal ambitions. But while she was aligned with Jaro, she seemed determined to follow the will of the Prophets and her hatred of the Cardassians for what they did to Bajor was apparent. The fact that she keeps trying to make an ally of Kira – particularly now, when as First Minister she could probably have Kira reassigned just as easily as Jaro did – makes me think better of her; Winn may keep calling on Kira for selfish reasons, just as she did with Bareil when she needed a negotiator, but she’s shrewd enough to recognize their intelligence and confident enough to believe that she can manipulate them instead of desperately needing them out of the way. It’s fascinating to watch the push and pull of her relationship with her gods, the Prophets, whom she both loves and resents. In “Shakaar” she seems truly to believe that they are testing her, and that a show of strength rather than compassion is what they want; I wish we knew what shaped that belief, what circumstances of her own survival of the Occupation turned her into this kind of leader.
It seems clear that Winn did not have the sort of support group that Kira and Shakaar shared with Lupaza, Furel, and the others in their Resistance cell. The relationships among them are intense, even a bit incestuous – I’ve never been sure whether Lupaza and Furel were present-tense as well as past-tense lovers, and Dukat claimed at one point that Shakaar had slept with all the women in the Resistance cell except Kira. They are entirely convincing as former comrades who know each other much too well, who would die for one another but perhaps have trouble living with one another after all they’ve seen together. I love the way the episode approaches what it means to these people to be veterans together, personified first in the way Shakaar and Kira find themselves unable to shoot at Lenaris, then in Lenaris’s refusal to treat them like his prisoners when they have always been heroes to himself and to much of Bajor. There’s a truly shocking moment when a soldier’s gun goes off, then an even more shocking moment when nobody else shoots while the leaders on both sides shout for weapons to be lowered. It’s not the sort of grandiose, cliched instant peace that Kirk and Picard used to achieve with a single speech, but believable human(oid) behavior with lots of difficult work just ahead. If I’m giving short shrift to the episode’s very minor B storyline, O’Brien’s brief foray “in the zone” when his success at darts makes Quark a lot of money until Bashir insists that O’Brien needs surgery before he permanently damages his shoulder, it’s because those relationships seem like such fluff despite three seasons of TV development compared to the passionate ties and loose ends among the Bajorans…even compared to Sisko and Kira, who despite barely speaking as these events unfold are evidently on precisely the same page when it comes to Kira’s sense of obligation to Bajor and Bajor’s need to forge its own path.