Demoted because of his half-Bajoran daughter, Dukat asks for Kira’s assistance in regaining his place as a leader on Cardassia.
Plot Summary: Shakaar persuades Kira to attend a conference where Bajoran operatives will share intelligence about the Klingons with other Bajorans and Cardassians. Dukat, who has been demoted after revealing the existence of his half-Bajoran daughter, Ziyal, is dispatched by the Cardassians to ferry her there. Kira is happy to see Ziyal again but much less pleased by Dukat’s aggressive flirtation. Yet when his freighter arrives at the outpost for the conference and they discover that all of the diplomats – Cardassian and Bajoran alike – have been killed in an attack, she agrees to help him pursue the Klingon Bird of Prey they find leaving the carnage. Kira suggests they take weapons from the heavily damaged outpost to install on the freighter and tries to teach Ziyal some basic self-defense, since she needs to be able to protect herself in her father’s aggressive world. Dukat suggests sending out a false signal to suggest to the Klingons that his freighter is carrying valuable dilithium, which lures the Bird of Prey in close. When the Klingons lock on a tractor beam, Dukat fires the enhanced disruptors, damaging the Klingon ship and enabling Dukat and Kira to beam their crew onto the Bird of Prey while beaming the Klingons onto Dukat’s freighter. Dukat then upsets Kira by blowing up the freighter, killing the Klingons, which Dukat believes is necessary to impress his government. But although the Cardassians agree to restore Dukat’s position as military advisor, they order him to stand down, planning to negotiate with the Klingons instead of seeking revenge for the murdered diplomats from the conference. Vowing to take on the Klingons by himself if necessary, Dukat asks Kira to join him before more Bajorans are killed, but Kira says that after the Occupation she has no wish for more bloodshed and asks to take the untrained Ziyal back to DS9 where the girl will be safe. Dukat reluctantly agrees, telling Kira that this means their lives are now entwined.
Analysis: When it first aired, I really disliked “Return to Grace” and its characterization of Kira; I thought that, along with the tight bodysuit and the more girly hairdo and the hunky boyfriend and the conciliatory dialogue, it was yet another step in turning Kira from an unapologetically strong, aggressive woman into one who was more palatable to the male viewers Star Trek was then aggressively courting, on Voyager as well as on Deep Space Nine. Nearly twenty years later, knowing how all these arcs are going to end – why Dukat is obsessed with Kira, what’s to be the fate of Ziyal, how the Klingon-Cardassian conflict will be resolved, whom the minor lackey assisting Dukat will become – it’s an entirely different story, and enjoyable as the groundwork for so much not yet written. In fact, the very gaps in “Return to Grace” create some of the problems that the writers will have to fix later with increasing creativity. So while I still wouldn’t say I love the episode, it’s pivotal to nearly every major storyline of the next few seasons, and I’m willing to pretend that, rather than having become conciliatory, maybe Kira is playing Dukat all along. Also, and here’s something I never would have dreamed I’d say before the last half of the seventh season, OH YES IT’S DAMAR! In this episode we are introduced to the character who perhaps changes most of all, even counting Dukat’s insane Pah-wraith conversion and cosmetic surgery. Damar in “Return to Grace” is remarkable mostly for being unremarkable: he follows Dukat’s orders, he doesn’t sneer overmuch at having a Bajoran on board, he’s polite to and works well with Ziyal, he doesn’t get drunk, he doesn’t appear to covet command. In other words, there’s nothing to hint at all that’s under the handsome exterior.
I’m allowed to notice the handsome exterior because the writers are trying so hard to shove Shakaar upon us as the perfect love interest for Kira, merely one week in TV time after deciding to pair them up, though already they seem to be noticing the problems they’ve created. We start off with Kira professing to Bashir that she’s not a diplomat, she’s attending this conference strictly as a favor to Shakaar – and not in his role as First Minister, but because he courted her – before Dukat says aloud the very thing that troubled me from the outset of Kira’s relationship with Shakaar, that she appears to have a real thing for men in positions of power. It’s surprising that Kira doesn’t protest Dukat’s appointment as her chauffeur in the first place – even if she feels she owes him for saving Ziyal and she trusts a crew of Cardassians to protect a new Bajoran ally, she knows that Dukat personally is a loose cannon in so many ways – and even more surprising that she doesn’t threaten his private parts when he starts hitting on her, which she’s done before. Maybe now that he’s no longer a powerful man among the Cardassians, she can’t even take him seriously. This isn’t the Kira we know, and matters just get worse after they learn of the Klingon attack, when Kira allows Dukat to set the agenda for retaliation even though she’s the high-ranking conference diplomat while he’s merely the guy sent to ferry her back and forth. It’s not all bad – she demonstrates a lot of technical and weapons knowledge, she shows off her martial arts skills for Ziyal – but she was more aggressive trying to talk Tom Riker out of starting a war with the Cardassians and she had better chemistry with Dukat all along than she’s ever shown with Shakaar. Where is the character from “Past Prologue” and “Duet” and “Necessary Evil” who would have gone absolutely berserk at the discovery that someone had killed Bajoran diplomats, and would have immediately wondered whether the Cardassians were somehow involved, peace treaty or no peace treaty?
Dukat is not at his sharpest either, though he’s handicapped by sub-par equipment and confusing paternal feelings for Ziyal. Kira seems far better informed not only about Klingon intelligence, but about Cardassian freighter technology; on the rare occasions when Kira barks out orders, he follows them. He seems to realize that all this Bajoran influence – maybe all this female influence – may have blunted his edges, but even so, I find it odd that he’s willing to let Ziyal go live among strangers so quickly. I’d expect him to fight harder to keep her and Kira both fighting at his side; if Shakaar has confidence that Kira can be a fine diplomat, Dukat has even greater confidence that her finest role is as a warrior and he’d rather be fighting with her than against her. When he says things about how the mention of Cardassia used to inspire fear, I can’t tell if he’s trying to impress Kira or trying to see if the old furious Kira is still there under the diplomat. She turns down his offer to join him not, as she should, because it’s an incredibly dangerous, foolhardy idea that is just going to get a lot of people killed, but because she’s tired of being a terrorist, which sounds like a cop-out; why doesn’t she fight with Dukat like she used to do, now that she knows she has his attention? It’s Ziyal with whom Kira quarrels about Dukat’s role in the Occupation, not Dukat himself. Supposedly the concept for this episode came from curiosity about what would have happened if Jews and Nazis were forced to work together shortly after the Holocaust – and the best the writers could come up with was flirtation and letting the Nazis try to start a new war? We should be seeing so much more of Kira’s anger and Dukat’s inherently selfish, vile, exploitative scheming. If it works, it’s because now it’s obvious that those things will return later with a vengeance.