A decision by Sisko to ignore the Prophets leads to the collapse of the wormhole and the death of a crewmember.
Plot Summary: After being chosen by Starfleet to lead an invasion of Cardassian space before the Dominion can bring new weapons platforms online, Sisko receives a vision from the Prophets warning him not to leave Bajoran space. Having just celebrated a Bajoran festival, Sisko is feeling his responsibilities to Bajor very strongly, but Admiral Ross warns him that he must choose whether he wants to be the Bajoran Emissary or a Starfleet captain. With Martok, Sisko persuades the Romulans to join the invasion fleet and prepares for battle, leaving Dax in command of the station. Meanwhile, as Weyoun and Damar prepare to deploy their new weapons, Dukat arrives to announce that the Cardassians possess a Bajoran relic that he believes can force the wormhole open, allowing the Dominion to take over the quadrant. When a skeptical Damar, who is relieved to be forgiven for Ziyal’s death, agrees to let him have the artifact, Dukat obtains a Bajoran statue, which shatters in his hand and releases a Pah-wraith that takes over his body. As Sisko’s fleet attacks the new Dominion weapons system amidst heavy losses on both sides, Dukat travels to Deep Space Nine, where he finds Dax following Kira’s advice to ask the Prophets for their blessing in trying to conceive a child. He shoots energy at her, then does the same to the orb to which she has been praying, turning it dark and causing the wormhole to collapse. On the bridge of the Defiant, Sisko collapses, leaving Kira to secure a Starfleet victory by having the Defiant crew find and destroy the power source for the Dominion weapons platforms. Martok takes troops to invade Cardassian territory while the Defiant, which has received an emergency message from Bashir, races back to a station and a world in chaos, for the Bajoran orbs have all gone dark and Jadzia is dying, though Bashir manages to save the Dax symbiont. Feeling that he has failed as both Emissary and Starfleet officer, Sisko decide that he needs to get away to find perspective on how to make things right, taking Jake to Earth to work in Joseph Sisko’s restaurant. A stunned Kira realizes that he took his baseball with him.
Analysis: I’ve known about everything that happens in “Tears of the Prophets” since it first aired, and I still bite my nails and shout advice at the characters onscreen when I watch it. This remains one of the best television episodes I’ve ever seen, though I suppose it’s impossible to evaluate apart from the short- and long-term arcs of which it is the pivotal point. It is apparent here that Deep Space Nine intends to fulfill the promise of the early Dominion War episodes – to give us a conflict that will equal the struggle with the Borg on The Next Generation – and, to my even greater satisfaction, to address the central issues of the series’ first episodes, Sisko’s role concerning Bajor and the Prophets along with Dukat’s determination to destroy everything he could not conquer. The loss of Jadzia is oddly anticlimactic in these circumstances, though perhaps that is inevitable from the moment Bashir announces that he was able to save the Dax symbiont. As tragic as it is to lose someone so young and so important to all the other characters, a Trill death comes with a built-in reset button and the understanding that though some things will change, some things will stay the same – the fact that Sisko has always called Jadzia “old man” is a testament to that. This is going to sound unnecessarily cruel, but if the show had to lose one of its regulars, I’m relieved that it was her. The fact that Terry Farrell, who’s always been solid and direct, played the character who became the most self-assured and reliable in a way condemned her to a lot of static material, portraying the serene scientist and occasional know-it-all. No wonder Worf, Bashir and Quark all adore the idea of Jadzia as a loving, stabilizing force in their lives. Taking her out, putting in a character who is Dax and at the same time is a complete unknown, creates yet another source of drama in a series that already has so many intersecting conflicts and tensions, all beautifully balanced in “Tears of the Prophets.”
At the core, this is Sisko’s episode, so let’s start with him (and with Avery Brooks’ exceptional performance). Forced to choose between his long-cultivated career choice, his life’s work as a Starfleet captain, versus his unsought and often unwanted role as the Emissary to Bajor’s Prophets, he chooses to follow orders instead of doing what he did when he warned Bajor not to join the Federation, infuriating his colleagues yet protecting what he deep down believes is most important. His decision proves disastrous, not for Starfleet (how wonderful to see that Kira is equally capable of leading the Defiant and its allies to victory in battle), but for Bajor and for Sisko personally. It isn’t as if he hasn’t been told that a price will be exacted for the Prophets’ aid in the past, and it isn’t as if he isn’t warned about the consequences of turning his back on the Prophets at this moment, yet he does what Starfleet officers usually do and follows his intellect over the uncertainty of spiritual guidance. When Kirk and Picard made similar choices, rejecting false gods for hard facts, it worked in their favor, yet this is a very different situation, for these gods aren’t tricksters like Q or condescending actors like the Organians. Weyoun and Damar debate whether the Prophets should indeed be considered gods, with Weyoun initially scoffing at the notion until Damar suggests that the Founders, too, should not be considered such. We, and Sisko, have seen repeatedly that the knowledge and power of the Prophets is real; the difference between Sisko and Weyoun is that Weyoun has been programmed to accept orders from his gods, whereas Sisko has been bred as a skeptic. As a Starfleet officer, he makes the right choice, for who could foresee Dukat’s treachery? Only a being that lives outside linear time and space. Sisko’s decision to reject their warning, not to see it quite literally as a gift from a higher power, changes him, and Bajor, and everyone whose lives they touch.
I can’t really blame him for needing to get away from it all in the end. Ross has made it clear that Starfleet won’t listen to the Emissary, and Captain Sisko can’t serve the Prophets. Two roads diverge, and Sisko doesn’t know whether he can travel one without abandoning the other to terrifying ends. So I feel a bit guilty that, instead of feeling completely awful when he packs up his baseball and goes home, there’s a small part of me rejoicing to see Kira Nerys acting as captain of Deep Space Nine and the Defiant. When he falters on the bridge, she steps up – not Worf, though he’s supposed to command the Defiant for Starfleet – and when he needs to get away from the station, it doesn’t seem to occur to Starfleet that anyone besides Kira should sit at his desk. All this plus she has the kind of relationship with Odo that I’ve always wanted to see a couple have on Star Trek – not perfect, not idyllic, they have a fight over work-related matters because he arrested a vedek at a festival and she thinks he overstepped, he’s so unused to humanoid relationships that he thinks she wants to leave him. None of this fazes Kira in the slightest – not having to balance work conflicts on a daily basis with her lover, not Odo’s distance and need for consolation, not having Odo ask point-blank whether she loves him (she ducks the question, but it’s evident from her smile that the answer is yes). Worf and Dax share only a few weeks of this kind of intimacy before they go into let’s-have-a-family mode, which is not unreasonable given that Bashir says they’re likely to have trouble conceiving, but we don’t get to see the ins and outs of their working relationship the way we do here with Kira and Odo. Worf idealizes Jadzia nearly as much as Bashir and Quark do; it’s doesn’t have the same gritty, messy honesty of Odo and Kira’s relationship, which spans a decade of confusion and betrayals and seeing one another doing things even worse than Klingon warriors might do in the name of honor.
Though we witness a big battle scene with several Starfleet and Klingon ships blasting apart in flames, the losses in “Tears of the Prophets” seem minor compared to what is to come. As hard as it is for Sisko to lose Dax, he must know how lucky he has been not to have lost anyone close to him thus far in the war. It seems ludicrous that he agrees to take Jake on his own ship, yet perhaps he feels safer with Jake beside him in the heart of the danger than he does when he can’t be certain what new threats Jake may face, having witnessed both a vision of Jake’s death in Benny Russell’s alternate reality and the possession of Jake by a Pah-wraith like the one that enables Dukat to attack the Prophets and kill Jadzia. It’s been obvious for some time that Dukat is insane, not merely megalomaniacal but obsessive. He forgives Damar for Ziyal’s death because that tragedy, like all things, must be blamed on the Emissary, whom Dukat perceives as the major obstacle to his personal subjugation of Bajor. How extraordinary that Marc Alaimo can continue to make the character charming while demonstrating Dukat’s terrifying, fanatical lunacy. Though the Cardassians are the long-running villains of this show, the character development of Dukat, Damar and Garak never stops being a joy to watch. In this, the show remains Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek despite going to a much darker place than Roddenberry ever allowed the original series to go, a place where negotiation and devotion to peaceful solutions are simply impossible, where many of the sacrifices the characters will be forced to make involve not physical losses but compromises and violations of previously held ideals. Sisko doesn’t realize it yet, but his personal Kobayashi Maru test is only beginning.