Dukat becomes the leader of the Pah-Wraith cult and has Kira abducted to Empok Nor in an effort to convert her.
Plot Summary: After discussing her faith with Odo, who regrets that he doesn’t share it, Kira receives a visit from her childhood teacher Vedek Fala, who tricks her with a gift into transporting to Empok Nor. There, Kira finds herself amidst members of the cult of the Pah-wraiths, who have made Dukat their master. Telling Kira that he wants to help her understand that the Prophets are not true gods, Dukat explains that the Pah-wraiths wanted to save her people from suffering during the Occupation, but Kira points out that Dukat himself caused the suffering and says she trusts the Prophets. She believes Dukat intends to use the Pah-wraiths to rule Bajor again and tells Fala of her disgust that he would follow a group that has condoned killing the Emissary. Kira’s discovery that Dukat demands celibacy and obedience from his followers comes as no surprise, though she is horrified when the cult members attack her to defend Dukat and curious why only one couple has been permitted the honor of conceiving a child. The answer becomes obvious when Mika gives birth to a half-Cardassian infant, though Dukat insists (and Mika’s husband accepts) that this is a sign from the Pah-wraiths rather than a child fathered by Dukat. Though the Cardassian leader tells Kira that he is sorry if his actions caused her pain in her youth, he continues to insist that his destiny and Bajor’s are entwined and that all his Bajoran mistresses, including Kira’s mother, truly loved him. Fala insists that Kira’s stubbornness makes her incapable of seeing a miracle when it’s right before her eyes – if the Prophets could make a Dominion fleet disappear, surely the Pah-wraiths could give a Bajoran child Cardassian features – but Dukat soon reveals how little he has changed, apologizing to Mika for having impregnated her moments before trying to suffocate her in an airlock. Kira finds her unconscious body and saves her life, winning her the trust of some of Mika’s friends. When Dukat concludes that he must kill this group of followers while saving himself so that he can continue to perform the work of the Pah-wraiths, Kira breaks out of her room and exposes his plan, causing them all to turn on Dukat except for Fala, who chooses death. Dukat beams himself away, leaving Kira to comfort the others until the Defiant arrives to rescue her.
Analysis: Dukat may be the most evil character I’ve ever seen on television. He’s not the most bloodthirsty, as he likes to point out himself, nor is he the most vicious, misguided or perverse even among Star Trek’s adversaries. As tyrants go, Dukat doesn’t have the ambitions of an Apollo or a Q, let alone God – you know, the one whose butt Kirk kicked in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – and even with the Dominion behind him, Dukat has trouble doing as much damage as the Borg Queen or Species 8472 could do if destroying humanoid civilization were their top priority. Yet Dukat embodies the worst qualities of the most terrifying people from human history, and now he adds cult leader to a resume that already includes murderer, kidnapper, serial abuser of women, slave master and brutal dictator, feeling more secure than ever in his belief that his actions are not only acceptable but admirable because his cause is righteous. All that said, and I really hate to admit this, he’s still riveting. He should be nothing but terrifying and despicable, yet when he says that it pains him to have caused suffering both to Bajorans in general and to Kira Meru in particular during the Occupation, he’s earnest and sad. He believes that he has been touched by a god and that the power conferred by that contact justifies his every action, past and future. In a cautionary tale about the dangers of charismatic leaders, he’s a perfect representative. For a few horrible episodes a few seasons back, it looked as if the writers were trying to rehabilitate the character – it looked as if the writers believed the character could be rehabilitated, despite being responsible for untold thousands of Bajoran deaths – so what a relief it is not only to hear Kira say that some things are unforgivable, but to have Dukat continue to demonstrate the reasons such people are so terrifying. After the problematic yet unforgettable “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night,” in which Dukat decides to torture Kira personally by revealing his relationship with her mother and Kira decides it’s not up to her to meddle with history but to leave it in the hands of the Prophets, it’s no surprise to see Dukat return to his obsessive need to be loved by the people of Bajor and in particular by Kira, whom he’s obsessed with conquering in every possible way.
Thus we get an episode that works both as a stand-alone – like DS9’s earlier “Paradise” as well as the original series’ “The Way To Eden” – warning about the hazards of cult mentality complete with a drink-the-Kool-Aid scene, and as an installment in the Bajoran religious arc which has been prominent on the series since the very beginning. Plus it’s a great Kira story, touching on everything from her faith to her troubled childhood to her background as a freedom fighter, and it gives Dukat the layers of subtlety and bursts of brilliance that make him so compelling to watch and so hard to dismiss. Popular entertainment has been telling us for decades that powerful men are sexy even when they’re crazy and dangerous, even when they abuse that power. Marc Alaimo and Nana Visitor manage simultaneously to convince us that Dukat is sexy to an attractive, ostensibly happily married woman like Mika (“ostensibly” because I share Kira’s incredulity that spiritual fulfillment trumps physical intimacy for every one of those followers of the Pah-wraiths, though Fala suggests that asceticism was once common among Bajorans, so maybe there’s a biological element to it) and that Dukat is a sleazy, repulsive abuser who never stops treating women as property to be exploited and discarded. His confidence is magnetic, his abandonment to pleasure seems liberating; he really believes all the self-justifying crap that comes out of his mouth. At this point in the series, we have no way of knowing whether the Pah-wraiths are indeed speaking to Dukat or whether his psychotic break is so complete that he hears voices in his head. Kira thinks it doesn’t matter: whether the Pah-wraith worshipers are misguided sociopaths like the young man who tried to kill Sisko or whether they’re touched by malevolent power like the sort that allowed Dukat to kill Jadzia Dax, they are dangerous to Bajor, the Federation, and the wormhole aliens who saved Starfleet from a Dominion invasion. Perhaps the Pah-wraiths do suggest to Dukat that he kill Mika and the rest of his followers to cover his tracks, or perhaps he comes up with that idea on his own, then tells himself that a higher power must have put the thought into his mind. The end result is the same.
It’s only through Kira’s ingenuity and bravery that all those lives are saved. Part of me wishes she’d killed Dukat then and there while she had the chance, even though his followers would likely have taken her life for it. Dukat has already rationalized the deaths of millions of Bajorans and the enslavement of millions more; nearly as atrociously, he’s sold out his own people to a debilitating alliance with the Dominion just so he can have the opportunity to return to Bajor as the messiah he’s always imagined himself to be. Of course he wouldn’t blink at plotting the deaths of a few dozen followers whom he believes truly love him, just as he mistook the fear of Kira’s suffering mother for love. Fala finds death easier than pondering how wrong he may have been about how Dukat and the Pah-wraiths have used Bajorans. Though Kira admires the vedek because he treats faith as a journey, she’s the one whose beliefs evolve without ever becoming rigid or dogmatic. She knows that she can question the Prophets without denying them. Her reaction to the cult of the Pah-wraiths, even forgetting Dukat’s position as their leader, is horror at their blind obedience and willful dismissal of facts they know to be true; she may agree to keep an open mind about the Pah-wraiths, but a baby changed in the womb to appear Cardassian contradicts science. Even when she thinks Dukat intends to die with his followers, she doesn’t believe he’s truly shedding his flesh to join with his gods, so there’s no feeling of sympathy or exoneration, despite the fact that she has allowed her body to be overtaken by a Prophet and fought a Pah-wraith inside Jake Sisko. To her, this cult too closely echoes the Occupation – a self-serving Cardassian ruling over Bajorans – for her to consider that there’s any validity in what Dukat has to say. If anything, his madness reinforces her faith in the Prophets. It’s nice to see that happening for a change without Sisko, who is scarcely mentioned and takes little role in this storyline apart from authorizing a search for his missing first officer. He may be the Emissary, but, as in “Duet” and “Necessary Evil,” Kira is the one accustomed to taking the weight of Bajoran history onto her shoulders, gritting her teeth, and filtering through all the lies to the truth.