It’s a heavy-handed morality play about the futility of war, which is not exactly a new concept for Star Trek to tread. Although, in this case, there’s a stinging irony that DS9 actually has an episode like this in its catalog.
I mean, it’s not like DS9 has already posed the argument that violence is sometimes necessary, right? I mean, geez, what are we supposed to believe? That the Bajoran resistance sat around knitted until the Cardassians gave up and went home? The Bajorans weren’t actually sitting around and non-violently protesting in a Ghandi-like way, were they?
And let’s not even get into the ‘war arc’ which took up more than half of the series run, shall we?
Despite my annoyance of the same-old-same-old plot that’s been done by Star Trek in all its incarnations approximately a zillion times before (not to mention the fact that DS9 has already taken the stance that wars of survival are wars of necessity — and that’s not even taking into account later seasons), there is something very cool about technology that won’t let you die as a form of punishment.
Episode 12: Battle Lines
The short and skinny: Kai Opaka, Spiritual Leader of All Bajor and the lady who sent Sisko off to find the Celestial Temple of the Prophets (aka, the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant) by informing him that he’s been chosen to be “the Emissary” (not that Sisko’s been quick to advertise that to anyone) decides to leave her planet for the first time ever and come to Deep Space Nine for an unannounced visit by hitching a ride with Dr. Bashir.
And she wants to see Sisko.
While background Bajorans are bowing in the Kai’s general direction every time she walks by, and while Kira vibrates with sheer joy because she gets to hang out with the Kai while Sisko shows the Spiritual Leader of All Bajor around the station, Kai Opaka makes a strange request: she wants Sisko to take her through the wormhole.
Sisko, who really should learn to just say “no” to this woman, agrees and invites Kira along. Dr. Bashir jumps up and down like an excited puppy until Sisko gives in and lets him come along as well.
Do I have to tell you that the trip goes horrendously wrong? I’m sure I don’t.
But the real fun is just how wrong it goes.
After picking up a mysterious signal on the Gamma Quadrant side of the wormhole (and at the urging of the Kai), Sisko and company decide to investigate. They find a planet surrounded by a network of satellites. When they get too close, they’re shot down and have to manage a barely controlled crash on the planet’s surface.
Did I mention that Kai Opaka is killed in the crash?
While Kira falls apart and Sisko and Bashir contemplate just how quickly Starfleet is going to convene a firing squad as a means to ending their respective careers, the armed and dangerous Ennis show and take them captive.
As it turns out, however, the Ennis aren’t bad guys. They’re just really, really paranoid. They’re in a running war with their neighbors, the Nol-Ennis that’s so violent that they turn up their noses at mere energy weapons like phasers because they’re not destructive enough. While explaining this, the Nol-Ennis attack and start killing everyone. They’re only saved when Kira drives the invaders off by collapsing part of a cavern ceiling on the invading forces using that “mere energy weapon” known as a phaser.
Just as Our Heroes realize that they’re in waaaaaay over their heads, Kai Opaka turns up. No, not Zombie!Kai Opaka. The real deal is back and she’s alive. Shortly after the Kai comes back from the dead, the dead Ennis — now the formerly dead Ennis — get to their feet.
To make a long story short, it turns out that Our Heroes have landed on a penal planet. Everyone — the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis — were basically forced onto this Godforsaken rock so they could serve as an example to others about the price of engaging in violent and never-ending war. As it turns out, the Ennis and Nol-Ennis are traditional enemies that waged war for so long that no one can even remember how the whole business started. Although it’s never said what changed, the biggest and the baddest fighters were sent here and condemned to never die. Why do they never die? Because when they do, they become “infected” with artificial microbes that will keep resurrecting them long after they die their first death.
This revelation causes Bashir to go into puppy-mode because microbes that don’t let you die? FANTASTIC! As the good doctor puppies off to the crashed runabout in hopes of getting the computer up and running so he can analyze the synthetic microbes, all of the Ennis are “The hell? What’s good about this?” Even so, they indulge the doc and agree to be his body guards.
Meanwhile, Sisko decides to offer the Ennis a deal: Help us and we’ll help you get off this moon. The catch? The Nol-Ennis have to be in on it.
After much grumbling, the Ennis agree to set up the peace summit, with Sisko brokering the deal. And Kira, who’s been an absolute ass to her hosts, is ordered to stay with the Kai.
Do I have to tell you that the “peace summit” goes horribly, horribly wrong and the two sides end up killing each other?
For those of you keeping score at home, the Deep Space Nine folks are now running 0-4 in successful First Contact situations.
Right in the middle of the firefight, Dr. Bashir emerges from his research on the shuttle craft, yanks Sisko out of harm’s way and immediately shares the horrible news: the mechanical microbes are environment-specific. Once you die, get infected, and come back to life you can’t ever leave the planet. Which makes the penal colony they’re on like the Hotel California in a way.
Know what this means? Kai Opaka is stuck here with two violent groups of people intent on killing each other over and over and over again.
As it turns out, the Kai isn’t fussed about staying behind. She reveals that she insisted on the wormhole trip knowing that she wasn’t going back home. It appears that the Prophets have informed her that her job is to fix these people and teach ‘em how to live again.
Gee. How do you think Bajor is going to take the news? And just how big do you think the blowback is going to be?
If you answered: A) Not well; and B) Huge, you’re correct on both points.
Granted, you don’t see it in this episode, but Kai Opaka’s decision to “answer the call of the Prophets” and the Deep Space Nine crew’s “losing” her to a war without end is going to haunt Our Heroes right up to the very last second of the very last episode in the series.
Despite my ambivalence, there are some good points in the episode:
- According to a number of different Star Trek trivia sites, the Federation is defined for the very first time in this very episode: “The Federation’s made up of over a hundred planets who have allied themselves for mutual scientific, cultural and defensive benefits.” (What? Really? Defined for the first time ever? Holy cow! I didn’t know that!)
- The fact that a simple request “Take me through the wormhole” will have lasting repercussions not just for Sisko, Bashir, and Kira — but for everyone on Deep Space Nine and Bajor. One might even argue that by agreeing to the Kai’s request for a visit the Gamma Quadrant, Sisko sealed his fate in this very episode.
- If you’re keeping count, the crew from Deep Space Nine have had zero — that’s right, zero — successful First Contact experiences with denizens of the Gamma Quadrant. Right about now, it’s a safer bet that in any First Contact situation the Deep Space Nine folks are going to be MADE OF FAIL than it is to bet that they’re actually going to make shiny new Gamma Quadrant friends. It’s getting to the point where Sisko can write a book: 1,001 Ways to Screw-Up First Contact and Make New Enemies.
- When Sisko tells Dr. Bashir that he’s going to get the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis to stop fighting by promising to help them both off this planet, Bashir jokingly asks, “Isn’t that like participating in a jail break?” (Hey! It made me laugh.)
- Kira’s wail of despair when she realizes that the Kai has died, and the fact that her first instinct is to perform the Bajoran version of the Kaddish over the Kai’s body.
- Kira’s slow realization that she dislikes the Ennis because they remind her too much of herself. After all, as someone who fought in the resistance ever since she was strong enough to hold a gun, almost her entire life has been nothing but violence.
- Kira’s despairing confession to the Kai that she’s afraid the Prophets will never accept and forgive her for what she did during the occupation. It goes a long way to explaining her hostile relationship with Sisko during the first season. After all, he met the Prophets and is their chosen Emisary…the very same Prophets that Kira is afraid will ultimately reject her. Think of it as rejecting them before they can reject her.
- Kai Opaka hugging a sobbing Kira tight and telling her that she should except the violence that’s part of who she is, because if she doesn’t she’ll never get right with herself or the Prophets. (“They’re just waiting for you to forgive yourself.”)
- The fact that neither the Ennis or the Nol-Ennis actually don’t want to stop killing each other because they no longer fear death…so in their eyes everything they do is pointless, including dying.
- When Bashir proposes that he come up with a way to disable the microbes so everyone will be allowed to die, and the Ennis leader’s excitement that death would become a reality…for the Nol-Ennis. As he says, Bashir’s “cure” would be the ultimate weapon.
- Before Bashir, Sisko, and Kira beam away to the rescue ship, Kai Opaka’s serene smile showing her faith that the Prophets sent her to re-teach the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis to live again and that everything will work out eventually, and the haunting shot of her serene smile melting into a look of uncertainty while the sounds of bloody battle rages just after Sisko, Bashir, and Kira beam away. It’s an almost perfect recreation of a Twilight Zone shot.
While I remain ambivalent about the storyline for the episode, I come down on the side of liking it for what it is. Oh, not for the tired plot. It’s not engaging enough for that. But because the fall-out from this episode will be massive and lasting for everyone on Bajor and Deep Space Nine.