“In the Hands of the Prophets”
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by David Livingston
Season 1, Episode 19
Production episode 40511-420
Original air date: June 20, 1993
Station log: The O’Briens stop by the Promenade so O’Brien can get a jumja stick, which—he’s reliably informed by Neela—is a natural sweetness. Neela is working out better than “the last one” (presumably Anara), as she’s an excellent engineer. Keiko teases O’Brien about being careful who he shares his jumja with and then goes off to teach. Today’s lesson is about the wormhole, and it’s interrupted by Vedek Winn Adami, who objects to Keiko’s secular discussion of the wormhole—to Bajorans, the wormhole is the Celestial Temple and the aliens Sisko met in “Emissary” are the Prophets. Keiko tartly points out that teaching Bajoran spiritual beliefs is Winn’s job, not Keiko’s, and Winn just as tartly says that Keiko’s opening the kids’ minds to blasphemy, which she can’t allow to continue.
O’Brien joins Neela in Odo’s office, where she’s already finished a repair to one of the security systems. A special tool is needed to close the panel—but it’s missing from O’Brien’s toolbox.
Keiko goes to Sisko, who brings Kira into the discussion. Winn is from an orthodox order, and one of the candidates to become the new kai. Kira is singularly unhelpful, since she’s actually on Winn’s side of the argument, and thinks that maybe there should be a separate school for Bajorans—which Sisko rejects immediately. Keiko is livid at the notion of being dictated to about how to run her school.
Sisko meets with Winn, who calls Sisko the Emissary, and makes it clear that if Keiko doesn’t de-secularize her curriculum, she can’t be held responsible for the consequences—a very obvious threat.
O’Brien and Neela are still looking for the missing tool, and now there’s also a missing officer—Ensign Aquino hasn’t reported for duty, isn’t on the station, and didn’t log out. They find a tritanium source in a conduit, where it shouldn’t be, and they find a misshapen lump that appears to be the tool, all nice and melted-like by the conduit. O’Brien also finds traces of organic matter, and sends a sample to Bashir, who confirms that that lump is also all that’s left of Aquino. His last log entry was that he was going to work on that very conduit, and he apparently got zapped by the plasma.
The next morning, O’Brien shares all this with Keiko while he walks her to school—and then O’Brien is refused a jumja stick by the merchant. O’Brien is livid, and has to be physically restrained from hauling off and belting the merchant by Keiko—who is then confronted with Winn leading a demonstration outside her school. Winn requests that Keiko not teach anything about the wormhole, secular or religious, but Keiko won’t back down. Winn says she’s tried to be reasonable, which she totally hasn’t, and then takes all the Bajoran students out of the school. Only five students, including Jake, are left.
O’Brien is iffy about Aquino’s death—he took a tool without asking, which is spectacularly out of character. It’s enough for Sisko to request that Odo investigate Aquino’s death, just to be sure. (Anyone who thinks this is too thin to base starting an investigation on has obviously never known any engineers…)
Jake talks to Sisko about his day at school. Keiko’s response to Winn was to teach her remaining five students about Galileo. Jake condemns Bajoran religion as “dumb,” but Sisko tells him he can’t afford to think that way. Belief in the Prophets was one of the things that kept Bajorans going during the occupation, and their unique interpretation of time means that “prophet” is an apt term for the aliens Sisko met in the wormhole. Besides, condemning Bajoran religion out of hand make him no better than Winn.
Sisko travels to Bajor to meet with Vedek Bareil, the leading candidate to become the next kai. Sisko wants to address the vedek assembly, but Bareil says that’s not possible. Some fear him because he represents the Federation, some fear him because he’s the Emissary, and some fear him because Winn told them to. Bareil can’t afford to be Sisko’s friend right now, not if he wants to actually be kai. (“The Prophets teach us patience,” Bareil says sagely, to which Sisko replies snidely, “It appears they also teach you politics.”)
Three Bajorans called in sick to work, which does not fill Sisko with warm fuzzies, and he tells Kira in no uncertain terms that they’d better get well soon. Odo and Bashir then report that Aquino wasn’t killed by the plasma—he was killed by a directed energy weapon and then his body was placed in the conduit to hide the evidence. Odo also traced Aquino’s movements, and—the log entry notwithstanding—he wasn’t at the conduit to repair it, he was at Runabout Pad C. O’Brien and Neela investigate the pad and don’t find anything. But later, O’Brien runs an across-the-board diagnostic, and finds a security bypass on Pad A. It doesn’t make sense to O’Brien, since Aquino didn’t go there, but Odo puts it together: Aquino saw a security anomaly at Pad C and investigated, caught the saboteur in the act, and was killed. After disposing of Aquino’s body in the conduit, the saboteur moved to a different pad. But no runabouts are missing, so it’s unclear what the bypass was for.
Further speculation is interrupted by an explosion on the Promenade. Someone blew up the school. Luckily, class wasn’t in session. The evidence points to a simple homemade bomb, which means anyone could’ve done it. Winn expresses relief that the Prophets were kind enough to keep the school empty, but Sisko angrily retorts that the Prophets had nothing to do with what happened. This was the act of a disturbed mind who listened to Winn. Sisko sees the leader of an obscure order who’s gotten more attention from this series of incidents than she’s gotten in a long time; Winn counters that she sees a Federation without a soul and she refuses to let them drag Bajor into their darkness.
Sisko then gives an awesome speech about how the Bajorans on the station have worked together these past few months. They don’t always agree, and they have a lot of nasty-ass arguments (Sisko looks right at Kira when he says that.) But they come away from those fights with a better understanding of each other. Sisko makes it clear that the school will reopen, and Keiko plans to hold classes in the cargo bay until the school can be rebuilt.
Bareil comes to the station. Sisko is pleasantly surprised, and says they won’t have time to clean up the Promenade damage. Bareil says he can help with the clean-up—it’s the least a friend can do. That gets a smile from Sisko, as it’s his first victory since this whole thing started.
Neela meets with Winn and tells her that they found out about the runabout, so she no longer has an escape route. Winn makes it clear that she must go through with what they have planned even though she’ll likely be caught and executed.
Bareil arrives on the station to great accolades—he’s obviously very popular—and meets with Winn, asking her to join him in front of the school where perhaps they can find a peaceful solution to this mishegoss.
O’Brien finds a program in the security subsection that’s encrypted and password-protected—on O’Brien’s authority, supposedly, but he knows nothing about it. Dax is able to hack through the encryption, and they discover an override of force fields to provide an escape route. They scan the Promenade and find an override of some kind in the security office. O’Brien goes to check it while Dax searches for anything else that might have gone wrong. He finds the anomaly in the very same section that Neela repaired the other day, and it’s affecting the weapons detectors in the Promenade. They read as normal, and O’Brien realizes that his assistant is a saboteur—and possibly a murderer. O’Brien informs Sisko, who finds Neela in the crowd, whipping out a phaser. Her first shot is spoiled by the crowd around her, and it just misses Bareil. Sisko takes her down as she gets another shot off, which fires harmlessly to the deck. As Odo carts her away, she keeps repeating, “The Prophets spoke to me, I answered their call” over and over.
Kira is livid, as she realizes that the whole thing, all the way back to the bitching and moaning about the school, was a plot by Winn to get Bareil out of his monastery and onto the station so he could be assassinated, getting rid of her primary competition for kai.
Later Sisko talks to Kira. Neela insists she was working alone. Kira marvels at how much has changed in the past year, and she wishes her faith was as strong as Winn’s. Sisko insists that it is, and the two of them go off together to write a report for Starfleet.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: You need an EJ7 interlock to completely seal a wall panel for a secure system (including the ones in Odo’s office). Presumably it supplies extra security and also lets security know if someone has improperly shut a panel after, say, sabotaging it.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Winn and Bareil both refer to Sisko as the Emissary of the Prophets, and it’s a role that Sisko isn’t at all comfortable with. His initial discomfort, and growing acceptance of the role, will be a running theme throughout the series.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira goes right along with Winn at first, believing that Keiko should modify her curriculum. However, as soon as Neela tries to kill Bareil, she realizes what’s going on. She later tells Sisko that she wishes her faith was as strong as Winn’s, but it’s actually stronger—Kira, at least, didn’t use a veneer of faith to cover up a move that was purely motivated by cut-throat politics.
Rules of Acquisition: Odo tells Quark to keep his ears open for any news about Aquino’s murder, and Quark assures him that that’s the Seventh Rule of Acquisition.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: When members of Winn’s order show up on the station to support her, Quark opines that he’s going to need twice as many dabo girls. “These spiritual types love those dabo girls.”
Keep your ears open: “Are you okay?”
“Okay? I’ve forgotten okay. I haven’t seen okay in what seems like years.”
Sisko asking a standard rhetorical question, and Kira giving a way more honest answer than is normal.
Welcome aboard: Two recurring characters have their debut in this one: Louise Fletcher (best known for her Oscar-winning role as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as Winn and Philip Anglim as Bareil, both of whom will continue to show up periodically. In addition, Robin Christopher returns as Neela, having made a cameo in “Duet,” and of course we have Rosalind Chao as Keiko.
Trivial matters: Surprisingly, given how much of an important underpinning of the show it is, it is not formally established until this episode that Bajorans consider the wormhole aliens who spoke to Sisko to be the Prophets of their religion and the wormhole to be the Celestial Temple. This is also the first time since the pilot that Sisko has been explicitly referred to as the Emissary. Kevin G. Summers wrote a story called “Ha’mara” in the Prophecy and Change anthology that had Kai Opaka officially declare the wormhole to be the Celestial Temple found and Sisko to be the Emissary, a story that takes place some time between “Emissary” and “Battle Lines.”
This episode establishes the Bajoran religious structure, which bears a strong resemblance to the medieval Catholic church: led by a kai, as we already learned in “Emissary,” but also with vedeks who serve as cardinals to the kai’s pope. Like the medieval church, the religious authorities have a strong influence over Bajor’s politics.
A new kai has to be elected following Opaka’s disappearance in “Battle Lines.” Bareil and Winn will continue to fight for the hearts and minds of the Bajoran religious faithful, with a decision finally to be made in “The Collaborator.”
Winn claims to have been spoken to by the Prophets, but she’ll later admit (in “The Reckoning” and “’Til Death Do Us Part”) that the Prophets have never spoken to her.
Walk with the Prophets: “We are neither the enemy nor the devil.” A nice bookend to “Emissary,” and a good setup of future storylines involving Bajor. The analogy to debates in the U.S. over the role of science vs. religion in schools is (depressingly) just as relevant now as it was twenty years ago, and if anything, not enough is done with it. This was a blown opportunity, really, as it was a chance to make Keiko’s ridiculous role as a schoolteacher actually meaningful, but it’s really only two scenes (and an off-camera decision to teach about Galileo) before assassination plots and religious politics take over. I’m especially disappointed that Kira never has a resolution scene with Keiko, especially given that Kira’s going to be carrying Keiko’s baby in a couple years. Kira was really snotty and condescending to Keiko in Sisko’s office, and that scene really needed a followup.
Still, we do get the introduction of two important new characters. Philip Anglim is hit-or-miss as Bareil, but this is one of his better performances. His conversation with Sisko in the monastery is brilliantly done, with his serenity act serving the dialogue well. (Avery Brooks is a nice contrast, as he’s frustrated with Bareil’s unwillingness to do anything. I particularly love Bareil telling him to stay in the garden as long as he wants, and Sisko looking around trying to force himself to enjoy the lovely view of foliage and failing because he’s too damned pissed.)
And Louise Fletcher is deliciously evil as Winn. I would’ve preferred not to have had the scene in the station temple that confirmed Neela’s being the saboteur and Winn giving her blessing to, in essence, three deaths (Aquino’s, Bareil’s, and Neela’s when she’s caught and condemned), because I like the idea that nobody’s entirely sure how much of a bad guy Winn is. She cloaks everything in reasonableness and kindness and forgiveness, even as she pulls the “I tried to be reasonable” card when she offers a totally absurd concession that is justifiably rejected by Keiko, and then throws up her hands saying that she tried to compromise and oh well!
Neela’s role as the saboteur is less than compelling, since she’s the only character we don’t know. Had the original intention of seeding O’Brien’s assistant back in “The Forsaken” worked out, that element of the story might’ve worked better, but because we only saw her for two lines in “Duet,” she’s so obviously the saboteur by virtue of being the only new person. Also, Robin Christopher just isn’t all that good….
Brooks also deserves tremendous credit for his speech to Winn about how the Bajorans and Federation have been working together in fits and starts. It’s delivered compellingly, and compassionately, and really sells what the show’s about.
After years of ever-diminishing season-ending cliffhangers on TNG, it’s refreshing to end a Star Trek season with a story that’s actually an endpoint, bookending nicely with “Emissary” while beautifully setting up what’s to come. (Indeed, this is very much a prelude to the three-parter that opens the second season.)
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at WizardWorld NYC on Sunday at 2pm to do a panel on “Storytelling Across Genres” with fellow writers Myke Cole, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Kaila Hale-Stern, moderated by Cici James of Singularity & Co. Come on by!