Mar 21 2014 3:00pm

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Accession”

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Accession“Accession”
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Les Landau
Season 4, Episode 16
Production episode 40514-489
Original air date: February 24, 1996
Stardate: unknown

Station log: Keiko’s project on Bajor has ended, and she and Molly return to the station to announce that Keiko is pregnant. O’Brien is surprised—she was only there the one night the last time she came back to the station, and he thought they’d need to make more attempts—but happy.

Vedek Porta brings a couple who just got married to Sisko so they can get the Emissary’s blessing, which Sisko awkwardly provides. (Porta tells Sisko his accent is getting much better.)

An old Bajoran sailing ship comes tumbling out of the wormhole. Remote sensors indicate that nobody entered the wormhole. There’s one passenger, who is beamed to the infirmary. His name is Akorem Laan, and he claims to be the Emissary. He found the wormhole two hundred years ago after his ship suffered through an ion storm in the Denorios Belt. His description of his encounter with the wormhole aliens, or the Prophets, is very similar to Sisko’s in “Emissary,” but he only just left Bajor a few days earlier—yet two centuries have passed. Akorem is shocked to learn that his poetry has survived two centuries. He’s equally shocked to learn that Bajorans no longer use the d’jarras—the strict caste system that was abandoned during the Cardassian occupation.

Sisko is relieved—the prophecies regarding the Emissary make much more sense with Akorem than they do with Sisko, starting with the fact that Akorem is actually Bajoran.

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Accession

Bashir invites O’Brien into Quark’s for a drink to celebrate his impending fatherhood, but O’Brien seems less than thrilled. He was hoping to have Keiko to himself for a bit now that Molly is getting older.

Akorem makes his first speech as Emissary. He feels that Bajor has lost its way in the wake of the “wound” that was the Cardassian occupation and calls for a return to the d’jarras. That will allow Bajorans to return to the path the Prophets laid out for them, and will serve to return to the time before the occupation, to erase the wounds Cardassia inflicted. Akorem and Porta also tell Sisko that the plan is to make the d’jarras enforceable by law over time, with deportation mentioned as the remedy for those who refuse to follow their ordained path. Sisko points out that such discriminatory practices would lead to the Federation rejecting Bajor’s petition for membership.

The effects start to spread around the station. Kira is nonplussed by a person from a lower d’jarra giving up a seat in the replimat for her. But she also will do as the Emissary says, because she has faith that the Prophets are guiding him. To that end, she tries to fulfill her d’jarra and be an artisan, but her attempts at sculpture are very not good. Porta tells her that she hasn’t given herself completely over to her d’jarra: she needs to resign her commission.

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Accession

Sisko has a vivid hallucination in which Opaka appears, asking him who he is. Bashir diagnoses it as an orb shadow—people who’ve encountered the Orbs of the Prophets have experienced such symptoms before.

O’Brien finds himself with nothing to do in his own home, as Molly wants to color by herself and Keiko has some final paperwork to do for the survey. He looks longingly at one of his holosuite costumes—which Keiko notices. Later, O’Brien shares a quick drink with Bashir, and they lament that they don’t play darts together or go on the holosuite now that Keiko and Molly are back.

Starfleet is displeased with Sisko because Bajor is now moving away from membership, and his assignment here was supposed to be getting Bajor ready to join the Federation. To make matters worse, Kira announces that she plans to resign and apprentice as an artisan.

Porta kills a fellow vedek, who is from an unclean d’jarra, but refused to give up his vedekhood. Porta doesn’t view himself as having done anything wrong. Sisko is left with no choice but to challenge Akorem’s position as Emissary. But he doesn’t want to divide Bajor by forcing them to choose—instead he invites Akorem to join him in the wormhole so they can ask the Prophets directly.

They take a runabout into the wormhole and wait, eventually encountering the Prophets, who, as usual, take the form of familiar faces in an orange glow. Akorem claims he found them first and Sisko found them later, but the aliens have no concept of first and later. They say that they sent Akorem forward in time for “the Sisko.” Akorem realizes that he isn’t the Emissary, but that he was sent to show Sisko that he needs to embrace being the Emissary. At Sisko’s request, the Prophets send Akorem back to his own time to live out his life, see his wife again.

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Accession

Keiko, seeing just how much O’Brien and Bashir miss hanging out together, tells each of them that the other one has seemed a bit depressed, and maybe he should cheer the other one up and spend some time together. It works like a charm, and Keiko is left to do her work in peace.

Kira gives Sisko one of her awful bird sculptures. “It’s an original Kira Nerys,” she says solemnly. “It might be worth a lot some day.” Sisko dryly replies, “I hear she didn’t make many.” Sisko gave a speech spelling out what happened in the wormhole, and relieves everyone on Bajor when he tells them that the Prophets do not want a return to the d’jarras. Akorem also was able to write more poetry by virtue of the Prophets returning him home, which Sisko is reading when Kira joins him in Quark’s.

Sisko also happily agrees to show up for a young girl’s coming-of-age ceremony to give her the Emissary’s blessing.

The Sisko is of Bajor: This is the first time the Prophets say that they are of Bajor and that “the Sisko” is of Bajor. Sisko finally accepts that his role is that of Emissary of the Prophets.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: In “The Circle,” Kira said she has no artistic talent whatsoever, and she spends her temporary time as a member of the artisans’ d’jarra proving it with some really awful bird sculptures.

There is no honor in being pummeled: When told that Keiko is having a baby, Worf goes into a severe panic. “Now?” he asks, recalling Keiko’s last time giving birth and his critical role in it. He’s relieved that it’s not for seven months, and he announces fervently that he’ll be far away from the station when the baby’s due. (As it happens, he won’t be, which is a blown opportunity, but we’ll discuss that when we get to “The Begotten.”)

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo has trouble comprehending how Kira can so easily go from believing Sisko is the Emissary to believing that Akorem is. Kira replies by paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas’s line, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Rules of Acquisition: Quark reminisces about reading children’s stories to Nog when he was a baby: “See Brak acquire. Acquire, Brak, acquire!”

What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Bashir and O’Brien are so caught up in playing World War I flying ace in the holosuite that they have to rush to finish tidying up O’Brien’s quarters in preparation for Keiko’s return.

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Accession

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Apparently the O’Briens only needed one night of nookie to conceive. Wah-HEY!

Keep your ears open: “No more ceremonies to attend, no more blessings to give. No more prophecies to fulfill. I’m just a Starfleet officer again; all I have to worry about are the Klingons, the Dominion and the Maquis. I feel like I’m on vacation.”

Sisko upon realizing he isn’t the Emissary anymore.

Welcome aboard: Rosalind Chao and Hana Hatae are back as Keiko and Molly, and Camille Saviola makes her final appearance as the image of Opaka. Richard Libertini, one of the great character actors, plays Akorem. But this episode’s Robert Knepper moment is Robert Symonds as Porta—to me, Symonds will always be Colonel Horace Baldwin, who appeared in two episodes of M*A*S*H (in “Fade Out, Fade In,” when he was responsible for sending Winchester to the 4077th, and “No Laughing Matter,” one of the single funniest episodes of the show ever).

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Accession

Trivial matters: This is one of the first produced scripts by Jane Espenson, who submitted spec scripts to TNG, which led to this assignment. Espenson has gone on to become one of the most popular and prolific writers of genre television, having penned multiple episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, The Dollhouse, Tru Calling, Torchwood, and tons more. She is the co-creator of Warehouse 13 and Husbands, and is currently a producer and writer for both Once Upon a Time and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

Ira Steven Behr had wanted to cast David Warner—who played Gul Madred in TNG’s “Chain of Command, Part II” and also appeared in Star Trek V and Star Trek VI—as Akorem, but he was unavailable.

Sisko and Kira have been trying out the four-shift rotation that Kira suggested in “Starship Down,” and they agree to make it permanent.

Akorem’s ship was the same design (and used the same model) as the solar sailing ship Sisko built in “Explorers.”

Worf delivered Molly in the TNG episode “Disaster,” and the thought of being in any way involved in delivering her second child fills him with a nameless dread.

Neither First Minister Shakaar nor Kai Winn are seen in the episode, but they are discussed. Akorem says that he’s not asking the former to step down as First Minister to go back to farming, but he and Porta are confident that by the next election, no one would dream of electing a farmer as First Minister. As for the latter, she supports the return to the d’jarras, and Akorem also mentions in passing to Sisko that Winn fears Sisko.

The changes in the timeline brought about by Akorem’s time travel are looked into by the Department of Temporal Investigations in the DTI novel Watching the Clock by Christopher L. Bennett.

Your humble rewatcher’s Demons of Air and Darkness established the Akorem Laan Museum on Bajor, and the Prophecy and Change short story “The Orb of Opportunity” by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin established a Bajoran Milita ship called the Akorem Laan.

Porta is seen as the cleric at the Singha Refugee Camp during the occupation in the Terok Nor novel Night of the Wolves by S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison.

Walk with the Prophets: “You are of Bajor.” In 2011, Star Trek Magazine celebrated the 45th anniversary of Trek by doing a feature on every 45th episode of the various series, order determined by first air date. One of those “45s” was this episode, and I drew the assignment to write it up. When I reviewed the episode, I nearly fell over from shock at the writer credit. In February 1998, the name Jane Espenson made no impression on me whatsoever, but within a few years, her credit would be one that would provoke confidence that you were about to watch a well-crafted episode. She became a trusted part of Joss Whedon’s stable of writers, and she’s gone on to become a force in genre TV writing. (I actually first met her at Dragon Con in 2000, alongside Tim Minear. The three of us and Christopher Golden did a panel on writing the Buffy characters, and she and Tim were both pretty shocked that anyone cared about what writers thought...)

One of Espenson’s hallmarks has been strong characterization, and this episode certainly has plenty of that, mostly focused on Sisko and Kira. Both of them have their faith severely tested, though calling it “faith” in Sisko’s case is pushing it. He’s sort of coasted along as the Emissary but never really wanted it—as recently as ten episodes ago in “Starship Down” he contrived a Gamma Quadrant mission in order to avoid a festival in his honor—but in this episode the Prophets basically force him to commit to it by providing him with a much worse alternative. There’s an old saw that the best leaders are the ones who don’t want to be leaders, and this episode embodies that concept. Akorem dives into being the Emissary with both feet, and decides that the best way to fix Bajor is to make it just like it was two centuries ago, ’cause that always works.

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Accession

Kira, meanwhile, gets a kick in the teeth of her faith. After she lectures Odo on the subject of how faith is just one of those things you have, she has it challenged by Akorem’s dumbshit plan to restore an outdated caste system. Everyone goes along with it because religion is pretty much what got Bajor through the occupation. Faith was what kept a lot of Bajorans from giving up. So now when they’re confronted with a new Emissary, they do as he says, even though it’s stupid.

And that’s the danger. One of the fascinating things about Star Trek religions is that most of the ones we get to see actually have a tangible base: one-offs like Landru and Vaal (both computers), or the Edo’s orbiting thingie and the Ocampa Caretaker in Voyager’s pilot (extradimensional beings), or the Greeks of Earth (really powerful aliens). And of course we have the most consistently seen spiritual peoples, the Bajorans (who worship actual aliens who reside in the wormhole) and the Klingons (who killed their gods, but whose messianic figure is a historical personage—they have his DNA and everything).

Of course, that makes this particular religious civil war a lot easier to settle. Sisko deciding, after the cold-blooded murder of a vedek, to challenge Akorem’s position would, under most circumstances, result in an awful civil war as they compete for the hearts and minds of the Bajoran faithful. But they don’t need to bother with that nonsense, because they’ve got the Prophets right there in the wormhole. And sure enough, Akorem finds out that he got it horribly horribly wrong.

It would be nice to see what the consequences of this really were long-term—after all, not everyone is necessarily going to take Sisko at his word that Akorem is safely back in his own time, and that civil war they avoided could still happen—but the point of the episode isn’t about what Akorem’s appearance does to Bajor, it’s what it does to Sisko. The Prophets want him to crap or get off the pot.

One of the admirable things about DS9 is that its producers have always spoken honestly about the show (this makes The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion infinitely more satisfying as a read than any of the companions for the other Trek shows), and one of the things Ira Steven Behr expressed about this episode was disappointment in Richard Libertini’s performance, especially since they wanted David Warner for the role.

Well, I’m here to say that Behr was dead wrong, and he got the right guy in Libertini. If the guy who played Gul Madred is Akorem, then you know he’s a bad guy. But what makes Libertini and also Robert Symonds so effective is the fact that they’re not evil. The scariest moments in the episode are when Akorem matter-of-factly says that deportation is the alternative to following the d’jarras, and when Porta confesses to the murder, blissfully unaware that he’s done anything wrong. This is the surety of the fanatic, and it works because there is absolutely no evil intent. They’re doing what they think is right—and what they think is right is awful. And that’s the danger, that’s what Sisko needs to commit to being against.


Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that The Klingon Art of War is available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, or directly from the publisher. It’ll be out in May, and he’ll be debuting it at TrekTrax Atlanta at the end of April.

Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
1. Lisamarie
The thing about Akorem, in my opinion at least, that keeps him from being a straight up villain, is that he was at least humble enough to say, "Oh, guess I was wrong then" and give up his Emmissary-ship. So you get the impression that he does truly want to serve the Prophets, and not just have the power/prestige that comes with being the Emmissary. I can't imagine, say, Kai Winn, doing that ;)

I feel like I should have more to say regarding the theme of change and religion, especially as I have personal experience with it (although not something as extreme), being Catholic, which if you didn't know, has a hierarchical structure (ha) and also watching all the hullabaloo that comes along with changes in those leaders, discussing what is infallible and what isn't (something that the general media doesn't tend to get right - they exaagarate the concept quite a bit. I'd say the Bajorans seem to treat the authority/infallbility of the Emissary as a bit more applicable here), further confused by people who truly do abuse their power. But, I'm not finding much specific to say here, except that it made me think about it, as well as various struggles in my own life as I try to discern what my vocation is and how much of what I want is what I want or what God wants, where I need to bend despite my own fears/discomfort, and where I need to stand firm. Pretty much the same stuff most people of faith think about, I'm guessing :)
Thomas DeLorenzo
2. flyingtoastr
The idea of Ferengi reading a capitalist version of "See Spot Run" to their children is the best part of this episode.
3. NWCtim
I feel like there was a missed "Irish Twins" joke in this one, when O'Brien suggets trying for twins after he and Keiko are back in their quarters. Of course this episode was written well before this happened:
Christopher Bennett
4. ChristopherLBennett
I'm surprised that Jane Espenson wrote this one because I never much cared for this one. I don't like the way it just pulls a hitherto-unmentioned but formerly-ubiquitous Bajoran practice out of thin air in order to justify its narrative, and I don't like how heavy-handedly negative and harmful it was, greatly simplifying the moral dilemma.

I also felt it did something that was often done by authors of the novel and comic tie-ins but rarely by the show's producers: portraying pretty much all Bajorans as a uniform mass of superstitious fanatics. I have a hard time buying that the entire Bajoran population just uncritically embraced class persecution that they never would've contemplated two days before just because some old poet told them to. Few people follow religious authority that blindly, not when it goes against their long-held preconceptions. We have a real-world example of that now, with Pope Francis. He's a liberal, reformist pope, actively trying to change the Catholic Church, but his underlings aren't just blindly reversing their long-held beliefs, they're pushing back and resisting his reforms. Religiously based homophobia didn't evaporate the day Francis said "Who am I to judge?" about gay marriage. So it's unbelievable to characterize the Bajorans as this mass of sheep who just uncritically obey instructions from on high. Religion doesn't work like that, no matter how much the clergy might want it to.

I also don't like the ending and what it does with the Prophets. Before, the Prophets have simply been extremely alien life forms existing in a realm outside time, with commensurate perceptions and abilities. But this episode is the beginning of the series' elevation of them to a literally godlike level. They're no longer simply outside of time in their own dimension, they're able to casually rewrite time in our reality, and somehow perform the astonishing but totally throwaway feat of rewriting the past without altering anyone's memories of the past. Well, I guess we saw the beginnings of that when they altered Zek's "evolutionary history" in "Prophet Motive," but this is elevating it to a ridiculous degree of power that's handled in a very careless way by the story.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
5. Lisamarie
I'm going to try to gently correct this assumption, and the reason I feel comfortable here is because it actually is relevant to the topic of this epsidode, I think :) I agree that, as you have stayed, people don't just blindly accept every single thing a religious figure says. Religious people aren't that stupid, we think and discern like anybody else, and come up with our own interpretations (rightly or wrongly). When I made my own comparison in my first comment, it seemed to me that, while people probably want to see Bajoran faith structure as some kind of analogy to the Catholic structure, it is actually a bit more heavy handed. There's actually a decent amount that is a)left to individual discernment, and b)not considered dogma or infallible or what have you. Doesn't mean we don't have those things, but people tend to think that every single thing out of a Pope/bishop/priest's mouth is supposed to be taken 100% as a requirement and accepted as 100% correct truth in every sense of the word, and that the Pope micromanages the entire Church, which is also not really true. Not to say that he doesn't have influence, especially in certain situations, it's just not as widespread as people seem to think (and I base this on conversations I've had with friends, especially those in fundamentalist faiths that have some pretty skewed ideas about it).

But I have to say it: Pope Francis is not liberal*, he's not a reformist, he's not changing Church doctrine. This is actually what I mean by hullabaloo. The nice Francis vs. mean Benedict (or the rest of the old Church) is largely a fiction fabricated by a media that clearly has their own agenda (one of which, I cynically think, is to foster division amongst various groups of Catholics), as well as just (probably innocently) is genrerally ignorant of what the Church actually is, and what the Papacy actually is. The 'who am I to judge' comment has actually been taken grossly out of context, in that he was actually referring to a homosexual that agreed with Church teachings and changed his ways. Although I definitely agree that there is too much judging, hatred and violence going around...I'm just mentioning that specifically because I actually had family coming up to me and asking me if it was true that the Church was changing its teachings on homosexuality and the nature of marriage and forwarding me articles that said that the Pope had declared abortion acceptable and something the Church should stop talking about. Reading the full text of his statements, it's not what he meant at all, but...the media loves to create a sensation.

Now, all that being said - he absolutely has a different pastoral style, and definitely is challenging all of us to stop being so single minded and self-righteous and jerky (hopefully I did not fall into that category) and ignore the many other important issues surrounding the poor and our own love of comfort and wealth. Things are definitely going to change, because the Church (and this applies to any religion or human institution) is a living institution. And the kind of sad thing is that among very traditional Catholic circles, many of these things are being met with suspicion and fear (possibly because of the way the media is trying to spin it as POPE FRANCIS CHANGING EVERYTHING!!!11!!11!) and...yeah. I find that all very sad. So in a way I think this does all prove your point that people don't just blindly accept whatever a new person says, regardless of their devotion/piety level. There are definitely some circles that want to try and bring everything back to some pre-Vatican II state and think that will solve all our ills, but...that's not gonna happen. Just like how bringing back d'jarras is not going to work (assuming that was ever a good idea...) - you can't go to the past, you have to go forward. I'm not saying this means that there are no core teachings in a faith (and I admit, I love a good Latin Mass every now and then), just that things today are going to look different than things yesterday or tomorrow in how we apply them and practice them and present them.

*This is like...a super hot topic with me, and I actually reject any attempt to label Catholicism with western 20th century liberal/conservative labels, because it's both. It doesn't fit into EITHER box, however much political pundits want it to. I really hate how the Republican Party has co-opted religion, but that's another issue.

I guess I did have something to say :) The episode actually did kind of hit home with me, I just didn't want to talk everybody's ear off.

Oh, yeah, and CLB, I was definitely wondering why we've never heard of d'jarras before, yet apparently they were this big huge deal until relatively recently. Was it supposed to have been that bad and strict before? Would people kill/deport people over d'jarras back in the day? Sometimes when people want to bring stuff from the 'good old days', they are way more fanatical/inflexible about it than people actually were during those days.
Christopher Bennett
6. ChristopherLBennett
@5: "Sometimes when people want to bring stuff from the 'good old days', they are way more fanatical/inflexible about it than people actually were during those days."

True, but that's because they were predisposed to that to begin with. They don't suddenly turn into that just because a new spiritual leader showed up one day and told them they should.
7. TheFrog
@5 Well said and thank you for expressing my Catholic thoughts so well!
David Levinson
8. DemetriosX
I'm generally with CLB @4 on this one. The sudden general acceptance of the d'jarras just doesn't seem credible, especially when so many of the heroes of the resistance acted outside their caste. Everyone was also far too blasé about the casual murder of that vedek. Odo would have arrested Porta, no matter what the assumed Emissary said about it. And I think that attitude would have alarmed a lot of low caste people. Bajor could have been looking at a rather nasty little civil war in any case. And since most caste systems tend to be pyramidal, you'd have had a lot of people on the "down with the d'jarras/restore Sisko" side of things.
9. Eduardo Jencarelli
If the guy who played Gul Madred is Akorem, then you know he’s a bad guy.

Not necessarily. He also played St. John Talbot in STV, and more famously, Chancellor Gorkon in STVI. Both decent and honorable characters.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
10. Lisamarie
@6 - True, but I'm thinking more about Vedek Porta's extremism than the general Bajoran's, and he was one of the people really eager to bring it back. While I do agree that their widespread acceptance was a bit hard to swallow, I don't know that they were willing to kill over it or enforce it by any means necessary like Vedek Porta was. But I guess we didn't get to see much of it aside from somebody giving Kira her seat.
11. TribblesandBits
@5 - Excellent post and spot-on analysis. It was a pleasure to read.
12. McKay B
@2: With respect, I'm afraid that was only the second-best moment of the episode. The best was the look of terror that Michael Dorn managed to pull off at the thought that he might suddenly have to deliver Keiko again.

@3: I actually didn't mind the introduction of d'jarras out of thin air, because 200 years is plenty of time to have things that are "normal" part of society disappear -- particularly when there's decades of a heavy-handed dictatorship Occupation in the middle to drive those traditions out of practice. I'm sure you could find similar examples in Russia -- the Orthodox Church has managed to become *somewhat* prominent again after Communism beat it into the ground for 70 years, but it's nothing like the monolithic power it used to be.

Meanwhile, I have mixed feelings about the more-deific portrayal arc of the Prophets, and I totally agree with you about the Bajorans being portrayed as a conformist bunch of sheep when it would realistically take a lot longer (if it happened at all) for them to embrace a dramatic change of policy like this. Although I mostly just assumed that we were mostly just hearing about the more fanatical Bajorans, with a somewhat rational hypothesis that eventually most of the other Bajorans would follow suit.

@5: You're right, real Christianity (Catholic or otherwise) doesn't truly fit in either "liberal" or "conservative" boxes. That said, the modern mis-association between religion and conservatism isn't entirely the Republican Party's fault. There's also a pretty big contingent of Democrats who are proudly, vocally atheist/agnostic, who have helped mold that impression.

We could use more conservative agnostics in this society; and more strongly-religious liberals; and especially more moderates who figure out what is right and what is wrong without just looking to the mainstream right or left to tell them the answers.

* * *

This is a pretty decent episode just based on great character development for Sisko.

Kira's arc is interesting too. I've never liked that Aquinas quote, as I think God WANTS us to question and challenge our faith, and sometimes have internal battles between our conscience and what our human religious leaders are saying. Not questioning turns someone into a horrible fanatic like Porta.

So, I think Odo's questions to Kira are particularly wise. To Kira's credit, however, I think she mostly strikes a good balance between her conscience and her obedience to what she thinks is a divine mandate: she gives herself time for her feelings to settle, while "trying out" the things her clergy are saying as long as there won't be any irreparable harm done. She certainly wouldn't have killed off a Vedek for acting outside his "unclean" d'jarra, just because Akorem said so. :-P

The only thing I think she really did wrong here is trying to convince herself (and Odo) that she didn't really have doubts about this new direction. Being open about your doubts is healthy -- and doesn't mean you don't still believe in the core of your religion.
Christopher Bennett
13. ChristopherLBennett
And another thing -- since when was the Emissary someone that everyone was supposed to obey so completely? I thought he had more a supporting role in Bajoran theology -- someone who had a significant and prophesied role to play in revealing the Celestial Temple and defending it from the Cardassians, and worthy of reverence for that role, but not actually being the figure of the Bajorans' worship. And the Kai is the "Pope" equivalent, the one who leads the church and defines its policies. Even allowing for Sisko's reluctance to embrace the Emissary role, it never seemed that it came with anywhere near the same level of authority as the Kai. So it seems inconsistent for Akorem to have the authority to reshape all of Bajoran society. I just don't find that believable.

@12: It should be pointed out that the terms "liberal" and "conservative" were not invented by modern American political factions and have much broader meanings than how they're used in current discourse. Liberal in its strictest sense just means open-minded, flexible, generous, inclusive, and receptive to change, while conservative just means cautious, resistant to change, and seeking to preserve what one has and defend the status quo. They aren't intrinsically political terms.
14. McKay B
@13: Good point about the Emissary's ostensive role. I guess this, too, can be fixed with some handwaving -- since Winn was supportive of Akorem due to her antipathy to Sisko, perhaps she ordered everyone to support Akorem's suggestion of embracing d'jarras?

As for "liberal" and "conservative" -- yes, these words have had different meanings in the past than their current political meanings. And they're sometimes used politically, sometimes apolitically, and usually somewhere in between (which is unfortunately confusing) ... but in any case, the point about religion not inherently fitting completely in one "box" or the other stands.
Christopher Bennett
15. ChristopherLBennett
@14: And I never meant to imply anything about "boxes." I wasn't talking about "religion," I was talking about different individuals who interpret religion in different ways. Hell, my whole point was that the followers of a religion can not be treated as a monolithic mass blindly following authority, so I can't for the life of me imagine how you could get "fitting in one box" out of that.
16. McKay B
The whole discussion on religion fitting in "boxes" with particular labels was a continuation of some of the opinions in Comment #5. I thought you were continuing that discussion since you seemed to be replying specifically to a statement I made as part of that discussion. Sorry.
Mike Kelmachter
17. MikeKelm
I sort of wonder if Sisko's popularity and influence (and his strong distate for wielding it) was more a function of his overall character than his role as Emissary per se (not that there is a defined "Emissary" role). Sisko is the one who has semi-frequent meetings with the prophets, will discover B'Hala, and has brought about a sort of rebirth on the planet, yet does not seek power for himself. By not leading, he grows more popular- as if Elijah or Moses were to show up in Washington DC and then not try to influence anyone. Or put another way, the most popular guy on a football team is sometimes the backup quarterback, simply because he's not the guy in the spotlight.

It also makes us wonder how popular Kai Winn is back on Bajor. The people may respect her authority but not necessarily like her very much, which is why they are so fascinated by the emissary and so quick to follow when Akorem literally appears out of nowhere and decides to reset practices back 200 years.
18. Ashcom
I tend to have trouble with episodes based around the Bajoran religion. Not just that one specifically, I have similar misgivings with other episodic sci-fi-shows in which they present us with a planet that all adheres to a single religion. It just doesn't ring true and jibes with me in a "planet of hats" kind of way.

I have to bring it back to the fact that we have countless religions, from small ones that are only practiced in tiny parts of the world, to the Hindu faith which is dominant over a large section of central asia and the subcontinent, to finally the religions based around the God of the bible, and even there that splits into three major faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam all of whom have very different beliefs about who and what that God is, and then subdivisions within those religions so that the heading Christianity in fact covers Quakers with their belief in peace and pacifism and universal acceptance through to the Free Presbyterian Church who will burn your house down for working on a Sunday.

Now I realise that I am basing my opinions on the evidence of one planet only, since it's the only one I've got to base it on, and that's not a sufficiently large sample size. But I tend to think that planets are big and history is long, and that any species that develops cognitive thought, is also going to develop differences of opinion.
19. Tim W
Regarding everyone's problem with the Bajorans just returning to their caste system and following Akorem, I think you are missing one part of the equation. Akorem came back do to a miracle. That would be a huge factor in everyone's thinking. Sure they might be questioning it in the back of their minds but they still come up against the whole "he was with the prophets for 200 years so maybe he knows something we don't.

Also this might be hard for us to wrap our heads around today but Bajor never had a whole secular movement like the enlightenment. They always struck me as carrying our medieval religious view of the world into the future. Akorem seems kind of similar to me to the real reaction to the "discovery" of Merlin when History of the Kings of Britain was written. Scholars at the time questioned the truth of Arthur, but all of Europe (to varying degrees) accepted Merlin because he was a prophet. According to Anne Lawrence-Mathers in her The True History of Merlin the Magician the belief in Merlin kept England from some of the apocalyptic shenaningins that the rest of Europe was involved in. People united by a single religion that shapes their very view of the universe, made more important to them by a shared struggle against a common foe, I believe would be very willing to follow a man returned by their gods.
20. Crusader75
Sisko's superiors have always been troubled by his status as the Emissary, thinking having the Fedeeration CO as Bajoran religius figure is somewhat unethical. The Prophets here create a situation that requires Sisko to embrace the Emissary role so he can fulfill his primary mission to bring Bajor into the Federation, which immediately goes away once Sisko does. Sneaky little extradimensiuonal beings, those Prophets.
Christopher Bennett
21. ChristopherLBennett
@18: The Bajorans sharing a common religion makes sense given that the wormhole aliens actually do physically exist and actually did send the Orbs, so that's a tangible fact they all have to agree on. Also the Orbs have been coming to Bajor for over 10,000 years, which is far longer than any human religion has existed, so that's plenty of time for all of Bajor to become aware of them and build beliefs around them.

And it helps that we did eventually learn of some variant sects like the Pah-wraith cultists (although I hate the whole idea of the Pah-wraiths, but that's a discussion for a later time). And we already knew of Bajorans like Ro Laren who were more secular-minded and skeptical of the Bajoran faith.
22. Friend to Fwiffo
I personally prefer my Prophets to be as godlike and inexplicable as possible. They may have been concieved as just weird aliens mistaken for gods by the Bajorans, but to me they're much more interesting when it's not that simple. To me it makes the Bajorans seem like fools if the Prophets are just aliens, like the ignorant savages in 19th Century adventure stories who have somehow never heard of solar eclipses so the mighty white heroes can exploit their superstitions when a convenient eclipse comes around. The Bajorans were in space before the humans were, why wouldn't they know about weird aliens by now?

I totally understand the opposite opinion which prefers a solid sci-fi explanation in a sci-fi show, I just don't share it. Really this is one of the reasons I liked DS9 better than TNG.
23. Roberto C.
I make it a point to rewatch this series at least every other year --I like forgetting a few details here and there only to rediscover them later. I still can't believe how well written this series was and what a unified vision it presented of a complex world with all its shades of religion, discovery, dark-politics, interstellar war that no other series could ever tackle the way Deep Space 9 does!

Also, thank you to all the wonderful comment writers --what a thoughtful bunch (no-wonder we're a DS9 crowd).
24. Eduardo Jencarelli
No wonder so many people refer to DS9's fourth season not only as the best DS9's ever had, but also the best season Trek's ever had.

Accession is one of my all-time favorites. And simply for one reason: Sisko's emotional journey. This is a man who after meeting the Prophets became something he never wanted to be, until he realized how much less he became when he lost that part of him. Kira also had one hell of an emotional journey, one essential to the series, since the cornerstone of the Bajoran/Federation relationship is exemplified by Sisko and Kira.

Jane Espenson and the whole DS9 staff deserved an emmy for this episode (especially Echevarria, who supposedly did major revisions on this one). This is brilliant character work, bringing new levels to the Trek universe. And the studio never approved of the religious episodes. Thankfully we had Ira Behr pushing to keep them relevant on DS9's framework.

Unlike TNG's Who Watches the Watchers, this one took risks, and had Sisko embrace the cause. This would be brilliantly followed up in Season 5's Rapture.
Christopher Bennett
25. ChristopherLBennett
@22: But that's just it -- to me, aliens that come from a totally different continuum where time works differently, aliens that we can barely comprehend and that barely comprehend us, aliens that we can only perceive and interact with indirectly through metaphors extracted from our own memories because we can't comprehend their actual appearance and environment, are far more ineffable and mysterious than any conventional deity that humans have ever imagined. Turning the Prophets into more conventional divine beings made them less imaginative, less alien, less intriguing.

And I don't see how a culture that reveres a higher power that demonstrably exists and has actually nurtured and guided them for millennia is more foolish than a culture that reveres a higher power that only exists in their own myths and imaginings.

The mistake you're making is assuming that "alien" and "god" are incompatible ideas. That's a Western way of thinking, buying into our dualistic perception of the physical and the spiritual as opposite and incompatible things. But many cultures on Earth draw much less of a distinction between the physical and the divine. The Japanese see rivers and mountains as embodying their own divinities. The Hawaiians perceived Captain Cook as an incarnation of one of their gods. It's ethnocentric to call them fools just because their definitions of divinity aren't the same as Judeo-Christian ones. So if human definitions of the divine can encompass people, animals, and environments, who's to say an alien definition of the divine couldn't encompass other aliens -- especially aliens that literally have been guiding and protecting them throughout their history, that do in fact reside in a higher plane of existence, and that do in fact have omniscient perception and extraordinary power?

This is why it's wrong to call them superstitious. They're not using the Prophets to explain why eclipses happen or why crops grow. They're using the Prophets to explain what the Prophets have actually, provably done in Bajoran history -- sending the Orbs, providing guiding visions, influencing and nurturing the culture, occasionally intervening for their benefit by arranging for Emissaries and the like.
26. Russell H
It occurs to me that that this is one of those episodes that taken on a new meaning in the 17+ years since it first aired, what with all those in politics today calling for a return to the "traditional values" of a past era when certain groups in society were supposed to "know their places" and be more deferential and submissive to their "betters."
Keith DeCandido
27. krad
Russell H: If you think that particular cry for "traditional values" is in any way, shape, or form new in the last two decades, you're woefully ignorant of history. Calls for return to the "good old days" are as old as the days in question. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
28. Lisamarie
@25, interesting comment! I could chew on that a bit.

Also, in response to the various comments about boxes and liberal/conservative, I just want to say that I broke my own rule and didn't define my terms. I went to a very good talk once about that very subject (the different meanings of liberal/conservative, etc) but I was just assuming here that we meant the American political party version of the terms (which to me are pretty narrow boxes). So, yes, I will concede to you that in certain senses of the word Pope Francis could be considered liberal and/or progressive. Anyway, carry on.
29. Nix
Lisamarie@1, I can imagine Kai Winn doing that. Note that Laan wasn't just told "oh, you're not the Emissary" by some random functionary: he's told that he was brought to this time *by his actual gods*, the entities that did it in the first place, and they did it while never once showing any indication that they knew his name, but using Sisko's repeatedly (a nice touch, that). Of course, I seem to recall that this is your first watchthrough, and I can see why you'd think this at this point in Winn's arc. Suffice to say my confidence has a basis in Winn's later reactions to, ah, various events.

ChristopherLBennett@13, as Tim W says, I tended to interpret the Bajoran obedience of Laan less as them doing it because he was the Emissary -- though there are later statements that Sisko could have had that sort of obedience at any time, had he wanted it -- than because this was someone who had literally been brought bodily to their present time *by the Prophets*. (It probably helped that he was someone they'd all heard of anyway).

I see the Prophets are very prompt sorts. No sooner has Sisko expressed uncertainty about his position as Emissary than, bang, here comes an old sailing ship! Given how nonlinear they are, I guess we can assume they've learned a *lot* since their first appearance, or they might have hit him with that ship fifty years from now, or twenty years ago... or a billion years from now (what? his atoms are still around).

Also: not only is this the first time the Prophets mention 'of Bajor', it's also the first time they call Sisko 'the Sisko'. Espenson and the other writers really did firm up a lot of the Prophets' various distancing tics in this episode. Regarding one of them... I don't believe it was ever explained just what the heck 'we are of Bajor' actually meant, but the Prophets clearly regarded it as significant.

It's notable that the Prophets think that 'we are of Bajor' is a reasonable answer to the statement "the Bajorans believe that you are their prophets: that you have chosen one of us to be your Emissary" -- and they answer this after silently communicating for a moment, and talk as if talking to a very small child: it's not just a reasonable answer, but the only obvious one. They even say, in response to Sisko's obvious incomprehension, "They are linear. It limits them. They do not understand."

The only possibilility that makes that response make sense to me is that the Prophets are telling the literal truth: they *are* of Bajor. That is to say, they are Bajorans: either a species that originated on Bajor in the far past, or -- more likely given their interest in Bajor's present inhabitants -- the distant descendants of some species now on Bajor, quite possibly its current sentient inhabitants, greatly changed but still descended from and thus causally dependent on Bajor as it is now. As to why they are providing things to the Bajorans, well, they're not linear: they're doing it because they always did, and because they have an obvious vested interest in the Bajorans's timeline remaining unchanged, or at the very least adjusted only by them (as they do in this episode). If this epileptic tree is true, "they have chosen one of us to be your Emissary" is also not quite accurate: one of them is their Emissary because that's what was always true. Without cause and effect, one cannot really speak of "reasons" why anything is done: what is, is. (This is very convenient for writers who don't want to have to figure out the patterns of reasoning of a race with literally endless time to think!)

This wild extratextual speculation even makes prophet-Opaka's otherwise inexplicable statement that 'We are of Bajor. *You* are of Bajor' make sense: she's indicating why the Prophets are interested in Sisko: he's connected to Bajor just as they are, and for the same reason. Of course, Sisko's... somewhat unusual metaphysical ancestry was not actually planned at this point, so I am being even more wildly non-textual here, but, hey, I could just say I'm viewing the text in a non-linear fashion! (Otherwise known as 'making shit up'.)

One last wibble: this is also the first episode in which we see evidence that the Prophets are multiple individuals, not a mass-mind of some kind: they stop and look at each other repeatedly, clearly communicating in some way. This, too, repeats in later episodes.
Christopher Bennett
30. ChristopherLBennett
@29: I never saw the Prophets/wormhole aliens as being a "mass mind." Even in "Emissary" they clearly had individual members, or at least individualized aspects, with differing attitudes and personas, which Sisko perceived by analogy with people in his life: He saw their inquisitive member/aspect as Jake, their aggressive one as Locutus, etc.
31. Friend to Fwiffo
ChristopherLBennet, I like everything about your comment except your assumptions about me not knowing anything but "Judeo-Christian" monotheism. I would like to respond but I'm finding it difficult because I feel insulted and erased by that assumption, and I'm really sorry about it because I would love to discuss it, and I know you didn't mean any harm. I hope we can talk about it next time the Prophets work in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.
32. Friend to Fwiffo
I swear I checked that spelling twice. Sorry for missing the last T.
Keith DeCandido
33. krad
Quoth Nix: "Also: not only is this the first time the Prophets mention 'of Bajor', it's also the first time they call Sisko 'the Sisko'."

No, actually, it isn't -- they first referred to "the Sisko" in "Prophet Motive."

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
34. Nix
krad@33, oh yes, you're right, of course. (Though they also managed to mispronounce 'the Zek' there. Oops? :) )
35. Tim W
Nix@29 I've always had the same thought about the Prophets having originally been the Bajorans. It was something I had always wished the show had gone deeper into.
Christopher Bennett
36. ChristopherLBennett
The Prophets former Bajorans? Wow, I hate that idea. The later seasons of the show already did enough to strip them of the fascinating alienness that Michael Piller created -- probably the most successful depiction of the truly alien in Trek's entire history -- and reduce them to more boring, common-or-garden deities. Having them actually be former humanoids would be even worse.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
37. Lisamarie
Maybe the former Bajorans weren't humanoid? (I don't really have an opinion one way or the other, but was also a bit curious as to what 'we are of Bajor' was meant to indicate).

Nix@29 - well, then I look forward to seeing what future development is in place for Kai Winn then ;) I was mostly basing my statement on what I have seen so far, as well as various comments that seem to indicate she does not become a beloved character in the series.
Christopher Bennett
38. ChristopherLBennett
@37: Humanoid or not, having them be descended from denizens of our corporeal, temporal universe still makes them more ordinary and loses the essence of what Michael Piller created.
39. Eduardo Jencarelli

While I don't deny Michael's obvious talents as a writer and his pivotal role in keeping the franchise running, I often wonder if he ever gave much of a thought to the long-term options of the Prophets, when he created them. I don't think he had any ideas for them beyond the pilot.

Their very nature (non-linear existence) makes them very hard to write as it is. It worked on Emissary because it set up Sisko's emotional growth, in learning to let go of the past. But it was hard to coincide such an alien concept with the scientific and mundane portrayal of 24th Century Trek.
Christopher Bennett
40. ChristopherLBennett
@39: I don't understand your last sentence. Science is all about giving us a handle on that which lies beyond prior experience. Science has led us to all sorts of amazing hypotheses that are profoundly alien to everyday experience, things we never could've pulled from our imaginations if hard data and mathematics hadn't led us to them. Science has revealed, far more than any religion or mythology ever could, just what a small and specialized cross-section of reality our perceived universe really is.

The problem is that the show took the wormhole aliens in a less scientific and more mystical direction, and that's what took the freshness and alienness out of them.
41. Eduardo Jencarelli

Yeah, scientific wasn't the word I was really going for (I think mundane still applies, though). My mistake.

But you're right regarding the mystical path the story took with the Prophets.

But the real issue I see is that they became less of a set of characters, and more of a plot device, especially in those last two seasons, to the point of becoming convenient crutches, right down to the Sisko/Sarah ancestry and the Dominion Deus Ex-Machina moment on Sacrifice of Angels.

And like most TNG and DS9 writers at that point, Michael Piller didn't have much experience writing long-term serialized stories, which is why I wonder if he had much of a plan for the Prophets when he developed DS9.
Christopher Bennett
42. ChristopherLBennett
@41: I have no doubt that the path Behr and his staff took the Prophets in was not what Piller had in mind. Even if he'd had a long-term plan for them, it wouldn't have survived his departure from the series. New showrunners almost always bring in their own ideas rather than doing what their predecessors would have done.
Scientist, Father
43. Silvertip
On a totally random and unrelated note: When I was in the Boy Scouts, our leaders instructed us carefully that, if we did everything right and prepared carefully, we should be able to start our campfire by striking only one match. It's good discipline and practice for all kinds of things.

On another matter completely: Congratulations Miles and Keiko!


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