“Return to Grace”
Written by Tom Benko and Hans Beimler
Directed by Jonathan West
Season 4, Episode 13
Production episode 40514-486
Original air date: February 5, 1996
Station log: Kira has been assigned by Bajor’s First Minister (who’s also her new boyfriend) to represent Bajor at a conference on a Cardassian outpost to discuss their intelligence on the Klingons. Because of the Klingon invasion, Cardassian healthcare is at an all-time low, so Bashir has to give an annoyed Kira more than a dozen inoculations. Her escort is the Groumall, a crappy ship that is now captained by Dukat. After bringing Ziyal home, his mother disowned him, his wife took their children and left, and he was demoted from legate back to gul and assigned to a not-very-glorified freighter.
On the Groumall, Kira is visited by Ziyal, who didn’t last long on Cardassia, as too many Cardassians couldn’t see past the Bajoran ridges on her nose, so she’s living on the freighter with her father.
Dukat is running battle drills, even though it’s a freighter, because he intends to be ready for anything. The Groumall is not cooperating, as it takes forever for phaser banks to even charge up.
Kira accepts a dinner invitation from Dukat, in which they actually gossip. They bond a bit over Ziyal, and then she slaps him down when he asks about Shakaar.
They’re interrupted by a battle alert. The outpost has been completely destroyed, and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey decloaks. The Klingon ship scans the Groumall views them as no kind of threat (understandably) and leaves at a quarter impulse. Insulted, Dukat attacks. Unimpressed, the Klingon ship suffers no damage—but then goes to warp. Dukat realizes that the Klingons didn’t think they were worth destroying.
Then Kira suggests going after the Klingons, since the nearest Cardassian warship is three days away. A straight-up confrontation would be disastrous, but Kira suggests chasing them in the style of a resistance fighter—scavenging a disruptor from the outpost and kludging it onto the Groumall.
Kira shows Ziyal how to use a weapon in case they’re boarded. They also talk about Dukat—Ziyal, of course, thinks more highly of him than Kira does, and Kira makes it clear that she can never forgive Dukat.
Dukat and Kira figure out what the Klingons’ likely next target is and head toward it. Kira suggests luring the Klingons into thinking they have valuable cargo. It works, as they arrive at the target and the same Bird-of-Prey decloaks. After scanning them, they lock weapons on and demand Dukat’s surrender. They fire the scavenged disruptor, which does considerable damage to the Bird-of-Prey.
But then one shot from the Bird-of-Prey is critical to the Groumall, which is drifting. So Kira and Dukat beam over to the Klingons’ transporter room and beam the Klingon crew to the Groumall and the Groumall crew to the Bird-of-Prey. Dukat then destroys the Groumall. They now have tons of intelligence on the Klingons in the ship’s computer banks.
However, the Detapa Council doesn’t want the Cardassian military to go on the offensive. They want to pursue a diplomatic solution with the Klingons. They want Dukat to return to Cardassia, take his post as military advisor back—which is what he said he wanted, but he realizes that his people are defeated. They need to fight back, not beg for mercy. So he plans to keep the Bird-of-Prey and fight a one-ship war against the Klingons. He even asks Kira to fight at his side, and use her mad resistance skillz to help him in his personal war.
Kira turns him down, and also reminds him that this life isn’t safe for Ziyal. She offers to take Ziyal back to Deep Space 9 with her and keep an eye on her. He agrees, promising to come back for her when it’s all over. He’s also thrilled that his and Kira’s lives are now intertwined (Kira’s not as thrilled).
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Groumall takes more than three minutes to go from Dukat wanting phasers fired to phasers actually being fired. But Kira is able to juryrig a planetary defense disruptor to the cargo bay, while Damar is able to create emissions that make it look like they’re carrying dilithium crystals.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira gets thrust into a situation where she has to at least be professional with Dukat, first by allowing him to treat her to dinner as the captain of the ship on which she is a visiting dignitary, then by advising him on how to fight against the Klingons. She also has an obvious fondness for Ziyal, and tells Dukat that she sees her becoming what Kira became and neither of them wants that for her.
There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf gets to demonstrate the unintended consequences of shifting alliances, as he provides for Kira a list of technology that the Federation has shared with both Bajor and the Klingons that they don’t wish the Cardassians to learn about.
For Cardassia! The Detapa Council wishes to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Klingon’s continued belligerence, to Dukat’s regret. The Klingons, for their part, have undertaken a detailed plan of attack to target Cardassian outposts.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Dukat doesn’t let up even a little bit in his pursuit of Kira, though how much of it is sexual and how much of it is his desire, as Kira puts it, for her to forgive him (which she can never do) is an open question. He also mentions that his wife has taken up with a gul named Marratt, whom Dukat plans to demote and assign to Breen when he gets back into a position of power.
Meanwhile, Shakaar got Kira to agree to the assignment by taking her to her favorite restaurant, getting her drunk, and giving her a massage. Nice to see ethical behavior is the watchword of the Shakaar Administration…
Keep your ears open: “I must say I’ve always admired Shakaar’s success with women. The intelligence files I kept on him during the occupation were filled with reports of his conquests. In fact, if I remember correctly, you were the only female in his resistance cell that he didn’t—charm. At least until now.”
“Is that what you kept track of during the occupation? No wonder you lost.”
Dukat trying and failing to get Kira’s goat regarding her dating Shakaar.
Welcome aboard: Marc Alaimo is not only back as Dukat, but is the focus of the episode, with Cyia Batten making her second and final appearance as Ziyal. (Ziyal will return in next season’s “For the Cause” played by Tracy Middendorf.) We also get the debut of another new recurring character (though that he will be recurring isn’t at all clear from this episode) in Casey Biggs as Damar.
Trivial matters: This is a sequel to “Indiscretion,” with Dukat’s expected disgrace after bringing Ziyal home at the end of that episode coming to pass. It also makes clear that the conflict between Cardassia and the Klingon Empire has not abated since “The Way of the Warrior.”
In the original teleplay, Kira and Dukat beamed to the Klingon ship’s bridge and overpowered the bridge crew, but that simply wasn’t convincing that two people could take over a bridge full of Klingon warriors. It was assistant director B.C. Cameron who suggested the transporter trick that was used, one that echoes Kirk’s defeat of Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Dukat’s line about how he’s the only Cardassian left is a play on a famous statement made by the Lakota leader Sitting Bull when he refused to sign a treaty with the United States. Upon being told that every other Indian had signed the treaty, Sitting Bull said, “What other Indians? There are no other Indians but me.”
Tom Benko’s original story pitch was based on the notion of the Jews and the Germans having to work together following World War II.
Dukat will appear again as a nominal ally of our heroes while gadding about in his stolen Klingon ship in “Apocalypse Rising” and “In Purgatory’s Shadow.”
Kira will wind up performing the very task that Dukat asks her to provide for him—to wit, advising a Cardassian underground resistance—in the seventh season, but it will be for Damar when he leads a rebellion against the Dominion.
At one point, Kira explains to Ziyal the differences between the Cardassian disruptor pistol and a Starfleet phaser rifle—the one a simple workhorse, the other more versatile but also more complicated—which mirrors debates in the 1980s in military circles regarding American-made M-16s versus Soviet-made AK-47s.
Walk with the Prophets: “Everything I have lost I will regain.” I remember when this first aired, my first thought was that Dukat had become Roj Blake. Blake’s 7 was a BBC science fiction series that ran from 1978-1981 about a rebel against a totalitarian regime, who fought with a small group in a single ship (called the Liberator). It’s an amusing callback, one that I’m not even sure was intended (I have no idea if Hans Beimler was even familiar with the show twenty years ago), but it’s an unexpected place for Dukat to wind up. His journey this season has been an interesting one, as we started with him doing what he always does: shifting with the wind and retaining his power despite upheaval. Where “Emissary” established that after the occupation ended, he was still a high-ranking gul and commander of a fleet, and “Cardassians” established that he still had lots of political capital and schemes to stay on top, it was in “The Way of the Warrior” that we saw Dukat’s political acumen at its best, as the entire Cardassian government got turned upside down, and there’s Dukat as a legate now, in a position of power.
But “Indiscretion” changed all that, as his own screwup—cheating on his wife—has reduced him to commanding a nothing freighter. Now he must do something spectacular to put himself back on top, to get his wife and kids back, to be someone respected again. In “The Maquis, Part II,” Dukat was able to intimidate a freighter captain with his reputation—now he’s the freighter captain who isn’t given a second look by a Klingon Bird-of-Prey who doesn’t even view him as worth firing upon.
And just bringing the Klingon ship back home and getting his old position isn’t enough for him. Dukat’s speech about how he has to restore Cardassia’s place as a race to be feared is a good one, but it’s also bullshit. His echo of Sitting Bull, of calling himself the only Cardassian, sounds noble, but it isn’t, because in his mind it’s really that he’s the only Cardassian that matters. What the Detapa Council offered him was his old position back, but it came with the caveat that they weren’t going to actually listen to the military advice of their military advisor. He probably also realized that Ziyal was going to remain a problem. As she herself said, few Cardassians could look past the ridges on her nose.
So he takes on a much more audacious role. The political route is closed to him for the time being, in part because of the Detapa Council’s unwillingness to fight (and, to be fair, inability—the Klingon invasion was as successful as it was because the Cardassian Union has been in disarray, and Bashir’s commentary on the health crisis in Cardassian territory speaks volumes), in part because he’s still got the whiff of disgrace on him. So he decides to become a folk hero, instead, a rebel with a cause. He’s got a cloaked ship and he’s not afraid to use it.
This episode is pretty much a three-person play,* with the rest of the cast reduced to walk-ons (if they appear at all). Kira’s the critical part of this story because she actually influences Dukat’s decision-making more than once. She convinces him not to take the Klingons on head-to-head, she comes up with the plan to fight the Klingons, her knowledge of Klingon transporter codes allows them to not only survive but win, and in the end she talks Dukat into letting Ziyal stay on DS9 instead of living the spectacularly dangerous life of a rebel.
* Okay, really a four-person play, but it’s not like Damar actually does anything beyond pushing buttons and saying “Yes, sir” a lot. It really is hilarious to watch this episode and see Damar basically playing First Cardassian On The Left. Given how important and poignant the character would become, this is an even more bizarrely low-key introduction for an important recurring character than, say, that of Nog as a sneak thief being imprisoned by Odo.
But she won’t be his partner in fighting a guerilla war against the Klingons because she’s both been there and done that. She fought for her entire adult life precisely so she wouldn’t have to do it anymore, why the heck would she do it again? (Though you can see that she’s a little tempted, even though she insists to Dukat that she isn’t. Recall how quickly she dove back into guerilla fighting in “Shakaar,” after all.)
And then there’s Ziyal, the one thing in Dukat’s life that Kira almost approves of—certainly of the person, if not how she was conceived. Affection for Ziyal is the one and only thing that Kira and Dukat really have in common, and it’s probably one of the things that keeps Kira from actually hauling off and belting Dukat at any point. Nana Visitor is, of course, brilliant in every scene, absolutely nailing every emotional beat.
The real problem with this episode, though, is that it seems to take place in a world in which only the Groumall and the Bird-of-Prey exist. This diplomatic conference that was attacked was important enough for Shakaar to wine and dine Kira and bribe her with a massage to get her to go, and important enough for Worf to prepare an intelligence briefing for Kira regarding it. There were dignitaries from both Cardassia and Bajor there. Which means that the Groumall—which is a freighter, and can’t be the fastest ship in the Cardassian fleet—should’ve been elbowed aside by Cardassian ships, Bajoran ships, and possibly Starfleet ships before they ever got to the Klingons’ next target. Aside from a throwaway line about the nearest warship being three days away, there’s no mention given of how the rest of the galaxy is reacting to this major attack on a diplomatic conference, nor even much of an indication that anyone else even knows about it. Dukat and Kira should never have been doing this all alone in the first place.
But ultimately that’s a minor nit in what is truly a great character piece for two of the more fascinating people in the cast as their lives continue to be intertwined.
Warp factor rating: 7