Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Waltz”

“Waltz”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Rene Auberjonois
Season 6, Episode 11
Production number 40510-535
Original air date: January 3, 1998
Stardate: 51408.6

Station log: The U.S.S. Honshu is transporting Dukat to a Federation special jury at Starbase 621, and Sisko is aboard as well to testify to that jury. Dukat has recovered from the madness that gripped him after the Federation retook DS9. Sisko visits Dukat in the brig. He won’t tell Dukat what he intends to say on the stand but he does offer his condolences for death of Ziyal. Dukat also is now referring to Sisko as “Benjamin.”

The Honshu is attacked by Cardassian ships and destroyed. A few escape pods and one shuttle do manage to escape and send out distress calls. Starfleet can only spare two ships for the search, one of which is the Defiant—but Worf can only take 52 hours for the search, as the Defiant is needed to protect a troop convoy as it comes out of the Badlands.

Sisko wakes up on a cave floor, his arm bandaged (Dukat couldn’t operate the bone knitter). Dukat tells him that a plasma conduit ruptured and rendered him unconscious. Dukat and Ensign McConnell carried Sisko to the shuttle bay when the call came to abandon ship, but McConnell was killed by shrapnel en route. Dukat managed to crash land, but the shuttle’s engines are toast. He says he’s broadcasting a general distress signal (in fact, the distress beacon is offline). Whoever picks it up, whether Federation or Dominion, will find one prisoner and one comrade-in-arms. Sisko admits that that’s fair. Sisko is also impressed that Dukat found kindling for firewood and is now going to forage for food and water—though they do have plenty of field rations—and just in general that Dukat rescued Sisko.

As Dukat goes off, he’s confronted by a taunting hallucination of Weyoun, who insists that Dukat should kill Sisko, and makes fun of his travails in the hospital, curled up in a ball and crying. Dukat loses it and shoots fake-Weyoun, which only shatters rock. His veneer of sanity is just that: a façade that is in danger of collapsing.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Waltz

The next morning, Dukat is preparing something like breakfast, after having cleaned up the results of Sisko’s impressive nausea the night before. Sisko is also less than impressed with Dukat’s declaration of hilarity over the fact that they’ve gone from Dukat being a prisoner of the Federation and Sisko being free to move about to Sisko being a prisoner of his battered body while Dukat is free to roam around.

Dukat insists to Sisko that, during the recent occupation of the station, he implemented much fairer policies toward the Bajorans, and that he wanted to rectify the mistakes of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. For his part, Sisko just says that all he heard from Kira and Odo were that Weyoun didn’t give Dukat any choice in that matter.

Dukat also keeps hearing things that Sisko doesn’t. He insists it’s the wind, but he goes to check—and, of course, it’s more voices in his head. This time it’s Damar, who says that Dukat is wasting time. Where fake-Weyoun was abusing Dukat, fake-Damar sucks up to him (just like in real life!) insisting that Sisko will never give Dukat the respect he deserves, and he should just kill the captain and return to Cardassia where he can lead his people once again. By bringing the dead body of the Emissary to Bajor, it will undermine the Federation’s position. Dukat insists to fake-Damar that that can all happen in good time.

Sisko learns that Dukat has faked the distress signal, but doesn’t reveal that to him just yet. When Dukat’s gone, he works on the unit, though it’s slow going with only one working arm and with only a broken tine from a fork as a tool, eventually getting it back online. When Dukat returns, he comes out and bluntly asks Sisko what he thinks of Dukat. Even as he asks, a hallucination of Kira says what the real Kira probably would: that he’s an evil sadistic bastard. But Dukat insists he’s been vilified and slandered by “ignorant small-minded people throughout the quadrant.” Sisko avoids answering by saying he wasn’t there and can’t pass judgment. Fake-Kira says that Sisko’s just being polite because of the situation, and Dukat’s rebuke of the hallucination is Sisko’s first indication that the fives and tens are missing from Dukat’s deck.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Waltz

So Sisko tells Dukat what he wants to hear: history has misjudged him, not understanding the difficult decisions he had to make. Dukat leaps on that, blaming Central Command for the harsher rulings that he, as a loyal soldier, was forced to carry out. But then fake-Kira laughs hysterically, at which point Dukat yells at her again. Sisko plays along, telling Dukat that they should ignore Kira, pretend like she isn’t even there. Dukat nods his head in relieved assent at the notion. But fake-Kira keeps laughing at him, to the point where he whips out a phaser and shoots at nothing (barely missing Sisko). Dukat then notices the fork with the missing tine and realizes that Sisko has repaired the beacon. So Dukat phasers it and then starts beating Sisko with a stick.

The Defiant has found several Honshu survivors, none of whom are Sisko and Dukat. They’ve run out of time, and Worf contacts Kira asking for a few more hours, as Dax briefly picked up Sisko and Dukat’s distress signal. The connection to DS9 is staticky and hard to understand, but everyone knew Kira’s orders before they left the station.

A badly injured Sisko screams at Dukat, finally telling the truth: He will never give Dukat his approval, even though Dukat still insists that he wanted to rule Bajor with a softer hand. He did abolish child labor, increase food rations, and lower the quotas, dropping the death rate by 20%. In response, the Bajorans blew up an orbital drydock a month after he took command, tried to assassinate him, and so on. Even as he rants, there’s commentary from fake-Kira (the Bajorans didn’t want peace, they wanted Cardassia gone) and fake-Weyoun (the Dominion would’ve bene nastier) and fake-Damar (the Bajorans didn’t deserve his generosity). Basically, as far as he’s concerned, it was all the Bajorans’ fault. The Cardassians were the superior race.

Eventually, Sisko gets Dukat to admit that he hates the Bajorans. He hates their pride and their arrogance and their spirituality and their earrings and their noses and he should have killed them all. This gives Sisko the opportunity to club him with the same stick and leave the cave.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Waltz

Outside there’s a brutal sandstorm, which Sisko braves, trying to get to the shuttle, rightly assuming that Dukat was as dishonest about its damage as he was about the beacon’s operation. Unfortunately, Dukat recovers and jumps him in the shuttle, tossing him out into the sandstorm and then taking the shuttle, swearing that Bajor hasn’t seen nothin’ yet.

Just as the Defiant is about to give up the search due to running out of time, they pick up a signal from Dukat, who alerted the Defiant to Sisko’s whereabouts. They only have time to beam Sisko up, but not enough to go after Dukat, as they have to get to the troop convoy.

In sickbay, Sisko tells Dax that spending time with Dukat has made him realize that there is truly evil in the universe. He also swears he won’t let Dukat destroy Bajor. “From now on, it’s him or me.”

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Sisko can fix a busted distress beacon with the tine of a fork. Because he’s just that awesome.

The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko is scheduled to testify at Dukat’s “special jury” hearing, whatever that is. Dukat isn’t scheduled to be actually tried until after the war, so it’s unclear what this was supposed to accomplish.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is adamant in her insistence that the Defiant not spend a moment longer than necessary to protect the troop convoy. Which proves she’s much better at her job than Bashir and O’Brien.

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf refuses to disobey Kira’s orders to continue the search beyond the allotted time. When Bashir and O’Brien try to justify disobeying because they couldn’t understand her, Worf cuts through the bullshit, saying it would be dishonorable to disobey. Bashir snidely says that he doesn’t consider Worf’s honor to be more important than Sisko’s life, at which point Worf bluntly says, “You may leave the bridge, Doctor.” Honestly, after that attitude, Bashir’s lucky Worf didn’t toss his self-righteous ass in the brig. It was less about Worf’s honor, than the lives of the 30,000 troops they’re supposed to protect, but hey, they’re not in the opening credits, so it’s not like they’re people who matter or anything…

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Waltz

For Cardassia! When Dukat was a glinn, he was assigned to clean up a room in which some Cardassians had experienced explosive decompression. Kind of surprised that process isn’t automated…

Tough little ship: The Defiant is needed to both search for Sisko (along with the Constellation) and protect a convoy coming out of the Badlands. I get that Starfleet is stretched thin (especially given the losses described at the beginning of the season), but this stretches credulity that there are no other ships in the vicinity of the front lines of the war.

Victory is life: The Honshu is destroyed, ironically, by Cardassian ships. If only they knew who was on board—well, okay, they probably still would’ve blown it up…

Keep your ears open: “The Bajorans understand a clenched fist, not an open hand.”

“Being reasonable only made us bolder.”

“The Dominion would’ve killed every man, woman, and child on Bajor long ago.”

The voices of Damar, Kira, and Weyoun in Dukat’s head explaining the flaw in his alleged “soft rule” strategy of being Prefect of Bajor.

Welcome aboard: Obviously the primary guest is recurring regular Marc Alaimo, who is the focus of the episode as Dukat. Casey Biggs and Jeffrey Combs also appear as Dukat’s hallucinations of Damar and Weyoun.

Trivial matters: This episode picks up on Dukat’s madness from “Sacrifice of Angels,” and refers back regularly to the first six episodes of the season, as well as the earlier Cardassian occupation of Bajor.

In “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night,” we’ll see a bomb placed near Dukat’s quarters, which may be what he was referring to in this episode. However that upcoming episode creates an incongruity with this episode in that Dukat says that he was assigned to be Prefect of Bajor after the occupation had already been going on for 40 years, and so had to be about ten years prior to “Emissary.” But “Wrongs” firmly establishes that Dukat became prefect when the station was built in 2346, which is twenty-two years prior to “Emissary.” (Of course, Dukat’s not exactly of sound mind in this episode, so he can perhaps be forgiven for getting the math wrong, especially since the lie makes his nonsense point to Sisko better.)

The other ship searching for Honshu survivors is the Constellation, which was also the name of Commodore Decker’s ship in “The Doomsday Machine” and the name of the class of ship that Picard’s first command, the Stargazer, was part of. The Honshu itself, which is named after the main island of Japan, also appears in your humble rewatcher’s Starfleet Corps of Engineers tale War Stories (in a flashback story that takes place during the opening arc of the season, and therefore, obviously, before the ship’s destruction in this episode).

This episode was written specifically as a response to fans coming to like Dukat, in some cases actually defending some of his actions during the occupation. Marc Alaimo’s charisma and some excellent scriptwriting had turned him into sufficiently complex a character that the fact that he was an utter bastard was being lost behind Alaimo’s oily charm. So they made sure to bring him all the way over to the dark side here.

The Kornaire, the ship to which Dukat was assigned as a glinn, is seen in the first Terok Nor novel Day of the Vipers by James Swallow, and Dukat’s reign as prefect is seen throughout the other two novels in the series Night of the Wolves and Dawn of the Eagles, both by S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison.

Walk with the Prophets: “What the hell do you want from me?” There are parts of this episode that are brilliant, but ultimately it’s an object lesson in why you shouldn’t let the opinions of fans on the Internet (which was nascent at the time, but quite vocal) influence your writing decisions. Ira Steven Behr and the rest have admitted that this episode’s making of Dukat into “pure evil” was motivated by people who were saying nice things about him online and justifying his behavior.

This is a natural reaction. There is always going to be a subset of a TV show fandom that goes apeshit over a character because he or she is good-looking and/or charming and are willing to forgive a character many transgressions because of that charisma. (I always used to joke that Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans wouldn’t have been interested in redeeming Spike if he was played by Wayne Knight instead of James Marsters.)

But that’s not a good enough reason to do this idiotic story. It breaks DeCandido’s First Rule: Don’t mistake a few fans bitching on the Internet for any kind of trend.

It starts off promising, mind you. I’m weary of stories in which people fool trained therapists into thinking they’re cured of their madness because a) people don’t get cured via therapy, they get helped and b) professional therapists generally aren’t that stupid or incompetent. I’m willing to let it go here for two reasons: 1) It was clear from the way Dukat was talking in the brig that he was still undergoing treatment, not that it was finished, and 2) it’s been long established (most directly in “The Maquis, Part II”) that high-ranking Central Command officers are trained in resisting sophisticated interrogation techniques.

So in this particular case I’m willing to forgive the use of the tired trope, but that doesn’t make the trope any less tired. And then using Weyoun, Kira, and Damar as the Greek chorus in Dukat’s head was brilliant. I love that each hallucination was an exaggerated version of the real thing: Weyoun being dismissive, Kira being contemptuous, and Damar being a total suck-up, but in each case it’s turned up to eleven.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Waltz

And we’ve seen this side of Dukat many times before: he doesn’t just want to win, he wants to be loved. He doesn’t just want to oppress, he wants the people he’s oppressing to adore and understand him. He doesn’t just want acknowledgment, he wants approval. He spent the six episodes of the Dominion occupation of Terok Nor trying to get it from Kira, and he spends the whole of this episode trying to get it from Sisko.

But it just blows the ending. Dukat loses it, explodes, admits that he hated the Bajorans all along and he should just have wiped them out and that would show him, and it’s like Ronald D. Moore and Behr and the rest are hanging a big sign saying, “See? He’s a bad guy! Really! You can stop liking him now!”

It’s never a good idea when you can see the puppeteer. It kills the illusion.

Speaking of tired tropes, I’m also disgusted with the Defiant plot. There are 30,000 troops who need the Defiant’s protection, but Bashir and O’Brien are contriving feeble excuses to leave them hanging in the breeze to save one person (since I’m assuming that the chief and the doctor don’t give a rat’s patoot about Dukat), and Worf and Dax are right behind them. Worse, when O’Brien beams two Honshu survivors up, he looks disappointed because Sisko isn’t one of them.

So basically, our theoretical heroes are annoyed that they just saved two people’s lives. And are willing to put tens of thousands of lives at risk for Sisko. The only people behaving like compassionate beings—never mind professional military personnel—are Worf and Kira, and Worf loses points for his reluctance (though he gains them back for kicking Bashir off the bridge). Kira is the one who rightly insists that they not desert the convoy, and she’s the one who considers Sisko a religious figure.

Finally, the cherry on top of this nonsense is that it gives us Eeeeeeeeeevil! Dukat, who will continue to be a blight on the series, notably in “Tears of the Prophets” and the series-concluding arc. (He’s used well in “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night” and “Covenant,” at least.) This is a considerably less interesting character than Gul Dukat, and he will be missed.

 

Warp factor rating: 3


Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at RocCon in Rochester, New York this weekend, along with actors Brent Spiner, Billy West, Vic Mignogna, Alaina Huffman, and Bonnie Piesse; authors Lois Gresh, Nathan Squires, and Megan J. Parker; artists Rick Stromoski, Alex Saviuk, Ray McCarthy, Matt Keenan, and Salvatore Otero; wrestler Brimstone; and tons more. Keith will have a booth where he’ll be selling and signing books (including his latest Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution and Star Trek: The Klingon Art of War), and will also be doing a presentation Friday night and a Star Trek panel on Saturday.

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