Rewatcher’s note: There will be no DS9 Rewatch on Friday the 26th of December. We’ll be back on Tuesday the 30th with “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Happy holidays!
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by John Kretchmer
Season 7, Episode 9
Production episode 40510-559
Original air date: November 25, 1998
Station log: Kira joins Odo, Bashir, and Dax for a drink after services. They talk about faith and religions and stuff for a while, and then Kira goes back to her quarters, where she’s visited by Vedek Fala, who was her religion teacher growing up in the refugee camp. He gives Kira a present, which turns out to be a homing beacon that transports her to Empok Nor. The station has been taken over by the Pah-wraith cult, under the guidance of their new master, Dukat.
Dukat and Kira talk, the former sounding exactly like every cult leader ever, the latter taking even more snotty shots than usual at him. Dukat insists that the Pah-wraiths were cast from the Celestial Temple because they wanted to take a more active role in Bajor’s fate, and the Prophets didn’t like that. Dukat also claims that he’s the Emissary of the Pah-wraiths. He’d become their vessel solely in order to get revenge on Sisko, but now he sees that there’s a greater plan at work.
He brought the Bajorans who worship the Pah-wraiths to Empok Nor so they can cleanse themselves in preparation for the Pah-wraiths’ grand plan for Bajor. Kira is pretty sure that their plan has something to do with Dukat ruling Bajor again. He brought Kira there because he wants her to join them—to join him.
Sisko, Odo, Worf, and O’Brien investigate Kira’s disappearance, but all they know for sure is that a Dominion transporter took her away, and she could be as far as three light-years away in any direction.
On Empok Nor, Fala visits Kira, revealing that he became part of the Pah-wraith cult toward the end of the occupation. He accepted Dukat as their master because he believes the Pah-wraiths washed him clean and allowed him to start anew. He takes her on a tour of the station, where they meet Mika, who’s pregnant and about to give birth. She also meets Benyan, Mika’s husband, who’s painting a mural of Dukat on one of the bulkheads. Kira is appalled to realize that the people there can’t procreate without Dukat’s consent. They all take a vow of abstinence as part of their covenant with Dukat and with the Pah-wraiths.
During services, Kira manages to get her hands on a phaser and holds it on Dukat—but then everyone steps between her and Dukat, willing to die to protect him. She’s quickly subdued, and Dukat takes her to her cabin to tend to her. He brings her food, and she contemplates stabbing him with a fork, but Dukat reminds her that that’ll just make him a martyr.
He insists that the occupation would’ve been much worse without him, and she throws his tryst with her mother in his face. As far as she’s concerned, all she sees is a good-parts version of the occupation: he has the station, he has Bajorans to serve his every whim, and best of all, this time the Bajorans do actually love him. For his part, Dukat thinks Kira was sent as a test to him: if he can convert her, he can convert any Bajoran.
Mika goes into labor. Benyan is thrilled to be the father of the first child born to the community. However, the child she gives birth to is half-Bajoran and half-Cardassian. Dukat spins a bullshit story that the Pah-wraiths have changed the baby in the womb into a symbol of the covenant between him and them.
Kira is stunned that Fala actually believes that this is anything other than Dukat trying to cover up his having had sex with Mika—especially given the look on Mika’s face after she gives birth. When she and Fala talk to Benyan, he’s obviously a bit strained, and reveals that, before Dukat gave permission for them to have children, he prayed with them many times, both together and separately—so yeah, Dukat “prayed” with Mika alone. Wah hey!
Dukat finds Mika at an airlock, and they confirm in their furtive conversation that they did sleep together in what Dukat claims is a moment of weakness. He then closes her in the airlock and opens the other door. However, Kira and Fala arrive and save her. Dukat insists it was an accident, but Kira doesn’t buy that. And when Dukat tries to lead the cultists in prayer, Fala doesn’t join in.
In his quarters, Dukat kneels before an altar and apologizes to the Pah-wraiths for his moment of weakness with Mika, and he fears that Mika will reveal the truth when she awakens, and so he asks them for guidance.
Then he rings the bell for services, albeit not at the usual time. Dukat announces that he received his final vision from the Pah-wraiths, who have asked them all to join the Pah-wraiths in their battle against the Prophets. They will all abandon their corporeal bodies in the morning to join this battle. Kira realizes that Dukat’s killing them all to avoid losing all his followers and having them turn on him. He’s using a drug the Obsidian Order developed that kills quickly and turns the body to dust—and he insists to Kira that he’s happy to do it. He’s also sent a message to DS9 so that they can come fetch her when it’s all over.
Kira manages to break out of her cabin just as Dukat starts his little mass suicide. Kira attacks him before he takes his pill, and he drops it onto the floor as he knocks over a plate of the pills. Dukat has lost the pill he was going to take, and he hesitates, unwilling to pick up another pill. Fala hands him another, but he refuses to take it. Kira realizes that his own pill was a placebo that her attack made him lose. He is forced to admit that he never intended to die, as he needs to continue his work. The faithful turn on him, and Dukat angrily rips off his earring and beams away.
Fala takes the pill and dies, to Kira’s shock and disgust. He still had his faith, despite Dukat’s betrayal.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Empok Nor has only one working fusion reactor, so the station’s on minimal power. They don’t have enough for replicators, so they grow their own food in a converted cargo bay (it’s unclear what they ate before the hydroponics stuff was up and running, nor is it clear where they get water from—though that’s actually an easy fix, as there’s ice in comets that could easily be melted, but that’s never mentioned). Somehow, though, they have enough power for a Dominion transporter.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is her usual takes-no-crap self, never once giving an inch to Dukat or to Fala when she’s captured, and her constant poking with a stick eventually pays off, as the doubts her skepticism sows bear fruit when Dukat proves to be a lying asshole.
Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo is sorry that he doesn’t believe in the Prophets, because it means he can’t go to services with Kira, and he wants to share things with her.
The slug in your belly: Dax thinks it’s sweet that Odo wants to be able to go to services with Kira. She feels sufficiently strongly about this that she says it twice.
For Cardassia! Dukat has managed to get his hands on some useful stuff from the Dominion-occupied Cardassian Union, including a Dominion transporter and at least fifty Obsidian Order suicide pills.
Victory is life: The Dominion transporter that can send people over long distances, not seen since “The Jem’Hadar,” is put to use by both Fala and Dukat in this episode.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Dukat’s prayer meetings to see if Benyan and Mika were worthy of having children were apparently quite hot and heavy, since he and Mika conceived a child during it…
Keep your ears open: “That was a long time ago, before he felt the kiss of the Pah-wraiths.”
“That was some kiss.”
Fala defending Dukat and Kira not buying it.
Welcome aboard: Marc Alaimo is back as Dukat, while Jason Leland Adams, Maureen Flannigan, Miriam Flynn, Norman Parker, and Mark Piateli play the various and sundry Bajorans he’s hoodwinked.
Fala says that the boy who attacked Sisko on Earth in “Image in the Sand” operated on his own without the consent of the rest of the Pah-wraith cult. He also reminds Kira of the miracle of making an entire Dominion fleet disappear in “Sacrifice of Angels.”
Kira learned that Dukat took her mother as a comfort woman in “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night.”
Mika, Benyan, and their baby are seen again in the Mission: Gamma novel Cathedral by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin, defending Kira, whom they credit with saving their lives.
Dukat must have been in place at the station for at least five or six months, since the Bajoran gestation period (established in “Body Parts”) is five months.
This is the third use of Empok Nor, following the station’s eponymous episode and “The Magnificent Ferengi.” It’ll next be seen in your humble rewatcher’s Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Cold Fusion.
The episode’s conception came from former investigative reporter David Weddle, who had written about cults for both the San Jose Mercury News and L.A. Weekly. In particular, the collective on Empok Nor was inspired by Marshal Applewhite’s “Heaven’s Gate” cult who also committed mass suicide to abandon their corporeal bodies for a journey to the stars, in this case to the spaceship that was allegedly hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997. (The Heaven’s Gate web site is still live, and maintained by two members of the cult, though the design makes it clear that it hasn’t been updated since ’97…)
Walk with the Prophets: “Our covenant is broken!” I have gone on the record as saying how much I despise the entire concept of the Pah-wraiths, but I will say that this particular episode is the one and only time it completely works. The fact that this is also the only Pah-wraith episode that doesn’t have alien possession, glowing eyes, and people firing ray-beams out of their fingers is not a coincidence.
What this episode addresses is faith, and when DS9 deals with faith in an intelligent manner (to wit, one that doesn’t involve the special effects crew), it’s usually well done: “In the Hands of the Prophets” and “Rapture” spring to mind as a couple of the best examples.
And this is another. One of the great contradictions of faith is how you can believe in a kind, benevolent, merciful deity when there’s so much suffering in the world. Yet there are so many cases of the strongest faith being found in those who suffer the most, whether it’s the Jews who lived and died under Nazi Germany or the Africans and their descendants who were enslaved by white people in the United States—or the Bajorans who lived under the Cardassian occupation. But then there are also those who can’t handle the notion that their deity loves them and cares for them yet lets them suffer so much, and so they reject the deity—but the need is still there, the faith is still there, just looking for a target, as it were.
Into that breach steps Dukat, a most charismatic man, who has the perfect tale of redemption. The villain of the occupation redeemed by the “true Prophets,” the ones who were cast out of the Celestial Temple for trying to help Bajor. Given the actual history—Pah-wraiths cast out, the Prophets themselves being incredibly vague and hard to comprehend, Bajor’s long suffering under Cardassian rule—the road taken by Fala and the rest of the cult is completely understandable. There’s a great speech from Michael J. Fox’s character in The American President, when he says that people are so desperate for leadership that they’ll crawl across a desert toward a mirage, and when they get there, they’re so thirsty that they drink the sand.
Of course, Michael Douglas’s president retorts that people don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty, they drink it because they don’t know any better, which certainly applies here. It’s impossible to feel completely sorry for Fala and Benyan and Mika because they fall for Dukat’s entire line despite all the evidence that suggests that Kira’s absolutely right. While Fala has a point about how the beings that live in the wormhole have provided miracles in the past, it’s still kinda disheartening that Kira’s the only one who applies Occam’s Razor to deduce that Dukat had sex with Mika. (Of course I say that while living in a world where people still believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old, so—yeah.)
Either way, Dukat is getting everything he wants out of this: Bajorans serving him, Bajorans loving him, and Bajoran women boinking him, with the added bonus of not being answerable to Central Command, the Detapa Council, or the Obsidian Order, just a bunch of beings of pure energy who apparently only talk to him (if they talk at all).
And yet, the script is sufficiently vague that Kira’s interpretation at the end—that Dukat is still a bastard, but he actually believes what he’s spouting, which is supported in part by Dukat’s solitary prayer—is also valid. So, sadly, is Odo’s: that Dukat really is a vessel of the Pah-wraiths, which sets up Dukat’s absolutely dreadful story in the series’ closing arc.
This episode itself, though, works very nicely. This is the last time we get the complex Kira-Dukat pas-de-deux that Marc Alaimo and Nana Visitor do so amazingly well, in so many different permutations, and it remains magnificent. Plus we get a good character study of the tragic cultist in Fala, who has had his faith shredded by circumstance, but who can’t bring himself to give it up, and so drinks the sand.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido wishes everyone the great joy of the solstice season, as the sun renews itself, giving us hope for the coming year. Happy Holidays.