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Saturday, 28 January 2017

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-20: In the Hands of the Prophets

Episode:20|Writer:Robert Hewitt Wolfe|Air Date:20-06-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm going to go through the final episode of Deep Space Nine's first season and write words underneath my screencaps. This is it, the end's in sight, I just have to clear these last 40 minutes or so and I'll have fulfilled the promise I made all the way back in my Emissary review to write about every episode in season one!

In the Hands of the Prophets is the first Deep Space Nine episode with 'Prophets' in the title. I wish I could say something like "when the word 'Prophet' appears in the title you know something huge is about to go down", but to be honest it only appears in three episodes titles throughout the entire seven year run, and one of them is a Ferengi episode. The writers resisted the prophet/profit pun for two and a half years, but in the end they were only human.

Plus this is the first Trek season since The Best of Both Worlds to not end on with part one of a two-parter. Voyager would later carry on Next Gen's tradition of making people suffer for months with a cliffhanger, but DS9 preferred to leave viewers with a feeling that next year shit's going to get even more real.

Alright I'm going to go through the whole damn episode and write anything that jumps into my mind along the way, so there will be SPOILERS for this story and other Trek episodes that came before it. I'll not spoil later seasons though.




The episode begins with O'Brien and Keiko in a scene together and they're not arguing! She does torment him a bit about him spending so much time with his new female assistant Neela, but she's only playing with him.

This scene's also setting up that the Starfleet crew are getting to know Bajoran culture from their co-workers, as his assistant's introduced him to these weird misshapen jumja sticks. At first I thought they must be a rare expensive treat on her world as it's all this guy seems to sell and he's only got five of them, but then the camera pulled back and revealed the rest of his shop.

Whoa, Keiko's actually teaching at the school for once! She'd been away visiting her mother for so long that I assumed they must have shut the place down in her absence, but it seems like all they did was move the door. The old exit behind her has been replaced by a wall and a computer monitor.

Keiko's currently trying to teach the class about that wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant that's sitting outside the station, which I guess is the equivalent of teaching modern children about the Panama Canal. If the Panama Canal was only found a few months ago and was built by aliens worshipped as gods by the locals.

She's interrupted when a well dressed Bajoran woman suddenly invites herself in, but she thoughtfully allows Keiko to continue the lesson. So she does! I guess she sees nothing wrong with letting a stranger hanging around her students.

Now she's putting her hands on them!

It's funny how the woman chose this exact moment to appear, as it seems she takes issue with Keiko calling the wormhole aliens 'entities' instead of 'the Prophets'. Keiko tries to get on with telling 9 year olds about verteron particles, but the woman just has to keep interrupting. She's very nice about it though.

Keiko points out that she's teaching the kids facts, as teaching them religion is her job. So I guess she must know who this is then. Whoever the stranger is, she seems very regretful about the fact that Keiko's teaching blasphemy and that she cannot permit these lessons to continue.

Uh-oh, it's a science vs. religion fight!


ACT ONE.


Down in the Security Office, O'Brien and Neela are doing a bit of maintenance work on a new panel that's just appeared this episode. The station's been evolving as the season's gone on to add more details and new glowing things for the actors to poke around with inside the walls.

Seems that they need a security interlock to close this particular panel... and O'Brien's has gone missing. Which is a bit of a concern, seeing as the tool's used for opening security panels. It also raises the question of how they got it open in the first place.

I've talked about Neela before by the way, as she was the nameless Bajoran tech who broke the rules of nameless Bajoran techs by saying words on camera in Duet (not to be confused with Anara, the Bajoran tech who got a few lines back in The Forsaken). It's a shame the writers didn't plan ahead and introduce her even earlier as she works well in this scene.

Up in Sisko's office, he's chatting to Kira and Keiko about the school incident. Turns out that the woman was Vedek Winn, basically equivalent to a cardinal, and she's a contender to become the next Kai, basically equivalent to the Pope. So they have a problem here.

Kira supports Winn, saying that maybe it's best to revise how they're teaching the Bajoran children, while Keiko's vehemently against the idea of letting a religious leader decide what's taught in class.

They have a lot of dialogue here about potentially segregating the students, and how pure science without a spiritual context can be considered a philosophy, but Kira's got no suggestions for how Sisko can make everyone happy.

And now we get out first look inside the station's Bajoran temple, as Sisko goes to pay Winn a visit... and get his ear grabbed in the traditional way. I know I'm not the first person to point out that her hat looks like the Sydney Opera House, but it does.

Oh damn, she's calling him the Emissary! It's only taken a whole damn season but we're finally getting some follow up on the fact that Sisko's considered a religious figure in his own right for finding the Celestial Temple and speaking with the Prophets.

Winn claims that the Prophets have spoken to her as well, through the Orbs, and that she's been given the task of defending the Bajoran faith. Funny, I thought the Cardassians had stolen all but one of them. She says that she can't be responsible for the consequences if Keiko doesn't back down, but she definitely gives the impression that she'll be setting those consequences in motion.


ACT TWO.


Well O'Brien and Neela have found the security interlock, lying melted inside a power conduit. Funny how the power conduits look just like the station's access tunnels, you wouldn't want to crawl into the wrong one by mistake.

They also find organic traces, presumably the remains of a missing Ensign who thought he'd borrow one of the Chief's security keys and go play in a deadly conduit with it. That's all that's left of him, traces. The two of them are surprisingly calm about all of this, considering that they're also inside the tunnel of inside death. I'm not overly claustrophobic, but personally this would be about the time where I freaked out and got myself elsewhere before the conduit killed again.

Now I'm wondering if Ensign Aquino here is the first dead Starfleet officer on DS9. That seems like something I should've been watching out for!

O'Brien's not so laid back next morning though when the jumja vendor refuses to serve him. In fact he grabs the guy by his collar and is about to shove a jumja stick where jumja shouldn't go when his wife drags him away.

I'm not sure whether the Bajoran shopkeepers have started to turn away Starfleet officers or if it's just Keiko they don't like, but either way this escalated in a hurry.

He's seriously considering getting a transfer and going elsewhere (seems that everyone but Sisko's allowed to chose their own posting in this series), but Keiko doesn't run from a fight. A philosophical fight I mean, she's not going to go back and club the jumja guy over the head later.

Well this has just gone from bad to worse. Winn's got the Bajoran students and their parents gathered in the Promenade outside the school.

She feels the O'Brien's anger towards her... and she forgives them for it. She even agrees to make the first concession, but Keiko stands firm. If she can't teach about the wormhole, then what happens when she gets to theories of evolution or the creation of the universe?

Keiko's never been the most likeable character in Star Trek, but put her against Winn... and she's still not entirely likeable. But Winn is downright punchable with the way she manipulates and patronises everyone, and what's worse is that she's good at it. Keiko's relying on pure stubborness to get her through, but Winn's got an actual game plan and she's running rings around her.


ACT THREE.


Wow Jake can just take a turbolift right up to Ops huh? They really need better security on this station. Also I've only just noticed that they're still giving Starfleet officers pointy sideburns. Funny how that fashion hasn't died out in a hundred years.

Only five kids turned up to school in the end, so Keiko decided to teach them about how Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for the crime of believing the Earth moved around the Sun. The 'pour fire on the flames' approach to education. Now Jake's all fired up, wondering how people could've been so stupid, and annoyed that the same thing's happening now.

So Sisko has to pull him back a little, explaining that the Bajorans used their religion to get them through a brutal 50 year occupation, so it makes sense that they're going to be a bit concerned when outsiders say it has no place in one of their schools. Plus these folks have been contacted throughout their history by godlike beings that exist outside of the normal flow of time. Just because they have a scientific explanation for the wormhole, it doesn't mean that the Bajoran interpretation of the facts is wrong, and if they start acting like Vedek Winn they'll lose everything they've worked for.

So he's going to Bajor to find some help.

This Bajoran city's looking a lot prettier than it did back in Emissary. Well, slightly prettier anyway. It wasn't all that bad back then really, but they've cleaned it up over the last few months and the sun's come out.

You know what's weird though? There's no people on the streets. It's not a huge surprise that they're not using cars, but those roads are entirely abandoned. 

I've stitched together some frames from the panning shot this time, which was kind of tricky due to the way the foreground scrolls by faster than the background. Last time I saw it I was convinced that they used a model in front of a matte painting and this time I'm doubly convinced. It's the reflections in the windows that's the real giveaway. It's the good kind of giveaway though, that makes it look more tangible and realistic.

But then they cut to this garden and straight away you can tell that Sisko's standing in a well dressed soundstage. I mean he's not, he's actually on location at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, but the way it's shot makes it look fake to me for whatever reason.

Sisko's here to have a talk with Vedek Bareil, the other main contender for the position of Kai. The guy doesn't immediately grab his ear like Kai Opaka and Vedek Winn did so they get on well right from the start. He's the less orthodox, more laid back priest that the viewer's supposed to like.

Bareil already knows that Winn's up on his station causing trouble, but he won't even try to get him an audience with the Vedek Assembly because they're all scared of him now. They apparently fear him as the symbol of a godless Federation (and because Winn told them to). You'd think being the Emissary would win him points but they fear him for that as well! Bariel does want to help Sisko, but he could be a much better friend in the future if the vedeks elect him as their Kai, so it's better if he doesn't rock the boat now. The Prophets teach patience.

Sisko observes that the Prophets have also been teaching him politics. He was supposed to be the likeable vedek, but he's as calculating as Winn is! Though he comes across as less selfishly motivated.

So it turns out that Sisko's wasted his time here and they had this whole location shoot for nothing. I suppose it was a bit of a long shot though; the vedeks likely have bigger issues to discuss than a one room schoolhouse on a tiny space station out in the Denorios belt.

Back on DS9 the situation's gotten bad enough so that some of the Bajoran crew have failed to report to duty. You know, I kind of resent Dramatis Personae even more now for making this seem less important than it is. The Bajorans know they need the Federation around to protect them from the Cardassians, but their religion is just as important to them.

Sisko's so stressed out that he actually snaps at Kira here, saying he's not here to protect their borders, he's there to build a relationship with them and he's sick of feeling like he's the only one making an effort.

Then to bring just that little bit extra joy into his day, Bashir shows up with his report on the organic remains O'Brien found in the conduit. Turns out that the Ensign was killed by phaser and then placed in the conduit to dispose of his body. They've got a killer on board, someone skilled enough to override the safety systems in the power conduits. I guess they haven't seen Star Trek 6 yet though or else they'd have known that you can vaporise evidence just fine with a phaser.


ACT FOUR.


Seems that the murder took place at Runabout Pad C (before Keiko's school became an issue), so O'Brien and Neela are sent to check the place to see if there's any sign of tampering.

We learn that Neela didn't know the murdered Ensign all that well, as Bajoran and Starfleet officers don't hang out much. I bet if I go back through earlier episodes and look through scenes we've had of people hanging out in Quark's that'll be proven wrong in about five minutes, but I'd rather lose all those scenes and keep this episode to be honest.

O'Brien thinks back to his wife's teasing in the teaser and gets concerned that their chat's getting a bit too intimate, so he decides to finish the check by himself.

And then he rushes down to show Odo what he's found!

Actually first there's a short reprise of the Quark and Odo scene from Duet last week to give the guy some screen time, only with him talking about getting orthodox priests to his Dabo tables instead of labour camp survivors. But then O'Brien comes and reveals that he checked the other two runabout pads and found yet another override device hidden in their systems. Though fortunately this is the kind that overrides security like in The Passenger rather than the kind that gives everyone an aphasia virus like in Babel.

Odo deduces what must have happened immediately. The person who planted this was originally going to set up an escape route through to Runabout Pad C, but got caught by the Ensign. They killed them and hid the body, but knew that the pad would be investigated and that they needed to rig a different runabout to escape in. But escape from what?

And then the Promenade explodes.

Well actually it was only the school, but that's still an impressive display of pyrotechnics. This isn't an an optical effect, they did this for real, so it's even more impressive that they had a set left afterwards. Incidentally if you're wondering how they put out fires on a 24th century alien space station, a guy runs over with a fire hose and sprays water on it.

Fortunately Keiko and kids weren't there at the time and the O'Briens find each other and hug.

Vedek Winn comes over to make sure that Keiko isn't hurt and Sisko makes it understood that he's holding her responsible for this act of terrorism. But she said earlier that she couldn't be held responsible for the consequences!

Winn hopes the Prophets forgive Sisko for abandoning them. But Sisko tells her to quit it with the 'I speak for the Prophets' crap, as she's part of an order who's barely listened to in her Vedek Assembly. Winn doesn't much like that, so her real teeth come out (figuratively speaking), and she accuses him of trying to destroy Bajor! He has no soul, the Federation exists in a universe of darkness and they want to drag everyone in with them.

That's exactly the response Sisko was after. Because the people on the station after been working and living with the Starfleet crew for months now and they know they're not the enemy. Sure they've got different agendas and they'll disagree on things, but the Bajorans here at least understand what the Federation is about. Aside from jumja stick guy.

Sisko's had a very commanding presence all season but I'm not sure I've found him all that likeable most of the time. Here though I want to give him a round of applause as he takes the vedek down with the full force of all the goodwill he's earned from the crew. Captains like Kirk and Picard are explorers who boldly go after the mission's complete, but Sisko's a builder and he's been building a community here all season... possibly. I'm struggling to remember any episodes besides Emissary where he's been shown doing that, but let's just say that he has.

O'Brien reports that Keiko's going to be holding classes in one of the cargo bays in case any of her five remaining students are feeling brave. He also tells him that he's locked down all the runabout pads in case the murderer tries to make a run for it, which gets a tiny bit of a reaction out of Neela in the background.

I was deliberately keeping an eye on her here, so I can't tell whether this is a subtle clue for people to look out for on a rewatch, or an obvious clue for people who notice what the background characters are up to when they're moving around in the middle of the screen, but either way it was nicely done.

Plus they've got Dax in the shot as well so that everyone can turn and look at her when she reports that Vedek Bareil is phoning up from a Bajoran transport.

And then the camera pans over so that Sisko can chat with him the big screen during the same shot. In Next Gen the viewscreen was 3D, so the perspective would change depending on the camera angle, but I can't tell if DS9's is the same. The projected image isn't leaning forward like the screen is so I'm going to go with 'probably'.

The crew finally get some good news this episode as Bareil has accepted Sisko's invitation to tour the station! He didn't actually make an invitation, but it'd certainly work out better for all of them if they carried on as if he had. Sisko apologises for the mess on the Promenade, but Bareil says that he might be able to help them clean it up. It's the least a friend could do. These vedeks do try to be clever with their lines.

Elsewhere on the station, Aquino's murderer is meeting with their boss to discuss the 'oh shit, O'Brien's discovered my escape route' situation.

It's Neela working with Vedek Winn, who's still lurking in the Bajoran temple like it's her supervillain lair! And she really is a great villain, the best the series has had so far (though Gul Dukat would surely be a contender if he ever turned up).

This is why the writers gave Neela that scene in Duet, so that viewers wouldn't instantly peg here as being the murderer here. Though I'm not sure I would've even noticed they were the same person if I hadn't been told about it.

To be fair, the original plan was to give her two appearances leading up to this episode, which is why Anara had so much to do in The Forsaken. But that went out the window when they switched actresses for whatever reason, which probably explains the line Keiko has in the teaser asking if Neela's working out any better than the last assistant.

It's also why the secret file O'Brien discovers in the computer is called A-N-A.

Yep, he's suddenly discovered a mysterious A-N-A subprogram just in time for a dramatic climax! Now it's a race against time to decrypt it before something bad happens. Fortunately these are Cardassian computers and they only let you have 7 letter passwords. Seriously.

The thing is, I don't remember anyone mentioning that he was searching the computer, so this kind of came out of nowhere for me. It's a shame really as the episode's been doing really well so far otherwise.

Oh wait, he mentioned something about 'checking for any other anomalies' during the conversation with Sisko earlier. I guess I was so focused on Neela's reaction in the background that I missed the line. Plus to be fair he makes it sound like he's checking down at the runabout pads.

O'Brien and Dax had better decrypt the file fast as Vedek Bareil's coming in to dock. Hang on, isn't that the Wadi ship from Move Along Home?

1-10 - Move Along Home
Sure is. It's even the exact same footage.

I realise that building physical models cost a lot of money and they had to reuse what they had, but it'd be nice if they'd at least kept their Gamma Quadrant and Alpha Quadrant ships separate. That way I can at least imagine they're buying ships from the same place, or being inspired by neighbouring races' technology.

Sure there's no reason why Gamma Quadrant aliens would be any more 'alien' than any other race in Star Trek so far, a planet next door can be as weird as a planet halfway across the universe, but it would've made the place feel more exotic and distant if they were.

They get the program decrypted and discover that it's intended to shut down all forcefields on the way to Runabout Pad A. Not a huge surprise there, he's already made sure that runabout's going nowhere, but now he knows the where they planned to escape from: the Promenade.

Hey, I recognise that computer display showing forcefields getting shut down from Dramatis Personae! It seems like those crappy earlier episodes served a purpose after all, as they gave them footage they could reuse for a much better one. And this really is a step up from the average season one story so far; there's an urgency and tension to it that's been missing in other episodes, a feeling that what's happening here actually matters.

O'Brien scans the Promenade and discovers something was activated in the Security Office 9 minutes ago. You'd think that this would be the point where he calls Sisko or Odo, but nah he's going to go investigate by himself. They're probably both busy escorting the two leading candidates to be the next Kai around the Promenade right now anyway.

Vedek Bareil and Vedek Winn are both as disingenuously courteous to each other as you'd expect, but Bareil gently grabs Winn's hand before she can grab his ear! Intercepted! The first round goes to Bareil.

They've got an actual crowd on the Promenade for once! It's usually only this busy when the Bajorans want to lynch Odo, but this is a season finale so they had more money to spend.

Meanwhile O'Brien discovers that one of the panels in Security Office has been sabotaged to disabled the weapon sensors... and it just happened to be the panel he and Neela were working on earlier!

I wonder if he ever managed to get that locked up again properly, seeing as his tool got stolen and melted. In fact I'm starting to wonder if they ever actually turned the weapon sensors back on, considering how many people manage to sneak guns onto the Promenade during later seasons.

He finally calls Sisko, but the commander's options are kind of limited right now as Neela has his weapon drawn and she's ready to assassinate Bareil. If she pulls that trigger he's dead.

Hey the extra standing next to her has the old school V-shape ridge on her forehead that Bajorans had in The Next Generation. You don't see that often at this point, even Ensign Ro in Next Gen eventually had her makeup appliance redesigned.

I was expecting Sisko to dive over and tackle Bareil to the ground to get him out of the line of fire, but nope he yells at the crowd and then charges right into it! The crowd knows better than to be in Sisko's way when he's got places to be, so they move back, knocking Neela's arm, and her phaser shot hits the railings behind Bareil. It's a damn miracle no one gets hurt or killed.

Holy shit, how did he even get that much air? He just flew in like Superman!

Amazingly no one is hurt this time either and even the floor escaped unscathed. Doesn't matter if you bomb it, shower it with sparks, or shoot it with directed energy weapons, nothing singes a Cardassian carpet.

After Sisko does his action hero thing, Kira puts the puzzle pieces together: Vedek Winn never really cared about a tiny school on a distant space station, she just saw it as an opportunity to lure her rival out in public and assassinate him. There's nothing to tie her to Neela or the bombing, so she can walk away from this scot-free, but I think it's fair to say that she's lost Kira's support.

And then the credits roll.

Wait, there's another scene? Wow, Deep Space Nine's actually taking a moment to reflect on what's just happened instead of stopping abruptly for once.

Kira's amazed that she's come so far in just a year, from fighting the Cardassians in a swamp to wearing a uniform and protecting a wormhole. The 'Celestial Temple', Sisko reminds her. And then they go into his office to write up a report before they head to their beds.

Wait they're just going to leave Ops abandoned then? There's no night shift? The station might be on an artificial day/night cycle, but incoming ships aren't going to wait until 'morning' to dock, especially if they're from worlds which haven't even heard of Bajoran Mean Time. Plus they've already established that there's no security in place to stop civilians coming up and pressing buttons. No wonder ensigns are getting fried in power conduits in the middle of the night.


CONCLUSION

One of the original ideas for Deep Space Nine's first season finale was for an epic crossover with Next Gen, where Sisko's crew would join up with Picard's crew to fight off a Cardassian invasion. So it says a lot about how much I liked In the Hands of the Prophets that I'm glad they didn't go that route. They couldn't have pulled it off properly at this point anyway, the effects would've been too expensive and the Cardassians haven't had enough set up yet.

Well that's not entirely true, as Next Gen had been working to build them up in episodes like The Wounded and Chain of Command, but DS9 itself has done next to nothing with their main antagonists in 18 episodes! They'd done next to nothing with anything in fact, so it came as a bit of a surprise to me when no less than two characters referred to Sisko as being the Emissary here. The fact that it's taken the series an entire season to get around to dealing with Bajoran beliefs regarding the wormhole, Starfleet's influence on their culture, and Sisko speaking to their gods is amazing, and it makes a lot of the stories up to this point feel like filler.

In the Hands of the Prophets works where earlier episodes failed because it comes back to the premise of the series, Starfleet officers trying to build a community with a very spiritual and mistrustful alien race on a wrecked space station, and features an issue those characters would naturally have to deal with. Then it takes it up to the next level by introducing characters with agendas trying to use the situation to their own advantage, and introduces interesting new ideas like tension and urgency. Plus it helps that Louise Fletcher absolutely kills it as Vedek Winn.

It's only her first appearance and Winn's already manufactured a religious controversy, murdered a Starfleet officer and blown up a school just to set up an opportunity to assassinate her rival, and she was amazingly morally superior and patronising the whole time. It made me want to reach through the screen and punch her, but in a good way! I suppose Winn's plan seems like kind of a long shot as it relies on Sisko deciding to call Bariel for help, but I don't see that as a flaw. She kept escalating the situation until she got the result she was after, and if it hadn't worked out it was hardly a huge hardship for her to hang out on a space station stirring up trouble for a couple of days.

Plus you can't go far wrong with a plan that relies on Keiko being stubborn and Sisko being pragmatic. Keiko plays straight into Winn's hands as she sticks firmly to her Federation beliefs without compromise. Maybe she was right, maybe she wasn't, but she never questions those beliefs and that doesn't help her come off as sympathetic. Not that anything she did would've resolved the situation as Winn would've just moved the goal posts. Then Sisko puts the next part of Winn's plan into action by not imposing his own ideology on the station. Well he doesn't impose his beliefs on religion or education anyway. Sisko personifies Starfleet's stated philosophy here, as he believes in respecting other cultures and finding strength in diversity, so he tries to work with the other vedeks... and inadvertently brings one into the crosshairs (literally).

This is all so much more interesting than milkshake monsters, Next Gen guest stars and imagination aliens, and it puts the humans and Bajorans in conflict without having to infect them with a telepathic matrix that makes the whole drama utterly meaningless! I guess if there's one flaw I can find in the episode, it's that there's very little Quark. But then Duet had very little Quark in it as well, and that was awesome too, so perhaps that's actually a virtue. Maybe the guy just works better in small doses.

I was worried this episode would be a let down, as a season of mediocrity had dampened my expectations, but nope this is solid 90s television. Plus it bookends the season well, showing all the progress they've made so far, retroactively making this a season about building a community, and hinting at how complicated things are going to get now that Bajor's recovered enough to stab itself in the back. If you watch only one episode from season 1, make it this one... and also Emissary and Duet, and maybe Past Prologue.



COMING SOON
Sci-Fi Adventures will return with my Deep Space Nine Season 1 Review, and I'm sure I'll eventually write something else about the series after that someday.


Thanks for reading and extra thanks if you've decided to share your own thoughts in the comment box below.

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