WARNING: I bring a message from the Prophets. Unfortunately for them, it contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen DS9's "Accession", you shouldn't listen yet.
In brief: Not the best episode DS9 has had this season, but perhaps the most interesting, delving into Sisko and into Bajoran faith in a way that few shows have recently.
Written by: Jane Espenson Directed by: Les Landau Brief summary: An old Bajoran ship comes out of the wormhole 200 years after it entered. Its occupant: a poet who claims to be the Emissary of the Prophets, prompting Sisko to re-examine his mission and his role in Bajoran spiritual life.
Whew. After "Bar Association" last week, this was a welcome return to form. In fact, "Accession" was such a return to form that it almost felt like a throwback to DS9's second season; it had precisely the kind of internal soul-searching, Federation/Bajor questions, and internal Bajoran cultural examinations that made DS9 as a series appeal to me so much in its first two seasons. (Not that this season has been bad -- it's just been a somewhat more simplistic "good" than its second season, I think.)
Let me start with the weaker points and work my way up, since even the weak points weren't all that weak. The O'Brien/Keiko/Bashir story was basically fluff -- entertaining fluff, to be sure, but fluff. The revelation that O'Brien had gotten used to life without Keiko and had some difficulty adjusting back to being "tied down" was, while realistic, not exactly riveting or fraught with twists and turns. Fortunately, this aspect of the show really didn't try to be much more than fluff, and all the actors involved are so good that these scenes tend to come off nicely unless they're absolutely terrible in conception. And given moments like Keiko's wondering at O'Brien's cloak, Worf's reaction to Keiko's new pregnancy (easily the funniest scene of the show, and definitely the best use to which TNG's "Disaster" has ever been put), and Keiko's scam to cheer Miles up at the end of the show, there were enough high points to make the subplot, while not riveting, at least enjoyable.
Then there was the main story -- the coming of Akorem Laan. This one *was* pretty riveting, both in conception and in execution. Sisko has been a pivotal figure in Federation/Bajoran relations, not simply because he's commander of DS9, but because he has his own unwitting ties to Bajor thanks to his experience in the wormhole. As such, when Bajoran issues are the forefront of an episode, it's criminal folly to *only* look at Sisko as a Starfleet officer. He's a full-blown religious symbol, and a living one at that. "Accession", by examining what potentially might be if Sisko gave the role up, brought Sisko's role as Emissary back into sharp focus, and that's something I very much like seeing.
The story was most interesting in its effects on two people: Sisko and Kira. Sisko's attitudes towards being the Emissary had to change quite a bit over the course of the show; when the Prophets said that they'd sent Akorem "for the Sisko", they weren't kidding. Only through rejecting and then fighting to reclaim his role as Emissary did Sisko truly come to accept that role -- compare his somewhat grudging marriage blessing in the teaser to his relaxed willingness to bless the teenager at the end of the show. The "reluctant messiah" image is one that's certainly been used time and time again in SF literature (perhaps the most famous being _Dune_'s Paul Atreides), but I've rarely seen it used in television particularly well. This one was -- and if it's not dealt with further sometime relatively soon, I'll be ... frustrated, to say the least.
Kira's experience was a bit different, because she didn't have to straddle two worlds the way Sisko's always had to. She represents Bajor, and so through her reactions we got a taste of how Bajor as a whole might react to Akorem's presence. And quite a spectrum of reactions there was, too: we saw the adulation (summed up neatly by her statement about faith and how it needs no explanation or logic), followed by the questioning -- but even through the questioning, the insistence on belief. Kira always has been someone searching for answers in her life, and willing to get them from a great many different sources: from Kai Opaka, from Vedek Winn (briefly), from Bareil, from Shakaar, from Sisko on rare occasions -- and now, from Akorem Laan. When she quietly told Sisko that Bajor would have tried to do *anything* he asked of them as Emissary, it made the power and the danger of the Bajoran faith shine so clearly that it hurt to realize how much it's been ignored at times. (It also pointed up very neatly just *why* Starfleet is right to be nervous about Sisko's role as Emissary; with that kind of power, he could virtually control the culture if he wanted to.)
Akorem's actual "purpose", as he thought, was probably the least powerful part of his story, but it still worked pretty well. My biggest objection to his preaching a return of the d'jarras (the Bajoran caste system) was not his belief, but the fact that we'd never heard of them before. Given how old it was and how much has happened to Bajor since the days of Akorem, it's perhaps plausible that we'd never really have heard of them -- but it still felt slightly distressing that we hadn't. On the plus side, however, it really *does* make sense that someone from the days of the d'jarras might well see their abandonment as Bajor "losing its way", as they certainly would recall a time when decisions were simpler (or at least seemed so). Kira's evident discomfort at the idea set the stage for Sisko's subsequent discomfort, which came into sharper focus as the divisiveness of the d'jarras continued to mount. (The occasional moment such as Akorem's "Kai Winn and I have already discussed [losing Fed membership]" also played up how some present-day Bajorans would appreciate such an overwhelming return to "traditional values".)
That leads to the more metaphysical parts of the show: Sisko's "Orb shadow" and the subsequent trip into the wormhole to settle the question of who the true Emissary was once and for all. Both were, simply put, excellent. The wormhole trip was particularly pleasant to see; given that the last time we saw the Prophets, they were relegated to the straight-man role in a Quark story, it was good to see them put to a more appropriate use. Akorem's confidence in his own rightness led nicely to his collapse when he realized how wrong he'd been (and to the character's credit, he did realize he was wrong without fighting it), and the Prophets' words were just the right mix of vague and telling to be maddening. (The repeated "we/you are of Bajor" was particularly interesting; it could mean any number of things, and I look forward to eventually finding out which way they meant it.)
All in all, "Accession" was a marvelous piece of work. My biggest problem with it (apart from the fact that it reminded me of the way DS9 *used* to tell stories before the Dominion and Klingon stories shoved everything else out of the way) is that it was so "big" in terms of its impact that it would have been better served as a two-part episode. The show did a good job of implying a story told over a period of weeks, but I think it could have been more powerful still had we seen more of the intervening time -- let's see Winn and Akorem in conference (perhaps seeing Winn subtly trying to use Akorem for her own gain). Let's see Shakaar reacting to Akorem's "farmers have become politicians" barb. Let's see more of Starfleet's reactions, and perhaps some of how Jake feels about his father's changing fortunes. [I know, I know ... some of this corresponds to "let's blow our guest star budget for half a season". Hey, I can dream.] I didn't object at all to what we saw in "Accession" -- I just wish we could have seen even more.
Still, in and of itself "Accession" worked extremely well, and is probably the most interesting show DS9 has had this season. It's one I hope to see followed up soon: now that Sisko's embraced the role of Emissary a bit more fully, the temptation to use that role could become very compelling.
So, some shorter takes and a wrapup:
-- I like the Bajoran back-handed clap. No particular reason; I just think it's neat. :-)
-- Several back-references to previous stories were worked in so subtly that they felt extremely natural. Kira's update to Sisko about the 4-shift rotation echoed her suggestion of it in "Starship Down", and her relegation to the artists' d'jarra was all the more ironic for those who remembered her pointing out to Bareil back in "The Circle" that "I have *no* artistic skills." The fact that Akorem came out in a "light-ship" similar to the one Sisko built was also appreciated.
-- The transition from Sisko on the Promenade to Sisko in his Orb- shadow was excellent.
-- Quark: "Have you heard? Keiko's going to have another baby?" Worf: "NOW?" Still gives me the giggles. :-) (It might have been even funnier had the scene ended right then.)
-- Sisko is still the only one the Prophets have ever mentioned by name: Akorem was merely "the one who was injured". A very telling point, that -- and nicely done.
And, to sum up:
Writing: Not a lot of gigantic surprises, but a lot of deep thinking and a lot of little ironies. I'm impressed. Directing: Great transitions, good visions, and generally nice work. Acting: No complaints; everyone was good, really. OVERALL: A 10 -- first one in a while. Nice job.
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "The Way of the Warrior, Part I".
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org "I see now why Kai Opaka believed you were the Emissary -- and why Winn fears you." -- Akorem Laan Copyright 1996, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.