WARNING: This article contains major spoiler information for DS9's "Destiny". Anyone who wants to avoid exposure to previously unknown plot details is advised to skip out and recite the destiny poem from "Young Frankenstein" until the urge goes away.
In a nutshell: wait a minute, this was political and cultural intrigue. I thought I'd seen the last of that; what a pleasant surprise!
Brief summary: When signs mount that a Federation/Cardassian scientific mission will bring about an age-old Bajoran prophecy of disaster, Sisko must juggle his role as a Starfleet officer with his role as Emissary -- and Kira faces a spiritual crisis.
Now this, to be blunt, is generally the sort of thing I've grown to like about DS9. It wasn't quite up there with the best of the series ("Duet", "Necessary Evil", "The Circle", etc.), but it took one of the facets that the show had made a strength in the past and decided to once again put it to good use. After all my muttering two weeks ago about DS9 seemingly cutting its own throat, I have to admit that this gives me renewed cause for hope. (Not that I'm letting my guard down just yet; the fact that this show was written by people not on the regular writing team was not lost on me.)
"Destiny", as my summary suggests, was really about two people: Sisko and Kira. And, as much as Sisko tried to deny it in the course of the episode, he is in many ways an icon, both within the context of the show and without. To Bajor, he's the Emissary; but to us, he's the Federation, just as much as Kira is Bajor. The gradual growth of their relationship has mirrored Bajor's growth towards Federation membership, and it's good to see an episode that once again reflects that. (This isn't to say there aren't good shows outside of that particular interpretation; there certainly are, and "Necessary Evil" is a beaut. But it was in many ways an exception, and one I'm not sure we're likely to see repeated.)
Given the proven existence of the Prophets, for that matter, I'm a little surprised we hadn't already seen a show hinging on a particular prophecy up to this point. This clearly wasn't the first time there'd been a prophecy relating to the Emissary (as Sisko made clear in his examinations of them), but this was apparently the first one so absolutely crucial as to require Vedek Yarka's warning. I have to admit that I'm frankly curious as to what some of the others were, that "with the right interpretation" have already come true.
In any event, it stands very much to reason that eventually Sisko would be called upon to play some sort of role as Emissary, and equally as much to reason that Sisko wouldn't be comfortable with that fact. While he wasn't as overtly uncomfortable about it as, say, Picard probably would be (given "Who Watches the Watchers"), he's never sought to be called by that name and likely never will be. The scene between him and Kira where Kira attempts to come up with a "Starfleet" way of interpreting the prophecy and letting Sisko make the choice that Kira thinks is right was agony -- not because it was bad, but because it was so damned good that you didn't want to see either character proven right or wrong. That's not just good acting, that's good writing to carry the characters into such a situation -- and it's something I hope we see more of.
The character put through the most hell here, however, wasn't Sisko -- I'd argue it was Kira. Here we have someone who's said many times that her faith was one of the only things getting her through the occupation, and who believes in the Prophets and the good they do for Bajor's spirits [that meant in the sense of morale, not a literal one]. She's been working for one of her religion's single most important figures for nearly three years, and as we rediscover here, she really believes in his semi-mythical nature -- but she can't show it, and
has to work with him solely in a secular capacity to get anything accomplished. That's got to be inconvenient in the best of circumstances -- here, when all the signs were starting to unfold and Kira became more and more convinced that Trecor's prophecy actually was coming to pass, it had to be almost maddening. Sisko had a lot
riding on his shoulders, but he wanted nothing more than to shake some of it; Kira, on the other hand, felt that she had his decision riding on her shoulders, and wanted to be able to convince him of that fact. That's crunch time for a character -- and I think both Sisko and Kira were handled expertly here.
[Note that the show starts with Kira taking Sisko's side 100%, even against Yarka -- and that we see her attitude change degree by degree as the events unfold. Nicely done.]
As for the other sections of the show, I enjoyed seeing a renewed Cardassian presence on the show, even if Dejar being revealed as a member of the Obsidian Order had to be one of the biggest non-surprises of recent history. In particular, I enjoyed seeing the difference between Federation and Cardassian approaches in research matters -- as was pointed out, the Federation is perhaps erring too much on the side of safety, while the Cardassians play fast and loose with risk. I'm not sure my particular reaction to it was intended, but I tend to think that the ideal approach is probably somewhere in the middle. [I do agree that the risk should have been made available to the rest of the team, without question; but whether that should have influenced their final decision is a more open question.] In any event, I found both Gilora and Ulani perfectly reasonable characters given the circumstances, and their decidedly non-Cardassian approaches to life made the grim fervor of Yarka's warning all the more difficult to deal with.
The side plot, of O'Brien and Gilora's interactions, came off substantially less well, but was still pretty reasonable. Every time I was prepared to write it off as totally cliched (the two not getting along, then her doing a 180 and coming on to him, for instance), there was something to at least justify what was happening. In the first case, that of Gilora's sharpness, it was her own unique brand of sexism, which I hadn't seen coming and which worked beautifully. The second time, when her flirting was revealed to be a cultural miscommunication, was at least plausible, but weakened things a bit regardless. I understand that something a little lighter was needed in between Sisko/Kira scenes, but it wasn't quite handled as well as I might like.
On the whole, however, I thought "Destiny" was probably one of DS9's strongest shows this season. We had a prophecy that hung over the episode like a storm cloud, and which did come true despite [or better yet because of] everyone's dancing around it, we had Sisko and Kira reacting perfectly down to the very cores of their characters, we had no real villain (discounting Dejar, which I'd like to do; better yet, give her away for free! :-) ), and all in all we had just a damn good story. I couldn't be much more relieved.
So, some smaller points:
-- There are, of course, a few nitpicks. :-) One is my complaint left over from "Life Support": I don't think the peace treaty makes any sense. However, if we take it as a given, this show was excellent in context, so I'm willing to leave it at that. The other, though, is one of timing: how could Yarka have been protesting the Vedek Assembly's endorsement of the treaty two months ago when it was made public knowledge far more recently? Whoops. Third, of course, is why the comet had a tail, but I've lost hope of any show ever getting that
-- I could swear I remember us seeing communications through the wormhole before at least once. I can't come up with a specific moment when I put my mind to it, though, which suggests I might be misremembering. Anyone with too much time on their hands know for certain? :-)
-- Ulani's comment about being contacted by Guls she's never even heard of reminded me of someone we haven't seen in a while: Gul Dukat. What does he think of the new peace treaty? For that matter, where's Garak? As much as Kira is Bajor, those two together are more or less Cardassia -- and I'd like to see what they're up to.
-- Lastly, there's the "hey, isn't that?" category. I don't remember where I've seen Erick Avari [Vedek Yarka] before, though I feel I should. However, Gilora's mating attempt with O'Brien should have jogged the memories of anyone who hadn't already pegged Tracy Scoggins as "Lois & Clark"'s Cat Grant last season, and Wendy
Robie [Ulani] still sounded perky enough that we half expected her to turn back into "Twin Peaks"'s Nadine and don a cheerleader's outfit. :-)
That seems a suitably surreal note on which to end. So, wrapping up:
Writing: Solid -- very refreshingly so. Good, meaty stuff.
Directing: No complaints, and lots of compliments.
Acting: Good all in all; some of the O'Brien/Gilora stuff got a bit much, but that's about it.
OVERALL: Call this one a 9. Very refreshing -- I hope it's a trend!
Zek's annual pilgrimage to DS9 -- but he seems a changed disgusting little troll...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Where you see the Sword of Stars, I see a comet; where you see vipers, I see three scientists; and where you see the Emissary, I see a Starfleet officer."