WARNING: This article is a review of DS9's "Duet", and as such contains lots and lots of spoilers. If you don't want to see them, don't read the article.
Wow. Now *that* is the sort of show I wish DS9 could do every week.
Aside from a niggling little question I have about the show's internal logic, "Duet" was virtually everything anyone could have hoped for. It probably won't appeal to everyone, particularly those who want lots of action in their stories -- but it certainly appealed to me.
First, the very minor glitches, since we can then get them out of the way. Neither is particularly unexplainable, but both seem a bit odd. To start with, if one assumes Marritza only planned this recently, assuming Gul Darheel's face to begin with has no conceivable motive other than hero worship, which doesn't seem likely for Marritza. Okay, so maybe he had it planned for five years. More importantly, though, I would imagine that Marritza altering his face to look exactly like a war hero dead only a year would be the sort of newsworthy item Gul Dukat should have been aware of. It might have taken him a little while to remember it, but that's not something that just gets ignored. (Could you imagine if someone had plastic surgery to look exactly like John F. Kennedy in 1964, for instance? The news media would have had a field day.)
Neither one of those is a particularly big deal, though -- they annoyed me enough after the fact to be worth mentioning, but did nothing during the show itself.
This is the first week in a long while for DS9 where I have managed to do very little but sit totally caught up in the show on first viewing. For an hour, I found myself caring about very little but who Marritza really was and
what would become of him. That is testament to a very, very strong show.
The writing was among the strongest the series has had to date. "Duet" had a very simple, very stark idea that could never, ever have been done on TNG (unlike most other DS9 episodes). TNG is too optimistic -- even the idea of dealing with a 24th-century version of Nazi war criminals would probably be rejected quickly. Lisa Rich and Jeanne Carrigan Fauci, who came up with the story, apparently decided it was time to put the issue in a Trek context -- and it worked like a charm.
A great, great portion of that can be due to Harris Yulin's absolutely stunning portrayal of Marritza. Yulin, and thus Marritza, was totally and completely believable in all of his various guises, particularly that of Gul Darheel. The Cardassians have been built up as a basically evil and no-good-to-anyone race here and in TNG; however, there are only two Cardassians who I've ever felt were well and truly hateful. One was Gul Madred, from the marvelous "Chain of Command, Part II" -- and the other was "Gul Darheel", here.
Gul Darheel is the first Trek guest character in a long time that I have literally wanted to get up and take a swing at. Marritza's "what atrocities?" was bad enough, given the frightening rise of Holocaust revisionism these days, but Darheel's utter megalomania and lack of reason towards any subject whatsoever turned him into, not a villain, but a VILLAIN. Kira has a lot more self-control than I do, I guess.
Yulin's portrayal of "Darheel" brought to mind two comments while he was baiting Kira, and particularly when he was trying to get her to talk about herself. Those two comments were:
"If this guy had been assigned to break Picard, Picard might have broken."
"Quid pro quo, Doctor..."
The latter, for those not familiar with it, is from "The Silence of the Lambs". I think my point is pretty clear -- Yulin, at least for me, made Darheel one of Trek's most chilling characters.
Enough about him, at least for now. Marc Alaimo did his usual nice job as a Cardassian leader -- Dukat isn't evil per se, he's simply a very slimy bad guy. Alaimo originated the very first Cardassian Gul back in TNG's "The Wounded", and he's still the best at that particular type of Cardassian. He was fun to watch, as usual.
Beyond Marritza, however, the focus was on Kira, and as such the writing and acting surrounding her assumes great importance. And for the third time in a row, both writing and acting for Kira have come through when the chips were down. Nearly everything was good in "Battle Lines", and nearly everything was good in "Progress" -- and if I may be so bold, everything was good here for her.
Nana Visitor seemed somewhat overshadowed by Yulin during all her scenes with him, which is unfortunate, but she certainly held up her end well enough despite that. From her calm "I'll ask [the questions] anyway" to her smugness at "catching" Marritza in a lie, to her final concern, everything rang completely and utterly true. I can't put my finger on anything that stood out as "yes! This is terrific stuff!" with her, but that may simply be due to her style: she tends to build up scenes rather than carry them away with her, a la Patrick Stewart. Very, very nice, in any case.
When the show centers this strongly on very intense psychological conflict between two characters, I tend to think that the best directors stay the hell out of the way. By that, I mean that very little stands out while you're
watching as Good Direction [TM], because you're too busy watching the show. (Bad directors, on the other hand, leave ugly footprints all over the place so that you keep having to wonder what's really going on.)
By those standards, at least, James L. Conway certainly did well. I was caught up enough in the show that it basically seemed to direct itself. A couple of directing bits do come to mind, but ones separate from the Kira/Marritza scenes, where the above criterion is most important. (The camera angles during the Kira/Odo scene after one of her conversations with Marritza, for instance, caught my eye, though I'm not sure why.) For the most part, however, Conway fell under the heading of "directors who are good up to the point that you don't notice them", which in this case was wonderful. (It wouldn't have worked for something like "Cause and Effect", though, where presentation and packaging becomes more essential.)
One particular FX shot caught my eye also. The scene where the crew is examining the picture of the Gallitepp camp seemed very reminiscent of "Blade Runner" in the image enhancement. Given that I'm a big BR fan, the comparison was invited -- but I think it's worth mentioning anyway.
And then, of course, there's the ending. I was about to say that we wouldn't see an ending this bleak on TNG either, but a few counterexamples have just sprung to mind (like "Silicon Avatar"). Regardless, it was an extremely dark and an extremely grim ending. Kira had already begun to learn her lesson, but the run-in with Marritza's assassin really drove the point home, both to her and to us. She came face to face with the Kira she was a year, or even a few months ago -- and she didn't seem to enjoy the meeting one bit. I hope this is something we see repercussions of next season. (I also hope that we see the provisional government's reaction to the whole mess.)
Quite honestly, I don't think I've that much else to say on "Duet". It was virtually a masterwork from start to finish. (I think O'Brien's scene with his aide and Quark's little bit with the survivors were both a bit superfluous, but both also lasted all of ten seconds, so who really cares?) By the end of it, I felt put through a wringer -- even on a second viewing. It was that intense, and that good. If DS9 could do this every week, we'd be in wonderful shape. Perhaps in a year or two.
So, the numbers:
Plot: 9.5. Again, the logic of some of the closing bits has me puzzled, but that's all.
Plot Handling: 10. Marvelous.
Characterization: 10, since 20 appears not to be valid. :-)
TOTAL: 10, for the first time in a long while. (This may also be the first time both TNG and DS9 have been 10's for me. Wow -- the summer must be making me generous. :-) )
Religious fanaticism comes to the final frontier.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"What you call genocide, I call a day's work."
-- Marritza, as "Gul Darheel"