WARNING: Don't get caught up in spoilers for DS9's "Rapture" -- unless, of course, you want to, in which case they lie ahead.
In brief: Some very minor problems, but generally a riveting return to Bajoran issues. A must-see.
Brief summary: A freak accident gives Sisko powerful visions linked to his role as Emissary -- but also threatens his life.
Now that's the sort of show I like to come back to after a long break.
I said back at the end of last season that as enjoyable as DS9's fourth season was taken piece by piece, I thought that the shift of emphasis away from Bajoran culture and towards a Klingon/Dominion "pile on the Federation" footing was playing away from DS9's strengths. Shows like "Rapture" only serve to convince me more of that; even given a couple of flaws here and there (which I'll get into later), "Rapture" made for extremely compelling viewing, true to DS9's premise and to the strengths of its characters. It is, in short, almost exactly the sort of show that had early DS9 appealing to me, and exactly the sort of show whose scarcity of late has had me a little mournful.
When it comes down to it, moreover, "Rapture" has an emotionally wrenching impact on its characters and on the viewer, and all without a single shot fired in anger or punch thrown. To the people saying that DS9's problem is a lack of action, I cite shows like this one and "The Visitor" as a counterexample.
Moving on to the show itself rather than a general rant (fun though the latter might be :-) ) ... "Rapture" is an interesting follow-up to "Accession" in some ways. In "Accession", we finally saw Sisko come to terms with being the Emissary and becoming comfortable with the role; now, in "Rapture", we see him diving headlong into the role as a result of his prophetic visions, and just how uncomfortable it makes many of the Federation people around him, including his own son. It's coming at the "am I a Starfleet officer, or a religious icon?" question from a somewhat different angle, and one I don't think we've really seen before.
I also found the onset of a new era of Federation/Bajor relations highly interesting. Given that Sisko's initial assignment to DS9 was to get Bajor ready for possible membership, it makes sense that this would be a momentous enough event to involve our characters significantly and to be a serious turning point in the series. (Contrast this with season 3's "Life Support", where it was inexplicably decided that something as important as a Bajor/Cardassia peace treaty could be settled as an off-screen subplot.) While the membership may not have quite come off as planned, this still invites a number of interesting follow-on questions, Sisko's status with Starfleet Command being high among them. He's probably not very popular with the Starfleet high-ups due to his actions here, but he's also politically untouchable on Bajor. It's an interesting dilemma for Starfleet. (Further, as Admiral Whatley pointed out, even when Bajor eventually does accept membership, the story is far from over.)
Despite all of these interesting plot points (the discovery of B'hala being another one that I haven't even mentioned, but that kept me nicely interested for quite some time), the real strength of "Rapture" was in its characterization. Just about every major figure in the episode -- Sisko, Jake, Bashir, Winn ... hell, even Worf -- was put to an appropriate use and given interesting new dimensions without it seeming artificially tacked-on by dramatic fiat. Sisko's religious fervor is the most obvious example, so I'd like to look at a couple of others first.
By far, the biggest characterization coup of "Rapture" came in the portrayal of Kai Winn. While I've enjoyed most of her appearances to date, her showing up here suggested that we'd see another scheme to oppose the looming Federation membership. What happened instead was far *more* interesting: her abrupt turnaround to Sisko's side when he discovered B'hala, "proving" to her that he was indeed the Emissary. What's more, her impassioned response to Kira's implied slight, from "Those of you who fought in the occupation -- you're all the same" onwards, managed in about a 30-second timespan to make Winn a far more sympathetic character than she had even been before, explain her rather fanatic attitude and her opposition to many of the plans of the "good guys", and all without weakening her as a character whatsoever. Even while she was talking of her experiences at Cardassian hands, even while she was making me warm to her, she was still just as sneering and condescending as she's always been. Even though it wasn't the primary goal of the episode, that short scene encompassed some of the best writing (and acting on Louise Fletcher's part) of the episode; very well done.
I'd also like to comment on what was done with Worf here. Given that the focus on Klingon affairs was linked at the hip to his appearance on DS9, I haven't always been particularly pleased with the way Worf's been used to date -- and episodes like "Rules of Engagement", "Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places", and
"Let He Who is Without Sin" have done nothing to help that perception. Here, however, Worf played a rather nice role in the major scene at Ops: he got to be the third side in the usually two-sided argument between spiritual Bajor and the secular Federation. Everything he said there about faith made sense in terms of his past
(most prominently TNG's "Rightful Heir"), and reflected well on the situation at hand. That statement is the sort of way Worf can really add to DS9's tapestry without trying to repaint it, and I like it a lot. (The way he was put to humorous use also worked this time: rather than overplaying things or making fun of him, the script simply gave him one of those I-can-never-tell-if-he's-joking moments in his "old Klingon proverb" to Quark.)
Then, there's Sisko. This episode is almost similar in some ways to old TOS episodes where some friend of Kirk had gone off the deep end and established a culture based on the model of the nearest Desilu backlot, except that we saw it from the "friend of Kirk's" side and it didn't seem particularly negative. Keeping those episodes in mind puts the Federation reaction in even sharper focus: knowing what's happened previous times captains have "gone native" should well make the Federation wary of Sisko's role as the Emissary. However,
Sisko seemed so passionate about his visions, and we as viewers so want to see a common thread linking past, present, and future together, that it was difficult not to root for Sisko to keep his visions and bring everything into focus. As a result, that set up a real conflict within the viewer's mind about whether Sisko's fate was a wholly good thing, a wholly bad thing, or neither. As Kira said to Winn, "makes life interesting, doesn't it?"
Those are the main strengths of "Rapture", and there are so many that it's difficult to conceive of any weaknesses. Unfortunately, there are a couple -- but they're small enough that their effect is pretty minimal.
First, I was distressed at the lack of First Minister Shakaar at the signing ceremony. Given that Federation membership is the most important thing to happen to Bajor since Shakaar became First Minister, he should be there. Now, realistically, I realize that if he wasn't there, it's probably because Duncan Regehr wasn't available -- but that doesn't excuse the lack of a mention. Where was he?
Second, I felt Kasidy Yates' appearance was the inverse of Shakaar's: she appeared because Penny Johnson was available, and because longer-range plans necessitate having Kasidy back on the station. Unfortunately, her appearance here was superfluous, I felt; while she was a mother-figure of sorts for Jake, she had very little business being in on the decision-making scene in the infirmary, and her presence actually let Jake off the hook a little bit in his decision. Her holosuite scene and scene on Bajor could easily have had Jake instead, and her later lines could easily have been Dax's (and would have worked better that way, I think); what's more, by coming on board while Sisko was distracted, she managed to come on board without anyone having to write a substantial "confrontation" such as was hinted in the first mention of her return. As long as her past with the
Maquis is put to decent use later (hopefully in the upcoming "For the Uniform"), I won't object too strongly to that aspect of it, but all in all I found her more of a hindrance to the episode than a help.
That, however, is about the limit. The search for B'hala was interesting, Sisko's increasing obsession with his visions was quite interesting, and the looks at different sides of the characters (Winn in particular) were worth the hour by themselves. I hope "Rapture" is a good indication of what's to come the rest of this season; if so, I'll be waiting eagerly.
So, a few short takes:
-- I would have liked to have heard the rest of Admiral Whatley's speech during the signing ceremony. I'm wondering how he does characterize the Federation to new members.
-- Sisko: "It's just around the bend." Us, as Kasidy: "It's not the only one." :-)
-- The uniforms from "First Contact" have arrived, I see -- but the admiral wasn't wearing one. I wonder why.
-- Okay, so who wasn't seeing flashbacks of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" when Sisko rearranged his food to symbolize his obsession? Mashed potatoes, anyone?
That about covers it. In closing...
Writing: Apart from forcing in Kasidy Yates, this was damn near flawless. A good story and a superb script.
Directing: We didn't get to see Sisko's visions, but I think that was a good choice. Nicely enthralling.
Acting: No complaints -- solid, as always.
OVERALL: 9.5; the Yates stuff detracts just enough to knock it down from a 10. Very solid work, though; I hope there's a lot more to come.
Kira's old resistance cell falls member by member to a mysterious assassin.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Before Captain Sisko found B'hala, my path was clear. I knew who my enemies were, but now ... now nothing is certain."
"Makes life interesting, doesn't it?"
-- Kai Winn and Kira