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Return to Grace

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WARNING: Spoilers are present for DS9's "Retun to Grace", but don't panic.

In brief: I'm not sure I like a trend surfacing about Kira this season, but much of the show itself worked quite well.

Brief summary: When Kira accompanies Dukat on a diplomatic mission, she finds herself engaged in a battle against the Klingons -- and having to deal with Dukat as an ally.

"Retun to Grace" has done something fairly difficult to do: namely, make me appreciate the Bajoran/Cardassian peace treaty created so ineptly last season. Although I still find that treaty somewhat
annoying in its existence (and certainly in the way it was brought up when we first heard about it), it has its uses. Without that treaty, the Dukat/Kira parallels that "Retun to Grace" brought up could never have been used -- and those parallels were interesting enough to see on screen that it helps justify the treaty slightly as well. Those parallels and the attendant character interactions between Kira and Dukat were the heart and soul of the episode -- and that's good, for the secondary issue floating around is one that points up a slightly
worrying trend.

That trend is this: to date this season, we've seen three Kira-centered episodes, those being "Indiscretion", last week's "Crossfire", and now "Retun to Grace" -- and all three of those shows revolved in some way around someone having a romantic interest in Kira. That's a trend I'm not particularly happy with; Kira is a strong, very powerful character in her own right, and always "insisting" that she be put into a plot with a strong romantic element is shoehorning her unnecessarily. Granted, so far she's had far better fortune than, say,
Dax; Kira as a character has been able to ride out the plots (unlike Dax in "Meridian"). Even so, though, I'd like to be able to look back at this season and not say "okay, now which person was hot for Kira this time?" -- here's hoping that ends up being the case.

Fortunately, the majority of the show revolved around Dukat's desire for renewal and not his desire for Kira. Dukat rarely descended into self-pity, but it was still easy to tell just how deeply his ego had been wounded by his recent turns of fortune. From his "Now ... may I take your bags, please?" to Kira at the outset to his disgust at his freighter's "pitiful" performance during a battle drill, it was easy to see -- and nowhere was it easier than during the first encounter with the Klingon raider. Dukat's rage at his powerlessness was leading him to do something rash -- and then even that was denied him, as the Klingon ship just took his best shot without blinking and then cruised on by him at close range with no shields. It couldn't have been much more humiliating had the Klingon captain mooned Dukat as he went by. That scene in particular had me wincing in sympathy, but the entire show was set up well enough to make Dukat reasonably sympathetic.

However, I'd have complained pretty loudly had it made him totally sympathetic. Dukat, at his best, is simultaneously worth watching and really slimy. Kira's statement-as-a-question, "why is it that when you smile I want to leave the room?" pretty much summed it up -- and fortunately, that side of Dukat was shown as well. I think it was slightly underplayed, perhaps, but there were enough moments where the "old" Dukat shone through (such as his insistence that he talk directly to the head of the new government) that it felt like character evolution (gasp!) rather than simple character alteration.

Plot-wise, the first three quarters of the show were not too surprising; it was no big shock when Dukat et al. actually managed to defeat the Klingons, for instance. The last act and a half, though, surprised me a few times. The first surprise came when we found that they'd captured a bigger prize than a bird of prey, obtaining in the process much about the Klingons' plans within Cardassia; and the second surprise was the unwillingness of this "new Cardassia" to launch a new offensive combined with Dukat's decision to fight the Klingons on his own as a resistance leader. That choice put his parallels with Kira into sharp focus -- and frankly shouldn't have been a surprise to me, as it was one of the only ways to make the story really work.

More surprising than that, however, was the fact that Dukat's choice was still his choice by the episode's end, and Kira's taking in of Dukat's daughter Ziyal in the process. Given that I'm still somewhat smarting from the end of "Paradise Lost" a few weeks ago, it's interesting to see a change which is a bit more permanent for a
change. Ziyal's presence on the station may not matter much until and unless we see Dukat again (after all, there are any number of people who came on board the Enterprise to live that we never saw afterwards), but Dukat's outlaw status represents a significant change for the character. Three years ago, in "Emissary", he defined Cardassian arrogance. Now the Cardassians are seeing life on the other side, and Dukat's setting himself up to be a hero, or at least a martyr. That's an interesting path for the character to follow (somewhat reminiscent of the path G'Kar has been following on "Babylon 5", but that makes it no less interesting), and I find myself a bit interested to see where he's going next.

That's really the majority of the show; it had only three significant characters (Kira, Dukat, and Ziyal), and Ziyal's primary functions in the show were to remind Kira of herself and to present another side of Dukat. For the most part, the show was simple but effective; what more needs to be said?

Not much, but here's a smattering:

-- As unnecessary as I felt Dukat's interest in Kira was, it has been somewhat well established (both Dukat's interest in Bajoran women in general and Kira personally), and it did lead to a few beautiful lines. Kira's response to Dukat's mention of Shakaar's many conquests was particularly nice: "Is that what you kept track of during the occupation? No wonder you lost." Ow.

-- One wonders if Dukat's destruction of the freighter was intended to have a double meaning. Yes, he'd certainly want to destroy it anyway, given that it had the Klingons aboard -- but like Garak and his tailor shop, I doubt Dukat shed many tears about seeing his "vessel" blown into its constituent atoms.

-- Kira's statement that Ziyal reminds her of herself raises an interesting question: just what was Kira like before the occupation? What would she have been like had the occupation never occurred?

-- I liked the opening scene between Kira, Bashir, and Worf quite a bit, too. Bashir was way too amused by all the impending inoculations; I say Kira should've hit him a few times, or at least vomited all over him after she got queasy. :-)

-- A couple of nitpicks about Dukat. First, if he's been demoted, shouldn't he no longer be a Gul? Both the credits and O'Brien referred to him as such. Second, he referred to himself once as having been a Legate. When was that? It's not necessarily wrong, but he certainly didn't seem to be the equal of the Legate who ordered him left with the Maquis back in the second season.

That about does it. "Retun to Grace" wasn't perfect, but it was good. So, summing up:

Writing: The main story worked just fine; the sidebar elements of it worked less well. Character-wise, everyone was fine.
Directing: No complaints.
Acting: Ah, but Alaimo's always fun to watch -- and Visitor and Cyia Batten (Ziyal) worked just fine, too.

OVERALL: An 8. Quite a decent job.

NEXT WEEK:

Worf's band of brothers ... reduced by one?

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu
"When I look at my father, I have a hard time seeing a murderer!"
"And when I look at him, I have a hard time seeing anything else."
-- Ziyal and Kira

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