WARNING: This article contains spoilers for DS9's "Shakaar" Be aware.
In brief: Whew. Nice to see Winn back, and we're once again back to showing that DS9's strengths lie in the political arena.
Brief summary: Kira is sent by Winn to recover some farm equipment taken by her old resistance cell leader, and finds herself caught up in what could become a civil war.
Now this is more like what I signed up for. "Shakaar" once again brings DS9 as a series back to Bajor, which is where I think it should be much of the time. DS9 is bringing us a portrait of a world struggling to rebuild from turmoil, and there's so much meat there that with a little care, it's difficult to go wrong. Granted, I thought the
same thing about "Life Support" half a season back and was proven horribly mistaken by that show -- but that's because it did a lot of things wrong that "Shakaar" did right.
On top of that list is the characterization of Kai Winn. Back in "Life Support", it seemed that Winn had come aboard the station sans any trace of personality or of grey matter, and it felt like a betrayal of the character's potential. Here, on the other hand, Winn seemed back to form -- having achieved the power she'd craved earlier, she's discovering that she likes the taste of it and wants more. That desire is somewhat in character -- but her manner here was far more so than last time. Winn, until the end, was never without some sort of fall-
back position, and as before has been only too eager to co-opt Kira into doing Winn's dirty work against one of Kira's own loved ones. ("The Collaborator" saw the same thing, and I almost wonder if the events in "The Homecoming" through to "The Siege", where Kira helped foil the Bajoran coup, have something to do with Winn's seeming interest in Kira.) She also proved as skilled at twisting words around to justify herself as ever. In short, everything about Winn here felt right, and that in and of itself is enough rehabilitation to give me a profound sense of relief.
[Once or twice here, though, I almost got the sense that the pendulum had swung back too far the other way. Winn was tiptoeing awfully close to the edge at times -- never quite close enough to actually be mis-written, but just close enough that I wondered if she'd end up going too far.]
More than Winn, though, this story focused on Kira. In fact, I was struck by the resemblance this story had to the first season's "Progress", where Kira had to persuade a farmer to leave one of Bajor's moons. Kira was stuck on the horns of a choice both times, and both times chose a somewhat ... direct approach to a problem.
Both times, for one, Kira finds herself acting against fellow Bajorans. This time, though, there were some interesting differences -- for one, Kira actually tries a Federation tactic, offering herself as an intermediary first. That's something I doubt you'd ever have seen the "old" Kira do. She also, despite her personal ... distaste for Winn, tries to be reasonably objective, and even manages it until she finds out Winn's lied to her. (Note to self: when dealing with Kira, be honest. Otherwise you get hurt. :-) )
It's even more interesting to see this "new" Kira compared to the old one when you realize she's surrounded by people who know the old Kira. Shakaar, Furel, Lupaza -- these are all people from her past who remember her as a fighter, not a politician. Proud though Shakaar says they are of her progress, that may not mean Kira is
proud of what she's made of herself, at least while she's around them.
That brings me to Shakaar, the third leg of this triangle everything worked around. I was a trifle concerned going in, mostly because the last time I saw Duncan Regehr (who played Shakaar), he played Ronin in TNG's "Sub Rosa", a truly dismal piece of work. Fortunately, there were glimmerings here and there that he might be
able to do much better work given good material -- and "Shakaar" proved it, as I thought Regehr was terrific. I liked Shakaar within about sixty seconds of hearing him, and he convincingly seemed like the sort of person you might find inspiring people to follow him into the mountains and managing to survive in the process. He seemed both practical and charismatic, which is exactly what the character needed to be both when we first saw him and at the end, when he seemed on the verge of becoming First Minister.
Once the roles were set (a slight pity -- although I like seeing Winn back in her old form, Shakaar seemed a little too pure of heart), events seemed to take on a life of their own. As I have on occasion in the past, I ended up almost feeling like I was watching something actually happening with no sense of control over where they would lead. Everyone worried about anarchy, about a civil war -- but it seemed that no one was actually willing to act to prevent it. That sort of situation is all too common in the world today, and it was definitely gripping to see here.
The resolution to said crisis was also interesting, though Shakaar's running for First Minister was actually somewhat anticlimactic. The crucial moment came as Shakaar's pursuers strode into the waiting ambush and the fugitives chose not to act. Kira not being able to fire on her fellows was no big surprise -- but seeing Shakaar the same way was one. From the moment he chose not to, I have to say that I was virtually certain we were seeing the true next First Minister; but I also didn't mind that fact a bit. In fact, I'm looking somewhat
forward to seeing further interactions between Winn and Shakaar, as will inevitably happen. Church and state very nearly became one here, but now there's a significant rift between them, or at least between their two leaders -- and I have to wonder if that's going to have any sort of impact on the Bajoran faith or the government. I see lots of possibilities here, and that's all for the good.
[I haven't mentioned it before now, but I should mention the Winn/Sisko scene as well. Story-wise, it was only present to show how far Winn was willing to go and to get some sort of reaction from the station to Kira's activities -- but regardless of its purpose, it was as good as the Winn/Sisko scenes usually are, back from "In the Hands of the Prophets" onwards. Nicely done.]
That said, let me turn briefly to the "let's-give-the-other-cast-members-something-to-do" plot, namely the darts game. This was pretty much complete fluff, which isn't a problem -- but it also seemed a tad overplayed, which is. I liked seeing O'Brien "in the zone", and I've no problem with the concept of what was done -- but somehow,
the combination of O'Brien horribly overacting the mock injury to his arm and the lack of mention of it ever actually being a fake seems a little odd. (At least, I'm assuming it was a fake injury -- if it was meant to be real, it didn't work at all, and Meaney really blew it, which I doubt.) I enjoyed wondering if O'Brien and Bashir had brought the Vulcan darts player into the scam, though. :-)
That seems to cover the majority of the show. After something as wretched as "Family Business", it's nice to be able to go into reruns on a high note. So, some short takes:
-- The music was done by a new name this time, namely one Paul Baillargeon. I've never heard of him before, but he did a nice job, especially during the ambush sequence. The tension was palpable in that scene already, but he added onto it beautifully.
-- Here's hoping we get to see Furel and Lupaza again as well, Furel in particular. His story about how he lost his arm, while perhaps surprisingly new to Kira, was definitely a powerful one, and I like both the actor and the character. More, please.
-- When Kira's talking to Odo at the start of the show about Winn, Odo almost seems to be referring to himself as a Bajoran. That struck me as a bit odd.
-- One negative in the main story is that Sisko didn't seem even marginally annoyed at Kira for running off and being a fugitive for weeks. Granted, all's well that ends well, but I can't imagine he'd be quite as nonchalant as he was. Then again, maybe he's taking lessons from Starfleet higher-ups who've always turned a blind eye to him. :-)
-- Speaking of Sisko, Brooks seems to have relaxed a lot in the last few weeks. It seems to have happened about the same time as the beard and Sisko's trip into the mirror-universe; I wonder where it's going.
-- Lastly, although "Shakaar" was finished well before the Oklahoma City bombing last month, I've no doubt parallels may be drawn between Shakaar's defiance of the Bajoran government and some activities currently going on in the U.S.. I don't know if I really consider such parallels valid, but I'm not going to be surprised to see them.
That's it. So, wrapping up:
Writing: The consequences of the main story are a little too contained on the station, but the Bajoran angle worked pretty much beautifully. Only some minor complaints.
Directing: Nicely done pretty much everywhere.
Acting: Strong work from Visitor, Regehr, Louise Fletcher ... pretty much everyone.
OVERALL: I think I'm calling this one a 9. Nice work.
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Past Tense, Part I".
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"He's back there ... in the ZONE."
-- Sisko, referring to O'Brien