WARNING: Down, down will fall the "Tears of the Prophets" -- and just around the corner are spoilers for it, too.
In brief: An odd mix, both deeply powerful and surprisingly empty.
If I had to sum up "Tears of the Prophets" in a single cliche, that cliche might be "Jack of all trades and master of none." The episode did an awful lot of things, some of them very well -- but at the same time seemed to fall all too short of where it should have been. On the whole, I'm left somewhat disappointed with all the false leads, and wondering if the show simply tried to do too much.
In part, that "let's do everything" approach caused huge shifts in tone during the episode in ways that didn't really feel appropriate. I have no trouble with sudden shifts from elation to desolation -- in war, those happen, and they often work dramatically as well. For instance, the joy when the invasion finally started going well was almost immediately turned to ashes when Julian's message came in from DS9. That worked extremely well, though I almost wonder if it would have worked better had we not known what was going on back at the station. No, the problematic shifts came earlier in the show, when we're abruptly going from war planning and Prophet-induced foreboding to Bashir and Quark moping about their nonexistent love lives, then back again. I'm sorry, but this both felt forced and broke the mood of the episode quite a bit. "Call to Arms", last season's finale, had some similar shifts, but that time all of them held together under the same backdrop: the war that was looming ever closer. This time, we were asked to believe that several things (Odo and Kira's first fight, Dax and Worf's decision to have a baby, Dukat's return to Cardassia, and the invasion) all just occurred at the same time -- and that's a reach, particularly when there are so many things that could have been done and weren't. (What it really felt like, in retrospect, was material to give Bashir, Quark and Odo something to do. That's not a sufficient reason.)
Despite all of that, the show managed to build up a nice sense of suspense for a while. The plans to pierce the Dominion's "weak spot" in the Chintoka system went pretty smoothly, right down to the partisan bickering from Klingons and Romulans -- including some marvelous barbs from Romulan Senator Letant (David Birney). Dukat's abrupt return, despite the sweeping under the rug of some important items, certainly got across the sense that the "new" Dukat was at least as dangerous as the old one, if perhaps not quite so multifaceted and interesting. (The main item glossed over, incidentally, was Ziyal's death. I'm certainly glad it was mentioned, but given how long we've been waiting for Dukat and Damar to meet and how badly Ziyal's death unhinged Dukat, to have Dukat dismiss it with "Oh, it was Sisko's fault, not yours" is cheating the viewer a bit, I think.)
There were some other moments felt a bit off here and there during the first half of the show, too, one of them being Jake's presence during the battle. This should have had nothing to do with father-son strife, really; a civilian reporter simply should not have been on the bridge of a warship during an invasion. I also thought that Ross's putting Sisko on the spot with "you've tried to be both [a Starfleet officer and the Emissary, and now he must choose]" was somewhat old hat; we've seen this before, and more importantly, the last time it happened ("Rapture" in season 5) Sisko chose differently. That scene felt a bit forced, as though it were designed solely to get Sisko out of the way but guilty about it.
During all of this, though, there were very solid moments as well, many of them on Cardassia. Dukat's return was one of them: Dukat may not be as complex a character as he once was, but Marc Alaimo and Jeffrey Combs still work extremely well together -- Dukat's discussion of the "clarity" he's achieved of late and Weyoun's subsequent assessment of Dukat's sanity were absolutely riveting.
Oh, incidentally ... to those who scoffed that the Pah wraiths mentioned in "The Reckoning" would never be used again: Apology accepted. :-) Admittedly, I wish Dukat's 'possession' had followed on far more directly from "The Reckoning" than it did, as it's a little bit of a stretch to have two wraiths released in four months after centuries or millennia of captivity, but the concept was still there and still put to reasonably good use.
That leads to the second half of the show, which can be split up into two main parts: the battle at Chintaka 3 and the death of Jadzia back at the station. The former was probably among the best parts of the show; it moved at a good pace, the Jem'Hadar kamikaze tactics made sense given their culture and the circumstances, and the orbital weapon platforms were just neat. :-) I did think the was a bit overdone when they were figuring out how to destroy the platforms' energy source -- is there a reason they couldn't just position themselves right by the planetoid, then veer at the last second so that the platforms fire on the wrong thing? (The concept that these platforms would be built without an energy source of their own also seems a little hokey.) The overall sense of this battle, though, was supposed to be one of well-earned triumph, and I thought that came across very well in pretty much every way.
Jadzia's death was another matter entirely. (I keep saying Jadzia instead of Dax deliberately, incidentally; since the Dax symbiont was saved, "Dax" isn't really dead.) The death itself was more or less reasonable; it was certainly random as opposed to a noble sacrifice, but these things do happen, particularly in wartime. (Tasha Yar died the same way, and I appear to be one of the six people watching TNG at the time who didn't think it was a cheap way to treat the character.) What I had trouble with was other aspects surrounding her death.
Firstly, I don't understand how Dukat managed to get to DS9, beam on board, kill Jadzia and darken the Orbs, then beam away and get away without anyone detecting him. The Cardassians and the Dominion have never had cloaking technology, and you'd expect that the station would be on alert given the situation. In a related fashion, it seems that no one even knows Dukat was responsible -- at least, based on Sisko's speech over the coffin later, no one seems to know exactly what happened. That would be all well and good -- except that Jadzia was awake and conscious enough to talk to Worf later, which means she should have been able to tell Sisko what she saw. A simple "Dukat..." would have worked wonders, and so far as I can tell we never got one.
More importantly, though, the aftermath of her death felt very, very lacking. We got far more of a funeral for Tasha back in early TNG (and a moving one, too) -- hell, we got more of a funeral last week for a character we never even saw. There was certainly no shortage of material that could've been moved aside to make room for one (Vic's song, the entire scene in the holodeck, the Odo/Kira fight, etc.) -- so why not do so?
Even if a funeral wasn't in the cards, though, and I can understand why it might not be, we didn't get the one most important event surrounding Jadzia's death that we should have. That event was a conversation between Jadzia and Sisko. Jadzia and Worf certainly have a lot binding them together, but Dax knew Sisko across two lifetimes, and from all appearances was Sisko's dearest and closest friend. We got a sense of what her loss meant to Sisko later when he talked over the coffin, but a speech is no substitute for a conversation -- and we got no sense as to what this farewell would mean for Dax. That is missing out on characterization in a very big way, and almost leaves one with the impression that Dax's role as Worf's wife was far more important than her role as Sisko's confidant. Both in terms of her life and the dramatic history of the series, I find that very wrong.
Jadzia's death had one good thing resulting from it, though; Sisko's decision to get away from the station for a while and give himself time to think. It certainly made sense that he'd need to, between Jadzia's death and the departure of the Prophets -- and given the latter, Bajor isn't an option. Going back to New Orleans works just fine -- and dramatically, this is the second year in a row where the station has been in the hands of another at season's end, which is a nice parallelism. I don't like a number of things that happened in "Tears of the Prophets", but I do like the final situation: the war turning in the Federation's favor, but the Prophets gone and Sisko at home on Earth collecting his thoughts. Things could go in a lot of different directions now, and I remain curious as to how they'll be picked up in season 7. In the final analysis, "Tears of the Prophets" succeeded on that basis.
-- I liked some of the little details sprinkled throughout the show: the Christopher Pike Medal of Valor, the fact that Damar's now worked his way up to Legate, and so on.
-- The music at the end of the episode, while Sisko's working in New Orleans, felt strikingly reminiscent of "Far Beyond the Stars"; I'm hoping that's both intentional and foreshadowing.
-- The final effect of the Federation/Klingon/Romulan offensive is a little murky to me: exactly how far did they get? Weyoun referred to "Federation troops on Cardassian soil", but he can't have meant Cardassia Prime itself.
-- Given that the series has one season left to it, I'd put stock in Martok's claim that "by this time next year, the three of us will drink bloodwine in the halls of Cardassia's Central Command."
-- It's also worth pointing out that we could see a Dax back next year, since the symbiont survived. "Ensign Billy Bob Dax, reporting for duty?" Nah...
-- I'm a bit surprised that Dukat had to explain as much about the Prophets as he did to Weyoun and Damar; the Cardassians have certainly been exposed to Bajoran teachings before, and Weyoun strikes me as someone who'd want to be informed about everything. (Of course, if Damar wasn't involved in the original Bajoran occupation, that might change things.)
-- I did rather like the Damar/Weyoun discussion about superstition. "All this talk of Gods strikes me as nothing more than superstitious nonsense." "You believe the Founders are gods, don't you?" "That's different." "In what way?" "The Founders are gods."
-- In keeping with the "let's try to do everything" approach that undercut the show, Garak showed up in order to do basically nothing. Ehh.
That about covers it. In terms of keeping the audience interested to see what happens next, "Tears of the Prophets" did its job and did it reasonably well. I'm just left to wish that it had done a better job along the way, and I certainly think we deserved better when it came to Jadzia Dax. Ah, well; on to summer speculation.
Writing: Kind of hit-or-miss; deeply powerful moments, moments that rang completely wrong, and pretty much everything in between. Directing: It tended to follow the writing. Acting: Overall fine, though some people had too little to do.
OVERALL: 7, I think; high marks for ambition and fine for what it did, but far short of what it could have been.
That's it for a while, folks; I'll be around with a season-end wrap-up sometime this summer. Until then, be well.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "Pah wraiths, Prophets -- all this talk of gods strikes me as nothing more than superstitious nonsense." "You believe the Founders are gods, don't you?" "That's different." "In what way?" "The Founders *are* gods." -- Weyoun and Damar Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.