WARNING: Spoilers for DS9's "The Darkness and the Light" are being dragged into the harsh light of day. Darkness dwellers be wary.
In brief: A stellar first four acts, but a weak fifth. Still a good hour's time spent.
Brief summary: Kira is seized by a growing sense of frustration as members of her old resistance cell start being murdered one by one ...with every indication that she may be next.
January feels like Old Home Month for DS9 so far. In two weeks, we've had a show delving deeply into Bajoran religion and Sisko's role as the Emissary, and a show highlighting Kira's past in the resistance against the Cardassians. Those who found the Bajoran focus during the first two seasons "boring" will probably be underwhelmed by this turn of events, but I see it as further evidence that there's a lot of meat left in Bajoran issues to chew on.
In any case, the first four acts or so of "The Darkness and the Light" was a riveting story about revenge and frustration, managing to ooze atmosphere out of almost every shot for a while in the bargain. With an opening scene featuring none of the regular characters, we were left to wonder exactly what the story was -- and once we heard the "that's one" message sent to Kira, the story came into crisp and fairly chilling focus.
As the first real Kira-centered story of the season, furthermore, it managed to lay some of my worries to rest about what was done to the character over season four. This Kira was not the sneezing, giggly laughingstock we saw over much of last year -- oh, no. This Kira was chafing at being safely tucked away aboard a station while her friends were being killed off. This Kira was upset about not being able to act as a major in the Bajoran militia should. This Kira was sardonic, biting, and prone to snap at people under pressure. This Kira was ready to flatten anyone who stood in her way, and finally to steal a ship and go searching for the assassin herself. In short, this Kira was damned interesting viewing -- a whole lot more so than she has been for much of the last two years. (The trips into Bajoran religion like "Accession" and "Rapture" are a prominent exception; those episodes plus this have done a good job of highlighting many of Kira's different facets.)
Nana Visitor must have been happy with the show as well, because she got to show a tremendous amount of range here. Kira had to range from the firebrand punching out guards, to the broken-hearted and empty-sounding Kira describing her first days with the resistance (in a stunning scene, I might add), to the mock-hysterical (or perhaps not quite so mock) Kira in the final moments of confrontation with Silaran Prin. Aside from a few moments towards the end of the show, that entire range was carried off quite well; not bad work at all, particularly for someone dealing with a pregnancy seven or eight months along at the same time.
I haven't said much about the plot here, since this show is one that used its plot primarily to showcase its characters. Once I heard "that's one", it was fairly obvious that there would be several others -- and likewise, it was fairly expected that Kira would eventually be facing the killer alone. The things that mattered here were the effect we saw everything having on Kira, and the details in the way this plot was carried out.
Most of those details worked like a charm, particularly early on. The scrambled call to Ops came in way too early to actually be the killer, of course, but Kira's claim that Fala wasn't part of her cell muddied the waters quite a bit. As soon as Kira said she'd protect Fala, it became clear that Fala wasn't going to live through the episode, but it was interesting to have the object of Fala's death be the intended object of her rescue. From there, the frustration began to mount further, but in ways and scenes that seemed wholly natural. Quark "accidentally" activating the padd with Kira's second message on it is entirely in keeping with Quark's nature, and Kira's outburst when asked if she was all right was anything but unreasonable. After that, things only got worse; the arrival and subsequent death of Furel and Lupaza made Kira feel even less safe, since the attack took place on the station, and made the viewer feel much worse than the other deaths had, since we'd seen (and liked, at least in my case) Furel and Lupaza in the past, so they weren't just associates of Kira with no other identity. (Frankly, I was really sorry to see that pair get killed, as I liked them a lot -- but if I didn't feel annoyed to lose them, I suppose they wouldn't have been particularly interesting in the first place.) Kira's subsequent outwitting of Odo (at least long enough to get a head start) was a bit more technical in nature than we usually see from Kira, but quite plausible -- and her being so half-cocked that she was taken down by Silaran Prin's illusions made sense as well.
It's after that, unfortunately, that the show began to fall down a bit. Silaran Prin's motivations were eminently reasonable, and his obsession with guilt vs. innocence in the aftermath of his crippling makes sense as well. What doesn't quite make sense to me is how he managed to do everything he did. The information relayed from Odo's contact said that Prin had the relevant computer skills to program hunter-probes and the like, which certainly helps -- but Fala's death took more than simply programming a probe or overriding a signal. To kill Fala, Prin would have had to circumvent Federation security and transporter protocols, which needs someone
familiar with said protocols -- and I can't see how a Cardassian servant would be so familiar with them, especially if he's been a relative recluse since the occupation ended. (It's possible, of course, that he wasn't a servant, but that would lessen the impact of his claims of innocence, so I'm not inclined to buy into that.)
More than any bit of slightly lapsed plot logic, however, my main sense of the fifth act was that it just didn't do what it needed to. Prin's speechmaking and Kira's final statement about "a light only shines in the dark" are the primary example of this: I think Ron Moore was going for a fairly poetic feel here, which is admirable, but
at least from my perspective what he ended up with was pretension really trying to pass itself off as deep. That probably sounds harsher than I intend, because I didn't overly dislike those speeches; they just didn't have the effect they needed to have in order to bring off the climax of the story, and as a result the ending felt fairly empty. (The "give me a sedative" ploy, on the other hand, was smartly set up, since the effect of the herbs as a counteragent had been set up since the episode's teaser. Proper foreshadowing can work wonders in making a potentially silly idea seem plausible.)
I also had to wonder a bit about Kira's true reaction to Prin's comments. Her claim that "you were all guilty and you were all legitimate targets" is certainly the sort of thing I'd expect her to say under that circumstance, but the events back in season 1's "Duet" had seemed to make her reconsider the idea that every Cardassian was guilty, and I was sorry not to see any real evidence of soul-searching on her part afterward.
Overall, though, "The Darkness and the Light" had enough power to make up for a disappointing ending. Some comments on a few other details, positive and negative:
-- For the second week in a row, Worf wound up in a humorous scene that didn't feel forced. "I do not smirk -- but if I did, this would be a good opportunity" is a wonderful line, and one I hope I get a chance to use myself someday. :-) (I also appreciated "I am a graduate of Starfleet Academy; I know many things." Nicely cryptic.)
-- Technobabble here was treated the way it ought to be. Worf's opening discussion about how Kira made tracking her difficult had all the earmarks of a long and boring litany, and Sisko's "I know what the difficulties are. You have your orders -- dismissed." was absolutely sublime.
-- The scene where Kira, Dax and Nog decode the scrambling and discover that the killer's using Kira's own voice to send the messages was wonderfully done. Nog was useful without being overkill, and the realization of whose voice it was made for some nice shivers.
-- While I liked Furel and Lupaza appearing without warning, the whole scene of Kira skulking around in the dark felt off, particularly since she decided to be a moron and pose silhouetted in the light of the window. Now that's a smart move.
-- Speaking of Furel and Lupaza, if you haven't seen "Shakaar" it's not all that obvious that Furel only has one arm. There are almost no shots where that's made clear at all, and those shots where it is clear are extremely brief.
-- And, speaking of directors' choices of shots, Michael Vejar's name should be familiar to viewers of "Babylon 5", and his style was very much in view here. The harsh lighting during Kira's confrontation with Silaran Prin echoed some work he'd done in B5's "Comes the Inquisitor", and some of the quick and jumpy transitions felt closely akin to some he'd done in "Convictions." It's nice to see someone else with a recognizable style. (For the record, Vejar also directed about half a dozen other B5 episodes, including "Messages from Earth", "A Late Delivery From Avalon", and both parts of the two-part "War Without End.")
That should about cover it. So, wrapping up:
Writing: Some pitfalls in the last act were a problem, but the basic story was good and a lot of the details were marvelous.
Directing: Taut and moody. Me like.
Acting: No complaints here. Nana Visitor was in top form, and Randy Oglesby did an interesting job as Prin.
OVERALL: Hmm. The ending mars it enough that I'd call it an 8. Not as magnificent as it was initially promising, but quite solid.
NEXT: Two weeks of reruns, starting with "The Ship". See you in three weeks.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I am a graduate of Starfleet Academy. I know many things."