WARNING: Lo, there shall come a reckoning -- and spoilers for DS9's "The Reckoning" shall follow shortly thereafter.
In brief: Surprisingly clunky in a few spots, but usually quite powerful.
DS9 fans have been in serious danger of whiplash for the past five weeks. First, there was "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night", which inexplicably managed to make a story about Kira, Dukat and the Cardassian occupation duller than dirt. From there, the quality level took a sharp turn upwards with "Inquisition" and especially "In the Pale Moonlight", only to plunge back down to the depths with "His Way" last week. Naturally, this means it's time for another upswing -- and "The Reckoning" is surely it.
"The Reckoning" could be viewed as a sequel to many episodes, from "Rapture" to "The Assignment" to "Sacrifice of Angels". In various shows over the last few seasons, most of them quite good, we've seen Sisko's attitude about his role has Emissary evolve from barely concealed discomfort to grudging acceptance to, finally, a flat- out embracing of his role. Since "Rapture", Sisko has all but reveled in his role, using it to help Bajor set policy towards the Dominion and even going up against Federation policy to further the best interests of Bajor. There's been a real sense that someday, somehow, Sisko would cross over too far. "Sacrifice of Angels" saw Sisko bully the Prophets into saving the Alpha Quadrant, but also promised him a future comeuppance; what shape it would take was unclear apart from a vague assurance that he would "find no rest" on Bajor, but it was reasonable to assume that it might have something to do with his role as Emissary.
After waiting about half a season, we're now beginning to find out what sort of penance may lie in store for Sisko. As early as the teaser (a particularly long teaser, by the way -- nearly six minutes), Sisko has his first vision of the show: the Prophets discuss "the reckoning", but leave no clues. As with "Rapture", it's an archaeological discovery that launches Sisko into obsession -- and as with "Rapture" again, that obsession threatens to spin out of control and blind him to all else.
That "all else" is fairly significant. Initially, it's just that Sisko takes the tablet with him, which angers Kai Winn. Now, admittedly, she does have a good point about how sensitive Bajor is to outsiders taking their relics without permission (given the events of the occupation), but Sisko's blithe, almost tossed-off assurance that the Prophets wanted him to take the tablet rang just falsely enough that I started to wonder if he was overreaching himself. Based on Winn's tone, she surely didn't believe him, but Kira's suggestion that Winn's motivated by jealousy stops the viewer from thinking about that too much.
All the while, the omens in the air are growing: Bajor's hit by one natural disaster after another, and Dax's partial translation suggests that DS9 will be destroyed by whatever "the reckoning" happens to be. I rather enjoyed the Bashir/Worf/Odo/Quark conversation, as it nicely highlighted the fatalistic, prophecy-is-true attitudes of Odo and Worf versus the "enlightened" Federation attitude of Bashir. ("Who knows? The rest of the tablet probably says, 'Go to Quark's: it's happy hour.'" Heh.) Despite occasional breaks of levity, however, there's a real sense that Something Big [TM] is definitely about to happen.
And happen it does, in a moment that came as no shock to anyone seeing the preview (unfortunately, as I might not have pegged it in advance otherwise). Sisko breaks the tablet at about the worst possible time: since he's already promised Winn it'll be off the station the next morning, it's bound to look petty. What's more, that seeming pettiness and seeming willingness to use his status as Emissary to justify his actions loses Sisko an awful lot of goodwill -- and not just from Winn. For an awful lot of the show, it felt to me like Winn was far closer to being in the right than Sisko was; using the Prophets' words to justify apparent pettiness is a tactic we certainly saw Winn use years ago, and having Sisko appear to do the same here made for an interesting role reversal.
Before Sisko even has time to worry about the political consequences, however, the more immediate consequences become apparent: Kira's body is possessed by a Prophet (which was presumably in the tablet) and speaks of an age-old conflict about to resume between the Prophets and the pagh wraiths, which looks like it's going to be settled by single combat between Prophet-Kira and "Costamochin", a pagh wraith which will also take a corporeal host. If victorious, the golden age of Bajor will begin -- but that "if" is key.
There's actually a fair bit to keep track of in this episode: not only do we have mythic battles waiting to be fought, but Jake voices some concerns about Sisko's willingness to die for his role as Emissary, Odo finds out a bit more about the strength of Kira's faith, and Winn has a crisis of faith of her own. Most of that comes off rather well, but there are a few hitches.
The first hitch is that I'm not entirely certain the Winn we saw here fits the Winn we saw last season. By "Rapture", Winn had almost come around to being on Sisko's side -- she had certainly accepted him wholeheartedly as Emissary, and believed in him enough to take his advice without protest in "In the Cards" late last year. Granted, her deep resentment towards Sisko for taking the leadership role that should be hers is difficult to overcome, but this felt like it started out as just a little bit of a backslide for her. (That was most evident in her conversation with Kira on the Promenade, which was a rehash of several they've had and added virtually nothing to the story.)
Other hitches come up later, but lots of incidental moments in the first half of the show more than outweighed the Winn question. Besides the conversation at Quark's, there's also an Odo/Kira conversation about faith which is familiar yet touching. From a plot standpoint, it sets up Odo's willingness to defend Kira's beliefs, but it also works well on his own -- it's the flip side of "Accession", with Kira here asking how other people get through the day without faith as opposed to Odo years ago asking how people can justify its inherent contradictions. (Both answers were good as well; in "Accession" Kira said that if you don't have faith you can't understand it, and Odo here says about himself and others without faith that "we manage." I lean more towards Odo's outlook on things than Kira's, but I pretty firmly agree with both sentiments.)
When the Prophets actually take physical form, however, questions of faith and of commitment become ever more crucial. Sisko's refusal to turn his back on the Prophets' need for aid is telling, even more so because they haven't actually expressed such a need. They say in Sisko's vision that he "will not waver", but they also tell him flatly on the Promenade that his task is complete. Despite that, Sisko argues that the station must be made available for the confrontation, for Bajor's sake. It's one of the few times he and Winn agree on anything; naturally, that means it's got to cause problems. (Odo's calm argument on behalf of Kira is excellent, as is his later scene with Worf: Worf can't see past Dax's life to make larger choices, and Odo's more prepared to abide by Kira's wishes. An interesting contrast with the future-Odo who kills off an entire timeline to save Kira's life in "Children of Time", isn't it? This one's learned something!)
The final hitch, however, comes when the pagh wraith chooses a vessel: Jake. This was pretty heavily foreshadowed, as there'd be little reason to include him earlier in the episode otherwise -- but that ends up not mattering a whit. Both Cirroc Lofton and Nana Visitor do a superb job seeming unlike their usual selves; Nana was far calmer and more ethereal than usual, and Cirroc far more hateful and embittered. Given how few lines either one had to get that across, it works surprisingly well; they'd have seemed different even without benefit of the various voice, eye, and other visual effects.
The battle sequence itself had me far further on the edge of my seat than DS9 almost ever manages. Forget the battle in "Sacrifice of Angels"; this one had more personally at stake so far as I could see. I honestly wondered for quite some time whether we were going to witness the death of Jake Sisko here; it would certainly be a clear-cut beginning to Sisko's "penance" and a real shock. (I never expected them to kill off Kira; among other things, it'd have the wraiths win, and that didn't seem likely.) Sisko's insistence on staying put, his feet rooted to the floor and his eyes to the battle, made me wonder even more about Jake's life: the idea that Sisko would not only be responsible for Jake's death, but would be witnessing it directly when he could have prevented it, struck me as just the sort of thing to put the good captain through several circles of Hell.
The beginning of the chroniton bursts took me as much by surprise as it did Sisko and the combatants, but it wasn't the final surprise. Even when I realized that's what was happening (and sympathized with Prophet-Kira's rage), I expected that Worf had disobeyed orders; it never occurred to me that Winn would be responsible. (As a nit, that's partly because I'm not sure she'd have understood how to do it -- but given the apparent ease-of-use of Federation technology I can buy it, reluctantly.)
"The Reckoning" does something else here I didn't expect: it ended the battle with several scenes left to go, allowing us to settle into the aftermath rather than simply being happy everything's over. Some of that works, some of it doesn't. I wasn't entirely happy with the Sisko/Jake scene: given that Sisko was essentially ready to let Jake die in order to serve the Prophets, Jake's calm "you did the right thing" in the face of that seemed a little too sudden. If this was to be the beginning of Sisko's fall, he seems to have escaped it a little too easily, at least so far.
On the other hand, Winn's just not getting a break. Initially, she was annoyed that the Emissary was flouting her ambitions: in the end, though, she winds up being completely ignored by the Prophets and having to live with the knowledge that, although she saved the station and those on board, she may have doomed her own world by allowing the pagh wraith to escape. I'm not certain Winn's characterization started the episode well, but the groundwork's been laid for a lot of possible directions here, and I like that a lot.
So what is next for Sisko and for Bajor? There's both a pagh wraith and a Prophet roaming around freely; that kind of power strikes me as something quite dangerous over the long term. Regardless of which one's good and which one's evil, Bajor may be in for some rough times ahead. As for Sisko ... well, he was told here that his task was completed; did that refer only to his task in this particular struggle, or to his overall task as Emissary? If the latter, what happens now? Sisko's thrown himself so deeply into his role that he may not be able to live with its end -- and if Winn or someone else chooses to interpret the Prophet's statement that his task is done as an overarching one, he may find the Bajorans paying less attention to him. One wonders.
-- On the Odo/Kira pairing: so far I'm neutral. On the good side, the excellent Odo/Worf conversation during the evacuation likely never could have happened without Odo and Kira actually pairing up; on the bad side, there was the incredibly cloying aren't-we-just-so-cute- together scene in the briefing. (Most of the other Odo/Kira scenes were good, but would have worked just as well were they simply good friends; it was only those two that relied on them being a couple.)
-- I wish there'd been at least a mention of where O'Brien was; his absence was definitely noticed. (I assume Meaney was off filming something else.)
-- One fan hypothesis that the Prophets used to be Bajorans themselves certainly seems to have been strengthened here, given that the tablet was millennia older than B'hala itself.
-- Kira telling Jake to enjoy the time at B'hala for his father's sake was good; it's a very valid sort of way to keep the war in mind while doing an episode completely unrelated to it.
-- While Kira's humility in the face of being chosen by the Prophets was good, Odo's response to it seemed about half a sentence too long for me. I'd have left it as "Perhaps that's why you were chosen" and left it at that.
-- I experienced lots of "echoes" during the show. The idea of an event whose occurrence has been forecast for eons but whose outcome is unknown matches lots of SF and fantasy, among them David Eddings' work; the visuals of the Prophet/Wraith battle reminded me a great deal of the Kosh/Kosh-II battle in B5's "Falling Towards Apotheosis"; and Sisko's reading of the tablet's "Welcome..." with a long pause had me echoing Tolkien's "Speak, friend, and enter" at the gates of Moria. (Note: I don't think any of them were swipes by any stretch of the imagination, just echoes.)
-- It was nice to see James Greene again; his role here as the monk was pretty minor, but I have fond memories of him from TNG's "Who Watches the Watchers?" and more generally from his regular role in "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" years ago.
That about covers it. (Given the length of this review, it probably covered it about ten paragraphs back.) There were definitely a few moments here and there in "The Reckoning" that I questioned or would have done differently, but taken in its entirety the episode is extremely powerful and potentially far-reaching. I can't argue with that!
Writing: Good interweaving of characters overall, with only a couple of places where the seams seemed to show. Directing: Powerfully done. Acting: No complaints (no surprise).
OVERALL: 9. Definitely a keeper.
Jake and Nog wind up way over their heads.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) email@example.com <*> "During the reckoning, the Bajorans will either suffer horribly, or ... eat fruit." "Eat fruit?" "Given the tone of the rest of the inscriptions, I would bet on horrible suffering." -- Dax and Sisko on the difficulties of prophecy translation 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.
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