The Good: Great character development, Wonderful acting, Decent special effects, Nice plot, Humor
The Bad: Moments of treating Dukat like an idiot
The Basics: When Dukat returns a broken man, he finds a cause: eradicating the Klingons who are infesting Cardassian space in a wonderful story of character development.
When last we saw Legate Dukat in "Indiscretion," he was hunting for someone and he found her. Tora Ziyal joined him and when last we saw Dukat, he was happy and conflicted. Fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine saw a chance for some real character development with Dukat and his return has been long-awaited. In "Return To Grace," Dukat resurfaces and it's an excellent piece where they cannot disguise that the episode belongs to the Cardassian villain.
In "Return To Grace," Dukat returns to ferry Kira to a diplomatic conference. Stripped of his rank and position, left by his wife and family, Dukat is a broken man, who is hanging on to Tora Ziyal, his daughter. Ziyal brings him joy and he seems actually satisfied with his life. Then the Klingons attack the conference, killing the Cardassians and Bajorans there. As a result, Dukat goes on the offensive, taking his limited ship into a hopeless battle to attempt to rid Cardassian space of Klingons. Finding his government unwilling to act, Dukat becomes more and more obsessed with defeating the villains who are operating behind his line.
The episode works best when it is utilizing Dukat in an intelligent manner. Occasionally in "Return To Grace," Dukat is treated as naive or simply stupid. This is especially applicable when Kira is briefing Dukat on how to be a terrorist. His ignorance around how to convert the freighter into a fighting ship is disappointing. It treats a character who has been a brilliant warlord like a child and that's sad. Dukat could never have survived the Occupation had he lacked imagination and intelligence as he occasionally does in this piece.
The bulk of the episode is wonderful and it does manage to focus on Dukat in an intelligent way. Dukat is a compelling villain and here he seems especially rich. It becomes clear that Dukat is someone who loves his planet and his people very much. His instant desire to safeguard them is strong and compelling. He seems a man who has lost everything and for the first time he has hope for purpose. It makes his reactions to the Deetapa Council's refusal to act seem very realistic and his character here is blissfully full of intrigue here.
Add to that, Major Kira does have a chance to explore her rich character. She is great in her ability to revisit her terrorist character as well as engaging her sudden parental instinct. Kira and Ziyal come together in a very organic way and it is wonderful to seek Kira engage the young woman. Kira's strong here and she fits quite well with Dukat's new position as a character in transition. She has the attempt to gloat and does not engage it. The humor at the opening of the episode is wonderful.
Add to the wonderful character development is great acting. Cyia Battan is competent as Tora Ziyal. She plays Ziyal as young, confused, inexperienced and sells the audience on her desire to fit into her father's world. Battan does an excellent job convincing us of her character's naivete by using her eyes and body language like a professional. Her performance is magnificently contrasted by Nana Visitor's stern, straightforward role as Kira. Visitor reprises the sense of Kira's desperation and cunning tactical sense that has been buried for some time. She makes the transition organic and believable.
But the acting that stands out over anything else is that of Marc Alaimo. Alaimo plays Dukat in a great way. For the first time, Dukat must seem uncertain and Alaimo works it well, while maintaining the integrity of the character. Alaimo has a talent for seeming completely devious even in the lowest of circumstances. Even better, Alaimo manages to transform Dukat at the start of the episode and throughout "Return To Grace." He shines as a neglected talent on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine here.
"Return To Grace" is a treat for fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a payoff for those who have been with the series since Gul Dukat's stunning, villainous entrance in the series premiere. This is a piece that is accessible to those who are not fans who like the idea of a story of a lost man searching for purpose. But just for sitting down and watching something, "Return To Grace" is difficult because it alludes to a lot of parts of the Star Trek universe only explored in this series. The character work is wonderful and a pleasure to watch, but less understandable without knowing where the characters have been.
This episode feels like something of a middle act, with "Indiscretion" (reviewed here!) being the first part, and indeed, it is a transitional episode for both Dukat and Ziyal. Add to that, Kira's solution to Ziyal joining Dukat's fight against the Klingons impacts her and it's refreshing to know that will be followed up on. Part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for everything this episode puts forth.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the turnaround season by clicking here!
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© 2012, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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