Saturday, December 17, 2011

Protecting The Separations Of Church And State: "Shakaar"

The Good: Good character development and acting
The Bad: Story is set up in an obvious way, Technical aspects of the universe
The Basics: In a wonderful transition episode, Kira and her old resistance cell leader go rogue to protect Bajoran freedoms.

When Vedek Bareil died in the third season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, there was a sudden gap in Major Kira's life. As well, Kira and Sisko lost an important ally in the conflict with Kai Winn. Kai Winn, the spiritual leader of Bajor, had been held in check by Kira, Sisko and Bareil and without the Vedek, Winn has the potential to be more of a menace than ever before.

"Shakaar" picks up this rather obvious potential and runs with it. When Kai Winn becomes the pro tempe First Minister of the Bajoran government, it seems that she is in complete control of both the religion and the government, a perilous place for any society. When a group of farmers refuse to release some equipment that the government loaned to them, Winn calls on Kira to solve the problem. Why? One of the farmers is Shakaar Edon, the leader of Kira's resistance cell during the Occupation. Kira is sent to get the equipment back from Shakaar and instead finds herself on the run with him and other people from her past.

One of the nice things about "Shakaar" is that it fills a nice gap of time. Kira is on the run from the authorities for over two weeks. There's the sense that this is a complex problem and it makes sense that it is not easily solved. The situation illustrates its complexity when Shakaar is forced to face off with Bajoran security and it becomes obvious that both leaders have reached a stalemate.

This is one of the most intelligently written single-episode scenarios of the series and it feels like that from the moment the episode begins. Unfortunately, the same may not be said of Kira's character arc. The way the episode is constructed, with her mourning for Vedek Bareil in the beginning, is a little more formulaic. So when the end comes and Kira declares her mourning for Bareil over, it seems very obvious.

Beyond that, the episode is pretty fabulous, certainly better than most episodes of any hour-long drama out there today. Kira's conflict is a rather massive one and the scope of it is almost instantly pulled from the small issue of farm equipment to the problems inherent in a theocracy where the head of state is also the religious leader.

This conflict is a wonderful one to present with Kira as the focus. Her character has often been caught between her duty and her religious zeal. Here, even a fundamentalist such as Kira sees the problems and it is her political duty and strong moral code that steps over the bounds, encouraging her to rebel and not take the potential tyranny laying down.

While Kira is presented wonderfully in the episode as the central character, the other characters have strong resiliency as well and add balance to the episode. While Kira is the fulcrum, Kai Winn is on one end of the lever. She illustrates her megalomaniacal traits perfectly beneath the veil of reason and religious mandate. Shakaar, introduced here for the first time, makes his presence known as a clumsy, but morally firm man who wants nothing more glorious than to work the earth in peace. He's a natural leader and that comes across in this episode very quickly and very well.

The problem with the struggle is that the understanding of the Star Trek universe seems to be suspended for the purposes of dragging the episode out. While even now it might be debatable that a group of people trying to hide out in the hills ought to be fairly easy to track using U.S. spy satellite technology, it seems ridiculous to believe that a band of rebels hiding running through the hills of Bajor could not be found using starship scanners. And we've seen Bajoran ships, they're out there; with a problem of this magnitude it seems strange that they would not be employed to find Shakaar and his group. And that "reads" as wrong. Why Lenaris Holem is hunting Shakaar by foot in an age of starships and transporters seems somewhat questionable.

But this is not the fault of the actors and here they give a whiz-bang performance. Recurring as Winn is award winning actress Louise Fletcher and she once again illustrates why good money should be spent for getting great actors for television. Fletcher has a subdued quality to her that makes her character's political machinations believable. She manages to create one of the most quiet and cunning adversaries ever to grace television. And it goes far beyond the writing, it has everything to do with Fletcher's bearing and the way she modulates her voice from suggestive to menacing.

Nana Visitor similarly gives a decent performance, standing out for making the time frame of the episode seem believable. That is, Visitor's performance in the latter portions of the episode give the viewer the feeling that she has been on the run for weeks and there's a wary quality to her performance here that sells us on the idea that she is tired of fighting and of war and terrorism.

The final actor of note is Duncan Regehr, who plays Shakaar. He creates a man of great charisma and it goes beyond his obvious rugged good looks. Instead, Shakaar is played like the common man of intelligence and it's a welcome sight to see someone both intelligent and practical on screen.

Despite having everything to do with the machinations of Bajoran government, this episode remains very accessible to non-fans of the series as a stirring story about the dangers of losing the separations between church and state. It is a worthwhile episode that makes a lot of sense and enhances an already wonderful main story of this series. Part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and a nice civics lesson to boot.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the breakout season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment