Thursday, April 5, 2012

Captain Sisko Wrestles, Yet Again, With Being The Emissary In “The Reckoning,” An Important Set-up Episode Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The Good: Character development, Acting, Special effects, Plot in the larger story
The Bad: Very simple plot/character elements.
The Basics: In one of the neglected decent episodes, “The Reckoning” sets up the final arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine exceptionally well!

Sometimes, one of the truly great things about having a complicated story is that readers or viewers might not realize at the time the importance of certain events when they first encounter them. In the case of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is a legitimately great television series, there are arcs that begin surprisingly late in the series that have incredible importance to the overall series. After seasons of whining about being the Emissary of the Prophets, Benjamin Sisko seemingly made peace with his role in the episode “Accession” (reviewed here!). So, when “The Reckoning” comes along, it does seem a little forced that he complains at all about his dual role as a StarFleet officer and a religious icon to the Bajoran people. That said, “The Reckoning” is one of those rare episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that is vastly better in-context than it is on its own (so, when considered as a part of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the rating of this episode would certainly be higher).

“The Reckoning” comes from the promise left in “Sacrifice Of Angels” (reviewed here!). (Fear not, no spoilers!) At the climax of that episode, Sisko learned that there was a price for the Prophets intervening to save Bajor. While, at the time, most viewers assumed that price was the death at the end of the episode, we were all wrong. “The Reckoning” arrives as the payment of the debt Sisko has to the Prophets. “The Reckoning” also marks the return of the Pah-wraiths first introduced in “The Assignment” (reviewed here!). The events of “The Reckoning” set off a chain of events that deeply influence the season finale as well as the series finale, which helps the show feel like it is a continuum, not just a random collection of episodes.

Sisko, Kira and Jake visit Bajor and the ruins of B’hala where the archaeologists have found a mysterious tablet. Kira is shocked when the tablet bears an inscription that reads “Welcome Emissary.” Baffled, Sisko takes the ancient tablet back to the station where he begins studying it. While Dax gripes about trying to figure out what makes it at all special, Sisko is confronted by Kai Winn, who is offended that Sisko did not ask the Vedek Assembly for permission to remove the tablet. When it appears that the removal of the tablet might actually start a political quagmire with the Federation, Sisko is ordered to return the tablet. Instead, he destroys it.

In destroying the tablet, Sisko unleashes two entities and begins the Reckoning. The Prophets find a willing body in Major Kira and they prepare to do battle with the Pah-wraith that was released as well. As Kai Winn looks eagerly for the battle to make Sisko as the Emissary irrelevant by ushering in a new golden age for Bajor, Sisko works to protect the residents of Deep Space Nine. But with most of the station evacuated, the host body for the Pah-wraith is revealed to be Jake Sisko and Captain Sisko is caught between his faith in the Prophets and the desire to see his son survive the battle!

“The Reckoning” is a very simple episode that works very hard to get to the point because the purpose of the episode is not immediately apparent. Like some other episodes in the recent storyline of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, much of the point of “The Reckoning” is not evident until pretty much the last act. The real conflict in “The Reckoning,” the one intended to make viewers care and feel like the episode has consequence in and of itself is when Major Kira – inhabited by the wormhole alien – and Jake Sisko – inhabited by the Pah-wraith – are set into a fight to the death and Sisko must face losing his first officer and the embodiment of his spiritual protectors or his own son. That conflict is essentially introduced as the last act.

What fills up much of the rest of the episode, then, is a surprisingly important character journey for Kai Winn. Kai Winn, frequently an adversary of the protagonists on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine arrives on the station with a surprisingly valid point. Sisko did remove an ancient artifact from Bajor in a way that was reminiscent of the Cardassians. She even had a reasonable solution; Sisko should have consulted with the Vedek Assembly prior to the removal of the tablet. Winn doesn’t own the Assembly, odds are Sisko could have easily gotten the permission he needed. So, Sisko made a mistake (albeit a reasonable one) and Kai Winn pounced on it.

So, the character journey Kai Winn begins to make is one that will ultimately lead to her character’s final end. That arc begins in “The Reckoning.” Here, Winn mentions that the Prophets have never spoken with her the way they do to Sisko. The seeds of jealousy are planted in that character revelation and when Winn latches on to the idea that the successful resolution to the Reckoning will be an end to the Vedek Assembly, the position of Kai and . . . the Emissary. Winn seems very eager to see Sisko’s position as Emissary end and that is telling. Winn could easily sate her ambitions in another field, but if Sisko is no longer the Emissary, he loses all authority and standing he has in Bajoran society. “The Reckoning” reveals Winn’s desire to eliminate Sisko as Emissary and expresses her feelings – once again – that the Prophets made a questionable decision in choosing him for the role. Her actions at the climax of the episode are arguably the character’s big moment of change.

What “The Reckoning” does not do as well on the character front is use Dax. Dax is treated as something of an idiot in “The Reckoning” and that is very frustrating. It is Sisko who reminds Dax that the Prophets have been watching over Bajor for over a thousand years (in the pilot episode, it is Dax who puts that time at over ten thousand years) and Dax has to be told that Deep Space Nine is the battleground for the Reckoning (usually, it is Dax, who is the more creative thinker who interprets such imagery for Sisko!). On the flip side, Dax has two great exchanges with Sisko where her sense of humor and irony come out beautifully. In fact, Terry Farrell’s delivery in defining the tablet as a rock is one of her funniest.

That said, “The Reckoning” does fairly well with the rest of the cast. Rene Auberjonois is able to continue incrementally loosening Odo up as he slowly transforms from the dour persona he has maintained for years. He and Nana Visitor continue to play off one another well as Auberjonois makes Odo a little more affectionate. Michael Dorn uses his brief time on screen well and Louise Fletcher continues to make Kai Winn an intriguing character to watch in all of her scenes.

But it is Nana Visitor and Cirroc Lofton who steal the episode from Avery Brooks on the performance front. Visitor and Lofton spend almost an entire act staring at one another with massive special effects done in post production doing the work of the scene. As a result, the two actors were simply staring at one another and that does not come through at all in their performances. Instead, the scene holds up as a vital conflict between two possessed individuals and that is a testament to their acting.

Ultimately, “The Reckoning” is a long build-up to a short battle and while it might seldom be considered a memorable episode, it has incredible ramifications throughout the rest of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, making it an essential episode.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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