The Good: Plot, Character, Acting, Special effects
The Bad: Ultimate resolution to the episode is unsatisfying.
The Basics: As Sisko goes to war against the Dominion, Gul Dukat goes to war against the Prophets, leading to a death that will shake Sisko to his core!
One of the impressive aspects of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is how it tears down so many of the institutions of the Star Trek franchise. Exchanging idealism for a cold sense of reality, the show does not look for happy endings and it seldom ends a season on a note where the viewer is left feeling good. There are no resurrections, no cheery moments that are not offset by tragedy and at the peak of the sixth season, one of the main characters met an ultimately senseless death that – as all great episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were prone to do – led to a powerful character moment. The episode was “Tears Of The Prophets” and it established the ground rules for the final arc of the series once and for all.
After a lot of build-up, by the time “Tears Of The Prophets” comes around, the two major arcs of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are the Dominion War arc and the struggles of Bajor, now characterized between a conflict between the wormhole aliens (Prophets) and the Pah-wraiths. With the fight between the two godlike aliens revealed in “The Reckoning” (reviewed here!), the return of the Pah-wraiths was inevitable. This time, though, they come as a tool of Gul Dukat, who is no longer affiliated with the Dominion.
Now that the Romulans have entered the Dominion War on the same side as the Federation and Klingons, Captain Sisko wants to press the advantage. He sees the opportunity at the Chin’toka System, a Dominion-held world whose liberation could put the Dominion on the defensive for a change. The weak spot in Dominion lines, however, is not going to last long; Weyoun and Damar are in the process of arming the Chin’toka System with automated weapons platforms. As Sisko defies a warning from the Prophets telling him not to go to Chin’toka, the Dominion reinforces their position.
Damar is also visited by an unlikely visitor; Gul Dukat. Dukat arrives on Cardassia searching for artifacts the Cardassians took from Bajor and he finds one, one which possesses him with a Pah-wraith. As the fleet advances on the Chin’toka System, Dukat makes his way to Deep Space Nine where the Pah-wraith within him strikes out at both the Prophets and a member of the crew!
“Tears Of The Prophets” is the culmination of the jerk-around the Dax character arc has undergone since the producers had knowledge that actress Terry Farrell would not be returning for the final season. So, with Dax eager to have a child with Worf, the sense of loss with her demise is intended to be brutal and it is. “Tears Of The Prophets” actually makes it hard to go back and watch the early episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that featured Dax because of how her longevity is treated as an immutable thing. With Farrell not returning, it gave Gul Dukat the opportunity to appear as a true villain for the episode and that works well for his character arc, which has been uncertain since early in the sixth season.
“Tears Of The Prophets” makes a great deal of sense in the overall story of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as well. The Federation and its allies have been retreating and the writers have done an excellent job of making the swell of the Dominion seem unbeatable, despite the retaking of Deep Space Nine. With the Romulans in the war on the side of the Federation and Klingons, it made sense that the show would begin a long arc toward the final episodes of the series. “Tears Of The Prophets” frames that well by creating a first, reasonable, potential for victory for the allies against the Dominion.
While the space battle in the Chin’toka System is appropriately phenomenal, the story in “Tears Of The Prophets” remains, as most Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is , character-based. For a change, the wormhole aliens are not opaque in their communications with Sisko; they tell him he must not leave Deep Space Nine. Still, the demands upon Sisko the StarFleet officer demand he take command of the Defiant and that creates a situation that allows Dukat to board the station unimpeded.
The impressive aspect of “Tears Of The Prophets” is that Sisko choosing to act as a StarFleet officer instead of Emissary has real consequences. The episode barely has a chance to acknowledge the profound nature of Sisko’s loss before the season abruptly ends. More than that, “Tears Of The Prophets” does not offer the viewer any sense of catharsis; victory comes at a great personal price and the emotions it stirs up are not easily resolved. So, while the episode hardly has the sense of being a dramatic cliffhanger, it does put Sisko on a different path that changes his relation to the war effort.
As is the case with most Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the character journey is not exclusively that of Sisko, Dukat or Dax. Instead, a portion of the episode is devoted to Odo fretting about his first fight with Kira. Completely out of his league in personal relationships, Odo blunders through the first fight in a very childlike manner that actually works for his character very well. It allows Rene Auberjonois and Nana Visitor to share a very different type scene than they ever have before. Similarly, Quark and Bashir begin to bond over the idea that the Dax/Worf marriage is likely to actually endure, despite their best estimates to the contrary.
In the end, “Tears Of The Prophets” is part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as it turns both the plot and characters of the show in important new directions.
[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 of all the episodes, movies and seasons I have reviewed!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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