Monday, November 19, 2012

Deep Space Nine, Season 1: In the Hands of the Prophets

Deep Space Nine, Season 1
"In the Hands of the Prophets"
Airdate: June 20, 1993
19 of 173 produced
19 of 173 aired


A religious leader and potential new Kai comes to the station and objects to Keiko O'Brien teaching her students about the wormhole as a scientific phenomenon and not a religious one. An increasingly heated debate ensues that eventually threatens to erupt in outright violence and to undo the progress that DS9 has made over the last year.
Sometimes the Prophets ask us to sacrifice otherwise interesting characters for no good reason, my child.


Kevin: Well, here we are the end of season 1. Thank God. It's not been the best season in franchise history, but happily, we went out on a stronger note. This is one of the things Star Trek does best: the allegory. There are a couple of Big Ideas here that fairly well exercised. I appreciate that the episode directly engages religion and religious beliefs in a way that previous Star Trek hasn't, and it has obvious parallels to modern day issues of teaching evolution in schools. By the way, I LOVE that Keiko explicitly mentions evolution and creation of the universe as other topics she'll be teaching. The Galileo lesson works well too. I like, ultimately, that the episode didn't pull any punches. We do get Sisko giving the standard homily about respecting other's beliefs, even going so far as to acknowledge the concrete existence of their gods must give Bajorans a more understandable faith in their gods than most people, but it doesn't prevent him from ultimately holding his ground or calling Winn on her machinations. The two main points of the episode seem to be that science is good and that people attempting to prevent science from being taught are just using religion as a cover for their baldly political aspirations. Coupled with Quark's aside about orthodox types loving the dabo girls, it's a pretty solid smack down of religious extremism. It's an allegory worthy of TOS, but delivered with the darker packaging that DS9 is finally starting to be able to consistently deliver.

Matthew: Yeah, this episode shifted gears rather starkly as it developed. I was loving the obvious jab at religious interference in science education, and also enjoying Sisko's measured take on it, and then everything turned into a political thriller a la The Manchurian Candidate. Both stories were entertaining, but I wonder if they would have been better left separate. Either way, I agree on the nice, mature themes to be found here - it's a breath of fresh air compared to some of the flotsam that passes for the other episodes of Season One.

Kevin: On the character development front, I always found Kira's initial support of Winn to be a bit off, like it was written in for the episode. The character obviously has deep faith, as evidenced by her feelings toward Opaka, but she never read as willing to ignore seeing the world for what it was, or someone who would be easily duped by a politician spouting rhetoric, but still, I do like the moment at the end where she acknowledges Sisko is not the devil. I think that is part of what I like about the episode. The issues and politics are tied into the larger idea of Sisko and the Federation's role on Bajor, so it felt less like "problem of the week" and more "problem of the show," i.e. how to help Bajor rebuild and deal with conflicts between their world views. Likewise, starting the problem in Keiko's classroom gives the conflict a personal stake for character we certainly care a great deal about.

Matthew: This is partially the acting, but I do feel as though this episoe set Winn up to be too obvious a villain from the outset, precisely because of that scene. It was so pushy and off-putting that the viewer can't help but to hate Winn almost immediately. It might have served the story better if Winn had been able to advocate for her position in a reasonable, believable way, not just to have Sisko do it by proxy. Kira's characterization didn't bother me as much, I felt it was part of a piece with her desire for Bajoran independence, and her final scene in the episode had her really examine her faith - hw much of it she really had in the first place, how much was aspirational wishful thinking.

Kevin: There is also an energy to the political machinations lacking from say "A Man Alone." Sisko and Bareil's exchange about how the Prophets apparently teach politics as well as patience was great. I think it was bolstered by the guest actors and the fact that they picked an issue that has resonance for modern society, but I cared about what was going on. I also liked that they had the killer be a (briefly) recurring character with Neela. The producers tried to have an extra episode with the same character, but the first actress didn't work out, but I appreciate the attempt, and even though I only saw the character once before, I still remember being surprised the villain was a recurring character.

Matthew: Yeah, it was a surprisingly nuanced look at political maneuvering, especially since it had to both establish the rules of the game and then show us the players all at once. I do think Bareil's change of heart was a bit too quick, and I felt that more of the Vedek Assembly's role in Bajoran politics could have been given to us. Are these people like the popes and bishops of today, or like the Medici popes and bishops of yore?

Kevin: My only moderate complaint is that Winn's plot is a little too clever for its own good. A woman that amoral and politically inclined would have to have a more efficient way of doing this. Why not just have Bareil slip in the shower or something? There's really no communications log or anything that would show that Neela was getting her orders from someone at least connected with Winn? Even just enough to color her in public opinion? Still, like I said, at least it has some life to it, and was fun to watch.

Matthew: I agree on Winn's plot. Is she really going to put herself in the line of fire like that? And how can she be sure that Bareil will show up on the station, go to the Promenade, make a speech, etc.?That wasn't my only criticism, though. I found the characterization of Neela to be rather uneven. She is charming and sweet with O'Brien, but then cold and robotic when it's time to rock and roll? She wants to escape? She's willing to kill a respected religious/political figure... why? Most terrorists I've heard of don't want to get freaky with their victims. She could have been portrayed as more of a manipulator, more of a victim of brainwashing, something. It all ended up seeming a bit artificial. And the Aquino stuff got old pretty quickly. Spending that much time talking about someone we never meet seems foolish, when we could get more meaty interesting scenes of politics, assassination plots, or evolution vs. creationism in schools.


Kevin: Everyone turned in a pretty good performance here, and in a way that makes you think this is what we'll be getting in the future. No one, at least until the speeches toward the end was really Acting or anything. I liked Sisko and Kira's exchange in Ops over the Bajoran workers. The O'Brien's both do a great job, as always. Rosalind Chao was particularly good at holding her ground without appearing dismissive or strident.

Matthew: I think Avery Brooks is much better in quiet scenes like the one with Jake, than in speechifying scenes like the one on the Promenade. Nana Visitor had another fine scene at the end of this episode, cementing her along with Shimerman and Auberjonois as one of the actors who can be relied on for consistently good work.

Kevin: The guest cast was great. I love Louise Fletcher. Nurse Ratchet never fails to bring her A game and it shows. Particularly for this series, she is a great guest actor. She can really handle the slightly melodramatic dialogue and plots with ease and it becomes really fun to hate her over the years. I like Philip Anglim as Bareil, but I can see the argument that he tends to pitch his performances a little on the low-key side, but I don't think he did so here. Particularly as a foil for Winn, his serenity plays well against her antagonism.

Matthew: Despite my concern that she was too instantly hate-able, I very much agree on Louise Fletcher. Even though I hate her character, it's one of those deliciously evil performances that you just can't help but enjoy watching. Anglim was too much of a cipher for my tastes. I wanted more life behind the eyes, even if t character wasn't allowed to say things on camera. I really liked Robin Christopher as Neela, and wish she had been given more to do in terms of portraying how someone who seems so sweet could be twisted into a killer.

Production Values

Kevin: I liked the monastery set, which is apparently the same garden used for the holodeck scene in Encounter at Farpoint. The post explosion set was pretty well done. I love the Bajoran religious costumes. There's lots of layers and folds and patterns and it reads really well on camera and it has the sense of slightly too complicated finery of their terrestrial counterparts.

Matthew: The explosion was really good all the way around. The pyrotechnics looked good, the wreckage was good, and the sound was especially impressive. The Bajor matte was nice, but when I see those pretty painted buildings, I kind of want to see the interiors of some of them, not just a leafy location shot. I agree on the costumes.

Kevin: My one problem here, is sadly, a big one. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO followed by a slow motion jump is just lazy directing. The shot of Sisko flying into shot in slow motion almost makes me laugh out loud every time I see it. Also, Neela got a clear shot off before Sisko got to her. How did she miss? It all just seems like weak staging or camera work.

Matthew: Maybe she faltered because she knew she'd be caught and executed if the shot connected? I agree that the "Nooo!" was silly, but I did admire the number of extras that were shot in costume, and he way they made Neela stand out in her gray uniform against the more colorful crowd.


Kevin: For having the lobes to tackle such a thorny issue in prime-time television, the show gets a lot of credit. Add in good guest performances and a portrayal of Bajoran politics that is energetic and engaging, and I am happy to give this a 4. The NOOOOOOOOO and a somewhat too convoluted plot on Winn's part keep it from a 5, but I still think the episode is pretty good overall.

Matthew: Evolution vs. Creationism is almost enough for an automatic 4 from me. I think they stopped short of doing the topic justice, but the story we got instead was also entertaining. So for me, what keeps this from a 5 is the fact that neither story gets full room to breathe. But the whole, as mismatched as it might be, was still quite entertaining. So I agree with the 4 for a total of 8.


  1. Just discovered the show a few weeks ago. Love it! But please post download links on the site. I left iTunes behind years ago as soon as I first used it. Heh.

    Anyway, keep up the Star Trek love! :)

  2. So let me get this straight: Sisko thinks what Winn is doing here and the bullshit she wants Keiko to teach in school is ok and "not dumb" as Jake put it because the (delusion of the )Prophets made the bajorans feel good during hard times? So disregard facts and reality because fantasy makes you feel good? Creationism and that there is a god working just for you and having created you in his image sounds so much nicer and warmer and fuzzier than evolution, so believe that cozy lie? Suck on that emotional pacifier?

    Sure, I mean if in your private time and life you want to believe in, i dont know, the Easter Hobbit as your savior and that makes you feel better. Go for it. But this is the public sphere they were talking about and i was sorely disappointed that Sisko in his conversation with Jake basically affirmed Winn's ridiculous, idiotic position. That yes she does have a point because it made bajorans feel good.

    Christianity has made and continues to make tons of people "feel good" too, but that didnt make the church's assertion that the sun evolves around the earth any truer.

    Not to mention that in the case of the Bajorans the prophets actually didnt do shit to help them during the half a century long occupation and genocide. I dont call that faith. I call that desperation.

    I really resented Sisko's "but they have a point too and are just as right as we are" when clearly they werent. This was about some religious nut job trying to stop the teaching of facts and knowledge in a public school in order to push her religious agenda. Suggesting that it is not neutrino levels that allow impulse drive to be safe through the wormhole but the "guidance of the prohpets" is pretty dumb, to quote Jake's crude yet accurate description of the whole situation. It is not a valid standpoint. So Jake or anyone pointing that out and saying THIS IS WRONG is certainly not just the opposite side of the same coin of extremism and bigotry blah blah blah. The equivalency argument Sisko made didnt help. What he should have said is that while in their private lives the bajorans are free to believe in any number of stories, they have no right to impose those personal beliefs on anyone else, or worse, try to pass them up as or in lieu of facts. This shit makes me feel better is not a valid justification to continue engaging in ignorance.