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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Shakaar (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

There are really two versions of Shakaar.

There is the episode that Shakaar very clearly wants to be. It’s intended to offer Kira a bit of closure, following on from the events of Life Support. It’s very clearly meant to explore Kira’s grieving process and to allow her to come to terms with the loss she suffered. After all, the episode opens establishing that Kira still mourns Bareil, while the episode closes with Kira extinguishing the memorial candle she lit for him. (Which does invite the audience to wonder if it was burning the whole time she was on Bajor.)

Carrying a torch...

Carrying a torch…

As such, it makes sense to offer Kira an opportunity to get back to her roots – to suggest that Kira might secretly want to return to the relative simplicity of a rebel fighter resisting an oppressive government; fighting a war is a lot less complex than navigating the peace. Kira’s reunion with the Shakaar Resistance Cell is meant to offer her a way to escape into something comfortable, to avoid moving forward; because moving forward is tough and painful. Shakaar should be about Kira learning that she has to push forward. It should be a companion piece to Progress.

The episode can’t quite manage this. Instead, we end up with an episode about how Kira gets swept off her feet by a dashing hunk of a man – an episode that leaves the viewer with the unfortunate implication that Kira only needed to find another weirdly paternal man to help her get past the death of the man she loved. Shakaar is an episode with a host of interesting ideas, but isn’t quite sure how to best bring those ideas to the screen.

You Winn some, you lose some...

You Winn some, you lose some…

To be fair, Shakaar suffers because of its position in the season. It’s the third-last episode of the year, and it’s only the season’s second Kira-centric episode. The third season has somewhat neglected Kira as a character, treating her as a supporting player in a number of stories, but this is the first time the main plot of an episode has been driven by Kira since Second Skin, early in the season. While fans tend to suggest that Kira was somewhat marginalised by the arrival of Worf in the fourth season, the third season never seems quite sure what to do with her.

Shakaar is an episode intended to give the character a bit of space, and to allow her to process the death of Vedek Bareil in Life Support. Kira was squeezed to the periphery of that episode, feeling like a supporting player at the bedside of her beloved. It didn’t help that the very next episode – Heart of Stone – used Kira as the object of Odo’s affections with no reference to what came before. So we get Shakaar, an episode separated by four months (and almost an entire season of Star Trek: Voyager) from Bareil’s passing, finally addressing the subject.

A dirty war...

A dirty war…

This isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw. Kira isn’t a character who tends to talk about her feelings a lot; she isn’t outwardly expressive of her emotions. If Kira is upset, the station knows about it, but Kira generally doesn’t share her private life with those around her. So it’s perfectly feasible that Kira would mourn Bareil in her own way and in her own time, as she told Bashir in the opening act of Life Support.

The problem is that we’ve seen absolutely no indication that Kira has been mourning Bareil at all before this episode. In the opening scene of Heart of Stone, she is joking with Odo about declining dinner invitations on his behalf. In Destiny, Kira is present for a joint mission with the Cardassians made possible by the hard work of Bareil Antos, but he is never directly (or indirectly) acknowledged. So revealing that Kira has been lighting a candle for him feels like too little too late.

How will Winn Prophet by this?

How will Winn Prophet by this?

Shakaar is a mess. It feels like an episode thrown together from a bunch of interesting ideas, with little regard for how these ideas are meant to fit together. The episode seems like a stew of concepts that seem interesting (and clever) on paper, but simply don’t work when translated to the screen. Much like Through the Looking Glass, you can see what the producers were trying to do, but the finished episode doesn’t actually do anything worth noting.

It’s an episode packed with potential and ideas, but with no overarching way of tying those ideas together. There are enough good ideas here to sustain three or four episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in the right hands. Unfortunately, Shakaar seems like a teleplay that has gone through several iterations – each iteration designed to enhance a different aspect of the story, but none managing to get those ideas across the finish line.

There's some dirty dealing going on here...

There’s some dirty dealing going on here…

The most obvious problem is Shakaar himself. When asked why Shakaar was such an infrequent guest star throughout the run of Deep Space Nine, Ronald D. Moore explained that the character typically felt redundant when included in scripts like The Rapture or The Darkness and the Light:

His presence in either show would’ve been nice and added some texture, but in the end, we could tell the stories without him and so when something had to go, Shakaar was dropped both times.

To be honest, Shakaar feels a little redundant here. Although undoubtedly coloured by hindsight, the introduction of Shakaar as a tall and handsome father figure/romantic interest for Kira feels a little bit uncomfortable. It’s the most awkward way of dealing with her grief over Bareil, as if offering her a replacement.

The episode is not quite a bullseye...

The episode is not quite a bullseye…

Okay, Shakaar minimises any hint of romantic tension between Kira and Shakaar; this is a smart move. Duet established that Kira had been working with Shakaar since she was twelve years old. As such, her subsequent romantic relationship with Shakaar – advanced in stories like Crossfire or The Begotten – feels a little awkward and uncomfortable. As Shakaar is written here, the character should seem like a surrogate father figure who is helping Kira reconnect with her roots while dealing with a horrible loss.

However, this is undermined by several factors. For one thing, Kira and Bareil’s romantic involvement began as a relationship between teacher and pupil in The Circle; so that echoes through into the dynamic between Kira and Shakaar. There’s also the fact that Shakaar himself is a lot more “hands-on” with Kira than with Lupaza or Furel; and the fact that Lupuza and Furel are presented as a couple underscores the idea that romance blossoms among the former members of the Shakaar Resistance Cell.

Shakaar, and the walls around her heart fell...

Shakaar, and the walls around her heart fell…

The real problem is the casting of Duncan Regehr. Regehr has a long and varied career behind him, including films like The Monster Squad and the leading role in the television show Zorro. However, in terms of Star Trek, it was only a year after Regehr had appeared as the central guest star in another episode – a rather infamous episode. Tuning in to watch Shakaar, it was hard not to see Regehr as the erotic sex candle ghost from Sub Rosa, a glorious mess of an episode – even by the standards of the seventh season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

So Shakaar is defined as something of a romantic lead, simply by the casting choice. To be fair, it’s quite clear what Deep Space Nine was trying to do, casting Regehr as a romantic outlaw living in a small shack on the plains. The script for Shakaar flirts with the idea of Shakaar as the hero of an old-fashioned western, casting him as a retired warrior who became a simple farmer; a former rebel at the mercy of a chaotic universe.

Come quietly, or there'll be trouble...

Come quietly, or there’ll be trouble…

This “Shakaar as cowboy” portrayal continues right down to his confrontation with the deputies sent to arrest him. “If you’ll come with us,” they offer. “Yeah, all right,” Shakaar concedes. “I just want to make one thing clear…” Naturally, that one thing is his fist in their faces. Regehr has a stone-jawed ruggedly heroic quality. He does look like he wandered out of an old pulp serial. One could imagine Regehr headlining a remake of The Rifleman, the western television show that inspired Deep Space Nine.

Still, it’s very hard to look at Regehr’s casting in light of anything outside Sub Rosa. The story is one of the most polarising and memorable installments of the final season of The Next Generation. Love it or hate it, it sticks in the memory – and it’s hard to get past the image of a spectral Duncan Regehr living in a candle, sexing up old ladies and their granddaughters. His casting as Shakaar, just over a year later, feels too close.

Sadly, Kai Winn's big musical rendition of "Oh I just can't wait to be First Minister!" was cut from the broadcast episode...

Sadly, Kai Winn’s big musical rendition of “Oh I just can’t wait to be First Minister!” was cut from the broadcast episode…

The fact that Shakaar and Kira do eventually embark on a romance compounds this frustration, as does the way that the romance is used to further sideline Kira during later seasons. While Kira and Shakaar hook up in Crossfire, the episode is very consciously built around Odo’s reaction to their romance rather than the romance itself. Kira’s romantic entanglement is treated as the thing that keeps Odo at arm’s length rather than a natural development of her character. (Similarly, the relationship ends in Children of Time another episode about Odo rather than Kira.)

So Shakaar seems like it should be a story about Kira regressing back into a terrorist as something of a coping mechanism to deal with her recent loss. Certainly, the relationship between Kira and Bareil suggested that he helped her relax and mellow out a bit more than she usually did – that she may have learned a bit from Bareil’s practiced calm. So, following his death, it makes sense that Kira would slide backwards into the more comfortable role of revolutionary, inevitably realising that she needs to keep moving forward before things escalate too far.

Rebel with a perfectly reasonable cause...

Rebel with a perfectly reasonable cause…

Instead, Shakaar feels rather clumsy. We’re told that Kira goes rogue on Bajor for two weeks with Shakaar and her former allies. This is nice, but the episode makes absolutely no effort to convey the passage of time. Kira is still wearing her uniform at the climax of Shakaar, rather than changing into civilian clothes. Sisko seems fairly cool with the disappearance of his second-in-command, which seems at odds with his appeals to her in Progress.

Rather than providing a sense of scope to the story – as the gaps in Explorers or The Quickening do – the two-week gap here feels like a non-event; an idea that was good in principle but doesn’t work in practise. So we lose any sense of the weight of Kira’s decision. For all that Kai Winn talks about weeks of lawlessness, the entire episode feels like it could have occurred over the course of a long afternoon. The two-week gap actually means more in the context of O’Brien’s subplot (giving him recovery time) than it does in Kira’s main plot.

Shouldering the weight of expectations...

Shouldering the weight of expectations…

There are other aspects of Shakaar that should work better than they ultimately do. The idea of Kai Winn trying to solidify her hold over Bajor is a compelling story hook. The death of the First Minister and Winn’s attempt to fill that vacuum is a pretty great premise for an episode. Not only does it afford Louise Fletcher more screentime (which is always a good thing), it allows the show to play with big and important ideas.

In particular, it allows Deep Space Nine to touch on the idea of church and state. The Bajoran episodes were very much a way for Deep Space Nine to engage with contemporary religious issues. Given Gene Roddenberry’s atheism, there was no room for religious discourse in the Federation. This meant that the franchise was rather disengaged from one of the big touchpoints of the nineties. In exploring the Bajoran political situation, Deep Space Nine gets to play with many facets of organised religion.

Little house on the final frontier...

Little house on the final frontier…

As James Davison Hunter argued in Culture Wars: The Struggle To Control The Family, Art, Education, Law, And Politics In America, the separation between church and state was one of the fronts of the clash of cultures in America during the eighties and nineties – a conflict more about power than religious belief:

The significance of the debate bears repeating: what is ultimately at stake is the ability to define the rules by which moral conflict of this kind is to be resolved. Once again, those who define how a contest is to be played out will have the advantage of shaping its final outcome. Influencing the structure of the rules represents a critical part of the overall effort to reestablish an old or to formulate a new cultural hegemony.

It’s worth noting that this is exactly what Kai Winn is trying to do. Winn isn’t especially religious or spiritual. Instead, she is more interested in the power that religion offers. Later seasons would reveal that the Prophets had never spoken to Winn, and it’s quite clear that Winn’s exploitation of a religious issue in In the Hands of the Prophets was calculated and cynical.

An eternal flame?

An eternal flame?

This isn’t to suggest that Winn doesn’t believe what she is saying. The episodes seem quite clear that Winn believes in the righteousness of her actions; however, they also suggest that Winn is very good at rationalising terrible things. Winn’s ideas about the Prophets want always happen to overlap with precisely what Winn wants. Which is, she’d argue, an astonishing coincidence and validation of her claim to power and authority. Like Dukat, Winn’s level of self-awareness is ambiguous at best; that’s what makes her so compelling.

It’s also nice that Deep Space Nine remains open-minded on the issue of faith. While Winn uses her faith as a means to leverage political power and moral authority, the show juxtaposes it against Kira’s more personal religious faith. The show never questions Kira’s faith, or her religious beliefs; they are simply accepted as part of who she is. Kira seems to draw strength from her religious beliefs, and the show treats her worship with respect. It is simply uncomfortable with Winn’s approach toward faith as a way of building a political power base.

The zone is the episode's Chief concern...

The zone is the episode’s Chief concern…

Shakaar makes this conflict between church and state fairly explicit. “I was just trying to get used to her as spiritual leader of Bajor and now she’s running the government, Odo?” Kira asks. “Not an ideal situation,” Odo concedes. While Kira concedes that she has a personal stake in this conflict, she argues, “I can’t shake the feeling that giving Winn control of the government is a mistake and she should be stopped.”

One of the nicer touches in Shakaar is the fact that the conflict of the land reclamators is entirely irrelevant. They are a convenient plot device, and we don’t even get to see them. They are a macguffin, a nice way to generate conflict. What they actually do or whether they could be replaced within the time frame of this extended disagreement or even whether Bajor could simply ask the Federation for a few more doesn’t matter. This is really just about Winn flexing her political muscle – demonstrating that she has the authority to arbitrarily make these sorts of decisions.

"I think this is a great idea, Kai; the last Bajoran civil war worked out so well for you..."

“I think this is a great idea, Kai; the last Bajoran civil war worked out so well for you…”

However, despite all this good work, there are a number of obvious problems here. The most obvious is the fact that all of this seems too familiar. Deep Space Nine has already done a story about Winn manipulating the Bajoran people towards civil war. The opening three-parter from the show’s second season may not have been perfect, but it had a sense of scope and scale that is largely missing from Shakaar.

Instead, Shakaar moves far too quickly. It seems like Kira and Shakaar go from stealing the land reclamators to shooting at Bajor soldiers far too quickly. There are missing steps in the middle, and Shakaar simply doesn’t have the space to cover that much ground. In particular, it feels weird that Kira only has doubts about sparking a civil war two weeks into the campaign; given how she has already been heavily involved in a civil war on Bajor, you would imagine she’d be quite wary of starting another one.

A very civil civil war...

A very civil civil war…

That said, the ambush scene works very well – with a stray shot demonstrating how suddenly and dramatically things could escalate from a petty feud with local authorities into a full blown civil war. The only problem is that the two week gap and the time skip makes it all seem a little contrived. Is this really the flashpoint? How have Kira and Shakaar avoid a flashpoint up to this point? How has the idea of such a flashpoint not occurred to either of them?

And then there’s the climax. The third season of Deep Space Nine has already done the rather cynical “lead blackmails a planetary government into cooperating by threatening to reveal a dirty secret” ending in Equilibrium. There, at least, it made a certain amount of sense. Sisko can be very cynical and probably doesn’t care too much about Trill so long as Jadzia Dax is okay in the end. Here, however, Kira and Shakaar’s blackmail of Kai Winn seems a little contrived – a way for the show to resolve the episode’s plot while keeping Winn in authority.

Not quite arresting drama...

Not quite arresting drama…

“But if you do, this entire incident is going to be made public,” Kira threatens when Winn suggests arresting Shakaar. “And when the people know the real facts, when they know you risked a civil war over a couple of pieces of farm equipment, they’re never going to trust you again.” So why not just make the incident public anyway? If the characters accept that Winn is not a good thing for Bajor, even if only as Kai, then why not take the opportunity to depose her entirely? After all, it seems likely Winn will continue to make these sorts of decisions?

Maybe there’s a valid reason. Kira might be wary that trying to topple Winn could spark a civil war or moral unrest. Maybe the cost of deposing Winn is too high, making it more practical to keep Winn in office. However, the episode never articulates any of these ideas. Instead, it seems like Shakaar is trying very hard to avoid upsetting the status quo, worried about losing one of the series’ most valuable supporting characters.

Field of fire...

Field of fire…

It is also weird how the teaser to Deep Space Nine is written in such a way that it will only make sense to those following the show. The dramatic hook at the end of the teaser is typically broad enough for casual viewers to follow along. After all, you know that the fans are going to stay and watch the whole episode; the teaser is designed to hook somebody who isn’t sure whether they want to commit to an hour’s viewing or not.

As such, it’s strange that Shakaar chooses to close its teaser on some awkward exposition about a recurring character who hasn’t been mentioned by name before. “The new head of the Provision Government is Kai Winn,” Sisko tells Kira, as we close on her shocked expression. However, the teaser does nothing to convey why this is a bad thing; it doesn’t tell any new viewer who or what a “Kai Winn” might be and why that matters in the context of Bajoran politics.

The hills are alive with the sounds of the Bajoran militia...

The hills are alive with the sounds of the Bajoran militia…

The third season has seen Deep Space Nine getting more comfortable with itself, in its own skin. However, as the show edges closer and closer to serialisation, it finds itself walking a fine line. There’s a point where these sorts of openings become a little too esoteric and niche, a point at which the casual mainstream audience that watched and enjoyed The Next Generation decide that the show isn’t making any effort to account for their interest. The opening teaser of Shakaar seems rather awkward and casual in its insularity, a warning about the perils of serialisation.

Still, there are nice touches. It’s nice to see Kira and Odo having their morning meeting together, reinforcing the idea of station routine. It’s also interesting that Shakaar finds room for some good old-fashioned nineties anti-government paranoia. When Kira suggests returning the reclamators to the government, Shakaar is skeptical. “If you think giving the reclamators back to the government is the best thing for Bajor, then you’ve been out on that space station for too long.” It’s another example of how the show was tapped into the nineties zeitgeist.

Routine meetings...

Routine meetings…

And then there’s the episode’s subplot. As with Life Support, a rather heavy Bajor-centric plotline, Shakaar tries to balance itself with a lighter story about characters doing rather mundane things. In this episode, O’Brien finds himself in “the zone.” Because the main plot of Shakaar is not as intimate as the main plot of Life Support, the episode suffers less from the strange juxtaposition of the main plot with the broad comedy subplot.

That said, the pacing seems wrong. The O’Brien subplot disappears from the second half of the episode, with an epilogue scene tacked on at the end. It feels almost like a rough draft of the subplot made it into the shooting script, with space marked out in the first couple of acts, but not space allotted in the second half of the teleplay. It feels a little screwy, as if the O’Brien subplot exists merely to eat airtime while Kira and Shakaar get to where they need to be.

Major problems...

Major problems…

The subplot is also notable for its inclusion of a rather rude Vulcan, demonstrating that Deep Space Nine would be continuing the trend of untrustworthy Vulcans that dated back to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. For an unemotional alien, the darts challenger Syvar seems to take fiendish glee in exploiting the rules to his advantage. “I do not make the rules, I merely follow them,” he informs O’Brien, before the latter is forced to forfeit the match. “I believe the House is paying fifteen to one,” Syvar bluntly reminds Quark.

In some ways, Syvar seems like a predecessor to Captain Solok, the antagonistic Vulcan from Take Me Out to the Holosuite in the show’s seventh season. One imagines that Syvar would have happily served on Solok’s exclusively Vulcan crew. The two could talk (in purely logical terms, of course) about the satisfaction derived from humiliating humans at their own sporting past times. There is a clear line between the two characters. It’s notable just how jerkish they seem – offering conclusive proof that Star Trek: Enterprise was hardly radical in its portrayal of antagonistic Vulcans.

"It's only logical to be dickish to your competitor; it provides a psychological advantage."

“It’s only logical to be dickish to your competitor; it provides a psychological advantage.”

It’s interesting to speculate why the portrayal of Vulcans shifted so dramatically in the nineties. Early episodes like Journey to Babel or Amok Time confirmed that Vulcans tended to be a bit blunt and to enjoy their privacy; however, the later shows and films seem to lean towards portraying Vulcans as stubborn and antagonistic. It’s hard not to read the increasingly negative portrayal of the Vulcans – a species defined by their rationality – as an expression of a growing strain of anti-intellectualism that had been festering in the public consciousness through the second half of the twentieth century.

Shakaar is a mess of an episode, all the more disappointing for the fact that it represents the most Kira-centric story since Second Skin. It feels like a wasted opportunity to do something interesting, and to build on previous stories, but it ultimately feels like something that is never quite sure what it wants to be.

You might be interested in our reviews of the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

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6 Responses

  1. I’ve been introducing the show to a friend in a series of marathons over the last few months. A few weeks ago we reached “Shakaar” and the following week we watched “Crossfire.” While watching the latter:

    Friend: “Who is that? Have we seen him before?”

    Me: “That’s Shakaar.”

    Friend: blank stare

    Me: “Kira’s leader in the resistance?”

    Friend: blank stare

    Me: “We met him last week?”

    Friend: blank stare

    Me: “…In the episode ‘Shakaar’?”

    Friend: beat “Oh, right.”

    I had not realized the actor had been on “Sub Rosa” until reading this and now I wonder both how I avoided knowing that and why the creators would want to remind anyone of that episode, even by accident. Then I visited the Memory Alpha article and found “Sub Rosa” – an episode I’d never heard a positive comment about – filled with gushing quotes from the creative staff. They considered it good TV! With people such as they in charge of Voyager, what hope did that series have?

    • I don’t hate Sub Rosa as much as most people – although it is pretty terrible. Then again, I have a very soft spot for the seventh season of The Next Generation in general. I actually think that Regahr works very well in that mould. His performance style lends itself to that sort of repressed gothic leading man. He also works fairly okay whenever the show wants the audience to think of Shakaar as a generic romantic leading man. He looks like he could appear in propaganda posters for the new Bajor. He’s just less good when the show requires Shakaar to seem like a person.

      I can’t really tell you much about Shakaar as an individual without using generic terms like “square-jawed” and “romantic” and “heroic.” There is no substance there. Bareil had his problems, but “new age-y” is a slightly more memorable character brief. Not that much more memorable… but, still…

  2. Nice review.

    To be honest i’m not so sure the portrayal of Vulcans has shifted that radically. Thinking on it most of the Vulcans we have actually get to know by now are explicitly or implicitly atypical – Spock is half human and overcompensating (much as Worf overcompesates his Klingoness), Sarek was married to a human, Sybok was a radical mystic and Savvik was very green and part Romulan (I know that part never made it to screen but still.)

    Conversely the heartless, manipulative T’Pring from ‘Amok Time’ is never indicated to be anything other than a “flawlessly logical” normal Vulcan and the same goes for Valeris.

    Really Tuvok is the only normal Vulcan we know well who comes across as likable – and even ‘Flashback’ showed him to be priggish before mellowing with age.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Vulcans always had an element of dickishness to them that the awesomeness of Spock (and to a lesser extent sarek) obscured.

    • I think that’s a fair point.

      I’ve actually been prepping a bunch of Enterprise reviews for next year, and the writers make the same sorts of arguments regarding the characterisation of Vulcans dating back to the original series.

      I think it makes a great deal of sense, but I think Valeris comes to mind when I think of the modern Vulcan archetype because she’s probably the first major (fully) Vulcan character not related to Spock to appear in the franchise. Which is quite incredible when you think about it. (If only Selar had become a recurring character on TNG. The fans and the production staff both seemed to want it.)

  3. Kira declined dinner without consulting Odo in Heart of Stone, not Life Support. I’ve never liked Duncan Regehr as an actor, and while not bland like Bareil, I never cared for Shakaar either, but it always felt like he was in more episodes than he was because characters (Kira) were forever rabbiting on about him, and that was something that greatly irritated me. Maybe the teaser could have done with a “previously on Deep Space Nine” like the way Buffy and Angel would eventually do; it got to the point where I could predict what they were going to say. It’s sad that this spoils what had been a good run of episodes. I only liked Sub Rosa for Gates McFadden, because it’s not often we get to see her employ her sexuality.

    • I actually didn’t mind Shakaar that much, although I thought it was quite bumpy when compared to many of the surrounding episodes.

      Thanks for the spot of the mix-up on Life Support and Heart of Stone!

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