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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Return to Grace (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

More than any other character in the ensemble, Gul Dukat is an embodiment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

There are plenty of other great characters on Deep Space Nine. More than the characters on any other Star Trek show, the lead and supporting characters on Deep Space Nine are afforded the chance to change and grow over the course of the run. In fact, Return to Grace even introduces the character of Damar in a fairly thankless supporting role; over the remaining three-and-a-half seasons of the show, Damar will grow into a well-developed and multi-faceted character in his own right.

He looks like Dukat that got the cream...

He looks like Dukat that got the cream…

Nevertheless, it is Dukat who exemplifies the approach to character and storytelling that make Deep Space Nine such an interesting show. Large swathes of the character’s arc feel improvised and unpredictable. It would be next to impossible to chart Dukat’s character arc from Emissary to What You Leave Behind in a way that makes sense. As with a lot of Deep Space Nine, it seems like the production team just threw the character into the air, allowing the story to take him where it may.

With Return to Grace, it seems that the story takes Dukat into the role of “space pirate.”

The freight stuff...

The freight stuff…

Dukat is, by some considerable margin, the most intriguing and compelling antagonist in the franchise’s long history. Of course, he is not the most iconic. Casual fans will name Khan and the Borg long before they hit “Dukat”; if they even hit his name (or “Cardassian”) at all. Dukat lacks the name recognition and pop culture impact of the Klingons or even the Romulans. Much like the show that houses him, Dukat is a cult property. However, Dukat is afforded much more development and exploration than any of the franchise’s other major villains.

At his peak, running from the end of the second season through to the middle of the sixth, Dukat is a multi-faceted and well-rounded character. The show is never particularly ambiguous about his nature; the show never seriously believes that Dukat is a good man, despite his own protestations. However, Dukat is afforded his own agency and his own perspective. The audience never accepts him as heroic, but it does come to understand him. He is alien in a manner that extends beyond mere biology, but he is not unrecognisable.

"It's another fine Captain's Mess you've gotten us into..."

“It’s another fine Captain’s Mess you’ve gotten us into…”

Dukat’s development mirrors that of the show around him, the character’s depths often discovered by happy coincidence and improvisation in episodes like The Maquis, Part I and Defiant. There is a delightfully organic quality to Dukat’s evolution during the middle seasons of the show, as the character is allowed to wander and explore through the narrative. On paper, sandwiching “… becomes a space pirate for a little while” into the middle of a major character’s arc might seem ridiculous, but it largely works.

Of course, this approach to Dukat’s character arc becomes a problem during the final year of the show; the problem with throwing all of these characters and plot points into the air to watch them land is the simple fact that not all of them land gracefully. Dukat’s development (it is ambiguous as to whether or how much he actually grows or evolves) during the middle stretch of the run counts as some of the best character work in the history of the franchise. However, the decisions made with the character in the wake of Waltz do not work out as well.

"A stunning phaser design..."

“A stunning phaser design…”

According to actor Marc Alaimo talking in Secret File 07 on the seventh season DVD, the development of Dukat was largely organic on the part of the writing staff, a response to his work in the role:

I thought the character was terrific. One of the first times I’d been able to really expand a multifaceted character like that, instead of one-dimensional; which is, I think the way they wanted to go with Dukat in the beginning, but then I started to sort of branch off emotionally and they picked up on it. And gave him all these wonderful multifaceted character moments.

Dukat first appeared in Emissary as a generic antagonist for Sisko. He only appeared briefly in Duet later in that first season. He popped up in Cardassians as a sinister mastermind. It was not until the reins were handed over to Ira Steven Behr in The Maquis, Part I that Dukat began to truly develop.

Not quite a dagger of the mind...

Not quite a dagger of the mind…

Indiscretion and Return to Grace make for an interesting two-fer. Not only do they demonstrate Deep Space Nine‘s increasing engaging with serialisation, but they also cede the spotlight to a recurring guest star. Kira is a major player in both Indiscretion and Return to Grace, with the episodes never denying Kira her own agency. However, Kira also serves as a prism through which the audience might view Dukat. Kira serves as something of an objective observer, a character who ensures Dukat never completely controls the narrative.

Nevertheless, both Indiscretion and Return to Grace are very clearly Dukat-centric stories. It is not that Deep Space Nine is drifting away from Michael Piller’s character-centric approach to breaking stories – insisting that every story be centred around a lead character in some way. Instead, Deep Space Nine is expanding its perspective to include recurring players like Dukat. Indiscretion and Return to Grace are Dukat-centric episodes in the same way that Crossfire is an Odo-centric episode or Sons of Mogh is a Worf-centric episode.

"So, no morning sickness yet?"

“So, no morning sickness yet?”

Of course, giving Dukat this level of focus is a fairly bold decision for a Star Trek show. Dukat is, simply put, a villain. Dukat is a bad person, by any measure. Deep Space Nine has an ensemble populated by morally ambiguous characters – Odo is a fascist, Quark is self-serving, Worf is insufferably self-righteous, Kira is a former terrorist, Garak is a retired spy. Deep Space Nine is populated with series regulars who have done (or will do) horrific things while still remaining sympathetic.

Dukat exists quite apart from all of that. The Star Trek franchise has been quite unambiguous in its portrayal of the Bajoran Occupation as a metaphor for the Holocaust. The Cardassian Union is quite pointedly Nazi Germany, while the Bajorans are the Jews. This puts Dukat in an interesting position. The stock comparison to be made with Dukat is to Adolf Hitler, although the Occupation was not his personal directive. The Occupation began before Dukat arrived on the planet; but he merely oversaw it. He committed untold atrocities, but he did not set Cardassian foreign policy.

Boy, does Dukat come with a lot of baggage...

Boy, does Dukat come with a lot of baggage…

Indeed, Dukat represents an interesting conflict in how the Star Trek franchise approaches the notion of Cardassian guilt. Late in the first season, Duet argued that Cardassian culture was more culpable for the Occupation than any individual Cardassian. It is telling that while Star Trek happily identified heads of state for the Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, Bajorans and Dominion (in fact, even the Borg… twice), it took much longer for the franchise to identify a singular Cardassian head of state. Not until By Inferno’s Light did the franchise introduce a Cardassian leader.

Naturally, that leader turned out to be Dukat. While Dukat is not individually responsible for each and every atrocity committed on Bajor, he is in some way culpable. Most obviously, he was in charge in planet. However, Dukat also embodies all of the fatal flaws that allowed Cardassia to commit such heinous acts. Dukat is the quintessential Cardassian; perhaps only the sheer level of his ambition and self-denial sets him apart from his compatriots. More than that, Dukat is singularly unwilling to change over the course of the show.

"Your chauffeur is here."

“Your chauffeur is here.”

Dukat’s circumstances and fortunes change dramatically over the seven year run of the show. Sometimes the changes are subtle, like his post as military advisor to the Detapa Council in The Way of the Warrior. Sometimes the changes are larger, like his demotion to freighter commander in Return to Grace. However, change is something that happens around Dukat rather than directly to Dukat. Even at the height of his madness in Covenant, Dukat is still attempting to construct a self-justifying narrative of the Occupation.

Unlike other major Cardassian characters like Garak or Damar, Dukat never allows himself to understand the horror of what happened to Bajor. This is literalised in the fact that he never stands in the rubble of a shattered and devastated Cardassia during the final arc of the show; if Dukat is even aware of the attempted genocide in What You Leave Behind, he does not seem too bothered. Dukat never truly sees past himself, with the arguable exception of Ziyal. (Even then, it is not a stretch to suggest Ziyal is an extension of himself and his relationship to Bajor.)

"I... have a cunning plan..."

“I… have a cunning plan…”

However, Indiscretion and Return to Grace do a lot to humanise Dukat. They invite the audience to sympathise with him and understand him. After all, it is hard not to feel some pang of sympathy for a man who loses everything because he refuses to kill an innocent child. The existence of Ziyal, and his decision to stand by her, renders Dukat relatable and understandable. It is even suggested that his affection for his illegitimate daughter somewhat softens Kira’s attitude towards him. (Which is no small accomplishment.)

“I’m very glad that you convinced me not to kill her,” Dukat admits to Kira over dinner. Of course, not killing one’s own child is something that most people would take for granted, but it still makes Dukat more sympathetic. When Kira voices some small skepticism about this, Dukat reiterates the basic point. “You may not believe this, Major, but when it comes to Ziyal I regret nothing.” Kira seems entirely sincere when she responds, “It’s good to hear that.” While she is unlikely to ever trust Dukat, she does seem to respond to his love for Ziyal.

A commanding presence...

A commanding presence…

None of this serves to make Dukat any less evil. As Ronald D. Moore would argue:

I don’t think of him as being completely evil through and through to the point where every thought, every impulse is shaded by a nefarious agenda or horrid motive. We’ve seen other aspects to this guy over the years. He can be charming. He can be generous. He can do the right thing. All of that somehow makes his “evil” actions all the more dispicable, because we know that there was the potential in there for him to be a better person. But sometimes the cliches are true: Hitler loved his dog. No human being (and by extension, no Cardassian) is one hundred percent pure evil. But there is a “critical mass”, if you will, where the dark deeds attributed to one person become so overwhelming that they swamp all the redeeming characteristics. Dukat is a bad guy. A very bad guy. He has a lot of blood on his hands and it’s hard to see how his smile and innate charm can wipe that clean.

That doesn’t change because he loves his daughter or because he’s down on his luck, or because the audience understands him.

"What do you mean you're not coming back for a third episode?"

“What do you mean you’re not coming back for a third episode?”

Moore falls back on the classic “Hitler loved his dog” cliché, and it seems entirely appropriate. It is quite difficult to discuss Cardassian culture and moral culpability without stumbling across Godwin’s Law, but Hitler is somewhat instructive in that regard. History and popular culture are saturated with attempts to humanise Hitler and some aspect of the genocidal dictator sympathetic or understandable. The question of just how different (or “other”) evil actually is, how far removed ordinary people are from monsters, is inherently intriguing.

(The repeated assertion that Hitler was a vegetarian is one example of the trend towards humanising Hitler, drawing upon Hitler’s sympathy for animals in contrast with his attempted genocide of entire groups of people. This example is particularly insightful, because there is so much debate around it; vegetarians seem incredibly frustrated by the suggestion, as if concerned that the entire animal rights movement might be tainted by association that a genocidal dictator might have flirted with a vegetable-heavy diet.

"Sorry, got a good creepy intimidating stare goin' on..."

“Sorry, got a good creepy intimidating stare goin’ on…”

It is possible for Hitler to have loved animals and not eaten meat while still being a truly evil person. Just as it is possible for Dukat to love his daughter and suffer through horrific indignities for doing the right thing while also remaining a truly evil person. Return to Grace positions Dukat at his most sympathetic, affording the character a fairly heroic underdog arc and allowing the audience to empathise with his humiliation and his indignity. The fact that the audience can understand (and even root for) Dukat in this instance doesn’t render him a good person.

In fact, Return to Grace goes out of its way to stress this, repeatedly and quite thoroughly. Over dinner with Kira, Dukat quickly shifts from professing his love for Ziyal to being incredibly creepy towards Major Kira. Indeed, the structuring of the exchange (transitioning from Kira seeming to warm to Dukat’s affection for Ziyal to Dukat then trying to leverage that warmth into romance) might even suggest that some of Dukat’s affection for Ziyal could be pantomime to court Kira’s affection.

Drinking it in...

Drinking it in…

More than that, Dukat immediately sets about trying to undermine the emerging relationship between Kira and Shakaar in the least subtle manner possible. “I must say, I’ve always admired Shakaar’s success with women,” he reflects. “The intelligence file I kept on him during the occupation is filled with reports of his conquests. In fact, if you remember correctly, you were the only female in his resistance cell that he didn’t charm. At least until now.” Given Dukat is traveling with a daughter conceived during an extra-marital affair, that is quite the double-standard.

Even outside of his creepy behaviour towards Kira, there are suggestions that Dukat’s desire for retribution against the Klingons is motivated as much by personal pride as by a larger sense of justice. During their initial encounter with the Klingon Bird of Prey, Dukat makes a point to engage the enemy in combat; this is despite Kira’s observation that is placing the lives of everybody on board (including Ziyal) at risk. Kira wants retribution as well, but she is not driven by ego or self-image.

Dynamic action pose...

Dynamic action pose…

Indeed, this hits at a recurring theme in Deep Space Nine‘s moral framework; the show engages repeatedly with questions of moral calculus over the course of its run. It is obviously good to do the right things for the right reasons; it is obviously evil to do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. While basic characterisation often allows villains (and even heroes) to do the wrong thing for the right reasons, the more complex moral question comes when characters do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Return to Grace positions Dukat at the heart of what is essentially a heroic narrative. He defeats a bully despite the fact that he is massive out-gunned, protecting an entire region of space from an aggressive Klingon raiding party. In fact, the particulars of the episode suggest that Dukat has found himself at the heart of one of the franchise’s most heroic narratives. Dukat finds himself playing the role of Kirk in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, hijacking a Klingon Bird of Prey with clever transporter trickery. That’s pretty heroic.

"Why, hello..."

“Why, hello…”

However, the episode suggests that Dukat’s intent and motivations colour that heroism, that his deeds alone are not enough to make him a hero. (In some ways, it seems like an inverse of Kira’s biting observation about Dukat at the end of By Inferno’s Light; perhaps Dukat needs to be judged by a union of what he says and thinks, as well as what he does. Dukat might defeat a superior party of Klingons conducting a raid in enemy territory (and even trying to hijack weapons research), but he is no Captain Kirk.

This much is obvious in how Dukat chooses to deal with the Klingons. After beaming them all on board his freighter, Dukat then uses the Bird of Prey to destroy his old ship and massacre his defeated opponents. (Of course, one suspects Dukat took a lot of pleasure in destroying the literal embodiment of his fall from grace.) It mirrors the death of the Klingon away team on the Enterprise in The Search for Spock, but in a way that emphasises Dukat’s cruelty and vindictiveness.

"Risk! Risk is our business. That and genocide."

“Risk! Risk is our business. That and genocide.”

Indeed, even Dukat’s hopes about returning to power ultimately play as vindictive power fantasies. Describing his wife’s affair with a younger and more ambitious individual, Dukat does not express a desire to heal rifts or mourn the loss of his family unit. Instead, he concocts a delightfully petty revenge plan to exile Gul Marratt to Breen. There is a sense that this is how Dukat spends most of his time; not necessarily trying to heal or repair what is broken, but fantasising about how he would wield the power he reclaimed.

This is what arguably marks Dukat out as a villain. Over the course of Deep Space Nine, countless characters find themselves ostracised and alienated, cast out from their homes and left with nothing of substance. This happens quite frequently over the course of the fourth season; perhaps because it sits half-way through the series and so feels like the perfect place for various character arcs to hit their nadir, perhaps because the writing staff were feeling particularly mean-spirited at this point in the run.

"The Cardassians had some Gul, sending Dukat to ferry you to the conference..."

“The Cardassians had some Gul, sending Dukat to ferry you to the conference…”

Worf is cast out by his people in The Way of the Warrior, a loss emphasised in Sons of Mogh. Odo is definitively cut off from his fellow changelings in Broken Link. Quark is ex-communicated from Ferengi life in Body Parts. This is without delving into changes that unfold over a single episode; whether the annual “let’s torture O’Brien” fun in Hard Time or the removal of Sisko as Emissary in Accession. Eventually, these characters return to the status quo, but the fourth season repeatedly strips away a lot of what various characters take for granted.

In many respects, this is what Indiscretion and Return to Grace do to Gul Dukat. The character is turned into a pariah among his own kind, stripped of everything he took for granted. However, what defines Dukat as a villain is how he responds to this loss. Worf, Quark and Odo are all affected by their separations from their own people, even making bad decisions motivated by loneliness or anxiety. However, all three characters eventually learn from their losses; even if they won’t admit it, they become richer for what they suffered.

Dukat's "bring your illegitimate daughter to work" day was far from a resounding success...

Dukat’s “bring your illegitimate daughter to work” day was far from a resounding success…

In contrast, Dukat refuses to change or evolve. He refuses to learn from his experience. Dukat does not want to adapt or grow; Dukat does not want to move forward as much as he wants to move backwards. The humiliation that Dukat suffers does not afford him more insight or self-awareness. Instead, it tempts him to make a deal with the devil to restore his old position. Dukat becomes so desperate to change things back to the way that they were that he is willing to sell out Cardassia’s future in return for the restoration of his power and influence.

One of the recurring motifs of Deep Space Nine is the suggestion that time moves in patterns that resemble circles more than lines; that history repeats and that patterns recur. Individual fortunes rise and fall, only to rise again. Tyrants become terrorists, while revolutionaries become rulers. If Star Trek seems to imagine a future in which humanity has progressed leaps and bounds by moving in a straight line from the late sixties, Deep Space Nine suggests that the reality is rather more complex. The wheel of history turns.

Come with me, Kira... glory awaits you on Cardassia...

Come with me, Kira… glory awaits you on Cardassia…

In some ways, this reflects the idea of eternal recurrence – a philosophical idea that can be traced back as far as Ancient Egypt and India. In terms of western philosophy, the idea found expression through Nietzsche,  who reflected in Notes on the Eternal Recurrence:

Fellow man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things: and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon.

Of course, this suggests a circle on a grand cosmological scale. The philosophy would seem to be just as applicable to historical arcs or personal decisions. To a cynical observer, people (and even whole societies) often seem stuck repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

"Boy, these Klingon ships are really lit for mood, aren't they?"

“Boy, these Klingon ships are really lit for mood, aren’t they?”

This theme of return plays through Deep Space Nine; particularly in the fourth season, positioned as it is halfway between the beginning and the end of the show’s seven-season run. The loss of Benjamin Sisko in The Visitor seems to foreshadow his departure in What You Leave Behind. Kira finds herself teaching guerrilla tactics to a bunch of Cardassians including Damar in Return to Grace, foreshadowing her role in When It Rains… A sick Odo returns to the Great Link in Broken Link, while a healthy Odo returns to a sick Link in What You Leave Behind.

Indeed, this sense of recurrence and foreshadowing plays through the fourth season in other ways. For example, there is the recurring gag of Bashir and O’Brien reenacting famous historical battles in the holosuite; the Battle of Britain in Homefront and the Battle of Clontarf in The Bar Association. Given where Deep Space Nine is heading, this feels very much like foreshadowing. While it seems unlikely that the production team had it all mapped out ahead of time, there is a sense that ideas ripple and reverberate through the show.

"See? I'm not convinced that bulb is working..."

“See? I’m not convinced that bulb is working…”

(This is a common motif when it comes to exploring patterns and cycles within history. Ronald D. Moore would elaborate on this in Battlestar Galactica, assuring viewers that “all of this has happened before and will happen again.” Game of Thrones is quite fond of this approach to politics, with Daenerys describing the great houses as “all just spokes on a wheel” in Hardhome, part of a self-perpetuating system of power whereby the players might change but the game remains the same.)

In some respects, this is a very cynical view of human nature. The idea that time is a wheel suggests that mankind is incapable of true progress, that people are simply turning in place. If nobody learns from their mistakes, everybody is doomed to repeat them. One of the most popular (and enduring) criticisms of Deep Space Nine is that the show is decidedly cynical in its outlook; in its most extreme form, this argument interprets Deep Space Nine as a rejection of the franchise’s optimistic ethos.

"One man's terrorist is another man's would-be genocidal dictator..."

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s would-be genocidal dictator…”

There is some measure of truth to this argument, but it is not entirely fair. Deep Space Nine remains inherently optimistic about the human condition, but it more readily acknowledges the difficulties that lie on the road to utopia. Deep Space Nine suggests that the universe can be a difficult place and that sometimes interests do not align, but it also insists that these struggles mean something. All of the characters end up richer for their experiences; every member of the ensemble grows. Bajor finds peace; so does the Alpha Quadrant, in the end.

Although Deep Space Nine might suggest that history moves in circles rather than clear lines, it does suggest that those circles involve some forward movement. The series opens with Bajor recovering from a brutal genocidal occupation by the Cardassians, and closes with Cardassia recovering from a brutal genocidal occupation by the Dominion. Kira might find herself cast back in the role of terrorist insurgent in the final hours of the show, but that does not mean that her character has not grown or developed.

"The key to raiding is to never seem to eager. You can't have them think you'll raid just anything..."

“The key to raiding is to never seem to eager. You can’t have them think you’ll raid just anything…”

This is perhaps the difference between Dukat and Kira, as emphasised in Return to Grace. Dukat very clearly wants to restore the old status quo, hoping that the wheel might spin in place. “I assure you,” he promises, “this is only a temporary setback. Everything I have lost, I will regain. It’s only a matter of time.” After hijacking the Bird of Prey, Dukat is offered his old post back, but with a caveat; he would end up a military advisor to a government that is no longer particularly interested in military action.

Trying to convince Kira to join him in his crusade against the Klingons, he tries to pitch it as a return to the way that things used to be. “If you come with me you can be a soldier again,” he urges. “Think about it, Major. The chance to fight against a superior foe in a righteous cause, to protect a defeated and broken people from a cruel aggressor.” For Dukat, history repeats, and that is a good thing. It promises a return to his former glory rather than any real change to his philosophy or outlook.

"Oh, does this take me back..."

“Oh, does this take me back…”

This appeal to nostalgia does not interest Kira. Shakaar suggested that Kira had grown beyond being a terrorist radical, that she had changed and that the times had changed with her. In fact, once Dukat latches on to his plan to wage a one-man guerrilla war against the Klingons, Kira makes it clear that she has no interest in reliving that part of her life. More than that, she wishes to spare Ziyal the experience. “Why do you care so much?” Dukat asks. Kira responds, “Because she reminds me of myself, and I don’t want her to go through what I went through.”

As such, it is interesting that Return to Grace features the introduction of Damar. Damar would go on to become one of the most significant characters in the larger Deep Space Nine mythos; he becomes one of the most complex and multifaceted characters in the franchise’s history. However, he has a surprisingly minor role in Return to Grace. He is only mentioned by name a handful of times, and exists primarily to provide exposition and respond to Dukat’s orders. He could just as easily be “Cardassian #1.”

"All I ask is a barely functioning freighter, and a star to sail her by."

“All I ask is a barely functioning freighter, and a star to sail her by.”

Actor Casey Biggs has admitted that he was initially frustrated by his relatively minor role in Return to Grace, little appreciating how the character would develop in the years ahead:

I even said, “Why are they asking me to come in here? They could get anyone to do this.” It was like one line, or something. Little did I know they were looking for a foil for Dukat, for Marc Alaimo’s character. When I got on there they just liked what I was doing so much that they just kept writing more and more and more. I was on the show for four years, I think, and the role kept getting bigger and bigger. It was a wonderful character arc to play, to go from the bad guy’s lackey to the leader of the empire. That was pretty great.

It is a phenomenal arc, and one of the great examples of Deep Space Nine developing its supporting cast from broad archetypes into nuanced characters. The production team had done it with Dukat, and they would do it with Damar.

There is a clear Damar-cation between the two Cardassians...

There is a clear Damar-cation between the two Cardassians…

However, it is also worth noting that Damar is introduced at this point in Dukat’s arc. Damar is introduced at Dukat’s nadir, so that he might follow Dukat’s ascent, engaging in an arc that significantly overlaps with that of his commander. The arcs of Dukat and Damar run roughly in parallel from Return to Grace through to A Sacrifice of Angels, before diverging. However, the biggest difference comes in how the two character circle back around to where the point where they have nothing.

Dukat largely spins in place, still fixating on Bajor and reclaiming what he lost; Dukat makes two deals with the devil (one figurative, one literal) in an attempt to assure his own power. In contrast, Damar allows himself to grow and evolve when fate circles him back around to this moment. When once again he finds himself helping Kira train an insurgent Cardassian force against an alien oppressor in When It Rains…, Damar accepts that things can never go back to the way that they were. The wheel turns in place for Dukat, but moves forward for Damar.

You think Dukat'd be shier about showing his sensitive side. After all, he has a rep(tile) to maintain...

You think Dukat’d be shier about showing his sensitive side. After all, he has a rep(tile) to maintain…

In its own way, Deep Space Nine is as optimistic as any of its siblings. It is just more guarded.

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13 Responses

  1. We really should have seen more of dukat in his “space pirate” phase. At the very least, he should have appeared more broken down in Apocalypse rising. This would have made his eventual alliance with the dominion more convincing. I can still buy it, but I do think it could have been handled better.
    I also wonder if damar was always a cargo officer or if his loyalty to dukat convinced him to take a voluntary demotion.

    • The tie-in books suggested Damar had worked with Dukat on Terok Nor, which always seemed rather odd to me. If they were close professionally, I would have assumed they’d have hung out together before his exile. (Although I can see Damar being loyal enough to do something like accept a transfer for a commander he respected.)

      Personally, I like the idea that Damar just happened to be on the right barge at the right time to end up the leader of Cardassia and a revolutionary hero.

  2. “Dukat that got the cream…”

    Have you no decency sir? At long last?

    From what I understand (Dukat’s page on Memory Alpha is rife with back and forth interviews between the actor and showrunners), the writers had big plans for Dukat.

    But he was undercut by Nana Visitor, who nixed a possible romance, and by Behr who fretted (rightfully, I think), over the despot’s popularity with large swaths of the fandom.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Dukat was a middle man on Bajor. It would have been quite easy to distance him from the bloodshed, like Garak was. I do think Alaimo overplayed his hand. I thought that by going to the fanzines and accusing the writers of character assassination that he could bargain his way into a bigger role.

    Compare with Casey Biggs, who hit his marks and said his lines and eventually wound up in Dukat’s position. Maybe Alaimo could have been the one leading the rebellion if he’d kept his trap shut. Who is to say?

    As always, it’s best not to know too much about what goes on in “the sausage factory”.

    • “Have you no decency sir? At long last?”

      A real reviewer has no decency, no conscience, no remorse, only a sense of professionalism. And a terrible sense of humour.

      I agree with you to an extent about Dukat being a middle-manager, but that doesn’t erase his culpability. And there was a sort of zeal in which he abused his power that I think suggests a fundamentally rotten core. I have a hard time imagining Dukat redeemed by the end of Deep Space Nine, even if the writing staff hadn’t felt the need to do Waltz. I think it’s quite clear from early(ish) episodes like Cardassians and Civil Defense that Dukat is just fundamentally a dick. A charming dick who can do the decent thing when it aligns with his interest, but a dick nonetheless. (I’m not thinking of Team: America, but by that logic Dukat is just an asshole.)

      To be fair, Damar doesn’t come across particularly well in the opening of season six, but even there the show suggests that Damar is loyal to something beyond himself; whether to Dukat or to Cardassia. In contrast, Dukat’s first loyalty has always been himself.

  3. Great review!

    I love the Cardassians, by far my favourite Star Trek civilisation and Dukat, Garak and Damar are among my favourite characters in the entire franchise, as are more minor characters like Tain.

    Dukat is an especially interesting as a contrast to Garak. The similarities are obvious; both fall from grace and seize the first chance to restore their positions (Dukat here, Garak joining Tain’s assassination attempt on the Founders.) Both are fascinated by humans. Both are charming and love to talk (admittedly that appears to be a species trait.) But among other differences Garak the exile is deeply patriotic, even suffering a guilt imposed nervous breakdown for his part in the Dominion War. Dukat, the leader of Cardassia abandons his own people without a second thought.

    • The Cardassian characters (even the supporting Cardassian characters) are broadly speaking fantastic.

      If the rumours about Fuller setting his show in the movie era are true, I think the Cardassians will be the recurring aliens I’ll miss most. (Although they were absent from Enterprise, barring a cameo in Dead Stop.)

      • If the Ferengi make a cameo, but the Cardassians don’t, I might just have to start choking b**tches.

        But then, I can see why it would be difficult, because they are so intertwined with Bajor and that whole can of worms.

  4. LeVar Burton directed Indiscretion and Return to Grace and that could be the reason why Cya Batten played Ziyal in more than one episode. It seemed like some sort of roller derby when it came to finding an actress to stay in the role before they finally settled on Melanie Smith.

    Fans are surprised that they grew to like Damar by series end, where the writers seemed determined to paint him as a jerk before his arc in S7. And it’s certainly interesting to see Casey Biggs’ debut in Return to Grace and him and Kira almost getting along; there is none of the mutual animosity that would come to define they’re relationship in S6. It’s amusing that they seem to get along better when they’re combined against a common enemy.

    • Jonathan West directed Return to Grace – I apologise for the error but I honestly did think LeVar Burton was in the director’s chair. I must have been thinking of another Ziyal episode.

    • I think that’s largely the way that people work, though. If you give people a common enemy, they’ll generally unite quite well to defeat it. Which, sadly, has become a stock political tactic that turns the “other” into a convenient scapegoat opponent against which a given party might motivate.

      • LeVar Burton did direct Behind the Lines but Ziyal wasn’t in it. Looks like it was just Indiscretion after all.

      • Cool. Sorry, the six episode season six arc does gel together in my head somewhat.

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