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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Darkness and the Light (Review)

The Darkness and the Light is the first television credit for writer Bryan Fuller.

There is no way around that. It puts a lot of emphasis on this fifth season episode, drawing a lot attention to the story. Fuller didn’t even write the script, instead pitching a story that would be developed by Ronald D. Moore. However, later in the fifth season, Fuller would pitch the story for Empok Nor. After that, he would be recruited on to the writing staff on Star Trek: Voyager. Then Fuller would begin developing his own shows. Dead Like Me. Wonderfalls. Pushing Daisies. Hannibal. American Gods. Star Trek: Discovery.

Face-off.

Face-off.

That naturally casts a shadow over his first television pitch, the premise sold to the writing staff of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even watching Fuller’s idea filtered through the lens of Ronald D. Moore, there is a strong urge to read too much into this forty-five-minute piece of television. How much of it represents Bryan Fuller’s vision of Star Trek? How have its themes and ideas resonated across the rest of the writer’s work? What insight might it offer into the producer’s vision for the future of the franchise?

A lesser episode would crumple under that weight. It helps that The Darkness and the Light is an ambitious and exciting piece of television, a triumph of concept and execution that stands as one of the most distinctive and memorable episodes in the fifty-year history of the franchise.

A time to heal.

A time to heal.

Even though Michael Piller had departed the franchise at the end of Voyager‘s second season, his influence was still keenly felt. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the open-door script submission policy that Michael Piller implemented after buying The Bonding from Ronald D. Moore. Moore was an incredible find for the franchise, and a writer who would go on to have a massive impact on the Star Trek franchise itself, but also to become a key figure in popular culture. Recognising this, Piller opened the door to allow writers without agents to pitch directly.

A lot of influential and successful writers came into television through that open door. René Echevarria pitched The Offspring. Robert Hewitt Wolfe pitched A Fistful of Datas. Jane Epensen pitched Force of Nature. Michael Taylor pitched The Visitor. Mike Sussman pitched Meld. These were all writers who came into television through that submission policy. Some spent years working on the franchise. Others only briefly flirted with it. Bryan Fuller is perhaps notable as the great success story of that policy. His success is a credit to Michael Piller’s vision.

Cutting retort.

Cutting retort.

While many of those other writers were undoubtedly looking to write professionally, seeing Star Trek as one way to get their foot in the proverbial door, Bryan Fuller claims that he never particularly wanted to be a television writer. According to Fuller, he just wanted to be a Star Trek writer:

I went to film school for production, and there came a time when we all had to pitch a 20-minute short film, so that was the first time I actually sat down and wrote something with dialogue and I thought it was a lot of fun. I didn’t really take any classes on writing, I just enjoyed trying to mimic how people talk and what you would do if you were in a given situation. I never imagined I would be a writer.

Then one day I was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and I thought I could do it. Something clicked, and I wrote a spec script and submitted it and wrote another one. I got invited in to pitch. I really didn’t want to be a television writer as much as I wanted to be a Star Trek writer. I had every action figure, so it was all about Star Trek for me.

This is striking, given the success that he would enjoy after the end of Voyager. For somebody who never approached Star Trek as a stepping stone, instead treating it as an end unto itself, Fuller has gone incredibly far and yet somehow come something of a full circle.

Ears to the ground.

Ears to the ground.

Fuller’s two pitches for Deep Space Nine would bring him to the attention of the writing staff on Voyager. Much like Lisa Klink was hired to work on Voyager following her work on Hippocratic Oath, Fuller would join the Voyager production team following his work on Deep Space Nine. Indeed, Fuller would work as a freelance writer on the fourth season of Voyager, before join the writing staff at the start of the fifth season. He would remain a part of the show until Endgame. Then he would spread his wings and move on to other projects.

Fuller is undoubted a writer and producer with a unique style and aesthetic. Hannibal is easily the most visually adventurous piece of mainstream television of the past decade. While Voyager was far too conservative a working environment to truly encourage and embrace Fuller’s experimental approach to television storytelling, there are shades of this visible in both of his pitches to Deep Space Nine. Both The Darkness and the Light and Empok Nor are markedly different from anything that came before or anything that will follow.

"He's so hot right now."

“He’s so hot right now.”

Like many of the Star Trek fans who would wind up on staff during the Rick Berman era, Fuller was too young to have seen Star Trek in its original broadcast. Nevertheless, Fuller had fond memories of catching the series in syndication after school:

The Munsters and Star Trek were kind of the shows I would watch when I got home from school. They both had a lot to do with creatures and also being inclusive worlds in a way. The Munster family was very much an inclusive world; they allowed any kind of freak flag to fly. And we learned that in Star Trek there is an entire universe out there of different varieties of people – and all of them are okay. It was an early lesson in inclusivity. I was living in a household where my dad didn’t want me to watch The Jeffersons because it had black people in it. It was that level of kind of small town 70’s suburban racism.

That is quite an affecting story. As such, it is easy to see why Fuller jumped at the chance to oversee production of a new series in the franchise. (In fact, Fuller had been teasing the possibility as early as 2012.) More than that, it is easy to see why a more representative and inclusive Star Trek is something truly important to him.

Tears of the Prophets.

Tears of the Prophets.

Watching The Darkness and the Light, the temptation is to analyse it with reference to Fuller’s later work. How does this episode of television look his later scripts? What hints might it hold for those approaching it as an indicator of where he might want to take the franchise? Being honest, that is a lot of weight to place upon an episode that was not even written by Fuller. Although Fuller is credited on the story, the teleplay itself was written by fellow Star Trek veteran and future industry legend Ronald D. Moore.

Nevertheless, there are definitely some very strong elements of The Darkness and the Light that fit comfortably with Fuller’s later work. These elements are not necessarily thematic or structural. Instead, it is the tone of The Darkness and the Light that fits most comfortably with Fuller’s later writing. Both of Fuller’s stories for the fifth season, The Darkness and the Light and Empok Nor, are essentially horror stories. More than that, they are both serial killer stories. In fact, The Darkness and the Light and Empok Nor are among the only serial killer stories in the franchise.

"Okay, so this is the darkness. How about some light?"

“Okay, so this is the darkness. How about some light?”

Indeed, during the seventh season, director Tony Dow would be pointed to this episode while prepping the psychological thriller Field of Fire. As Dow explained to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

“Ira showed me The Darkness and the Light as an example of what they wanted to accomplish in this episode,” the director recalls. “It had the same sort of mystery feeling, with a renegade who kidnaps Kira. Ira told me that it was really the only other show of this type that they’d done. There isn’t much personal violence on this series, so when it does occur, it’s something to be reckoned with.”

The fact that The Darkness and the Light could be singled out like that is a testament to how unique the episode is in the grand scheme of things.

Operating off the grid.

Operating off the grid.

The plot mechanics of The Darkness and the Light feel like they were very much lifted from one of the serial killer films that were so popular in the nineties following the Oscar-winning success of The Silence of the Lambs. In many ways, The Darkness and the Light feels like a Star Trek riff upon some of these same ideas, a story that might fit snuggly alongside se7en, Kiss the Girls, Single White Female, Copycat, The Bone Collector, Kalifornia, Scream. or countless others. The serial killer was the pop culture boogeyman of the decade.

To be fair, Deep Space Nine had demonstrated an interest in this sort of story towards the end of the third season. Earlier that year, Equilibrium had introduced the concept of a “secret” Dax host who had murdered somebody shortly after being joined with the symbiont. However, when the time came around for Avery Brooks to channel Joran Dax in Facets, the series had reinvented the fractured young composer into a more manipulative and refined serial killer in the style of Hannibal Lecter. Restrained in his cell, Brooks even offered his own take on the routine.

Let there be light.

Let there be light.

The serial killer is an interesting figure of pop culture fascination. Although the serial killer has never entirely disappeared from the popular imagination, he has faded somewhat. Christopher Beam speculates that real-life serial killers peaked in the eighties and have actually declined at the turn of the millennium:

Statistics on serial murder are hard to come by—the FBI doesn’t keep numbers, according to a spokeswoman—but the data we do have suggests serial murders peaked in the 1980s and have been declining ever since. James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University and co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder, keeps a database of confirmed serial murderers starting in 1900. According to his count, based on newspaper clippings, books, and Web sources, there were only a dozen or so serial killers before 1960 in the United States. Then serial killings took off: There were 19 in the 1960s, 119 in the ’70s, and 200 in the ’80s. In the ’90s, the number of cases dropped to 141. And the 2000s saw only 61 serial murderers.

In some ways, the serial killer has been supplanted by the terrorist as the monster lurking in pop culture nightmares. Tellingly, the recent film A Walk Among the Tombstones underscored this point by revealing with its final shot that its archetypal serial killer story took place before 9/11.

To be fair, Odo's a little out of his depth. He's more of a Mickey Spillane fan than a Thomas Harris reader.

To be fair, Odo’s a little out of his depth. He’s more of a Mickey Spillane fan than a Thomas Harris reader.

It could cheekily be argued that The Darkness and the Light is essentially an episode that pitches these two pop culture monsters against one another, presenting a serial killer who preys upon former terrorists. In the context of January 1997, the serial killer was considered a more monstrous figure. The Darkness and the Light commits to the concept of a twenty-fourth century serial killer. The teaser opens with the striking murder of an anonymous man on Bajor, but it builds to the point where Kira receives a taunting message looped in her own voice. “That’s one.”

Silaran Prin is presented in the style of a horror movie monster. He spends most the episode as an unseen force, striking at various characters through a number of sinister means. He perverts futuristic technology, he lurks in the shadows, he always follows up his kills by taunting Kira with a message informing her of the current count. When he does appear towards the end of the episode, he is cloaked in a shadow like a creature from an old horror film. Disfigured in a terrorist attack, his face is scarred and his hand is malformed.

Badly burnt by his experiences on Bajor.

Badly burnt by his experiences on Bajor.

When Prin captures Kira, he begins ranting and raving in the style associated with serial killers on film and television. “The creature’s diseased mind cannot understand its plight,” Prin narrates of his moral decision-making. “Its imagination is too limited to perceive the truth. It cannot be saved. But there is still hope for its child. It can be taken from the womb and raised in the light.” He elaborates, “All that remains is to bring the child into the light and discard the diseased carcass of the mother before it can infect its offspring.”

In some ways, Prin feels like an iteration of a familiar trope. He is the pop culture serial killer as codified in Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, a lunatic whose pronouncements are at once ridiculous and terrifying. Silaran Prin is a twenty-fourth century Frances Dolarhyde, albeit one without a turn of phrase as evocative as “ants in the afterbirth” or “great becoming.” Instead, Prin fixates upon the eponymous moral concepts, his repeated insistence that good and evil might be so cleanly separated treated as evidence of a deranged mind.

The night is dark and full of terrors. Also stars.

The night is dark and full of terrors.
Also stars.

For her part, Kira is cast in the role of the “final girl”, the archetypal slasher movie victim. Her friends are picked off one at a time as a serial killer taunts her. Kira ultimately finds herself at the mercy of the monster, stalking him through an abandoned shack on a desolate world. The scenes are written and shot so as to emphasise her isolation, including a wonderfully evocative establishing shot of Kira beaming down into the creaky old house that Prin has made a home on the surface of some forsaken planetoid.

Kira is overpowered by her attacker. She wakes up to find herself threatened with all manner of invasive body horror at the mercy of the creepy monster. It is one of most genuinely unsettling scenes in the Star Trek canon, as Prin monologues at length about his plans to effectively cut the baby out from Kira’s womb. Although their conversation is layered with political and moral philosophy, the scene itself feels lifted from some seventies or eighties schlock horror. (Ironically, both Nana Visitor and Bryan Fuller would be involved in separate Friday the 13th revivals.)

Monstrous plans.

Monstrous plans.

It is difficult to tell how much of Silaran Prin originated in Bryan Fuller’s pitch for The Darkness and the Light. It is possible that Ronald D. Moore made the decision to emphasise the character’s serial killer attributes while writing the script. Nevertheless, Bryan Fuller is fascinated with the notion of monsters. Empok Nor casts Garak as a serial killer. Even Fuller’s later shows play with horror themes. Dead Like Me focused on a grim reaper. Hannibal is a serial killer show. He reimagined The Munsters as Mockingbird Lane.

The Darkness and the Light plays into these horror movie elements, whether they came from Fuller’s story or Moore’s script. This is the first episode of Star Trek to be credited to veteran television director Mike Vejar since Coming of Age. Although Vejar had taken a decade-long break from the franchise following that instalment, The Darkness and the Light marks a new beginning. Vejar would direct six more episodes of Deep Space Nine, and thirteen episodes of Voyager. He would also direct ten episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Immaterial.

Immaterial.

Indeed, Ronald D. Moore would single out Mike Vejar as one of his favourite directors to work on Deep Space Nine:

Although I have worked with many good directors, I’d like to single out Mike Vejar, who has directed three of my scripts (Darkness and the Light, Rocks and Shoals and the upcoming Valiant).  I really admire Mike’s work and  I’ve found working with him to be a wonderful experience.  Each time I’ve  worked with him, I felt that he took my material and made it better than it was on the page — as a writer, I’m not sure what more I can ask for in a director.

Vejar is a large part of why The Darkness and the Light works, perfectly understanding the script’s tone.

Prin and gone.

Prin and gone.

Vejar understand that he is effectively shooting a slasher movie set on Deep Space Nine, and so plays into that. He positions the camera to emphasise the creepier elements of Prin’s terror campaign. In particular, he frequently positions the camera looking over the shoulder of a primary character, an effective way of building anxiety by suggesting that nobody is safe. There are a number of these shots in the episode, from Dax transporting Fala to Kira studying the remains to Kira resting by Prin’s collapsed form.

Indeed, Vejar consciously amplifies the horror element of the script when Kira visits Prin near the Demilitarised Zone. As she stalks through the messy shack, the camera pans slowly along with her, slowly passing over a disfigured hand without stopping to draw attention to it. Appropriately, given the episode’s title, there is some great use of light and shadow at the climax of the episode. More than that, Vejar films Prin as if he is lumbering creature from some forgotten monster movie. This is particularly clear in the sequence of Prin carrying Kira’s body to the recliner.

She's behind you!

She’s behind you!

However, Vejar’s direciton is more than simply stylistic affectations. There are some truly impressive framing and composition choices over the course of the episode. In fact, The Darkness and the Light features quite an impressive one-shot take in the infirmary, slowly closing in on Kira as she narrates her induction into the Shakaar Resistance Cell. As Kira talks, the camera moves in until it is staring her right in the face. To be fair, there is a quick cut of Odo after the camera closes in, but it is an impressively constructed shot that never upstages Nana Visitor’s performance.

Visitor is phenomenal here. The Deep Space Nine ensemble is, pound-for-pound, the most talented cast in the franchise’s history, with every actor capable of carrying a story. However, The Darkness and the Light is a spectacular showcase for Kira as a character, and Visitor invests herself in that. There are any number of great Kira moments in the episode, from trying to open the door to the O’Briens’ quarters through to her monologue about joining the resistance through to her final argument with Prin. Visitor perfectly sells every moment.

No holding back.

No holding back.

As tempting as it might be to look at The Darkness and the Light as just a serial killer story, the truth is that this is only facet of the episode. There is a lot more bubbling beneath the surface of Fuller’s story and Moore’s script. To argue that the serial killer element is Fuller’s only (or primary) contribution is to oversimplify the matter. At the same time, there are elements of The Darkness and the Light that feel more comfortable contextualised within Fuller’s oeuvre, just as there are elements that feel more comfortable contextualised within Moore’s body of work.

It might be more instructive to look at the fact that Fuller’s initial contributions were to Deep Space Nine rather than to Voyager. The writer was instinctive drawn to this particular show, of the two Star Trek shows that were broadcasting simultaneously. Perhaps that offers an indication of how Fuller is going to approach the writing on Discovery, positioning it as a show much closer in aesthetic and style to Deep Space Nine that it is to Voyager. In fact, even if Fuller hadn’t made these early contributions to Deep Space Nine, that would still make sense.

She hasn't a prayer.

She hasn’t a prayer.

In fact, Fuller himself singles out Deep Space Nine as his favourite of the spin-off, pointing to certain elements that are present in his own series:

The Star Trek universe is such a fertile place to tell stories. There were lots of new and innovative things going on during Deep Space Nine and that’s why it’s my favorite of the new series. It was much more character-based.

For me it goes original series, then Deep Space Nine, then Next Generation, and then Voyager. There are elements of “Voyager” that I loved, though.

Given that Fuller is a fan of character-driven storytelling and innovation in television, it makes sense that Deep Space Nine would be his favourite. He has pointed to it as something close to modern television.

"Coming right up, one Vedek, extra holy!"

“Coming right up, one Vedek, extra holy!”

As much as The Darkness and the Light can be seen as a Bryan Fuller story, it is very clearly a Ronald D. Moore script. The tone of the show might be that of a creepy serial killer movie, but the themes tie back into the fifth season’s renewed fascination with the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor. The fifth season returns time and again to the scars left by that atrocity, most notably in episodes like Things Past and The Darkness and the Light, but also in stories like Rapture and Ties of Blood and Water. The Cardassian Occupation might be over, but its scars linger.

The Darkness and the Light finds a Cardassian serial killer targeting members of the Shakaar Resistance Cell to punish them for their involvement in a terrorist attack. Even years after the end of the Cardassian Occupation, it is clear that people have not forgotten. When Trentin Fala contacts Kira on Deep Space Nine, Kira still keeps her involvement with the Resistance a secret from Sisko and Odo. It is only when Fala is dead that Kira feels able to share her old friend’s past.

"She's history, I'm afraid."

“She’s history, I’m afraid.”

Fala was an informant, who passed vital military and strategic information to the Shakaar Resistance Cell. However, Fala’s fear of discovery did not end when the Cardassians officially withdrew. “Even after the occupation was over, she didn’t want anyone to know that she was secretly helping us,” Kira explains. “She was worried that someone would come looking for her for revenge.” Assessing the situation, Sisko reflects, “Looks like her fears were well founded.” The past is not forgotten or glossed over.

Indeed, that is the central theme of the episode. Times have changed, and people have grown. The first victim had transformed himself from a terrorist into a religious leader. “Latha was a violent man, but then he found the Prophets, and the last time I talked to him, he’d changed, really changed,” Kira tells Odo after hearing of his brutal murder. Odo responds, “I don’t doubt that, Major. But it would appear that the violence of his past finally has caught up with him.”

No depressure.

No (de)pressure.

Deep Space Nine has always been willing to acknowledge character growth and evolution. In Rapture, Kira acknowledged that she was no longer the person who effective told Sisko where he could shove it in Emissary. At the same time, that does not mean that these characters can cast off their past actions as if shedding skin. In the moral universe of Deep Space Nine, there is eventually a reckoning of some description. Nobody ever truly escapes their sins, and nobody ever gets to wash their hands completely clean.

Early in The Darkness and the Light, it seems like Kira has almost convinced herself that the past can remain in the past. When Furel and Lupaza threaten to hunt down the person responsible themselves, Kira adopts the tone of a responsible adult. “The Occupation is over,” Kira urges. “We can’t go around fighting private wars. Times have changed. We have got to change with it.” Of course, Kira herself cannot heed her own advice. When Furel and Lupaza are brutally murdered, Kira hijacks a runabout to track down the murderer.

"Hey, former terrorists, terrorise this."

“Hey, former terrorists, terrorise this.”

Kira is Kira. Kira cannot be anybody but Kira. Over the course of Deep Space Nine, Kira might grow more comfortable with a hierarchical command structure and learn to accept the Federation, but she always remains true to herself. As Abigail Nussbaum points out in her (excellent) examination of Kira’s character, Kira’s pursuit of Prin is practically unjustifiable while remaining entirely in-character:

As I’ve already said, The Darkness and the Light dares to paint Kira in an unflattering light by presenting us with the ugly consequences of her actions during the occupation and her complete lack of remorse for them, but it also challenges us by breaking a sacred taboo–that a pregnant woman is never allowed to put her unborn child in danger by engaging in risky activity. There isn’t even any justification for Kira’s decision to go after her tormentor–by the time she does, Odo is already closing in on him–but it’s something she has to do, and the episode makes no apologies for it. The Darkness and the Light also plays around with the familiar plot of a female character pursued by a serial killer. Like those characters, Kira’s decision to go after the killer herself lands her in trouble, but she gets out of it by herself (or rather with the baby’s help–the killer keeps her alive because he doesn’t want to kill the innocent baby, and the anesthetic he gives her is ineffective because of a pre-natal medication she’s on, which allows Kira to overpower him). All Sisko, Odo and Bashir can do when they find her is give her a ride home.

The vast majority of characters on Deep Space Nine ultimately end up compromising their ideals in some form. Quark reneges on a contract in Body Parts. Sisko is an accomplice to murder in In the Pale Moonlight. Odo was involved in the murder of innocent Bajorans in Things Past and betrays his friends in Behind the Lines. Garak sides with the Federation against Cardassia in Afterimage. O’Brien murders Ee’char in Hard Time.

Facing up to history.

Facing up to history.

In contrast, there are very few members of the ensemble who never truly compromise who they believe themselves to be. Kira is one of those very few. In fact, it should be noted that Kira repeatedly finds herself moving in circles. She is introduced as a former terrorist in Emissary, and she is cast in a similar role repeatedly over the course of the series. Kira finds herself cast once again as a terrorist fighting an occupational force in Rocks and Shoals, and once more in When It Rains… None of these transitions are presented as character regression. They are part of who she is.

Part of what is most intriguing about The Darkness and the Light is the episode’s willingness to portray Kira as an unapologetic terrorist. It was a bold decision when the show was first broadcast in the mid-nineties, but it is particularly striking during the War on Terror. Kira is not ashamed of what she has done. She will not apologies for the acts of violence that she committed. In fact, The Darkness and the Light adopts a decidedly uncompromising perspective on this, confronting Kira with a civilian who was disfigured in an attack that she orchestrated.

Pregnant pause.

Pregnant pause.

As Ronald D Moore outlined in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, this willingness to talk so candidly and unapologetically about what happened is part of what makes Kira such a fascinating character:

Moore is pleased that he was able to allow Kira to remain Kira in a scene that did not paint her in the most complimentary light. “Typically, when you get into a scene like this in television or even film,” he says, “your heroine is confronted by the man from her past who’s been wronged by her in some way, and usually she’ll say ‘You know what? I feel bad, too. You’re right. I wish I didn’t have to do those things that I did. Can’t we all just get along?’ But that would have been so phony, especially in this situation. So I respect the fact that Kira looked at Prin and said ‘Screw you! You expect me to feel sorry for you? Fifteen million Bajorans died in the Occupation. You people were on our land, you didn’t belong there, and you were all guilty!'” Moore catches his breath and laughs. “I mean that’s pretty bold. You can’t say whether it’s right or wrong – it’s the stance of a terrorist. But it’s what I felt Kira absolutely believed at the core of her being.”

As much as it is possble to draw a line between The Darkness and the Light and the later work of Bryan Fuller, it is also possible to see Ronald D. Moore sewing the seeds of Battlestar Galactica.

Back to it.

Back to it.

The title of the episode is a reference to Prin’s repeated refrain about the firm division that exists between good and evil. Prin adheres to a very rigid moral belief, the argument that clear moral boundaries exist even within war and that it is possible for people within that warzone to exist outside the conflict itself. “So you were wounded during an attack I carried out when I was part of the resistance, and I’m supposed to feel guilty?” Kira asks rhetorically. “We were at war, Silaran. Fifteen million Bajorans died during the occupation and you want me to feel sorry for you?”

Prin insists, “No, I wasn’t part of your war. I was an innocent. I wasn’t even in the military. You know what I did on Bajor? I was a servant.” Prin clearly believes that there are codes of conduct that govern behaviour in terms of a terrorist campaign against an occupying force. Naturally, this is a perspective that favours the occupying force; after all, most occupying armies have superior military technology and resources, and so regard conventional warfare as something that might easily be won if fought on their terms.

Safe bets.

Safe bets.

This is, of course, why terrorist organisations avoid engaging in conventional warfare with occupying armies. It is impossible to win the conflict when fighting on such terms, and the pragmatic reality of war (as Worf suggests in The Way of the Warrior) is that winning must be the ultimate objective. As such, smaller forces with fewer resources and less training tend to engage in guerilla warfare and conduct campaigns designed to generate terror in their numerically and technologically superior foes.

There are plenty of historical examples of this behaviour. The Irish War of Independence offers a demonstration of a successful (and “heroic”) terrorist campaign, with the Troubles in Northern Ireland serving as a much more ambiguous example of the same behaviour. “Soft targets” are typically chosen by these terrorist campaigns for a number of reasons. Pragmatically, they are less well protected than military institutions. Psychologically, they are more effective at instilling terror in an occupying force.

Broken record.

Broken record.

The suggestion that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is something of a cliché. In fact, as writers like Bill Vallicella argue, the two terms have very distinct meanings:

Note first that while freedom is an end, terror is a means. So to call a combatant a terrorist is to say something about his tactics, his means for achieving his ends, while to call a combatant a freedom fighter is to say nothing about his tactics or means for achieving his ends. It follows that one and the same combatant can be both a terrorist and a freedom fighter. For one and the same person can employ terror as his means while having freedom as his end.

Of course, that is an overly technical description that focuses on a very precise application of language. While technically correct, it tends the ethical issues to which that eight-word cliché alludes.

Temple of doom.

Temple of doom.

Indeed, Conor Friedersdorf offers a more accurate (but less succinct) summary of what people are generally trying to say when they invoke “one man’s terrorist…”:

As a descriptor, terrorist is almost never applied rigorously and consistently to describe the tactics a group is using — rather, it is invoked as a pejorative to vilify the actions only of groups one wishes to discredit. People who agree with the ends of the very same groups often don’t think of them as terrorists, the negative connotation of which causes them to focus on what they regard as the noble ends of allies they’re more likely to dub freedom fighters.

This cliché leans on the idea that “terrorist” is a catch-all pejorative label assigned to groups that might be described as “freedom fighters” were their ideological objectives and/or methods closer to those of the speaker.

"It's okay, Doctor Bashir ordered a firm regiment of 'resist and relaxation'."

“It’s okay, Doctor Bashir ordered a firm regiment of ‘resist and relaxation’.”

In keeping with a recurring theme of Deep Space Nine, The Darkness and the Light declines to draw a clean line between the notion that Kira was a freedom fighter and the idea that Kira was a terrorist. In keeping with the technical application of those terms, and rejecting the subjective dichotomy that such a distinction would imply, The Darkness and the Light suggests that Kira could be both a freedom fighter and a terrorist while leaving it up to the audience to make a moral judgement on her actions.

Kira does not defend herself against Prin’s accusations, nor does she does not apologise. Kira accepts the factual reality of what happened to Prin, but refuses to be shamed or guilted for her role in that attack. “None of us liked killing,” she insists. “We were fighting for our freedom against–“ Prin cuts her off, “You vaporised the entire east wing! Twelve Cardassians were killed, including Gul Pirak’s entire family. Twenty three others were crippled. Don’t you feel guilty? Don’t you feel ashamed of what you did?”

Blast from the past.

Blast from the past.

A less ambiguous series would have Kira back down on this point, to apologise for the hurt that she caused and insist that she has changed. Instead, The Darkness and the Light remains true to who Kira is. She doesn’t retreat; she doubles down. “None of you belonged on Bajor. It wasn’t your world. For fifty years you raped our planet and you killed our people. You lived on our land and you took the food out of our mouths, and I don’t care whether you held a phaser in your hand or ironed shirts for a living. You were all guilty and you were all legitimate targets!”

This is a remarkable scene, especially when examined through the lens of the War on Terror. In the twenty-first century, the label of “terrorist” suggests a monstrous villain with no redeeming traits. As far as popular culture is concerned, the modern terrorist is the boogeyman figure who appears in 24 or Homeland. Much like Homefront and Paradise Lost, the climax of The Darkness and the Light feels very much like Deep Space Nine is using the more relaxed political climate of the nineties to make a very prescient argument.

When he said he wanted to find peace, I'm not sure that this is what he meant.

Investigating the murder of a Vedek, one should always ask, ‘Who Prophets…?’

The Darkness and the Light ultimately paints Kira as a refreshingly ambiguous figure. The audience are left to judge her by reference to their own standards of morality, with the show refusing to shame or chastise her. Is Kira correct to insist that every Cardassian on Bajor was a legitimate target? Is Kira justified to put the O’Briens’ baby at risk by rushing headlong into a dangerous situation? Is Kira justified taking matters into her own hands when Odo is already quite close to figuring out the identity of the killer?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and it is to the credit of The Darkness and the Light that the show is willing to allow these questions to hang in the air without coming down clearly on one side or the other. In fact, it is worth comparing the ambiguity of The Darkness and the Light to the heavy-handedness Fair Trade. Broadcast the same week, Fair Trade also attempts to foster a sense of ambiguity about its characters but ultimately lacks the courage of its convictions.

The path of the righteous terrorist...

The path of the righteous terrorist…

The Darkness and the Light points to a lot of the strengths of the fifth season of Deep Space Nine. Indeed, actor Chase Masterson has suggested that the fifth season was with point at which the production team realised how well the show would age:

We knew what we had when we had it. That’s one of the best things you can ever say about anything, and it’s true of DS9. Ira Behr said during the fifth season that he thought the show would hit its popularity after production wrapped, when the show was in syndication and people could basically binge-watch. As a cast, we knew that the stories that Ira & his team were telling were transcendent. And that’s why Michael Piller and Ira took the risk to make it one of the first serialised shows on TV. That was a lot of confidence to have in the audience because it hadn’t really been done before. And look what it’s given way to: Ron Moore, David Weddle, Bradley Thompson, René Echevarria, Rob Wolfe — so many top writers came out of DS9.

The Darkness and the Light is a fantastic example of everything that Deep Space Nine did very well, and which has aged remarkably. It is an episode that firmly stakes out a lot of ideological ground that Moore will explore further in Battlestar Galactica.

This is the end.

This is the end.

This sense of ambiguity is what makes the fifth season of Deep Space Nine such a fantastic piece of television. It could reasonably be argued that the fifth season of Deep Space Nine represents the creative peak of the franchise. Star Trek has always been a franchise with a strong sense of morality. Even Deep Space Nine never allows its sense of morality to erode too strongly. However, there is something powerful in the way the fifth season suggests light and dark are not so easily divorced from one another.

In fact, even the later seasons of Deep Space Nine struggle to maintain this level of moral ambiguity. During the sixth season, for example, Deep Space Nine begins more firmly separating the darkness from the light. Gul Dukat becomes less of a grey figure in Waltz. The Prophets are firmly and definitively divided into light and dark camps in The Reckoning. The introduction of Section 31 in Inquisition also serves a similar purpose, providing a catch-all scapegoat for some of the darker moments in Federation history.

Make worship, not war ships.

Make worship, not war ships.

Deep Space Nine will not be able to maintain the level of ambiguity that runs through the fifth season, but that only serves to make it all the more remarkable.

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

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19 Responses

  1. I do like this episode a lot, but I do wish they had killed off Shakar in this episode. It would have made the situation seem much more dangerous, as if whoever this killer is can get to people at the top of Bajoran power, then no one is truly safe. Also, though we like Lupaza and Fural from the episode, Shakar, Shakar is much more of a major character. Finally, it is not like the writers ever do anything interesting with Shakar, so this would have been a golden opportunity to kill him off without having the clumsy conversation about why Kira and Shakar broke up in Children of Time. I realize this would have meant retooling for the B plot in “The Begotten,” but that B plot was so putrid I don’t think it would have been any great loss.

    • We didn’t get a good return on those 3 hours of television. (4 hours if you count that TNG episode with Byron, which stars the same actor…)

      It’s hard to make Phil Anglim look electric by comparison. But this guy managed it.

      • Sorry, I meant Ronin, not Byron. The entity from “Sub Rosa”.

      • I don’t know if I’d blame the actor. He did fine in his debut episode, Shakar. After that, however, he never had anything to do.

    • Yeah. It’s weird how Shakaar is only really characterised and developed as “Kira’s bland boyfriend number #2” rather than as a Bajoran politician in his own own right.

      • Yeah, Shakaar’s absence from the episode is a major plot hole and it would have made much more sense for him to appear here rather than The Begotten before he vanished into the ether. Like Rapture, it further reinforces to me that the writers had no idea with what to do with him, like Bareil after In the Hands of the Prophets once they’d turned him into Kira’s boyfriend. They just wanted to get Kira together with Odo.

      • I think there’s also the sense that Winn was really the only Bajoran guest star that the show needed at this point, and that Bareil and Shakaar would have to be contrasted against her and thus characterised as “reasonable” Bajorans. Which is largely redundant.

  2. A very interesting review.

    I do think you might be overstressing how ambiguous we are meant to find Kira here. I mean ‘Rambo III’ (1988) had a very straightforward depiction of the Mujahideen as heroic freedom fighters. ‘Deep Space Nine’ is definitely more nuanced than that but I think we might be reading a little too much with our 21st century goggles into how grey we are meant to read Kira.

    • That’s fair.

      But I do think having a dialogue that consists of…
      “You blew up a house you knew to contain women, children, and service staff! Don’t you feel at least a little guilty?”
      “No, you were all legitimate targets!”
      … is a pretty edgy thing for a nineties television show to pull off.

  3. And one day after you post this, Fuller quits Discovery! I wonder if Discovery is going to be a behind-the-scenes nightmare as Next Gen and Voyager’s early years were.

    • http://fandom.wikia.com/articles/bryan-fuller-leaving-star-trek-discovery

      This makes it seem pretty dreary news. Then again I’ve gotten some pretty bad vibes from Discovery for awhile, like the team behind it releasing some crappy CG-I footage of the ship, which looks like shit..

      • I mean, we’ll see how it turns out. Fandom has had daggers out for the project since it was announced, because it doesn’t match their expectations.

        Although, truth be told, I’d feel a lot more comfortable if Fuller’s certified protege replacements had actually worked on Hannibal with him. It turns out that Hannibal is nearly the only Fuller show on which they didn’t work, which is a massive disappointment since Hannibal is very much the best work of Fuller’s career to date.

      • Should I watch Hannibal? I’ve yet to even watching stuff like Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead, which everyone thinks I’m insane as such

      • I adored Hannibal. But it’s very much a polarising show. It has no strict internal logic and very clearly unfolds in a world quite disconnected from the real world. It’s very much a show more about tone and mood and theme more than plot. It’s also one of the most visually adventurous television shows that I have ever seen, in a way that recalls Miami Vice. It is horrifying and beautiful at the same time, and really commits to Thomas Harris’ (at the time innovative) “murder as theatre/performance art” motif. I adore it, but I realise that it’s not for everyone.

      • Also admittedly I have had very low expectations for this show from the onset, but their CG-I reveal/damage control afterwards and then this raises eyebrows for me, plus the team behind it being overtly defensive. And of course, I suspect it will just be like Abrams Trek with a bit more dialogue, which will make me lose interest faster than Enterprise.

    • Yep. I was just thinking that. “I worked really hard on that Bryan Fuller post!”

      Naturally, I’m heartbroken. I eagerly await that “Chaos on the Bridge” documentary covering these few months in franchise history.

  4. Now that Nana Visitor has given birth, The Darkness and the Light is the first proper Kira-centric episode this season and one that re-examines her place in the Occupation much as Things Past did with Odo. But I admire TDATL a whole lot more because of the way it stays true to Kira’s convictions. Where Odo deluded himself for years into thinking he was neutral during the Occupation instead of the collaborator he really was, in Kira’s scene with Silaren, she knows her place and the part she played and refuses to make excuses. Like she told Odo, anyone who survived the Occupation had to get their hands dirty and make some sort of compromise (like Ghemor in Ties of Blood and Water) and anyone who claims otherwise is lying.

    The episode also works as a highly satisfying serial killer thriller. Silaren’s vendetta is not as artless as Lon Suder’s in Meld who just had to kill somebody who looked at him the wrong way, so is it any wonder he was so easily caught? In fact, it reminded me more of Harvey Two-Face killing the people who wronged (and disfigured) him in The Dark Knight. TDATL is one that could fit with other examples of the genre like Se7en and is even smart enough to resist a return from the dead cliche in the final act. It instead cleverly inverts it with Kira springing to life at the last minute to beat Silaren, bringing things to a highly satisfying resolution. It’s something that Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs or Holly Hunter in Copycat could easily have thought up.

    You called Joran Dax Joriah Darren.

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