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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night (Review)

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night once again brushes up against the limits of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is essentially two episodes wrapped up in one. Most basically, it is a character-driven melodrama that focuses on Kira and her relationship to her mother. Dark secrets are unearthed, and betrayals are revealed. Kira finds that she is much closer to Dukat than she once believed, and finds her own moral certainty tested as she confronts the reality of who her mother was and the compromises that she had to navigate in the context of the Cardassian Occupation. It is a bold and provocative episode, daring and unsettling.

Everybody has scars.

However, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is also trying to be an exploration of the kind of moral compromises necessary against the backdrop of the Cardassian Occupation, about the toll that such a horrific event inflicts upon a population. It is a tale of sexual slavery and brutality, about manipulation and abuse. It is a tale about power and violence, and how those aspects of an enemy occupation do not always manifest in brute force. This is story about the scars that such horrors leave. This is a clumsy episode, revealing the firm limits that exist within Deep Space Nine.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night does not work as well as it should, suggesting that there are some stories that Deep Space Nine simply cannot tell.

Screening her calls.

On the birthday of her long-deceased mother, Kira Nerys receives a communication from Gul Dukat. Dukat is apparently still riding around the cosmos in the stolen shuttle-craft from Waltz, but has taken to cold-calling his mortal enemies in the wee hours of the morning to reveal long-buried secrets. It is a ridiculous set-up for an episode, and one that underscores the big issue with Dukat as a character in the wake of Waltz. Having melodramatically sworn vengeance on his enemies, Dukat is effectively a cartoon supervillain in the middle of a larger war arc.

Dukat reveals that Kira’s mother did not die in the Singha Refugee Centre, as Kira had long-believed. When Kira wonders why her father would lie about such a thing, Dukat pounces. “That was something your father told you because he couldn’t bear to face the truth,” he states. “That your mother left him to be with me.” It is, of course, a ridiculously sensationalist headline of what is actually revealed to have happened, but the broad melodramatic sweep of that framing is a nice character. That is exactly how the egomaniacal Gul Dukat would frame the narrative.

“You once asked me why my ringtone was ‘Sexy Muthaf$%ker.’ Well, have I got an answer for you…”

Of course, this is a fundamentally ridiculous plot development. It is an absurd contrivance, even following on from Change of Heart. In that episode, it was first suggested that Dax and Worf were the only qualified officers to run a simple intelligence-collection mission that just happened to evolve into an adventure behind enemy lines, despite the absurdity of two married officers being dispatched alone into enemy territory on a high-stakes assignment. However, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night hinges on the idea that Gul Dukat had a secret affair with Kira Nerys’ mother.

Although there is no concrete figure in canon, Bajor would seem to have a population that numbers in the billions. The Star Trek: Star Charts suggests that there are just under four billion Bajorans living on the planet after the Cardassian Occupation. In Sanctuary, Odo suggests that Deep Space Nine can support an upper limit of seven thousand people. Even allowing for pretty steady turnover, it seems highly unlikely that either of Kira’s parents would ever have set foot on the station, particularly during the Cardassian Occupation.

A rich bouquet.

The number of coincidences necessary to ensure that Dukat fell in love with Kira Meru on Terok Nor and then found himself interacting with Kira Nerys as the second-in-command of Deep Space Nine is absurd. More than that, it is a storytelling choice that makes the world of Deep Space Nine seem small and parochial. It reinforces the sense that this takes place in a decidedly small and enclosed universe, where a small handful of characters seem destined to overlap with one another against all statistical probability.

To be fair, there are certain interactions and dynamics that make sense. As the former commander of Terok Nor, it makes sense that Gul Dukat would maintain an interest in the station. As a senior officer stationed along the Federation border, it makes sense that he would interact with the cast of Deep Space Nine on a regular basis. As the leader of Cardassia, it makes sense that Dukat would become a fixture of the show. Owing to his six years of history with them, it makes sense that Dukat would maintain an interest in Sisko and Kira after his fall from grace.

“And now to enact the most dastardly part of my evil master plan, cold-calling the primary cast of Deep Space Nine outside business hours!”

However, it strains credibility to reveal that Dukat just happened to have an affair with the mother of the terrorist who would happen to be appointed as the executive officer of his old command post. It feels like a contrivance, an awkward reminder of how the world of Deep Space Nine is constructed by writers and producers. It recalls the sort of incestuous and convoluted logic that tends to take root in tie-in fiction, where it seems like everybody in the Star Wars expanded universe must somehow be related to the Skywalker family.

To be fair to Deep Space Nine, the series has done an excellent job maintaining a sense of organic turnover and development over its run. The production team have worked hard to ensure that new characters are constantly introduced into the dynamic and that the characters are not tripping over one another, that it is not always the same faces recurring between Emissary and What You Leave Behind. There are important players who seem to drift into the orbit of these characters over time, instead of living lives that are so awkwardly entwined.

“Just a little contrived.”

Damar would go on to become one of the most compelling characters in the entire run of the series, but he was only introduced in Return to Grace as a glorified extra. Weyoun first popped up in To the Death, towards the end of the fourth season. Admiral Bill Ross would become a fixture of the final two seasons, getting his own character moments in episodes like Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, but he was only established in A Time to Stand. This constant introduction of major characters helps to prevent the universe from seeming too small or enclosed.

In fact, there are points where the writing staff have consciously avoided the cliché of the small universe. The episode Ties of Blood and Water hinges on the murder of Kira’s father by Cardassian soldiers and the discovery that her Cardassian surrogate father figure was complicit in atrocities committed during the Cardassian Occupation. Narratively, it would make sense to streamline those two threads and tie Tekeny Ghemor’s sin to the death of Kira Taban. However, the episode avoids that obvious twist, a decision that underscores the breadth of the universe.

“Now, do you have Doctor Bashir’s number? I have some news about that time he left Kukalaka on the station in Call to Arms…”

Still, the later years of Deep Space Nine do begin to lean into this contrivance and connection. It makes a certain amount of sense as the end of the run approaches; the stories inevitably return to existing characters, instead of branching out towards new creations. Because Deep Space Nine is invested in these recurring characters, they take up an importance in the lives of the regular characters and in the context of the larger Star Trek universe as a whole.

Some of these choices make a great deal of sense. The reveal in In Purgatory’s Shadow that Garak was the hidden son of Enabrain Tain feels like a logical development given their past relationship. Martok’s ascent to become High Chancellor of the Klingon Empire in Tacking Into the Wind makes sense, given his status as a war hero on an important from. However, some of these coincidences strain credulity. It seems too much to believe that Grand Negus Zek would just happen to fall in love with Quark’s mother in Ferengi Love Songs.

Wake-up call.

So this issue hangs over Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night, an episode that also struggles with pacing. The script has to jump through so many hoops to get to the meat of the story that it is almost over before it begins. Fifteen minutes elapse before Kira actually manages to travel back in time, a full third of the episode. The episode is half over by the time that Gul Dukat appears. As a result, the final act feels very rushed, with Kira’s condemnation of her mother and her last-minute second thoughts arriving very quickly.

However, allowing for these issues, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night plays as an interesting psycho-drama focusing on Dukat and Kira, an interesting exploration of how both characters see the world and a powerful way to tie them both together. Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night was a very poetic feel to it, from the title referencing Prometheus Unbound to the casual use of time travel at the direction of the Prophets. Of course, Dukat’s rant about the terrorist bomb in Waltz suggests that the events in the episode really happened, but it still feels lyrical.

Taking a time out.

In an interview with Cinefantastique, writer and producer Ira Steven Behr acknowledged that the episode was in large part motivated by a desire to develop the relationship between Kira and Dukat:

“After Waltz we were looking for something that would, in an unexpected way, begin to show where Dukat’s head was at. We thought that was the perfect way to do it. We thought it was an interesting place to take their relationship, and it helped to explain part of this total fascination that Dukat has with the Major.”

This familial connection does shade in some retroactive details. It explains why the Cardassian file on Kira was so minimalist, as revealed in Battle Lines. It also explains Dukat’s fascination with her, building from Civil Defense.

“You want to use an Orb to what?!”

It also manages to make an already creepy minor detail in Sons and Daughters seem even creepier. In that episode, Dukat sends Kira the gift of a sexy black dress to wear. When she returns the gift to him, Dukat presents the dress to Tora Ziyal without any of the context. This idea that Dukat would dress his daughter like his crush was already creepy, but the dynamic in Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night layers that creepiness on. Dukat tried to dress the daught of his lover, on whom he also had a crush, and then handed the dress down to his actual biological daughter.

Of course, it should be noted that Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night arrives at a point where the production team seem to have little idea of what they want to do with Gul Dukat as a character. Most notably, Waltz set up the idea that Dukat had positioned himself as the sworn nemesis of Captain Benjamin Sisko. This arc plays out across the rest of the series, most notably in his exploitation of the Pah-Wraiths in Tears of the Prophets and his position as their emissary in What You Leave Behind.

“No, really, why’d Dukat call you? I thought I was his arch-nemesis.”

The emphasis that Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night places on Dukat’s relationship with Kira feels somewhat misdirected. Dukat would spend more time with Kira in Covenant, but it seems increasingly clear that Deep Space Nine is not taking the pair in any meaningful direction. The big dramatic pay-off for Dukat will come at the hands of Sisko in the Fire Caves. As Deep Space Nine comes to climax, the two are kept separate; in a nice piece of symmetry, Kira will spend a significant portion of the final season on Cardassia, while Dukat spends that same time on Bajor.

In many ways, the relationship between Kira and Dukat has already hit its climax, in the six-episode arc that opened the sixth season. Episodes like A Time to Stand and Sons and Daughters allowed the pair to spend extended scenes together, and to firmly outline the nature of their dynamic. It would probably make more sense to leave Dukat’s fixation with Kira in those episodes, before his mental breakdown in Sacrifice of Angels and his turn to supervillainy in Waltz. Layering that all on top of itself at this point feels like clutter.

Healing the wounds that divide them.

Still, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is a script that understands Dukat. His relationship with Kira Meru is remarkably well-observed, a credit to both Marc Alaimo and Leslie Hope. Dukat’s intentions are clearly and cleverly choreographed in their introductory scene, wherein the Cardassian noticed the scar on the Bajoran’s face. He heals the scar, repairing her face. It neatly signifies his desire to effectively remake and reimagine Kira Meru, to rebuild her in accordance with his own desires. (This, naturally, reflects his own attitude to Bajor.)

One of Dukat’s defining characteristics has always been his chronic need for adoration. In Waltz, Dukat treated the Bajoran people as ingrates for refusing to acknowledge his greatness and only kept Sisko alive in the hope that Sisko would eventually admit to his brilliance. In Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night, Dukat takes this idea to its logical extreme. He needs to be loved, so he carefully sets up and stage-manages a relationship so that he can convince himself that Kira Meru loves him, just as he believes all of Bajor should love him.

Romancing the Gul.

Dukat has always understood the power of narrative, and so he manipulates the story that he tells to Meru. He sets up her sexual assault at the party, just so he can step in and rescue her from “the boorish behaviour” of a handsy Cardassian. “This is not the first performance I’ve seen of this little melodrama,” a Cardassian bystander confesses to Nerys. Dukat plies Meru with stories of his compassion and his empathy, and supplies her with updates about how her family is doing. Dukat needs to believe that Bajor can love him, so he needs to believe a Bajoran can love him.

This performative quality is emphasised in Dukat readiness to allow Meru interact with other Bajorans. It is unclear whether Meru is allowed to communicate with Taban, or if it is just a one-way street, but Dukat eagerly grants Meru’s request for companionship from Nerys. It seems a large part of his motivation is to demonstrate how much Meru loves him. “I’ve treated Meru with nothing but kindness and consideration,” he assures Nerys. However, it is not enough for him to assert it. He wants to hear Meru actually say it. “If you don’t believe me, ask her.”

“This is totally unrehearsed. I swear.”

This is all very well done. Leslie Hope offers a very effective supporting performance as Kira Meru. Although the script seems to suggest, and Nerys clearly believes, that Meru genuinely loves Dukat, there is enough doubt in Hope’s performance to sell a sense of ambiguity. In particular, Meru seems particularly guarded in the scenes with Dukat, is if wary of saying the wrong thing. There is an arch quality to these scenes, suggesting Meru is as horrified with herself as Nerys is. Hope plays Meru as a woman who is constantly on edge, even when trying not appear so.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night also works very well as an episode centring on Kira Nerys. In many ways, it is a logical extension of what the audience already knows about the character. Kira has always been one of the Deep Space Nine characters with the strongest sense of moral certainty. Her insistence on moral absolutes is a defining attribute of her character, even when those absolutes challenge the audience as they did in The Darkness and the Light. Kira is an unapologetic terrorist, one who has never doubted the righteousness of her violence.

Knife to see you.

It helps that Nana Visitor is phenomenal in the role, one of the great underrated Star Trek performances. As the production team noted in Cinefantastique, the episode is very much a showcase for Visitor as a performer:

Said Nana Visitor, when she learned of this story, “I’m so angry with the writers for writing this, I started spitting nails. They said, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s perfect.'”

Said co-writer Beimler, “The episode reminds me what a talented actress Nana Visitor is. I think she is one of the strongest women on television, exciting, attractive, interesting, intelligent and tough. How many tough women are there on television that are terrorists, and make you cry. It’s an acknowledgment of how interesting that character is, and how good an actress Nana is to pull it off.”

Kira is one of the great Star Trek characters, and Visitor offers one of the great Star Trek performances. Wrongs Great Than Death or Night affords Visitor a script into which she might sink her teeth.

The Visitor.

More than that, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night feels entirely true to who Kira is as a character. The episode’s most striking moment comes at the end of the hour, as Kira reflects upon her experiences in conversation with Sisko. Having decided to assassinate her Meru and Dukat, Nerys relented at the last minute and saves their lives. However, this does not mean that Nerys forgives her mother. There is no reconciliation to be found, no “happy family” ending that smooths a strained relationship like The Icarus Factor or Family or Doctor Bashir, I Presume.

Conversing with Sisko, Kira falls back on the moral certainty that fuelled her self-righteous justifications in The Darkness and the Light. She is more subdued at the end of Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night, but the sentiment remains the same. “I’ve always hated collaborators. I mean, what could be worse than betraying your own people? During the occupation, if I ever had doubt about what their fate should be all I would think of my mother, how she gave her life for Bajor. She was a hero, they were traitors. It was that simple.”

Red lights.

When Sisko suggests that Meru made a compromise to protect her family, Nerys is unmoved. “She died in a Cardassian hospital seven years after she met Dukat,” she explains. “Seven years. Do you know how many Bajorans died in labour camps during that time? Died, while my mother sat sipping kanar with Dukat.” While Nerys could not bring herself to murder her own mother, it is clear that Nerys cannot forgive Meru’s perceived sins. It is a powerful scene, both in terms of writing and performance.

Most notably, it subverts audience expectations of how these stories are supposed to end. After all, the hero’s journey is supposed to end with a reconciliation with the father; surely the same is expected of the mother? More than that, Nerys has been afforded a rare opportunity to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes; surely she must be capable of some empathy? Even on the most basic of levels, Nerys has actually had the opportunity to talk to and interact with her long-lost mother; surely she can find it in her heart to forgive?

“You know,” Sisko thinks to himself. “Maybe we could use a counsellor on board.”

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night brutally subverts all of those expectations, but in a way that feels entirely appropriate for the character in question. Kira is a character defined by her moral certainty and righteousness. She might just be the only character on Deep Space Nine incapable of betraying her core principles, because she is so keenly and acutely aware of who she is. Unlike Odo, or even Sisko, Kira does not allow herself any room for doubt or ambiguity. Kira believes firmly in right and wrong, refusing to believe that ethics can be situational.

This certainty is a large part of why Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night works as a character study. Although the plot is undoubtedly contrived, the character beats feel earned and genuine. This is an episode that is very much in keeping with what the audience knows about Kira and Dukat, and which uses that to tell a very effective story about a rather unlikely connection between the pair. That certainty and understanding grounds Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night.

Card(ie-heart)-carrying collaborator.

However, this sense of moral certainty undercuts Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night in other ways. One of the recurring criticisms of Deep Space Nine is that the show rejects the morality and idealism of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. This is a very facile criticism, one that pays little attention to the way that Deep Space Nine works. For all that Deep Space Nine is a “darker” series in terms of tone and aesthetic, it has a very strong moral core. With a few notable exceptions, Deep Space Nine largely rejects any notion of moral relativism or compromise.

Deep Space Nine has a very strong moral certainty running through it, a very clear sense of right and wrong. The series seems controversial because that moral certainty is more nuanced and developed, more rooted in individual morality than in the communal good. Deep Space Nine believes that people are fundamentally good, and that large organisations can lose sight of the people entrusted to their care. Deep Space Nine often touches on the complexity of the conflicts between individuals and organisations, but generally sides with the individual.

Worf. Life of the party.

Repeatedly over the course of the Dominion War, Deep Space Nine reject a utilitarian or situation approach to morality. Sacrificing millions of lives to save billions is presented as unconscionable in Statistical Probabilities. Worf is entirely correct to choose his wife’s life over the chance to save millions in Change of Heart. The attempt genocide against the Founders cannot be justified in Extreme Measures. In contrast, In the Pale Moonlight is such a big deal because it is a very rare instance of a character preferencing the greater good over their own morality.

Indeed, Kira’s entire arc across the six-parter at the start of the season was built around that idea. Kira was horrified to discover in Rocks and Shoals, that her moral compromises had turned her into a collaborator. She dismissed her rationalisations and justifications, embracing an absolutist perspective. The story embraced Kira’s certainty, with even Quark eventually taking up arms against the Occupational forces in Sacrifice of Angels. This was not a story that genuinely believed in shades of grey. Instead, the six-parter insisted that there was a definite right and wrong.

Take the soup.

As such, it is not entirely accurate to suggest that Deep Space Nine is a morally ambiguous show. The series has a very strong moral core, albeit one that tends to line up with individual morality over the rationalisations made in service of the greater good. However, there are times when Deep Space Nine brushes against the limitations of this approach. Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is one such example, offering a very strong moral condemnation of collaboration that feels unjustified and unreasonable.

In the closing scene, Nerys effectively denounces her mother as a traitor to Bajor. This is certainly in keeping with her character and her perspective. However, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night never challenges Kira’s moral judgement. Even in that closing scene, Sisko refuses to play devil’s advocate. He does not even sit on the fence. He does not acknowledge that he cannot stand on judgement of her choices, or that he has no frame of reference for the compromises that Meru made. Instead, Sisko accepts Kira’s judgement as absolute and argues around it.

One angry mother.

“She did what she had to do to save her family,” Sisko offers. “To save you.” Kira has none of it. She responds, “It doesn’t make it right.” Sisko does not fight that assertion, instead answering, “Maybe not, but it was her decision to make.” The closing scene takes Kira’s criticism at face value, that her mother’s choice was morally wrong in some grander scheme and that she deserves to be condemned for it. There is something very uncomfortable in this assertion, particularly in the way that Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night frames Meru’s collaboration.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night makes a big deal out of the importance of food as a motivator to the Bajorans during the Occupation. When Meru is shown to her quarters, she is immediately wowwed by the food on display. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen fresh moba?” she asks. “Look at this. Katterpod beans, hasperat, veklava, a pot of deka tea. We could live on this for a year!” Meru has lived a life of starvation, and so the abundance of food on Terok Nor provides an immediate temptation to her.

Food for thought.

Indeed, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night even makes a point to suggest that Nerys cannot appreciate just how tempting that food might be. When Nerys meets her parents in the refugee centre, Taban apologises for the fact that he has no food to offer. Nerys insists that it is okay, prompting Maru to wryly observe, “I can’t remember the last time I met a Bajoran who wasn’t hungry.” The implication is clear. Nerys is not as hungry as Meru. She only recently came from a prosperous future with all the food that she could want. In theory, she cannot judge Meru.

Of course, this criticism doesn’t really work. Deep Space Nine has made it clear that Nerys experienced the horrors of the Cardassian Occupation first-hand. As Duet made clear, she was present at the liberation of Gallitep. As Necessary Evil explains, Kira was responsible for the murder of Bajoran collaborators. As Ties of Blood and Water revealed, her father was murdered by the Cardassians. It would be too much for a member of Starfleet to stand in judgement of Meru, but Nerys can clearly claim the moral high ground.

Out of line.

This moral certainty is jarring because it relies upon a very sanitised portrayal of Meru’s relationship with Dukat. Early in the episode, Basso described the women being taken to Terok Nor as “comfort women”, a phrase with very specific connotations tied back to the Second World War. The phrase came to international attention during the early nineties, following a lawsuit taken by a collective of South Korean women against the Japanese government for their abduction and sexual abuse at the hands of Imperial Japan in December 1991.

The issue of “comfort women” remains highly contentious in historical discussions of the Second World War. Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa made an apology to South Korea in January 1992, in response to that high-profile lawsuit. However, the Japanese government is still downplaying and denying the atrocity, particularly as it relates to Chinese victims. It is a harrowing and horrific chapter in the history of the Second World War, one that does not get nearly enough attention in discussions of the legacy of the conflict.

The comfort of strangers.

The personal accounts of survivors are harrowing, women treated like slaves or animals by the armed forces:

As a 10-year-old child, Niyem was kidnapped while playing and taken in a truck full of women to a military tent camp in West Java. Once there, the prettiest women were locked up as live-ins by officers in their residences. Niyem had to share a small tent with two other girls, where soldiers raped them in the presence of others. She didn’t get much to eat and had to drink water from a ditch. “I was still so young, within two months my body was completely destroyed. It’s sufficient that I have had to go through it, my grandchildren should be spared this kind of thing. I was nothing but a toy, as a human being I meant nothing, that’s how it felt during the Japanese era.”

It is a horrifying reminder of horrors that such a conflict inflicts upon a civilian population.

“Just give us an Alamo-ment here.”

However, the horror extends beyond the individual cases. These were not isolated incidents by any measure. The exploitation of these women by the Imperial Japanese army was systemic. As George Hicks outlines in The Comfort Women, the operation was industrial in scale:

Their overall numbers will probably never be known, even if Japanese authorities were to reveal all available official documents, for the women did not even rate a category of their own in army manifests. The first batches of women shipped from Nagasaki to Shanghai were listed as so many units of “war supplies.” While such categorisation could have been an attempt at concealment, this seems unlikely given the highly pragmatic approach the Japanese military took in providing for the sexual comfort of its men.

Along with the Holocaust, it is a potent metaphor for the industrialisation of warfare during the Second World War, the reduction of human life to little more than chattel to be shipped in crates and measured in “units.” It is an evocative expression of the horrors of conflict on that scale.

Little comfort.

Although the use of the phrase “comfort women” in Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night evokes the exploitation of women by Imperial Japan, it is not as though this is the only example of how women were brutalised and victimised in such conflicts. Even during the Second World War, women in Europe found themselves having to navigate impossible situations trapped between the invading military forces and the resurgent national resistance movements. It was an impossible situation.

During the liberation of France, women who had slept with Nazis were often targeted for vicious reprisals with no regard for whether the sex had been consensual or not. In Norway, the children born of Nazi “lebensborn” policies were heavily victimised; they were frequently sent to psychiatric institutions, where they were subject to system abuse and assault. There was often little regard for nuance in these cases, little understanding of the complicated politics of consent during Nazi Occupation.

Keeping her occupied.

Indeed, it has been argued that some of the backlash against female collaborators had a decidedly misogynistic quality to it. Antony Beever suggests that there were complicated social factors driving these theatrical punishments, factors not entirely rooted in patriotic devotion and moral righteousness:

Many French people as well as allied troops were sickened by the treatment meted out to these women accused of collaboration horizontale with German soldiers. A large number of the victims were prostitutes who had simply plied their trade with Germans as well as Frenchmen, although in some areas it was accepted that their conduct was professional rather than political. Others were silly teenagers who had associated with German soldiers out of bravado or boredom. In a number of cases, female schoolteachers who, living alone, had German soldiers billeted on them, were falsely denounced for having been a “mattress for the boches”. Women accused of having had an abortion were also assumed to have consorted with Germans.

Many victims were young mothers, whose husbands were in German prisoner-of-war camps. During the war, they often had no means of support, and their only hope of obtaining food for themselves and their children was to accept a liaison with a German soldier. As the German writer Ernst Jünger observed from the luxury of the Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris, “food is power”.

Jealousy masqueraded as moral outrage, because people envied the food and entertainment these women had received as a result of their conduct. When Arletty, the great actor and star of the film Les Enfants du Paradis, died in 1992, she received admiring obituaries that did not mention the rumour that she had her head shaved at the liberation. These obituaries even passed over her controversial love affair with a Luftwaffe officer. But letters to some newspapers revealed a lingering bitterness nearly 50 years later. It was not the fact that Arletty had slept with the enemy which angered them, but the way she had eaten well in the Hôtel Ritz while the rest of France was hungry.

There are certainly shades of this to be found in Nerys’ condemnation of Meru, but Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night never bothers to challenge Nerys on this point. The script never allows Meru (or even Sisko) to make these observations, or to suggest that Nerys is simply too close to the issue.

“You might hear a slight ringing in your ears. Thankfully, you’ll be nowhere near them.”

In some respects, the portrayal of these “comfort women” brushes up against the restrictions imposed upon Deep Space Nine. Meru’s relationship with Dukat is an extremely sanitised version of what real comfort women endured, one that is almost romantic. Dukat is creepy and manipulative, but he is not physically abusive. Although the entire situation means that Meru’s consent is questionable at best, he seems respectful of her boundaries. The relationship between Meru and Dukat is clearly unhealthy, but Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night still keeps it tidy.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night glosses over the brutality inflicted upon women in the real-life situations that inspire stories like these. The Cardassian soldiers are generally quite restrained and polite; the only time that a Cardassian is shown to physically assault a Bajoran is as part of Dukat’s rehearsed “melodrama.” When Nerys gets paired up with a Legate, she is able to mostly keep his hands off her. The script makes it abundantly clear that Nerys gets out of the party without having to sleep with him, brushing him off with some light banter.

Pour life choices.

The implications of all this are deeply uncomfortable. Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night makes it clear that Nerys can avoid sleeping with a Cardassian, so the script seems to suggest that Meru has the same freedom of choice. It plays a little bit like victim-shaming, suggesting that Meru was not clever enough or strong enough to avoid sleeping with Dukat. More than that, the depiction of the relatively “civilised” interactions between Cardassians and Bajorans suggest that the Bajoran women actively choose to sleep with the Cardassians. The word “rape” is never mentioned.

That is not how these scenarios work in the real world. Indeed, Deep Space Nine has suggested that this is not how things worked during the Cardassian Occupation. In Duet, Kira offers a must more unsettling and uncomfortable depiction of life under Cardassian rule, acknowledging the sexual violence inflicted upon the planet by the occupying force. However, the production team working on Deep Space Nine would never actually show that violence on screen. They could barely even hint at it. As a result, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night seems sanitised.

Think of the children!

As with Change of Heart, it feels very much like the sixth season of Deep Space Nine is brushing up against the limitations of contemporary syndicated television. Certainly, later television shows would become a lot more candid about sexual violence and brutality. Once again, Ronald D. Moore’s revival of Battlestar Galactica would push further than Deep Space Nine could, with its portrayal of sexual assault in episodes like The Farm and Pegasus. Of course, as with a lot of portrayals of sexual assault, Battlestar Galactica‘s use of sexual violence is controversial.

To be fair, it could reasonably be argued that twenty-first century television has moved too far in the opposite direction with regards to the portrayal of sexual assault. Sexual assault has become something of television short hand, a defining trauma regularly inflicted upon female cast members in order to shock audiences or propel plot. However, it should be possible to strike a balance between the two extremes, to acknowledge that sexual assault exists without either trivialising it or sensationalising it.

In-console-able.

Much like Change of Heart is an episode that might have worked better had it gone into production a decade or two later, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night feels like an episode constrained by the limitations of contemporary syndicated genre programming. Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is unable to truly convey the horrors facing Nerys and Meru, and so it seems to trivialise Meru’s choices. It is an episode that reduces “comfort women” to “collaborators”, in large part because it is incapable of portraying the horrors that comfort women endure.

Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night is perhaps another argument that Deep Space Nine has pushed as far as it can against the boundaries of the larger Star Trek franchise.

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7 Responses

  1. “More than that, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night feels entire true to who Kira is as a character.” I don’t know about that. I find myself agreeing with Nana Visitor that Kira would have let Dukat die from the bomb explosion.

    This is such a troubled episode. The idea that Kira is just allowed to travel back in time to sort out family issues is just so ludicrous. Also, as you mention Dukat and Meru’s relationship seems sanitized though I think I have more of a problem with it than you do. It is very strange because at this point in the history of the show, the writers were setting to make Dukat the epitome of evil, and here they have a perfect opportunity to do so, and they botch it. Dukat, rather than coming off as creepy rapist, comes off as quite sympathetic. The way Marc Alaimo plays the scene where he erases the scar from Meru it comes off as actually kind of a sweet gesture, which it certainly should not have been. Ultimately, I think the biggest problem with this episode is that it does not really lead to any changes to Kira and her interaction with Dukat.

    • I actually quite like the scene of Dukat removing the scar, because I think that’s a great character beat. Dukat sees himself as a hero for removing the physical evidence of violence, ignoring the fact that he was complicit in the first place and that not all wounds are physical in nature. The idea that Dukat could make the Bajorans love him by removing some bruises is such a great Dukat way of thinking, quite similar to his monologue in Waltz about how he deserved credit for cutting the quotas on slave labour camps.

  2. This episode isn’t perfect by any means, I actually quite appreciate that Dukat comes across as sympathetic and that this isn’t an episode about overt sexual violence/rape. The core of this episode is about the uncertain ethics of collaboration during wartime. If the Cardassians had come across as a bunch of brutes who only rape Bajoran women, it really wouldn’t have presented much of a moral grey area. Cardassians would have been evil, Meru would have been merely a victim, Kira would have been wrong to condemn her mother, etc.

    Having the Dukat-Meru relationship seem not entirely unhealthy complicates that. It gives Meru agency as a character. She chose to collaborate (and many people in wartime do choose to collaborate). That said, it’s clear to any viewer that this isn’t a relationship based on true love or that Meru really had a choice. Dukat is still manipulating her, and when Meru cries upon receiving the message from her husband it’s clear that she still suffers. I don’t think anybody watching the Dukat-Meru relationship would call it happy or even healthy just because Dukat doesn’t physically abuse her.

    Finally, giving Meru just a bit of agency makes Kira’s choice that much harder. No, Meru didn’t “choose” to live with Dukat because it was ideal lifestyle, but she did make a decision to collaborate instead of resist to the end. To what extent can we condemn her for that? It would be easy to absolve Meru because of the context, but are we so forgiving of other collaborators? Of Poles who informed on Jews in order to get more rations? Of white Southerners who didn’t speak out against slavery or Jim Crow because they feared reprisal? I think the point of the episode is to get us to start asking those sorts of questions rather than to simply condemn sexual violence.

    • I agree with most of what you said. I just find it puzzling that the writers who were hell bent on making Dukat pure evil at this point in the show’s run made him seem strangely sympathetic in this episode. His relationship with his mistress in Covenant makes much more sense in the context of where the writers wanted to take his character.

      • I agree with that, but because I always preferred the morally grey Dukat over evil!Dukat I didn’t mind the fact that this episode doesn’t quite fit the character’s arc. I always saw this as one last treat for fans of Dukat before the character crashed and burned. I was mostly responding to Darren’s concern that this episode sanitizes the image of comfort women.

      • Oh, I definitely prefer the believes-he’s-a-good-person Dukat to the cackling supervillain of later seasons. Although I’d have been happy if Waltz had been his last appearance, because I didn’t mind that being the last beat you play with him.

    • I don’t know, though.

      I think that it would be impossible for a woman in Meru’s position to avoid at least the appearance of complicity, given social standards and political realities in these situations. I think that framing the episode in such a way that bought unquestioningly into that complicity was a mistake. (One Meru was picked, she was going to be sleeping with a Cardassian. Suggesting that she could have avoided it if she tried hard enough, like Kira, is a gross over-simplification that borders on victim-blaming.) But I suspect it might be different strokes for different folks.

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