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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tears of the Prophets (Review)

Tears of the Prophets has a number of very good ideas.

The character arc driving the episode is very good, particularly in the context of a finale leading into the final season of the show. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has always been a show more interested in character arcs and long-form storytelling than the other Star Trek shows, so “Benjamin Sisko experiences a loss so great that he resigns his commission” is an organic story beat. It feels like a story that the writers on this show can tell, and a story that fits very comfortably within the grand mythic framework that the writers are trying to construct.

All fired up.

Deep Space Nine has earned a lot of goodwill in this regard, demonstrating a willingness to let stories play out over extended periods and to follow stories through to their natural conclusion. Sisko leaving the station at the end of Tears of the Prophets is not the same as Picard being assimilated at the end of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I or Worf leaving the Enterprise at the end of Redemption, Part I. Any savvy audience member knows that Sisko will return to his post, probably sooner rather than later, but they also trust the show to treat it as more than just a striking cliffhanger.

Unfortunately, Tears of the Prophets is compromised by a number of very poor ideas. Some of those ideas did not originate with the writing staff, their hands forced by outside factors. Ira Steven Behr’s original plans for Tears of the Prophets did not include the death of Jadzia Dax, but the writers had to incorporate that plot element rather late in the cycle. Of course, this does not excuse some of the poor decisions made in how the writers chose to handle that unforeseen plot element, although that was also a result of a number of outside factors.

So Jad to zia you.

However, Tears of the Prophets also leans into some of the more frustrating creative decisions of the sixth season as a whole. The script doubles down on some of the least satisfying elements of Deep Space Nine‘s long-form storytelling, even combining several of these frustrating beats into a central narrative strand of the season finale. Tears of the Prophets combines the generic cartoon villainy of Gul Dukat as suggested at the climax of Waltz and the teaser to Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night with the stock mysticism of the Pah-Wraiths from The Reckoning for a heady ill-judged cocktail.

The result is a somewhat uneven episode, a story with a very strong central character arc that plays to the strengths of the show, but with several supporting elements that indulge the series’ worst impulses.

Funeral for a friend.

The writers working on the sixth season did not realise that Terry Farrell was leaving until quite late in the production process. The bulk of the cast were in the process of renegotiating their contracts for the final season, and the prevailing attitude was that Farrell’s reluctance to sign was a negotiating position. Ronald D. Moore acknowledged as much in hindsight:

There were a few scares about Patrick leaving at certain points, weren’t there?

We heard that almost every year, and we always sort of wrote it off as a contract thing. We never took it seriously. To our detriment, ultimately, because when Terry Farrell said she was leaving we didn’t take it seriously either! “Oh, they all say that. They all come back.”

But not that time…

Not that time.

To be fair, this is par for the course in television production. Actors sign contracts at the start of a show’s run, usually at competitive rates. However, if the show is successful enough to last past the length of that initial contract, the actor then enjoys substantial leverage. Playing an established character on a successful show allows an actor to set their own terms at renegotiation time; David Duchovny would take advantage of this on The X-Files.

Don’t Damar his name.

The bulk of the cast’s contracts were being renegotiated at the same time. Most of the actors had been signed for six seasons from the outset of the show, and the studio had decided to extend the run to seven seasons, to match the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This very much codified the expected length of a Berman era spin-off. Star Trek: Voyager would also run seven seasons. Star Trek: Enterprise would be deemed a failure because it was cancelled after only four seasons, in spite of the casts’ hopes.

As such, the sixth season was never intended to culminate in the death of Jadzia Dax. The writers would likely have made a number of very different storytelling decisions had they known that Terry Farrell would be leaving the series. Ronald D. Moore has insisted that they never would have married Dax and Worf in You Are Cordially Invited…, while it seems likely that the producers might have gone a different direction with Change of Heart. Tellingly, late season episodes like Valiant or The Sound of Her Voice tend to write around Dax rather than for her, relegating her to small roles.

Dying to leave the show.

To be fair, Farrell’s departure was not was driven by financial concerns. In interviews, Farrell has consistently and repeatedly cited the demanding work schedule as an issue, arguing that she would have been willing to accept a “demotion” from the lead cast to the recurring ensemble:

“I knew they wouldn’t say you don’t have to show up until 9 a.m. – although that would’ve been delicious, no more 4 a.m. wakeups,” she said. “However, I did suggest in the wake of that I could be recurring… not be in every episode. Rick wouldn’t have any of that. It was basically, ‘Here’s the offer. If you want it, sign it. If you don’t, it’s really been nice working with you.’ I went with ‘It’s really been nice working with you’ – I added that because it really sounds nicer. I don’t think Rick was thinking that at all. That was unfortunate.”

Farrell continued: “After Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager) and I were on the cover of TV Guide, I got a call to come in and audition for a Jerry Seinfeld show. I couldn’t even go in and audition for it because Rick wouldn’t let me out for the week. It’s a week! It’s five days! How many people are on DS9? There’s a lot. I could be in 10 episodes and could still do voiceovers on comp. The truth is there’s many episodes where all of us had very little to do because other people were starring in them, including recurring guest-stars like (Andrew J.Robinson, who played Garak) who should’ve just been a regular. With that combined, knowing that other actors – and no harm to them; it’s great that they got the deal where they could go out and do stuff – but knowing that was possible, it wasn’t being made possible for me. I was only asking for five days, not five weeks.”

Farrell’s argument is reasonable on a number of levels. Weekly television places a phenomenal pressure upon an actor. Actors tend to start early and finish late, always required to give their all, even at the point of exhaustion. On Star Trek, these demands even include prosthetics and costuming.

Baby not-on-board-yet.

Once again, the sixth season of Deep Space Nine brushes up against the limitations of late nineties genre television. Producing twenty-six episodes of television involves a lot of work on the part of the production team, leaving little margin for error and little free time. The modern trend towards ten- or thirteen-episode seasons is a lot more practical, particularly given the abundance of other television shows on the air. Farrell would probably have been willing to commit to a shorter season. After all, these shorter seasons are part of what attracts top talent to modern television.

More than that, modern television increasingly blurs the line between regular and recurring cast members. For example, despite being credited as a guest star, John Slattery appeared in more episodes of the first two seasons of Mad Men than series regular Vincent Kartheiser. Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the biggest divide between a regular cast member and a recurring player is purely economic, with modern television slashing the salaries of even prominent guest stars.

Who Prophets?

In some respects, Deep Space Nine was already made some small steps towards this model. Cirroc Lofton had been a creditted regular since Emissary, but appeared in less than half of the series’ episodes. Morn appeared in significantly more episodes of Deep Space Nine. The series had a deep enough bench of recurring players that the writers could easily write around the availability of a regular player. The Search, Part I introduced Michael Eddington as a potential stand-in for Chief O’Brien, to compensate for any demands on Colm Meaney’s schedule.

This supporting cast was robust enough that entire episodes could sideline the majority of the credited regulars. Soldiers of the Empire took place primarily on General Martok’s ship, with a mostly Klingon cast. The Magnificent Ferengi could draw together a collection of Ferengi guest stars for a wacky adventure with Iggy Pop. Honour Among Thieves could focus on O’Brien working undercover, relegating the bulk of the primary cast to a quick appearance after the opening credits. Even Valiant hinged on Jake and Nog, neither appearing in the majority of Deep Space Nine episodes.

A solid platform to build upon.

However, as with a lot of the sixth season, it feels like Deep Space Nine was constrained by the restrictions imposed on contemporary television. After all, even those episodes that sidelined the primary cast tended to feature at least token appearances from the majority, whether Dax repairing the replicator at the start of Valiant or the crew worrying O’Brien in Honour Among Thieves. While the production team had understood that Cirroc Lofton would be a recurring character when he was cast, Colm Meaney was only allowed to sneak away from an episode or two at a time.

As such, it seems unlikely that Deep Space Nine would have been able to support demoting Jadzia Dax to a recurring character in the same way that a modern television series would simply sideline an actor asking for more personal time. Even if it were possible, it seems highly unlikely that the senior producers would have allowed it. Wil Wheaton has talked quite a bit about the difficulty of trying to negotiate such compromises with producer Rick Berman, and how difficult he made life for his cast members. (And how he punished those who wanted to leave.)

Sometimes working on Star Trek was not a Paldor Joy.

Berman could have a very tenuous relationship with the actors (and the writers) working on the franchise. In The Fifty-Year Mission, Farrell singles out her relationship with Berman as a key factor in her decision to leave the show:

The problems with my leaving were with Rick Berman. In my opinion, he’s just very misogynistic. He’d comment on your bra size not being voluptuous. His secretary had a 36C or something like that, and he would say, “Well, you’re just, like, flat. Look at Christine over there. She has the perfect breasts right there.” That’s the kind of conversation he would have in front of you. I had to have fittings for Dax to have larger breasts. I think it was double-D or something. I went to see a woman who fits bras for women who need mastectomies; I had to have that fitting. And then I had to go into his office. Michael Piller didn’t care about those things, so he wasn’t there when you were having all of these crazy fittings with Rick Berman criticizing your hair or how big your breasts were or weren’t. That stuff was so intense, especially the first couple of years. 

I started modeling when I was seventeen, so I was used to comments like that, but it was a different experience for me to be around normal, respectful people. And then he’s my boss.

Farrell’s account of the dynamic is consistent with other accounts of Berman’s managerial style, his tendency to undermine and undercut those who work underneath him. Bryan Fuller would note a similar dynamic when Ronald D. Moore (briefly) joined Brannon Braga on Voyager.

Not somebody that you want to Ross.

Of course, Farrell’s account also underscores the casual sexism at the Star Trek offices. While Seven of Nine was a compelling character, and Jeri Ryan was a phenomenal performer, the choices made involving that character were shocking tone-deaf. Ryan would talk about how the production team had to change her costume repeatedly in that first year; at one point, the outfit was cutting off blood flow and the production team had to keep nurses on stand-by for when she felt faint. For a franchise aspiring to a more optimistic and utopian future, these stories are disappointing.

To be fair, Farrell does not seem to bare any ill will towards her history with the Star Trek franchise. She does not appear to resent her time on Deep Space Nine. Farrell enjoyed a prominent role on Becker for years following her departure, sharing the screen with sitcom legend Ted Danson. She still attends conventions, and still talks fondly of her time on the series. She is one of the few regular cast members to be actively participating in Ira Steven Behr’s Deep Space Nine documentary.

Oh, your gods…

This makes sense. The writers working on the day-to-day running of Deep Space Nine were reportedly taken aback when they discovered what was happening. As Ira Steven Behr explains in The Fifty-Year Mission:

Let’s put it this way: if I had known what was going on, I would have stopped it. There is no doubt in my mind, because that opened a whole can of worms, and I learned more than I wanted to know what was happening under my nose and behind my back of things that were going on. I would have walked over to the Cooper Building and in one conversation I would have stopped that from happening, but everyone chose not to tell me for various reasons. Including, as I found out, to protect me from having to get in someone’s face and what that would mean for my position and stuff like that. And I said that was all ridiculous.

It should be noted that the production team were careful to do right by Farrell. Once it became clear that Farrell would not be sticking around, the writers made an effort to downplay the character’s role and afford Farrell time to audition for other shows. This is why she barely features in The Sound of Her Voice.

Having faith in each other.

However, Farrell’s departure meant that the production team had to figure out what to do with Dax. Terry Farrell was not the first series lead to depart a show in the middle of the run. In fact, Enterprise would be notable as the only Star Trek spin-off to finish its run with the entirety of its primary cast intact, although it might have had something of a handicap. Denise Crosby, Gates McFadden, Diana Muldaur and Wil Wheaton had all left The Next Generation. Jennifer Lien had been booted from Voyager to make room for Seven of Nine.

There are various ways of writing a character out of a show. The Next Generation was generally rather professional in how it handled these departures; Tasha Yar died suddenly in Skin of Evil, but the rest of the departures were all framed as work transfers. Beverly Crusher went to Starfleet Medical and them came back. Katherine Pulaski was there for Shades of Grey and gone in Evolution without anyone batting an eye. Wesley Crusher finally left to attend Starfleet Academy in Final Mission. There was some sense of professional mobility on the Enterprise.

The Martok to war…

However, it would be a lot harder to justify transferring Dax. As Ronald D. Moore argued, the complex interpersonal dynamics involving the character made it harder to just send her away:

Transferring Dax would’ve meant transferring Worf as well, and we weren’t going to do that.  It also would’ve meant that everyone would be waiting for a Dax guest shot all year and our characters would’ve been talking about her all season (especially Sisko, who would’ve presumably kept touch with the Old Man wherever s/he was). We didn’t want Terry to go, but once she made the decision, we felt it was in the best interests of the show to kill Jadzia and start next season with a new regular who would be the next incarnation of Dax.

Moore has something of a point here. It would be very hard to explain what Worf was still doing on Deep Space Nine, or why the characters weren’t constantly talking about Dax.

Sing when you’re winning.

Writing a character with so many ties out of the show is a risky proposition. The ninth season of The X-Files had tried to write around the absence of David Duchovny by sending Mulder on the run. However, this decision hobbled the show, creating an absent centre. The audience was always wondering where Mulder was at any given moment, and why he would suddenly abandon Scully. Attempts to include Mulder without including Duchovny were embarrassing, to the point that Duchovny’s stunt butt appeared in the ninth season premier before any of the credited leads.

It is easy to imagine a similar issue writing around the absence of Jadzia Dax. What could the writers do? Transfer her to another post, perhaps as a way to prevent a repeat of Change of Heart? That would likely mean that Sisko and Worf would be constantly talking about off-screen communication with the character. Have her sent behind enemy lines or captured by the Dominion? The audience would wonder why Sisko and Worf weren’t doing everything in their power to bring her home safely every episode.

Bashful Bashir.

More than that, the death of Jadzia created its own storytelling opportunities. One of the big issues with Jadzia as a character was that she arrived on the station fully formed. All the other characters on Deep Space Nine have very clear character arcs, growing and evolving over time. Sisko learns to find purpose and faith in this second-tier assignment. Bashir learns to mellow out. Kira learns to embrace the Federation. Odo learns the difference between justice and order.

However, Jadzia was always comfortable in her own skin. As a result, many of the stories about Jadzia tended to treat the symbiont as a plot point, a vehicle to tell stories that didn’t afford Dax a lot of agency herself; Dax, Invasive Procedures, Blood Oath. Killing off the character of Jadzia raised the question of what would happen to Dax. Quite pointedly, even before the writers knew what they were going to do with the symbiont, they make a point to have Bashir assure the audience that the symbiont is alive. A new host opens up new storytelling opportunities.

Romulus wasn’t built in a day…

Of course, the writers had never planned to kill off Jadzia in the season finale. Over the course of the sixth season, the writers had been getting better at seeding storylines and setting up pay-off. After all, several key sixth season episodes were designed to set up plot and character beats that would pay off in What You Leave Behind, most notably Sisko’s deal with the Prophets in Sacrifice of Angels and Odo’s relationship with Kira in His Way. Even The Reckoning neatly set up the big Pah-Wraith climax in Tears of the Prophets.

However, Terry Farrell’s departure had blindsided the production team. There was no proper opportunity to set up or foreshadow her departure, barring some ominous framing during O’Brien’s eulogy for Lisa Cusak in The Sound of Her Voice and some mean-spirited teasing of a future that could never be in Time’s Orphan. There was a sense that the sixth season finale would have to be about the death of Jadzia Dax, on top of all the other things that the production team had planned for it to be about. There was not avoiding this fact.

“Sorry, I came straight here from the David Cronenberg festival.”

Ira Steven Behr acknowledged some minor frustration in Action!, discussing how this external factor essentially warped the structure of the planned finale:

“I didn’t want to kill Jadzia,” says Deep Space Nine’s Executive Producer Ira Steven Behr. “To me that has very little to do with good storytelling.” It’s not, he explains, a matter as clear-cut as giving a character like Hamlet a good death in his one play. “It’s like Hamlet’s been in one hundred fifty plays,” says Behr. “This is the final play. And you have all this baggage that you don’t need to have. It can’t be ‘What’s good for the character.’ It’s ‘What’s good for the character in terms of the character’s position on the show, her position with the fans, what the fans want to see.’ None of that has to do with what makes a good episode.”

Behr is correct in this. The death of Jadzia Dax becomes a centre of gravity, warping the episode around it.

“You have been, and always shall be, my friend.”

So, knowing that Terry Farrell was leaving and having decided to kill Jadzia Dax, the big question remained about how to do the deed. In some respects, the challenge facing the writers going into Tears of the Prophets reflects one of the weaknesses of long-form serialisation on a television show. When events are mapped out far in advance, it can be very difficult to compensate for unforeseeable (but entirely reasonable) events like the departure of a key cast member who opted not to renew their contract.

J. Michael Straczynski faced this issue a number of times on Babylon 5, a show with a much tighter long-form story than Deep Space Nine. Straczynski famously mapped out the entire run of the series, plotting it as a “novel for television.” However, Straczynski was also cognisant of the fact that there were outside factors at play. Specifically citing the risks involved with hiring actors, he assured fans that he had cannily built “trap doors” into the plot to compensate for any unscheduled departures. Still, Straczynski was caught off guard by some key casting shifts.

Who says romance is dead?

The writers had been planning Tears of the Prophets for quite some time, planning to use the episode to set up the final season. In particular, they had decided that the episode would be a Sisko-centric story in which Dukat would find a way to close the wormhole and give the show’s protagonist a crisis of faith. In the face of Terry Farrell’s departure, the writers had to make a choice. They could either abandon these plans and build a new finale around Dax, or they could try to fold the death of Dax into the existing narrative framework.

For reasons that are entirely understandable, the production team chose not to abandon their preexisting plans. The death of Jadzia Dax would not be the primary focus of Tears of the Prophets. Instead, it would be incorporated into the tragic fall of Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko. This was a risky proposition, particularly given that the structuring of the episode could make it look like “fridging”, as though a major female character were being killed off to further the arc of the male characters around her.

“Burn with me.”

(Of course, these criticisms can be easily dismissed. “Fridging” implies that the writers chose to kill off the female character in a casual and off-hand manner to raise the stakes for the male protagonist. However, the writers working on Tears of the Prophets made no such choice. More than that, Terry Farrell’s departure meant that there was little practical purpose in making her death about Dax. However, exploring the emotional impact of her death on the characters who were sticking around made for better drama. From a dramatic perspective, it was the pragmatic thing to do.)

Still, the writers knew from early on that Tears of the Prophets would not really be about Jadzia. However, this creates an interesting conflict within the episode, as though the writers are caught between two extremes. On the one hand, the writers clearly want to portray Jadzia’s death as just something that happens, something that is intentionally meaningless and arbitrary, underscoring the chaotic nature of the universe at large. On the other hand, they also want to ensure that the death is both memorable and respectful.

“Ezri won’t hold a candle to me.”

There are obvious reasons why the creative team would want the death to be heroic. Jadzia Dax was a good character, and the writers had worked well with Terry Farrell. More than that, Jadzia meant a lot of things to a lot of people. Although he had taken a largely passive role in the show’s production since Life Support, Action! quotes a memo from series creator Michael Piller pushing for a more conventional death sequence:

“I beg you to consider the following, and I’ve never been as sure of anything in my life. Let Dax live a little longer. Keep your audience interested in her survival, rather than losing the tension by having her die in the fourth act. The battle raging and the Orbs failing will not have nearly as much audience interest as Dax’s survival. You don’t have to do any dialogue with her, although a couple of words may be touching.”

Although Piller had left Voyager under very unpleasant circumstances, he was still held in relatively high esteem by the writers on Deep Space Nine. More to the point, Piller was making a reasonable observation. There were a lot of fans out there who would want the death of Jadzia Dax to be meaningful and to receive all the dramatic weight afforded to that of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Dukat lightens the mood.

There are certain points in the episode where it is very clear that the writers want the death of Jadzia to mean something. This is most obvious during her scene at the bar, in which she announces her plans for the future. “We’re thinking about having a baby,” she declares. While it builds organically off the subplot in Time’s Orphan, it still feels like a very cynical development. It feels like a transparent effort to leverage the audience’s sympathies for a doomed character. In fact, Jadzia’s last words are, “Our baby would have been so beautiful.”

Indeed, this baby subplot winds up getting Jadzia killed. When the initial test results are positive, Jadzia decides to visit the Bajoran shrine to pay homage to the Prophets. This is obviously designed to play as dramatic irony. After all, Jadzia is one of the more staunchly atheist members of the primary cast, as demonstrated by her attitude in The Reckoning. Even in prayer in Tears of the Prophets, she concedes, “To be perfectly honest, I feel more comfortable thinking of you as wormhole aliens.” So to have her brutally murdered while visiting a religious shrine is a very cruel twist.

Losing one’s wife.

However, it makes the whole thing seem like a dramatic contrivance. It seems strange that Jadzia should decide to have a child, right before she is killed off. It seems strange that Jadzia should visit the Bajoran shrine, right before she is killed off. It seems strange that Jadzia should be one of few primary cast members left on Deep Space Nine during the invasion of Chin’toka, right before she is killed off. The writers’ hands are very visible in the convergence of circumstances that lead to Jadzia’s death at the hands of Dukat.

To be fair, Ronald D. Moore has argued that Jadzia remained on the station because of the decision made at the end of Change of Heart that she should no longer be assigned to missions with Worf. This makes a certain amount of sense, and also conveniently explains her absence from the Defiant in The Sound of Her Voice or Valiant. Still, this seems somewhat impractical for two senior staff members working on the same outpost. Surely this is not an issue in cases where both Worf and Dax would be working under Sisko’s command, rather than autonomously?

Sisko chews it over.

Even allowing for this, there is something conspicuous in how careful Tears of the Prophet is to show the scene of Sisko leaving Dax in charge of the station. “Will you look in on Keiko and the kids while I’m gone?” O’Brien asks, which raises the question of exactly how long the mission is expected to last. The schedule seems pretty tight. More to the point, Sisko even advises her, “It’s your station, old man.” She responds, “I’ll take good care of her.” It is a sequence that very conspicuously makes a big deal of the fact that Dax is being left (mostly) alone on the station.

All of this rather blatant foreshadowing undercuts the supposedly random and arbitrary nature of the character’s demise. After all, Dax is ambushed by Dukat on the station at a point in time when Sisko is leading a dangerous invasion of Cardassian space. There is an interesting reversal of expectations there, one somewhat undercut by the awkwardness with which the series manoeuvres Dax into position. Similarly, Dukat’s murder of Dax is clearly intended to be casual. It is not his goal or motivation, she just got in the way. But that is undercut by the attention that the episode pays to her.

Klingon to life.

In The Fifty-Year Mission, Ronald D. Moore lays out his argument for playing up the brutality and shock of Jadzia’s death:

I fought pretty hard to not have Dax die the way she did. I wanted to lose the character in a way that was a gut punch. I wanted Dukat to execute her, but instead he beams into that place to get the Ark of the Orb, and she surprises him or something and gets the drop on him. But the idea in the original was that she somehow stumbled across it, or was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Dukat got her. He just f%$king executes her. And it was brutal, and it was supposed to be shocking. It was supposed to really hit you, and Rick Berman adamantly refused. He just would not let us do it. “She’s got to fire a shot, and she has to die shooting at him. She has to die in a heroic way.” And I was just, like, “Come on.” I don’t think it works the way it is. It’s flat.

Moore makes a pretty solid argument, even if he fudges some of the details when describing the version that made it screen.

“What’s this? It’s my character ark.”

The version of Dax’s death in Tears of the Prophets plays very much like a false compromise between these two extremes, between the “worthy, heroic” death sought by Piller and Berman and the “arbitrary, meaningless” death proposed by Moore and Behr. So Jadzia gets to draw her phaser on Dukat, but she does not get to fire. Dukat kills Jadzia like she means nothing to him, serving as a distraction in his pursuit of the Orb, but he also pauses over her dead body, gently assuring her, “I know this is small comfort, but I never intended you any harm.”

This sense of compromise is perhaps most apparent in the decision to keep Jadzia alive just long enough for Worf to say goodbye. The scene is very awkwardly balancing on a razor edge. On the one hand, it is a compassionate gesture to both Worf and to the fans, allowing one last glimpse of Terry Farrell before consigning the character to a torpedo. However, it is somewhat undercut by having her last line concern the baby that was barely set up in Times Orphan and only really discussed at the start of Tears of the Prophets.

Meanwhile, on Cardassia…

However, the episode also attempts to have it both ways. The scene awkwardly avoids giving her a final conversation with Sisko, while allowing her a brief exchange with Worf. Sisko lurks in the background of a scene that is already in progress when the audience joins it. There is certainly a slim possibility that Sisko got to say something to Jadzia before Worf spoke to her, but it seems unlikely. More than that, suggesting an off-screen exchange with Sisko would undercut the emotive effectiveness of his monologue over her coffin.

The result is a sequence that feels muddled, the result of countless different creative voices struggling to reach a compromise that satisfies nobody. The sequence suggests that there is some small measure of compassion in the universe, affording the audience one last chance to spend time with Dax and preventing her final word from being “Dukat!”, but it is slotted awkwardly into what is clearly intended to be a much more sombre piece of television. The result is a scene that plays like television cliché, but without any of the benefits that usually accrue from clichés.

Dukat took the red eye…

In The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, the writing staff acknowledge that the scene was the result of compromise:

The decision to add a final scene for Jadzia, allowing her to live long enough to say goodbye to Worf, was an important one. Beimler admits that he was a little worried about it. “I was afraid that we wouldn’t do it justice,” he says.

And Behr was on the fence. “There was never a total consensus among the writers,” he says, “but one of René Echevarria’s reasons for existence is because he tends to speak to the softer, gentler side of our natures, and he felt he needed to see her die.”

Indeed, Action! explores some of the logistical difficulties posed by the relatively late addition of the scene to the script.

“This cocktail is made from Klingon tears.”

While all of these missteps are entirely understandable, the result of countless compromises between two radically opposed approaches to the demise of a regular character, they still weaken the episode as a whole. Tears of the Prophets might not have been conceived as an episode about the death of Jadzia Dax, but it has to be about the death of Jadzia Dax. Its refusal to commit to a cohesive and consistent approach to the character’s departure undercuts the episode, and it never quite recovers.

These problems are compounded by some unforced errors, particularly the decision to anchor Gul Dukat to the Pah-Wraiths. Once again, it feels like the writers are looking towards the end of the series. On a purely thematic level, it makes sense for Dukat to position himself as “the Emissary of the Pah-Wraiths” to lend some symmetry to his inevitably throwdown with Sisko in What You Leave Behind. More pragmatically, heading into the final season, it made sense to combine the show’s various plot threads, streamlining the longform narrative.

Dukat speaks from the heart.

However, there are a number of major problems with this. The sixth season of Deep Space Nine was an impressive season of television in any number of ways, but it made a number of key missteps. Most obviously, it somewhat undercut the character of Gul Dukat. Dukat had been a recurring presence dating back to Emissary, and became one of the most fleshed out antagonists in the history of the franchise. Midway through the sixth season, Waltz stripped Dukat of any delusion and exposed him for what he had always been; a monster.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with Waltz. It makes a valid argument about Dukat, and very strongly rules out any redemptive reading of his character. However, the problem with this creative decision was that it left very few avenues open to the production team. There was really nowhere that Dukat could go from that episode. His twisted soul had been exposed to the universe, and he had explicitly acknowledged the monstrous impulses that he had kept buried for so long. Waltz would have been a fantastic swansong for the character.

“For some reason, Captain Sisko hasn’t found much occasion to speak to me lately.”

Unfortunately, Dukat remained a fixture for the next season and a half, which meant that the writers were stuck writing a character who was well aware that he was the villain of the narrative. That might be intriguing in certain circumstances, but it strips away a lot of what made Dukat so compelling. Dukat suddenly became a two-dimensional baddie, cold-calling Kira in the early morning to politely inform her that he had totally slept with her mother. Here, Dukat embarks upon a convoluted and complicated plan to get back at Sisko.

While Marc Alaimo is having great fun with the role, the dialogue feels like it was written for a comic book supervillain. “I’m a new man,” he assures Damar and Weyoun. “I no longer have a need for conquest or power. I’m far beyond all that. I exist in a state of complete clarity. A clarity I intend to share with the universe.” That is not something that healthy characters say. As Weyoun notes, “You’ve gone from being a self important egotist to a self deluded madman. I hardly call that an improvement.” He’s right. Dukat has been diminished.

False prophets.

Tears of the Prophets tries to compensate by doubling down. It pairs Dukat with the Pah-Wraiths, the demonic entities introduced in The Assignment and properly mythologised in The Reckoning. The Pah-Wraiths are one of the most disappointing additions to the mythology of Deep Space Nine, one that undercuts the ambiguity of the Prophets suggested by episodes like Emissary, Prophet Motive and Sacrifice of Angels. The Pah-Wraiths turn the cosmology of Deep Space Nine into a more generic (and more Christian) good-against-evil dynamic.

It is a creative decision that undercuts a lot of what is so compelling and so effective about Deep Space Nine. Although Deep Space Nine has always had a very strong moral compass, but it has also been more willing to acknowledge that individuals are not purely good or purely evil. Episodes like Defiant suggested that even a mass murderer like Dukat was capable of loving his children, while episodes like In the Pale Moonlight suggested that even Sisko would be willing to compromise his morality for the right price.

A bridge too far…

The Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths undercut that, by reducing the universe to a black-and-white (or red-and-blue) morality. While the show had always suggested that characters could be mostly good or mostly evil, the Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths solidify this morality into absolutes. They become self-affirming. The Prophets are good, for no reason beyond the fact that they are the Prophets and in spite of their willingness to stand by and let Bajor suffer the Occupation. The Pah-Wraiths are bad, for no reason beyond the fact they are the Pah-Wraiths.

Combining Dukat and Pah-Wraiths brings out the worst aspects in both story threads. Wedding the Pah-Wraiths to Dukat affirms his status this monolithic “big bad”, the dragon waiting at the end of the story to be slain by Sisko, rather than existing as a character with his own distinct personality and agency. Wedding Dukat to the Pah-Wraiths affirms their importance to the narrative, asserting that these relatively late additions to the mythos are important by anchoring them to a character who has been around since the very first episode.

The Pah-Wrath of Khan.

To be fair, there are parts of Tears of the Prophets that work very well. As a season finale, the episode does an excellent job checking in on the various characters and fleshing out the status quo. There are a number of guest stars who have been absent for extended periods. Tears of the Prophets marks the first appearance of Garak since In the Pale Moonlight, which makes a certain amount of sense; Sisko seems unlikely to have been wanting for his company. It also marks the first appearance of Martok since You Are Cordially Invited…

Indeed, Tears of the Prophets marks the perfect opportunity to check back in on the larger war arc. Although the Romulans were mentioned in passing during the briefing at the start of The Reckoning, this is the first time that they have appeared in an episode since joining the war effort in In the Pale Moonlight. Although suitably smug, Letant ultimately joins the ranks of “one-shot Romulan guest stars” like T’Rul from The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II. Even when the seventh season lands a recurring Romulan character, she is played by two different actors.

“Yep. Still rockin’ shoulder pads.”

Reinforcing the sense that Tears of the Prophets is effectively “checking back in” on the serialised Dominion War plot after an extended breather, this marks the first appearances of Jeffrey Combs and Casey Biggs as the real Weyoun and Damar since Statistical Probabilities. Various holographic and hallucinatory iterations of the characters have appeared in episodes like WaltzFar Beyond the Stars, Inquisition and In the Pale Moonlight, but this is the first time that the flesh-and-blood characters have appeared in over half a season.

Although Damar and Weyoun are largely passive in terms of plot, whether providing the audience with exposition or Dukat with a plot device, the pair play very well off one another. In particular, the two actors do a lot of great work during their scenes with Dukat. When Dukat appears, Jeffrey Combs plays Weyoun as borderline contemptuous, no longer bound to the displays of courtesy that he afford Dukat as leader of Cardassia. In contrast, Biggs plays Damar as genuinely conflicted. He is clearly in awe of Dukat, and genuinely concerned about his psychosis.

Admiring his handiwork.

The scenes between Weyoun and Damar in episodes like Statistical Probabilities, In the Pale Moonlight or Tears of the Prophets arguably set up more seventh season interactions between the pair.  Casey Biggs and Jeffrey Combs acknowledge as much in The Fifty-Year Mission:

How brilliant Ira Behr was: he got a stable of writers who were all anarchists and he loved the concept of repertoire-ing. Jeff and I were never regulars, but we were as intrinsically important to that storyline as the regulars were.

There were swathes of episodes where the series regulars were home by the pool.

It was, like, our show.

And that’s unheard of. If they hadn’t been busy with Voyager and launching another Next Generation movie, if their energies hadn’t been out there, they probably would have said, “No, no, no, you can’t do that. We have series regulars, you have to use them.” But Ira was a magician.

The writers really liked Jeffrey, and when they killed him off, they said, “Well, sh!t, let’s replicate him. Clone him!”

That idea started as a problem solve. “Well, sh!t, we killed that character. Why did we do that?” And then they saw the dailies, and then someone said, “We can clone him,” and it became a recurring joke.

They finally gave Damar a sense of humour, which was great. They knew they needed a foil for Dukat and they saw how Jeffrey and I worked together and built on that.

They really were shooting from the hip a lot of the time. They had a sort of a plan of storylines, but then a lot of the time they would watch dailies and get ideas from what we were bringing to it. And the next episode we could have these two guys do something else.

The tension between our characters was great. They’d stick us in the room, and he and I are like in a f%$king candy store together when we’re playing, and it just works. They liked the way I looked sitting in Quark’s bar, and I became a drunk for two years after that. But that’s why those writers were so good. Speaking of that, because as a recurring role you don’t know how many episodes they have in mind for you, I got a show on Broadway. Ira said, “What are you doing? We’ve got you scheduled for twelve more episodes.” I said, “You didn’t tell me that!” You know what they did? They flew me back on my day off and kept our storyline going.

These details illustrate that Deep Space Nine might easily have been able to rotate Terry Farrell into the broader ensemble, if the framework were there in nineties television. The willingness to treat recurring guest stars like cast members, to check in on them as part of “event” episodes and just because, really sets Deep Space Nine apart.

Oh dear, Odo.

Indeed, Tears of the Prophets makes a point to check in on the bulk of the primary cast. Even the cast members who exist outside the focus of the primary plot receive important character beats. Tears of the Prophets even finds time for a nice romantic interlude between Kira and Odo, with the two characters experiencing their first argument. It is a nice structural parallel to Call to Arms, which featured another cute little thread between the pair. There is something very genuine and affecting in the way that Tears of the Prophets finds time for these little beats.

To be fair, not all of these beats are ideal. There is a weird little subplot focusing on Bashir and Quark, in which the pair react with depression to the news that Jadzia is planning to have a baby with Worf. “A baby,” Bashir reflects. “Do you have any idea what that means?” Quark acknowledges, “That their marriage is going to last a lot longer than we thought.” In other words, Bashir and Quark have both been secretly pining for Jadzia for years, a detail that the writers had introduced into subplots in Change of Heart and Valiant.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure at least one of us will end up with a consolation prize.”

Ronald D. Moore argued that the writers were very fond of this plot beat, tying thematically into Terry Farrell’s departure:

We loved the Vic scene and its associated storyline of Quark and Bashir trying to get over the loss of Dax. Bashir and Quark begin the episode by mourning their own loss of the character and trying to come to grips with the finality of that loss which in turn perfectly foreshadowed the actual death of Dax herself at the end.

Structurally, Moore has a very reasonable point. However, the subplot still feels ill-judged.

Tabling the debate for later.

Not only does the plot fall back on the tired suggestion that male and female characters cannot be platonic friends without some underlying romantic or sexual attraction, it also feels very crass and tasteless. Deep Space Nine is less optimistic about the human condition than the other Star Trek shows, but there is something vaguely disappointing in the idea that Bashir’s immediate reaction to Jadzia’s plans to have a baby is sadness rather than enthusiasm on her behalf. This is particularly disappointing given that Bashir is perhaps the show’s most idealistic character.

However, there is also something unsatisfactory in the implied connection between Bashir and Quark mourning their “loss” of the chance of a romantic relationship with Dax to the actual material loss of Dax. Bashir and Quark are holding a preemptive wake for their romanticised fantasy of Dax, which feels somewhat distasteful in the context of an episode that builds to the climax of Benjamin Sisko painfully monologuing over the corpse of his best friend. Still, the subplot featuring Bashir and Quark is something of an outlier in the episode’s quick run-through of the cast.

Prophets and Loss…

As a story about Sisko, it is a fairly compelling season finale. Deep Space Nine always adopted a more “epic” approach to storytelling than The Next Generation and Voyager, and the events of Tears of the Prophets feel like an organic part of his character arc. It is a moment of doubt, a reversal in both the character’s fortunes and his perspective. It is a stumble before the finish line, a way of raising the dramatic and emotional stakes before building to a crescendo.

Sisko has come a long way since the disillusioned commander on the verge of resignation in Emissary; he has grown to accept the role of Emissary over the past six seasons, and come to embrace his position as a very important Starfleet officer. Sisko has healed and grown over these years. More than any other Star Trek lead, with the possible exception of the version of Kirk appearing in the feature films, Sisko has a very clear arc that evolves in a (relatively) logical manner across the run of the series.

Sisko refuses to play ball.

The second half of Deep Space Nine cleverly emphasises this fact. Accession had Sisko fighting to take back the role of Emissary, a position with which he had long been uncomfortable. Call to Arms exiled Sisko from Deep Space Nine, forcing him to actively retake the assignment towards which he had once been ambivalent. These are dramatic beats that very effectively illuminate character, big events that inform the way that the audience looks at Sisko and which exist as milestones on an extended journey.

Sisko’s crisis of faith at the end of Tears of the Prophets is an extension of this idea. It is perfect character beat for a penultimate season finale, effectively forcing Sisko to confront (and restore) his beliefs before embarking on the final leg of his journey. It also provides a very effective contrast with the sprawling galactic politics of Call to Arms. The fifth season finale threw an entire quadrant into chaos, casting doubt upon the future of the entire Federation. While Tears of the Prophets cuts off Bajor from the Prophets, it suggests much more personal stakes.

Everything burns.

In many ways, this is the perfect direction to take the story at this point. The opening arc of the sixth season remains one of the most impressive narrative experiments in the history of the Star Trek franchise, shattering the status quo for almost a quarter of a season and telling one long interconnected story. While the producers would attempt an even more audacious experiment at the end of the seventh season, there was simply no way to compete at the start of the year. Tears of the Prophets is a statement of intent.

The sixth season of Deep Space Nine had opened big, but had struggled to find a proper direction when it emerged from that phenomenal six-episode stretch. The ending to Tears of the Prophets suggest that the production team have decided to reverse that approach going into the seventh season. The seventh season of Deep Space Nine opens with a much quieter and low-key two-parter, before building to a massive ten-part series finale that wraps up most of the dangling loose ends from the seven-year run.

“In hindsight, I probably should have let Akorem Laan keep the job.”

As such, there is something very powerful in the intimacy of Tear of the Prophets, in the closing scenes that have Sisko confess his confusion to the coffin housing his best friend and in that powerful closing shot of Sisko cleaning clams in the alley way behind his father’s restaurant. For all that Deep Space Nine is a story of galactic empires and non-corporeal gods, of competing philosophies and of historic events, it never loses sight of the characters caught in the middle of all of this.

Tears of the Prophets opens with Sisko at one of the highest points of his career, receiving “the Christopher Pike Medal of Valour” and spearheading the Federation invasion of Cardassian space. However, it closes with all of that lost. Sisko is a broken man, somebody lost and without purpose. He is a kitchen hand working in his father’s restaurant. More than that, this is where he has chosen to be. It is not as though Sisko is trying to overcome a change in circumstances. Sisko is instead wrestling with his own self-doubt.

Scrub this from his record.

It is a powerful and compelling conclusion to the sixth season, a reminder that the Dominion War has not caused Deep Space Nine to lose sight of or interest in its characters. It sets a very compelling hook into the seventh season. It is just a shame that it gets lost in the shuffle of so many forced and unforced errors in the plotting.

14 Responses

  1. I didn’t like the way Jadzia met her end in this episode. I think she deserved to go out in a real heroic way. What happens to her here feels like it was put together on the spur of the moment and I think it shows too. I also wished that the ending was longer and we had more scenes of the rest of the crew dealing with her loss in the immediate aftermath. Jadzia is one of my favourite characters in all of Star Trek. I missed her very much in season 7.

    • I think the seventh season handled the aftermath of her death quite well. But yeah, Tears of the Prophets botches her death through a series of false compromises. It is either a meaningless death or a meaningful death, but the episode tries to have it both ways and so satisfies no one.

  2. Darren, this was another good, insightful review.

    I am really looking forward to your write-ups on Season Seven. I never saw it when it first aired, except for the series finale, because I was out of the country from Oct 1998 to May 1999. After all these years I’m watching all those episodes on Netflix. There’s some interesting, quality stuff, and I’m anticipating reading your thoughts on those episodes.

  3. On an admittedly childish note, I thought battle scenes in this episode were probably the series. While the size of the opposing forces didn’t feel quite as large as “Sacrifice of Angels”, the various ship and weapon platforms blasting one another was quite impressive. We got a bit of a taste again in “Once More Unto the Breach”, but a major battle wouldn’t occur again until “What You Leave Behind”, which was kind of spoiled for me through the excessive use of stock footage from other episodes.

    Speaking of the battle, I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation for why Kira assumes command when Sisko tags out, rather than Worf. Worf, of course, had explicitly been cited as first officer of the Defiant, and frequently commanded it in Sisko’s absence (such as in “Paradise Lost”). In retrospect, it’s satisfying seeing Worf move up in the ranks like this, since we almost NEVER saw him in command on the bridge of the Enterprise. This effective demotion is never explained (though I’ve heard people cite the events “Change of Heart” as a reason).

    Frankly, the show has often been rather arbitrary about who does what on the Defiant. (Nog essentially inherited the helm from Jadzia after her death, but for some reason, Kira sits there for the Defiant’s last stand in “Changing Face…”

    In fact, I’ve heard fans question whether a non-Starfleet officer like Kira has any business on the bridge of the Defiant at all, let alone commanding it. (Do Bajoran terrorism and Cardassian space stations prepare you for starship operations?) At least they wisely didn’t put Odo on the ship (which would’ve made even less sense) most of the time. (There’s absolutely no reason for Odo to be on the ship, for instance, in “The Adversary” or “What You Leave Behind”)

    • There’s a whole host of hazy logic around the command structure of DS9 and the Defiant.

      In particular, there’s something very awkward in the way that Ross just gives the Romulans a base on the station in Image in the Sand. Deep Space Nine is a Bajoran station, something reinforced as recently as Kira’s protest to Sisko in Call to Arms. It could easily have been fixed with a handwave of “the Provisional Government’s already signed of on this…”, but it does feel like Starfleet Command is now running the shots.

  4. The big death is probably the biggest problem with this finale, along with the pah-wraith stuff, which is straight out of a bad fantasy novel. The reasons why it doesn’t work are simple-it pretty much stands in contrast to everything DS9 was trying to achieve-it fails to enrich or bring nuance to the Trek universe-in fact it does the opposite, simplifying a fascinating concept (the non-linear beings from Emissary, a brilliant concept worthy of the best tv science fiction franchise of all time) and fascinating characters (such as Dukat and Winn). Overall, the whole concept and storyline is just a misfire.

    Jadzia’s death is slightly more complicated. For one thing, it just doesn’t feel right that a Star Trek show would kill off a series regular. It doesn’t fit with the tone of DS9-for all that it has a reputation of being dark, it was quite generous with its characters’ fates. I think you could characterize the majority of them as happy endings. For that reason, even if the death was executed flawlessly, I don’t think it would have as much of an impact on me as on other shows. It’s too obviously forced by outside circumstances-the DS9 writers would never kill a character off like that.

    But, of course, it isn’t executed flawlessly. The death itself has nothing to do with Jadzia’s character nor does it inform an arc for her (part of the problem being she doesn’t have an arc-but still, this death isn’t really about her in any way. It’s about how it affects Sisko). She just happens to run into Gul Dukat, who happens to be possessed by the pah-wraiths at the time, and that’s the end of her. The big focal point of the death is supposed to be the fact that she and Worf were able to conceive, but it doesn’t really land because it was only set up in Time’s Orphan. It’s not a series-long goal tragically cut short. It’s an uninteresting subplot from two episodes ago.

    Overall, this episode has some of the series’ finest special effects and a fantastic downbeat ending, but is marred by issues deeply rooted in both the Trek franchise and DS9, and some serious execution problems within the season as well (it seems like the writers finally remembered a war is happening, after ignoring it for a significant chunk of the season). Only moderately successful, and a step down from the brilliant Call to Arms.

    • Yeah, I don’t think it’s impossible to kill off Jadzia in a way that works. I think Change of Heart, ironically, would have been a much stronger episode if she dies there – to pick an example. But the way in which Tears of the Prophets chooses to execute (ha!) its big death is just massively cynical and disappointing. It’s crass and lazy in a way that Deep Space Nine is very rarely crass and lazy. And even treating it in strictly mechanical and utilitarian terms, while it moves some pieces well (Sisko’s retirement makes sense), it doesn’t move others at all (Dukat’s responsibility for this is never actually explored or developed as a thread).

      • Yeah, how odd is it that in the 7th season, no one brings up the fact that Dukat killed one of their best friends?

        Change of Heart would have been a terrific way for Jadzia to bow out, for a number of reasons-I’m in total agreement with you there. But killing her off in a season finale by Dukat? I just don’t think there’s a way to make that work. It’s completely at odds with everything that’s come before it.

      • Yep, it has no impact whatsoever. I understand the production team being in a bind, but the execution is so awful. If you really have to do it, kill her off at Chin’toka. Have her die a random and meaningless death over a bit of turf that nobody will care about in a decade, and have Sisko confront that.

      • It could have been WW1-inspired: millions of people dying for a few inches of land. In this case, space. Of course, WW1 was fought over absolutely nothing, while the Federation are fighting for their survival and right to liberty.

        Even then though, as you point out in your review of Valiant, Trek regulars pull insane stunts all the time. So it still wouldn’t really fit right. I still might have been able to get on board with it.

        At least the scenes with the crew grieving are nice.

      • Yep. That scene with Sisko and the coffin is heartbreaking. It belongs in a better episode.

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