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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Treachery, Faith and the Great River (Review)

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a beautiful piece of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It is a meditation on everything suggested by the title, recurring themes across the seven-season run of Deep Space Nine. Indeed, it is a reflection on how each of those three concepts all tie back to the same notion of belief. Treachery is what happens when belief is betrayed, faith is what happens when belief is held without validation, and the great river reflects a more generic belief in the balance and distribution of the wider universe. Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a story about belief and the various forms that it takes, and the rewards that it offers.

“And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”

In many ways, Treachery, Faith and the Great River marks a return to the sort of softer religious belief that defined the early seasons of Deep Space Nine. It is an episode that engages with the challenges of faith, rather than taking it at face value. It is no small irony that an episode as nuanced as Treachery, Faith and the Great River should be credited to the writers responsible for The Reckoning. In many ways, Treachery, Faith and the Great River asks what it means to truly believe in something, even knowing that this belief might never be rewarded.

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a story about looking for the divine, and the answers that are offered in return.

Weyoun Six, Weyoun Seven…
All good clones go to heaven…

There is something very affecting in the idea of “the Great Material Continuum”, the Ferengi spirituality espoused by Nog quite early in Treachery, Faith and the Great River. It is the “Great River” of the title, a metaphorical stream that connects the entire universe. Naturally, because it is a Ferengi belief system, this connection is defined in strictly materialist terms. The “Great River” is the concept of supply and demand extrapolated to a universal scale, the idea that (on a large enough scale) there will always be a constant give-and-take of supply and demand.

“You see, there are millions upon millions of worlds in the universe, each one filled with too much of one thing and not enough of another,” Nog assures Chief O’Brien. “And the Great Continuum flows through them all like a mighty river, from have to want and back again. And if we navigate the Continuum with skill and grace, our ship will be filled with everything our hearts desire.” It is a very clever concept, and one very much in keeping with the spirituality and outlook of Deep Space Nine as a television series.

It is all connected.

Dating back to Emissary, the spirituality of Deep Space Nine has largely been framed in terms of eastern religious philosophy. The Bajoran religion is heavily influenced by Buddhism, to pick the most obvious example. However, key to Deep Space Nine‘s moral universe is the idea of symmetry and balance. It evokes the eastern philosophy of “dharma”, as explained by Gurcharan Das in The Difficulty of Being Good:

Dharma … is in fact untranslatable. Duty, goodness, justice, law and custom all have something to do with it, but they all fall short. Dharma refers to ‘balance’ – both moral balance and cosmic balance. It is the order and balance within each human being which is also reflected in the order of the cosmos. Dharma derives from the Sanskrit root dhr, meaning to ‘sustain’. It is the moral law that sustains society, the individual and the world. In the dharma texts, it commonly means the whole range of duties incumbent on each individual according to his varna, ‘status’, or ashrama, ‘stage of life.’ The Mahabharata, however, will also challenge this latter meaning. This conceptual difficulty, such complexity, is part of the point. Indeed, the Mahabharata is in many ways an extended attempt to clarify just what dharma is – that is, what exactly should we do when we are trying to be good in the world.

This sense of cyclicism in the doctrine of “Saṃsāra”, the perpetual cycle of death and rebirth that treats existence as a wheel rather than a straight line. It is also reflected in the conventional western understanding of the concept of karma, the idea that an individual’s actions must inevitably reverberate through existence and be reflected back upon them.

In the Pale Cave Light.

The importance of these eastern spiritual beliefs upon Deep Space Nine is undoubtedly down to co-creator Michael Piller. Like many writers working in Hollywood during the nineties, Piller was heavily influenced by the New Age movement. In particular, Piller’s affection for and engagement with the New Age movement was more heavily reflected in his other contemporaneous contributions to the canon. In particular, the character of Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager and the culture of the Bak’u in Star Trek: Insurrection were very broad New Age caricatures.

Deep Space Nine was rarely as overt in its adoption of New Age spirituality, instead adopting general structural principle more than making heavy-handed references. The other Star Trek shows tended to travel in straight lines; Kirk and Picard were both explorers pushing outwards beyond the frontier, while Janeway was flying in a straight line back to Earth. In contrast, Deep Space Nine tended to move in circles. History did not repeat on Deep Space Nine, but it could definitely rhyme.

Damar is a glass half-full kinda guy.
Or a glass fully full kinda guy.
Or a two glasses kinda guy.
Or a “take the glasses, leave the bottle” kind of guy.

Even as early as Emissary, the series undermined the idea of time as a linear force. The Prophets suggested that time did not flow in one direction, instead implying that it could be perceived as something happening all at once. Symmetry was a recurring fixation for the series; Bajor was introduced in Emissary as a world in ruins, while Cardassia would suffer a similar fate in What You Leave Behind. Each of the fifth, sixth and seventh seasons would end with Sisko departing the station, promising to return.

That symmetry plays out in Treachery, Faith and the Great River. Most obviously, the episode features two separate versions of Weyoun. As Odo quips, this is a very unusual sight. “I’m well aware the Vorta are all clones, but I’m not sure the universe is ready for two Weyouns,” he reflects. He might be right. Nevertheless, Weyoun VI and Weyoun VII present a study in contrasts, mirror images of one another. Weyoun VI seeks redemption and atonement, while Weyoun VII devotes himself to winning the Dominion War at all costs.

Any which Weyoun but loose.

While singling out Treachery, Faith and the Great River as one of his favourite episodes, actor Jeffrey Combs concedes that Weyoun VII was consciously a darker character than Weyoun IV or Weyoun V had been:

Since Weyoun was a clone, several incarnations died over the course of the series. Did Combs have a favorite? “They’re all my babies!” he exclaims. “The last one was written to be a much bigger creep. They had to push him that way so that it would be a dramatic payoff when he died. My favorite episode, I suppose, was when I got to play two Weyouns in one episode: Treachery, Faith, and the Great River. A defective Weyoun defects, so they clone another Weyoun who is not defective, and that Weyoun wants to kill the previous Weyoun. I had little subspace communication verbal battles with myself, where I got to be scornful. That was quite fun!”

Although the co-existence of Weyoun VI and Weyoun VII is explained rationally through cloning, it is framed in a manner that seems overtly spiritual. Emphasising the Vorta capacity reincarnation, Weyoun VI seems almost like the goodness of the character has been peeled out, leaving Weyoun VII.

Clonin’ around.

However, the symmetry afforded by the two versions of Weyoun is not the only conscious mirroring that plays out in Treachery, Faith and the Great River. There are any number of clever and subtle allusions threaded through the teleplay. One of the more subtle connections suggested by Treachery, Faith and the Great River is that between the Vorta and the Ferengi. It is striking because Deep Space Nine has never really touched upon these parallels before, despite previous interactions between the Vorta and the Ferengi in The Magnificent Ferengi.

Traditionally, Deep Space Nine has tended to twin the Vorta with the Vulcans. The Jem’Hadar presented them as a twisted mirror image of the iconic Star Trek species, emphasising their pointed ears and (never-again-seen) telepathic abilities. The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II furthered that idea, suggesting that the Vorta might be a race of scientists and diplomats who serve as the second most important species within their vast interstellar alliance. Naturally, the Vorta’s manipulative treachery contrasts with the Vulcans’ stoic reliability.

Down with that Vorta thing.

However, Treachery, Faith and the Great River makes a point to parallel the Vorta with the Ferengi. Weyoun VI’s spiritual journey is parallelled with that of Nog. While Nog invests his faith in the idea of “the Great Material Continuum”, Weyoun VI places his faith in Odo. Neither Nog nor Weyoun VI have any reason to believe that their faith will be rewarded. In fact, Chief O’Brien repeatedly worries that Nog has left him out to dry, while Odo initially insists that Weyoun VI is “just another prisoner.” However, both Nog and Weyoun VI eventually have their faith validated.

There are any number of incidental parallels between the Ferengi and the Vorta. They are both aliens with big ears, and Jeffrey Combs has played multiple characters (or at least multiple iterations of characters) belonging to both species. In fact, Combs would go on to be the first actor to earn a credit for playing two completely unrelated characters in a Star Trek episode when he played both Weyoun and Brunt in The Dogs of War. More than that, the second season of Deep Space Nine had made the Ferengi key to the discovery of the Dominion in episodes like Rules of Acquisition.

Odo gets up to his usual ice-capades.

The most interesting parallel between the Ferengi and Vorta in Treachery, Faith and the Great River comes as Weyoun VI explains how his people came to serve the Founders. “The Vorta used to be quite different from what we are today,” Weyoun VI explains. “We were forest dwellers. Small, timid, ape-like creatures living in hollowed out trees.” He outlines that the Vorta spent most of their existence “living in fear of the many predators that would hunt us for food.”

This depiction of the early Vorta makes for a marked contrast with their more modern incarnation. The Vorta are cunning and erudite, manipulative and canny. They are the bureaucrats of the Dominion, the negotiators and the researchers. The attitude that the Vorta express towards the Jem’Hadar in episodes like To the Death and Rocks and Shoals suggest that the Vorta consider themselves to be “above” it all. Indeed, Weyoun has repeatedly demonstrated a smug sense of superiority over Dukat and Damar in episodes like Call to Arms and Statistical Probabilities.

“Cause I’ve been putting out fire…”

In The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, producer Ira Steven Behr explicitly likens the Vorta to the Hobbits from Lord of the Rings:

I like to get the audience thinking one way about a character or a race, making them think that these are definitely the bad guys. Then you slip something like this in so they have to reevaluate the opinion you’ve already given them. These are still the bad guys, but now, at least, you understand something about why. So I just loved that the Vorta, this calculating, Machiavellian race, started out as Hobbit-like cute little creatures who were genetically altered and directed to do these horrible things.

The Lord of the Rings was something of a touchstone for Behr working on Deep Space Nine, particularly its portrayal of a mythic all-consuming war.

Crossed wires.

The Vorta are not the only species in Deep Space Nine to be explicitly likened to the Hobbits. The Ferengi have long been treated as the series’ stand-ins for those iconic forest-dwelling isolationists. The portrayal of Ferenginar (particularly of Ferengi homes) in episodes like Family Business and Ferengi Love Songs rather consciously evokes the “Hobbit holes” described by J.R.R. Tolkein. More than that, the Ferengi’s role in the epic saga of Deep Space Nine evokes the role of the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings.

Much like Sam and Frodo find themselves at the centre of the battle for Middle Earth when Bilbo returns from his adventure with the “one ring to rule it all”, Quark inadvertently found himself on the front lines of the Alpha Quadrant’s first contact with the Dominion in episodes like Rules of Acquisition, The Jem’Hadar and The Search, Part I. Like the Hobbits of the Shire, the Ferengi make a point to sit out this epic conflict between good and evil. However, the war is still visited upon them; Quark and Rom fear an invasion in Profit and Lace, while Nog is a casualty in The Siege of AR-558.

Odo is left out in the cold.

In some ways, Treachery, Faith and the Great River suggests that the Vorta are ultimately a twisted reflection of the Ferengi. Deep Space Nine consistently portrays the Dominion are a monstrous fascist force, whether through their jealousy over Karemma dealing with the Federation in Starship Down or their anger towards the Teplans in The QuickeningTreachery, Faith and the Great River reinforces this idea by suggesting that the Dominion are so evil that they would transform a race equivalent to the Ferengi into a race of slaves complicit in genocide and dictatorship.

The other big parallel suggested by Treachery, Faith and the Great River, the other great symmetry revealed over the course of the episode, is to reaffirm the thematic connection between the Founders and the Prophets. Deep Space Nine is a series very much invested in the idea of divinity, in the question of what belief says about those who worship and those who are worshipped. The early seasons of Deep Space Nine suggested an ambiguity about the Prophets, about whether they were truly gods.

A snap decision.

The final two seasons of Deep Space Nine moved away from that ambiguity in episodes like Sacrifice of Angels and The Reckoning, when the Prophets went from ambiguous (and manipulative) deities to more conventional religious figureheads. The early seasons suggested that the Prophets might be more like the gods of polytheistic belief systems, morally complicated figures of immense power and symbolic weight. However, later episodes more explicitly cast the Prophets in the style of the Abrahamic religions, particularly Christianity.

This fascination with belief and godhood provides a sense of symmetry between the Prophets and the Founders. Both are gods worshipped by entire species. Although the Prophets have often been distant from Bajor, the Founders are actively indifferent to the suffering that they inflict upon the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar. Deep Space Nine has explored this parallel between the Prophets and the Founders before, most notably in the epic six-episode arc that opened the sixth season.

A whole lobe of trouble.

(Indeed, this could be seen as another thematic connection between the Vorta and the Ferengi within Treachery, Faith and the Great River. The Prophets meddled with Grand Nagus Zek in Prophet Motive, manipulated his personality in order to make him more pliant to their whims. This manipulation is mirrored in the manner that the Founders are revealed to have meddled with the Vorta in Treachery, Faith and the Great River. These are gods who care little for the agency of those beneath them.)

Treachery, Faith and the Great River reinforces the connection between the Founders and the Prophets by setting Odo’s arc to run in parallel with that of Benjamin Sisko. This twinning was foreshadowed in Sacrifice of Angels, when it was hinted that neither Odo nor Sisko would find a long-term home on Bajor. In exchange for saving the Alpha Quadrant from the Dominion fleet, the Prophets vowed that Sisko would “find no rest” on Bajor. Retreating from Terok Nor, the Female Changeling vowed Odo would “join [the Great Link] eventually. It is only a matter of time.”

Cool it, colonel.

The writers working on Deep Space Nine largely improvised as they went. There was no single lon-term plan, with the writers tending to follow interesting story or character threads wherever they might go. After all, Dukat’s tenure as a space!pirate between Return to Grace and By Inferno’s Light makes a great deal of sense from moment-to-moment, but seems very surreal when his character arc is examined in toto. However, the writers settled on the rough character arcs for Sisko and Odo quite early in the process.

The writers might not have been sure of all the details, but they had a relatively early sense that neither Sisko nor Odo would not get to remain on the station at the end of the series. Sisko’s ending was set up during his conversation with the Prophets in Sacrifice of Angels, and affirmed through the Jesus Christ parallels pushed to the fore with Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols. Ira Steven Behr had decided that Odo would be returning to the Great Link by the time that he decided to get Odo and Kira together in His Way.

Massaging the truth.

Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols affirmed that Sisko was effectively part god. Treachery, Faith and the Great River confirms that the same is true of Odo, no matter his protests. In the closing scene, Kira explicitly compares Weyoun VI’s faith in the Founders to her faith in the Prophets. “I know to Starfleet the Prophets are nothing more than wormhole aliens, but to me they’re gods,” she states. “I can’t prove it, but then again, I don’t have to, because my faith in them is enough. Just as Weyoun’s faith in you was enough for him.”

More than that, like Chimera later in the season, Treachery, Faith and the Great River makes it clear that Odo cannot remain on Deep Space Nine past the end of the Dominion War. After explaining that the Great Link is dying, Weyoun VI insists, “Think about it, Odo. You have an opportunity to rectify the mistakes your people have made. To build a new Dominion based on cooperation, not conquest. On peace, not war. A new order under your leadership.” Odo is being asked to complete his circular journey. Like Sisko, he must return to the place where his journey began.

You can go home again.

More to the point, Weyoun VI makes the same appeal to Odo in Treachery, Faith and the Great River that Sisko made to the Prophets in Sacrifice of Angels. Weyoun VI urges Odo to accept the mantle of godhood that has been thrust upon him, suggesting that his own desires are secondary to the obligations imposed upon him. Indeed, Treachery, Faith and the Great River seems to suggest that this is the crucial difference between a “good” god and a “bad” god. Like the Prophets, Odo does not actively seek to be worshipped. In contrast, the Founders demand veneration.

Indeed, the nuanced handling of faith and belief within Treachery, Faith and the Great River is welcome at this point in the run. Episodes like The Assignment, Sacrifice of Angels, The Reckoning and Tears of the Prophets have gradually transformed the Prophets into a more conventional set of gods heavily inspired by Christian imagery and iconography. This limits a lot of what can be done with them. Most notably, Sisko cannot be repulsed by the consent issues introduced into his Christ-like origin story in Shadows and Symbols.

Shadows and symbols.

In contrast, the Founders still allow for interesting moral and philosophical discussions within Deep Space Nine. Although there is some ambiguity about whether the Prophets are really gods, or simply sufficiently advanced aliens, the Founders are more explicitly alien. Indeed, Treachery, Faith and the Great River makes the case that the Founders can (and will) die. However, does this mortality make their claim to godhood any less legitimate? Does the fact that they are more similar to humanity than to the Prophets make it any more ridiculous to describe them as divine?

Does the faith that the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar invest in the Founders elevate them to divinity? Indeed, Odo and Weyoun VI have this circular debate in the runabout. “Has it ever occurred to you that the reason you believe the Founders are gods is because that’s what they want you to believe?” Odo challenges Weyoun VI. “That they built that into your genetic code?” Weyoun VI does not argue. “Of course they did. That’s what gods do. After all, why be a god if there’s no one to worship you?” Knowledge that his belief is manipulated does not invalidate the belief.

“I’m seeing double! Four Weyouns!”

(In keeping with Deep Space Nine‘s recurring fascination with circles and repetition, Weyoun VI adheres to a lot of circular logic. The character repeatedly validates his claims by reference to those same claims. “Aren’t you being a little paranoid?” Odo asks when Weyoun VI requests protection from the Jem’Hadar. Weyoun VI does not argue, merely responding, “Of course I’m paranoid. Everyone’s trying to kill me.” In some ways, Weyoun VI’s psychology is a nice exploration of what faith truly is, a belief in fundamental principles that render objective criticism invalid.)

Even aside from the compelling sense of symmetry and the fascinating religious themes, Treachery, Faith and the Great River is just a superb piece of television in its own right. Part of this is simply down to the long-overdue combination of René Auberjonois and Jeffrey Combs, two of the stronger actors in a strong ensemble whose characters have an immediately gripping dynamic. The two shared a brief exchange in To the Death, and Weyoun’s obvious anxiety about Odo was made explicit in A Time to Stand, but it is strange that this is their first extended interaction.

“My God, you’re good.”

The primary plot of Treachery, Faith and the Great River works particularly well because it effectively throws together two two-handers, both featuring Jeffrey Combs. Combs finds himself playing two different iterations of the same character, one in a runabout with Odo and the other in Cardassian Central Command with Damar. The result is that it feels like Treachery, Faith and the Great River has cast Jeffrey Combs in two different two-man shows playing shades on the same central role. The result is a joy to behold.

At one point, both Weyoun VI and Weyoun VII take a break from berating each other to pick on Damar. Weyoun VII reflects, “Weyoun V was a great man. A true patriot. His death in a transporter accident was most unfortunate.” Weyoun VI concurs, “And still under investigation.” Damar squirms slightly. “A very thorough investigation that has found no evidence of foul play.” It is a fantastic little exchange, in an episode that is packed to the brim with similarly impressive banter and dialogue.

To be fair, Damar should have suspected a transporter accident would lead to two Weyouns.

(Indeed, there is even time for some decidedly goofy word play, in which Weyoun VII accuses his clone of being defective for wanting to defect. Explaining how he came to be activated while Weyoun VI was still active, Weyoun VII admits, “Normally I wouldn’t have been, but when a clone is found to be defective…” Weyoun VI cuts across, “I’m not defective!” Weyoun VII counters, “What other explanation is there for your behaviour? Leaving your post. Defecting to the enemy.” He is technically correct. Weyoun VI is defective, prone to defect.)

The secondary plot of Treachery, Faith and the Great River is similarly amusing. In an exploration of how the characters on Deep Space Nine are all interconnected, Nog engages in a series of interlinked deals that wind up affecting everybody from Captain Sisko to General Martok. In many ways, this is a familiar plot; Nog was party to such wheeling-and-dealing in earlier episodes like Progress and In the Cards. It feels appropriate to revisit this idea in the final season, in the same way that Chrysalis effectively revisits early Bashir episodes like Melora.

Kir(a)s of the Prophets.

More than that, it makes a great deal of sense that Deep Space Nine should return to this particular plot set-up time and time again. More than any other Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine believes its characters are truly connected to one another and to the larger universe. Deep Space Nine believes that its characters are tied together by forces outside of their control and beyond their comprehension, that even minor events can have major consequences and that small choices can create massive ripples.

It helps that the subplot involving Nog and Chief O’Brien is genuinely funny without seeming over-the-top. It does not detract from the more dramatic primary plot in the same way that the comedic Nog subplot ate away at the high-stakes life-and-death storyline involving Vedek Bareil in Life Support. Nog’s chain-of-deals story thread is goofy, but goofy in a way that feels grounded and authentic to the world in which it unfolds. Anybody who has ever dealt with a large faceless bureaucracy will appreciate the hijinks necessary to jump the queue or speed up the process.

“When the Captain said he wanted to clear his desk, this was not what he had in mind.”

Of particular interest is the link in that chain that is Al Lorenzo, “the Chief of Operations on Decos Prime.” Lorenzo is something of a fan. As Nog explains, he has a hobby. That hobby is taking pictures of himself sitting behind the desks of famous Starfleet captains. “He’s got quite a collection. Captain DeSoto’s desk, Captain Picard’s desk.” In many ways, this interesting hobby, and the fetishisation of Starfleet memorabilia, consciously evokes the stereotypes of Star Trek fandom.

After all, what Star Trek fan hasn’t wanted to sit in the captain’s chair? Some fans have even turned their homes into recreations of iconic Star Trek sets. Attractions have been set up to allow fans to take pictures of themselves in the chair. Conventions allow fans to get their pictures taken with actors. More famous fans can go a step further; Seth MacFarlane was sure to grab a picture of himself in the chair while filming The Forgotten, while the production team took photos on the classic set rebuilt for In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II.

A blank slate.

Mostly, this sort of fannish devotion is quite benign. There is nothing wrong with loving a piece of popular culture, and there is something infectious about the enthusiasm that fans have for the objects of their affection. Indeed, Deep Space Nine understands this. Sisko’s obsession with baseball is repeatedly framed as something that humanises the character, a source of joy even to those who would never otherwise have heard of the game. Even Ferengi Love Songs treats Quark’s “Marauder Mo” action figures with affection.

At the same time, Lorenzo evokes a certain type of obsessive Star Trek fan. As Nog explains, Lorenzo has a very… particular way of collecting these photos. “Usually he just sneaks into their offices, but with the war on it’s been hard for him to get away,” Nog outlines. The image of Lorenzo breaking and entering to satisfy his fannish obsession recalls a break-in that occurred on Star Trek: The Next Generation between the first and second seasons, wherein two fans snuck on to the standing sets with a camcorder.

“But, I mean, look at the space in here now.”

The video of their break-in has been circulated among fans for years, particularly in the internet era. As Carl Franzen outlines:

One of the invaders was also reportedly a special effects technician working for the show at the time, Greg R. Stone.

The resulting, profanity-laden video features “Captain Stone” donning the classic red and black Starfleet command uniform and taking the cameraman around to various Enterprise sets, including the transporter room, Dr. Beverly Crusher’s office, the engineering room, and a conference room. Stone can be seen operating various control panels, doors and “touchscreen” displays around the ship. But he doesn’t quite have the grace or skill of a real Starfleet officer – instead, he clumsily knocks props over, gets doors stuck, even breaks one of the surgical beds in the sick bay.

The break-in had real consequences. The pair caused real damage to the props, and caused Paramount to revise their hiring practices to screen out fans.

Founder’s Mutation.

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is also notable for bringing the Dominion War back into focus and consciously advancing the status quo through a number of key plot and thematic revelations that are very clearly designed to move Deep Space Nine closer to the finale. One of the big issues with the sixth season was a sense that the narrative stalled after the climax of Sacrifice of Angels, that there was no clear sense of forward momentum as the front lines of the Dominion War moved away from Deep Space Nine in the final two-thirds of the season.

After all, large portions of the recurring cast disappeared for extended periods of time in the sixth season. Garak did not appear between Sacrifice of Angels and In the Pale Moonlight. Martok did not appear between You Are Cordially Invited… and Tears of the Prophets. Although hallucinations and holographic stand-ins made appearances, Weyoun and Damar were entirely absent between Statistical Probabilities and Tears of the Prophets. While there were episodes acknowledging the war, like Honour Among Thieves or Valiant, they often felt at a remove.

Explosive drama.

In an interview with Cinefantastique, Ira Behr acknowledged that the production of Treachery, Faith and the Great River was intended to bring the Dominion War back into focus:

“For a long time I wanted to do a show about Odo and Weyoun. Where it fell out in the season was show six. We needed to get back at least discussing the war. The Dominion had to become a factor again in the series. We know between the baseball show and Chrysalis and Afterimage we hadn’t really nailed the war that hard, and we knew that the fans were waiting. This was a way to do it, but still in a character- based show. It got to tell us a little bit about the Vorta, and obviously it gave us the great revelation about the changelings being sick.”

In many ways, the seventh season does a much better job of keeping focus on the continuing war effort than the sixth season, even outside of the sprawling ten-episode series finale that dominates the second half of the season.

Keeping his ears to the ground.

To be fair, there is something to be said for the way in which the sixth season of Deep Space Nine approached the Dominion War. Pressed about the lack of focus on the war in the latter two-thirds of the sixth season, writer Ronald D. Moore argued, “We always intended to put the war in the background for a while and then revisit it when we had the stories to drive it forward.” And, to be fair, the Dominion War never truly went away, even if the characters were not constantly in combat.

Stories like Statistical Probabilities and Waltz explored what happened to key figures after the retreat from Terok Nor at the end of Sacrifice of Angels. Episodes like Far Beyond the Stars and The Sound of Her Voice dealt with the consequences of the war, in terms of the strain that it put on characters. The Jem’Hadar seized the Defiant in One Little Ship. Jake and Nog went behind the lines in Valiant. The Romulans joined the war effort and the Dominion took Betazed in In the Pale Moonlight. There was even a briefing at the start of The Reckoning.

At the centre of it all.

However, there was more of a sense that the sixth season of Deep Space Nine used the Dominion War as a new status quo, a framework in which they might construct interesting narratives. Honour Among Thieves looked at how the seedy underbelly of the Star Trek universe was taking advantage of the conflict, while Change of Heart used the conflict to tell a story about the relationship between Dax and Worf. There was a sense that the Dominion War was not something that would be tidied away easily, but was something with which the characters had to live.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. Indeed, there is something quite bold in the creative choice to let the war rage in the background for most of the sixth season. After all, Deep Space Nine is just one space station, and Benjamin Sisko is just one commander. By its nature, the front lines of a war tend to shift over time, with a few major exceptions like the Western Front in the First World War. The front lines of the Second World War changed dramatically over the course of the conflict.

Putting the war front and Central Command.

More than that, war of often more than just major skirmishes and combat experience. Part of the reality of war is life during war time, of the space between individual battles, when the war is still raging but not in the immediate vicinity. As S. H. Raggett recalled in his own Reminiscences of War, the waiting was often the hardest part:

To be laid out doing something is infinitely better than to be laid out whilst waiting. The mental stress before an attack, the strain of waiting and wondering what will happen is far more trying than the actual attack. For this reason: in an attack one forgets everything in the excitement of battle. One has no time to think, the same as one has in the hours and moments beforehand.

At its best, the sixth season captured that sense of waiting and watching. The characters on Deep Space Nine often felt like they were bystanders, whose lives were often impacted directly and indirectly by the conflict, most notably through Sisko’s feelings of uselessness in Far Beyond the Stars and In the Pale Moonlight or Bashir’s enhanced interrogation in Inquisition.

Shady dealings.

However, there was still a sense of stalled momentum in the sixth season, no real sense of forward momentum that was compounded by a heavy reliance on episodes that were only indirectly related to the war effort; stories like You Are Cordially Invited…, Resurrection, Who Mourns for Morn?Wrongs Darker than Death or Night, His WayProfit and Lace and Time’s Orphan. So many of these episodes appeared in such rapid succession that even episodes that engaged with Dominion War like Waltz or Far Beyond the Stars felt very light.

The seventh season does a much better job of balancing the demands of the Dominion War with the desire to tell other stories. The conflict is never allowed to drift too far from focus. The season opens with three episodes that focus on the Dominion War, both directly and indirectly; Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols feature an attack upon Dominion shipyards while the alliance between the Federation and the Romulans threatens to fall apart, and Afterimage deals with Garak’s lingering guilt about collaborating with the Federation against the Cardassian Union.

Weyoun’s not quite himself today.

Take Me Out to the Holosuite and Chrysalis offer something of a temporary reprieve from the conflict, to the point that even Jack has turned his focus to bigger problems than the immediate war. However, Treachery, Faith and the Great River kicks off a run of three episodes that engaging directly with the Dominion War. Treachery, Faith and the Great River deals with the defection of Weyoun VI and reveals that the Founders are sick. Once More Unto the Breach finds Martok leading a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. The Siege of AR-558 is a ground war episode.

As a rule, the seventh season manages to keep the Dominion War and its consequences simmering across the length of the season. It’s Only a Paper Moon deals directly with the aftermath of The Siege of AR-558, while Field of Fire focuses on a murder investigation that leads to a disgruntled war veteran, and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges raises questions about the Federation’s long-term plans past the end of the Dominion War. Then the season segues gently into one massive sprawling long-form war story that brings the epic to its conclusion.

Drinking it all in.

Of course, there are any number of episodes unrelated to the war scattered across the seventh season; Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak, Badda-Bing Badda-Bang. However, the pacing and spacing of the seventh season means that the war never feels as distant and removed as it did during extended stretches of the sixth season. Indeed, the production team even make a point to distribute guest appearances of key characters more evenly across the year so there are less noticeable periods of extended absence.

(In fact, some of these guest appearances are more than would be strictly necessary. The seventh season has a feeling of consciously checking in on recurring guest stars as a way of reinforcing the size and scale of this sprawling shared universe. For example, it is debatable whether Treachery, Faith and the Great River really needs guest appearances from Rom and Martok, although it is fun to have them play a role in the story. Similarly, it is great to see Garak (however briefly) in the teaser to Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges.)

“Martok my words, Chief!”

More to the point, the seventh season arguably has a stronger sense of progression and evolution than the sixth season did, a clearer sense of purpose as it is moving forward. Several episodes of the sixth season seemed to have been produced out of desperation, or to fill an empty production slot. One Little Ship and Time’s Orphan were unwhelming episodes pushed into production using concepts that had been vetoed on The Next Generation. Even René Echevarria would admit that Honour Among Thieves was a very stock episodic template.

With most episodes of the seventh season, it is quite clear to see why they exist. Each episode has a purpose. To be fair, at least part of this is down to the significance of this being the final season. Even lighter fare like Take Me Out to the Holosuite or Badda-Bing Badda-Bang serve the purpose of being “one of the last times that the entire crew will get to hang out together.” Even The Emperor’s New Cloak has a clear purpose, filling the niche of “Ferengi episode” and “mirror universe episode.” However, the seventh season has very little fat.

Martok cannot turn a blind eye to this betrayal.

Treachery, Faith and the Great River establishes a number of details that will be very important to the show as it begins winding down. It establishes that Odo will have to return home at the end of the season, an idea reinforced by Chimera later in the year. It also establishes that the Founders are sick, with even Damar noticing that the Female Changeling is having trouble consistently maintaining her form. Weyoun VI confesses as much to Odo, and confirms that the entire Great Link is affected.

(These sequences interesting in hindsight. Damar’s fascination with the Female Changeling’ s health – “it’s like she’s withering” – evokes the double-standards to which female political leaders are held. Hillary Clinton was subject to much conspiratorial gossip during her election campaign, while Donald Trump escaped scrutiny. This is nothing new; Margaret Thatcher faced the same double-standard. To be fair, this parallel is obviously not intentional. Treachery, Faith and the Great River is almost twenty years old, and the Female Changeling is not really female. Nevertheless, it is interesting.)

Moisterising is important.

Treachery, Faith and the Great River is a superb piece of Deep Space Nine, and a demonstration of just how well the writers understand the mechanics of the series. It is an episode that fundamentally understands Deep Space Nine, and which moves with a clear purpose, without ever losing sight of its characters. It navigates the river with practiced ease.

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9 Responses

  1. This is one of the best episodes, up there with “Moonlight” and “Children of Time”. Certainly the best Weyoun episode.

    It’s also one of the better Ferengi episodes, or O’Brien episodes. Hell, one of the best Star Trek episodes, period.

    “twisted reflection of the Ferengi”

    That’s interesting. I assumed they were supposed to be a foil for the Vulcans (what with the Jem Hadar being a foil for Klingons), but this makes more sense.

    I don’t think it holds up on inspection, though; the Ferengi have too checkered a history. I prefer to think that the Vorta are no match for Ferengi (as seen in many episodes), because the Ferengi are matchstick men, too. They have streets smarts the rest of the quadrant lacks.

    “Margaret Thatcher faced the same double-standard.”

    To be fair (to borrow your phrase), she went off her rocker during the whole poll tax debacle. It even made it into the Streep movie.

    • Oh yeah, I mean, I still think they are the Vulcans to the Founders’ humans. But, to quote Archer, it can be two things. Both plots in the episode are really great on their own terms, but the episode is truly elevated by the decision to run them in parallel. There’s no textual connection between them, but they come together to demonstrate how elastic fate can be.

  2. I’ve always been fond of the fan idea that Weyoun VII is the ‘defective’ clone and that Weyoun VI is actually the mentally stable one who after realising the Female Changeling is dying makes a conscious choice to go to Odo. It is Weyoun VI who feels grief after getting “loyal servants of the Dominion” killed while Weyoun VII only needs a little prodding to talk himself into endangering Odo.

    (I’ve always felt rather sorry for the Weyouns to be honest – they have a real pathos to them at times and in many ways they are every bit the victims the Jem’Hadar are.)

    I also love the idea of the Great River. It at once feels very appropriate to the Ferengi without being a lazy joke at their expense (Nog’s description in particular has a real earnestly poetic spiritual air to it.)

    • Also, the hint that Rom is a bit agnostic (“oh…that”) due to his past as a failed salesman.

    • The Great River is one of the very few “vaguely new-age-y” religious ideas that I can actually get behind, if only because it is as much a political, economic, and social idea as a religious one. It is a religious faith in the law of supply and demand, the idea that an invisible hand is executing divine will. It is the perfect Ferengi religious ideal.

  3. Really great episode!

    I remember watching this, and for the first 15 minutes I kept trying to figure out what sort of deviously complicated scheme Weyoun was up to. I really was convinced that the “defective Weyoun” story was just a trick by the Dominion to spy on DS9 or give Starfleet disinformation, or something. But it turned out to be legitimate, and we got some wonderful interactions between the rogue Weyoun and Odo.

    Jeffrey Combs turned in amazing performances as the two Weyouns. Combs is a talented actor, but because so much of his work has been in genre movies and TV he often doesn’t get due credit for his abilities.

    Also, I have to say that Damar and Weyoun make a great double act.

    Ordinarily I am not a huge fan of comedy B-plots, but Nog and O’Brien make an awesomely funny team. Aron Eisenberg ought to have been made a regular with his name in the credits in the final season. He did such great work with the material that was given to his character.

    By the way, I’ve heard some people complaining that they were not able to enjoy the B-plot because even though it was well-written & funny they kept thinking that O’Brien should have just been able to replicate anything he needed, including the missing parts for the Defiant.

    (I sort of blame Voyager for this line of thinking, where they were replicating up all sorts of crap even though they were stuck at the opposite side of the galaxy with low energy reserves.)

    Honestly, it seems pretty apparent that certain times of specialized, complex machinery cannot just be whipped up by a replicator, especially during wartime when supplies & energy are scarce. I mean, it’s not like Starfleet was able to replicate a fleet of 10,000 battleships to throw at the Dominion, or anything like that. Clearly, no matter how good replicator technology is in the 24th Century, there are still various items that are going to need to be manually assembled.

    • I think the subplot is very much in keeping with the approach that Deep Space Nine has towards the economy. Other Star Trek shows like The Next Generation and Voyager are like “replicator!”, but Deep Space Nine seems to believe that something resembling an economy is key to human (and alien) interactions.

      Deep Space Nine argues that, on a very fundamental level, there will always be something that you want that you cannot have right now without a cost, and understanding that is fundamental to understanding human nature. (And pretending that this is not true, by leaning so heavily on the replicator, is to ignore a fundamental aspect of who people are.)

      After all, Deep Space Nine was the show that introduced money to the twenty-fourth century with the concept of “Gold-Pressed Latinum.” More than that, Treachery, Faith and the Great River is the third of the show’s “chain of deals” stories after Progress and In the Cards. All three are stories about how people are fundamentally interconnected by forces that are not readily apparent. The economy – something as basic as supply and demand – is part of that. After all, bartering is negotiation. Negotiation is the key to peaceful coexistence.

      It is a perspective that is (in its own way) as optimistic (if not more optimistic) than the Roddenberry philosophy that it replaces, because it assumes that people’s greed and their desire to acquire more can serve to connect them to one another in a fundamentally constructive way.

  4. The ‘great river’ subplot is a great tribute to Catch-22 and Milo’s ability to scrounge up any supplies through a bewildering chain of commerce and greed. The concept also makes intuitive sense as a semi-religious view of the universe that the Ferengi could plausibly follow.

    The banter between Damar and Weyoun is pretty much at its peak in this episode. Honestly I had more fun with the side characters than the main characters for most of the episode (which speaks more to the high quality of the supporting cast, rather than any issues with the main cast).

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