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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tacking Into the Wind (Review)

Tacking Into the Wind might just be the last truly great episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Of course, there are some very good episodes lying ahead. However, none of them hum as perfectly as Tacking Into the Wind does. The Dogs of War is fantastically constructed and does pretty much everything that a penultimate episode of a long running series needs to do, but it largely feels like a prelude episode to the grand finale. What You Leave Behind is a powerful and emotive piece of television, and an effective conclusion to seven years of storytelling, but it suffers from some pacing issues and some poor storytelling choices in its second half.

The end of an era.

However, Tacking Into the Wind is just brilliant. Deep Space Nine has produced more than its fair share of (relatively) standalone classic episodes: Duet, The WireThe Way of the Warrior, The Visitor, Trials and Tribble-ations, Far Beyond the Stars, In the Pale Moonlight. Even in the seventh season, there have been any number of episodes that work beautifully on their own terms: Treachery, Faith and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558, Chimera. Even those tied into larger arcs like the Dominion War still worked as relatively standalone units of story.

However, Tacking Into the Wind is brilliant in a way that is very particular to this moment of Deep Space Nine. Perhaps the closest companion pieces are episodes like Call to Arms or Sacrifice of Angels, episodes that work well enough on their own terms, but become transcendental when approached as the culmination of long-running story threads that pay off months of storytelling decisions. Taking Into the Wind takes this approach and escalates it further. Taking Into the Wind is the culmination of a narrative that has been brewing for the better part of a decade.

Surviving by the skin of his teeth.

Tacking Into the Wind is an episode that could never have worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. It is too dependent on lingering narrative threads, on long-running arcs, on a grand and sweeping (and ironic) view of history. Tacking Into the Wind ties up the fate of the Klingon Empire, an institution that has been in decline since Heart of Glory and rotting from the inside out since Sins of the Father. It parallels that with a fundamental underlying shift in the Cardassian society introduced in The Wounded.

Tacking Into the Wind is an episode that could only possibly work as the pay off to serialised storytelling, and which demonstrates the power of a good dramatic pay-off almost a decade in the making. In many ways, Tacking Into the Wind is the perfect episode for this so-called “Final Chapter”, the perfect distillation of everything that the creative team have been trying to do with this ten-part sprawling epic.

Cloak of office.

There is a tendency when discussing Deep Space Nine to overlook everything that it inherited from The Next Generation. This is most obvious when it comes to characters and production team members. After The Next Generation ended, Deep Space Nine became home to characters like Worf and Gowron, allowing their character arcs to continue past the run of the parent show. Similarly, Deep Space Nine carried over a lot of writers from The Next Generation, particularly those associated with Michael Piller; Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, Rene Echevarria, Hans Beimler.

However, Deep Space Nine also inherited its relatively complex cosmology from The Next Generation. The original Star Trek had introduced iconic aliens like the Romulans and the Klingons, but was relatively disinterested in how these aliens fit together. Hints and suggestions of alliances and deep-space politics were largely the result of more pragmatic concerns. A potential Romulan and Klingon alliance was merely an excuse to explain a misplaced model in The Enterprise Incident and a late-stage script change in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

“I could maybe get you some ointment.”

It was The Next Generation that truly introduced the concept of the epic into the Star Trek canon, that dared to wonder what the political framework of the twenty-fourth century might look like beyond the perspective of its lead characters. The Klingon Empire was allowed to fall into decay in stories like Heart of Glory and Sins of the Father. The Romulans were allowed to manipulate and undermine the Federation and Klingon alliance in episodes like Mind’s Eye, Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II.

In particular, The Next Generation hinted repeatedly that major events could have dramatic ripples, that consequences accrued from earlier decisions. Of course, given the limitations that existed in nineties syndicated television, most of these consequences tended to arise from events that happened off-screen. Heart of Glory implied that the Klingon Empire had been in decline since the end of the original Star Trek. Sins of the Father dealt with a betrayal committed decades earlier. The Wounded explored the consequences of a conflict that had never been mentioned.

Holding back.

This storytelling was not always graceful, with Rick Berman firmly resisting any conscious effort to introduce long-form storytelling into The Next Generation. However, it established a number of important narrative principles. It suggested that the Star Trek universe existed as something more than just a storytelling engine where events happened exclusively to the primary cast. It suggested that other political entities beyond the Federation had political agency within the shared universe. It suggested that actions could generate reactions, even if those actions were initially external.

Over the course of The Next Generation, the production team began to toy with the possibility of exploring reactions to events within the series itself. The Emissary and Sins of the Father led to Reunion, which led to Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. The Cardassian Occupation of Bajor was first mentioned in Ensign Ro, with the withdrawal providing background context for Chain of Command, Part I and Chain of Command, Part II, which in turn set up the basic premise of Emissary.

Testing his patient’s goo.

Deep Space Nine took a host of core concepts established in The Next Generation and fleshed them out even further. The moral and social decay of the Klingon Empire had been established in Heart of Glory and Sins of the Father, but could be used as a springboard to stories like The Way of the Warrior. The erosion of the Cardassian Union suggested in The Wounded, Chain of Command, Part I and Chain of Command, Part II would be developed in stories like Improbable Cause, The Die is Cast, The Way of the Warrior, In Purgatory’s Shadow, By Inferno’s Light.

The production team working on Deep Space Nine understood that the seventh season would be the last season. This allowed them to make certain decisions about what would happen during the season: to give the cast two feel-good episodes in Take Me Out to the Holosuite and Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang; to kill off the character of Kor in Once More Unto the Breach; to structure the final ten episodes of the season as a fond farewell to these characters and to this world. The seventh season of Deep Space Nine has a sense of closure that is lacking from both The Next Generation and Voyager.

General care.

So much of this ten-chapter closing arc is informed by the knowledge that the end is near: the looming tragedy predicted by the Prophets in Penumbra; the escalation of the Dominion War in The Changing Face of Evil; Kira’s return to her terrorist roots in When It Rains…; the buddy comedy adventure between O’Brien and Bashir in Extreme Measures. There is a tangible sense that this is the end of the line for these characters and for this particular world. This adds an extra sense of importance to these episodes, while also providing a rare opportunity.

This ten-episode arc affords the production team the chance to close a number of long-running story threads that have been bubbling away since The Next Generation. After all, What You Leave Behind could realistically represent the end of the complex political framework developed by The Next Generation and expanded by Deep Space Nine. Certainly, the final two seasons of Voyager would unfold in the Delta Quadrant. Paramount had already contacted Berman and Braga about a fifth Star Trek series; there were rumours that the next series would be a prequel as early as late 1999.

Garak knew about Enterprise before Ain’t It Cool News.

So it makes sense that Deep Space Nine would feel an obligation to offer some sense of closure to the Klingon and Cardassian arcs that had been running through the franchise for the better part of a decade. Tacking Into the Wind is an episode that brings those two stories into focus, exploring them in parallel as they near their conclusions. Indeed, as an episode of a heavily serialised television show, Tacking Into the Wind is meticulously well constructed. The two central threads running through this block of television consciously and cleverly reinforce one another.

The Klingon Empire and the Cardassian Union are two great galactic powers that have been in decline for years. They are rival powers to the Federation, caught in a cycle of conflict, uneasy alliances, and betrayals. Through manoeuvring and manipulation, these political entities have managed to stave off disaster. In a state of decay, the Klingon High Council and the Cardassian Central Command have stumbled from one bad decision to another; civil wars, invasions, coups. The Federation has endured its own crises, but none as fundamental nor as radical.

Martok and Gowron not seeing eye-to-eye.

Neither political structure seems stable, often buttressed by external forces; an expansionist attitude, belief in their own exceptionalism, insistence that they are still major powers who can shape the Alpha Quadrant. This resurgent nationalism only made matters worse. This seems like a very astute political observation. Consider, for example, how France’s decline as a global power only escalated tensions in Vietnam as Mark Atwood Lawrence argues in The Vietnam War:

Despite debilitating weaknesses caused by four years of war and occupation by Germany, the French government was determined to restore colonial rule over Indochina. Across the political spectrum, French leaders believes that that their country could recover its power and prestige only by reclaiming its empire. Indochina held particular importance because of its economic value and its great distance from Europe. Together with possessions in Africa and the Middle East, it enabled France to claim the status of a truly global power.

There are plenty of other examples of declining powers sparking global crises in an effort to assert their own influence and power; Austro-Hungary’s role exacerbating the powder key that was Europe in 1914, Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Egypt in 1956. There is a sense that political entities in decline are prone to make poor decisions out of desperation, and both the Klingon Empire and the Cardassian Union fit within this familiar historical rhythm.

The best laid plans…

When the Obsidian Order launched an attack on the Dominion in Improbable Cause and The Die Is Cast, under the pretext of protecting the Alpha Quadrant, their botched mission resulted in the collapse of military government. When the Klingons invaded Cardassia in The Way of the Warrior, under to the pretext of protecting the Alpha Quadrant from a Changeling threat, they shattered the region’s fragile political equilibrium. When the Cardassians allied themselves with the Dominion in In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light, they set the Alpha Quadrant on the path to war.

These years of poor decisions come home to roost for both the Klingons and the Cardassians in across these final ten episodes, suggesting a long-delayed pay-off as the two grand empires are forced to face the erosion of their status. The Klingon Empire confronts its own decay in When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind, episodes that serve as a de facto two-parter nestled snuggly within this sprawling ten-episode run. In many ways, When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind represent the culmination of Ronald D. Moore’s work developing the Klingon Empire.

Chanc(ellor)ing his arm…

Moore (justifiably) considers himself “the Margaret Mead of the Klingon Empire.” He landed the role by chance in the third season of The Next Generation, when Michael Piller asked him to write a memo on Klingon culture. From there, it quickly spiraled:

The first “real” Klingon story I wrote was Sins of the Father and I remember being very intrigued and excited by the fact that so little was known or established about one of the bedrock cultures in the Star Trek universe. Just the word “Klingon” had entered the American lexicon, and yet their homeworld didn’t even have a name when I wrote “Sins.” I began to love both the culture I was (essentially) creating by weaving together different threads established in both the original Trek series, the movies, and the handful of episodes dealing with them in Next Generation and the opportunity to really define this society. As I got deeper into Worf and the Klingons — their roots, their religion, their social mores — the more I began to experience something similar to that of the novelist delving deeper into one of his supporting character’s backstories and finding it to sometimes be more interesting than the book itself.

Moore became the go-to writer for Klingon-centric episodes; Reunion, Redemption, Part I, Redemption, Part II, Ethics, Rightful Heir, The House of Quark, Sons of Mogh, Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, Soldiers of the Empire.

Confederates once again.

With that in mind, it makes sense for Moore to draw down the curtain on the Klingon Empire. Of course, there are Klingon-centric episodes after Tacking Into the Wind. In particular, after spending a season and a half blundering around with Klingons in episodes like Broken Bow or Unexpected or Sleeping Dogs or Marauders, Star Trek: Enterprise found something unique and interesting to say about class and culture in the Klingon Empire in episodes like Judgment, Affliction and Divergence. Star Trek: Discovery built its first season around the Klingons.

However, Tacking Into the Wind feels like a nice place to leave the Klingon Empire, understanding that there is unlikely to be any later story about this alien race told within the confines of the Berman era. It seems likely that any subsequent series picking up after Deep Space Nine would be as removed from this framework as The Next Generation was from the original Star Trek. After all, Kirk got to have his own “last Klingon story” in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, so it is only fair.

Kira’ plan went down a bomb.

Moore was planning to continue working on the franchise after wrapping up on Deep Space Nine. He would even contribute to Barge of the Dead, a Klingon-centric episode of Voyager. However, Moore acknowledged in his infamous exit interview that the franchise needed to take a breather from the continuity that had built up around races like the Klingons:

A new series should not take place in the same time period as The Next Generation. It should not revisit any of the current plot lines. It shouldn’t deal with the Klingons, and the Cardassians, or the Romulans and their current state. It should either go forward in the future, or back in the past.

This is largely what happened. The Klingons that would appear on Enterprise or Discovery feel disconnected from Moore’s take on them. (To be fair, actor J.G. Hertzler did write a series of follow-up novels focusing on the reign of High Chancellor Martok.) As such, Tacking Into the Wind exists as a convenient place under which to draw a line.

Glory to you, Gowron.

Tacking Into the Wind is a culmination of a theme that has been building for years. After the humiliating defeat at Chin’toka in The Changing Face of Evil, the Klingons are the only thing standing between the Alpha Quadrant and the Dominion. However, when Gowron returns to the station to personally take command of the military campaign, it very quickly becomes clear that this is not a viable status quo. The Klingon Empire is not stable enough to support such weight. The institutions are too decayed and eroded to properly bear that responsibility.

Gowron uses his position of authority, as the one man standing between the Dominion and the Alpha Quadrant, to effective secure his political position. He seeks to embarrass Martok to secure his own standing. “The Chancellor sees him as a political threat,” Worf explains. “These attacks against the Dominion are designed to humiliate the General in the eyes of the Empire. To force him to endure defeat after defeat.” He elaborates, “It would not be the first time that a Klingon Chancellor put his own interests ahead of the greater good.”

The man who would be Chancellor.

None of this is out of character for Gowron, as established across the run of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Gowron has always been a shrewd political operator. When he was introduced in Reunion, Gowron was presented as a character just as cynical as Duras. Gowron tried to bribe K’Ehleyr to rig the selection process in his favour. Although Moore has explicitly stated that Duras murdered K’Empec to take control of the High Council, Reunion is decidedly non-committal. Duras’ guilt is never confirmed. It is entirely possible that Gowron poisoned K’Empec.

Gowron has presided over any number of threats to his authority. He tried to draw the Federation into the Klingon Civil War to support his Chancellorship in Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. He explicitly rewrote the history of that conflict in Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II to downplay the Federation’s involvement. He faced off a political challenge from the resurrected Kahless in Rightful Heir. He brought stability to the Klingon Empire by manufacturing a war against Cardassia in The Way of the Warrior.

“I’m molting, molting! Oh, what a world!”

It is no surprise that Gowron would risk everything to hold on to power. Early in Tacking Into the Wind, Sisko rather bluntly lays out the stakes. “Those Klingon ships out there are the only thing between us and the Breen,” Sisko reflects. “Gowron is risking the safety of the entire Alpha Quadrant and he has to stop.” However, this conflict never feels absurd or forced. It never feels like Gowron is behaving inconsistently with how the audience has come to understand his character.

In fact, Tacking Into the Wind features any number of truly great Gowron moments that play to the strength of Robert O’Reilly as a performer, helping him stand out as one of the franchise’s best guest stars. Early in the episode, Sisko calls Gowron out on his reckless strategy. “Have you read Worf’s after-action report?” Sisko challenges. “Seven Klingon ships destroyed. Five others severely damaged. General Martok himself in critical condition in the Rotarran Sickbay.” Gowron sheepishly replies, almost embarrassed, “He’s expected to survive?” It’s a beautiful moment.

Revolutionary developments.

Later in the episode, when Worf directly confronts Gowron at the briefing, Gowron very cleverly tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Worf without losing face. “If you were a true Klingon, I would kill you where you stand,” Gowron boasts. “Fortunately for you, that child’s uniform shields you from your rightful fate.” It is quite clear that Gowron doesn’t want to fight Worf, because that obvious involves massive risk. However, Gowron also does not want to be a coward. As a master politician, Gowron makes a wonderful quick gamble, albeit one that doesn’t pay off.

Still, the beauty of Tacking Into the Wind extends beyond Gowron himself. Gowron is not an exceptional case, but instead a representation of a system rot in Klingon society. The Klingon Empire is so corrupt that Gowron isn’t even particularly exceptional. In Sins of the Father, it is revealed that High Chancellor K’Empec covered up the fact that the House of Duras had been collaborating with the Romulans. K’Empec was clearly trying to preserve some sense of stability, which secured his own political position while embracing something truly toxic at the heart of the Empire.

Disarming conversation.

In keeping with the idea that Tacking Into the Wind is an episode that could only really work as part of a serialised narrative, it is worth noting that the episode did not materialise fully formed. Instead, Moore seemed to stitch the epic together almost by chance. Moore revealed to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion that he didn’t originally plan to kill off Gowron in the episode, that the idea came from outside:

“And then Micheal Piller, who [in his capacity as creative consultant] writes a memo on every episode, said that he thought Worf should kill Gowron, and either take over the Empire himself or give it to Martok,” Moore continues. “I read that and thought, ‘Wow! That’s a much better idea.’ I went to Ira, and he agreed, so on my second pass, I sent the arc in that direction. This whole idea of the Klingon Empire and what it’s become hadn’t even come up until I was working on that pass. That’s when I realised that this was my last opportunity to do anything with the Klingons, these aliens that I had been involved with for a long time,” Moore relates. “I wanted to view the Klingons in a different manner, and look at what I’d created with the same cold eye as Ezri. Yeah, these guys are corrupt, and Worf has put up with that for a long time. They talk a good game about how honourable they are, but they’re not capable of living up to their ideals. I thought, ‘That’s an important thing to say, so let’s say it.'”

Indeed, this critique of Klingon culture feels like a logical end point for this arc, with Ronald D. Moore deconstructing one of his greatest contributions to the franchise. In some ways, it mirrors the deconstruction of Star Trek‘s military fetishism and gung-ho exceptionalism in Valiant, another episode that felt like a necessary step on his journey beyond the franchise; Valiant and Tacking Into the Wind are essentially about Ronald D. Moore killing his darlings.

“Let’s put this to a vote. The eyes have it.”

All of this comes out in the short scene between Worf and Ezri, in which Ezria basically lays out the entire problem with the Klingon Empire. “I think that the situation with Gowron is a symptom of a bigger problem,” she explains. “The Klingon Empire is dying. And I think it deserves to die.” It is an interesting call back to Kirk’s sentiments in The Undiscovered Country, perhaps a more even-handed reflection on the situation. After all, the Klingon Empire is a bloated and corrupt imperialist institution. While it would be unforgivable to kill it, it might be justifiable to let it die.

“I see a society that is in deep denial about itself,” Ezri muses. “We’re talking about a warrior culture that prides itself on maintaining centuries old traditions of honour and integrity, but in reality it’s willing to accept corruption at the highest levels.” There’s a very strong sense that the pantomime of honour and integrity is just a smokescreen, that the duty and valour are little more than affectations reinforced by rituals. Ezri’s criticisms are entirely on-point and fit quite comfortably with everything that the audience has seen over the past nine years.

“With respect, it would be unwise to confuse race and culture.”

“Who was the last leader of the High Council that you respected?” she demands. “Has there even been one? And how many times have you had to cover up the crimes of Klingon leaders because you were told it was for the good of the Empire? I know this sounds harsh, but the truth is, you have been willing to accept a government that you know is corrupt. Gowron’s just the latest example. Worf, you are the most honourable and decent man I’ve ever met, and if you’re willing to tolerate men like Gowron, then what hope is there for the Empire?”

It is a beautiful scene. As with a lot of the other plot threads running through Tacking Into the Wind, it demonstrates how effortlessly Ronald D. Moore can synchronise character and theme. That conversation would only have been possible with Ezri, not with Jadzia. Jadzia was too close to the Klingon Empire, as Ezri concedes, “I’m very touched that you still consider me to be a member of the House of Martok, but I tend to look at the Empire with a little more scepticism than Curzon or Jadzia did.” It is a beat that is really and truly rooted in who Ezri is.

To be fair, what better way to pay homage to Gowron than with his eyes open?

For the first, but not the last, time in this epic stretch of episodes, Deep Space Nine presents a transition of power involving a recurring character. At the end of Tacking Into the Wind, Worf crowns Martok as leader of the Klingon Empire. “Hail, Martok! Leader of the Empire! Leader of destiny.” Martok will not be the only recurring character to find himself elevated to a position of authority by the time that Deep Space Nine comes to an end, which is a nice way of reinforcing the sense that the Dominion War represents the end of an era for the major powers involved.

In The Dogs of War, Rom will be named Grand Nagus of the Ferengi Alliance. Although neither character ends up with a formalised title suggesting a position of authority, What You Leave Behind suggests that Odo will replace the Female Changeling as the nominal head of the Dominion and that Elim Garak will play a significant role in the new Cardassia that will emerge from the ruins. In some respects, this feels like “small universe syndrome”, the suggestion that the primary characters on Deep Space Nine are ever only a single degree of separation from the galaxy’s power brokers.

Garak attacks!

To be fair, there is certainly historical precedence for this. Many of the major figures in era-defining conflicts went on to shape national (and international) politics in the years that followed. Ulysses S. Grant led the Union Army during the Civil War and was later elected President of the United States. General Charles deGaulle led the Free French during the Second World War and became leader of France in the aftermath. General Eisenhower became President of the United States after leading the American forces in the Second World War.

There is a certain amount of logic in Martok’s ascension to leader of the High Council, given his position of galactic prominence and the key role that he played in the Dominion War. In fact, it certainly makes more sense than Rom’s elevation to the position of Grand Nagus, which seems to have been primarily rooted in the massive contrivance of having Zek start dating Ishka in Ferengi Love Songs. Indeed, Martok seems like a pretty obvious choice to take control of the Klingon Empire, given what the audience knows about his origins and his reputation.

Odo is not feeling himself lately.

At least it wasn’t Worf. The obvious temptation in writing an episode like Tacking Into the Wind would be to make Worf leader of the Klingon Empire, because he is the franchise’s most iconic Klingon. Indeed, Michael Piller even suggested as much in his memo to Ronald D. Moore. Luckily, Moore explains, the production team never seriously considered Worf as a candidate:

We always intended to give the Empire to Martok. I didn’t think that the Klingons would accept Worf as their leader after all that’s happened. By the way, there was a nice scene that got cut for time at the end of the show where Ezri asked Worf what it was like to stand at the pinnacle of the Empire for a moment and Worf said he remembered wishing his father had been there to see it.

The suggestion that the Klingons would never accept Worf as leader is an astute piece of political logic. In many political systems, political assassins are rarely directly rewarded for their service. In Britain, the Conservative Party’s attitude towards “stalking horses” comes to mind; those responsible for toppling party leaders are rarely elected to replace them.

It (Mar)tok it’s toll on him.

Worf’s literal assassination of Gowron puts blood on his hands. It is the premeditated murder of the High Chancellor. It is a phenomenally cynical action. Indeed, the murder of Gowron in Tacking Into the Wind is one of the most morally ambiguous actions in the entire run of Deep Space Nine, with two senior Starfleet officers essentially organising a coup d’état within an allied power during wartime. While this assassination is arguably justified by the clear and present danger to the Alpha Quadrant, it is still one of the darkest things that Deep Space Nine has ever done.

After all, Sisko was only an accessory to murder in In the Pale Moonlight. He was manipulated by Garak, manoeuvred into position. Garak argues that Sisko knew what might happen, but Sisko still operated at a level of remove from the murder of Senator Vreenak. In contrast, Sisko tacitly signs off on the assassination of Gowron in Tacking Into the Wind. Meeting with Worf, he states, “Something has to be done.” Worf concurs, “Agreed. And I do have a solution. But it will not be easy.” Sisko responds, “Do whatever it takes, Mister Worf.” There is barely plausible deniability there.

“Hey, you can’t judge me, Mr. I-Became-A-Terrorist-Because-My-Girlfriend-Did-Some-Sculpting-With-Vanessa-Williams.”

This is another example of how Tacking Into the Wind is perfectly attuned to these characters, even while constructing a story about the broad sweep of history. Sisko’s willingness to condone the murder of an allied leader in pursuit of the greater good is a logical extension of the compromises that he has made over the past two seasons, an example of how the Dominion War has eroded his sense of moral certainty. In In the Pale Moonlight, Sisko fretted over a series of murders committed by Garak. In Tacking Into the Wind, he doesn’t bat an eye at signing off on political assassination.

Small touches like this add a dramatic irony to Sisko’s fate in What You Leave Behind. In a very literal sense, Sisko gets to come home from the Dominion War in the series finale. However, there is also a sense that Sisko could never go back to having a normal life after everything that he has done. Rapture and Sacrifice of Angels suggested an abstract connection between the Prophets and the Dominion War, hinting at the idea that “the war in heaven” and “the war in space” might overlap in some vague metaphysical sense.

You can’t go home again.

Sacrifice of Angels suggested that Sisko sealed his fate when he compromised with the Prophets to stop the Dominion fleet flooding into the Alpha Quadrant; that that was the moment when Sisko sealed his fate and ensured that would be “of Bajor, but will find no rest there.” However, it is also possible to interpret the scene as a metaphor for Sisko’s larger character arc. In the face of an existential threat and overwhelming odds, Sisko makes a number of horrific compromises; these compromises ensure that Sisko can never really go home, even after the war is over.

Although Tacking Into the Wind could never really work as a standalone narrative, instead serving as the dramatic pay-off to years of storytelling, the installment itself is meticulously crafted as a forty-five minute block of television. In particular, Tacking Into the Wind very effectively parallels the decay and reinvention of the Klingon Empire with the crisis gripping the Cardassian Union. It is a very effective thematic juxtaposition, often with scenes dealing with similar themes directly following one another to underscore these parallels.

Wrestling with their demons.

Sisko and Worf discuss what to do about Gowron in the scene directly before Kira and Garak discuss what to do about Rusot, underscoring the idea that both Gowron and Rusot embody the same basic idea; an outmoded model of national identity that needs to be removed for their societies to move forward. “Kill him before he kills you,” Garak urges Kira, explicitly stating the subtext of the conversation between Sisko and Worf about the threat that Gowron poses to the future of the Alpha Quadrant.

Later, the scene in which Damar is forced to confront the horror of what Cardassia has always been is juxtaposed against Worf having a similar conversation with Ezri. In both cases, a character who considers themselves to be patriotic is forced to confront the rot at the heart of their society. Once again, Garak provides an observation that articulates the subtext of both scenes, telling Kira, “Damar has a certain romanticism about the past. He could use a dose of cold water.” In many ways, Tacking Into the Wind is about providing that dose of cold water to both Qo’nos and Cardassia.

No Damar-cation between civilians and legitimate targets.

Indeed, the climax of Tacking Into the Wind juxtaposes the deaths of Gowron and Rusot, both at the hands of patriots who have been awakened to the fact that their cultures need to change. The deaths of Gowron and Rusot are presented as exorcisms for Qo’nos and Cardassia. “He was my friend,” Damar eulogises Rusot. “But his Cardassia’s dead, and it won’t be coming back.” Worf never really consider Gowron a friend, but he had been an ally at times; Gowron explicitly embraces Worf as a friend in When It Rains… However, Gowron represents a Qo’nos that needs to die.

One of the smarter and more interesting aspects of this sprawling ten-episode narrative is the way in which it embraces both sides of the Dominion War. For most of the Dominion War, Deep Space Nine focuses on the Federation perspective with little real consideration of how the other side approaches the conflict. Dukat only appeared on viewscreens in By Inferno’s Light, for example, an external force representing the Dominion and Cardassia. Damar and Weyoun were largely subjects of external scrutiny in stories like Statistical Probabilities and In the Pale Moonlight.

One big happy family.

This focus on the Federation makes sense. The Dominion War is clearly something that exists outside the frame of reference for many of these characters. To be fair, many of the primary characters on Deep Space Nine are veterans; Sisko served in the Tzenkethi Wars and survived Wolf 359, while O’Brien fought in the Cardassian Wars and Kira survived the Cardassian Occupation. However, there is a sense that Starfleet has never faced an existential crisis on this scale. The Dominion War is a battle for survival. The Federation is fighting for its existence.

As such, it makes sense that the fifth and sixth seasons should adopt a very paranoid and claustrophobic approach to the larger narrative of the Dominion War. The Ship is based around the fact that the Federation simply cannot trust the Dominion, and insists peace is impossible where trust does not exist. Stories like Soldiers of the Empire and Blaze of Glory suggest that the Dominion is amassing troops and weapons, building towards war in a way that is not confirmed through diplomatic channels, but whispered through hearsay and scuttlebutt.

Consoling caution.

A large part of Statistical Probabilities is anchored in the question of what the Dominion wants from peace negotiations, and how much can be discerned from recordings and broadcasts – or even face-to-face across the negotiating table. In the Pale Moonlight hinges on “a holographic recording of a secret meeting held at the highest level of the Dominion in which the planned invasion of Romulus is being discussed”, where the recording is fake and there is no way to know for sure whether any such meeting ever took place or whether any invasion was ever planned.

This focus on the Federation perspective makes sense from a dramatic perspective, but it does create certain problems. Most obviously, it creates a challenge in trying to construct an anti-war narrative. If the Federation are unequivocally the good guys and the Dominion are an unknown quantity, the audience will inevitably embrace the idea that the war is just and heroic. After all, it is very hard to craft a convincing anti-war narrative. François Truffaut famously argued that there is no such thing as an anti-war film, because all war movies must valourise the act in some way.

On his clone again.

Indeed, the production team became concerned about this subtext going into the seventh season. It is quite clear that the writers never intended to glorify warfare in the fifth and sixth seasons, presenting the conflict as brutal and tragic and senseless in stories like Rocks and Shoals. However, the seventh season is structured in such a way as to be even more overtly anti-war. The Siege of AR-558 is the most brutal condemnation of warfare within the Star Trek canon, and a very necessary story to be told within the Star Trek framework.

However, the seventh season also made a conscious effort to humanise the Cardassians. Humanising the enemy was a necessary part of embracing a more overtly anti-war position. Notably, the seventh season spends a lot more time with Damar and Weyoun than the sixth had. Building off their scenes together in Tears of the Prophets, episodes like Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols made a point to spend more time with them than was strictly necessary, to flesh out their characters and perspectives. Treachery, Faith and the Great River made Weyoun a tragic figure.

Seeing eye-to-eye.

The final arc of Deep Space Nine embraces the idea that the Dominion War is not solely the story of the Federation surviving in the face of overwhelming odds. In particular, these final ten episodes make a point to insist that there are two sides to every story, often juxtaposing the Dominion and Federation responses to particular incidents as a way of demonstrating that every battle comes at a cost to some side or another. These ten episodes tease out the idea that perhaps dead Cardassians are no more or no less tragic a loss than dead Klingons or dead Romulans.

This juxtaposition is first suggested in Strange Bedfellows, when the episode makes a point to offer two juxtaposed accounts of the attack on Septimus III. (Appropriately enough, given the symmetry of Tacking Into the Wind, those perspectives are both Klingon and Cardassian.) Damar is devastated by the casualties inflicted in the attack. “An entire Cardassian Order has been wiped out,” he laments. “Five hundred thousand men!” Damar’s anxiety is juxtaposed with Martok’s joy. “It’s a reserve unit. Old men and walking wounded. They don’t stand a chance.”

Face off.

Appropriately enough, that juxtaposition from Strange Bedfellows is mirrored in Tacking Into the Wind. The Klingon attack on Avenal VII does not go as well. Now Sisko laments the senseless loss of life. “This whole operation was a waste of resources, men and equipment,” he protests. The sequence is juxtaposed with the Dominion response to the same attack. “As you can see, the Klingon raid on Avenal was easily broken up,” Weyoun boasts. In the seventh season, the production team suggest that the Dominion War is akin to the Great River, it flows through everything.

The observation that war is a tragedy on all sides is a cliché, but the seventh season of Deep Space Nine makes a point to explore the equivalence of loss. Of course, Deep Space Nine is very careful not to suggest a moral equivalence here. There is no moral equivalence between the Dominion and the Federation, just as it would be disingenuous to suggest a moral equivalence between the Allies and the Axis during the Second World War. Garak even concedes as much to Bashir during his final scene in What You Leave Behind.

At arm’s length.

“Some may say that we’ve gotten just what we deserved,” Garak reflects on the ruins of his homeworld. “After all, we’re not entirely innocent, are we? And I’m not just speaking of the Bajoran occupation. No, our whole history is one of arrogant aggression. We’ve collaborated with the Dominion, betrayed the entire Alpha Quadrant. Oh, no, no. There’s no doubt about it. We’re guilty as charged.” Indeed, Tacking Into the Wind acknowledges as much by forcing Damar to confront the reality of what Cardassia is and has been.

On the trip to steal the Breen weapon, Damar discovers that his wife and children have been executed as enemies of the state. “The casual brutality of it,” Damar observes. “A waste of life. What kind of state tolerates the murder of innocent women and children? What kind of people give those orders?” Kira points out the irony of his outrage. “Yeah, Damar, what kind of people give those orders?” In ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Dukat had talked about how the Cardassians would round up Bajorans at random for public execution in response to terror attacks. Damar never questioned that.

The Klingons reach the end of their imperial phase.

Tacking Into the Wind never shies away from the fact that Cardassia has made terrible decisions with terrible costs, and been responsible for the inflicting of terrible suffering. Tacking Into the Wind refuses to let Damar and Cardassia off the hook for this. In fact, even after Damar repudiates that old and outdated conception of Cardassia, he still dies at the end of What You Leave Behind. Damar might have opened his eyes to the problems with Cardassian society, but there is only so much that can be redeemed. Like Sisko, Damar has done things that demand that he never return home again.

The final ten episodes of Deep Space Nine do a fantastic job with the character of Damar. Damar had been introduced as Dukat’s right-hand man in Return to Grace, but had slowly developed into a fully-formed character across the sixth and seventh seasons of Deep Space Nine. These episodes give Damar a heroic arc, transitioning from a barely functional alcoholic into a patriotic revolutionary forced to come to terms with the violence and brutality at the heart of his culture. It is one of the most compelling character arcs across the fifty-odd year history of the Star Trek franchise.

Trial and terror.

Damar even gets one of the most striking and memorable deaths of What You Leave Behind. Biggs confessed a fondness for the finer details of his death in The Fifty-Year Mission:

I died in the last five minutes of the last episode of the last season, which is great. We got the script and it says, “Damar is killed by a nondescript Jem’Hadar.” I said, “Oh, c’mon. I can’t die like that.” The director, Allan Kroeker, said, “Well, how do you want to go?” I said, “I want to go like I’m in a frickin’ John Woo movie. I want two big guns. I want to take out fifty Jem’Hadar and I want to die in somebody’s arms.” He said, “Okay,” and I just happened to die in Garak’s arms.

There is a nice symmetry to Damar’s death, Biggs acknowledging that “was the way that my character died in the Alamo, pretty much.” It is a nice parallel, given Bashir and O’Brien’s recurring fixation on the Alamo across these episodes. (That fixation notably established in The Changing Face of Evil, where Damar turns on the Dominion.)

Remember to hydrate, kids!

The beauty of this exploration of Cardassian culture and culpability in these ten episodes is that this acknowledgement of guilt and responsibility is never used to lessen the sense of tragedy and loss. The Cardassians suffer horribly for their imperialist arrogance, but Deep Space Nine never loses sympathy for them. What You Leave Behind understands that this disaster was a direct result of a culture that needs to change, but still responds to the deaths of countless Cardassians with compassion and understanding.

It is telling that Garak’s admission of responsibility comes in a scene with Bashir, the Deep Space Nine character who most explicitly embodies Gene Roddenberry’s humanist optimism. For all that Garak blames Cardassia for its own suffering, Bashir attempts to respond with sympathy. “You and I both know that the Cardassians are a strong people. They’ll survive. Cardassia will survive.” Similarly, both Sisko and Ross refuse Martok’s invitation to drink a toast over the Cardassian dead, to accept this tragic loss as “poetic justice.”

So Nerys and yet so far.

The seventh season of Deep Space Nine retains the optimism at the heart of the Star Trek franchise. In What You Leave Behind, it is telling that the Dominion War ends with an act of mercy rather than an act of genocide. Even in Tacking Into the Wind, there is clearly hope that these broken worlds can rebuild themselves and become something better. Deep Space Nine genuinely believes that Martok can be the High Chancellor that the Klingon Empire needs, and that Damar can be redeemed. Even amid all the death and destruction, there is hope to be found.

While all of this works very well from a thematic perspective, Tacking Into the Wind is also a meticulously constructed piece of television. The plotting and the pacing of the episode are superb. It is worth noting, for example, that none of the big battles discussed in the episode actually take place on-screen. The drama involving the future of the Klingon Empire does not unfold on impressive new sets or against a computer-generated backdrop, but instead unfolds in familiar surroundings featuring groups of characters talking to one another.

It all goes down the test tubes.

In Tacking Into the Wind, the future of the Klingon Empire is a drama with five players; three key Klingons and two supporting Starfleet officers. However, the episode is never lessened by this weird sense of intimacy, by the idea that the fate of the Alpha Quadrant is decided by a brawl in the briefing room. As with a lot of Ronald D. Moore’s Klingon-centric scripts, there is a faux Shakespearean quality to the drama in Tacking Into the Wind, a sense that the epic arc of history is indeliably tied up in flaws of character.

This is also true in the episode’s secondary storyline, focusing on the tensions within Damar’s rebellion. For all the high stakes and impressive drama, there is a strange intimacy to these discussions about the future of the Cardassian Union. In particular, amid all this plotting and carnage, Tacking Into the Wind never loses sight of the dynamic between Kira and Odo. As with episodes like Shadows and Symbols or Chimera, there is a sense that Kira and Odo really do love one another, and really do understand one another.

Holding himself together…

As Odo’s disease accelerates, he tries to hide it from his companions. Garak discovers this by accident, and decides to tell Kira. “I know,” Kira bluntly tells Garak. “I love him, Garak. You think I really wouldn’t notice?” It is a wonderfully sweet moment, a very genuine and sympathetic expression of the love between two characters that recalls the elegance of “… because it is you” from Gravity. It very effectively answers to the question “how could Kira not know about what was happening to Odo?” with of course Kira knows what is happening to Odo.”

“Why the pretence?” Garak asks. Kira explains, “Because I also know that he doesn’t want me to find out about it. He wants to put up a brave front and protect me from the truth. Well, fine. If that’s what makes this easier for him, if that gives him one last shred of dignity to hold onto, then I’ll go on ignoring what’s happening to him until the very end.” It’s a beautiful illustration of the love that exists between these two characters, that Kira understands Odo so profoundly that she is willing to respect his stubborn pride because she recognises how important his self-image is to him.

A sick twist.

Incidentally, this subplot is also a result of outside forces at work, of Ronald D. Moore receiving input from other members of the creative team. As Rene Echevarria explains in The Fifty-Year Mission, the decision to have Odo infected by the disease was made quite late in the process:

In When It Rains… we were originally going to find out they were behind it. When I was working on it, I realised that we had a two- or three-episode arc to get there that it was Section 31. First would be, “My God, this was genetically engineered; my God, it’s Section 31; my God, what do we do?” I realised it was basically a “so what?” They had done something in the past to hurt the bad guys. Yes, it’s morally corrupt, perhaps, but we’re not going to turn and offer the bad guys the cure, even if we could find one. I realised that Odo had to be sick in the middle of the writing, and Ron was in the middle of his script, and he said, “Are you crazy? No way, that’s going to ruin everything in my script.” But we talked about it, he realised I was right, and he had to make the adjustment. So Odo’s in danger and you have no choice but to do something about it. That’s a good example of how things change and mutate.

Like Michael Piller’s suggestion that Gowron had to die, Echevarria insistence that Odo had to be infected greatly enhances the plot of Tacking Into the Wind. It adds another complication on top of an already tense situation, and gets Odo back to Deep Space Nine, and gives Kira and Odo a powerful emotional hook.

Explosive developments.

Tacking Into the Wind is a superlative piece of television, demosntrating the unique strengths and opportunities of long-form storytelling. It offers a dramatic pay-off that would have been impossible on The Next Generation or Voyager, wrapping up story threads that have been years in the making. Arriving just after the midpoint in the impressive ten-episode closing arc, Tacking Into the Wind has the feel of an ending. Of course, episodes like Penumbra and The Changing Face of Evil had the feeling of the beginning of the end, but there is a definite change in tone here.

It could be argued that Tacking Into the Wind marks the point at which it feels like Deep Space Nine is really ending, when the story threads set in motion by Penumbra begin to come together in something resembling a resolution. The Klingon Empire and the Cardassian Union are dead, even if the death throes of the Cardassian Union would spill over across the remaining four episodes of the series. Tacking Into the Wind is a joint funeral, an acknowledgement of that passing and confirmation that things cannot go on as they have.

Cardassia is dead. Long live Cardassia.

Tacking Into the Wind is a Klingon death howl for two of Deep Space Nine‘s central civilisations.

6 Responses

  1. No comments? Time to fix that. “Tacking Into the Wind” is “Deep Space Nine” at its very best, and shows many things that the final arc, as well as the series as a whole, tried to accomplish. Not only is it flawlessly plotted (it effortlessly balances multiple compelling plot threads and held my attention from start to finish) and incredibly riveting, it also provides a thoughtful exploration of two of Trek’s most interesting species and ties back loose threads stretching back 9 years (or 11 years depending on your perspective).

    • Tacking Into the Wind might be the last five-star episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

      • I agree. “Extreme Measures” has a bungled plot but is carried by the O’Brien/Bashir stuff as usual. “The Dogs of War” is half-great and half-passable. I can’t justifiably give “What You Leave Behind” five stars, much as I love it. If only they had just cut that stupid pah-wraith plot, it could have been a truly perfect way to end the series. The final arc would have been so much stronger without it. The difference in quality between Damar’s arc and Dukat/Winn’s role in these last few episodes is really something.

      • Yep, and completely unforeseeable. Watching Return to Grace, imagine telling somebody that Damar was the character to watch coming out of it.

  2. One of the nice touches I love about this episode is how incredibly simpatico Kira and Garak are. Apart from Kira’s hesitancy to murder Rusot, there’s virtually no daylight between them on what needs to be done and how to go about it. Best seen when Garak guns down everyone on the Dominion bridge; Odo is shocked and indignant, while Kira doesn’t bat an eye.

    But my favorite part of this episode is Ezri’s dissection of Klingon hypocrisy. Considering how much the franchise–and everything around it–glorifies the Klingons, her subtle anti-Klingon sentiment is a breath of fresh air–not just in this episode, but in her slam at Worf’s “little Klingon aphorisms”.

    • Tacking Into the Wind is brilliant. One of Ronald D. Moore’s tightest scripts. Every part of it works, and works in sync with the other parts. “Yeah, Damar. What kind of people give those orders?” It’s extremely impressive that it manages to stand out within the final run of heavily serialized episodes, which tend to blend together in the modern era. Even in modern television, only the very best shows feature strong serialization, but with episodes well structured enough to stand on their own merits as well.

      The final chapter was uneven, but it did give us two stone cold classics, being this episode and the first hour of What You Leave Behind.

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