That’s the crux of the problem here. It’s not just that the Bajorans believe Sisko to be their Emissary, a messianic figure whose sacred task is guiding their people through a period of great tribulation, it’s that the evidence bears it out. As for Sisko, he’s part of an organization who views it as nearly a sacred tenet that you mustn’t mess with local history, and he’s been given the keys to the entire culture. While his mission is explicitly to get Bajor into the Federation, it would be immoral to simply command them as their Emissary to join up.
Especially when the Prophets tell you that’s a bad move.
This episode, “Rapture” is the third in what I like to think of as the Emissary Trilogy, following up with Season Three’s “Destiny” and Season Four’s “Accession.” The first of those was about the prophecy that was misinterpreted as a promise of doom when it was really just foretelling a long-range relay through the wormhole. The second was about the man emerging from the wormhole claiming to be the Emissary, and forcing Sisko to fight for a position he had never previously wanted.
“Rapture” builds on these ideas. Sisko has already accepted the truth of the prophecies -- and when you think about it, a bunch of telepathic aliens who don’t experience time in a linear fashion attempting to communicate with a humanoid mind would look a lot like prophecy -- and he has accepted the role of the Emissary. Although, at this point, he’s kind of showing off.
On the eve of Bajor’s induction into the Federation, Sisko gets distracted by a rather important piece of art. A twenty-thousand-year-old painting of the lost city of B’hala has been returned by the Cardassian government. I’ve always liked the repeated details that Bajor is really a much more ancient culture than the bulk of the Alpha Quadrant powers. Their comparative lack of military might can be easily chalked up to them not really valuing martial strength overmuch. After all, these are a people who regularly commune with godlike entities for whom seeing the future is about as difficult as going to the bathroom. This would likely produce a culture that places a higher value on art, spiritual truth, and taking the long view.
Sisko grows obsessed with B’hala, specifically, a carved spire in the center of the city which would supposedly have the location carved into the side. After he uses a little zoom and enhance trickery on a convenient reflection, he retreats to a holosuite to try to puzzle out the ancient riddle at the heart of this lost city. When Quark’s badly maintained holosuite gives him a nasty jolt, he gets exactly what he needs. That energy does something to Sisko’s mind, and now he can perceive the full tapestry of existence. Not only does he find the famously lost city of B’hala like it ain’t no thing, he starts rattling off prophecies.
And, these things are real. The fun, and important, part of this episode is that Sisko’s two most prominent prophecies both turn out to be true. He speaks of a horde of locusts arriving on Bajor but quickly leaving for Cardassia. While this sounds like a reference to the Occupation, it’s a far darker warning of an event that will soon occur. The most damaging to his mission, though, is when he warns Bajor against joining with the Federation. If they join, they will be destroyed. Though it’s never specifically referenced, once the rest of the series unfolds it becomes painfully obvious that the steps Bajor has to use to survive the Dominion War would be impossible were they Federation members. Sisko torpedoes his own mission, because the price would be too high.
Two of the most important women in Sisko’s life make their return in this hour, as well. The more pleasant of the two is Kasidy Yates, fresh off her six-month stint in a Federation jail. She’s served her time for smuggling and ready to get her life back. In a refreshing change, she’s treated as having paid her debt to society, and not in a fake, head-patting kind of way. This is how a truly moral and compassionate society treats its former wrongdoers. There’s no hint that Sisko’s relationship with her will damage his career, or that reasserting his love for her is in any way immoral. Jake is initially concerned Sisko won’t take her back, but it’s a minor point. They’re making a new family, and all three of them have vested interest in making it work.
The other woman is Kai Winn who hasn’t been seen since the third season episode “Shakaar.” DS9 has always tried to shade its villains with enough nuance to make them understandable and perhaps even sympathetic. Winn is no exception, though it took perhaps a little longer in her case. She was always a political animal, using faith as a weapon against her enemies. Here, she comes to accept Sisko as the Emissary, pledging to follow the path he has set out for her. It doesn’t last, but humility is an interesting look on Winn. The most interesting point, though, is when she scolds Kira for the latter’s arrogance. Winn points out that following the Bajoran faith was a crime under the Cardassians, and unlike Kira and her fellow Resistance fighters, Winn had no weapons with which to defend herself. Too often we conflate violence with heroism, and what Winn points out, correctly, is that the opposite is far closer to the truth.
Sisko’s deeper connection to the Prophets comes at a price. Eventually, he falls unconscious, and Jake gives Bashir the go-ahead to operate. The visions are “cured,” mostly because a hero who can perfectly see the future is kind of a challenge to write. Sisko regrets what he lost, but coming home to Kasidy and Jake is worth it.
Next up: A minor difference of opinion about tactics.