Dukat has spent seven seasons completely obsessed with the protagonists of Deep Space Nine. In Sisko, Dukat sees what he should have been: the alien leader of Bajor, a man looked to by adoring throngs as a father figure. In Kira, he sees the personification of Bajor itself: fierce, independent, and beautiful, violent yet soulful. If Dukat can take the position of the former and win the adoration of the latter, he will have become what he, in his mind, believes he is due.
The problem is, he’s a narcissistic sociopath. So, you know, he has that working against him.
Dukat has drifted as far from the limelight as he ever did once the creators decided he would be the main villain of the show. These days, the Dominion, personified by the Female Changeling, Weyoun, and to a lesser extent Damar, would hold that distinction. Dukat has been broken since Ziyal’s murder at the beginning of season six, emerging only twice, in “Waltz,” to accept his destiny as ultimate evil, and in “Tears of the Prophets,” to open himself to possession by Space Satan and kill Jadzia Dax in cold blood.
It was time for Dukat to surface once again, and to set him in place for the final run of the series. The changes in his last two appearances are the most dramatic, first in destroying his psyche and then replacing it with religious fervor. Dukat has decided to usurp Sisko’s place as Emissary -- after a fashion -- and use that to try to wrest Kira’s soul away. What Dukat doesn’t truly understand is faith. Kira has it. He doesn’t.
Things start normally enough with Bashir, Ezri, and Odo hanging at Quark’s and waiting for services to get out and Kira to join them. The sermon was on the importance of forgiveness, and while Kira can get behind that in theory, it’s sort of hard to forgive Space Hitler. Later, when she returns to her quarters alone, a friend of hers from the Occupation days, Vedek Fala, visits her as well, and partway through shanghais her to Empok Nor.
As a side note, I’ve always found it funny that the simple visual trick they use to show that it’s Empok Nor rather than DS9 is to have the station on its side. This is space, where there’s no such thing as up or down. It’s an effective visual, but it’s faintly funny whenever you actually examine it. Still, based on the way formations and space battles look in the Trek universe, they all seem to agree that there is more or less an up and down.
Anyway, Empok Nor has become the thriving new home of a Pah-wraith cult. All the members are Bajoran, save for the Master, who is none other than Dukat himself. Kira is disappointed in Fala, who is one of those who taught her scripture in the first place. Fala has essentially fallen into the Problem of Evil. This is the theological conundrum that tries to reconcile the existence of evil with a good deity. The simple answer is, of course, that it’s impossible, but that doesn’t wash with people of faith. That’s why it’s called faith and not science.
Kira falls back on “mysterious ways,” which is how religious people say “I don’t know.” This answer is no longer good enough for Fala, and as is probably obvious by my tone, I kind of sympathize with him. The Prophets are “good” largely because we’re told they’re good and we know the Pah-wraiths are evil mostly because they turn people’s eyes red when they possess them. Granted, Sisko has gotten the Prophets to perform what we in the Alpha Quadrant would regard as good acts -- specifically the destruction of the Dominion invasion fleet -- but on their own, they’re kind of inscrutable. The Bajorans worship them mostly because what else are you supposed to do with fourth-dimensional aliens?
The logic of the cult is simple. The Prophets allowed Bajor to be ravaged for eighty years. The Pah-wraiths wanted to take a more active hand in Bajoran life, and were cast out of the Celestial Temple for it. To these believers, the Pah-wraiths are only evil in that they’re the enemies of the Prophets, but considering what the Prophets allowed to happen, being their enemy makes a certain amount of sense.
Whatever Kira’s deficiencies in theology, she has one huge advantage: She knows Dukat. She doesn’t understand why the Prophets do things, but she knows why Dukat does them. This is about the greater glory of Dukat and nothing more. He’s set up his perfect Bajoran utopia, only this time, the Bajorans actually love him like a father. This, to Dukat, is how things were supposed to be the whole time. Kira knows there’s another shoe waiting to drop. She just has to find it.
The shoe turns up when the one pregnant woman in the cult (granted Dukat’s explicit blessing to have a child) delivers. The kid is, predictably, half-Cardassian, because Dukat has a type. Dukat tries to play this off as a miracle, the Pah-wraiths transforming the child into the physical manifestation of Bajoran/Cardassian union, but it’s pretty clear that not everyone is buying it. Later, when the mother confronts him in an airlock (Seriously, honey? I know you’re a cultist, but there have to be less murdery places to have this talk.) and says she can’t lie to her husband. Dukat, predictably, attempts to murder her.
Kira and Fala save the woman in time, and now the clock’s ticking. In perhaps the most important scene of the episode, Dukat prays for guidance. He does this alone, in his quarters. He’s not putting on a show. He’s not trying to convince anyone else. This is for him, and him alone; however, the visual language of the show is quite clear about what a visit from the Wormhole Aliens looks like, and this isn’t it. He’s merely talking to himself. And, as is the inevitable result of prayer, the deity in question tells the faithful to do whatever it was they wanted to do in the first place.
In this case, Dukat’s answer is to go full Jim Jones. He tells the cult that it’s time to shed their bodies and join the war against the Prophets. And wouldn’t you know it, but Dukat has the perfect drug for it: this Obsidian Order concoction that not only kills, but turns the body into dust in a few hours. You know, the exact kind of thing you’d want to fake your death. The cult is down for the idea, but a resourceful Kira manages to escape her room and disrupt the ceremony. She knocks Dukat over, sending his pill tumbling into a bunch of others. She correctly susses out that he had a fake one. Dukat, as he does whenever backed into a corner, starts ranting. This time, it’s about how his work isn’t done, that the Pah-wraiths still need him. The cult turns on him, and he escapes (using a Dominion transporter, so likely not his stolen Starfleet shuttle, which makes me sad). Of the cult, only Fala takes the pill. Kira wants to know why, cradling her old teacher as he dies. “Faith,” he whispers.
I’ll never really understand faith. As close as I can come is Odo, in the beginning of the episode. He thinks it would be comforting, and he would like to spend more time with Kira, so a little faith would be convenient. He can’t get over the hump of accepting something for which he has no evidence. Odo is, at heart, an investigator. He would keep peeling back the layers until he had an answer, while Kira needs some of those layers in place to make sense of the world.
As for Dukat, he too has become a person of faith. Unlike Kira, his faith has become entwined with his narcissism. Dukat isn’t content with following his new gods. He will work to make their will manifest. That’s where he will begin with DS9’s endgame.
Next up: Nog’s got 99 problems but a leg ain’t one.