Kira is escorted to a conference by none other than our old buddy/overseer of genocide Gul Dukat, recently demoted to freighter captain. Dukat’s standing fell after he brought his half-Bajoran daughter Ziyal (Cyia Batten, introduced in “Indiscretion”) back to Cardassia. When Dukat’s ship arrives at the conference, they find the outpost devoid of any life and the Cardassian and Bajoran attendees killed, after a Klingon attack. Kira then helps Dukat mount an attack on the guilty Bird of Prey, which they eventually capture (Dukat kills the crew). With the new ship in hand, Dukat goes against the Cardassian government — which is too crippled to use some intel from the Bird of Prey to go on the offensive — and starts his own private war against the Klingons. Kira takes Ziyal back to DS9.
Why it’s important
This episode is likely most remembered for the Kira/Dukat pairing that we saw a lot of starting in season four, beginning with “Indiscretion”. We seriously debated reviewing that episode, as it somewhat leads to this one. Without Dukat sparing Ziyal at Kira’s urging, he wouldn’t have been demoted, which means he wouldn’t have been transporting Kira in this episode.
But more importantly was Dukat’s decision to fight the Klingons on his own and to buck the Cardassian government, which we see here. That, of course, hints at the kind of thinking that leads him to take the Cardassian Empire into a very different direction in the fifth season — a direction which has quadrant-shaking consequences, as we’ll get into later.
There’s also some good stuff in this episode about just how far Cardassia had fallen because of the Klingons. The dialog early in the episode about the decaying Cardassian health system was significant — as was the talk of the Klingons acting with impunity behind Cardassian lines.
And, of course, we meet Dukat’s adjutant Damar (Casey Biggs) for the first time here. Of interest is the fact that Damar started out as a glorified extra who went on to be one of the key players in DS9. More on that in later reviews as well.
What doesn’t hold up
There are some smaller things that stand out — mostly regarding the Klingons’ willingness to ignore Dukat’s freighter after its rather paltry attack. Frankly, the Klingons, from what we know of them, would have almost certainly destroyed the freighter, as it was a military vessel. It’s not as if doing so would have been a huge tax on resources.
But, bigger picture, the chumminess between Kira and Dukat seen here and in “Indiscretion” just feels weird in concert with what we see of Dukat later. It almost works because it sort of paints Dukat as a pragmatist willing to do anything or behave in any way that he thinks will help him — and Kira (inconsistently) shows contempt for Dukat. But the way it’s done here, it almost paints Kira as in the wrong. It’s clear that the creators hadn’t decided that they’d make Dukat a villain again when they made these two episodes (or “Apocalypse Rising” in early season five).
The big thing here — which we’ll see a lot of in some upcoming reviews — is just how bad things were for the Cardassians after the fall of the Obsidian Order and the Klingon invasion. “Return to Grace” isn’t a stellar episode, but it’s a good example of the increasingly serial nature of DS9 in the later seasons. This episode could have been a one-off episode. But Dukat’s actions here have a long string of consequences.
Coming next week …
Is Sisko really the Emissary? You bet your earrings he is.