A dust up between the Federation and the Bajorans ensues when Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) starts teaching Bajoran children at the station’s school that the wormhole is not (explicitly) the Bajorans’ celestial temple. Orthodox Vedek Winn (Louise Fletcher) shows up and starts making noise in her bid to become the next kai, after the previous one’s death earlier in season one. Her chief rival Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim) comes to the station to help mediate, and Winn gets O’Brien’s Bajoran assistant, Neela (Robin Christopher) to make an attempt on Bareil’s life. O’Brien figures out what’s happening in time to alert Sisko, who stops Neela. Kira, who had supported Winn, confronts her, accusing her (rightly) of plotting the whole thing to get Bareil out of the way — though Neela later says she acted alone. This sets the stage for Winn to be a manipulative power player and enemy to the Federation going forward. The event also has the effect of pushing Sisko and Kira together after a season of (mostly) acrimony.
Why it’s important
Early DS9 focused much of its time on turmoil involving the Federation and Bajor. This is likely the best example, as it shows the schism between the spiritual Bajorans and the non-spiritual Federation. It also partly explains the factions forming on Bajor that take effect in the three-parter that begins the second season. We won’t review those three episodes — though they are good — because the actions in them really don’t have consequences. The characters and the extremist group behind it never appear again, except for Winn and Bareil, who are introduced here.
Winn, of course, is a HUGE character in the DS9 mythos, as we’ll see going forward. So, to a lesser extent, is Bareil.
Thematically, this episode shows one of DS9’s strengths — the ability to slowly and gradually depict an evolving situation over several years. The Federation/Bajoran turmoil was personified by Sisko and Kira and the quiet realization that the two of them have at the end of the episode is an important development.
What doesn’t hold up
Really, Keiko O’Brien is the biggest problem in this episode. It’s hard to imagine that she would be so hard-headed AND oblivious to the fact that her secular teachings could cause problems among a spiritual people. In “Emissary”, we learn that the only thing that binds the Bajoran people together is their religion. Even if Keiko disagreed with Winn, her shock at what happened was an example of poorly done exposition (or bad acting, anyway).
The only other problem is that the Bajoran issues seen here as a big damn deal mostly go away in later DS9. Essentially, the creators pivoted from the Bajoran storylines in season two (when the series wasn’t doing well) and brought in the the Maquis, the Dominion and (later) the Klingons. That probably was a smart idea for the sake of the series — but it’s too bad that we see SO little of the Bajoran turmoil going forward (when so much time is wasted on things like Ferengi nonsense or Lwaxana Troi pining for Odo). Other than Sisko’s role as the Emissary, Winn’s backbiting and the eventual rise to power of Kira’s resistance buddy Shakaar in season three, the Bajorans seem pretty content and in step with the Federation.
And that feels odd considering just how tumultuous and factional things were during the Federation’s first year-plus at DS9. I guess you could figure that as more Bajorans accepted Sisko as the Emissary, they figured they should follow his lead and/or they were tired after the struggles with the Cardassians and the brief civil war. But it’s never really explained that way. Maybe implying it was a better choice …
This is a great episode as far as understanding why DS9 was such a square peg in Trek. This wasn’t the type of outing that any other series would have likely attempted. Where I grew up, DS9 and TNG aired back to back. I can imagine someone wondering what the hell they were seeing while watching “In the Hands of the Prophets” after seeing a TNG episode like “Timescape”, a fairly by-the-numbers sci-fi/Trek outing, which aired around the same time.
But “In the Hands of the Prophets” is still a good episode, even if some of the first season issues still show up. It’s the episode that best explains the Bajoran situation after the Cardassian withdrawal.
Coming next week …
Are all humans evolved and peace-loving in the 24th century? Apparently not …
Ferengi Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn) comes to the station. He’s the aging leader of the Ferengi Alliance, and he names our buddy Quark as his replacement — to the shock of some gathered Ferengi who are much higher in the pecking order, including Zek’s son, Krax (Lou Wagner). Quark, initially thrilled at his stunning accession, spends the rest of the episode dodging attempts on his life, including one involving his doofy brother Rom (Max Grodénchik) that Odo stops. But it was all a ploy by Zek, who’s still alive, to test Krax to see if he’s ready to take over. Convinced he’s not, Zek resumes his post, and Quark congratulates Rom on his cunning. Or something.
Why it’s important
The Ferengi are a major Alpha Quadrant race. They, of course, were the aborted main villains on TNG, so DS9 took them and used them (mostly) as comic fodder for an episode or two for the next seven seasons. This episode is the first glimpse we get into the Ferengi’s government structure — essentially, a bunch of conniving businessmen plotting in a room — and Zek’s character shows up a lot over the next seven years. Quark’s odd standing as a bartender/shadowy character near the wormhole is sort of established here, too — as is his odd relationship with Odo.
What doesn’t hold up
What can I say? I largely hate the Ferengi.
While some characters (Quark and later, his nephew, Nog) become more than cliches over the years, most Ferengi are just annoying. Zek and Rom have moments where they’re acceptable in future episodes, but the obvious and weak plays for laughs just make me wonder how much stronger DS9 would have been if the 10-14 episodes devoted to Ferengi goofiness had focused on something else (like, almost anything else). In other words, if a Ferengi episode were anyone’s introduction to DS9, I can totally understand why they didn’t stick with the show.
That said, “The Nagus” is not an awful episode — particularly compared with most Ferengi fare — but it’s just not very good. Shawn actually makes Zek as acceptable as possible and the twist in here is somewhat unpredictable. So, I guess if you were to watch a Ferengi episode, this is one that wouldn’t make your eyes bleed like, say, “Ferengi Love Songs” or “Profit and Lace”.
My biggest problem is that the Ferengi just seem too dim-witted to have achieved as much as they’ve apparently achieved. How does a species of morons have a space empire? The only plausible theory I have on this — which we’ll discuss later — comes in my attempts to retcon poor writing. Stick with me on this …
Nog, who’s essentially illiterate in DS9’s first two seasons, learns enough in less than a year to make him a viable candidate for Starfleet Academy by the third season! Either the acceptance criteria really fell after Wesley Crusher’s failed attempts in early TNG or Ferengi can process information at an incredibly fast rate — which would explain how Nog got so learned so fast. It also MIGHT explain how a bunch of apparent doofs somehow built a large space empire. They’re socially awkward and act like morons, but they can absorb information quickly.
Oh, and one last thought: What the hell happened to Krax after this episode? We see a lot of Zek over the years and we see him eventually name his successor. Hint: It’s not Krax.
All that said, the Ferengi characters can be used effectively in non-Ferengi episodes. Quark and Rom were both actually pretty well used in “Sacrifice of Angels” — arguably DS9’s most important episode — and Nog becomes an interesting character in the later seasons. I don’t hate episodes that include Ferengi. I just hated the vast majority of Ferengi-centric episodes.
I guess we have “The Nagus” to thank for paving the way for all of them. And that’s unfortunate.
Last point, while the Ferengi had already been somewhat downgraded since they initially appeared as TNG’s main bad guys, this episode, I think, really made them into second-rate powers who are mostly used for “comedy”. It’s worth noting that there’s little talk of Ferengi warships or the Ferengi Alliance as a military organization after about the second season of TNG. In fact, there’s barely a hint of Ferengi involvement during the Dominion War in DS9’s final seasons — though every other Alpha Quadrant power’s involvement or lack thereof is addressed.
Coming next week …
We see Bajoran political angst and we meet a couple major players going forward.
Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) takes over as head of the new Deep Space 9, a former Cardassian space station. It orbits Bajor, which had been brutally occupied by the Cardassians for decades. The station is on the edge of friendly space and the Bajorans need the Federation’s protection and help to rebuild. Sisko’s mission is to ready Bajor for Federations membership, and he is identified by Bajoran spiritual leader Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola) as the “Emissary” an important figure in the Bajoran faith destined to discover the “celestial temple” where the Bajorans believe their prophets (gods) live. Working with his science officer, Jadzia Dax (Terry Ferrell), Sisko finds a wormhole (leading 75,000 light years away, to the Gamma Quadrant) near Bajor, and non-linear aliens inside it, possibly the Bajorans’ temple and prophets. A Cardassian vessel follows and disappears, prompting more Cardassians to come to the station, demanding to know what happened to the ship. Sisko eventually convinces the wormhole aliens that he’s not an invader and they help him get past his wife’s death — which occurred during the Battle of Wolf 359 — by showing he’s been living a non-linear existence (i.e. he’s stuck in the past). Sisko convinces the aliens to allow passage through the wormhole and returns the Cardassian ship to the Alpha Quadrant, preventing an all-out attack on the station. With the wormhole’s discovery, DS9 is set to become a key outpost for the Federation.
Why it’s important
Considering DS9’s status as the black sheep of Star Trek series, it’s really astounding how much was established in this pilot that went on to be of huge importance for the rest of the series and for Trek generally. A quick list:
— The wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, which sets the stage for the war with the Dominion in DS9’s later seasons.
— The proximity to the Cardassian Empire, and notably Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) who would become DS9’s main villain.
— The Bajoran theology and Sisko’s place in it, which would be a major thread throughout the next seven years. Bajor’s political instability would be a major thread in the early seasons.
— The mysterious background of Odo (Rene Auberjonois), which would eventually tie in to the Dominion leaders, the Founders.
All of that happened in DS9’s pilot episode — one that ALSO tied in TNG’s most significant event, “The Best of Both Worlds”. Having Sisko be a survivor of that attack — and having him harbor feelings of anger against Picard, who shows up in this episode — were truly great touches.
What doesn’t hold up
DS9 wasn’t initially successful and was never as successful as TNG or TOS because it was so different. It was much darker — too dark, for some fans — and that was set into motion even in season one.
But I’ve always felt DS9’s initial issues — other than some boring station-bound episodes — stemmed from many of the characters being over the top in the early seasons. Kira’s too angry, Odo’s too antagonistic, Sisko’s too brooding, Bashir’s too annoying and Quark is too villainous. The Dax character — who was pretty much totally redefined in season two — is too cerebral. Really, the only character who doesn’t become more likable over the years was O’Brien — and, of course, that was probably because the character had already existed for years on TNG.
It’s almost as if the creators tried to do something SO different that they didn’t do characterization very well. That improved over time, but the characters are more like archetypes in the first season. As a result — and somewhat strangely — DS9 is the most interesting series to watch for its evolution. More than any other series, the first season is very, very different than the final season.
From a consistency/historical perspective, DS9 sort of rewrote two alien races we first saw in TNG. Bajorans initially were a bunch of refugees and not slaves on their own planet. The Trill look changed here, but backstory changed more later as the relationship between the symbiont and the host was very different in TNG. For more, see our reviews of “The Host” and “Ensign Ro”.
While the series is inconsistent, I find DS9 to be as strong as TNG or TOS (which both had seasons that were pretty weak). That’s a stance many fans won’t embrace, but it’ll come through in these reviews. While TOS was the trailblazing series and TNG was the most consistent (even given the weird first and second seasons and some awfulness in season seven) DS9 was the most daring. It’s the Trek series that most closely approximates the great television of the past 15 years (“The Wire”, “Breaking Bad”, etc.). When it failed, it did so because it slid back into episodic shows when doing so didn’t make sense and/or when the consequences didn’t match the buildup. Or, it failed because it had too many Ferengi episodes. Speaking of which …
Part I: The Borg are back, but they exhibit individuality and emotions. Data, too, during an early encounter gets angry — and even feels pleasure when he kills a Borg. As the Federation prepares for a new Borg invasion, a captured Borg (Brian Cousins) convinces Data to steal a shuttle to meet “the one” who will give him more emotions. The Enterprise follows, and Picard sends pretty much everybody on the ship except for Spot and the fish in the ready room to look for Data on a remote planet, leaving Crusher (!) in command. After a brief search, Picard, Troi and La Forge are captured by the Borg, who are led by our favorite evil twin, Lore (see “Datalore”). Data then emerges, and tells Picard that he and Lore will together “destroy the Federation.”
Part II: Picard and Co. are prisoners, and it’s clear that Lore’s done something to Data to make him act all evil while feeding him emotions from the chip he stole from their creator, Dr. Noonien Soong (in “Brothers”). Lore has Data experiment on La Forge as part of a plan to make the Borg fully artificial. Crusher recovers most of the Enterprise crew from the surface, but Riker and Worf stay behind to try to find Picard’s team. They run into Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco) from “I, Borg”, who tells them his individuality caused chaos within the Borg, who were then manipulated by Lore. Crusher on the Enterprise defeats a Borg ship in battle, and Riker and Worf mount a rescue — in which Hugh and his buddies reluctantly help. Data, whose ethical subroutines have been reactivated, MacGyver-style, by Picard and Co., rejoins the good guys and deactivates (and later disassembles) Lore. La Forge, back on the Enterprise, is fine, and stops Data from destroying the recovered emotion chip.
Why it’s important
You might think part one is one of Trek’s most consequential hours. It’s a good piece of TV and ties in a lot of threads from past storylines. But part two — in which we learn that only a subset of the Borg is part of Lore’s plan — kind of kills the consequences of part one. Other than those we see here, the Borg are largely unaffected by what happens in these episodes (and by Hugh, previously) and go about their merry way of trying to assimilate the galaxy. We see them back in their collective form in “Star Trek: First Contact” and starting in the third season of Voyager.
Really, the recovery of Data’s emotion chip is the bigger domino. In “Star Trek: Generations”, Data decides to use the chip — with disastrous (early) results. Cowered by fear, Data lets Dr. Tolian Soran escape. Later, Soran successfully draws the Nexus time event to him in the Veridian system by destroying that system’s sun. Picard, caught in the Nexus, goes back in time and stops Soran with the help of James T. Kirk, who had been caught in the Nexus for nearly 80 years. Picard and Kirk are successful, but Kirk is killed. And the Enterprise-D is destroyed.
Data, of course, has emotions for the remainder of the Trek movies, as he’s able to (mostly) master them. Sure makes you wonder why he and La Forge didn’t test the chip in a more controlled environment, as we’ll get to that when we review “Star Trek: Generations”. Get ready for an epic rant, people.
What doesn’t hold up
Part one deals a lot with Picard’s decision to send Hugh back to the Borg without the destructive program Data and La Forge designed. Admiral Nechayev (Natalija Nogulich) rakes him over the coals for the move. My only real gripe there is that Picard didn’t have this kind of dressing down earlier, if he was going to have it at all. We’ve seen Nechayev before (in “Chain of Command”) so it’s odd that she hasn’t addressed her concerns previously — and only does so when it provides necessary exposition here.
Otherwise, Picard’s decision to send nearly the entire crew to look for Data was just ridiculous. It all works out in part two, but the Federation flagship was facing a Borg vessel with an untested ensign at tactical and the chief medical officer in command! The idea, I guess, was to line things up to give Crusher a shot in the big chair — and Gates McFadden was up to the challenge — but Picard’s logic was just awful here.
Part two, actually is even worse — both as far as logic and entertainment value. To start, Picard and Co., simply are able to do way too much with limited resources while in a Borg holding cell (with no apparent surveillance). That they could reactivate Data’s ethical subroutines with a piece of gum, some tin foil and a lot of luck was hilariously bad writing.
Then, there’s the clear retrench by the creators between the two episodes. In part one, the obvious implication is that the ENTIRE Borg collective had been affected by Hugh. There’s no discussion or pondering over whether the new individualized Borg are anomalies. But in part two, near the end, Hugh makes a comment that they “can’t go back to the collective.” Initially, I took this to mean that all Borg, now individuals, couldn’t recreate the collective. But, apparently, it meant that the collective still existed and the Hugh-affected Borg were separate of it. Why they can’t rejoin the collective isn’t explained.
Why only some Borg were affected by Hugh, of course, is never explained. The whole POINT of the Borg is that they’re interconnected. But by limiting Hugh’s effect to the Borg we see here, the Borg as we knew them are still around as a threat. My guess? The creators realized after part one that they wanted to keep the old Borg around and they undid some of the consequences from part one — even though they had to do it with what only could be called “weak sauce.” Yuck.
I suppose I could bitch about how Lore found the Hugh-affected Borg in the first place. The last time we saw Lore, he had a small ship and was leaving a planet in or near Federation space. So, either the Borg ship with Hugh on it was in or near Federation space — which comes back to the whole question of where the Borg are and why they don’t attack the Federation more often if they’re close by — or Lore was able to travel a VERY long way from Federation space and just happened to stumble onto the Borg and THEN take them to the Delta Quadrant, home to the planet we see in this episode. Either way, it’s a mighty small galaxy, after all.
Lastly, why does Riker tell the Enterprise crew still on the planet to take cover and not assist him and Worf? Granted, a larger group would have been easier to spot, but Riker could have called for the other officers before he mounted the attack on Lore’s compound and not had to go in with awful odds. Or, maybe more significant, having even four or five more officers would have helped Riker and Worf without compromising their position. My guess is the budget for extras was already overly taxed.
Oh, and one more thing. Does anyone else find it odd that Data — whose rights as a sentient being have been a major thread of TNG — is cool with essentially executing Lore? In second-generation Trek, there’s no indication that the Federation is down with the death penalty, but Data makes the conscious decision to disassemble Lore at the end of this episode. The creators made this harder on themselves than was really necessary, as Lore could have been damaged beyond repair when Data shot him near the end of the episode. I understand why imprisoning Lore would have been damn-near impossible. But by having Data disassemble Lore, he treats his brother like a piece of equipment — the very thing that was the whole point of “The Measure of a Man”.
Season six of TNG was arguably its best, but season seven is arguably its worst. While “Descent I”(the final episode in season six) isn’t perfect, it’s a fun watch, but “Descent II” (the first episode of season seven is really bad. There are a lot of weak showings in season seven, with a few good ones thrown in. In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that the series was running out of gas, as season seven has a lot of off-the-wall outings (“Masks”, “Thine Own Self”, “Emergence”, the crap with Troi and Worf and the abysmal “Sub Rosa”).
Basically, season seven gets points over the first two seasons because the characters are less erratic and because the finale (“All Good Things …”) was so strong (so were “The Pegasus”, “Parallels” and “Preemptive Strike”). But I’d rather watch most first- or second-season episodes than about two-thirds of season seven.
Last point: This is another example of our heroes having some really bad stuff happen right at the end of a calendar year. With the decision to make a full season a full year (e.g., the sixth season is 2369 and the seventh season is 2370) the entire incident with the Lore-led Borg happened right around New Year’s Eve. This approach really began with “The Best of Both Worlds” two-parter — that set in motion season-ending cliffhangers. With some exceptions, this was the approach for most of TNG, all of DS9 and all of Voyager.
Coming next week …
So, THAT’s why the Federation doesn’t use cloaking devices.
Worf, struggling with a crisis of faith, visits a Klingon monastery. While there, Kahless (Kevin Conway), the Klingon messiah introduced (sort of) back in TOS’s “The Savage Curtain”, appears. It’s a time of much rejoicing, but Klingon Chancellor Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) is skeptical and asks that the Enterprise transport Kahless and determine whether he’s the real deal. Genetic scans show he is — but he’s a little off. He doesn’t know what warnog tastes like and Gowron beats him fairly easily in a sword fight. It’s then revealed that this Kahless is a clone, cooked up by clerics at the monastery concerned that the empire has lost its way. Worf, initially despondent, has a talk about faith with Data, and then convinces Gowron to make the clone emperor and disclose his origins. Worf hopes this will unify the empire, but admits that his own faith is not healed.
Why it’s important
This episode explains Klingon mythology more than just about any other franchise product. Kahless is a Christ-like figure who established the warrior culture that we’ve seen throughout Star Trek. There are issues with that, as we’ll discuss.
But it’s interesting that this episode has less-than-expected results on the future of the Klingons. We never see Kahless again, and he’s only mentioned in passing a couple times (both on DS9, after Worf arrives). The idea was to use Kahless as a symbol with Gowron retaining the real power — and that’s definitely what happens. But given all the Klingon stuff on DS9, Kahless’s absence is noticeable. More telling is that his symbolic presence apparently does nothing to improve the Klingon situation. In DS9’s “Blood Oath” and in “The Way of the Warrior” the same complaints about the empire “losing its way” persist.
What doesn’t hold up
Well, Kahless here looks nothing like the evil dude/voice actor we saw in “The Savage Curtain”. The two characters don’t act like each other, either. I’ve heard the theory that Kahless in “The Savage Curtain” was some sort of version that those weird rock dudes created based on Kirk’s feelings toward Klingons (presumably, Kirk knew the name Kahless and extrapolated the rest — including the voice-mimicking skills). But that’s really expanded-universe nonsense. Basically, Klingons in TOS were bastards with beards who mostly looked human. Klingons in TNG (and beyond) could be treacherous, but were often honorable warriors with bumpy foreheads and long hair. The differences in the two Kahlesses can be chalked up to the differences in how the two series treated Klingons and made them look.
This episode sort of falls in line with the half-assed continuity seen with the Trill and Bajoran transitions from TNG to DS9. All three are well-intended attempts at callbacks that strain so far to fit new story constraints that one wonders if the strain was worth it. Was there really that much value in calling back aliens that appeared in one episode each — in this case, an episode nearly 25 years earlier — when doing so required that what we saw in the initial episode be tossed aside? If it didn’t matter that the aliens changed, why did it matter if they were brought back at all?
Keep in mind that in all three cases, other, similar aliens could have been created. Maybe the messiah in this episode could have been celebrated by another Klingon faith. Maybe the Bajorans could have been replaced by a different species subjugated by the Cardassians. Maybe the Trill would have been replaced by another, similar, joined species. None of that would have been too difficult, and none of it would have hurt the quality of the productions. Only the Bajorans, whose look mostly remained and who were represented after their initial introduction by Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) might have been significant enough to bring back even if it required rewriting a lot of backstory. But, then, why not just use the established backstory, or work harder to make all the pieces fit?
I guess my only other real gripe is that this episode — and the “Birthright” two-parter, in which Worf really opens up about Kahless for the first time — sort of retcon the idea of Klingon faith. Worf mentions Kahless to Alexander at one point (though he mispronounces the name) earlier in the series. But up until the sixth season of TNG, Worf isn’t shown to be a man of faith. Neither are any other Klingons.
This is another episode — really, the last one in the series — that involves the Klingon mini-arc that began back in “Sins of the Father” or perhaps even “Heart of Glory”. Worf has a pretty big voice in Klingon politics and he essentially changes the course of an entire government and could have changed an entire culture, had Kahless’s presence affected more than it did. Of course, Worf’s role in Klingon culture comes back into play in DS9.
This episode suffers from being heavy-handed in spots, but I did like the scene with Data and Worf in the holodeck. It would have been very easy for Worf to get advice from Picard, Riker or even Troi. But picking Data was a nice touch that was handled with great precision. TNG had its flaws and lacked conflict among characters, but it probably knew its characters better than any other series (with DS9 a close second).
Coming later this week …
Data doesn’t get even. He gets mad.
What if a site focused on the really important Star Trek episodes, explained how they were important and how they tied together — while tossing in a healthy dose of snark?