Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Duet

"Commander, if you'd been there twelve years ago when we liberated that camp, if you'd seen the things I saw. All those Bajoran bodies starved, brutalised. Do you know what Cardassian policy was? Oh, I'm not even talking about the murder. Murder was just the end of the fun for them."

The DS9 team identify an ill stranger as a Cardassian war criminal, inciting complicated feelings in Kira and Bajor; they work to avoid interstellar incident as they examine the mysteries surrounding his arrival on Deep Space Nine.

Kira's journey continues to a new rung on the spiral she's been climbing through the past several episodes. Throughout the first season she has, again and again, had to confront her inner fears and demons. Maybe more than any other character in the season, she's had tangible loss and change. She has had to get to the point of becoming a political ally of the Federation, which she distrusts; she's had to reject the more extreme fringe of the societies which had got her through the war, Kai Opaka began Kira on a quest to confront those demons, and Kira finally began to seriously let go of the past in "Progress" when she encouraged Bajoran refugees to give up their resistance. Here, she plunges even more deeply into the chips on her own shoulder.

Aamin Marritza is a simple filing clerk with a disease unique to Gallitep, the location of several war crimes committed by the Cardassians under the leadership of Gul Darhe'el. While confirming Marritza's identity, a photo comes to light identifying him as Darheel. Bajor and Kira push for his transfer to Bajoran authority and certain execution, nearly inciting a war with Cardassia. It turns out Darhe'el is a fake and Marritza is actually the prisoner's true identity; he's working out intense guilt over the death of Bajorans. Accepting the truth of Marritza's feelings brings out some very intense sympathetic and empathetic responses from Kira herself - but before Marritza is truly freed, he's killed by a Bajoran dissident simply for being Cardassian.

The titular "Duet" is an amusing puzzle. Does it refer to the dual nature of Marritza/Darhe'el? Or the dialogue between Marritza and Kira? I think, after two watchings of the ep, the changes in Marritza echo in a small scale many of the changes in Kira herself. Whatever side of the war you're on, there's always going to be a struggle to recovery. It was a pleasure though to see the developing layers of trust between Kira, Sisko and Odo.

Bits and pieces

Harris Yulin, who plays Marritza, seems to have a preference for playing dramatic roles; he shows up again years later on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Quentin Travers. He does an excellent job here as Marritza; you can believe the character's capable of orchestrating a covered-up death - and more.

This episode made me see parallels between Kira and G'Kar, and wondering how far Kira's experiences are going to take her in terms of emotional and spiritual depth. Visitor really brought this character to a new level.

The final scene seemed almost melodramatic to me in composition - making Marritza almost Christ-like in a way. Very touching and well done.


Kira: You think this is all some personal vendetta on my part, don't you?
Sisko: I think you're too close to be objective, yes.
Kira: You're right, I'm not objective. But I'm your first officer, and I give you my word I will conduct myself accordingly. You once said we were friends. I'm asking you now as a friend, please, let me conduct this investigation. I owe it to them.
Sisko: You mean the victims.
Kira: That's right. The ones who moved too slowly and never moved again. I'm asking for all the Bajorans who can't ask. Let a Bajoran do this.

Kira: That's just it. I don't want him to be a file clerk. I want him to be, I don't know, something worse.
Dax: You want him to be guilty.
Kira: As far as I'm concerned, if he was at Gallitep, he is guilty. They're all guilty. His punishment will let Bajor feel some satisfaction.
Dax: It sounds like you're trying too hard to believe what you're saying. You already know if you punish him without reason, it won't mean anything. And you already know vengeance isn't enough.


Four out of four dermal regenerators.


Lora S. said...

It's been a long time since I've seen this episode, but I remember it fairly well. Marritza was so compelling as the utterly awful Gul. His back and forth with Kira was some of the best acting of the season. Then the reveal, it was devastating. The idea that this man was willing to die as a war criminal, to atone for his actions during the war was a lovely and tragic twist. Having him die at the end was perhaps a bit melodramatic, but totally fitting with the story. DS9 is such an odd creature, skirting the lines between brilliant and too on the nose.

I think if the rumors of a new Star Trek series are true, they should take some cues from DS9. The exploration of multiple overlapping societies trying to co-exist, religion, war, and some of the darker themes of what it is to be good and evil. Dreams, death, and even some uncomfortable themes about losing identity and slavery.

I loved your view of Kira as a parallel to G'Kar. I'd never thought of that. Although given the history of the two series it isn't surprising. Many still claim that DS9 was a rip-off of Babylon 5. I don't agree personally, but these things are often difficult to reconcile.

Mark Greig said...

Without a doubt the best episode of season 1 and one of the best episodes of the series overall.

Patrick said...

This is "science fiction" in its most classic form, telling a story about the human condition, a story that really wasn't about the monsters and the gizmos, but about people. This story could have easily been set in the real world, and dealt with WW2 or the Vietnam War, and very little would have needed changing. Harris Yulin and Nana Visitor were fantastic in this episode. Sure, it was a little rushed, and the ended felt a little on the nose, but they only had 45 minutes or so to tell the story, it's not the sort of story they could've realistically stretched out to a two-parter. Considering where she was at the beginning of the series, for Kira to be at a point where she could actually consider a Cardassian a good man, and defend his life against another Bajoran is HUGE progress. One of my favorite parts about DS9 is how much growth every character goes through between the series premiere and the series finale.

Billie Doux said...

It's been way too long since I've seen 'Duet' (my head is in Next Gen right now) but I remember how stunning this episode is. Loved your review, Joseph.

Cesare said...

This was the very first episode of DS9 that I saw, by chance, in an hotel room somewere during a business trip many years ago... and I was hooked: Even after many years, DS9 at its best remains my favourite Trek series. (Although it does bear mamny resemblances to B5, which I watched much later - or more likely, because it does... But this is another story)

Baby M said...

In one of his books, David gerrold commented that the only thing you need for drama is two strong characters in opposition. "Duet" conclusively proves that theorem.