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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Covenant

Kira: “I keep going over what he said when he died and I don't know if he was trying to tell me if he never lost his faith or that he felt betrayed by it.”
Odo: “I suppose you'll never know. But one thing is certain. These people have been betrayed and now they have to find a way to pick up the pieces and move on.”

Not all episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine age well, but this offering, even after more than a score of years, is as relevant as ever.

“Covenant” opens with a delightful scene, which underscores how much these characters care about each other: Bashir, Ezri and Odo are waiting in Quark’s for Kira, who’s at a worship service for the Prophets. The way Odo orders spring wine for Quark is charming, as is the way Quark objects, as Odo doesn’t drink anything. It’s uncharacteristically dense of Quark to make this comment, because of course it’s for Kira. Quark, with his knowledge of his customers and being aware of the Bajoran mass schedule, would know that. Nevertheless, it makes good repartee.

Odo wishes he believed in the Prophets so he could join Kira at the mass, but he lacks the belief. Bajoran faith in the Deep Space Nine universe is a bit different than faiths in our universe because there’s no debate but that the Prophets exist. Another point is whether they are worth worshipping, and we will get more of that in the episode.

The episode takes off when an old friend of Kira’s, Vedek Fala, transports Kira to Empok Nor, where Dukat has set himself up as an emissary of the Pah-Wraiths. Empok Nor is full of Bajorans who worship the evil Dukat as the Master. This is key in the story arc of Deep Space Nine, setting up Dukat as the opponent of Sisko, the Emissary of the Prophets.

But this episode is about Dukat versus Kira, not Dukat versus Sisko. Why has Dukat arranged for Kira to be brought to Empok Nor? Kira is wondering it. Some of the cultists are wondering it. Even some viewers may be wondering it. But there is emotional logic, both from the point of view of Dukat and even the Pah-Wraiths. First, Kira – who was chosen by the Prophets in "The Reckoning" – is one of the most faithful followers of the Prophets. If the Pah-Wraiths can appeal to this Bajoran, they will gain a lot of power.

Second, Dukat has always been obsessed with Kira. Not only is she the daughter of his former lover, she was the acting mother of Dukat’s beloved daughter. Although Kira maintains there is no connection between Dukat and her, there is a lot of history.

We go through some of the usual arguments with respect to faith, but Dukat’s volleys are better than most, as are Fala’s. If Dukat can be forgiven (and forgiveness was the subject of the sermon in the mass on the DS9 station), then anything is possible. Kira is also torn. She doesn’t trust Dukat, but is wondering if he really believes in the Pah-Wraiths (he does).

Kira tries to prove the cultists wrong, but getting people to leave a cult is nearly impossible, even when it’s clear that Dukat slept with a Bajoran woman and that the newborn – half-Cardassian! – is his and not her husband’s. Dukat tries to kill Mika but Kira saves her. Dukat – realizing he has gone too far – decides they should commit suicide together. Only when they discover that Dukat’s suicide wafer is different from the other suicide wafers – he never intended to die – do the cultists finally realize he was conning them. However, Fala takes the poison anyway and dies in Kira’s arms, leading to one of the many special conversations between Odo and Kira. We get ambiguity, not answers, but that is appropriate.

Title musings. “Covenant” is the title of this episode. A covenant in the ancient world was similar to what we in the modern world would call a contract, treaty, or a will. Each covenant established the basis of a relationship, conditions for that relationship, promises and conditions of the relationship and consequences if those conditions were unmet. I think “Faith” might have been a better choice for the episode’s title, but perhaps the word was too much on the nose for the Deep Space Nine creators. Besides, they seem to prefer more syllables in their titles. Besides, “Covenant” is not just about faith, but about relationships: Dukat and his Bajoran followers, and especially Dukat and the Pah-Wraiths.

Bits and pieces

We see Odo with Ezri and Bashir in Quark’s. This gives Ezri, Bashir and Quark a few lines in the episode, but Ezri and Bashir along with Odo and Kira make two nice couples.

I think Kira is unfair to Odo when they discuss his seeking a religion. She should invite him to at least come to a service so he can understand what it’s about. On the other hand, he belongs to a group already worshipped as a god, and the Founders and the Prophets are not getting along, so that might be awkward.

Odo only notices Kira’s disappearance in the morning, which means they’re not living together! Of course, as one is humanoid and the other a shapeshifter, their furniture needs are very different.

A quibble I used to have with this episode was that it seemed impossible for one man, Dukat, to be so evil. I’ve changed on this. Sometimes a single person can incorporate a huge multitude of sins.

Another quibble I have is that it seems unlikely that so many would wake from their delusion, as they do when they decide not to take the poison wafers. Perhaps Bajorans are less committed to delusion. However, Fala still takes his own life.

The Jonestown mass suicide (in many cases, murders) took place twenty years before this episode aired; it still had a big impact on culture in 1998.

Sometimes I wonder if people prove their commitment to their faith by insisting on believing that which is least likely.

Quotes

Kira: The Prophets have a plan for us. It's not always easy to see what it is.
Dukat: Even as you speak those words, you must know how hollow they sound.

Kira: So I guess the ancient texts just had it all wrong, then.
Dukat: Oh, come now, Nerys. You know as well as I do that history is written by the victors.

Fala: When Dukat first came to us, I didn't want to accept him. But I came to realize the Pah-Wraiths had taken this man of evil and washed him clean. What could be more wondrous than that?
Kira: How can you forget all the friends we lost during the occupation? How can you forget all the millions Dukat murdered?
Fala: You disappoint me, Nerys. Of all the things I tried to teach you, the most important is the need to forgive.
Kira: Some things can't be forgiven.

Mika: It could be any time now.
Fala: Mika and her husband have the honor of being the first to receive the Master's blessing to bear children.
Kira: You have to get permission from Dukat to have a baby?
Fala: Vows of abstinence are part of our covenant with him. Exceptions are granted only when he sees that a husband and wife have demonstrated a true spiritual bond.

Benyan: I don't understand why he brought you here.
Fala: Benyan.
Kira: No, it's all right.
Benyan: We all work very hard for what we have. We don't need you or anyone else to approve of us.
Kira: Fair enough.
Benyan: Don't misunderstand. I hope you come to feel the love of the Pah-Wraiths. But if you don't, it's your loss. No offence.

Kira: You're right. I don't want anything to happen to you. Not until your followers have a chance to see what a fraud you are.
Dukat: I love these people, Nerys. And they love me. I should think that after what just happened in the temple, you'd realize that.
Kira: It always comes back to that, doesn't it, Dukat? Your desperate need to win the love of the Bajoran people. You just never understood why we didn't appreciate you.
Dukat: If it hadn't been for me, the occupation would've been much worse.
Kira: And you want a thank you? You were working people to death in the ore processing center, but that didn't stop you from strutting around Terok Nor, picking out Bajoran women to take to your bed and actually believing that they wanted to be there.

Overall rating

Fantastic, despite my quibbles, and the artistic choices were all understandable given the constraints of the limited time available for an episode of television. Four out of four glasses of spring wine.

Victoria Grossack loves math, birds, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

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