In the Hands of the Prophets (#StarTrek #DS9 Rewatch, Season 1, Episode 19) Keiko’s science lesson sparks a religious protest

Rewatching ST:DS9

A candidate for Bajor’s new spiritual leader objects to Keiko’s scientific interpretation of the wormhole. 

Vedek Winn speaks softly, with a smug serenity that makes her a villain you love to hate, when she sweetly shares her views. With an edge to her voice, Keiko holds her ground: “I don’t teach Bajoran spiritual beliefs. That’s *your* job.”

Sisko scolds his son for dismissing the Bajoran faith as “dumb,” pointing out that the aliens who constructed the wormhole exist out of time, so in a sense, they are prophets. “It may not be what you believe, but that doesn’t make it wrong.” 

Kira hints that she’s sympathetic with the Bajoran officers who’ve called in “sick” to protest the Federation-sponsored school. The tension between her and Sisko was well-written, but in the previous episode (s1e18 “Duet“) we just saw Kira grow beyond her trauma-induced hatred, so it feels awkward seeing Kira’s character facing the exact same moral issue, as if last week’s episode never happened.

Sisko visits the humble, reform-minded Vedek Bareil, who seems genuine but declines to help Sisko with his school problem. Sisko intuits that doing so might hurt Bareil’s chances of becoming the next Kai.

I had most of this review written when I saw a message on Netflix pop up, stating that DS9 would no longer be available after July 1. I don’t really enjoy watching more than one episode a day, in part because part of my pleasure in watching comes from writing these reviews, and the reviews take some time to write. I often write them on my iPad while walking on an indoor track, and sometimes when I am driving I listen to episodes instead of watching them. So I can usually churn out a review every other day or so without feeling like I’m putting anything else off, or shirking any responsibilities. I’ll try to get through another season this month, and then I’ll decide what to do. (I’m not sure I want to spring for Paramount+ yet.)

One reason why I decided to rewatch DS9 was so I could appreciate the season-long story arcs, which were so notable at the time because they were so unusual. But the show is still showing its episodic roots. Just as TNG made us see the Klingons as honorable, and a few episodes showed us Romulans making sympathetic choices, DS9 is doing a good job training us to see Ferengi and Cardassians as capable of heroism.

We have certainly already seen morally gray Bajorans, but I kind of wish we had seen Winn a few times functioning admirably in her role as spiritual leader, showing how she inspires and comforts people, perhaps giving Sisko missions that seem reasonable (recover an artifact, find evidence to convict a war criminal) but that only gradually are revealed as part of an evil long-term scheme. 

Speaking of recurring characters… in my write-up of the previous episode I noted that O’Brien had a young female Bajoran assistant who had been getting some lines.

TNG reused the same recurring background characters, but they almost never spoke. In episodes when Wesley or Ro weren’t on the ship, there was a need for a random navigator to say “Yes, sir” and “entering standard orbit,” and occasionally to get zapped / abducted / infected / unhinged in order to advance the story. One reason I really like O’Brien is because he started out in the pilot episode of TNG as the random unnamed navigator taking orders from the captain, and ended up a lead on DS9. 

But it’s rare for these random warm bodies to get their own story arcs. I can’t imagine TNG hiring Lt. Barclay just to hand tools to LaForge, or Guinan just to serve drinks in the background, just for the sake of continuity. But the show had a little ensemble of recurring background actors, with costumes and alien makeup already pre-fitted for them, available on short notice whenever the director decides what this scene needs is a bustling corridor, or a camera panning across a sickbay full of casualties. And if the director unexpectedly has to re-do a shot, or film closeups from a different angle, those same actors have to be available. A guest actor who comes in to film a featured part for a week or so might be unavailable for a pickup shot next week because they are doing a different job. 

So when I noticed in the past few episodes that a young engineer just happened to be getting some lines, I thought something was up. And it threw me a bit in this episode, when Keiko asks O’Brien, “So, is she working out any better than the last one?”

A visit to Star Trek nerd websites reveals that yes, the Bajoran engineer who had a few lines in recent episodes was intended to play a pivotal role in this season finale, but for whatever reason the producers hired a new actress and created a new character. (Apparently you can see part of the old character’s name in a screen readout.)

The script does a good job of disguising this character’s importance by introducing Keiko’s mock-jealousy, and then later suggesting the committed family man O’Brien might fleetingly entertain a more than professional interest in his assistant. But as the episode progresses we understand a different reason for why she gets so emotional when she tells O’Brien that he is not like the other Federation officers.

So really here, we are seeing a fascinating relic of the transition from purely episodic television to series-long story arcs. Here, the producers didn’t plan or budget far enough in advance, but we can see that they were at least thinking a few episodes ahead.

I’m not a big fan of scripts that ask us to believe that a major character will die or leave the show each week. But now that the first season has introduced a handful of recurring characters – Rom, Nog, the Grand Nagus, Winn, Bereil, Garak and Dukat among them — we can believe all bets are more or less off about how their motives might change and whether they will survive a given episode, and when our star characters have important relationships with these recurring guest stars, that leaves room for tension and drama.

The investigation that’s just one step behind the suspect, intercutting with scenes of a public event, is kind of by the book, but it’s a good book.