Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Circle"

***

Air date: 10/4/1993
Written by Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Corey Allen

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

In "The Circle," Kira is recalled to Bajor, replaced by Li Nalas at the order of Minister Jaro and the provisional government. Meanwhile, the layered plot of political intrigue continues to unfold, as Odo discovers that the Circle—an extremist Bajoran group that wants nothing to do with the Federation and employs violence in its attempt to gain widespread Bajoran support—is unknowingly being supplied weapons by the Cardassians through a third party.

Like the first part, this manages to tell a lot of story while still maintaining a respectably slow pace. Kira's time at a Bajoran monastery proves quite interesting—the idea of Kira trying to be "useless" seems exactly like the type of thing she wouldn't agree with. And her encounter with the orb as she explores her pagh is downright powerful; the imagery is effective and the vivid symbolism and foreshadowing proves incredibly intriguing.

Minister Jaro turns out to be the leader of the Circle, and his motives—that of a Bajoran who has seen enough governments come and go—strike me as completely believable. One beauty of DS9's political backdrop is the way it allows the analysis of events that unfold; Jaro isn't simply a villain, he's an adamant man who, in his mind, has been forced into the direction he has taken and sets his sights for it. Such characters and their actions make for a compelling story that's believable.

One problem with the episode, however, is some of its pacing, particularly some slightly off-kilter scenes involving Vedek Winn. Two of her extended dialog scenes—one involving her and Jaro, and the other involving her, Bareil, and Kira—drag on longer than they should, and they don't quite have the powerful payoff they deserve. Such dialog isn't on the level of Sisko and Li Nalas' discussion in "The Homecoming."

Previous episode: The Homecoming
Next episode: The Siege

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18 comments on this review

Greg M
Wed, Feb 20, 2013, 2:19am (UTC -6)
One thing that struck me about the scenes with Winn, Kira, and Bareil were that the school incident wasn't brought up. It was almost like that whole situation was forgotten, and if you watch ITHOTP and the Circle Trilogy together, that is a little jarring. Really do wish we could have gotten some fallout from the school and what Neela did. I mean while there was no proof, Bareil's life was almost ended by an assassination attempt.
Chris NI
Mon, Mar 25, 2013, 3:16pm (UTC -6)
The school incident was referred to later in the season, in "The Collaborator". But I agree that there could have been more fall-out, particularly as the Circle trilogy comes right after it.
azcats
Thu, Sep 12, 2013, 1:12pm (UTC -6)
Winn reminds me of the mother on "everybody loves raymaond." she can say words that SOUND so pleasant but are so spiteful, coniving, and manipulative.

"stay as long as you want, even up to a week."

i liked her scene with Bareil and Kira. only because it is so well written.
Kotas
Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 3:28pm (UTC -6)

I hate Bareil and the Bajoran storyline in general. Not a good episode.

4/10
Cheyne
Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 9:05am (UTC -6)
What's interesting to me is the sexual undertones between Jaro and Winn, which appear later in the series between Winn and another villain... I think this is a subtle (or not so subtle) character aspect effectively incorporated by the actress, mixing sexual desire and manipulation into a religious figure. For me the Bajoran general was one of the better characters here... I found Jaro a bit two dimensional.

Also, the whole Bajoran religious heirarchy is shown as rather secular, which I like, more believable than later (and earlier) mysticism...
Yanks
Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 10:41am (UTC -6)
I'm grading all 3 parts of this arc a 3 out of 4 stars.
Jack
Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 9:55am (UTC -6)
In the scene where everyone comes to Kira's, her quarters looks strange. The room immediately inside the door looks more like a lobby then a living room. I don't remember her quarters looking like this in any future episodes.
Jack
Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 10:06am (UTC -6)
"The Krisari don't even have a military, they're botanic DNA traders"

Another example of Star Trek portraying entire race as all being of one occupation. Who ever first thought of such an absurd notion?
Peremensoe
Sun, Sep 28, 2014, 5:32pm (UTC -6)
I assume she gets different quarters, having moved off the station and back...
Peremensoe
Sun, Sep 28, 2014, 5:37pm (UTC -6)
Odo deputizing Quark is a pretty funny scene...
Elliott
Fri, Jan 9, 2015, 5:32pm (UTC -6)
Teaser : ****, 5%

Sisko is naturally peeved at Jarro for recalling (“promoting”) Kira without his consultation. In a subtle bit I quite liked, Sisko calls Jarro a “bag of hot air” through his teeth. Too often Sisko's lack of self-control leads him to diplomatically dubious decisions, but in this case, Jarro has already shown us (some of) his true stripes, and thus Sisko's quiet antagonism has been earned.

Jake calls his dad down to their quarters to show him a graffiti circle on their door and cue the ominous music. A perfect teaser.

Act 1 : **.5, 17%

Odo pays “breaking-one-too-rules-many” Nerys a visit to encourage her to ask for Sisko's help. Odo and Kira banter a bit about who smoothed out whom in these bureaucratic positions for which neither is exactly suited. The character interplay is good, but I confess to being a bit confused. Based on what we've seen, Kira and Odo have only been working together slightly longer than since the pilot. In other words, this history of which they speak is basically the first season of DS9, but there wasn't actually a lot of back and forth between them. Kira's “smoothening” (as far as that goes) has been a result of her interaction with Sisko, not Odo. It's a minor point, but as I said, confusing.

Dax shows up to have a little “girl chat,” followed by Bashir, O'Brien and finally Quark. The dialogue is arranged in an Archeresque manner that mostly works and even flirts with being funny, but is just a tad too proud of itself to avoid coming across as transparent.

Bareil eventually joins the group to give us a little exposition about the influx if weapons on Bajor as well as hit on Kira in as creepy a fashion as possible (“Come and stay at our monastery awhile...”). Nothing sexier than monasticism...Kira accepts his offer and bids farewell to DS9. Nice knowin' ya, Crazy Pants! It may be a little harsh to pick on this moment, but seriously it's only been one season and Kira's growth has had very little to do with her job at Ops, so why this touching music and slow sweep of the room while Kira holds back tears? Just a tad too contrived for my tastes.

Kira's replacement, Li Nalis, and Sisko emerge to tell Kira how awesome she is (worst line of the episode is Sisko's “As I understand it, [Li], you report directly to the Prophets, but from time to time I may ask for your help.” Was that a joke? No one's smiling. Um, okay then...)

Act 2 : ***.5, 17%

We find the Major adjusting stones in some sort of meditation garden. Poor Nana Visitor has finally started to find her rhythm only to have to bounce lines of this piece of driftwood Philip Anglim. Anyway, Mr Creeper instructs Kira to follow him into the monastery, where she is given access to an Orb (the 3rd Orb “of Prophecy and Change”).

The Orb flashes and Kira is given a vision where she is confronted by Jarro, Bitchwhore and Driftwood Bareil. By then end, she is, shall we say, diverting the waters for Driftwood's wood (why is his earring so freaking huge in this vision anyway?). It's better in its brevity than the vision we had to endure watching in “Emissary” but it's still dripping with New-Age pretension and sophomoric imagery.

Meanwhile, Odo is corresponding with police on Bajor about the growing contention between the Circle and the provisional government. Quark bursts in to express his pessimism about the future of said government, not to mention the Federation's presence on DS9. This turns out to be not unfounded however as he “happens to know” how very well armed and supplied the terrorists are. He also “happens to know” that the Krasari (botanic DNA traders) are the ones supplying them. Why are they doing this? Let's find out! Odo deputises (under threat of imprisonment) Quark and instructs him to investigate where exactly the weapons are ending up while he investigates where they're coming from. It's a solid Odo-Quark scene that's got a believable and simmering humour to it.

Li Nalis is doing Kira's job pretty well it seems, while Kira is reeling after her silly vision. Driftwood confesses to her that she had been part of his recent Orb vision as well. She plays coy a bit until the sound of weaponsfire is heard. In a masterful bit of cinematography, this sound cues the appearance of Bitchwhore, poised on a bridge above the scene like the Pope on his balcony. It's too bad symbolism and imagery can't work this well in the Orb visions. Bitchwhore manages to be slimy and nasty through the skin of religious platitudes. It's a wonderfully tense scene that subtly explores the components of doctrine—tradition, formality, introspection and ambition. Bitchwhore is such a...well, you know...it's wonderfully frustrating to see her smile and glide through her thinly veiled insults and ultimata.

Act 3 : ***, 17%

Sisko pays a visit to General Krim (?) who is planning military strikes defending the Capital City. Sisko insinuates that the military is purposefully undermining the government in its unwillingness to confront the Circle properly. Sisko shares his intelligence from Quark and purposefully waits until he has divulged this information before asking to get Kira back on DS9. It's not a move I'd expect from Sisko, but I respect him here for his integrity—this was a good move, writers. At any rate, it seems the General is unable (or unwilling) to help in that matter, but has taken note of Sisko's admirable conduct nonetheless.

Meanwhile on DS9, Li has to play nice (that's DS9 code for “lie”) with the Krasari captain whose vessel is being swept by O'Brien in an attempt to find any smuggled weapons (and leaving being hind a clever Changeling in the cargo hold).

Visitor's new comfort is again wasted in a dialogue with Avery Brooks, who manages to place glottal inflections in the MIDDLE of words, making him sound more robotic than Data ever did. Kira tells Sisko that her vision has given her “a great deal to think about.” What? It was 15 seconds long; you saw Jarro and Bitchwhore being assholes and got naked with Driftwood, what's the “great deal” you need to think about? Pretentious... Sisko brings Kira up to speed while also exposing to the audience news of an impending coup. In an unexpected twist, Kira is ambushed and drugged unconscious by members of the Circle (in those inconspicuous magenta robes of theirs).

Act 4 : ***.5, 17%

Another twist! The Krasari (observed by Odo) confers with a Cardassian about his cargo...

Meanwhile it is revealed to the now conscious Kira that Jarro “is the Circle.” He conveys to her his conviction to make the Bajoran people powerful. In a callback to TNG's “Ensign Ro,” the Bajoran history of being a storied, cultured people who for centuries brought art and architecture to many worlds. One topic I sorely missed on this show was a discussion of just how destructive the Occupation had apparently been to this facet of Bajoran society. Jarro ends up using some “Cardassian encouragement” (that's DS9 code for “torture”) to try to get Kira to divulge what she knows about Starfleet's likely course of action in response to his, er, “righteous cause.”

Quark ends up finding out where the Circle is headquartered and reports his findings to Sisko who embarks on a rescue operation with a few officers and Li Nalis who feels he can be most useful in this rôle.

They beam underground and discover the well-armed circle, hear Kira's tortured screams, but don't know where she is. Anyone heard of a tricorder? It's this new thing...eh, nevermind, it's not like it's urgent to find her or anything...Firefight ensues, Bashir gets shot, and they manage to rescue her and get her back to the station.

Act 5 : **, 17%

The information keeps piling on and finally the larger plan is revealed; The Cardassians have been using the Krasari to arm the misguided Circle into forcing the Federation to withdraw so they can re-conquer Bajor. That's a really nifty and juicy bit of political theatre! Right on cue, DS9 loses communication abilities with Bajor, the military sends an invading squadron to the station, and Sisko decides to consult an admiral (Chakote, not be confused with Chakotay, who's getting angry letters from Picard about one, Ensign Ro).

The next twist is turned as it is revealed that the baddies, Bitchwhore and Jarro, are in cahoots for mutual political gain. Just for a moment, I'd like to consider what it says about the Bajoran people that will one day elect this woman as their de facto queen in matters both spiritual and political. As I had discussed in some of the S1 reviews, the Bajorans (modelled by Kira) are a broken people who cling to their beliefs in a vacuum of burned identities and maligned self-worth. Their gravitation to Conservative leaders like Bitchwhore and Jarro is a testament to their desperation and their grief.

In the wake of being ordered to evacuate all Starfleet personnel by the Bajoran military, Admiral Chakote tells Sisko that the Prime Directive applies to Bajor's internal conflict. Except the conflict is being fuelled by the Cardassians. I seem to recall Picard, Data and Spock not even bringing up the Prime Directive when they disrupted Sela's plans on Romulus, and that was also an internal matter by Chakote's logic here. This is another contrived bit that only serves to inject false conflict into the story and it's a shame given how exciting this trilogy was starting to become.

And so...Sisko undoes his good will from the early acts be reverting to the opportunistic, manipulative, lying, sophomoric, underhanded assbag from the first season, treating the admiral's orders to evacuate in as literal a manner possible, concluding that it will take days to remove every last Federation knickknack and gizmo from the station. Commander, if you're going to defy your commanding officer and violate the PD (although I still find that argument dubious anyway), just fucking grow a pair and do so. I'm so sick of this slinking and mincing cowardice.

Episode as Functionary : ***, 10%

It's hard to evaluate this piece of the larger story—the political thread continues to be the strongest element, with the character bits taking a back seat for the most part. Kira's introspection isn't terrible, but the execution with the Prophet mumbo jumbo continues to be distracting. What I will grant the episode is that I cannot find myself allying completely with any side in the conflict. Sisko may be the good guy, but his underhandedness serves to make him a rather repulsive hero. While I don't think this was intended, it does serve to highlight the fact that there is some logic and even a dose of righteousness in the motivations of the bad guys, which makes them feel more complex and alive than an enemy which is blatantly, obviously wrong. Bitchwhore and Jarro make for very compelling villains here and I'm looking forward to the resolution.

Final Score : ***
MsV
Mon, Apr 27, 2015, 4:43am (UTC -6)
@ Elliot worst line of the episode is Sisko's “As I understand it, [Li], you report directly to the Prophets, but from time to time I may ask for your help.”

I seriously agree with you.
@Yanks Iron Mike Kira. I like the new name. Still laughing

I love this trilogy but I hat Kai Winn and my opinion of her never changed throughout the seven years.

My oldest son gave Bariel a new name too. "Dried Biscuit"
William B
Mon, Jul 20, 2015, 9:48am (UTC -6)
So it seems that Kira's being booted from DS9 at the end of part one is just an overture to the much larger result that Jaro's goons will force the entire non-Bajoran presence on the station to exit at the end of part 2. One thing to note is that DS9 becomes very attached to these intense, multi-part premieres, many of which threaten the very presence of the Federation on the station -- the most obvious is in season six, but "Way of the Warrior" is a particularly big example too. The only season which starts with a single part (somewhat refreshingly, IMO) is season five. Sweeping changes are threatened, and the story is given enough space to breathe that it even seems as if those changes might stick. Of course, they won't; I don't think it's necessarily a failure of nerve on the part of the writing staff so much as constraints placed from On High (i.e. Berman et al.), and I don't hold it against the show too much that big changes don't remain permanent. However, the show suffers a bit because it can happen that character bits that begin to be explored during these upheavals sometimes get dropped, at least to a degree.

Character-wise, the big focus is Kira. We learn essentially that this is the first time in years that Kira has had a chance to be relatively still. The big contrast between Bareil and Winn is not just in their politics, but in terms of their personal approach to life; Winn is a judgmental busybody and Bareil is a (frankly, as performed, pretty boring) still, calm, meditative sort. Kira found herself identifying with Winn's positions in "In the Hands of the Prophets" initially and Kira *can* be a judgmental busybody. The push by the Orb for her to get naked with Bareil provides encouragement for her to devote herself fully to this "calm, placid" Kira who might be able to find some inner peace, after the need for violence and anger all these years. This follows the arc laid out in season one (especially with, e.g., Opaka's advice in "Battle Lines"). Kira/Bareil is being set up as a romance as a result, and it's mostly fine on that level of exploring Kira -- Visitor sells both Kira's frustration with feelings of uselessness and her eventual beginning to adapt to this new life. On the other hand, Anglim plays Bareil very woodenly and it's hard to see the spark for them as a romance; and further, the only justification given for why Bareil is interested in Kira is that he saw her in an Orb, which, okay? I think this is the first time we're introduced to Kira's total inability to do art -- which comes up again in "Accession" -- which I think helps remind us of the way her natural state combined with early experiences mostly trained her to leave undeveloped any skills or interests that are not immediately useful, grounded in possible benefits in the physical world. Her imagination and spirit are just being given a chance to develop now.

(Incidentally: I really much prefer to interpret the Orb Experiences as hallucinations somewhat determined by the person's subconscious, rather than messages sent by The Prophets who, frankly, at this point still don't seem to have any interest in humanoid affairs, etc., but what do I know.)

Contra Jammer I quite liked both of Winn's scenes -- I do think they went on too long, especially the one with Jaro, but they are still pretty effective. I love the way Winn goes after Bareil and Kira in her scene with them -- the dig at Bareil's prurient interest in Kira by saying it's great he's taking time for "recreation," the way she spins Kira's attempt at spiritual retreat as being appropriate "given the violence" in her soul, the criticism/threat? regarding Bareil's unauthorized Orb use, with some implication that Winn may well use this as evidence against Bareil, all while done in a friendly manner. The conversation with Jaro at the episode's end comes down, similarly, to a negotiation in which political ambition is disguised on both sides -- not enough to be truly invisible to anyone, but enough to provide the slightest bit of cover, in case the other one goes to betray them, and perhaps before the Prophets, too. When Jaro and Winn stand by the window, looking out at a rather beautiful vista, we also get the sense how these two view themselves as Bajor's natural leaders, there to restore Bajor to its rightful glory, while admitting to and denying their own personal ambition at once. The Jaro/Winn scene has the rhythms of a seduction/coupling, and I think we're meant to see a parallel/contrast between Kira and Bareil's coupling in the Orb with the "consummation" here of Jaro and Winn's ambitions; the soul of Bajor is more truly represented in the love that may be formed by Kira and Bareil, but to the powerful standing up above the bedfellows are chaste, all their lust a lust for power.

Winn's subtle threats against Kira pay off in Jaro's kidnapping and torturing her, and Jaro's use of Cardassian techniques to "get information" from Kira set us up for the reveal that the Circle is being armed by the Cardassians, albeit indirectly. As well as decent as political plotting, it's also a fine metaphor: Jaro's using techniques associated with the militaristic, fascist Cardassians means that he's essentially bringing Bajor back under the rule of their philosophy, whether the Cardassians return to put them in more literal bondage or not. I guess I have to ask: if the Circle was Jaro's way of amassing power so that he can stage a coup of the provisional government, why all the graffiti? I suspect here that it's a matter of testing out public opinion and perhaps also terrorizing people out of dissent. I do think that Jaro torturing Kira is silly, though -- not that I think Jaro would be opposed to such techniques on his enemies on a moral level, but the "information" he wants to extract is her *opinion* on what Sisko would *probably* do if Jaro seizes the government, which, I mean, it's not that torture is a reliable source of information in any case, but it seems particularly hard to believe it could be used to forcibly extract someone's soberly considered predictions on a subject they may not have thought much about.

One problem with this three-parter is that while Jaro and Winn are not portrayed as pure villains, we still have no sense of what Bajorans on the ground think of the Circle. Who are these masked men who brand Quark on the station? Since Jaro doesn't reveal his Circle allegiances explicitly, who is it that the Bajorans who fall into the circle's orbit are inspired by? Just graffiti?

The rescue of Kira is not quite as silly as the rescue of Li was in the previous episode, largely because it's believable that a fly-by-night operation like Jaro's would have poor security. In general I find the pacing and dialogue a bit better in this episode than the last. Li is somewhat shifted into the background, but the material for him mostly progresses reasonably.

There are still problems I have here, but I think this is a pretty effective episode. A high 3 stars. I think this is the best of the trilogy.
Diamond Dave
Sun, Nov 8, 2015, 4:15pm (UTC -6)
Plots within plots, wheels within wheels. This episode gets big quickly, and while the grand sweep is mostly played offscreen in distant gunfire and the like, the gathering coup hangs over everything we do see.

This is tightly written across the board. The main thrust is Kira's story, and it plays interestingly on her spiritual needs before moving her right back into the action. Ironically her kidnap, torture and rescue is the one thing that doesn't really work - it's main aim being the revelation of Jaro as the leader of the Circle. But Jaro's axis of evil with Winn is also nicely played, as is Winn's earlier barbed conversation with Bareil and Kira.

There are other strong scenes too - Sisko bargaining with the military, Odo deputising Quark, and the fun into in Kira's quarters. It survives being the tricky middle part of a triple-header by moving the plot along while leaving something to the resolution. 3.5 stars.
Grumpy
Tue, Dec 1, 2015, 8:50pm (UTC -6)
Now wishing the Circle's "Bajor for Bajorans" motive had lasted longer than the season premiere. Sisko needed a tougher obstacle to his prime mission -- bring Bajor into the UFP -- than his personal clash with Winn. Granted, personalizing the conflict is a wise dramatic choice, but Winn's ambition is a petty obstacle compared to the Circle's xenophobia.

The intrusion of the Dominion by Season 6 added another obstacle, but it was too huge. The Dominion didn't threaten just Sisko's Bajoran mission but the entire quadrant. And by the end of the war -- and the series -- that mission was forgotten and unresolved.

Sigh. Excuse me for comparing DS9 and Voyager, but... whereas the latter's abandonment of its premise was evident early and often, DS9 glided over its wasted potential until after the series was complete. (Or until maybe around the end of Season 6 or so.)
Luke
Sun, Feb 14, 2016, 9:44am (UTC -6)
"The Circle" is another stellar outing, but which has the same problem as "The Homecoming" - it tries to do too much.

In addition to all the sub-plots from the previous episode, we now add into the mix the religious angle (with Jaro attempting to form an alliance with Winn and influence the selection of the next Kai), Kira's time in the monastery, a possible romantic element between Kira and Bareil, prophecy/foreshadowing, the strain between the military and the Provisional Government (along with the introduction of General Krim - who will be a central character in Part III) and the reveal that the Cardassians are driving the attempted coup (which was only hinted at previously). So, again, while everything we get is really good, it still feels rushed.

What makes "The Circle" so good, however, is how it really helps flesh out the DS9 universe (and the overall Trek universe in general). We spend time with characters we've already met (Bareil and Winn) and they play important roles in the story. We hear of Sisko having had meetings with the Bajoran Executive Committee (whatever that is). The Cardassians are brought into the story to add to the tapestry. It makes the universe feel more real, more lived in, and as a result more explored.

So, while these episodes do have their problems, they are exactly what DS9 needed at this point. They allowed DS9 to be become comfortable in it's own setting, thereby not being a TNG knock-off anymore.

8/10
RandomThoughts
Wed, Mar 2, 2016, 6:37pm (UTC -6)
I liked General Krim. While we only see him for a little bit, he was in the back of my mind while I watched the rest of the episode, and the first part of the next one.

I actually liked the intrigue this episode had. It had me on the edge of my seat the whole way, and then we saw there was going to be a part three. We'd not had one of those before. I and my friends thought it would be wrapped up with this episode. We were (eventually) glad it wasn't. We were only ticked because we wanted to know what was going to happen.

Glad they eventually made a small arc, early on, that we could sink our teeth into, without having to wait a full season for the conclusion. We talked about it all week until the next episode came on.

Regards... RT
Strejda
Wed, Nov 23, 2016, 12:35pm (UTC -6)
@Elliot

How is this like the Romulan plan? Romulans were going to conquer a Federation world while here, Cardassians are planning on doing so to an independent world. Different situations.

As for Sisko... Look, it's not a brave thing to do, but I think when you are doing a pretty brave and right thing already, you are allowed to some harmless bullshitting to get yourself to do it.

Anyway, one thing I am surprised nobody commented on was Bashir taking time to untie Kira during the rescue. WHY?

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