Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine



Air date: 2/13/1995
Written by David S. Cohen and Martin A. Winer
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Where you see a sword of stars, I see a comet. Where you see vipers, I see three scientists. And where you see the Emissary, I see a Starfleet officer." — Sisko to Kira

It's a credit to the writers that despite the literally hundreds of stories on TNG and DS9 (and now Voyager) that have been aired over the last eight years, they can still come up with compelling, original ideas. "Destiny" is such a story, with a very clever script and very interesting dialogue, exhibiting some effective philosophical content alongside the best of "In the Hands of the Prophets."

In the midst of the first joint Bajoran/Cardassian cooperative mission—the installation of a communications relay outside the wormhole—Bajoran Vedek Yarka (Erick Avari) visits the station to inform Sisko of an ancient prophecy about the Emissary that is a warning of impending disaster—directly linked to this mission. The prophecy is a convolution of metaphors, but these metaphors come together to provide a seemingly striking message involving a number of distinctive elements.

Paraphrasing the prophecy: Three vipers will return to their nest in the sky in an attempt to peer through the temple gates. A sword of stars will appear in the heavens, and as a result, the temple will burn and will never open or close again.

Yarka argues that the "vipers" are the Cardassian scientists who are heading up the project. The "nest in the sky" is, of course, the station and "peering through the temple gates" is the attempt to communicate through the wormhole with the transceiver relay. He doesn't offer an explanation for the "sword of stars" but predicts that the temple burning, never to open or close again, can only be the disastrous destruction and permanent collapse of the wormhole.

This gives Sisko some rather weighty decisions to make. There is no foreseeable reason why this experiment should cause any sort of problem, let alone something as disastrous as Yarka claims. Should Sisko continue procedures as if he never heard the prophecy text or should he take it into consideration?

The episode's story structure is quite effective. As the narrative unfolds, every act culminates with some sort of unexpected surprise that makes the prophecy seem that much closer to coming true. Just when it appears Sisko is clear from any more problems, something comes up just in time to send us into commercial break.

For example, initially, there are only two Cardassians heading up the project, not three. Then there's the announcement that a third Cardassian will be joining the project. Kira's apprehension starts up, but neither she nor Sisko can see what could possibly go wrong because of this coincidence.

Then there's the appearance of a comet—is it the sword of stars? Kira's apprehension jumps up three notches. The comet has a course that puts it near the wormhole entrance, but not close enough to interfere with the project, let alone cause any disaster. Kira makes a passing remark about the prophecy within earshot of the Cardassians, prompting Sisko to request a private discussion with his first officer. The comment has no place on the bridge of the Defiant, he tells her. She agrees, but she also believes the prophecy is coming true based on the number of "coincidences."

This is the heart of "Destiny." It's a crossing of Kira's faith and her duty. How can she just ignore something she has believed her entire life? Kira reveals to Sisko her ongoing difficulty to see him as simply her commanding officer and not the religious icon he has become in Bajoran lore. At the same time, Sisko is put in the difficult position of being part of the prophecy. He's never been comfortable with the label of Emissary, and this episode is really the first to deeply look at how Sisko feels about it.

However, Sisko realizes he can't call the project off based on a retranslated prophecy that could be interpreted to mean any number of things.

But imagine everyone's surprise when a random variable in the communication test sequence causes the comet's course to be altered such that it heads straight for the wormhole. By this time, I'm thinking Kira's "concrete" justification for calling off the project makes a lot of sense. Sisko sits down and thinks the situation through very carefully. Dax asks him what he would do if he never heard of the prophecy. Continue with the project, he says. There's no reason at all why O'Brien's plan to destroy the comet with modified phasers should fail.

But then it does fail. The Defiant's phasers overload and fail to destroy the comet. With the comet headed directly for the mouth of the wormhole and the crew without phasers to destroy it, a disaster seems imminent. Maybe Yarka was right.

But the effectiveness of "Destiny" practically rides on whether the conclusion can live up to the rest of it. A contrived, last-minute solution to completely disprove the prophecy could have seriously sabotaged this show. Fortunately, the writers know how to finish a good story with a good ending, and they offer a satisfying conclusion that doesn't sell the episode short in any way.

Sisko and Kira manage to pilot the comet through the wormhole with a subspace field around it to prevent it from igniting the wormhole. They are almost successful. The wormhole does end up ignited by small amounts of comet fragments—just enough so the prophecy comes true. But the damage is only minor, and the wormhole doesn't collapse. It simply remains "cracked" open just enough to allow the communication transmission through, never to completely close again.

It's a very clever ending, as Yarka's misinterpretation of the prophecy proves ironic. At the same time, by having the prophecy still actually come true, the writers affirm that religion and Bajoran beliefs still remain characteristic of the series. They also prove that it's quite possible to do a story that isn't derivative. Kudos to this rather cerebral outing.

Previous episode: Heart of Stone
Next episode: Prophet Motive

Season Index

26 comments on this review

Gatton - Sun, Apr 5, 2009 - 8:02pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised no one else has commented on this episode. I enjoyed it a lot and I thought the ending was very cleverly crafted to allow the prophecy to be true. I also enjoyed the scenes with Colm Meaney and Tracy Scoggins who despite a couple of pounds of Cardassian makeup can still be attractive.
Destructor - Mon, Jun 29, 2009 - 9:40pm (USA Central)
Watched this again last night and it's always been a favourite. In the constant tension between science and faith that is always being explored in DS9 (and later BSG), this is the episode that got the balance exactly right- it could have been science, could have been a prophecy. Two sides of the same coin. Very well done.
Jezetha - Mon, Aug 17, 2009 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
I too watched this episode again and admired the way in which tension is sustained until the end. Excellent!
Elliott - Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - 11:21pm (USA Central)
Could someone do me the favour of explaining why giving credence to the Bajorans' religion is automatically for the good? Here's another sabotage of the Roddenberry Universe...what is the message the writers are sending by designing an episode to essentially say that indeed, the prophets bestow knowledge of the future to Bajoran Vediics. Okay, well if that's the case, then explain it in those terms damn it. Have someone point out that the "prophecy" may very well be true because the wormhole aliens can literally see into our future because they're unbounded by time (which makes absolutely no sense, but whatever). Fine, it make sense, explains everything and maintains that the Bajorans' religion is silly, because it is. Rather, we get this idea that the issue is about duty and work in opposition to faith--it's manipulative and arrogant. 1 star.
Nic - Sat, Mar 5, 2011 - 9:38pm (USA Central)
The thing about prophecies is that most of the time they are so vague that even if you believe in them, you can never be certan that you're interpreting them correctly. A lot of prophcies in human history (such as Nostradamus) HAVE come true if you interpret them in a certain way. You cna choose to believe that Nostradamus really did somehow know what would happen in the future, or you can believe that any prophecy's interpretation can be modified to fit with actual events. My personal views would tend towards the latter, but I'm glad this episode showed both sides of the coin.
Keiren - Thu, Apr 19, 2012 - 5:05am (USA Central)
Nah...whats worse is that most of the human race doesnt understand how prophecy works.... or how to interpret it.... Saying that, I respect this episode for being balanced, i like this one
TMLS - Sun, Jun 24, 2012 - 7:45pm (USA Central)
Just watched it, regarding the last line... did they work the finale to fit that or was it planned all along? It works!
Roshard - Mon, Jul 23, 2012 - 1:16am (USA Central)
This is a great episode. Nic nailed everything about people misunderstanding and intepret prophecies different throughout history. This episode did a great job about using the bajoran prophecy in a realistic way.
N robinson - Wed, Aug 1, 2012 - 9:57pm (USA Central)
has anyone else noticed the Vedics final quotation of the fourth prophecy about the emissary

"The Emissary will face a fiery trial and will be forced to choose......"

Does this forshadow his eventual fate??

Nick R

Peremensoe - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 10:08am (USA Central)
Elliott, the line you're looking for about the wormhole aliens relationship with time *is* in the episode.

The Bajorans interpret everything about the wormhole aliens in 'religious' terms... but there's no need for anyone else to.
Elliott - Tue, Jan 29, 2013 - 2:19pm (USA Central)

You missed my point. The Bajorans base the veracity of their religion on the quasi-magical abilities of the Prophets. If the Prophets' actions can be explained scientifically, the Bajoran religion should collapse and fall apart. Their belief system is akin to those Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and whoever else makes the claim that their religion is "right" because it "explains" an aspect of the Universe which is entirely in the realm of the rational world. Let me be clear: not EVERY aspect of the Universe can be explained by science and there is certainly room for faith and belief, but not when it comes to those things which are plainly explicable by our reason!

These thoughts scream at me during an episode like this which is all about whether or not the "magical" part of religion is verifiable (which it isn't). That the question is never put to the fire is a huge disappointment and cements my distain for this series' take on religious matters as well as my flabbergast at the ability of other to either look past it or laud it.
Mike - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 5:24am (USA Central)
Elliot, what you are saying is nonsensical. I know you ALWAYS have an axe to grind with DS9 but there's absolutely nothing silly or irrational about the Bajoran religion within the context of DS9, because within that context the Prophets are established to be real. You may prefer to call them wormhole aliens, as I do, but they are clearly a "higher power" with an interest in Bajor. There's therefore nothing irrational about the Bajorans acknowledging the existence of the Prophets or even choosing to worship them, as the Prophets are invested enough in Bajor's existence and spiritual lives to wipe out an entire Dominion fleet and send Orbs, among other things. I'm an atheist, so I understand that you are clearly offended by the religious overtones, but comparing the Bajorans to Christians or Muslims is incorrect. The Prophets are provably real. God / Allah is not. If God were provably real, there would be nothing irrational about worshiping him / her / it. But even as I write this, I know your post isn't about rational debate, it's about shoving your opinion out there again and again. So, read this, know that you are being silly and just try to show a little more restraint in the future, because your little rants are all over this site.
Elliott - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 11:07am (USA Central)

"...there's absolutely nothing silly or irrational about the Bajoran religion within the context of DS9, because within that context the Prophets are established to be real...If God were provably real, there would be nothing irrational about worshiping him / her / it."

You state that the verisimilitude of a deity is the sole factor in determining the rationality of a religion. So the practices, beliefs and customs of a religious group bear no scrutiny--they are either rational if the deity exists or irrational if it does not? This seems very immoral to me. If the Prophets happened to be the sort of Old Testament-style deities which demanded Bajor take revenge upon its enemies, would you hold the same opinion of them? If, by religious conviction, Bajorans sought to exterminate the Cardassians, would you not "have an axe to grind" with this show?

Besides all that, if it is simply a rational choice for Bajorans to worship the Prophets (a silly name for the aliens, when you think about it) given their history and interaction with the aliens, then it ought to be a rational choice for anyone. Modern religions diffuse the "my God for my People" issue by claiming God(s) to be omniscient and having influence over all people, not just one tribe. Modern atheists also have a troubling tendency to placate the credulous and shield them from due criticism, as though their beliefs are so fragile and delicate they couldn't otherwise survive (which is insulting as much to religious people as to atheists).

You are not incorrect when you claim that the Bajorans' religion and modern Christianity or Islam cannot be compared because of the nature of their deities, which is exactly why the comparison in the show is so frustrating. When the specifics of the religion aren't discussed, the Bajorans are depicted as modern egalitarian democratic people...but their religion is actively the sort of backwater dessert nonsense which should be setting off alarm bells to the humans, at least.

It's an old and ultimately ineffective tactic to try and dismiss your combatant's argument in a debate by labelling something other than "debate" ("rant" in your case), but since we're offering advice: I would say, rather than analysing what you think the psychology of my arguments are, try focusing on the substance.
Grumpy - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 1:30pm (USA Central)
I think I actually agree with Elliott. Not about this being a 1-star episode, but its wishy-washiness reduces it to a 2.5 for me.

As Jammer said of Voyager's "Sacred Ground" the following year: "It wants to be a commentary, yet it still doesn't take any real stance on religion or science. It tries to have it both ways, by bringing up a question and then avoiding it... Yet it also walks a fine line around the issue so carefully that it ends up saying surprisingly little—and that is a flaw." Now, "Destiny" at least is less boring than "Sacred Ground" (although Janeway's personal drama is much more profound than any in this episode; even Sisko's ecstasy in "Rapture" was explained away as neurotransmitters) and it engages with the spiritual vs material debate throughout. But there's something missing.

The elephant being ignored is, I think, that although the Prophets' prophecies are objectively true, their interpretation is subjective (as discussed in the episode) and therefore the prophecies are as useless as any other metaphorical mumbo-jumbo. Granted, this wouldn't lead every Bajoran to the conclusion that prophecies are nonsense because they only make sense retrospectively, as Nic said about Nostradamus. Some, as Keiren pointed out, would take comfort in the objective truth of prophecies, even though their ambiguous wording makes them useless for guiding actions (as Dax says, pretend you never heard it). To me, the latter view is less correct than the former, and the episode's refusal to say so -- instead ending with "We were both right" -- is its biggest weakness.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 6:55pm (USA Central)

Pretty good episode considering it dealt with Bajoran religious mumbo jumbo.

Cheyne - Fri, Nov 22, 2013 - 11:05am (USA Central)
This is one of my favorites of the whole series, and perhaps the best exposition of Bajoran religion and Sisko's role as prophet, still within a reasonable framework.

Loved the vipers, loved the rogue vedik, loved Kira's exposition of her true feelings about Sisko as emissary and the conflict they cause, loved it all. Also, Dax wasn't as objectionable here as usual, especially in her chat with the Cardies.

As far as the religious debate, well, the prophets are beings outside time, why couldn't they share their knowledge through "prophecy"? For me it doesn't weaken the "Roddenberry universe" at all, as the prophets do exist as beings.

For me the true message of this episode is not science vs. religion, but Kira's conflicting roles as faithful Bajoran and second officer on a station, which it does present very well.

Cheyne - Fri, Nov 22, 2013 - 11:29am (USA Central)
Oops, should be "Sisko's role as emissary," not prophet, in the first paragraph.

But I'll take advantage of this correction to say that O'Brien's romance with one of the vipers was also enjoyable.

Vylora - Fri, Feb 21, 2014 - 6:57pm (USA Central)
I agree that this episode is more about Kira's struggles and how any prophecy can be translated to whatever circumstances one deems fit. I never really viewed this ep as "science vs religion" or at least it wasn't the main crux of the story anyhow.

Really their shouldn't be a "vs" to begin with. Religion is a concept completely man-made and any and all stories connected to any one of them have no basis in fact. Just because someone makes up an idea of god(s) doesn't all of a sudden mean its true. This universe has gone on for billions of years before our "ideas" and will survive just fine billions of years after us and our "ideas" are gone. Science is about experimenting and learning about how things work basically. It is not a philosophy nor is it a belief system and it most definitely is not a "flip side of a coin" to a belief system. We don't have modern conveniences and the ability to explore our solar system or even the explanation of how the sun comes up because we "believed" in them.

That being said, and as I've stated in another post, stories that involve religion into them don't bother me when done well. Fact is, is that there IS religion in real life therefore it makes sense to utilize it in fiction just like anything else in life. The knowledge that the Bajoran gods (Prophets, not a name any more silly than some real life names for deities) are a bit more tangible in a sense (sending orbs, the wormhole, etc) is probably what makes some of them hold on to there faith that much more. Yes there's scientific explanations for all of it but it would make much less dramatic sense for all Bajorans to suddenly "stop believing". A lot of them went through horrible times and it's the faith that helped them get through it. Is the faith correct? No. Do I wish people took less stock in religion in general and instead worked together to try to make our planet a better place? Yes. Does that mean religion should not be a storytelling device? No.

All in all as far as this ep is concerned it is well-written, adeptly executed, and adds more to the bigger picture of what's to come.

3.5 stars.
pip - Fri, Apr 18, 2014 - 7:34am (USA Central)
A big treat seeing Wendy Robie, one of my favourite Twin Peaks alumni. Almost unrecognisable without the eye patch.
Quarkissnyder - Sun, Jun 22, 2014 - 11:03pm (USA Central)
I thought the main plot was fine, even interesting. But the subplot with the Cardassians was so stupid. I hate it when Star Trek creates perfectly good alien races and then tries to show that "they're just like us." The idea that a Cardassian wouldn't like any Cardassian cuisine? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. And the Cardassian scientist throwing herself at O'Brien? Just make it stop. Humans would be just as ugly to alien races as they are to us. And the idea that the scientists would suddenly out someone as a spy and saboteur, but that's okay because they'll be protected by their superiors? Sorry, that goes against everything we know about Cardassian society and government.
Yanks - Fri, Aug 1, 2014 - 12:21pm (USA Central)
This episode is DS9's way of slamming religion without slamming it. The prophecy was true without being true. It all depends on your viewpoint; which is as much true for the religious as the militant atheists in practice.

Brilliantly conceived and executed episode.

I enjoy this one each time I watch it.

3.5 stars for me.
Sean - Sun, Aug 3, 2014 - 2:40am (USA Central)
Elliott, they did indeed explain it. Sisko said exactly what you wanted the episode to say: that a man thousands of years ago saw this particular event in history because the prophets showed it to him through the orbs. Yet he had no idea what it meant since it was way beyond his technological level, so he wrote it down in his own terms.

The episode isn't validating the religion at all. It's saying that the religion exists because of the prophets showing people these things and them writing it down as prophecy. The episode itself isn't saying the religion is valid because of it. At least, I didn't interpret it that way.

Besides, the Bajoran religion isn't really much of a religion when the gods clearly exist and clearly do hand out scenes from the future to be written as prophecy. At that point it's very much so a matter of science because we can observe these entities. Although that said, no one knew the wormhole or the aliens in it existed until the first episode so there's that.

The show itself never really took a stand on whether or not it validated the Bajoran religion. At the very least they might have said they liked the idea of faith itself, but to be honest I never got that impression myself.

It's interesting to compare this religion with the Dominion faith in the founders. As you were talking about, what if the prophets were Christian/Muslim style gods that wanted the Bajorans to wipe out the Cardassians altogether? This is much what we see with the Dominion. Although the Dominion gods are obviously real, the belief in them as gods was programmed into their DNA. If anything, this is a very clear DS9 indictment against religion, as opposed to the treatment of the Bajoran religion, in that we see the Jem'Hadar and the Vorta have blind faith in their gods which does indeed cause them to do horrible things.

As for myself, I'm a huge DS9 fan, of course, but I don't know about the religious episodes myself that directly involve the prophets. They seemed too fantasy to me. Although that said, I did really enjoy the Dukat/Winn story arc that ended the religious themes on the show. Not necessarily the climax in the caves, but the build up to that was quite good.
Scott - Mon, Sep 1, 2014 - 7:52pm (USA Central)
In the first episode of the series Sisko has to explain time to the wormhole aliens. The same time in which the bajorans live. This should have been a huge topic of discussion. How are the aliens seen as gods of the bajorans if they need a human to explain the time in which the bajorans exist. And what does God even mean to the bajorans? Today the major religions believe in a God that created everything. People believe Gods can not be destroyed. Yet bajorans know that the wormhole aliens can be killed using technology. Kira has been upset a couple times when plans were being made that could harm the aliens. Ds9 talked about the wormhole aliens a lot but nobody ever asked Kira about the fact that their Gods can be killed. Worf also talks about klingon Gods being killed. So logic would say that bajorans don't think the aliens created the universe because they don't even understand the universe in which the bajorans live. This is why Sisko is the weakest captain. No other captain would be fooled into doing whatever the aliens wanted. I wish we could have gotten a scene where Quark tells Kira how the aliens evolved the Nagus and how Quark met with the prophets and explained profit. I don't think they could show that scene because Kira would have to question her whole faith with a plot that dumb.
dlpb - Fri, Dec 19, 2014 - 6:46pm (USA Central)
Brilliantly conceived and executed episode.

Once again, have to disagree. Its whole premise is stolen from Babylon 5 again (The prophecies from Valen and the Vorlons), Except B5 did it much better, and over a proper arc.

Ignoring that, it's a decent episode, but also as the above poster notes, produced questions that the writers deliberately didn't try to answer because they couldn't.
Diane - Wed, Feb 11, 2015 - 7:05am (USA Central)
The one aspect of DS9 that I liked continually is the fact they had religion. This is the part that resembles real life. People have their gods. We cannot travel to the stars, at least not yet, and we don't have shapeshifters, etc., but we have our religions. Now, the way they portray it here is a little odd, but I can relate to the Bajorans.
Andrew - Fri, Jul 24, 2015 - 9:28am (USA Central)
A good episode but it felt weird for the usually open-minded Dax to be so dismissive of the prophecy, there it felt like the writers were just using the trope that the scientific are cold or hostile to religious ideas.

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