Nutshell: Reasonable for a while, with some nice little character touches, but the last two acts are a serious derailment.
"The Reckoning" is full of interesting little tidbits and character elements from past episodes. It's a story that seems promising. I initially thought the payoff would look into Sisko's "penance" that the Prophets, back in "Sacrifice of Angels," said would be required of him.
Well, it was not to be.
This isn't an awful episode of DS9, though it certainly has some awful moments. It's just that with all the chances to make grand connections with earlier stories, it's too bad that "The Reckoning" ultimately adds up to mean so surprisingly little. If this story turns out to actually mean something someday down the road (though I'm not so sure that's likely), I might be more impressed with it. Unfortunately, right now, there's more that's wrong with the plot than there is that's right about it.
The episode might best be labeled the "annual Emissary episode," in the spirit of such shows as "Destiny," "Accession," and "Rapture." However, it's not nearly as good as any of those previous examples because it has a hopelessly silly ending that manages to undermine most of what's good about the rest of the show.
It starts out reasonably enough, to the point I even felt the sensation of promise. As we begin, the Bajorans have unearthed an ancient stone tablet underneath the city of B'hala (even the reference to the city from last season's episode was a helpful bit of continuity). It's 30,000 years old, and it makes a reference to the Emissary in its inscription. When Sisko goes near it, he has a vision: The Prophets tell him, in not so many words, that they require his assistance for an upcoming event, though the nature of the event and what's required of him is initially unclear.
Sisko takes the tablet back to the station to run an analysis upon it and ponder the nature of the Prophets' request and riddles. Subsequently, ominous foreboding rocks the station as the wormhole does some bizarre things, and forewarnings of doom appear in the forms of natural disasters on Bajor—flooding, earthquakes, and tornadoes.
Much of the rest of the episode is a reasonable revisit to the nature of Sisko's relationship to the wormhole aliens, and how he sees himself in that relationship. On that level, "The Reckoning" works for quite a while because it proves to be (with one glaring exception that I'll address in a moment) a nicely characterized little story. Sisko's role in trying to balance the Emissary/Captain duality isn't a particularly new idea, but it was sensible enough as the episode progressed that it made for some believable and intriguing scenes. The dialog served the purpose of reinforcing Sisko's stance on his role in Bajoran beliefs, which is nice to see on just about any day.
Also of interest was the idea that Jake is uncomfortable with his father's role in Bajoran milieu. "This Emissary stuff scares me a little," he admits, in a scene that is strikingly effective through its understated simplicity. Jake's reference to being helpless twice in the course of one year while his father was lying on a bio-bed having visions was a particularly nice touch. Having a father that is a religious icon strikes me as something that can be pretty daunting.
Meanwhile, I thought that the toned-down use of Kira/Odo in the story was sensible. Their scenes together were decent, managing to avoid screaming "We're a couple!" for anyone who missed "His Way" last week. Sure, it was evident they were an item, but not painfully obvious or excessive. Plus, they had some good scenes where both were acting like the characters they've been for the past five years (rather than being utilized in a zany ends-to-means sitcom like in "His Way"), briefly discussing their differing opinions of faith. Nothing between Odo and Kira was worth getting remotely excited about, but it was pleasant and managed to avoid sinking too much into the "writer's novelty value" of having this new relationship.
Then there was Dax, whose whining and acerbic remarks about having to analyze a 30,000-year-old slab of rock came off as quietly amusing in a sarcastic, Dax-like sort of way. Again, there was nothing here that was remotely groundbreaking, but I did get the feeling I was watching the people move the story from A to B rather than just the mechanics of the plot.
Unfortunately, there's one glaring exception to this generality, and that is, strangely, Kai Winn, who was a major disappointment this time around. The story paints her as entirely too self-serving. Once Sisko brings the tablet back to the station, she arrives to protest, saying that he should've asked the vedek assembly before removing it from the dig site. He apologizes, but she can't leave well enough alone, so she contacts Starfleet to complain.
Some of Winn's reactions, admittedly, are believable; I can certainly understand that she would be upset about Sisko's decision not to contact her before taking the tablet, and given their uneasy past I can certainly see where she would feel threatened by "this outsider's" spiritual encounter with Bajoran deities.
Unfortunately, this is too much of a retread, especially when considering the groundbreaking changes in her character in "Rapture" last year (as well as dialog from "In the Cards"). Her actions this week strike me as character regression rather than character development. The beauty of "Rapture" was that it sent Winn's world spinning into the uncertain, and it seemed she would have to question all of her attitudes, the first and foremost being her long-standing conflict with Sisko. In "The Reckoning," however, it seems she has reverted back to her old sense of ever-doubt and skepticism wherever Sisko is concerned; she challenges him at every turn, logs complaints to his superiors. And then, at the end ... but we'll get to that in due time.
In short, this strikes me as petty behavior on the part of the writers when considering what else they could and should be doing. The idea that Winn would go looking for silly conflicts in the middle of the Dominion War—especially when she knows the extent Sisko has fought for Bajor's interests ever since "In the Cards"—is screen time wasted, as far as I'm concerned. I wanted something new, an outgrowth from the Winn of "Rapture." But "Reckoning" takes the well-traveled road—a road that probably shouldn't even be traveled these days.
That brings us to the last two acts, where we realize what this story is all about; or, in other words, where a relatively reasonable episode goes careening off into the absurd. In reality, the payoff for this story isn't really about Sisko, Kira, Winn, Jake, or anyone else. It's about "good versus evil," which is loosely tied to the fate of Bajor in a manner which is both overlarge and simplistic. We learn (I think) that Sisko's only reason for being contacted by the Prophets at the beginning of the episode was so he could take the tablet back to the "gateway to the temple" (i.e., the station) where one good prophet and one evil pah-wraith could be released in order to engage in a prophesized battle to the end known as "the Reckoning." This fight, by the way, holds the possibility of destroying the entire station.
But that's not all: These forces also have to take possession of two bodies to accomplish this, namely Kira's and Jake's—the former because she is willing to serve the Prophets, the latter for reasons that aren't entirely clear. (The episode hints that maybe the Emissary's role in this fight was to offer his own flesh and blood to be possessed, but the connection is never realized.) Kira becomes the "good prophet," and Jake becomes the "evil pah-wraith."
In execution, this is reduced to the absurd, with a special-effects display that goes way too far, threatening to turn the show into a quasi-farce. Kira-prophet and Jake-pah-wraith face off on the promenade in a light-show display that's akin to Exorcist+Poltergeist taken to a much sillier level. And each "possessed" actor is supplied with vocal distortions and contact lenses; Cirroc Lofton as the Jake-pah-wraith has the opportunity to don dark-red eyes as a symbol of evil. Please, give me a break.
Why, may I ask, do the wormhole aliens even need humanoid bodies in order to carry out this conflict? As far as I can tell, their need to take corporeal form is nothing beyond a plot convenience. And the whole final act looks like it belongs in a B movie. I wonder what exactly the creators were going for here. With a station-wide evacuation followed by lines like "The energy building between them could explode at any second!", it comes off as a bad thriller.
Yet, at the same time, we have some key choices made by Sisko, which prove interesting in and by themselves. First is his decision to let the struggle play itself out, knowing that DS9 could very well be destroyed in the process. There's also his decision to permit Jake to be threatened during the body-possession conflict. Sisko shows faith that the Prophets will protect Jake, which is an intriguing touch.
Unfortunately, this is all undermined by a key decision that Winn makes in order to prevent the station from being destroyed. She decides to raise chronoton radiation levels on the station, which forces the prophet and pah-wraith away in mid-struggle. (This tech procedure was established in a previous scene where Sisko decided against doing it in order to ensure the prophecy would follow its proper course.) The moment when Winn raises the radiation features the Kira-prophet shrieking "NO!" in such a way you can practically see down Nana Visitor's throat. Who in the world came up with all this?
For that matter, just how did Winn even gain access to ops? And how is it she happened to know exactly what to do to raise the radiation levels? An even bigger question: Why did she do it? The reasons for her decision are so lacking in realistic motivation that it simply left me confused. The writers seem to think Winn's actions stem from her personal need to "show up" the Emissary and bring a halt to the Reckoning, which apparently causes the disasters on Bajor to cease (which Winn can then "take credit" for). But I wonder why these disasters and wormhole anomalies stopped in the first place, seeing as the Reckoning wasn't completed.
Now, I can't presume to truly understand how fictional Bajoran prophecies work. But I also don't see how Winn could, either. For all she knew, I'm guessing, stopping the Reckoning prematurely could've angered the Prophets to the extent of bringing about the destruction of Bajor. That may be an extreme in the other direction, but using this absurd conflict of higher powers to bring about a neat and tidy indictment of Winn (via Kira's dialog at the end) is just silly—and totally superfluous if that's all the writers planned to do with something so large as the Prophet's "Reckoning." Maybe this will come into play again someday, but I frankly doubt it would make the events here make much more sense.
Ultimately, what "The Reckoning" turns out to be is a story that does a reasonable job of rehashing little character issues we've already dealt with. Sure, these revisits make for nice reinforcements, but the story doesn't offer anything that's truly new, aside from another generic Bajoran prophecy which is used to incite a laughable light show that plays out on the promenade—hardly what I want to see in a storyline involving the Prophets, whom can be used for much more cerebral purposes than a silly and trite game of "good versus evil."
If the Emissary's role in this story had made any sense, the episode might've fared better. But Sisko's role becomes unimportant after the poltergeist game takes control of the plot. The only important character decision of the story becomes Winn's choice at the end, the motivation of which is either so petty or incomprehensible that the whole notion merely comes off as misconceived. As a result, "The Reckoning" comes off as one of the most ineffective episodes this season, if you consider what it apparently set out to do.
Here's hoping the season finale gets to the real crux of Sisko's supposed penance to the Prophets of Bajor.
Next week: An experimental crew of cadets helms the USS Valiant ... and they get in over their heads.