Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night"
Air date: 3/30/1998
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
Directed by Jonathan West
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I bet I know what you're thinking: You'd like nothing better than to get us all drunk so you could kill us in our sleep."
"Are you sure you're not part Betazoid?"
— Cardassian Legate and Kira
Nutshell: Surprisingly quiet in execution, but an effective and intriguing tale from the files of the painful past.
Late one night—the night of what would've been Kira's deceased mother's 60th birthday—Kira receives a transmission in her quarters. It's from Dukat, a man who proves he can be as subtly vindictive in one quiet minute as he can be overtly vindictive when ranting like a madman through scenes of intensity, a la his personal boil-over with Sisko in "Waltz." Here he tells Kira that he wants to continue his refreshing bout of open honesty by bringing buried truths to the surface. In a brief moment that Kira probably would've preferred never to have experienced in her life, Dukat informs her that he was romantically involved with Kira Meru—Nerys' mother, whom she barely knew. Thoroughly disturbed (she realizes the sketchy details surrounding her mother's death may likely have been her father's attempts to shield her from what really happened), Kira begins the search for the truth, hoping to find answers by consulting the Bajoran Orb of Time.
"Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night," even if it were nothing else, would be a nice little character piece centering on Kira's history. We learned in last year's "Ties of Blood and Water" the circumstances surrounding the death of Kira's father. Since then, I've also wondered what happened to her mother. "Wrongs" supplies an answer.
But that's merely the beginning. "Wrongs" is also an intriguing tale of Kira's distress and crushing torment, featuring a twist that involves Dukat, one of Trek's most complex and interesting villains. Contrary to what I had expected, the unstable post-"Waltz" Dukat is not the character that takes the stage in "Wrongs," although an implicit analysis of that person certainly becomes evident as the episode unfolds. (The present Dukat's only appearance is, in fact, the brief scene where he contacts Kira.) Instead, this episode takes place in the past—quite literally, in fact, with its quasi-time-travel premise—and looks at the Dukat of yesteryear. It's a return to Occupation days, featuring Prefect Dukat of Terok Nor—a character we have seen on the screen before, in such episodes as the classic "Necessary Evil," as well as last year's probing "Things Past." In the wake of "Waltz," it's intriguing to revisit this person and see what he was trying—and failing—to accomplish with his selfish and hollow efforts to "bridge the gulf" between Cardassia and Bajor.
I'll admit that the time travel premise is perhaps a little on the convenient side. I find it a bit unsettling that the "Orb of Time" is something that can simply be used as a time-travel tool. Yeah, I know; it was the plot device for last season's foray into nostalgia that was "Trials and Tribble-ations," but in that episode the plot was pretty much an arbitrary means to an end. In "Wrongs" I'd just rather assume that the Orb of Time could give Kira visions of the past; I'm much less comfortable with the ethical implications arising out of the fact she could actually change the past. I don't believe this idea was necessary for the story to work. Unfortunately, the way the story presents it and how I perceived the underlying intentions are two separate things, so this aspect of the plot is a little shaky.
But this is a tale about the past, so I suppose it only makes sense that the episode goes back to the past to tell its story. Under the guide of the Prophets, Kira ends up on Bajor of perhaps 35 years ago, where she promptly encounters her family (including herself at the age of only three or four), just minutes before it was about to be shattered. The Cardassians kidnap a number of women from the group of starving Bajorans; these women are forced to become "comfort women" for the Cardassian officers on Terok Nor. Among the kidnapped women is Kira's mother, Meru (Leslie Hope), who, we learn, will never be reunited with her family. Time traveler Kira Nerys, posing under a different identity, is also selected to become a comfort servant, so she finds herself swept along with Meru and several others to the space station, where the pains of poverty and starvation end and different pains begin.
The comfort servants receive their own quarters, plentiful food, and good clothing. But they're doomed to become objects of desire and are permanently separated from their families. The question is no longer one of physical survival, it's one of mental survival. Can Meru survive this sudden twist of fate?
Well, I suppose that's the question Nerys wants to see answered. There's an interesting moment where Meru sees how much food there is on this station, and suddenly forgets her worries, only to remember them a moment later. Nerys stands by, watching her mother's reactions and pondering what they mean. It's an understated scene, but it obviously foreshadows what will become Nerys' tragic realization—that her mother is capable of falling into the Cardassians' trap of luxury and liking it. This is where Prefect Dukat enters the scene, taking notice of the beautiful Meru and deciding that he wants to win her over. He turns on the charm, something that we've seen Dukat do many times.
The Dukat of this era is as intriguing as ever, especially given what we found out about him in "Waltz." He wants to be a "nice" man, helping his Bajoran "children" through the ugliness of the Occupation. The problem, of course, is that he doesn't really do anything for the right reasons; he just wants to feed his own conscience and ego, and he views his condescending attitude toward Bajorans as a gentle, helping hand. I'm sure he feels that winning Meru over and winning the Bajoran people over go hand in hand, but it simply doesn't work that way.
The story's twist is that Meru herself is almost completely won over by Dukat's charm, and she decides she's going to make the best of bad situation. If she doesn't have family or freedom then she will have food and luxury, because resisting these forces certainly won't reunite her with her family. So she moves in with Dukat at his request, where she would presumably remain with him for a number of years. (Let me also point out that Dukat taking to Meru seems to make his future fixation on Nerys that much more understandable. A little sick and twisted, perhaps, but a fascinating connection in any case.)
Kira is disgusted, realizing that her mother is exactly the type of Bajoran that she used to hate while in the Resistance. This realization connects to the extension of the story's plot, which focuses on Kira's involvement with members of the Bajoran Resistance who hope to sneak a bomb into Dukat's quarters. The choice that Kira has to make is whether or not to kill her own mother in the process, something she ultimately realizes she can't do, even though a big part of her wants to. The scene where she comes to this decision is nicely and quietly constructed.
In addition to the strength of the story, I also liked the episode's use of supporting characters, like a nasty Bajoran man named Basso (David Bowe). He's a collaborator—a traitor to his people who uses his power to inflict cruelty on other Bajorans. He's a pretty good example of evil all by himself. There's also the colorful Cardasian Legate (Wayne Grace), whose interesting discussion with Kira shows just how many prior times Dukat has played the "rescue poor Bajoran woman" game.
One area where this episode can't compare to a predecessor like "Necessary Evil" is in its production design. Jonathan West's quiet, understated approach to the tone of Terok Nor can't measure up to James L. Conway's unforgettable vision of the same place. Whether it was due to budget constraints or not, this Terok Nor feels just a little too much like Deep Space Nine.
But that's not much to worry about, because the episode sells itself on performances and deft writing, and the overall themes are engaging and thoughtful. The thing that's so great about "Wrongs" is that it features plenty of the DS9 Shades of Grey, one of my favorite aspects of the series. As much as Kira's ending dialog serves as an indictment upon her mother's betrayal, the issue isn't as cut-and-dry as Kira paints it, and the episode realizes that fact. Speaking for Meru is Sisko's sentiment that it was ultimately a cursed situation for Meru to be forced into, leading to a choice Meru had to make for herself. Maybe she was somewhat selfish, but her choice to accept Dukat's offer did benefit the rest of the Kira family, who received food and supplies as compensation.
Personally, I see this as an issue of strength, not necessarily betrayal. Kira Nerys is strong. Kira Meru was weak. And just as it was Meru's weakness that led her to make the choice she felt was in her own and her family's best interests, it's the strength and hardened life that makes it impossible for Nerys to understand how such a weakness could lead to the choice that Meru ultimately made. It's also interesting to note the judgment that's passed along by the episode's title, "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night." It seems to side with Kira's view of the matter. Based on what the episode presented, however, I'm more inclined to see the events of Meru's betrayal in more ambivalent terms, and I believe the episode in general sees it that way, too. In any case, it doesn't change the way Kira herself feels, which is equally important to the story.
I'll admit that the plot structure of "Wrongs" is fairly routine, right down to that final scene of exposition between Sisko and Kira. But it's not plot that makes "Wrongs" such a good hour of DS9; rather, it's the episode's ability to ponder the characters that we've come to understand so deeply. And pretty much everything rings true, from Dukat's manipulative nature in both the past and the present, to Meru succumbing to her own weaknesses, to Kira's final indictment. "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night" is an episode that reveals secrets we were not aware of. But these secrets arise realistically out of what we were already aware of. That's good storytelling, as well as an indication that these are wonderful characters.
Next week: Starfleet accuses Bashir of being a Dominion spy.