Star Trek: Deep Space Nine



Air date: 11/23/1998
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by John Kretchmer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Your hair—you've changed it."
"Your ear—you've pierced it."

— Dukat and Kira

Nutshell: I'm really on the fence here.

In the course of writing a review, usually before I even start writing, I determine whether or not I like an episode. There are varying degrees of "thumbs up" and "thumbs down," but usually my review slants one way or the other—for simplicity's sake, if for no other reason.

"Covenant," however, has me right on the fence. Did I like this episode? In many ways, yes. Were there problems? Absolutely. Can I recommend it? I'm really not sure.

As an individual, Dukat is possibly the most interesting Trek villain ever conceived. He's complex and multifaceted and in a constant state of flux. Part of the success of Dukat can be attributed to the fact that Marc Alaimo delivers textured performances, but part of the credit goes to the writers, who have long made Dukat opaque and strongly motivated.

In "Covenant," Dukat's opaqueness and the sense of his ever-changing persona becomes a troubling two-edged sword. Watching the episode, I began to realize that Dukat stories these days have a tendency to come off as More Dukat Retooling [TM] on some levels, even though they work on others. This guy bounces around from one motive to the next. It's not clear who Dukat is these days. The writers themselves don't even seem to know; they change his motivations on a semiyearly basis. Watching Dukat in "Covenant" can be like watching a pivotal episode of The X-Files: What you see on the screen can be fascinating, but when it's over you stop and ask yourself what the hell it really means. What's going on in that head of his?

With the help of Vedek Fala (Norman Parker), one of Kira's trusted childhood mentors, Dukat kidnaps Kira to Empok Nor, where he has been building a small Bajoran community that worships the paghwraiths. Kira is quick to label it a cult—an accurate label given the definition of the word, which the American Heritage Dictionary calls "a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader."

Well, we have the paghwraith worship, which in Bajoran lore is certainly considered false and extreme by most; we have the unconventional living environment, where a couple must seek permission from "Master Dukat" before they have a baby; and most importantly we have the authoritarian, charismatic leader. If there's one thing that Dukat has maintained through his years of evolution, it's his charisma.

There was a lot I found interesting about this community of paghwraith worshipers. First was the way Echevarria painted them as, well, normal people. Cult members in movies and television are often portrayed as crazed maniacs, but "Covenant" shows the way normal, intelligent people can turn to cults when they feel they can't find their answers out in the mainstream world. Kira equates worshiping the paghwraiths with worshiping evil. But in the cult members' eyes, this couldn't be further from the truth; they simply worship the gods that the rest of their world has rejected.

Also interesting is finding out how the latest of Dukat's personal transformations came about. As it happens, the paghwraith he allowed to possess his body in "Tears of the Prophets" changed his view of the universe. He could feel the paghwraith's love for Bajor. It enlightened him, tempering the single-minded thirst for vengeance that consumed him ever since "Waltz." At the end of last season, I began to worry that the transparency of an "evil madman Dukat" would tire quickly. With this episode, substantial greying has been introduced back into Dukat's behavior, which is reassuring.

What's also interesting is the way the old, self-serving Dukat plays into this new apparent system of beliefs. The case can be made (which indeed it is when Kira makes it) that Dukat taking a leadership role in a Bajoran paghwraith cult is simply his latest attempt to earn the love and gratitude of the Bajoran people—something he has long sought, but something he neither deserves nor will achieve in any effectiveness. The fact that he kidnaps Kira into his little community—essentially designating her the "ultimate challenge" in trying to win over Bajor as a people to believe in him—says to me that he's still very obsessed with the way Bajor views him, and that he doesn't really care about Bajor's problems, but just his own acceptance.

Yet Dukat is still a treacherous liar. Key in the episode is a married couple, Benyan (Jason Leland Adams) and Mika (Maureen Flannigan), who are going to bear the community's first baby. We discover that Dukat is still every bit the "ladies' man" as he was during the Occupation days; when Mika gives birth, it's to a half-Cardassian child. Mika is horrified, but Dukat turns a potential disaster into a lie by claiming the paghwraiths have transformed the child into a Cardassian as a miraculous symbol.

Subsequently, when Mika (whom we learn did have an affair with Dukat) almost dies in a mysterious airlock "accident" (which isn't an accident, because we see Dukat try to kill her), no one suspects the connection with Dukat and the possibility he tried to murder her to keep the truth about her child from being exposed. They might suspect, but they certainly don't want to believe.

Everything Kira says falls on deaf ears, which is intriguing through its troubling nature. These people see Kira as a non-believer, an outsider, and they don't want to hear what she has to say. Fala, the one character who has a personal history with Kira, asks her why it's so hard to open herself to the possibility that a miracle has occurred and Dukat's ways have changed. Fala's faith is strong, but he can't see past it (nor past his nature to forgive) to realize how treacherous Dukat can be.

Is such potentially self-destructive blindness plausible? I'd imagine so. Given recent, publicized events like the March 1997 cult suicides near San Diego, it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

Nevertheless, part of my uncertainty with this episode stems from the Bajorans' gullibility factor. While the issue of blind faith makes for a pretty powerful statement, I have a hard time believing that all of these 50 Bajoran followers would so easily swallow Dukat's miracle explanation of something that could just as easily be explained in real-world terms. The camera shows Bajoran faces with expressions of doubt, but then the story presses on without analyzing this apparent doubt—to the point where these people become willing to follow Dukat right over a cliff.

I know, I know—they want so hard to believe that Dukat and their faith will lead them in the right direction. But on several levels I just don't buy it. For one, Kira's dismay at how these Bajorans can't open their eyes and see how obviously Dukat is manipulating them is one the story never completely addresses from the Bajorans' point of view. "I have faith," doesn't seem like the only explanation, because a lot of people, like Kira, have faith and don't disconnect themselves from mainstream society. Also, given Dukat's role in the Occupation, I wonder just how he can become so easily accepted when the hardships of the Occupation caused these Bajorans to turn away from the Prophets in the first place. What else, if anything, is going on in these people's minds?

My inability to understand is partly the point the episode is trying to convey, I suppose. People who operate on this sort of blind faith aren't necessarily going to make decisions based on logic.

Resulting is my inability to decide whether I find the statements posed in this episode to be probing or unfinished.

Still, this leads up to the episode's climax, where Dukat realizes that because Mika will wake up and expose his attempt to murder her, he has no choice but to quit while he's ahead. Dukat's plan is to orchestrate a mass suicide, which the Bajorans are fully willing to do in the interests of their faith.

The idea of a mass suicide is a frightening one, but where is the doubt? After all that has happened since Kira's arrival, this cult shows no evidence of internal schisms. And then, when Kira catches on to Dukat's little trick (his suicide pill is not really poison like everyone else's) the episode pulls an oversimplified 180, where the Bajorans realize they've been duped and instantly revolt. Dukat, infuriated, beams himself off Empok Nor. The way this all unfolds had me caught up and on the edge of my seat (David Bell's dark and intense score was especially effective), but when I stopped to think it over, it seemed awfully abrupt.

Lastly, I really could've done without Kira's closing "that makes him more dangerous than ever" speech. It is obvious that Dukat is dangerous, but it's also obvious there's a significant grey area to his intentions. His devotion to the paghwraiths is obviously real (scenes of himself praying alone make a difference), even if it's a means to an end in providing himself a self-serving role to win over the Bajoran people.

But by having Kira talk to Odo about how dangerous Dukat is, I couldn't help but get the feeling the writers were trying to communicate, none so subtly, "Dukat is still a bad man." Frankly, I was hoping to understand Dukat's motives more than the story ultimately permits us to. But even if the writers wanted to keep his internal driving forces unrevealed, I didn't need to be told by Kira that he's "more dangerous than ever." That's a schlocky way to cap off a substantial grey-area topic.

All in all, the episode benefits from being engaging, thoughtful, and without easy answers. But it doesn't seem to end right, and I couldn't help but have my doubts about some of the evidence presented. Dukat ends up taking with him more internal conflict and ambivalence than recent stories have given him, yet because of Kira's final analysis the story doesn't seem entirely confident in the viewers' ability to draw that conclusion. How effective is this episode? You decide. I haven't made up my mind just yet.

Upcoming: Four weeks of reruns, starting with "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night." See you at the beginning of 1999 (or next week on the Voyager side).

Previous episode: The Siege of AR-558
Next episode: It's Only a Paper Moon

◄ Season Index

44 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru
Wed, Feb 11, 2009, 1:26pm (UTC -5)
This was the point when the Dukat arc really started to annoy me!
Also this "Pagh-Wraith-cult": When that Ex-Vedek asked Kira something like: "What have the Prophets ever done for us?", I really had liked it to hear Kira mention the salvation from a 2000 ship strong dominion fleet a bit over a year ago. That should have made SOME impression on the Bajorans, one would think...

But no...
Sat, Aug 22, 2009, 10:16pm (UTC -5)
Considering the things Kira has believed on faith alone ("Accession"'s 'he's the emissary - no he his - no, he is' comes to mind), it's rather hypocritical for her to condemn the warped logic beliefs on display here regarding Dukat's ludicrous excuse about the's all the same...when you're brainwashed by a cult (be it fringe like this or mainstream like Christianity), it's in for a penny, in for a pound.
Aldo Johnson
Sat, Dec 5, 2009, 6:13am (UTC -5)
The problem with this episode is that it only has 50 minutes or so. A subject like this needs more time to develop. Up to the attempted murder, the episode was fine. It was in trying to wrap it up within 1 episode that the show pulled a 180.

@Jacob: The Vedek did mention the Dominion Fleet being destroyed.
Sun, Jun 27, 2010, 1:15pm (UTC -5)
@Jay: you said: "it's all the same...when you're brainwashed by a cult (be it fringe like this or mainstream like Christianity)"

It's a shame that you don't grasp the brave thing that DS9 was trying to do when it was on air, which was to move beyond the dogmatic secularism of previous Trek series and allow a more open-minded and sympathetic - if still secular - view of religion. This expansion allowed for new storylines and characterisation that would have been impossible on TNG, Voyager or TOS or indeed most other TV sci-fi at the time.

You should also tell the hundreds of millions of sincere and thinking Christians that they have been brainwashed by a "cult". (Not like freethinking atheists, who believe the Universe in all its wonderous mathematical complexity was created out of nothing and for no reason, and that's that, end of story, oh and people who don't agree with us are dangerous and mentally ill... ^-^ )
Marco P.
Tue, Aug 24, 2010, 4:29am (UTC -5)
Jammer wrote:
"Also, given Dukat's role in the Occupation, I wonder just how he can become so easily accepted when the hardships of the Occupation caused these Bajorans to turn away from the Prophets in the first place. What else, if anything, is going on in these people's minds?"

Hit the nail on the head right there. Quite simply, we're not given enough material to truly understand how desperate these people are, and why turning to worshiping paghwariths was their only solution. And with that I also agree with Aldo Johnson: this episode needed more time to develop. It is not only the ending that is too abrupt, it is the entire thing.
Sun, Oct 31, 2010, 12:25am (UTC -5)
Man did this episode fly of the rails. Despite it being about a religious cult (a concept that I, with all due respect, usually can't help but find laughable) I was actually taken in during the first few acts. But then they took it way too far and really strains credulity. We've seen other episodes where the Bajorans were gullible, but never this badly.
Thu, Jan 13, 2011, 8:53am (UTC -5)
This episode had the potential to teach Kira a lesson about her own blind faith. I'm not saying she would abandon her religion based on one experience, but where's the comparison? Jay is absolutely right; the rhetoric used by Dukat is of the same caliber and nuance as that of any Vedic or believer we have seen (not only Bajoran, but Klingon as well).

Religious beliefs demand this kind of polarising good v. evil. If the prophets are all good, benevolent and nurturing (I can't help being reminded of the Caretaker), then there must be a counterpart which is "the devil."

@Craig: being different isn't necessarily brave. Star Trek itself is brave and different for its secularism and rationality; by countering that, DS9 was MORE conventional than the other incarnations, the mirror of the mirror. There is an arena on Star Trek for intelligent discussion about religion. The possibility existed on DS9, but it was always circumvented by a kind of political correctness with respect to faith for its own sake which sabotaged it.
Thu, Jan 27, 2011, 5:54pm (UTC -5)
Elliot i find it fascinating that people like you condemm anyone who believes in religion as a fanatic Kira's religous belief is respected and there and GR's approach to religion was it's crazy and worshiiped by loonies and secularism was wonderfull.

Elliot you yourself show little or no tolerance towards religiion
Thu, Jan 27, 2011, 6:03pm (UTC -5)

I have a great deal of respect for people who are able to lead lives of compassion, intelligence and morality whilst retaining their religious beliefs for personal reasons.

As I have said before, spirituality in its best light is an internal matter providing a personal access to the nouminon, to the metaphysical world. It has no place in policy, government, science or medicine, the machinations of the physical world.

Secularism is not atheism. Secularism is not what I would call "wonderful" but it is necessary to the evolution of society.
Fri, Jan 28, 2011, 7:54am (UTC -5)
And Kira fulfills those functions like you ask
Sun, Feb 6, 2011, 12:15pm (UTC -5)
We're still talking about Odo "not believing in" the Prophets, even though they are manifestly holding the Dominion forces at bay. They may not be "prophets" per se, but whatever they are, they are clearly real, and the same entities the Bajoran worship.
Sun, Feb 20, 2011, 10:24pm (UTC -5)
I can buy these Bajorans as being that gullible if we assume that through a process of "survival of the thickest" those that have gathered under Dukat are rather more credulous and accepting than the average Bajoran.
Nebula Nox
Fri, Apr 6, 2012, 10:31am (UTC -5)
I thought many aspects of the cult were extremely realistic. It seems that several "religions" were founded in order to get easier access to women...

It's also very difficult to change your feelings about religion. Which would make these Bajorans more gullible, and make it harder for Odo to "believe in" the prophets.
Tue, May 1, 2012, 11:53am (UTC -5)
This is the lamest episode in the entire Prophets arc. That Bajorans would follow Dukat as a religious leader is beyond preposterous. It would have been far more believable if his followers had been Cardassians or a mix of Cardassians, Bajorans and other AQ races.
Thu, Dec 27, 2012, 1:27pm (UTC -5)
Dukat must not have wasted any time...The episode "Waltz" was just 10 months before this, but here he'd already impregnated a woman long enough ago that she'd come to term in this episode...
Wed, Jun 5, 2013, 10:05pm (UTC -5)
I thought this episode was better than the two either side of it because at least it had something interesting to say. I can believe that these bajorans may follow Dukat as faith can be used to cover almost any failings. For me that critique of religion is very powerful and something DS9 had increasingly moved away from in its seeming belief that they were prophets and not wormhole aliens after all. I also thought the cult followers were quite well portrayed as misguided rather than as nutters. I can't say I care much for this or later versions of Dukat though and the whole Pah Wraith arc is a hokey mess they should have best left out. Still Nana Visitor is as always great and even bad Dukat is still watchable. 7/10
Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 8:45pm (UTC -5)

I really dislike the direction they are taking Dukat. Very poor and predictable episode.

Fri, Nov 15, 2013, 1:05am (UTC -5)
I love this episode. I don't think it was ever intended to be a serious and probing look at religious cult leaders and their followers, but rather the final maturation of a supervillain. I mean, seriously, a leader who presides over a suicide cult -- and then tries to trick all his followers into killing themselves, while he escapes to safety? And all to cover up his adultery with one of his followers, whom he earlier tried to murder? This is larger-than-life, comic book level villainy in the best traditions of space opera. When did Darth Vader ever do something so despicable?? Although Voyager was and remains my first love with Star Trek, I must admit, DS9 beats them all in the villain department. And Dukat stands head and shoulder above them all!
Better Scum & Villainy
Thu, Jan 9, 2014, 1:52am (UTC -5)
In many ways, I do think this episode was the writers' way of letting us know that Dukat hadn't really shed any of his complexity in "Waltz" though he'd let his mask of affability slip a bit. As Kira herself notes at one point, he's basically reliving his rose-tinted idealized version of the Occupation through the cult. There, as here, one comes to understand both how he fully earned the majority of the Bajoran population's loathing for him, and yet managed to win over the sympathies of so very many of his Bajoran mistresses. Here, his capacity for being very persuasive and seductive extends not only to his latest adulterous mistress Mika, but to the other cult members as well.

One plot point which is easily overlooked is that Dukat didn't actually start the cult, but joined it and rose to be its leader because he'd been in contact with an actual Pah Wraith and as such believed in the cult's deities even more fervently than they did. Considering the seemingly insane things some cults in the real world have believed, is it really so difficult to understand how persuasive Dukat could be to this fictional cult when his own experiences so powerfully reaffirmed their own beliefs? Their perception that his conversion was genuine was not false, though it proved to be misleading; Dukat really was a changed man, albeit not changed for the better.

For that matter, one of the other important points this episode is making is that religion is neither inherently good nor bad in itself: it's what you do with it that makes the difference. The reason I say Dukat is a changed man is that he and all the other Cardassians are indicated to have been atheistic up to now, though more passively than actively. (They never so much hated the Bajoran religion as just viewed it with smug and indulgent amusement as one of those silly superstitions their own culture had outgrown centuries ago; which also reaffirmed their racist notions that they were naturally superior to the Bajorans and therefore entitled to rule them.) Now, as he told Damar earlier, he has come to see that the Bajorans' deities are very real and that the Cardassians made a big mistake in underestimating the power of their religion.

Moreover, the gods and demons of Bajor are repeatedly demonstrated to be quite real. While Kira affirms that faith comes before miracles, the fact is that the Bajorans' Prophets have done some very real and very public miracles for their followers by this point, and the Pah Wraiths could quite conceivably be expected to do the same for their followers. As such, Dukat's claims that the Pah Wraiths have now performed some miracles are by no means so easy to dismiss as would be similar claims from some newly-minted New Age cult. These Pah Wraith cultists are analogous to Satanists, not the Hale-Bopp Heaven's Gate cult.

What shows Dukat to be no better a man for now being religious is that he has in fact sided with Bajor's demons. Kosst Imojin, who possessed Dukat for a time and is heavily implied to be the Pah Wraiths' leader, is basically the Bajoran equivalent of Satan, and the real reason Dukat has sided with Kosst Imojin & Company is that he and they are both Bajor's enemies and both share the desire to punish Bajor for rejecting them. Sincerity, like religion, is here shown to be neither good nor bad in itself, but only in relation to what purpose it serves. The Prophets and Pah Wraiths are basically flip-sides of the same religion, and Dukat sincerely serves the evil side.

Is it really so difficult to believe that if a militant atheist who hated Christians could be put in a time machine and shuttled back to ancient Israel to witness Jesus Christ's miracles and crucifixion and resurrection for himself, he might choose to side with Satan? Seeing the beliefs of the people you hate reaffirmed might only serve to increase that hatred and make you seek an alliance with their enemies. Really, it makes a disturbing amount of sense that any Cardassians who stopped dismissing Bajor's religion as superstitious nonsense out of hand might decide to side with their demons.

As to how any Bajorans could side with the Pah Wraiths even after seeing the Prophets pull the incredible miracle of making a whole Jem Hadar armada disappear, it's worth remembering that the Occupation lasted for a couple generations at the very least, during which it might seem to some of the Bajorans that the Prophets were sitting on their keisters and stealing credit for all the Bajoran resistance's hard work. As with the Cardassians, seeing the Prophets affirm their existence by doing a miracle might not serve so much to turn unbelievers into believers as atheists into anti-theists.

As the Pah Wraith cultists might well point out, "These Prophets did nothing for decades while two generations of our children grew up and suffered and died under Cardassian oppression, and now they finally emerge from their comfy wormhole just to do *the Federation* a big favor!? Where in the flaming Fire Caves were these Prophets back when we needed them, huh?" It's the same problem Christianity faces nowadays.

Of course, one shouldn't carry any analogies from the series too far. While Gene Roddenberry's death and the subsequent loosening of his restrictions on portraying religion in the Star Trek universe have greatly improved it in my opinion, writers might paint themselves into a corner if they examine them too closely. Bajoran religion, which is suspiciously similar to Judeo-Christianity, shares some reality and credibility with the affirmed-to-be-real Klingon Heaven and Hell, the existence of the Vulcan Katra and Ocampan Comra, and possibly a few other species' religions' claims as well. That would be like living in a world where Judaism and Christianity and Islam and a couple other religions all happened to be simultaneously true, even though they contradict each other.
Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 5:14pm (UTC -5)
I've sad it already, but I still can't get past it so I'm saying it again: I can't believe how DS9 has jumped the shark.

An interesting, original ST show has become a ridiculous Americanist religion-based jingoistic piece of drivel. I'm really struggling to keep on watching season 7... But after 6 seasons, I really want to see the end, although so far not a single season 7 episode has had me entertained.

Here Dukat is reduced to some ridiculous caricature of a meanie, and we have to go on and on and on hearing about "faith" and the idea that this cult are a "bad faith" vs. the "good faith" of Kira. Remember when Star Trek was a-religious and religion was (rightly) seen as primitive local superstition? Now we have a show that legitimates religious beliefs (look! Sisk really is a prophet!) and has shed not only credibility but any interesting nuance in the process...

Sorry to be so negative but season 7 is making me hate DS9 and feel ashamed of liking Star Trek.
Sun, Feb 23, 2014, 10:58pm (UTC -5)
Preposterous episode. There is no need for further comment besides quoting Jons above in order to acclaim his accurate definition:

"An interesting, original ST show has become a ridiculous Americanist religion-based jingoistic piece of drivel. I'm really struggling to keep on watching season 7... But after 6 seasons, I really want to see the end, although so far not a single season 7 episode has had me entertained.

Here Dukat is reduced to some ridiculous caricature of a meanie".

Yap. That's exactly it.
Fri, May 30, 2014, 11:52pm (UTC -5)
An interesting if somewhat flawed attempt to look at religious fundamentalism or weird cults, but it was ultimately unsuccesfull as it was just boring and passive, was waiting for Kira to "do something", and she eventually did but it was all a bit thin and underdeveloped.
Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 10:23pm (UTC -5)
Both the paghwraith's and prophets are aliens. This doesn't belong in Star Trek unless it portrays the believers as idiots. Some fans will say Sisko is the better captain than Picard. We all know Picard wouldn't believe the wormhole aliens were Gods. And he definitely wouldn't risk the life of his son or any person for these aliens to play out their war. Sisko, dukat and Kira are all loony for believing these aliens are gods unless the word god had a different meaning in the future.
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:05pm (UTC -5)
For gods sake, just how stupid ARE the Bajorans?

I so wish someone would have made Jim Jones (I mean Dukat) take one of those Promazine pills he gave everyone else.

I wish Kira would have killed him.

I don't like this character turn for Dukat.

2 stars. I really don't like watching this episode.
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:09pm (UTC -5)
Downgraded to 1 star.
Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 2:32pm (UTC -5)
I've sad it already, but I still can't get past it so I'm saying it again: I can't believe how DS9 has jumped the shark.

An interesting, original ST show has become a ridiculous Americanist religion-based jingoistic piece of drivel.

It got what was coming from the day it stole B5 writer's ideas and plot. Karma, I guess.
Sun, Sep 28, 2014, 1:23pm (UTC -5)
Awful right from the first act...I rolled my eyes more than once during this episode.
Mon, Oct 20, 2014, 9:53pm (UTC -5)
This isn't a good episode. I think Dukat's belief in the pah wraiths is... kind of interesting, but it also strains my patience. Yes, I believe that he'd do all the things he does here. But does it really supply any storytelling value? It's always fascinating to watch Dukat panic when things go south ("Sacrifice of Angels" and "Waltz") but I'm not really satisfied by this arc he's on. I think his story value reached its peak in "Waltz".

But even if I did buy into Dukat's direction, this episode would still feel rushed and hollow. Too many scenes rely on characters trying to talk Kira into the cult while Kira (and the audience) are calling BS. Too many miracles are left unquestioned which makes the Bajorans stupid rather than interesting. I know that this kind of thing happens, but it also has to be treated just so as to actually be interesting and not infuriating to watch.

Oh, and Dukat can talk an alien baby into being a miracle on the spot, but he couldn't have talked his way out of the pill scam? He already had a captive audience willing to sacrifice themselves (and their babies!). It wouldn't have been hard.

I suppose he didn't have time, though, because of his own contrivance of calling the dang Defiant to pick Kira up.

I'm still reserving judgement on S7 Dukat until it's over. I'm still erring on the side of giving it all the benefit of the doubt, but it's all hard for me swallow. Especially so when the episode is as poorly realized as this.

There are moments I like, though:

-The Bajoran woman giving birth puts the conception around the three-month season gap, which is right after Dukat's experience with the wraith. This makes sense because, IIRC, Bajoran gestation is only 5 months. I forget which episode mentions this, though. If I'm right, that's some eagle eye continuity, writers!

-Kira's vedek friend probably started the cult. As mentioned above, Dukat only worked his way to the top. How very in character.

-I like that this cult is partially based on outrage that the Prophets never intervened during the Occupation. I also like the implication (along with other things we know) that being "of Bajor" doesn't mean the Prophets care about the lifeforms on the planet. Do I care about lower lifeforms on Earth, or even in my own city? Only in so far as they taste good in sauce.

-Kira calls out Dukat on his BS from "Wrongs". He suggested then that Meru left Taban for him. As Kira saw - not the case! Nice try, Dukat.

Still, "Covenant" is poorly realized on its own merits. 1-1/2 stars from me. 2 if I were feeling charitable (but I'm not).
Thu, Nov 6, 2014, 2:26pm (UTC -5)
The most unbelievable part of the episode is when Kira failed to shoot Dukat. How could she not want to kill him? Plus he killed her friend Jadzia - and gave a worthless excuse when confronted about it. "Oh yeah, she got in the way."
Sat, Nov 15, 2014, 3:51am (UTC -5)
Wait, Odo doesn't "believe" in the prophets? This isn't a topic bereft of reason, evidence, and basic logic ... like religion. Did Odo not believe in the prophets when they prevented, and apperently continue to prevent a fleet of Dominion ships through the wormhole? Or how about when a prophet took over Kira's body and shot blue stuff at another prophet doppelganger?
Thu, Jun 11, 2015, 9:04pm (UTC -5)
I enjoyed this one because it seemed a logical extension to Dukat's villainy. A personality cult - where else could he go? It showed that, even after a breakdown and possession by a paghwraith, his slimy, narcissitic, womanizing personality remained unchanged. Probably my favorite character in the series.
John G
Thu, Aug 6, 2015, 11:28am (UTC -5)
Early in the episode I thought it was unrealistic that the Bajorans would be gullible enough to follow Dukat. But as I considered the history of cults, both religious and non-religious, I realized it was quite feasible. In fact, the least realistic aspect might have been the cult members coming to their senses after Kira exposed Dukat's treachery.
Nathan B.
Thu, Oct 29, 2015, 3:50pm (UTC -5)
I believe that Yanks was the only one to note the obvious and intentional parallels between Dukat and Jim Jones. But I don't think anyone noticed that the religion of Bajor, which has so often seemed based at least partly on Buddhism, is here made to resemble Catholicism. The liturgy of this new religious movement is very Catholic, but the word the scriptwriters themselves have given the group is the word "cult." In other words, what most people consider mainstream religion is actually cultish.

In a way, it's almost as if the writers of this episode are standing up alongside atheists and saying, "yes, faith isn't just illogical or nonsensical--it's evil and dangerous!"

For my part, I suspect that faith in the prophets will win (no pun intended!) by the end of the season, but this episode, like so many before it, eloquently makes the case that religion is more a force for evil than good. And that viewpoint is valid and necessary in a world in which the leader of the most powerful country on earth must be a "Christian" and whose most important enemies wage all their battles in the name of "Allah."

I also very much appreciated the scene of Dukat praying to the Pah-Wraiths with the same intense questioning, longing, and guilt with which every Catholic and Protestant sinner has prayed to God. And in a way, Dukat's approach to his private altar of prayer resembles Dax's own approach to the prophetic orb before Dukat and the demon within him killed her at the end of season six.

Faith for Dukat ultimately means faith in himself. He appears to believe in the Pah-Wraiths in some fashion, and he appears to have been changed by them. But in the end, he's the same old Dukat: still wanting the adulation of Bajor and to dominate it, still wanting sex with Bajoran women who have less power than him, still willing to kill to cover up lies, still desperately wanting the approval of Kira. If faith in theory is what makes impossible possible, then for Dukat, like so many true believers before him, faith is the art of the possible when true change is impossible. Faith covers this failing up, like with a shroud or veil.

In short, I think that DS9--taken as a whole in its depiction of religion--is remarkably well-balanced, showing not only the positive sides of faith--personified most of all in Kira, the deeply spiritual survivor of a Bajoran holocaust--but also its dark side: the side that claims that selfish, base murders and lies done only for personal profit are the actions wanted and commanded by gods.

(*By the way, I couldn't help thinking that Dukat's wardrobe inspired Palpatine's in that pivotal scene with Anakin in Revenge of the Sith.)
Nathan B.
Thu, Oct 29, 2015, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
Missed a key definite article--damn! Er, blast! Er, I think I mean "peace!"
Wed, Dec 2, 2015, 11:50pm (UTC -5)
To me, I think the writers missed an opportunity by not coming up with an alternate name for the Pagh-Wraiths - it seems like the name comes from the Prophet religion as indicating them as evil. It seems like someone who thought they were good might at least have a positive Epithet.

The Wraith cult angle is an interesting bit of exposition through this season - it's not at its best here, but the payoff of this episode is seeing Dukat reach peak narcissism, even as he appears to be sincerely changed by his religious experience. But the momentum is good, and was pretty much only undercut by the knowledge that no matter where this show has gone, neither Trek nor network sensors would let this episode get away with a mass suicide.
Wed, Jan 27, 2016, 9:09pm (UTC -5)
Put me in the minority here, but I thought this was an excellent episode, and it really stood the time well. Marc's acting is just phenomenal, and the idea of people following a crazy leader to suicide...well with Donald Trump leading the charge at this point in history there's nothing that crazy about it.

The Dukat/Kira angle is always really interesting to me too. It made no sense for her to be there in general, but Kira has always been his Achilles Heal.
Diamond Dave
Sun, Feb 21, 2016, 6:20am (UTC -5)
I find it difficult to reconcile a Dukat who is still manipulating his way to what to wants (a DS9 replica, adoring Bajoran followers) to a Dukat who has clearly cracked mentally (the pah-wraith-praying devoted visionary). And this episode doesn't make it entirely clear, but it seems that the latter is in the ascendancy. That's what I find problematic - it takes away a Dukat who is working to his own motivation and puts him on a path governed externally.

Overall, this is a fairly by-the-numbers plot, and largely predictable. 2.5 stars.
Sun, Feb 21, 2016, 10:01am (UTC -5)
The writters really enjoy taking the easiest path when it comes to depiction villains. The predictability of this episode just stinks of laziness. While the show attempts to depict the grey areas of life, I just can't get past the comical evil portrayal of the antagonists. Dukat was built up well to a point, but the founders were never shown in a sympathetic light. Hopefully that comes later in the season.
William B
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 10:16am (UTC -5)
OK, let's talk about Prophets vs. Pah-Wraiths. We know the Pah-Wraiths are evil because they possessed Keiko against her will. The Prophets possessed Sarah against her will for several years in order to conceive their Emissary. Both possessed vessels in "The Reckoning." We know the Pah-Wraiths are evil because they wanted to kill the Prophets. The Prophets put the Pah-Wraiths to suffer forever in fire caves. We know the Pah-Wraiths are evil because they seem to believe that Jadzia's death was worth it. The Prophets wiped out the entire Dominion fleet with all hands aboard (wiped out -- they didn't just displace them to the other side of the wormhole and continue doing this). Kira finds the Pah-Wraith worshipers are cultish sheep who have lost their minds because they are doing whatever their "Emissary" says, no matter how outlandish, no matter if it means they stop having sex without his say so. Of course, Kira quit her job on the say-so of an Emissary in "Accession," without much ado, and we learn here that the abstinence prohibition used to be part of the primary Prophets faith, so that if Akorem had said so, well.... The Pah-Wraith worshipers are wrong, sayeth Kira, because they believe in hate and fear. But Kira herself continuously maintains hate and fear as her right in the wake of the Occupation, and refuses to forgive Dukat. *Not that she should.* I am not advocating that she has a responsibility to stop hating or fearing Dukat. But the values that she claims are foundational to the Pah-Wraith cult and the reason she hates them are a) not actually demonstrated by any members of the cult in this episode besides Dukat himself and b) not values that she even hates or dislikes. The case for Pah-Wraith worship is, it turns out, basically identical to the case for Prophet worship, because they are the same species, and the main reason that the Prophets are considered divine is because they can see the future and perform "miracles" like making fleets disappear. So the Pah-Wraiths can do that too!

Oh but the Prophets have bluish energy with the orbs and stuff and the Pah-Wraiths are all red and stuff. We also all know that metal earrings on the right ear are good and stupid-looking red earrings on the left ear are evil.

In all seriousness, I am not exactly suggesting that Dukat's retrograde cult is exactly as valid as mainstream Bajoran religion, which, within the series at least, didn't have even Winn telling people to stop having sex except on her say so. The Pah-Wraiths sure seem evil, I guess, for what it's worth. However, the show is very committed to the Prophet/Pah-Wraith battle as a good vs. evil one, while not actually presenting very many significant philosophical differences between the two. It makes episodes like this frustrating for me. Is it possible that the Pah-Wraiths really have Bajoran interests at heart? (Do the Prophets? Did the Prophets "before" "Emissary"?) Did they really want to intervene in the Occupation, or is that a line that Dukat is feeding his followers, or that they fed him? The episode hints at these possibilities, but the series does not ultimately develop along those lines; the Pah-Wraiths seem to be evil based on all the fire stuff and redness and it seems that this is just another line that they have fed to attempt to undermine the true gods.

What does happen is that this episode depicts the majority of Dukat’s followers as dupes rather than evil deil-worshipers. Kira initially seems to expect that the Pah-Wraith cult is simply a fear-and-hate gang, and believes that they can’t possibly love Dukat, and that Dukat can’t possibly be a True Believer. As the episode goes on, she gradually loses these, and her arc in the episode is something like coming to understand the impulses behind people coming to this new “religion.” They are not only worshiping the wrong gods, but their religion is awful—repressive, suicidal, and also they kidnapped Kira for reasons which are never made particularly clear beyond that Dukat has a thing for her and sees her as representative of Bajor as a whole, and what he hopes to impress on her/them. But I think Kira comes to recognize that they do have something like real faith, especially Fala, and so has some vague understanding for them. And, ultimately, for Dukat, though in his case the understanding is tinged with, uh, fear-and-hate. The episode sets itself up as being about forgiveness, but this is something of a red herring. Kira doesn’t “forgive” Dukat at the end of the episode, but I think she does recognize that her unforgiving stance on him blinded her to the real truth, which is that he really *does* believe now, which (dun-dun-dun) makes him more dangerous. So the episode does end up being Kira coming to realize that faith has negative consequences, and I think that she drops her focus on the particulars of whether one worships Pah-Wraiths or Prophets and comes to have a broader understanding that faith as a whole can be dangerous. Maybe.

Anyway, the set-up here of the throng of Bajorans ready to accept Dukat as their messiah, ready to believe that the half-Cardassian baby is a miracle, but also ready to turn on him monolithically at the episode’s end, is not believable. Dukat’s plan also seems to be full of holes—isn’t Mika going to wake up at some point and notice that the whole station’s worth of people are gone? If he (or, I guess, the Pah-Wraiths, who maybe told Dukat in a vision to kill everyone) really needed to protect his image to the point of mass murder, why leave alive Mika (and Kira, for that matter) who can spread the word about Dukat’s horrible deeds and further hurt the Pah-Wraith movement? I mean, given that he’s at the point of encouraging mass suicide already…. SPOILER: The arc of this cross-section of Bajorans, who fall into Dukat’s and the Pah-Wraiths’ sway and then betray him at the last moment when they see his evil for real, sets up a certain character’s arc at the end of the season. It’s not really convincing there either.

On Dukat, the key revelation of Kira’s at the episode’s end is that Dukat really *believes* now. I have given it some thought and I think that she is right. The problem is, of course, that it has not made Dukat better, but mostly worse. Dukat seems to believe, in this episode, more than at any previous time, that what he did by having sex with Mika was *wrong*. Even when he was going to kill Ziyal, he had the sense that he was doing something morally wrong in killing her but he believed it was necessary as a Cardassian officer. Similar for his justifications of the Occupation in “Waltz.” And he seems genuine in his declaration that he hopes Mika survives when he is praying, later on. To some degree we saw a version of this arc, before, with Ziyal, except that it ended differently then: Dukat had an inappropriate affair with Tora Naprem, which he viewed as wrong not so much because he shouldn’t be having sex with Bajorans but because he shouldn’t be cheating on his wife, then this offense was almost compounded by the much greater offense of killing Ziyal to cover it up, until at the last moment he relented. Dukat’s willingness not to kill Ziyal is not repeated here; he first tries to kill the mother of his new baby, and then tries to get the entire cult to commit suicide, which includes the father feeding the baby a death-pill. In some senses, of course, this is character regression, walking back on the most important case of Dukat choosing not to do the most horrible self-serving thing, and in that sense it is part of the show’s demolishing of what is interesting about Dukat, flattening him. On the other hand, in some senses he does have more to lose this time if his secret is exposed. He loses status in the Cardassian society, but he still has his crew, in “Indiscretion,” and on some level he can speak up for his principles—many Cardassians had comfort women, but only he is brave enough to admit it, maybe. Now it is not just a public embarrassment (with the requisite significant loss of status and family) but also loss of his newfound moral authority that the exposure will bring. It was bad of him to sleep with Mika, *really bad*, and then bad of him to kill her, and the shame of it is much worse now that he’s so isolated.

That Dukat turns to mass murder (or inducing mass suicide) to hide his shame I find a bit hard to accept for a few reasons. For one thing, while Dukat killed many people over the years, those were all when he was acting for some larger set of interests—his people, his crew. This time he is completely on the outs with Cardassia, the Dominion, the Federation, the Bajorans as a whole…his *entire* world, effectively, is Empok Nor and these worshipers. Morally for him to kill everyone he knows is bad enough. It’s also pragmatically hard to believe that this extreme narcissist would kill every worshiper, and fake his death so that no one else can worship him, all at once. Dukat has an exit plan of how he will survive, but does he really want to go off alone, with no one in the galaxy to love, follow or worship him? I know that there are Jim Jones suicide cult leaders, and the intent here is that Dukat really would rather kill everyone than have his shame reflected back to him. Before, Dukat could kill for “Cardassian justice” or out of anger at feelings of betrayal, but now he is apparently willing to kill for no real reason at all, except “convenient” religious conviction, which is actually quite inconvenient. (Are Pah-Wraiths really going to benefit from a bunch of dead Bajoran souls, including a dead baby? Is this all just BS or does the fact that Dukat came up with this plan after praying suggest they actually wanted this to happen?)

I guess I feel like I don’t really like this Dukat as a character. When I say I don’t like him, I don’t mean because he’s evil—he was evil before. But the first three seasons set him up as a suitably complex quasi-villain, and then the arc from “Indiscretion” through “Waltz,” with some bumps, is a convincing tragedy where the man’s relatively few virtues actually sow the seeds for his destruction and his commitment to hatred of others. This episode has a Dukat who won’t stand up for his child’s life and also won’t baldly declare that he should have killed every last Bajoran; he seems to have been flattened. The passion has dimmed. The born-again spirituality gives Dukat a new set of tools to rationalize his evil, but his full-throated anger in “Waltz” was actually more effective at this, though maybe that is not particularly sustainable as a character trait. I don’t know.

Much of it, I guess, comes down to how believable it is that Dukat will make winning the Bajoran soul his primary purpose in life—which, in a sense, is another way of saying that he spends the rest of his days trying to make the Occupation right, somehow, to wipe away his *failure* both morally (in the people he killed) and otherwise (his failure to make the Bajorans love him). And I can buy it to some degree, but the end of his arc also somehow loses his essential Cardassian-ness. Really some of the effort here is to parallel him with Sisko, so that he and Sisko as “good/evil” Emissaries both become “of Bajor,” finally. This is potentially interesting, but I can’t help but feel that much of what made Dukat interesting in earlier years has been stripped away, and even this episode spends all its time on Dukat relationships which are quickly forgotten as the episode winds down. It is sad to note that this is his last time interacting with Kira, and while they discuss many topics (including “Wrongs…”) they don’t, ultimately, talk about the one thing that maybe matters most—Ziyal. I guess he has lost everything *but* the chance to be somehow important in Bajor’s place in the universe, and to win over Kira, to the point where he kidnaps her even though he didn’t really need to (and it’s just *begging* for the DS9 folks to find her, but anyway) and I can see that…but again, I wish that the episode didn’t also have him decide to kill all the Bajorans who worship him almost on a whim, which would have removed his shaky sense of meaning from him anyway, if at least on his (or, maybe, the Pah-Wraiths’) terms.

I don’t much like this episode, as is probably obvious, and much of it is because I do find the Bajoran cult members unconvincing. But mostly it’s a Dukat thing. I keep trying to get a hold of what this episode is doing with/to Dukat, and it slips through my fingers. 2 stars, I guess.
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 11:29am (UTC -5)
@William - I actually enjoyed this episode on the original run, but it lost shine for me in subsequent outings.

His experience with the Pah Wraiths change him to the point where he decides to be the anti-Christ (quite literally) to Ben's Christ and gets a group of Bajorans to follow him. And when he screws up the religious gig and rapes a Bajoran (not out of character when you consider what he used to do the comfort women) he decides to kill them all lest word get out and make it harder for him to convert the next group of Bajorans.

All good stuff. Until the finale when you find out that unlike Ben he actually is DIRECTLY SPEAKING to the Pah Wraiths. To the point where he coordinates a con on the Kai with them. That level of WTF makes this episode much, much odder.
William B
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 11:57am (UTC -5)
@Robert, agreed. Also, that Dukat seemingly leaves Mika alive and makes sure Kira believes he's dead makes it unclear how he could convert the next group -- he still leaves too many loose ends to be able to play the same con again. That is part of why I find his mass suicide solution too hard to, ahem, swallow; it's an exit strategy that lets him pretend he's dead, but that's it. He even leaves people around to sully his reputation. Maybe he's planning to come back and claim to be resurrected miraculously? Maybe he thinks he'll get martyr status no matter what Kira says? He surely has considered that Mika might wake up, since that is the whole reason behind the suicide thing.... Maybe the Pah Wraiths need a better Emissary, one who can plan a bit better, because this version of Dukat doesn't seem to be able to.
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 1:07pm (UTC -5)
I'd always thought that the whole mass suicide plan by Dukat was an attempt by the writers to evoke memories of the People's Temple (Poison Kool-Aid) and Heaven's Gate (Picked up by Aliens?) cults. If you want to depict a group of followers as bad, it's a pretty safe bet to use methods similar to theirs.

But in-universe, yes it's a little hokey for Dukat. Maybe he's following up on his promise from "Waltz" to kill all Bajorans, but obviously this plan is pretty limited in scope. I think Kira hit the nail on the head when she described the cult as a white-washed version of what Dukat thought the occupation was. However, to accept that Dukat was trying to do that we'd have to ignore the events of "Waltz".
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 2:38pm (UTC -5)
And again, any agency or plotting they are trying to do with Dukat goes out the window if you consider that he is having direct conversations with the Pah Wraiths. They tell him to get plastic surgery and go visit the Kai and they send her a vision telling her to expect him.

They even tell him what was in her vision so he can be more convincing. That's a crazy town level of conversation for this plan to be so messed up. Unless he screws up so bad here that they need to stick him on a leash afterwards.
William B
Sat, Apr 2, 2016, 12:02pm (UTC -5)
Yeah, it is REALLY weird when you take into account that he's getting actual instructions. Presumably the attempt to kill Mika was Dukat being Dukat, since he has that "if she survives, which I PRAY she will...."

Maybe the PWs actually intended Kira to screw up Dukat's mass suicide plan to make him more upset and thus easier for them to control?

OK, so, for The Simpsons fans, I thought of a line that encapsulates the weirdness of Dukat's pitch to these Bajorans. While convicted felon Sideshow Bob is running for mayor of Springfield, one of the attack ads on their current mayor is:

NARRATOR: Mayor Quimby supports revolving-door prisons. Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob, a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby?
TEXT: Vote Sideshow Bob for mayor!

In all seriousness, though, while I don't entirely buy the Bajorans so easily taking on Dukat as their new Emissary, at least there is justification: the Prophets are who they are, the Pah-Wraiths are who they are, but the claim here that Dukat makes is that he, as a result of his encounter with his gods, has changed and been redeemed.

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