Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Covenant"

**1/2

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

54 comments on this review

Jakob M. Mokoru
Wed, Feb 11, 2009, 1:26pm (UTC -6)
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...
Jay
Sat, Aug 22, 2009, 10:16pm (UTC -6)
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 baby...it'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 -6)
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.
Craig
Sun, Jun 27, 2010, 1:15pm (UTC -6)
@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 -6)
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.
Nic
Sun, Oct 31, 2010, 12:25am (UTC -6)
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.
Elliott
Thu, Jan 13, 2011, 8:53am (UTC -6)
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.
jon
Thu, Jan 27, 2011, 5:54pm (UTC -6)
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
Elliott
Thu, Jan 27, 2011, 6:03pm (UTC -6)
@Jon

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.
jon
Fri, Jan 28, 2011, 7:54am (UTC -6)
And Kira fulfills those functions like you ask
Jay
Sun, Feb 6, 2011, 12:15pm (UTC -6)
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.
Overthinker
Sun, Feb 20, 2011, 10:24pm (UTC -6)
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 -6)
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.
Justin
Tue, May 1, 2012, 11:53am (UTC -6)
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.
Jay
Thu, Dec 27, 2012, 1:27pm (UTC -6)
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...
RStretton
Wed, Jun 5, 2013, 10:05pm (UTC -6)
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
Kotas
Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 8:45pm (UTC -6)

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

2/10
V_Is_For_Voyager
Fri, Nov 15, 2013, 1:05am (UTC -6)
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 -6)
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.
Jons
Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 5:14pm (UTC -6)
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.
Ric
Sun, Feb 23, 2014, 10:58pm (UTC -6)
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.
eastwest101
Fri, May 30, 2014, 11:52pm (UTC -6)
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.
Phillip
Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 10:23pm (UTC -6)
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.
Yanks
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:05pm (UTC -6)
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.
Yanks
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:09pm (UTC -6)
Downgraded to 1 star.
DLPB
Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 2:32pm (UTC -6)
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.
Eric
Sun, Sep 28, 2014, 1:23pm (UTC -6)
Awful right from the first act...I rolled my eyes more than once during this episode.
$G
Mon, Oct 20, 2014, 9:53pm (UTC -6)
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).
Jonathan
Thu, Nov 6, 2014, 2:26pm (UTC -6)
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."
spindles
Sat, Nov 15, 2014, 3:51am (UTC -6)
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?
Robrow
Thu, Jun 11, 2015, 9:04pm (UTC -6)
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 -6)
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 -6)
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 -6)
Missed a key definite article--damn! Er, blast! Er, I think I mean "peace!"
Adam
Wed, Dec 2, 2015, 11:50pm (UTC -6)
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.
Dave
Wed, Jan 27, 2016, 9:09pm (UTC -6)
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 -6)
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.
Brockston
Sun, Feb 21, 2016, 10:01am (UTC -6)
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 -6)
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.
Robert
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 11:29am (UTC -6)
@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 -6)
@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.
Chrome
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 1:07pm (UTC -6)
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".
Robert
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 2:38pm (UTC -6)
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 -6)
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.
Peter G.
Fri, May 6, 2016, 11:13am (UTC -6)
@ William B,

In answer to your question about what the real difference is between the prophets and the paghwraiths, I think there are two that we know of:

1) The prophets only imprisoned the paghwraiths, whereas the wraiths want to kill the prophets. On the other hand we could argue that the prophets left the wraiths alive for use in their future plans.

2) This point is more important, which is that the prophets appear to have a policy of non-interference, while the wraiths want to interact directly with daily Bajoran life. The latter seems more appealing in a sense, especially when terrible things like the Occupation are happening and you want your gods to help, but there's a word for a people whose gods meddle in their everyday affairs: slaves. It's not like they would be interacting as equals. I see the prophets as having something in common with the Federation, where they have something like the prime directive in place and prefer to help Bajor through advice and wisdom rather than direct interference. From a Star Trek perspective I think this alone would be enough to call the prophets "good" since declining to enslave others is probably the primary difference between the Federation and all other major powers.

@ Robert,

You hit the nail on the head about Dukat being in actual communion with the paghwraiths. In the episode we see him praying to them for guidance, and the next thing we see is him telling them all to commit suicide. The Jim Jones angle is clear, but what if it was actually the wraiths telling him to do this? And what if it wasn't just to clean up his mess, but rather their preferred outcome? Assuming for the moment that the wraiths are really anti-prophets then I could see the entertainment for them in having Dukat take a bunch of gullible Bajorans and con them into slaughtering themselves. I somewhat think that sadistic pleasure may well be the paghwraith's MO. Maybe this was a test for Dukat as well, so that the wraiths could verify that he was really the kind of twisted maniac they needed as an emissary. He apparently is, because after this episode (SPOILERS) he graduates on to the real plan. Now that I think of it, I doubt most of what happens in this episode was Dukat's idea, even thought his narcissism would always convince him believe it was. No chance he would ever think of himself as a puppet; heck, I could see him down the line planning to assassinate the wraiths and take over the celestial temple himself :p

PS - I kind of find it funny that many of the posters above see this episode as ruining Dukat. They don't realize the episode is quite subversive and is directed at the fans of Dukat to an extent. For all those viewers who sympathized with him in S3-4 and don't like that he is now "just evil", I think they missed the point. Dukat takes people in, for years at a time. He plays out little fantasies that he even believes at the time he engages in them. The viewer in S3-4 was just like the cult members who believes Dukat had changed and began to believe in something. In this sense I think the episode is sympathetic to the cult members because it can be hard to disbelieve a man like Dukat who is that charming and also believes what he says as he says it. It's hard to contemplate someone that delusional and narcissistic, and in real life when faced with someone like that people can remain confused about the person for years on end. It takes a hard-headed - almost fanatical - type like Kira to refuse to play into his mind-games and to instead stick to simple truths that she won't back down from. If the viewer ended the episode upset about Dukat then this only reflects the anger the cultists felt when they realized he betrayed them. He betrayed the audience as well! That's good writing, if it was intentional.
William B
Fri, May 6, 2016, 12:35pm (UTC -6)
@Peter G., I agree on your second point, except insofar as I do tend to think that the Prophets do want to interfere on specific occasions, especially when it comes to Sisko...but I have given a lot of thought to your comment in the "Shadows and Symbols" page and am trying to parse it. As it happens, we do know that the Paghwraiths are destructive and we get regular tells that they are EVIL by Keiko and Jake feeling their evil presence. But this is pretty unsatisfying for me, because a possible explanation is simply that the Prophets are better at keeping themselves serene when they possess someone for hours (Kira) or years (Sarah). I think it's also worth noting, on point 1, that the Paghwraiths wanting to kill the Prophets can also be turned around and attributed *to* their imprisonment, acts of terrorism from a weaker party.

I think that part of the issue I have is that I cannot escape the feeling that Kira's faith that the Prophets are benevolent and take a personal interest in Bajoran affairs is a view that the writers do not seriously want to undermine. In that sense, the Bajorans do seem to be slaves, just with more benevolent masters than Dukat (or, it seems, the Paghwraiths). While Sisko is, as it turns out, part Prophet, and so it can be argued that he is not their puppet but a part of them (and he becomes one at the end), we still have increasingly explicit moves by the Wormhole Aliens to position The Sisko into place for them -- bringing forth Akorem basically explicitly in order to get Sisko to "play ball," taking over his mother for years in order to move him into position. They intervene to stop the Dominion horde but not to stop the Occupation, because they either are "of Bajor" or care bout protecting *Sisko's* life because he is one of them. I suppose it may simply be that the Prophets regard the Bajorans' worship of them neutrally (or are unaware of it).

I *will* say this, and I will put a spoiler warning here for the finale just in case anyone is reading this:

I am not satisfied with the way the Sisko/Dukat/Winn/Prophets/Paghwraiths plot ends in WYLB, but there is a read which I find compelling which I have thought about over time. Sisko and Dukat, who align themselves with the Prophets/Paghwraiths, also happen to represent competing political powers close to the Bajoran level -- Sisko the Federation, Dukat the Cardassians and later the Dominion. In the model where the Prophets do not actually want Bajoran worship but are indifferent to it, and maintain only a distant relationship with Bajor, protecting them at times from extreme threats but other times allowing them to suffer, they map onto the noninterfering but benevolent Federation, whereas the Paghwraiths apparently map onto the exploitative Cardassians and later Dominion. Dukat and Sisko become avatars for the respective philosophies and duke it out, and Winn, while initially siding with Dukat, does at the last minute act to help Sisko -- she represents something of the damaged Bajoran soul, which has nearly entirely lost its way as a result of the Occupation. What's notable though is that Sisko does not defeat Dukat and then go back to his station to continue his mission. He is a Prophet now, and despite his promises to return, we have no idea when that will be or whether it will even happen. That means that Sisko's role, essentially, was to protect Bajor from Dukat, Cardassia, the Dominion and the Paghwraiths just long enough for Bajor to be able to finally stand on its own. Kira is left in charge of the station at the end, which is part of why I like the Kira plot in the season seven premiere, which emphasizes that Kira is capable of making leadership decisions and she is ready. The link between Kira and Jake in the final shot emphasizes that Bajor is effectively a child shepherded into adulthood after a difficult loss (the Occupation/Jake's mother's death), who is now abandoned once fully an *adult* to be able to make their own choices.

So given that the Federation is *POTENTIALLY* little more than a more benevolent hegemony than the Cardassians or the Dominion, it is important that Sisko has to destroy himself in order to destroy Dukat. He is maybe not "dead," but he is no longer an active agent in Bajoran affairs, which in the grand scheme of the show works not just on the spiritual sense but on the philosophical sense that you have talked about -- the Federation avatar does step back to allow Bajor to start to rule its own destiny. In that sense, fans' disappointment that Bajor did not join the Federation does seem to be perhaps misplaced, though I agree that some dialogue on what this status would be worthwhile. Bajor doesn't "need" to join the Federation. I think it may well, years down the line, but it needs to join as an independent power rather than a broken one. And for that, Sisko, *religious icon* worshiped by the Bajorans, has to disappear, too, so that they can stop relying on him, either as their Emissary or as their Federation post-Occupation saviour. It makes sense to me that Sisko's primary role is to stop Dukat (and others like him) from destroying Bajor, and once this is done to disappear from their lives at least until he can be treated as an equal rather than a vast superior. (I somewhat wonder if this is what he means by he will be back -- despite the implication that he may be back for Kasidy and the child within their lifetime, he may simply wait until the Bajorans are at the point where they can see him as equals.) Sisko's increasing willingness to use his Emissary status is maybe a sign that he needs to be taken out of the picture for Bajorans, at this point in the series; his using his clout to get Kasidy put on leave ("I never once said the word 'Emissary'") does suggest to me that his ability to resist abusing his power is fraying, though that may just be the cynic in me.

Anyway, what gets to me is not so much whether the Prophets or the Paghwraiths are better, though I did focus on that, as that Kira advocates that *worshiping* the Prophets is good and right, but worshiping the Paghwraiths is wrong and evil, and while the latter is true, I'm not clear that the former is true. The episode having Kira's former mentor die by jumping off the cliff Dukat and the Paghwraiths pointed out for him and Kira's uncertainty about it at the end suggests that maybe it is questioning Kira's blind faith...or maybe her faith isn't a problem, or maybe it's totally irrelevant. The problem I have with the show's depiction of the Prophets comes down to the sense I have that they continuously play the Prophets as both religious deities who really actually are gods AND secular advanced aliens who are Clarkeian beings with powers
indistinguishable from magic, but it may simply be that I'm not good enough at reading the show to disentangle it.

On the last point, I agree that the message of this episode (and some of the other Dukat episodes) is squarely aimed at the fans. I think that there's a certain fannish folk wisdom that in fact the writers deliberately wrote Dukat as more and more *explicitly* "really evil deep down" to stop fans from sympathizing with him so much. The problem with this for me is partly that it reads as condescending -- because some audience members start to see Dukat as "good," the writers need to make the character increasingly unambiguously evil, rather than an evil man who had some good qualities. Now, I think Dukat was always an evil guy, deluded and narcissistic. I think that he's simply a more interesting character when he was willing to trash his career rather than kill his daughter, especially when this ended up having him ricochet back and make a deal with the Dominion to restore his career. He could not be as easily pinned down, and while, yes, some fans took Dukat's good qualities too far, I don't think they were wrong to view Dukat as a complex guy, and so the writers' need to deliberately make Dukat worse and worse in order to force them to see how wrong they were seems unnecessary. However this is something of a matter of personal preference.
William B
Fri, May 6, 2016, 12:54pm (UTC -6)
TL;DR version of my previous comment: this is one of the only episodes I can think of where someone puts Kira in a position to seriously shake her faith, but here as in other episodes, it is easy to put forward the proposition that others are worshiping the wrong gods. This is similar to Accession where the bottom line appears to be that it is wrong to do whatever Akorem says because he is the *wrong* Emissary. The Prophets and Sisko exist, but are they worthy of worship? is the question that the show remains frustratingly vague on to me. But maybe the main point is that as long as they aren't hurting anyone, they can worship whoever they like, and the Prophets and Sisko mostly stay out of things enough that the Bajorans' worship does not seem to impede them as much as, say, dying in suicide cults or giving up their jobs to make bad bird sculptures do. (Note: Akorem isn't evil like the Paghwraiths apparently are, it's just a similar "worshiping the wrong guy!" moment.)

I have trouble because I want to try to phrase it in a way that does not make me sound contemptuous of (real life) religion. The reason I find the Bajorans' worship of the Prophets stupid is because they are beings who, from what we can see, seem to be "just aliens," who in early episodes did not even seem to care about Bajorans at all, and eventually just became something of benevolent figures who don't interfere. Whether they love Bajorans unconditionally as Bareil claims seems to be unanswerable because we don't even know if they know what love is. They seem somewhat disinterested in Bajoran affairs, while eventually Of Bajor. Bajorans mostly seem to read the Prophets as something like an Abrahamic God (though of course they would not term it like that), which seems to be an inaccurate appraisal of who the Prophets are. Their worship seems to be based on false assumptions. And if it is helpful for Bajorans, well, good, but why worship observable beings? Do they even *know* that the Wormhole Aliens *are* the Prophets, or are The Prophets not aliens who live in the wormhole in their solar system but ideals akin to Abrahamic God?

If the Bajorans' worship of the Prophets is simply a quirk that we in the audience can accept from an IDIC perspective, that's one thing; if it is actually wrong, not morally, but categorically (i.e. it is a category error for Bajorans to see the Prophets as gods rather than very powerful aliens with some knowledge they don't have), but it is not hurting anyone and so we in the audience can learn to overcome the Bajorans' biases and see the Prophets as another set of aliens, that is also fine; if the Prophets really are beings of superior moral authority who unconditionally love Bajorans and have a plan for them, well, then the burden of proof is on the show that the Prophets' plan is not awful, and then it does not seem *that much* as if they are different from the Paghwraiths, but I suppose the show could eventually make the case. As is, I don't really know what the perspective on the show is. And it's not that I think the show presents multiple perspectives but fails to choose one, but rather that I cannot exactly see what perspectives are being presented. The show seems to be emphasizing analogies between Prophets-worship and real life religions enough that I cannot quite dismiss the entire thing as an elaborate thought experiment (what if there were higher beings and they were worshiped as Gods?), and emphasizes the Prophets' alien-ness and aloofness too much for me to take the Bajoran religion seriously. I am confused by what is being depicted, I guess, and I suppose I can reluctantly admit the humility to say that I might just not be clever enough to sort it out.
William B
Fri, May 6, 2016, 1:04pm (UTC -6)
Of course, it may be that what I am looking for the show to do is not necessary; it may be that what I don't get is because there is nothing to get. The Prophets are aliens and the Bajorans worship them, and that is the whole story -- perhaps whether the Bajorans are "right" to is not a relevant question to ask of the show to address. Some of this is about fan reactions to the show, maybe -- I feel a lot of discussions about the Bajoran religion in the show and especially in the fandom come down to questions of whether religion or faith are appropriate, whereas I think the question "should you worship observable alien beings whose existence is not in question, but whose power is limited and whose trustworthiness is unknown?" is actually quite different from questions that come up with most modern human religions, IMO.
Robert
Fri, May 6, 2016, 2:25pm (UTC -6)
It's worth wondering if there's something of the Edo in all this too... if one of the writers was fascinated by some such idea. I always thought that was such a stupid episode but it had a lot of interesting concepts. I'd have loved to see that episode redone by say... the S4/S5 writing team.
Peter G.
Fri, May 6, 2016, 2:31pm (UTC -6)
@ William B,

As I see it there are two separate issues at play that Covenant addresses:

1) Is there a substantial difference between the prophets and the paghwraiths?

2) Are the Bajorans correct to worship one versus the other?

My answer to these based on what the series presents is as follows:

1) They are different, and this difference lies primarily in the policy of non-interference I mentioned above. It's a massive difference - core the entire ideal of the Federation, as an example - since it enables a people to grow freely as they see fit. There are apparently exceptions to this in extreme circumstances, and indeed even honorable Starfleet captains ignore the Prime Directive in certain extraordinary circumstances without serious reprimand. Sisko is the perfect fit for the prophets in this sense, because as a Starfleet officer he has a policy of non-interference with Bajor, and only intervenes in their internal affairs under extraordinary circumstances; for instance, to avert their destruction by telling them not to join the Federation. This is exactly why Akorem was NOT what the Emissary is supposed to be like. He used his influence with the Bajorans to shape them into what he thought they should be like, rather than merely as a tool of necessity to protect them. He would essentially have been their ruler, unlike Sisko, who is their protector. This leads us directly to #2:

2) Whether we, as viewers, think the Bajorans should worship the prophets is beside the point, since it's not something the prophets ever seem to have demanded. When presented with god-like beings it's natural for a primitive people to worship them, but that doesn't mean the prophets sought worshippers. But I get the feeling that the paghwraiths do. And not just worshippers, but more likely slaves (or worse). The dilemma presented to Kira, as I see it, isn't whether she's right to worship the prophets, but whether she's right that the prophets are "good" and the wraiths aren't. In that I have to side with her. In fact I would personally decline to call the prophets 'good', but would rather call them benign, as you suggested. 'Good' actually implies motivation to interfere just as 'bad' does, whereas benign allows the possibility of not interfering much at all. In any case, the fact that Kira was brought up as a fanatic speaks to the way in which she personally would choose to deal with thinking of the prophets as being the 'true gods', but she can be correct about their goodness without also implying it "is" correct to worship them.

I would even go further than this, and suggest that the biggest problem Bajor has is its need to worship gods. They would have made one of Sisko if he had let them, and this is the great peril that the Federation was designed to prevent. Faith in the prophets as being both real and helping Bajor is one thing, but treating them like gods puts the Bajorans squarely in the same boat as the Vorta who worship the Founders as gods even thought they know on a mechanical level they are not deities. Akorem seems to me not to have only been a test for Sisko's faith in himself as Emissary, but also a test for Bajor to see how they would handle a more benevolent type of Occupation - the very kind Dukat apparently wanted to give them! And they welcomed it with open arms and made Akorem their leader immediately, just as they likely would have done with Li Nalas back in Season 2 (and he wasn't even an Emissary, just a hero). The point here seems to be that the Bajorans are not ready to take care of themselves yet because they are almost desperate to find someone to rule them rather than to stand up and manage themselves. From a Roddenberry/Star Trek perspective the Bajorans are still too close to those TOS people who worship obelisks to be ready to join the Federation. The terrible danger of a people who want to be led is precisely someone like Dukat, who can appear to be a very caring and enlightened leader when he wants to be. The moral is not to surrender one's will to leaders, which is perhaps a Democratic moral but in any case speaks to the Star Trek philosophy of secular humanism and each person taking up the torch of learning and independent thought rather than comfortably searching for a leader to do the thinking for you.

The way I parse this episode is that Dukat is secretly what the Bajorans are yearning for; specifically, a charismatic spiritual leader who will tell them what to do. And this is a serious problem, which, as you say, is helped by Sisko being removed from the picture so they can learn to get by without him. The prophets already seem to do as little as possible to encourage this worship of them, but it will take the Bajorans however long it takes them to get past their 'Waiting for Godot' stage. Kira's dilemma seems not to be whom to worship, but rather what one should do with one's faith. Should one use it to surrender one's mind, or to open it? To me this is a quintessential Star Trek episode.
William B
Fri, May 6, 2016, 3:02pm (UTC -6)
@Peter G., I think we are on the same page about the Bajorans, the Prophets, the Paghwraiths, and Sisko versus Akorem. I think the major difference, at the moment, is how successful the show was at presenting these issues. I am willing to be swayed on this point.

I agree that it is a bad sign that the Bajorans so badly want someone to worship, and that this is part of what we see with Nalas, Akorem, and here Dukat. Winn's problem is actually not entirely that she is powerhungry herself, though it is, but that she has a strong need to be *near*, but not at, the top of an authoritarian regime; while I think that you are right that Dukat would eventually want to overthrow the Paghwraiths, as I see it Winn very much loves being at the top of a power structure dedicated to serving a higher power. Her problem with the Prophets is both that they are non-interventionist and, indeed, are personally indifferent to her, and some of that covers some of Winn's traits that are not so terrible -- I think Winn is not incorrect in that *if she should worship and devote her life to some beings, it should be more than a one-way relationship*. However, she, like most Bajorans we see who convert to the Paghwraiths, does not take the step of freeing herself of the concept of submitting to a higher authority, but just switches authorities to one that suits her and her worldview better.

On that level, the Bajoran desire to be seduced by Dukat, which ends up being quite literal and eventually includes Kira's mother and Winn, is, I agree, a major flaw, and Sisko's primary role is just to be around long enough to prevent that from happening. One could imagine a figure like Ross, mostly wanting what's best for the Bajorans, still eventually falling into the trap of treating them as vassals for convenience, as you point out nearly happens in the opening to season seven, and would have more or less happened if Kira had not been so openly rebellious. Had Ross been the Emissary and had he been willing to use that excessive/false moral authority, the episode would have played differently, but Kira had enough strength of will to demonstrate that she intended on being an equal partner in this (secular) alliance.

The false argument is that we still only really see Bajorans who decide whether to submit to the Prophets or the Paghwraiths, or Sisko or Akorem (or Dukat). I think there are indications that Kira is getting out of this by the end of the series, and the fact that Kira is able to separate Sisko the Emissary and Sisko her CO, and that she can and will defy the latter but would implicitly do whatever the former said if he actually chose to wield that power, is also a good sign. I do sort of wish that, even if the show did not need to have an outright rejection of the Bajoran religion, there were a Bajoran who rejected the Prophets without then going over to the dark side. Various episodes do seem to suggest that Bajorans have a fundamental need to worship an that they are incapable of living ethical lives without it, such as Mirror Bareil in "Resurrection" or that "he was a violent man but he found the Prophets" member of her Resistance Cell who was the first one killed in "The Darkness and the Light." And to some extent the show still seems to me to have Sisko tacitly or sometimes openly encouraging it -- by accepting their worship of him rather than continuing to denounce it, or by agreeing to promote the lie that Li Nalas was a mythic figure -- with the recognition that this is the only way to prevent the Bajorans from destroying themselves. And that is an interesting story but 1) are there no Bajoran exceptions to this? and 2) if this is something of the result of their experience under the Occupation, how much can we/should we hope they will "get over" this phase, wherein someone must continue filling their belief vacuum to keep them from embracing another dictator. There is a parallel with Odo accepting Weyoun 6's worship at the end of "Treachery, Faith and the Great River," where Odo is well aware that he is imperfect (his belief that he has an intrinsic sense of justice having mostly been abandoned by this point) but he also knows that Weyoun-6 is programmed for belief and so he might as well let him die happily (with his blessing).

As I said, I think that the series closes with optimism in general, though there is no indication that Kira has changed her mind about her faith in particular. Which, again, she doesn't "need to," for this story to be interesting, but it still feels like there is *almost* an arc that would be satisfying to me, here.
William B
Fri, May 6, 2016, 3:12pm (UTC -6)
Good point of Robert's about the Edo God. I think this discussion also reminds me a little of the Sigma Iotians in "A Piece of the Action" -- at the end of that episode (...spoiler, I guess?) Kirk uses his gangster cred to force the SI'ans into agreeing to an alternate system which will hopefully correct the previous damage and allow the SI'ans to make their own way. Sisko letting the Bajorans idolize Li Nalas because he is dead, or worship him because he won't go Akorem on them, seems to be a way of using the "primitive" people's beliefs to guide them to a place of independence similar to the way Kirk does there. But it plays differently when it's a whole series.
Peter G.
Fri, May 6, 2016, 3:42pm (UTC -6)
@ William B,

I think you are near to the point when you say that the Bajorans are portrayed as having a fundamental need to worship, but I'll dissect that idea a little and try to tie it into Covenant. One thing the series repeatedly urges us to accept is that there are strong benefits to having faith in something greater; we get this from Kira, from Sisko (about the Federation and later the prophets), from Julian (about saving lives), of course from Worf, and even from Garak about patriotism. None, of them, however, mentions anything about worship, and even Kira tends to avoid stressing how important worship is to her, and rather stresses how faith gets her through the day.

This distinction between worship and faith is a big part of what Covenant seems to be about. Faith can be a good thing - even necessary - but not when it involves also submitting and even worshipping. It would be foolhardly for any Bajoran to not have *faith* in the prophets. They clearly exist and clearly have impressive powers. That is why the common objection that Bajor only has one religion is silly; what idiot wouldn't believe in beings that actually send magical orbs and do various things? But to choose to worship those beings is another matter, and that, I think, doesn't necessarily say something about Bajorans as a species, but more about how their culture stagnated for a long time. Dukat was right when he said they were a complacent people and that the Occupation stirred the pot and may have helped them, horrible as that is to contemplate. The one thing characters like Mirror Bareil and Odo show us is that some kind of faith in something in necessary, but that it doesn't have to be in some god. For Sisko and Picard it's faith in the ideals of the Federation, and as I mentioned in another post that faith can be just as fanatical as a Bajoran's faith. Surely it would have to take a great leap of faith and act of will to allow one's entire crew to die rather than to violate the Prime Directive, which is exactly what the directive requires of each captain. And that's pure Roddenberry, no dark tint required.

I think Star Trek, and secular humanism in general, is *all about* faith, and it took a show like DS9 to really get into how difficult that can be to find and maintain when things are going badly. In TOS there are a few episodes (like Patterns of Force) involving captains who didn't adhere to this philosophy, and the result every time was disastrous. That show clearly believed in the ideal both as a philosophical premise but also as a practical safeguard against tyranny and oppression. Belief in the Federation ideal is the most faith-based position in the Alpha Quadrant. Look at any other race and you could just imagine them sneering at how stupid the Federation is to give up obvious strategic potential in favor of their precious ideals. Look at how feared the Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar were. Was Federation security feared by anyone? Every major power, up to and even including the Ferengi, can't understand why the Federation plays by weird rules. They frankly can't even believe it and most of them probably think it's a trick. I think a Romulan even said this at one point. To believe in Federation ideals requires great faith because the allure of abandoning them to make strategic gains is very strong. Operating on pure realpolitik basically yields the Cardassians.

I see the Bajoran people as being the missing element from TNG: the heart behind faith in the Federation. Picard maybe had some of that, but mostly he argued intellectually about Federation ideals. I think it takes a spirited, optimistic people to make the Federation what it is, and a lot of what we see on Star Trek is business-like problems being solves which could have been solved by anyone else and the result remaining the same. The problem is the Bajoran's faith has them all wrapped up in worship at the moment and they're stuck in a rut, but as a people I think their spirited desire to believe in something great is exactly in the spirit of what the Federation is about. The question is about finding something solid for that spirit to latch on to.

Incidentally, Covenant isn't my favorite episode as a matter of entertainment, and I agree with Robert (I think) that it loses some enjoyment on repeat viewings. However as a part of Trek canon I think it's very good.
William H
Mon, May 23, 2016, 5:55am (UTC -6)
I think my biggest problem with DS9's treatment of faith was that it often did a bad job of adjusting to the fact that the Prophets obviously are out there and doing things. Which means that a lot of the time the "sceptic" characters look like wilfully blind fools, because they're not making the right arguments when the wormhole aliens are an obvious fact, and a lot of the rest of the time the "believer" characters look like the wilfully blind fools because they seem to be bizarrely oblivious to the reality of the things they claim to follow.

Well, that or just that making "spiritual" the Bajoran's sole hat besides the occupation made them kind of boring. Particularly because it's a rather generic spirituality.

As for this episode, I feel like it could be good without Dukat, but Dukat is so dominant that this is basically saying it could have been good if it was a whole different episode.

The problem for me is that Dukat has no real credibility, so too much of the episode is just listening to him talk rubbish while Kira makes boring and obvious responses that do nothing really to develop her character.

I thought the Vedek could have been interesting if he had been given time to develop.

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