Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Accession"

3.5 stars

Air date: 2/26/1996
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"No more ceremonies to attend; no more blessings to give; no more prophecies to fulfill. I'm just a Starfleet officer again. All I have to worry about are the Klingons, the Dominion, and the Maquis. I feel like I'm on vacation." — Sisko, on relinquishing his role as Emissary

Nutshell: The ending is too easy, but overall an extremely intelligent, probing episode.

A Bajoran ship emerges from the wormhole after disappearing into it some 300 years earlier and being suspended in time by the wormhole aliens. The pilot of the ship, a Bajoran man named Akorem Laan (Richard Libertini), wakes up in DS9's infirmary with a new purpose in life—his encounter with the Prophets leads him to believe he is the Emissary to the Bajoran people.

With the assurances that the changes would be accepted by the Bajoran populace, Sisko relinquishes his title of Emissary to Akorem, who, unlike Sisko, has the time and dedication needed to carry out the duties of a Bajoran religious icon. Starfleet has, after all, always wanted Sisko to distance himself from the religious implications his post has demanded of him.

Unfortunately, Akorem's new agenda—along with the support of a fundamentalist Vedek named Porta (Robert Symonds)—includes the return of an abandoned Bajoran caste system known as the d'jarras. Before the Cardassian Occupation, the d'jarras would dictate the role of Bajorans based on their family titles. Akorem believes he was spared the Occupation so that he could return this caste system to heal Bajor. Such caste-based discrimination would not be permitted by the Federation, and if Akorem were to successfully bring this back to Bajoran society, Sisko is certain Bajor's admittance into the Federation would be rejected.

"Accession" is a show that has a lot to say about Bajor's religious side and where Sisko stands in the eyes of the Bajoran people. It's a story with numerous messages which sometimes prove difficult to discern, and with a number of subtexts that a viewer may or may not see. It has dialogue, particularly near the end, which is open to a great deal of interpretation.

This is very good in some important ways. It's fresh and provocative, and it treats the audience with a respect for their intelligence. It's also a sort of throwback to the "old-school DS9"—that being analysis of religious, intra-political Bajoran/Federation issues which were the primary focus of seasons one and two; rather than the action-centered, inter-political Federation/Dominion and Federation/Klingon issues common to seasons three and four.

At the same time, I defy anyone to tell me exactly what this episode boils down to in terms of series or character development after only one viewing. It took me two viewings to reflect on what the episode was trying to say. And after this reflection I still wasn't sure that the episode was as broad and consequential as it should have been.

The show is thoroughly riveting for its first four acts. It effectively sets up an uneasy situation and foreshadows the consequences of changing political administrations where the incoming and outgoing parties have two distinctly different views. Everything surrounding this set-up feels right, from Kai Winn supporting Akorem's radical initiative, to the powerful early scene where Akorem gives his promenade speech while a subtle trace of concern develops on Sisko's face as he listens to what is being said. Even Kira, whose faith couldn't be much more devoted, obviously has second thoughts about where Akorem is bound to take Bajor with his reforms.

This clash of old beliefs and new world culminates with an incident where Vedek Porta kills another Bajoran simply because of the man's "unclean" d'jarra—intolerable murder justified by Porta's religious extremism. This, in combination with Sisko's vision where Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola) appears to offer ambiguous words hiding apparent advice, finally makes Sisko realize that the d'jarras are not going to do anything but erase all the progress he has worked for. He decides he must ensure the d'jarras are not re-instituted.

The story's conclusion, however, does not feel quite right. Sisko doesn't want to challenge Akorem's claim, as that would divide Bajor and cause chaos. Instead, Sisko and Akorem go into the wormhole to ask the Prophets who is really the Emissary, and if they intended Akorem to bring the d'jarras back. The wormhole aliens answer the question with a variety of intriguing but ultimately incomprehensible riddles (it boils down to "no"), and they are able to send Akorem back to the century he came from.

This is simply too easy. It's evident the wormhole aliens have no clue or care about Bajoran politics or religion. Yet, with a convoluted explanation, they are able to convince Akorem that he was making a false presumption that really had no basis, while simultaneously telling Sisko that he is the real Emissary since he taught them the meaning of linear time. It took me a while to put my finger on why I didn't find this completely satisfying, but I think it's because the aliens' answer seems too arbitrary. Instead of working the problem at hand, the writers use this device to simply delete the problem to a point where one would almost never know it existed in the first place.

In fact, it surprising how little this all affects the series or the characters. Based on the subject matter, the episode initially appears to be headed for a major series self-statement. Instead it's almost a Reset Button Plot that ends up right where it starts. Take, for example, the moving but overstated and oversimplified scene where Kira tells Sisko that she plans to resign her post to move back to Bajor and follow her d'jarra. Would she really give up everything in her life to be a sculptor simply because the new Emissary says so? The episode says yes, but other elements of the show cast doubt. Odo's line "Your faith seems to have led you to something of a contradiction" is a very relevant comment, and, in retrospect, the way Kira shrugs it off is simultaneously an interesting truth about faith and a puzzling oversimplification that disregards common sense. The conclusion should have seriously taken a look at this side of the show. Instead, the issue rides on a single decision by Sisko, which is made too easy with the cut-and-dry ending.

The only real consequence of the show is Sisko finally coming to terms with his role as Emissary. While I do like this, I really hoped for more large-scale development from the episode—which, because of the ending's ineffectiveness, we don't really get much of. Still, "Accession" made me think hard on numerous occasions (this review feels more like a discussion than most I've written), which is a most definite plus.

Also, let's not forget the B-story involving Keiko O'Brien's return to the station. This is absolutely top-notch B-story material, featuring a great performance (marked by some moments of subtle hilarity) by Colm Meaney as the everyday family man finally getting his family back (soon to be a bigger family with the announcement that Keiko is pregnant). The humor surrounding his new dilemma—that he has to get home in a hurry every night and not drink or play darts with Julian—is a load of fun. This has to be one of the best B-stories of the year.

It's too bad "Accession's" ending isn't a little more realized, because it dilutes what could have been an absolutely riveting show. Still, I highly recommend the episode, because it holds many good moments and discussions. It isn't perfect, but it's very good.

Previous episode: Bar Association
Next episode: Rules of Engagement

◄ Season Index

116 comments on this review

Joost
Fri, Mar 21, 2008, 12:56pm (UTC -5)
As i am viewing this show right now, i realy do have an unsettling feeling about it. There is something wrong with those un-linear prophets.

PS. I like your reviews
AeC
Wed, May 21, 2008, 8:54pm (UTC -5)
I'd long given up on usenet by the time of this episode, but I'd imagine that Sisko's vision of Kai Opaka repeatedly asking, "Who are you?" must have had the B5 fans on R.A.S. up in arms when this episode aired.

A good ep, but the depiction of the Bajorans as, frankly, sheep willing to go wherever the Emissary tells them is a little troubling to me. Kira's comments about faith were valid, and I appreciated seeing some concerned looks on her face and on the faces of other Bajorans when Akorem decreed the reintroduction of the caste system, but I would have liked to have seen more resistance to the idea. I don't know how it could have been worked in dramatically within the episode's 45 minutes, but the blanket depiction of all Bajorans humbly and blindly following this radical path just felt wrong, even taking the strength of the culture's spiritual beliefs into account.
matt
Fri, Jun 27, 2008, 12:41am (UTC -5)
Yeah AeC, I do not think we ever see a single Bajoran in the series who thinks the whole prophet thing is a bunch of nonsense. In star trek, only humans are really allowed any diversity, all other races are pure stereotypes, but an episode about some secular nonbelieveing bajorans would have been interesting.
Straha
Thu, Jul 31, 2008, 3:27am (UTC -5)
Indeed this could have been a great (maybe one of the best) shows if only the ending wouldn't have been botched. The whole business of reintroducing a caste system into a modern society should have provoked civil war all by itself, even without Sisko challenging Akorem's claim. I would have liked to see an ending where Akorem eventually realized that and stepped aside willingly ...
Josh
Wed, Sep 3, 2008, 1:52am (UTC -5)
"I'd long given up on usenet by the time of this episode, but I'd imagine that Sisko's vision of Kai Opaka repeatedly asking, "Who are you?" must have had the B5 fans on R.A.S. up in arms when this episode aired."

Right, because no one's ever written "Who are you?" in a sci-fi show before. I love Babylon 5, but when fans try to tell me DS9 ripped it off, I refer them to the Lord of the Rings, which Babylon 5 ripped off so blatantly I'm surprised JMS was never sued.

Khazad'Dum vs Z'ha'Dum
Shadowmen vs Shadows
Sauron calling his armies to him vs the Shadows are returning to Z'ha'Dum
Episode "The Long Dark" vs. 'The Long Dark of Moria'

And my personal favourite, Lorien vs Lorien.

:)
AeC
Sun, Sep 14, 2008, 12:00pm (UTC -5)
Not saying I agreed with the charges of plagiarism, Josh, just remembering the "You got your peanut butter in my chocolate" / "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter" arguments about which series ripped off the other. Had I frequented the newsgroups when this aired (and had I watched B5 at the time), I imagine hearing that line and thinking, "It's gonna be a bumpy ride for the next week or so."
Anonymous
Wed, Nov 12, 2008, 8:42pm (UTC -5)
This episode is very unrealistic. If the Pope asked all practicing Catholics to renounce their jobs and give away all their wealth do you think it would happen? And seriously, Kira, the rebel who killed Cardassians, decides to become a potter in a span of 3 days? Sometimes the religious mumbo jumbo doesn't make sense. There is more to an organized religion, especially on Bajor, than some emissary.
Destructor
Sun, Jul 19, 2009, 7:53pm (UTC -5)
I thought the scene with Opaka asking: "Who are you?" nicely foreshadowed 'Far Beyond the Stars' where Sisko asks: "Please... who am I?"
Nic
Wed, Dec 16, 2009, 10:42am (UTC -5)
I agree with the above comments, I think this episode was overrated. It simply wouldn't be so clear-cut in real life, it would have more shades of gray. It also exemplifies the weak direction Kira's character has taken this season.
And why was it necessary for someone to be killed before Sisko realized that Akorem's plan was wrong? He should have made the challenge at least one act earlier. Though I don't mind the ending as much as most commenters seem to. The Prophets said they sent Akorem to the wrong time "for the Sisko" because it was what Sisko needed to finally accept his role as emissary. So it wasn't a reset button because Sisko came out of the experience a changed man.
I thought the B-story was a little trite, but loved the last scene where Keiko tells each friend that the other is "depressed"!
Daniel
Tue, Dec 22, 2009, 1:21am (UTC -5)
I just saw this episode for the second time (wow, 13 years gone by). The review certainly doesn't seem like the review of a 3 1/2 star episode (then again, the reviewer has become a much better writer, methinks, in 13 years); I'm not sure the attack against the review (on the grounds the episode was "overrated") is warranted since the substance of the review is rather critical.

And there is much to criticize in this episode, written by (I now discover) Jane Espenson, who had a way of oversimplifying complex issues involving faith, loyalty and sacrifice as a writer on BSG (come on, no complaints that "you got your peanut butter in my chocolate again?" BSG certainly ripped off elements of this show. Of course, the issue artistically is not whether something is ripped off but whether it is ripped off WELL).

The problem I have with this episode is the lackluster manner in which it plays out. Maybe it was shot right after Thanksgiving and the cast and crew were tired. Here we have an episode involving Sisko resigning his post as Emissary; another person taking that position; Kira resigning her post as first officer; a man being killed by a religious fanaitic because of the man's last name; a visit from Kai Opaka; and an apparent decision by Sisko to, for the first time in his life, truly embrace the role of Emissary, and yet everything plays out so.... quiet.. The episode lacks energy and effective pacing; the issues are introduced and argued but not explored in any depth; this episode kind of just... sits there. The ending isn't so much pat as it is confusing... "Of Bajor" - what is that supposed to mean? To Whom? Was the prophecy misread, or were the prophets saying it was written on purpose to retroactively confirm Sisko as the True Emissary? (I liked the way a prophecy played out as a means of generating storytelling interest in the episode "Destiny," where the prophecy was ultimately true and had to be re-evaluated in light of new facts; here it seemed to exist for the impostor Emissary to effetely and effectively whine that he was the Emissary and bigotry had to be returned to Bajor, case closed). Jammer was right that Bajoran politics and their interplay with the Bajoran religion took a backseat to other stories (i.e. the war, the season 4 emphasis on the Klingons, and so forth).... a shame. Still the best Trek series overall, but the "Homecomning/Circle/Siege" arc that opened Season 2 showed how the series' mythology could have been enriched if the series returned once in a while to its Bajoran roots/origins.
Caliburn
Sat, Mar 13, 2010, 3:31pm (UTC -5)
I think, given the restrictions the writers were under, this came off beautifully. In my ideal version of DS9, this would either have been a two-parter or it would have moved the B-plot to a different episode. That would have allowed more time for complex reactions among Bajorans to the idea of returning to the d'jarras, without taking away time needed to tell the *real* story, which is Sisko beginning to accept his position as Emmisary.

The problem with doing this in reality is that, as I understand it, the studio was opposed to stories about Bajoran internal issues, and especially Bajoran religion, because these stories had not performed well ratings-wise in the past. Therefore, I don't think the studio would have been happy about a two-parter, which would take a story they already had doubts about and stretch it out even longer.

As for moving the B-plot elsewhere, the B-plot serves to give residuals to the actors that aren't used in the A-plot (O'Brien, Bashir, Worf, and Quark) . . . without a B-plot, they would have to be incorporated into the A-plot in some way. That might be workable, but it's tough to imagine how these characters could meaningfully contribute to what Sisko and Kira are going through (unlike, say, Dax and Odo, who have very relevant roles to play for Sisko and Kira, respectively). It is true that these other characters (O'Brien, Bashir, etc.) could give voice to different opinions about the whole d'jarras situation, but I don't think anyone in the viewing audience really wants to see the regulars pass judgment from above on the Bajoran situation, we'd rather see the Bajorans themselves express those different opinions.

In a single-parter, then, with an A and B plot, I really don't think there would be enough time to show significant Bajoran opposition to the d'jarras without the viewer expecting some kind of follow-up and eventual pay-off to that opposition. For just one possible example, more opposition might lead Bajor to the verge of civil war as some posters here are proposing, perhaps with Akorem eventually realizing he needs to back down. If that happened, the story would become in danger of being more about the d'jarras and Akorem than it is about Sisko and his position as Emissary. The limited time of a single episode with a B-plot wouldn't allow both stories to be treated with equal care, in my opinion. The writers chose the right one to treat as more important: Sisko as Emissary. Akorem and the d'jarras are mostly just a plot device to serve the Sisko story, however fascinating a plot device they happened to be.

Hence the "easy" solution of going to the Prophets. Yes, it's too easy a solution to the d'jarras and Akorem, but the real climax of the story begins when Sisko decides that he wants to regain his position as Emissary. From that point on, other sources of conflict have to rapidly
resolve, or else the narrative won't work. The only significant source of conflict that remains is whether Sisko really is the Emissary or
whether Akorem is. Going to the Prophets is the only way to resolve that with certainty, though I'll grant that an uncertain conclusion could have been interesting if it were workable.

As the episode stands, Kira's mixed feelings are meant to be the encapsulation of the mixed feelings of Bajoran society as whole, I think. We also have indications that some people embrace the change (Vedek Porta, Kai Winn--though the latter is probably motivated more by political
considerations than faith-based ones) and some resist it (or else why would the unclean caste Bajoran man have refused to give up his existing
position as a monk?). Thus we do get hints that not everyone on Bajor feels the same about the issue, and most people aren't sure *what* to feel. That's about as much opposition as could be shown, I think, without the viewer beginning to view the opposition as a set-up that requires a pay-off.

So, granted that showing only limited opposition among the Bajorans is expedient from a writing point of view, is it realistic? Maybe not, but if anything, this is where it actually helps that the situation is raised and resolved so quickly. Any longer and I think there would have to be more opposition, for the situation to bear any resemblance to real life. As it is, the short time frame makes it a little more believable that the one conflict we see (the murder) is "just the beginning" as Sisko puts it.

Now, I still think my ideal version of DS9 would be pretty cool--among other things, in my ideal version, Bareil would still be alive, and as the most liberal/progressive Bajoran spiritual leader that we've seen on DS9, he would have made an interesting factor in this plot as someone skeptical about the return to the d'jarras, even if he wasn't willing to openly oppose such a return. But without the added time of a two-parter to make it possible to give closer to equal weight to the d'jarras and the Sisko as Emissary plots, I think the writers did about as good a job as could be hoped. To me, this earns its three and a half stars, and I only wish stories like this didn't have to become so rare in seasons three to seven of DS9.
Elliott
Sat, Dec 25, 2010, 11:26pm (UTC -5)
You know, I don;t like Kira very much as a character, but I can appreciate that most of the time she is intelligent and insightful. Whenever she starts talking about faith she sounds like a complete boob--"What the Emissary is asking of us is soooo difficult..." sounds pathetically infantile.

Next, I was hoping for the show's sake that they wouldn't fall prey to another "orb experience"--sigh, it's just so convenient to have a voice in your head telling you what the right thing to do is. If it's Sisko's duty as a SFO to bring Bajor into the Federation, then that's all the authority he needs to make a plea to the Bajorans. The idiocy of their religion (as evinced in Odo's comments to Kira) does however provide an explanation of why it's taking so damned long for Bajor's admittance. Frankly, who can deny that the Bajorans' story is a tragic one, but what exactly is it about them that has everyone (including Picard) so determined to admit them?

The ending is more than just a botch, it's skin-crawlingly trite. There's no examination of how easily Kira and the rest of the Bajorans' faiths in specifics about their beliefs sway in the span of a few days and what that says about that faith, just a gag involving one of Kira's sculptures. Also, how is it no one even mentions the issues with Sisko's interference with the timeline? "The prophets work in mysterious ways"...yeah, to set up silly and convenient plots.

A few more gripes, Sisko's experience with the prophets was here far less engaging than that in "Emissary" yet it only takes some silly attempts at "alien code prophecy" to convince him to turn 180 degrees in his beliefs and embrace his rôle. It's these kinds of moments which make it impossible for me to believe Sisko's verbal declarations about loving the Federation and Starfleet. Next, with so much going on in regards to a number of running arcs, the B-plot, however well executed (a point which I would also contend with Jammer), is totally unnecessary. We know Bashir and O'Brien are friends, I get it. The opportunity existed here to draw a powerful parellel in the person of Molly with the Barjorans' childish behaviour, but I suppose someone would have found that insulting.

The series continues to look better and get worse every episode.
Polt
Wed, Jan 26, 2011, 8:43pm (UTC -5)
Not a fan of this episode.

I'd just like to say I think the example given above about the Pope telling Catholics to give up their lives, I think Rings hollow. Wouldn't the Kai be comparable to the Pope instead of the Emmissary?

To continue the Catholic analogy, if Christ himself returned to earth and told people they needed to give thier lives to do something else, don't you think a lot of Catholics (and Protestants too for that matter) would consider doing it?

I think that analogy is more accurate. Oh, and love the reviews!
Elliott
Wed, Jan 26, 2011, 9:54pm (UTC -5)
@Polt

I think you're absolutely right, many of them would, which is a terrible and ridiculous truth about our world which should have been adressed objectively rather than focusing on trite character interactions.
Jay
Sat, Feb 5, 2011, 9:00pm (UTC -5)
This episode has about as much relevance as the Reckoning.

DS9 essentially borrowed Voyager's reset button.
Nic
Wed, Mar 23, 2011, 1:16pm (UTC -5)
This is a non sequitur, but getting back to Josh's comments about B5 vs. Lord of the Rings, there's another one I've noticed: both use the word "eleventy", though strangely enough not with the same meaning. In LOTR "eleventy" means 110, while in B5 the Minbari (who count in base 11) say "eleventy" to mean 11.
Nebula Nox
Sat, Mar 31, 2012, 7:43am (UTC -5)
Although I like this episode, if I were Kai Winn or someone who doubted Sisko's role as the Emissary, what happened here would make me doubt him even more. He flies into the wormhole with his main rival and comes out alone.

Why doesn't anyone suspect him of murder?

Or of having something to do with the disappearance of Kai Opaka earlier?

If I were Winn - or even Shakaar! - I'd be demanding an investigation.
Cindi
Mon, Aug 13, 2012, 4:27am (UTC -5)
Sure, DS is not so loved as TOS or TNG preciesly because of the brooding political/religious overkill and not enough brawls, warp speed chases and Q's pranks (at least in the first 3 seasons) but episodes like Accession lift the show above the common TV averageness (just like TNG and "Measure of a Man").

It discusses extremelly intriguing and important issues - cultural and mental development of a society, relevance of religion in a modern age, losing faith, reconciling old and new traditions, the importance of thinking for yourself and so much more.

And to the guys who criticize the episode for being shallow and "urealistic" - remember it's a 40 minutes TV episode, not a 500 pages novel. Considering those limitations it's a miracle what the authors managed to pull of.
Jay
Sat, Oct 13, 2012, 8:11pm (UTC -5)
@ Nebula Nox - I would tend to agree, but I suppose they made the mention of the finished psalm or whatever at the end, so history would now reflect that Akorem lived out his whole lifetime. So depending upon how time works (Star Trek plays it all over the map to please the plot at hand), either the people in the present will notice the historical change, or the new history will be what they've always known, and Sisko will never have had Akorem with him in the wormhole at all.
Chris
Sat, Dec 1, 2012, 4:00pm (UTC -5)
Apparently Winn has a proper djarra, otherwise I can't imagine her going along with this as Akorem says. How convenient.
David
Sun, Dec 9, 2012, 5:44am (UTC -5)
"It's evident the wormhole aliens have no clue or care about Bajoran politics or religion. Yet, with a convoluted explanation, they are able to convince Akorem that he was making a false presumption that really had no basis, while simultaneously telling Sisko that he is the real Emissary since he taught them the meaning of linear time. It took me a while to put my finger on why I didn't find this completely satisfying, but I think it's because the aliens' answer seems too arbitrary"

I think the issue Jammer is identifying here is that this is the episode where the characterisation of the prophets really begins to change. They were previously portrayed as barely aware Bajor existed. For the first half of the series they were "wormhole aliens", but they really became "prophets" towards the end, they became beings who cared about Bajor and protected Bajor.

Of course, their nature of sitting outside of time makes it hard to tell if this is a retcon or development, haha. By plucking Akorem up and using him to nudge Sisko on the right path, they would seem to have been in "prophet" mode 200 years ago, before they met Sisko or understood what baseball or Bajor were. On the other hand, there is no 200 years ago for them. Maybe by being nonlinear, they are both aware and not aware of Bajor at the same time?

Eh, strictly speaking, in the real world, I think it's a retcon. And that's the problem this episode has, it tries to have it both ways. The prophets can't directly refer to having an "emissary" or to "prophecies" because they don't seem to care about these terms. The writers need them to confirm that Sisko is the emissary without actually admitting that the prophets *have* an emissary, so they just sort of faff around for awhile until Sisko and Akorem get the gist. It's all very awkward!
Nick P.
Thu, Mar 7, 2013, 1:03am (UTC -5)
@Anonymous, to answer your question from 5 years ago :)

"If the Pope asked all practicing Catholics to renounce their jobs and give away all their wealth do you think it would happen?"

I would say RIGHT NOW the answer is no, but if the jewish people had a pope shortly after WW2 and he asked that, would they? I think that answer is a little more difficult. they didn't even have a pope, and many of them did, simply in the belief in their people and their religion. I am not surprised when a largely non-religious audience doesn't understand why someone would give up their life for a religious purpose. Of course Kira would give up everything if the person she believes speaks with prophets told her to.

I loved this episode, but man I am getting SICK of Kiko. Talk about not paying attention to your husband. I am starting to think she may in fact be having an affair.
Jay
Sat, Jun 29, 2013, 2:14pm (UTC -5)
@ Chris...that could potentially be an issue, but the dialogue says that the djarras lasted until the Occupation, and it's possible that Winn is old enough to have already undertaken the Vedek path when the Cardassians invaded.

Every other Trek race conveniently seems to have a longer lifespan than humanity does. Bajorans are probably no exception.
Kotas
Wed, Oct 23, 2013, 6:06pm (UTC -5)
Meh.

4/10
Jack
Wed, Jan 1, 2014, 12:46am (UTC -5)
So what exactly was the point of this episode. The light ship didn't enter the wormhole, so the Prophets suddenly upchucked it. Why did the Prophets do it, and why now? Time isn't linear for them, so what was this...a test of Sisko?
k
Fri, Jan 10, 2014, 8:44am (UTC -5)
I would guess that the djarras where never really all that rigid in reality. When people try to recreate that past, they often attempt to create something that never really existed in the first place. It may be that what they were attempting to recreate was an idealized version of the djarras, rather than what they were actually like.

Perhaps the Bajorans would have done whatever the Emissary wants, but I don't think this would have worked in the long term. It was leading to people doing tasks that they were not qualified for, and even to murder. Here on Earth, no leader of a large religion truly has the power to get all the members to accept radical changes without conflict. IF a religious leader pushes to far, there is schism and internecine warfare.
Jons
Mon, Feb 3, 2014, 5:39am (UTC -5)
I feel like it could have been so much more! The premise of the Djarras is fascinating but there's a disconnect between the lack of reaction of the people (and their immediate submission to it, which is never explained) and the changes the Djarras would bring (i.e. a man from a higher caste can kill an "unclean" one just because he feels like it).

I agree that religious people are irrational BUT precisely because religion is completely irrational, it can be made into what one wants, especially when it goes against one's own interests: I have a hard time believing that the lower-caste people who have risen to positions of power wouldn't have found a way to challenge the new emissary's orders, by pointing out that he may very well be an imposter for example. Just as "higher" caste people who have descended into misery after the occupation would have seized the opportunity immediately to reclaim their family's position. That's how people are.

Or if people were really being submissive, there would have had to be some plausible but overt explanations. For example:
It's a bit unrealistic how somehow Bajorans have managed to completely upend the caste system within only 50 years. If the Djarras were in place up until 50 years ago, you can bet that a large part of the Bajoran population has jobs that are in line with their family's Djarras, would still believe more or less in the caste system, and I have trouble imagining discrimination would have disappeared...
In any case, it should have been explained, because the sudden change (suddenly people who are supposed to never have known the caste system immediately give up their seat for others??), literally overnight is just very strange.

I strongly feel this should have been a two parter, with one part focused on the effects on Bajora (conflicts? civil war? opposition? what of people inter-marrying? What of the First Minister being a farmer? Surely his opponents would have used it against him immediately!) and the other part on Sisko's personal journey.

This episode just underlines how season 4 has been unequal: Lots of great, profound episodes about interesting matters and lots of other completely useless filler episodes...
Jack
Thu, Feb 13, 2014, 4:55pm (UTC -5)
Would have been nice if the Prophets, when sending Akorem back, also restored the Vedek whose death he caused.
Dusty
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 1:36am (UTC -5)
This is a good episode, but it could've been even better. I wanted to learn a little more about the Djarra system, but it was clear that the new guy's proposals were impossible. Bajor can't just turn back the clock and pretend the occupation never happened. You can't ask those people to revert to a stifling caste system that would alienate them from the Federation. You might as well just invite the Cardassians back in! Why didn't anyone bring that up? If a casual fan like me can think of that, it's hard to give the writers an excuse.

There were quite a few parallels here to religious problems we face in real life. The big difference is that HERE, our gods do not appear to us and tell us who's right and who's wrong. That part seemed like a copout. I think the episode should have been more about Sisko and Kira working together to preserve the new peace they've created, with Akorem being revealed as a fraud, or a new villain who really believes the prophets want him in charge. I didn't like how they dropped Kira at the end. She should have felt more strongly about this. She's not a weak-willed follower, she's a soldier. Let her be who she is. That's why we like her.

On the bright side, what happened to Keiko? Sure she's still a bad actress, but her character was actually decent in this episode. No whining, no sniping at Miles or making him feel bad for missing Julian. Seems very unusual for her. xD
Vylora
Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 5:55pm (UTC -5)
The one bit of dialogue that stands out for me is between Kira and Odo. When he states that her faith seems to be at a contradiction and she counters saying if you don't have faith you won't understand. If you do have faith then no explanation is needed. In storytelling terms, specific to Kira in this case, it makes sense from what I've learned of her and her faith. In realistic terms, it shows the circular argument that blind religious following has as part of their case for faith. The argument itself allows the believer to remain ignorant to reality by basically a cop-out. But does that mean Kira is wrong? In my mind, yes. But in context of the overall storytelling arc of her character, the writing itself, the dialogue given, is not wrong. It would make much less sense to me if she suddenly abandoned her faith.

This is a small example of the bigger picture of religion inherent to any characters. Just like any other choices made by the characters - they should be made in accordance of what we know about the character and not necessarily of how we would agree/disagree with them in real life. I would like to have seen an episode where Kira questions her faith and began more logically looked at the reality of the situation. Of course it wouldn't be sudden but would be an interesting arc. But it is not to be and just shows her a flawed Bajoran that makes good and bad choices. The difference between her and, say, someone like Winn, is that Kira is more selfless and works to better herself despite (and sometimes working with) her faith. Winn mostly utilizes her faith, and her post, for political and selfish gains. I enjoy the episodes where Winn seems to want to change for the better. It adds more to her character but ultimately she reverts to her old ways. I'm oversymplifying there a bit but holds true for the most part.

As for the political ramifications on Bajor (or lack thereof) per the ending of this episode - I was under the assumption that, because Kira saw with her own eyes the newly completed poetry, that would also be the case for most of everyone involved. I agree that the ending was a bit tidy though and could have used a bit more in the way of expansion of the dialogue. While I liked the B-story quite a bit, this seems to be a case where an A-story can be improved without it and without missing out on anything in the process.

There really is a lot to like on here and I'm finding myself on the fence of 3 or 3.5 stars. One hand it's definitely a good-quality episode that's made better with some great storytelling, meaty dialogue, and great direction. On the other hand it's sports the hallmarks of a near-classic episode that's held back by a somewhat-too-tidy ending, and an amusingly likeable B-story that could have been sacrificed for the A.
Garrison
Sun, May 4, 2014, 10:04am (UTC -5)
Dusty asks, 'On the bright side, what happened to Keiko? Sure she's still a bad actress, but her character was actually decent in this episode. No whining, no sniping at Miles or making him feel bad for missing Julian. Seems very unusual for her. xD'

I figured she was finally happy finding a purpose in life.

Best exchange in my opinion -
Quark: Mr Worf, did you hear? Keiko's having another baby.
Worf: Now??!!?? (Remembering the events of TNG's "Disaster".)
Yanks
Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 1:38pm (UTC -5)
Just watched this one last night.

Before this ep I didn't realize that any society that employed a cast system could not get into the Federation. Interesting.

This episode is an interesting one that bring up all kinds of issues, questions, etc.

"I pushed him" Wow, didn't see that one coming. The Crusades anyone?

Then Kira letting Sisko know just how much power/influence he had over the Bajoran's, whether he accepted it or not:

"KIRA: Maybe you never realized this, Captain, but we would've tried to do whatever you asked of us when you were Emissary, no matter how difficult it seemed. I'd better get to Ops."

Kira just chokes me up seemingly all the time. What an emotional scene here. Much more of a punch here than when she was reassigned in 'The Homecoming'

"SISKO: I don't doubt I can find someone to fill your post. But to replace you?"

I've seen this ep probably 6 times and I tear up every time. Kira's silent response, that look in her tearing eyes.... (snif) A REAL bond between these two and Kira comes off as so damn genuine. I love her for that.

A-hem... (clears throat)....

Sorry, Yanks swallows...

Onto this episode.

I don't see this as one of those "reset button" episodes. What did you want, to be drug through the D'jarras crap for 4 or 5 episodes? Sisko saw things were not working out, that this was a step backward for Bajor, that in Star Fleet's eyes he had failed so did something about it!

My problem with the solution is this exchange inside the "temple". This catches my ear every time I watch it.

"KIRA: The Sisko taught us that for you, what was, can never be again."

Now this was fine in 'Emissary' when they were talking about Jennifer's death, but just how does it apply here?

Also, I remain a little confused about the 200+ year thing. Just why did they keep this fella for so long if it wasn't to satisfy the scripture? Why didn't they ask him the same questions they did "The Sisko"? I'm OK with him stumbling upon the wormhole, and them helping him, but why keep him? Quite the premonition if this was a test for Sisko.

But it was nice to see Akorem realize these circumstances were not as he saw them and not to fight the emissary thing. But if the prophets don't understand linear time, how do they put him back at the right time in history?

Puzzling... I'm open to answers it anyone has them.

I LOVED the whole Worf, Keiko pregnant thing. I had forgotten that Work delivered Molly on the Enterprise. Very funny there when Work says he's scheduled to be off the station 7 months from now :-)

I didn't want to kill Keiko this episode. I thought it was nice that she saw Miles had developed a relationship with Julian. Miles' initial reaction to her being pregnant was a little “WTF” though.

2.5 for me. Probably a 3.0 or even 3.5 if I understood the whole exchange at the end in the wormhole.
Robert
Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 1:54pm (UTC -5)
"Also, I remain a little confused about the 200+ year thing. Just why did they keep this fella for so long if it wasn't to satisfy the scripture? Why didn't they ask him the same questions they did "The Sisko"? I'm OK with him stumbling upon the wormhole, and them helping him, but why keep him? Quite the premonition if this was a test for Sisko."

It's not linear. Sisko discovered the wormhole first, Sisko made first contact with the wormhole aliens (even first is too linear of a word, but it's tough to explain things otherwise). Just because Akorem got there 200 years before Sisko by our understand doesn't mean they kept him for 200 years or that he didn't get there second by their understanding.

Because they don't understand linear time before they meet the Sisko it's my best guess that their contact with our realm happens in a non linear fashion. I believe that when they open the wormhole they can decide when to let you out the same way that you can tell an elevator what floor you'd like to get off on.

If I want to look for a file on my computer and I can't figure out what folder I put it in or what I named it I might think "when did I work on it" and search for a date range. For them these things are all the same, when is as tangible for them as where and what are to us.

I think from their perspective time doesn't move. They simply exist. They encountered the Sisko and thus had always been aware of him. They encountered Akorem and thought he might be useful to the Sisko so they changed the exist point (in time) of the wormhole and sent him out elsewhen.
Robert
Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 1:57pm (UTC -5)
"But if the prophets don't understand linear time, how do they put him back at the right time in history? "

I'm not convinced this is true. They DIDN'T understand linear time before they met the Sisko, at which point they have always understood it. Well enough, in fact, to send Jennifer Sisko to his father (yes, I think they did that after they met Sisko for a famous Trek paradox).
Yanks
Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 4:47pm (UTC -5)
@ Robert.

Ah, thanks. That makes sense.
Yanks
Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 5:05pm (UTC -5)
@ Robert - Tue, Jul 29, 2014 - 1:54pm (USA Central)

Sorry, I got ahead of myself. :-) I was using Jammer's comment browser and didn't see your first response.

I'm not sure I understand the "it's not linear" thing. Whether they understand it or not, it was linear for us.

But, that said, I suppose we are talking about something that is as foreign to us as linear is to them. So being confused is authorized! :-)

So... how does this "Orb Shadow" play? hmmm... this is sounding like maybe a test? Is this a method of communication to Sisko from the prophets?

Loved seeing Opaka once again. I forgot to mention that.

It was nice to see her "shadow" tell Sisko "You are of Bajor". Stuff like this always meant more to me coming from her. I guess we are right to assume this is coming from the prophets.
Robert
Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 9:23am (UTC -5)
I always thought the orbs exist partially in the prophet's realm and that exposing yourself to it brings you in connection with that realm.

An orb shadow is because it's not linear, so technically once you've been exposed to the prophet's realm a piece of you is always there, since, from the perspective of their realm your exposure is not "in the past".

I'm not saying it all makes perfect sense (and as you say we might not be able to grasp it entirely if it did), but it works a LOT like the Nexus with Picard being able to come out minutes after he was absorbed, Kirk coming out a century later and a piece of Guinan still being connected to it.
Yanks
Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 11:24am (UTC -5)
@ Robert.

Good points all. I like that take on the orbs.

I don't know that the Nexus compairison is the right one though. Linear time was never an issue with it. One exited when one wanted to, not when the Nexus said to.
Robert
Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 12:39pm (UTC -5)
I guess I just mean that Kirk didn't seem to have been in there 100 years and that a piece of Guinan still seemed to be connected to it. I don't mean that it's entirely un-linear, it just didn't feel as linear as our reality. Certain things about that realm seem to work like the prophet's realm. It's probably over complicating it though to compare 2 things we don't understand with each other.
Stuart
Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 7:25pm (UTC -5)
A couple of things that weren't mentioned:

1) Does anyone else think Keiko was a bit of a b*tch for telling Miles they were going to have a baby by letting Molly tell him?

2) I was so convinced that the new Emissary was going to be a shapeshifter. I mean, if the Dominion was watching these goings on from afar, surely they would be kicking themselves that they didn't think of it themselves! How can Sisko not have thought of that possibility? They just accept a guy on his word when he says he's a famous guy from 200 years ago???
Yanks
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 4:54pm (UTC -5)
@ Stuart.

Many here including me already think Keiko is a b*tch. I didn't need this to convince me :-) I didn't think having Molly tell Miles was that bad. I had more a problem with her reaction to his.

"KEIKO: Yeah. I thought you'd be happy. I mean, we talked about it and decided we'd start trying."

*** Heard with that evil Keiko voice accompanied with that evil Keiko expression ***

The "new" emissary being a changeling never occurred to me.
Brian S.
Wed, Jan 28, 2015, 2:21am (UTC -5)
"To continue the Catholic analogy, if Christ himself returned to earth and told people they needed to give thier lives to do something else, don't you think a lot of Catholics (and Protestants too for that matter) would consider doing it?

I think that analogy is more accurate. Oh, and love the reviews!"

That's probably true. Hell, I'm Jewish, and if JC was resurrected and came back to life (and that was somehow verifiable)--or if like Akorem a literary icon from 200 years ago like Mark Twain came back to life-- I'd probably listen, too.

My religious "faith" would probably be a lot stronger if there were physical orbs spread across the planet that led to direct communication with actual aliens.

++++++++++

As for the B-story, I would have much preferred a script that focused more on Molly's refusal to interact with her father.

The writers played up the bit about Miles missing Keiko while she was away, but they gave virtually no credence to the relationship between Miles and his daughter (a relationship that was arguably far more subject to damage by the long time apart).

In this episode, Molly is supposed to be about 4 years old. She hasn't seen her dad in 6 months, and has barely seen him at all over the course of the year. This could have had a crippling effect on Miles as a father. And when Molly refused to play darts with him, even though the writers clearly didn't do anything with it, it hit a nerve with me.

As a father to two small girls, it hurts deeply when work forces me into scarce appearances at home. My baby still lights up at my presence, but my toddler will turn to Mommy for everything. If I try to pick her up, she screams, "No! Want Mommy!" I understand why....it's because my wife is able to be at home more. But it still stings a bit. And that's just after a few late shifts. Molly was gone 6 months. Most kids that age in that position would be standoffish towards the previously absent parent.

Devoting more exploration to that dynamic wouldn't have merely been realistic, it could have made for a very powerful arc all on its own....whether for soldiers who have been deployed, or simply parents who have to work long hours at the cost of their time with their young children.

Miles has essentially missed 1/4 of Molly's entire life, his own daughter regards him as virtually a stranger....and all he can think about is getting back into the holosuites with Julian? That rings extremely hollow for a character who is a supposed family man.
MsV
Thu, Feb 12, 2015, 7:19am (UTC -5)
Sisko did not want to be the Emissary and Akorem wanted the job, but akorem was not qualified. He wanted to bring an old system back that would have destroyed Bajor enternally. Sisko reaiized what he had done and wanted to rectify the situation. The prophet, in their usual cryptic fashion conirms Sisko as Emissary. The show is setting the tone for future shows. Sisko has to come to full terms in order to fulfill his destiny as Emissary.
MsV
Thu, Feb 12, 2015, 7:23am (UTC -5)
I was surprised that no one even thought that since Sisko came back alone, that maybe there was some foul play.
Robert
Thu, Feb 12, 2015, 9:37am (UTC -5)
"I was surprised that no one even thought that since Sisko came back alone, that maybe there was some foul play."

I'm assuming that since he finished his poem they know he went back home.
Icarus32Soar
Sun, Mar 8, 2015, 9:23am (UTC -5)
Waste of 43 mins. Stupid premise about the 200 year thing & Sisko was turned into a wuss.The highlight was Kira's bird sculpture. Enough said.
Teejay
Wed, Jul 1, 2015, 6:11am (UTC -5)
Bad episode, possibly the worst of the season(along with "The sword of Kahless, although in that case, i'll admit I'm just not a fan of Klingon centric stories). The Bajorans come across almost as bad as the rubes following the crazy lady in "Paradise".

Only thing worth seeing in this episode is Worf's reaction to the news that Keiko is pregnant.
Easter
Sun, Sep 27, 2015, 8:00pm (UTC -5)
Kira: "we would have done anything you asked when we thought you were the emissary" No? you wouldn't? You went against his orders and requests literally all the time? There was constant tension on DS9 between bajorans and starfleet which you clearly opposed?

Also the Wormhole Aliens care about Bajor now? What?

This episode was a retcony mess
methane
Sun, Oct 4, 2015, 6:38pm (UTC -5)
-This is 3 stories: a personal story about Sisko finally accepting his status as Emissary (as he's confronted with an alternate Emissary); the story of Bajor dealing with changes brought by a possible new Emissary; and the "B story", Keiko returning to the station. The first works quite well and the last works fine; the middle story is much too simplified. How highly you rank this episode depends on how much you forgive that simplification. As others have pointed out, it's pretty much a given that you can't fit that story into a 45 minute episode while giving it the complexity it deserves.

-Sisko's personal story I think is well done. I would consider the story of Kira in this episode a part of Sisko's story. These 2, as well as Odo, seem to be behaving consistently with how their characters have been defined, and Sisko undergoes a transformation as he decides to accept his role as Emissary, a major change for the series (which is why I wouldn't say this story was a 'reset button' story).

-That middle story is the weak link. As others have pointed out, not every Bajoran would accept this change, and surely some Vedeks would publicly say so. And some of these opponents would justify their position by saying Sisko is the one true Emissary and he can't resign the position. Bajor is a planet with millions of people (I forget the exact number), so there will always be some necessary simplification in these stories. This one simplifies to much, but I'm not really sure how much more in depth they could have added without going to a 2-parter. The story of the TV series is always primarily going to be about our regular and recurring characters; it's a given that Sisko's personal story will get more attention than that of Bajor's populace.

-Others have pointed out Jane Espenson's work on Battlestar Gallactica; I remember her more for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where she wrote several humorous episodes. This subplot definitely seems to have her humor. The fact that she is a woman is probably a reason why Keiko comes off better than normal (there weren't many DS9 episodes written by women).

-Overall, I supposed I'd give it 3 stars. Sisko's personal story by itself would probably get 3.5 stars. I'm being forgiving about the problems on the large scale depiction of Bajor; I certainly understand why others will think differently.

-[Spoilers for the very, very end of DS9 follow.] For the discussion about the prophets: Since Sisko joined the prophets at the end of the series and since the prophets are non-linear, he has always been inside the wormhole. I always imagine him being the 'prophet' who has the most opinions on the outside world & is the driving force when they interact (except in the pilot). Sisko-in-the-wormhole is doing what is necessary to get present-Sisko to man up and embrace being the Emissary. That implies some circular logic (Sisko is doing what Sisko did before) which is always present in certain time-travel stories, but it also fits mythic stories of fate.
Markz
Thu, Nov 12, 2015, 3:34pm (UTC -5)
Bajorans seem so primitive and superstitious; how did they ever invent warp travel?
William B
Tue, Nov 24, 2015, 12:24pm (UTC -5)
This is an effective dramatic work when it's zeroed in on Sisko's POV, and to an extent when it focuses on Kira, though there is something crucial missing from the Kira side of things. Zoom out, and this is actually a pretty damning portrait of Bajoran society at large, which goes mostly unacknowledged by a misleading ending.

To recap, here is what the ending says: the Prophets, seeing that Sisko was not taking his Emissary status seriously enough, sends him an ancient poet to go take over the Emissary position, and so to sow chaos through his attempt to heal Bajor through bigoted classism. Then after a guy gets MURDERED by the episode's main Vedek for being an unclean undertaker and not showing enough respect, Sisko realizes he has to take charge, prove he's the real Emissary and then set things right by telling the Bajorans to ignore what Akorem had just said. The episode basically has the Wormhole Aliens, who now declare themselves to be Of Bajor (which they hadn't before), causing havoc on Bajor until Sisko agrees to toe the line; it has the Bajorans basically agreeing to whatever their religious leader who claims he is the Emissary says, to the point of self-destruction; and it has Sisko deciding it is his responsibility to be full-on a religious icon for the Bajorans, partly because apparently it's Who He Is now, but also because if Sisko doesn't embrace his Emissary role, some other rube will come along, fill that role, and lead the lemminglike Bajorans off a cliff. That Sisko basically has to act as religious figurehead to prevent the Bajorans in general, and Kira in particular, from screwing up their lives, is maybe an ending that needed a little more ambivalence than we got; Sisko now likes doing blessings, yay, but basically Bajorans were willing to change their entire lives based on the supposition that Akoren must have been sent by the Prophets to tell them what to do, which as we see is false. I mentioned The Simpsons' "Last Exit to Springfield" when talking about "Bar Association"; now I'm reminded of Homer's reaction to Gabbo's upcoming first appearance after he had been affected by weeks of content-free advertising: "HE'LL tell us what to do!"

It does make sense to me that the Bajorans are a fragile people, because if nothing else this series (and TNG too, in "The Drumhead" e.g.) reinforces that all society is essentially fragile and requires constant vigilance; Sisko narrowly stopped a Starfleet coup on Earth a few episodes before, the Klingons have flipped recently, Tain brought the Obsidian Order to ruin, etc. But the episode has the Bajorans really just do everything that This Guy says, because he disappeared into the wormhole and came out of it; he was not told he was the Emissary, but inferred it from having spoken to the Wormhole Aliens, and that is good enough for Bajorans. That the Wormhole Aliens actually exist means that the Bajorans *AND SISKO* should think hard about whether they should actually reorder their lives based on the W.A.'s teachings, let alone that they already know that their ability to interpret what the Word of the Prophets actually is is very suspect. Really, there is something condescending, paternalistic, and frightening about the way the Prophets engineer Sisko into taking on the superior role as their puppet/intermediary by sending an alternate Emissary to show not why it's crazy for Bajorans to follow their Emissary wherever he goes, but that it's crazy for them to follow the "wrong" Emissary.

The thing is, I don't mind this as a story...IF the series as a whole allowed for how unsettling this all is. In some ways, of course, Sisko becoming a religious icon specifically so that he can *not* force Bajorans to follow him blindly is far preferable to the alternative presented by Akorem, and Sisko seems to have basically the role that Clone-Kahless has in the Klingon Empire -- a religious figure who has no actual political power. However, the point of "Rightful Heir" is that Clone-Kahless did actually have things to teach about what being a real Klingon is; Sisko, at this point in time, has nothing to teach the Bajorans AS THE EMISSARY, and indeed there is the implication (i.e. from Opaka) that this is why Sisko was chosen -- because he is a blank slate when it comes to Bajoran spiritual life. This actually makes me quite cynically think that he is a convenient tool for the Prophets because he can be, over the long run, manipulated into being their instrument with none of his own (religious) biases, which, well, more on that when we get to "Rapture." But that Bajor "needs" "the Sisko," and needs the Prophets and needs some intermediary, even if it is just to placate them with blessings, is basically unavoidable as of this episode. And Sisko really shouldn't be so happy about it as he is at the episode's end. If Sisko is being set up by the Prophets to interfere directly in Bajor, it is problematic for all the reason that the Prophets interfering in Bajor is problematic, and if he is being set up by the Prophets simply to be there and be a lightning rod for religious devotion, this is a problem too. Ultimately, within the context of this episode, the Prophets have no real message for Sisko or Bajor besides that Sisko should be the Emissary willingly, and not what he should do with that title (besides, not impose classist structures).

I will say that I don't mind the "retcon" of Kira saying that they would have done anything Sisko asked of them. I do think it contradicts the whole way Kira carried herself around Sisko pre-"Destiny," to say nothing of weirdos like Col. Day who tried to murder Sisko for no reason in "The Siege" (and killed Li instead). But Sisko kept his Emissary and Commander Of Deep Space Nine roles separate, in particular distancing himself from Emissary all the time, which means that I think it's pretty plausible that the Bajorans would have done whatever he said if he had claimed the Emissary title...or, at least, THAT KIRA WOULD, and that Kira assumes the rest of Bajor would have followed suit. In reality I think large sectors of Bajor would have opposed the idea of an outsider as religious icon had Sisko tried to do anything with it, but that Kira's particular kind of devotion would mean she would follow Sisko strikes me as plausible.

I think that part of what episodes like this help establish is that DS9's model in telling religious stories really has something to do with epic tradition; methane's last (spoiler) point is a very good example of what the show seems to be trying to do. And that very abstract Epic story of the Joseph Campbellian hero having to accept his destiny is a good story and in that sense the episode mostly works...except that within the context of the Trek universe, the Wormhole Aliens cannot quite function as Greek/Roman gods but are aliens. More to the point, even in that Epic mode, the consequences of Sisko's Destiny have to be examined on their own terms, and that the whole of Bajor would do whatever he wanted if he told them to is pretty weird/screwed up and needs further elaboration even if Sisko will restrain himself from using that power -- which considering he is the guy who cannot have a labour dispute on his station without starting to issue threats is something I find hard to believe. Sisko is maybe a T.E. Lawrence figure, an Outsider who takes on quasi-mythic status (or Paul Atreides in "Dune"), and that is very interesting, potentially, if the series would examine it more closely, and, most importantly, allowed the more worrisome aspects of Sisko being in this position, not as inconvenience for Sisko but for its implications about the Bajoran psyche, to breathe. This episode brings up the problems and then the end of the episode promptly drops them -- which would be okay if it weren't that the series largely drops them as well.

End of part 1 of my comment. Part 2 will be shorter and will talk more about the smaller-scale effectiveness of the story, and the B-plot.
William B
Wed, Nov 25, 2015, 11:15pm (UTC -5)
Part 2 of comment, which alas is not shorter at all:

I talked this episode over with my girlfriend a bit, and we discussed how the Bajorans' total eschewing of personal responsibility in letting the Emissary and tradition dictate their lives to them really does seem realistic. While Akorem having that much personal power and instituting changes so suddenly is implausible, the overall idea that big changes in opinion can happen very quickly, even on large scales, does seem valid. Given that it seems likely that a conservative/reactionary contingent of Bajorans, probably represented by Kai Winn, might have been stoking the fires regarding what has been lost in discarding d'jarras, it also seems as if Akorem may have been something of a figurehead for this change; he remains on the station, no doubt to be closer to the Prophets, but it also means that he does not set foot on Bajor. In that sense, what happens on DS9 seems to be Vedek Porta's trial run for what will become widespread on Bajor. That Bajor is damaged by the Occupation and is searching for a planetary identity in the wake of massive destruction means that returning to a caste system for religious reasons has got to be tempting to a lot of people.

So really it's not quite *what* happens that is my problem with the episode, though maybe aspects of it do bother me. The episode also obviously has the d'jarras be a Bad Idea, and so it is not as if the episode is advocating the instituting of a massive caste system for religious reasons. The issue I have is that the episode drops a bomb here -- the Bajoran social fabric is on the verge of being torn apart by an instability that zeroes in on the intersection of trauma, tradition and faith -- and then the episode just resolves it with "Prophets work in mysterious ways" material. Most particularly, that the Prophets set this in motion to force Sisko into taking on his role means that Sisko basically does come to accept responsibility for a whole planet of people, and while there no doubt are Bajorans out there able to see the problem of Akorem's social changes and the problem of Akorem having that much power just as much as Sisko is, it is ultimately only Sisko who can affect change, and within the episode it is only Sisko who is able to stand up for Bajor against Akorem's (sort of) well-meaning tyranny, and he can only do so by getting the gold star from the Wormhole Aliens who dictate who it is who gets to dictate social policy. Some of this is valuable to help Sisko recognize how much he cares about Bajor, but it leaves a pretty big gap in the story.

The episode shows the Bajoran perspective largely through Kira, who is ambivalent about Akorem's d'jarra policy, seems not to like the idea very much, does not particularly believe she has artistic talent and would have no interest in following that path, left to her own devices. But she is willing to try, and, eventually, willing to resign her commission and essentially give up her life on the station, which has become most of what her life *is*, because she would see herself giving up without devoting herself fully to her d'jarra as a failure of faith. Kira fights hard against external oppression, but her instincts telling her that this is not her path and not what she wants to do are helpless against commands from Above. Her scene with Odo as Akorem announces his Emissarydom officially highlights that the rapidly shifting Absolute Faith in individuals and how confusing this is to someone who is not locked within that faith; Sisko's word *as Emissary* was infallible and she would follow him to the ends of the galaxy, until Akorem, who says completely different and even opposite words, comes in and has the new infallibility, until Sisko gets it back, and we learn that Akorem didn't have all the answers after all. Kira mostly shrugs it off, and then the last scene she laughs about her sculpture and then gets weirded out by the (pretty unnecessary in this episode) time paradox and that's it. That Kira was willing to give up her self-direction entirely because Akorem insisted this was the way and he seemed to be the holiest of men, until he wasn't, goes mostly uncommented on.

Anyway, I realize that my biases are colouring my reaction here, so let me step back a moment: it is not Sisko's place to impose a set of values on Bajor, and to some degree it is not the place of the audience to fully judge them. As the discussion has been going in the "Bar Association" thread, to some degree we are meant to get into the minds of other societies and to take those values on their own terms. I am not exactly doing that here, and that suggests the ways the episode is both more and less complex than it seems: maybe Bajor has some sort of symbiotic relationship with its "gods" which is too precious for the Federation (or the Klingons or Cardassians or Ferengi or...) to mess with, and as long as it's possible that the Prophets really did intend for Akorem to be The Emissary, and that he would thus have the place to dictate what is and is not a holy manner of living, it may be hard to say for certain that the Bajorans are "wrong" to institute their caste system. The thing is, TOS explored what it meant for there to be powerful beings worshipped by humanoids all the time, and the powerful beings usually turned out to be computers that Kirk decided he should destroy to force people into freedom. Here, there are powerful beings who may or may not be "of Bajor," who may or may not have an actual hand in Bajoran history, especially since they have previously claimed total disinterest in corporeal life forms.

It's all very messy. In any case, if Jaro succeeded in taking over the Bajoran government and instituted the d'jarra system, Bajor's admittance into the Federation would be off the table, and the Federation and probably Ferengi and maybe even modern Klingons would recoil a little at the caste system being imposed on the Bajoran people. The Federation philosophy would oppose the restrictions on personal freedom, the Ferengi would oppose the idea that a person is limited in what they can acquire (though they have gender discrimination), and while the Klingons had a caste system there are implications that this is slowly dissolving and that people can succeed coming "from nothing." (Spoilerish: see some of the discussion in s7's "Once More Unto the Breach.") However, Bajorans are the only ones who should boss around Bajorans is the general rule here, and the Prime Directive does and should apply -- Sisko could make an impassioned argument against Jaro or Winn or Shakaar or Bareil or Kira or whatever other Bajoran political or military leader's decision about Bajoran people, but ultimately internal matters are internal. And hey, maybe the d'jarras work for Bajorans. We hear about the possible advantages of the d'jarra system, and it is consistent with the picture of a Bajor which is an artistic haven, that there really was an artisan class who *could* produce art and things of beauty without "having to" put up with the stuff of mere survival. I am not advocating for such a system, any more than I advocate for Klingon warrior ethos or Ferengi uber capitalism, but it makes sense to allow the Bajorans to decide what system works for them. And on that level for me to blithely suggest that Bajoran society is imploding because they are instituting a caste system is silly.

HOWEVER, we have never heard of the d'jarras before this episode, and Kira is basically our entire picture of the Bajoran reaction. Vedek Porta is part of the religious authority and he fully supports the Emissary, to the point where he later murders a guy. But Kira is the "everyBajoran," and mostly what we learn is that the d'jarra sucks for her and she would not be considering it at all if she didn't believe that the d'jarra suggestion had divine providence. Now, the necessity of Kira being the whole of Bajor in this episode is part of the problem with one-episode stories, and with the episode's introducing and removing it. If the d'jarras maybe could be "good" for Bajor -- or, more to the point, if a large proportion of Bajorans agree with Akorem that the d'jarras are a good idea, and the possibility has just not come up recently -- then that is interesting and should be taken on and weighed appropriately, and then the primary problems become whether or not the d'jarras are good for Bajorans as a whole, how they affect individual Bajorans, and how they affect Bajorans' relations with other cultures. However, if Kira is representative and it seems largely as if the d'jarras are taken for granted as an antiquated notion which has no place in modern Bajor and which are wholly inconvenient, BUT WE'LL REORGANIZE OUR LIVES TO FOLLOW THEM IF THE EMISSARY TELLS US TO, then the primary problems have to do with whether it makes sense for Bajorans to follow the Emissary wherever he tells them. I have largely been assuming the latter case -- that the d'jarras are far in the rear-view mirror for most Bajorans and that for the most part only remnants of the former aristocracy would want it to be reinstated, and even relatively few of those, Kira for one being much happier where she is. Moreover, I tend to assume that Sisko did not actually tell Bajorans as the Emissary to stop with this d'jarra stuff, which means that the fact that the d'jarra issue instantly disappears, at least from our perspective as audience members, suggest that the d'jarra enthusiasm was primarily based on the presumption of Akorem's divine inspiration and nothing else. And so it does seem that the issue is then all about how Bajorans relate to their Emissary.

So that being the case, the big questions that always come up come up here. Bajorans having a religion that dictates a lot of their spiritual life is an internal matter, if their Gods don't actually exist. Once they do exist, and communicate with them, then there are verifiable/non-verifiable claims, and moreover the noninterference becomes tricky because suddenly there is no "internal to Bajor" anymore, and the Prophets are as external to Bajor as the Cardassians (more so, in many ways), and so the question of how exactly Federation interlopers like Sisko are supposed to respond, particularly when they drag him into things as their Emissary. And again, it is really important to note that there are multiple levels here: Bajorans presume that the Wormhole Aliens are morally infallible and sit in judgment, etc., etc., and they also presume that they can interpret what the Prophets say, and then they also presume that if some guy saw the Prophets in the wormhole and then went through time, that they have to do everything he says because they presume that that is what the Prophets wanted. This episode resolve the telescoping issues by having it made clear that, no, Sisko is the real Emissary, which only scratches the surface of the issues here. Sisko is the Real Emissary, and Akorem is not, and that's great, but whether Bajorans should give the power to the Emissary that they do, or to the Prophets that they do, or that Sisko as Emissary should give himself over to the Prophets as much as he does here, are questions that remain unanswered and almost unexamined. Of course, this is an episode in an ongoing narrative, and that helps and harms it: it helps it because not everything has to be dealt with now, but it harms it because it may be that the issues are never really examined closely enough to disentangle them.

Oh and also, Bashir and O'Brien are friends. I actually like the subplot and I think that Keiko does indeed come across better than in other episodes (I agree with methane that Jane Espenson's good humour and perhaps female perspective helps). I agree with, eg., Elliott above that this seems unnecessary, especially in the middle of this particular episode. However I am inclined to think that more work to solidify the Bashir/O'Brien bond may be in order a few episodes before "Hard Time," and so I don't mind the subplot for itself, even though this is probably not an episode that should have housed it. It is interesting that O'Brien's joy at Keiko's return and his realization that he's going to be a father a second time is very shortly eclipsed by how he misses Bashir and Molly is not as fun a darts player, but I digress. Best moment of the episode probably is Worf's panicked reaction to finding out about Keiko's pregnancy.

I maybe make it sound like I don't like the episode, but that is not the issue exactly. I think that what it does, it does fairly well, but it is very difficult to ignore what the rushed ending leaves unsaid. 2.5 stars, I guess.
William B
Wed, Nov 25, 2015, 11:19pm (UTC -5)
Summary: Jammer is right when he says the first four acts are much better than the last. The first four could have been a part of a great story, if the story were allowed to continue on. And even if the episode's material were largely dropped, the Sisko character development could go very interesting places...if the full implications of the Wormhole Aliens putting him through his paces to make him toe the line were examined. The series never quite points out how screwed up the way the Prophets treat Sisko and Bajor as a whole is.
MartinB
Thu, Dec 10, 2015, 5:45am (UTC -5)
I watched this episode again today and I find the ending hard to believe. Sisko takes Akorem into the wormhole to ask the Prophets who should be the real Emissary and they do their thing and its sorted out. Now, as viewers we know what happened, but how would it look to those left on the station? Or on Bajor? From their point of view, Sisko took Akorem, a man he publicly oppossed, away from everyone, then returned without him, saying that the Prophets said he should be Emissary after all. And everyone accepts that? As far as they know, Sisko could have beaten Akorem to death with a tricorder and dumped him in the Gamma Quadrant then just said the Prophets decided, but no one ever questions it! Its not like Sisko is above physical violence, having even punched Q in the face before!
Robert
Thu, Dec 10, 2015, 11:33am (UTC -5)
Well I assume that the ending with Kira was meant to imply that the Bajorans now have records of him returning to his own time.
Diamond Dave
Fri, Jan 1, 2016, 4:27pm (UTC -5)
This one nails two of the three main plot details for me. The path of Sisko's less than happy assumption of Emissary status, and his happiness in ditching it, is nicely mapped out. The fact that the alternative is worse, and that actually he might have a beneficial role to play in what was previously an inconvenience is a strong story. The B-story featuring Miles is also well handled, and feels like an unusually real little story.

What feels less real is the rush to accept the new Emissary and the enthusiasm (real or forced) into returning to the caste system. And indeed Odo's commentary neatly skewers the ease at which the Bajorans transition from one to another. It all feels accelerated and forced - what probably should have happened is schism and civil war. So the ending also feels like a cop-out to me, in that it neatly hits reset.

For the second episode in a row Worf gives the best delivery (sic). "Now?" indeed. 3 stars.
Luke
Mon, Apr 11, 2016, 8:35am (UTC -5)
It is episodes like this that make it impossible for me to stay angry at Star Trek for long periods of time. Trek has always (right from the beginning) had the habit of putting really bad and really good episodes close together. "The Alternative Factor" was followed immediately by "The City on the Edge of Forever". "Spock's Brain" was followed immediately by "The Enterprise Incident". "Half a Life" was preceded by "The Drumhead". "Homeward" was preceded by "The Pegasus". So, it's not really a surprise to me that they followed the absolutely abysmal "Bar Association" with the wonderful "Accession". And it succeeds brilliantly where "Bar Association" failed - it gives equal time and respect to both sides of the argument.

"Deep Space Nine" has always been really good when it comes to its treatment of religion and all of its multifaceted aspects and this episode is no different. We have religious people are good, honest folk who try to live their faith in respect and peace, like Kira. We also have people who allow that faith to lead them to do truly barbaric acts, like the fundamentalist, murderous Vedek. We even have the atheistic worldview presented by Odo, who finds the whole situation somewhat intriguing but ultimately puzzling and incomprehensible. What really stands out, however, is how Kira's story, despite being one where she mightily struggles with the implications of her faith, is still one that is nothing but a story of an intelligent woman grappling with these challenges. Nicely done! And having Akorem be so reasonable was also a nice touch. He's not a power-hungry manipulator out to only help himself. He honestly believes that the d'jarras will help heal Bajor of its wounds. And when confronted with evidence that he's wrong, he's willing to accept that. If this were something along the lines of "Who Watches the Watchers?", I could easily see it ending with either the Starfleet characters demanding that Kira renounce her faith as the backward force for harm it is after the murder by the Vedek or by having Akorem stubbornly refuse to relinquish his position back to Sisko. But "Deep Space Nine" treats its audience with respect when it comes to its religious themes. Again, nicely done.

But the real highlight is Sisko's story. Here we are, exactly half-way through "Deep Space Nine's" run (there are 173 episodes and this is #86 - the exact midpoint) and we're finally getting back to Sisko's role as the Emissary. And "Accession" is where the writers make the stunning choice to allow their Starfleet Captain character to embrace his status as a religious icon and so separate themselves from Trek's tendency to view open religious expression skeptically. This alone is worthy of high praise. Given that most of Trek's audience is modern, liberal and atheistic/agnostic, it's even more praiseworthy. The writers could have viewed Sisko's status as a religious icon as "too dangerous" (it certainly didn't go over well with a lot of hardcore Trek fans). Instead, they decided this was their show and that they would tell the story they wanted to tell. I wish more shows (especially Trek ones) would show those kinds of guts. However, the decision to embrace Sisko's spiritual journey wasn't made haphazardly. Sisko has slowly been developing in this direction for years, and they made him realize his significance to the Bajoran religion without changing who he is or forcing him to make a decision that goes against his development to date. Also, they didn't have him take on the role of Emissary in name only. By the end, it's clear that Sisko has really come to appreciate his role in the faith. His smile as the couple ask him for the Emissary's blessing says it all. He hasn't yet converted or started attending services, but he does feel comfortable playing a roll in Bajoran ceremonies now. I have to congratulate the series for being brave enough to stand for something other than Trek's standard scientism.

Oh, and there's a B-plot involving Keiko's return to the station full time. Compared to the A-plot it's nothing special. But it's pleasant and agreeable enough. And it gives us some nice light-hearted moments in an otherwise serious episode. It even uses Quark effectively. And after "Bar Association" that is indeed a welcome relief! "See Brak acquire. Acquire, Brak, acquire!" - okay, that's genuinely funny!

HOLODECK TOYS - 12 (+3) .... by the way, the B-plot establishes that people, or at least O'Brien, actually are stuffing their closets full of these things.

9/10
Luka
Sat, Jun 25, 2016, 6:37pm (UTC -5)
When Sisko and Laan are discussing settling who the real emissary is, I laughed to myself and said they should've played a game of darts to determine it. All kidding aside though this was a damn great episode. O'Brien trying to adjust to being a family man and leaving his bachelor life behind. Usually the Bajoran episodes can be a bit dull but this one was really good.
Skywalker
Tue, Jun 28, 2016, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
Did anyone else notice that the doll Molly is holding in the first scene has Bajoran nose ridges?! Because they were on Bajor for so long!! I think that's a brilliant touch. I love this show.
Skywalker
Tue, Jun 28, 2016, 8:07pm (UTC -5)
Another nice touch: out of the corner of my eye I could have sworn the Starfleet PADDs had Apple logos on the back! I went back and looked again: it's just the Starfleet logo. But how remarkably similar to today's tablets! Life imitates art.

Generally about the episode, I also thoroughly appreciated it. "For the Sisko," the Prophets say. Nice! "The Sisko is of Bajor."

And let me be another to resound the hilarity of terrified Worf shouting, "NOW?!"
Moegreen
Mon, Jul 25, 2016, 2:18pm (UTC -5)
I feel very privilaged not to have had to endure 'G'dol's' Lament at school.
dave
Sat, Sep 17, 2016, 3:26am (UTC -5)
DS9 as we all know is awesome

HOWEVER

It could have done without this prophet crap.

Look, they are beings living in the wormhole that are not bound by time. No problem. They served their purpose with destroying the dominion fleet for example. HOWEVER, this whole crap about emmisaries and religion is crap. Newsflash: The aliens who live in that wormhole don't give a shit about being prophets and likely have no idea what it means. They sent out orbs to try to communicate and understand the galaxy, and the Bajorans decided to turn it into a religion. That is it.

I don't know who in DS9 writing decided this was a great path, they should have got rid of it after the 2nd season. I enjoyed the religious arcs of seasons 1 and 2. But to have it going all the way through the series was annoying. it is pretty clear the wormhole beings are not dieties, not gods, and have no powers other than to control their own wormhole and to jump around in time.
NCC-1701-Z
Fri, Dec 23, 2016, 5:53pm (UTC -5)
Worf's reaction to learning that Keiko was pregnant again was a hilarious callback to TNG's "Disaster" ("I will be far away. Visiting my parents. On Earth.")
Caedus
Thu, Feb 9, 2017, 10:18pm (UTC -5)
Curious the prophets say regarding Laan that they were more than willing to let him die.

I seriously get the impression their not moral by any appreciable standard.

What if they did support the D'jarras? Or ethnic cleansing? Retaliatory genocide against the Cardassians?

DS9 obviously wasn't willing to dare go that far.
Peter Swinkels
Wed, Jun 7, 2017, 3:10pm (UTC -5)
Nothing to add except that Akorem being sent back to his own time and surviving is next to meaningless concerning its effects on what's the "present". Worf's reaction to Keiko having another baby was hilarious. :-)
Startrekwatcher
Fri, Jul 28, 2017, 4:25pm (UTC -5)
2 stars. Vastly overrated. Pretty dull. Writers can try to do sophisticated stories but if they are tedious and plodding what's the point?
kapages
Sun, Nov 12, 2017, 2:26pm (UTC -5)
The Cardassians could learn a thing or two from the British_Raj
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India
Andrew
Wed, Dec 27, 2017, 12:06pm (UTC -5)
I always thought the idea of the prophets existing outside of linear time was pretty fascinating. It is Sisko in the first episode who teaches them about linear time when they appear to have no knowledge of it and no interest in “corporeal matters.” To the prophets all of this is happening simultaneously whether it’s past present or future. In fact, one could suggest that Sisko introducing the prophets to linear time and corporeal matters is what causes them to send orbs and prophecies to the Bajorans in the past. So Sisko makes them realize they have an interest in corporeal matters such as Bajor, and here the prophets return the favor by telling Sisko himself that he is “of Bajor.” What appear to be inconsistencies with how the show treats the prophets (such as their level of interest in the Bajoran people and Sisko’s life) actually makes sense when you think about. Because they exist outside of linear time, the prophets can essentially “retcon” themselves and do things in the past with the knowledge they have gained in the future.
Sleeper Agent
Sat, Jan 20, 2018, 4:02pm (UTC -5)
Absolutely smashing episode with a smooth flow from the first minute to the last. I really like that they shed some light on the whole emissary issue, which I for one, didn't feel they had properly dealt with until now. However, I can see that people with faith in nothingness (i.e. atheism) roll their eyes to this one. For everybody else it should be a treat.
Iceman
Mon, Aug 20, 2018, 1:55am (UTC -5)
Wow. "Acession" is one of the episodes that I don't remember being particularly fond of, but I was pretty blown away on re-watch. It's an excellent episode, undone slightly by a relative lack of consequences. The story is incredibly engaging and riveting start to finish. My main problem with it is that "Acession" does such an effective job at painting a damning picture of Bajor that it's a shame that DS9 never really explores that.

3.5 stars.
Garth of Izar
Fri, Sep 14, 2018, 6:11pm (UTC -5)
Sisko to Kira: I don't doubt that I can find someone to fill your post. But to _replace_ you...

More genuine emotion and character chemistry than seven seasons of Voyager.
Iceman
Wed, Dec 12, 2018, 10:25pm (UTC -5)
@Garth of Izar-

I like your taste in Star Trek :-).
Springy
Sat, Jan 5, 2019, 1:31am (UTC -5)
I liked the B plot better than the A, with the sweet depiction of the solid and loving O'Brien marriage, and Worf getting so immediately anxious about Keiko's pregnancy. Cute touch.

The A plot was full of my least favorite things . . . Brooks' acting, Bajoran mumbo jumbo, and flimsy plot devices. Emissary, Shemissary, I wish this was not part of the show, i.e., that Sisko was not a religious icon. It makes so little sense, it's so uninteresting. And he's told he's "of Bajor?" What does that mean? Ah, I want to wait forever to find out, but I'm guessing I won't get to.

Average ep, overall.
William B
Sat, Jan 5, 2019, 1:38am (UTC -5)
@Springy, this episode was a Jane Espenson script. I presume that there are significant rewrites, but I could definitely see her writing that Worf line.
Iceman
Sun, Jan 6, 2019, 1:36pm (UTC -5)
@William B-

Imagine what could have been if she'd joined the writing staff to replace Robert Hewitt Wolfe instead of Weddle and Thompson. Not to attack them or anything, but their output could charitably called uneven. Yes, television's a collaborative process, but that can't be a coincidence. She's a fantastic writer-she can do comedy ("Band Candy") and drama ("Conversations With Dead People") really well.
William B
Sun, Jan 6, 2019, 1:51pm (UTC -5)
@Iceman, yeah, I'm a fan of hers. And I agree about Weddle & Thompson, who had some decent scripts but had some clunkers, sometimes at really bad times (Sons and Daughters, Extreme Measures). I haven't checked their overall output on the show. Though in fairness, I think that both episodes were conceived as standalones in the middle of an arc, with a lot to live up to, and so it's maybe not entirely their fault they didn't really succeed. Interestingly both W&T and Espenson ended up on BSG, and I think there both had somewhat mixed results (I gather that Espenson is disliked within BSG circles).
Springy
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 12:49am (UTC -5)
Interesting about Espenson. Agree her touch shows is the ep.

Having read the comments, my only further comment is to say I thought the ep was about the roles we choose to play - well, those we choose, and those that are thrust upon us - and how we prioritize, perform, integrate and balance them (and accept or reject them). And how the roles we play help answer the question: Who are you?

We see this primarily with Emissary and Captain Sisko, Major and Sculptor Kira, and Family Man and Drinking Buddy O'Brien.
Iceman
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 8:07am (UTC -5)
@William B-

I don't mind "Extreme Measures" so much, actually. Its plot is not great, but it focuses on the O'Brien/Bashir relationship a lot, which is automatically a huge positive for me. "Sons and Daughters" does not have that, and "The Reckoning" destroys any hope of the religious side of DS9 reaching a satisfying conclusion.
William B
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 10:35am (UTC -5)
@Iceman, I had forgotten that W&T did The Reckoning. Yeesh. The Bashir/O'Brien stuff in Extreme Measures isn't bad and I do enjoy those two together, it's more just that for me it bites off more than it can chew in terms of wrapping up the 31 thread, and to a lesser extent some danging elements of Bashir's character arc, though the latter is more successful.
Rahul
Thu, Feb 28, 2019, 9:24pm (UTC -5)
Mostly intriguing episode that gets to the heart of what DS9 was in the 1st 2 seasons and thus feels somewhat out of place in Season 4. The best aspects of it are the quandary it puts Sisko in and how potentially there could be massive changes to the series, but it all gets wrapped up too conveniently with a quick trip to the wormhole and the Prophets basically deciding. So it is a bit of a reset and is probably inconsequential.

Akorem doesn't come across as forceful although the changes he brings about are drastic -- we have to take the Bajorans as unwavering in their faith such that they willingly and gladly regress some 200 years and bring back a caste system. I liked the exchange between Kira and Odo where he tells her he doesn't get her faith but she responds that once you have faith, no explanation is necessary -- quite profound.

This was one of the better acting performances for Brooks IMO -- in general I think his acting is a weakness -- but here, the more contemplative Sisko is well done as he realizes he might well have failed in his mission to get Bajor into the Federation. Of course it had to take a death due to the reversion to the caste system to spark Sisko into challenging Akorem for who should be the Emissary.

I've always liked how Kira's faith in the Prophets is portrayed. She tries sculpting to no effect and is ready to resign and go back to being an artist.

As for the B-plot, with Keiko coming back and the adjustment for O'Brien, it's a good fit for the A-plot. On it's own, it's good as well as change with the return of Keiko means a permanent re-adjustment for him and Bashir. Their friendship seems almost more important than O'Brien's marriage but at least Keiko wasn't annoying and she actually tricks Miles and Julian into spending more time together, which was a good twist.

2.5 stars for "Accession" -- the ending is too convenient and a let-down after some pretty intelligent but not outstanding buildup. The cryptic Prophets and the Kai Opaka vision -- I've never been a fan of them but we can take their representations as more symbolic than how they are physically portrayed I think. Probably would appear to the Bajorans rather suspicious when Sisko returns from the wormhole without Akorem, however the ending is too convenient and a Bajoran couple have no problem coming to Sisko for a blessing.
Caz
Sat, Mar 2, 2019, 12:16pm (UTC -5)
Judging from some of the reactions on here to religious ideas, it is harrowing to know just how little the serious fans of scence fiction programming understand or care about adherence to organized religion. Could any of you even imagine being a Christian (ie Catholic) prior to the Protestant Reformation? Do you know what it's like to actually respect authority, or at least see the demands of an authority as being equivalent to your own desires?

The episode is okay, but I could write a thesis on the reaction to it on this page, how it reflects the individualism, the post-Enlightenment self-interested rationalism, and the consumerist effect of the Reformation on religion that has led to modern secularism. Then I could write another thesis - this time a purely philosophical one - on the contradictions of believing in self-actualization as a high value at the same time you believe in sacrifice for the group. It would be entertaining if it weren't so clearly inchoate as a moral perspective, and therefore slightly alarming on a cultural level.
Tempeh
Sun, Mar 3, 2019, 7:02am (UTC -5)
This is probably one of the best Bajoran-centered episodes. Very compelling drama all around.
Elliott
Wed, Mar 6, 2019, 2:21pm (UTC -5)
Teaser : ***, 5%

Keiko is finally returning to DS9, and I'm allowing myself to be cautiously optimistic, despite the bromantic Bashir/Miles antics we have to endure. Well, it turns out she's pregnant from one overnight visit last month or whatever.

Meanwhile, a Bajoran monk and a young Bajoran couple have been invited to Ops to meet the Emissary. I'm already having “Destiny” flashbacks. Please, DS9, you've been doing so well this season! Please don't...just don't...sigh...

The couple is here to receive “the marriage blessing,” which he performs with about as much enthusiasm as most humans not conjured up by Michael Piller enjoy a baseball game. Kira smiles, apparently pleased that her Florence Nightingale bs from “Starship Down” has paid off in some way. Dax has nothing helpful to say, commenting that she thinks she'd enjoy being a religious icon like him. Dax? Conceited, you say? Naaaww...

Anyway, the plot begins in earnest as a Bajoran lightship—last scene implausibly defying physics in “Explorers,” tumbles out of the wormhole. Hmm. They beam the single occupant to the infirmary and he awakens to inform them all that *he* is the Emissary. While much damage has been done to the concept of Bajoran religion up to this point, I'm not going to actually hold that history against this episode. For now, the story possibilities this plot twist provide the series are intriguing.

Act 1 : ***.5, 17%

The Bajoran man explains that he was “drawn into” the wormhole/celestial temple He describes his interaction with the prophets, a very special privilege reserved for emissaries and Ferengi conmen. What's key here is the description of the Prophets giving him his life back, of making him reborn. In his case, this is literal, as they apparently healed a fatal wound he incurred. But they did the same for Sisko in a more abstract sense, giving him back his life by teaching him to let go of the past. Now that Sisko is with Kassidy, we can see that on some level, this lesson has been learnt. Anyway, the man, Cardamom or something, believes only days have passed since the incident, when it's actually been a couple of centuries. Kira recognises his name as one of Bajor's major poets. Oh, and he's also a throwback classist, as he is confused as to why someone named Kira would have a military rank. See, Bajorans recently used a caste system, called the Dijaree-doos or whatever. She explains that the Bajorans gave up the system during the Occupation; apparently this was a luxury they couldn't afford. So, I'm going to be generous here and point out that the fact that the Bajorans willingly gave up this absurd and anti-progressive practice in short order is a positive sign for their culture—one that is desperately needed. If they can do away with that nonsense in order to fight the Cardassians, maybe they can abandon their theocratic tendencies and other backwards practices in order to join the Federation. We'll see.

So now is where we tie things in directly to “Destiny.” Sisko has been studying the prophecies, as Stanley Tucci directed, and tells Dax (with much relief it must be noted) that they “make much more sense” when applied to Cardamom than to himself.

DAX: Benjamin, I thought you didn't believe in the prophecies.
SISKO: I don't.
DAX: Then why are you using them to justify giving up your position?
SISKO: I guess I was looking for something to convince me that I was making the right decision.

This is very good in several respects. In “Starship Down” the attempt to have a serious religious discussion was sabotaged by not giving Sisko any lines so we could understand how he felt about his role in Bajoran faith. And “Destiny” left us with the very problematic supposition that Sisko had been convinced of the religion's validity by a very contrived and infuriating set of circumstances. Now we see that really, Sisko has been skeptical of this stuff from day 1, that despite sanctimonious speeches to his son about “both sides,” he maintained a relatively agnostic position about his role, outside of seemingly innocuous ceremonies for what are likely political reasons.

On the other hand, according to that old Vedek, the Bajorans—all of them—will easily accept that Sisko isn't their real Emissary any longer (or never was, I guess). These would be the same Bajorans who accepted quite easily that Sisko was the Emissary to begin with because Opaka told them so—I think. I don't think this process was ever explained to us. Even Bitchwhore, who is actively antagonistic towards Sisko accepts him as the Emissary because, um, faith of the heart?

We check with O'Brien and his new bundle of subplot. While the little nod with Worf and the delivery of Molly back in “Disaster” is appreciated, the joke is kind of killed by excessive dialogue: “far away...visiting my parents...on Earth...” I laughed when Worf screamed “NOW?!” upon learning of Keiko's pregnancy. The belaboured sitcommy stuff that follows almost ruins things.

Back to the a-plot. Odo comments on Kira's remarkable change of heart, abandoning Sisko-as-Emissary and embracing Cardamom.

ODO: Does that mean he never really was the Emissary?
KIRA: No.
ODO: But they can't both be.
KIRA: I don't know. What do you want from me, Odo?
ODO: Forgive me, Major, I don't mean to be difficult, but your faith seems to have led you to something of a contradiction.
KIRA: I don't see it as a contradiction.
ODO: I don't understand.
KIRA: That's the thing about faith. If you don't have it, you can't understand it, and if you do, no explanation is necessary.

Oh boy...let's dive in.

First of all, Kira's point about not having to prove one's faith is correct. This is something that's been sorely missing from the series thus far. All of the attempts to prove that the Prophets really are gods undermine actual faith and make the DS9 writers look like virtue-signalling rubes. Wisely, we already saw Sisko imposing his own biases onto the prophecies to see *what he wants to see*, and acknowledging this to Dax. And now, Kira is explaining to Odo that faith—real faith is by definition irrational. So, Espenson has managed to quite skilfully gloss over many of the conceptual problems with Wormholism. Odo rightly calls her out on the fact that being credulous means walking yourself into inescapable logical corners, but Kira gets away with this with him because, well, he wants to pull a Yaphit on her inside bits.

But instead of letting Kira off the hook completely, we see the more far-reaching consequences to blind belief. Cardamom makes his first Emissary speech on the Promenade and proclaims that they are returning to the way of the Dijaree-doo, to the caste system which locks Bajorans into particular occupations (and we will soon see, social strata) based on their heredity. Like a good zealot, he ties this conservative bullshit into the recent traumatic past “we let the gays get married, and now there are hurricanes!” Unlike in, say, “Fascination,” the totality of what it means to have a religion is not shied away from. We don't just have random holidays about atonement or months of fasting that make us seem more spiritual; the religious life is a conviction that pits faith against reason. He closes with the ominous line:

AKOREM: If we do this, if we follow our D'jarras, then Bajor will flourish again and become the green and peaceful land I remember. It will be as if the occupation never happened. By returning to our D'jarras, we will have erased it for ever.

Sounds healthy.

Act 2 : ***, 17%

Sisko confronts Cardamom in private over his speech. He explains that if Bajor follows this path and doubles down on its more conservative elements, its petition to join the Federation will fail. This is another FANTASTIC retcon to the ongoing story, as we are finally acknowledging the myriad problems of this premise. We also learn that Kai Bitchwhore has enthusiastically embraced this new path. Please try and act surprised. Sisko brushes up against the PD (rightfully) to implore them to reconsider Federation membership, but there's no light at the end of that tunnel.

We pick up with a morose Sisko in the replomat. Kira is given a seat by a “lower ranking” Bajoran. I guess their Dijaree-doos are etched into their earrings?? Sisko notes that the Bajorans seemed to have embraced these changes very rapidly. Yeah...Here is where things slip a bit. Kira remarks that if Sisko had asked the Bajorans to do similarly “difficult” things when he was Emissary, they would have tried to comply. Kira has framed the sociopolitical changes in terms of being “difficult” because, apparently, Espenson isn't quite brave enough to ask Kira about the *ethics* of the caste system. Is it difficult to accept your Dijaree-doo because it's like receiving a promotion you didn't earn, or because it's fucking wrong to put people into castes, especially based on their bloodlines? We shan't make her answer that question it seems.

We later see Sisko restlessly roaming the station in the middle of the night where he's confronted by...Opaka! Maybe she finally figured out how to escape that weird Mad Max planet. Actually it's just a vision; she exclaims, “How can I know someone who doesn't know himself?” Cue ominous music.

Act 3 : ***, 17%

Bashir diagnoses the vision as “an Orb Shadow.” He's full to bursting with convenient Bajoran exposition that he has no business knowing about, and Sisko cheesily brushes off the experience as something he can wilfully ignore.

Meanwhile, Kira is trying to follow the new Emissary's will by sculpting some really shitty clay birds. When she asks the old Vedek what to do, he exclaims that she must *fully* embrace the “will of the Prophets” and take off that uniform. Dirty old man.

We check in briefly with the O'Briens. It's inoffensive but, replete with a lot of sad longing looks and plaintive oboe melodies that are supposed to convey this great tragedy about Miles not being able to play with Julian anymore. Or something.

After listening to Sisko bitch a bit about his problems, Kira informs him that she is indeed resigning. One thing I really wish we had a handle on is exactly *how* religious Kira is by Bajoran standards. “In the Hands of the Prophets” informed us that she is actually a member of one of the most conservative sects of the faith, and we've seen that she's especially interested in the epistemology of her religion (in her discussions with Driftwood). Yet she is not amongst the first to cast off her Dijaree-doo-incompatible job. Have her convictions changed? What does her new boyfriend, the rebel-turned-leader Shakaar think about this? While I am bothered by some of these gaps in the narrative, it should be noted that Nana Visitor knocks this performance out of the park.

Act 4 : **.5, 17%

We pick with a murder. Um...hurray! The old Vedek admits that he pushed another Vedek to his death because his Dijaree-doo is “unclean.” Ahh. Well, this falls into the same framework as Quinn's death wish from my last review; this is Trek blowing up an issue and taking it to an extreme to make the point clear. And boy is it. The problem? Much like we don't really understand how Kira's religiosity measures up to the average Bajoran, we don't know how this old monk's behaviour exemplifies their culture. In a normal Trek episode, with the alien of the week, we can usually assume that the character with the speaking role in some way represents his society at large. But we are talking about a species that has at this point nearly seven years of on-screen history on Star Trek. And yet, I still don't know whether he is to be regarded as an extremist or a demonstration of what Bajorans are capable of given certain leadership. Given some of what we saw in Season 2, it may very well be the latter. I think that's an even bigger dis-qualifier for Federation membership, no?

Cardamom is taken to task over the incident.

AKOREM: Must I remind you, Captain? I am merely fulfilling the will of the Prophets.
SISKO: How do you know that?
AKOREM: I'm the Emissary.

Again to bring up “Death Wish,” despite some problems with this story, I can feel how the topic of Bajoran faith is being transformed into something that actually works as a Trekkian commentary on the subject at large. I know that “Rapture” and “Covenant” are coming as well as I know “The Q and the Grey” is coming, but I am not going to hold future developments against this story. Right now, the potential for changing the Bajoran people, fundamentally, is nearly as potent as we saw in “Who Watches the Watchers?”. It's quite obvious (in case the casual murder wasn't a big enough hint) that the Bajoran faith is a liability to the Bajoran people. They have become more progressive *by necessity* as a result of the Occupation. Interesting to consider Dukat's and Kira's conversation in “Indiscretion” here, as his claim that the Occupation was ultimately good for her people isn't without merit. But now that things are easier, more comfortable, old habits are resurfacing, egged on by the emergence of this throwback Emissary. Bajor is at an impasse.

All of that said, I have a serious problem with the way Sisko is being handled here. More specifically, I have a problem with the fact that Sisko IS handling the situation here. He decides to try and reclaim his position as the Emissary in order to fight Cardamom's new edicts. The story hasn't justified this radical about face—Sisko has many options available to him to try and turn things around; he makes no attempt to reason with Kira, he makes no overtures to Shakaar or the progressive Vedeks (if there are others), and he makes to pleas directly to the Bajoran people despite having been their Emissary yesterday. I mean, are these people really that dumb? Is that the hill you want to die on, DS9? It is also extremely unclear as to what an Emissary is supposed to do. Does Bitchwhore have the authority to reinstate the Dijaree-doos if she wants? What is the scope of the position? So, now, having skipped several necessary steps, it has come down to a mano-a-mano thing between Sisko and Cardamom. They're going to ask the Prophets directly to choose who's best boy.

Act 5 : *.5, 17%

So, into the wormhole they go. Because they aren't bumbling Ferengi, they have to wait around for a while before the Prophets answer their phone call. Once again, the Prophets show a remarkable understanding of linear time for a species that is supposed to be beyond such notions (“this is the one that was injured...”). The scene is amongst the most condescendingly pretentious I've seen on Trek (and that's saying something). The Prophets themselves are frustratingly obtuse. They claim that concepts like “the past” and “later” have no meaning for them. Okay. Then, they explain that they are intentionally exploiting their ability to move freely through time in order to manipulate the linear being THE Sisko. Uh-huh. So, those concepts *do* have meaning for them. It's important to them that Sisko and Bajor change OVER TIME.

The religious experience is supposed to deal with the unchanging, the numinous and immaterial. That the Prophets are non-linear is, conceptually, a great way to explore this notion. But by making them creatures with and agenda, puppet-masters who manipulate our characters for their own ends, you remove all of the subtlety and destroy the potential for this experience to have any bearing on actual religious experience. Any arguments made in the future regarding faith and the Bajorans are little more than the aforementioned virtue-signalling nonsense.
The Prophets explain that they healed Cardamom, at first, because he was injured. But then they reveal that their true purpose was to use him as an instrument to force Sisko to change and become their instrument. The suggestion is that THE Sisko possesses some quality that makes him uniquely suited to the role (his “pagh,” no doubt). But unless the series is arguing that this is some genetic trait or random occurrence (spoiler: it isn't), then what are we to conclude about Sisko that makes him such a good Emissary? Despite the portentousness of this show, the only justification for all of this is that Sisko is “the chosen one.” He's Neo, he's Aragorn, he's Jesus, etc. That's a horribly tired and unimaginative trope to fall back on for Star Trek.
This story's own issues are so frustrating, that it can be easy to miss the other problems that arise in this scene. Sisko asks the Prophets to return Cardamom to his own time, uninjured. In other words, he asks powerful beings to intentionally alter the flow of history. And why? Who the fuck knows? Maybe now that he gets to be the Emissary again, he's feeling magnanimous.
Of course, Cardamom himself also accepts abandoning this conviction he holds so deeply that MURDER is met with a shrug because, hey, he gets to go home to his wife and family! Isn't that convenient?
One of the Prophets, guised as Opaka tells Sisko that he is OF BAJOR and that they are OF BAJOR. With no other information, the only conclusion one could draw from this is that Sisko is himself a Prophet. But unlike the Q who, despite their flaws, attempt to clean up their cosmic messes, the Prophets are happy to let Sisko merrily carry on in half-ignorance about who or what he is. Fabulous.

Anyway, Sisko returns sans Cardamom and immediately, the Bajoran government opens an investigation into how Sisko murdered him. No? They're just going to buy his story that the Prophets sent him back but altered his memory so there would be no historical record of this happening? So REALISTIC this series, I tell you...

We pause to wrap up the B-plot with Keiko giving her permission (in a sitcommy, married-couples-can't-be-direct-with-each-other way) for him to play with his friend.

Kira congratulates Sisko on his great speech that we don't get to hear. After all, Star Trek isn't about giving moving speeches; it's about baseball. Sisko agrees to another blessing, this time with a smile, because...oh fuck this syrupy crap. It's over.

Episode as Functionary : *.5, 10%

So is that old Vedek going to jail? WTF happened to him?

The B-plot is fine. Inoffensive. Keiko is great as usual, but I don't think this is quite the stellar example some others claim it to be. The Nog/Jake stuff from Season 1 was more interesting.

Reading the comments, I see that William B (predictably) beat me to the punch on many of these points. If anyone hasn't read them yet, I suggest they do as they provide an excellent summary of my own feelings. What I'll add is that this is more than just a botched ending. The way the opening acts were written, they could have taken the Bajorans and their faith anywhere, convincingly. We could have had a whole different series following these events. But, the ending doubles down on the worst aspects of what had come before; triteness masquerading as profundity; forced ambiguity masquerading as spiritual mystery; manipulative plot elements masquerading as character development. In what respect is Sisko's transformation “spiritual”? There was nothing here for him to explore or discover. He felt the Dijaree-doos were morally wrong and found a way to use his experience with the Prophets to justify that perspective, with just as much authority now as before. That's exactly what he did when Cardamom arrived and claimed his role, interpreting the texts in a way that suited his wishes *not* to be the Emissary. Is he going to make more edicts now? Is that the plan? Does Starfleet want him to use his power to transform Bajor into a society worthy of membership? Can't he call for the dismissal of problematic figures like Bitchwhore, at least? Sigh...and the Bajorans are still offensively credulous fools teetering on the brink of chaos.

Then there's Kira. Is there anything to be made of that lingering line of questioning from Odo? Or does Sisko's “The Prophets work in mysterious ways” schlock absolve her of any introspection? So many potent possibilities are raised with this story, then promptly ignored in order to further the Dungeons and Dragons plot. They brought back Opaka. Are they going to revisit all the issues that got buried on planet Mad Max? No? Such a waste.

This is the cardinal sin of DS9; Sisko has questions because the Prophets can't be arsed to answer them. This lack of data is conflated with genuine spiritual mystery of the type that sustain religious belief. “Why am I here? What is my purpose?” Existential, spiritual questions. But the Prophets can answer those questions on their terms, now or yesterday or whatever! They just choose not to. And why? Well, we have our answer: they are manipulative assholes.

Final Score : **.5
Chrome
Wed, Mar 6, 2019, 4:21pm (UTC -5)
You know, I saw this one more recently and think it's among DS9's best religious episodes. I usually give DS9 a hard time for it's ham-handed religious content, but for this show's purposes I think it important to show that there's something special about Sisko that makes him the emissary.

"And now, Kira is explaining to Odo that faith—real faith is by definition irrational."

I don't agree that faith is necessarily irrational. One interesting read on the above Kira/Odo conversation is that while yes, Kira had faith in the Prophets, she also maintained faith *in Sisko*. Her faith in Sisko is not irrational, as following him has been in Bajor's best interests for quite some time. Akorem being sent as a false emissary was sort of test for Sisko. Moreover, Kira had faith that the Prophets were right to give him this trial and that Sisko would do the right thing in the end.

This is backed up throughout the story showing that, while other Bajorans were able to blindly follow the D'Jarra, Kira immediately recognized it wasn't right and voiced her opinion about why it wasn't right. Kira's objections to the D'jarra's seem contradictory to her statement about "faith" unless its understood that her faith wasn't in Akorem specifically, but in the bigger picture of the Prophet's trial. Kira's faith is that Sisko will recognize the crisis Akorem created for Bajor and why it was his duty as the emissary to correct it.

As to why this trial was necessary for Sisko, Elliott covered it himself. Sisko was half-heartedly performing Bajoran rituals while not really accepting his role in the performance. This episode is one where Sisko has to make a choice; whether he thinks his position as the emissary is just religious nonsense pushed on him by the Bajorans, or whether he really believes in the Bajoran faith and that he needs to take an active role as the emissary lest he lose the part of him that truly believes.
Elliott
Wed, Mar 6, 2019, 4:40pm (UTC -5)
@Chrome:

"This is backed up throughout the story showing that, while other Bajorans were able to blindly follow the D'Jarra, Kira immediately recognized it wasn't right and voiced her opinion about why it wasn't right. "

Um, I think I missed something. The episode makes a big deal about how Kira tries immediately to follow her D'Jarra and learn to sculpt (to her frustration). When the Vedek says she isn't trying hard enough, she quits her job to try. I don't recall a single line about how the D'Jarras were, in her view, "wrong," just that following hers was proving difficult--because it meant trying to do something she sucked at and abandoning her colleagues and job that she enjoys.

"This episode is one where Sisko has to make a choice; whether he thinks his position as the emissary is just religious nonsense pushed on him by the Bajorans, or whether he really believes in the Bajoran faith and that he needs to take an active role as the emissary lest he lose the part of him that truly believes."

Where exactly did belief come into play? The Prophets told him that they were intentionally trying to get him to do shit for them, but refused to explain why (or possibly don't know how to, if I'm being generous). None of that has anything to do with faith.

As I said, the episode started quite strong on the issue of faith. I also want to clarify that there's a problem that occurs with language when we discuss issues of "faith." Faith has a looser definition that refers to the above: Kira has "faith" in Sisko because he's proven to be a good captain....erm, allegedly. But that is not the same as religious faith. Religious faith is by definition not about being proved correct or likely. That's what makes it special.
Chrome
Wed, Mar 6, 2019, 5:09pm (UTC -5)
@Elliott

Thank you for your reply. While Kira did eventually resign her post, I thought the episode made it apparent she was struggling internally over it, just as she was struggling to become an artist and with the changes to Bajor in general. I think the importance of all this is that Kira didn't have blind faith, or as you call it irrational faith. Which leads me to a line I think is the heart of this piece:

SISKO: Sounds like you have some reservations about bringing back the D'jarras.
KIRA: I have some questions, sure. The Emissary is asking something very difficult of us, but we have to have faith that he's guiding us toward something.
SISKO: Even if what he's guiding you towards doesn't include the Federation?
KIRA: It's not our place to question the Emissary.
SISKO: No matter what?
KIRA: Maybe you never realized this, Captain, but we would've tried to do whatever you asked of us when you were Emissary, no matter how difficult it seemed.

This is important because Kira is letting Sisko know she believes in *him*. What's interesting and complex about this situation is that Akorem wasn't assumed to be the "True Emissary" but was only given acceptance because Sisko voluntarily gave up his bid. In other words, Sisko was practically advocating that Bajor follow Akorem at first. If Sisko had acted in another fashion and held onto the Emissary title, the above line makes us believe that Kira and probably many other Bajorans would've sided with Sisko.

"Where exactly did belief come into play? The Prophets told him that they were intentionally trying to get him to do shit for them, but refused to explain why (or possibly don't know how to, if I'm being generous). None of that has anything to do with faith."

Sisko does have a crisis of his beliefs and is forced to choose to believe in his role as the Emissary. This comes as he sees Bajor going in what he considers the wrong direction. He's not taking action as a Starfleet officer, but as a religious figure:

AKOREM: Must I remind you, Captain? I am merely fulfilling the will of the Prophets.
SISKO: How do you know that?
AKOREM: I'm the Emissary.
SISKO: And what you've done with the position has made me wish I had never given it up.
AKOREM: But you did, and it was the right decision. You never truly accepted the role in the first place.
SISKO: I'm willing to accept it now.

Flash forward to Sisko happily performing Bajoran rituals as the Emissary at the end of the episode. This is Sisko's choice. Maybe ultimately he is being "manipulated" as you put it, but he's willing to give himself over to the Prophets and the role of the Emissary by his own volition.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 1:28am (UTC -5)
I'm with Chrome on this one. It's clear as day to me that Sisko was at a crossroads between the Federation officer and the Emissary, and he had never really thought of himself as the Emissary. What he learns here isn't what I would call a religious lesson, but more like a Starfleet lesson. It's his actual job on Bajor to help them join the Federation, and his job as the Emissary to guide the Bajorans. And in not really being the Emissary he was also not really doing his Federation job as best he could. This episode is about marrying and owning those two titles. After all, remaining Starfleet but giving up being Emissary meant losing Bajor in this episode. He was put in a position where only by being the Emissary could he carry out his Starfleet duties. This stems not from his faith in the Prophets, but rather his faith in Starfleet. He actually does care about Bajor, and needs to be the Emissary to care for them.

I could fault other episodes for not properly following up on this realization that his role as Commander and role as Emissary should have been working in tandem, and they even cheaped out later on to show us *how* they could work in tandem. But that's not Accession's fault, which I think does an exemplary job showing Sisko what Bajor really needs: him. You can call that an Emissary, or a role model, or a whatever: and they needed it from someone with a Starfleet ethic.
William B
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 9:41am (UTC -5)
The episode title is Accession, which means either attainment of a new position of power (monarch etc.) or the addition of a new item to an existing collection. It does seem that the episode is mostly "about" Sisko genuinely adding being the Emissary ("spiritual leader") to the Bajoran people to his roster, and accepting that role unreservedly. This happens because of Akorem's temporary accession to power.

I was thinking about how the A- and B-plots work in this episode. In the B-plot, Keiko had left Miles' everyday life "long ago" (in The House of Quark). Miles never stopped loving Keiko or seeing her as essential to his life, but his access to her on a daily basis was cut off, so in the intervening time Miles has filled the void by forming a closer friendship with Julian, which includes playing a soldier. The Battle of Britain: in which members of what had been defined as a naval empire are forced to become something different, aviators, in order to defend their isle from Nazis (who are often linked to Cardassians, in this series). Keiko returns, with unborn baby in tow. With the "crisis" of Keiko's departure ended and a new life form on the table, Miles believes that he has to mostly cut Julian out of his life in order to demonstrate the depth of his devotion to Keiko. Julian agrees to step aside and disconnect from Miles' life. However, the thing that's actually important about Miles and Keiko's marriage isn't that he's around her every second, but that he loves her, will support their child. And so he can still be a drinking buddy with Julian, and can still play a soldier in the Holosuite when convenient. Keiko notes that Miles' attempting to take on the role of the dutiful, self-sacrificing husband, and Julian's artificial distance, are making both Miles and Julian miserable, and not in a way that is actually necessary for Miles' devotion to her. So she uses some gentle manipulation to bring Miles and Julian back together. The end is that Miles can keep his newfound friendship with Julian and his love for Keiko, but it required Keiko to push Miles and Julian to both recognize a) that they need each other, and that b) it's not against Keiko's actual wishes.

I think the analogy is basically Keiko = the Prophets, Miles = Bajor (and Kira in particular), Julian = Sisko (and more generally the Federation). Keiko's arrival and pregnancy as inciting event matches with Akorem's arriavl. Access to the Prophets was cut off from Bajor for a long time during the Occupation, when the Cardassians tried to suppress the Prophets entirely. During that time, the D'Jarra system fell out of favour, and Bajorans took on new roles, including military roles, to deal with the crisis. Eventually the Occupation ended and Bajor found Sisko and became devoted to him. Akorem's return seems to signal that Bajorans have to now mutilate their new lives and return to old ones (D'Jarras) in order to show their faith in the Prophets, and also for them to cut themselves off from Sisko/the Federation. Kira's inability to be an artist and to have to leave a job she is passionate about is paralleled with Miles' depression at no longer getting to hang out with Julian, and his performative attempt to be The Perfect Husband And Father gets him rejected. ("Can daddy color too?" he asks Molly, attempting to be an artist himself, and, like Kira, not finding the niche has room for him.) Sisko steps back but, like Julian, finds himself sad that he's lost a relationship that he values. Eventually the Prophets explicitly reveal that this thing has been a manipulation to force Sisko into realizing the depth of his role. At the end the Bajorans are brought back into love with the Prophets (the "marriage" restored to equilibrium), but with Sisko as an important figure in their lives, and without having to give up their new careers as a gesture of fealty. The Keiko comparison is important here because the Prophets didn't actually want Bajorans to give up their new jobs or institute a caste system, just as Keiko didn't actually want Miles to give up his friend. Akorem in this case represents -- I don't know -- the voice in Miles' head saying that to be a good husband requires him to give up all other connections.

The plotting mostly makes sense to me in this sense and the episode's structure is strong. Emotionally I mostly get where Sisko and Kira are as the episode goes on, additionally. I guess my problem, which the comparison kind of makes pop even more, is that whereas Keiko's manipulation seems to me to be cute, harmless, and kind, and Miles' sacrifices not that extreme really, the Bajorans' eagerness (or at least willingness) to throw themselves into a figurative dark ages based on their belief that this is what the Prophets want, leading eventually to a murder by a religious official, is really dark and reflects badly on Bajorans as a whole planet. That the Prophets set up this Rube Goldberg machine to make Sisko "play ball" is also -- I don't really know how to describe it -- icky? Back in Emissary, Picard as the voice of the Federation said that Sisko should do everything short of violating the Prime Directive to bring Bajor into the fold. Sisko's intervention in Bajoran affairs is partly to bring a Federation sensibility to Bajor, which once he starts actively encouraging their worship of him crosses a PD line, but is "justified" in-story by the revelation that he is "of Bajor," chosen by Bajor's gods. Sisko's full-on embracing of his Emissary role -- of being worshiped -- relies on the fact that the Bajorans are going to uncritically worship *someone* as who they believe is representing the Prophets' will, whether that person actually does (as Sisko apparently does) or not (Akorem); and importantly, whether they should follow the will of the mysterious aliens whose actual goals are opaque is never really examined. As a post-Occupation story, I do think there's a lot of weight to the idea that the Bajorans are going to necessarily have to cling to *someone* and that it's better that this someone be Sisko rather than an Akorem, a Winn or even a Dukat, and I guess that appears to be what the story is about. It still leaves me feeling -- I don't know. Icky, I guess, to repeat, that Sisko has to accept Bajorans' blind devotion, because at the moment the Bajorans are incapable of anything else. It's pretty downbeat, actually, and I don't know that the episode's final act really sells how worrying what just happened is, in terms of the likelihood of Bajorans being able to understand themselves. I think the episode is actually quite good at getting the characters to where they end up, for what it's worth, I'm just not sure I like what that implies.

I guess, too, that Bajorans need Sisko as an interim blind-worship-idol-figure is something that I think the larger series implies, and is part of what this episode is covering, but the show doesn't really make explicit that Sisko sees that, or sees his role as even mildly temporary. The instability of this arrangement -- do Bajorans start murdering each other for stepping out of line of old caste systems the second Sisko is no longer preventing it? Sisko's not immortal, right? -- goes uncommented upon. And that's maybe okay for this episode in particular, but there's a whole series that keeps dancing around this question. And I still don't really know what to think about the Bajorans' worship of the Prophets themselves at all.

SPOILERS for the end of the series, but I think season seven *implies* that Kira as our Bajor representative is moving beyond the twin dangers of blind worship and blind rebellion and into self-leadership, but even then it really *only* tells this story with Kira and not any other Bajorans (Winn also has an important role but it's to at the very last moment choose Sisko over Dukat, to show that even the worst and most power-hungry Bajorans will ultimately worship Sisko when forced to look at what Dukat offers them, and not to do any self-governance stuff). And I don't think that even Kira's genuinely moving beyond having to blindly follow an Emissary is told explicitly enough to be fully satisfying, let alone the rest of Bajor. I guess Sisko's immateriality -- he's still the Emissary but he's a Prophet and he's coming back but maybe not -- is a way of getting past the duality where they have to worship a present Emissary and do whatever he says. It sort of makes symbolic sense.
William B
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 9:53am (UTC -5)
Just to elaborate a bit more:

I don't particularly think Sisko "believes in the Bajoran religion" by the end of this episode in the same way that Bajorans do. As Elliott says, the Prophets just straight out tell him that they set this thing up to manipulate him, so, you know, no belief required for that part (except insofar as believing they're not lying, I guess). I think what comes in more is something like love -- Sisko cares about the Bajoran people, and is willing to take on, with enthusiasm, a role that will save them from themselves. I guess where faith/belief comes into it is that Sisko has to believe that it's good for him to take on this role, despite lots of reasons against it -- it's a Prime Directive violation, he doesn't enjoy it, maybe if the Bajorans are unable to prevent themselves from ossifying they're not worth the effort of his/the Federation continually preventing them from doing so. And, rather than just bringing up the text of the Prime Directive, there's the spirit too: if Bajorans "want" to institute a caste system, which strikes us (well, I guess, most of us) as backward, pointless and cruel, who is Sisko to stop them? How does he get to decide he knows better than them? Right, he's the Emissary. The aliens picked him to the guy to tell Bajorans what to do, so they'll do what he says. The main way in which it makes sense for me ethically is to view the Bajorans as so shattered that they cannot really be trusted to make their own decisions at the moment, so that all Sisko is doing is acting as a benevolent wedge to prevent Jaro/Akorem/Winn/Dukat/the Dominion/whoever from destroying their ability to work things out themselves, and Sisko *mostly* is a hands-off Emissary. His embrace of the symbolic value of Emissary at the end notwithstanding, Sisko still doesn't plan on doing much to influence Bajorans except preventing some other Emissary from exerting undue influence, which, of course, *IS STILL* a major influence.

This is all interesting, but I feel like it needs more excavation and analysis in the series (either in this episode, or, probably better, in later episodes). And there's some but I don't know that I find it all that satisfying, except possibly in the case of Kira herself as Bajoran rep/everywoman.
William B
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 9:57am (UTC -5)
Correction: I said,

"Sisko still doesn't plan on doing much to influence Bajorans except preventing some other Emissary from exerting undue influence, which, of course, *IS STILL* a major influence."

As Peter says, though, Sisko is definitely a *role model* for Bajorans. I guess what I mean is that Sisko is going to use a much lighter hand, and a hand encouraging self-sufficiency, egalitarianism, understanding etc., than the internal Bajoran factions like Winn/Jarro/Akorem or like exploitative empire reps like Dukat or Weyoun (or even Cretak). So he'll provide help and give an example, but isn't going to forcibly restructure their society in a way that limits freedom, beyond the fact that his presence itself and their need to worship him creates that, which is a *lot*.
Chrome
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 10:36am (UTC -5)
@William B

For what it's worth, I don't think Sisko is manipulated in a sense that he's forced to do something he otherwise finds objectionable. I think back to the pilot where Sisko was actually very unhappy with Starfleet and likely not very happy with his post in the beginning. That is, until he meets with the Prophets and gets a real sense that he's part of something big, and that this new post might mean more than helping Starfleet but helping himself find a new path in his life. The bookended meetings with Picard pre and post-Prophet are night and day as far as Sisko's attitude towards being on DS9 and guiding the Bajoran people.

Of course, there is a certain trial by fire in this episode and I'll grant that Sisko is put through the ringer in order to come to a course of action that the Prophets want. But I think one aspect that's extremely important to consider is that Sisko was half-heartedly acting out his job in the beginning of the episode and he may have needed a jolt from another (whether it be the Prophets or Kira's words). There's a sort of cautionary tale here in that it's not always easy to walk the path you choose (in your career and in your life) and taking the low road and working half-heartedly can sometimes lead you off your path. To that end, this episode works as a mission statement for Sisko, who may have forgotten why exactly he wants to be with Bajor and what the connection to Bajor means for his life.
William B
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 11:24am (UTC -5)
@Chrome, I think you're right about Sisko for the most part. I still count it as manipulation (with the negative connotations) by the Prophets for two reasons:

1) It's definitely manipulation of the Bajoran people. Because the Bajorans submit so readily to whoever they see as the authority representing the Prophets, it is obviously going to have a big effect on Bajor for the Prophets to send Akorem in (apparently) to give Sisko a wake-up call. And of course the whole way in which it works as a wake-up call is to make Sisko realize that Bajor really needs him, which requires to some degree endangering Bajor in the interim. Perhaps it's necessary for Bajor at the moment, but it's still pretty dark. More to the point, the Prophets do perform a "miracle" of sorts by sending Akorem out to Bajor, which lends some apparent justification to his religious authority. A less...I don't know, credulous people would not have immediately agreed to follow Akorem, but the point is that the Prophets seemingly anticipated this result (non-linear and all), that the Bajorans would see Akorem's miraculous recovery as A Sign, so that they would start doing what Sisko would see as harm to their own society/selves.

2) I do think it's true that it pushes Sisko into accepting something he already sort of does accept, but in particular I think it also forces Sisko past not just his "selfish" disinterest in the tedious or annoying parts of his Emissary job, but also his quite rational desire not to be treated as a religious icon and worshiped. It's rational because it is a bad position to be in, for billions of people to hang onto your every word, and also rational because it contradicts Federation values for a person to be so venerated. Sisko wanted to try to help Bajor without being *worshiped*, and that was in general a worthy goal. The Prophets set up this big trial in order to get him past his reluctance to be worshiped, and under normal circumstances, it's correct for Sisko not to want to be worshiped. I agree that the Prophets kind of forcing Sisko to remember that he's committed to Bajor is...well, maybe the collateral damage is not fine, but it's reminding Sisko of something he already believes. The worship element is where I think the Prophets are deliberately short-circuiting a legitimate objection of Sisko's by their big set-up.

Anyway, maybe manipulation is okay! If we think of the Prophets as Gods, then basically any actions they take are justified because moral authority *comes from* them, so that they are manipulative in this sense is not even a criticism of them. If we think of them as wormhole aliens, it's possible that applying normative moral judgments to them is myopic because we can't even really understand them. There's maybe some overlap point. But if we think of them as agents who are at least somewhat comprehensible then we have to wonder what to make of their manipulations here, which do to some degree involve basically holding Bajor hostage until Sisko agrees to do things their way. I guess I'd say that it's good that they'd rather have Sisko's gentle shepherding than Akorem's conservative caste system or Dukat's iron will (the latter of which the Paghwraiths seem to prefer), but do they really understand what Bajor's devotion means? It appears that they either want Bajorans to worship them or at least do not want to discourage it. Why do they want that? Do they want it or do they want something else entirely? Is it Not Our Place to question them, and if so, why is it our place to question, say, the Founders, also held up by some in universe as gods?

SPOILERS

I think what's interesting is that within the series there are at least two other sets of "Gods" (not counting Q's one episode appearance) who the show expects us to treat with, to put it mildly, skepticism, and more to the point to treat as being outright villains: the Founders, who are, ultimately, potentially redeemable (via Odo), and the paghwraiths, who apparently are not. The Prophets do seem to be more hands-off and less controlling or cruel than the Founders or the paghwraiths, and so I'm willing to view them in less negative terms than those, but I guess my problem with the series is that it doesn't interrogate far enough (as far as I can see) why the Prophets are worthy of worship, being treated as gods, etc., and the Founders and the paghwraiths aren't. It's not even clear how much the Prophets have the various properties/desires that Bajorans regularly ascribe to them, which means that it's hard to parse all of what happens.
Elliott
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 12:07pm (UTC -5)
Excellent responses, William B

If I may, I think it's very important that we are explicit about what we mean when we throw around words like "faith" and "belief" in this context. There's another thread somewhere where we debate the meaning of the word "prophet" for similar reasons. The point isn't to be pedantic about language here, but conflating different ideas, simply because they can be described with the same word does a disservice to what those ideas represent.

Having "faith" in a deity is distinct from having "faith" in a person or a process or an institution. The former is specifically about irrational belief. This is not meant to be derogatory, but it is a feature of religious conviction. Kira didn't have any "faith" in Ben Sisko the man or the Federation the institution in "Emissary," but when Opaka declared Sisko to be the Emissary, she did have *religious* faith in Sisko the Emissary. That is what her comments to Sisko about being willing to follow him this whole time or her brushing off Odo's line of questioning about her contradictions are all about--irrational, religious, devotional faith. At this point in the series, Kira *also* has evidence-based faith in Sisko the man and possibly the Federation, but that is completely different. She has arrived at this "faith" through experience and evidence. That's why, despite the fact that she only knows Akorom as an historical figure, she is willing to immediately follow his new edicts, even if they are extremely difficult for her. She may be willing to do the same for Sisko *now,* but she was always willing to do so for The Emissary, whoever her gods told her that was.

I don't think the episode intends for us to think that Sisko has begun believing in the prophecies (remember at the top of Act I, he explicitly states that he does not)--and if it does intend this, it totally fails at it. The Prophets essentially put a gun to his head and tell him that he has to be the Emissary and like it, damn it, or the Bajorans he cares about will shy away from the values he has been assigned (and I assume wants) to instil in them. We see evidence for this in the alternate timeline of "The Visitor," and the MU episodes.

The Bajoran religion calls him The Emissary, but the Prophets just call him The Sisko, which I've always taken as a narrative device to avoid the limitations of language. He just is The Guy, The Bajor Guy. The Bajorans contextualise this as best they can. What this should have been for the series was an analogy for the way religious interpretations of the divine get it wrong by trying to pin it down to something we can understand (much like you guys maligned "Death Wish" for so doing to the Continuum). And that potential is right here in this episode, waiting to be exploited. But instead, the "we're not the mean Star Trek that says religion is bad" edict takes over and confuses the message. The Bajoran religion is a pale shadow of what the Prophets really are and mean, but whatever, let them live in ignorance and perform their pointless rituals with a smile, Ben! Remember, the Bajorans let go of the D'Jarras ON THEIR OWN thanks to the trauma of the Occupation. They didn't need Sisko to step in and tell them to stop. That could have been an interesting angle for the show, a unique DS9 take on religion that wasn't braindead: Sisko-as-Moses or Jesus, teaching the Bajorans how to have a more honest and healthy relationship with their deities.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 12:17pm (UTC -5)
@ William B,

In this instance I'm not sure why you're focused as much as you are on this idea of "manipulation". Sisko had the choice all along to be the Emissary; he had the choice even when Akorem came along. *He chose* to step aside, and the result is what ensued. The Prophets didn't 'make' any of that happen, unless we view Sisko as having no free will (in which case any discussion about manipulation is moot). He chose his own course the whole way; all the Prophets did is send along a guy who claimed to be the Emissary. That's it. It was in fact a plan completely dependend on Sisko having his way at each turn, and realizing what his decisions meant. That's the opposite of manipulation: it's giving him the full freedom to choose his path *and* to see the results of each choice. And that (SPOILERS) by the way is what the Prophets do, in a nutshell. They know the effects of choices and events. Here Sisko got a little taste of that.

Regarding the idea that the Bajorans were 'used' for this little experiment, and that someone had to die for Sisko's lesson, this interpretation again seems to imply that these people are just little cogs that turn automatically when put in a certain position. And again, if that's really true then anytime *anyone* does *anything* it will inevitably set the rest of the universe into motion and 'force' reactions. That the Prophets do so knowing more makes such interactions with 'the machine' no different in type. But in both narrative and human terms I really can't accept that everyone is just a meaningless cog in a machine that act with no will. Therefore if the Prophets send an Emissary and an extremist does a murder, I can't accept that anyone is to blame other than the extremist. Sure, Akorem might be a lousy Emissary, but he never even asked anyone to kill. That's the state of the population at the time that made them capable of that.

Which leads to my next point: it does seem true that the Bajorans are apparently willing to do *anything* the Emissary says. But we don't have to view that as a good thing. I don't think Sisko does, and I don't think we're meant to cheer for blind faith here. This goes right along with what I said in the S7 recap section about how the Bajorans needed to grow past the point where they would blindly follow orders; that tendency is all too similar (even if different in tone) to the Cardassians who worship authority figures. The point of a leader - Emissary or otherwise - should at least include growing the capabilities and understanding of the people, to reduce, not increase, their depedence on any one person. As a Starfleet officer Sisko knows this, and that's why he's best suited for the job. If we don't accept that both Sisko and the Prophets want what's best for the Bajorans then I think we'd be rejecting a fundamental premise of the series. Might as well argue that there's no such things as wormholes and that it's all a delusion on the show.

To your point, William, about the Prophets as being worshipped as Gods, it doesn't seem to me that they ever demand this. It's natural for a primitive people to do so, and think DS9 riffs on TOS a bit in the backstory: a local people encounter advanced beings who give them artifacts to protect them. We saw it many times. In this case the advanced beings have the special power of seeing all possible futures and trying to guide the Bajorans along a path that results in...something. We can doubt their motives if we want to, but the series gives it no solid reason to do so. So authorially I think we must assume that future course is something good for Bajor. We could always throw around that old theory that the Prophets are the future Bajorans, who one day construct their own wormhole; but we don't need to speculate that far to assume that it's some good destiny or another. So the fact that the Prophets are worshipped *does not* imply they demand worship, and this right away sets them apart from Dukat and the pagh wraiths. If anything the series seems to point at the idea that they want what's best for Bajor, and that's all; any other vain ambitions would be those we project onto them because we assume they're like us. But they're not. A good question to ask is *how* they're not like us, and one which the series doesn't give enough time to explore. But to whatever extent we're meant to read into Sisko as being their chosen Emissary, and knowing his beliefs, we should probably expect the Prophets wanted the Bajorans to be weaned off of blind worship and to learn how to better take care of themselves. The fact that Akorem got them to go back to the caste system is a good sign that the Bajorans were *not* ready for Federation membership at this time, but needed Sisko to help them get closer to the goal (as exemplified through Kira). If anything I would have liked a mention at the end of Accession that Sisko realized how not ready they were, but that he'd now redouble his efforts to get them ready. Ready means being able to self-govern, and not falling under the spell of dictators.
Elliott
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 12:25pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G

I'm not sure why you think Sisko having free will negates the possibility of him being manipulated. Manipulation isn't forcing someone to make a choice, it's limiting their options or gas-lighting them into making choices you want them to. This *is* consistently how the Prophets behave. It is morally-reprehensible behaviour, in my view.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 12:33pm (UTC -5)
@ Elliott,

How is showing Sisko what his choice (not to really be Emissary) really means is gaslighting him? No, gaslighting is when you don't take someone's choice seriously, or when you tell them that their perception is wrong when it's accurate. Here it was Sisko not really taking seriously the impact of his decision; and in fact it wasn't even clear to him that he had made a decision, except that when we observe him doing a half-assed ritual it should be clear that a sort of internal decision has been made, whether he was aware of it or not. What they did was open his eyes to what the decision really was, so he could choose knowing what it meant. That is literally the opposite of gaslighting, it's giving him every chance to make his own informed choice.
Elliott
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 12:35pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G

As I pointed out, the Bajorans moved past the D'Jarras *on their own* without any Emissary. The Prophets decided they wanted one, and when he wasn't enthusiastic about it, they plucked a regressive dude who could steal is title from the past and forced SIsko's hand. That is manipulative.
Chrome
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 12:58pm (UTC -5)
@William B

Good points and it's probably fair to question where the Prophets are going in the long run, although I'm not sure we need to know that right now in this episode. I think the bottom line for this episode and its aspirations is that the Prophets want Sisko because they recognize something in Sisko that they don't see in Akorem or any other Bajoran or even alien leader of consequence. And well, maybe that's enough for the audience to know for now.

@Elliott

I see what you're saying with Kira jumping ship to Akorem's decisions once he becomes to Emissary, but again the episode emphasizes that this isn't something she's does willingly, but rather *reluctantly*, out of a certain a respect for her religion (and Sisko's wishes). If she blindly followed Akorem, I don't think there would be any use in her explaining to Sisko how important a figure he was to them. I see Kira's complaints about Akorem's methods to Sisko as a way of reaching out to him and making him realize how important he is to them. Of course this is just my interpretation of the scene and the episode is open-ended enough to get many different meanings from any given scene. This open-endedness is something I suggest is to the episode's credit, incidentally. I notice that Jammer recommends watching this one multiple times to understand it, and because there's so much meaty symbolism here, I tend to agree with that sentiment.

"What this should have been for the series was an analogy for the way religious interpretations of the divine get it wrong by trying to pin it down to something we can understand"

Well the short answer is that's not what the writers were going for in most of their shows. DS9 often purposely leaves the big questions open-ended and maybe it's because questions of faith and religious message don't always have simple answers. Or to put it in another way, a simple answer trivializes the material and removes the richness of the Bajoran faith. If Kira responded to Odo's inquiries by saying "Hey Odo, I believe in the Prophets because they've done some pretty cool things that can't be recreated by any known technology and they're probably working in Bajor's best interests because of my past dealings with them" then her speech to Odo loses a ton of depth at the cost of being overly agnostic. Although, you know, that interpretation is still out there, even if it's not spelled out.

That said, the follow up to this, "Rapture", is among my least favorite episodes of the series. They take the concept that was so subtle and delicate in this episode and make Sisko a crazy zealot in order to make religious parallels that don't make any sense and frankly break suspension of belief in terms of Starfleet letting the circus continue. But I'll save that discussion for that episode as I think as Peter G. suggests there is a coherent path where Sisko can both be a good Starfleet officer while being the Emissary in this story.
Chrome
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 1:48pm (UTC -5)
Oh, and to follow up on the manipulative thing as far as Sisko goes, does he really not have the option of throwing in the towel here and go to Starfleet and say "Look, they either want me to be their spiritual leader or they're willing to fall back into archaic anti-Starfleet values. The Prime Directive is clear and my hands are tied here." There's always a choice.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 2:00pm (UTC -5)
@ Elliott,

"As I pointed out, the Bajorans moved past the D'Jarras *on their own* without any Emissary. The Prophets decided they wanted one, and when he wasn't enthusiastic about it, they plucked a regressive dude who could steal is title from the past and forced SIsko's hand. That is manipulative."

I'm not quite sure where we disagree on this point, other than that you're calling a situation manipulative which consists of allowing Sisko to make a decision about what he values. I'm calling it giving him the respect of allowing him to choose after learning more about the importance of his choice.

The contrast between the regressive dude (as you rightly call him) and Sisko isn't just that one is a jerk and the other is super-nice. Back in his time Akorem might have been the perfect model of a modern Major-General. The contrast is between pricely the fact that the Bajorans need to *decide* to move forward in their culture, and that it can't be haphazard or accidental, just as Sisko needs to decidedly pick his course and not sort of coast through it. They're in the same boat in that respect, which is likely one of the reasons why he is 'of Bajor'. Comparing the Federation, for instance, to Bajor, we know that it's not enough to vaugely stumble towards technological advancement: but as a people Earthers need to learn that they *must* evolve socially to become better. Eugenics Wars and WWIII will have taught us that it can't just be 'whatever happens, happens' but rather we must make the future something of our choosing. Because if we don't make that choice it will be made for us; it's as simple as that. And the same goes for Bajor: what are the Prophets, after all, but beings super-advanced at making the future? But the general idea of building up a people isn't to keep them subservient, but rather to show them how to build their own future. That's the Trek message in a nutshell. The Bajorans are on the brink of progress but haven't actively *chosen* to change into something better. Like Sisko in Emissary, they're in the present but still stuck in the past. Akorem is that part of them that's stuck in the past. Releasing Akorem wasn't manipulative: it was a big wake-up call that whatever part of Akorem is still in the Bajoran people as a whole needs to be addressed, because (for instance) that caste system needs to go, and stay gone. The fact that Akorem could convince them to bring it back just shows how precarious their situation is: they could go either way, depending on which way the wind blows. To be Federation member they need to be better than that. That's where Sisko comes in.

Reminding Sisko of his duty isn't just an Emissary thing, but as I mentioned a Starfleet thing. The wake-up call for him is that they're the same thing. If you want to call that manipulative I guess that's your prerogative, but I can't imagine a case where opening my eyes to what's right in front of me and showing me how much I'm needed to help others could be called anything other than a blessing. It's manipulative only in the sense of someone affecting me and my life. Well, hello, that's what all interaction with others should be: everyone affecting everyone's life. That the Prophets affected Sisko's life through real knowledge and the desire to help him and others could be called manipulative insofar as they had a desired effect, but beyond that truism I don't see any reason to call it manipulation. That term carries the specific connotation of the intention being nefarious, which is textually not in evidence here.
Elliott
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 3:12pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G

"They're in the same boat in that respect, which is likely one of the reasons why he is 'of Bajor'. Comparing the Federation, for instance, to Bajor, we know that it's not enough to vaugely stumble towards technological advancement: but as a people Earthers need to learn that they *must* evolve socially to become better. Eugenics Wars and WWIII will have taught us that it can't just be 'whatever happens, happens' but rather we must make the future something of our choosing."

Huh? The Bajorans had their own disaster event akin to humans' WWIII, the Occupation. That experience was the thing that taught them that they needed to be better.

"That the Prophets affected Sisko's life through real knowledge and the desire to help him and others could be called manipulative insofar as they had a desired effect, but beyond that truism I don't see any reason to call it manipulation. That term carries the specific connotation of the intention being nefarious, which is textually not in evidence here."

Well, we don't actually know what is motivating the Prophets. Do they actually care whether the Bajorans use a caste system? Do they care so much that they allowed the Occupation to occur in order to "teach them a lesson"? I don't think the series ever actually answers these questions. And I suppose it doesn't have to explicitly, but even without being specific, the Prophets clearly have an *agenda.* They have preferences for how people end up. And they set up situations in order to limit the choices people have to affect those desired ends. To me that's more nefarious than mind control, because the latter at least doesn't leave the person being controlled under the impression that they are making free decisions.

I don't know. Maybe I read too many nihilists, but I find the relationship between SIsko and the Prophets and Bajor really disturbing. I don't know that we're going to come to a consensus on this.
Jason R.
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 4:30pm (UTC -5)
Elliott if I may make an observation: you seem to have an axe to grind against any religious sentiment, which in turn seems to animate your reaction to the Prophets in DS9. The funny thing is that in the context of the show, the Prophets *are* gods, or tantamount to that for the Bajoran people. They are not some hoax or fraud used by mortals to deceive or exploit.

It is, frankly, bizarre to accuse them of manipulation in this context, as if to suggest they are immoral or something - when that is literally the function of Gods. Weyoun figured it out in his exchange with Odo about the Founders.

Judging gods by human moral standards is just weird - like getting mad at the immorality of a hurricane. I mean I guess you can say they're evil or bad for Bajor but you seem to be wagging your finger at them like they're supposed to be people or something and are somehow immoral on *their own terms* - which is, again, just weird.
Elliott
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 4:57pm (UTC -5)
@Jason R

In the Star Trek universe, there are no gods. This is not gate-keeping; the Prophets are defined in the show as wormhole aliens. This is why in "Sub Rosa," Ronan is an "anaphasic lifeform" instead of an actual ghost, because there are no supernatural elements in Star Trek. I have a great affection and respect for the nuBSG plotlines of S4, despite the fact that I am not personally religious, because the probability/possibility of supernatural elements is an integrated part of that universe.

On DS9, there are alien beings with advanced abilities who reside in the wormhole and whom the Bajorans worship as gods. These aliens can be affected by technology, as we see various times. They are not gods.
Jason R.
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 5:53pm (UTC -5)
"These aliens can be affected by technology, as we see various times. They are not gods"

I'm going to suggest that part of the problem is definitional - maybe that's your personal understanding of what "god" means - that is not what most human societies understood to be true.
Elliott
Thu, Mar 7, 2019, 6:03pm (UTC -5)
@Jason R

Ah, now that's an interesting discussion that's been had several times on this site. In a nutshell:

There are two types of deities, the natural gods (think Greek pantheon) who are in some respect separated from man and have power over him, but are subject to the same capricious "human nature" as man himself.

Then there are the supernatural gods (like the god of Abraham) who have absolute moral authority (or anti-moral authority in the case of figures like the devil). The kinds of religions these different types of god images generate are quite distinct.

The gods of Bajor are clearly the former type, but the religion of Bajor is conceived as of the latter. That's the root problem of all the DS9 religion stories. The reason for this is that the writers wanted to play in the mythical space afforded by the pantheonic gods (one could count Q as this type), but for Western audiences, the religions of Abraham are familiar, and so those are the kinds they use to make their Bajoran pastiche religion. It doesn't work.
Aaron
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 12:05am (UTC -5)
I re-watched this episode today and a thought popped into my head that I couldn't get rid of.

The Prophets say that they are "Of Bajor." I was wondering if this is literal. The Prophets are the Bajorans, from the distant future. They evolved on Bajor, eventually becoming non-corporeal somehow. Since time is meaningless to the Prophets, they could have 'been born' (for lack of a better term) in the distant future. It would explain why the Prophets care what happens to Bajor.

What do you think? I think it's kind of a cool idea, if a bit timey-wimey.
William B
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 7:42am (UTC -5)
@Peter,

Let's start with agreement. I'm totally in agreement with you about Bajor's status re: self-government, and I meant to say that I really enjoyed and agreed with your recent post about Bajor's Federation membership. I don't think this episode shows it as a good thing that Bajor is willing to start reinstituting their caste system on the drop of a hat, either.

On that note, I guess the question that I would like to have been raised more explicitly is whether Sisko really does have "the right" to protect Bajorans from their (apparently) self-destructive tendencies. I think a caste system is wrong, but maybe it's what's right for Bajor, and who am I to object? Now I can hear a possible objection here -- why am I applying modern human moral standards to the Prophets but am content to be a moral relativist when it comes to Bajorans? Well, I guess what I really want is for the moral stakes to be talked about. Not everything has to be explicit, but central concerns of Star Trek are when to let other cultures make what we consider to be mistakes. I think that's why the "You are of Bajor" is important -- that Sisko identifies strongly enough with Bajorans (and Bajoran grief, loss, experience of oppression etc.) that he is not an external interloper but a part of the system.

As far as the Prophets:

1) Manipulation: The Prophets state that they sent Akorem out *for the Sisko*, with the implication seemingly being that it's to get Sisko back on track. I think we agree on this point of what their intent was. I think disagreement comes about because I don't think that the Prophets sending Akorem back is a relatively neutral or innocent plan. The Prophets virtually never intervene, let alone to revive some ancient poet. They know how this "miracle" would be interpreted (because they can see the interpretation). Which leads me to:

2) Worship. I would feel far better about the Prophets if I really did believe that they did not want to be worshiped, and you may well be correct. In general I'd say that once the Prophets *do* start communicating with Bajorans, at least via Sisko, they could start interfering by actually telling the Bajorans outright that they do not want the Bajorans' worship, that what Bajorans believe to be the case when they follow the will of the Prophets is often false, etc. I'd say that sending Bajorans Orbs with -- from what I can gather about the Prophets' nonlinearity -- the knowledge that this would lead to the Bajorans worshiping them is also a pretty big decision. It's true that we can't control all the cascading nth order impacts of our actions, and even if the Prophets can see time nonlinearly perhaps you are correct that it's unfair to hold them to a standard where they are responsible for all those impacts. But I feel that sending super highly advanced time-breaking orbs to a people insufficiently technologically advanced to see it as anything other than magic is something where it's really a first-order effect that they are going to start worshiping the beings who sent them. I guess to use Trek lore on this point, Kirk feels responsibility to clear up the Chicago gangster society on Sigma Iotia II, which started as a "cargo cult" around the accidentally dropped objects.

It's true that Bajorans still chose to worship the Prophets, but as far as I can tell that is because *Bajorans* believe that the Prophets wanted them to. If the Prophets *didn't* want this result, it's a misconception that would not be hard to clear up, or at least to attempt to.

But all right -- I can see that it's possible that the Prophets didn't intend the orbs to be bits of worship, and do not see it as their responsibility to clear up Bajoran misconceptions.

The problem I have is that it seems that their goal in this episode specifically relies on the Bajorans worshiping them. Their apparent goal is to get Sisko back on track *as Emissary*, which only works if the Bajorans actively worship the Prophets and see Sisko as a religious figure. Akorem has huge authority because he's assumed to be speaking for the Prophets. Sisko *gets* his authority from the fact that Bajorans believe that he's who the Prophets want them to follow, which is apparently true. I don't see how making Sisko more dedicated to being THE EMISSARY, not just the Starfleet custodian of Bajor's reconstruction but a religious figure, makes any sense without the Bajorans being religiously devoted to the Prophets, which means that if the Prophets want Sisko to fulfill his religious role, that means that they want the religion to continue.

Now even here, I understand that it's complicated. Sisko is a preferred Emissary over Akorem because Sisko is not going to make undue demands on the Bajorans, and so the Prophets could be viewed as making the best of a bad situation -- the Bajorans gonna worship, what are you gonna do, at least they should worship a better role model. But this again mostly makes sense to me only if the Prophets have no choice in whether the Bajorans worship them or not.

And then, this leads us to:

3) The Will of the Prophets vs. Worshiping the Prophets.

This is a tough one and I admit that I don't know what to make of it. Bajorans are frequently talking about the Will of the Prophets, and their desire to follow it. If the Prophets don't ask to be worshiped, then Bajorans should be free not to follow said Will. So then there are two sub-cases.

i) The Prophets do not have a particular Will on a case-by-case basis -- they don't particularly care whether Bajorans celebrate a particular festival or not. In this case, the argument against the Bajoran religion is not just that they shouldn't worship the Prophets, but that they are not even correct about what the strange, inscrutable beings actually do want. Within this episode, of course, we see an example of this -- instituting d'jarras is not actually the Will of the Prophets. But more generally, if the Bajorans are going to try to execute the Prophets' wishes, then whether the Prophets actually want X or Y should be something they should try to determine -- and if the Prophets wanted to, they could presumably be more forthcoming.

ii) The Prophets do have a particular Will, but do not *require* the Bajorans to follow it. This one seems to be close to the mark some of the time, but I guess the question is, at what point does setting up a sequence of events to get your desired outcome, because credulous people decide to do whatever you nudge them to do, *not* constitute "asking to be worshiped"? If Bajor will only follow the Will of the Prophets if they worship them, isn't that a big moral hazard for the Prophets even if they don't *specifically* want worship?

The other question I have, which is really central, is: do Bajorans believe that the Prophets want them to worship them, or do they think that the Prophets are disinterested in Bajoran worship, but still have a Will, which Bajorans can choose to follow? To be honest, I always assumed it was the first case, and in that case if the Prophets *don't* want to be worshiped, then it's simple: Bajorans are wrong. However it *is* possible that it's the second case -- that Bajorans don't care whether the Prophets want them to worship them or not, or even believe they don't!, but want to follow them anyways. I don't know what to make of that interpretation.

---

I guess what bothers me about some of these episodes -- and I do like Accession, and think it's one of the strongest of this arc -- is that the goal posts seem to be always changing, and the arguments get tangled. "Is the Bajoran religion legitimate?" ends up resting on questions of whether the Prophets can see into the future -- of course they can! -- rather than on whether it's appropriate to worship an alien being, or whether they want that worship. If the Prophets *want* to be worshiped, then the question should be whether it's appropriate for superpowered beings to want to be worshiped, and if they don't want to be worshiped, then the question should be whether it's appropriate for the Bajorans to worship an unwilling or indifferent idol. For the most part these questions come up when the show talks about the Founders, e.g. (the Founders' godhood is met with skepticism, and in Odo we have an example of a "god" who rejects worship), but as far as I recall they come up very rarely with the Prophets. This is also why it's hard for me to talk about them: I genuinely don't know whether to read the Prophets as wanting/expecting Bajoran worship and being worthy of that, or being indifferent to Bajoran worship but still accepting Bajoran worship when it suits their purposes (i.e. pushing Sisko to further accept his Emissary duties).
Peter G.
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 11:40am (UTC -5)
@ Elliott,

"Huh? The Bajorans had their own disaster event akin to humans' WWIII, the Occupation. That experience was the thing that taught them that they needed to be better. "

No, it didn't. That's the point; it has left them divided, sectarian (remember The Circle?), and open to manipulation. If you wanted to compare their occupation to anything it should be to our WWII, which in fact didn't lead to any major changes in the Trek sense at all. Not like what WWIII in Trek does.

" the Prophets clearly have an *agenda.* They have preferences for how people end up."

Right, but what you don't know is the timeframe. Are they concerned that Sisko is doing some particular thing *right now* or is that only because this sets into motion a series of events resulting in some outcome in 10,000 years? What that outcome is is anyone's guess, but I would highly doubt their interests lie in small-time manipulations of the form "I want them to have a festival now!" Even if they cared about such things (which I doubt) when one has larger concerns the small things must not take priority. Think about Year of Hell from VOY: when doing the history resets, it would have been basically irrelevant if in one iteration there was a great festival and in other not. It's not that such things 'don't matter', but rather that they are not the main objective.

"And they set up situations in order to limit the choices people have to affect those desired ends. To me that's more nefarious than mind control, because the latter at least doesn't leave the person being controlled under the impression that they are making free decisions. "

Wait, so you're telling me you never set up situations to limit the choices people make? You consider the actions of anyone around you (a significant other, a child, a friend, etc) to be so totally free that literally any act taken by them (including decapitating you) is acceptable and you wouldn't speak against it? Or would you admit that you, like everyone else, do limits others' choices because you feel it will yield a better outcome? I will be interested to see if you deny this, but if you agree that we all do this then I will answer that this is all the Prophets do too. They don't force anyone, don't use violence, don't use magic to punish you, and don't use mind control. It's literally always a free choice, and if you choose against what they suggest it will turn out worse for you: why? Because they already knew it would, and that's why they suggested what's best for you in the first place!

Using your way of seeing it, this would be like telling your kid "do not cross without looking both ways!" and they accuse you of manipulation their future and taking away their choice, so of course they 'go their own way' and cross without looking, and get hit by a car. And now of course they come back and accuse you of sending cars to hit them as punishment for disobeying you, you tyrant!

So you can see how ridiculous that perspective would be, and yet I somehow feel that this is exactly what you accuse the Prophets of. The only conclusion that makes sense is that you believe the Prophets either (a) do NOT know what is actually best for the Bajorans (an opinion for which there is no basis in the show other than disliking the idea of gods), and (b) have nefarious motives, which I also do not believe is supported by the show.

Do you see what I mean?
Chrome
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 12:00pm (UTC -5)
Peter G. wrote:

"Using your way of seeing it, this would be like telling your kid "do not cross without looking both ways!" and they accuse you of manipulation their future and taking away their choice, so of course they 'go their own way' and cross without looking, and get hit by a car. And now of course they come back and accuse you of sending cars to hit them as punishment for disobeying you, you tyrant!"

Exactly. I think the only way to interpret the Prophets actions as nefarious is if we'd seen them do something actively bad for people or *against* their will. Up to this point in the series we haven't, so I can't really get behind the whole Prophets interfering with people's lives being negative. It's no more harmful than say, Q showing Picard the possibilities of time in "All Good Things" and we certainly haven't seen anything as bad as "Q Who" from the Prophets.
Peter G.
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 1:21pm (UTC -5)
@ William B,

I read your post twice just to make sure, and I'm pretty sure the answer to all of your questions is the same: Ben Sisko.

-Forcing Sisko:

How do we know the Prophets did this to help him rather than to force him? Simple: he had his free choice all along. But what he wanted was the best for Bajor, and worried that the Emissary role was going to hamper his Starfleet role. The Prophets sent Akorem in to show him that this is not so: in fact, the opposite, and that his Emissary role is exactly the way to carry out his Starfleet role. Take him away from being Emissary and the Bajorans will find some other religious leader, and Bajor won't join the Federation. Put Sisko in that role, and his influence will guarantee they listen when we speaks as a Starfleet officer. How much more respectful can it get for the wormhole aliens to emphasize how important it is for Starfleet to be listened to?

-Worship: What is worship, anyhow? This bears asking, because if we (incorrectly) define worhship as shutting off your brain and being a slave to some deity then it's simply tautological to say that worship will always be bad for Bajor. If it's defined as listening to what the authority figures (in this case, the Prophets) say, then it's about helpful information coming from a trusted source. Completely different! The modern, strange, notion of defining worship as being an ignorant slave (like in The Apple) is indeed one which I would suggest is problematic, like Kirk did. But of course it needn't be like that at all, as people can surely worship with their eyes open as well. In fact faith in the Federation ideals is a form of worship; not in the sense of bowing down literally, but certainly in terms of figuratively bowing down to these ideals, enshrining them, obeying them even if it costs you personally, and believing in their rightness even when it's difficult. That's what the PD episodes are all about. But if worship is about listening more so than being enslaved, this also addresses your next point:

-Worship versus the will of the Prophets:

If the will of the prophets is for Bajor to do what's best for it, this is a hope, with advice given to go along with it. Now as I mentioned it seems natural that a primitive people will literally bow down to gods and build temples to them and so forth, there's nothing textual in the series to suppose that the Prophets care about that as such. In fact every time we see them is seems pretty clear that there's so uninterested in the minutiae of corporeal affairs that they wouldn't even really understand what the difference is between having temples versus not. Or at least, this is what they present; perhaps they only play at not understanding linear time to help educate Sisko in how to educate others in 'the game'. That's a matter for head canon; but in context of the series they appear to have no stake in people doing little chores to appease them. We never see that even once.

Now the fact that the Prophets, merely by making themselves known at all, means the Bajorans will worship them, seems pretty much inevitable. It's a stage they will have to go through, because really how could you even stop a primitive people making idols of their gods? But that doesn't mean this is the best setup, or even a good one. And so again we can invoke Sisko: if he is the one to usher in the new age for Bajor, then his values are the ones to take seriously: think for yourselves, consider others, make peace; but don't be afraid to get huffy and fight for what you need, even if it's tough. But really these are Federation values more so than just Sisko's, and Bajor needs them. Maybe we all do. So whatever the Bajoran religion was before - and certainly *listening to* the Prophets was and is a good idea for them - Sisko seems to be here to show that it's about more than the trappings of piety and making temples, but is actually about thinking of the future and what your descendents will need. We might even see Sisko's stint as Emissary as being the beginning of weaning the Bajorans off of total reliance on blindly obeying and shutting off their brains. If they are ever to be ready for Federation membership, they'll definitely have to become more solid in the better values and less stuck in rituals, routines, and old ways; which includes doing whatever some charismatic leader says.
William B
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 2:06pm (UTC -5)
@Peter, I will have to think about what you say some more. I think it's possible that much of what you present as what the Prophets seem to be teaching is close to what I would want them to teach. I'm a little stuck because I am having a hard time evaluating how much this corresponds to what I experience when I watch these relevant episodes.

What I will say is that the reason I'm stuck on the definition of "worship" that is closer to The Apple, rather than the "worship" in the sense of listening, taking advice from, etc., is that it seems to me that the Bajorans in this episode very much exhibit the former. I don't think it's a wild misrepresentation of what we see from the Bajorans within this episode, and I also don't think that what the Bajorans would give to Sisko at the end *if he asked it* would be that different. If it's the case that Bajorans are in a state of arrested development which can eventually end, and perhaps SPOILER is ending at the end of the series with Sisko taken off the board, at least to a degree, then the Prophets showing Sisko why it's necessary for him to occupy the Emissary role to prevent some Akorem-type from doing so makes sense. In the grand scheme of the series this appears to the what the arc is, and so I'm not opposed to the idea that this is what their plan is. However, in the process of Sisko showing them that it's less about piety and making temples, Sisko seems to be forced to do *more* piety and making temples, willingly doing blessings, etc. It seems as if Sisko is -- let's say encouraged rather than forced -- to take a more active role in the daily rituals of Bajoran religious life, or at least that's how he seems to interpret it at the episode's end. This seems to mostly be in purely symbolic gestures and generalized enthusiasm rather than in doing something more reactionary like Akorem or the murderous zealot.

I'm not saying that doing blessings is automatically bad. I'm not religious and that probably comes across in my writing, and I admit to some ignorance about the daily realities of religious life, but I'm not trying to be anti-religious. What I'm saying though is that I have a hard time seeing from this episode evidence that Sisko is led to a point of seeing his contribution as being the fact that he's not obsessed with ritual, when he seems to be more devoted to ritual at the end. Nor does Sisko seem to particularly get any impression of why he's designated by the Prophets as who the Bajorans should listen to, nor even that he recognizes that it's his task to get Bajorans to be more self-sufficient, rather than just relying *on him*. It seems that Sisko is going to continue trying to be Sisko and a little hands-off, but doesn't actually tell the Bajorans that what he wants, as Emissary, is for them to not follow any Emissary, including him, blindly, but to listen to them as an adviser. I know the series is not over, and so we can maybe say that the episode ends with Sisko only having gotten to the point of seeing that he is better than an Akorem, but not entirely that his task is to teach the Bajorans to be more self-sufficient.
Peter G.
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 2:28pm (UTC -5)
@ William B,

"What I will say is that the reason I'm stuck on the definition of "worship" that is closer to The Apple, rather than the "worship" in the sense of listening, taking advice from, etc., is that it seems to me that the Bajorans in this episode very much exhibit the former. I don't think it's a wild misrepresentation of what we see from the Bajorans within this episode, and I also don't think that what the Bajorans would give to Sisko at the end *if he asked it* would be that different."

Right! That is exactly it. As of this episode the Bajorans are dangerously close to still being the former, and that needs to stop. I would think that would be apparent once the murder happens. Because they are still not ready to be on their own they need a leader, but one who won't lead them backwards. And I would suggest that the episode makes it pretty clear that Sisko's way (pushing Federation values, rather than blind tradition) is the right way that gives us our happy ending.

But I do see where your difficult with this comes in: it's the very bad, almost pernicious, modern concept that we need to have a strict choice between traditions (all wrapped up in religious trappings) and a completely secular, untraditional, irreverent, atheistic way of life. These are the two pre-packaged gift baskets being sold, and it is total B.S.! And you can almost viscreablly feel how much people have something missing when they have no sense of ritual, tradition; when they have nothing to 'bless' (in the colloquial sense). You end up with reams of self-help books because everyone knows something's missing. And I say this not as a religious person but as a person of the theatre. There is an amazing power in symbol, ritual, cultural richness, and in the elevation of something to the 'reverend' level that goes beyond words like "religious".

So when Sisko at the end begins to wholeheartedly help the Bajorans in their religion, is it because he's "validating" the particular rituals and blessings, as if to encourage blind worship as in The Apple? Or is it that he can now happily respect the Bajoran *culture* and the things they care about, more than it being merely a chore for him? Their traditions and festivals don't have to go away just because they need to mature and stop blindly following any old leader. The one has nothing to do with the other. And it's that old puritanical iconoclast idea that if we want to get over bad ideas then we need to destroy every last vestige of society that accompanied them - that I think is dangerous. There is no need to burn down churches if a person wants to go away from the Church, and there is no need to stop the Bajoran gratitude festival and blessings just because they need to learn to think for themselves. For Sisko to find new meaning in the traditions means he'll understand the people better; I don't think the ending shows that he suddenly decides to demand unthinking fealty from them.

Another matter is transition: even *if* these rituals were going to go away long-term, there is the matter of transitioning from their current manner of worship to one that's more enlightened. For Sisko to roundly denounce their rituals and say they don't matter would be really destructive, and would gain nothing other than undermining the Bajoran ability to trust him. If he is going to help them it has to be in a way that they'll accept and understand. The transition period will take as long as it needs to take, and in the meantime it would be important for him to show that he cares about their culture and their needs. It doesn't mean he supports their bad religious tendencies, however.
William B
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 2:45pm (UTC -5)
@Peter, I agree that it's very possible to have traditions and spiritual life without the pernicious aspects of religion, and that this is an important goal. I also think that Sisko is not demanding unthinking fealty...but is he really, at the episode's end, discouraging it? The huge negative consequences of the The Apple style thinking are ones that Bajor has to eventually leave behind, but is Sisko even aware that this is what he's now doing? Or is he just aware that at least he's not Akorem, and if Bajor is going to pledge uncritical fealty it should be to someone who will only tacitly accept it? It seems as if Bajor will still do whatever Sisko says, and it's just that he will restrict himself to not saying much. Or am I missing a part where the Bajorans have genuinely started into a new era?
Peter G.
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 2:52pm (UTC -5)
@ William B,

SPOILER

I think Kira working to help the Cardassians in S7 is the beginning of that new era. It requires them seeing that their 'enemy' is like them, to begin to change. But addressing your first comment, I don't think Sisko needs to discourage anything for his presence to have its effect. His belief in Federation values is reflected in the station, in Bajor's relationship to the Federation, and in Kira's personal relationship with him. The mere existence of an organization like the Federation is enough for people to be able to see it and realize its strengths. No nay-saying is required.

And I'll say further, that one doesn't get all that far with others in telling them "don't do that!" All it does is take away something they think they need and leaves a hole. It also of course has a negating manner. Better is to show them an alternative and let them see if it's better. Better yet is to help them and show that your way of thinking put you in the position to wanting and being able to help them. Sisko doesn't have to decry their rituals, nor should he. He doesn't have to tell them which parts of their religion are pernicious, because when they find the better way the bad parts will stop having relevance and will go away on their own. At least, that's my take on it. The Federation way isn't to convert other cultures, but jus to expose them to new ideas and to show how good it is to be part of a larger community. Likewise, Sisko isn't there to convert anyone, just to be present and show them his side of it. That's a strong enough role without him also needing to be some kind of religious weedwhacker. If he did that he'd be no better than a slightly more advanced version of Akorem.
Elliott
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 4:48pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G

"No, it didn't. That's the point; it has left them divided, sectarian (remember The Circle?), and open to manipulation."

What I mean is that this episode clearly uses the D'Jarras as a stand-in for any number of social issues; there's no ambiguity in this story that the Bajorans were forced to abandon the D'Jarras during the Occupation, and even someone as conservative as Winn hasn't attempted to bring them back.

"Are they concerned that Sisko is doing some particular thing *right now* or is that only because this sets into motion a series of events resulting in some outcome in 10,000 years?"

That doesn't seem to have any bearing on the assertion that the Prophets have an agenda and use their abilities to affect beings like Sisko on purpose to manipulate them into doing things. I'm not even getting into the value judgement of such a practice yet, but we need to be clear on the foundation. The Prophets want things for their own reasons and don't appear to hesitate in taking actions to achieve them.

"Wait, so you're telling me you never set up situations to limit the choices people make? You consider the actions of anyone around you (a significant other, a child, a friend, etc) to be so totally free that literally any act taken by them (including decapitating you) is acceptable and you wouldn't speak against it?"

Your examples are not equivalent at all--children? Certainly you limit their choices because they are children and we are responsible for their wellbeing. My husband? No I do not limit his choices because I respect him as an equal and I trust him to make choices that our in our mutual best interest. That's part of why I married him.

But to take your (IMO kind of absurd) extrapolation at face value, let's say the Prophets view humans and Bajorans and all linear beings as children (kind of like Q says he does of us). When I was a kid, my parents forbade me from doing things could be dangerous, like say touching the stove so I wouldn't burn myself. If I disobeyed them, I might be punished, so that I learned to respect their authority until I was wise enough to know better on my own. What you're suggesting is that the Prophets would parent by taking the child's hand and holding it over an open flame to teach them how their hands could be burned by hot things. That's psychotic. And that's exactly what they're doing to Ben--there is zero sign that the Bajorans are on the path to returning to the D'Jarras on their own; even the evil Winn, Jarro, whoever else might show up haven't managed that, despite the apparent ease with which the Bajorans can be convinced so to do (more on that later). So, they find the most contrived, convoluted and improbable circumstance they can in order to jeopardise Bajoran development (assuming they even see it as such) so that Sisko is forced to embrace his role. I say "forced" because the alternative would be to allow the Bajorans to descend further into regressive social practices.

If they *wanted to*--if it were in their agenda, the Prophets have many, many other options available to them on how to uplift the Bajorans and prevent them from making bad choices, to parent them, if you will. But they choose the method that requires Sisko to commit to his role as their Emissary, because that's what they really care about: fealty. That's fucking sick, dude.

"How much more respectful can it get for the wormhole aliens to emphasize how important it is for Starfleet to be listened to?"

So, you're contending that the Prophets want Bajor to join the Federation? I don't think you want to die on this hill.

"But I do see where your difficult with this comes in: it's the very bad, almost pernicious, modern concept that we need to have a strict choice between traditions (all wrapped up in religious trappings) and a completely secular, untraditional, irreverent, atheistic way of life. These are the two pre-packaged gift baskets being sold, and it is total B.S.!"

Maybe, but that's the show's fault, not ours. Are there ANY Bajoran social problems that aren't related to their religion? Whenever they do something stupid, like bombing schools or murdering people for being in the wrong caste, the justification for it is their faith in the Prophets. The opening acts of this episode actually set us up for a situation that is more nuanced than what we get.

This is (one reason) why FBtS is one of my favourite episodes, because the Prophet experience is actually treated as a plausibly religious/spiritual one that has a real effect on people without being stuck in the clichéd, regressive trappings of Hollywood's version of religion. It's also one thing I think works well about VOY's "Sacred Ground," but I digress...

I don't think you've made a convincing argument about why the Prophets are not manipulative. Whether their choices are for the greater good or not, well that's perhaps a matter of interpretation, but you can't deny that they involve themselves to an extent that makes our characters little more than cosmic puppets. Q was also manipulative, but the show held him accountable for his actions; he was never presented as a moral authority--even in his most benign role ("Tapestry"), his agenda was clearly personal, borne out of his relationship with Picard. Pretending that the Prophets don't commit the same sins does neither the show nor the concept of being a modern religious person any favours.
RandomThoughts
Sat, Apr 6, 2019, 3:29am (UTC -5)
Hello Everyone!

@Aaron

That is an interesting thought. They said it all along, they are "Of Bajor". So in some way, shape or fashion, they have a true connection to it. It would be an interesting show, or movie, that takes this further.

Thanks for that insight, lost among the seemingly endless bloviating that has been making my eyes bleed.

Regards... RT

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