Nutshell: Good but not great. An effective sum of many relevant parts.
As a personal request from Bajoran political leader Shakaar, Kira must attend a diplomatic conference between the Bajorans, Cardassians, and other worlds. Providing transport to the conference is Gul Dukat, now demoted to a freighter captain as a result of his disgrace for bringing home his half-Bajoran daughter Tora Ziyal (Cyia Batten), introduced in "Indiscretion."
As they arrive at the conference site, Dukat and Kira discover that the conference has been attacked. Detecting no life signs, they assume that everyone has been killed. Suddenly, the presumably responsible Klingon ship decloaks. Dukat's freighter doesn't have anything close to the weaponry required for a retaliation strike, so the Klingons get away. The plot continues as Kira and Dukat begin swapping secrets of the trade in their attempt to revamp the weapons and track down the Klingons to be brought to justice.
"Return to Grace" is another DS9 show that falls into the "good but not great" category. Although there's nothing that jumps right out as a hands-down terrific episode in this recent trend of good shows (since "Homefront"), it does display a valuable virtue DS9's fourth season has that Voyager's second season does not: a noteworthy consistency in the writing.
This episode once again pairs up Kira and Dukat to solve a problem despite their past differences. And while this works generally better than it did in "Indiscretion," there are still a few missed opportunities here, and the situation does not always feel quite genuine. In essence, "Return to Grace" has a strength that also proves to be its weakness: It deals with a smorgasbord of small but relevant issues. This is good in terms of continued overarching storyline development and thoughtful drama. This is faulty in that it throws all of these issues into the mix, exploring every one just enough to spark some reasonable interest, but not enough to turn any of them into something as compelling as they could have, and probably should have, been.
Let's look individually at the episode's many issues (in no particular order):
- Dukat taking Ziyal back to Cardassia with him proves to have some serious consequences for a change. As we meet Dukat in this episode we learn that his family has alienated him, his government has reduced him to hauling junk, and he's virtually been exiled from Cardassian society. (In one amusing summing up of Dukat's downfall, even the Klingons don't find his vessel worthy of firing upon.) All he has is his principles and his daughter, whom he's glad he returned to Cardassia with despite the consequences.
- Kira still has trouble accepting the reformed man Dukat has become since his position as slave overseer from the Occupation days. This is good to see, especially after the absurd scene in "Indiscretion" of the two laughing it up together. There's a strikingly probing scene between Kira and Ziyal where Ziyal says her father sometimes refers to the Occupation as a mistake.
- The Klingons, virtually unseen since the season premiere, finally show the indications of being active troublemakers in the area. This is not played for a huge impacting payoff here, but more like an indication of things to come. This is good because it's done subtly and sensibly—an incident located away from DS9 and reasonably contained in scale. It's plausible—how I would really expect the Klingon situation to begin brewing.
- Kira and Dukat working together as a team highlights two different schools of thinking—survival versus tradition. Kira telling Dukat that he has to think more like a Bajoran freedom fighter based on the resources he has makes a lot of sense, and is strangely ironic. Both remain in character, and it's nice seeing these personalities at work.
- The idea of Dukat being attracted to Kira strikes me as an unnecessary plot angle, but at least Kira puts him in his place when he starts to get obnoxious. Somehow, though, the way Dukat talks, it seems like he condescends toward Kira. Maybe it's just Marc Alaimo's line delivery style.
- The confrontation with the Klingons is kind of fun, albeit implausible. Somehow, I doubt Dukat would be able to beam his crew onto the Klingon's ship in the heat of battle, but what the hey? Dukat showing no mercy on the Klingons by beaming them onto his freighter and blowing them up seems appropriate enough.
- After Dukat is reinstated to his military position for the capture of the Klingon ship and fleet information, he finds that Cardassia's defeat by the Klingons (in "The Way of the Warrior") has turned them into an effete people too paralyzed to fight for themselves. No one wants to launch a counterstrike on the Klingons. This leads Dukat on a new mission that changes the definition of his character. This is a rather eye-opening idea, but the episode doesn't really say what Dukat hopes to accomplish with just one ship, or why Kira would be such an asset to his cause. It's interesting but ultimately puzzling.
- Kira realizing that the life Dukat is about to lead his daughter into is something Kira doesn't think Ziyal should have to face. Kira speaks from experience—she's been there. This is another of the episode's intriguing points. Consequently, Kira offers to take Ziyal back to DS9 and look after her. Ziyal could turn out to be a fresh recurring character based on her unique experiences, provided the writers find anything productive for her to do in the future. I wouldn't mind seeing the character again.
There are a lot of pieces to this show, and most of them work pretty well to a degree. Again, this could've been more than it was had it carried more overall depth, but in terms of seeing a broad canvas of material important to the series as a whole, "Return to Grace" is quite satisfactory.
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