Nutshell: The "real" Kira returns in another Bajor-oriented show, and a good one at that. This, along with "Rapture," looks like the beginning of a promising trend.
Major Kira is back. And I don't mean the watered-down, passive, underutilized Major Kira from fourth season. I mean the "real" Major Kira from the first three seasons, and particularly the first two—the Kira that was among the strongest and best characters on the show—and one of my favorite characters of all the Trek shows.
As I've said before, I was not at all pleased with what the creators of the series had done with Kira last season. They toned her personality down way too far; they gave her very little to do in many episodes (perhaps because they were giving Worf things to do instead); and the shows where she did have major roles like "Indiscretion" and "Return to Grace" were less about her than they were about Gul Dukat.
But from what I've seen from the fifth season so far I'd say we've had a major turnaround for the better. Though Nana Visitor's pregnancy undoubtedly limited her roles in the opening stretch of the season, what we did see of her was good—beginning with her calmly standing up to Worf's posturing in "Apocalypse Rising," continuing in her prodding some sense into O'Brien in "Looking for Par'mach," and to revealing her troubled thoughts to Odo in "Things Past," and finally being just downright true to character in last week's "Rapture."
And "In the Darkness and the Light" continues the trend with another true-to-the-real-Kira episode, as Kira must track down a murderer who is deviously assassinating her old friends from the Shakaar resistance cell. Like the best Kira shows, this episode finds its success through Nana Visitor's ability to project passion and emotion onto the screen, something I will always welcome.
There's nothing particularly spectacular about the way the actual murder plot proceeds; it's solidly and sensibly written, though there are few real surprises. The events, particularly Kira's and Odo's actions, however, are carried out with precision and skill, and the episode proves that appropriate utilization of characters alone can make a standard premise a good one. What's really important here is the character core of the story, and what Major Kira does in response to these incidents.
The episode opens as a Bajoran monk (a former Shakaar member) is shot in the chest with a planted electronic device that specifically targets him. The same day, Kira receives an anonymous message displaying the monk's face and playing a disguised voice: "That's one," it ominously says, over and over again. Needless to say, the fact that someone from her past is killing her friends is distressing to say the least—but the murderer's messages add the extra elements of sadistic perversion and personal torment to the equation.
Before long, a pattern emerges, involving a particular Shakaar-staged attack from years ago. After the monk's death, Fara (Jennifer Savidge), another member of the Shakaar, urgently contacts Kira fearing for her life. Fara later dies in a grisly transporter accident. A third former-Shakaar member is victim of, as Odo states, "a micro-explosive placed behind the ear."
It's about here that the episode reintroduces some familiar faces from third season's episode "Shakaar": Furel (William Lucking) and Lupaza (Diane Salinger), who secretly come aboard the station to help Kira track the killer. We're given, of course, the obvious "it's so nice to see you again" scene—and it proves effective because these characters have such believable chemistry about them. In fact, I was so distracted that I almost didn't see the blatantly obvious coming: that these two characters were doomed the minute they appeared in the opening credits. In a powerful sequence (with an impetus which admittedly has a touch of manipulation), Furel and Lupaza are killed when an explosive destroys their quarters (or, rather, Chief O'Brien's quarters, where they were staying).
I hated to see these interesting characters tossed away with the wave of a hand, but it definitely made sense. What better way to draw the audience into Kira's lament than to kill likable characters we've seen before? Furel's and Lupaza's deaths do get our attention, and perfectly allow our empathy, as well as add meaning to an extended scene where Kira woefully reflects upon the past.
But Kira isn't just mourning, she's also thinking. Thinking about who committed these murders and what she can do to find him. Thinking about the next step of the investigation. And thinking how she has no intention of sitting idly while Odo investigates a new list of possible suspects.
What happens next is probably "In the Darkness and the Light's" best illustration of the Kira-action that I've missed for so long. Without a word or a hesitation, Kira quietly and confidently beams into Odo's office while he's not there, steals his list of suspects, and beams to a Runabout and slips away. Just like that.
Whether it's luck or contrivance that takes Kira to the isolated house of Cardassian Silaran Prin (Randy Oglesby)—quickly revealed as the killer—I'm not really sure. The episode doesn't enlighten us as to how the fourth of 20 suspects turns out to be the murderer, and the fact that this mystery has such scarcely-utilized clues to its near-arbitrary solution seems to create a bit of a non sequitur. I wondered, for example, how Prin could plausibly carry out his assassinations from his house (or if he carried them out from his house) while still being able to knowingly avoid killing his non-targets. The glaring omission of Shakaar himself in the story is also worth mention. But these minor plot points are not really important. This episode is not really much about its murder plot than it is about the roles of the people involved, that is, Kira and Prin. (For the show to be strictly about plot would miss the point completely.)
The final act is wholly worthwhile. It's heavily theatrical at times, but it's quite effective and pretty riveting. Randy Oglesby's performance easily resides on the stylized side of acting, but he's so extremely interesting and compelling to watch. The lighting of the scene (featuring some fresh perspectives by director Michael Vejar), also heavy on style and not mired in practicality or reality, goes a long way to adding mood and intensity, as well as punctuating the ending's motif of, well, darkness and light.
There's some genuinely good writing here. The motivation in particular seems right. This disfigured Cardassian, injured during an attack by the Shakaar members he has now made the victims of his revenge, is a rambling, insane man who feels completely justified in his actions. Scarier yet, his rhetoric, twisted as it is, has some points that don't seem completely unfounded. This man isn't simply evil—he's disturbed and misguided; an example of the wonderful shades of grey that characterizes many of DS9's best subjects. He truly believes his perceptions of guilt and innocence—the fact that he plans to kill Kira but spare her unborn child and "raise it in the light" proves it.
At the same time, Kira, once she comes face-to-face with her tormentor, does not take the experience lying down, which I particularly liked. Nana Visitor comes through with a truth-bearing, fiery intensity—answering Prin's arguments with the statement that all the Cardassians of the Occupation were guilty and therefore "legitimate targets" for assault, whether they were soldiers or not. Herein lies the central puzzle of the episode, which is that in war the guilty and innocent can be blurred, and individual perceptions become confused and uncertain. I'm sure Prin was completely positive that, as a mere servant to other Cardassians, he was innocent of the mass murder and exploitation of the Occupation. But because he was there, history will not view it that way. Conversely, the Bajorans, capable of terrorism and atrocity themselves, to be sure, are the innocent. History would be wrong to view it any other way. But that sure doesn't make things easier for the individual. That's the point.
I must admit that the episode's final line—Kira's somber reflection about the darkness and the light, the innocent and the guilty—is a tad overly cryptic and not as well-realized at it could've been. But it does work in that it shows Kira's regret for a troubled experience and another conflict that could only end one way—badly. Overall, this topic has a tad of the unavoidable sense of "been there, done that," but when familiar territory is covered this well, I won't begin to argue.
The lack of consequences in Kira's questionable actions hurts a bit (particularly seeing that she stole a Runabout and left Sisko steaming). But no matter—I was very happy to see Kira taking initiative again, because that is what the Kira of the past would do. If someone killed five of her friends, she probably would steal a Runabout and hunt down the killer on her own. She would slug every DS9 security guard standing between her and her dying friends. She would blatantly refuse to acknowledge the points of a revenge-hungry Cardassian. She would defy the chain of command. It's nice to see Kira back to doing what she would do under such extreme circumstances. Or, for that matter, that the creators have given her such circumstances once again.
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