Nutshell: A nicely realized dose of sentiment with a tale of regret and an effective approach. Quite strong.
"Ties of Blood and Water" is another very good example of why DS9 has worked so well this season. We've got plenty of new plot lines and character situations, but nothing is left forgotten. Old wounds from the resistance days are still very remembered, and again they display their impact on a certain Bajoran major.
The story brings Tekeny Ghemor (Lawrence Pressman) back to the station as a follow-up of sorts to third season's impressive "Second Skin." In that episode, Kira and Ghemor were victims in an Obsidian Order plot to expose Ghemor as the leader of the dissident movement on Cardassia. The Obsidians surgically altered Kira to look like Ghemor's long-lost daughter. Their plot failed, and after the ordeal Kira and Ghemor recognized the common bond between them. Ghemor had forever lost his daughter, but he saw a memory—and thus a friend—in Kira.
Two-and-a-half years and several sweeping political changes later, Ghemor has left Cardassia. He has no intentions of living under the Dominion rule that Dukat pushed Cardassia into. He's also dying of a terminal illness. He intends to live out his days on DS9 in Kira's company, and he has a request: He wants to reveal his knowledge and secrets to Kira according to a Cardassian tradition. By agreeing to take on the responsibility, Kira would be giving Ghemor the only family support he has left. And it would also be a major intelligence opportunity for the Federation. Ghemor holds the secrets to Dukat's biggest weaknesses and the holes in his new alliance with the Dominion, which could prove very helpful to the Federation understanding the nature of Cardassian internal affairs.
"Ties of Blood and Water" primarily examines the nature of the relationship between Kira and Ghemor, but one notable peripheral aspect is how much this small character installment has to do with the "big picture." It's intriguing and completely believable to note that Dukat's alliance with the Dominion is not something that everyone on Cardassia supports. The implications of this are interesting, especially given the fact that the information Ghemor can supply to the Federation could be the genesis for future political intrigue.
The fact that Dukat contacts Sisko personally also proves to be a telling sign. Dukat wants Ghemor back; it's obvious Dukat fears what Ghemor has to say could undermine his new position. ("We want him back. He has a lot to answer for," Dukat merely explains.) In an effective scene that shows Sisko and Dukat back to their always-interesting verbal face-offs, Sisko denies Dukat what he wants, calling Dukat a "Dominion puppet" and flat-out telling him that the Federation no longer recognizes the Cardassian government.
That brings Dukat to the station personally, along with Vorta liaison Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs, reprising the role of the character killed in last season's "To the Death," resurrected here as a clone). Dukat changes his tune, asking Ghemor if he will come back to Cardassia willingly. Ghemor, naturally, is not receptive; nor is Kira. Plan C: Dukat sends a bottle of Cardassian ale to Ghemor's quarters, which security intercepts and discovers is poisoned. In a scene of wonderful dramatic tension that plays a number of notes perfectly, Sisko brings the poisoned ale back to Dukat and asks him to drink up. The resulting dialog creates a very entertaining scene featuring interestingly low-key performances where Avery Brooks and Marc Alaimo utilize facial expressions to speak tons more than what's said aloud. Weyoun, meanwhile, provides some wonderfully biting comic relief by mocking the entire situation. The moment when he knowingly drinks the poison (which he's immune to) is wonderfully handled in both shock value and the reactions of Sisko and Dukat. I'm not sure why I liked this scene so much, but it really worked. I think it was the nature of the three distinct personalities and how they punctuate the elements of the overall political intrigue. Or maybe it worked simply because it was so nicely acted.
But enough already. Turning back to what this episode is really about—that is the relationship between Kira and Ghemor and the implications ultimately revealed behind it—"Ties of Blood and Water" was pretty poignant in its meaning and its conveyance. About the only notable complaint I have involving this personal bond is how it came so far out of the blue. We've neither seen nor heard anything about Ghemor since "Second Skin," and it seems the same is true for both Kira and Ghemor concerning one other. Sure, they kept tabs on one another based on intelligence reports, but they haven't spoken in over two years. The last time we saw them together they seemed to be friends, but they didn't seem nearly as close as they do now.
Initially, the Kira/Ghemor scenes feel a tad too earnest, but as the episode progresses things begin to make sense—a lot of sense, really. The fact is, just as Ghemor saw Kira as his daughter in "Second Skin," here Kira begins to see her father in him. The fact Ghemor is dying in front of her really begins to hammer home long-surviving regrets that Kira has regarding her real father's death from years ago in the resistance. The episode's true beauty is how it goes about demonstrating the parallel between Kira's feelings for her father and her feelings for Ghemor.
Dialog scenes between Kira and Ghemor work fine in their own right; both Nana Visitor and Lawrence Pressman turn in sincere performances as Ghemor's condition slowly but steadily worsens. But the scripters' creation of a series of flashback scenes are what really makes the episode work on multiple levels rather than becoming the single-planed melodrama it could've been. Take, for example, the scene where Kira begins the first recording of Ghemor's secrets. Ghemor begins talking, but we can see Kira is troubled as the scene cuts to a flashback setting on Bajor where her father has been injured in a Cardassian attack. The episode doesn't reveal the entire tale of the past at once, but it does make the parallel clear. As a result, we can foreshadow where the episode is going, which makes the payoff at the end more rewarding.
As stand-alone scenes, the flashbacks are enlightening. I've long wanted to see something from Kira's actual resistance days on Bajor manifested on the screen, and here I get my wish. For consistency's and credibility's sakes, the flashbacks also feature the familiar Furel (William Lucking, whose character was killed off in "The Darkness and the Light")—who, at this point in time, had both arms.
The point of crisis in the story comes at the hands of Dukat's covert villainy. He supplies Kira with Ghemor's military records, leading Kira to force herself to poke into Ghemor's past—something she had never done before. She's infuriated to learn Ghemor served on Bajor during the Occupation—and that he was even involved in a massacre on a Bajoran monastery. However inconsequential his part in the deaths may have been (and the story suggests that it may very well have been extremely inconsequential), Kira finds the walls of anger before her again. She's angry at Ghemor for not telling her the truth. And she's even more angry at Dukat for his deliberate meddling is her affairs. I completely believed Kira's promise, and was equally disgusted by Dukat's smugness:
Kira: "I promise you, Dukat—I will make you pay for all of this one day."
Dukat: "Maybe ... but not today."
Bashir tries to talk Kira into forgiving Ghemor, but she resists Bashir's requests and contemplates leaving Ghemor abandoned in his final deathbed hours. The most fascinating aspect of the show is how it's not Kira's anger and hatred from the past that guides her decision and makes her incapable of facing Ghemor. It's what happened with her father all those years ago. After her father was mortally injured, Kira and her allies went charging after the Cardassian attackers for revenge. By the time she returned, her father was dead. Since then, she has carried the heavy burden of missing her father's final hour, and more—missing it intentionally because she simply couldn't deal with it.
The question is whether history will repeat itself. Naturally, it won't. That's the point. Kira's eleventh hour decision to sit with the dying Ghemor allows her to undo a mistake she made long ago. It's the proverbial second chance that not many people get, and she makes the best of it.
The way the teleplay highlights her decision by utilizing the flashbacks is what makes this such a nicely realized drama. My only hesitation is that some of the dialog in the coda between Kira and Bashir—while nicely acted—is not really completely necessary. The episode did such a good job of demonstrating its point dramatically that it probably didn't need to spend so much time explaining it verbally. But, then again, maybe dark regrets do indeed need to be borne out with the words of sorrow.