Pride As a Twisted Badge of Honor
"Waltz" Plot Summary:
Sisko is escorting Dukat - whose doctors say he has fully recovered from his mental breakdown - to a starbase for a trial hearing. The ship is attacked, and when Sisko comes to after the battle, he and Dukat are alone on an inhospitable world. Dukat tells Sisko that he rescued him aboard a shuttle. Sisko's arm is broken, and Dukat claims to have established a distress call which could be picked up either by Starfleet or the Dominion.
Word of Sisko's ship's destruction reaches DS9, but Kira is ordered by Starfleet to divert the Defiant from the rescue mission after two days to escort a vital convoy past the Badlands. She tells Worf, in command of the Defiant, that he has that long to find Sisko. On the planet where he is marooned, Sisko discovers that Dukat never enabled the distress beacon, and that the former Cardassian leader has hallucinations of Kira and other people criticizing him. Sisko secretly repairs the beacon but must pretend to go along with Dukat's desire to win Sisko's respect, even to the point of agreeing that the crimes of the Bajoran Occupation were not Dukat's fault.
Tormented by visions of Weyoun, Demar, and Kira alternately telling him to kill Sisko and laughing at his incompetence, Dukat realizes that Sisko is not as wounded as he has feigned when he discovers that Sisko has taken apart a fork to use as a tool to activate the beacon. He attacks Sisko for not trusting him, at which point Sisko drops all pretense and reminds Dukat that five million Bajorans died under his command. Dukat tries to explain that he wanted to help the Bajorans, but they refused to realize that the Cardassians were the master race and to submit. As the hallucinations grow stronger, Dukat proclaims that he should have killed all the Bajorans, and that he will return to do so.
When the Defiant finally picks up a signal though they're overdue for the rendezvous, they find Sisko badly battered and Dukat gone - he has taken the shuttle which he told Sisko could not be repaired. Sisko tells Dax that despite all the shades of gray in his job, he now realizes that there is such a thing as true evil, and he won't let Dukat hurt the Bajorans again.
"Waltz" is about as ethically compelling as Deep Space Nine has been since "Duet." There were philisophical questions raised by this episode which troubled me, but as television, it was superb. Brooks and Alaimo played magnificently off one another, with Sisko oozing quiet menace and Dukat emanating spooky instability - the violence stayed just under the surface, waiting to explode, for the entire episode.
I was afraid for a few minutes that this episode was going to be The Great Redemption of Dukat, a common soap opera staple - when a nasty character becomes popular, the writers turn him into a good guy so they can keep him around. During the first couple of seasons of DS9, we were led to believe that Dukat was irredeemable. Lately, the show seems to have forgotten that - even Kira had moments in "Indiscretions" and "Return to Grace" where she seemed to be softening on him, despite the atrocities he committed against her people. I was absolutely delighted to hear Sisko name Dukat as the genocidal maniac that he is, and happy that the episode did not try to wash or explain away his crimes.
I know a lot of people found Dukat's nervous breakdown at the loss of the war and the death of Ziyal to be out of character; I did not. I don't think a man who could permit the slaughter of millions of people is stable, no matter what sort of value system he was raised with; like Sisko, I believe that some things are evil no matter what forms of cultural relativism get applied. I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea that mental illness and that sort of evil are linked, as this episode seemed to suggest when Dukat left with his imaginary friends in the shuttle, but if we are to believe that not all Cardassians are monsters, then it stands to reason that anyone who thinks like Dukat is insane even by their standards and possibly always has been. He's Hitler with DS9's camera crews as Leni Reifenstahl.
Really, Dukat is an enigma, and in some ways he's the most interesting character this series has ever had: a genocidal maniac who's also a bright, charming, witty family man. It's hard to know from this episode whether his hatred of Bajorans was exacerbated by his recent mental illness, or if those feelings were always within him and the death of Ziyal just brought them to the surface. His affection for her was always tinged with patriarchal control issues, but I always thought those were paternal, not racial as well. He is a very frightening man.
Kudos to Rene Auberjonois who directed his colleagues in "Waltz" for putting together such an effective show. That's not always easy to do when one of the characters is seeing visions. I enjoyed seeing Weyoun as the voice of Dukat's insecurities and Demar as his Cardassian pride, and it was particularly revealing that he imagined Kira speaking for all of Bajor. That puts a terrifying new spin on his long-standing attraction to her, which has always contained an element of wanting to possess her, but it was never so clear before that he wants to subdue her. Nonetheless, her chemistry with Dukat remains potent; when they argued, they got in each other's faces, invading one another's personal space, and there was a nasty sexual undercurrent to their bitterest arguments.
Sadly, Dukat's imaginary Kira was far stronger in this episode than the real one - since when does Kira bow to Starfleet orders, especially when it might cost her Emissary his life? Sisko came across much stronger, playing dumb and passive when he had to without getting confused about his values or goals. He didn't surrender to the typical hurt/comfort bonding here as characters so often do in "Enemy Mine"-type situations like this one. I can't wait for Dukat to get back and menace Bajor; I want to see what Sisko will do.
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