Living With the Past
"Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night" Plot Summary:
On her mother's birthday, Kira gets a message from Gul Dukat, still in hiding from the Federation. He tells her that he learned from Sisko that facing the truth is valuable, and wants to help Kira do the same. He then announces that her mother was his lover for years after Kira believed her dead in a refugee camp. He knew about her mother's scar and her favorite flowers. Kira, whose father had told her that her mother was the bravest person he had ever known, calls Dukat a liar, but can't get his allegations off her mind and has trouble working.
Kira asks Sisko to help her get access to the Orb of Time so that she can learn the truth. Sisko starts to remind her of the Federation regulations about time tampering, but Kira interrupts to tell him she came to him as the Emissary, not Captain Sisko. She begs him to let her seek the will of the Prophets, and assures him that she won't interfere with the timeline because they will guide her.
Kira gains access to the Orb and finds herself in a Bajoran refugee camp, decades earlier. She befriends her mother, Kira Meru, by defending the family from Bajorans who want to steal their food, and introduces herself to young Kira Nerys as Numa Ral. A Bajoran collaborator comes through with Cardassian soldiers to take "comfort women" to Terok Nor. As Nerys and Meru are both taken, they hear the soldiers promise to feed and take care of the families of the women. On the station, they are ordered to shower, dress, and look their best for the Cardassians. Nerys tells her mother that they'll find the local Resistance cell, but Meru is so happy that they're being fed well that she doesn't pay attention. She cries for her children, and Nerys discovers the scar Dukat described, which her mother says she got for failing to show proper respect to a Cardassian. Nerys says they all have scars of one kind or another.
A Cardassian attache tries to terrify the women into behaving, but Dukat enters and assures them that the Cardassians are not monsters - they are kind, not to be feared. He asks for a dermal regenerator when he sees Meru's scar and repairs her skin, telling her that he wants to eradicate all reminders of the gulf between their people. Meru tells Nerys that it's ironic: as a child all she wanted was enough to eat and clothes to wear, and now she has both those things, but she's miserable. Nerys is propositioned by a Cardassian legate whom she gets drunk while Meru is assaulted by one Cardassian, then rescued by Dukat. Nerys's drunken companion agrees to leave her alone for the night, but tells her she'll be his the next day. When Nerys enters her quarters, she finds that Meru is gone to live with Dukat; when she demands to see Meru, she's sent to ore processing to work.
In ore processing, Nerys meets the leader of the Resistance cell, who calls her mother a collaborator and wants Nerys to draw him a map of the station. She's reluctant, but is summoned away before she has to decide what to do. She is taken to Meru, who is living in luxury, surrounded by food and flowers, and apparently quite taken with Dukat. Nerys reminds her that Dukat is the enemy, but Meru says it isn't that simple. Nerys points out that while she's been sharing Dukat's bed, he's been plotting genocide, but Meru says that Dukat has assured her that he's trying to end the Occupation. Nerys calls him a liar. Meru asks what Nerys would have her do when this is the only way to help her children; Nerys accuses Meru of doing it all for herself, because she LIKES sharing Dukat's bed, and calls her a collaborator. Then Nerys leaves to go back to ore processing and the Resistance, where she makes plans to hide a bomb in Dukat's quarters; if Meru dies in the blast, she tells the Resistance leader, it's what she deserves.
Nerys pretends she wants to apologize to Meru and gains access to Dukat's quarters, where she hides the bomb while Meru listens to a message Dukat has procured for her. It's from her husband, Nerys's father. He tells her that the children are doing wonderfully, eating more than they have ever gotten before. He misses her terribly but he is grateful to her for saving their lives, and prays to the Prophets that she may find kindness and joy in her new life. While Meru sobs, Nerys drags her out of the room and yells a warning to Dukat. At the moment the bomb goes off, Nerys vanishes.
On Deep Space Nine in the present, Kira tells Sisko that she always hated collaborators, and killed them during the Occupation in her mother's name. She insists that what her mother did wasn't right, though Sisko points out that it was Meru's decision. Kira reports that her mother lived with Dukat for seven years, while countless Bajorans died at the hands of the Cardassians. Sisko asks Kira why she let her mother live. A devastated Kira replies that, whatever she did, Meru was still her mother...but a part of her is sorry that she did let her live.
This was a stunning episode, refusing to shirk from either Meru's dilemma or Kira's. It did not provide any easy answers to the questions it raised: If you could only save your family by cooperating with a man your people regarded as a Hitler, would you? And if the only way you could assassinate a Hitler was to kill your mother as well, would you do it? I don't think anyone can answer those questions without being in a situation so horrific that most of us can't even imagine it. Kira thought she could, but when the Prophets put her in the situation, she discovered that she wasn't positive of either, and part of her rage against Meru stemmed from the fact that she couldn't know how she'd react herself until she was there. Her final admission to Sisko - that part of her wished she had killed her mother - rang very true yet was devastating to hear.
DS9 has done its best to demolish Kira over the course of the past several years, putting her into a catsuit, writing a dreadful pregnancy storyline for her to cover for the actress's own pregnancy. So it's been easy to forget that when she gets a script like this one, Nana Visitor is as good an actress as anyone on television. Here she was playing Kira from "Duet" and "Necessary Evil," balancing the beliefs which sustained her in prison camps against the truths she knows she must confront if she is going to grow past those experiences. Not that this script was great: it was rushed, it never used the word "rape" to refer to what the Cardassians were doing to the comfort women (nor did it show the violent assaults which must have been going on). By focusing on just two characters, it made the choices for women seem like total acceptance or direct rebellion (without much consequence, since Nerys had no children to torture) as the only options.
Still, the dialogue was engaging and occasionally made my skin crawl. Dukat's decision to throw her mother's past in Kira's face is one of the most vicious actions we've seen him take, even considering that we've seen him do some pretty awful stuff - he knew that the discovery that her mother was a collaborator would shatter Kira's world. Sisko understood how important it was to her to learn the truth first-hand; it's not often that he steps aside from his Starfleet duties to take on the mantle of Emissary. Visitor managed to make Kira angry yet forced to relate. Would she have been more or less forgiving if the woman in question had not been her mother? It's hard to say, but considering how close Kira herself came to rape by a Cardassian, and considering that when she arrived, she'd eaten recently and hadn't come from years of abuse by fellow Bajorans in a refugee camp...I'm inclined to believe that she might have.
Was Meru a collaborator through her passivity, her acceptance, her failure to try to kill Dukat? It's an impossible question to answer, but the show seemed far more forgiving of her than her daughter was. This was a woman who came from nothing, who'd watched her own children starve; I don't think we're in a position to judge her conscious decision to leave that life behind, accept her fate and believe that she was actually doing good for her family. Her husband forgave her, her children thrived because of her decision (and she was told that they would be sent to labor camps if she didn't cooperate, so she almost certainly saved their lives).
It seemed that Meru fell for Dukat awfully quickly, but that's the vagaries of television; we didn't see what happened during the weeks when they were off the station together, we didn't hear the lies Dukat told her and the truths he chose to share. It's to her benefit that we've all seen Dukat be charming - we've even seen him almost charm Kira. The real Bajoran collaborator, the man who chose the women to be sent to Terok Nor and who abused them there, was much more deserving of condemnation than Meru - in general, the Bajorans acted realistically, with several becoming thugs and thieves given the opportunity. I do not believe we're expected to share the deadly judgement passed upon her mother by Kira.
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