[DS9] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "In the Hands of the Prophets"
Review by Tim Lynch <tly...
NOTE TO USENET:
I'm going out of town for a couple of weeks starting Thursday morning. If
you have responses you really think I should see, please _mail_ them to me as
well as or instead of posting them. Thanks. --TWL
WARNING: This article contains heavy spoiler information regarding DS9's
season finale, "In The Hands of the Prophets". Those without the gift of
prophecy who want to avoid knowing the future of the episode, steer clear.
(And, as with "Descent", an extra thirty lines of blank space are being
thrown in free of charge.)
One hell of a good show, and one that hits very close to home for me.
Of course, the fact that it got to me so strongly will be _no_ surprise for
anyone who read my review of TNG's "The Chase" earlier this year. As this
episode tackled issues equally close to my heart and mind, the commentary is
likely to be as strongly worded -- so be warned. (Since the show also deals
directly with issues I mentioned in "The Chase" rather than suggesting them,
it may also prove difficult to separate them out, so take extra care when
reading or responding.)
First and foremost, I have to say that for the last ten minutes of the show
my heart was pounding faster than I think it has in any time since "The
Mind's Eye" two years ago. I'd pegged Neela as the assassin somewhat before
it was made obvious, but what I was far more concerned about was exactly what
she had planned, and more importantly, given DS9's penchant for nasty
endings, whether she'd succeed. I warmed very quickly to Vedek Bareil, and I
didn't want him taken down by a fanatic's phaser. This was also one of the
first times in a very, very long while that we've had any sort of
slow-motion effect used at all, much less to the wonderful ends it was put to
here; and seeing that somehow added to the nervousness I was feeling.
There. That takes care of the end; now back to the beginning. :-)
I can't really discuss the show at all without getting heavily into my own
views on the place of religion and religious thought in schools, so I'm
afraid you're stuck with me. Hang on.
My own feelings fall in line almost perfectly with Keiko's here: there is no
place for "the Prophets" in the classroom. I have no objection to religious
doctrine being taught at all -- but not in a secular environment which is
supposed to avoid favoring _any_ spiritual belief. To quote Keiko again, "I
don't teach Bajoran spiritual beliefs; that's your job."
As such, I (probably not surprisingly) felt that Sisko was being a little
_too_ equivocal in early portions of the show, when the school issue was
still the focus of the show rather than Bajoran religious politics. I'm
referring specifically to the Kira/Sisko/Keiko scene in Sisko's office.
There, Keiko's position was pretty clear, and in my opinion completely
justified. Kira seemed too far over on Vedek Winn's side, particularly given
her devotion to the not-nearly-so-extreme Kai Opaka. Sisko, however, gave
Kira far too much slack, in my view.
I'll explain. Kira's claim that perhaps two schools were needed on the
station strikes me as an "if we ignore this information, hopefully it'll go
away" answer to the problem -- and Sisko should have made that point clear.
Keiko does, somewhat later -- her answer to Winn's "compromise" sums it up
perfectly. "I'm a teacher -- my responsibility is to expose my students to
knowledge, not hide it from them." (Actually, that's not quite my own
philosophy, which is simply to show students how to ask the right questions
and obtain knowledge _themselves_, but that's a different issue.)
Sisko's point about "all philosophies" being welcome on the station was good,
but in my opinion was incomplete. For one point, I think Kira's claim about
"pure science without a spiritual context _is_ a philosophy" is simply wrong.
(Science is a way of reasoning, not a belief system. I've known scientists
who subscribe to a great many religions, and none have a problem with
"science vs. religion", as long as they realize where in their own thinking
one stops and the other begins.) For another, however, Sisko needed to point
out that nothing was keeping Vedek Winn from teaching Bajoran spiritual views
to anyone who wanted to listen, and thus letting the children hear both
Keiko's _and_ her teachings. (And if they contradict? Well, that's why it's
called thought -- the kids can decide which one holds water. That's what the
marketplace of ideas is _for_.)
Much of this is simply my own philosophy being slightly at odds with that of
the show, it appears, and it's not at all akin to the situation I flamed to
high heaven in "The Chase". Here, all sides _were_ presented, and thus the
marketplace of ideas I just alluded to last paragraph is open for business --
I just felt uncomfortable with elements of it. (That may be a sign, perhaps,
that I'm not as tolerant as I should be. I certainly hope not, but I'm
probably not the one most qualified to judge.)
Getting back to "In the Hands of the Prophets" as a show, it succeeded very
well in arousing strong emotions towards the various characters, at least in
me. I was as hurt as O'Brien was when Neela was revealed as the killer
(although as I said, I saw it a bit earlier than he did), and as warmly
towards Vedek Bareil as Sisko. As for Vedek Winn, well ... as I said, my
viewpoint this episode was paralleling Keiko's, so draw your own conclusions.
The plotting was definitely good. Although I pegged Neela as the killer
about five or ten minutes before the episode itself did (to be specific, it
was when she and O'Brien were working on the runabout pad), I don't think she
was meant to be an incredible secret. The bigger points, namely the linkage
between Aquino's death and the school issue, and the fact that the school
issue itself was just a diversion, were well hidden, at least to me. As
Bareil arrived on board, I thought very briefly that the whole thing might
have been to draw him out of hiding, but then decided that wasn't the case.
I was fooled. (That's twice this week -- I must be doing something wrong.
One bit of slightly "off" thinking struck me, though -- once O'Brien knew
Neela had done something to security, particularly to weapons, he shouldn't
have just told Sisko -- he should have told _Odo_ as well. Odo's the much
more logical choice, and he might have been able to do more than leap in slow
motion towards Neela as well. Ah, well.
To offset that, though, I think Neela's very presence and significance
suggests a surprising willingness towards _long-term_ plotting and planning
on the part of the DS9 staff. Neela's presence would have been an immediate
giveaway as the killer, I think, were it not for the fact that we've been
seeing O'Brien working with various Bajoran assistants for the last several
episodes. None of them was Neela, granted, but we've been seeing new ones
virtually every show for a while, all present and helpful, but not
significant to the plot. It appeared that Neela might be the same way. If
this tendency pans out, we'll have to start looking a lot more closely at
little tidbits in the show that could later turn out important. Bravo to
this, I say.
The conflict between Sisko and Winn was built up well, with Sisko not
becoming particularly hostile towards her until things started getting out of
control, and especially once the school was bombed. (That bombing sequence
chilled my blood, by the way -- far too close to home for my liking, given
how easy it's been for public places to be bombed in the last few years.)
His speech to her outside the bombed school, unlike his earlier scenes I've
mentioned, was absolutely stunning. Winn, like many real-life parallels, was
a picture of arrogance: she truly did "claim the Prophets as [her]
*personal* constituency". (She also, in coldly sending Neela to a likely
execution merely to gain political power, is in my opinion a monster; but I
It's tough to pin down specific scenes that really touched me, because so
much of the show managed it. The scene where we first met Vedek Bareil was
particularly strong. Bareil, unlike Winn, is the absolute best kind of
religious leader: he leads and teaches by _example_, or so it appears. I
hope we see more of him next season, and I hope he does become the next Kai.
(It's been suggested that Winn might get the job to give the show some extra
conflict. I hope this is not the case -- there's plenty of juicy conflict on
the station without cutting off Sisko from the planet below. Besides,
_nobody_ on the station seems to be on Winn's side now.)
Louise Fletcher did a wonderful job playing Vedek Winn, even if she made me
angry (perhaps especially then). While I haven't even seen the film version
of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", I have seen a stage adaptation of the
novel, and based on her performance here I suspect Ms. Fletcher was a
_devastating_ Nurse Ratched in the film. Brr. Winn seemed a perfect example
of what can happen when the _forms_ of religion are observed without any
respect for the _substance_. Winn became so caught up in the effort to
become Kai that she lost sight of everything Kai Opaka might have wanted in a
successor. She was closed-minded, willing to sacrifice her "flock" for her
own ends, and willing to threaten others as well, even the "Emissary who
walked with the Prophets". She reminds me of most of the "controversial"
religious leaders who make the newspapers every month with a new boycott or a
new protest, and who steadfastly "regret" the violence done in their name.
Winn wasn't quite as repulsive a character for me as "Gul Darheel" was last
week, but she was close.
As far as other characters go, the O'Briens were wonderful, together as well
as separately. Keiko's little bout of fake jealousy ("just keeping you on
your toes, O'Brien") is the sort of thing I could easily expect to hear in
any number of married households (though in my case, it's usually a friendly
"oh, _really_"?" :-) ), and the concern they had for each other when things
got difficult was never so clear as just after the bombing. It's about time
those two finally clicked together.
Kira was generally good, but her initial scene with Sisko seemed a bit
extreme for her. I'd have expected her to demand that Bajoran teachings not
be banned from the station (as if Sisko would do such a thing), but not to
demand concessions from _Keiko_ -- that seems too far, even for someone as
strident as Kira. Once that scene was behind us, however, everything was
fine, particularly the closing scene of the show.
Sisko, as the other main regular featured, was also generally good, although
that one scene I've mentioned got to me. He seemed to have fewer
difficulties than Kira, however -- his main fault was being too willing
to compromise. He was in rare form (both in terms of writing and Avery
Brooks's performance) pretty much everywhere else, though.
Robin Christopher was excellent as Neela as well. She was confident while
working with O'Brien, but very much a lost soul whenever her "duties" for
Winn took precedence. While I felt nothing but enmity for her in the actual
climax of the show, I pitied her more than anything else -- and given that
she had a relatively small role in terms of speaking parts, that I felt
anything at _all_ is a sign of how well she did. Good job to her, especially
the nonverbal cues.
The closing scene was nice as well. If this had been anything other than a
season finale, I might have thought it was a little hokey -- but as it is, it
was a nice summing-up of "here's where we stand, let's see where we're
going." Besides, regardless of context, it _is_ cute to see Kira telling
Sisko "I don't think you're the devil", as if it's an issue. :-)
Finally, I'd like to note that it's interesting that the school issue was
never resolved. It made perfect dramatic sense for it to be used solely as a
front, and although I was disappointed not to see it completed here, I think
it makes some sense in the analogy to real life as well. Given my
characterization of Winn above, you may not be surprised to read this, but I
think that in many cases, issues such as evolution vs. creation in schools,
boycotts of "offensive" television programs, etc., are often not about
beliefs or religion when you get to the top echelons. I think that more
often than not, they're about _power_, and as such the show followed life
There -- now that I've probably managed to offend almost everybody who reads
this, it's probably time to get ready to go. :-) So, some short takes:
-- The music was all right in general, but particularly _good_ during Neela's
attempt on Vedek Bareil; it added that much more to the suspense.
-- The final act of the show was a full *15* minutes long. That's a third of
the show! While I'm sure there have been others, the last time I remember a
show being this heavily weighted towards the final act was waaaaaaay back in
TNG's first season, in "Conspiracy" -- and it was certainly effective back
then as well. Interesting.
-- A question. Just what was Bashir babbling about with "reconstructing
Aquino's DNA" to find the cause of death? If Aquino was turned into a pile
of goo, why would the DNA be able to tell you anything? Sigh...
-- Once the details of the power struggle became a little more obvious, I
actually began to be reminded of David Eddings's _Elenium_ series.
Certainly, there's a great deal of Church intrigue there, and nearly as
interesting to read, though for different reasons. Just a thought.
That should about do it. So, the numbers, before I head out of town:
Plot: 9. Except for the one glitch with not telling Odo, top-notch.
Plot Handling: 10. Riveting.
Characterization: 9. Kira and Sisko were a little off early on, but no
OVERALL: 9.5. Not bad at all ... not bad at all.
Well, that's it for me. See you in a few weeks for the TNG and DS9
Season-Wrapup reviews. Until then...
"One must never look into the eyes of one's own gods."
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I am a teacher. My responsibility is to expose my students to knowledge,
not hide it from them."
-- Keiko O'Brien
Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...