Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Reckoning   Rewatch 
September 12, 2016 11:15 AM - Season 6, Episode 21 - Subscribe

It's too bad that DS9 has already used the titles "Armageddon Game" and "Apocalypse Rising", because that's what happens in this episode, for real this time; it starts with Sisko taking a gander at a dusty old tablet, and ends up with two ancient enemies getting it on like Donkey Kong.

Memory Alpha senses that your pagh is strong, child:

- Bradley Thompson describes his and David Weddle's initial idea for the show as being quite simple; "We were looking for the ultimate battle between good and evil. We thought, 'Let's put a Prophet up against a Pah-wraith and deal with some deep stuff'." When they pitched this idea to the producers, they were told that a similar story had already been pitched by writing team Harry Werksman and Gabrielle G. Stanton, so the producers purchased the Werskman/Stanton idea, and assigned Thompson and Weddle to compose the script. Initially, Thompson and Weddle felt that the story should be handled very much like a horror movie, and when they told Behr the direction they were heading in, he loved it and told them "It's Godzilla versus Mothra, with a mummy movie opening." They took this to heart and wrote an elaborate opening sequence involving a vedek discovering a casket in a hidden chamber in the walls of B'hala. When he opens it, two entities escape, and the vedek has a heart attack and dies. The entities then disappear into the ceiling, and the camera pans upwards to reveal a large bird sitting on a wall looking down at the dead body. This opening was scrapped because it was felt to be too schlock-horror like. As Thompson explains, "It was way too mummy movielike."

- In the first few drafts of the script, Kira is possessed by the Prophet and Kai Winn by the Pah-wraith, and their battle aboard Deep Space 9 was far more elaborate than that seen in the finished episode. Weddle and Thompson wrote them as having a running battle all over the station, throwing fireballs at one another and completely destroying the Promenade. The whole idea however became far too complicated from a logistical point of view, and René Echevarria was brought on board by Ira Behr to try to smooth things out and simplify the script without losing the essence of the plot. Apparently, when Steve Oster first saw Thompson and Weddle's draft he responded by proclaiming that it would be a fifteen-day shoot (a normal DS9 shoot is 6 days).
The battle between the Prophet and the Pah-wraith as seen in the final episode was devised by director Jesús Salvador Treviño. He saw it as a battle of wills rather than an all-action shoot-out, and the script was rewritten accordingly. However, while Treviño's solution might have made for some excellent television for viewers seeing the completed episode, with all the post-production effects work added, during the shoot itself, it all looked rather silly. As Dennis McCarthy, who scores an episode with a cut from raw footage, testifies, "They were just standing there, looking weird, like they were at the dentists office, thinking of their upcoming root canals." Indeed, during the shoot of this super-serious battle, both Nana Visitor and Cirroc Lofton had great difficulty keeping straight faces long enough to get complete takes.

- This episode represents the first time the Prophets are seen outside the wormhole, and it also represents their fifth appearance in the show (after "Emissary", "Prophet Motive", "Accession" and "Sacrifice of Angels") and Sisko's fourth encounter with them (all previous mentioned, except "Prophet Motive").

- The phrase "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die," quoted by Quark and Bashir, is a common conflation of two quotations from the Bible: "Eat, drink and be merry" from Ecclesiastes 8:15, and "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" in both Isaiah 22:13 and 1 Corinthians 15:32.

"In a way, I feel sorry for her. She spends her whole life in service to the Prophets, and then one day, after years of self-sacrifice and commitment, she gets her reward - she's elected Kai. It should've been the greatest moment of her life."
"But my being the Emissary spoiled it for her."
"The Kai has always been the spiritual leader of Bajor, but Winn has to share that role with you. And to make matters worse, you're an outsider, a non-Bajoran - that's something she can never forgive you for."

- Kira and Sisko, on Kai Winn

"Who knows? The rest of the tablet probably says "Go to Quark's. It's happy hour.""
"I like the way you think, Doctor."

- Bashir and Quark

"I just had this uncontrollable urge to smash the tablet."
"Oh, I get those urges all the time."

- Sisko and Dax
posted by Halloween Jack (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Mm. As ever, interesting behind the scenes talk. The bit about them having a hard time keeping their game faces on surprises me not at all. I bet I would've cracked up. I'm also not surprised Winn was originally tapped as the villain - it was much better that they did not go that route. Picking Jake was probably the single best option: Sisko cares about him more than anybody else in the world, he's a civilian who can't be expected to give his life for a cause, etc.

I also do like the resolution. Kai Winn is a great character, and her struggles with faith were fascinating to watch. DS9 mostly handled religion and faith in ways that I really liked, far better than most SF shows. There's a long tradition of SF sneering at religion instead of appreciating that even if we go to the stars, many people will believe in something, and - speaking as a solid non-theist, actually - I find that impacts my willing suspension of disbelief quite negatively. There's a long standing tradition in religious fiction that people will come around, but Winn frequently doesn't.

Stuff like that is the best of all possible outcomes: it's believable.

That said, this episode gets at something that never really worked for me in DS9: the Prophets as unabashed Good Guys, with an Eeeeevil Opposite Faction. Not that I thought they were bad, but... okay, so there's a couple of things going on for me:

The first is that true dyed in the wool black/white moral conflict is rare in Star Trek, just as a philosophical point. The whole Prophet/Pagh Wraith thing is way too Light Side/Dark Side for my taste.

Trek has tons of villains, but they're typically less about mustache twirling and more about dehumanization in the fanatical pursuit of a goal: the Borg are evil, but it's not too hard to see how they got that way. Put a civilization on a certain technological and economic path, optimization is everything, brains link up... if the physical constraints of the universe permit, it's not too hard to see how we could end up similarly leashed to machines here in RL.

The Founders are also evil, but again, it's not hard to sympathize with or at least understand them - fascism is a real thing that happens, and while their solution to their problems was horrifying, their complaints about persecution were real. Odo's temperament also gives some insight into how their basic psychology probably tilts them in the direction of authoritarianism. I could rattle off examples from almost - though admittedly not each and every - antagonist in Trek canon that offer similar insight into 'why it makes sense we're all shooting at each other.'

To me, Klingons are sort of the best example of how villains in Trek should work: they're jerks, (and frankly, they remain jerks), but while they begin as outright enemies, they're trusted allies when the dust settles. That's how Trek should be, because Trek should be optimistic and open at its core.

Pagh Wraiths are just classic demons, and they receive even less character development than their alternate company equivalents. We don't know what put them on their path. We don't know what they stand to gain or lose. We don't know how they work. We just know 'Pagh Wraiths are bad, mkay?'

As a Trek fan, I always found that pretty unsatisfying. Even the Ori from Stargate are more layered and complicated than these guys.

Worse, they undercut what I find fascinating about the Prophets: in their initial depictions, the Prophets are explicitly confused by linear time. They don't understand one event following another, as opposed to everything happening in some kind of simultaneous event space. That makes stuff like The Reckoning nonsensical - it reminds me of Left Behind, where you have the Antichrist undertaking a gambit against God even though everybody and their dog knows who's going to win. The Pagh Wraiths and the Prophets should know how this all plays out, because for them, it should be playing out at the same time as everything else. That's a difficult concept to write around, (heck if I know what I'd do with it myself), but I think it would've worked better without things like this muddying it up.

So yeah. In conclusion, I found The Reckoning to be a land of contrasts, and my feelings about it pretty mixed.
posted by mordax at 12:21 PM on September 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


The first is that true dyed in the wool black/white moral conflict is rare in Star Trek, just as a philosophical point. The whole Prophet/Pagh Wraith thing is way too Light Side/Dark Side for my taste.

I feel like the Pah-wraiths would have been a lot more interesting if, like the Prophets, they were fairly neutral on the existence/well-being of Bajor, but because they were "separate" from the Prophets somehow, they ended up getting branded as the "demons."

Even Gul Dukat's my-prophets-are-the-true-prophets arc would have been a little more nuanced if the Pah-wraiths weren't literally trying to destroy the universe and all. If they were just the losers in some kind of interdimensional time-unbound war who got slandered by the Bajoran's interpretation's of the visions they got from the Prophets, the show could have addressed questions like whether it was right to keep them imprisoned (especially in the light of the Bajoran's recent history).

I think part of it was that by establishing the Prophets as Bajoran deities the show set itself up for a situation where implying that the Prophets themselves were actually flawed wouldn't have played well to western audiences. Even where Bajoran believers were clearly in the wrong (see: Keiko's school getting bombed), the show used that as a lesson on being respectful about beliefs as opposed to promoting the idea of learning more about how the universe actually functions. So I don't think that a "your gods are people too" type plot arc would have flown.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:03 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


So I don't think that a "your gods are people too" type plot arc would have flown.

Except it's a proud Star Trek tradition. Captain Kirk defeated Apollo - explicitly the Apollo. The Q Continuum are an entire pantheon of just Loki, his brother Loki and their other brother Loki and so on. Kevin Uxbridge was awful.

We also had looks at religion from the other side in a wide swath of episodes including the funny Devil's Due, the stupid False Profits, and the genuinely neat Blink of an Eye, (based on a short story that's worth a read).

The entire run of Trek has examples, with the fig leaf of 'well they're actually just powerful aliens, not capital G gods,' and it treats believers with pretty well overall, because it treats most people pretty well overall. There was basically no call for how the DS9 stuff went down except them being tropey, which they more or less admitted in this specific instance.
posted by mordax at 1:14 PM on September 12, 2016


I don't think it's quite as simple as good guys/bad guys, because while the Pah-wraiths are obviously bad, the Prophets aren't totally good. They seem to have some sort of compassion at times, but they don't have morals like we do exactly. I'm not sure if they have emotions, they're very detached. They're like a force of nature, above it all. They have a certain investment in Bajor and they will move to protect it when they feel like it, but if millions die that's not necessarily a concern for them. Maybe the Prophets represent creation, order or calm and the Pah-Wraiths are destruction, chaos or madness. Or maybe it's no emotion vs. all the wrong, crazy emotions. But I don't think it's quite angels vs. demons, because the Prophets aren't really angels. I don't think we're dealing with relatable alien races here like Klingons or even the Q. I think the Prophets and the Pah-wraiths were kept deliberately strange and mysterious. Even when our guys do talk to them, they can't really connect. They're some whole other order of being.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:33 PM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think that the whole Pah-wraith/Prophet thing is probably some species of Black and Grey Morality [TVTropes], as is, arguably, DS9 in general (and maybe a bit more so after "In the Pale Moonlight"). The point was made that Kira willingly let herself be possessed, and Jake allowed that he wanted the battle to go forward after he was taken over by Kosst Amojan (so that KA would be destroyed), but we'll see early in S7 that the Prophets don't always necessarily give their possessees a choice.

Before I get into the meat of the episode, one small complaint: I think that this episode really should have been the second-to-last in this season, for a couple of reasons. One, the threat of destroying the station just doesn't seem particularly plausible this far out from the end of the season. Something that big is really more of a season-ender threat, IMO. (The station has been threatened before, but there was always a secondary threat; "Civil Defense" had the threat of some people dying, as one actually did from that replicated destructo-beam IIRC, and "Visionary" actually did kill off one of the main cast. Sort of. No, actually. Well, you know.) The thing is, it would not be completely implausible that they would destroy the station, given that they had the Jem'Hadar blow up one of the pylons in "To the Death" just as a distraction while they pulled a heist. Of course, it wouldn't be permanent; for one thing, all they'd have to do to replace it is tow Empok Nor to the wormhole. But still. And putting this episode second-to-last would put a bit more of a sting in what happens in the season finale, because of what happens due to letting Kosst Amojan go. Instead, we get what seems like filler episodes that blunt the impact of that; they're not bad (well, not all bad), but except for "Valiant", they could have happened just about any time throughout the series. In fact, "The Sound of Her Voice", although decent enough, could have taken place in just about any of the Trek series.

But anyway. I don't really see the episode as really being about the Prophets or Pah-wraiths per se; some of it is taken up by some quasi-Christian themes (Sisko being willing to sacrifice his son; the smashing of the tablet hearkening to Moses destroying the original tablets of the Ten Commandments), but most of it is about Winn. (There's a subsection of the Memory Alpha article discussing her that's worth looking at.) There's a great bit of dialogue from her that wasn't quoted in MA and that I didn't have time when I posted this to transcribe:
Where is your faith, Emissary? You don't think the Evil One will be victorious, do you? Rest assured--the Golden Age is upon us. The Prophets and the people will be as one. Think of it. There will be no need for vedeks or kais or even Emissaries.
My headcanon is that she had a moment, at some point during the Force battle, when she thought, wait--Sisko's still got his day job after the apocalypse, but what about me? Per Howard the Duck (the original comic, not the movie), "Where do you go--what do you do--the night after you save the universe?" I think that it's not that she doesn't believe in the Prophets, but that she believes in herself a little too much.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:23 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the Prophets and the Pah-wraiths were kept deliberately strange and mysterious. Even when our guys do talk to them, they can't really connect. They're some whole other order of being.

That works when it's just the Prophets. I have some complaints coming up with regard to that, but overall, I do agree with your take about them, and that it mostly works. You're right, my language was sloppy and the *Prophets* aren't totally good. I freely concede that most interactions with them manage to hit the right note of 'whoa, these are not regular aliens.' (I feel like that doesn't work here, but it's unusual.)

The Pah-Wraiths, though:
"We were looking for the ultimate battle between good and evil. We thought, 'Let's put a Prophet up against a Pah-wraith and deal with some deep stuff'."
I don't think authorial intent is the only part of interpreting a story, but this story is pretty clear about what the Pah-Wraiths are supposed to be, and I don't feel like they ever really exceeded that one note.

In defense of the writers, they did manage to cover some deep stuff though. So, like I said, mixed feelings.

But anyway. I don't really see the episode as really being about the Prophets or Pah-wraiths per se; some of it is taken up by some quasi-Christian themes (Sisko being willing to sacrifice his son; the smashing of the tablet hearkening to Moses destroying the original tablets of the Ten Commandments), but most of it is about Winn.

That's why it worked for me despite my lengthy complaining essay, yeah. Making this about two possessed agents of good and evil squint at each other? Boring and stupid.

Making this about Kai Winn? That does tap into what makes Trek great, and gets back to my whole thing from In the Pale Moonlight about how the best stories don't have easy answers. Kai Winn cheated fate, and that's back to being interesting.

I mostly wish the Wraiths were also interesting. But hey, this still makes a viewer think, and that's good.
posted by mordax at 8:37 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gonna agree in general about the mixed feelings on this one—I think it mostly works, largely because it's a super-important Winn episode. But regarding the Wraiths overall:

We don't know what put them on their path.

We sort of do. At some point, we are told that the Wraiths used to be Prophets, but the now-Prophets kicked them out of the Celestial Temple. IIRC we're never told why, but the whole calm-versus-chaos speculation seems reasonable.

My suspicion is that the writers wanted to play around with Judeo-Christian stuff, if not at first then eventually—hence the Lucifer allegory.

The Pagh Wraiths and the Prophets should know how this all plays out, because for them, it should be playing out at the same time as everything else.

One could speculate that the Prophets know, but the Wraiths—having been confined to the Fire Caves, which may have acculturated them to linearity—maybe don't. Again, speculating here.

I feel like the Pah-wraiths would have been a lot more interesting if, like the Prophets, they were fairly neutral on the existence/well-being of Bajor, but because they were "separate" from the Prophets somehow, they ended up getting branded as the "demons." […]If they were just the losers in some kind of interdimensional time-unbound war who got slandered by the Bajoran's interpretation's of the visions they got from the Prophets, the show could have addressed questions like whether it was right to keep them imprisoned (especially in the light of the Bajoran's recent history).

Agreed, and since they WERE separate, the writers could indeed have gone this way. It might've made the Final Light/Dark Confrontation more impactful if the audience had reasons to sympathize with, or at least understand, the Wraith side. But that wouldn't have echoed Judeo-Christian philosophy to the extent that I theorize the writers wanted to.

I mostly wish the Wraiths were also interesting. But hey, this still makes a viewer think, and that's good.

I concur, but at least they made the Wraiths' climactic delivery system (phrase vaguely due to spoilers) interesting. And gross, but, well, that can wait.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:10 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I thought this episode was fine until the showdown turned into the standard, let's touch our wands together and stare at each other intently force battle. I seriously would have preferred a good old fashioned arm wrastle to that.

The writers really wrote themselves into a no win scenario with the Prophets. They are "out of time", which is a concept humans really can't understand, and makes writing satisfying stories nigh on impossible. But they are also religious gods, which means all sorts of parallels - intentionally or unintentionally - to existing religious figures, requiring you to tread extremely carefully lest you step on a lot of toes and abandon a segment of your audience. I thought the very first episode of DS9 was one of the best scifi introductions I've ever seen to creatures like the Prophets. And most of the time the writers really nail the stories, but slip ups are completely expected.

I'm not sure there is any concrete in-story backing for this, but in my mind the outcome of this apocalyptic battle is changed because of the Prophet's earlier interference in events. Maybe when they interfere with corporeal events the "future" becomes less clear to them.

Alternatively, their interference might be the action that led to this apocalyptic showdown.
posted by 2ht at 4:59 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Maybe the prophets exist in all possible futures. That would explain why they would interfere sometimes, and not others.
posted by pseudodionysus at 8:32 AM on September 13, 2016


Could it be that the Prophets know what is SUPPOSED to happen in linear time, but the Pah-wraiths are able to act in ways that disrupt the natural course of events? So the Prophets can predict everything, unless the Pah-wraiths screw it up. (And maybe the Benny Russell stuff wasn't just "visions" the Pah-wraiths put in Sisko's head to mess with him, but was actually an alternate timeline they created. That's kind of a digression, but it's something I've wondered about.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:36 PM on September 13, 2016


So the Prophets can predict everything, unless the Pah-wraiths screw it up.

If that were the case, the Jennifer-Prophet in the pilot would presumably not have been SO shocked to learn about the mere notion of not knowing what's going to happen. When Sisko explained that linear beings lack that foreknowledge, IIRC she said something along the lines of "It is inconceivable that a species could exist in this way! You are deceiving us!"

And, since the Prophets seem to be both a quasi-hive-mind and immortal (or just reeeeeeally long-lived), it stands to reason they'd all know the capabilities of Pah-wraiths … UNLESS the only reason the Wraiths are able to screw things up is beCAUSE they were condemned to a linear existence, and once they were gone, the Prophets didn't bother to observe how that existence may have changed the Wraiths, and their own foreknowledge with it.

But that theory assumes that Wraiths stuck in the Fire Caves live in a linear state. Still, that's not implausible, either. I know I'd go crazy after spending countless millennia confined to a DS9 cave, especially if I used to be an all-knowing Celestial Temple God-Alien.

And maybe the Benny Russell stuff wasn't just "visions" the Pah-wraiths put in Sisko's head to mess with him, but was actually an alternate timeline they created. That's kind of a digression, but it's something I've wondered about.

Well, that would've opened up the delightful possibility of Sisko and Russell meeting due to a spatial anomaly. Something tells me Sisko would find him irritating.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:42 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Biblical analogies with the Prophets were inevitable since season 1, as soon as we saw that the Bajoran religion was structured after the Catholic Church. The writers could have gone a different route, but there were so many other threads in the series already that it made sense to keep it simple. Use Christianity as the template, and every viewer will understand whats going on without needing to spend more time world building.

The mood in this episode was spooky. The Pah-wraiths felt like a bigger threat here than the Dominion had been in a while. The producers were using horror movie effects: the background music, flickering lights, wind (where was that coming from?). And demonic possession, of course.

I thought Sisko was maybe too confident in the Prophets with regards to Jake, but it makes sense as we've already seen Ben lose perspective with Prophet stuff. I understand Avery Brooks made the writers change the series finale because he didn't want Sisko to be a typical black man abandoning his family. The writers were pulling Sisko toward that in this season.

Kai Winn is maybe a better villain than Dukat. She definitely has been since he went nuts. They are both egotistic and power hungry, but unlike Dukat, she never lets her emotions get the best of her.

The ending would have been a cop out had it been anyone other than Winn pushing that button. Like, say a random monk we never met before shows up and is all angry at Sisko for whatever reason. It's what Voyager did. But we've known Winn for a few years and we know her motivations and goals and villiany and we knew she would undermine Ben in some way.
posted by riruro at 8:48 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Biblical analogies with the Prophets were inevitable since season 1, as soon as we saw that the Bajoran religion was structured after the Catholic Church. The writers could have gone a different route, but there were so many other threads in the series already that it made sense to keep it simple. Use Christianity as the template, and every viewer will understand whats going on without needing to spend more time world building.

Somewhat hilariously, I watched this episode right after watching the first episode of the Young Pope - with the idea that I wanted to watch something completely different. And then I got five minutes into this episode and was like "hey, wait a minute. . ."

I agree they should have done a practical effects version of the fight scene. Not only would it have helped the acting a little bit, it probably would have made more sense as to why they had to inhabit bodies. If it's all 'orange force vs. blue force care bear staring their way out of Jake and Kira', it doesn't make any sense as to why the forces have to come out of Jake and Kira - we've seen those forces floating around in the air. And it would have been a lot more affecting to see Kira beating the snot out of Jake (maybe with some flashbangs in the background because of the force involved) and Sisko just allowing it to happen.

Winn's choice made perfect sense, and do I believe that Sisko would act in the way he did. I also enjoyed that all of the non-Bajorans thought this whole scenario was insane. But I have to imagine what Starfleet Admiral was going through the reports of Deep Space Nine and just gesturing at the battle map and being like GODDAMMIT SISKO DO YOU HAVE TO PULL THIS SHIT NOW?!

I mean, just imagine it:

Monday: Captain of key location in Dominion war unavailable due to visit historic monument
Tuesday 3pm: Formal complaint lodged by a word's religious leader that said captain stole a key religious and historic artifact. Request explanation from Captain, who reports he was compelled to steal artifact. Orders given to return the artifact.
Tuesday 6pm: Told of horrific environment disasters happening on planet because of Starfleet captain. Orders given to captain to no, really, give it back.
Tuesday 8pm: Told artifact that was stolen foretells the destruction of a key location in the Dominion War, and also that artifact has still not been returned. Drink.
Wednesday 6am: Told that captain irreparably destroyed the artifact in the middle of the night, possibly unleashing ancient and powerful evils onto the station. When asked why he destroyed the priceless artifact, the captain replied with "I felt like it". Captain looked suitably badass during explanation, but still looking into diplomatic interventions.
Wednesday 9am: Told key location in Dominion war is being evacuated to allow two ancient and powerful beings to fight each other. Reason for fight unclear. Likely that key location will be destroyed. No actions taken to stop this. Captain reporting that he owes the ancient and powerful beings. Unclear as to whether terms of Captain's agreement could be renegotiated to a more suitable time.

No wonder all of the Admirals are evil. Nobody else would put up with this.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:25 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]


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