Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Destiny   Rewatch 
November 18, 2015 7:11 AM - Season 3, Episode 15 - Subscribe

An ancient Bajoran prophecy of doom complicates the first joint Bajoran, Cardassian, and Federation science mission: an attempt to establish a permanent communications link through the wormhole.

Trakor's Third Prophecy
"When the river wakes, stirred once more to Janir's side, three vipers will return to their nest in the sky. When the vipers try to peer through the temple gates, a sword of stars will appear in the heavens. The temple will burn, and its gates shall be cast open."

* A fundamental element of the Bajoran religion are its numerous prophecies: foretelling of future events which are usually the result of encounters with Orbs. Other prophecies have come from apparent direct contact from the Bajoran Prophets. Many prophecies have been transcribed in the Bajoran ancient texts. Although these ancient texts are extremely convoluted and difficult to understand, many of the prophecies have a certain way of coming true.

* The Bajoran spiritual writer Trakor wrote a series of texts approximately three thousand years ago, following an encounter with the Orb of Change. These prophecies were in large part about the coming Emissary of the Prophets.

* [Episode Spoiler] Trakor's third prophecy could be interpreted as follows: The Qui'al Dam was rebuilt to return fresh water to the city of Janir, indicating the coming fulfillment of the prophecy. The three "vipers" were either the three comet fragments, or the three Cardassian scientists attached to the mission; the "vipers' nest in the sky" was either the wormhole itself, or Deep Space 9, respectively. The "Sword of Stars" was the comet's silithium tail, and the temple gates were the directly referring to the Celestial Temple; the burning of the Temple was the threat of damage from the leaked silithium. Finally, the casting open of the gates was the establishment of the communications link through the wormhole.

Rules of Acquisition
# 34: "War is good for business."
# 35: "Peace is good for business"
(It's easy to get them confused.)

Trivia (cribbed from here)
* While in full Cardassian makeup, actress Tracy Scoggins (Gilora Rejal) took the opportunity to walk around the Paramount lot, "scaring schoolchildren on buses" before security called the DS9 set, saying, "Could y'all do something about keeping your aliens contained over there?"

* Referenced: the Bajoran-Cardassian Treaty established in "Life Support".

* The original story idea revolved around Starfleet seeking to relieve Sisko of his post. Writer David Cohen: "We had enjoyed Deep Space Nine's pilot and the mythic overtones it suggested, as [Commander Sisko] was believed by an alien race to be the 'Emissary' from their gods, as prophesised in their scriptures. It occurred to us that Sisko's bosses couldn't be very comfortable with that. What if they pulled a Heart of Darkness on him and sent someone to extract him from this situation? The perfect chance to do so, we decided, was if there was some specific prophecy, that would, ipso facto, prove he's not the Emissary. We'd raise the stakes by having a pencil-pushing staff officer threaten to transfer him to another command if he doesn't end this 'Emissary' talk." They decided the problem was that, "Sisko really was the Emissary, so every effort to extricate him from this situation only furthered the prophecy. By the end, even the pencil-pushing staff officer has played a role in the prophecy and is in it as deep as Sisko, so Starfleet Command decides to just live with the whole situation." The "pencil-pushing officer" mentioned in the original story was named "Marlowe" as an homage to the character in Heart of Darkness.

* After the writing staff reconsidered the story, Cohen and Winer had another go at writing it. The new version turned out better but the staff still believed something was missing. Finally, Ronald D. Moore joked, "Jesus, this should be a prophecy of doom." Suddenly the story made sense because, as Echevarria notes, "[Sisko]'s a Starfleet officer, because he doesn't believe this 'Emissary' stuff. And suddenly there was dramatic tension galore: Sisko versus the Bajoran people, Sisko versus Kira, Sisko versus himself." The "fiery trial" prophecy that Yarka tells Sisko at the end of the episode is the prophecy that was in the original draft.

* The original draft included the Rule of Acquisition, "faith can move mountains of inventory." Though this did not make it into the final script, Ira Behr liked it so much that it eventually became RoA #104.

* The prospect of introducing two sympathetic Cardassians was done as a way of showing there are different kinds of people in Cardassian society. Understated parallels between this episode and the Cold War were intentional. The script describes the scene where Sisko and Kira first meet Gilora and Ulani; "This is the first joint project between two powers in an uneasy peace, so the scene plays out like a meeting between Americans and Russians at the height of the Cold War – a lot of diplomatic language is bandied about to cover everyone's discomfort."

* The comet the visual effects team developed for the episode was a model and not a computer-generated image.

* The relay station is a reuse of the Amargosa observatory model from Star Trek Generations.

* In a 2010 interview, Erick Avari recalled some of his personal experiences during production of this episode; "[It] was a very talky piece and I played a very serious character. We worked 12 to 16-hour days, which Star Trek was famous for. So it was a grind, and I tend to get really giggly when I'm really tired, and if I get the giggles I'm in deep trouble and I know it. Tears start running down your face, your make-up starts to smear and then you can't get through your lines. No one thinks it's funny and you know that. Nina Craft was my makeup woman for this episode, and she got me going in-between takes. At one point it was one o'clock in the morning and the two of us were just laughing like silly schoolgirls. The director then said, 'Places everyone,' and I thought to myself, 'OK, I've got to straighten up.' I had this long, wordy scene that I was supposed to be very serious in. It was about doom and gloom and prophecies to come, and all I remember is just praying that I would keep a straight face through the take. So that was a fun episode."

* Andre Bormanis details the historical relationship between comets and superstitions, akin to Tokar's Third Prophecy, in his book "Star Trek: Science Logs" (pp. 98-100). He describes the comet of 1066 which proved a bad omen for King Harold (who later died in the Battle of Hastings); how, in medieval Europe, comets were portents of disease and pestilence, wars and the deaths of kings; and how, in ancient China, they were considered harbingers of future events. On balance, Bormanis also explains the scientific theories, writing; "Comets brought ices and complex organic molecules to the surface of the Earth in the chaotic years of our planet's youth, spreading the chemical seeds of the multitudinous forms of life that flourish here today."

Analysis
Jammer's Review: "It's a very clever ending, as Yarka's misinterpretation of the prophecy proves ironic. At the same time, by having the prophecy still actually come true, the writers affirm that religion and Bajoran beliefs still remain characteristic of the series. They also prove that it's quite possible to do a story that isn't derivative. Kudos to this rather cerebral outing."

A.V. Club: "All of this is intellectually interesting, and the actors do well by the material (Visitor’s increasing awe around Sisko over the course of the episode is nicely done, and a good reminder of how important he is to her people and her faith), but there’s precious little drama in any of this. In a way, I like that; I expected the plot would have a lot of yelling and people storming off and the possibility of an intergalactic incident hovering over everything, but it’s much more low-key."
posted by zarq (13 comments total)
 
I really liked the exchange with Quark quoted above ("Peace is good for business. War is good for business..."). DS9 is far and away the only Trek series that gets me to laugh frequently.

Other aspects of the episode left me torn. On the one hand, I like that DS9 tried to make a space for religion, but in the real world of 2015, I am getting so sick of people making vague predictions based on fearmongering that have no basis in reality. Further, I am tired of there being no repercussions for these false predictions. As an example, around Halloween I saw various social media posts about a theory that there would be a wave of attacks on police officers as part of the war on cops. This was asinine on its face, but what was even worse, to me, was that there was no dialogue afterwords saying "See! That was an idiotic prediction that didn't at all happen and that was designed to stir up fear and hatred!"

I know it's a bit of a strange lens through which to view the show, but the "defrocked" Vedek didn't receive any "comeuppance" even though his prediction was based in his fear and mistrust of Cardassians.

Lastly, I think it would have been a much more clever way to do the "three vipers" thing if one of the Cardassian women had been pregnant...
posted by Slothrop at 2:22 PM on November 18, 2015


I get your point about prophecies and predictions, Slothrop, but unlike random internet assholes who like making shit up, the Prophets really do make accurate predictions; like Kurt Vonnegut's Trafalmadorians (from Slaughterhouse Five), they don't experience time unidirectionally, but see future events as basically having already happened.

Also worth noting: Rappin_Jake_Sisko's take on the episode, in which he cites two TNG episodes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:11 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Halloween Jack - yes, I think I am holding the episode to a somewhat unfair standard. Since I haven't seen the whole run of DS9, I should probably reserve judgment on how the show ends up treating prophecy and religion in the end.
posted by Slothrop at 4:13 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This episode goes some way toward refuting the idea that Star Trek aliens each represent one monolithic race. We meets some Cardassian scientists and see that they are nice people. O'Brien even finds himself getting crushed on by one of them, which is a fun place to take his character. I do wish Trek had done a little more of this sort of thing, bringing in aliens who strayed from the expected traits of their species. It would have been nice to meet a Klingon pacifist or a hedonistic Romulan poet, people who would have given more texture to the worlds they came from. I would have liked to have seen characters who made it clear there were entire cultures on these worlds that didn't fit what we'd expect. Star Trek V is just a freaking disaster in a lot of ways, but I've always liked the idea of a Vulcan who freely shows emotion and doesn't have the bowl cut and all that stuff, who just rejects everything we've come to know about his people and goes his own way. There have to be plenty of people like that on Vulcan. Or had to be, anyway. (F you JJ Abrams.)

People knocked Battlestar Galactica for getting mystical and religious-y, but DS9 beat them to it. (So did the original Battlestar Galactica, come to think of it. They had weird angels too.) But while plenty of genre shows have gotten all vague and woo-woo about the possibility that God (or the Gods) played a role in the story, DS9 had a very specific and perhaps unique take on its mysticism.

The Prophets actually exist, and they are indeed very concerned with the happenings of Bajor. They have the powers of gods, and a godlike perspective, and they will intervene in events. But Star Trek is full of aliens with powers we don't understand. You could view the Prophets as gods, or just benign wormhole aliens with vast powers, and the show works either way.

It's a bit of a digression, but now that I think of it I somehow have the feeling that the Q were more powerful than the Prophets, but the Q weren't truly omnipotent either. For instance, the Q could easily whisk a starship across the universe, all the way back to the Big Bang, and I'm not sure if the Prophets could do that. But I don't believe Q could destroy the entire universe with a thought, or create a new one in its place. It was never stated, but I have a hunch there are limits to the power of the Q, and more limits to the power of the Prophets.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:14 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd agree that Q is probably higher up on the power scale than the prophets, but that's not necessarily the case. Compared to Q or most of Trek's god-like aliens, the Prophets have a very limited, more alien psychology, in large part because they don't experience the world anything like the way normal species do, and don't understand that other experience. Sisko explained linear time to them in the pilot, but I'm not sure they really got it. So while we never see them do a lot of stuff like Q did, there's also no indication that they would want to. Why whisk a starship to the big bang? They don't understand that you're not already there anyway.

That said, we also have absolutely no indication that that sort of this would be within their power: it's more consistent to say that their power lies mostly in being able to intervene across the whole of history. But I think their unique psychology has a strong effect on what we do see them do.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:43 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting observation, VMOS. Maybe it would be fair to say that the Q were perhaps like us once and somehow became immortal and omnipotent, and having (seemingly) omnipotent power has made them jaded. While the Q we saw on TNG and Voyager was apparently a particularly mischievous example of his species, you got the feeling they all had a petty, childish quality. They looked down on humans, but they seemed less mature than humans in some ways, like being so powerful for so long had kind of messed them up. But the Prophets were never like us and never understood people exactly, but kind of looked down on Bajor from a vaguely parental (or godlike) perspective.

It makes me wonder why the Prophets never interfered during the occupation, even a little bit. They do seem to care about the people of Bajor, at least to some degree. Maybe that was dealt with at some point and I'm not remembering. But if I was a Bajoran and our gods were literally right up there in the sky, observing, I think I'd really question my faith as I saw my neighbors being marched off to the camps.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:17 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that there's a certain future plot development, involving Bajorans of an alternate religion, who may have given up on the Prophets precisely for that reason, UH. Also, another future episode describes the pre-Occupation Bajoran society as very rigidly adhering to a caste system, and hints that this may have been what held the Bajorans back technologically; I'm not saying that the Prophets brought about the Occupation, but may have let it happen because they knew that it would be better for the Bajorans in the long run. (The number of deaths may not have bothered them, as they seem to have difficulty understanding the whole concept of mortality in the pilot.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:50 PM on November 18, 2015


Also, WRT the pacifist Klingon thing, there's an idea I had regarding an episode a couple of seasons from now that I'm reluctant to talk about, even with the spoilers-allowed policy. Maybe when we reach that point.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:52 PM on November 18, 2015


I'm not sure how I feel about the treatment of religion in DS9 yet, I don't think I'll know until I reach the finale. I don't remember any Starfleet characters being religious; in TOS & TNG it mostly just comes up when there's a computer/alien pretending to be a god which Starfleet has to expose. In some ways, it feels like they're just skirting around the edges by having the Prophets being actual provably-existing beings. I'm an atheist myself, but there's something powerfully moving about the idea of faith in the unknowable. (I mean, I find it mostly terrifying in the real world since there's no reasoning with someone doing awful things in the name of divine righteousness, but I'm drawn to it in fiction.) As open to interpretation as Trakor's prophecy is, it is ultimately based in fact in a way that human religious prophecies are not.

As for the O'Brien sub-plot, I agree with Keith R.A. DeCandido in his Tor.com re-watch recap: "the back-and-forth between Rejal and O’Brien is a blown opportunity, as O’Brien’s serious issues with Cardassians (first seen way back in TNG’s “The Wounded,” and shown any number of times on DS9, most notably “Cardassians” and “Tribunal”) never even come up. The storyline would’ve played out exactly the same way if Rejal had flirted with Bashir, and that’s a failure of storytelling."

After what the Cardassians put him through in Tribunal, I would think that getting creeped on by Rejal would be seriously disturbing to O'Brien. But much like when Gul Dukat was hitting on Kira in "Civil Defense", it's just played for comedy. (Also, shouldn't all of Cardassia know about O'Brien and Keiko from the trial broadcast? Weren't trials required viewing, or am I mis-remembering?)
posted by oh yeah! at 9:10 PM on November 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also also, WRT the relative level of the Prophets and Q, one measure is that found in the DS9 Technical Manual, which is a semi-canon reference (i.e. it includes a lot of things from canon but also additional material, in the manner of the TNG tech manual) that includes something called "the Weibrand logarithmic developmental scale" for civilizations, in which 1 represents any pre-warp civilization and 100 represents the Q. The pre-occupation Bajorans are at level 20, the Cardassians at 21, the Federation at 23, the Dominion at 24... and the Prophets at 90.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:35 PM on November 19, 2015


The development there presumably just measures a culture's power, their ability to enforce their will. That's the only measurement I can think of where those numbers really make sense. If it was a measure of technology, the Q and the Prophets don't have any. If it's a measure of a culture's benevolence and suitability to join the Federation, I can't see how the Dominion, for example, would outrank the Bajorans.

I Googled it and got this. It seems like it is about technology, but that seems odd because the Prophets literally have none. Is it more like rating a culture's ability to achieve their goals? In that case, I guess those numbers work.

Do they chart the race of Trelane, from TOS? While that race seemed nearly as powerful as the Q (and I gather some books have tried to retcon Trelane as a Q) they apparently required tech to work their magic. As far as tech goes it's hard to imagine being more powerful than those folks, but they still weren't quite as powerful as the Q. (Sure,Trelane can create planets, but in a head-to-head battle Q could just wave his hand and turn Trelane's machinery to dust and Trelane would be powerless. As far as we know, nobody can rob a Q of their power but other Q.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:37 PM on November 20, 2015


This wasn't too bad an episode, and I agree with the O'Brien comments. I also agree with UH's comments about monolithic races. I hate the Klingons for precisely this reason - everyone has to be a warrior, "we are a warroir race." What utter bs. So, not kindergarten teachers, no teachers, no nurses, no social workers.. I could go on and on. And yet they are as advanced as the Federation, they have warp drive and cloaked ships and space ships and teleport... how? What a crock.

Much as I love the KRAD rewatch blog posts, one thing that annoyed me is he loves Kiingons, and in his TNG rewatch, there were many times when I was reading it and he disliked an episode I liked, and then a few episodes later, it would be some dumb Klingon bs episode and he loved it.

Also I have a similar problem with the Q - where does the energy to perform their "magic" come from? Why introduce god like beings who are actually god-like into a humanist and mostly secular star trek? What was the point? Now, sorta hypocritically, I like some of the Q episodes, but that's because of de Lancie and his back-and-forth with Picard, which works so well, and also de Lancie's ability to make it all funny.

Also, the Prophets surely have tech as they created the wormhole, right? They must have some sort of tech to do that, unless they, too, are god like.
posted by marienbad at 5:15 PM on November 23, 2015


Also, the Prophets surely have tech as they created the wormhole, right? They must have some sort of tech to do that, unless they, too, are god like.

'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a plot device.'

But more seriously, I think ambiguity is intentional. It lets the writers prompt questions about belief and causation and meaning that don't really work with Q. Q's framing (at first, and in the end) was a twist on Star Trek itself: TNG, in particular,presents the future of humanity as more advanced, more evolved (not that that's how evolution works, but), more humane than our current society. Humanity isn't without its blemishes, but one of Rodenberry's central messages was that the future is positive. Q explicitly questions this, but implicitly -- by his/their existence -- reaffirms that the underlying idea is sound. From Encounter at Farpoint,
"But you can't deny, captain, that you are still a dangerous, savage child race."
"Most certainly, I deny it. I agree we still were, when Humans wore costumes like that four hundred years ago."
"At which time you slaughtered millions in silly arguments about how to divide the resources of your little world. And four hundred years before that, you were murdering each other in quarrels over tribal god images. Since then, there has been no indication that Humans will ever change."
Q tests the ship to gauge if there is and indication that they have changed, or might change. As capricious as he is, that makes no sense to do outside a framework that presupposes that species and civilizations can change and do change. Q's criticism is that there's no indication that humanity is such a civilization, contrary to what Picard & co. believe.

(As a side note, I wish they'd played around a bit more than they did with the inversion of colonialism there -- Q seeing, and describing, humanity's finest and most technologically capable ship and crew as 'savages,' the early-20th-century idea of the progress of the species being used against us, and so on.)

At the same time, Q's actions are hardly laudable; he/they are beyond humanity in power, but (by our standards) their moral judgement is lacking. That's a recurrent theme in the original series, and not so much in TNG -- absent, well, Q, without whom I think we'd have seen more one-off super-powered aliens.

The Prophets, by contrast, are hard to judge. We're not exactly sure what they are, or can do, or what they think They speak enigmatically. Did they make a considered decision to not do something about the Occupation? Did they not see the Occupation as a problem, because their conception of time and of mortality is so different from ours? They're presented as an inscrutable Other rather than (as with Q) a reflection of ourselves. The TNG writers played around several times with giving people Q's power: Riker in Hide and Q, Amanda Rogers in True Q; and inverting that, taking away or limiting Q's power, in Deja Q. There's a clear line of playing around with humanity and Q-ness; there's no comparable relationship with the Prophets (or Wormhole Aliens, if you prefer). They can be talked to and interceded with, influenced and informed by, but they're apart from us.

On re-watching DS9, I think they've one of the most effectively alien aliens in Star Trek.
posted by cjelli at 7:21 AM on November 24, 2015


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