Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Waltz   Rewatch 
August 8, 2016 7:08 PM - Season 6, Episode 11 - Subscribe

Dukat is back, and he seems positively conciliatory toward Sisko, especially when they're marooned on a planet together. But is he telling the truth about their situation, and are they really alone?

Memory Alpha keeps the 3/4 beat:

- Of the idea behind doing the episode, [Ron] Moore explains, "The intention was to dig down and reveal something in Dukat, both to the audience and to the character himself. He really did hate the Bajorans and he really does wish he'd killed them all. That's the dirty little secret he's tried not to confront head-on all these years, and now finally, he's said it out loud and accepted it about himself." (AOL chat, 1998) Ira Steven Behr echoes Moore when he says of this episode, "I wanted us to come away from this show with Dukat finally having faced who the hell he is and what he's done. To get him to finally admit that he hates the Bajorans and he wishes to kill them all. And he does. Evil may be an unclear concept in this day and age. But Dukat certainly has done evil things. And since he refuses to admit to them, we then have to simplify things, deconstruct things, until we get to the most simplistic level. Which is: 'He does evil things, therefore, he is evil'."

- By the time this episode aired, the character of Gul Dukat had become exceptionally popular among fans of the show, far more popular than any of the writers had ever intended. This was primarily attributed to Marc Alaimo's superbly charismatic performances as Dukat. Alaimo's portrayal had presented the audience with a character possessed of a very real pathos and sense of humor, a character with many different aspects composing his psychological make-up. The writers however were not entirely happy with how popular Dukat had become. He was supposed to be the villain of the show, and while they were proud to have created such a multi-dimensional villain, they were shocked when they saw fans online actually defending Dukat's behavior during the Occupation. Despite the writers' attempts to make Dukat the epitome of evil in subsequent shows however, his popularity would remain undiminished until the end of the series. Indeed, in relation to "Waltz", some Dukat fans were unhappy with how quickly Sisko denounces him after he tells Sisko about his initial actions as Prefect of Bajor.

"From the moment we arrived on Bajor it was clear that we were the superior race, but they couldn't accept that. They wanted to be treated as equals, when they most certainly were not. Militarily, technologically, culturally – we were almost a century ahead of them in every way. We did not choose to be the superior race. Fate handed us that role and it would have been so much easier on everyone if the Bajorans had simply accepted their role. But no... day after day they clustered in their temples and prayed for deliverance and night after night they planted bombs outside of our homes. Pride.. stubborn, unyielding pride. From the servant girl that cleaned my quarters, to the condemned man toiling in a labor camp, to the terrorist skulking through the hills of Dahkur Province... they all wore their pride like some... twisted badge of honor."
"And you hated them for it."
"Of course I hated them! I hated everything about them! Their superstitions and their cries for sympathy, their treachery and their lies, their smug superiority and their stiff-necked obstinacy, their earrings, and their broken, wrinkled noses!"
"You should have killed them all, hm?"
"Yes! Yes!! That's right, isn't it?! I knew it. I've always known it. I should've killed every last one of them! I should've turned their planet into a graveyard the likes of which the galaxy had never seen! I should've killed them all."
"And that is why you're not an evil man."
- Dukat and Sisko
posted by Halloween Jack (12 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is a well-done, gripping episode that's important to the continuity, and I absolutely agree with Moore and Behr that it was time for Non-Fun Dukat.

That said, it is SO full of Acting!, and so stagey. Rene Auberjonois directed it, so that might be a factor; on the Memory Alpha page, he is quoted as saying, "It was a stage piece, and it dealt with acting, acting, acting all the time. The challenging part was to keep it visually interesting" (and I feel they did, despite it being Another Trip to the DS9 Caves). And, considering the extreme situation these two have been put into, and the collapse of a years-in-the-making wall of professional/diplomatic courtesy…I'm not sure it could have been done at a lower Actorly Register and been successful.

Not to mention the simple logistical fact that, when you lock two main characters together in a space, it's either gonna feel like a stage play or an '80s sitcom.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:23 AM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

That's the dirty little secret he's tried not to confront head-on all these years, and now finally, he's said it out loud and accepted it about himself.

Self-actualization is not always a good thing.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:19 AM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found an awful lot to like about "Waltz" in this rewatch. Something that hadn't occurred to me before was that it was like a dark reflection of the first season's "Duet", a bottle show with a member of the crew digging into a Cardassian's past and simultaneously uncovering a secret in the present. It's not only a great development in Dukat's character arc, but also gets to the heart of how Dukat really feels about Sisko: overwhelming jealousy at Sisko's adoration by the Bajorans, which Sisko doesn't seem to really want. That's why Dukat leaves Sisko alive at the end; he not only wants to punish the Bajorans for not loving him, but punish Sisko for having something that he never could.

And the actors (aided by Rene Auberjonois' direction) do great stuff with the material. It's startling to see Marc Alaimo play Dukat at the beginning without his characteristic smirk, and respond to his imaginary chorus. Avery Brooks also does well with having Sisko being at the mercy of someone who's crazy, dangerous, and lying to him; there's a little bit of Paul Sheldon vs. Annie Wilkes in Misery there, too.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:18 AM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

when you lock two main characters together in a space, it's either gonna feel like a stage play or an '80s sitcom.

I absolutely love this episode - Alaimo and Brooks are some of the biggest, scene-chewingest presences in Trek, and this episode really gives them some room to do so - but I would pay to see to see the sitcom version of Waltz.
posted by mordax at 11:27 AM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Its so "actor-y", but everything in Dukat's story up to this point is worth it for Avery Brooks' delivery of "And that is why you're not an evil man."
posted by hobgadling at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Something else, too: the bit about Dukat being popular among a certain segment of the fandom, despite or because of his innate awfulness, reminds me more than a bit about the (mostly male) fans with an unseemly amount of admiration for characters such as Walter White of Breaking Bad or Stannis ("The Mannis") Baratheon of Game of Thrones. Middle-aged men with a will to power and a certain ruthlessness and righteousness about them, and deeply furious on some level.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:26 PM on August 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Well, I haven't gone digging into it but I assume Dukat's fans buy the character's take on things, more than they think he's a super cool badass dude. Dukat could be sympathetic (or at least pitiful) at times, but he was never a cool guy. Usually he didn't want to kick your ass, he wanted to convince you he was right and make you like him. Failing that, he would make smiling, passive-aggressive threats that weren't quite threats. Failing that, he would grimly inform you that you had to shut up and do things his way. Failing that he would go full hissing lizard, totally lose his mind and try to strangle you. When he wasn't a chatty diplomat, he was a maniac. He was never a master schemer, and there was nothing truly impressive about him other than his capacity for evil. You always felt he was outmatched by Sisko in every way other than Dukat had wider ambitions and no morals to hold him back. Sisko was a great man who just wanted to do his job. Dukat was a slippery eel who would do any damn thing to be remembered as a great man.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:05 PM on August 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I always figured it was largely aesthetic. I think Bajorans would strike these conjectured White/Baratheon-type fanboys as lame, what with their womany sartorial choices and airy peaceableness. By contrast, in appearance and demeanor, Dukat is perhaps the purest embodiment of the severe, swaggering, fascist, reptilian, Chevy Truck thing that Cardassians have.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:55 AM on August 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

I always figured it was largely aesthetic.

I think that nails it. People that are so into Walter White or Stannis or whomever aren't really thinking through how effective these characters actually are. Instead, those fans are easily persuaded by the superficial trappings of male power fantasies: looking cool, talking big and not being 'held back' by women. (See also: Rorschach.)

They're shallow, so they're going to go for shallow appeals.

Disclaimer: I am also unwilling to kick over whatever rock Dukat fans are residing under to see if I'm right.
posted by mordax at 10:22 AM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've never watched Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but I get the impression the creators of those shows wanted those characters to be cool. That's definitely not so for Dukat (the DS9 people were actively working to try and make the fans hate him) or Rorschach. Alan Moore wanted Rorschach to be gross and frightening and darkly funny, sympathetic in some ways but also a real serial killer Travis Bickle type. And I think the character does read that way, to an adult. But unfortunately he was wildly misread by the dorks, including Zac Snyder. I did think the character was cool, when I was 15. But if you can read the book as an adult and not feel mostly pity and disgust for Rorschach, you got a problem.

Dukat fans must be a very confused lot. Some of them probably buy his take on the occupation, some of them might be into the sneering fascist thing, and there are probably some who just love a bad boy lizard. Not to knock anybody for their kink, but that's some slashfic I sure don't want to read.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:18 PM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say that Stannis Baratheon or Walter White were really meant to be cool, although Walter goes through a brief phase where he seems to become kind of cool; it's the equivalent of Seth Brundle in The Fly, who briefly goes through his leather jacket phase before his teeth fall out and he has to barf acid onto his food to eat it. Both Walter and Stannis are, at best, tragic protagonists whose fatal flaws are present from the beginning and slowly reach full flower throughout their arcs. Rorschach was definitely meant to be deeply uncool, though. Watchmen is, on its surface, a film noir/detective story transplanted to an alternate history with superheroes, and Rorschach occupies the narrative space (and, to some extent, the wardrobe) that would otherwise be occupied by a Humphrey Bogart character, but he's a filthy misogynist who also dabbles in racism and homophobia, and his "idealism" is really a cobbled-together mishmash of what he thought his father, whomever that was, might have believed in. The closest he came to being a fully-functional human being--when, as his buddy Nite Owl put it, he still had all the buttons on his trenchcoat--was only seen in flashback.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:11 PM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've never watched Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but I get the impression the creators of those shows wanted those characters to be cool.

I would disagree with that; Walter White goes from being kind of a pathetic middle aged guy to a brief period of being kind of a cool badass on his way to villain, and Stannis gets his moment of being perceived as "cool" for one action/decision (and the basis for that decision comes from a much more likeable character). For the rest, they are both flawed characters, both too rigid and unyielding in the pursuit of their goals to ever bend enough to achieve a sustainable level of "cool"; their arcs take them past those moments quickly.

I think part of it is they are both characters in narratives where it is hard to establish who the "good guys" are, and they get seized upon as potential examples in part because they have clearly defined goals/aspirations and move towards achieving them, often in opposition to characters who can be more clearly declared "villainous". In the case of Dukat, I think the writers and the actor inadvertently came together to create an amazing villain that got latched onto by a portion of the fanbase.
posted by nubs at 10:26 AM on August 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

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