Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Covenant   Rewatch 
October 31, 2016 9:17 AM - Season 7, Episode 9 - Subscribe

HELP WANTED: Growing Pah-wraith cult looking for a dynamic, charismatic leader to lead it into communion with the Pah-wraiths in the Celestial Temple. Belief in the ultimate triumph of the Pah-wraiths over the Prophets necessary, actual experience being possessed by a Pah-wraith preferred. Flexible morals OK. Please note: we are an equal opportunity employer, so it is not necessary for you to be a Bajoran. Please direct inquiries and resumes to: provisional government, Empok Nor.

Can we have an Amojan for Memory Alpha?

- This episode came about because the writers felt that since the six-episode arc and "Waltz" they had allowed the character of Dukat to slip too much into the background. As René Echevarria explains, "He's a wonderful character and well-liked by the audience, but he'd become a very peripheral villain after the six-episode arc at the beginning of Season 6. We'd done two shows with him after that ("Waltz" and "Tears of the Prophets"), but now he had no role to play." "Covenant" was created primarily so that Dukat could reclaim the role of Deep Space Nine's primary villain.

- As well as simply 'reintroducing' Dukat as a villain, the writers also saw this episode as playing an extremely important role in setting up the conflict between Dukat and Sisko which would act as the dénouement of the entire series. As Echevarria says, ""Covenant" brought him back into our story. Somehow it seemed like it was going to help us put him in conflict with Sisko. But we didn't really know much more than that: Pah-wraith versus Prophet, Dukat versus Sisko." Similarly, Ira Steven Behr states, "I always knew that the ultimate challenge would be Dukat, and not the War." Bradley Thompson concurs with this view; "It gave us a chance to ask ourselves, 'What is Dukat's madness and how is it manifesting itself now?' We could touch base with him and show that he's really getting hooked into these Pah-wraiths. And that would help us set up the end of the series."

- The basic story of this episode came from David Weddle, who had been an investigative reporter and had written about cults for the LA Weekly and San Jose Mercury News. According to Weddle, "I've always been fascinated with cults. I'm interested in that hunger to find something to believe in that's bigger than the viewable reality. The desire to find heaven on earth often ends up leading people down a very twisted, paranoid road. Fundamental Human longing can be twisted by a cult leader, because he can never deliver on his promises of bringing about a golden utopia. Then he has to come up with reason why, and it's always that there's a conspiracy out there, that something or someone is conspiring against the group. That's when paranoia gradually overshadows the whole thing. Vedek Fala is a good example of a typical follower. He's someone who desperately wants to believe. When you study cults, you find a lot of people who were brought up in traditional religions and who had a strong faith when they were young. But they became disillusioned with that faith when they saw hypocrisy. They cast aside the faith they were brought up with, but they still have the need. The hunger is still there. At the end, when Dukat turns out to be a total charlatan, Fala can't handle it. He would rather die still trying to grip the illusion than go on living."

- Specifically, the episode was inspired by the Heaven's Gate cult led by Marshall Applewhite. The cult was inspired by the Comet Hale–Bopp, and in March of 1997, Applewhite and thirty-eight other members (including the brother of Nichelle Nichols) committed suicide, believing they were aliens and that their bodies would be transported to a space ship traveling behind the comet. The group has an official website, which is still accessible today.

- Initially, the producers wanted the baby to be fairly visible during Dukat's proclamation of a miracle, but the problem was that there are very strict rules as to how much prosthetic makeup can be used on an infant, and how long an infant can be on-set. As such, the producers decided to go with an animatronic baby, and they hired the people who made the Chucky doll for the 1988 Tom Holland film Child's Play. However, according to B.C. Cameron, "It looked like Chucky with a Bajoran nose. His eyes were blinking and he was really spooky looking." Ira Behr says that the first shoot of the scene where Dukat holds the baby up for the gathered crowd produced the biggest laugh ever seen in dailies; "This animatronic baby was moving its head, and Marc was holding it up for the camera, playing the scene for all it's worth, even though it looked ludicrous. It looked as if he were proclaiming to the world, 'Take a look! This is a phony baby! You can get one at Toys "R" Us! Thirty-five dollars and ninety-five cents!' We were howling with laughter and crying in frustration at the same time. The day will live in infamy." Needless to say, the scene was reshot sans animatronic baby.

"Your hair, you changed it."
"Your ear, you pierced it."
"Aha... A symbol of the covenant I've made with my new family."
"Your new family... Well, it makes sense these people would choose you as their leader, they worship evil."

- Dukat and Kira

"I have been touched by the hand of a god. I'm a changed man. Oh, I admit that when I first allowed myself to become a vessel for the Pah-wraith, it was purely out of self-serving reasons. All I wanted was to help it enter the wormhole so it could force the Prophets out. It was nothing more than a way to exact vengeance on Sisko. But I had no idea of the effect it would have on me. It was only inside of me for a very short time, but it opened my heart."
"Would that be before or after you killed Jadzia?"
"That was most unfortunate, but it couldn't be helped. The Celestial Temple itself was at stake, and she was in the way."

- Dukat and Kira
posted by Halloween Jack (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dukat is always at his skin-crawliest when he's doing his Kindly and Enlightened voice.

I always get a curious sort of dark enjoyment from this one. It's an episode that follows a tropey/real-world-historic line of events closely enough that you know what's going to happen, but it doesn't hurt the impact. In fact, some of the enjoyment is from that foreknowledge; the anticipation of the expected. (I'm sure there's a fancy art analysis term for this that I don't know.) Not to mention the vicarious thrill of the audience surrogate character being More-Pissed-Off-Than-Usual Kira.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:30 AM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wish this had been a two parter, because every scene was so fascinating, but had to be crammed into 40 minutes. The cult members turned on Dukat too quickly. When a group is devoted enough to a leader to commit mass suicide, they are not going to switch so suddenly to booing him. And the discussion about why the Prophets let the Occupation occur is really important, but only a brief scene was spent on it. Not that I would expect Kira to be persuaded by the cult, she is way to stubborn for that. It's another example of a problem with DS9, the writers were not interested in going into religion at more than a superficial depth. The TNG episode where the aliens thought Picard was god explored religion deeper than then entire run of DS9.

It could have been a two-part like this. Part 1 would have ended with the reveal of the half-Cardassian baby. It's a perfectly shocking To Be Continued moment. Part 2 would see Kira doing her darnedest to sew doubt among the cultists. She makes some progress, but at the halfway point, Brother Dukat announces the suicide pact. Now Kira is in a race against time to save everyone. It would have left a lot of time for boring TNG style discussions in a room, which is what makes Trek great.

I did like this episode overall. I didn't like that they went with the Trek trope of the second in command, Vedek Fala, being a true believer to the end. I also didn't that the ending had similar "Dukat is evil and dangerous" dialogue to "Waltz", to setup for the series finale. Eh, Dukat isn't that dangerous compared to the Dominion. Just shoot him in the fucking head next time you see him.

What makes this episode work is that it is sooo what Dukat would do. He's always wanted the adoration of the Bajorans, even when he doesn't care at all about them. And he's always been a sleezy opportunist, looking for power where he can. Cardassia is a military dictatorship, so he rises through the ranks of that organization. The civilians overthrow the military, so he offers them his services as military advisor. The Dominion seeks a base in the Alpha Quadrant, well Dukat knows what to do.
posted by riruro at 3:54 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Eh, Dukat isn't that dangerous compared to the Dominion. Just shoot him in the fucking head next time you see him.

Well, to be fair, Kira did swear to do that very thing (last season?), and IIRC made reference in this episode to wishing she was able to carry out her threat. But, like all great recurring villains, he's maddeningly slippery.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:42 AM on November 1, 2016

This episode made a big impression on me, in part because the Jonestown massacre made a big impression on me, especially since I was a teenager at the time, and the idea that hundreds of people would commit suicide on the order of a cult leader really hit hard. (It should be noted that that number included many children who were poisoned by their parents, though.) The Heaven's Gate cult lost a small fraction of that amount, although it similarly got a lot of publicity, probably due in part to the group having a website, possibly due to some of the Star Trek connections (in addition to the brother of Nichelle Nichols being one of the victims, they also wore armbands describing themselves as an "Away Team.") Of course, Star Trek fandom itself has often been described as a "cult."

So, there's a lot to chew on here, and I thought that they did a bang-up job, including having one of the ancillary leaders (and the only one to end up committing suicide) be a reasonable guy who asks a perfectly reasonable question: where were the Prophets when Bajor was suffering? Left unsaid is also: why did the Prophets choose a non-Bajoran as their Emissary, and if they were finally willing to intervene in the Dominion War, why didn't they finish the job? The idea that the cultists would accept a Cardassian as their Emissary/leader is a little bit harder to swallow, but even though Dukat lost his powers when Kosst Amojan left his body, he did actually have direct contact with a Pah-wraith (well, so did Keiko O'Brien and Jake Sisko, but they probably didn't brag about it), he's charismatic, and he may have been able to convince them that, as he said to Kira once, he thinks that he did the Bajorans a favor with the Occupation, and he could have modified that to say that it was necessary to demonstrate the indifference and neglect of the Prophets. Given the above and some of the problems with the Bajoran clergy (particularly Kai Winn), it's only surprising that there weren't more cultists.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:30 PM on November 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

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