|The Dominion War ends the way wars do - |
With leaders gathered around a conference table.
The stage has been set for the final battle of the Dominion War. The Dominion has pulled back to defensive positions around Cardassia Prime, and Sisko and Martok lead their alliance in an invasion. There is a weak point in the Dominion defenses, and that is where they will strike with full force - And with the aid of Damar's growing Cardassian rebellion.
Even as the Federation and the Dominion put their full strength into the battle, another dark plot advances back on Bajor. Kai Winn has finished studying the Book of the Kosst Amojan. She and Dukat proceed to the Fire Caves to perform the ritual that will unleash the pah-Wraiths on the galaxy.
"Soon, the pah-Wraiths will burn across Bajor, the Celestial Temple, the Alpha Quadrant! Can you picture it? An entire universe in flames, to burn for all eternity!"
Capt. Sisko: Makes a deal with Martok and Admiral Ross to share a bottle of blood wine once they have won the battle. When the three men meet on Cardassia, however, Sisko looks at the devastation surrounding them and finds he has no stomach for celebrating this carnage. He ends the episode by fulfilling the Prophets' role for him as Emissary, moving on from the station and the relationships he has forged - Though he does promise Kasidy that he'll return. This last was apparently a late addition, insisted on by Avery Brooks - Who was 100% right to do so; Sisko would never willingly abandon his family, particularly with a baby on the way.
Col. Kira: There's a particularly good scene early in the episode. She, Damar, and Garak have just sabotaged the power in the capital, and Weyoun makes a televised announcement in response. Garak and Damar are giddy, waiting to see what Weyoun will say. Kira is far more subdued, her expression growing ever graver as Weyoun speaks. Unlike her two compatriots, she knows all too well what's coming next. During the Occupation, she saw and heard 100 such speeches from Gul Dukat, and knows that reprisals against the innocent are sure to follow. Great nonverbal acting by Nana Visitor, adding an extra layer onto an already good scene.
Odo: Unsuprisingly, Odo is key to the resolution of the Dominion War - Though I'm a bit surprised (and disappointed) that there's no follow-up to his frustration last episode at Starfleet's tolerance of the Dominion plague. Odo does admit his desire to return to his people, and volunteers to effectively act as an ambassador to them, sharing his experiences with "Solids" through the Great Link to change his people's point of view.
Damar: Remains constantly focused on stopping the Dominion. When it appears he is about to be executed, he uses what he believes will be his last moments to speak out in defiance. A terrific scene has Damar, Kira, and Garak sharing a moment of uncontrollable, semi-hysterical laughter when it appears their efforts have been thwarted by something as simple as an impenetrable locked door.
Weyoun/female changeling: Both severely misjudge Cardassia. After Damar's attack disrupts communications, they decide to take reprisals against the civilian population. Instead of quelling rebellion, their harsh actions intensify it, turning the Cardassian military against the Dominion. This is especially ill-timed for the Dominion, as the Cardassian shift turns the tide of a battle Starfleet had been losing.
Garak: Had always dreamed of returning home one day. Now that he finds himself on Cardassia, it's a shell barely recognizable as the powerful world he left behind. His one friend on the planet is brutally murdered by the Dominion, and Weyoun sneers at him about "what's left of" Cardassia. Yet another misjudgment on Weyoun's part, as Garak is far from being an honorable Federation officer bound to behave with mercy toward a prisoner. With the war won, Garak has the toughest job of all - Being left to pick up the pieces of a world that he's been outcast from, but whose culture and society he's always taken pride in. His final scene, opposite Dr. Bashir, is wonderfully written and performed, a suitable place to leave one of the franchise's richest supporting characters.
Kai Winn: Has waited for Gul Dukat to recover from his blindness before completing the ritual, something Dukat takes as sentimentality. Of course, this is Winn we're dealing with, so the real purpose is a bit darker. She continues to harbor resentment at his seduction of her under false pretenses, and tells him that he has no right to refer to her by her first name. "From now on, you will address me as 'Your Eminence.' Is that clear?" She becomes giddy at the anticipation of power when they finally reach the Fire Caves - But once the pah-Wraiths take possession of Dukat as their true intended Emissary, she finally realizes what she has done and assists Sisko in defeating the evil she has unleashed.
Gul Dukat: The most disappointing aspect of this finale is the characterization of Dukat, who is reduced from a wonderfully complex villain to just an evil caricature. I can rationalize away his final scenes as being not really Dukat - Once the pah-wraith takes possession, it makes sense that only his worst aspects would be on display. Even so, his evil cackling and final Villain Speech to Sisko feel unworthy of the character created over the course of the series. It's rare for Dukat to be the weakest element of an episode... But in this instance, he strikes the only sour note of the entire 90 minutes.
"NOT THE CARDASSIA I KNEW": CHANGES AND FAREWELLS
"Some may say that we've gotten exactly what we deserve... Our entire history is one of arrogant aggression. We collaborated with the Dominion, betrayed the Alpha Quadrant - There's no doubt about it, we're guilty as charged... (but) our literature, music, art were second to none. And now, so much of it is lost. So many of our best people, our most gifted minds..."
-Garak, reflecting on the cost of war.
What You Leave Behind is a fine finale to the Dominion War arc and to Deep Space 9 in general. It does the basics of what it needs to do, tying up the major plot and character arcs in ways that make sense for the characters. But it also is a celebration of one of Deep Space 9's greatest strengths: It's ability to be a true ensemble piece.
The episode is appropriately titled, in that every character is leaving something behind. Garak and Damar must leave behind the ideal of the strong Cardassia they remember. As Damar has previously observed, that Cardassia is dead; as Garak laments here, so much of the literature, art, and culture that he has celebrated for the entire run of the series has been destroyed in the fighting. Cardassia will survive, but as a shell of its former self.
Virtually all of the regulars make major life changes, with several leaving the station behind and their former lives in pursuit of new roles. Chief O'Brien leaves Deep Space 9 for a plumb job on Earth, leaving him more time for family but also leaving his friendship with Bashir behind. Quark and Odo leave their rivalry behind in a wonderfully unsentimental, utterly unfriendly farewell scene that leaves Quark beaming with pleasure... almost as much as the reassurance that Kira will keep the same kind of eye on him now that Odo did in the past. Kira and Odo leave their relationship behind, and Sisko leaves for a new role with no certainty as to when he might return. Quark protests at one point that he hates change - But from top to bottom, the lives of the characters are poised to change in big ways as they move on to their next chapters.
Much of this plays out in an extended epilogue, as the characters prepare to move on and pause to relive flashbacks of their time on the station. This plays out as clips of past episodes, representing their memories. Jadzia's absence from the clips representing Worf's farewell sticks out like a sore thumb - It's obvious that Terry Farrell must have declined permission for her footage to be used, but it diminishes Worf's bit as this leaves out the most formative events of his time on the station. But overall, while the clips are unquestionably self-indulgent, the indulgence works. We've become invested in these characters, and looking back on their journeys is effective on many levels.
"YOU LOOK DISAPPOINTED...": WINN, DUKAT, AND THE PAH-WRAITHS
About halfway through the episode, Winn finishes leading Dukat to the Fire Caves. Dukat is visibly underwhelmed, prompting Winn to needle him at his disappointment. Unfortunately, Dukat's reaction to the Fire Caves pretty much sums up my reaction to this entire subplot. "I know this sounds naive, but I was expecting to see fire!"
After several episodes of build-up, the Dukat/Winn strand vanished entirely in recent entries. This was fine - After being prominently featured in four episodes running, it was time to take a break from them, and I felt sure that when we rejoined them the wait would have proved worth it. Instead, their material feels tacked-on and vaguely rushed. Dukat's blindness is cured offscreen, with no struggle at all. They then spend the entire first half on a light hike to a cave and more or less sit around and wait for Sisko to have his end-of-series confrontation with Dukat.
In contrast to the close out of the Dominion arc, none of this material is compelling or even particularly interesting. Louise Fletcher and Marc Alaimo do what they can (which is actually quite a lot), but their strand doesn't really connect to anything else or build to anything in particular. Compared to the incisive character study of the episode-long Sisko/Dukat interaction in Waltz, their confrontation here is just a generic sceen pitting an action hero against a sneering villain. Both characters deserve a lot better.
Emotionally, I would love to give What You Leave Behind a "10." It's the finale to my favorite Star Trek series, the Dominion wrap-up is superb, and the character endings are emotionally satisfying. But after all the buildup the Dukat/Winn arc was given, it ends up feeling like an afterthought, and one that diminishes Dukat's character in particular. It's not enough of a fault to keep this from being a first-rate episode... But it is enough to cost it full marks.
Overall Rating: 9/10.
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