|Kira makes a deal with the devil.|
It is now mere days before the selection of the new Kai. The election is a foregone conclusion, with it well-known that Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim) was Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola)'s personal choice to succeed her. But Bareil appears to have doubts, as he spends an increasing amount of time looking into the Orb of Prophecy, seeing visions that clearly trouble him.
Meanwhile, the station receives a new and most unexpected visitor: Kubus Oak (Bert Remsen), a member of the Bajoran government during the Occupation. For his collaboration with the Cardassians, Kubus is under a permanent sentence of exile. But the old man desperately wants to return home, and has made a deal with Vedek Winn (Louise Fletcher) for sanctuary on Bajor. In exchange for Winn's help, he will release the name of the Bajoran who ordered the massacre that killed Kai Opaka's son. The name? Vedek Bareil!
Commander Sisko: Refuses to involve himself directly in Bajoran internal affairs. To that end, he has made no public gesture of support toward Bareil, even though it's clear that he favors him. He also resists a fairly blatant attempt by Winn to make a public appearance with her before the choosing. He does leave himself open to making such an appearance with Winn after the selection, though he does little to conceal his dislike and distrust of her.
Major Kira: In the wake of the attempted assassination of Bareil, she no longer trusts nor likes Winn. But Winn knows exactly which buttons to push to get Kira to run the investigation. The authority of the Bajoran Kai is too important for her to stomach even the vaguest possibility of a collaborator being selected for the office. Kubus may well be lying, but it's essential that the truth be known. A few well-placed words sets Kira in dogged pursuit of the scant crumbs of evidence Kubus has presented. She confesses to Odo that she is in love with Bareil - but though she protests that he must be innocent, it's clear that the question tugs at the back of her mind: What if he's guilty?
Odo: Is sympathetic to Kira, but realistic enough to know that it is possible that Kubus' accusation is true. He does his best to prepare Kira for that possibility, even as he works to help her in her inquiry.
Vedek Bareil: Even before the ending, it seems clear that Bareil doesn't really want to be Kai. One of his visions has Opaka present him with a serpent, telling him that "its venom will make (him) stronger." Honestly, Bareil could use a bit of strength. He is clearly a good man, but he prefers to be a sympathetic ear, and is happier at the prospect of spending time with Kira than at the prospect of inheriting the crown (so to speak). Philip Anglim's performance has steadily improved throughout the season, and at this point he is doing some very good acting. I'm not sure where Bareil's story is going, but I do think he probably isn't ready to be a true leader at this point in the series' run. Perhaps some tribulations during Winn's stewardship will grant him some strength for him to take office at the series' end - assuming he survives.
Vedek Winn: Continues to be a strong adversary. She tries to manipulate everyone around her. She has no success with Sisko, but the transparency of her attempted manipulation is such that I doubt that was even a serious effort. She plays Kira effortlessly, weaving Kira's loyalty toward Bajor together with Kira's hatred of collaborators until Kira is acting as her tool. She doesn't seem inclined to use Kira's information against Bareil once Bareil withdraws - it may be that she knows there is more to the story than that, it may simply be that she has no need to destroy him once he is no longer in her way.
"The one thing I've learned about humanoids is that in extreme situations, even the best of you are capable of doing terrible things."
In light of Necessary Evil, Odo's words to Kira carry extra resonance - not only for the viewer, but for both of the characters. A nice, unobtrusive nod at continuity, as well as an important thematic statement for the episode itself.
Though a late plot twist does offer a surprise, one that works very well both in terms of the plot and the episode's themes, this really isn't a mystery. The episode's opening lays out for us that Bareil feels deep guilt, and he behaves with the consciousness of someone with something to hide at every turn. We - and Kira - know that he is the best man to succeed Opaka as Kai, and that Winn is the worst possible choice. We also know that he does have guilt, and that his guilt will keep him from attaining the position. The result of Kira's investigation is a foregone conclusion, because this episode is not a mystery; it's a tragedy.
This episode also sees the ever-increasing consequences of Opaka's one-way trip through the wormhole. I said at the time that I hoped the removal of Bajor's spiritual leader would have consequences. Though it took a while for it to be followed up with In the Hands of the Prophets, the fallout of Opaka's removal from the show has resulted in some of the richest and most interesting episodes of the past season. Now it has had a result Opaka could not have foreseen, and I look forward to seeing where the Bajoran stories take this series next season.
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