|Kai Winn (Louise Fletcher),|
self-styled Voice of the Prophets.
Kai Winn comes to Kira to help her solve a problem. Some soil reclamators, developed to reverse the toxic effects of the Cardassian occupation and to allow crops to grow again, were loaned to farmers in Kira's home province. Their leader is Shakaar (Duncan Regehr), the head of Kira's old Resistance cell. Now Shakaar is refusing to return the reclamators, which Winn would like to use to plant crops for export and trade.
There's more to the story, though. Shakaar tells Kira that the Provisional Government had loaned his people the reclamators for a full year. They've only had them a few months, and the work of reclaiming their land is far from finished. "This is about feeding our people," Shakaar tells her. He does agree to meet with Winn, in hopes of arranging a compromise. But Winn remains as untrustworthy as ever, and it isn't long before this becomes an armed confrontation!
Commander Sisko: As someone who is as capable of leadership as he is experienced in it, he can see that Winn's entire response has been an appalling overreaction. Winn's position actually has some merit, something even Kira acknowledges - but by falling back on force practically right away, she has ceded the high ground. When Sisko refuses to assist her by sending in troops, Winn threatens to withdraw Bajor's application for membership in the Federation, showing that she has not learned a thing from her bungling of the reclamator situation.
Major Kira: Her personal dislike of Winn doesn't stop her from respecting the office of Kai, nor does it keep her from hearing Winn out. In fact, she leaves her meeting with Winn convinced that the Kai is actually right this time. When Winn betrays her, however, sending government forces to arrest Shakaar instead of meeting with him, she decides that "Winn has lied to (her) for the last time" and doesn't hesitate to join Shakaar in open rebellion. She isn't quite willing to cross the line into using force against other Bajorans, however, and at the end is able to find a nonviolent solution to prevent a civil war.
O'Brien: Gets the episode's "B" plot, as he finds himself "in the zone" while playing darts. All he really wants is to enjoy this experience, getting pleasure out of defeating Sisko and Dax. But Quark sees an opportunity in O'Brien's good fortune, and convinces the engineer to go along with it by massaging his ego. After all, if he abandons this streak now, then he'll always wonder how far it might have gone... A harmless "B" plot. It's totally irrelevant to the main story, but it's pleasantly scripted and carefully arranged within the episode so that it's nonintrusive.
Shakaar: The first of what I'm guessing will be several appearances of Duncan Regehr as Shakaar, Kira's former resistance leader and Winn's new political enemy. Regehr, a solid television actor, is a good fit as a rugged rebel leader. Hopefully they won't go down the path of making him a romantic interest for Kira, though. It's too soon after Bareil for a new love interest, and with him already acting as a rival to Winn, it would make him too directly a replacement for Bareil.
Kai Winn: Having achieved popularity as Kai, Winn is now trying to expand her power base by declaring herself head of the Provisional Government. In effect, she wants to be head of both church and state. Her only real enemy in this is herself, as she can't help but overreach. Past episodes have shown that she's cunning when it comes to political manipulation, though Life Support showed that her skills were very limited when it came to actual governance. This episode adds a new ingredient: She's... well, maybe not quite insane, but she is convinced that she is the one true voice of the Prophets, and it would be very easy for her religious mania to take her over the line into true insanity.
The complex and fragile political situation of Bajor, which was often made the focus in some of Season Two's strongest episodes, has been marginalized in Season Three. Only Life Support has really addressed the ongoing concerns of the planet Deep Space 9 orbits, and there it was mainly to tie off the Bajoran/Cardassian conflict to make room for mroe focus on the Dominion threat.
This makes Shakaar a very welcome episode. Kai Winn was presented as hapless in Life Support, a woman who had pushed herself passed the boundaries of her own competence. Effectively, the serpent was de-fanged. Now, with the Cardassian peace achieved and the steadying force of Bareil removed, the venom comes back to the surface. Winn sees her world in black and white: Either she gets what she wants out of a given situation, or she loses. There isn't room for compromise in such a worldview. If Shakaar won't give back the reclamators, then he isn't open to reason and force must be used. Sitting down and talking, trying to find a way for everyone to benefit as Kira suggests? That would require being able to see at least a possibility of a third choice. Winn's limited worldview just can't allow her to do that.
I do have issues with the way the story is resolved, which seems just a bit simple and pat. But the ending is at least well-written, and finds a way to defeat Winn without her losing either her standing with the public or her power as Kai. The events of this episode certainly will increase tensions between Winn and the Deep space 9 crew, and will likely see new tension between her and the Provision Government.
I just hope it doesn't take another half-season before any of this material receives a follow-up.
Overall Rating: 7/10