Monday, October 13, 2014

6-11. Waltz.

Gul Dukat wrestles with his demons.  And loses.


The USS Honshu is transporting Gul Dukat to his arraignment for war crimes. Sisko is on board, to act as a prosecution witness. Sisko is visiting Dukat in the brig, when the ship comes under Dominion attack. The Honshu is destroyed, but several escape pods make it off, along with one shuttlecraft. The Defiant is dispatched to search for survivors - but on a tight timetable, the demands of the war effort taking priority over the rescue mission.

In a cave on an uninhabited and inhospitable planet, Sisko awakes to discover that he is still with Gul Dukat. The Cardassian rescued him, getting him to the shuttle and landing on this planet. Dukat insists that the shuttle is no longer operational, but that he has gotten the distress beacon working. As the two wait for rescue, either by Starfleet or the Dominion ("whoever gets here first," Dukat smirks), Dukat prods the other man toward conversation, trying to get him to reveal his full opinion of him.

As their talks go on, it becomes clear that Dukat is having other conversations as well. The Cardassian's psychological recovery isn't as complete as it appeared, and he is seeing people who aren't actually present, each of them feeding his worst tendencies, urging him to action - Specifically, to kill Sisko while he has the chance!


Capt. Sisko: The episode opens with Sisko approaching Dukat to express his condolences over Ziyal's death. He parrots the Starfleet view that a man is innocent until proven guilty, but even Dukat recognizes this as prevarication. After the crash, Sisko is initially grateful to the Cardassian for saving his life, but he doesn't extend his trust and rejects Dukat's description of them as "old friends." He exploits Dukat's increasingly evident mental instability, feeding his ego at some points, brutally undermining it at others - steadily pushing him until he finally makes himself vulnerable.

Gul Dukat: Over the course of the series, Marc Alaimo and the writing staff have transformed Dukat from a simple stock villain into arguably the series' most multilayered creation. Dukat still believes, as he said to Weyoun in Sacrifice of Angels, that a true victory is forcing your adversaries "to acknowledge your greatness." That is what he is attempting here.   He is keeping Sisko alive, trying to get the other man to acknowledge his respect for him. When he catches Sisko repairing the distress beacon, he shatters the beacon before beating Sisko, all the while blaming him for forcing him to brutality... Exactly the same way he blames the Bajorans for forcing him to be a despot when what he really wanted was to be a beloved, benevolent dictator. Alaimo is stunning throughout, as he shifts from a false calm to an all too real mania.

Major Kira: Is put into position of command - which in wartime, means enforcing tough decisions. That includes being able to spare only two ships to search for Sisko, and having to firmly order Worf to divert the Defiant to escort an otherwise unprotected troop convoy after 52 hours (which includes the 12 hours it will take him to reach the convoy). Kira does not appear happy about giving these orders, but she makes it clear that she stands by them.

Dukat's Hallucinatory Greek Chorus: Kira also appears alongside Weyoun and Damar as hallucinations arguing with Dukat throughout the episode. All three of these visions reinforce Dukat's view of himself as the victim. His Kira slinks around almost like the Intendant, showing that in Dukat's mind she instigated his attraction to her. Even as she poses seductively, she spits insults and announces that the Bajorans wanted to kill Cardassians, nothing more, reinforcing Dukat's view that the Bajorans were the aggressors. His Weyoun sneers at his mercy, building up his self-image as a benevolent dictator. His Damar is constantly respectful, even as he urges Dukat to stern and decisive action - representing the Cardassians who would have been far harsher toward Bajor than he was. All three underline Dukat's distorted self-image, an image Sisko rips away by the episode's end.


"He lost an empire; he lost his daughter; and he nearly lost his mind. Whatever his crimes, isn't that enough punishment for one lifetime?
-Sisko's Captain's Log, at the start of the episode.

Waltz acts almost as a companion piece to Season One's Duet. Like that episode, the meat of the story comes down to conversations between a regular and a Cardassian war criminal. Like that episode, the story involves stripping away the Cardassian's pretense to uncover who he truly is. In Duet, Kira exposed the apparent war criminal as a genuinely decent man. In Waltz, Sisko does the opposite, wearing down the affable and charismatic Dukat until the civilized veneer vanishes, leaving only the monster beneath.

The focus of Dukat's obsession remains the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor. This is the failure that has shaped all of Dukat's actions since. When he joined with the Dominion, it was to re-establish the Cardassian glory that began to crumble after the end of the Occupation. When he retook Deep Space 9 and re-christened it Terok Nor, he was in effect getting a second chance at making his Occupation all he had wanted in the first place: Benevolent, respected, and permanent. A chance to rewrite his personal history and make it work out the way he always wanted it to. When it failed again, we saw his mind already starting to snap, even before Ziyal was gunned down in front of him.

Dukat's justifications for atrocity fit perfectly with who he's always been. His ego demands that he be the hero of the story; anything that doesn't fit that narrative is someone else's fault.  All of this leads to a show-stopping three minute speech, in which Dukat talks about his rule on Bajor. He begins by detailing how his initial acts as ruler reduced fatalities in the work camps by 20%. It's evident that he believes he should have been celebrated as a hero by the Bajorans for this, and felt personally betrayed when resistance continued. 

Indeed, he regards every act of resistance as a personal insult. As the speech wears on, he reveals his anger at the Bajorans not only for resisting him, but for their "stubborn pride." "They wanted to be treated as equals when they most certainly were not!" He rages at them for refusing to acknowledge the Cardassians as superior, for refusing to acknowledge him as superior. By the end of the speech, he is ranting his hatred of all Bajorans, raving that he should have killed them all when he had the chance. It is a spectacular piece, so sharply scripted by writer Ronald D. Moore and so perfectly performed by Alaimo that it's downright uncomfortable to watch.

By the end of the episode, Dukat is free again, now with a renewed purpose: To show the Bajorans what it means for him to truly be their enemy. But just as he doesn't kill Sisko at the start of the episode, he doesn't leave him to die at the end. He transmits Sisko's location so that the Defiant can rescue him.  Because it's still not enough for him to win; his enemy must live, if only long enough to acknowledge his superiority.

"Sometimes life seems so complicated. Nothing is every truly good or truly evil... Then you spend some time with a man like Dukat, and you realize that there is really such a thing as truly evil... From now on, it's him or me."
-Sisko to Dax, as the episode ends.

Overall Rating: 10/10.

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