|Sisko at his heighest point - just before his fall.|
The war against the Dominion has finally turned in Starfleet's favor. The Romulans' entry into the war has put the Dominion on the defensive, retreating back into Cardassian space. But the enemy's ability to rapidly replenish Jem'Hadar numbers means that Starfleet must press this advantage while they still have it, and Sisko has been put in charge of the next step: An invasion of Cardassian space!
Sisko has long championed going on the offensive, and already has a plan in place. Cardassian and Jem'Hadar defenses have been weakened in the Chin'toka System, making it a perfect place to gain a foothold. The enemy also recognizes this, however, and Damar (Casey Biggs) has already begun deploying automated weapons platforms that will shore up this weak spot. The Starfleet forces will have to strike immediately, before the platforms become operational.
But on the eve of his departure, Sisko receives a vision from the Prophets. In their usual, maddeningly obscure way, they warn that is dangerous for him to leave Deep Space 9 at this time. But with no specifics, he cannot justify staying behind during such an important battle. He leaves Dax in charge of the station and leads the assault.
His forces arrive too late, however, reaching Cardassian space just as Damar's weapons platforms come to life. As the battle becomes desperate, Gul Dukat puts his own plans into effect - a plan that will lead to devastating personal consequences for Sisko, and potentially to disaster for the entire Alpha Quadrant!
Capt. Sisko: The episode opens with him at his highest point. He's awarded the Christopher Pike Medal of Valor for retaking Deep Space 9, and he has been chosen to lead the assault on Cardassian space. Even his home life is in balance, with Jake on hand to tell him how proud he is. When you're at your highest point, though, that leaves you a long distance to fall - And as much as it's about any single thing, this episode is about Benjamin Sisko falling hard. After the Prophets' warning, Sisko is bluntly told that he now has to choose whether to be the Emissary of the Prophets or a Starfleet officer. He chooses Starfleet, leading the assault. It's the wrong choice. He is incapacitated during the fight, making him useless on the front line - And disaster strikes the station during his absence. By the end, he's left scrubbing dishes in an alley, his spirit broken... A temporary situation, which I'm sure will be reversed at the start of Season Seven, but the dismantling of this very strong man's spirit is effective and convincingly done, and Avery Brooks gives another superb performance.
Kira: Sisko's fall is accompanied by Kira's rise, as she takes command during the battle. She does an outstanding job. She gives orders sharply and confidently, but listens to the expertise of O'Brien and Garak when it becomes clear that something more than brute force is needed to break through the shielding on the weapons platforms. What makes this more dramatic than the usual "FIrst Officer takes charge" scenario is the nature of the two characters. Sisko, who began the series finding his role as Emissary a burden, is now so reliant on his connection to the Prophets that losing that connection hits him like a physical injury. Meanwhile, Kira - who has always defined herself by her religion as much as by anything - comes into her own at the very moment the Prophets withdraw.
Worf: In the briefing scene early in the episode, as Martok becomes angry and apparently near-violent toward the Romulans, it is Worf who acts as the voice of restraint for him. Worf is stable, calm, and measured in the face of the same sort of insults that once would have driven him into a rage. The scene from A Call to Arms in which Worf and Dax left for war with plans to marry, is mirrored here. This time, Worf leaves for battle, with them making plans to have a child after he returns... Plans that will be cruelly disrupted.
Dax: Is genuinely touched when Kira tells her that she's said a prayer for her efforts to have a baby with Worf. When Dr. Bashir informs her that medically, she and Worf will likely be able to conceive - something that had been in severe doubt - she responds with a giddiness so unforced that it can't help but be endearing. She decides to go to the Bajoran temple to say a prayer as a form of thanks to Kira for her prayers - a minor decision, the sort of whim that takes people on a regular basis, and one that ends up having very big consequences.
Dr. Bashir/Quark: In Change of Heart, we discovered that Bashir's feelings for Dax never really went away - He just stopped chasing her when it became clear nothing would ever come of it. That same episode indicated that Quark also had feelings for her, though it was unclear whether Quark's confession was genuine or just a tactic to distract Bashir from his game. That question is firmly answered when Quark becomes as depressed as Bashir at learning that she plans to have a child with Worf. They were already resigned to her being married to Worf... but the thought of a child makes that into something real. This allows screenwriters Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler the perfect chance to bring back hologram Vic Fontaine (James Darren), who is seen only briefly, and thus remains likable and amusing.
Gul Dukat: Apparently did not go straight back to Cardassia after escaping with Sisko's shuttle. Instead, he has been researching the Bajorans, learning all he can about their religion. He has learned of the pah-wraiths, and sees in them an opportunity to take the war to the true enemies, the ones keeping the Dominion from overwhelming the Alpha Quadrant through sheer numbers: The Prophets! Weyoun clearly has little time for Dukat and his schemes, regarding the former Cardassian ruler with a sort of disgusted pity. Even Damar, though he still very badly wants to respect his mentor, seems doubtful at best. The episode leaves Dukat as a pure wild card - He's an enemy of the Federation, and the Dominion has no time for him. But he's far from harmless, as the events of this installment show in a big way.
Tears of the Prophets continues the Deep Space 9 tradition of upending the status quo in every season finale. The episode begins in the same space occupied by much of the season. The war is continuing, with the Dominon and Cardassians plotting on one side while Sisko prepares to act against them on the other. It ends with one of the central features of the series removed entirely, with the death of one regular, and with Sisko back on Earth licking his wounds like an injured dog.
The death will be ameliorated (for good or ill) next season, and I strongly suspect the other two changes will be temporary... But the ramifications of this finale will be felt throughout next season. If nothing else, I tend to suspect that the next time any of the regulars see Dukat, they will be ready to do more than snap insults at him.
It is another superb episode, as reflected by most of my comments in the "Characters" section. The series continues to push the television envelope with regard to space battles, presenting yet another complex large-scale combat scene. It continues to excel at balancing action with character development. Sisko, Kira, Worf, Dax - All of them experience significant events in this episode, and their reactions to those events feel entirely authentic. There are also good roles for most of the ensemble, with only Garak (of all people!) left to feel like a spare part... And after his dominance in In the Pale Moonlight, it's OK for Garak to occupy just the fringes of this episode - That already restored any of the complexity that might have been lost.
With a driving pace, some fine character moments, and a final Act in which every scene hits hard, there's not too much question of my score. Another outstanding finale in a series that has delivered consistently outstanding season enders.
Overall Rating: 10/10.
Previous Episode: The Sound of Her Voice
Next Episode: Image in the Sand
Season Six Overview
Search Amazon.com for Star Trek: Deep Space 9