|Gul Dukat, Master of the Cult of the Pah-Wraiths!|
Kira received a visit from Vedek Fala (Norman Parker), whose calls for faith in the Prophets helped keep spirits high during the Occupation. But that same Occupation shattered Fala's faith, and he now serves a new religion - The Cult of the Pah-Wraiths!
Fala slips Kira a homing transponder, and she is beamed directly to Empok Nor. The abandoned station has become a headquarters and refuge for the Cult. In addition to a new home, the Cult has taken on a new Master: Gul Dukat!
Dukat believes he and Kira are "bound together by destiny." He hopes to convince her that he has changed, that he is now the benevolent presence he has always pretended to be. He basks in the love of his followers - and Kira becomes determined to expose his lies and corruption to those followers. Dukat is left with one last resort: To convince the Cult to join him in mass suicide!
"We will shed the flesh that ties us to this world and deliver ourselves into the waiting arms of the Pah-Wraiths!"
Capt. Sisko: Briefly present, to justify Avery Brooks' name in the credits as Sisko hears about Kira's disappearance. But this is strictly a "contractual obligation" appearance, and if that scene were removed it would make no difference to the overall episode.
Col. Kira: Horrified that her old teacher has turned to the Cult that attacked Sisko. "It was your faith in the Prophets that got us through! How could you of all people would turn your back on them?" She remains moderately sympathetic to the Cult members, whom she sees as dupes of Dukat, but she is scornful of the Cardassian. She does not believe he's changed in any way, and the familiar excuses he makes for his past crimes are the best evidence for her position. When she finally decides that Dukat does believe, she is even more unsettled; the faith of a zealot is the last thing that needs married to all of Dukat's other faults.
Odo: We see him only briefly, but it's clear how devoted he is to Kira. He orders her favorite drink, not for himself but for her to enjoy once she joins him after morning prayers. He talks about wishing that he was able to share her faith so that he could spend that time with her - But he won't fake that faith just for that end. We again see Odo acting as a sounding board for Kira at the episode's end, listening to (and arguing with) her conclusions about Dukat. They both view Dukat's actions through the lens of their own experiences with religion. Devout Kira thinks Dukat is a true believer; skeptical Odo believes he is simply using the Cultists' faith to prop himself up.
Gul Dukat: Me, I agree with Odo. Dukat may pretend to regret his past actions, but he still denies any culpability. Killing Jadzia was unfortunate but necessary; Kira's mother loved him, or at least convinced herself she did; the Occupation would have been so much worse without him tempering his people's brutality. He's articulate and charismatic, perfectly fitting the role of cult leader, and he is finally able to bask in the love and devotion of his followers. But in the end, this is just a new role - like benevolent dictator, freedom fighter, or leader of the Cardassian Empire - that is important to him mainly in how it props up his self-delusions.
With just a little more script work, Covenant might have been a great episode.
Certainly, much of it is good. Re-using Empok Nor as a base for the Cult of the Pah-Wraiths is a smart idea, a budget-saver that fits perfectly with established continuity. The portrayal of the Cult members not as villains, but simply as people who have lost their faith and are looking for purpose and meaning, is believable, and Dukat works perfectly as a cult leader.
The Kira/Dukat interactions remain compelling, and Marc Alaimo continues to make Dukat the most multi-faceted villain of the Star Trek franchise. I agree with Sisko's assertion that he's evil - but he's not simple, Snidely Whiplash evil. This is a villain who wants to be a savior, and much of the time convinces himself that he is one. By now, Kira believes she knows exactly who Dukat is - But her attempts to expose his duplicity attain a rising desperation by the end, when she's left trying to avert a Jonestown-style mass suicide.
I would actually have rated the episode higher had Kira failed in that attempt. The ending, in which she finally proves Dukat's treachery and all of his followers turn against him, is too simple, pat, and easy for this episode. Had Kira been left to watch helpless as this tragedy unfolded not for any great purpose, but simply so that Dukat could evade responsibility for his actions - That would have been vastly more effective and convincing. Too dark for a Star Trek show? Maybe, maybe not - But I think it would have been the right ending.
But a weak finish doesn't undo all that's good in Covenant. Propelled by the fine performances of Nana Visitor and Marc Alaimo, the episode works until the end. It's just a shame that it stumbles to such a limp and disappointing close.
Overall Rating: 6/10.
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