July 16 2024


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Retro Review: Duet

6 min read

Kira identifies a Cardassian seeking medical attention on the station as a war criminal who massacred Bajorans during the Occupation.

Plot Summary: A ship docks at Deep Space Nine to get medical treatment for a passenger with a rare disorder contracted by the survivors of a Bajoran mining accident during the Occupation. Kira goes to greet the patient and is appalled to discover that he is Cardassian, presumably a jailer at the Gallitep labor camp where the accident occurred. She demands the man’s arrest and alerts the Bajoran government, but Sisko wants proof that the Cardassian committed crimes before turning him over to Bajoran authorities. Kira questions the Cardassian, who claims to be a file clerk named Marritza. At first he denies that he was ever at Gallitep, then claims he was in an office and saw no atrocities. Yet under questioning, he reveals contempt for Bajorans and a particular dislike of Kira, whom he recognizes as a resistance fighter. An old photo provided by Gul Dukat reveals that the prisoner is in fact Gul Darhe’el, the labor camp leader, who slaughtered thousands of Bajorans. But Dukat provides convincing information that Darhe’el was not at Gallitep on the day of the accident and moreover that Darhe’el died six years previously. When Bashir reveals that the man has been taking medicine to recover from cosmetic surgery, Odo begins to suspect that the prisoner really is Marritza, who has changed his face to resemble Darhe’el. Under questioning by Kira, the Cardassian claims that he is Darhe’el, while the coward Marritza, who did nothing to help the Bajorans, is dead. The prisoner insists that he should be prosecuted for Darhe’el’s crimes, since all of Cardassia is guilty. Kira frees him, but he is stabbed by a drunken Bajoran who says that Marritza’s being Cardassian is reason enough to kill him. Kira is forced to acknowledge that seeking vengeance only hurts good people.

Analysis: Widely considered the best episode of Deep Space Nine and often of Star Trek, “Duet” was conceived as a low-budget bottle show, taking place entirely on the station; it gets its power from the writing and acting of a staff and cast that hit their stride and really didn’t let up for six seasons. When it aired in 1993, it was the first time I ever thought a sequel series could surpass the original Star Trek, something I never felt that The Next Generation achieved despite being closer in tone to Roddenberry’s vision than the more complex universe of DS9. I learned later that “Duet” was based loosely on a movie about a man tried for Nazi war crimes, but it was televised in the midst of a real-life trial in Israel in which an extradited U.S. citizen was accused of being a member of the Gestapo. An appeal overturned John Demjanjuk’s death sentence a month after “Duet” was first shown. His story was all over the news, making the episode extraordinarily timely. I know it’s dangerous to try to draw direct real-world parallels with Star Trek, but since “Ensign Ro” I had thought of the Bajorans as being modeled on displaced Palestinians; “Duet” made me rethink not only that parallel but the way in which Jews and Arabs have been constructed into adversaries based on relatively recent history, rather than two peoples than sharing common persecutions.

We’d heard before that Kira killed Cardassian non-combatants in the Resistance, but until “Duet” it had always been implied that those were accidents – that she wasn’t like the Kohn-Ma, terrorists who were willing to target civilians not directly involved in the Occupation to free Bajor from outside influences. We also hadn’t seen so clearly the price Kira paid for those killings, no matter how much she believed in the cause for which she fought. We’ve seen glimpses of her as diplomat (though I note that this time when she goes over Sisko’s head to talk to the Bajoran government without telling him first, he doesn’t object), as a soldier, as someone trying to get used to being part of an establishment in which she doesn’t always believe; here we see so many sides at once, the official who’s outraged to have a criminal on her station, the freedom fighter who wants to kill her onetime enemy, the spiritual woman who’s appalled at the things war makes people do, the idealist who wants to believe that not everyone connected with the atrocities condoned them. She’s amazing. No wonder Marritza chooses Kira, singling her out as the person to whom he wants to confess, doing enough research to be sure she’ll listen to his elaborately constructed story. He could have asked to be taken directly to Bajor for treatment – if he had a death wish, that might have made more sense – yet he picked her, counting on both her authority and her integrity to expose Cardassian crimes. And though she flinches, she never runs away even when she thinks he’s Darhe’el and he insists on comparing elements in their past which she wants so much to deny.

“Duet” doesn’t have a lot of plot as such – no science fiction angle, it’s all about ideas and emotions, not even a distracting B story – Quark’s awkward curiosity about whether the survivors of Gallitep like to gamble is as close to humor as the writing ventures after the opening in which Kira and Dax compare notes on their childhood misdeeds. Nana Visitor and Harris Yulin carry the drama on the strength of their performances, and to a lesser degree Rene Auberjonois, who doesn’t get as much screen time yet is pivotal both to the resolution and to our understanding of Kira. He’s been her confessor since “Past Prologue”, certainly her best friend on the station, possibly anywhere since we rarely see her interact with her old friends from Bajor. If the incident with Marritza marks the beginning of Kira’s ability to let the past go – it probably makes it possible for her to fall in love with Bareil and to deal with the conspiracy that will soon unfold among Bajor’s most trusted officials – it also marks a deepening in Odo’s feelings for Kira, the recognition of how much she struggles with feelings of displacement as complex as his own, the understanding that she also draws distinctions between what is just and what is right. She lets him see who she really is in a way no other humanoid ever has.

“Duet” marks a turning point for the series, the first time we hear about the Shakaar resistance cell and the official Cardassian denial of war crimes during the Occupation. It’s also the start of a five-episode arc that spans the end of the first and beginning of the second season, the first time we see Neela, who plays a major role in “In the Hands of the Prophets” and further complicates our view of Bajoran society by showing what radically different paths Bajorans choose to defend what they believe is their common culture. Here, Kira wants Marritza to be something worse than a filing clerk; she wants him to be guilty so that all of Bajor can punish him and find satisfaction in his execution. Would a war crimes trial have diverted Vedek Winn from her play for power? Would it have made a difference to Bajoran-Cardassian relations if Marritza broke down in public as he did with Kira, telling her that she would never know what it was like to be a coward, to see horrors and do nothing? Probably not, but though Kira tells Marritza that he was only one man, exonerating him for his failure to stop the horrors of the Occupation, she is learning that even as only one woman, she can make an inordinate impact on her people. It’s a powerful, and unnerving, prospect.

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21 thoughts on “Retro Review: Duet

  1. Fantastic, thank you for the review. This was definitely one of my favorite episodes of television, not just Star Trek!

  2. Definitely a good episode, certainly the best of the first season. Plenty of other Trek eps are as good if not better. And TNG didn’t surpass TOS???? There would be NO DS9 without TNG. Remember that. I know you’re a DS9 fangirl, but come on. Also, “displaced” Palestinians? Good grief. How ridiculous.

  3. “Widely considered the best episode of Deep Space Nine and often of Star Trek”…. wait, what? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great episode, but I’ve never once seen it called the best episode of DS9, or of Trek as a whole, until this review. Great episode? Definitely. Widely considered the best? No.

  4. Its easily the best episode of season one. Very good episode.

    I’ve heard it called one of the best DS9 episodes, certainly. It’s definitely in the top 5 or 10.

    I can easily see someone picking it as their favorite hour of Trek. It’s certainly up there.

    Oh how I miss DS9. You are going to make me dig out those DVDs again aren’t you? 🙂

  5. I’m also not sure about it being considered the best of Star Trek, certainly I’d group it among the best DS9 episodes. Sublime review though!

  6. It’s widely considered the best ep. of DS9 and often of Star Trek….by DS9 fanboys/girls…*rolls eyes*

  7. Michelle. This is an excellent review of a DS9 episode. Well written and well thought out.
    Reviewers like you who take their earlier readership’s comments seriously, take their points to heart,
    and do attempt to change, can only be openly applauded! Thanks!

  8. Never heard this one referred to as one of the best, it was good but nowhere near ‘the best’. This is a series that in years to come will have some of the best stories in the trek universe, things like ‘In the Pale Moonlight’ which IS the best DS 9 episode bar none, ‘Past tense’ which is one of the best time travel stories ever, the excellent ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ that mated DS9 to TOS, ‘Soldiers of the Empire’ which is my mind the best treatment of Klingons in Trek lore, ‘Far Beyond the Stars’ which is my personally favorite episode, and so many others, so stop with ‘Duet’ is one of the best/the best.

    Its not even close.

  9. Well from fan points of view, check out IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0708529/reviews

    From wikipedia: “Despite being a bottle episode, “Duet” was featured in Museum of Television and Radio’s 1994 “Tribute to Excellence”[3] and became a fan favorite, described by Startrek.com as “one of DS9s — possibly even one of Treks — finest [hours]”.[5] ” … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duet_(DS9_episode)

    Or Jammer’s reviews: http://www.jammersreviews.com/st-ds9/s1/reviews.php

    From Matt Brown: “”Duet” is quite simply one of the most impressive hours of television I’ve ever seen, anywhere.” … http://www.tederick.com/reviews/ds9-season-1.shtml

    It’s *always* been referred to as one of the best episodes of the franchise ever… from the moment it first aired. Just because you haven’t heard it, or read it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Little bit of research goes a long way…

  10. I’ve never heard it called the best episode of DS9, either (thank you, Zabanabrandon, for the research), but I’ve always considered Duet to be one of the best Star Treks ever. The first time it aired, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire hour. Thanks for a thoughtful review.

  11. Good research. I bet most people dont like it because there is no time travel, action, and its Kira heavy (which is a good thing). But it is emotional, dramatic, deeply moving, compelling, etc.

  12. Because of why? You somehow know what others think the best episodes are? Or you could just use the links below…

  13. It’s nice to see someone who regards this episode so highly. I agree. As much as I love Star Trek, most of the stories are a rehash of stories from other movies or tv shows. This story is so original. I can’t remember seeing it ever done before in any other medium. Possibly it was drawn from real life. That would make sense.

  14. A few fanbois is not ‘always’ no matter how much you may think so, and that award was from the time it was aired, not after the episodes that came later that left it in the dust.

    What i said stands.

  15. Because in the many years I’ve been a Trek fan, Duet is never brought up as one of the best, whether it’s online, with friends, etc. It’s considered to be the best 1st season DS9 eps, and one of DS9’s best, but it never (that I’ve seen) gets ranked up so high to be the best among all Trek eps.

  16. I have to disagree with you very hard. The episodes that you named are fine, but they can’t stand up to Duet. The other episodes never again reach the depths of conflicted characterization that Duet attains. You hold up Pale Moonlight with good reason. Duet is superior to Pale Moonlight in two ways: first, Harris Yulin’s performance is stronger than Avery Brooks or Andy Robinson, second, Moonlight is about a good man doing terrible things, which is a much easier story to tell than that of a person of “gray” morality ascending to a new plane of forgiveness and acceptance.

  17. I’ve been catching up with these episodes myself; & you do over-state Duet’s reputation with the fans. It probably should be considered one of Star Trek’s best; but it isn’t (for fairly obvious reasons). It’s literary in construction rather than a simple adventure; & there’s no easy resolution before the end credits. Non-fans of DS9 can’t stand Nana Visitor – as a confirmed Nanite, i pity them – & she dominates the story; & a member of a race that had previously been cast as clear-cut villains is shown in a heroic light (interesting how Marritza’s cry of “For Cardassia” would return in What You Leave Behind… with this bunch of writers, i guessing this was no coincidence). It was outrageous as an hour of scifi TV; & never for a moment let on that it knew it. With Duet, Niners started to see the series that they would fall in love with & the others would find the show they couldn’t stand. I’m just thankful that it exists – or perhaps, that it escaped

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