July 14 2024


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Retro Review: Waltz

8 min read

As Sisko is transporting Dukat to a starbase, their ship is destroyed, and the captain finds himself on a remote planet, dependent on a madman.

Plot Summary: Dukat is being transported aboard the USS Honshu to a starbase to be tried for war crimes, with Sisko along to testify. After the ship is attacked by Cardassian fighters, Sisko wakes to find himself on an inhospitable world, his arm broken, with no survivors other than Dukat. The Cardassian sounds as if he has indeed recovered from the breakdown precipitated by Ziyal’s death, yet he has visions of past tormentors, including Weyoun, Damar, and Kira, who alternately encourage him to kill Sisko and to acknowledge past mistakes. Sisko’s arm is broken, so he must rely on Dukat for food and water until their distress call is picked up by either Starfleet or the Dominion. Starfleet learns of the Honshu’s destruction, but Kira is informed that if the Defiant can’t find Sisko within two days, the ship must abandon the search to escort a Federation troop convoy past the Badlands. While Worf, Dax and O’Brien hunt for the captain, Sisko discovers that Dukat has sabotaged the distress beacon. Using a tine from a fork, he is able to repair it, but to distract Dukat, he must pretend to go along with the Cardassian’s monologues about how the Bajorans brought the crimes of the Occupation upon themselves. When Dukat realizes that Sisko has activated the beacon, he attacks Sisko, driven by his vision of Kira, who taunts Dukat with statistics of Cardassian cruelty. Dukat declares to Sisko that because the Bajorans refuse to acknowledge the Cardassians as a superior race, they all deserve to die and he plans to kill them himself. As Dukat smashes the beacon, the Defiant picks up a burst of signal and delays its trip to the Badlands to rescue Sisko, though Dukat is already gone, having taken the shuttle which he had told Sisko was damaged beyond repair. Sisko calls Dukat truly evil and promises that Dukat will never hurt Bajor again.

Analysis: Despite a somewhat flimsy premise – sending the onetime leader of Cardassia, accompanied by the captain of greatest importance to fighting the Cardassians, aboard a small, unescorted starship – “Waltz” ends up being one of the most memorable episodes of the series, in large part because of exceptional performances by the always terrific Avery Brooks and Marc Alaimo. It’s very talky, yet there’s not a line of wasted dialogue, and nearly every word spoken sounds prophetic when rewatching the episode after having seen Deep Space Nine‘s endgame. Like “Duet,” “Waltz” wrestles with the question of whether it’s possible to find redemption for someone who has committed unthinkable atrocities, yet as much as I love “Duet,” it ducks the question by having the perpetrator turn out not to be the person who committed those atrocities. Though for a few horrible minutes it seems as if “Waltz” will become another installment in what has looked like an effort to redeem Dukat – a not-uncommon storyline on soap operas, where rapists and murderers played by popular actors are allowed with alarming frequency to atone and become heroes – “Waltz” ends by confirming what Kira has said all along, that Dukat is a butcher and a psychopath, though even she had moments in “Indiscretions” and “Return to Grace” when she seemed to be on the verge of forgiving him. There is no question at this point that Dukat is mentally ill, whether by Human or Cardassian standards…not so much because he talks to people who aren’t present, something we’ve seen other characters do under extreme duress, but because his megalomania is slowly persuading him that he is the Bajoran Messiah, the equal and opposite of the Emissary. That he will find a way to threaten the entire planet, and that Sisko will have to make good on his promise to stop Dukat at any cost, is already evident, though it still seems as if a military assault rather than ancient aliens will be Dukat’s weapon of choice.

Sisko and Dukat make great adversaries because they are so different stylistically as well as philosophically – Sisko favors quiet intensity, he saves his bombast for when it’s necessary, while Dukat goes quickly from faux geniality to full-throated rage. Now that his instability is more evident than ever, Dukat is twice as scary, though he’s no more effective one-on-one against the Emissary than he is with a fleet of ships at his back. The violence under the surface is more interesting than when it finally erupts, though I’m not sorry when Dukat finally picks up a weapon; we need to see how dangerous he really is, the genocidal madman beneath the politician. It’s such a relief not only to hear Sisko label this evil for what it is, but to hear Dukat himself confess (and brag about) his crimes. When this episode aired, a contingent of Dukat fans were angry about his nervous breakdown, which they found out of character for someone who had enough control to lead Cardassia again after suffering a major fall, and upset that he returned to his past wicked ways after embracing love in the person of Ziyal. I disagreed then and I continue to disagree now with both arguments. Dukat may be able to act like a charismatic family man, yet he never sees Ziyal as a person in her own right. She’s always an extension of himself, and his affection for her, like his affection for Kira, is inseparable from his desire to control her. Her death deprives him of the one victim of the Bajoran Occupation who has loved him wholeheartedly and forgiven all his brutality, just at the moment that he loses his grip on Cardassia, his other great passion. For him to put his shattered ego back together, he must convince himself not only that his choices and sacrifices were correct and admirable, but that a larger destiny is at work, one which posits him at the center not only of his own universe but everyone else’s. If he can convince the Emissary of his importance, how can the rest of Bajor disagree?

Of course, Sisko is scarcely thinking of Dukat except as a temporary obstacle that he must overcome to get back to much more important things, and that makes Dukat snap once more, though it’s interesting that the voice of his Inner Kira enrages him even more than the voice of Sisko. The latter is willing to play along to the degree that he believes Starfleet would allow, insisting that he is not in a position to judge the Occupation, refusing to be drawn into a debate about Dukat’s choices until Dukat realizes that Sisko has betrayed him by reconnecting the beacon. At that point, though Dukat is using phrases to justify his actions straight out of Nazi propaganda about following orders and being a master race, it’s not clear what he has planned. Sisko believes he intends for them both to die on that planet and just wants Sisko to absolve him of his crimes first. But once we learn the shuttle is still functioning, it becomes apparent that Dukat intends to take any vindication he can get from his “old friend” and return to space armed with it, whether he intends to take the injured Emissary along or wait till after his death to depart. Though Dukat will remain obsessed with Sisko for many months, they will not see each other again until their date with destiny in the Fire-Caves. How Dukat intends to silence his Inner Kira, we never learn, since neither ranting nor phaser fire does the trick. This is a man directly responsible for the deaths of thousands; no matter how different Cardassian values may be from ours, these are not the acts of a stable self-aware individual. No amount of Federation cultural relativism can rationalize them. If it’s not fair to link evil to mental illness, it is nevertheless necessary to make clear that even by Cardassian standards, Dukat is a monster, while Damar, who is a murderer too, is capable of comprehending the evils of the Occupation and will be mostly redeemed in the end, though he will be required to pay for his crimes.

It makes sense that Damar takes on the role of Dukat’s Cardassian pride in Dukat’s mind, even though Damar killed Dukat’s daughter in the name of Cardassia. It makes sense as well that Weyoun takes on the role of Dukat’s uncertainty as a leader about whether to mount a physical or psychological assault on Sisko and by extension Starfleet and Bajor. Kira’s role is more complicated, and more chilling, especially in retrospect, since we now know that her mother was Dukat’s lover for many years. Dukat’s Inner Kira is the voice of the Bajoran Resistance, which he is finally ready to acknowledge consisted not of a small group of Bajorans stirring up trouble while the rest were content to let the Cardassians rule them, but of nearly everyone on the planet in belief if not in physical violence. If Dukat envisions Kira as a stand-in for all of Bajor, it makes his desire to possess and subdue her even more appalling. There has always been an erotic charge to his dealings with her, which she has tried very hard not to allow to turn into a flirtation, but the Kira who exists only in his mind has no such restraints. She can laugh wantonly and move into his personal space even as she’s telling him all the reasons she and Bajor despise him. The real Kira is stuck between a rock and a hard place, or rather between the Federation and Sisko, and makes a decision that seems more out of character than Dukat’s Inner Kira, when she orders Worf to abandon Sisko and protect Starfleet troops. This is not only her captain but her Emissary whom Starfleet is ready to sacrifice. How strange that the newly fatalistic Bashir makes the strongest argument for Sisko’s rescue while even Dax seems resigned to giving up the search. When Sisko plays passive, it’s only a tactic to delay Dukat, so I’m going to believe that Kira deliberately sent garbled orders to the Defiant to allow Worf to keep hunting. Sisko, after all, will pledge to give his life for Bajor, and we know that he will make good on that promise.

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6 thoughts on “Retro Review: Waltz

  1. It’s still a little unconvincing how Dukat goes Full Villain. Maybe it’s just his last bit of monologuing. It could also be the terrible mustache-twirling Dukat will have after this final shot at character development. All downhill from here for him.

  2. I didn’t really care much for this episode. It’s mainly a stranded situation with one character going through a mental breakdown. Did we really have to see Dukat’s fragile psyche? Yeah, Ziyal’s dead, his alliance with the Dominion failed to help the Cardassians conquer the Alpha Quadrant, and he’ll never get to bed Kira. Sisko would be his obvious scapegoat being that the Prophets provided their timely aid, which is why Dukat would later seek out his next alliance with the Pah-Wraiths, making it consistent with his character, running from one potential ally to another in his never-ending quest for power. This, like many shows, ends up with the same result of a major villain who’s captured, eventually escaping to cause more trouble later. Personally, I’d rather Dukat have his day in court and Sisko and others in Starfleet see firsthand his megalomania and mental breakdown. It seems strange that they waited so long to transport Dukat. Was he really in Odo’s holding cell that whole time? He should have been removed once the crew retook DS9. Regardless, this episode was a big waste for me.

  3. The problem with this episode is that it’s basically a two-character play. That can be great in the theater, but it makes for pretty boring television no matter how good the actors are. And Brooks and all that great.

  4. “Despite a somewhat flimsy premise – sending the onetime leader of
    Cardassia, accompanied by the captain of greatest importance to fighting
    the Cardassians, aboard a small, unescorted starship –”

    I’ve never heard anyone describe a Nebula-class starship as “small” before; they are overall almost as large as the Galaxy-class starships.

  5. Well that is just a part of the fact that Michelle doesn’t actually watch the episodes to write these reviews. Instead she looks up online summaries and latches onto the flimsiest possible excuses to vent her anti-male hate and psycho-femminist rhetoric.

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