DS9, Season 1, Ep20: “In the Hands of the Prophets”

Synopsis: We open on Irishy O’Brien trying to buy his wife a variety of Space Popsicle that looks like a gelatinous cow tongue, but she doesn’t want one because it’s “too early in the day.” Do Space Popsicles have bourbon in them? I think it’s more likely that Keiko O’Brien just hates fun, and the only way she can experience joy is to thwart her husband’s every attempt at happiness.

My hatred of Keiko may have crossed the line into “unhealthy.”

Kieko says Space Popsicles, or “Jumja sticks,” are too sweet, but Irishy says it’s OK because their sweetness is naturally derived from the sap of the Bajoran Jumja tree, and now I really feel like we’re in a popsicle ad (“Jumpy Moms Choose Jumja!”). Things snap back into DS9 mode when Irishy mentions that he aquired his Jumja-knowledge from Neela, his Bajoran Lady Sidekick, and Keiko is all, “I SEE,” catching the scent of an opportunity to make Irishy unhappy like some sort of unhappiness-sniffing bloodhound.

She asks if Neela is working out better than his previous Bajoran Lady Sidekick, and Irishy says yes as noncommittally as he can, to which she nastily responds “I’m glad to see her knowledge isn’t limited to Jumja Sticks.” That was a pretty good passive-aggressive dig, but I think I would’ve gone with “as long as she isn’t servicing your Jumja Stick after hours.”

Irishy suddenly realizes what’s happening, and goes “hey, hold on!” and Keiko gives him a smile that would melt the paint off a tractor and says “just keeping you on your toes, O’Brien.”

I think their relationship may have crossed the line into “unhealthy.”

Irishy ponders his Space Popsicle for a moment, after she leaves, looking confused, then he suddenly perks up and takes a big bite. The ability to suppress and compartmentalize, that’s what’s kept him going so long. Stuff it down, Irishy, stuff it down!

Keiko is now in her classroom, lecturing about the wormhole. She and the class have just discussed the wormhole’s unique stability when a Bajoran woman in the super fancy robes of a Bajoran Vedek (priest) walks into the classroom all, “please, don’t mind me, I’m just a complete stranger in a robe walking unauthorized into a room full of schoolchildren in the middle of your lesson.”

Yes, this is like, the opposite of disruptive

Keiko, to her credit, tries like a champ to keep going, explaining that stability is good and asking who knows why the wormhole is stable. No one answers for like, three seconds, and Keiko is not like any of my teachers, because she doesn’t let them squirm at all and jumps right in with “because it was artificially constructed!”

She goes on to explain that Commander Sisko met the entities who created the wormhole.  I have to say, that must be a hell of a field trip day for these kids, or, for that matter, bring-your-dad-to-school day. Just then, the Bajoran lady lurking at the back of the room is all, “excuse me, but by entities do you mean glorious Bajoran Prophet-God-Beings? Because that is clearly what you meant.”

I haven’t given Keiko a lot of (OK, any) credit as a teacher, but she does a kick-ass job of getting her talk back on track here, quickly moving on by being all, “yes, on Bajor they’re called the Prophets, but to return to science…”

She says that some sort of fancy particles that exist in the wormhole help move ships going at impulse speed safely through, and the lady at the back is all, “Uh, not to contradict you and all your fancy book larnin’, but the ships are safe because they’re guided through by the hands of the Prophets.”

At this point the Bajoran lady actually steps forward and places her hands around a child’s shoulders and looks around at all the other kids like, “amirite?” I’m sorry, but that’s when I call Odo. I’ve worked with kids a lot, and the people who run after-school programs begin to break out in hives when a stranger looks at a kid in their care, much less literally touches one. 

But Keiko just bops along, having a debate with a strange adult in the middle of class, all “well, in a manner of speaking,” to which the strange woman responds “not, apparently, in your manner of speaking.” OH SNAP.

ONLY THEN does Keiko begin to sense danger, suggesting they could discuss this after class. The strange woman then begins to question her religious beliefs right there in front of the kids, asking if she believes that the Temple of the Prophets is up in the wormhole. Keiko doesn’t go with my answer, which would have been, “I don’t have to answer that, SECURITY TO SCHOOL ROOM,” but says that she respects that Bajorans believe in the wormhole temple.

The strange woman looks personally offended by this, in much the same way that Pat Robertson does when anyone mentions the existence of literally any other religion. Devil-nonsense! Space Secularism is destroying the very fabric of our Space Way of Life!

“I won’t have you respecting my beliefs in front of these children! Have you no decency?”

Keiko clarifies that she does not teach Bajoran spiritualism, saying “that’s your job.” She lists the things she does teach (math! Science! English lit! Beat poetry! Journalism! Organ Grinding!) saying that it’s her job to open the children’s minds.

In the single best comeback I have ever heard in my entire life, the strange woman snaps “you are opening their minds. TO BLASPHEMY.” You never heard Jerry Falwell saying snazzy stuff like that.

She says – almost sadly – that she “cannot allow it to continue.” Keiko looks worried and cowed, like this woman is seriously going to come in and cancel school forever. God, Keiko, grow a pair, it’s not like she runs the station.

After opening credits, we come back to the security office, where Irishy arrives late after his stressful date morning to find that Neela the Bajoran Lady Sidekick has already finished fixing the thing they had to fix, which I guess he thought was going to be an extended two-man job. He says he’ll test it himself, because “us old folks like to feel useful,” and he finds she’s done a good job and praises her appropriately. Is it just us, or is Irishy a great boss? I feel like he could tousle his employees’ hair and it wouldn’t even be weird.

As they go to close up the panel that houses the now-fixed-thing, Irishy tells Neela that she needs a special Space Screwdriver to close it because that panel uses security screws. I guess the Cardassians did that so any Bajoran uprising trying to dismantle the station panel by panel would require too many discrete tools to succeed. It’s those small details that really give your fascist regime a personal touch.

“No, we made them use torx last year, I think we should make this console open only with a key you assemble yourself out of materials obtained from the innards of five 30GB Zunes.”

When Irishy goes to pull the special screwdriver from his own personal toolbox, it’s suspiciously missing. Doesn’t this beg the question: how did Neela get the panel off in the first place? Irishy remembers it being there yesterday, and says rather snippily that he never misplaces his tools.

Meanwhile, in Sisko’s office, Keiko has told him about the disruption in her classroom, and Sisko says that he’s unsurprised. “You KNEW this was going to happen?” Keiko asks, and for once, I’m with her. Taking no preventative action here seems wildly irresponsible to me, even as he goes on to say that such a confrontation was inevitable. Just because it was inevitable doesn’t mean Sisko didn’t have a responsibility to try to control the situation by, oh, I don’t know, not allowing unauthorized access to the school in the middle of the day. They have computer doors, people. Computer. Doors.

Sisko ruefully wonders if there will ever be enough common ground to bring Bajor into the Federation, and I ruefully wonder if he really perceives that to be his biggest issue at the moment. Howsabout we deal with the religious fanatic coming into your son’s classroom uninvited, Sisko, then we’ll talk about Bajor’s potential as a Federation planet.

He invites Kira into the powwow, because, hey, she’s Bajoran, and she proved herself as pretty goddamn competent last week. Also, it seems that she just has dossiers about Bajoran priests lying around on her nightstand, because she knows everything about this woman, Vedek Winn: she’s from an Orthodox order (I could have told you that), she has some backing to become the next Kai since Kai Opaka went to the sad, relentless nightmare planet in the sky, and she’s been having weird informal activism meetings with some of the Bajorans who live on the station – and, oh, incidentally, Kira’s a huge fan.

Major Kira, everybody: she impresses you one week by forgiving a war criminal and crying in front of everyone, and the next week she’s endorsing Bishop Crazypants, here.

Keiko seems incredulous not only that Kira could back such a person, but that anyone could still believe in blasphemy in space, and Kira posits that the curriculum could probably use a revision seeing as how Keiko has a lot of Bajoran kids in her class. Sisko watches all of this looking very, very tired.

Keiko says she isn’t going to let a Bajoran spiritual leader dictate what can and cannot be taught in her classroom, which I think comes off sounding more racist than she meant it to because, truly, she shouldn’t let any spiritual leader dictate what’s taught in her classroom.   Kira innocently suggests that they could have two schools on the station, one for Bajoran kids and one for Federation kids, but before she can explain how equal separate can be, Sisko explains that it’s dumb to go separating Bajoran and Federation interests. Kira argues that a lot of Bajoran and Federation interests are separate, and Sisko wants to know why it’s such a BFD that the kids have to learn church business on their own time.

Kira tries to say that Keiko is teaching the kids a “philosophy” that is fundamentally incompatible  with prophet-worship, and Keiko does not appreciate that insinuation. She says she’s trying to teach pure science, which Kira delicately posits is a philosophy in and of itself (isn’t your intolerance of my intolerance the greatest intolerance of all?). Sisko quashes this line of debate before we find out who would win in a fight (Kira’s got the skills but I think Keiko’s angrier) and asks how exactly they are going to deal with it.

Kira tries really hard not to look smug as she says “I’m not sure you can.”

Later, Sisko puts in an appearance at the Bajoran Temple on the station, which is of course Vedek Winn’s base of operations. When he gets there she’s all up in the incense, and says without turning around or looking at him that she can’t say “how long she’s waited” to meet him. From what we will learn about her in both this episode and in coming seasons, I am willing to bet that this was a carefully orchestrated little tableau – she was probably just reading a magazine and then somebody hissed down the hall that Sisko was coming and she darted to the altar to look as holy and nonchalant as possible.

We should take this time to remind you that Sisko is himself an important Bajoran religious figure. He was the first person to speak to the wormhole aliens/Bajoran Prophets, and they let him come back and everything which means that he is the Emissary of the Prophets, now, in essence a sort of Bajoran Jesus. Vedek Winn says she’s honored to meet him, and Sisko curtly says that he would have met her sooner if she’d let him know she was coming. He does not add as opposed to crashing my son’s ninth-grade astronomy class. 

She says she didn’t want to “bother” him with her “insignificant visit,” and he returns that her visit is hardly insignificant. This scene is a really, really excellent marriage of acting, writing and visuals – you completely get the sense of two major players assessing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Louise Fletcher of Nurse Ratchid fame plays Winn with a calculating false humbleness here that is frankly staggering. All the words are in the right place (“bother,” insignificant,” “honor”), and she’s coated her voice with honey, but there’s a edge under everything she says that makes you think of a coiled snake. Avery Brooks’ Sisko is understated, cautious, but firm, it’s like he spends the scene on the balls of his feet, ready to lunge away from whichever direction this woman strikes.

The set crew and director of photography weren’t slacking either- look at the way Winn has positioned herself, not only does she make the Commander come to her, on her turf, she stands directly at the Temple’s point of focus, illuminated from behind like a Renaissance Madonna. Also, all of the architecture echoes the shape of her hat.

The whole conversation is a diplomatic turf war, or a dance (or, if you like West Side Story, it could be both): Sisko tries to get her to acknowledge his secular authority by asking her to call him “Commander Sisko” or even “Benjamin,” rather than “Emissary.” She parries by saying that he is the Emissary, and asks “don’t you know the cherished place you hold in Bajoran spiritual life?” This serves to suggest that his first obligation is to Bajorans as a religious figure, and she phrases it as a question to make him feel like a schoolboy.

Sisko says he isn’t sure if he’s “comfortable in that role,” bringing the conversation into the secular, and she responds that the role the Prophets choose for us might not always be comfortable, but we must follow it, bringing it back to the Prophets again.

At the end of the day you just gotta give it up to the One True Group of Prophets, they make it happen

Then she grabs his ear to feel his pagh the same way Kai Opaka did in the first episode, except when she did it, it was sort of overbearing and friendly and endearing, like your favorite daffy aunt, but Vedek Winn somehow makes it feel invasive and icky, even though she does ask first.

Instead of saying anything nice after grabbing his ear that way, she smugly calls him a “disbeliever.” Really? You had to “read his pagh” to figure that one out? She says she and Kai Opaka talked about Sisko once, and Kai Opaka said that Sisko had been chosen because “one must never look into the eyes of one’s own gods.” I think that’s good advice, and really rather poetic, but Vedek Winn doesn’t seem to agree. She says she told Kai Opaka that she would do anything to look the Prophets in the eye, but Kai Opaka just told her to sit alone in darkness for a day.

I wonder if Kai Opaka did that with all the monks when they got annoying? Maybe that was her equivalent of giving a kid benadryl to get through a flight, a last-resort bad-Pope move when her underlings started asking too many stupid questions (“go sit in darkness for a day, end of discussion, young lady.”). I wonder if she did this to Vedek Winn every time they talked, and I wonder if Vedek Winn noticed the pattern.

Now that she’s challenged both Sisko’s secular and religious authority, Vedek Winn tries to wax rhapsodic about Kai Opaka, a strategy that probably works on Bajor like a charm since everybody loved her so much. But Sisko stays firmly on topic, saying that he wants very much to resolve her issue with the school.

She explains that the Prophets have spoken to her through the Magic Orbs of Magic, and made it clear that it is her duty to defend the Bajoran faith, which Keiko has “dishonored.” She says that if Keiko doesn’t “recant,” she won’t be responsible for the consequences.

In Ops, Irishy is still looking for his special Space Screwdriver, even though Neela says she doesn’t get why it’s such a big deal. Irishy says that if it were to fall into the wrong hands, those hands could open all the critical panels and systems on the station. Well, so much for my ‘Cardassian screw paranoia’ theory.

As they stride purposefully through Ops, Jadzia flags Irishy down to ask if he’s seen Ensign Aquino recently, which he hasn’t. Apparently the Ensign didn’t report for duty today, and the computer says he’s not on the station, but he never logged out. Jadzia says she’ll ask Odo about it, which she inexplicably hasn’t done yet.

Irishy and Neela use the ship scanners to scan for a certain metal compound that Irishy’s screwdriver is apparently made of. They locate some of the compound in a power conduit. OK, this is officially my favorite Star Trek invention. Screw replicators and transporters – “Computer, locate my book.” “Computer, where are my keys?” “Computer, scan for my other number nine knitting needle.”

After shutting down the power in that conduit, Irishy and Neela crawl in and find, rather than the screwdriver, a puddle of goop that indeed has elements of the metal compound. Irishy says that must have been his screwdriver, melted into a black goop by the conduit power, although how it got there he couldn’t say. As he scans it with his tricorder he finds that the black goop has organic elements as well, and they decide to take a sample to Dr. Bashir.

We cut to Irishy in a turbolift with Keiko the next morning, explaining that the Ensign made a log entry about fixing a power conduit right before he went missing, and the remains he found were confirmed by Bashir to be human, so the whole thing could have been an accident.

When they get to the promenade, Irishy goes to buy himself another Jumja stick, only to be told by the solemn Bajoran who runs the Popsicle Stand that they’re all out. Irishy is understandably confused, since there are Jumja sticks sitting no less than an inch and a half away from his arm, but the Popsicle Man confirms that those “aren’t for sale.” Irishy catches on fast when he’s being discriminated against (good to know some national characteristics are still alive on Earth) and asks the Popsicle Man how he’d like a Jumja stick up his ass, grabbing him by the shirt to drive his point home.

Odo, who has a goddamn sixth sense for when there’s trouble on his promenade, sidles up and asks what the problem is. The Popsicle Man irately says he doesn’t have to sell anything to anyone he doesn’t want to. Odo is all, “why wouldn’t you want to?” as Keiko hauls her husband off by the sleeve to keep him out of trouble. As they leave, the Popsicle Man helpfully suggests that the O’Briens “seek the prophets!” to which Irishy grumbles “I’ll seek you!” (?) and Odo coolly muses “seek them yourself,” as he walks off.

As we follow the disgruntled O’Briens back down the promenade, Irishy says that maybe Keiko was right, and they shouldn’t have been here in the first place, and he could put in  for a transfer. Keiko tells him that she can’t run away from what’s going on at the school, which, oh, incidentally, here it is, and Vedek Winn appears to have organized a large rally in front of it. Her timing is impeccable as always, of course, and she says, “oh, look, here’s Mrs. O’Brien now,” just as Keiko and Irishy approach.

Vedek Winn asks Irishy if he’s Mr. O’Brien, and says it’s a pleasure to meet him. If I were Vedek Winn, I wouldn’t play so fast and loose with Irishy, here, he wants to punch a Bajoran in the face and I don’t think he particularly cares which one it winds up being. She explains that the parents of the Bajoran children clustered around her like a human shield have been telling her many wonderful things about Keiko, who is, she says, “apparently an excellent teacher.”

Irishy is not going to pretend he invited this woman over for tea, and dangerously says that, yes, Keiko is an excellent teacher, and she doesn’t deserve what Vedek Winn is doing to her. Vedek Winn says that she feels Irishy’s anger towards her, and she forgives him for it.

I think it’s important to note here that Louise Fletcher has actually built pauses into her performance in places like this so that we have time to scream in hate and rage at her without missing anything.

After her anger pause, she asks if everyone is right, and if she has misjudged Keiko: “is there a place in your school for the Prophets?”

Anger pause.

Keiko says no, and I think the thing I love most about this scene is the reaction of Vedek Winn’s chest-high wall of Bajoran children: most of them look sort of perplexed and uncomfortable, and many of them actually turn to look at her to see how angry she is, but the one kid she’s holding by the shoulders, who looks like he could be Ralph Macchio’s little brother, does the best pout I think I’ve ever seen. His face makes me wonder if Vedek Winn promised everyone there would be bottomless ice cream when Keiko caved, and now he’s super pissed that he even got his hopes up. I mean, look at this kid:

We could build a whole show around him called “Kids Make the Darndest Faces.”

Vedek Winn is so slimy here it’s a miracle she doesn’t slide down the stairs, talking about how much she respects Keiko and how much she wants to find a way to keep the Bajoran kids in her school. She says that she’ll be the first to make a concession. Why does that make me suspicious? She tells Keiko that she’ll consent not to have any lessons about the Celestial Temple in school (like she has any say in it), and in exchange there’s just one itty bitty thing she wants Keiko to do for her, so small she won’t even notice it really, she just wants Keiko to teach nothing about the wormhole at all. So, that’s fair!

Keiko is all, like, what? Vedek Winn is all, “it’s not like you have to talk about it,” and Keiko asks what she’s supposed to do when it’s time to talk evolution (they went there!). Vedek Winn says they’ll just have to boycott those subjects when they get there, and Keiko calmly explains that it’s her job to expose the children to knowledge, not hide it.

At this point, Vedek Winn literally says to the assembled crowd, “well, I tried to be reasonable.” Then everybody strides off like they have somewhere important to be (maybe ice cream after all!).

As we fade to commercial, we see the four ethnically diverse students Keiko has left, under the sheltering giant wings of Jake Sisko.

In Ops, Sisko and the senior staff are still trying to solve the B-plot foul-play that I actually completely forgot was happening. Why did the guy get liquified if he turned the power off? Well, it could have been a computer malfunction, but Irishy has nagging doubts, because the Ensign borrowed his screwdriver without asking. Everyone makes the same face Sisko made when Irishy insisted that the computer had had a “change of attitude” a few episodes back, like, you are such an idiot savant, you poor man. 

Irishy says that the repairs could have waited, and it’s unheard of in Starfleet Engineering culture to take your chief’s tools without asking, so the whole thing is a little fishy. At this point, Odo becomes veeeeery interested, and it seems like Sisko’s directive that he look into it is unnecessary.

Jake comes into Ops to talk to his dad, and he and Sisko go into the office so that Jake can praise Keiko’s fighting spirit and draw parallels between his current situation and the Spanish Inquisition. He says that brave little Keiko kept the school open even though there were only five kids, and she taught them all about Galileo. Jake is having trouble grasping that anyone could have ever been pro-geocentrism, and Sisko says it’s easy to know the truth in hindsight. Jake says that it’s easy to know the truth now, namely that this whole temple vs. wormhole debate is idiotic.

Sisko says it isn’t, actually, because Bajor has had an extremely tough half century, and the only way they got through it was with their faith and trust in the Prophets. Jake is like, but they’re aliens, and Sisko is like, but you could call them Prophets, too, and Jake is all whaaaat? Then Sisko give us the takeaway of the episode: “just because it’s not what you believe doesn’t make it wrong. If you start to think that way, you’ll be acting just like Vedek Winn, and then I’ll have to compassionately shoot you.”

OK, he didn’t say that last part, but that was the gist.

Jake asks what Sisko is going to do, and he says he needs to find some help. He heads to Bajor, where he drops a rock into a pond because that’s just the sort of thing one does on Bajor. After his rock-throwing, a much more chill-looking priest appears behind him. His name is Bareil (BA-rye-ell), and when Sisko tries to do a polite little bow he’s all, “no need to pay tribute to me, Commander, I’m one of those cool monks you read about in books about the sixties.”

Sisko is super relieved, saying how much he hates it when priests just grab his ears without asking. Bareil shares a personal anecdote about how he always hated getting his ear grabbed as a kid, and always swore that he’d do away with it when it was within his power. He reinforces his Rebel Monk status by telling Sisko he’s going to plant and talk simultaneously, because all the other monks are sooooooo lame and he just needs to be doing stuff, man.

“Yeah, having a talent with plants is a real blessing when everybody’s hassling you, man.”

He says he actually started working at the monastery as a gardener, but says that the Prophets had other plans. When Vedek Winn mentions the Prophets telling her shit, it’s all self-aggrandizing and suspiciously supportive of her previously stated agenda, when Bareil talks about them he rolls his eyes a little, like the Prophets are a rich grandma he’s spent his life appeasing.

Sisko says he’s hoping that Bareil can set up an audience with the Vedek Assembly, because he’s the favorite to be the next Kai and he’s basically  Vedek Winn’s polar opposite, the JPII to her Benedict. Bareil’s all like, “that’s true…” but he doesn’t think he can get Sisko an audience because many Vedeks see him as an unsettling symbol of the Godless Federation. I kind of like the idea of the Godless Federation, because the Federation are supposed to be idealized future humanity, and it’s kind of funny that someone could look at them and think of them as height-of-power Soviet Russia.

Bareil says that some people are afraid because Sisko met God, and some people are just afraid of Vedek Winn, and Bajorans in general are good at using fear to justify their actions. He says that he can’t really do anything now, but if the Prophets will it, he’ll be Kai soon and can “be a better friend” to Sisko.

“In other words,” Sisko says, “being my friend now might hurt your chances?”

“The Prophets teach us patience,” Bareil responds.

“It appears they also teach you politics.” Sisko says smoothly.

Bareil smiles like he thinks it’s really amusingly ironic, and tells Sisko to stay and enjoy the gardens as long as he likes. Sisko does a great “why is everyone on this planet so unhelpful” gesture before he leaves.

When he returns to Ops, Sisko finds that three Bajoran crewmen didn’t report to their stations today because they reportedly didn’t feel well. Kira relays this information with a real note of fear in her voice, like she thinks Sisko is going to slap her, or something. I think she should feel some trepidation for being in on these shenanigans, especially since it seems she only showed up at work to serve as a mouthpiece. Sisko asks if the bug the crewmen have is “contagious,” and Kira says it’s “too early to tell,” and then Sisko really gets mad, and asks if she’s really willing to throw everything they worked so hard on this year out the window.

Kira is a real dick about it, all like, “well, if you leave the Cardassians will come back, so I guess not.” Sisko really, really tries to get through to her, and explains that he’s not just here to carry a big stick, he’s here to walk softly and build a trusting relationship with her people, and she isn’t really helping. Kira starts to protest that she is too helping, but he cuts her off, because he is not taking any more of this bullshit. Kira looks legitimately wounded, and Sisko tells her to relay to the Bajoran crewmen that they can come into work or recover en route to their next assignment.

Odo comes in with Bashir (hi, Bashir! Where have you been this episode?) who confirms that the gloop in the conduit was definitely once the late Ensign, who was – get this – not actually killed by the power flow in the conduit. The autopsy indicates that he was – dun-dun-DUN- shot! His body was then placed in the conduit for disposal. So that makes this b-plot more interesting! I guess!

After the commercial break, the senior staff are gathered in Sisko’s office to discuss the muuuuuurder. Sisko asks if it could possibly have anything to do with the a-plot, but Bashir says that the autopsy indicated that the Ensign was shot the night before Vedek Winn arrived, so, no. Nobody has any motive hypotheses, and Odo comments that they can’t trust the Ensign’s log, which could have been faked, especially seeing as the Ensign didn’t take the turbolift to the conduit where he was found, but rather to runabout pad C, which is a pretty suspicious place to be at four in the morning. Clearly, he shouldn’t have been there dressed so murder-victim-y if he didn’t want to get murdered, what did he think was going to happen?

Irishy and Neela investigate the area, and conclude that the runabout is totally normal. Neela comments that the airlock systems haven’t been tampered with, and when Irishy wants to run a diagnostic she says she did already. Irishy muses that if something happened there, it was very well covered up. Almost like an engineer was involved! An engineer with breasts! Oh, sorry, he’s not there yet. Forget I said anything.

Neela asks if Irishy knew the Ensign well, and Irishy says he hardly knew him at all. Neela didn’t either, because he was human, and apparently they don’t mix. Irishy says that seems like a shame, and that she socializes with him, and she says, “oh, but you’re not like the others.”

Irishy makes the face he makes when he suddenly realizes that he’s bungled himself into an I Love Lucy situation.

Looks like this

Neela says that Irishy is great because he doesn’t put on any airs, and is nice, and Irishy is all, oh, my, how the time flies, why don’t you head out, and when she leaves he leans forward and makes a face like all of the blood was just drained from his body and then put back in at lightning speed. Lots of great faces from Colm Meaney today!

On the promenade, Quark is miffed that Odo didn’t tell him that there was a Bajoran convention on the station today, which there clearly is because of all the elderly Bajorans in matching shirts. He muses he needs to get more dabo girls. Odo explains that they aren’t a convention, they’re an orthodox religious sect on the station to support Vedek Winn’s crazy school boycott times. Without missing a beat, Quark says. “Orthodox, hmm? I’ll need twice as many dabo girls.”

Quark knows what’s up.

Odo does not find this amusing, and asks what Quark knows about the muuuuurder, and Quark is offended that Odo would even suggest he could be involved in something so – not profitable, I guess. Odo says that he wasn’t accusing Quark, just asking what he knew, and Quark says nothing, right now. Odo instructs him to keep his ears open, which Quark assures him is the seventh Rule of Acquisition.

Irishy comes to sit with Odo and leans in like he’s worried someone is going to assassinate him at any minute. He explains that he found a “security bypass module” at runabout pad A, not runabout pad C, which was scrubbed clean. Irishy says it doesn’t make sense, but Master Detective Odo explains that, nay, it makes perfect sense. The Ensign saw a security concern in runabout pad C while he was on the night shift, went there, interrupted the bad guy, and was murdered. After disposing of the body, the bad guy decided to finish up whatever he was doing in pad A, in case anybody traced the Ensign to pad C in his final hours.

Irishy wonders what this master plan was, and Odo hypothesizes that someone wanted to steal a runabout. He says it is odd how someone went to all that trouble to defeat the security net but never went through with their EXPLOSION.

It came from the school! Irishy and Odo run straight there, where apparently a well-timed bomb has ruptured the school’s precious backup gasoline supply, because holy shit is that place on fire. Irishy thinks Keiko is inside, for some reason, and  is freaking out, but she runs up out of the crowd so we all know she’s OK.

As the senior staff examine the rubble, Kira says that the explosives used were run-of-the-mill and could have been gotten pretty much anywhere, and Odo concludes that they’re looking at the result of a homemade bomb.

As everyone on the station mills about in the chaos, Vedek Winn pushes her way through to be pseudo-concerned about Keiko. Sisko tells her that no one was hurt, and she’s all, “the Prophets were kind today in their arbitrary doling out of vindictive justice I believe you would categorize as ‘Old Testament style’.” Sisko, perhaps empowered by his meeting with Bareil the Hippie Monk, snaps that the Prophets had nothing to do with it.

Sisko says that this was the work of a disturbed and violent mind who listened to Vedek Winn’s voice instead of the Prophets. Vedek Winn says, “is the Emissary holding me responsible for this act of terrorism?”

Sisko doesn’t even blink. “The commander of this station is,” he says, and you know he won because Vedek Winn immediately breaks eye contact. Her only comeback is, “may the prophets forgive you for abandoning them,” which is pretty weak given what she’s been dishing out most of the episode.

Sisko isn’t done shaming her, though, because as she runs away with her tail between her legs he raises his voice so that everyone can hear him loud and clear: “You claim the prophets as your personal constituency, Vedek Winn. I’m not convinced that’s justified. Who do you speak for? An order that’s barely listened to in your assembly. So you come here looking for a more receptive audience.”

Vedek Winn is all, “is that what Bareil told you? THEN WHY DON’T YOU MARRY HIM.” She says Bareil is misguided and she used to think that Sisko was, too, but now she sees that he wants to destroy everything good in the universe and, in point of fact, lives without a soul. Sisko is all, “go on.”

She says that he and the Federation should be ashamed for being agnostics, and they want to make everyone else in the universe agnostics too, and that the FEDERATION STEAMROLLER WILL LITERALLY CRUSH ALL DECENT BAJORANS WHO GET IN ITS WAY. 

Sisko just looks at the Vedek calmly and says, “you’ve just made your first mistake.”

Here he is, ladies and gentlemen, the Benjamin Sisko I love. He is not yet at the height of his powers, but he has emerged from his cocoon and is prepared to commence being the best ever. Avery Brooks was kind of wishy-washy this first season, not sure who Sisko really was, yet. This is the moment when he decides.

Honestly, I could watch these actors look at each other all day.

He says that the Bajorans who have lived and worked with them on this station, who have begun to build a future with them, know that they are neither the enemy nor the devil. He says that they don’t always agree, in fact, he says, looking right a Kira, they have some “damn good fights,” but they always come away from them appreciating each other more. He tells Vedek Winn she won’t succeed, and the school will reopen, and when they get bored with her the Bajoran parents will bring their kids back.

“We’ll see,” Vedek Winn says, presumably because she has nothing better to say. Sisko turns his back on her and leaves.

As he strides majestically into the distance, we notice that Neela was standing there the whole time (hi, Neela!) and now she’s looking at Vedek Winn with a kind of bereft expression. In case we weren’t sure what was going on, the camera cuts to Winn who stares at Neela with nothing but steel in her eyes, and then Neela gives a very small nod and darts away.

Sisko arrives in Ops triumphantly, all his Bajoran crewmen conspicuously back at their stations. He asks Irishy how Keiko is doing, and Irishy says she’s pretty shaken up but planning to hold class tomorrow in one of the small cargo bays. Sisko says to tell her that Jake will be there on time, which I guess means Jake has to get up early so he can wander around the cargo area trying to figure out which “small cargo bay” everybody’s in.

Sisko asks how the b-plot muuuuuurder investigation is going, and, in case you’re one of those viewers with short attention spans, Neela walks by directly behind them clearly listening in on their conversation. Irishy tells him Odo’s theory about the runabout theft, and Irishy says that he’s put security seals on all three pads, and is checking for any other anomalies.

Jadzia yells from across the room that there’s an incoming transmission from Bareil, who’s on board a Bajoran transport. Sisko pulls it up on the big screen, and Bareil says, “Oh, hi, Commander, I decided to accept your invite,” and Sisko is all, “what invite?” and Bareil is all, “oh, you know, the one where you explicitly asked me if I wanted to come over today and tour the station,” and Sisko is all, “oh, but of course, that invitation, I give out so many, you know, but unfortunately our promenade is a mess, sorry,” and Bareil is like, “I might be able to clean that up for you,” and Neela sort of drifts into the background looking taken aback and maybe it’s because she’s a secret fundamentalist terrorist or maybe it’s just because these men are speaking in such dense metaphors that she thinks they’re setting up a secret gay rendezvous.

We cut to the Bajoran Temple on the station, where Vedek Winn is primping her robes with her aide as Neela comes in. The aide leaves, as per his standard non-terrorist-plot-disclosure contract, and Neela tells Winn that they found out about the runabout, and she now has no way to escape. Vedek Winn takes her hand as a mother would, looks into her eyes to comfort her, and says…”then we must accept that as the will of the Prophets.”

Yeah, this is something you’ll learn about her over time – Vedek Winn is rather, how shall I put this, caviler with the lives of others. Neela weakly protests that if she goes through with Vedek Winn’s plan, she’ll be caught and executed. Vedek Winn is all, “the Prophets called, they said tough titties.”

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: you’re going to die and it’s going to suck for you. The good news is, I will be fine.”

In Ops, Irishy spots a weird file on the computer. He asks the computer to identify it, and the computer says it’s locked – on his authorization! He can’t get to it, so he has to climb into the computer and get it out manually with Jadzia running interference on her console.


Out on the promenade, there’s general mass hysteria as Bareil alights from his ship. He’s the Beatles and JFK rolled into one, apparently, and it would not surprise me at all if some Bajoran panties flew out of the crowd and got tangled in his earring. Sisko, Odo, Kira, and some anonymous security gentlemen have his back as he glad-hands his way along tousling hair and holding small children aloft like it’s the Lion King.

Neela watches him from the second level, holding a briefcase and looking generally evil.

In Ops, Irishy and Jadzia crack the code and access the file. The file is full of commands that would set up force fields and create an escape route from the promenade to runabout pad A. The computer says there is an anomaly on the promenade, a subspace rely activated in security nine minutes earlier. Irishy decides to run down there while Jadzia runs a diagnostic on the other security systems. Meanwhile, Odo tries to maintain a perimiter around the inevitable Vedek confrontation. Winn acts like she’s glad to see Bareil (and given the nature of the plan that seems to be forming, perhaps she is). She reaches out to grab his ear, and he grabs her wrist in mid-air to  stop her and plays it off like he just wanted to hold her hand.

After exchanging empty pleasantries, Bareil suggests that the two of them should help heal the people on the station who have grown apart. Vedek Winn is all, “yes, that would be awesome, what a marvelous suggestion, I’ve been meaning to do that all day,” so Bareil is all, “well, then, let’s just head on down to the ruins of the schoolhouse together and show everybody how much we want this to work out peacefully.”

Vedek Winn stares at him for a full three and a half seconds while she tries to figure a way out of the corner, and she can’t do it, so she lets him lead her off, hand in hand, Bareil’s posse trailing along behind, a guilty-looking Neela among them.

Irishy comes out onto the promenade to check out Odo’s office, and he finds the relay integrated into the processor Neela so adeptly helped him fix. He pages Jadzia to let her know, and omniously mentions that he repaired the processor just the other day WITH NEELA, so that our post-lobotomy viewership can keep up. Neela, meanwhile, is still shuffling towards the school, where Bareil stands on a platform and tells everyone that he knows they feel the same shame he does looking at the place.

Irishy tells Jadzia that the processor controls weapon detectors, and Jadzia says those all look normal, and Irishy says Neela’s just that good. He comm badges in to Sisko, who politely moves into the ruined school to have his conversation. Irishy tells Sisko that he believes that Neela has disabled the weapons detectors on the promenade.

Bareil is sharing the stage
with some extremely unhappy-looking ladies

Meanwhile, Bareil is preaching that we should all try to reject violence as a solution, tightly holding the hand of a very sour looking Vedek Winn, while Keiko looks on dubiously. Sisko edges back out onto the platform and scans the crowd for Neela, who he eventually sees when the show moves to slow-mo and the alarming violin music starts. Things are so dramatic, you guys, I don’t even know what to tell you.

Neela pulls a wicked-looking phaser out of her briefcase, and Sisko lets out a long no and runs towards her. All of our other major players, alerted by Sisko’s yell, turn to watch. Neela aims right at Bareil…and misses, her shot glancing off one of the supports for the upper level. Sisko tackles her as she tries to get off another shot, and Odo collects her and drags her away while she yells that she just “answered the Prophets’ call.”

There is a nice moment here when our old buddy Angry Kira comes back. She’s seen what Vedek Winn hath wrought, and she hates that she was manipulated into being a party to it. She strides right over to where Winn is still looking fake-shocked, and grabs her by the arm. She accuses Vedek Winn orchestrating this whole thing to bring Bareil to the station so she could have him assassinated. Vedek Winn just sort of glares at her and walks away, completing the cycle that Louise Fletcher so often does: bitch to sociopath in forty-five minutes or less.

Later, Kira sits alone in Ops being ashamed of herself. Sisko comes in to tell her that Neela insists she acted alone, unless, he jokes, “you want to consider the Prophets co-conspirators.” Kira is bummed that they’ll never be able to prove that Winn was involved, and Sisko asks if she’s OK.

“Okay?” she snorts, “I’ve forgotten okay. I haven’t seen okay in what seems like years.”

She says that if you’d told her a year ago that she’d be up here on this station wearing a uniform and protecting some wormhole…”your celestial temple,” Sisko interrupts. Kira is quiet for a moment, then says that she envied Vedek Winn because she was a true believer, and she, Kira, wishes her faith were that strong.

“Maybe it is,” Sisko says not unkindly, and tells her she should get to bed, he’s got a report to finish. Kira says she’d like to stay up and help, and then tells him that she heard what he said to Vedek Winn at the school, and she wanted him to know that he was right about the Bajorans, or at least about her: she doesn’t think he’s the devil.

Sisko breaks into a huge smile and says “maybe we have made some progress after all.” He takes her gently by the arm and leads her into his office for some late night reporting.


And that is the end of Deep Space Nine, Season 1.

Meredith’s Synopsis: The purpose of school is to communicate knowledge to kids. Not simply academic knowledge, but knowledge about the society they live in, its values, its mores, what it considers important. The things we decide to teach (and not teach) our children tell them what sort of people we are, and what sort of people we expect them to become when they enter our society as adults. That’s why arguments about what we teach in public schools and how we teach it are so divisive and so important: because we’re really arguing about is who we are as a people, and who we want our children to be.

That’s very much what’s at stake in this episode. The presence of the Federation is making the Bajorans – who have spent the last fifty years backed into a corner – feel like their children may be at risk of being absorbed into an alien (literally!) culture by being exposed to non-Bajoran specific schooling. These fears aren’t unfounded: this happened aggressively with Native American boarding schools in the 19th and early 20th century, where Native children were immersed in Anglo culture and robbed of their tribe identities, contributing to the dying out of many unique Native cultures. Similar concerns of Catholic Americans on a smaller scale led to the establishment of Parish schools at around the same time to avoid indoctrination from a public school system still steeped in Protestantism.

So the Bajorans, as the minority culture, are deeply concerned that their children will assimilate too far and no longer share their values.

The Federation, on the other hand, is trying desperately to maintain a neutral classroom space, and, indeed, a somewhat neutral cultural environment on the station itself. The Federation isn’t just made up of humans, it’s a vibrant intergalactic community that encompasses all different kinds of people, and they’ve learned through experience that the best way for everyone to feel his culture is of value is to communicate that no culture is fundamentally better than another. If the universe is a potluck and everyone’s culture is a unique dish, the Federation makes an effort to be the table on which those dishes can be placed and enjoyed.

Keiko is taken aback by Vedek Winn’s requests not only because it seems like an intrusion of religion into a secular space, but because it seems, to a woman born and raised in the Federation, like a tyrant trying to claim that her culture is supreme.

This is also why Bareil’s limited appearance in the episode is so important. His reaction to the school issue reveals that the upset Bajorans are not responding out of hate or maliciousness, but out of fear – and his strength and ultimate action show us that Bajorans are capable of rising above that fear.

There are so many things to love about this episode. Everything is so well-thought-out, and the actors really step up their game. It’s amazing to think that it took the show’s regular actors at least several episodes to figure out exactly who they wanted their characters to be, and Louise Fletcher walks in and gets it down in one episode. Vedek Winn is a force of nature; Fletcher makes an amazing acting decision that not one of her lines will be said sincerely, and by god we will all know it. Avery Brooks, who seems to have finally arrived at Sisko station, seems to become larger and greater and holds his own against her. In his big speech in front of the ruined school, he is literally standing on the high ground.

This episode showcases what Deep Space Nine does best: it takes divisive issues from our world, sets them against the backdrop of SPACE, and deals with them with intelligence and compassion.

Tim’s Analysis: Along with “Duet”, this episode marks the point where DS9 begins to really get it right. It’s the first DS9 episode written entirely by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, you who remember I said to watch for. This episode introduces two very awesome characters, Winn Adami and Bareil Antos, who stand in for two schools of thought in Bajoran spiritualism. It also marks the arrival of awesome Sisko. A big part of what makes the episode work is that it hits again on the idea that some parts of Bajor really don’t know how to handle themselves without being persecuted. Now that the Cardassians are gone, some people are having trouble not looking for a new enemy. Dealing with this makes the political development of post-war Bajor somewhat difficult. It’s a great story with a really satisfying conclusion. I really like how the B plot rejoins the A plot. I highly recommend this one to anyone who isn’t quite sold on DS9 yet.


3 thoughts on “DS9, Season 1, Ep20: “In the Hands of the Prophets”

  1. Pingback: DS9 Season 1 Wrap-up | Meredith and Tim Watch Star Trek

  2. Pingback: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine | Meredith and Tim Watch Star Trek

  3. Pingback: DS9 Season 2, Ep.2: “The Circle” | Meredith and Tim Watch Star Trek

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