Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Duet written by Peter Allan Fields and directed by James L. Conway

What’s it about: A Cardassian war criminal falls into Kira’s clutches…

Single Father: What’s wonderful about this episode is that all of the regulars get wonderful scenes whilst it is definitively highlighting Nana Visitor’s Kira. It's is such a beautifully simple situation where everybody wants possession of this man and Sisko is placed in the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to keep the Bajorans and the Cardassians happy whilst also sticking to Federation rules and pleasing his First Officer. We've all had days like that, when you can't please anybody. 

Tasty Terrorist: The episode that put Nana Visitor on the map. This is the last step of Kira’s phenomenal development throughout the first season (actually not quite, she still has a further realisation to make about the Federation in In the Hands of the Prophets) and the episode where her hatred for Cardassians is put under the microscope as she is forced to re-evaluate her opinion about a species that she reviles. Gene Roddenberry might have been against racist characters in Star Trek (although the cast of TNG were always making casual racist slurs) but it makes for great drama, especially as they come to realise that their stance might not be right. Always one to under react (yeah, right), Kira calls for Security as soon as she suspects Marritza is a war criminal. His assertion that she has hate in her eyes and wants to kill him might be ridiculous in any other situation but proves scarily accurate here. Kira is crafty enough to have contacted the Minister of State to ensure that Marritza is persecuted and released to Bajoran justice because she firmly believes that the Federation has no business telling them how to deal with their criminals. She promises Sisko that she will conduct herself accordingly even though she isn’t objective (clearly their conversation in Progress had an effect). Kira tries to silence the ranting Darheel by trying to pigeon hole him as insane but he refuses to let her label him that easily. Kira used to lie awake at night plotting the assassination of people like Darheel. The strongest realisation that Kira has during this season is that Marritza didn’t commit the crimes and that he was only one man…the fact that he is a Cardassian isn’t reason enough to persecute him. It’s a massive step for her and beautifully played by Visitor. Astonishing character growth for a Star Trek character in an astonishing episode. Still one of the finest character examinations in the franchise. 

Filing Clerk: A character so memorable, so brilliantly conceived, written and performed that he deserves a section of his own. He’s perfectly charming towards Sisko with a little acidic wit (‘Oh finally, the Federation to the rescue’). Marritza heads to DS9 with an agenda and he knows exactly what he is doing but its only at the climax that you realise this – throughout you are never sure who he is or what he is up to. He knows exactly how to play Kira, suggesting that it was the Bajorans that killed each other at the labour camp and the suggestion that Cardassians were responsible was made by them to provoke fear in their enemies. He even suggests that leaving Bajor was a political decision and that Bajorans achieved nothing by getting rid of them. And then once exposed as Darheel he stabs her in the gut emotionally by telling her she can kill him but it wont change anything about the murders he ordered. Marritza tries desperately to keep up his pretence, to rant and rave but he finally breaks down when his lies flood him with the same feelings of shame and guilt he felt at the time. He goes from being the most loathed character in Star Trek to the most sympathetic. 

Nine Lives: Jadzia the Champion Window Breaker, proof that Miss Goody Two Shoes isn’t quite as innocent as she seems (‘I was deadly’). 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If you’d seen the things I saw. All those Bajoran bodies, starved, brutalised. D’you know what Cardassian policy was…no I’m not even talking about murder, murder was just the end of the fun for them. First came the humiliation. Mothers raped in front of their children, husbands beaten until their wives couldn’t recognise them, old people buried alive because they couldn’t work anymore!’ Such is the ferocity of Nana Visitor’s performance with this one scene she exposes just how terrifying life under the Occupation must have been. Another hellish reminder of where she has come from. 
‘Persecuting Cardassians goes far beyond your job Major, its your passion.’
‘Kill me! Torture me! You can never undo what I’ve accomplished…the dead will still be dead!’
‘Nothing justifies genocide!’ ‘What you call genocide I call a days work’ – how James L. Conway lingers on Kira’s face after that line gives it even more power.
‘Cardassia will only survive if it stands in front of Bajor and admits the truth. My trial will force Cardassia to acknowledge its guilt. And we’re guilty all of us! My death is necessary!’ ‘What you’re asking for is another murder. Enough good people have already died. I wont help kill another.’
‘He was a Cardassian, that’s reason enough!’ ‘No…it's not.’ 

The Good: The way this story plots out its mystery storyline is beautiful, it is almost Garak-like in its Russian Doll layers of truth and deception. Marritza is a war criminal, no he isn’t, he doesn’t have Kalla-Nohra, yes he does, he is a file clerk, no he’s the butcher of Gallitep…no he is a good man trying to embody the guilt of his people. Marritza has a great point to make about making a race feel like victims and not having to lift a finger once you have achieved that. The psychological angle is often far more effective than the physical one. The sequence where they clear up an image of Gallitep and discover Marritza’s true identity is a masterpiece of scene construction – it is beautifully put together to up the tension and suspense without a single person raising their voice. Wonderful that an episode that is so focused on Cardassian atrocities ends on a Bajoran one. It seems there is still a long way to go before this race heals its wounds but with examples like Kira they are on the right path. The last shot is one of the most beautifully framed endings of any Star Trek episode. 

The Bad: The Bajoran drunk seems like a superfluous character…until the last scene where even his involvement is blissfully made necessary. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Kira finally gets Marritza to reveal his true identity is my favourite moment in Star Trek. It’s the only scene that manages to give me goosebumps and reduce me to tears in the same scene every time I watch it and the performances of Visitor and Yulin and beyond exceptional. Drama at its finest and it brings this episode to a devastating conclusion. Both characters undergo astonishing transformations in this scene and you realise this man is willing to sacrifice his dignity and his life to get his people to face up to their horrors. 

Only DS9: Duet pushes Star Trek levels into new areas of discomfort. When Tasha Yar talked about rape gangs it felt tasteless and ridiculous but when Kira talks of children witnessing their mothers being raped the very idea just fills you with horror. Maybe it’s the serious tone but the issues dealt with in this episode feel devastatingly real.

Teaser-tastic: All records show that the only you could have contracted Kalla-Nohra were at a Bajoran labour camp and their injured party is a Cardassian. Ouch.

Orchestra: Even the music is exceptional in this story – a particular feat given I cannot remember a single piece of music that has stood out in the first season to this point. This is a quietly scored episode to allow the performances to dominate but the music creeps in during some strong moments (the revelation of Marritza in the photograph, after the ‘genocide’ line, when Kira finally breaks him).

Foreboding: Neela is introduced as one of O’Brien’s engineering crew and she would take on a much greater role in the next story. It's done with all the subtlety of the Durst and Seska examples – and it came first.

Result: The most effective psychological drama in Star Trek bar none. Haris Yulin, character actor extraordinaire takes on a truly challenging part that could so easily have been nothing but a ranting villain and he embodies the role with such realism and terror you forget all about the make up and simply concentrate on the riveting drama between him and Kira. The script is a beautifully crafted thing literally stuffed with memorable dialogue (I had to carefully cherry pick my favourites above but pretty much the entire script sparkles) and featuring a mystery that will leave you desperate to know the truth by the climax. Add to this precise and subtle direction that teases the drama from the situation more exceptional work done with Kira and a conclusion that rips out your heart and stamps on it repeatedly and you have a rare thing. An episode that fires on all cylinders all the time. Exceptional in every single way whilst hardly spending a penny: 10/10

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