Thursday, 28 August 2014

In the Hands of the Prophets written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Religious fundamentalism and science battle it out in a game of politics…

Single Father: Sisko knew a conflict of human and Bajoran ideologies was inevitable and he refuses to start separating their interests. He’s not comfortable in the role of the Emissary and tries to get Winn to call him Benjamin. Anybody who wants proof of the breadth of character development compare Sisko's opinion on his role of the Emissary in this episode, in Accession and then in Behind the Lines. Astonishing progress. The scene between Sisko and Jake about the matter of interpretation is a very powerful one, I really like how he forcefully tells his son that the Bajoran spiritual faith isn’t something to scoffed at even if you don’t believe in it. This is a turning point for Sisko’s character where he gets to reaffirm his mission statement and evolve the themes that were laid down in Emissary. His speech to Winn and her followers kicks more ass than any amount of ships he can blow up with the Defiant because it shows him as a considered leader offering hope to both sides of this faction and despite Winn’s most insidious efforts he still comes out looking as though he is right. His acknowledgment that he and Kira have some damn good fights but they always come away with a better understanding of each other is terrific. The Sisko/Kira relationship has been one of the central highlights of the first season so it seems entirely apt that a scene showing how far they have come should cap of the debut series. 

Tasty Terrorist: Interesting to see Kira showing her support for Winn in this episode. It wont last long. Her assertion that teaching pure science without a spiritual context being another kind of philosophy is a potent view, it isn't one that I share but it does make you think. Kira awkwardly tries to excuse the absence of several Bajoran crewmen and continues to be a firm presence in Ops as the situation is crumbling around them. The last scene of the episode where Kira admits that Sisko’s speech struck a chord in her and that she is happy working with him ends the season on a positive note. 

The O’Briens: With a cheeky grin Keiko teases O’Brien about his amazing new young female engineering crewmember. ‘Just keeping you on your toes, O’Brien.’ It's great to finally see Keiko at work in the school and she does seem like quite a natural teacher and I am pleased that she doesn’t let a Bajoran spiritual leader waltz in and dictate what can and cannot be taught in her classroom. Whilst she might be a little too forceful in her defiance of spiritual teachings this is the healthiest development Keiko has had since she first appeared on TNG. I love O’Brien because he is such a fantastically flawed character with too many vices from swearing too much, being a little too friendly with his Bajoran engineers (perfectly innocent I might add but it is easy to interpret otherwise) and eating too many sweet things. He's you and I in the 24th Century. We have heard O’Brien say some casually racist things about Cardassians this season (and he would do so again) and it is interesting to see that he doesn’t like it when Bajorans give him the same treatment. Neela likes O’Brien because he doesn’t put on any airs and I couldn’t put it better myself. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My philosophy is that there is room for all philosophies on this station!’ 
‘Some fear you as a symbol of the Federation that they view as Godless. Some fear you as the Emissary who walked with the Prophets. And some fear you because Vedek Winntold them to.’
‘The Prophets teach us patience’ ‘It appears they also teach you politics.’
‘The Prophets spoke! I answered their call!’
‘Maybe we have made some progress after all.’ 

The Good: Over its seven years DS9 would continually add to its arsenal of acting talent and each addition would turn out to benefit the show. Louise Fletcher is an superb actress and the role of Winn is a perfect match for her talent and both the character and the actress bring the best out in each other. Winn is insidious, a political mastermind who craves power and is adept at smiling at you whilst plunging a knife into your back. Some of the best ever DS9 scenes belong to this character. Look at the way she whips up the parents into a religious frenzy and hilariously appears to be offering an olive branch to Keiko. She’s so deviously polite you have to admire her ability to lie through her teeth. It's great to finally visit the Bajoran temple on the Promenade, an exquisitely designed and lit set. Whilst there is far too much technobabble flowing I really enjoyed the murder mystery subplot that rumbles through this episode and how it beautifully ties into the main story. The thing about Star Trek is it doesn’t venture out on location very often (a point that has driven me insane in the TNG episodes with a new planet each week that borrows the same interior planetary landscape each time albeit with a different coloured backdrop) but when they do the result is some of the most gorgeous photography you will ever see outside of a movie. Since this is our first visit to the Bajoran capital since Emissary it is nice to see that the rebuilding is complete since the Cardassians left and the planet looks as serenely and stunning as ever. The monastery gardens scenes in Prophets are stunning; the sun is shining through the tall trees, the birds singing and the water flowing gently down river. It's somewhere I would love to visit myself for a moment of calm. There’s another brilliant Odo/Quark moment (‘Those spiritual types love those Dabo girls!’).The fire that rages from the school bombing is an outstanding physical effect and it takes the episode to the next level dramatically. The school is left in ruins afterwards and is as potent an image of religious extremism as I have ever seen. I love that the revelation about Neela isn’t packaged as a massively melodramatic moment but revealed as a silenced look between her and Winn after Sisko’s speech. Winn is such a wonderful bitch that she is not only willing to let Neela sacrifice her life in order to further her political career but she also packages it as a religious decree. Look at the last shot of this episode, a stunning ariel view of Ops. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Aside from the wonderfully funny moment when Sisko leaps through the air I cannot think of a better staged sequence in Star Trek than Neela attempting to assassinate Bariel. Brilliantly captured in slow motion and precisely lit and performed, it still takes my breath away today after seeing it more times than is probably healthy even for a fan of this series. The way Neela slips effortlessly from the crowd into shot with her gun and the look on Bariel’s face as the shot goes wide and explodes behind his head are both very powerful moments. 

Only DS9: We have never seen political manoeuvring in Star Trek on this level before and it's quite gripping.

Fashion Statement: Vedek Bariel is one of the hottest religious leaders I have ever clapped my eyes on.

Orchestra: Wonderfully subtle music during the assassination sequence.

Foreboding: This episode is superbly structured – Neela is seen realigning the isolinear co-processor in the first scene after the titles which looks like a throwaway moment but proves to be the lynchpin of the entire episode.

Result: In the Hands of the Prophets starts out really well and just gets better and better and better. You have two equally interesting plots that run separately and blissfully come together in a powerful and dramatic climax. There is room for political manoeuvring, a murder mystery, character development, two outstanding action sequences and the introduction of two perfectly pitched and performed new guest characters in Winn and Bariel. It brings the season to a climactic end on a real high, showing the bold new direction that the show is beginning to take and leaves you with nothing but positive feelings about leaping into the second year. Star Trek has never been like this before and it is better than ever: 9/10

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