WARNING: Presenting, a review of DS9's "Waltz". You lead -- spoilers follow.
In brief: A few minor missteps, but generally a very nice piece of work.
When I first saw the preview for "Waltz", I was a bit concerned, for two reasons. First, I thought the idea of "hey, let's strand these two together on a planet" was a potentially lazy premise -- certainly, the idea of stranding enemies together on a planet has been done countless times, both in and out of Trek. Second, Dukat's last appearance, in Sacrifice of Angels, was so compelling that I was worried some of its strength might be undone by a rapid recovery in "Waltz". As a result, while I was looking forward to something far better than The Magnificent Ferengi, I wasn't at all sure whether what I saw was going to work or not. Sisko's opening monologue, noting that Dukat had made "a complete recovery," only added to those fears.
Fortunately, after that virtually everything went very well. Once we actually *saw* Dukat, it became clear that his "recovery" was more putting up a brave front than anything else -- which makes sense, as putting up fronts is something Dukat's always done quite well. As for the cliche of dropping both Sisko and Dukat on a planet -- well, okay, it *is* a cliche, but one of the reasons it's used so often is that sticking two people together like that is a good way to get at character conflict. As a result, "Waltz" was an interesting little look into Dukat's mind -- which can be a scary place.
Dukat's always been an interesting fellow. His character has often been scheming, often been very hostile towards Our Heroes, occasionally been sympathetic -- and always been complex. One has never really been sure exactly *what* his ideas were during the occupation of Bajor, or exactly what he wants at any given time. If he had an overarching goal, it was split into so many facets that it was quite difficult to figure out.
After "Waltz", though, it seems that if Dukat's aims could be boiled down into one goal, that goal would be to be respected, admired, and loved. Those sound like pretty worthy goals (not to mention common ones) -- the problem is the extremes he'll go to in order to achieve them. Certainly, it could help explain his obsession with Kira -- her hatred of him would have been deeply offensive, both personally and seeing in Kira every Bajoran who hated him just as much. Ziyal figures into that idea pretty nicely, too -- her "betrayal" of Dukat washed away a great deal of sympathy he had for her, and when Dukat saw her murdered right after rejecting him yet again, it totally unhinged him.
Now, none of this seems like particularly deep analysis, since Dukat's wishes *are* so common. The strength of "Waltz" wasn't really the fact that it laid out Dukat's motivations so well; it was the way in which Dukat's insanity was built up, and the general strength of the Sisko/Dukat pairing.
The first scene with Dukat's "phantoms" is a good example. Initially, when I saw Dukat talking with Weyoun I took it at face value; Weyoun seemed reasonable enough, and the idea of the two of them manipulating Sisko had a lot of potential promise. As soon as Weyoun started belittling Dukat, however, suspicions grew rapidly; while Weyoun's never had any compunctions about taking Dukat down a peg or two, he's rarely been one to do it so brazenly. Once it was revealed that Dukat was simply hallucinating, the next questions became who else he was going to dream up and how long it was going to take until Sisko figured out what was going on.
I'm not surprised or disappointed that Dukat didn't picture Ziyal. Given the situation he was in and his immediate goal of having Sisko feed his ego, Ziyal's presence would have more likely helped to break Dukat down, not build him up. As a result, Ziyal might have been out of place here. (I'm a little surprised, though, that Sisko didn't try to "invoke" her when he finally realized what was happening; she might have calmed Dukat down, or at least given him a different focus for his hostility.)
What *did* disappoint me, however, was Dukat actually seeing Damar in his hallucinations. Seeing Damar was not actually the problem; the fact that Dukat simply pictured him as a loyal lieutenant, however, to me seemed a bit wrong. The last time Dukat actually saw Damar, Damar had just murdered Ziyal in cold blood and denounced her as a traitor. As a result, if the sight of *anyone* was going to put Dukat over the edge quickly, it'd be Damar -- but he was played as simply buttering Dukat up and nothing more. Even if Dukat was blocking his memory of Ziyal's murder, we should have had some indication that all wasn't quite right with Damar. That part of Dukat's hallucination felt like a missed opportunity.
The phantom Kira, on the other hand, was written about as deliciously as they come. She threatened Dukat in the way that was most dangerous; she belittled him and mocked him at every turn. Even if Sisko had tried to calm Dukat down by using Ziyal, I'm not sure it would have made a difference by that time; once "Kira" entered the picture, her goading was going to drive Dukat over the edge in short order no matter what. Her reaction to Sisko's attempted placation of Dukat was particularly great; a contemptuous laugh and a scoffing just far enough over the top to seem like the real Kira taken to extremes. (Kira shushing herself right after Sisko suggests Dukat ignore her was great as well.) The positive aspects of Kira's presence far outweighed the negatives of Damar's.
During all of this, of course, we also saw the Defiant searching for Sisko and Sisko's own attempts to get the distress beacon working. Both of those subplots came off rather well, the former almost surprisingly so. The cross-cutting between the two, beginning with the Defiant detecting a distress call right after Sisko's surreptitiously fixed the beacon, proved to be a nice red herring; it wasn't at all what I expected, and that's somewhat rare. The time constraint was nothing to particularly write home about, but seemed reasonable, and basically stayed out of the way. (Just once, though, I'd like to see a situation like that resolved by having *someone else* do the rescuing.) Dukat's reaction to Sisko's betrayal was somewhat surprising, but perfectly in character: rather than simply kill Sisko, he made sure they wouldn't be disturbed and proceeded to teach Sisko a more personal lesson about disobedience.
The fourth act was the real showpiece of the story, though; it was there that Dukat became totally unhinged, *and* gave us a glimpse into what might finally be his true feelings towards the Bajorans -- or at least, what his true feelings are at the moment. As with most of the other revelations in the show, those feelings weren't necessarily surprising -- but they had a tinge of finality to them. Dukat's shown conflicted views on Bajor and on the Bajorans for several years now (and occasionally I've felt their shifts were due more to writer fiat than anything else), but his insistence here that the Bajorans simply didn't accept their role as an inferior race rang extremely true to his character. His further descent into a desire to see them all dead may not have been something I'd have believed before he went mad, but as the belief of an unhinged Dukat it fit rather well.
All that said, I did have somewhat mixed emotions about the ending. On the purely pragmatic question of the plot, I wonder why Sisko didn't take a phaser and make sure Dukat wouldn't revive too soon, either by stunning him or killing him; given that he's just raved like a genocidal maniac, I don't think killing him would be interpreted as a particularly malicious act unbecoming a Starfleet officer. I also wonder about the freeing of Dukat so soon after he was taken into custody; while I do think a lot of good stories may lie ahead for the character now, I think there were also a lot of good stories that could have been done with him as a captive. Those stories were sacrificed without even being tried, which seems like a little bit of a waste.
I'm also not so sure about Sisko's scene with Dax. On the bad side, there were hokey moments like "I fear no evil"; that sounds like something you'd find in a badly scripted superhero comic, not Sisko. On the mixed side, I'm not sure how I feel about Sisko characterizing Dukat as "truly evil"; while he may well be, that sort of blatant statement denies any complexity, and it's Dukat's complexity that's made him such a great character over the years. (The scary thing about Dukat is that if you accept his premises, his logic tends to make a *lot* of sense.) On the good side, however, these events have had the effect of making the Sisko/Dukat enmity far more personal and with far higher stakes, as it appears Dukat intends to turn Bajor into a charnel house if he gets the chance. That, combined with what might be unconscious guilt at letting Dukat get away, gives Sisko a major challenge to face, and one that should be interesting to see unfold. (In fact, it's making me wonder if Sisko will *survive* the series. Trek's never killed off a major character at the end of a TV series before, but DS9's turned into the type of show where that might just work.)
Other, more minor observations:
-- Why was Dukat in uniform? Does Starfleet typically outfit its prisoners in whatever they want?
-- Why was Dukat being taken *anywhere near* Cardassian space? You'd think that with a prisoner on his level, you'd want him fairly deep inside the Federation so as to discourage rescue attempts.
-- The scene where Worf dismissed Bashir from the bridge felt a little odd to me; the dismissal itself was fine, but his subsequent "set a course for the third planet" implied that he was disobeying orders and continuing the search. Okay, so there was time left in the search; that wasn't at all clear until a few scenes later.
All in all, though, "Waltz" was a good piece of work; it was a great character piece, visually stunning, and should lead to some interesting results down the road. More like this, please.
Wrapping up, then:
Writing: A couple of minor plot lapses here and there, but generally quite nice. Directing: Possibly Auberjonois's best directing work to date. *Very* nice indeed. Acting: Most of the show was Avery Brooks and Marc Alaimo going at it. Need I say more?
OVERALL: 9.5. Not perfect, but quite solid.
NEXT: Reruns for a few weeks, then "Who Mourns for Morn?" at the end of the month.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "I should've killed them all." "And that is why you're not an evil man." -- Dukat and Sisko Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.