Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5, Episode 10
Deep Space Nine’s most controversial aspect was the religious Chosen One theme applied to its lead character, Benjamin Sisko. Star Trek had been decidedly, even passionately atheist from the start. So steeping the series in a deeply religious culture and placing its commander in an exalted position within their faith was about as big a swerve as one could make. It was one of many creative decisions the minds behind Deep Space Nine made that set their series apart and bolstered the show’s reputation as the black sheep of Star Trek. “Rapture” marks a turning point in Ben Sisko’s storyline of being a religious icon for the Bajorans, and it’s a memorable episode that doesn’t shy away from the big and even scary aspects of hearing the voices of the gods.
Thematically, it still mostly fits within the framework of how deities are depicted in Trek – the Bajoran Prophets were on par with any number of God-Like Beings encountered since The Original Series. In terms of raw power they were even outclassed by others we had already seen (like Q). The main difference (aside from the long-running aspect of their storyline, compared to the normal one-off gods we got), was that the series committed to making the Prophets actually seem godly. Other GLBs were depicted as being all too human in their demeanor – petty, cruel, destructive individuals who often abused their great power. What was interesting about the Prophets was in the execution of these higher beings. Appearing sporadically throughout the series only in ethereal “vision” sequences, the Prophets always took the form of people from the subject’s life and spoke in the vaguest of vagaries. The effort made to make these beings from another plane of existence seem suitably higher and godly was memorable and factored thematically into their episodes.
Sisko’s initial discomfort (and even revulsion) of his Emissary role gave way as the series continued. He made a breakthrough in Season 4’s “Accession,” when an alternate Emissary appeared and challenged his possession of that title. He ended up finally embracing the title of Emissary, but it wasn’t until “Rapture” that he began to embody the role of it, and all the unsettling consequences that entailed.
“Rapture” is a very wacky episode and I love that it doesn’t shy away from how deeply weird and even scary the things happening to Ben are. Throughout literature and pop culture, being “touched by the gods” has often been depicted as being as much of a curse as it is a blessing . If there is a God, then it would stand to reason that even a tiny morsel of their divine knowledge and abilities would be more than enough to drive a person insane, and even destroy them. A human could not fathom what being God means any more than an ant could conceive of what being human means. Again, this is a theme that Star Trek has explored many times already, but the explicitly religious drapery of “Rapture” makes for a very memorable installment.
Like any good religious adventure story, “Rapture” begins with an artifact (and eventually a whole ancient lost city). Sisko, Kira, and Dax view a 20,000 year old (!) painting recovered from the Cardassians of the ancient Bajoran city B’Hala (the verbal similarity to “Valhalla” is a little weird and distracting). The actual location of this place is unknown, and it immediately brings to mind lands from our own history whose locations (and possible existence) are shrouded in mystery – Troy, Atlantis, El Dorado, etc. The painting’s image contains an obelisk that has incomplete clues to the location of B’Hala, and Sisko seems determined to figure it out. We’ve seen Sisko get caught up in nerdy dad projects relating to the ancient Bajorans before, so this tracks. What’s different this time is the intensity with which he becomes fixated on it.
Creating a smaller model of the obelisk in a holosuite, Sisko overlays the fuzzy, pixelated extrapolation from the painting (which is great). He works tirelessly for many hours until Quark (who is closing for the night) comes to kick him out. A stray bolt of energy from the console zaps him unconscious, and he wakes up later in sickbay with some odd neural readings. While having dinner with Jake, Ben carves some ancient Bajoran glyphs from the vegetables on his plate. It’s a fitting tribute to Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s famous mashed potatoes scene, another story that dealt with aliens and strange, implanted obsessions from above.
As is the case with Deep Space Nine, there are a lot of simultaneous story threads that crescendo here and it makes for a multilayered and interesting episode. While continuing to work on the obelisk, Ben learns from Admiral Whatley that the Bajorans’ application for Federation membership has finally been approved. It’s a story thread that’s been present since the first episode but not something we’ve heard about in a while. The signing ceremony will be on Deep Space Nine, and it represents the completion of Ben’s original mission. Not bad!
Also happening is Kasidy Yates’ return to the station from prison for aiding the Maquis. It’s odd that the creators decided to shoehorn a potential mountain of drama into an episode with so much going on already (and would not be the last time they do this). But I’m fine with it. Drama is all well and good, but dedicating an entire episode to Sisko learning to trust her again after her betrayal doesn’t really fire the imagination – not much about the Maquis does, so I guess it’s better to just get it over with. There’s an emotional maturity about it that’s refreshing – she broke the law to help people, did her time, and Sisko is not holding anything against her. (Of course, Ben would not show a modicum of that same grace when it comes to Eddington, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing…) His growing obsession with B’Hala and abnormal neural readings aren’t unrelated, and I guess for Kasidy’s sake it’s fortunate that he has bigger crazies to fry.
During a preliminary celebration for Bajor at Quark’s, Kira has a nice scene where she admits that she’s happy about joining the Federation – in stark contrast to how she felt five years ago when Starfleet first came. Kira is one of my favorite Trek characters because of the growth and change we see her go through in Deep Space Nine. How she starts as a hotheaded rebel is such a huge difference in the calm and more serene person she ends up being, and Visitor’s shifting performance throughout the show is a treat to watch. Many of the other characters on DS9 go through an evolution that makes it a rewarding and re-watchable show. According to Kira, working with Starfleet – and Sisko in particular – has warmed her to the idea over the years. It’s a good illustration of Trek‘s theme of building bridges of trust with different people and cultures.
Kira visits Sisko in the holosuite to check on him, and sees that he’s deciphered all the glyphs on B’Hala’s obelisk – and thus the city’s location. But he’s sitting and staring at it in a trance, and she has to worriedly shake him out of it. Brooks is great in the episode, and perfectly conveys his steadily loosening grip on reality, as well as the increasing euphoria and confusion he’s experiencing. He reveals that he was having a vision of being in B’Hala during its heyday. Not only that, but he could see the future – events that are to come (including the war with the Dominion, uh oh) and he almost comprehended the complex tapestry that holds it all together. But “somebody woke me up!” he gleefully chirps, and Kira immediately feels bad about it. He doesn’t seem too concerned, though. It’s weird.
What’s great about Brooks’ performance here is that he’s not acting capital-C Crazy (which he is great at doing). Rather, he exudes a calm and even joyful serenity as he is drawn more and more into his visions. There’s a little erratic behavior, but overall he likes what’s happening, and it makes the ordeal that much more distressing for people around him. Being able to perceive time itself would no doubt be a very sobering and disconnecting experience, as has been depicted in works such as Watchmen. Instead of the cold, inhuman ambivalence of a Dr. Manhattan, Ben embodies a warm and even nurturing demeanor to the flow of time.
Kai Winn visits the station, and Sisko ducks her to continue working on his project. She’s interesting here, and as I’ve said before, her character is far too complex to simply label as a villain. In one scene, she asks Kira if she thinks Sisko will forgive her for doubting him. Apparently she now accepts him as Emissary and is willing to follow him, as only one touched by the Prophets could have found B’Hala. Like everything Winn says, you have to take it with a huge grain of salt, and it could just as well be performative, calculated bluster for Kira’s benefit (and ultimately Sisko’s). Perhaps this is a backdoor way of trying to cozy up to the Emissary now. But we know that Winn does take her faith seriously and is sincere in her beliefs, so perhaps she is actually moved by what Sisko has accomplished here. Kira is surprised and impressed by her courage in admitting she was wrong.
Winn is offended at the implication that she doesn’t have courage, and chastises Kira accordingly, comparing her to the mindset of others that were in the armed resistance. Winn goes on to detail how the Bajoran clergy were imprisoned for teaching their faith, and how she spent five years under the torturous conditions of the Cardassians for doing so. Kira doesn’t have a response. It’s such a great scene – assuming what Winn says is true – because of the nuance it injects into these two characters and their antagonistic relationship. Winn engenders some sympathy for what she’s been through, and Kira is offered a useful perspective from someone she considers and enemy. I love how this scene momentarily flips the script for these two and contributes to the complexity of the show and its world.
Yates arrives, and Sisko greets her with a passionate kiss. He wants to leave the station immediately to go find B’Hala and asks her to go with him. She’s overwhelmed but agrees, and soon they’re underground on Bajor where they come upon the ancient town’s center, complete with the obelisk.
Soon the cavern is buzzing with Bajorans analyzing and unearthing the ruins. Admiral Whatley arrives to talk to Sisko – who wasn’t on the station to greet him and hasn’t been returning his calls. Uh oh! This is the first (and only) time we’ve seen Whatley, but it’s clear him and Ben have a history and friendship. Whatley is stern but understandably concerned about Sisko’s erratic behavior. There’s a mountain of work that still needs to be done to get Bajor properly admitted into the Federation. Ben wants to stay a little longer to see the excavation of B’Hala. He can’t explain why, and gets weirdly passionate in trying to do so. Whatley gives him a little leeway, but tells him he wants him back on DS9 the next day and to report for a full medical workup. After he leaves, Sisko experiences a painful headache. This certainly bodes well!
Later, Whatley anxiously waits in the infirmary with Bashir for Sisko, who is late again. But he finally shows up on the Promenade, casually strolling amongst a crowd of rapt Bajorans. He serenely dispenses life advice with his apparent knowledge of the future to various people, including Whatley. It’s nutty.
Bashir determines that his neural condition is worsening and will be fatal if it continues. He can repolarize his brain (lol seriously), which would put him back to normal and take away the visions. Ben doesn’t want that, and he speaks of a vision of a swarm of locusts heading towards Cardassia. Jake and Kasidy are horrified that he’s choosing these visions over his own life. Ben’s response doesn’t do anything to assuage them, and he dreamily speaks of the universe and time itself like a baby whose face he is studying so that he can know better – just as he once did when Jake was an infant. Kasidy seems on the verge of tears as she asks whether these visions are worth more than seeing his son grow up. It’s scary seeing Ben this unmoored from reality – he’s unhinged, but not in a manic way. He’s the most calm and serene he’s ever been, and seems completely at peace with his decision to retain the visions at the cost of his life. It’s kooky.
Winn enters his quarters so that Ben and consult the Orb of Prophecy. Jake is aghast that he suddenly trusts Winn, and indeed everything seems totally topsy-turvy now. Ben leaves, desiring the clarity that the Orb can bring. It’s interesting that Winn is helping him, and that she shows concern that he is too weak to endure the experience. As she did with Minister Jaro, she tends to ally herself with the strongest hand at the table (as any good self-serving master manipulator does). Ben is being fueled by the gods themselves, and her proximity to that power is no doubt motivating (and enervating) her actions here. In the most sincere reading, if he is the instrument of the Prophets and she is sworn to serve the Prophets, then she must do so by aiding him however he needs. His headaches are worse now, and he can barely function as she opens the box for him. Curiously, we don’t witness his experience or hear any details about it.
Just as Bajor is about to do the official signing, Ben barges in and with his last ounce of strength and lucidity commands Bajor to not sign, to not join the Federation. Otherwise, it will be devoured by those locusts. At this point he collapses into a life-threatening seizure.
Whatley orders Bashir to perform the operation and save his life, but Bashir reminds him that Ben was against the treatment. For some reason, the choice falls to his next of kin, Jake. Jake tearfully apologizes to his unconscious dad for taking this gift away and for being selfish, but he’s just not ready to lose him. Despite all the epic and cosmic things happening here, it ultimately boils down to a personal and highly emotional relationship and helps to ground this story of religious insanity.
Afterwards, Winn expresses disappointment in Jake’s selfish decision to Kira. I love that despite her reverence to the Prophets and how much Ben’s temporary power and potential meant to her, Kira completely understands and supports Jake’s decision. Unlike Winn, Kira is magnanimous and empathetic to what he was going through – and appreciative of how not everyone shares her faith. It’s true tolerance that she demonstrates, which not all believers embody in their actions. It’s also indicative of the multicultural theme of Deep Space Nine and how its players are able to (mostly) coexist despite their differing worldviews. Winn states that Jake should have faith in the Prophets, but Kira flips it around and says maybe they’re the ones that need to have faith in them. I’m not a religious person, but I do love how Kira is presented here in regards to her faith. Trek preaches understanding and tolerance between peoples, and is able to apply that to a religious perspective here very well – while showing the opposite in Winn.
Sisko awakens in the infirmary and cries out in anguish that they took his visions away. He then whimpers that he almost had it all figured out… It’s unsettling to see the normally rock solid Ben like this. It’s pretty much a given that he was going to die – and even if he was about to figure it all out, what good would it have done him or anyone else? Being able to see beyond that curtain of existence to the meaning of it all is a fantastical idea. While inching closer and closer to it, Ben was flirting with madness and even death, and Brooks’ performance effectively communicates that deadly yearning and temptation.
Admiral Whatley visits Ben later and tries to convince him to change Bajor’s mind on Federation membership. But Ben is adamant that although he no longer has the crazy visions, he’s convinced that everything he said was right and that Bajor must stand alone to survive. Whatley is almost literally like “I could have your badge for that,” but is inexplicably charitable towards Ben for purposefully tanking his mission. He’s a loose cannon that Bajor can’t quit!
Sisko meets Kasidy and Jake who are cooking for him. There’s some awkwardness from Jake, and Lofton conveys the guilt he feels about overriding his father’s wishes. Kasidy smooths things over with a little speech about despite Ben losing something he felt important, he’s held onto something important, too. The three of them hold hands and it feels like a turning point of them becoming a family.
Unfortunately, something about it feels off to me – namely, in how Kasidy is essentially trying to convince Ben that although your brain-melting visions of the future that were gonna kill you were awesome, staying alive is, uh, cool too? The fact that she’s trying to reconcile the small schism between them – caused by Ben wanting to die rather than stick around for his son (who has already lost one parent) – is odd. Of course Jake is an adult at this point and doesn’t need his dad to change his diapers anymore, but still. Maybe I’m over-thinking it. I would rather have seen Ben be the one to if not outright apologize for being crazypants, at least be the one to build that bridge of understanding and definitively state that he’s happy to be alive. Is he, though? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In real life, people with unbalanced minds sometimes believe that they’re hearing the voice of God, but what if one actually was? What if being able to fathom the fundamental truth of the universe was happening and it pulled you further from sanity? It’s a scary question that “Rapture” toys with, and pushes Benjamin Sisko to weird and frightening places. For a franchise that’s all about understanding the unknown, this episode presents a twist that such understanding might come with a terrible cost and ultimate sacrifice.
- Consent in terms of medical procedures is all over the place in Star Trek, and Deep Space Nine is no exception. Ben was adamant about refusing treatment for his condition here, but for some reason his son can override that? That makes no sense, but it’s inconsistently consistent with that we’ve seen, so whatever.
- The episode kind of implies that this is the first time that Ben and Kasidy have seen each other since she was arrested. She doesn’t even know if she has quarters until she sets foot on the holosuite! Ben certainly kisses her like he hasn’t seen her in months. Have you two been talking at all? I’m assuming no, uh, visitations have occurred? Heh heh, wink wink, sex sex.
- It seems kind of odd that Quark closes his bar. DS9 is a pretty busy port with ships from all over the quadrant (and all different time zones) arriving and leaving – like an airport. It makes more sense for the place to be open 24 hours, doesn’t it? He pays his employees shit, gives them no benefits, and runs his equipment into the ground, so his expenses are low as can be. He closes his bar whenever he leaves the station, too.
- The writers originally intended – I shit you not – for the locusts to actually literally be some type of space swarm that would devour Cardassia. But instead it became a metaphor for the Dominion, which is of course a million percent better. Cleverly, the events of this episode tie into the war and make it clear that Bajor joining the Federation would have been disastrous for them. Voyager used the swarm idea on a couple of occasions and neither was especially spellbinding.
- Spoiler alert: Bajor never actually joins the Federation for the entirety of the series. We can surmise that it eventually happens after the end of the show, but it’s interesting that DS9 never ties that thread up.
- Other spoiler alert: apparently from this episode on until “In Purgatory’s Shadow,” this is not the real Dr. Bashir, but a Changeling impersonator (based on his older uniform in that episode). I liked the eventual “oh shit” quality of that reveal, but in hindsight it doesn’t make sense at all. Especially since this guy performs several intensive medical procedures and even allows a baby Changeling to die. Plus Siddig (and the writers) didn’t know about this twist, and his performance thus doesn’t reflect that at all. I wish they had been able to plan it better, but it’s something I just disregard for these episodes. Or maybe this is the real Bashir, and he later burned his new uniform in the dryer, temporarily switched back to his old one, then was captured. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
- LOL at Quark’s “Welcome Klingons” banner. Ditto his annoyed “I fixed it,” after Dax mentions that Sisko is in the holosuite again.