Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5, Episode 11
Describing Deep Space Nine as “dark” is a no-brainer – it’s not always as dark as its reputation suggests, but its premise was mired in some very serious material, and Season 5 saw the series notably dip into some heavy and even disturbing stuff. The series took place in the wake of a planetary holocaust, which set a dark tone and cast a thematic shadow that was explored on a number of occasions. As its name suggests, “The Darkness and the Light” delves into the deepest and darkest corners of what remains after the Occupation for a blood-soaked thriller.
There’s a heavy horror component to the story that makes it a memorable and deadly serious hour. The episode features a sadistic cold-blooded killer, a steadily rising body count, and fraying nerves that push Kira to her psychological limits. It probes the boundaries of Star Trek‘s typical genre trappings and delivers a disturbing and unsettling tale that seems quintessentially DS9-ian in its moral ambivalence.
During a Bajoran religious ceremony in a cave, a group of vedeks face a lit lantern in the middle of the circle when a bright light shoots out and kills one of them. While being tended to by Dr. Bashir for her pregnancy health, Kira receives the news from Odo. Turns out the victim – Mabrin – was a former member of her resistance cell who had a pretty violent past. Some type of “hunter probe” was hidden in the lantern which targeted the guy and took him out. Kira is forlorn about his death, but also peacefully accepts the cyclical effects of his life of violence. It’s an interesting starting point, and shows the emotional place Kira is in at the beginning. The years after the Occupation have mellowed her out and she’s grown considerably as a person. It also displays her naivete at what is to come – and perhaps some willful ignorance about her own violent past and what that could entail.
The kicker is when she receives a message containing a picture of Mabrin’s face and a creepy, distorted sound bite that simply says “That’s one.” Chilling!
It’s a classic, even shlocky horror setup – an attractive woman being tormented by garbled messages from a vengeful psycho killer as he takes out each one of his victims in credibility-defying machinations – who are people from her life. It wouldn’t be the last time that Season 5 does a trashy horror tribute, and although this episode works better than “Empok Nor,” there are intentionally and unintentionally disturbing aspects to what goes on here. It’s a more thoughtful and nuanced story than a standard cheesy horror flick, and a lot of its unsettling power comes from the ideas behind the killings and what they all mean.
Meeting with Sisko and Odo about the message, Kira believes that someone is getting revenge on the Shakaar resistance cell and that there will be more killings. She’s frustrated that her pregnancy prevents her from tracking down whoever is doing this. That she’s carrying Miles’ and Keiko’s child is a foundational aspect of the story and is a source of intended and unintended discomfort.
Kira receives another transmission, but this one is from a terrified Bajoran woman – Fala – who has heard about Mabrin and fears she is next. Kira offers to shelter her on the station, and sends Worf and Dax to Bajor to retrieve her. However, something goes horribly wrong during transport, and the runabout beams aboard her smoking corpse. Yikes!
Matter-energy transportation is a latently horrific idea as it is (both physically and philosophically), and we’ve seen the disturbing possibilities when that normally safe process goes wrong (in one of the most non-boring parts of The Motion Picture). So for someone to be intentionally murdered during that really drives home the savagery and cruelty of the killer.
Odo confirms that a small device planted on Fala was the culprit for the transporter malfunction. It establishes a pattern of the killer using small, undetectable remote control devices to murder his victims. Star Trek is full of iconic, wonderful futuristic technology that makes its adventures possible. But we’ve occasionally seen how deadly that universe of tech can be, and the idea of invisible little probes flying around killing people is too horrific to contemplate.
Visitor really owns this episode, and does such great work in emoting Kira’s feelings (and giving valuable background about these dead people we didn’t know). She gives a little speech detailing how Fala wasn’t even in the Shakaar resistance cell, but an ally who passed along information to help them out – all the while being terrified that she was going to get found out. But she still continued to, and Kira’s respect for her bravery is evident.
Kira overhears another of the killer’s messages on a padd that Quark “found” – “That’s two.” Odo deduces that someone is getting revenge on the Shakaar cell over an attack they did – which doesn’t narrow it down much, since they did tons of those over the years. As Kira and Odo talk in his office, his computer suddenly gets overridden from an outside source and another message appears on the monitors – another dude from their cell named Mobara, along with “That’s three.” They hurriedly contact Bajor to try and locate this guy, but don’t have any luck. Kira starts to freak out, as she feels completely helpless as some madman is killing off her old comrades one by one. Odo is understanding, and assigns her a round-the-clock security guard.
Kira goes back to her quarters (which is also the O’Briens’) to rest. But when she closes the door, she hears a thud outside and grabs her phaser. Heading out into the darkened living room, she finds her old friends Lupaza and Furel (who we met in “Shakaar”). They’ve broken into her quarters and taken out her guard, who they then let up – no hard feelings. They’ve come to the station to protect her and to track down the killer themselves. Kira implores them not to act as her own personal hit squad, but they’re a couple loose cannons who don’t follow orders, maaaaaann.
Odo confirms that Mobara was killed by one of the same hunter probes as the others, and theorizes this isn’t a simple assassination job. A professional wouldn’t bother with the tormenting messages, and whoever is behind this is emotionally invested in what they’re doing and trying to make a point to Kira. Dax and Nog analyze the audio messages, and the Ferengi cadet makes himself useful with his super hearing powers. They screen out the distortion and realize that the voice is Kira’s – which doesn’t really get them anywhere, but it’s an additional heaping of creepiness.
Just then, an explosion in the habitat ring occurs at the O’Brien’s quarters. Kira dashes down there in a fury, and in a somewhat unintentionally funny bit, punches out several security guards along the way trying to block her from the damaged area. I love how much of a tough cookie Kira is, but it’s just funny seeing this pregnant woman mowing down these goons with her bare hands.
Not only that, but they’re trying to keep her out of an area that’s been blown up and exposed to space, but she’s blinded by rage and determined to get in there. Of course, we’ve seen that forcefields automatically seal hull breaches, but still. This is where the morality of Kira’s actions in the episode start to get super shaky – because it’s not just her life she’s risking, but that of her (and the O’Briens’) baby. Before she can open the door, she gasps in pain and collapses to the ground.
Waking up in the infirmary, Bashir tells her she suffered a placental hemorrhage but that the baby is fine. Also, the O’Briens weren’t in their quarters when it was blown up, but poor Lupaza and Furel were, and died instantly. It’s a shocking twist of fate – we had only seen these characters once before, but there were both memorable and likable people so their deaths hit extra hard. Odo comes in and Kira recounts when she joined the resistance. It’s a tour-de-force soliloquy from Visitor as she tearfully speaks while curled up on the hospital bed. Pretty much a child, she wanted to fight the Cardassians and begged to be part of the Shakaar cell. She remembers all her fear and excitement that night, and the relief and giddiness afterwards; the writing is superb. After her first successful mission, Lupaza took some of the mangled metal from a Cardassian vehicle and made Kira’s earring out of it. Kira is so completely emotionally exhausted here, and it’s a brutal but arresting performance to watch.
Odo details that yet another hunter probe stowed away on a ship, detached, scanned the station until it found where Lupaza and Furel were, attached itself to the window, and blew up. The step-by-step details are gruesomely fascinating and again, it’s terrifying to contemplate this tiny and invisible tech. With devices like this, how could anyone possibly stay alive if someone wants them dead?
Odo reveals that he’s narrowed down a suspect list of all the people who have the means and motivation to do all of this. He doesn’t reveal any of the names to Kira, who knowingly says that he’s worried she’ll try to go after them herself. Auberjonis is great here as well, and portrays how deadset Odo is on getting the guy who is tormenting his friend. After he leaves, she beams herself into his office, steals the list, and deletes it from his computer. Odo enters, and due to his OCD Changeling nature, immediately realizes someone was in there. But Kira has already stolen a runabout and escaped the station.
So… this isn’t great of her. She’s endangering the baby once again, the child of two other people. It’s definitely reckless and seems unnecessary. What can she do by herself in a runabout that the entire crew aboard the Defiant can’t? Her motivations aren’t spelled out, but it seems like a personal vendetta. She wants this guy for herself and doesn’t want anyone else to get in the way. Given everything that’s happened so far, the emotional extremes that are pushing her are totally understandable and believable, but it’s still a shocking turn of events.
Kira narrows down Odo’s list further and visits a Cardassian named Prin living in the Demilitarized Zone. Beaming down, she immediately gets stunned by him. Uh, well done. *slow clap*
She wakes up in a chair, held in place by a restraining field. Prin is full tilt nuts, and verbosely narrates to himself from the shadows. The set is a cluttered and claustrophobic workspace and he scurries around the dark edges while Kira sits completely exposed and vulnerable in the brightly lit center. “The Darkness and the Light” indeed! He hammily monologues about her being a twisted creature of darkness in almost Shakespearean prose and is generally a hoot to listen to. Bathed in shadows, we can still see that half of his face is deformed and he explains that he was horribly injured in an explosion the Shakaar cell planted to assassinate Gul Pirak.
Prin explains that he wasn’t a combatant, just a civilian laundry worker for Pirak. But Kira is unimpressed and unconvinced of his innocence. She shoots back that Pirak executed 15 Bajoran farmers for refusing to fly the Cardassian banner. Prin is aghast at how big the bomb they planted to kill Pirak was – they blew up half the building, killed Pirak’s entire family, and crippled dozens of others – including him. He contrasts this with this own surgical efforts at only killing the ones involved in the attacks. Prin describes how he could have killed so many others in each attack, but took extra care to only punish those responsible.
It’s really twisted stuff, and I love how much it flips the script. It doesn’t in any way absolve him of the horrible stuff he’s done, but in typical Deep Space Nine fashion, it introduces some uncomfortable shades of grey into the situation. Kira and her comrades killed way more people than he has – and not just combatants, but innocents, as well – even children. And when faced with this, Kira angrily shouts that she doesn’t care – every Cardassian on Bajor was a target. The planet wasn’t their home, and they were all invaders and all guilty – whether they were soldiers or they washed clothes.
It’s a daring choice to have her take this position, but it totally makes sense within the context of the situation and goes to show how awful and messy war is. There’s even something refreshing about how she doesn’t just sink into guilt or attempt to apologize. Instead, she’s basically like, “Get fucked, colonizer. You know what you all did.” In order to free her people, Kira had to become a killer, and she stained her soul with blood that can never be washed away. And in this case, it has come back to haunt her. She’s one of the heroes of the show, but to this twisted and bitter guy she’s a loathsome villain who committed unspeakable acts of terror. And you can’t really argue with his logic. It’s so great.
Kira’s venomous anger quickly fades when she realizes why she’s been kept alive. In yet another horror twist (and in keeping with his principles), Prin reveals (in that melodramatic Prin way of his) that he’s going to cut the innocent life out of her, to separate the darkness from the light. And in true nutbar fashion, he intends to raise the baby as teach it the difference between right and wrong. Terror sinks in as Kira begs him not to cut her open. It’s the most terrified we’ve ever seen her, and for good reason. This is some Hannibal Lecter shit we’re about to see as Prin gets out his laser scalpel. But her pleas get to him, and he decides to give her a sedative so that she’s unconscious during her violent C-section (holy hell).
As he lowers the restraining field, a seemingly unconscious Kira knocks him down and manages to kill him with a phaser. In some nice foreshadowing, the herbs she had been taking as pregnancy medicine (and which interfere with her sleep), counteracted the sedative.
The Defiant arrives to rescue her, and Kira is in a weird, almost catatonic mood. Speaking of Prin, she says that “the light only shines in the darkness”, and “innocence is often just an excuse for the guilty.” With that parting thought, they beam up and leave the barren planet. It’s an enigmatic ending and although the villain is dead, very little seems resolved. But Kira seems resolute in her worldview, and emphatic in her belief that all the Cardassians on her world were the enemy. If you’re an uninvited guest in someone’s land, you’re fair game to be targeted. By that token, everyone on the other side could also be considered an enemy and fair game – which is how the Cardassians seemed to handle the Bajorans. It’s fair, in a bloody, brutal way. But monumentally fucked up.
When it comes to villains, the common adage is that the best one are the ones who have a correct worldview. It speaks to the complexity and shifting perspectives the world presents – who is a hero and who is a villain are malleable ideas and depend on the eye of the beholder. Prin is 100% a bad guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s 100% wrong. And conversely, that doesn’t mean Kira is 100% right. Having a former terrorist as a main character was a daring choice for the show that paid off many times, and the fact that “Darkness” doesn’t shy away from the disturbing implications of Kira’s past makes for a memorable and disquieting episode. It speaks to the yin-yang alchemy of Deep Space Nine’s morality – darkness and light are interchangeable and shifting ideas that can’t be entirely separated – just like innocence and guilt, right and wrong, and heroes and villains.
- These hunter probes have got to be detectable. Maybe not in a normal sensor scan (although why not?), but if the station is on high alert how can they just slip by? Prin casually mentions that he could have killed half the population of DS9, which is a terrifying thing to toss off. That seems like a big deal!
- This is the second civilian Cardassian underling of a top brass officer driven insane that we’ve seen. Unlike Marritza in “Duet,” Prin… goes a different route. There’s something a little stale about the similarities of the plots, but I like how radically different they are otherwise, and how so many people were scarred by the Occupation on both sides. It once again illustrates that those who brutalize others can’t help but do so to themselves.
- So that Shakaar guy really got off scot-free here, huh? Maybe he was sick the day they planted the bomb. Or just chilling in his candle.
- Can deleted files not be recovered in the 24th century? It’s easy enough to do in our day and age. Do Cardassian computers automatically shred their unused data clusters? Actually, I wouldn’t put it past them. If you don’t empty your recycling bin that killer program starts up.
- LOL at the crew beaming up and just leaving Prin to rot in his lab. I assume some sort of Starfleet CSI or investigative unit will drop by and clean that up.
- Also LOL at Kira with her gat sitting in the top drawer of her dresser. It’s a good thing no small children live there.
- Randy Oglesby, who played Prin is a Trek veteran who played many roles throughout TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise. Like those silly Miradorn dudes!
- Kira’s scene in the infirmary is an acting marvel, but the visual staging and direction is also top notch.