Saturday, September 26, 2009

Classics – DS9 1:18 – Duet

Overall Rating: 9.8

In the strongest early showing in Trek history, a brilliant script (written by Peter Allen Fields) and truly rich and impressive acting performances by the entire regular cast, plus guest stars Marc Alaimo (Dukat) and Harris Yulin (Marritza) combined to produce a master stroke. Evoking memories of the Holocaust with sensitive and subtle persuasion, this episode is a landmark moment for a series that will go on to produce several others of similar value.

Plot Synopsis:

A pleasant day in Ops is interrupted by the arrival of a Kohbeerian freighter carrying a passenger in need of medical treatment. When Kira goes to visit the man who reported suffering from Kalla-Nohra syndrome – a condition which was only contracted by people at Gallitep (an infamous forced labor camp which she helped liberate), she discovers to her horror that it’s a Cardassian, implying that he was a member of the staff and not a victim. She immediately has the man thrown into the brig and contacts the Bajoran government to inform them of the situation.

This man claims to be Aamin Marritza, and at first denies ever being at Gallitep, claiming his syndrome was not Kalla-Nohra at all, but Pottrik syndrome, a similar but much more common disease among his people. When Bashir confirms that he does in fact have the “smoking gun” disease, Kira interrogates him and he changes his story, saying he was at Gallitep but as nothing more than a lowly filing clerk. He speaks glowingly about the camp prefect Gul Dar’heel, angering Kira immensely. Meanwhile, Sisko, sensing that objectivity could be a problem for Kira, tries to pull her from the investigation, but Kira begs him to allow her to continue. After Odo guilts Dukat into releasing classified documents which could confirm Marritza’s identity, Kira discovers he looks more like Gul Dar’heel. She storms into security and extracts a gruesome confession from him without much effort. He boasts about his leadership at Gallitep, his whole demeanor changed as he tries to infuriate Kira beyond the point of rational thought.

It’s here that the story takes a critical twist. While trying to ease her mind by talking to Odo, Kira reveals that “Dar’heel” had belittled her former resistance cell – a fact Odo finds strange, since camp prefects rarely had to interact with terrorist groups. This sparks an internal investigation which reveals that the man in their holding cell couldn’t possibly be Dar’heel. It turns out that Gul Dar’heel is dead and this man specifically sought out Kira on DS9 after undergoing cosmetic alteration. Stunned, Kira again confers with her prisoner and he tries one last time to convince her that he’s a nemesis, worthy of death. When she doesn’t buy it, he breaks down and reveals the shame he feels that he did nothing to stop the atrocities at Gallitep. Kira releases him, having realized that he was a good man after all, but as she escorts him off of the station, a hateful Bajoran man stabs him to death in a cruel and emotional final blow.

SABR Matt’s Ratings:

Writing: 10

I don’t give out perfect scores easily, but this script is utterly and completely without flaws. The dialogue touches every emotion and shows a perfect laser-focused understanding of every single character in the story. The story concept itself is a masterful reminder the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust and communicates that parallel in such sensitive and humane ways that it cannot possibly be received in any way other than reverence and respect. You’ll see once again that the Highlights portion of this review will be extremely extensive, and not just revealing scenes between Kira and Marritza (the duet dynamic that gives this episode its name) but involving every member of the regular cast as well. It would have been easy to write a story like this and spend all of your energy nailing the duet sequences while focusing less well on the rest of the players involved, but that didn’t happen here. Every cast member had the opportunity to shine with the understandable exception of Cirroc Lofton. I’m not sure people recognize how difficult it is to perfectly capture every character in an ensemble cast, but speaking as someone who has written significant fan fiction in the DS9 universe, I am blown away at Fields’ demonstrated abilities here.

Acting: 9.5

The only blemish here would have to be Tony Rizzoli’s portrayal of the unsympathetic angry Bajoran (Kainon) who is supposed to serve as a reminder about how very real and very strong Bajoran anger about the Occupation truly is. I wasn’t particularly impressed with him on the whole. Every single other cast member, regular or otherwise, was on top of their game when this was filmed. Nana Visitor played the anguish and the anger and the sympathy so perfectly that, when watching this episode for about the tenth time, I still identified with the trauma she endured. Terry Farrell, Rene Auberjonois and especially Avery Brooks each had the chance to play Kira’s sounding board and they each reacted flawlessly. Even Armin Shimmerman had a nice moment, which, considering his character, it would have been hard for me to imagine possible if not for Fields’ mastery of characters.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to offer plaudits to Harris Yulin and Mark Alaimo. Marritza, in particular, just absolutely nailed his role as the (eventually) sympathetic antagonist. He was spot on from moment one. I don’t know where DS9 manages to consistently find these gems on the character actor scrap heap, but every time they have a great script, they always seem to find the perfect guest stars to make it work!

Message: 9.5

There are two critical messages delivered by this script. First and foremost, there is one of the leading tenets of any western religion – the importance of forgiveness. The brilliant thing about this episode is that Kira’s forgiving of Marritza has to be earned with honest penance. You don’t see that theme expressed often enough in science fiction. On top of the need to forgive, the unproductive nature of blind hatred is hammered home with authority in the end, but not until we’ve learned to appreciate Marritza and see through example that not every man is represented by the stereotypes that drive racism. But here again, Fields shows a fine touch in that he doesn’t end up crafting a schmaltzy Hollywood “racism is bad” script because he makes you understand that hatred is a real emotion that comes from real events.

You have to understand the roots of blind hatred, for if you do not…if you judge a person without coming to understand why they have been led down such an unproductive path, you are just as guilty as they are. Everyone is made to understand why a Bajoran could come to hate Cardassians blindly – we see it in Kira until she is confronted with the reason that hatred is dangerous, and then we see it from Kainon, and we realize that Kira has learned something by her response to Marritza’s death. These events will be with Kira for the rest of the show and they will forever change her reactions to Cardassians and their allies. She will become more tempered, less prone to assumptions and aggression, and more willing to listen to Sisko when he tries to earn a diplomatic peace between Bajor and Cardassia.

Stephanie S.’s Ratings:

Writing: 10

My co-author has already adequately addressed the emotional resonance and thematic depth of this episode, so it falls on me to focus more on the dialogue. Luckily, I shall have no trouble doing this; when I was thirteen or fourteen – and SABR Matt can attest to this – I memorized this episode and could recite every word on command. I did this not simply because I idolized Major Kira (though it is true that at the very first convention discussion panel in which I participated, I arrived in full Bajoran regalia and was hopping-up-and-down excited to be talking about Kira in front of a live audience). And I did this not simply because I was, at the time, rather concerned about reported ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia (though a cursory scan through the diary I kept during that period for my gifted-and-talented class reveals this to be true as well). No – I also learned this episode backwards and forwards because I appreciated the language.

There’s a little exchange that’s not in the highlights for pure economy’s sake – if we included every delightful turn of phrase, this review would grow to a ridiculous length – that provides a quick demonstration of what I as a teenager enjoyed about this episode, and it is this: after Kira triumphantly informs Marritza that his Kalla-Nohra has been confirmed, she crows, “If your lies are going to be this transparent, it’s going to be a very short interrogation,” to which Marritza retorts, “Well, in that case, I’ll try to make my lies more opaque.” The words, readers – the words! Even now, I feel this very strong desire to foist this episode upon my English students as a lesson in beauty and cleverness of expression.

In the past, I have seen some reviewers critique this episode’s Holocaust allegory as a little “on the nose” (these would be the same reviewers who think Captive Pursuit is a first contact masterpiece and not a dreadfully boring story with a troubling patina of moral relativism), but in this case, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, principally because, as discussed above, the dialogue is just so compellingly written, but also because said allegory is organic to the setting and the characters. Trek established the Bajorans as the victims of political oppression and genocide long before DS9’s writers decided to do their Holocaust story.

Acting: 10

I disagree with my co-author on Rizzoli’s performance; I was suitably convinced. The implication, after all, was that Kainon was an obnoxious drunk – hence his cooling his heels in Odo’s brig. Otherwise, I hereby affirm SABR Matt’s remarks. This episode is Nana Visitor’s best performance to date – possibly even her best performance ever – and Harris Yulin is absolutely phenomenal.

Message: 10

I think SABR Matt’s remarks regarding this episode’s treatment of prejudice are absolutely correct. Comparing this episode to, say, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield – in which the guest characters despise each other solely because they are black on opposite sides – is illustrative in this regard. Battlefield displays prejudice as utterly trivial – Duet, on the other hand, reveals the context even while reminding us that our enemies and we share a common humanity. Battlefield is insultingly patronizing; Duet, an earned lesson.


SISKO: “So you’re saying this Marritza is on the list of Bajoran war criminals?”

ODO: “He’s not on any list I’ve seen and…I’ve got them all.”

KIRA: “I don’t care if he’s listed or not…”

SISKO: “Hold on, Major. This man was traveling on a Federation vessel, he comes to our station seeking medical care and we throw him in a security cell. I for one hope he’s listed.”

KIRA: “I know what I’ve done isn’t exactly policy, it may not even be legal, but it’s right.”

SISKO: “Alright…what do we charge him with?”

KIRA: “I’m charging him with having contracted Kalla-Nohra.”

SISKO: “Do you want to explain that, Major?”

KIRA: “The only way he could have contracted that disease is by serving at Gallitep at the time of the mining accident. If you’d been there twelve years ago when we liberated that camp…if you’d seen the things I saw… all those Bajoran bodies… starved… brutalized. You know what Cardassian policy was? Oh, I’m not even talking about the murders. 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 recognize them… old people buried alive because they could work anymore!” – Right away the viewer is exceedingly uncomfortable and feeling a bit sick for Kira.

KAVAL: “I’m told you performed a special service for the Bajoran people today. My congratulations to you, Commander.”

SISKO: “I don’t follow…”

KAVAL: “You’re not holding a certain Cardassian for us?”

SISKO: “We’re holding…a Cardassian…temporarily.”

KAVAL: “By temporarily, you mean until you’re satisfied that a verified identification has been made.”

SISKO: “Minister, I’m not sure we have the grounds to hold him that long.”

KAVAL: “I fully understand you concerns, Commander, but as our Major Kira has taken responsibility for this matter, the burden is off your shoulders.”

SISKO: “I don’t agree.”

KAVAL: “Commander! If this Marritza was at Gallitep, we want him…and we will have him. Is that understood?”

SISKO: “It. Is.” – The diplomatic pressure tightens and Sisko handles it like a pro.

SISKO: “I’d like Odo to handle the Marritza investigation.”

KIRA: “Why?”

SISKO: “He’s our chief of security.”

KIRA: “Minister Kaval put me in charge.”

SISKO: “Minister Kaval doesn’t run this station.”

KIRA: “And the Federation has no right telling us how to deal with our criminals!”

SISKO: “If it turns out that he is a criminal, he’ll be yours and you’re welcome to him. Until then, he’s just a traveler under suspicion.” (Kira sighs heavily and composes her thoughts)

KIRA: “You think this is all some personal vendetta on my part, don’t you?”

SISKO: “I think you’re too close to be objective, yes.”

KIRA: “You’re right. I’m not objective…but I’m your first officer, and I give you my word I will conduct myself accordingly.” (long pause) “You once said we were friends. I’m asking you now, as a friend, please - let me conduct this investigation. I owe it to them…”

SISKO: “You mean the victims.”

KIRA: “That’s right. The ones who moved too slowly and never moved again.” (fighting back tears) “I’m asking for all the Bajorans who can’t ask… let a Bajoran do this.”

SISKO: “Sisko to Odo.”

ODO: “Go ahead, Commander.”

SISKO: “Major Kira will be in charge of the Marritza investigation.” – Just purely awesome…every word of it. Sisko’s ability to know when to bend the rules and go against his better judgment continues to astound.

KIRA: “What was your rank at Gallitep? What were your duties?”

MARRITZA: “You don’t want to know.”

KIRA: “Just answer the question.”

MARRITZA: (taunting) “You’ll be disappointed.”

KIRA: “I’ll risk it.”

MARRITZA: “I had the distinction of serving in exalted position of filing clerk.”

KIRA: “Filing clerk?”

MARRITZA: “I told you you’d be disappointed. Actually, I’d have preferred to avoid military service altogether, but I had the good fortune to be posted to the records office at Gallitep, and I turned out to be an exemplary file clerk. In fourteen units of service, I never misplaced or lost a record. Gul Dar’heel himself called my filing system ‘a masterpiece of meticulous exactitude’… Well, there you are. My secret’s out…my crimes lay bare…I await execution.”

KIRA: “I hope we don’t keep you waiting long.” – this dialogue just crackles already!

DUKAT: “Commander, I was under the impression that the Federation guarantees the safe and unrestricted passage of all travelers visiting your station.”

SISKO: “That’s correct.”

DUKAT: “Then why have you detained a Cardassian citizen?”

SISKO: “He here seeking medical attention. Right now, he’s under our doctor’s care. All we’re trying to do is verify his identity…a simple matter…with your assistance.”

DUKAT: “Commander, I assure you, you don’t need my help. If this patient says his name is Marritza, then that’s who he is. I hope you’re not suggesting you don’t trust him simply because he’s Cardassian.”

SISKO: “I don’t trust him because he’s already lied about being at Gallitep.”

DUKAT: “Is that what you’re charging him with, Commander? Lying?”

SISKO: “So far, we haven’t charged him with anything.”

DUKAT: “Then let him go.”

SISKO: “I’d like nothing better. But first I’d like to know who it is I’m letting go.”

DUKAT: ‘I understand the awkwardness of your position here, Commandar. This Bajoran obsession with alleged Cardassian…improprieties during the Occupation is really quite distasteful.”

SISKO: “I suppose if you’re Bajoran, so was the Occupation.”

DUKAT: “I might remind you, Commander, that neither one of us is Bajoran. And I would hate their bitterness to cause conflict between Cardassia and the Federation.”

SISKO: “I hope to avoid that, too - with your help.”

DUKAT: “You don’t need my help to safeguard one Cardassian citizen. If any of these Bajoran hate mongers gets their hands on him…I’ll hold you personally responsible.”

KIRA: “All I want is to see him punished.”

DAX: “Even if he is just a file clerk?”

KIRA: “That’s just it, I don’t want him to be just a file clerk…I want him to be... I don’t know…something worse!”

DAX: “You want him to be guilty.”

KIRA: “If he was at Gallitep, then he is guilty, they’re all guilty. His death would let Bajor feel some…satisfaction…”

DAX: “It sounds like you’re trying too hard to believe what you’re saying. You already know that if you punish him without reason, it won’t mean anything. And you already know vengeance…isn’t enough.” – The words speak for themselves…

MARRITZA: “War crimes…how could there be war crimes when there hasn’t been a war? I can understand your wish that there had been a war - your need to indulge some pathetic fantasy about brave Bajoran soldiers marching to honorable defeat, but in fact, Major, you and I both know there was no war, no glory. Bajor didn’t resist…it surrendered.”

KIRA: “The Bajorans were a peaceful people before you came. We offered no threat to you! We could never understand why you had to be so brutal!”

MARRITZA: “Well we can’t have that Major. I want no more secrets between us. Anything you don’t understand, I’ll explain to you.”

KIRA: “Thank you, but I think I’ve heard enough of your lies.” (starts to leave)

MARRITZA: “What lies? You mean my failure to divulge my true identity? Believe me Major, I yearned to tell you. But I knew how much more satisfaction you would have if you found out for yourself, and that was my only deception! Marritza was a magnificent file clerk – and I, Gul Dar’heel – I hope you don’t find it immodest of me to say so, but I was a magnificent leader! Oh, you never saw Gallitep at its height. For a labor camp, it was the very model of order and efficiency! And why? For that, you have to look to the top! TO ME! My word, my every glance was law, and the verdict was always the same – guilty!”

KIRA: “You’re insane!”

MARRITZA: “Oh, no, no, no, Major, you can’t dismiss me that easily. I did what had to be done! My men understood that. And that’s why they loved me. I would order them to go out and kill Bajoran scum. And they’d do it. They’d murder them. And they’d come back covered in blood. But they felt clean! And why did they feel that way, Major? Because they were clean.”

KIRA: “You admit your atrocities?!”

MARRITZA: “I admit everything! Why not? I was the best at what I did! My accomplishments speak for themselves! Can you say the same? You and that little Shakkar resistance cell that you belonged to? All you did was annoy Cardassians while I was out exterminating Bajorans!”

KIRA: “Make sure you tell that to the tribunal!”

MARRITZA: “Oh, I will!”

KIRA: “Then they’ll sentence you to death!!

MARRITZA: “Let them! Don’t you see it doesn’t change anything? Kill me, torture me, it doesn’t matter! You’ve already lost, Major. You can never undo what I’ve accomplished! The dead will still be dead!”

QUARK: “Gallitep…can you imagine living through that hell hole? The pain? The sorrow?” (A beat.) “Do you think they’d like to gamble?” Fields recognizes that we need a little emotional break and gives us a chuckle.

MARRITZA: “How many Cardassian civilians did you kill?!”

KIRA: “LOOK! I regret a lot of what I had to do!”

MARRITZA: “How convenient of you!”

KIRA: “We had no choice! We were fighting for survival!”

MARRITZA: “So were we! We had an empire to protect! We needed your resources! Everything I did was for the greater glory of Cardassia! And if you spineless scum had to be ground under, so much the better! All that mattered was Cardassia. I loved my home land. That’s what justified my actions. That’s what gave me strength.”

KIRA: Nothing. Justifies. Genocide!

MARRITZA: “What you call genocide, I call a day’s work.” – chilling

KIRA: “You’re Marritza, aren’t you?”

MARRITZA: “You mistake me for that bug? That whimpering nothing? Oh you stupid Bajoran girl, don’t you know who I am? I’m your nemesis. I’m your nightmare. I’m the butcher of Gallitep!”

KIRA: “The butcher of Gallitep died six years ago. You’re Aamin Marritza, his filing clerk!”

MARRITZA: “That’s not true…I am alive. I will always be alive! It’s Marritza who’s dead. Marritza! Who was good for nothing but cowering under his bunk and weeping like a woman! Who every night covered his ears because he couldn’t bare to hear the screaming…for mercy…of the Bajorans…” (He breaks down in tears.) “I covered my ears every night…I couldn’t bare to hear those horrible screams. You have no idea what it’s like to be a coward. To see these horrors…and do nothing. Marritza is dead, he deserves to be dead.” (Kira lowers the forcefield) “What are you doing?”

KIRA: “I’m letting you go.”

MARRITZA: “Security…get in here!” (Kira approaches and he backs himself into the corner of his cell)

KIRA: “You didn’t commit those crimes. And you couldn’t stop them. You were only one man.”

MARRITZA: “No, don’t you see, I have to be punished! We all have to be punished! Major, you have to go out there and tell them I’m Gul Dar’heel. It’s the only way!”

KIRA: “Why are you doing this?”

MARRITZA: “For Cardassia! 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!”

KIRA: “What you’re asking for…is another murder. Enough good people have already died. I won’t help kill another.”

KIRA: “Why?! He wasn’t Dar’heel…why?!”

KAINON: “He’s a Cardassian! That’s reason enough!”

KIRA: “NO!” (pause) “It’s not…” – just beautiful. And the perfect place to end this story.

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