“Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night” – DS9 6X17

I have a very cool house guest this week – none other than the fabulous feminist writer and activist Anne Thériault, creator of thebellejar.ca, who has also written for The Daily Dot, VICE, The Toast, and more! And bonus points for liking cats and Star Trek!

Anne is a fan of TNG and DS9 so we sat down, post-kebabs, to take a look at an episode that means a lot to many Trekkie feminists: “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night.” Anne’s comments are in bold.

Dax talks to Kira, who is holding flowers

So at the beginning of this episode we learn that Kira is celebrating her mother’s birthday by purchasing her favourite flowers: Bajoran lilacs. Kira tells Dax her mother died in a refugee camp when Kira was three.

Dax: Well, I’d bet she’d be proud of you and what you’ve done with your life. 
Kira: I’d like to think so. I’ve always been proud of her. My father always said she was the bravest woman he ever met.

But the joy of a Dax/Kira friend moment is quickly quashed when, the next morning Kira is roused from sleep by a strange transmission. Hey, it’s Gul Dukat calling to say he shagged her mom, as if being woken up by a message from Gul Dukat isn’t already the worst thing ever.  For example:

graph of the best/worst things to wake up to on Star Trek

So like I said, Gul Dukat messages Kira.

Kira sees Dukat on the monitor

Dukat: She was a striking woman, your mother. Although when we first met, she was very self-conscious about that scar along the side of her face. She used to try to cover it up with a strand of hair. 
Kira: Nice try, Dukat. But you never knew my mother. She died in the 
Dukat: Singha refugee centre? I’m afraid not, Major. That was something your father told you because he couldn’t bear to face the truth. 
KIRA: What truth? 
Dukat: That your mother left him to be with me. 
KIRA: You’re lying. 
Dukat: Your mother and I were lovers almost from the moment we met, and we remained lovers until the day she died.

I’m Gul Dukat. I definitely never coerced your mother or anything. Everything was definitely consensual. I’m definitely not the worst person you know.

Bashir and O'Brien in Ops

So obvs. Kira is a little rattled by this whole thing. And the last thing you want to deal with after a wake-up call from Dukat is Bashir/O’Brien bro-ness in Ops. Bashir is trying to sell O’Brien on an Alamo holosuite program.

Kira looking exasperated

Kira is like “OMG, Earth dudes, check your Earth privilege.”

A bit later she goes to hassle Odo about increased security on the promenade. Turns out Bashir’s been blabbing that she’s “irritable.”

“Would you care to tell me what’s bothering you?” Odo asks.

“Sexist double standards!” Kira exclaims, “Does Bashir run around telling everyone every time Sisko tells him to stop talking about his holosuite program on work time? I don’t think so.”

No, that is actually not what she says. But there is always my head-canon. What actually happens is Odo encourages her to “do something about it.” And so she goes to talk to Sisko in his role as the Emissary, to see if she can get access to the Orb of Time. 

Sisko looks skeptically at Kira

Sisko: What makes you so sure you won’t interfere with the timeline? 
Kira: The Prophets will be guiding me. Nothing will happen without their blessings. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Kira but seriously, I cannot believe the Temporal Detectives aren’t all over this shit. 

Kira in the past

Kira opens the Orb and finds herself in the refugee camp. The Prophets not only decided to change her clothes, but also that she would look better with long hair. She finds her family quickly and almost immediately has to save them from soup-stealing thugs.

Meru with her baby

Meru (Kira’s mom): I can’t remember the last time I met a Bajoran who wasn’t hungry. I’m Kira Meru.

Nerys: I’m…just glad I could help.

I’m…definitely not your daughter from the future…

Basso Tromac and a Cardassian

Then this guy (his name is technically Basso Tromac but I am just going to call him Rat Boy) comes in to take “comfort women” for the Cardassian troops, saying their families will receive extra rations.

After a tearful and dramatic goodbye where Meru begs Nerys’ dad: “Don’t let them forget me!” they are taken to DS9. As Nerys, who is now going by the name Luma Rahl, comforts her mother and says she’ll help them both escape and join the resistance, she brushes her mother’s hair aside and finds the scar Dukat mentioned.

“I failed to show a Cardassian soldier the proper respect,” she explains.

“It’s not so bad,” Nerys reassures.

“Why do you keep doing that?…Helping me,” Meru asks.

Are you secretly my daughter or something?

Next, Rat Boy brings in Gul Dukat to inspect the new “comfort women,” including literally the only black Bajoran. What do you want to bet she gets no lines?

Also check the braids. They were doing Game of Thrones hair more than a decade before Game of Thrones!

Basso instructs the Comfort Women

Next, Rat Boy brings in Gul Dukat to inspect the new “comfort women,” including literally the only black Bajoran. What do you want to bet she gets no lines?

Also check the braids. They were doing Game of Thrones hair more than a decade before Game of Thrones!

Dukat touches Meru's Face

Dukat sends for a dermal regenerator to fix Meru’s scar, saying it’s a 
“reminder of the gulf that exists between our two peoples.” 

“There. Beautiful,” he says once it’s gone. 

At a party that night, Dukat fake rescues Meru from a dude creeping on her. The Cardassian Nerys is with lets her know it was all set up in advance.

Nerys gets home and Meru is gone but Rat Boy is there, saying Meru has been invited to share Dukat’s quarters. They won’t let Nerys see Meru. 

She’s surrounded by three guys and she’s like, “Sure, I could take them.”

Nerys faces down Basso

That is kind of why we love Kira Nerys, even though trying to beat up three dudes was kind of a terrible idea. But that’s sort of what this episode is about: does resisting oppression mean always fighting, no matter what the odds; or can it also include making the best of a really awful situation?

So Nerys is knocked unconscious and wakes up in the Bajoran part of the station. The plus side? No more braids and grabby Cardassians. The down side? Forced labour and soup lines. 

Nerys in a soup line

At least soup guy is in the resistance. He’s bringing her intel on Meru but insists she’s “nothing but a collaborator.” 

Suddenly, Rat Boy shows up to take Nerys to Meru, who looks pretty darn happy and now has a braid headband. How much hair would you even need to do that?

Nerys sits with Meru

Nerys expects Dukat hurt Meru but Meru says no. 

“The fact is, I’ve treated Meru with nothing but kindness and consideration. If you don’t believe me, ask her,” Dukat says.

I’m sure this doesn’t pressure you at all! You can totally be honest!, says Dukat.

Meru sticks up for Dukat personally, but also defends her choice as being in the best interest of her family.

Meru: What do you expect me to do? Kick and bite every time Dukat comes near me? How would that help Taban or the children?

Nerys: Is that what you tell yourself? That you’re doing it for the children? The clothes, the food, the easy living, that you’re doing it all for them? Are you that deluded? It’s not for them, it’s for you. You like it here. You enjoy playing house with that murderer. Don’t you see what you are, what you’ve allowed yourself to become? You’re a collaborator.

Meru: A collaborator? Because I share Dukat’s bed?

Nerys: No, because you like sharing his bed. Because you’ve fallen in love with him. 

Nerys yells at Meru

Everything happens so quickly in this episode and it feels like a really fast and huge 180 between the last scene, where she was defending her mother, to the one after this, where she goes back to resistance soup guy and tells him she’ll plant a chain earring bomb that will kill Dukat, and she doesn’t care if Meru dies too.

But I think there’s enough groundwork that we can understand Kira’s anger and sense of betrayal. I mean it’s probably bad enough having to admit Dukat was right. But then there’s grappling with her (beloved and now deceased) father having lied to her, and her mother not only being what she’d think of as a “collaborator,” but also not living up to the ideal she’d honoured for years and years. 

Nerys follows Basso

Nerys has to get close to Dukat again, though, to hide the earring bomb. So she tells Rat Boy she wants to apologize to Meru.

Dukat and Meru snuggling on the couch

Nerys manages to break up Dukat and Meru’s snuggle-fest to fake an apology. Meru readily forgives her.

“First thing we do is get you some new quarters. Something close by,” Meru exclaims.

“All the better to kill you with, mother!”

Meru touches the screen sadly

But Nerys has a change of heart when she sees her mother cry watching a transmission from her husband back on Bajor.

I know it’s only been a few weeks that we’ve been back home, but you should see the children. It’s like they’ve been transformed. Reon and Pohl are laughing and playing together, they’ve never been happier. And I swear, little Nerys must have gained five pounds. Of course, they keep asking for you. I’ve told them that you’re still at the refugee centre. I think that’s best, at least for the time being. I can’t believe how much I miss you. I think about you all the time. You’ve saved all our lives. I hope you realize that. 

And now of all the complicated feels Nerys has already gone to is added another – maybe the worst – the realization that her mother’s choice to be with Dukat may actually have saved her own life.

Meru, Dukat and Nerys lie outside the blast radius

With the shock of this realization as well as recognizing her mother’s continuing love for her family and sense of loss, Nerys makes a split-second decision to evacuate both Meru and Dukat before the bomb goes off.

Kira looks at the orb

Timeline preserved! Go, Prophets!

Kira looks sadly at Sisko

Kira debriefs with Sisko back on DS9. She is clearly wrestling with what happened and explains: “I used to hate collaborators.”

“Now I’m 35 and have realized there are subtleties in life. For the first time.”

I’m really grateful they didn’t go for a simplified ending with Kira experiencing easy closure. That makes this episode right up there with TNG’s “Dark Page” in its nuanced and powerful exploration of a complex mother-daughter relationship.

It’s moving to watch Kira grapple with her feelings, and it makes me love Sisko more to see him support her and allow her that space to share what she needs to say. 

Sisko: She did what she had to do to save her family. To save you.

Kira: It doesn’t make it right.

Sisko: Maybe not, but it was her decision to make.

Kira: I did some checking. She died in a Cardassian hospital seven years after she met Dukat. Seven years. Do you know how many Bajorans died in labour camps during that time? Died, while my mother sat sipping kanar with Dukat.

So Sisko asks why she saved her life if she hated her so much. 

“Believe me, there’s a part of me that wishes that I hadn’t. But the fact is, no matter what she did, she was still my mother.”

**

Bechdel Test: Pass. Nerys and Meru talk about a bunch of things, like food and the resistance and why Nerys is helping her.


Epilogue to address a point inkycompass made in a reply:

I always thought that this episode gave these women the short end of the stick. They get forced into sex slavery, and then tagged as collaborators for something they had no choice in, like rape isn’t so bad if you get fed. Wasn’t fully addressed IMO.

I think this is an important point. I think the particular disgust for the “comfort women” as “collaborators” comes back to that old idea that it’s women’s responsibility to protect their sexual purity, because “boys will be boys.”

For an historical example, after World War II, thousands of French women suspected of “collaboration horizontale” with German soldiers had their heads shaved and were paraded through the streets to publicly humiliate them. 

The more obvious historical comparison from this episode is to the “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese Army around World War II.  Outside of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office, almost nobody argues these women were consenting and not enslaved. I don’t think this episode was trying to argue that, either, but you’re right that it’s not fully addressed.

There’s a lot crammed into this episode and I think the closest they get to this issue is when Meru challenges Kira about being a “collaborator,” saying: “What do you expect me to do? Kick and bite every time Dukat comes near me?” What choice does she have, really, that wouldn’t make more rape or even death likely?

Nerys says the problem isn’t that Meru’s doing it but that she likes doing it. But we can see that maybe finding even the smallest shred of enjoyment is just another way of coping with a really terrible situation. In that way I think the episode actually does a pretty good job of giving Meru some agency – showing her making what little choices she can – while also allowing us to see the serious limitations she’s under.

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