Fan Collective Unimatrix 47 Examines Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Waltz” Episode

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is perhaps the best of 90s Trek because the setting, that of a space station rather than a spaceship, forced the characters to wrestle with the consequences of their choices. They couldn’t simply warp away to the next mission or the next new world, and for that reason, the writers could craft stories that forced the characters to face challenges to their Starfleet morals and worldviews that simply wouldn’t arise for an Enterprise crew. “In the Pale Moonlight” is perhaps the best example of this type of Deep Space Nine episode, but it’s hardly the only one. The episode “Waltz” may not involve Starfleet ideals exactly, but Gul Dukat does have his entire narrative upended. More importantly, however, unlike “In the Pale Moonlight,” in which Sisko compromises his ideals for the greater good, “Waltz” demonstrates the necessity of perspective and how things can go horribly, horribly wrong.

Plot Ahoy

The episode opens with Captain Sisko escorting Gul Dukat to his war crimes trial where Sisko will testify. However, a sudden attack by Cardassian ships results in the destruction of the Honshu. Sisko awakens in a cave, having sustained plasma burns and a broken arm, being cared for by Gul Dukat. Dukat informs Sisko that he dragged him into a shuttle, and he crashed on the planet. He explains that the crash rendered the shuttle inoperable but that he has managed to transmit a general distress signal. He asserts that whichever side in the Dominion War conflict finds them will find a friend and a prisoner.

Dukat continues to care for the injured Sisko, but in the wake of his nervous breakdown after his daughter Ziyal’s death, Dukat hallucinates visions of Weyoun, Damar, and Major Kira, who advise him to kill Captain Sisko. Initially unaware, Sisko eventually witnesses one of these conversations. Having investigated the transmitter Dukat insisted was working, Sisko discovered that Dukat had lied. Using a tine from a fork, Sisko repairs the transmitter. Dukat discovers the repair, destroys the transmitter, and then proceeds to attack the wounded Captain Sisko.

Dukat presses Sisko to discuss his actions during the Occupation. Dukat attempts to make a case that he was a good administrator rather than a monstrous Prefect. Sisko overpowers Dukat and rushes to the shuttle where he discovers Dukat had lied about its condition. Dukat regains consciousness just in time to prevent Sisko from using the shuttlecraft to escape. Dukat throws Sisko out of the shuttle but for reasons known only to Dukat, he leaves Sisko alive. Dukat takes the shuttle, but he does reach out to the Defiant, the crew of which has been frantically searching for Captain Sisko. They receive Dukat’s signal just as they prepare to depart to serve as an escort for a convoy of Federation troops, and they’re able to rescue Sisko. Safely aboard, Sisko tells Dax, “It’s either him or me.”


Clearly, this episode serves to set up the final confrontation between Dukat and Sisko in the series finale “What You Leave Behind,” and sets the stakes for that encounter. During their incredibly charged back-and-forth, Dukat comes to realize that he hates the Bajorans, and he decides to eradicate them entirely. “Waltz” therefore serves as a catalyst for what we ultimately see in season seven. For that reason alone, it would be an important episode, but its real significance lies in what it shows us of Dukat. His arc in this episode almost follows the pattern of a Greek tragedy. The episode opens with a Dukat who seems to be relatively in control, but as the episode progresses, we see his grip on reality becoming ever more tenuous. He desperately needs Sisko’s approval, and that need ultimately results in Dukat’s downfall.

Dukat desperately needs Sisko to accept the narrative that Dukat has been telling himself for years now. In his own words, he explains that he attempted to be gentle. He wanted to rule benevolently, but the pesky Bajorans refused to accept not only his rule but the overall superiority of the Cardassians. Had the Bajorans simply accepted their role, Dukat would not have had to do the things he did. Can’t Sisko see that? At one point during the episode, Sisko tells Dukat that he’ll never get Sisko’s approval or respect because Dukat, for all his posturing otherwise, is a monster.

The only person in the episode who cannot admit that fact is Dukat himself. Look, I’m all for being the hero of your own story, but “Waltz” presents us with a cautionary tale of the importance of perspective. Having become so enmeshed in the narrative he’s crafted, Dukat can no longer see beyond his justifications, and like so many of us, rather than accepting responsibility for his actions, he entrenches by shifting the blame to the Bajorans, whom he has so terribly wronged. The misplaced guilt transmutes into anger, which he then uses to support his baseless hatred of an entire people. Dukat’s initial assertion that he had to do hard things is not incorrect, nor is he necessarily wrong to assert that he had limited choices available to him. Contrast Dukat’s position with Sisko’s in the later episode “In the Pale Moonlight.” Sisko makes horrible choices that go against his moral code, but he recognizes how monstrous they are. He simply accepts that those choices served a greater good, and significantly, his choices aren’t based in the assumption of his own superiority. Dukat cannot say the same.

“Waltz” therefore forces Dukat to admit that he is a racist. Make no mistake, Dukat is a colonizer, and he’s looking for validation from those he has subjugated. Dukat never really engages with Sisko in his role as a Starfleet officer or as a soldier. He refers to Sisko either by his name or as the Emissary. What he desperately needs isn’t exactly Sisko’s validation but rather that of the Emissary because that would mean that the Prophets themselves agreed with him. Therefore, he would not be culpable as there would be no culpability to assign. It’s an amazing exercise in mental gymnastics. Let us also not forget that this discussion occurs between Dukat and a black man. Dukat, for all his scales, is coded as white, which just adds to the impact of the episode. Sisko’s rejection of Dukat thus metaphorically serves as a rejection of discrimination and racism in the world outside the TV show.

“Waltz” is one of those episodes that really depends on the strength of its actors not only because most of the onscreen action involves two people talking but also because in order for the episode’s thematic points to land, Dukat cannot be a caricature of a villain. Marc Alaimo as Dukat rises to the task beautifully, and the chemistry with Avery Brooks as Sisko is sublime. Their riveting performances breathe life into the script which makes the episode all the more impactful.

“Waltz” represents that brand of DS9 story that sticks with you, long after you’ve gone about your business. It should because we all need the reminder to reflect on our actions. Where we’ve caused harm, we must take accountability for it and make amends.


Four and a half self-sealing stem bolts

Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard

  1. Okay, y’all, the transmitter prop is clearly not metal. I don’t know if it’s because I’m watching the episode on a modern TV or what, but it just looks terrible.
  2. I also have to admit that Dukat leaving Sisko alive is very tropey. Even his hallucinations tell him to kill Sisko and be done with it.
  3. There’s a whole entire essay to be written about how Dukat’s madness manifests itself in this odd chorus. We have Weyoun to represent Dukat the Dominion ally, Damar to cater to his ego, and Kira Nerys to embody his racism.
  4. Let’s please not forget that Dukat actively participated in the slaughter of millions of Bajorans, ordering a fair number of executions himself. “Waltz” is a great look into how he creates a narrative to excuse and justify that level of harm, and it’s terrifying.
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