15 March 2008

A vote for Hillary is a vote for Kai Winn

Folks, it's time to watch DS9 again. If you haven't seen it since it aired, obviously, it's way past time. And I'm not talking a few eps here and there. I'm talking the entire 7-season run. Because we learn a lot about power, colonialism, imperialism, resistance, and--perhaps most intriguing of them all--terrorism. DS9 was criticised by trekkies when it aired because it dared to set the entire show on a relatively stationary space station rather than a ship that zoomed around the galaxy. But this very fact allowed it to explore the aftermath of colonialism (and the repercussions of resistance movements), the role of religion in politics, and the valorisation of terrorist tactics--without ever losing sight of the human costs that come with torture, killing civilians, and sleeping with the enemy.

Kira Narys' character serves as a tactical adviser throughout the show--precisely because she has experience working within a resistance/terrorist-type organisation, one organised into autonomous cells and fighting with guerilla tactics, often taking civilians down with the rest. 'Collaboration', a theme examined to great effect on Battlestar as well, is sometimes articulated in the 'if you're not with us...' formulation, but is usually then explored to greater subtlety with the characters involved, specifically Kira's partner in the final season, Odo, who worked for the Cardassians during the occupation. Terrorism, and being a terrorist, and what it means to be a 'good' terrorist (including a great episode where Kira berates her Cardassian nemesis Ducat for not being a good terrorist) are themes that run throughout the series. I don't think these lines could even be thought today, nor put into the mouths of the characters who are consistently placed within the camp of 'the good guys' and certainly always in the camp of the 'us'.

Power plays complex and interesting roles within the series: the problems with seeking it, its relation to transcendent identities or god-like status, its repercussions once you have lost control, the power gained in giving up one's body/life to a cause, the assimilatory power of neo-liberalism. And so my title for this post. Kai Winn, the 'kai' or religious leader of Bajor, is consumed by her drive to have the love, loyalty, and respect of the Bajorans. But Capt. Sisko's anointing as 'the emissary' has thwarted her, and despite devoting her whole life to the religion, she has not been spoken to by the prophets, whereas many others have (Kira was even possessed by one of them, in addition to seeing them; Sisko sees them all the time it seems). She is a complex character: one who wants desperately to be a part of the prophet-seeing club, one who believes in the prophets, but one who, all along, does not really have faith. She is also politically savvy--throughout the series she often gets Sisko and others to do what she wants through maneuvering, and while on the one hand she truly truly desperately wants to have faith, that very desire preempts her ability to indeed put her faith in the prophets. Kai Winn's character demonstrates how desire cannot produce visions, and how desire in fact bars us from being able to speak to the prophets--those who can guide us on our path. Sisko does not desire and indeed tries to reject his role as the chosen one, the emissary, but in a few seasons he has embraced the role, and begun to have faith, even to the extent of ignoring his duties to (the almighty) Starfleet because of that faith. Kai Wynn, when presented with the option of stepping down as Kai in order to follow 'the path that the prophets have laid out' rejects this option in favour of, in the end, following the pah wraiths (the prophets' godly enemies) so as to secure her power.

I have not exhausted the complexities of Kai Winn's character--and this is no simple analogy I propose. This is why it's time to watch DS9 again. Because its complexity helps us to understand the problems we face right now, and the show reveals to us how limited we have become in the range of questions and answers we can voice today.


tenaciousmcd said...

Really good post. DS9 was always the most underrated Star Trek.

I think it must have been because it was so political, hence "dirty" in a way that the Star Trek future often is not, what with its Hegelian urge toward historical unification married to cleanly Kantian prime directives. The Trek ethos that appealed to so many fans was similar to what Orwell described in Road to Wigan Pier as the telltale weakness of English socialism: the crankish dream of a sanitary future, one freed of money, risk, and conflicts over ends, and elevated by benign technological change. That they somehow combined this with swashbuckling adventure evaded Orwell without really answering his serious questions.

But on DS9, the equipment usually sucks, the warp drive didn't get you anywhere (no "new frontier", where the original ST fused Kennedy idealism and old West escapism), and you kept encountering the same persistent bad guys week after week. The Cardassians were really good villains--an understandable, and very human, kind of evil. Kai Winn was even better. How perfect that she had been Nurse Ratchet!

The one weakness: a crappy romance b/w Odo and Kira. Made them both unbearable saps. Anyway, I stopped watching the various successor shows. They could never live up.

Transient Gadfly said...

This post rules in, like, nine ways. It rulzzz with several extra z's (and would also rule with an umlaut if I knew how to type it).