“We’re all very good at conjuring up enough fear to justify whatever we want to do.“
To think, all of this started because Keiko O’Brien decided to teach hard science to her children at school, just as Vedek Winn (Louise Fletcher) strolls in. Winn begins to correct Keiko on the origin of the wormhole. It was not artificially constructed by space aliens. It was gifted to the Bajorans by the Prophets. Keiko’s just trying to teach her class, but Winn keeps interfering. In Winn’s view, Keiko is spreading blasphemous rhetoric, and she thinks the Bajoran children should be separated from the other kids. Keiko is livid, but Kira agrees with Winn.
Sisko, as usual, just wants everybody to get along. He thinks there’s enough room on the station for all beliefs, as would I if I felt those beliefs were not at cross purposes with other beliefs. We are a utopia in potentia, but only if we’re all on the same page. “In the Hands of the Prophets” is one of Deep Space Nine’s most important episodes. It introduces two major characters in Vedek Winn and Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim), as well as the duplicitous, opportunism of Winn, who will continue to be a thorn in Sisko’s side until show’s end.
Fletcher’s performance recalls her Oscar™-winning turn as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but more blindly religious and evil, and, like Ratched, she has a gift for believing in what she does, however misguided she may be. Winn’s words divide the station. Bajorans refuse to provide services to Starfleet personnel. A day later, Keiko’s school is destroyed by an explosive. The episode does not paint Bajorans in the best light, considering the ultimate revelation that Winn had radicalized (a word we hear way too much these days) a young woman to plant the bomb and murder a Starfleet crewman. The Bajorans in this episode are depicted as slavishly devoted yet malleable sheep that cling to their religion like a crutch, even as Sisko lectures Jake that the religion was what kept them alive in rough times. Sisko, taking an immediate dislike to Winn, seeks out Bareil to provide an alternative to Winn’s fanaticism. Bareil doesn’t strike me as a man who wants to be a leader. He seems happiest tending his gardens in the monastery on Bajor.
After the explosion, Bareil changes his mind and arranges a tour of the station, and it’s obvious from jump-street the people love him, much more than they would love Winn, who seems to be turned on by political power. The destruction of the school and all the rabble-rousing is incidental to Winn’s ultimate goal, which is to become the next Kai without political opposition. This is an almost perfect episode of Deep Space Nine. My only issue is that the revelation of the murderer occurs too early in the episode.
Winn and the young Bajoran woman, Neela, exchange a look after Winn and Sisko argue at the destroyed school. By itself, that’s enough for us to get an idea, but later a conversation between the two confirms our suspicions. The episode works best as a mystery, but Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s script wants to emphasize the allegory and suspense rather than keep us guessing as to the identity of the culprit. The De Palma-esque climax is well staged with Neela, phaser in hand, pushing through the crowds toward Bareil and her fate. This is a fantastic finale to a very strong first season.
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