In the tenth episode of the second season ofÂ Deep Space Nine, WOW, WHY IS EVERYTHING I’M WATCHING SO MESSED UP. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.Â
Trigger Warning: For talk of refugees, immigration, and xenophobia.
I admire that this episode forces us to confront a very important issue: our intentions can ultimately be irrelevant. Looking back on this story, it’s clear that it was designed to introduce us to to the Skrreeas, to get us to like them, to understand their plight, and then to make us face the fact their needs have not been met. And really, this is about aÂ need, not aÂ desire. When the Skrreeas express a need to settle on Bajor, how does everyone react?
It’s kind of amazing to think about where this episode started, though. I adore the fact that FINALLY, the universal translator aboard DS9 is proven to be not-so-universal. The fact that it had worked perfectly for as long as it did was a bit of a ridiculous concept, so it’s awesome to see the show say, “HEY, THE UNIVERSE IS FULL OF LANGUAGES WE CAN’T POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND.” While I was watching the episode, I had wanted the language barrier to last longer, but I understand now why the writers needed to devote more time to that OTHER THING. I think it’s impossible for me to analyze this episode without thinking about modern refugee movements and diasporic peoples, despite that this episode is over twenty years old. It’sÂ stillÂ relevant! Why is that? What is it about the Skrreean problem still rings so true?
Again, I go back to the structure of this episode. The DS9 crew welcomes the Skrreeas people with open arms, and it is admirable. I won’t deny that. Kira and Sisko don’t judge these people; they accommodate them in every way they can; and they take on the task of finding a planet for these people to live on without any hesitation. It’s a meaningful thing to watch, and I think it’s emblematic of the general philosophy of the Federation. They help those who need assistance, particularly when it comes to power imbalances or those who are seeking asylum. Indeed, this story is everÂ moreÂ perfect forÂ Deep Space NineÂ because it’s a show about how the Federation is assisting the Bajoran people in reconstruction after the fallout from a violent, genocidal occupation. This situation is extremely familiar to them!
But it starts to fall apart. There are multiple moments within this episode where you can see xenophobia begin to creep into the public consciousness within DS9. You hear it from Quark, who makes underhanded comments about the Skrreeas people, expecting everyone to agree with him. They’re considered reasonable up until the moment that they want to immigrate to Bajor. Now, I think that it’s totally fair for the Bajoran people to discuss logistics, especially considering that they’re still healing from the Cardassian occupation. That fairness, however, complicates matters. The Skrreans don’t want to just move to Bajor and assimilate within Bajoran culture. They want to live in a part of the planet that is almost entirely uninhabited. Again, I understand the logic that they use to deny the Skrreean immigration, but ultimately rings hollow to Haneek and her people. They’re an independent, farming culture, and it was entirely possible that the famine that spread through Bajor would have beenÂ solvedÂ by letting the refugees live on the planet.
That’s what Haneek points out to Kira at the end of the episode. Yes, Haneek is frustrated and sad in that moment; she just watched her son die as he desperately tried to get to Bajor. But her stinging, brutal words are both uncomfortable andÂ necessary. There was a need expressed here: the Skrreean people needed somewhere to live after their home was ruined by an occupying force. (What’s up with the Dominion???) I find it suspect that the Federation didn’t even offer to help with relocating the Skrreeans to Bajor, and I think that’s part of the reason this episode felt so vital to me. Look, these people intended the best for Haneek and her people. We don’t know if Draylon II will be best-suited to them. But there was a chance to do something wonderful for a people who had, frankly, been dealt the short straw repeatedly. At no point did the Bajorans involve the Skrreeas people in their discussions, which could have easily ameliorated any issues they might have had. Sisko doesn’t reach out to the Federation to determine ifÂ theyÂ can provide any assistance. So, to Haneek, this feels personal. It feels dismissive and scary and unsupportive. I don’t blame her for feeling this way! I think it’s a perfectly reasonable response to have to this.
I don’t mean to suggest that there was an easy answer to this problem of to reduce this all to a one-sentence rebuttal. It’s clearly a complex, confusing predicament. But the Bajorans shut the conversation down in just a few hours without ever considering that they might be wrong. (Perhaps a day passed, but the point is that it was in a short period of time.) They rejected these people when they needed help most, and ultimately, I don’t feel bad if Haneek wants to guilt trip them. It’s a bold writing choice, but it’s the kind of thing that makesÂ Deep Space NineÂ so satisfying to watch.
The video for “Sanctuary” can be downloadedÂ here for $0.99.
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