Mark Watches ‘Deep Space Nine’: S05E19 – Ties of Blood and Water

In the nineteenth episode of the fifth season of Deep Space Nine, OUCH TO THIS WHOLE EPISODE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek

Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of death, grief, war/war crimes. 

Seriously, Deep Space Nine has no problem going right for the jugular. The show is continuously more complex, especially when it comes to characterization, than any of the other Star Trek entities. As a whole, though, it’s also far more willing to test out a different kind of episode structure or conflict, and I’m still stuck on how quiet “Ties of Blood and Water” is. Yes, there’s a Dominion battle ship, and yes, there’s the threat of warfare from Gul Dukat, but everything exists off the screen. We never see the vengeful raid on the Cardassians; the threats never come to fruition. Instead, the writers focus entirely on the painful experience of grief, especially when you’ve got to watch someone die over a long period of time.

I want to start by saying that Nana Visitor, unsurprisingly, gives a vibrant and challenging performance here. That’s important to note not just because she’s so talented, but because this is the kind of story that would usually work best in the written form. How could you possibly represent such an internal struggle onscreen? Yet this episode achieves that through a symmetry of writing and performance. And it’s amazing how quickly this goes from a story of hope – that Kira has found the perfect person to lead the resistance against the new Cardassian/Dominion alliance – to one of loss. You can see the disappointment all over Kira’s face when she learns the truth of Tekeny Ghemor, but then she snaps back. She finds purpose in what Ghemor asks of her: to complete the ritual of shri-tal and accept the secrets he carries with him.

It’s fitting that the show doesn’t ignore the political ramifications of this act. From a writing standpoint, it’s a neat way to inject some more “traditional” action into the episode, but it never felt artificial. Instead, Dukat pesters Sisko because he knows that Ghemor, a longtime dissident, is about to spill a ton of state secrets to a member of the Federation. It’s very, very bad in EVERY RESPECT for the Cardassians and the Dominion, but I never saw this as opportunistic from Kira’s perspective. Maybe from Sisko’s, sure! But this is is such an intimate and moving experience for Kira, and I know that’s because it’s wrapped up in the death of Ghemor.

In that respect, this was very difficult to watch. As some of you know, it took my father about a month to die. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other ailments slowly ate away at him, until he got to the point where he no longer seemed like the person I remembered him as. And in a haunting synchronicity, I found myself watching an episode of a television show about someone else who couldn’t bear to be there to watch their father die. I can’t escape how close-to-home this felt, you know? Granted, the circumstances were different, but there’s  still something disturbing about seeing this depicted on Deep Space Nine.

So I understand Kira’s fears here. I get her guilt, and it’s something she can never quite rectify because she’ll never get a chance to do it over. Even if she could, would she? I don’t know that I would. I have an image of my father in his last couple weeks, and that’s bad enough. What if I’d seen worse? Would I be even more traumatized than I already am? Yet Kira still can’t help but think about the last time she was asked to stay with someone as they were dying. It’s in the details that the writers find a way to make matters even more complicated. Kira didn’t just miss her father’s death; Ghemor was part of the military group who attacked the very monastery that her father was at. What if Ghemor fired the shot that killed Taban? How could you even know that?

You can’t. And Kira won’t ever figure that out. Yet she still refuses to see Ghemor once Dukat’s plan to separate them works. (GOD, HE IS SERIOUSLY THE WORST. HE CARES FOR NO ONE BUT HIMSELF, I SWEAR.) And I don’t fault her for that! I really don’t. I don’t feel guilty about that, either, and I am glad the show gave her the space to figure out what she wanted to do with Ghemor, even if it made others uncomfortable, even if it seemed cruel and vindictive. If anything, that’s one of the reasons I’ve appreciated the writing for Deep Space Nine. Characters get to behave more realistically and fairly and aren’t demonized for doing so.

In the end, it was Kira’s choice to be there for Ghemor, to see him die, and to honor him with a burial next to her own father. (That’s who the other grave belonged to, right? It was weird seeing it with all that growth over it.) That doesn’t detract from her struggle or invalidate it. It means that she found a way to make up for the mistake of missing her father’s death by offering Ghemor company in his last moments.

LORD, WHAT AN EMOTIONALLY INTENSE EPISODE.

The video for “Ties of Blood and Water” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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