In the ninth episode of the seventh season of Deep Space Nine, nothing in the world could ever prepare me for this horror. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: Extensive talk of cults, manipulation and gaslighting through religion, suicide and suicide pacts, genocide apologism.
Good god. GOOD GOD.
I remember the newscasts for the Heaven’s Gate suicides very distinctly. (This is what I referenced in the video but misremembered it as Applegate being the cult leader; it’s actually Marshall Applewhite.) The images from that discovery were all over every station, repeated in all their grim horror. The shoes. The black sheets laid over their bodies. And the whole thing seemed so utterly impossible to me. How could someone ever believe anything that much? How could you take your life because someone told you to?
I was just 13 years old when Heaven’s Gate happened, and I clearly didn’t know much about how religion, faith, and belief intertwined together in complicated, messy ways. It took my own brushes with it – not to the extent we see in “Covenant,” of course – years later for me to see how much my own desperation led me to do… things. Now, I don’t want to project too much here because I ultimately don’t relate to Dukat at all in this episode. It’s just that “Covenant” brought up a lot in me. I honestly hadn’t thought about Heaven’s Gate in a while, and yet… here we are.
Where to start, though? This is a horrific experience aside from my own biases against religion, though I wanted to acknowledge that upfront. After watching Gul Dukat reign terror upon thousands of people, knowing that before the events of Deep Space Nine began, he was part of a genocidal regime, only made this worse. And initially, I believed one thing: he was faking everything so that he could escape responsibility again. Every time he opened his mouth, it was a lie. I knew it! Completely and fully! How could he possibly have made the kind of change he spoke of??? HE WAS THE SAME CREEP WE ALWAYS THOUGHT HE WAS.
Yet over the course of “Covenant,” the writers manage to show us that Dukat is the same kind of person, though he’s channeled it into something new: the genuine belief that the pah-wraiths are the true gods of Bajor, and that they’ve set him on a path of righteousness. Up until that one scene in his private quarters, I never considered this to be the case. Indeed, each new interaction he had with Kira felt like confirmation of my theory. He had latched on to an existing fringe belief, claimed himself to be the leader, then manipulated his new followers so that he could fulfill his awful dream of leading Bajor again. Like, he totally couldn’t let go of the fact that the Bajorans never appreciated him! So he wanted to maneuver his way into a scenario where that would happen.
And the scary part – one of many in this episode – is that he did exactly that. He got all of these people to love him so much that HE FATHERED A BABY WITH ONE OF THE FOLLOWERS AND THEN INSTANTLY CONVINCED THEM ALL THAT IT WAS A MIRACLE FROM THE PAH-WRAITHS. What the fuck WHAT THE FUCK. This was another one of those scenes that reminded me of things I’d seen: utterly absurd scenarios hand-waved by doctrine. The logical gymnastics I’ve witnessed from priests and church elders and leaders over the years is… well, not exactly fun. And I’m certain some of you have stories, too! Like, I once heard the youth leader justify cheating on his wife because it was a great educational moment, so Jesus wanted him to commit adultery. WHO WISHES I WAS JOKING IT’S ACTUALLY ALL OF US.
Yet I had this really scary thought: what if Dukat wasn’t lying? What if this whole pah-wraith thing was real? I suppose it was possible because this show is fucked up, and they would totally do something like that. However, once Dukat tried to murder Mika, I figured that was that. He was a liar, he’d be exposed, THAT WOULD BE IT.
But then, there’s that scene, just prior to the suicide pact, where Dukat prayed to the pah-wraiths, and the whole thing messed up my understanding of his character. He believed it. In his own twisted way, he believed that he was on the right path. Yes, he was still manipulative and horrific, willing to let all those people kill themselves to hide his secret. HE IS CONTINUALLY THE WORST. It’s the same behavior we saw in “Duet,” you know? That self-centered delusion, except now it’s on a grander scale.
Honestly, this is one of the most disturbing developments in the whole show, and I feel like I have said this a million times, but SERIOUSLY. What is Dukat going to do now? He’s been rejected by these people, but he still believes he is right. Where does he go? WHAT THE HELL CAN HE POSSIBLY DO NEXT? Probably continue to be the worst, I swear.
The video for “Covenant” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– I am now on Patreon! There are various levels of support, from $1 up to whatever you want! You’ll get to read a private blog, extra reviews, and other such rewards. I POST A LOT OF CUTE PHOTOS, OKAY. Think of it like a private Tumblr blog that only SPECIAL PEOPLE get to read.
– I have updated my list of conventions and events for the remainder of the year and much of next year. Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches have been announced here.
– Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!