Mark Watches ‘Deep Space Nine’: S07E26 – What You Leave Behind (Part II)

In the final episode of Deep Space Nine, everyone faces their fate. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Trigger Warning: For talk of racial stereotypes, genocide, warfare.

Oh, Deep Space Nine. I’m going to miss you so much.

The End of the War

Overall, I’m satisfied with this episode, and it’s a killer finale, except for that thing, but I’m saving that for the end. There were three major things I needed this finale to do: wrap up the Dominion War, wrap up the Emissary plot line, and give me closure for the cast of characters. For the Dominion War plot, which is what I’ll start with, I really can’t complain. We got an epic, violent battle in space, one that seemed utterly hopeless as the Federation and their allies attacked the defense perimeter around Cardassia. Meanwhile, tragedy struck down on Cardassia Prime, with Damar’s quick and heroic death defending his people. Seriously, I can’t believe I was brought to a part where I felt sad about his passing; remember when I despised him and wanted nothing more than for him to just go away? The tragedy, of course, is that he’s cut down before he could truly begin his redemption. He wanted to change Cardassia, the way his people thought about the world, and the way they interacted with others in the galaxy.

But his death allowed Kira and Garak access to the central command for the Dominion, and EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED THERE WAS INCREDIBLE. From Garak executing Weyoun (GOOD RIDDANCE) to the tense standoff with the leader of the Changelings, it was expertly written and acted. Thematically, the solution to the war closed up multiple plots for multiple characters, and that’s a tough thing to do. It all hinged on Odo, too, and my god, it was stunning to watch him convince his fellow Changeling to just trust him, if only for a moment. That change that came over still gives me chills because it happened so fast. In a matter of seconds, she understood what Odo was doing and what he intended, and the war was done. Like that. And we knew Odo hadn’t revealed the truth yet, too! He couldn’t have convinced through curing her, right?

I’ll get to Odo’s closure later, but I love that this war ended so quickly. It was jarring, sure, but it worked.

It was simply surreal to see these people celebrate. To see the destruction of Cardassia. To witness the promised drinking of bloodwine between Martok, Sisko, and Admiral Ross, though that was tempered by the grim refusal of the two Starfleet officers to celebrate over a plaza littered with Cardassian corpses. But most surreal of all was Garak, no longer exiled from his homeland, listening to the brutality in those reports: 800 million dead. The Founders truly tried to commit genocide out of spite, and worst of all? Garak realizes that they probably deserved it, for all their violence and arrogance. It was the first scene (of many!) to make me tear up because it meant that Garak had a lot of work to do, and this might be the very last time he would see his friend Julian.

What a bittersweet ending for Cardassia’s best tailor and spy.

Celebrating New Beginnings

You know, I actually have two major complaints about this episode. Once the peace treaty is signed, “What You Leave Behind” turns into… well, something that resembled what I thought the ending of this show would be. We find out everyone’s fate – O’Brien is going back to Earth, Worf is moving on as Federation ambassador to Kronos, Odo is returning to the Great Link to heal his people and teach them the complicated truth about solids, everyone else stays on Deep Space Nine – in rapid succession. By the time we got to Vic’s place, which I felt was a necessary way to celebrate these people, I actually started getting worried. How was the show going to fill those last twenty minutes? Pretty much everything had been resolved, right?

The end of the Dominion War was jarring, but it worked. It made sense, it resolved a multi-season arc with feeling and power, and thus, the abruptness of it made sense. I’m okay with it! The massive tonal shift from Vic’s to the fire caves on Bajor, though? Y’all, I don’t know. I don’t buy it. It honestly felt like the writers were like, “Oh shit, we forgot about this plot, HURRY AND GO FIX IT.”

Plus, the Dukat/Sisko rivalry has been a huge part of Deep Space Nine. And suddenly, Sisko just “knows” what to do, but then arrives at the caves and actually has no plan whatsoever to actually defeat Dukat? (WHO WAS DEAD BY THE WAY. KAI WINN ALREADY KILLED HIM ONCE, HOW DARE YOU.) The Prophets set him on this path but didn’t even give him any practical tools to take down Dukat?

And here’s where “What You Leave Behind” lost me, so much so that it took deliberately sentimental flashbacks to reel me back in. (I’m a sucker for that, okay? IT’S A WEAKNESS, I KNOW IT.) After tackling Dukat off a cliff and watching him burn alive, Sisko is saved by the Prophet that is his mother… only to find out that this is the beginning of the next stage of his life. The show decides to make Sisko a god – which is not inherently a terrible idea! – and take him away from his wife, his son, and his unborn child. Sisko’s reward for seven years of infuriating service to these wormhole aliens was that HE GOT TO ABANDON HIS FAMILY.

Let’s take that a step further. The writers of this show actually thought that Star Trek‘s first black captain/main protagonist got a good ending by having him abandon his family. This is such an obvious and pervasive trope about black men that I cannot fathom how anyone didn’t notice this!!! Or, even worse, they did notice it and thought it was cool to slip in that line about Benjamin “coming back” at some point because his life isn’t linear?

See, the linear thing actually makes some sense. If we were to look at this in a more general view, the idea that Sisko eventually evolved into one of the Prophets is not far-fetched. Indeed, making the show’s main black character a god is not a bad thing. However, it’s the context in which they’ve done so. Even if I could ignore Sisko’s family (I LITERALLY CAN’T, HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH JAKE IS THE ACTUAL BEST THING ON THIS SHOW), there’s still a huge problem with how Sisko was written in this finale. Remember, this is the same character who spent the vast majority of this season sticking a middle finger to the gods once he realized they wanted more from him than he was willing to give. This is the man who heard the Prophets tell him directly that he should not marry Kassidy because it would bring him misery, and he fucking did it anyway. And yet, somehow, the second he’s bathed in white light, he just accepts that he must leave his family behind without a meaningful fight. He protests once or twice and… that’s it? He barely seems bothered when he appears in Kassidy’s vision, and even she is suddenly very much not distraught over her missing husband. SHE’S STILL IN HER FIRST TRIMESTER, WHY ISN’T SHE MORE UPSET.

The only character who appears to be truly mourning Sisko’s disappearance was Jake, and let me tell y’all that it fucking ruined me. That image of him picking up the chair from the model house that he was supposed to live in with his father on Bajor has destroyed me now and forever, and I may never forgive this show for showing me the saddest thing in the world.

Moving On

Yet I can’t deny how much I enjoyed everything that happened after this. The flashback sequences were so tasteful, edited to look like each character who was leaving the station – Odo, Worf, and Miles O’Brien – was recalling the fonder and more memorable occurrences onboard Deep Space Nine. And for me, it was the cue for waterworks because even when this show did infuriating things – like the Sisko plot line in this episode! – I still loved it. Fiercely. It’s my favorite of all the Star Trek shows, and I really hate that it’s over.

But in terms of the other characters, the show manages to mix victory with a bittersweet aftertaste. I am thrilled that Odo gets to join the Great Link, but that last scene gutted me as well. Y’all, that is love: the willingness to let go and know that your partner understands and accepts you. REMEMBER WHEN ODO JUST AWKWARDLY FLIRTED WITH KIRA AND IT WAS NEVER ACTUALLY GOING TO HAPPEN. This is where it ends: with Odo, in a tuxedo, rejoining his people to teach them tolerance, understanding, and co-existence, all while Kira watches him leave her, uncertain that she’ll ever see him again.

With O’Brien and Worf gone, it leaves Kira in charge of DS9. Quark is still running his bar, and he seems a bit jollier than usual. (Probably because of his goodbye to Odo; gotta be that.) Nog has been promoted to lieutenant, which… y’all, a Ferengi lieutenant in Starfleet. WHO KNEW. Julian and Ezri fulfilled their pact and get to enjoy learning how to live in one another lives, which is a pleasant thought. (It honestly took me until their final scene to understand or see the chemistry.)

Yet that final image still haunts me. Jake’s career as a writer is… what? Ignored? Irrelevant? He’s cast as the sad son, left to wait for his father to come home… if he’ll even do that in his lifetime. If the imagery wasn’t so loaded, I might feel better about it. Hell, I might have been less harsh if Jake had been given closure on his own character growth over the years. Thematically, the closing scene of the show might be apt, but it instead reminded me that even my favorite Star Trek series could be flawed.

I’m still gonna miss the hell out of it.

The video for the second half of “What You Leave Behind” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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