What You Leave Behind (****)
I have a bit of a tradition with these review threads where I single out my problems with the series finales and go all nitpicky on them. That made sense for both Endgame
, but not so much for Sleeping in Light
. It makes a little more sense for What You Leave Behind
, but even though the episode has its share of problems, it's still a mostly satisfying conclusion to the DS9 saga. So I'm going to start by listing most of the episode's faults, then I'll move on to the good stuff.
Issue number 1: The story is rushed
The Dominion War, an intractable conflict that has been going on for two years, ends in the space of an hour. The Federation invasion, the Cardassian revolt, the Dominion's surrender, and other elements of the plot are all contained within relatively little screentime. Almost everything that happens makes sense, but it all happens so quickly that you don't have time to question what just happened before some other important thing happens. I can't help but feel that the writers left too much material for the finale, and that makes me more resentful of the mid-season fluff and the slow start to this final chapter arc.
Adding to this feeling that the story is rushed, the Dominion War storylines are concurrent with the story of Winn and Dukat in the Fire Caves. This just doesn't work, the Dominion War story appears to play out over several weeks, while the Winn/Dukat story takes up only a couple of days at most. The only way I can think to explain this is by theorising that the Bajoran system is in a really deep gravity-well and time moves more slowly there than out in the rest of the universe. But I'm pretty sure that's not true.
Overall, I'm left with the impression that the Dominion War could have been ended a year ago if the DS9 crew had really put their backs into it and hadn't spent so much time playing in the holosuite.
Issue number 2: Dead Fish's change of heart
This is actually a consequence of issue 1, but I feel it should be addressed on its own. Within about 5 seconds, Dead Fish goes from wanting to kill as many Federation soldiers as she can to being willing to surrender. When analysed, it makes sense that she would be willing to stand down to save her race and to ensure that Odo joins the Great Link, but it happens so rapidly that it gives me mental whiplash. Linking is a powerful connection, but it would have been more palatable for us monoforms viewing the show if the link with Odo had taken several minutes. The entire episode was so rushed that they probably couldn't allow time for that, but it's disappointing that DS9's primary story arc is concluded so swiftly.
Issue number 3: Stock footage
This is a minor complaint, but I can't nitpick the finale and not address it. This is the final epic battle of the Dominion War, the greatest conflict in the Alpha Quadrant's history. I know the reason why they were forced into using stock footage, and at least they put most of it together in a single minute-long clump, but it does cheapen the experience a little.
Issue number 4: Where's Jadzia?
Once again, I know the behind the scenes reason why Jadzia wasn't included in the montage, but her absence is noticeable. She was a main character in the show for 6 years, she was Sisko's best friend and Worf's wife, so it would have been nice if somebody had remembered her.
Issue number 5: "An entire universe set in flames"
I know that some men just wanting to watch the world burn is a common trope in genre storytelling, but did the resolution to the Pah-wraith arc really have to be so cheesy? The Pah-wraiths don't seem to have a purpose other than to be evil and want to kill everyone, and their conflict with the Prophets has no depth to it. It's a black and white tale of a race of evil supernatural beings that hate everything, and a race of friendly supernatural beings that want to stop them. When the Prophets were introduced, they were presented as a truly alien race that allowed Star Trek to explore some harder sci-fi material than normal, as well as the human ability to dwell on past suffering. It wasn't high art, but it was trying to do something more than your standard space opera. It's a pity it all descended into this madness.
Adding insult to injury, the final confrontation between Sisko and Dukat is just lame. Firstly, Sisko's reason for going to the Fire Caves is because his spidey-sense tingled. When he gets there, Dukat magics him up a little while gloating, then they both fall into a fiery cavern. So Sisko's great trial was to lunge at a guy? Couldn't the Prophets have just sent Sisko the message to burn that book 4 years ago? This is an anticlimactic, nonsensical end to a story that had a lot of potential, but which didn't develop properly.
At least they didn't use stock footage, I suppose.
So, with all that crap in the episode, why give it four stars? Because of this stuff...
Plaudit number 1: An entire Cardassia set in flames
I love the entire Cardassian revolution arc, and while this episode may have been rushed, it hit pretty much all the right notes on that front. The conflict between the Dominion and the Cardassians in this final arc was really well executed, culminating here. The Dominion neglected their Cardassian subjects, so Damar rebelled. The Dominion used force to crush the rebellion, so Damar organised a popular revolt. The outraged Dominion attempt to impose order through a show of strength, so they destroy an entire city. In response, the Cardassian revolt grows and their military switches sides and joins the Federation alliance. Knowing defeat is inevitable, the Dominion resorts to exterminating as many Cardassians as they can in a petty act of vengeance.
In the end, Cardassia is in ruins, and we can't help but sympathise for the species that has been a thorn in the Federation's side since the beginning of the show. It also brings the show full-circle by bringing Cardassia to ruins in the same way Bajor was in Emissary
. DS9 may have lost sight of some elements from the first season, such as Bajor joining the Federation, but the sight of Cardassia in ruins shows that DS9 didn't completely lose track of its roots.
I even kinda like the controversial decision to kill Damar because it elevates him to the status of a mythic figure. Revolutionaries that go on to govern their countries after the the fighting is over often lose their lustre in the eyes of the people. Damar will go down in history as the legend that freed Cardassia, a symbol of Cardassian independence more than a person in his own right. Maybe he doesn't deserve that fate, but the same can be said of many revered national heroes. Damar has become the Cardassian Li Nalas.
Plaudit number 2: Garak finally meets Weyoun
And kills him. They're DS9's two most colourful characters, the two finally meeting is something fans wanted for a long time. Their only scene together may have been brief, but the hatred visible in Garak's eyes as he pulls the trigger is worth a thousands words. Also worthy of note is Garak's final scene where he gets in the last word on the Cardassian people and condemns their arrogance and opportunism. That character has gone on an interesting journey, and ending his exile on a ruined Cardassia is a fitting, bittersweet ending to his character arc.
Plaudit number 3: Odo joins the Link
Odo's decision to join the Great Link was the right way for him to go. Odo is DS9's outsider character, following in the footsteps of Spock and Data. But he is more than that; he is also our judge. He was sent out by the Founders to learn about other races and provide them with new perspectives, and to complete that role he must join the Link and share his experiences. Over the course of the show, Odo has become acquainted with our virtues and our failings, and now it's time for him to return home and see to it that we get a fair hearing.
This leads to some great scenes, particularly Odo and Quark's final confrontation. I think that was a perfect way to end their rivalry; not actually ending it. As much fun as it is to watch characters and relationships change (O'Brien and Bashir come to mind), it's also fun to know that some relationships will never change, at least not on the surface. Odo's final scene is also a good one, I particularly liked the moment when he asked Kira to tell everyone that he'll miss them (including Quark) because he was too reserved to say so to their faces. Then he walks off in a tuxedo and saves his species.
Plaudit number 4: Sisko joins the Prophets
I don't like the way it actually happened, but I do like the idea of Sisko joining the Prophets, it just feels right somehow. His faith in the Prophets has been slowly growing throughout the series to the point where he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for them. Personally, I prefer to think that Sisko is trapped in the Celestial Temple for eternity and that is the penance and great sorrow he was warned about, but the ending is open enough for fans to also imagine that he will return one day should they wish to do so. (Yes, I know he returns in the novels, but I don't read those.)
Plaudit number 5: The Minstrel Boy
It's a small thing, but the fact that O'Brien's montage is to the tune of The Minstrel Boy is a nice nod back The Wounded
, which was the first proper O'Brien episode. And while the montage sequence itself is kinda cheesy, if any Star Trek show earned the right to have such a sequence, it's DS9.
Plaudit number 6: Nog gets promoted
Another small moment, but it was a nice way to cap off Nog's journey. He started out as a petty thief and ended up as a lieutenant and war veteran. It's also a nice nod to the impact that Sisko had on all these people's lives, because Nog wouldn't be where he is today without Sisko's faith in him.
Plaudit number 7: The final five minutes
The final five minutes are just about perfect. It starts with Nog's promotion, which then moves on to Kira handling Sisko's baseball as she takes command of the space station. Bashir and Ezri plan to continue the traditions of Bashir and O'Brien, but it also signals a new era for those remaining on DS9. Then Kira chews out Quark for a bit, just like she did at the end of Emissary
. Quark gets the final line of the series, which just works somehow. Then there's the final shot of the young man staring out a window, waiting for his father to return home. As the lone horn plays, we're forcibly dragged away from the station we have come to love, until it is but a dot in the starlight.
Plaudit number 8: It's an ending
All Good Things
is a great finale for TNG, and it works well for the type of show TNG was, but there's nothing really final about it. DS9 is a semi-serialised show with a large cast of recurring characters, and it needed a definitive ending, which is what What You Leave Behind
delivered. This is a concrete final adventure for this crew. The war is over, many of the characters are dead, and many more have moved on to new things. Life will go on on DS9, but it wont be the same as it was before.
It's also the reason why WYLB
is such a difficult episode to watch for a Niner like me. DS9 wasn't just a place, it was a time, and this episode reminds me that that time is over. We can rewatch it and enjoy the journey all over again, but there will never be more. I'm glad that DS9 ended on its own terms and that didn't it attempt to continue ad infinitum. But I'm also sad that it's over, and that bittersweet sentiment is something that What You Leave Behind
captures very well. For all its problems, the episode hits the right emotional notes when it needs to, and it serves as a worthy finale to a brilliant yet flawed series.
Wormhole in Peril: 10