#DS91sttime: Season 4, Episode 14, “Return to Grace”

March 19, 2014 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

A man on multiple missions. Season 4, Ep 14, "Return to Grace"

A man on multiple missions. Season 4, Ep 14, “Return to Grace”

You know what I find myself saying often when I watch Deep Space Nine? That it’s time for Mark Alaimo to come back for another great performance. Seriously, in any talk of this show’s finest actors, Alaimo just has to be in consideration. Gul Dukat is perhaps the most nuanced of the Trek villains, even more multidimensional than the legendary Khan.

So we can forgive yet another premise that sees Kira thrust into a mission with the wayward Cardassian commander. This happens all the time, sure, but taking issue with it would be a bit like complaining about another helping of fudge in your ice cream. Alaimo raises the bar for everyone else on the show when he’s present, Nana Visitor plays off his character fantastically, and…well, isn’t that all that matters?

Kira is sent with the now-demoted Dukat to do…something. I can’t recall. Oversee a diplomatic meeting, I think. What matters more is that Dukat’s taken it on the chin for not obliterating his scandalous half-Bajoran daughter, as was revealed earlier in “Indiscretion”. He’s been given a dreary assignment on board a freighter, and despite his vessel’s innocent profile he has his men running regular battle drills. Kira might expect herself to be blamed for Dukat’s fall from grace, but if the Cardassian is begrudging, it doesn’t really show.

In fact, the attention Dukat pays Kira is much more on the opposite side of the coin. The man is clearly interested in her, to the point that he’ll even try to undermine her feelings for Shakaar. We get the impression that Dukat may have been a lady’s man at one point, but that his heart is at least centered on doing some good. Case in point is said outcast daughter. She’s now a member of his crew.

Once it’s revealed that the Klingons have taken an active role in sabotaging the diplomatic proceedings in typically muted Klingon fashion (hint: it involves a naval strike), Dukat becomes determined to do something about it. When his freighter’s diminutive weapons prove as useless as one might expect, Kira agrees to fit the ship with special guns stored in the ship’s hold. Then Dukat goes off on a mission of vengeance, and the episode turns into one of the more action-packed entries this season.

With middling or second-string characters, none of this would have worked. In DS9’s earlier seasons, it might have populated this episode with a complete unknown–maybe a freedom fighter from Kira’s past–and asked us to care about that character and what they were doing. It doesn’t here, and that shows how far the series has come. Every bit of this is a success, and that’s all due to Alaimo and Visitor’s acting chops and the characters they populate. We want to see Dukat succeed despite our distrust; we want Kira to go with him as much as we don’t. When characters tug on you in two different ways at once, it’s a sign you care about them.

One of the best investments this show made was bringing this man on board in this role, and it continues to pay dividends. What will he be up to next time? We can’t wait to see.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars.

See the rest of the review series here.

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