"Tacking into the Wind" 
Season Seven, Episode 22
Written by Ronald D Moore
Directed by Mike Vejar
Music by David Bell
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Nicole deBoer as Lt Ezri Dax
Michael Dorn as Lt Cmdr Worf
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Colm Meaney as Chief O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Alexander Siddig as Dr Bashir
Nana Visitor as Colonel Kira Nerys  

Guest Stars:
Andrew J Robinson as Garak
Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun
Casey Biggs as Damar
J.G. Hertzler as Martok
Robert O'Reilly as Gowron
John Vickery as Gul Rusot
Salome Jens as Female Changeling
Kitty Swink as Luaran
J. Paul Boehmer as Vorner

"The Klingon Empire is dying. And I think it deserves to die."
-- Ezri

At the Headquarters of the Cardassian Liberation Front, Kira is supervising and overseeing all operations, sharing her knowledge and experience regarding Resistance tactics. Although Damar has put past animosity behind him and is fully co-operating with his one-time adversary, his subordinate Gul Rusot is less willing to take orders from a former Bajoran terrorist and goes out of his way to make life difficult for Kira. Odo, meantime, returns from a mission and appears visibly strained. As Odo rests in privacy, Garak walks in and is horrified to see the true extent of Odo's condition -- the Constable is but a withered, dessicated shell of his former self. Evidently using his shape-shifting abilities accelerates the progress of the disease but Odo explains that he doesn't want Kira knowing about his true state. He doesn't want her pity.

Back on DS9, Bashir continues to work tirelessly to find a cure to the Section 31 virus, but he is making absolutely no head-way. Sisko, meanwhile, confronts Chancellor Gowron, whose reckless tactical blunders have resulted in disastrous defeats, for which Gowron blames Martok. Martok returns to the station, having been severely injured during the last attack. Sisko consults with Worf, who explains that Gowron's intent is to disgrace Martok in the eyes of the Empire, to prevent him from becoming a potential political rival. But Gowron's self-serving motives are a grave threat to the entire Quadrant, particularly given that the Klingon ships are the only line of defence from the Breen super-weapon. "Something has to be done," Sisko tells Worf urging him to "do whatever it takes".

Back at the rebel headquarters, Kira hatches a daring plot to appropriate one of the Breen energy dissipating weapons, which are now being installed aboard all Jem'Hadar warships. If they could provide the Federation with one of the weapons, that would enable them to develop a counter-measure. She, Garak, Odo, Damar and Rusot prepare to head off on the mission to infiltrate the Dominion shipyards and board a Jem'Hadar fighter. Kira, however, has another altercation with Rusot, who believes that her real aim is not to aid the Cardassians, but to reap revenge for the Occupation. Although Kira gains the upper hand, she knows only too well that Rusot is a problem and one that is escalating. Garak's advice is simple: "Kill him. Before he kills you." As the team travel into Dominion space, Damar picks up a shocking message -- as a punishment for betraying the Dominion, his wife and children have been executed. In a state of shock, he expresses his utter contempt of a society that permits the execution of innocent women and children. "What kind of people give those orders?" Kira's response betrays the horrors she endured during the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor: "Yeah, Damar, what kind of people give those orders?"

Aboard DS9, Worf encourages the recovering Martok to rise up and challenge Gowron, whose dishonourable motives are leading the entire Quadrant to bitter defeat. Martok refuses, having sworn an oath of allegiance to Gowron and he is not willing to break it. Worf confers with Ezri, who gives him a sobering wake-up call: the Klingon Empire is dying. She claims that the Empire has been willing to accept corrupt leadership and that this will be the Empire's downfall. "Worf, you're the most honourable, decent man I know. And if you're willing to tolerate men like Gowron, then what hope is there for the Empire?" Bashir, meanwhile, concedes defeat -- he is unable to find a cure to Odo's disease. O'Brien suggests they inform Starfleet Medical that they have found a cure, however. In doing so, Section 31 would most definitely send an operative to sabotage their work. That would give them their chance to pounce on the nefarious Section 31 and force them to provide the cure.

Damar, Garak and Rusot board the Dominion shipyards, with Kira masquerading as a prisoner. They take her to the bridge, where Odo enters, disguised as the Founder. The distraction enables Garak to open fire and kill the bridge officers. They prepare to depart, but learn that the installation of the Breen weapon is not complete. Kira refuses to leave without the weapon, so they must sit tight on the bridge and pray that no one catches onto them. Back on the station, Worf finally challenges Gowron's leadership and in the fierce battle that follows Worf slays Gowron. Worf hands leadership of the Empire to Martok, whose honour and integrity will bring about a new era of glory for their people.

On the Jem'Hadar warship, Odo's condition takes a turn for the worse and Rusot panics, turning on Kira. Garak trains his phaser on Rusot, who urges Damar to kill both of them. It's a moment of true reckoning for Damar, who is forced to kill his friend Rusot, knowing full well that "his Cardassia is gone and it won't be coming back". With installation of the Breen weapon complete, they head home, their mission a success. But the victory is small comfort for Kira, who tenderly cradles the dying Odo in her arms...

If you read my last review, you'll be aware that I was somewhat underwhelmed by When it Rains.... Although not a bad episode per se, it played out surprisingly flat, no doubt due to its own notably sub-par execution. Although it introduced a number of new plot developments, it never gave us a whole lot of reason to care about them and, at the same time, in terms of pace, it effectively ground the entire arc to an abrupt halt.

So, I didn't quite know what to expect from Tacking into the Wind. From the offset, it had two handicaps: for a start, its set-up clearly wasn't much to write home about and secondly, it marked a return to fore for "Ye Olde Klingon Political Saga" which, due to chronic over-use over the years, has become about as antiquated as the Rolling Stones.

But, against all expectations, Tacking into the Wind was not only a hit, it was an extraordinarily big hit; an instant and absolute classic. DS9's Final Chapter hits the warp ten threshold with this exhilarating, provocative and altogether superlative examination of one's patriotic duty to fight to uphold one's principles and ideologies in the face of adversity and intrinsic corruption. Beautifully-executed on every level, Tacking into the Wind embodies DS9 at its most tantalising -- immensely rich, sophisticated, multi-layered and deeply riveting. It's a breath-taking hour, unquestionably the finest instalment of the Final Chapter and one of DS9's most powerful, rewarding episodes to boot. As far as I'm concerned, it's damn-near perfect. So, in other words, I rather liked it! :-)

Both the main storylines in Tacking... are bound by a common theme, a theme that has great bearing throughout the Final Chapter. That theme is the acknowledgement that, in order to survive, society must be willing to change, to assess and, if need be, re-evaluate its very basis and make the appropriate shifts. It's what life is about, on an individual level and on a larger-scale, collective level. In times of trouble, it may well be that the institutions and ideologies of old are no longer applicable -- what may have worked in the past is now the catalyst of one's own impending annihilation. It's a bold theme and it's a relevant one; one that addresses issues that have been a long time coming.

On one hand, we have the Cardassians, a race that have, for centuries, lived for conquest. It was this very thirst for conquest that drove them straight into the arms of the Dominion when they signed a treaty with them two years ago. With the Dominion's might, Cardassia would rule the entire Alpha Quadrant. At least, that was the plan. The deal soured, however, when "the conquerors became the conquered". Clearly, the "old ways" have led Cardassia up against a brick wall of its own making. And if the Cardassian people are to survive, they must seek a new way. That's the realisation that Damar makes in this episode.

I don't know if I can begin to describe how amazing the metamorphosis this character has undergone in the past four episodes alone actually is. As leader of Cardassia, Damar was nothing more than a weak figure-head, a puppet whose strings were operated with great precision by Weyoun and the Dominion. As a person, he was a man in deep denial about the true extent of his world's predicament, a man who sought refuge in a bottle of kanar rather than face up to the dire problems that were so clearly staring him in the face. In Strange Bedfellows, he finally reached that crucial point of make or break. Either the ever-worsening state of affairs was finally going to push him over the edge or else provide one final wake-up call that would make him sit up and take action. Damar opted for the latter and, in doing so -- in taking a definitive stand against the Dominion -- he unwittingly became Cardassia's "Renaissance man". His journey from drunken Dominion puppet to heroic saviour of his people has been magnificently handled by the writers, making for exceptionally compelling viewing. Not only has it been one of the true highlights of DS9's final season, but perhaps one of the show's best-handled and most rewarding developments, period.

Tacking... documents another step in this fascinating tale of redemption. The main plot involves a mission to infiltrate a Jem'Hadar ship to get hold of one of the Breen's deadly energy-dissipators. But it's a journey of a more personal -- and painful -- nature for Damar. En route to their rendezvous, Damar gets word that the Dominion have located and executed his wife and son. "The casual brutality of it, the waste of life," he mumurs, still reeling from the shock. "What kind of state tolerates the murder of innocent women and children? What kind of people give those orders?"

Kira can't help herself. "Yeah, Damar, what kind of people give those orders?!" she responds, immediately regretting her words. The truth is, for the better part of her life, she had to live in a world under the brutal occupation of the Cardassian military. During their sixty year reign of terror, the Cardassians killed tens of millions of Bajorans -- including innocent women and children. At first it looks as though Damar is going to physically attack Kira, but as her words sink in, he simply walks away. Although Kira regrets her sharp rebuttal, Garak commends her, for it was exactly the splash of cold water Damar needed to awaken to the reality that the Cardassia of old is gone. "If he's the man to lead a new Cardassia, if he's the man we all hope him to be, then the pain of this news made him more receptive to what you said, not less."

However, change is never easy. When a person fears change, they cling to the safe and familiar. Damar's friend and subordinate, Gul Rusot, is one such man. He can't put the past behind him, which explains why he's so intent on undermining and challenging Kira, claiming that her only reason for helping is to find an attempt to exact revenge for the Occupation. Kira has put the past behind her, which is something that Rusot is either unwilling or unable to do. Here, Rusot represents the remnants of the old ways, the old Cardassia. Kira's presence is symbolic of a new and uncertain future for Cardassia, a future which will involve leaving the past in the past and moving forward.

The tension between Rusot and Kira finally reaches an explosive climax on the bridge of the Jem'Hadar ship. As it looks as though their plan is falling apart, Rusot panics and trains his phaser on Kira, with Garak following suit and aiming his phaser at Rusot. In a truly cathartic for the character, Damar must choose once and for all, the fate of his people (as is symbolised by both Kira and Rusot). Although it's probably a given that he was going to choose Kira over Rusot, it's so well done that it nevertheless makes for absolutely superb, nail-biting drama. Damar kills Rusot and, in doing so, releases the past. "He was my friend," he says of Rusot. "But his Cardassia is dead. And it won't be coming back again."

This theme is closely paralleled by the episode's B-story, which once and for all resolves the fate of the Klingon Empire, and in doing so resolving a storyline that began some ten years earlier on The Next Generation. As we saw last week, Gowron is back on the scene and he's leading the Empire -- and by extension the entire Quadrant -- to rack and ruin, all for the sake of a petty political vendetta. He sees Martok as a potential threat to his position and he's doing everything in his power to humiliate the General by setting him up for defeat after defeat. With the Klingons currently the only line of defence between the Federation and the Dominion, the implications are grave. Sisko discusses the situation with Worf, pressing home the importance of stopping Gowron. "Something has to be done. He's risking the safety of the entire Alpha Quadrant and it has to stop." When Worf suggests he may have a way to stop Gowron, Sisko tells him in no uncertain terms to "do whatever it takes." Yikes. This surely IS a sign of the times. Sisko is all-but ordering the assassination of the Klingon Chancellor!

One of the true highlights of the episode is a fascinating conversation between Worf and Ezri -- yes, Worf and Ezri! Ezri makes Worf realise that the true threat to the Klingon Empire lies far closer to home than the Dominion. At the very heart of the Empire is a cancer of corruption, an intrinsic disease that could well be the Empire's downfall. The speech that follows is without a doubt Ezri Dax's finest moment and is so well-written that I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't include it in this review:

A great speech, which highlights the parallels between the plight of the Klingon Empire and that of Cardassia and again hammers home the underlying theme of this episode -- the ways of old no longer work; find a new way or else consign yourself to oblivion. Just as Damar took the brave steps toward the redemption of Cardassia, Worf once again finds the fate of the Empire in his hands.

This is not the first time we've seen Worf struggling to maintain the sovereignty of his people -- it happened with regularity on TNG. But Tacking into the Wind is clearly the best Klingon story Star Trek has told in years and this time we (or at least I) actually cared about the outcome. The resulting scenes didn't come as much of a surprise, but were no less riveting for it. Worf challenges Gowron to a duel in which he is victorious. He is then hailed as the new leader of the Empire, but in an admirable act of humility and honesty, he concedes that he is not the man to lead the Empire, but Martok.

This could well be the best decision Worf has ever made: Martok truly is a man of honour and integrity, not to mention a natural-born leader. In short, he was the perfect choice for the job and I've no doubt he will bring about the dawn of a new era for his people. Goodness only knows whether or not we'll ever see a return to the Klingon state of affairs in any future incarnation of Trek, but nonetheless, this is a fitting and satisfying place to leave things. We can be rest assured that the Empire is in good hands.

Although this episode focuses largely on the Cardassian and Klingon storylines, frequently looming in the background are the consequences of Section 31's vile plot to eliminate the Dominion -- specifically the terminal disease that Odo, and by extension the Founders, have been infected with. The nit-pickers in the audience will no doubt have already logged one or two unlikely conveniences -- primarily the fact that the onset of Odo's symptoms only began after Bashir informed him he was infected with the disease (if I didn't know better I might be inclined to think psychosomatic!) and the fact that whilst the Founder has been gradually withering away for many months, it only takes Odo a couple of weeks to reach her withered state. The episode does suggest that frequent use of shape-shifting (which Odo has apparently been doing a lot of since reaching Cardassia) accelerates the progress of the disease, but I'm not sure I entirely buy that excuse. That would tend to suggest that Odo has done more shape-shifting in a matter of days than he has done the past four years (which is how long he's been infected).

Ohhh, but who cares? I certainly don't, not when the material is as good as this. In the last episode I felt Odo's predicament was curiously devoid of pathos, but this week more than makes up for that. Setting all nit-picking firmly aside, the sight of Odo crumbling to dust was as shocking as it was heart-wrenching, no doubt in large part due to the ever-excellent Rene Auberjonois's keenly-felt performance. Perhaps the high point of the episode -- and in an episode this good, that is saying something -- is the way it handles Odo and Kira's relationship. Odo doesn't want Kira to know about his true condition, for fear of her pity. This is Odo through and through; even in such grave circumstances he cannot bear to let any of his true vulnerability leak through his "tough guy" facade.

The real surprise came from the other side of the court; when Garak approaches Kira with the truth about Odo's state, it turns out that she has known all along. "I love him, Garak, do you really think I wouldn't know?" So why hasn't she let on? The answer provides one of the most moving moments of DS9 in recent memory: "He wants to put up a brave front and protect me from the truth. Well, fine. If that's what makes this easier for him, if that gives him one last shred of dignity to hold onto, then I'll go on ignoring what's happening to him until the very end." Garak's astonished expression was a mirror of my own.

In my review of Chimera a while back, I wrote about how much Kira has grown as a person over the past few years and how her relationship with Odo has enabled her to display an emotional maturity that, just a couple of years ago, she was clearly lacking. Although the Odo/Kira relationship is one that has divided many fans, I have to admit that I had never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that pairing off these two characters would result in such a wonderfully rich, deep and moving relationship. So rarely does television depict relationships that are based on such true, unconditional love and thereby convey such a remarkably sincere and genuine intensity of emotion.

In light of this, it's probably no wonder the episode's closing scene is as powerful and moving as it is. With Odo unable to hold his form, he apologises to Kira for hiding the truth from her. But there are no recriminations and no histrionics -- which demonstrates precisely why their relationship differs so greatly from usual TV fare. Instead the dying changeling merely asks Kira to stay with him and the episode closes with a genuinely heart-breaking shot of Kira cradling him in her arms. It doesn't matter how many times I've watched the episode, but that final image never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Geez, I'm even getting misty-eyed just thinking about it. Supremely moving stuff.

Well, If I might abruptly shift gear, Tacking... also sees Bashir desperately trying to come up with a cure to Section 31's virus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this avenue proves fruitless, necessitating a rather more nefarious approach. O'Brien suggests that if they inform Starfleet that they have found a cure to the disease, Section 31 would most likely send an operative to destroy the cure to eliminate the possibility of the Founders getting hold of it. And when that operative arrives, Bashir and O'Brien will be ready to wring some information out of them. I have to say, I like it! Like last week, this is little more than set-up; unlike last week it was nicely executed and avoided endless scenes of dull exposition. So no real problems here (alas, those are being saved up for next week…).

Will you listen to me, I've spent most of this review analysing the plot and characters, without saying much about the way in which they are executed and brought to life. The truth is, it doesn't really matter how good an idea is; for if the execution and presentation aren't up to scratch, it simply won't work. When an author writes a book, he and he alone is responsible for the entire process, from inception to execution. But television is a different ball game altogether, it requires collaboration and the product passes from person to person in the translation from script to screen. I think last week's episode, When it Rains... demonstrated, for me anyway, that it only takes one or two of those people to slip up to have a detrimental affect on the overall product. When it Rains... was an episode packed with fresh and interesting ideas, but somewhere along the production line became somewhat shambolic and disjointed. For one, the scripting was haphazard, lacking much in the way of dramatic structure. Sadly, those problems were magnified by the episode's uninspired and lacklustre directing and a rather horrible musical score that only confounded things.

Happily, I can say that Tacking... is the other side of the coin in this respect. Everyone involved, from the writers and director, to the actors and composer have done an absolutely superb job. And it shows. Everything came together seamlessly to make a superlative hour of television. Of course, it was the writer, Ron Moore, who set the ball rolling and in doing so did an absolutely, irrefutably outstanding job. Tacking into the Wind is the last in a long line of classic DS9 episodes from the pen of Mister Moore (in fact, I daresay Moore has more classic episodes of Star Trek to his credit than any other writer in the franchise's entire 35 year history). The sheer depth and magnitude of this episode's themes and characterisation render this nothing short of a masterpiece. He masterfully crafts together the various threads and elements of the past few episodes and uses them to build up to an explosive, marvellously dramatic climax. If, as many have suggested, much of the Final Chapter up until now has been merely foreplay, then rest assured, this is your orgasm! :-)

Equally impressive is Mike Vejar's directing, which is nothing short of phenomenal. Could this man be the most talented director Star Trek has ever employed? Right now, based on this evidence alone, I'm thinking so. From the stunning opening shot of an exploding Jem'Hadar ship (which actually turns out to be a viewscreen visual) to the heart-wrenching image of Odo and Kira that closes the show, Tacking into the Wind is a sumptuous visual feast and one of those rare episodes that is truly cinematic in scope. Between his imaginative and bold camera work and the effortless sense of flow, this could well be Vejar's best work on the series. Indeed, this is one instance where I'd even go so far as to say the directing was more than just directing -- it was art in and of itself.

The episode also features some magnificent work on the acting front, though given the calibre of the show's extended cast, that comes as no great surprise. For my money's worth, Nana Visitor stole the show with her remarkable performance, at once balancing Kira's fiery strength and determination with her tenderness and compassion for the man she loves. It's precisely this balance that underlines just how much Kira has grown as a character over the years. Put simply, she's simply a joy to watch. As I mentioned earlier, Rene Auberjonois also does a great job, doing something he's excelled at throughout DS9's run -- so effectively conveying Odo's pain that we cannot help but feel it ourselves. But whilst Visitor and Auberjonois scoop the acting honours, they are given sterling support by just about everyone else involved and special mentions must go to J.G. Hertzler, Avery Brooks, Casey Biggs and John Vickery as the ill-fated Rusot.

Miscellaneous comments:

And that's a wrap, folks. Tacking into the Wind is classic DS9 in every respect. I don't think there's much else I can say other than…

Rating: 10

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