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January 14, 2013

Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 18 - Duet

Note: While I don't reveal everything in the main plot summary, I do talk about the ending. Some of the ending is too powerful not to talk about. Spoilers beware!

Even 70+ years later, visions of the Jewish Holocaust horrify us. To some, still living after having survived that horrible time, the reality of it still inhabits their dreams and turns them into nightmares. We keep saying that we'll never forget, but one wonders sometimes: when the last survivor of the Holocaust has finally passed on, how close will we feel to it? Will it lose some of its immediacy? We may never forget, but will we stop thinking about it?

It's questions like these that makes episodes like "Duet" all the more important and powerful. "Duet" is Deep Space Nine at its best, with nary a wrong move made. Sure, one can quibble here and there (and believe me, I will), but taken as a whole, it's a stellar episode with an important message that we should all remember. I say above that I reveal everything about the episode's plot. It doesn't matter. Episodes like this never lose their power, even if you know what happens. I have seen it countless times, and the ending still brings tears to my eyes. It's a must-see episode.

A Kobheerian transport arrives at the station, asking for medical assistance for one of its passengers, who has Kalla-Nohra Syndrome. Kira (Nana Visitor) quickly agrees, and asks permission to attend to the passenger. The only people who have Kalla-Nohra are survivors of a mining accident at the Cardassian labour camp called Gallitep, and she wishes to pay homage to one of her heroes, one of the survivors of the camp. When Kira reaches Sickbay, she's surprised to find out that the patient is actually a Cardassian, and quickly orders his arrest for war crimes.

He claims that he was only a file clerk at Gallitep, named Aamin Marritza (Harris Yulin). Sisko (Avery Brooks) is determined that he will not be handed over to the Bajoran government until his identity has been confirmed. An interrogation and subsequent investigation reveals that it is not Marritza who they are holding, but actually Gul Darhe'el, the infamous Butcher of Gallitep. Kira must not only deal with having a vicious war criminal in front of her, but also with how his story doesn't quite add up. Will Kira figure out what is going on and allow justice to take its course?

Let me get the quibbles out of the way first so I can gush. First, one of the guest actors, Tony Rizzoli, plays a Bajoran drunk who ends up playing a major role in the climax of the episode. Unfortunately, for as important as he is, he doesn't really hold up his end. He only has three scenes, but he was irritating in all three. His tone of voice and his attempted sneer when he realizes that he's imprisoned with a hated Cardassian just simply doesn't work, looking forced and unrealistic.

Secondly, while I will extol Nana Visitor's virtues for the rest of this review, she does go over the top a little bit at times. This includes the final scene, which lessens the impact just a touch. Not enough to bring the episode down, but enough to wish she had done better.

There, that's it. I can't say enough about the rest. Let's start with Harris Yulin. He was simply phenomenal in this episode. He has the perfect balance between Cardassian arrogance and the meekness of a file clerk. He turns it on and off like a faucet, and only when necessary. When he's first tossed in prison, he's just a Cardassian who wants to be released because he's being held for no reason. Then, it's confirmed that he was at Gallitep and he becomes just a little more arrogant, stating how wonderful Gul Darhe'el was as a commander. Then the insanity really starts when it's revealed that he's Gul Darhe'el.

He starts ranting and raving, poking Kira with his words, holding over her all of the crimes he's committed ("I don't think I can pay for all of them, Major. There were so many. And you can only execute me once."). Finally, there's the breakdown when the truth is revealed. He's able to change at the drop of a hat as the circumstances change, and he doesn't have a false note in any of it. When Kira says that she can't let Marritza go, he fires back, with a chilling calm: "Oh no no no no. Of course not! No, see, you're the one who's lying now, Major. It's not the truth you're interested in. All you want is vengeance."

The exchanges between Yulin and Visitor are simply wonderful. Visitor holds her own, perhaps because she has a great actor to work off of. Surprisingly, the couple of weak moments mentioned above are when she's with other people. Yulin is the catalyst for some great acting from Visitor, and my respect for her only grew with this episode. She had some tough material, and she worked it like a pro. Visitor plays Kira with a passion in this episode that had only been hinted at before ("Commander, I know what I've done isn't exactly policy, and may not even be legal. But it's right."). It's a wonder to see what a good actor can do with great material.

This is really Visitor and Yulin's episode, but the rest of the cast have some standout performances as well. Sisko and Dukat (the ever-wonderful Marc Alaimo) have some great byplay as Sisko discusses Marritza's situation with him. These two always sparkle when they're together, even when they're on a communication screen so the actors are probably not together. Alaimo has the same chemistry with Rene Auberjonois, playing Odo, when they discuss things.

In fact, it's almost better, and makes me wish there had been more Dukat/Odo scenes in the series. Odo wants to see confidential files on Gul Darhe'el and Dukat refuses to let him. The surprise on Dukat's face is palpable when Odo tells him that the man in his cell insists that he's Darhe'el, a man whose funeral Dukat attended six years ago. Even Terry Farrell gets into the act, with a great scene counseling Kira on whether the need for vengeance outweighs the need for justice. Again, the acting is simply engrossing all around.

All the acting in the world would not make this episode powerful without having a solid script and production behind it, but thankfully that's not a problem here*. The lines tingle and the camera shots perfectly capture what they're intended to. The pull-away shot at the end, as everybody gathers around the dead body is a chilling end to a wonderful episode, but even the interrogation scenes are well-done.

When Kira finally agrees to answer Darhe'el's questions, she slowly starts to walk away and then calmly sits down in the chair she's been using in her interrogation. For the most part, the director lets the actors and the words do the work, and the episode is even better because of it.

Whatever you do, you have to see this episode. It's one of Deep Space Nine's best, and deserves a look-see. It's episodes like this that will keep the Holocaust in our minds after the survivors are dead and gone.

*There have been some accusations on the Net (especially Usenet) that this episode was lifted almost word for word from Robert Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth. I have seen a lot of debate on the subject, but have seen no real conclusions. If it's true, then it's a shame that the producers did not credit Shaw in some way. Whatever the truth is, that doesn't take away from the power of this episode, especially of the actors involved. I just wanted to acknowledge that the accusation is out there.

Here is some great interaction between Yulin and Visitor.

Memorable Quote:

"What you call genocide, I call a day's work." Gul Darhe'el

5 Stars


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