If one theme can describe the early seasons of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” it is the struggle for everyone—individuals and polities—to find their place in the new order that followed the Cardassian withdrawal from Bajor. The DS9 first season’s third episode, “Past Prologue,” highlights that theme in several ways while introducing someone who will become one of the show’s most interesting and beloved characters.
The main action begins with the arrival of a small Bajoran vessel, pursued closely by a Cardassian warship. O’Brien manages to transport the craft’s pilot to the station just before the Cardassians blow it to pieces, and he requests asylum there. The man is Tahna Los (Jeffrey Nordling), a Bajoran and an old friend of Kira’s from her days in the resistance. The Cardassians insist Tahna is a member of a group called Kohn-Ma who are still dedicated to fighting the Cardassians and anyone else they believe imperils Bajor’s independence.
As these negotiations move forward, Bashir opens international contacts of a different sort when he is approached by Garak (Andrew Robinson), the station’s sole remaining Cardassian merchant. Ostensibly a tailor (a weird profession to have when matter-replicators can create any possible garment instantly), Garak is widely believed to have stayed behind after his people withdrew, to act as the eyes and ears of the Cardassian Union. Bashir is extremely excited to be consorting with a suspected foreign agent, but the rest of the crew brushes off his spy-novel fantasies.
What Are They Fighting For?
As Kira works to get amnesty for Tahna, he claims at first to have given up the fight against Cardassia. Later in the episode, he admits he is still with the Kohn-Ma and denies the Bajoran provisional government’s legitimacy. At first, the conflict brings to mind the fight between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces in Ireland after independence that would quickly lead to that nation’s brief civil war. But on closer inspection, the analogy is not a perfect fit, and it raises questions about why the Kohn-Ma even exist.
The treaty that brought Ireland independence was an incomplete victory. Ireland was to be a “free state” within the British Commonwealth, with legislators required to take an oath of allegiance to the King of England, and Britain retaining naval bases at strategic locations. Most intolerable to Irish republicans, six of the island’s 32 counties were to remain a British colony.
Some saw the treaty as a betrayal of what so many had died for in the revolution, and refused to join in the government it created. They lost the fight, and most reconciled to the partially free nation, especially after some objectionable things—like the oath, the crown, and the treaty ports—were gradually jettisoned. Others kept up the fight on and off until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
The differences in Ireland’s revolutionary vision and the results agreed to in the Anglo-Irish Treaty were significant and, for those who truly believed in the principles that led to the rebellion, they were important enough to make war among their own people a necessary evil. Compare that to the Cardassian withdrawal from Bajor, and the problem is immediately apparent: Bajor’s victory was far more complete than Ireland’s real-life peace treaty.
The Cardassians maintained no treaty ports and were completely withdrawn from Bajor’s star system. Bajor had no oath to the Cardassian Union and was no longer associated with it in any way. Even the space station built by Cardassia was left to Bajor and secured, at Bajor’s request, by the Federation. That station was even now safeguarding the windfall that had emerged in the show’s first episode: the wormhole that, with luck, would soon restore Bajor’s economy.
Doctor, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Kohn-Ma had nothing left to fight about, which makes for a pretty big plot hole. After Tahna admits to Kira that he maintains allegiance to that group, there is some vague talk of “Bajor for the Bajorans,” but that is the situation that already prevails. Meanwhile, the outbreak of terrorism drives Cardassia and the Federation to cooperate, temporarily, to stop the Kohn-Ma, an alliance of two regional powers that should be any Bajoran’s worst nightmare.
The presence of two Klingons (and frequent “Next Generation” guest stars), the Duras sisters Lursa and B’Etor (Barbara March and Gwynyth Walsh), alert Odo to more possible intrigue. As has become his habit, Odo wants to hold them without charge, and Sisko insists on Federation due process. Instead, Odo observes them, as does Garak.
The sisters meet with Tahna to sell him the final component he needs to build a massively powerful bomb. Later, they meet with Garak to offer to sell Tahna to the Cardassians, as Bashir eavesdrops nearby at Garak’s invitation. At the same time, Tahna tries to convince Kira to join the hardliners. There’s a lot of double-crossing and no one knows exactly who is on whose side.
Kira feels the ties of comradeship with Tahna and wants to join him, even though she knows there is no point. She discusses the problem with Odo, and we see the first evidence of a deep trust and friendship between the two that will spin off in interesting directions in seasons to come. For the time being, Odo talks sense into her and she listens to her brain, even as her heart still lies with the nostalgia of rebellion.
The True Villany Outs
Kira tells Sisko of Tahna’s plans and agrees to go with him as a double-agent while he makes the exchange with Lursa and B’Etor. They make the exchange, but Tahna smells a rat and takes off before Sisko can capture him and hand him over to … someone. The plot is unclear about which justice system Tahna will face.
As he hurtles away from them, holding Kira at phaser-point, he reveals his plans for the explosive (since this is what TV villains do, after all). Kira and Sisko were wrong: Tahna does not want to destroy a Cardassian ship or colony: he wants to blow up the entrance to the wormhole.
This is where the terrorist’s plot really goes off the rails. Tahna claims that the wormhole, by making Bajor a center of commerce, brings in outsiders who will inevitably seek to control them. The Cardassians tried before and, in Tahna’s view, the Federation is trying to do the same thing now. No wormhole, no outsiders, and Bajor will be truly free.
The first problem is obvious immediately: the Cardassians conquered Bajor back when it was a humble planet of no particular value. They were weak, Cardassia was strong; no more reason than that was necessary.
Another problem is the consequences. Bajor, as the first two episodes established, is a poor world stripped of its wealth by the former occupiers. The wormhole offers the best chance they have at basic self-sufficiency, let alone prosperity.
This is the equivalent, if we can dip back into our Irish independence analogy, of wanting to bring about a new potato famine to make the island so worthless the British would not want it. It’s a plan that will bring about untold suffering, and might not even work (again, the Cardassians conquered Bajor when it was poor, just as the British kept and held Ireland throughout centuries of poverty).
That alone might be chalked up to a terrorist’s fanaticism and would fit the Roddenberian worldview of war-makers as bloodthirsty and depraved. But the biggest flaw is that, as the first episode established, the wormhole is where Bajor’s gods live. Tahna’s plan is the equivalent of Christians, having just discovered that heaven has a physical location, wanting to blow it up. It is madness, and something that no Bajoran—a people we have seen so far as deeply religious—could ever contemplate.
Logical flaws aside, the plan fails because Kira acts quickly and takes back control of the ship from Tahna. They pass through the wormhole and blow the explosive in unoccupied space on the other side. Tahna is given the option of surrendering to the Federation or the Cardassians, who are following right behind them. He chooses the former.
“Past Prologue” is a good exploration of the transition from rebellion to governance, and how some people can never make the switch. Its portrayal of the continuing resistance has some considerable flaws, but the idea itself—that even in victory, some cannot find peace—is one found throughout literature.
It is played out here against a science-fiction background, but it is a deeply human conundrum. Added to the character development the episode brings it is, if not a must-see, still an episode worth watching.