I think that Battle Lines is the third episode to give us a peek behind the curtains of the wormhole. Along with Captive Pursuit, and Vortex, we start to see glimpses of galactic civilization on the other side.
Myths and Legends
From Captive Pursuit, we get a genetically engineered version of The Most Dangerous Game: hunting sentient creatures for sport.
In Vortex, aside from exploring some of Odo’s origins, we see a planetary government which punishes dissent with the death of the entire family.
In Battle Lines, two warring factions, the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, are raised from the dead to continue their fight, without any hope for eventual victory. They claim this is done as a form of punishment. This bears echoes of Tartarus, the Greek abyss used to imprison and torment the worst of the villains and gods.
Just like with Sisyphus’ boulder, the war is not something that can ever be resolved. Its an eternal torment. There is a similar battle in Norse myth where the warriors are continually resurrected to fight the next day.
The Kai and Prophecy
From this basis in myth, we get to the story. Kai Opaka, the religious leader from Bajor who named Sisko the Emissary to the Prophets, has arrived on the station. She’s obviously preoccupied with the wormhole, and shows every sign that she won’t return, even giving jewelry to O’Brien’s daughter.
When the runabout crashes, the Kai dies in the impact. It seems a pointless death, bringing to mind Tasha Yar’s passing. Just like Tasha in Yesterday’s Enterprise, the Kai is resurrected, although without the whole temporal displacement thing happening. Like the Ennis and Nol-Ennis, she becomes trapped in the world, but with a different purpose.
We see the most change in this episode from Kira. The opening has a great scene where she reads the Cardassian report on her, where she is described as a minor operator who runs errands for the resistance. We haven’t yet seen direct evidence of the Bajoran resistance, but Kira clearly sees herself defined by her actions and her perseverance during those times.
With her insecurity brought to the surface with the Cardassian report, Kira fan girls over the Kai. She’s desperately seeking her approval, perhaps to reaffirm that she’s followed the correct path.
Kira sees the struggle of her own people, mirrored in the fight between the Ennis and Nol-Ennis. It’s not a perfect mirror, as Kira is quick to point out. The Bajorans fought for life, for a future. The warring factions in this episode are locked in a battle to the death, without even the hope of death.
There’s a great line in this episode referring to technobabble. O’Brien starts spouting off that he can send a probe to find the runabout’s magnetic fields using a differential magnetometer. Without missing a beat, Dax says that she’s never heard of it before, and asks how it works. Star Trek has always made terminology up to “sound like science”. It’s the Maltese Falcon of science fiction: the terminology is very rarely important, in storytelling terms. What it enables is the ability to move the plot forward. In this case, the technobabble serves a few useful purposes:
- Shows how O’Brien can innovate as an engineer, instead of just fixing things on the station. Engineering is important on Star Trek. While he may have started as the Transporter chief on TNG, O’Brien is well within the engineering tradition.
- gives Dax and O’Brien a reason for taking so long to find the Runabout.
- allows a meta-reference to the pointlessness of technobabble.
- a way to solve the problem of getting a transporter lock through the dampening field to make a rescue
While researching the technology responsible for resurrecting the dead on the planet, Bashir wonders if it would be best to alter the programming to once again permit the release of final death. When the Ennis hear of this possibility, they instead see an actual victory, where they can finally wipe out the enemy for good. Rather than be party to this, Sisko, Kira and Bashir are transported back to the roundabout, leaving those imprisoned behind.
This is new territory for Star Trek. The suggestion of death as the answer, brought forth by a Starfleet medical officer doesn’t exactly jive with Roddenberry’s vision. Its interesting to see how while the characters explore ways to effect meaningful change on the planet, yet instead hightail it out of there. It seems unusual, but perhaps it’s an acknowledgement that sometimes, people just aren’t ready for change. As a piece of social commentary, this can bring some heavy implications to the state of international relations. This is the kind of thing people mean when they say that DS9 is a darker show than TOS or TNG.
The changes from this episode are deeper than what they first appear. While Kai Opaka was a minor character on the show, she was influential, as well as peaceful and supportive of Sisko in particular. The honeymoon’s over, sweetheart. Opaka’s replacement isn’t going to be all sugar and spice. Also of note is that Kira’s sense of awe for the Kai is not alone. Many other Bajorans would feel similarly. Now not only is the Kai gone, but she was left on the other side of the wormhole by the Federation, in the eyes of some.
Battle Lines first aired 25 April 1993. Teleplay by Richard Danus and Evan Carlos Somers. Story by Hilary J. Bader. Directed by Paul Lynch.