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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine really grew as a series. If you try watching a first season episode back-to-back with an episode from its final year, you’ll notice a night and day difference. The show became textured with a variety of reoccurring characters just as well-developed as our main leads (more so in some cases). The show also boasted a fairly complex story arc dealing with a galaxy-sized war, mythological prophecies, and, yes, the characters themselves. When it came time to end the series, it was a herculean task. How could they wrap all this up with one episode?
Truth was they couldn’t. Instead, the series ended with a ten episode arc giving each character and plotline the right amount of closure to appease viewers. It all came to down to the two-hour “What You Leave Behind”, which not only resolved the finale arc, but also the series proper.
Captain Sisko leads a final assault against Cardassia to turn the tide of the Dominion War for good. The assault is successful as the Cardassians finally revolt against their Dominion allies. Odo beams down to the Cardassian command center and cures the dying Founder. This causes her to surrender, effectively marking the end of the war.
Later, everyone is celebrating at DS9, when Sisko gets a vision from the Prophets and heads to Bajor’s Fire Caves. He discovers Gul Dukat and Kai Winn about to release the Pah-Wraiths from their captivity. Sisko, realizing his task as Emissary was to stop this, tackles Dukat and the two of them tumble into the flames. Dukat becomes trapped with the Pah-Wraiths, but Sisko is whisked away into the wormhole where he is to live with the Prophets. Kira takes command of DS9, but many of the crew all go their separate ways.
If you were reading the above and found that none of it made any sense, that’s okay. This is how layered and somewhat complex the show became. If never got to Lost levels of complexity as there most of the episodes were standalone. However, that final string of episodes was purely about wrapping up the show. And, what I wrote above only scratches the surface (seriously – there are something like 20 guest characters featured in the episode).
But how is the episode? Is it a prime example of what a series finale should be? Well…yes and no. I will say that it does resolve mostly everything from the show. So, that’s good. Some of it, however, comes off a little forced (Odo curing the Founder and thereby ending the war is a bit tough to swallow considering how cutthroat the Founders previously have been), and some of the character goodbyes are bit overly sentimental for their own good (Odo and Kira, I’m looking at you). But considering this was a story ten episodes in the making, I am willing to look beyond that.
The structure in the episode was a bit rough as well. The first half is all about the war, then the second half we go into a completely different story. Granted, the Pah-Wraith subplot was building over the previous episodes, but by the time it comes to the forefront, it feels just so disconnected to everything else. That said, this was brilliant how they tied it to Sisko’s role as emissary (a role the series rarely delved into), and thereby the pilot. By turning Sisko into a Christ-like figure and Dukat (his longtime nemesis) into an antichrist, the writers were really able to play out an end-of-times scenario.
The funny thing about this is that none of it was planned in the long-run and was made up on the fly. This is why DS9 was so brilliant – the writers used the show’s history to build and twist something that came before or tied previously unrelated things together under one nice bow. I know some people do not like it when shows do that, but when it works, it works well. Deep Space Nine is an example of that.
All that said, the only plot-point issue I have with the episode (and this is nitpicky) is that the episode never acknowledges the original premise of the series: Starfleet helping Bajor to recover so they can join the Federation. Given everything else in the series the writers have done, I am shocked this wasn’t referenced at least once! Like I said, nitpicky.
As an episode itself, “What You Leave Behind” works as a series finale. It resolves all most of the storylines, gives every character their due and sets them on new journeys, and leaves the viewer was a sense of satisfaction and payoff for watching for seven years. If you try to watch this episode by itself after having never gotten into the show previously, good luck. You’ll be lost.