Monday, 28 July 2014

I Suppose You Want the Office? - Musings on the Major

I'm now up to the middle of season four of Deep Space Nine and I'm finding an enhanced appreciation of everyone's favourite Bajoran major.

Saturday was Nana Visitor's birthday (yes, we're 48 hours behind) and apt to think of how much happened to her character, Major Kira Nerys, by this half-way point in the show and just what she still had to come before What You Leave Behind.

That angry opening exchange between the major and Sisko in Emissary is probably one of the strongest and most memorable introductions in Star Trek as a whole and placed Kira in a very dominant position from day one. We weren't going to mess with her; no way; uh uh and it was going to be a turbulent relationship a far field away from that of either Kirk and Spock or Picard and Riker.

Nerys is the strongest - and absolutely the most confrontational - female character ever to grace the franchise which is probably why I think she's a truly superb addition and it's watching her back as I did the other day in Return to Grace that nailed home the fact I had to write something about her. 

I could go on about some form of Bajoran religious musings that she encountered through the show or perhaps we could debate the change of hairstyles and whether it was sensible to go for the severe military look after the pilot and then make her more feminine in season four; or what about uniforms and if it was a good thought to stick a military officer in heels after three years? And who wasn't giving the thumbs up when Kira gained a Starfleet rank and uniform in the final arc of season seven?

I looked back over the seasons and tried to look for that quirky little thing that makes the character. Perhaps not quite the human virus-catcher that Harry Kim was per se but I realised that with Kira taking it into "quirky thing" territory was doing a disservice to the character and to Nana Visitor herself.  God knows that if you need her off you'd be having a short conversation with the wrong end of a phaser. 

Nerys was able to hold her ground and give as good as she got from the start and she was never one to avoid giving an opinion. Tact was less than forthcoming on many occasions especially during the first couple of years and most definitely where Kai Winn was concerned and wherever she believed she was in the right - just check out Past Prologue and Progress for a couple of examples of that - she's not afraid to disagree with anyone. Also refer to The Collaborator to see how capable Nerys becomes as a match the devious Kai - it's what they don't say here that is the best bit of the conversation.

Indeed, the Kai was one of the two thorns in her side but while her opinion of the religious leader never altered, her relationship with Gul Dukat went through a heck of a lot of permutations over time. That's where Return to Grace got me y'see.

Watching that episode reminds you of the journey that Kira explores from the pilot, through to  Duet, into Necessary Evil then through episodes such as Second Skin, leading us to this point in the show. With the Klingons withdrawing from the Khitomer Accords, the Cardassians become uneasy allies in The Way of the Warrior and along with a uniform change, Kira's attitude does seem to soften somewhat. The discovery of Dukat's half-Bajoran daughter Torah Ziyal (Indiscretion) helps to draw the pair closer in mutual admiration only after he accepts her rather than attempting to murder her. Ziyal and her father's return later in the season readdresses that relationship with the junior Dukat very much the fulcrum tying together not just two worlds but the two characters. 

He's the person she loves to hate, representing everything she despises in the Cardassian people but yet there is something that draws them together. They find each other fascinating,  holding personality aspects that each is loathe to admire. But while that is true,  Kira still remains true to her culture even though she is swayed to other points of view,  her background always anchors her -  the situation in Sanctuary for instance shows where her beliefs and the needs of a displaced society comes into conflict. 

Return to Grace is almost exactly halfway through the whole series and more layers of Kira are left to unpeel beyond here most importantly following Dukat's choice to side with the Dominion in season five's By Inferno's Light and Ziyal's death in the excellent Sacrifice of Angels

For someone who was so untrusting and held such a deep set hatred of Cardassians, Nerys is more than capable of offering an olive branch and giving a chance when she wants but whatever path she chooses seems to have its fair share of incident along the way. Maybe I should have set her down as Star Trek's most outwardly emotional character as well seeing as how she takes a fair many things personally. The first season's Duet still marks out one of her finest moments/stories and placed her very highly among my favourite characters. Visitor stands her ground ably against Harris Yulin's Marritza as we get to see her confront the emotions she has buried following the Occupation. It's one of the show's most powerful episodes if you've not seen it.

Of course Kira is the onscreen, ever-present reminder that Bajor is only a short distance away - she is the voice of the local people, the guide to the area and the ways of life. A liaison she might be to begin with but perhaps "mediator" would be more apt as she developed. By season seven Kira is negotiating with Romulans during the Dominion War which is a far cry from her opening discourse with Sisko or even Bashir and his "frontier medicine". Had those talks been staged at that point in the series I wouldn't have bet against the odd Romulan taking a walk outside the docking ring minus a space suit.

But what is my point here? OK so we know that Sisko, until he grew a beard and shaved his head, was one of the most difficult characters for the writers to explore. Kira on the other hand get a lot of development (and the odd mirror universe moment), driving her character into dealings with religion, war, love, the balancing of duty and loyalty but crucially at no point does she try and fit in. Look at many other characters in Star Trek (those non-human) and how many want to be "more" human or find their comfort zone within the crew? I'm sure you can think of several just off the top of your head. Worf is a good example too and with his introduction to Deep Space Nine there's a good mix of him, as one trying to fit, Odo who is the observer of the human condition and then Kira who doesn't want to fit. 

Maybe that is the reason she works so well within this dynamic cast - Kira wants to be different and remain a true Bajoran - pulling on a Starfleet uniform isn't her idea of a good choice but she does it because it will ultimately help win the war as she leads a Cardassian freedom fighter group in the biggest career twist Star Trek ever dreamt up.

To be fair Visitor had a wide scope with the major from Bajor aside from the changes we mentioned earlier. What about acting as surrogate for Keiko's baby or getting to play a Russian secret agent? Just a couple that immediately stick in the mind and are worth a flick back thorough the mid-seasons just to catch again.

Through all that fighting and anger, there was the chance for a little romancing but I never saw her as the marrying type if I'm honest. As with most Star Trek loves, Kira didn't have the best of luck - her first boyfriend died (less said about Bareil the better), she split up with the only one that survived (Shakaar) and then watched Odo go back to the Great Link. She was better off with a phaser in hand or a Cardassian to argue with by far.

Romancing did mean that had  Visitor a lot more to do than be the tough first officer and it can be refreshing to watch those opening - and unrehearsed - scenes from Emissary then compare them to the more rounded, experienced and life-aware Kira. No more is she just the terrorist and in coming back to Return to Grace, this is the tipping point for Kira in that she chooses to care for Dukat's half-Bajoran daughter while he goes off to blow up Klingons in his newly acquired Bird-of-Prey. It's the first time Kira actually puts herself forward for a personal act of kindness. Previously she's only ever done anything begrudgingly (take her opinion on time off in Defiant) or unless there's been an extensive argument that's forced her into a very, very tight corner (pick almost any Kira episode for this one but I'd head for Destiny for starters).

Behind it all though, Visitor makes her real and also one of my favourite ever Star Trek characters from any series. She wasn't playing to a low cut cleavage or a provocative costume but relied on good, solid acting ability and some great storylines both to this mid-point of the fourth year and beyond. On the flipside, consider the development still to come from here - Children of Time, Wrongs Darker than Death and NightHis Way, that final ten episode arc - all key threads for Kira who was blatantly a writers' favourite even if the Bajoran religious stories weren't a favourite of the fans.

So we wish Nana Visitor a belated birthday. Maybe next year we'll actually manage it on the day.

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