Editor’s note: This 3-part blog series on war crime, with special attention to the representation of Nazis in prime-time American TV, was written before the events in August in Charlottesville, VA and are not reflective or responsive of contemporary events involving terror white supremacy, neo-Naziism groups, etc. As this 3-part blog series focuses on the fictional representations of war criminals in American television, thoughtful discussions are absolutely welcome on topic. I understand that these topics have become more relevant in current politics; however let me be clear about where I stand on this issue. I absolutely denounce racism and bigotry of all kinds, and consider this a safe place for open and thoughtful discussion. Any comments encouraging racism, white supremacy, anti-semitism, anti-social behaviour and violence will not be tolerated; comments will be reported and removed.
This blog entry is part three of three: the purpose of which is to explore how survivors of war crimes are treated in various pointss of genre television. The other two blogs focus on the famous 1961 episode ‘Death’s Dead Revisited (DHR)’ from the anthology science fiction programme in the The Twilight Zone. Another entry will focus on Magnum P.I. 1981 episode ‘Never Again… Never Again (NANA)’. Click here if you missed the blog on ‘DHR‘ and here if you missed ‘NANA‘.
This entry will explore a 1993 episode of ‘Duet’, from the first series of Deep Space Nine (also referred to here as DS9). As always, spoilers are included.
This particular episode does require background discussion on DS9. If you are intimately familiar with DS9, feel free to skip to the suggested post, but if you’re unfamiliar with the programme or could use a refresher (or just want to understand more about the angle I’m approaching DS9), please grab a cup of tea and some biscuits, read the background discussion blog first at the link above, and then return here for the discussion on the episode ‘Duet’.
Ready for ‘Duet’? Set the kettle, get another cup of tea and settle in, it’s time to talk war.
First, some context to the story. ‘Duet’ is clearly inspired by the plot of Robert Shaw’s 1967 novel/ stage play/1975 film ‘The Man in the Glass Booth‘: Shaw’s story tells of a man accused of being a Nazi war criminal. The play is inspired by the factual events surrounding the kidnap and the trial of the German Nazi SS Oversturmbannführer, Adolf Eichmann, a major organiser of the Holocaust, and the question of whether he is Arthur Goldman, a Jewish Nazi death camp survivor.
As discussed in the first blog in this series on the treatment of war criminals in fictional television, the Eichmann trial also inspired the episode ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ in The Twilight Zone (and had a brief mention and similar plot in Magnum P.I.’s ‘NANA’). Kidnapped by the Israeli Secret Service, Goldman is extradited from Manhattan to Israel for trial. The title of the play, ‘Man in the Glass Booth’ references the fact that Goldman is placed in a bullet-proof glass box during the trial as he gives his testimony. The film adaptation, stars Maximillian Schell and was nominated for several awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor.
In ‘Duet’, the setting is far more intimate: the kangaroo court is absent, the politicians kept largely at bay – in fact, the politicians (in this case, Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Dukat (Marc Alaimo) are never in the same room during the interrogations. It could be argued that their discussions have so little bearing on the dramatic action of the story that they could have been deleted all together with little to no real impact on the story itself.
But the core of Shaw’s story – an interrogator versus an accused war criminal in a cell – remains. One of, if not the best episode of DS9, and arguably one of the best episodes of any Star Trek television ever, ‘Duet’ lives up to the title: focusing on an interrogation and verbal sparring — a dance– between a former soldier (as interrogator) and an accused war criminal. There are no typical ‘sci-fi’ events with alien incursions or an unknown cosmic event; no emergency situations that showcase how clever or capable the Starfleet characters are. If it weren’t for the fact that through prosthetics and costume, the characters intentionally look a bit alien, this could quite easily be an adaptation of Shaw’s play or a one-act play.
This 45-minute episode is what one might call a ‘bottle‘ episode: there are few other sets utilised, there are only a handful of characters who appear. The general mis-en-scene for this episode complies to DS9‘s general gothic aesthetic: dark lighting, muted grey tones, and generally on the colder scales for lighting. One key way this episode is aesthetically different from other DS9 episodes is that it is generally visually quiet and static: the station is quite often a busy and somewhat loud station with a lot going on in the background – something that certainly distances itself from the other Trek series.
Minimalism is highly effective within this episode, and the pace of the show is dependent entirely upon the intensity of the interrogation sequences. For the majority of the episode, it is just about a soldier trying to understand the identity and truth about the man who is locked in the booth in front of her. Actress Nana Visitor as Kira and actor Harris Yulin as the accused, Marritza, are expected to hold the attention of the audience for the the majority of the episode – to both continue to force the story to simmer to a slow, rising boil without letting it blow over. And they do. Incredibly, they do. Both Visitor and Yulin give a outstanding and yet subtle performances – it would have been very easy to have over-acted in this episode, and both actors manage to give an absolutely stunning and heartbreaking performance.
The plot of ‘Duet’ is brilliant in its simplicity, consisting primarily of a verbal sparring between Kira and a man in custody, Marritza, that she believes is a war criminal. There is the question of his identity: who is this man?
How it starts: a ship passing through informs DS9 that a man on board suffers from a condition known as Kalla-Nohra Syndrome. Kira is eager to meet the man – the only people who have this condition were residents of the Gallitep labour camp during the war. Kira helped liberate the camp; believing the man to be a Bajoran war survivor, Kira discovers that the man is a Cardassian – one who must have been at Gallitep himself.
The man claims to be Aamin Marritza, a file clerk – what Magnum’s Higgins would call a ‘little fish’ during the war. Marritza’s story changes several times: he initially claims he does not have Kalla-Nohra, but a similar condition known as Pottrik’s Syndrome. A medical examination proves that this is a lie: he has Kalla-Nohra, and he was, indeed, present when the mining accident occurs at Gallitep. He then admits that he was at Gallitep, but claims he was merely a simple administrator.
Whether he claims to be a ‘little fish’ or not, Marritza was with the men who committed war atrocities – something Kira is quick to point out. This idea of the ‘little fish’ is something that is relevant both in this discussion, as well as the discussions for the next blogs on Twilight Zone and Magnum, P.I. – as these episodes often centre on the question of just how culpable are the ‘little fish’ – are they war criminals for doing what they were told, or are they, as their superiors, responsible for war atrocities that occur? More on this later.
Initially, Marritza is impudent when Kira tries to interrogate him. He compliments the food he is eating, but adds it might have been better with sauce. He smiles as he chats – he could be talking about the weather. Is this a performance because he’s frightened? Because he is proud of his time at Gallitep? Because he wants to torment her?
As he says this, he playfully lifts his cloth napkin over his face as if awaiting a death squad. It is a gallows humour – a form of humour DS9 often engages with, and yet another element that separates it from other Trek series. For more on humour, Gothic and war – what I call ‘Khaki Gothic‘, see the link. More to come on DS9 and ‘Khaki Gothic’ in future blogs.
Kira is not amused at Marritza’s attempts at humour. The interrogation continues: she demands to know his role at Gallitep:
Politics then circle in the background: the Cardassians demand he be returned, as he is a Cardassian citizen who has committed no crime on the station. Bajor wants to put the man on trial for war crimes. The Federation, playing ‘peace keeper’, is caught between the two.
If he is this war criminal that Kira believes him to be, there is no direct evidence he has committed any crime. As a Cardassian citizen with no official record of a war crime, to whom does he belong: the Cardassians who committed the war atrocities in the first place? The Federation peace-keepers, who need to keep both the Cardassians and Bajor at peace? Bajor, ravaged by war and needing closure? The episode thoroughly interrogates a very difficult question: after a war, what is necessary to allow a culture – both of those who committed the atrocities, as well as those who suffered from them — to move on? What is the difference between justice and vengeance when it comes to punishment? Is everyone involved guilty? Are there the ‘little fish’ who were ‘just following orders’, or was Higgins right in Magnum in declaring ‘there were no little fish’? None of these questions have easy answers – in fact, they might not have answers at all. DS9 allows these questions to be asked, but leaves them hanging – they don’t attempt to answer these questions, nor are they foolish enough to proclaim there are answers to be had.
The politics are, however, primarily kept contained and to the background, and have no real bearing on what is happening between Kira and Marritza. The main focus of the episode depends on the interrogation scenes between Kira and Marritza.
They play, primarily, with an invisible wall between them: Marritza in his cell, and Kira at a distance. Highly unusual, there is no subplot for the episode, meaning there is no escape from the dour and intense energy that builds and builds and builds, waiting to pop. The directing in this episode is intense and intimate. The camera is used effectively in the interrogation scenes: starting at a longer two-shot, the distance between the two characters is framed carefully:
The characters remain static: it is the camera that moves with the intensity of the dialogue. As each character becomes more affected from the conversations, the shots change: focusing on faces and body language, the space between the two becomes more contained:
And then, as the dialogue becomes more intense, the camera moves even closer, pulling in to tight shots that remove the space around each character, creating an emotionally charged and intimate scene visual:
Kira, as a character, often struggles to maintain control of herself in intense situations: she has a temper and must often work to control herself. Here, she leaves the interrogation, probably to avoid killing Marritza.
During one of these breaks, Kira and her friend Dax (Terry Farrell) have a brief discussion regarding whether Kira is after justice or vengeance.
Again, there is an active question for culpability: if Marritza is ‘just a file clerk’, does this make him a war criminal? Is he just a ‘little fish’ following orders and therefore not responsible? Kira’s concern that he could be ‘just a file clerk’ suggests a manoeuvrability in his culpability – that some people, like Dukat, were more guilty than others.
In trying to confirm Marritza’s identity, Kira gets her wish: new photographic evidence shows Marritza is not ‘just a file clerk’, but the commander of the labour camp, Gul Darhe’el, known as ‘Butcher of Gallitep’.
Darhe’el (the man in the cell):
Kira once again goes to interrogate the man in the cell. She informs him that they have discovered his true identity, and that Bajor is preparing for his war crimes tribunal.
His impudence seems to flourish, declaring,
Marritza/Darhe’el’s impudence turns to a sort of mad pride, however, when Kira tells him that she’s had enough of his lies:
The delighted tone of his voice and the horror of his words are too much, even for someone like Kira who witnessed these very atrocities first hand.
Things take an interesting turn, however, when a leader of Cardassia, Gul Dukat, informs the station that the man in the cell cannot possibly be Gul Darhe’el as they claim: Darhe’el died several years ago. After further research, the conclusion is inevitable: Darhe’el could not have contracted Kalla-Nohra because he was not on the planet at the time. Doctor Bashir also discovers that the man in the cell had been taking medication after reconstructive surgery.
Once again, Kira goes in to interrogate the man in the cell. There is only one conclusion to make:
The brazen swagger breaks: Marritza breaks down in tears – and the façade of the vicious warrior crumbles. He continues:
The war between Cardassia and Bajor have been explained in previous episodes of the programme; the reputation of Kira as a freedom fighter against oppression has been well established within the programme by this point. Yes, ‘Duet’ takes care to remind the audience of the war, remind us that Kira was a soldier — that as far as the Cardassians are concerned, it is Kira who is the war criminal; and to remind us that the Cardassian in the cell might be a war criminal. But the elegance in the script is the silence: the astonished expression on Kira’s face as he brazenly brags about destruction; the apparent hungry ravishing expression on his face as he relives the war in his mind… the delicacy as his voice, so audacious and excited, as it breaks – as he breaks – into tears, revealing that he was, truly Marritza all along, pretending to be Darhe’el in hopes of being put to death.
His pleading words, half drown in sobs, echo Kira’s own: ‘he’s guilty. They’re all guilty.’ And, like Kira, his concern is for his people: both Kira and Marritza declare that his death is necessary for each of their people to move forward. Facing death as ‘just a file clerk’ – that ‘little fish’, a ‘bug’ – is not enough to heal both Bajor and Cardassia. A leader – the Butcher of Gallitep – must shed blood. To heal blood from the lost, blood must be given: Darhe’el was already dead – Marritza was willing to die as Darhe’el to do this. And as he pleads with Kira to allow him to face the trial, Kira is visibly affected.
Kira refuses to hand him over as Darhe’el. As the forcefield turns off, she walks toward him. He cowers in the corner: he’s not afraid of her injuring him, he’s afraid of her showing compassion to him.
But where Twilight Zone and Magnum P.I. focus solely on the damage done to the prisoners held in the labour camps, DS9 opens this up to also examine the possibility of damage done to those inside the camps who were not actually prisoners, questioning whether everyone who was present is completely accountable for all the atrocities within the camp. What is the place for a man like Marritza, the ‘little fish’ or the ‘bug’? Villain? Victim? Coward? A cowardly ‘bug’ who hates himself so much for standing by the atrocities that he literally transforms himself into his own enemy, hoping to be put to death?
In the end, Kira decides that whatever he might be, Marritza cannot not be held accountable for the atrocities of war. Marritza himself tells her that she is making a mistake in letting him go:
Kira escorts him to the shuttle to return back to Cardassian space where he can get some psychological help.
As they walk, a Bajoran on the promenade stabs Marritza, who falls quickly.
When the Bajoran stabs Marritza, it is Kira who catches him. As Marritza dies, it is Kira who holds him, tears in her eyes. The man she so willingly would have killed only a short while ago, she now mourns:
The episode fades to black on an obviously distraught Kira. The credits roll.
Like both the Twilight Zone and Magnum episodes discussed in other posts, ‘Duet’ focuses specifically on the after effects of war. In each of these episodes, the present, post-war world is forced to examine how to treat a war criminal, questioning the difference between justice and vengeance. And, in each of these episodes, the question of justice for those associated with the atrocities is front and centre. And, like these shows, DS9 allows the question of the ‘little fish who was just following orders’ to be asked. Here, however, there seems to be a bit of manoeuvrability: for Higgins, ‘there were no little fish’. The question of whether Marritza was ‘just a file clerk’ is forefront: Initially, like Higgins, Kira suggests that even just being there during the atrocities is a crime in and of itself. But even Kira questions this: she tells Dax, ‘they’re all guilty’, and yet she wants Marritza to be ‘something worse’ in order to justify a trial against him.
Twilight Zone’s Lutze, unrepentant, goes mad in the end of ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’; Lena and Saul, unrepentant, are killed in ‘Never Again… Never Again’ in Magnum. In DS9‘s ‘Duet’, however, Marritza, obviously repentant, still faces destruction in the end (both madness and death). Perhaps there is no peace for anyone involved in war on any side. He spent five years turning himself into Darhe’el (a man he hated) just so that he could pay for Darhe’el’s crimes because Darhe’el never did. It is a noble, sad and specific form of madness. Honourable or not, his attempt to sacrifice himself, however, is refused, and his ultimate death will not even serve to offer the shred of restoration he sought. It is, in the end, yet another senseless death that shouldn’t have happened.
And this is one of the biggest differences between the three episodes: TZ and Magnum declare that ‘there were no little fish’: that everyone involved on the side of the occupation was guilty. ‘Duet’ is a bit more nuanced. Kira may start out in a world of stark absolutes of right and wrong, but she ends up in the grey in between. In short, Kira comes to believe that there were, indeed, ‘little fish’ like Marritza who not only should not be held responsible for the war atrocities committed by his people, because he could not possibly have stopped them. He had, as so many had, suffered.
The atrocities were not inflicted on him personally, so is he a victim? He was not the one who ordered or carried out the atrocities, so is he a good man? Was Marritza a victim for being conscripted into a military service he never wanted to be in? Was he guilty just by being in the camp itself? Was he a villain for cowering under his bed with his hands over his ears to block out the screams — for not standing up against the atrocities and facing death himself? Was he a bad man for intentionally trying to deceive the Bajoran people into thinking they had killed Darhe’el, the Butcher of Gallitep? Or was he a good man for going through such an elaborate charade to try to help Bajor and Cardassia? Will Kira be seen by her people as a traitor in attempting to protect a war criminal from the trial?Although Kira comes to see a scale of grey between the two, it is also made quite clear that others will never see it that way. Clearly, the Bajoran who murders Marritza believes there are no ‘little fish’ or ‘bugs’: If there are no ‘little fish’ or ‘bugs’ in wars like this, isn’t the death of ‘just a file clerk’ – better than nothing if it helps both Cardassia and Bajor heal?
The beauty of this episode is that it prompts these questions without forcing an answer. The point, it seems, for ‘Duet’ is not to answer any of these questions, but to encourage the audience to ask them – and to encourage the audience to realise that there may be no real answers.
Rod Serling warns in Twilight Zone‘s ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ that ‘a place like Dachau cannot exist only in Bavaria.’ I think Serling would agree — and despair — the horrific truth that even in a utopian society like that in Star Trek, there is another Dachau because people will always find a way to kill each other in the name of an idealised ‘purity’. Serling warns:
Twilight Zone warns that Dachau must continue stand as a reminder to the events that occurred there so they will not happen again; similarly, Magnum, P.I. warns against this repetition of events in the very title of ‘Never Again… Never Again’.
In ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ Captain Lutze, gleefully trying to relive what he saw as the glory days, dissolves into madness. In ‘Never Again… Never Again’, Saul and Lena, refusing to see the horrors they themselves created, are hunted down by their own pasts, killed by the ghosts they themselves create. And what of Marritza? Out of all three episodes, DS9 simultaneously presents both the most forgiving attitude toward war criminals, offering the question that maybe the ‘bugs’ like Marritza can also be seen as victims of the war as well as the villains, but also the most pessimistic view of war in general: and that is, there will always be another Holocaust. Deep Space Nine fulfils the promise that Serling made: ‘the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers’. Kira, so hell-bent on making Marritza pay, would happily murder him — until she sees the shades of grey between villain and victim. Her realisations mean nothing: someone else becomes the gravedigger, and in killing Marritza, the graveyard grows. No one heals, no justice is served: there is only death.
The very idea of the Star Trek series is built upon the idea that people will learn from their mistakes, stop the cycle of destruction and war, and move beyond this. That in recognising and remembering places like Dachau, we can avoid the mistakes that were made, that we can become better than we are and evolve. But ‘Duet’ intentionally works against this: hate and war is presented as a never-ending cycle: one side is attacked, and the other returns the attack. For Twilight Zone and Magnum, awareness of the atrocities can try to stop them from happening again somewhere else. But awareness saves no one in ‘Duet’.
So rarely does the optimistic Trek franchise face the possibility that, despite all advancements to become more evolved, people will still ultimately destroy. But Deep Space Nine proves that the horrors of war are not a distant memory confined to the past, but something that is real, present, and repeated. Remembering makes no difference – hate and prejudice will survive. The fact that Deep Space Nine‘s final series (and, to a lesser extent, the last series in The Next Generation ends with an approaching war proves this.
By displacing many of the events and situations of WWII onto a distant planet or a space station in the future, with aliens, there is an interesting development: despite all attempts to ensure there is never another Dachau, there is clearly another, although it goes by a different name, in this case, Gallitep. There will always be those leaders, fictionally represented in Captain Lutze and Gul Darhe’el who seek to destroy. There will always be the ‘little fish,’ the ‘bugs’ like Marritza, Lena and Saul – people who take orders and do what they’re told. The names change, as do the locations; whether set in space on a distant planet, or somewhere a bit closer to earth, there is never going to just be one Holocaust.
Cultures being exterminated by another, labour camps filled with screams and bodies, and someone to excuse those events is unconscionable. There will always be another war, another occupation, another interrogation of a war criminal, another murder, and again, another war. A new war with a new name starts just as the last war to end all wars ends.
Making no attempts to justify or excuse the war atrocities, ‘Duet’ ends with a sour reminder: There might be room for a grey scale in villainy, and even forgiveness for those who stood by and did nothing (the ‘little fish’ and the ‘bugs’). However, it is clear about one thing: even through awareness and an attempt at avoidance, war is something that will never end, and hate can only ever breed hate. The war between Bajor and Cardassia has ended: and yet, the death continues. Bajorans died by the hands of Cardassians; now Cardassians die at the hands of the Bajorans. Hate and death can only ever lead to more hate and death.
For DS9, there will always be another Dachau, another Captain Lutze, another Lena and Saul running the death camps. There will always be another Alfred Becker, dying in the camps. There will always be another Kira, fighting to liberate victims, another Marritza who cries under his camp bed and does nothing. There will always be a duet between the interrogator and the accused. Only the players have changed: the dance of death never will.
‘When you’re wearing a green tuxedo, you dance where they tell you’. ~Colonel Potter, ‘Too Many Cooks, M*A*S*H