what makes a villain great?
March 31, 2016 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Trekspertise makes The Case For Gul Dukat, throughout all of Deep Space Nine
posted by the man of twists and turns (39 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
*Leaves a baseball in this thread* Gul Dukat will understand what it means.
posted by drezdn at 3:13 PM on March 31, 2016 [21 favorites]


Gul Dukat may have been the great villain of DS9, but the best hero was definitely Garak.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:19 PM on March 31, 2016 [15 favorites]


This is very timely; my husband and I just started watching this show (re-watching, in his case, though it's been so long he's forgotten most of it). We just finished season one. I'm not sure if I should watch this video now or after we're done, to avoid spoilers.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 3:20 PM on March 31, 2016


This video references events leading to and occurring in the series finale.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:26 PM on March 31, 2016


I said this before in another thread, but one of my top 5 Star Trek moments: the episode where Dukat's legacy security system traps the crew, and Dukat arrives in person to gloat only to be trapped by another layer of the system. I remember laughing out loud when I first saw it, and that laugh of surprise is so rare on Trek. It's perfectly Dukat.
posted by selfnoise at 3:28 PM on March 31, 2016 [16 favorites]


Gul Dukat may have been the great villain of DS9, but the best hero was definitely Garak.

If you want to pretend that all those times Morn saved the station never happened, that's on you.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:32 PM on March 31, 2016 [16 favorites]


Morn!
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:41 PM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


While I've always thought Dukat was one of the best TV villains. He lost me when he said Anakin's motivation for becoming Vader made him relatable.
posted by zinon at 3:41 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Since we're on the topic... Gul Ducat for President #MakeAlphaQuadrantGreatAgain.
posted by fragmede at 3:58 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Dukat was great. Season 7 Dukat was...something else. I think his character arc had basically run its course but the producers and writers felt the need to keep him around because of his popularity.

There was also a point in Season 6 (like in "Waltz") where the writers decided to increase Dukat's Evil setting to 11 because they started to realize that a not-insignificant number of Star Trek fans were actually buying into his BS about the occupation being good for Bajor.
posted by AndrewInDC at 4:46 PM on March 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'd vote for the unnamed Dominion leader "Female Changeling" as DS9's best villain. Consider this:

Garak: On behalf of my people, I'd like to learn if there were any survivors after our attack on your homeland?
Female Shapeshifter: Cardassian survivors?
Garak: Yes.
Female Shapeshifter: There were no Cardassian survivors.
Garak: You mean... they're all dead?
Female Shapeshifter: They're dead. You're dead. Cardassia is dead. Your people were doomed the moment they attacked us.


She makes Ducat's petulant arrogance look petty and weak. Appropriate, since Ducat actually is petty and weak, which is part of what makes him interesting.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:50 PM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


Morn!
posted by Joe in Australia


/drinks
posted by mwhybark at 5:07 PM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


(I tried to dig it, but goddam, too much throatclearing. two or three minutes of pointless non-Dukat bad guy cuts as your intro? fuxake, the whole *problem* with video and film as a medium is that they are time-based! Tell me what ya gonna tell me, tell me, and then tell me what you told me! Not, what, show off your clip library! aargh)


(apologies for grouchitude. no apologies for material structural critique.)
posted by mwhybark at 5:38 PM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


We're just now talking about Broken Link, over in Fanfare!

Justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow, I think the line that makes that scene really pop is Garak's response: "It was a pleasure meeting you." Even when dealing with a terrifying genocidal maniac, Garak never fails to be cordial. (On the rare occasions when he does drop the mask, shit gets grim fast.)

I'm not sure if I should watch this video now or after we're done, to avoid spoilers.

Definitely do what you can to avoid spoilers! Season one is fine, but you really have no idea yet just what you're in for. You will be amazed by how good and twisty this show gets as it goes along.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:02 PM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


So good they named the Gul Dukat tunnel after him.
posted by w0mbat at 6:30 PM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm just here to pour one out for Damar.
posted by qbject at 6:45 PM on March 31, 2016 [6 favorites]


Well, I'm not going to watch all of this thing--I'm only three minutes in and I'm done--so let me just cut to the chase: Dukat is a great villain because not only does he think he's the hero, the actor playing him, Marc Alaimo, also thought that Dukat was this great guy at heart who was just misunderstood, and the showrunners, instead of arguing with Alaimo about it, just played along and wrote the character in exactly that way, while making it very clear in context that, no, he wasn't a hero, he was a Space Nazi with an staggering capacity for rationalizing his actions. In particular, his interactions with Major Kira, the second in command of the station (and who suffered greatly during the occupation of Bajor, which Dukat was in charge of), made this very, very clear.

See how easy it was to put that plainly? I bet you read it in the time that it took this guy to get up to the point of having Batman kicking some guys through a door for whatever fucking reason he put that in.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:57 PM on March 31, 2016 [9 favorites]


Also, Dukat may be a great villain, but Weyoun was the most fun to watch, hands down.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:01 PM on March 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


In Alaimo's defense, he made a deliberate choice to construct his interpretation of the character that way, and was fully aware that he was doing so against the show's intent and evidence, and bravo for him.
posted by mwhybark at 7:05 PM on March 31, 2016 [10 favorites]


Halloween Jack: Apparently YouTube's recommendation engine ranks videos by time watched. So there's a significant incentive for content creators to bloat their videos to a length just slightly less than what the average viewer finds to be intolerable.
posted by Grimgrin at 8:15 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


There was also a point in Season 6 (like in "Waltz") where the writers decided to increase Dukat's Evil setting to 11 because they started to realize that a not-insignificant number of Star Trek fans were actually buying into his BS about the occupation being good for Bajor.

Based on what I've read about DS9 behind-the-scenes, I'd say the writers initially thought Dukat was a bad guy with good qualities (like Quark) and probably kind of agreed with his claim of trying to do the best for the Bajorans he could under the Cardassian system. I understand the writers at one point wanted a romance between Dukat and Kira, but Nana Visitor balked. I can't imagine that would have been considered at the time if the writers thought Dukat was evil.

The writers didn’t have any other option than to take Dukat where they did. Because whatever they thought Dukat may have been while in charge of Bajor, he clearly was not Schindler. No way. And even if he wasn't Hitler, at best he was Eichmann. And you can't really be like, "Oh sure, but there some nice things about Eichmann." Also, Dukat was the representative of the Cardassia to our heroes. I don’t recall ever seeing much of anyone who outranked him. So he was always the face of the Cardassian government.

Then he leads a coup and is the leader of Cardassia, a fascist state waging a war of conquest and cool with genocide. By then there is no way around it: He’s Space Hitler.

At the end of “Waltz”, Sisko tells Dax that most people are shades of grey, but not Dukat: he’s pure evil. That’s the writers telling us that they can do shades of gray with Quark and Garek and even the Jem’Hadar. And they tried with Dukat, but realize they shouldn’t anymore. He’s Hitler and there is nowhere to go but make him pure evil and want to kill all the Bajorans.
posted by riruro at 9:03 PM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think it all fell apart when they pulled the space demons out of their ass. The whole thing of Dukat becoming a minion of Bajoran satan didn't work for me.

Dukat should have stuck in Damar's role, and goes further and destroys Cardassia and Dominion himself in an act of mutually assured destruction. But not before he brags about how history will show him to be a hero who made the hard decisions.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:17 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry if it's a derail, but while we're talking about Star Trek superlatives I'd also like to suggest that Grand Nagus Zek was the single most annoying character in the entire Trek universe. Discuss.
posted by teponaztli at 10:41 PM on March 31, 2016 [6 favorites]


fuxake, the whole *problem* with video and film as a medium is that they are time-based!

It is limited; linear.
posted by duffell at 4:13 AM on April 1, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry if it's a derail, but while we're talking about Star Trek superlatives I'd also like to suggest that Grand Nagus Zek was the single most annoying character in the entire Trek universe. Discuss.

Inconceivable!
posted by duffell at 4:19 AM on April 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


It is limited; linear.

It wants to know the outcome before the game is played. *drags YouTube time scroll bar all the way to the right*
posted by Servo5678 at 4:57 AM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry if it's a derail, but while we're talking about Star Trek superlatives I'd also like to suggest that Grand Nagus Zek was the single most annoying character in the entire Trek universe. Discuss.

Two words: Troi's mother.
posted by Zonker at 7:55 AM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


I thought that Lwaxana Troi was much more sympathetic on DS9 than TNG, especially since she more or less adopted Odo.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:14 AM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


The older I get, the more I appreciate Lwaxana. Granted, I'm only in my 30's, but it wouldn't be a terrible thing to grow up to be Lwaxana. Yes, she's a loud, boy-crazy dilettante who sows chaos wherever she roams, but she's also brave, politically savvy, and fiercely independent. She's shown that she can be vulnerable with the people she cares about, and she clearly does care very deeply about people. And she does all this without sacrificing her femininity or values.

I suppose Zek also embodies his personal values, but he also takes sadistic glee in holding people's lives in his hands. Lwaxana just likes to make people blush.

Plus, who wouldn't want Mr. Homn hanging around? Drunk Homn must be amazing at parties.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:36 AM on April 1, 2016 [12 favorites]


The older I get, the more I appreciate Lwaxana.

You could throw floating space heads, tar pit monster, petulant gods and mecho-zombies at Capt Picard, and he outsmarted them and (mostly) beat them. Lwaxana comes on-board for a pleasure trip and makes purse out of his ass. It was nice once in a while to see the Captain lose once in a while. And not to space lasers or techno babble, to pure charm and force of will.

Some of you hated her because you wanted to be Riker and stand by the hero. Well she's probably ‎Homn's hero, just like Dukat was also some Cardassian kid's hero.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:44 PM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Man, the Morn-Homn benders they never showed! Legendary!
posted by mwhybark at 2:23 PM on April 1, 2016


Oh man, thank you for posting this! I have a bit of an obsession with Gul Dukat-- I wouldn't say I like him, for obvious reasons-- but he's the best-written villain I know of, anywhere. And this video lays out the reasons really well: he's the hero of his own story; as a foil for Sisko, he reveals that character's particular strengths and flaws and the ways in which Sisko is beholden to and at odds with the Federation; he has an entirely plausible worldview and philosophy, one which incorporates qualities significant to colonialism and white supremacy. He's as detailed a portrait of a kind of evil maybe not unique to the twentieth century, but essential to its history, as I can imagine.

It's worth thinking about what fans mean when they call a character a "good villain" and the ways in which those appealing villains can fail their writers. What we call a good villain might be someone whose evil actions are larger-than-life, incalculably big and horrifying, and therefore give the story a more epic scope, or also a character who is sympathetic, perhaps even more than the protagonist. But those kinds of villains can hold back the stories, can expose the narrative's weaknesses. Gul Dukat is both more ordinary and more unsympathetic than the typical classic villain; what makes him stand apart is the truthfulness of the portrait. When I find myself in a conversation about the pathology of war criminals or sexual predators, he's the character I bring up.

Dukat's most notable attribute (apart from the Cardassian neck ridges!) is his voice: sly, convincing. But he's not a Satan, in that he's largely uninterested in convincing you of his point of view ("you" most often being Kira or Sisko); he wants to convince himself. He's a monster of rationalization, which lends itself to a variety of roles: general, cult leader, rapist, white savior. I think it's worth getting into explaining his rationalization of sexual crimes, because it's both accurate to the real world and sheds some light on how his rationalization of war crimes operates as well. When we first meet him, he seems to just exoticize Bajoran women, as a result of the Occupation, but the further we get into the series, the more we see how these women were not consenting, how his harassment of Kira is part of a spectrum of behavior extending to rape and using powerless women as slaves. He doesn't think of himself as a serial predator; he thinks those women want and need him, and his refusal to mentally grant them full humanity allows him to keep doing this.

"Things Past" is the first chilling reveal in this regard, as we're treated to Dukat's discourses on the humanity of Bajorans (significantly, he characterizes them as childlike and in need of leadership) and we see how this affects his treatment of Bajoran women. (His philosophy echoes white supremacy, but versions of these racial conceptualizations extend beyond Europe; the Cardassian/Bajoran relationship somewhat resembles the Japanese/Korean one in Japan's militarized imperialist era-- see "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night"-- along with many others.)

Sisko doesn't have it in him to be that kind of monster, but he is still a military leader tied to and steeped in the Federation's values, and his occasional ability to disregard the humanity of Romulans and Changelings when he needs to is a milder but unsettling reminder of Dukat. Cardassia's imperial, highly nationalistic culture too may take its most repellent form in Dukat, but recall that it's this worldview that allows someone as sympathetic as Garak to torture and kill without guilt.

The "monster of self-serving rationality" view of Dukat is compromised significantly in the last season, unfortunately. "Waltz" is both the best Dukat episode and the place where his character starts to go off the rails. It's an exploration of how generals and politicians justify genocide that anticipates The Act of Killing, and for that reason it will always be a(n uncomfortable) classic, but it introduces hallucinations to his character and prefigures the whole Pah-wraith mess. I think that was a mistake; Dukat isn't psychotic before this (we can talk about Star Trek's weird-ass treatment of mental illness another time) and while I could believe him having an episode of psychosis following Ziyal's death, I strongly resist the idea that this could explain his behavior, which is most typically coldly self-serving. His decision to spare Ziyal in "Indiscretion" is one of the best-written moments: like Fiennes' Amon Goeth, he's more than capable of mercy when it pleases him and is in his interest, but it exerts no lasting hold on his conscience. Still, the Ronald D. Moore-penned dialogues in "Waltz" are as good as Star Trek gets in geopolitical honesty. The true Dukat isn't some posessed servant of the Pah-wraiths (we already have Kai Winn as DS9's great theocratic monster) but the man who changes political parties and careers and ideals according to whatever way the winds are blowing.

Cutting myself off now, because I can go on about this forever. But thanks for it!
posted by thetortoise at 2:42 PM on April 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


I thought the Pah Wraith stuff worked very well for Dukat.

Dukat wants to believe he is a great man, that he has a great destiny. He is also cracking up and full of murderous rage and frustration. Kai Winn has reached a similar point. They both feel like they were entitled to greatness and they've been cheated, and now the Pah Wraiths show up and offer a short path to eternal glory, an alternate mythology that seems to explain everything. You're not a failure. You're a key player in the great plan. Come, let us tell you how...

Both characters are ready to betray everything they ever said they believed, and each other, if it will make their darkest dreams come true. To me Winn is more tragic, because she was a true believer. I think Dukat always hated himself on some level, he rationalized everything but deep down he knew he was a shit and that wasn't enough to stop him. But Winn believed she was a good woman, acting on the will of the Prophets for the good of everyone. When she betrays all that, it's a true fall. For Dukat, it's more like he's embracing the evil that was always there. He's cackling with twisted glee, while Winn is not having any fun at all.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:07 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


To me Winn is more tragic, because she was a true believer. I think Dukat always hated himself on some level, he rationalized everything but deep down he knew he was a shit and that wasn't enough to stop him. But Winn believed she was a good woman, acting on the will of the Prophets for the good of everyone. When she betrays all that, it's a true fall.

I like your characterizations here and agree that embracing a dramatic destiny with the Pah-wraiths isn't out of character for Dukat (though I feel it's a weird place for the writers to leave his story), but this turn for Winn's character bugged me a little. I think it's that I see her as having fallen well before this, even if she doesn't know it; she believes she's acting on the will of the Prophets all along while leading the Bajoran people in a divisive and destructive manner. Somebody who thinks they're enacting the will of their gods is liable to do a lot more harm to a nation/religion than a devil-worshipper; to the writers' credit, Winn at least doesn't do much after abandoning the Prophets but help Dukat, but this diminished version of her is less interesting, if easier to sympathize with. (What I really hate about this storyline is that it turns Sisko into a semidivine predestined savior, but we can leave that for another time.)
posted by thetortoise at 8:33 PM on April 1, 2016


Sorry for killing the conversation in here, anyway.
posted by thetortoise at 8:47 PM on April 1, 2016


not at all! Don't forget to drop by the ongoing rewatch threads, on the off chance you haven't already.
posted by mwhybark at 10:34 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think part of the reason Dukat and Winn are better villains than the Female Changling or others is that they are mundane. We know them, we've met them, they are existing people. Dukat has some settings turned to 11, but he's not an alien.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:53 PM on April 1, 2016


well, technically...
posted by mwhybark at 11:16 PM on April 1, 2016


oh my god we've made it dishearteningly far in this thread without anyone mentioning brony dukat
posted by duffell at 1:20 PM on April 4, 2016


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