Toward the end of season 5, the most interesting, if not the best, episode is “Blaze of Glory” (5X23). This episode saw the final return of Michael Eddington, former DS9 security officer who defected from the Federation to the Maquis – the freedom fighters/terrorists who fought against the Cardassians when their homes were on the Cardassian side of the boarder post-treaty with the Federation.
The Maquis in the Alpha Quadrant were largely annihilated off-screen in the episode “By Inferno’s Light” (5X15), when the Cardassians officially became part of the Dominion. In “Blaze of Glory” we see them struggling on, caring not for the fragile peace in the Alpha Quadrant by launching a missile attack on Cardassia Prime – or so it appears. The plan turns out to be a ruse to reunite Eddington with his wife and compatriots who have survived the Dominion attack. Eddington, ultimately, is killed fighting the Jem’Hadar while allowing his people to escape. And with that, the Maquis exit DS9.
In some ways this conclusion is deeply disappointing, as the Maquis provided the most interesting moral grey area in DS9. For all the interesting possibilities of the Dominion, they essentially serve just as an enemy big enough to threaten the Federation – there’s no nuanced or deep moral or philosophical difference at play. The Maquis represent the real losers in the peaceful resolutions in which the Federation trades, and their appeal to Ro Lauren in the Next Generation episode “Preemptive Strike” (7X24) shows that they should have been a bright warning light to Bajor about the Federation.
The Maquis, unlike most of the enemies of the Federation, are sympathetic because of their political stance, not because of the charisma of the actors playing their most prominent figures (I’m looking at you, Marc Alaimo/Gul Dukat). This sympathy pokes the most holes in the Federation’s status as an optimistic utopia, without turning it into a dark and gritty dystopia as in later incarnations.
On the other hand, the idea that a small group of rebels might get crushed between the machinations of major powers also seems appropriate. Their association with Native American groups through characters like Chakotay in Voyager and suggested by the TNG episode “Journey’s End” (7X20) is significant. They are the group that no North American progressives can ignore if they want to create a reasonable approximation of an optimistic utopia, but they are also the one that they have the most difficulty respecting and incorporating into their visions of the future.
Their claims are reasonable – that their relationship to their land be respected and prioritised – but their lack of representation among the decision makers means that their concerns are derided or ignored. As other concerns crop up they are sidelined and, in the case of the Maquis, crushed because the ‘good guys’ didn’t listen to them. It’s a shame that, in DS9, they’re mainly played by White actors after Bernie Casey/Commander Calvin Hudson, although in Voyager this is less of an issue.
One of the problems with the Maquis in season 5 of DS9 has been the inconsistency of how they are portrayed. In “Rapture” (5X10) Sisko forgives Kasidy Yates for her involvement with the Maquis immediately (why? She’s needed for a different plot!); he doesn’t get over Eddington’s “betrayal” until he goes out in his “Blaze of Glory”, and does terrible things in the episode “For the Uniform” (5X13) in order to persuade Eddington to turn himself over to the Federation. But in that episode the Maquis also go further than ever before, creating biological weapons to drive the Cardassians from the worlds that they have occupied – it doesn’t seem to fit their (ill-defined, as most political things in ’90s science-fictional television) philosophy.
I couldn’t see Voyager’s Chakotay going along with it, for example; although B’Elanna Torres might be more enthusiastic. It also seems designed to kill the audience sympathy with these beleaguered freedom fighters. The show suggests that these bio-weapons move slowly enough to allow people to escape unscathed, which also seems like a cop-out. I am glad that “Blaze of Glory” happened to get the Maquis (and DS9) beyond “For the Uniform”. It would have been an unfortunate ending for them, otherwise.