A Look At Star Trek’s Kira Nerys – Or: How A Terrorist Could Be Sympathetic in the 1990s

Desperate for clicks. Might as well talk Star Trek again… but not the new trailer that hit. I’ll write about that sometime next week when I had time to think about it more.

Star Trek has been many things over the years, but ever since the 1960s it has never been anything other than safe and samey and conforming to social norms at the time. Heck, the 60s included in that when we look at all the sexism on display…

That is except for one character: Kira Nerys, the female lead of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A former freedom fighter, terrorist, and now somewhat-supportive member of the provisional government of her homeworld of Bajor.

I don’t think I ever really appreciated the character that much when I first viewed the series, but when I did my English degree in university and combined it with a history topic on the use of terrorism in the media, I was quite startled to realize that Kira is, for lack of a better word, still unique in current day media. Finishing its run in the late 90s, DS9 still feels like the most modern installment of the franchise. Later movies and shows had better cinematography and effects, but being a pre-9/11 show, DS9 was almost prophetic in the way it handled subject matters of terrorism and terrorism. While it handled many other topics with much more maturity than the last 16 years of pop culture entertainment, its most revolutionary storytelling remains the character of Kira. 

Throughout the seven season run, we explore the character’s past and present and through her get a look into the desperation of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. Sympathetically, we find out why someone would pick up a home-made bomb and strike asymmetrically at the enemy that has occupied their world. We also see that it’s not a glorious job, that Kira does have blood on her hand, that she did kill innocent people. She did it for a greater cause and out of desperation, sure, but does it excuse the murder of the innocent, of bystanders, of her own people just trying to survive by complying?

From a Star Trek character point of view, she also has the most growth. Originally opposed to the Federation, seeing them as nothing but another force of occupation in her land, she begrudgingly works together with the Starfleet characters, and eventually grows much more idealistic. Yet she never stops being a pragmatist at heart, how could she after the life she left? But this does leave her a much more dynamic and unique character than we often get in Trek, where character development is often a simple switch that needs to be flicked for them to see the light. Kira is much more unique in that way and it gives the conflict a grounded realism by having the resident terrorist actually be a real person. It’s quite telling that, in the final arc of the show, Kira once again serves as an instructor to rebels and freedom fighters, teaching her methods to her old oppressors in their struggle for freedom. DS9 has a brave message in that regard: these are valid methods for underdogs to overthrow a tyrannical regime.

 Maybe it is because I just realized that the war on terror is at the stage where by next year, kids who hadn’t been born yet when 9/11 happened, would go off to war in the same conflict. A conflict encompassing an entire generation in a way even the cold war never could and we haven’t seen in two centuries. Media has had a problem looking at the conflict in more nuanced terms because of this. It’s hard trying to make really-religious terrorists your heroes when someones dad, brother, sister, mom, are still fighting extremists somewhere at any time. But if and when this conflict ends, I do hope people remember the way DS9 did it 25 years ago and especially remember Kira Nerys when coming up with new characters and stories about the conflict, one of the best characters in television history.

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Author: Alex

Full time student, part time "writer" of things.

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