When the Skrreeans arrive on Deep Space Nine, Kira is having a majorly bad day (Majorly bad day, get it?). The Bajoran Ministers are driving her up the wall, she’s late delivering her duty roster to Sisko, and now Quark is complaining the Bajoran musician she brought in is mesmerizing his customers away from drinking and gambling. Take Morn, for example:
When she gets back to Ops from Quark’s, they detect a ship in distress and beam four people out before the ship is destroyed.
The people are frightened and the Universal Translator doesn’t seem to be helping them communicate. The woman seems to be drawn to talk to Kira.
Kira takes them to the infirmary, where the woman hands the medical tool to Kira and is reluctant to let Bashir use it. Later, in the guest quarters, the translator finally starts to work on their guests’ language. She says her people are the Skrreea. Three million of them are waiting on the other side of the wormhole and must be brought to Deep Space Nine.
In Ops, the woman, Haneek, explains more about Skrreean social structure, and we finally learn why they were favouring Kira and leery about Bashir in particular – the Skrreeans are a matriarchal society.
Haneek: I’m just not used to the men being here. Skrreean men don’t involve themselves in situations like this.
Dax: Are all your leaders women?
Bashir: All of them?
Dax: You heard her, Julian.
Haneek: Men are much too emotional to be leaders. They’re always fighting among themselves. It’s their favourite thing to do. I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t offended anyone.
You can practically hear Odo’s “harrumph.” The line itself is fairly clever – it flips around the idea in our society that women are too emotional to be leaders (“what happens if she has the nuclear codes and it’s her time of the month?”-type garbage), but highlighting how the aggression and competitiveness encouraged in men is also emotional.
Overall Skrreean society is an example of the “Patriarchy Flip” trope, basically a gender-flipped patriarchy with men as second-class citizens. Haneek (who is not a leader herself but a farmer), defends that the Skrreeans “love our men,” and no one really believes her.
Anyway, back to the story. We’ve got a serious problem – three million Skrreean refugees looking for a home.
Kira shows up at Haneek’s quarters. The two adult men Haneek arrived with stumble out of the bedroom and Kira is taken aback.
Kira: Are those your husbands?
Haneek: Hus-bands? I’m not familiar with that word. They’re bonded to me.
Kira: Do you sleep with them both?
Haneek: Of course. Don’t you sleep with your males?
Kira: No, I don’t have any males. Not at the moment, anyway.
Note Haneek uses “males” instead of “men” in a situation where they are reduced to their sexual/biological functions, not viewed as equal. Star Trek also does this with the way the Ferengi refer to women as “females” and it helps to illustrate why the latter is problematic in today’s society.
Kira lets Haneek know more Skrreean ships are arriving at the station today and she suggests Haneek be there to greet them. She and Haneek appear to be forming a friendship.
Meanwhile, Jake and Nog hang out on the observation deck, where Nog teases Jake about dating Marta, the Dabo girl. Jake insists she’s smart and studying entomology, but Nog doesn’t believe him because Ferengi sexism.
Soon, the Skrreeans arrive and swarm the Promenade.
Haneek feels the pressure of leading her people, but Kira tries to encourage her.
Tensions are building though, as Nog gets in fights with the Skrreean boys on the Promenade. Because Quark isn’t expected to be enlightened like Starfleet, the writers use his reaction to the Skrreeans to stand in for how many societies today react to influxes of immigrants and refugees.
Quark: It’s bad enough you’re all hanging around the station without buying anything. You have to start fighting, too?
Haneek’s son, Tumak: I thought we were welcome here.
Quark: Well make yourselves welcome somewhere else.
Tumak: You don’t want us here. You don’t want anything to do with us. We don’t want anything to do with you. Any of you!
Quark: I can see the Skrreean don’t bother to teach their children manners.
Dax helps Sisko and Kira locate a planet that is suitable for the Skrreeans to settle on, but when Sisko and Kira visit Haneek and the other women leaders, Haneek informs them they want to settle on Bajor. They believe Bajor is the planet Kentanna, told to be the home of the Skrreean people in their sacred texts.
Representatives from the Bajoran spiritual and provisional governments deny the request from the Skrreeans, saying Bajor cannot support three million refugees while it is still struggling to recover from the Occupation. DS9 is so great at these political stories where you can truly feel for people on both sides of the argument.
Haneek begs Kira to help her convince them but, reluctantly, she says, “I can’t.”
Kira goes to Haneek’s quarters to talk, and it’s a powerful scene. Haneek accuses Kira of pretending to be her friend and of betraying her.
Kira: No, I didn’t. I honestly believe the provisional government made the right decision, for both Bajor and the Skrreeans.
Haneek: If that’s true, we have nothing more to discuss.
Kira: I was hoping we could still be friends.
Haneek: So in other words, you came here looking for forgiveness. Well, I don’t forgive you.
Sisko summons them both to Ops, saying Tumak and two of his friends have stolen a ship that’s leaking radiation. Tumak is heading to Bajor and the Bajoran interceptors have been ordered not to let them land. Tumak’s ship fires on them and when they fire back, their phaser beam ignites the radiation, killing the boys.
Kira sees Haneek and the other Skrreeans off the shipand Haneek leaves her with a harsh message.
I think you’ve made a terrible mistake. All of you. Maybe we could have helped you. Maybe we could have helped each other. The Skrreeans are farmers, Kira. You have a famine on your planet. Perhaps we could have made that peninsula bloom again. We’ll never know, will we? Fifty years of Cardassian rule has made you all frightened and suspicious. I feel sorry for you. You were right. Bajor is not Kentanna.
Overall, “Sanctuary” is a thought-provoking episode that presents the plight of refugees without making them faceless victims. The fact that Haneek gets the last word is important.
I’d also argue “Sanctuary” is more successful than any other Trek outing in using a patriarchy flip trope to prompt us to reflect on our own actual patriarchy. “Sanctuary” sends the message that gender inequality in any form is unfair, whereas episodes like “Angel One” and “Favorite Son” go so extreme in their depictions of matriarchies that the message you take away is that women should never be trusted to be in charge of anything.
Bechdel Test: Pass. Haneek talks to both Kira and Dax about her role as spiritual leader and the wormhole. Haneek also talks to Vayna and Minister Rozhan