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In episode S6E6 of Deep Space Nine, titled "Sacrifice of Angels", Captain Sisko convinces The Prophets to stop the Dominion fleet which is heading through the wormhole. They agree, but tell them there will be a penance to pay for "cheating" this way. He agrees, feeling that any price is worth saving the Alpha Quadrant. Potential series spoilers for anyone who hasn't finished DS9:

It's long been my belief that the "penance" revolved around his ultimate fate in the last episode. When he throws himself and Gul Dukat into the fires of the cave, he is saved but must remain with the Prophets in non-corporeal form. Although the Prophets could easily return him to his friends and family, staying with them is the price he unknowingly agreed to. However, now a friend has cast doubt on that belief by saying that one of the post-DS9 novels explained the penance had to do with his daughter - the child he bore with his new wife, Kassidy Yates.

I haven't read many of the post-series novels, but I couldn't find an answer on any of the usual sources. Memory-Alpha seems to indicate I'm right, but it's a wiki that any fan can edit, plus it's contradicted by other sources. A different wiki states that his penance was Jake being chosen as a vessel during "The Reckoning". Another source states that his penance was the disastrous events of S6E26.

Can anyone shed some light on what "officially" was the Prophets' penance was for Sisko? I'm looking for canon sources, including commentary or interviews with cast/writers.

  • I'd be interested in knowing why the question got two downvotes. I assume it's because Memory Alpha has an apparent answer, so I've edited the question to reflect that. – Omegacron Jan 7 '15 at 15:28
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    I always assumed that his penance was his death in the fire caves. – Valorum Jan 7 '15 at 16:33
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    Pure theory on my part, but I think it's Jadzia's death. The show of power that Sisko convinces the Prophets to display in Sacrifice of Angels is what sends Dukat down the path of the Pah-Wraiths during his descent into insanity, and her death was a direct effect of Dukat releasing a Pah-Wraith in Tears of the Prophets, something he wouldn't have done if he wasn't so focused on the Prophets. It's also something the Prophets didn't have control over, so unlike joining the Prophets in the final episode, it wasn't unnecessarily imposed on him. – Izkata Jan 8 '15 at 3:54
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    @Bachrach44 - the penance was being handed down by the Prophets, so either way is correct. One owns the penance, the other is the victim. – Omegacron Jan 12 '15 at 14:30
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    The penance was not making any DS9 movies. – Darth Wedgius May 31 '15 at 3:24
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I think his penance is clearly meant to be Sisko not getting to retire on Bajor, and having to stay with the Prophets.

In S6E5 Favor the Bold, which is the first part of the two-parter that ends with S6E6, the episode where Sisko has the Prophets vanish the Domnion fleet, he speaks fondly to Admiral Ross about Bajor, and reveals that he plans to retire there. This is the first time Sisko indicates his fondness of Bajor has reached that point, where he wants to live the rest of his life there.

Note that S6E6 was also the conclusion of a Dominion War arc that covered the first 6 episodes of season 6. It started with the Federation leaving Deep Space 9 at the end of season 5, and ended with them returning.

Anyway, so in this arc we see Sisko fighting his way back to DS9 and Bajor, and in the penultimate episode of the arc there's an important development of his passion for Bajor. The arc then ends with him agreeing to pay an unknown penance to the Prophets. When discussing with the Prophets, their clue to his penance is:

The Sisko is of Bajor, but he will find no rest there. His pah will follow another path.

Between the arc's theme of Sisko fighting his way back to Bajor, him suddenly announcing his desire to retire on Bajor an episode prior, and the dialogue above, this is some pretty solid foreshadowing. Sisko's penance is that he would never retire to Bajor, that he would do something else, which we later learn is joining the Prophets. It wouldn't be for another 2 seasons until we see the fruits of this development, so it's understandable that there's some disagreement on the meaning of the penance. I know I didn't figure this out back when it originally aired.

Future Developments

It's also worth noting that we start to see the first hint of Sisko's half-Prophet lineage. While Sisko and the Prophets are arguing, they tell him they have every right to interfere in his life. This makes enough sense given the events of the series up until then, but upon learning that Sisko is literally a child of one of the Prophets adds another layer to this.

We see reinforcement of the idea that his penance means staying with the Prophets in S7E17 Penumbra, which is the first episode in the series-concluding 10-episode arc. In this episode, Sisko purchases some land on Bajor, and starts making plans for living there. Sisko and Kasidy are also making plans to marry. While Sisko is planning with a model house he made, the Prophet who inhabited his mother speaks to him:

SARAH: Your path is a difficult one. She can not share it with you.

SISKO: Are you talking about Kasidy?

SARAH: She cannot walk the same path.

This conversation is centrally about the marriage, however this also contributes to the idea that his penance is to join the Prophets. Not being able to stay with Kasidy is another facet of that.

Out of universe

As you mention, Memory Alpha also agrees with this interpretation. Since Deep Space 9 deals heavily in ideas of faith and prophecy, they avoided explicitly having any character just say 'the penance was this one specific thing'. However, in the Deep Space 9 Companion:

At the end of the episode, Sisko gets the Prophets to help him, but there is a price to pay; an idea with many mythic and biblical precursors. Hans Beimler says, "It's tragic hero stuff. A hero takes on things for others, but doesn't necessarily find any peace himself in the result." In relation to this, Ira Steven Behr compares Sisko to Moses (who guides his people to the Promised Land, but who isn't allowed to enter himself) and Ethan Edwards (the John Wayne character in the 1956 John Ford film The Searchers who reunites his family but cannot enter the house with them).

Which, while possibly an ex post facto rationalization, it certainly makes it clear that the penance is that Sisko himself could not have a happy ending.

Alternative Theories

The theory in the question indicating Jake being inhabited by a Pah-wraith is the penance does not jive with these pieces of foreshadowing, or the description from the DS9 Companion. Does the theory have some other pieces of evidence that back it up? Sisko does mention the then-unknown penance early in this episode, but he's merely wondering if the events of the episode (i.e. the titular Reckoning) constitute the penance, but that's not much evidence.

The other theory in the question that it involves the events of S6E26. I'm not sure I follow which elements of that episode meet the penance criteria. The Prophets going silent?

Dax's death?

Since these are essentially temporary bumps in the road, they don't seem to meet the criteria of Sisko 'finding no rest [on Bajor]', or being a path that can't be walked with Kasidy.

  • I'll take it, Keen - not only does it line with up my own thinking AND is supported by cast/crew, it also proves I'm right and my friend is wrong. Always a bonus. Accepted! – Omegacron Jan 25 '15 at 2:23
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Someone above made a comment about it being Dukat, and I think they're on the right track.

If Sisko had never made the bargain, he wouldn't have won back the station, much less been around at all; he would've died, as the Prophets suggested, then and there, thus making it impossible for him to complete his destiny.

But here's where it gets a little circular: their intervention actually creates the circumstances that create his destiny. Ultimately, Sisko must end the threat of the Pah-wraiths. That means ending Dukat's threat. Dukat becomes a threat, Sisko's opposite number as the Pah-wraith emissary, because his daughter is killed, because Sisko reclaims the station and Damar feels like settling a score as Dominion personnel evacuate.

See what I'm saying? The price Sisko pays is actually in fulfilling his destiny, which the Prophets already know as ending in the Fire Caves, because they perceive all of time at the same time. They know, before Sisko does, that he'll ask them a big favor, which he is uniquely qualified to ask, because they created him to ask it, the only person who could ask it.

Got that? Literally, the scenario is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hence, Prophets. Right? But they couldn't really tell Sisko that they set him up to fall (Too Christ-like, I guess). He'll figure that out once he's with them, just like Odo helps the Female Founder find instant peace in "What You Leave Behind." Which, yes, makes the Great Link a metaphor about the Prophets, and Sisko's role under them.

Make sense?

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Sisko has had emotional ties to Bajor. He wanted to retire and live out the rest of his days in peace there as the emmissary, since he had no choice in becoming anyways. The Profits stated during that conversation that he was no longer destined to be on Bajor. He was going to go down another path.

Now, I'm not certain whether the idea of him becoming

a prophet himself

was part of the deal within that conversation. I also believed for a time, they punished him with something they already knew what was going to happen. Maybe because it inoculated emotionally for what was going to happen, I don't know. But either way, I do remember that being said.

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    Note that the OP was only looking for answers with canon backing, not mere supposition. – Valorum Jan 15 '15 at 19:13

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