When you obsessively(?) watch the same shows over and over again, it’s impossible to not notice certain story elements and ask “what if?” As someone whose devotion to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reflects such obsession, it recently occurred to me if one of the earliest episodes had ended differently, arguably the single most destructive conflict in Star Trek history would have been avoided. Namely, if Tahna Los (Jeffrey Nordling) had succeeded in collapsing the entrance to the Bajoran Wormhole, the Dominion War — which cost untold billions of lives on both sides of the conflict — would never have happened.
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s second episode, the villain attempts to collapse the entrance to the Bajoran Wormhole which, if successful, would have prevented the destructive Dominion War.
If you’ve watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from start to finish, it may be easy to forget that the inaugural season was characterized by the complex political situation of Bajor, Cardassia, and the Federation reflected in the main cast. In particular, Starfleet’s Ben Sisko (Avery Brooks) and his Bajoran first officer Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) don’t fully trust one another, and we never see that more than in DS9‘s second full episode, “Past Prologue.”
The Bajoran terrorist Tahna Los (Jeffrey Nordling) just barely escapes pursuing Cardassians and pleads for political asylum aboard DS9. For most of the episode, Kira is Tahna’s most passionate advocate, and even goes behind Sisko’s back to complain to his Starfleet superiors.
When Kira finally discovers that, in spite of his protests to the contrary, Tahna is still a part of the ultraviolent Kohn-Ma and is preparing for another attack, she almost goes along with it until a conversation with Odo (Rene Auberjonois) makes her realize that isn’t who she is anymore.
In fact, what Tahna Los tries in “Past Prologue” is what the heroes try and fail to do in Season 5…
But the latter half of the Star Trek episode reveals that Tahna is, at least in part, telling the truth. The bomb he is building is not meant to take lives, but instead to collapse the entrance to the Bajoran Wormhole. Without the portal to the Gamma Quadrant that has caused such a stir, Tahna reasons, all interest in Bajor will disappear and the world will once again know freedom.
Tahna’s logic isn’t perfect. After all, in the series premiere — long before anyone knows about the Wormhole — Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) makes it clear to Sisko that the Federation wants Bajor to join the Federation. Of course Cardassia’s desire for Bajor predates the discovery of the Wormhole by over half a century.
Still, among the things that would have changed if Tahna Los had succeeded — assuming the entrance to the Wormhole not only collapsed but stayed that way — is that there would be no Dominion War. With no pathway to the Gamma Quadrant, Star Trek’s Federation and the other Alpha Quadrant powers wouldn’t have been targeted by the Founders, and the Dominion would have no way to travel to the Alpha Quadrant.
In fact, what Tahna Los tries in “Past Prologue” is what the heroes try and fail to do in Season 5 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, not long before things between the Dominion and the Federation finally erupt into full scale war. With the arrival of a Dominion fleet imminent in “In Purgatory’s Shadow,” Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) tries to collapse the entrance to the Wormhole, but his efforts are sabotaged by a Changeling disguised as Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) in such a way that collapsing the entrance in the future becomes completely impossible.
If Tahna Los had succeeded in that early episode, there be no Wormhole entrance for O’Brien to try and fail to collapse. The Dominion and the Federation would remain ignorant of each other, separated by decades worth of space flight.
Other Downsides If Tahna Los Succeeded
Of course, that doesn’t mean that letting one of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s earliest villains succeed would have been a good thing. Had Tahna Los succeeded, he could have unintentionally plunged Bajor into a bloody civil war.
With so many religiously active Bajorans seeing the Wormhole as the gateway to their gods, the destruction of that gateway could give rise to ruthless holy wars and perhaps even an early resurgence of the Cult of the Pah Wraiths that we see later in the series.
Regardless, that the hypothetical success of Tahna Los could have led to a long, bloody war never even occurring speaks to the complex story the writers created with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The show rarely presents you with questions that have easy answers. While there are plenty of bad guys who aren’t within a million miles of redemption, there are also complex antagonists like the Maquis and Tahna Los who aren’t always in the wrong, along with heroes like Ben Sisko who aren’t always in the right.
If you haven’t seen Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or you have but you could use a refresher, the entire series is streaming on Paramount+.