“The Jem’Hadar”

Avery Brooks, Shit Just Got Real Face No. 5.

Sisko takes Jake on a trip to the Gamma Quadrant, and Quark and his nephew Nog (Aron Eisenberg) horn in on the fun. On a nearby planet, Sisko and Quark are taken captive by some nasty looking aliens called the Jem’Hadar, apparently the foot soldiers for the Dominion, a big, bad Gamma Quadrant empire first mentioned in passing earlier in season two. Meanwhile, a Jem’Hadar ship comes through the wormhole and a representative beams into Ops and tells Kira that the Dominion will no longer tolerate any travel to the Gamma Quadrant. Sisko will serve as an example of those who defy the Dominion. Starfleet sends the Galaxy-class Odyssey to DS9 and the ship and the two remaining runabouts go to retrieve Sisko’s party. Sisko and Quark — with the help of another captive, Eris (Molly Hagan) — have already escaped and are quickly retrieved (along with Jake and Nog). With the Odyssey and the runabouts retreating, a Jem’Hadar ship makes a suicide run at the Odyssey, destroying the ship and making it clear how far the Dominion is willing to go. Back on the station, it’s learned that Eris is actually a spy, and she beams away before she can be captured. With the Dominion apparently poised to attack, Sisko vows to be ready.

Could have been worse. The Odyssey could have been destroyed because the senior staff forgot they could remodulate the damn shields …

Why it’s important

As noted in the previous two reviews, the final third of DS9’s second season cements the station as a major galactic crossroads. With the Cardassians and the Maquis already nearby, the proximity to the wormhole now means DS9 will be the place of the first battle if and when the Dominion attacks (a point Sisko makes). DS9, which was a backwater of the galaxy when the series premiered, has become a very, very important place.

The introduction of the Dominion, the Jem’Hadar, the Founders (by name) and the Vorta (we learn later that Eris is a member of that race) are all huge events. With one exception (which we’ll address) everything that we see here mostly tracks with what we see over the next five seasons.

“Next time I say, ‘Let’s go to Bolivia’ … “

What doesn’t hold up

The creators made a very interesting choice in writing the Dominion’s motivations. Essentially, the Dominion says it will consider any further incursions in the Gamma Quadrant an act of war. Setting aside the actions taken by the Jem’Hadar before making these demands — capturing Sisko, destroying a Bajoran colony in the Gamma Quadrant, etc. — are the Dominion’s actions THAT different than another space-faring empire/organization declaring sovereign borders?

There are a couple ways that you can justify the Federation’s behavior, even if the creators (unfortunately) never bothered doing so. Considering that Alpha Quadrant races have been venturing into the Gamma Quadrant for two years without encountering the Dominion, we can assume that the Dominion’s territory doesn’t include the area right outside the wormhole. Indeed, later episodes indicate Starfleet knows the Dominion’s borders. So, is the idea that the Federation and other Alpha Quadrant races won’t abide by the Dominion’s warning because they don’t believe the claim is valid — as it’s overly broad?

That’s the only argument that really makes even a little sense. And keep in mind that the Dominion likely would have not started hostilities with the Federation if incursions through the wormhole had ceased. Now, perhaps you could argue that the Dominion later appears untrustworthy and would have attacked anyway. But, at this point in DS9, our heroes don’t know anything about the Dominion — and neither do we.

With that conceit pushed aside, there’s only one real problem with what we see here and what we see later. Eris, on board DS9 at the end of this episode, encounters Odo — and doesn’t seem to treat him as we later learn she should. Here’s why (spoiler alert) …

Next season, Odo learns that he is actually a Changeling, and Changelings are the Founders mentioned in this episode. In other words, the Changelings are the leaders of the Dominion. And we also learn later that the Jem’Hadar and the Vorta (of which, Eris is one) are bred to worship the Founders.

So, either Eris didn’t know that Odo was a Founder, or she had a great poker face — which doesn’t seem likely, considering the way Vorta almost instinctively fall all over the Founders in later seasons. One possibility is that the rest of the Founders, who are better shapeshifters than Odo, didn’t appear like Odo when they interacted with “solids” — and that all the Changelings we see going forward mirror Odo’s look. I suppose there are reasons they might do that — to make Odo feel a stronger connection, for example — but it’s never really explained.

Really, the answer is simpler. The creators either hadn’t decided to make Odo’s race the leaders of the Dominion before writing this episode OR they got sloppy later. Or both.

Final thoughts

This is another strong — and consequential — episode toward the end of DS9’s second season. But I can see why fans didn’t think DS9 fit in with Roddenberry’s vision. The series would be the first, and only, in Star Trek in which we see a full-scale war. Of course, that’s largely put in motion here.

Frankly, though, after three seasons of TOS (and, at this point, six movies) and seven seasons of TNG, the creators probably needed to do something beyond the standard exploration that we saw in the first two series. Otherwise, DS9 would have been old hat. Put another way, DS9 lived up to its premise — whether fans liked the actual premise or not. Voyager, the fourth series, notoriously tried to  have its cake and eat it, too, for seven years and essentially pissed all over its premise.

Coming next week …

Sisko and Co. gear up for the looming Dominion threat.

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