The war isn’t going well and Sisko’s fed up with looking at casualty reports. He decides that he’s going to find a way to bring the Romulans — who’ve had a non-aggression pact with the Dominion since “Call to Arms” — into the war to help the Federation. He enlists Garak’s help, and the plan starts getting messy. Garak suggests that Sisko invite Romulan Senator Vreenak (Stephen McHattie) to the station for a secret meeting and provide a forged recording of Damar and Weyoun discussing invading Romulus. After going to great lengths and doing a bunch of unethical things to create a recording that will pass muster, the deception fails, and Vreenak heads back to Romulus. Then Sisko learns that Vreenak’s shuttle has been destroyed, by Garak, in a way that makes it appear the Dominion was behind it. The Romulans declare war on the Dominion … but at the cost of Sisko’s self respect and possibly his soul. The episode ends with Sisko telling himself (in a personal log entry) that he can live with his actions, but he’s clearly not sure himself.
Why it’s important
Sisko’s actions though morally questionable, likely won the war for the good guys. The Romulan entry in the war changes the math and the Federation/Klingon/Romulan alliance goes on the offensive later this season. By the seventh season, the tide in the war had clearly turned.
What doesn’t hold up
For the second consecutive episode, DS9 really shook the Star Trek “way” to its very core. Sisko, by his own admission lied, cheated, made bribes and was an accessory to murder. It’s hard to imagine Roddenberry signing off — considering he was against his heroes even having cloaking devices. It’s arguable as to whether that makes this episode not hold up — the moral ambiguity of DS9 actually makes it hold up better than some other Trek in an era of shows like “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire”. But as far as consistency within the Trek universe, what we see here is a big departure.
What truly doesn’t hold up is the idea that Sisko would take this all on by himself. Keep in mind that the Federation and Starfleet are HUGE organizations. Sisko’s plan here is the kind of maneuvering that really would have made more sense in early DS9, when Sisko was involved in the politics of Bajor, just one planet. But the idea that Sisko — in just two weeks! — could make such galaxy-altering moves is kind of ridiculous.
If DS9 hadn’t already established itself as the Trek series with the darkest tone prior to the sixth season, it certainly got there with “In the Pale Moonlight” and “Inquisition” before it. The creators really must have decided not to F around anymore. That’s not really a bad thing, but it was a clear uptick — a HUGE uptick — in the show’s narrative approach. Put another way, it’s hard to imagine Kirk, Picard or Sisko in early DS9 doing what Sisko does here.
Part one: Garak’s tailor shop blows up and Odo begins looking into who did it and why. Turns out the Romulans tried to kill Garak and that several former Obsidian Order colleagues of Enabaran Tain (see “The Wire”) have been killed. Odo and Garak head to see Tain, where they’re intercepted by a Romulan warbird. Tain takes them prisoner and explains that the Obsidian Order and the Romulan Tal Shiar (a similar organization we met in TNG) are working together to eradicate the Founders. Tain tried to kill Garak to eliminate any old loose ends — the mission will mean the end of Tain’s retirement — but Garak and Tain decide to work together again, putting Garak back in the fold and making Odo a prisoner.
Part two: Garak is tasked by Tain and Romulan Colonel Lovok (Leland Orser) to interrogate Odo using a device that won’t allow him to revert to his liquid form. Meanwhile, Sisko and Co. learn of Tain’s plan (after a fleet of 20 starships head through the wormhole) and try to get Starfleet to let them intervene, mostly to save Odo. Starfleet balks, but Sisko takes the Defiant to the Gamma Quadrant anyway. Meanwhile, Garak is basically killing Odo, who only breaks when he admits he still longs to be around other Changelings, despite what he knows about them (a fact Garak doesn’t tell Tain). At the Founders’ planet, Tain’s fleet begins an attack but learns quickly that the Dominion knew they were coming — and a fleet of 150 Jem’Hadar ships emerges and starts firing. Lovok is actually a Changeling who helped orchestrate the whole thing and lets Odo and Garak escape. The Defiant shows up just in the nick of time and pulls them off a runabout that’s under attack. Garak returns to his tailorship, but with a new quasi-friendship with Odo.
Why it’s important
This is the first time we see a Changeling impersonating a key Alpha Quadrant figure to destabilize the main powers there. It’s interesting that Lovok ominously tells Odo and Garak that his mission would effectively neutralize the Cardassians and the Romulans — leaving only the Klingons and the Federation as threats.
Lovok was actually wrong about the Romulans — who seem to be OK without the Tal Shiar — but he was right about the Cardassians. The loss of the Obsidian Order destabilizes the empire to the point where the civilian leaders take power by the start of season four. This leads the Klingons to think the Cardassian leaders are Changeling infiltrators, prompting the Klingon invasion of Cardassia. When the Federation opposes the invasion, the Klingons end the alliance with the Federation, leading to a brief war between the two former allies. Meanwhile, the Klingon attacks and the continuation of the Maquis threat wreaks so much havoc inside Cardassia that Gul Dukat leads the Empire in joining the Dominion in season five. And the subsequent Dominion attacks on Klingon targets within Cardassian space prompts the Klingons and the Federation to become BFFs again to fight the Dominion.
What doesn’t hold up
This two-parter is one of the highlights of DS9. But like “The Search” two-parter, there are a lot of logical issues — most of which are in part two.
1) It’s hard to believe that Tain and Co. wouldn’t have thought that the Founders had SOME sort of defenses for their planet. I know that Kira and Odo didn’t note any in “The Search”, but the Founders could have added them after their homeworld was discovered, or Tain should have considered the possibility that they did. And wasn’t it possible — and wouldn’t Tain have figured — that maybe Kira and Odo simply didn’t identify the defenses at the planet?
2) Part two also shows Sisko and Co. going rogue again (which we saw in “The Search”). Sisko heads to the Gamma Quadrant chiefly to save Odo, against Starfleet’s express orders. It’s cool that he’s loyal to his officers, but he very well could have prompted further Dominion attacks by his actions.
Now, Sisko’s stated rationale could have been smarter. Maybe, he could have made an argument about Odo’s potential importance to the Federation. Years later, Odo would help end the Dominion war earlier than it would have ended otherwise. Even at this point in the series, Sisko could have argued to Starfleet that keeping a loyal Changeling in the fold had value. Hell, Sisko could have simply told Starfleet he wanted to save Odo for the above reason — even if he really wanted to do it out of loyalty.
3) And, as is custom in Star Trek, the admiral who gave Sisko the order is WAY too cool with shrugging off what happened.
4) Finally, the Lovok Changeling who allowed Odo and Garak to leave doesn’t seem too worried about them after they’re on the runabout. If the Defiant hadn’t swooped in, the Jem’Hadar would have killed Odo (and Garak). So the whole business of “no Changeling has ever harmed another” is sort of flimsy. What would the folks in the water cooler in the Great Link have said to the Lovok Changeling had the Jem’Hadar killed Odo?
5) Oh, and whatever happened to the T’Rul, the Romulan sent to DS9 to watch the cloaking device on the Defiant in “The Search”? Her introduction is a big deal in those two episodes, and then, she’s gone.
Part two was written by Ronald D. Moore. As noted in our previous review, Moore’s contribution to DS9 are similar to much of the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica”, which Moore led. In other words, this is compelling drama with good character moments that often rely on flimsy logic.
I won’t say this very often, but the payoff and performances in this episode really are worth the logical goofiness. Garak and Tain have great chemistry — and this episode really cements Garak’s role as one of DS9’s most important characters. Beyond that, the episodes include some great Odo stuff AND part two has the great payoff of the best battle scenes Trek had done to that point. After this episode, the ship-to-ship battles on DS9 (and on Voyager, which had just premiered) really improved.
This two-parter is one of DS9’s absolute peaks and is incredibly noteworthy in the Trek tapestry. It’s a definite watch for DS9 fans.
Last point, I’m glad they brought back Starfleet security chief Michael Eddington (Kenneth Marshall). It was annoying that he went unseen after his big introduction in “The Search”, but he’s an important character going forward, as we’ll see.
Coming next week …
More Dominion intrigue as Starfleet shows how much they can’t handle Changeling infiltrators.
As the Enterprise crew gets ready to break up — a newly married Riker and Troi are leaving so Riker can finally get his own ship — they detect evidence of positronic energy on a random planet. After a poorly done battle outing with some primitives there, Picard, Data and Worf recover another Soong-type android named B-4, apparently a prototype that looks exactly like Data, though he’s less advanced. Data links with B-4 in an attempt to help the prototype develop, though the results of the data transfer are hard to predict and could leave B-4 with Data’s personality. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is called to Romulus, by the mysterious new head of the government. Turns out the new leader, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), is a younger clone of Picard, whom the Romulans created for espionage some years back but who has led a coup to take over the government and now says he wants peace. Of course, Shinzon’s lying and he is really after Picard — he needs a blood transfusion to live — and has plans to attack Earth. The Enterprise and Shinzon’s ship engage in a massive battle, leaving both ships somewhat disabled. Shinzon then starts a buildup within his ship’s “thalaron” reactor that will wipe out everything nearby, including a disabled Enterprise. Picard beams over to stop him, and Data follows. Data sends Picard back to the Enterprise and then destroys Shinzon’s ship and himself before the reactor can go critical. Back on the Enterprise, with Riker and Troi gone, Picard talks with B-4 about Data. B-4 doesn’t understand what Picard is saying, but starts to sing a song Data sang at Riker and Troi’s wedding early in the film. A smiling Picard leaves B-4 and heads to the bridge, ending the TNG storyline.
Why it’s important
This movie is extremely flawed, as we’ll discuss. But it’s also incredibly significant in the Star Trek universe. Before the rebooted movies in 2009, it detailed the last events of the second-generation Trek timeline. It aired more than a year after Voyager’s final episode, and Enterprise, of course, took place in the distant past.
We learn that the Romulans didn’t remain allies with the Federation after the war with the Dominion, as they were in DS9, though this movie does effectively tie those events in by making Shinzon a former military leader in that conflict. We learn the Federation is still OK and apparently has recovered since the war. “Star Trek: Insurrection”, which we won’t review, takes place immediately after that war — but this movie shows things three or four years later.
Meanwhile, it appears that the events here could lead to some sort of a new relationship with the Romulans, as Riker’s first mission as captain of his new ship is said to be going to Romulus to begin peace talks (with Shinzon gone). How that plays into the reboot stuff in the 2009’s “Star Trek” is unclear. It’s also odd that there’s no mention of Spock — who was on Romulus as of TNG’s fifth season — in this movie.
What doesn’t hold up
To this film’s credit, it has fewer logical gaffes than “Generations” (though that’s not a tall order) and feels more significant than “Insurrection”. What doesn’t work is less about inconsistencies and more about poor execution and bad writing. But let’s talk about the inconsistencies and logic fails first.
Probably the worst logical gaffe comes early when Picard, Data and Worf recover B-4 from a primitive world. There’s not even a mention of how the trio is quite clearly violating the Prime Directive in its ground battle with the random aliens.
Beyond that, Shinzon’s plan is just completely ridiculous. Basically, he found B-4 (how is never explained), programmed him to be a sort of sleeper agent (he sends info to Shinzon while on the Enterprise) and planted him on the random planet figuring the Enterprise (on its way to Betazed) would just happen upon him and be the nearest ship to Romulus when he called for a Federation envoy. Then, the Enterprise would get called to Romulus with B-4 on board because it’s the closest ship.
But … how did Shinzon know that the Enterprise would be anywhere near the planet where he left B-4 (is Betazed really that close to the Neutral Zone)? Why did he feel the need to (apparently) draw the Enterprise close to Romulus? Why not simply tell the Federation that he would only deal with the captain and crew of the flagship? What would have happened if Shinzon hadn’t found B-4? That whole part of the story just makes very little sense and was pretty much unnecessary. It would have made more sense if Shinzon had built B-4, using stolen plans, or something, and demanded that the Federation send the Enterprise and only the Enterprise. Maybe he could have offered B-4 to the Enterprise as a gift?
There’s also the matter of Shinzon deciding to attack Earth. Frankly, that was just a twirling-mustache move that wasn’t necessary. Shinzon wanted Picard. Putting Earth into the equation was just overly dramatic nonsense.
Oh, and putting Worf back on the Enterprise was pretty goofy. His appearance in “Star Trek: Insurrection” was justified by a throwaway line — and apparently took place as the Federation was negotiating with the Dominion after that war ended on DS9. But in the final episode of DS9, Worf left to become the Federation ambassador to the Klingon Empire. I guess the idea was that he didn’t make it as an ambassador and some time over the next three years, he came back to the Enterprise?
Same goes with the situation with Wesley, who appears briefly at Riker and Troi’s wedding. Last we saw him, in “Journey’s End”, he resigned from Starfleet and was going to explore new realms of existence or something. But here, eight years later, he’s back in a Starfleet uniform. So, what the hell happened? It’s also odd that he had no lines in the actual film!
Logical problems aside, this movie fails because of its artistic choices and the idea that it has to jam some characters into the action. Notably, the Riker/Troi stuff (post wedding) was just awful. The whole business with Shinzon’s viceroy (Ron Pearlman) having mental powers and assaulting Troi is mostly uncomfortable — and Riker’s decision to fight the viceroy (after he boards the ship) was not at all interesting. As noted previously, the writers clearly ran out of things for Riker to do late in TNG. This is a great example of them struggling to get him involved.
Beyond that, there’s the homage/ripoff of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. I’ve never been offended, as some were, by the idea of the callback. But the implausibility of the situation (as noted above) just makes it feel way too forced. Data sacrificing himself and possibly living on in B-4 really wasn’t an awful idea, but the execution was bad.
The movie also has an odd tendency to include superfluous scenes (the Troi assault, the goofiness in the Romulan Senate to start the movie, the stupid action scene with the random aliens after B-4 is recovered, etc.) and to leave other matters unaddressed. Left on the cutting room floor were lines from Wesley at the wedding (I can’t imagine Wil Wheaton was thrilled with that) and a subplot about Crusher leaving the ship to go run Starfleet Medical. That last part would have been important (considering her relationship with Picard) and the idea that the family is really breaking up. Even before Data’s death, Picard would have had to deal with the loss of Riker, Troi AND Crusher.
As it is, the TNG sendoff feels forced — and overly dark. Removing the Troi assault, the Riker fight and the Romulan Senate scenes would have brightened up a dark film and allowed time for other, more important scenes.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why “Star Trek: Insurrection” didn’t get a review, it’s that it’s mostly inconsequential in the Trek universe. We never hear of the aliens in that film again (aside from one random mention on DS9) and the “insurrection” doesn’t have any last effects. The movie’s most interesting idea — that Starfleet, after all the conflicts in the DS9 years, was old and somewhat desperate — is not really explored. As a film, “Insurrection” is right up there with “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” in its episodic nature and overall quality.
Riker’s old commander, Admiral Pressman (Terry O’Quinn) shows up to recover his former ship, the Pegasus. The Romulans are looking for it, as it was a prototype lost in space 12 years earlier. Pressman is damn near obsessed, to the point where he questionably orders the Enterprise into a large asteroid containing the Pegasus. Pressman won’t reveal to Picard (who knows something is up) what’s really going on and puts Riker in a tough spot. Pressman and Riker beam over to the Pegasus and return with a piece of equipment. Meanwhile, the Romulans destroy the entrance to the asteroid, trapping the Enterprise. Riker comes clean and tells Picard the piece of equipment is a prototype phase-cloaking device — in violation of a treaty with the Romulans. In addition to rendering a ship invisible, the device can allow ships to pass through matter. Picard uses the device to escape, but decloaks in front of the Romulans, offering proof of Pressman’s misdeeds. He then takes Pressman and Riker into custody, but later brings Riker back into the fold because he came clean in the end.
Why it’s important
As a kid, I remember wondering why Starfleet never used cloaking technology. It seemed like such an obvious thing, and there were episodes (like “Unification”) where cloaking a Federation starship would have been extremely useful. Gene Roddenberry apparently was against the idea of the Federation skulking around, but the rationale was left unexplained until “The Pegasus”. And the rationale mostly makes sense — though it’s odd that it had never been mentioned previously.
This was an episode that was right on the line as far as whether it would make the tapestry, partly because we don’t see much in the way of direct consequences. But it was such a watershed moment for me, as a 13-year-old watching this back in the day, that we squeezed it in.
What doesn’t hold up
It seems like the whole Neutral Zone thing — which was such a part of TOS and TNG, in the early seasons — was sort of tossed aside here (and in other episodes in late TNG and early DS9). Was the asteroid field we see in this episode in the Neutral Zone? Was it in an area where neither power had a claim? If it’s the second option, then I have to ask: What’s the point of the Neutral Zone in the first place? Of course, having an area of space designed to block interactions can be a nuisance for writers. But, in this episode, a line about the asteroid field being in the Neutral Zone or free space would have helped.
Also, why is it SO important that Pressman get the actual device? It seems pretty clear that he knows how the thing was built. Couldn’t someone just build a new one? There’s no indication that the materials used in it were hard to come by. If the WAY it was built was so important, then wouldn’t the Pegasus have had records? And, if so, was it really important that the device was retrievable — as opposed to being able to access the ship’s computers?
Finally, it’s not clear at the end of the episode whether the rest of the Pegasus was recovered. Remember that Pressman’s reasoning for the importance of the mission and the Romulans’ interest was that the ship would reveal a bunch of Starfleet secrets ASIDE from the cloaking device. Did Pressman lie about the Pegasus being a prototype? It’s possible that the Enterprise destroyed the asteroid after the incident — Riker suggests doing as much early in the episode — or that the ship was otherwise recovered. But it’s never really explained.
I’ve always assumed that the black mark on Riker’s record after this episode helped explain his lack of career advancement between the seventh season of TNG and “Star Trek: Nemesis”. That covered nine years in the Star Trek timeline. Of course, why Riker didn’t get any offers to command a ship for three years after he prevented the Borg from assimilating Earth is another question.
While this episode barely made the tapestry cut, it references one that just barely didn’t make it. “Force of Nature” is a controversial episode in Trek, as it, briefly, changed the whole nature of space exploration with the idea that warp drive was damaging the fabric of space. For the rest of the seventh season and in this episode, TNG gives lip service to the problem by instituting a speed limit of Warp 5 — except at times of emergency. But afterward, the damage warp was causing seems to be a non-issue. In DS9, Voyager and in the movies, ships routinely travel faster than Warp 5 — and there’s no on-screen explanation as to how the problem was solved.
Lastly, this episode is the backdrop of the much-maligned Enterprise finale, “These Are the Voyages” — and it’s in that episode’s review that we’ll assess the effort to tie both episodes together. Sneak preview: The creators shouldn’t have bothered.
Picard’s former archaeology professor and mentor, Galen (Norman Lloyd) asks Picard to join him on a super-secret mission. It would mean leaving the Enterprise, so Picard passes, and a disappointed Galen moves on. He is later killed when his shuttle is attacked, and Picard takes on the mysterious mission — which seems to be aimed at gathering DNA fragments from various worlds. Soon, the Klingons and Cardassians are involved (they apparently learned of Galen’s mission) and Picard gets the two rivals to work together. After some prerequisite deception — the Cardies try to sabotage the Enterprise and the Klingon captain (John Cothran) tries to bribe Data — they all end up on a lifeless planet, where the last remaining DNA fragment is found. Then, the Romulans show up — they’d been shadowing the Enterprise — and a faceoff appears imminent. As the parties squabble with weapons drawn, Picard and Crusher extract the DNA and it activates an ancient hologram (Salome Jens) who tells the group that long ago her people spread their genetic material throughout space — possibly creating the bipeds we see all over Trek and hinting at the possibility that the races are somewhat related. The Klingons and Cardassians are unmoved, but the episode ends with the Romulan commander contacting Picard, saying perhaps they’re not that different after all.
Why it’s important
One of Star Trek’s biggest conceits has always been that most aliens look (basically) human. Aside from face makeup, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, etc., all have two arms and two legs. There are exceptions like the Tholians and the Sheliak. But by and large, Star Trek would be a lot harder to pull off if the aliens were more alien, so the concession is one we have to make, along the lines of the Universal Translator or Brent Spiner’s aging. This episode attempts to explain why a bunch of the aliens look the same. It’s not an ironclad explanation, as we’ll discuss. But this episode, quietly, tries to cover one piece of back story for the entire franchise.
Beyond that, this episode is quintessential Trek as told by TNG. It involves problem-solving, getting feuding aliens to work together, Picard’s ability to think big picture and the hope that the commonalities among the aliens we encounter are more important than their differences. The last shot, where Patrick Stewart plays Picard as both hopeful and amazed after his conversation with the Romulan commander, is just about perfect. In short, there might not be another TNG episode that is so TNG. This has long been one of my favorite episodes of the franchise, as it’s engaging and comes with a message without being preachy.
What doesn’t hold up
While this episode has a lot of TNG’s strengths, it also has some of its weaknesses. This isn’t the worst example of Fun With DNA (“Unnatural Selection” or “Genesis” wins that award) but it’s in the top 10. It’s also a little too easy at the end that the last fragment would reprogram the tricorder to display the holographic image just as everyone’s got guns drawn. It works dramatically, but it’s more likely that the ancient message would have to be decoded somehow.
This episode also works for TNG, which largely takes place in the Alpha and Beta quadrants in (relatively) close proximity to Earth. But are we to believe that the ancient aliens planted DNA in the Gamma and Delta quadrants? We see bipeds from the Gamma Quadrant (on DS9) and from the Delta Quadrant (on Voyager) and we know from TNG that the Borg are essentially bipeds (a conglomeration of bipeds) from the Delta Quadrant. Maybe I could swallow that the ancient aliens had advanced propulsion, but did they have the time or interest to seed so much of the galaxy? The point is left vague as to whether all of the bipedal aliens descend from the ancient aliens, or if only some did.
Also, I’m not sure why Galen didn’t just ask Picard to help him and use the resources of the Enterprise. Galen was clearly concerned about the dangerous implications of his findings — and it’s unlikely that the Federation would have refused him (particularly if Picard vouched for him). It sets up for the drama of the first act and the mystery leading up to the conclusion, as Galen would have likely clued Picard in at some point if they were working together. It’s possible Galen didn’t want the Federation or any paramilitary organization to be part of his discovery, but he never says anything like that. And hell, the Enterprise does in a few days what Galen says would take several months!
Complaints aside, I still really love this episode. It’s Picard at his best, and the guest actors are really pretty great. It’s interesting that Salome Jens shows up here as the female in the holographic projection, considering her next role is as DS9’s worst villain, the female Changeling. If this were further in Trek history — the Dominion doesn’t really pop up for another year or so — one might wonder if this were just an elaborate Dominion trick. 🙂
Coming next week …
The Klingon messiah returns. But is he still hanging with Genghis Khan?
What if a site focused on the really important Star Trek episodes, explained how they were important and how they tied together — while tossing in a healthy dose of snark?