Sisko is tasked by Starfleet with planning a new offensive against the Dominion. As Damar and Weyoun ready for the attack in their closet/headquarters on Cardassia Prime, Dukat shows up, telling them that he can use a captured Bajoran artifact to enlist the Bajorans’ pah-wraiths (introduced back in “The Assignment”) and destroy Sisko in the process. Sisko readies to attack a planet in Cardassian space and is contacted by the Prophets, who tell him not to leave. Sisko, of course, chooses his duty over the Prophets’ warnings. The battle is a success, but a possessed Dukat shows up on the station as it’s happening and deposits a bunch of evil energy — I’m not really sure how else to describe it — into one of the Bajoran Orbs, killing Jadzia in the process. Sisko returns to the station with the wormhole gone and Jadzia dead (though the Dax symbiont is saved and sent to Trill). As the episode ends, a saddened and somewhat lost Sisko is back at his father’s restaurant on Earth, searching for answers.
Why it’s important
This is another episode in the Dukat random-element series. It also connects him with the pah-wraiths, which is an important relationship through the end of the series, as we’ll see.
The Federation and its allies going on the offensive is big, too. The tide of the war was clearly turning at this point.
And then there’s Sisko and his slow and steady march toward a stronger connection with the Prophets. That will come to fruition more in the next few episodes, but it’s shown here. The Prophets clearly are watching and mindful of everything Sisko does — which is a (believable) departure from what we saw way back in “Emissary”.
What doesn’t hold up
First of all, it’s weird — and clearly contrived — that Dax was left behind in command of the station. The more natural and common thing would have been to have Kira on DS9 and Dax on the Defiant with Sisko. But then, Dax wouldn’t be on the station when Dukat arrived and wouldn’t be caught in the crossfire.
Also, I find it hard to believe that Sisko would allow Garak on the Defiant’s bridge after “In the Pale Moonlight”.
Oh, and this is as good as time as any to bring this up. Dukat beams aboard the station (from parts unknown) because Dominion transporters can operate over extremely large distances (we learn it’s like three light years in a few episodes). So, why wouldn’t the Dominion get three light years away and just beam hundreds of Jem’Hadar on board the station?
Sisko’s talk with Dax’s coffin is a high point of the episode, but so is the initial discussion with Damar, Weyoun and Dukat. One of DS9’s strengths was the great supporting cast who played truly well-developed characters. Jeffrey Combs, Marc Alaimo and Casey Biggs just hit it out of the park in this episode, and Alaimo’s delivery about Dukat being a “new man” was pitch perfect.
Oh, and I don’t care for Vic Fontaine so I won’t write about him much. Sorry!
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.
Starfleet Internal Affairs shows up on the station and appears to have Bashir in its sights. Director Sloan (William Sadler) starts asking about some questionable items in Bashir’s past and says he believes Bashir is a Dominion agent — possibly a sleeper agent. After putting the good doctor through the wringer, Bashir is beamed away by Weyoun, who says Bashir has indeed been a sleeper agent. Bashir almost buys it, but realizes it’s all an elaborate ploy by Sloan. Sloan then deactivates his holodeck and tells Bashir that he actually works for Section 31, a secret agency created to ensure the Federation’s security that has no authorization from Starfleet or the Federation Council — but that has been around for 200 years. After trying to recruit Bashir, he eventually lets him go and Bashir reports everything to Sisko. But Sisko’s inquiries about Sloan and Section 31 don’t go anywhere, and the episode ends with the idea Starfleet and the Federation are OK letting Sloan do his thing and that the Federation is not as morally pristine as we’ve been led to believe.
Why it’s important
Well, apparently, the Federation’s been propped up at least in part by a rogue organization that answers to no one for like two centuries. So, there’s that. It’s interesting that the DS9 creators pulled absolutely no punches on this one. They could have underplayed Section 31’s importance — the episode could have ended with Sisko saying he thought Sloan’s claims were exaggerated or something — but they went for broke.
And, of course, we’ll soon learn how important Section 31 is. They play a major, major role in events that lead to the end of the Dominion War.
What doesn’t hold up
From a logic/production standpoint, this episode really doesn’t have a lot of small flaws. It’s a complex drama that works — and if you’re willing to swallow the big conceit (that a rogue organization has been part of the Federation for two centuries) then it’s great. For me, I’m torn, so even though I don’t think what I’m about to say is an indication that the episode doesn’t hold up, it makes the most sense to share my thoughts here.
This episode, in many ways, undermines a lot of what we had seen in Star Trek for the previous 30 years — particularly what had been established in the early days of TNG when humanity’s evolution was really a major emphasis. If you think back to the first couple seasons of TNG, one of the defining characteristics — other than the jumpsuits — was the talk of humanity being above a lot of things, including the kind of treachery it saw from the Ferengi and the Romulans. One wonders what Picard or Riker in, say, 2365, would have thought of Section 31. That the organization existed and had such pull for so long makes early TNG look naive and silly (not that that’s a tall order).
Of course, late TNG was starting to embrace shades of grey (not “Shades of Gray”, as that should never be embraced) with stories about the Maquis, among other topics. But DS9 ramped things up — and did so in two very consequential weeks starting with “Inquisition”. And just wait until we get to reviewing the next episode.
Interestingly, Section 31 is one of DS9’s most enduring additions to the Trek universe. It shows up on “Star Trek: Enterprise” and is even mentioned in “Star Trek Into Darkness”. That JJ Abrams would choose to bring back that element from second-generation Trek is noteworthy. It shows just how compelling Section 31 is a concept and how the Star Trek creators likely struggled to find drama in a fictional era that was supposed to be relatively conflict free among humans.
Oh, and this episode has perhaps DS9’s greatest meta moment. One of DS9’s absolute worst logical gaffes was the ridiculous idea that the Dominion would have left Worf and Garak’s runabout parked near the prison camp where Worf and Garak were sent (and where Bashir and Martok had been held) back in “In Purgatory’s Shadow and “By Inferno’s Light”. Of course, if the Dominion hadn’t done that, our heroes wouldn’t have escaped.
So, what do the DS9 creators do? They USE that gaffe as one of Sloan’s justifications for believing Bashir was working for the Dominion. Priceless.
Coming next week …
If you thought “Inquisition” rocked Trek to its core, well, hold onto your butts.
Sisko is on board the U.S.S. Honshu, a ship taking our old buddy Gul Dukat to a hearing regarding his alleged role as a war criminal. Dukat, of course, had a major breakdown when the Federation retook DS9, and he’s not quite all there. Then, the Honshuu is destroyed by some Cardassian ships and Dukat rescues an injured Sisko and lands a shuttle on a desolate planet — where all they can really do is talk and wait to be rescued. Dukat — who’s hallucinating the entire time — wants Sisko’s approval or at least forgiveness so much that he makes it look like he’s transmitting a distress signal, when he’s really not. Sisko discovers this, and Dukat attacks him. A fed up Sisko finally agrees to talk out Dukat’s past — and gets Dukat to admit that he wanted to kill the Bajorans all along. Sisko nearly escapes after clubbing a distracted Dukat, but Dukat leaves in the shuttle (which apparently was working all along) and tells Sisko he intends to seek revenge on the Bajorans. Dukat then lets a rescue party led by Worf on the Defiant Sisko’s whereabouts. In the Defiant’s sickbay, Sisko tells Dax that he’s sure now that Dukat is “pure evil” and that the two will likely face off again. Thunderclap.
Why it’s important
Dukat’s careening path from ambitious opportunist to crazy psycho is really put in place here, after a pit stop in between in which he was in a mental hospital (which we only learn about in passing). Dukat, of course, becomes DS9’s random element through the end of the series, not truly acting in the Dominion’s best interest but with motives that (somewhat annoyingly) alternate between getting Sisko and letting him go (as he did here) and getting back at the Bajorans and looking for their worship.
This, of course, wasn’t the first episode since the Federation retook the station, but it is the first one after “Sacrifice of Angels” that we reviewed. So, as a sort of footnote, this episode is one of many where life on the station sort of has returned to normal.
What doesn’t hold up
Too often in late DS9, our heroes (or our main characters) seem to be the only people out of dozens or even hundreds who escape after a ship is destroyed. Why the DS9 creators couldn’t have just said that there were 100 survivors or something is beyond me.
Also, isn’t it odd that Kira and Odo are apparently getting orders from Starfleet and passing them on to Worf and the other Starfleet folks? After the Honshu is destroyed, Kira and Odo are talking in Sisko’s office and then tell Worf, Dax, Bashir and O’Brien that they only have a brief window to find Sisko before starting on another mission. I could probably swallow if Kira on her own was getting the briefing, but Odo? What an odd choice.
“Waltz” is, of course, classic DS9. It opens up the deep canvas of the show’s history with great acting and dialog. Avery Brooks and Marc Alaimo bring their absolute A games as actors who clearly got to know each other’s rhythms over the course of several seasons. Words only can’t really do justice to some of the scenes in the cave.
Coming later this week …
We learn about Starfleet’s dark underbelly in one of DS9’s most controversial episodes.
Sisko’s fleet begins fighting the vastly larger Dominion force while Dukat watches with glee and prepares to take down the minefield around the wormhole. At Damar’s suggestion, Kira, Jake and Leeta are all taken into custody (where Rom was being held pre-execution), leaving Quark as the only member of Kira’s resistance cell able to do anything. Quark, getting an assist from Ziyal, frees Kira’s team, and Kira and Rom work to disable the station so it can’t remove the minefield. The Defiant eventually breaks through the Dominion lines — with some late help from Worf and the Klingons — and sets course for the station. Odo picks his side and helps Kira and Rom, but Rom is just a second to late — and cuts the station’s weapons after the minefield has been destroyed. The Defiant arrives just in time to watch the mines explode and Sisko sets course into the wormhole, where the ship runs into the huge Dominion fleet. Then, the Prophets summon Sisko, asking him if he’s trying to die. Sisko talks the Prophets into intervening — “If you want to be gods, BE gods” — which they do, after telling Sisko there will be a penance. The Dominion ships disappear, and the Defiant comes out of the wormhole, firing on a disabled DS9. Weyoun orders evacuation and a retreat to Cardassian space and a stunned Dukat starts to fall apart. He finds Ziyal, who admits to helping Kira, and just as Dukat has apparently forgiven her, Damar shows up and shoots and kills Ziyal. After the Dominion evacuations, Sisko and company retake the station and find Dukat, a broken man from the ordeal.
Why it’s important
That’s likely the longest plot summary we’ve written, so you can tell that a lot happens here. The Federation retaking DS9 is a HUGE domino, of course — as is the decision by the Prophets to take on a more active role in “corporeal matters,” which plays into the seventh season in a major, major way. And then there’s the matter of Dukat …
Dukat’s breakdown and subsequent actions, which we’ll get into in future reviews, really change the math for the rest of DS9. Instead of merely fighting the Dominion, Sisko must face a random element in Dukat who decides to take on the Bajorans, Sisko and the Prophets because of their actions there.
What doesn’t hold up
Before I get started, let me be on record as saying I really like this episode, despite what may come across as ranting.
As the episode begins, occupied DS9 has at least a handful of Dominion and Cardassian ships in the area. There’s no discussion of these ships being sent to help with the fighting. And yet, they seem to magically disappear after Rom disables the station’s weapons. This is very important, in that the Dominion gives up the station (too easily) when the Defiant emerges from the wormhole. If even one of those ships was still around, it could have at least tried to take on the Defiant. I know that subsequent dialog establishes that the Starfleet/Klingon ships were on their way to the station after breaking through the Dominion lines. But if the Dominion had kept even a ship or two at DS9, they might have been able to hold off the Defiant until the station’s weapons were fixed so they could hold off the Starfleet and Klingon attackers.
And, BTW, we KNOW that some Dominion ships were still at the station, as the Dominion used them to evacuate its personnel. The creators somewhat weakly sidestep this by not showing the evacuation ships, meaning that maybe they were just shuttles or something that would have been unable to stop the Defiant. But that’s really weak sauce, as it would suggest that the Jem’Hadar and the Vorta would be cool putting a Founder in a small (and presumably lightly armed) ship in the middle of a war zone (among a host of other reasons).
And, frankly, Weyoun and the female Changeling are just WAY too chill about losing the station. Keep in mind that a season-plus later, we learn just how much the Dominion doesn’t like to lose.
As long as the complaint fest is going on, let’s address the fact that the Defiant still has the cloaking device on loan from the Romulans — despite the fact that the Romulans (at this point) have a non-aggression pact with the Dominion. The cloaking device is disabled during the battle early in the episode, but it is mentioned. Shouldn’t the Romulans have gotten that back when the war started?
While this is a criticism that might be best addressed after this episode, it makes sense to mention here: Why wouldn’t the Dominion take action against some weird wormhole aliens who just (apparently) destroyed 2,800 of their ships? After this episode, Dukat is the only one who seems to grasp the Prophets as a threat and a potential enemy. That’s really unlike the Dominion, who take every opportunity to strike out at perceived foes. We learn after this episode — too late, really, as the question is left unaddressed until the end of the season — that the Prophets will begin keeping ships from using the wormhole, preventing reinforcements from the Gamma Quadrant. That’s another reason the Dominion likely should have been looking for ways to attack the Prophets.
Of course, I could quibble with the deus ex machina allowing Sisko to get rid of 2,800 Dominion ships. Watching this in 1997, I felt the ending was a cheat. But I’ll give the DS9 creators credit for how they incorporated the penance later — and how they use this as a springboard to make the Prophets more active participants. Put another way, it was a cheat — but it was a well-done cheat after the creators (in true DS9 style) stacked the deck too highly against themselves and our heroes.
Lastly, I really love that Quark kind of saves the Alpha Quadrant here.
Coming next week …
We see just how badly this all messed up Dukat.
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?