Synopsis: Sisko faces his first challenge as a captain: preventing the Founders from starting a war in the Alpha Quadrant.
Overall, this one is solid, especially considering it was written at the last minute, because their original plan — part one of a two-parter that would eventually become “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost” — was nixed by Paramount. They wanted to keep the paranoia theme of that two-parter, and I think they do a solid job of it here, with tensions rising after the reveal that a changeling has infiltrated the ship and could be anyone. I am a sucker for the “trapped on a ship (or other closed and isolated space) with a killer alien who could be anywhere” story frame to begin with, so I enjoyed it, particularly in combination with the ticking-clock element of potentially having to self-destruct if they can’t solve the problem in time.
I also really love the realization of just how deep this might go, how thoroughly they might have been manipulated:
Sisko: It looks like the Dominion is hoping to start a war between the Federation and the Tzenkethi.
Kira: If you ask me, the Tzenkethi are doing a pretty good job of it all by themselves.
Sisko: Not necessarily. The transmission we received from Barisa Prime could’ve been faked using that device we found implanted in the communications relay. In fact, our entire mission could have been engineered by the Dominion. Think about it — we’ve been all over this ship, and we have not seen a trace of the real Ambassador Krajensky, nor his remains.
Eddington: Which means he was probably replaced before we left the station.
Odo: Maybe the real Ambassador never came to Deep Space Nine at all.
Bashir: So anything Ambassador Krajensky told us could have been a lie. The Tzenkethi coup d’etat, increased tension along the border, the threat of an attack…
Sisko: And now here we are, cloaked, armed for battle, and headed into Tzenkethi space. If we can’t stop this ship before we cross the border, we may wind up causing a war rather than preventing one.
The crew finding themselves nearly manipulated into a war feels a bit like a parallel to the Founders’ running an entire simulation of Alpha Quadrant politics back in the season premiere. The goal with the “it was all just a simulation” ending of “The Search, Part 2” was to demonstrate what a threat the Founders could pose: “If the Founders are capable of playing with us like that,” Ira Steven Behr said of it in The Deep Space Nine Companion, “how much worse could they be in reality? That was our intent, to show that these guys were so ahead of us that they were literally playing with us.” To have them, now, attempting (nearly successfully!) to manipulate the Federation into a war that will eliminate them as a potential obstacle to the Dominion’s conquest strikes me as an elegant bookend to the season.
This episode also reinforces just how carefully the Founders have been paying attention to the Alpha Quadrant — they know where vulnerable points are, tensions that they can exploit. (Hell, they’ve learned enough about Federation technology that O’Brien is surprised by the idea that the “repairs” could’ve been done by Bashir.) It’s a strong follow-up to “The Die is Cast”, with the reveal that the Romulan captain was a changeling, and that they’ve decided what the biggest threats to them will be in the Alpha Quadrant and begun systematically targeting them: first the Cardassians and Romulans, now the Federation and, soon, the Klingons.
Speaking of Federation wars, something I find kind of amusing about this episode is that it introduces an entire race, the Tzenkethi, with whom the Federation currently has an uneasy peace after multiple wars (Sisko mentions “the last Tzenkethi war” in his log, suggesting that there’s been more than one), and then…never mentions them again? Wait, sorry, no, Memory Alpha says that they’re mentioned once more, in the “In Purgatory’s Shadow”/”By Inferno’s Light” two-parter, though none are ever seen onscreen. Given the amount of complaining from certain parts of the fandom about Discovery‘s war with the Klingons, I just find it kind of amusing that no one bats an eyelash when DS9 introduces an entire race by telling us about the terrible wars between them and the Federation, with neither the people nor the wars ever having been mentioned before and never being mentioned again.
(See also: TNG’s “The Wounded”, which introduces the Cardassians by telling us that only in the past year has a long and devastating war between them and the Federation ended — a war bad enough that the Federation may not survive another one.)
Today in “it’s about damn time”
Honestly, Sisko should have been a captain from the start — a promotion to Captain would have made a good ending for “The Emissary”, or even the first season. At the very latest, it should have been when they got the Defiant, since he was actually commanding a starship at that point.
(Combined with Discovery, it is, uh…noticeable that neither of the franchise’s Black leads is a captain, at least at the start of their shows? I love Michael Burnham’s first-season arc, but it’s still an unfortunate pattern.)
I really enjoyed the ceremony, which included some fun character moments — like how even when Odo is congratulating Sisko, he’s still kind of a dick about it, or how Sisko allows Jake a single sip of champagne and then takes his glass from him. There’s also a moment, when everyone is singing, when Odo and Kira — who aren’t Federation and have spent the least amount of time among humans — kind of glance at each other, as if they’re not quite sure they’re doing this right, and I just found it really…charming? It was just a cute little detail that made a lot of sense for the characters.
Changelings in general and Odo in particular
I really love when the show makes an effort to establish the Founders as truly alien. Like, the technical sabotage, with mechanical parts appearing to grow and change and take over the ship, was really unsettling. And the fight between Odo and the changeling at the end was really interesting; the effects team had to try to work out a way to make their contact appear violent, despite the fact that these are characters whose bodies are completely different from those of everyone else around them. Even before reading about that, I’d been struck by it, calling it out specifically in my notes that they’d taken a form of contact that, previously, we’ve only seen linking as a peaceful, even transcendant, experience for Odo, and yet they manage to convey very clearly that this time, it’s a violent experience.
That said, it did kinda bug me that everyone referred to the mysterious shapeshifter as “him”. I know the singular “they” wasn’t as widespread in the 90’s, but it’s still a bit weird. I guess, given that they’d seen the shapeshifter appearing as someone they knew to be male, it could make sense as a holdover? (Honestly, it’s a bit weird that changelings are gendered at all, given that they’re, y’know, goo, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.)
Odo’s saying that he’s never taken a life before was, uh…hm. Like, I get the significance, that in addition to No Changeling Has Ever Harmed Another, he’s also never directly killed anyone before, but…the key word there, for me, is “directly”. Yes, it’s time for me to beat my “ODO WAS A COLLABORATOR” drum once more. Like…my guy, you were a security officer on Terok Nor, hand-picked by Gul Dukat and kept there on his say-so. You know very well what the Cardassian justice system looks like. Just because you haven’t directly killed anyone doesn’t mean you have never been culpable in people’s deaths.
But having said that, I also wouldn’t have minded another scene or so where Odo could deal with the fact that he has, in fact, directly killed someone for the first time — perhaps with Kira, or Sisko, or even O’Brien (and now I want to watch “The Wounded” again, sorry 2 my roommate).
First, this is…really the most we’ve heard from Eddington until now, isn’t it? I like the use of him as a red herring here, and this is really the first time he’s been more than blandly pleasant — even when he sabotaged the Defiant, it was on orders from Starfleet, and was apparently not considered A Big Deal by anyone, since there’s no mention of it here and everyone treats him about the same as ever.
(I’ll doubtless say this again as the show progresses further, but I really wish I liked Eddington more. There’s a lot about him and his arc and his relationship with Sisko that seems tailor-made to fit my interests, but he just leaves me really cold.)
A few other things:
- I love that Kira and Sisko’s self-destruct confirmation codes, “Sisko-alpha-one-alpha” and “Kira-beta-two-beta”, are only slightly less silly and low-effort than TOS’s “1A”, “2B”, and “3C”.
- Was going to have Bashir draw blood really necessary? I mean…I guess it’s hygienic, but you’re also kind of in a hurry, I feel like just finding a sharp object nearby and pricking your fingers would work.
- O’Brien frustratedly declaring that he doesn’t have time to try and figure out which changeling is the real Odo and they should just keep weapons on both of them until he dealth with the immediate crisis, was a Mood.
- “Don’t you ever sweat?” WHY WOULD HE, EDDINGTON, HE DOESN’T HAVE SKIN OR SWEAT GLANDS, USE YOUR HEAD
- Jadzia, bless her, remains horny for both gossip and, IMO, for Kasidy.
- Sisko: also horny for Kasidy, but much more discreet about it.