It’s the perfect continuation to the first season finale, showing that while Sisko put out one fire, a new and potentially worse one has broken out. What eventually will become the focus of the rest of the three-episode arc is introduced here as a little, harmless bit of graffiti (and yes, they’re still using spray paint in the 24th Century, because computer graphics were expensive in 1993). The symbol is that of a Bajoran extremist group, the Alliance of Global Unity, or simply the Circle. This is a xenophobic group that believes in a Bajor free of aliens and is gaining power while the Provisional Government continues to be useless. The symbol is all over Bajor, but this is the first time it’s been on DS9. The Circle escalates when a group of masked men assault and brand Quark late in the episode.
The main plot of this installment concerns that Bajoran war hero I mentioned. A freighter captain (who will later appear twice more) gives Quark a Bajoran earring she got from a Cardassian maintenance worker on Cardassia IV with the instructions to take it to Bajor and whoever sees it will understand. Quark takes it to Kira, who looks like she just s--t a brick. The earring belongs to Bajor’s greatest resistance leader, Li Nalas, who has been presumed dead for the last decade and proves (along with some DNA residue) that Li is alive. Kira wants to rescue him, and though Sisko is initially reluctant, he sees the light. Dax points out that holding Bajoran prisoners is illegal according to the treaty that ended the war, and Kira says that Li is the kind of leader that the entire planet can unite behind.
Sisko sends O’Brien along on the mission. Kira clearly doesn’t want a human along, but O’Brien has this way with Bajorans. Maybe it’s what Neela said: that he isn’t arrogant and condescending like the rest of Starfleet. Maybe it’s that O’Brien might hate Cardassians more than most Bajorans. Or maybe it’s that when Kira tells him that there are only two options, that they come back with Li Nalas or they don’t come back at all, O’Brien acknowledges this with a simple, “Understood.” O’Brien is a fascinating Starfleet character, because he is so defiantly working class. Let the officers worry about utopia. O’Brien is a man who fixes things. He’s a soldier who accepts the risks of his job with admirable stoicism. And, here’s the thing: as the show develops, we begin to understand that this is exactly the kind of person that makes humans terrifying to the galaxy at large. We’re a warrior race that doesn’t act like it, and who can produce miracles of technology on a tight schedule. There’s a reason the Klingons had to stop making war on the Federation, and that reason is men and women like Miles Edward O’Brien.
Kira and O’Brien find not a single prisoner but a whole work camp under a forcefield. They can’t beam up more than two at a time, and as soon as someone vanishes, the Cardassians will know what’s up. So, they opt for an A-Team plan, but unlike the A-Team, when Kira and O’Brien start shooting, people start dying. You’re talking about the two members of the crew with the most practical on-the-ground war experience. If this were D&D, both of them would be Rangers with Cardassians as a favored enemy. They get the Cardassians to lower the forcefield by masquerading as a pimp and prostitute. (Sadly, O’Brien is not forced to don giant boots with goldfish in the heels, and Kira doesn’t have any bubblegum to pop suggestively.) The guard at the gate is played by John Fleck, a wonderful character actor who has made a great career of portraying creeps. Here, he exists to leer at Kira and then get owned in spectacular fashion. The prison break is a thrilling action sequence, but it’s marred by one tiny, little thing I really wish I could ignore.
So, they get most of the Bajorans on the runabout but leave four behind to delay the guards, giving them time to escape. Okay, awesome. And, as soon as our heroes are in the runabout, two warships start closing in. Still awesome. But then, Kira wants to wait for the guys they left. Why? JUST BEAM THEM OVER. THAT’S WHAT TRANSPORTERS ARE FOR. And yes, I literally yelled this at the screen, even though this is at minimum, my fourth time watching this episode. I get that logic gaps are nigh inevitable with high technology, but still. Transporters are such an iconic part of the lore. At least give me a “the planet has deposits of notransportium, and so we can’t beam anyone anywhere!” The heroes have to leave without the rearguard, though there’s a later scene that establishes these guys will be okay.
There is one thing I can no longer keep a lid on. Li Nalas is played by Richard Beymer, who is probably most recognizable to people like me as Ben Horne from Twin Peaks. He also played Tony in a little movie called West Side Story, which is about zombies in New York if that one trailer I saw is to be believed. Anyway, Ben Horne is the great hero of the Resistance. Knowing his penchant for going big (I’m picturing Ben’s Civil War-themed breakdown, and now so are you.), he does some subtle work here, especially when he relates his origin story to Commander Sisko. See, Li’s heroism is built almost entirely on his supposed single combat against the war criminal Gul Zarale. What actually happened is far more tragicomic, but suffice it to say, it was largely accidental. In the original script, he actually was a hero, but Behr rewrote the story to be more like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Li doesn’t see himself as a hero but allowed Bajor to, because that’s what they needed. Returning home, to serve in some official capacity, is making him feel like a lie, and he needs to get out.
The resolution of the tensions over the rescue works, because it reveals more about Cardassia. Kira and O’Brien just flew a Federation ship (disguised as a Lissepian freighter, so there’s an espionage charge for you) into Cardassian territory, assaulted and murdered a couple Cardassian nationals, and left. When they return, Gul Dukat is on subspace with Commander Sisko, informing him that Cardassian Central Command had no idea prisoners were being held there (Yeah, right.), the camp prefect will be reprimanded (I am so sure.), the remaining prisoners are already en route home, and the government has issued a formal apology to the people of Bajor. It’s such perfect Cardassian sleaze. I almost admire the audacity.
The Bajoran Government is less pleased by Kira’s actions. Bajor just fought a generation-long war and only barely won it. Li’s rescue was an act of war. Kira is informed of this by Minister Jaro, an oily politician who happens to be played by screen great Frank Langella. Yes, that Frank Langella. I could praise him rapturously for pages upon pages, but come on. It’s Frank Langella. Either you know he’s amazing or you’re some kind of cave dweller, and, in that case, welcome! That giant ball in the sky is the sun, and you can worship it, if you like.
Minister Jaro, at first, comes across as a sympathetic man bound by his duties. He reprimands Kira for her rash actions but adds that, as a private citizen, he’s grateful for Li’s return. But, you don’t cast Frank Langella when you need a nice guy. He’s played Dracula, Skeletor, and Richard Nixon: some of the most iconic monsters of the silver screen! So, when he informs Sisko that the new Bajoran liaison officer is Li Nalas and that Kira has been transferred to Bajor, the only surprise is that he didn’t top it off with sepulchral cackle.
Next up: Kira enjoys retirement.