In the words of many a programmer: this is a feature, not a bug.
The rewards of setting all those dominoes up is watching them topple. And that would be implying that the previous episode -- of each! -- was somehow bad. They’re incredible in both cases, and, in fact, indulge in one of DS9’s strengths: hopping from genre to genre. Before the combined Romulan and Cardassian fleet can get curb-stomped by the waiting Jem’Hadar, the writers guide us through a fascinating mystery. And before Worf, Garak, and Bashir can play Great Escape, they have to get themselves captured and have some emotional moments to provide the action with emotional heft.
Let’s be abundantly clear. The following hour is awesome. It’s like they tried to give every single character a moment to be great against a backdrop of the highest possible stakes. I mean, this is an episode where Dr. Bashir straight-up prison-shanks a Jem’Hadar. I’m not even certain how to tackle this review. In person, it would just be a combination of Chris Farley’s old SNL interviewer character, “Hey remember when...? That was awesome” and Mr. Torgue from the Borderlands series. I’m not even joking. I have to stop writing from time to time to do a sick air guitar solo.
Right, so when we last left our heroes, a Dominion fleet came flooding through the wormhole like the world’s most terrifying sex ed video. Kira has taken command of the Defiant, and when a nervous Dax remarks on how many enemy ships there are, Kira just smiles and tells her, “That just makes it harder to miss.” Yeah. I think that line made me pregnant.
The first big twist of the episode -- which in a normal episode would be the final twist -- is when the Dominion turns around and heads for Cardassia. (Side note, remember when Sisko had a vision about locusts coming from the sky and moving off toward Cardassia? Yeah.) Dukat’s Bird of Prey breaks formation, and Kira contacts him to return. “I’m not attacking the Dominion fleet, Major,” Dukat mansplains, “I’m joining it.” Yep. Space Hitler has become Space Petain, which I’ll admit doesn’t have the same ring to it. He has negotiated Cardassia’s membership into the Dominion, and Dukat’s first pledge (as the new head of Cardassia’s Vichy government) is to kick the Klingons out of Cardassian space and crush any remaining Maquis.
This has immediate repercussions in the Dominion prison camp, where our other heroes are being held. All Cardassians are to be immediately released. As a nonplussed Garak goes to join his brethren, Deyos, the Vorta in charge, informs him that he’s not included in the release. That beef with Space Petain isn’t going away so easily.
He’s locked into the escape plan anyway which is to use the transmitter Tain cobbled together to signal the runabout to beam them aboard. It’s a little silly that the Dominion would have just left the runabout there, but you can chalk it up to arrogance, and the fact that the writers didn’t have time to set up a better solution. Really, the episode is so good it’s easy to forgive the Jem’Hadar for underestimating their foes so severely.
The problem with the plan is that Garak is a claustrophobe, and he has to worm his way into a ridiculously cramped space to work on the transmitter (and honestly, there’s no way the more portly Tain would have fit back there). It’s an interesting callback to the third season episode “Second Skin,” when Garak was caught out of his quarters on the Defiant, and he remarked that they were “claustrophobic.” What at the time everyone took for a lie because it’s Garak could have been the unadulterated truth. Garak was having a mild panic attack from being confronted with his phobia. Here, it’s far, far worse, and Garak finds his psyche crumbling around him. What I love about this is that his psychological issue is treated with the same gravity as a physical malady, even by the gung ho Klingons. Garak suffers an attack so bad he can’t go into the wall anymore, and he’s the only one with the skills to modify the transmitter, so the response is not to bully or berate him but to try to come up with another plan.
Eventually, Garak does go back into the wall and does it with a snarky joke about a proposed epic song General Martok wants to commission for Worf. “There is no greater enemy than one’s own fears,” Martok observes. “It takes a brave man to face them,” Worf says. Here, these two warriors are acknowledging that Garak is fighting the deadliest enemy of all -- his own mind -- and treat it with appropriate gravity and admiration. The Klingons understand that there is no bravery without fear.
Meanwhile, Worf is being awesome. The Jem’Hadar of the camp “train” by forcing the prisoners -- at least the Klingons -- to fight them hand-to-hand in gladiatorial contests. Martok was an early victim, his eye put out by the Jem’Hadar commander Ikat’ika. While TNG worked to undermine Worf’s badassery, showing him beaten like a drum by everyone in the Alpha Quadrant, here he is redeemed. Worf keeps fighting every Jem’Hadar they throw at him, and keeps winning. Martok even claims that the spirit of Kahless must be inside Worf.
These battles culminate in the boss fight, Worf vs. Ikat’ika. While Worf is battered with broken bones and countless bruises, the Jem’Hadar is fresh. It’s clear Worf has no shot. But Worf just will not give up. Even when he is too beaten to stand, he refuses to yield. Eventually, Ikat’ika, showing the flash of warrior’s honor the Jem’Hadar display from time to time, yields. “I cannot defeat this Klingon,” he says. “I can only kill him.” He understands that these are two very different concepts, and the fact that the Vorta does not says everything you need to know about the Dominion’s ruling class. Deyos orders both Worf and Ikat’ika executed, but that’s right when Garak succeeds in his task, beaming all non-Dominion people out.
Meanwhile, back on the station, a Klingon fleet, battered from fighting the Dominion, comes to the station for repairs. Gowron, who was leading it, plans to retreat to the Klingon Empire and fight a defensive war. Sisko persuades him to stick around and join the Federation task force on its way. This is a fortified position, he reasons. Gowron agrees. A short time later, a Romulan fleet joins as well, making the big three of Alpha Quadrant powers ready to repel the Dominion attack Dukat has promised.
The Bashir Changeling has other plans. Loading a bomb on a runabout, he heads for the Bajoran sun. It’s only when DS9 gets a long-range message from the real Bashir that they realize what’s going on. The Dominion fooled them with sensor ghosts, making a fleet appear to be incoming, in an attempt to get the Alpha Quadrant to concentrate as many ships in one spot as possible. The bomb would then make the Bajoran sun go supernova, wiping them all out. Kira saves the day by going to warp inside the solar system and snaring the runabout with a tractor beam.
The episode ends with Sisko getting Gowron to sign the Khitomer Accords, that peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. A permanent Klingon presence will be on DS9, led by a man of Sisko’s choosing: General Martok. The war is officially over, and now both powers can concentrate on the real enemy. The question is whether or not it’s already too late.
Next up: Bashir’s got a dark secret.