If you’re setting up a specific cliffhanger -- the best Trek example has to be from “The Best of Both Worlds,” the stellar two-parter that bridged the third and fourth seasons -- you’re giving the crew an insurmountable problem to solve. In that example, it’s the Enterprise going up against the invincible Borg after Picard has already been assimilated. While that will get people to tune in (and produced one of the best episodes across all incarnations of Trek), it’s not necessarily satisfying to the writers. They have to pick up right where they left of. There’s no chance to set up the characters in new situations, to move relationships ahead through some boring bits to get to the exciting parts. DS9 chose a more interesting route to close out the great fifth season. They set up a situational cliffhanger of sorts, but allowed for a greater freedom for the characters to find themselves in new surroundings.
The episode begins, with love. This is a theme throughout the hour, both love and accompanying farewells. This is because love (and sex) and death are inextricably entwined in the human psyche. Don’t ask me why. We’re messed up as a species, I guess. So, each of the major romances, both implicit and explicit, are advanced in some way. Rom and Leeta get married, Odo and Kira agree not to worry about Odo’s now-revealed feelings for her, Garak and Ziyal exchange a passionate kiss (which becomes much more tragic in retrospect), and Dax says yes to Worf’s unspoken marriage proposal. In all the cases (with the exception of Kira and Odo), it’s an affirmation of life. No matter how bad things have gotten, they still have the ones they love.
By now, war with the Dominion is inevitable to the point that O’Brien grouses that he wishes they’d just hurry up and attack. The Dominion has been sending convoys through the wormhole on such a regular schedule that people get together on the Promenade to watch the fleet of Jem’Hadar fighters spill out into the Alpha Quadrant. Sisko decides that enough is enough, and with the blessing of Starfleet, starts to mine the wormhole. Dax, O’Brien, and Rom hit on a fiendishly effective weapon: small, cloaked mines programmed to swarm detonate, and equipped with replicators to replenish their numbers. The downside is the field takes forever to set up and can’t be activated until the whole thing is laid out. Otherwise, it might blow up early.
The Dominion hears about this relatively quickly and sends the delightfully unctuous Weyoun to have a word with Sisko. They rattle their sabers a bit, but then back off. Both of them see right through the other: Weyoun told Sisko to take the mines down, Sisko said no. There will be an attack.
While Kira pledges Bajor’s support, Sisko instead summons the Council of Ministers together to ask them to sign the non-aggression pact the Dominion has offered, following the example of the Miradorn, the Tholians, and most frighteningly, the Romulans. He doesn’t believe the Federation can protect Bajor if it comes down to it, and if Bajor doesn’t sign the treaty, they will likely get a repeat of the Cardassian Occupation, this time with a side order of vengeance. This is the culmination of Sisko’s vision in “Rapture.” He saw the locusts (Dominion fleet) heading for Cardassia and knew they would destroy Bajor. He is working to prevent that.
Martok, acting as a scout on the border, reports the incoming fleet. This is when we get my favorite moment of the episode, a quiet conversation between Odo and Garak on the Promenade. Garak reminisces about the time the Klingons attacked the station and he ended up fighting side-by-side with Dukat. At one point, Dukat turned his back on Garak, and he considered shooting him, but figured he couldn’t kill all those Klingons by himself. Odo asks if Garak regrets not doing so. “Before this day is over, everyone on this station will regret it,” he says, and he’s not wrong.
The Dominion fleet arrives and when Sisko refuses Dukat’s request of surrender, the fighting starts. The space battle is an absolute triumph for television special effects of the time, and outpaces more than a couple movie action sequences. An impressive feat considering one of the most important participants is entirely stationary. Meanwhile, the Defiant frantically tries to complete the minefield while Jem’Hadar ships do their best to cut it to pieces.
One of the fascinating seeds planted in this scene is the friction between Dukat and Weyoun. While the Cardassians are thrilled at the idea of retaking Bajor, Weyoun scolds them, mentioning the non-aggression pact. Dukat acts humbled, but it’s clear he’s only biding his time. He sees the Dominion as a means to an end, and when that end has been achieved, he fully plans to cut them loose, and avenge what he sees as the humiliations of the past five years.
The attack is a successful one. The Federation declined to support DS9, because it was sending a Starfleet-Klingon taskforce to destroy some Dominion shipyards (which worked), but at the cost of Deep Space Nine. Sisko delivers a short speech on the Promenade to the few people who are left behind and boards the Defiant to rendezvous with that same taskforce.
The characters are scattered. The bulk, including Garak, find their way to the Defiant. Worf has joined Martok on the Rotarran. Rom has stayed behind on the station as a Federation spy, as has Jake (to his father’s rage) as a journalist. Kira and Odo, of course, have the same position they always did, “welcoming” the Dominion to Deep Space Nine. “Don’t you mean Terok Nor?” Dukat wheedles.
Sisko left a few gifts behind. The first was a sabotage program that apparently fried everything in the station. The second was his baseball. Present in his office since the otherwise terrible first season episode “If Wishes Were Horses,” it has been Sisko’s fidget toy of choice and a clear sign of who that office belongs to. When Dukat sees it, he understands the message.
Sisko will be back.
Next up: Sisko and friends go after a Dominion meth lab.