Takes a while, doesn’t it? There was no roadmap for what DS9 became in its final two seasons. Even up until these episodes were written, they weren’t certain what it would be. The sixth season opens with what amounts to a 6-parter, something that had never happened in the thirty-year (at that time) history of the franchise. The original intent was that the entire Dominion War would be resolved over the course of that 6-episode arc, but somewhere along the way, the writers came to their senses. The Dominion War would be the engine that drives the rest of the series, and the show itself will close with what amounts to a 10-parter.
Intense serialization like this was not part of the television landscape at the time. Even shows with strong mythology arcs like X-Files (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, debuting the same year this episode aired) were not as serialized. Those hewed closer to a path DS9 helped blaze in its earlier seasons, with myth arc episodes punctuating a monster-of-the-week. The overarching plot of the show often unfolded in the margins, until larger, event-driven hours would address or resolve something left long-simmering in the background. I have nothing against this mode of television. It’s enormously satisfying when done right, and one of the only ways to balance a large season order with the kind of serialization demanded in the DVR and streaming era. DS9 was trying something new, and it would pay dividends. After all, the only people still watching were diehard Niners. Might as well reward them.
The episode opens with a shot designed to invoke the hopeful, yet badass, moment that closed out last season. Only this time, the fleet the Defiant is a part of is in bad shape. Ships are leaking plasma, half-destroyed, and in some cases being towed by others. The war is going badly for the Federation-Klingon alliance, and everyone knows it. They’re basically retreating on all fronts and losing ships at a rate that is impossible to maintain. This is the beginning of the curb-stomp battle foreshadowed at the end of season two’s finale, “The Jem’Hadar.”
DS9, though, has always loved to show us both sides. So, for as bad as the war is for the Federation, it’s cream cheese for the Dominion and their Cardassian subjects. Dukat (although he’s never addressed by rank, so who knows if he’s still calling himself a Gul) is running Terok Nor like old times. There’s some friction, though, and not just because the mine field is still up and giving the Dominion fits. While Kira would like the Bajoran security force reinstated, and Weyoun sees no problem with this, Dukat (and his faithful aide-de-camp Damar) refuse to even discuss it. All Dukat wants to discuss, really, is how precisely he’ll sleaze all over Kira. This is when I admire Kira’s iron-willed self-control, because at no point does she gut Dukat like a fish.
While Kira and Odo discuss what to do, Quark remarks that as Occupations go, this one isn’t bad. When Kira snaps at him, Quark lays out the differences: no ghetto fences, no slave laborers, no starving children. He misses the Federation, but this is a damn sight better than life under the Cardassians when they didn’t have the Vorta looking over their shoulders. Eventually, they hit on a plan brilliant in its simplicity. Odo simply goes to Weyoun and demands that his deputies be reinstated. Weyoun (as one does when a god makes a request), instantly capitulates, but shows his deviousness when he uses this to leverage Odo onto the ruling council of the station. Kira worries that this gives Dominion rule legitimacy, but Odo feels he will be able to do more good from such a power position, and he’s used to walking this particular line.
As for Sisko, Starfleet command, in the form of brand-new reoccurring character Admiral Ross, has a new assignment for him. The Dominion is an unstoppable juggernaut, but a lot like Jurassic Park, it’s constructed on a house of cards in the form of failsafes they themselves built in. Sure, the Jem’Hadar are a race of unstoppable killing machines, as long as they get their regular shipments of ketracel-white. That’s the super drug that is all the nourishment they need. The Federation has located the Dominion’s main storage facility of white. The plan is to send Sisko and company in to blow up the facility, and to sneak past Dominion lines, they’ll be in the Jem’Hadar warship they recovered in season five’s “The Ship.”
Before leaving, Sisko finally gets around to telling his father, Joseph, back on Earth, that Jake is technically a guest of the Dominion. Joseph is less than pleased and demands Sisko go get his grandson back. It’s a nice, little scene (along with an earlier moment when Worf and Dax dicker over wedding plans) that reminds the audience that these are people, with humanoid concerns. It’s not all awesome space battles.
Jake, for his part, is learning that the Dominion doesn’t have freedom of the press. Yeah, he’s still a naïve kid, used to living in utopia. Weyoun hasn’t been transmitting his reports, and won’t, until Jake takes a more “balanced approach.” Jake insists that he won’t write propaganda, and, of course, Weyoun brushes that off. Say what you will about the Dominion, they don’t have the casual brutality of the Cardassians, or else Odo is correct, and they want to show the Alpha Quadrant how well they honor treaties. Jake is the son of the Emissary, and harming him would anger the Bajorans. Whether or not Jake understands this is an open question.
While the crew settles into the Jem’Hadar ship, they’re all griping about the various amenities it doesn’t have. No infirmary, replicators, viewscreen, or even chairs. Another way to hammer home just how alien the Dominion really is. Even long-time Federation enemies like the Cardassians or Romulans would have a more recognizable ship than this one. The viewscreen, remember, is part of an apparatus the command staff wears, projecting the screen into the mind of the officer. The enlisted people don’t need to see out, so they don’t. Along the way, Sisko discovers that it also gives humans a splitting headache, but Cardassians can wear them without ill effect. Good thing they brought Garak along.
Of course they brought Garak along. He’s now part of the crew, more or less, making himself useful where he can. If you were heading into Cardassian space, wouldn’t you want a former superspy with you? It’s also fun seeing him with a Federation comm badge on his hideous (Sorry, Garak.) Cardassian clothes.
The plan is to simply beam over a bomb amongst a payload of empty white containers and leave. It doesn’t go quite as planned. The facility gets blown up, but the heroes’ ship gets caught in the blastwave. The ship is crippled, without warp drive, and it will take seventeen years to get home.
They’re going to be a little late for their next assignment.
Next up: Trying to get home.