It’s already taking a toll on our heroes. The once obnoxiously loquacious Dr. Bashir has become reserved and taciturn. The gregarious Chief O’Brien is withdrawing from his friends, sharing only the most superficial aspects of himself. Sisko is bowing under the weight of the war itself, the endless logistics and crushing reports doing very little for his mood.
When the episode opens, the Defiant is returning from a mission in the Beta Quadrant, or as I like to call it, the Middle Child of Quadrants. The Beta Quadrant is largely ignored in the later Trek shows, with the important powers from that sector -- the Klingons and Romulans -- getting lumped in with the Alpha Quadrant. Although, sometimes, those last two are explicitly Alpha Quadrant powers. It’s almost like there are fifty years of shakily welded continuity that started before such things even mattered to a viewing audience!
The point is, the Defiant picks up a distress call from Captain Lisa Cusak of Starfleet. Her ship, the Olympia, was returning from an eight-year mission in deep space when it encountered a planet covered in a strange energy field. Captain Cusak scanned it, and the energy field blasted her ship out of the sky with feedback. She’s the only survivor, and the planet’s atmosphere, rich in CO2, is slowly suffocating her. Sisko immediately orders a rescue mission.
Eventually, O’Brien succeeds in contacting Captain Cusak, and her relief is palpable as she hears friendly voices. Bashir asks her to make a few rationing adjustments to the drugs that allow her to stave off CO2 poisoning, but it’s still going to come down to the wire as to whether or not the Defiant can get to her in time. She makes one request: that someone stay on the line with her, just to keep her company.
Sometimes, it’s easier to discuss deep matters with a stranger than with a friend or loved one. This is partly due to the low stakes. If that stranger judges you harshly, you haven’t lost much of anything. This is also because each of you are a blank slate, able to reflect back whatever the other person requires in the conversation. It’s also easier to open up to words on a screen than it is to a voice, and easier to open up to a voice than a human face. It’s one of the many stupid ways we humans are wired. Honestly, it’s a wonder we’re here at all.
Bashir, O’Brien, and Sisko all have epiphanies while speaking with Captain Cusak. She is a warm, yet acerbic, presence, willing to hold her conversational partner’s feet to the fire. As is appropriate, she develops different relationships with each of them, becoming a caring friend for O’Brien, a sarcastic mentor for Bashir, and a sympathetic colleague for Sisko.
O’Brien has experienced war before. It’s baked right into his backstory, and has been a consistent presence in the character’s makeup since his thankless days on the Enterprise. When the Dominion War began, he resolved to keep his head down and he’d get through it, but he’s been feeling himself drifting away from his friends. It’s one of the most disturbing traits combat veterans can display: They don’t want to get too attached to people who might be dead tomorrow. Cusak reminds him that he still has friends, and he need only reach out to them.
Bashir initially approaches his Lisa-time as something he can do while working. She susses this out pretty quickly and plays the old I’m-on-a-planet-with-a-monster prank, which I can only assume will be a classic in the 24th Century. She gives him hell for it, adopting the kind of friendly-but-combative attitude that always brings out the best in the doctor.
Sisko initially dwells on the war, but, eventually, Cusak gets him to talk about personal matters. He’s having trouble as Kasidy Yates is serving as the liaison to the convoy the Defiant was escorting. Sisko’s personal and professional lives are colliding, and he’s not dealing with it well. Unlike nearly everyone else Sisko encounters, Cusak is his equal. She can speak to him in a way no one else really can, and the two enjoy a respectful, collegial relationship. She also gets him to talk to Kasidy, which really is the best advice you could get on the subject.
The b-plot, taking place on the station, is also about a collegial relationship, and one that’s lasted since before the Federation took over the station. Quark notes that Odo is completely distracted by his newfound romance with Major Kira, then manipulates Odo into an anniversary date with her, so Quark can meet with a business associate who’s wanted by most law enforcement agencies.
Odo, because he’s good at his job (Remember when I used to say that every other week?), figures out what Quark’s up to, and is ready to bust him when he overhears a conversation. Jake was shadowing Quark, doing some research into criminal types for a novel, and the two of them get to talking. Quark points out that he was the one who initially encouraged Odo to pursue Kira, but Odo has never shown an ounce of gratitude. Odo, displaying the gooey center that used to be merely literal rather than metaphorical, schedules his date to coincide with the meeting, allowing a gleeful Quark to make some profit and think he finally got one over on the Changeling. Odo, meanwhile, gets to enjoy 1928 Paris in a holosuite with his lady love (who, incidentally, looks incredible in the 1920s gear).
Finally, the Defiant arrives at the planet with scant moments to rescue Lisa Cusak. But when her three confidants find her, she’s already dead, and she’s been dead for three years. Turns out the energy field time-shifted the communication, allowing one side to talk to the future and the other side to talk to the past. They never had a chance to save her, but she kind of saved them.
Sisko won’t let her be buried on the distant rock and, instead, takes her back on the ship to be sent off in style in an Irish wake, surrounded by her friends. In one of the best moments of the episode, Dax gently explains to Worf what an Irish wake consists of, and he nods approvingly, noting that it sounds almost Klingon.
O’Brien, appropriately enough as an actual Irishman, delivers a stirring toast to the departed Captain Lisa Cusak. She helped them more than they could help her. She was a good friend to them without ever seeing any of their faces. She’ll be missed. And remembered.
Next up: Not a hoax! Not a dream! In this episode, someone dies!