Well, here we go. After a couple episodes exploring the characters or advancing the main threat of the Dominion, we get an episode that’s basically just a big trap where everyone has to pull together to make sure they all get out this mess alive. It’s good to see this series can do an action-based episode that pulls out all the stops without anyone acting out of character.
The set-up is a simple one: Jake and O’Brien are working in a former ore-processing room. Sisko stops by to check on them as they ready this system to do something. The room at one time was a forced labor camp for Bajoran prisoners, and if there’s one thing the station has in abundance, it’s Cardassian programming in the central computer that was never quite turned off. That’s what happens here when a particularly deeply rooted subroutine kicks in under the impression that the Bajorans down there are rebelling. If they give control back to their Cardassian overseers, all will be well.
Until then, the room is under lockdown with the two Siskos and O’Brien in there. You know, where there are no Bajoran slave laborers or Cardassian security agents with the appropriate codes. Oh, and the room will be flooded with poison gas if they don’t do as the recording of Gul Dukat insists they do.
What makes this episode work is how until the very end, everything the crew tries only makes things worse. And even though I said that everyone involved has a role to play, that’s not entirely true. Odo and Quark could both be useful in a situation like this, but they’re locked in Odo’s office with no way out, even for the shapeshifter. Odo has some high security clearance himself, and Quark actually has higher security clearance because he’s, well, a Ferengi and those guys know how to survive if nothing else. What humor the episode has involves those two locked in a room together. They don’t pop up much, but when they do, there are mostly some nice character moments as the two actually seem to be trying to comfort each other in a trying moment in ways that wouldn’t work for anyone else.
In the meantime, we have Jake’s going through a vent pipe to let the other men out of the reactor room before the poison gas flows in, O’Brien using his own expertise to explain how things work, Sisko using his authority to save the day in the end (he is the star of the show), Dax working the main computer until an accident badly burns her hands, Kira basically running things from Ops when the comm badges go down, and Bashir…well, his role is less than the others, but it mostly comes down to making sure the two Cardassians don’t kill each other.
Yes, there are two Cardassians. Garek still has enough security clearance to be able to go where he needs to go, but he can only go with himself. And then the real Gul Dukat beams in, offering to help in exchange for leaving a garrison on the station, an offer Kire refuses and Dukat learns he can’t beam out because the security program won’t let a Cardassian commander flee a situation like that when he needs to, metaphorically, go down with the ship.
You know, Garek drops the “simple tailor” routine when he has to deal with Dukat. It seems there’s someone Garek hates so much that he can’t even pretend to be something harmless anymore. Interesting development. Plus, just about everyone seems to hate Dukat, so why shouldn’t Garek hate him too?
Eventually, Sisko needs to get down to a computer deep in the station to fiddle with some forcefields, Dax guiding him from Ops, to make sure the station doesn’t self-destruct.
Episodes like this aren’t particularly deep. They’re just a solid hour (or, 45 or so minutes without commercials) of smart action as everything that could go wrong does until enough people can pull together to save the day. If all that ends with an insulted Quark demanding to know which Ferengi that Odo knows are more devious than he is, during which Odo rattles off a dozen or so Ferengi names as the closing credits come in, then I’m personally happy about all that. This was just some good, exciting television that this show may not do as often as it can, but when it does, it does it very well.