Most of the regular cast aren’t in this episode all that much, the first of a two-parter, as Odo and the Siskos travel to Earth, mostly on business. But the episode does have Worf briefly explain Klingon religion. The Klingons, it seems, once rose up and killed their gods, and that has to be the most Klingon-ish form of religion I have ever heard of.
But that moment of levity was about all there was to really chuckle about in this rather serious episode.
If anything, I have to admire the timing on this one. A peace conference on Earth is attacked by terrorists, leaving 27 people dead. There was a Changeling on scene, and that means Starfleet wants to consult with Sisko and Odo in person about the mysterious shapeshifters. So far, so good. But the thing that struck me most here is the timing because this episode came out in 1996, a good five or so years before 9/11. I am watching the episode more than 20 years after that terrible day, and if I didn’t know this episode aired before 9/11, I might not think otherwise. The general mood around Starfleet command, one shared by Sisko and Odo is one of paranoia and fear. A Changeling could be, quite literally, anywhere. Odo and Sisko demonstrate that themselves by sneaking Deep Space Nine’s security chief into an otherwise secure meeting. Odo even has a brief encounter with the Changeling when he encounters an admiral that was behaving a little differently than he was before.
I can buy a lot of this. After 9/11, there were a lot of concerns about security and a general fear that it could happen again. These aren’t exactly ideas no one would have had, but they seem a bit more, for lack of a better word, obvious to me writing in 2022 than they would have had I saw the episode when it was new in 1996. The episode even ends with a worldwide blackout, with Starfleet officers being beamed around the globe to act as peacekeepers, but it’s clear based on the setting and who sees it happening that this is not a good thing.
That would be because the people witnessing it are Ben Sisko’s father and son. Jake has been around, and I more or less know his deal. Heck, being on Earth also means Nog can come hang out between classes. But here’s Joseph Sisko, Ben’s stubborn father, a man whose health isn’t in the best of shape but refuses to slow down because he has a restaurant to run. It’s enough that he has apparently already scared off Ben’s unseen sister, and now Ben has to somehow get his father to play ball. That’s not just for the sake of getting the old man to follow sound medical advice, but also to give a blood sample and prove he’s not a Changeling in disguise. Joseph, played by the late Brock Peters, has the Sisko stubbornness down pat, and it’s easy to see where Ben gets it from. The difference is where the two men direct it. Joseph just wants to run his restaurant in peace and that’s that. Ben has the weight of Starfleet responsibility on his shoulders.
So, that means, Odo and Ben are setting up scanners, taking blood tests, and putting phaser-devices in doorways to stun a potential Changeling trying to enter. The Federation President, a man Admiral Leyton describes as a good man but not exactly fit for this sort of scenario, wasn’t really looking to do anything like this before very reluctantly signing the security orders. It’s a lot of stuff happening very quickly, and it fit very much into my own real world observations, that I just want to give the series a congratulations years after the fact.
Now, this is still Star Trek, a franchise that is, by its very nature, hopeful and optimistic. Sure, wormhole activity near the station does suggest there could be something coming, but that doesn’t mean the events on Earth might not be taking things a little too far, and that’s something that only a Sisko can understand. Unfortunately, it isn’t the right Sisko making those decisions right now.