Trust is an important concept, and it can say a lot about how characters in fiction deal with each other. Trust is something of a given in the universe of Star Trek where no one really doubts their shipmates all that much…unless you’re dealing with Deep Space Nine where the central conflict centers around a race of shapeshifting blobs that can take the form of anyone or anything. Then trust gets harder.
That can lead to tragedy.
Here’s the scenario: while out on a survey mission in the Gamma Quadrant, a Jem’Haddar warship comes down near Sisko, Dax, O’Brien, Worf, and some random Starfleet personnel. The crew inside all appear to be dead and the ship badly damaged, but that’s a hell of a find. However, another Jem’Haddar ship soon shows up, destroying the runabout in orbit, killing other Starfleet officers on the ground, and forcing Sisko, Dax, O’Brien, Worf, and an injured guy we just met named Muniz inside the downed vessel. Muniz’s injuries aren’t healing, and he looks doomed. O’Brien doesn’t want to think about it as he works with the guy and they get along. Worf believes in being realistic about Muniz’s incredibly slim chances since the Defiant can’t possibly get there in time. Dax keeps making jokes. Sisko ends up snapping at all of them. And yes, Muniz dies.
However, what makes the episode what it is is that while Sisko and the Vorta woman (back before the show decided the Vorta were genetically engineered too, I’d wager since I don’t recall there being too many female Vorta before either) try to negotiate, the Vorta is clearly hiding something. They want something back from the ship. Initially, they promise safe passage if they can have the ship. Sisko cites salvage rights which the Dominion has naturally never heard of. Then a Jem’Haddar warrior beams in with just a knife, and that’s odd. The Jem’Haddar try orbital bombardment, but they never come close to hitting the downed ship despite the fact that they obviously could have easily. The Jem’Haddar could easily beam inside with guns and start shooting. They don’t. Can Sisko trust them? Is their offer on the level? What is it they want?
They want the dying Changeling inside, and Sisko and the others only find it when it’s too late. The Jem’Haddar all commit suicide, and the Vorta, the lone survivor of her group, takes a sample of the dead Changeling while letting Sisko have the ship.
So, the episode has Sisko asking Dax if it was all worth it. Five Starfleet personnel died, and Sisko knew them all pretty well. There were numerous dead Jem’Haddar, and they might have saved the Changeling’s life if Sisko knew about it hiding in there the whole time. It seems the Vorta would have given them the safe passage and even the ship if Sisko had let them in to get the Changeling, but the Vorta never said it was in there until it was dead. Sisko says he would have made many of the same decisions again, but how much easier would it have been if both sides just gave a little trust?
So, here’s my question: why should they?
Think about it for a minute: there’s no reason for Starfleet or the Dominion to trust each other based on what they know about each other so far. Granted, we don’t have much insight into the Founders’ way of thinking, but they have a bad track record when dealing with “solids,” hence the reason they set out to take over as much as they could and start the Dominion in the first place. What little contact they’ve had with races from the Alpha Quadrant includes the attempted attack on their homeworld by the Cardassians and the Romulans. There’s no reason to suspect the Federation is any different.
Likewise, Sisko’s own experiences with the Jem’Haddar and the Vorta, to say nothing of the Founders, show they aren’t a trustworthy bunch. The Jem’Haddar aren’t exactly liars, but they mostly just want to fight and kill all the time. The Vorta are seemingly quite adept at double-dealing, and it doesn’t help that the one Sisko is dealing with here knew his name before they even got started, to say nothing about bringing Jake into the conversation. That’s the sort of thing that will make Sisko less comfortable rather than more. Just about every encounter that Sisko has had with the Dominion and its forces have involved violence, treachery, or both. There’s no reason to trust, and quite frankly, if they did develop some trust in this single episode, it might make the fact both sides are slowly going to war with each other seem a lot less likely.
That all just makes what happened here just an impossible sort of situation. Sisko can beat himself up all he wants, and it’s a sign of a good commanding officer that he does, but that doesn’t change the fact that, as of right now, neither side is built in a way to trust the other based entirely off past experiences. I don’t think you’d see that in any other version of Star Trek.