Alright, here we are: an episode-long space battle. I didn’t think Star Trek would ever go this route.
It sort of doesn’t.
It doesn’t in the sense that, despite the space battle raging outside the station between Starfleet and a Dominion fleet that outnumbers Starfleet 2 to 1, most of what happens here is character-based conflict. It’s not like, say, the final act in a Star Wars movie where there’s a lot of explosions and stuff in space intercut with the occasional appearance by a pilot in a fighter or something. Those are big razzle dazzle sort of moments. Star Trek rarely goes for big razzle dazzle moments, and that is especially true for Deep Space Nine where it would prefer to focus on character moments, and this is the series that often gives minor supporting characters big moments, so it happens here too, showing Dukat is not the hard-nosed Cardassian he always says he is when it comes down to one person, and meanwhile characters like Damar, Ziyal, and Rom get a chance to show their stuff.
This is an episode where Dukat will recognize Sisko’s initial battle plan, one designed to make the Cardassians mad and see if they will break off from the rest of the Dominion fleet, and allow it to happen as part of a trap. It’s also an episode where Sisko will recognize the trap before it’s sprung and go into it anyway because he really doesn’t have any other choice.
It’s an episode where Martok and the Klingon fleet will show up at the exact right moment, about the closest the episode comes to the sort of Star Wars moment I mentioned above.
It’s an episode where Sisko, desperate, will take the Defiant into the wormhole to stop an approaching Dominion fleet because Rom was unable to stop the destruction of the mine field. Sisko is outnumbered by hundreds if not thousands of ships. About the only guarantee I have that he’ll live through all this is the rest of the Defiant crew is made up of O’Brien, Bashir, Dax, Nog, and Garek, and I somehow doubt the series will be recasting most of the cast at this point. Besides, this many years after this episode first aired, and I think cultural osmosis would have allowed me to hear about it by now.
No, the only casualty among recognizable characters will be Ziyal, right in front of her father, and at the hands of Damar because she helped Rom, Leeta, Jake, and Kira escape custody. Sure, Quark helped too–how bad a bad guy do you have to be to get Quark to pick up a gun and try to rescue anybody, even Rom?–but Ziyal is expendable enough I don’t think I noticed when the role was recast with a different actress. Moments like that, as I said above, said a lot about all of those Cardassians. Dukat is a beaten man, the only major Dominion agent taken captive when Sisko returns to the station. Damar is a “good” Cardassian who always does his duty. Ziyal is perhaps more Bajoran than Cardassian, and she chose the side that mattered more to her, dying for it in the process.
Oh, and the Female Changeling and Weyoun, they evacuated back to Cardassian space. That’s just as well. If there’s one predictable moment in the entire episode–aside from Martok’s arrival since J.G. Hertzler is listed as a guest star in the opening moments of the episode–it’s that it looks like the Dominion and the Cardassians are already somewhat plotting against each other.
But that’s not to say there aren’t some moments to ponder. One is a bit different from the others: how much plot armor does Odo have anyway? Yes, he comes to Kira’s rescue with his Bajoran security agents, and he says he gave up paradise with the Great Link because he’s not ready for it yet, but he still was collaborating with the enemy for a hardliner like Kira. Personally, I would take it as Odo is basically a lonely man, and any attempt at intimacy that he doesn’t get anywhere might be something he would jump at, but he’s still enough of an individual in a species that is almost as much a hivemind as the Borg to do his own thing. Do his actions warrant forgiveness that easily? I don’t know, but they do.
But then there’s the Prophets. Since Sisko is pulling what looks like a suicidal attack inside the wormhole, they do get involved. They don’t get it. It would ruin their “game” that they call life. Sisko doesn’t directly ask for their help, but he makes it clear that he isn’t going to be bowing out of that attack no matter what vague plans the wormhole aliens have for him.
So, they take care of the Dominion fleet themselves, kick the Defiant out, say something ominous about a penance, and shut down the wormhole.
Well, that means a big victory for the Federation and the Klingons, but this is war, and enough of the Dominion is still out there in Cardassian space to make things miserable for the series’s protagonists for the time being.
I come for the explosions, but I stay for the character work.